Metropolis, Chapter 18: Waiting at the Door

by Thea von Harbou

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“Little sister…”

“Yes?”

“I am so hungry, sister!”

“Hungry!” echoed out of the depths.

“Don’t you want to hear the end of my story?

“Yes… But sister, when you’ve finished, can’t we go out and have dinner?

“Of course… as soon as my story’s finished. Just think: Foxy Fox went for a walk — went for a walk through the beautiful flowery meadows; he had his Sunday coat on, and he held his bushy red tail bolt-upright, and he was smoking his little pipe and singing all the while. Do you know what Foxy Fox sang?

“I am the cheerful fox — Hurray!
I am the cheerful fox — Hurray!

“And then he hopped for joy! And little Mr. Hedgehog was sitting on his hillock, and he was so glad that his radishes were coming on so nicely, and his wife was standing by the hedge, gossipping with Mrs. Mole, who had just got a new fur for the Autumn…”

“Sister…”

“Yes?”

“Can the water from down there be coming up after us?”

Why, little brother?”

“I can hear it gurgling…”

Don’t listen to the water, little brother… just listen to what Mrs. Hedgehog has to chatter about!”

“Yes, sister, but the water is chattering so loud… I think it chatters much louder than Mrs. Mole…”

“Come away from the stupid water, little brother… Come here to me! You can’t hear the water here!”

“I can’t come to you sister! I can’t move, sister. Can’t you come and fetch me?”

“Me too, sister — yes, me too! — me too!”

“I can’t do that, little brothers, little sisters! Your youngest brothers and sisters are on my lap. They have gone to sleep, and I mustn’t wake them!”

“Oh, sister, are we sure to get out?”

“Why do you ask as if you were frightened, little brother?”

“The floor is shaking so, and stones are tumbling down from the ceiling!

“Have those silly stones hurt you?”

“No, but my little sister’s lying down, and she’s not moving anymore.”

“Don’t disturb her, little brother. Your sister’s asleep!

“Yes, but she was crying just now!”

“Don’t be sorry, little brother, that she had gone where she need not cry anymore.”

“Where has she gone to, then, sister?”

“To Heaven, I think.”

“Is Heaven so near, then?”

“Oh, yes, quite near. I can even see the door from here! And if I’m not wrong, Saint Peter is standing there in front of it with a large golden key, waiting until he can let us in.”

“Oh, sister… sister! Now the water’s coming up! Now it’s got hold of my feet! Now it’s lifting me up!

Sister! Help me, sister. The water has come!”

God can help you — Almighty God!

“Sister, I’m frightened!

“Are you frightened of going into the lovely Heaven?

“Is it lovely in heaven?”

“Oh — glorious — glorious!

“Is Foxy Fox in Heaven, too — and little Mr. Hedgehog?

“I don’t know! Shall I ask Saint Peter about it?”

“Yes, sister… Are you crying?

“No, why should I be crying? Saint Peter! Saint Peter!

“Did he hear?

“Dear God, how cold the water is…”

“Saint Peter! Saint Peter!

“Sister… I think he answered, just now…”

Really, little brother?”

“Yes… somebody was calling…”

“Yes, I heard it, too!”

“So did I…”

“So did I…”

Hush, children, hush…”

“Oh, sister, sister!

“Hush, please — please!

Maria!

Freder?!

“Maria — are you there?

“Freder — Freder — here I am! Here I am, Freder!

“On the stairs?

“Yes!”

“Why don’t you come up?

“I can’t raise the door!

Ten trains have run together… I can’t come to you! I must go and get help!

“Oh, Freder, the water’s already close behind us!

“The water?

“Yes! And the walls are falling in!”

“Are you hurt?

“No, no… Oh, Freder, if you could only force open the door wide enough for me to push the little children’s bodies through…”

The man above her did not give her an answer.

