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Archive for December, 2014

Chapter Four

Gives the particulars of how they found Alraune’s mother

Frank Braun sat above on the ramparts of Festung Ehrenbreitstein, a fortified castle overlooking Koblentz. He had sat there for two months already and still had three more to sit, through the entire summer. Just because he had shot a hole through the air, and through his opponent as well.

He was bored. He sat up high on the parapet of the tower, legs dangling over the edge looking at the wide broad view of the Rhine from the steep cliffs. He looked into the blue expanse and yawned, exactly like his three comrades that sat next to him. No one spoke a word.

They wore yellow canvas jackets that the soldiers had given them. Their attendants had painted large black numbers on the backs of their jackets to signify their cells. No.’s two, fourteen and six sat there; Frank Braun wore the number seven.

Then a troop of foreigners came up into the tower, Englishmen and Englishwomen led by the sergeant of the watch. He showed them the poor prisoners with the large numbers sitting there so forlorn. They were moved with sympathy and with “oohs” and “ahs” asked the sergeant if they could give the miserable wretches anything.

“That is expressly forbidden,” he said. “I better not see any of you doing it.”

But he had a big heart and turned his back as he explained the region around them to the gentlemen.

“There is Koblenz,” he said, “and over there behind it is Neuwied. Down there is the Rhine–”

Meanwhile the ladies had come up. The poor prisoner stretched out his hands behind him, held them open right under his number. Gold pieces, cigarettes and tobacco were dropped into them, sometimes even a business card with an address.

That was the game Frank Braun had contrived and introduced up here.

“That is a real disgrace,” said No. fourteen. It was the cavalry captain, Baron Flechtheim.

“You are an idiot,” said Frank Braun. “What is disgraceful is that we fancy ourselves so refined that we give everything to the petty officers and don’t keep anything for ourselves. If only the damned English cigarettes weren’t so perfumed.”

He inspected the loot.

“There! Another pound piece! The Sergeant will be very happy–God, I made out well today!”

“How much did you lose yesterday?” asked No. two.

Frank Braun laughed, “Pah, everything I made the day before plus a couple of blue notes. Fetch the executioner his block!”

No. six was a very young ensign, a young pasty faced boy that looked like milk and blood. He sighed deeply.

“I too have lost everything.”

“So, do you think we did any better?” No. fourteen snarled at him, “And to think those three scoundrels are now in Paris amusing themselves with our money! How long do you think they will stay?”

Dr. Klaverjahn, marine doctor, fortress prisoner No. two said, “I estimate three days. They can’t stay away any longer than that without someone noticing. Besides, their money won’t last that long!”

They were speaking of No.’s four, five and twelve who had heartily won last night, had early this morning climbed down the hill and caught the early train to Paris–“R and R”–a little rest and relaxation, is what they called it in the fortress.

“What will we do this afternoon?” No. fourteen asked.

“Will you just once think for yourself!” Frank Braun cried to the cavalry captain.

He sprang down from the wall, went through the barracks into the officer’s garden. He felt grumpy, whistled to get inside. Not grumpy because he had lost the game, that happened to him often and didn’t bother him at all. It was this deplorable sojourn up here, this unbearable monotony.

Certainly the fortress confinement was light enough and none of the gentlemen prisoners were ever injured or tormented. They even had their own casino up here with a piano and a harmonium. There were two dozen newspapers. Everyone had their own attendant and all the cells were large rooms, almost halls, for which they paid the government rent of a penny a day. They had meals sent up from the best guesthouses in the city and their wine cellar was in excellent condition.

If there was anything to find fault with, it was that you couldn’t lock your room from the inside. That was the single point the commander was very serious about. Once a suicide had occurred and ever since any attempt to bring a bolt in brought severe punishment.

“It was idiotic thought,” Frank Braun, “as if you couldn’t commit suicide without bolts on your door!”

The missing bolt pained him every day and ruined all the joy in it by making it impossible to be alone in the fortress. He had shut his door with rope and chain, put his bed and all the other furniture in front of it. But it had been useless. After a war that lasted for hours everything in his room was demolished and battered to pieces. The entire company stood triumphant in the middle of his room.

Oh what a company! Every single one of them was a harmless, kind and good-natured fellow. Every single one–to a man, could chat by themselves for half an hour–But together, together they were insufferable. Mostly, it was their comments, that they were all depressed. This wild mixture of officers and students forgot their high stations and always talked of the foolish happenings at the fortress. They sang, they drank, they played. One day, one night, like all the rest. In between were a few girls that they dragged up here and a few outings down to the town below. Those were their heroic deeds and they didn’t talk about anything else!

