Metropolis, Chapter 19: Doomsday Breaking

by Thea von Harbou

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They had taken the children into the house, and Freder’s eyes sought Maria, who was kneeling in the street among the last remaining children, consoling them and bestowing her loving smile upon weeping and bewildered eyes.

Freder ran across to them and carried Maria into the house.

“Don’t forget,” he said, letting her down upon a couch before the blazing fire in the entrance hall, and holding captive in his longing arms her half-lying, half-sitting, gently resisting form, “that death and madness and something very like destruction of the world have passed very close by us — and that, after all that has happened, I do not even know the color of your eyes — and that you have not yet kissed me once by your own free will.”

“Dearest,” said Maria, leaning towards him so that her pure eyes, bathed in painless tears, were quite near to him, while at the same time a great, concentrated gravity kept her lips away from his, “are you sure that death and madness have already passed by?”

“By us, beloved — yes!

“And all the others?

“Are you sending me away, Maria?” he asked, lovingly. She did not answer, at least not in words. But, with a gesture which was at once frank and touching, she put her arms about his neck and kissed him on the mouth.

“Go along,” she said, stroking his bewildered face with her virginal, motherly hands. “Go to your father. That is the most hallowed way. I shall go to the children as soon as my clothes are a little dryer. For I’m afraid,” she added with a smile which made Freder blush to his eyes, “numerous as the women are who live in the House of the Sons, and willing and eager as they may be, not one of them has a dress she could lend me!”

Freder stood bending over her with lowered eyes. The flames of the huge fire glowed upon his handsome, open face, which wore an expression of shame and sadness. But when he raised his glance to meet Maria’s eyes, which were silently fixed upon him, without saying a word he took her hands and pressed them against his eyelids, remaining thus for a long time.

And all this while they both forgot that, on the other side of the wall which was protecting them, a city was throbbing in grisly conflict, and that among the ruins thousands of beings, themselves but ruins, hurled hither and thither, were losing their reason, and perishing, tortured by deadly fear.

The voice of the Archangel Michael, coming from the cathedral, recalled them to consciousness of the hour, and they parted hurriedly, as if caught neglecting their duty.

Maria listened to the man’s retreating step. Then she turned and looked about her.

What a strange sound the Michael bell had. The bell was calling so furiously — so agitatedly, as though to tumble over at every peal.

Maria’s heart became an echo of the bell. It fluttered in its piteous fear, which had no source other than the general vibration of terror above the town. Even the warming flames of the fire frightened her, as if they had some knowledge of secrets of horror.

She sat up and put her feet to the ground. She felt the hem of her dress. It was still rather wet, but she would go now. She took a few steps through the dimly lighted room. How brown the air was outside the windows. She hesitatingly opened the nearest door and listened.

She was standing in the room in which she had stood on the day when she saw Freder for the first time, when she had led the train of little, gray child-spectres to those who were carefree and joyous — when she had called to Freder’s heart with her gentle:

“Look, these are your brothers!”

But of all the dearly beloved sons of boundlessly wealthy fathers, to whom this house belonged, not one was to be seen. They must have left the tottering town long ago.

Sparsely distributed candles were burning, giving the room an inward coziness and a warm air of comfort. The room was filled with the tender twittering of sleepy child-voices, chattering like swallows before they fly to their nests. Answering them in tones which were but little darker, came the voices of the beautiful, brocaded, painted women, who had once been the playthings of the sons. Equally frightened at the thought of flight as of remaining where they were, they eventually stayed in the House of the Sons, being still undecided; and Maria had brought the children to them, because they could have found no better refuge; for by the beautiful and dreadful chance of all that had taken place, the troupe of loving little harlots became a troupe of loving little mothers, burning with a new fire in the execution of their new duties.

