Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Little Garrison - A Realistic Novel of German Army Life of To-day
Author: Bilse, Fritz Oswald, 1878-1951
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Little Garrison - A Realistic Novel of German Army Life of To-day" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



A Little Garrison

A REALISTIC NOVEL _of_ GERMAN ARMY LIFE of TO-DAY


By FRITZ VON DER KYRBURG (Lieutenant Bilse) · _Translated, Edited and
with a Special Introduction by_ WOLF VON SCHIERBRAND Author of
“GERMANY: THE WELDING OF A WORLD POWER,” “THE KAISER’S SPEECHES,”
ETC., ETC.


_NEW YORK_ · FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY · _Publishers_


_Copyright, 1904,_

BY FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY.

_All rights reserved._


This edition published in January, 1904.


THE UNIVERSITY PRESS CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.



Contents


                                                         PAGE

INTRODUCTION                                             vii

CHAPTER

   I. An Evening Party at Captain König’s                  1

  II. What Happened at the Casino Dance                   29

 III. The Consequences of a May Bowl                      63

  IV. The Case of Sergeant Schmitz                        80

   V. Officers at a Masquerade                           140

  VI. A Sensational Event stirs the Garrison             161

 VII. An Airy Structure Collapses                        207

VIII. Changes in the Garrison                            264

  IX. Resignations are in Order                          282

   X. Unto This Last                                     301



Introduction


In his book, _Le Débâcle_, Zola shows in a vivid and intelligible
manner the downfall of Napoleon III. and his army, and paints in his
usual matter-of-fact tints the actual condition of the great host led
forth to destruction. He makes us read in the soul of the common
French soldier and in that of his commanding officer. The keen
analysis of the characters he portrays enables us humanly to
understand the catastrophe on the plains of Sedan. The whole Second
Empire undermined by corruption; the army, head and front, honeycombed
with loose morals, favoritism, and boundless conceit,--we begin to
perceive the main reasons underlying the utter defeat of a gallant
nation. And this all the more when, side by side with the sombre
painting of Zola, we read the God-fearing letters written home from
the reeking battlefields by William I. and his Iron Chancellor.

Indeed, when the conquering German legions returned, in the spring of
1871, to their own firesides, they presented a body of men of whom any
nation might have been proud. Elated they were at their unparalleled
successes, but not puffed-up or vainglorious.

A generation has passed since then. Is the German army of to-day still
of the same metal? Does it, as a body, still show the same sterling
qualities which led it to victory after victory on the soil of France?

Alas, no. On that point the best and clearest minds in Germany itself
are agreed. Foreign military leaders who have had opportunity to watch
the German soldier of to-day at play and at work, have sent home
reports to their respective governments, saying: “These are not the
men that won in 1870!”

A couple of years ago several American officers of high rank, fresh
from the Philippines, witnessed the great autumn manœuvres of the
German army, conducted under the supreme command of William II. One of
them, after viewing in stark amazement the senseless attacks of whole
cavalry divisions up steep declivities or down slippery embankments,
exposed all the while to a withering fire from the rifles of infantry
masses, said to the present writer: “If this were actual war, not a
horse or man would be left alive!”

In the Reichstag, the national parliament of Germany, many have been
the heated debates and scorching has been the bitter satire passed
during recent years upon the German army of to-day. And not only the
solid phalanx of Socialists did the criticising on such occasions, but
also not a few members of every other party, even including those of
the Conservative Faction, composed of men who are the very
representatives of the caste from which the Empire’s corps of officers
have sprung.

The German newspaper press has sounded of late years, again and again,
the note of alarm, dwelling in scathing articles on signs of decadence
in the nation’s whilom pride,--the army. It has pointed out the
growing spirit of luxury in its ranks, the wholesale abuse of power by
the officers and sergeants, the looseness of discipline, the havoc
wrought by “army usurers,” the “money marriages,” so much in vogue
with debt-ridden officers, the hard drinking and lax morals
prevailing, the gaming for high stakes, which is another festering
sore, and leads to the ruin of so many,--and a whole train of other
evils. The professional, that is, the military, press has joined in
this chorus in more subdued tones.

Throughout the length and breadth of the Empire a spirit of disquiet,
nay, of apprehension, has spread. Are the very foundations trembling
on which the reunited “fatherland” rests?

If any reliance can be placed on an unbroken chain of evidence it
would seem so indeed.

It was in 1786 that Frederick the Great died, leaving an army that he
had raised to the pinnacle of fame. With this army he had faced and
vanquished, standing at bay against almost the whole of continental
Europe, his powerful foes. Little Prussia, a straggling strip of
territory stretching from the ice-bound Niemen to the vine-clad Rhine,
Frederick’s genius had lifted until it took rank with the powers that
prescribe laws to the world.

A score of years later, just one short score, the hills of Jena
looked down upon the crushing, disgraceful defeat of this same
Prussian army. The country was dismembered, and as a political force
ceased to exist. The heel of the Corsican despot was on its neck. Even
after the restoration of Prussia by the Vienna Congress in 1815, it
required another half-century to give her back her lost prestige.
Sadowa and Sedan reinstated Prussia, and with her the allied states of
Germany in her former glory.

        *       *       *       *       *

Is another Jena coming?

Are we on the eve of another international upheaval?

        *       *       *       *       *

A little book has recently appeared in Germany. Its title is
unpretentious. _Aus einer kleinen Garnison_ (“A Little Garrison”) does
not sound very sensational. The book, besides, was written by a simple
lieutenant, Bilse by name. There was apparently nothing to arouse
public attention in its appearance.

And yet, from the instant of its publication, this little book _did_
arouse such attention; more than that, it grew into an enormous
sensational event, and led to developments of such a serious
character that their consequences will be felt for many years to come.
Indeed it seems likely that this little book will indirectly be the
means of the moral reformation of the entire German army.

Shortly after its appearance the authorship of Lieutenant Bilse, who
had written under the pen name of Fritz von der Kyrburg, was
discovered. A court-martial was promptly convened, and he was summoned
to appear before this military tribunal.

Mail reports now to hand of this memorable trial show that it created
intense interest in Germany, that it was regarded, indeed, as a _cause
célèbre_ of the first magnitude. The interest in the case was largely
due to the belief that Lieutenant Bilse’s novel--for he had given his
terrible arraignment of the army the outward semblance of a
novel--presented a true, if highly unflattering, picture of conditions
as they exist in many German garrison towns. This impression was borne
out by the evidence, which tended to corroborate the account given by
Lieutenant Bilse of the moral tone and the standard of discipline
prevailing among the officers. Part of the revelations have not been
made public, as the examination of some witnesses was conducted _in
camera_. It is understood that their evidence was of a highly
sensational character.

In his examination, Lieutenant Bilse stated that since entering the
service he had “lost all his illusions concerning the character and
duties of an officer’s calling.” He declared that the social and
regimental tone of the frontier garrison towns was extremely low, and
that the repeated instances of lax discipline, favoritism, and loose
living which he had observed had provoked him to write his book.

In not a single instance were the facts of the various incidents and
events which form, grouped in a loose tissue, the body of his book
disproved or even weakened by the testimony produced at the trial.

Nevertheless the court-martial sentenced the young officer to six
months’ imprisonment and to dismissal from the service “for libelling
his superior and commanding officers by the publication of writings in
a peculiarly offensive and damaging form, and also for a breach of
service regulations.”

The lieutenant was undoubtedly guilty of a breach of regulations, as
an officer in Germany is prohibited from publishing any printed matter
except over his true name, and is required to give notice of his
intention to the military authorities,--a rule which the young man had
violated.

The German press, in its comments on the case, admits that it has an
importance far beyond the person of the accused.

The Berlin _Post_, one of the chief organs of the aristocracy in
Germany, said:

     “In the interest of the army’s good name it is urgently
     requisite that abuses such as have been partly disclosed
     should be speedily and thoroughly eradicated.”

The Berlin _Tageblatt_, a leading paper, said:

     “Lieutenant Bilse’s book should be seriously pondered in
     high places.”

The _Vossische Zeitung_, one of the oldest and most respected journals
at the German capital, made this comment:

     “That such things could be possible in German military corps
     would have seemed impossible to the most malevolent critic
     ... the public confidence must be restored.”

The Hamburg _Nachrichten_, Bismarck’s old organ, says:

     “We regret to admit that the picture is not overdrawn.”

And that is the tenor of all the comment of the entire German press.
In the neighboring countries, in the house of Germany’s friends,
Austria and Italy, the comment was even more outspoken; while in
France and Russia, although their political affiliations are not
precisely friendly to Germany, more forbearance was shown.

The Bilse book and the Bilse case have since formed the theme of
divers debates in the Reichstag. On an interpellation from some of the
delegates, the Minister of War, General von Einem, made some
interesting admissions. He did not deny that Bilse had stated, in the
guise of fiction, established facts; nor did he repudiate the
statement that the conditions described by the author existed in
duplicate form or worse in many garrisons of the empire.

The Kaiser himself was forced, much against his will, to take notice
of Bilse’s book. A detailed report was made to him by the chief of his
Private Military Cabinet, General von Hülsen-Häseler, on all the
essential facts underlying the plot of _A Little Garrison_. He
expressed himself as much grieved at the terrible revelations in it.
In their totality they presented a state of facts of which he himself,
thoroughly acquainted as he had deemed himself to be with conditions
in his army, had been ignorant.

The immediate outcome of this conviction on his part was the issuance
of a secret decree directed to the various commanders of the
twenty-three army corps composing his army. In this decree he called
the attention of these commanders to the awful conditions laid bare in
Bilse’s book, and bade them watch hereafter with greater zeal over the
morals and discipline of their various corps. The decree he ordered to
be read by each commanding colonel to his subordinate officers,
threatening with expulsion from the army any officer who should
hereafter be guilty of such heinous behavior as exemplified by the
characters in Bilse’s book.

It might, therefore, be supposed that a thorough reform of the whole
moral status of the German army was now under way, or that it had been
at least initiated by this action of the Kaiser. Certainly, there is
no one in all Germany who takes a deeper interest than he in the
welfare of his army, or who has a profounder conviction of its
importance in maintaining the empire’s proud position as a world
power. On many occasions the Kaiser has emphasized his belief that
this, “the most precious legacy” left him by his grandfather, must be
kept intact to secure his own throne and the nation’s predominance in
the heart of Europe.

        *       *       *       *       *

But it would be short-sighted to assume this. The causes that have
been at work for thirty years past, undermining and honeycombing the
whole structure of the German army, are too manifold, too much
ingrained in the very fibre of the German people of to-day, and too
complex to yield at the mere bidding of even so imperious a voice as
the Kaiser’s. Bilse, in his book, lays a pitiless finger on the ulcers
that have been festering and growing in the bosom of the army; but his
story, after all, is that of only one small garrison, and refers to
but a brief period in the very recent past.

It may be worth while, in order to give the reader a more
comprehensive and more general view of conditions in the German army
of to-day, briefly to survey some patent facts.

The wide spread of the gambling spirit is one of these. Against it the
Kaiser has inveighed in army orders since his accession to the throne,
but all in vain. This evil spirit is as strong to-day as ever. It was
but a few years ago that a monster trial took place in Hanover. It
showed a frightful state of rottenness within even the most renowned
regiments--those of the Guard Corps, in which the scions of nobility
hold it an honor to serve. The details of this trial were a shock to
the whole country, and it ended by dismissal or expulsion from the
army of a score of officers bearing, some of them, the most ancient
and honored names within the empire. Even one of the Kaiser’s own
aides-de-camp issued from it with a reputation so besmirched as to
lead to his hasty retirement. More recently still the Club of
Innocents (_Club der Harmlosen_) became the cynosure of all eyes, but
unenviably so. It was not, strictly speaking, a military club, but it
counted in its membership list a majority of active army officers. I
will not go into details, but merely mention that one of the chief
victims of the diabolical machinations practised by a number of
high-titled black-legs--officers of this club--was young Prince
Alfred, a grandson of the late Queen Victoria, whose complete moral
and physical ruin was wrought, soon followed by his death. The Jockey
Club in Berlin, made up largely of officers, and similar organizations
in Potsdam, Charlottenburg, Hanover, Cassel, Dresden, Brunswick,
Cologne, and, in fact, nearly every other garrison town of any
importance within the empire, have all had their list of scandals
during recent years,--scandals brought about by unprincipled gamesters
belonging to their corps of officers. Probably several thousands of
resignations, semi-enforced retirements, or outright dismissals from
the army have been due during the last decade to this one evil of
high play alone.

The hard drinking indulged in throughout the army, to a degree which
to the ignorant outsider seems incredible, is another evil of perhaps
as great magnitude. Of that Bilse’s book gives a faithful impression.
For these excessive drinking habits, and in an equal degree for the
luxurious habits of life, more particularly the indulgence in sybarite
banquets, the Kaiser himself must be held largely to blame, since, by
force of example at the many “love feasts” (_Liebesmähler_) and
anniversary celebrations of every kind which he not only attends at
the quarters of the various regiments throughout the German domain,
but which he very frequently arranges for or encourages himself, he
has taught his army officers a direful lesson. Certainly, the old
Spartan simplicity in food and drink which prevailed in German army
circles during the days of William I., grandfather of the present
ruler, has gone forever.

A direct outgrowth of the luxuriousness prevalent in the German army
of to-day is two other evils which in their consequences on the
morals of the officers can scarcely be overrated. They are epitomized
by the two words “army usury” and “money marriages.” To live beyond
one’s means leads to indebtedness. And there we have the simple
genesis of the army usurer, so-called. He exists and thrives in every
garrison in the empire, and the broad swath he mows within the ranks
of the army testifies to his diligence and to his successful methods.
It would be going too far to expatiate on this matter. Suffice it to
say that the system by which the usurer brings hundreds, nay
thousands, to disgrace and premature retirement from the army, usually
involving the impoverishment of the officers’ families, is wellnigh
perfection in itself. Within his net are driven, at some time or
other, the vast majority of the younger men as well as a great many of
the older ones.

The favorite avenue of escape offered to the young spendthrift officer
is a so-called money marriage. He barters himself, his social
position, and the prestige which the ownership of an old and honored
name still carries with it in Germany, for the gold which his bride
brings him on the wedding day. Dowries must of course correspond in
some measure with the load of debt the young officer has been
accumulating for years, and also with his claims to distinction and
attractiveness. Such dowries vary between a paltry twenty thousand and
several million marks, strictly according to circumstances. There is
an unwritten code in force in this respect, every paragraph of which
is made and provided to cover the individual needs of such impecunious
officers. The matter is well understood throughout the land, and is
looked upon as an established institution, something in which
squeamish scruples are not allowed to interfere with concrete
requirements. No German maiden consciously feels the shame of being
thus made purely an object of barter and sale. She is to the manner
bred. But of course good, fat dowries are often taken by officers,
together with brides, who in other respects by no means realize their
ideas of what a wife should be. Enough said on this dreary subject!

Still another evil, and one which of late has been much ventilated in
Germany, is the abuse of power by officers and non-commissioned
officers towards their subordinates. There has always been too much
of this in the German army, and it would carry us too far afield to
trace here the causes. In itself it seems a strange anomaly that in an
army which calls itself by the proud term of a “nation in arms,” and
whose membership is recruited from every stratum of society, there
should be such wholesale maltreatment of the privates by their
superior officers. And yet such is the fact, inexplicable as it seems
at first sight. Against this curse the Kaiser has likewise launched
his thunderbolts at some time or other. But they have had no effect.
If anything there has been an increase in such cases.

At a Reichstag session, in the middle of December, the Kaiser’s
spokesman, General von Einem, made the formal admission that during
the preceding year no fewer than fifty officers and five hundred and
seventy-nine non-commissioned officers had been court-martialed and
sentenced for cruelly maltreating their subordinates. When we reflect
that scarcely in one case out of every hundred formal charges are
preferred by the victims, who know themselves completely in the power
of their tyrannous masters, the official record thus stated is indeed
appalling. But here again the Kaiser himself, as chief commander of
the army, must be held largely responsible; for his more than lenient
treatment of the convicted offenders is nothing less than a direct
encouragement to their fellows to continue in these fiendish
practices. One sergeant, a man by the name of Franzki, belonging to
the Eighty-fifth Regiment of the Infantry, was shown at the trial to
have been guilty of no less than twelve hundred and fifty individual
cases of cruelty and of one hundred cases of abuse of power. Another
man, Lieutenant Schilling, of the Ninety-eighth Regiment of Infantry,
stationed in Metz, had a record against him of over a thousand such
cases. Both men were recently tried and convicted, and the degree of
their punishment seems strangely inadequate. Yet in most instances the
Kaiser does not even allow these convicted offenders to serve out
their brief terms of confinement, but issues free pardons to them
after they have undergone but a small portion of their penalty.

However, from several points of view, the most serious evil of all
that has grown up within the German army since the close of the
Franco-German War of 1870-1871 is the cleavage in sentiment between
the army and the nation. That also has been demonstrable on many
occasions during recent years. I recall the case of Lieutenant von
Brüsewitz, of Carlsruhe. This young officer ran his sword through the
back of a defenceless civilian by whom he fancied himself insulted in
a restaurant, the man dying within a few hours of the deed. His
murderer attempted no other exculpation, or indeed explanation, than
by saying that according to the army code of honor he was forced to
avenge on the spot the insult offered him. Brüsewitz was sentenced to
merely a mild type of confinement for a term of two years, but was
pardoned by the Kaiser at the expiration of a twelvemonth. A more
recent case was that of a young navy lieutenant who likewise stabbed
to death with his sword a former schoolfellow and townsman who had not
saluted him on the street with sufficient ceremoniousness. That, he
said, was his only reason for killing the man, and he, too, received a
very mild sentence. Even worse was the case of two officers quartered
in a small garrison of the province of East Prussia, close to the
Russian border. These men, being somewhat in liquor on New Year’s Eve,
mortally wounded one civilian and gravely wounded another for no other
reason than that these men had shouted a song distasteful to them, the
whole occurrence happening in the street after midnight. The officers
got off with a ludicrously small punishment.

Such facts as these--and they could be multiplied indefinitely--show,
above all, one thing: the striking difference in the conception of
what is termed “honor” obtaining between the officers in the army and
the bulk of the population, the citizen element. The so-called “army
code” embodies views which it is euphemism to call mediæval--remnants
of the dark ages. And yet these views are not excused; no, they are
upheld and endorsed by the Kaiser, his government, and by the army in
a body.

The “code” also brings about that other absurdity, the army duel, as a
mode of settling all serious “affairs of honor.” About that enough has
been written in Germany itself to fill whole libraries, and yet the
foolish thing continues. The Kaiser, grown up in all the prejudices of
caste as held by his ancestors and by the present generation of the
upper classes in Germany, has done nothing to eradicate this evil. The
provisions made by him, and now carried out, for regulating the
practice of duelling in his army, have had only the effect of
rendering the duel as an institution still more respectable.

The main reason which impelled me to secure the authority for
presenting his little work in an English dress was the fact that it
tells a truthful tale about an organization of such first-rate
importance as the German army. It paints that organization not only as
he himself saw it, but as in its essential features it really is. In
doing this Lieutenant Bilse has not only rendered an enormous service
to his own country,--as indeed many thousands of Germans are
recognizing to-day,--but he has also enabled the rest of the world to
gain a clear insight into the inner mechanism of the most powerful
fighting-machine in the world, has shown its hidden flaws, its grave
organic defects, and has thus permitted us truly to gauge its
inherent power. But interwoven with his criticism there is the hope,
nay the conviction, that the main part of the machine is still sound.

A book of this kind, “written from the inside,” has a strong merit of
its own not to be measured by its purely literary qualities; for
these, I am free to admit, are not of the highest order. There is
talent in it, when considering that it is the first effort of a
literary tyro; but its great value lies in its intense realism,
interpreting that word in its higher sense.

I have been compelled to make some alterations and omissions in my
work of translation. The omissions have been due to the conviction
both of myself and of my publisher, that the author has in certain
instances given a mass of unnecessary details to which serious
objection might be urged, in this country at least, on the score of
clean literary taste. The alterations were either dictated by similar
considerations or grew indirectly out of them.

With these exceptions mentioned, however, my translation may fairly
claim to be true to the spirit of the original. Even the strictest
moralist will not cavil at seeing equivocal situations painted in
Bilse’s book when his purpose in doing so has been the radical
exposure of ills existing in a body around which cluster so many
traditions of honor and duty well done as is the case with the German
army. And there is no excuse to be offered by me for furthering that
task.

                                       WOLF VON SCHIERBRAND.

     NEW YORK, JANUARY 1, 1904.



A Little Garrison



CHAPTER I

AN EVENING PARTY AT CAPTAIN KÖNIG’S


Standing in the centre of her parlor, a spacious and cosy one, Frau
Clara König let her eyes glide over the arrangements made for the
reception of her guests.

For this was her regular _soirée musicale_, when she saw assembled
about her, one evening each week, those of her more intimate friends
who dallied habitually with Euterpe, loveliest of the Muses. To-night,
however, her invitations had not been so restricted, for she had asked
some other families to come, largely for the laudable purpose of
admiring the musical achievements of the “artists.”

Here she placed a chair in its proper place; there she smoothed with
tapering fingers one or the other of the tidies, products of her own
skilful needle, which, in every hue and size, adorned the furniture.
She tested the various lamps; opened and shut piano and parlor organ
to convince herself of the absence of dust; and finally minutely
inspected sundry vases, deftly manipulating their lovely contents, so
that each flower and each enfolding leaf stood out to greatest
advantage. This was one of her specialties. At none of her parties,
even in mid-winter, was there a lack of tastefully grouped nosegays
and bits of green on mantel and corner brackets.

Frau Clara was a woman of about thirty, with a well-proportioned
figure and a rather pretty, rosy face. Her lively blue eyes and a
wealth of well-groomed hair combined to give her a look of pleasant
youthfulness.

These last touches done, she seated herself on a low stool, for her
thoughts pronounced it all good.

And now the heavy drapery was thrust aside, and her husband
appeared--a tall man with a black moustache. He, too, came to attend
to his share of the preparations. He lit up the chandelier. Usually he
gauged the number of gas jets lit by the number of guests expected,
one for each. But inasmuch as there were only five jets and about a
dozen guests to come, he indulged in the luxury of igniting them all.
He did this with various groans at the latest outrageous gas bill, and
next inspected the stoves. Then he also sank down into a seat.

Albrecht König was captain in the cavalry regiment quartered in the
town. His squadron was always in apple-pie order, for he devoted to it
his entire energy during waking hours. Brief intervals of leisure he
filled by glancing at the _Deutsche Zeitung_, studying the
money-market reports, toiling in the large garden behind the house,
which he always kept in almost as good order as his squadron, and
superintending his hennery, the useful output of which he sold to his
wife at more than current prices.[1] And if there was nothing else to
do, he had scientific skirmishes with his nine-year-old, attended
wine-tests,[2] or practised on the piano, an instrument which he
played almost as well as might have been wished by his friends.

    [1] This has reference to the not uncommon habit in German
    households, especially those of officers and the higher
    classes, of keeping husband’s and wife’s exchequer strictly
    separate.--TR.

    [2] “Wine tests.” In the wine-growing districts of Germany
    men possessed of a delicate “wine tongue” delight in
    attending public or private meetings where new vintages are
    sampled and their prices and marketable qualities
    determined.--TR.

A noise in the hall told of the arrival of the first guest. A heavy,
dragging step and a snorting breath told them who it was. The door
opened, and Agricultural Counsellor von Konradi made his appearance. A
rather fleshy sort of man, with glasses on his aristocratic nose, over
the tops of which his eyes sought the lady of the house. His hair was
dyed a fine dark shade, and envy proclaimed that this was done on
account of the fair sex; for he was unmarried. His two ideals in life,
however, were a good dinner and several bottles of even a better wine
to go with it. Since he realized both of these ideals in the captain’s
house, he was fond of going there. As to the rest, he was held to be a
gentleman.

While he was at the critical point in a story embodying his profound
grief at the arrival from his estate of a pheasant in a scandalously
unripe condition, the door opened again and admitted the spouse of
Captain Kahle.

Of a dainty, petite figure, and with a face that seemed to belong to
a _gamin_, she presented on the whole a graceful enough _ensemble_.
But there were two drawbacks--her rather large mouth was wreathed in a
stereotyped smile, and when she opened it it gave utterance to a voice
of somewhat unpleasant, strident timbre.

Three youngish men followed on her heels. The first of them was
Lieutenant Pommer, who was somewhat of a general favorite because of
his unaffected, frank demeanor. Occasionally it became a trifle rough
or rude; but you always knew where you had him. With special ardor he
saluted Frau Kahle, and it looked almost droll to watch the contrast
between him, a burly, corpulent fellow, and this tiny, fragile figure
that resembled a Dresden china shepherdess.

The second one was Lieutenant Müller. Those who did not know him could
have guessed from his stiff, self-contained mien that he must be the
regimental adjutant. Housewives dreaded him, for his appetite was
Gargantuan. With stoic defiance of all warning glances he was in the
habit of demolishing thrice the quantity of the daintiest eatables
apportioned to each guest. After everybody else had put down his
fork, his invariable way was to help himself once more liberally,
saying it was his favorite dish.

The last of the trio was Lieutenant Kolberg, an amazingly pale young
man with _moustaches à la Kaiser_. He led a life against which
moralists might have urged arguments, and there had been various
scandals connected with his past.

While the other guests were waited for, a few groups were being
formed. Lieutenant Kolberg approached Frau Kahle and measured her from
top to toe with approval. The adjutant made a clever attempt to find
out from the hostess what particular dishes were in store for him.
Having ascertained this, he at once swore they were his special
delectation. Herr von Konradi was chatting with Captain König about a
wine-testing trip into the Moselle district which they were jointly
planning in order to replenish their respective cellars.

Another lady entered, one whose corpulency and unskilfully powdered
face and arms made an unpleasing contrast with a badly fitting robe
of black and yellow. She ran up to Frau Clara and squeezed her hand in
her wobbly fingers, expressing joy at the invitation. To the gentlemen
who sidled up to her one after the other she extended that same chubby
hand with a fatuous smile, but holding it so high that they could not
do otherwise than touch it with their lips.

This was Frau Captain Stark, the latest spouse in the regiment, though
probably past the demi-century line.

Her lord, likewise of rotund shape, came after her. He wore a black
Vandyke beard, and his special forte was a carefully trained and
extremely long nail on the little finger. It was said that this nail
demanded a goodly portion of his leisure hours. His voice told its own
story of bonhommie and unctuous Rhine wine.

Behind this couple hove in sight the figure of the commander.
Everybody stepped aside with a show of deference, and all around he
was saluted with deep bows, while he slowly stepped up to Captain
König and his lady. The bowlegs and the robust body were not relieved
by a face of finer mould, and thus it was that Colonel von Kronau
scarcely corresponded with the popular conception of a dashing cavalry
officer. Most striking about him was a tear that permanently glistened
in the corner of his eye. This tear he always allowed to grow to a
certain size, when he would, by a dexterous motion born of long
practice, propel it from its resting-place over at his _vis-à-vis_,
either at the latter’s feet or in his face, as the case might be. It
largely depended on the size of the tear and the rank of his
_vis-à-vis_.

The lady who accompanied him and who had the face and manners of a
governess was his better half. She had squeezed herself on this
occasion into a dowdy dress of pearl-gray silk, with a purple collar
of velvet.

Almost simultaneously the remainder of the invited personages filed
in. There was First Lieutenant Borgert. His shifting eyes seldom
looked squarely at any one whom he deigned to address. He was fleshy,
but his movements were nevertheless elastic and suave. Behind him
stood First Lieutenant Leimann, under-sized and prematurely bent, with
a neck several sizes too short for him and a suspicion of deformity
between the shoulders. A pear-shaped head protruded from between them,
fitfully lit up by a pair of pig’s eyes, which either restlessly shot
glances or else were so completely buried under their lids as to
become invisible. A monocle hung down his bosom from a broad ribbon,
but he never used it, for fear of becoming ridiculous.

These two gentlemen dwelt together in the same house, each occupying a
floor, and were inseparables. Though perennially short of cash, they
saw no reason to deny themselves the luxuries of this mundane sphere.
On the contrary, they lived like heirs to great fortunes.

“Pardon me, my gracious lady,”[3] remarked Leimann to the hostess,
“but my wife could not come immediately, having her old
complaint--nervous headache, you know!” In saying this he made a face
as though he didn’t himself believe what he was saying. “But she will
doubtless come a bit later.”

    [3] “My gracious lady”--“Gnädige Frau”--a term of politeness
    used to-day indiscriminately in Germany toward married
    women.--TR.

“Sorry to hear it,” Frau Clara sweetly answered, “but I hope she will
soon feel well enough to appear.”

After little Lieutenant Bleibtreu, a special friend of the house and
the only subaltern in Captain König’s squadron, had in his turn
saluted everybody, the servant announced that the meal was served. The
diners, in couples, ranged strictly according to rank, passed in. The
dining-room looked cheerful, and the table had been arranged with Frau
Clara’s customary taste.

Everybody having been served, conversation started slowly. “The
weather has turned so fine of late that we can commence playing
tennis,” remarked Frau Colonel von Kronau.

“Certainly,” chimed in her husband, masticating vigorously. “I shall
call a meeting of the club next week, and then nothing will stand in
the way.”

“Charming!” enthusiastically fluted Frau Stark. “I love it
passionately, and you, of course, will all join in? You, my dear Frau
Kahle, were one of the most zealous members last season. And how is it
with you, Frau König?”

“I’ll have to forego the pleasure,” she replied, “for it does not
agree with me.”

“And your husband?”

“I don’t know how to play,” the captain said; “but I like to watch
graceful ladies at it.”

Frau Stark bit her lips and shot an angry glance at the captain. “What
did he mean by ‘graceful ladies,’ anyway?” she thought. That was meant
for her, no doubt. And she remembered unpleasant comment made because
she with her fifty years had started riding a patient old mare
belonging to her husband’s squadron. One of the sergeants was giving
her lessons.

“Some civilians, I believe, will join,” broke in the colonel. “I will
have a list circulating.”

Everybody knew this was buncombe, the colonel being extremely
unpopular in civilian circles, and they smiled incredulously.

“I will join you,” said Herr von Konradi, “provided the heat is not
excessive. Next week, however, I have no leisure. I must sow my peas,
or it will be too late.”

“Yes,” put in König, “or they will not thrive.”

“What? Not thrive? Peas will always turn out well if properly
attended to,” said the colonel’s wife, with a touch of asperity.

“I fear I must contradict you, my gracious lady,” retorted the
captain. “Last year’s did not turn out well anywhere.”

“They must be sowed at moonlight, and not a word be spoken, then they
will do finely, every time,” said the Frau Colonel, eagerly. “But
don’t imagine that I am superstitious. I am simply stating a fact.”

It was a bold thing to do, for whatever the colonel’s wife said must
not be gainsaid, yet Lieutenant Bleibtreu could not help it. He
laughingly said: “Sowing, therefore, bacon in between while the sun is
shining, we’ll have one of my favorite dishes ready made.”

The colonel’s lady merely transfixed him with an envenomed stare.
After a dramatic interval she resumed: “But, come to think of it, I
myself won’t have leisure next week. My goose-liver _pâtés_ are not
yet finished.”

“You prepare them yourself?” asked the agricultural counsellor with
deep interest.

“Of course. I do up six potfuls every year. The colonel dotes on this
kind of stuff.”

“And where do you procure your truffles, may I ask? I am myself
looking for a trustworthy person.”

“Truffles? Nonsense, it tastes every bit as good without them--that is
all imagination.”

“Oh, but you must excuse me, my gracious lady; truffles are the very
soul of a goose-liver _pâté_. Without them it is insipid--‘Hamlet’
with Hamlet left out.”

“‘Hamlet’?” rejoined the lady with the governess face. “We were
talking of truffles.”

Herr von Konradi shrugged his shoulders. Nobody else said a word. Just
then Frau First Lieutenant Leimann entered. She looked as fresh and
bright as the morning star.

“A thousand pardons, Frau König,” she smiled, “but I had to finish
some important letters.” And she sat down in the place reserved for
her.

“We heard you were suffering from headache,” was the general remark.

“Headache? Yes, I forgot--I did have it. But that is such an old story
with me that I scarcely think of mentioning it any more.”

She was a handsome young woman, and the fact was made more apparent
by the really tasteful gown she wore.

During all this time the adjutant had not said a word. He attended
strictly to the business that had brought him here. His voracity
attracted no attention, because everybody was used to it. Off and on
he merely emitted a species of grunt in token of approval or dissent
of what had been said. He was still eating when the hostess finally
gave the signal to rise. Then everybody wished everybody else a
“blessed digestion,”[4] and made for the adjoining rooms, where the
ladies were served with coffee and the men with cordials, beer, and
cigars.

    [4] “Blessed digestion”--“Gesegnete Mahlzeit”--is the
    universal greeting in Germany after meals.--TR.

Informal chatting was indulged in. The colonel, after briefly
despatching a trifling matter connected with the service, for which
purpose he retained Müller, who was fairly oozing with good cheer,
retired to a quiet corner with Frau Stark. Since their conversation
was carried on in whispers, First Lieutenant Borgert, despite
strenuous efforts to overhear, could only catch a phrase or a single
word from time to time.

“You _must_ manage it,” he heard her say.

“Let us hope that the annual inspection will turn out well,” replied
the colonel. “Last time our direct superiors were finding fault with
your husband. It began in the stables, and I heard some talk about
it.”

“Never mind all that, Colonel, my husband _must_ be promoted to be
major. I tell you plainly, if you drop him I shall--”

“Have no fears, my most gracious lady. I have given him a very
brilliant report, though he doesn’t deserve it, as you know. But I
shall do my best.”

“And you owe me your best, Colonel, as you very well know, for without
me you would be to-day--”

Captain König came up.

“Will the Herr Colonel not accompany us next week on a wine-testing
trip up the Moselle? Agricultural Counsellor von Konradi will make one
of the party. Some exquisite growths are to be sold.”

“Certainly, my dear König. You know that I always join in such
expeditions. And with you in particular I like to go, for your dinner
has shown me once more that you own a faultless ‘wine tongue.’”

“Very flattering, Colonel. But I see you are still cigarless;
everything is laid out in my room.”

The colonel stepped into the next room. Frau Kahle was flirting with
Lieutenant Pommer in one corner, while several young men were doing
that with the pretty hostess in the other corner. Just then First
Lieutenant Leimann entered from the dining-room, and behind him his
spouse, making a wry face. Her mien became sunny, however, when First
Lieutenant Borgert stepped up to her and inquired with solicitude as
to the cause of grief.

“Oh! The usual thing,” she snapped. “My husband has scolded me. You
know his ungentlemanly ways. Always rude and offensive.”

“What was the trouble this time?”

“Merely the fact that I had excused my lateness at table by pleading
unfinished letters, while he had urged a headache. I am tired of his
eternal fault-finding.”

“That is valid reason for a divorce, my bewitching lady,” smiled
Borgert. “Look for another husband if you are tired of the present
one.”

She peered into his face inquiringly. “You don’t imagine how serious I
am.”

“Ah, if that’s the case, my dear lady, there is no time like the
present for planning a change. How, for instance, would I do for a
substitute? Now, honor bright?” and he playfully fondled her plump
little hand.

She took this just as smilingly. “Before I answer,” she said,
coquettishly lowering her eyelids, “I must know what you have to offer
me.”

