Part 10 out of 11
The next evening Margaret sat at the door with her flax for fully an
hour, awaiting her boy. It had been the first night she had passed
without hearing her child's breathing beside her, and still Frederick
did not come. She was vexed and anxious, and yet knew that there was no
reason for being so. The clock in the tower struck seven; the cattle
returned home; still he was not there, and she had to get up to look
after the cows.
When she reentered the dark kitchen, Frederick was standing on the
hearth; he was bending forward and warming his hands over the coal fire.
The light played on his features and gave him an unpleasant look of
leanness and nervous twitching. Margaret stopped at the door; the child
seemed to her so strangely changed.
"Frederick, how's your uncle?" The boy muttered a few unintelligible
words and leaned close against the chimney.
"Frederick, have you forgotten how to talk? Boy, open your mouth! Don't
you know I do not hear well with my right ear?" The child raised his
voice and began to stammer so that Margaret failed to understand
"What are you saying? Greeting from Master Semmler? Away again? Where?
The cows are at home already. You bad boy, I can't understand you. Wait,
I'll have to see if you have no tongue in your mouth!" She made a few
angry steps forward. The child looked up to her with the pitiful
expression of a poor, half-grown dog that is learning to sit up on his
hind legs. In his fear he began to stamp his feet and rub his back
against the chimney.
Margaret stood still; her glances became anxious. The boy looked as
though he had shrunk together. His clothes were not the same either; no,
that was not her child! And. yet--"Frederick, Frederick!" she cried.
A closet door in the bedroom slammed and the real Frederick came out,
with a so-called clog-violin in one hand, that is, a wooden shoe strung
with three or four resined strings, and in his other hand a bow, quite
befitting the instrument. Then he went right up to his sorry double,
with an attitude of conscious dignity and independence on his part,
which at that moment revealed distinctly the difference between the two
boys who otherwise resembled each other so remarkably.
"Here, John!" he said, and handed him the work of art with a patronizing
air; "here is the violin that I promised you. My play-days are over; now
I must earn money."
John cast another timid glance at Margaret, slowly stretched out his
hand until he had tightly grasped the present, and then hid it
stealthily under the flaps of his shabby coat.
Margaret stood perfectly still and let the children do as they liked.
Her thoughts had taken another, very serious, turn, and she looked
restlessly from one to the other. The strange boy had again bent over
the coals with an expression of momentary comfort which bordered on
simple-mindedness, while Frederick's features showed the alternating
play of a sympathy evidently more selfish than good-humored, and his
eyes, in almost glassy clearness, for the first time distinctly showed
the expression of that unrestrained ambition and tendency to swagger
which afterwards revealed itself as so strong a motive in most of his
His mother's call aroused him from his thoughts which were as new as
they were pleasant to him; again she was sitting at her spinning-wheel.
"Frederick," she said, hesitating, "tell me--" and then stopped.
Frederick looked up and, hearing nothing more, again turned to his
charge. "No, listen!" And then, more softly: "Who is that boy I What is
Frederick answered, just as softly: "That is Uncle Simon's swineherd; he
has a message for Huelsmeyer. Uncle gave me a pair of shoes and a
huckaback vest which the boy carried for me; in return I promised him my
violin; you see, he's a poor child. His name is John."
"Well?" said Margaret.
"What do you want, mother?"
"What's his other name?"
"Well--he has none, but, wait--yes, Nobody, John Nobody is his name. He
has no father," he added under his breath.
Margaret arose and went into the bedroom. After a while she came out
with a harsh, gloomy expression on her countenance. "Well, Frederick,"
she said, "let the boy go, so that he may attend to his errand. Boy, why
do you lie there in the ashes? Have you nothing to do at home?" With the
air of one who is persecuted the boy roused himself so hastily that all
his limbs got in his way, and the clog-violin almost fell into the fire.
"Wait, John," said Frederick proudly, "I'll give you half of my bread
and butter; it's too much for me anyhow. Mother always gives me a whole
"Never mind," said Margaret, "he is going home."
"Yes, but he won't get anything to eat now. Uncle Simon eats at seven
Margaret turned to the boy. "Won't they save anything for you? Tell me!
Who takes care of you?"
"Nobody," stuttered the child.
"Nobody?" she repeated; "then take it, take it!" she added nervously;
"your name is Nobody and nobody takes care of you. May God have pity on
you! And now see that you get away! Frederick, do not go with him, do
you hear? Do not go through the village together."
"Why, I only want to get wood out of the shed," answered Frederick. When
both boys had gone Margaret sank down in a chair and clasped her hands
with an expression of the deepest grief. Her face was as white as a
sheet. "A false oath, a false oath!" she groaned. "Simon, Simon, how
will you acquit yourself before God!"
Thus she sat for a while, motionless, with her lips shut tight, as if
completely unconscious. Frederick stood before her and had already
spoken to her twice.
"What's the matter? What do you want?" she cried, starting up.
"I have some money for you," he said, more astonished than frightened.
"Money? Where?" She moved and the little coin fell jingling to the
floor. Frederick picked it up.
"Money from Uncle Simon, because I helped him work. Now I can earn
something for myself."
"Money from Simon! Throw it away, away!--No, give it to the poor. But
no, keep it!" she whispered, scarcely audibly. "We are poor ourselves;
who knows whether we won't be reduced to begging!"
"I am to go back to Uncle Monday and help him with the sowing."
"You go back to him? No, no, never!" She embraced her child wildly.
"Yet," she added, and a stream of tears suddenly rushed down her sunken
cheeks, "go; he is the only brother I have, and slander is great! But
keep God before your eyes, and do not forget your daily prayers!"
Margaret pressed her face against the wall and wept aloud. She had borne
many a heavy burden--her husband's harsh treatment, and, worse than
that, his death; and it was a bitter moment when the widow was compelled
top give over to a creditor the usufruct of her last piece of arable
land, and her own plow stood useless in front of her house. But as badly
as this she had never felt before; nevertheless, after she had wept
through an evening and lain awake a whole night, she made herself
believe that her brother Simon could not be so godless, that the boy
certainly did not belong to him; for resemblances can prove nothing.
Why, had she not herself lost a little sister forty years ago who looked
exactly like the strange peddler! One is willing to believe almost
anything when one has so little, and is liable to lose that little by
From this time on Frederick was seldom at home. Simon seemed to have
lavished on his nephew all the more tender sentiments of which he was
capable; at least he missed him greatly and never ceased sending
messages if some business at home kept him at his mother's house for any
length of time. The boy was as if transformed since that time; his
dreamy nature had left him entirely; he walked firmly, began to care for
his external appearance, and soon to have the reputation of being a
handsome, clever youth. His uncle, who could not be happy without
schemes, sometimes undertook important public works--for example, road
building, at which Frederick was everywhere considered one of his best
workmen and his right-hand man; for although the boy's physical strength
had not yet attained its fullest development, scarcely any one could
equal him in endurance. Heretofore Margaret had only loved her son; now
she began to be proud of him and even feel a kind of respect for him,
seeing the young fellow develop so entirely without her aid, even
without her advice, which she, like most people, considered invaluable;
for that reason she could not think highly enough of the boy's
capabilities which could dispense with such a precious means of
In his eighteenth year Frederick had already secured for himself an
important reputation among the village youth by the successful execution
of a wager that he could carry a wild boar for a distance of more than
two miles without resting. Meanwhile participation in his glory was
about the only advantage that Margaret derived from these favorable
circumstances, since Frederick spent more and more on his external
appearance and gradually began, to take it to heart if want of money
compelled him to be second to any one in that respect. Moreover, all his
powers were directed toward making his living outside; quite in
contrast to his reputation all steady work around the house seemed
irksome to him now, and he preferred to submit to a hard but short
exertion which soon permitted him to follow his former occupation of
herding the cattle, although it was beginning to be unsuitable for his
age and at times drew upon him ridicule. That he silenced, however, by a
few blunt reprimands with his fist. So people grew accustomed to seeing
him, now dressed up and jolly as a recognized village beau and leader of
the young folks, and again as a ragged boy slinking along, lonely and
dreamily, behind his cows, or lying in a forest clearing, apparently
thoughtless, scratching the moss from the trees.
About this time, however, the slumbering laws were roused somewhat by a
band of forest thieves which, under the name of the "Blue Smocks,"
surpassed all its predecessors in cunning and boldness to such an extent
that even the most indulgent would have lost patience. Absolutely
contrary to the usual state of affairs, when the leading bucks of the
herd could always be pointed out, it had thus far been impossible, in
spite of all watchfulness, to specify even one member of this company of
thieves. Their name they derived from their uniform clothing which made
recognition more difficult if a forester happened by chance to see a few
stragglers disappear in the thicket. Like caterpillars they destroyed
everything; whole tracts of forest-land would be cut down in a single
night and immediately made away with, leaving nothing to be found next
morning but chips and disordered heaps of brushwood. The fact that there
were never any wagon tracks leading towards a village, but always to and
from the river, proved that the work was carried on under the
protection, perhaps with the cooeperation, of the shipowners. There must
have been some very skilful spies in the band, for the foresters could
watch in vain for weeks at a time; nevertheless, the first night they
failed, from sheer fatigue, to watch, the devastation began again,
whether it was a stormy night or moonlight. It was strange that the
country folk in the vicinity seemed just as ignorant and excited as the
Of several villages it could be asserted with certainty that they did
not belong to the "Blue Smocks," while no strong suspicion could be
attached to a single one, since the most suspected of all, the village
of B., had to be acquitted. An accident had brought this about--a
wedding, at which almost every resident of this village had notoriously
passed the night, while during this very time the "Blue Smocks" had
carried out one of their most successful expeditions.
The damage to the forest, in the meanwhile, was so enormous that
preventive measures were made more stringent than ever before; the
forest was patrolled day and night; head-servants and domestics were
provided with firearms and sent to help the forest officers.
Nevertheless, their success was but slight, for the guards had often
scarcely left one end of the forest when the "Blue Smocks" were already
entering the other. This lasted more than a whole year; guards and "Blue
Smocks," "Blue Smocks" and guards, like sun and moon, ever alternating
in the possession of the land and never meeting each other.
