E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN, THE LOVECHARM, AND PIETRO OF ABANO.
Tales from the German of Tieck.
London: Edward Moxon, 64, New Bond Street. 1831.
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.
The name of Herr Balthasar was well known throughout the whole hill-country: not a child but had heard of his vast riches, and had some story to tell of him. Everybody too loved and honoured him; for his bounty was as great as his wealth: but at the same time he was viewed with fear; for he harast both himself and others by a number of strange whims which no one could understand; and his moodiness, his silent reserve, were especially irksome to those who were nearest about him. No person had seen him smile for many years; he scarcely ever came out of his large house on the hill above the little mountain-town, nearly the whole of which belonged to him: its inhabitants too were almost all his dependents, whom he had drawn thither to work in his manufactories, his mines, and his alum pits. Thus through his means this small spot was very thickly peopled, and enlivened by the greatest activity. Waggons and horses were continually moving to and fro; and the clatter of the working machinery was mixt up with the roar of waters, and with the various noises from the pounding and smelting-houses. The smoke of the coals however, the steam from the pits, and the black heaps of dross and slag piled up on high all around, gave the gloomy sequestered valley a still more dismal appearance; so that no one who travelled for the sake of seeking out and enjoying the beauties of nature, would have any mind to linger there.
Among the multitude of persons who in consequence of his large undertakings and the variety of his concerns were employed by old Herr Balthasar, none seemed to enjoy his confidence in so high a degree as Edward, the head overseer of his mines and manufactories, and the manager of his accounts. He was about thirty years old, tall and of a fine figure, had always something sprightly and good-humoured on his lips, and thus formed a striking contrast to his morose monosyllabic master, who had grown old before his time, and whose withered, wrinkled features, with the faint sad look from his hollow eyes, were no less repulsive to all, than Edward's cheerful frankness was attractive of confidence and affection.
It was still very early on a summer morning when Edward was looking thoughtfully down into the smoking valley: the sun lay behind a thick mass of clouds; and the mists that were travelling along the bottom, and mingled with the black vapours from the steaming pits, checkt his view, and wrapt the landscape in a kind of grey veil. He mused over his youth, over the plans he had once formed, and then thought how, contrary to them all, he had become fixt in this melancholy solitude, which, as he was already verging on the maturity of manhood, he probably would never quit again. While he was thus losing himself in his meditations, young William hurried by him, fully equipt as it seemed for a journey, without even bidding him goodbye. The young man started as in passing he observed Edward standing there, and he looked very loth to meet his questions.
"How now?" said Edward; "are you already leaving us again, young man, after all the entreaties and persuasions it cost us both but three weeks ago to prevail on our master to take you into his house, and after he has just forgiven you your sudden departure the other day?"
"I must begone!" cried the young man: "do not stop me! I must submit to appear ungrateful; but I cannot help it."
"Without speaking to our master?" replied Edward; "without leave of absence? What are we to think of you? Besides Herr Balthasar will want you; for there is no one here just now to take your post of secretary."
"My dearest sir," exclaimed the young man uneasily, "if you knew my situation, you would not blame or think ill of me."
"Has our master offended you? have you any ground of complaint?"
"No, no! quite the contrary!" cried the young man impetuously; "the old gentleman is kindness itself; I appear to be base and good-for-nothing; but I have no other choice. Make the best excuse for me that your good nature and your conscience will let you."
"Be a man!" said Edward, giving him his hand and holding him fast: "you may earn a maintenance here, and may lay the foundations of your fortune hereafter: do not a second time thus wantonly trifle away your master's confidence and mine. We took you in, when you came to us without a character, without any recommendation, almost without a name: Herr Balthasar departed for your sake from all his rules, which till then had always been inviolable; I have in a manner pledged myself for you: are you resolved to reward our confidence in this way, and to run thus rashly into suspicion? And can you hope that a month hence or later you will be received among us again?"
The young man was much distrest, but tore himself forcibly away, and cried: "I know it too well, that I am closing this home, in which everything has gone so well with me, in which I have felt so happy, for ever against me. Misery and want await me, and the bitterest punishments for the thoughtlessness of my youth. But who can avoid his destiny? When a chariot is rushing headlong down a precipice, no human strength can arrest it."
"But if you have any sense of honour," answered Edward, "if you would not leave us all at a loss what to make of you, you ought to stay now at all events; for I am quite unable to conceive what power can be driving you away from us thus suddenly. You know, the most expensive and valuable cloths in our magazine have been purloined day after day; and though this has been going on so long we have not been able to get any trace of the offender."
"I must put up even this suspicion," said William with a quick blush. "There is no saving me now, and I have nothing more to lose: nor do I deserve the good opinion of any honest man, be he even the meanest of my brethren."
After these mysterious words the young man hurried away, without even looking round again. Edward followed him with his eyes, and observed how he bent his steps hastily toward the little town, ran almost at full speed through the streets, and turned into a footpath on the other side, to climb up a steep rock. He there lost sight of him in the mountain solitude.
The mist meanwhile had somewhat broken, and the little dells with their trees and bushes were seen rising out of it, like green ilands, illumined by the morning sun, with ever and anon a house or hut half hidden by leaves leaning against the side of the hill.
An old miner, who worked a good way off in the pits belonging to the prince, came up now very much out of humour to Edward. "Another run over here to no purpose!" he cried peevishly: "I wanted to speak to the young shatter-brained jackanapes; and now I hear from the smelting-lads down in the town, that he has just been scampering through it, and not a soul can tell where he is gone."
"What business have you with him, friend Conrad?" asked Edward.
"What business should one have with young chaps such as he!" replied the cross old man. "There have I had to buy him a wonderful book about mines over yonder, of the white-headed master miner who is as old as the hills, and who has been blind these three years: the marvellous grey-beard copied the book ages ago, when he was young and had a younker's itching for knowing more than his neighbours, from the manuscript of a travelling Tyrolese, and took the trouble of scratching likenesses of all the foolish pictures in it. Now however that he is blind, he can't see to read it; so I have bought it for young master Lorenz, our William here; and lo! the coxcomb is clean over the mountains."
"What does the little book contain?" said Edward.
"Only look into it yourself," continued the other: "all sorts of stories about ghosts and spectres; clews for finding out the places over there in the high mountains, where one meets with gold and diamonds at the bottom of caves and sand pits in spots which mortal man has seldom set foot in. There are a number of marks, they say, which in ages of yore were carved on the hard rocks or written on the banks of the brooks: certain knowing Italians notcht and scored the places some two or three hundred years ago, and stuck in pieces of tin and pebbles which they laid after a fashion of their own: now however, the old man tells me, they are hard to find; for the mountain-spirits and goblins, who hate being disturbed, have shoved away many of the stones that might have served for signposts, and have utterly deranged their order."
Edward laught as he turned over the leaves of the strange book.
"None of your scoffing, young gentleman!" cried the old man: "so you too are one of their super-clever new-fangled wiseacres. But if you were once to see what I have seen, when all alone far down underground, cut off from the heavens and the whole world, with no light but my lamp, and no sound but my own hammer within hearing, and the terrible tall spirit of the mountain came to me; I'd wager you would twist your face into some other look, and would not laugh as you do here where the merry morning sun is shining on you. Everybody can grin; but seeing is the lot of few; and still fewer can behave like men, when their eyes are thrown open."
"I will pay you for the book, my good old man," replied Edward kindly, "and keep it for our William till he comes back again."
"Ha ha!" cried the miner, laughing heartily and putting up the money; "and read it too, and pore over it by yourself, and go on Sundays and holidays to look out for the marks and the secret passages. Only don't let them befool you, young man, or cajole, or frighten you; and when you have found anything, keep a fast hold. Look you, the lord of these hills, or the old man of the mountain, as many choose to call him, knows all about the matter: he has thrust his hands into the pockets of all the richest ghosts and elves and goblins; and they have been forced to empty them out for him."
"Whom do you mean?" asked Edward a good deal surprised; and at the same time he wanted to give the besmeared book back again to the old man, saying with some irritation: "since you cannot trust me, or rather hold me to be such a fool, keep the treasure-casket yourself for our friend, and only give the master miner his money."
