WILHELM HEINRICH RIEHL
THE GERMAN CLASSICS
Masterpieces of German Literature
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
CONTRIBUTORS AND TRANSLATORS
CONTENTS OF VOLUME VIII
The Novel of Provincial Life. By Edwin C. Roedder
Little Barefoot. Translated by H.W. Dulcken; revised and abridged by Paul Bernard Thomas
Uli, The Farmhand. Translations and Synopses by Bayard Quincy Morgan
The Braesig Episodes from Ut mine Stromtid. Translated by M.W. Macdowall; edited and abridged by Edmund von Mach
Rock Crystal. Translated by Lee M. Hollander
WILHELM HEINRICH RIEHL
Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl. By Otto Heller
Field and Forest. Translated by Frances H. King
The Eye for Natural Scenery. Translated by Frances H. King
The Musical Ear. Translated by Frances H. King
The Struggle of the Rococo with the Pigtail. Translated by Frances H. King
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The Abduction of Prometheus. By Max Klinger
Berthold Auerbach. By Hans Meyer
Two Coffins were carried away from the little House. By Benjamin Vautier
Amrei briskly brought her Pitcher filled with Water. By Benjamin Vautier
Tears fell upon the Paternal Coat. By Benjamin Vautier
He gave her his Hand for the Last Time. By Benjamin Vautier
While she was milking John asked her all kinds of Questions. By Benjamin Vautier
A New Citizen. By Benjamin Vautier
The Bath. By Benjamin Vautier
In Ambush. By Benjamin Vautier
First Dancing Lessons. By Benjamin Vautier
Fritz Reuter. By Wulff
Bible Lesson. By Benjamin Vautier
Between Dances. By Benjamin Vautier
The Bridal Pair at the Civil Marriage Office. By Benjamin Vautier
Adalbert Stifter. By Daffinger
A Mountain Scene. By H. Reifferscheid
Leavetaking of the Bridal Pair. By Benjamin Vautier
The Barber Shop. By Benjamin Vautier
Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl
An Official Dinner in the Country. By Benjamin Vautier
At the Sick Bed. By Benjamin Vautier
A Village Funeral. By Benjamin Vautier
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This volume, containing chiefly masterpieces of the Novel of Provincial Life, is illustrated by the principal works of one of the foremost painters of German peasant life, Benjamin Vautier. These picture's have been so arranged as to bring out in natural succession typical situations in the career of an individual from the cradle to the grave. In order not to interrupt this succession, Auerbach's Little Barefoot, likewise illustrated by Vautier, has been placed before Gotthelf's Uli, The Farmhand, although Gotthelf, and not Auerbach, is to be considered as the real founder of the German village story.
The frontispiece, Karl Spitzweg's Garret Window, introduces a master of German genre painting who in a later volume will be more fully represented.
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THE NOVEL OF PROVINCIAL LIFE
By EDWIN C. ROEDDER, PH.D.
Associate Professor of German Philology, University of Wisconsin
To Rousseau belongs the credit of having given, in his passionate cry "Back to Nature!" the classic expression to the consciousness that all the refinements of civilization do not constitute life in its truest sense. The sentiment itself is thousands of years old. It had inspired the idyls of Theocritus in the midst of the magnificence and luxury of the courts of Alexandria and Syracuse. It reechoed through the pages of Virgil's bucolic poetry. It made itself heard, howsoever faintly, in the artificiality and sham of the pastoral plays from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. And it was but logical that this sentiment should seek its most adequate and definitive expression in a portrayal of all phases of the life and fate of those who, as the tillers of the soil, had ever remained nearer to Mother Earth than the rest of humankind.
Not suddenly, then, did rural poetry rise into being; but while its origin harks back to remote antiquity it has found its final form only during the last century. In this its last, as well as its most vigorous, offshoot, it presents itself as the village story—as we shall term it for brevity's sake—which has won a permanent place in literature by the side of its older brothers and sisters, and has even entirely driven out the fanciful pastoral or village idyl of old.
The village story was bound to come in the nineteenth century, even if there had been no beginnings of it in earlier times, and even if it did not correspond to a deep-rooted general sentiment. The eighteenth century had allowed the Third Estate to gain a firm foothold in the domain of dignified letters; the catholicity of the nineteenth admitted the laborer and the proletarian. It would have been passing strange if the rustic alone had been denied the privilege. An especially hearty welcome was accorded to the writings of the first representatives of the new species. Internationalism, due to increased traffic, advanced with unparalleled strides in the third and fourth decades. The seclusion of rural life seemed to remain the quiet and unshakable realm of patriarchal virtue and venerable tradition. The political skies were overcast with the thunder clouds of approaching revolutions; France had just passed through another violent upheaval. Village conditions seemed to offer a veritable haven of refuge. The pristine artlessness of the peasant's intellectual, moral, and emotional life furnished a wholesome antidote to the morbid hyperculture of dying romanticism, the controversies and polemics of Young Germany, and the self-adulation of the society of the salons. Neither could the exotic, ethnographic, and adventure narratives in the manner of Sealsfield, at first enthusiastically received, satisfy the taste of the reading public for any length of time—at best, these novels supplanted one fashion by another, if, indeed, they did not drive out Satan by means of Beelzebub. And was it wise to roam so far afield when the real good was so close at hand? Why cross oceans when the land of promise lay right before one's doors? All that was needed was the poet discoverer.
The Columbus of this new world shared the fate of the great Genoese in more than one respect. Like him, he set out in quest of shores that he was destined never to reach. Like him, he discovered, or rather rediscovered, a new land. Like him, he so far outstripped his forerunners that they sank into oblivion. Like Columbus, who died without knowing that he had not reached India, the land of his dreams, but found a new world, he may have departed from this life in the belief that he had been a measurably successful social reformer when he had proved to be a great epic poet. Like Columbus, he was succeeded by his Amerigo Vespucci, after whom his discovery was named. The Columbus of the village story is the Swiss clergyman Albert Bitzius, better known by his assumed name as Jeremias Gotthelf; the Amerigo Vespucci is his contemporary Berthold Auerbach.
The choice of his nom de guerre is significant of Jeremias Gotthelf's literary activity. He regarded himself as the prophet wailing the misery of his people, who could be delivered only through the aid of the Almighty. It never occurred to him to strive for literary fame. He considered himself as a teacher and preacher purely and simply; in a measure, as the successor of Pestalozzi, who, in his Lienhard und Gertrud (1781-1789), had created a sort of pedagogical classic for the humbler ranks of society; and if there be such a thing in Gotthelf's make-up as literary influence, it must have emanated from the sage of Burgdorf and Yverdun. To some extent also Johann Peter Hebel (1760-1826), justly famed for his Alemannian dialect poems, may have served him as a model, for Hebel followed an avowedly educational purpose in the popular tales of his Schatzkaestlein des rheinischen Hausfreunds ("Treasure Box of the Rhenish Crony"), of which it has been said that they outweigh tons of novels.
Gotthelf's intention was twofold: to champion the cause of the rustic yeomanry in the threatening of its peculiar existence—for the radical spirit of the times was already seizing and preying upon the hallowed customs of the peasantry's life—and to fight against certain inveterate vices of the rural population itself that seemed to be indigenous to the soil. As the first great social writer of the German tongue, he is not content to make the rich answerable for existing conditions, but labors with all earnestness to educate the lower classes toward self-help. At first he appeared as an uncommonly energetic, conservative, polemic author in whose views the religious, basis of life and genuine moral worth coincided with the traditional character of the country yeomanry. A more thorough examination revealed to his readers an original epic talent of stupendous powers. He was indeed eminently fitted to be an educator and reformer among his flock by his own nobility of character, his keen knowledge and sane judgment of the people's real needs and wants, his warm feeling, and his unexcelled insight into the peasant's inner life. Beyond that, however, he was gifted with exuberant poetic imagination and creative power, with an intuitive knowledge of the subtlest workings of the emotional life, and a veritable genius for finding the critical moments in an individual existence.
So it came about that the poet triumphed over the social reformer, in spite of himself; and while in his own parish, at Luetzelflueh in the Canton of Berne—where he was installed as minister of the Gospel in 1832 after having spent some time there as a vicar—he is remembered to this day for his self-sacrificing activity in every walk of life, the world at large knows him only as one of the great prose writers of Germany in the nineteenth century. His first work, Bauernspiegel ("The Peasants' Mirror"), was published in 1836, when he was thirty-nine years old. From that time on until his death in 1854, his productivity was most marvelous. The Peasants' Mirror is the first village story that deserves the name; here, for the first time, the world of the peasant was presented as a distinct world by itself. It is at the same time one of the earliest, as well as the most splendid, products of realistic art; and, considered in connection with his later writings, must be regarded as his creed and program. For the motives of the several chapters reappear later, worked out into complete books, and thus both Uli der Knecht ("Uli, the Farmhand," 1841) and Uli der Paechter ("Uli, the Tenant," 1849) are foreshadowed here.
