Home  »  library  »  prose  »  From ‘Klaus Hinrich Baas’

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Klaus Hinrich Baas’

By Gustav Frenssen (1863–1945)

Authorized translation ob Esther Everett Lape and Elizabeth Fisher Read


ONE afternoon soon after this, when Klaus came home from school, he found his father lying on his bed asleep. He went back to the kitchen, where his mother was sitting at her sewing-machine, and asked, in great surprise, “What’s the matter with father?”

Without looking up from her work, she said curtly, “Your father’s side hurts.”

“Do you think,” said Klaus, in sudden anxiety, “do you think he’s going to get better?”

“Don’t ask such stupid questions,” she answered, with a frown. “How do I know?”

He went back to the room, and sat down with his slate at the window, where there was still a little bit of daylight; but he kept looking at his father, who was lying with his face to the wall, sometimes groaning in pain. What if his father should die! But he had always been such a strong man. It wasn’t likely—at least, he had never seen or heard of a strong man like his father dying. But if it should happen,—well, it would be a dreary prospect, and he could never be a teacher.

After a little while his father turned toward him. “Tell me, Klaus,” he said, in a tired voice, “have you thought much about what you want to be?”

Klaus was startled to hear his father speak of what he himself had just been thinking. “If it’s possible, father,” he said, “I want to be a teacher.”

Jan Baas was silent for a while. “If I don’t get really well again, my boy,” he said, finally, “it won’t be possible. Of course your mother will work like a horse, and you won’t be absolutely poverty-stricken; but she won’t be able to accomplish that.”

Klaus, in the stoic way of our simple folk, accepted the possibility that his father might die. “If that happens,” he said gently, “I’ll have to be something else.”

“Well, what else, my boy?”

“Well,” said Klaus, after a few moments of thinking, “I believe I’ll be a storekeeper.”

“Your mother can probably manage that,” his father said. “You must tell her that you don’t care a thing about teaching, and that you want to be a storekeeper above everything else. If you don’t, Klaus, she’ll sew all night long so that you can be a teacher. You know how she is.”

“Yes, father.”

“I guess it would be better for you to tell her that now whenever you get the chance. And you’d better be confirmed next Easter.”

“Yes, father.”

“Well, then, that’s all right now, Klaus.”

“Yes, father.” Then he went on, in a courageous voice, “Do you know, father, I really think it’s much better for me to work with my hands. I think being busy around the store will be great fun. I believe I’d like a hardware store better than any other kind.”

“Well, then you do that, Klaus. And now that’s all settled.”

They looked at each other uncertainly, and each saw plainly that the other was hiding his real feelings. But they did not speak of it again.

A week later his father was sick in bed again. And he was in bed every few days from now on. He came home pale and cold, with the sweat standing out on his brow, and lay for hours in dreadful pain, with his face turned to the wall so that they couldn’t see it. When the pain became a little easier he turned from the wall, and in spite of the clatter of the machine in the kitchen, talked away cheerfully to the children, sitting or standing in a little group by the window. Once in a while as he talked his face contracted with pain. In his old way, he would begin to joke with them, somewhat clumsily and partially, especially as he always praised them to the skies. But it was always effective, because his face and voice laughed and livened up as he did it. “Now Fritz and Ernst there,” he said to the little ones, “there’s a couple of strong fellows for you. Why, they could tear up trees by the roots. And if they both took hold together and gave themselves up to it, they could break in a wall!” And he laughed his hearty laugh when they believed it, and swelled out their little bellies proudly and cried, “Shall we do it now, father?” To little, tow-headed Hanna, who now took Lotte’s place in looking after the house, and who was exactly like her in her cheery friendliness, he said, “Hanna’s the girl! When she’s grown up and married she’ll make the finest kind of soup out of shavings! And dresses—why she’ll make them right on the women!” Cute little Hanna laughed, “I’ll go right down and get some shavings, father,” she said, “and make you some soup.” To Klaus he said, “That Klaus, now—there’s a fellow that will make a cashier—and a cashier’s a pretty kind of a fellow. When he’s a storekeeper one of these days, and wants to get some syrup, he’ll fall into the barrel; and when the boss is trying to pack up herring, he’ll put his apprentice in by mistake.” “Oh, you mean because I’m so thin, father,” laughed Klaus; “but I’m not weak for all that—I’m quick in gymnastics, I can just tell you. Just you keep on teasing; you’ll see some day what kind of a storekeeper I’ll be.”

