CARL AND ANNA
By LEONHARD FRANK
Translated into Basic English By
L. W. LOCKHART
Released in the United States as "Beloved Stranger"
Away over the far-off curve of the Earth, which was the limit of the steppe somewhere between Europe and Asia; there came into view a point smaller than a song-bird. And though it was coming in the direction of the two men at almost a hundred miles an hour, it seemed to be without motion, for ever in the same position in the blue distance, so wide was the stretch of earth and sky, so without limit.
Though it was moving forward at so great a rate, almost a quarter of an hour had gone by before it was possible to make out the lines of an airplane, and it kept the same distance from the earth all the time, it seemed to be going up in a great curve.
Balanced high in the heat mist, over the two men, the airman saw, looking down on the steppe, a great black mark like two lines going across one another, very long and very wide, formed by the long, deep holes hollowed out by the two men in the black earth of the steppe.
The airman had no idea of the purpose of these holes in the middle of the steppe far from the houses of men. He went on into the West, ever keeping the same distance up, but seeming now to be slipping down in a great curve nearer and nearer to the Earth. a quarter of an hour more, and again the size of a small bird, he went from view over the edge of the steppe.
The two men were, as before, by themselves in the quiet space.
They had no more knowledge than the man in the plane of the purpose of the holes. It seemed to them that possibly they might have been designed for making a wall, so that in time of need one would be able to let water in on the steppe against oncoming armies.
At the start of the war when they were first made prisoners, they had been sent here with food, which later came to them month by month, and a small building of iron easily taken to pieces ; and for four summers they had been at work with their spaces, with no one in authority over them. Frequently they took long rests ; sometimes they would let half the days go by, sleeping in the grass ; but in the end they had always gone back to work. for a man has to do something.
All the time birds went back and forward, looking for food. There seemed to be a great quiet in the thousand-voiced, ever-changing music of the grass-insects, as though the Earth had come to the middle point of existence, and was waiting with ears wide open. The pickaxe went through a worm, cutting it in half. Lifting the half worm out of the earth, the man sent it up into the air. It was taken by a bird in flight.
"My place was on the inside of the bed, by the wall, and hers on the outside ; and when she got up in the morning she did so without me hearing her. she was very quiet, do you see ? -- so very, very quiet."
"You have said that before. You would not get up before the whistle of the gas-flame come to your ears."
"That is so ; every time it made the same note. Frequently I was going to put it right. But then I had to go to the war." The married man went on with his work. The hair on his face was long, and uncared for.
His friend was stretched out on the grass near him. He took a piece of grass in his mouth, and then another.
"The question I frequently put to myself is, 'Why is it that the upper part of her body is so white, and the rest of her body and her legs a so much deeper color?'" And when the married man made no answer :
"Like copper, you say ?"
"When you have her, you have no thought of anything but her."
Half an hour later, without any cause so it seemed, the cloud of birds took wing, and came down at a point farther off from the two men. Then they came back to them. Again they did this, and again. So great was their number that the sky was almost shut out when they were in flight.
The man went on talking, "But that is almost four years back. Sometimes the memory of her goes completely. I am unable to see her face, quite unable to see it ! It all gets clouded, Carl. But when she comes to me in sleep, she is so living, it would be possible to have the feeling that one was touching her."
"I've got a clear picture of her. Everything !" . . . and what sort of woman she is. Everything !"
"But you have not ever seen her . . . I would be with her in such a short time if I was in that airplane, though she is so far off . . . Who is able to put up with so much ? Four years !"
"At least there is somebody living who has you in her thoughts."
"Yes, that's so. That's very true."
"Someone who's there, waiting for you. but I -- when I let myself have such thoughts -- there's nothing there at all."
"Yes, she's waiting. If she's living after all these years."
"She's living," the other quickly made answer. And, seating himself in the grass again, he let his eyes go out across the steppe. He saw the woman he had not seen. He saw her dusting the furniture in the little room he had not ever been in, saw her go across to the day-bed and make the cover smooth. There she was, bent down over it. The bed came out at an angle into the room. So detailed was his knowledge. And he saw the color of the cover and the design on it.
"Richard ! If she was here now, married to you, would you -- Richard, would you let me have her, for one time only ?"
The married man put his two hands on the spade, and his chin came to rest on them. "If she was here now --" He was unable to take in the idea.
"Give me an answer."