As a literary artist Gotthelf shows barely any progress in his whole career, and intentionally so. Few writers of note have been so perfectly indifferent to matters of form. The same Gottfried Keller who calls Gotthelf "without exception the greatest epic genius that has lived in a long time, or perhaps will live for a long time to come," characterizes him thus as to his style: "With his strong, sharp spade he will dig out a large piece of soil, load it on his literary wheelbarrow, and to the accompaniment of strong language upset it before our feet; good garden soil, grass, flowers and weeds, manure and stones, precious gold coins and old shoes, fragments of crockery and bones—they all come to light and mingle their sweet and foul smells in peaceful harmony." His adherence to the principle Naturalia non sunt turpia is indeed so strict that at times a sensitive reader is tempted to hold his nose. It is to be regretted that so great a genius in his outspoken preference for all that is characteristic should have been so partial to the rude, the crude, and the brutal. For Gotthelf's literary influence—which, to be sure, did not make itself felt at once—has misled many less original writers to consider these qualities as essential to naturalistic style.
Very largely in consequence of his indifference to form and the naturalistic tendencies mentioned—for to all intents and purposes Gotthelf must be regarded as the precursor of naturalism—the Swiss writer did not gain immediate recognition in the world of letters, and the credit rightfully belonging to him fell, as already mentioned, to Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882), a native of the village of Nordstetten in the Wuerttemberg portion of the Black Forest. From 1843-1853 Auerbach published his Black Forest Village Stories, which at once became the delight of the reading public. Auerbach himself claimed the distinction of being the originator of this new species of narrative—an honor which was also claimed by Alexander Weill, because of his Sittengemaelde aus dem Elsass ("Genre Paintings from Alsace," 1843). While Gotthelf had written only for his peasants, without any regard for others, Auerbach wrote for the same general readers of fiction as the then fashionable writers did. So far as his popularity among the readers of the times and his influence on other authors are concerned, Auerbach has a certain right to the coveted title, for a whole school of village novelists followed at his heels; and his name must remain inseparably connected with the history of the novel of provincial life. The impression his stories made everywhere was so strong as to beggar description. They afforded the genuine delight that we get from murmuring brooks and flowering meadows—although the racy smell of the soil that is wafted toward us from the pages of Gotthelf's writings is no doubt more wholesome for a greater length of time. Auerbach has often been charged with idealizing his peasants too much. It must be admitted that his method and style are idealistic, but, at least in his best works, no more so than is compatible with the demands of artistic presentation. He does not, like Gotthelf, delight in painting a face with all its wrinkles, warts, and freckles, but works more like the portrait painter who will remove unsightly blemishes by retouching the picture without in any way sacrificing its lifelike character. When occasion demands he also shows himself capable of handling thoroughly tragic themes with pronounced success. In his later years, it is true, he fell into mannerism, overemphasized his inclination toward didacticism and sententiousness, and allowed the philosopher to run away with the poet by making his peasant folk think and speak as though they were adepts in the system of Spinoza, with which Auerbach himself, being of Jewish birth and having been educated to be a rabbi, was intimately familiar. On the whole, however, the lasting impression we obtain from Auerbach's literary work remains a very pleasant one—that of a rich and characteristic life, sound to the core, vigorous and buoyant.
Not as a writer of village stories—for in the portrayal of the rustic population, as such, he was not concerned—but in his basic purpose of holding up nature, pure and holy, as an ideal, Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868), an Austrian, must be assigned a place of honor in this group. A more incisive contrast to the general turbulence of the forties could hardly be imagined than is found in the nature descriptions and idyls of this quietist, who "from the madding crowd's ignoble strife" sought refuge in the stillness of the country and among people to whom such outward peace is a physical necessity. His feeling for nature, especially for her minutest and seemingly most insignificant phenomena, is closely akin to religion; there is an infinite charm in his description of the mysterious life of apparently lifeless objects; he renders all the sensuous impressions so masterfully that the reader often has the feeling of a physical experience; and it is but natural that up to his thirty-fifth year, before he discovered his literary talent, he had dreamed of being a landscape painter. Hebbel's epigram, "Know ye why ye are such past masters in painting beetles and buttercups? 'Tis because ye know not man; 'tis because ye see not the stars," utterly fails to do justice to Stifter's poetic individuality. But in avoiding the great tempests and serious conflicts of the human heart he obeyed a healthy instinct of his artistic genius, choosing to retain undisputed mastery in his own field.
It is, of course, an impossibility to treat adequately, in the remainder of the space at our disposal, the poetic and general literary merit of Fritz Reuter (1810-1874), the great regenerator and rejuvenator of Low German as a literary language. His lasting merit in the field of the village story is that by his exclusive use of dialect he threw an effective safeguard around the naturalness of the emotional life of his characters, and through this ingenious device will for all time to come serve as a model to writers in this particular domain. For dialectic utterance does not admit of any super-exaltation of sentiment; at any rate, it helps to detect such at first glance. But there are other features no less meritorious in his stories of rural life, chief of which is that unique blending of seriousness and humor that makes us laugh and cry at the same time. With his wise and kind heart, with his deep sympathy for all human suffering, with the smile of understanding for everything truly human, also for all the limitations and follies of human nature, Reuter has worthily taken his place by the side of his model, Charles Dickens. It is questionable whether even Dickens ever created a character equal to the fine and excellent Uncle Braesig, who, in the opinion of competent critics, is the most successful humorous figure in all German literature. Braesig is certainly a masterpiece of psychology; as remote from any mere comic effect, despite his idiosyncrasies, as from maudlin sentimentality; an impersonation of sturdy manhood and a victor in life's battles, no less than his creator, who, although he had lost seven of the most precious years of his life in unjust imprisonment and even had been under sentence of death for a crime of which he knew himself to be absolutely innocent, had not allowed his fate to make him a pessimist. Nor does the central theme and idea of his masterpiece Ut mine Stromtid ("From my Roaming Days," 1862), in its strength and beauty, deserve less praise than the character delineation. Four years previous, in Kein Huesung ("Homeless ") the author had raised a bitter cry of distress over the social injustice and the deceit and arrogance of the ruling classes. In spite of a ray of sunshine at the end, the treatment was essentially tragic. Now he has found a harmonious solution of the problem; the true nobility of human nature triumphs over all social distinctions; aristocracy of birth and yeomanry are forever united. Thus the marriage of Louise Havermann with Franz von Rambow both symbolizes the fusion of opposing social forces and exemplifies the lofty teaching of Gotthelf—"The light that is to illumine our fatherland must have its birth at a fireside." With his gospel of true humanity the North German poet supplements and brings to its full fruition the religious austerity of the doctrines and precepts of Jeremias Gotthelf, the preacher on the Alpine heights of Switzerland.
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LITTLE BAREFOOT (1856)
A TALE OF VILLAGE LIFE
TRANSLATED BY H.W. DULCKEN, PH.D. REVISED AND ABRIDGED BY PAUL BERNARD THOMAS
THE CHILDREN KNOCK AT THE DOOR
Early in the morning through the autumnal mist two children of six or seven years are wending their way, hand in hand, along the garden-paths outside the village. The girl, evidently the elder of the two, carries a slate, school-books, and writing materials under her arm; the boy has a similar equipment, which he carries in an open gray linen bag slung across his shoulder. The girl wears a cap of white twill, that reaches almost to her forehead, and from beneath it the outline of her broad brow stands forth prominently; the boy's head is bare. Only one child's step is heard, for while the boy has strong shoes on, the girl is barefoot. Wherever the path is broad enough, the children walk side by side, but where the space between the hedges is too narrow for this, the girl walks ahead.
The white hoar frost has covered the faded leaves of the bushes, and the haws and berries; and the flips especially, standing upright on their bare stems, seem coated with silver. The sparrows in the hedges twitter and fly away in restless groups at the children's approach; then they settle down not far off, only to go whirring up again, till at last they flutter into a garden and alight in an apple-tree with such force that the leaves come showering down. A magpie flies up suddenly from the path and shoots across to the large pear-tree, where some ravens are perched in silence. The magpie must have told them something, for the ravens fly up and circle round the tree; one old fellow perches himself on the waving crown, while the others find good posts of observation on the branches below. They, too, are doubtless curious to know why the children, with their school things, are following the wrong path and going out of the village; one raven, indeed, flies out as a scout and perches on a stunted willow by the pond. The children, however, go quietly on their way till, by the alders beside the pond, they come upon the high-road, which they cross to reach a humble house standing on the farther side. The house is locked up, and the children stand at the door and knock gently. The girl cries bravely: "Father! mother!"—and the boy timidly repeats it after her: "Father! mother!" Then the girl takes hold of the frost-covered latch and presses it, at first gently, and listens; the boards of the door creak, but there is no other result. And now she ventures to rattle the latch up and down vigorously, but the sounds die away in the empty vestibule—no human voice answers. The boy then presses his mouth to a crack in the door and cries: "Father! mother!" He looks up inquiringly at his sister—his breath on the door has also turned to hoar frost.
From the village, lying in a shroud of mist, come the measured sounds of the thresher's flail, now in sudden volleys, now slowly and with a dragging cadence, now in sharp, crackling bursts, and now again with a dull and hollow beat. Sometimes there is the noise of one flail only, but presently others have joined in on all sides. The children stand still and seem lost. Finally they stop knocking and calling, and sit down on some uprooted tree-stumps. The latter lie in a heap around the trunk of a mountain-ash which stands beside the house, and which is now radiant with its red berries. The children's eyes are again turned toward the door-but it is still locked.
