BY HERMANN SUDERMANN
TRANSLATED BY BERTHA OVERBECK
Just when Meyerhofer's estate was to be sold by auction, his third son Paul was born.
That was a hard time indeed.
Frau Elsbeth, with her haggard face and melancholy smile, lay in her big four-post bed, with the cradle of the new-born child near her, and listened to every noise that reached her in her sad sickroom from the yard and the house.
At each suspicious sound she started up, and each time, when a strange man's voice was heard, or a vehicle came driving along with a rolling sound, she asked, clinging with great anxiety to the bedposts:
"Has it come to the worst? Has it come to the worst?"
Nobody answered her. The doctor had given strict orders to keep every excitement from her, but little he thought, good man, that this constant suspense would torment her a thousand times more than the most terrible certainty.
One morning, the fifth day after her child's birth, she heard her husband, whom she had scarcely seen during this trying time, pacing up and down in the next room, swearing and sighing. She could only understand one word, only one; that he repeated over and over again: the word "Homeless."
Then she knew. It had come to the worst.
She put her feeble hand on the little head of the new-born child, who with his little serious face was quietly dozing, hid her face in her pillow and wept.
After a while she said to the servant who attended the little one,
"Tell your master I want to speak to him."
And he came. With loud steps he approached the bed of the sick woman, and looked at her with a face that seemed doubly distorted and desperate in his endeavor to look unconcerned.
"Max," she said, timidly, for she always feared him—"Max, don't hide anything from me; I am prepared for the worst, anyhow."
"Are you?" he asked, distrustfully, for he remembered the doctor's warning.
"When have we to go?"
As he saw that she took their misfortune so calmly, he thought it no longer necessary to be careful, and broke out, with an oath:
"To-day—to-morrow—just as it pleases the new owner. By his charity only we are still here, and, if it pleased him, we might have to lodge in the streets this very night."
"It won't be as bad as that, Max," she said, painfully striving to keep her composure, "if he hears that, only a few days ago, a little one arrived—"
"Oh, I suppose I shall have to beg of him—shall I?"
"Oh no; he will do it without that. Who is it?"
"Douglas, he is called. He comes from Insterburg. He seemed to swagger very much, this gentleman—very much. I should have liked to have driven him from the premises."
"Is anything left us?" she asked, softly, looking hesitatingly down on the new-born child, for his young, tender life might be depending on the answer.
He broke out into a hard laugh. "Yes; a wretched pittance: full two thousand thalers."
She sighed with relief, for she almost felt as if she had already heard that terrible "Nothing" hissed from his lips.
"What good are two thousand thalers to us?" he continued, "after we have thrown fifty thousand into the swamp? Perhaps I shall open a public-house in the town, or trade in buttons and ribbons. Perhaps you might help me, if you were to do the sewing in some aristocratic houses; and the children might sell matches in the streets. Ha, ha, ha!"
He thrust his hand through his gray and bushyhair, and inadvertently kicked the cradle with his foot, so that it swayed to and fro violently.
"Why has this brat been born?" he murmured, gloomily. He knelt down near the cradle and buried the tiny little fists in his big red hands, and talked to his child: "If you had known, my boy, how bad and vile this world is, how impudence triumphs, and honesty goes to ruin in it, you would really have stayed where you were. What fate will yours be? Your father is a sort of vagabond, a ruined man, who has to roam about the streets with his wife and his three children till he has found a place where he can completely ruin himself and his family."
"Max, do not speak thus; you break my heart!" called out Frau Elsbeth, crying, and stretching out her hand to lay it round her husband's neck; but her hand sank down without strength ere it had reached its destination.
He sprang up. "You are right; enough of these lamentations. Yes; if I were alone now—a bachelor, as in former days—I should go to America, or the Russian Steppes—there one can get rich; or I should speculate on the Exchange—to-day up, to-morrow down. Oh, there one could earn money; but so tied as one is!" He threw a lamentable glance at his wife and child; then he pointed with his hand towards the yard, from whence resounded the laughing voices of the two elder children.
"Yes; I know we must be a burden to you now," said the woman, meekly.
"Don't talk to me of burdens," he answered, gruffly; "what I said was not meant angrily. I love you, and that's enough. Now the question only is, Where to go? If at least this baby had not come, the chance of an uncertain existence might be borne for some time. But now, you ill, the child requiring careful nursing, the end of it is there is nothing for it but to buy a farm, and to give the two thousand thalers for a premium. Hurrah! that will be a nice sort of life: I with the beggar's wallet, you with the knapsack; I with the spade, you with the milk-pail."
"That would not be the worst, after all," said the woman, softly.
"No?" he laughed, bitterly. "Well, that I can get for you. There is Mussainen, for instance, which is to be sold—the wretched moorland on the heath yonder."
"Oh, why that of all places?" she asked, shuddering.
He immediately fell in love with the idea.
"Yes; that would be emptying the cup to the dregs. The lost magnificence always in view—for, you must know, the manor-house of Helenenthal exactly overlooks it. It is surrounded by moor and fen—wellnigh two hundred acres. Perhaps one could cultivate some of it—one might be the pioneer of progress. What could people say?
"'Meyerhofer is a brave fellow,' they would say; 'he is not ashamed of his misfortune; he looks at it with a certain irony.' Pah, really one should look at it with irony; that is the only sublime view of the world—one should whistle at it!" and he uttered a shrill whistle, so that the sick woman started up in her bed.
"Forgive me, my darling," he pleaded, caressing her hand suddenly in the rosiest of humors; "but am I not right? One should whistle at it. As long as one has the consciousness of being an honest man, one can bear all adversity with a certain relish. Relish is the right word. The ground is to be sold any day, for the owner has lately gained a rich estate by marriage, and leaves this rubbish entirely uncultivated."
"Think well over it first, Max," the woman pleaded, in great anxiety.
"What is the good of hesitating?" he replied, violently. "We must not be a burden to this Mr. Douglas, and we cannot lay claim to anything better with our miserable two thousand thalers; therefore, let us seize upon it promptly." And without taking time to say good-bye to the sick woman, he strode away.
A few minutes later she heard his dog-cart driving away through the gate.
In the afternoon of the same day a strange visitor was announced. A beautiful, distinguished lady was said to have driven into the yard in a smart carriage, who wished to pay a visit to the mistress in her sick- room.
"Who was it?" She had refused to give her name.
"How strange!" thought Frau Elsbeth; but as in her grief she was beginning to believe in special providences, she did not say no.
The door opened. A slender, delicate figure, with gentle, refined features, approached the bed of the sick woman with gliding steps. Without speaking a word she seized her hand and said, in a soft, slightly veiled voice:
"I have concealed my name, dear Mrs. Meyerhofer, for I feared you would refuse to see me if I had given it beforehand. And I should like best even now to remain unknown. Unfortunately, I fear that you will not look at me with kindness any longer when you know who I am."
"I hate no one in the world," replied Frau Elsbeth, "least of all a name."
"I am called Helene Douglas," said the lady, gently, and she pressed the invalid's hand closer.
Frau Elsbeth began at once to cry, while the visitor, as if she had been an old friend, put her arm round her neck, kissed her on the brow, and said, with a soft, comforting voice:
"Do not be angry with me. Fate has ordained that I should drive you from this house; but it is no fault of mine. My husband wanted to give me a pleasant surprise, for the name of this estate is identical with my Christian-name. My joy vanished directly when I heard under what circumstances he had acquired it, and how you, especially, dear Mrs. Meyerhofer, must have suffered in this doubly trying time. Then I felt compelled to unburden my heart by asking your pardon personally for the sorrow which I have caused you, and shall still have to cause you, for your time of suffering is not over yet."
Frau Elsbeth had bent her head on the stranger's shoulder, as if that was the most natural thing in the world, and went on softly crying to herself.
"And perhaps I can also be of use to you," she continued; "at least, so far as I can take part of the bitterness from your soul. We women understand each other better than those hard, passionate men. The common sufferings that weigh on all of us bring us nearer to each other. And, above all, one thing: I have spoken to my husband, and beg you, in my name and his, to look on this house as your property for as long as ever it pleases you. We generally pass the winter in town, and we have another estate besides which we intend to let an inspector manage. You see, therefore, that you do not in any way disturb us, but, on the contrary, do us a favor if you will stay on here as before for another half year or longer."
Frau Elsbeth did not thank her, but the tearful glance she gave the stranger was thanks enough.
"Now be cheerful again, dearest Mrs. Meyerhofer," she continued, "and if in future you need advice or help, always remember that there is some one who has to make amends to you for much—And what a splendid baby!"—she turned towards the cradle—"a boy or a little girl?"
"A boy," said Frau Elsbeth, with a feeble smile.
"Has he found any brothers or sisters already? But why do I ask? The two little stalwart fellows outside, who received my carriage—may I hope to know them better? No, not here," she interposed, quickly; "it might excite you still more. Later on, later on. This little citizen of the world interests us most for the moment."
She bent over the cradle and arranged the baby-clothes.
"He has quite a knowing little face," she said, jestingly.
"Care stood at his cradle," answered Frau Elsbeth, gently and sadly; "that's why he has that old face."
"Oh, you must not be superstitious, dear friend," answered the visitor. "I have been told that newborn babes often have something old in their features; they soon lose that."
"Surely you, too, have children?" asked Frau Elsbeth.
"Oh, I am still such a young wife," answered her visitor, blushing. "Scarcely six months married. But—" and she blushed still more.
"God be with you in your time of trouble," said Frau Elsbeth; "I will pray for you."
The stranger's eyes grew moist. "Thanks, a thousand thanks," she said. "And let us be friends, I entreat you, with all my heart. Shall I propose something? Take me as godmother for your youngest child, and do me the same favor when Heaven blesses me."
The two women pressed each other's hands silently. The bond of friendship was sealed.
When the visitor had left her, Frau Elsbeth looked round with a shy, sad look. "Just now everything here was bright and sunny," she murmured, "and now it has become so dark again."
