Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

The Iron Idol by Jakob Schaffner

translated by Amelia Von Ende

 

In one of our great industrial centres lived a childless couple, a workingman and his wife, by the name of Höflinger. They had been married ten years and had become resigned and accustomed to their solitude. The husband turned the sentiment, which no offspring of his could claim, toward the hopes and the aims of his class. He was known as a well-read, serious and reliable man, whose political activity was founded upon practical reality rather than theory and who was hostile to the exploitation of principles popular with the ordinary run of Socialist party leaders, but not always truly beneficial to the proletariat. Hence he was held in higher esteem by the trades union than by the party. He usually had a young man in his home who not only enjoyed room and board at moderate price, but, if he had a good head, was trained by Höflinger in class-consciousness and a practical knowledge of the tactics of life. Thus Höflinger had no difficulty in filling the vacancy whenever his boarder drifted away.

As he showed a fatherly solicitude toward these youths, so his wife spent upon them her unused motherly gift and feeling. She had never buried any of the ardent desires of her womanhood; she had never known sickness. In spite of the shadow of her childlessness she went on living her full, significant woman's life, and constantly defied the gnawing thoughts of what might have been by a cheerful acceptance of what life offered her. She was the daughter of a tailor, a dark blond of trustworthy aspect, quietly inclined toward play and fancy, but contented to express it before the men of her household only as a half humorous, half melancholy mood. Her father had called her Marie, but one of his customers, a lieutenant-general, had named her Spiele. She on her part called her husband, whose real name was Ferdinand, “the long one,” not so much for his bodily length, as for the extent of his activities, calculations, schemes and unionist controversies, which sometimes made her lose her breath and her judgment.

At this time Höflinger was occupied with the organization of a laborers' consumers' league. This work frequently called him away and kept them apart, and though he always returned to her, still she resented his having been separated from her for a time. In the factory, too, Höflinger occupied a special and independent position: he served the iron saw, a giant of double a man's height. This had impaired his hearing; figuratively speaking, you had to use Gothic type in order to make him understand. On the other hand, this deficiency favored his tendency to accept the phenomena of life summarily and to survey things from the organizer's standpoint.

To this couple came a young laborer, Victor Pratteler, who had but recently stepped out of the narrow, securely guarded realm of hand labor into the open and surging world of the iron proletariat. He completely lacked that personal imagination and that subjective instinct toward his material which make the very soul of the locksmith and the blacksmith, so that their grasp becomes the servant of a sixth sense, the sense of form. Pratteler's hand had not groped its way toward this higher sense, so he employed it where the course of work goes on abstractly without a will of its own and a predestined process is watched by a soulless eye and served by a passionless grip. On the other hand, there survived in Pratteler something of the whimsical mood of that vanishing social type, the journeyman. He had highfaluting ideas and pompous movements, and his speech was bloated with superfluous pathos and personal conceit. His relation to life was a many-linked chain of demands. Neighbors, both men and women, he looked upon from the viewpoint of a young steer; the former were either obstacles or they were bridges and steps leading to the pretty girls, women and other treasures that he would have liked to own all for himself. Thus by a single formula he interpreted the whole world. His manner was violent, combative and absolutely inconsiderate without an inkling of deeper relations. He was a native of Switzerland.

Like a motley calf driven by a storm he stumbled one evening into the garden of the Höflingers. He arrived at the fence on a Wanderer wheel, rather new in its coat of white paint, sharply applied the brake, jumped down before it had worked, threw the wheel with a careless movement against the paling and approached before Spiele's wondering eyes with big important stride. It was a week-day, but he wore his good blue suit. Rakishly perched on his black hair was a sporting-cap with green and brown pattern. Under his Adam's apple, like a burning heart that had been pushed up, was a blood-red necktie, the ends of which flared out from under his turned-back white collar. He had strapped his trousers, so they bulged outward, but Spiele immediately noticed that he had crooked legs and wore tan sandals over gray hose. Out of the collar rose a neck, long, thin and bare as a vulture's, and crowned by a round black wrangler's head of medium size.

In an offhand manner and with slight embarrassment he touched his cap and said that he was Victor Pratteler. When Spiele did not immediately reply, he asked with some discomfort, whether he was at the Höflingers', and frowned. With laughing eyes Spiele answered that he was right and told him to sit down on the garden bench and wait until Höflinger came home. Then she continued to sprinkle the young lettuce plants which she was growing in narrow beds; when she had finished them, she turned her attention to the peas. She did not look at the young workingman again; she had already a colored photograph of him in her head which she could bring to life whenever she wished. When she turned the corner of the cottage with her sprinkler, she began to hum. The gay lad gave her cause for amusement and put her in a merry mood. She read in his frown that attitude of unreasoning resignation without which a waiting heart cannot maintain its elasticity for any length of time.

When the day's work was over, Höflinger arrived on his wheel and took charge of the new guest. He showed him the shed which already housed Spiele's bicycle and which by a clever manipulation would hold all three. At supper it appeared that Pratteler, who was to begin work in the factory the next morning, did not expect his trunk until tomorrow or the day after. So Spiele had to fetch a pair of old trousers and a coat and working-shirt of “the long one,” which she did with ever-laughing eyes. In order to avoid all misunderstandings, Pratteler at once declared that he hated all emperors and kings, because they were parasites who sucked dry the German people and were responsible for its poverty and stupidity. They should be smoked out in order to make way for the state of the future, which would establish conditions more worthy of human society. If things had gone right, those conditions might already exist, for after all labor is in the majority; but the leaders and representatives put the workingmen's money into their pockets and cared not for the shrunken stomachs when they were sitting among the fat ones. Reichstag was nothing but a club of heavy-weights. All were eager to have the ministers tickle them under the arms; that meant some service to be rendered, and this again brought marks of honor and perhaps a decoration. Everything was humbug. Workingmen should help themselves and throw out all that reactionary mob, army, clergy and aristocracy; otherwise there could be no change for the better.

Spiele looked frequently at the long one to watch his expression while the savage Swiss was emptying before him his social carry-all. Höflinger said so little that the young man suspected him of being at heart a bourgeois, of having fallen away from the labor cause after he had earned his house and garden. Höflinger noticed that his wife was secretly laughing, and, as he knew that she was sometimes opposed to his well-planned tactics, he let her enjoy the diversion. The more firmly a man is standing on his feet, the more indifferently will he look at the antics of others. Besides, he knew exactly who had furnished her the premises upon which she was now basing her amused opposition to him.

Early in the morning the two workingmen rode together to the iron-works spreading out at the opening of a ravine about an hour from Höflinger's house. Pratteler wore “the long one's” trousers and coat. He had to turn back the sleeves in order to use his hands and the trouser-legs rested in many folds upon his open sandals. Under the blue shirt collar he had again his red tie, so people might see at once what he stood for. He pedaled with full force and frequently had to slacken his speed in order to have Höflinger, who did not seem to be in a hurry, catch up with him. Whenever he saw people on the road he tooted violently, while Höflinger tinkled his little bell. When workingmen greeted Höflinger, Pratteler responded with sombre mien, as if he were going to a battle. When they made a joke, his brow contracted in a frown. What was there to jest and laugh at, where they should rise in revolt against reaction? Everywhere he saw too much peaceful comfort. He was determined to infuse a new spirit into the life in this valley. After the last turn in the road the factory buildings came in sight. Pratteler saw a whole crowd of flues and chimneys in full activity. Behind the iron-works were the woods, almost entirely firs, with only a few beeches between. The water power of the brook which came tumbling out of the forest was used partly for the lighting plant, partly for the works themselves. When Höflinger and his new boarder and fellow-workman rode into the factory courts, they joined a host of other cyclists, and Pratteler's red necktie stood out significantly. Somebody asked Höflinger whether he had caught Garibaldi, and all who heard the remark began to laugh, while Pratteler frowned in silence.