“Let us sit down then and discuss this most alluring topic in its
various bearings,” laughingly remarked he; and he led her to a divan,
where they sat down side by side.

“Now, then, pay close attention, please,” continued he. “I offer you
an elegant home, a neat turnout, a tolerably groomed nag, a villa on
Lake Zurich, and a host of serving genii.”

“And who is to pay for it all?”

“Pay?” His wonderment was great. “Pay for it? Why, what is the use of
doing that? It has become unfashionable, and besides, so much good
money is frittered away by paying. _I_ never pay, and yet I manage to
live pretty comfortably.”

“All very well, but there is my husband to think of besides,” joked
the pretty woman.

“Of course you still have him; but meanwhile you might try and
accustom yourself to me--as his successor, you know.”

Frau Leimann nodded cheerfully and then buried her empty little head
in her hand, dreamily scanning the carpet. The others had left the two
in sole possession of the room. The eyes of the officer sought hers,
and there was a peculiar expression in them when they met.

“Why do you look at me that way?” said she. “You make me almost fear
you.”

“Afraid of your most dutiful slave?” whispered he, and his breath
fanned her cheek. “Ah, no. But do not forget our conversation,
loveliest of women. Things spoken in jest often come true in the end.”
She looked up and smiled as if enchanted at the idea. Then she rose,
and when he grasped one of her hands she made no effort to wrest it
away. He imprinted a long-drawn kiss on it. She shivered and then
rapidly glided into the adjoining room, where the jumble of sounds
produced by tuning a variety of musical instruments was now heard. The
strident notes of violins, the rumbling boom of a cello, and the
broken chords of a piano were confusedly mingling, and the male guests
were slowly dropping in or taking up a position, a half-smoked Havana
or cigarette between the lips, just outside the door, so as to combine
two sources of enjoyment. Borgert had remained behind in the next
room, and was now studying intently a letter the contents of which
plunged him in a painful reverie. At last he put back the letter in
his breast pocket, audibly cursing its sender, and then joined the
group nearest him.

At the parlor organ Captain König was seated, while his wife had taken
charge of the piano accompaniment. Herr von Konradi and First
Lieutenant Leimann stood ready with their violins, while Lieutenant
Bleibtreu, the violoncello pressed between the knees, occupied the
rear. The auditors, at least the majority of them, were comfortably
ensconced in chairs or sofas, near the mantelpiece, and around a
table on which a small battery of beer mugs, steins, and tankards was
solidly planted.

They began to play: a trio by Reinhardt. It sounded well, for the
performers had practised their respective parts thoroughly. But there
were some disturbing factors, as is always the case with amateurs. The
unwieldy agricultural counsellor rose on his creaking boots with every
note he drew, and frequently snorted in his zeal. Leimann, too, was
one of those one must not look at while performing, for his
queer-shaped head had sunk between his shoulders and his bowed back
presented a rather unæsthetic picture. The cellist, whose fingers were
rather thick, occasionally grasped the wrong string, but tried to make
up for this by bringing out the next tones with doubled vigor. The
trio was followed by violin solos, and lastly by a Liszt rhapsody,
played by the Königs with warm feeling and sufficient technique.

For _finale_ the small audience overwhelmed the players with praise,
and some more or less correct remarks were made about the different
compositions.

“Oh, my dear Lieutenant Bleibtreu,” cried Frau Stark, “I must resume
my cello practice with you. It is such a soulful instrument, and I
used to play it with tolerable proficiency in my younger days.”

Bleibtreu made a grimace, and Captain König whispered to him that the
elderly lady was unable to distinguish one note from another.

Borgert had looked on nonchalantly from the door during the concert.
Once in a while he glanced sharply at Frau Leimann, who was cosily
reclining in an arm-chair, her eyes half closed, a prey to thoughts.

The players had now taken seats at the large table, and the
conversation turned to trivial affairs of the day, the Frau Colonel
assuming the lion’s share of it, for she was decidedly talkative. Thus
another hour passed; and when the clock on the mantel marked half-past
ten, Colonel von Kronau gave his better half a look of understanding,
and the latter slightly nodded in reply, and rose, saying to the lady
of the house, with a smile:

“Dear Frau König, it was charming of you to prepare such an enchanting
evening for us. But it is time for us to be going. Many thanks!”

The hostess made some polite objections; but when she saw that the
Starks too, and the agricultural counsellor began to take formal
leave, she desisted from any further attempts to retain her guests,
not dissatisfied, on the whole, that but a small circle remained. For
with them it was not necessary to weigh words as carefully as in the
presence of the colonel. It frequently happened that he, the day after
a social gathering, took occasion to reprove his captains and
lieutenants for a careless turn of phrase or for something which he
construed as a lack of respect shown to him or his wife.

Those five gone, the others moved their chairs closer together around
the table, and some fresh, foaming nectar was served. Borgert started
the talk.

“Did you notice how this Stark woman again had a whispered confab with
the colonel?” he said. “Such manners I think they ought to leave at
home, for there they are not very particular. Just fancy, the other
day I was witness when Stark threw a slipper at his wife, and she on
her part had received me in a horribly soiled and frowzy morning
gown.”

“I saw worse than that,” interrupted Leimann. “Last week they had in
my presence one of their frequent matrimonial disagreements, and the
fat one, her husband, clinched the matter by shouting at her: ‘Hold
your tongue, woman!’ A nice, lovable couple, those two!”

“Anyway, it seems as if she lorded it over him pretty effectually,”
broke in the adjutant. “Day before yesterday Stark had had his fill at
the White Swan, and when he became a trifle noisy and quarrelsome his
wife arrived on the scene and behaved simply disgracefully. Finally
she tucked him under her arm and took him home amidst the shouts and
laughter of the other guests. I don’t think their meeting at home can
have been an angelic one.”

“That sort of thing happens every little while,” remarked Pommer; “at
least at the Casino[5] she appears whenever he does not depart
punctually at mealtime, and calls him hard names before the very
orderlies.”

    [5] “Casino”; the military club houses are so called.--ED.

“Well, she is keeping a sharp eye on him just now,” said Captain
König, good-humoredly, “for he wants to get his promotion as major,
or, rather, it is her ambition to become Frau Major.”

“Why, there can be no idea of that,” interjected Borgert, with a great
show of righteous indignation. “If this totally incapable idiot
becomes major I ought to be made at least a general. Though it is
queer that the colonel is evidently moving heaven and earth in his
behalf.”

“Good reason why,” retorted Leimann, calmly.

“How so?”

“Don’t you know the story? And yet it is in everybody’s mouth.”

“Then tell us, please, because we know not a word of it, and I scent
something fiendishly interesting!” And Borgert rubbed his hands in
anticipation.

“Why, last year the colonel had, with his usual want of tact, insulted
a civilian--a gentleman, you know. The latter sent him a challenge.
Our good colonel began to feel queer, for while he is constantly
doing heroic things with his mouth, he is by no means fond of risking
his skin. So after some talk with her, this Stark woman went to see
the gentleman in question as peacemaker. She told him that the colonel
was really innocent in the whole matter, and that she herself had been
the cause of the trouble, having spread a false report under an
erroneous impression. She managed to tell her yarn with so much
plausibility as entirely to deceive and bamboozle the other party, who
thereupon withdrew his challenge with expressions of his profound
regret. So, you see, she saved the colonel’s life, for the civilian is
known as a dead shot. Since then she has the colonel completely in her
power, and no matter what she tells him to do, he executes her orders
like a docile poodle dog,--a fact which we all see illustrated every
day.”

“Well, that explains the whole mystery, of course,” delightedly
shouted Borgert. “Don’t you know any more such stories? For it is
really high time to call a halt. He has manners like a ploughboy’s,
and she like a washerwoman’s. I’ll collect a few more tales of the
sort. It is simply shameful that one must submit to the dictation of
this woman.”

“There are rumors that she had peculiar relations with a well-known
nobleman in her younger days; but I know nothing positive, mind you.”

“Where in the world did you hear that now?”

“My military servant told me. He happens to hail from the neighborhood
she comes from.”

        *       *       *       *       *

During this delectable interchange of gossip the wife of First
Lieutenant Leimann had listened with gleaming eyes and heightened
color; it seemed wonderfully interesting to her. Captain König, on the
other hand, sucked his cigar thoughtfully, and his wife toyed with the
embroidered border of the table-cover.

“Why so lost in thought, my gracious lady?” Borgert said.

“I was merely wondering what stories you gentlemen might hatch against
_us_,” she said with some dignity.

He was about pathetically to disclaim any such fell designs, when it
was noticed that Frau Kahle had risen to bid farewell, and with her
Lieutenant Pommer, whose escort home she had accepted, her husband
being off on a short official trip.

They were barely gone, when Borgert remarked:

“I think we ought to subscribe for this poor Kahle woman, just enough
to enable her to buy a new dress. I don’t think she has anything to
wear besides this faded, worn-out rag of hers. I am sick of seeing
it.”

“But you ought to see her at home,” interjected Müller, in a minor key
of disdain. “There she looks worse than a slovenly servant girl. And
she doesn’t seem to find time to patch up her dirty gown, while her
boy, the only child she has, runs about the streets like a cobbler’s
apprentice from the lower town. One thing, though, that urchin _does_
know--he can lie like Satan.”

“Inherited from his mother, of course,” remarked Borgert, when a cold
and reproachful look out of Frau Clara’s eyes made him stop in the
middle of his sentence. There was an embarrassed silence for a minute,
and when the talk was resumed it no longer furnished such
“interesting” material. Captain König’s yawning became more
pronounced, and Leimann was leaning back in his chair, dozing, with
mouth half open. His wife, too, showed unmistakable signs of ennui,
now that the scandal she loved no longer poured forth. Her features, a
moment ago smooth and animated, now looked worn and aged, losing all
their charm. Müller was still digesting audibly, and hence it seemed
the proper moment for adjourning.

Amid unanimous assurances that “this has been the most enjoyable
evening this season,” the leave-taking was finally effected, and the
captain accompanied his last guests down the stairs, and returned
after shooting the strong bolt at the house door.

As he turned off the gas in the drawing-room, he said to Frau Clara:
“Quite interesting, this evening! These are two gentlemen we shall
have to be on our guard against.”



CHAPTER II

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CASINO DANCE


“Corporal Meyer! Have all this cleared out of the stable! Instantly!
What beastly filth is this? What? The stable guard is not present?
Then do it yourself; it won’t hurt you. Forward, march! And then bring
me the parole book!”

“At your orders, gracious lady!”

Frau Captain Stark strode with rattling steps up and down in the
stable, followed by two ragged-looking dogs. She wore a badly fitting
riding habit of slate-colored cloth, with a black derby that had seen
better days. In her right hand she carried a whip with which now and
then she cut the rank atmosphere in a reckless manner, so that the
dogs slunk aside in affright. Her keen eye pierced everywhere. She
scanned the black register boards nailed above the different
partitions, and studied attentively the tablet on which was marked in
chalk the _ordre du jour_. She came to a full stop behind two horses,
the only ones left behind by the squadron which had gone off for drill
to the parade grounds. Wrathfully she glanced at the poor old beasts,
the bones sticking out of their wrinkled, badly groomed skin like
those of a skeleton. Then she lifted the hind feet of the brown
gelding and examined the hoofs. She drew a small note-book from her
habit, and entered on the dated page: “Remus No. 37. Left hind iron.”
Next she climbed the steep wooden stairs leading up to the hayloft.
There they were, the culprits, two men of the stable guard, slumbering
peacefully, and not even awakened by the entrance of the “squadron’s
mother.” Quick as a flash her whip rained a shower of blows, while she
cried:

“Down with you; attend to your work, you lazy scum! I shall have you
reported to the colonel!”

And they flew down the stairs, and were at the feed-cutter as if the
devil himself were after them. She met Corporal Meyer at the door,
breathless from running, but handing her the parole book. He clapped
his heels together before her so that the spurs jingled.

She pushed the greasy book aside.

“What does the idiot think?” she cried. “Hold it before my eyes while
I read it. Here is an entry that the saddles and bridles are to be
inspected to-morrow. Have your men everything in good shape?”

“I will go and inquire of the sergeant-major.”

“Away! Bring him here, but this very moment.”

The sergeant-major made a black face when Meyer had delivered his
message, for the hours when the squadron was drilling or practising
were his choicest during the day. He spent them, as a rule, in
domestic bliss, having his cup of coffee before him and the wife of
his bosom in close proximity. He was peacefully enjoying his morning
cigar when Meyer reported to him the desire of the “gracious one.”

He cursed his luck, but lost no time in girding his loins with his
sabre; shoved his cap on his bald brow, and went rattling down the
stairs.

The gracious one received him very ungraciously.

“Sergeant-major, is everything in readiness for to-morrow?”

“I think so, but will once more examine to-night.”

“To-night? You are crazy. At once. Loafing must stop. And, mark you, I
demand a more respectful tone from you, or I shall report your case to
the colonel. Now bring me my horse!”

“Horse, my gracious lady? That is out with the rest of them. All
horses were ordered out, except these two lame ones,” and he pointed
at the two sorry steeds.

“What? My horse ordered out? What new insolence is this? Let it be
brought to me instantly. One of the corporals can go on foot.”

But this moment she heard steps approaching, and seeing Borgert she
called out to him in dulcet tones:

“Ah, what a pleasure, my dear First Lieutenant! So early out on duty?
I was just about to give some sugar to my husband’s horses, but find
them already gone. My dear husband is so excessively punctual in all
that concerns the service.”

“Your interest for the squadron is most praiseworthy, my gracious
lady,” said Borgert with a malicious twinkle in his eye. “I have often
remarked you with secret admiration when issuing orders to the men
about the stable.”

“Orders? Scarcely that, my dear Borgert. Once in a while I am the
messenger of my dear husband when he has forgotten something. Of
course, I take an interest in all that concerns him and the squadron.”

“Frau Captain is quite right, and I can only congratulate you on the
successful way in which your interest in the squadron and in the whole
regiment takes concrete form.”

“You are always jesting. But I suppose I shall see you at the Casino
to-night?”

“Assuredly, we are to meet at five to talk over some service matters.”

“Yes, you remind me. But that will not last long. It concerns only
some trifling affairs.”

“Much obliged for the exact information.”

“Oh, of course, I take an interest in everything, as I said. I called
the colonel’s attention to divers things, and I presume he will talk
them over with you gentlemen.”

“I am curious to learn what they can be. But, pardon me, I see Captain
König coming, with whom I have to transact some business. Good
morning, my most gracious lady!”

“Good morning, _mon cher_!” And she held her hand up high to him,--a
big hand, which was encased in a soiled, worn-out gauntlet of her
husband’s.

Then she turned once more to the sergeant-major, while Borgert
hastened to intercept König, who was on the point of turning into the
big courtyard of the third squadron.

“Good morning, Herr Captain! I must beg you to excuse me if I
interfere with your liberty for a moment, but a very pressing matter
induces me to ask of you a great favor.”

“You astonish me. What is the matter? Is it anything of importance?”
retorted the captain.

“This afternoon the colonel will doubtless mention the unpaid Casino
bills, and it would be extremely painful to me, especially in the
presence of the junior officers, to have my name spoken of in that
connection.”

“My dear fellow,” said Captain König, “you’ll have to go elsewhere
for the money. It was difficult enough for me to raise that hundred
for you a week ago.”

“And if I repeat my request, nevertheless, Captain, it is because I
find myself in a horribly embarrassing situation. For if I don’t
succeed in procuring four hundred marks till this evening, I shall
have to face the most annoying, possibly disastrous consequences.”

“All very well, but I simply haven’t the money,” said the captain,
shrugging his shoulders.

For a moment or two there was silence, and each avoided looking at the
other. Then Borgert murmured, hesitatingly:

“May I make a proposition, Herr Captain?”

“Well?”

“But I must ask you not to misunderstand me. Would it not be possible
to borrow so small a sum from the funds of the squadron, since it
would be only a question of a few days?”

Captain König looked startled.

“But, my dear fellow, how can you suggest such a thing to me! You
can’t expect me to touch the treasury.”

“I do not think it would matter the least bit, since the Herr Captain
alone is responsible for that fund, and since this would practically
mean nothing but the transferring of four hundred marks from the
public fund in your own keeping to private funds of your own, to be
made good by you, without anybody being the wiser within a week or
so.”

“No, no, that would never do,” again said the other.

“But, Captain, you cannot leave me in the lurch. It would simply place
me in a beastly predicament,” wailed Borgert, glancing appealingly at
his brother officer.

König began to think, twirling his moustache. On the whole, he
reflected, it might be a wise thing to place under an obligation this
man with the dangerously bitter tongue. Borgert’s influence on the
younger officers was not to be underestimated, he knew, and a refusal
would turn him into an enemy. The money itself he had, locked up in a
drawer of his desk at home; but if he made Borgert believe that he had
to “borrow” it from the squadron funds,--whose custodian he was,--it
might be expected that the lieutenant would not so soon ask for
another loan, mindful of the great difficulties this present one was
causing. It was as the result of these cogitations that König resolved
to lend Borgert the sum he required, but to leave him in the belief
that to do so it was necessary to touch the funds in his care.

“All right, then,” he said; “you shall have your money. When will you
pay it back without fail?”

“Within ten days, Captain. I give you my word on it.”

“Very well, come to my office at noon, and you shall have it.”

“Accept my most grateful thanks, Herr Captain!”

“Don’t mention it; but I trust it won’t occur again.”

They shook hands, and the captain mounted and trotted off in a lively
tempo toward the parade grounds.

Borgert, elated and free of care, hastened home. His duties to-day did
not begin until ten. He really felt kindly towards König for the
moment. It was not the first time the captain had helped him out of a
dilemma. Ten days! Well, within ten days all sorts of things could
happen. Why not his ability to repay the loan? And if not, bah! What
is the use of speculating about the future? For the moment he was
safe; that was the main thing.

Leimann meanwhile was awaiting the coming of his friend in the
latter’s study, and when Borgert entered, serene of brow and humming
an operatic tune, his face too brightened.

“Has he done it?” he shouted.

“Of course. Go to him at eleven, and he will do the same in your case,
all the more as you need it less.”

And at noon, when the two friends met at the Casino over a bottle of
fragrant Moselle, you could tell from Leimann’s exuberant gayety that
his own request had not been refused.

        *       *       *       *       *

Punctually at five all the officers of the regiment were assembled,
with caps and sabres, in the reading-room of the Casino. And when the
different squadron commanders had stepped up and reported “Everybody
present,” the colonel at once let them know his mind.

“Gentlemen,” he said, in his most pompous manner, “I have commanded
your presence in order to talk over a few matters. First: I must
request that for the future, at balls and similar affairs, dancing
spurs be worn, so as to avoid such unpleasant accidents as we had
night before last. One gentleman, who shall be nameless,”--and as he
said it he fixed a basilisk eye on Lieutenant von Meckelburg--“tore
off with his spurs the whole edge on the robe of Frau Captain Stark.
This must not occur again, gentlemen, and from now on I shall
officially punish similar behavior. Furthermore, it is customary among
persons of education not to be first in stretching out a hand to shake
that of a lady. And if the lady herself offers her hand, good manners
in our circles requires that the gentleman salute it with his lips. It
was made evident to me by the complaints of one of the ladies of this
regiment that some of you gentlemen stand greatly in need of further
education on such points of etiquette.” This particular passage
referred to the fact that Lieutenant Bleibtreu had omitted the
customary hand-kiss the other day, when Frau Captain Stark had thrust
her hand under his nose, his reason being that she had worn an old
pair of dogskin gloves, soiled and wet by the rain.

Casting a big tear, which had meanwhile gathered in his left eye,
several yards away, where it glittered in the sunshine, the commander
continued:

“Next, gentlemen, I formally forbid you to visit another town without
first obtaining leave of absence. Whoever will visit the neighboring
town must ask my formal permission first, no matter if the distance is
inconsiderable. You all remember that two of the gentlemen of this
regiment were forced to retire under peculiarly distressing
circumstances, because of large debts contracted in the adjoining
town.”

“Will the Herr Colonel permit me a question?” interrupted Captain
König.

“If you please, Herr Captain!”

“Is this order intended to apply to married officers as far as
invitations to social entertainments, the theatre, concerts, _et
cetera_, are concerned?”

“Most assuredly; I must retain exact control of the movements of every
one of you gentlemen as often as he leaves the garrison.
Infringements I shall punish severely, in exact accordance with the
military penal code. Such infringements I shall regard not as mere
breaches of discipline, but as direct disobedience to my explicit
orders.”

There was a pause, the colonel whisking his big bandanna out of the
breast pocket of his uniform coat, and carefully wiping his left eye.
This done, he looked about and saw disgust plainly printed on every
face around him.

Indeed there was disgust. Because two offenders in the past had got
themselves into trouble, the whole corps of officers in town was to
suffer vicariously, forced to remain shut up, even during their
leisure hours, in a place offering absolutely no intellectual and
worthy relaxation. The elder officers more especially felt all the
insulting tyranny that lay in this new order; but iron-clad military
discipline forbade even a murmur.

“And now, gentlemen,” resumed the colonel, after scanning the clouded
faces around him for another minute, “let us proceed to the election
of president of the Casino management, for the term has just elapsed.
You, Captain Kahle, filled that position for a year past, and I
rejoice to say that the manner in which you have done so has found my
full approval. Indeed, gentlemen, all of us are indebted to Captain
Kahle, for he has done his best, by devoting the larger portion of his
leisure hours to the task, in improving the management of our Casino.
He has enlarged our funds, and has introduced a number of
well-considered and highly welcome ameliorations. It is for this, I
think, we cannot do better than to beg Captain Kahle to remain in an
office which he has administered so much to our joint benefit. If,
however, there should be among you, gentlemen, somebody to propose
another man, let him speak up, for in that case we must ballot in the
regular manner.”

A unanimous murmur of approval, such as never before had greeted
utterances by the colonel, ran through the assembly, and Kahle issued
as the choice of everybody from the oral election. His office of
dictator of the Casino was one which involved much gratuitous labor
and frequent abuse, but was of the greatest importance to his fellows,
since it concerned so closely the most sensitive portion of a
soldier’s anatomy--his stomach.

“It is not necessary to inspect the books,” continued the colonel;
“for I feel quite sure that everything is in the best of order. But
one more thing, gentlemen! I cannot permit Casino bills to grow in
this avalanche fashion, such as has been the case for months past. It
is true that the two highest accounts have been settled to-day; but I
warn you that henceforth I shall proceed without leniency, if all the
outstanding bills are not settled by the first of next month. Consider
well what I have said! Thank you, gentlemen!”

Thus dismissed, most of the poor lieutenants felt and looked decidedly
blue. For some of them it meant another loan in Berlin or Cologne at
usurious interest, with no prospect of ever discharging the principal,
which meant nothing less than ultimate ruin and disgrace. For others,
less reckless or with less credit because of more modest family
connections, it meant the paying off in monthly instalments of their
debts, which always led to a black mark against their names in the
regimental list of conduct, minimizing their chances of promotion
when the list would reach the eyes of the commanding general and,
finally, those of the Kaiser and of his military cabinet. At best it
meant a tussle with the pater. But golden youth does not long indulge
in such gloomy reflections. That is its privilege. Thus, then, after
exchanging melancholy views, the younger swarm broke and fled into the
garden or into the cool veranda.

Meanwhile the ladies of the regiment convened in the reading-room, and
with them were two young civilian gentlemen who had not been able to
withstand their combined blandishments, and who had declared
themselves ready to join the tennis club. The main business of the
evening was to be transacted; namely, the election of a board for the
tennis club and the fixing of certain days for play in the courts near
the Casino building.

Frau König alone had not come, and her husband had had formally to
excuse her. The truth was, she avoided as much as she could to meet
the wives and sisters of her husband’s comrades, for she was not fond
of the malicious, evil gossip that formed their chief pleasure in
life. This natural inclination on her part had become stronger since
her recent evening party, when she had heard how even most of the
officers themselves did not scruple to retail disgusting bits of
scandal. Of course, she was made to suffer for this exclusive
taste--or distaste rather--and she knew perfectly well that the
scandal-mongers were only awaiting the slightest opportunity to
besmirch her own name and that of Captain König; but even so, she
preferred her own way.

The negotiations in the reading-room lasted some time, for each one of
the ladies had a wish or an idea of her own to defend. Moreover, it
required the encouraging words of the elected club officers to induce
a number of newly arrived gentlemen to become candidates for
admission. Of course they knew, these sirens, that nearly all of these
candidates would never show up at the tennis courts; but at any rate
the initiation and membership fees were thus substantially increased,
and the ladies, of course, paid no dues.

At last, however, the folding-doors of the dining-room were thrown
open. A substantial but not very elaborate supper was to be served
there. The acrimonious and strident voice of the Frau Colonel floated
above all this babel of feminine noises. In the corners stood, in
little groups, a number of the younger and older officers, discussing,
in subdued accents, the latest decrees of their superior officer. They
were still vibrating with suppressed indignation.

Captains König and Hagemann made sport of Frau Stark, but in such
manner that she never suspected it. Lieutenant Pommer never quitted
the immediate vicinity of Captain Kahle’s spouse.

Supper over, nearly all the men present had the lively desire to
escape from this promiscuous gathering, into which they had been
inveigled under pretence of an official matter. But such was not the
intention of Frau Stark, who cried out to the colonel in her
domineering way:

“How about this, Colonel; cannot we make a good use of this favorable
occasion and arrange a hop? Nobody, I suppose, would have any
objection? I myself would think it charming,--simply delicious.”

The colonel took just one minute to ruminate; then he declared
himself equally delighted with the lady’s idea. For her wish had
indeed become his law--_dura lex sed lex_.

The men were in a rage. What folly to dance, with the thermometer so
high! Much more sensible to sit down quietly on the veranda and drink
cool, frothy beer! Lieutenant Specht felt particularly enraged, for he
was to meet his flame at the train about ten. He exploded his anger,
saying to Borgert:

“The old woman is crazy, with her eternal dancing; but let us keep her
in perpetual motion to-night, just to teach her a lesson, until she
herself gives in!”

While the ballroom was being cleared of chairs and got ready for the
hop, couples were promenading in the garden. The golden sickle of the
moon shed dim rays over the landscape and made the towers and steeples
of the town, standing out at some distance, appear like misty
silhouettes. In the deep green of the bushes a nightingale pealed
forth his liquid plaint into the balmy night air, while from the
ballroom inside the tuning of violins mingled inharmoniously. From the
town gusts of warm wind carried snatches of a martial song, ground
out on the barrel-organ of a carrousel. All these noises rose in a
confused mass into the still air, mingling with the laughter of the
women and the calls of the servants and musicians.

Meanwhile Borgert gave a _gratis_ performance to a number of his
younger comrades. He had gathered them around him in the tennis
courts, where he strikingly imitated Frau Stark in the rôle of a
tennis player. He showed how she attempted to meet the balls with a
racquet, and how she picked them up, until these young men were fairly
dying with hilarity. He was too funny, they said, and played his
improvised part really to perfection. At last, however, Borgert tired
of this “manly” sport, and his audience dropped off, one by one,
joining the dancers inside. Borgert, though, enjoying the mild night
air, lit a fresh cigar and strolled about the garden, his habitual
cat-like tread barely audible on the soft ground. Puffing the fragrant
weed, he suddenly spied, in the uncertain glimmer of the moon, the
sheen of a white summer robe.

“Oho! A little intrigue,” he thought to himself. “Maybe something of
interest. Let’s reconnoitre!”

He glided like a shadow among the flowering lilacs, heavy with
perfume, and when a few paces from the figure in white, crouched and
hid himself behind one of the bushes. He could not distinguish the
outlines of the two figures clearly, but he heard whispering. First,
in low tones, he made out the voice of Frau Kahle, cooing like a
turtle, and next it was the _basso profundo_ of Lieutenant Pommer,
vainly endeavoring to compress its volume into a murmur.

“Amazing! Has this coarse elephant turned into a Romeo, sighing like a
furnace?” he said to himself, and listened with all his might.

The syllables and now and then the broken words that he was able to
understand from his point of vantage seemed to afford him the greatest
delight. When the couple at last rose and disappeared down the path
leading to the side entrance of the Casino, he left his hiding-place
and slowly followed in their footsteps. An unholy smile played around
his thin lips. “Two more in my power!” he whispered.

All this time the dancers inside were devoting themselves, without
interruption, to Terpsichorean pleasures,--mostly waltzes, they being
the special delight of Frau Stark. When Borgert entered the ballroom
the band struck up the latest waltz,--“Over the Waves,”--and he
noticed Frau Stark, flaming like a peony, perspiration streaming down
her rubicund face, being handed, true to his programme, by Lieutenant
Specht to his smiling comrade, von Meckelburg. Frau Stark just took
the time to gulp a glass of lemonade, and then was off again,
breathing hard, but still in the ring. The atmosphere in the room was
stifling, but all the ladies, at least, seemed to enjoy themselves.
Officers’ wives are proverbially insatiable dancers.

After two rounds of the room von Meckelburg was seen steering his
victim towards a chair near the open window. Frau Stark sank into it,
literally exhausted. She looked indeed dripping. The young lieutenants
had had their revenge. She had “given in.”

Borgert meanwhile had taken his stand in a corner, where he bent over
Frau Leimann, who was seated and fanning herself with her
handkerchief. Although fatigued from heat and dancing, she looked most
seductive in her pale blue tulle, whose filmy lace clouds around
throat and bosom heightened the effects of her charms. Borgert,
bending over her, sniffed with sensual delight a faint perfume, while
he carried on a whispered conversation in monosyllables with her--a
conversation which seemed to have meaning but for these two.

In the reading-room the orderlies were busy filling tulip glasses with
that fragrant mixture, a May bowl, so grateful in its delicious iced
condition, and yet so deceptive. Around a plain table in the small
side room, away from the throng and undisturbed, several of the
captains, the colonel, and two of the younger officers were playing
“skat” at a penny the point. One of the lieutenants, to judge from his
heated face and the anxious look on it, must be losing heavily. Had
this “little game” been arranged to encourage the men under him in the
economies Colonel von Kronau had but now so strongly recommended to
them?

Lieutenant Specht just then was taking French leave. It was necessary
for him to run to the station and meet the young lady--a lovesick,
pretty little milliner from Cologne--who for the time being dwelt in
his unstable heart.

Lieutenant Bleibtreu sat in a brown study, a few feet away from the
players, deep in his melancholy thoughts. The army, his military
career, intercourse with his brother officers and their ladies--it was
all a grave disappointment to him. His illusions were gone, though it
was but a couple of years since he had donned the bright, showy,
glittering dragoon uniform, so attractive to the neophyte. He was
thinking of home, of his dear, patient, loving mother, whose constant
preoccupation he was; of his lovely, self-denying sisters, whose dowry
was fast going while he was himself enjoying himself in the “king’s
service.” Was he? Was he “enjoying” himself? Was this--this hollow,
stupid round of the coarsest pleasures and the equally coarse and
stupid round of duties--really what he had looked forward to?

The young man sighed. The absence of the wife of his captain, Frau
König, rendered him still more melancholy. Bah, it was disgusting.
And to think that this was the profession most highly honored, most
envied in the fatherland! To think that it had always been drummed in
his ears, ever since early childhood, that to “wear the king’s coat”
would exalt him high above his fellow mortals!

Comradeship! What a fine word when it bears out its full meaning,
thought Lieutenant Bleibtreu. But what was it here? What had he found
the practical construction of the term? To follow, day by day, step by
step, in the same treadmill of dull routine, only relieved by
occasional but all too brief glimpses of the freedom that lay beyond
“the service”--that was the meaning of comradeship. There was none of
that unselfish intimacy, that ready sympathy and help between the members
of the caste into which he had risen on the proud day he first read
his name among the Kaiser’s appointments in the _Armee-Verordnŭngsblatt_.
Dead sea fruit! Ashes that taste bitter on the tongue.

Certainly there were exceptions. He himself had heard of some such
cases of comradeship as he had dreamed of when still a slim little
cadet in the military academy: cases where one comrade lifted the
other, the younger and less experienced, up to his higher level; cases
where one comrade sacrificed himself for the other. But these must be
very rare, he thought, for he had never seen such a case himself. What
he had seen was the casting into one stiff, unchanging form of so many
individualities not suited to each other. It was the hollow mockery of
the thing that palled so on him. And what would be the end?

Though young in the service, he had seen men meant for better things
broken as a reed on the wheel of military formalism; he had seen them
retiring when but in the prime of life, broken in spirit, unfit for
any new career, impaired in health, perfectly useless--victims of the
conventional ideas that rule supreme in the army. Others he had seen
forced to resign, overloaded with a burden of debt, ruined
financially, physically, morally bankrupt,--all due to the tinsel and
glitter, to the ceaseless temptations thrown into the path of the
German army officer. A young civilian, even when the son of wealthy
parents, is not coaxed and wheedled into a network of useless
expenditure, as is the youngest army officer, waylaid everywhere by
the detestable gang of “army usurers,” who follow him to the bitter
end, knowing that to repudiate even the shadiest debt means disgrace
and dismissal from the army to every officer, no matter if his follies
have been committed at an age when other young boys are still subject
to closest supervision.

Deep lines had formed on Bleibtreu’s smooth forehead, and he was
visibly startled when the cheery, round voice of his squadron
commander, Captain König, recalled him to his surroundings.

“And that’s what they call pleasure,” said he, sitting down on the
sofa beside his young lieutenant, for whom he felt something like
paternal affection. “If such entertainments were at least arranged
beforehand, with the consent or at the instance of the juniors
themselves,--for I will say nothing about us older men,--but no! Frau
Stark commands, and the whole regiment, from the colonel down to the
youngest cornet, has simply to obey. Disgraceful, I say. Why, we
cannot even choose our own tipple on such occasions. The colonel
simply orders that a May bowl be composed, and we have to brew it,
drink it, and--pay for it. This evening will cost us a pretty penny
again. A glass of apollinaris would be far more palatable, and
certainly much cheaper and appropriate at this temperature than this
confounded sweetish stuff, which gives one a headache fit to split the
skull next morning.”

“Quite true, Captain,” replied the young man. “This form of
quasi-official pressure, even in one’s private expenditures, is one of
the worst curses of our profession. It has indirectly caused the ruin
of many a promising young officer, I’ve been told.”

“Yes, my boy, you are quite right,” answered König. “It is amazing how
many officers have been forced into retirement of recent years, solely
because of unpaid and unpayable debts. Things in this respect cannot
go on much longer. For the ruin of thousands of these young officers
means also the ruin of their families, and among them many of the
oldest and best in the Empire. An unhealthy craze for luxurious living
has seized upon the army, and God alone knows how it will end some
day. It is a thing which will and must frighten every true patriot,
and I wish our most gracious sovereign would take up this matter more
earnestly.”

“Yes, H. M. does not attach enough importance to this chapter.”

“And yet the remedy would be such a simple one,” remarked the captain.
“If H. M. would simply issue a decree to the effect that no debts of
army officers up to captain’s rank shall be recoverable in court, that
would be the end of army usury, and with it would be removed the worst
cancer of which the whole army suffers. Once the certainty that
ultimately they are sure of their money would be gone, these leeches
would no longer trouble the gay and shiftless young officer whom they
now pursue with the persistence of bloodhounds. But what is the use of
saying this? H. M. himself is not without blame in these things. As
long as his personal example all tells the other way, how can we
expect the army to become prudent and economical?”