After a short time, in spite of the nurse's opposition, the two eldest boys rushed into the sickroom with joyful clamor. Each had a bag with sweets in his hand.
"The strange lady has given us this," they shouted.
Frau Elsbeth smiled. "Hush, children," she said, "an angel has been with us."
The two little boys opened anxious eyes, and asked,
"Mamma, an angel?"
So Mrs. Douglas became Paul's godmother.
Meyerhofer, indeed, was not a little indignant at the new friendship, for "I don't want the pity of happy people," he often used to say; but when the mild, gentle woman appeared in the manor-house for the second time, and tried to persuade him, he did not dare to say "No" any longer.
He also gave his consent to their prolonged stay in the old home, though he did it with repugnance. The farm Mussainen, which in fact he had bought that same day, was in so desolate a condition that it seemed dangerous for wife and children to stay there in the cold autumn days. Above all, the most needful repairs had to be made. Carpenter, mason, and builder had to be fetched ere it was possible to think of moving.
Nevertheless, Frau Elsbeth, through her husband's obstinacy, was forced to move into the new dwelling long before the arrangements were finished. One day when an inspector from the new master appeared with a number of workmen and asked for shelter in his name, he declared this proceeding to be an intentional insult, and was firmly resolved not to stay a day longer on the ground which once had been his property.
It was a cold, dull November day when Frau Elsbeth and her children had to say farewell to the dear house. A fine, drizzling rain came from the sky, making everything damp.
The heath, shrouded in gray mist, lay desolate and comfortless before their eyes.
The youngest at her breast, the two other children crying near her, she stepped into the vehicle which was to lead her towards her new fate, which, alas! seemed so dark.
When they drove out of the gate, the cold winds from the heath whipped their faces with icy scourges. Then the little one, who for so long had been lying peaceful and quiet, began to cry bitterly. She wrapped him closer in her cloak and bent down low over the shivering little form, in order to hide the tears, which were streaming down her cheeks incessantly.
After half an hour's drive over the heavy rain-soaked clay roads, they reached their destination. She could have shrieked aloud when she saw the new house before her in all its desolation and ruin.
Wretched mud farm-buildings; a swampy yard; a low dwelling-house with a shingle roof, from the walls of which the chalk had crumbled down and showed the bare wall underneath; a wilderness of a garden, in which the last sad remains of the summer asters and sunflowers stood among half- decayed vegetables, round about a gaudy painted fence, which seemed to have received extreme unction just before its end—this was the place where the family of the ruined squire had to live henceforth.
This was the place where little Paul grew up, and to which the love of his childhood, the care of half his life was devoted.
He was in his early years a delicate, sickly creature, and many a night his mother trembled lest the feeble light of his life should be extinguished before dawn. At such times she would sit in the dark, low bedroom, leaning her elbow on the edge of his little bed, gazing with feverish eyes at his little thin body, which was painfully convulsed by spasms.
But he passed all the crises of his early childhood, and at five years old, though pale and weak of limb and almost careworn in face—for he had really retained the old look—he was a healthy boy, who gave promise of long life.
At this time his first recollections begin. The earliest, which in after-years he often recalled, was as follows:
The room is half dark. Icicles are clinging to the windows, and through the curtains shines the red glow of the sunset. The elder brothers have gone skating, but he is in his little bed—for he has to go to bed early— and near him sits his mother, one hand encircling his neck, and the other on the edge of the cradle, in which the two little sisters sleep, which Master Stork brought a year ago, both on the same day.
"Mamma, tell me a fairy tale," he pleads.
And his mother told him one. What? He could only remember very faintly, but there was something in it about a gray woman who had visited his mother in all her sad hours, a woman with a pale and haggard face, and dark, tear-stained eyes. She had come like a shadow, like a shadow she had gone, had extended her hands over his mother's head, she knew not whether for a blessing or for a curse, and had spoken words which had reference to him—little Paul. In them there was the question of sacrifice and of redemption; the words he had forgotten again—probably he was too stupid to understand them. But one thing still remained clearly enough: while he listened to his mother's words, breathless with terror and expectation, he suddenly saw the gray figure of whom she spoke, bodily standing at the door—exactly the same, with her arms uplifted, and her pale, sad face. He hid his head on his mother's arm; his heart beat, his breath began to fail him, and, in deadly terror, he screamed out,
"Mamma, there she is, there she is!"
"Who? Dame Care?" asked his mother.
He did not answer, but began to cry.
"Where, then?" continued his mother.
"There, at the door," he replied, raising himself and clutching her round the neck, for he was dreadfully frightened.
"Oh, you silly little one," said his mother; "that is papa's long travelling-cloak." And she fetched it, and made him feel the lining and the stuff, so that he should be thoroughly convinced; and he gave in. But inwardly he was all the more firmly persuaded that he had seen the gray woman face to face. And now he also knew what she was called.
"Dame Care," she was called.
But his mother had grown thoughtful, and was not to be moved to tell the end of the fairy tale. Neither would she in later times, however urgently he might plead.
He had only a vague remembrance of his father in those days: a man with high Wellington boots, who scolded his mother and whipped his brothers, while he overlooked him altogether. Only at rare times he got a look askance, which did not seem to bode any good. Sometimes, especially when his father had been in the town, his face was dark red in color, like an overheated kettle, and his steps swayed from side to side when he crossed the room. Then the same thing was always enacted over again.
First he fondled the twins, whom he seemed to be particularly fond of, and rocked them in his arms, while his mother stood close beside him, following each of his movements with anxious looks. Then he sat down to eat, turned over what was in the dishes, pushed them aside, calling them poor and unsavory food, only fit for beasts. Occasionally he would hit Max or Gottfried with the rod, was angry with their mother, and finally went out to pick a quarrel with the servants. His bullying voice resounded in the yard, so that even Caro, chained up, hid his tail between his legs, and retired to the farthest corner of the kennel. If after a while he returned to the room, his humor had generally changed from anger to despair. He wrung his hands, lamented the misery in which he had to live there, talked to himself of all sorts of great things which he would have undertaken if one thing or another had not prevented him, and if heaven and earth had not conspired together to ruin him. Then he would often go to the window, and shake his fist at the White House yonder, which looked so attractive in the distance.
"Ah, the White House!"
His father abused it and knitted his brow if he only glanced in that direction; and he himself—he loved it, as if part of his soul lingered there. Why? He did not know. Perhaps only because his mother loved it. She, too, stood often at the window, gazing at it; but she did not knit her brow, not she; her face grew soft and melancholy, and from her eyes there shone a longing so ardent that he, standing near her, often felt a sensation of awe steal over him.
Was not his little heart filled with the same longing? Did not that home, ever since he could think at all, appear to him as the embodiment of everything beautiful and magnificent? Did it not always stand before him when he shut his eyes and even creep into his dreams?
"Have you ever been in the White House?" he asked his mother one day, when he could restrain his curiosity no longer.
"Oh yes, my son," she answered, and her voice sounded sad and unsteady.
"Very often, my boy. Your parents once lived there, and you were born there."
Ever since then the "White House" was to him what "Paradise Lost" is to mankind.
"Who lives in the White House now?" he asked another time.
"A beautiful kind woman, who loves everybody, and you especially, because you are her godchild."
He felt as if an endless fountain of happiness streamed upon his head. He was so excited that he trembled.
"Why do you not drive, then, to the beautiful kind woman?" he asked, after a while.
"Papa won't let us," she answered, and her voice had a strangely sharp tone which struck him.
He did not ask any more, for his father's wish was regarded as a law of which nobody had a right to ask the reason, but from that day the secret of the White House formed a new tie between mother and son. They could not speak about it openly.
His father was furious if one only hinted at its existence, and his brothers also did not like to talk about it with him, the younger one; very likely they feared that he would repeat it in his foolishness. But his mother—his mother trusted him.
When they were alone together—and they were nearly always alone during school-time—she would open her mouth and her heart, too, and the White House arose higher and brighter before his eyes from her description of it. Soon he knew each room, each arbor in the garden, the pond, surrounded by green bushes and shrubs, before it the shining glass balls, and the sundial on the terrace: only fancy, a clock on which the sun itself had to mark the hours.
What a marvel!
He could have walked about in Helenenthal with his eyes closed, and not have lost his way.
And when he played with his bricks, he built a White House for himself with terraces and sundials—two dozen at a time. He dug ponds in the sand and fastened pebbles on little posts to represent the glass balls. But, of course, they did not reflect anything.
At this time he made the plan to pay a visit to the White House quite on his own account. He put it off till spring, but when spring came he did not find the necessary courage; he put it off till summer, but even then all sorts of hindrance came between plan and execution. Once he had seen a big dog roving alone in the meadow—who could know whether it might not be a mad one? and at another time a bull had made straight for him with his horns lowered.
"Yes; when I am big like my brothers," he consoled himself by thinking, "and when I go to school, then I'll take a stick and kill the mad dog, and the bull I'll seize by the horns so that he cannot harm me any more." He put it off until next year, for then he was to begin going to school, just like his big brothers.
These brothers were the objects of his veneration. To be like them seemed to him the brightest aim of all earthly wishes—to ride on horses, on big real ones, to skate, to swim quite without the help of either floats or bladders, and to wear shirt-fronts, white starched ones, which were fastened with ribbons round the waist—oh, if he could do all that! But for that one must first grow big, he comforted himself by thinking. He kept these thoughts quite to himself; he did not like to tell his mother, and, as to his brothers, they occupied themselves with him very little.
He was a little manikin in their eyes, and when their mother told them to take him with them anywhere they were angry, because then they had to take care of him, and on account of his silliness could not play so many tricks. Paul felt that very well, and in order to escape their angry faces and still more angry blows, he generally said he wanted to stay at home, however sore his heart might feel. Then he seated himself on the pump-handle, and, rocking himself to and fro, dreamed of the time when he could do as his brothers did.
