Tewes burst out with a loud laugh.
“You, you want to go to Germany? And if the president handed you the most beautiful Yankee passport with his own hand and with his own signature on top of it and it was certified by the ambassador to his superior King George – with your face, you would still most certainly not end up in Germany, but instead, arrive in some English prison camp! Those dueling scars make you a German student and you will remain one to your blissful end.
– Yes, we have the identification instructions used by the British sea officers, those who search the steamers; Doctor, show them to him! Right on the first page it says, that they should arrest anyone; who has German dueling scars on their face – entirely without regard for all other papers. And you, Herr, have scars for twenty – German dueling scars, as the English so nicely call them. No, Herr, no! We spare no money, and use – despite them – every great and little swindle and every Dodge and gimmick – in order to ship officers overseas and all others whom we believe, can be of use to Germany. But we have no red cent remaining, to enrich an English prison camp with one more prisoner!”
The old servant came in bringing a plate with butter bread.
“Here is the new cord for the electric cooking stove!” he said.
“Thank you,” said Frank Braun, “Now the old stove can still be used.”
He took the brown cord, and played with it.
“You must console yourself, Herr Frylinghuis, the journey is out of question, you must see that. Please – get hold of yourself!”
The attorney crammed the slices of bread in his mouth.
“Naturally I can see that,” he moaned.
“Ah– The Schmisse! I once I counted them – they struck me eighteen times. I was buttered by them – every time – like no one else. But I remained standing, Doctor, remained standing –“
“Like a rock in the sea!” ridiculed the editor.
“Don’t laugh,” He pleaded chewing with full cheeks, “it was really so. They could have hacked me to mush – and l still would not have flinched. I was a second three times – a fencing partner, you know – even though I, with my short wings, was the most pathetic bumbler in the entire student corps. Still, for semesters after me they said in Marburg:
“He stands there like Frylinghuis.”
“I would have never made you a second,” said Frank Braun thoughtfully. “Even though I was a very good fencer, especially if it was one of my good days. – Tell me, Frylinghuis, have you ever licked your own blood at a duel?”
“Licked my own blood?” said the other in astonishment. “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh – just what I say,” continued Frank Braun. “It was at my third fox duel; at which I was supposed to drill with some fellow. The Prussian struck me through the temporalis, and the blood flowed warm over my left eye. Then I forgot that I was holding a weapon in my hand. I saw nothing – but I felt, how red the blood flowed, so red and soft and warm.
“Are you crazy,” hissed my good friend, who was my second, “shut your mouth! Stick your tongue back in!” – That’s when I first noticed, that I was licking my own blood. I did as he said – but it came out again, my tongue – the blood pulled at it. ‘You duel – like a pig’, said my bodyguard.”
“And did you always do that?” asked the attorney.
“Always? No!” he answered. “I tell you, that often enough I fenced very well, struck several with a rapier and hooked quarte. But then once in a while – it came again – without my wanting it and having no consciousness of it. Then I licked my own blood, forgetting completely where I was and what I was doing. Tell me, Tewes, if I should now suddenly lunge at you, in order to strike you on the head with a knife, what would you do?”
“In that moment?” answered the journalist. “Well my first move would probably be, to throw my arm high, in order to parry the blow.”
“That was exactly what I once did at a duel,” said Frank Braun, “when I was drunk from my own blood. I tore my left-hand out of the belt from behind me, and threw it high –“
“What?” cried the attorney aghast. “What? – That is horrible! – Hopefully you were thoroughly buttered?”
“Naturally!” laughed Frank Braun. “Immediately – such foolishness is not permitted at our duels: they called me a wretched whimp! I was dismissed, for an undetermined time – as sometimes happens. And then they gave me the three worst fencers, which they could find, in order to drill me again. Oh yes – licking blood is not in good form at a duel.”
“I would agree with that!” nodded the attorney with deepest conviction. “Nothing like that happened with me.”
But then, suddenly, his little bit of composure collapsed again.
“Of what use is my good standing today!” he said ruefully. “Lord God, what will I do now? How shall I even begin?”
“There is nothing that can be done with you,” scorned the journalist. “No one here needs lessons – in good standing!”
Frank Braun said:
It came out of his teeth, without his willing it. He was thinking it – and spoke it at the same time. It rang seriously – and he was sorry for it instantly. And yet he repeated it, stressed and very definite:
“Hang yourself. That is the only thing that remains for you to do.”
The attorney took the slice of bread from his mouth. He stared at him, and stammered:
“Are you serious, Doctor? – Are you really serious?”
Frank Braun held his gaze.
Something compelled him, pulled him forward. It was to him, as if he stood on the stage, as if he had to make some proposal to the public, the secretary and the journalist – To prove what he could do, what kind of a man he was: to rule the others, force them down to his feet, to make them slaves and into creatures without wills of their own, into play things for his frivolous moods.
“Dear Herr,” he began. “Have you never thought of it yourself? You are a member of the student corps, are an officer – is your honor and self-respect really that lost in this country? The war will last for still four more years, you know that as well as we do, there’s no way for you to get over there – never! And it is just as impossible for you to find something here. You are unfit – for anything – which you can think of.”
“Yes – yes –“ moaned the attorney.
