At this moment the door was thrown open; a drunken workman reeled past him, an obnoxious odor issued forth. Louder still grew the noise; the tones of the flute could scarcely make themselves heard above it.
Then he took courage, and before the door was closed pressed through the narrow opening into the inner room of the public-house.
He stood there, squeezed behind an empty brandy-cask. Nobody heeded him.
During the first few moments he could not distinguish anything.
The oppressive atmosphere and the noise had overwhelmed his senses, and the tones of the flute grew harsh and unmelodious, so that they hurt his ears.
In the midst of the yelling and stamping people sat a ragged fellow on an upturned cask; he had a bloated, pimply face, a brandy-nose, and black, greasy hair—a figure, the sight of which made Paul shudder. It was he who had played the flute.
Petrified with horror, the boy stared at him. It seemed to him as if the heavens were falling and the world going to ruin.
The musician now put down his flute, uttered a few coarse words in a rough, hoarse voice, greedily swallowed the brandy which was handed to him by the by-standers, and, beating time with his feet, began playing a vulgar ballad, which the listeners accompanied with loud brawling.
Then Paul fled from the den, and ran and ran till he was perfectly dizzy, as if he wished to escape from his own thoughts.
When he was alone on the storm-swept heath, from the extremity of which a sulphurous streak of evening light was shining, he stopped, hid his face in his hands, and cried bitterly.
In the winter which followed, Paul stopped whistling altogether, and flute-playing disgusted him even more. When he thought of it there stood before his eyes the figure of the outcast who had profaned his yearnings for art.
He did not see Elsbeth any more. With the beginning of the cold weather the confirmation-classes had been transferred from the church to the vicarage, and as there was no room there large enough to hold all the candidates, the boys and girls were taught separately. Sometimes he saw Elsbeth's carriage pass, but she herself was so wrapped up in furs and shawls that her face could not be recognized. He did not even know whether she had seen him.
At this time he had to suffer much vexation from the brothers Erdmann, who knew how to torment him beyond endurance. He was perfectly powerless against them, for each of them was twice as strong as he; besides, they always attacked him both at the same time, and while one held him the other pinched. Not that they were thoroughly vicious; on the contrary, they knew how to practise benevolence and generosity towards others; but his quiet, reserved nature was just what they hated with all their heart. They called him a hypocrite and a Puritan, and when they had thrashed him would say, "There, now go and tell tales of us; that would be just like you."
His rancor against these antagonists grew stronger and stronger. He often reproached himself with behaving in a cowardly and dishonorable manner, and accused himself of having a low, servile nature. One day, when he ran up and down in the snow, he worked himself into such a fury that he resolved to rid himself of these two wicked brothers were it at the risk of his own life. He ran to the stables where the grindstone stood, thawed the frozen water in the tub, and sharpened his pocket-knife till it cut a piece of the thinnest tissue-paper. But when, on the following Monday, he was again thrashed, he had not the courage to draw it from his pocket, and had once more to reproach himself with cowardice. He put it off till the next time; but that was the end of it. From his father, too, he had much to endure. The latter was again taken up with grand plans, and when this was the case he always felt very superior, and in an especially bad humor with Paul, whom he despised for his narrow-mindedness.
"Why has not the tiniest spark of my genius been transmitted to that boy?" he would remark; "how beautifully I could educate him to assist in my plans. But he is too stupid—everything is lost upon him." It was now his intention to found a company to make his moor profitable, to bring capital together, and to be himself named director of it all, with a salary of several thousand thalers. Every week he drove into town two or three times, and often did not come home even on the following day. "It is difficult enough," he would say, when he had slept off his intoxication, "but I'll be even with the niggards! That Douglas, too, insolent fellow, shall pay for it. If I only knew how to tackle him. I will never enter Helenenthal again, were it only that I might not see how the fellow has neglected it—for that he certainly has done—and in town I never get sight of him. But pay for it—pay for it he shall. If he does not immediately sign a whole bushel of shares, the devil take him."
Frau Elsbeth listened sadly to all this without saying a word, but Paul used secretly to take down the key of the shed from its shelf, and go off to have mute intercourse with "Black Susy." He stuck to the belief that she would be the means of saving them.
When the Easter holidays were over, the confirmation-classes were again held in the church. Boys and girls met together after a half year's separation.
Elsbeth had changed very much during the winter. She almost looked like a grown-up lady now.
She wore a longer dress and her hair was arranged in little curls on her forehead.
Paul saluted her very shyly; he felt as if he were no longer fit for her; but she rose from her seat, walked a few steps towards him, and shook his hand heartily before everybody's eyes. During the ensuing lesson a sheet of paper was circulated among the boys which caused much mirth. On it was written, with all sorts of flourishes:
"Paul Meyerhofer, Elsbeth Douglas, Betrothed."
The writing was that of the younger Erdmann. Paul's hand searched for his knife; for a moment he felt as if he could draw it on his neighbor here in the open church. He snatched the paper from his hand and tore it into little pieces.
Elsbeth looked at him wonderingly, and the vicar called him to order. Then he became terrified at his own audacity. The Erdmanns must have understood that on this subject he would not stand any joking, and made no further attempts to tease him about Elsbeth.
The confirmation took place on the last Sunday before Whitsuntide. The night before, Paul could not sleep, and at sunrise quietly got up, put on the new clothes which his good aunt had sent him for this occasion, and took a walk through the quiet yard and over the dewy fields, till he reached the moor, which in its flowery garb lay brightly extended before him.
At the sight of the rising sun he folded his hands and said an ardent prayer. From this day forth he resolved to begin a new and better life, forgive all offences, and love his enemies, as Jesus Christ had commanded. Then he thought of the knife which he had once ground with a view to the Erdmanns; he pulled it out of his pocket and threw it far away over the moor, where it sank down in the swamp with a gurgling sound. Hot tears streamed from his eyes; he thought himself bad and reprobate, and totally unworthy to stand before God's altar; he scarcely dared to go home to the farm; only when the twins came rushing towards him in their brand-new muslin dresses did he feel happier and easier in his mind. He embraced his sisters, and vowed in silence to be a true friend and support to them.
Then came his mother, dressed in a faded silk gown, kissed him on his forehead and cheeks, and held his face between her two hands for a long while, looking fixedly into his eyes. She wanted to say something to him, but she could get out nothing more than "My boy, my dear boy!"
Even his father was in the rosiest humor to-day. He took both Paul's hands in his, and made him a long speech as to how he must learn to look out for what was great in human life, and to emulate him, his father, who, though always pursued by misfortune and plundered by the wickedness of men, had never allowed himself to be discouraged from aspiring to the stars, even in this miserable hole into which adverse fate had let him sink. And he knitted his brows and ruffled his hair, every inch of him grandeur and importance.
Paul kissed both his hands and promised everything. At eight o'clock he saw on the high-road which led across the heath a carriage roll by, the silver ornaments of which sparkled in the morning sun.
For a long time he looked after it. Everything seemed to him like a dream. He felt so exultantly glad that he was almost overpowered by happiness. "How have I deserved all this?" he asked himself; and then he began brooding over what the first trouble would be which would drag him down from this bliss. When the twins announced to him that the carriage stood ready for the drive to church he felt sad and depressed.
In the vicarage garden, where syringa and lilac were in bloom, and where the sunbeams glittered on the lawn, stood two little groups of human beings apart from each other—one black, the other white. The former were the boys, the latter the girls.
Elsbeth, in her snowy muslin dress with a lace handkerchief crossed over her bosom, looked white and graceful as a hawthorn blossom.
Her cheeks were very pale, and she kept her eyes lowered, and played alternately with her hymn-book and a twig of lilac, both of which she held in her hand.
Paul looked at her for a long time, but she did not see him. She would not be disturbed in her devotion by any worldly thought.
And then the vicar came; the bells pealed, the organ resounded, and the procession, ranged in couples, advanced slowly towards the altar.
Paul walked close behind the two Erdmanns, who in their long black coats looked very solemn and demure. Suddenly the consciousness of his guilt overcame him more forcibly than ever. He bent forward a little, touched them softly on the shoulder, and whispered, with moist eyes,
"Forgive me, I have behaved so badly to you."
They nudged each other and smiled maliciously. One of them half turned round, and whispered, with a face of pathetic misery and a look of injured innocence,
"My son, we forgive you."
Paul felt very well that they were mocking him, but his heart was so full of devotion and love that no mocking could affect him.
The children ranged themselves on both sides of the altar.
Paul sent a shy glance into the body of the church, which was crammed with people, but he could not distinguish anybody.
The hour for the sermon was past. He gazed down before him. All seemed like a dream.
A little later he felt his knees resting on a soft cushion and the hand of the vicar on his head. What he said to him he did not hear. He saw Elsbeth on the other side, crying quietly with her handkerchief to her eyes, and thought,
"Ah, cry away, cry away, you will soon laugh again."
And then he asked himself why people always laughed so much, while on the whole there were so few laughable things in the world.
The organ now intoned the hymn, "Praise ye the Lord, the mighty King of Glory." The chorus of the congregation sounded jubilant, and his gaze wandered up to the sunbeams which fell in iridescent light through the painted church windows like a rainbow.
And while he was gazing at it he suddenly started. Just opposite the cross which crowned the altar stood a dark woman clad in gray, of supernatural stature, looking down upon him with big, hollow eyes. It was the penitent Magdalene.
He felt a cold shudder run through his frame.
"Dame Care," he murmured, and bent his head as if he wished to accept with humility what she might grant him for life.
And when he lifted his eyes again the sun shone more magnificently than before.
Fiery red and emerald green sparkled the rays, weaving a radiant halo round the gray dame's head.
But she stood there sadly in the midst of all the brilliant radiance, and stared down upon him with her big, hollow eyes.
Then the organ began the finale with swelling chords. A joyful thrill passed through the congregation. The troop of children hastened to throw themselves into the arms of their parents, and a kindly glance greeted him from Elsbeth's eyes.
