A Little Garrison - A Realistic Novel of German Army Life of To-day
by Fritz von der Kyrburg
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A Little Garrison


By FRITZ VON DER KYRBURG (Lieutenant Bilse) . Translated, Edited and with a Special Introduction by WOLF VON SCHIERBRAND Author of "GERMANY: THE WELDING OF A WORLD POWER," "THE KAISER'S SPEECHES," ETC., ETC.


Copyright, 1904,


All rights reserved.

This edition published in January, 1904.






I. An Evening Party at Captain Koenig's 1

II. What Happened at the Casino Dance 29

III. The Consequences of a May Bowl 63

IV. The Case of Sergeant Schmitz 80

V. Officers at a Masquerade 140

VI. A Sensational Event stirs the Garrison 161

VII. An Airy Structure Collapses 207

VIII. Changes in the Garrison 264

IX. Resignations are in Order 282

X. Unto This Last 301


In his book, Le Debacle, Zola shows in a vivid and intelligible manner the downfall of Napoleon III. and his army, and paints in his usual matter-of-fact tints the actual condition of the great host led forth to destruction. He makes us read in the soul of the common French soldier and in that of his commanding officer. The keen analysis of the characters he portrays enables us humanly to understand the catastrophe on the plains of Sedan. The whole Second Empire undermined by corruption; the army, head and front, honeycombed with loose morals, favoritism, and boundless conceit,—we begin to perceive the main reasons underlying the utter defeat of a gallant nation. And this all the more when, side by side with the sombre painting of Zola, we read the God-fearing letters written home from the reeking battlefields by William I. and his Iron Chancellor.

Indeed, when the conquering German legions returned, in the spring of 1871, to their own firesides, they presented a body of men of whom any nation might have been proud. Elated they were at their unparalleled successes, but not puffed-up or vainglorious.

A generation has passed since then. Is the German army of to-day still of the same metal? Does it, as a body, still show the same sterling qualities which led it to victory after victory on the soil of France?

Alas, no. On that point the best and clearest minds in Germany itself are agreed. Foreign military leaders who have had opportunity to watch the German soldier of to-day at play and at work, have sent home reports to their respective governments, saying: "These are not the men that won in 1870!"

A couple of years ago several American officers of high rank, fresh from the Philippines, witnessed the great autumn manoeuvres of the German army, conducted under the supreme command of William II. One of them, after viewing in stark amazement the senseless attacks of whole cavalry divisions up steep declivities or down slippery embankments, exposed all the while to a withering fire from the rifles of infantry masses, said to the present writer: "If this were actual war, not a horse or man would be left alive!"

In the Reichstag, the national parliament of Germany, many have been the heated debates and scorching has been the bitter satire passed during recent years upon the German army of to-day. And not only the solid phalanx of Socialists did the criticising on such occasions, but also not a few members of every other party, even including those of the Conservative Faction, composed of men who are the very representatives of the caste from which the Empire's corps of officers have sprung.

The German newspaper press has sounded of late years, again and again, the note of alarm, dwelling in scathing articles on signs of decadence in the nation's whilom pride,—the army. It has pointed out the growing spirit of luxury in its ranks, the wholesale abuse of power by the officers and sergeants, the looseness of discipline, the havoc wrought by "army usurers," the "money marriages," so much in vogue with debt-ridden officers, the hard drinking and lax morals prevailing, the gaming for high stakes, which is another festering sore, and leads to the ruin of so many,—and a whole train of other evils. The professional, that is, the military, press has joined in this chorus in more subdued tones.

Throughout the length and breadth of the Empire a spirit of disquiet, nay, of apprehension, has spread. Are the very foundations trembling on which the reunited "fatherland" rests?

If any reliance can be placed on an unbroken chain of evidence it would seem so indeed.

It was in 1786 that Frederick the Great died, leaving an army that he had raised to the pinnacle of fame. With this army he had faced and vanquished, standing at bay against almost the whole of continental Europe, his powerful foes. Little Prussia, a straggling strip of territory stretching from the ice-bound Niemen to the vine-clad Rhine, Frederick's genius had lifted until it took rank with the powers that prescribe laws to the world.

A score of years later, just one short score, the hills of Jena looked down upon the crushing, disgraceful defeat of this same Prussian army. The country was dismembered, and as a political force ceased to exist. The heel of the Corsican despot was on its neck. Even after the restoration of Prussia by the Vienna Congress in 1815, it required another half-century to give her back her lost prestige. Sadowa and Sedan reinstated Prussia, and with her the allied states of Germany in her former glory.

* * * * *

Is another Jena coming?

Are we on the eve of another international upheaval?

* * * * *

A little book has recently appeared in Germany. Its title is unpretentious. Aus einer kleinen Garnison ("A Little Garrison") does not sound very sensational. The book, besides, was written by a simple lieutenant, Bilse by name. There was apparently nothing to arouse public attention in its appearance.

And yet, from the instant of its publication, this little book did arouse such attention; more than that, it grew into an enormous sensational event, and led to developments of such a serious character that their consequences will be felt for many years to come. Indeed it seems likely that this little book will indirectly be the means of the moral reformation of the entire German army.

Shortly after its appearance the authorship of Lieutenant Bilse, who had written under the pen name of Fritz von der Kyrburg, was discovered. A court-martial was promptly convened, and he was summoned to appear before this military tribunal.

Mail reports now to hand of this memorable trial show that it created intense interest in Germany, that it was regarded, indeed, as a cause celebre of the first magnitude. The interest in the case was largely due to the belief that Lieutenant Bilse's novel—for he had given his terrible arraignment of the army the outward semblance of a novel—presented a true, if highly unflattering, picture of conditions as they exist in many German garrison towns. This impression was borne out by the evidence, which tended to corroborate the account given by Lieutenant Bilse of the moral tone and the standard of discipline prevailing among the officers. Part of the revelations have not been made public, as the examination of some witnesses was conducted in camera. It is understood that their evidence was of a highly sensational character.

In his examination, Lieutenant Bilse stated that since entering the service he had "lost all his illusions concerning the character and duties of an officer's calling." He declared that the social and regimental tone of the frontier garrison towns was extremely low, and that the repeated instances of lax discipline, favoritism, and loose living which he had observed had provoked him to write his book.

In not a single instance were the facts of the various incidents and events which form, grouped in a loose tissue, the body of his book disproved or even weakened by the testimony produced at the trial.

Nevertheless the court-martial sentenced the young officer to six months' imprisonment and to dismissal from the service "for libelling his superior and commanding officers by the publication of writings in a peculiarly offensive and damaging form, and also for a breach of service regulations."

The lieutenant was undoubtedly guilty of a breach of regulations, as an officer in Germany is prohibited from publishing any printed matter except over his true name, and is required to give notice of his intention to the military authorities,—a rule which the young man had violated.

The German press, in its comments on the case, admits that it has an importance far beyond the person of the accused.

The Berlin Post, one of the chief organs of the aristocracy in Germany, said:

"In the interest of the army's good name it is urgently requisite that abuses such as have been partly disclosed should be speedily and thoroughly eradicated."

The Berlin Tageblatt, a leading paper, said:

"Lieutenant Bilse's book should be seriously pondered in high places."

The Vossische Zeitung, one of the oldest and most respected journals at the German capital, made this comment:

"That such things could be possible in German military corps would have seemed impossible to the most malevolent critic ... the public confidence must be restored."

The Hamburg Nachrichten, Bismarck's old organ, says:

"We regret to admit that the picture is not overdrawn."

And that is the tenor of all the comment of the entire German press. In the neighboring countries, in the house of Germany's friends, Austria and Italy, the comment was even more outspoken; while in France and Russia, although their political affiliations are not precisely friendly to Germany, more forbearance was shown.

The Bilse book and the Bilse case have since formed the theme of divers debates in the Reichstag. On an interpellation from some of the delegates, the Minister of War, General von Einem, made some interesting admissions. He did not deny that Bilse had stated, in the guise of fiction, established facts; nor did he repudiate the statement that the conditions described by the author existed in duplicate form or worse in many garrisons of the empire.

The Kaiser himself was forced, much against his will, to take notice of Bilse's book. A detailed report was made to him by the chief of his Private Military Cabinet, General von Huelsen-Haeseler, on all the essential facts underlying the plot of A Little Garrison. He expressed himself as much grieved at the terrible revelations in it. In their totality they presented a state of facts of which he himself, thoroughly acquainted as he had deemed himself to be with conditions in his army, had been ignorant.

The immediate outcome of this conviction on his part was the issuance of a secret decree directed to the various commanders of the twenty-three army corps composing his army. In this decree he called the attention of these commanders to the awful conditions laid bare in Bilse's book, and bade them watch hereafter with greater zeal over the morals and discipline of their various corps. The decree he ordered to be read by each commanding colonel to his subordinate officers, threatening with expulsion from the army any officer who should hereafter be guilty of such heinous behavior as exemplified by the characters in Bilse's book.

