The World's Illusion, Volume 2 (of 2): Ruth
THE EUROPEAN LIBRARY
EDITED BY J. E. SPINGARN
AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION BY
THE SECOND VOLUME:
HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE
COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE, INC.
THE QUINN & BODEN COMPANY
RAHWAY, N. J.
CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME
THE WORLD’S ILLUSION
CONVERSATIONS IN THE NIGHT
When Wolfgang visited his home during the Christmasvacation he congratulated his father on the latter’s accessionto a new dignity; Albrecht Wahnschaffe had been madea Privy Councillor.
He found the house changed—silent and dull. From abrief conversation with his father he learned that Christianwas causing anxiety and excitement. He listened avidly, butdid not succeed in gathering any details. Strangers had toldhim of Christian’s sale of his properties; but he had nonotion of the meaning of this step.
He had but one long talk with his mother. She seemedto him to be morbid and to treat him with an indifferencethat wounded him.
Rumours of all kinds reached him. The major-domo informedhim that Herr von Crammon had spent a couple of daysat the castle, almost constantly closeted with its mistress.They had sent an enormously long telegram to Berlin, offeringsome one a bribe of forty or fifty thousand marks. Thetelegram had not been addressed directly to the person inquestion, but to an intermediary. The reply must have beenunfavourable, for on its receipt Herr von Crammon had announcedthat he himself would proceed to Berlin.
Wolfgang decided to write to Crammon, but his letterremained unanswered.
Since, at bottom, he took very little interest in Christian’sdoings, he refrained from any further investigation, and atthe beginning of January returned to Berlin. From the behaviourof his acquaintances it was evident that a secret inwhich he was concerned weighed on their minds. In manyeyes there was an indefinite yet watchful curiosity. But hewas not particularly sensitive. His aim was to appear faultlessin the worldly sense and not to alienate any who mightaffect his career. He was so wholly identified with the viewsof his social group that he trembled at the very thought ofbeing accused of a mistake or an unconventionality. For thisreason his demeanour had an element of the nervously watchfuland restless. He was extremely careful to venture the expressionof no opinion of his own, but always to be sure that whateverhe said represented the opinion of the majority who setthe standards of his little world.
At a social gathering he observed near him several youngmen engaged in eager but whispered conversation. He joinedthem and they became silent at once. He could not butremark the fact. He drew one of them aside and put thequestion to him brusquely. It was a certain Sassheimer, theson of an industrial magnate of Mainz. He could have madeno better choice, for Sassheimer envied him, and there wasan old jealousy between his family and the house ofWahnschaffe.
“We were talking about your brother,” he said. “What’sthe matter with him? The wildest stories are floating aroundboth at home and here in Berlin. Is there anything to them?You ought to know.”
Wolfgang grew red. “What could be wrong?” he repliedwith reserve and embarrassment. “I know of nothing.Christian and I scarcely communicate with each other.”
“They say that he’s taken up with a loose woman,” Sassheimercontinued, “a common creature of the streets. Youought to do something about that report. It isn’t the sortof thing your family can simply ignore.”
“I haven’t heard a syllable about it,” said Wolfgang, andbecame redder than ever. “It’s most improbable too. Christianis the most exclusive person in the world. Who is responsiblefor such rot?”
“It is repeated everywhere,” Sassheimer said maliciously;“it’s queer that you’re the only one who has heard nothing.Besides, he is said to have broken with all his friends. Whydon’t you go to him? He is in the city. Things like thatcan ordinarily be adjusted in a friendly way before the scandalspreads too far.”
“I shall inquire at once,” said Wolfgang, and drew himselfvery erect. “I’ll probe the matter thoroughly, and if I findthe report to be a slander I shall hold those who spread itstrictly accountable.”
“Yes, that would seem the correct thing to do,” Sassheimeranswered coolly.
Wolfgang went home. All his old hatred of his brotherflamed up anew. First Christian had been the radiant onewho threw all others in the shade; now he threatened tobring disgrace and danger into one’s most intimate circles.
The hatred almost choked him.
The hours of consultations and interviews were drawing toan end. The features of Privy Councillor Wahnschaffe showedweariness. The last person who had left him had been aJapanese, a councillor of the ministry of war at Tokio. Oneof the directors had been present at the conference, which hadbeen important and of far-reaching political implications. Hewas about to go when Wahnschaffe called him back by agesture.
“Have you selected an engineer to go to Glasgow?” heasked. He avoided looking at the man’s face. What annoyedhim in the men around him was a certain expression of greedafter power, possession, and success, which they wore like amental uniform. He saw almost no other expression anymore.
The director mentioned a name.
Herr Wahnschaffe nodded. “It is a curious thing about theEnglish,” he said. “They are gradually becoming wholly dependenton us. Not only do they no longer manufacturemachines of this type, but we have to send an expert to setthem up and explain their workings. Who would have thoughtthat possible ten years ago?”
“They frankly admit their inferiority in this respect,” thedirector answered. “One of the gentlemen from Birmingham,whom we took through the works recently, expressed his utteramazement at out resistless progress. He said it was phenomenal.I gave him the most modest reason I could think of.I explained that we didn’t have the English institution of theweekend, and this added five to six hours a week to our productiveactivity.”
“And did that explanation satisfy him?”