Paul now began to help with the farming. He faithfully kept the vow which he had made on the morning of his confirmation. He worked like the meanest of his servants, and when his mother begged him to spare himself, he kissed her hand and replied, "You know we have a great deal to make good."
In the evening, when the servants had retired to rest and the twins had frollicked till they fell asleep, mother and son often sat together for hours and planned and calculated; but when some resolution had ripened within them and a gleam of hope shone from their eyes, it often happened that they would suddenly start and let their heads droop with a sigh; but neither of them gave utterance to that which weighed on their minds.
About this time Frau Elsbeth began to age rapidly. Long, deep furrows lined her face, her chin became very prominent, and silver streaks appeared in her hair. Only from the depths of her sorrowful eyes one could still see how beautiful she had once been.
"Yes, you see, I am quite an old woman now," she said to her son one morning, as she combed her hair before the looking-glass, "and luck has never yet come."
"Hush, mother, what else am I here for?" he answered, though he did not feel hopeful at all.
Then she smiled sadly, stroked his cheeks and his brow, and said, "Yes, you certainly look as if you had caught luck in its flight! but I won't speak like this," she continued; "what should I do without you?"
Such moments of overflowing love had to satisfy them for a long time, for often months passed by without mother or son daring to say any loving words to each other; their hearts were too sorrowful.
The twins meanwhile grew up—two frolicksome, apple-cheeked tomboys, for whom no tree was too high, no ditch too deep. Their curly brown hair fell over their foreheads in a thousand little ringlets, and beneath them two pairs of eyes peeped out, as full of mischief and as sparkling, both with shyness and impudence, as if a stray sunbeam were laughing out of black forest depths.
The laughter of these two resounded from morning to night through the lonely Howdahs, and the quietness when they were at school or running about in the open fields was the more oppressive.
It was all the same to the twins whether there was sunshine or storm in the house; their heads were always full of tricks, and when at times their father's storming grew too insupportable and they deemed it more prudent to, hide behind the stove, they made up for it there by pinching one another's legs.
They were devoted to Paul, which, however, did not prevent them from quietly claiming as their property the best morsels from his plate, the whitest sheets of paper from his writing-case, and the finest buttons off his trousers, for they used to steal like magpies.
He was very anxious about them, for he feared they would become wilder and wilder, especially as his mother grew more tired and despondent, and left matters to take their own course. But he began his educational experiments at the wrong end. His warnings were of no avail, and once as he was in the middle of a beautiful sermon one of them suddenly jumped on his knee, pulled his nose, and called out to his sister, "Fanny, he is getting a beard."
Then the other one climbed after her, and both of them tried who could pinch him the most. But when he got seriously angry with them, they began to sulk, and said, "Fie, we won't speak to you any more."
He had not seen Elsbeth again since the day of their confirmation, though a whole year had elapsed meanwhile.
It was said she had been sent to town to learn there how to move in society. This word had given his heart a pang; he scarcely knew what it meant, but he vaguely felt that she was farther and farther removed from him.
But it happened one day about Easter-tide that he had to work on a piece of ground which lay removed from the other fields and far away at the edge of the wood. He was sowing the seed himself, and a servant with two horses went harrowing after him.
He wore a big seed-cloth round his shoulders, and watched with quiet pleasure how the grains sparkled like a golden fountain as they sank into the earth. Then it seemed to him that he saw something bright between the dark trunks of the trees, rocking up and down like a cradle suspended in the air. But he scarcely allowed himself time to notice it, for sowing is the kind of work which requires all one's attention.
At length the pause for breakfast came. The servant sat down on a sack of corn, but he himself, feeling hot, went towards the wood to be in the shade.
He threw a passing glance at the suspended cradle, and thought, "That must be a hammock;" but he little cared who was lying in it.
Then suddenly it seemed to him as if he heard his name called.
"Paul, Paul!" It sounded sweet and familiar, and in a soft, clear voice, which he seem to know.
He started and looked up.
"Paul, do come here," the voice called again.
He turned hot and cold, for now he well knew who it was.
He cast a shy look at his working-suit, and began to untie the knots of his seed-cloth; but it slipped round to the back of his neck, so that he could not reach it.
"Do come as you are," called out the voice; and now he could see how the upper part of her body raised itself from the hammock, while a book, bound in red and gold, glided from her hands and fell to the ground.
Hesitatingly he approached, trying secretly to wipe his boots in the moss, for the soil of the fields was sticking to them.
She on her part had only this moment perceived that her feet and white stockings showed beneath her dress, and hastily tried to cover them with the shawl which had been put round her shoulders. But she could not pull it from under her arms, and she could think of nothing better than to crouch down quickly so that she looked like a hen, while the hammock swayed to and fro.
Perhaps she might have had the intention to impress him a little with her elegance and freshly-acquired social education, but now, as fate would have it, she did not look at him less blushingly or shyly than he at her.
On his side he observed nothing of her state of mind; he only saw that she had grown very beautiful, that her hair was twisted up into a very aristocratic knot, and that the bow at her bosom trembled slightly on her rounded form. It was quite clear to him that she had now grown into a lady.
A long while elapsed before either of them spoke a word.
"Good-day," she said, at last, with a little laugh, and stretched out her right hand to him, for she soon saw that she had the best of it.
He was silent and smiled at her.
"Help me to pull out my shawl," she continued.
He did so.
"That's it; now turn round."
He did that, too.
"Now it's all right." She had made herself comfortable, thrown the shawl quickly over her feet again, and was looking up at him roguishly through the meshes of the hammock. "It's really delightful to be with you again," she said; "you are the best of them all. Have you also been longing for me?"
"No," he answered, truthfully.
"Oh, get away with you!" she replied, and, pouting, tried to turn over to the other side; but the hammock began to sway too much again, so she laughed and remained lying as she was.
He wondered inwardly at her being so merry. He never heard any one laugh like that, except the twins, and they were children. But this laugh gave him back his self-possession, for he felt instinctively how much older than she he had grown during the interval.
"I suppose you have been very happy all this time?" he asked.
"Thank God, yes!" she replied. "Mamma is always rather delicate, but that is all." A shadow passed over her face, but disappeared again the next moment, and then she chatted on: "I have been in town—oh dear, what I have gone through there! I must tell you about it at the first opportunity. I have had dancing lessons. I have also had admirers—you can fancy that! They serenaded me under my windows, sent me anonymous bouquets, and verses, too—original verses! There was a student, among others, with a white-braided coat, and a green, white, and red cap; oh, he understood it! The things he would say to you! Afterwards he engaged himself to Betty Schirrmacher, one of my friends, but quite in secret—nobody knows it but myself."
Paul breathed freely again, for the student had already begun to make him uncomfortable.
"And were you not vexed?" he asked.
"At his being fickle to you."
"No; we are above such things," she replied, shugging her shoulders. "Oh, you know—they are all stupid boys in comparison with you!"
He felt quite frightened at the idea of calling a student a stupid boy, and, above all, in comparison with him.
"My brother is no stupid boy," he retorted.
"I don't know your brother," she said, with philosophic calmness; "perhaps he is not. Oh, I have grown ever so much older," she went on. "I took literature lessons, and from that I learned many beautiful things."
Tormenting envy awoke in him.
"Do pick up that book."
He did so.
"Do you know that?"
In gold letters he read on the red cover the words, "Heine's Buch der Lieder" (Heine's Book of Songs), and shook his head sadly.
"Ah, then you don't know anything! Oh, how much there is in that book! I must lend it to you. There, read that; it teaches one a great deal. And after reading it for a little while one generally begins to cry."
"Is it so sad, then?" he asked, looking at the cover with shy curiosity.
"Yes, very sad; as beautiful and as sad as—as—It only speaks of love, of nothing else; but you feel such a great longing overpower you, and that you would like to fly off to the Ganges, where the lotus blossoms, and where—" She stopped, and then she laughed merrily and said, "Oh, that is too stupid; is it not?"
"What I am chattering about."
"No; I could listen to you for my whole life."
"No! could you? Oh, you know—it is so cosey here; I feel so secure when you are near me," and she stretched herself out in the net-work as if she wanted to lean her head on his shoulder.
A strange feeling of happiness and peace came over him, such as he had not felt for a long time.
"Why do you look away?" she asked.
"I don't look away."
"Yes, you do.... You must look at me. I like that.... You have such earnest, faithful eyes. Oh, I know now what to compare those poems with!"
"Well, with what?"
"With your whistling. That is also so—so—well, you know what I mean.... Do you still whistle sometimes?"
"And you have not learned to play the flute either, I suppose?"
"Oh, fie! If you love me, you will learn it.... I will give you a beautiful flute next time."
"I have nothing to give you in return."
"Oh yes—you shall give me all the songs which you play. And when your heart is very sad ... well, only read that book; everything is in there."
Paul looked at it from all sides. "What a wonderful book it must be!" he thought.
"And now tell me something about yourself," she said. "What are you doing? What are you working at? How is your dear mamma?"
Paul gave her a grateful glance. He felt he could speak to-day of all that was in his heart; then it suddenly occurred to him that the pause for breakfast was long over, and that the servant was waiting for him with the horses. By noon he must finish, for after dinner the cart was to drive to the town with a load of peat which he had had secretly cut.
"I must go to work," he faltered.
"Oh, what a pity! And when will you have done?"
"I can't wait so long as that or mamma will be uneasy. But in the next few days do come and look here again—perhaps you'll find me. Now I shall lie here for another hour or so and watch you. It looks quite splendid when you walk up and down in your big snowy white cloth and the grain flies round you."
He gave her his hand silently and went away.
"I shall leave the book here," she called after him; "fetch it when you have finished."
The servant smiled knowingly when he saw him come, and Paul hardly dared to raise his eyes to him.
Each time when he passed at his work the place where she was resting in the wood she raised herself up a little and waved to him with her pocket- handkerchief. About twelve o'clock she rolled up her hammock, stepped to the edge of the wood, and called out a farewell to him through her folded hands.
He took off his cap to thank her, but the servant looked the other way and whistled softly, as if he had seen nothing.
