THE WHITE MORNING
A Novel of the Power of the German Women in Wartime
Countess Gisela Niebuhr sat in the long dusk of Munich staring over at the beautiful park that in happier days had been famous in the world as the Englischer Garten, and deliberately recalled on what might be the last night of her life the successive causes that had led to her profound dissatisfaction with her country as a woman. She was so thoroughly disgusted with it as a German that personal grievances were far from necessary to fortify her for the momentous role she was to play with the dawn; but in this rare hour of leisure it amused her naturally introspective mind to rehearse certain episodes whose sum had made her what she was.
When she was fourteen and her sisters Lili and Elsa sixteen and eighteen they had met in the attic of their home in Berlin one afternoon when their father was automatically at his club and their mother taking her prescribed hour of rest, and solemnly pledged one another never to marry. The causes of this vital conclave were both cumulative and immediate. Their father, the Herr Graf, a fine looking junker of sixty odd, with a roving eye and a martial air despite a corpulence which annoyed him excessively, had transferred his lost authority over his regiment to his household. The boys were in their own regiments and rid of parental discipline, but the countess and the girls received the full benefit of his military, and Prussian, relish for despotism.
In his essence a kind man and fond of his women, he balked their every individual wish and allowed them practically no liberty. They never left the house unattended, like the American girls and those fortunate beings of the student class. Lili had a charming voice and was consumed with ambition to be an operatic star. She had summoned her courage upon one memorable occasion and broached the subject to her father. All the terrified family had expected his instant dissolution from apoplexy, and in spite of his petty tyrannies they loved him. The best instructor in Berlin continued to give her lessons, as nothing gave the Graf more pleasure of an evening than her warblings.
The household, quite apart from the Frau Graefin's admirable management, ran with military precision, and no one dared to be the fraction of a minute late for meals or social engagements. They attended the theater, the opera, court functions, dinners, balls, on stated nights, and unless the Kaiser took a whim and altered a date, there was no deviation from this routine year in and out. They walked at the same hour, drove in the Tiergarten with the rest of fashionable Berlin, started for their castle in the Saxon Alps not only upon the same day but on the same train every summer, and the electric lights went out at precisely the same moment every night; the count's faithful steward manipulated a central stop. They were encouraged to read and study, but not—oh, by no means—to have individual opinions. The men of Germany were there to do the thinking and they did it.
Perhaps the rebellion of the Niebuhr girls would never have crystallized (for, after all, their everyday experience was much like that of other girls of their class, merely intensified by their father's persistence of executive ardors) had it not been for two subtle influences, quite unsuspected by the haughty Kammerherr: they had an American friend, Kate Terriss, who was "finishing her voice" in Berlin, and their married sister, Mariette, had recently spent a fortnight in the paternal nest.
The count despised the entire American race, as all good Prussians did, but he was as wax to feminine blandishments outside of his family, and Miss Terriss was pretty, diplomatic, alluring, and far cleverer than he would have admitted any woman could be. She wound the old martinet round her finger, subdued her rampant Americanism in his society, and amused herself sowing the seeds of rebellion in the minds of "those poor Niebuhr girls." As the countess also liked her, she had been "in and out of the house" for nearly a year. The young Prussians had alternately gasped and wept at the amazing stories of the liberty, the petting, the procession of "good times" enjoyed by American girls of their own class, to say nothing of the invariable prerogative of these fortunate girls to choose their own husbands; who, according to the unprincipled Miss Terriss, invariably spoiled their wives, and permitted them to go and come, to spend their large personal allowances, as they listed. Gisela closed her beloved volume of Grimm's fairy tales and never opened it again.
But it was the visit of Mariette that had marshalled vague dissatisfactions to an ordered climax. She had left her husband in the garrison town she had married with the excellent young officer, making a trifling indisposition of her mother a pretext for escape. On the night before her departure the four girls huddled in her bed after the opera and listened to an incisive account of her brief but distasteful period of matrimony. Not that she suffered from tyranny. Quite the reverse. Of her several suitors she had cannily engineered into her father's favor a young man of pleasing appearance, good title and fortune, but quite without character behind his fierce upstanding mustache. Inheriting her father's rigid will, she had kept the young officer in a state of abject submission. She stroked his hair in public as if he had been her pet dachshund, and patted his hand at kindly intervals as had he been her dear little son.
"But Karl has the soul of a sheep," she informed the breathless trio. "You might not be so fortunate. Far, far from it. How can any one more than guess before one is fairly married and done for? Look at papa. Does he not pass in society as quite a charming person? The women like him, and if poor mama died he could get another quick as a wink. But at the best, my dear girls, matrimony—in Germany, at least—is an unmitigated bore. And in a garrison town! Literally, there is no liberty, even with one's husband under the thumb. We live by rote. Every afternoon I have to take coffee at some house or other, when all those tiresome women are not at my own. And what do you suppose they talk about—but invariably? Love!" (With ineffable disdain.) "Nothing else, barring gossip and scandal; as if they got any good out of love! But they are stupid for the most part and gorged with love novels. They discuss the opera or the play for the love element only, or the sensual quality of the music. Let me tell you that although I married to get rid of papa, if I had it to do over I should accept parental tyranny as the lesser evil. Not that I am not fond of Karl in a way. He is a dear and would be quite harmless if he were not in love with me. But garrison society—Gott, how German wives would rejoice in a war! Think of the freedom of being a Red Cross nurse, and all the men at the front. Officers would be your fate, too. Papa would not look at a man who was not in the army. He despises men who live on their estates. So take my advice while you may. Sit tight, as the English say. Even German fathers do not live forever. The lime in our soil sees to that. I notice papa's face gets quite purple after dinner, and when he is angry. His arteries must have been hardening for twenty years."
Lili and Elsa were quite aghast at this naked ratiocination, but Gisela whispered: "We might elope, you know."
"With whom? No Englishman or American ever crosses the threshold, and Kate has no brothers. The students have no money and no morals, and, what is worse, no baths. A burgess or a professional would be quite as intolerable, and no man of our class would consent to an elopement. Germans may be sentimental but they are not romantic when it comes to settlements. Now take my advice."
They were taking it on this fateful day in the attic. They vowed never to marry even if their formidable papa locked them up on bread and water.
"Which would be rather good for us," remarked the practical Elsa. "I am sure we eat too much, and Gisela has a tendency to plumpness. But your turn will not come for four years yet, dear child. It is poor us that will need all our vows."
After some deliberation they concluded to inform their mother of their grim resolve. Naturally sympathetic, a pregnant upheaval had taken place in that good lady's psychology during the past year. Her marriage, although arranged by the two families, had been a love match on both sides. The Graf was a handsome dashing and passionate lover and she a beautiful girl, lively and companionable. Disillusion was slow in coming, for she had been brought up on the soundest German principles and believed in the natural superiority of the male as she did in the House of Hohenzollern and the Lutheran religion.
But she suspected, during her thirties, that she was, after all, the daughter of a brilliant father as well as of an obsequious mother, and that she had possibilities of mind and spirit that clamored for development and fired the imagination, while utterly without hope. In other words she was, like many another German woman, in her secret heart, an individual. But she was not a rebel; her social code forbade that. She manufactured interests for herself as rapidly, and as various, as possible, preserved her good looks in spite of her eight children (the two that followed Gisela died in infancy), dressed far better than most German women, cultivated society, gave four notable musicales a season, and was devoted to her sons and daughters, although she never opposed her husband's stern military discipline of those seemingly typical maedchens. It was her policy to keep the martinet in a good humor, and after all—she had condemned herself not to think—what better destiny than to be a German woman of the higher aristocracy? They might have been born into the middle class, where there were quite as many tyrants as in the patrician, and vastly fewer compensations. At the age of forty-four she believed herself to be a philosopher.
Six months before Mariette's marriage and shortly after the birth and death of her last child, Frau von Niebuhr suddenly returned to her bed, prostrate, on the verge of collapse. The count raged that any wife of his should dare to be ill or absent (when not fulfilling patriotic obligations), consult her own selfish whims by having nerves and lying speechless in bed. But he had a very considerable respect for Herr Doktor Meyers—a rank plebeian but the best doctor in Berlin—and when that family adviser, as autocratic as himself, ordered the Frau Graefin to go to a sanatorium in the Austrian Dolomites—but alone, mind you!—and remain as long as he—I, myself, Herr Graf!—deemed advisable, with no intercourse, personal or chirographical with her family, the Head of the House of Niebuhr angrily gave his consent and sent for a sister to chaperon his girls.