In the following week, Klaus, waking up one night, heard the humming of a machine. He thought it must be around midnight, and he lay there breathless, thinking about all kinds of marvelous creatures—elves and goblins and such. Then, with his heart thumping hard, he got up, went through the kitchen, and looked into the living-room. His mother was sitting at the machine sewing, and her face looked very tired.

He went back to bed, and lay awake, thinking hard. So far, his mother’s ability and careful management had kept away the signs of poverty; but now they were plain. His father was bringing in almost nothing, and rent, coal, and food all had to be paid for. And on the chest stood all kinds of salves and medicines for his father. Klaus realized more and more what the value of money really is, and he grew terribly worried.

He couldn’t get to sleep again. Early in the morning he got up and went straight to Kalli Dau to ask him whether he didn’t know of some work he could get to do, as errand boy or something of that sort. He had so much free time, he said, that he really didn’t know what to do with it.


[Klaus obtained work at first for a drayman; and then as boy of all work for Laura Morgenstern, an artist who sometimes used Klaus as a model for a picture of the prophets which she was painting.]


AND now, from early morning on, Klaus was longing for the moment to come when school would be out and he could put on his best coat and go to the artist’s. He didn’t notice that his father was at home almost every day now, sitting, pale and dull, by the kitchen window, with a quilt over his thin, sharp knees. When he handed over the three marks that Laura Morgenstern gave him every Saturday to his mother, he didn’t notice how eagerly she seized them, or how thin her hand was. His very life was bound up in the keen joy he felt in those three hours every day that he could spend in the same room with the big, growling woman and the pretty, pert girl in the red mantle and the black wig.

Laura Morgenstern droned along about everything that came into her head, either from the questions they asked or from what was read aloud.

“Now I’m finding out at last what’s in the Bible,” she said, “and I must say there’s a lot of nonsense in it. Take this Obadiah, for instance. Can you understand how he can help us nowadays? What has he got to do with my sins or my worries?”

“Have you any worries, Aunt Laura?” asked the girl in the red wig.

“Of course I have,” she growled. “Everybody has.”

Klaus stared at her. “Why should she have any worries?” he wondered. “She is well, and she has money. What’s she talking about worries for?”

Sometimes, lost in thought, the artist worked away eagerly, her face set and earnest. It was easy to see that her thoughts were far away; usually she was thinking about her old home and her childhood. She seemed to be brooding and pondering over some difficulty or trouble, and to want to hold Christianity responsible for it.

“My father was a teacher, Klaus,” she said; “he was earnest and industrious, and I tell you, he was pious, but all those Bible lessons—and there were a lot of them—the texts and the hymns, and all the other church stuff that was thrown in,—all that didn’t do us any good at all. We children turned out just the way we would have without all those thousand Bible lessons; one of us—I mean myself—became a whimsical, grumbling old creature; another of us—” she turned a little and looked more sharply at the small, fine face under the black wig—“Klaus, do you think that religion can change a person’s real nature?”

“Yes,” Klaus said, “we are told that it changed Paul’s.”

“Get away with your Paul!” she said. “Talk about Laura Morgenstern and Klaus Baas and Lösch the teamster, and people like that.”

Klaus frowned. “Well,” he said, seriously, “if you read the most beautiful things in the Bible out loud to somebody, he’ll get more pious and earnest, that’s what I believe.”