“However, Captain, that is not the sole trouble. I think as long as we
as a class--or caste--are taught that we are something better than
the civilian population, so long as we are guided by another code of
ethics, erecting an insurmountable barrier around us, there can be no
real reform. Such prejudices, or rather such systematic teaching, must
inevitably lead to sharp separation between the professional soldier
class and the rest of the people. Good heavens, this is the twentieth
century, and no longer the middle ages, we’re living in. Caste and
exclusive privileges must go, else--”

“Sh! Sh! Lower your voice, my dear boy--the colonel is looking our
way, and over there stands Müller, the adjutant, always ready for
tale-bearing. Let us get up and take a stroll in the moonlight, or,
better still, let us go home.”

The lieutenant accompanied his superior officer as far as the door of
his dwelling, and on the way spoke in tones of real concern of the
fact that the cleavage between the private soldier and his superiors
was so great.

“After all,” he remarked, “many of these poor devils are every bit as
well educated as we,--some of them even better,--and as long as this
is supposed to be a ‘nation in arms,’ and not, as in the eighteenth
century, an army of mercenaries, no such strict difference, socially,
ought to be made. Do you know, I often think the Socialists are not so
wrong in some things they urge.”

“For goodness’ sake, my dear Lieutenant, don’t let any such remarks
escape you anywhere else,” said Captain König, in a scared voice. But
they had reached the captain’s door, and so they shook hands and
parted.

Bleibtreu lived at the other end of the straggling little town. In
walking leisurely home, he followed his train of thought. The
systematic brutality shown the common soldier--even the noncom.
(though not in so pronounced a manner)--by his fellow-officers had
from the start been very much against his taste. “They don’t see the
defender of the fatherland in him,” thought he, “but merely the green
man, unused to strict discipline and to the narrowly bound round of
dull duties, the clumsy, ungainly recruit, or the smarter, but even
more unsympathetic private of some experience whose drill is an
unpleasant task for them, and who, they know, hates and abominates
them in his heart.” And he remembered scenes of such brutality, the
unwilling witness of which he had been. Such cruelty and abuse of
power, he felt, was playing into the hands of the Socialist Party.
“These young men, fresh from the plough or the workshop,” he mused,
“cannot help losing all their love for the army. So long as they serve
in it, of course, they will not risk those punishments for expressing
their real thoughts which the military law metes out with such
draconic severity; they will prefer suffering in silence the
injustice, cruelty, and inhuman treatment to which, at one time or
another, nearly every one of them is subjected during their period of
active service. But once dismissed to the reserve, how many, many
thousands of them will naturally turn to the only political party with
us which dares to oppose with courage militarism and all its fearful
excrescences! And all this,” he continued inwardly, “is the natural
result of a long period of deadening, enervating peace. Oh! If there
were but a war! All this dross would then glide off us, and the true
metal underneath would once more shine forth.”

He went to bed with these ideas still humming in his brain.

Borgert had been enjoying himself meanwhile. His kind always does. He
had, for a few moments, tried to listen to the arguments of Captain
König and Lieutenant Bleibtreu, while they were seated on the sofa;
but, pshaw! how absurd to philosophize about these things, he thought.
Far better to take life as it comes. And so he had joined the party at
the gaming-table, where one of the winners was just then standing
treat for a battery of Veuve Clicquot, and as he slowly sipped the
delicious beverage, the bubbles rising like rosy pearls from the
depths of his chalice, he smiled with self-satisfaction.

But at last he, too, left the house and directed his steps toward the
far end of the garden, where a small gate led directly into the street
at the end of which he dwelt. There! Again Frau Kahle and uncouth,
elephantine Lieutenant Pommer! The May bowl, he thought, has been too
strong for his addled brain. And he stepped silently aside on the
velvety sward, under the clump of lilacs. The nightingale, from the
centre of a thicket a score of paces away, still fluted and trilled a
song of passion. And something like it, he made sure, big Pommer was
also pouring into the tiny ear of that conquering flirt, the volatile
spouse of Captain Kahle. Having ascertained this, First Lieutenant
Borgert rapidly strode toward the interesting pair, clinking his spurs
and drawling forth an accented “G-o-o-d evening!” as he came up to
them before they had had a chance to rise. Pommer looked indescribably
much like an idiot in returning the salute; but the little woman, with
the ready wit of her sex, assumed the air of an immaculate dove.

The players were the last to leave the Casino,--all of them with heavy
heads and some of them with much lighter purse. Among the latter was
Leimann.



CHAPTER III

THE CONSEQUENCES OF A MAY BOWL


Next morning the garrison--that is, the officers of it--was slower and
later in awakening than usual. That cursed May bowl! It was precisely
as Captain König had said: terrific headaches paid for indulgence in
its seductive potency. Pommer, poor Pommer, although waked by his
servant at the usual time, was still so much under the influence of
the fumes that had mounted to his silly head the night before, that
the only answer he was able to make to the shoutings of his
Masovian[6] man was an unintelligible grunt. Then he turned over on
the other side and settled down to a solid sleep.

    [6] Masovians, the population of certain districts in eastern
    Prussia; they are of Polish race.--TR.

At eleven he was still peacefully snoring, when his man stepped up to
his bed once more, and undertook such violent and persistent
manipulations with the extremities of his master that the latter
finally opened his eyes far enough to let a little daylight and some
sense into his dazed brain. The bulky lieutenant stretched himself,
yawned, and at last remembered his doings of the night before. With
both mighty fists he hammered his thick skull in disgust and despair.

“Holy smoke--that-- ---- May bowl!” he groaned, and then sat down in
the chair beside his couch to feel of his head, which seemed a
gigantic bass drum, hollow and reverberating. Like a flash his
desperate flirtation with the wife of his own squadron chief came back
to his muddled consciousness.

Vaclav, his man,--whom he, for short, called Watz,--brought in his
morning coffee, and after dressing with a great running commentary of
grunts and groans, he sat down to drink a mouthful of the reviving
decoction. But his brain was still in a whirl, and the scenes of a few
hours ago passed rapidly, but in nebulous form, before his clouded
inner vision.

Dimly he felt ashamed of himself. He knew he had not behaved like a
gentleman, and he thought he remembered that somebody had witnessed
the spectacle he had made of himself. Specht? Meckelburg? Or Müller?
No--he thought not. But Borgert? Yes, he thought it was Borgert. No,
no. But who? He gave it up with another groan, and took a mouthful of
the cold coffee.

Anyway, he had behaved in a beastly fashion. That he did know. But
stop! Had she not told him how badly she was treated by her
husband--how neglected--had she not appealed to his gallantry and
friendship? He felt uncertain. All he knew with certainty was that he
had been a brute.

He buried his head in his brawny hands.

How had it been possible for him so to forget himself?

He knew:--champagne luncheon with that fellow Borgert,--a fellow whose
powers of consumption had never been ascertained. Then, at dinner,
that heavy “Turk’s blood”[7] to which Müller had to treat because of a
lost bet. And then, worst of all, that thrice-condemned May bowl! And
hadn’t they noticed it, the other fellows, and hadn’t they filled him
up notwithstanding, or rather because, they saw that he couldn’t carry
any more liquid conveniently? His big fist slammed the table.

    [7] “Turk’s blood” (“Türkenblut”) is the name of a mixture of
    English porter, brandy, and French champagne very much in
    vogue in the army.--TR.

There was a knock at the door.

The man with the sore conscience and the sorer head bade the unknown
enter.

It was First Lieutenant Borgert, helmet in hand. He pretended
astonishment at the evident condition of his comrade, but eyed him
sharply, and then said:

“Pardon me if I come inopportunely, but a rather delicate matter
induces me to see you this morning.”

“Officially or privately?” grunted Pommer.

“Both, if you wish it,” answered the other.

“If a private matter I beg you will postpone it,” said Pommer. “Let us
talk about it some other day.”

“I regret to say that I _must_ insist on discussing the matter now,”
retorted Borgert, stiffly. “You are aware, of course, that as the
elder man in the service I have the right, even the duty, to
remonstrate with you if I see occasion for it.”

Pommer reflected a moment. In years he was the other man’s senior, and
he had also visited a university for a triennium before joining the
army, while the other had simply completed the easy curriculum of the
military academy. But, true, Borgert was a twelvemonth ahead of him in
actual service. So he silently submitted.

“All right, then; to what matter do you refer, sir?”

Borgert assumed the air of a grand inquisitor.

“Accident made me, last night, witness to a scene which I am sorry to
say, Herr Comrade, I cannot otherwise describe than shocking. It was
in the most secluded spot of the grounds near the Casino. The lady in
question--”

“You need proceed no further, Herr Comrade. I know perfectly well that
I am to blame.”

“May I ask you for an explanation?”

“I was intoxicated. That is the sole explanation I can offer.”

“A strange one. Why, if you cannot drink without losing your
senses,--why, then, do you drink at all?”

“The fact that I was intoxicated was due in large measure to the very
gentleman I am now addressing, who would not--”

“You need not go into such details,” Borgert interrupted him. “You do
not seem to understand the gravity of your offence, and it seems
necessary that I should enlighten you as a younger comrade on that
point.”

Pommer felt indignant at this hypocritical lecture, but before he
could reply to it Borgert continued:

“Your offence is the most serious against comradeship which can be
conceived. Really, it would be my duty to call the attention of the
lady’s husband to it if I did not trust in your sense of honor to
rectify the matter before any more mischief is done. If you will
promise me to go at once and ask the lady’s pardon, and to do all in
your power to avoid any further cause for scandal, I will on my part
forbear to mention what I saw. You must know, of course, that to tell
Captain Kahle would mean a challenge, a duel, your enforced
resignation from the army, and maybe your death,--for he is a good
shot.”

Borgert was very dramatic as he said this. The rôle of an austere
prophet, calling a sinner to repentance and amends, had all the spice
of novelty for him. Inwardly he smiled at himself, but outwardly he
drew up his tall, sinewy frame to its full height, and cast a
hypnotizing stare at the man before him, now slowly recovering his
usual sober frame of mind. And as the sense of his wrong-doing began
to overpower poor Pommer, he bowed his towzled head in misery. Two big
tears crept slowly down his tanned cheeks.

Borgert went on:

“It is, of course, your duty to go at once to the outraged husband as
well, and to confess your guilt. As I know Captain Kahle, he is not
the man to withstand a direct appeal to his clemency if couched in
appropriately contrite terms. If you will pledge me your word of honor
to do as requested and to obtain the pardon of husband and wife, you
may count on my silence.”

Pommer glanced up. Tumultuous feelings were surging in his breast, and
so rapid had been the revulsion from his first sentiments when Borgert
had opened the conversation, that what was now uppermost in his mind
was gratitude for this discreet and wise friend. He rose, and with a
pathetic gesture stretched forth his great paw.

“Here is my hand,” he said, with a hitch in his voice. “I promise.”

Borgert clasped it a moment.

“Thanks, many thanks, for your sympathy and aid in this sorry
business,” the junior mumbled, and surreptitiously wiped a briny drop
out of the corner of his eye.

Borgert left, very much satisfied with himself. He had now among the
younger officers of the regiment another one who would henceforth
swear by him. He noisily clanked down the shaky wooden stairs of the
humble house wherein Pommer occupied narrow quarters. And Frau Kahle,
too, was now in his power, he gleefully reflected. Besides all that,
there was something positively piquant about the little
adventure,--something which would frequently hereafter furnish him
with pleasant innuendoes and hints, understood only by those
immediately concerned, and which would supply him, Borgert, with an
endless fund of amusement. He intensely enjoyed this propitious ending
to his machinations.

Humming a tune, and feeling in the best of spirits, he went home, gave
his servant sabre, cloak, and helmet, and mounted the stairs leading
up to Frau Leimann’s apartments.

She was not alone. The adjutant was present. Müller, in fact, had
shirked his duties to-day, the colonel being off on a hunting trip in
the adjacent extensive forest, having been invited thereto by the
royal head forester commanding that district. Frau Leimann greeted
Borgert warmly, and while the latter and the adjutant stepped to the
window, looking at the wife of Captain König and Lieutenant Bleibtreu,
who were riding past the house on horseback, Borgert seized the
opportunity and deftly appropriated the pretty woman’s hands, which he
kissed passionately.

Then he told them of his interview with Pommer,--told it in such droll
terms and with such an abundance of mimicry, that his two hearers
could not help laughing immoderately. The picture of ungainly, rough
Pommer being in the sentimental stage and a prey to a lacerated
conscience was too exquisitely ludicrous.

Meanwhile Pommer sat at his desk, laboriously inditing a letter to
his mother, to whom he opened his whole heart, as in duty bound.
Several of the strongest passages in his letter were panegyrics on his
new-won friend, Borgert, whom he limned in colors so brilliant that
the original would indeed have had great trouble in recognizing
himself in the portrait.

The lieutenant had by this time calmed down a good deal, and the
blurred images of the past evening resolved themselves, one after
another, into sane recollections. He now distinctly recalled the part
in the ugly intrigue played by the woman; how she had skilfully led
him on to make advances; how she had smiled encouragingly at his terms
of endearment; how she had “fished” for dubious compliments, and how
she had, above all, so alluringly made the most intimate confidences
to him as to her marital troubles and as to her status of a _femme
incomprise_. Really, he thought after quiet reflection, he himself was
not so much to blame in this affair, disgraceful as it doubtless was
when all was said and done. For the woman herself, a change of feeling
took place simultaneously. The tender pity he had felt for her in his
maudlin condition made room for something akin to contempt and
dislike. She certainly could not be a pure woman, a faithful wife and
mother, he thought, thus to invite, almost provoke, the passionate
regard of a man much younger and less experienced than herself,--a
man, too, whom she had known but slightly and conventionally hitherto.
In his inmost consciousness he had almost absolved himself from guilt
in the matter. And as to writing to her husband, or confronting him
with the raw tale of her and his indiscretion, as Borgert had
suggested, why, the more he thought of it, the less advisable a step
it seemed to him, from every point of view. However, a promise was a
promise, and he would keep it.

He donned his full regimentals, and issued forth at the right time for
a visit of the kind.

He did not find Kahle himself in, he being still away at squadron
drill. But his wife flew to meet him as soon as the parlor door had
closed behind the announcing servant, and her reception was indeed
such an affectionate and even enthusiastic one that the words of
penitence perforce died on his lips. She drew him toward her on the
low lounge, and exuberantly babbled on about the comfort, the delight
his confidence had brought her. There was not the slightest word said
by her to show that she had disapproved his approaches now that the
glamour of the moment, the enervating effects of close communion in
the warm air of a spring night, were gone. Coquettishly she plied all
her wiles to captivate poor Pommer anew. His pulses hammered, his
senses were aflame; but he remained master of himself, and sternly he
resolved to sever these equivocal relations with a woman whom he could
no longer respect. The weak, purblind man had been steeled against
further temptation by seeing a few hours ago the abyss yawning at his
feet, in which an illicit love had threatened to engulf him forever.
The image of his mother, noble type of womanhood, rose before his
mind, and he remained strong.

Frau Kahle, on her part, at last becoming convinced that all her arts
were thrown away on this iceberg, suddenly changed her tactics, and
dismissed her visitor in somewhat abrupt fashion. She swept from the
room, leaving him to find his way out. Only the intoxicating perfume
which she used by preference lingered a moment longer in the close air
of the room as the lieutenant sought his way out; but despite a
curious feeling of defeat which he could not help instinctively
feeling, there was subdued exultation in his heart. His brow was
serene as, at the next crossing of the street, he encountered Borgert,
who hailed him:

“Well, Pommer,” he shouted satirically, “how is your headache? And how
did you find things at Kahle’s?--everything forgiven?”

“Oh, yes, everything forgiven,” answered Pommer, demurely, without
going into any further details.

“Excellent. Was a wise thing for you to do to take counsel with an
elder comrade, my dear fellow. Well, I am glad for your sake
everything ended well.”

“Yes, thanks to you,” said Pommer; and the two shook hands and parted.

Pommer went home, well satisfied with himself.

He fancied that all was now over between him and Frau Kahle. His
acquaintance with women of her stamp had never been extensive, and to
read the soul of one so utterly false and grossly sensual as this
inveterate coquette, was quite beyond the ability of Lieutenant
Pommer, analysis of his own or anybody else’s character not being his
strong point.

He had, however, miscalculated Frau Kahle’s fascinations over his
unsophisticated self, and decidedly underestimated her craving for
admiration. He was made aware of this when he next met her, on the day
following. She greeted him with a smile so bewitching and a
half-expressed sense of intimacy so flattering to his _amour propre_,
that he was unable to resist. Soon these two became the talk of the
little town. No matter if Pommer, looking at his inner self within the
quiet retreat of his own bachelor quarters, bitterly bewailed his
renewed fall from grace, her influence over the coarser fibre in his
being easily triumphed over his qualms of conscience.

He frequently met Borgert during this period, but the latter, far from
training once more on him the battery of his eloquence, contented
himself with some facetious remark or with a Mephistophelian grin.
And for Kahle himself, he was probably the only one in the
garrison--as is the fate of husbands too often in such cases--who was
not in the slightest aware of the “goings-on” of his nominal partner
in the joys and sorrows of life. And, besides, his tasks as chairman
of the Casino’s house committee kept him, together with his official
duties, practically away from home all day long, and frequently far
into the night.

Pommer was, as we have seen, not precisely of delicate stuff, either
bodily or in his psychic makeup. But the chains he was wearing
nevertheless galled him, and he not seldom manœuvred with his charmer
to obtain release; but all in vain. More than once he thought
seriously of writing to Captain Kahle himself, confessing his guilt,
glossing over her own share of it, and offering all the reparation in
his power. That would mean, of course, exposing his own precious life
to the unerring bullet of the captain; but even that outlook appeared
to him preferable to his present life of deceit. He now regretted that
he had not followed, the morning after the Casino hop, his first
impulse of making a clean breast of it to Captain Kahle. Thus weeks
dragged on, and there was no prospect of a change in a situation which
gradually became intolerable to him.

But suddenly, without his having done anything to bring it about, the
day came that granted him escape from his degrading entanglement. The
imperial order arrived, promoting him to the grade of First Lieutenant
and transferring him to another garrison, far in the interior of the
country.

She was the first person he informed of it.

“Farewell! We shall not see each other again!” He spoke quite coolly,
almost callously, and he left her cowering on the sofa and weeping
hysterically. He felt a free man again. The abominable shackles had
fallen from him.

If he had seen Frau Kahle five minutes after he had left her he would
not even have retained for her a vestige of that first tenderness that
had swept over him that night in the Casino garden. For when he had
retired, and she had heard his step on the flagging of the hall below,
she had quickly risen and peered, from behind the lace curtains, into
the street after his vanishing figure. Then she had sat down at the
piano and intoned a merry Strauss waltz.

But then she reflected that they might call her heartless. So she had
indited a long, passionate farewell letter to him. He showed it, the
night before his going, to Borgert at the Casino. They were all his
guests that night. Borgert had screamed with laughter.

“What a devilish smart little woman she is, after all,” he had
exclaimed. And then, poising in mid-air his champagne glass, he said,
nodding to Pommer:

“Here’s to her and her simpleton!”

He spoke from experience.



CHAPTER IV

THE CASE OF SERGEANT SCHMITZ


Late in the forenoon of a raw day in autumn Vice-Sergeant-Major Roth
was seated in his comfortably heated room, and near him Sergeant
Schmitz. Each was enjoying a cup of coffee.

The quarters occupied by Roth were situated on the second story of the
regimental barracks, and made at first sight the impression of
elegance and almost wealth, precisely as though the occupant were a
member of the upper ten thousand.[8] It required a closer examination
to become convinced that a good deal of these apparently costly
trappings, as well as the furniture and wall decorations, was not what
it seemed, and that, to produce by all means the effect sought for,
taste and appropriateness had been sacrificed. The wall paper of
arabesques in green and blue, which the government had furnished, did
not harmonize with the hangings or carpets. The paintings on the wall
were cased in heavy gilt or oak frames, so unskilfully placed as to
conceal in spots the very wall itself. Above the scarlet plush sofa
hung a reproduction of Lenbach’s “Prince Bismarck,” and to right and
left of it abominable oil chromos representing horses. Against the
opposite wall stood a piano in stained oak, showing glittering
silver-plated candelabra. Neither Roth himself nor his worthy better
half, formerly saleswoman in a shop, possessed the slightest knowledge
of the art of manipulating such an instrument. But there was a story
connected with this showy piece of furniture--a story that even now,
years after the events themselves occurred, brought tears of rage to
the eyes of the “Vice.” To the young corporal of his own squadron who
on Sunday afternoons strummed on the piano, he used to say in pathetic
accents, that those “one year’s volunteers”[9] had treated him most
outrageously; and from his own point of view he was probably right.

    [8] A vice-sergeant-major in the German cavalry receives in
    legitimate pay and emoluments and rations, if married, about
    one dollar per day. But it is notorious that peculations,
    hush money, and bribes from privates often swell his income
    to ten times that amount.--TR.

    [9] “One year’s volunteers” are those young soldiers in the
    German army who, by reason of superior education and because
    they pay for their own uniforms and accoutrements, serve but
    one year in the active army. They belong, of course, mostly
    to the well-to-do classes, and generally are promoted to the
    rank of officers in the reserves.--TR.

During the first year of their married life the “Frau
Vice-Sergeant-Major,” full of a sense of her new dignity, had
painfully felt the lack of an “upright” or, better still, a “grand,”
inasmuch as she regarded such an instrument as an irrefutable evidence
of belonging to the higher walks of life. She asserted, besides, that
in her girlhood she had received instruction on the piano,--an
assertion which nobody was able to dispute because that period lay
about a generation back. She admitted that she had forgotten whatever
of piano playing she might ever have known; but she felt quite sure
that a piano in her parlor would restore the lost nimbus, and
then--perhaps the most potent reason of all--the wife of her husband’s
“colleague” in the second squadron owned a piano, and had taken great
care to let her know the fact soon after she had become Frau Roth.

Roth himself, probably under the influence of his partner’s urgings,
had frequently and with due emphasis spoken to that year’s crop of
“one year’s men” about the great musical talents of his wife, now,
alas! lying fallow for want of a piano of her own, and he had coupled
these remarks with plaints that the smallness of his resources
prevented the purchase of such an instrument. These remarks, coming
from one who had it virtually in his power to obtain for each one of
the “one year’s men” promotion after the fall manœuvres, had at last
borne fruit. One day the aforesaid stained oak piano had been unloaded
at Roth’s door, accompanied by a round-robin from the volunteers
themselves, in which they waxed duly enthusiastic over his wife’s
imaginary musical proficiency. Of course, the supposed gift had been
accepted, and of course every one of the supposed donors was advanced
in rank the following autumn, due to Roth’s brilliant testimonials of
their prowess and exceptional fitness for a higher grade.

Roth never saw these “one year’s men” again, but about a week after
their departure from the regiment a cart stopped before his door, and
the driver said he had come to take the piano back to the factory, the
term of pre-paid hire having expired. Decidedly a dirty trick on the
part of these young fellows, all the more so as Frau Roth had by this
time bragged so much about her piano to every one of her female
friends and neighbors, to whom she had represented it as a belated
wedding gift from a far-away uncle! The couple agreed it would never
do to return the instrument to the makers, and thus it was that the
Roths were still paying for this piano in monthly instalments, one
“gold fox”[10] each time, a number of years afterwards, with quite a
long time yet to run. No reasonable person will blame Vice-Sergeant-Major
Roth for the aforementioned tears of rage.

    [10] “Gold fox,” a slang term for the German twenty-mark gold
    pieces.--TR.

Hanging above the piano, one could admire a huge steel engraving of
Vernet’s “Funeral Banquet,” also in an expensive frame (the gift of a
parting young soldier, son of a wealthy farmer); while antlers,
Japanese fans, a peacock’s tail, etc., helped to produce a somewhat
incongruous _ensemble_. There was a pretty mahogany stand, on the
various shelves of which stood a large china punch-bowl, six green
Rhine-wine glasses (both gifts from other “grateful” recruits). There
was also a solid oak writing-table, on one corner of which Frau Roth
had stood the cages for her canary birds, just then in the interesting
stage of breeding, and therefore voiceless. A huge portrait of the
Kaiser, with two crossed sabres and a pair of pistols under it, and a
cuckoo clock were exhibited on the wall close by. There was also a big
flower table, but on near view it was seen that its fine roses and
tulips had not originated in a hothouse, but under the scissors of an
artist in tissue paper.

On the floor were to be seen two white goat-skins and three small mats
of domestic make, as well as a genuine Kelim (gift from “one year’s
men”), and a thick plush table-cover, as well as plush draperies,
helped to make an impression which, combined as it was of so many
ill-fitting details, was far from the one intended.

Glancing at the lowering sky through the east windows of this room,
big, shapeless clouds of gray could be observed slowly driving along;
it looked, in fact, like a cheerless and stormy ocean, monotonous in
its uniform tint. Now and then showers of cold hail or rain tore away
from this chaos, and, pitched hither and thither by howling winds,
swept across the town or over the desolate fields.

When the rain thus whipped the window-panes and the boisterous west
wind whistled and roared in the stove-pipe, it was, by very contrast,
all the more comfortable in this warm, cosy room, where one felt like
humanely pitying the poor comrades, now far out on the parade field,
drilling for dear life in the open.

This was the time of year when the regiment ordered into a shorter or
longer term of renewed active service its reserve men, who were then
temporarily quartered in the sheds and loosely constructed pavilions
erected behind the barracks proper. At such a time and in such weather
it was by no means pleasant to be out on the drill grounds for the
space of a whole afternoon, and then, returning, to find one’s
quarters cold, dripping with rain; and to stand shivering in clothes
and boots thoroughly soaked. Those corporals and sergeants detailed
for the instruction of recruits under the roof of the big barracks
hall, and those told off for stable or other indoor service, were well
off in comparison.

For the non-commissioned officers generally, however, and especially
for Roth, there was profit connected with the annual recall of the
reserves; for it meant increased pay, and it meant a great increase in
pickings of every kind. Roth had been detailed as sergeant-major for
the first reserve squadron, and he was glad of it. There were among
these reserves a number of men he knew to be “flush” of money, and
whom he understood how to handle. There were also some “one year’s
men,” who, nearly all of them, had open hands and well-filled pockets.
By shutting an eye, or maybe both sometimes, thus easing the severe
discipline for them, he was sure, at the end of their brief term of
supplementary service, to have the larger portion of their “gold
foxes” in his own pocket. Roth was, therefore, with such prospects
before him, in the best of spirits. He was likewise in a confidential
mood.

Schmitz was “foddermaster” of the fourth squadron and detailed to the
reserve squadron for the time being. He was a very competent man.
Whoever wished to convince himself of that needed but to visit the
horses belonging to his squadron. He would have seen them with silky
coat, round in limb, and full of dash and life, standing above their
fetlocks in the clean, shining straw. His stable, too, was always a
model of neatness and cleanliness. Even the walls were always well
whitewashed and the grated windows shining. Sergeant Schmitz, in fact,
made a labor of love of his duties.

When he went down the main aisle of his big stable, and then turned
and walked between the rows of his smooth-coated darlings, it was
amusing to see these animals, all of them at once recognizing his
step, his voice, his touch; how they turned their heads around,
whinnying and glancing affectionately at him if he called to one or
the other of his favorites.

There was, for instance, Clairette, a charming little roan, which
followed him like a dog, and with her nostrils forever sniffed at his
pockets for sugar, and then rose on her hind legs or lifted her left
foreleg beggar-fashion. There was the “Ahnfrau,” a dainty little
horse, though old as the hills, with a coat black as sloes, and which
because of long faithful service and because of the shrewd wisdom that
comes with age, was in favor with the whole regiment and was often fed
some sweet morsel. The special pride of the foddermaster, however, was
the “twelve Chinamen.” They had been bought in China, had then gone
through the campaign against the Boxers, had had their share in the
capture of Peking, and had then, at the close of the Far Asiatic War,
been enrolled in the regiment. They were fine, powerful horses, with
shining coats and strong bones, even if some of them did not reach the
height of “Peiho,” “Woo,” and “Kwangsue,” but were, strictly speaking,
but ponies. Each one of the horses had its special claim on the
affections of this man who now sat chatting with his “Vice” at the
table.

Just then Frau Roth entered, carrying a tray neatly covered with a
snowy napkin, on which stood a bottle of fragrant Moselle wine, three
glasses, and a narrow box of cigars.

“The devil! You’re living high, Roth! I wish I had such easy times
myself. What’s up?” said Schmitz, in amazement.

“I have my birthday anniversary but once a year,” remarked Roth,
sententiously, “and on such occasions it’s worth while spending
something.”

His wife poured the wine into the green “Römer,”[11] and each of the
three raised a glass of wine whose delicious, flower-like perfume and
whose straw-yellow color told them that this noble grape-juice had
been distilled by the sun on one of the favored hills rising steeply
along the banks of the upper Moselle. Then they cried, “Prosit” and
clinked, so that the fine glass emitted a bell-like sound. Then they
sipped with the air of connoisseurs. The little scene was an
unconscious imitation of similar ones they had often noticed the
officers of the garrison enact with a certain solemnity. In
wine-growing countries they enshroud with a time-honored ceremonial
the ceremony of drinking wine of quality.

    [11] “Römer,” the name of prettily shaped glasses, usually of
    amber or emerald hue, in which Rhine and Moselle wines are
    served.--TR.

The two men lit their cigars, each bearing the well-known narrow band
of a famous importing firm, and next they refilled their glasses. They
had another hour until the time for the evening stable service should
come, and there was nothing to do meanwhile, for First Lieutenant
Specht, temporarily in command of the reserve squadron, never appeared
during the afternoon service. Hence, there would be no disturbance.

“Will you be off on leave at Christmas?” asked Roth of his friend.

“Don’t know yet,” Schmitz replied, with a shrug of his shoulders. “I
should like to, for I haven’t been outside this dirty hole of a town
for two years; but it is hardly worth my while to undertake such a
long trip for the few days, for I don’t suppose I should get more than
a week off, and it takes me forty-eight hours to reach my home--it’s
at the other end of the world, you know--and that much to return. So I
should have but a couple of days to myself, after all my trouble and
expense.”

“What is the fare?” asked Roth.

“About thirty marks, and I haven’t that much to spare.”

Roth laughed disdainfully.

“Such a trifle only! Ho ho ho!”

“Well, you can laugh, of course,” retorted Schmitz, good-naturedly.
“It wouldn’t mean anything to you. But suppose you haven’t got that
much money, what then?”

“I’ll lend you that trifle,” said the “Vice,” pompously.

“Say, you must have been winning in the lottery, old friend! You’re
spending money like water for some time past. Every short while you’re
making a run into town; you’re smoking genuine Havanas; and you’re
even ready to lend money! At the very least you must have come into an
inheritance.”

“No, mine is not dead men’s money,” Roth sneered. “All it takes is to
be shrewd and to gather up all the money that crosses your path.”

“I suppose you’ve slain a rich Jew!”[12]

    [12] “Slain a rich Jew,” a German phrase for “suddenly
    acquired wealth.”--TR.

“Not precisely,” said Roth, mysteriously.

“Well, I don’t catch your meaning,” put in the other.

Roth winked at his wife and then at Schmitz, to show that she was not
to hear his confidences; but when she rose immediately after, to fetch
another bottle of wine, he said in whispers:

“I’ll tell you, if you want to know; but--” he put his index finger
significantly to his mouth--“Mum’s the word!”

“Oh, of course; don’t be afraid. I never betray my pals!”

“Well, then, I will tell you. This is the second time I am in command
of the reserves. Last time we had a whole lot of one year’s volunteers
amongst them, mostly well-to-do farmer boys. You remember ‘Fatty’
Kramer, that swine, and Rossbach, whose father at home has twelve
horses in the stable, and Scheller, the fellow who was always running
after the girls, and that whole crowd? Fellows of that sort, you see,
don’t know what to do with their money, and I wouldn’t be such an ass
as to give them their pay, their uniform allowance, and so on; they
don’t care about those measly few coins. Scheller, besides, gave me a
chance to make some money outside of that. The last night before he
had finished his two years, I happened to inspect his quarters, it
being considerably past taps. And what do I see but this very fellow,
Scheller, together with--well, you know--and as I was just about to
raise the deuce, he whispers in my ear: ‘Don’t say anything, please!’
Well, then, I kept my mouth shut, and at noon the following day there
was a ‘blue rag’[13] in my overcoat pocket.”

    [13] “Blue rag,” German slang term for bank notes of large
    amount.--TR.

“The deuce you say! What luck! But supposing these fellows afterwards
give you away, especially if they don’t get their promotions?”

“Oh, they won’t say anything; they are glad enough if they can stay
away from the army. As to promotions, most of them were not the kind
to think about such a thing.”

“Well, I in your place should be afraid there might be trouble some
time, and then think what a rumpus there would be!”

“Leave me alone for that. Just now there are a couple more of these
rich, stupid fellows; there is the son of a butcher in Brunswick whose
father must be worth a million or so, and the others, too, have lots
of money to burn. What do you suppose I’ll make out of them before
they leave the squadron? They are worth at least a couple of hundred
apiece to me. Well, _Prosit!_” They clinked glasses.

The glasses rang out harmoniously, and the next instant they were
emptied of the last drops.

“How do you like this stuff? Costs six marks the bottle! Of course,
_I_ didn’t pay for it,”--with another wink.

“Horribly expensive; where did you get it?”

“Last year, you remember, that one year’s volunteer, Hoch? When he
wanted to become sergeant, I did my best for him with the Chief, and
so he got the chevrons. And he was not ungrateful. A whole box of
wine--two dozen of these bottles. Pretty decent, wasn’t it?”

“You’re lucky, sure enough!”

“You see, my friend, how these things must be done. Always practical:
that’s my motto. Last year, for instance, I had charge of the mess
provisions. The butcher put in a good many bones now and then, and I
don’t think that he ever gave over-weight. Naturally, I was after
him, and the result was a ‘blue rag’ every week from him, and my
family meat didn’t cost me a red, either.”

Roth broke into a hearty laughter. He slapped his pocket jocularly,
and the jingling sound of gold and silver met their ears. Then he
gulped down another glassful of the delicious wine.

“Why don’t you drink, Schmitz? I suppose you are full.”

“As to that, no; that takes longer. _Prosit!_”

In this style the conversation proceeded, and when they had emptied
their third bottle it was very evident that they had drunk about as
much as was good for them. Their eyes had assumed a glassy stare, and
their faces were scarlet. Moreover, their speech was loud and
blustering, and Roth, particularly, was unable longer to talk
coherently, except with difficulty.

Suddenly he looked at the clock. “Six, by thunder. Time to look after
the stables!”

“Yes, let’s go,” said Schmitz; “we must get to the stables, the beasts
are hungry!”

They arose reeling. Roth girded his loins with his sabre, and both of
them went clattering down the stone stairs of the barracks. The sabre
struck the steps all along, as Roth descended heavily, and there was a
terrific noise.

Several soldiers stuck out their heads as the two went along; and when
they noticed their intoxicated superiors they quickly retreated into
their own rooms, saying: “They surely have enough! If one of us went
about in that way we’d be ripe for a pretty long term in the cooler.”

At the turn of the corridor Dietrich, a good-service man belonging to
the fourth squadron, stepped up to Roth and said: “I’d like to ask the
Herr ‘Vice’ for some coal for Room X. My men have been out in the rain
foraging, and all of us are wet to the skin. It is very cold upstairs,
and unless we can heat the stove our clothes will not dry till
to-morrow.”

