Transcriber's notes: 1. Source is Web Archive "http://www.archive.org/details/jenorsedan00beyerich."
2. [oe] is the diphthong oe.
'JENA' OR 'SEDAN'?
FROM THE GERMAN OF
FRANZ ADAM BEYERLEIN
LONDON WILLIAM HEINEMANN 1905
All rights reserved
The German original of this novel had a larger circulation in the first year of its career than any novel of our days, close upon one quarter of a million copies having been sold. It was praised by some as a superb piece of imaginative literature of the realistic school: by others it has been anathematised as a libel on the great army that made Modern Germany. The truth about it is probably best summarised in the words of a reviewer of the "Daily Mail":
"The author holds up the mirror with impartiality, without fear or passion, and with an unmistakably friendly intention, and asks, 'Where art thou going? Towards Jena or Sedan?'"
It is perhaps unnecessary to remind the English reader in explanation of the title that Jena stands for French supremacy and German defeat—Sedan for German victory and a French debacle; but he should be warned that in this truthful mirror of life there may be details liable to shock insular notions. The author could not shrink from such in the fulfilment of his task, which was to give the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. His work must be judged not only as a novel (and assuredly as such it is a most admirable and artistic piece of work), but it must be regarded also as the cry of a patriot who loves his country above anything in the world. This is most completely realised in the following opening sentences of a long and careful review given to the original by the "Spectator":—
"The Englishman who is acutely distressed by the report of shortcomings in the German Army can hardly be human. The frank pleasure which the Germans took in our troubles is too recent to be quite forgotten, even by a people so forgetful as we are. But for all that, only those who crave for the 'wicked joys of the soul,' which grow, the poet tells us, near by the gates of hell, can lay down Herr Beyerlein's story without a sense of sadness. In spite of its freshness and its humour, there breathes through it that note of disappointment, almost of lassitude, which is not seldom audible in Germany to-day. If is as though the nation, which has travelled such an astonishing distance in the last thirty years, were pausing to ask, 'Is this all that has come of it?'
"Herr Beyerlein's theme is the decadence of the German Army. That it is decadent he has no doubt at all, and he is a close, careful and not unfriendly observer. But the writer who deals boldly and broadly with the German Army is in reality dealing with a much larger subject. The British Army is a piece cut from the stuff of which the nation is made, and shaped to a particular end. In Germany the whole material of the nation passes through the Army, and is to some extent shaped and coloured in the process; if does not come out precisely as it went in. German military training is an iron pressure to which men cannot be submitted for two years at an impressionable age and remain unchanged. Symptoms of decay in the Army point, therefore, not only to possible disaster abroad, but to demoralisation at home; and it is with this aspect of his subject that Herr Beyerlein is chiefly concerned."
JENA OR SEDAN?
"Must I go, must I go, Away into the town?" (Swabian Folk-song.)
Franz Vogt was on his way home. He carried a neatly tied-up parcel containing the under-linen and the boots that he had been buying in the town. He had trodden this same road a countless number of times during his life; but now that he must bid good-bye to it so soon, the old familiar surroundings presented themselves to him in a new light.
Of course it was not good-bye for ever, nor was it even as though he were going to America. At the most he would only be away for his two years of military service, and between-whiles there would, he supposed, be leave now and again; moreover, this was not the first time he had left the village. But there was one circumstance peculiar to this going away—he was obliged to go.
Franz Vogt did not trouble his head much about the why and the wherefore of this obligation. He reasoned it out thus: Germany had enemies—the French and the Russians, to wit—who might some day and for some unknown reason begin a war; therefore, of course, it behoved Germany to keep watch and ward, and for that soldiers were necessary. Furthermore, there was a certain consolation in the thought that this authoritative call took no respect of persons; the sons of the two richest peasants in the village had been called up just like himself—they to the Uhlans, he to the field-artillery.
The life, however, must be so different from anything hitherto experienced that one could not but feel a little nervous about it. For the men on leave whom he had come across were never tired of talking about the hard words and harder usage that fell to a soldier's lot. Never mind! hard words break no bones. He was strong and active; no one had done better than he in athletics. One must take things as they come, and perhaps after all they won't turn out as bad as they have been painted.
The young man pushed his hat back from his brow and began to whistle as he stepped forward more briskly.
It was fairly warm for October. The broad dusty road that led onward up the hill lay shining as brightly in the sun as if it were July and the corn rising on either side, tall and golden. But instead the stubble showed in paler streaks against the darker ground that was already prepared for a new sowing. Further on in the valley green meadows stretched away to the border-line of a forest.
On the hither side of those woods, but disappearing at last in the dense verdure, ran the straight line of the railway. A cloud of white smoke could just be seen above the trees, and then the train would glide out into the open. By that line Franz Vogt must travel on the morrow to the place where he would have to sojourn for the next two years; and again the thought, "How shall I get on there?" forced itself upon his mind, and absorbed his thoughts until he reached the cross-roads where stood the paternal dwelling. Years ago, when toll was still levied on the highway, it had been the gate-keeper's cottage; and Franz Vogt's father, the last turnpike-keeper, had bought it from the State when the toll was abolished. Nearly twenty years had gone by since the white-painted barrier had been let down at night for the last time, but the little house remained the same in appearance. His father had even stuck the old barrier up in the garden, and had nailed at the top a box for the starlings to nest in; every spring a pair of birds built there.
And his father himself, how little he had altered! Only the beard, which he wore after the fashion of the old Emperor William, had become more and more grey, and the hair of his head had retreated from the crown in an ever-widening circle. But the old man who now stepped to the door held himself as stiff and erect as ever; the eyes looked forth from beneath the bushy eyebrows with a stern yet kindly gaze, and the deep voice rang out with military precision and sharpness.
"Why, boy," he cried, "you're looking quite dashed! Shaking in your shoes about to-morrow, eh? See what comes of having a woman for your mother! Come along in." He preceded his son into the parlour, and made him exhibit his purchases.
"Dear, very dear, all these odds and ends!" he grumbled; but finally declared himself pleased that Franz had preserved intact a good portion of the money entrusted to him.
"That you can keep," said his father; "for you know at first you'll have nothing more from me. By-and-bye, perhaps, a few groschen now and then; but first you must learn to shift for yourself. That's always good for one. I had to get along on my pay the whole time, from the first year to the fifteenth. Now go up and pack your traps, and make everything shipshape."
At supper the fare was no more sumptuous than usual; but Franz was surprised to see that his father had set out two smoked sausages instead of one.
"To-morrow, boy," said the old man, "you'll have regimental black bread. Good nourishing stuff! You'll soon like it." And pointing to the two long fat sausages, he continued:
"And the remains of those sausages can go in your box. You shall pack them up."
The two men ate off wooden platters, and cut up their bread and sausage with their pocket-knives; there was nothing to do afterwards but to gather up the fragments and carry the plates into the kitchen. An old woman came every morning to do the housework and prepare the midday meal, and every afternoon the turnpike keeper waited with repressed impatience till the door had closed behind her. Then he felt better.
When Franz had put the sausage in his box and come downstairs again, he found his father with cap in hand, ready to go out.
"Come, boy," he said, "let's stretch our legs a bit."
They went past the village, and wandered for a while in silence under the starry heavens. Then the old man began to speak less briskly and decidedly than was his wont.
"Look you, my boy, to-morrow you will be standing on your own feet, as it were; you'll be responsible for yourself. For it's like this: before one has served one is a silly youth: but afterwards, a man. Therefore you want something that you can steer by; and I tell you, you must make a rule for yourself that you can look to. The printed ones—they're only just by the way. Always ask yourself: is it right, is it honest, what you're doing? If yes, then fire away! And when you don't know exactly one way or the other, then just think: could you tell your old father about it and look him straight in the eyes?"
He had a heavy load of cares and hopes on his mind for the welfare of this son, the only thing left him to love; but he broke short off. He felt himself incapable of expressing clearly the result of the experience gained during his sixty years of life. He lived himself by that gathered wisdom, and it had passed into his flesh and bone; but the right words failed him when he would have imparted it to his son.
Friedrich August Vogt and his twin sister had been born in 1840, the little-prized children of an unmarried mother, who had vanished one day and left no trace. Probably she had died in a ditch. The children were taken into an orphanage, on leaving which the girl had gone to service, while the boy had become a soldier and climbed the ladder of promotion to the rank of sergeant, receiving the silver medal for bravery, and at St. Privat the iron cross. In command over others he proved strict and just; and though assuming an outwardly harsh, bearish manner, he looked after those who were under him with indefatigable and almost fatherly care. His whole endeavour throughout those fifteen years had been to stand blameless, not only in the eyes of his superiors, but, what was more important still, in his own.