“Oh, really,” she said, “so that’s what you believe!” She turned clear around and said, “Your eyes look nice now, Tuddi! I imagine Obadiah’s eyes looked just like that when he was getting hell hot for his people.”

“Well,” the girl said angrily, “why do you keep talking to that stupid youngster as if I weren’t here? Does he know more than I do?”

The girl in the black wig—her curly light hair crept out from under it sometimes—was always cross at him; her anger, however, made him feel vigorous and cheerful, and to be mocked at by her made him feel haughtier.

“He’s awfully tiresome to-day, auntie!” she said. “He surely is run down! Do wind him up again!”

He looked at her scornfully.

Then she looked back “with saintly eyes” at the artist. After a while she looked at Klaus and said imperiously, “Bring me the footstool!”

He brought the stool and put it under her feet, saying in a low, defiant tone, “If you weren’t being painted, I wouldn’t have brought it.”

The artist heard him. “Don’t you mind about her being painted, Klaus! If she doesn’t ask you politely, don’t you do it. At home she can boss the maid around; but here she’s got to be polite.”

The next day the little hypocrite said, “Please bring me the footstool.” When he went to put it under her feet—she was staring at the painter with great soulful eyes—she put her foot down, not on the stool, but on his neck, and pushed his head down. He seized her foot in his thin hand, set it firmly on the stool, and held it there a while.

Then she wholly forgot her sanctified pose. She stuck out her head and hissed at him furiously. She called this “showing her teeth like a tiger.” It seemed to be her last resource.

But he calmly looked her straight in the eye, angry and yet delighted that her face was so near.

One day, when he was in the kitchen before the sitting had begun, the doorbell rang without his hearing it. Hearing a light step behind him, he turned around and saw a little six-year-old girl. He recognized her at once as Tuddi’s sister; she had the same delicate body and finely cut head, and her upper lip, too, was too short to cover her teeth. Without saying a word, she held out a little white milk bottle, with a rubber nipple on it. He looked at the delicate little creature in amazement, and asked what she wanted him to do.

Then it was her turn to be surprised. She shook her head at such a stupid Jack, and held out the bottle again, saying, “Warm it.” Then he understood. He put the bottle in warm water and stood looking down at the little thing beside him, so delicate, and so finely finished. Surprised, and entirely unsuspecting, Klaus asked, “Who’s to have the milk?”

She looked up at him with great questioning eyes. Then she said, in a tone of conviction, “You really are as stupid as Tuddi says you are!”

He said no more, but stood there wondering whether young ones in the city were kept on the bottle so long. He could hardly wait till the milk was warm to see. He gave her the bottle and followed her into the studio, where work had already begun.

The artist, leaning back in her big chair, was looking sharply over her spectacles at the model, and then putting cautious strokes on the canvas with her long stiff arm. Obadiah, in the red mantle, sat with her legs crossed, her gray eyes fixed on the artist. The child was sitting at a low table on one side, on which were a lot of loose blue beads, and a long black string on which they were to be strung. She hadn’t begun her work yet, but sat there sucking at her bottle, leaning back in her chair with her legs crossed, just like her sister, and looking at Klaus earnestly.

Now it was even more pleasant in the bright, clean studio. The friendly chatter didn’t stop for a moment. Sometimes, if she were just urged to it, the artist talked on and on.

“Did you use to play, Aunt Laura,” the children asked, “when you were as old as we are? Tell us about it.”

“Did we play?” she said. “Of course we did!” It seemed as if a soft hand had passed over her gruff old face. “Did we play!—we used to live next to the minister’s, and we were allowed to play all we wanted to in his old, overgrown garden. At the far end of it there was a grassy mound. From it we could see away off into the country. This mound was our brother’s exclusive property”—she looked scrutinizingly at the work on the canvas; then she went on more gently, “We had a little brother, a pretty, light-haired youngster; he was a jolly one—and clever, too. He always wore a very soft velvety brown suit—the cloth caught the light a good deal; I don’t know what kind it was, I’ve never seen cloth like it since. He wore a broad, snow-white frill around his neck, and his pretty hair hung down over his collar. He was very vain about his fine clothes, and yet he was untidy, and didn’t bother at all when he got them spoiled. And we didn’t scold him for it, either; he was too handsome for that—and too bright. We three girls were all ugly; we had to go around all wearing the same kind of rough gray that mother used to buy by the piece for us. And we were naturally peevish and heavy. And just because we were so peevish and heavy and envious, just on that account he seemed so wonderfully handsome and bright and equable.”