It was July, 1756, at three o'clock in the morning; the moon shone
brightly in the sky, but its light had begun to grow dim; and in the
East there was beginning to appear a narrow, yellow streak which
bordered the horizon and closed the entrance to the narrow dale as with
a hand of gold. Frederick was lying in the grass in his accustomed
position, whittling a willow stick, the knotty end of which he was
trying to form roughly into the shape of an animal. He seemed to be very
tired, yawned, rested his head against a weather-beaten stump and cast
glances, more sleepy than the horizon, over the entrance of the glen
which was almost overgrown with shrubbery and underbrush. Now and then
his eyes manifested life and assumed their characteristic glassy
glitter, but immediately afterwards be half shut them again, and
yawned, and stretched, as only lazy shepherds may. His dog lay some
distance away near the cows which, unconcerned by forest laws, feasted
indiscriminately on tender saplings and the grass, and snuffed the fresh
Out of the forest there sounded from time to time a muffled, crashing
noise; it lasted but a few seconds, accompanied by a long echo on the
mountain sides, and was repeated about every five or eight minutes.
Frederick paid no attention to it; only at times, when the noise was
exceptionally loud or long continued, he lifted his head and glanced
slowly down the several paths which led to the valley.
Day was already dawning; the birds were beginning to twitter softly and
the dew was rising noticeably from the ground. Frederick had slid down
the trunk and was staring, with his arms crossed back of his head, into
the rosy morning light softly stealing in. Suddenly he started, a light
flashed across his face, and he listened a few moments with his body
bent forward like a hunting dog which scents something in the air. Then
he quickly put two fingers in his mouth and gave a long, shrill whistle.
"Fido, you cursed beast!" He threw a stone and hit the unsuspecting dog
which, frightened out of his sleep, first snarled and then, limping on
three feet and howling, went in search of consolation to the very place
from which the hurt had come.
At the same moment the branches of a near-by bush were pushed back
almost without a rustle, and a man stepped out, dressed in a green
hunting jacket, with a silver shield on his arm and his rifle cocked in
his hand. He cast a hurried glance over the glen and stared sharply at
the boy, then stepped forward, nodded toward the shrubbery, and
gradually seven or eight men came into sight, all in the same costume,
with hunting knives in their belts and cocked weapons in their hands.
"Frederick, what was that?" asked the one who had first appeared. "I
wish the cur would die on the spot. For all he knows, the cows could
chew the ears off my head."
"The scoundrel has seen us," said another. "Tomorrow you'll go on a trip
with a stone about your neck," Frederick went on, and kicked at the dog.
"Frederick, don't act like a fool! You know me, and you understand me
too!" A look accompanied these words, which had an immediate effect.
"Mr. Brandes, think of my mother!"
"That's what I'm doing. Didn't you hear anything in the forest?"
"In the forest?" The boy threw a hasty glance at the forester's face.
"Your woodchoppers--nothing else."
"My woodchoppers!" The naturally dark complexion of the forester changed
to a deep brownish red. "How many of them are there, and where are they
doing their job?"
"Wherever you have sent them; I don't know."
Brandes turned to his comrades. "Go ahead; I'll follow directly." When
one by one they had disappeared in the thicket, Brandes stepped close up
to the boy. "Frederick," he said in tones of suppressed rage, "my
patience is worn out; I'd like to thrash you like a dog, and that's no
worse than you deserve. You bundle of rags, without a tile in your roof
to call your own! Thank God, you'll soon find yourself begging; and at
my door, your mother, the old witch, shan't get as much as a moldy
crust! But first both of you'll go to the dungeon!"
Frederick clutched a branch convulsively. He was pale as death, and his
eyes looked as if they would shoot out of his head like crystal
bullets--but only for a moment. Then the greatest calmness, bordering on
complete relaxation, returned. "Sir," he said firmly, in an almost
gentle voice, "you have said something that you cannot defend, and so,
perhaps, have I. Let us call it quits; and now I will tell you what you
wish. If you did not engage the woodchoppers yourself, they must be the
'Blue Smocks,' for not a wagon has come from the village; why, the road
is right before me, and there are four wagons. I did not see them, but
I heard them drive up the pass." He faltered a moment. "Can you say that
I have ever hewn a tree on your land, or even that I ever raised my axe
in any other place but where I was ordered to? Think it over, whether
you can say that?" A confused muttering was the forester's only answer;
like most blunt people, he repented easily. He turned, exasperated, and
started toward the shrubbery. "No, sir," called Frederick, "if you want
to follow the other foresters, they've gone up yonder by the
"By the beech-tree!" exclaimed Brandes doubtfully. "No, across there,
toward Mast Gorge."
"I tell you, by the beech-tree; long Heinrich's gun-sling even caught on
the crooked branch; why, I saw it!"
The forester turned into the path designated. Frederick had not changed
his position the whole time; half reclining, with his arm wound about a
dry branch, he gazed immovably after the departing man, as he glided
through the thickly wooded path with the long cautious steps
characteristic of his profession, as noiseless as a lynx climbing into
the hen-roost. Here and there a branch sank behind him; the outlines of
his body became fainter and fainter. Then there was one final flash
through the foliage; it was a steel button on his hunting jacket; and
now he was gone. During this gradual disappearance Frederick's face had
lost its expression of coldness, and his features had finally become
anxious and restless. Was he sorry, perhaps, that he had not asked the
forester to keep his information secret? He took a few steps forward,
then stopped. "It is too late," he mused, and reached for his hat. There
was a soft pecking in the thicket, not twenty paces from him. It was the
forester sharpening his flint-stone. Frederick listened. "No!" he said
in a decisive tone, gathered up his belongings, and hastily drove the
cattle down into the hollow.
About noon, Margaret was sitting by the hearth, boiling tea. Frederick
had come home sick; he had complained of a violent headache and had told
her, upon her anxious questioning, how he had become deeply provoked
with the forester--in short, all about the incident just described, with
the exception of several details which he considered wiser to keep to
himself. Margaret gazed into the boiling water, silent and sad. She was
not unaccustomed to hear her son complain at times, but today he seemed
more shaken than ever. Was this perhaps the symptom of some illness?
She, sighed deeply and dropped a log of wood she had just lifted.
"Mother!" called Frederick from the bedroom. "What is it? Was that a
"Oh, no! I don't know what you mean."
"I suppose it's the throbbing in my head," he replied. A neighbor
stepped in and related in a low whisper some bit of unimportant gossip
which Margaret listened to without interest. Then she went. "Mother!"
called Frederick. Margaret went in to him. "What did Huelsmeyer's wife
"Oh, nothing at all--lies, nonsense!" Frederick sat up. "About Gretchen
Siemers; you know the old story well enough!--there isn't a word of
truth in it either."
Frederick lay down again. "I'll see if I can sleep," he said.
Margaret was sitting by the hearth. She was spinning and thinking of
rather unpleasant things. The village clock struck half-past eleven; the
door opened and the court-clerk, Kapp, came in. "Good day, Mrs. Mergel,"
he said. "Can you give me a drink of milk? I'm on my way from M." When
Mrs. Mergel brought what he wished, he asked "Where is Frederick?" She
was just then busy getting a plate out and did not hear the question. He
drank hesitatingly and in short draughts. Then he asked, "Do you know
that last night the 'Blue Smocks' again cleared away a whole tract in
the Mast forest as bare as my hand?"
"Oh, you don't mean it!" she replied indifferently.
"The scoundrels!" continued the clerk. "They ruin everything; if only
they had a little regard at least for the young trees; but they go after
little oaks of the thickness of my arm, too small even to make oars of!
It looks as if loss on the part of other people were just as gratifying
to them as gain on their own part!"
"It's a shame!" said Margaret.
The clerk had finished his milk, but still he did not go. He seemed to
have something on his mind. "Have you heard nothing about Brandes?" he
"Nothing; he never enters this house."
"Then you don't know what has happened to him?"
"Why, what?" asked Margaret, agitated.
"He is dead!"
"Dead!" she cried. "What, dead? For God's sake! Why, only this morning
he passed by here, perfectly well, with his gun on his back!"
"He is dead," repeated the clerk, eyeing her sharply, "killed by the
'Blue Smocks.' The body was brought into the village fifteen minutes
Margaret clasped her hands. "God in Heaven, do not judge him! He did not
know what he was doing!"
"Him!" cried the clerk--"the cursed murderer you mean?"
A heavy groan came from the bedroom. Margaret hurried there and the
clerk followed her. Frederick was sitting upright in bed, with his face
buried in his hands, and moaning like one dying. "Frederick, how do you
feel?" asked his mother.
"How do you feel?" repeated the clerk.
"Oh, my body, my head!" he wailed.
"What's the matter with him?" inquired the clerk.
"Oh, God knows," she replied; "he came home with the cows as early as
four o'clock because he felt sick." "Frederick, Frederick, answer me!
Shall I go for the doctor?"
"No, no," he groaned; "it is only the colic; I'll be better soon." He
lay down again; his face twitched convulsively with pain; then his color
returned. "Go," he said, feebly; "I must sleep; then it will pass away."
"Mistress Mergel," asked the clerk earnestly, "are you sure that
Frederick came home at four and did not go away again?"
She stared in his face. "Ask any child on the street. And go away?--I
wish to God he could!"
"Didn't he tell you anything about Brandes?"
"In the name of God, yes--that Brandes had reviled him in the woods and
reproached him with our poverty, the rascal! But God forgive me, he is
dead! Go!" she continued; "have you come to insult honest people? Go!"
She turned to her son again, as the clerk went out. "Frederick, how do
you feel?" asked his mother. "Did you hear? Terrible, terrible--without
confession or absolution!"
"Mother, mother, for God's sake, let me sleep. I can stand no more!"
At this moment John Nobody entered the room; tall and thin like a
bean-pole, but ragged and shy, as we had seen him five years before. His
face was even paler than usual. "Frederick," he stuttered, "you are to
come to your Uncle immediately; he has work for you; without delay,
Frederick turned toward the wall. "I won't come," he snapped, "I am
"But you must come," gasped John; "he said I must bring you back."
Frederick laughed scornfully. "I'd like to see you!"
"Let him alone; he can't," sighed Margaret; "you see how it is." She
went out for a few minutes; when she returned, Frederick was already
dressed. "What are you thinking of?" she cried. "You cannot, you shall
"What must be, must," he replied, and was gone through the door with
"Oh, God," sobbed the mother, "when children are small they trample our
laps, and when they are grown, our hearts!"