His comrades disliked the quiet, serious man, and Vogt himself was just as little drawn to their frivolous ways; nor had women any attraction for him. He was sufficient unto himself, and looked neither for friend nor wife; but though he had grown up independent of love, he yet craved to win for himself some modest amount of grateful recognition within the narrow limits of the service, and he felt richly rewarded if a reservist when bidding good-bye gripped his hand and muttered a few clumsy words of gratitude. Of such were many good-for-nothings whom he had saved from dangerous follies and their inevitable punishment, not by rough words, but by kindly counsel. When he eventually doffed his uniform he had nothing with which to reproach himself; no neglect and no overstepping of duty, no injustice and no improper leniency; he had good cause for self-satisfaction.
He was given the post of turnpike-keeper in recognition of his good service, and could then carry out a long-cherished wish: he took his sister to live with him. But he did not long enjoy her companionship. She left him after but a few years, during which she succeeded—not without difficulty—in bringing some sort of brightness into the life of her grave brother. She foresaw that he would in all probability lapse into deeper and deeper gloom when she was no longer there; and on her deathbed she joined his hand with that of a girl some years younger than herself, with whom she had struck up a firm friendship. They respected the wishes of the dead, married, and lived together happily, thinking themselves the most fortunate of mortals when a son was born to them. But August Vogt was doomed to loneliness, for his wife died when the boy was just old enough to go to school.
Shortly after this Vogt inherited a small property from his wife's father, and the toll on the highway being at the same time abolished, he bought the now superfluous house cheap from the State, and set up as a peasant proprietor. He had now a new source of pride: that this land, which he watered with his sweat, should bring forth abundantly; that his cattle, whom no strange hand might touch, should be the sleekest and fattest of all. Solitary and unaided he laboured in house and field, as if wishing to defy that fate which had torn from him the only two people he had loved. As he could love them no longer he had rather be quite alone, save for the little chap who trotted after him everywhere, and—looking almost as grave and preoccupied as his father—copied with his tiny gardening tools everything he saw his father do. In course of time the child became a more and more useful helper, till at last the two in equal comradeship spent their entire energies on the land, by whose produce they were almost exclusively nourished, with the addition of the milk from their own cow.
In the evening they sat opposite to each other, resting after their toil. Occasionally, with a youth's eagerness for adventure, the younger man would ask the elder to recount those military experiences to which the decorations in the cash-box bore testimony; but the father gave only scanty and unwilling replies. He bethought himself how in those days of St. Privat they had stormed a burning village, rushing through a fine field of ripe oats, and how a man had fallen next to him—a boyish drummer—with a bullet in his throat. In dying he had grasped and torn up the golden ears; and he held a bunch of them in his dead hand, all dyed in his blood like some red flag.
Oh yes, he was proud of his medal and his cross, notwithstanding a sort of doubt that he could not suppress. An ever-widening gulf now separated him from that famous past; and it gave him a certain sense of discomfort, in the midst of this life of creative labour, to think of a time devoted chiefly, after all, to death and destruction.
It was from this feeling that he had abandoned his first intention of making his son follow his own old profession. There was no hurry. When the youngster was serving his time, he could decide to join on if he liked.
And now one thing was certain: it was very tiresome that his son should be called up just at this moment. Of course he mustn't let the boy see it; but he felt it hard, all the same. The recruiting-sergeant had pointed out to him that he could claim his son if he could show that the lad was indispensable to his work. But August Vogt was too honourable for that. Certainly he was sixty years of age; but even had he been ninety he would have managed to keep things going. Still, it was hard.
The father was probably heavier of heart than the son, as they paced through the night together; but when they stood once more before their door, after making a somewhat lengthy round, he only said: "Well, well, young 'un; you'll often think of this. Now sleep well, your last night at home." And as his son went off upstairs he added softly to himself, "My dear good boy!"
Early next day Franz Vogt departed.
The greater number of the recruits left the train when it reached the capital, and it was only a small company that proceeded onwards to the little garrison town.
Two or three non-commissioned officers received the detachment when it ultimately arrived at its destination. The recruits were then formed into squads and conducted to a large exercise-ground. The main body, hailing from the coal-mines and factories of the neighbouring mountain district, had already arrived by special train. There must have been about four hundred men altogether. Two or three officers, and numerous non-commissioned officers with helmets and shoulder-straps, were standing about. An endless calling over of names began. Those who were told off to the first battery were taken first, and were led away as soon as their number was complete. Then came those of the second battery, then the third, and so on. The other recruits stood looking dully in front of them, while those whose names were called out pressed forward through the ranks with feverish haste, jostling every one else with their boxes and bundles.
Franz Vogt listened at first full of expectation. Each time he thought that his name would be the next; but when the third battery had marched off without him his interest began to flag, and he thought he would take a look round. What he saw was not very encouraging. The large square exercise-ground was strewn with a fine black dust, coke-refuse, evidently; on three sides it was surrounded by a wooden paling through which bare fields could be seen, and, in the direction of the town, miserable-looking vegetable-gardens in all the desolation of autumn. On the fourth side was an irregular row of buildings; first a long shed with windows at wide intervals, before which stood a sentry, who gazed across at the recruits with great curiosity; next a forge, from the door of which a grimy blacksmith and his assistants were watching, and a soldier in a grey jacket was leading out a black mare that had just been shod; then came another shed with large gates, one of which was open, and a number of men inside were busily engaged around a gun with cloths and brushes.
At length the names of the men belonging to the last—the sixth battery were read out. Franz Vogt counted them for want of something better to do—his own was the nineteenth on the list; he answered with a loud "Here!" and hurried forward. The corporal, who was arranging his men in ranks of six abreast, was a little man with a red face, flashing eyes, and a heavy dark moustache over a mouth whence continually issued objurgations and reprimands. When Vogt with quick comprehension placed himself at the beginning of a new row he gave a nod of satisfaction, and the young recruit felt mildly gratified that he had at any rate begun well.
As soon as the recruits told off to the sixth battery were in order they were marched off, two non-commissioned officers in front, one on either side, and another behind. It looked almost as if they were prisoners with a military escort.
The road went through part of the town and then took a curve round a corner into a street that led out into the open country. Broad fields stretched on either hand, those on the right separated from the road by a stream, alongside of which ran a branch railway line. Beyond these fields rose steep, sparsely-wooded hills, showing in some places the bare rock.
A good way up the valley the walls of a large mass of buildings gleamed white in the sunshine. The little corporal in front turned round and cried, "Those are your future quarters, boys!"
Vogt felt glad they were not in the town with its close alleys, but out in the open country, where one could feel nearer the fertile mother-earth; where the eye had an uninterrupted out-look, and where one could watch the sprouting and blossoming of springtime.
A whirl of dust now issued from the barrack gates and drew rapidly nearer. An officer, and behind him a soldier, both mounted, came along at a trot. When he had almost reached the detachment of recruits the officer reined in his bay horse, and as they passed by let his eyes rest for a moment on each one of them in careful scrutiny. He acknowledged with a curt nod the salutes of the non-commissioned officers as they marched quickly past. Although not a big man, he sat his horse with dignity; while a huge red moustache and piercing eyes that flashed through his pince-nez lent him an aspect of considerable fierceness. Vogt thought to himself, "He looks strict, but not exactly bad-tempered," when the little corporal turned round once more and said: "Boys, that was your captain—von Wegstetten."
The escort of armed and spurred non-commissioned officers had already made Vogt feel as if he were going to prison, and the entry into the barracks made it full clear that he was, at any rate, under stringent discipline, and must henceforth renounce a large measure of individual freedom. The opening gates were of iron, and were adorned with sharp spikes on the top, so as to make climbing over impossible; a sentry, too, stood at the entrance. The gates opened on to a spacious courtyard surrounded by buildings. Not a green thing was to be seen, and the gravelled yard was as naked and barren as the buildings themselves, whose blank windows suggested deserted rooms. Only a few were graced with white curtains, which gave promise of habitation. Even the young chestnut-trees that had been planted round the borders of the courtyard throve but poorly; now and then a yellow leaf fell to the ground, although the woods outside were still a mass of green.
The quarters of the sixth battery were exactly facing the entrance, but the inner yard was evidently held sacred, for the recruits were taken round it by a paved pathway.
