Metropolis, Chapter 11: Rotwang’s Daughter

by Thea von Harbou

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“Yes,” said Josaphat hoarsely, “but that was a dream.”

Of course it was a dream. And they say dreams are bubbles, don’t they? But just listen to this, Josaphat… I emerged from this dream back into reality with a feeling of sadness, which seemed to hack me, as with a knife, from head to foot. I saw Maria’s brow, that white temple of goodness and virginity, besmirched with the name of the great harlot of Babylon. I saw her send Death out over the city. I saw how abominations upon abominations loosened themselves from about her and fluttered away, swarming through the city — plague spirits, messengers of evil before the path of Death. I stood out there and looked over at the cathedral, which seemed to me to be desecrated and soiled. Its doors stood open. Dark, human snakes were creeping into the cathedral, and collecting themselves upon the steps.

“I thought, Perhaps, among all those pious people, is my Maria, too. I said to my father, ‘I wish to go to the cathedral.’ He let me go; I was no captive. As I reached the cathedral, the organ was thundering like the trump of doom. Singing from a thousand throats. Dies Irae. The incense clouded above the head of the multitude, which was kneeling before the eternal God. The crucifix hovered above the high altar, and, in the light of the restless candles, the drops of blood on the thorn-crowned brow of the son of Mary seemed to come to hie, to run. The saints in the pillar-niches looked at me sadly, as though they knew of my evil dream.

“I sought Maria. Oh, I knew quite well that all the thousands could not hide her from me. If she were here I should find her out, as a bird finds its way to its nest. But my heart lay as if dead in my breast. Yet I could not help looking for her. I wandered about the place where I had already waited for her once before. Yes, so may a bird wander about the place where was its nest which it cannot find again, because the lightning or the storm has destroyed it.

“And, when I came to the side-niche in which Death stands as a minstrel, playing upon a human bone, the niche was empty. Death had disappeared.

“It was as though the Death of my dream had not returned home to his following.

“Do not speak, Josaphat! It is really of no importance… a coincidence. The carving was, perhaps, damaged — I do not know! Believe me, it is of no importance.

“But now a voice yelled out:

“‘Repent! The kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’

“It was the voice of Desertus, the monk. His voice was like a knife. The voice peeled bare my spine. Deathly stillness reigned in the church. Among all the thousands round about, not one seemed to breathe. They were kneeling, and their faces, pale masks of horror, were turned towards the preacher.

“His voice flew through the air like a spear.

“‘Repent! The kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’

“Before me by a pillar stood a young man, once a fellow member of mine of the Club of the Sons. If I had not personally experienced how vastly human faces can change in a short time, I should not have recognized him.

“He was older than I, and was, it is true, not the happiest of us all, but the gayest. And the women loved him and feared him equally, for he was in no way to be captivated, either by laughter or by tears. Now he had the thousand-year-old face of men who, yet living, are dead. It was as if a cruel executioner had removed his eyelids, that he was condemned never to sleep, so that he was perishing of weariness.

“But it surprised me more than all to find him here, in the cathedral, for he had been all his life long the greatest of scoffers.

“I laid my hand on his shoulder. He did not start. He only just turned his eyes — those parched eyes.

“I wanted to ask him, ‘What are you doing here, Jan?’ But the voice of the monk, that awful, spear-hurling voice, threw its sharpness between him and me. The monk Desertus began to preach.”

Freder turned around and came to Josaphat with violent haste, as though a sudden fear had taken him. He sat down by his friend, speaking very rapidly, with words which tumbled over each other in streaming out.

***

At first he had hardly listened to the monk. He had watched his friend, and the congregation which was still kneeling, head pressed to head. And, as he looked at them, it seemed to him as though the monk were harpooning the congregation with his words, as though he were throwing spears, with deadly, barbed hooks, right down into the most secret soul of the listeners, as though he were tugging groaning souls out of bodies, quivering with fear.