The countess remained until the eve of Mariette's wedding, and she passed those six months in one of the superlatively beautiful mountain resorts of Austria. She was solitary, for the most part, and she did an excessive amount of thinking. She returned to her duties with a deep disgust of life as she knew it, a cynical contempt for women, and a profound sense of revolt. Her natural diplomacy she had increased tenfold.
When the three girls, their eyes very large, and speaking in whispers, although their father was at a yearly talk-fest with his old brothers in arms, confided to their mother their resolution never in any circumstances to adopt a household tyrant of their own, she nodded understandingly.
"Leave it to me," she said. "Your father can be managed, little as he suspects it. I'll find the weak spot in each of the suitors he brings to the house and set him against all of them."
"And my voice?" asked Lili timidly. But the Frau Graefin shook her head. "There I cannot help you. He thinks an artistic career would disgrace his family, and that is the end of it. Moreover, he regards women of any class in public life as a disgrace to Germany. My assistance must be passive—apparently. It will be enough to have no worse. Take my word and Mariette's for that."
The Graefin, true to her word, quietly disposed of the several suitors approved by her husband, and although the autocrat sputtered and raged—the Graefin, her youngest daughter shrewdly surmised, rather encouraged these exciting tempers—arguing that these three girls bade fair to remain on his hands for ever, he ended always by agreeing that the young officers were unworthy of an alliance with the ancient and honorable House of Niebuhr.
The battles ended abruptly when Gisela was eighteen and a fat Lieutenant of Uhlans, suing for the hand of the youngest born, and vehemently supported by the Graf, had just been turned adrift. The Graf dropped dead in his club. He left a surprisingly small estate for one who had presented so pompous a front to the world. But not only had his sons been handsomely portioned when they entered the army, and Mariette when she married, but the excellent count, to relieve the increasing monotony of days no longer enlivened by maneuvers and boudoirs, had amused himself on the stock exchange. His judgment had been singularly bad and he had dropped most of his capital and lived on the rest.
The town house must be sold and the countess and her daughters retire to her castle in the Saxon Alps. As there were no portions for the girls, the haunting terrors of matrimony were laid.
The four women took their comparative poverty with equanimity. The countess had been as practical and economical as all German housewives, even when relieved by housekeepers and stewards, and she calculated that with a meager staff of servants and two years of seclusion she should be able to furnish a flat in Berlin and pay a year's rent in advance. Then by living for half the year on her estate she should save enough for six highly agreeable months in the capital. Perhaps she might let her castle to some rich brewer or American; and this she eventually did.
Lili was given permission to study for the operatic stage and spend the following winter in Dresden, where Mariette's husband was now quartered. It was just before they moved to the country that the Graefin said to her girls as they sat at coffee in the dismantled house:
"You shall have all that I never had, fulfil all the secret ambitions of my younger heart. If you are individuals, prove it. You may go on the stage, write, paint, study law, medicine, what you will. You have been bred aristocrats and aristocrats you will remain. It is not liberty that vulgarizes. Don't hate men. They have charming phases and moods; but avoid entangling alliances until you are thirty. After that you will know them well enough to avoid that fatal initial submergence. The whole point is to begin with your eyes open and your campaign clearly thought out.
"I, too, purpose to get a great deal out of life now that my fate is in my own hands. By the summer we shall even be able to travel a little. Third-class, yet that will be far more amusing than stuffed into one of those plush carriages with the windows closed and forbidden to speak with any one in the corridor. And forced to carry all the hand-luggage off the train (when your father had an economical spasm and would not take a footman) while he stalked out first as if we did not exist. I shall never marry again—Gott in Himmel, no!—but I shall gather about me all the interesting men I never have been able to have ten minutes' conversation with alone; and, so far as is humanly possible, do exactly as I please. My ego has been starved. I shall always be your best friend—but think for yourselves."
Gisela had no gift that she was aware of, but she was intellectual and had longed to finish her education at one of the great universities. As she was not strong, however, she was content to spend a year in the mountains; and then, robust, and on a meager income, she went to Munich to attend the lectures on art and literature and to perfect herself in French and English. She took a small room in an old tower near the Frauenkirche and lived the students' life, probably the freest of any city in the world. She dropped her title and name lest she be barred from that socialistic community as well as discovered by horrified relatives, and called herself Gisela Doering. After she had taken her degree she passed a month in Berlin with her mother, who already had established a salon, but she was determined to support herself and see the world at the same time. Herr Doktor Meyers found her a position as governess with a wealthy American patient, and, under her assumed name, she sailed immediately for New York.
The Bolands had a house in upper Fifth Avenue and others at Newport, Aiken and Bar Harbor; and when not occupying these stations were in Europe or southern California. The two little girls passed the summer at Bar Harbor with their governess.
It took Gisela some time to accustom herself to the position of upper servant in that household of many servants, but she possessed humor and she had had governesses herself. Her salary was large, she had one entire day in the week to herself, except at Bar Harbor, and during her last summer in the United States Mrs. Boland had a violent attack of "America first" and took her children and their admirable governess not only to California but to the Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canon and Canada. They traveled in a private car, and Gisela, who could enjoy the comfortless quarters of a student flat in Munich with all that life meant in the free and beautiful city by the Isar, could also revel in luxury; and this wonderful summer, following as it did the bitter climax of her first serious love affair, seemed to her all the consolation that a mere woman could ask. At all events she felt for it an intense and lasting gratitude.
It was during her first summer at Bar Harbor that the second determining experience of her life began, and it lasted for three years. She dwelt upon it to-night with humor, sadness, and, for a moment, thrilling regret, but without bitterness. That had passed long since.
She was virtual mistress of the house at Bar Harbor, and as the children had a trained nurse and a maid, besides many little friends, she had more leisure than in the city with her one day of complete detachment. She met Freiherr Franz von Nettelbeck when she was walking with her charges and he was strolling with the little girls of the Howland family. The introductions were informal, and as they fell naturally into German there was an immediate bond. Nettelbeck was an attache of the German Embassy who preferred to spend his summers at Bar Harbor. He was of the fair type of German most familiar to Americans, with a fine slim military figure, deep fiery blue eyes and a lively mind. His golden hair and mustache stood up aggressively, and his carriage was exceeding haughty, but those were details too familiar to be counted against him by Gisela. Her rich brunette beauty was now as ripe as her tall full figure, and she was one of those women, rare in Germany, who could dress well on nothing at all. She too possessed a lively mind, and after her long New York winter was feeling her isolation. Her first interview (which included a long stroll and a canoe ride) with this young diplomat of her own land, visibly lifted her spirits, and she sang as she braided her heavy mass of hair that night.
Franz, like most unattached young Germans, was on the lookout for a soul-mate (which he was far too sophisticated to anticipate in matrimony), and this handsome, brilliant, subtly responsive, and wholly charming young woman of the only country worth mentioning entered his life when he too was lonely and rather bored. It was his third year in the United States of America and he did not like the life nor the people. Nevertheless, he was trying to make up his mind to pay court to Ann Howland, a young lady whose dashing beauty was somewhat overpoised by salient force of character and an uncompromisingly keen and direct mind, but whose fortune eclipsed by several millions that of the high-born maiden selected by his family.
Here was a heaven-sent interval, with intellectual companionship in addition to the game of the gods. Being a German girl, Gisela Doering would be aware that he could not marry out of his class, unless the plebeian pill were heavily gilded. To do him justice, he would not have married the wealthiest plebeian in Germany. An American: that was another matter. If there were such a thing as an aristocracy in this absurd country which pretended to be a democracy and whose "society" was erected upon the visible and screaming American dollar, no doubt Miss Howland belonged to the highest rank. In Germany she would have been a princess—probably of a mediatized house, and, he confessed it amiably enough, she looked the part more unapologetically than several he could mention.
So did Gisela Doering. He sighed that a woman who would have graced the court of his Kaiser should have been tossed by a bungling fate into the rank and file of the good German people; so laudably content to play their insignificant part in their country's magnificent destiny.