For a long time he kept his eyes on the man at his side. "Possibly -- because we are in the same trouble together. For one time. . . . Possibly. . . . But if you made a second attempt, you would get your head smashed in with this pickaxe."
"The gas ! Does it make the same noise as before
The grass became shaded by a cloud. The song of the insects seemed to go farther and farther off into the steppe, and at last was out of hearing. From quite near by came one short note. The last insect came to the end of its song. In the complete quiet the two men were suddenly conscious of the rhythm of their blood. In the distance, the rays of the sun made parts of the steppe like brightly flaming gold.
The sun overcame the shade of the cloud, lighting up the grass. The summer noise, with its thousand voices, came into being again, now loud, now soft, stretching from one edge of the steppe to the other. Not one blade of grass was moving.
"But Anna would not do it. She is not for other men. . . . I've given you the story of how it was, on our first night together, the trouble I had . She was over twenty-three then -- but I have said all this before. So, you may see for yourself, Carl."
For four long summers, with nothing to take his thoughts off his desires, he had kept no secrets from his friend ; and normally he was a man who said little. Looking back, the worst times seemed in some way happy, the hard work, day after day, in order that one might have bread and keep a roof over one's head. For now it was being all by oneself that was so hard ; and the present, the weight of it.
Carl, who had gone through all this with him, had knowledge of everything -- that the bed-cushion was in three parts, and the lines of Anna's body curved and well-marked ; that her desires had first to overcome her delicate feelings ; that she was then a woman of power, but that at other times she was very quiet, quick with her fingers, and kept the house clean and in order. The fork for getting the burned-out coals away from the fireplace had a brass hand-piece. Anna had three small birth-marks, brown like a piece of silk. He was able to give the position of the oven, to say where the coal-fork was kept, and where the three marks were. Because he had no one and nothing which was his, the picture of Anna had become clear to him.
"But what if she has not been true to you while you have been away from her, and taken another man ? Four years is a long time, Richard, for a woman whose blood is warm. . . . Possibly you would not be so slow, if there were women in the grass in place of insects."
"Here is something which may be new to you. When Anna and I came into the town, we were able to get a little room, and directly we got it we put furniture into it which we were getting on the part-payment system. A week later I had to go to the war.
You have said all that before. Payments of six marks every month."
"But before the news came that I was to go, we said to ourselves : Now if we keep on to our room, all will be well. And I am certain that Anna has gone on with that idea. She's got no time for those other thoughts. It will take all her care to keep our little place together."
"Perhaps that is why she -----"
"What has that to do with you ? Keep a clean tongue in your head, at least. And as for Anna, I would ----- But I am certain. She would not do a thing like that !" He took up his pickaxe and sent it down violently into the earth.
Desire, without the power to give force to his desire, had frequently made him put all his heart into working at those holes, holes which had no purpose ; and now as he went on, lifting and dropping his pickaxe, his doubts were crushed down by the hard work.
When a boy of two, Carl had made a cart out of his mother's hat. It had long bands, and he had put himself like a horse between the bands and gone out across the square, through the holes full of rainwater, pulling the new hat after him wherever he went. After that experience his power of making thought-pictures had given him more pain than pleasure. Resting where he was, not moving, all sorts of fears came into his head. Then the sun went down, and Richard's pickaxe, lifted up in the air, made a great shade outline on the grass.
The west was flaming with the fires of sundown. The red-gold wheel had not quite come to rest on the edge of the steppe. Now, only the points of the grass near the two men were touched by the gold light. Farther on, the steppe was a deep black-green, and in the far east night was coming up into the sky. The noise of the insects seemed out of all control There was a wet smell about the warm air.
Like a good iron-worker who, when his day's work is done, put things ready for the day to come. Richard got all the loose earth out of the hole before he put on his coat.
When they had been walking for a quarter hour, their boots were so wet that they made a noise with every step. The deep color had gone out of the sky. The iron house seemed cold and dead in the gray, unbroken stretch of the steppe.
The morning after they went to the prison buildings to get their food.
They had done the journey every month for four summers, a day's walk there and a day's walk back, one walking in front of the other. The grass came up again after their feet had made it flat. When they had gone there was little sign that they had been that way.
Carl and Richard were metal-workers. One was as tall as the other, and their skin had that dark color common to men of their trade.
