by Thea von Harbou
Freder walked up the steps of the cathedral hesitatingly; he was walking up them for the first time. Hel, his mother, used often to go to the cathedral. But her son had never yet done so. Now he longed to see it with his mother’s eyes and to hear with the ears of Hel, his mother, the stony prayer of the pillars, each of which had its own particular voice.
He entered the cathedral as a child, not pious, yet not entirely free from shyness — prepared for reverence, but fearless. He heard, as Hel, his mother the Kyrie Eleison of the stones and the Te Deum Laudamus — the De Profundis and the Jubilate. And he heard, as his mother, how the powerfully ringing stone chair was crowned by the Amen of the cross vault.
He looked for Maria, who was to have waited for him on the belfry steps; but he could not find her. He wandered through the cathedral, which seemed to be quite empty of people. Once he stopped. He was standing opposite Death.
The ghostly minstrel stood in a side-niche, carved in wood, in hat and wide cloak, scythe on shoulder, the hourglass dangling from his girdle; and the minstrel was playing on a bone as though on a flute. The Seven Deadly Sins were his following.
Freder looked Death in the face. Then he said, “If you had come earlier, you would not have frightened me. Now, I pray you, keep away from me and my beloved!”
But the awful flute-player seemed to be listening to nothing but the song he was playing upon a bone.
Freder walked on. He came to the central nave. Before the high altar, over which hovered God Incarnate, a dark form lay stretched out upon the stones, hands clutching out to each side, face pressed into the coldness of the stone, as though the blocks must burst asunder under the pressure of the brow. The form wore the garment of a monk; the head was shaven. An incessant trembling shook the lean body from shoulder to heel, and it seemed to be stiffened as though in a cramp.
But suddenly the body reared up. A white flame sprang up: a face, black flames within it: two blazing eyes. A hand rose up, clutching high in the air towards the crucifix which hovered above the altar.
A voice spoke, like the voice of fire, “I will not let thee go, God, God, except thou bless me!”
The echo of the pillars yelled the words after him.
The son of Joh Fredersen had never seen the man before. He knew, however, as soon as the flame-white face unveiled the black flames of its eyes to him: it was Desertus the monk, his father’s enemy.
Perhaps his breath had become too loud. Suddenly the black flame struck across at him. The monk arose slowly. He did not say a word. He stretched out his hand. The hand indicated the door.
“Why do you send me away, Desertus?” asked Freder. “Is not the house of your God open to all?”
“Hast thou come here to seek God?” asked the rough, hoarse voice of the monk.
Freder hesitated. He dropped his head. “No,” he answered. But his heart knew better.
“If thou hast not come to seek God, then thou hast nothing to seek here,” said the monk.
Then Joh Fredersen’s son went.
He went out of the cathedral as one walking in his sleep. The daylight smote his eyes cruelly. Racked with weariness, worn out with grief, he walked down the steps, and aimlessly onwards.
The roar of the streets wrapped itself, as a diver’s helmet, about his ears. He walked on in his stupefaction, as though between thick glass walls. He had no thought apart from the name of his beloved, no consciousness apart from his longing for her. Shivering with weariness, he thought of the girl’s eyes and lips, with a feeling very like homesickness.
Ah! brow to brow with her — then mouth to mouth — eyes closed — breathing…
“Come,” said his heart. “Why do you leave me alone?”
He walked along in a stream of people, fighting down the mad desire to stop amid this stream and to ask every single wave, which was a human being, if it knew of Maria’s whereabouts, and why she had let him wait in vain.
He came to the magician’s house. There he stopped.
He stared at a window.
Was he mad?
There was Maria, standing behind the dull panes. Those were her blessed hands, stretched out towards him… a dumb cry: “Help me!”
Then the entire vision was drawn away, swallowed up by the blackness of the room behind it, vanishing, not leaving a trace, as though it had never been. Dumb, dead, and evil stood the house of the magician there.
Freder stood motionless. He drew a deep, deep breath. Then he made a leap. He stood before the door of the house. Copper-red, in the black wood of the door, glowed the seal of Solomon, the pentagram.
Nothing in the house stirred.
He knocked for the second time.
The house remained dull and obstinate.
