Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘Magda’
By Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928)
From ‘Heimath’: Translation of Charles-Edward Amory Winslow

VON KELLER—First, you must allow me to express my warmest and most sincere good wishes. This is a surprise which you happily could not have expected. And as a sign of my interest, allow me, my dearest friend, to present you with these modest flowers.  1
  Magda—Oh, how thoughtful!  [Takes the flowers with a laugh, and throws them on the table.]  2
  Von Keller  [in embarrassment]—I—I see with sorrow that you resent this approach on my part. Have I in any way been wanting in the necessary delicacy? In these narrow circles a meeting could not have been avoided. I think it is better, my dearest friend, that we should come to an understanding,—that we should know the relations—  3
  Magda  [rising]—You’re right, my friend. I was not at the height of my own nature just now. Had I been, I might have played the deserted Marguerite to the end. The morals of home had infected me a little. But I am myself again. Give me your hand bravely. Don’t be afraid, I won’t harm you. So—tight—so!  4
  Von Keller—You make me happy.  5
  Magda—I’ve painted this meeting to myself a thousand times, and have been prepared for it for years. Something warned me, too, when I undertook this journey home—though I must say I hardly expected just here to—Yes, how is it that, after what has passed between us, you came into this house? It seems to me a little—  6
  Von Keller—I tried to avoid it until quite recently; but since we belong to the same circles, and since I agree with the views of this family—that is, at least in theory—  7
  Magda—Yes, yes. Let me look at you, my poor friend. How you have changed!  8
  Von Keller  [laughing nervously]—I seem to have the misfortune to make a rather absurd figure in your eyes.  9
  Magda—No, oh, no! I can see it all. The effort to keep worthy of respect under such difficulties, with a bad conscience, is awkward. You look down from the height of your pure atmosphere on your sinful youth,—for you are called a pillar, my dear friend.  10
  Von Keller  [looking at the door]—Pardon me—I can hardly accustom myself again to the affectionate terms. And if any one should hear us—Would it not be better—  11
  Magda  [sadly]—Let them hear us.  12
  Von Keller  [at the door]—Good Heavens! Well  [sitting down again], as I was saying, if you knew with what real longing I look back from this height at my gay, discarded youth—  13
  Magda  [half to herself]—So gay,—yes, so gay.  14
  Von Keller—Well, I felt myself called to higher things. I thought— Why should I undervalue my position? I have become Councillor, and that comparatively young. An ordinary ambition might take satisfaction in that. But one sits and waits at home, while others are called to the ministry. And this environment, conventionality, and narrowness, all is so gray,—gray! And the ladies here—for one who cares at all about elegance—I assure you something rejoiced within me when I read this morning that you were the famous singer,—you to whom I was tied by so many dear memories and—  15
  Magda—And then you thought whether it might not be possible with the help of these dear memories to bring a little color into the gray background?  16
  Von Keller  [smiling]—Oh, pray don’t—  17
  Magda—Well, between old friends—  18
  Von Keller—Really, are we that, really?  19
  Magda—Certainly, sans rancune. Oh, if I took it from the other standpoint, I should have to range the whole gamut,—liar, coward, traitor! But as I look at it, I owe you nothing but thanks, my friend.  20
  Von Keller  [pleased but confused]—This is a view which—  21
  Magda—Which is very convenient for you. But why should I not make it convenient for you? In the manner in which we met, you had no obligations towards me. I had left my home; I was young and innocent, hot-blooded and careless, and I lived as I saw others live. I gave myself to you because I loved you. I might perhaps have loved any one who came in my way. That—that seemed to be all over. And we were so happy,—weren’t we?  22
  Von Keller—Ah, when I think of it, my heart seems to stop beating.  23
