Part 4 out of 11
mentioned, and, when she had reached the end of her list, said:
"As far as the others are concerned, they do not live with us and I have
no authority over them. If they are base enough to refuse to do their
duty and to meet their obligations, then simply strike out the names of
the scamps, for you can never get anything out of a peasant by a
law-suit. But as against those who live in our precinct, I will help you
to secure your rights. We still have means of accomplishing that."
"Oho, Squire!" said one of the peasants to him, half-aloud. "You talk as
if you always carried the rope around with you in your coat-sleeve. When
is the secret court to be held?"
"Be still, tree-warden!" interrupted the old man with earnestness.
"Sneering remarks like that might get you into trouble!"
The man addressed was disconcerted; he cast down his eyes and made no
reply. Lisbeth thanked the old man for his offer of help, and inquired
about the roads and paths to the other peasants whose names she still
had left on her writing-tablet. The Justice pointed out to her the
shortest way to the nearest farm, which led across the Priests' Meadow,
past the three mills and over the Holle Hills. When she had put on her
straw hat, taken her staff, expressed her thanks for the hospitality
shown her, and had thus made herself ready to leave, he begged her to
make her arrangements such that on her return she could stay for the
wedding and a day thereafter. He hoped that he would be able to give her
by that time definite assurance in regard to the rents, or, perhaps,
even to give her the money itself to take home with her.
When the young girl's slender and graceful form had disappeared behind
the last walnut-trees at the farther end of the orchard, the peasants
broached the subject which had brought them to the Justice. The building
of a new road, which was to establish a connection with the main
highway, threatened, if the idea were carried out, to deprive them of a
few strips of their land over which it was necessary to lay the new
road. Against this loss, although the project would redound to the
advantage of all the surrounding peasantry, they were anxious to protect
themselves; and how to avert it was the question about which they were
anxious to secure the advice of the owner of the Oberhof.
"Good day! How are you?" called out a voice, well known in this
locality. A pedestrian, a man in respectable attire, but covered with
dust from his gray gaiters to his green, visored cap, had entered
through the gate and approached the table, unnoticed at first by the
"Ah, Mr. Schmitz, so we see you too, once more, eh?" said the old
peasant very cordially, and he had the servant bring the fatigued man
the best there was in the wine-cellar. The peasants politely moved
closer together to make room for the new arrival. They insisted upon
his sitting down, and he lowered himself into a chair with great care
and deliberation, so as not to break what he was carrying. And this
procedure was indeed very necessary, for the man was loaded down like an
express-wagon, and the outlines of his form resembled a conglomeration
of bundles tied together. Not only did his coat-pockets, which were
crammed full of all sorts of round, square and oblong objects, bulge out
from his body in an astonishing manner, but also his breast and side
pockets, which were used for the same purpose, protruded in a manifold
variety of swellings and eminences, which stuck out all the more sharply
as the Collector, in order not to lose any of his treasures, had, in
spite of the summer heat, buttoned his coat tightly together. Even the
inside of his cap had been obliged to serve for the storing of several
smaller articles, and had acquired from its contents the shape and
semblance of a watermelon. He sipped, with manifest relish, the good
wine that was put before him, and his elderly countenance, bloated and
reddened with heat and fatigue, gradually acquired its natural color and
"Been doing good business, Mr. Schmitz?" inquired the Justice, smiling.
"Judging from appearances, one might think so."
"Oh, fairly good," replied the Collector. "There is a rich blessing
hidden in the dear earth. It not only brings forth corn and vegetables
constantly and untiringly--an alert searcher may secure a harvest of
antiquities from it all the time, no matter how much other people have
scratched and dug for them. So I have once more taken my little trip
through the country, and this time I got as far as the border of the
Sieg valley. I am on my way back now and intend to go on as far as the
city today. But I had to stop over a while at your place on the way,
Justice, in order to rest myself a bit, for I am certainly tired."
"What are you bringing with you?" asked the Justice.
The Collector tapped gently and affectionately on all the swellings and
protuberances of his various pockets, and said:
"Oh, well, some very nice things--all sorts of curiosities. A
battle-axe, a pair of thunderbolts, some heathen rings--beautiful things
all covered with green rust--ash-urns, tear-bottles, three idols and a
pair of valuable lamps." He struck the nape of his neck with the back of
his hand and continued: "And I also have here with me a perfectly
preserved piece of bronze--I had no other place to put it, so I tied it
fast here on my back under my coat. Well, it will probably not look
amiss, once it is all cleaned up and given its proper place."
The peasants displayed some curiosity to see a few of the articles, but
old Schmitz declared himself unable to satisfy it, because the
antiquities were so carefully packed and put away with such ingenious
use of every bit of space that it would be difficult, if it were once
taken out, to get the entire load back in again. The Justice said
something into the servant's ear, and the latter went into the house. In
the meanwhile the Collector told in detail all about the places where he
had come across the various acquisitions; then he moved his chair nearer
to his host and said confidentially:
"But what is by far the most important discovery of this trip--I have
now really found the actual place where Hermann defeated Varus!"
"You don't mean it?" replied the Justice, pushing his cap back and
"They have all been on the wrong track--Clostermeier, Schmid, and
whatever the names of the other people may be who have written about
it!" cried the Collector ardently. "They have always thought that Varus
withdrew in the direction of Aliso--the exact situation of which no man
has ever discovered--well, anyway, in a northerly direction, and in
accordance with that theory the battle is supposed to have taken place
between the sources of the Lippe and the Ems, near Detmold, Lippspring,
Paderborn, and God knows where else!"
The Justice said: "I think that Varus had to try with all his might to
reach the Rhine, and that he could have done only by gaining the open
country. The battle is said to have lasted three days, and in that
length of time you can march a good distance. Hence I am rather of the
opinion that the attack in the mountains which surround our plain did
not take place very far from here."
"Wrong, wrong, Justice!" cried the Collector. "Here below everything was
occupied and blocked up by the Cherusci, Catti, and Sigambri. No the
battle was much farther south, near the region of the Ruhr, not far from
Arnsberg. Varus had to push his way through the mountains, he had no
egress anywhere, and his mind was bent on reaching the middle Rhine,
whither the road leads diagonally across Sauerland. That is what I have
always thought, and now I have discovered the most unmistakable evidence
of it. Close by the Ruhr I found the bronze and bought the three idols,
and a man from the village told me that hardly an hour's walk from there
was a place in the woods among the mountains where an enormous quantity
of bones were piled up in the sand and gravel. Ha! I exclaimed, the day
is beginning to break. I went out there with a few peasants, had them
excavate a little, and, behold! we came across bones to my heart's
content. So that is the place where Germanicus had the remnants of the
Roman legions buried six years after the battle of Teutoburg Wood, when
he directed his last expeditions against Hermann. And I have therefore
discovered the right battlefield."
"Bones do not ordinarily preserve themselves for a thousand years and
more," said the Justice, shaking his head doubtfully.
"They have become petrified among the minerals there," said the
collector angrily. "I'll have to put an evidence of my theory in your
hand--here is one I have brought with me." He drew forth a large bone
from his shirt and held it before his opponent's eyes. "Now, what do
you call that?" he asked triumphantly.
The peasants stared at the bone in amazement. The Justice, after he had
examined it, replied: "A cow's bone, Mr. Schmitz! You discovered a
carrion-pit, not the battlefield of Teutoburg."
The Collector indignantly put the discredited antiquity back into its
place and uttered a few violent imprecations, to which the old peasant
knew the most effective way to reply. It seemed as if a quarrel might
ensue between the two men, but as a matter of fact the appearances were
of no significance. For it was a common thing for them, whenever they
got together, to disagree about this and similar matters. But in spite
of these controversies they always remained good friends. The Collector,
who, in order to follow up his hobbies, even begrudged himself bread,
was in the habit all the year round of feeding himself for weeks at a
time out of the full meat-pots of the Oberhof, and in return for it he
helped along his host's business by doing all kinds of writing for him.
For the Collector had formerly been, by profession, a sworn and
matriculated Imperial Notary.
Finally, after a great deal of fruitless argument on both sides, the
Justice said: "I won't wrangle with you over the battlefield, although I
still persist in my belief that Hermann defeated Varus somewhere around
this neighborhood. As a matter of fact it doesn't make any particular
difference to me where it happened--the question is one for the
scholars. For if the other Roman general, six years afterwards, as you
have often told me, marched into this region with another army, then the
whole battle had but little significance."
"You don't know anything about it!" exclaimed the Collector. "The
present existence and position of Germany rests entirely upon the battle
won by Hermann. If it had not been for Hermann 'the liberator,' you
would not be occupying these extensive premises now, marked off by your
hedges and stakes. But you people simply live along from one day to the
next, and have no use for history and antiquity."
"Oho, Mr. Schmitz, you do me great injustice there," replied the old
peasant proudly. "God knows what pleasure it gives me to sit down of a
winter evening and read the chronicles and histories, and you yourself
know that I treat the sword of Carolus Magnus (the old man pronounced
the second syllable long), which has now for a thousand years and more
been in the possession of the Oberhof, as I do the apple of my eye, and
"The sword of Charles the Great!" exclaimed the Collector scornfully.
"Friend, is it impossible to get these notions out of your head?
"I say and maintain that it is the genuine and actual sword of Carolus
Magnus with which he here at the Oberhof located and established the
'Freemen's Tribunal.' And even today the sword still performs and
fulfils its office, although nothing further may be said about it." The
old man uttered these words with an expression on his features and a
gesture which had something sublime in them.