It might, therefore, be supposed that a thorough reform of the whole moral status of the German army was now under way, or that it had been at least initiated by this action of the Kaiser. Certainly, there is no one in all Germany who takes a deeper interest than he in the welfare of his army, or who has a profounder conviction of its importance in maintaining the empire's proud position as a world power. On many occasions the Kaiser has emphasized his belief that this, "the most precious legacy" left him by his grandfather, must be kept intact to secure his own throne and the nation's predominance in the heart of Europe.

* * * * *

But it would be short-sighted to assume this. The causes that have been at work for thirty years past, undermining and honeycombing the whole structure of the German army, are too manifold, too much ingrained in the very fibre of the German people of to-day, and too complex to yield at the mere bidding of even so imperious a voice as the Kaiser's. Bilse, in his book, lays a pitiless finger on the ulcers that have been festering and growing in the bosom of the army; but his story, after all, is that of only one small garrison, and refers to but a brief period in the very recent past.

It may be worth while, in order to give the reader a more comprehensive and more general view of conditions in the German army of to-day, briefly to survey some patent facts.

The wide spread of the gambling spirit is one of these. Against it the Kaiser has inveighed in army orders since his accession to the throne, but all in vain. This evil spirit is as strong to-day as ever. It was but a few years ago that a monster trial took place in Hanover. It showed a frightful state of rottenness within even the most renowned regiments—those of the Guard Corps, in which the scions of nobility hold it an honor to serve. The details of this trial were a shock to the whole country, and it ended by dismissal or expulsion from the army of a score of officers bearing, some of them, the most ancient and honored names within the empire. Even one of the Kaiser's own aides-de-camp issued from it with a reputation so besmirched as to lead to his hasty retirement. More recently still the Club of Innocents (Club der Harmlosen) became the cynosure of all eyes, but unenviably so. It was not, strictly speaking, a military club, but it counted in its membership list a majority of active army officers. I will not go into details, but merely mention that one of the chief victims of the diabolical machinations practised by a number of high-titled black-legs—officers of this club—was young Prince Alfred, a grandson of the late Queen Victoria, whose complete moral and physical ruin was wrought, soon followed by his death. The Jockey Club in Berlin, made up largely of officers, and similar organizations in Potsdam, Charlottenburg, Hanover, Cassel, Dresden, Brunswick, Cologne, and, in fact, nearly every other garrison town of any importance within the empire, have all had their list of scandals during recent years,—scandals brought about by unprincipled gamesters belonging to their corps of officers. Probably several thousands of resignations, semi-enforced retirements, or outright dismissals from the army have been due during the last decade to this one evil of high play alone.

The hard drinking indulged in throughout the army, to a degree which to the ignorant outsider seems incredible, is another evil of perhaps as great magnitude. Of that Bilse's book gives a faithful impression. For these excessive drinking habits, and in an equal degree for the luxurious habits of life, more particularly the indulgence in sybarite banquets, the Kaiser himself must be held largely to blame, since, by force of example at the many "love feasts" (Liebesmaehler) and anniversary celebrations of every kind which he not only attends at the quarters of the various regiments throughout the German domain, but which he very frequently arranges for or encourages himself, he has taught his army officers a direful lesson. Certainly, the old Spartan simplicity in food and drink which prevailed in German army circles during the days of William I., grandfather of the present ruler, has gone forever.

A direct outgrowth of the luxuriousness prevalent in the German army of to-day is two other evils which in their consequences on the morals of the officers can scarcely be overrated. They are epitomized by the two words "army usury" and "money marriages." To live beyond one's means leads to indebtedness. And there we have the simple genesis of the army usurer, so-called. He exists and thrives in every garrison in the empire, and the broad swath he mows within the ranks of the army testifies to his diligence and to his successful methods. It would be going too far to expatiate on this matter. Suffice it to say that the system by which the usurer brings hundreds, nay thousands, to disgrace and premature retirement from the army, usually involving the impoverishment of the officers' families, is wellnigh perfection in itself. Within his net are driven, at some time or other, the vast majority of the younger men as well as a great many of the older ones.

The favorite avenue of escape offered to the young spendthrift officer is a so-called money marriage. He barters himself, his social position, and the prestige which the ownership of an old and honored name still carries with it in Germany, for the gold which his bride brings him on the wedding day. Dowries must of course correspond in some measure with the load of debt the young officer has been accumulating for years, and also with his claims to distinction and attractiveness. Such dowries vary between a paltry twenty thousand and several million marks, strictly according to circumstances. There is an unwritten code in force in this respect, every paragraph of which is made and provided to cover the individual needs of such impecunious officers. The matter is well understood throughout the land, and is looked upon as an established institution, something in which squeamish scruples are not allowed to interfere with concrete requirements. No German maiden consciously feels the shame of being thus made purely an object of barter and sale. She is to the manner bred. But of course good, fat dowries are often taken by officers, together with brides, who in other respects by no means realize their ideas of what a wife should be. Enough said on this dreary subject!

Still another evil, and one which of late has been much ventilated in Germany, is the abuse of power by officers and non-commissioned officers towards their subordinates. There has always been too much of this in the German army, and it would carry us too far afield to trace here the causes. In itself it seems a strange anomaly that in an army which calls itself by the proud term of a "nation in arms," and whose membership is recruited from every stratum of society, there should be such wholesale maltreatment of the privates by their superior officers. And yet such is the fact, inexplicable as it seems at first sight. Against this curse the Kaiser has likewise launched his thunderbolts at some time or other. But they have had no effect. If anything there has been an increase in such cases.

At a Reichstag session, in the middle of December, the Kaiser's spokesman, General von Einem, made the formal admission that during the preceding year no fewer than fifty officers and five hundred and seventy-nine non-commissioned officers had been court-martialed and sentenced for cruelly maltreating their subordinates. When we reflect that scarcely in one case out of every hundred formal charges are preferred by the victims, who know themselves completely in the power of their tyrannous masters, the official record thus stated is indeed appalling. But here again the Kaiser himself, as chief commander of the army, must be held largely responsible; for his more than lenient treatment of the convicted offenders is nothing less than a direct encouragement to their fellows to continue in these fiendish practices. One sergeant, a man by the name of Franzki, belonging to the Eighty-fifth Regiment of the Infantry, was shown at the trial to have been guilty of no less than twelve hundred and fifty individual cases of cruelty and of one hundred cases of abuse of power. Another man, Lieutenant Schilling, of the Ninety-eighth Regiment of Infantry, stationed in Metz, had a record against him of over a thousand such cases. Both men were recently tried and convicted, and the degree of their punishment seems strangely inadequate. Yet in most instances the Kaiser does not even allow these convicted offenders to serve out their brief terms of confinement, but issues free pardons to them after they have undergone but a small portion of their penalty.

However, from several points of view, the most serious evil of all that has grown up within the German army since the close of the Franco-German War of 1870-1871 is the cleavage in sentiment between the army and the nation. That also has been demonstrable on many occasions during recent years. I recall the case of Lieutenant von Bruesewitz, of Carlsruhe. This young officer ran his sword through the back of a defenceless civilian by whom he fancied himself insulted in a restaurant, the man dying within a few hours of the deed. His murderer attempted no other exculpation, or indeed explanation, than by saying that according to the army code of honor he was forced to avenge on the spot the insult offered him. Bruesewitz was sentenced to merely a mild type of confinement for a term of two years, but was pardoned by the Kaiser at the expiration of a twelvemonth. A more recent case was that of a young navy lieutenant who likewise stabbed to death with his sword a former schoolfellow and townsman who had not saluted him on the street with sufficient ceremoniousness. That, he said, was his only reason for killing the man, and he, too, received a very mild sentence. Even worse was the case of two officers quartered in a small garrison of the province of East Prussia, close to the Russian border. These men, being somewhat in liquor on New Year's Eve, mortally wounded one civilian and gravely wounded another for no other reason than that these men had shouted a song distasteful to them, the whole occurrence happening in the street after midnight. The officers got off with a ludicrously small punishment.

Such facts as these—and they could be multiplied indefinitely—show, above all, one thing: the striking difference in the conception of what is termed "honor" obtaining between the officers in the army and the bulk of the population, the citizen element. The so-called "army code" embodies views which it is euphemism to call mediaeval—remnants of the dark ages. And yet these views are not excused; no, they are upheld and endorsed by the Kaiser, his government, and by the army in a body.

The "code" also brings about that other absurdity, the army duel, as a mode of settling all serious "affairs of honor." About that enough has been written in Germany itself to fill whole libraries, and yet the foolish thing continues. The Kaiser, grown up in all the prejudices of caste as held by his ancestors and by the present generation of the upper classes in Germany, has done nothing to eradicate this evil. The provisions made by him, and now carried out, for regulating the practice of duelling in his army, have had only the effect of rendering the duel as an institution still more respectable.

The main reason which impelled me to secure the authority for presenting his little work in an English dress was the fact that it tells a truthful tale about an organization of such first-rate importance as the German army. It paints that organization not only as he himself saw it, but as in its essential features it really is. In doing this Lieutenant Bilse has not only rendered an enormous service to his own country,—as indeed many thousands of Germans are recognizing to-day,—but he has also enabled the rest of the world to gain a clear insight into the inner mechanism of the most powerful fighting-machine in the world, has shown its hidden flaws, its grave organic defects, and has thus permitted us truly to gauge its inherent power. But interwoven with his criticism there is the hope, nay the conviction, that the main part of the machine is still sound.