“Who is she who has laid fire to this city? She is herself a flame — an impure flame. You were given of a brand, might. She is a fiery blaze over man. She is Lilith, Astarte, Rose of Hell. She is Gomorrha, Babylon — Metropolis! Your own city — this fruitful, sinful city! — has born this woman from out the womb of its hell. Behold her! I say unto you, behold her! She is the woman who is to appear before the judgment of the world.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

“Seven angels shall stand before God, and there shall be given unto them seven trumpets. And the seven angels, which have the seven trumpets, shall prepare themselves to sound. A star shall fall from Heaven to Earth, and there shall be given up the key to the pit of the Abyss. And it shall open the pit of the Abyss, and there shall go up a smoke out of the pit as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air shall be darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And an angel shall fly in mid-Heaven, saying with a great voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the Earth!’ And another angel shall follow after him and shall say, ‘Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great!’

“Seven angels come out from the heavens, and they hear in their hands the bowls of the wrath of God. And Babylon the great will be remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath — she who is sitting there upon a scarlet-colored beast full of the names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman is arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and unclean things. And upon her forehead a name is written: Mystery… Babylon the Great… the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear! For the woman whom ye see is the great city, which reignest over the kings of the earth. Come forth, my people, out of her, that he have no fellowship with her sins! For her sins have reached even unto Heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities!

“Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour is thy judgment come! In one hour shalt thou be made desolate. Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye saints, and ye apostles, for God will judge your judgment on her. And a strong angel takes up a stone and casts it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with a mighty fall, shall Babylon the great city be cast down, and shall be found no more at all!’

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear! The woman who is called Babylon, the Mother of the Abominations of the Earth, wanders as a blazing brand through Metropolis. No wall and no gate bids her halt. No tie is sacred. An oath turns to mockery before her. Her smile is the last seduction. Blasphemy is her dance. She is the flame which says, ‘God is very wrath.’ Woe unto the city in which she shall appear!”

Freder bent across to Jan. “Of whom is he speaking?” he asked, with strangely cold lips. “Is he speaking of a person? Of a woman?” He saw that the brow of his friend was covered with sweat.

“He is speaking of her,” said Jan, as though he were speaking with paralyzed tongue.

“Of whom?

“Of her… don’t you know her?”

“I don’t know,” said Freder, “whom you mean.” And his tongue, too, was heavy, and as though made of clay.

Jan gave no answer. He had hunched up his shoulders as though he were bitterly cold. Bewildered and undecided, he listened to the intermediate rolling of the organ.

“Let us go!” he said tonelessly, turning around. Freder followed him. They left the cathedral. They walked along together in silence for a long time. Jan seemed to have a destination of which Freder did not know. He did not ask. He waited. He was thinking of his dream and of the monk’s words.

At last Jan opened his mouth, but he did not look at Freder; he spoke into space. “You do not know who she is, but nobody knows. She was suddenly there, as a fire breaks out. No one can say who fanned the flame, but there it is, and now everything is ablaze.”

“A woman?

“Yes. A woman. Perhaps a maid, too. I don’t know. It is inconceivable that this being would give herself to a man. Can you imagine the marriage of ice? Or if she were to do so, then she would raise herself up from the man’s arms, bright and cool, in the awful, eternal virginity of the soulless.”

He raised his hand and seized his throat. He tugged something away from him which was not there. He was looking at a house which lay opposite him, on the other side of the street, with a gaze of superstitious hostility, which made his hands run cold.

“What is the matter with you?” asked Freder. There was nothing remarkable about this house, except that it lay next to Rotwang’s house.

“Hush!” answered Jan, clasping his fingers around Freder’s wrist.

“Are you mad?” Freder stared at his friend. “Do you think that the house can hear us across this infernal street?”

“It hears us!” said Jan, with an obstinate expression. “It hears us! You think it is a house just like any other? You’re wrong. It began in this house.”

What began?”

