The Strangling Hand
by Karl Hans Strobl
translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright Joe E. Bandel
The Strangling Hand Ch 1 pg 25–32
He appeared entirely absorbed in himself, unapproachable, unmoving like the statue of a god, behind whose stone face wild lechery lurked and whose body was completely filled with a tense power. Out of the rich treasures portrayed in the works of the poet which she had inherited, was an image that seemed to attach itself to this man, this emissary. It was the image of the Asian despot, ruler over millions of slaves as he crowded them closely together in order to transport them.
The curtain moved a little, the stranger glanced in her direction and without embarrassment gave up his comfortable posture and stood up.
“I was not announced, gracious Frau, my name is Rudolph Hainx.”
Frau Emma forced herself to nod, and then with a smile in which the corners of his mouth only lifted a little, he continued:
“I am not a journalist. I must say that first, and when I found a gentleman from the press here I immediately took the opportunity to get rid of him so he would not bother you any more. For that service I must ask you to hear me out.”
“I am prepared to listen to you.”
In the most privileged quarter of our city, there, right where the countryside presses against the city, stands a large garden and villa, one filled with every luxury that there is. The steps are made of Paris marble, and rambling Goldilocks climb upon the walls. The furniture is designed by Riemer-Schmidt and delivered from workshops in the United States. The glasses in the credenza are from Tiffany’s in New York.
In a small room, whose window shimmers with all the colors of the rainbow, you will find a chest, whose drawers protect jewelry created by Lalique. A front room, which is like an atrium, a quadrangle cut from the heavens, is cooled in the summer by one of Hermann Obrist’s elaborate fountains. Now, I know that you love paintings, so I must not forget to say that scattered through separate chambers are paintings by Bocklin, Thoma, Manet and Leibl. The stairs and front hall are filled with acrylics, and one room is decorated with original Hokusai paintings which you love so much. And for evening twilight, to inspire your dreams, is a cabinet with portraits and etchings of genuine Rembrandts.
All of the great arts are allowed to stream through this princely home. You will find a music room and a rich library with rare printings and incunables. There is an ancient Roman bath and a horse stable with English and Arabian race horses. You would not exhaust the riches of this house in an entire year. There are other collections as well that I can’t forget to mention, a weapon collection in one hall and a well organized collection of postage stamps in another.
When you go through a flight of chambers, it is like wandering through the styles and cultures of all times, from ancient Assyrian to the Epoch of Biedermeier, and I will add that the furniture and appliances in this house are not copies, but original working pieces. The gardens around the house consist of individual partitions, in which you will be enchanted by gardening arts of the past. You will find replicas of the hanging gardens of Semiramis and the intricately interlaced and precious Bosketts of Trianon. A crowd of servants will fulfill your every wish.”
“I have listened to you; why are you telling me all of this?”
“On an island in the Adriatic ocean, which has never known winter, is another house which contains all the wonders and hot freedom of paradise, built in the Grecian style. From the columned entrance you can see the ocean, which is more beautiful there than anywhere else, more moody, more moving, with many sleepy colors that awaken to play in the morning and evening. A balcony, high above the rustling tree tops, gives a free view in all directions, and the most difficult and urgent longings will find wings and become more easy and joy filled there. Nothing prevents you from living there in luxurious solitude or reveling with good friends in a Hellenistic kingdom. There in view of the ocean and the heavens you can once more find undespairing joy and build a new radiant temple over the ruins of the past. A boat floats in a little harbor, and reddish purple sails shimmer through the tips of the pines. This boat is similar to the grandness of the ship Agrippa, and like it contains rare luxuries collected together in the smallest spaces.
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I come to offer you this house in the city and the one on the island.”
Frau Emma reeled under the thought, in which she appeared to fall to ruin, torn by blind and senseless forces from the solid stronghold of her newly made plans. What kind of image was this? How could this confusion of colors and brilliance be her future? Really, the description of this magnificence was dangerous. And this offer was not a joke, she could see the seriousness in the unmoving mask of this man, as he now pulled a long paper out of his breast pocket and laid it out on the writing desk.