Gisela never told him the truth. Sometimes, irritated by his subtle arrogance, she was tempted. Also consuming love tempted her. But of what use? She was without fortune and he must add to his. He had a limited income and expensive tastes, and when a young nobleman in the diplomatic service marries he must take a house and live with a certain amount of state. Moreover, he intended to be an ambassador before he was forty-five, and he was justified in his ambitions, for he was exceptionally clever and his rise had been rapid. But now he was care-free and young, and love was his right.
Gisela understood him perfectly. Not only was she of his class, but her brother Karl had madly loved a girl in a chocolate shop and wept tempestuously beside her bed while their father slept. He married philosophically when his hour struck.
But if she understood she was also romantic. She forgot her vow to live alone, her mother's advice, and dreamed of a moment of overwhelming madness which would sweep them both up to the little church on the mountain. There, like a true heroine of old-time fiction, she would announce her own name at the altar. This moment, however, did not arrive. Nettelbeck, too, was romantic, but his head was as level within as it was flat behind. He never went near the church on the mountain.
There was no surface lovemaking during the first two summers, or in the winter following the second summer, when he came over from Washington on her Wednesday as often as he could, and they had luncheon and tea in byway restaurants. They were both fascinated by the game, and they had an infinite number of things to talk about, for their minds were really congenial. They disputed with fire and fury. It was a part of Gisela's dormant genius to grasp instinctively the psychology of foreign nations, and before she had been in the United States a year she understood it far better than Nettelbeck ever would. Even if he had despised it less he would have lavished all the resources of his wit upon a country so different from Germany in every phase that it must necessarily be negligible save as a future colony of Prussia, if only for the pleasure of seeing Gisela's long eyes open and flash, the dusky red in her cheeks burn crimson and her bosom heave at his "junker narrow-mindedness and stupid arrogance"—; "a stupidity that will be the ruin of Germany in the end!" she exclaimed one day in a sudden moment of illumination, for, as a matter of fact, she had given little thought to politics. However, she recalled her typical papa.
Of course they talked their German souls inside out. At least Nettelbeck did. As time went on, Gisela used her frankness as a mask while her soul dodged in panic. She believed him to be lightly and agreeably in love with her (she had witnessed many summer flirtations at Bar Harbor, and been laid siege to by more than one young American, idle, enterprising, charming and quite irresponsible), and she was appalled at her own capacity for love and suffering, the complete rout of her theories, based on harsh experience, before the ancient instinct to unleash her womanhood at any cost.
She plunged into a serious study of the country, which she had heretofore absorbed with her avid mental conduits, and read innumerable newspapers, magazines, elucidating literature of all sorts, besides the best histories of the nation and the illuminating biographies of its distinguished men in politics and the arts. She was deeply responsive to the freedom of the individual in this great whirling heterogeneous land, and as her duties at any time were the reverse of onerous, it was imperative to keep her consciousness as detached from her inner life as possible.
But at the back of her mind was always the haunting terror that he never would come again, that he was really more attracted to Ann Howland than he knew; and of all American women whom Gisela had met she admired Miss Howland preeminently. She was not only beautiful in the grand manner but she possessed intellect as distinguished from the surface "brightness" of so many of her countrywomen, and had made a deep impression upon even the superlatively educated German girl when they had chanced to meet and talk at children's picnics at Bar Harbor, or when the triumphant young beauty ran up to the nursery in town to bring a message to the little Bolands from her sisters. It was true that hers was not the seductive type of beauty, that her large gray eyes were cool and appraising, her fine skin quite without color, and her soft abundant hair little darker than Franz's own, but she could be feminine and charming when she chose and she would be a wife in whom even a German would experience a secret and swelling pride.
What chance had she—she—Gisela Doering?
There were days and weeks, during that second winter, when she was tormented by a sort of sub-hysteria, a stifled voice in the region of her heart threatening to force its way out and shriek. There were times when she gave way to despair, and thought of her vigorous youth with a shudder, and at other times she was so angry and humiliated at her surrender and secret chaos, that she was on the point more than once of breaking definitely with Franz Nettelbeck, or even of going back to Germany. If he missed a Wednesday, or failed to write, she slipped out of the house at night and paced Central Park for hours, fighting her rebellious nerves with her pride and the strong independent will that she had believed would enable her to leap lightly over every pitfall in life.
Then he would come and her spirits would soar, her whole awakened being possessed by a sort of reckless fury, a desperate resolve to enjoy the meager portion of happiness allotted to her by an always grudging fate; and for a few days after he left she would give herself up to blissful and extravagant dreams.
But Nettelbeck was by no means lightly in love with Gisela Doering. During the third summer, partly owing to the increased independence of her growing charges, partly to his own expert management, they met in long solitudes seldom disturbed. Gisela dismissed fears, ignored the inevitable end, plunged headlong and was wildly happy. Nettelbeck was an ardent and absorbed lover, for he knew that his time was short, and he was determined to have one perfect memory in his secret life that the woman who bore his name should never violate. Miss Howland had meted him the portion his dilatoriness invited and married a fine upstanding young American whose career was in Washington; and his family had peremptorily commanded him to return in the spring (with the Kaiser's permission, a mandate in itself) and marry the patient Baronin Irma Hammorwoerth.
And so for a summer and a winter they were happy.
Gisela averted her mind tonight from the parting with something of the almost forgotten panic. She had never dared to dwell upon it, nor on the month that followed. Her powerful will had rebelled finally and she had fought down and out of her consciously functioning mind the details of her tragic passion, and even reveled arrogantly in the sensation of deliverance from the slavery of love. Simultaneously she was swept off to see the great natural wonders of the American continent and they had intoned the requiem.
The following autumn she returned to Germany and paid her mother another brief visit.
There all was well. Frau von Niebuhr, who had not developed a white hair and whose Viennese maid was a magician in the matter of gowns and complexion, was enjoying life and had a daring salon; that is to say gatherings in which all the men did not wear uniforms nor prefix the sacred von. She drew the line at bad manners, but otherwise all (and of any nation) who had distinguished themselves, or possessed the priceless gift of personality, were welcome there; and although she lived to be amused and make up what she had lost during thirty unspeakable years, she progressed inevitably in keenness of insight and breadth of vision. She had become a student of politics and stared into the future with deepening apprehension, but of this she gave not a hint to Gisela. Mariette was her closest friend and only confidante. Mariette was now living in Berlin, and amusing herself in ways Frau von Niebuhr disapproved, mainly because she thought it wiser to banish men from one's inner life altogether; but, true to her code, she forebore remonstrance.
Lili, having discovered that her voice was not for grand opera, had philosophically descended to the concert stage and was excitedly happy in her success and independence. Elsa was a Red Cross nurse.
Gisela met Franz von Nettelbeck at a court function and had her little revenge. He was furious, and vowed, quite audibly, that he would never forgive her. But Gisela was merely disturbed lest the Obersthofmeisterin who stood but three feet away overhear his caustic remarks. Distinguished professors (without their wives) might go to court as a reward for shedding added luster upon the German Empire, but lesser mortals who had received payment for services rendered might not. Her independent mother, still a favorite, for she was exceeding discreet, would have incurred the imperial displeasure if the truth were known. However, the incident passed unnoticed, and Franz, whatever his shortcomings, was a gentleman and kept her secret.
The scene at the palace had been brilliant and sustaining and she had received much personal homage, for she was looking very beautiful and radiant, and the little adventure had been incense to her pride (moreover the young Freifrau von Nettelbeck, whom she saw on his arm later, was an insignificant little hausfrau); but when she was in her room after midnight she realized grimly that if she had not done her work so well during that terrible month in New York and buried her sex heart, she should once more be beating the floor or the wall with her impotent hands. But the knowledge of her immunity made her a little sad.
The next episode to her grim humor was wholly amusing, although it played its part in her developing sense of revolt against the attitude of the German male to the sex of the mother that bore him. She returned to Munich after a month in Berlin, for by this time she had made up her mind to write, and the city by the Isar was the most beautiful in the world to write and to dream in. Moreover, she wished to attend the lectures on drama at the University.
The four years in America, during which she had, in spite of her sentimental preoccupation, studied diligently every phase that passed before her keen critical vision, analyzed every person she had met, and passed many of her evenings in the study of the best contemporary fiction, had, associated with the spur of her own upheaval, developed her imagination, and her head was full of unwritten stories. They were highly realistic, of course, as became a modern German, but unmistakably dramatic.