He stepped back and looked up at the windows.
They looked out in their evil gloom, over and beyond him.
He went to the door again. He beat against it with his fists. He heard the echo of his drumming blows shake the house, as in dull laughter.
But the copper Solomon’s seal grinned at him from the unshaken door.
He stood still for a moment. His temples throbbed. He felt absolutely helpless and was as near crying as swearing.
Then he heard a voice — the voice of his beloved.
“Freder!” and once more: “Freder!”
He saw blood before his eyes. He made to throw himself with the full weight of his shoulders against the door…
But in that same moment the door opened noiselessly. It swung back in ghostly silence, leaving the way into the house absolutely free.
That was so unexpected and alarming that, in the midst of the swing which was to have thrown him against the door, Freder caught both his hands against the doorposts, and stood fixed there. He buried his teeth in his lips. The heart of the house was as black as midnight.
But the voice of Maria called to him from the heart of the house: “Freder! Freder!”
He ran into the house as though he had gone blind. The door fell to behind him. He stood in blackness. He called. He received no answer. He saw nothing. He groped. He felt walls — endless walls… steps. He climbed up the steps…
A pale redness swam about him like the reflection of a distant gloomy fire.
Suddenly — he stopped still, clawing his hand into the stonework behind him — a sound was coming out of the nothingness: the weeping of a woman sorrowing, sorrowing unto death.
It was not very loud, but yet it was as if the source of all lamentation were streaming out of it. It was as though the house were weeping — as though every stone in the wall were a sobbing mouth, set free from eternal dumbness, once and once only, to mourn an everlasting agony.
Freder shouted — he was fully aware that he was only shouting in order not to hear the weeping any more. “Maria! Maria! Maria!”
His voice was clear and wild as an oath: “I am coming!”
He ran up the stairs. He reached the top of the stairs. A passage, scarcely lighted. Twelve doors opened out here.
In the wood of each of these doors glowed, copper-red, the seal of Solomon, the pentagram.
He sprang to the first one. Before he had touched it, it swung noiselessly open before him. Emptiness lay behind it. The room was quite bare.
The second door, the same.
The third. The fourth. They swung open before him as though his breath had blown them off the latch.
Freder stood still. He screwed his head down between his shoulders. He raised his arm and wiped it across his forehead. He looked around him. The open doors stood agape. The mournful weeping ceased. All was quite silent.
But out of the silence there came a voice, soft and sweet, and more tender than a kiss…
“Come… I do come! I am here, dearest…!”
Freder did not stir. He knew the voice quite well. It was Maria’s voice, which he so loved. And yet it was a strange voice. Nothing in the world could be sweeter than the tone of this soft allurement — and nothing in the world has ever been so filled to overflowing with a dark, deadly wickedness.
Freder felt the drops upon his forehead. “Who are you?” he asked expressionlessly.
“Don’t you know me?”
“Who are you?”
“You are not Maria…”
“Freder!” mourned the voice — Maria’s voice.
“Do you want me to lose my reason?” said Freder, between his teeth. “Why don’t you come to me?”
“I can’t come, beloved…”
“Where are you?”
“Look for me!” said the sweetly alluring, the deadly, wicked voice, laughing softly.
But through the laughter there sounded another voice — being also Maria’s voice, sick with fear and horror.
“Freder… help me, Freder… I do not know what is being done to me… But what is being done is worse than murder… My eyes are on…”
Suddenly, as though cut off, her voice choked. But the other voice — which was also Maria’s voice, laughed, sweetly, alluringly, on: “Look for me, beloved!”
Freder began to run. Senselessly and unreasoningly, he began to run. Along walls, by open doors, upstairs, downstairs, from twilight into darkness, drawn on by the cones of light, which would suddenly flame up before him, then dazzled and plunged again into a hellish darkness.
He ran like a blind animal, groaning aloud. He found that he was running in a circle, always upon his own tracks, but he could not get free of it, could not get out of the cursed circle. He ran in the purple mist of his own blood, which filled his eyes and ears, heard the breaker of his blood dash against his brain, heard high above, like the singing of birds, the sweetly, deadly wicked laugh of Maria.