“What is the use of howling?” he continued. His voice rang unmercifully, cutting and sharp. “You must become clear about this – that you do not have the slightest prospect in this country. And in the best case you are further marked – so as to receive a miserable job for one or two days, which will earn you a couple of dollars, and then the searching around again in a couple of weeks. And in the meantime, dear Herr, you live from – begging! Just remain sitting, don’t get up – it is necessary, that you for once see this thing clearly with your own eyes. As long as you receive money from me and from others, editors and your regulars, you can call it pumping – even though you know very well, that you will never have the slightest possibility of giving the money back. Hear this out just once, isn’t it true? Then you will run to the support chest of the pastor – to help you again – until you see, that there is no more help for the attorney Frylinghuis. Meanwhile, you will know what starvation is – but one can starve for a day or two – if one has a certain hope of finding something, the means of finding a way to eat. Watch for the day – when you will not be getting a single nickel more.”
The fat tears rolled over the cheeks of the unfortunate.
“And you, Herr Doctor, you would leave me in the lurch?”
“I?” he answered harshly. “Naturally!”
– He knew that he lied, knew that he would give this man – even though he hated him – in spite of that, would continue to give to him, again and again. But at the same time he felt, that he himself was ashamed of this childish weakness, this foolish consideration, which wiped every “no” from his lips. How did people do it, find that soft spot of goodness in the core of his heart, and make it wider with their suffering and with their love – over and over again? – He scorned all of them – no, no, this man had no right, to see into his breast.
“That’s how people are here, ” he said, “and I, like a thousand others.”
“You give more away, then you use for yourself!” cried the attorney. “I know it, I know it very well!”
Frank Braun pulled his shoulders high.
“And even if that is true – I do so, because I am frivolous and careless and have no real understanding of money and of all possible obligations. But you see, once in a while I also have an enlightened moment and then I know, that it is a monkey shame to give you money. The dollar bills that I give you; I take away from others; those who could use them better. I can push off your certain collapse for a couple of pathetic days, and in the meantime someone else will die, that could have easily found some skilled labor! It is criminal, to give you money!”
The attorney wiped the tears from his scarred cheeks. He stared at him for a long time, speechless, without understanding.
“You – you don’t want – to help me anymore?” he stammered.
He wanted to say “No” – and couldn’t. – “Now is enough,” he thought. “Now give him something – and you must give him more this time.” – And then again: “That is cowardly – you must send him away.” – But he couldn’t do it, couldn’t do it: slowly he shoved his hand into his pocket to take out his checkbook.
Then, suddenly he jumped up:
“No!” he screamed. “No! No! – Hang yourself!”
He tossed the electrical cord over to him.
“This is a magnificent noose – hang yourself!”
The attorney picked the cord up from the floor, breathed deeply and heavily. His voice sounded weak and soft, but yet strangely firm. He spoke:
“You are right – it is certainly the best.”
He played with the cord, looked at it for a long time, then said:
“May I hang myself here, Herr Doctor?”
“Thank you very much!” laughed the journalist. “That would be a beautiful mess! Police – an investigation and a great outcry in the newspaper – that is exactly what we don’t want! Go to Central Park tonight – you will find a wonderful selection of trees and streetlights!”
“It is just –“ said the attorney, “now I have the courage.”
And again it seemed to Frank Braun, as if he stood in front of the public, throwing out some phrase with large gestures, and whose reaction he was certain of. He stepped up to him, tapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Please, as you will, Herr Frylinghuis. Make use of your strong mood and my rooms. Don’t trouble yourself over it, we will put everything in order behind you. – Go through the bedroom, there, next to the bathroom is my clothes closet. There are hooks on the wall that are strong enough.”
“Thank you,” said the attorney, entirely calm and very composed. “May I finish the butter bread? Please, a cup of tea! – And if you would be kind enough, to give me a cigarette?”
“Please, help yourself!” he replied.
They sat around; the attorney ate, drank and smoked.
“Do you have any other wish?” asked Frank Braun. “A message? A letter?”
“My parents are long dead –“ replied the attorney. “I don’t have any closer relatives. If you would be so kind, to write to my seniors – and then to my corps.”
“Gladly!” he nodded. “What should I write?”
“Oh, that I am dead,” said the other. “Only – don’t mention how, please.”
A little smile tugged around his lips.
“’He stands like Frylinghuis’ – that’s what they say in Marburg – that is still something, something. And I would not like it, if they were to say: ‘He hangs like Frylinghuis.’”
Then he stood up.
“I thank you, Herr Doctor. For everything, for what you have done for me. And also for today, you have opened my eyes wide open.”
Frank Braun didn’t speak a word. He seized his lower lip with his teeth, and bit, bit.”
“Live well, gentlemen!” said the attorney.
He shook everyone’s hand, bent over, and tied the noose. Then he took his cord and went slowly to the back.
Rossius watched him go, then turned to hurry after him.
“What are you doing?” cried Frank Braun.
“I’m going to bring him back!” answered the secretary. “He’s really going to do it!”
Frank Braun hissed:
The editor laughed:
“Really? He won’t hang himself any more than I will or you will! You will see how pretty he comes back after a short time – and then it will cost us some extra pain money.”
Frank Braun didn’t answer. He stood, erect, unmoving, in the middle of the room; looking toward the back.
The manuscript of the attorney’s speech lay between the cups. Tewes took it up, paged through it.
“I can use this for my butcher master, almost as it is! – Give me your ink pen, Rossius! – Just strike out a couple of lines – then three sentences to begin it and just as many to close – this inheritance spares me a half hours’ time!”
And he sat for a while, editing, striking out, and writing, like one, who thoroughly knows his work. Then he handed a couple of pages over to the secretary.
“There, type that up! – Only the pages, that are strongly corrected – and those, those that are too dirty. The rest is for my butcher master, just as smooth as we have inherited it.”
From in back they could hear a loud sound, Rossius stood up.
“He’s singing!” he said.
“A cheap swansong!” laughed the editor.
“Do you know what it is?”