A book of this kind, "written from the inside," has a strong merit of its own not to be measured by its purely literary qualities; for these, I am free to admit, are not of the highest order. There is talent in it, when considering that it is the first effort of a literary tyro; but its great value lies in its intense realism, interpreting that word in its higher sense.

I have been compelled to make some alterations and omissions in my work of translation. The omissions have been due to the conviction both of myself and of my publisher, that the author has in certain instances given a mass of unnecessary details to which serious objection might be urged, in this country at least, on the score of clean literary taste. The alterations were either dictated by similar considerations or grew indirectly out of them.

With these exceptions mentioned, however, my translation may fairly claim to be true to the spirit of the original. Even the strictest moralist will not cavil at seeing equivocal situations painted in Bilse's book when his purpose in doing so has been the radical exposure of ills existing in a body around which cluster so many traditions of honor and duty well done as is the case with the German army. And there is no excuse to be offered by me for furthering that task.



A Little Garrison



Standing in the centre of her parlor, a spacious and cosy one, Frau Clara Koenig let her eyes glide over the arrangements made for the reception of her guests.

For this was her regular soiree musicale, when she saw assembled about her, one evening each week, those of her more intimate friends who dallied habitually with Euterpe, loveliest of the Muses. To-night, however, her invitations had not been so restricted, for she had asked some other families to come, largely for the laudable purpose of admiring the musical achievements of the "artists."

Here she placed a chair in its proper place; there she smoothed with tapering fingers one or the other of the tidies, products of her own skilful needle, which, in every hue and size, adorned the furniture. She tested the various lamps; opened and shut piano and parlor organ to convince herself of the absence of dust; and finally minutely inspected sundry vases, deftly manipulating their lovely contents, so that each flower and each enfolding leaf stood out to greatest advantage. This was one of her specialties. At none of her parties, even in mid-winter, was there a lack of tastefully grouped nosegays and bits of green on mantel and corner brackets.

Frau Clara was a woman of about thirty, with a well-proportioned figure and a rather pretty, rosy face. Her lively blue eyes and a wealth of well-groomed hair combined to give her a look of pleasant youthfulness.

These last touches done, she seated herself on a low stool, for her thoughts pronounced it all good.

And now the heavy drapery was thrust aside, and her husband appeared—a tall man with a black moustache. He, too, came to attend to his share of the preparations. He lit up the chandelier. Usually he gauged the number of gas jets lit by the number of guests expected, one for each. But inasmuch as there were only five jets and about a dozen guests to come, he indulged in the luxury of igniting them all. He did this with various groans at the latest outrageous gas bill, and next inspected the stoves. Then he also sank down into a seat.

Albrecht Koenig was captain in the cavalry regiment quartered in the town. His squadron was always in apple-pie order, for he devoted to it his entire energy during waking hours. Brief intervals of leisure he filled by glancing at the Deutsche Zeitung, studying the money-market reports, toiling in the large garden behind the house, which he always kept in almost as good order as his squadron, and superintending his hennery, the useful output of which he sold to his wife at more than current prices.[1] And if there was nothing else to do, he had scientific skirmishes with his nine-year-old, attended wine-tests,[2] or practised on the piano, an instrument which he played almost as well as might have been wished by his friends.

[1] This has reference to the not uncommon habit in German households, especially those of officers and the higher classes, of keeping husband's and wife's exchequer strictly separate.—TR.

[2] "Wine tests." In the wine-growing districts of Germany men possessed of a delicate "wine tongue" delight in attending public or private meetings where new vintages are sampled and their prices and marketable qualities determined.—TR.

A noise in the hall told of the arrival of the first guest. A heavy, dragging step and a snorting breath told them who it was. The door opened, and Agricultural Counsellor von Konradi made his appearance. A rather fleshy sort of man, with glasses on his aristocratic nose, over the tops of which his eyes sought the lady of the house. His hair was dyed a fine dark shade, and envy proclaimed that this was done on account of the fair sex; for he was unmarried. His two ideals in life, however, were a good dinner and several bottles of even a better wine to go with it. Since he realized both of these ideals in the captain's house, he was fond of going there. As to the rest, he was held to be a gentleman.

While he was at the critical point in a story embodying his profound grief at the arrival from his estate of a pheasant in a scandalously unripe condition, the door opened again and admitted the spouse of Captain Kahle.

Of a dainty, petite figure, and with a face that seemed to belong to a gamin, she presented on the whole a graceful enough ensemble. But there were two drawbacks—her rather large mouth was wreathed in a stereotyped smile, and when she opened it it gave utterance to a voice of somewhat unpleasant, strident timbre.

Three youngish men followed on her heels. The first of them was Lieutenant Pommer, who was somewhat of a general favorite because of his unaffected, frank demeanor. Occasionally it became a trifle rough or rude; but you always knew where you had him. With special ardor he saluted Frau Kahle, and it looked almost droll to watch the contrast between him, a burly, corpulent fellow, and this tiny, fragile figure that resembled a Dresden china shepherdess.

The second one was Lieutenant Mueller. Those who did not know him could have guessed from his stiff, self-contained mien that he must be the regimental adjutant. Housewives dreaded him, for his appetite was Gargantuan. With stoic defiance of all warning glances he was in the habit of demolishing thrice the quantity of the daintiest eatables apportioned to each guest. After everybody else had put down his fork, his invariable way was to help himself once more liberally, saying it was his favorite dish.

The last of the trio was Lieutenant Kolberg, an amazingly pale young man with moustaches a la Kaiser. He led a life against which moralists might have urged arguments, and there had been various scandals connected with his past.

While the other guests were waited for, a few groups were being formed. Lieutenant Kolberg approached Frau Kahle and measured her from top to toe with approval. The adjutant made a clever attempt to find out from the hostess what particular dishes were in store for him. Having ascertained this, he at once swore they were his special delectation. Herr von Konradi was chatting with Captain Koenig about a wine-testing trip into the Moselle district which they were jointly planning in order to replenish their respective cellars.

Another lady entered, one whose corpulency and unskilfully powdered face and arms made an unpleasing contrast with a badly fitting robe of black and yellow. She ran up to Frau Clara and squeezed her hand in her wobbly fingers, expressing joy at the invitation. To the gentlemen who sidled up to her one after the other she extended that same chubby hand with a fatuous smile, but holding it so high that they could not do otherwise than touch it with their lips.

This was Frau Captain Stark, the latest spouse in the regiment, though probably past the demi-century line.

Her lord, likewise of rotund shape, came after her. He wore a black Vandyke beard, and his special forte was a carefully trained and extremely long nail on the little finger. It was said that this nail demanded a goodly portion of his leisure hours. His voice told its own story of bonhommie and unctuous Rhine wine.

Behind this couple hove in sight the figure of the commander. Everybody stepped aside with a show of deference, and all around he was saluted with deep bows, while he slowly stepped up to Captain Koenig and his lady. The bowlegs and the robust body were not relieved by a face of finer mould, and thus it was that Colonel von Kronau scarcely corresponded with the popular conception of a dashing cavalry officer. Most striking about him was a tear that permanently glistened in the corner of his eye. This tear he always allowed to grow to a certain size, when he would, by a dexterous motion born of long practice, propel it from its resting-place over at his vis-a-vis, either at the latter's feet or in his face, as the case might be. It largely depended on the size of the tear and the rank of his vis-a-vis.

The lady who accompanied him and who had the face and manners of a governess was his better half. She had squeezed herself on this occasion into a dowdy dress of pearl-gray silk, with a purple collar of velvet.

Almost simultaneously the remainder of the invited personages filed in. There was First Lieutenant Borgert. His shifting eyes seldom looked squarely at any one whom he deigned to address. He was fleshy, but his movements were nevertheless elastic and suave. Behind him stood First Lieutenant Leimann, under-sized and prematurely bent, with a neck several sizes too short for him and a suspicion of deformity between the shoulders. A pear-shaped head protruded from between them, fitfully lit up by a pair of pig's eyes, which either restlessly shot glances or else were so completely buried under their lids as to become invisible. A monocle hung down his bosom from a broad ribbon, but he never used it, for fear of becoming ridiculous.

These two gentlemen dwelt together in the same house, each occupying a floor, and were inseparables. Though perennially short of cash, they saw no reason to deny themselves the luxuries of this mundane sphere. On the contrary, they lived like heirs to great fortunes.

"Pardon me, my gracious lady,"[3] remarked Leimann to the hostess, "but my wife could not come immediately, having her old complaint—nervous headache, you know!" In saying this he made a face as though he didn't himself believe what he was saying. "But she will doubtless come a bit later."

[3] "My gracious lady"—"Gnaedige Frau"—a term of politeness used to-day indiscriminately in Germany toward married women.—TR.

"Sorry to hear it," Frau Clara sweetly answered, "but I hope she will soon feel well enough to appear."

