The Girl Who Lost Her Way

Following her mother’s passing away, the late Colonel Boddin’s beautiful daughter, Hertha, is left alone in the world. Driven away by her married sister’s jealousy of her beauty, Hertha relies on the kindness of her late mother’s friend Lotte and her son Heinrich who is infatuated with her. But when the young Count Hohensee, who has been courting Lotte’s daughter Anna, sees her beauty, Hertha becomes torn between her need for security and her desire for something more.

Sample

Do you know what the words “yes” and “no” mean? Assuredly, you do not know. They are such short, harmless syllables, but their actual value, their sanctifying or crushing character, you do not know.

Sexton Vierarm worked them out once. He also in fact composes sermons, secretly of course, when his pastor is not looking. At nighttime, as soon as he sits before the kerosene lamp at the round mahogany table over which the bell rope hangs down so cosily, then he puts his religious views down onto great yellow sheets. And openly confessed, they create a much more profound, picturesque, and mysterious impression than those of his superior. And it remains an eternal pity that he hides them in his bread cupboard.

Over “yes” and “no”, however, he has expressed himself on the yellow paper as follows in his Isaiah-style:

Look, between both these words there lies in fact everything in the world. They are the totum. The “yes”, however, my dear devout people, my good community in Christ, is a white dove. It feeds on the pea seeds from your hand if you hold them out to it. It sits, should you sleep, up on your bedstead, fans cool air over you with its wings, and skims over your soul. Assuming that the latter is not already with the devil. So mild is this dove. The “no”, meanwhile, is a black rat with red eyes. Thus of the quite rare sort. This beast springs, when you go walking in unease or contemplation, at your trouser leg, runs up it, and gnaws at your heart. It hurts simply hellishly. And should the beast see the white dove sitting over your head at night, then it hops on its neck, and sucks out its blood. Dear community in Christ, you will have noticed long ago that all rats descend from Satan. It is his favourite beast, he breeds them the way we humans keep rabbits. And hence the “yes” stems from dear God, but the “no” from the devil incarnate.

Sexton Vierarm knew what he was on about it. “Yes” and “no” are the two ropes on which the earth hangs.

***

“Why can’t Hertha sleep?” Heinrich’s sister often asks herself in her room during the restless spring nights which now follow. “She throws herself about, whispers, she sobs frequently, she gets up, and toddles about in bare feet. She is surely feeling uneasy the way brides feel?”

Oh, the foolishness!

Anna does not guess at how the little one spends these hot nights next door in the humid room.

The blond lies now almost always exposed, uncovered on her pillows, for she is consumed by a mad, ungovernable yearning to caress her own, beautiful, smooth body with soft, delicate hand as if she were feeling sympathy with her slender limbs which shall now soon be given away for the pleasure and enjoyment of another.

“Is that possible? Will that ever happen?”, the errant girl then stammers about the other one into the bright flicker of the moon which dances green and trembling through the narrow room. Shadows sway up and down in it. That is the shade of the lime tree’s leaves, whose branches rustle dully before her window.

“Oh,” the white dove whispers over her head. “He is so good.”

“Oh, so good,” the restless girl whispers.

“So honourable.”

“Ridiculous, what use is being honourable? But me? Look at me; I languish so! Look at my body. Is it not smooth as a satin ribbon? And my limbs, do they not curve as if they wanted to embrace someone, to enmesh insolubly with the coming man?”

Then the big, black rat is also running over her, and gnawing at her heart.

“Beautiful, little, blond, glorious one.”

“Oh really, you are good to me, do you really think that I am prettier than the others?”

“You’re the most beautiful in the entire land. Your limbs gleam like drops of water in the sun. Just like the dew shimmered that time when the Count lay next to you. Do you still think of him?”

“Oh, I surely think — leave me, I don’t want to think of it.” —

“Does a bride dream like that?” the dove admonishes meanwhile, and beats her wings. “Consider that well. — And your Heinrich, is he not nice?”

Then Hertha rolled over so that the dove fluttered to the side and the green shadows danced on her bed.

“Nice — nice — what a dumb word, I don’t know, you have to laugh about it.” And she beats her breast lightly so that it gives off a bright note. But straight afterwards, she wails in pain, and turns her countenance to the wall. It is digging over her heart, it is boring into her like a ravenous animal. And the tantalising, whistling voice as well, which creeps into her ear, though she buries her head deep in the pillows.

“You, you most beautiful of all, he yearns for you, the handsome, white boy in his sparkling uniform. A Count — do you hear? — Countess. You are born for the heights. And he is rich. Think, when you will drive through the capital; coaches, horses, liveried servants, all the shining silver, and the clothes of soft silk, and the box in the theatre when the thousand electric lights are glowing. The King himself will pull out his glasses to observe you. ‘By God, a beauty!’ And to obtain all this, what do you need?”

“What? — what? — tell me!”

“See, your arm, how full it is, how round. You just bend it, and the most insensitive man will sigh. Do you believe me?”

“Yes, yes — — but — oh, I don’t know.”

A leap, the struggling girl has left her bed, and just as she is, naked, exposed, feverishly hot and freezing, she runs to the window and presses her forehead against the cold panes.

But down there?

She sees the yard paved with pale silvery stones, and there, right under her, there stands Heinrich and stares up at her. She has often surprised him at it as he has kept watch over her until the crack of dawn. Now he places his hand over his eyes, for the giant figure is swaying.

Why? — Why? Can he have seen her? And he is not angry with her?

And shaken by sorrow and misery, she sinks to her knees before her bed, and grabs and pulls at the coarse farmer’s linen until the material crackles and begins to tear.

***