During dinner that day his mother could not take her eyes from her son, and when they were alone she went up to him, took his head in both her hands, and said,
"What has happened to you, my boy?"
"Why?" he asked, with embarrassment.
"Your eyes sparkle so suspiciously."
He laughed loudly and ran away; but when at supper she still looked at him—inquiringly and sadly—he was sorry that he had not given her his confidence, and went after her and confessed all that had happened to him.
Then her haggard face suddenly lit up as by a ray of sunshine, and while he crept away ashamed, with glowing cheeks, she looked after him with moist eyes and folded her hands as if in prayer.
He sat up in his room till nearly midnight, his head leaning on his hands. The mysterious book was lying on his knee; but he could not read it, because his father had forbidden him to burn a light at night. He had to wait till Sunday.
He was musing on how she had altered. If only she had not laughed so often; her mirth estranged her from him, and the full blooming life by which she was surrounded removed her far away into that distant country where happy people live. And although she appeared as good and kind as ever, she could not fail to despise him sooner or later because he was nothing but a peasant, and stupid and awkward into the bargain.
A wild tumult of happiness, shame, and self-reproach raged within him, for he thought he might have behaved in a much more dignified manner. An unaccountable fear was mixed up with it all which almost choked him, though in vain he racked his mind to find out whom this fear was connected with.
The next afternoon he could see from the yard, where he was putting up some poles, something white moving to and fro at the edge of the wood. He set his teeth with pain and vexation, but could not make up his mind to abandon his work.
For two days more the white was to be seen there—then it disappeared altogether.
On Sunday morning he took the book of poems out of his box and went with it towards the wood. At dinner-time he was still absent, and in the evening the twins, who were playing at hide-and-seek on the heath, found him whistling under a juniper-bush with the tears streaming down his cheeks.
Thus he translated the "Buch der Lieder" into his own language.
* * * * *
A short time afterwards he heard that Mrs. Douglas had been ordered by the doctor to make a prolonged stay in the South, and that Elsbeth would accompany her thither.
"It is all right so," he said to himself. "She will no longer haunt me, then." For a long time he was uncertain whether to send her book back or not; he would have liked to keep it, but his conscience would not allow him. He waited for a favorable opportunity of returning it till he heard that they had gone. Then he was satisfied.
Five years passed away; five years full of care and trouble.
Paul toiled and moiled; he worked from early morning till late at night; his busy hands were occupied with every sort of labor, and whatever he touched throve. But he scarcely noticed this, for his mind was always taken up with the future.
The same lines of care were on his brow at all times; his eyes were cast down with the same thoughtful brooding expression as if he were looking into his own soul, and often days would pass without his having spoken a single word either at his work or at table.
He went about with the conviction that in reality all his labor was hopeless. He never could reckon on his father's gratitude, and he soon learned to do without it; but it was more difficult to have patience when a whim of his father's spoiled in one hour what he had been working at with great trouble for many weeks.
When his father came home from his journeys it was not seldom that he called him a simpleton and a blockhead in the hearing of the servants, and would complain bitterly at being obliged to leave his farm in hands as incapable as his, when his duty—nobody knew what that duty was—called him away.
Paul was silent at such times, for deep in his heart he kept the commandment: "HONOR thy father and thy mother"—"his father for his mother's sake;" so he had reconstructed it. But his eyes passed with a sombre, searching gaze from one servant to the other, and whomever he caught smiling or nudging his neighbor in secret malice he dismissed next morning.
There was one of the farm-servants who had been working almost the whole time at the Howdahs. His name was Michel Raudszus, and he came from Littau. He lived in a miserable hovel not far from Helenenthal, the walls of which were surrounded by piles of turf, so that the storms should not blow it down. He had a slatternly wife who had already been in prison twice, and who sent her children out to beg.
He was a silent, surly fellow, who did his work faultlessly and went off without grumbling when he was not wanted any more, but appeared again punctually as soon as there was fresh work. Paul did not like him at first, he was so laconic and reserved, and his sullen behavior had made an uncomfortable impression upon him; but then it suddenly occurred to him that he behaved in much the same way himself, and from that hour he had begun to like him heartily.
Even his father seemed to have a certain amount of respect for him, for though, when drunk, he used to beat the servants, he had never attempted to touch him. It seemed as if the look which the man cast at him from underneath his bushy brows kept him at bay.
This servant was Paul's most faithful helper. He could even trust him to sell the grain in the market, for he always knew how to get the highest prices.
Imperceptibly a great change had come over the silent Howdahs in these five years. The traces of poverty became more and more rare, and want was less often their guest at table. In the garden, where were pretty flower-beds, the pease and asparagus stood in long rows, and the defective fence had long since been replaced by a new one. The cattle were augmented every year by two or three valuable milking cows, and the milk-cart which drove into the town every morning brought home many a groschen on the first of the month.
That there was no sign of any comfort yet in spite of all this was entirely the fault of his father, who speculated with the greater part of their earnings when he did not spend it in drink.
Paul had secretly contrived that a few thalers at least were saved for his brothers and sisters every month.
His brothers needed money more than ever. Max had passed his last examination, and was now beginning his first year's tutorship at college without salary; and Gottfried, the clerk, was out of situation for several months every year. The two wrote begging letters in every possible key, from the jovial "Fork me out thirty thalers immediately," to the heartrending supplication, "If you don't want me to be ruined, have mercy," etc.
Paul passed many a sleepless night thinking how to help them, and it frequently happened that he deprived himself of something necessary so as to be able to send them the money.
Once Gottfried had written that he had no decent clothes and urgently needed a summer suit. Paul just wanted a summer suit himself, for he had outgrown his old one; sighing, he put the money which he had saved up for himself into an envelope and sent it to his brother; but in the letter accompanying it he mentioned that he was not less reduced in his wardrobe than himself. His brother showed himself magnanimous, and a fortnight later sent him a parcel of clothes and a letter, in which he said: "I enclose an old suit of mine. You, in your humble position, will probably be able to use it still."
Paul had also enabled the twins to have a better education than was to be expected from the very reduced circumstances of his home. He had urged the vicar's wife, who had formerly been a governess, to take them into the private school which she had established for the daughters of well-to-do landowners from the neighboring villages.
The money for the schooling was not the worst of it, and he could manage also to procure their books and copy-books; but it was difficult, very difficult, to keep them nicely dressed, for his pride would not allow his sisters to be behind their friends, and perhaps to be considered as beggar children.
He himself knew too well the feeling of being looked down upon to let his sisters experience the same.
His mother did not offer him any help even in these little feminine cares. She was so much cowed by her husband's abuse that she lacked the courage to buy the smallest trifle on her own responsibility.
"What you do, my son, is sure to be right," she said, and Paul drove to town and was cheated, both by the draper and the dress-maker.
The twins grew up blooming, careless, and saucily merry, without the faintest idea what a tragedy was being enacted in their immediate neighborhood. At ten years old they romped and fought with the village boys, at twelve they went with them to steal pears, and at fifteen graciously accepted bunches of violets from them.
They were known far and wide as the most beautiful girls of the neighborhood. Paul knew this well, and was not a little proud of it; but what he did not know was that they had rendezvous behind the garden fence, and that half the boys who were to be confirmed with them could boast of having kissed their sweet red lips.
It was in the month of June on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Trumpet music sounded softly out of the wood. A great festival was to be held there to-day. A wandering band had consented to be hired to give a concert. The country people had come from far and wide, and even the squires had not refused to participate in it, for such a thing did not often happen in this quiet part of the world.
Since the middle of the day a long row of carriages had passed the Haidehof, and old Meyerhofer, who did not like staying at home when anything was going on, had suddenly been overcome by a fit of kindness, and called out to his womenfolk to get ready as quickly as possible; he would sacrifice himself and take them to the festivity.
The twins, who had already for a long time been standing at the window, looking out with eager sparkling eyes, broke out into a loud demonstration of joy. Frau Elsbeth gave them a quiet smile and turned to Paul, who sat silently in his corner and went on cutting little sticks to tie up the flowers, as if all this did not concern him at all. "Will you not come, too?" she asked.
"Paul can drive," cried Meyerhofer, carelessly.
He thanked them and said that his coat was too shabby, and also he wanted to look after the workmen, who were to come at sunset. The next morning haymaking was to begin.
The twins looked at him, laid their heads together, and giggled; then, when he went towards the door, they hung round him, and Katie whispered,
"Listen; we know something."
"Well, what is it?"
"Something nice," said Greta, mysteriously.
"Out with it."
"Elsbeth Douglas has come home again."
And breaking out into merry laughter they ran away.
Paul at first felt very angry that they dared to mock him; then he sighed and smiled, and wondered why his heart had suddenly begun to beat so loudly.
Half an hour later his family drove away.
"Do join us soon," his mother called down to him from the carriage, and Katie getting into it whispered into his ear,
"I believe they will be there, too."
Now he stood quite alone in the deserted courtyard. The servants had gone to the fields to milk—no human being was to be seen far and wide. The ducks in their pool had put their heads under their wings, and the kennel- dog snapped sleepily at the flies.
Paul seated himself on the garden fence and gazed towards the wood, at the edge of which gay light dresses flitted to and fro, while now and then there was a bright glitter, when the sunbeams were reflected in the harness of the waiting carriage-horses.
The evening came; he was still undecided whether he should venture to follow his family.
A thousand reasons occurred to him which made his staying at home absolutely necessary, and when it was quite clear to him that he ought to remain at home and not go anywhere else he put on his Sunday coat and went to the festival.
It began already to grow dusk as he walked across the sweet-scented heather. His heart was weighed down with secret fear. He did not dare to think out the cause, but as he walked past the juniper-bush, beneath which he once had whistled his most beautiful song to Elsbeth, a pain shot through his breast as if he had been stabbed.
He stopped and reconsidered whether it would not be better to turn back. "My coat is much too shabby," he said to himself; "I can't show myself in any decent society." He took it off and looked at it on all sides. The back was getting shiny at the seams; at the elbows there was a dull silver gloss, and the border on the flaps of the breast even showed a little fringe.