The judicial investigation had begun, the deed was as clear as day; but
the evidence concerning the perpetrator was so scanty that, although all
circumstances pointed strongly towards the "Blue Smocks," nothing but
conjectures could be risked. One clue seemed to throw some light
upon the matter; there were reasons, however, why but little dependence
could be placed on it. The absence of the owner of the estate had made
it necessary for the clerk of the court to start the case himself. He
was sitting at his table; the room was crowded with peasants, partly
those who came out of curiosity, and partly those from whom the court
hoped to receive some information, since actual witnesses were
lacking--shepherds who had been watching their flocks that night,
laborers who had been working in near-by fields; all stood erect and
firm,, with their hands in their pockets, as if thus silently
manifesting their intention not to interfere.
Eight forest officers were heard; their evidence was entirely identical.
Brandes, on the tenth day of the month, had ordered them to go the
rounds because he had evidently secured information concerning a plan of
the "Blue Smocks"; he had, however, expressed himself but vaguely
regarding the matter. At about two o'clock at night they had gone out
and had come upon many traces of destruction, which put the
head-forester in a very bad humor; otherwise, everything had been quiet.
About four o'clock Brandes had said, "We have been led astray; let us go
home." When they had come around Bremer mountain and the wind had
changed at the same time, they had distinctly heard chopping in the Mast
forest and concluded from the quick succession of the strokes that the
"Blue Smocks" were at work. They had deliberated a while whether it were
practical to attack the bold band with such a small force, and then had
slowly approached the source of the sound without any fixed
determination. Then followed the scene with Frederick. Finally, after
Brandes had sent them away without instructions they had gone forward a
while and then, when they noticed that the noise in the woods, still
rather far away, had entirely ceased, they had stopped to wait for the
They had grown tired of waiting, and after about ten minutes had
gone on toward the scene of devastation. It was all over; not another
sound was to be heard in the forest; of twenty fallen trees eight were
still left, the rest had been made way with. It was incomprehensible to
them how this had been accomplished, since no wagon tracks were to be
found. Moreover, the dryness of the season and the fact that the earth
was strewn with pine-needles had prevented their distinguishing any
footprints, although the ground in the vicinity looked as if it had been
firmly stamped down. Then, having come to the conclusion that there was
no point in waiting for the head-forester, they had quickly walked to
the other side of the wood in the hope of perhaps catching a glimpse of
the thieves. Here one of them had caught his bottle-string in the
brambles on the way out of the wood, and when he had looked around he
had seen something flash in the shrubbery; it was the belt-buckle of the
head-forester whom they then found lying behind the brambles, stretched
out, with his right hand clutching the barrel of his gun, the other
clenched, and his forehead split with an axe.
These were the statements of the foresters. It was then the peasants'
turn, but no evidence could be obtained from them. Some declared they
had been at home or busy somewhere else at four o'clock, and they were
all decent people, not to be suspected. The court had to content itself
with their negative testimonies.
Frederick was called in. He entered with a manner in no respect
different from his usual one, neither strained nor bold. His hearing
lasted some time, and some of the questions were rather shrewdly framed;
however, he answered them frankly and decisively and related the
incident between himself and the forester truthfully, on the whole,
except the end, which he deemed expedient to keep to himself. His alibi
at the time of the murder was easily proved. The forester lay at the end
of the Mast forest more than three-quarters of an hour's walk from the
ravine where he had spoken with Frederick at four o'clock, and whence
the latter had driven his cows only ten minutes later. Every one had
seen this; all the peasants present did their utmost to confirm it; to
this one he had spoken, to that one, nodded.
The court clerk sat ill-humored and embarrassed. Suddenly he reached
behind him and, presenting something gleaming to Frederick's gaze,
cried: "To whom does this belong?" Frederick jumped back three paces,
exclaiming, "Lord Jesus! I thought you were going to brain me."
His eyes had quickly passed across the deadly tool and seemed to fix
themselves for a moment on a splinter broken out of the handle. "I do
not know," he added firmly. It was the axe which they had found plunged
in the head-forester's skull.
"Look at it carefully," continued the clerk. Frederick took it in his
hand, looked at the top, the bottom, turned it over. "One axe looks like
another," he then said, and laid it unconcernedly on the table. A
blood-stain was visible; he seemed to shudder, but he repeated once more
with decision: "I do not know it." The clerk of the court sighed with
displeasure. He himself knew of nothing more, and had only sought to
bring about a possible disclosure through surprise. There was nothing
left to do but to close the hearing.
To those who are perhaps interested in the outcome of this affair, I
must say that the story was never cleared up, although much effort was
made to throw light upon it and several other judicial examinations
followed. The sensation which the incident had caused and the more
stringent measures adopted in consequence of it, seemed to have broken
the courage of the "Blue Smocks"; from now on it looked as though they
had entirely disappeared, and although many a wood-thief was caught
after that, they never found cause to connect him with the notorious
band. Twenty years afterwards the axe lay as a useless _corpus delicti_
in the archives of the court, where it is probably resting yet with its
rust spots. In a made-up story it would be wrong thus to disappoint the
curiosity of the reader, but all this actually happened; I can add or
detract nothing. The next Sunday Frederick rose very early to go to
confession. It was the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and
the parish priests were in the confessionals before dawn. He dressed in
the dark, and as quietly as possible left the narrow closet which had
been consigned to him in Simon's house. His prayer-book, he thought,
would be lying on the mantelpiece in the kitchen, and he hoped to find
it with the help of the faint moonlight. It was not there. He glanced
searchingly around, and started; at the bedroom door stood Simon,
half-dressed; his rough figure, his uncombed, tangled hair, and the
paleness of his face in the moonlight, gave him a horribly changed
appearance. "Can he possibly be walking in his sleep?" thought
Frederick, and kept quite still. "Frederick, where are you going?"
whispered the old man.
"Uncle, is that you? I am on my way to confession."
"That's what I thought; go, in the name of God, but confess like a good
"That I will," said Frederick.
Think of the Ten Commandments: 'Thou shalt not bear witness against thy
"Not _false_ witness!"
"No, none at all; you have been badly taught; he who accuses another in
his confession is unworthy to receive the Sacrament."
Both were silent. "Uncle, what makes you think of this?" Frederick
finally asked. "Your conscience is not clear; you have lied to me."
"Where is your axe?"
"My axe? On the barn-floor."
"Did you make a new handle for it? Where is the old one?"
"You'll find it at daylight in the woodshed."
"Go," he continued scornfully. "I thought you were a man; but you are
like an old woman who thinks the house must be on fire as soon as she
sees smoke rising from her pot. See," he went on, "if I know anything
more about this story than that doorpost there, may I never hope for
salvation. I was at home long before," he added. Frederick stood still,
oppressed and doubtful. He would have given much to be able to see his
uncle's face. But while they were whispering, the sky had clouded over.
"I am very guilty," sighed Frederick, "because I sent him the wrong way;
although--but still, I never thought it would come to this, no,
certainly not! Uncle, I have you to thank for a troubled conscience."
"Well, go and confess!" whispered Simon in a trembling voice. "Desecrate
the Sacrament by tale-bearing, and set a spy on poor people who will
manage to find a way to snatch their bit of bread from between their
teeth, even if he is not permitted to talk--go!" Frederick stood,
undecided; he heard a soft noise; the clouds cleared away, the moonlight
again fell on the bedroom door; it was closed. Frederick did not go to
confession that morning.
The impression which this incident had made on Frederick wore off only
too soon. Who doubts that Simon did everything to lead his adopted son
down the same paths that he was following? And Frederick possessed
qualities which made this only too easy: carelessness, excitability,
and, above all, boundless pride, which did not always scorn pretense and
ended by doing its utmost to escape possible disgrace, by trying to
realize what it first had pretended to possess. He was not naturally
ignoble, but he fell into the habit of preferring inward to outward
shame. One need only say that he habitually made a display while his
This unfortunate change in his character was, however, the work of many
years, during which it was noticed that Margaret became more and more
quiet on the subject of her son, and gradually came to a state of
demoralization which once would have been thought impossible. She became
timid, negligent, even slovenly, and many thought her brain had
suffered. Frederick, on the other hand, grew all the more
self-assertive; he missed no fair or wedding, and since his irritable
sense of honor would not permit him to overlook the secret
disapprobation of many, he was, so to speak, up in arms, not so much to
defy public opinion as to direct it into the channel which pleased him.
Externally he was neat, sober, apparently affable, but crafty, boastful,
and often coarse--a man in whom no one could take delight, least of all
his mother, and who, nevertheless, through his audacity, which every one
feared, and through his cunning, which they dreaded even more, had
attained a certain preeminence in the village. The preeminence came to
be acknowledged more and more as people became conscious of the fact
that they neither knew him nor could guess of what he might be capable.
Only one young fellow in the village, Will Huelsmeyer, who realized his
own strength and good circumstances, dared to defy him. Since he was
also readier with his tongue than Frederick, and could always make a
pointed joke, he was the only one whom Frederick did not like to meet.
Four years had passed. It was the month of October; the open autumn of
1760, which filled every barn with corn and every cellar with wine, had
also lavished its riches on this corner of the earth, and more
intoxicated people were seen and more fights and stupid tricks were
heard of than ever before. Everywhere there were festivities; Blue
Mondays were the fashion, and whoever had laid aside a few dollars
quickly wanted also a wife to help him feast today and starve tomorrow.
A big, noteworthy wedding took place in the village, and the guests
could expect more than the one violin, generally out of tune, than the
single glass of whiskey, and higher spirits than they themselves brought
along. Since the early morning all had been astir; clothing had been
aired in front of every door, and all day B. had looked like a
frippery-stall. Since many outsiders were expected, everybody was
anxious to uphold the honor of the village.
It was seven o'clock in the evening and everything was in full swing;
fun and laughter were rampant on every side, and the low rooms were
crowded to suffocation with blue, red, and yellow figures, like
pen-folds into which too large a herd had been huddled. On the barn
floor there was dancing--that is, whoever succeeded in capturing a
two-foot space twirled around on it and tried to make up by shouting for
what was lacking in motion. The orchestra was brilliant, the first
violinist as a recognized artist drowned out the second, and a great
bass-viol with three strings was sounded _ad libitum_ by dilettantes,
whiskey and coffee flowed in abundance, all the guests were dripping
with perspiration--in short, it was a glorious affair.
Frederick strutted about like a cock in his new sky-blue jacket and
asserted his position as the first beau of the village. When the lord of
the manor and his family arrived he happened to be sitting behind the
bass-viol, sounding the lowest string with great strength and much
decorum. "John," he called imperiously, and up stepped his protege from
the dancing-floor, where he too had tried to swing his awkward legs and
shout a cheer. Frederick handed him the bow, made his wishes known by a
proud nod, and joined the dancers. "Now, strike up, musician, the 'Pape
van Istrup!'" The favorite dance was played, and Frederick cut such
capers before the company that the cows in the barn drew back their
horns and a lowing and a rattling of chains sounded from their stalls. A
foot high above the others, his blond head bobbed up and down like a
pike diving out of the waters, on every side girls screamed as he dashed
his long flaxen hair, by a quick movement of the head, into their faces
as a sign of admiration.