After little Lieutenant Bleibtreu, a special friend of the house and the only subaltern in Captain Koenig's squadron, had in his turn saluted everybody, the servant announced that the meal was served. The diners, in couples, ranged strictly according to rank, passed in. The dining-room looked cheerful, and the table had been arranged with Frau Clara's customary taste.

Everybody having been served, conversation started slowly. "The weather has turned so fine of late that we can commence playing tennis," remarked Frau Colonel von Kronau.

"Certainly," chimed in her husband, masticating vigorously. "I shall call a meeting of the club next week, and then nothing will stand in the way."

"Charming!" enthusiastically fluted Frau Stark. "I love it passionately, and you, of course, will all join in? You, my dear Frau Kahle, were one of the most zealous members last season. And how is it with you, Frau Koenig?"

"I'll have to forego the pleasure," she replied, "for it does not agree with me."

"And your husband?"

"I don't know how to play," the captain said; "but I like to watch graceful ladies at it."

Frau Stark bit her lips and shot an angry glance at the captain. "What did he mean by 'graceful ladies,' anyway?" she thought. That was meant for her, no doubt. And she remembered unpleasant comment made because she with her fifty years had started riding a patient old mare belonging to her husband's squadron. One of the sergeants was giving her lessons.

"Some civilians, I believe, will join," broke in the colonel. "I will have a list circulating."

Everybody knew this was buncombe, the colonel being extremely unpopular in civilian circles, and they smiled incredulously.

"I will join you," said Herr von Konradi, "provided the heat is not excessive. Next week, however, I have no leisure. I must sow my peas, or it will be too late."

"Yes," put in Koenig, "or they will not thrive."

"What? Not thrive? Peas will always turn out well if properly attended to," said the colonel's wife, with a touch of asperity.

"I fear I must contradict you, my gracious lady," retorted the captain. "Last year's did not turn out well anywhere."

"They must be sowed at moonlight, and not a word be spoken, then they will do finely, every time," said the Frau Colonel, eagerly. "But don't imagine that I am superstitious. I am simply stating a fact."

It was a bold thing to do, for whatever the colonel's wife said must not be gainsaid, yet Lieutenant Bleibtreu could not help it. He laughingly said: "Sowing, therefore, bacon in between while the sun is shining, we'll have one of my favorite dishes ready made."

The colonel's lady merely transfixed him with an envenomed stare. After a dramatic interval she resumed: "But, come to think of it, I myself won't have leisure next week. My goose-liver pates are not yet finished."

"You prepare them yourself?" asked the agricultural counsellor with deep interest.

"Of course. I do up six potfuls every year. The colonel dotes on this kind of stuff."

"And where do you procure your truffles, may I ask? I am myself looking for a trustworthy person."

"Truffles? Nonsense, it tastes every bit as good without them—that is all imagination."

"Oh, but you must excuse me, my gracious lady; truffles are the very soul of a goose-liver pate. Without them it is insipid—'Hamlet' with Hamlet left out."

"'Hamlet'?" rejoined the lady with the governess face. "We were talking of truffles."

Herr von Konradi shrugged his shoulders. Nobody else said a word. Just then Frau First Lieutenant Leimann entered. She looked as fresh and bright as the morning star.

"A thousand pardons, Frau Koenig," she smiled, "but I had to finish some important letters." And she sat down in the place reserved for her.

"We heard you were suffering from headache," was the general remark.

"Headache? Yes, I forgot—I did have it. But that is such an old story with me that I scarcely think of mentioning it any more."

She was a handsome young woman, and the fact was made more apparent by the really tasteful gown she wore.

During all this time the adjutant had not said a word. He attended strictly to the business that had brought him here. His voracity attracted no attention, because everybody was used to it. Off and on he merely emitted a species of grunt in token of approval or dissent of what had been said. He was still eating when the hostess finally gave the signal to rise. Then everybody wished everybody else a "blessed digestion,"[4] and made for the adjoining rooms, where the ladies were served with coffee and the men with cordials, beer, and cigars.

[4] "Blessed digestion"—"Gesegnete Mahlzeit"—is the universal greeting in Germany after meals.—TR.

Informal chatting was indulged in. The colonel, after briefly despatching a trifling matter connected with the service, for which purpose he retained Mueller, who was fairly oozing with good cheer, retired to a quiet corner with Frau Stark. Since their conversation was carried on in whispers, First Lieutenant Borgert, despite strenuous efforts to overhear, could only catch a phrase or a single word from time to time.

"You must manage it," he heard her say.

"Let us hope that the annual inspection will turn out well," replied the colonel. "Last time our direct superiors were finding fault with your husband. It began in the stables, and I heard some talk about it."

"Never mind all that, Colonel, my husband must be promoted to be major. I tell you plainly, if you drop him I shall—"

"Have no fears, my most gracious lady. I have given him a very brilliant report, though he doesn't deserve it, as you know. But I shall do my best."

"And you owe me your best, Colonel, as you very well know, for without me you would be to-day—"

Captain Koenig came up.

"Will the Herr Colonel not accompany us next week on a wine-testing trip up the Moselle? Agricultural Counsellor von Konradi will make one of the party. Some exquisite growths are to be sold."

"Certainly, my dear Koenig. You know that I always join in such expeditions. And with you in particular I like to go, for your dinner has shown me once more that you own a faultless 'wine tongue.'"

"Very flattering, Colonel. But I see you are still cigarless; everything is laid out in my room."

The colonel stepped into the next room. Frau Kahle was flirting with Lieutenant Pommer in one corner, while several young men were doing that with the pretty hostess in the other corner. Just then First Lieutenant Leimann entered from the dining-room, and behind him his spouse, making a wry face. Her mien became sunny, however, when First Lieutenant Borgert stepped up to her and inquired with solicitude as to the cause of grief.

"Oh! The usual thing," she snapped. "My husband has scolded me. You know his ungentlemanly ways. Always rude and offensive."

"What was the trouble this time?"

"Merely the fact that I had excused my lateness at table by pleading unfinished letters, while he had urged a headache. I am tired of his eternal fault-finding."

"That is valid reason for a divorce, my bewitching lady," smiled Borgert. "Look for another husband if you are tired of the present one."

She peered into his face inquiringly. "You don't imagine how serious I am."

"Ah, if that's the case, my dear lady, there is no time like the present for planning a change. How, for instance, would I do for a substitute? Now, honor bright?" and he playfully fondled her plump little hand.

She took this just as smilingly. "Before I answer," she said, coquettishly lowering her eyelids, "I must know what you have to offer me."

"Let us sit down then and discuss this most alluring topic in its various bearings," laughingly remarked he; and he led her to a divan, where they sat down side by side.

"Now, then, pay close attention, please," continued he. "I offer you an elegant home, a neat turnout, a tolerably groomed nag, a villa on Lake Zurich, and a host of serving genii."

"And who is to pay for it all?"

"Pay?" His wonderment was great. "Pay for it? Why, what is the use of doing that? It has become unfashionable, and besides, so much good money is frittered away by paying. I never pay, and yet I manage to live pretty comfortably."

"All very well, but there is my husband to think of besides," joked the pretty woman.

"Of course you still have him; but meanwhile you might try and accustom yourself to me—as his successor, you know."

Frau Leimann nodded cheerfully and then buried her empty little head in her hand, dreamily scanning the carpet. The others had left the two in sole possession of the room. The eyes of the officer sought hers, and there was a peculiar expression in them when they met.

"Why do you look at me that way?" said she. "You make me almost fear you."

"Afraid of your most dutiful slave?" whispered he, and his breath fanned her cheek. "Ah, no. But do not forget our conversation, loveliest of women. Things spoken in jest often come true in the end." She looked up and smiled as if enchanted at the idea. Then she rose, and when he grasped one of her hands she made no effort to wrest it away. He imprinted a long-drawn kiss on it. She shivered and then rapidly glided into the adjoining room, where the jumble of sounds produced by tuning a variety of musical instruments was now heard. The strident notes of violins, the rumbling boom of a cello, and the broken chords of a piano were confusedly mingling, and the male guests were slowly dropping in or taking up a position, a half-smoked Havana or cigarette between the lips, just outside the door, so as to combine two sources of enjoyment. Borgert had remained behind in the next room, and was now studying intently a letter the contents of which plunged him in a painful reverie. At last he put back the letter in his breast pocket, audibly cursing its sender, and then joined the group nearest him.

At the parlor organ Captain Koenig was seated, while his wife had taken charge of the piano accompaniment. Herr von Konradi and First Lieutenant Leimann stood ready with their violins, while Lieutenant Bleibtreu, the violoncello pressed between the knees, occupied the rear. The auditors, at least the majority of them, were comfortably ensconced in chairs or sofas, near the mantelpiece, and around a table on which a small battery of beer mugs, steins, and tankards was solidly planted.

They began to play: a trio by Reinhardt. It sounded well, for the performers had practised their respective parts thoroughly. But there were some disturbing factors, as is always the case with amateurs. The unwieldy agricultural counsellor rose on his creaking boots with every note he drew, and frequently snorted in his zeal. Leimann, too, was one of those one must not look at while performing, for his queer-shaped head had sunk between his shoulders and his bowed back presented a rather unaesthetic picture. The cellist, whose fingers were rather thick, occasionally grasped the wrong string, but tried to make up for this by bringing out the next tones with doubled vigor. The trio was followed by violin solos, and lastly by a Liszt rhapsody, played by the Koenigs with warm feeling and sufficient technique.