"It won't do with the best will in the world," he said, and then he sat down beneath the juniper-bush and dreamed how smart and elegant he would look if only he could afford a new coat. "But that won't be yet a while," he continued; "first Max and Gottfried must have permanent places, and Greta and Katie must have the ball-dresses they wish for, and mother's arm-chair must be newly done up—" and the more he thought the more other things came to his mind which had a prior claim.
Then again he saw himself in a brand-new black suit, patent-leather shoes on his feet, a fashionable tie round his neck, entering the dancing-room with a careless, distinguished air, while Elsbeth smiled at him very respectfully.
Suddenly he started from his dreams. "Oh, fie! what a fop I am growing!" he scolded himself. "What have I to do with patent-leather shoes and fashionable ties? And now I will just go in my old coat to the wood. Besides, it has almost grown dark," he added, prudently.
Louder sounded the trumpets, and through the branches of the fir-trees joyful laughter met his ears.
A turfy spot in the wood had been selected for the principal scene of the festival. In the middle of it stood the platform for the musicians, on the right the tent of the village innkeeper, who sold sour beer and sweet cake, and on the left a place for dancing was fenced off, the entrance to which cost a groschen more, as one might read on a white board.
Round about in a big circle tables and benches had been placed where the different families enjoyed the supper they had brought with them, and through it all a jubilant, giggling, staring crowd was pressing, eager for either love or a good hand-to-hand fight.
The concert was already finished, the dancing had begun; on the firm, trodden-down moss the couples circled round breathless and stumbling.
The glow of the sunset lay on the open space, while the wood bordering it was already buried in darkness. Here were the farm-servants and maids from the neighboring hamlets; even the coachmen had left their carriages, because it would have broken their hearts to have looked on at these love-makings from the distance. Every bush, every small tree seemed alive, and out of the darkness came low, amorous tittering.
Shyly, like a criminal, Paul slunk round the festive scene. A fear of strangers had always been his peculiarity, but never yet had his heart fluttered so anxiously as at this moment.
"Is Elsbeth there?" Nowhere in all the crowd were there any traces of the inmates of the White House, but then his family also seemed to have disappeared without leaving any trace. Once he thought the cooing laughter of the twins caught his ear, but the next moment the noise had drowned it.
Twice he had already made the round; then suddenly—his heart threatened to stop from surprise and rapture—he saw, quite close before him, his mother and father sitting in peaceful intercourse at the same table with the Douglas family.
His father rested his elbows on the table, and, red with excitement, talked eagerly to Mr. Douglas. The broad-shouldered giant with the bushy gray beard listened to him silently, at times nodding and smiling to himself. The slender, delicate figure with the sunken cheeks and the blue rings round her eyes, who leaned wearily against the trunk of a tree and clasped his mother's hand with her thin white fingers, that was his godmother, who had always seemed to him like an angel from the other world. But next to her—next to her, the lady in the modest gray dress, her fair hair simply combed back—
"Elsbeth! Elsbeth!" cried a voice within him; and then suddenly a wall of clouds sank down between him and her, and froze his innermost soul, and veiled his eyes with a damp mist.
Opposite to her sat a gentleman with a saucy-looking fair mustache, and still more saucy blue eyes, who bent towards her familiarly, while a smile flitted over her quiet face.
"She will marry that man," he said to himself, with a conviction which seemed to be more than a jealous foreboding. With the clear-sightedness of love he had understood that these two natures harmonized and must seek each other. And perhaps they had already found one another while he himself wasted his days in idle dreams.
He stood there as if stunned, and scrutinized the man who suddenly had rendered it clear to him what he had lost—lost, indeed, without ever having possessed it.
How could he ever have dared to compare himself to this man that, to a hair, was the ideal man of whom he had always dreamed?
Bold and energetic and triumphant (that's what he had meant to be one day), exactly like the strange young man who looked at Elsbeth with his frivolous smile. He also wore patent-leather boots and a fashionable colored necktie, and his suit was made of the finest shining black cloth.
Almost for an hour Paul stood there without daring to move from his position, devouring Elsbeth and her vis-a-vis with his eyes.
The night came. He scarcely perceived it. Long rows of lanterns were lighted, and shed forth an uncertain light on the gay crowd.
"How well I am hidden," thought Paul, and was glad of the darkness into which he had crept. He did not see that two men came walking towards him and were occupying themselves close to him with something on the ground. Then suddenly, not ten steps away from him, a purple red flame flared up and flooded all around in a sea of dazzling light.
He wanted to take refuge quickly in the shade of a tree, but it was too late.
"Isn't that Paul standing there?" called out his mother.
"Where?" asked Elsbeth, turning with curiosity.
"Boy, why are you hanging about in the dark?" shouted his father.
Then he had to come out, in spite of all; and burning with shame, his cap in his hand, he stood before Elsbeth, who leaned her head on her hand and looked up at him smilingly.
"Yes, that's what he always is: a real sneaker," said his father, giving him a clap on the shoulder, and the unknown young gentleman pushed his hair from his forehead and smiled half good-naturedly, half ironically.
Then old Douglas rose, went up to him, and seized both his hands. "Hold up your head, young friend," he called out, with his lion's voice. "You have no reason to lower your eyes—you, least of all the world. He who can at the age of twenty do what you do is a capital fellow and need not hide himself. I won't make you conceited, but just ask who could bear comparison with you. You, perhaps, Leo?" He turned to the young fop, who answered, with a merry laugh,
"You must make the best of me as I am, dear uncle."
"If only there was anything in you to make the best of, you good-for-nothing!" replied Douglas. "This, you must know, is my nephew, Leo Heller, a new edition of 'Fritz Triddlefitz.'"
"Uncle, I'll have my revenge."
"Be quiet, you scoundrel."
"Uncle, I'll wager twenty glasses which of us lies under the table first."
"That's what he calls respect."
"Uncle, you are pinching me."
"Be quiet; just look at this young farmer, twenty years old, who keeps the whole farm going."
"Well, Mr. Douglas, I count for something, too," cried Meyerhofer, with a somewhat lengthened face.
"No offence to you," the former answered; "but you have so much to do with your company you naturally cannot bother about such trifles."
Meyerhofer bowed, flattered, and Paul felt ashamed for him, for he well understood the irony of these words.
Mrs. Douglas, smiling, beckoned him to come to her. She seized his hand and stroked it. "You have grown tall and good-looking," she said, in her weak, kind voice, "and you have a beautiful beard."
"But do call him 'Du,'" interrupted his mother, who seemed to be much easier in her mind than usual. "Paul, ask your godmother."
"Yes—I entreat you," said Paul, stammering and blushing anew.
"God bless you, my son," said Mrs. Douglas; "you have deserved it," and then her head again sank against the trunk of the tree.
Paul stood behind the bench and did not know what to do. For the first time since he was grown up he happened to find himself in strange society.
His glance met Elsbeth's, who, resting her head on her hand, looked round at him.
"I suppose you won't say 'How do you do' to me at all?" she added, mischievously.
The familiar "Du" gave him courage. He stretched his hand out to her, and asked how she had fared during all this long time.
A shade of sadness flitted across her face. "Not well," she said, softly; "but more of that later on when we are alone."
She made room at her side, and said, "Come." And as he sat down near her his elbow touched her neck. Then a thrill went through his body, such as he had never felt in all his life.
Leo Heller shook hands with him across the table, and said, laughing, "To our good friendship, you pattern boy, you!"
"I am, unfortunately, not worthy to be taken for a pattern boy," he answered, innocently.
"Then be glad; I am not one, either. Nothing is more disgusting to me than such a pattern boy."
"Why, then, did you call me so?"
Leo looked at him quite surprised. "Oh, you seem to take everything literally," he said.
"Pardon me, I am so little accustomed to joking," he replied, and a blush of shame rose to his face. In turning towards Elsbeth he saw that she was gazing at him with a strangely earnest, searching look. Then a sudden feeling of bliss rose in his soul. He felt here was one who did not think him stupid or ridiculous, who understood his nature and the laws according to which it manifested itself.
While the three were silent his father, at the other end of the table, continued to expound the plans of his company to Mr. Douglas.
"And if you trust me, sir—but no, you need not even do that—I mean to say, if you will not frivolously forfeit your own chance—one must never stand in the way of one's chance, sir—if you have only just a little spirit of enterprise—oh, then, yes, then, you know, there are hundreds and thousands to be earned; the moor is inexhaustible—why let others grow rich in your stead, sir? On through darkness to light; that's my device. I will strive and fight to the last breath; it is not my own interest which is at stake. It seems to me to be a question for the welfare of humanity. The aim is to win this barren soil for cultivation, to give new life-blood to this whole district, to change the poverty of this country into prosperity—to be a benefactor to humanity, sir."
And in this tone he swaggered on.
Then suddenly he came quite close to Douglas, as if he wanted to put a pistol to his head, crying,
"Then will you take shares in it sir?"
Douglas caught a glance from his wife, who quietly pointed towards Frau Elsbeth, and made him a beseeching sign; then he said, half amused, half angry, "I don't mind."
Paul was again ashamed, for he read in Douglas's face that for him it was only a question of the fun of throwing a few hundred thalers out of the window. He himself knew, too well, that no sensible man could take his father's plans in earnest.
"Have you not seen our girls, Paul?" asked his mother, who now seemed no less constrained than he.
No; he had not seen them anywhere.
"Do go and look about for them; they have gone to the dancing-ground. Tell them not to be too wild, or else they will catch cold."
"I will go with you," said Elsbeth.
"May I not come too, little cousin?" asked cousin Leo.
"You had better remain here," she answered, lightly, whereupon he declared he should be obliged to kill himself for grief.
"A merry bird," said Paul, with a sigh of envy, as he walked at her side through the crowd.
"Yes; but nothing more," she replied.
"Do you like him?"
"Certainly; very much.
"She will marry him, after all," Paul meditated.
All around people screamed and shouted. A lantern had caught fire, and a troop of young fellows endeavored to tear it from the cord. Flaming pieces of paper were flying through the air, and the liquid was spirted in all directions.