She was silent for a while, as if she were thinking of the last thing she had said. Then she went on, deep in recollection: “The mound at the end of the garden belonged to him alone; his kingdom, he called it. He sat on a little chair he had up there, with his legs crossed, turning his slender head in one direction and then in another, and saying all kinds of foolish things, as if he were giving commands or pronouncing a sentence or some such thing. We three were his retinue; one of us cleaned the little wooden steps that led up to the hill; another of us got down on her knees and mowed the grass on its slope; and the third one, bending low, brought him his meals. Toward evening, when the sun shone on his fine features, and made his silky hair shine, we used to say ‘How handsome you are! How handsome you are!’ He pretended not to care anything about our praises, but he noticed who laid it on the thickest. Then our father would call us, in his curt, gruff voice, and we had to go in and study hard—principally texts and hymns. Our brother learned things easily and quickly, but he forgot them quickly, too. He was too easy-going to hold anything firmly. When it was time for him to go to bed, we used to quarrel about who should undress him and put him to bed; finally he would let the one do it that had flattered him the most during the day. And we ugly gray crows envied the lucky one horribly—sometimes we really pulled each other’s hair about it.”

She sat idle for a while, lost in gloomy thoughts, looking now at the canvas, now at the black wig. Then she drew herself up again and set to work with renewed energy. “Now, Tuddi, look just as proud as you can! Just imagine that Klaus Baas wants to run the paint-brush over your saucy little nose! Turn your head a little to the left—that’s it! Your face is proudest of all when you’re looking to one side a little. That’s good now—now Klaus is coming with the brush—that’s very good! Just let yourself go and imagine he’s doing it—the shameless cub! Yes, you’ve plenty of imagination! After this we’ll paint little Sanna. What do you want to sit for, Sanna?”

The little one looked up from the beads she was stringing. Her full lips, which had parted in the intensity of her work, closed again over her big white teeth.

“I think she ought to be Zephaniah,” Tuddi said. “It doesn’t matter what he wrote. You’re going to be Zephaniah.”

The child nodded, and repeated the name to herself several times. “I’ll wear this chain I’m making,” she said.

Now and then Tuddi talked about her home—about her mother, who was just too dear and funny; about her father, who had been in India and had come home an invalid; about her brothers, most of whom were unendurable; about the rooms upstairs and downstairs; about a garden; about some school where studying was carried on as if it were a sort of pleasant game, and where the teachers were either hideous or heavenly; and about verses in foreign languages, that were horribly hard to learn. Once she was asking for help on a composition. She had to write an essay on “The High Moments of Life.” What the teacher meant by high moments was baptism, confirmation, taking the sacrament; but Tuddi thought they were things like taking a trip to Sylt, going skating in the winter, and getting married.

Sometimes Klaus Baas took the centre of the stage. He had to tell them about the village, and the games they played there, about the pond, the churchyard, the seashore, and the sand. He was always very much afraid of making mistakes in his grammar, for High German was still a foreign, difficult speech for him. So he talked along rather stiffly and properly. Sometimes he was troubled about what he was telling; he wasn’t sure whether it was all right to tell some of the things; he would hesitate about using some expression, and get stuck entirely.

Then Tuddi had a chance to make fun of him again. “Go over and wind him up again, Sanna,” she would say. Then he didn’t know what else to do but make the story move on in some other way, and so he had to make up a little. And as lies and fiction are a pretty risky business, his cheeks grew red and his eyes bright. But he had the satisfaction of hearing little Sanna say, in her gentle voice, “He’s running again now, Tuddi.”