The little corporal now marshalled them carefully in two rows, and announced to an older man in a green jacket trimmed with red braid who was standing in a doorway: "The recruits are here, sir."
"Are they all there?" asked the other, as he came down the steps.
"All here, sir," replied the little man.
The sergeant-major passed slowly along the ranks, and examined each recruit with a searching glance. Vogt looked him fearlessly in the face. He reminded him of his father. He, too, could look one through and through like that; but one need never cast down one's eyes if one has a clear conscience.
The recruits were next conducted into the barrack-rooms, where to each was allotted a locker of his own, in which a white napkin and a spoon had already been placed. After putting their bundles into these lockers, they were taken straight to the dining-hall. Each gave in his white napkin through a serving-hatch and received it back again full, almost burning his fingers with the contents before he could put it down on the well-scoured wooden table. Beans and bacon was the fare, and it tasted rather good. No wonder, when the men had been travelling ever since early morning.
Vogt's neighbour during the march came and sat next him on the wooden bench. He wiped his short black beard, and nodded to Vogt.
"This goes down pretty quick, doesn't it?" he said, as he spooned up his food.
"Rather!" answered Vogt. And the other went on, as he pointed to his empty napkin:
"If only our two years would go as fast!"
They soon made acquaintance. Weise was the man's name, and he was a locksmith from a factory in the neighbouring coal-district. But they only had time to exchange the barest preliminaries of intercourse when they had to get up again, go and wash their dishes and spoons at a tap, and then return.
Outside in the court-yard, in front of the quarters of another battery, some recruits who had arrived still earlier were standing, looking hungrily towards the kitchen.
"We've come off better than they," remarked Weise. "Things are going well with us, it seems."
Now again they had to go outside, and the reading over of names began once more. This time the standing-orders were given out, and during this performance their captain came into the barrack-yard. He dismounted, and walked up and down, sometimes behind and sometimes in front of the recruits, occasionally standing still and examining a man with special attention. It felt very uncomfortable if the little captain paused too long behind one; but—so much they had learned already—it would not do to turn round.
It was a considerable time before the last standing-order was given out, after which the sergeant-major desired those who wished to attend to the horses and to be drivers to stand on one side, and those who wanted to be gunners to take up their position on the other. Vogt and his new friend Weise placed themselves with the gunners, Vogt in this acting after his father's advice. "Youngster," the old man had said, "first and foremost be a good gunner. Then if you want to go on serving and become a corporal, you will get on faster than you would otherwise. You will know your gun and will only have to learn to ride."
Vogt began now to long for the end of all this. He felt tired in every limb, and would never have believed that waiting and standing about could take it out of one to such an extent. But what had gone before was child's play compared with the tiresome business of getting fitted with a uniform, which now began. Vogt himself came off rather well: the trousers, measured according to the length of the outstretched arm, fitted exactly, as did also the second coat he tried on; the leather belt with sword attached he buckled on at once, and cap and helmet were soon forthcoming, but he had to put on several pairs of boots before he found the right ones. Then the corporal tossed him over a drill suit as well, and he was ready.
But with some of the men nothing would fit. The tallest of all found the sleeves reaching just below his elbows, and when he tried the next size, the coat hung in folds across his chest. Others had square heads on which the round helmets rocked about, until they were jammed on by two or three good blows of the fist. One sturdy, thick-set, big-bellied fellow it seemed impossible to suit; everything was far too tight for him.
"What have you been hitherto?" asked one of the non-commissioned officers.
"A brewer," answered the fat man.
"Did you drink all your beer yourself, then, eh?" inquired the other; and the man who gave out the clothing flung over a fresh suit, saying, threateningly: "Well, if that doesn't fit, by God! you shall drill in your drawers!"
He made the trousers meet with difficulty, and the coat was abominably tight; but the corporal gave him a dig in the stomach and said: "Cheer up, fatty! that'll soon go. They'll get rid of your paunch here in no time!"
When Vogt left the kit-room with his regimentals on his arm the erstwhile perfect order of the shelves, and of the symmetrically-folded piles of clothing, had been transformed into a scene of the wildest confusion. "A pity so much labour should be wasted," he thought.
And in what a wretched state were the clothes he had now to wear! The green cloth of the coat was so shabby that in parts it was positively threadbare; dark patches had been put in near the arm-holes, and the once red facings were quite faded. He examined them dejectedly and shook his head; he had expected something very different, and certainly he would not cut much of a figure in this get-up. He pulled a stool up to his locker, and began to take his things off. Weise sat down near him, already a full-blown soldier. The smart young fellow could adapt himself to anything, and had known at once how to give just the right saucy tilt to his forage-cap.
"Fine, eh?" he said, laughing, as he struck an attitude and gave his moustache an upward twirl.
But now once more the little corporal's penetrating voice recalled the recruits from their short breathing-space; those who were ready dressed must go down into the yard again, and then began another putting-to-rights all round. The presiding non-commissioned officers were in despair, for one of the men had one leg shorter than the other, another had crooked shoulders, and a third drew forth the exclamation: "Why, the fellow is humpbacked!"
The corporal called across the court-yard to his comrades: "We've got a hunchback here in the sixth!"
And the poor devil, a firmly-knit, broad-shouldered fellow, who had got somewhat round-shouldered from sheer hard labour, stood inwardly raging, and letting them pull him about as they liked; straighten his back he could not.
"A fellow-townsman of mine, that Findeisen there, a stonemason," said Weise.
He and Vogt came off well in this inspection. Their things fitted exactly.
"Thank God some of them have straight bones!" sighed the corporal, and sent them indoors again.
"You can be packing up your civilian clothes," he called after them, "and getting them ready to be sent away."
In the passage Vogt stopped: "Which is our room then?" he asked.
"Oh, number nine; we're all in nine," answered Weise. He pushed the door open, and with mock ceremony invited his comrade to enter.
At this moment the opposite door opened, and a tall thin soldier stepped over the threshold. Weise started. "What! you, Wilhelm?" he exclaimed in astonishment.
The other said, "Well, why not? Didn't you know?—— How are you, anyhow?"
They shook hands warmly, and it seemed to Vogt that they looked at each other as if there were some private understanding between them. Curious for an explanation, he inquired, "Who's that? He's an old hand, isn't he?"
Weise replied: "Oh, he's an old friend of mine; Wolf is his name. Yes, he has served since last autumn."
He had been speaking quite gravely; but quickly regained his cheerful manner, and soon after left the room.
Vogt put his civilian clothes into his box and snapped the padlock with a click. With that he felt that the last link that had bound him to the old life was broken. He was a soldier now. He looked round the room that was to be his home for two years: the floor of bare boards; the grey-plastered walls, hidden for the most part by the rows of lockers, and their only decoration a portrait of the King over the door and two unframed battle pictures fastened up with tin-tacks. These had evidently been torn out of a newspaper. Two large tables surrounded by stools stood in the middle of the room; and at one of the two windows, which were bare except for their striped roller-blinds, a smaller table was placed with a common chair before it, the seat assigned to the corporal in charge of the room.
The others now began to come up from the court-yard. They were fifteen, all told; but as there were sixteen cupboards in the room, one man must be still to come. Most of them had to finish packing their civilian clothes; when that was done they sat down in the darkening room, tired and silent, hardly even caring to make acquaintance with one another.
The fat brewer had placed himself at the table next to Vogt and Weise. He was overcome with heat, and said he would rather hang himself than endure this horrible drudgery for two whole years. But Weise chaffed him in his genial way: "How do you know you could find a tough enough rope, brewer? you're no light weight!" And presently the brewer grew less melancholy; now that he could sit down things did not look so formidable, and he only groaned pathetically: "Oh, if I'd only a mug of beer—just one!"
At last Weise suggested lighting up. The two lamps gave but a scanty light; yet even that helped to dispel the gloomy thoughts of the men. And soon the little corporal appeared, with two of the "old gang" carrying loaves of bread, of which every man received one.
It tasted very good, this hard black bread, to which each recruit had some little relish of his own to add—butter, or dripping, or perhaps a sausage. Only one sat regarding his dry loaf disconsolately: Klitzing, a pale, spare young fellow with hollow cheeks, whose uniform was a world too wide for him. Vogt, who sat beside him, cut a big piece from his smoked sausage and pushed it to his neighbour: "There, comrade, let's go shares!"
Klitzing at first declined; but at last he took it, and thanked Vogt shyly.