"Now is the time," he said finally, and stepped up to the refreshment
table, dripping with perspiration. "Here's to the gracious lords and
ladies and all the noble princes and princesses; and whoever doesn't
join in the toast will get such a boxing on the ears from me that he'll
hear the angels singing!" A loud _Vivat_ responded to the gallant toast.
Frederick bowed. "Take nothing amiss, gracious lords and ladies; we are
but ignorant peasant people." At this moment a disturbance arose at the
end of the floor--shouting, scolding, laughter, all in confusion.
"Butter-thief, butter-thief!" called a few children; and John Nobody
pushed his way, or rather was pushed, through the crowd, his head sunk
between his shoulders and pressing with all his might toward the door.
"What's the matter? What are you doing to our John!" called Frederick
"You'll find out soon enough," coughed an old woman in a kitchen apron
and with a dish-rag in her hand. "Shame!" John, the poor devil, who had
to put up with the worst at home, had tried to secure for himself a
paltry half pound of butter for the coming time of scarcity, and,
without remembering that he had concealed it in his pocket, neatly
wrapped in his handkerchief, had stepped near the kitchen fire, and now
the grease was disgracing him by running down his coat.
There was general excitement; the girls sprang back from fear of soiling
their clothes, or pushed the culprit forward. Others made room as much
out of pity as of caution. But Frederick stepped forward. "Rogue!" he
cried; and a few hard slaps struck his patient protege; then he pushed
him toward the door and gave him a good kick on the way. The gallant
came back dejected; his dignity was injured; the general laughter cut
him to the quick, although he tried to bring himself into the swing
again by a bold huzza!--It did not work. He was on the point of taking
refuge behind the bass-viol again, but before that he wanted to produce
still another brilliant effect; he drew out his silver watch, at that
time a rare and precious ornament. "It is almost ten o'clock," he said.
"Now the Bride's Minuet! I will strike up."
"A beautiful watch!" said the swineherd, and leaned forward in
"What did it cost?" cried Will Huelsmeyer, Frederick's rival.
"Will you pay for it?" asked Frederick. "Have you paid for it?"
retorted Will. Frederick threw him a haughty glance and seized the bow
in silent majesty. "Well, well," Huelsmeyer went on, "such things have
happened. As you know well enough, Franz Ebel had a beautiful watch too,
till Aaron the Jew took it away from him." Frederick did not answer, but
nodded proudly to the first violin and they began to play with all their
might and main.
Meanwhile the lord of the manor had stepped into the room where the
women of the neighborhood were investing the bride with the white head
band, the insignia of her new position. The young girl was crying
bitterly, partly because custom so decreed, partly from honest
nervousness. She was to manage a run-down household, under the eye of a
peevish old man, whom, moreover, she was expected to love. He stood
beside her, by no means like the groom in the Song of Solomon who "steps
into the chamber like the morning sun." "You've cried enough now," he
said crossly; "remember, it isn't you who are making me happy; I am
making you happy!" She looked up to him humbly and seemed to feel that
he was right. The business was ended; the young wife had drunk to her
husband's health, some young wags had looked through the tripod to see
if the bride's head band was straight, and they were all crowding again
toward the dancing-floor, whence there still resounded inextinguishable
laughter and noise. Frederick was no longer there. He had met with a
great unbearable disgrace, when Aaron the Jew, a butcher and casual
second-hand dealer from the nearest town, had suddenly appeared, and,
after a short unsatisfactory conversation, had dunned him before the
whole company for the sum of ten thalers in payment of a watch delivered
at Eastertide. Frederick had gone away, as if annihilated, and the Jew
followed him, shouting all the while: "Oh, woe is me! Why didn't I
listen to sensible people! Didn't they tell me a hundred times you had
all your possessions on your back and no bread in your cupboard!" The
room shook with laughter. Some had pushed after them into the yard.
"Catch the Jew! Balance him against a pig!" called some; others had
become serious. "Frederick looked as white as a sheet," said an old
woman, and the crowd separated as the carriage of the lord of the estate
turned into the yard. Herr von S. was out of sorts on the way home, the
usual and inevitable effect when the desire to maintain popularity
induced him to attend such feasts. He looked out of the carriage
silently. "What two figures are those?" He pointed to two dark forms
running ahead of the wagon like two ostriches. Now they sneaked into the
castle. "Another blessed pair of swine out of our own pen!" sighed Herr
von S. Having arrived at home, he found the corridor crowded with all
the domestics standing around two lower-servants, who had sunk down pale
and breathless on the steps.
They declared that they had been chased by old Mergel's ghost, when they
were coming home through the forest of Brede. First they had heard a
rustling and crackling high above them, and then, up in the air, a
rattling noise like sticks beating against one another; then suddenly
had sounded a shrieking yell and quite distinctly the words, "O, my poor
soul!" coming down from on high. One of them even claimed to have seen
fiery eyes gleaming through the branches, and both had run as fast as
their legs could carry them.
"Stupid nonsense!" exclaimed the lord of the estate crossly, and went
into his room to change his clothes. The next morning the fountain in
the garden would not play, and it was discovered that some one had
removed a pipe, apparently to look for the head of a horse's skeleton
which had the reputation of being an attested instrument against any
wiles of witches or ghosts. "H'm," said Baron von S.; "what rogues do
not steal, fools destroy."
Three days later a frightful storm was raging. It was midnight, but
every one in the castle was out of bed. The Baron stood at the window
and looked anxiously out into the dark toward his fields. Leaves and
twigs flew against the panes; now and, then a brick fell and was dashed
to pieces on the pavement of the courtyard. "Terrible weather!" said
Herr von S. His wife looked out anxiously. "Are you sure the fire is
well banked?" she asked; "Gretchen, look again; if not, put it all out
with water! Come, let us read the Gospel of St. John." They all knelt
down and the lady of the house began: "In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." There was a terrible
clap of thunder. All started; then there was a terrible scream and noise
up the stairs. "For God's sake! Is something burning?" cried Frau von
S., and sank down with her face on the chair. The door burst open and in
rushed the wife of Aaron the Jew, pale as death, with her hair wildly
disheveled, dripping with rain. She threw herself on her knees before
the Baron. "Justice!" she cried, "Justice! My husband is murdered!" and
she fell in a faint.
It was only too true, and the ensuing investigation proved that Aaron
the Jew had lost his life by a single blow on the temples delivered by
some blunt instrument, probably a staff. On his left temple was the blue
mark; beyond that there was no other injury. The statement of the Jewess
and her servant, Samuel, ran thus: Three days ago Aaron had gone out in
the afternoon to buy cattle and had said at the time that he would
probably be gone overnight, because there were still several bad debtors
in B. and S., on whom he would call for payment; in this case he would
spend the night with the butcher, Solomon, in B. When he did not return
home the next day his wife had become greatly worried and had finally
set out at three o'clock in the afternoon with her servant and the big
butcher dog. At the house of Solomon the Jew, no one knew anything about
Aaron; he had not been there at all. Then they had gone to all the
peasants with whom they knew Aaron had intended to transact some
business. Only two had seen him, and those on the very day when he had
left home. Meanwhile it had become very late. Her great anxiety drove
the woman back home, where she cherished a faint hope of finding
her husband after all. They had been overtaken by the storm in the
Forest of Brede and had sought shelter under a great beech on the
mountain side. In the meantime the dog had been running about and acting
strangely, and had, in spite of repeated calling, finally run off into
the woods. Suddenly, during a lightning flash, the woman had seen
something white beside her on the moss. It was her husband's staff, and
almost at the same moment the dog had broken through the shrubbery with
something in his mouth; it was her husband's shoe. Before long they
found the Jew's body in a trench filled with dry leaves.
This was the report of the servant, supported only in general by the
wife; her intense agitation had subsided and her senses now seemed half
confused or, rather, blunted. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!"
These were her only words, which she at intervals ejaculated.
The same night the guards were summoned to take Frederick into custody.
They needed no warrant, because Herr von S. himself had been witness to
a scene which inevitably threw the strongest suspicion on him;
furthermore there was the ghost story of that night, the beating
together of the sticks in the forest of Brede, the scream from above.
Since the clerk of the court was at that time absent, Herr von S.
hastened everything faster than would otherwise have been done.
Nevertheless dawn was already breaking when the riflemen as quietly as
possible surrounded poor Margaret's house. The Baron himself knocked; it
was hardly a minute before the door was opened, and Margaret appeared,
fully dressed. Herr von S. started; he scarcely recognized her, so pale
and stony did she look. "Where is Frederick?" he asked in an unsteady
"Search for him!" she answered, and sat down on a chair. The Baron
hesitated a moment longer.
"Come in, come in," he then said roughly to the guards; "what are we
waiting for?" They stepped into Frederick's room. He was not there, but
the bed was still warm. They climbed to the garret, down the cellar,
examined the straw, looked behind every barrel, even into the oven; he
was not there. Some of them went into the garden, looked behind the
fence and up into the apple trees; he was not to be found.
"Escaped!" said the Baron with conflicting feelings; the sight of the
old woman made a strong impression on him. "Give me the key to that
trunk!" Margaret did not answer. "Give me the key," he repeated, and
noticed now for the first time that the key was already in the lock. The
contents of the trunk were brought into view--the fugitive's best Sunday
clothes and his mother's poor finery, then two shrouds with black
ribbons, one made for a man, the other for a woman. Herr von S. was
deeply affected. Under everything else, at the very bottom of the trunk,
lay the silver watch and some documents in a very legible hand, one of
these signed by a man who was strongly suspected of alliance with the
forest-thieves. Herr von S. took them along to examine them, and the
guards left the house without Margaret's giving another sign of life
than that of incessantly biting her lips and blinking her eyes.
Having arrived at the castle, the Baron found the court clerk, who had
returned the night before and declared he had slept through the whole
affair because his Honor had not sent for him. "You always come too
late," said Herr von S. crossly; "wasn't there any old woman in the
village to tell your maid about it? And why didn't they wake you up
"Your Honor," replied Kapp, "of course my Anne Marie learned of the
incident an hour before I did; but she knew that your Honor was
directing the matter yourself--and then," he added in a plaintive tone,
"that I was deathly tired!"