Sometimes the black wig monopolized the conversation entirely; she gave them her representations of the grinning tiger, the hungry hyena, the bored lion—about half the zoölogical garden, in fact. Then she gave a “nigger show,” as she called it. She stood little Sanna in front of Klaus, and said, “Look, ladies and gentlemen! here is the negro prince Jumbo! Jumbo, show the ladies and gentlemen your teeth!” Then Sanna showed her teeth and tried to look fierce at Klaus. They were particularly fond of this scene, and gave it often. Klaus drank it in so with his eyes, with all his senses, as they stood fine and delicate at his very feet, that one day, twenty years later, when he met little Sanna in the hall of the house on Fähr Strasse in Uhlenhorst, he said the old words again,—“Jumbo, show your teeth!” And it really cheered her up, worried and sad though she was.

When Obadiah was finished, Klaus Baas had to take his turn. He was to sit for Daniel, and he was supposed to look as Daniel did in the lions’ den. “For that’s all those Hogetrupper people know about him, Klaus!”

How happy Klaus was while they were decking him out! How confused he felt, and how honored, when the artist put the green mantle around him! What terrible den-of-lions eyes Tuddi made right in front of him! How gently and cheerily Sanna hung her string of blue beads around his neck, as he knelt in front of her! How his heart did jump when she stroked his hair hesitatingly and said, “Oh, Tuddi, just look, he has a moleskin cap on!”

But the next day, when life was as beautiful as it could possibly be, all at once it changed; the two children did not come. The artist said that they had gone to their country home, near Hammer, earlier than usual that year, because their father was sick. He asked a few questions timidly, and learned that their father was a merchant who traded with India, and that he had caught some disease on one of his trips there. “It’s a distinguished old family, Klaus,” she said. “They used to be well off, and they aren’t really poor now; but what good does their money do them, when their father is sick? There’s nothing but misery in this world.”

To-day she was painting the red mantle, which she had hanging over a chair. She worked on for a while, breathing heavily. Then she said, “Last evening I was looking in the Bible, Klaus, for the best places in it. My father was always praising the Psalms; he used to quote something Luther said about them; but Heaven help me, I can’t find much of anything that would really help a man. And I don’t even remember what my father used to read. It’s my belief that people praise or blame a thing on hearsay for centuries; one man repeats it after another without thinking what he’s saying.”

“Our teacher says,” said Klaus, in his distinct, careful, High German, “that the sermon on the mount, and then the sufferings of our Saviour, and then the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, are the best things in the Bible.”

“Is that so?” she said. “Well, you come back again to-morrow, Klaus. Come back to-morrow!”

The next day, when he went into the flat, she came out of the studio, and said, in her surly yet friendly way, “We’re going to leave Daniel out to-day, Klaus; I’ve got my brother in there—he happens to be in Hamburg for a few days—and he’s to sit to me for an apostle. I must get on first of all with those apostles. I thought you might read aloud to me now and then, so that I’d get into the right mood; I haven’t any imagination at all. You’ve got to read slowly, though; my brother’s a simple soul, and he hasn’t had anything to do with books for a long time.”

Then she went back into the studio, and Klaus went first to clean up the kitchen.

When he went into the studio and looked curiously at the brother, he was horror-struck to see that he was the drunken loafer, to whom he had boasted so six months before at the corner of the Grossneumarkt. Although the man had a new suit on, and had had his hair cut, Klaus recognized him at once by his beautiful eyes and by his beard with two shades in it. The loafer acted as if he didn’t know Klaus; but once, when the artist looked away, he gave Klaus a confidential wink.

“What do you want to read to-day?” the artist said. “I have somebody read to me while I work, Jacob, so as to get into the right mood.”

