Karl Exner, lamed after a childhood accident, is disfigured spiritually as well, and becomes possessed by an indomitable will to spite his fellow man.
Marie Alke’s father was a rich farmer whose speculation during the 1870s craze bankrupted him and subsequently forced her to become a maidservant.
Exner forces Marie into an inauspicious marriage, and their intertwined fates struggle against what is buried within each of them.
The deadly lightning bolts tend to fall from a blue sky, and often a cloud, alone drawing aloft, harmless and peaceful, turns so dark that a gentle twilight comes over our little rooms; often this silent cloud breaks forth, the storm springs up with the ferocity of a lion which had been sleeping in the glow, and in a few moments, the terrible cast transforms a strip of blooming land into a wasteland.
No green for far and wide. Like giant shovels, the storms dig the crumbs away down to the dead stone; the paths blur; the uprooted trees lie around lashed, and seldom does a bird visit this stricken place than it soon veers away from it with a timid cry. And the people hardly find the place where just before their crops were waving their ripeness to them. Their hopes are torn up like their houses. Where their hearts formerly tolled lustily, they now carry the dull pain of an incurable wound.
Such a quick storm had ravaged Marie’s soul, and nothing remained from the entire world of her blossoming hopes than a turbid feeling.
She exerted herself in vain during the following days to overlook her situation. She got no further than a heavy sorrow and, when a power remaining in a corner of her soul still wanted to rear up passionately and call for resistance, she always sank back into melancholy in recalling her flight. Not once did the thought occur to her to ask after the true meaning of all her experiences, rather she just felt publicly insulted, slandered, desecrated, dishonoured. She walked about in grief.
The Lord of the Manor saw her shattered state and put it to her to go if she wanted. “Where would I go?” she said wearily, “my brothers and sisters are all in service, and my uncle! — — — What would I say as a reason for coming? No, no, sir, I see it is just going in a way that I’ll come out …”
In order to go easy on her, she was separated from the other servants and assigned to solitary work in the old extract house. There she shovelled the heaped up grain about in the dilapidated rooms. The deep humming of the threshing machine in the yard came muffled through the closed windows.
Here it was so quiet that life was draining away from every corner. Deserted spiders’ nests hung in every corner, fluttering, bestrewn memories of a forgotten life. Her shovel stirred without rest in the grain, the heaps became no smaller.
So it fared to her thinking.
In the end, she came to the conviction that God sent her this test and decided as a practising catholic to go on Sunday for the Holy Sacrament and to pray for enlightenment after communion. She knew that the eternal often spoke directly to the pure human soul during this holy moment.
Like the water flowing into the weir, quieter than usual, so lustily that the hesitance under the surface is hardly noticed, she went towards the day of decision. Nobody knew of her intention. Nobody saw her leaving on the Sunday morning.