"A fine police force!" muttered the Baron. "Every old hag in the village
knows about a thing whenever it's supposed to be conducted in absolute
secrecy." Then he continued angrily: "He'd have indeed to be a stupid
devil of a criminal who would let himself be caught!"
Both were silent a moment. "My driver lost his way in the dark," began
the clerk again; "we were delayed over an hour in the wood; the weather
was awful; I thought the wind would blow the wagon over. At last, when
the rain slackened, we drove on in the name of God, heading toward the
Zellerfeld, unable to see our hands before our eyes. Then the coachman
said: 'If only we don't get too near the stone-quarries!' I was
frightened myself; I had him stop, and struck a light, to find some
comfort at least in my pipe. Suddenly we heard a bell ring very near,
perpendicularly under us. Your Honor will realize that I felt
dreadfully. I jumped out of the wagon, for one can trust one's own
limbs, but not those of a horse. So I stood in the mud and rain without
moving, until presently, thank God, it began to dawn. And where had we
stopped? Right near the Heerse ravine with the tower of Heerse directly
under us! If we had driven on twenty paces farther, we should all have
been children of Death."
"That was indeed no joke!" exclaimed the Baron, half conciliated.
Meanwhile he had examined the papers that he had taken along. They were
dunning letters for money lent, most of them from usurers. "I had not
thought," he muttered, "that the Mergels were so deeply in debt." "Yes,
and that it must come to light in this way," replied Kapp; "that will be
no little cause for vexation to Mistress Margaret."
"Oh, dear me, she does not think of that now!" With these words the
Baron arose and left the room to proceed together with Kapp to the
judicial examination of the body. The examination was short--death by
violence evident; the suspected criminal escaped; the evidence against
him very strong indeed, but not sufficient to establish his guilt
without a personal confession; his flight at all events very suspicious.
So the judicial investigation had to be closed without satisfactory
The Jews in the vicinity had manifested great interest. The widow's
house was never empty of mourners and advisers. Within the memory of man
never had so many Jews been seen together in L. Extremely embittered by
the murder of their co-religionist they had spared neither pains nor
money to trace the criminal. It is even known that one of them, commonly
called "Joel the Usurer," offered one of his customers, who owed him
many hundreds and whom he considered an especially sly fellow, remission
of the entire sum if he could help him to arrest Mergel; for the belief
was general among the Jews that the murderer could not have escaped
without efficient assistance, and was probably still in the vicinity.
When, nevertheless, all this did no good, and the judicial investigation
had been declared closed, a number of the most prominent Israelites
appeared in the castle the next morning to make a business proposition
to the gracious lord. The object was the beech-tree, under which Aaron's
staff had been found and where the murder had probably been committed.
"Do you want to hew it down, now that it is in full leaf?" asked the
"No, gracious Sir, it must remain standing winter and summer, as long as
there is a chip of it left."
"But then, if I should have the forest cut down, it would injure the
"Well, we do not want it for any ordinary price." They offered two
hundred thalers. The deal was made, and all the foresters were strictly
forbidden to injure the "Jew's Beech" in any way.
Soon after, about sixty Jews with a Rabbi at their head were seen going
toward the Forest of Brede, all silent, with their eyes cast down. They
stayed in the woods over an hour, and then returned just as seriously
and ceremoniously through the village of B. up to the Zellerfeld, where
they separated and each went his own way. The next morning there was a
Hebrew inscription carved on the oak with an axe:[Hebrew:]
And where was Frederick? Without doubt, gone, and far enough away to
find it no longer necessary to fear the short arms of such a weak
police force. Soon he was completely forgotten. His Uncle Simon seldom
spoke of him, and then ill. The Jew's wife finally consoled herself and
took another husband. Only poor Margaret remained without consolation.
About half a year afterward the lord of the estate read in the presence
of the court clerk some letters just received. "Remarkable, remarkable!"
he exclaimed. "Just think, Kapp, perhaps Mergel is innocent of the
murder. The chairman of the court of P. has just written me: 'Le vrai
n'est pas toujours vraisemblable' (Truth does not always bear the marks
of probability). I often find this out in my profession, and now I have
a new proof of it. Do you know that it is possible that your dear trusty
Frederick Mergel killed the Jew no more than you or I? Unfortunately
proofs are lacking, but the probability is great. A member of the
Schlemming band (which, by-the-by, we now have, for the most part, under
lock and key), named Ragged Moses, alleged in the last hearing that he
repented of nothing so much as of murdering one of his co-religionists,
Aaron, whom he had beaten to death in the woods, and had found only six
groschen on him.
"Unfortunately the examination was interrupted by the noon recess and,
while we were at lunch, the dog of a Jew hanged himself with a garter.
What do you say to that? Aaron is a common name, to be sure," etc.
"What do you say to that?" repeated the Baron; "and what reason then did
the fool of a fellow have for running away?"
The court clerk reflected. "Well, perhaps on account of the forest
thefts which we were just then investigating. Isn't it said: 'The wicked
man flees from his own shadow?' Mergel's conscience was dirty enough,
even without this spot."
With these considerations they let the matter drop. Frederick had gone,
disappeared; and John Nobody--poor, neglected John--with him on the same
day. A long, long time had passed--twenty-eight years, almost half a
lifetime. The Baron was grown very old and gray, and his good-natured
assistant, Kapp, had been long since buried. People, animals, and plants
had arisen, matured, passed away; only Castle B., gray and dignified as
of old, still looked down on the cottages which, like palsied old
people, always seemed about to fall, yet always kept their balance.
It was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1788.
The narrow passes were covered with snow, probably about twelve feet
deep, and the penetrating, frosty air froze the window panes in the
heated room. It was almost midnight, and yet faint lights flickered from
the snow mounds everywhere, and in every house the inmates were on their
knees awaiting in prayer the advent of the holy Christmas festival, as
is the custom in Catholic countries, or, at least, as was general in
those times. That night a figure moved slowly down from the heights of
Brede toward the village. The wanderer seemed to be very tired or sick;
he groaned heavily and dragged himself with extreme difficulty through
Half the way down he stopped, leaned on his staff, and gazed fixedly at
the lights. Everything was so quiet, so dead and cold; one could not
have helped thinking of will o' the wisps in cemeteries. At that moment
the clock struck twelve in the tower; as the last stroke died slowly
away, soft singing arose in the nearest house and, spreading from house
to house, ran through the whole village:
A little babe, a worthy child,
Was born to us today,
Of Mary Virgin undefiled;
We all rejoice and say:
Yea, had the Christ-child ne'er been born,
To lasting woe we'd all been sworn,
For He is our salvation.
O, thou our Jesus Christ adored,
A man in form but yet our Lord,
From Hell grant us Redemption.
The man on the mountain slope had sunk to his knees and with a trembling
voice made an effort to join in the song; it turned into nothing but
loud sobbing, and large hot drops fell on the snow. The second verse
began; he prayed along silently; then the third and the fourth. The song
was ended and the lights in the houses began to move. Then the man rose
laboriously and slunk slowly down to the village. He panted past several
houses, then stopped in front of one and knocked on the door softly.
"I wonder what that is!" said a woman's voice inside. "The door is
rattling, and there's no wind blowing!"
He knocked louder. "For God's sake, let in a half-frozen man, who comes
out of Turkish slavery!"
There was whispering in the kitchen. "Go to the inn," answered another
voice, "the fifth house from here!"
"In the name of our merciful God, let me in! I have no money."
After some delay the door opened. A man came out with a lighted lamp.
"Come right in," he then said; "you won't cut our heads off." In the
kitchen there were, besides the man, a middle-aged woman, an old mother,
and five children. All crowded around the newcomer and scrutinized him
with timid curiosity. A wretched figure! Wry-necked, with his back bent,
his whole body broken and powerless; long hair, white as snow, fell
about his face, which bore the distorted expression of long suffering.
The woman went silently to the hearth and added some fresh fagots. "A
bed we cannot give you," she said, "but I will make a good litter of
straw here; you'll have to make the best of that."
"God reward you!" answered the stranger; "indeed I am used to worse than
The man who had returned home was recognized as John Nobody, and he
himself avowed that it was he who had once fled with Frederick Mergel.
The next day the village was full of the adventures of the man who had
so long been forgotten. Everybody wanted to see the man from Turkey,
and they were almost surprised that he should still look like other
people. The young folks, to be sure, did not remember him, but the old
could still recognize his features perfectly, wretchedly disfigured
though he was.
"John, John, how gray you've grown!" said an old woman; "and where did
you get your wry neck?"
"From carrying wood and water in slavery," he replied. "And what has
become of Mergel? You ran away together, didn't you?"
"Yes, indeed; but I do not know where he is; we got separated. If you
think of him, pray for him," he added; "he probably needs it."
They asked him why Frederick had disappeared, inasmuch as he had not
murdered the Jew. "Not killed him!" said John, and listened intently
when they told him what the lord of the estate had purposely spread
abroad in order to erase the spot from Mergel's name. "So all was in
vain," he said musing, "all in vain--so much suffering!"
He sighed deeply and asked, on his part, about many things. He was told
that Simon had been dead a long while, but had first fallen into
complete poverty through lawsuits and bad debtors whom he could not sue
because, it was said, the business relations between them had been
questionable. Finally he had been reduced to begging and had died on the
straw in a strange barn. Margaret had lived longer, but in absolute
mental torpor. The people in the village had soon grown tired of helping
her, because she let everything that they gave her go to ruin; for it
is, after all, characteristic of people to abandon the most helpless,
those whom assistance does not relieve for any length of time and who
are and always will be in need of aid. Nevertheless she had not suffered
any actual want; the family of the Baron had cared for her, sent her
meals daily, and even provided medical treatment for her, when her
pitiable condition had developed into complete emaciation. In her house
now lived the son of the former swineherd, who had so admired
Frederick's watch on that unfortunate night.
"All gone, all dead!" sighed John.
In the evening, when it had grown dark and the moon was shining, he was
seen limping about the cemetery in the snow; he did not pray over any
one grave, nor did he go very close to any, but he seemed to gaze
fixedly at some of them from a distance. Thus he was found by Forester
Brandes, the son of the murdered forester, whom the Baron had sent to
bring John to the castle. Upon entering the living-room he looked about
him timidly, as though dazed by the light, and then at the Baron who was
sitting in his armchair; he had aged greatly but still had his old
bright eyes, and the little red cap was still on his head, as it had
been twenty-eight years ago; beside him was the Baroness, his wife, also
grown old, very old.
