Translated from the German of
by A. Cecil Curtis
by A. Cecil Curtis
GROSSET & DUNLAP
by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf
by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf
COPYRIGHT, 1909, S. FISCHER, VERLAG
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The scene is the Albrechtstrasse, the main artery of the capital, which runs from Albrechtsplatz and the Old Schloss to the barracks of the Fusiliers of the Guard. The time is noon on an ordinary week-day; the season of the year does not matter. The weather is fair to moderate. It is not raining, but the sky is not clear; it is a uniform light grey, uninteresting and sombre, and the street lies in a dull and sober light which robs it of all mystery, all individuality. There is a moderate amount of traffic, without much noise and crowd, corresponding to the not over-busy character of the town. Tram-cars glide past, a cab or two rolls by, along the pavement stroll a few residents, colourless folk, passers-by, the public—“people.”Two officers, their hands in the slanting pockets of their grey great-coats, approach each other; a general and a lieutenant. The general is coming from the Schloss, the lieutenant from the direction of the barracks. The lieutenant is quite young, a mere stripling, little more than a child. He has narrow shoulders, dark hair, and the wide cheek-bones so common in this part of the world, blue rather tired-looking eyes, and a boyish face with a kind but reserved expression. The general has snow-white hair, is tall and broad-shouldered, altogether a commanding figure. His eyebrows look like cotton-wool, and his moustache hangs right down over his mouth and chin. He walks with slow deliberation, his sword rattles on the asphalt, his plume flutters in the wind, and at every step he takes the big red lapel of his coat flaps slowly up and down.
And so these two draw near each other. Can this rencontre lead to any complication? Impossible. Every observer can foresee the course this meeting will naturally take. We have on one side and the other age and youth, authority and obedience, years of services and docile apprenticeship—a mighty hierarchical gulf, rules and prescriptions, separate the two. Natural organization, take thy course! And, instead, what happens? Instead, the following surprising, painful, delightful, and topsy-turvy scene occurs.
The general, noticing the young lieutenant's approach, alters his bearing in a surprising manner. He draws himself up, yet at the same time seems to get smaller. He tones down with a jerk, so to speak, the splendour of his appearance, stops the clatter of his sword, and, while his face assumes a cross and embarrassed expression, he obviously cannot make up his mind where to turn his eyes, and tries to conceal the fact by staring from under his cotton-wool eyebrows at the asphalt straight in front of him.
The young lieutenant too betrays to the careful observer some slight embarrassment, which however, strange to say, he seems to succeed, better than the grey-haired general, in cloaking with a certain grace and self-command. The tension of his mouth is relaxed into a smile at once modest and genial, and his eyes are directed with a quiet and self-possessed calm, seemingly without an effort, over the general's shoulder and beyond.
By now they have come within three paces of each other. And, instead of the prescribed salute, the young lieutenant throws his head slightly back, at the same time draws his right hand—only his right, mark you—out of his coat-pocket and makes with this same white-gloved right hand a little encouraging and condescending movement, just opening the fingers with palm upwards, nothing more. But the general, who has awaited this sign with his arms to his sides, raises his hand to his helmet, steps aside, bows, making a half-circle as if to leave the pavement free, and deferentially greets the lieutenant with reddening cheeks and honest modest eyes. Thereupon the lieutenant, his hand to his cap, answers the respectful greeting of his superior officer—answers it with a look of child-like friendliness; answers it—and goes on his way.
A miracle! A freak of fancy! He goes on his way. People look at him, but he looks at nobody, looks straight ahead through the crowd, with something of the air of a woman who knows that she is being looked at. People greet him; he returns the greeting, heartily and yet distantly. He seems not to walk very easily; it looks as if he were not much accustomed to the use of his legs, or as if the general attention he excites bothers him, so irregular and hesitating is his gait; indeed, at times he seems to limp. A policeman springs to attention, a smart woman, coming out of a shop, smiles and curtseys. People turn round to look at him, nudge each other, stare at him, and softly whisper his name….
It is Klaus Heinrich, the younger brother of Albrecht II, and heir presumptive to the throne. There he goes, he is still in view. Known and yet a stranger, he moves among the crowd—people all around him, and yet as if alone. He goes on his lonely way and carries on his narrow shoulders the burden of his Highness!
Artillery salvos were fired when the various new-fangled means of communication in the capital spread the news that the Grand Duchess Dorothea had given birth to a prince for the second time at Grimmburg. Seventy-two rounds resounded through the town and surrounding country, fired by the military in the walls of the “Citadel.” Directly afterwards the fire brigade also, not to be outdone, fired with the town salute-guns; but in their firing there were long pauses between each round, which caused much merriment among the populace.The Grimmburg looked down from the top of a woody hill on the picturesque little town of the same name, which mirrored its grey sloping roofs in the river which flowed past it. It could be reached from the capital in half an hour by a local railway which paid no dividends. There the castle stood, the proud creation of the Margrave Klaus Grimmbart, the founder of the reigning house in the dim mists of history, since then several times rejuvenated and repaired, fitted with the comforts of the changing times, always kept in a habitable state and held in peculiar honour as the ancestral seat of the ruling house, the cradle of the dynasty. For it was a rule and tradition of the house that all direct descendants of the Margrave, every child of the reigning couple, must be born there.