"No," exclaimed the old man; "what has once been made over and paid for, must stay in the hands of the buyer: that is a sacred law, and if we break it, the maste rminer and I shall be under a ban. But whom do I mean, ask you, by the old man of the mountain, or by the lord of these hills? Are you ignorant of that? and have already been here a round dozen of years and more. Why, this is the name all the world gives to your high and mighty manufacturer, mine-holder, merchant, gold-maker, ghost-seer, your all-powerful man of millions, your Balthasar. And perhaps you would make believe into the bargain that you don't know how he comes by all his unnatural riches. Ay, ay, friend, the pale old sour-faced growler has them all in leading-strings, the whole posse of spirits: he is often absent for weeks, and tarrying with them in their secret chambers: then they pay away to him; then they break their old crowns in bits, and pour out the diamonds into his skinny hands; then they strike with their magical rods against the stone walls, and the water-damsels must needs swim up from the bottom of the brooks, and bring him gifts, corals, and pearls, and turkisses. As for gold he scarce heeds it now: he has a tribe of little elves that wash it out of the sand for him, and gather it up, like bees, into balls and grains, and then carry it like honey, and stuff his cane with it. Ay, ay, my worthy smooth-faced pedlar of all wisdom's small wares! this is why the old man is for ever moping so, and never dares laugh; this is why he loses his wits if he chances to hear music, which gladdens the heart of every godly man; this is why he never goes into company, and is always fretful and cross-grained: for he knows full well what end he must come to, and that all his earthly grandeur cannot buy him off; because he has forsaken his God, and no human being ever saw him in a church."
"This is the hateful part of superstition," exclaimed Edward indignantly, "which otherwise would only deserve our contempt, and which, if it did not thus deprave the understanding and the heart, might delight us by its poetical features, and furnish the imagination with much fantastical amusement. Are you not ashamed, old man, to think and prate in this way of the most virtuous, the most beneficent of men? How many human beings are fed and supplied with comforts by his extensive transactions? is he not always giving the needy a share in the blessings with which heaven rewards his industry? He spends his life in thought, in watching, in care, in writing, in toil, for the sake of nourishing thousands, who but for him would perish without employment; and as whatever he undertakes with so much judgement is favoured by fortune, fools are audacious enough to slander his understanding which they cannot comprehend, and his virtues which they are unable to appreciate, with their stupid impertinent extravagances."
"Fortune!" laught the miner: "you talk of fortune, and fancy that in using the silliest word in the world you have said something: why, it is the very same thing that I mean and believe; only that you don't understand what you say, nor can anybody make any sense of it. My jewel, the earth, the water, the air, mountains, forests, and vallies, are no dead lifeless dogs, as you mayhap think them. All sorts of things dwell and bustle about in them, things that you call powers and the like: these can't endure to have their old quiet abodes turned topsy-turvy in this manner, and dug away and blown up with gunpowder under their very feet. The whole country for miles and miles round is smoking and steaming, and clattering, and hammering; people are shovelling and poking, and digging, and blasting, and laying waste with fire and water even into the entrails of the earth; not a forest finds mercy; there are glass-houses, and alum works, and copper mines, and bleaching-grounds, and spinning-jennies: look you, this must bring mishap or goodhap to the man who sets such a sight of things a-going; it can't all end in nothing. Where there are no human beings, there dwell the silent spirits of the mountains and woods: but if they are too much squeezed,—for when not prest for room and left in peace they will live on good terms with man and beast,—but when one elbows them too close, and into their very ribs, they grow pettish and mischievous: then come deaths, earthquakes, floods, conflagrations, landslips, and all the other things they bring to pass; or else you must put a stiff yoke on them, and then they will serve you indeed, but against the grain, and the more toll they have to pay to anybody, the worse friends are they to him at the last. Now this, young master, is what you are pleased to call fortune."
The dispute would probably have lasted some time longer, unless an elderly man had now approacht them, whom Edward, whenever he was able, was glad to avoid. On this occasion however Eleazar came too quickly upon him, and besides had so much business to talk over, that the head overseer was compelled to stay and hear what the manager of the looms had to say. Eleazar was a little sickly man, self-willed and sullen, even more so than his master, the old man of the mountain, as Conrad, after the custom of the neighbourhood, had called him.
"I heard yesterday," said Eleazar, "of a carriage that was to stop the night in the next town; as I went by I told William of it; and now the fellow, who seemed aghast at the tidings, is up and off. My master will as usual have to endure loss and vexation from these vagabond knaves, whom he is so fond of trusting before his old tried friends."
His eyes fell on the curious book, he looked into it, and seemed delighted. "If you like the nonsensical stuff," said Edward, "I will make you a present of it, in case William, for whom I have bought it, does not return."
"Thank you, thank you, from my heart!" cried Eleazar, sniggering, as he lifted his sharp little eyes, and a strange smirking grin made his yellow crampt face still uglier than before.
"So you really meant what you said!" exclaimed the old miner: "well! the revelations of the spirit of the earth are in better keeping under the guard of that sickly gentleman, than with such a merry care-for-nought." He then turned down the hill on the side opposite to that which led toward the town, to betake himself to his mine; while Eleazar seemed buried in thought as he read with great eagerness in his newly acquired treasure.
Meanwhile Edward was watching a carriage that was toiling up the hill from the valley, and had just come through the wood. "Are we to have a visit?" he exclaimed with some surprise.
"Heyday! what!" returned Eleazar: "it is our old master's carriage to be sure, which he has again been lending to the folks over yonder for a wedding; and his other coach has been sent off to a christening in the village at the further end of the mountains. Two such equipages! and he never uses either himself, since he never stirs out of the house; and coachmen and lacquies always on their legs to wait on some beggarly strangers, who don't even thank him when his carriages and horses go to wreck, and new ones are to be bought at the end of every four years."
"Can you really find fault with this bountiful kindness?" replied Edward: but Eleazar relieved him from the trouble of prolonging the dispute, by carrying off his book in great haste, without once looking at him. Edward breathed more freely when delivered from the presence of this odious misanthrope, who took every opportunity of loading his benefactor with the bitterest abuse.
The coach meanwhile was labouring up the second hill; and from the slow and unsteady footing of the horses it was evident they must have come out of the plain. The carriage too, Edward now saw clearly, was a strange one, and must probably be bringing some unexpected visitant. With much panting and straining at length the horses dragged the coach up the last slope; and an elderly lady got out at the door of the great house, and sent her maid and servant with the carriage to the inn in the town.
Edward was surprised; for the lady, whose face still betrayed that she had once been handsome, was entirely unknown to him. "You will allow me," she said with a sweet-toned voice, "to rest here under the portico for a moment; after which I should wish to speak to Herr Balthasar."
Edward felt at a loss what to do, and led the lady with evident uneasiness to a chair in the entrance hall. "If you will give me leave," he then said, "I will attend you into the parlour, and order you some breakfast."
"Thank you for all your kindness," she cried: "the only thing I wish for, is an interview with the master of the house. Is he up yet? In what room shall I find him?"
"That none of us knows," answered Edward: "until he himself opens his door, nobody ventures to go to him; and it is still shut. His wont however is to rise early, and he says he sleeps but little. Whether he employs these early solitary hours in reading, or in prayer and devotion, no one can tell; so great is his reserve toward everybody. But as to announcing you—even by and by—I know not: for we all have the strictest orders, never to let in any stranger to him: he speaks to no one, except his managers and servants on business at stated hours; and from this rule during the twelve years that I have known him he has not once departed. Strangers who have anything to request of him must declare their wishes to me or to master Eleazar; and we either settle the matter directly ourselves, or, if it does not lie immediately in our power, we make a report to him on the subject, without his ever setting eyes on the person. These whimsical rules, if you choose so to call them, render his solitude unapproachable; and that is the very thing he wishes."
"O God!" cried the lady with a tone of anguish: "and must this journey then, this hard effort of mine, be all utterly in vain? For how could I ever find words to express my wishes and requests to a perfect stranger? O dear good Sir, your eye bespeaks and reveals the kindness of your heart: for my sake, for the sake of a miserable, deeply afflicted woman, make an exception this once to the strict custom of the house, and tell your master that I am here."
At this moment they heard the sound of a large bell. "That is the sign," said Edward, "that we may go and speak to him, and that his room is open. I will say everything for you that you wish; but I know beforehand it is to no purpose, and I shall bring down his anger on my own head, without doing you any service."
He went dejectedly down the long passage: for it pained him that he could not assist the lady whose noble form moved and interested him. Old Balthasar was sitting in deep thought, his head leaning on his arm, at his writing-table: he looked up cheerfully and kindly at Edward's greeting, and held out his hand. When the young man, after making a long preface to excuse himself and conciliate his master, mentioned the wife of a privy-counsellor, whose maiden name was Fernich, the old man started up suddenly from his desk as if struck by lightning, with a frightful cry.
"Fernich! Elizabeth!" he then exclaimed, with fearful vehemence; "she, she here? in my house! O God, O heaven, quickly, quickly let her come in! O do make haste, my dear friend;" he cried out again, and his voice failed him.