She attended the lectures, practising on short stories meanwhile, devoting most of her effort to becoming a stylist, that she might attain immediate recognition whatever her matter. She lived in a small but comfortable hotel, for not only had she saved the greater part of her salary, but the Bolands, however oblivious socially of a paid attendant, had a magnificent way with them at Christmas, and had given her an even larger cheque at parting.
In Munich she was once more Gisela Doering, once more led the student life. There are liberties even for people of rank in Munich, and many nobles, exasperated with the rigid class lines of Berlin and other German capitals, move there, and, while careful to attend court functions, make intelligent friends in all sets. They are, or were, the happiest people in Germany. Here Gisela could sit alone in a cafe by the hour reading the illustrated papers and smoking with her coffee, attracting no attention whatever. She joined parties of students during the summer and tramped the Bavarian Alps, and she danced all night at student balls. Nevertheless, she managed to hold herself somewhat aloof and it was understood that she did not live the "loose" life of the "artist class." She was much admired for her stately beauty and her style, and if the young people of that free and easy community were at times inclined to resent a manifest difference, they succumbed to her magnetism, and respected her obvious devotion to a high literary ideal.
It was during her second winter that she met Georg Zottmyer.
He was a tall, narrow, angular young man with a small clipped head and preeminent ears. His narrow face was set with narrower features, and his eyes were very bright, and the windows of his conceit. Although his income was minute he boasted a father of note in the University of Leipzig, and his mother had traveled and written a scathing satire on the United States of America. He had not a grain of originality or imagination, but he too was taking the course in dramatic art, and reading for that degree without whose magic letters he could not hope to take his place in the world of art to which his parts entitled him. He met Gisela in the lecture room and immediately became her cavalier.
At first Gisela endeavored to get rid of him by an icy front, but this he took for feminine coquetry and his own front was serene. As he had made up his mind to be a dramatist merely because the career appealed acutely to his itching ambition, so did he in due course make up his mind to marry this handsome brunette (what hair he had was drab) who bore all the earmarks of secret wealth in spite of the fact that she lived in a small hotel. As time went on, Gisela resigned herself and put his little ego under her microscope.
His wooing was methodical. He not only walked home with her after every lecture, but he gave her a series of teas in his high little flat, and he really did know "people." His parental introductions had given him the entree to the professional circles, and he cultivated society both semi-fashionable and ultra-literary. He knew no one who had not "arrived."
He chose an unpropitious day for a tentative declaration of his intentions. It was very cold. White mufflers protected his outstanding ears, a gray woolen scarf was wound about his long neck and almost covered his tight little mouth. He wore mitts and wristlets, and his nose was crimson. Gisela, in a new set of furs, sent her for Christmas by Mariette, and a smart gown of wine-colored cloth, looked radiant. Her dark eyes shone with joy in the cold electric air of that high plateau, her cheeks were red, her warm full-lipped mouth was parted over her even white teeth. They walked from the University down the great Leopoldstrasse, one of the finest streets in Europe, toward the Cafe Luitpold, where he had invited her to drink coffee.
There was little conversation during that brisk walk. He was frozen, and she was not thinking of him at all. At the cafe he selected an alcove as far from the noisy groups of students as possible. All the "trees" were hung with colored caps and the atmosphere was dense with smoke.
Zottmyer, who, after all, was young, soon thawed out in the warm room, and when he had cheered his interior with a large cup of hot coffee and lit a cigarette, he brought up the subject of matrimony. He had no intention of proposing in these surroundings, but it was time to pave the way—or set the pattern of the tiling; he cultivated the divergent phrase.
"It is time I married," he announced, and, not to appear too serious, he smiled into her glowing face. She looked happy enough to encourage a man far less fatuous than Georg Zottmyer.
"Yes?" Gisela's eyes had wandered to the nearest group of students and she was wondering if they might not have made handsome men had they permitted their duel wounds to heal instead of excoriating them with salt and pepper. "Most German men marry young."
"I am not conventional. I should not dream of marrying unless I found a young lady who possessed everything that I demand in a wife."
"Ah? What then do you demand?"
"That is a large order. What do you mean, exactly."
"I mean, of course, that I should not marry a woman who did not have in the first place beauty, that I might be proud of her in public, besides refreshing myself with the sight of her in private. She must have beauty of figure as well as of face, as I detest our dumpy type of German women. And she must have style, and dress well. It would mortify me to death, particularly after I had made my position, to go about with one of those wives that seem to fall to the lot of most intellectuals. Soft-waisted, bulging women," he added spitefully, "how I hate them!"
"Your taste is admirable. Our women are much too careless, particularly after marriage. And the second requirement?"
"Oh, a small fortune, at least. I could not afford to marry, otherwise, and although I shall no doubt make a large income in due course, I must begin well. I prefer a house, as it gives an artist a more serious and dignified position."
"And of course my wife must be of good birth, as good as my own. I should never dream of marrying even a Venus in this Bohemian class. That sort of thing is all very well—" He waved his hand, and arched an eyebrow, and Gisela inferred she was to take quite a number of amours for granted; much, for instance, as she would those of a handsome officer who sat alone at the next table and who looked infinitely bored with love and longing for war.
"She must—it goes without saying—be intellectual, clever, bright, amusing. I must have companionship. Not an artist, however. I should never permit my wife to write or model or sing for the public. And she must have the social talent, magnetism, the power to charm whom she will. That would help me infinitely in my career."
"Is that all?"
"Oh, she must be affectionate and a good housekeeper, but most German women have the domestic virtues. Naturally, she must have perfect health. I detest women with nerves and moods."
Gisela had been leaning forward, her elbows on the table, her little square chin on her hands, and if there were wondering contempt in her eyes he saw only their brilliance and fixed regard.
"And what, may I ask, do you purpose to give her in return for all that?"
He flicked the ashes from his cigarette, and the gesture was quite without affectation. "What has that to do with it?"
"Well—only—you think, then, that in return for all—but all!—that a woman has to offer a man—any man—you should not feel yourself bound to give her an equal measure in return?"
"I have not given the matter a thought. Naturally the woman I select will see all in me that I see in her. Shall we get out of this? I feel I have taken a cold. Fresh air is a drastic but efficient corrective."
He escorted her to her hotel, although he gazed longingly down his own street as they passed it. His head felt overburdened and it was awkward manipulating a handkerchief with mitts.
Within half a block of the hotel Gisela, who had been walking rapidly, bending a little against the wind, paused and drew herself up to her stately height. Cold as he was he thrilled slightly as he reflected that she possessed real distinction; almost she might be hochwohlgeboren—yes, quite. He tingled less agreeably as he recalled a snub administered by a great lady with whom he had presumed to attempt conversation at the house of a liberal little Russian baroness. This woman would snub any hochwohlgeboren who presumed to snub him in the future.
"Herr Zottmyer," said Gisela, and her tones were as crisp as the air blowing down from the Alps, "you must permit me to give you a note of introduction to my mother when you go to Berlin next week. I hope you will find time to call on her."
Zottmyer's eyes snapped at this covert encouragement, although it was rather forward in a German girl practically to ask a man his intentions. "I shall be delighted to call on Frau Doermer—"
"Countess Niebuhr. I have practised a little innocent deception here in Munich—for obvious reasons. Also, during my four years' sojourn in America—"
"In America?" His brain, a fine, concentrated, Teutonic organ, strove to grapple with two ideas at once. "You have been in America!"
"Rather. I feel half an American. You have no idea how it changed my point of view—oh, but in many ways! The men, you see, are so different from ours. The American woman has a magnificent position—"
"Ridiculous, uppish, spoilt creatures—"
"But how delicious to be spoiled. You will call on my mother?"
Zottmyer almost choked. "I hate the Prussians—above all, that arrogant junker class. And the name of Niebuhr!—why, it stands for all that junkerdom means in its most virulent form!"
"I am afraid it does. My brothers are junkers unalloyed. But I can assure you that my mother is as democratic as one may be in Berlin. She has quite a number of friends among the intellectuals—"
"Would she consent to your marriage with a—a—mere intellectual?"
"What has that to do with it! It would never occur to me to marry out of my own class. That is always a mistake. There are, you see,—well—subtle differences that forbid harmony—"
"You are a snob. I might have seen it before this. You give yourself airs—" He was now so torn between fury and disappointment, mortification and Teutonic resentment at being obliged to diverge abruptly from precisely thought-out tactics, that he forgot his physical discomfort—and incidentally to use his handkerchief.