"Father got those out of the Mossbrook Wood," said the girl, pointing to the stumps; and she added with a precocious look: "They give out lots of heat, and are worth quite a little; for there is a good deal of resin in them, and that burns like a torch. But chopping them brings in the most money."
"If I were already grown up," replied the boy, "I'd take father's big ax, and the beechwood mallet, and the two iron wedges, and the ash wedge and break it all up as if it were glass. And then I'd make a fine, pointed heap of it like the charcoal-burner, Mathew, makes in the woods; and when father comes home, how pleased he'll be! But you must not tell him who did it!" the boy concluded, raising a warning finger at his sister.
She seemed to have a dawning suspicion that it was useless to wait there for their father and mother, for she looked up at her brother very sadly. When her glance fell on his shoes, she said:
"Then you must have father's boots, too. But come, we will play ducks and drakes-you shall see that I can throw farther than you!"
As they walked away, the girl said:
"I'll give you a riddle to guess: What wood will warm you without your burning it?"
"The schoolmaster's ruler, when you get the spatters," answered the boy.
"No, that's not what I mean: The wood that you chop makes you warm without your burning it." And pausing by the hedge, she asked again:
"On a stick he has his head, And his jacket it is red, And filled with stone is he—Now who may he be?"
The boy bethought himself very gravely, and cried "Stop! You mustn't tell me what it is!—Why, its a hip!"
The girl nodded assentingly, and made a face as if this were the first time she had ever given him the riddle to guess; as a matter of fact, however, she had given it to him very often, and had used it many times to cheer him up.
The sun had dispersed the mist, and the little valley stood in glittering sheen, as the children turned away to the pond to skim flat stones on the water. As they passed the house the girl pressed the latch once more; but again the door did not open, nor was anything to be seen at the window. And now the children played merrily beside the pond, and the girl seemed quite content that her brother should be the more clever at the sport, and that he should boast of it and grow quite excited over it; indeed, she manifestly tried to be less clever at it, than she really was, for the stones she threw almost always plumped down to the bottom as soon as they struck the water—for which she got properly laughed at by her companion. In the excitement of the sport the children quite forgot where they were and why they had come there—and yet it was a strange and sorrowful occasion.
In the house, which was now so tightly locked up, there had lived, but a short time before, one Josenhans, with his wife and their two children, Amrei (Anna Marie) and Damie (Damien). The father was a woodcutter in the forest, and was, moreover, an adept at various kinds of work; the house, which was in a dilapidated state when he bought it, he had himself repaired and reroofed, and in the autumn he was going to whitewash it inside—the lime was already lying prepared in the trench, covered with withered branches. His wife was one of the best day-laboring women in the village—ready for anything, day and night, in weal and in woe; for she had trained her children, especially Amrei, to manage for themselves at an early age. Industry and frugal contentment made the house one of the happiest in the village. Then came a deadly sickness which snatched away the mother, and the following evening, the father; and a few days later two coffins were carried away from the little house. The children had been taken immediately into the next house, to "Coaly Mathew," and they did not know of their parents' death until they were dressed in their Sunday clothes to follow the bodies.
Josenhans and his wife had no near relations in the place, but there was, nevertheless, loud weeping heard, and much mournful praise of the dead couple. The village magistrate walked with one of the children at each hand behind the two coffins. Even at the grave the children were quiet and unconscious, indeed, almost cheerful, though they often asked for their father and mother. They dined at the magistrate's house, and everybody was exceedingly kind to them; and when they got up from the table, each one received a parcel of cakes to take away.
But that evening, when, according to an arrangement of the village authorities, "Crappy Zachy" came to get Damie, and Black Marianne called for Amrei, the children refused to separate from each other, and cried aloud, and wanted to go home. Damie soon allowed himself to be pacified by all sorts of promises, but Amrei obliged them to use force—she would not move from the spot, and the magistrate's foreman had to carry her in his arms into Black Marianne's house. There she found her own bed—the one she had used at home—but she would not lie down on it. Finally, however, exhausted by crying, she fell asleep on the floor and was put to bed in her clothes. Damie, too, was heard weeping aloud at Crappy Zachy's, and even screaming pitiably, but soon after he was silent.
The much-defamed Black Marianne, on the other hand, showed on this first evening how quietly anxious she was about her foster-child. For many, many years she had not had a child about her, and now she stood before the sleeping girl and said, almost aloud:
"Happy sleep of childhood! Happy children who can be crying, and before you look around they are asleep, without worry or restless tossing!"
She sighed deeply.
The next morning Amrei went early to her brother to help him dress himself, and consoled him concerning what had happened to him, declaring that when their father came home he would pay off Crappy Zachy. Then the two children went out to their parents' house, knocked at the door and wept aloud, until Coaly Mathew, who lived near there, came and took them to school. He asked the master to explain to the children that their parents were dead, because he himself could not make it clear to them—Amrei especially seemed determined not to understand it. The master did all he could, and the children became quiet. But from the school they went back to the empty house and waited there, hungry and forsaken, until they were fetched away.
Josenhans' house was taken by the mortgagee, and the payment the deceased had made upon it was lost; for the value of houses had decreased enormously through emigration; many houses in the village stood empty, and Josenhans' dwelling also remained unoccupied. All the movable property had been sold, and a small sum had thus been realized for the children, but it was not nearly enough to pay for their board; they were consequently parish children, and as such were placed with those who would take them at the cheapest rate.
One day Amrei announced gleefully to her brother that she knew where their parents' cuckoo-clock was—Coaly Mathew had bought it. And that very evening the children stood outside the house and waited for the cuckoo to sing; and when it did, they laughed aloud.
And every morning the children went to the old house, and knocked, and played beside the pond, as we saw them doing today. Now they listen, for they hear a sound that is not often heard at this season of the year-the cuckoo at Coaly Mathew's is singing eight times.
"We must go to school," said Amrei, and she turned quickly with her brother through the garden-path back into the village. As they passed Farmer Rodel's barn, Damie said:
"They've threshed a great deal at our guardian's today." And he pointed to the bands of threshed sheaves that hung over the half-door of the barn, as evidence of accomplished work. Amrei nodded silently.
THE DISTANT SOUL
Farmer Rodel, whose house with its red beams and its pious text in a large heart over the door, was not far from Josenhans's had let himself be appointed guardian of the orphan children by the Village Council. He made the less objection for the reason that Josenhans had, in former days, served as second-man on his farm. His guardianship, however, was practically restricted to his taking care of the father's unsold clothes, and to his occasionally asking one of the children, as he passed by: "Are you good?"—whereupon he would march off without even waiting for an answer. Nevertheless a strange feeling of pride came over the children when they heard that the rich farmer was their guardian, and they looked upon themselves as very fortunate people, almost aristocratic. They often stood near the large house and looked up at it expectantly, as if they were waiting for something and knew not what; and often, too, they sat by the plows and harrows near the barn and read the biblical text on the house over and over again. The house seemed to speak to them, if no one else did.
It was the Sunday before All Souls' Day, and the children were again playing before the locked house of their parents,—they seemed to love the spot,—when Farmer Landfried's wife came down the road from Hochdorf, with a large red umbrella under her arm, and a hymn-book in her hand. She was paying a final visit to her native place; for the day before the hired-man had already carried her household furniture out of the village in a four-horse wagon, and early the next morning she was to move with her husband and her three children to the farm they had just bought in distant Allgau. From way up by the mill Dame Landfried was already nodding to the children—for to meet children on first going out is, they say, a good sign—but the children could not see her nodding, nor could they see her sorrowful features. At last, when she drew near to them, she said:
"God greet ye, children! What are you doing here so early? To whom do you belong?"
"To Josenhans—there!" answered Amrei, pointing to the house.
"Oh, you poor children!" cried the woman, clasping her hands. "I should have known you, my girl, for your mother, when she went to school with me, looked just as you do—we were good companions; and your father served my cousin, Farmer Rodel. I know all about you. But tell me, Amrei, why have you no shoes on? You might take cold in such weather as this! Tell Marianne that Dame Landfried of Hochdorf told you to say, it is not right of her to let you run about like this! But no—you needn't say anything—I will speak to her myself. But, Amrei, you are a big girl now, and must be sensible and look out for yourself. Just think—what would your mother say, if she knew that you were running about barefoot at this season of the year?"
The child looked at the speaker with wide-open eyes, as if to say: "Doesn't my mother know anything about it?"
But the woman continued:
"That's the worst of it, that you poor children cannot know what virtuous parents you had, and therefore older people must tell you. Remember that you will give real, true happiness to your parents, when they hear, yonder in heaven, how the people down here on earth are saying 'The Josenhans children are models of all goodness—one can see in them the blessing of honest parents.'"
The tears poured down the woman's cheeks as she spoke these last words. The feeling of grief in her soul, arising from quite another cause, burst out irresistibly at these words and thoughts; there was sorrow for herself mingled with pity for others. She laid her hand upon the head of the girl, who, when she saw the woman weeping, also began to weep bitterly; she very likely felt that this was a good soul inclining toward her, and a dawning consciousness began to steal over her that she had really lost her parents.