“What! Coal? Go to the quartermaster, you loafers; I haven’t any coal
for you!” spluttered Roth with a heavy tongue.

“The quartermaster has gone to town, and the Herr ‘Vice’ keeps the
keys to the cellar in such cases!”

“Get out of my way, you ---- fool! You don’t need coal every time a
few drops of rain fall. Lie down in bed, you pack of swine, if you are
cold, and leave me alone with your impudent complaints.”

Dietrich stood for a moment in doubt, not knowing whether it would be
safe to make another rejoinder. But he saw plainly that the “Vice” was
in an irresponsible condition, and so silently, but with rage in his
heart, he turned on his heels so that the spurs jingled, and went back
to his men.

In the stables hardly anybody remained, the men having attended to
their duties and retired. Only the stable guard was to be seen.

For stable guards men are taken, by preference, whose health has
suffered in the hard service at this inclement season. One of them had
incipient consumption, the regimental surgeon having noticed the man’s
condition only a week after his joining the squadron, and now the
colonel thought it was not worth while discharging the man. The second
one of these reserves had, since his civilian life, nursed himself so
well as to have acquired a regular paunch, so that the quartermaster
had been unable to fit him with any of the uniforms, and the man, put
into a soiled canvas suit, had been permanently assigned to stable
duty. The third of this interesting trio was something of an idiot,
hailing from the Polish districts. He grinned like a maniac, and he
was entirely unfit for drill or any other kind of service that
required even the faintest degree of intelligence; but, having been
laborer with a Polish peasant, he knew how to handle horses and to
clean the stable. He addressed, in his broken German, everybody,
including the officers, as “Thou,” and doffed his cap in token of
military salute.

The foddermaster felt frightened when he became aware that feeding
time was already considerably past, for he regarded the horses under
his care with great affection. He therefore called up the stable
guards and hurried them with a “Quick, now, you lazybones!” The fodder
wagon was loaded with oats and chopped straw and then pushed into the
main aisle of the stable. The creaking of this vehicle was for the
horses the most joyful music every day. As soon as the sound struck
their ears they became lively, raised their heads, craned their necks,
and turned around, as far as their halters would permit, to watch the
operation. They evidently had thought themselves forgotten to-night,
and there was a keen edge to their appetites, so that some of them
became a little unruly, kicking, neighing, and nipping at their
neighbors out of sheer sportiveness. “Napoleon,” the ancient stallion,
had been devoured by such an acute sensation of hunger that as soon as
the fat guard aforementioned came near him with the measure he tore it
out of the man’s hands and gave him such a push against his paunch
that the guard dropped the oats and, pressing both hands against the
injured part, ran out into the aisle.

Roth, watching things, saw this incident, and shouted to him:

“Go on, you lazy lubber, pick the stuff up again! Your fat carcass
won’t be damaged by such a little blow!”

The fat individual, however, made no move to obey, but continued to
hold his paunch, while tears of pain stood in his eyes, and his face
assumed a livid hue. Roth strode up to him and began to belabor him
with both fists, showering hard blows on neck and head. Then,
grasping him by the throat, Roth turned the man’s head around and
administered such a well-aimed blow on his nose as to draw blood.
Under this punishment the ungainly soldier rose with difficulty, then
bent down and began to collect the overturned oats. Roth, however, in
his drunken fury gave the man a kick with his heavy boot, sending him
against “Napoleon,” whose hind legs he embraced in an effort to
maintain his equilibrium.

But that was more than “Napoleon” would stand. First he didn’t get his
oats, and then such practical jokes! He struck out with both hoofs,
hitting the poor devil of a guard against some of the most sensitive
portions of his anatomy, and hurling him into the aisle like one dead.

Roth was frightened. Fortunately for him nobody had seen the incident,
for Schmitz, with the other two men, happened just then to be busy at
the other end of the stable. So he merely called the other two reserve
men, and made them carry his unconscious victim to the reserve
quarters close by. The whole business, though, was very disagreeable
to him, for the poor fellow had been hit hard.

When the first lieutenant the next morning asked why the injured man
had been taken to the hospital, Roth answered:

“He was too clumsy in handling the horse,--frightened it, and the
beast naturally struck out. I understand he has got a good-sized hole
in his head.”

“What a beastly fool,” scolded the officer. “By rights the fellow
ought to be put in jail besides, as he will only spoil our horses.”
But that was the next morning. On the evening in question, as soon as
the accident had happened, Roth felt in worse temper than ever. He
looked around for some one on whom to vent his spleen.

He looked in the fodder chest.

“Give the rest to ‘Zeus’; he hasn’t got quite enough, and he looks as
lean as a goat,” he said to Schmitz.

“No,” Schmitz retorted; “he won’t get any more. He has got
enough--more than is good for him,--and this morning he struck out and
hit a man. The horses are getting crazy, standing all the time in the
stable and munching their oats.”

“Oh, give it to him anyway; he can stand it!”

“But why? It’s nonsense!”

Roth had a new access of fury; nothing enraged him as much as to be
contradicted.

“Give him the rest, I say!” he said roughly to Schmitz.

But Schmitz shut the lid of the chest and answered shortly:

“I’m glad when I can save some fodder!” And with that he pushed away
the cart.

Roth, quite beside himself, shouted:

“Sergeant Schmitz, you will not carry out my orders? I shall report
you.”

In saying which he left the foddermaster in a huff, went with
uncertain steps and with black mien through the stable to his own
quarters, drank a big glassful of raw spirits “to quiet his nerves,”
and then threw himself full-clad on the bed.

The two guards in the stable, who had observed these occurrences with
considerable interest, stuck another handful of hay in front of each
horse, and then lay down on the straw in the corner of the stable to
sleep. Sergeant Schmitz, however, went to his room, completely
sobered.

The following noon the orderly transmitted to the reserve squadron of
the regiment a document reading as follows:

     REPORT

     On the occasion of the stable service last night
     Vice-Sergeant-Major Roth gave to Foddermaster Sergeant
     Schmitz a formal order, which the latter did not carry out.
     When the said Vice-Sergeant-Major Roth emphatically repeated
     the order, the aforementioned Schmitz refused once more to
     comply therewith. This happened in the presence of the
     stable guards, and it is charged by the aforesaid Roth that
     Sergeant Schmitz was at the time in an intoxicated
     condition.

                               SPECHT,

     _First Lieutenant and Squadron Chief
     of the 2d Reserve Squadron._


The foddermaster happened to be seated at his noon meal, when the
sergeant-major stepped up, announced his arrest to him, and took him
to the lock-up. There he was to remain until sentence should be
pronounced in his case, for his offence had been officially designated
as “Peremptory refusal of obedience in the presence of men
assembled.” As such “men assembled” the two guards of the stable were
regarded in the eyes of the law.

The incident was reported from mouth to mouth throughout the regiment,
and by far the greater majority were indignant at Roth’s action. Even
the officers themselves declared unanimously that such a superior as
Roth ought to be got rid of.

But Roth thought he had done something heroic, and seemed great in his
own eyes. When off duty he declared he liked comradeship, and was ever
ready for a good joke, not taking offence at anything. But when on
duty, why, the devil, they should see that he was not to be trifled
with. Every species of intimacy or friendship was at an end when on
duty. Then it was: I order, and you have to obey, else I’ll break your
neck!

And Sergeant Schmitz all this time was in his gloomy, cold cell.
Lifeless and broken in courage, he was staring at the rough stone
flagging through the long hours of the day. He thought he was
dreaming, and could not or would not believe that he was behind lock
and key because of a military offence. Why, he had nine long years of
service behind him, in which he had conducted himself blamelessly,
never having been punished for a day.

Slowly, indeed, the seriousness of the situation dawned on him, and
with this consciousness grew up a violent hatred of the man whom he
had deemed his friend, and who now, under the influence of alcoholic
rage was about to destroy the fruits of all his life and those he had
counted to garner in the future. But he would show the regiment, once
he was a free man again, what a low character the fellow really had,
and how behind his hypocritical and insinuating manners were concealed
systematic dishonesty and fraudulent practices. Nobody should be
deceived by him again. He, Schmitz, would take care of that.

That he was to be court-martialed seemed to be beyond question. And as
a matter of fact he was charged, as he knew, with “peremptory refusal
to obey”; but the trial must certainly show that the peculiar
circumstances of his offence were of such a character as to deprive it
of all seriousness, and that really there had been but an exchange of
words which, although an official character might be attributed to it,
could not possibly be viewed with great severity when once all the
facts had been established. He counted, of course, among these facts
his intimate intercourse with Roth; but this point would have to be
clearly and skilfully brought out at the trial, for on that hinged the
issue.

Sergeant Schmitz prayed, therefore, formally, in a petition to the
regiment, for legal counsel, and at the same time for permission to
enter with such counsel into oral and written communication.

He was amazed when informed a few days later that legal counsel could
be provided by military courts only in those cases where the defendant
was accused of a crime. On the other hand, the communication said,
there was no objection to his retaining a suitable lawyer, but of
course at his own expense.

But where get the money for such a lawyer? Schmitz’s slender means and
those of his parents at home were by no means sufficient for the
purpose, and yet he felt that he had no chance in his defence if he
were to face the judges of the military court, and Roth himself,
whose persuasive powers of language he knew so well. He would be
unable, with his very insufficient command of language, to enlighten
the court in an impressive manner as to intimate details. Somehow,
therefore, the money must be raised.

After three weeks of preliminary confinement, the term was at last
fixed at which the trial was to take place. Schmitz felt that he could
await its issue with a clear conscience. Even his counsel had told him
that an unfavorable end was not to be expected, as soon as the judges
had been made acquainted with the circumstances preceding the actual
trifling occurrence in the stable. Schmitz expected, therefore, that
the term at which he was to be tried would also be the day of
regaining his liberty; for the last few weeks, what with suffering
from hardships, from the insufficient and coarse jail diet, and from
worry, had been terrible ones indeed for him.

Even the formal indictment drawn up against him, of which a copy had
been sent him, could not repress his hopes. He knew that in such a
document everything concerning him and his offence was naturally
represented in the darkest colors, so as to leave the judge-advocate
sufficient grounds on which to bring the proceedings against him to
the point of actual trial.

The document read:

     “Proceedings have been opened against Sergeant Ferdinand
     Julius Schmitz, on motion to that effect, because of an
     offence against Paragraph 94 of the Military Criminal Code.

     “Although the defendant maintains that he has been on
     particularly friendly terms with Vice-Sergeant-Major Roth,
     that would in no way justify him in disobeying an order
     issued while in the performance of duty. On the contrary,
     his refusal to obey two peremptory and emphatic orders,
     given in the presence of the stable guard, and therefore
     before men assembled, was a most glaring instance of
     insubordination.

     “The excuse of defendant, that he was in an excited
     condition by reason of indulgence in alcoholic liquors, in
     nowise exculpates him. The circumstance that his offence has
     been committed while intoxicated during the performance of
     his duty, is rather an additional reason for increasing the
     measure of his punishment.

     “Defendant will be tried by court-martial.”

That sounded indeed very dangerous, just as if he were a criminal of
the deepest dye,--he,  who for nine years had conducted himself
blamelessly. He was almost tempted to laugh at this accusation, which
seemed to him so strongly tinctured with prejudice.

On October 20th, at noon precisely, the trial began.

The judges had come to town from the seat of the command of the army
corps. With faces severe and forbidding, they sat at a long table,--a
major, a captain, a first lieutenant, a judge-advocate to conduct the
proceedings according to the statutes, and a second one to conduct the
prosecution.

After Schmitz had given an intelligent account of the facts, Roth was
called as witness. He represented the affair in the most glaring
colors, denied all friendship with the defendant, and likewise denied
in the strongest language that he also had been intoxicated, as
Schmitz had stated. By hook or crook he had gained over as witnesses
for his sober condition on that evening the invalid afflicted with
lung trouble, and likewise the Pole. The latter, because of the
semi-idiotic state of his mind, and because of his insufficient
knowledge of German, he had instructed to simply nod his head to all
the questions asked him. As luck would have it, it so happened that
the questions put to this witness were of a kind to which his mute
nods were the answers most unfavorable to the defendant. The wonder
was, however, that the court made no objection to such testimony.
Finally the “Vice” swore, with a voice shaken by no tremor, to the
truth of his deposition.

This, of course, was an unexpected turn in the affair. Schmitz had not
expected, and he had not forearmed himself against such a tissue of
lies. His hopes sank considerably when he noticed that the major, as
chairman of the commission, was shaking his head in grave disapproval
on hearing the unfavorable testimony.

Next followed the address of the prosecuting judge-advocate, which
conformed in almost every detail to the substance of the act of
accusation.

Then Schmitz’s counsel arose. In eloquent words he described the event
as it had actually occurred, weighed the peculiar circumstances, and
pointed with great emphasis to the former intimacy of accuser and
defendant,--an intimacy the existence of which had been corroborated
by several witnesses who had deposed during the preliminary stage of
the case. Lastly, he made as much as he could out of the fact that the
whole occurrence had been an outgrowth of a friendly birthday
celebration. In consideration of all these things, and also because of
the irreproachable conduct of the defendant for so many years of
active service, he moved for his acquittal.

The court-martial then retired for deliberation, and a long time
elapsed before its members, wearing a severe aspect, reappeared in the
session chamber.

Schmitz was in a dazed condition when he heard the sentence: two
months of jail!

He saw his life destroyed. In vain had been the long years which he
had given, at the sacrifice of his best strength, to his country. His
dream of a future free from care, and of an appointment, after another
three years of service, to a municipal office of an humble kind in his
native town, had been shattered at one blow. What would his parents
say, his sisters and brothers, and what would become of the girl to
whom he had been engaged for several years past?

A fierce rage seized him, and he could have throttled on the spot the
man who by perjury, out of vindictiveness and for selfish reasons, had
marred his existence forever. The blood rushed to his head as he saw
this same man striding past him now, a sneer on his lips, in haughty
indifference. Nay, worse, he heard the commander of the regiment say
to this dishonorable scoundrel:

“That is right, Roth. Unpitying in the service is what I want my
non-commissioned officers to be.”

Schmitz was taken to a fortress on October 21st, where many hours of
mental torture and many days of hard, grinding labor of the lowest
kind awaited him.

Thus gradually approached Christmas time. The wide yard of the
barracks was covered with snow. All lay desolate, lifeless, and grim
in the severe cold which had supervened during the last days.

A large part of the regiment had been granted holiday leave, and every
one of the men did his utmost while on duty, in order not to forfeit
at the last moment the joys of home and friendship which awaited him.

Almost every evening the members of the corps of officers rode to the
neighboring city, there to make Christmas purchases; for only one of
them intended to go home for the holidays, and the others were
preparing a little celebration at the Casino for which mutual gifts
were being chosen.

Borgert and Leimann both returned from their divers trips, heavily
laden with packages. They bought everything that pleased them. It
might be that at some future time they would somehow have the money to
pay for it all. Meanwhile every tradesman continued to give them
unlimited credit.

After making their purchases, the officers usually met in a certain
restaurant, where they broke the necks of a few bottles of good wine.
And often it would happen that they boarded the midnight train, being
in a decidedly animated mood, returning to their garrison.

One night Lieutenant Müller, the regimental adjutant, found an
official telegram on his reaching home, and was obliged, despite the
late hour, to go to the chief clerk of the regiment, in order to talk
over its contents.

There had been a heavy fall of snow, and the keen east wind drove the
snowflakes in a wild dance through the cold air. It was all one could
do to recognize the path.

Müller, who did not like being disturbed at such a late hour,
continued grumbling to himself all the way to the barracks. Whenever
he had taken more than was good for him he was in a quarrelsome mood,
and in such a case he usually made trouble. His comrades claimed that
he was suffering from megalomania.

Through the thick snow Müller saw the illuminated windows of the guard
house, and inside the small detachment of men were peacefully
slumbering.

The officer _du jour_ had already visited them, and the men had now
made themselves comfortable, discarding their sabres and helmets,
contrary to the regulations, and, dozing in their chairs, had covered
themselves with warm blankets.

Private Röse had mounted guard outside. He stood, shivering in the
cold air, holding his sabre in his fist, barely able to maintain his
martial attitude without freezing on the spot.

His thoughts dwelt in his far-away home, with his parents and
brothers, whom he expected to meet again at Christmas, after a long
term of separation. His people were well-to-do farmers, and his
affection for the horses, cows, and plump pigs under his father’s roof
was as sincere as that for the bipeds. He pictured to himself all
these pets, and was speculating as to what he was to do in the shape
of amusement during the holidays, when he was suddenly scared by the
shout:

“Guard!”

Röse pulled himself together and quickly glanced all around him in the
gloom; but he was unable to discover the owner of the voice. Another
similar shout reached him, and then at last he saw dimly in the
driving snowflakes a figure approaching him.

“Why don’t you present arms, you swine?” bawled the regimental
adjutant.

“I humbly beg the Herr Lieutenant’s pardon; but I did not see him
coming in the snowstorm.”

“Shut your mouth, you lying beast; you’ve been sleeping. I have been
waiting an eternity for your salute; but I will show you, you hog,
what punishment awaits a fellow of your stripe!”

With that he passed the sentinel, and the latter was almost paralyzed
with fear. Arrived at the regimental headquarters, Müller made the
following report:

     “The sentinel keeping guard between twelve and two o’clock
     this night I found asleep during an inspection which I made.
     He answered my call only after a considerable time. I must
     declare in advance that the man, in case he should urge his
     inability to recognize me in the dark, is stating what is
     not true, since I noticed particularly that he was asleep.”

This report he placed on the desk of the commander of the regiment.
Then he aroused the regimental chief clerk from a sound sleep in the
adjoining room, kept that poor fellow shivering in his night garments
in the corridor for about ten minutes, and then went home. Having
discharged what he considered a grave duty, he was able to sleep the
sleep of the just.

        *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon of December 22d, Sergeant Schmitz returned from jail.

The poor fellow had greatly changed. The black moustache, formerly
twisted and waxed so as to describe an angle in exact imitation of the
Kaiser’s, was drooping, and his face was pale and worn. He looked
shyly at all the privates whom he met in the streets, and when one of
them saluted him, he deemed it a special act of courtesy. He thought
he read in everybody’s eyes:

“This man is a criminal,--a man punished for grave insubordination!”

When he reported himself to the chief of the squadron, the latter
said, with some show of feeling:

“Sorry, my dear Schmitz, that I have to lose you. You were always a
man of whom I felt proud, and who did his duty as few others did. But
the colonel has commanded me to cancel the capitulation agreement[14]
and to dismiss you forthwith. Console yourself with the thought that
you have become the victim of a dirty intrigue. I wish you well, and
if I can be of any service to you, you know where to find me. And so,
farewell!”

    [14] “Capitulation” means an arrangement by which a
    non-commissioned officer agrees to serve the government for a
    certain term of years.--TR.

Schmitz felt the tears spurting from his eyes, as his chief went
towards the stable. His captain was really sorry to lose him. Schmitz
had always been one of the pillars of discipline in the squadron, and
now this train of misfortune had removed him and plunged him into
misery. It was a most unfortunate thing.

Schmitz went to the sergeant-major, who gave him his papers and the
fifty marks due him. The sergeant-major, too, felt sorry for him. He
gave him a fervent shake of the hand.

“Have you any further claims on the regiment, Schmitz?” he asked.

“Since the manœuvres last year I’ve been suffering with rheumatism.”

“But you didn’t tell me about that, Schmitz, at the time, and
considerably over a year has elapsed since then.”

“Well, I didn’t report it then because I did not want to disturb the
run of things by my absence. I knew the captain was bothered a good
deal at the time.”

“Yes, yes, that is all very well. I will report your statement at once
to the regiment, but I’m afraid it will be too late. Meanwhile you had
better deliver up all the regimental property.”

So then Schmitz went up to his room, packed all his things, and put
his private belongings in a small trunk. But before doffing his
uniform he went to the neighboring city and purchased for himself a
civilian’s suit, a collar, and a hat. These took about all the money
which had been paid him.

Then he carried everything of the government’s outfit to the
quartermaster, to whom he likewise sold some of the private
regimentals he had bought with his own money. The sabre he kept as a
memento.

And then came the hardest of all,--the farewell from his comrades and
his horses. Every one had a friendly word for him, for he had been a
good comrade and had never been puffed up with his own importance.
Many a mute pressure of the hand told him that they all felt sorry
for him, and that they, as much as he himself, thought the treatment
to which he had been subjected an act of injustice. The privates, too,
pressed up to him to say a word of good-bye. Often he had berated them
soundly, but they all knew him as a decent fellow, and as one who had
never badgered them unnecessarily.

As the noon service drew towards its close, Schmitz went into the
stable. What a pang for him! Never in his life had a thing seemed so
hard to him. All the beasts he loved so well turned and craned their
necks towards him, leaving the savory hay and their oats for a moment
as soon as they heard his voice, and gazing at him with such
intelligence as if they appreciated his woe to the full. The sense of
desolation almost overpowered him.

He had filled his pockets with sugar, and he began with “Clairette,”
feeding the sweet morsels to all his quadruped friends. “Clairette”
lifted her forefoot, begging for one more piece. He laid his head
against the velvety neck of the animal, stroking caressingly the silky
nostrils and around the fine eyes, then kissing her on the white spot
just below. The mare seemed to understand him. She whinnied softly,
and gave him a sad glance of parting. Next came old “Marie.” How much
longer would she be able to stand the service? And thus he visited
them, one by one, in token of farewell. The last one was “Napoleon”;
but even he showed to-day no trace of his accustomed ill temper. He
gave the strange man in civilian clothes a long look of doubt and
forbearance.

A last, lingering glance to his hundred darlings, and then he
painfully suppressed a tearful sob, and climbed up to his late
quarters to get his trunk.

There he met the sergeant-major of his squadron.

“Your invalid claims, Schmitz, have been disallowed. The colonel says
you would have had to make a report at the time. Now it is too late.
Just as I thought. Here is something for you,--the bill of your
attorney, who has asked the regiment to collect the amount due him.
It’s a matter of sixty marks; and if you are unable to pay it he
threatens to seize your property.”

Schmitz had almost forgotten about that.

“Within an hour I shall have the money,” said he, after reflecting a
moment.

Then he went down to the city and entered the store of a watchmaker.
He laid on the counter his watch and chain and asked in a firm voice:

“What will you give me on this? I need money!”

The watchmaker examined both, and then said, with something of a
sneer:

“Twenty marks. That is all I can give you.”

Schmitz calculated silently. He still had thirty-five, and twenty more
made fifty-five. So he needed another five marks. He removed a ring
from his finger, a little gift from his mother.

“What is this worth to you?”

“Ten marks!”

“Good, give it to me!”

Schmitz pocketed silently the two gold pieces, then went to the
barracks, paid the sergeant-major the sixty marks, and took his trunk
away. He was just in time to catch the evening train.

Those who saw this pale, downcast man, with his small trunk, seated
in the car, scarcely supposed that he was until recently a royal
Prussian sergeant, dismissed in disgrace from long service because of
a small offence, without a penny, but with rheumatism in all his
bones, and with his patriotism destroyed, thrust into the street to
seek a new and precarious means of living, after spending his best
strength, his health, and his youth in the service of his country.

On the summit of the hill, whence he could discern the barracks, the
snow glistening on its roof, he cast a last look at the spot where he
had spent so many years. He raised his arms with a threatening
gesture, and a curse escaped his lips.

In the train which carried him off there were numerous soldiers of his
regiment, singing and joking, on their way home for the holidays.

Christmas Eve had come. All the world--thousands, millions--were
happy. They felt the charm of this most beautiful Christian
festival,--a day which moves to softness the hardest hearts. But
Schmitz, an outcast, felt nothing but bitterness and shame. His glance
dwelt on the lighted windows where all these happy people were
celebrating, and he vowed vengeance.

        *       *       *       *       *

Friedrich Röse meanwhile occupied a badly warmed cell, undergoing a
fortnight’s confinement because of his alleged inattention while on
duty as sentinel.

Through the narrow window of his cell he could espy the quarters
occupied by the third squadron, a couple of stories higher, in the
same building; the row of windows was shining with the brilliant
lights of a gigantic Christmas tree, standing in the centre of the
large hall. The sounds of a pathetic Christmas hymn were floating down
to him, as it was intoned by the throats of the men. Shivering with
cold, he sat on the edge of his hard pallet, and a tear rolled down
his cheek. Again his thoughts dwelt with his friends at home, far
away, and wrath filled his soul.

What disillusionment the year had brought him since he had begun his
term as volunteer! His father, once sergeant-major in a regiment of
Guard Cuirassiers, had often described to him a soldier’s life in
vivid colors, and had expressed his hope to see, some day, his boy
himself advanced to the grade of sergeant.

But that prospect was now gone. His punishment brought with it as a
consequence the impossibility of ever rising from the ranks.

His one-time zeal for his calling had changed suddenly to a violent
distaste for everything connected with the service. At one blow the
enthusiastic, ambitious recruit had turned into one of the many
soldiers who serve in the army simply because they are compelled to do
so, and who are longing for the day when they will be able to doff the
uniform forever.

And why all this?

Not because he had knowingly neglected his duty, but because one of
the officers, one of the men whom he had until recently looked up to
as demigods, had in his drunken spleen selected him for a victim. And
that which this officer had maintained in his report had to stand as
an absolute fact, no matter how untrue; and if he or anybody else
should express doubts of its accuracy it would mean a new and
punishable offence.

In answer to the questions asked by the chief of his squadron, Röse
had stated the occurrence quite truthfully, and had assured him
solemnly of his innocence. But the adjutant had replied to this that
the man wanted to exculpate himself by untrue statements. The report
was, therefore, accepted as it read.

Was it to be expected that Müller would admit his own wrong, admit
that he had in his semi-drunkenness misinterpreted the facts, and that
he had been in an unpleasant frame of mind at the time? Of course not.
That would have meant charging himself with an offence. How could he,
the infallible regimental adjutant, own up to an error? No, he was
never mistaken; and what difference did it make, anyway, if this raw
recruit did get a fortnight’s term in the “cooler”?

What difference?

This difference,--that there was now one more of those who proclaim
that the private soldier in the German army is a man forced into a
yoke, the prey of every whim of his superiors, a man exposed to the
bad humor of those above him, one who has to suffer, without a sign of
resistance, undeserved harshness and injustice. Such a man was now
this young recruit.

And what further harm was there in it?

This,--that everybody in the future, when Röse should be asked for his
testimonials, would shrug his shoulders, thinking: “This man cannot be
trustworthy, for he has undergone severe punishment for neglect of
duty as a sentinel, and that is a bad sign!”

Towards nine o’clock in the evening Röse was aroused from his sombre
reflections by a rattling of keys at his door. The key turned in the
lock, and in stepped the officer on duty, making his round, behind him
the guard.

Röse jumped up, assumed a rigid military posture, and reported
himself.

“Private Röse, sentenced to a fortnight’s confinement for neglect of
duty while on guard!”

The officer cast a searching glance into the dark cell, trying to make
out whether he could discover a forbidden object in it beside the
blanket and the water-pitcher, and then he turned to go. But Röse
hesitatingly and in humble tones said:

“Will the Herr Lieutenant permit me to make a respectful request?”

“Ask the guard if you want anything,” answered the officer shortly,
and then descended the stone steps, his sword clanking.

The corporal on guard then turned and went back to Röse’s cell.

“What is it you want?” he asked, with a show of good-nature.

“I should like to know, Herr Corporal, whether a letter from home has
arrived for me, and whether I could not have it!” answered Röse,
shyly.

“Well, my boy,” laughed the corporal, “strictly speaking, that is
something not permitted--first serve your sentence, then you can find
out.”

But as he scanned closely the features of Röse, who was of his own
squadron, and whom he rather liked,--noticing the melancholy face,--he
felt pity for the poor fellow. It was really a hard thing to spend
Christmas in jail for what probably was a mere oversight, or for what,
according to Röse himself, he had not even committed. Therefore he
said pleasantly:

“Well, I will inquire.”

He locked the door, and sent a man to Röse’s quarters with a request
to the corporal there to call on him. When the man came over he asked
him:

“Is there a letter for Röse?”

“A letter? No, but a package has come for him.”

“Let me tell you!” whispered the corporal. “Open the box and bring
something of the contents over here. I feel sorry for the poor devil.”

The other nodded and disappeared, soon to return with a letter that he
had found inside the package together with some dainty eatables. The
corporal took it all and brought it up to Röse, and then he told a man
to carry up a pail of coal to the cell.

In a few minutes the sheet-iron stove was aglow, and sent waves of
warmth into the cold cell. Röse stood in front of it, and by the
flickering light of the flames he slowly perused the letter of his
parents. While he read tears were streaming down his face. Then he hid
away under his pillow the other treasures,--a sausage and a
cake,--wrapped himself into his blanket and lay down to sleep. In his
dreams Röse was standing beneath the Christmas tree, and around him
were his dear ones at home.

The twenty-eighth of December was a day of mourning for the fourth
squadron.

All the men, including those who had just returned from leave, gave
the last escort to a dead comrade. It was Dietrich, the good-service
man, who was carried out to the cemetery.

He had always been of a weakly constitution; but he had been seized by
a violent fever the day when he had returned, overheated, and wet to
the bones from rain, after hard drill on the parade ground, and had
had to spend the evening and the night in a cold room, because Roth
had refused to furnish coal. Two days later the surgeon of the
regiment established the fact that inflammatory rheumatism had
supervened, and this had taken so bad a turn within a short time that
the heart had become affected. On Christmas Day the poor fellow had
died.

His parents had been summoned by telegraph to attend the funeral of
their only son; but sickness in the family and other circumstances
had prevented their coming, and thus the funeral took place without a
single friend or relative being present.

The day afterward the fat reserve man, the one who had been injured by
“Napoleon,” left the hospital. His injuries seemed healed; but the
whole face was horribly disfigured by livid marks left from the
sutures of the surgeon’s needle, and the left eye had been removed by
an operation, since it had been feared that the other eye might also
be lost unless prompt and radical measures were taken.

Maimed and crippled for life, the man returned to his home, discharged
from the army for physical inability. A monthly pension of nine marks
had been “generously” allowed him by the government.

        *       *       *       *       *

Schmitz, the ex-sergeant, on New Year’s Eve sat in a scantily
furnished room.

To earn a living, even if but a very poor one, he had been forced to
take work as a common laborer in a large factory of the neighboring
city. He had engaged board in a tenement house, with the family of a
fellow-workman.

There he sat now, his head buried in his hands. On a plate before him
were the remnants of a frugal supper, and a small lamp with broken
chimney threw a reddish sheen on his immobile figure. Against the
wall, above his bed, were hung his sabre and its scabbard, crosswise.
On a small wooden stool stood a bowl, in which he had performed his
ablutions, and a soiled towel hung from it. The fire in the small
stove had long ago died down, and but a few coals were still
glimmering feebly.

To see the man one would have imagined him asleep; but Schmitz was
very much awake, and in his head wild thoughts were whirling. He was
thinking of times past and gone; and the more his present
circumstances contrasted with former ones, the more grimly rose his
hatred against the man who had brought him to his present plight. He
was planning his revenge, ruminating deeply how best he should punish
the rascal, and how to brand him with a life-long reminder of his
infamous deed.

A while longer he thus sat, brooding darkly; then he rose with clouded
face and stepped to the window. He breathed against the pane covered
with rime, until a small space had been formed through which he could
peer out into the open. He saw the dial opposite on the church
steeple, from which the bells melodiously rang out in full-toned peals
the closing moments of the old year, and proclaiming the advent of a
new one.

Midnight. Schmitz seized his hat, clapped it on, took his heavy cane
into the right hand, blew out the lamp, and cautiously descended the
dark staircase. On the ice-crusted step in front of the housedoor he
lingered a moment, listening to the vibrations of the solemn bells. No
other sound was audible; no human step could be heard--only the
distant rush of air which, like the breath of a gigantic being, told
of the thronged streets of a busy city.

Schmitz shiveringly turned up his coat collar, sank both his hands
into his pockets, and went briskly, the cane under his arm, to the
railway station. There he bought a ticket for his former garrison, but
a few minutes away by rail, and stepped on board the train which had
just rolled in.

Arrived there, he found the small town buried under a thick blanket
of snow. From the barracks row upon row of lighted windows glimmered
like stars from the distance. Every little while snatches of song or
single chords, wafted towards him by the wind, gave sound in the
night. Far away the ringing of church bells could be heard, coming not
only from the steeples of the town itself, but from the villages and
hamlets surrounding it,--a joyful greeting to the new year. From out
of the dramshops and restaurants floated the sounds of loud talking,
laughter, and singing of merry people, celebrating in hot punch the
gladsome hour.

Schmitz went fleet-footed towards the end of the town where the
barracks were situated. But when he came to a restaurant in the
vicinity of the spacious building he made a halt. Cautiously he peered
into the gloom around him, to make sure that nobody was near, and then
he climbed to the top of a wall and looked intently into the lighted
window below.

Sure enough, there sat Roth, a conspicuous figure in a company of
fellow-drinkers; for in this place he habitually spent his evening
hours, frequently far into the night, drinking and playing at cards.

Then carefully and noiselessly he climbed down and strolled on in the
direction of the barracks. He turned into a rural pathway, lined on
both sides by snow-capped hedges, and then stopped at a certain spot.
He knew that Roth would pass him on his way home.

Schmitz had to wait a long while in the nipping air, but his blood
bounded tumultuously through his veins; for his revenge, longed for
with all his heart, was close at hand.

The keen-edged wind drove particles of snow before it and pricked his
heated face like needle-points. The dead leaves of a tall beech-tree
rustled over him, and he felt like a victor. Patiently, triumphantly,
he waited.

Down below, where the pathway opened into the street, he now and then
saw a dark shape reel past and disappear in the night like a shadow,
the soft snow deadening the footfall. These were jolly roysterers,
returning from their carousal.

From the steeple, some distance away, came the metallic voice of a
bell striking the first hour of the new year, and Schmitz reckoned on
the probability that his foe would soon wend his way homeward.

But in this he deceived himself, for it was close unto two o’clock
when the “Vice” at last turned into the lane. Schmitz could not be
mistaken. His sharp eyes, by this time habituated to the dark, clearly
made out the burly figure. He grasped his cane firmly in his hand, and
his heart hammered in his bosom. Nearer and nearer Roth approached,
now but a few steps away, his face almost completely hidden in the
upturned collar of his cloak; but Schmitz saw the cruel, hard eyes,
now dull and fishy from excessive indulgence in New Year’s punch. Roth
was in a good humor, however, whistling to himself and dragging his
sabre at his feet, walking with unsteady gait.

At this moment Schmitz stepped out from beside the hedge, and, his
cane on his shoulder, he planted himself before the other.

Roth was startled, and looked keenly at the man who stopped his
progress. He did not recognize him.

“What is it you want?” He mumbled thickly.

“To settle accounts with you,” was the brief answer. At the sound of
the voice Roth visibly paled. For a moment the two stared at each
other.

“Oh, I see, it is you, old fellow. And what do you want of me?”