Edward was almost terrified, and went back to bring the stranger to Balthasar. In the mean time she had been joined by the young lady of the house, an adopted child, but whom the old man loved with the same tenderness and treated just as if she had been his own. The stranger trembled, and when she reacht the old man's apartment was near fainting: Balthasar dried his tears, and was unable to find words, as he led the pale lady to a chair: he made a sign, and Edward left the room, in great anxiety about his old friend, whom he had never seen so strongly moved, and with whom owing to this singular scene he stood on an entirely new footing.
"It was very good of you, Rose," he said to the young blooming girl, "to entertain the stranger lady while she was waiting."
"It was all to very little purpose," answered she, blushing: "for she was so faint and exhausted that, whatever I could say, she did nothing but weep. She must surely be sick, or have some heavy load on her heart. It has made me quite sorrowful, and I too have been crying. These eyes in our head are certainly very funny creatures, just like little children. They run about, and stare, and gaze at every thing new, shining and twinkling with joy; and then they grow so serious and sad, and when the pain at one's heart is very sore, they bubble with tears and overflow, and anon they become bright and glad again. There must be a vast number of sorrows in the world, my dear Edward."
"May heaven preserve you from any very melancholy trials!" replied he: "hitherto your young life has glided along as peacefully as a swan over a silent pool."
"You fancy," cried she laughing, "that such a thing as I cannot have had any sorrows of its own, much less very bitter and painful ones. You are mightily mistaken."
"Well?" asked Edward earnestly.
"One can't remember all in a moment what one's sorrows are," said the good-natured girl: "wait a little. When I think of sundry great misfortunes in the world, about which I have heard people talking at times, then indeed there does not seem to be very much in what I have had to go through: yet for little things like me a little misfortune is quite big enough. Now is not it a real grievance that I must never hear music? that I don't know how people look, or how they feel, when they are dancing? Ah, dearest Edward, the other day, when we were taking a drive, we passed by the little inn over yonder on the other side of the town, where the country folks were having a dance: their jumping about, the sound of the fiddles, the strange glee in the airs made such an odd impression on me, I cannot tell whether I felt glad, or sad to the very bottom of my heart. Here in our neighbourhood we must never have any music, either in the inn or anywhere else. Then when I hear of plays and operas, I cannot quite persuade myself that such wonderful things are really and truly to be found in the world. The lights, the numbers of finely drest people, and then a real stage, and a whole story acted upon it, which I am to believe to be true: can there be anything more curious? And is not it then a grievous affliction, that I am to grow old here, without ever in my whole life catching a single short glimpse of all these grand doings? Tell me, dear Edward, you too are a good man, is this wish of mine, are those sights themselves very sinful? Herr Eleazar indeed says they are, and my dear fatherly uncle thinks the same of them, and hates everything of the sort: but the king and the magistrates allow them, and learned people approve them, and write and compose the things that are to be acted: can all this then be so very wicked?"
"My dear child," said Edward with the utmost friendliness, "how sorry I am that I cannot procure you even this innocent pleasure! But you know yourself how strict Herr Balthasar is in all these matters."
"O yes," she replied: "why the miners in our town here must never even hum a tune; we must never drive more than just two miles from the gate; and no amusing book, no poem, no novel is ever let come into the house. And added to all this we are perpetually frightened with being told that such a number of thoughts and fancies, and all that one is fond of dreaming about in many a lonesome hour, are impious sins. At such times I muse over all sorts of little stories about the loveliest spirits, and beautiful vallies, and how the miller finds his love in the mill-stream, who by and by turns out to be a princess and makes him a king, or how the fisherman jumps into the river, and at the bottom finds the most glittering and gorgeous wonders. Or a little shepherdess is playing with her lambs on the meadow, and a handsome prince, sitting upon a great horse, rides by and falls in love with her. And then, if the evening bells chance to peal through the dusk, and the wind brings the noise of the hammering and knocking from yon black mountain, or I hear the sledge-hammer from afar, I could cry, and yet in fact am glad at my very heart. But our surly gloomy Eleazar, one day that I was telling him of this, abused me bitterly, and said that busying oneself with such thoughts is the very pitch of sin and wickedness. And yet I can't help it; for it all comes into my head just of its own accord."
"Dear innocent creature!" said Edward, and seized the blooming girl's hand.
"To you," she went on, "one may talk of all this, and you understand everything in the right way: but other people immediately begin scolding me, because they put a wrong meaning into everything. It was just the same with my old nurse, who is now dead. You had been a long time in the house before I ever thought I could tell you anything or trust you; I was so very little then and used to play with my doll. Dear Heaven, it is now full ten years since the last time I dandled my Clary, as we called her. To my old Bridget, and my father, and Eleazar, and the cook, I thought I might say everything, because they were so grave: you were always laughing; and this made me fancy that you did not rightly belong to us. Now when prayer time came, they would not let me look at Clary, or carry her with me; but she was shut up in the cupboard. This made me very sorry; for I fancied she must be crying after me. So I found out a way, and took her along with me hid under my pinafore, and held her close to my heart to keep her warm; and when we came into the prayer-room I began by praying in private to God that he would forgive me if I was too fond of my Clary, that he would pardon me too, great and mighty as he was, for having brought her in secret into his high presence, and that he would not think I meant to deceive him or to treat him with disrespect, for he knew it was not so. After this preface I fancied I had made my peace, and repeated my usual prayers very devoutly. Thus all went on well for a week: then Bridget found me out. O gracious! then there was a great to do: even my good father said, this shewed how the human heart from its very infancy is so corrupt and wicked as to give itself up to the idolatry of worthless and contemptible things. I cannot understand even now what he meant by these words. Whenever one loves anything, is it not very beautiful and perfectly right that one does not pry into it and finger it too closely? What is a rose, when I pull it to pieces? It is so perishable, and therefore so dear. Was it my poor Clary's fault, that she was only a leather doll? Last week I was looking at her again one day, and could not make out myself how I came to be so fond of her formerly; and yet I could almost have cried to think that none of the feelings of those days will ever come back to me again. But surely this cannot be fickleness in me now, any more than my love ten years ago was idolatry and wickedness."
"Dear angel," said Edward tenderly, "our heart is trained by the love of visible perishable objects for the love of the invisible and eternal. When I see a child playing thus fondly and innocently with puppets of its own making, and crying for love and delight over the lifeless toy, I could fancy that at such hours angels gather about the little creature and sport lovingly around it."
"Ah," exclaimed Rose, "that is a beautiful notion!"
"When however," continued Edward, "heart truly bends to heart, when two souls meet and give up themselves to each other in love, this faith and feeling of theirs invests the invisible with a palpable reality, and brings it for all eternity before them."
"That again I don't understand," said the maiden pondering; "but if you mean that sort of love which is necessary for a wedding, and to make a truly happy marriage, I think very differently on that score."
"How so?" asked the young man.
"That is a hard matter to explain," answered the girl, putting on a look of deep thought.
"Supposing now," said Edward, forcing himself to laugh, that he might hide his emotion, "you had to marry tomorrow, whom would you choose? Which of all the men you have hitherto met with, do you like the best? Have you enough confidence in me to answer me this question honestly?"
"Why should not I?" she replied: "for I need not even spend a moment in considering the point."
"And ... and the man you have already chosen?"
"Is of course our Eleazar."
Edward started back in utter amazement. "A moment ago you did not understand me, he said after a pause; and now you have told me a riddle that terrifies me."
"And yet," she answered with perfect simplicity, "it is the most natural thing in the world. My father too, I fancy, has already made up his mind, that our honest Eleazar is to be my future husband. Were I to love and choose you, there would be nothing remarkable in it; for I like you, and so does every body else; no one can help feeling confidence in you; and at the same time you are very handsome, and always friendly and good-humoured, so that, when one has once become acquainted with you, one hardly knows how to live without you. Such persons as our William would find a thousand girls to grow fond of them; and it is a pity that he has already run away from us again. Even old Conrad, and my father himself, must have been good-looking when they were younger: but only look at poor Eleazar, who is not so very old yet, and whom not a creature in the house, nay in the whole world can endure;—what is to become of him, if I do not marry him."
"How!" said Edward interrupting her; "is your fair life to fall a victim to this fantastical delusion? Can the perplexity in which dark spirits involve themselves, entangle the purity of innocence in its snares? and must love itself devise a robe to deck out the most frantic extravagance as an act of noble self-sacrifice and reasonable resignation?"
