The Son of His Mother
207 Pages
English

The Son of His Mother

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Published 08 December 2010
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[Pg i]
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Son of His Mother, by Clara Viebig, Translated by H. Raahauge
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it , give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.org
Title: The Son of His Mother
Author: Clara Viebig
Release Date: December 22, 2009 [eBook #30732]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SON OF HIS MOTHER***
Note:
E-text prepared by Charles Bowen from page images generously made available by Internet Archive/American Libraries (http://www.archive.org/details/americana)
Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive/American Libraries. See http://www.archive.org/details/sonofhismother00viebiala
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THE SON OF HIS MOTHER
BY CLARA VIEBIG
Authorised Translation by H. RAAHAUGE
LONDON: JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY TORONTO: BELL & COCKBURN MCMXIII
THE ANCHOR PRESS, LTD., TIPTREE ESSEX
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BOOK I
[Pg 1]
The Son of his Mother
CHAPTER I
The husband and wife were of a literary turn of mind, and as they had the money to cultivate their artistic tastes he wrote a little and she painted. They also played and sang duets together, at least they had done so when they were first married; now they went to concerts and the opera more frequently instead. They were liked wherever they went, they had friend s, they were called "charming people," and still something was wanting to complete their happiness--they had no children.
And they would probably not have any now, as they had been married for some time, and the likelihood of children being born to them was very remote.
No doubt he sighed and knit his brow in unguarded moments when he sat at his desk in his office, but especially when he passed through the villages in the Brandenburg March on the rides he took in the more distant environs of Berlin--partly for his health, partly because he still retained the liking for riding from the time he was in the cavalry--and saw swarms of little flaxen-haired children romping on the sandy roads. However, he did not let his wife perceive that he missed something, for he loved her.
But she could not control herself in the same manner. The longer she was married the more nervous she became. At times she felt irritated with her [Pg 2] husband for no reason. She persistently turned her eyes away from the announcement of births in the newspapers with a certain shrinking, and, if her glance happened once in a way to fall on one in which happy parents notified the birth of a son, she put the paper aside hastily.
In former years Käte Schlieben had knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn all sorts of pretty little children's garments--she used to be quite famous
for the daintiness of her little baby jackets trimmed with blue and pink ribbons, all her newly married acquaintances would ask her for the wonderful little things--but now she had finally given up that sort of work. She had given up hope. What good did it do her to put her forefingers into the tiny sleeves of a baby's first jacket, and, holding it out in front of her, gaze at it a long, long time with dreamy eyes? It only tortured her.
And she felt the torture twice as much in those grey days that suddenly put in an appearance without any reason, that creep in silently even in the midst of sunshine. On those occasions she would lie on the couch in her room that was furnished with such exquisite taste--really artisti cally--and close her eyes tightly. And then all at once a shout, clear, shril l, triumphant, like the cry of a swallow on the wing, would ascend from the street, from the promenade under the chestnut-trees. She stopped her ears when she h eard that cry, which penetrated further than any other tone, which soared up into the ether as swiftly as an arrow, and cradled itself up there blissfully. She could not bear to hear anything like that--she was becoming morbid.
Alas, when she and her husband grew old, with minds no longer so receptive and too weary to seek incitement in the w orld, who would bring it to them in their home? Who would bring them anything o f what was going on outside? What youth with his freshness, with the jo yousness that envelops [Pg 3] those of twenty like a dainty garment, that beams from smooth brows like warmth and sunshine, would give them back a breath of their youth, which had already disappeared in accordance with the laws of Time? Who would wax enthusiastic at the things that had once made them enthusiastic, and which they would enjoy once more as though they were new for them too? Who would fill the house and garden with his laughter, with that careless laughter that is so infectious? Who would kiss them with warm lips, and make them happy by his tenderness? Who would carry them on his wings with him, so that they did not feel they were weary?
Alas, there is no second youth for those who are childless. Nobody would come into the inheritance of delight in what was beautiful, of taste for what was beautiful, of enthusiasm for art and artists which they would leave behind them. Nobody would guard reverently all those hundreds of things and nicknacks she had gathered together so tastefully in her house with the delight of a collector. And nobody would, alas, hold the hand that was fast growing cold with loving hands, in that last difficult hour which all dread, and cry: "Father, Mother, don't go! Not yet!" Oh, God, such loving hands would not close their eyes----
When Paul Schlieben used to come home from his office in those days he was co-partner in a large business that his grandfather had founded and his father raised to a high position--he often found hi s wife's sweet face stained with tears, her delicate complexion marred by constant weeping. And her mouth only forced itself to smile, and in her beautiful brown eyes there lurked a certain melancholy.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. The lady was suffering from nerves, that [Pg 4] was what was the matter with her. She had too much time for brooding, she was left to herself too much.