“The spirit…”

Freder felt that his throat was very dry. He cleared it vigorously. He wanted to draw his friend along with him. But he resisted him. He stood at the parapet of the street, which sheered down, steep as a gorge, and he was staring at the house opposite.

“One day,” he said, “this house sent out invitations to all its neighbors. It was the craziest invitation on earth. There was nothing on the card but, ‘Come this evening at ten o’clock! House 12, 113th Street!’ One took the whole thing to be a joke. But one went. One did not wish to miss the fun. Strangely enough, no one knew the house. Nobody could remember ever having entered it, or having known anything of its occupants. One turned up at ten. One was well-dressed. One entered the house and found a big party. One was received by an old man, who was exceedingly polite, but who shook hands with nobody. It was an odd thing that all the people collected here seemed to be waiting for something, of which they did not know. One was well waited upon by servants, who seemed to be born mutes, and who never raised their eyes. Although the room in which we were all gathered was as large as the nave of a church, an unbearable heat prevailed, as though the floor were glowing hot, as though the walls were glowing hot, and all this in spite of the fact that, as one could see, the wide door leading to the street stood open.

“Suddenly, one of the servants came up from the door to our host, with soundless step, and seemed wordlessly, with his silent presence, to give him some information. Our host inquired, ‘Are we all met?‘ The servant inclined his head. ‘Then close the door.’ It was done. The servants swept aside and lined themselves up. Our host stepped into the middle of the great room. At the same moment, so perfect a silence prevailed that one heard the noise of the street roaring like breakers against the walls of the house.

“‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said the old man courteously, ‘may I have the honor of presenting my daughter to you!’

“He bowed to all sides, and then he turned his back. Everyone waited. No one moved.

“‘Well, my daughter,’ said the old man with a gentle, but somehow horrible voice, softly clapping his hands.

“Then she appeared on the stairs and came slowly down the room…”

Jan gulped. His fingers, which still held Freder’s wrist in their clutch, gripped tighter, as though they wished to crush the bones.

“Why am I t-telling you this?” he stammered. “Can one describe lightning? Or music? Or the fragrance of a flower? All the women in the hall suddenly blushed violently and feverishly, and all the men turned pale. Nobody seemed capable of making the least movement or of saying a single word. You know Rainer? You know his young wife? You know how they loved each other? He was standing behind her. She was sitting, and he had laid his hands on her shoulders with a gesture of passionate and protective affection. As the girl walked by them — she walked, led by the hand of the old man, with gentle ringing step, slowly through the hall — Rainer’s hands slipped from his wife’s shoulders. She looked up at him, he down at her, and in the faces of those two were burnt, like a torch, a sudden, deadly hatred.

“It was as though the air was burning. We breathed fire. At the same time, there radiated from the girl a coldness — an unbearable, cutting coldness. The smile which hovered between her half-open lips seemed to be the unspoken closing verse of a shameless song.

“Is there some substance through the power of which emotions are destroyed, as colors are by acids? The presence of this girl was enough to annul everything which spells fidelity in the human heart, even to a point of absurdity. I had accepted the invitation of this house because Tora had told me she would go, too. Now I no longer saw Tora, and I have not seen her since. And the strange thing was that, among all these motionless beings who were standing there as though benumbed, there was not one who could have hidden his feelings. Each knew how it was with the other. Each felt that he was naked and saw the nakedness of the others. Hatred, born of shame, smouldered among us. Tora was crying. I could have struck her…

“Then the girl danced. No, it was no dance. She stood, freed from the hand of the old man, on the lowest step facing us, and she raised her arms about the width of her garment with a gentle, a seemingly never-ending movement. The slender hands touched above her hair-parting. Over her shoulders, her breasts, her hips, her knees, there ran an incessant, barely perceptible trembling. It was no frightened trembling. It was like the trembling of the final spinal fins of a luminous, deep-sea fish. It was as though the girl were carried higher and higher by this trembling, though she did not move her feet. No dance, no scream, no cry of an animal in heat, could have so lashing an effect as the trembling of this shimmering body, which seemed, in its calm, in its solitude, to impart the waves of its incitement to every single soul in the room.