Suddenly the woman's face seemed irradiated. She raised her still tearful eyes to heaven, and said:
"Gracious God, Thou givest me the thought." Then, turning to the child, she went on: "Listen—I will take you with me. My Lisbeth was just your age when she was taken from me. Tell me, will you go with me to Allgau and live with me?"
"Yes," replied Amrei, decidedly.
Then she felt herself nudged and seized from behind. "You must not!" cried Damie, throwing his arms around her—and he was trembling all over.
"Be still," said Amrei, to soothe him. "The kind woman will take you too. Damie is to go with us, is he not?"
"No, child, that cannot be—I have boys enough."
"Then I'll not go either," said Amrei, and she took Damie by the hand.
There is a kind of shudder, wherein a fever and a chill seem to be quarreling—the joy of doing something and the fear of doing it. One of these peculiar shudders passed through the strange woman, and she looked down upon the child with a certain sense of relief. In a moment of sympathy, urged on by a pure impulse to do a kind deed, she had proposed to undertake a task and to assume a responsibility, the significance and weight of which she had not sufficiently considered; and, furthermore, she had not taken into account what her husband would think of her taking such a step without her having spoken to him about it. Consequently when the child herself refused, a reaction set in, and it all became clear to her; so that she at once acquiesced, with a certain sense of relief, in the refusal of her offer. She had obeyed an impulse of her heart by wishing to do this thing, and now that obstacles stood in the way, she felt rather glad that it was to be left undone, and without her having been obliged to retract her promise.
"As you like," said the woman. "I will not try to persuade you. Who knows?—perhaps it is better that you should grow up first anyway. To learn to bear sorrow in youth is a good thing, and we easily get accustomed to better times; all those who have turned out really well, were obliged to suffer some heavy crosses in their youth. Only be good, and keep this in remembrance, that, so long as you are good, and so long as God grants me life, there shall always be, for your parents' sake, a shelter for you with me. But now, it's just as well as it is. Wait! I will give you something to remember me by." She felt in her pockets; but suddenly she put her hand up to her neck and said: "No, you shall have this!" Then she blew on her fingers, which were stiff with the cold, until they were nimble enough to permit her to unclasp from her neck a necklace of five rows of garnets, with a Swedish ducat hanging from them; and she fastened the ornament around the child's neck, kissing her at the same time.
Amrei watched all this as if spell-bound.
"For you I unfortunately have nothing," said the good woman to Damie, who was breaking a switch he had in his hand into little pieces. "But I will send you a pair of leather breeches belonging to my John—they are quite good still and you can wear them when you grow bigger. And now, God keep you, dear children. If possible, I shall come to you again, Amrei. At any rate, send Marianne to me after church. Be good children, both of you, and pray heartily for your parents in eternity. And don't forget that you still have protectors, both in heaven and on earth."
The farmer's wife, who, to walk the faster, had tucked her dress up all around, let it down now that she was at the entrance of the village. With hurried steps she went along the street, and did not look back again.
Amrei put her hands up to her neck and bent down her face, wishing to examine the coin; but she could not quite succeed. Damie was chewing on the last piece of his switch; when his sister looked at him and saw tears in his eyes, she said:
"You shall see—you'll get the finest pair of breeches in the village!"
"And I won't take them!" cried Damie, and he spat out a bit of wood.
"And I'll tell her that she must buy you a knife too. I shall stay home all day today—she's coming to see us."
"Yes, if she were only there already," replied Damie without knowing what he said; for a feeling that he had been slighted made him jealous and reproachful.
The first bell was ringing, and the children hastened back to the village. Amrei, with a brief explanation, gave the newly-acquired trinket to Marianne, who said:
"On my word, you are a lucky child! I'll take good care of it for you. Now make haste to church."
All during the service the children kept glancing across at Farmer Landfried's wife, and when they came out they waited for her at the door; but the wealthy farmer's wife was surrounded by so many people, all eagerly talking to her, that she was obliged to keep turning in a circle to answer first one and then another. She had no opportunity to notice the wistful glances of the children and their continual nodding. Dame Landfried had Rosie, Farmer Rodel's youngest daughter, in her hand. Rosie was a year older than Amrei, who involuntarily kept moving her hand, as though she would have pushed aside the intruder who was taking her place. Had the well-to-do farmer's wife eyes for Amrei only out by the last house, and when they were alone, and did she not know her when other people were present? Are only the children of rich people noticed then, and the children of relatives?
Amrei was startled when she suddenly heard this thought, which had begun to stir gently within her, uttered aloud; it was Damie who uttered it. And while she followed at a distance the large group of people surrounding the farmer's wife, she strove to drive the bad thought out of her brother's mind, as well as out of her own. Dame Landfried at last disappeared into Farmer Rodel's house, and the children quietly turned back.
Suddenly Damie said:
"If she comes to you, you must tell her to go to Crappy Zachy too, and tell him to be good to me."
Amrei nodded; and then the children parted, and went to the separate houses where they had found shelter.
The clouds, which had lifted in the morning, came back in the afternoon in the shape of a perfect downpour of rain. Dame Landfried's large red umbrella was seen here and there around the village, almost hiding the figure beneath it. Black Marianne had not been able to find her, and she said on her return home:
"She can come to me—I don't want anything of her."
The two children wandered out to their parents' house again and crouched down on the door-step, hardly speaking a word. Again the suspicion seemed to dawn upon them, that after all their parents would not come back. Then Damie tried to count the drops of rain that fell from the eaves; but they came down too quickly for him, and he made easy work of it by crying out all at once: "A thousand million!"
"She must come past here when she goes home," said Amrei, "and then we'll call out to her. Mind that you help me call, too, and then we'll have another talk with her."
So said Amrei; for the children were still waiting there for Dame Landfried.
The cracking of a whip sounded in the village. There was a trampling and splashing of horses' feet in the slushy street, and a carriage came rolling along.
"You shall see that it's father and mother coming in a coach to fetch us," cried Damie.
Amrei looked around at her brother mournfully, and said:
"Don't chatter so."
When she looked back again the carriage was quite near; somebody in it motioned from beneath a red umbrella, and away rolled the vehicle. Only Coaly Mathew's dog barked after it for a while, and acted as if he wanted to seize the spokes with his teeth; but at the pond he turned back again, barked once more in front of the door, and then slunk into the house.
"Hurrah! she's gone away!" cried Damie, as if he were glad of it. "It was Farmer Landfried's wife. Didn't you know Farmer Rodel's black horses?—they carried her off. Don't forget my leather breeches!" he cried at the top of his voice, although the carriage had already disappeared in the valley, and was presently seen creeping up the little hill by the Holderwasen.
The children returned quietly to the village. Who knows in what way this incident may take root in the inmost being, and what may sprout from it? For the present another feeling covers that of the first, bitter disappointment.
FROM THE TREE BY THE PARENTS' HOUSE
On the eve of All Souls' Day Black Marianne said to the children:
"Go, now, and gather some red berries, for we shall want them at the graveyard tomorrow."
"I know where to find them! I can get some!" cried Damie with genuine eagerness and joy. And away he ran out of the village, at such a pace that Amrei could hardly keep up with him; and when she arrived at their parents' house he was already up in the tree, teasing her in a boasting manner and calling for her to come up too—because he knew that she could not. And now he began to pluck the red berries and threw them down into his sister's apron. She asked him to pick them with their stems on, because she wanted to make a wreath. He answered, "No, I shan't!"—nevertheless no berries fell down after that without stems on them.
"Hark, how the sparrows are scolding!" cried Damie from the tree. "They're angry because I'm taking their food away from them!" And finally, when he had plucked all the berries, he said: "I shan't come down again, but shall stay up here day and night until I die and drop down, and shall never come to you at all any more, unless you promise me something!"
"What is it?"
"That you'll never wear the necklace that Farmer Landfried's wife gave you, so long as I can see it. Will you promise me that?"
"Then I shall never come down!"
"Very well," said Amrei, and she went away with her berries. But before she had gone far, she sat down behind a pile of wood and started to make a wreath, every now and then peeping out to see if Damie was not coming. She put the wreath on her head. Suddenly an indescribable anxiety about Damie seized her; she ran back, and there was Damie, sitting astride a branch and leaning back against the trunk of the tree with his arms folded.
"Come down! I'll promise you what you want!" cried Amrei; and in a moment Damie was down on the ground beside her.
When she got home, Black Marianne called her a foolish child and scolded her for making a wreath for herself out of the berries that were intended for her parents' graves. Marianne quickly destroyed the wreath, muttering a few words which the children could not understand. Then she took them both by the hand and led them out to the churchyard; and passing where two mounds lay close together, she said:
"There are your parents!"
The children looked at each other in surprise. Marianne then made a cross-shaped furrow in each of the mounds, and showed the children how to stick the berries in. Damie was handy at the work, and boasted because his red cross was finished sooner than his sister's. Amrei looked at him fixedly and made no answer; but when Damie said, "That will please father," she struck him on the back and said: "Be quiet!"