"Now, John," said the Baron, "do tell me all about your adventures.
But," as he surveyed him through his glasses, "you wasted away terribly
there in Turkey, didn't you?" John began telling how Mergel had called
him away from the hearth at night and said he must go away with him.
"But why did the foolish fellow ever run away?--I suppose you know that
he was innocent?"
John looked down.
"I don't know exactly; I think it was on account of some forest affairs.
Simon had all kinds of dealings, you know; they never told me anything
about it, but I do not believe everything was as it should have been."
"But what did Frederick tell you?"
"Nothing but that we must run away, that they were at our heels. So we
ran to Heerse; it was still dark then and we hid behind the big cross in
the churchyard until it grew somewhat lighter, because we were afraid of
the stone-quarries at Bellerfeld; and after we had been sitting a while
we suddenly heard snorting and stamping over us and saw long streaks of
fire in the air directly over the church-tower of Heerse. We jumped up
and ran straight ahead in the name of God as fast as we could, and, when
dawn arose, we were actually on the right road to P." John seemed to
shudder at the remembrance even now, and the Baron thought of his
departed Kapp and his adventures on the slope of Heerse.
"Remarkable!" he mused; "you were so near each other! But go ahead."
John now related how they had successfully passed through P. and across
the border, telling how, from that point, they had begged their way
through to Freiburg in Breisgau as itinerant workmen. "I had my
haversack with me, and Frederick a little bundle; so they believed us,"
he went on. In Freiburg they had been induced to enlist in the Austrian
army; he had not been wanted, but Frederick had insisted. So he was put
with the commissariat. "We stayed over the winter in Freiburg," he
continued, "and we got along pretty well; I did, too, because Frederick
often advised me and helped me when I did something wrong. In the spring
we had to march to Hungary, and in the fall the war with the Turks broke
out. I can't repeat very much about it because I was taken prisoner in
the very first encounter and from that time was a Turkish slave for
"God in Heaven, but that is terrible!" exclaimed Frau von S.
"Bad enough! The Turks consider us Christians no better than dogs; the
worst of it was that my strength left me with the hard work; I grew
older, too, and was still expected to do as in former years." He was
silent for a moment. "Yes," he then said, "it was beyond human strength
and human patience, and I was unable to endure it. From there I got on a
"But how did you get there?" asked the Baron.
"They fished me out of the Bosphorus," replied John. The Baron looked at
him in astonishment and raised his finger in warning; but John
continued. "On the vessel I did not fare much better. The scurvy broke
out; whoever was not absolutely helpless was compelled to work beyond
his strength, and the ship's tow ruled as severely as the Turkish whip.
At last," he concluded, "when we arrived in Holland, at Amsterdam, they
let me go free because I was useless, and the merchant to whom the ship
belonged sympathized with me, too, and wanted to make me his porter.
But," he shook his head, "I preferred to beg my way along back here."
"That was foolish enough!" said the Baron.
John sighed deeply. "Oh, sir, I had to spend my life among Turks and
heretics; should I not at least go to rest in a Catholic cemetery?"
The lord of the estate had taken out his purse. "Here, John, now go and
come back soon. You must tell me the whole story more in detail; today
it was a bit confused. I suppose you are still very tired."
"Very tired," replied John; "and"--he pointed to his forehead--"my
thoughts are at times so curious I cannot exactly tell how things are."
"I understand," said the baron; "that is an old story. Now, go.
Huelsmeyer will probably put you up for another night; come again
Herr von S. felt the deepest sympathy with the poor chap; by the next
day he had decided where to lodge him; he should take his meals in the
castle and his clothing could, of course, be provided for too. "Sir,"
said John, "I can still do something; I can make wooden spoons and you
can also send me on errands."
Herr von S. shook his head sympathetically. "But that wouldn't work so
"Oh, yes, sir, if once I get started--I can't move very fast, but I'll
get there somehow, and it won't be as hard as you might think, either."
"Well," said the Baron, doubtfully, "do you want to try it? Here is a
letter to P. There is no particular hurry." The next day John moved into
his little room in the house of a widow in the village. He carved
spoons, ate at the castle, and did errands for the Baron. On the whole
he was getting along tolerably well; the Baron's family was very kind,
and Herr von S. often conversed with him about Turkey, service in
Austria, and the ocean. "John could tell many things," he said to his
wife, "if he wasn't so downright simple."
"More melancholic than simple," she replied; "I am always afraid he'll
lose his wits some day."
"Not a bit of it," answered the Baron; "he's been a simpleton all his
life; simple people never go crazy." Some time after, John stayed away
much longer than usual on an errand. The good Frau von S. was greatly
worried and was already on the point of sending out people, when they
heard him limping up the stairs.
"You stayed out a long time, John," she said; "I was beginning to think
you had lost your way in the forest of Brede."
"I went through Fir-tree Hollow."
"Why, that's a long roundabout way! Why didn't you go through the Brede
He looked up at her sadly. "People told me the woods were cut down and
there were now so many paths this way and that way that I was afraid I
would not find my way out. I am growing old and shaky," he added slowly.
"Did you see," Frau von S. said afterwards to her husband, "what a
queer, squinting look there was in his eyes? I tell you, Ernest, there's
a bad ending in store for him!"
Meanwhile September was approaching. The fields were empty, the leaves
were beginning to fall, and many a hectic person felt the scissors on his
life's thread. John, too, seemed to be suffering under the influence of
the approaching equinox; those who saw him at this time said he looked
particularly disturbed and talked to himself incessantly--something which
he used to do at times, but not very often. At last one evening he did
not come home. It was thought the Baron had sent him somewhere. The
second day he was still not there. On the third his housekeeper grew
anxious. She went to the castle and inquired. "God forbid!" said the
Baron, "I know nothing of him; but, quick!--call the forester and his
son William! If the poor cripple," he added, in agitation, "has fallen
even into a dry pit, he cannot get out again. Who knows if he may not
even have broken one of his distorted limbs! Take the dogs along," he
called to the foresters on their way, "and, first of all, search in the
quarries; look among the stone-quarries," he called out louder.
The foresters returned home after a few hours; no trace had been found.
Herr von S. was restless. "When I think of such a man, forced to lie
like a stone and unable to help himself, I--but he may still be alive; a
man can surely hold out three days without food." He set out himself;
inquiry was made at every house, horns were blown everywhere, alarms
were sent out, and dogs set on the trail--in vain! A child had seen him
sitting at the edge of the forest of Brede, carving a spoon. "But he cut
it right in two," said the little girl. That had happened two days
before. In the afternoon there was another clue. Again a child had seen
him on the other side of the woods, where he had been sitting in the
shrubbery, with his face resting on his knees as though he were asleep.
That was only the day before. It seemed he had kept rambling about the
forest of Brede.
"If only that damned shrubbery weren't so dense! Not a soul can get
through it," said the Baron. The dogs were driven to the place where the
woods had just been cut down; the searching-party blew their horns and
hallooed, but finally returned home, dissatisfied, when they had
convinced themselves that the animals had made a thorough search of the
whole forest. "Don't give up! Don't give up!" begged Frau von S. "It's
better to take a few steps in vain than to leave anything undone." The
Baron was almost as worried as she; his restlessness even drove him to
John's room, although he was sure not to find him there. He had the room
of the lost man opened. Here stood his bed still in disorder as he had
left it; there hung his good coat which the Baroness had had made for
him out of the Baron's old hunting-suit; on the table lay a bowl, six
new wooden spoons, and a box. Herr von S. opened the box; five groschen
lay in it, neatly wrapped in paper, and four silver vest-buttons. The
Baron examined them with interest. "A remembrance from Mergel," he
muttered, and stepped out, for he felt quite oppressed in the musty,
close room. The search was continued until they had convinced themselves
that John was no longer in the vicinity--at least, not alive.
So, then, he had disappeared for the second time! Would they ever find
him again--perhaps some time, after many years, find his bones in a dry
pit? There was little hope of seeing him again alive, or, at all events,
certainly not after another twenty-eight years.
One morning two weeks later young Brandes was passing through the forest
of Brede, on his way from inspecting his preserve. The day was unusually
warm for that time of the year; the air quivered; not a bird was
singing; only the ravens croaked monotonously in the branches and opened
their beaks to the air. Brandes was very tired. He took off his cap,
heated through by the sun; and then he put it on again; but one way was
as unbearable as another, and working his way through the knee-high
underbrush was very laborious. Round about there was not a single tree
save the "Jew's beech"; for that he made, therefore, with all his might,
and stretched himself on the shady moss under it, tired to death. The
coolness penetrated to his limbs so soothingly that he closed his eyes.
"Foul mushrooms!" he muttered, half asleep. There is, you must know, in
that region a species of very juicy mushrooms which live only a few days
and then shrivel up and emit an insufferable odor. Brandes thought he
smelt some of these unpleasant neighbors; he looked around him several
times, but did not feel like getting up; meanwhile his dog leaped about,
scratched at the trunk of the beech, and barked at the tree. "What have
you there, Bello? A cat?" muttered Brandes. He half opened his lids and
the Hebrew inscription met his eye, much distorted but still quite
legible. He shut his eyes again; the dog kept on barking and finally put
his cold nose against his master's face.
"Let me alone! What's the matter with you, anyway?" Brandes was lying on
his back, looking up; suddenly he jumped up with a bound and sprang into
the thicket like one possessed.
Pale as death he reached the castle; a man was hanging in the "Jew's
Beech-tree"; he had seen his limbs suspended directly above his face.
"And you did not cut him down, you fool?" cried the Baron.
"Sir," gasped Brandes, "if Your Honor had been there you would have
realized that the man is no longer alive. At first I thought it was the
mushrooms!" Nevertheless Herr von S. urged the greatest haste, and went
out there himself.
They had arrived beneath the beech. "I see nothing," said Herr von S.
"You must step over there, right here on this spot!" Yes, it was true;
the Baron recognized his own old shoes. "God, it is John! Prop up the
ladder!--so--now down--gently, gently! Don't let him fall! Good heaven,
the worms are at him already! But loose the knot anyway, and his
necktie!" A broad scar was visible; the Baron drew back. "Good God!" he
said; he bent over the body again, examined the scar with great care,
and in his intense agitation was silent for some time. Then he turned to
the foresters. "It is not right that the innocent should suffer for the
guilty; just tell everybody this man here"--he pointed to the dead
body--"was Frederick Mergel."