“This is what I want!” shouted Schmitz, and with terrific force his
cane came down on Roth’s head. A second blow followed, almost as hard,
which hit him on the cheek, so that the blood rushed out of the wound.
The “Vice,” taken unawares, made no motion to defend himself while
Schmitz rained a shower of strokes on his body. Then at last Roth,
wide awake now, felt for his sabre, partly drawing it from its
scabbard; but Schmitz gave him no chance to use it. Like a famished
wolf he seized his enemy by the throat, throttling him, and, dropping
his cane, with his clenched fist he dealt him several fearful blows on
forehead and mouth, winding up with a tattoo that sounded like the
beating of a drum on the man’s skull. A violent push made Roth stumble
and fall to his knees.

“So, now, you miserable cur, I have paid my debt to you!” and saying
which, he kicked his fallen foe. Then he turned on his heels and said,
as a parting shot:

“Now go and report me again, you swine; but if you do I shall have
another reckoning with you, and tell about some of your thieving!”

The former “foddermaster” felt that he had meted out justice, and he
was fully prepared to take the consequences, no matter what they might
be. Revenge is a sweet morsel.

Roth had to spend several weeks in the hospital, until he had
recovered from his injuries. It was the hardest drubbing he had ever
received in his life. Vanity forbade him to give a true version of the
assault. He reported that he had been attacked by several drunken
laborers, and claimed to have used his sabre with effect on one of
them; but nobody believed his tale, for no wounded laborer was heard
of in the little town, and physicians there and in the vicinity were
equally ignorant of such a case. It was, therefore, generally assumed
that Roth had met with his deserts at the hands of the ex-sergeant,
and nobody pitied him.



CHAPTER V

OFFICERS AT A MASQUERADE


During the last days of January the Casino was in an uproar. A number
of mechanics, painters, and florists were busy transforming the rooms
and corridors, even the veranda, with its adjoining conservatory, into
a suite of daintily decorated festal halls. Numerous booths and tents
were being erected, and all other preparations were made worthily to
receive Prince Carnival, whose coming was timed for the first week in
February.

Hundreds of potted plants and orange and laurel trees from the
conservatory gave a gay and summer-like appearance to the ballroom.
Placards painted and inscribed in suitable manner hung from the walls.
In the booths and tents the usual array of eatables and “wet goods” of
every description could be seen, to be sold by pretty womenfolk. One
stage had been fitted up for variety performances, while on another a
circus was to be seen, in which a number of private soldiers,
disguised as wild beasts, were to play leading parts under the eyes
and whip of the trainer--none other than Captain Kahle. These men had
been drilled for the purpose throughout the whole month.

There was also a stretch of natural greensward, laid down by the
Casino gardener. This was to produce the illusion of a small park.
Benches placed on it invited the guests to rest and to enjoy the music
of a band upon a suitable stand, while Pilsen beer was to be handed to
the audience by waiters. In an adjoining room mock marriages were to
be performed, the fee to the officiating justice of the peace to
consist in the purchase of a bottle of champagne. And, to complete the
scene, arrangements had also been made to obtain a quick decree of
divorce (by the same official) for all those couples who deemed
themselves mismated after a short experience of an hour or so.

The large dining-room represented picnic grounds. On a platform
wreathed in green there was room for an orchestra, and the trumpeters
of the regiment had been ransacking the whole town for weeks in order
to find ragged costumes and discarded garments of every kind, clad in
which they were to represent village musicians.

Even photographers were there, to ply their trade in several tents,
the outside of which showed a collection of ludicrous portraits and
prints of various kinds. The purpose of this stratagem was, of course,
to attract customers.

Naturally all these festivities, planned for weeks, formed the main
topic of conversation with the members of the club, and the whole
garrison was for the time being turned topsy-turvy. Every one intended
to appear in as original and amusing a guise as possible, and there
was much mutual consulting and guessing as to which particular rôle
was to be assumed by each person.

Thus the opening night of the fête drew near. During the afternoon a
crowd of hairdressers moved into the Casino, to assist members of the
club in getting themselves up properly. The regimental tailor, with
his aides, went from one officer’s house to another, making
alterations or needed repairs on the uniforms and costumes to be
donned.

At seven in the evening the orderlies, in the black garments of
waiters, were expecting the guests and members, and half an hour later
these began to arrive in crowds.

It was a multi-colored, vivid picture, as all these persons, many of
them good-looking and picturesquely attired, in all sorts of
disguises, began to move in the brilliantly lighted halls, while the
several bands, placed at coigns of vantage, struck up lively and
inspiring airs. Dancing began at once, and champagne flowed in
streams. At a garden table under an orange tree one could see a
powerfully limbed peasant, his hawthorn stick between his knees,
devouring a plateful of caviare, while his neighbor, a circus clown,
was dissecting a lobster.

The most ludicrous figure, however, was Colonel von Kronau in his
Polish farmer’s costume, wearing a fur cap on his head, and a tippet
around his neck. If he had appeared in this disguise at the hog market
in a Pomeranian town, every purchaser would have supposed him to be
the “genuine article,” namely, a breeder of porkers. And it was quite
evident that he did not have to take much pains correctly to imitate
the manners and gestures of the person he represented.

The champagne was paid for out of a common fund specially raised by
all the members of the Casino. It was, therefore, not astonishing that
the Herr Colonel was, after the lapse of one brief hour, deep in his
cups.

His adjutant had not done well to disguise himself as a Polish Jew,
for in that way he looked indeed too much his part.

Frau König was charming as a chambermaid, and her blue eyes radiated
the pleasure she felt. As a young gamekeeper, Lieutenant Bleibtreu
paid assiduous court to the aforementioned chambermaid. He had already
proposed to her to visit the “marriage booth” in the adjoining room,
and the justice of the peace was getting ready his paraphernalia. Only
late at night, when the captain, her every-day husband, carried her
home, did the pretty maid relinquish her newer claims upon the
gamekeeper.

Frau Leimann presented herself as a peasant girl from the
“Vierlande,”--a district near Hamburg,--and her costume looked indeed
very picturesque, and became her well. Borgert noticed this fact with
great pleasure, and the dainty figure and small nimble feet made a
strong impression on his susceptible heart.

Frau Kahle, as a flower girl, was flirting desperately with the
younger men. She also played her part very well, for the champagne in
which she had liberally indulged began to exert its effects.
Lieutenant Kolberg, as a modish dandy, had already purchased nearly
her entire supply of flowers, and when, soon after, the remnant had
gone, he claimed and obtained her as his partner for the dance.

Frau Captain Stark alone did not seem to belong in this _milieu_. The
choice of a costume, to begin with, had occasioned her deep and
anxious thought. She felt that to follow her inclinations and appear
at the masquerade in either the guise of a ballet dancer or of a
flower girl would too markedly invite criticism. Her fifty years and
her towering shape would really have made her too conspicuous in such
parts. On the other hand, to show herself as a peddler woman or
fishwife would have, so she feared, made her look “too natural.”
Having, therefore, discarded these notions, her fancy roved in the
realms of the beautiful and fantastic, until it settled down upon a
costume which, bespangled and with its garland of rushes, she declared
to be that of a “mermaid of middle age.” Nobody was in a condition to
contradict her, inasmuch as nobody recollected ever having seen a
“middle-aged” mermaid before. She floated, as a matter of fact, in a
cloud of pink and sea-green laces. The capacious bosom this cloud
concealed from view rolled and heaved quite realistically, thus
producing the effect of ocean waves, and her enormous arms were
awe-inspiring enough to keep away all evening those in the crowd who
had not got their sea-legs,--and that meant practically all the
younger officers. At all other times her most dutiful slaves, these
young men seemed to have conspired to leave the dreaded chief of the
regiment’s nominal chief severely alone. Of course she felt this as an
unpardonable offence, and this all the more as the colonel at an early
hour was in an irresponsible condition, and hence listened to her
violent plaint with stolid equanimity.

There was a male trio, too, that claimed some attention. They
represented to the life merry, devil-may-care vagabonds, and so well
did they act their parts that one would have supposed they had just
been picked up on the miry highway outside. They deemed it, of course,
strictly within their privileges to get drunk with all due speed,--an
endeavor in which they admirably succeeded. From that hour on they
became an unmitigated nuisance, not even atoned for by some humor or
merry pranks. After midnight they were always seen in a bunch,
steadying each other as they lurched along.

Lieutenant von Meckelburg, during the earlier part of the evening,
stuck resolutely and almost silently to his assigned duty, it being
that of an organ-grinder. He had picked up somewhere a villainous
specimen of this instrument of torture, and with it had retired into a
corner, wearing the ragged and faded clothes of an impecunious veteran
of the wars, with his visorless, crumpled cap pulled over his eyes,
and with a face which for unadulterated melancholy could not be
duplicated. Hardly any one took notice of him, and his physiognomy
grew sadder and sadder. At last, however, he left his organ in its
corner, and visited the various bars where champagne could be had.
With each generous libation his features cleared, and finally he got
himself into a decidedly hilarious condition, and not only moved with
his organ into the centre of the greensward, where he placed it on one
of the benches, but accompanied its shrill and squeaking notes with a
mellow basso of his own.

The bands meanwhile played their best and merriest, and as several
casks of beer and some dozen bottles of cheap spirits had been
provided for them, the members, both trumpeters of the regiment and
civilian musicians hired for the night, devoted no inconsiderable
portion of the intervals between their playing to frequent and
prolonged visits to that small side-room where these drinkables had
been placed ready for use. After a while they dispensed even with such
formalities. They rolled the remaining casks up the steps of their
podium, and shortly the faucet could be espied from among the
greenery, and the musicians hovering about it. As a matter of course,
their playing soon showed the effects of all this tippling. One man
particularly, one of the flageolets, became quite unmanageable,--or
rather the instrument on which he was performing,--so that it usually
was the space of a second or two ahead of the others. This weird music
only ended with the removal of flageolet and man from the scene.

At eleven began the festal performance on the small stage constructed
for the purpose.

One of the lieutenants led off with two topical songs rather too
outspoken in the lessons they tried to convey. He was disguised as a
prima ballerina for the purpose, and as a windup he danced, with great
skill and abandon, a can-can. The ladies tittered and the men
guffawed. After more of the same kind there was enacted a parody on
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The gentleman responsible for this version had
employed radical means to clear the stage of all the _dramatis
personæ_, at the end. Murder, suicide, poison, dagger, lightning even
decimated their ranks, and when the curtain dropped there was not a
soul of them left alive. The crowning effect of this parody was the
appearance of the prompter himself before the footlights. In a few
tear-choked words he informed the audience that after seeing the
actors all die, and nothing but corpses around him, he could and would
not survive, and so he made an end of himself, too, using a rope for
the purpose.

The humor of the whole audience after that grew rapidly boisterous,
and by midnight the tone of this carnival fête given by officers and
their ladies could scarcely be distinguished from that rampant at a
village kermess. If anything, it was a trifle more unconventional.

Lieutenant Kolberg had in the meantime found a cosy arbor into which
to retire with Frau Captain Kahle, and more effectually to exclude
intruders had placed a tall screen before the entrance.

A little “flirtation,” more or less serious, was something he could
not do without, and since the garrison with its staid citizens and
their staider wives and daughters did not furnish the material
required for him, he had made up his mind to lay violent siege to the
heart of the lady. He knew that it was a susceptible one, and from
Pommer he had heard, in hours of bibulous intercourse, that siege in
her case meant speedy surrender. He had already progressed with her
beyond mere preliminary skirmishes, and in their conversations with
nobody near they had begun to use the intimate “thou,” and to call
each other by their given names.

For his purpose, then, no better time could have been found than this
very festivity, with all the allurements which champagne, music, the
dance, and the hurly-burly of a huge crowd afforded. Shielded against
indiscreet spies by the interlacing vines creeping all over this
arbor, his love-making had proceeded at such a rapid pace that within
an hour the little woman did not thrust her gallant wooer aside when
he dared imprint a kiss on her swelling lips.

In another arbor, more in proximity to the champagne bar, First
Lieutenant Leimann sat in lonely misery and shed rivulets of tears.
His intoxication, in its more advanced stage, always took that form
known technically as “howling desolation.” On this occasion it had
seized him promptly after the ninth glassful.

His condition was in ludicrous contrast with the magnificence and dash
of his attire, for he was dressed, regardless of expense, as a
Hungarian magnate of the first water, and he rejected with sombre
scorn all attempts made by friends to commiserate him. His nearer
acquaintances knew for a certainty that he would thus remain seated on
top of an empty wine cask until the very close of the ball. For
whenever the black devils of drink cast their spell over him in this
fashion it required from four to six hours to emerge into a saner and
somewhat soberer frame of mind. Just now his sobs shook his whole bony
body. The divers orderlies who passed him held their sides with
laughter, but he heeded them not.

His wife found the situation very annoying, and she therefore resolved
to get one of her sudden attacks of headache. She retired, with signs
of disgust on her pretty face, to another corner, and when Borgert
joined her soon afterward, she requested him in mellifluous tones to
escort her home.

As they reached the door of the house in which she with her husband
occupied the upper part, while Borgert had his smaller lodgings on the
ground floor, she sighed with some satisfaction and said in a low
voice:

“The air has done me good; I feel much better now.”

“Then may I take you back to the Casino?” was Borgert’s answer, and
the tone of his voice was full of disappointment.

“No, no, we will go up and have a cup of coffee; that will do us good,
and I really do not feel like returning to that crowd of drunken
people; it is simply disgusting!”

“Just as it pleases you, my most gracious lady!”

With that he inserted the key into the lock, opened the door, and both
of them silently scaled the rather steep stairs, dark as Erebus.

When they had reached her cosy parlor, Borgert brought the lamp and
lit it. He knew exactly the spot where he would find it in the dark,
for his acquaintance with every nook of the apartments had come in the
course of time with their mutual intimacy. Then he took up a newspaper
and sat down in the sofa corner.

Frau Leimann had disappeared in the adjoining room; but it took her
only a very few minutes to return, bearing in her hands the Vienna
coffee machine, and presenting, now that she had resumed a
comfortable and coquettish kimono in lieu of her masquerade costume, a
most seductive picture.

“So,” said she, letting the heavy window curtains down, “now at last
we are again where we can have a comfortable, undisturbed chat
together.”

        *       *       *       *       *

The first rosy dawn showed on the horizon as a heavy, lurching step
was heard on the stone stairs outside. Frau Leimann blew out the lamp,
and then resumed her seat on the sofa, leaning her head against the
soft cushions.

Meanwhile Leimann had noisily opened the door leading into the
corridor, and now stepped into the room where his wife was waiting.

For a moment he halted at the door. He thought he discovered the scent
of cigarette smoke. Then he felt his way towards the table, found a
box of matches, and lighted a candle. Then he saw his wife recumbent
on the sofa.

The sight touched him. Had this faithful soul awaited his coming so
long, in order to offer him a cup of coffee? Doubtless sleep had
overtaken her, and she had not heard his step. So he cautiously
approached her and imprinted a kiss on her forehead.

A nervous cry escaped her, and she quickly rose.

“Oh, it is you, Franz. Where did you stay so long?”

“Do not be angry with me, my angel, that I kept you awake so long; but
I really never dreamed that you would do this. Why did you not retire
long ago?”

The words sounded so full of affection,--almost like an excuse, like a
prayer for forgiveness,--but they did not touch her; she simply yawned
with some affectation, and stretched her arms as if dying for a sound
sleep.

“Why, you know, Franz, that I had to wait for you; you were again in a
fearful condition. When I saw you sitting in that way I felt so
miserable that I could bear it no longer, and went home.”

“Alone,--so late at night? Why did you not have one of the orderlies
escort you?”

“Borgert took me as far as the door; he offered to be my escort.”

“Well, I’ll have to thank him for that to-morrow, and, come to think
of it, he is always very attentive to you. Where did he go afterwards;
I never set eyes on him again the whole night.”

“He complained of a headache, and seemed to have had enough of the
whole show. I suppose he went to bed long ago.”

“Why didn’t you offer him a cup of coffee?”

“But, Franz, what would the servants think if they heard me coming
home with a gentleman so late at night? That would never do. Our maid,
Marie, anyway, is listening and spying continually, and one has to
take care not to let her hear things. I presume she has been telling
tales out of school as it is.”

“Send her away then, if you have no confidence in her.”

“I would have done it long ago, but I can’t let her go until we have
paid her wages. We’re several months behind with her.”

“Then pay her to-morrow.”

“What with? Have you any money?”

“I? What an idea. You know perfectly well that the few marks of my pay
could never keep this household running. Hasn’t your mother sent the
allowance this month?”

“No, she hasn’t anything to spare this time.”

“Oh, of course,--the old story.”

“Is that meant for reproach? You knew yourself that we were not rich.
Do me the favor, therefore, to spare me your hints and complaints. I
find them tactless and inappropriate at this late time.”

“Yes, you never want to hear about that. You ought to have known
before you married me that to keep house without money is a beastly
nuisance. Now we have this ceaseless dunning every day: one day it’s
the butcher, the next the baker, and the day after the laundress,--and
they all want money. I can’t cut it out of my hide.”

“But wasn’t it yourself who kept on urging and urging me until I
promised to marry you? Didn’t you gainsay all my objections and insist
on our marriage?”

“True enough; but you and your mother ought to have known better. You
never ought to have consented, even if I was fool enough to insist on
it. Your mother knew how much it costs to keep house, and I didn’t.
And now it is too late.”

“That I know myself, and you needn’t drive me crazy by constantly
nagging at me. And it isn’t my fault, either; for if everything had
turned out the way my mother desired, you would not have had to
complain to-day that you are married to a woman without money. You
were not the only one from whom I had proposals.”

“That you ought to have told me then,” replied her husband, with an
ugly sneer. “I’m awfully sorry if I have interfered with your fine
prospects.”

“You are more vulgar, Franz, than I thought you.”

“Oh, yes, women can never bear the truth. If one doesn’t flatter you
the whole time and play on the tuneful lyre of love, you at once begin
to find fault.”

“Well, I haven’t been surfeited with terms of affection by you.”

“That is merely because I don’t know how you have deserved them of me.
Is it perhaps because I don’t know how to pay my shoemaker, or how to
meet a whole bunch of bills that have come in the last fortnight? Oh,
what a fool I have been! Instead of leading this dog’s life with you,
I might to-day attend the Academy of War and lead a decent existence.”

“Hold your tongue, you vulgar brute; you have no right to insult me!
Leave my room, or I shall leave the house!”

“Instantly, and with the greatest pleasure, my gracious lady! Pleasant
dreams to you!”

So saying, Leimann violently slammed the door behind him so that the
windows shook, and then went to his own bedroom.

But his wife buried her face in the sofa cushions and sobbingly sought
relief in tears. That gave a vent to her feelings of hatred and rage
against her heartless husband. Her whole soul rebelled against this
brutal man whom she had married because he had sworn on his knees to
her that he could not live without her. And now he roughly stamped
into the ground the affection which she once had borne him. He
desecrated all those recollections which are so dear to a woman’s
heart, and which at critical points in her life are meant to be a stay
and a comfort, and to make the burden of misfortune lighter to her.

And if, a short time before, when she had hastily parted from Borgert,
she had felt something like remorse,--something of shame in having
abused the confidence placed in her by her husband,--she now regarded
herself as a victim, and her fault only in the light of a just revenge
for his heartless conduct.

For at no time is the heart of woman more susceptible to temptation
than at the moment when she feels herself betrayed and outraged in her
best feelings.



CHAPTER VI

A SENSATIONAL EVENT STIRS THE GARRISON


It was plain daylight when the last guests left the Casino. Without
exception, liberal indulgence in champagne and brandy had done its
work, and the motley crowd that left the building thus “early” was in
a decidedly boisterous mood, and the limits of decency and good
manners had been passed by them hours before.

The nearby church bell struck the hour of seven as Captain Stark and
his wife, as well as the colonel and his better half, climbed into the
capacious vehicle that had been waiting for them at the door of the
club-house for several hours. The horses had become stiff in the
joints, and, with a cold and raw blustering wind to chill them, they
were now forced to pull their heavy load on the miry highway leading
toward town. The coachman had to use his whip freely to make the poor
beasts break into a sorry trot; but at last the human load had been
deposited before their doors.

Lieutenant von Meckelburg and First Lieutenant Specht could scarcely
keep on their legs; but, nevertheless, they walked straight from the
Casino to the barracks, where they were to give, each of them, an
hour’s instruction to the recruits. They quickly doffed their
fantastic gear--the organ had been left behind by the lieutenant; but
when they appeared before their pupils the latter could scarcely
suppress a shout of laughter. For Specht had in his hurry forgotten to
remove his artificial moustache, and this gave him such an unusual
appearance that it was only when his voice, somewhat shaken by
alcoholic excesses, met the soldiers’ ears that they felt sure whom
they had before them. The “instruction” he thus imparted was certainly
very far from enlightening their minds on the duties falling to the
share of a defender of the fatherland.

Most of the other officers preferred, however, a good long sleep, and
simply ignored the work of the day. It was only towards noon when the
first captain showed his face at the barracks.

Captain König and his faithful Lieutenant Bleibtreu were, in fact, the
only officers of the whole regiment who attended to their duties in
the forenoon, they having gone home at reasonable hours. Their
principle was: first the work, and then the amusement.

Captain Hagemann showed himself in the streets, mounted on his
favorite horse, as the noon hour struck. He had not yet recovered his
equilibrium, and the horse seemed to appreciate that fact
instinctively. He carried his master with such tender commiseration
for the condition of the latter that he picked his way as carefully as
if walking on ice.

Stark himself preferred to remain altogether at home. His “Kater”[15]
was inexorable, and demanded a long, unbroken rest to find its way out
of the muddled brain of its owner. His place in the regiment was, as
usual, filled by his tireless lady. Holding her husband’s official
note-book in her hand, she went her rounds, noticing the presence of
all the men and non-commissioned officers, and making a black mark
against the name of Lieutenant Kolberg, as he was absent without
leave.

    [15] “Kater,” a slang term for the demoralized condition
    consequent upon alcoholic overindulgence.--TR.

At 1.30 she received a visit from Hagemann, who came to make most
elaborate and humble excuses because he had been audacious enough to
indulge in gibes at the expense of the doughty lady during the ball.
In fact, while in the enterprising stage which forms so interesting a
part of the effects produced on human bipeds by champagne, he had been
bold enough to pay her some strongly ironical compliments in her
capacity of “mermaid.” He had told her incidentally that she was
eminently fitted for her part, as it was a well-known physiological
fact that fat kept afloat on water. Frau Stark, who was proof at all
times both against flattery and against the insinuating allurements of
the foamy liquid, and who was as much matter-of-fact to-day as she had
been the night before, merely deigned to accept these excuses with a
small nod and a dry “That will do!”

Leimann, on his part, likewise started out on a tour of visits, the
sole purpose of which was to offer much-needed explanations and
apologies to nearly every member of the club whom he had offended
more or less seriously during the period of his “howling desolation.”

Night had come, in fact, when the larger number of the officers met at
a solemn “Dämmerschoppen” at the Casino,--a process of applying hair
of the dog that bit you to cure the injury. They discussed in voices
still considerably husky and thick the doings and misdoings at the
entertainment of the previous night. Criticism was applied freely to
everybody who happened to be absent; but about Leimann judgment was
unanimous: he was a beast.

It was Borgert’s part to report to the assembled “Corona,”[16] in his
inimitable manner, about that part of the adventures of Kolberg and
Frau Kahle which had come under his personal observation.

    [16] “Corona,” meaning all the drinkers present; a student’s
    expression.--TR.

Nothing had escaped his lynx eye, and he related with great gusto what
he had not failed to discover of the interesting proceedings in the
arbor. Even the protection of the screen had not been sufficient to
blind him.

While all these things were said about them, Kolberg and Frau Kahle
were sitting near a good fire in his room, enjoying the renewal of
their intimacy.

On pretext of necessary purchases, she had escaped the vigilance of
her husband, and under the protection of the dark had hastened to that
end of the town and to the garden behind the walls of which stood the
small house inhabited by Kolberg. Tall chestnut trees, throwing their
shadows over its roof, gave it additional seclusion.

What was there really for her to make life enjoyable? Aside from walks
in the woods nearby there was nothing to do for her the live-long day,
so that she felt it a positive blessing to have, as often as
circumstances would permit, a cosy tête-à-tête with Kolberg. Her
husband, too, was not the kind of man a woman could be happy with.
Hard drinking and interminable hours spent at the Casino were all he
cared for. The estrangement between him and his wife had been almost
complete even before Pommer, and now, since his going, Kolberg had
crossed her path.

In this way passed several months.

The secret of the intimate relations existing between Kolberg and Frau
Kahle had slowly filtered down into all the strata of society
represented in the little town, and they formed even one of the
regular themes of conversation in the low-class dramshops on the
outskirts of the town where the laboring population lived.

Even Kolberg’s comrades knew about it, but none of them felt rash
enough to undertake mediation or interference in such a delicate
matter where the tangible proofs seemed not within reach. It was to be
expected, that if confronted with the facts of the case as far as
these were palpable, both parties concerned would simply deny the
damaging allegation, and in such a case the rôle of the advising
friend might easily have become one of great difficulty. The accuser
might then have been charged with assailing the honor of a lady of the
regiment and that of a fellow-officer. Such a charge, in the absence
of absolute proof, could have had but one issue. For who could tell
whether the sole witness to some of the escapades of the two--that is,
Kolberg’s man--would stick to his statements as soon as he should see
that circumstances became serious? Perhaps--and that seemed
probable--he would entirely recant from fear of punishment for having
secretly played the spy on his master. And suppose he then represented
the facts in a more harmless light, who could gainsay him?

On the other hand, it was justly feared that the _dénouement_ of this
matter would raise much dust, and lead to the resigning of one
comrade, to a serious duel, and to the disruption of another comrade’s
household. And as Captain Kahle was rather popular with his comrades,
because of his open-handedness and his easy good nature, nobody felt
like opening his eyes to the miserable intrigue.

Therefore everything remained as it was, and only malignant gossip
increased in volume, so that Captain König at last resolved to give
the commander of the regiment a hint of affairs in a spirit of strict
privacy.

But the colonel asked, as soon as the ticklish subject was broached:

“Do you report this to me officially? No? Well, then, I don’t want to
know anything about it. I won’t burn my fingers in meddling with a
matter of that kind.”

König himself did not feel like becoming the instigator of a most
disastrous scandal. After all, it was not primarily an affair where he
ought to take the initiative, and this aside from the further
consideration that he would probably become involved in a duel by
taking the lead in exposing the guilty parties. He therefore also made
up his mind to keep quiet.

Thus it was that nothing was done by anybody to put a stop to all this
mischievous talk, and to put out of the world a matter which was of
the greatest injury to the regiment and to the whole corps of
officers,--a matter, too, in which the civilian population was
perfectly justified in pointing the finger of scorn at them. And
whereas in other circles, in civilian ones, the guilty parties would
under similar circumstances have been called to account, in this
instance a state of things was permitted to exist for a number of
months which scandalized every decent person who, while forced by
social conventions to meet the offenders on terms of equality, would
have entirely shunned them once proper steps were taken to conciliate
outraged public opinion. And this was all the more reprehensible
because it affected a caste which deems itself superior to any other
within the monarchy, and which believes itself to be the guardian of
good manners and morals, and of a high conception of honor.

The largest measure of blame necessarily fell to the share of Colonel
von Kronau. This gentleman, at all other times ready to proceed with
stringent severity wherever he discovered slight breaches of
discipline or of the mechanical details of drill, and who knew no
clemency where nothing was to be feared for himself by playing the
rigid taskmaster, in this instance tolerated this shameful thing; for
he knew that interference in this particular would mean for him, in
any case, serious inconvenience. Two things were possible. Either he
would be charged with falsely accusing others, or else his position as
commander would receive such a blow as to make it perhaps untenable,
once his superiors should obtain knowledge of the actual state of
affairs within the regiment. Neither of these contingencies was to his
taste.

It was, therefore, with great relief that he one day received the
official notification of Captain Kahle’s promotion to a majority,
together with an order of the latter’s transference to a garrison in
South Germany. That, then, meant the longed-for end of this horrible
business, and he doubly rejoiced that he had not acted on the spur of
impulse; for he doubted not that, if he had, the outcome would not
have been as favorable.

Kahle felt naturally greatly elated at his unexpectedly rapid
promotion. At last he had reached the goal of his ambition. For many
years, ever since he had entered the army as a beardless stripling, it
had been his aim to attain to a commanding position. And once up the
ladder as far as major,--the critical point in the career of every
German army officer,--he could with confidence await further
promotions in the course of time; for he was not devoid of talent in
his profession, and had devoted much serious study and research to its
higher spheres, although the benumbing effects of the dissolute and
monotonous life in the little garrison had also had upon him decidedly
deleterious effects. He had acquired drinking habits, and his
domestic peace had, as he was aware, for some time suffered therefrom;
but he felt sure that amid new and more inspiring surroundings he
could pull himself together and become once more his old self of
former days. Hence the new Major Kahle felt happy, and no cloud
disturbed his serenity. He was going to a large and lively city, and
both he and his wife would reap the advantages of that. There was
quartered there a considerable body of troops of various branches of
the service, and his intercourse would, in consequence, greatly widen,
and so would that of his wife. His income would be much larger, and
the social attractions offered in the new place,--such as diverse
entertainments, concerts, a good theatre, and the opera,--would do
much to restore that sense of contentment to his volatile spouse which
she had seemed to lack for long.

The day after his promotion had become public,--a “Liebesmahl”[17]
assembled the entire corps of officers at the Casino. Specially to
honor the departing major, the colonel had ordered full-dress uniform,
and Kahle himself, a man of tall and commanding figure, made a fine
show in all the glory of his orders, silver tassels, and broad
stripes.

    [17] “Liebesmahl,” a fraternal banquet arranged, on special
    occasions, by the officers of a garrison or of a regiment for
    the purpose of celebrating joyous events.--TR.

After the second course the colonel arose and made an impressive
speech in behalf of the departing comrade. In it he paid high tribute
to the new major’s popularity and to his eminent military virtues. At
its close he handed to Kahle the usual silver tankard, bearing the
initials and insignia of the regiment.

Kahle was greatly moved by these tokens of esteem, and he thanked the
colonel in a short, manly way. In his farewell speech the joy of his
promotion was the predominant note; but there was an undertone of
sadness at parting, after so many years, from comrades and a garrison
he had known so long. Often, it is true, he had sighed for a change,
and there had been a good deal of worry and annoyance in this
world-forgotten little town close to the French frontier; but now,
when the hour of parting came, it cut him, nevertheless, to the quick
to have to leave it all behind. Such is the weakness and
inconsistency of frail human nature.

Next day he left by the noon train, and the officers were assembled at
the station in full force to bid him good-bye. Brief military
leave-taking,--just a shake of the hand and a word or two. The colonel
formally and affectionately kissed him on the cheek, and then Kahle
bade leave to his wife and their little son. His heart was heavy, and
it cost him something to conceal the tear which had stolen into a
corner of his eye. He had fully resolved to make his married life
hereafter a happier one, and to have once more a real home. It was
this thought in his mind which made parting with his wife particularly
cordial. He trusted that she would rid herself of those bad habits she
had acquired here, and that different environs would soon sweep from
her memory recollections of life in this little town, where he and she
had been forced to spend the best years of their lives, at the
frontier, _quasi_ outcasts of the empire.

Until arrangements could be made by him for new and comfortable
quarters in the garrison he was going to, Frau Kahle was to stay on
here, and First Lieutenant Weil and wife had asked her, to make things
pleasanter for her, to remain as a guest at their dwelling for the
short intervening time.

Joyfully Frau Kahle had accepted the friendly invitation. Thus she
would have occasion thoroughly to enjoy herself with Kolberg until the
hour of separation from him should strike. She felt with great relief
that with her husband away she had no longer to give an account of her
actions to anybody.

One day the Weil family were seated with their guest at table, when a
military servant brought in a letter for Frau Kahle which the carrier
had just left. She opened it, rapidly looked over its contents, and
then put it away in the pocket of her robe, her cheeks reddening.

“Frau Pastor Klein is writing me to come and take a cup of coffee with
her this afternoon, since she wants to see me once more before my
going,--amiable of her, isn’t it? I think I will start at once, so as
not to be too late.”

She arose, and sidled out of the room with a “Till this evening,
then!”

A few minutes later Weil saw her hastening down the street in the
direction of the town.

“Strange!” he then said to his wife. “I don’t think she ever
associated with her before, and scarcely knows her. I hope this is not
one of madame’s little tricks.”

“Let her go where she will, Max,” retorted Frau Weil, indifferently.
“It’s none of our affair. She will leave in a day or two, anyway, and,
after all, she is responsible for her own actions.”

But Weil shook his head doubtfully and went to his study.

The clock on the mantel indicated eight, and Frau Kahle had not yet
returned. They began to fear anxiety on the score of their guest. What
could have happened to her?

The maid was just setting the table for the evening meal in the
adjoining room when the couple were giving expression to their
surmises, explaining in one way or another this prolonged absence.

“Minna,”--Frau Weil turned to the girl,--“I think you had better go to
the house of Frau Pastor Klein and ask whether Frau Major Kahle is
still there. I shall have no rest until I know what has become of
her.”

“I don’t think I shall find her at the Frau Pastor’s, gracious lady,”
replied the girl, “for I saw the Frau Major up on the avenue, about
half-past four, as I was fetching the milk, and the Frau Pastor lives
right behind the church.”

“In that case there is no use in sending there,” and Frau Weil
shrugged her shoulders.

“I think my idea will prove the right one,” said the first
lieutenant,--“it was a mere pretext on her part. She did not want to
tell us where she was really going. I have my own thoughts about the
matter.”

“And what do you think, Max,” his wife asked, with some show of
curiosity. “Where else could she be?”

“With Kolberg, of course.”

“But how can you say so, Max? I don’t suppose she....”

“Certainly she will! That is just what she is doing.”

Both became silent when the servant girl stepped in. She placed the
teapot on the table, and then took a folded piece of paper from her
pocket, and handed it to Weil with a peculiar smile.

“Has this perhaps been dropped by either the Herr First Lieutenant or
the gracious lady?”

And as Minna had again retired, the officer first gazed at the paper
with eyes wide open, then he gave a scornful laugh and held it open to
his wife.

“Here, my dear, will you not convince yourself? There it is in black
and white.”

Frau Weil hesitatingly took the slip of paper from his hands and read:

     “Am expecting you to-day at 4.30, since I shall be engaged
     to-morrow in the service.”

Signature and address were wanting, but the writing was unmistakably
Kolberg’s.

“Here it is,” said Weil. “That is her way of thanking us for offering
her our hospitality,--just lying to us, and trying to befool us for no
other purpose than to permit her to continue her disgraceful conduct.
Didn’t I at once say it would be better not to have her come? But you,
of course, insisted on inviting her. If you had listened to me, we
should now be spared the disagreeable necessity of throwing that
woman out.”

“But for heaven’s sake, Max, that you can’t do. Throw the note into
the fire!”

“I’ll do nothing of the kind,” her husband flared up. “I shall
certainly throw her out of the house! Or do you suppose I’m going to
make our home a convenient shelter for depraved women? Let her see
where she will find another refuge. As for me, I respectfully decline
the honor of harboring her any longer as our guest; and this note will
not go into the fire, but, instead, where it belongs,--before a
Council of Honor!”

The young officer was in a great state of excitement. With rapid
strides he measured the room, burying his hands in his pockets. His
dark look betrayed indignation and resolve.

“If you will take my advice,” his soft-hearted spouse said, with some
trepidation, “you will put that bit of paper into the stove and keep
quiet about the whole matter. She is to join her husband in another
two days, anyway, and then there would be an end to her intrigues in
any case. Do me the favor, my dear Max, and leave your fingers out of
that pie, for there will be nothing but disagreeable consequences
awaiting you if you don’t. And then, another thing, think of the poor
major!” And the little woman had actually tears in her eyes.