For finale the small audience overwhelmed the players with praise, and some more or less correct remarks were made about the different compositions.

"Oh, my dear Lieutenant Bleibtreu," cried Frau Stark, "I must resume my cello practice with you. It is such a soulful instrument, and I used to play it with tolerable proficiency in my younger days."

Bleibtreu made a grimace, and Captain Koenig whispered to him that the elderly lady was unable to distinguish one note from another.

Borgert had looked on nonchalantly from the door during the concert. Once in a while he glanced sharply at Frau Leimann, who was cosily reclining in an arm-chair, her eyes half closed, a prey to thoughts.

The players had now taken seats at the large table, and the conversation turned to trivial affairs of the day, the Frau Colonel assuming the lion's share of it, for she was decidedly talkative. Thus another hour passed; and when the clock on the mantel marked half-past ten, Colonel von Kronau gave his better half a look of understanding, and the latter slightly nodded in reply, and rose, saying to the lady of the house, with a smile:

"Dear Frau Koenig, it was charming of you to prepare such an enchanting evening for us. But it is time for us to be going. Many thanks!"

The hostess made some polite objections; but when she saw that the Starks too, and the agricultural counsellor began to take formal leave, she desisted from any further attempts to retain her guests, not dissatisfied, on the whole, that but a small circle remained. For with them it was not necessary to weigh words as carefully as in the presence of the colonel. It frequently happened that he, the day after a social gathering, took occasion to reprove his captains and lieutenants for a careless turn of phrase or for something which he construed as a lack of respect shown to him or his wife.

Those five gone, the others moved their chairs closer together around the table, and some fresh, foaming nectar was served. Borgert started the talk.

"Did you notice how this Stark woman again had a whispered confab with the colonel?" he said. "Such manners I think they ought to leave at home, for there they are not very particular. Just fancy, the other day I was witness when Stark threw a slipper at his wife, and she on her part had received me in a horribly soiled and frowzy morning gown."

"I saw worse than that," interrupted Leimann. "Last week they had in my presence one of their frequent matrimonial disagreements, and the fat one, her husband, clinched the matter by shouting at her: 'Hold your tongue, woman!' A nice, lovable couple, those two!"

"Anyway, it seems as if she lorded it over him pretty effectually," broke in the adjutant. "Day before yesterday Stark had had his fill at the White Swan, and when he became a trifle noisy and quarrelsome his wife arrived on the scene and behaved simply disgracefully. Finally she tucked him under her arm and took him home amidst the shouts and laughter of the other guests. I don't think their meeting at home can have been an angelic one."

"That sort of thing happens every little while," remarked Pommer; "at least at the Casino[5] she appears whenever he does not depart punctually at mealtime, and calls him hard names before the very orderlies."

[5] "Casino"; the military club houses are so called.—ED.

"Well, she is keeping a sharp eye on him just now," said Captain Koenig, good-humoredly, "for he wants to get his promotion as major, or, rather, it is her ambition to become Frau Major."

"Why, there can be no idea of that," interjected Borgert, with a great show of righteous indignation. "If this totally incapable idiot becomes major I ought to be made at least a general. Though it is queer that the colonel is evidently moving heaven and earth in his behalf."

"Good reason why," retorted Leimann, calmly.

"How so?"

"Don't you know the story? And yet it is in everybody's mouth."

"Then tell us, please, because we know not a word of it, and I scent something fiendishly interesting!" And Borgert rubbed his hands in anticipation.

"Why, last year the colonel had, with his usual want of tact, insulted a civilian—a gentleman, you know. The latter sent him a challenge. Our good colonel began to feel queer, for while he is constantly doing heroic things with his mouth, he is by no means fond of risking his skin. So after some talk with her, this Stark woman went to see the gentleman in question as peacemaker. She told him that the colonel was really innocent in the whole matter, and that she herself had been the cause of the trouble, having spread a false report under an erroneous impression. She managed to tell her yarn with so much plausibility as entirely to deceive and bamboozle the other party, who thereupon withdrew his challenge with expressions of his profound regret. So, you see, she saved the colonel's life, for the civilian is known as a dead shot. Since then she has the colonel completely in her power, and no matter what she tells him to do, he executes her orders like a docile poodle dog,—a fact which we all see illustrated every day."

"Well, that explains the whole mystery, of course," delightedly shouted Borgert. "Don't you know any more such stories? For it is really high time to call a halt. He has manners like a ploughboy's, and she like a washerwoman's. I'll collect a few more tales of the sort. It is simply shameful that one must submit to the dictation of this woman."

"There are rumors that she had peculiar relations with a well-known nobleman in her younger days; but I know nothing positive, mind you."

"Where in the world did you hear that now?"

"My military servant told me. He happens to hail from the neighborhood she comes from."

* * * * *

During this delectable interchange of gossip the wife of First Lieutenant Leimann had listened with gleaming eyes and heightened color; it seemed wonderfully interesting to her. Captain Koenig, on the other hand, sucked his cigar thoughtfully, and his wife toyed with the embroidered border of the table-cover.

"Why so lost in thought, my gracious lady?" Borgert said.

"I was merely wondering what stories you gentlemen might hatch against us," she said with some dignity.

He was about pathetically to disclaim any such fell designs, when it was noticed that Frau Kahle had risen to bid farewell, and with her Lieutenant Pommer, whose escort home she had accepted, her husband being off on a short official trip.

They were barely gone, when Borgert remarked:

"I think we ought to subscribe for this poor Kahle woman, just enough to enable her to buy a new dress. I don't think she has anything to wear besides this faded, worn-out rag of hers. I am sick of seeing it."

"But you ought to see her at home," interjected Mueller, in a minor key of disdain. "There she looks worse than a slovenly servant girl. And she doesn't seem to find time to patch up her dirty gown, while her boy, the only child she has, runs about the streets like a cobbler's apprentice from the lower town. One thing, though, that urchin does know—he can lie like Satan."

"Inherited from his mother, of course," remarked Borgert, when a cold and reproachful look out of Frau Clara's eyes made him stop in the middle of his sentence. There was an embarrassed silence for a minute, and when the talk was resumed it no longer furnished such "interesting" material. Captain Koenig's yawning became more pronounced, and Leimann was leaning back in his chair, dozing, with mouth half open. His wife, too, showed unmistakable signs of ennui, now that the scandal she loved no longer poured forth. Her features, a moment ago smooth and animated, now looked worn and aged, losing all their charm. Mueller was still digesting audibly, and hence it seemed the proper moment for adjourning.

Amid unanimous assurances that "this has been the most enjoyable evening this season," the leave-taking was finally effected, and the captain accompanied his last guests down the stairs, and returned after shooting the strong bolt at the house door.

As he turned off the gas in the drawing-room, he said to Frau Clara: "Quite interesting, this evening! These are two gentlemen we shall have to be on our guard against."



"Corporal Meyer! Have all this cleared out of the stable! Instantly! What beastly filth is this? What? The stable guard is not present? Then do it yourself; it won't hurt you. Forward, march! And then bring me the parole book!"

"At your orders, gracious lady!"

Frau Captain Stark strode with rattling steps up and down in the stable, followed by two ragged-looking dogs. She wore a badly fitting riding habit of slate-colored cloth, with a black derby that had seen better days. In her right hand she carried a whip with which now and then she cut the rank atmosphere in a reckless manner, so that the dogs slunk aside in affright. Her keen eye pierced everywhere. She scanned the black register boards nailed above the different partitions, and studied attentively the tablet on which was marked in chalk the ordre du jour. She came to a full stop behind two horses, the only ones left behind by the squadron which had gone off for drill to the parade grounds. Wrathfully she glanced at the poor old beasts, the bones sticking out of their wrinkled, badly groomed skin like those of a skeleton. Then she lifted the hind feet of the brown gelding and examined the hoofs. She drew a small note-book from her habit, and entered on the dated page: "Remus No. 37. Left hind iron." Next she climbed the steep wooden stairs leading up to the hayloft. There they were, the culprits, two men of the stable guard, slumbering peacefully, and not even awakened by the entrance of the "squadron's mother." Quick as a flash her whip rained a shower of blows, while she cried:

"Down with you; attend to your work, you lazy scum! I shall have you reported to the colonel!"

And they flew down the stairs, and were at the feed-cutter as if the devil himself were after them. She met Corporal Meyer at the door, breathless from running, but handing her the parole book. He clapped his heels together before her so that the spurs jingled.

She pushed the greasy book aside.

"What does the idiot think?" she cried. "Hold it before my eyes while I read it. Here is an entry that the saddles and bridles are to be inspected to-morrow. Have your men everything in good shape?"

"I will go and inquire of the sergeant-major."

"Away! Bring him here, but this very moment."

The sergeant-major made a black face when Meyer had delivered his message, for the hours when the squadron was drilling or practising were his choicest during the day. He spent them, as a rule, in domestic bliss, having his cup of coffee before him and the wife of his bosom in close proximity. He was peacefully enjoying his morning cigar when Meyer reported to him the desire of the "gracious one."