Damie began to cry, perhaps louder than he really meant to. Then Amrei called out:
"For heaven's sake, forgive me!—forgive me for doing that to you. Right here, I promise you that I'll do all I can for you, all my life long, and give you everything I have. I didn't hurt you, Damie, did I? You may depend upon it, it shall not happen again as long as I live—never again!—never! Oh, mother! Oh, father! I shall be good, I promise you! Oh, mother! Oh, father!"
She could say no more; but she did not weep aloud, although it was plain that her heart was almost bursting. Not until Black Marianne burst out crying did Amrei weep with her.
They returned home, and when Damie said "Good night," Amrei whispered into his ear:
"Now I know that we shall never see our parents again in this world."
Even from making this communication she derived a certain satisfaction—a childish pride which is awakened by having something to impart. And yet in this child's heart there had dawned something like a realization that one of the great ties in her life had been severed forever, the thought that arises with the consciousness that a parent is no longer with us.
When the lips which called thee child have been sealed by death, a breath has vanished from thy life that shall nevermore return.
While Black Marianne was sitting beside the child's bed, the little one said:
"I seem to be falling and falling, on and on. Let me keep hold of your hand."
Holding the hand fast, she dropped into a slumber; but as often as Black Marianne tried to draw her hand away, she clutched at it again. Marianne understood what this sensation of endless falling signified for the child; she felt in realizing her parents' death as if she were being wafted along, without knowing whence or whither.
It was not until nearly midnight that Marianne was able to quit the child's bedside, after she had repeated her usual twelve Paternosters over and over again, who knows how many times? A look of stern defiance was on the face of the sleeping child. She had laid one hand across her bosom; Black Marianne gently lifted it, and said, half-aloud, to herself:
"If there were only an eye to watch over thee and a hand to help thee all the time, as there is now in thy sleep, and to take the heaviness out of thy heart without thy knowing it! But nobody can do that—none but He alone. Oh, may He do unto my child in distant lands as I do unto this little one!"
Black Marianne was a shunned woman, that is to say, people were almost afraid of her, so harsh did she seem in her manner. Some eighteen years before she had lost her husband, who had been shot in an attempt which he had made with some companions to rob the stage-coach. Marianne was expecting a child to be born when the body of her husband, with its blackened face, was carried into the village; but she bore up bravely and washed the dead man's face as if she hoped, by so doing, to wash away his black guilt. Her three daughters died, and only the son, who was born soon afterward, lived to grow up. He turned out to be a handsome lad, though he had a strange, dark color in his face; he was now traveling abroad as a journeyman mason. For from the time of Brosi, and especially since that worthy man's son, Severin, had worked his way up to such high honor with the mallet, many of the young men in the village had chosen to follow the mason's calling. The children used to talk of Severin as if he were a prince in a fairy tale. And so Black Marianne's only child had, in spite of her remonstrances, become a mason, and was now wandering around the country. And she, who all her life long had never left the village, nor had ever desired to leave it, often declared that she seemed to herself like a hen that had hatched a duck's egg; but she was almost always clucking to herself about it.
One would hardly believe it, but Black Marianne was one of the most cheerful persons in the village; she was never seen to be sorrowful, for she did not like to have people pity her; and that is why they did not take to her. In the winter she was the most industrious spinner in the village, and in the summer, the busiest at gathering wood, a large part of which she was able to sell; and "my John"—for that was her surviving child's name—"my John" was always the subject of her conversation. She said that she had taken little Amrei to live with her, not from a desire to be kind, but in order that she might have some living being about her. She liked to appear rough before people, and thus enjoyed, all the more, the proud consciousness of independence.
The exact opposite to her was Crappy Zachy, with whom Damie had found shelter. This worthy represented himself to people as a kind-hearted fellow who would give away anything he had; but as a matter of fact he bullied and ill-used his entire household, and especially Damie, for whose keep he received but a small sum of money. His real name was Zechariah, and he got his nickname from his once having brought home to his wife a couple of finely trussed pigeons to roast, but they were in fact a pair of plucked ravens, which in that part of the country are called "crappies." Crappy Zachy, who had a wooden leg, spent most of his time knitting woolen stockings and jackets; and with his knitting he used to sit about in the village wherever there was any opportunity to gossip. This gossiping, in the course of which he heard all sorts of news, was a source of some very profitable side-business for him. He was what they called the "marriage-maker" of the region; for in those parts, where there are large, separate estates, marriages are generally managed through agents, who find out accurately the relative circumstances of the prospective couples, and arrange everything beforehand. When a marriage of this kind had been brought about, Crappy Zachy used to play the fiddle at the wedding, for he had quite a reputation in the region as a fiddler; moreover, when his hands were tired from fiddling, he could play the clarionet and the horn. In fact, he was an undoubted genius.
Damie's whining and sensitive nature was very disgusting to Crappy Zachy, and he tried to cure him of it by giving him plenty to cry about and teasing him whenever he could.
Thus the two little stems which had sprouted in the same garden were transplanted into different soils. The position and the nature of the ground, and the qualities that were inherent in each stem, made them grow up very differently.
All Souls' Day came. It was dull and foggy, and the children stood among a crowd of people assembled in the churchyard. Crappy Zachy had led Damie there by the hand, but Amrei had come alone, without Black Marianne; many were angry at the hard-hearted woman, while a few hit a part of the truth when they said that Marianne did not like to visit graves, because she did not know where her husband's grave was. Amrei was quiet and did not shed a tear, while Damie wept bitterly at the pitying remarks of the bystanders, more especially because Crappy Zachy had given him several sly pinches and pokes. For a time Amrei, in a dreamy, forgetful way, stood gazing at the lights on the heads of the graves, watching the flame consume the wax and the wick grow blacker, and blacker, until at last the light was quite burnt out.
In the crowd a man, wearing handsome, town-made clothes and with a ribbon in his button-hole, was moving about here and there. It was the High Commissioner of Public Works, Severin, who, on a trip of inspection, had come to visit the graves of his parents, Brosi and Moni. His brothers and sisters and other relatives were constantly crowding around him with a kind of deferential respect; in fact, the usual reverence of the occasion was almost entirely diverted, nearly all the attention being fixed upon this stranger. Amrei also looked at him, and asked Crappy Zachy:
"Is that a bridegroom?"
"Because he has a ribbon in his button-hole."
Instead of answering her, the first thing that Crappy Zachy did was to go up to a group of people and tell them what a stupid speech the child had made; and from among the graves there arose a loud laugh over her foolishness. Only Farmer Rodel's wife said: "I don't see anything foolish in that. Although it is a mark of honor that Severin has, it is after all a strange thing for him to go about in the churchyard with such a decoration on—in the place where we see what we are all coming to, whether in our lifetime we have worn clothes of silk or of homespun. It annoyed me to see him wear it in the church—a thing of that kind ought to be taken off when one goes to church, and more especially in the churchyard!"
The rumor of little Amrei's question must have penetrated to Severin himself, for he was seen to button his overcoat hastily, and as he did so he nodded at the child. Now he was heard to ask who she was, and as soon as he found out, he came hurrying across to the children beside the fresh graves, and said to Amrei:
"Come here, my child. Open your hand. Here is a ducat for you—buy what you want with it."
The child stared at him and did not answer. But scarcely had Severin turned his back when she called out to him, half-aloud:
"I won't take any presents!"—and she flung the ducat after him.
Several people who had seen this came up to Amrei and scolded her; and just as they were about to illuse her, she was again saved from their rough hands by Farmer Rodel's wife, who once before had protected her with words. But even she requested Amrei to go after Severin and at least thank him. But Amrei made no answer whatsoever; she remained obstinate, so that her protectress also left her. Only with considerable difficulty was the ducat found again, and a member of the Village Council, who was present, took charge of it in order to deliver it over to the child's guardian.
This incident gave Amrei a strange reputation in the village. People said she had lived only a few days with Black Marianne, and yet had already acquired that woman's manners. It was declared to be an unheard of thing that a child so sunk in poverty could be so proud, and she was scolded up hill and down dale for this pride, so that she became thoroughly aware of it, and in her young, childish heart there arose an attitude of defiance, a resolve to evince it all the more. Black Marianne, moreover, did her part to strengthen this state of mind, for she said: "Nothing more lucky can happen to a poor person than to be considered proud, for by that means he or she is saved from being trampled upon by everybody, and from being expected to offer thanks for such usage afterward."
In the winter Amrei was at Crappy Zachy's much of the time, for she was very fond of hearing him play the violin; yes, and Crappy Zachy on one occasion bestowed such high praise upon her as to say: "You are not stupid;" for Amrei, after listening to his playing for a long time, had remarked: "It's wonderful how a fiddle can hold its breath so long; I can't do that." And, on quiet winter nights at home, when Marianne told sparkling and horrifying goblin-stories, Amrei, when they were finished, would draw a deep breath and say: "Oh, Marianne, I must take breath now—I was obliged to hold my breath all the time you were speaking."