The body was buried in the potter's field.
As far as all main events are concerned, this actually happened during
the month of September in the year 1789.
The Hebrew inscription on the tree read: "When thou comest near this
spot, thou wilt suffer what thou didst to me."
* * * * *
THE DURATION OF LOVE (1831)
Oh! love while Love is left to thee;
Oh! love while Love is yet thine own;
The hour will come when bitterly
Thou'lt mourn by silent graves, alone!
And let thy breast with kindness glow,
And gentle thoughts within thee move,
While yet a heart, through weal and woe,
Beats to thine own in faithful love.
And who to thee his heart doth bare,
Take heed thou fondly cherish him;
And gladden thou his every hour,
And not an hour with sorrow dim!
And guard thy lips and keep them still;
Too soon escapes an angry word.
"O God! I did not mean it ill!"
But yet he sorrowed as he heard.
Oh! love while Love is left to thee;
Oh! love while Love is yet thine own;
The hour will come when bitterly
Thou'lt mourn by silent graves, alone.
Unheard, unheeded then, alas!
Kneeling, thou'lt hide thy streaming eyes
Amid the long, damp, churchyard grass,
Where, cold and low, thy loved one lies,
And murmur: "Oh, look down on me,
Mourning my causeless anger still;
Forgive my hasty word to thee--
O God! I did not mean it ill!"
He hears not now thy voice to bless,
In vain thine arms are flung to heaven!
And, hushed the loved lip's fond caress,
It answers not: "I _have_ forgiven!"
He _did_ forgive--long, long ago!
But many a burning tear he shed
O'er thine unkindness--softly now!
He slumbers with the silent dead.
Oh! love while Love is left to thee;
Oh! love while Love is yet thine own;
The hour will come when bitterly
Thou'lt mourn by silent graves--alone!
* * * * *
THE EMIGRANTS (1832)
I cannot take my eyes away
From you, ye busy, bustling band,
Your little all to see you lay
Each in the waiting boatman's hand.
Ye men, that from your necks set down
Your heavy baskets on the earth,
Of bread, from German corn baked brown,
By German wives, on German hearth.
And you, with braided tresses neat,
Black Forest maidens, slim and brown,
How careful, on the sloop's green seat,
You set your pails and pitchers down.
[Illustration: J.P. HASENCLEVER FERDINAND FREILIGRATH]
Ah! oft have home's cool shady tanks
Those pails and pitchers filled for you;
By far Missouri's silent banks
Shall these the scenes of home renew--
The stone-rimmed fount, in village street,
Where oft ye stooped to chat and draw--
The hearth, and each familiar seat--
The pictured tiles your childhood saw.
Soon, in the far and wooded West
Shall log-house walls therewith be graced;
Soon, many a tired, tawny guest
Shall sweet refreshment from them taste.
From them shall drink the Cherokee,
Faint with the hot and dusty chase;
No more from German vintage, ye
Shall bear them home, in leaf-crowned grace.
Oh say, why seek ye other lands?
The Neckar's vale hath wine and corn;
Full of dark firs the Schwarzwald stands;
In Spessart rings the Alp-herd's horn.
Ah, in strange forests you will yearn
For the green mountains of your home;
To Deutschland's yellow wheat-fields turn;
In spirit o'er her vine-hills roam.
How will the form of days grown pale
In golden dreams float softly by,
Like some old legendary tale,
Before fond memory's moistened eye!
The boatman calls--go hence in peace!
God bless you, wife and child, and sire!
Bless all your fields with rich increase,
And crown each faithful heart's desire!
* * * * *
THE LION'S RIDE  (1834)
King of deserts reigns the lion; will he through his realm go riding,
Down to the lagoon he paces, in the tall sedge there lies hiding.
Where gazelles and camelopards drink, he crouches by the shore;
Ominous, above the monster, moans the quivering sycamore.
When, at dusk, the ruddy hearth-fires in the Hottentot kraals are
And the motley, changeful signals on the Table Mountain growing
Dim and distant--when the Caffre sweeps along the lone karroo--
When in the bush the antelope slumbers, and beside the stream the gnu--
Lo! majestically stalking, yonder comes the tall giraffe,
Hot with thirst, the gloomy waters of the dull lagoon to quaff;
O'er the naked waste behold her, with parched tongue, all panting
Now she sucks the cool draught, kneeling, from the stagnant, slimy basin.
Hark, a rustling in the sedges! with a roar, the lion springs
On her back now. What a race-horse! Say, in proudest stalls of kings,
Saw one ever richer housings than the courser's motley hide,
On whose back the tawny monarch of the beasts tonight will ride?
Fixed his teeth are in the muscles of the nape, with greedy strain;
Round the giant courser's withers waves the rider's yellow mane.
With a hollow cry of anguish, leaps and flies the tortured steed;
See her, how with skin of leopard she combines the camel's speed!
See, with lightly beating footsteps, how she scours the moonlit plains!
From their sockets start the eyeballs; from the torn and bleeding veins,
Fast the thick, black drops come trickling, o'er the brown and dappled
And the flying beast's heart-beatings audible the stillness make.
Like the cloud, that, guiding Israel through the land of Yemen, shone,
Like a spirit of the desert, like a phantom, pale and wan,
O'er the desert's sandy ocean, like a waterspout at sea,
Whirls a yellow, cloudy column, tracking them where'er they flee.
On their track the vulture follows, flapping, croaking, through the air,
And the terrible hyena, plunderer of tombs, is there;
Follows them the stealthy panther--Cape-town's folds have known him well;
Them their monarch's dreadful pathway, blood and sweat full plainly tell.
On his living throne, they, quaking, see their ruler sitting there,
With sharp claw the painted cushion of his seat they see him tear.
Restless the giraffe must bear him on, till strength and life-blood fail
Mastered by such daring rider, rearing, plunging, naught avail her.
To the desert's verge she staggers--sinks--one groan--and all is o'er.
Now the steed shall feast the rider, dead, and smeared with dust and
Far across, o'er Madagascar, faintly now the morning breaks;
Thus the king of beasts his journey nightly through his empire makes.
* * * * *
THE SPECTRE-CARAVAN (1835)
'Twas at midnight, in the Desert, where we rested on the ground;
There my Bedouins were sleeping, and their steeds were stretched around;
In the farness lay the moonlight on the mountains of the Nile,
And the camel-bones that strewed the sands for many an arid mile.
With my saddle for a pillow did I prop my weary head,
And my caftan-cloth unfolded o'er my limbs was lightly spread,
While beside me, both as Captain and as watchman of my band,
Lay my Bazra sword and pistols twain a-shimmering on the sand.
And the stillness was unbroken, save at moments by a cry
From some stray belated vulture sailing blackly down the sky,
Or the snortings of a sleeping steed at waters fancy-seen,
Or the hurried warlike mutterings of some dreaming Bedouin.
When, behold!--a sudden sandquake--and atween the earth and moon
Rose a mighty Host of Shadows, as from out some dim lagoon;
Then our coursers gasped with terror, and a thrill shook every man,
And the cry was "_Allah Akbar_!--'tis the Spectre-Caravan!"
On they came, their hueless faces toward Mecca evermore;
On they came, long files of camels, and of women whom they bore;
Guides and merchants, youthful maidens, bearing pitchers like Rebecca,
And behind them troops of horsemen, dashing, hurrying on to Mecca!
More and more! the phantom-pageant overshadowed all the Plains,
Yea, the ghastly camel-bones arose, and grew to camel-trains;
And the whirling column-clouds of sand to forms in dusky garbs,
Here, afoot as Hadjee pilgrims--there, as warriors on their barbs!
Whence we knew the Night was come when all whom Death had sought and
Long ago amid the sands whereon their bones yet bleach around,
Rise by legions from the darkness of their prisons low and lone,
And in dim procession march to kiss the Kaaba's Holy Stone.
More and more! the last in order have not passed across the plain,
Ere the first with slackened bridle fast are flying back again.
From Cape Verde's palmy summits, even to Bab-el-Mandeb's sands,
They have sped ere yet my charger, wildly rearing, breaks his bands!
Courage! hold the plunging horses; each man to his charger's head!
Tremble not as timid sheep-flocks tremble at the lion's tread.
Fear not, though yon waving mantles fan you as they hasten on;
Call on _Allah_! and the pageant, ere you look again, is gone!
Patience! till the morning breezes wave again your turban's plume;
Morning air and rosy dawning are their heralds to the tomb.
Once again to dust shall daylight doom these Wand'rers of the night;
See, it dawns!--A joyous welcome neigh our horses to the light!
* * * * *
[Illustration: DUSK ON THE DEAD SEA EUGEN BRACHT]
HAD I AT MECCA'S GATE BEEN NOURISHED (1836)
Had I at Mecca's gate been nourished,
Or dwelt on Yemen's glowing sand,
Or from my youth in Sinai flourished,
A sword were now within this hand.
Then would I ride across the mountains
Until to Jethro's land I came,
And rest my flock beside the fountains
Where once the bush broke forth in flame.
And ever with the evening's coolness
My kindred to the tent would throng,
When verses with impassioned fulness
Would stream from me in glowing song.
The treasure of my lips would dower
A mighty tribe, a mighty land,
And as with a magician's power
I'd rule, a monarch, 'mid the sand.
My list'ners are a nomad nation,
To whom the desert's voice is dear;
Who dread the simoon's devastation
And fall before his wrath in fear.
All day they gallop, never idle--
Save by the spring--till set of sun;
They dash with loosely swaying bridle
From Aden unto Lebanon.
At night upon the earth reclining
They watch amid their sleeping herds,
And read the scroll of heaven, shining
With golden-lettered mystic words.
They often hear strange voices mutter
From Sinai's earthquake-shattered, height,
While desert phantoms rise and flutter
In wreaths of smoke before their sight.
See!--through yon fissure deep and dim there
The demon's forehead glows amain,
For as with me so 'tis with him there--
In the skull's cavern seethes the brain.
Oh, land of tents and arrows flying!
Oh, desert people brave and wise!
Thou Arab on thy steed relying,--
A poem in fantastic guise!
Here in the dark I roam so blindly--
How cunning is the North, and cold!
Oh, for the East, the warm and kindly,
To sing and ride, a Bedouin bold!
* * * * *
WILD FLOWERS (1840)
Alone I strode where the broad Rhine flowed,
The hedge with roses was covered,
And wondrous rare through all the air
The scent of the vineyards hovered.