When the siren gave the signal to begin work, Höflinger saw that the newcomer made a good start; and the experience he had had with zealous beginners gave him reason to anticipate that the Swiss youth would become a good workman. So his relation to Pratteler assumed a pleasant form. Like a priest Höflinger served the wheezing and squealing idol which daily swung its high flaming face about itself. Pratteler only picked its teeth and wiped its mouth. His task was not without danger; of three machinists that did the work, one was sure sometime to be carried from his place with maimed limbs or dead. The idol had neither brain nor eyes, and he who served it had to be doubly on his guard. Loaded carts came rolling along tracks and stopped automatically. Pratteler manipulated the crane which seized the iron bars and laid them at the feet of the idol. Then a claw would project itself and draw the bar toward the revolving teeth. The bar cried out like a beast. Behind the disk a whirlpool of fire was set free. The idol screamed and screeched. At the end it whistled, and when it was done, it rang a bell. Then the fragments that had dropped behind were automatically removed and the claw reached out for its next work. Around the idol iron stairs led up and ended in a circular gallery.

When Pratteler stepped up to the monster he scanned it with a quick and hostile glance. For a moment he stopped short and felt disinclined to grapple with it. Then he approached with determination, gritting his teeth as if it were an enemy. After an hour he was familiar with all its secrets. He learned that it was a rather simple idol. Yet its gigantic proportions again and again impressed him, and he could not understand how Höflinger treated it so familiarly and had never mentioned it to him the day before. Nor had he said anything about the masses of workingmen who were here working for the profit of others and among belt-gearings and cables and rows of steel beasts of all sizes and forms were day and night risking their lives. Those workingmen, too, moved about in a self-contained and indifferent manner. They crouched silently behind their machines, carried burdens, spat at intervals, and did not seem to mind that the foremen watched them and the engineers ordered them about. Pratteler hated all foremen, feared the machines with a dangerous destructive fear, and thought the engineers tyrants like Gessler, every man of them deserving to be the aim of a new Tell. They played at being masters, scorned the proletariat, and worked for the profit of the capitalists who paid them.

At noon other masses appeared in the factory courts: the wives and children of the laborers brought the lunch. They waited at the places assigned them until the siren blew. Then the workingmen rapidly left the shops and crowded toward their kin, unless they had brought their food in the well-known blue dinner-pails that were waiting for them on the stoves in the heating-rooms. Such herd-like movements annoyed Pratteler's individual and democratic sense and offended his good old journeyman traditions. Unwillingly he followed Höflinger into the third factory court where Spiele stood beside her wheel. Höflinger had invented a special arrangement for fastening the lunch-basket to the wheel. Thus he could enjoy a freshly cooked meal while the others had to be satisfied with the taste of warmed-up food, and he also had the satisfaction of spending a minimum of time and strength upon what was a necessity. Only in bad weather did the two ride home; but that made the long one lose his noon-hour nap which he never failed to take after lunch in one of the factory sheds.

Pratteler remained in the court, which he surveyed discontentedly, as the women and children slowly retired. Spiele, the tailor's daughter, suspected with her sensitive instinct that he was eager to express some opinion; so she busied herself with her wheel. When she thought it took him too long to say something, she turned around to bid him good-by. Then he shrugged his shoulders and said he would not stay on this job. He had expected to find zealous proletaires who hated capital and fought for freedom, and he had found that everything was very well arranged and trained to carry out the designs of capital. Everything was after all a humbug. Whenever he was dissatisfied, he made a wry mouth, which amused Spiele. But she consoled him. What he had seen that morning was only work-hours on a week-day. After all one had to live, and a small tree was better than none at all for purposes of shade. He should inform himself about the organization; workingmen were wont to awake at nights like bats. As far as she knew, plenty of mosquitoes were swarming about at times. Then she nodded pleasantly, mounted her wheel and rode off.

Victor looked after her in surprise. He noticed her low black shoe and the slender instep showing from beneath the skirt as she worked the pedal. She wore thin black stockings, which in some way suddenly impressed the Swiss youth. Her bare blond head shone brightly as it disappeared through the gate into the outer court. He remembered that she had no children; that, too, struck him and made him think. Why had she no children? So that was humbug, too, like everything else. All life was humbug. The long one was also a humbug. He owed his wife children, and he only nursed himself; even now he was lying asleep in the shed. Victor despised him; he did not deserve such a woman; she was far too good for this wretched toil. That she should come every day on her wheel to bring the lunch and stand at the door in the crowd was unendurable to him. Good heavens! There was nothing for it but to kill all that were responsible for this state of things, beginning from above with the thrones and the gilded armchairs, until the people should come into their own. But the wife of Höflinger had impressed him today. She seemed to make fun of this life; that made him think. He concluded that this childless wife deserved more intimate study. Everything else could go to hell. When the siren called him back to the idol, he held his head more haughtily than ever before.

One day he remembered Spiele's hint to inquire about the organization. Höflinger, who had considered it premature to speak of it or take him there, glanced at him in surprise and silently turned back to the idol. But in the next working pause he told Pratteler that he could go with him to a meeting that night, if he cared. Victor went along. They entered a large hall, the walls of which were hung with all sorts of pictures, trophies and wreaths. It was the home of two singing societies, a brass band and a dramatic club, each having reserved one wall for its photographs and testimonials. Now workingmen were sitting around the same tables. Under the shining loving cups, wreaths, bows and flags their colorless gray or brown clothes reflected the want and stress of their existence like a spiritless sea. Victor's eye took in at once the contrast between the childish trash of the privileged class that covered the walls and the seriously contained, yet deeply gnawing consciousness of belonging to the disowned that slumbered in the men who now sat in the bourgeois atmosphere of the hall.

Höflinger took his place at the table of the executive committee. Pratteler was surprised to learn that the spirit of revolt had been haunting the iron-works for some months past. A big strike was being planned in order to rebel against decades of oppression and prepare the foundations for a better future. Pratteler was confused. He could not understand why he had not met this spirit in any of his noon hour ramblings. He could not conceive that everybody should then take a nap, return to his machine when the siren blew, draw himself in when the idol wheezed or one of its servants passed. An elderly workingman got up on a chair and reported how far preparations had gone and how large the strike fund had grown; he also mentioned what organizations had declared their solidarity and their readiness to give aid.