In learning, too, and that was no small matter; for both of them, Max as well as Gottfried, were always the highest in their school, and always brought home for the holidays excellent testimonials of good conduct; how excellent they were was quite evident, for their father always gave them a silver groschen and their mother a honey-cake in consequence.
On such joyful days he used to hear his father say:
"Yes; if only the two eldest could go to a good school, something might be made of them, for they have clear heads; but beggars as we are, I suppose we shall have to bring them up like beggars."
Paul reflected a good deal about this, for he already knew that Max was born to be a Field-marshal, and Gottfried to be Chief Master of the Ordnance.
The fact was that once a Rapine picture-book, with pictures of the Austrian army, had found its way into the Howdahs, and on that day the brothers had agreed to divide the two highest dignities in the army between themselves, while to him, the younger, the place of a non-commissioned officer was assigned. Since then, indeed, there had been periods when one of them had inclined to the vocation of a trapper, and the other to that of an Indian chief, but Paul's thoughts clung to those gold-braided uniforms, with which the wooden spears, and the patched rag sandals, which the brothers wore in their games—the latter they called moccasins—could by no means bear comparison; also, why they afterwards wanted to be naturalist and superintendent was incomprehensible to him; the new Rapine pictures always remained the best.
At this time the twins began to walk; Katie, the elder one—she was born three-quarters of an hour before her sister—made the beginning, and Greta followed her three days after.
That was an important event in Paul's life.
He suddenly found himself in a round of duties from which he could not easily get free. Nobody had ordered him to watch his little sisters' first steps, but just as it had always been natural to him to clean his boots in the evening, and his brothers' into the bargain, to fold his little frock in a square, and to put it at the head of his bed, with his stockings across it, never to make a spot on the tablecloth, and to receive the punishment from his father when the self-same accidents happened to his brothers—so it became just as natural that he should henceforth look after his little sisters, and, with premature care, watch over their most rash attempts to stand and walk.
He appeared to himself so full of importance in this office that even the longing to go to school became less, and if by a lucky chance he had only been able to whistle, there would have been no wish left him.
Ah! to be able to whistle, like Jones, the farm-servant, or like his elder brothers; that was now the goal of all his wishes, the object of incessant practice. But however much he might point his lips, however much he might moisten them to make them flexible, no sound came forth. If he drew in the air, then accidentally he would do it. Once he had even succeeded in producing the first notes of "IST in J.D. im Washer gefallen" (A Jew Tumbled into the Water); but each professional whistler knows that the air must be blown from the mouth, and this was just what he could not learn.
Here also the thought comforted him: "When I am big."
Christmas this year brought glad tidings. There arrived a big box from his "good aunt" out of the town, a sister of his mother's, with all sorts of beautiful and useful things: books, linen for his brothers' shirts, little frocks for his sisters, and for himself a velvet coat—a real velvet coat, with military braidings and big shining buttons. That was a delight. But the most beautiful Christmas-box was contained in the letter, which his mother read aloud with tears of emotion. The good aunt wrote that she had seen from Elsbeth's last letters that it was her husband's dearest wish to be able to give a better education to his two eldest boys, and that in consequence she had decided to receive them in her own house, and to let them go to college at her expense. His brothers shouted with joy, his mother cried, his father walked up and down the room, passed his hand through his hair, and muttered excited words.
He meanwhile sat quietly at his sisters' little bed, rejoicing inwardly.
Then his mother came to him, buried her face in his hair, and said,
"Will you ever have such luck, my boy?"
"Oh, he," said his father—"he never understands anything!"
"He is so young still!" answered his mother, stroking his cheeks; and then she dressed him in his beautiful velvet coat, and he was allowed to wear it till night because it was a holiday. And his brothers came and fondled him, partly because their hearts were so full of joy, partly on account of the beautiful velvet coat.
They had never been so good to him before.
Ah, that was a Christmas!
And as spring drew near a great deal of sewing and embroidering for the outfit began. Paul was allowed to help with the cutting-out: to hold the yard-measure and to hand the scissors; and the twins lay on the ground, rummaging among the white linen. The brothers were fitted out like two princes. Nothing was forgotten. They even received neckties, which his mother had manufactured from an old silk bodice.
The brothers meanwhile were immensely proud. They already played at being gentlemen in every possible way. Max rolled cigarettes by putting the tobacco from his father's canister into little paper bags, which he lighted at the thick end, and Gottfried put on a pair of spectacles, which he had purchased at school for six trouser buttons.
"Does this suit me?" he asked, strutting up and down before Paul, and as the latter said "Yes," he was caressed; had he said "No," he would have had a box on the ear.
Soon after Easter the two brothers went away. There was much weeping in the house, but when the dog-cart had rolled out of the yard gate his mother pressed her tear-stained face against Paul's cheeks and whispered,
"You have long been neglected, my poor child; now we two are together again as before."
"Mamma, tiss me, too!" screamed little Kate, stretching out her tiny arms, and her sister did the same.
"Yes; of course you are there as well!" their mother cried, and bright sunshine lighted up her pale face.
And then she took one on each arm and approached the window with them, and gazed a long time at the White House.
Paul hid his head in the folds of her dress and did the same.
His mother looked down upon him, and as she met the prematurely wise look in the child's eyes she blushed a little and smiled, but neither spoke a word.
When his father came back from the town he wanted Paul to begin going to school.
His mother grew very sad, and begged that he might be left at home for one half-year longer, so that she should not miss the two eldest ones too much. She would teach him herself, and surely get him on more than the school-master would do. But his father would not listen to anything of the sort, and called her "a weeping fool."
Paul was terrified. The longing for school that he had formerly felt had now quite disappeared; but then of course the brothers, whom he wished to emulate, were no longer there.
The following day his father took his hand and led him into the village, the first houses of which were a few hundred yards from Meyerhofer's farm—at all events, a tolerable distance for such a little fellow.
But Paul kept up bravely. He had such fear of a thrashing from his father that he would have marched to the end of the world.
The school was a low, thatched building, not very different from a peasant's hut; but near it there stood all sorts of long poles, ladders, and scaffoldings.
"That's where lazy children are hanged," explained his father.
Paul's anxiety rose still higher; but when the teacher, a kind old man with a white stubby beard and greasy waistcoat, took him on his knee and showed him a beautiful, many-colored picture-book, he felt calmer; only the many strange faces that stared at him from the benches seemed to forebode no good to him.
He had to take the lowest place, and during two hours made pothooks on a slate.
During the time for recreation the big boys came up to him and asked about his luncheon, and when they saw that it was a sausage sandwich they took it away from him. He quietly yielded, for he thought it must needs be so. On the way home they beat him, and one stuffed some nettles inside his collar. He thought that, too, was only to be expected because he was the smallest; but when he had left the village behind him and was walking alone across the sunny heath, he began to cry. He threw himself down underneath a juniper-tree and gazed up at the blue sky, where the swallows flitted to and fro.
"Oh, if only one could fly like that, too," he thought. Then the White House came into his mind; he raised himself up, and strained his eyes to look for it; it shone from afar (like the enchanted castles of which his mother spoke in her fairy tales); the windows sparkled like carbuncles, and the green bushes surrounded it like a hedge of thorns of a hundred years' growth.
A feeling of pride and self-importance mixed with his grief. "You are big now," he said to himself, "for you go to school. And if you were to undertake your pilgrimage now, nobody could say anything against it."
And then fear overcame him again. The wicked bull and the mad dogs—one never knew. He resolved to consider the matter till next Sunday.
But henceforth the White House left him no peace. Each time when he went across the heath he asked himself what could really be in that road more than on the road to school. The high-road, indeed, ran across a dark fir- wood, and in such woods all sorts of goblins and witches live; even wolves are no rare occurrence, as the Story of Little Red Ridinghood clearly shows; but if he were to go over the fields he could always keep his home in view and be sure of the way back.
It seemed to him he was in honor bound to undertake this journey, because he was "big" now, and when his fears arose anew he called himself a coward. This word in school was considered a great insult.
When Sunday came he resolved to risk the expedition. He crept along the fence, and ran as quickly as he could across his father's meadows, in the direction of the White House.
Then came a stile which could be easily climbed over, and then a piece of unknown heath-land, on which he had never yet been. But there was nothing dangerous here, either. The heath glittered in the sun, the withered hawkweed crackled at his feet, a warm wind blew softly towards him. He tried to whistle, but still he had to draw in the air to produce any sound. At that he was ashamed, and a feeling of despondency seized him. Then came a swampy moor that again belonged to his father. Of this the latter often spoke; he meditated the idea of cutting peat there, but he only wanted to begin on a large scale, and for that he lacked the necessary capital. Paul sank up to his ankles in the marsh, and now for the first time the thought occurred to him that he might, perhaps, dirty his new boots. He was terrified, for he remembered his mother saying: "Be very careful of them, my boy; I have saved them from my milk money."
He was also wearing his beautiful velvet coat, because it was Sunday. He looked down at the shining silk braid, and for a moment hesitated whether he had not better return, not for the sake of the velvet coat, but only in order not to grieve his mother.
"But perhaps I shall get through unhurt," he consoled himself by thinking, and began to run on. The ground gave under his feet, and at every step a squashy sound was heard, as if the handle were being drawn out of a churn.
Then came a black morass, at the edge of which stood white-haired cotton-grass, and on which swam a layer of dissolved iron, shining like verdigris.
He carefully avoided it, though he got into the morass after all, but finally struggled back to dry land. The boots were ruined, but he thought perhaps he could wash them secretly at the pump.
He marched on. He was no longer in the mood to whistle, and the clearer the White House rose from the bushes, the more embarrassed he felt. He could already distinguish a kind of rampart, which was surrounded by trees, and through a breach in the foliage he saw a long, low building, which from a distance he had never noticed; behind that another one, and in a black hollow a high flame which quivered up and down. "That must be a forge; but did they work even on Sundays?"