"Why didn't you pack up your clothes?" asked the latter.
"I have no friends," replied Klitzing, "and I only came out of hospital on Monday."
"Poor fellow! all the more reason for you to eat. What were you?"
"Well, we'll stick together, and you'll get along all right," said Vogt kindly. This pale clerk attracted him more than did Weise. Klitzing had frank honest eyes; one could not but feel sorry for his pallor and languor; how was he going to stand the hard work?
The men were still sitting over their meal when the little corporal brought in another recruit, a tall overgrown lad with a pink and white boyish face, apparently several years younger than the rest. The corporal spoke less gruffly to him, and showed him his locker with something like politeness. Apparently there was something special about this Frielinghausen, as he was called; even the uniform he wore was rather less patched and threadbare than those of the others. However, the new comrade seemed in anything but a cheerful mood; he dropped into a seat at the darkest end of the table, leant his head on his hand, and did not touch the loaf which the corporal placed before him.
Most of the recruits regarded him with unconcealed mistrust. What kind of stuck-up fine gentleman was this, who sat there as if his comrades didn't exist? He was no better than they. Only Vogt and Klitzing looked at him with compassion; who could tell what trouble this Frielinghausen was suffering from?
Weise became only the more gay. He took on himself to enliven the feast with jokes and drollery, and they all listened willingly; it kept off dulness, and the disagreeable thoughts that assailed them.
The corporal, too, listened awhile, well pleased. Then he called to the joker: "Hi, you black fellow! come here a minute!"
Weise sprang up, and his superior looked him up and down, not unfavourably.
"You're right," he said; "it's no good pulling a long face; a soldier should be jolly. Tell me, what's your name?"
"Weise," answered the recruit.
"Weise? Gustav Weise?"
"Oh, indeed. Well, all right; sit down again."
Weise went back to his place, feeling somewhat snubbed. Why had the corporal suddenly looked so glum when he heard the name? There was nothing peculiar about his name. He did not trouble his head very much about it; but his cheerfulness passed away.
The last thing to do on this first day of their soldier's life was to give up their civilian clothes, with the address to which each box was to be sent. Klitzing knew no one who could receive his belongings; so they remained in the custody of the battery.
At length the day drew to a close. Shortly before ten o'clock "Lights out and go to bed!" was called. They hung up their jackets and went upstairs to the dormitory.
This was a spacious room, which extended, directly under the roof, the whole length and breadth of the building. Vogt had the good fortune to secure a bed in one of the outer rows close to a window, and he beckoned to Klitzing to take possession of the bed next him on the right. That on the left, in the corner, had been allotted by the corporal to Frielinghausen. The recruits were not long in getting to bed; though the "old gang" were more leisurely in their proceedings.
It was only on lying down that Vogt discovered how tired he was. The lean clerk on the right fell asleep immediately. Frielinghausen, however, seemed wakeful. Vogt listened. No, he was not deceived: the tall lad was weeping. For a moment he felt inclined to question his comrade about his trouble; but he feared a repulse, so turned over on the other side. After all, it was not for a man to weep, especially a soldier!
Once more he started from incipient slumber; he thought he heard the cow in her stall, clattering her chain. Surprised, he collected his wits. "Of course," he then said to himself, "it is the tattoo. I am a soldier."
"Every hour of every day, Gunners, be ye blithe and gay!" (Old Artillery song.)
There was a good deal to do in the orderly-room. This new batch of sixty recruits meant a large amount of work that must be seen to at once, if the wilderness of papers were ever to be brought into some sort of order.
Three men sat bending over their writing: a bombardier, a corporal, and the sergeant-major.
The bombardier was doggedly filling in the lists, only glancing occasionally to see if the pile of forms still to be got through were not growing somewhat smaller.
Kaeppchen, the corporal, a lanky fellow with cunning eyes, grumbled from time to time at the trouble, and consigned to perdition the dirty rascals who caused it. Of course it was much pleasanter for him to sit in the orderly-room than to be messing about with the idiots out of doors; but he had never bargained for having to scribble away till he nearly got writer's cramp. And to-day the sergeant-major didn't even seem to be thinking of a pause for luncheon.
It therefore happened very opportunely when Captain von Wegstetten, having scarcely listened to the sergeant-major's report, "Nothing new in the battery," said: "Sergeant Schumann, I want to speak to you for a minute."
No further intimation was needed; Kaeppchen and the bombardier disappeared from the room instantly.
Sergeant Schumann stood by his table in the orthodox attitude of respectful attention. As on every day of the eight years during which Wegstetten had commanded the sixth battery, and he, Schumann, had been its sergeant-major, he waited until the former by a gesture or a word should permit him to assume an easier position. Nothing could alter this; not even the confidence that time had gradually established between them.
Wegstetten motioned him kindly to a seat, and then bent over the records of the recruits.
"Well, Schumann," he began, "what sort of a lot have we got this time?"
"It doesn't seem a bad year, sir," answered the sergeant-major; "they've nearly all got clean sheets——"
"Hm," assented the officer, "nearly all, but——?"
"Two have been convicted, one of theft, the other of resisting lawful authority. The first made away with a quantity of copper wire from a building; and the second made a row because he was notified that he had contravened some regulations as to driving. He was a cab-driver. Then there is another who has been punished for begging, tramping the streets, and sleeping out at nights."
"Well, he won't catch cold camping out, at any rate! What do you think, sergeant? mustn't a chap like that be glad to have a good roof over his head every night? Well, go on! What about political antecedents?"
"There is only one marked for that, sir—Gustav Weise."
Wegstetten began to polish his eye-glasses; then, "Read it aloud, Schumann," he said.
The sergeant-major took the paper and read: "Weise has more than once taken an active part in socialist propaganda; in spite of his youth he was for a time confidential agent for the Metal Workers' Union, and sometimes spoke at meetings, without, however, necessitating the interference of the police-officer in attendance, as Weise's communications chiefly referred to details of the trade."
"Nothing further? He seems a promising fellow! Where have we put him?"
"In Room IX., Corporal Wiegandt."
"Does he know——?"
"Yes, sir, I've mentioned it to him."
"Right. Call him in; I'll speak to him, and afterwards to Frielinghausen."
"Very good, sir."
In a few minutes the little bearded corporal was in the room and awaiting his captain's pleasure.
The officer appealed to the honour of his subordinate, in whom he was placing a special trust, and impressed upon him in carefully chosen language the necessity for keeping a watchful eye on the new recruit Weise, without, however, treating him differently from his comrades.
Wiegandt thereupon felt called on to describe and commend Weise's smartness and good humour.
Wegstetten listened, a fleeting smile once passing over his face. At the end he said: "Well, that's another proof that this sort often turn out good soldiers. You understand what I have said, Wiegandt? A sharp eye, and a firm grip on the rein; otherwise—just as with the rest of them."
"Very good, sir."
"That's all then."
When Wiegandt had gone, the officer turned to the sergeant-major and said with a sigh, "Damned nuisances they are! Now we've got two of these fellows, Wolf and Weise, we must see they don't get together. How is Wolf doing?"
"No fault to find with him, sir."
Wegstetten walked to the window and looked out silently. This was not the lightest part of an officer's duty, this supervision of the suspicious political element among the men. A perfect task of Sisyphus, indeed! After all, one could do nothing more than prevent the fellows from spouting their wisdom as long as they were soldiers, make them keep to the beaten track, give them "patriotism and the joys of a soldier's life" for their watchword. What sort of a fanatic was this Wolf? A man who had been handed over to him labelled "Poison!" with four cross-bones and a death's-head; who put on an expressionless face when his opinions were alluded to, and to the question "Are you a social-democrat?" answered with a stereotyped, almost sarcastic, "No, sir," and always went about looking as dark as a regular conspirator!
He turned round and began again: "Do you know, Schumann, I shall be glad when Wolf is off our hands. The man strikes me as almost uncanny. And then that Sergeant Keyser; he's a revengeful, resentful kind of fellow. He'll never forgive Wolf the six weeks he had on his account. Just see to it that the two have as little to do with one another as possible. Of course he'd never really do anything to a fellow like that; but it's always as well to be on the safe side. I'm not going to have another rumpus in my battery, with the whole lot of them had up as witnesses for three days on end! And that Keyser must mind what he's about. After all, we can't have the army turned into a big incubator for social-democrats."
"Very good, sir. And as Keyser has got charge of the kit-room now, that's easily arranged."