“It goes without saying, that I would not make this offer without being prepared to also offer you the money needed for all possible trivialities that would allow you to live such a life without a care. Just name an amount, which you think will suffice, and don’t be shy. My offer has only one limit down below, but none above. Speak your fantasy, to arrange a fairy tale of gold. I am authorized to make this check out for any sum which you name.”
“You offer me an immense treasure. I must admit that this has me all confused. What do you want of me? You speak of a contract. What is this contract? Look around you , and you will see my past. What do I have to offer that is worth such a future? Is your offer a gift? Whose gift? And what … My God!…”
“You can call my offer a gift. What is needed is so simple, that there shouldn’t be any problem. Many others would not even stop to consider it, if they were offered millions upon millions. Before I tell you what is needed, I will give you something else to think about. Do the memorials of our past depend upon objects, real things, or rather much more upon tender and incontrovertible memories of real life experiences that can’t be erased?
If Caesar had lost his fame as a warrior, would his glorious past be extinguished; if the manuscript of his memoirs over the Gaullish war had been destroyed in fire; if a thief had stolen the suit of armor, which the commander had worn in the battle against Vercingetorix? Would Tamerlane’s career have been altered, would he have not won as many victories, if the skulls of his demoralized enemies had been allowed to fall from the spear tips, decay and turn to dust?”
“Be silent, be silent, I sense…”
“You have promised to hear me out. I know from the newspapers, that your husband’s will contained a strange order concerning his head. I also know that Eleagabal Kuperus has the capability of fulfilling this wish of the dead. My offer stands therein, to offer you all of these things, which I have previously made an effort to describe to you, in exchange for that head.”
The trembling fingers of Emma played around the heavy bronze sphinx, which lay upon the writing desk. But the eyes of Rudolph Hainx suddenly lit up like flaming stars and forced her glance back down. She didn’t dare look him in the eyes anymore and allowed him to sit back down at the writing desk, pick up the quill and prepare to write. The quill, with which a poet had once written a difficult sonnet, now stood at a steep angle in the hand of this stranger.
Emma had never seen such a hand. It was a cold, scrawny hand, whose sinews suddenly sprang out from the wrist as if they could not wait to elongate into fingers and transmit their command. The fingers were crooked and pointed, and on the wrist, clusters of hair grew in rocky fissures of the wrinkled skin down to the yellow knuckles. It was a gentleman’s hand, that was soft and delicate, with beautiful rounded curves , yet without the gentle swelling of fat that would hinder its grip. It was the hand of a master that lay upon the paper, which stretched tautly, prepared to write down an endless series of numbers. Evil eyes burned like perishing stars over this decisive moment.
“You say that you are making this proposal for someone else. Won’t you tell me who this contract belongs to?”
“I see that it is important for you to know this. You should know that my client has the power to fulfil his promise, but also, that it stands in his power to make being disobedient to his wishes very taxing. He has commanded me to reveal his name in only the most exceptional case. I show you the honor of realizing that your reluctance is so heavy that this exceptional case is needed.”
“– Herr Bezug has sent me to you.”
At that the Frau sprang up to the messenger, tore the quill from out of his hand and threw it to the floor with such violence that it remained stuck upright in a black splotch.
“Get out!” She screamed, “Get out!”
And now she dared look him in the eyes; now he had no more power over her. Rudolph Hainx took his dusty gray gloves from the chair and picked up his hat.
“You will regret this!”
Frau Emma looked around, as if searching for a weapon to use against him. Then she ran to the door of the courtyard and leaned against the iron railing that sagged beneath her weight. She appeared prepared to call the entire house for help against the messenger, to set all the neighbors against him. Rudolph Hainx stepped past without her seeing, an envoy whose deal had been broken, and went forth in order to declare a war. His smooth, immaculate elegance framed the dirty walls of the stairs for a moment as he climbed down, only to once more come into view before crossing the courtyard down below and disappearing out the wide mouth of the main house door.
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