Wolf Gontram opined, “Why should they shoot each other dead? They are best friends.”
“You are a stupid boy, Wölfchen!” said Alraune. “What does that have to do with it? Whether they are best friends or not? Then they must become enemies.”
“Yes, but why? There is no purpose to it.”
She laughed, grabbed his curly head and kissed him quickly right on the nose.
“No, Wölfchen. There is no purpose at all–Why should there be? But it would be something different, would be a change–Will you help me Wölfchen?”
He didn’t answer. She asked again, “Will you help me Wölfchen?”
That evening Alraune deliberated with young Gontram on how they could arrange things to incite the two friends so that one of them would challenge the other to a duel. Alraune considered, spinning one plan after another and proposing it. Wölfchen Gontram listened and nodded but was still hesitant.
Alraune calmed him.
“They don’t need to be serious about it. Very little blood is shed at duels and afterward they will be like brothers again. It will strengthen their friendship!”
That brightened him up and he helped her think things through. He explained to her the various little weaknesses of them both, where the one was sensitive and where the other–
So her little plan grew. It was no finely crafted scheme at all, was much more quite childish and naïve. Only two people that were blindly in love would ever stumble over such a crude stone.
His Excellency noticed that something was up. He questioned Alraune and when she wouldn’t talk he questioned young Gontram. He learned everything he wanted to from the boy, laughed and gave him a few beautiful suggestions for the little plan as well.
But the friendship between the two was stronger than Alraune had believed. Dr. Mohnen was so rock solidly convinced of his own irresistible nature that it took her over four weeks to turn things around and bring him to the impression that the captain might just take the field this time and likewise to give the captain the impression that for once the doctor might just triumph over him.
The count and Karl Mohnen both thought that it was time to speak privately with each other and settle things but Fräulein ten Brinken understood such confidential talks and always found ways to hinder them. One evening she would invite the doctor and not the cavalry captain. Next time she would go riding with the count and leave the doctor waiting for her at some garden concert.
Each considered themselves as her favorite but also had to recognize that her behavior toward the other was not entirely indifferent either. It was the old Privy Councilor himself that finally fanned the glowing spark into high flames.
He took his office manager to one side and had a long talk with him, said that he was very satisfied with his performance and would not be unhappy at all to see someone as dedicated as he was to someday become his successor. Really, he would never try to influence the decision of his child. Still, he wanted to warn him that there was someone, whom he did not want to name, that was fighting against him, in particular all kinds of rumors of his loose living were spreading and reaching the Fräulein’s ear.
His Excellency then had almost the same talk with the cavalry captain, except that in this case he remarked that he would not take it unkindly if his daughter married into such a prestigious old family like the Geroldingen’s.
During the next few weeks the two rivals strongly avoided any encounters with each other while doubling their attentions toward Alraune. Dr. Mohnen, especially, let none of her desires go unfulfilled. When he heard that she craved a charming seven-stranded pearl necklace that she had seen at a jeweler’s on Schilder Street in Cologne he immediately went there and bought it. Then when he saw that for a moment the Fräulein was really delighted over his gift he believed he had most certainly found the way to her heart and began to shower her with all kinds of beautiful jewels.
For this purpose he had to help himself to the money in the cash box at the ten Brinken offices. But he was so sure of his cause that he did it with a light heart and considered the little forced borrowing as something he was entitled to that he would immediately replace as soon as he received the dowry of millions from his father-in-law. He was certain that his Excellency would only laugh over his little trick.
His Excellency did laugh–but a little differently than the good doctor had thought. On the very same day that Alraune received the strands of pearls he rode into the city and determined immediately where the suitor had found the means for purchasing the gift. But he didn’t say a word.
Count Geroldingen could give no pearls. There was no cash box for him to plunder and no jeweler would loan him anything on credit. But he wrote sonnets for the Fräulein that were really very beautiful! He painted her in her boy’s clothing and played violin, not Beethoven whom he loved, but Offenbach, whom she liked to listen to.