Any mention of this affair of Keyser and Wolf always rekindled Wegstetten's anger. Had he not himself been publicly shamed by it, as it had taken place in his battery? It had only been a trifle at bottom; such rough words as the sergeant had hurled at Wolf's head were daily showered on the men; but this social-democrat had, of course, a quite peculiar sense of personal dignity, and the stupid thing was that they had had to allow him to be in the right. For these zoological comparisons were strictly forbidden. An inquiry had been held about the sergeant's conduct, and then such a crowd of other "oxen," "pigs," and "donkeys," had appeared in the witness-box, that the commanding officer of the battery had felt quite giddy, and the presiding judge had perpetrated the cheap witticism that the entire German army might have been fed for a month on the cattle that the defendant had bullied into existence. He, Wegstetten, had hardly been in a humour to enjoy the joke, when the senior major (that detestable Lischke, in whose bad books he already stood), who was commanding the regiment during the colonel's absence on leave, had taken him aside and lectured him about the rough tone that seemed to prevail in the sixth battery. Wegstetten had taken it much to heart, and as he made the stiff little bow that formality prescribed, he had sworn a grim oath that never, no, never, should such a sickening business occur again in his battery. To have affairs like this connected with one's name had been for many the beginning of the end. And he was ambitious; he meant to go far.
He turned once more to the sergeant-major. "But it will be all right," he said, "at any rate so long as I have you, Schumann. I can depend on you. God knows, I should be pretty furious if you thought of deserting the colours."
The sergeant-major looked somewhat embarrassed: "Forgive me, sir. I shall have seen eighteen years' service come Easter; and however glad I might be to stop on, still—a man ought to provide for his old age. Schmidt, of the fourth battery, left four years ago, and he's got a good post as assistant station-master."
Wegstetten reassured him: "You mustn't think I was serious, Schumann. I know better than any one what you've gone through and what I have to thank you for, and I shall wish you good luck with all my heart when you go. But you must feel for me, and understand how hard it will be for me to do with-out you. If I only knew who could take your place!"
The sergeant-major shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, speak out; you know the men better even than I do."
Schumann hesitated a little, and then said: "You know yourself, sir; Heppner is the next in seniority."
"Of course," said Wegstetten rather testily, "I know that. But I know, too, that you have something in your mind against him. What's the matter with Heppner? Isn't he steady in his work and first-rate in the stables?"
The sergeant-major answered slowly: "In his work, and as far as the horses are concerned—oh, yes."
Schumann shrugged his shoulders again.
The captain began to be angry. "Good God, man! so——" but he swallowed the sentence and continued more mildly: "Look here, Schumann. I'm not asking you for any gossip about your comrades; I only speak in the interest of the service. What is all this about Heppner? Is it that story about his wife and his sister-in-law?"
"No, sir, that's his private affair. But he won't do for the office, or to—to assist in money matters."
"He gambles, sir."
Wegstetten walked up and down the room for a few moments, plunged in thought; then came to a stand in front of the sergeant-major.
"Thank you for being so open with me, Schumann," he said; "but I don't see how we can avoid it. Heppner has served eleven years, the colonel likes him well enough,—and he really is a capable man in all practical work."
He looked at the clock and went on: "Thank goodness, you will be here another six months, and we shall be able to get this year's recruits well started. Now it's half-past ten, and I must be off to the riding-school. What else was there? Oh yes, Frielinghausen. Have him here at eleven." And with a friendly "Good morning, Schumann," he left the room.
Schumann sat down again to his writing; but he did not take up the pen. What his captain had said about "desertion" kept running in his head. He himself sometimes had the feeling that it would be wrong of him to quit the service. Especially now, when these new-fangled ways made men of the good old stamp all the more necessary.
He had worked his way upwards through long years of service, only getting promotion by slow degrees; and eight years ago he had been made sergeant-major, Wegstetten getting his battery on the self-same day. Nowadays any young fool of a gunner might be made bombardier in a year, in another six months corporal, and then be set to teach others. Raw, empty-headed fellows that only thought of their own comfort, and disappeared from barracks the moment their time of service had expired, without leaving a trace behind. Chaps without the least pride or interest in the service;—nice sort of non-commissioned officers!
He looked round. Just so; Kaeppchen was still away. Where was that lazy beggar? and where was the bombardier? He shut up his book and went off on the hunt.
The bombardier was waiting outside the door: he "thought the captain was still in the orderly-room." That might be true, of course. He didn't know where Kaeppchen was.
The sergeant-major knew where to look, and went straight to the canteen. There indeed was Kaeppchen, just lighting a cigarette, after wiping from his thin black beard the froth of a freshly-drawn glass of beer.
Schumann would not make a fuss before the other non-commissioned officers who were standing about, so only said: "Kaeppchen, you're wanted in the orderly-room." Whereupon the corporal was off like a shot, not even finishing his beer.
Wegstetten sauntered along the sandy road that led from the riding-school to the barracks. Now and then he stopped to switch off the dust scattered over him by the galloping hoofs. Now and then he flung an oath or so at the riders, but on the whole he was contented enough. It could not be gainsaid, Heppner was the man for him. Yes, the battery was all right, and he, Wegstetten, would see to it that it remained so. On every speech-making occasion when the chief held it up as an example, he had rejoiced to see the envious faces with which the commanders of the other batteries congratulated him.
Undoubtedly on this account he was given extra hard nuts to crack—such as this case of Frielinghausen.
Baron Walter von Frielinghausen was a second-year student, expelled from the gymnasium for repeated misdemeanours. His mother, a very poor widow, had not the means to continue his education, neither was the family ready to do so. They had therefore suggested that the young scapegrace should be brought under strict soldierly discipline, with the view to his eventually entering the Fire-Workers' Corps, and perhaps being made an officer therein.
And it was the sixth battery that was selected as the scene of action for this young man's talents! Wegstetten resolved to take all the nonsense out of him, and to destroy any delusions the youth might have as to his being in any way privileged.
But when Frielinghausen stood before him, an overgrown stripling, whose somewhat angular limbs looked still more immature in the coarse, ready-made uniform; and when he met a pair of anxious young eyes fixed on him, his tone softened perceptibly. There occurred to him, too, the consciousness of another bond: Frielinghausen, like himself, belonged to the old Thuringian nobility—possibly even to an older family than Wegstetten's. Although this youngster had undoubtedly caused his mother grave anxiety, yet he had not stolen copper-wire, nor taken part in any socialistic demonstration. Wegstetten at the moment did not know of what worse he could be accused. Naturally he would see to it that this sympathy with the fate of a common soldier should not be wasted on an unworthy object. Directly Frielinghausen did amiss, he would be down on him; just as with that other sprig of nobility, Count Egon Plettau, who had actually managed to serve nearly eight years and of that time to spend, first six months, then two and then five years confined in a fortress—always on account of insubordination. Now this incarnate disgrace to the German nobility was nearing his release, and was expected to be back again soon in the battery. Accident would determine whether he would finish his remaining two months before he was put on the Reserve, or would again get himself into prison.
Wegstetten had sufficient knowledge of men to recognise the difference between the two. Count Plettau was a mere hopeless idler and vagabond. Frielinghausen was at least inspired with a wish to pull himself together and become good for something.
Accordingly Wegstetten spoke to him like a father; told him in a few pointed words that he must try to be independent and steady, and must not expect to be treated exceptionally; enjoining him by zeal and good conduct to earn promotion as quickly as possible. But at the door he added softly, for he did not wish the non-commissioned officers to hear: "Be worthy of the name you bear! That alone should be sufficient inducement to make you try to get on."
Frielinghausen stood breathless for a moment after he had closed the door of the orderly-room. His heart was full of gratitude for the warm, humane words, which, after all the dry exhortations and admonitions, put new life into his heart. He earnestly resolved to repay his chief by his deeds, and to take all possible pains to please him.
The boy, than whom a few weeks ago none had been more light-hearted and careless, had been forced into serious reflections the night before. He had been a favourite with all his fellow-students, even outdoing the others in boyish exuberance, looking only at the sunny side of life and laughing at the censure of his teachers. Now suddenly he found himself banished to surroundings the misery of which made sweet by comparison even the bitterest hours of the past, which he could only remember with shame. He thought of the times when his mother had implored him with anxious, fervent words to be good. How ill he had succeeded as to that "goodness"! That dear tender mother had not grudged him the freedom of youth; often she had told him that she had no wish to see him a priggish, model boy, but had urged him not to lag behind the others, nor to fall short of his goal. This was chiefly because of the stingy, well-to-do relations, whose goodwill she had to secure in order that he might not have an utterly joyless youth. She had borne every burden, and was prematurely aged through her anxiety that he should attain the object which had shone so brightly in the future: namely, the family scholarship at the University of Jena, an endowment founded by a Frielinghausen of old for the benefit of his descendants.
