by Thea von Harbou
Joh Fredersen came to his mother’s house.
Death had passed over Metropolis. Destruction of the world and the Day of Judgment had shouted from out the roars of explosion, the clanging of the bells of the cathedral. But Joh Fredersen found his mother as he always found her: in the wide, soft chair, by the open window, the dark rug over the paralyzed knees, the great Bible on the sloping table before her, in the beautiful old hands, the figured lace at which she was sewing.
She turned her eyes towards the door and perceived her son.
The expression of stern severity on her face became sterner and more severe.
She said nothing. But about her closed mouth was something which said: “You are in a bad way, Joh Fredersen…”
And as a judge did she regard him.
Joh Fredersen took his hat from his head. Then she saw the white hair above his brow.
“Child!” she said quietly, stretching her hands out towards him.
Joh Fredersen fell on his knees by his mother’s side. He threw his arms about her, pressing his head into the lap, which had borne him. He felt her hands on his hair — felt how she touched it, as though fearful of hurting him, as though this white hair was the mark of an unhealed wound, very near the heart, and heard her dear voice saying:
“Child… My child… My poor child.”
The rustling of the walnut tree before the window filled a long silence with longing and affection. Then Joh Fredersen began to speak. He spoke with the eagerness of one bathing himself in holy water, with the fervor of a conquered one, confessing, with the redemption of one ready to do any penance, and who was pardoned. His voice was soft and sounded as though coming from far away, from the farther bank of a wide river.
He spoke of Freder; then his voice failed him entirely. He raised himself from his knees and walked through the room. When he turned around, there stood in his eyes a smiling loneliness and the realization of a necessary giving-up — of the tree’s giving up of the ripe fruit.
“It seemed to me,” he said, gazing into space, “as though I saw his face for the first time… when he spoke to me this morning. It is a strange face, Mother. It is quite my face — and yet quite his own. It is the face of his beautiful, dead mother, and yet it is, at the same time, fashioned after Maria’s features, as though he were born for the second time of that young, virginal creature. But it is, at the same time, the face of the masses — confident in her, related to her, as near to her as brothers.”
“How do you come to know the face of the masses, Joh?” asked his mother gently.
For a long time Joh Fredersen gave no answer.
“You are quite right to ask, Mother,” he said then. “From the heights of the New Tower of Babel I could not distinguish it. And in the night of lunacy, in which I perceived it for the first time, it was so distorted in its own horror that it no more resembled itself.
“When I came out of the cathedral door in the morning, the masses were standing as one man, looking towards me. Then the face of the masses was turned towards me. Then I saw, it was not old, was not young, was sorrowless and joyless.
“‘What do you want?’ I asked. And one answered:
“‘We are waiting, Mr. Fredersen…’
“‘For what?’ I asked him.
“‘We are waiting,’ continued the spokesman, ‘for someone to come who will tell us what way we should go…'”
“And you want to be this one, Joh?”
“And will they trust in you?”
“I do not know, Mother. If we had been living a thousand years earlier, I should, perhaps, set out on the high road, with pilgrim’s staff and cockle hat, and seek the way to the Holy Land of my belief, not returning home until I had cooled my feet, hot from wandering in the Jordan, and, in the places of redemption, had prayed to the Redeemer. And, if I were not the man I am, it might come to pass that I should set out on a journey along the roads of those who walk in the shadow. I should, perhaps, sit with them in the corners of misery and learn to comprehend their groans and their curses into which a life of hell has transformed their prayers. For, from comprehension comes love, and I am longing to love mankind, Mother. But I believe that acting is better than making pilgrimages, and that a good deed is worth more than the best of words. I believe, too, that I shall find the way to do so, for there are two standing by me, who wish to help me.”
The eyes of the son sought the gaze of the mother.
“Who is the third?”
Joh Fredersen remained silent.
She turned over the pages of her Bible until she found what she sought. It was a letter. She took it and said, still holding it lovingly, “I received this letter from Hel before she died. She asked me to give it you when, as she said, you had found your way home to me and to yourself.”
Soundlessly moving his lips, Joh Fredersen stretched out his hand for the letter.
The yellowish envelope contained but a thin sheet of paper. Upon it stood, in the handwriting of a girlish woman:
I am going to God, and do not know when you will read these lines, Joh. But I know you will read them one day, and, until you come, I shall exhaust the eternal blissfulness in praying God to forgive me for making use of two sayings from His Holy Book, in order to give you my heart, Joh.
One is, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” The other:
“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!”
“Hel.” It took Joh Fredersen a long time before he succeeded in replacing the thin sheet of notepaper in the envelope. His eyes gazed through the open window by which his mother sat. He saw, drawing across the soft, blue sky, great, white clouds, which were like ships laden with treasures from a far-off world.
“Of what are you thinking, child?” asked his mother’s voice, with care. But Joh Fredersen gave her no answer. His heart, utterly redeemed, spoke stilly within him, “Unto the end of the world… Unto the end of the world.”