"And I say and maintain that all that is sheer nonsense!" exclaimed the
Collector with emphasis. "I have examined the old toasting-iron no less
than a hundred times, and it isn't five hundred years old! It comes down
perhaps from the time of the feud of Soest, when very likely one of the
Archbishop's cavalrymen crawled into the bushes here and left it."
"The devil take you!" cried the Justice, pounding his fist on the table.
Then he mumbled softly to himself "Just wait; you'll get your punishment
for that this very day!"
The servant came out of the door. He was carrying a terra-cotta jug with
a rather large circumference and a strange, exotic appearance, gripping
it firmly and carefully by the handles with both hands.
"Oh!" cried the Collector, when he had obtained a closer view of it.
"What a splendid large amphora! Where did it come from?"
The Justice replied with an air of indifference: "Oh, I found the old
jug in the ditch a week ago when we were digging out gravel. There was
a lot more stuff around there, but the men smashed it all to pieces
with their picks. This jug was the only thing they spared, and, inasmuch
as you are here, I wanted you to see it."
The Collector looked at the large, well-preserved vessel with moist
eyes. Finally he stammered: "Can't we strike a bargain for it?"
"No," replied the peasant coldly. "I'll keep the pot for myself." He
motioned to the servant, and the latter started to carry the amphora
back into the house. He was prevented from doing so, however, by the
Collector, who, without turning his eyes away from it, besought its
owner with all kinds of lively arguments to turn the longed-for wine-jug
over to him. But it was all in vain; the Justice, in the face of the
most urgent entreaties, maintained an attitude of unshakable composure.
In this way he formed the motionless centre-figure of the group, of
which the peasants, listening to the business with open mouths, the
servant tugging the jug with both handles toward the house, and the
antiquarian holding on to the lower end, constituted the excited lateral
and secondary figures. Finally the Justice said that he had been of a
mind to give the jug to his guest along with several other pieces which
he had previously discovered, because he himself would take pleasure in
seeing the old things arranged in order on the shelves of the collection
around the room, but that the constant attacks made by the Collector
against the sword of Carolus Magnus had annoyed him, and that he had
decided, therefore, to keep the jug after all.
Thereupon, after a pause, the Collector said in a dejected tone that to
err was human, that medieval weapons could not always be distinguished
with certainty as to their age, that he himself was less of an expert
in these than in Roman relics, and that there were after all many things
about the sword which seemed to indicate a more remote age, before the
feud of Soest. Whereupon the Justice replied that general statements of
that kind were of no use to him; he wanted to have the dispute and doubt
regarding his sword settled once and for all, and there was only one way
for the Collector to gain possession of the old jug, namely, by writing
out on the spot a signed statement, wherein he should formally recognize
the sword kept in the Oberhof as the actual sword of Charles the Great.
On hearing this a severe conflict ensued in the Collector's mind between
his antiquarian conscience and his antiquarian longing. He pouted his
lips and tapped with his fingers about the spot where he had concealed
the bone from the battlefield of Teutoburg. Evidently he was striving to
subdue the exhortations of a desire which was seducing him into signing
an untruthful statement. Finally, however, passion, as is always the
way, got the upper hand; suddenly demanding pen and paper, he made out
in hot haste, now and then casting furtive glances at the amphora, a
direct statement to the effect that he, after frequent examinations of
it, recognized and declared the sword in the Oberhof as one formerly
belonging to the Emperor, Charles the Great.
This document the Justice had signed by the two peasants as witnesses;
then he folded the paper several times and put it into his pocket. Old
Schmitz, on the other hand, made a quick grab for the amphora which he
had purchased at the expense of his better judgment. The Justice said
that he would deliver the jug to him in the city on the following day.
But what collector could ever get along, even for a minute, without the
actual possession of a piece of property acquired at so high a price?
Our Collector resolutely declined to submit to any delay; he had a
string brought to him, ran it through the handles, and suspended the
large wine-jug over his shoulders. After that, the Collector having
first been invited to the wedding, the two men parted in the best of
humor; and the latter with his bulging angularities, his swelled-up,
protruding coat-tails, and with the amphora bobbing back and forth at
his left side, made a remarkable spectacle as he walked away.
The peasants wished their adviser a good morning, promised to bear his
advice in mind, and departed, each one to his own farmstead. The
Justice, who, dealing with all the people who had come to him in the
course of an hour, had successfully handled everything undertaken, first
took the newly-acquired document of recognition to the room where he
kept the sword of Charles the Great, and then went with the servant to
the granary to measure out oats for the horses.
"Westphalia formerly consisted of individual estates, each one of which
had its own free possessor. Several such estates constituted a
Bauerschaft (peasant community), which, as a rule, bore the name of the
oldest estate. It lay in the original character of the peasant
communities that the oldest estate should also stand first in rank and
come to be the most aristocratic, and here from time to time the
children, grandchildren and house-inmates, ceasing work for a few days,
came together and feasted. The beginning, or else the end, of the summer
was the usual time for this event, and then every estate-owner brought
along with him for the feast some of the fruits which he himself had
raised, and perhaps a calf or lamb as well. Then all sorts of matters
were discussed, opinions were exchanged, marriages performed, deaths
made known, and then the son, as the succeeding head of his father's
estate, was sure to make his first appearance in the company with fuller
hands and a choicer animal. Disagreements were unavoidable on these
days of joy, and in the event of one, the father, as the head of the
oldest estate, stepped in and, with the approval of the rest, put an end
to the quarrel. If during the previous year any of the estate-owners had
disagreed about some matter, both of them brought forward their
grievances before the next gathering, and both were satisfied with
whatever decision their fellows deemed right and just. After all the
eatables had been devoured, and the tree set aside for the occasion had
been burned up, the feast, or the gathering, came to an end. Each one
returned home, related the events of the occasion to the waiting members
of his household, and came to be a living and continuing authority
regarding all the happenings of their peasant community.
These gatherings were called Conferences, Peasant Conferences, because
all the estate-owners of a peasant community came together to confer
with one another, and also Peasant Tribunals, because here the
conflicting claims of the men, already by tacit agreement combined in a
union, were either settled or rejected. Inasmuch as the Peasant
Conferences or Peasant Tribunals were held at the oldest and most
aristocratic estate, such an estate was called Court Estate, and the
Peasant Conferences and Peasant Tribunals were called Court Conferences
and Court Tribunals; and the latter, even at the present day, have not
entirely disappeared. The oldest estate, the Court Estate, was called by
way of distinction simply the Estate, the name whereby the people
designated the Main Estate or the Oberhof of the peasant community, and
its owner as the head or chief of the rest.
Thus in a general way we account for the origin of the first association
and the first judicial arrangement of the Westphalian Estates or peasant
communities. It is the less surprising when we consider that the former
condition of Westphalia permitted only a slow increase of population
and a gradual development of agriculture; and precisely this gradual
progress led to those simple and uniform arrangements, as also to the
similarity of culture, manners and customs, which we find among the
ancient inhabitants of Westphalia."
[Illustration: THE OBERHOF BY BENJAMIN VAUTIER]
This passage from Kindlinger's _Contributions to the History of the
Diocese of Muenster_ conducts us to the scene of our story. It throws a
light on our hero, the Justice. He was the owner of one of the largest
and wealthiest of the Main Estates, or Oberhofs, which still exist in
those regions, but which, to be sure, have now fused together to a small
There is something remarkable about the first traditions of a tribe, and
the people as a whole have just as long a memory as the individual
persons, who are wont to retain faithfully to extreme old age the
impressions of early childhood. When now we consider that an individual
human life may last as long as ninety years, and, furthermore, that the
years of a people are as centuries, it is no longer a matter of wonder
to us that, in the regions where the events of our story took place, we
still here and there come across much that points back to the time when
the great Emperor of the Franks succeeded, by means of fire and sword,
in converting the obstinate inhabitants.
And so if, in the place where once the Supreme Justice and the heir of
the region lived, Nature once more awakens special qualities in a
person, there may grow up amid these thousand-year-old memories and
between the boundaries and ditches which are, after all, still
recognizable, a figure like our Justice, whose right of existence is not
acknowledged by the powers of the present, to be sure, but which for its
own self, and among its own kind, may temporarily restore a condition
which disappeared long ago.
Let us look around in the Oberhof itself. If the praise of a friend is
always very ambiguous, then surely one may trust the envy of an enemy;
and the person most worthy of credit is a horse-dealer, who calls
special attention to the comfortable circumstances of a peasant with
whom he could not agree in a matter of business. To be sure, one could
not say, as the horse-dealer Marx did, that the surroundings reminded
one of a count's estate; on the other hand, in whatever direction one
looked there was an atmosphere of peasant prosperity and opulence which
could not but call out to the hungriest stranger: Here you can eat your
fill; the plate is never empty.
The estate lay entirely alone on the border of the fertile plain, at the
point where it passes over into hilly woodland; indeed, the Justice's
last fields lay on a gentle slope, and a mile away were the mountains.
The nearest neighbor in the peasant community lived a quarter of an hour
away from the estate, around which were spread out all the possessions
which a large country household had need of--fields, woods and meadows,
all in compact uninterrupted continuity.
