by Thea von Harbou
“Where is Georgi?” asked Freder, his eyes wandering through Josaphat’s three rooms, which stretched out before him — beautiful, with a rather bewildering super-abundance of armchairs, divans, and silk cushions, with curtains which goldenly obscured the light.
“Who?” asked Josaphat, listlessly. He had waited, had not slept, and his eyes stood excessively large in his thin, almost white face. His gaze, which he did not take from Freder, was like hands which are raised adoringly.
“Georgi,” repeated Freder. He smiled happily with his tired mouth.
“Who is that?” asked Josaphat.
“I sent him to you.”
“Nobody has come.”
Freder looked at him without answering.
“I sat all night in this chair,” continued Josaphat, misinterpreting Freder’s silence. “I did not sleep a wink. I expected you to come at any second, or a messenger to come from you, or that you would ring me up. I also informed the watchman. Nobody has come, Mr. Freder.”
Freder still remained silent. Slowly, almost stumblingly, he stepped over the threshold, into the room raising his right hand to his head, as though to take off his hat, then noticing that he was wearing the cap, the black cap, which pressed the hair tightly down, he swept it from his head; it fell to the ground. His hand sank from his brow, over his eyes, resting there a little while. Then the other joined it, as though wishing to console its sister. His form was like that of a young birch tree pressed sideways by a strong wind.
Josaphat’s eyes hung on the uniform which Freder wore. “Mr. Freder,” he began cautiously, “how comes it that you are wearing these clothes?”
Freder remained turned away from him. He took his hands from his eyes and pressed them to his face as though he felt some pain there.
“Georgi wore them,” he answered. “I gave him mine.”
“Then Georgi is a workman?”
“Yes… I found him before the Pater-noster machine. I took his place and sent him to you.”
“Perhaps he’ll come yet,” answered Josaphat.
Freder shook his head. “He should have been here hours ago. If he had been caught when leaving the New Tower of Babel, then someone would have come to me when I was standing before the machine. It is strange, but there it is; he has not come.”
“Was there much money in the suit which you exchanged with Georgi?” asked Josaphat tentatively, as one who bares a wounded spot.
“Then you must not be surprised that Georgi has not come,” said Josaphat. But the expression of shame and pain on Freder’s face prevented him from continuing.
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Freder?” he begged. “Or lie down? You look so tired that it is painful to look at you.”
“I have no time to sit down and no time to lie down, either,” answered Freder. He walked through the rooms aimlessly, senselessly, stopping wherever a chair, a table, offered him a hold. “The fact is this, Josaphat: I told Georgi to come here and to wait here for me — or for a message from me. It is a thousand to one that Slim, in searching for me, is already on Georgi’s track, and it’s a thousand to one he gets out of him where I sent him.”
“And you do not want Slim to find you?”
“He must not find me, Josaphat — not for anything on earth.”
The other stood silent, rather helpless. Freder looked at him with a trembling smile.
“How shall we obtain money now, Josaphat?”
“That should offer no difficulty to Joh Fredersen’s son.”
“More than you think, Josaphat, for I am no longer Joh Fredersen’s son.”
Josaphat raised his head. “I do not understand you,” he said, after a pause.
“There is nothing to misunderstand, Josaphat. I have set myself free from my father, and am going my own way.”
The man who had been the first secretary to the Master over the great Metropolis held his breath back in his lungs, then released it in streams.
“Will you let me tell you something, Mr. Freder?”
“One does not set oneself free from your father. It is he who decides whether one remains with him or must leave him.
“There is nobody who is stronger than Joh Fredersen. He is like the earth. As regards the earth, we have no will, either. Her laws keep us eternally perpendicular to the center of the earth, even if we stand on our head. When Joh Fredersen sets a man free, it means just as much as if the earth were to shut off from a man her powers of attraction. It means falling into nothing. Joh Fredersen can set free whom he may; he will never set free his son.”
“But what,” answered Freder, speaking feverishly, “if a man overcomes the laws of nature?”
“Utopia, Mr. Freder.”
“For the inventive spirit of man there is no Utopia: there is only a Not-yet. I have made up my mind to venture the path. I must take it — yes, I must take it! I do not know the way yet, but I shall find it because I must find it.”