Victor was interested in everything that referred to the strike, but could not approve the circuitous preparations and all the secret machinations with which the attack upon the monster was planned, instead of seizing it simply by the horns, as he thought they had the power to do. When the old man stepped down and some others had spoken, he could hardly restrain himself. He felt too closely hedged in in this gingerly movement of the mass. He swallowed nervously and clutched and tugged at his collar; he gulped down one glass of beer after another to quiet himself. In his mind he saw a vision of violent revolt, the masses furiously attacking the idol with axes and clubs, and hacking it to pieces. The bourgeois state was just such an idol. Höflinger got up on a chair and asked all those who had not yet joined the organization, to sign their names. He reminded them of the powers that work up singly from the depths and are back of every uprising of mankind: discipline, devotion and perseverance. He informed the meeting that a food-centre had been established at which a striker's wife could for a minimum price get her supply of coal, bread and potatoes; out of this centre was to grow the workingmen's consumers' league. Finally he warned the men earnestly against damage to the company's property, smashing of windows and breaking of machines. Help should come in a positive and constructive manner, and the destructive tactics of passive resistance and of sabotage should be discarded as being unworthy of a German workingman. One should not forget that besides a strong body one had to transmit to one's children class honor and trade character.

These words from the lips of the childless man stung Victor into opposition. He gasped for air and struck the table with his fist. Then he hissed like a rocket; he, too, could talk as well as the long one. Before anybody had noticed him, he was standing on his chair, challenging attention by an imperious movement of his fist, and swallowed once more. “Attention, Garibaldi wants to speak!” called a workingman that knew him. All looked astonished at the stranger. Many laughed at his agitation. His necktie glowed lurid like a midsummer eve bonfire against the pictures and trophies on the walls.

“Workingmen, proletaires!” he began. “I am of another opinion. Why? Because capitalists are vampires and scoundrels. Why should so many precautions be taken? Up and on, as the old Swiss used to do—that is what I say. If our fathers in Switzerland had waited until a consumers' league had been established and the men of Zurich or Basel sent money, all the cats would still be sitting on their tails and we should be paying our debts with Austrian coin. By God! They rose with clubs and ploughshares, and when the others sent a new army, they attacked it again and again, until there was none left. We must smash all the iron and other idols and serve their servant with the arrows of Tell. And when new ones are erected, we must hack those too to bits. The whole harvest must be ours. We don't want to spill our blood for the wives and the children of others. We must plague capitalism until it gets tired and surrenders. That is the meaning and purpose of capitalism: to capitulate. Everything else is good for people who have no children and no future to think of. They imagine one sort of class honor and another sort of trade character, which at the end amounts to as little as one had before. Class rule and trade fortune must come first; then character will follow. When Switzerland got to that point, Swiss character developed. But one must have courage, by Jove! Well, I have had my say!”

He nodded at the assembly with an important and excited air, hesitated a moment, and then got down from his chair. When he was no longer in sight, there was a moment of silence. Then a murmur of amusement and surprise arose and ended in good-natured laughter. But that, too, did not last long. The old workingman who had opened the meeting got up once more and all heads turned to him. So they passed over the rugged cliffs of Victor's address to the order of the day and listened to the final words of the old leader.

Yet they had taken the measure of the long-necked Swiss fighter just as Spiele had done. By this debut he became a well-known figure and his publicity began, without affecting or modifying his personality. The surname Garibaldi was soon generally accepted, but with its irony mingled something like an affectionate respect and beyond that something of that motherly expectation which is not spoken of: he was considered the promising child of the family. Victor on his part felt uneasy at this kindly and somewhat sarcastic indulgence which the submissive mass showed him from that day on. The laughter had struck him like a thunderbolt. Yet he felt vaguely that by participating in the movement he had linked his fate and established his kinship with that mass. Instead of celebrating the occasion by a feast, it began without further ceremony to correct and to train him, and this feature of their mutual relation was one he disliked. It should have been reversed: the mass should have been corrected and trained. It had no backbone and no faith in its own fist. It wanted to do everything by organization and pleading for help from Tom, Dick and Harry. It had no real men at the head. The committee was a calculating and deliberating bunch of old maids, and the organization was a girls' school led by their apron strings. He thought with indignation of those conditions, worked himself into a rage when he remembered that those immature fellows had laughed at him, and turned his attention to the tailor's daughter.

Höflinger did not allude with a single word to Victor's maiden speech. He did not even seem to have felt the pointed hint about childless people, or he bore him no grudge. That made Pratteler more angry with him. That long fellow had no temperament; that is why the couple had no children. Victor sulkily took up Spiele's sprinkler and deluged her lettuce plants until they were almost drowned. He scratched the weeds from the paths, raked them up and grumpily fed them to the rabbit. He thought by himself that Höflinger could well afford to talk: he would not be thrown out of his home when he went on strike, because he was a house-owner. Then he spat furiously. After all the long one had worked hard and saved in order to get where he was. And if he had drawn his purse-strings tight, when the organization was in need, he would not have been held in such esteem. So much he had to admit: that Höflinger was devoted to the cause. But he had a good job; so what credit was there in it?

Victor cleaned Spiele's wheel. He took it apart, washed everything in kerosene, oiled all the parts and set it up again. There was a human being for whom it was worth while to do something. He proposed that she should have the handle-bar lowered; he himself almost touched the road with his nose when he was on his wheel, and brushed the branches with his back: that he considered the sporting way to ride. When she refused and laughed, he laughed with her, and their merriment and friendliness was doubled. But she ought to have an auto-horn, he said; that would make the children heed her more than the thin little bell. When she refused that, too, he suggested that she should discard the mud-brake to make the wheel run more lightly. He had removed his; and when he returned in rainy weather he bore on his back an armor of dirt thrown up by the machine. When all the spinach was eaten, he dug over the bed and wanted to help Spiele plant cabbage. But when he came home that evening, she had done it herself. He sulked, she laughed, and finally he joined in her laugh.

Spiele visibly brightened. She grew more lively and talkative. It struck him, how often and how heartily she laughed of late. Höflinger, too, noticed it and liked to hear it, without relaxing his stiff back and sharing in the merriment. His head was full of a hundred schemes and a thousand cares concerning the strike and the future of other people's children; in that unequal triangle he was the remotest angle. At least so it seemed in day-time and while Victor was present. Pratteler would have liked to know how the couple looked at each other and what they talked about when they were alone; he could not imagine it. But he never noticed any disagreement or coolness. Spiele teased her husband with all sorts of pointed allusions, as behooved a tailor's daughter, to his difficult social responsibilities; but he never took it ill. Even when she trespassed beyond the permissible, he preserved his equanimity and only allowed an ironical smile to play about his lips. Then she would grow angry, call him wooden, and ask Victor to play cards with her. But the long diplomat held his own so cleverly that she could not keep away from him for any length of time. At the second or third game she would laugh, or in dealing throw eight cards at him, and he would placidly take them up, even if he had been reading a book. Victor never knew the moods of the pretty woman to produce even a shadow of annoyance or to spoil an evening.

