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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Trial
By Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928)
 
From ‘Dame Care’

THE LAWYER for the defense had ended. A murmur went through the wide court of the assizes, the galleries of which were crammed with spectators.  1
  If the accused did not spoil the effect of the brilliant speech by an imprudent word, he was saved.  2
  The president’s answer resounded unheard.  3
  And now the eye-glasses and opera-glasses began to click. All eyes were directed to the pale, simply clad man who was sitting in the same dock where, eight years ago, the vicious servant had sat.  4
  The president asked whether the accused had anything more to add, to strengthen the proof of his innocence.  5
  “Silence! silence!” was murmured through the court.  6
  But Paul rose and spoke,—first low and hesitatingly, then every moment with greater firmness.  7
  “I am heartily sorry that the trouble my defender has taken to save me should have been useless; but I am not as innocent of the deed as he represents.”  8
  The judges looked at each other. “What is he about? He is going to speak against himself!”  9
  He said: “Anxiety made me nearly unconscious. I then acted in a kind of madness which at that moment rendered me incapable of calculation.”  10
  “He is cutting his own throat!” said the audience.  11
  “I have all my life been shy and oppressed, and have felt as if I could look nobody in the face, though I had nothing to conceal; but if this time I behave in a cowardly manner, I believe I should be less able to do so than ever,—and this time I should have good reason enough for it. My defender has also represented my former life as a pattern of all virtues. But this was not so, either. I lacked dignity and self-possession; I passed over too much as regards both other people and myself: and that has always rankled in my mind, though I was never clear about it. Too much has weighed upon me to enable me ever to breathe freely as a man should, if he does not want to grow dull and care-laden. This deed has made me free, and has given me that which I lacked so long; it has been a great happiness to me: and should I be so ungrateful as to deny it to-day? No; I will not do that. Let them imprison me as long as they like. I shall abide my time and begin a new life.  12
  “And so I must say I have set fire to my belongings in full consciousness; I was never more in my senses than at the moment when I poured the petroleum over my sheaves; and if to-day I were to be in the same position, God knows I should do the same again. Why should I not? What I destroyed was the work of my own hands; I had created it after long years of hard toil, and could do with it what I liked. I well know that the law is of a different opinion, and therefore I shall quietly go to prison for my time. But who else suffered by the injury except myself? My sisters were well provided for, and my father”—he stopped a moment, and his voice shook as he continued—“yes, would it not have been better if my old father had passed the last years of his life in peace and tranquillity with one of his daughters than where I am now going?  13
  “Fate would not have it so. A stroke killed him; and my brothers say that I was his murderer. But my brothers have no right at all to judge about that: they know neither me nor my father. All their lives they have been concerned with themselves only, and have let me alone care for my father, mother, and sisters, house and farm; and I was only good enough when they wanted something. They turn away from me to-day; but they can never be more estranged from me in the future than they have always been in the past.  14
  “My sisters”—he turned towards the witness-box, where Greta and Kate sat crying with covered faces, and his voice grew softer as if from suppressed tears—“my sisters won’t have anything to do with me any more, but I gladly forgive them: they are women, and made of more delicate metal; also, there are two men standing behind them who find it very easy to be indignant at my monstrous deed. They have all abandoned me now;—no, not all,”—a bright look crossed his face,—“but that need not be mentioned here. But one thing I will say, even though I be considered a murderer: I do not repent that my father died through my deed; I loved him more when I killed him than if I had let him live. He was old and weak, and what awaited him was shame and dishonor; he lived such a quiet life, and would have miserably dwindled away here: surely it was better death should come to him like lightning, that kills people in the middle of their happiness. That is my opinion. I have settled it with my conscience, and have no need to render account to any one but to God and to myself. Now you may condemn me.”  15
  “Bravo!” cried a thundering voice in the court from the witness-box.  16
  It was Douglas.  17
  His gigantic figure stood erect, his eyes sparkled beneath his bushy brows; and when the president called him to order, he sat down defiantly and said to his neighbor, “I can be proud of him—eh?”  18
 
 
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