  Magda—There in the old attic, five flights up, we three girls lived so merrily in our poverty. Two hired pianos, and in the evening bread and dripping. Emmy used to warm it herself over the oil-stove.  24
  Von Keller—And Katie with her verses! Good Lord! What has become of them?  25
  MagdaChi lo sà? Perhaps they’re giving singing-lessons, perhaps they’re on the stage. Yes, we were a merry set; and when the fun had lasted half a year, one day my lover vanished.  26
  Von Keller—An unlucky chance, I swear to you. My father was ill. I had to travel. I wrote everything to you.  27
  Magda—H’m! I did not reproach you. And now I will tell you why I owe you thanks. I was a stupid, unsuspecting thing, enjoying freedom like a runaway monkey. Through you I became a woman. For whatever I have done in my art, for whatever I have become in myself, I have you to thank. My soul was like—yes, down below there, there used to be an Æolian harp which was left moldering because my father could not bear it. Such a silent harp was my soul; and through you it was given to the storm. And it sounded almost to breaking—the whole scale of passions which bring us women to maturity,—love and hate and revenge and ambition  [springing up], and need, need, need—three times need—and the highest the strongest, the holiest of all, the mother’s love!—All I owe to you.  28
  Von Keller—What—what do you say?  29
  Magda—Yes, my friend, you have asked after Emmy and Katie. But you haven’t asked after your child.  30
  Von Keller  [jumping up and looking about anxiously]—My child!  31
  Magda—Your child? Who calls it so? Yours? Ha, ha! Dare to claim portion in him and I’ll kill you with these hands. Who are you? You’re a strange man who gratified his lust and passed on with a laugh. But I have a child,—my son, my God, my all! For him I lived and starved and froze and walked the streets; for him I sang and danced in concert-halls,—for my child who was crying for his bread!  [Breaks out in a convulsive laugh which changes to weeping, and throws herself on a seat, right.]  32
  Von Keller  [after a silence]—I am confounded. If I could have suspected,—yes, if I could have suspected—I will do everything; I will not shrink from any reparation. But now, I beg you to quiet yourself. They know that I am here. If they saw us so, I should be—[correcting himself]  you would be lost.  33
  Magda—Don’t be afraid. I won’t compromise you.  34
  Von Keller—Oh, I was not speaking for myself, not at all. But just think, if it were to come out, what the town and your father—  35
  Magda—Poor old man! His peace is destroyed, at any rate.  36
  Von Keller—And think! the more brilliantly you are placed now, the more certain is your ruin.  37
  Magda  [madly]—And if I wish for ruin! If I—  38
  Von Keller—For Heaven’s sake, hush! some one’s coming.  39
  Magda  [springing up]—Let them come! Let them all come! I don’t care, I don’t care! To their faces I’ll say what I think of you,—of you and your respectable society. Why should I be worse than you, that I must prolong my existence among you by a lie! Why should this gold upon my body, and the lustre which surrounds my name, only increase my infamy? Have I not worked early and late for ten long years? Have I not woven this dress with sleepless nights? Have I not built up my career step by step, like thousands of my kind? Why should I blush before any one? I am myself, and through myself I have become what I am.  40
  Von Keller—Good! You may stand there proudly, but you might at least consider—  41
  Magda—Whom?  [As he is silent.]  Whom? The pillar! Ha, ha! The pillar begins to totter! Be easy, my dear friend. I am not revengeful. But when I look at you in all your cowardly dignity—unwilling to take upon you the slightest consequence of your doings, and contrast you with myself, who sank through your love to be a pariah and an outcast— Ah, I’m ashamed of you. Pah!  42
  Von Keller—For Heaven’s sake! Your father! If he should see you like this!  43
  Magda  [in agony]—My father!  [Escapes through the door of the dining-room, with her handkerchief to her face.]
[Enter Schwartze, happy and excited, through the hall-door.]