This tradition could not be ignored. The country had had sophisticated and unbelieving sovereigns, who had laughed at it, and yet had complied with it with a shrug of the shoulders. It was now much too late to break away from it whether it was reasonable and enlightened or not: why, without any particular necessity, break with an honoured custom, which had managed somehow to perpetuate itself? The people were convinced that there was something in it. Twice in the course of fifteen generations had children of reigning sovereigns, owing to some chance or other, first seen the light in other schlosses: each had come to an unnatural and disgraceful end. But all the sovereigns of the land and their brothers and sisters, from Henry the Confessor and John the Headstrong, with their lovely and proud sisters, down to Albrecht, the father of the Grand Duke, and the Grand Duke himself, Johann Albrecht III, had been brought into the world in the castle; and there, six years before, Dorothea had given birth to her firstborn, the Heir Apparent.
The castle was also a retreat as dignified as it was peaceful. The coolness of its rooms, the shady charms of its surroundings, made it preferable as a summer residence to the stiff Hollerbrunn. The ascent from the town, up a rather badly paved street between shabby cottages and a scrubby wall, through massive gates to the ancient ruin at the entrance to the castle-yard, in the middle of which stood the statue of Klaus Grimmbart, the founder, was picturesque but tiring. But a noble park spread at the back of the castle hill, through which easy paths led up into the wooded and gently-swelling uplands, offering ideal opportunities for carriage drives and quiet strolls.
As for the inside of the castle, it had been last subjected at the beginning of the reign of Johann Albrecht III to a thorough clean-up and redecoration—at a cost which had evoked much comment. The furniture of the living-rooms had been completed and renewed in a style at once baronial and comfortable; the escutcheons in the “Hall of Justice” had been carefully restored to their original pattern. The gilding of the intricate patterns on the vaulted ceilings looked fresh and cheerful, all the rooms had been fitted with parquet, and both the larger and the smaller banqueting-halls had been adorned with huge wall-paintings from the brush of Professor von Lindemann, a distinguished Academician, representing scenes from the history of the reigning House executed in a clear and smooth style which was far removed from and quite unaffected by the restless tendencies of modern schools. Nothing was wanting. As the old chimneys of the castle and its many-coloured stoves, reaching tier upon tier right up to the ceiling, were no longer fit to use, anthracite stoves had been installed in view of the possibility of the place being used as a residence during the winter.
But the day of the seventy-two salvos fell in the best time of the year, late spring, early summer, the beginning of June, soon after Whitsuntide. Johann Albrecht, who had been early informed by telegram that the labour had begun just before dawn, reached Grimmburg Station by the bankrupt local railway at eight o'clock, where he was greeted with congratulations by three or four dignitaries, the mayor, the judge, the rector, and the town physician. He at once drove to the castle. The Grand Duke was accompanied by Minister of State, Dr. Baron Knobelsdorff, and Adjutant-General of Infantry, Count Schmettern. Shortly afterwards two or three more ministers arrived at the royal residence, the Court Chaplin Dom Wislezenus, President of the High Consistory, one or two Court officials, and a still younger Adjutant, Captain von Lichterloh. Although the Grand Duke's Physician-in-Ordinary, Surgeon-General Dr. Eschrich, was attending the mother, Johann Albrecht had been seized with the whim of requiring the young local doctor, a Doctor Sammet, who was of Jewish extraction into the bargain, to accompany him to the castle. The unassuming, hard-working, and earnest man, who had as much as he could do and was not in the least expecting any such distinction, stammered “Quite delighted … quite delighted” several times over, thus provoking some amusement.
The Grand Duchess's bedroom was the “Bride-chamber,” a five-cornered, brightly painted room on the first floor, through whose window a fine view could be obtained of woods, hills, and the windings of the river. It was decorated with a frieze of medallion-shaped portraits, likenesses of royal brides who had slept there in the olden days of the family history.
There lay Dorothea; a broad piece of webbing was tied round the foot of her bed, to which she clung like a child playing at horses, while convulsions shook her lovely frame. Doctor Gnadebusch, the midwife, a gentle and learned woman with small fine hands and brown eyes, which wore a look of mystery behind her round, thick spectacles, was supporting the Duchess, while she said:
“Steady, steady, your Royal Highness…. It will soon be over. It's quite easy…. Just once more … that's nothing…. Rest a bit: knees apart…. Keep your chin down….”
A nurse, dressed like her in white linen, helped too, and moved lightly about with phials and bandages during the pauses. The Physician-in-Ordinary, a gloomy man with a greyish beard, whose left eyelid seemed to droop, superintended the birth. He wore his operating-coat over his surgeon-general's uniform. From time to time there peeped into the room, to ascertain the progress of the confinement, Dorothea's trusty Mistress of the Robes, Baroness von Schulenburg-Tressen, a corpulent and asthmatic woman of distinctly dragoon-like appearance, who nevertheless liked to display a generous expanse of neck and shoulders at the court balls. She kissed her mistress's hand and went back to an adjoining room, in which a couple of thin ladies-in-waiting were chatting with the Grand Duchess's Chamberlain-in-Waiting, a Count Windisch. Dr. Sammet, who had thrown his linen coat like a domino over his dress-coat, was waiting modestly and attentively by the washstand.