Then came the catastrophe. Never in all his life would he forget the blank dismay of his mother when the head of the gymnasium interviewed her and told her of the inevitable expulsion. "Levity, carelessness, lack of industry, superficiality in almost every subject," thus ran the reports of his teachers.
Hereupon followed a period of dreary inaction, and again a feverish succession of petitions and persuasions, with the object of obtaining means for three years' private coaching, but the relations declined to open their purses. So they had fallen upon this last expedient for providing him with a career as a sort of mongrel, half officer, half non-com.
He envied the simple lads who were his comrades. They had, it is true, entered into new and strange conditions, but after all they remained in their natural environment. Many of them had never been so well off as in barracks. There was no bridge between the heights of culture to which he had aspired and the uncivilised depths in which his comrades dwelt so contentedly. Possibly they numbered among them fine and loveable natures: he was most attracted by the shabby clerk Klitzing, and by Vogt, the rough peasant-boy; but all these men, with their scanty words and awkward gestures, fought shy of him, fearing to be despised by an educated gentleman.
The prospect of intercourse with the non-commissioned officers, who, on promotion, would be his comrades, promised to be but little better than with the recruits. Among them he met, for the most part, with the same distrustful reticence that he had experienced among the men, though a few of them made up to him, thinking him the protege of the captain, and this he resented. Kaeppchen, in particular, a little man, with unpleasant cunning eyes, offered to his "future comrade" sundry little favours which, being battery-clerk, were in his power to bestow.
Look at it as he would, the life of both the present and the future had seemed to him scarcely worth living. Upon such reflections broke the captain's hearty, friendly words, bringing a glimmer of light into the terrible darkness. To merit the goodwill of this man, to show him that his sympathy had not been unworthily bestowed, was at least an object to live for. Frielinghausen set himself to attain it.
He paused near the door sunk in thought, he hardly knew for how long. He was startled by a hand on his shoulder and a voice saying: "Just let me pass, my son."
Frielinghausen stood aside at the bidding of an officer who, in full-dress helmet, with aigrette, epaulettes, bandolier, and scarf, strode into the orderly-room. He thought sadly how he had himself as a youngster dreamt of being an officer, until his mother had talked him over to the safer career of letters. Now he glanced at his own shabby uniform and compared it regretfully with that of the other.
In the orderly-room Wegstetten rose briskly to meet the new-comer, and held out his hand: "Delighted to have you in my battery, Reimers; you are heartily welcome!" cutting short the lieutenant's acknowledgments with: "Yes indeed, I am pleased to have a man with me who has some actual experience of soldiering; of possibly something even more severe than that of Madelung with the fourth battery in China."
Laughingly he held up a warning finger as he added:
"Even though it was entirely contrary to orders that you should have fought for the Boers. How did you get on in the fortress?"
Reimers answered, smiling:
"Pretty well, sir. I have scarcely ever been so well treated as during that arrest."
"Very likely. And his majesty did not let you languish there long?"
"No, indeed, sir."
Wegstetten glanced at his watch.
"Well, I'm sorry I can't stop any longer now, for I must go back to the riding-school again. So good-bye, my dear fellow. But let me say once more how glad I am to have a man who has really smelt powder. They are only to be found among colonels and generals as a rule nowadays."
As soon as the captain had gone, Reimers put his helmet on the table, and drew off his gloves.
He glanced round the orderly-room and nodded with satisfaction as he noted that everything was as it used to be. Then he held out his hand to the sergeant-major.
"Good-day, Schumann!" he said cheerily. "You're still here? How are you?"
"I'm well, sir, thank God. And, beg pardon, sir, but how are you?"
Reimers looked surprised. "I'm quite well, of course. Why should I not be?"
"Well, sir, you had sick-leave last year——?"
"Ah, yes, that's all gone, Schumann; all gone—not a trace of it left."
"I'm delighted to hear it, sir," said the sergeant-major; "and, if you will excuse me, sir," he went on somewhat hesitatingly, "I'm glad, very glad, you've come back to the sixth, especially after you've fought for the Boers. I should like to go out there myself, you know, sir."
"Oh, no, Schumann," said Reimers, "you must not think of that. I don't believe you would like it. There's another side to that affair. Stay contentedly here. This is the place for you. Besides, the poor devils have next to no artillery left."
Lieutenant Reimers took Schumann's familiarity in good part. He recognised that it was the strong love of justice which made him espouse the cause of the weak.
"No, Schumann," he went on: "that is no place for you. Wait; wait quietly here. Mark my words! There will be work enough! The lessons learnt over there in China, too, will have to be worked out here, and for that we shall want our best men. You will be wanted. If only we had more like you!"
Reimers emphasised the last words, and heartily wrung the sergeant-major's hand.
Then he put on his helmet again and strode out of the room; a man, indeed, over whom the soldier heart of Schumann rejoiced. One could have confidence in a man like that, with his quick penetrating glance and his easy, erect carriage. He was a handsome fellow too, fair-haired and of open countenance, only just a trifle thin from his campaigning experiences. Not one of those young puppies, like some of the officers, who caused the sergeant-major, notwithstanding his due respect for his superiors, to shake his head sadly at times.
Schumann seated himself at his table. But despite all his efforts he could not concentrate his attention on the recruiting papers. The words of Reimers haunted him: that he, Schumann, would be wanted. That was the second time the same thing had been said to him this very day. There must be something in it. He felt as though he had a bad conscience.
But all day long he was busy, and it was only towards evening, when work was nearly done, that he had time to think. He left what he could for the next day, and went into his own quarters at the end of the corridor. Here he would earnestly think it out, whether he would not remain for a few more years with the battery.
Two families were quartered at the end of the corridor, that of Sergeant-major Schumann and that of the deputy sergeant-major, Heppner; each had a bedroom, sitting-room, and kitchen, and they shared the entrance-hall between them.
As Schumann entered he could hear through the door the rough, blustering voice of Heppner.
That was the worst of these quarters; the thin walls and doors let the faintest sound through, to say nothing of rows and quarrelling. Unless one positively whispered, one's neighbours could overhear everything one said, even though they were not intentionally listening.
The Heppners were always noisy. It was the old story that caused the bickerings of the ill-mated pair: a sickly wife stricken with lung disease, drawing daily nearer to her grave, and a husband of rough exuberant physical strength.
Heppner had married his wife when she was already with child by him; and he never could imagine afterwards how he had come to tie himself to her. He had at no time really cared for the pale, thin woman; but she had a quiet way of managing, inch by inch, to attain the end she aimed at. She had caught him by appearing humble and patient; so humble and patient that he fancied she would make a submissive wife—a wife who would let him go his own way and would wink at his shortcomings. For he had never had the smallest intention of playing the faithful spouse.
Devil take it! Wasn't he a jolly young chap who looked thoroughly well in his smart uniform; tall, broad-shouldered, strong of limb, with full ruddy face and black moustache; a fellow all the women ran after; was such as he to belong solely to a broomstick like his wife? It would be a sin and a shame! Lucky for her that she was so tame and yielding!
But after marriage the pliant, patient woman altered suddenly. She turned out a regular scold; a perfect vixen, who was ever at his heels, distorting his most harmless acts, and starting a new jealousy every day. Once she went for him with finger-nails and scissors; but he had given her such a drubbing that she never attempted that game again. She used her tongue all the more; and when, driven to extremity, he sought to chastise her, she screamed so that the whole barracks ran to the rescue.
In the end Heppner completely gave up troubling about her. He went his own way, going out evening after evening, enjoying himself after his fashion. He hardly ever gave his wife money enough for housekeeping. When he did come home it was he who was the aggressor now, and the reproaches of his wife were indifferent to him.
Thus things went on for months. It was not exactly pleasant for Heppner; but one can get used to anything. He seemed only to grow handsomer and more robust, while his wife became daily thinner and uglier. Finally she did him an ill turn by falling sick. The doctor declared her case to be hopeless from the first, and gave her but a short time to live. But even the approach of death did not silence her evil tongue.
Once the wretched wife went to Wegstetten, the captain of their battery, in the vain hope that he might be able to help her.