  Schwartze—Ah, my dear Councillor—was that my daughter who just disappeared?  45
  Von Keller  [in great embarrassment]—Yes it was—  46
  Schwartze—Why should she run away from me? Magda!  47
  Von Keller  [trying to block his path]—Had you not better— The young lady wished to be alone for a little!  48
  Schwartze—Now? Why? When one has visitors, one does not— Why should she—  49
  Von Keller—She was a little—agitated.  50
  Schwartze—Agitated?  51
  Von Keller—Yes; that’s all.  52
  Schwartze—Who has been here?  53
  Von Keller—No one. At least, as far as I know.  54
  Schwartze—Then, what agitating things could you two have to talk about?  55
  Von Keller—Nothing of importance,—nothing at all, I assure you.  56
  Schwartze—What makes you look so, then? You can scarcely stand.  57
  Von Keller—I? Oh, you’re mistaken, you’re mistaken.  58
  Schwartze—One question, Councillor— You and my daughter— Please sit down.  59
  Von Keller—My time is unfortunately—  60
  Schwartze  [almost threatening]—I beg you to sit down.  61
  Von Keller  [not daring to resist]—Thank you.  [They sit.]  62
  Schwartze—You met my daughter some years ago in Berlin?  63
  Von Keller—Yes.  64
  Schwartze—Councillor von Keller, I know you to be as discreet as you are sensible; but there are cases in which silence is a crime. I ask you—and your life-long relations with me give me the right to ask, as well as the mystery—which just now— In short, I ask you, Do you know anything discreditable about my daughter’s life there?  65
  Von Keller—Oh, for Heaven’s sake, how can you—  66
  Schwartze—Do you know how and where she lived?  67
  Von Keller—No. I am absolutely—  68
  Schwartze—Have you never visited at her house?  69
  Von Keller  [more and more confused]—No, no, never, never!  70
  Schwartze—Not once?  71
  Von Keller—Well, I called on her once; but—  72
  Schwartze—Your relations were friendly?  73
  Von Keller—Oh, entirely friendly—of course, only friendly.  [A pause.]  74
  Schwartze  [passes his hand over his forehead, looks earnestly at Von Keller; then, speaking absently]—So? Then, honestly—if it might be—if—if—  [Gets up, goes to Von Keller, and sits down again trying to quiet himself.]  Dr. von Keller, we both live in a quiet world, where scandals are unknown. But I have grown old, very old. And therefore I can’t—can’t control my thoughts as I should. And I can’t rid myself of an idea which has—suddenly—taken possession of me. I have just had a great joy which I don’t want to be embittered. But, to quiet an old man, I beg you—give me your word of honor that—  75
  Von Keller  [rising]—Pardon me, this seems almost like a cross-examination.  76
  Schwartze—You must know, then, what I—  77
  Von Keller—Pardon me, I wish to know nothing. I came here innocently to make a friendly visit, and you have taken me by surprise. I will not be taken by surprise.  [Takes his hat.]  78
  Schwartze—Dr. von Keller, have you thought what this refusal means?  79
  Von Keller—Pardon me, if you wish to know anything, I beg you to ask your daughter. She will tell you what—what— And now you must let me go. You know where I live. In case—I am very sorry it has happened so: but—Good-day, Colonel!  [Exit.]  80
  Schwartze  [after brooding for a time]—Magda!  81
  Marie  [running in anxiously]—For Heaven’s sake, what’s the matter?  82
  Schwartze  [chokingly]—Magda,—I want Magda.  83
  Marie  [goes to the door and opens it]—She’s coming now—down the stairs.  84
  Schwartze—So!  [Pulls himself together with an effort.]  85
  Marie  [clasping her hands]—Don’t hurt her!
[Pauses with the door open.  Magda is seen descending the stairs.  She enters in traveling-dress, hat in hand, very pale, but calm.]
  Magda—I heard you call, father.  87
  Schwartze—I have something to say to you.  88
  Magda—And I to you.  89
  Schwartze—Go in—into my room.  90
  Magda—Yes, father.  [She goes to the door, left.]
[Schwartze follows her.  Marie, who has drawn back frightened to the dining-room door, makes an unseen gesture of entreaty.]

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