Johann Albrecht sat in a neighbouring room used as a study, which was separated from the “Bride-chamber” only by a so-called powder closet and a passage-room. It was called the library, in view of several manuscript folios, which lay slanting in the massive book-shelves and contained the history of the castle. The room was furnished as a writing-room. Globes adorned the walls. The strong wind from the hills blew through the open bow-window. The Grand Duke had ordered tea, and the groom of the chamber, Prahl, had himself brought the tray; but it was standing forgotten on the leaf of the desk, and Johann Albrecht was pacing the room from one corner to the other in a restless, uncomfortable frame of mind. His top-boots kept creaking as he walked. His aide-de-camp, von Lichterloh, listened to the noise, as he waited patiently in the almost bare passage-room.
The Minister, the Adjutant-General, the Court Chaplain, and the Court officials, nine or ten in all, were waiting in the state-room on the ground floor. They wandered through the larger and the smaller banqueting-halls, where trophies of banners and weapons hung between Lindemann's pictures. They leaned against the slender pillars, which spread into brightly coloured vaulting above their heads. They stood before the narrow, ceiling-high windows, and looked out through the leaded panes over river and town; they sat on the stone benches which ran round the walls, or on seats before the stoves, whose Gothic tops were supported by ridiculous little stooping imps of stone. The bright sunlight made the gold lace on the uniforms, the orders on the padded chests, the broad gold stripes on the trousers of the dignitaries glisten.
The conversation flagged. Three-cornered hats and white-gloved hands were constantly being raised to mouths which opened convulsively. Nearly everybody had tears in his eyes. Several had not had time to get any breakfast. Some sought entertainment in a timid examination of the operating-instruments and the round leather-cased chloroform jar, which Surgeon-General Eschrich had left there in case of emergency. After von Bühl zu Bühl, the Lord Marshal, a powerful man with mincing manners, brown toupée, gold-rimmed pince-nez, and long, yellow fingernails, had told several anecdotes in his quick, jerky way, he dropped into an armchair, in which he made use of his gift of being able to sleep with his eyes open—of losing consciousness of time and place while retaining a steady gaze and alert attitude, and in no way imperilling the dignity of the situation.
Dr. von Schröder, Minister of Finance and Agriculture, had had a conversation earlier in the day with the Minister of State, Dr. Baron Knobelsdorff, Minister of Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and the Grand Ducal Household. It was a spasmodic chat, which began with a discussion on art, went on to financial and economic questions, alluded, somewhat disapprovingly, to a High Court official, and did not leave even the most exalted personages out of account. It began with the two men standing, with their hats in their hands behind their backs, in front of one of the pictures in the larger banqueting-hall, each of them thinking more than he said. The Finance Minister said: “And this? What's this? What's happening? Your Excellency is so well informed.”
“Merely superficially. It is the investiture of two Grand princes of the blood by their uncle, the Emperor. As your Excellency can see, the two young men are kneeling and taking the oath with great solemnity on the Emperor's sword.”
“Fine, extraordinarily fine! What colouring! Dazzling. What lovely golden hair the princes have! And the Emperor… exactly as he is described in the books! Yes, that Lindemann well deserves all the distinctions which have been given him.”
“Absolutely. Those which have been given him; those he quite deserves.”
Dr. von Schröder, a tall man with a white beard, a pair of thin gold spectacles on his white nose, a belly protruding slightly underneath his stomach, and a bull-neck, which lapped over the stiff collar of his coat, looked, without taking his eyes off the picture, somewhat doubtfully at it, under the influence of a diffidence which seized him from time to time during conversations with the baron. This Knobelsdorff, this favourite and exalted functionary, was so enigmatical. At times his remarks, his retorts, had an indefinable tinge of irony about them. He was a widely travelled man, he had been all over the world, he had so much general knowledge, and interests of such a strange and exotic kind. And yet he was a model of correctness. Herr von Schröder could not quite understand him. However much one agreed with him, it was impossible to feel that one really understood him. His opinions were full of a mysterious reserve, his judgments of a tolerance which left one wondering whether they implied approval or contempt.
But the most suspicious thing about him was his laugh, a laugh of the eyes in which the mouth took no part, a laugh which seemed to be produced by the wrinkles radiating from the corners of his eyes, or vice versa to have produced those same wrinkles in the course of years. Baron Knobelsdorff was younger than the Finance Minister; he was then in the prime of life, although his close-trimmed moustache and hair smoothly parted in the middle were already beginning to turn grey—for the rest a squat, short-necked man, obviously pinched by the collar of his heavily-laced court dress. He left Herr von Schröder to his perplexity for a minute, and then went on: “Only perhaps it might be to the interests of a prudent administration of the Privy Purse if the distinguished professor had rested content with stars and titles … to speak bluntly, what may all these delightful works of art have cost?”
Herr von Schröder recovered his animation. The desire, the hope of understanding the Baron, of getting on to intimate and confidential terms with him, excited him. “Just what I was thinking!” said he, turning round to resume his walk through the galleries. “Your Excellency has taken the question out of my mouth. I wonder what this ‘Investiture’cost, and all the rest of these wall-pictures. For the restoration of the castle six years ago cost a million altogether.”
“At least that.”