An incomprehensible desire to cry seized him, and while he blindly ran on tears gushed from his eyes.
Suddenly he saw a wide ditch before him filled to the edge with water. He knew very well he could not get across, but obstinacy compelled him to prepare for a spring, and the next moment the thick and dirty water closed over him.
He reached land wet to the skin, covered with a layer of morass and weeds.
He tried to let his clothes dry, sat down on the grass, and looked over at the White House. He had grown quite despondent, and as he began to shiver very much, he turned sadly and slowly homeward.
The summer which followed brought nothing but grief and care to Meyerhofer's house. The former owner wished to have the mortgage paid off, and there was no prospect of any one lending the necessary sum.
Meyerhofer drove to the town three or four times weekly, and returned home late at night dead drunk. Sometimes he stayed away for the whole night.
Frau Elsbeth meanwhile sat upright in her bed and stared into the darkness. Paul often woke when he heard her low sobs; then for a while he would lie as quiet as a mouse, because he did not want her to know that he was awake, but at last he would begin to cry, too.
Then his mother became quiet; and if he could not stop crying she got up, kissed him, and stroked his cheek; or she said,
"Come to me, my boy."
Then he sprang up, slipped into her bed, and went to sleep on her shoulder again.
His father often beat him—he seldom knew why; but he took the blows for granted.
One day he heard his father scolding his mother.
"Do not cry, you blubbering fool," he said; "you are only here to make my misery worse."
"But, Max," she answered, softly, "will you prevent your family from bearing your misfortune with you? Must we not keep closer together when we are so unhappy?"
Then he was moved, said she was his brave wife, and called himself bad names.
Frau Elsbeth tried to pacify him, bade him confide in her, and be brave.
"Yes, be brave—be brave!" he cried, getting angry again. "It is all very fine for you women to speak so; you sit at home, and spread your apron out, waiting humbly for fortune or misfortune to fall into your laps, just as kind Fate may send it. But we men must go forth into hostile life; we must struggle and strive and fight with all sorts of rogues. Away with your warnings! Be brave; yes, indeed, be brave!"
Then he walked out of the room with heavy steps, and ordered the trap to be got ready, in order to set off on his usual pilgrimage.
When he came back, and had slept off his intoxication, he said:
"There, now my last hope is gone. The d—d Jew, who wanted to advance the money at twenty-five per cent., declares he will have nothing more to do with me. Well, let him do the other thing. I don't care a straw for him. And at Michaelmas we may really go a-begging, for this time nothing remains to us but what we stand up in. But this I tell you: this time I shall not survive the blow. An honorable man must set some value on himself, and if one fine morning you see me swinging from the rafters, don't be astonished."
The mother uttered a piercing cry, and clung with both arms round his neck.
"Well, well, well!" he calmed her; "it was not meant so seriously. You women-folk are all the same deplorable creatures, a mere word upsets you."
The mother started and stepped back from him, but when he had gone out she seated herself at the window, and looked after him anxiously, as if she feared he might already be thinking of doing himself a mischief. From time to time a shudder ran through her frame, as if she were cold.
In the following night, Paul, waking, observed that she got up, put on a petticoat, and went to the window from which the White House could be seen. It was bright moonlight—perhaps she really gazed at it. For wellnigh two hours she sat there, looking out fixedly. Paul did not stir, and when, with the approach of dawn, she came back from the window and stepped to her children's bedsides, he closed his eyes firmly and feigned to sleep. She first kissed the twins, who were sleeping with their arms entwined; then she came to him, and as she bent down over him he heard her whisper, "God give me strength. It must be." Then he guessed that something extraordinary was in preparation.
When, the following afternoon, he came home from school, he saw his mother sitting in the arbor in her hat and cloak and Sunday clothes; her cheeks were paler than usual; her hands, which lay in her lap, trembled.
She seemed to have been waiting for him, for when she saw him she breathed more freely.
"Are you going out, mamma?" he asked, wonderingly.
"Yes, my boy," she answered, "and you shall go with me."
"To the village, mamma?"
"No, my boy"—her voice quivered—"not to the village. You must put on your Sunday clothes; the velvet coat, of course, is spoiled, but I have taken the stains out of your gray jacket—it will still do; and you must polish your boots quickly."
"Where are we going, then, mamma?"
Then she laid her arms round him, and said, softly,
"To the White House."
He felt a sudden fever of excitement. The exultant joy which welled up from his heart nearly choked him; he jumped on his mother's lap and kissed her impetuously.
"But you must tell nobody," she whispered—"nobody; do you understand?"
He nodded, full of importance. He was such a clever fellow. He knew what it was all about.
"And now dress yourself quickly."
Paul flew up-stairs to the room where his clothes were kept, and suddenly—he never clearly knew on which step it was—a long-drawn shrill sound escaped his mouth; there was no doubt any more—he could whistle! he tried for the second, the third time—it went splendidly.
When he came back to his mother in all his finery he shouted, jubilantly, "Mamma, I can whistle!" and was astonished that she showed so little interest in his art. She only pulled his collar straight and said, "You happy children!"
Then she took his hand, and their pilgrimage began. When they reached the dark fir-wood in which the wolves and goblins lived he had just finished his studies for "Kommt in Vogel geflogen" (A Bird Comes A-flying), and when they came out again into the open field he could be sure that "Heil Dir im Siegerkranz" (God Save the Queen) went without a flaw.
His mother looked down at him with a sad smile; each shrill note made her start, but she said nothing. The White House now stood close before them. He no longer thought of his new art. All his faculties were absorbed in what he saw.
First there came a high red-brick wall with a gate in it, on the posts of which stood two stone heads; then farther on a large grass-grown court; whole rows of wagons stood in it, and it was flanked by low gray farm buildings, forming a big square. In the middle lay a sort of pool, surrounded by a low hedge of may, in which a troop of quacking ducks were making merry.
"And where is the White House, mamma?" asked Paul, whom this did not please at all.
"Behind the garden," replied his mother. Her voice had a strange, husky sound, and her hand clasped his so firmly that he almost screamed with pain.
Now they turned the corner of the garden fence, and before Paul's eyes lay a simple two-storied house, closely shaded by lime-trees, and having little or nothing remarkable about it. It did not look nearly as white, either, as from the distance.
"Is this it?" asked Paul, drawling out the words.
"Yes; this is it," answered his mother.
"And where are the glass balls and the sundial?" he asked.
A desire to cry came over him suddenly. He had imagined everything a thousand times more beautiful; if they had cheated him regarding the glass balls and the sundial as well, he would not have been surprised.
At this moment two Newfoundland dogs, as black as coal, came rushing up to them with suppressed barks. He took refuge behind his mother's dress and began to scream.
"Caro! Nero!" called a sweet childish voice from the house door, and the two monsters, howling joyfully, rushed off in the direction whence the voice came.
A little girl, smaller still than Paul, in a pink-flowered frock, round which a kind of Scotch sash was tied, appeared before the house. She had long, golden curls, which were drawn back from her forehead by a round comb, and a small, delicate little nose, which she carried rather high.
"Do you wish to speak to mamma?" she asked in her gentle, soft voice, and smiled at the same time.
"Are you called Elsbeth, my child?" inquired his mother, in return.
"Yes; I am called Elsbeth."
His mother made a movement as if she wanted to clasp the strange child in her arms, but she mastered herself, and said,
"Will you lead us to your mother?"
"Mamma is in the garden; she is just drinking coffee," said the little girl, with much importance. "I would rather lead you round the front of the house, because if we open the door on the sunny side so many flies come in directly."
His mother smiled. Paul wondered that this had never struck him at home.
"She is much cleverer than you are," he thought.
Now they entered the garden. It was much larger and more beautiful than the one at Mussainen, but there was nothing to be seen of a sundial. Paul had formed a vague idea of it as a great golden tower, on which a round, sparkling disk of the sun formed the dial-plate.
"Where is the sundial, mamma?" he asked.
"I will show it to you afterwards," said the little girl, eagerly.
From the arbor came a tall, slender lady, with a pale, delicate face, on which shone an inexpressibly sweet smile.
His mother gave a cry, and threw herself on her breast, sobbing loudly.
"Thank God that I have you with me once again!" said the stranger, and kissed his mother on her brow and cheeks.
"Believe me, all will now be well; you will tell me what weighs upon your mind, and it will be strange if I cannot help you."
His mother dried her eyes and smiled.
"Oh, this is pure joy," she said; "I feel already so relieved and happy because I am near you. I have longed for you so much."
"And could you really not come?"
His mother shook her head sadly.
"Poor woman!" said the lady, and both looked for a long time into each other's eyes.
"And this, I suppose, is my godchild?" the lady exclaimed, pointing towards Paul, who clung to his mother's dress and sucked his thumb.
"Oh, fie! take your finger from your mouth," said his mother. And the beautiful, kind lady took him on her lap, gave him a teaspoonful of honey—"as a sort of foretaste," she said—and asked him after his little sisters, about school, and all sorts of other things which it was not at all difficult to answer, so that at last he almost felt comfortable on her lap.
"And what things do you know already, you little man?" she asked him at last.
"I can whistle," he answered, proudly.
The kind woman laughed heartily, and said, "Well, then, whistle us something."
He pointed his lips and tried to whistle, but the sound would not come; he had forgotten it again.
Then they laughed—the kind lady, the little girl, and even his mother; but tears rose to his eyes with shame; he struggled and kicked, so that the lady had to let him glide down from her lap, and his mother said, reproachfully,
"You are naughty, Paul."
But he went behind the arbor and cried, until the little girl came to him and said:
"Oh dear, you must not cry. God does not like naughty children." Then he was ashamed again, and rubbed his eyes with his hands till they were dry.
"And now I will show you the sundial," continued the child.
"Oh yes, and the glass balls," he said.