But that stubborn husband of hers proved inexorable.

“I shall do what I said I was going to do, and that’s all there is
about it. These are matters you don’t understand. I won’t quietly look
on while this person continues her miserable intrigue with that
scoundrel, Kolberg,--at least not while she is in my house. She ought
to have had enough decency remaining to have left off meeting him
while being the guest of honest people. That is beastly; it’s worse
than beastly,--hoggish, I may say!”

Frau Weil did not insist any longer. She knew her husband, knew his
strictness in such matters, and also knew that the more she would
plead with him the more fixed his purpose would become; but her
forehead became rumpled with unpleasant thoughts, and she sat down
before the glowing coal in the grate, in a brown study.

Her husband meanwhile continued to pace the carpet, reflecting on what
steps he had best decide.

At last the maid came into the room once more, and said, with a mien
of ill-concealed curiosity:

“Madam is served!”

“Tell us, Minna, where did you find that letter?” said the officer to
her.

“I found it lying in the hall under the hat-rack; I presume it must
have dropped out of somebody’s pocket.”

“Very well; you may go.”

Silently the couple sat down to table. Weil’s face was clouded, and
his wife scarcely looked up from her plate. She lifted her glance to
him, however, with considerable anxiety when the hall door was heard
to open, and Frau Kahle’s voice became audible.

“She is coming, Max! Now, for pity’s sake, don’t make a scene! Think
of the servants who will be sure to listen and to spread everything
that’s said.”

But Weil did not answer, neither did he look at the door when it now
opened and gave admission to the Frau Major. Her face was rosy with
excitement, and her eyes were gleaming in humid tenderness.

“Good evening, both of you!” she cried gayly, her voice trembling with
suppressed agitation. “I hope you will pardon the delay; but Frau
Pastor Klein pressed me so much to drive with her over to the city
that I could not resist, and that is how it became so late. But it was
delightful,--my afternoon with her. We were at a café, and made a
number of purchases.”

Weil arose stiffly and faced his guest.

“Madam,” said he, with quiet dignity, “it is useless for you to try to
deceive us as to the purpose of your absence this afternoon. The
letter which reached you while at table with us, and which has come
into our hands by accident, proves in the most unmistakable manner
that you have abused our hospitality most grossly. May I request you
to leave this house as soon as ever you can, but certainly no later
than to-morrow morning? I must beg that you will leave us undisturbed
for the remainder of the evening.”

He ceremoniously bowed, and then took his seat once more at table.

Frau Kahle remained for a moment as if petrified in the semi-obscurity
of the room. Then she hastily seized her châtelaine bag. Her hand
tremblingly fingered its contents, and then she turned to the door and
went out, slamming it behind her. The footfall of her retreating steps
could be heard in the direction of her own room.

After supper the first lieutenant stepped up to his writing-desk, lit
the green shaded lamp, and sat down on a stool before it. Next he
selected a large sheet of official note-paper, dipped his pen, and
leaned back and reflected.

For some time he thus concentrated his thoughts, and at last began to
write.

His spouse, meanwhile, with anxious aspect, sat on the sofa near a
small table, busy with some embroidery, her fingers mechanically
travelling to and fro; but every little while she cast a troubled
glance towards her husband, whose pen went scratch, scratch, over the
paper.

At last he had finished the letter. Weil reclined pensively in his
chair, and slowly read over and over what he had written. He made no
alterations, but folded Frau Kahle’s note up with his own, and then
enclosed both in a large yellow envelope, sealing it in the proper
way.

Then he locked up the document in a drawer of his desk, blew out the
lamp, and took a seat on the sofa next to his wife, perusing
attentively a newspaper.

Frau Kahle departed the following morning by an early train. Nobody,
not even the orderly, knew her destination. He had taken her trunk to
the station, but she had not told him a word as to her future
intentions. And neither by letter nor by word of mouth had she left a
word of thanks or apology for her late hosts.

At noon of the same day Lieutenant Kolberg, whose mind not even the
faintest suspicion of these latest developments of his intrigue had
crossed, was ordered to appear forthwith before the commander. The
latter, dryly and without comment, informed him that proceedings had
been begun against him before the Council of Honor, and that until
further notice he would be excused from service.

There was much excitement within the body of officers. In their
secret hearts every one of them was glad that in the deadening
monotony of their garrison life this affair, painful as it was, was
now assuming tangible proportions. For not a single one of them had
any kindly feeling for Kolberg, whose secretive disposition and whose
absence from nearly all joint festivities at the Casino had rendered
him unpopular, and Frau Kahle herself was scarcely better liked,
desperate flirt as she was.

It was because of this that none of the officers, least of all
Borgert, refrained from criticising in a most uncompromising spirit
both Kolberg and his paramour. And Weil’s proceedings were unanimously
adjudged perfectly correct. The remarks made in regard to this whole
matter were by no means couched in such terms as might have been
expected from his Majesty’s officers of the army when applied to
comrades. In fact, hard names were used, and everybody proclaimed
aloud his intention severely to cut “the vulgar beast” and “that
coarse woman.”

Colonel von Kronau had had a great fright when Captain Stark, as
president of the Council of Honor, had handed him in the morning that
document which had given Weil so much anxious thought. He ruminated
and lugubriously pondered what had best be done in this unfortunate
affair in order to end it with the least amount of scandal; but his
cogitations were in vain. The matter had been brought formally to the
attention of the Council of Honor, and, according to the strict
wording of the instructions provided, there was no squelching or
modification of the proceedings possible. He had to be satisfied,
therefore, to curse most heartily the author of the fatal
document,--First Lieutenant Weil,--and to give him in his thoughts a
big black mark in the next conduct list.

A most unwelcome business, indeed. Already he saw himself
superintending the unloading of hay-carts on that estate of his, far
off in the eastern, semi-civilized districts of the realm.

But it was poor Major Kahle who would suffer most of all. After
attaining at last the goal of his desires, all his aspirations were to
be nipped in the bud by the misdemeanor of his wife. He had no idea
where she was now; she had preferred not to venture near him in
leaving the garrison, since she did not feel sure of a cordial
reception on his part. Hence she had sent her little son to her
parents, while she herself had taken up quarters in Berlin. Her chief
amusement just now consisted in the inditing of innumerable letters to
Kolberg, full of reproaches for “having succeeded by his diabolical
arts in alienating her affections from her husband,” while the leisure
she could spare from these epistolary efforts was devoted to roaming
that broad international thoroughfare, Unter den Linden, which
presented to her, after her long “exile” close to the frontier, a
striking and highly appreciated contrast.

Kahle was firmly resolved to show the door to his faithless wife if
she should dare present herself before him; meanwhile he took
preliminary steps to obtain a legal separation from her.

But there was another thought heavy on his mind. It was the
unavoidable duel. Because his wife had deceived him, the army code
forced him to next expose himself to the bullet of her seducer,
instead of simply expelling the latter from the army and giving him a
much-needed period of reflection in jail.

He was expected to “save the honor of his wife” by mortal combat.

What an absurdity! he thought to himself. Is there any honor left in a
wife who deceives her husband? A coquette she was, heartless and
honorless, nothing more, and yet he must risk his life in defence of a
thing which did not exist any longer, and which, he now strongly
suspected, had from the first been nothing but a delusion on his
part--her honor! What a ludicrous farce!

And he began to reflect whether there was not some way in which he
could escape this impending duel. Not because he was a coward or
afraid of death; no, he was brave enough, but he could not see why he
should expose to blind chance not only the fruits of his own arduous
life, but also the future of his son, merely because another man had
acted in a despicable manner. It was quite possible that his adversary
might kill him in this duel. In that case he, the innocent party,
would suffer the supreme penalty which man can suffer,--death,--and
the criminal himself would go off scot-free.

But reflection showed him clearly that there was no way to avoid
mortal combat, for, if he refused or neglected to send a challenge to
the other, the Council of Honor was bound under the code to dismiss
him from the army, because, forsooth, he did not know how to “protect
the honor of the profession.” On the other hand, if he did this
prescribed duty of “honor,” and fought this duel and escaped being
wounded or killed, a term of confinement in a fortress awaited him.
The latter seemed to him the lesser of two evils, but he now made up
his mind to show no consideration to the man who had destroyed the
peace of his home, and who was likely to destroy his existence. He
would demand the most severe conditions for this duel, and he would
not scruple to send a bullet crashing into his antagonist’s brain if
his arm were steady enough, or else let the scoundrel deprive him of
his life as well,--a life which would hereafter be a burden to him.

The proceedings and investigations of the Council of Honor required
several months. Things were unearthed which to the younger officers of
the garrison seemed very interesting, but which threw a dubious light
upon Lieutenant Kolberg and his conceptions of honor and comradeship.

The behavior, too, of the corps of officers underwent a change during
this time.

At first all the officers had shunned Kolberg, and he was only
occasionally seen in the environs of the garrison when exercising his
horses.

But one day Borgert was in severe financial straits, and then, all his
other sources failing, he had repaired to Kolberg for the money as a
last resort. And Kolberg on his part had been shrewd enough to use the
opportunity to place Borgert under obligations, for he knew the
latter’s influence on his younger comrades. Therefore, Kolberg managed
to raise the thousand marks needed, and put himself at Borgert’s
disposal for future occasions of the kind.

The result of this manœuvre could have been foreseen. Within a few
days Borgert had changed his tune in regard to Kolberg’s character and
failings. At the Casino table he now sang his praises, lauded the fine
qualities of comradeship possessed by Kolberg, and condemned the view
taken by the superior officers of the lieutenant’s guilt, doing all
this in his effective manner, half banter, half bonhomie; so that the
disgraced one, although not doing actual duty, became suddenly a
well-received guest at the social functions in the Casino; and not
alone that, he also assumed successfully the part of host himself, in
the much-talked-of little garden-house under the chestnut trees.

Kolberg could even go so far as to brag at his own table, while
champagne from his cellars was flowing and his guests smoked his
fragrant Havanas, of the prowess to be shown by him at the prospective
duel. He applied names like “_Dämelsack_”[18] to Kahle, of whom he
vowed to “make short work.” In that way he not only silenced all his
former detractors, but actually became the lion of the garrison--a
dashing fellow, who had made the conquest of a lady’s heart, while
others had to be satisfied with lesser game.

    [18] “Dämelsack”--a low term of opprobrium.--TR.

He began to sing small, however, when he one day received Kahle’s
challenge:

“Fifteen paces distance, visored duelling pistols, and an exchange of
bullets to the point of incapacitating one or both parties.”

That he had not expected. Why, this was murder, he said, and the issue
of the forthcoming duel now became suddenly rather doubtful to him;
all the more as the major was known to be a good shot, and his
reputation as an excellent Nimrod was known beyond the confines of the
garrison.

So, then, Kolberg earnestly began to train for the meeting. Day after
day he could be seen issuing forth for a walk into the woods nearby,
for pistol practice. Scores of trees soon bore the traces of his
bullets. When the day of battle would come he meant to be prepared to
face his adversary well equipped.

Sometimes, when he sent leaden pellets, one after the other, into his
targets, the thought would occur to him that really he ought not to
hit the major, since he had sinned against him and betrayed his trust.
It was something like the last flickerings of a feeling of duty which
had dwindled for years in the slow process of moral decadence: the
last flutterings of a guilt-laden conscience and of a sense of
justice. These dim emotions, however, were drowned by a more powerful
sentiment: his newly awakened love of life, the primal feeling of
self-preservation, which seized him all the harder the more he began
to muse about the possibility of having to lose a life which offered
so much that was worth living for. An inner voice called to him: “Thou
shalt not die! Life is sweet!”

And there was only one way of carrying out his purpose,--to kill his
man.

In this way, with delays and supplementary investigation, four months
elapsed. Then at last the Council of Honor pronounced its sentence.
Kolberg was dismissed from the service; but, along with the formal
request to his Majesty to confirm the sentence, went a unanimously
signed petition for his reinstatement.

The proposed duel was likewise sanctioned, but not under the
conditions proposed by Kahle. Perhaps it was feared that a fatal
ending to the duel, such as the very stringent conditions seemed to
make almost unavoidable, would raise too much dust. For quite recently
there had been several cases of a similar nature, and the death of one
of the duellists had had the most disagreeable consequences for those
high-commanding officers who had neither attempted to modify the
conditions of combat nor endeavored to bring about reconciliation.

Thus it was that the new terms of the challenge were: thirty-five
paces distance and one exchange of bullets; ordinary pistols.

Kahle, then, was to be given no opportunity to punish as he deserved
the disturber of his domestic peace, because superior officers did not
wish to bring unpleasant consequences upon themselves; for the duel,
as now arranged for under these altered terms, he regarded as a mere
farce, and a possible fatal issue could be nothing but the work of
blind accident.

Borgert had been requested by Kolberg to serve as his second, and the
former readily agreed to this; for on the one hand he liked to play
the rôle of an onlooker in such an affair, and on the other he deemed
it prudent to put Kolberg under a new obligation; all the more as the
repaying of his loans seemed as far off as ever.

On the eve of his leaving for that city in South Germany where the
meeting was to take place, Kolberg once more assembled his faithful
admirers in his quiet little garden-house. His invitations had been
for a banquet, washed down with some of his choicest wines. The
drinking on that occasion was so hard that Kolberg himself became
completely intoxicated, and when his guests left he was snoring in a
drunken stupor on his lounge. The train left early, and Kolberg’s man
had a hard task in rousing his master sufficiently at the proper time
to hastily prepare him for his long journey.

Borgert had been in a similar plight. As he stood on the station
platform a few minutes before the train rolled in, he felt as if he
had only just now risen from his chair at the festive board.

As he confided this impression to his principal, Kolberg, he did not
forget to mention incidentally that, “of course,” he had forgotten to
take his purse along. With a show of assumed indifference he stuffed
the two “blue rags” into his watchpocket, Kolberg having fished the
bills with trembling fingers out of his own wallet, and a silent
pressure of the hand was the only thing Kolberg was ever to receive in
lieu thereof.

They arrived at Kahle’s garrison in due time, still in a somewhat
dazed condition. Kahle’s second had attended to all the preliminaries
of the duel. It was a cold morning when two cabs rolled out of the
town on their way to the garrison shooting stands, where the bloody
meeting was to take place.

The sun was just peeping over the backs of the mountains to the east,
and sent his first oblique rays down upon the hoar-frosted stubble
fields.

Peacefully Nature spread her autumnal robe, and in the forest deep
silence reigned. The only sound, now and then, was the fluttering of a
dead leaf seeking its bed of repose on the bare earth.

In the first cab sat Kolberg, Borgert, and two surgeons, while the
second was occupied by Kahle, his second, and the two members of the
Council of Honor, who were to witness the duel as impartial judges.
Beneath the rear seat lay the case of pistols. From the highroad the
vehicles turned into a side path, so narrow that the branches of the
trees standing to right and left frequently beat against the cab
panes.

They reached their destination,--an opening in the woods. It was here,
secluded from all curious and observant eyes, that the officers of the
nearby garrison went to settle their “affairs of honor.” The occupants
of both vehicles descended and ordered the drivers to ride back to the
edge of the woods, and there await their return.

The case containing the pistols was placed on a slight eminence, and
the seconds took out the weapons; then these were loaded, and both
pistols underwent an examination by the seconds.

The surgeons took off their coats, spread out their instruments, and
made ready strips of bandage. Meanwhile the judges had measured the
proper distance and had firmly planted their swords at either end, to
mark the terminal points. This was accomplished with some difficulty,
as the ground was frozen hard.

The customary formal attempt to effect a reconciliation was
ineffectual, of course, and so the two principals took their stands at
the indicated points.

Kahle looked pale; he trembled with the cold, and his
nervously-twitching features betrayed intense agitation.

Kolberg, on the contrary, was almost smiling, and threw away with a
careless gesture the stub of the cigarette he had been smoking until
the last.

One of the judges explained briefly the order of combat, saying that
the shots must be fired between the words “one” and “three.” A moment
later he commanded:

“Ready!”

Both men held their pistols pointed towards the ground, in order to
raise them immediately on the word “one.”

Simultaneously with “two” Kahle fired, and the ball struck with a
slight noise the bark of a beech tree, a step or two to the left of
and above his adversary, while a small twig fell rattling from
overhead. Kahle’s unsteady hand had given his pistol a slight upward
turn, so that he had missed his prey.

Kolberg, however, stood throughout firm and motionless, and took
steady aim, so that with “three” the trigger of his pistol fell.

Kahle looked unflinchingly at the small black mouth of the pistol
pointing at him, but at the shot he opened his eyes wide, lurched
heavily, and fell headlong.

A cold tremor ran down Kolberg’s spine as he saw the tall, powerful
man pitch forward, and for a moment he remained, his smoking pistol
lifted, rooted to the spot. Then the weapon slipped from his hand.

The others, however, immediately ran towards the major, and the
surgeons tore open his coat.

There was a small hole in his chest, and the blood began to ooze from
it.

Kahle had lost consciousness for a second only. Now he lay there,
pale, and gazing steadily at the men busily engaged about him.

Kolberg also approached, holding out his hand in token of amity; but
he quickly withdrew his hand and retreated out of sight, for a cold,
repellent look from Kahle’s eyes had met his. From some short distance
in the rear, out of the reach of those severe eyes, he attentively
viewed his prostrate foe; then he turned on his heels and made off
through the woods, towards the cabs.

The major’s wound, however, was found to be not fatal, although the
bullet had grazed the lungs, and a long time would have to elapse
before he would be up and about once more.

One of the cabs was driven up and the major carefully lifted into it.
The two surgeons accompanied him inside, while his second occupied the
place next the driver. Thereupon they drove back at a slow gait to the
city, where the injured man was to be at once taken to the hospital.

After he had taken farewell from the two judges as the vehicle reached
the outskirts of the town, Borgert, who remained with Kolberg, slapped
the latter encouragingly on the shoulder and said:

“Don’t make such a wry face, man alive! Be satisfied that you got off
with a whole skin. Of course, it was rough on the poor devil that you
happened to hit him in the chest; but that’s something you are not
responsible for; after all, the challenge came from him. And now let’s
have a good breakfast, for my stomach rebels against this raw air. I
am not accustomed to knock about the woods so early in the morning.”

“I feel sincerely sorry that I hit the major so unluckily,” replied
Kolberg; “but I didn’t mean to, and the devil take the women! It’s
always their doing. I don’t know anyway what made me take up with that
silly Kahle woman!”

“Don’t bother your head about that, my dear fellow,” said Borgert.
“The major alone is to blame, for he ought to have looked out better
for that handsome wife of his. And as for her, she is not worth a
thought, as we all know. One must treat a woman as she deserves.”

Borgert’s specious eloquence succeeded in a short while in dispelling
the clouds from Kolberg’s face, for to his callous perceptions all
that the other had said was true. That there were heartless and vulgar
sentiments contained in Borgert’s words he neither understood nor
cared about.

So these worthy twain proceeded to their hotel, donned citizens’
clothes, and then repaired to a fashionable restaurant. The waiters
received them with sleepy eyes, being just engaged in putting the
place to rights; for it was still very early in the day, and they
looked at their guests with something of amazement.

The two officers started in on their round of dissipation with several
glassfuls of neat brandy, and wound up, late at night, in a resort of
doubtful repute. Whoever might have observed them throughout the day,
joking and jesting, could not have helped the conclusion that these
two had clearly forgotten the events of the morning, and that they had
recovered, together with their peace of mind, that superficial good
humor which so often distinguishes the conscienceless rascal from the
man of finer mould.

Next day, at noon, our two heroes arrived at their garrison. They were
received with open arms by a number of their comrades, for the rumor
of what had occurred had preceded them.

A group of officers, in fact, stood on the platform of the little
station as they left their train, and after much handshaking and
congratulations, all of them accompanied Kolberg to his dwelling,
there to celebrate his triumph in a “drop” of choice wine.

But there were some of the officers, especially the elder ones, who
censured Kolberg for his heartless behavior. Several of them even went
so far as to say that it would have been more fitting for him to have
remained alone just at this time, and to make amends for his past
follies by a term of undisturbed self-inspection; this new orgy they
thought, above all, indecent and coarse.

Two days afterward the confirmation of the sentence pronounced in his
case by the Council of Honor arrived from Berlin. With it came
likewise the permission for Kolberg to enter the army anew as a junior
lieutenant. That, however, meant his transference to another garrison,
for in this one there was no room for him. Before he could start his
career afresh in a beautiful city by the Rhine, Kolberg had to comply
with one other little formality, and that took him to a fortress where
he had to undergo confinement of an easy description, and lasting only
for a couple of months, because he had been guilty of “participation
in a duel with deadly weapons,” as his Majesty’s decree read.

The major recovered very slowly. The difficult operation undertaken by
two regimental surgeons of removing the bullet imbedded near the
spinal column had not entirely succeeded. The bullet had indeed been
removed, but inflammation of the affected parts had set in, and this
had been accompanied with great pain and a high fever.

It was only towards the close of winter that the major was dismissed
from the hospital as a convalescent. His health and his energy were
both gone, and he was compelled to resign his commission in the army,
his strength being insufficient to discharge the duties of his post.

He also had been sentenced to a three months’ term in a fortress in
consonance with the invariable custom followed in such cases by the
Kaiser, which makes no distinction between offender and offended,
between victim and aggressor. But in this instance a confinement of a
few days was considered ample, and at the expiration of this brief
term the imperial pardon reached the broken-down man, and he was
permitted to depart to wherever his inclination might take him.

Kahle thus saw his life’s labor destroyed. As a man who had scarcely
reached forty, yet with his physical strength nearly spent, he had to
face the question how and where he was to carve out a new field of
activity for himself. His small pension was wholly insufficient to
enable him to even eke out an existence on it, and he had, besides, by
the decree of the court, been intrusted with the sole custody of his
child. This, while it gave him at least an object in life, was for a
man in his circumstances an additional grave burden; for his little
son was still of that tender age to require a woman’s constant
ministrations.

The small fortune which his divorced wife had brought into their
marriage had, of course, been handed back to her by the law.

And why had all this misfortune overtaken him?

Because the army code and social conventions had bidden him to save as
much of the “honor” of his wife as he could. To this mistaken idea he
had been sacrificed.

And Kolberg was domiciled by the vine-clad borders of the Rhine, and
in his new garrison led a life as dissipated and as free of care as he
had in his former one.



CHAPTER VII

AN AIRY STRUCTURE COLLAPSES


Seated at his desk in his elegantly furnished apartments, we see First
Lieutenant Borgert.

Before him lay a large sheet of paper covered with rows of figures,
and all around him whole mountains of documents, bills, and
vari-colored envelopes.

One after another he took up these bits of paper, and from them noted
down amounts on the big sheet. He had already reached the third column
when he suddenly ceased his labors and threw the pencil disgustedly
away. Then he grasped the whole pile and threw it into the fire, where
in a few moments it was consumed in the leaping flame and reduced to a
tiny mass of ashes.

His laudable purpose had been to go through all the claims against
him, so far as they had been presented. Usually his simple method was
to throw bills, as they reached him, into the stove; but for once he
had been curious to find out how much he really owed in the world, or
at least to gain an approximate idea of his indebtedness.

But we have seen that he gave it up as an impossible task. To tread
the mazes of these bundles of dunning letters, plaints, simple bills,
and formal orders issued to him by the colonel to discharge certain
debts submitted to his authority, was more than Borgert felt himself
equal to, especially as the conviction had very soon dawned on him
that his was labor lost. This much had become quite clear: to pay his
debts was impossible, for their total rose far and away above his
surmises. When he had left off in sheer disgust, the neat little sum
of eleven thousand marks had been reached, and to that had to be added
the other mountain of bills which he had just consigned to the flames.

Most of all, the seven hundred marks which he owed to Captain König
lay on his conscience; but there were some other items that pressed
him hard, for they were “debts of honor,” contracted with his equals
in the social scale; and the first of these, amounting to two thousand
three hundred marks, was due in about six weeks. How and where should
he raise these large amounts?

He began to reflect. The furniture had already been saddled with a
chattel mortgage, one of his horses even been mortgaged twice, and for
the other, his former charger, he probably would not get more than
three hundred marks, and that was nothing but a drop on a hot stone.
Of his comrades there was none remaining with whom an attempt to
borrow would have had the slightest prospect of success,--possibly
König alone excepted. But should he go to him again with such a
request? It could not be easily done,--at least not before the old
item of seven hundred marks had been paid back. The only safety anchor
he could think of was a formal request for a large loan from a Berlin
usurer with a large clientèle in the army. In fact, he had tried it;
but the fellow had not yet been heard from, although three weeks had
gone since this same individual had been furnished with a surety given
by First Lieutenant Leimann, and with a life insurance policy in the
amount of twenty thousand marks.

For the moment nothing could be done. He would try to pacify in some
way the most pressing of his creditors, and to pay in small
instalments only those who either should begin legal proceedings
against him, or lodge their complaints with the regiment. Perhaps--who
could tell?--an undiscovered source might open somewhere; perhaps luck
at the cards, so long unfaithful to him, would return, or one of his
many tickets in various state lotteries would draw a big prize. And
who could tell but what the biggest prize of all, a wealthy bride with
a good fat dowry, might not fall to his share? He had formal
applications of the kind on file with several of the most prominent
and successful marriage agencies at the capital and elsewhere, and
only recently one of these centres for the radiation of connubial
bliss, so much in vogue with his kind throughout the empire, had been
heard from to some apparent purpose.

“Quite a bundle of bright hopes,” he said to himself, and with that
his plastic mind resumed its equilibrium. His good humor returned, he
lit himself a cigarette, and whistled a gay tune, while pacing the
thick Smyrna rugs in the centre of his study.

His alert ear heard a whispering in the corridor. He discerned the
soft tread of nimble feet on the hall carpet, and then there was a
knock at his door.

That must be Frau Leimann, he thought to himself, for she frequently
paid him hasty visits at the afternoon tea hour, because at that time
her husband used to go to the “_Dämmerschoppen_.”

To his “Come,” however, a poorly clad woman with a basket on her arm
stepped over the threshold. Her youthful face showed already the
unmistakable stamp which care and sorrow had imprinted on it, and she
gazed shyly at the officer who had remained standing in the centre of
the room, whence he eyed his visitor with undisguised displeasure.

“And what is it you want again, Frau Meyer?” he blurted. “I’ve told
you once before that I will give you no more washing to do.”

“I beg the Herr First Lieutenant will excuse me, but I wanted to ask
whether I cannot have to-day those forty marks, or at least a part of
them. I badly need money, for my husband has been lying sick for three
weeks past and is unable to work.”

“Oh, bother!” replied Borgert, roughly. “Come back to-morrow night; I
have no small change about me, and I haven’t any time to spare.”

“But I hope you will keep faith with me this time, Herr First
Lieutenant; you have promised so often to pay me.”

With that she diffidently opened the door and left, but Borgert undid
one of the windows and let the pure autumn air stream in. The odor of
these poverty-stricken wretches was insupportable to him. Disgusting!
He took from a carved cabinet on the wall a large perfume bottle, and
sprinkled a good portion of its contents upon the costly rugs and the
upholstery of his furniture. Then he rang the bell for his servant.

The man stepped in briskly. It was Private Röse, whom the captain no
longer wanted in the front, since he had proven unreliable, and with
his deficient conceptions of military discipline would only be an
injury to the squadron.

“What did I order you to do, you swine?” the officer shouted.

“I was to let nobody in without being announced,” answered Röse with
diffidence; “but the woman passed me by, and I could not hinder her
from going in.”

“Then throw the carrion out, thou sloppy beast! The first time
somebody is let in again without my consent, I’ll cowhide you within
an inch of your life!”

In saying which, he struck Röse with both fists in the face, then
thrust open the door and kicked him out.

“If the hag should come back to-morrow night, you tell her I’ve just
gone out!” he called after him.

Borgert had just seated himself, with a newspaper, by the window when
the floor bell once more sounded. It was a short, energetic tinkle.
The servant came in and announced, with a face still wet with tears:

“A gentleman would like to see the Herr First Lieutenant!”

“What is his name? I told you always to get the name first.”

The man left the room, but immediately returned.

“He will not give me his name, but he says he must speak with the Herr
First Lieutenant in any event.”

“Then ask him in!”

A moment later a man stepped in, carrying a large wallet under his
arm, and introduced himself,--“Bailiff Krause.”

“Begging the Herr First Lieutenant’s pardon in case I should disturb
him, but I have a mandate from the court. Please, here it is!”

And he took from his wallet a voluminous envelope and handed it to
Borgert, who, however, did not lose his presence of mind, and answered
in a pleasant tone:

“Ah, I know. Has already been settled yesterday; for I presume it is
for that small amount which I owe to my tailor.”

“As far as I know, Herr First Lieutenant, it is about the matter of
the firm of Froehlich & Co., the sum demanded, on bills of exchange
signed by you, being four thousand marks, for furniture sold and
delivered.”

“Oh, that’s it! The firm might have spared itself that trouble; the
whole amount was transmitted by my bank day before yesterday.”

“So much the better, then,” jested the official. “I have the honor.”

“Farewell, Herr Krause; I would say _au revoir_, but your visit always
means a doubtful pleasure.”

When the man was gone, Borgert tore open the envelope and scanned the
contents of the document it contained.

That was a most disagreeable business. The furniture had not yet been
paid for, but already mortgaged, although the explicit terms of the
contract forbade his doing so until after payment in full to the
merchant had made the whole his own property.

Four thousand marks! A heap of money! He would have to speak to
Leimann; perhaps he could do something.

Then suddenly he remembered that the bailiff had not passed out into
the street through the front garden. He called his servant and asked
him:

“Where did the man go to?”

“Upstairs, Herr First Lieutenant.”

“To Leimann’s?”

“Just so, Herr First Lieutenant.”

Well, now, what had he to do up there? Could it be possible that they
also were in his toils? That indeed would be bad, for Leimann had, in
spite of all, remained something like an aid and help to him in
becoming surety for payments promised or in calming obstreperous
creditors.

Meanwhile Herr Krause handed to Frau Leimann, scared almost out of her
wits, the summons in an action begun by the firm of Weinstein & Co.,
to which she owed a matter of four hundred marks for a silk robe
furnished by them.

She was in despair, and scurried to and fro in the room, vainly
cudgelling her brain for an idea that would bring her succor. What
could she do? Where should she get the money? She would go to Borgert
and ask him for the amount. But what would he think of her? Would he
not lose all respect for her?

For a moment she stood undecided in her room, and pressed both hands
against her wildly beating heart. Then she went resolutely to the door
and hastened down the back stairs.

She found Borgert musing in an easy-chair, and he did not even rise
when she entered, but merely waved his hand in greeting to her. But
she stepped up to him and kissed him tenderly on the forehead, and
then she sat down close by him. He was puzzled by her demeanor, and
looked up questioningly into her face.

“What kind of visitors do you receive nowadays?” he said pleasantly.

“I? Visitors?” Frau Leimann retorted with some embarrassment. “I have
received nobody,--truly not, nobody.”

And while she said it her eyes wandered about the room without meeting
his.

“You have received no visitor? Oh, but that is a big fib!”

“Why should you say so, George; who should have been to see me?”

“Well, I merely thought a certain Herr Krause called on you.”

“How do you know that?” she cried, startled by his knowledge.

“I know everything, my child; even that the bailiff was just in to see
you.”

Frau Leimann was covered with confusion, and mechanically began to
fondle the seam of her little silk apron.

“Well, if you know, it is unnecessary for me to tell you. Yes, he was
to see me.”

“And what did he want?”

The pretty woman told him the details. With a tear-choked voice she
exclaimed:

“I am lost if my husband hears of it!”

“But I don’t see. If he has bought it he must, of course, pay for the
dress.”

“He knows of nothing. I had to have the dress, the red silk, you know.
I told him at that time that my mother had sent it; for he would have
refused me, and I had to have it, and so I took it on my own account.”

“That was very stupid of you. Where will you take the money from now?”

“I really don’t know. Cannot you help me?”

“I will go to those people and ask them for time.”

“There would be no use in doing that, George; I must have the cash. I
need at least a thousand marks, for I have to pay for other things as
well--the dressmaker, the hair-dresser, the shoemaker, etc. Get me the
money, George, and show me that you really love me as much as you
always say you do.”

“I?” Borgert set up an unpleasant laugh. “Good heavens, I don’t know
myself what is to become of me.”

“How so? Are you in debt too?”

“If you would take the trouble to devote some attention to that big
sheet of paper over there on my desk, you might be able to tell. That
sort of thing I get every day.”

Frau Leimann stepped up to the desk, unfolded the big sheet, and
stared with wide-open eyes at the formidable columns.

“Why, I had no idea of this, George! What is to become of all this?
You were my only reliance, and now I am entirely undone.”

She sank, sobbing, down on the divan and covered her face with both
hands.

“Don’t lose courage at once, you little goose; you won’t die for the
lack of these few hundred marks!” Borgert consoled her,
affectionately passing his hand over her blonde hair. “I will see what
can be done, and in a week’s time you’ll have your thousand marks.”

For an answer she put her arms passionately around Borgert’s neck, and
thanked him.

“I knew that you would not leave me in the lurch, thou best one!”

        *       *       *       *       *

When Leimann returned home about eight o’clock, he found all the rooms
dark and silent.

To his question about his wife the maid answered:

“The gracious lady has gone out.”

“Where to?”

“I do not know, Herr First Lieutenant!”

He lit a lamp and then went to the letter-box to ascertain whether
anything had arrived by the evening mail. He found two letters with
bills inside, amounting to over six hundred marks.

He did a little grumbling to himself, and then locked up the two
“rags” in his desk.

In doing so he noticed a large yellow envelope. Supposing it to be an
official letter, he seized it, intending to open it. But he found
that it had been already opened, and his curiosity grew as he drew
from it three large sheets.

Without at first catching its purport, he gazed at the clerical
handwriting in it, and then he sat down at the table and read the
whole document from beginning to end.

Ah, indeed, his wife too? Why, that was quite a charming surprise! If
her funds were running so low as to oblige her to contract debts it
would be vain, he thought, to expect any help from his mother-in-law,
and yet he had always counted on her as a last resort. In a rage he
flung the summons and the legal statement into a corner and went up
and down in the room, musing on the financial embarrassment of his
wife.

Probably Frau Leimann had heard the steady tramp of his feet through
the ceiling, for now she entered with exuberant excuses.

“My dear George,” said she, breathlessly, “I had a pressing engagement
with my dressmaker, and I ran after you in the street. I saw you
passing before me, but I could not catch up with you.”

“What did you have to do with your dressmaker?” Leimann confronted her
furiously.

“What else should I have had to do there than business for which I pay
her? She is making a riding-habit for me!”

“You had better first pay for your old rubbish before ordering any new
gear!” shouted he.

“Why this tone to me? And who tells you that I do not pay my bills?
You think, I suppose, that I’m squandering my money as you are
squandering yours.”

“If you do not wish me to see what the bailiff brings you, you had
better not leave it directly under my nose.”

His wife for an instant did not quite understand what he meant by
that, but then she recollected that she had left the summons on her
husband’s desk.

“I must tell you very emphatically,” she flared up indignantly, “not
to put your nose into my private correspondence. If the letter was
lying open on the table, you had no right to read it. _I_ never look
at _your_ bills.”