“A solid million! And that amount was audited and approved by Lord Marshal von Bühl zu Bühl, who is sitting yonder in a state of comfortable catalepsy—audited, approved, and disbursed by the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Count Trümmerhauff.”
“Disbursed, or owing!”
“One of the two!… This total, I say, debited to a fund, a fund …”
“In a word, the fund of the Grand Ducal settled estates.”
“Your Excellency knows as well as I what that means. No, it makes me run cold…. I swear I am neither a skin-flint nor a hypochondriac, but it makes me run cold when I think of a man, with present conditions staring him in the face, coolly throwing a million away—on what? On a nothing, a pretty whim, on the beautification of the family schloss in which his babies have to be born….”
Herr von Knobelsdorff laughed. “Yes, Heaven knows romance is a luxury, and a mighty expensive one too! Excellency, I agree with you—of course. But consider, after all the whole trouble in the Grand Ducal finances is due to this same romantic luxury. The root of the evil lies in the fact that the ruling dynasty are farmers; their capital consists in land and soil, their income in agricultural profits. At the present day…. They have not been able up to the present to make up their minds to turn into industrialists and financiers. They allow themselves with regrettable obstinacy to be swayed by certain obsolete and idealistic conceptions, such as, for instance, the conceptions of trust and dignity. The royal property is hampered by a trust entailed in fact. Advantageous alienations are barred. Mortgages, the raising of capital on credit for commercial improvements, seem to them improper. The administration is seriously hindered in the free exploitation of business opportunities—by ideas of dignity. You'll forgive me, won't you? I'm telling you the absolute truth. People who pay so much attention to propriety as these of course cannot and will not keep pace with the freer and less hampered initiative of less obstinate and unpractical business people. Now then, what, in comparison with this negative luxury, does the positive million signify, which has been sacrificed to a pretty whim, to borrow your Excellency's expression? If it only stopped there! But we have the regular expenses of a fairly dignified Court to meet. There are the schlosses and their parks to keep up, Hollerbrunn, Monbrillant, Jägerpreis, aren't there? The Hermitage, Delphinenort, the Pheasantry, and the others…. I had forgotten Schloss Zegenhaus and the Haderstein ruins … not to mention the Old Schloss…. They are not well kept up, but they all cost money…. There are the Court Theatre, the Picture Gallery, the Library, to maintain. There are a hundred pensions to pay,—no legal compulsion to pay them, but motives of trust and dignity. And look at the princely way in which the Grand Duke behaved at the time of the last floods….But I'm preaching you a regular sermon!”
“A sermon,” said the Minister of Finance, “which your Excellency thought would shock me, while you really only confirmed my own view. Dear Baron”—here Herr von Schröder laid his hand on his heart,—“I am convinced that there is no longer room for any misunderstanding as to my opinion, my loyal opinion, between you and me. The King can do no wrong…. The sovereign is beyond the reach of reproaches. But here we have to do with a default … in both senses of the word!… a default which I have no hesitation in laying at the door of Count Trümmerhauff. His predecessors may be pardoned for having concealed from their sovereigns the true state of the Court finances; in those days nothing else was expected of them. But Count Trümmerhauff's attitude now is not pardonable. In his position as Keeper of the Privy Purse he ought to have felt it incumbent on him to put a brake on his Highness's thoughtlessness, to feel it incumbent on him now to open his Royal Highness's eyes relentlessly to the facts …”
Herr Knobelsdorff knitted his brows and laughed.
“Really?” said he. “So your Excellency is of the opinion that that is what the Count was appointed for! I can picture to myself the justifiable astonishment of his lordship, if you lay before him your view of the position. No, no …your Excellency need be under no delusion; that appointment was a quite deliberate expression of his wishes on the part of his Royal Highness, which the Count must be the first to respect. It expressed not only an ‘I don't know,’ but also an ‘I won't know.’ A man may be an exclusively decorative personality and yet be acute enough to grasp this….Besides … honestly … we've all of us grasped it. And the only grain of comfort for all of us is this: that there isn't a prince alive to whom it would be more fatal to mention his debts than to his Royal Highness. Our Prince has a something about him which would stop any tactless remarks of that sort before they were spoken …”
“Quite true, quite true,” said Herr von Schröder. He sighed and stroked thoughtfully the swansdown trimming of his hat. The two men were sitting, half turned towards each other, on a raised window seat in a roomy niche, past which a narrow stone corridor ran outside, a kind of gallery, through the pointed arches of which peeps of the town could be seen. Herr von Schröder went on:
“You answer me, Baron; one would think you were contradicting me, and yet your words show more incredulity and bitterness than my own.”
Herr von Knobelsdorff said nothing, but made a vague gesture of assent.
“It may be so,” said the Finance Minister, and nodded gloomily at his hat. “Your Excellency may be quite right. Perhaps we are all blameworthy, we and our forefathers too. But it ought to have been stopped. For consider, Baron; ten years ago an opportunity offered itself of putting the finances of the Court on a sound footing, on a better footing anyhow, if you like. It was lost. We understand each other. The Grand Duke, attractive man that he is, had it then in his power to clear things up by a marriage which from a sound point of view might have been called dazzling. Instead of that … speaking not for myself, of course, but I shall never forget the disgust on everybody's faces when they mentioned the amount of the dowry…”
“The Grand Duchess,” said Herr von Knobelsdorff, and the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes disappeared almost entirely, “is one of the handsomest women I have ever seen.”