On fine Sundays they went out on their wheels into the country. The two men had Spiele between them. In dodging Höflinger rode ahead and Pratteler remained behind. Sometimes they had to keep long in that order, because there were many pedestrians on the road. Then Höflinger's old and well-worn machine, which did not run freely, clattered ahead, and the little round bell strapped to the middle bar tinkled incessantly. On account of his long legs Höflinger sat rather high; it was quite a distance from his saddle to the button on his cap. Spiele sat two heads lower. Her legs were not long; she reached up only to her husband's shoulders. Victor was the last, bent double over his wheel as though he had cramps. From the front bar extended two bent cowhorns which he held at their very ends, so that he seemed to fly across the road with arms outstretched. But now and then his animated glance would take in Spiele's trim figure and sometimes he remained behind in order to take a good start and to rush on like an express train. He especially admired Spiele's small feet which so strongly and cleverly worked the pedals and showed a commendable perseverance when it was needed. Otherwise she preferred a leisurely comfort in her movements. But when she rode along the street behind her long husband and before her gay little admirer, her head was humming with all sorts of notions and she made up her mind to torment Höflinger a bit in order to get him closer to her.

She began by suggesting that he should add a horn to his wheel, since the little cat-bell was insufficient for the road. She referred to Victor, commending the loud blast which made all children run to safety. She also called his attention to the safety of those behind him and showed her concern about her own; so he gave in and bought a little horn. Then she complained that his back shut out the view from her because he was perched so high and advised him to lower his handle-bar. He suggested riding behind, but that she would not permit: Victor would speed too much and with him she rode more safely. So Höflinger agreed to lower his handle-bar. But now she complained that she could not bear to see his bent back and peevishly asked him to raise it again. With such a longlegs one could do nothing; if he had a well-proportioned figure like Victor, it would be easier to get along with him. Pratteler had substituted sole-leather for the worn-out rubber on Höflinger's pedals, because it would last longer. Now it happened that he slipped on the hard and smooth surface. Then Spiele asked him to wear soft sandals like Victor, but he preferred his stiff boots. However, he procured hooks which kept the foot in place and allowed him to enjoy the advantage of the leather surface. Now she was worried lest the hooks should prove a dangerous obstacle in jumping off the wheel. She consulted Victor; but he only said, it depended.

One Sunday, however, on their way home, they met a drunken farm-hand, also on a wheel. Höflinger saw from a distance that the man took up the whole width of the road and could not control his machine. He gave a warning blast of his horn. Spiele tinkled merrily. Victor also tooted a warning. All three kept to the right. For a moment it seemed as if an accident could be avoided. But suddenly, as though he had been struck a blow from the back, the brute swerved to the other side of the road. He could not help himself and had to ride straight into Höflinger's wheel: it was his fate. Höflinger wanted to jump quickly, but could not get out of the hooks as rapidly as he would, and lost control of his wheel before the other reached him. Spiele was frightened and rode between him and the rustic; her heart urged her to get near her husband. It was the worst move she could make; she prevented him from dodging in time. The impact was terrible. With bent head and shoulders drawn in, the farm-hand had shot at Höflinger's wheel as if lost in deep thought. The collision threw him over his own bar and the fore-wheel of Höflinger against the curb, where he lay like a sack. Höflinger bent aside toward Spiele's wheel. The woman, the man, their wheels and that of the farm-hand, the bar of which had caught in Höflinger's spokes, tumbled clattering and crashing into the ditch. Höflinger had stretched out his hand and balanced himself, breaking the force of the impact. Spiele was buried under her wheel, but her husband's weight did not fall on her.

There was a moment of suspense, until Pratteler appeared to render assistance. With chalky pallor he bent over the victims of the mishap and began to work like a fireman. First he grabbed the machine of the farm-hand, disentangled it and flung it furiously out upon the road with a clatter which its owner fortunately did not hear. Then he freed Höflinger from his own wheel, which was still between his knees, and helped him to his feet. Finally he reached Spiele; she was a bit pale, but unhurt. When he saw her on her feet once more, he began to upbraid Höflinger. He seemed beside himself and positively dangerous. He showed his teeth, looked Höflinger up and down and rattled away about crazy hooks, danger to life, and stupidity. Höflinger looked at him in amazement and was getting ready to keep him at arm's length. Victor had been so much praised by the tailor's daughter that his conceit had grown; he was firmly convinced that he was the latest guest, not only in her house, but also in her heart. Undisciplined as his mentality was, he forgot all standards and limitations of the world and wanted only to blame Höflinger for the great fright they had experienced. At heart this beastliness was only a means of relaxing the surplus tension of his nature; but it showed nevertheless what savage beasts were haunting the queer faithful soul of the Swiss. At last a stray glance of his eyes caught the strange expression which Spiele's face had assumed at his attack, and he suddenly lapsed into silence, as if he had been hit on the mouth.

Spiele asked Höflinger with subdued voice whether he had been hurt and inquired about the wheels, and he bent over them. Spiele's wheel was undamaged. His own well-worn machine had more than stood the test; he had only to adjust the bar and they could go on; the bump which the frame had received was only a new mark of honor. Spiele thanked Victor for his assistance. Now she appeared again in such a halo of prudence and womanly kindness, that he would have liked to tear his heart in two and place one-half in her hands and throw the other at Höflinger's feet. At the sympathetic glance of her brown eyes tears came into his own. He turned about sharply and saw the farm-hand struggle up crab-fashion from the grass. He gave the wheel another kick and got on his Wanderer. The couple also mounted their wheels. For a time they rode straggling across the whole width of the road facing the setting sun. Then village strollers came with the evening coolness, and they resumed their customary order.

The incident did not act on Pratteler's passion either as brake or as sedative. In his queer head it tended to justify his claims and hopes and to give him the right to support them. Something had appeared which had to be recognized and to run its course. Victor expected Höflinger to take cognizance of it; when nothing of the kind was forthcoming, he picked up that half of his heart which he had thrown at Höflinger's feet and with the other half placed it in the hands of Spiele. Now she owned his whole heart and openly too—by Jove! The long one knew it, and she knew it, and both knew that he knew it. That was a delightful chain of ready facts; and he saw the pretty tailor's daughter dreamily laughing and expectantly groping toward them with the free hand which did not bear his heart. One day she was bound to reach him; no power could help her. Then it would be for Höflinger to see how he would resign himself to his loss.

From that day Victor no longer restrained himself. Spiele, too, it seemed to him, was going more and more out of herself in her husband's presence. She seemed to enjoy their leavetaking. She began to sing all sorts of taunting little tunes that she remembered from her girlhood, innocent jolly songs with which the daughters of the middle class while away their time and keep awake their minds in their long wait for a husband. Sometimes she was simply ravishing. Once she danced before the men. They had read in the papers about Salome. She sat still a while and smiled, and Victor knew that she was scheming something. Finally she said: “We can dance too,” and rose from her seat. She picked up her skirt with two fingers of each hand and began to take some steps. She swayed right and left. She bent back and forth. She laughed with her fresh lips. When she slightly contracted her lids and sent her glance like a song along the walls which seemed transformed, or when she fixed her gaze upon the light of the hanging lamp which made her eyes open like yellow daisies in a star-like halo, Victor said to himself that no man could tell whither she was looking. But he was sure that all this was done for him and in the name of the silent love they bore each other. Nor did it strike him as strange that she never left her corner seat on those evenings when her husband attended the frequent meetings of the committee and left her alone with Victor. She then quietly busied herself with her sewing or mended stockings and seemed absorbed and absent-minded. Victor felt depressed and suspected that his presence disturbed and perhaps irritated her, but they would have to get used to it. When he could stand the strain no longer, he would drag forth his wheel, light the big lantern and ride out into the night. But his imagination would conjure up before his inner vision a glowing picture of what she was doing and how she spent the evening until night came. Sometimes he experienced a disappointment; for when he returned she was sitting at the table with Höflinger, perhaps laughing. That left a sting in his heart and would not let him sleep.