“Look for me, beloved! I am here… I am here…”
At last he fell. His knees collided against something which was in the way of their blindness; he stumbled and fell. He felt stones under his hands, cool, hard stones, cut in even squares. His whole body, beaten and racked, rested upon the cool hardness of these blocks. He rolled over on his back. He pushed himself up, collapsed again violently, and lay upon the floor. A suffocating blanket sank downwards. His consciousness yielded up, as though drowned.
Rotwang had seen him fall. He waited attentively and vigilantly to see if this young wildling, the son of Joh Fredersen and Hel, had had enough at last, or if he would pull himself together once more for the fight against nothing.
But it appeared that he had had enough. He lay remarkably still. He was not even breathing now. He was like a corpse.
The great inventor left his listening post. He passed through the dark house on soundless soles. He opened a door and entered a room. He closed the door and remained standing on the threshold. With an expectation that was fully aware of its pointlessness, he looked at the girl who was the occupant of the room.
He found her as he always found her. In the farthest corner of the room, on a high, narrow chair, hands laid, right and left, upon the arms of the chair, sitting stiffly upright, with eyes which appeared to be lidless. Nothing about her was living apart from these eyes. The glorious mouth, still glorious in its pallor, seemed to enclose within it the unpronounceable. She did not look at the man — she looked over and beyond him.
Rotwang stooped forward. He came nearer to her. Only his hands, his lonely hands, groped through the air, as though they wanted to close around Maria’s countenance. His eyes, his lonely eyes, enveloped Maria’s countenance.
“Won’t you smile just once?” he asked. “Won’t you cry just once? I need them both — your smile and your tears. Your image, Maria, just as you are now, is burnt into my retina, never to be lost. I could take a diploma in your horror and in your rigidity. The bitter expression of contempt about your mouth is every bit as familiar to me as the haughtiness of your eyebrows and your temples. But I need your smile and your tears, Maria. Or you will make me bungle my work.”
He seemed to have spoken to the deaf air. The girl sat dumb, looking over and beyond him.
Rotwang took a chair; he sat down astride it, crossed his arms over the back and looked at the girl. He laughed gloomily.
“You two poor children!” he said, “to have dared to pit yourselves against Joh Fredersen! Nobody can reproach you for it; you do not know him and do not know what you are doing. But the son should know the father. I do not believe that there is one man who can boast ever having got the better of Joh Fredersen: You could more easily bend to your will the inscrutable God, who is said to rule the world, than Joh Fredersen…”
The girl sat like a statue, immovable.
“What will you do, Maria, if Joh Fredersen takes you and your love so seriously that he comes to you and says, ‘Give me back my son!'”
The girl sat like a statue, immovable.
“He will ask you, ‘Of what value is my son to you?’ and if you are wise, you will answer him, ‘Of no more and of no less value than he is to you!’ He will pay the price, and it will be a high price, for Joh Fredersen has only one son.”
The girl sat like a statue, immovable.
“What do you know of Freder’s heart?” continued the man. “He is as young as the morning at sunrise. This heart of the young morning is yours. Where will it be at midday? And where at evening? Far away from you, Maria — far, far away. The world is very large, and the earth is very fair. His father will send him around the world. Out over the beautiful earth he will forget you, Maria, before the clock of his heart is at midday.”
The girl sat like a statue, immovable. But around her pale mouth, which was like the bud of a snowrose, a smile began to bloom — a smile of such sweetness, of such depths, that it seemed as though the air about the girl must begin to beam.
The man looked at the girl. His lonely eyes were starved and parched as the desert which does not know the dew. In a hoarse voice he went on:
“Where do you get your sainted confidence from? Do you believe that you are Freder’s first love? Have you forgotten the Club of the Sons, Maria? There are a hundred women there — and all are his! These loving little women could all tell you about Freder’s love, for they know more about it than you do, and you have only one advantage over them: You can weep when he leaves you, for they are not allowed to weep. When Joh Fredersen’s son celebrates his marriage, it will be as though all Metropolis celebrated its marriage. When? Joh Fredersen will decide that. With whom? Joh Fredersen will decide that. But you will not be the bride, Maria! The son of Joh Fredersen will have forgotten you by the day of his wedding.”