"We are quite at cross purposes today," she continued calmly. "It is not that I really love him: I have not even a notion yet what this love they talk of is, or what it means. Let me tell you again about the sorrows of my youth, with which we began. In the days when I was still very fond of my Clary, I had also a cat in the house here, that was no less dear to my childish heart. I even fancied to myself that the doll and the little white playful creature must be very jealous of each other on my account. Now Herr Eleazar detested and persecuted everything that even looked like a cat; for he says they are malicious. This seems to be a general superstition. Wherever the sleek animals shew their faces, everybody, even the best-natured people, will begin shouting, puss! puss! and will worry and hunt them, as if, in pursuing the harmless things, they were driving away Antichrist himself. And this it is that makes them, as no doubt they are, so mistrustful and wary. My cat had kittens, which were just nine days old, and opening their little blue eyes. What fun and pleasure it is for children, to see the mother with her young ones, and the droll sports of the kittens, and their skipping and tumbling and jumping about, nobody who is grown up can understand. On the very same day master Eleazar had just got a new airgun, which he wanted to try. Complaints had for some time been made to my father, that my cat used to hunt the singing birds and eat them. It was taking the air behind the house, in the garden, and amusing itself by running up and down the big orange-tree. On the sudden Eleazar shot at it and it fell dead; and now the kittens too were to be drowned. Never before had I thought him so brown and nasty, so unlike a human being. In the night I prayed that God would let him too die; but the very next morning, though I was still such a mere child, it struck me to the heart, how very, very unhappy he must be, that there was no creature he could love, and neither man nor beast could love him; and so I think still. Such an odious creature as he is, he will never find a heart on earth, if I were to blot him out of mine."
"Dear little Rose," said Edward, somewhat calmer, "you must not be too hasty, and assuredly you will change your mind on this point by and by."
"My fate," she again began, while the tears mounted into her bright eyes, "has in fact been just like that of the poor little kittens; only that God Almighty did not let me be drowned in the same wretched manner. But I too never knew my mother; she had never the happiness of bringing me up; she died shortly after my birth. My foster-father here is very kind to me; still it must be quite a different feeling to have a real father; but he too is in his grave. Now, reckoning up all this, methinks we have here made out quite unhappiness enough for so young a thing."
"Dearest Rose," said Edward after a pause, "would it give you any pain, if you knew that I too was very unhappy? or if I too were gone?"
"Alas! my dear good friend," she exclaimed, "don't make me cry. I tell you, I never liked anybody so well as you. But happy and gay as you are, with all the world so fond of you, you can do very well without my love. But I cannot do without yours."
A servant now came and called Edward away to the old man. The conversation must have been of deep interest; for Balthasar as well as the stranger seemed dissolved in tears, though both were trying hard to collect themselves.
"My dear friend," said the old man with a broken voice, "my good gentle Edward, will you conduct the stranger lady to the inn; but at the same time take along with you four thousand dollars in gold and bills out of my strong-box. No human being however, I trust and charge you, must know of this affair, least of all Eleazar. Only conceive, the savage has left three letters of the highest importance from this poor woman to me without an answer. His not shewing them to me I can forgive, since on that point he has full powers from me."
His wishes were executed, and the stranger set off again in the afternoon in better spirits, without paying her old friend another visit.
* * * * *
The next day Balthasar sent Edward a summons to his room. When he had lockt the door he began: "You are the only person entrusted with a circumstance and a connexion, which agitated me so deeply yesterday that I was unable to tell you anything about it. As however I look upon you quite in the light of my son, I feel myself bound to disclose something more of myself and my story to you, than any mortal man has ever yet heard."
They sat down: the old man gave his young friend his hand, which the latter prest cordially, and then said: "You cannot doubt my affection and friendship; and what you confide to me will in my hands be as secret as in the silent grave."
"I have watcht you this long time," said the old man, "and know you well. Hitherto we have had but little talk together; I am now forced to change and break through my usage with regard to you, and I am anxious besides that there should be a being who knows and understands me."
Edward's curiosity was roused; and the old man went on with a tremulous voice: "I am still so much moved, my whole frame is still so much disordered by yesterday's shock, that you must have patience with my weakness. That my life is a cheerless one, that I have long renounced all those recreations and enjoyments, which are in fact the only things most men live for, you must long ago have remarkt. From my youth up I have got out of the way of pleasure, with a feeling which I might almost call dread. Educated by a rigid father, who lived in the greatest penury, my childhood and youth were merely suffering and sorrow. When I grew bigger, my ripening understanding only enabled me more distinctly to perceive the misery of my parents and the wretchedness of the whole earth. Often for many nights together no sleep visited my eyes, which were flowing with tears. Thus my imagination accustomed itself to view the whole world as nothing but a place of punishment, where sorrow and need were the lot of all, and such as were raised above the sordid wants of life were but in a yet sadder state of silly delusion, in which they neither recognized their own calling nor the destiny of mankind, but giving themselves up to vapid pleasures and pitiful comforts reeled along toward the grave. One single star shed its light through this dark gloom,—but it was as far beyond my reach as if it had stood in the heavens,—my relation Elizabeth, whom you saw: she was rich, highborn, and bred to a life of splendour and luxury. A cousin of mine, Helbach, who was still richer and haughtier, was designed for her husband: our family scarcely ever saw these proud relations of theirs; and my stern father had a special hatred for them, and never spake but with rancour of their extravagance. This hatred he also transferred to me, when he discovered my secret and strong affection. He gave me his curse, if I ever dared to think of that lovely and beloved being. Nor was it long before she was married to her overbearing kinsman; one stream of wealth flowed into the other, and produced such a splendid way of living that the whole town felt envy at it. My mother's brother, who gave his son this large fortune, was so much ashamed of our poverty, that he did not even invite my parents to the wedding; which so greatly increast the vexation and annoyance of my father, already a prey to bitter mortification, that the after-throes of this insult brought him to the grave. My poor mother soon followed him. Of myself I will say nothing. If life had hitherto worn a dark aspect in my eyes, it now changed into a spectre, whose ghastly, distorted features and looks at first struck me with horrour, and afterward, when use made me cold and indifferent, taught me to despise everything, above all myself. Elizabeth had known of my passion. Rarely as we saw each other, she had taken no pains to conceal the affection with which she answered mine. Though she was not like me utterly dead to all joy, yet a shade was cast over her whole existence, and heavy clouds covered it. She has suffered enough since. Her husband was a profligate spendthrift; he squandered thousands from vanity, and for paltry, contemptible purposes. It would look as if a number of ill-starred men bore a kind of malice and hatred against money, so that they have recourse to the strangest devices to drive it away from them on every side, while the miser hugs and cherishes it with a blind devotion, and lets himself be crusht by his idol. Elizabeth was weak enough to give up her property to him unconditionally, and, when his credit had already fallen, to declare herself bound by his debts; and thus the very house into which all the gods of Olympus had seemed to enter, bringing eternal joy as their gift, became a scene of misery, confusion, hatred, and strife. The wretched husband, counsellor Helbach, has sold his last shilling for an annuity, without a thought about his wife and son. This son of his is as it were possest by the furies, unruly, headstrong, and without feeling: he ran into debt, then took to swindling, and finally, two years ago, when his weeping mother was trying to admonish him, abused and even struck her in his brutal rage. After this grand feat he set off into the wide world. His father meanwhile revels and laughs, devouring his income, which must still be large, at well-stored tables. This made her come to me, subduing her pride and her feelings, in order that I might relieve her from a debt, which would have brought her to shame and to a prison. These twenty years past she has been longing to die, but still lives, an object of horrour to herself, and of pleasure to nobody.—Send her a thousand dollars every quarter: she has promist me that her abandoned husband shall know nothing of this assistance either now or hereafter."
Edward saw the old man's deep anguish, and was long silent: at last he began: "But how could Eleazar be so cruel as not to tell you of those letters?"
"I was in the wrong," replied the old man, "to find fault with him for it yesterday. He acts in my name, and knows well that I am weak and soft-hearted: the particulars he was not aware of, and so only did his duty. Indeed I know not myself after all whether I have done rightly in following my torn and deeply agitated heart: for perhaps still she may have too little firmness to keep the wretch in ignorance of what has happened; in spite of everything he is her husband, and of all her ties his are the closest. You no doubt, because you love me, but are of a tender disposition so that distress affects you, would have acted otherwise, and better; and yet probably were I to put myself entirely in your hands, you would spoil me and ruin me: for no quality a man can have is so dangerous as vanity, which draws food from everything."
"What do you mean by vanity?" asked Edward.
"All our feelings," answered the old man, "the best and honestest, the gentlest and blissfullest, are rooted in this poisonous soil. But more of this another time. I only wanted to tell you briefly, how I acquired my fortune, how my character took that cast under which you have learnt to know me. After my parents death I fulfilled my father's last wish by uniting myself to a girl who was also a distant relation of our family. She was poor, unprovided, unprotected, had grown up amid straits without any kind of education; at the same time she was hideously ugly, and her temper was so morose and quarrelsome, that I never spent a pleasant hour with her, and had very few peaceful ones so long as she lived. My situation was horrible."
"But how came you to marry her?" said Edward.