Klaus understood. He opened to the sermon on the mount, and read out the weighty passages sentence after sentence, in a slow, measured voice. The brother did not say anything; the sister painted on with real zeal and with almost a physical strain. The sweat stood out on her furrowed brow and between the gray hairs on her temples. She said nothing, except that now and then she commented on what was read: “That’s good, Klaus! that’s the way it ought to be!”

They worked on in this way for three or four days. On the fourth day, when Klaus was setting the picture to one side, he marveled to see how far on it was, and how clear and smooth the face stood out.

The next day, while Klaus was still at work in the kitchen, the outside door opened. Klaus thought nothing of it, because he thought it was the brother coming. But when he heard someone come groping along, stumbling heavily, he looked out the door. It certainly was the brother; but his clothes were dirty, his hair wild, and he was drunk. He nodded to Klaus Baas in sly embarrassment. Klaus hurried out of the kitchen and said softly, “Go away! get out of here!” but the artist had heard him. She opened the door and saw him. She did not say anything; but she waved him away with a stiff, helpless gesture. He turned around abashed, looked at her again in a stupid, confused way, and then went out.

When Klaus got done in the kitchen and went into the studio, she was sitting all huddled up in her old place before the picture, with her palette and brushes in her hands, staring straight in front of her. When she heard him come in, she pulled herself together and began to work again. Looking over at her timidly, he saw her looking intently over toward the place where her brother had sat, as if she were painting on from the image of him she had in her mind. She was quite absorbed. Gradually the strained look passed out of her firm old face, and she painted for hours with particularly keen, strong inspiration.

Klaus went back and forth, and finally went to the table to wash the brushes. She looked over at him once, and was sorry for him, standing so quietly at his work. “We’ll ask the children over for Saturday, Klaus,” she said; “then it will be cheerful here again.”

She worked on uninterruptedly for three hours, until the daylight was gone. Then she got up, and found that she was tired. “Take the picture off and turn it toward the wall,” she said. Then she went as usual into the kitchen to wash her hands.

Klaus went up and looked at the picture. He recognized the brother; but whereas the face of the real man was corrupted with mean vices, the face on the canvas was full of the noblest of all passions, the grief and enthusiasm of a great, pure cause; dreadful suffering showed in the mouth, and the eyes were drawn together, as if anxiously trying to discover aid. Klaus began to cry violently, still staring at the picture through his tears.

Coming back, she found him crying. She put her arm around him awkwardly, and walked up and down the room with him, while he wept bitterly.

“It didn’t do us any good, Klaus,” she said. “The thing goes too deep for that. I thought it would turn out this way; but I wanted to try once more.”

He wanted to comfort her somehow, so he said—calling her “thou” in his warm sympathy—“But thou hast imagination, after all, Aunt Laura!”

“Oh, yes, Klaus,” she said, “when a person is in such grief! But you see for yourself now, it’s all no good.”

The next day, when Klaus went home at noon, and was going to hurry off again to the artist’s, he saw that his father was neither in the kitchen nor in bed. Klaus was glad; he turned on his heel briskly and said, “Has father gone out?”

Then his mother came out of the bedroom. Turning away from him, she said, in a low, hard voice, “Father has been taken to the hospital. He’s to be operated on.”

Klaus stared at her, and saw the infinite suffering in her eyes. It shook him so that he could not say a single word. “I haven’t bothered myself about him. I haven’t bothered myself about him,” rang in his ears. He asked his mother what hospital it was, snatched up his cap, and ran out without another word.

In the vestibule of the hospital, he asked about his father in his clear, excited voice. A doctor came along just then and heard him. “You’ve come at just the right time,” he said. “Come along.”

As they went up the stairs, the doctor put his arm around Klaus’s shoulders and said, “You’re a lively youngster! Where are you from? Holstein, eh? Well—it may turn out that you won’t keep your father much longer; then you’ll have to be a stout youngster and help your mother! Don’t stay with your father very long; go back and tell your mother that she must come.”

Klaus, breathing hard, silently followed the man into the ward full of small, mean beds, in one of which lay his father. His face was sunken, and white as death, and there were blue rings around his sunken eyes.