At the prison, a group of prisoners were ready to go off somewhere. "We will take one of those two to make up the number," said the man in authority, and gave Richard's name.
Five minutes later, without having had time to say a last work to Carl, he was walking with the others to the railway station, from which all the company was sent some days' journey east.
The day after Richard had gone, Carl made his flight from the prison. The desire for Anna sent him forward on this long journey.
He had made up is mind that he would go into the room to her, and make out that they were married, that he was Richard ; and he had come to this decision because of his fear that if he came to her in any other way he might not be able to keep her for ever. There was no attraction for him n a quickly-ending pleasure. The full need of his being was for someone to whom he would be the living flame, and who would be the living flame to him.
That he was in the same trade, was of the same make of body, had the same colored hair and eyes, the dark skin common to all metal-workers ; and that, like Richard, the lines of hair over his eyes were thick and strongly arched -- these were things to which he gave but a minute's thought.
All the details of Anna's past existence with Richard were as clear to him as if he had taken part in it himself. He was full of Anna's being. In his mind she had become the resting place, which it is the hope of every man to come upon in another. She had his love.
Three months after his flight from the prison, Carl came to the town where Anna was living.
He had made the long journey with the ever-present fear of being made prisoner again, walking by night through woods, going from cover to cover, sometimes in one country, sometimes in another, on foot by the sides of rivers in the bright sun. And all this time he had gone to rest under a roof no more than two or three times..
The first groups of houses on the outer edge of the town came darkly up out of the middle of the newly-cut fields of the Fall. The town was strange to him, but he was quit clear about the look of the house, and had taken note of its number. He would be able to make his way there. It was not far.
A fall of rain at sundown had taken the dust from the face and shoes of the man who was now so near his journey's end. He went into a hair-cutting place, put his little parcel, which was done up in wet newspaper and kept together with a leather band, down on a seat, and put his hat on the parcel.
The hair-cutter put the hat on a hook and with a motion of his hand made Carl take up his position.
All the time he was in prison Carl had taken the hair off of his face every Saturday, and frequently he had said to Richard : "If in the old days you were without hair on your face, and after all these years you go back with that growth, Anna will not take you for the same person at first."
Full of happy thoughts and the high hopes of a man coming back after a long time to the woman who has his love. Carl went quickly down the street to the tall house where Anna had her room. On the street floor there was a small shoe-store.
In the window there were six old shoes, a broken flower-pot turned upside down, and a sleeping cat. The store seemed quite different from Carl's picture if it. Four years back, so Richard had said, there had been in the window at least four hundred new shoes, and there were small blue cards on which the price was marked in great yellow numbers. And right in the very front on a glass plate in the middle there were some out-sized polished boots with bright yellow upper parts, and a card having on it the word 'the latest thing.'
Between then and now there has been the war, was Carl's thought. The thought was like a weight on his stomach but he would have been unable to say why. His pleasure and desire to be with Anna were gone.
"Square two left-hand door, second floor, and second door on the left." As he went up the last two steps, gave a look round, went on for a short distance, and came to the door. He made out the name.
With his mind's eye he saw Anna at work in front of the gas-cooker, saw the back of her neck, and her head bent a little forward. He saw her go over to the table and come back to the cooker. Her motions seemed to come from deep down in her being, controlled and complete ; it was as though he had seen them all before, as though they made up a part of his existence.
Carl had so detailed a knowledge of what Anna was like that if he had seen her only for a minute in a street full of persons, he would have been certain directly that it was she.
Weighted down by his feelings and with doubt in his heart, he put his
great strong workman's hand between his collar and neck. Suddenly he saw himself going down the steps again.
Then, before he was conscious of it, he had made a noise on the door and got it open.
" . . . Anna !"
She came from the window to the middle of the room and took a plate from the table.
And it became clear to him that the most burning thought-picture is not equal to a breathing, moving, living human being, the changes of whose face through the blood have a connection with the living heart, and are themselves a part of living. The form of a human being has separate existence, its motions go through space, cutting their way.
A strange vibration went through Carl's skin. His pleasure was in his eyes. "Anna ! Anna ! Have you no memory of me ?" It was not false.
At the sight of his pleasure, her fear went . . . Pleased that all was well, she said quite openly with a question in her voice, "Who are you ?"
Anna had on a washed-out blue dress made of thick linen. In some places the sun had taken the color out. Her simple, strongly formed face was an example of what all women with force of purpose, warm hearts, and clean thoughts might be like.