“That is an answer one would expect of your Excellency. It's an æsthetic answer, an answer which would have held quite as good if his Royal Highness's choice, like his brother Lambert's, had fallen on a member of the royal ballet.”
“Oh, there was no danger of that. The Prince's taste is a fastidious one, as he has shown. He has always shown in his wants the antithesis to that want of taste which Prince Lambert has shown all his life. It was a long time before he made up his mind to marry. Everybody had given up all hope of a direct heir to the throne. They were resigned for better or worse to Prince Lambert, whose …unsuitability to be heir to the throne we need not discuss. Then, a few weeks after he had succeeded, Johann Albrecht met Princess Dorothea, cried, “This one or none!” and the Grand Duchy had its sovereign lady. Your Excellency mentioned the thoughtful looks which were exchanged when the figures of the dowry were published,—you did not mention the jubilation which at the same time prevailed. A poor princess, to be sure. But is beauty, such beauty, a power of happiness or not? Never shall I forget her entry! Her first smile, as it lighted on the gazing crowds, won their love. Your Excellency must allow me to profess once more my belief in the idealism of the people. The people want to see their best, their highest, their dream, what stands for their soul, represented in their princes—not their money bags. There are others to represent those….”
“That's just what there are not; just what we have not got.”
“The more's the pity, then. The main point is, Dorothea has presented us with an Heir Apparent.”
“To whom may Heaven grant some idea of figures!”
At this point the conversation between the two Ministers ceased. It was broken off by the announcement by aide-de-camp von Lichterloh, of the happy issue of the confinement. The smaller banqueting-hall was soon filled with officials. One of the great carved doors was quickly thrown open, and the aide-de-camp appeared in the hall. He had a red face, blue soldier's eyes, a bristling flaxen moustache, and silver lace on his collar. He looked somewhat excited, like a man who had been released from deadly boredom and was primed with good news. Conscious of the unusualness of the occasion, he boldly ignored the rules of decorum and etiquette. He saluted the company gaily, and, spreading his elbows, raised the hilt of his sword almost to his breast crying: “Beg leave to announce: a prince!”
“Good!” said Adjutant-General Count Schmettern.
“Delightful, quite delightful, I call that perfectly delightful!”said Lord Marshal von Bühl zu Bühl in his jerky way; he had recovered consciousness at once.
The President of the High Consistory, Dom Wislezenus—a clean-shaven, well-built man, who, as a son of a general, and thanks to his personal distinction, had attained to his high dignity at a comparatively early age, and on whose black silk gown hung the star of an Order—folded his white hands on his breast, and said in a melodious voice, “God bless his Grand Ducal Highness!”
“You forget, Captain,” said Herr von Knobelsdorff, laughing,“that in making your announcement you are encroaching on my privileges and province. Until I have made the most searching investigations into the state of affairs, the question whether it is a prince or a princess remains undecided.”
The others laughed, and Herr von Lichterloh replied:“As you wish, your Excellency! Then I have the honour to beg your Excellency to assume this most important charge….”
This dialogue referred to the attributes of the Minister of State, as registrar of the Grand Ducal house, in which capacity he was required to satisfy himself with his own eyes of the sex of the princely offspring and to make an official declaration on the subject. Herr von Knobelsdorff complied with this formality in the so-called powder-closet in which the new-born babe was bathed. He stayed longer there, however, than he had intended to, as he was puzzled and arrested by a painful sight, which at first he mentioned to nobody except the midwife.
Doctor Gnadebusch showed him the child, and her eyes, gleaming mysteriously behind her thick spectacles, travelled between the Minister of State and the little copper-coloured creature, as it groped about with one—only one—little hand, as if she was saying: “Is it all right?”
It was all right. Herr von Knobelsdorff was satisfied, and the wise woman wrapped the child up again. But even then she continued to look down at the Prince and then up at the Baron, until she had drawn his eyes to the point to which she wished to attract them. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes disappeared, he knit his brows, tried, compared, felt, examined for two or three minutes, and at last asked: “Has the Grand Duke yet seen it?”
“When the Grand Duke sees it,” said Herr von Knobelsdorff,“tell him that he will grow out of it.”
And to the others on the ground-floor he reported—“A splendid prince!”
But ten or fifteen minutes after him the Grand Duke also made the disagreeable discovery,—that was unavoidable, and resulted for Surgeon-General Eschrich in a short, extremely unpleasant scene, but for the Grimmburg Doctor Sammet in an interview with the Grand Duke which raised him considerably in the latter's estimation and was useful to him in his subsequent career. What happened was briefly as follows:
After the birth Johann Albrecht had again retired to the library, and then returned to sit for some time at the bedside with his wife's hand in his. Thereupon he went into the “powder-closet,” where the infant now lay in his high, richly gilded cradle, half covered with a blue silk curtain, and sat down in an armchair by the side of his little son. But while he sat and watched the sleeping infant it happened that he noticed what it was hoped that he would not notice yet. He drew the counterpane back, his face clouded over, and then he did exactly what Herr von Knobelsdorff had done before him, looked from Doctor Gnadebusch to the nurse and back again, both of whom said nothing, cast one glance at the half-open door into the bride-chamber, and stalked excitedly back into the library.