"A snob? When I am true to the best traditions of my race? Did you not tell me that you would not marry a Venus if she happened to be born outside of your own class? But it is rather cold here—not? Shall I send the note of introduction to your flat?"
"I would not put my foot in any supercilious junker palace, and I never wish to see you again!" He whirled about, burying his nose in his handkerchief, and tore down the street.
Gisela laughed, but with little amusement. Her sympathy for German women took a long stride. But she forgot him a few moments later at her desk.
During the next five years she wrote many short stories and essays, and four plays. Her work appealed subtly but clearly to the growing rebellion of the German women; she was too much of an artist to write frank propaganda and the critics were long waking up to the object of her work. Her first three plays were failures, but the fourth ran for two years and a half and was played all over Germany and Austria. It was a brilliant, dramatic, half-humorous, half-tragic exposition of the German woman's enforced subservience to man as compared with the glorious liberty of the somewhat exaggerated American co-heroine.
There was talk of suppressing this play at first, but Countess Niebuhr brought all her influence to bear, and as the widow of one esteemed junker and the daughter of another far more important, her argument that her daughter merely labored to make the German woman a still more powerful factor in upholding the might of German Kultur—that being the secret hidden in what was after all but a fantasy—caused the powers to shrug their shoulders and dismiss the matter.
After all, was not the play by a woman, and were not the German women the best trained in the world? Besides, the play was amusing, and humor destroyed the serious purpose always. Humor made the Americans the contemptible race they were—fortunately for the future plans of Germany. They took nothing seriously. In time they would!
Those who have not lived in Germany have not even an inkling of the deep slow secret revolt against the insolent and inconsiderate attitude of the German male that had been growing among its women for some fifteen years before the outbreak of the war. They ventured no public meetings or militant acts of any sort, for men were far too strong for them yet, and the German woman is by nature retiring, however individualistic her ego. Their only outward manifestation was the hideous reformkleid, a typical manifestation in even the women of a nation whose art is as ugly as it often is interesting. But thousands of them were muttering to one another and reading with envy the literature of woman's revolt in other lands. When one of their own sex rose, a woman of the highest intelligence and an impeccable style, who, although she signed herself Gisela Doering, was said to be a rebellious member of the Prussian aristocracy, their own vague protests slowly crystallized and they grew to look upon her as a leader, who one day would show them the path out of bondage. Her correspondence grew to enormous proportions, but she answered every letter, fully determined by this time to accomplish something more than a name in letters while incidentally amusing herself with stirring up the women and annoying the men. But although clubs were formed to discuss her work and letters, they were still unsuspected of the arrogant men who controlled the destinies of Germany. And as the German woman is the reverse of frank, as little indication of the slow revolution was found in the home. The solution was as far off as ever, but German women are patient and they bided their time, exulting in their secret. It gave them a sense of revenge and power.
Then came the war.
Gisela, like all the good women of Germany, flamed with patriotism and righteous indignation. Russia and France with no provocation, with no motive but insensate ambition on the one hand and a festering desire for revenge on the other, had crossed the sacred frontiers of the great Teutonic Empire. A French aviator had dropped bombs on Neuremburg, one of the artistic treasures of Europe, although, mercifully, his bombs had inadvertently been filled with air. Then followed the even more indefensible act of Great Britain, whose only motive in joining forces with paper allies was to aim a blow at the glorious commercial prestige of Germany, the object of her fear and hate these many years.
Gisela immediately entered the hospital opened by her mother in Berlin and took a rapid first-aid course, concentrating upon the work all the fine powers of her mind and strong young body. Literature, fame, propaganda among women, all were dismissed. Although victory was certain in a few months there would be many thousands of wounded and she was filled with a passionate desire to serve those heroes and martyrs of foreign hatred. She forgot her personal experience of the German male, forgot herself. Her beloved Fatherland was attacked, and the German male in his heroic resistance, his triumphal progress, was become a god. Dienen! Dienen!
She had no time to ponder upon the violation of Belgium and knew nothing of the curious escape of medieval psychology from the formal harness of modern times. She was engaged in hard menial labor during those first weeks and it was sufficient to know that Germany had been violated. It is true that her warrior parent had sometimes boasted of the day when Germany should rule the world, and that he had referred to the Great European War as a foregone conclusion, as so many had been doing these past ten or fifteen years; but he had been careful to say nothing about throwing the torch into the powder. Gisela, like the vast majority of civilians in the Central Empires, had grown too accustomed to the evidences of a great standing army to give them more than a passing thought. Were they not, then, situate in the very middle of Europe? Surrounded by envious and powerful enemies? What more natural than that they should be ever on the alert?
That Germany herself would strike at the peace of Europe, a peace which had brought her an unexampled prosperity and eminence, never had crossed Gisela's mind. Nevertheless, knowing the German male as she did, she was quite sure that the officers reveled in the exchange of peace for war as much as the men in the ranks detested it. She could see Franz von Nettelbeck barking out orders for the irresistible advance, his keen blue eyes flashing with triumph, his Prussian upper lip curling with impatient scorn, and Georg Zottmyer grinding his teeth in the trenches and suffering acutely from dyspepsia.
Until the summer of 1916 she was very busy, either in her mother's hospital or in one in Munich run by a group of Socialist friends under Marie von Erkel. She glanced at the English papers sometimes, but assumed that their versions of the war's origin, and of Germanic methods, were for home effect, and smiled at their occasional claims of victory.
Poor things! By this time she had seen so much mortal suffering, soothed so many dying men who raved of unimaginable horrors, written so many pathetic last letters to mothers and wives and sweethearts, that the first mood of fury and hatred had long since passed. Her mind, normally clear, acute, just, regained its poise. Moreover, those five years preceding the war, during which she had learned to use her gifts for the benefit of her sex instead of for her own amusement and fame, played their insidious part.
When she was ordered to take charge of a hospital in Lille in June of the second year of the war she had forced herself to accept the present state of Europe with a certain philosophy. After all, war was its normal, its historic, condition. Following a somewhat unusual interval of peace, owing to the beneficent reign of the German Emperor, the war microbes of Europe, cultured in the Balkan swamps, had, through some miscalculation, after a deplorable assassination, ravaged the entire continent instead of being localized as heretofore. Men were men and kings were kings and war was war. Gisela sometimes wondered if the hideous upheaval were anybody's fault, if the desire to fight had not been more or less simultaneous in spite of the fact that Germany was caught napping and permitted Russia and France to sneak over her frontiers.
The sinking of the Lusitania and other passenger ships, or rather the results, had filled her with a horror that might have developed into protest had she not been assured that the U-boats had purposely waited for a calm sea, not too far from shore, that the passengers might have every opportunity for escape; and that they had been the victims of contraband cargoes of ammunition exploding, badly adjusted life-boats, panic among themselves, and utter inefficiency and selfishness of the officers and crew.
These excuses sounded plausible to a young woman still too occupied to ponder; but during her journey through Belgium and the invaded districts of France her mind grew more and more uneasy. Surely an army so uniformly victorious, an army which only forebore to press forward in a battle—like that of the Marne, for instance—for sound strategic reasons, should have found it unnecessary to destroy whole towns with their priceless monuments of art, level countless insignificant villages, and reduce their inhabitants to cowering misery. She had been a student of history and had inferred that modern warfare was as humane as war may be; witness the fine magnanimity of the Japanese, an Oriental race. This passing country, which she had known well in its hey-day, looked extraordinarily like the historical pictures of the invasions of Goths and Vandals and Huns.
"Huns!" She had resented the constant use of the word in the English papers, dismissing it finally as childish spite. Had its usurpation of the classic and noble word "Germans" been one of those quick, merciless, simultaneous designations that fly through every army in wartime and are as apt as they are inevitable?
She felt a sudden desire to "talk it out" with Franz von Nettelbeck, whose mind, despite his prejudices, was the most stimulating she had ever known. But although she heard of him often, for he had covered himself with glory, she had seen him only once—from a window in Berlin as he promenaded Unter den Linden; a superb and haughty figure, his swelling chest covered with medals.