“Wherever you wish, Mr. Freder — I shall go with you.”
“Thank you,” said Freder, reaching out his hand. He felt it seized and clasped in a vise-like grip.
“You know, Mr. Freder, don’t you,” said the strangled voice of Josaphat, “that everything belongs to you — everything that I am and have. It is not much, for I have lived like a madman. But for today, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow…”
Freder shook his head without losing hold of Josaphat’s hand.
“No, no!” he said, a torrent of red flowing over his face. “One does not begin new ways like that. We must try to find other ways. It will not be easy. Slim knows his business.”
“Perhaps Slim could be won over to you,” said Josaphat, hesitatingly. “For — strange though it may sound, he loves you.”
“Slim loves all his victims. Which does not prevent him, as the most considerate and kindly of executioners, from laying them before my father’s feet. He is the born tool, but the tool of the strongest. He would never make himself the tool of the weaker one, for he would thus humiliate himself. And you have just told me, Josaphat, how much stronger my father is than I.”
“If you were to confide yourself to one of your friends…”
“I have no friends, Josaphat.”
Josaphat wanted to contradict, but he stopped himself. Freder turned his eyes towards him. He straightened himself up and smiled — the other’s hand still in his.
“I have no friends, Josaphat, and, what weighs still more, I have no friend. I had play-fellows — sport-fellows — but friends? A friend? No, Josaphat! Can one confide oneself to somebody of whom one knows nothing but how his laughter sounds?”
He saw the eyes of the other fixed upon him, discerned the ardor in them and the pain and the truth.
“Yes,” he said with a worried smile. “I should like to confide myself to you… I must confide myself to you, Josaphat… I must call you Friend and Brother… for I need a man who will go with me in trust and confidence to the world’s end. Will you be that man?”
“Yes–?” He came to him and laid his hands upon his shoulders. He looked closely into his face. He shook him. “You say: Yes! Do you know what that means — for you and for me? What a last plummet-drop that is — what a last anchorage? I hardly know you — I wanted to help you — I cannot even help you now, because I am poorer now than you are — but, perhaps, that is all to the good. Joh Fredersen’s son can, perhaps, be betrayed — but I, Josaphat? A man who has nothing but a will and an object? It cannot be worthwhile to betray him — eh, Josaphat?”
“May God kill me as one kills a mangy dog.”
“That’s all right, that’s all right.” Freder’s smile came back again and stood, clear and beautiful in his tired face. “I am going now, Josaphat. I want to go to my father’s mother, to take her something which is very sacred to me. I shall be here again before evening. Shall I find you here then?”
“Yes, Mr. Freder, most certainly!”
They stretched out their hands towards each other. Hand held hand, gripped. They looked at each other. Glance held glance, gripped. Then they loosened their grip in silence, and Freder went.
A little while later (Josaphat was still standing on the same spot on which Freder had left him) there came a knock at the door.
Though the knocking was as gentle, as modest, as the knocking of one who has come to beg, there was something in it which chased a shiver down Josaphat’s spine. He stood still, gazing at the door, incapable of calling out “Come in,” or of opening it himself.
The knocking was repeated, becoming not in the least louder. It came for the third time and was still as gentle. But just that deepened the impression that it was inescapable, that it would be quite pointless to play deaf permanently.
“Who is there?” asked Josaphat hoarsely. He knew very well who was standing outside. He only asked to gain time — to draw breath, which he badly needed. He expected no answer; neither did he receive one.
The door opened. In the doorway stood Slim.
They did not greet each other; neither greeted the other. Josaphat: because his gullet was too dry: Slim: because his all-observing eye had darted through the room in the second in which he put his foot on the threshold, and had found something: a black cap, lying on the floor.
Josaphat followed Slim’s gaze with his eyes. He did not stir. With silent step Slim went up to the cap, stooped, and picked it up. He twisted it gently this way and that, he twisted it inside out.
In the sweat-sodden lining of the cap stood the number, 11811.
Slim weighed the cap in almost affectionate hands. He fixed his eyes, which were as though veiled with weariness on Josaphat and asked, speaking in a low voice, “Where is Freder, Josaphat?”