Then on the birthday of the Privy Councilor the collision finally came. They had both been invited and the Fräulein had privately asked each one to escort her to the table. They both came up to her when the servant announced that dinner was served. Each considered the intrusion of the other as tactless and each said–and half suppressed–a few words.
Alraune waved Wolf Gontram over.
“If the gentlemen can’t agree–” she said, laughing and took his arm.
It was a little quiet at the table at first. The Privy Councilor had to do most of the talking. But soon both lovers were warm. They drank to the health of the birthday child and his charming daughter. Karl Mohnen gave a speech and the Fräulein threw a couple of glances at him that made the hot blood pound in the cavalry captain’s temples. But later, at dessert she laid her little hand lightly on the count’s arm–only a second–but long enough to make the round fish eyes of the doctor pop out of his head. When she stood up she allowed both to lead her away; she danced with them both as well.
Then later while dancing a waltz separately with one she spoke of the other, “Oh, that was so abominable of your friend! You won’t really permit that will you?”
The count answered, “Certainly not!”
But Dr. Mohnen threw out his chest and declared, “You can count on me!”
The next morning the little dispute appeared no less childish to the count than it did to the doctor–but they both had the uneasy feeling that they had promised something to Fräulein ten Brinken.
“I will challenge him to a duel with pistols,” said Karl Mohnen to himself, never believing that it would ever happen.
But in any case that morning the cavalry captain sent a couple of comrades to his friend–he wanted the court of honor to see what they made of it. Dr. Mohnen negotiated with the gentlemen, explaining to them that the count was his closest friend and that he didn’t wish to harm him at all. The count only needed to apologize to him–then everything would be fine. He wanted to tell them in confidence that he would also pay off all his friend’s debts immediately on the day after the wedding.
But the officers declared that while all that was very nice it had nothing at all to do with them. The cavalry captain felt insulted and demanded satisfaction. Their task was only to ask if he were gentleman enough to accept the challenge, an exchange of three shots at a distance of fifteen paces.
Dr. Mohnen started, “Three–three exchanges.” he stammered.
The Hussar officers laughed, “Now calm yourself Herr Doctor! The Court of Honor would never in their lives allow such an insane challenge for such a small offence. It is only in good form.”
Dr. Mohnen could see that. He counted on the healthy common sense of the gentlemen of the Court of Honor as well and accepted the challenge.
He did more than that, ran at once to his fraternity house with it and requested seconds, then he sent two students in haste to challenge the Captain for his side–five bullet exchanges at ten paces is what he demanded. That would make him look good and most certainly impress the little Fräulein.
The mixed Court of Honor, composed of officers and fraternity members, were reasonable enough and settled on a single exchange of bullets at twenty paces. That couldn’t do much mischief and honor would be served.
Hans Geroldingen smiled as he heard the verdict and bowed in agreement. But Dr. Mohnen turned very pale. He had calculated that they would declare the duel unnecessary and demand each side to apologize to the other. It was only one bullet but it could still strike!
Early the next morning they solemnly traveled out into Kotten forest in civilian clothes. There were seven carriages, three Hussar officers and the regiment doctor, then Dr. Mohnen and with him Wolf Gontram, two Saxonia fraternity brothers, one from the Phalia fraternity as the impartial guest official who was acting as umpire, one for Dr. Peerenbohm, the fraternity doctor, an old gentleman from the hills, along with carriages for the fraternity seconds and the two officer seconds as well as an assistant for the regimental doctor.
His Excellency ten Brinken was there as well. He had offered his medical help to his office manager, then searched out his old medical case and had everything polished up like new.
For two hours they rode through the laughing dawn. Count Geroldingen was in a very good mood. He had received a little letter from Lendenich the evening before. There was a four-leaf clover inside and a slip of paper with one word on it, “Mascot”. He put the letter in his lower left vest pocket. It made him laugh and dream of all kinds of good things.