In order to alter this, her anxious husband withdrew from the business for an indefinite period. His partners could get on just as well without him. The doctor was right, he must devote himself more to his wife; they were both so lonely, so entirely dependent on each other.
It was decided they should travel; there was no reason whatever why they should remain at home. The beautiful house was given up, their furniture, all their costly things were stored. If they cared to do so they could remain away for years, get impressions, amuse themselves. Käte woul d paint landscapes in beautiful countries, and he--well, he could easily find compensation in writing, should he miss his usual work.
They went to Italy and Corsica--still further, to Egypt and Greece. They saw the Highlands, Sweden and Norway, very many beautiful places.
Käte pressed her husband's hand gratefully. Her susceptible mind waxed enthusiastic, and her talent for painting, which was by no means insignificant, felt powerfully stimulated all at once. How splendid to be able to paint, to keep hold of all that glow of colour, that wonderful effect of tone that revealed itself to her delighted eyes on her canvas.
She was so eager that she went out with her paintin g materials in the morning, whether it was at Capri, on the shores of the blue Bosphorus, in the yellow sand of the desert, facing the precipitous pinnacles in the Fjords, or in the rose gardens of the Riviera. Her delicate face got sunburnt; she no longer even paid any attention to her hands, which she used to take such care of. The ardent longing to manifest herself had seized hold of her. Thank God, she could [Pg 5] create something now. The miserable feeling of a useless life did not exist any longer, nor the torturing knowledge: your life ceases the moment your eyes close, there is nothing of you that will survive yo u. Now she would at least leave something behind that she had produced, even if it were only a picture. Her paintings increased in number; quite a quantity of rolls of canvas were dragged about now wherever they went.
At first Paul Schlieben was very pleased to see his wife so enthusiastic. He politely carried her camp-stool and easel for her, and never lost patience when he remained for hours and hours near her whilst she worked. He lay in the scanty shadow of a palm-tree, and used to follow the movements of her brush over the top of his book. How fortunate that her ar t gave her so much satisfaction. Even though it was a little fatiguing for him to lie about doing nothing he must not say anything, no, he must not, for he had nothing to offer her as a compensation, nothing whatever. And he sighed. It was the same sigh that had escaped him when the numerous flaxen-haire d little children were playing about on the sandy roads in the Brandenburg March, the same sigh which Sundays drew from him, when he used to see al l the proletariat of the town--man and wife and children, children, children --wandering to the Zoo. Yes, he was right--he passed his hand a little nervously across his forehead--that writer was right--now, who could it be?--who had once said somewhere: "Why does a man marry? Only to have children, heirs of his body, of his blood. Children to whom he can pass on the wishes and hopes that are in him and also the achievements; children who are descended from him like shoots from a tree, children who enable a man to live eternally." That was the only way in
[Pg 6] which life after death could be understood--life eternal. The resurrection of the body, which the Church promises, was to be interpreted as the renewal of one's own personality in the coming generations. Oh, there was something great, something indescribably comforting in such a survival.
"Are you speculating about something?" asked his wife. She had looked up from her easel for a moment.
"Eh? What? Did you say anything, darling?" The man started up in a fright, as one who has been straying along forbidden paths.
She laughed at his absent-mindedness; it was getting worse and worse. But what was he thinking of? Business?--surely not. But perhaps he wanted to write a novel, a tale? Why should he not try his hand at that for once in a way? That was something quite different from sending short ch atty accounts of one's journey to one of the papers. And of course he would be able to do it. People who had not half the education, not half the knowledge, not half the aesthetic refinement of feeling he had wrote quite readable books.
She talked brightly and persuasively to him, but he shook his head with a certain resignation: nonsense, neither novels nor any other kind of writing. And he thought to himself: it is always said that a piece of work is like a child--that is to say, only a truly great piece of work, of course. Was the work he and his wife created work in that sense? Work that would exist e ternally? He suddenly found things to censure severely in her picture, which he had politely admired only the day before.