In Lille she met Elsa, who had been in charge of a hospital for a year, Mimi Brandt and Heloise von Erkel, with whom she had been intimately associated in Munich. She found all three horrified and appalled at the atrocious cruelties, the persistent and needless severities, the arrogant and swaggering attitude, accompanied by countless petty tyrannies, unworthy of an army in possession; the wholly unmodern and dishonorable treatment of a prostrate and wretched people. Above all, the deportations of the young girls of Lille, torn from their families, driven in herds through the streets, their faces stamped with despair or abject terror, condemned to God knew what horrible fate, had shaken these three humane and thinking women to the core.
All three, while serving far behind the lines, had thought their German army an army of demi-gods, and all three were bitterly ashamed of their countrymen and disposed to question a sovereign, and a military caste, that not only encouraged the saddist lust of their fighters and seemed unable to spare sufficient food for the civilians, in spite of the great leakage through neutral countries, but which persisted in calling themselves victorious when they were either perpetually on the defensive or in the act of being beaten, despite their irresistible rush. The Somme Drive had not begun but there was not a nurse in Lille that did not know the truth about Verdun.
"And believe me, as the Americans say," remarked Mimi Brandt, "when the German people know the truth, particularly the German women, there will be some circus."
Mimi had been far more of an active rebel than the Niebuhr girls, possibly because her life-stream was closer to the source, patently to herself because she had a magnificent voice which needed only technique to assure her a welcome in any of the great opera houses of Germany. Adroitly persuaded by her parents to marry when she was not quite seventeen, she had conceived an abhorrence of the rodent-visaged young burgess who had been her lot; not only was he personally distasteful to the ardent romantic girl, but he would not permit her to cultivate her voice, much less study for the stage. Her revenge had been a cruel disdain, to which he had responded by lying under the bed all night and howling. Twice she had run away, visiting prosperous and sympathetic relatives in Milwaukee, and both times returned at the passionate solicitations of her parents; not only outraged in their dearest conventions but anxious to be rid of the small rodent born of the union.
Her last return had been but a month before the outbreak of the war, and Hans Brandt, to his growling disgust, was promptly swept off by the searching German broom. He was as much in love with his wife as a man so meagerly equipped in all but national conceit may be, for Mimi was a handsome girl with a buxom but graceful figure, and a laughing face whose golden brown eyes sparkled with the pure fun of living when they were not somber with disgust and rebellion.
Gisela had always looked upon Heloise von Erkel as the most tragic figure in Munich. In appearance she had distinction rather than beauty, for although her features were delicate her complexion and hair were faded and there were faint lines on her charming face. She was a blonde of the French type, and her light figure, although indifferently carried and a stranger to gowns, possessed an indefinable elegance.
Under heaven knew what impulse of romantic madness Frau von Erkel, then Heloise d'Oremont, had married a young German officer, and although both fancied themselves deeply in love the breach began shortly after they had settled to the routine life of the frontier town where he was stationed, and had widened rapidly in spite of the fact that she produced six children as automatically as the most devoted (and detested) hausfrau of her acquaintance. Shortly after the birth of Marie, the breach became a chasm, for the chocolate firm, inherited through her bourgeoise mother and the source of Frau von Erkel's wealth, failed, and the haughty Bavarian aristocrat was forced to keep up his position in the army and maintain his growing family on an income, accruing from chocolate investments, that should have been reserved for pleasure alone.
However, there was help for it. He renounced cards and such other costly diversions as was possible without lowering his standard as a gentleman and an officer, and of course the real privation was borne by the women of the family. He even ceased to rage at his wife, for she merely sat in her favorite chair, her hands folded, and looked at him with her subtle ironic smile.
When Gisela met them, Frau von Erkel and her three daughters (all in their late twenties and unmarried) were living in a dingy old house in a respectable quarter, with one beer-sodden maid to relieve them of the heavy work and bake the cake for the Sunday "Coffee."
Colonel von Erkel and his three sons lived in bachelor quarters and called upon the women of the family every Sunday afternoon at precisely four o'clock. In full uniform, and imposing specimens of the German officer, they sat stiffly upon the uncomfortable chairs for about thirty minutes and then simultaneously escaped and were seen no more for a week.
At first Gisela was intensely amused at the vagaries of the Erkels, but when she saw the four narrow beds in a row in one small monastic room (the first floor was let to lodgers to pay the rent), and still more of their almost hopeless contriving to hold their position in Munich society, to say nothing of a bare sufficiency of food and raiment, her sympathies, always more deep than quick, were permanently aroused. But they were confined to the girls. Charming and graceful as the old lady was, it was evident that if above the arrogance of her German husband she was afflicted with the intense conservatism of her own race. It had taken Aimee, the oldest of the girls, three years of persistent begging, nagging, arguments, tears, and threats of abrupt demise, to obtain permission to move her piano—a present from relatives who occasionally came to the rescue—a bookcase and three chairs up to the garret and have a room she could call her own. Frau von Erkel was scandalized that a French girl (she systematically ignored the German infusion in her daughters) should wish for hours of solitude. But Aimee had the national genius for pegging away, and her mother, who came in time to feel that one nerve was being gnawed with maddening reiteration, finally succumbed; relieving her mind daily.
After that it was comparatively easy, although there were several notable engagements, for Heloise to become secretary to Gisela Doering. She never dared admit that she received a generous monthly cheque for her services, but Gisela was a favorite with the old lady (always sitting placidly in her chair, with her hands in her lap, a faint ironic smile on her still pretty face), and as her literary style was extolled by her exacting daughters (Frau von Erkel never read even a German newspaper, but subscribed for Le Figaro), and as she knew Gisela to be a member of her own class, the new connection was harmonious; and Heloise at last experienced something like real liberty in the tiny garden house of the parterre apartment of Gisela Doering on the Koeniginstrasse.
There is little time in the war zones to meet and talk, but even nurses must rest and take the air, and during the month before the frightful rush of wounded after the British offensive on the Somme began, the four girls, all in different hospitals, maneuvered to obtain leave of absence at the same hour, early in the evening. They promenaded the desolate streets arm in arm, their heads together, relieving their burdened souls. There was no idea of treason in any one of those rebellious minds, for they still believed their Fatherland to have been on the defensive from the first, the victim of a conspiracy, and they knew from the expression of the officers' faces, to say nothing of their tempers, that the danger was by no means past.
But being women, and women who had thought for themselves for many years, they must talk it out, and when too overcharged to trust their comments to the narrow streets, they retired to a hillock outside the city which no spy could approach unseen. However, nothing was farther from the minds of the German men of war than that the women cogs of their supremely organized land should presume to criticize methods which had, to their best belief, terrorized the world.
"But we are not the only ones," said Heloise grimly, as they sat on their refuge one dusky evening. "All but the sheep have a word to say now and then. Of course there always will be women who will grovel at the feet of men merely because they are men; but look out for the others when this accursed war is over. God! How I hate men! To think that once I dreamed and hoped like the silly romantic girl I was that some day some man would marry me in spite of my poverty. Now I would not marry one of the Kaiser's sons. Sick or well, German, English, French, I loathe them all alike. Obscene beasts every one of them; but I hate the Germans most, for they are the most disgusting invalids. And I am a German girl, too. France has never had any call for me. It is Marie who would be all French if she could. Poor little Marie, with her drab face and hair, her poverty, her dynamic body, mad to marry, and climbing out of the window when mother is asleep, to go to Socialists' meetings and scream off her pent-up passions. What a hideous world!"
She sprang to her feet and flung her arms above her head and glared at the unresponsive stars.
"O God!" she prayed. "Deliver us! Deliver us from war and deliver us from men! Deliver us from Kings and deliver us from criminal jealousies and ambitions and greeds that the innocent millions expiate in blood and tears! Deliver us from cowards—" She whirled suddenly upon Gisela. "You—you—why don't you lead us out? You have more mind than any woman in Germany. You have more influence. I have always placed my hopes on you. But now—now—you are doing nothing but nurse disgusting men like the rest of us."
"Hush! You are talking too loud. And you are carrying your revolt too far. These poor deluded men you nurse are only to be pitied, and if they merely revolt you, you have no vocation—"
"When did I ever pretend to have a vocation for nursing? Like all the rest I felt I must do my part, and heaven knows it is better than sitting at home making bandages and watching my mother slowly starve. If I had rolled one more bandage I should have gone mad."