He chatted with his comrades, make jokes about the childish duel. He was the best pistol shot in the city and joked that he would like to shoot a button off the doctor’s coat sleeve. But you could never be sure of these things, especially with a strange pistol. It would be much better to just shoot into the air. It would be a mean trick if the good doctor got so much as even a scratch.
But Dr. Mohnen, who sat together in the carriage with the Privy Councilor and young Gontram, said nothing at all. He had also received a small letter that carried the large slanting letters of Fräulein ten Brinken. It contained a dainty golden horseshoe. But he never once really looked at his mascot, only murmured something about childish superstition and threw the letter on his writing desk.
He was afraid, truly and horribly afraid. It poured itself like dirty mop water over the short-lived enthusiasm of his love. He chided himself for being a complete idiot, getting up this early in the morning only to go riding out to the slaughter. He had a hot burning desire to apologize to the cavalry captain and be done with it. This feeling battled inside him against the feeling of shame that he would feel in front of the Privy Councilor and perhaps even more in front of Wolf who had believed all his tales of heroic deeds.
Meanwhile he gave himself a heroic appearance, attempted to smoke a cigarette and look around calmly. But he was white as chalk when the carriage stopped in the woods and they set off down a narrow footpath to a broad clearing.
The doctors prepared their medical instruments. The umpire opened the pistol case and loaded the murderous weapons. He carefully weighed the powder so that both rounds were equally powerful. They were beautiful weapons that belonged to the umpire.
The seconds chose for their clients, drew straws–short looses, long wins. The cavalry captain smiled at all the solemnity, which no one was really taking seriously. But Dr. Mohnen turned away and stared at the ground. Then the umpire stepped out twenty paces taking such immense leaps that the officers looked with disapproving faces. It did not seem right to them that the umpire was making a farce of it and that proper decorum meant so little.
“The clearing is too small!” Major Von der Osten cried out sarcastically to him.
But the tall umpire answered calmly, “Then the gentlemen can stand in the woods. That would be even better.”
The seconds led the principals to their places. The umpire once more challenged them to reconcile, but didn’t even wait for an answer.
“Since a reconciliation is refused by both sides,” he continued, “I ask the gentlemen to wait on my command–”
A deep sigh from the doctor interrupted him. Karl Mohnen stood there with trembling knees, the pistol fell out of his shaking hand, his face was as pale as a shroud.
“One moment,” cried the fraternity doctor across to the other side as he hurried with long strides up to him. The Privy Councilor, Wolf Gontram, and both gentlemen from Saxonia followed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Dr. Peerenbohm.
Dr. Mohnen gave no answer; he was completely undone and simply stared straight ahead.
“Now what’s wrong with you doctor?” repeated his second, taking the pistol up from the ground and pressing it back into his hand.
But Karl Mohnen remained quiet. He looked as if he were drunk. Then a smile slid over the broad face of the Privy Councilor. He stepped up to one of the Saxons and whispered into his ear:
“He had an accident.”
The fraternity brother didn’t understand him right away.
“What do you mean, your Excellency?” he asked.
“Can’t you smell!” whispered the old man.
The Saxons gave a quick laugh but kept the seriousness of the situation. They only took out their handkerchiefs and pressed them over their noses.
“Incontinentia alvi,” declared Dr. Peerenbohm appreciatively.
He took a little flask out of his vest pocket, put a couple drops of tincture of opium on a lump of sugar and handed it to Dr. Mohnen.
“Here, chew on this,” he said and pressed it into the doctor’s mouth. “Now pull yourself together. Seriously–a duel is a very frightening thing!”
But the poor doctor heard nothing, saw nothing, and did not notice the bitter taste of opium on his tongue. He confusedly sensed that the people were leaving him.
Then he heard the loud voice of the umpire, “One.”
It rang in his ears–Then “Two,”–at the same time he heard a shot. He closed his eyes, his teeth chattered, his head was spinning.
It sounded from the edge of the woods. Then his own pistol went off and the loud explosion so close stunned him so that his legs gave way. He didn’t fall, he collapsed like a dead pig, broadly setting down on the dew fresh ground.
He sat like that for a minute, although it seemed like an hour. Then it occurred to him that it was over.
“It’s over,” he murmured with a happy sigh.
He felt himself all over–no, he wasn’t wounded. Only, only his trousers were ruined. But what was going on? Nobody was paying any attention to him, so he got up by himself, amazed at the immense speed with which his vitality returned to him.
With deep gulps he drank in the morning air. Oh how good it was to be alive!
Over at the other end of the clearing he saw a tight cluster of people standing together. He polished his Pince-nez and looked through it. Everyone had their back turned toward him. He slowly started across, recognized Wolf Gontram who was standing a long way back. Then he saw two kneeling and someone lying down in the middle. Was it the cavalry captain? Could he have been shot? Had he even fired?
He made a little detour through the high fir trees, came out closer and could now see perfectly. He saw how the count caught sight of him, saw how he weakly beckoned with his hand. They all made room for him as he stepped into the circle. Hans Geroldingen stretched his right hand out to him. He kneeled down and grasped it.
“Forgive me,” he murmured. “I didn’t really want to–”
The cavalry captain smiled, “I know, old friend. It was a coincidence. A God damned coincidence!”
Just then a sudden pain seized him; he moaned and groaned miserably.
“I just wanted to tell you doctor, that I’m not angry at you,” he continued weakly.
Dr. Mohnen didn’t answer; a violent twitch went around the corners of his mouth. His eyes filled with tears. Then the doctors pulled him to the side and occupied themselves once more with the wounded man.
“Nothing can be done,” whispered the regimental doctor.
“We must try getting him to the clinic as quickly as possible,” said the Privy Councilor.
“It would not do us any good,” replied Dr. Peerenbohn. “He would die on us during the transport and only give him unnecessary misery and pain.”
The bullet was in the abdomen; it had penetrated through all the intestines and impacted against the spine where it was now lodged. It was as if it had been drawn there by a mysterious force, straight through Alraune’s letter, through the four-leaf clover and the beloved word, “Mascot”.
It was the little attorney Manasse that saved Dr. Mohnen. When Legal Councilor Gontram showed him the letter he had just received from Lendenich, he declared that the Privy Councilor was the most base, low down, scoundrel that he had ever known. He implored his colleague to not deliver the letter to the District Attorney’s office until the doctor was safe.
It was not about the duel–The authorities had begun proceedings for that on the same day. No, it was about the embezzlement at his Excellency’s office. The attorney himself ran to the delinquent and hauled him out of bed.
“Get up!” he snapped. “Dress! Pack your suitcase! Take the next train to Antwerp and board a ship as quickly as possible! You are an ass! You are a camel! How could you do such a stupid thing?”
Dr. Mohnen rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The way he stood with the Privy Councilor–
But Herr Manasse didn’t let him finish.
“How you stand with him?” he barked. “Yes, you stand just splendidly with him! Magnificent! Unsurpassed! You fool–It is his Excellency himself that has ordered the Legal Councilor to go to the District Attorney’s office because you have stolen money out of his cash box!”
At that Karl Mohnen decided to crawl out of bed. It was Stanislaus Schacht, his old friend, that helped him get away. He studied the departure schedules, gave him the money that was needed and hired the taxi that would take him to Cologne.
It was a sad parting. Karl Mohnen had lived for over thirty years in this city. Every house, almost every stone held a memory for him. His roots were here; here alone his life had meaning. Now he was thrust forth, head over heels, out into some strange–
“Write me,” said fat Schacht. “What will you do?”
Karl Mohnen hesitated, everything appeared utterly destroyed, collapsed and in pieces. His life had become a confused rubbish pile.
He shrugged his shoulders; his good-natured eyes had a forlorn look.
“I don’t know,” he murmured.
But then the old habit crept across his lips and he smiled through his tears.
“I will find a wife,” he said. “There are many rich girls over there–in America.”