“Never!” said the girl. “Never — never!”
And the painless tears of a great, true love fell upon the beauty of her smile.
The man got up. He stood still before the girl. He looked at her. He turned away. As he was crossing the threshold of the next room, his shoulder fell against the doorpost.
He slammed the door to. He stared straight ahead. He looked on the being — his creature of glass and metal — which bore the almost-completed head of Maria.
His hands moved towards the head, and, the nearer they came to it, the more did it appear as if these hands, these lonely hands, wished not to create but to destroy.
“We are bunglers, Futura!” he said. “Bunglers! Bunglers! Can I give you the smile which you make angels fall gladly down to Hell? Can I give you the tears which would redeem the chiefest Satan, and make him beatify? Parody is your name! And Bungler is mine!”
Shining cool and lustrous, the being stood there and looked at its creator with its bafflng eyes. And, as he laid his hands on its shoulders, its fine structure tinkled in mysterious laughter.
Freder, on recovering, found himself surrounded by a dull brightness. It came from a window, in the frame of which stood a pale, gray sky. The window was small and gave the impression that it had not been opened for centuries.
Freder’s eyes wandered through the room. Nothing that he saw penetrated into his consciousness. He remembered nothing. He lay, his back resting on stones which were cold and smooth. All his limbs and joints were wracked by a dull pain.
He turned his head to one side. He looked at his hands which lay beside him as though not belonging to him, thrown away, bled white.
Knuckles knocked raw… shreds of skin… brownish crusts… were these his hands?
He stared at the ceiling. It was black, as if charred. He stared at the walls; gray, cold walls.
Where was he? He was tortured by thirst and a ravenous hunger. But worse than the hunger and thirst was the weariness which longed for sleep and which could not find it.
Maria occurred to him. Maria? Maria?!
He jerked himself up and stood on sawn-through ankles. His eyes sought for doors; there was one door. He stumbled up to it. The door was closed, was latchless, would not open.
His brain commanded him, Don’t be surprised at anything. Don’t let anything startle you. Think.
Over there, there was a window. It had no frame. It was a pane of glass set into stone. The street lay before it — one of the great streets of the great Metropolis, seething with human beings.
The glass windowpane must be very thick. Not the least sound entered the room in which Freder was captive, though the street was so near.
Freder’s hands fumbled across the pane. A penetrating coldness streamed out of the glass, the smoothness of which was reminiscent of the sucking sharpness of a steel blade. Freder’s fingertips glided towards the setting of the pane… and remained, crooked, hanging in the air, as though bewitched. He saw: Down there, below, Maria was crossing the street.
Leaving the house which held him captive, she turned her back on him and walked with light, hurried step towards the Maelstrom, which the street was.
Freder’s fists smote against the pane. He cried the girl’s name. He yelled, “Maria!” She must hear him. It was impossible that she did not hear him. Regardless of his raw knuckles, he banged with his fists against the pane.
But Maria did not hear him. She did not turn her head around. With her gentle but hurried step, she submerged herself in the surf of people as though into her very familiar element.
Freder leaped for the door. He heaved with his whole body, with his shoulders, his knees, against the door. He no longer shouted. His mouth was gaping open. His breath burnt his lips gray. He sprang back to the window. There, outside, hardly ten paces from the window, stood a policeman, his face turned towards Rotwang’s house. The man’s face registered absolute nonchalance. Nothing seemed to be further from his mind than to watch the magician’s house. But the man who was striving, with bleeding fists, to shatter a windowpane in his house could not have escaped even his most casual glance.
Freder paused. He stared at the policeman’s face with an unreasoning hatred, born of fear of losing time where there was no time to be lost. He turned around and snatched up the rude footstool, which stood near the table. He dashed the footstool with full force at the windowpane. The rebound jerked him backwards. The pane was undamaged.
Sobbing fury welled up in Freder’s throat. He swung the footstool and hurled it at the door. The footstool crashed to earth. Freder dashed to it, snatched it up, and struck and struck, again and again, at the booming door, in a ruddy, blind desire to destroy.
Wood splintered, white. The door shrieked like a living thing. Freder did not pause. To the rhythm of his own boiling blood, he beat against the door until it broke, quivering.