No one paid much attention to Amrei, and the child could dream away just as she had a mind to. Only the schoolmaster said once at a meeting of the Village Council, that he had never seen such a child—she was at once defiant and yielding, dreamy and alert. In truth, with all her childish self-forgetfulness, there was already developing in little Amrei a sense of responsibility, an attitude of self-defense in opposition to the world, its kindness and its malice. Damie, on the other hand, came crying and complaining to his sister upon every trifling occasion. He was, furthermore, always pitying himself, and when he was tumbled over by his playmates in their wrestling matches, he always whined: "Yes, because I am an orphan they beat me! Oh, if my father and mother knew of it!"—and then he cried twice as much over the injustice of it. Damie let everybody give him things to eat, and thus became greedy, while Amrei was satisfied with a little, and thus acquired habits of moderation. Even the roughest boys were afraid of Amrei, although nobody knew how she had proved her strength, while Damie would run away from quite little boys. In school Damie was always up to mischief; he shuffled his feet and turned down the leaves of the books with his fingers as he read. Amrei, on the other hand, was always bright and attentive, though she often wept in the school, not for the punishment she herself received, but because Damie was so often punished.
Amrei could please Damie best by telling him the answers to riddles. The children still used to sit frequently by the house of their rich guardian, sometimes near the wagons, sometimes near the oven behind the house, where they used to warm themselves, especially in the autumn. Once Amrei asked:
"What's the best thing about an oven?"
"You know I can't guess anything," replied Damie, plaintively.
"Then I'll tell you:
'In the oven this is best, 'tis said, That it never itself doth eat the bread.'"
And then, pointing to the wagons before the house, Amrei asked:
"What's full of holes, and yet holds? "—and without waiting for a reply, she gave the answer: "A chain!"
"Now you must let me ask you these riddles," said Damie.
And Amrei replied: "Yes, you may ask them. But do you see those sheep coming yonder? Now I know another riddle."
"No!" cried Damie, "no! Two are enough for me—I can't remember three!"
"Yes, you must hear this one too, or else I'll take the others back!"
And Damie kept repeating to himself, anxiously: "A chain," "Eat it itself," while Amrei asked:
"On which side have sheep the most wool?"—"Ba! ba! on the outside!" she sang merrily.
Damie now ran off to ask his playmates these riddles; he kept his fists tightly clenched, as if he were holding the riddles fast and was determined not to let them go. But when he got to his playmates, he remembered only the one about the chain; and Farmer Rodel's eldest son, whom he hadn't asked at all and who was much too old for that sort of thing, guessed the answer at once, and Damie ran back to his sister crying.
Little Amrei's cleverness at riddles soon began to be talked about in the village, and even rich, serious farmers, who seldom wasted many words on anybody, and least of all on a poor child, now and then condescended to ask little Amrei one. That she knew a great many herself was not strange, for she had probably learned them from Black Marianne; but that she was able to answer so many new ones caused general astonishment. Amrei would soon have been unable to go across the street or into the fields without being stopped and questioned, if she had not found out a remedy; she made it a rule that she would not answer a riddle for anybody, unless she might propose one in return, and she managed to think up such good ones that the people stood still as if spell-bound. Never had a poor child been so much noticed in the village as was this little Amrei. But, as she grew older, less attention was paid to her, for people look with sympathetic eyes only at the blossom and the fruit, and disregard the long period of transition during which the one is ripening into the other.
Before Amrei's school-days were over, Fate gave her a riddle that was difficult to solve.
The children had an uncle, a woodcutter, who lived some fifteen miles from Haldenbrunn, at Fluorn. They had seen him only once, and that was at their parents' funeral, when he had walked behind the magistrate, who had led the children by the hand. After that time the children often dreamt about their uncle at Fluorn. They were often told that this uncle was like their father, which made them still more anxious to see him; for although they still believed at times that their father and mother would some day suddenly reappear—it could not be that they had gone away forever—still, as the years rolled on, they gradually became reconciled to giving up this hope, especially after they had over and over again put berries on the graves, and had long been able to read the two names on the same black cross. They also almost entirely forgot about the uncle in Fluorn, for during many years they had heard nothing of him.
But one day the children were called into their guardian's house, and there sat a tall, heavy man with a brown face.
"Come here, children," said this man, as the children entered. "Don't you know me?" He had a dry, harsh voice.
The children looked at him with wondering eyes. Perhaps some remembrance of their father's voice awoke within them. The man continued:
"I am your father's brother. Come here, Lisbeth, and you too, Damie."
"My name's not Lisbeth—my name's Amrei," said the girl; and she began to cry. She did not offer her hand to her uncle. A feeling of estrangement made her tremble, when her own uncle thus called her by a wrong name; she very likely felt that there could be no real affection for her in anybody who did not know her name.
"If you are my uncle, why don't you know my name?" asked Amrei.
"You are a stupid child! Go and offer him your hand immediately!" commanded Farmer Rodel. And then he said to the stranger, half in a whisper: "She's a strange child. Black Marianne, who, you know, is a peculiar sort of person, has put all sorts of odd notions into her head."
Amrei looked around in astonishment, and gave her hand to her uncle, trembling. Damie, who had done so already, now said:
"Uncle, have you brought us anything?"
"I haven't much to bring. I bring myself, and you're to go with me. Do you know, Amrei, that it's not at all right for you not to like your uncle. You'd better come here and sit down beside me—nearer still. You see, your brother Damie is much more sensible. He looks more like our family, but you belong to us too."
A maid now came in with some man's clothing, which she laid on the table.
"These are your brother's clothes," said Farmer Rodel to the stranger; and the latter went on to say to Amrei:
"As you see, these are your father's clothes. We shall take them with us, and you shall go too—first to Fluorn, and then across the brook."
Amrei, trembling, touched her father's coat and his blue-striped vest. But the uncle lifted up the clothes, pointed to the worn-out elbows, and said to Farmer Rodel:
"These are worth very little—I won't have them valued at much. I don't even know if I can wear them over in America, without being laughed at."
Amrei seized the coat passionately. That her father's coat, which she had looked upon as a costly and invaluable treasure, should be pronounced of little value, seemed to grieve her, and that these clothes were to be worn in America, and ridiculed there, almost bewildered her. And, anyway, what was the meaning of this talk about America? This mystery was soon cleared up, when Farmer Rodel's wife came, and with her, Black Marianne; for Dame Rodel said:
"Harkye, husband—to my mind this thing should not be done so fast, this sending the children off to America with that man."
"But he is their only living relative, Josenhans' brother."
"Yes, to be sure. But until now he has not done much to show that he is a relative; and I fancy that this cannot be done without the approval of the Council, and even the Council cannot do it alone. The children have a legal right to live here, which cannot be taken away from them in their sleep, so to speak—for the children are not yet in a position to say what they want themselves. It's like carrying people off in their sleep."
"My Amrei is intelligent enough. She's thirteen now, but more clever than many a person of thirty, and she knows what she wants," said Black Marianne.
"You two ought to have been town-councilors," said Farmer Rodel. "But it's my opinion, too, that the children ought not to be tied to a rope, like calves, and dragged away. Well, let the man talk with them himself, and then we shall see what further is to be done. He is after all their natural protector, and has the right to stand in their father's place, if he likes. Harkye; do you take a little walk with your brother's children outside the village, and you women stay here, and let nobody try to persuade or dissuade them."
The woodcutter took the two children by the hand, and went out of the room and out of the house with them. In the street he asked the children:
"Whither shall we go?"
"If you want to be our father, go home with us," suggested Damie. "Our house is down yonder."
"Is it open?" asked the uncle.
"No, but Coaly Mathew has the key. But he has never let us go in. I'll run on and get the key."
Damie released himself quickly, and ran off. Amrei felt like a prisoner as her uncle led her along by the hand. He spoke earnestly and confidentially to her now, however, and explained, almost as if he were excusing himself, that he had a large family of his own and, that he could hardly get along with his wife and five children. But now a man, who was the owner of large forests in America, had offered him a free passage across the ocean, and in five years, when he had cleared away the forest, he was to have a large piece of the best farm-land as his own property. In gratitude to God, who had bestowed this upon him for himself and his family, he had immediately made up his mind to do a good deed by taking his brother's children with him. But he was not going to compel them to go; indeed, he would take them only on the condition that they should turn to him with their whole hearts and look upon him as their second father.
Amrei looked at him with eyes of wonder. If she could only bring herself to love this man! But she was almost afraid of him—she could not help it. And to have him thus fall from the clouds, as it were, and compel her to love him, rather turned her against him.
"Where is your wife?" asked Amrei. She very likely felt that a woman would have broached the subject in a more gentle and gradual manner.
"I will tell you honestly," answered her uncle. "My wife does not interfere in this matter, and says she will neither persuade nor dissuade me. She is a little sharp, but only at first—if you are good to her, and you are a sensible child, you can twist her around your finger. And if, once in a while, anything should happen to you that you don't like, remember that you are at your father's brother's, and tell me about it alone. I will help you all I can, and you shall see that your real life is just beginning."
Amrei's eyes filled with tears at these words; and yet she could say nothing, for she felt estranged toward this man. His voice appealed to her, but when she looked at him, she felt as if she would have liked to run away.