“Then she went up the steps, stepping backwards with tentative feet, without lowering her hands, and she disappeared into a velvet-deep darkness. The servants opened the door to the street. They lined up with backs bent.

“The people still sat motionless.

“‘Good night, ladies and gentlemen!’ said the old man.”

Jan was silent. He took his hat from his head. He wiped his forehead.

“A dancer,” said Freder, with cold lips, “but a spirit?

Not a spirit! I will tell you another story. A man and a woman of fifty and forty, rich and very happy, have a son. You know him, but I will not mention any names.

“The son sees the girl. He is as though mad. He storms the house. He storms the girl’s father: ‘Let me have her! I am dying for her!’ The old man smiles, shrugs his shoulders, is silent, is exceedingly sorry; the girl is not to be attained.

“The young man wants to lay hands on the old man, but he is whirled out of the house and thrown into the street, by he does not know whom. He is taken home. He falls ill and is at death’s door. The doctors shrug their shoulders.

“The father, who is a proud but kindly man, and who loves his son above anything on earth, makes up his mind to visit the old man himself. He gains entrance to the house without difficulty. He finds the old man, and with him, the girl. He says to the girl, ‘Save my son!’

“The girl looks at him and says, with the most graciously inhuman of smiles, ‘You have no son…’

“He does not understand the meaning of these words. He wants to know more. He urges the girl. She always gives the same answer. He urges the old man — he lifts his shoulders. There is a perfidious smile about his mouth.

“Suddenly, the man comprehends. He goes home. He repeats the girl’s words to his wife. She breaks down and confesses her sin — a sin which, after twenty years, has not yet died down. But she is not concerned with her own fate. She has no thought apart from her son. Shame, desertion, loneliness — all are nothing; but the son is everything.

“She goes to the girl and falls on her knees before her: ‘I beg you, in the name of God’s mercy, save my son!’ The girl looks at her, smiles, and says, ‘You have no son…’ The woman believes that she has a lunatic before her. But the girl was right. The son, who had been a secret witness to the conversation between the husband and the mother, had ended his life.”

Marinus?

“Yes.”

“A terrible coincidence, Jan, but still not a spirit.”

“Coincidence? Not a spirit? And what do you call it, Freder,” continued Jan, speaking quite close to Freder’s ear, “when this girl can appear in two places at once?

“That’s absolute rubbish.”

Rubbish? It’s the truth, Freder! The girl was seen standing at the window in Rotwang’s house — and, at the same time, she was dancing her sinful dance in Yoshiwara.”

“That is not true!” said Freder.

It is true!”

“You have seen the girl… in Yoshiwara?

“You can see her yourself, if you like.”

“What’s the girl’s name?

Maria…”

Freder laid his forehead in his hands. He bent double, as in the throes of an agony, which otherwise God does not permit to visit mankind.

“You know the girl?” asked Jan, bending forward.

“No!”

“But you love her,” said Jan, and behind these words lurked hatred, crouched to spring.

Freder took his hand and said, “Come!”

***

“But,” continued Freder, fixing his eyes upon Josaphat, who was sitting there quite sunken together, while the rain was growing gentler, like hushed weeping, “Slim was suddenly standing there beside me, and he said, ‘Will you not return home, Mr. Freder?'”

Josaphat was silent for a long time; Freder, too, was silent. In the frame of the open door, which led out to the balcony, stood hovering the picture of the monster clock on the New Tower of Babel, bathed in a white light. The large hand jerked to twelve.

Then a sound arose throughout Metropolis.

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 ocean 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.

The eyes of Josaphat and Freder met.

“Now,” said Josaphat, “many are going down into a city of the dead, and are waiting for one who is called Maria, and whom they have found as true as gold.”

“Yes!” said Freder. “You are a friend, and you are quite right. I shall go with them.”

And, for the first time this night, there was something like hope in the ring of his voice.

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