As at the hair-cutter's he put his parcel down on the well-used seat, and then put his hat on the parcel.
I will have to take the dirty marks off these seats and give them another coat of paint. I said when we go them that they would not keep their color."
Suddenly it came to Anna that Richard had said this. A troubled look came over her face.
"You haven't seen who I am, then ?"
"Who are you ?"
His face went white to the lips.
She took a step back, supporting herself with one hand on the table.
"The man I am married to ? . . . You are not he."
"Anna !" So great was his feeling that his knees almost gave way. He went two steps and took a seat. "Anna !"
She was moved by the note in his voice. As a woman goes on doing the little things that have to be done, though crushed by a cruel blow, so Anna went to the gas-cooker, put away the salt-box, put together three used matches, and then for some seconds took up a position quite without motion, her head bent.
This position was the very one in which Carl had seen her a short time before, with his mind's eye.
She gave a turn, as though she had been out to another room, and had now come back again into the cooking-room. Points of red had come into her face, coloring her milk-white skin.
She was so true herself that she had to have some belief, thought it was against her better knowledge, in the person who had such a note in his voice. She gave him the look of a woman who is in great danger and unable to do anything to make herself safe.
"Anna," he said, "Anna, have you no belief in me ?" . . . There is no one on earth for me but you."
The warm current of existence was in his smile, and all its pain and pleasure, and for him the false became true, as he said " "You are my woman."
Anna was certain that what he said was not true, and at the same time she had no doubt that his feeling was true. She made no move, but kept quite quiet with her hands folded across the front of her dress. she had been put at a loss by the fact that she had some feeling for the strange man seated there.
She went to the drawer. "Why do you say that ?" Looking in the drawer she came upon an old dirty postcard, and gave it to Carl : "Four years back ! Four years !" And again she took up her old position with her hands folded in front of her.
Carl took the card, which had come from the military authorities. It was a statement of Richard's death at the Front on the 4th September, 1914. Turning the card over, and turning it back again, he went through it a second time, and then a smile came over his face "
"it is all wrong, Anna ; it is all wrong." He put his hand out for hers. "What foolish things they put on paper . . . . Take my word for it."
He was so moved by his feeling and so completely happy that for a second she did not take away her hand. There was fear in her face, and the foolish hope of a woman to whom the belief is possible, a short time after her man's death, that the door will be pushed open and the loved one come in as of old.
She made an attempt to get round the question. "Possibly you are in need of food ?" A second later her thought was " I'll send him away. I'll give a cry and get help from someone near. And all the time she went on cutting the bread. Then she put a knife and fork on the table, and a piece of cold meat on his plate. Would she take the skin off an apple for him ?
"So you've kept the memory of that . . . ?" Quick as thought the blood came to her face. she took the skin off the apple, made it into four, took out the middle piece, automatically, with the air of an expert. It was the first time in his existence that he had been cared for by a woman with whom he was in love.
Looking up, she saw how moved he was, and a little smile sent the serious look from her face. She gave a plate a push a little nearer to him.
"Where is the old fork that had the three points, with the one shorter than the other ?"
She went to the drawer, as if sleeping, and took him the fork.
That's the one," he said, with approval, and his eyes were turned to Anna. She took a seat. Was she sleeping ?
They were seated together under the light. They were cut off from everything outside by four walls. The gas made a noise. To his right was the bed ; to his left the shelf and drawers ; and in front, coming out into the room, the day-bed. The window was small and square. There was a smell of bottled fruit and of the powdered grain from which she made the bread. The six bottles of fruit were ranged like ornaments on a shelf on the wall.
When two persons are together for years, they take on the details of one another's behavior -- motions, words. In taking his food, this man made his bread into long fingers, like Richard. Anna saw this fact with fear and surprise.
she had been so completely shut up in herself for years. and now Carl had come into her existence. she was moved by his needs, his feelings, by everything about him, with the desire for a fuller existence. He was causing feelings with which her reason would have nothing to do. From time to time she let go her thoughts, and had belief.
"I'll have a look for work on Monday, eh ?"
then there will be no need for me to go on at the works, she said to herself. Then everything will be as it was before, better, possibly ---". . . Why do you say you are Richard ? Why do you say that ?"
But, Anna, Anna !"