Elsbeth put her arm in his and bent her head on his shoulder. Again that blissful thrill which he could not explain ran through him.
"There, now I am safe," she said, in a whisper. "Come to the wood afterwards, Paul, I have so much to tell you; there we shall be undisturbed."
And as she said this he felt quite anxious, out of pure joy.
They had come to the dancing-place. The trumpets resounded, and the dancers were spinning round and round.
"Shall we dance, too?" she asked, smiling.
"I cannot," he answered.
"That does not matter," she said; "for those sort of things Leo does well enough."
His foolish dreams which he had had under the juniper-bush to-day occurred to him.
"So it is with everything that I fancy to myself," he thought. "I have still one of your books, Elsbeth," he said then.
"I know, I know," she answered, looking up at him with a smile.
"Pardon me that I—"
"Oh, what a fidget you are," she jested. "Leo meanwhile has ruined my whole library for me, and wants me now to replenish it for him, because he has nothing more to read."
Leo, and still Leo over again.
"Have you read much that is beautiful in it?" she asked him.
"Once I knew everything by heart."
"Now? Oh, good heavens, I have so much to think of in every-day life—they won't fit into my head any longer."
"Nor into mine, either, Paul. It is because we have seen too much of life; poetry is lost to us."
"To you, too?"
She sighed. "My poor mother," she said.
"What is it?"
"You see, for five years I have been sick-nurse; there are many sad hours, and when the night-light burns, and one's eyes hurt with watching so much, and outside the storm rattles the shutters, many thoughts come to one about life and death, about love and loneliness—well, in short, one makes a book of poetry in one's own head and does not read other people's any more. But come away from this noise; I should like to ask you so much, and here one can hardly hear one's own voice."
"Directly," he said; "I only wanted—"
His eyes wandered searchingly over the dancing-ground, then he heard a man's voice behind him, saying:
"Just look at those two little minxes, mad after men."
Instinctively he turned round, and saw the brothers Erdmann, whom he had not met for years. They had meanwhile been at an agricultural college and become grand gentlemen.
"We'll have fun with them," said the other.
Thereupon they laughingly mixed among the dancers.
Immediately after, Paul, too, saw his sisters. Their mass of brown curls hung loose about their faces, their cheeks were aflame, their bosoms heaved, and their eyes looked wild and eager for love.
"How happy they look—the sweet creatures," said Elsbeth.
Paul gave them a little sermon. They scarcely heeded him, but looked over his shoulders, giggling. And when he turned round he saw the two Erdmanns, who had hidden behind the musicians' platform and were making clandestine signs to them.
The twins by this time had escaped him, and the Erdmanns disappeared as well.
"Come away from here," said Elsbeth.
He consented, but remained as if rooted to the ground.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
He passed his hand across his brow; he could not get those contemptuous words which he had overheard out of his head. The sisters were young, merry, inexperienced, nobody looked after them; if they should lower themselves in any way, if they—an icy shudder passed through him.
And he, who had vowed to be their faithful guardian, he was going after his own pleasure, he—
"Come to the wood," Elsbeth pleaded again.
"I can't," he gasped.
She looked at him wonderingly.
"I must—my sisters—nobody is with them. Do not be angry."
"Take me back to the table," she said.
He did so. Neither spoke a word.
Five minutes later he came upon his sisters, who, arm in arm with the Erdmanns, were trying to slip off to the wood.
"Where are you going?" he asked, stepping between them.
They lowered their eyes in embarrassment, and Katie stammered, "We—wanted to go for a little walk."
The brothers Erdmann took the tone of good-fellowship, shook hands with him heartily, and wished most ardently to renew the friendship of their youthful days. Behind his back they shook their fists at him.
"You will go at once to your mother," he said to the twins, and as they began to sulk he took their arms and drew them away. The table was half deserted. The Douglas family had left the festival.
Then he went into the wood and reflected on what Elsbeth might have wished to tell him.
But it was not to be—something always carne between them.
It was a midsummer night. The alder-tree sent forth its perfume. The moonlight lay in silver veils upon the earth. There was great rejoicing in the village. Tar-barrels were lighted, and the farm-servants and maids were dancing on the green. The flames sent their glare far over the heath, and the shrill sounds of the fiddle came sadly through the night.
Paul stood at the garden fence and looked out into the distance. The servants had gone to the midsummer-night's fire, and his sisters had not come home yet, either.
They had asked permission to visit the vicar's daughter Hedwig, their playmate, who was an unpretending, quiet girl, in whose company he gladly trusted them.
Now he thought he would wait till they had all come home.
The moonlight drew him out onto the heath. It lay there in midnight silence; only in the heather a linnet chirped from time to time, as if in its sleep. The wild-pinks bent their red heads, and the golden-rod shone as if it wanted to compete with the moonbeams. Slowly, with hesitating steps, he walked on, sometimes stumbling over a mole-hill or entangling himself in the tendrils of the plants. The dew sparkled before him in shining drops. Thus he came to the region of the juniper-bushes, which looked more elf-like than usual.
The wood stood silent like a black wall, and the moonbeams rested on it like freshly-fallen snow. He found the place where years ago the hammock had hung; in the weird twilight the open space showed through the dark branches. It drew him on and on. Like a palace of dazzling marble the White House, with its balconies and gables, rose before his eyes. Deep silence enshrouded the manor-house; only here and there a dog barked and relapsed into silence directly.
He stood before the trellised gate, not knowing how he had come there. He grasped the bars with both hands and looked in. The wide yard lay yonder before him, bathed in the light of the moon; the big farm-wagons, which were ranged in a row before the stables, stood there in black outline; a white cat crept along the garden fence; everything else lay in deep sleep.
He walked on along the fence. On the ash-heap behind the forge lay some fragments of glimmering coals, which looked in the darkness like burning eyes. Here the garden began. High elm-trees bent their branches over him, and an overpowering perfume of laburnums and early roses floated through the trellis-work towards him. The gravel-strewn paths shone like silver threads through the branches, and the sundial, which had been the dream of his childhood, stood out darkly behind them.
The White House came nearer and nearer. Now he could almost look into the windows. Here, too, all seemed asleep.
He had read here and there in the Liederbuch, too, that the lover used to sing serenades to the queen of his heart on moonlight nights, to the accompaniment of either the guitar or mandolin if this was at all feasible. It had been thus in the beautiful days of chivalry, and in Spain or Italy might still be so. That occurred to him now, and he pictured to himself how it would look if he, Paul the simpleton, were to play the lute here as a knight-errant, crowing longing love-songs at the same time.
At this thought he laughed out loud, and then he remembered that he carried his instrument about with him everywhere. He seated himself on the grass, his back leaning against a post of the fence, and began to whistle—shyly and softly at first, then ever bolder and louder, and as usual when he was entirely given up to his feelings, he at last forgot everything around him.
He awoke as out of a dream when he heard a rustling and creaking of branches at the other side of the fence. He looked round amazed. Yonder stood Elsbeth in her white dressing-gown with a dark ulster hastily thrown over it.
At the first moment he felt as if he must run away, but all his limbs seemed to be lamed.
"Elsbeth—what are you doing here?" he stammered.
"Ah! what are you doing here?" she retorted, smiling.
"I—I was whistling a little."
"And you came here for that?"
"Why should I not?"
"You are right—I am not going to forbid you."
She had pressed her forehead against the trellis-work and looked at him. Both were silent.
"Will you come in?" she asked then—probably not knowing what she said.
"Shall I climb the fence?" he retorted, quite innocently.
She smiled. "No," she said, shaking her head; "they could see you from the window, and that would not do. But I must speak to you. Wait; I will come out and walk a little way with you."
She pushed a loose bar aside and slipped out; then she gave him her hand, and said, "You were right to have come; I have often longed to speak to you, but you were never there." And she sighed deeply, as if the remembrance of sad hours overpowered her.
His whole body trembled. The sight of the maidenly figure, who in her night-garb stood before him so chaste and unconscious, almost took away his breath. His temples hammered, he bent his eyes to the ground.
"Why do you not speak to me?" she asked.
A confused smile passed over his face.
"Do not be angry," he gasped.
"Why should I be angry?" she asked. "I am so glad to have you for once quite to myself. But it is strange—quite like a fairy tale. I am standing at the window, looking at the moon. Mamma has just gone to sleep, and I consider whether I, too, might venture to go to bed, but my thoughts are so restless and my forehead burns—I feel so uneasy. Then suddenly I hear somebody whistling in the garden, so beautifully, so plaintively, as I have only once heard it in my life, and that a long time ago. 'That can only be Paul,' I say to myself, and the more I listen the clearer it is to me. 'But how does he come here?' I ask myself, and as I want above all things to make certain, I put on my cloak and creep down—so—here I am now, and now come, let us go into the wood; there no one can see us."
She laid her arm in his. Silently they walked across the moonlit meadow. And then suddenly she put both her hands up to her face and began to cry bitterly.
"Elsbeth, what is the matter?" he asked, terrified.
She trembled; her soft figure shook with noiseless sobs.
"Elsbeth, can't I help you?" he pleaded.
She shook her head hastily. "It's all right," she gasped; "it will soon be over." She tried to walk on, but her strength failed her. Sighing, she sank down into the damp grass.
He remained standing before her, looking down at her. "Let tears have their course;" that was the rule which he had already often experienced in life. All his timidity had left him. Here was somebody to be consoled, and he was a master at consoling.
When she had grown a little quieter he sat near her, and said, gently, "Will you unburden your heart to me, Elsbeth?"
"Yes, I will," she cried; "I have waited to do so these three long years. So long have I borne it, Paul, and I was almost choked with the burden, and have found no pitying soul in whom I could confide. Yonder in Italy and at beautiful Capri, where everything laughs and rejoices, I have often crept down to the sea in the middle of the night and cried out in my agony, and in the morning I have come back and laughed, even more than the others, for my mother—oh, mother, mother!" she cried, sobbing afresh.