"They were broken a long time ago," she replied; "a stone I threw flew by accident into one of them, and the other was blown down by a storm." And then she showed him the spots where they had stood.
"And this is the sundial," she went on.
"Where?" he asked, looking round, wonderingly.
They were standing before a gray, unpretending post, on which was fastened a sort of wooden plate. The child laughed, and said that this was the sundial.
"Oh, fie!" he retorted, angrily; "you are mocking me."
"Why should I want to mock you?" she asked; "you have never done me any harm." And then she repeated her assertion that this was the sundial, and nothing else, and she also pointed out to him the hand, a miserable rusty piece of metal, which stuck out from the middle of the dial and threw its shadow just on number six, which was written there among other figures.
"Oh, this is too stupid," he said, and turned away. The sundial in the garden of the White House was the first great disappointment of his life.
When he returned to the arbor with his new friend, he found a tall, broad-shouldered gentleman with bushy whiskers there, who wore a gray shooting-coat, and whose eyes seemed to twinkle merrily.
"Who is that?" asked Paul, timidly, hiding behind his friend.
She laughed and said, "That is my papa; you need not be afraid of him."
And, shouting with joy, she jumped on the strange man's knee.
Then he thought to himself, would he ever dare to jump on his papa's knee, and from this he concluded that all fathers were not alike.
But the man in the shooting-coat caressed his child, kissed her on both cheeks, and let her ride on his knees.
"See! Elsbeth has got a playfellow," said the kind, strange lady, pointing towards Paul, who, hidden by the foliage, glanced shyly towards the arbor.
"Just come here, my boy," the man called out merrily and snapped his fingers.
"Come—here, on the other knee; there is room enough for you," called out the child; and when, with a questioning glance at his mother, he crept timidly nearer, the strange man seized him, put him on his other knee, and then they had a merry race.
He had lost all fear, and when freshly-baked cakes were put on the table, he fell to bravely. His mother stroked his hair and warned him not to eat too much. She spoke very softly, and kept looking down upon the ground before her. And then the children were allowed to go to the bushes and pick gooseberries for themselves.
"Are you really called Elsbeth?" he asked his friend, and as she said "Yes," he expressed his astonishment that she had the same name as his mother.
"But I have been christened after her," said the child; "she is my godmother."
"Why didn't she kiss you, then?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Elsbeth, sadly, "perhaps she does not like me."
But that she had not had the courage to do it never occurred to either of them.
It already began to grow dark when the children were called back.
"We must go home," said his mother.
He was very sorry, because he had just now begun to like it. His mother pulled his collar straight, and said: "There, now kiss the lady's hand and thank her."
He did as he was ordered, the kind lady kissed his forehead, and the man in the shooting-coat lifted him high up into the air, so that he thought he could fly.
And now his mother took Elsbeth in her arms, and kissed her several times on her mouth and cheeks, and said: "May Heaven some day reward you, my child, for what your parents have done for your godmother."
A heavy burden seemed to be taken from her soul; she breathed more freely and her eyes shone.
Elsbeth and her parents went with the two as far as the gate, when his mother took leave of them there over again, and stammered all sorts of things about compensation and divine blessings. The man interrupted her laughingly, and said the whole affair was not worth mentioning and did not require any thanks at all. And the kind woman kissed her warmly, and asked her to come again very soon, or at least to send the children.
The mother smiled sadly and was silent. Elsbeth was allowed to go a few steps farther; then she took leave with a little courtesy. Paul's heart was heavy; he felt there was still something he had to tell her, so he ran after her, and, when he had caught up to her, whispered into her ear,
"You know—I can whistle all the same!"
When, mother and son entered the wood, night was closing in. It was pitch-dark all round, but he was not afraid in the least. If a wolf had come in their way now he would soon have shown him who had the best of it.
His mother did not speak; the hand which clasped his so firmly burned feverishly, and her breath came from her breast like a sigh.
And when they both stepped out onto the heath the moon rose pale and majestic on the horizon. A blue veil spread over the distance. Thyme and juniper sent forth their perfume, here and there a little bird twittered on the ground.
The mother sat down at the edge of the ditch, and looked across at their sad home to which all her care was devoted. The outlines of the buildings stood out clearly against the evening sky. One lonely light twinkled from the kitchen.
Suddenly she spread out her arms, and called out over the silent heath, "Oh, I am happy!"
Paul clung to her side almost anxiously, for never yet had he heard a similar cry from her. He was so much accustomed to her tears and her sorrow that this exultant joy seemed to him quite uncanny.
And then it occurred to him: "What will father say when he hears of this walk? Will he not scold mother and be even more angry with her than usual?" A sullen defiance took possession of him; he set his teeth, then he stroked his mother's hand consolingly, kissed her, and whispered,
"He shall not harm you!"
"Who?" she asked, with a shudder.
"Father," he said, softly and hesitatingly.
She sighed deeply but answered nothing, and silently and sadly they went on.
The gray woman had flitted across their path and spoiled the moment of joy, and it was the only one that Fate had still in store for Frau Elsbeth.
Next day there was a bad hour between herself and her husband. He called her undutiful and dishonorable. By her begging she had added disgrace to poverty.
However, he took the money.
Years passed away.
Paul grew up a quiet, unpretending boy, with a shy look and awkward behavior.
Generally he kept apart, and, while he took care of the twins, would sit for hours working at some wood-carving without saying a single word. He was what one calls in his part of the country "fussy:" a nature inclined to worry about details and brooding anxiously by himself.
He had no intercourse with any boys of his age, not even in school. Not that he avoided them on purpose; on the contrary, he liked to help them, and more than one used to copy, in the morning before prayers, his arithmetic problems or his German composition; but their interests were not his, and therefore he could not befriend them.
He also got an abundance of thrashings; especially from the brothers Erdmann—two saucy, wild-eyed fellows, loved and feared as the strongest and most daring—he had much to suffer. They were inexhaustible in the invention of new tricks which imbittered his life: they threw his copy- books on the top of the stove, filled his satchel with sand, and let his cap, in which they put a stick for a mast, float down the river like a boat. Most of these injuries he bore patiently; only once or twice a blind fury came over him. Then he bit and scratched like a madman, so that even those companions who were much stronger than he wisely took to flight. The first time one of the boys had called his father a drunkard, and another time they wanted to lock him up in a dark cow-shed with a little girl.
Afterwards he was ashamed, and came of his own accord to beg pardon. Then they only laughed at him the more, and the hardly-won respect was lost again.
Learning went on with great difficulty. The task for which his comrades hardly needed fifteen minutes he required an hour or two to finish. On the other hand, his handwriting was like copper-plate and there never was a mistake in his sums.
All the same, no work seemed done well enough to satisfy himself, and often his mother surprised him as he got up at night on the sly, because he was afraid that what he had learned by heart had escaped his memory.
That he should go to a better school, like his brothers, was not to be thought of. His mother had for some time cherished the plan of letting him follow the two elder ones as soon as they had passed their examination, for it pained her mother's heart that he should be behind the others; but in the end she gave in, and that was certainly for the best.
Paul himself had never expected anything else. He considered himself as a creature totally subordinate compared to his brothers, and had long since given up trying ever to be like them. When they came home for their holidays—velvet caps on their wavy hair, many-colored ribbons on their breasts, for they belonged to some forbidden school corporation—he looked up to them as to beings from a higher world. Eagerly he listened when they began to talk to each other about Sallust and Cicero, and the tragedies of Aeschylus—and they liked to speak about them a great deal, if only to impress him. But the object of his highest admiration was the thick book, on the first page of which was written "Table of Logarithms," and which from the first page to the last contained nothing but figures—figures in long, close rows, the mere sight of which made him giddy. "How learned he must be, to have all that in his head," he said to himself, caressing the cover of the book, for he imagined that they had to do no less than learn all those figures by heart.
The brothers were unusually affable and condescending to him; when they wished to have anything in the house, when they desired a saddled horse or an extra stiff glass of grog, they always addressed him confidentially, and he felt highly honored to be allowed to help them.
As regards farming matters, he was as well acquainted with them as if he were the master of the house himself; to them were devoted all his efforts and his care.
What was it that had made him so prematurely serious?
Was it the helplessness of his lonely mother, who had initiated him so early into all her cares? Was it the brooding, striving spirit, ever looking to the future, which was peculiar to him?
Very often when he sat musing, his elbows leaning on the table—in his manners, too, he was quite like a grown-up person—his mother stroked his hair, and said,
"Let us see a bright face, my boy; be glad that you have no cares yet." Oh, he had cares enough! Care cleaved to him like his own flesh and blood: whether the hen which had strayed to-day would be found again to-morrow; whether the ointment which his father had brought from the town yesterday would agree with a dun-colored horse; whether the hay had been dry enough before it was turned; and how the starlings in the gutter on the roof would bring up their little ones without the cat getting at them.
And he had to care about everything. Care had been born with him; only for himself he never took any care.
The older and more reasonable he grew, the deeper, too, grew his understanding of the mismanagement which his father had allowed to prevail, and often a deep sigh came from his breast: "Oh, if I were only big already!" The fear of his father's wrath did not let him express his anxieties, and if ever he dared to speak his mind to his mother, she looked with fearful eyes all around the room, and said, anxiously, "Be quiet."
And yet his father saw very well whither his son's thoughts tended. He had given him the nickname of "Cotquean," and jeered at him whenever he saw him. That naturally was in his good moments; in his bad ones he thrashed him with the yard measure, with the handle of the whip, with the straps of the harness—with whatever was nearest his hand. Paul feared his hand itself most of all, the blows of which hurt more than all the sticks in the world. His father had a strange manner of boxing his ears. He flung his hand into his face with the knuckles outward, so that the nails and joints left bruises on his cheeks. This kind of blow he called his "cheek-comforter," and when he intended beating Paul he called out to him in the most affable tone, "Come here, my son, I want to comfort you."