"Because I had given my word to my father," continued Balthasar; "and because it is a principle of mine, that man must never gratify his passions, least of all that of love. My conviction is, that our life is a state of torment and woe; and the more we try to escape from these feelings, the more awful vengeance do our terrours afterward take upon us. As to why this is so, who can fathom that question?"
"This belief," answered Edward, "is extremely strange, and at variance with all our wishes, nay with everyday experience."
"O how scanty then must your experience have been hitherto!" replied the old man. "Everything lives and moves, only to die and to rot: everything feels, only to feel pangs. Our inward agony spurs us on to what we call joy; and all wherewith spring and hope and love and pleasure beguile mankind, is only the inverted sting of pain. Life is woe, hope sadness, thought and reflexion despair."
"And supposing all to be so," said Edward somewhat timidly, "do we not find comfort and help in religion?"
The old man lifted up his eyes and gazed fixedly in his young companion's face: his dark look grew brighter, not however with pleasure or any soft emotion; but so strange a smile ran across his pale furrowed features, that it lookt very much like scorn; and Edward involuntarily thought of the miner's words.
"Let us turn aside from this theme for today," said the old man with his usual gloomy air; "we shall probably find time hereafter to speak of it. Thus I lived on in my state of damnation, and the thought of Elizabeth shone with a friendly but heart-piercing light into the hell around me. Still the frenzy of life had laid fast hold on me, and made me too take my place in the vast bedlam, and go through my part under the great task-master. People tell you that death cures all; others again look forward to being transported from one workhouse to another, where they shall keep on playing the fool through all eternity and evaporating in an endless succession of illusions. With a little money—it would be ridiculous were I to mention the sum; many take so much merely to fill their bellies—I engaged in a small line of business. It succeeded. I made a petty mercantile speculation. It turned out well. I entered into partnership with a man of considerable property. It seemed as if I had a talent of always guessing and foreboding where gain and profit were lying hid in distant countries, in uninviting, or hazardous undertakings; something like what is said of the divining rod, that it will hit upon metals and upon water. As many gardeners have a lucky hand, so in trade I prospered in every, even the most unpromising speculation. It was neither strength of understanding nor extent of knowledge, but mere luck. One becomes a man of understanding however, so soon as one has luck. My partner was astonisht; and, as he had a small estate here, we removed into this country, where till the time of his death we went on enlarging the number of our houses of business and manufactories. When he died, and I had settled my accounts with his heir, I might already have been accounted a rich man. But a feeling of awe came upon me along with this property as they call it. For how great is the responsibility for managing it rightly! And why were so many honest men unfortunate, while with me everything throve so unaccountably? After a number of painful years my wife also died: without children, without friends, I was again alone. How singularly that blind being, that men call fortune, pampered me, you may see from the following story. I always felt an aversion to play at cards or any other game for money. For what does a gambler do, but declare that he will exalt the wretched stuff, to which even as money he attaches such an inordinate value, into an oracle and a promulgation of the divine will? And then he stakes his heart and soul on this delusion: the freaks of chance, things utterly without meaning, are to calculate and make out for him by certain fantastical combinations, what he is worth, how he is favoured: his dark passions start up when he supposes that this chance neglects him; he triumphs when he fancies it sides with him; his blood flows more rapidly, his head is in an uprore, his heart throbs tumultuously, and he is more wretched than the madman that is lying in chains, when every card, down to the very last, turns up against him. Look you, this is the king of the creation in his patcht beggar's garb, which he takes to be a royal robe."
The old man almost laught, and Edward replied: "Such is the case with all life; it runs along on a narrow line between truth and fancy, between reality and delusion."
"Be it so!" cried Balthasar. "But no more of this. I was only going to tell you how I let myself be persuaded by my partner in the last year of his life to put for once into the neighbouring lottery. I did so against my own feelings; because these institutions appear to me deserving of the severest punishment. By them the state sanctions highway-robbery and murder. Even without such things ill-fated man is immoderately inflamed by the lust of gain. I had already forgotten the paltry concern, when I heard I had gained the great prize: after receiving the payment it never let me rest. What the vulgar fable of evil spirits, had come into my house along with these money-bags. This unblest sum supplied the funds for the hospital for sick old women in the valley a couple of leagues off, the building of which has been made such a merit of by senseless newspaper-scribes. What had I contributed toward it? Not even a stroke of the pen. Now you will understand how my perpetual gains, and the sums that flowed in to me from every venture, compelled me to plunge into fresh speculations, and how this has been going on year after year upon an ever-widening scale. And thus there is neither rest nor pause, until death will at length put the last full stop to the matter for this bout. Then some one else will of course begin to rave on just where I left off, and the same invisible power will perhaps meet his folly under the shape of misfortune."
Edward knew not what to say. "You are not yet used," the old man continued, "to my words and expressions, because we have never yet talked upon these matters; you do not yet know my way of thinking; and as these feelings, these views of life are still new to you, you are surprised. Believe me, my good fellow, the only thing that keeps one from going mad, is swimming silently along with the stream, letting five always pass for even, and fitting oneself to that which cannot be changed. At the same time there is also another remedy that may serve to keep one afloat. One may lay down certain fixt unshakable principles, a line of conduct from which one never swerves. Money, wealth, gain, the circulation and the flowing of property and of the precious metals toward every quarter, through every relation of life, and every region of the earth, are one of the very strangest devices the world ever hit upon. It is a creature of necessity like every thing else; and as there is nothing on which passion has seized with such force, it has bred it up to be a monster more chimerical and wild than anything the fever of a heated fancy ever dreamt of. This monster is incessantly devouring and preying on all that comes within its reach; nothing satiates it; it gnaws and crunches the bones of the destitute, and laps up their tears. That in London and Paris before a palace, where a single banquet costs a thousand pieces of gold, a poor man should die of starvation, when the hundredth part of a piece of gold might save him,—that families should perish in frantic despair,—that there should be madness and suicide in the very room where a couple of paces off gamblers are rioting in gold,—all this seems so natural to us, such a matter of course, that we no longer feel any surprise at it; and everybody takes for granted with cold-blooded apathy, that it all must be so, and cannot be otherwise. How every state pampers this money-monster!—indeed it cannot help doing so—and trains it up to be more ferocious! In many countries wealth can no longer increase except among the rich, whereby the poor will be still more impoverisht, until at length Time will cast up the dismal sum, and then draw a bloody pen across the appalling amount. When I found myself thus rich, I held it to be my duty to keep this wealth in controul, so far as man can, and to tame the wild beast. Unquestionably the creation has been doomed to woe; else war, disease, famine, pain, and passion would not run riot and lay waste so. Existence and torment are one and the same word: nevertheless every one who does not mean wantonly to play the fiend, is bound to alleviate misery wherever he can. There is no property in the sense which most people put on the word; there ought not to be any, and the attempt to keep hold of it is godless. Still worse is it to spread calamity by the influence of wealth. Thus then I administer mine, so as to help my neighbours, to find work for the poor, care and remedies for the sick; and by an ever-increasing activity I strive to bring things into such a state, that as many as possible shall eat their bread without tears and anguish, shall gather pleasure from their children and their occupations, and that, so far as my eye and arm can reach, the creation may not be the object of as many curses here, as in other villages and towns."
"The blessings you diffuse," Edward threw in, "must make you also happy."
"Blessings!" repeated the old man and shook his head. "It is all a mere drop in the ocean. How short is the time within which even the child that is now sucking at the breast must needs die! This time, these hundreds and thousands of years, how they mock at our frail edifices! how Oblivion triumphs in every part of the earth, with ruins crumbling beneath her feet! and Destruction, while with unfeeling malignity she tramples every form of life in the dust! I have just been comforting my good Elizabeth today. But can I really comfort her? She is for ever haunted by the thought of her destiny, of her life, of her lost youth, of her having flung herself away on a worthless being, of her having brought a tiger as her son into the world. In her dreams she is visited by the feeling, whether asleep or waking it pursues her, and thrills through every fibre, that she once loved me, perhaps loves me still; and so her heart has to bear my wretchedness along with her own. True she may now and then relish a morsel somewhat better; she may now and then forget herself, perhaps over some silly book, delighting in the good fortune of others, and feeling interest in afflictions which are merely faint shadows of her own; and this sentimental folly may help her over half a dozen minutes a little more at her ease. Verily it is a grand achievement that I have been able to do this for her. The consciousness however, that neither her husband nor her son, the offspring of her own blood and body, and surely of her soul too, is to know anything of my bounty, as it would be called, or else her sufferings will increase—do you not perceive how pitiful this, and the whole of life is? But let us break off, and tell me instead what news you have heard."
Edward informed him that William had again gone off suddenly and without assigning any cause. "I am glad of it," answered the old man; "I always took him for our thief, and winkt hard in looking at him, that I might not ruin him utterly: this indulgence however must have come to an end. I was exceedingly fond of him, and for that very reason only hated him the more."