Damie now came with the key. Amrei started to take it from him, but he would not give it up. With the peculiar pedantic conscientiousness of a child he declared that he had faithfully promised Coaly Mathew's wife to give it to nobody but his uncle. Accordingly the uncle took it from him, and it seemed to Amrei as if a magic secret door were being opened when the key for the first time rattled in the lock and turned—the hasp went down and the door opened! A strange chill, like that of a vault, came creeping from the black front-room, which had also served as a kitchen. A little heap of ashes still lay on the hearth, and on the door the initials of Caspar Melchior Balthasar and the date of the parent's death, were written in chalk. Amrei read it aloud—her own father had written it.
"Look," cried Damie, "the eight is shaped just as you make it, and as the master won't have it—you know—from right to left."
Amrei motioned to him to keep quiet. She thought it terrible and sinful that Damie should talk so lightly—here, where she felt as if she were in church, or even in eternity—quite out of the world, and yet in the very midst of it. She herself opened the inside door; the room was dark as a grave, for the shutters were closed. A single sunbeam, shining through a crack in the wall, fell on the angel's head on the tile stove in such a way that the angel seemed to be laughing. Amrei crouched down in terror. When she looked up again, her uncle had opened one of the shutters, and the warm, outside air poured in. How cold it seemed in there! None of the furniture was left in the room but a bench nailed to the wall. There her mother used to spin, and there she had put Amrei's little hands together and taught her to knit.
"Come, children, let us go now," said the uncle. "It is not good to be here. Come with me to the baker and I will buy you each a white roll—or do you like biscuits better?"
"No, let us stay here a little longer," said Amrei; and she kept on stroking the place where her mother had sat. Then, pointing to a white spot on the wall, she said, half in a whisper: "There our cuckoo clock used to hang, and there our father's discharge from the army. And there the hanks of yarn that mother spun used to hang—she could spin even better than Black Marianne—Black Marianne has said so herself. She always got a skein more out of a pound than anybody else, and it was always so even—not a knot in it. And do you see that ring up there on the ceiling? It was beautiful to see her twisting the threads there. If I had been old enough to know then, I would not have let them sell mother's spindle—it would have been a fine legacy for me. But there was nobody to take any interest in us. Oh, mother dear! Oh, father dear! If you knew how we have been pushed about, it would grieve you, even in eternity."
Amrei began to weep aloud, and Damie wept with her; even the uncle dried his eyes. He again urged them to come away from the place; he was vexed for having caused himself and the children this grief. But Amrei said in a decided way:
"Even if you do go, I shall not go with you."
"How do you mean? You will not go with me at all?"
Amrei started; for she suddenly realized what she had said, and it seemed to her almost as if it had been an inspiration. But presently she answered:
"No, I don't know about that yet. I merely meant to say, that I shall not willingly leave this house until I have seen everything again. Come, Damie, you are my brother—come up into the attic. Do you remember where we used to play hide-and-seek, behind the chimney? And then we'll look out of the window, where we dried the truffles. Don't you remember the bright florin father got for them?"
Something rustled and pattered across the ceiling. All three started, and the uncle said quickly:
"Stay where you are, Damie, and you too. What do you want up there? Don't you hear the mice running about?"
"Come with me—they won't eat us!" Amrei insisted. Damie, however, declared that he would not go, and Amrei, although she felt a secret fear, took courage and went upstairs alone. But she soon came down again, looking as pale as death, with nothing in her hand but a bundle of old straws.
"Damie says he'll go with me to America," said the uncle, as she came forward. Amrei, breaking up the straws in her hands, replied: "I've nothing to say against it. I don't know yet what I shall do, but he can go if he likes."
"No," cried Damie, "I shan't do that. You did not go with Dame Landfried when she wanted to take you away, and so I shall not go off alone without you."
"Well, then, think it over—you are sensible enough," said the uncle, to conclude the matter. He then closed the shutters again, so that they stood in the dark, and hurried the children out of the room and through the vestibule, locked the outside door, and went to take the key back to Coaly Mathew. After that he started for the village with Damie alone. When he was some way off, he called back to Amrei:
"You have until tomorrow morning—then I shall go away whether you go with me or not."
Amrei was left alone. She looked after the retreating figures and wondered how one person could go away from another.
"There he goes," she thought, "and yet he belongs to you, and you to him."
Strange! As in a sleep-dream, a subject that has been lightly touched upon is renewed and interwoven with all sorts of strange details, so was it now with Amrei in her waking-dream. Damie had made but a passing allusion to the meeting with Farmer Landfried's wife. The remembrance of her had half faded away; but now it suddenly rose up fresh again—like a picture of past life in a vision. Amrei said to herself, almost aloud:
"Who knows if she may not thus suddenly think of you? One cannot tell why she should, and yet perhaps she is thinking of you at this very moment. For in this place she promised to be your protectress whenever you came to her,—it was yonder by the stunted willows. Why is it, that only the trees remain to be seen? Why is not a word like a tree, something which stands firmly, something which one can hold to. Yes, one can, if one will. Then one is as well off as a tree—and what an honorable farmer's wife says, is firm and lasting. She, too, wept because she had to go away from her native place, although she had been married and away from it for a long time. And she has children of her own—one of them is called John."
Amrei was standing by the tree where they had picked the berries. She laid her hand upon the trunk and said:
"You—why don't you go away, too? Why don't people tell you to emigrate? Perhaps for you, too, it would be better elsewhere. But, to be sure, you are too large—you did not place yourself here, and who knows if you would not die in some other place. You can only be hewn down, not transplanted. Nonsense! I also had to leave my home. If it were my father, I should be obliged to go with him—he would not need to ask me. And he who asks too much, goes astray. No one can advise me in this matter, not even Marianne. And, after all, with my uncle, it's like this: 'I am doing you a good turn, and you must repay me.' If he's severe with me, and with Damie, because he's awkward, and we have to run away, where in this wide, strange world are we to go? Here everybody knows us, and every hedge, every tree has a familiar face. 'You know me, don't you?' she said, looking up at the tree. 'Oh, if you could but speak! God created you too—why cannot you speak? You knew my father and mother so well—why cannot you tell me what they would advise me to do?' Oh, dear father! Oh, dear mother! It grieves me so to have to go away! I have nothing here, and hardly anybody, and yet I feel as if I were being driven out of a warm bed into the cold snow. Is this deep sadness that I feel a sign that I ought not to go? Is it the true voice of conscience, or is it but a foolish fear? Oh, good Heaven, I do not know! If only a voice from Heaven would come now and tell me!"
The child trembled with inward terror, and the sense of life's difficulties for the first time arose vividly within her. And again she went on, half-thinking, half-talking to herself—but this time in a more decided way:
"If I were alone, I know for certain that I should not go; I should stay here. For it would grieve me too much. Alone I could get along. Good—remember that; of one thing, then, you are sure—as to yourself you are decided. But what foolish thoughts are these! How can I imagine that I am alone, and without Damie? I am not alone—I belong to Damie, and he belongs to me. And for Damie it would be better if he had a fatherly hand to guide him—it would help him up. But why do you want anybody else, Amrei?—can you not take care of him yourself, if it be necessary? If he once starts out in that way, I can see that he'll be nothing but a servant all his life, a drudge for other people. And who knows how uncle's children will behave toward us? Because they're poor people themselves, they'll play the masters with us. No, no! I'm sure they're good,—and it would be a fine thing to be able to say: 'Good morning, cousin.' If uncle had only brought one of the children with him, I could decide much better—I could find out about things. Oh, good heavens, how difficult all this is!"
Amrei sat down by the tree. A chaffinch came hopping along, picked up a seed, looked around him, and flew away. Something crept across Amrei's face; she brushed it off—it was a ladybird. She let it creep about on her hand, between the mountains and valleys of her fingers, until it came to the tip of her little-finger and flew away.
"What a tale he'll have to tell about where he has been!" thought Amrei. "A little creature like that is well off indeed—wherever it flies, it is at home. How the larks are singing! They, too, are well off—they do not have to think what they ought to say and do. Yonder the butcher, with his dog, is driving a calf out of the village. The dog's voice is quite different from the lark's—but then a lark's singing would never drive a calf along."
"Where's the colt going?" Coaly Mathew called out of his window to a young lad who was leading a fine colt away by a halter.
"Farmer Rodel has sold it," was the reply; and presently the colt was heard neighing farther down the valley. Amrei, who had heard this, again reflected:
"Yes, a creature like that can be sold away from its mother, and the mother hardly knows of it; and whoever pays for it, to him it belongs. But a person cannot be sold, and he who is unwilling cannot be led away by a halter. Yonder comes Farmer Rodel and his horses, with a large colt frisking beside them. You will be put in harness soon, colt, and perhaps you, too, will be sold. A man cannot be bought—he merely hires himself out. An animal for its work gets nothing more than its food and drink, while a person gets money as a reward. Yes, I can be a maid now, and with my wages I can apprentice Damie—he wants to be a mason. But when we are at uncle's, Damie won't be as much mine as he is now. Hark! the starling is flying home to the house which father made for him—he's singing merrily again. Father made the house for him out of old planks. I remember his saying that a starling won't go into a house if it's made of new wood, and I feel just the same. 'You, tree,—now I know—if you rustle as long as I stay here, I shall remain.'" And Amrei listened intently; soon it seemed to her as if the tree were rustling, but again when she looked up at the branches they were quite still, and she did not know what it was she heard.