"He was so dear to me. He was good to me all the time we were together. That memory will be with me for ever. I will not ever put the thought of him from me."
A wave of feeling -- the hate that comes from competition with another -- made him unable to go on with his part naturally. And for the first time he said false things and was conscious that they were false, fearing the loss of the woman who seemed almost to have come to be his.
He gave the plate a push and took a look round.
"The window-curtains are new ? The ones we got together were yellow. the store-keeper said 'They are cheap at the price.' does it come back to you ?"
"Yes, it is all in my memory. How is this possible ?"
"What about the payments on the furniture, Anna ?"
"I've had time to make all the payments in these four years."
He was fingering the hair over his eye, as another man might have done the hair on his lip. It was a way he had got from Richard. Anna saw it with a sense of shock.
"Then it is possible to make a new start now without very much trouble or care. . . . Things will go well now, Anna . . . take a look at me . . . I . . . please, Anna, take a look at me.
Her head went forward on her folded arms.
"You will have to get into the way of it again." Under his hand, moving regularly, delicately over her hair, her body at last became quiet.
She go up. Her face had become soft, and at the same time more at rest. she took the things off the table.
Carl kept quietly at one end of the room, with head bent.
A false word, a false note at that minute, would have made a division between them as sharp as a knife-cut.
From her general behavior -- the way she put the table in order, gave him a quick look now and again for no special reason, got the window shut and the curtains pulled across -- he saw that she had made up her mind to get her position clear in relation to this new event, and to see what was to come of it.
She gave her answers to his questions directly. She was working in a card-box works. She said how much money she was making. While she was talking she took the dead flowers from the two red plants.
Then there was nothing more to do. She was ready to go to bed. She took up a position with her back against the window-shelf.
There was a strange force between them, keeping them parted, like that between two lovers in the early stages of their love-making, when they are by themselves in a room.
I've go thirty-five phennings," he said, with a sudden burst of pleasure, "no more and no less."
Pointing with her finger to the day bed, she said, "You may go to sleep there." and her hand went back quickly to the window-shelf.
When he took his eyes from the day bed to have another look at her, she was at the linen-box. She took the best linen coverings, and put a cover on a cushion from her bed.
"We had better put it against the wall," she said. Together they got the day-bed pushed against the wall. Anna, her body bent over this bed, put the covers straight as he had seen her do when he was thousands of miles off on the steppe.
"I'll put the light out," she said. It was dark by this time.
While taking off his clothes, he came to a stop for a while and kept quite quiet, waiting for the small sounds she made. And she became quiet then as well, with one leg across the other and her hands on the stocking she was pulling down. He was on his back, with his hands under his head, and his eyes and ears open. For a time no sound came to him. "Are you in bed?" He put his question to her again. And from the sound of her "Yes" it was clear that she was resting as he was doing, awake with open eyes.
All round were the noises of the town, a harmony made up of the horns of motors, far and near. Only the room was quiet, deeply quiet.
Fearing the noise she would make with a strange man so near, Anna kept quite quiet in bed, not moving. Only when the sound of his regular breathing came to her ears did she let herself get into a position of greater comfort.
Carl had not gone to bed between clean linen for weeks. The muscles of his legs were moving all the time from being over-tired. The sides of rivers, wide stretches of bright water, stone-faced mountains, black woods, white roads to which there seemed to be no end, far-off view and strong, near details went through his brain, a natural moving-picture, cut into a thousand pieces and put together again anyhow.
Then he saw the country he was in as a boy, so much a part of his sleep experience. A boy again, ten years old, he was walking out of the town with his father across the fields in the direction of a little town placed in the middle of sloping country, in the clear air of a Sunday morning.
They went into the beer-house of the place, and took seats under an old tree. Near by was the garden, bright with flowers. The old farmer went by outside, down the quiet street. He made a motion to them with his head.
Carl's father was laughing with the owner's daughter. He took her by the arm.
"Let go of her," said Carl. "That's Anna."
His father quickly took his hand away. Then the owner's daughter put her arm round Carl's neck, and looking at him like a mother, gave him a great glass of milk.
He came out of his sleep happy and rested, with a sense of everything being well.
Anna was sleeping.
He was moved suddenly by a sense of the dear weight of care he had taken upon himself, and as there came to his ears the sound of a sleeping, breathing being, he became conscious of the strange quality of sleep.
He was overcome by the deep feeling in his heart that existence was good.