Freder dragged himself through the hole. He ran through the house. His wild eyes sought an enemy and fresh obstacles in each corner. But he found neither one nor the other. Unchallenged, he reached the door, found it open, and reeled out into the street.
He ran in the direction which Maria had taken. But the surf of the people had washed her away. She had vanished.
For some minutes Freder stood among the hurrying mob as though paralyzed. One senseless hope befogged his brain: Perhaps — perhaps she would come back again… if he were patient and waited long enough.
But he remembered the cathedral — waiting in vain — her voice in the magician’s house — words of fear — her sweet, wicked laugh.
No — no waiting! He wanted to know.
With clenched teeth he ran…
There was a house in the city where Maria lived. An interminably long way. What should he ask about? With bare head, with raw hands, with eyes which seemed insane with weariness, he ran towards his destination: Maria’s abode.
He did not know by how many precious hours Slim had come before him.
He stood before the people with whom Maria was supposed to live: a man — a woman — the faces of whipped curs. The woman undertook the reply. Her eyes twitched. She held her hands clutched under her apron.
No — no girl called Maria lived here — never had lived here.
Freder stared at the woman. He did not believe her. She must know the girl. She must live here.
Half-stunned with fear that this last hope of finding Maria could prove fallacious, too, he described the girl as memory came to the aid of this poor madman.
She had such fair hair… She had such gentle eyes… She had the voice of a loving mother… She wore a severe but lovely gown…
The man left his position near the woman and stooped down sideways, hunching his head down between his shoulders as though he could not bear to hear how that strange young man there at the door spoke of the girl for whom he was seeking. Shaking her head in angry impatience for him to be finished, the woman repeated the same unvarnished words: The girl did not live here, once and for all. Hadn’t he nearly finished with his catechism?
Freder went. He went without a word. He heard how the door was slammed to, with a bang. Voices were retiring, bickering. Interminable steps brought him to the street again.
Yes… what next?
He stood helpless. He did not know which way to turn.
Exhausted to death, drunken with weariness, he heard, with a sudden wince, that the air around him was becoming filled with an overpowering sound.
It was an immeasurably glorious and transporting sound, as deep and rumbling as and more powerful than any sound on earth. The voice of the sea when it is angry, the voice of falling torrents, the voice of very close thunderstorms would be miserably drowned in this Behemoth-din. Without being shrill it penetrated all walls and, as long as it lasted, all things seemed to swing in it. It was omnipresent, coming from the heights and from the depths, being beautiful and horrible, being an irresistible command.
It was high above the town. It was the voice of the town.
Metropolis raised her voice. The machines of Metropolis roared; they wanted to be fed.
My father, thought Freder, half-unconsciously, has pressed his fingers upon the blue metal plate. The brain of Metropolis controls the town. Nothing happens in Metropolis which does not come to my father’s ears. I shall go to my father and ask him if the inventor Rotwang has played with Maria and with me in the name of Joh Fredersen.
He turned around to wend his way to the New Tower of Babel. He set off with the obstinacy of one possessed, with screwed-up lips, sharp lines between the eyebrows, clenched fists on his weak, dangling arms. He set off as though he wanted to pound the stone beneath his feet. It seemed as though every drop of blood in his face had collected in his eyes alone. He ran, and, on the interminable way, at every step, he had the feeling: I am not he who is running… I am running, a spirit, by the side of my own self… I, the spirit, am forcing my body to run onwards, although it is tired to death…
Those who stared at him when he arrived at the New Tower of Babel seemed to be seeing not him, but a spirit.
He was about to enter the Pater-noster, which was pumping its way, a scoop-wheel for human beings, through the New Tower of Babel. But a sudden shudder pushed him away from it. Did there not crouch below, deep, deep down, under the sole of the New Tower of Babel, a little, gleaming machine, which was like Ganesha, the god with the elephant’s head? Under the crouching body, and the head, which was sunken on the chest, crooked legs rested, gnome-like, upon the platform. The trunk and legs were motionless. But the short arms pushed and pushed and pushed, alternately, forwards, backwards, forwards.
Who was standing before the machine now, cursing the Lord’s Prayer — the Lord’s Prayer of the Pater-noster machine?