From the foot of the hills the fields ran down in beautiful order across
the plain. It was, moreover, about the time when the rye was in blossom;
its exhalation, as a thank-offering of the soil, rose from the spikelets
and was wafted aloft on the warm summer breezes. Single rows of
high-trunked ashes and knotty elms, planted on either side of the old
boundary ditches, inclosed a part of the cornfields, and, being visible
from afar, indicated, more definitely than stones and stakes can do, the
limits of the inheritance. A deep road ran between dikes of earth
diagonally across the fields, branched off into paths at several places
on both sides, and led, at the point where the grain ceased, into a
vigorous and well-kept oak grove, under which a number of hogs were
comfortably imbedded in the soil, the shade of which, however, was
equally refreshing to human beings. This grove, which supplied the
Justice with wood, extended to within a few paces of the farmhouse and
inclosed it on two sides, thus, at the same time, affording it
protection against the east and north winds.
The house, which had two stories, and the walls of which were of
panel-work painted white and yellow, was roofed only with straw; but,
as the latter was always kept in the very best condition, it did not
produce an impression of poverty, but, on the contrary, rather increased
the general effect of comfort which the house imparted. Of the inside we
shall learn more anon; suffice it to say for the present that on the
other side of the house there was a large yard, surrounded by barns and
stables, in the plastered walls of which the keenest eye could not
detect a faulty spot. Large lindens stood before the front door, and
there too, but not on the wall side, seats were placed, as we have
already seen. For the Justice, even when he was resting, wanted to keep
an eye on his household.
Directly opposite the house one looked through a lattice gate into the
orchard, where strong and healthy fruit-trees spread their leafy
branches out over the fresh grass, vegetables and lettuce. Here and
there, in between, little beds of red roses and fire-lilies were
thriving. Of the latter, however, there were very few, for a true
peasant devotes his ground only to necessary things, even when his
circumstances permit him to cultivate some of nature's luxuries.
Everything beyond the orchard, as far as the eye could see, was green.
For on the other side of the garden lay the extensive meadows of the
Oberhof, in which the Justice had room and fodder for his horses. Their
breeding, carried on with great industry, was one of the most lucrative
sources of income the estate enjoyed. These verdant meadows were also
surrounded by hedges and ditches; one of them, moreover, contained a
pond in which well-fed carp swam about in shoals.
On this rich estate, surrounded by full barns, full lofts and stables,
dwelt the old, widely respected Justice. But if one climbed the highest
hill on the border of his land, one could see from there the towers of
three of the oldest cities in Westphalia.
At the time of which I speak it was approaching eleven o'clock in the
forenoon. The whole vast estate was so quiet that scarcely any noise was
audible, save the rustling of the leaves in the tree-tops. The Justice
was measuring out oats to his servant, who flung each sack across his
shoulders and trudged slowly over to the stable with it. The daughter
was counting up her dowry of linen and wool, and a maid was working in
the kitchen. All the other dwellers on the estate were lying asleep; for
it was just before the harvest-time, when peasants have the least to do,
and the workmen use every spare minute for sleep, in order to prepare
themselves, in a measure, for the approaching days of toil and sweat.
For in general, country people, like dogs, can, if they wish to, sleep
at all hours of the day and night.
WHEREIN THE HUNTER SENDS HIS COMPANION OUT AFTER A PERSON BY THE NAME OF
SCHRIMBS OR PEPPEL, AND COMES HIMSELF TO THE OBERHOF
From the hills which bordered the Justice's fields there came forth two
men of different appearance and age. The one, clad in a green hunter's
jacket, with a little cap on his curly head and a light Liege gun on his
arm, was a strikingly handsome youth; the other, dressed in more quiet
colors, was an elderly man with a frank and sincere manner. The younger
strode on ahead, as nimbly as a stag, while the older maintained a
somewhat slower gait, like that of a worn-out hunting-dog lagging behind
the master to whom he is still ever faithful. After they had emerged
into an open space at the foot of the hills, they both sat down on a
large stone, which lay there beside several others in the shade of a
mighty linden. The younger man gave some money and papers to the older,
pointed out to him the direction in which he was to continue his way,
"Go now, Jochem, and be discreet, so that we can get hold of this
confounded Schrimbs or Peppel who has been inventing such monstrous
lies, and as soon as you discover him, let me know."
"I'll be discreet all right," replied old Jochem. "I'll make such sly
and secret inquiries in all the villages and cities about a man who
signs his name Schrimbs or Peppel, that it would have to be the devil's
own fault if I don't succeed in locating the wretch. In the meanwhile
you lie low here _incognito,_ until you receive further news from me."
"Very well," said the young man, "and now, Jochem, be very cautious and
thoughtful all the time in the way you handle the matter, for we are no
longer in dear Suabia, but out among the Saxons and Franks."
"The miserable fellows!" exclaimed old Jochem. "Faith, they have long
talked about Suabian stupidities! They shall see that a Suabian can be a
sly bird too when it is necessary."
"And keep always to the right, my Jochem, for the last tracks of this
Schrimbs or Peppel are headed that way," said the young man, standing up
and giving the old man a cordial parting handshake.
"Always to the right, of course," replied the latter. He handed over to
the other his hunting-bag, which was stuffed full, and which up to now
he had been carrying, lifted his hat and went off, following a side-path
at the right, down toward the region where, in the distance, one could
see towering up one of the steeples mentioned in the foregoing chapter.
The young man, on the other hand, went directly down toward the Oberhof.
He had taken perhaps a hundred steps when he heard somebody running
behind him and panting. He turned around and saw that his old companion
was hurrying after him.
"There was one more thing I wanted to ask and beg of you," the latter
cried. "Now that you are alone and left to yourself, get rid of your
gun; for you certainly won't hit anything and, sure as death, you will
have a mishap again, as you almost did not long ago when you fired at
the hare and came very near killing the child."
"Yes, it is damnable to be always firing at things and never hitting
them," said the young man. "But, truly, I'll put restraint on myself, no
matter how hard it may be to do it, and not a single shot shall fly out
of these barrels as long as you are away from me."
The old man begged him for the gun, but the young man refused to give it
up, saying that, without a gun, it would surely cost no self-restraint
to refrain from shooting, and that his method of procedure would then
lose all its merit.
"That is very true," replied the old man, and, without bidding his
companion a second good-by, inasmuch as the first one still held good,
he went back reassured, along the path which had been pointed out to
The young man stood still, rested the gun on the ground, thrust the
ramrod into the barrel, and said:
"It will be difficult to get the charge out, and yet it can't stay in."
With that he tossed the gun over his shoulder and walked in the
direction of the Justice's oak grove. Just before he got there a drove
of heath fowl started up from a narrow strip of borderland, flapping
their wings and screaming loudly. In exultation the young man snatched
the gun from his shoulder, crying: "Here's my chance to get rid of the
shot forthwith!" and took aim. Both barrels went off with a roar, and
the birds flew away uninjured. The hunter gazed after them in
astonishment and said:
"This time I thought I couldn't have helped hitting something. Well,
from now on I shall certainly restrain myself." With that he continued
his way through the oak grove to the house.
When he entered the door he saw, sitting at dinner in a high and
spacious hall which took up the entire centre of the house, the Justice,
his daughter, his farm-hands and maids, and in a resonant, euphonious
voice he gave them a friendly greeting. The Justice scrutinized him with
care, the daughter with astonishment; as for the men and maids, they
did not look at him at all, but went on eating without paying any
attention to him. The Hunter approached the master of the estate and
inquired about the distance to the nearest city and the way to get
there. At first the Justice did not understand his strange-sounding
language, but the daughter, without once turning her eyes from the
handsome Hunter, helped her father to get the meaning, whereupon he gave
the correct information. Only after three repetitions was the Hunter, on
his part, able to understand the reply; but he finally succeeded in
making out that the city was not to be reached in less than two long
hours, and then only by a path which was difficult to find.
The midday heat, combined with the sight of the tidy meal before him and
his own hunger, prompted the Hunter to ask the question whether for love
or money he could have something to eat and drink and shelter till the
cool of evening.
"For money, no!" replied the Justice, "but for love the gentleman may
have dinner and supper and a place to rest as long as he wants it." He
had a tin plate, as clear and bright as a mirror, a knife, a fork and a
spoon, just as bright as the plate, laid upon the table, and pressed his
guest to sit down. The latter fell upon the well-cooked ham, the big
beans, the eggs and sausages, which constituted the meal, with all the
appetite of youth, and discovered that the food of the country, which
was everywhere decried as Boeotian, was, on the contrary, not at all
Very little talking was done by the hosts, for peasants do not like to
speak while they are eating. Howsoever, the Hunter, on inquiry, managed
to find out from the Justice that no man by the name of Schrimbs or
Peppel was known anywhere around in that vicinity. The farm-hands and
maids, who sat apart from the seats of honor at the other end of the
long table, kept absolutely silent and looked only at the dishes out of
which they spooned their food into their mouths. After they had
finished eating, however, and had wiped their mouths, they stepped up to
the Justice, one after the other, and said: "Master, my motto;"
whereupon the Justice addressed to each one a proverbial phrase or a
biblical passage. Thus to the first man, a red-haired fellow, he said:
"Proneness to dispute lights a fire, and proneness to fight sheds
blood;" to the second, a slow, fat man: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard,
consider her ways and be wise;" to the third, a small, black-eyed,
bold-looking customer: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
The first maid received the motto: "If you have cattle, take care of
them, and if they bring you profit, keep it;" and to the second he said:
"Nothing's ever locked so tight but it will some day come to light."
After each one had been remembered in this way, they all went off to
their work, some looking unconcerned, others embarrassed. The second
girl blushed a deep crimson when she heard her motto. The Hunter, who
was gradually learning to understand the local dialect, listened to this
lesson with astonishment, and after it was over he asked what the
purpose of it was.