"How do you mean?" asked the young man.
"Why," replied the other, "foolishly enough I felt charmed by his countenance, by the soft sound of his voice, by his whole look and air: this perverse sympathy will keep following us everywhere. I took a liking to him: and catching my heart in this piece of folly, I punisht myself by conceiving a downright aversion to the fellow, as we should and must do to everything we are greatly delighted with."
Edward wanted to ask further questions, but the striking of the clock called him to his business, and being dismist by the old man he went away, with a multitude of thoughts concerning this singular conversation, to meditate further upon it at leisure.
* * * * *
Whenever Edward's thoughts now recurred, as they often did, to the nature of his situation, that and every thing connected with it, the appointment which had fixt him in this secluded spot, the business he was engaged in, as well as the persons with whom he had to hold intercourse, appeared to him in a light totally different from before. He was loth to acknowledge to himself how forcibly and singularly his imagination had been wrought upon by his late discourse with Rose. Hitherto he had only lookt on her as a pleasing child; but now the lovely girl became an object to which expectations and silent hopes attacht themselves: he watcht her more attentively; he talked oftener to her and more at length; and the budding of her youthful soul, the frank artlessness of her thoughts, interested his heart more and more. And then, when he recollected the hideous, sallow-faced Eleazar, with his surly morose temper, and thought that this tender flower had already in secret devoted herself as a sacrifice to so odious a creature, his anger was moved by this absurd project, which at other times again he could not help smiling at. Eleazar had been absent for some days past. He had not taken much pains to conceal that he was going into the lonely, remote parts of the mountains in search of those marks which he had read of in the master miner's book. This absurdity sorted well with his strange dreamy character; for he was perpetually poring over books of magic and alchemical treatises, had a laboratory in his room, and would often boast in pretty intelligible hints that he had found the philosopher's stone. When Edward bethought himself of his singular conversation with his old master, and of the sentiments he had given vent to during that confidential hour, he no longer regarded it as improbable that Balthasar should have been led by his wild moody whims to design his blooming foster-daughter for the wife of the gloomy Eleazar. A shudder came over him to think with what dark and perplext spirits he was so closely linkt; his head went round with the giddiness of all about him, and he seemed almost to lose his hold on himself. This made him still more regret the loss of young William: at the same time his annoyances were increast by the robberies of the warehouse, which instead of ceasing were carried on with more audacity than ever. He himself had entertained a slight suspicion of William, and was quite unable to make out how the crime was perpetrated.
In this mood it was with no very friendly welcome that he met Eleazar on his return from his wild-goose chace. Eleazar too grew highly indignant, when he heard that the robberies had been continued during his absence with the greatest impudence; and as he could not justly charge Edward with any negligence or supineness, this first conversation between them, little as they had ever been disposed to agree, took a tone of still more bitterness than usual. As soon as his hateful companion was gone, Edward determined to do what he now could not help regarding as his indispensable duty, by speaking more seriously than ever to Herr Balthasar on this subject.
These depredations, which were prosecuted with so much security, excited the wonder of the whole neighbourhood; and at the public-house in the town there was often much talk about them. Old Conrad was sitting in the wooden arm-chair beside the stove, and was just telling the fat thriving landlord the details of the last robbery, when a stranger came in, who immediately gave himself out to be a travelling miner. The stranger was much younger than Conrad, and therefore at first modestly said but little, and merely asked a few questions, insinuating however that there might probably be means of soon bringing the matter to light, if his advice were but to be followed. By these hints the curiosity of some peasants who happened to be present, having come with corn from the plain several miles off to this town high up among the mountains, was vehemently aroused. Conrad, who lookt upon himself as the wisest person in the company, became grave and monosyllabic, waiting to hear what this new device or scheme for detecting the thief, would end in.
"You must lay a charm," said the stranger, "which the thief, when he has once set foot within it, will not be able to escape from; and so, as soon as the sun rises, you are sure to find him."
"And what is such a charm to be made of?" asked Andrew, who was the forwardest of the peasants.
Conrad laught aloud and scornfully, while he said: "Clownish dolts, don't thrust in your tongues, when people are debating about matters of art and science; stick to your straw and your chaff; they are things you are better skilled in handling. Proceed, knowing sir," he added, looking with suspicious graciousness toward the stranger; "how do you mean that such a charm or spell is to be prepared, so as to be certain of its effect?"
The stranger, whose pale face formed a singular contrast with the stout dusky-hued Conrad, the fat host, and the puffy cheeks of the peasants, said with a somewhat stifled voice: "Yew twigs cut and peeled beneath the new moon, and then boiled at the first quarter in a decoction of wolf's milk and hemlock, which itself must have been previously made on the selfsame night, are to be stuck in the earth, while some words that I know are repeated, at certain distances round the spot where the robbery is committed; and the thief, be he ever so daring, and ever so learned in laying spells and breaking them, will be unable to step out of this circle, and will stand in fear and trembling, till the persons who set the magical trap pounce upon him in the morning. I have often seen this practist in Hungary and Transylvania, and it has always succeeded."
Conrad was about to answer, but the pert Andrew was beforehand with him and cried: "My grandfather, the smith, had a spell with abracadabra, which was to be repeated backward and forward, along with certain verses of the Bible; and when he had said these words, every thief, whether he was in the wood, on the high road, or in the field, was forced to halt on the sudden in the middle of his running,—or, if he was riding on horseback, it was just the same—and to wait in terrour and affright, so that even children if they chose might seize hold of him."
Conrad gave the peasant a look of inexpressible contempt, and then turning with ambiguous courtesy to the strange miner, said: "You are a man of experience and knowledge, as it seems; nevertheless your well-meant advice will hardly meet with acceptance here. For first the old man of the mountain will never have anything to do with sorcery and witchcraft, because he hates every kind of superstition, even that which is pious and unavoidable, much more then one of this sort, which he must needs hold to be utterly accurst. Besides you don't even know in what way the thief goes to work, so as to take proper measures against him."
"What do you mean?" asked the stranger, somewhat abasht, but whose curiosity was stirred.
"Have you never heard," continued Conrad, "or read of those wonderful persons, or, as you have been such a great traveller, have you yourself never stumbled upon such, whose eyes can pierce through a board, through wainscot and wall, nay down into the depths of the earth and into the heart of a mountain?"
"In Spain," replied the stranger, "there are said to be men, who without the help of a divining-rod can find out treasures and metals with their bodily eyes, even though they should be lying ever so deep under rocks or forests."
"Just so," proceeded Conrad; "Zahori, or Zahuri is the name borne, as I have heard tell, by the people who have carried their power and knowledge to this pitch. Only nobody knows whether one man can learn this of another, or whether it is a natural gift, or proceeds from a league with the evil one."
"From the devil certainly!" cried Andrew interrupting him, having been gradually poking in his face nearer and nearer.
"I am not talking to you, lowland lubber," said Conrad; "you would do better to seat yourself behind the stove; that is your right place when people are canvassing grave questions of science."
Andrew muttered, and angrily drew back his chair a little; whereupon Conrad went on; "Look you man, this art in many countries is not the only one, nor even the highest, profitable as it may be for discovering veins of metal, or even gold and silver. Of much greater weight however, and far more formidable are those who have a power in their eyes to do one an injury, and with a single glance can infect one with a disease, a fever, a jaundice, a fit of madness, or even look one dead. The better and godlier part of these persons hence always of their own accord wear a bandage before one of their eyes—for this power will often exist only on one side—so that they may walk about and deal with their neighbours, without harming them."
"Of these I have never heard," replied the stranger.
"That is matter of surprise to me," continued the old miner with the most perfect gravity: "for since you come from Hungary, and probably were born there, where you have such a sight of vampires, or blood-sucking corpses, such swarms of goblins and manikins of the mountains, dwarfs and subterraneous creatures, that will often come across you even by broad daylight, I fancied everything belonging to witchcraft must be in high vogue there and generally notorious."
"No," answered the traveller, "I never up to this present instant heard anything of these prodigies, much as I have seen and myself experienced that by such as have not been so far from home may be deemed remarkable enough."
"Now then," said Conrad taking up his word again, "when the Zahori, as they call him, has once got so far that with his naked eye, instead of quietly seeing the treasures beneath his feet, he can give anyone a fit of sickness or put him to death, he has only one step further to become perfect and a master in his art. Look you, my good stranger, when he has thus reacht the highest degree, he will set himself down before a dish of baked meat, while it is still standing in the oven covered up and shut down, and without anybody being able to observe him will with his mere eyes devour you a goose, or a hare, or whatever it may be, swallowing it up so clean and neat, that, if he chooses, not a bone will be left. Place some nuts before him or melons, he will eat up all the kernel or pulp out of them, without making even a single scratch on the shell or rind, but leaving them undamaged just as if everything was still within. He has had a good meal; nobody can prove, or even suspect what he has done; and others have nothing left them but a fruitless search."