Of the strike he learned nothing more. He presumed that the big scheme was running its course, and his sharpened eye noticed in the noon hour the spirit that walked about among the steel monsters. But though he had joined the organization and had made the personal acquaintance of some unionists and social democrats the secret was so well kept by the executive committee that no knowledge which was not voluntarily communicated, reached the main body. Least known to him was the day and hour of the strike. The longer ignorance lasted, the higher rose expectation and the larger proportions did the act of deliverance assume which was dawning on the horizon of the near future. On the other hand, this uncertainty of the inevitable contributed toward increasing and deepening the feeling of solidarity. The herd strengthened the individual's heartbeat, and the individual unconsciously sought the pulse of the mass in order to raise its own rhythm. Even the most rebellious spirits suddenly experienced the change from individual to joint experience, and into the intercourse of the several members entered a note of respect and sympathy in face of the common foe and the common risk. To those spirits belonged Pratteler. He still obstinately distrusted the leaders, and in his heart did not discard the motto: Everything is humbug. They made themselves so big with their “if” and “but,” and they made you wait for them in order to appear necessary and powerful. But the individual man interested Victor keenly. Those days did far more toward developing his social soul than he himself suspected. His nose accustomed itself to the smell of the herd; to use a hunter's term, he had almost acquired the scent. He followed, though perhaps unwillingly, the physical atmosphere of this general body, in which he recognized his new master and lord. As its latest member he was still more by instinct than by reason plunged in primitive ideas of the possibilities of personal action and freedom of decision. His highly-colored speech had drawn a small crowd of super-revolutionists about him, childish, genuine groundlings, who wanted to be keener than the blade of which they were only the handle. Some ignorant old fellows also belonged to the clique and contributed no little to raise Victor's self-esteem. Once in a while the more experienced soldiers in the army indulgently looked over their shoulders, and Victor heard perhaps a kindly laugh; but that did not disturb him. The leaders had no time to bother about the tail; after all it is there only for the purpose of wagging.

In those days Spiele was again fighting her husband. She complained that he was not proposing to give her a discount at the future consumers' store and asked Victor whether he, too, would let her come off so badly in the big scheme. Then there was some talk about their leaving the cottage with the garden and moving into the workingmen's colony. He was ignorant of any reasons for the plan, but agreed with Spiele that their home was far more attractive and that anybody should be glad not to have to live in the colony. The matter was very simple. Being manager of the food centre, Höflinger wanted to live in the same building in which it was to be opened. Since he had no family to look out for, he at least wished to devote himself thoroughly to the cause. But Spiele had not yet abandoned hope of that family, nor could Höflinger persuade her to his viewpoint. So the question was for a long time undecided, while the relation of the couple assumed a critical intensity, which they both felt as a sort of sweet bitterness, with the sweet or the bitter element alternately prevailing. Sometimes Spiele wept; then again she indulged in all sorts of tricks that she had learned from her father and his apprentices. She lost money and found it in Victor's pocket, which gave her an opportunity to appeal to his conscience. She could read fortunes in the cards and make spirits rap at her table. She promised Victor a good wife, and added cheerily: “One like me.” She also promised him four healthy and handsome children, and at the prophesy lapsed at once into a melancholy mood.

Victor would have liked, with his glowing gaze, to hide her in a burning bush, so that nobody else could approach her. One evening he forgot himself in Höflinger's presence. Spiele had teased him about his red necktie, which began to look black with wear; she asked whether he would always stay a Garibaldi and offered to sew a new one for him, if he would let her remove the old. He agreed; nobody noticed the glow and the tension in his eyes. When she had unfastened the little red rag and was running away with it laughing, he quickly grabbed her hand and caught it between his crooked horse-teeth. Spiele cried out and tore herself away. Victor laughed with embarrassment and excitement. Höflinger looked up startled. The tailor's daughter seemed angry and scolded Victor; but her scolding was music to his ears. When he finally noticed the husband's cold and disapproving glare, he showed his teeth again and remarked aggressively: “People ought to be able to take a joke!” Then he struck the table with his fist and went out quickly.

After that incident Höflinger walked up and down in silence and listened to Spiele, who set about removing a double veil from his eyes. She told him what a distant and strange husband he was, his head filled with the business of other people and his heart never heeding the need and the loneliness of his wife. Absorbed by other interests, he seemed to leave it to her whether she should continue to hope for the fulfillment of her longing, or like him, however young in years, passively give up all hope. She told him what wrong he was directly committing against himself and her, by renouncing what after all, as he well knew, the law of nature would not force her to forego for a long time to come. She left him no room for doubt, that she was going by all means within her power to avoid being cheated out of happiness by his attitude. A large, extensive organization was no compensation for the absence of a single innocent little being, which was perhaps denied them on account of his interest in the other. Not to lose a single trump, she pointed to the fiery young boarder as an example of a real lover. She took Höflinger by the nose and made him follow all the successive steps in the development of her heart's cause. She did not even fail to show him that a good willing boy was suffering for a wife's faithfulness toward her absent husband, who unsuspectingly and self-complacently was busy with alien things. She poured such a storm of good arguments and sound object-lessons upon the absorbed mind of her partner, that she really succeeded in arresting his attention.

Höflinger finally stopped and looked at her in astonishment. He had never noticed that his wife had grown from a little girl into a mature woman. It was the first time that he heard her talk like that, and her speech rang so true that one could not help agreeing with her in general. This was what that man of reality enjoyed most in all her argumentation. His eyes grew clearer and clearer before her. What her dances and her tricks had not accomplished, was achieved by this violent thunderstorm. When he had got over his first amazement, he began to rejoice in every fibre of his being; and his face showed a youthful and animated glow which pleased her so much that she allowed the storm to pass by and to be followed by a partial rainbow. Finally her magnetism so overpowered him, that in spite of the jealousy which gnawed and stung, as she had desired it should, he began to laugh. His. eyes were so kindly and so enterprising, that she joined in his laughter, and morning and night were turned into another wedding-day. Victor had been watching behind a tree to see whether Höflinger would abuse his wife for the incident of the necktie. He witnessed a scene which filled him with burning misery from head to foot. He saw Spiele wrestling with her husband, laughing and brushing her hair from her forehead and apparently running away from him. He firmly believed that she really feared him and suffered his amorous mood only because she could not help herself. At the end he heard Höflinger whistle a tune, while he was locking the door of the cottage and bolting the sitting-room, and saw him, candle in hand, follow his wife to her bedroom. Victor decided that this evening cried for revenge in his own and in Spiele's name.

One day a thunderbolt came down before his eyes. Höflinger took leave for three days and Victor was to remain alone with the idol and the wife. The long one had to take this trip in the interest of the workingmen's consumers' league which was now about to be realized. Pratteler spent half of each night on his wheel. He ate nothing and drank much. In those days he sought the midday rest with the other laborers and lay down where Höflinger was wont to take his nap. Having to pay so much more attention to the machine used up his nervous energy, already much tried, and wore him out. He wanted to sleep, but the wild and foolish notion that he might take the place of Höflinger at night, too, banished the rest he craved. Then he jumped up and went about in the courts and between the steel monsters, wherever the spirit of revolt was brooding and whispering into his ears wild and extravagant words. He breathed more freely when the siren called the herd to work. His task of serving the idol filled him with a dull indifferent hatred; he despised the monster. Sometimes he gave vent to all the bitterness and the scorn his breast was harboring by spitting into the revolving shining face. But that had not the slightest effect. The idol continued to screech and wheeze, and its claw greedily grabbed the next iron bar. Then Victor turned away weary and sad at heart, and mounted the iron staircase to attend to the oiling.