"Just consider a little, Frau Heppner," he suggested, "whether you yourself may not be somewhat to blame. For it is impossible that a man so regular in his duties, who never has to be found fault with, can be as violent as you make out. You exaggerate a bit, my good woman."
After this she resigned herself angrily to her miserable fate.
Wegstetten was not wrong in his praise of Heppner. Outside his own quarters Heppner was a blameless non-commissioned officer; one who knew his duties as well as any, and was strictly obedient to rules and regulations. He handled the men smartly, his brutal, leonine voice being audible all over the parade-ground; yet he never permitted himself any undue licence of speech.
In general, if his men took the trouble to try, he got on well enough with them. It was a satisfaction to him to command a well-drilled body of men; if they behaved themselves he showed them thorough good-will. Only now and then he would fix on a man and worry him to the utmost permissible limit in a grim, cold way almost past endurance. It would always be one of the weaker sort; pale-faced lads he could never endure. And occasionally in other ways the rough animal nature of the man would show itself. If any one got hurt, Heppner was the first to run up—not to help, but to see the blood; he would watch it flow with unmistakable pleasure in his eager eyes.
His special forte was the breaking-in of chargers. In the riding-school he was thoroughly in his element; particularly under cover in the winter, when the horses steamed and the dim lamps glowed red through the dust. With the air of a conqueror he would mount some horse which had refused a jump. His hand could be as soft as satin or as hard as steel, and he would always try gentle means first. Throwing himself back on the hind-quarters, where the weight tells most, and thus driving the brute involuntarily forward till with his powerful legs he had forced it up to the obstacle, with one final squeeze he would get it over. If a refractory horse fell with him, he would be out of the saddle in a moment, and would wait, rein in hand, smiling quietly, until the animal was up again snorting. Then he would remount, and four or five times must the rebellious horse take the jump; then at last his rider would be satisfied.
Heppner's voice would sometimes sound quite good-humoured during riding instruction; he would then relax somewhat. He knew that his men would ride well when it came to the point; for that the sixth battery must have the best horsemen was an understood thing.
Thus it will be seen that the brutality Heppner displayed at home he could successfully repress when on duty. But the most remarkable thing about this man, who behaved like a brute to his wife, and had no affection for his comrades, was the metamorphosis he underwent if the horses were in question. Towards those beautiful animals he showed an almost womanly tenderness. They all knew him, and he loved them all, though naturally he had his favourites among them. There was Udo, a light-brown gelding, who could kneel down. And Zulu, almost black, would shake his head when asked if he were French, but nodded when one said, "A German artillery-man, aren't you?" Heppner would take them sugar every day, or other tit-bits, which he would divide among them with scrupulous fairness.
If by chance a horse fell ill, Heppner's devotion amounted to actual self-sacrifice, and he would anticipate the orders of the vet. with marvellous acuteness. Once only had he mal-treated a subordinate, a driver whom as a rule he particularly liked. He gave him a blow which caused the blood to spurt from both nose and mouth, because he had, when on stable duty, allowed Dornroeschen to get caught in her chain. Dornroeschen was Heppner's own riding-horse, and the very apple of his eye.
It was chiefly among these beautiful and intelligent animals that the more human element in Heppner's nature came out, and his love for them almost amounted to superstition. There must always be a goat about the stables, for it was an old belief that the strong smell of that animal was a preventive of disease, and the long-bearded Billy was the special protege of the deputy sergeant-major. Now and then there were difficulties concerning him; as, for instance, when an unexpected attack in the rear knocked the major down in the dust before the whole corps. It was only by desperate entreaty that Heppner succeeded in saving the life of the bleating culprit, and then a curious chance led to his reinstatement. The very first night that the goat was turned out of the barracks, two of the horses began to cough the vet. hinted at bronchitis—four weeks only from the man[oe]uvres, and bronchitis!—Billy was at once restored to his place in the stables, and both horses ceased to cough.
The deputy sergeant-major would have found it difficult to answer had he been asked which he preferred: to play cards in a beerhouse with a buxom Bohemian waitress beside him, or to be in the neat stables amid the chain-rattling, snorting, stamping company of the horses. Both were to his taste; but perhaps on the whole he was really happiest walking up and down before the stalls, with the goat trotting after him, and the horses turning their heads to follow him with their sagacious eyes.
But as soon as the stable-door closed behind him the soft look would vanish; and as he opened the door of his own quarters an evil expression would overspread his face, as if he were ready at once to fall upon his defenceless wife.
Through grief and illness the unfortunate woman became at last incapable of attending to her domestic duties. She cast about for an assistant, and at last wrote to her sister Ida, who was in service in Lusatia. Ida willingly threw up her situation, came to her brother-in-law's dwelling, and immediately took over the management of the little household and of the invalid.
For a time it seemed as if the loathsome atmosphere of hate and squalor must disappear in presence of the tall fresh country girl; the deputy sergeant-major put a restraint upon himself before his sister-in-law, and the sickly wife found comfort and relief in talking to her. But eventually the presence of this third party transformed the house into a veritable hell.
The eyes of hatred are as keen as those of love. Julie Heppner soon discovered that her husband loved her sister with his usual coarse passion, as he had loved so many others before. She recognised the ardent fixed gaze that rested lustfully on the young girl, following her every movement. This, then, was to be the last, bitterest, deadliest drop in her cup; this betrayal, in her own home, under her very eyes.
The sick woman watched her sister's conduct in agonised suspense. At first Ida had been honestly indifferent to the behaviour of her brother-in-law; after a while, however, a faint embarrassed flush would sometimes overspread her pretty youthful countenance. From the fugitive glances which she now and then intercepted between the two, the invalid foresaw the most sinister results.
Heppner himself, not being particularly quick-witted, and being used only to coarse associates, did not quite know what to make of his sister-in-law. Of only one thing was he certain, this beautiful girl must be his. He was even prepared, if he could not otherwise succeed, to resort to violence.
One evening Heppner had been exercising Walkuere, Wegstetten's charger, for an hour. Having seen her wisped down in the stable and covered with a horse cloth, he went towards the canteen for a drink, when he remembered that there was a bottle of beer in his own kitchen. He strolled slowly and somewhat stiffly towards his quarters.
Ida was washing in the kitchen. He said briefly, "Good evening," poured out the beer, and drank it in great gulps. Then he shook the last drops in the glass to make them froth up, silently watching his sister-in-law the while. She had round white arms; and as she bent over the tub, the outline of her hips showed broad and firm.
Through the open door came the shrill hoarse voice of his wife.
"Ida, who is there?"
"Who else should it be but Otto?" answered the girl.
Again the shrill voice called, yet more insistently, "Why does he not come in?"
Heppner finished his glass, put it down, and said: "Because I won't. Because I'm better off here. Because Ida's a pretty girl, and you're an old crone."
At this, as though in fun, he put his arm round the girl and pressed her to him.
Ida kept still for a moment. She shivered. Then she shook him off: "Let go, stupid! Go to your wife."
Heppner let her go. The single moment that she had permitted his embrace convinced him that here, too, he would conquer. How she had quivered in his arms! He understood such signs.
Meanwhile Sergeant Schumann, only separated from the Heppners by a partition wall, sat at the round table by the sofa with his wife.
Their room, with its antimacassars, its upholstered furniture, its flower-pots and canary-bird, its sewing-machine in the window, was more like an old maid's best parlour than a soldier's sitting-room. The small, neat-featured mistress herself, who was not very strong, and always, even in summer, wore a little shawl round her shoulders, suited her surroundings admirably.
She had a thousand small cares, and one great grief: that they were childless. But she never troubled her husband with her sorrow, taking care to bear it alone. He had bothers enough in the service; how often did she not hear his voice storming outside! He should have peace at home. One thing only she could not bear without complaining to him: the terrible quarrellings of their neighbours. She shuddered whenever she heard the strife begin afresh; and gradually out of this had grown an aversion from all this noisy life. She became a most zealous advocate of her husband's plans for retiring; and could scarcely find patience to await the moment when he would put off the richly-laced coat beside which she had formerly been so proud to walk. In her heart she had always been rather against the martial calling, and would take Schumann's sword from him as though it dripped blood.
All this would cease when he changed his military coat or the handsome dark uniform of a railway-official; all this discomfort would come to an end; above all, this noise: the shouts and curses with which recalcitrant recruits had to be knocked into shape, the trampling of nailed boots on the stone stairs, the bellowing of commands on the parade-ground, and—last, but not least—the hideous racket next door.