When steeling his muscles and sinews in the Club of the Sons, playfully wrestling with his friends, he surely never guessed that he would need them one day to force a path through ruined cables, upright pistons, and outspread wheels of fallen machines to the woman he loved. He thrust the pistons aside like human arms, clutched into steel as into soft, yielding flesh. He worked his way nearer the door and threw himself on the ground.

“Maria?”

“Freder?”

“Where are you? Why does your voice sound so far away?

“I want to be the last whom you save, Freder! I am carrying the tiniest ones on my shoulders and arms…”

“Is the water still rising?

“Yes.”

“Is it rising fast or slowly?”

“Fast.”

“My God, my God… I can’t get the door loose! The machines are piled up on top of it like mountains! I must explode the ruins, Maria!”

“Very well.” Maria’s voice sounded as though she were smiling. “Meanwhile, I can finish telling my story…”

Freder dashed away. He did not know where his feet should carry him. He thought vaguely of God. “Thy will be done… Deliver us from evil… For Thine is the… power…”

From the sooty black sky a frightful gleam, of the color of spilled blood, fell upon the city, which appeared as a silhouette of tattered velvet in the painful scarcity of light. There was not a soul to be seen, and yet the air throbbed under the unbearable knife-edge of shrieks of women from the vicinity of Yoshiwara, and while the organ of the cathedral was shrilling and whistling, as though its mighty body were wounded unto death, the windows of the cathedral, lighted from within, began phantom-like to glow.

Freder staggered along to the tower-house in which the heart of the great machine-city of Metropolis had lived, and which it had torn open from top to bottom, when racing itself to death in the fever of the 12, so that the house now looked like a ripped open, gaping gate.

A lump of humanity was crawling about the ruins, seeming, from the sounds it emitted, to be nothing but a single curse on two legs. The horror which lay over Metropolis was Paradise compared with the last, cruel destruction which the lump of humanity was invoking from the lowest and hottest of hells upon the city and its inhabitants.

He found something among the ruins, raised it to his face, recognized it, and broke out into howls, similar to the howls of a kicked dog. He rubbed his sobbing mouth upon the little piece of steel.

“May the stinking plague gnaw you, you lice! May you sit in muck up to your eyes! May you swill gas instead of water and burst every day — for ten-thousand years — over and over again!”

“Grot!”

Filth!

“Grot! Thank God… Grot, come here!”

“Who’s that?”

“I am Joh Fredersen’s son–”

Aaah — Hell and the devil — I wanted you! Come here, you toad! I must have you between my fists. I’d much rather have had your father, but you’re a bit of him and better than nothing! Come along here, if you’ve got the guts. Ah, my lad, wouldn’t I like to get hold of you! I’d like to smear you from top toe in mustard and eat you! D’you know what your father’s done?

“Grot!”

“Let me finish! I tell you! Do you know what he did? He made me give up… he made me give up my machine.”

And once more the miserable howling of a kicked dog. “My machine… my — my machine! That devil up there! That Goddamned devil!

“Grot, listen to me–”

“I won’t listen to anything!

“Grot, in the underground city, the water has broken in.”

Seconds of silence. Then — roars of laughter, and, on the heap of ruins, the dance of a four-legged lump, which kicked its stumps amid wild yells, clapping its hands the while.

“That’s right! Hallelujah, Amen!”

“Grot!” Freder laid fast hold of the dancing lump and shook it so that its teeth rattled. “The water has flooded the city! The lights lie in ruins! The water has risen up the steps! And upon the door — upon the only door, there lie tons upon tons of trains which collided with each other there!”

“Let the rats drown!

“The children, Grot–!”

Grot stood as if paralyzed.

“A girl,” continued Freder, clutching his hand into the man’s shoulder, “a girl,” he said sobbingly, bending his head as if to bury it in the man’s breast, “a girl has tried to save the children and is now shut in with them and can’t get out–”

Grot began to run. “We must explode the ruins, Grot!”

Grot stumbled, turned about, and went on running, Freder behind him, closer than his shadow.

***

“But Foxy Fox knew very well that Mr. Hedgehog would come to help him out of the trap, and he wasn’t a bit frightened and waited quite cheerfully, although it was a good long time before Mr. Hedgehog — gallant Mr. Hedgehog came back…”

Maria!