At noon Spiele came as usual through the dark gate, jumped off her wheel in her light-footed way and approached his place with a nod. Recently she was inclined to be late and no longer waited in the crowd. The first day, eager to cut short the ceremony of taking the lunch-pail from her, he managed to bump his head against hers. She looked straight at him, surprised at his haste. He trembled like a wall hit by a shot, and did not know whether to fall backward, or forward into her arms. Both blushed. He exclaimed with embarrassment: “Hopla!” and set the pail down. She scolded him for neglecting his lunch, while his trembling fingers rolled a cigarette and he lapsed into a moody silence. The next day he let her do everything herself. He ate a little, while she explained to him that it was unhealthy for him to be so much on his wheel. Besides, he should raise his handle-bar, for it could not be good for a stomach to float like a cloud over the ground. It also shocked the nervous system too violently, when the arms alone bore the weight of the body, as was natural when the wheel leaped and bumped over the uneven roadbed. Submissively and somewhat cautiously he replied that she might be right. That evening he obediently drew up the handle-bar by the width of a hand, and lowered the saddle. It was hard for him; but since she was solicitous about his health, there was some consolation in it. He thought she would not care, if she did not love him a little.

When he returned late from a tavern, his passion got the better of him. He went to the door of the sitting-room which led to the bedroom, and firmly pressed down the latch—not softly, but as if he had a right to enter. But the door was bolted. He rapped. Nothing moved; the door remained locked. With aching limbs he went up the stairs to his garret-room; he felt as if smoke were rising from his lungs and his very vitals were on fire. A tempest of thoughts was brewing in his head. In the morning he drank his coffee, pale and tortured. Spiele was invisible. It was not her habit to be present; she always retired once more after serving the men's breakfast and before Victor appeared. But that morning he considered it a special measure upon which she had decided—or a proof of guilt. He had all the day to decide which of the two it was. At noon he asked Spiele incidentally, whether Höflinger were sure to return that night and observed her from the corner of his eyes. She said “yes” in a rather absent-minded manner, which he at once interpreted as secret sharing of his impatience. Heaving a deep breath he opened all doors to the remotest back gate of his soul to give free entrance to any idea that would promise help. After work he was busy with the idol a few minutes longer, as though he had to put something in order. In reality he loosened some screws and unfastened a coupling. Then he threw himself once more upon his wheel. He did not return for supper. He sat in the inn down in the valley and only started for the house when he was sure that Höflinger had returned and the couple had retired.

[Illustration: MOORLAND]

The next morning at breakfast Höflinger scanned him with a searching glance. “Did everything go well with the saw?” he asked with concern. “Why should it not!” replied Victor sulkily and rose; the last mouthful stuck in his throat. When he rode to the works beside him, Höflinger noticed the change in his wheel and nodded approvingly: “You are right to obey my wife's suggestion, Pratteler,” said he, and added: “You should also give up your extravagant speeding and pedaling for hours at a stretch.” Victor was silent. Later other workingmen joined them and greeted Höflinger eagerly. But he was no more communicative than at other times.

They entered the machine-shop. Before the gable-wall in the background towered the idol. Its immense disk shone treacherously in the morning light. Victor's heart was beating. The siren howled. The belting-gear cracked and rolled up. The first shot rang out behind the halls. Höflinger pressed down the lever and let the idol run. It rang the bell and whistled; but there was a crunching noise. Höflinger listened and hastily threw back the lever; the disk made a sweeping movement. Silently he went up to the iron gallery. After a moment which seemed an hour to Victor, he came down again. His face was grave; his eyes sought Victor. “Did you do anything to the machine, Pratteler?” asked he with troubled mien. “Is something wrong?” replied Victor much too loud and angry at the ring of his voice. “It ran well until work was over last night. After that I was not near it.” Höflinger cleared his throat. “Then it is sabotage,” said he dejectedly. “But it is senseless and murderous sabotage. If I had not heard that something was wrong, we two should not be going about much longer.” He went to the tool box and again ascended the gallery.

Victor did not dare to follow him until he called. They both repaired the damage done. Victor's hands were cold as ice in all the heat that rose from the half-glowing iron blocks. At this moment he felt a violent hatred of Höflinger and came near throwing him from the gallery. Höflinger said only that the perpetrator would be expelled from the organization as soon as discovered. That word sounded like a judgment to Victor's ears. It gripped and shocked him in a depth of consciousness he had not yet realized. He began to tremble. He stood unknowingly under the jurisdiction of the power called social morality, and his highflown democratic notions were already so strongly modified, that he came near confessing his guilt to Höflinger. Yet the impulse only intensified his hatred of the man who by his laconic and deeply ordered life deprived him of one freedom after another, until it became an unendurable torture. He had lost his heart to Spiele's charm over which the enemy had unlimited mastery. Now his self-will, too, was being shattered and pushed under the feet of the marching multitude. Something had to happen to give the world breathing-space. A master shot should explode that whole damnable scheme in which his life was about to be sunk and buried.

A week after that incident in the short nine o'clock pause Höflinger remarked casually, that Spiele would no longer bring them their lunch, and they would have to ride home. He gave no reason for this decision, and, when Victor glanced at him, did not look as if he were inclined to be questioned. Victor said it was all right, and stared dismally before him. Suddenly he took his cup and angrily spilled the coffee on the floor. He was convinced that Höflinger had learned of the incidents of the first noon and the second night of his absence, and that the change was due to them. So he was again to be punished. Höflinger had raised his brows in surprise: “Why do you spill that coffee?” “Because I don't like it—d—it!” Victor got up breathing fast and stepped aside. Beside him glistened the cold disk of the saw; he looked wrathfully at the claw which had stopped about to grab a bar. What a tyrant the long one was! He found out everything; he got out everything from that helpless woman. He surely found it annoying to ride home every noon, but he wanted Victor to feel his power. He wanted to punish and torture him for his devotion to Spiele. And such a fellow was in the executive committee and was esteemed by the mass!

Suddenly Victor started, trembled and his eyes shudderingly turned away from the monster's claw. Whoever came within its grasp was lost, even if his name was Höflinger and he was in the committee. Then he would cease to tyrannize over his handsome wife and to lead about by the nose, the ill-advised proletariat. A big humbug would end, and the air would be so much purer than before. Pratteler sighed, gritted his teeth and rapidly measured the idol with a look of distrust and hatred. After that, this beast should be disposed of—what a relief that would be! Two scoundrels silenced. A giddiness came over him. For an instant he had to hold on to the lever, but the next moment found him once more standing firm and tense in all his muscles on his well-trained cyclist's legs. The siren called. The bells rang sharply through the shops. Five minutes later another shot was heard behind the machine halls. Engineers went watching back and forth. The individual workingman disappeared behind the steel monsters; nothing was seen but the movement of shining metal limbs. There was a roar, and there a crash. Now an iron cry echoed through space. An uncanny shrill ringing of bells followed. The walls seemed to throw back a cruel hard laughter. The gearing cracked and rolled. The belts were swaying. Cold bluish lightning flashed all over the machines. The idol wheezed and squealed.

