The rebellious teacher, Franz Faber, tells his colleague over three nights the story of his struggle with life, love, and faith.
Generally considered to be partly autobiographical, Three Nights introduces Stehr’s alter ego, the truth-seeking Franz Faber, who would subsequently play an important role in Stehr’s masterpiece, The Blessed Farm.
“Your father remained single for a long time?”
“Yes, but how did you come to that insight?”
“Well, before his soul had argued it out with his dead mother, a long time must probably have passed.”
Faber looked at me for a long time with forlorn eyes and then answered dully,
“You’re right, quite right. Perhaps it was her intention, to thwart my siblings and me completely. It really looks almost as if I came into the world spuriously.”
With these words, he nodded heavily whilst, coughing, he collected up breadcrumbs on the tablecloth.
“No, no,” he answered strongly to my admonition. “Must a mother who suffered a complete shipwreck in life not wish longingly that her children are saved a similar lot, and can man be preserved from the torment of life in any other way than that his birth be prevented? The shadow of the dead woman probably went in and out with my father always threatening and sitting on his bed and bending over his working hands. They were certainly terrible, dark years for him. He wasn’t progressing with his trade either. Pfennigs were often his entire wealth. He told me about it sometimes. But in the end — in the end — it can be no different — the dead people have a greater power over us than the living; their love is inexorable; their admonitions threats; their seriousness has only whips and their disappointment over us becomes the desperation of the heart. Whether we shy away from them, whether we follow their pale tracks: it is all the same, we lapse ever deeper into that immutable torpor from out of which those who have passed away frighten or lure. And before my father was completely sucked dry by his dead mother, he placed in self-defence between her and himself two mild, gently enraptured eyes, a pure, deep soul and a blessed, loving heart: his wife, my mother.”
Faber had stopped eating and was staring now, his arms propped up, silently at the table.
“You want to say by that,” I spoke, “ that love did not actually unite them?”
“Love,” he replied dully, “if by that you understand the wandering dance after an alien sun, no; but in so far as love of life is the deepest, indispensable necessity, yes. Nevertheless my father did not marry my mother, but just took her for himself.”
“He made a common law marriage then?” I asked.
Faber smiled derisively.
“No, no! It was all complete: banns, wedding with ring, consecration and pastor. God forbid! But they also remained apart after the union. That I know for certain, for I lived to see it in me up to today. In every aptitude and hope, in every desire and every decision, I am split. We must, not because we want to, but from compulsion, act from inexorable need. I would rather spring out of the world than out of the dance to which those down below play the music.”
I contented myself with moving my head in negation.
“Not so?” Faber asked me and looked sombre.
“No,” I answered firmly and calmly, “for then our life would have no aim and no sense but the aimlessness and absurdity of those who we beget and hound to their deaths. See, judging all our actions according to the past means always working at night by lamplight. Memory is an activity of thought. Can we not commit errors of thought, and have you not said yourself previously that under desperately avid drilling your whole life dissolves into ghosts?”
Faber sat their taken aback by this reply for a while, then he sprang up so violently that his chair fell back crashing, and he began, his hands burrowed deep in his pockets, to wander strongly up and down in the room. Hardly had he strode the short floorboards back and forth three times than Liese opened the door soundlessly, hesitated in fright and, because I was standing too, came in and cleared the table. She was still deeply pale and scared. But Faber stepped immediately to the window and looked out. I took a book and, leafing in it, threw a glance now and then at the pair. Without raising her eyes, Liese arranged everything, slowly and painfully exact as it appeared to me, dallying with intent. But my friend did not stir, instead he was rapt in the view of the beautiful night. Then she was finally going, paused in the door for a moment, directed her glance at Faber as if she wanted to address him, but just breathed deeply and disappeared. At the clicking of the lock, Faber rose hastily and went after her. I heard him on the steps talking to her, muffled and affectionate, and her answering him with sadness in her voice. When he had entered again, he stepped before me and shook his head smiling.
“A strange girl! She imagines we could still need her for this or that assistance and is not to be budged into going home. — She will now sit there down below and listen intently to every sound and step of ours. What can one do here?”
The last two sentences were separated by a pause from the rest of his words. His forehead furrowed again with that deep angry crease between his eyes and trembled with fervour. I just could not figure out whether this bitterness was his seriousness or his mask, and before I could stir this shroud with cautious words, he had already stepped away from me again and was leaning out the open window.
He broke away from me quickly, as men do who feel that another soul is aiming at them an expectation whose declaration they want to hinder. I followed smiling and leant out next to him. He made space for me, as well as he could, but did not release the gaze of his eyes from the heavens which stretched in pure blue over the deep black ridges of the Feistelberg range. The light of its stars twitched and smouldered restlessly as if flickering under the vehemence of an inaudible storm.