"To give them something to think about," said the Justice. "When they
come together here again tonight, each one of them will tell me what he
or she has been thinking relative to the motto. Most of the work in the
country is of such a kind that, in doing it, the people are liable to
think all sorts of things, and they get a lot of bad notions in their
heads, which afterwards break out in the form of wantonness, lies, and
deception. But when a man has such a motto to ponder over, he will not
rest until he has extracted the moral from it, and meanwhile the time
has elapsed without any evil thoughts having entered his mind."
"You are a true philosopher and priest," cried the Hunter, whose
amazement was increasing with every minute.
"One can accomplish a great deal with a person when one brings morality
home to him," said the Justice thoughtfully. "But morality sticks in
short sayings better than in long speeches and sermons. My people keep
straight much longer since I hit upon the morality idea. To be sure it
does not work all the year round; during planting and harvest-time all
thinking ceases. But it isn't necessary then anyway, because they have
no time for wickedness."
"You have, then, regular sections in your teaching?" asked the Hunter.
"In winter," replied the Justice, "the mottoes usually begin after
threshing and last until sowing. In summer, on the other hand, they are
assigned from Walpurgis Night until dog days. Those are the times when
peasants have the least to do."
With that he left the young man, who got up and looked around in the
house, the yard, the orchard, and the meadow. He spent several hours in
this inspection, since everything he saw attracted him. The rural
stillness, the green of the meadows, the prosperity which beamed upon
him from the whole estate, all made a most pleasant impression, and
aroused in him a desire to spend the one or two weeks that might elapse
before he received news from old Jochem there in the open country rather
than in the narrow alleys of a small city. Inasmuch as he wore his heart
on his tongue, he went forthwith to the Justice, who was in the oak
grove marking a pair of trees for felling, and expressed his wish. In
return he offered to assist in anything that might be of use to his
Beauty is an excellent dowry. It is a key which, like that little one of
gold, opens by magic seven locks, each one different from the rest. The
old man gazed for a moment at the youth's slim yet robust figure and at
his honest and at the same time splendidly aristocratic face, and at
first shook his head persistently; then, however, he nodded approvingly,
and, finally growing friendly, granted him his request. He assigned to
the Hunter a corner room on the upper floor of the house, from one side
of which one could see across the oak grove toward the hills and
mountains, and from the other out over the meadows and corn fields. The
guest had, to be sure, in place of paying for his room and board, to
promise to fulfil a very peculiar condition. For the Justice did not
like to have even beauty favored without an equivalent return.
THE HUNTER HIRES OUT AS POACHER
He asked the young man, before he promised him quarters, whether he was
a lover of hunting, as his green suit, gun and hunting-bag seemed to
indicate. The latter replied that, as far back as he could remember, he
had always had a passion amounting to real madness for deer-shooting; in
saying which, to be sure, he concealed the fact that, with the exception
of a sparrow, a crow, and a cat, no creature of God had ever fallen
victim to his powder and lead. This was in reality the case. He could
not live without firing a few times a day at something, but he regularly
missed his aim; in his eighteenth year he had killed a sparrow, in his
twentieth a crow, and in his twenty-fourth a cat. And that was all.
After the Justice had received his guest's affirmative answer, he came
out with his proposition, which was, namely, that the Hunter should
every day lie out in the fields a few hours and keep off the wild
animals, which were causing a great deal of injury to his corn fields,
especially those lying on the slope at the foot of the hills.
"Yonder in the mountains," said the old peasant, "the noblemen have
their great hunting-ranges. The creatures have already in past years
eaten up and trampled down enough of my crops, but this is the first
year that it has become serious. The reason is, that the young count
over there is an ardent hunter and has enlarged his stock of game, so
that his stags and roes come out of the forest like sheep and completely
ruin the product of my toil and sweat. I myself do not understand the
business, and I don't like to turn it over to my men because it gives
them an easy chance, under the pretext of lying in wait, to become
disorderly. Consequently the beasts have now and then worked enough
havoc to make a man's heart ache. Your coming now is, therefore, very
opportune, and if for these two weeks before harvest you will keep the
creatures out of my corn for me, we'll call that payment for your room
"What? I a poacher? I a game thief?" cried the man, and he laughed so
loudly and heartily that the Justice could not help joining in. Still
laughing, the latter ran his hand over the fine cloth of which his
guest's clothing was made.
"That is just why I want you to do it," he said, "because with you there
will be no particular danger even if you are caught. You will know how
to get yourself out of it better than one of these poor farm laborers.
Flies get caught in a cobweb, but wasps flit straight through them. But
what kind of a crime is it anyway to protect your own property against
monsters that eat it up and ruin it?" he cried, the laugh on his face
suddenly changing into an expression of the most fervent anger. The
veins in his brow swelled up, the blood in his cheeks turned deep
crimson, and the whites of his eyes became bloodshot; one might have
taken fright at the sight of the old man.
"You are right, father, there is nothing more unreasonable than the
so-called hunting privileges," said the Hunter, in order to pacify him.
"For that reason I will take upon myself the sin of violating the game
laws of the local nobility in the interest of your estate, although by
so doing I shall really be--"
He was going to add something more, but suddenly broke off and passed
over to other indifferent matters.
But any one who thinks that the conversation between this Westphalian
justice and the Suabian hunter ran as smoothly as my pen has written it
down, is mistaken. On the contrary, it was frequently necessary for them
to repeat several times before a barely sufficient understanding came
about between them. Now and then they were even compelled to resort to
making signs with their fingers. For in all his life the Justice had
never heard _ch_ pronounced after _s_; furthermore he brought all his
sounds up out of his gullet, or, if you will, out of his throat. In the
Hunter, on the other hand, the divine gift which distinguishes us from
beasts was located between his front teeth and his lips, whence the
sounds broke forth in a wonderful sonorous gravity and fulness and a
buzzing sibilancy. But through these strange husks the young man and the
old one soon learned to like each other. Inasmuch as both were men of
full-weight, sterling stuff they could not fail to understand each
other's inmost nature.
THE HUNTER WRITES TO HIS FRIEND
Now I may write about things that are pleasant. I cannot possibly tell
you how happy I am here in the solitude of this hill-girt Westphalian
plain, where I have been quartered for a week among people and cattle.
Among people and cattle is indeed literally the case, for the cows do
actually stand right in the house on both sides of the large
entrance-hall. There is, however, absolutely nothing unpleasant or
unclean about this; on the contrary it rather helps to increase the
impression of patriarchal house-management. In front of my window stand
rustling oak-trees, and beyond them I look out on long, long meadows and
waving cornfields, between which I see here and there a grove of oaks
and a lone farmstead. For here it is as it was in the time of Tacitus:
"_Colunt discreti ac diversi, ut_ _fons, ut campus, ut nemus placuit_."
Consequently even a single farm like this is a small State in itself,
complete and rounded off, and the lord of it is just as much a king in
his small domain as a real king on a throne.
My host is a splendid old fellow. He is called Justice, although he
certainly has another name too; for that name, you see, has reference
only to the ownership of his property. I hear, however, that this is the
custom around here everywhere. For the most part only the estate has a
name--the name of the owner sinks in that of the property; hence the
earth-born, tough and enduring character of the people here. My Justice
is a man of some sixty-odd years perhaps, but he carries a strong,
large, rugged body, as yet unbent by age. In his reddish-yellow face is
deposited the solar heat of the fifty harvests he has gathered in, his
large nose stands out on his face like a tower, and his white, bristly
eyebrows hang out over his glistening, blue eyes like a straw roof. He
reminds me of a patriarch, who erects a monument of unhewn stones to the
god of his ancestors and pours libations and oil upon it, rears his
colts, cuts his corn, and at the same time judges and rules his people
with unlimited authority. I have never come across a more compact
mixture of venerability and cunning, reason and obstinacy; he is a
genuine, old-time, free peasant in the full sense of the word. I believe
that this is the only place where people of this kind are still to be
found, here where precisely this living apart and this stubbornness
peculiar to the ancient Saxons, combined with the absence of large
cities, has perpetuated the original character of Germania. All
governments and powers have merely skimmed over the surface here; they
have perhaps been able to break off the tops of the various growths, but
not to destroy their roots, from which fresh shoots have ever sprouted
up again, even though they may no longer close together into leafy
The region is not at all what one would call beautiful, for it consists
solely of billowy risings and fallings of the ground, and only in the
distance does one see the mountains; furthermore, the latter look more
like a dark hill-slope than a beautifully outlined mountain-range. But
just this absence of pretension, the fact that the mountains do not seem
to place themselves in dress parade directly in front of one's eyes and
say: "How do you like me?" but rather, like a dutiful stewardess, to
serve the tilth of human hands even down to the smallest detail--after
all makes me like them very much, and I have enjoyed many a pleasant
hour in my solitary rambles. Perhaps the fact has something to do with
it that my heart can once more swing out its pendulum undisturbed,
without having wise people tinkering and twisting at the clock-works.
I have even become poetic--what do you say to that, old Ernst? I have
jotted down something to which a divinely beautiful Sunday that I spent
some time ago in the wooded glens of the Spessart inspired me. I think
you will like it. It is called: "The Marvels of the Spessart."
What I like best is to sit up on the hill in a quiet spot between the
Justice's cornfields, which terminate there. In front of me there is a
large depression in the ground, grown over with weeds and blackberry
bushes, around which, in a circle, lie a lot of large stones. Over the
largest of these, directly opposite the field, the branches of three old
lindens spread out. Behind me rustles the forest. The spot is infinitely
lonesome, secluded and secret, especially now that the corn is grown up,
as tall as a man, behind it. I spend a great deal of time up there--not
always, to be sure, in sentimental contemplation of nature; it is my
usual evening watchpost, from which I shoot the stags and roes out of
the Justice's corn.