“He asked: ‘Do you really think that accounts for yourgetting ahead of us?’ I said that the time amounted to severalthousand hours a year in the activity of a whole nation. Heshook his head and said that we were extremely well-informedand industrious, but that, closely looked upon, our competitionwas unfair.”
The Privy Councillor shrugged his shoulders. “It is alwaystheir last word—unfair. I do not know their meaning. Inwhat way are they fairer than ourselves? But they use theword as a last resort.”
“They haven’t much good-will toward us,” said the director.
“No. I regret it; but it is true that they have not.” Henodded to the director, who bowed and left the room.
Herr Wahnschaffe leaned back in his chair, glanced wearilyat the documents scattered over his huge desk, and coveredhis eyes with his pale hand. It was his way of resting and ofcollecting his thoughts. Then he pressed one of the numerouselectric buttons on the edge of the desk. A clerk entered.“Is there any one else?”
The clerk handed him a card, and said: “This gentlemanis from Berlin, and says he has an appointment with you, sir.”
The card read: “Willibald Girke, Private Detective. TheGirke and Graurock Private Detective Agency. PuttbuserStreet 2, Berlin, C.”
“Have you anything new to report?” the Privy Councillorasked.
A swift glance showed him in this face, too, that well-knownand contemptible greed for power and possession and successthat stopped in its hard determination at no degradation andno horror.
“Your written communications did not satisfy me, so Isummoned you in order to have you define more closely themethods to be used in your investigations.” The formalphraseology hid Herr Wahnschaffe’s inner uncertainty andshame.
Girke sat down. His speech was tinged with the dialect ofBerlin. “We have been very active. There is plenty ofmaterial. If you’ll permit me, I can submit it at once.” Hetook a note-book out of his pocket, and turned the leaves.
His ears were very large and stood off from his head. Thisfact impressed one as a curious adaptation of an organism toits activity and environment. His speech was hurried; hesputtered his sentences and swallowed portions of them. Fromtime to time he looked at his watch with a nervous and uncertainstare. He gave an impression as of a man whom thelife of a great city had made drunken, who neither slept norate in peace through lack of time, whose mind was shreddedfrom a ceaseless waiting for telephone calls, letters, telegrams,and newspapers.
He spoke with hurried monotony. “The apartment onKronprinzenufer has been kept. But it is not clear whetheryour son may be regarded as still occupying it. During thepast month he passed only four nights there. It seems that heturned the apartment over to the student of medicine, AmadeusVoss. We have been watching this gentleman right along asyou directed. The style in which this young man lives is mostunusual, in view of his origin and notorious poverty. It isobvious, of course, where he gets the money. He is matriculatedat the university; and so is your son.”
“Suppose we leave Voss out for the moment,” Herr Wahnschaffeinterrupted, still burdened by his uncertainty andshame. “You wrote me that my son had rented in successionquite a series of dwellings. I should like an explanation of this,as well as the exact facts of his present whereabouts.”
Girke turned the leaves of his note-book again. “Here weare, sir. Our investigations provide an unbroken chain. FromKronprinzenufer he moved with the woman concerning whomwe have gathered full and reliable data to Bernauer Street,in the neighbourhood of the Stettiner Railroad Station. Nexthe moved to 16 Fehrbelliner Street; then to No. 3 JablonskiStreet; then to Gaudy Street, quite near the Exerzier Square;finally to Stolpische Street at the corner of Driesener. Thecurious thing is not only this constant change of habitation,but the gradual decline in the character of the neighbourhoodsselected, down to a hopelessly proletarian level. This factseems to reveal a secret plan and a definite intention.”
“And he stopped at Stolpische Street?”
“He’s been there five weeks, since the twentieth of February.But he rented two flats in this place, one for the woman inquestion and one for himself.”
“This place is far in the north of the city, isn’t it?”
“As far as you can get. West and north of it there areempty lots. To the east the roads lead to the cemeteries ofWeissensee. All around are factories. It’s an unhealthy, unsafe,and hideous locality. The house itself was built aboutsix years ago, but is already in a deplorable condition. Thereare forty-five flats with outside light, and fifty-nine withnothing but light from the court. The latter are inhabited byfactory hands, hucksters, people of uncertain occupations, andcharacters that are clearly suspicious. Karen Engelschall, thewoman in question, has an outside flat on the third floor,consisting of two rooms and a kitchen. The furnishings belongto a widow named Spindler. The monthly rent is eighty marks,payable in advance. She has a servant, a young girl namedIsolde Schirmacher, who is the daughter of a tailor. Your sonlodges on the ground-floor of the inside flats with a certainGisevius, who is night watchman in the Borsig works. Hisaccommodation consists of a barely furnished living-room anda half-dark sleeping chamber in which there is nothing buta cot.”
Herr Wahnschaffe’s eyes grew wide, under the influence of afright which he could not quite control. “For heaven’s sake,”he said, “what can be the meaning of it?”
“It is a mystery indeed, sir. We have never had a similarcase. There is plenty of room for supposition, of course. Thenthere’s the hope that future events may throw light on everything.”
Herr Wahnschaffe recovered his self-control, and coldly dismissedthe other’s attempts at consolation. “And what isyour information concerning the woman?” he asked in hismost official tone. “What results have you in that direction?”
“I was just about to come to that, sir. We have done ourbest, and have succeeded in uncovering the woman’s antecedents.It was an extremely difficult task, and we had tosend a number of agents