Not far from Maria the little drink-mixer was kneeling, washing the skinny slender-limbed body of Grot’s daughter, who was standing in front of her. But the child had taken the sponge from her hand, and, without saying a word, proceeding with intense gravity, was thoughtfully and untiringly washing the beautiful, painted face of the drink-mixer.

The girl knelt quite still, her eyes closed; neither did she move when the child’s hands began to dry her face with the rough towel. But Grot’s daughter was not quite successful in this undertaking; for whenever she dried the girl’s cheeks, again and again did the swift, bright drops run over them. Until Grot’s daughter dropped the towel to look at the girl who was kneeling before her inquiringly, and not without reproach. Upon which the girl caught the child in her arms, pressing her forehead to the heart of the silent creature, uttering to this heart words of love which she had never found before.

Maria passed by with soundless step.

But when the door to the hall, into which no noise from the noisy Metropolis could penetrate, closed behind her, the ore-voice of the angel of the cathedral struck at her breast like a fist of steel, that she stood still, stunned, raising her hands to her head.

Why was Saint Michael crying out so angrily and wildly? Why was the roar of Azrael, the angel of Death joining in so alarmingly?

She stepped into the street. Darkness, like a thick layer of soot, lay over the town, and only the cathedral shimmered ghost-like, a wonder of light, but not of grace.

The air was filled with a spectral battle of discordant voices. Howling, laughing, whistling, were to be heard. It was as though a gang of murderers and robbers were passing by in the unrecognizable depths of the street. Mingled with them, shrieks of women, wild with excitement.

Maria’s eyes sought the New Tower of Babel. She had only one way in her mind: to Joh Fredersen. She would go there. But she never went.

For suddenly the air was a blood-red stream, which poured itself forth, flickering, formed by a thousand torches. And the torches were dancing in the hands of beings who were crowding out of Yoshiwara. The faces of the beings shone with insanity, every mouth parted in a gasp, yet the eyes which blazed above them were the bursting eyes of men choking. Each was dancing the dance of death with his own torch, whirling madly about, and the whirl of the dancers formed a train, revolving in itself.

Maohee!” flew the shrill cries above it. “Dance — dance — dance — Maohee!

But the flaming procession was led by a girl. The girl was Maria. And the girl was screaming with Maria’s voice, “Dance — dance — dance — Maohee!

She crossed the torches like swords above her head. She swung them right and left, brandishing them so that showers of sparks fell about the way. Sometimes it seemed as if she were riding on the torches. She raised her knees to her breast, with laughter which brought a moan from the dancers of the procession.

But one of the dancers ran along at the girl’s feet, like a dog, crying incessantly, “I am Jan! I am Jan! I am the faithful Jan! Hear me at last, Maria!”

But the girl struck him in the face with her sparkling torch.

His clothes caught fire. He ran for some time, a living torch, along by the girl. His voice sounded as if from the blaze, “Maria! Maria!

Then he swung himself up on to the parapet of the street and hurled, a streak of fire, into the blackness of the depths.

“Maohee! Maohee!” called the girl, shaking her torch.

The procession was endless. The procession was endless. The street was already covered, as far as the eye could see, with circling torches. The shrieks of the dancers mixed themselves sharply and shrilly with the angry voices of the archangels of the cathedral. And behind the train, as though tugged along by invisible, unbreakable cords, there reeled a girl, the damp hem of the hose dress lashed about her ankles, whose hair was falling loose under the clawing fingers which she pressed to her head, whose lips babbled a name in ineffectual entreaty, “Freder… Freder…”

The smoke-swaths from the torches hovered like the gray wings of phantom birds above the dancing train.

Then the door of the cathedral was opened wide. From the depths of the cathedral came the rushing of the organ. There mixed itself in the fourfold tone of the archangel bells, in the rushing of the organ, in the shrieks of the dancers, an iron-tramping, mighty choir.

The hour of the monk Desertus had come.

The monk Desertus was leading on his own.