They call the place the "Freemen's Tribunal." Presumably, in days of
yore, the Fehme used to hatch out its sentences there in the darkness of
the night. When I praised the place to my Justice, an expression of
friendliness passed over his face. He made no reply, but after a time
conducted me, without any inducement on my part, to a room on the upper
floor of the house. There he opened an iron-bound trunk, showed me an
old, rusty sword which was lying in it, and said with great solemnity:
"That is a great curiosity; it is the sword of Charles the Great,
preserved for a thousand and more years in the Oberhof, and still in
full strength and power." Without adding any further explanations, he
clapped the cover down again. I wouldn't for anything have shaken his
belief in this sacred relic, although a fleeting glance convinced me
that the broad-sword could scarcely be more than a few hundred years
old. But he showed me too a formal attestation concerning the genuineness
of the weapon, made out for him by an obliging provincial scholar.
[Illustration: THE FREEMEN'S TRIBUNAL _By Benjamin Vautier_]
Well, then, I shall stay here among the peasants until old Jochem sends
me news of Schrimbs or Peppel. To be sure, in the course of my
eighty-mile journey I have cooled down a little, for it makes
considerable difference when two weeks intervene between a project and
its execution. Furthermore the question now is: What sort of revenge
shall I take on him? But all that will take care of itself later on.
Mentor, you shall soon hear more, I hope, from your Not-Telemachus.
HOW THE HUNTER LIVES AT THE OBERHOF
Several days passed at the Oberhof in the usual quiet, monotonous way.
Still no word came from old Jochem, regarding either himself or the
escaped adventurer; and a mild anxiety gradually began, after a while,
to steal over his young master. For nowadays time is so regulated and so
enmeshes us that nobody, no matter how free and independent he may be,
can long endure an existence which does not offer him some occupation
or social relation to fall back on.
As much as he could, to be sure, the Hunter associated with the Justice,
and the man's originality continued to attract him just as strongly as
it had done on the first day of their acquaintance. But the old man was
occupied the greater part of the time with matters pertaining to his
household, and then he had, too, a great many things to discuss with
outsiders, since every day people dropped in at the farm to solicit his
help or advice. On these occasions the Hunter noticed that the Justice,
in the truest sense of the word, never did anything gratis. For
neighbors, relatives, and friends he was ready to do anything, but they
had always to do something for him in return, even were it only an
errand in a neighboring peasant community, or some other small service
of this kind.
Every day something was fired at, but regularly missed; so that the old
man, who invariably hit his mark, no matter what he aimed at, began to
look with astonishment upon these futile efforts. It was a fortunate
thing for our Hunter that the nearest estate-owner happened at that time
to be away on a trip with his family and servants, otherwise the
professional gunners up on the "Open Tribunal" would probably have
caught him sooner or later.
At noon on the following day the Hunter heard a noise under his window;
he looked out and saw that a number of men were standing in front of the
house. Just then the Justice, dressed in his Sunday clothes, stepped out
of the door, and at the same time a two-horse wagon drew up opposite by
the oak grove. In the wagon was a man in black robes, apparently a
clergyman; he was sitting among several baskets, in some of which fowls
seemed to be fluttering. A little behind him sat a woman in _bourgeois_
dress, who was holding another basket rigidly in her lap. In front by
the horses stood a peasant with the whip, his arm resting on the neck of
one of the animals. Beside him was a maid, also holding a basket,
covered with a snow-white napkin, under her arm. A man in a wide brown
overcoat, whose thoughtful gait and solemn face made it at once
unmistakably evident that he was a sexton, walked with dignity from the
wagon to the house, placed himself in front of the Justice, lifted his
hat, and recited the following verses:
Before your gate you now may see
The Sexton and the Dominie,
The Sexton's wife, the house-maid too,
Who've come to get what is their due,
By custom old from this domain,
The hens, the eggs, the cheeses twain;
So tell us then without delay
If you are all prepared to pay.
While listening to this little recitation the Justice had respectfully
removed his hat. Afterwards he approached the wagon, bowed to the
clergyman, reverently helped him to alight, and then stood off at one
side with him and held a conversation, which the Hunter could not
overhear, about various matters. In the meantime the woman with the
basket had also stepped down and taken a position beside the Sexton, the
peasant and the maid, and behind the two chief persons, as if for a
The Hunter, in order to ascertain the significance of this scene, went
downstairs and observed that the entrance-hall was sprinkled with white
sand, and the best room, adjacent to it, decorated with green branches.
Inside, also dressed up in her Sunday best, sat the daughter; she was
spinning as if she meant to turn out an entire skein of yarn that very
day. She looked very red and did not glance up from her work. He entered
the room and was just about to obtain his information from her, when the
procession of strangers, including the Justice, crossed the threshold of
the entrance-hall. At the head marched the clergyman, behind him the
Sexton, then the peasant, then the maid, then the Sexton's wife, and
finally the Justice, each one marching alone. The clergyman approached
the daughter, who had not yet glanced up from her spinning-wheel,
addressed her with a friendly greeting, and said:
"Quite right, Miss! When the bride-to-be makes her wheel go so
industriously beforehand, her sweetheart may hope and expect to have
full chests and boxes afterwards. When is the wedding to be?"
"A week from Thursday, your reverence, if it is permissible," replied
the bride, turning, if possible, even redder than before. She humbly
kissed the clergyman's hand--the latter was still a youngish man--took
his hat and cane from him, and handed him, by way of welcome, a
refreshing drink. The others, after they had formed a circle around the
bride, and had likewise remembered her with a handshake and an
expression of good will, also partook of the refreshing beverage;
thereupon they left the room and went into the entrance-hall. The
clergyman, however, continued to discuss the affairs of the community
with the Justice, who, with his hat in his hand all the time, stood
before him in reverential posture.
The young Hunter, who, unnoticed by the others, had been watching the
scene from a corner of the room, would have liked to greet the clergyman
before now, but he felt that it would be rude to break in upon the
conversation between the strangers and the inmates of the house, a
conversation which, in spite of the rusticity of the scene, had yet an
air of diplomatic ceremony. For in the clergyman he recognized, with
joyful astonishment, a former academic acquaintance.
The Justice now left the room for a moment, and the Hunter went over to
the Pastor and greeted him by name. The clergyman started and passed his
hand across his eyes, but he, likewise, at once recognized the other and
was no less happy to see him.
"But," he added to the first words of greeting, "this is no place nor
time for a talk. Come along with me afterwards when I drive away from
the farm--then we can have a chat together. I am a public character
here and stand under the constraint of a most imperious ceremonial. We
cannot take any notice of each other, and you too, in a passive sort of
way, must conform to the ritual. Above all things don't laugh at
anything that you see--that would offend the good people extremely.
These old established customs, strange as they may seem, always have,
nevertheless, their venerable side."
"Have no fear," replied the Hunter. "But I should like to know--"
"Everything afterwards!" whispered the clergyman, glancing toward the
door, which the Justice was just then re-entering. He retreated from the
Hunter just as from a stranger.
The Justice and his daughter themselves brought in the food and laid it
on the table, which had been set in this room. There were chicken soup,
a dish of French beans and a long sausage, roast pork and plums, butter,
bread, and cheese, and, in addition, a bottle of wine. All this was put
on the table at the same time. The peasant too had left the horses and
come into the room. When everything was steaming on the table, which had
been laid for only two persons, the Justice politely invited the
clergyman to seat himself, and the latter, after saying grace, sat down,
as did likewise, a short distance away from him, the peasant.
"Do I not eat here too?" inquired the Hunter.
"Nay, God forbid!" answered the Justice, and the bride looked at him
from one side in amazement. "Only the Diaconus and the Colonus eat
here--you sit at the table with the Sexton outside."
The Hunter went into another room, opposite, after observing to his
surprise that the Justice and his daughter themselves attended to the
serving of this first and most aristocratic table. In the other room he
found the Sexton, his wife, and the maid, all standing around a table
which had been laid there, and impatiently awaiting, as it seemed, the
arrival of their fourth companion. The same eatables were steaming on
this table, except that the butter and cheese were missing and beer took
the place of the wine. The Sexton stepped with dignity to the head seat
and, keeping his eyes on the dishes, recited aloud the following verses:
The birds that fly, the beasts that crawl,
For man's behoof God made them all;
Chicken soup, beans, pork, plums and veal,
Are gifts divine--Lord bless the meal!
Thereupon the company sat down, with the Sexton at the head of the
table. The latter did not for a moment forget his solemn dignity, nor
his wife her basket, which she put down close beside her. The Pastor's
maid, on the other hand, had unassumingly set hers aside. During the
meal, which was piled up on the dishes in veritable mountains, not a
word was spoken. The Sexton gravely devoured portions that might be
called enormous, while his wife was not a great way behind him. Here
again it was the maid who showed herself to be most modest. As for the
Hunter, he confined his attention almost entirely to looking on; for the
day's ceremonies were not to his liking.
After the meal was over the Sexton, smirking solemnly, said to the two
maids who had waited on the table:
"Now, if it please God, we will receive our legitimate dues and the
good-will accompanying them."
The maids, who had already cleared off the table, then went out. The
Sexton sat down on a chair in the middle of the room, while the two
women, his wife and the maid, took seats on either side of him, putting
the newly-opened baskets down in front of them. After the expectation
which the faces of the three expressed had lasted for several minutes,
the two maids re-entered, accompanied by their master, the Justice. The
first was holding aloft a roomy basket of wickerwork, in which some hens
were anxiously clucking and flapping their wings. She put it down in
front of the Sexton, who glanced into it and counted:
"One, two, three, four, five, six--it is all right."