"Be calm; you have me now, to whom you can tell it," he whispered to her.
"Yes, I have you, I have you," she gasped, and leaned her face on his shoulder. "You see I have always known that; but what good did that do me? You were far away, I was often nearly writing to you, but I feared you might have become a stranger to me and would misunderstand me. And since we are back I have only one thought: 'I must confide in him, he is the only one who has known grief, he will understand me.'"
"Tell me what it is, Elsbeth," he urged.
"She will die," she cried out aloud.
"Who told you so?"
"The professor in Vienna who examined her. He wore quite a cheerful face before her, and said, 'If you are careful, you can live to a hundred years old,' but afterwards he sent for me, and asked me, 'Are you strong, young lady? Can you bear the truth?' 'I beg you to tell me all,' I answered, 'I must confide it to you,' he said, 'for you are the only one who nurses her.' And then he told me that she might die any day—unless—and then he gave me a number of rules which she must observe about eating and drinking and climate and excitement, and much more. Since that day I tremble from morning to night, and tend her and watch and find no rest. Sometimes the feeling comes over me, and I say to myself, 'You are young and want to enjoy life,' and then I try to be merry and sing, but every note chokes me and I collapse again. Of course, I must show a cheerful face to mother, and to father as well." "But why do you not confide in him?" he interrupted her.
"Shall his life be poisoned as well?" she replied. "No, I had rather bear it alone than see him suffer, too. He has a happy nature, and loves her with all his soul—otherwise he is sometimes hasty and excitable, but to her he has never said an angry word—let him hope as long as he can—I will not undeceive him."
She leaned her head on her hands and stared straight before her.
He remembered his mother's fairy tale.
"Dame Care—Dame Care," he murmured to himself.
"What do you say?" she asked, and looked at him with great, eager eyes, hungry for consolation.
"Oh, nothing," he replied, with a sad smile, "I wish I could help you."
"Who could do that?"
"And yet perhaps I can," he said, "you have only wanted somebody to confide in, you are not so badly off as you think—indeed, Dame Care has blessed you, too."
"What does that mean?" she asked
And then he told her the beginning of that fairy tale which he had kept in his memory so well.
"And how can one be freed from her blessings?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied, "mother never would tell me the end of the fairy tale. I don't think, either, there is any deliverance. Such creatures as we are must renounce happiness of our own free will, and however near it may be to us we may not see it—something sad always comes between us and happiness. The only thing we can do is to watch over the happiness of others and to make them as happy as possible."
"But I should like to be a little happy myself," she said, raising her eyes to him trustfully.
"I wish I were as happy as you are," he answered.
"If only this anxiety were not always with me," she complained.
"Anxiety! you must let her be your friend, I have known her all my life, and when I did not know why I quickly found some reason. It is not so bad, either—if there were no anxiety, one would not know for what purpose one lives. But only think how contented you might be. You see nothing but merry faces surrounding you. Your mother feels happy in spite of all her sufferings, does she not?"
"Yes, thank God," she replied, "she has no idea how ill she is."
"There you see! and your father has no idea of it, either. No care weighs on them, they love each other, and love you as well. No angry word is spoken among you, and when your mother at last closes her eyes she will perhaps do so with a smile on her lips, and be able to say, 'I have always been very happy.' Do tell me—what more can you wish for?"
"But she shall not die,' cried Elsbeth.
"Why not? he asked, 'is death so terrible?"
"Not for her but for myself.
"There must not be any question of one's self," he replied, pressing his lips firmly together, "one must just try to bear it the best one can. Death is only terrible when one has waited for happiness all through life and it has not come. Then one must feel as if one had to get up hungry from a richly spread table, and I should like to save any one I love from that. You see I have a mother, too, she also wished to be happy once, and even yet would like far too much to be so. I am the only one who could take care from her shoulders, and I am not able to do so. What do you think I must feel in this case? I see how she grows old in sorrow and need, I can count the wrinkles on her forehead and cheeks. Her mouth falls in and her chin grows long. It is a long time since she spoke any loud word, from day to day she becomes quieter, and so, quietly, she will die one day, and I shall be standing by and shall say, 'It is my fault, I have not been able to give her one single day of happiness."
"Poor fellow," she whispered, "can't I help you at all?"
"No one can help me as long as my father—" he stopped, terrified at the course of his own thoughts.
Both were silent They sat there for a long time without moving, their twenty year old heads leaning on their hands bowed with care. The moonbeams lay like silver on their hair, which the soft wind of the heath ruffled gently.
Then the shadow of a cloud passed over them They both trembled. They felt as if the sad fairy whom they called Dame Care were spreading her sombre wings over them.
"I will go home," Elsbeth said, rising.
"Go, with God's blessing," he answered, solemnly.
She seized both his hands "Thank you," she said, softly, "you have done me much, much good."
"And if you need me again—"
"Then I shall come and whistle for you," she answered, smiling.
And then they parted.
As in a dream Paul walked through the dark wood. The fir trees rustled softly, the moonbeams were dancing on the moss.
"It is strange," he thought, "that they all tell me their woes," and he concluded from that that he was the happiest of them all. "Or the unhappiest," he added, meditatively, but then he laughed mysteriously and threw his cap high in the air.
When he stepped out into the light on the heath he saw two shadows flitting before him which disappeared in the misty distance.
Immediately after he heard something rustle in the juniper bushes.
He turned quickly round and saw another shadowy couple, who seemed to sink into the ground behind a bush.
"The whole heath seems alive to-day," he murmured, and added, smiling, "of course, it is mid summer night."
Soon after him the twins came home with wild hair and flushed faces. They declared the vicar had told them their fortunes by cards till midnight. They would soon get husbands.
Giggling, they slipped away into their bedroom.
Old Meyerhofer revelled in happiness. The promise of the rich Douglas to participate in his undertakings had raised his chances suddenly to a giddy height. The ears which for him heretofore had been closed began to listen to his explanations with eagerness, and in the public houses, where until now he had been received with a half ironical, half pitying smile, he was now considered a great man.
"He will join me with half his fortune," he related, "we are already in communication with Borsig, in Berlin, who is going to furnish us with the necessary machines, we have written to Oldenburg for a technical director, and every day we have inquiries at what price we are able to sell the peat blocks per million."
The consequence was that they pressed him to begin issuing his shares and when they gathered round him and asked him to reserve so and so many shares for each, he drew himself up proudly and said they would probably remain in private hands.
At home he was busy designing the new headings for the note paper of the future firm, and the borrowed money jingled in all his pockets.
Four weeks had passed since that midsummer night, when there came from Helenenthal two cards of invitation one for Meyerhofer junior and the other for the young ladies.
"For a garden party," they said.
"Aha! they court our favor already," the old man cried, "the rats smell the bacon."
Paul went with his card—which bore Elsbeth's hand-writing—behind a haystack, and there studied each letter of it in solitude for wellnigh an hour.
Then he went up to his garret and stood before the looking glass.
He found that his whiskers had grown in fulness and only at the cheeks still showed thin places.
"It will do very well," he said, in an attack of vanity, but when he saw himself smile he wondered at the deep sad lines which ran from his eyes, past his nose, down to the corners of his mouth.
"Wrinkles make one interesting," he consoled himself by thinking.
From this hour he exclusively thought about what role he was to play at the party.
He practised before the looking glass making stylish bows, and every morning looked at his Sunday suit, and tried to hide the shabbiness of his coat by brushing some black color over it.
The invitation had caused a great revolution in his mind It was for him a greeting from the promised land of joy, which he, like Moses, had never seen but from afar. It was not for nothing that he was twenty years old.
The day of the party arrived. His sisters had put on their white muslin dresses and fastened dark roses in their hair. They skipped up and down before the looking glass and asked each other, "Am I beautiful?' And though each willingly replied" Yes,' to this question, they hardly knew how beautiful they were.
His mother sat in a corner, looked at them and smiled.
Paul ran hither and thither in confusion. He inwardly wondered how such a joyful event could cause one such great anxiety. He had prepared all sorts of beautiful speeches which he intended to hold at the party about the welfare of humanity, about peat-culture, and Heine's "Buch der Lieder". They should see that he was able to converse amiably with ladies.
The open carriage, a remainder of past splendor, took the brother and sisters to the party. They were to return on foot.
As they approached, Paul saw behind the fence bright colored dresses flitting through the shrubs and heard the giggling of merry girls' voices. His uncomfortable feeling was considerably augmented by this.
In the veranda Mr Douglas received them with a merry laugh. He pinched the sisters' cheeks, slapped him on the shoulder, and said,
"Well, young knight, to day we are going to win our spurs."
Paul turned his cap in his hand and broke into a silly laugh, at which he felt angry with himself.
"Now allons to the ladies!" cried Mr Douglas, taking the sisters one on each arm, while he himself had to trot behind them.
The giggling came nearer and nearer. Gay men's voices were intermingled with it—he felt as if he were going to be beheaded. And then a sort of veil came over his eyes, indistinctly he saw the crowd of strange faces, which seemed to stare at him from the clouds. His speeches about the turf- culture came to his mind, but there was nothing to be done with them at this moment.
Then he saw Elsbeth's face rise in the mist. She wore a brooch of blue stones and smiled at him kindly. In spite of this smile she never had appeared so strange to him as at that moment.
"Mr Paul Meyerhofer, the companion of my childhood,' she said, taking his hand, and leading him round. He bowed to all sides, and had a vague feeling that he was making himself ridiculous.
"Eh, there is my pattern boy," the cousin's merry voice called out, and all the ladies giggled.
Then he was asked to sit down and was offered a cup of coffee.
"Mamma has gone to lie down a little," Elsbeth whispered to him, "she is not quite well to day."
"Isn't she?" he said, and smiled in a silly manner Cousin Leo had gathered a circle of young ladies round himself, and told them a story about a young lawyer who had been so fond of sweets that, seeing a bag pralines which he was not allowed to have, he had been crystallized into a sugar loaf. They almost died with laughter over this.
"Oh, if only I could tell such stories," thought Paul to himself and, as nothing better occurred to him, he ate one piece of cake after the other.