"The devil again!" cried Andrew; "that's the trick I should like, if I could learn the art."
"An artist of this sort," continued the old miner, "may however ascend a great deal higher; for such things after all would be merely a jest. If he has a spite against any one, he can pluck his heart out of his body with a look, just as easily as his money out of his pocket. The enemy he sets eye on will waste away and die miserably, or will sink into beggary, while he himself becomes as rich as ever he pleases."
"It makes ones mouth water!" cried Andrew unconsciously, so completely was he carried away by the visions presented to him.
Conrad turned his back upon him, drew his chair nearer to the miner, and then said: "If we had not this rabble so close at our side, I could explain the matter to you with greater tranquillity of mind. The truth is this. When the Zahuri has been promoted from being an apprentice or pounding-lad, to be a brother, and then a master or mine-surveyor, he will seat himself on his chair in his room, here overhead in this inn, or wherever it may be, will think of the warehouse of our old man of the mountain, or of the London docks, or of some place down in Spain where he knows that some banker, jeweller, or ship-master has valuable goods in his hands, and so soon as ever he thinks of them with his eyes, he has them before him, and nobody knows of it or can hinder it. In like manner by merely willing it he can also send them forthwith from the place whence he takes them, to Russia, or Calcutta, or anywhere else, and bring back the money he asks for them. Now should there be a man of this class living here, in the neighbourhood, or even in America, and he took a fancy to rob the warehouse, you will easily understand, with your unassisted reason, that then your peeled and boiled twigs would be of just as much avail, as a basin of well-made water gruel to cure an earthquake."
The stranger had wit enough to perceive that Conrad was making a fool of him; but the peasants, though there were some things that puzzled them, swallowed all these nonsensical stories. Conrad exulted in his superiority, and went on: "Look you man, if there were no conjurers of this kind, how would all the contraband goods get in, which we find in every part of the world? and this is the reason why the preventive service can do so little, however strict and vigilant they may be. The learning the art indeed must probably cost some trouble; and this no doubt is why so very few seem to reach any mastery in it."
"All that you have been telling me," answered the traveller, is mighty strange; "and perhaps the neatest way of winding up our dialogue would be, if I were to affirm that I am one of the masters in this art. However you would immediately require some specimen of my skill; and at that indeed I might boggle a little. Nevertheless be it in earnest or in jest that you have been talking all this while, there is most unquestionably, as no rational being will dispute, a number of incomprehensible and marvellous things in the world."
Conrad, who in the mean time had been regaling himself with some strong beer, and fancied he had gained a complete victory over his unknown antagonist, was irritated by this rejoinder, and the more so because the peasants, who had heard the conversation, were not capable of undertaking the part of arbitrators.
"Heyday!" he now exclaimed; "you seem to me to be one of those people who have hardly a notion as to what is marvellous or what natural. Have you ever seen spirits with your own eyes, as I have? Have you ever held conversations with goblins, with the little creatures that go into and come out of the mountain-lord's great house there? Have you ever seen metals and precious stones a-growing? or gold and silver trees waving and tossing about, all alive and vegetating?"
"Do you believe then," asked the stranger, "that stones grow and decay, that metals shoot up and propagate their species? Do you fancy that the beds under the earth sprout up just like a potatoe-field?"
"I know nothing about potatoes and all such vermin!" cried Conrad in a passion,—it being something new to him to have an unknown, and, as it seemed, an insignificant person lord it over him: "But that metals and rocks have life and motion in them every body is aware, that they grow up and die away, and that, as there is sunshine and moonshine here above, rain and mist, frost and heat, so there are vapours and blasts there below, which burst in and rush out, and boil invisibly in the dark there, and mould themselves into shape. One of these blasts will curdle into a mist, and then it trickles down, and intermarries with the essences of the hills and of the regions under the earth; and according to the course and form the steam takes then, it begets metals or stones, it quickens into silver or gold, or runs along as iron and copper branching out or cleft asunder in veins that strike far and near."
"What then, are you so far behind all the rest of the world here!" asked the stranger with every mark of astonishment. "O my good friend, with your leave, ever since the creation, or at all events ever since the deluge, the mountains, and stones, and rocks, and metals, and gems, have been lockt up in their houses and never gadded abroad. We dig and delve in here at top, and hardly get even at deepest below the upper skin of the warts, as the mountains are in comparison to the whole earth, much such a part as a nail-paring is of a man. Wherever we can set foot, we grub up these primeval stores, so far as we need them; and nothing ever shoots forth again, neither coal nor diamond, neither copper nor lead; and your notion of the matter is a mere superstition. In Africa, they tell us a story, people used from time to time to find little grains of gold in a sandpit, which they had to deliver up to the poor black king as his property. With the help of these he would then buy all sorts of things from foreiners. One day going a little deeper they fell in with two good-sized lumps of massy solid gold. The slaves in great delight carried the fruit of their labours to their black master, it being more than they had found for ten years past, and they thought how overjoyed the poor man would be at becoming rich thus all at once. But they were mistaken. The wise old king said: 'Look ye, my friends, these pieces are the father and mother of that little brood of gold grains which we have constantly been finding for ages: carry them back immediately and set them in the very same place, that they may be able to go on producing fresh ones. Unless you do so, we should get a vast gain for the moment, but should lose a lasting source of profit for ever hereafter.' The moor was a goosecap, was not he?"
"Very far from it," cried Conrad, growing more and more enraged; "he was quite right not to meddle with that which goes on in secret; although we, as miners, cannot see the matter exactly in the same light as he did. Solid masses have grown like the rest of us; and who can say whether they may not enliven and further the shooting and coalescing of the metallic particles round about them?"
"I tell you however," replied the stranger, "that sprouting and growing, and spreading out into the regions of the air, or in the form of roots underground, are the properties of plants only. Stones rest in themselves; vegetables feed on light and warmth and moisture, and transform the particles of the earth they stand on into means of growth and enlargement. Then animals start off and break loose from the elements; but they move within them, and carry their roots about with them in their entrails."
"No! no!" screamed Conrad, still more violently: "In this way the whole world, and above all my glorious mountains, with their glittering subterraneous chambers, will be hocus-pocust into mere store-houses, wretcheder ones than if they were made of wood, into miserable wareshops and stalls. What then would the dwarfish sprites, and the mighty mountain-spirit, and all the goblins and elvish imps, and the swarm of gnomes there below have to do? and yet they are always, some of them cleverly, some of them clumsily, putting their hands to the wheel. And the waters! and the vapours! O thou blind and deaf generation, that wilt not see and understand, what is yet much more easily comprehensible than your dead, lifeless world! If life and growth, and the workings by which life is propagated and multiplied, can ever come to a standstill, then in your own realm too, in the places where you fancy you see life, it is a sheer illusion and cheat. The solid earth is alive, but in a different manner; and when it happens to draw in its breath, when the old giant yawns and stretches his tired limbs, and tries to arrange them more comfortably, you are all aghast, and set up a howl about earthquakes, while your walled hovels are running after you for variety's sake, and your towers are tumbling into your pockets and slippers."
"You are a strange man," said the other, "and much too hot-headed to listen to reason. Surely we ought to love truth above our puerile prejudices. We do not make nature, but she is already such as she is, spread out before us, for us to watch her ways and learn from her teaching."
"Nature!" exclaimed the old miner; "that is just another of their stupid words! My mountain has nothing to do with nature; it is my mountain. About that I know everything; of your nature I know nothing at all. Just as if a tailor, who had a coat to make, were to keep on prating about nothing but wool, and merino sheep! To such a pitch have people already brought matters, that they can't look at anything as what it is, but search out some great big generality to which they may tie it and slay it and embowel it. What say you to this? I once talked to a man out of Hungary, a fellow-countryman of yours, but he had his wits more about him; and he told me of a vine, I believe not far from Tokay, which must have stood upon a vein of gold, and in which a stream of gold brancht out and ran through all the wood. He shewed me a bit of this vine, and I could clearly see and distinguish the gleaming of the gold that had grown up with it. He gave me his word that in some of the biggest and juiciest grapes seeds had been found at times which were of pure gold."