He cursed his luck, but lost no time in girding his loins with his sabre; shoved his cap on his bald brow, and went rattling down the stairs.

The gracious one received him very ungraciously.

"Sergeant-major, is everything in readiness for to-morrow?"

"I think so, but will once more examine to-night."

"To-night? You are crazy. At once. Loafing must stop. And, mark you, I demand a more respectful tone from you, or I shall report your case to the colonel. Now bring me my horse!"

"Horse, my gracious lady? That is out with the rest of them. All horses were ordered out, except these two lame ones," and he pointed at the two sorry steeds.

"What? My horse ordered out? What new insolence is this? Let it be brought to me instantly. One of the corporals can go on foot."

But this moment she heard steps approaching, and seeing Borgert she called out to him in dulcet tones:

"Ah, what a pleasure, my dear First Lieutenant! So early out on duty? I was just about to give some sugar to my husband's horses, but find them already gone. My dear husband is so excessively punctual in all that concerns the service."

"Your interest for the squadron is most praiseworthy, my gracious lady," said Borgert with a malicious twinkle in his eye. "I have often remarked you with secret admiration when issuing orders to the men about the stable."

"Orders? Scarcely that, my dear Borgert. Once in a while I am the messenger of my dear husband when he has forgotten something. Of course, I take an interest in all that concerns him and the squadron."

"Frau Captain is quite right, and I can only congratulate you on the successful way in which your interest in the squadron and in the whole regiment takes concrete form."

"You are always jesting. But I suppose I shall see you at the Casino to-night?"

"Assuredly, we are to meet at five to talk over some service matters."

"Yes, you remind me. But that will not last long. It concerns only some trifling affairs."

"Much obliged for the exact information."

"Oh, of course, I take an interest in everything, as I said. I called the colonel's attention to divers things, and I presume he will talk them over with you gentlemen."

"I am curious to learn what they can be. But, pardon me, I see Captain Koenig coming, with whom I have to transact some business. Good morning, my most gracious lady!"

"Good morning, mon cher!" And she held her hand up high to him,—a big hand, which was encased in a soiled, worn-out gauntlet of her husband's.

Then she turned once more to the sergeant-major, while Borgert hastened to intercept Koenig, who was on the point of turning into the big courtyard of the third squadron.

"Good morning, Herr Captain! I must beg you to excuse me if I interfere with your liberty for a moment, but a very pressing matter induces me to ask of you a great favor."

"You astonish me. What is the matter? Is it anything of importance?" retorted the captain.

"This afternoon the colonel will doubtless mention the unpaid Casino bills, and it would be extremely painful to me, especially in the presence of the junior officers, to have my name spoken of in that connection."

"My dear fellow," said Captain Koenig, "you'll have to go elsewhere for the money. It was difficult enough for me to raise that hundred for you a week ago."

"And if I repeat my request, nevertheless, Captain, it is because I find myself in a horribly embarrassing situation. For if I don't succeed in procuring four hundred marks till this evening, I shall have to face the most annoying, possibly disastrous consequences."

"All very well, but I simply haven't the money," said the captain, shrugging his shoulders.

For a moment or two there was silence, and each avoided looking at the other. Then Borgert murmured, hesitatingly:

"May I make a proposition, Herr Captain?"


"But I must ask you not to misunderstand me. Would it not be possible to borrow so small a sum from the funds of the squadron, since it would be only a question of a few days?"

Captain Koenig looked startled.

"But, my dear fellow, how can you suggest such a thing to me! You can't expect me to touch the treasury."

"I do not think it would matter the least bit, since the Herr Captain alone is responsible for that fund, and since this would practically mean nothing but the transferring of four hundred marks from the public fund in your own keeping to private funds of your own, to be made good by you, without anybody being the wiser within a week or so."

"No, no, that would never do," again said the other.

"But, Captain, you cannot leave me in the lurch. It would simply place me in a beastly predicament," wailed Borgert, glancing appealingly at his brother officer.

Koenig began to think, twirling his moustache. On the whole, he reflected, it might be a wise thing to place under an obligation this man with the dangerously bitter tongue. Borgert's influence on the younger officers was not to be underestimated, he knew, and a refusal would turn him into an enemy. The money itself he had, locked up in a drawer of his desk at home; but if he made Borgert believe that he had to "borrow" it from the squadron funds,—whose custodian he was,—it might be expected that the lieutenant would not so soon ask for another loan, mindful of the great difficulties this present one was causing. It was as the result of these cogitations that Koenig resolved to lend Borgert the sum he required, but to leave him in the belief that to do so it was necessary to touch the funds in his care.

"All right, then," he said; "you shall have your money. When will you pay it back without fail?"

"Within ten days, Captain. I give you my word on it."

"Very well, come to my office at noon, and you shall have it."

"Accept my most grateful thanks, Herr Captain!"

"Don't mention it; but I trust it won't occur again."

They shook hands, and the captain mounted and trotted off in a lively tempo toward the parade grounds.

Borgert, elated and free of care, hastened home. His duties to-day did not begin until ten. He really felt kindly towards Koenig for the moment. It was not the first time the captain had helped him out of a dilemma. Ten days! Well, within ten days all sorts of things could happen. Why not his ability to repay the loan? And if not, bah! What is the use of speculating about the future? For the moment he was safe; that was the main thing.

Leimann meanwhile was awaiting the coming of his friend in the latter's study, and when Borgert entered, serene of brow and humming an operatic tune, his face too brightened.

"Has he done it?" he shouted.

"Of course. Go to him at eleven, and he will do the same in your case, all the more as you need it less."

And at noon, when the two friends met at the Casino over a bottle of fragrant Moselle, you could tell from Leimann's exuberant gayety that his own request had not been refused.

* * * * *

Punctually at five all the officers of the regiment were assembled, with caps and sabres, in the reading-room of the Casino. And when the different squadron commanders had stepped up and reported "Everybody present," the colonel at once let them know his mind.

"Gentlemen," he said, in his most pompous manner, "I have commanded your presence in order to talk over a few matters. First: I must request that for the future, at balls and similar affairs, dancing spurs be worn, so as to avoid such unpleasant accidents as we had night before last. One gentleman, who shall be nameless,"—and as he said it he fixed a basilisk eye on Lieutenant von Meckelburg—"tore off with his spurs the whole edge on the robe of Frau Captain Stark. This must not occur again, gentlemen, and from now on I shall officially punish similar behavior. Furthermore, it is customary among persons of education not to be first in stretching out a hand to shake that of a lady. And if the lady herself offers her hand, good manners in our circles requires that the gentleman salute it with his lips. It was made evident to me by the complaints of one of the ladies of this regiment that some of you gentlemen stand greatly in need of further education on such points of etiquette." This particular passage referred to the fact that Lieutenant Bleibtreu had omitted the customary hand-kiss the other day, when Frau Captain Stark had thrust her hand under his nose, his reason being that she had worn an old pair of dogskin gloves, soiled and wet by the rain.

Casting a big tear, which had meanwhile gathered in his left eye, several yards away, where it glittered in the sunshine, the commander continued:

"Next, gentlemen, I formally forbid you to visit another town without first obtaining leave of absence. Whoever will visit the neighboring town must ask my formal permission first, no matter if the distance is inconsiderable. You all remember that two of the gentlemen of this regiment were forced to retire under peculiarly distressing circumstances, because of large debts contracted in the adjoining town."

"Will the Herr Colonel permit me a question?" interrupted Captain Koenig.

"If you please, Herr Captain!"

"Is this order intended to apply to married officers as far as invitations to social entertainments, the theatre, concerts, et cetera, are concerned?"

"Most assuredly; I must retain exact control of the movements of every one of you gentlemen as often as he leaves the garrison. Infringements I shall punish severely, in exact accordance with the military penal code. Such infringements I shall regard not as mere breaches of discipline, but as direct disobedience to my explicit orders."

There was a pause, the colonel whisking his big bandanna out of the breast pocket of his uniform coat, and carefully wiping his left eye. This done, he looked about and saw disgust plainly printed on every face around him.

Indeed there was disgust. Because two offenders in the past had got themselves into trouble, the whole corps of officers in town was to suffer vicariously, forced to remain shut up, even during their leisure hours, in a place offering absolutely no intellectual and worthy relaxation. The elder officers more especially felt all the insulting tyranny that lay in this new order; but iron-clad military discipline forbade even a murmur.

"And now, gentlemen," resumed the colonel, after scanning the clouded faces around him for another minute, "let us proceed to the election of president of the Casino management, for the term has just elapsed. You, Captain Kahle, filled that position for a year past, and I rejoice to say that the manner in which you have done so has found my full approval. Indeed, gentlemen, all of us are indebted to Captain Kahle, for he has done his best, by devoting the larger portion of his leisure hours to the task, in improving the management of our Casino. He has enlarged our funds, and has introduced a number of well-considered and highly welcome ameliorations. It is for this, I think, we cannot do better than to beg Captain Kahle to remain in an office which he has administered so much to our joint benefit. If, however, there should be among you, gentlemen, somebody to propose another man, let him speak up, for in that case we must ballot in the regular manner."