He opened his eyes slowly and looked up without any intelligence in his face. Then he recognized his son, and tried to force himself out of his stupor. “Are you there, my boy,” he said in a low voice. “I borrowed ninety marks from Timmermann on the quiet, a little at a time—when we hadn’t anything in the house—you must pay him back, when you get to earning something yourself. Mother mustn’t know anything about it—she’d be ashamed and work herself to death, if she knew. Then there’s sixty-seven marks more, that your mother had to borrow from the storekeeper. As soon as I’m tended to, you go back home right away, and you see to getting that sixty-seven marks somewhere. Mother’s so straight and honest that she can’t stand owing anyone anything. But you mustn’t tell her you’re going, or she wouldn’t let you go. Then come right back and keep a good watch on her, and keep her from hurting herself—you know what she’s like. You must pet the little ones now and then, Klaus; only don’t you let her see you.”

Klaus kept nodding, with the tears running down his cheeks. He waited for his father to say something more, but he lay there, dead white, his whole forehead covered with drops of sweat, breathing irregularly. Klaus was too shy to think of saying to the doctor, “Let me stay here! Don’t send me away from my father’s death-bed to carry a message!” He turned away and hurried home.

He didn’t find his mother in the flat; she had started to the hospital already. He cheered up the children, put them to bed, and talked to little Hanna, who was crying, asking where her father was, and listening on the stairs for her mother to come back. At dusk their mother did come. “Father is dead,” she said to Klaus, in a low cold tone. “Go to bed; I’m going to work.”

He went out, crying gently, and stood in the hall. He gulped down his sobs so as not to wake Hanna, who had just gone to sleep.

Suddenly he heard his mother cry out—madly, like a wild beast.

He stood there listening in terrible anxiety, hearing her strike her head and her elbows against the table, uttering wild, grief-stricken cries. He fastened the hall door softly, so that she could not get out. Then looking through the keyhole into the kitchen he saw her lying among the dirty dishes on the hearth, in front of the wooden chair that Jan Baas used to sit in, groaning in a tortured, choking voice: “God, you’re crazy—God, you’re a—Don’t you want anything more? If you would only come and take me! My dear husband! My handsome, dear, cheerful, good husband! So dear—so handsome—so good! What do you want, God? Do you want me to pray to you to help me take care of the children? Ha, ha! That makes me laugh at you! I can take care of the children myself! And if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t pray to you or anybody else about it! I’d take them and jump into the Elbe with them. Pray to you? to you? Ha, ha!”

Her son knelt outside the door, in deadly anxiety, his hair standing on end. He wondered what he ought to do; if she should rush out suddenly, he would hang onto her clothes and not let her go!

And so he spent the hours of that night, until finally only a dull groaning came from the kitchen. Then, overcome, he fell asleep, curled up like a dog against the door.

Toward morning he woke up freezing. He put on his good suit, and wrote on a scrap of paper:—

  • “Father was talking to me. I have to go back home. I have my good suit on and I have some clean handkerchiefs and three marks. You must keep up. I’ll stand by you like a hero. From your loyal son,
  • He peeped through the keyhole once more. She was sitting on the hearth, with her elbows up, holding one hand over her mouth, as if to keep it still, and staring straight at the wall. Then he left the flat, and went down the dark stairs. It was still dark outside. He went along the Langereihe toward Altona.

    Gradually the sky grew lighter, and the streets gray. Part of the time Klaus’s soul was with his father, who was being carried home now by strangers’ hands; part of the time it was in the kitchen, where his mother was sitting on the cold hearth in the gray dawn. Part of the time he was thinking of their old home. Where would he ever get the money! Sixty-seven marks! Sixty-seven!

    One day, ten years later, when he was sitting in his office on the shore of the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles away from home, he happened to hear that number again; and this sad morning and his bitter need rose up before him again, so deeply had that number stamped itself upon his soul.