Thereupon the second maid counted out from a large piece of cloth into a
basket in front of the Pastor's maid, three score eggs and six round
cheeses, not without the Sexton's carefully counting them all over after
her. After this was done, the Sexton said:
"So then the Pastor is provided for, and now comes the Sexton."
Thereupon thirteen eggs and a single cheese were put into the basket in
front of his wife, who tested the freshness of each egg by shaking and
smelling it, and rejected two. After this proceeding the Sexton stood up
and said to the Justice:
"How is it, Justice, about the second cheese which the Sexton still has
the right to expect from the farm?"
"You yourself know, Sexton, that the right to the second cheese has
never been recognized by the Oberhof," replied the Justice. "This
alleged second cheese was due from the Baumann estate, which more than a
hundred years ago was united under one hand with the Oberhof. Later on,
the two were again divided, and the Oberhof is obligated for only one
The Sexton's ruddy brown face took on the deepest wrinkles that it was
capable of producing, and divided itself into several pensive sections
of a square, roundish or angular shape. He said:
"Where is the Baumann estate? It was split up and went to pieces in the
times of disturbance. Is the Sexton's office to be the loser on that
account? It should not be so! Nevertheless, expressly reserving each and
every right in the matter of the second cheese due from the Oberhof, and
contested now for a hundred years, I hereby receive and accept one
cheese. In accordance with which the legitimate dues of the Oberhof to
both Pastor and Sexton are paid, and now comes the good-will."
The latter consisted of freshly-baked rolls, six of which were laid in
the Pastor's basket and two in the Sexton's. With that the entire
ceremony was concluded. The Sexton came closer to the Justice, and
recited the following third effusion:
I find the six hens all correct,
The cheeses too without defect;
The eggs delivered are freshly laid,
And all the dues were promptly paid.
And so the Lord preserve your farm
From famine, fire, and other harm!
He is beloved of God and man
Who pays his debts as best he can.
After that the Justice made a deep bow as a sign of thanks. The Sexton's
wife and the maid carried the baskets out and packed them in the wagon.
At the same time the Hunter saw a maid carrying some dishes and plates
out of the room in which the clergyman had eaten, into the
entrance-hall, where she washed them before the eyes of the latter, who
had stepped up to the threshold of the room. After she had finished this
washing she approached the clergyman, who drew a small coin out of a
piece of paper and gave it to her.
In the meanwhile the Sexton was drinking his coffee with relish, and
when a cup was brought for the Hunter too, he sat down with it beside
"I am a stranger here," said the young man, "and do not entirely
understand the customs which I have been witnessing today. Will you,
sir, be good enough to explain them to me? Is it obligatory for the
peasants to supply the Pastor with these products of nature?"
"It is obligatory as far as the hens, eggs and cheeses are concerned,
but not the rolls. They represent merely goodwill, but have always been
paid without objection," replied the Sexton with great seriousness.
"Three peasant communities are affiliated with the diaconate or head
pastorate in the city, and part of the Pastor's and Sexton's income is
derived from these dues, which are collected every year from the various
farms. In order to do this collecting, as has been done every year since
time immemorial, we make annually two trips or rounds, namely, this
short summer trip, and then a long winter trip, shortly after Advent. On
the summer trip the hens, eggs and cheeses come due, one farm paying so
much, another so much. The first item, namely, the hens, is payable,
however, only _pro Diaconatu_, the Sexton having to content himself with
eggs and cheese only. In the winter, corn, barley, oats and rye fall
due; we come then with two carts, because one would not hold all the
sacks. Thus twice a year we go the rounds of the three communities."
"And where do you go from here?" asked the Hunter.
"Straight home," answered the Sexton. "This community is the last of the
three, and this Oberhof is the last farm in this community where the
customary dues are collected."
The Sexton was then called away, for the horses were hitched to the
cart, and the clergyman, with cordial handshakes and good wishes, was
taking leave of the Justice and his daughter, who were now standing
before him with the same air of friendly reverence that they had shown
for him during all the other proceedings of the day.
The procession now went rocking off between corn fields and high hedges
along another road than the one it had come by. The peasant, with the
whip in his hand, went on foot in front of the horses, and the cart
rolled heavily along behind him. In addition to the two women, the
Sexton now sat in among the baskets with a feather pillow propped
against his stomach for protection. The Hunter, who had modestly stood
back during the preparations for departure, now, when the wagon had
advanced a short distance, hurried after it with hasty steps. He found
the Pastor, who had also remained behind his accumulation of property,
waiting for him in a pleasant spot under some trees. Here, unrestrained
by the ceremonial of the Oberhof, they embraced each other, and the
Pastor said, laughing:
"I'll wager this is something you never expected--to discover in your
former acquaintance, who used to conduct his young Swedish Count so
neatly about on the slippery ground of science and elegant life in the
big city, a figure who must remind you of the Reverend Lopez in
Fletcher's _Spanish Curate_. As for the proceedings which you have
witnessed today, it was absolutely necessary for me to go through with
them in person; my entire relation with the people would be broken if I
manifested any squeamishness about participating in the old custom. My
predecessor in office, who was not a native of these parts, was ashamed
of these regular trips and refused downright to have anything to do with
them. What was the result? He got himself into serious difficulties with
these rural parishes, which even had an influence on the decadence of
school and church affairs. He had finally to petition for his
transference, and I immediately made up my mind, when I received my
appointment, that I would adapt myself in all things to the customs of
the place. In pursuance of this policy I have so far got along very
well, and the appearance of dependency which these trips give me, far
from damaging my prestige, rather enhances and secures it."
"How could it be otherwise?" cried the Hunter. "I must confess to you
that during the entire ceremony, in spite of the comical atmosphere
which your Sexton spread over it, I was really touched and the feeling
never once left me. Somehow I saw on the one hand, in your acceptance of
these most simple and material gifts, and, on the other, in the
reverence with which they were bestowed, the most pious and unpretending
symbol of the church, which must have its daily bread in order to exist,
and of the faithful who supply her earthly needs in the humble
conviction that by so doing they will gain something of high and eternal
value. Hence on neither the one side nor the other does a sense of
servitude arise, but rather on both sides there is a deep feeling of the
most perfect mutuality."
"I am glad," said the Pastor, pressing the Hunter's hand, "that you so
regard it, since another person would perhaps have made fun of the whole
business. For that reason--I can now own up to it--I was at first not at
all pleased to have you appear so unexpectedly as a witness of those
"God forbid that I should make fun of anything that I have seen in this
country!" replied the Hunter. "I now rejoice that a mad freak brought me
here to these woods and fields, for otherwise I should probably never
have learned to know the region; for it has very little reputation
abroad, and there is, in fact, nothing here to attract exhausted and
surfeited tourists. But the feeling has gripped me here even more
strongly than in my own home--this is soil which an unmixed race has
trod for more than a thousand years! And the idea of the immortality of
the people was wafted toward me in the rustling of these oaks and of
this surrounding vegetation in an almost, I might say, tangible form."
A long conversation resulted from this remark, which was carried on
alternately by both the Hunter and the Pastor, as they walked slowly
along behind the cart.
When they took leave of each other the young Suabian was obliged to make
his friend a promise that he would visit him for a few days in the city.
After that they separated and went off in opposite directions.
THE STRANGE FLOWER AND THE BEAUTIFUL GIRL
The sun was still high in the heavens. The Hunter felt no particular
inclination to return to the Oberhof so early in the day, so he stepped
up to one of the highest hedges to obtain a general view of the region.
From there he saw rising, a short distance away, the bushy summits of a
group of hills, through which he thought he could probably make his way
and get back to his quarters before late in the evening.
His foot trod the fresh, damp green of a meadow bordered by bushes,
under which a stream of clear water was flowing. Not far away appeared
some small rocks, over which ran a narrow slippery path. He walked
across, climbed down between the cliffs, tucked up his sleeves, and put
his arm in the water; it sent a pleasant thrill through him and cooled
his hot blood. Thus, half kneeling, half sitting in the damp, dark,
rock-begirt spot, he glanced aside into the open. There his eyes were
fascinated by a glorious sight. Some old tree stumps had rotted in the
grass, and their black forms protruded from the surrounding vivid green.
One of them was entirely hollowed out, and inside of it the rotted wood
had formed a deposit of brown earth. Out of this earth and out of the
stump, as from a crater, a most beautiful flower was growing. Above a
crown of soft, round leaves rose a long, slender stalk which bore large
cups of an indescribably beautiful red. Deep down in the cups of the
flower was a spot of soft, gleaming white which ran out to the edge of
the petals in tiny light-green veins. It was evidently not a native
flower, but an exotic, whose seed some chance--who knows what?--had
deposited here in this little garden-bed, prepared by the putrefactive
powers of Nature, and which a friendly summer sun had caused to grow and
The Hunter refreshed his eye in this charming sight. Intoxicated by the
magic of Nature, he leaned back and closed his eyes in sweet reveries.
When he opened them again the scene had changed.
A beautiful girl in simple attire, her straw hat hung over her arm, was
kneeling by the flower, gently embracing its stalk as if it were her
sweetheart's neck, and gazing into its red calyx with the sweetest look
of joyful surprise. She must have approached quietly while the Hunter
was lying back, half asleep. She did not see him, for the cliffs hid him
from her sight; and he was careful not to make any motion that might
frighten the vision away. But after a while, as she looked up from the
flower with a sigh, her sidewise glance fell upon the water, and she
caught sight of a man's shadow! The Hunter saw her color pale, saw the
flower drop from her hands--otherwise she remained motionless on her
knees. He half arose between the cliffs, and four young eyes met! But
only for a moment! The girl, with fire in her face, quickly got up,
tossed her straw hat on her head, and with three swift steps disappeared
into the bushes.