A unanimous murmur of approval, such as never before had greeted utterances by the colonel, ran through the assembly, and Kahle issued as the choice of everybody from the oral election. His office of dictator of the Casino was one which involved much gratuitous labor and frequent abuse, but was of the greatest importance to his fellows, since it concerned so closely the most sensitive portion of a soldier's anatomy—his stomach.

"It is not necessary to inspect the books," continued the colonel; "for I feel quite sure that everything is in the best of order. But one more thing, gentlemen! I cannot permit Casino bills to grow in this avalanche fashion, such as has been the case for months past. It is true that the two highest accounts have been settled to-day; but I warn you that henceforth I shall proceed without leniency, if all the outstanding bills are not settled by the first of next month. Consider well what I have said! Thank you, gentlemen!"

Thus dismissed, most of the poor lieutenants felt and looked decidedly blue. For some of them it meant another loan in Berlin or Cologne at usurious interest, with no prospect of ever discharging the principal, which meant nothing less than ultimate ruin and disgrace. For others, less reckless or with less credit because of more modest family connections, it meant the paying off in monthly instalments of their debts, which always led to a black mark against their names in the regimental list of conduct, minimizing their chances of promotion when the list would reach the eyes of the commanding general and, finally, those of the Kaiser and of his military cabinet. At best it meant a tussle with the pater. But golden youth does not long indulge in such gloomy reflections. That is its privilege. Thus, then, after exchanging melancholy views, the younger swarm broke and fled into the garden or into the cool veranda.

Meanwhile the ladies of the regiment convened in the reading-room, and with them were two young civilian gentlemen who had not been able to withstand their combined blandishments, and who had declared themselves ready to join the tennis club. The main business of the evening was to be transacted; namely, the election of a board for the tennis club and the fixing of certain days for play in the courts near the Casino building.

Frau Koenig alone had not come, and her husband had had formally to excuse her. The truth was, she avoided as much as she could to meet the wives and sisters of her husband's comrades, for she was not fond of the malicious, evil gossip that formed their chief pleasure in life. This natural inclination on her part had become stronger since her recent evening party, when she had heard how even most of the officers themselves did not scruple to retail disgusting bits of scandal. Of course, she was made to suffer for this exclusive taste—or distaste rather—and she knew perfectly well that the scandal-mongers were only awaiting the slightest opportunity to besmirch her own name and that of Captain Koenig; but even so, she preferred her own way.

The negotiations in the reading-room lasted some time, for each one of the ladies had a wish or an idea of her own to defend. Moreover, it required the encouraging words of the elected club officers to induce a number of newly arrived gentlemen to become candidates for admission. Of course they knew, these sirens, that nearly all of these candidates would never show up at the tennis courts; but at any rate the initiation and membership fees were thus substantially increased, and the ladies, of course, paid no dues.

At last, however, the folding-doors of the dining-room were thrown open. A substantial but not very elaborate supper was to be served there. The acrimonious and strident voice of the Frau Colonel floated above all this babel of feminine noises. In the corners stood, in little groups, a number of the younger and older officers, discussing, in subdued accents, the latest decrees of their superior officer. They were still vibrating with suppressed indignation.

Captains Koenig and Hagemann made sport of Frau Stark, but in such manner that she never suspected it. Lieutenant Pommer never quitted the immediate vicinity of Captain Kahle's spouse.

Supper over, nearly all the men present had the lively desire to escape from this promiscuous gathering, into which they had been inveigled under pretence of an official matter. But such was not the intention of Frau Stark, who cried out to the colonel in her domineering way:

"How about this, Colonel; cannot we make a good use of this favorable occasion and arrange a hop? Nobody, I suppose, would have any objection? I myself would think it charming,—simply delicious."

The colonel took just one minute to ruminate; then he declared himself equally delighted with the lady's idea. For her wish had indeed become his law—dura lex sed lex.

The men were in a rage. What folly to dance, with the thermometer so high! Much more sensible to sit down quietly on the veranda and drink cool, frothy beer! Lieutenant Specht felt particularly enraged, for he was to meet his flame at the train about ten. He exploded his anger, saying to Borgert:

"The old woman is crazy, with her eternal dancing; but let us keep her in perpetual motion to-night, just to teach her a lesson, until she herself gives in!"

While the ballroom was being cleared of chairs and got ready for the hop, couples were promenading in the garden. The golden sickle of the moon shed dim rays over the landscape and made the towers and steeples of the town, standing out at some distance, appear like misty silhouettes. In the deep green of the bushes a nightingale pealed forth his liquid plaint into the balmy night air, while from the ballroom inside the tuning of violins mingled inharmoniously. From the town gusts of warm wind carried snatches of a martial song, ground out on the barrel-organ of a carrousel. All these noises rose in a confused mass into the still air, mingling with the laughter of the women and the calls of the servants and musicians.

Meanwhile Borgert gave a gratis performance to a number of his younger comrades. He had gathered them around him in the tennis courts, where he strikingly imitated Frau Stark in the role of a tennis player. He showed how she attempted to meet the balls with a racquet, and how she picked them up, until these young men were fairly dying with hilarity. He was too funny, they said, and played his improvised part really to perfection. At last, however, Borgert tired of this "manly" sport, and his audience dropped off, one by one, joining the dancers inside. Borgert, though, enjoying the mild night air, lit a fresh cigar and strolled about the garden, his habitual cat-like tread barely audible on the soft ground. Puffing the fragrant weed, he suddenly spied, in the uncertain glimmer of the moon, the sheen of a white summer robe.

"Oho! A little intrigue," he thought to himself. "Maybe something of interest. Let's reconnoitre!"

He glided like a shadow among the flowering lilacs, heavy with perfume, and when a few paces from the figure in white, crouched and hid himself behind one of the bushes. He could not distinguish the outlines of the two figures clearly, but he heard whispering. First, in low tones, he made out the voice of Frau Kahle, cooing like a turtle, and next it was the basso profundo of Lieutenant Pommer, vainly endeavoring to compress its volume into a murmur.

"Amazing! Has this coarse elephant turned into a Romeo, sighing like a furnace?" he said to himself, and listened with all his might.

The syllables and now and then the broken words that he was able to understand from his point of vantage seemed to afford him the greatest delight. When the couple at last rose and disappeared down the path leading to the side entrance of the Casino, he left his hiding-place and slowly followed in their footsteps. An unholy smile played around his thin lips. "Two more in my power!" he whispered.

All this time the dancers inside were devoting themselves, without interruption, to Terpsichorean pleasures,—mostly waltzes, they being the special delight of Frau Stark. When Borgert entered the ballroom the band struck up the latest waltz,—"Over the Waves,"—and he noticed Frau Stark, flaming like a peony, perspiration streaming down her rubicund face, being handed, true to his programme, by Lieutenant Specht to his smiling comrade, von Meckelburg. Frau Stark just took the time to gulp a glass of lemonade, and then was off again, breathing hard, but still in the ring. The atmosphere in the room was stifling, but all the ladies, at least, seemed to enjoy themselves. Officers' wives are proverbially insatiable dancers.

After two rounds of the room von Meckelburg was seen steering his victim towards a chair near the open window. Frau Stark sank into it, literally exhausted. She looked indeed dripping. The young lieutenants had had their revenge. She had "given in."

Borgert meanwhile had taken his stand in a corner, where he bent over Frau Leimann, who was seated and fanning herself with her handkerchief. Although fatigued from heat and dancing, she looked most seductive in her pale blue tulle, whose filmy lace clouds around throat and bosom heightened the effects of her charms. Borgert, bending over her, sniffed with sensual delight a faint perfume, while he carried on a whispered conversation in monosyllables with her—a conversation which seemed to have meaning but for these two.

In the reading-room the orderlies were busy filling tulip glasses with that fragrant mixture, a May bowl, so grateful in its delicious iced condition, and yet so deceptive. Around a plain table in the small side room, away from the throng and undisturbed, several of the captains, the colonel, and two of the younger officers were playing "skat" at a penny the point. One of the lieutenants, to judge from his heated face and the anxious look on it, must be losing heavily. Had this "little game" been arranged to encourage the men under him in the economies Colonel von Kronau had but now so strongly recommended to them?

Lieutenant Specht just then was taking French leave. It was necessary for him to run to the station and meet the young lady—a lovesick, pretty little milliner from Cologne—who for the time being dwelt in his unstable heart.

Lieutenant Bleibtreu sat in a brown study, a few feet away from the players, deep in his melancholy thoughts. The army, his military career, intercourse with his brother officers and their ladies—it was all a grave disappointment to him. His illusions were gone, though it was but a couple of years since he had donned the bright, showy, glittering dragoon uniform, so attractive to the neophyte. He was thinking of home, of his dear, patient, loving mother, whose constant preoccupation he was; of his lovely, self-denying sisters, whose dowry was fast going while he was himself enjoying himself in the "king's service." Was he? Was he "enjoying" himself? Was this—this hollow, stupid round of the coarsest pleasures and the equally coarse and stupid round of duties—really what he had looked forward to?

