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The Red Countess

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Hermynia Zur Mühlen

4. Feuilletons and Fairy Tales: A Sampling

High Treason

Hermynia Zur Mühlen
Traduction de Lionel Gossman

Texte intégral

1The uniform hung loose on his long, skinny body. He walked with his shoulders hunched, like some one carrying an enormous load and he shuffled about in his heavy army-issue boots. Everyone made fun of him, mocked his slow speech, the strong Jewish accent with which he spoke Russian, the awkward movements of his perfectly beautiful hands. Impatient officers would yell “Durak” (dumbell, fool) at him more than at anyone else and the name stuck to him. Soon no one knew his real name. In the entire regiment he was known only as “Durak.”

2And yet he was well-liked. If you did not feel well or were homesick, you coud go to “Durak” and get consolation. If you were hungry, you could be sure that “Durak” would share his skimpy ration with you. And rumour had it that you could die more easily, even joyfully, if “Durak” sat at your bedside and held your hand.

3The officers considered him a halfwit. Yet he obeyed orders willingly, if clumsily, and he was touchingly eager to oblige. Once, however, there had been a painful incident. The lieutenant, a good-natured young fellow, ordered “Durak” to do night duty in the sick bay, and “Durak” went there as commanded. He cast a glance at the long row of sighing, groaning bodies and quietly asked the doctor:

4“Nikolai Ivanovitch, would you kindly tell me if these men can be made well again?”

5The plump doctor laughed.

6“Hopefully they can. You must just take good care of them.”

7”And when they are well again, what will happen to them?”

8“What will happen to them? Why, they’ll be ready to be put to work again.”

9“What for?”

10“What for? Why, for the war, you idiot!”

11“I take care of them and make them better, so that they can kill and be killed themselves?”

12“Quite so,” the doctor said, somewhat perplexed.

13Suddenly, in mounting rage, “Durak” tore off his white overall and threw it at the doctor’s feet.

14“I won’t cure murderers!” he screamed in a shrill, breaking voice, “I won’t cure sacrificial animals for the false god Baal.” And he rushed from the room.

15Some time later, his regiment came under fire. A major offensive was ordered for the next morning. The soldiers slunk around despondently. In the general melancholy no one noticed “Durak”’s somber fury. At eight in the evening a solemn religious service was held. In his gleaming robes the Orthodox priest came out of his tent and took up a position on an elevated spot, surrounded by the soldiers. After the prayers he began a speech. He spoke of God’s goodness and the loyalty each soldier owed to the top war commanders. He spoke of the army’s courage. “You are marching forth to destroy the enemies of God and Man,” he said unctuously. “The battle that lies before you is pleasing to God, and…”

16He was interrupted by a piercing cry of “No.” “Durak” was pushing his way through the motionless crowd, a riding whip in his raised hand. He threw himself like a madman on the priest and a whistling sound filled the air as the whip tore through it.

17“You lie, Priest. You blaspheme against God. You turn a place of prayer and spiritual healing into a den of murderers.” He had pushed the priest down and taken his place, His voice rent the darkness.

18“I kept silent because I was afraid, because I knew what would happen to me if I spoke out. But now I have to speak. Hear me, brothers. The battle that lies before us is the work of the devil. We are murderers. We march out with intent to murder. To murder other men. Men like ourselves. And we blaspheme against God when we pray to Him — from Whom we received the command ‘Thou shalt not kill’ — and ask Him to help us murder other human beings. They lie to us when they tell us that the others are our enemies. There are no enemies, only other human beings, children of God, brothers and sisters. March out tomorrow morning, brothers, and when you see the others, throw down your weapons, stretch out your arms to them, and call out “Peace be with you.”

19Led by the lieutenant, several soldiers had pushed their way through the confused crowd of men. “Durak” was set upon and overpowered from behind. Half smothered, his voice still rang out through the hall. “Do not kill! Love one another!”

20This time it was not possible to excuse his behaviour on the grounds that he was mentally confused. Certainly the man was crazy, but on the eve of battle he had called on the soldiers to mutiny. For that there was no pardon. When he was informed that he would be shot within the half-hour, he smiled like someone hearing something old and familiar and spoke the following strange, incomprehensible words:

21“The Third Day is still a long way off. But in the far distance I can already see it dawning.”

***

22A short time later a soldier called the lieutenant from his tent. “Sir, come and see the dead man!”

23“Why? What’s up?” The lieutenant looked in astonishment at the man’s pale, distraught face.

24“It’s… a miracle… I don’t dare to tell you. We pulled off his boots. For it would be a shame to let them go into the ground with him…”

25“And?”

26“Come and see for yourself, Sir.”

27The lieutenant followed the soldier. “Durak” lay stretched out on the ground, his feet bare and his arms spread out. A bullet had hit him on the left side and opened up a gaping wound. With a flashlight, the lieutenant bent over the dead man, then drew back in terror. “Durak”’s hands and feet bore bloody stigmata as if they had been pierced through by something sharp.

28In the darkness a few soldiers fell on their knees and prayed.

Bibliographie

Der rote Heiland (Leipzig-Plagwitz: Verlag Die Wölfe, 1924), pp. 67–70.

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