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Chapter 36

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« on: March 10, 2023, 02:15:41 am »

MARK woke in a room full of light. Since there was light, he could not be blind, though his eyes were bandaged. He could still feel their savage thrusts against his lids. A long shudder shook him, but pain warned him not to let himself shudder again. He could not move his head or his legs. Fever and thirst filled his consciousness. All his body was in a dull bruised state of massive pain. He could hear Ida’s voice a long way off, saying over and over again, “Drink this! Drink this!” but he could not tell what she meant until at last his throat swallowed, and his thirst slackened. He felt the touch of her hands, and heard her say, “It is all right now, Mark! It is quite all right!” But afterwards nightmares, restless, endless nightmares came and went. Franz Josef the bull was kneading the life out of him. Interminable steps crept up interminable stairs hunting him. The reeds in the Neusiedlersee, sharp as thorns, were seizing hold of him while the mud sucked him down and the Bezzeghys safe on the bank were laughing at him. He wanted to reach them but at the same time he wanted to get away from them. Mark was not sure of himself or of anything. He could hear Ida speaking to him again, but her words beat against his head like the wings of frightened birds; they had no sense or meaning, only her voice reassured him. He knew he was alive now. It was a curious feeling to be himself again; and yet not to be sure what was left of himself. He was without wants. Nor was he afraid. He was too weak to be afraid. He was simply alive. “Mark,” Ida said, “you can hear me now?” From an incredible distance, he heard a low, uncertain voice saying “Yes!” Ida leaned nearer him.

“You are quite safe now,” Ida told him. “We are both quite safe. You must just sleep and eat. You must get strong.” She seemed to want those things with a curious urgency. He was not sure how much time had passed or whether it was night or morning, when he first saw her face. He could even move his stiffened lips to say her name.

“Mark---mein lieber Mark!” Ida murmured. “You have come back very cleverly! But not too neatly you understand. Still there is nothing wrong with you that time will not mend. One leg and one arm are broken---two ribs cracked. There are sixteen stitches on the left side of your head and several teeth gone---but all your organs are intact---the eyes will heal---the other troubles will mend! But do not expect rapture---either on my part or on yours, because, for the moment, you will not get it!”

“Yes, it is Ida!” Mark murmured trying to smile.

“With a broken jaw one does not smile,” Ida reminded him sternly, “nor can you talk at present, but you can listen a little! Both of us are for the moment quite safe. You are in Felix’s old room---and far away from all ears and eyes but my own and Johann’s. Astonishing as it may sound it is true. Nothing could well have been better than that the Nazis themselves should have done me the service of bringing you back here. Dr. Lauterbach accompanied you from Innsbruck. You have had---you may like to know---simply a very severe ski-ing accident. A posse of young S.A. men found you and rescued you on the mountainside---fortunately you were immediately identified, and brought here by ambulance. Apparently we owe a great deal of our security to Pirschl for dying at an opportune moment---and of course to the Führer for having publicly shown a belated tenderness for his memory. Otherwise your ski-ing accident might have been fatal! I too am very secure. The story told by my father of the Spanish horses went down very well indeed with the Gestapo. I am still in disgrace but of a mild kind. It is not suspected that I am not a good German---but merely that I may be too good a horsewoman! Naturally Rennenkampf did all he could to ruin me---and indeed that was in their eyes a more serious business, for though they believe him to be insane, they do not altogether disbelieve his accusations against my faulty methods of control. He accused me of playing at my profession and of making everything too soft and comfortable all round. He has gone to his own country now and into a place of terrifying strictness run on lines that may very well suit him better than ours. But alas! some of this strictness, some of this German ‘terror’ method has crept into my Nervenheilanstalt in spite of me. Even my father cannot help it---if he would. Dr. Lauterbach visits us oftener and the Gestapo have given me a colleague very appropriately called Dr. Wolf. It would be simpler if he fell in love with me, but unfortunately he likes his women tender and fat!” Ida’s eyes sparkled so brilliantly that Mark did not at once notice how thin her face was or how deep the hollows had grown beneath her temples. Her skin had an almost transparent whiteness against the red-brown of her hair. “Before I leave you,” Ida said after a pause, “you may tell me just three things. Are you in any danger that I do not know? Did you in spite of the Gestapo accomplish what you set out to do? and the third thing---I should hesitate perhaps to ask you since even in your delirium you have not mentioned it, do you feel for me still anything that you should not feel? If your jaw is too stiff for speech---it is enough that you nod or shake your head as I ask these questions. Well---you are not in danger then? You fulfilled your mission? And you feel for me all that you should not feel? That is very satisfactory! Perhaps if I had any heart I should talk not of ourselves but of Pirschl, but to-day I do not want to talk of him. He is out of their hands at any rate and at peace. Let us talk of ourselves. You are really safe, Mark?”

“I am safe enough,” Mark said stiffly and slowly with long pauses between his words. “I handed over my notes to a man I trust. I think they will get out. I saw a---lot of things in Berlin---and I travelled. The Reich---is very strong and bigger than I remembered. Almost everyone is for the Nazis! You can’t help it somehow---it’s like---like a fog pressing down---only here and there---an island---a man like an island---stands out---and then he---he sinks---they get him under!” his voice trailed off and Ida watched the terror growing in his eyes.

“Fever!” she said softly. “Fever, my dear fellow! Those things you saw, they are not so strong as you fancy. To be base is never quite strong enough!”

“Dreadful!” Mark persisted. “Pirschl---dreadful!”

“Pirschl was a very great artist,” Ida said gently. “He saw too much. He saw what he could not control. Beyond what you and I can see---beyond anything perhaps there is to see---Pirschl saw! He did not die without telling what he saw in his pictures. No one can hurt him again; no one can deny the truth of his pictures!”

Mark’s eyes, fixed on hers, tried still to read something he could only grope for. “Karl,” he whispered at last. “Karl and Gerda---could we be together like them?”

Ida knitted her brows together. “You want us to be that?” she asked softly, for, as she did not know who Karl and Gerda were, she was anxious not to make a mistake about them. Her hand on Mark’s wrist felt the fever rising and throbbing in his veins. Mark tried to move his head in assent, but found it too heavy. His lips were too stiff and broken for more speech, only his eyes entreated Ida. “Yes, I think so,” Ida told him softly. “Yes, I think we could be like Karl and Gerda---only now you must sleep; and I must leave you till to-morrow! To-morrow! Think how lucky we are to have to-morrow!” His eyes still tried to follow Ida as she rose and slipped away; but her figure even before she had moved became a shadow. He was no longer sure that she had ever been there. He was sure only of heat and thirst, and a vast sense of power used against him, impossible to shift or move. The power had no face, it beat blows down upon him---it pressed against his chest and made breathing difficult. It closed his eyes. He saw nothing under his shut lids but a cruel hard red light. The red light pursued him down a dark tunnel. He could not tell which was the more terrible, the intense darkness of the tunnel into which he ran, or the red light pursuing him.

At last the light went out suddenly, and the darkness swallowed him; swallowed him whole---so that he was no longer able to judge whether it was terrible or not.

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