Ihe sisters had immediately been laid hold of by several strange gentlemen, they laughed boldly in their faces while the quickest repartees flowed from their mouths.
The sisters suddenly appeared to him like beings from a higher world.
"Now we are going to play a nice game, ladies," said Cousin Leo putting one knee across the other, and leaning back negligently in his arm chair. "The game is called 'Proposing.' The ladies walk about singly and the gentlemen, too. The gentleman asks the lady he meets, 'Est ce que vous m'armez?' and the lady either answers 'Je vous adore'—then she is his wife—or she silently refuses him. He who receives the most refusals receives a nightcap, which he has to wear during the rest of the whole evening."
The ladies thought this game very amusing, and all rose to set to work directly Paul rose, too, though he would have liked best to remain in his dark corner.
"What can those foreign words be?" he asked himself, he would have liked to inquire of one of the gentlemen, but he was ashamed to betray his ignorance and so to disgrace his sisters. Elsbeth had gone away with the other girls, he would have liked best to confide in her.
He went after the others, quite depressed, but when he saw the first lady coming towards him his anxiety was so great that he quickly left the path and hid in the thickest shrubs.
There was a little wilderness there, as if it might have been in the deepest part of the wood Nettles and ferns raised their slender stalks, and the uncanny wolf's milk was competing for supremacy with the burdock. In the midst of this tangled undergrowth he crouched down, put his elbows on his knees, and meditated.
"So that was what people called amusing themselves? It was a good thing that he should learn it for once, but like it he could not. Anyhow, it was nicer at home, and, besides, who could know whether the servants had finished weeding in time—whether the peat had not been piled up too damp? There was much to do at home, while he was lingering about here, entering into silly games like a fool. If it had not been for Elsbeth—but, indeed, what good was she to him? As she smiled at him so she smiled at them all, and if Cousin Leo began with his jokes how bold he was, how he flattered them all. Oh the world is bad, and they are all false—all, all!"
He heard his name being called from the path, but he pressed himself the closer into his hiding place. Here at least he was sheltered from mockery. An oppressive sultriness was in the air, sleepy buzzing drones were creeping about on the ground. A thunder storm seemed at hand.
"It's all the same to me," thought Paul, "I have nothing to lose and—the winter rye is in"
It had grown quiet outside—from the distance the clatter of glasses, glass plates, and teaspoons could be heard, and from time to time it was intermingled with a suppressed laugh.
Paul drew in his breath. The longer he remained in his hiding place the more dejected he felt, at last he appeared to himself like a school boy who hides to escape his master's punishment. The smell of the weeds became more intense and more unbearable, an unpleasant moisture came up from the damp ground, like a pale fog it rose before his eyes Steel blue clouds rolled up in the sky, the thunder began to resound afar.
"That's what they call pleasure," thought Paul.
There was a rustling in the branches. Heavy drops came splashing down on the leaves, then Paul crept out of his hiding place like a criminal.
Shouts of laughter—welcomed him from the veranda.
"There comes August" one of the gentlemen called out, softly. He had been in Berlin and had seen the circus there, and the others joined him.
"My honored guests,' cried Leo, climbing on a chair," this pattern boy, called Paul Meyerhofer, has in the most inconsiderate manner withdrawn from the verdict of the assembly. As he foresaw, in his feeling of unworthiness, that most of the refusals would be gathered upon his undignified head, he has in most reprehensible cowardice—"
"I don't know why you speak so badly of me," said Paul, hurt, for he took everything seriously.
A fresh peal of laughter answered him
"I make the proposition to confer the nightcap on him as a punishment for his crime, and to form a jury for this purpose."
"If you please, I'll take the cap without that," Paul answered, irritated. By this time he had only to open his mouth to call forth fresh mirth.
Solemnly he was crowned with the nightcap.
"I must look very funny, after all,' he thought, for they were all dying with laughter. Only his sisters did not laugh, blushing deeply, they looked down in their laps, and Elsbeth looked it him with embarrassment, as if she wanted to ask his pardon.
"August," was again softly whispered from the circle of gentlemen.
Immediately after, the thunder storm broke forth
In troops they all took refuge in the house. The young ladies turned pale, most of them were afraid of the thunder, one even fainted.
Leo proposed they should form a circle, and that each of them should tell a story, he who did not know any had to give a forfeit.
They agreed to this. The order of precedence was appointed by lot, and one of the gentlemen made the beginning with a merry student's anecdote, which he declared he had experienced himself. Then it was the turn of some young girls, who preferred to pay forfeits, and then he himself was called out.
The gentlemen cleared their throats mockingly, and the girls nudged each other and giggled. Then anger overpowered him, and, knitting his brow, he began at random,
"Once upon a time there was some one who was so ridiculous that people had only to look at him when they wanted to laugh to their hearts content. He himself did not know how this was, for he had never laughed in his life."
There was a deep silence all round. The smiles froze on their faces, first one and then the other looked down upon the ground.
"Go on," cried Elsbeth, nodding to him gently. But a feeling of shame came over him that he thus dared to show his innermost self to these strange people.
"I can't go on," he said, and rose.
This time no one laughed, and for a while there was only a deep, oppressive silence, and then the girl who had been chosen to collect the forfeits came up to him and said, with a polite courtesy,
"Then you must pay a forfeit."
"Willingly," he answered, and detached his watch from the chain.
"An uncomfortable fellow," he heard one of the young gentlemen say low to his neighbor. It was he who had first called up that nickname.
Then it was Leo's turn, who treated them to one of his most racy anecdotes, but the gayety would not come back again.
The rain splashed against the window panes with a hollow sound, the shadow of black clouds filled the room. It was as if the gray Dame was gliding through the air and touching the laughing young faces with her wings, so that they looked serious and old.
Only when Elsbeth opened the piano and began a merry dance the frozen gayety recommenced.
Paul stood in a corner and gazed at the merrymaking. They left him quite to himself, only now and then a shy glance met him.
The twins were flying round the room, their curls were loose, and a wild light sparkled in their eyes.
"Let them romp about," thought Paul, "they must return to misery soon enough." But that there was no misery for them never occurred to him.
When Elsbeth was replaced at the piano by somebody else, she came towards him and said, "You are very much bored, are you not?"
"Oh no," he said. "Everything is still so new to me."
"Be merry," she pleaded; "we only live once."
And at that moment Leo came rushing up to her, seized her round the waist, and danced away with her.
"Nevertheless, she is still a stranger to you," thought Paul.
As she passed him again she whispered to him, "Go into the next room; I have something to tell you."
"What can she mean to tell me?" he thought; but he did as he was told.
Half hidden by the curtain, he waited, but as she did not come, every minute the bitterness of his soul increased. He remembered his beautiful speeches about the peat-culture and Heine's "Buch der Lieder," and shrugged his shoulders contemptuously over his own stupidity. He felt as if he had grown years older and maturer in the course of this one afternoon.
And then the questions suddenly arose within him, "What business have you here? What are all those merry people, who laugh and want to please each other, and live thoughtlessly from one day to another—what are all those to you? You were a fool, a miserable fool, when you thought that you had a right to be merry; that you, too, could be what they are."
The ground burned under his feet. He felt as if he were committing a sin by remaining a minute longer in this place.
He slipped out into the hall, where his cap hung.
"Tell my sisters," he said to the servant who was waiting there, "that I am going home to order a carriage for them."
And he breathed as if relieved when the door closed behind him.
The storm had abated: a soft rain came drizzling from the sky, the wind blew refreshingly over the heath, and at the verge of the horizon, where the evening glow paled away, the sheet-lightning of the far-distant thunder-storm shot from fiery, glowing clouds.
As if the wild hunters were behind him, he ran across the rain-soaked road to the wood, whose branches closed above his head with a peaceful murmur. The damp moss sent out its perfume, and sparkling drops fell from the needles of the fir-trees.
When he stepped out onto the heath, and saw the dark outline of his home before his eyes, he stretched out his arms, and cried out into the storm:
"Here is my place—here I belong, and I shall be a rogue if ever again I try to find my happiness among strangers. I swear here that I will reject all vanities and foolish hankerings. I know now what I am, and what is unfit for me shall be lost to me. Amen."
So he took leave of his youth and of his youthful dreams.
When he awoke next morning he found his mother sitting near his bed.
"You up already?" he asked, wonderingly.
"I have not been able to sleep," she said, in her low voice, which always sounded as if she were asking pardon for what she said.
"Why not?" he asked.
She did not answer, but stroked his hair and smiled at him sadly. Then he knew that the twins had been telling tales, and that it was grief for him which did not let her rest.
"It was not so bad, mother," he said, consolingly; "they made fun of me a little, nothing more."
"Elsbeth, too?" she asked, with big, anxious eyes.
"No, not she," he replied, "but—" he was silent and turned to the wall.
"But what?" asked his mother.
"I don't know," he answered, "but there is a 'but' in it—"
"You wrong her, perhaps," said his mother, "and look, she sent you this by the girls." She drew from her pocket a long object which was carefully wrapped in tissue-paper.
In it was a flute, made of black ebony, with sparkling silver keys.
Paul blushed with shame and joy; but his joy soon vanished, and after he had looked at the instrument for a while he said, softly, "What must I do with it now?"
"You must learn to play it," answered his mother, with a touch of pride.
"It is too late," he replied, shaking his head sadly; "there are other things for me to do." He felt as if he had been made to drag something dead out of its grave.
"Well, it seems that you cut a nice figure yesterday," said his father, when they met at the breakfast-table.
He quietly smiled to himself, and his father muttered something about lack of feeling of honor.
The twins had big dreamy eyes, and when they looked at each other a blissful smile crossed their faces. They, at least, were happy.
Weeks passed. The harvest was got in unharmed, thanks to Paul's untiring care. It was a better year than it had been for a long time. But his father was already calculating how he could use the profits for his peat speculation.
He bragged on in his usual manner, and the less Mr. Douglas seemed to pay attention to the proceedings, the more he boasted at the inns about the advantage of his partnership.