"Well, dear Heloise, as far as I am concerned, the time for women to battle for their rights is when their country is safe, not in mortal danger. Be sure that when this war is over—"
She fell silent. A little flame had leapt in her brain. She extinguished it hurriedly, but it burnt the fingers of her will, always enthroned and always on guard. As she stared at Heloise, lovely in her Red Cross uniform, a white torch against the dark horizon, her tragic eyes once more searching the heavens, it struggled for life again and again. She loved Heloise and she felt a sudden inclusive love of her sex, an overpowering desire to deliver it from the sadness and horror of war; a profounder emotion than anything it had inspired in those far off days of peace. After all, however serious she had believed herself to be, it had been a game, a career; for in times of peace one must invent the vital interests of life, and one's success or failure depends upon one's powers of creating and sustaining the delusion. Only two things in life were real, love and war.
Gisela, like many women of dominating intellect and personality, had exhausted her power of sex-love with her first unfortunate but prolonged passion, and although she had no hatred of men, and indeed liked many and craved their society, she gave her real sympathies and affections to her women friends. She had no intimates, and this, perhaps, was one secret of her power. A certain aloofness is essential in intellectual leadership. But if she had no talent for intimacy she had much for friendship, and the friends of her inner circle were all women, partly because there was no waste of time fending off love-making, partly because there were more interests in common, consequently a deeper bond. To-night she was filled with an irresistible pity and a longing to set them free. But her hands were tied. She dared not even go to Great Headquarters and protest against the terrible fate of the young girls of Lille. She would have accomplished no good and become an instant object of suspicion.
For many months she did her duty doggedly, her indignation routed by the disquieting fact that the Germans were retreating from the Somme; inch by inch, but still retreating. Once she might have been satisfied with grandiose phrases and scornful assurances. But the long attack on Verdun had ended in dark humiliation; a failure that the most resourceful vocabulary was unable to translate into a German advantage, optically inverted.
More than half a million young Germans had fallen before Verdun, and for what? That France, disdained these many years by the mighty Teutonic Empire, and numerically inferior, might demonstrate to the world that she was the greater military nation of the two.
What was it all for? What of the ever-receding fields of peace, grown green and fat again? What of the racing past dotted with the broken headstones of promises of victory by this means or that?
But to attempt to answer historical enigmas while working day and night over the mangled victims of the Somme was beyond her powers. It was not until she broke down, and, with Heloise von Erkel and Mimi Brandt, obtained leave to spend a month at St. Moritz, that she found her answer.
The three girls went to a little hotel that had been a favorite resort of Gisela's in times of peace when she had felt an imperative need of the high solitudes and eternal snows. They planned a week's rest, and a fortnight or more of mountain climbing, dismissing the world war from their minds as far as possible. But their gentle plans were upset on the eighth day after their arrival, when at the end of an hour's hard skating, clad in the bright sweaters and caps of old, Gisela suddenly stopped short and returned the hard stare of two young women who had drawn apart and were evidently discussing her. That they were Americans Gisela recognized at a glance, but for a moment she saw them through a curtain of fire and smoke and shrieking shells and dying groans, so deep in the background of her memory were the people and events of her merely personal life. One of the young women was very tall, with a slim dashing figure, fine fair hair, keen cold gray eyes, a haughty nostril and upper lip: a beauty of the patrician American type. The other was shorter but also excessively thin, with dark dancing eyes, a warm color, a coquettish nose and pouting lips—which somehow invoked the complacent visage of the late Herr Graf Niebuhr—and a brilliant smile. In a moment Gisela recognized Ann Howland Prentiss and Kate Terriss, now Mrs. Tolby. This American friend of her childhood had married an American whose business kept him in London, and her path and Gisela's had never crossed since her finishing days in Berlin; although she had corresponded with Lili for two or three years and knew the family history in vague outline.
Gisela skated directly over to them and held out her hand to Kate. "It is a long while," she said, "but perhaps you remember me—"
"Do I? Ann will not believe me—that you are Gisela von Niebuhr not Doering. What a lark that was to run off to America and fool everybody! I wish I had come across you. It would have been quite dramatic to tear off the mask of the governess and reveal the junker. I think it was too stupid of you, Ann, that you didn't guess."
"I noticed many inconsistencies," said Mrs. Prentiss dryly. She added, holding out her hand with a charming smile: "But later, I was so proud to have known Gisela Doering, that personal curiosity seemed impertinent. How we have missed your writings these last dreadful years!"
Then all three began to talk at once and Gisela gathered that Mrs. Tolby had nursed behind the British lines in France since the early days of the war, and that her old friend, Mrs. Prentiss, had joined her a few months since. Kate asked innumerable questions about the other girls, particularly Mariette, whom she remembered as a Germanic blonde of warm coloring, the coldest eyes, the most subtly rigid and ruthless mouth she had ever seen. She had found some difficulty picturing her as a Red Cross nurse and was not surprised to hear that she was in charge of an enormous organization for the supply of cantines. Of her executive ability and quick determination there could be no doubt—as she told Ann Prentiss later.
In the excitement and exhilaration of this purely feminine conversation—which soon included Heloise and Mimi—the two parties forgot the gory chasm that divided them. When they dropped suddenly at a chance word to the present that gripped even these glittering snow fields with its red insatiable fingers, Kate, as ever, was equal to the formidable moment and cried out, snapping her fingers at the blue ether so tranquilly aloof from warring hosts:
"Forget it! For to-day, at least. What are you thinking about so hard, Ann?"
"I'll tell you later. Let us go in and have tea and then skate again. I noticed how well my step suited Countess Gisela's."
Ann Howland, as the wife of an eminent politician, had long since cultivated the art of mental suppleness and had learned to fascinate the most diverse intelligences and egos. Gisela, who was always warmly responsive to personal charm when not too obviously insincere, enjoyed the hour on the ice so exclusively devoted to her by the distinguished American and went to bed that night well content to bury the war during this period of necessary rest, grateful for this fresh current that swept her for the moment into one of those old backwaters of mere femininity. Mrs. Prentiss had not related a single anecdote of the front, nor alluded to the fact that she was a Red Cross nurse.
But she and Kate Terriss sat up until midnight. They were both women capable of seizing those rare opportunities for service that flit past so many intelligent women lacking initiative, and here was one that the most clear-thinking man would have envied. It was a piece of unbelievable luck; Gisela Doering was not only here to their hand in a relaxed and friendly mood, but she possessed charm combined with a great intelligence and an iron will: she was far more the obvious leader than they had inferred from her work, and they guessed something of the powerful influence she must quietly have obtained over the women of Germany. Mrs. Prentiss had by no means approved of her at an earlier period, for she had shrewdly suspected that it was the handsome German governess, not the high-born Irma, who thwarted her designs upon the most attractive "foreigner" she had ever met. But even if she had cherished a grudge, and her life had been far too happy and successful for that, she would have been so profoundly grateful to Gisela for saving her from the anomalous and wretched position of other modern American women married to medieval Germans, that she felt almost as great a desire to serve her as civilization in general.
When the two Americans parted for the night a methodical program had been worked out, with every date at command and every fact in damning sequence. The result of this momentous conference was that none of the five went to bed on the following night, but sat about a large oval table in the common sitting-room of Mrs. Prentiss and Mrs. Tolby, and wrangled until dawn.
The challenge was given by the Americans and accepted by the Germans, whose curiosity had been carefully pricked, and all had agreed that no matter how intensely distasteful any argument might be they would not separate for at least eight hours, and that there should be as little "hot stuff" (quoting Mimi Brandt) as possible.
The avowed object of the Americans was to prove conclusively that Germany, carrying out a deliberate program, had precipitated the war in 1914, believing Russia to be deliquescent, France riddled with syndicalism, and Britain on the verge of civil war; consequently that the exact moment had come for the swift execution of her scientifically wrought plan for world dominion.
The three German girls, deep and many as were their causes for resentment and disgust, had clung fast to the belief in their country's defensive attitude in the face of a gigantic conspiracy, and were not pried apart from it without hours of argument, hot and resentful on the one side, cool, precise, and logical on the other. But those acute German brains responded to the high intelligence of their opponents and to their manifest honesty. Moreover, it was indisputable that from the beginning the Americans had been in a position to know every side and detail of the ghastly story, while the Germans, confined within their own narrow borders and taught that the foreign newspapers were a tissue of "strategic lies," had been wholly dependent upon their government for "facts."
