Chapter 23

 

BELOVED—!” SAID FREDER, Joh Fredersen’s son.

It was the softest, the most cautious call of which a human voice is capable. But Maria answered it just as little as she had answered the shouts of despair with which the man who loved her had wished to re-awaken her to consciousness of herself.

She lay couched upon the steps of the high altar, stretched out in her slenderness, her head in Freder’s arm, her hands in Freder’s hand, and the gentle fire of the lofty church-windows burnt upon her quite white face and upon her quite white hands. Her heart beat, slowly, barely, perceptibly. She did not breathe She lay sunken in the depths of an exhaustion from which no shout, no entreaty, no cry of despair could have dragged her. She was as though dead.

A hand was laid upon Freder’s shoulder.

He turned his head. He looked into the face of his father.

Was that his father? Was that Joh Fredersen, the master over the great Metropolis? Had his father such white hair? And so tormented a brow? And such tortured eyes?

Was there, in this world, after this night of madness, nothing but horror and death and destruction and agony—without end—?

What do you want here?” asked Freder, Joh Fredersen’s son. “Do you want to take her away from me? Have you made plans to part her and me? Is there some mighty undertaking in danger, to which she and I are to be sacrificed?”

To whom are you speaking, Freder?” his father asked, very gently.

Freder did not answer. His eyes opened inquiringly, for he had heard a voice never heard before. He was silent.

If you are speaking of Joh Fredersen,” continued the very gentle voice, “then be informed that, this night, Joh Fredersen died a sevenfold death… ”

Freder’s eyes, burnt with suffering, were raised to the eyes which were above him. A piteously sobbing sound came from out his lips.

Oh my God—Father—! Father… you—!”

Joh Fredersen stooped down above him and above the girl who lay in Freder’s lap.

She is dying, father… Can’t you see she is dying—?”

Joh Fredersen shook his head.

No, no!” said his gentle voice. “No, Freder. There was an hour in my life in which I knelt, as you, holding in my arms the woman I loved. But she died, indeed. I have studied the face of the dying to the full. I know it perfectly and shall never again forget it… The girl is but sleeping. Do not awaken her by force.”

And, with a gesture of inexpressible tenderness, his hand slipped from Freder’s shoulder to the hair of the sleeping girl.

Dearest child!” he said. “Dearest child… ”

And from out of the depth of her dream the sweetness of a smile responded to him, before which Joh Fredersen bowed himself, as before a revelation, not of this world.

Then he left his son and the girl and passed through the cathedral, made glorious and pleasant by the gay-coloured ribbons of sunshine.

Freder watched him go until his gaze grew misty. And all at once, with a sudden, violent, groaning fervour, he raised the girl’s mouth to his mouth and kissed her, as though he wished to die of it. For, from out the marvel of light, spun into ribbons, the knowledge had come upon him that it was day, that the invulnerable transformation of darkness into light was becoming consummate, in its greatness, in its kindliness, over the world.

Come to yourself, Maria, beloved!” he said, entreating her with his caresses, with his love. “Come to me, beloved! Come to me!”

The soft response of her heart-beat, of her breathing, caused a laugh to well up from his throat and the fervour of his whispered words died on her lips.

Joh Fredersen caught the sound of his son’s laugh. He was already near the door of the cathedral. He stopped and looked at the stack of pillars, in the delicate, canopied niches of which stood the saintly men and women, smiling gently.

You have suffered,” thought his dream-filled brain. “You have been redeemed by suffering. You have attained to bliss… Is it worth while to suffer?-Yes.”

And he walked out of the cathedral on feet which were still as though dead, tentatively, he stepped through the mighty door-way, stood dazzled in the light and swayed as though drunken.

For the wine of suffering which he had drunk, was very heavy, and intoxicating, and white-hot.

His soul spoke within him as he reeled along:

I will go home and look for my mother.”