“I do not know.”
Slim smiled sleepily. He fondled the black cap. Josaphat’s hoarse voice continued:
“But if I did know, you would not get it out of me, anyway.”
Slim looked at Josaphat, still smiling, still fondling the black cap.
“You are quite right,” said he courteously. “I beg your pardon! It was an idle question. Of course you will not tell me where Mr. Freder is. Neither is it at all necessary. It is quite another matter.”
He pocketed the cap, having carefully rolled it up, and looked around the room. He went up to an armchair, standing near a low, black, polished table.
“You permit me?” he asked courteously, seating himself.
Josaphat made a movement of the head, but the “Please do so,” dried up in his throat. He did not stir from the one spot.
“You live very well here,” said Slim, leaning back and surveying the room with a sweeping movement of his head. “Everything of a soft, half-dark tone. The atmosphere about these cushions is a tepid perfume. I can well understand how difficult it will be for you to leave this flat.”
“I have no such intention, however,” said Josaphat. He swallowed.
Slim pressed his eyelids together, as though he wished to sleep. “No, not yet, but very soon…”
“I should not think of it,” answered Josaphat. His eyes grew red, and he looked at Slim, hatred smouldering in his gaze.
“No, not yet, but very soon…”
Josaphat stood quite still: but suddenly he smote the air with his fist, as though beating against an invisible door.
“What do you want, exactly?” he asked pantingly. “What is that supposed to imply? What do you want from me–?”
It appeared at first as though Slim had not heard the question. Sleepily, with closed eyelids, he sat there, breathing inaudibly. But, as the leather of the chair-back squeaked under Josaphat’s grasp, Slim said, very slowly, but very clearly, “I want you to tell me for what sum you will give up this flat, Josaphat.”
“What is that supposed to mean, immediately?”
Slim opened his eyes, and they were as cold and bright as a pebble in a brook. “Immediately means within an hour. Immediately means long before this evening.”
A shiver ran down Josaphat’s back. The hands on his hanging arms slowly clenched themselves into fists. “Get out, sir,” he said quietly. “Get out of here! Now! At once! Immediately!”
“The flat is very pretty,” said Slim. “You are unwilling to give it up. It is of value to one who knows how to appreciate such things. You will not have time to pack any large trunks, either. You can only take what you need for twenty-four hours. The journey — new outfit — a year’s expenses — all this is to be added to the sum: what is the price of your flat, Josaphat?”
“I shall chuck you into the s-street,” stammered Josaphat with feverish mouth. “I shall chuck you seven stories down into the street — through the window, my good sir! — through the closed window — if you don’t get out this very second!”
“You love a woman. The woman does not love you. Women who are not in love are very expensive. You want to buy this woman. Very well. The threefold cost of the flat… Life on the Adriatic coast — in Rome — on Teneriffe — on a splendid steamer around the world with a woman who wants to be bought anew every day — comprehensible, Josaphat, that the flat will be expensive… but to tell you the truth, I must have it, so I must pay for it.”
He plunged his hands into his pocket and drew out a wad of banknotes. He pushed it across to Josaphat over the black, polished, mirror-like table. Josaphat clutched at it, leaving his nail marks behind on the tabletop and threw it into Slim’s face. He caught it with a nimble, thought-swift movement, and gently laid it back on the table. He laid a second one beside it.
“Is that enough?” he asked sleepily.
“No!” shouted Josaphat’s laughter.
“Sensible!” said Slim. “Very sensible. Why should you not make full use of your advantages? An opportunity like this, to raise your whole life by one hundred rungs, to become independent, happy, free, the fulfilment of every wish, the satisfaction of every whim — to have your own, and a beautiful woman before you, will come only once in your life and never again. Seize it, Josaphat, if you are not a fool! In strict confidence, the beautiful woman of whom we spoke just now has already been informed and is awaiting you near the aeroplane which is standing ready for the journey. Three times the price, Josaphat, if you do not keep the beautiful woman waiting!”