The Hunter now came out from among the cliffs and stretched out his arm
toward the bushes. Had the spirit of the flower become alive? He looked
at it again--it did not seem as beautiful as it had a few minutes
"An amaryllis," he said, coldly. "I recognize it now--I have it in my
Should he follow the girl? He wanted to--but a mysterious shyness
shackled his feet. He grasped his forehead. He had not been dreaming--he
was sure of that. "And the occurrence," he cried at last with something
like an effort, "is not so extraordinary that it must necessarily have
been a dream. A pretty girl, who happened along this way, was enjoying a
pretty flower--that is all!"
He wandered about among unknown mountains, valleys and tracts of
country, as long as his feet would carry him. Finally it became
necessary for him to think of returning.
Late, in the dark, and only through the help of a guide whom he came
across by accident, he reached the Oberhof. Here the cows were lowing,
and the Justice was sitting at the table in the entrance-hall with his
daughter, men and maids, about to begin his moral talks. But it was
impossible for the Hunter to enter into them--everything seemed
different to him, coarse and inappropriate. He repaired immediately to
his room, wondering how he could pass away any more time here without
knowing what was going to happen. A letter which he found there from his
friend Ernst in the Black Forest added to his discomfort. In this state
of mind, which robbed him of part of his night's sleep and even the
following morning had not yet left him, he was glad indeed when the
Pastor sent a wagonette to bring him to the city.
Even from a distance, towers, high walls and bulwarks made it evident
that the city, once a mighty member of the Hanseatic League, had seen
its great days of defensive fighting. The deep moat was still extant,
although now devoted to trees and vegetables. His vehicle, after it had
passed under the dark Gothic gate, moved along somewhat heavily on the
rough stone pavement, and finally drew up in front of a
comfortable-looking house, on the threshold of which the Pastor was
standing ready to receive him. He entered a cheerful and cosy household,
which was animated by a sprightly, pretty wife and a couple of lively
boys whom she had presented to her husband.
After breakfast they went for a walk through the city. In the course of
it the Hunter told his friend about his adventure in the woods.
"To judge by your description," said the latter, "it was the blond
Lisbeth whom you saw. The dear child wanders around the country getting
money for her old foster-father. She was at my home a few days ago, but
would not tarry with us. The girl is a most charming Cinderella, and I
only hope that she may find the Prince who will fall in love with her
THE HUNTER SHOOTS AND HITS THE MARK
After a sojourn of several days in the city the Hunter returned to the
Oberhof, and found the Justice repairing a barn door. The Hunter
informed him that he was going to depart soon, and the old man replied:
"I am rather glad of it; the little woman who had the room before you
sent word to me that she would be back today or tomorrow; you would have
to give way to her and I couldn't make you comfortable anywhere else."
The entire estate was swimming in the red light of evening. A pure
summer warmth pervaded the air, which was uncharged with any
exhalations. It was quite deserted around the buildings; all the men and
maids must have been still busy in the fields. Even in the house he saw
nobody when he went to his room. There he picked up and arranged what he
had from time to time written down during his stay, packed up his few
belongings, and then looked around for his gun. After a short search he
discovered it behind a large cabinet where the peasant had concealed it.
He loaded it, and in two steps he was out of the house and headed for
the "Open Tribunal," bent on shooting the restlessly heaving visions out
of his soul. By the time he was traversing the fragrant, golden oak
grove he had recovered his high spirits.
When he reached the Freemen's Tribunal up on the hill he felt quite
cheerful. The ears of grain, heavy and plentiful, were nodding and
rustling, the large red disk of the full moon was rising over the
eastern horizon, and the reflection of the sun, which had already sunk
in the west, was still lighting up the sky. The atmosphere was so clear
that this reflected light shone a yellowish green.
The Hunter felt his youth, his health, his hopes. He took his position
behind a large tree on the edge of the forest.
"Today," he said, "I will see whether fate can be bent. I'll fire only
when something comes within three paces of the muzzle, and then if I
should miss it, there would needs be magic in it."
Behind him was the forest, before him the low ground of the "Freemen's
Tribunal," with its large stones and trees, and over opposite the
solitary spot was shut in by yellow corn fields. In the tree-tops above
him the turtle-doves were cooing now and then a faint note, and through
the branches of the trees by the "Freemen's Tribunal" the wild
hawk-moths were beginning to whir with their red-green wings. Gradually
the ground in the forest also began to show signs of life. A hedgehog
crept sleepily through the underbrush; a little weasel dragged his
supple body forth from a crevice in the rocks no broader than a quill.
Little hares darted with cautious leaps out from the bushes, stopping in
front of each to crouch down and lay their ears back, until finally,
growing more brave, they mounted the ridge by the cornfield and danced
and played together, using their fore paws to strike one another in
sport. The Hunter took care not to disturb these little animals. Finally
a slender roe stepped out of the forest. Shrewdly thrusting its nose
into the wind and glancing around to the right and left out of its big
brown eyes, it stalked along on its delicate feet with an easy grace.
The gentle, wild, fleet animal now reached a point just opposite the
hidden Hunter's gun, and so close to him that he could hardly fail to
hit it. He was just about to pull the trigger when the deer took fright,
faced about in a different direction, and made a leap straight for the
tree behind which the Hunter was standing. His gun cracked, and the
animal, unwounded, made off with a series of mighty leaps into the
forest. But from amid the corn he heard a loud cry, and a few moments
afterwards a woman's form staggered out of the fields on a narrow path
which lay in the line of his aim. The Hunter threw down the gun and
rushed toward the form; when he saw who it was he nearly collapsed.
[Illustration: OSWALD. THE HUNTER _By Benjamin Vautier_]
It was the beautiful girl of the flower scene in the woods. He had
hit her instead of the roe! She was holding one hand over the region
between her shoulder and left breast, where the blood was gushing out
copiously beneath her kerchief. Her face was pale, and somewhat drawn,
though not distorted, by pain. She drew a deep breath three times and
then said with a soft, weak voice:
"God be praised! The wound can't be very dangerous, for I _can_ draw
breath, even though it hurts me. I will try," she continued, "to reach
the Oberhof, whither I was bound on this short-cut when I had to go and
meet with this accident. Give me your arm."
He had supported her only a few steps down the hill when she collapsed
"It won't do--the pain is too severe--I might faint on the way. We must
wait here in this place until somebody comes along who can fetch a
In spite of the pain of her wound she was clutching tightly in her left
hand a small package; this she now handed to him and said:
"Keep it for me--it is the money that I have collected for the baron--I
might lose it. We must prepare ourselves," she continued, "to remain
here for some little time. If it were only possible for you to make a
place for me to lie down and to give me something warm, so that the cold
won't penetrate to the wound!"
Thus she had presence of mind both for herself and him. He stood
speechless, pale and immovable, like a statue. Utter dismay filled his
heart and let not a single word escape from his lips.
Her appeal now put new life into him; he hurried to the tree behind
which he had hidden his hunting-bag. There he saw, lying on the ground,
the unfortunate gun. He seized it furiously and brought it down on a
stone with such strength that the stock was shattered to pieces, both
barrels bent, and the lock wrenched from the screws. He cursed the day,
himself, and his hand. Then, rushing back to the girl, who had sat down
on a stone in the "Open Tribunal," he fell at her feet, kissed the hem
of her dress, and with passionate tears flowing from his eyes in a
torrent, besought her forgiveness. She merely begged him to please
arise; he couldn't help doing it, the wound was surely of no
significance, and the thing for him to do now was to help.
He now fitted up a seat for her by laying his bag on the stone, bound
his handkerchief around her neck, and gently and loosely laid his coat
over her shoulders. She sat down on the stone. He took a seat beside her
and invited her to rest her head, for relief, against his breast. She
The moon, in its full clarity, had risen high in the heavens, and now
shone down with almost daytime brightness on the couple, whom a rude
accident had thus brought so close together. In the most intimate
proximity the strange man sat by the strange girl; she uttered low moans
of pain on his breast, while down his cheeks the tears ran
irrepressibly. Round about them the silent solitude of night was slowly
Finally Fortune so willed it that a late wanderer passed through the
cornfields. The Hunter's call reached his ears; he hurried to the spot
and was dispatched at once to the Oberhof. Soon afterwards footsteps
were heard coming up the hill; the men were bringing a sedan chair with
cushions. The Hunter gently lifted the wounded girl into it, and thus,
late at night, she reached the sheltering roof of her old friend, who
was, to be sure, greatly astonished to see his expected guest arrive in
such a condition.
On a clear morning in August there were so many cooking fires burning at
the Oberhof that it seemed as if they might be expecting the entire
population of all the surrounding towns to dinner. Over the hearth fire,
built up to unusual size with great logs and fagots, there was hanging
on a notched iron hook the very largest kettle that the household
possessed. Six or seven iron pots stood round these fires with their
contents boiling and bubbling. In the space before the house, toward the
oak grove, there were crackling, if history reports the truth, nine
fires, and an equal number, or at the most one less, in the yard near
the lindens. Over all these cooking-places jacks or roasters had been
erected, on which frying-pans were resting, or on which kettles of no
small size were hanging, although none of them could compare in capacity
with the one which was doing duty over the hearth fire.
