Crash! Something fell off the wall, fell on Sophia, hitting the housemaid right on the head. The maid screamed out loud and in her fright dropped the silver tray she had been serving coffee on.
“A shame about the beautiful silver service,” said Frau Gontram calmly. “What happened?”
Dr. Mohnen immediately took a quick look at the crying housemaid, cut a strand of hair away, washed the gaping edges of the wound and stopped the bleeding with a yellow Iron Chloride wad. He didn’t forget to pat the beautiful girl on the cheeks and furtively squeeze one of her firm breasts. Then he gave her some wine to drink, spoke to her, lightly in her ear.
The Hussar lieutenant stooped, picked up the thing that had caused the damage, raised it high and looked at it from all sides.
There were all kinds of remarkable things hanging on the wall. There was a Kaneka Idol, half male and half female, colorfully painted with yellow and red stripes. Two old heavy and deformed riding boots hung there complete with impressive Spanish spurs. There were all sorts of rusty weapons as well.
On the gray wall was also pressed the Doctorate Diploma of some old Gontram from a Jesuit College in Seville. Near it hung a wonderful ivory crucifix inlaid with gold. On the other side was a large heavy Buddhist cross with a rose in the center carved out of green Jade. Right above that you could see the large tear in the wallpaper where a nail had torn its way out of the brittle plaster.
It was a brown dusty thing made of rock hard wooden root. It looked like an ancient wrinkled man.
“Oh, it’s our alraune!” Frau Gontram said. “It’s just as well that it fell on Sophie, she has a hard skull!–When Wölfchen was born I gave that disgusting manikin to him. I was certain he would be able to break it to pieces but he couldn’t.”
The Legal Councilor explained, “This has been in our family for over two hundred years now. It has done this once before. My grandfather told us that once in the night it sprang off the wall and fell on his head–He was completely drunk when it happened though–He always liked having a few drops to drink.”
“What is it really?” the Hussar lieutenant asked.
“Well, it brings gold into the house,” answered Herr Gontram. “It is an old legend–Manasse can tell you all about it–Come over here, Herr Colleague, tell us, Herr History–What is the legend of the alraune?”
But the little attorney didn’t want to, “Why? Everyone knows it already!”
“No one knows it, Herr Attorney,” the lieutenant cried at him. “No one. Your learning greatly overshadows that of modern education.”
“So tell us, Manasse,” said Frau Gontram. “I always wanted to know what that ugly thing was good for.”
He began. He spoke dryly, matter of factly, as if he were reading some piece out of a book. He spoke unhurried, scarcely raising his voice while swinging the manikin root back and forth in his right hand like a baton.
“Alraune, albraune, mandragora–also called mandrake–mandragora is its official name, a plant belonging to the Nightshade family. It is found around the Mediterranean, Southeast Europe and Asia up to the Himalayas. Its leaves and flowers contain a narcotic that was used in ancient times as a sleeping potion and during operations at the illustrious medical college in Salerno, Italy. The leaves were smoked and the fruit made into a love potion. It stimulates lust and increases potency. The plant is named Dudaim in the Old Testament where Jacob used it to increase Labaan’s flock of sheep.
The root plays the leading role in the saga of the alraune because of its strange resemblance to an old male or female figurine. It was mentioned by Pythagoras and already in his time believed capable of making a person invisible. It is used for magic or the opposite, as a talisman against witchcraft.
The German alraune story began in the early Middle Ages in connection with the crusades. Known criminals were hung stark naked from a gallows at a crossroads. At the moment their neck was broken they lost their semen and it fell to the earth fertilizing it and creating a male or female alraune. It had to be dug out of the ground beneath the gallows when the clock struck midnight and you needed to plug your ears with cotton and wax or its dreadful screams would make you fall down in terror. Even Shakespeare tells of this.
After it is dug up and carried back home you keep it healthy by bringing it a little to eat at every meal and bathing it in wine on the Sabbath. It brings luck in peace and in war, is a protection against witchcraft and brings lots of money into the house. It is good for prophecy and makes its owner lovable. It brings women love magic, fertility and easy childbirth. It makes people fall madly and wildly in love with them.
Yet it also brings sorrow and pain where ever it is. The house where it stays will be pursued by bad luck and it will drive its owner to greed, fornication and other crimes before leading him at last to death and then to hell. Nevertheless, the alraune is very beloved, much sought after and brings a high price when it can be found.
They say that Bohemian general Albrecht Wallenstein carried an alraune around with him and they say the same thing about Henry the Eighth, the English King with so many wives.”