During this long debate Gisela sat at the head of the table, rigid and watchful, when she was not fiercely arguing; Mimi Brandt sprawled in an easy chair, satirical and slangy, enveloped in smoke; Heloise, very pale and the first to be convinced, sat with her little hands clenched against her cheek bones; Ann Prentiss, unshakenly cool quick and precise; the more brilliant Mrs. Tolby flashing her beacon light into recesses darkened these three years by systematic lies, but incapable of the final stupidity.
That long argument need not be reproduced here. All the world has made up its mind about Germany, knows her far better than as yet she knows herself. It was the deliberate effort of the Americans to force these three intelligent Germans, one of them a leader of the first importance, to realize that their country stood to the rest of the world for lying, treachery, cruelty, brutality, degeneracy, bad sportsmanship, ostrich psychology; above all, that she had forfeited her place among modern and honest nations.
When these facts had been hammered in, Mrs. Prentiss moved on to the two cardinal facts for whose elucidation the rest had been a mere preamble: that the Central Powers were beaten and knew it, but were determined to go on sacrificing the manhood of the country, reducing the population to the ultimate miseries of mind and body rather than yield; and that the only hope of obtaining mercy from the Entente Allies in the inevitable hour of surrender was to dethrone the Hohenzollerns and establish a Republic. Otherwise as a nation they would cease to exist and their last fate would be infinitely worse than their present. A German Republic would be welcomed into the family of nations and receive a friendly and helping hand from every one of the great adversaries, whose prestige and wealth were still unshaken, and who all desired to preserve the balance of power in Europe. Above all might they rely upon the United States of America, the friendly hints of whose President had been systematically distorted by the anxious Pan-Germans still in the saddle; who would cheerfully witness the loss of every drop of the people's life blood rather than their own power.
A conquered empire that had been hypnotized to the end by the monster criminals of history, whose word no man would ever take again, would be a mere collection of enslaved States for generations to come; the conquerors, having given them their choice, would show no mercy.
Britain could not be starved. The submarine war, whatever its devastations, and the vast inconveniences it had caused, was a failure. And the colossal wealth of the United States in money, in food, in men! Who knew her resources better than Gisela, who had lived in the country for four years and found it an absorbing study, who had continued to read American books, newspapers, and reviews up to the outbreak of the war? Well, they were all at the disposal of democracy; and as the Entente Allies, including the United States, were already many times stronger than Germany, how could they fail to win in the end, no matter how many millions of lives on all sides Germany continued to shovel into Moloch?
All of these three clever German girls had been more or less prepared to hear Germany proved a liar. They knew from British wounded that London was neither a fortified city nor reduced to ashes; also that all the Zeppelin raids on defenseless towns put together had been of less strategical value to Germany than the taking of one village in the war zone; she had merely piled up a mountain of hatred and contempt which must be leveled by the quick repudiation of her people if they would regain their lost intercourse with a triumphant world. Like all the other women who had nursed near the front and knew the truth, they translated into their own cynical vernacular such grandiose collocations as "Strategic retreats" from that of the Battle of the Marne to those which had been occurring periodically on the Western front since the beginning of the Somme offensive of 1916.
Gisela's mind was complex and subtle, but it was also honest. When it yielded a point, it yielded audibly. It was during the preliminary discussion that she exclaimed:
"It is true—certain things come back to me—Mimi, open the window. The air is blue and we are all hardy and can stand the night air. It was after the Agadir incident that I felt a change. I say felt because I was so absorbed in my work that I had no inclination for world politics and never discussed them. Up to that time I had never heard a hint of war for aggression on the part of Germany.... While, as far back as I can remember, it was taken for granted there would be a great war some day, I doubt if any but the military party really believed in it. We thought the time had passed for real wars, that we were far too highly civilized. Of course I knew that the military party to which my father belonged would have welcomed a war, for war was their profession, their game, their excuse for being, and I heard more or less talk among my brothers of Pan-Germanism; but still I imagined that it was merely a defensive Teutonic ideal, just as our oppressive standing army was a necessity owing to our geographical position. My brother Karl said once—it comes back to me, although I had quite forgotten it—that it was futile for the military caste to try to work up a war, because every moneyed man in the Empire—financiers, merchants, manufacturers, all the rest—never would hear of it. The country was too prosperous. Our wealth was growing at a pace which even the United States could not rival, and poverty was practically eliminated. That is the reason no hint made any impression on me. It seemed to me that we were the most fortunate and advanced nation in Europe and had only to wait for our kultur to pervade the earth.
"But—after Agadir—I seem to look back upon a slowly rising tide, muttering, sullen, determined—even in Bavaria the old serenity, the settled feeling, was gone—war was discussed as a possibility less casually than of old—"
"I recall a good deal more than that," interrupted Mimi. "Remember that I was the daughter of a manufacturer, and the wife, so-called, of a merchant. They were always grinding their teeth—and from about the time you speak of—over the wrongs of Germany. What the wrongs were I never could make out, and I am bound to say I did not listen very attentively, being absorbed in my own—but it would seem that Germany being the greatest country in the world was somehow not being permitted to let the rest of the world find it out—"
"It is all simple enough, now that I have the key. Germany tried to bully France, and not only was France anxious to avoid war but Britain showed her teeth. Germany was not then prepared to fight the world and was forced to compromise. France gave her a slice of the Kongo in exchange for Germany's consent to a French Protectorate in Morocco. Of course—after that it must have been evident to all the business brains of Germany that however great and prosperous the Empire might be she was not strong enough to dictate to Europe; nor presume to demand any more of the great prizes than she had already.
"In other words, she was shown her place. It was also more than possible that her aggressive prosperity might one of these days excite the apprehension of Great Britain, who would then show more than her teeth. Gradually the idea must have permeated, taken possession of the minds of men who had vast fortunes to increase or lose, that sooner or later they must fight for what they had and that it were better perhaps to strike first, at a moment they might choose themselves—however little they might sympathize with the ambitions of the Pan-German Party for supreme power in Europe—"
"Perhaps nothing," said Mimi. "They made up their minds to do it and they did it. It is as plain as daylight. I'd forgive them, too, if they'd won in six months, as they were so sure they would. What I don't forgive them for is that they have proved themselves the most criminal fools unhung. I'm glad that I am a Bavarian, and that Prussia, whom we have always so hated and despised that we have never turned the lions about on the Siegesthor, should be the prime offenders, humiliating as it may be that we fell for their lies and got into this rotten mess. But go ahead, Mrs. Prentiss. What's your next? Gee, but you can hand it out. You must have kept tab since August 1st, 1914."
"I took merely an intelligent American woman's interest," said Mrs. Prentiss, momentarily haughty. "And I spent the first two years and a half in Washington, where I often knew more than the newspapers; at all events where I was constantly in the society of thinking men. Also honest men, for war was the last thing we wanted, until our honor became too deeply involved to permit us to hold aloof and fatten on your misery any longer. Also, to be frank, our interests."
The fact which impressed the Germans and reduced all that had gone before to a heated academic discussion, was that Germany was beaten, and that the United States embargo would reduce the Central Empires to actual starvation, not merely devitalizing subnourishment; combined with their own certainty that the Teutonic Powers would go on fighting, under the lash of Prussia, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of loyal German and Austrian boys, plunge countless more families into hopeless grief, doom all the children in the land to sheer hunger and tuberculosis.
Starvation! That was the inevitable fate of Germany if she prolonged the war. And for what? Prostration, physical, financial, economic. To suffer for a generation, at least, the fate of the outlaw, mangy dogs nosing among rotten bones, kicked by the victors whenever they stood on their hind legs and whined for mercy.
And the Americans were prepared to pour into France and Britain billions of dollars and millions of men and incalculable tons of food and ammunition.
The two Americans had a deeper purpose in forcing this long argument than hammering the truth into those intelligent but Prussianized brains. As the hours wore toward the dawn they observed with satisfaction that Gisela's face grew whiter and grimmer, until finally it set itself in rigid lines. Her mouth was hard, her eyes expanded as if they saw far beyond the crystal mountains glittering before the open windows. Her mass of dark hair had fallen, and Mrs. Tolby whispered to Mrs. Prentiss that she looked like the Medusa in the Glyptothek in Munich, lovely but relentless.