When he had received his beating he used to run out trembling onto the heath in shame and pain, and while he made faces and drummed with his fists, to choke down his tears, he whistled.
In whistling he manifested not only all his longings, his childish dreams, but also his anger and indignation. The feelings for which his uncouth mind did not find any expression, for which he lacked words or even thoughts, he dared in this loneliness to pour forth unchecked by means of whistling. So his depressed, timid soul found an outlet. Whole symphonies he executed, shrill and harsh at the beginning, growing softer and softer, and at last melting away in sadness and resignation.
Nobody guessed the art he practised by himself, and how much consolation and exultation he owed to that same art—not even his mother.
Since he had seen her break into tears, one winter's night, as he, without heeding her, had softly whistled to himself—since that time he left off as soon as she came near him; he thought it hurt her. What power was given him in those sounds he little knew.
Only at times he was proud—looking towards the White House—that he had after all learned to whistle; and when some melody seemed to him especially good, he thought within himself, "Who knows if you would laugh at me if you were to hear this?"
But never had he met any of them again.
For some time past Mr. Meyerhofer had gone about with great plans in his head. He had discovered that the turf moor which surrounded the farm in a wide circle was in a condition to afford a sure profit. Already, twice or thrice, when need had been sorest, he had, to make shift, ordered peat to be cut, and sent five cart-loads to the town.
Secretly, quite secretly—for he was too proud to be considered as nothing better than a common peat-cutting farmer. His people had each time brought home twenty to twenty-five marks clear gain, and said that there was far more to be gained still in this way, because black, firm peat was an article much in demand in the market.
But Meyerhofer was not to be induced to utilize the moor in this manner. "I have never bothered about such trifles," he said; "I'd rather be ruined wholesale than earn in detail," and then he drew himself up like a hero.
But the moor did not let him rest. It was in September, after an unusually favorable harvest, when Lob Levy, the complaisant friend of all farmers in debt, appeared on the farm twice or thrice weekly, and had much to negotiate with the master. Frau Elsbeth trembled with fear as soon as the Jew, in his dirty caftan, appeared at the gate. She seated herself at the window and followed untiringly every movement of the negotiators. If her husband assumed a thoughtful air she felt a cold shiver, and only when he smiled again she dared to breathe freely, too.
She anticipated no good, but did not venture to ask what kind of business her husband had to transact with this usurer.
She was soon to be enlightened. One afternoon Paul saw how a strange vehicle came rumbling along on the road from the town, which looked in the distance like an immense black copper on wheels. Something that appeared to be a chimney stuck out beyond it, and when the wheels staggered on the uneven ground bent to the right and the left like a man politely bowing. He gazed at the wonder for a while, then ran to his mother, whom he eagerly pulled to the door by her dress.
She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked down the road. "That is a locomobile," she said at last.
Paul knew as much as before. "What is a locomobile?" he asked.
"A steam-engine which can be moved anywhere, and which great land-owners use to turn their thrashing-machines; one can also harrow and plough with it, for such a thing has more strength than ten horses."
"But why is it drawn by horses, then?" he asked.
"Because by itself it cannot move anywhere," was the answer.
He did not understand that. "Anyhow," he thought, "it must be a great happiness to possess such a thing with that strange name, and if we ever become rich—"
At this moment his father came rushing out of the house in great excitement; he had a slipper on one foot, a boot on the other, and his necktie had turned to the back of his neck.
"They are coming! they are coming!" he cried, clapping his hands; then he caught his wife round the waist and danced with her into the middle of the road.
She looked at him with great anxious eyes, as if she wanted to say, "What fresh nonsense have you contrived now?" But he would not let her go, and when the twins in their pink cotton frocks and dark little pigtails came running out of the garden, he made for them, took them in his arms, let them dance on his shoulders, and pretended to throw them over the ditch, so that the mother could only stop this nonsense by most ardent pleading.
"There, you little rogues," he cried, "rejoice and dance. All poverty is ended now; next spring we shall measure our money by the bushel." The mother looked at him askance, but said nothing.
The monster came nearer and nearer. Paul stood there motionless—all eyes. Then he looked up at his mother, whose face was care-worn, and a certain fear came over him as if now the devil had come into the house; but then he remembered how his wish of a moment ago was fulfilled, and he resolved to meet the black guest with full confidence.
Meanwhile all the farm-servants and maids came hurrying from the stables and kitchen. All the inmates of the Howdahs stood in a row by the fence and gazed at the approaching wonder.
"But tell me, what do you want to do with it?" Frau Elsbeth at last asked her husband.
He threw a pitying glance at her; then he laughed shortly, and said, "Drive about in it."
Frau Elsbeth asked no more. Her husband, turning to the upper farm-servant, expounded his plans: how he would begin peat-cutting on a large scale; cutting and pressing machines were also on the way, and to-morrow, early, work could begin. Then he gave him orders to go to the village to engage the necessary workmen. Ten men would suffice for the beginning, but he hoped soon to need as many as twenty or thirty.
Frau Elsbeth mutely shook her head, and went into the house just as the locomobile arrived before the gate. Paul never tired of looking and admiring. Behind the yellow screws and crooked handles there seemed to lie a world of mystery; the place for the fire, with the grate and ash-box beneath, seemed to him like the entrance to that fiery furnace, in which the well-known three holy men had once intoned their song of praise; and the chimney above all, standing threateningly upright, with its wreath of pine soot at its mouth, which seemed to lead down into blackness and fathomless depths!
Paul did not heed the little basket-carriage that drove behind the monster, in which sat Lob Levy, with his shaggy, reddish beard, and his merry, twinkling eyes; he did not heed the screaming of the carmen, and the exultation of his two little sisters, who danced like mad round the wheels. He stood there dazed with wonder, as if he could not understand yet what was happening around him.
When, later on, he entered the big room, he found his mother crouching in the corner of the sofa, crying.
He put his arm round her neck; but she kept him gently off, and said, "Go and look after the little ones, so that they do not get under the wheels."
"But why do you cry, mamma?"
"You will see in time, my boy," she said, stroking his hair. "Lob Levy is in it—you will see in time."
Then he felt angry with his mother! When all were joyful why should she sit moping in a corner and cry? But the joy was now over for him; and when he saw Lob Levy loiter about the yard, in his long black "heel-warmer," he would have liked most to favor Caro with a hint towards his calves.
The twins were quite beside themselves with joy. They took a cord, and crying "gee" and "whoa," raced wildly through the garden. One of them was the locomobile, the other the horse, but each wanted to be the locomobile, because then she got father's black hat put on for the chimney.
Before going to sleep they had already given a name to the new monster.
They maintained that it resembled the fat servant-girl with a long neck, who a short time ago had been dismissed on account of her slatternliness, and they called it, after her, "Black Susy."
The locomobile kept this name forever after in Meyerhofer's house.
Next morning the noise began afresh. The ten hired workmen stood in the yard and did not know what to do. Meyerhofer wanted to have the engine heated, but Lob Levy, who had passed the night in a shed in order to be at hand the first thing in the morning, wanted first to receive his price, as it had been settled in the agreement, because the grain had to be delivered in town by noon.
"What grain?" the mother asked, turning pale.
Well, it could not be denied any longer: Meyerhofer had sold almost the whole harvest—the thrashed corn as well as the amount still to be thrashed—to the Jew for the old worn-out engine. Triumphantly the latter drove away with the beautiful full sacks. And this was only a sort of premium; towards Christmas he would come and fetch the rest.
A feeling of discouragement overcame for a moment even the light-minded Meyerhofer himself when he saw the high-piled carts disappear behind the woods; but in the next he put his hands defiantly into his trousers-pockets, and ordered that the machine should be got ready without delay.
At the same time as the monster a man in a blue blouse and with a brandy-nose had come to the farm; he called himself "stoker," and distinguished himself by constantly eating onions; he said that this was good for the digestion. This man fancied himself the hero of the day. Puffed up with pride, he stood near the engine, called it his foster-child, and stroked the rusty iron walls with his black, knotty hand, that sounded as if two graters were rubbed together. With a great show of foreign words he explained to every one who came near him the inner arrangement of the "lookmanbile," as he called his foster-child, only he had to have some drink; otherwise he was abusive. But if he got the amount of brandy which he wanted, he was deeply moved, and swore he would rather have his hands and feet cut off than ever separate himself from his foster-child. He had got to love it like his own flesh and blood, and thought a thousand times more of it than of any human being in the world. Meyerhofer walked proudly round him, for this pearl was now his property, too, and he declared over and over again that here one could see what German faithfulness meant.
But when the engine was to be heated, the very faithful man could nowhere be found. At last he was discovered on a hay-stack asleep. When he was awakened, he called this proceeding ill-treatment of human beings, and could only with great trouble be induced to come out of his corner.
The heating of the engine was a new festival. Paul stood before the fire, and stared with dreamy eyes into the glowing depths which opened yawning, as if it wished to swallow something alive. He thought of the old heathenish idol Moloch, about whom he had heard in his biblical history, and every moment he expected to see a pair of red, glowing arms stretch themselves forth. And then in the body of the monster there arose a mysterious singing, at times hollow, like the distant roar of a forest, then again delicate and high, like soft angels' voices. Then it began to hiss in the valves—steam clouds rose, the iron shovel clattered, and fresh heaps of coal sank rattling into the furnace. There was such a noise all round that one could hardly hear one's own voice. The stoker with the red nose stood there like a king; he drank from a flat-bodied flask, and from time to time he handled the valves, sending forth a loud, imperious bellowing like a tamer of wild beasts. And then the big wheel began to turn—surr, surr, surr—always quicker and quicker. One became quite giddy by merely looking on, and then there was a crack—a clatter—a hissing— the great wheel stood still forever.
At first the stoker gave himself great airs, and declared in half an hour the whole damage would be repaired, but when Meyerhofer, after two days' work, urged him to have done with his repairs, he became abusive, and declared that this old heap of rubbish could not be repaired any more, and that it was just good enough to be sold to the dealer for old iron.