Having once consented to swindle, he had to outvie every lie by a new and bigger one. Mr. Douglas might be as patient as he liked; the abuse which was made of his name at last became too much for him.
It was one morning towards the end of August that Paul, who was working in the yard with Michel Raudszus, saw the tall figure of their neighbor walking across the fields straight to the Haidehof.
He was startled—that could not bode any good.
Mr. Douglas shook hands with him kindly, but from under his iron-gray, bushy brows shot an ill-boding look.
"Is your father at home?" he asked, and his voice sounded angry and threatening.
"He is in the parlor," Paul said, depressed; "if you will allow me, I will take you to him."
At the sight of the unexpected guest, his father jumped up embarrassed from his chair; but he recovered himself immediately, and began, in his boasting tone, "Oh, it is a good thing that you are here, sir; I have something urgent to say to you."
"And I not less to you," retorted Mr. Douglas, planting his massive figure close before him. "How is it, my dear friend, that you abuse my name in this manner?"
"I—your name—sir? What do you mean? Paul, go out."
"He may stay here," retorted Mr. Douglas, turning to Paul.
"He shall go out, sir!" cried the old man. "I suppose I am still master in my own house, sir?"
Paul left the room.
In the dark passage he found his mother, who had folded her hands and was gazing towards the door with a fixed look. At the sight of him she broke into tears and wrung her hands.
"He will lose us the only friend we have still on earth," she sobbed; then she sank down in his arms, starting convulsively when the threatening voices of the two men fell louder on her ear.
"Come away, mother," he urged; "it excites you too much, and we can't help matters, anyhow."
She let him drag her to her bedroom without resistance.
"Give me a little vinegar," she entreated, "or I shall drop."
He did as she asked, and while he rubbed her temples with it, spoke to her in a loud tone, so that she should not hear the raised voices of the two men.
Suddenly the doors banged; for a while all was quiet—uncomfortably quiet; then the clattering of a chain and the cry of his father, hoarse with fury,
"For God's sake, he is setting the dog at him!" shrieked Paul, and rushed into the yard.
He came just in time to see how Sultan, a big fierce mastiff, sprang at Douglas's neck, while his father, brandishing his whip, ran after him.
Michel Raudszus had thrust his hands into his pockets and was looking on.
"Father, what are you doing?" he shouted, tore the whip from his hand, and wanted to go after the dog, but before he could reach the struggling group the beast, strangled by the powerful hand of the giant, lay on the ground stretching out its four paws.
The blood ran down from Douglas's arm and neck. His anger seemed over. He remained standing still, wiping his hands with his pocket-handkerchief, and said, with a good-natured smile,
"The poor beast has had to pay for it."
"You are wounded, Mr. Douglas!" Paul cried, clasping his hands.
"He has taken my neck for a joint of veal," he said. "Come with me for a few steps, and help me to wash myself, so that my womenkind may not be too much frightened."
"Forgive him," Paul entreated; "he did not know what he was doing."
"Will you come back, you wretch?" shrieked his father's voice from the yard. "I suppose you want to make common cause with that forsworn scoundrel!"
There was a convulsive twitch in his neighbor's clinched fists; but he mastered himself, and said with a forced smile,
"Go back; the son ought to stay with the father."
"But I want to make amends," Paul stammered.
"The swindler, the rogue," was heard from the background.
"Go back," said Douglas, with set teeth; "make him keep quiet, or he will do for himself."
Then he began to whistle a march with all his might, in order not to hear the abuse, and walked off with a measured tread.
The old man was raging in the yard like a madman; he threw the stones about, swung the cart-pole in the air, and kicked with his feet right and left.
When he met Paul he wanted to seize him by the throat, but at that moment his mother rushed out of doors with a piercing cry and threw herself between them. She clung to Paul with both arms; she wanted to speak, but the fear of her husband lamed her tongue. She could only look at him.
"Pack of women!" he cried, shrugging his shoulders contemptuously, and turned away; but feeling obliged to vent his rage on somebody, he walked up to Michel Raudszus, who was slowly returning to his work.
"You dog, what are you gaping here for?" he shouted at him.
"I am working, sir," he answered, and gave him a cutting glance from under his black brows.
"What should prevent me, you dog, from grinding you to powder?" the old man shrieked, shaking his fists under his nose.
The servant shrank back, and at that moment both his master's fists struck him in the face. He staggered back—every drop of blood left his dark face; without uttering a sound, he seized upon an axe.
But at this moment, Paul, who had been watching the scene with growing anxiety, grasped his arm from behind, wrested the weapon from his hand, and threw it into the well.
His father tried to clutch the servant by the throat again, but with quick resolution Paul seized him round the body, and although the old man kicked and struggled, gathering up all strength, carried him in his arms into the parlor, the door of which he locked from the outside.
"What have you done to your father?" his mother whimpered. She had beheld this deed of violence petrified with horror, for that her son could attack his father was to her perfectly incomprehensible. She looked shyly up at him, and repeated, wofully, "What have you done to your father?"
Paul bent down to her, kissed her hand, and said, "Be calm, mother, I had to save his life."
"And now you have locked him up? Paul, Paul!"
"He must remain there till Michel has gone," he replied. "Don't open the door for him, or there will be an accident."
Then he walked out into the yard. The servant was leaning against the stable door, chewing his black beard, and leering at him viciously.
"Michel Raudszus!" he called out to him.
The man approached. The veins on his forehead had swollen like blue cords. He did not dare look at him.
"Your surplus wages are five marks and fifty pfennigs. Here they are. In five minutes you must be gone."
The servant gave him such a terribly sinister glance that Paul was alarmed at the thought that he had suffered this man near him so long without any foreboding; he kept his eyes fixed upon him, for he feared every moment to be attacked by him.
But the servant turned away in silence, went to the stables, where he tied up his bundle, and two minutes later walked out at the gate. During the whole terrible scene he had not uttered a single word.
"That's done! now to father," said Paul, firmly resolved to bear all blows and abuse calmly.
He unlocked the door, and expected that his father would rush upon him.
The old man was sitting huddled up in the corner of the sofa, staring before him. He did not move, either, when Paul came up to him and said, beseechingly,
"I did not like doing it, father, but it had to be done."
He only gave him a shy look askance; then said, bitterly,
"You can do what you like; I am an old man, and you are the strongest."
Then he sank back again.
From that day forward Paul was master in the house.
Three weeks had passed since then. Paul worked like a galley-slave. In spite of that a strange unrest was upon him. When he allowed himself a few moments' repose he could not bear to stay at home. He felt as if the walls were falling in upon him. Then he rambled about on the heath or in the wood, or he lingered near Helenenthal.
"If I should meet Elsbeth I think I should sink into the ground with shame," he said to himself, and yet he looked about for her everywhere, and trembled with fear and joy when he saw a female figure coming towards him in the distance.
He also began to neglect his night's rest. As soon as all in the house were asleep he crept away, and often returned only in the bright morning to go to work again with swimming head and weary limbs.
"I will make amends—amends," he murmured often to himself; and when his scythe hissed through the corn, he said, keeping time with it, "make amends—make amends." But how to do so was totally vague to him; he did not even know if Douglas had been seriously hurt by the dog's bite.
Once when he was roving about at twilight on the other side of the wood he saw Michel Raudszus coming from Helenenthal. He carried a spade over his shoulder, on which hung a bundle. Paul looked at him fixedly; he expected to be attacked by him, but the servant only gave him a shy side-glance and a wide berth.
"That fellow looks as if he were brooding over some evil," he thought, looking after him.
Douglas had taken the expelled workman into his service, so one of the laborers said, and when his father heard this he laughed, and said, "That's just like the hypocrite—he will brew something nice for me."
He was firmly convinced that Douglas had given his case into the hands of the law; indeed, he found a certain satisfaction in the thought that he would be judged "unjustly," of course, and as from one day to the other the summons never came, he explained, scornfully,
"The noble lord is fond of respites."
But Douglas seemed willing totally to ignore the ignominy he had suffered; he did not even demand the capital lent on mortgage.
Paul's soul was overflowing with gratitude, and the less he found means to show it the deeper he felt the shame—the more his unrest haunted him.
So one night he again stood motionless at the garden fence of Helenenthal.
Early autumn mists lay on the ground, and the withering grass quivered lightly.
The White House disappeared in the shadows of the night, and only from one of the windows there shone a dull, dark-red light.
"There she is, watching near her sick mother," Paul thought. And as he found no other means to call her he began to whistle. Twice, three times, he stopped to listen. Nobody came, and anxiety rose within him.
With groping hand he searched for the gap in the fence which Elsbeth had shown him once, and when he had found it he penetrated to the inner garden. The branches tore his clothes as, in a sort of wilderness, he crept along the ground to find a path. At last he came to an open place. The white gravel threw out a dim light which shone brighter than the little lamp in the sick-room.
He seated himself on a bench and looked thither. He thought he saw a shadow moving behind the curtains.
Then suddenly all around grew light; the rose-trees were visible in the night; the gravel sparkled, and the gables of the dwelling-house, which had just before stood out in a dark mass, now showed in dark reddish tints, as if the light of dawn had fallen upon it.
Wonderingly he turned round; the blood froze in his veins; a purple flash of fire shot up in the dark sky. The black clouds were outlined with edges of fire, white flames whirled upward, and high above shot the glowing beams, as if there was an aurora borealis in the sky.
"Father's house is burning!"
His head fell heavily against the back of the bench; the next moment he raised himself up, his knees shook, the blood hammered in his temples. "On, on! save what is to be saved!" cried a voice within him; and with a wild rush he broke through the bushes, climbed the garden fence, and sank down into the ditch on the other side.
The burning farm glared over the heath like the rising sun. The stubble shone, and the black wood was dipped in a red glow.
The dwelling-house was as yet unhurt; its walls shone like marble, its windows sparkled like carbuncles. The yard was as bright as in daylight. It was the barn that was burning—the barn, filled to the roof with the harvest. His work, his happiness, his hope, lost like this in smoke and flames.