The cornflowers blue, the poppies too,
Waved in the wheat so proudly!
From a cliff near-by the joyous cry
Of a falcon echoed loudly.
Then I thought ere long of the old love song:
Ah, would that I were a falcon!
With its melody as a falcon free,
And daring, too, as a falcon.
As I sang, thought I: Toward the sun I'll fly,
The very tune shall upbear me
To her window small with a bolt in the wall,
Where I'll beat till she shall hear me.
Where the rose is brave, and curtains wave,
And ships by the bank are lying,
Two brown eyes dream o'er the lazy stream--
Oh, thither would I be flying!
With talons long and strange wild song
I'd perch me at her feet then,
Or bold I'd spread my wings o'er her head,
And gladly we should greet then.
Though I gaily sang and gaily sprang,
No pinions had I to aid me;
I took my path through the corn in wrath--
So restless my love had made me.
Then branch and tree all ruthlessly
I stripped, nor ceased from my ranting
Till with hands all torn and heart forlorn
I sank down, weary and panting.
While I heard the sound from all around
Of frolicking lads and lasses,
Alone for hours I gathered flowers
And bound them together with grasses.
O crude bouquet, O rude bouquet!--
Though many a girl despise it,
Yet come there may the happy day
When thou, my love, shalt prize it.
In fitting place it well might grace
An honest farmer's dwelling
These cornflowers mild and poppies wild,
With others past my telling;
The osier fine, the blossoming vine,
The meadow-sweetening clover--
All vagrant stuff, and like enough
To him, thy vagrant lover.
His dark eye beams, his visage gleams,
His clenched hand--how it trembles!
His fierce blood burns, his mad heart yearns,
His brow the storm resembles.
He breathes oppressed, with laboring breast--
His weeds and he rejected!
His flowers, oh, see!--shall they and he
Lie here at thy door neglected?
* * * * *
[Illustration: DEATH ON THE BARRICADE ALFRED RETHEL]
THE DEAD TO THE LIVING (July, 1848)
The bullet in the marble breast, the gash upon the brow,
You raised us on the bloody planks with wild and wrathful vow!
High in the air you lifted us, that every writhe of pain
Might be an endless curse to _him_, at whose word we were slain;
That he might see us in the gloom, or in the daylight's shine,
Whether he turns his Bible's leaf, or quaffs his foaming wine;
That the dread memory on his soul should evermore be burned,
A wasting and destroying flame within its gloom inurned;
That every mouth with pain convulsed, and every gory wound,
Be round him in the terror-hour, when his last bell shall sound;
That every sob above us heard smite shuddering on his ear;
That each pale hand be clenched to strike, despite his dying fear--
Whether his sinking head still wear its mockery of a crown,
Or he should lay it, bound, dethroned, on bloody scaffold down!
Thus, with the bullet in the breast, the gash upon the brow,
You laid us at the altar's foot, with deep and solemn vow!
"Come down!" ye cried--he trembling came--even to our bloody bed;
"Uncover!" and 'twas tamely done!--(like a mean puppet led,
Sank he whose life had been a farce, with fear unwonted shaken).
Meanwhile his army fled the field, which, dying, we had taken!
Loudly in "_Jesus, thou my trust_!" the anthem'd voices peal;
Why did the victor-crowds forget the sterner trust of steel?
That morning followed on the night when we together fell,
And when ye made our burial, there was triumph in the knell!
Though crushed behind the barricades, and scarred in every limb,
The pride of conscious Victory lay on our foreheads grim!
We thought: the price is dearly paid, but the treasures _must_ be true,
And rested calmly in the graves we swore to fill for you!
Alas! for you--we were deceived! Four moons have scarcely run,
Since cowardly you've forfeited what we so bravely won!
Squandered and cast to every wind the gain our death had brought!
Aye, all, we know--each word and deed our spirit-ears have caught!
Like waves came thundering every sound of wrong the country through:
The foolish war with Denmark! Poland betrayed anew!
The vengeance of Vendean men in many a province stern!
The calling back of banished troops! The Prince's base return!
Wherever barricades were built, the lock on press and tongue!
On the free right of all debate, the daily-practised wrong!
The groaning clang of prison-doors in North and South afar!
For all who plead the People's right, Oppression's ancient bar!
The bond with Russia's Cossacks! The slander fierce and loud,
Alas! that has become your share, instead of laurels proud--
Ye who have borne the hardest brunt, that Freedom might advance,
Victorious in defeat and death--June-warriors of France!
Yes, wrong and treason everywhere, the Elbe and Rhine beside,
And beat, oh German men! your hearts, with calm and sluggish tide?
_No war within your apron's folds_? Out with it, fierce and bold!
The second, final war with all who Freedom would withhold!
Shout: "The Republic!" till it drowns the chiming minster bells,
Whose sound this swindle of your rights by crafty Austria tells!
In vain! 'Tis time your faltering hands should disentomb us yet,
And lift us on the planks, begirt with many a bayonet;
Not to the palace-court, as then, that _he_ may near us stand--
No; to the tent, the market-place, and through the wakening land!
Out through the broad land bear us--the dead Insurgents sent,
To join, upon our ghastly biers, the German Parliament.
Oh solemn sight! there we should lie, the grave-earth on each brow,
And faces sunken in decay--the proper Regents now!
There we should lie and say to you: "Ere we could waste away,
Your Freedom-gift, ye archons brave, is rotting in decay!
The Corn is housed which burst the sod, when the March sun on us shone,
But before all other harvests was Freedom's March-seed mown!
Chance poppies, which the sickle spared, among the stubbles stand;
Oh, would that Wrath, the crimson Wrath, thus blossomed in the land!"
And yet, it _does_ remain; it springs behind the reaper's track;
Too much had been already gained, too much been stolen back;
Too much of scorn, too much of shame, heaped daily on your head--
Wrath and Revenge _must_ still be left, believe it, from the Dead!
It _does_ remain, and it awakes--it shall and must awake!
The Revolution, half complete, yet wholly forth will break.
It waits the hour to rise in power, like an up-rolling storm,
With lifted arms and streaming hair--a wild and mighty form!
It grasps the rusted gun once more, and swings the battered blade,
While the red banners flap the air from every barricade!
Those banners lead the German Guards--the armies of the Free--
Till Princes fly their blazing thrones and hasten towards the sea!
The boding eagles leave the land--the lion's claws are shorn--
The sovereign People, roused and bold, await the Future's morn!
Now, till the wakening hour shall strike, we keep our scorn and wrath
For you, ye Living! who have dared to falter on your path!
Up, and prepare--_keep watch in arms!_ Oh, make the German sod,
Above our stiffened forms, all free, and blest by Freedom's God;
That this one bitter thought no more disturb us in our graves:
"_They once were free--they fell--and now, forever they are Slaves!_"
* * * * *
HURRAH, GERMANIA! (July 25, 1870)
Hurrah! thou lady proud and fair,
Hurrah! Germania mine!
What fire is in thine eye, as there
Thou bendest o'er the Rhine!
How in July's full blaze dost thou
Flash forth thy sword, and go,
With heart elate and knitted brow,
To strike the invader low!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
No thought hadst thou, so calm and light,
Of war or battle plain,
But on thy broad fields, waving bright,
Didst mow the golden grain,
With clashing sickles, wreaths of corn,
Thy sheaves didst garner in,
When, hark! across the Rhine War's horn
Breaks through the merry din!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Down sickle then and wreath of wheat
Amidst the corn were cast,
And, starting fiercely to thy feet,
Thy heart beat loud and fast;
Then with a shout I heard thee call:
"Well, since you will, you may!
Up, up, my children, one and all,
On to the Rhine! Away!"
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
From port to port the summons flew,
Rang o'er our German wave;
The Oder on her harness drew,
The Elbe girt on her glaive;
Neckar and Weser swell the tide,
Main flashes to the sun,
Old feuds, old hates are dash'd aside,
All German men are one!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Suabian and Prussian, hand in hand,
North, South, one host, one vow!
"What is the German's Fatherland?"
Who asks that question now?
One soul, one arm, one close-knit frame,
One will are we today;
Hurrah, Germania! thou proud dame,
Oh, glorious time, hurrah!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Germania now, let come what may,
Will stand unshook through all;
This is our country's festal day;
Now woe betide thee, Gaul!
Woe worth the hour a robber thrust
Thy sword into thy hand!
A curse upon him that we must
Unsheathe our German brand!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
For home and hearth, for wife and child,
For all loved things that we
Are bound to keep all undefiled
From foreign ruffianry!
For German right, for German speech,
For German household ways,
For German homesteads, all and each,
Strike home through battle's blaze!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Up, Germans, up, with God! The die
Clicks loud--we wait the throw!
Oh, who may think without a sigh
What blood is doom'd to flow?
Yet, look thou up, with fearless heart!
Thou must, thou shalt prevail!
Great, glorious, free as ne'er thou wert,
All hail, Germania, hail!
* * * * *
THE TRUMPET OF GRAVELOTTE (Aug. 16, 1870)
Death and Destruction they belched forth in vain,
We grimly defied their thunder;
Two columns of foot and batteries twain,
We rode and cleft them asunder.
With brandished sabres, with reins all slack,
Raised standards, and low-couched lances,
Thus we Uhlans and Cuirassiers wildly drove back,
And hotly repelled their advances.
But the ride was a ride of death and of blood;
With our thrusts we forced them to sever;
But of two whole regiments, lusty and good,
Out of two men, one rose never.
With breast shot through, with brow gaping wide,
They lay pale and cold in the valley,
Snatched away in their youth, in their manhood's pride--
Now, Trumpeter, sound to the rally!
And he took the trumpet, whose angry thrill
Urged us on to the glorious battle,
And he blew a blast--but all silent and still
Was the trump, save a dull hoarse rattle,
Save a voiceless wail, save a cry of woe,
That burst forth in fitful throbbing--
A bullet had pierced its metal through,
For the Dead the wounded was sobbing!
For the faithful, the brave, for our brethren all,
For the Watch on the Rhine, true-hearted!
Oh, the sound cut into our inmost soul!--
It brokenly wailed the Departed!
And now fell the night, and we galloped past,
Watch-fires were flaring and flying,
Our chargers snorted, the rain poured fast--
And we thought of the Dead and the Dying!
* * * * *
MORITZ GRAF VON STRACHWITZ
DOUGLAS OF THE BLEEDING HEART (1842)
Earl Douglas, don thy helm so bright,
And buckle thy sword with speed,