The young man sighed. The absence of the wife of his captain, Frau Koenig, rendered him still more melancholy. Bah, it was disgusting. And to think that this was the profession most highly honored, most envied in the fatherland! To think that it had always been drummed in his ears, ever since early childhood, that to "wear the king's coat" would exalt him high above his fellow mortals!

Comradeship! What a fine word when it bears out its full meaning, thought Lieutenant Bleibtreu. But what was it here? What had he found the practical construction of the term? To follow, day by day, step by step, in the same treadmill of dull routine, only relieved by occasional but all too brief glimpses of the freedom that lay beyond "the service"—that was the meaning of comradeship. There was none of that unselfish intimacy, that ready sympathy and help between the members of the caste into which he had risen on the proud day he first read his name among the Kaiser's appointments in the Armee-Verordnungsblatt. Dead sea fruit! Ashes that taste bitter on the tongue.

Certainly there were exceptions. He himself had heard of some such cases of comradeship as he had dreamed of when still a slim little cadet in the military academy: cases where one comrade lifted the other, the younger and less experienced, up to his higher level; cases where one comrade sacrificed himself for the other. But these must be very rare, he thought, for he had never seen such a case himself. What he had seen was the casting into one stiff, unchanging form of so many individualities not suited to each other. It was the hollow mockery of the thing that palled so on him. And what would be the end?

Though young in the service, he had seen men meant for better things broken as a reed on the wheel of military formalism; he had seen them retiring when but in the prime of life, broken in spirit, unfit for any new career, impaired in health, perfectly useless—victims of the conventional ideas that rule supreme in the army. Others he had seen forced to resign, overloaded with a burden of debt, ruined financially, physically, morally bankrupt,—all due to the tinsel and glitter, to the ceaseless temptations thrown into the path of the German army officer. A young civilian, even when the son of wealthy parents, is not coaxed and wheedled into a network of useless expenditure, as is the youngest army officer, waylaid everywhere by the detestable gang of "army usurers," who follow him to the bitter end, knowing that to repudiate even the shadiest debt means disgrace and dismissal from the army to every officer, no matter if his follies have been committed at an age when other young boys are still subject to closest supervision.

Deep lines had formed on Bleibtreu's smooth forehead, and he was visibly startled when the cheery, round voice of his squadron commander, Captain Koenig, recalled him to his surroundings.

"And that's what they call pleasure," said he, sitting down on the sofa beside his young lieutenant, for whom he felt something like paternal affection. "If such entertainments were at least arranged beforehand, with the consent or at the instance of the juniors themselves,—for I will say nothing about us older men,—but no! Frau Stark commands, and the whole regiment, from the colonel down to the youngest cornet, has simply to obey. Disgraceful, I say. Why, we cannot even choose our own tipple on such occasions. The colonel simply orders that a May bowl be composed, and we have to brew it, drink it, and—pay for it. This evening will cost us a pretty penny again. A glass of apollinaris would be far more palatable, and certainly much cheaper and appropriate at this temperature than this confounded sweetish stuff, which gives one a headache fit to split the skull next morning."

"Quite true, Captain," replied the young man. "This form of quasi-official pressure, even in one's private expenditures, is one of the worst curses of our profession. It has indirectly caused the ruin of many a promising young officer, I've been told."

"Yes, my boy, you are quite right," answered Koenig. "It is amazing how many officers have been forced into retirement of recent years, solely because of unpaid and unpayable debts. Things in this respect cannot go on much longer. For the ruin of thousands of these young officers means also the ruin of their families, and among them many of the oldest and best in the Empire. An unhealthy craze for luxurious living has seized upon the army, and God alone knows how it will end some day. It is a thing which will and must frighten every true patriot, and I wish our most gracious sovereign would take up this matter more earnestly."

"Yes, H. M. does not attach enough importance to this chapter."

"And yet the remedy would be such a simple one," remarked the captain. "If H. M. would simply issue a decree to the effect that no debts of army officers up to captain's rank shall be recoverable in court, that would be the end of army usury, and with it would be removed the worst cancer of which the whole army suffers. Once the certainty that ultimately they are sure of their money would be gone, these leeches would no longer trouble the gay and shiftless young officer whom they now pursue with the persistence of bloodhounds. But what is the use of saying this? H. M. himself is not without blame in these things. As long as his personal example all tells the other way, how can we expect the army to become prudent and economical?"

"However, Captain, that is not the sole trouble. I think as long as we as a class—or caste—are taught that we are something better than the civilian population, so long as we are guided by another code of ethics, erecting an insurmountable barrier around us, there can be no real reform. Such prejudices, or rather such systematic teaching, must inevitably lead to sharp separation between the professional soldier class and the rest of the people. Good heavens, this is the twentieth century, and no longer the middle ages, we're living in. Caste and exclusive privileges must go, else—"

"Sh! Sh! Lower your voice, my dear boy—the colonel is looking our way, and over there stands Mueller, the adjutant, always ready for tale-bearing. Let us get up and take a stroll in the moonlight, or, better still, let us go home."

The lieutenant accompanied his superior officer as far as the door of his dwelling, and on the way spoke in tones of real concern of the fact that the cleavage between the private soldier and his superiors was so great.

"After all," he remarked, "many of these poor devils are every bit as well educated as we,—some of them even better,—and as long as this is supposed to be a 'nation in arms,' and not, as in the eighteenth century, an army of mercenaries, no such strict difference, socially, ought to be made. Do you know, I often think the Socialists are not so wrong in some things they urge."

"For goodness' sake, my dear Lieutenant, don't let any such remarks escape you anywhere else," said Captain Koenig, in a scared voice. But they had reached the captain's door, and so they shook hands and parted.

Bleibtreu lived at the other end of the straggling little town. In walking leisurely home, he followed his train of thought. The systematic brutality shown the common soldier—even the noncom. (though not in so pronounced a manner)—by his fellow-officers had from the start been very much against his taste. "They don't see the defender of the fatherland in him," thought he, "but merely the green man, unused to strict discipline and to the narrowly bound round of dull duties, the clumsy, ungainly recruit, or the smarter, but even more unsympathetic private of some experience whose drill is an unpleasant task for them, and who, they know, hates and abominates them in his heart." And he remembered scenes of such brutality, the unwilling witness of which he had been. Such cruelty and abuse of power, he felt, was playing into the hands of the Socialist Party. "These young men, fresh from the plough or the workshop," he mused, "cannot help losing all their love for the army. So long as they serve in it, of course, they will not risk those punishments for expressing their real thoughts which the military law metes out with such draconic severity; they will prefer suffering in silence the injustice, cruelty, and inhuman treatment to which, at one time or another, nearly every one of them is subjected during their period of active service. But once dismissed to the reserve, how many, many thousands of them will naturally turn to the only political party with us which dares to oppose with courage militarism and all its fearful excrescences! And all this," he continued inwardly, "is the natural result of a long period of deadening, enervating peace. Oh! If there were but a war! All this dross would then glide off us, and the true metal underneath would once more shine forth."

He went to bed with these ideas still humming in his brain.

Borgert had been enjoying himself meanwhile. His kind always does. He had, for a few moments, tried to listen to the arguments of Captain Koenig and Lieutenant Bleibtreu, while they were seated on the sofa; but, pshaw! how absurd to philosophize about these things, he thought. Far better to take life as it comes. And so he had joined the party at the gaming-table, where one of the winners was just then standing treat for a battery of Veuve Clicquot, and as he slowly sipped the delicious beverage, the bubbles rising like rosy pearls from the depths of his chalice, he smiled with self-satisfaction.

But at last he, too, left the house and directed his steps toward the far end of the garden, where a small gate led directly into the street at the end of which he dwelt. There! Again Frau Kahle and uncouth, elephantine Lieutenant Pommer! The May bowl, he thought, has been too strong for his addled brain. And he stepped silently aside on the velvety sward, under the clump of lilacs. The nightingale, from the centre of a thicket a score of paces away, still fluted and trilled a song of passion. And something like it, he made sure, big Pommer was also pouring into the tiny ear of that conquering flirt, the volatile spouse of Captain Kahle. Having ascertained this, First Lieutenant Borgert rapidly strode toward the interesting pair, clinking his spurs and drawling forth an accented "G-o-o-d evening!" as he came up to them before they had had a chance to rise. Pommer looked indescribably much like an idiot in returning the salute; but the little woman, with the ready wit of her sex, assumed the air of an immaculate dove.

The players were the last to leave the Casino,—all of them with heavy heads and some of them with much lighter purse. Among the latter was Leimann.



Next morning the garrison—that is, the officers of it—was slower and later in awakening than usual. That cursed May bowl! It was precisely as Captain Koenig had said: terrific headaches paid for indulgence in its seductive potency. Pommer, poor Pommer, although waked by his servant at the usual time, was still so much under the influence of the fumes that had mounted to his silly head the night before, that the only answer he was able to make to the shoutings of his Masovian[6] man was an unintelligible grunt. Then he turned over on the other side and settled down to a solid sleep.

[6] Masovians, the population of certain districts in eastern Prussia; they are of Polish race.—TR.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse