Describes the house on the Rhine before the thought of Alraune came into the world.
The white house in which Alraune was thought into existence existed long before she was born–long before she was even conceived. This house lay on the Rhine a little out of the city on the large Villa Street leading out to the old Archbishop’s Palace where the university is today. That is where it lies and Legal Councilor Sebastian Gontram and his family once lived there.
You walk in from the street, through the long ugly garden that has never seen a gardener. You come to the house, from which stucco is falling, search for a bell and find none. You call and scream and no one comes. Finally you push the door open and go inside, climb up the dirty, never washed stair and suddenly a huge cat springs through the darkness…
Or even better–
The large garden is alive with a thousand monkeys. They are the Gontram children: Frieda, Philipp, Paulche, Emilche, Josefehe, and Wülfche. They are everywhere, in the boughs of trees, creeping through the earth in the mine pits. Then there are the hounds, two cheeky spitzes and a Bastard Fox terrier. In addition there is a dwarf pinscher that belongs to Attorney Manasse. He is quite the thing, like a brown quince sausage, round as a barrel , scarcely larger than a hand and called Cyclops.
The yard is filled with noises and screams. Wülfche, scarcely a year old, lies in a child’s wagon and screams high obstinate screams for hours. Only Cyclops can beat this record and he yelps, hoarse and broken, incessantly. Wülfche never moves from his place, only screams, only howls.
The Gontram rogues are resting in the bushes late in the afternoon. Frieda, the oldest, should be looking out for them, taking care that her brothers are behaving. But she thinks they are behaving and sits under the decaying Lilac leaves with her friend, the little Princess Wolkonski.
The two chatter and argue, thinking that they soon will become fourteen years old and can get married, or at least have a lover. Right now they are both forbidden from all this and need to wait a little longer. It is still fourteen days until their first Holy Communion. Then they get long dresses, and then they will be grown up. Then they can have a lover.
She decides to become very virtuous and start going to the May devotions at church immediately. She needs to gather herself together in these days, be serious and sensible.
“–and perhaps also because Schmitz will be there,” says Frieda.
The little Princess turns up her nose, “Bah–Schmitz!”
Frieda pinches her under the arm, “–and the Bavarian, the one with the blue cap!”
Olga Wolkonski laughs, “Him? He is–all air! Frieda, you know the good boys don’t go to church.”
That is true, the good ones don’t do that. Frieda sighs. She swiftly gets up and shoves the wagon with the screaming Wülfche to the side, and steps on Cyclops who is trying to bite her ankles. No, no, the princess is right. Church is not the answer.
“Let’s stay here!” she decides. The two girls creep back under the Lilac leaves.
All the Gontram children have an infinite passion for living. They can’t say how they know but deep inside, they feel in their blood that they will die young, die fresh. They only have a small amount of time compared to what others are given and they take this time in triple, making noise, rushing, eating and drinking until they are saturated on life.
Wülfche screams in his wagon, screaming for himself alone as well as for three other babies. His brothers fly through the garden making themselves numerous, as if they were four dozen and not just four. They are dirty, red nosed and ragged, always bloody from a cut on the finger, a scraped knee or some other good scratch.
When the sun sets the Gontram rascals quietly sweep back into the house, going into the kitchen for heaping sandwiches of buttered bread laid thick with ham and sausage. The maid gives them water to drink colored lightly with red wine.
Then the maid washes them. She pulls their clothes off and sticks them in wooden tubs, takes the black soap, the hard brush and scrubs them. She scrubs them like a pair of boots and still can’t get them clean. Then she sticks the wild young ones back in the tubs crying and raving and scrubs them again.
Dead tired they fall into their beds like sacks of potatoes, forgetting to be quiet. They also forget to cover up. The maid takes care of that.
Around this time Attorney Manasse comes into the house, climbs up the stairs, knocks with his cane on a few doors and receiving no answer finally moves on.
Frau Gontram moves toward him. She is tall, almost twice the size of Herr Manasse. He is a dwarf, round as a barrel and looks exactly like his ugly dog, Cyclops. Short stubble stands out all over him, out of his cheeks, chin and lips. His nose appears in the middle, small and round like a radish. When he speaks, he barks as if he is always snapping.