The ones that had been here the longest were the worst, entirely depraved and caught up in this perpetual cycle. Dr. Burmüller had shot his brother-in-law dead and had sat up here for two years now. His neighbor, the Dragoon lieutenant, Baron von Vallendar had been enjoying the good air up here for a half year longer than that. And the new ones that came in, scarcely a week went by without them trying to prove who was the crudest and wildest–They were held in highest regard.

Frank Braun was held in high regard. He had locked up the piano on the second day because he didn’t want to listen any more to the horrible “Song of Spring” the cavalry captain kept playing. He put the key in his pocket, went outside and then threw it over the fortress wall. He had also brought his dueling pistols with him and shot them all day long. He could guzzle and escape as well as anyone up here.

Really, he had enjoyed these summer months at the fortress. He had dragged in a pile of books, a new writing quill and sheets of writing paper, believing he could work here, looking forward to the constraint of the solitude. But he hadn’t been able to open a book, had not written one letter.

Instead he had been pulled into this wild childish whirlpool that he loathed and went along with it day after day. He hated his comrades–every single one of them–

His attendant came into the garden, saluted:

“Herr Doctor, A letter for you.”

A letter? On Sunday afternoon? He took it out of the soldier’s hand. It was a special express letter that had been forwarded to him up here. He recognized the thin scrawl of his uncle’s handwriting. From him? What did his uncle suddenly want of him? He weighed the letter in his hand.

Oh, he was tempted to send the letter back, “delivery refused”. What was going on with the old professor anyway? Yes, the last time he had seen him was when he had traveled back to Lendenich with him after the celebration at the Gontrams. That was when he had tried to persuade his uncle to create an alraune creature. That was two years ago.

Ah, now it was all coming back to him! He had gone to a different university, had passed his exams. Then he had sat in a hole in Lorraine–busy as a junior attorney–Busy? Bah, he had set out in life thinking he would travel when he got out of college. He was popular with the women, and with those that loved a loose life and wild ways. His superior viewed him very unfavorably.

Oh yes, he worked, a bit here and there–for himself. But it was always what his superior called public nuisance cases. He sneaked away when he could, traveled to Paris. It was better at the house on Butte Sacrée than in court. He didn’t know for sure where it would all lead. It was certain that he would never be a jurist, attorney, judge or other public servant. But then, what should he do? He lived there, got into more debt every day–

Now he held this letter in his hand and felt torn between ripping it open and sending it back like it was as a late answer to a different letter his uncle had written him two years ago.

It had been shortly after that night. He had ridden through the village at midnight with five other students, back from an outing into the seven mountains. On a sudden impulse he had invited them all to a late midnight meal at the ten Brinken house.

They tore at the bell, yelled loudly and hammered against the wrought iron door making such a noise that the entire village came running out to see what was happening. The Privy Councilor was away on a journey but the servant let them in on the nephew’s command. The horses were taken to the stable and Frank Braun woke the household, ordered them to prepare a great feast. Frank Braun went into his uncle’s cellar and brought out the finest wines.

They feasted, drank and sang, roared through the house and garden, made noises, howled and smashed things with their fists. Early the next morning they rode home, bawling and screaming, hanging on to their nags like wild cowboys, one or two flopping like old meal sacks.

“The young gentlemen behaved like pigs,” reported Aloys to the Privy Councilor. Yet, that wasn’t it. That wasn’t what had made his uncle so angry. He didn’t say anything about it.

On the buffet there had been some rare apples, dew fresh nectarines, pears and peaches out of his greenhouse. These precious fruits had been picked with unspeakable care, wrapped in cotton and laid on golden plates to ripen. But the students had no reverence at all for the professor’s loves, were not respectful of anything that had been there. They had bitten into these fruits, then because they were not ripe, had put them back down on the plates. That was what he was angry about.

He wrote his nephew an embittered letter requesting him to never again set foot in his house. Frank Braun was just as deeply hurt over the reason for the letter, which he perceived as pathetically petty.

Ah yes, if he had gotten this letter, the one he was now holding, while living in Metz or even in Montmartre–he wouldn’t have hesitated a second before giving it back to the messenger. But he was here–here in this horrible boredom of the fortress.

He decided.

“It will be a diversion in any case,” he murmured as he opened the letter.

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