Here he at once rang the silver eagle-topped bell which stood on the writing-table, and said to Herr von Lichterloh, who came in, very curtly and coldly: “I require Herr Eschrich.”
When the Grand Duke was angry with any member of his suite, he was wont to strip the culprit for the moment of all his titles and dignities, and to leave him nothing but his bare name.
The aide-de-camp again clapped his spurs and heels together and withdrew. Johann Albrecht strode once or twice in a rage up and down the room, and then, hearing Herr von Lichterloh bring the person he had summoned into the ante-room, adopted an audience attitude at his writing-table.
As he stood there, his head turned imperiously in half-profile, his left hand planted on his hip, drawing back his satin-fronted frock coat from his white waistcoat, he exactly resembled his portrait by Professor von Lindemann, which hung beside the big looking-glass over the mantelpiece in the “Hall of the Twelve Months” in the Town Schloss, opposite the portrait of Dorothea, and of which countless engravings, photographs, and picture postcards had been published. The only difference was that Johann Albrecht in the portrait seemed to be of heroic stature, while he really was scarcely of medium height. His forehead was high where his hair had receded, and from under his grey eyebrows, his blue eyes looked out, with dark rings round them, giving them an expression of tired haughtiness. He had the broad, rather too high cheek-bones which were a characteristic of his people. His whiskers and the soft tuft on his chin were grey, his moustache almost white. From the distended nostrils of his small but well-arched nose, two unusually deep furrows ran down to his chin. The lemon-coloured ribbon of the Family Order always showed in the opening of his waistcoat. In his buttonhole the Grand Duke wore a carnation.
Surgeon-General Eschrich entered with a low bow. He had taken off his operating-coat. His eyelid drooped more heavily than usual over his eye. He looked apprehensive and uncomfortable.
The Grand Duke, his left hand on his hip, threw his head back, stretched out his right hand and waved it, palm upwards, several times up and down impatiently.
“I am awaiting an explanation, a justification, Surgeon-General,”said he, with a voice trembling with irritation.“You will have the goodness to answer my questions. What is the matter with the child's arm?”
The Physician-in-Ordinary raised his hand a little—a feeble gesture of impotence and blamelessness. He said:
“An it please Your Royal Highness…. An unfortunate occurrence. Unfavourable circumstances during the pregnancy of her Royal Highness….”
“That's all nonsense!” The Grand Duke was so much excited that he did not wish for any justification, in fact he would not allow one. “I would remind you, sir, that I am beside myself. Unfortunate occurrence! It was your business to take precautions against unfortunate occurrences….”
The Surgeon-General stood with half-bowed head and, sinking his voice to a submissive tone, addressed the ground at his feet.
“I humbly beg to be allowed to remind you that I, at least, am not alone responsible. Privy Councillor Grasanger—an authority on gynæcology—examined her Royal Highness. But nobody can be held responsible in this case….”
“Nobody … Really! I permit myself to make you responsible…. You are answerable to me…. You were in charge during the pregnancy, you superintended the confinement. I have relied on the knowledge to be expected from your rank, Surgeon-General, I have trusted to your experience. I am bitterly disappointed, bitterly disappointed. All that your skill can boast of is … that a crippled child has been born….”
“Would your Royal Highness graciously weigh …”
“I have weighed. I have weighed and found wanting. Thank you!”
Surgeon-General Eschrich retired backwards, bowing. In the ante-room he shrugged his shoulders, while his cheeks glowed.
The Grand Duke again fell to pacing the library in his princely wrath, unreasonable, misinformed, and foolish in his loneliness. However, whether it was that he wished to humiliate the Physician-in-Ordinary still further, or that he regretted having robbed himself of any explanations—ten minutes later the unexpected happened, and the Grand Duke sent Herr von Lichterloh to summon young Doctor Sammet to the library.
The doctor, when he received the message, again said:“Quite delighted … quite delighted, …” and at first changed colour a little, then composed himself admirably. It is true that he was not a complete master of the prescribed etiquette, and bowed too soon, while he was still in the door, so that the aide-de-camp could not close it behind him, and had to ask him in a whisper to move forward; but afterwards he stood in an easy and unconstrained attitude, and gave reassuring answers, although he showed that he was naturally rather slow of speech, beginning his sentences with hesitating noises and frequently interspersing them with a “Yes,” as if to confirm what he was saying. He wore his dark yellow hair cut en brosse and his moustache untrimmed. His chin and cheeks were clean-shaved, and rather sore from it. He carried his head a little on one side, and the gaze of his grey eyes told of shrewdness and practical goodness. His nose, which was too broad at the bottom, pointed to his origin. He wore a black tie, and his shiny boots were of a country cut. He kept his elbows close to his side, with one hand on his silver watch-chain. His whole appearance suggested candour and professional skill; it inspired confidence.
The Grand Duke addressed him unusually graciously, rather in the manner of a teacher who has been scolding a naughty boy, and turns to another with a sudden assumption of mildness.