Shivering with horror, he ran up the stairs.
Stairs and stairs and stairs — they would never come to an end. The brow of the New Tower of Babel lifted itself very near to the sky. The tower roared like the sea. It howled as deep as the storm. The hurtling of a waterfall boomed in its veins.
“Where is my father?” Freder asked the servants.
They indicated a door. They wanted to announce him. He shook his head. He wondered: Why were these people looking so strangely at him?
He opened a door. The room was empty. On the other side, a second door ajar. Voices behind it. The voice of his father and that of another.
Freder suddenly stood still. His feet seemed to be nailed to the floor. The upper part of his body was bent stiffly forwards. His fists dangled on helpless arms, seeming no longer capable of freeing themselves from their own clench. He listened; the eyes in his white face were filled with blood, the lips were open as though forming a cry.
Then he tore his deadened feet from the floor, stumbled to the door and pushed it open.
In the middle of the room, which was filled with a cutting brightness, stood Joh Fredersen, holding a woman in his arms. And the woman was Maria. She was not struggling. Leaning far back in the man’s arms, she was offering him her mouth, her alluring mouth, that deadly laugh.
“You!” shouted Freder.
He dashed to the girl. He did not see his father. He saw only the girl — no, neither did he see the girl, only her mouth and her sweet, wicked laugh.
Joh Fredersen turned around, broad and menacing. He let the girl go. He covered her with the might of his shoulders, with the great cranium, flamed with blood, and in which the strong teeth and the invincible eyes were very visible.
But Freder did not see his father. He only saw an obstacle between him and the girl.
He rushed at the obstacle. It pushed him back. Scarlet hatred for the obstacle choked him. His eyes flew around. They sought an implement — an implement which could be used as a battering ram. He found none. Then he threw himself toward as a battering ram. His fingers clutched into stuff. He bit into the stuff. He heard his own breath like a whistle, very high and shrill. Yet within him there was only one sound, only one cry: “Maria!” Groaningly, beseechingly: “Maria!”
A man dreaming of Hell shrieks out no more, in his torment, than did he.
And still, between him and the girl, the man, the lump of rock, the living wall.
He threw his hands forward. Ah… look — there was a throat. He seized the throat. His fingers snapped fast like iron fangs.
“Why don’t you defend yourself?” he yelled, staring at the man. “I’ll kill you! I’ll take your life! I’ll murder you!”
But the man before him held his ground while he throttled him. Thrown this way and that by Freder’s fury, the body bent, now to the right, now to the left. And as often as this happened Freder saw, as through a transparent mist, the smiling countenance of Maria, who, leaning against the table, was looking on with her sea-water eyes at the fight between father and son.
His father’s voice said, “Freder…”
He looked the man in the face. He saw his father. He saw the hands which were clawing around his father’s throat. They were his, were the hands of his son.
His hands fell loose, as though cut off. He stared at his hands, stammering something which sounded half like an oath, half like the weeping of a child that believes itself to be alone in the world.
The voice of his father said, “Freder…”
He fell on his knees. He stretched out his arms. His head fell forward into his father’s hands. He burst into tears, into despairing sobs.
A door slid to.
He flung his head around. He sprang to his feet. His eyes swept the room.
“Where is she?” he asked.
“She… who was here.”
“Nobody was here, Freder…”
The boy’s eyes glazed.
“Wh-what did you say?” he stammered.
“There has not been a soul here, Freder, but you and I.”
Freder twisted his head around stiffly. He tugged the shirt from his throat. He looked into his father’s eyes as though looking into well-shafts.
“You say there was not a soul here… I did not see you… when you were holding Maria in your arms. I have been dreaming… I am mad, aren’t I?”
“I give you my word,” said Joh Fredersen, “when you came to me, there was neither a woman nor any other living soul here.”
Freder remained silent. His bewildered eyes were still searching along the walls.
“You are ill, Freder,” said his father’s voice.
Freder smiled. Then he began to laugh. He threw himself into a chair and laughed and laughed. He bent down, resting both elbows upon his knees, burrowing his head between his hands and arms. He rocked himself to and fro, shrieking with laughter.
Joh Fredersen’s eyes were upon him.