"Foster-child?" he thanked you for such a foster-child; he was still a little too good to look after such a heap of rubbish. And then it came out: Lob Levy had picked him up three days ago in some low den, and had asked him whether he would like to live like a king for a week—longer the joke would not last, anyhow. And only on this assurance he had gone with him, for to stay in one place longer than eight days was against his principles.
Hereupon he was driven from the farm.
Next day Meyerhofer sent for the village blacksmith, that he might look at the damage. He again fumbled about the engine for a few days, ate and drank for two, and declared in the end that if it was not all right now the devil was in it.
The heating was repeated; but "Black Susy" was not to be brought to life again.
When, towards Christmas, Lob Levy came to the farm to fetch the rest of the grain, Myerhofer thrashed him with the handle of his own whip. The Jew screamed "Murder!" and drove away hastily. But soon a lawyer's messenger with a big red-sealed letter appeared. Myerhofer swore and drank more than ever, and the end of it all was that he was sentenced to pay all costs of the case and compensation money as well. Only with great difficulty he escaped the punishment of imprisonment.
Since that day he would not see "Black Susy" any longer. She was put into the farthest shed, and stood there in concealment many a year without anybody ever looking at her.
Only Paul from time to time secretly took the key of the shed and crept in to the black monster that he loved more and more, and which at last appeared to him like a dumb, ill-treated friend.
When Paul was fourteen years old his father decided to send him to confirmation-classes.
"He will never learn anything decent in school, anyhow," he said; "time and money are thrown away upon him. Therefore, he shall be confirmed at once, so that he can make himself useful on the farm. He will never be anything better than a peasant, anyhow."
Paul was satisfied, for he was longing to take a part of the care which pressed on his mother upon his own shoulders. He thought of making himself a sort of inspector, who could at any time replace the absent master, and work himself where the farm-servants needed a good example. He hoped this activity might be the beginning of a new, prosperous time, and when he lay in his bed at night he dreamed of waving cornfields and brand-new massive barns. The resolution to use all his strength to bring the neglected Haidehof into good repute became stronger and stronger.
The brothers one day should be able to say of him: "He has been of some good, after all, even if he could not follow us in our brilliant careers."
Yes; the brothers! How tall and distinguished they had grown meanwhile. One of them studied philology, and the other had entered a big bank as clerk. In spite of their good aunt, both wanted money, much money—far, far more than their father could send them. Paul hoped that for them also, as a result of his beginning farming, a better time would come. All surplus money should be sent to them, and he! oh, he would save and scrape, so that they might strive for their lofty aims, free from need and care.
With these pious thoughts Paul made his way to the first confirmation class. It was a sunny spring morning at the beginning of the month of April.
The fresh grass on the heath shone in greenish lights, juniper and heather budded with new tender shoots, anemones and ranunculus were blooming at the edge of the wood.
A warm wind waved over the heath towards him; he could have shouted aloud, and his heart was quite filled with rapture.
"There must be something sad in store," he said to himself, "for on earth one may not feel so happy."
Before the rectory garden there stood a long row of conveyances, only a few of which he knew. There was also aristocratic carriages among them. The coachmen with their shining buttons sat on their boxes with proud smiles and threw contemptuous glances all around.
In the garden were assembled a big troop of children. The boys and girls stood apart. Among the boys were the two brothers from whom he had had to suffer so much formerly, and who had ceased going to school for the last year. They gave him a friendly greeting, and while one of them shook hands with him the other tripped him up.
Some of the girls walked arm in arm on the paths. Some also had put their arms round each other's waists and giggled. Most of them were strangers to him. Some seemed especially aristocratic; they wore fine gray ulsters, and had hats with feathers on their heads. The carriages outside must belong to them.
He looked down at his jacket, to assure himself that he had nothing to be ashamed of. It was made of fine black cloth, from an old evening suit of his student brother's, and looked as good as new, only that the seams were a little shiny. Taken altogether, he did not need to be ashamed of himself.
A bell sounded. The candidates were called into the church. Paul felt light-hearted and pious in the solemn twilight of the house of God. He did not think of his jacket any longer; the forms of the boys around grew shadowy.
At both sides of the altar benches were placed. On the right the boys were to have their seats, and on the left the girls.
Paul was pushed into the back row, where the little ones and the poor sat. Between two barefooted cottage children, who wore coarse, ragged jackets, he took his seat. Past the shoulders of the boys before him he saw how the girls on the other side ranged themselves: the most distinguished in front, and then the more poorly clad.
He was thinking whether in heaven the order of rank would be a similar one, and the verse occurred to him:
"Blessed are the meek and lowly, for they shall be exalted."
The vicar came.
He was a comfortable-looking man, with a double chin and light, spare whiskers. His upper lip shone from frequent shaving. He did not wear his robe, but a simple black coat; nevertheless, he looked very dignified and solemn.
He first spoke a long prayer on the text, "Suffer little children to come unto Me," and added an exhortation to consider the coming year as a time of consecration, not to romp wildly or to dance, for that would not be in keeping with a student of religion.
"I have never romped or danced," thought Paul, and for a moment he was filled with pride over his pious conduct. "But it was a pity all the same—" he thought afterwards.
Then the vicar praised as the highest of all Christian virtues: humility. None of these children should feel above the others because their parents happened to be richer and more distinguished than those of their humbler brethren and sisters, because before God's throne they were all equal.
"That's for you," thought Paul, and lovingly seized the arm of his ragged neighbor. The latter thought he wanted to pinch him, and said, "Ow, don't!"
Then the vicar took from his pocket a piece of paper, and said, "Now I will read you the order of rank in which you will have to sit henceforth."
"Why this order of rank," thought Paul, "if before God's throne we are all equal?"
The very first name startled Paul, for it was "Elsbeth Douglas." He saw a tall, pale girl, with a gentle face and fair hair smoothly combed back, rise and walk towards the first place.
"So that's you," thought Paul, "and we shall be confirmed together." His heart beat with joy, but also with fear, because he was anxious at the same time lest she should think him too much beneath her. "Perhaps she does not remember me any more," he thought.
He watched her as she took her seat with downcast eyes and a kind smile.
"No; she is not proud," he said softly to himself; but to make sure he looked at his jacket.
Then the boys were called up. The brothers Erdmann came first. Without asking, they had already placed themselves comfortably on the first seats, and then his own name was called out. At this moment Elsbeth Douglas did exactly as he had done before. She raised her head quickly and scrutinized the ranks of the boys.
When he had seated himself in his place he also looked down on the ground, for he wanted to imitate her humility; and when he looked up again he saw her eyes on him, full of curiosity. He blushed and picked a little feather from the sleeve of his jacket.
And then the lesson began. The vicar explained passages from the Bible and heard verses of hymns. It was Elsbeth's turn first. She raised her head a little, and repeated her verses quietly and modestly.
"Oh golly! the hussy has courage," mumbled the younger Erdmann, who was at his left side.
Paul felt sudden anger rise within him. He could have cudgelled him in open church. "If he calls her 'hussy' again I shall thrash him afterwards." He promised this solemnly to himself. But the younger Erdmann no longer thought of her; he was busy sticking pins into the calves of the boys sitting behind him.
When the lesson was over, the girls left the church first, marching in couples. Only when the last were outside, the boys were allowed to follow. Just outside the church he met Elsbeth, who was walking towards her carriage. Both looked a little askance at each other and passed on. An old lady, with little gray curls and a Persian shawl, stood near her carriage; she probably had waited for her at the vicarage. She kissed Elsbeth's forehead, and both seated themselves on the back seat. The carriage was the finest one in the whole row. The coachman wore a beautiful fur cap with a red tassel; he had also smart braid on his collar and cuffs.
Just as the carriage had started, Paul was attacked by the two Erdmanns, who thrashed him a little.
"You ought to be ashamed, two against one," he said, and they let him go.
He went home very contentedly. The midday sun glittered on the open heath, and in misty distance the carriage rolled before him; it grew smaller and smaller, and at last disappeared as a black spot in the fir-wood.
When he arrived home his mother kissed him on both cheeks, and asked, "Well, was it nice?"
"Quite nice," he answered, "and, mamma, Elsbeth from the White House was there, too."
Then she blushed with joy and asked all sorts of things: how she looked, whether she had grown pretty, and what she had said to him.
"Nothing at all," he answered, ashamed; and as his mother looked at him surprised, he added, eagerly, "but you know she is not proud."
Next Monday when he entered the church he found her already sitting in her place. She had the Bible lying on her knee, and was learning the verses they had been given as their task.
There were not many children there, and when he sat down opposite to her she made a half movement as if she meant to get up and come over to him; but she sat down again immediately and went on learning.
His mother had told him before he left just to address Elsbeth. She had charged him with many greetings for her mother, and he was to ask, too, how she was. On his way he had studied a long speech, only he was not quite decided yet whether to address her with "Du" or "Sie." "Du" would have been the simplest; his mother took it for granted. But the "Sie" sounded decidedly more distinguished—so nice and grown up. And as he could come to no decision he avoided addressing her at all. He, too, took out his Bible, and both put their elbows on their knees and studied as if for a wager.
It was not of much use to him, because when the vicar questioned him afterwards he had forgotten every word of it.
A painful silence ensued; the Erdmanns laughed viciously, and he had to sit down again, his face burning with shame. He dared not look up any more, and when, on leaving the church, he saw Elsbeth standing at the porch as if she was waiting for something, he lowered his eyes and tried to pass her quickly. However, she stepped forward and spoke to him.
"My mother has charged me—I am to ask you—how your mother is?"
He answered that she was well.
"And she sends her many kind regards," continued Elsbeth.
"And my mother also sends many kind regards to yours," he answered, turning the Bible and hymn-book between his fingers, "and I was to ask you, too, how she is?"