"Now only look!" rejoined the stranger; "Can one wish for more than this? Gold not only grows as a mineral, but even as a plant. However I know a still better story. Once upon a time, when the weather was very damp, a man dropt some ducats in the rocky ground at a short distance from Cremnitz. In spite of every search they were not to be found. They must have fallen down among the stones, and have been buried in the rubbish. What came of it? Some years after, when no human being, not even the owner himself, thought any more of the loss, a strange sort of shrub was seen, which not a soul in the country had over met with. It flowered with wonderful beauty, and then formed a number of little pods. The pods soon after split like the fruit of the winter-cherry; and, when people went to look at it closelier, every skin contained a bright new Cremnitz ducat. Some fifty came to perfection; a good many, that had been nipt by the frost, were mere thin gold leaf. The oddest thing of all was that the ducats were always markt—for they took good care not to root up the beautiful weed—with the date of the year in which they ripened. Of late a wish has been entertained, if it were but possible, to graft a branch of a tree which peradventure might bear doubloons, on this lucrative bush, with a view of ennobling the fruit."
The very peasants laught at this; for they fancied they saw the jest: Conrad, however, though he perceived it, misunderstood it so far that he did not answer a single word, but drunk with beer and rage only lifted up his fist, and thrust it so violently into the storyteller's face, that he instantly tumbled from his stool to the ground, and a stream of blood gusht out from his mouth and nostrils. On getting up again the stranger, though evidently the weaker, wanted to take his revenge; but the peasants rusht in between, and brought about a peace at least for the moment. This was the easier, as some travelling musicians were just come with their instruments into the inn, where Conrad in his drunkenness immediately took them into his pay. Notwithstanding the remonstrances of the host and hostess, he made them first play some songs, then some dances, and gave no ear to those who admonisht and reminded him that the music might be heard up in the great house.
"Why should I trouble myself," he cried, "about the old man of the mountain? He may for once let his evil conscience be sung to sleep a little."
He now began dancing, first alone, then with the hostess; and as the noise soon got abroad, several men and girls walkt in, who were glad to take part in this unexpected public ball. When the younger peasants however also stood up, Conrad rusht suddenly upon them, shoved them violently back, and imperiously commanded the musicians to be silent.
"When clod-hoppers and such scum mingle with their betters," he bawled out, "one of us must retire from the foul contamination. But this I tell you, the first of you that budges, or even growls, I'll break every bone in his skin."
The peasants, whether alarmed by his drunken fury, or perhaps only unwilling to incense him still more, drew back to their table. Conrad seated himself, after all the victories he had achieved, majestically in his armchair again, and rolled his eyes round with a look of defiance. As nobody uttered a word, he said with a loud voice: "Look ye, fellow miners, I am one of the oldest men about the works here above; see here, comrades, and ye ragamuffins there, host and peasants I mean, these dollars my prince and lord has gained from our pit."
He threw a handful of silver on the table.
"And old as I am, fellows, I was born and bred here in the mountains, and I never yet crawled down into the vallies and the plain. I can boast (and very few can say as much) I never yet saw any grain in the field, never yet saw corn growing or ripe atop of its pitiful straw. We work in gold and silver, are expert in mysteries and deep lore, hew blocks, amalgamate metals, fuse ores,—and the miserable louts there have to go about, as people have told me, hand and glove with rank dung, and to carry the stinking stuff into the fields and spread it out; and therefore I have a right to look upon their foul frocks as scandalous and vile; at all events no miner should ever shake hands with 'em, or drink out of the same mug. I am determined too to die a man of honour, as I have grown old, without ever setting foot under their thatch roofs, or on their threshing-floors; I have preserved myself four and fifty years from this disgrace, and heaven will continue to guard me from it while I live."
Thus he went on prating, till at length he was so stupefied and exhausted that he fell asleep. The peasants, who now felt still sorelier affronted than before, had more than once cast significant looks on their cudgels. With these feelings they listened the more readily to the advice of the stranger, who had been washing himself in the meanwhile, to lift their insolent enemy, as he was fast asleep and seemed quite senseless, upon the top of one of their waggons, and to lay him, when they got to the bottom, in a corn field, that he might find himself there when he awoke from his fit. There was no difficulty in doing this, as the musicians had been paid and were gone, and the landlord was busied in the kitchen.
* * * * *
In the depths of the forest, where the iron forges were at work, and where in the midst of dark rocks by the side of a waterfall the shouts and the hammering of the workmen resounded far and wide in rivalry with the roar of the torrent, Edward the next evening met the inspector of the mines, to talk over some business of importance with him, and to give him some instructions from Herr Balthasar. The fire in the vast furnace glared wildly through the dusk: the brighter glow of the half-molten iron, the myriads of dazzling sparks that spurted up from the anvil beneath the sledges of the sturdy smiths, the dark forms moving through the large boarded shed, into which the trunk of a tree in full leaf had forced its way, overshadowing the bellows in the corner with its branches—this singular night piece attracted all Edward's attention, when loud talking and laughter arose among the workmen. Some one had just been telling them how Conrad, when he was drunk, had been treated by the peasants the day before, and how to his extreme annoyance he had awaked that morning in the midst of a corn field. The story seemed to interest everybody so much, that their work was suffered to stand still for a while.
"It serves him right," cried one of the broad-shouldered journeymen, "the vapouring coxcomb! He is the most insufferable and rudest miner in the whole country for miles round; and fancies he knows everything better than his neighbours, and is the cleverest fellow in the world."
"They say he is running about like a madman, and as if the fiend had got hold of him," continued the narrator; "for now the very thing of which he has bragged from morning to night, is at an end: he has not only been forced to see corn growing in the field, he has lain in the midst of it."
Edward turned to the speaker and askt: "Michael, are you quite well again already, that you come out thus into the open air?"
"Yes, Sir," answered the smith; "thanks to you and our old master. My eye is gone of course; but how many of us have to work with but one! The spark of iron that burnt it out might have been still bigger. It was great pain, to be sure: that could not be otherwise; but with God's help I am become quite stout again after all. Herr Balthasar indeed has also done much toward helping me, and I owe a world of thanks to his care, his kindness, and his charity. And so we do all, everybody that belongs to him."
Another man with one eye chimed in with these praises, and added: "It will fall out now and then that one or other of us gets maimed in this way; for fire is not a thing to be jested with: but God has blest us in giving us our old master; for even if a fellow were to become stark blind, he would never let him starve or want."
The workmen were gone back to the anvil, and Edward then first observed that Eleazar had come into the hut, and was talking to a stranger. This was the travelling miner, the planner of the disgrace inflicted upon old Conrad, which of all mortifications he could have endured was the bitterest. Eleazar was scolding vehemently, and said it was quite impious to drive an old man by such tricks into a passion, nay to the brink of despair; for he had heard that Conrad was running franticly about the mountains, utterly deaf to all advice and consolation.
The stranger excused and defended himself as well as he could; and as the sledges had now begun hammering again, while the roar of the bellows mingled with that of the waters, the quarrel was lost sound of, and only grew somewhat more audible, when Conrad himself in a fury rusht howling with swollen face and red starting eyes up to the disputants.
"My honour!" he screamed, "my honour as a noble miner! my glory and my pride! all are gone, irrevocably and for ever! And by a pack of base boors, by a puny, cream-faced, chicken-breasted, outlandish starveling, have I been robbed of it. Amid all the mountains round, and doubtless in many others likewise, there was not a miner nor a mine-surveyor who could boast that he had never in his life been down in the beggarly plain. I awoke in the straw, in the corn, such was the rascals plot to ruin me. The ears were sticking in my nose and eyes when I came to myself, the sorry, brittle, bristly stuff, that I had never yet seen except in the pallet of my bed. Scandal and shame! Murder and house-breaking are not so detestable! and no law against it, no remedy, no mortal skill in the whole wide world."
The others had enough to do to tear the strong old man away from the weakly stranger, on whom he wanted to take personal vengeance.
As Conrad could not get satisfaction in this way, he sat down on the ground in a corner of the hut; and it being a holiday evening, the journeymen lay down round about him, some trying to comfort him, others jeering him. "Be pacified," said the man with one eye, "the whole affair is mere child's play. Had the fire burnt out your eye, had you had to endure unspeakable torments in your brain, and to toss through sleepless feverish nights, then indeed you would have something to complain of. But as it is, the whole matter is a sheer trifle, and all fancy."
"That is your notion!" cried Conrad: "there never was a fool that could not talk and chatter like one. Your having lost your eye in your vocation is an honour to you, and you may be proud of it, and glory in it. But their sticking me down in the middle of their dung, where I was forced to lie like a tumble-down sheaf, or a truss of hay,—it has knockt half a dozen nails into my coffin. 'Conrad! Conrad! ninnyhammer! sack of straw!' so it seemed that everything was shouting in my ears. I have now seen the miserable, dirty ploughed land, in which the scurvy clowns have to breed up their bread. It's so flat down there, you can see nothing, far as eye can reach; and one hears no sledgehammers, no rush of waters, not even a boy pounding. It looks just like the end of the world; and I could never have fancied that the corn country and the plains, where more than half the world have to live, were so utterly mean and despicable."