“Oh, do what you please; but I must request you not to bring the
bailiff to my house.”

“That is not the worst, _mon cher_, that may happen to you; he will
know now at least the way here when he’ll call on you next.”

“Hold your tongue, you impudent woman, or I will throw you into the
street.”

“Many thanks for your kind offer, but I’m going of my own accord.”

She left the room, went into her bed-chamber, and retired to rest.

Meanwhile on the floor below Borgert was reading a book; but his
thoughts were far away. He had serious forebodings that all his
creditors, like a pack of hungry wolfhounds, were about to engage in a
joint hunt for him, or rather for the money that he didn’t have. He
was afraid that the colonel would soon demand the immediate payment of
his load of debts, and that, if unable to comply with the order,
resignation from the army was the only possible outcome. And what
should he do then, without a penny, without any useful knowledge, and
with many luxurious habits? Something must be done, he made up his
mind, and he was going to employ the next day, a Sunday, to consider
once more the various possibilities of raising a large sum, no matter
how, to discharge all these liabilities, most of them small in
themselves, but in their totality representing quite a fortune.

Solaced by the hope that after all some mild hand would open and drop
into his lap a small mountain of gold, he fell asleep; the book
slipped from his hands, and the lamp on the night table went out after
midnight, since Borgert had forgotten to blow it out. He slept
restlessly, and bad dreams pursued him. His load of debt developed
into a nightmare that was pressing on his chest and threatening to
crush out his life.

When he awoke in the morning it was past ten. Borgert began to rage.
Almost half the day was gone now, and yet he had meant to do so much.
Had this ass of a servant again forgotten to wake him? With that his
head ached, and he felt nervous and out of sorts. Throwing his
dressing-gown loosely about him he went into his servant’s room and
found Röse laboriously penning a letter. When his master entered the
poor fellow shot out of the seat and stood bolt upright.

“Why didn’t you wake me, you beast?” he thundered at him.

“I wakened the Herr First Lieutenant at seven o’clock, but the Herr
First Lieutenant wanted to continue sleeping and said I need not come
back any more to annoy him.”

“That’s a lie, you swine; I will teach you to do as you are told.” And
he seized a leather belt lying on the fellow’s bed, and with it struck
Röse violently, then kicking him, and letting the belt play around his
face and neck until broad livid marks began to show.

Röse preserved his military attitude, and stood his punishment without
in the least resisting. But that was a further cause of anger to
Borgert, and the latter dropped the belt, and with his fist struck the
man several hard blows in the chest. Then he took the man’s letter,
half finished as it was, crumpled it up in his hand, and threw it into
the coal-scuttle.

“Step upstairs lively and tell Herr First Lieutenant Leimann that I
want to speak to him. Tell him if possible to step in here for half an
hour before he goes to town.”

“At your orders, Herr First Lieutenant.”

Borgert stepped back to his chamber, finished dressing, and then went
into the adjoining room.

Sure enough, there stood his coffee, but cold as ice. In that case
Röse must have been before him in the room. Well, a drubbing or two
would do the fellow no harm. That was good for preserving discipline
and a respect for his superiors, even if now and then it should be
applied not exactly at the right moment.

On his desk were lying several letters. Three of them contained bills,
and the fourth was from his father. The three he threw unopened into
the fire, and the fourth he read as follows:

     MY DEAR SON,--With growing concern I have seen from your
     last letter that you had again to incur large expenditures
     which harass you because you had not counted on them. Much
     as my desire would be to let you have the money you ask,
     with the best intentions it is not possible to do so. You
     know best how closely I have to economize to make both ends
     meet. If seventy-five marks would be any object to you, I
     could let you have them, although I had promised your mother
     this money for a new dress of which she stands in much need.

     But I must frankly confess to you that I do not see why you
     should not be able to meet all your legitimate expenses with
     your pay and the two hundred marks allowance per month. At
     your age I did not have more than that myself, and yet I was
     able to undertake an extended trip every year. I give you
     the well-meant advice to live for a time a little more apart
     from your comrades, in order to reduce your expenses. Employ
     yourself diligently at home--there is so much to learn in
     your profession nowadays--and avoid carefully every
     opportunity which would force you into needless outlay which
     you would subsequently not be able to meet. Make your scale
     of living correspond to your income. If you will openly
     declare that this or that is too costly for you, every one
     will respect you the more, for they will see that you are
     not spending beyond your proper income. Do not live
     carelessly, and shun those amusements which you cannot
     afford. After all, it is both sensible and high-minded to
     live within one’s means.

     Write to me soon how you have regulated this affair and
     whether the small sum I can offer you will be of advantage
     to you.

     In the hope that no inconvenience of a serious character
     will grow out of your present embarrassment,

         I remain,
             Your affectionate
                OLD FATHER.

When Borgert had read these lines, he crushed the paper within his
palm and then cast it likewise into the stove. With a sigh he sank
into a chair and began to ruminate.

At this moment his servant entered and announced Leimann.

Borgert went to the door to meet his friend, and when they had stepped
into his study, Leimann asked with considerable anxiety:

“Well, what important matter is it you have for me this morning?”

Borgert planted himself squarely on his legs in front of the other and
said with assumed gaiety:

“You see, my dear fellow, we all have our troubles. I have just about
reached the end of my tether and should like to appoint you receiver
of my assets.”

“The end of your tether?” retorted Leimann with agitation. “What do
you mean by that? Do you mean in money matters?”

“You have guessed it. I must have money right now, a whole bagful of
it, or else I’m done for.”

“Is it as bad as all that? Have new complications arisen? Why, you
told me the last time that you were out of your troubles just now.”

“Yes, I did; but yesterday I made something of an investigation, and I
found that there is no other way out my difficulties than by means of
a gigantic loan. I should like, therefore, to speak openly to you
about the matter, for I’m in hopes that there must be still ways and
means to keep me above water.”

Leimann lowered his eyes, looked fixedly at the pattern of the Turkish
rug, and rubbed reflectively his unshaven chin. Then he replied with a
shrug:

“How much is it?”

“Twelve thousand marks I must have, and not a penny less, for I’ll
have to make a clear track. I’m about badgered to death by these
unceasing dunning letters and complaints in the courts.”

“Hm, and how did you think you were going to manage this matter?”

“I have some more addresses of financial men, usurers, you know. If I
could get you once more to go security for me, I think we ought to be
able to attain our end.”

“Security? Security? Yes, it is easy for you to talk that way, my dear
boy; but finally there must be something in the background in order
to assume responsibility for another’s debts. I must tell you frankly
that if you can’t meet this payment of three thousand marks of last
month, there will be the devil to pay for me, since I went bail for
you.”

“I do not think there is any need of your being so explicit; as a
matter of course, I shall meet my obligations.”

“I don’t doubt it in the least; but for me it is indeed impossible to
become security for you once more. Not only that, but I have to ask
you to let me have some money, for I really do need some very badly.”

“With the greatest of pleasure,” said Borgert with a sinister smile;
“but why don’t you raise money on your ‘commiss-fortune’?[19] That, it
strikes me, would be the surest way of obtaining it.”

    [19] “Commiss-fortune”--the term applied to the dowry of an
    officer’s wife, which must reach a certain figure.--TR.

“My ‘commiss-fortune’? Very well put; but I’d have to have one in
order to raise money on it.”

“What have you been marrying on, then?” asked Borgert in amazement.

“I only had it four weeks in my hands, when it was returned to the
party who had lent it for a consideration until I had obtained the
official consent.”

Borgert looked in consternation at his friend and then began to
measure the room in nervous excitement.

“In that case,” he began, after making several turns of the room, “I
will make another proposition: I become surety for you, and you for
me.”

“Good,” cried Leimann, joyfully; “but it is a somewhat ticklish
business, for some time or other there is bound to come a crash, and
then if neither of us has a penny there will be the deuce and all.”

“That catastrophe will not happen, my most beloved friend, because if
I can pull through once more there will be nothing to fear for me. I
shall marry.”

“By the eternal gods, but you have amazing courage! Only let me tell
you, be careful in the choice of your father-in-law, otherwise it is a
worse than useless arrangement. I myself can speak from experience.”

“That is a matter of course; I shan’t marry on empty promises. For
less than half a million they cannot do business with me.”

“Well, I wish you luck; but, come to think of it, how is it about
König? Couldn’t he be induced to come out with a few thousand marks?”

“I’ve thought of him, but it seems to me doubtful whether he can be
got at. For, first of all, we would have to pay him the old score.”

“All right; but we might make at least an attempt. He can’t say more
than ‘no,’ and I shall sit down at once and write a few lines to him.”

Leimann took a chair at the desk and a sheet of letter-paper from one
of the drawers.

Borgert sat down quietly in a corner, lit a cigarette, and blew its
smoke into the slanting triangle of floating particles of dust which
was formed by a ray of sunlight penetrating his window. The bluish
wreaths of smoke formed fantastic bands, weaving and interweaving.

Now at last the letter was ended, and Leimann closed it, wrote the
address on the outside, and Röse was told to take it immediately to
its destination.

“That will pull his leg, I think, if anything will!” said Leimann,
with a satisfied air, as he arose from his chair.

“What have you written him?” asked Borgert with some curiosity.

“Simply this,--that I needed money for a comrade and appealed
therefore to his generous sentiments of friendship which he had so
often proved. As a term for repayment I have indicated three months
hence, and have pledged my word for the punctual refunding of the
money; for you told me, you know, that you would have it here by that
time.”

“Most assuredly I can. If the fellow will only give us the money now,
everything else will be attended to at its proper time.”

Thus they chatted on for another half hour, when Röse returned with
his answer from Captain König.

Leimann quickly grasped the letter, but then he hesitated before
opening it. Undecided, he scanned the address and looked
questioningly at Borgert, who was still comfortably seated in his
chair.

At last, however, impatience mastered him, and Leimann tore open the
envelope and unfolded the letter.

With consternation he read again and again. Borgert saw from the face
of his friend, who with eyebrows lifted and hands trembling with
nervous excitement stood there a picture of disappointment, that
König’s answer had not brought joyful news. But he was more quiet and
felt less disappointment than Leimann, although the whole matter
concerned in the first place rather him than the latter. It was no
longer new to him to receive denials to his letters requesting loans.

His face, though, assumed a wrathful expression when Leimann handed
him silently König’s response, and he began to read it. In his letter
the captain said:

     “I earnestly regret that I’m not able to comply with your
     wishes. On the one hand considerations for my family
     restrain me, for sums of such magnitude I could only advance
     if perfect security for their repayment were offered. But
     the only pledge _you_ offer me for punctual return of the
     money is your word of honor, and I am sorry to say I cannot
     look upon that as such an absolute security, since you as
     well as First Lieutenant Borgert have not yet refunded the
     divers amounts which I loaned you months ago, although you
     at the time passed your word to me to see that the debt was
     paid promptly within ten days. Besides, it seems to me, that
     your financial condition, as far as I understand it, is not
     of a description to guarantee the keeping of a promise of
     that kind made to me.”

Borgert rose from his chair and flung the letter aside in a rage. Then
he stepped to the window and looked down into the street.

Neither of the two spoke a word; but as their glances met, Leimann
remarked:

“Well, what do you say to this?”

“A piece of insolence, a vulgar bit of presumption it is on his part!”
Borgert broke out. “How the devil does this fellow dare, anyway, to
concern himself with our private affairs? It would have been merely an
unfriendly act and would have shown a deficient spirit of comradeship
to send us a reply refusing our request, but to do so in this
offensive manner! We cannot quietly submit to this.”

“But what are you going to do about it?” retorted Leimann with a
shrug. “If you openly take a stand against him, he has us by the
throat if he merely states that we did not keep our pledged word, and
we could not dispute that, for he can show it in black and white.
Therefore it will be best for us to pocket his rudeness and to cut the
fellow; he will not fail to notice that.”

“Apparently he has entirely forgotten that it would be an easy matter
for us to break his neck. Did he not say himself at the time that he
was going to take the amount in question from the squadron fund? I
think we could make it very unpleasant for him if we were to use this
fact against him.”

“True,” said Leimann, “but you could not in decency bring up the
matter, since his touching those funds was done in our interest.”

“I don’t care. If he at present takes the liberty to throw impudent
remarks in our faces, I will certainly show him that I’m in a
condition to pay him back in the same coin.”

“But you cannot possibly sign a formal accusation stating that König
had lent you money obtained from the squadron fund. Do you not see
that that would throw a curious light upon yourself?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so clumsy as to do that. There are other ways in
which the trick could be done, and I shall manage to let nobody
suspect me as the author of the tale. But he will have to pay for
this, you can take my word for that. D---- the ugly face of him,
anyway!”

Both became silent once more, and a few minutes later Leimann took his
leave, since he had to attend to several minor engagements in town
before the dinner hour.

Nor did Borgert remain much longer at home. He went to the Casino and
drowned his bad humor in a bottle of Heidsieck.

When Borgert awoke, a couple of days later, from a night’s troubled
sleep, he noticed with concern that he had overslept himself and
missed his earlier duties. He rang the bell for his servant, but Röse
did not appear, not even on a second summons.

Borgert dressed and went to Röse’s room. He found it unoccupied. The
bed was untouched, and on top of it lay the uniform and the cap of the
man.

With astonishment the officer looked about him; the sticky,
unventilated atmosphere of the little chamber, and a strong odor of
soiled linen and worn-out clothes, was all that he noticed. Where
could Röse have gone so early in the day, and that, too, without
leave, even without a word to him? Had he been summoned to some
unexpected duty? But no, that was impossible, for here lay his
regimentals.

Borgert had already crossed over to the threshold to leave the room
again when his eye lighted on a much-stained slip of paper on the
table. He picked it up and his face paled while he read, for in the
man’s scrawling handwriting there were the words:

“Farewell! And go to the devil!”

As if petrified, Borgert stared at the paper. The fellow, then, had
deserted!

About his reasons for the step Borgert was not in doubt a minute, and
a sudden feeling of shame and disquiet seized him at the thought that
the man might be apprehended. In that case everything would come to
light: the bad usage to which he had been subjected, the maltreatment
which he had met at his hands, and, worst of all, all those big or
little secrets of which he had become aware during his service with
his master.

Too unpleasant! Borgert stepped again over to his room and sat down on
the edge of the bed. His face was not pleasant to look at, and a
nervous twitching of his features showed how much he dreaded an
unlucky turn of affairs in case the fugitive should be caught and then
blab out all he knew.

It seemed to him as if of late there was a perfect conspiracy against
him. Anxiety, ill luck, and disappointment on every side, with not a
single silver lining to the cloud, which, black and ominous, had
suddenly begun to crowd his horizon.

For the first time the awful certainty flashed through his mind that
he stood at the brink of a catastrophe against which there was no
remedy unless a miracle intervened. But where under the sun should
such a miracle come from? All faith, all hope, dissolved before his
view in these few moments when the whole crushing weight of his guilt,
the whole labyrinth of his failure in life, came clearly to his
consciousness. An unreasoning terror, a fear of himself and a feeling
of helplessness conquered the man, who at other times had never
surrendered to untoward conditions, who had never hesitated to stamp
down all obstacles in his path. Borgert was not capable of deep
feeling or of noble sentiment; he had so far trodden the path of life
with cold egotism, coupled with a superficial view of his surroundings
and a lack of clearer insight into the motives impelling him and
others.

For some time he sat there, pallid, motionless, gazing into the vast
blank space of the unknown future; only the convulsive workings of his
face betrayed the intense agitation of his mind. It was the
psychological crisis in the life of a man who too late becomes aware
of having destroyed his better self, of having annihilated all those
hopes which on entering life had floated before his vision in roseate
hue. And there was nothing to which he could cling, not even a straw
for this man battling with the waves that threatened to engulf him, no
human soul that could or would help him. Despair clutched his throat,
and his breath came thick and short like that of one drowning.

Borgert had struck a balance with himself. He had taken stock, and now
felt clearly that his life was one not only marred but destroyed by
his own fault. He made up his mind to bear the consequences since
escape there was none.

Mechanically he completed his toilet and then went to the barracks to
report himself to the captain for having missed the morning service.
He kept silence about Röse’s flight, saying to himself that if the
deserter had the start of pursuit by a sufficiency of time, say
forty-eight hours, he would be a bigger fool indeed than Borgert took
him to be if he had not reached a safe retreat across the frontier.
And that, of course, would spare Borgert himself the unpleasant
predicament of facing a court-martial because of systematic
maltreatment of a subordinate.

When he returned home at noon, Borgert found a letter. It was the
reply of the financial man in Berlin to whom, in his quandary, he had
turned. The letter told the recipient in curt terms that his
application had been rejected. No loan could be made to him, it said,
since inquiries about Borgert and his co-called bondsmen, and the
endorsement of Leimann, had “demonstrated a financial status highly
unfavorable.”

Borgert received this news almost with indifference, for since this
morning he had abandoned all hope of a favorable turn, and hence felt
no disappointment.

He knew he could obtain no money anywhere after this. In fact, now
that he clearly envisaged things, it seemed astonishing that the
bubble had not burst long ere this. It had been solely due, as he now
felt, to Leimann’s extraordinary skill in hiding his own pecuniary
embarrassments that Borgert himself had been able to run up large
accounts without any tangible security whatever. For Leimann, he
remembered, had backed him up throughout.

Dazed and spent, Borgert lay down on his divan.

He did not wish to go to the Casino, for he felt no appetite, and he
was not in the mood to play his accustomed pranks and capers for the
delectation of his comrades. He did not want to see or hear of
anybody. He wanted to be all by himself and indulge in his morose
reflections. His eye wandered around the elegant appointments of his
dwelling. These fine paintings on his walls; this handsome and costly
furniture, most of it carved in solid oak; the soft Oriental rugs
underfoot which deadened every sound and made his bachelor home so
comfortable and cosy; those heavy, discreet hangings of finest velvet
which shut out the intrusive light and kept his apartments in that
epicurean _chiaroscuro_ which his sybarite taste demanded--what a
pity, what an infernal shame, to have to surrender into the hands of
these vermin of usurers all these trappings of his bachelor freedom!
Of course, they would struggle and fight for it all, and each one of
them would scramble to be the first to assert and enforce his rights.
Rather amusing it would be, he thought, but alas! he himself would not
be able to view the scene.

There was no help for it. Within a few days the crash must come; he
could see no escape.

But what was to become of himself? He had never seriously thought of
that before. Should he allow himself to be simply thrown into the
street? Perhaps, after all, they would even put him in quod? Time
pressed, and a decision must be reached quickly--at once.

Really, on sober reflection, he could not very well see why he should
remain any longer in this vale of tears after all his glory and his
pleasures would be gone. To learn anew, after losing all caste, after
dismissal from the army in disgrace and dishonor, to learn a
bread-winning calling and to have to work like everybody in that
despised throng of perspiring, vulgar toilers--surely, that was not at
all to his taste. From infancy up he had been reared in disdain of
labor--had acquired, one by one, tastes and habits of thought that
seemed irreconcilable with a life of sober, plain living and thinking,
with a life where his part would be that of a subordinate. It seemed
an impossible thing to him. Dimly he felt that to do so would require
energy, self-denial, and diligence, and of all these he possessed not
a trace. Should he then make an end of it, put a bullet in his brain?

But no, that was absurd, and, besides, that required courage. And
courage, in its best sense, he had never had. He had only shown
courage, or the semblance of it--a certain dash--the kind which in the
army is known as “_Schneid_.”

But here, when facing the final realities of life, his courage
entirely deserted him. And was it not possible, after all, that luck
would come to his aid in this dire extremity? He had only the one
life, and once thrown away the loss was irremediable. Suicide
therefore would be rash and stupid--folly never to be redeemed. Life
might smile on him again, and should he then with his own hand cut it
off? No, on no account.

But no rescuing thought would occur to him, cudgel his brain as he
might. And torturing, self-abasing reflections crowded again into his
brain.

The thought of his servant, of poor Röse, curiously enough, was
uppermost. Had not Röse, dolt that he was, cunningly managed to
disappear from a scene which was, in a certain sense, as unbearable as
his master’s at this juncture? And Röse by now was perhaps seated
comfortably in a quiet corner where nobody was looking for him, and
where it was possible to live without interference.

Could he himself, then, not do the same thing?

And this shadowy thought began to take solid form the more Borgert
dwelt on it. It seemed to him the only egress from the situation.

In new surroundings, in another country, amongst people who did not
know him, he might begin life afresh, and soon grass would grow over
the short-lived sensation which his disappearance would create in this
world-forgotten little hole of a town! Within a twelvemonth his very
name perhaps would be no longer on anybody’s lips in this place. And
even if in times to come this or that one of his comrades should
mention his name, it would be with the thought that such a man had
existed at some time or other, and that nobody to-day cared about him
any more.

He was so lost in his dreary thoughts that he did not observe the door
opening and giving admittance to Frau Leimann.

She looked pale and serious. Her face, so pleasant in its youthful,
placid beauty at other times, now appeared aged, and her eyes wore an
anxious expression.

Borgert did not rise, but contented himself with nodding to her,
saying never a word. His glance enveloped this woman, an intrigue with
whom had seemed to him but a short while ago an ambition worthy of his
talents.

But to-day she appeared to him no longer so desirable; her motions
seemed to him without grace or distinction, and her charms mediocre.

Her hair was arranged in negligent fashion, and the soft folds of her
morning gown to-day seemed to enwrap another woman and not the one
whose beauty had intoxicated him.

Two impressions stood out clearly in his mind: the woman as she now
faced him, and as she had appeared to him on a memorable evening.

But Frau Leimann was so preoccupied herself that the unflattering and
searching look of Borgert escaped her. She sat down on the divan
beside him and took his hand in hers. Her eyes gazed with diffidence
at the face of the man.

“You are ill, George?” asked she with anxiety.

He contented himself for all answer with a shake of his head.

“But tell me, speak to me. What ails you?”

“Why, it is nothing and it is everything,” Borgert answered with
indifference.

“What do you mean by that, George? Talk sensibly, please.”

“What am I to say? I am done with the whole business. That is all.”

“Done! Done with what? How am I to understand you?”

“Done with everything,--with life and with myself.”

“You talk like a sphinx, George. Why not tell me frankly what has
happened to you?”

“My money is gone. I’ll have to run away, or else there will be the
deuce to pay.”

Borgert felt a tremor run through her body. She did not reply, but
turned her face slowly away from him and stared at the window.

In his heart Borgert was thankful to her for receiving his
communication with such composure, and not with the screams and
hysterical sobbings which women habitually employ on occasions of the
kind.

And as he regarded attentively her pale profile, clear-cut against the
light, and saw a tear glistening in her eye, a passionate emotion,
largely pity for this suffering creature by his side, so pathetic in
her dumb resignation, took hold of him, and he drew her into his arms.

Then she murmured:

“Take me along, George!”

In amazement Borgert stared at her.

“For heaven’s sake, how did you get such thoughts? How can I do that?”

“Oh, George, you do not know. I cannot bear my life here any longer.
Let me go with you, I beseech you.”

“But that is not to be dreamt of. Will there not be scandal enough
when I disappear? And then take you along? Impossible.”

“In that case I shall go alone. I must leave here--I _must_.”

“But why all this so suddenly? What has come to you?”

Frau Leimann gave vent to her suppressed feelings by a violent fit of
sobbing. “My husband has beaten me with his clenched fist--see, here
are the marks!--because the bailiff had called on me. His treatment of
me has become worse and worse of late, and now my hatred, my dislike
of him has reached a point where I can no longer see him around me,
breathe the same air he breathes; and then,--another thing,” and here
she broke into weeping again, “I have no money--there is nothing with
which I can pay my debts; something--some great misfortune will
come--I’m sure of it, George, if I do not leave him peaceably.”

Borgert had great pains to quiet the excited woman.

He reflected. After all, her idea was not such a bad one. If she
really had made up her mind fully to leave her husband, she might as
well go with him; for in that case he would at least have somebody by
his side to whom he could speak, to whom he could open his
heart,--somebody who would be in the same situation as himself. And
when Frau Leimann once more implored him with a tearful voice, he
whispered:

“Then come with me. We shall leave to-morrow night.”

They began to make plans, and he said:

“Let us talk this matter over sensibly. First, how will you get away
from here without being observed by your husband?”

“He is leaving for Berlin to-morrow morning. He has official matters
to attend to there. Has he not yet told you about it?”

“No; but this is excellent. And now, have you some money?”

“Yes; I received this morning three hundred marks from my mother, and
I have not touched the money because I had resolved on this step.”

“Then you are better off than I am, at least for the moment; but I
shall raise some money. And third, how will you get your luggage to
the station? for, of course, I cannot expect you to run away without
some clothes.”

“Very simply, George; just ask my husband to lend you his big trunk,
and tell him you are obliged to go home on a short leave. I will pack
all my things into that, and the orderly will bring it down to you
here. The trunk is big enough to hold enough for us both.”

“There it is again,” laughingly said Borgert. “Women are best for all
underhanded work.”

“And by which train shall we leave?”

“You will go by the afternoon train, for we will not leave together;
that would attract too much attention. I shall follow you on the
evening train. I think it will be best to meet in Frankfort. We will
meet in the waiting-room of the main station, and there we can talk
over everything in quiet. I shall take a three days’ leave, so that
they will not follow me at once.”

“Then we are agreed so far. I will come down here to-morrow forenoon,
as soon as my husband has left, and then we can talk this matter over
a little more in detail. Just now I’ll have to leave you.”

Frau Leimann turned towards the door. When she sent a parting nod from
the threshold, she seemed once more enticing in his eyes. The heated
face was animated, and the glowing eyes radiated life. Truly, she was
charming. Borgert lost himself in pleasant speculations about the
honeyed existence which they two were to lead hereafter, once that
inconvenient husband was out of the way, and all scruples which still
clung to them, as the last vestiges of respectability, had been thrown
overboard.

Borgert had regained all his good humor; he felt almost buoyant, and
as if he could dare undertake anything. There was another
consideration with him. His flight, his desertion, his leaving his
creditors unsatisfied, and a record of somewhat crooked financial
transactions behind him,--all that would now be regarded by people in
a wholly different light. The romantic element would predominate in
the minds of all the gossips. They would say that these two had fled,
because of an overmastering passion,--to become united, when
unfortunate circumstances did not permit them to belong to each other
in their present plight. There would, of course, be enough scandal
even now, but the whole story was going to be lifted by this elopement
into a higher sphere; it would take on, so to speak, an appearance
vastly more interesting, less vulgar, nay, even aristocratic and
excusable,--an entirely different matter from the bald statement that
he, Borgert, had deserted for no other reason except a lot of bad
debts and unclean financial machinations.

For a moment, it is true, his better conscience spoke, reproaching him
with the intention of adding a new crime to his list of old ones; but
this warning resounded so weakly within him that it had not the
slightest effect. The principal thing, after all, was that he must not
let such an advantage escape him simply to save the feelings of
others. Such minor considerations could not be allowed to interfere
with his plans.

Borgert therefore briskly walked to town, and at the post-office,
where the telegraph bureau was located, he wired to a large
second-hand dealer in the neighboring city, telling him to pay him a
visit the following morning.

Then he returned home and stepped up to Leimann’s.

He found his friend busy packing.

“Well, I hear you are to start to-morrow. I only learned it this
noon,” said Borgert, shaking hands with him.

“Yes; I am not at all charmed with the prospect of this trip, for I
had made no arrangements for it; but you know how it is. It is always
only at the last moment we receive orders of that kind, often barely
leaving us time enough to reach the train.”

“Nevertheless, I envy you your trip. As for me, there is a less
agreeable one awaiting me.”

“What, you are also planning a journey?”

“It is not a matter of choice with me; I simply have to.”

“And where are you going?”

“Home, starting to-morrow afternoon.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I wish you luck.”

“Thanks. By the way, could you lend me a trunk? I should like to take
a number of things with me home, and my own trunk is too small.”

“Why, certainly; my servant will bring you down the large trunk. I
suppose that will answer your purpose?”

“Oh, of course; it will do very nicely. Thanks again.”

Borgert could not help perceiving that his visit did not come quite
opportunely. Leimann was in an ugly humor and did not let himself be
interrupted in his occupation. He was so much engrossed with his own
thoughts that the import of Borgert’s questions scarcely reached him,
and the latter deemed it therefore wise to remain no longer. He made
the promise, however, to join the Leimanns at their evening meal.

Reaching his own room again, Borgert felt himself free of a great
burden. In his heart he rejoiced at the sudden turn his affairs had
taken. The bother and vexation of uncertainty no longer weighed on his
mind. “The die is cast!” he mumbled to himself. He would have liked to
dance and scream for joy. Another day only, and he would be rid of the
whole sorry outfit, and there would be no further occasion to worry.
And with that, such a pretty travelling companion! He really wondered
at himself now that this idea had not come to him sooner.

Suddenly it crossed his mind that he had not yet begun to pack. At
least he should at once proceed to preliminaries,--arranging and
putting aside things, and making ready for packing the more important
objects which he meant to take along.

But what was worth while taking? That was the question. He began to
pick out things. From over the sofa he took the large silver
goblet--the farewell gift from his former regiment--and placed it in
an adjoining room on the table.

Rapidly, then, he made his selections: an album of family portraits;
sundry packages of letters; a couple of riding-whips and crops
possessing an intrinsic value,--that is, a metallic one; two of the
smaller and more valuable oil paintings; and a large bundle of
letters,--these, besides some indispensable clothes, were all he
intended to take with him.

When he entered the door at Leimann’s at seven, he found them already
at table.

Leimann’s face wore a black look, and he hardly lifted his eyes to his
guest as Borgert entered.

His wife sat opposite to him, her eyes red and swollen with recent
weeping. She did not touch the food before her, but every little while
cast a searching and anxious look at her husband.

Throughout the evening harmony was not restored; not even a bottle of
Eckel succeeded in bringing gaiety back into this small circle.
Leimann remained in an ugly mood, and whenever that seized him
nothing could be done with him. Therefore the parting took place at an
early hour, and it was cooler than it had been on similar occasions.

        *       *       *       *       *

Next morning Borgert had just risen when the second-hand dealer
arrived.

The officer saluted him pleasantly and bade him enter. Then he
completed his toilet and began negotiations with the Hebrew merchant.

“Will you, please, take the trouble to examine the furniture and all
the other equipments in these apartments?” said he. “I mean to sell
all of it, just as it stands, since I have been transferred to another
garrison. But as to this point--I mean my transference--I must beg to
preserve silence for the moment, as it is not yet generally known. How
much could you offer me?”

The Jew pensively let his keen eyes wander all about the dwelling,
mentally going through a rapid process of addition, subtraction, and
silence. Then he proceeded to a more minute examination. He handled
every single piece, using his knuckles to ascertain its exact
condition; he subjected hangings, rugs, and carpets, as well as the
expensive carving of the book-cases and stands, to a similar process.
Then he drew forth a small note-book, greasy and worn, and squinted at
each single object as he noted down its price. Finally he turned to
Borgert and said, with an obsequious smile:

“Fifteen hundred marks, Herr First Lieutenant, counting it out in gold
on this table.”

“What! fifteen hundred marks?” and Borgert gave a snort of
disapproval. “Why, man, you must be dreaming. I have paid almost ten
thousand marks for the things.”

“Sorry, Herr First Lieutenant,” the Jew said, shrugging his shoulders
in deprecation of such high figures. “Old things are not new things,
and you won’t get any more from anybody.”

“That is not enough; that would be giving the things away.”

“Well, I will pay you two thousand marks, then, but not a penny more.”

Borgert sat down at his desk. He began to see that there was no time
to lose, and that the man had him at a great disadvantage. Meanwhile
the dealer had his eyes fastened on the officer’s face, and wore the
same expectant and obsequious smile.

“All right, give me the money; you can have the whole stuff,” said
Borgert, briefly.

With a smile that now broke over his face until it illuminated every
nook and corner of the parchment-like wrinkles, the Jew drew a formal
document, a bill of sale, from his breast pocket, stepped up to the
desk, and wrote a few words on it. Then he requested Borgert to sign
it.

After the dealer had left and Borgert had securely stowed away the
purchase price, he felt that the last hindrance to his flight had now
been removed, for a certain amount of cash was an indispensable
requisite. Then he stepped into his bed-chamber, where he took from
the clothes-press an elegant travelling suit. The remainder of his
civilian clothes he packed carefully and compactly in the large trunk
which Leimann meanwhile had sent down. He placed them next to Frau
Leimann’s finery in the huge trunk, and on top of them the few other
trifles above enumerated. Then he had the trunk taken to the station.

Leimann meanwhile was on his way to Berlin. His wife, however, was
still very busy,--burning up packages of letters which she did not
wish either her husband or her companion to read, and then put into a
handbag a few objects of the kind which only women cherish, and the
sole value of which lies in the recollections clinging to them. It is
astonishing what resplendent images a woman can conjure before her
inner vision when in the possession of such faded flowers, bits of
ribbon, and the like.

Lastly came the leave-taking from Bubi, her little two-year-old son,
and this she had fancied the day before a much harder achievement than
it now turned out. She felt some qualms of conscience as she now, with
a light heart, without a tear, left behind her her only child,--left
it motherless, exposed to a future probably troubled and cheerless.

It was strange, she thought. From the first moment on she had
experienced something like aversion for this child with the broad
nose, the large mouth, and the small, shifting eyes. When but a couple
of weeks old, the baby had shown a striking resemblance to his father,
and the more the estrangement grew between his parents, the more
dwindled the small remnant of her mother love. She regarded this tiny
human being, ugly and eternally crying, as solely _his_ child. It was
in this way that the poor little fellow had spent nearly the whole of
his short existence,--either in the kitchen or with the servants,
fondled, scolded, and educated by hirelings. The mother herself
frequently had not seen her child even for a minute a day.

She had the conviction that her husband had deserved no better
treatment at her hands, and because of that she scarcely gave him a
thought during these last hours spent at her home. When she boarded,
at three o’clock in the afternoon, a first-class compartment of the
express train for Frankfort, she did so with a spirit light and almost
gay.

And the same was true of Borgert. He likewise cast to the winds any
slight sentiments of regret at leaving the garrison, and as the train,
some hours after Frau Leimann’s departure, went shrieking and
thundering out of the little station, he felt that he was being
carried on to a brighter future. That was enough for him.

When he and Frau Leimann met, late the same evening, in the
dining-room of an elegant hotel, all their life seemed to lie before
them draped in rosy hue, and no shadows of coming evils troubled them.
After they had ladled their soup in comfort, and with the appearance
of a fine game pie, for which this hotel is famous among _gourmets_,
the ex-officer motioned to the black-frocked waiter with the
immaculate shirt front, and said, curtly:

“A bottle of Mumm, _sec!_”

Thus these two celebrated the event of their flight.



CHAPTER VIII

CHANGES IN THE GARRISON


The flight of First Lieutenant Borgert could not long remain a secret.

When he did not return at the expiration of his short leave, and a
telegraphic query brought the answer from his father that he had not
seen him, the assumption began to take shape that he had tried to
escape the consequences of his misdoings by deserting.

It is true that no one aside from Leimann had known precisely his bad
financial status. But when the Jewish dealer came to claim the
furniture sold him, and at the same time the bailiff arrived with the
intention of seizing the very same objects on the strength of a new
process of attachment begun in court, the catastrophe could no longer
be hidden from the world. Everybody then began to see, detail after
detail, the whole system of fraud erected by Borgert, with the passive
connivance of his friend Leimann.