Sabotage had recently become more frequent. Several men had been caught, expelled from the organization and forced to leave the iron-works. If they refused, they were given up to the authorities. Höflinger was the most bitter foe of those malefactors. One day he again discovered that screws had been loosened and that some parts of the idol were even missing. In this way the black sheep among the workingmen were trying to take revenge. In the lower strata of the force there was a tendency toward disorganization. A group of secret anarchists and born marauders hoped to bring about general disorder during the strike and to have an occasion either to derive some personal profit or to destroy the whole plant. Though Victor did not belong to them and by his inborn middle-class honesty was separated from those wild rebels, still there was a bridge leading from the shores of youthful discontent and ignorance to the camp of those law-breakers, and there was always intercourse through the medium of deserters and newsmongers. Victor realized the danger of sabotage, but he could not grow indignant about it, because he really wished injury to the capitalists.

Höflinger was of course not ignorant of his ideas. Victor had a bad conscience, though this time he was innocent. He suspected that Höflinger distrusted him and anticipated that he would make use of this opportunity to frame a case against him. He spent a half day full of hatred and torture in helping him to repair the damage, while the engineers walked about excitedly. That clay there was not a moment when Victor did not wish the death of Höflinger and in his mind was menace to his life. Pain gnawed at his very vitals. He felt as if his lungs were compressed in iron hoops. From time to time his teeth chattered. Sometimes he had forcibly to collect his senses and was surprised that he was still there and alive. The whole shop moved about him like a wild and treacherous dream-world. Nothing was real in it but his boundless love and his unendurable hate. His bad conscience suggested ever new combinations and was eagerly active to realize the most improbable notions and fancies. If he had still believed in hell, he would have imagined in those moments of self-absorption that he was in the midst of it. So the time had come when the seed of despair which he had so sadly and seriously tended in his soul, was quickened.

On a Saturday evening, when he paid his board, Höflinger told him that they had decided not to keep boarders any longer. The announcement was made in a kindly and friendly manner: but Victor listened with secret malice. He grew pale and gave Höflinger a hostile stare. Höflinger added that he regretted, that he had liked him, but that everybody had to arrange his life according to his own needs. These were more good words than Victor had ever heard from him, and his suspicion that the recent sabotage and a secret decision of the committee which the long one had carried through, were back of it, rapidly became a conviction. In his mind he sneered: “We'll see who leaves the house first.” He nodded convulsively and left the room with stiff knees. He thought by himself: “He wants me to feel his power” and “He denounced me so as to get me away from his wife. He is a wretched scoundrel one must get rid of!” These three conclusions henceforth determined his thoughts and the direction of his speculations. Before his eyes the claw of the idol continually appeared, rising from the ground and grabbing its prey. Between the wife and the idol stood nothing but the doomed victim. Everything else had vanished like smaller beasts at the tiger's coming. The world had become strangely simplified.

Victor sat seriously brooding on the first step of the stairs to the gallery and stared before him with eyes, sunken and circled with dark rings. A workingman passed and remarked laughing: “Get your hair cut, Garibaldi.” He looked after him wondering what he meant. Höflinger stepped near. The siren shrieked. The electrical bells yelled through the shops. Softly the gearing began to move. The steel beasts came to life again. The first thrill went through the halls. Hundreds of shining metal limbs were lifted high, slender, irresistible, triumphant. Elbows and fists appeared and disappeared. A low, mocking crackle, tinkle and knocking followed the first movements. A dull roar slowly swallowed it all. The belts were whizzing and swaying. Once more the machines were masters.

Höflinger looked surprised at Victor who was still sitting on the iron step, his fists on his knees. “Well, Pratteler, are you going to look on today?” he asked with a halfhearted smile. Victor started. With a bewildered look he braced up, threw back his shoulders and went to work. The strike committee had sent guards and watchmen to prevent sabotage and everything seemed to be quiet. Höflinger had just received their report and was pleased. “We have quietly put a stop to the tricks of those good-for-nothings,” said he to Victor. “The machines run as smoothly as ever.” The blood mounted to Victor's face. He had only heard the word “good-for-nothing” and mechanically interpreted its meaning; he was sadly experienced in that sort of thing. He felt sneered at and betrayed all around, and his temper rising, conjured the spirit of revenge. Again before his inner vision he saw the claw rise from the ground; he waited with bent head until it really appeared. Then with three hurried steps he approached Höflinger. Looking aside as if by accident, he pushed against the claw and the revolving disk, and waited, blind with excitement, to see what would happen. Six—eight—twelve heartbeats: finally, hearing no outcry, he looked around. One hand on the railing of the stairs, Höflinger stood, his eyes turned toward him and scanning him with a troubled look, as the other day on the street. “Something seems to be wrong behind there after all,” cried Victor his voice pitched too high and shaking with fear. “They are standing about a machine and consulting.” That was true. Höflinger looked in that direction. He resumed his reticent mien and bit his lip. Then he went up the iron stairs to the gallery and staid a long time.

With senseless regularity, without soul or breath, the iron sphinxes turned their hardened limbs. They stretched up their shining fists and chased the connecting-shafts until they whined and moaned. Cold and haughty glowed the metal. The belts were flying without purpose or restraint. Periodically an explosion was heard. The idol stood in the steady fire of the torrent of sparks that shot from between its teeth. The iron screamed. Pale and unreal the day looked in through the high windows. Where a sunbeam struck, it was felt as a burning torture. Through the middle aisle three older workingmen came down with measured steps. Behind every machine heads bobbed up to look after them. Then the engineers approached and the heads vanished. Victor tended the idol and waited for Höflinger.

When he came down the stairs, Pratteler counted his steps and listened to their sound. He thought he noticed that Höflinger was afraid. That filled him with radiant joy and with faith in his good conscience. The victim knew that it was doomed. Everything seemed to clear of itself. In the distance floated and beckoned the future of Spiele: that was the prize. His imagination painted glowing pictures of her life and of her heaven. His love became distorted like a cloud image and the adored form of his sweetheart went under in the wild conflagration. He hoped to see an angel rise from the flames; but at best it was a charred corpse that awaited him.

