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338                    MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

is described - con amore - as, step by step, he forces her to the edge
of the bed from which he has displaced her; and she is on the very
verge of collapse when she snatches from his breast the scapulary
with an image of the Virgin - which, as he has told her, is all that
remains to him of the mother he has never known - and holds it
before his face. He reels back; her purity - or the Virgin? - has
saved her. In the drenching rain she runs out into the town, and
is rescued by a patrician of the district, a strict Catholic who is
given the picturesque attributes of the Moses of the Bible and of
Michelangelo. He rouses the burghers, jealous of their chartered
liberties, to a fever-heat of indignation, and the army authorities
are forced to bring the delinquent to trial. They might save him
if he would swear that the woman tempted him; but he is too
simple and true to lie - and he loves the fair body he has touched.
And to everybody's surprise Margaret refuses to accuse him; Desist
nicht bescbehen\ she says (he did not do it). But she bears the imprint
of his five fingers on her arm; and in any case attempted rape is
according to army regulations as heinous a crime as rape com-
mitted; so the boy is condemned and stabbed to death with lances.
But he dies in the arms of Margaret, who holds before his dying
eyes his mother's scapulary, which had been taken from his neck.
Margaret weeps over her perfect brute as Kriemhild wept over
hers (CJ7 huop sin schane houbet in ir.vil wi^en hanf); and it may be
taken as praise or blame to say that in this modern story* there is
the same elemental feeling as there is in the Nibelungenlied. The
sentiment is not maudlin, because it is psychologically developed
stage by stage; the characters, though touched up with religious
colouring, have that simplicity and swift emotion which we find
in the ancient masterpieces of literature. In a period which was
priding itself on its psychological probing of complicated natures
these novels of Enrica von Handel-Mazsetti are thus in the nature
of throw-backs; nevertheless, the best critics may be right in giving
to her the palm for the historical novel of recent years; she earns this
precedence of place, in spite of her limited range, by hef absolute
sincerity of motive and by the consummate skill of her simple
technique. Not the least of her qualities is her scholarly handling
of the dialect of Lower Austria: chronicle style, Volkslied, Kan^lei-
sprache> the Alamode language of seventeenth-century officials and
soldiers, are skilfully imitated. Equally good is the rendering of
those baroque features which make the seventeenth century in