The farmer Wilms welcomes his sister-in-law Hedwig to help care for his ill wife so that he can tend to the farm which has fallen into disrepair during her illness. But what secret is Hedwig concealing, and what impact will her youthful freshness have on the household?
WARNING: This novel was banned by the Nazi authorities in Germany for its immoral content, and with good reason.
The day had begun. The rain was still drizzling and was dripping down onto the small windows of the invalid’s room. Leaden grey light stole hesitantly through the curtains and mixed with the glow of the lamp which was also now burning before the bed.
Some life began to awake on the great farming estate. A dull hollering of the cows was occasionally heard, and, in between, the scattered calls of the servants. But everything sounded muffled, as if they were frightened of disturbing the invalid.
Something dead, depressed lay over the farmstead; and the more the dreary sunlight advanced, the greater the silence in which those present lapsed.
In the distant, ground floor room, a weak cry was heard. It sounded sickly, hollow, broken, a little irritated, but the voice also whispered so softly that immediately from the leather armchair next to the bed, a man of massive, imposing figure started, rubbed his eyes a little, brushed through his thick, short-cropped hair energetically a few times, and then laid his fingers cautiously on the hand of the suffering woman.
“Well, Else,” he inquired encouragingly, whereby he muffled his voice as much as possible, “is it a little better?”
Instead of an answer, the woman wrung her hands, and buried her countenance in the pillows, “Dear God,” she groaned softly, and it was almost as if a sob came out of the white linen.
The man let his hand sink onto his knee, and stared at the bright, sand bestrewn floor of the room.
Suddenly the young woman threw herself around, and inquired hastily, “You have surely slept, Wilms?”
Strange — the question seemed almost envious.
“Yes, I nodded off for a bit,” her husband answered. And again, a gentle apology could be heard in the words. “I will soon also be sitting like this for the fourth night,” he murmured half to himself.
It went quiet.
From the corner, only the heavy tick-tock of a hulking grandfather clock sounded, and the sand crunched occasionall under the man’s boot.
The suffering woman sighed, and seemed unable to find the right position. Finally she stretched, and looked out into the comfortless grey of the rainy day.
What sadness out there and in here.
The rain whirled against the window, hailstones struck sharply against the panes, and a tear flowed over the cheeks of the woman lying there.
“Put the lamp out, Wilms,” she asked, “my eyes — it hurts.”
He turned the light down; it immediately looked even more ashen in the room.
“Poor woman,” he murmured, “poor woman.” He stroked her hair, and slowly stood up. Then he stepped to the door. — But he would not make it out.
His wife had pulled herself together. “You shouldn’t leave,” she cried fearfully, “I cannot remain alone — I freeze when you are outside!”
“Else — our farm suffers as a result — I must —”
“Yes, yes — the farm — always the farm,” the invalid burst out, and fell back exhausted onto her pillows, “and here I lie in my misery — two years — two whole years already, and no one helps me, no one, I fall as a burden on everyone — even you —”
“Else, I —”
“Yes, even you,” she continued breathlessly, “I note it very well — you have only pity for me — only pity. And yet we married out of love.”
He had stepped hesitantly to her bed, and suddenly she flung her arms around his neck, “Oh God — oh God, I am becoming very ugly surely?” she inquired, her entire body trembling. “Aren’t I, just tell me straight.”
“Else,” — the man’s voice trembled softly. He had sat down on the edge of the bed, and was letting a few strands of her long, blond hair glide through his fingers. “Else,” he reassured her then, “for me you are still as beautiful as in the first hour — just look at your long, soft plaits — and your little mouth and dear, blue eyes — everything as pretty, my poor child.”
It must have overwhelmed him though, for he enclosed his wife in both arms, and kissed her tenderly on the lips. The invalid huddled contentedly against his chest, and for a moment, she seemed enraptured and hopeful. At least, she soon turned to the side and asked him with her excited voice, “Wilms, give me the Bible from the table — so, and now go — just go and keep an eye on the farm — it must be.”
Then the man walked ponderously out; only when he had shut the door, he paused and listened.
And he shook his head bleakly. — His wife was reading with such feverish, passionate fervour in there. She was almost singing; — ecstatic, as if intoxicated, she intoned the holy words, ‘And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.’
“And was made whole from that hour,” she repeated in there as if ecstatic. Then a moment of silence, but suddenly with heart-rending sobs, “Oh God — and was made whole — dear — dear — God.”