She got quite frightened about it. Why was he so irritable to-day? Was he going to develop nerves at the finish? Yes, it was evident, the warm air of the south did not suit him, he had lost his briskness, looked so tired. There was [Pg 7] nothing for it, her husband was more to her than her picture, she would leave off her painting at once.
And that was what happened. They went away, travelled from one place to another, from one hotel to another, along the lakes, over the frontier, until they made a somewhat longer stay high up among the Alps in Switzerland.
Instead of lying under a palm-tree he lay in the shadow of a fir--now his wife was painting--and followed the movements of her brush with his eyes over the top of his open book.
She was busily painting, for she had discovered a delightful subject. That green alpine meadow, with its wealth of flowers as variegated as they could possibly be and the backs of the brown cows with the sun shining on them, was as full of charm as the Garden of Eden on the first day of creation. In her eagerness to see she had pushed her broad-brimmed hat back, and the warm summer sun was burning little golden spots on her d elicate cheeks and the narrow bridge of her finely shaped nose. She held the brush that she had dipped into the green on her palette up against the green of the meadow in order to compare the two, and blinked with half-closed eyes to see if she had got the colour right.
At that moment a sound made her start--it was half a growl of displeasure at the disturbance, half a murmur of approval. Her husband had risen and was looking at a couple of children who had approached them noiselessly. They were offering rhododendrons for sale, the girl had a small basket full of them, the boy was carrying his nosegay in his hand.
What exceedingly pretty creatures they were, the gi rl so blue-eyed and gentle, the boy a regular little scamp. The woman's heart swelled. She bought [Pg 8] a l l the rhododendrons from them, even gave them more than they asked for them.
That was a stroke of great luck for the little Swiss boy and girl--just think, to get more than they had asked for. They blushed with happiness, and when the strange lady asked them questions in a kind voice, they commenced to chatter ingenuously.
She would have to paintthosechildren, they were really too delightful, they were a thousand times more beautiful than the most beautiful landscape.
Paul Schlieben looked on with a strange uneasiness whilst his wife painted the children, first the big girl and then the small boy. How intently she gazed at the boy's round face. Her eyes were brilliant, she never seemed to be tired, and only paused when the children grew impatient. All her thoughts turned on the painting. Would the children come again that day? Was the light good? Surely there would not be a storm to prevent the children from coming? Nothing else was of any interest to her. She displayed great zeal. And still the pictures turned out bad; the features were like theirs, but there was no trace of the child-mind in them. He saw it clearly: those who are childless cannot paint children.
Poor woman! He looked on at her efforts with a feeling of deep compassion. Was not her face becoming soft like a mother's, lovely and round when she bent down to the children? The Madonna type--and still this woman had been denied children.
No, he could not look on at it any longer, it made him ill. The man bade the children go home in a gruff voice. The pictures were ready, what was the good of touching them up any more? That did not make the m any better, on the contrary.
[Pg 9] That evening Käte cried as she used to cry at home. And she was angry with her husband. Why did he not let her have that pleasure? Why did he all at once say they were to leave? She did not understand him. Were the children not sweet, delightful? Was it because they disturbed him?
"Yes," was all he said. There was a hard dry sound in his voice--a "yes" that came with such difficulty--and she raised her head from the handkerchief in which she had buried it and looked across at him. H e was standing at the window in the carpeted room of the hotel, his hands resting on the window-ledge, his forehead pressed against the pane. He was gazing silently at the vast landscape before him, in which the mountaintops covered with snow that glowed in the radiance of the setting sun spoke to him of immortality. How he pressed his lips together, how nervously his moustache trembled.
She crept up to him and laid her head on his shoulder. "What is the matter with you?" she asked him softly. "Do you miss your work--yes, it's your work, isn't it? I was afraid of that. You are getting tired of this, you must be doing something again. I promise you I'll be reasonable--never complain any more--only stop here a little longer, only three weeks longer--two weeks."
He remained silent.
"Only ten--eight--six days more. Not even that?" sh e said, bitterly disappointed, for he had shaken his head. She wound her arms round his neck. "Only five more--four--three days, please. Why not? Those few days, please only three days more." She positively haggled for each day. "Oh, then at least two days more."
She sobbed aloud, her arms fell from his neck--he must allow her two days.
