Metropolis, Chapter 21: Saint Michael’s Bell

by Thea von Harbou

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Rotwang awoke, but he knew quite well he was dead. And this consciousness filled him with the deepest satisfaction. His aching body no longer had anything to do with him. That was perhaps the last remains of life. But something worried him deeply, as he raised himself up and looked around in all directions: Hel was not there.

Hel must be found.

Ah, existence without Hel was over at last. A second one? No! Better then to stay dead.

He got up on his feet. That was very difficult. He must have been lying as a corpse for a good long time. It was night, too. A fire was raging out there, and it was all very noisy… shrieking of human beings…

Hmm…

He had hoped to have been rid of them. But apparently the Almighty Creator could not get along without them. Now, but one purpose. He just wanted his Hel. When he had found Hel, he would — he promised himself this! — never again quarrel with the father of all things about anything at all.

So now he went. The door leading to the street was open and hanging crookedly on its hinges. Strange. He stepped in front of the house and looked deliberatingly around. What he saw seemed to be a kind of Metropolis, but a rather insane kind of Metropolis. The houses seemed as though struck still in St. Vitus’ dance. And an uncommonly rough and impolite sort of people was ramping around a flaming bonfire, upon which a creature of rare beauty was standing, seeming to Rotwang to be wondrously at ease.

Ah — it was that, ah, yes — that, in the existence which, thank the Lord, lay far behind him, he had tried to create, to replace his lost Hel — just to make the handiwork of the Creator of the world look rather silly. Not bad for a beginning… hmm… but, good God, compared with Hel, what an object, what a bungle.

The shrieking individuals down there were quite right to burn the thing. Though it appeared to him to be rather a show of idiocy to destroy his test-work. But perhaps that was the custom of the people in this existence, and he certainly did not want to argue with them. He wanted to find Hel — his Hel — and nothing else.

He knew exactly where to look for her. She loved the cathedral so dearly, did his pious Hel. And, if the flickering light of the bonfire did not deceive him — for the greenish sky gave no glimmer — Hel was standing, like a frightened child in the blackness of the cathedral door, her slender hands clasped firmly upon her breast, looking more saint-like than ever.

Past those who were raving around the bonfire — always politely avoiding getting in their way — Rotwang quietly groped his way to the cathedral.

Yes, it was his Hel. She receded into the cathedral. He groped his way up the steps. How high the door looked. Coolness and hovering incense received him. All the saints in the pillar niches had pious and lovely faces, smiling gently as though they rejoiced with him that he was now, at last, to find Hel, his Hel, again.

She was standing at the foot of the belfry steps. She seemed to him to be very pale and indescribably pathetic. Through a narrow window the first pale light of the morning fell upon her hair and brow.

“Hel,” said Rotwang, his heart streaming over; he stretched out his hands. “Come to me, my Hel. How long, how long I had to live without you!”

But she did not come. She started back from him. Her face full of horror, she started back from him.

Hel,” begged the man, “why are you afraid of me? I am no ghost, although I am dead. I had to die, to come to you. I have always, always longed for you. You have no right to leave me alone now! I want your hands! Give them to me!”

But his groping fingers snatched into space. Footsteps were hurrying up the steps of the stone-staircase which led to the belfry.

Something like anger came over Rotwang’s heart. Deep in his dulled and tortured soul reposed the memory of a day upon which Hel had likewise fled from him — to another. No, don’t think, don’t think of it. That was a part of his first existence, and it would be quite senseless to go through the same again — in the other, and, as humanity in general hoped, better world.

Why was Hel fleeing from him? He groped along after her. Climbed up stairs upon stairs. The hastening, frightened footsteps remained constantly before him. And the higher the woman before him fled, the more wildly did his heart beat in this mighty ascent, the redder did Rotwang’s eyes become filled with blood, the more furiously did his anger boil up within him. She should not run away from him — she should not! If only he could catch her by the hand, he would never, never let her go again! He would forge a ring about her wrist with his metal hand — and then she should never try to escape him again… to another!

They had both reached the belfry. They raced along under the bells. He blocked the way to the stairs. He laughed, sadly and evilly.

“Hel, my Hel, you can no longer escape me!”

She made a swift, despairing leap, and hung on the rope of the bell which was called Saint Michael. Saint Michael raised his ore voice, but it sounded as though broken, complaining wildly. Rotwang’s laughter mingled with the sound of the bell. His metal arm, the marvelous achievement of a genius, stretched like the phantom arm of a skeleton far out on the sleeve of his coat and snatched at the bell-rope.

“Hel, my Hel, you can no longer escape me!”

The girl staggered back against the breastwork. She looked around. She was trembling like a bird. She could not go down the stairs. Neither could she go any higher. She was trapped. She saw Rotwang’s eyes and saw his hands. And, without hesitation, without reflection, with a ferocity which swept a blaze of scarlet across the pallor of her face, she swung herself out of the belfry window, to hang upon the steel cord of the lightning conductor.

Freder!” she screamed. “Help me!

Below — far below, near the flaming pyre, lay a trampled creature, his forehead in the dust. But the scream from above smote him so unexpectedly that he shot up, as if under the lash, he sought and he saw.

And all those who had been dancing in wild rings around the bonfire of the witch saw, as he — stiffened — petrified: The girl who hung, swallow-like, clinging to the tower of the cathedral, with Rotwang’s hands stretching out towards her.

And they all heard how, in the shouted answer, “I am coming, Maria, I am coming!” there cried out all the relief and all the despair which can fill the heart of a man to whom Heaven and Hell are equally near.

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