“Oh, Christ… Freder?

“Don’t be startled, do you hear?”

“Freder, you’re not in danger?

No answer. Silence. A crackling sound. Then a childish voice: “And did Mr. Hedgehog come, sister?”

“Yes–”

But the yes was drowned by the tearing of thousands of steel cables, the roar of tens of thousands of rocks which were hurled up to the dome of heaven, to burst the dome and to sink, to hurtle downwards, causing the earth to sway under their fall.

Supplementary crackling. Gray, leisurely clouds. Distant rumbling. And steps. Childish crying. And, up above, the door which was hauled upwards:

Maria!

A blackened face bent downwards; filthy hands stretched out, gropingly.

“Maria!”

“Here I am, Freder!”

“I can hardly hear you…”

“Get the children out first, Freder. The wall’s sinking.”

Grot came lumbering along and threw himself on the ground by Freder’s side, clutching down into the pit from which the children were scrambling out, screaming. He grabbed the children by the hair, by the neck, by the head, and hauled them up, as one pulls up radishes. His eyes were popping out of his head with fear. He hurled the children over his body, so that they tumbled over, shrieking miserably. He cursed like a hundred devils. “Isn’t that nearly all of them?” He bawled down two names.

“Father, father!” sobbed two little voices in the depths.

“The devil take you, you couple of jackanapes!” roared the man. He rummaged the children aside with his fists, as if he were shovelling rubbish on the dustheap. Then he gulped, snorted, clutched out, and had two children hanging around his neck, wet and shivering piteously, but alive — and their limbs stood more in danger of his fumbling fists than previously of the water and the tumbling stones.

With the children in both arms, Grot rolled over on his side. He sat up and planted the couple before him.

“You Goddamned pair of ragamuffins!” he said, amidst sobs. He wiped the tears from his eyes. And sprang up, hurling the children aside, like two little hay-stooks. With the furious roar of a lion he ran to the door, from the depths of which Maria was emerging, with closed eyes, supported by Freder’s arm.

“You bloody–!” he howled out. He dragged Freder aside, shoved the girl back into the depths, slammed the trapdoor to, and slung his entire weight upon it, drumming the rhythm of his laughter upon it with clenched fists.

A grim effort had kept Freder on his feet. Beside himself, he fell upon the maniac to tug him from the trapdoor, fell over him and rolled with him, in furious embrace, among the ruins of the machines.

“Let me go, you dog, you mangy dog!” howled Gort, trying to bite at the angry fist which held him. “That woman murdered my machine — that damn woman led the rabble! That woman alone turned the lever to 12! I saw it when they were trampling on me! The woman can drown down there! I’m going to kill that woman!”

With marvelous tension of all his muscles, Grot drew himself up and heaved himself, with a jerk, away from the raving man — with such infuriated strength that he, Grot, shot, describing a curve, amidst the children.

Cursing ardently, he gathered himself up again; but, though he was uninjured, he could not move a limb. He stuck, an impotent spoon, in a porridge of children, which adhered to his arms, legs and fists. No steel fetters could have condemned him so effectually to helplessness, as did the little cold, wet hands, which were defending her who had rescued them all. Yes, his own children were standing before him, pommelling angrily upon his clenched fists, unscared by the blood-shot eyes with which the giant glared at the dwarves, cudgelling him.

“That woman murdered my machine!” he howled out at last, more complainingly than angrily, looking at the girl, who was resting upon Freder’s arm, as though expecting her to bear him out.

“What does he mean?” asked Maria. “And what has happened?

And she looked with eyes, the horror in which was only modified by the deepest of exhaustion, at the destruction round about, and at the snorting Grot.

Freder did not answer.

“Come,” he said. And he raised her up in his arms and carried her out. The children followed them like a flock of little lambs, and Grot had no alternative than to run along in the tracks of the tiny feet, whither the little, tugging hands drew him.

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