‘Fra Celeste’ by Ricarda Huch – Part Fourteen

What happened with Fra Celeste after all this I know only from rumours, and I will attempt to briefly tell the tale as I pieced it together from various reports.  On leaving Aglaia, he had sought out her doctor, who had previously told him of the hopelessness of her condition, and pressed him as to whether there were truly no means on Earth to save her life.  The doctor said no, on the contrary, he was expecting any day now to be her last, and when Fra Celeste, in whom the dangerous fire had been lit by the conversation with Aglaia, violently retorted that this could not be, that she should and must live, and more of the sort, he shrugged his shoulders in irritation and impatience and said the monk was welcome to try another doctor, he was unable to save her.

At this, as the doctor later told me, Fra Celeste had flown into such a rage that flames almost seemed to spew from his mouth.  Doctors, he said, were the guardians of life, entrusted with the holiest of holies.  For life is the most precious of all possessions, more precious than the eternal flame that priests used to keep safe in their temples.  Back then, death would have punished the perfidious ones who allowed this flame to go out.   Yet the noblest of flames is entrusted to hired hacks, Godless knaves who know not how holy this flame is and care for it with greater negligence than the shepherd does his sheep and geese.  However, he had said in conclusion, if religion and honour and duty aren’t enough to warn you, then fear shall take their place!  At which point this man, beyond comprehension, stood across from the terrified doctor, like a starving lion ready to pounce, and even his voice had taken on the gruesome bellow of this creature of the desert.  As soon as he noticed the doctor’s fear, however, unlike those beasts that then immediately set upon their victim, he halted and, without even looking at him, departed.

From there, he must have taken himself off to Aglaia straight away, for the maid, who indeed had not noticed his arrival, saw him leaving the house barely an hour later.  Shortly afterwards, she found her mistress dead, with a small dagger-like knife, one she used to open books, in her heart.  I have never been able to imagine the proceedings other than as follows; that the desperate man, with his blood still boiling, wished to shorten her torment and complete the unavoidable destruction of his happiness with his own hand; or that he slew his beloved like someone jealously pursuing an unassailable rival for her love, namely Death.  For I find it hard to convince myself that this fearful woman, who had hidden herself in the lap of life like a frightened child, would have brought forward her own demise.  From the fact that she lay there as if sleeping, with no grimace to be seen, it can be deduced that he carried out the deed immediately, before she could suspect his intention; she may, in fact, have even leaned forward expecting her friend’s embrace.

In the customary exhaustion that always followed his rushes of blood, Fra Celeste arrived home, where I was anxiously awaiting him.  Just as after the passing of a storm the Earth emits its most powerful aromas, his heavenly nature now exuded its full warmth, love, holiness and creativity.  With his eyes fixed on the empty brown wall of the room, as if it were a piece of sky lit up in the glowing sunset, he waxed lyrical upon the triviality of life, but in a different manner, and far more gently, than he had done so previously.  He picked life apart like a hundred-petalled rose and let his tears fall onto its tattered scent; he sat there like one who allows gleaming red wine to slowly pour from a glass onto the ground and finally crushes the fine crystal in his hand, so that blood drips down onto the crackling shards.  There was no trace of bitterness in his disdain, merely the regal grief of a ruler who destroys his crown and descends from the throne.

I failed to notice, even though I suspected nothing of what had transpired, that he spoke of Aglaia as of one who had passed away; for I, too, felt that she was no longer of this world.  “If I had read about her and our love in some book,” he said, “would I have been left with anything less?  I would have the memory, but not this terrible yearning.  The stars are no further away from me than she is now.”  And then he spoke of wonderful, dreamlike things, such as that one should reach for the stars, as unattainable as they might seem; for each might attain that which they covet; one gold, another a woman, this one food and drink, that one fame; and whosoever wished for the stars would receive the stars, but nobody had thus far found the courage to try.

While he spoke to me in this manner, I stroked his right hand, which he had rested upon my shoulder, and frequently brought it to my lips; there was no scent of blood upon it, it lay there like a wild dove, warm, and with a steady pulse, asleep between my own hands.

As fateful events tend to catch us unawares, I was fully without suspicion when this beloved man kissed my eyes and forehead and wished me good night, saying he felt the need to walk alone for a while in the cool night air.  Contrary to my usual habits, I even decided not to wait up for him but rather, as soon as he left the house, went instead, with a pleasant feeling of tiredness, to bed.

← Part Thirteen     Part Fifteen →

Translation © 2020 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “‘Fra Celeste’ by Ricarda Huch – Part Fourteen

      1. I keep thinking the narrator is female; but I’m sure something was said early on in the story that confirmed the narrator was male. I think.

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