[Pg 10] Her voice cut him to the heart. He had never heard her beg like that before, but he made a stand against the feeling of yielding that was creeping over him. Only no sentimentality. It was better to go away from there quickly, much better for her.
[Pg 11]
"We're going away to-morrow."
And as she looked at him with wide-open horror-stru ck eyes and pallid cheeks, the words escaped from his lips although he had not intended saying them, drawn from him by a bitterness that he could not master any longer:
"They are not yours!"
And they went away.
CHAPTER II
But it seemed to the woman as though every joy had disappeared with the emerald green meadow in the Alps, in which she had painted the lovely children. There was the same old nervous twitch in her face, the corners of her mouth drooped slightly and she cried very easily. Paul Schlieben watched his wife with positive dismay. Oh dear, had it all been in vain, the giving up of his work, all this travelling about without making any plans that was so fatiguing? Had the old melancholy frame of mind taken possession of her again?
When he saw her sitting there so disinclined to exe rt herself, her hands lying idle in her lap, a feeling akin to fury came over him. Why did she not do something? Whydid she notpaint? That confounded meadow in the Alps was
[Pg 12]
surely not the only place where she could work. Was it not beautiful here as well?
They had settled down in the Black Forest. But it was in vain that he hoped from day to day that one of the quiet green wooded valleys or one of the nut-brown maidens of the Black Forest with her cherry-red hat and enormous red umbrella, as Vautier has painted them, would tempt her to bring out her painting materials. She felt no inclination--nay, she had positively a kind of dread of touching her brushes again.
He reproached himself bitterly in secret. Would it not have been better to have left her that pleasure and not have interfered? Still--the thing would have had to end some time, and the longer it had lasted the more difficult the separation would have been. But he had made up his mind about one thing, they would return to Berlin again late in the autumn. With the best will in the world he would not be able to stand it any longer. He was heartily tired of this wandering from hotel to hotel, this lounging about the world with nothing to show for it but an occasional short article for the papers, a chatty account of a journey to some corner of the earth of which people knew but little. He longed for a home of his own again, and felt a great desire to return to his business, which he had often looked upon as a fetter and so prosaic whilst he was in it. But Käte! When he thought of her again spending many hours alone at home, with no interests beyond herself and her reading fo r in her state of hypersensitiveness she found little pleasure in associating with other women--a feeling of hopelessness came over him. Then there w ould be the same sad eyes again, the same melancholy smile, the old irritable moods from which the whole house used to suffer, herself the most.
And he subjected himself to an examination as though blaming himself for it. He passed his whole life in review: had he committed any crime that no son had been given to him, no daughter? Ah, if only Käte had a child everything would be right. Then she would have quite enough to do, would be entirely taken up with the little creature round which the love of parents, full of hope and entitled to hope, revolves in an ever-renewed circle.
Both husband and wife were torturing themselves, for the woman's thoughts [Pg 13] especially always ended at that one point. Now that she had been separated from those dear children, from the, alas, much too short happiness she had experienced that summer, it seemed to have become quite clear to her what she missed--for had it not only weighed on her like a painful suspicion before? But now, now the terrible unvarnished truth was the re: everything people otherwise call "happiness" in this world is nothing compared to a child's kiss, to its smile, to its nestling in its mother's lap.
She had always given the children in the meadow a tender kiss when they came and went, now she longed for those kisses. Her husband's kiss did not replace them; she would soon have been married fifteen years,hiskiss was no longer a sensation, it had become a habit. But a kiss from a child's lips, that are so fresh, so untouched, so timid and yet so confiding, was something quite new to her, something, exceedingly sweet. A feeling of happiness had flowed through her soul on those occasions as well as the quite physical pleasure of being able to bury her mouth in those delicately soft and yet so firm cheeks,
which health and youth had covered with a soft down like that on the cheeks of a peach. Her thoughts always wandered back to that meadow in the Alps, full of longing. And this longing of hers that was never stilled magnified what had happened, and surrounded the figures that had appeared in her life for so short a time with the whole halo of tender memories. Her idle thoughts spun long threads. As she longed for those little ones so they would also be longing for her, they would wander across the meadow weeping, and the large present of money she had left behind for each of them with the proprietor of the hotel--she had been obliged to leave without saying good-bye to them--would not console [Pg 14] them; they would stand outside the door and cast their eyes up to the windows from which their friend so often had waved to them. No, she could not forgive Paul for showing so little comprehension of her feelings.