The sergeant-major had almost finished his time of service. A post awaited him as assistant at a small railway-station in the neighbourhood; and once when Schumann was away at the practice-camp, she had not been able to resist the temptation to see the place for herself. It was on a branch-line, which wound up among the hills. The station was a little distance from the village in a green plantation. She yearned after the peaceful spot.
And now Schumann had again begun to speak of remaining on in the army!
His wife let him talk, listening patiently. She sat quietly opposite to him, giving him his supper as usual, as busy and attentive as though he were only speaking on indifferent topics. But when he had finished she spoke out, saying that, as a rule, she was not the woman to meddle in her husband's affairs, but that this was a matter which concerned herself as well. His notion that to quit the service now would make him feel like a deserter and a scoundrel seemed to her utter unpractical nonsense. He would be sacrificing a couple of years to a mere fancy.
Finally she produced her trump-card. She knew that the rural quiet of the little station had wound itself round her husband's heart during the week of trial he had already passed there. So she confessed her own secret journey.
And she conquered.
Each could describe as well as the other the charms of the unassuming little retreat. What one omitted the other supplied. Thus the picture in the sergeant-major's mind was revived afresh, and in such vivid colours that it regained its old power over him, dissipating the cloud of self-reproachful doubt. He saw before him a calm bright future in the narrow valley between wooded heights, and it came over him suddenly that there in the stillness, where one could live in touch with nature, he would for the first time begin really to live.
"I vow to thee my duty, My heart and my hand, O land of love and beauty, My German fatherland!" (Massmann.)
Lieutenant Reimers had reported himself to the colonel of the regiment and to the major.
These officers had given him a hearty welcome, each after his own fashion.
Major Schrader, who never let pass an opportunity of making a joke, received his report at first in a very stiff official manner, assuring him with a frown that he was very loth to have in his division officers who had been in disgrace; then almost fell on his neck, and asked him if it were true that the Kaffir girls had such an abominable smell.
Colonel Falkenhein gave him only a prolonged handshake; but Reimers could read the great gladness in his eyes.
The colonel had treated the young man almost as a son; and a year before, when the doctors had sent Reimers to Egypt as a consumptive patient with a very doubtful prospect of recovery, had seen him depart with a heavy heart. Now, looking upon him once more, he was doubly glad. Reimers had not developed into a broad-chested, red-cheeked, powerful man, but every trace of illness had vanished from the bronzed face; the thin features and the rather spare rigid figure gave an impression of tough endurance, a characteristic of greater value in resisting disease than mere well-nourished sleekness.
"You are well out of that, thank God! Reimers," he said, once more shaking the lieutenant's hand; "and it looks as if the improvement would be permanent, considering the test to which your health has been put."
"It was rather va banque, sir," replied the lieutenant. "Either all or nothing."
"I decidedly prefer the all," said Falkenhein, in such a hearty, affectionate tone that a rush of devotion carried the lieutenant past the barriers of formality. He bent quickly over the colonel's hand and kissed it. Tears stood in his eyes—tears of grateful pleasure. Now he indeed felt himself back in his native country.
How he had longed for it, day after day, during this year of furlough!
At first when, in Cairo, he was again laid low by the fatigues of the journey, he had thought of his country with pensive melancholy. Later, as his strength returned, homesickness asserted itself increasingly; he suffered from it more than from his gradually-subsiding bodily malady, and the aimless life of a health-resort only increased his sufferings. He could never have resigned himself to pass long months of such inaction in a strange land; and when he joined the Boer forces, it was to no small extent in order to counteract the torturing longing for Germany.
He loved his country with a passionate ardour. The ideas of greatness, power and sovereignty were inseparably connected in his mind with the name of the German Empire. But his chief enthusiasm was reserved for the diligent, unostentatious work, quietly accomplished and conscious of its aim, which, begun by Stein, Scharnhorst and Boyen, had led through long struggles to such a glorious result. He reviewed the whole story with the eye of a soldier from the collapse at Jena onward to the last great war he seemed to trace an uninterruptedly ascending line, not diverted even by Prussia's temporary political defeats. In the unparalleled siege of Sedan a height of military efficiency had been reached from which no further ascent was possible. He could not imagine anything in the whole world more honourable than to belong to that splendid army of Sedan; and he wore his officer's sword-knot with a pride far removed from any kind of conceit: in fact, nearly akin to religious veneration.
As a boy, it had been his bitterest grief that his mother's wishes and the doctor's opinion were against his becoming a soldier,—an officer like his dead father, who had fought in the great campaign. His mother and the doctor had feared that he was too weakly for the military profession. In order to remove this objection, the boy voluntarily subjected himself to heroic discipline, and by strictly following a graduated system of physical exercises inured his body to hardships, until he was actually found fit for service. Conquered by such persistent devotion, his mother at last yielded to his wishes; but she saw him wear his father's familiar old uniform only a few times, for she died shortly after, barely forty years old.
Bernhard Reimers thus became doubly an orphan. But he had far more than the death of a mother to deplore. With his mother he also lost the only person who had loved him, and the only one whom he in return had loved.
So closely was the boy encircled by his mother's love, that the need which led his schoolfellows at the gymnasium to form friendships was never felt by him. Whenever he wanted to learn something, to solve a doubt or to confide a secret, he could count on his mother's tenderness; she would explain, soothe, or sympathise, as the joys and sorrows of the growing youth became ever more serious. From this relation he retained a touch of womanliness in his character, even after he had left home to enter the regiment: a shrinking from everything coarse, a reserve before all that was unlovely. This instinctive feeling did not, indeed, altogether protect him from temptation, but it withheld him from yielding to excess. He joined in the little drink and love follies of the other young subalterns from a sense of comradeship; alone they would never have appealed to him.
As at school, so in the regiment, he had many comrades, but no friend. He did not trouble himself about this, and until his mother's death he felt no want. Then he recognised sadly that he was quite alone; but he was incapable of setting to work to seek a friend, so he just waited for some happy chance to bring the right person across his path.
When, at last, he found the friendship he sought, it did not come in the way he had dreamed, suddenly, like a gift from heaven thrown into his lap; but was a gradual strong growth, a slow mutual recognition.
It would be difficult to find a greater contrast than that presented by Reimers and this Senior-lieutenant Guentz; externally and internally they differed radically. Reimers was tall and lean, with golden-brown hair, and a noble, but somewhat melancholy expression; Guentz was small and very fair, with a tendency to stoutness, and with a red jovial face like the full moon. The one was romantic and even exuberant, slightly fantastic in his moods; the other firmly rooted in prosaic fact.
Both were prized as able officers. Reimers was referred to on questions of military history and science; Guentz was considered an authority on mathematical technicalities, especially in connection with the artillery. Thoroughness was a characteristic of each alike; and on the strength of this, and despite all difference, they were daily attracted more and more to each other. Guentz, the more expansive nature, soon opened his whole heart to his friend; though Reimers, partly from a kind of timidity, still kept his deepest and innermost feelings somewhat hidden. For Guentz, with his sober sense and terrible logic, must necessarily, since he could never be otherwise than sincere, destroy most of the ideals and illusions to which Reimers passionately clung, and without which he believed he could not live.
Little by little, however, the wall of separation between them gave way, and their friendship and mutual confidence had become almost ideal, when Guentz was ordered to serve in the Experimental Department of the Artillery in Berlin. This was a distinction; but it meant absence for a year.
Reimers had thus found a friend only to lose him again.
The exchange of letters between the two was not specially brisk. Things which could be instantly understood in conversation had to be treated in such detail on paper! They would have had to write each other scientific treatises, and for that there was no time; Reimers was too zealous in his garrison duty, and Guentz too much absorbed in the technical problems on which he was engaged. His loneliness only caused Reimers to devote himself with the greater zeal to his profession.
Even the irksome duties of the service did not trouble him, and he took special interest in his recruits, superintending, correcting, and instructing them. In times of peace this was, indeed, the greatest and most important work of the young officer, to mould this stubborn human material into soldiers—soldiers who, after the first rough shaping, had to be trained till finally they attained their highest end: fitness for active service.
At the same time he had to pursue his own studies in military science. But he would have been ashamed to call that work; he knew no nobler pleasure, and would gladly have sat up the whole night over the plans of the general staff, only refraining so that the next morning might find him fresh with the needful, or, as he smilingly called it, the "regulation" vigour for practical duty.