“Good evening Frau Gontram,” he says. “Is my colleague home yet?”
“Good evening attorney,” says the tall woman. “Make yourself comfortable.”
“Why isn’t my colleague home yet?–and shut that kid up! I can’t understand a single word you are saying.”
“What?” Frau Gontram asks. Then she takes the earplugs out of her ears. “Oh yes,” she continues. “That Wülfche! You should buy a pair of these things Attorney. Then you won’t hear him.”
She goes to the door and screams, “Billa, Billa–or Frieda! Can’t you hear? Make Wülfche quiet!”
She is still in apricot colored pajamas. Her enormous chestnut brown hair is half-pinned up and half-fallen down. Her black eyes appear infinitely large, wide, wide, filled with sharp cunning and scorching unholy fires. But her skeletal face curves in at the temples, her narrow nose droops and her pale cheeks spread themselves tightly over her bones. Huge patches burn lividly on–
“Do you have a good cigar Attorney?” she asks.
He takes his case out angrily, almost furiously.
“How many have you already smoked today Frau Gontram?”
“Only twenty,” she laughs. “But you know the filthy things are four pennies apiece and I could use a good one for a change. Give me the thick one there! – and you take the dark, almost black Mexican.”
Herr Manasse sighs, “Now how are you doing? How long do you have?”
“Bah,” she made a rude sound. “Don’t wet yourself. How long? The other day the doctor figured about six months. But you know how precise they are in that place. He could just as well have meant two years. I’m thinking it’s not going at a gallop. It’s going at a pretty trot along with the galloping consumption.”
“You shouldn’t smoke so much!” The little attorney barks.
She looks at him, her thin blue lips pulling high over gleaming teeth.
“What? What Manasse? No more smoking? Now stop with the friendly airs! What am I supposed to do? Bear children all year long? The brats in this house already drive me crazy. That’s why it’s galloping–and I’m not supposed to smoke?”
She blows a thick cloud of smoke into his face and makes him cough.
He looks at her, half-poisoned, half-living, and admires her. He doesn’t take anything from anyone. When he stands before the bar he never tells a joke or minces words. He barks, snaps, bites without respect or the smallest fear.–But here, before this dried up woman whose body is a skeleton, whose head grins like a death’s head, who for a year and a day has stood three quarters in the grave and laughed at herself the last quarter, here he feels afraid.
Her unrestrained shimmering locks are always growing, always thicker, always fuller as if pulling nourishment from her decaying body. Her perfect gleaming teeth clamp around a cigar; her eyes are enormous, without hope, without desire, almost without awareness but burning with fire–These leave him silent. They leave him feeling smaller than he really is, almost as small as his hound.
Oh, he is very educated, Attorney Manasse is. She calls him a veritable conversational encyclopedia. It doesn’t matter what the topic of conversation, he can give the information in the blink of an eye.
Now he’s thinking, has she given up on finding a cure? Is she in denial? Does she think that if she ignores death he will not come? Does she think death is not in this house? That when he does come, only then will she go?
But he, Manasse, sees very well that death is here even though she still lives. He has been here all along hiding throughout the house, playing blind cow with this woman that wears his face, letting her abandon her numerous children to cry and race in the garden.
Death doesn’t gallop. He goes at a pretty trot. She has that right. But only out of humor, only because he wants to make a joke, to play with this woman and her life hungry children like a cat plays with the fish in a fish bowl.
Only this woman, Frau Gontram, thinks he is not even here. She lies on the lounge all day long smoking big dark cigars, reading never-ending books and wearing earplugs so she can’t hear the noise her children make–He is not here at all?–Not here?
Death grins and laughs out of her withered mask, puffs thick smoke into his face. Little Manasse sees him perfectly enough. He stares at him, considers for a long time which great artist has painted this death. Is it Durer? Or Bocklin? Or some other wild harlequin death from Bosch, Breughel or a different insane, inexcusable death from Hogarth, from Goya, from Rowlandson, Rops or Callot?
It is from none of these. Sitting before him is a real death, a death you can willingly go with. It is a good, proper and therefore romantic Rhinelander’s death. It is one you can talk with, that sees the comedy in life, that smokes, drinks wine and laughs. It is good that he smokes thought Manasse, so very good, then you can’t smell him–