The stay in the Black Forest, whose velvety slopes reminded them too much of the Swiss meadows and from whose points of view you could look over to the Alps on a clear day, became a torture to both the man and woman. They felt they must get away; the dark firs, the immense gree n forest became too monotonous for them. Should they not try some seaside resort for once? The sea is ever new. And it was also just the season for the seaside. The wind blew already over the stubble in the fields, as they drove down to the plain.
They chose a Belgian watering-place, one in which the visitors dress a great deal, and in which quite a cosmopolitan set o f people offer something new to the eye every day. They both felt it, they had remained much too long in mountain solitudes.
During the first days the gay doings amused them, but then Paul and his wife, between whom something like a barrier had tried to push itself lately, both agreed all at once: this sauntering up and down of men who looked like fools, of women who if they did not belong to the demi-monde successfully imitated it, was not for them. Let them only get away.
The man proposed they should give up travelling entirely and return to Berlin a little earlier, but Käte would not listen to it. She had a secret dread of Berlin--oh, would she have to go back to her old li fe again? So far she had never asked herself what she had really expected from these long months of travel; but she had hoped for something--certainly. What?
[Pg 15] Oh dear, now she would be so much alone again, and there was nothing, nothing that really filled her life entirely.
No, she was not able to return to Berlin yet. She told her husband that she felt she had not quite recovered yet--she was certa inly anæmic, she was suffering from poorness of blood. She ought to have gone to Schwalbach, Franzensbad or some other iron springs long ago--who knows, perhaps many things would be different then.
He was not impatient--at least he did not show it--for he was moved with a deep compassion for her. Of course she should go to some iron springs; they ought to have tried them long ago, have made a point of it.
The Belgian doctor sent them to the well-known baths at Spa.
They arrived there full of hope. In her the hope was quite genuine. "You will see," she said to her husband in a brighter voice, "this will do me good. I have a vague feeling--no, I really feel quite sure that something good will happen to us here."
And he hoped so too. He forced himself to hope in order to please her. Oh, it would be enough, quite enough if the characteristics of the landscape won so much interest from her that she took up her paintin g again, which she had neglected entirely. How pleased he would be at even that. If her former zeal for art showed itself again, that was a thousand times more health-bringing than the strongest iron springs at Spa.
The heather was in bloom, the whole plateau was red, the purple sun set in a mass of purple.
It happened as he had hoped, that is to say, she did not begin to paint, but she made expeditions into the Ardennes and the Eifel with him on foot and in a [Pg 16] carriage, and enjoyed them. The Venn had bewitched her. In her light-coloured dress she stood like a small speck of light in the immense seriousness of the landscape, protected her eyes with her hand from the view of the sun, which is so open there, so unobstructed either by tree or mo untain, and took deep breaths of the sharp clear air that has not yet been vitiated by any smoke from human dwellings, hardly by human breath. Around her the Venn blossomed like a carpet of one colour, dark, calm, refreshing and beneficial to the eye; it was only here and there that the blue gentian and the white quivering flock of the cotton-grass were seen to raise their heads among the heather.
"Oh, how beautiful!" She said it with deep feeling. The melancholy of the landscape flattered her mood. There was no gaudy tone there that disturbed her, no medley of colours. Even the sun, which sets there in greater beauty than anywhere else--blushing so deeply that the whole sky blushes with it, that the winding Venn rivulet hedged in by cushions of moss, that every pool, every peat-hole full of water reflects its beams ruddy-gold, and the sad Venn itself wears a mantle of glowing splendour--even this sun brought no glaringly bright light with it. It displayed its mighty disc in a grand dignified manner, a serious victor after a serious struggle.
Käte looked into this marvellous sun with large eyes bathed in tears, until the last beam, the last rosy streak in the grey mass of clouds had vanished. Now it had gone--the heavens were dead--but in the morning it would be there again, an eternal, imperishable, never-conquered hope. Then should not, ought not the human heart to beat again too, revived anew, always full of hope?
Clouds of mist sped across the moor, veiled, indescribable, vague shapes. [Pg 17] There was a whispering before the coming of the wind, a lisping through the heather and the cotton-grass--it seemed to Käte as though the Venn had something to tell her. What was it saying? Ah, it must be for some reason that she had come there, that she felt she was being held fast as though by a strong and still kind hand.
She walked on with quicker, more elastic steps, as though she were searching for something.