The court ordered that the entire property of the deserter be placed
in legal custody. A term was fixed when the horde of creditors whom he
had so shamefully deceived were to be adjudged _pro-rata_ shares of
the whole. Advertisements were inserted in the papers, calling upon
all those having claims against the estate of the defaulter to come
forward. Hundreds of bills came by mail from all the cities and towns,
and even from the villages surrounding the little garrison, and the
amounts in their totality figured up to a considerable sum.

Borgert’s father, too,--a worthy old gentleman, broken-hearted at the
downfall of his only son,--had to appear in court and depose as to his
son’s past and present misdoings, as far as he was aware of them. Even
that portion of the estate which, according to the father’s
intentions, was to fall to his son’s share at his father’s death, was
sequestrated by a mandate of the court and added to the assets left
behind by Borgert. In addition, the state’s attorney issued a
“_Steckbrief_”[20] against the ex-officer, in which he was charged
with a whole list of offences.

    [20] “Steckbrief,” a term in German law meaning a circular
    demand on all domestic or foreign authorities to arrest and
    hold in custody for extradition an escaped criminal.--TR.

The dwelling itself had the court seals attached to it, and even the
poor horses in the stable had fastened to their manes small, leaden
seals tied on with string, to denote that the state had taken
possession of them.

It stands to reason that all these interesting events travelled
through the little town on the wings of gossip, and no village or city
within a radius of ten miles failed to regard the matter as a
delicious bit of local scandal. The small penny sheets printed in a
number of these places were in clover. Nothing like such a genuine
sensation had come to their hands for some time.

Colonel von Kronau, the pompous and infallible, was very much cast
down. There were some smart gentlemen in the regiment who now claimed
to have suspected the facts for a long time, and to have seen such a
catastrophe approaching. But there are always such people, and as a
matter-of-fact neither these wiseacres nor their less astute comrades
had ever expected Borgert to turn out badly. For his case, although
somewhat worse, was substantially the epitome of their own cases, and
it is a truism that we never see ourselves as others see us.

The colonel remarked to Captain König, shaking his head with a
melancholy smile, that this new turn of affairs was the “last nail in
his coffin,” and henceforth he was seen going about with a face gloomy
and expectant of the worst. For gradually he came to the conclusion
that to keep in good order a garrison and its corps of officers, some
other methods must be employed than those to which he had clung, at
the advice of Frau Stark, for years. It dawned on him that his type of
discipline had wrought a train of evils which had grown
avalanche-like, and which now at last was likely to bury his official
head under a load of opprobrium.

The fact that Frau Leimann had followed the First Lieutenant became
known a few days later. This was when her husband returned from Berlin
and found a letter from her, in which she implored his forgiveness,
and assured him she had acted under an impulse too strong to resist.
Of their unhappy married life she said nothing.

Thus Leimann was punished doubly. He had been made ridiculous before
the world, and was laughed at behind his back by all those who
belonged to his extensive circle of acquaintances. And Borgert’s
flight had precipitated Leimann’s own financial downfall. His
creditors and those of Borgert obtained orders in court which forced
him to sell the larger part of his small private fortune, consisting
of sound investments, to satisfy their claims. A goodly proportion of
his enforced payments was for those sums guaranteed by him in
Borgert’s behalf. When all his affairs had been unravelled, he had but
a very small sum remaining to him.

Meanwhile no trace of Frau Leimann and of her companion was found,
although detectives of various countries were several times on their
tracks. Nobody knew where they had found a refuge.

        *       *       *       *       *

A fortnight after his desertion poor Röse was discovered and arrested.
He had been seized at the Belgian frontier. A court-martial was
quickly summoned, and during the trial it became apparent that the
motive which alone had driven him to desertion had been the brutal
maltreatment to which his master, Borgert, had subjected him. The
court regarded that, however, as a mitigating circumstance of such
slight value that it reduced the measure of the punishment meted out
to him in only a small degree. The poor fellow was universally
commiserated by high and low, and even among the officers a voice was
raised now and then in exculpation. Many of their subordinates
expressed privately the opinion that a poor soldier, even if only the
son of an humble peasant, like Röse, ought to have some rights, and
that he ought to be treated humanely by his superiors. But these were
but private opinions, stated in a barely audible voice, and in the
seclusion of the men’s own quarters. As such, naturally, they had not
the slightest value in changing the fortunes of poor Röse, who was
sentenced to undergo a term of many years of hard labor in a military
penitentiary.

        *       *       *       *       *

At the divorce trial, which took place at Leimann’s instance, a great
many unpalatable facts were brought to light.

The two servant-maids in his house, as well as the orderly, gave
testimony of such a character that the few remaining hairs on
Leimann’s pear-shaped skull rose in affright. He could not understand
how he had been so blind as not to have perceived the treachery of his
friend and the faithlessness of his wife. A decree of divorce was
pronounced by the court, and Leimann shortly after handed in his
resignation. He was forced to that step by several considerations. On
the one hand he was compelled to turn to a more profitable calling
than that of serving his country in the army, since he had now but
very slender means at his command; on the other hand, all the events
in which he had been a conspicuous figure had damaged his reputation
so greatly as to make his further stay in the corps of officers almost
impossible.

He accepted a position for which he was eminently qualified by natural
taste and long experience,--that of drummer for a wholesale wine firm.
His little boy he intrusted to the care of some humble relatives, and
his pension as First Lieutenant was just sufficient to pay for the
little fellow’s board.

Almost simultaneously, with the acceptance of Leimann’s resignation,
formal sentence was pronounced against Borgert. He was condemned to a
jail term of five years, to deprivation of all civic honors for ten
years, and to expulsion from the army, brought about by a series of
frauds, by desertion and by maltreatment of subordinates in ten cases.

The newspapers published this sentence, and with it came to a close
the career of this miscreant, as far as the army was concerned.

        *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile there sat in the bureau of a large factory ex-Sergeant
Schmitz, busy at his desk with a row of figures.

The other employees had already risen from their places and were
taking their overcoats from a rack in the corner, for the large
factory bell announcing the close of the day’s labor had rung out ten
minutes since.

But Schmitz did not allow himself to be disturbed by the loud
conversation going on about him. He continued writing as if he were
in the midst of silence. The large office-room had almost emptied
itself of its inmates when Master Worker Maurer entered.

Maurer was a squat-built man, and his pale, oval face was strangely
illuminated by piercing eyes of a forbidding expression. His moustache
hung straggling about the corners of his mouth, and there was
something indicative of cruelty and meanness about his whole face.

“I suppose you can’t tear yourself away from your work again? Aren’t
you coming soon?” he called over to Schmitz. But the latter did not
even look up from his work, and briefly answered:

“In a moment; sit down!”

The two men were good friends.

Only a few weeks before Schmitz had stood amidst the mechanics at the
lathe, pushing mechanically one cube of wood after the other into the
sharp teeth of the rotating steel. This sort of activity had permitted
him to indulge in his own thoughts, for it did not require him to
expend his intellect as well as his brawn.

But in a short while qualities had been detected in the quiet,
diligent workingman which brought him advancement. His military
training and the self-sufficing determination which he had acquired in
dealing with raw recruits had given him a knack of controlling his
fellow-workers. Thus it came about that Schmitz was promoted to the
position of overseer in the machine hall, the same in which he had so
far toiled with the rest. His fellow-workers, of course, looked with
envy upon this _parvenu_, who had only recently appeared among them
and who now played the part of commander. There was no dearth of
scornful remarks at his expense, but the old soldier understood very
well how to baffle such behavior.

In the morning, after he had seen his men busily at work at their
various tasks, he frequently paid a visit to Maurer, who was employed
as an engineer.

And during these matutinal chats Maurer discovered in Schmitz a man
whom it would be easy to gain for his cause,--the cause of Socialism.
Maurer himself was one of the most notorious local leaders of the
Socialist hosts, and he felt sure that this new man would become a
valuable addition to the ranks of the forces acting under his
supervision.

In this assumption, indeed, Maurer was not mistaken. Schmitz was still
harboring the hatred against militarism and the government, which had
been engendered in him by his own experience in the army. A
deep-seated, grim feeling fermented in his soul because of the bitter
injustice done him. He could not forget that the best years of his
life had been frittered away in a service which in the end proved of
no avail to him. Thus, he had become a recruit for the Socialist
cause, and it had scarcely needed the persuasions of his new comrade,
Maurer, to induce him to forswear all allegiance to the ancient cause
of king and fatherland, and to vow service with body and soul to the
red flag. The loyal soldier had become a strong pillar of the
Socialist Party. On the morrow Schmitz was to make a speech before a
large circle of men holding similar views, and it was for that Maurer
was now waiting for him. He meant to inculcate another lesson or two
in his friend’s mind, and to talk over with him a few important
points in the programme of the evening.

When Schmitz had laid aside his work and locked up his sheets in the
desk,--sheets on which the list of names of the men under him and the
respective amounts of work done by each were marked down,--he joined
Maurer. Both then walked on in silence through the narrow lanes
towards Maurer’s dwelling.

At a nearby dramshop they jointly purchased a jugful of beer; then
took it home, lit the lamp, and began their conversation.

It turned particularly on a new tax bill, which would add another
serious burden to those under which the working classes were groaning.
The aim was to gain as many opponents to it as possible, so that at
the last reading in the Reichstag an overwhelming majority could be
secured against the measure, sufficient to bring about its defeat.

The two friends were engaged in eager discussion until after midnight.
When they parted they had reached perfect agreement.

On the day following Schmitz was in a state of feverish agitation. It
seemed strange to him, after all. But a short while ago he was
wearing the “king’s coat.” A short twelvemonth previously he had been
a soldier of the Kaiser’s,--a man sworn to defend the fatherland and
to aid and further its interests,--and to-day?--to-day he was one of
those who are accused of shaking the foundations of the state edifice,
those who are aiming to erect a new commonwealth more in consonance
with their own ideas and interests.

But when he on the same evening ascended the speaker’s stand, carrying
himself erect as a freeman, and when a crowd of many hundreds welcomed
the new comrade with enthusiastic shouts, he felt differently. Even
before he had said a word to his new friends they saluted him joyously
as one of themselves,--as one to bring about the new millennium,--and
his confidence in himself grew apace, and a mighty longing to achieve
fame in this _new_ army clutched his soul. It was his full intention
to please this heterogeneous mass of men; he meant to force them into
the circle of his own conceptions and beliefs, so that all of them
should follow him, without a will of their own, as sheep follow a
shepherd.

And he began his address. He first described the provisions of this
new bill, and then laid bare the consequences to the laboring
multitude that the adoption of such a measure would have.

A new tax, he explained, meant a further step in the pauperization of
the masses. He showed that this new tax was a superfluity, provided
the attempt was abandoned by the government to increase still further
the strength of the army.

“Gigantic sums of money are annually wasted by the government for the
military,” said he, in a ringing voice. “Scarcely have millions upon
millions been voted for the introduction of new rifles and new guns;
scarcely have new regiments been formed and the conformation of
existing ones altered, when all these measures are found to be worse
than useless. Errors of calculation are discovered when it is too late
to retrieve them, and new sums of enormous size are demanded in order
to overcome innovations conceived in haste and executed without
judgment.

“Germany’s reputation and her power in the world have been won by the
army, and it is her army which neighbors begrudge us. But have we not
arrived on the summit of military power? Must we extend militarism to
the point where it smothers and throttles all other organs of the
state machine?

“If we but devoted to other institutions of the empire a modest
portion of the untold money that is swallowed up every year by the
army, there would be no necessity for laying tax upon tax upon the
citizens until what remains to them of the fruits of their labor
hardly suffices for bare needs. If we did that, we should be a wealthy
country; the citizen would acquire material wellbeing. Industry would
revive and yield to the people all its blessings. But if it is not
intended to cease favoring the army to such an unreasonable extent,
let them take the money needed from the pockets of those who are
spending their days in sloth and wilful luxury. As it is, the wealthy
are not burdened any more than the poor laborer, while the latter
really has to surrender a portion of the scant bread he has earned for
himself and his family to maintain a state of things in which capital
enjoys all those advantages which are denied to him.

“Then I ask of what blessing is the army to the citizen, to the people
as a whole? It takes away his children; it uses up the best years in
their lives,--those years in which the youth ripens into a man, and in
which his character matures. It is during those years that our sons
are often treated with injustice and brutality, and, as a natural
consequence, they return from the army into work-a-day life, as the
bitter enemies of a government which dismisses many of them as
helpless cripples or as physical wrecks without ever thinking of
making suitable award. Then, still more frequently, our sons, after
spending the best strength they have in the service of the state, in
hard toil, and in exposing themselves to all rigors of a changeable
climate, are sent back into the world, dismissed from the army, just
because of some trivial offence,--kicked out into the cold as one
might a dog, compelling him to hunt for food and to seek a new master.
Therefore, I say, let us compel the government to spend hereafter the
money so uselessly wasted for the enlargement of an army that has
already overgrown its proper size, rather for more useful purposes, so
that the people, the masses, will know what they have sacrificed
themselves for.”

The words of the speaker, drawn so largely from his own bitter
experiences, were frequently interrupted by a loud acclaim; but as
Schmitz now stepped down from his eminence to mingle with his
auditors, the large crowd that filled the hall to suffocation began to
rend the air with frantic cheers. They threw up their caps and shouted
approval; scores of them cried: “Bravo, Schmitz!”; while others
crowded up to him to shake him by the hand. It was an ovation as
enthusiastic as Schmitz had never aspired to in his boldest moments,
and his natural vanity felt intensely gratified. As to these people,
he had indeed gained them over to his way of thinking.

His words had sounded so convincing, they had struck the popular chord
so accurately, that many a one in this dense throng who had merely
come that night as a spectator, drawn by idle curiosity, had been
convinced of the justice of the Socialist cause, and resolved to join
the party which espoused the claims of the poor.

And so Schmitz had that night become not only an adherent but a leader
of the “red” party,--a party which in this large manufacturing town
was becoming more and more formidable.



CHAPTER IX

RESIGNATIONS ARE IN ORDER


Sergeant-Major Krohn, the regimental chief clerk, was leaning against
the iron railing which shut off from the vulgar civilian world the
edifice holding the offices and administrative bureaux.

He was smoking his morning cigar with considerable zest and reading
the _Deutsche Zeitung_, which the letter-carrier had just left for the
colonel. He was at leisure just then, for the colonel had gone on
horseback to view the regimental drill on the parade grounds, quite a
distance from town; and on such days it was the habit of the adjutant
to recompense himself by a sound matutinal slumber for the nightly
sleep he had missed in attending this banquet or that carousal.

Krohn was deep in the study of the advertisements he had found in the
paper when his “colleague,” Sergeant-Major Schönemann, stepped up to
him, dragging his clanking sabre at his heels, and with a cigarette
between his lips.

“Morning, morning, Herr Commander!” he addressed Krohn in a jocular
spirit. “What is the news?”

The minor dignitary thus addressed smiled pleasantly, and sent a small
cloud of fragrant smoke into the air before answering.

“Great things are going on, noble brother-in-arms. I had almost
forgotten about that.”

“You don’t say! Has H. M. at last sent me a decoration?”

“Not precisely, but something almost as unlikely,--König has been
placed under arrest.”

“What? König? Thunder and lightning! What the dickens has he been
doing?”

“Why, they say he has been putting his fingers into the squadron fund,
and that some of the gold has stuck to them. Really, it’s a disgrace;
a fellow like him, too, quite wealthy, and all that.”

“The devil! I should never have supposed that of him; no, not of
_him_! And how did they find it out?”

“Haven’t the faintest idea. I presume the colonel must have heard
something about it. Yesterday afternoon he had him up in his room and
charged him with the thing to his face. I peeped through the key-hole,
and saw the poor fellow becoming pale under the accusation. He wanted
to fetch his books at once; but the colonel wouldn’t listen to him,
and ordered him forthwith under arrest.”

“But these two used to get along so well together!”

“Of course! And I presume there must be some truth to the story, else
the colonel would probably have managed the thing otherwise,
especially as he himself is in disfavor with the powers that be. This
new affair will break his neck.”

“Well, as for me,” said Schönemann, “I don’t believe in the story
until I see it in print. König is not at all that sort of fellow. And
the colonel always flies off the handle and seems to be glad when he
has a chance of showing his authority. He thinks that is smart!”

“Oh, I don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care.”

        *       *       *       *       *

The explanation of all this conversation is a very simple one. We
remember that First Lieutenant Borgert, before seeking fresh fields
for his energy, had made up his mind to get even with Captain König
for that curt letter in which the captain had refused to accede to
Leimann’s request for another large loan.

Misled by the captain’s own words on a previous occasion of similar
kind, he had taken it for granted that König had really been guilty of
diverting some of the moneys under his care to oblige a needy
comrade,--Borgert himself. In his vindictiveness he had spared no
pains in the course of his conversations with fellow-officers at the
Casino to spread rumors as to this alleged fact, magnifying the matter
or distorting its details, as it suited his purpose; and even after
Borgert’s flight these rumors had been scattered broadcast by the idle
tongue of gossip. Finally, they had filtered down and become the theme
of general conversation. The colonel, too, had heard of the matter,
and, in his present condition of extreme nervousness regarding the
reputation of the regiment, that worthy had deemed it his duty to go
to the root of it.

König himself had had no occasion to clear himself of all this
gathering suspicion, for in his presence the wagging tongues became
mute. Borgert had maliciously misrepresented König so much in his
talks with the junior officers as to create quite a strong feeling
against him. He had stated that König, although abundantly able to
help some momentarily embarrassed comrades out of their troubles, had
not only refused point-blank, but had added insult to injury. Such
supposed behavior, since Borgert’s tales had found credence, had cost
König the sympathy of the majority of the officers, and now that
trouble had overtaken him, many of them rejoiced at the fact.
Lieutenant Bleibtreu would have informed his squadron chief of the
unpleasant rumors circulating, but ill luck would have it that that
faithful junior happened to be off on leave of absence. He did not
correspond with any of his fellow-officers during his leave, and knew
nothing of the matter until after König’s arrest.

It was only by furnishing an extravagantly high amount of bail that
König temporarily regained his liberty, having spent some ten days in
jail meanwhile. By the colonel’s order he was then suspended from
active duty and compelled to await the outcome of the accusation in
his own home. At first König was stunned by the blow. After fifteen
years of active service, during which he had never been charged with
anything contrary to good morals or manners, he was now accused of a
vulgar crime! And what was worse, the accusation against him was
entirely based on the irresponsible remarks of a man who was a moral
wreck at the time he made them, and who had since been legally
condemned as a convicted criminal. It was nothing less than an
outrage, it seemed to him.

Where was the confidence, the good comradeship, with which he had
formerly met on all sides? Was it not the duty of his superior, the
colonel, first closely to investigate the circumstances surrounding an
alleged fact which on its face seemed highly improbable, before
formulating such an accusation likely to ruin his reputation in the
whole regiment and in the entire army?

And, indeed, the good captain had sufficient reason for complaining of
the treatment he now met with. The ground had been well prepared by
the mischievous gossip that had preceded his arrest, and now he was
shunned as would have been a convicted criminal, an outcast, and the
very children in the street pointed the finger of scorn at him and his
family. Bleibtreu was the only exception. Firmly convinced of the
innocence of his friend, he did valiant service in trying to restore
the former universal confidence in König’s integrity.

He proved his unshaken belief in the captain by paying him daily
visits, and by spending every evening with him and his family. He
became the companion of König’s solitary walks; and he even persisted
in this after he had been warned of the consequences by the colonel,
and when his comrades punished him for his unselfish friendship by
likewise ostracising and assuming a hostile attitude towards him.

But all these machinations did not hinder the young man from doing
what he regarded as his duty. He would have deemed himself a poltroon
if he had abandoned his friend now that misfortune had overtaken him.

The entire body of non-commissioned officers of the regiment and the
whole rank and file of it felt deeply indignant at the manner in which
this popular officer was made a scapegoat by the colonel, and this
universal sentiment found its expression by numerous unofficial calls
which many of the captain’s subordinates made on him during his time
of tribulation.

The same was true of the civilian circles, both in the garrison and in
the neighboring city: they all were filled with disgust and aversion
at the conditions created by the stupidity and stubbornness of Colonel
von Kronau. They testified their sympathy for König on various
occasions. It was owing to all these mitigating facts that König
gradually came to view the future with brighter spectacles, and he
consoled himself with the thought that justice must triumph in the
end; but his patience was sorely tried in the meanwhile, for the
investigation of his case dragged on a long while. If it had been a
case creating sensational interest,--a case of manslaughter or of
cruel abuse of subordinates, perhaps,--there would have been more
promptness, in order to quiet public opinion; but his was a case which
seemed to call for no such speedy action. What difference did it make
if he had to wait for months,--a prey to misgivings and doubts, and
exposed hourly to malignant talk of busybodies?

Six weeks had elapsed before his first preliminary hearing took place.
König, of course, took occasion to explain the whole matter, and to
prove, by means of his ledgers and by oral testimony, how entirely
unjust was the accusation against him.

He was soon undeceived, however, in the hope that the end of the
proceedings against him had now come; for the court was by no means
satisfied with his _ex-parte_ showing. They demanded an expert
examination of his ledgers for the last three years, and this task
required fully three months.

At the trial his innocence of the charge was, of course, fully
established, and an acquittal was the result.

It had been proven that there had been no diversion of funds, but that
the captain’s equivocal statement to that effect made to Borgert and
admitted by the captain himself had been a mere pretext. The motive
for this had also been shown to be that, as may be remembered, of
preventing further requests for loans from so bad a debtor as Borgert.
A bald statement of these facts was contained in the finding of the
court-martial.

König had expected no other finding; but in the officers’ circle the
acquittal called forth nothing but disappointment.

Some four months later H. M.’s confirmation of the court’s finding
reached the little garrison. And that was the signal for another
procedure, for now it became the duty of the Council of Honor to
undertake a new investigation of the same facts, but from a different
point of view,--namely, whether König had failed in any one point
against the professional honor of an officer, and hence merited
reprimand or punishment at the hands of his second judges.

The captain accepted this new ordeal with the long-suffering patience
which had become habitual to him by this time. The final issue was
still involved in slight doubt, but he felt himself safe in the firm
conviction of his own innocence.

During this whole period of anxiety his domestic hearth had been
almost his sole source of comfort. His family life had always been one
of unalloyed happiness, and his wife, though young and pretty, had
never been fond of that ceaseless round of noisy dissipation which had
been such a feature of the little garrison for years past. So she did
not miss the social pleasures which she now perforce had to deny
herself; for, along with her husband, the ladies of the garrison now
made it their business to cut her whenever she met any of them in the
streets. Nevertheless, Frau Clara had felt this whole time of trial
quite severely. A loving wife is jealous of her husband’s reputation
and of the honor due him, and, as for herself, she had been degraded
from being the most popular woman in the regiment to the level of a
social outcast; but her proud soul refused to submit to this
ostracism, and it was no small gratification to her that the wives of
the leading civilians made it a point to visit her at frequent
intervals, and with some ostentation. Meanwhile Lieutenant Bleibtreu,
the ever-faithful, was no less zealous in his attendance.

One evening he again called, but his face was clouded. It was known to
the Königs that the unpleasant position into which their steadfast
young friend had fallen by championing his captain’s cause weighed
considerably on him, and that he had made efforts for some time to be
transferred somewhere else.

As to the cause of his depressed mood, the lieutenant answered that
his petition for transference had been rejected.

“And what do you mean to do now?” said his late chief, after a while.

“I have handed in my resignation.”

For a moment his hosts looked at him in some consternation, but then
König reached out his hand and said to him:

“You have done well. I must confess I pity you from my heart that you
have to leave so fine a profession, and to inure yourself to prosaic
civilian life, with its eternal questions of losses and gains; but I
understand the motives which have induced you to take this step. You,
as a young officer, have seen events in this place which even I, so
much older and more experienced than you, cannot but deplore with all
my heart, and I can well understand it if you have lost that
joyousness in the fulfilment of your duties which alone often makes
these duties bearable.

“I could have wished to have you become a valued member of another
garrison, and to see other conditions, better than those prevailing
here. That would have proven to you that there are still many of the
officers in our army who differ radically from some of those with whom
we are acquainted here; but since they deny you that boon, it is
perhaps best for you to turn your back on the army entirely.

“I myself would have counselled you in this sense if I had not felt a
delicacy in urging you to a decision which you might perhaps later
regret; and to show you that I speak with deep conviction, I will tell
you that I myself am seriously considering my resignation.”

This time it was Bleibtreu who opened his eyes in astonishment.

“But why so?” he stammered. “I understand your request for
transference has been granted.”

“True; but it is with me as with you: my respect is gone for the
profession to which I have belonged with honor for fifteen years. The
conditions I have found in the corps of officers here have shown me
that I do not belong here by rights. And who can tell me that I shall
not find similar conditions in my next garrison?”

“You are seeing things too black, Herr Captain,” said Bleibtreu.

“I think not,” continued König. “For nine years I have been vegetating
in this miserable hole. During that time I have lost the natural
gaiety of my disposition. I have lost, or almost lost, the manners of
good society. If I ever get into better society again, I shall hardly
know how to behave myself. I have become a boor, and the comrades in
Berlin or Hanover would treat me with perfect disdain if I should
venture to approach them on a footing of equality. The tone prevalent
in our Casino is enough to demoralize almost anybody in the long
run.”

“You are quite right, Herr Captain,” interjected Bleibtreu. “That is
the worst of these little garrisons, especially those located near the
frontier. After living in one of them for a number of years, one
becomes impossible in decent society. This continual gossip, these
ceaseless bickerings, are enough to destroy the temper and, to some
extent, the reputation of an angel. Add to this the fact that all
sorts of men ‘with a past’ are stuck into these little garrisons, and
the mischief is done. Every little while we hear the phrase: ‘Punished
by transference to Moerchingen, Lyck,’ and a whole number of similar
holes.”

“Quite true,” König replied. “For the most part, officers who are sent
to these frontier garrisons are relegated there to get rid of them.
But H. M. does not consider the fact that to place such doubtful
elements in large numbers into that sort of garrison renders them even
more harmful than if they were sent to larger garrisons, where they
would be subjected to the influence of respectable and well-bred
comrades. That is how so many scandalous affairs happen amongst the
officers near the frontier. If only the officers had at least an
opportunity of cultivating respectable society and of following a
refined taste, permitting them regular attendance at good theatres,
concerts, and the like! But unfortunately that is not the case; their
whole social intercourse and their sole diversion consist in
frequenting the Casino. And what can you expect, then?”

“There is much truth in what you say,” put in Bleibtreu. “By rights
the transference to a frontier regiment ought to be a distinction,
because there they are closest to the enemy, and would have the first
chance to exercise their profession and to show the stuff that’s in
them at the outbreak of a real war. But to-day that is a mere
illusion. Every day the prospect of a war becomes less, and therefore
the chances of marching against the enemy exist only on paper.”

When these two shook hands on parting that night, it was in a sad
state of mind. A couple of weeks later Bleibtreu’s resignation had
been accepted, and he doffed his uniform and stepped out into the life
of a plain citizen.

The Council of Honor decided, after many delays, that Captain König
deserved censure because of “endangering his professional honor.” The
explanation was added that no officer must put himself in such a
position as to expose himself to the unfavorable opinion of the world;
and since in the present case this had been done, it was necessary to
point out to Captain König that his proceeding at the time in question
had been incorrect and injurious to his honor as an officer.

König read this official communication calmly, while a scornful smile
played around his lips; and on that same night his resignation had
been filed at the regimental headquarters.

The colonel himself was not able to see in his official capacity this
outcome of his foolish measures. A few weeks previous to the
occurrence just described, he himself had received a letter; but that
came from “above,” and it was enclosed in the fatal “blue envelope.”

He had been told in it, in the well-known diplomatic language employed
for such occasions, that H. M. fully valued his faithful services, but
was unable to avail himself of them any longer.

One fine day a huge furniture van stopped in front of the fine house
at the end of the town, where the colonel had made his stately home
for so many years, and into its capacious maw brawny men packed,
shoved, and kicked everything of his household goods that was worth
while transporting to the far-away district near the borders of
Russia, to which the deposed military autocrat was returning, with the
intention of spending the remainder of his days amid the peaceful calm
of his carrot fields and haylofts.

When the colonel and his wife took final leave of the little garrison,
there was nobody at the station to bid him a tearful farewell. His
orderly alone stood on the platform, loaded down with a dozen handbags
and bandboxes the contents of which the Frau Colonel required on her
long journey eastward. When the colonel, his wife, and his extensive
family of younger children had bestowed themselves in the interior of
a vast compartment, he leaned out of the window and handed the orderly
a small coin of the realm. The man looked at it and then spat in
disgust.

Of all those who in the opening chapter of this veracious tale had
assembled around the hospitable board of the Königs, barely a handful
remained in “the little garrison.” The weeding-out machine had been
set in motion by H. M.’s private military cabinet, and lo! this was
the result.



CHAPTER X

UNTO THIS LAST


It is past eight o’clock of an evening in December. A hurrying crowd
is streaming on its way homeward through the arteries of a large and
busy city. All the shop doors everywhere are being closed with a
thundering noise, and the ear is assailed by the rattling of the iron
shutters by which thievish hands are to be kept out during the night
hours. The brilliant gas jets and the incandescent lights in the
show-windows are turned off in increasing numbers.

On the asphalt pavement dense throngs of people weary from their day’s
labor, or else eager for the pleasures and excitement which the
evening has still in store for them, are pressing forward at an even
trot--an endless procession of men and women occupying every grade in
the social scale,--elegantly attired women and girls, men dressed in
stylish fashion, others clad poorly and with the dust of their hard
toil still clinging to their garments, and, mingled with them all,
half-grown children,--boys and girls, who had been busy at counter or
workshop throughout the day.

It was like a miniature reflection of life itself,--life in a large
city, with all its toil and its wealth, its misery and its luxury.

On the pavement cabs and busses rattled past in endless succession;
and elegant carriages, drawn swiftly by spirited horses and carrying
the princes of trade and of birth, and veiled ladies, who might be
actresses or countesses, for all one could tell, rolled smoothly
along.

Scurrying to and fro in zigzag line, and emitting those peculiar
doleful notes invented for them, automobiles were mixed up in
apparently inextricable confusion with all this hurly-burly of
vehicles, while the trams clanged their bells, and passengers stood
waiting on the edge of the sidewalks, desirous of boarding them, yet
afraid to risk their lives in the turmoil and bustle of the
intervening space. All this excitement of metropolitan life, this
feverish haste, and this pitiless crush, bore the stamp of intense
work performed in a human ant-hill, where every one of the countless
inmates has to fulfil his duty unremittingly, so that combined toil
will produce a harmonious whole.

An elegantly attired pair turned the corner into a poorly lighted side
street, and then took their way along the middle of the road, picking
their steps among all the scraps of paper and the refuse of every kind
that covered it. They came to a halt before a house the exterior of
which showed it to be inhabited by persons in straitened
circumstances, and then they ascended the well-worn front steps
leading to its main entrance. The doorkeeper peered out of his little
lodge and merely nodded slightly to the two. They had come here only a
few days before, after leaving the stylish and expensive Grand Hotel,
and that fact had furnished the man with food for reflection. They
were former First Lieutenant Borgert and Frau Leimann. They had turned
their steps to the French capital, in the hope to be there secured
against any possible police persecution, expecting to be able to earn
a living in this city of millions, which furnishes daily bread to so
many.

Their funds had rapidly been exhausted; for he who has not learned to
husband his resources in the days of plenty will not be able to do so
in the days of dire need.

And so Borgert had been obliged to look about him for some
remunerative occupation. Hunger is a hard taskmaster, and hard as it
seemed to this man who had been reared and had lived till then
virtually in idleness, he had now to turn his hands to useful work;
but the employment he had been able to secure had not lasted long.
Without a word of warning, he had been dismissed as incapable of the
work demanded, and he was just now returning from a last vain effort
to obtain another place. They mounted the steep stairs and entered
their little room, furnished without regard to even moderate ideas of
comfort, and filled with an air which in the days gone by Borgert had
never been able to endure.

He threw himself on the narrow sofa with a cry of despair and covered
his face with his hands, while Frau Leimann cowered before the grate
on a small stool.

With eyes hollow from much weeping and many sleepless nights, she
gazed into the dying fire. This was all the warmth which they could
expect that night, for their means were entirely exhausted.

Both of them kept silence for a while, and then Borgert spoke. The
woman trembled at the sound of his voice, as if she were awaking from
a fearful dream.

“And what is to become of us now?” said he, very low.

She did not answer him, but continued to gaze into the faintly glowing
coals, and a tear slowly coursed down her pale, emaciated face.

“To-morrow we shall have to leave this house, for we are unable to
pay, and then no other refuge is left us but the streets.”

“You must work, George,” replied the woman in a tear-choked voice,
although she tried to infuse some energy into her tones.

“Have I not tried?” replied he, with a shrug. “But haven’t they
dismissed me every time without warning? And besides, there is no use
for my trying again. How can I work? I’ve never learned it.”

“But something must be done; we must find a way out of this,” Frau
Leimann cried out, and her voice sounded shrill. “If you intend to
leave me to misery, you ought not to have enticed me away from home.”

“Enticed?” Borgert mimicked her. “Who has enticed you? Was it not you
who implored me to let you come with me because you were unable to
endure any longer the life you were leading with your noble husband?”

“If I did so, you, as a man, ought to have had enough common-sense to
talk me out of my intention.”

“I should like to know what man is able to talk an idea out of the
head of a woman.”

“Do not speak this way, George; it is worse than frivolous. Summon all
your courage and energy and let us see what can be done. There must be
a remedy.”

“There is!” retorted Borgert, throwing a loaded revolver on the crazy
table.

A tremor shot through the woman, and for a moment she leaned against
the wall as if ready to swoon, while her wide-opened eyes stared with
fear at the little instrument, the glittering steel of which
reflected the glowing embers in the grate.

“By all that is sacred,” her voice came hysterically, “are you out of
your senses!”

“On the contrary,” replied Borgert, coolly; “it is the only way out of
all our difficulties, and it is not the first time I have had the
thought. Is it not better to put an end to this dog’s life than to die
by inches in penury and distress?”

Frau Leimann stepped musingly towards the grate, as if its warmth were
needed to drive the thought of approaching death out of her head and
to pour new life into her trembling limbs. Her gaze hung fixedly on a
faded engraving which was over the mantel, and which represented a
banquet held by one of the ancient English kings. With glassy eyes she
stared at this picture representing the joys of living. She did not
notice that Borgert had followed her with his feline step.

The report of his pistol was heard, quick and sharp, and with a dying
moan the woman sank to her knees. Her left hand felt for the warming
flame, as if searching for its aid, and the tiny bluish tongues of
fire wavered in their reflection on the surface of this white, plump
hand from which a rill of life-blood was slowly running, drop by drop,
into the ashes of the grate. For a moment only her slayer gazed
terror-stricken at the lifeless body; then he pointed the weapon at
himself, and a second shot put an end to his existence. Death squared
with his mighty hand all the guilt and all the debts he had contracted
during his riotous life.

When the two corpses, four days later, were carted to the cemetery of
Bagneux, the Potter’s Field of Paris, and there consigned to the
common grave of the destitute, nobody knew and nobody cared who these
two unknown strangers had been. Nobody suspected the drama of their
lives or the sin which had hurried them to death.


THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Little Garrison - A Realistic Novel of German Army Life of To-day" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home