The attorney became quiet, threw the hard piece of wood in front of him onto the table.
“Very interesting, really very interesting,” cried Count Geroldingen. “I am deeply indebted to you for sharing that bit of information Herr Attorney.”
But Madame Marion declared that she would not permit such a thing in her house for even a minute and looked with frightened, believing eyes at the stiff bony mask of Frau Gontram.
Frank Braun walked quickly back to the Privy Councilor. His eyes glowed; he gripped the old gentleman on the shoulder and shook it.
“Uncle Jakob,” he whispered. “Uncle Jakob–”
“What is it now boy?” The professor asked. He stood up and followed his nephew to the window.
“Uncle Jakob,” the student repeated. “That’s it!–That’s what you need to do! It’s better than making stupid jokes with frogs, monkeys and little children! Do it Uncle Jakob, go a new way, where no one has gone before!”
His voice trembled; in nervous haste he blew a puff of smoke out from his cigarette.
“I don’t understand a word you are saying,” said the old man.
“Oh, you must understand Uncle Jakob!–Didn’t you hear what he said?–Create an Alraune, one that lives, one of flesh and blood!–You can do it Uncle, you alone and no one else in the world.”
The Privy Councilor looked at him uncertainly. But in the voice of the student lay such certainty, conviction and belief in his skill that he became curious against his will.
“Explain yourself more clearly Frank,” he said. “I really don’t know what you mean.”
His nephew shook his head hastily, “Not now Uncle Jakob. With your permission I will escort you home. We can talk then.”
He turned quickly, strode to the coffeepot, took a cup, emptied it and took another in quick gulps.
Sophia, the other girl, was trying to evade her comforter and Dr. Mohnen was running around here and there hyper as a cow’s tail during fly season. His fingers felt the need to wash something, to pick something up. He took up the alraune and rubbed it with a clean napkin trying to wipe the dust and grime away that clung to it in layers. It was useless; the thing had not been cleaned for over a century and would only get more napkins dirty. He was filled with the sense that something was not right. He swung it high and skillfully threw it into the middle of the large wine bowl.
“Drink alraune,” he cried. “You have been treated badly in this house and must certainly be thirsty!”
Then he climbed up on a chair and delivered a long solemn speech to the white robed virgins.
“I hope you can stay eternally as pure as you are tonight,” he finished.
He lied, he didn’t want that at all. No one wished that, much less the two young ladies, but they clapped with the others, went over to him, curtsied and thanked him.
Chaplain Schröder stood next to the Legal Councilor complaining powerfully that the date was nearing when the new Civil Law would go into effect. Less than ten more years and the Code of Napoleon would be gone and people in the Rhineland would have the same civil rights as over there in Prussia! It was absolutely unthinkable!
“Yes,” sighed the Legal Councilor, “and all the work! A person has to learn everything all over again, as if they don’t have enough to do as it is.”
He was completely indifferent on the basis that it would not affect him very much since he had studied the new laws already and had passed the exam, thank God!
The princess left and took Frau Marion with her in her carriage. Olga stayed over with her friend again. They stood by the door and said goodbye to the others as they left, one after the other.
“Aren’t you going too, Uncle Jakob?” the student asked.
“I must wait a bit,” said the Privy Councilor. “My carriage is not here yet. It will be here in a
Frank Braun looked out the window. There was the little widow, Frau Von Dollinger, going down the stairs nimble as a squirrel in spite of her forty years, down into the garden, falling down, springing back up. She ran right into a smooth tree trunk, wrapped her arms and legs around it and started kissing it passionately, completely drunk and senseless from wine and lust.
Stanislaus Schacht tried to untangle her but she held on like a beetle. He was strong and sober in spite of the enormous quantity of wine that he had drunk. She screamed as he pulled her away trying to stay clasped to the smooth tree trunk but he picked her up and carried her in his arms. Then she recognized him, pulled off his hat and started kissing him on his smooth bald head.
Now the professor was standing, speaking some last words with the Legal Councilor.
“I’d like to ask a favor,” he said. “Would you mind giving me the unlucky little man?”
Frau Gontram answered before her husband could, “Certainly Herr Privy Councilor. Take that nasty alraune along with you! It is certainly something more for a bachelor!”
She reached into the large wine bowl and pulled out the root manikin but the hard wood hit the edge of the bowl, knocking it over, and it rolled to the floor with a loud crash that resounded through the room. The magnificent old crystal bowl broke into hundreds of crystal shards as the bowl’s sweet contents spilled over the table and onto the floor.
“Holy Mother of God!” she cried out. “It is certainly a good thing that it is finally leaving my house!”