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Good Blood   By: (1845-1909)

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By Ernst Von Wildenbruch

Is it possible that there are people quite free from curiosity? People who can pass on behind any one they see gazing earnestly and intently toward some unknown object without feeling an impulse to stop, to follow the direction of the other's eyes, to discover what odd thing he may be looking at?

For my part, if I were asked whether I counted myself among that class of cold natures, I do not know that I could honestly answer "Yes." At any rate, there was once a moment in my life when I was not only goaded by such an impulse, but when I actually yielded to the temptation and fell into the way of any mere curiosity seeker.

The place in which it happened was in a wine room in the old town where as Referendar {1} I was practising at court; the time was an afternoon in summer.

1 The title conferred in Prussia on the candidate who has passed the first of the two examinations held before appointment as judge.

The wine room, situated on the ground floor of a house in the great square which from the window one could look out upon in every direction, was at this hour nearly empty. To me this was all the more agreeable, for I have ever been a lover of solitude.

There were three of us: the fat waiter, who from a gray, dust covered bottle was pouring out the golden yellow Muscatel into my glass; then myself, who sat in a nook of the cozy, odd cornered room and smacked the fragrant wine; and still another guest, who had taken his place at one of the two open windows, a tumbler of red wine lying before him on the window sill, in his mouth a long brown, smoke seasoned meerschaum cigar holder, out of which he wrapped himself in a cloud of smoke.

This man, who had a long gray beard framing a ruddy face tinged bluish in places, was an old retired colonel, whom every one in town knew. He belonged to that colony of the Superannuated who had settled down in this pleasant place to wearily drag out the end of their days.

Toward noon they could be seen strolling deliberately in groups of twos or threes down the street, shortly to disappear into the wine room, where between twelve and one they assembled at the round table to gossip. On the table stood pint bottles of sourish Moselle, over the table floated a thick mist of cigar smoke, and through the mist came voices, peevish, grating, discussing the latest event in the Army Register.

The old colonel, too, was a regular patron of the wine room, but he never came at the hour of general assembly, but later, in the afternoon.

He was a man of lonely disposition. Rarely was he seen in the company of others; his lodging was in the suburbs on the other side of the river, and from the window of his room one could look out over a wide stretch of meadow land which the river regularly inundated every spring, when it overflowed its banks. Many a time have I passed by his lodging and seen him standing at the window, his bloodshot eyes, rimmed with deep bags beneath, thoughtfully gazing out toward the gray waste of water beyond the embankment.

And now he sits there at the window of the wine room and gazes out upon the square, over whose surface the wind sweeps along in a whirl of dust.

But what is he looking at, I wonder?

The fat waiter, bored to death over his two silent fees, had his attention already drawn toward the colonel's behavior; he stood in the middle of the room, his hands clasped behind the tail of his coat, and was gazing through the other window out on to the square.

Something must surely be going on there.

Quietly as possible, so as not to break the interest of the other two, I rose from my seat. But there was really nothing to be seen. The square was nearly empty; only in the center, under the great street lamps, I noticed two schoolboys who were facing each other in threatening attitude.

Could it be this, then, that so fixed the attention of the old colonel?

But having once begun, such is the nature of man, I could not withdraw my attention before knowing whether this threat of a fight would really swell to an outbreak... Continue reading book >>

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