He laid the third bundle of banknotes on the table. He looked at Josaphat. Josaphat’s reddened eyes devoured his. Josaphat’s hands fumbled across blindly and seized the three brown wads. His teeth showed white under his lips; while his fingers tore the notes to shreds, they seemed to be biting them to death.
Slim shook his head. “That’s of no account,” he said undisturbedly. “I have a check-book here, some of the blank leaves of which bear the signature Joh Fredersen. Let us write a sum on the first leaf — a sum the double of the amount agreed upon up to now. Well, Josaphat?”
“I will not!” said the other, shaken from head to foot.
Slim smiled. “No,” he said. “Not yet, but very soon…”
Josaphat did not answer. He was staring at the piece of paper, white, printed, and written on, which lay before him on the blue-black table. He did not see the figure upon it. He only saw the name upon it: Joh Fredersen.
The signature, as though written with the blade of an axe: Joh Fredersen.
Josaphat turned his head this way and that as though he felt the blade of the axe at his neck.
“No,” he croaked. “No, no, no!”
“Not enough yet?” asked Slim.
“Yes!” said he in a mutter. “Yes! It is enough.”
Slim got up. Something which he had drawn from his pocket with the bundles of banknotes, without his having noticed it, slid down from his knees. It was a black cap, such as the workmen in Joh Fredersen’s works used to wear.
A howl escaped Josaphat’s lips. He threw himself down on both knees. He seized the black cap in both hands. He snatched it to his mouth. He stared at Slim. He jerked himself up. He sprang, like a stag before the pack, to gain the door.
But Slim got there before him. With a mighty leap he sprang across table and divan, rebounded against the door, and stood before Josaphat. For the fraction of a second they stared each other in the face. Then Josaphat’s hands flew to Slim’s throat. Slim lowered his head. He threw forward his arms, like the grabbing arms of the octopus. They held each other, tightly clasped, and wrestled together, burning and ice-cold, raving and reflecting, teeth-grinding and silent, breast to breast.
They tore themselves apart and dashed at each other. They fell, and, wrestling, rolled along the floor. Josaphat forced his opponent beneath him. Fighting, they pushed each other up. They stumbled and rolled over armchairs and divans. The beautiful room, turned into a wilderness, seemed to be too small for the two twisted bodies, which jerked like fishes, stamped like steers, struck at each other like fighting bears.
But against Slim’s unshakeable, dreadful coldness, the white-hot fury of his opponent could not stand its ground. Suddenly, as though his knee joints had been hacked through, Josaphat collapsed in Slim’s hands, fell on his knees, and remained there, his back resting against an overturned armchair, staring up with glassy eyes.
Slim loosened his hold. He looked down at him. “Had enough yet?” he asked, and smiled sleepily.
Josaphat did not answer. He moved his right hand. In all the fury of the fight, he had not lost hold of the black cap which Freder had worn when he came to him.
He raised the cap painfully on to his knees, as though it weighed a hundredweight. He twisted it between his fingers. He fondled it.
“Come, Josaphat, get up!” said Slim. He spoke very gravely and gently and a little sadly. “May I help you? Give me your hands! No, no. I shall not take the cap away from you. I am afraid I was obliged to hurt you very much. It was no pleasure. But you forced me into it.”
He left go of the man, who was now standing upright, and he looked around him with a gloomy smile. “A good thing we settled the price beforehand,” he said. “Now the flat would be considerably cheaper.”
He sighed a little and looked at Josaphat. “When will you be ready to go?”
“Now,” said Josaphat.
“You will not take anything with you?”
“You will go just as you are — with all the marks of the struggle, all tattered and torn?”
“Is that courteous to the lady who is waiting for you?”
Sight returned to Josaphat’s eyes. He turned a reddened gaze towards Slim. “If you do not want me to commit the murder on the woman which did not succeed on you — then send her away before I come.”
Slim was silent. He turned to go. He took the check, folded it together, and put it into Josaphat’s pocket.
Josaphat offered no resistance. He walked before Slim towards the door. Then he stopped again and looked around.
He waved the cap which Freder had worn, in farewell to the room, and burst out into ceaseless laughter. He struck his shoulder against the doorpost.
Then he went out. Slim followed him.