Two by two walked those who were his disciples. They walked on bare feet, in black cowls. They had thrown their cowls back from their shoulders. They carried the heavy scourges in both hands. They swung the heavy scourges in both hands, right and left, right and left, upon the bare shoulders. Blood trickled down from the scourged backs. The Gothics sang. They sang to the time of their feet. To the time of their scourge strokes did they sing.

The monk Desertus was leading the Gothics on.

The Gothics bore a black cross before them. It was so heavy that twelve men had to carry it, pantingly. It swayed, held up by dark cords.

And on the cross hung the monk Desertus.

The black flames of the eyes in the flame-white face were fixed upon the procession of dancers. The head was raised. The pale mouth was opened.

See!” shouted the monk Desertus in a voice which all-powerfully rang out, the fourfold tone of the archangel bells, the rushing of the organ, the choir of scourge-swingers, and the shrieks of the dancers. “See! Babylon, the great! The Mother of Abominations! Doomsday is breaking! The destruction of the world!”

Doomsday is breaking! The destruction of the world!” chanted the choir of his followers after him.

“Dance — dance — dance — Maohee!” shrieked the voice of the girl leading the dancers. And she swung her torches over her shoulders, and hurled them far from her. She tore her gown from shoulders and breasts, standing, a white torch, stretching up her arms and laughing, shaking her hair, “Dance with me, Desertus — dance with me!

Then the girl, dragging herself along at the end of the train, felt that the cord, the invisible cord upon which she was hanging, snapped. She turned around and began, not knowing whither to run — only to get away — only to get away — no matter where to — only to get away!

The streets flashed by in a whirl. She ran and ran, down and down, and at last she saw, running along the bottom of the street and towards her, a wild mob of people, saw, too, that the men wore the blue linen uniform and sobbed in relief, “Brothers — brothers!

And stretched out her hands.

But a furious roar answered her. Like a collapsing wall, the mass hurled itself forward, shook itself loose, and began to tear along, roaring loudly.

There she is! There she is! The bitch, who is to blame for it all! Take her! Take her!

The women’s voices shrieked, “The witch! Kill the witch! Burn her before we all drown!

And the trampling of running feet filled the dead street, through which the girl fled, with the din of hell broken loose.

The houses flashed by in a whirl. She did not know the way in the dark. She sped on, running aimlessly in a blind horror, which was the deeper for her not knowing its origin.

Stones, cudgels, fragments of steel, flew at her from behind. The mob roared in a voice which was no longer human, “After her! After her! She’ll escape us! Quicker! Quicker!

Maria could no longer feel her feet. She did not know if she was running on stones or water. Her panting breath came through lips which stood apart as those of one drowning. Up streets, down streets… A twirling dance of lights was staggering across the way, far ahead of her. Far away, at the end of the enormous square, in which Rotwang’s house also lay, the mass of the cathedral rested upon the earth, weighty and dark, yet showing a tender, reassuring shimmer, which fell through cheerful stained-glass windows and through open portal, out into the darkness.

Suddenly breaking out into sobs, Maria threw herself forward with her last, entirely despairing strength. She stumbled up the cathedral steps, stumbled through the portal, perceived the odor of incense, saw little, pious candles of intercession before the image of a gentle saint who was suffering smilingly, and collapsed onto the flags.

She no longer saw how, at the double opening of the street which led to the cathedral, the stream of dancers from Yoshiwara coincided with the roaring stream of workmen and women, did not hear the bestial shriek of the women at the sight of the girl who was riding along on the shoulders of a dancer — who was torn down, overtaken, captured, and stamped to earth — did not see the short, ghastly hopeless conflict of the men in evening dress with the men in blue linen — nor the ridiculous fight of the half-naked women before the claws and fists of the workmen’s wives.

She lay in deep oblivion, in the great, mild solemnity of death, and from the depths of her unconsciousness she was not awakened even by the roaring voice of the mob which was erecting a bonfire for the witch before the cathedral.

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