Like a monster horse the idol neighed. Its swinging disk rang and roared. Sparks flew about. That meant that the block was sawed through and the claw would soon appear—empty. Höflinger was just stepping to the floor. Pratteler hurried to him and grabbed his arm. “Come—look—quick—” cried he, hoarse with excitement, and tried to drag him along. Höflinger beat down his hand and stepped back. He looked at him more attentively. Victor threw himself upon him; carried away by his passion he began to pummel and shake and drag him about without any sense. Höflinger's fist came down on his head, but still without full intent. In Pratteler's soul all the long-suppressed rage and wretchedness flared up. Like a cat he leaped at the long one's neck, knocked him with his knees and twisted his feet about his legs to bring him down to the floor. He struck at his eyes and under his chin and tried to grab his throat. Höflinger was at a disadvantage, because he did not act in temper and his defense was limited to a few straight but honest blows. The claw withdrew empty and appeared once more. The disk rang the bell and roared. The carts approached with their load and returned with it. Victor no longer thought of his prize; he had only in mind Höflinger's destruction. All means for that purpose seemed justified to him. He did not even care, that he, too, would be ruined—if only Höflinger were lying dead and in pieces behind the idol and the world were delivered from him and would be free to work out its own fate. When he saw that he was most likely to drag Höflinger with him to the claw, he directed all his efforts to accomplishing that purpose. Now Höflinger grasped the bitter seriousness of the situation, and his blows became heavier and more direct. But whenever he threw Victor with a single blow against the railing, the young man jumped upon him or against his legs, so desperately quick and brutal and clever in his movements, that Höflinger saw the moment come when he would have to fell him with a last well-aimed blow against the temples. He believed that the Swiss had become insane.

Nevertheless he had seemed to notice before that the song of the idol was growing weaker, and now he became fully conscious of it. Even Victor in his God-forsaken mood became aware of it. He struggled a while against this knowledge and continued to fight, but he was startled by it and his attacks seemed to be aimed distractedly. The disk whistled and started to ring the bells. As if struck in his heart, Victor's hands dropped from Höflinger, and he turned around at the idol. He looked about and about and was sobered. Behind the halls another explosion was heard. The gearings dragged and cracked. Then the machinery stopped. Victor collected his thoughts. It was far from closing-hour, only the middle of the afternoon. His eyes sought Höflinger as if to question him, but strayed aside bewildered and turned to the sunbeams and their glaring torture. The siren cried. It howled. It blew a triumphant blast. It played tricks like the sirens of a merry-go-round or shoot-the-chutes. Finally it stopped on one note which it repeated with full force, half a minute at the time, again and again and always at the same pitch. The disk shone and shook treacherously. Behind all the machines the forms of workingmen rose. Victor was amazed at the number of men that these halls had held. Again he looked at the long one, who contemplated him half pitifully, half angrily. He braved that look for a second; then he east his eyes down before the long feet of Höflinger and awaited his judgment. His heart was beating in brief, timid beats. He could have been directly led to his death without uttering a word or a plea.

Höflinger cleared his throat. “What is the matter with you, Pratteler? Is that the way a union member treats a comrade?” His voice trembled with suppressed emotion. Victor listened. His false repose was not equal to this note. At mention of the organization a multitude of possibilities overwhelmed him. He thought that Höflinger knew everything, and when he saw him retain his composure he dropped his last claim and looked up to this specimen of human greatness that had grown out of greater depths and had been formed by higher laws than he suspected.

Victor sighed deeply and raised his dim eyes to Höflinger. “Forgive me, I was crazy,” said he shaking his head. “I understand nothing of all this. If you can prevent it, don't have me expelled from the organization. Do you hear? If you want, I will immediately take my leave.”

Höflinger looked at him astonished. “Do you care at all for the union?” he asked. “I don't understand you. Why should you be expelled? Besides, even if I wanted it, I should not have the power to do it.”

Victor's head dropped; suddenly he gave himself up. “It was I who damaged the machine the first time. But not after that. Now you will have to tell on me, Höflinger. Did you not know it? Why am I to leave your house?”

Höflinger opened his eyes wide, as if he could not take in enough knowledge of this peculiar fellow. “Because my wife is about to become a mother and wants to be alone with—it, and with me,” he replied with tension. “Why did you ask?”

“Oh, I thought it was from revenge—or something.” Victor passed his trembling hands over his brow and his hair. “It is all humbug,” he added with bitterness.

Slowly Höflinger began to comprehend. “The individual is a humbug, Pratteler,” he added with precision and knowingly nodded at him.

“And yet you want to be a father,” remarked Victor. “Your child will be nothing better.”

Höflinger grabbed his coat; he saw that all were getting ready and collecting in groups. “A man like me becomes not a father, but a brother, when his wife gives birth to children,” he remarked as if to change the subject. “But why did you want to attack me? Did I offend you without knowing?”

Victor reddened violently and shook his head. “I can't tell you,” he replied and grabbed his coat.

A workingman came running up the aisle. “Strike!” he called from far and swung his hat. “Strike, Höflinger!” The long one nodded; it did not seem to surprise him. For him particularly it meant that he would open the food centre and realize his ideal. Victor forgot his coat when he heard the word “strike.” Cold and hot shivers ran over him. Now he stood there as a little modest workingman in the great event which the others had prepared. When his eyes took in the situation, he recognized the excellence of the organization and the value of the waiting period which had preceded this date. His coat in hand, he quietly walked behind the two workingmen and his head was humming with thoughts that were neither foolish nor jealous.

On both sides and all about the iron beasts were lying, lurking immovable, their merciless limbs lazily stretched. In their beautiful brutal bodies a sustained glow seemed to flicker. As at all times the vicious graceful forms lay there and shone with a lustful light. But no living brain conceived a creative thought, no eye was animated by a soul. Cold, heartless, brainless beasts filled the halls where they reigned. The little long-necked man with the bushy head and the yellow wheelman's sandals brought to contrast with them much solid worth, and surpassed them in real beauty. For those sovereigns could all be hacked to pieces, and nothing was lost; they could be replaced. But if Victor Pratteler by some sad accident lost his life, the world would have been poorer in just so much love, good will, sincere remorse, faith, humility and honesty. Before he left the hall, he threw another glance at the idol, and wondered at himself. For the idol was no longer a symbol to him; he could contemplate it quietly and objectively. A feeling of shyness came over him at the memory of the last half hour; but the distress which he had experienced was so great and his deliverance so simple and comprehensible to his soul, that the power of the idol had melted before it. The siren continued to howl. The strikers had fastened the valve with a rope, locked the furnace room and thrown the keys in through the window, so they could not be reproached with having them. After an hour the fire department silenced its voice. In the meantime a stream of workingmen was surging toward the meeting-hall.

With the same quiet and impersonally gentle manner in which he had taken leave of the idol, Victor approached Spiele, when he returned with Höflinger. He noticed now with his unveiled eyes that the tailor's daughter was by no means as pretty as he had always believed. There were wrinkles about her nose from her habit of drawing it up so often. She also had some crowsfeet about the eyes. It could not be denied that these eyes were of a beautiful brown in the twilight, but when you looked at them in full light, there was plenty of green in them. Her hands were rather hardened by work and quite callous on the inside from wielding broom and garden tools. So Victor was consoled for her loss, and withdrew his head from the noose. In the evening the long one made a joke. “Think of it, Spiele, Pratteler did not want to leave us. I believe he had some scruples about leaving you alone with me.”

Spiele turned over a baby garment which she was sewing. “Well, it is not always a pleasure to be alone with you!” she replied with a laugh. “But I am going to try it once more.”

A week later Victor obeyed the order of the organization which bade all unmarried workingmen leave, in order to unburden the strikers' fund and to let the heads of families fight out their cause. Afterward they might return. He left the house of Höflinger, in which he had after all fulfilled a vital mission, grateful and with the best wishes for the happiness of those he left. With a conscious will and readiness for action, and with well-trimmed hair, he went out into a world which his eyes saw everywhere in the throes of reorganization.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page