"Mamma told me to say," she replied, like something learned by heart, "that she is often ill, and has to keep in-doors very much; but now that spring is here she is better; and would you not like to drive in our carriage as far as your house? I was to ask you, she said."
"Just look, Meyerhofer is sweethearting!" cried the elder Erdmann, who had hidden behind the church door, through the crack of which he wanted to tickle his companions with a little straw.
Elsbeth and Paul looked at each other in surprise, for they did not know the meaning of this phrase; but as they felt that it must signify something very bad they blushed and separated.
Paul looked after her as she got into the carriage and drove away. This time the old lady was not waiting for her. It was her governess, he had heard. Yes; she was of such high rank that she even had a governess of her own.
"The Erdmanns will get a good licking yet;" with that he ended his reflections.
The next week passed without his speaking to Elsbeth. When he entered the church she was generally already in her seat. Then she would nod to him kindly, but that was all.
And then came a Monday when her carriage was not waiting for her. He noticed it at once, and as he walked towards the church-yard he breathed more freely, for the proud coachman with his fur cap, which he wore even in summer, always caused him a feeling of oppression. He had only to think of this coachman when he sat opposite to her and she appeared to him like a being from another world.
To-day he ventured to nod to her almost familiarly, and it seemed to him as if she answered more kindly than usual.
And when the lesson was ended she came towards him of her own accord, and said, "I must walk home to-day, for our horses are all in the fields. Mamma thought you might walk with me part of the way, as we go the same road."
He felt very happy, but did not dare to walk by her side as long as they were in the village. He also looked back anxiously from time to time, to see whether the two Erdmanns were lurking anywhere with their mocking remarks. But when they went through the open fields it was quite natural that they should walk side by side.
It was a sunny forenoon in June. The white sand on the road glittered; round about golden hawkweed was blooming and meadowsweet waved in the warm wind; the midday bell sounded from the village; no human creature was to be seen far and wide; the heath seemed quite deserted.
Elsbeth wore a wide-brimmed straw-hat on her head as a protection against the sun's rays. She took it off now, and swung it to and fro by the elastic.
"You will be too hot," he said; but as she laughed at him a little he took his off also and threw it high in the air.
"You are quite a merry fellow," she said, nodding approvingly.
He shook his head, and the lines of care which always made him look old appeared again upon his brow.
"Oh no," he said; "merry I am certainly not."
"Why not?" she asked.
"I have always so many things to think of," he answered, "and if ever I want to be really happy something always goes wrong."
"But what do you always have to think about?" she asked.
He reflected for a while, but nothing occurred to him. "Oh, it is all nonsense," he said; "clever thoughts never come to me, by any means."
And then he told her about his brothers, of the thick books, which were quite filled with figures (the name he had forgotten), and which they had already known by heart when they were only as old as he was now.
"Why don't you learn that as well, if it gives you pleasure?" she asked.
"But it gives me no pleasure," he answered; "I have such a dull head."
"But something you know, surely?" she went on.
"I know absolutely nothing at all," he replied, sadly; "father says that I am too stupid."
"Oh, you must not heed that," she replied, consolingly. "My Fraulein Rothmaier also finds fault with many things I do. But I—pah, I—" she was silent, and pulled up a sorrel-plant which she began to chew.
"Has your father still such sparkling eyes?" he asked.
She nodded, and her face brightened.
"You love him very much—your father?"
She looked at him wonderingly, as if she had not understood his question, then answered, "Oh yes; I love him very much."
"And he loves you, too?"
"Well, I should think so."
Now he also rooted up a sorrel-plant and sighed.
"Why do you sigh?" she asked.
Something was just crossing his mind, he said, and then asked, laughingly, if her father still took her on his knee sometimes, as on the day when he had been in the White House.
She laughed and said she was a big girl now, and he should not ask such silly questions; but afterwards it came out that all the same she still sat on her father's knee—"Of course, not astride any more!" she added, laughing.
"Yes, that was a nice day," he said, "and I sat on his other knee. How small we must have been then."
"And we were so pitifully stupid," she answered, "when I think now how you wanted to whistle, and could not."
"Do you remember that?" he asked, and his eyes sparkled in the consciousness of his present attainments in the art.
"Of course," she replied; "and when you went away you came running back and—do you still remember?"
He remembered very well.
"Now you can whistle, of course," she laughed; "at our age that is no longer an accomplishment—even I can do it," and she pointed her lips in a very funny manner.
He was sad that she spoke so slightingly of his art, and reflected whether it would not be better to give up whistling altogether.
"Why are you so silent?" she asked. "Are you tired, too?"
"Oh no, but you—eh?"
Yes; the walk through the sand and the noontide heat had tired her.
"Then come into our house and rest," he cried, with sparkling eyes, for he thought what joy his mother would feel at seeing her.
But she refused. "Your father is not kindly disposed towards us, mamma said, and that's why you may not come for a visit to Helenenthal. Your father would perhaps send me away."
He replied, with a deep blush, "My father would not do that," and felt much ashamed.
She cast a glance towards the Haidehof, which lay scarcely a hundred yards from the road. The red fence shone in the sunshine, and even the gray half-ruined barns looked more cheerful than usual.
"Your house looks very nice," she said, shading her eyes with her left hand.
"Oh yes," he answered, his heart swelling with pride, "and there is an owl nailed to the door of one of the sheds. But it shall become much nicer still," he added after a little while, seriously, "only let me begin to rule." And then he set to work to explain to her all his plans for the future. She listened attentively, but when he had finished she said again,
"I am tired—I must rest;" and she wanted to sit down on the edge of the ditch.
"Not here in the blazing sun," he cautioned her; "we'll look out for the first juniper-bush we can find."
She gave him her hand, and let him drag her wearily over the heath, which undulated with molehills like the waves on a lake, and near the edge of the wood there were some solitary juniper-bushes, which stood out like a group of black dwarfs above the level plain.
Under the first of these bushes she cowered down, so that its shadow almost entirely shrouded her slight, delicate figure.
"Here is just room enough for your head," she said, pointing to a mole-hill which was just within the range of shade.
He stretched himself out on the grass, his head resting on the mole-hill, his forehead covered by the hem of her dress.
She leaned back on the bush in order to find support in its branches.
"The needles don't prick at all," she said; "they mean well by us. I believe we could pass through the Sleeping Beauty's hedge of thorns."
"You—not I," he answered, lifting his eyes to her from his recumbent position; "every thorn has pricked me. I am no fairy prince, not even a simple Hans in luck, am I?"
"That will all come in time," she replied, consolingly, "you must not always have sad thoughts."
He wanted to reply, but he lacked the right words; and as he looked up, meditatively, a swallow flitted through the blue sky. Then involuntarily he uttered a whistle as if he wanted to call it, and as it did not come, he whistled again, and for a second and third time.
Elsbeth laughed, but he went on whistling—first without knowing how, and without reflecting why; but when one tone after the other flowed from his lips, he felt as if he had become very eloquent all of a sudden, and as if in this manner he could say all that weighed on his heart and for which in words he never could have found courage. All that which made him sad, all that which he cared about came pouring forth. He shut his eyes and listened, so to speak, to what the tones were saying for him. He thought that the good God in heaven spoke for him, and was relating all that concerned him, even that which he had never been clear about himself.
When he looked up he did not know how long he had been lying there whistling, but he saw that Elsbeth was crying.
"Why do you cry?" he asked.
She did not answer him, but dried her eyes with her handkerchief and rose.
Silently they walked side by side for a while. When they reached the wood, which lay thick and dark before them, she stopped and asked,
"Who has taught you that?"
"Nobody," he said; "it came to me quite naturally."
"Can you also play the flute?" she went on.
No, he could not; he had never even heard it; he only knew that it was the favorite pastime of "old Fritz."
"You must learn it," she said.
He thought it would probably be too difficult for him.
"You should try all the same," she counselled him; "you must be an artist—a great artist."
He was startled when she said that; he scarcely dared to follow out her thoughts.
When they had reached the other side of the wood they separated. She went towards the White House and he went back. When he passed the juniper-bush where they had both been sitting all seemed to him like a dream, and henceforth it always remained so to him. Two or three days elapsed before he dared to say anything of his adventure to his mother, but then he could contain himself no longer; he confessed everything to her.
His mother looked at him for a long time and then went out; but from that time she used to listen secretly to catch, if possible, some notes of his whistling.
The two children often walked home together, but such an hour as the one beneath the juniper-bush never came to them again.
When they passed it they used to look at each other and smile, but neither of them dared to propose sitting down again beneath it.
There was also no further mention of the flute-playing between them, but Paul thought of it often enough in secret. It seemed to him like something divine, unheard of—like the science which taught the table of logarithms. Ah, if he had been clever and gifted like his two brothers; but he was only a dull, stupid boy, who might be glad if others allowed him to help them.
He often asked himself what such flute-playing sounded like, and what kind of people they were who were initiated into the mysteries of it. He formed a high opinion of them, and thought that they must always cherish high and holy thoughts, such as arose in his own mind occasionally when he was deeply absorbed in his whistling.
And then came the day when he was to see a flute-player face to face.
It was a dreary, stormy afternoon in the month of November. It began to get dark already as he left school and slowly walked along the village road to-go home. Issuing from the public-house, which used to be frequented by all the rogues of the neighborhood, wonderful sounds met his ear. He had never heard the like, but he immediately knew this must be a flute-player. Eagerly listening, he stopped at the door of the public-house. His heart beat loudly, his limbs trembled. The sounds were very much like his whistling, only much fuller and softer. "Such music the angels of God must make at His throne," he thought to himself.
Only one thing was inexplicable to him: how this flute-playing, which sounded so sad and plaintive, could come from such a place of ill-repute. The shouts and the clinking of glasses which sounded in between filled his soul with horror. Sudden rage seized him; if he had been tall and strong he would have sprung into the house and turned all these noisy and drunken people out into the street, so that the holy sounds should not be profaned.