“I have sent for you, doctor…. I want information from you about this peculiarity in the body of the new-born prince….I assume that it has not escaped your notice….I am confronted with a riddle … an extremely painful riddle…. In a word, I desire your opinion.” And the Grand Duke, changing his position, ended with a gracious motion of the hand, which encouraged the doctor to speak.
Dr. Sammet looked at him silently and attentively, as if waiting till the Grand Duke had completely regained his princely composure. Then he said: “Yes; we have here to do with a case which is not of very common occurrence, but which is well known and familiar to us. Yes. It is actually a case of atrophy …”
“Excuse me … atrophy …?”
“Forgive me, Royal Highness. I mean stunted growth. Yes.”
“I see, stunted growth. Stunting. That's it. The left hand is stunted. But it's unheard of! I cannot understand it! Such a thing has never happened in my family! People talk nowadays about heredity.”
Again the doctor looked silently and attentively at the lonely and domineering man, to whom the news had only just penetrated that people were talking lately about heredity. He answered simply: “Pardon me, Royal Highness, but in this case there can be no question of heredity.”
“Really! You're quite sure!” said the Grand Duke rather mockingly. “That is one satisfaction. But will you be so kind as to tell me what there can be a question of, then.”
“With pleasure, Royal Highness. The cause of the malformation is entirely a mechanical one. It has been caused through a mechanical constriction during the development of the embryo. We call such malformations constriction-formations, yes.”
The Grand Duke listened with anxious disgust; he obviously feared the effect of each succeeding word on his sensitiveness. He kept his brows knit and his mouth open: the two furrows running down to his beard seemed deeper than ever. He said: “Constriction-formations, … but how in the world … I am quite sure every precaution must have been taken …”
“Constriction-formations,” answered Dr. Sammet, “can occur in various ways. But we can say with comparative certainty that in our case … in this case it is the amnion which is to blame.”
“I beg your pardon…. The amnion?”
“That is one of the fœtal membranes, Royal Highness. Yes. And in certain circumstances the removal of this membrane from the embryo may be retarded and proceed so slowly that threads and cords are left stretching from one to the other … amniotic threads as we call them, yes. These threads may be dangerous, for they can bind and knot themselves round the whole of a child's limb; they can entirely intercept, for instance, the life-ducts of a hand and even amputate it. Yes.”
“Great heavens … amputate it. So we must be thankful that it has not come to an amputation of the hand?”
“That might have happened. Yes. But all that has happened is an unfastening, resulting in an atrophy.”
“And that could not be discovered, foreseen, prevented?”
“No, Royal Highness. Absolutely not. It is quite certain that no blame whatever attaches to anybody. Such constrictions do their work in secret. We are powerless against them. Yes.”
“And the malformation is incurable? The hand will remain stunted?”
Dr. Sammet hesitated; he looked kindly at the Grand Duke.
“It will never be quite normal, certainly not,” he said cautiously. “But the stunted hand will grow a little larger than it is at present, oh yes, it assuredly will …”
“Will he be able to use it? For instance … to hold his reins or to make gestures, like any one else?…”
“Use it … a little…. Perhaps not much. And he's got his right hand, that's all right.”
“Will it be very obvious?” asked the Grand Duke, and scanned Dr. Sammet's face earnestly. “Very noticeable? Will it detract much from his general appearance, think you?”
“Many people,” answered Dr. Sammet evasively, “live and work under greater disadvantages. Yes.”
The Grand Duke turned away, and walked once up and down the room. Dr. Sammet deferentially made way for him, and withdrew towards the door. At last the Grand Duke resumed his position at the writing-table and said: “I have now heard what I wanted to know, doctor; I thank you for your report. You understand your business, no doubt about that. Why do you live in Grimmburg? Why do you not practise in the capital?”
“I am still young, Royal Highness, and before I devote myself to practising as a specialist in the capital I should like a few years of really varied practice, of general experience and research. A country town like Grimmburg affords the best opportunity of that. Yes.”
“Very sound, very admirable of you. In what do you propose to specialise later on?”
“In the diseases of children, Royal Highness. I intend to be a children's doctor, yes.”
“You are a Jew?” asked the Grand Duke, throwing back his head and screwing up his eyes.
“Yes, Royal Highness.”
“Ah—will you answer me one more question? Have you ever found your origin to stand in your way, a drawback in your professional career? I ask as a ruler, who is especially concerned that the principle of ‘equal chances for all’ shall hold good unconditionally and privately, not only officially.”
“Everybody in the Grand Duchy,” answered Dr. Sammet,“has the right to work.” But he did not stop there: moving his elbows like a pair of short wings, in an awkward, impassioned way, he made a few hesitating noises, and then added in a restrained but eager voice: “No principle of equalization, if I may be allowed to remark, will ever prevent the incidence in the life of the community of exceptional and abnormal men who are distinguished from the bourgeois by their nobleness or infamy. It is the duty of the individual not to concern himself as to the precise nature of the distinction between him and the common herd, but to see what is the essential in that distinction and to recognize that it imposes on him an exceptional obligation towards society. A man is at an advantage, not at a disadvantage, compared with the regular and therefore complacent majority, if he has one motive more than they to extraordinary exertions. Yes, yes,”repeated Dr. Sammet. The double affirmative was meant to confirm his answer.
