Dykemaster (Der Schimmelreiter, 1888 )
The eerie west Schleswig-Holstein coast, with its vast, hallucinatory tided flats, hushed polders and terrifying North Sea, is the setting for a tale which grips from first page to last with its dynamic tensions and shifts of focus, mood and pace. Storm's dense narrative further invites the reader to ask whether progress is possible, how the historical record is established, what parts are played by the rational and the irrational in human existence.
The Dykemaster Selected text:
The storm was now into its third day, and a particularly well-loved relative of mine had already kept me back too long on his farm in one of the northern parishes. Today I could delay no longer; I had business to attend to in town, which even now was still a good few hours to the south, and so, despite all the persuasive arts of my cousin and his kind wife, despite the farm's fine home-grown Perinette and Grand Richard apples waiting to be tasted, I had set off that afternoon. 'Just wait till you get to the sea,' my cousin had called after me from the door of his house, 'you'll be sure to turn back; we'll keep your room ready for you!'
And indeed, at the moment when a swathe of black cloud cast everything around me into pitch-darkness and howling squalls threatened to drive me and my mare off the dyke, the thought did cross my mind: 'Don't be a fool! Turn round and go back to the warmth and comfort of your relatives' home.' Then it occurred to me that the way back was probably further than the way forward to my destination; and so I trotted on, pulling my cloak collar up around my ears.
Who was he? What did he want? - It then occurred to me, I had heard no hoof beats, no horse's panting; and horse and rider had passed close by!
Lost in thought I rode on, but I had little time for further reflection before it passed me again; this time from behind. I seemed to feel the streaming cloak brush against me and as on the first occasion the apparition flew by without a sound. Then I saw it further and further away from me; and then I thought I could see its shadow suddenly plunge down the landward side of the dyke.
With some hesitation I rode after it. When I had reached the spot, I saw in the polder below me, close by the side of the dyke, the gleaming water of a Wehle - the name they give here to craters that are gouged into the ground by the rush of water through a breach in a dyke and then mostly remain as small but very deep pools.
The surface of the water, even allowing for the protection of the dyke, was noticeably unruffled; the rider could not have disturbed it; I saw nothing more of him. . . .
Translation © Denis Jackson 1996. isbn 0 946162 54 9