Something was now coming along the road with a great cackling and with a cloud of dust flying before it. It was a flock of geese returning from the pasture on the Holderwasen. Amrei abstractedly imitated their cackling for a long time. Then her eyes closed and she fell asleep.
An entire spring-array of blossoms had burst forth in this young soul. The budding trees in the valley, as they drank in the evening dew, shed forth their fragrance over the child who had fallen asleep on her native soil, from which she could not tear herself.
It had long been dark when she awoke, and a voice was crying:
"Amrei, where are you?"
She sat up, but did not answer. She looked wonderingly at the stars,—it seemed to her as if the voice had come from Heaven. Not until the call was repeated did she recognize the voice of Black Marianne, and then she answered:
"Here I am!"
Black Marianne now came up and said:
"Oh, it's good that I have found you! They are like mad all through the village; one says he saw you in the wood, another that he met you in the fields, that you were running along, crying, and would listen to no call. I began to fear that you had jumped into the pond. You need not be afraid, dear child, you need not run away; nobody can compel you to go with your uncle."
"And who said that I did not want to go?" But suddenly a gust of wind rustled loudly through the branches of the tree. "But I shall certainly not go!" Amrei cried, holding fast to the tree with her hand.
"Come home—there's a severe storm coming up, and the wind will blow it here directly," urged Marianne.
And so Amrei walked, almost staggered, back to the village with Black Marianne. What did it mean—that people had seen her running through field and forest? Or was it only Black Marianne's fancy?
The night was pitch dark, but now and then bright flashes of lightning illuminated the houses, revealing them in a dazzling glare, which blinded their eyes and compelled them to stand still. And when the lightning disappeared, nothing more could be seen. In their own native village the two seemed as if they were lost, as if they were in a strange place, and they hastened onward with an uncertain step. The dust whirled up in eddies, so that at times they could scarcely make any progress; then, wet with perspiration, they struggled on again, until at last they reached the shelter of their home, just as the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. A gust of wind blew open the door, and Amrei cried:
She was very likely thinking of a fairy tale, in which a magic door opens at a mysterious word.
ON THE HOLDERWASEN
Accordingly, when her uncle came the next morning, Amrei declared that she would remain where she was. There was a strange mixture of bitterness and benevolence in her uncle's reply:
"Yes, you certainly take after your mother—she would never have anything to do with us. But I couldn't take Damie alone along with me, even if he wanted to go; for a long time he wouldn't be able to do anything but eat bread, whereas you would have been able to earn it too."
Amrei replied that she preferred to do that here at home for the present, but that if her uncle remained in the same mind, she and her brother would come to him at some future time. Indeed, the interest her uncle now expressed for the children, for a moment, almost made her waver in her resolution, but in her characteristic way she did not venture to show any signs of it. She merely said:
"Give my love to your children, and tell them I feel very sorry about never having seen my nearest relatives; and especially now that they are going across the seas, since perhaps I shall never see them in my life."
Then her uncle stood up quickly, and commissioned Amrei to give his love to Damie, for he himself had no time to wait to bid him farewell. And with that he went away.
When Damie came soon afterward and heard of his uncle's departure, he wanted to run after him, and even Amrei felt a similar impulse. But she restrained herself and did not yield to it. She spoke and acted as if she were obeying some one's command in every word she said and in every movement she made; and yet her thoughts were wandering along the road by which her uncle had gone. She walked through the village, leading her brother by the hand, and nodded to all the people she met. She felt just as if she had been away and was now returning to them all. Her uncle had wanted to tear her away, and she thought that everybody else must be as glad that she had not gone, as she was herself. But she soon found out that they would not only have been glad to let her go, but that they were positively angry with her because she had not gone. Crappy Zachy opened his eyes wide at her and said:
"Child, you have an obstinate head of your own—the whole village is angry with you for spurning your good fortune. Still, who knows whether it would have been good fortune? But they call it so now, at any rate, and everybody that looks at you casts it up to you how much you receive from the parish. So make haste and get yourself off the public charity lists."
"But what am I to do?"
"Farmer Rodel's wife would like to have you in her service, but the old man won't listen to it."
Amrei very likely felt that henceforward she would have to be doubly brave, in order to escape the reproaches of her own conscience, as well as those of others; and so she asked again:
"Don't you know of anything at all?"
"Yes, certainly; but you must not be ashamed of anything—except begging. Have you not heard that foolish Fridolin yesterday killed two geese belonging to a farmer's wife? The goosekeeper's place is vacant, and I advise you to take it."
It was soon done. That very noon Amrei drove the geese out to the Holderwasen, as the pasture on the little hill by the King's Well was called. Damie loyally helped his sister in doing it.
Black Marianne, however, was very much put out about this new service, and declared, not without reason:
"It's something that's remembered against a person an entire lifetime to have had such a place. People never forget it, and always refer to it; and later on every one will think twice about taking you into their service, because they will say: 'Why, that's the goose-girl!' And if any one does take you, out of compassion, you'll get low wages and bad treatment, and they'll always say: 'Oh, that's good enough for a goose-girl.'"
"I won't mind that," replied Amrei; "and you have told me hundreds of times about how a goose-girl became a queen."
"That was in olden times. But who knows?—you belong to the old world. Sometimes it seems to me that you are not a child at all, and who knows, you old-fashioned soul, if a wonder won't happen in your case?"
This hint that she had not yet stood upon the lowest round of the ladder of honor, but that there was a possibility of her descending even lower that she was, startled Amrei. For herself she thought nothing of it, but from that time forth she would not allow Damie to keep the geese with her. He was a man—or was to be one—and it might do him harm if it were said of him, later on, that he had kept geese. But, to save her soul, she could not make this clear to him, and he refused to listen to her. For it is always thus; at the point where mutual understanding ends, vexation begins; the inward helplessness translates itself into a feeling of outward injustice and injury.
Amrei, nevertheless, was almost glad that Damie could remain angry with her for so many days; for it showed that he was learning how to stand up against the world and to assert his own will.
Damie, however, soon got a place for himself. He was employed by his guardian, Farmer Rodel, in the capacity of scarecrow, an occupation which required him to swing a rattle in the farmer's orchard all day long, for the purpose of frightening the sparrows away from the early cherries and vegetable-beds. At first this duty appealed to him as sport, but he soon grew tired of it and gave it up.
It was a pleasant, but at the same time a laborious office that Amrei had undertaken. And it often seemed especially hard to her that she could do nothing to attach the creatures to her; indeed, they were hardly to be distinguished from one another. And it was not at all an idle remark that Black Marianne made to her one day when she returned from Mossbrook Wood:
"Animals that live in flocks and herds," she said, "if you take each one separately, are always stupid."
"I think so, too," replied Amrei. "These geese are stupid because they know how to do too many different things. They can swim, and run, and fly, but they are not really at home either in the water, or on land, or in the air. That's what makes them stupid."
"I still maintain," replied Marianne, "that there's the making of an old hermit in you."
The Holderwasen was not one of those lonely, sequestered spots which the world of fiction seems to select for its gleaming, glittering legends. Through the centre of the Holderwasen ran a road to Endringen, and not far from it stood the many-colored boundary-stakes with the coats-of-arms of the two sovereign princes whose dominions came together here. In rustic vehicles of all kinds the peasants used to drive past, and men, women, and children kept passing to and fro with hoe, scythe, and sickle. The gardes-champetres of the two dominions also used to pass by often, the barrels of their muskets shining as they approached and gleaming long after they had passed. Amrei was almost always accosted by the garde-champetre of Endringen as she sat by the roadside, and he often made inquiries of her as to whether this or that person had passed by. But she was never able to give the desired information—or perhaps she kept it from him on purpose, on account of the instinctive aversion the people, and especially the children, of a village have for these men, whom they invariably look upon as the armed enemies of the human race, going to and fro in search of some one to devour.
Theisles Manz, who used to sit by the road breaking stones, hardly spoke a word to Amrei; he would go sulkily from stone-heap to stone-heap, and his knocking was more incessant than the tapping of the woodpecker in Mossbrook Wood, and more regular than the piping and chirping of the grasshoppers in the neighboring meadows and cloverfields.
[And so Amrei spent day after day at Holderwasen, watching the geese and the passers-by, studying the birds and the flowers and the trees, dreaming of her father and mother, and wondering what was in store for Damie and herself. There was a trough of clear, fresh water by the roadside, and Amrei used to bring a jug with her in order to offer it to thirsty people who had nothing to drink out of.]
One day a little Bernese wagon, drawn by two handsome white horses, came rattling along the road; a stout, upland farmer took up almost the entire seat, which was meant for two. He drew up by the roadside and asked:
"Girlie, have you anything one can drink out of?"
"Yes, certainly—I'll get it for you." And she went off briskly to fetch her pitcher, which she filled with water.
"Ah!" said the farmer, stopping to take breath after a long draught; and with the water running down his chin, he continued, talking half into the jug: "There's after all no water like this in all the world." And again he raised the jug to his lips, and motioned to Amrei to keep still while he took a second long, thirsty draught. For it is extremely disagreeable to be addressed when you are drinking; you swallow hurriedly and feel an oppression afterward.