“Good … not bad; very remarkable, anyhow,” said the Grand Duke judicially. He found Dr. Sammet's words suggestive, though somewhat off the point. He dismissed the young man with the words: “Well, doctor, my time is limited. I thank you. This interview—apart from its painful occasion—has much reassured me. I have the pleasure of bestowing on you the Albrecht Cross of the Third Class with Crown. I shall remember you. Thank you.”
This was what passed between the Grimmburg doctor and the Grand Duke. Shortly after Johann Albrecht left the castle and returned by special train to the capital, chiefly to show himself to the rejoicing populace, but also in order to give several audiences in the palace. It was arranged that he should return in the evening to the castle, and take up his residence there for the next few weeks.
All those present at the confinement at Grimmburg who did not belong to the Grand Duchess's suite were also accommodated in the special train of the bankrupt local railway, some of them travelling in the Sovereign's own saloon. But the Grand Duke drove from the castle to the station alone with von Knobelsdorff, the Minister of State, in an open landau, one of the brown Court carriages with the little golden crown on the door. The white feathers in the hats of the chasseurs in front fluttered in the summer breeze. Johann Albrecht was grave and silent on the journey; he seemed to be worried and morose. And although Herr von Knobelsdorff knew that the Grand Duke, even in private, disliked anybody addressing him unasked and uninvited, yet at last he made up his mind to break the silence.
“Your Royal Highness,” he said deprecatingly, “seems to take so much to heart the little anomaly which has been discovered in the Prince's body, … and yet one would think that on a day like this the reasons for joy and proud thankfulness so far outweigh …”
“My dear Knobelsdorff,” replied Johann Albrecht, with some irritation and almost in tears, “you must forgive my ill-humour; you surely do not wish me to be in good spirits. I can see no reason for being so. The Grand Duchess is going on well—true enough, and the child is a boy—that's a blessing too. But he has come into the world with an atrophy, a constriction, caused by amniotic threads. Nobody is to blame, it is a misfortune; but misfortunes for which nobody is to blame are the most terrible of all misfortunes, and the sight of their Sovereign ought to awaken in his people other feelings than those of sympathy. The Heir Apparent is delicate, needs constant care. It was a miracle that he survived that attack of pleurisy two years ago, and it will be nothing less than a miracle if he lives to attain his majority. Now Heaven grants me a second son—he seems strong, but he comes into the world with only one hand. The other is stunted, useless, a deformity, he will have to hide it. What a drawback! What an impediment! He will have to brave it out before the world all his life. We must let it gradually leak out, so that it may not cause too much of a shock on his first appearance in public. No, I cannot yet get over it. A prince with one hand …”
“‘With one hand,’” said Herr von Knobelsdorff. “Did your Royal Highness use that expression twice deliberately?”
“You did not, then?… For the Prince has two hands, yet as one is stunted, one might if one liked also describe him as a prince with one hand.”
“And one must almost wish, not that your Royal Highness's second son, but that the heir to the throne were the victim of this small malformation.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Why, your Royal Highness will laugh at me; but I am thinking of the gipsy woman.”
“The gipsy woman? Please go on, my dear Baron!”
“Of the gipsy woman—forgive me!—who a hundred years ago prophesied the birth of a Prince to your Royal Highness's house—a prince ‘with one hand’—that is how tradition puts it—and attached to the birth of that prince a certain promise, couched in peculiar terms.”
The Grand Duke turned on his seat and stared, without saying a word, at Herr von Knobelsdorff, at the outer corner of whose eyes the radiating wrinkles were playing. Then, “Mighty entertaining!” he said, and resumed his former attitude.
“Prophecies,” continued Herr von Knobelsdorff, “generally come true to this extent, that circumstances arise which one can interpret, if one has a mind to, in their sense. And the broadness of the terms in which every proper prophecy is couched makes this all the more easy. ‘With one hand’—that is regular oracle-style. What has actually happened is a moderate case of atrophy. But that much counts for a good deal, for what is there to prevent me, what is there to prevent the people, from assuming the whole by this partial fulfilment, and declaring that the conditional part of the prophecy has been fulfilled? The people will do so; if not at once, at any rate if the rest of the prophecy, the actual promise, is in any way realised, it will put two and two together, as it always has done, in its wish to see what is written turn out true. I don't see how it is going to come about—the Prince is a younger son, he will not come to the throne, the intentions of fate are obscure. But the one-handed prince is there—and so may he bestow on us as much as he can.”
The Grand Duke did not answer, secretly thrilled by dreams of the future of his dynasty.
“Well, Knobelsdorff, I will not be angry with you. You want to comfort me, and you have not done it badly. But I must do what is expected of me….”
The air resounded with the distant cheers of many voices. The people of Grimmburg were crowded in black masses behind the cordon at the station. Officials were standing apart in front, waiting for the carriages. There was the mayor, raising his top-hat, wiping his forehead with a crumpled handkerchief, and poring over a paper whose contents he was committing to memory. Johann Albrecht assumed the expression appropriate to listening to the smoothly worded address and to answering concisely and graciously:
“Most excellent Mr. Mayor….” The town was dressed with flags, and the bells were ringing.
In the capital all the bells were ringing. And in the evening there were illuminations; not by formal request of the authorities, but spontaneous—the whole city was a blaze of light.
View the rest of Royal Highness, by Thomas Mann - Full Text