The maids of the Oberhof were briskly hurrying back and forth with
skimming-spoons or forks between the various cooking-places. If the
guests were to find the food palatable, there could not be any dawdling
over the skimming and turning. For in the large kettle over the hearth
eight hens lent strength to the soup, and in the other twenty-three
or-four pots, kettles, and pans there were boiling or roasting six hams,
three turkeys, and five pigs, besides a corresponding number of hens.
While the maids were exerting themselves, the men too were industriously
attending to their part of the work. The one with the black eyes was
building an immense, long table with stands, blocks, and boards, in the
orchard among the flower-beds, having already completed a similar
construction in the entrance-hall. The fat, slow one was decorating with
green birch twigs the gates of the house, the walls of the
entrance-hall, and the doors of the two rooms in which the Pastor and
his Sexton had once eaten. He sighed deeply over this delightful green
work, and the heat, too, seemed to oppress him greatly. Nevertheless an
easier task had fallen to him than to his fellow-partner, the gruff,
red-haired man. For the former had only flexible May twigs to deal with,
whereas it fell to the latter to decorate the cattle for the festivity.
The red-haired man was, accordingly, gilding with gold tinsel the horns
of the cows and bullocks, which were standing on one side of the
entrance-hall behind their mangers, or else was tying bright-colored
bows and tassels around them. This was, in fact, a provoking task,
especially for an irascible man. For many of the cows and an occasional
bullock would have absolutely nothing to do with the festival, but shook
their heads and butted sideways with their horns, as often as the
red-haired fellow came anywhere near them with the tinsel and brush. For
a long time he suppressed his natural instinct, and merely grumbled
softly once in a while when a horn knocked the brush or the tinsel out
of his hand. These grumbles, however, scarcely interrupted the general
silence in which all the busily occupied people were attending to their
work. But when, finally, the pride of the stable, a large white-spotted
cow, with which he had been struggling in vain for more than a quarter
of an hour, became positively malicious and tried to give the red-haired
fellow a dangerous thrust, he lost all patience. Springing aside, he
seized that fence-pole with which he had once restrained himself from
striking Peter of the Bandkotten, and which happened by chance to be
handy, and gave the obstinate beast such a mighty blow on the groins
with the heavy end of it that the cow bellowed with pain, her sides
began to quiver, and her nostrils to snort.
The slow, fat fellow dropped the twigs which he had in his hand, the
first maid looked up from the kettle, and both cried out simultaneously:
"Heaven help us! What are you doing?" "When a worthless brute like this
refuses to listen to reason and will not be decent and let itself be
gilded, it ought to have its confounded bones smashed!"
He then wrenched the cow's head around and decorated her even more
beautifully than her mates. For the animal, having in her pain become
more tractable, now stood perfectly still and permitted the rough artist
to do anything he wanted to with her.
While the preparations for the wedding were being carried on below in
this energetic manner, the Justice was upstairs in the room where he
kept the sword of Charles the Great, putting on his best finery. The
chief factor in the festive attire which the peasants of that region
wear is the number of vests that they put on under their coats. The
richer a peasant is, the more vests he wears on extraordinary occasions.
The Justice had nine, and all of them were destined by him to be
assembled around his body on this day. He kept them hung up in a row on
wooden pegs behind a seed-cloth, which partitioned off one part of the
room from the other like a curtain. First the under ones of silver-gray
or red woolen damask, adorned with flowers, and then the outside ones of
brown, yellow and green cloth. These were all adorned with heavy silver
Behind this seed-cloth the Justice was dressing. He had neatly combed
his white hair, and his yellow, freshly-washed face shone forth under it
like a rape-field over which the snow has fallen in May. The expression
of natural dignity, which was peculiar to these features, was today
greatly intensified; he was the father of the bride, and felt it. His
movements were even slower and more measured than on the day when he
bargained with the horse-dealer. He examined each vest carefully before
he removed it from its peg, and then deliberately put them on, one after
the other, without over-hurrying himself in the process of buttoning
When the Justice was ready he slowly descended the stairs. In the
entrance-hall he surveyed the preparations--the fires, the kettles,
the pots, the green twigs, the ribboned and gilded horns of his cattle.
He seemed to be satisfied with everything, for several times he nodded
his head approvingly. He walked through the entrance-hall to the yard,
then toward the side of the oak grove, looked at the fires which were
burning there, and gave similar signs of approval, although always with
a certain dignity. When the white sand, with which the entire
entrance-hall and the space in front of the house was thickly sprinkled,
grated and crunched in a lively manner under his feet, this seemed to
afford him a special pleasure.
A maid was asked to put a chair for him in front of the house; he sat
down there, opposite the oak grove, and, with his legs stretched out in
front of him, his hat and cane in his hand, he awaited in sturdy silence
the continuation of the proceedings, while the golden sunlight shone
brightly down on him.
In the meantime two bridesmaids were adorning the bride in her room. All
around her were standing chests and linen bags, gaily painted with
flowers, which contained her dowry of cloth, bedding, yarn, linen and
flax. Even in the door-way and far out into the hall all the space was
occupied. In the midst of all these riches sat the bride in front of a
small mirror, very red and serious. The first bridesmaid put on her blue
stockings with the red clocks, the second threw over her a skirt of fine
black cloth, and on top of this a bodice of the same material and color.
Thereupon both occupied themselves with her hair, which was combed back
and braided behind into a sort of wheel.
During these preparations the bride never once said a word, while her
friends were all the more talkative. They praised her finery, extolled
her piled-up treasures, and every now and then a furtive sigh led one to
suspect that they would rather have been the adorned than the adorning.
Finally both girls, with solemn mien, came bringing in the bride's
crown; for the girls in that region do not wear a wreath on their
wedding-day, but a crown of gold and silver tinsel. The merchant who
provides their adornment merely rents the crown, and after the
wedding-day takes it back. Thus it wanders from one bride's head to
The bride lowered her head a little while her friends were putting on
the crown, and her face, when she felt the light weight of it on her
hair, became, if possible, even redder than before. In her hair, which,
strange enough, was black, although she lived among a blond people, the
gold and silver tinsel glittered gaily. She straightened herself up,
supported by her friends, and the two broad, gold bands which belonged
to the crown hung far down her back.
The men were already standing in front of the door ready to carry her
dotal belongings down into the entrance-hall. The bridesmaids seized
their friend by the hand, and one of them picked up the spinning-wheel,
which likewise had a definite function to perform in the coming
ceremony. And thus the three girls went slowly down the stairs to the
bride's father, while the men seized the chests and bags and started to
carry them down into the entrance-hall.
Then the bride, escorted by both bridesmaids, entered the door, holding
her head stiff and firm under the quivering gold crown, as if she were
afraid of losing the ornament. She offered her hand to her father, and,
without looking up, bade him a good morning. The old man, without any
show of feeling, replied "Thank you," and assumed his previous posture.
The bride sat down at the other side of the door, put her spinning-wheel
in front of her and began to spin industriously, an occupation which
custom required her to continue until the moment the bridegroom arrived
and conducted her to the bridal carriage.
In the distance faint notes of music were heard, which announced the
approach of the bridal carriage. But even this sign that the decisive
moment was at hand, the moment which separates a child from the parental
house and shoves the father into the background so far as his child's
dependence is concerned, did not produce any commotion at all among the
people, who, like models of old usages, were sitting on either side of
the door. The daughter, very red, but with a look of unconcern, spun
away unwearyingly; the father looked steadily ahead of him, and neither
of them, bride or father, said a word to the other.
The first bridesmaid, in the meanwhile, was out in the orchard gathering
a bouquet for the bridegroom. She selected late roses, fire-lilies,
orange-yellow starworts--a flower which in that locality they call
"The-Longer-the-Prettier" and in other places "The Jesus Flowerlet"--and
sage. The bouquet finally grew to such proportions that it could have
sufficed for three bridegrooms of high rank--for peasants must always do
things on a large scale. But all together it did not smell any too sweet,
for the sage emitted a strange odor, and the starworts a positively bad
one. On the other hand, neither of them, especially the sage, could be
left out, if the bouquet was to possess the traditional completeness.
When she had it ready, the girl held it out before her with proud
enjoyment, and tied it together with a broad, dark-red ribbon. She then
went to take her place beside the bride.
THE HUNTER AND HIS PREY
While the ceremony was thus monopolizing the entire Oberhof, there were,
wholly without ceremony, two young people together upstairs in the room
which the Hunter had formerly occupied. The young girl was sitting at a
little table by the window and hemming a beautiful kerchief which the
Hunter had bought for her in the city and given to her for a wedding-day
adornment. She pricked her finger more often today than on the evening
when she was helping the bride with her linen. For when the eyes do not
watch the needle, it is apt to take its own malicious course.
The young man was standing before her and working at something; he was,
namely, cutting out a pen for her. For at last the girl had said she
would of course have to send news as to where she was, and request
permission to remain a few days longer at the Oberhof. He stood on the
opposite side of the little table, and in a glass between him and the
girl a white lily and a rose, freshly cut, were emitting a sweet
perfume. He did not hurry unduly with his work; before he applied the
knife he asked the girl several times whether she preferred to write
with a soft or a hard point, fine or blunt, and whether he should make
the quill short or leave it long. He plied her with numerous other
questions of this kind, as thoroughly as if he were a writing-master
producing a calligraphic work of art. To these detailed questions the
girl, in a low voice, made many indefinite replies; now she wanted the
pen cut so, now so, and every once in a while she looked at him, sighing
each time she did it. The youth sighed even more often, I do not know
whether it was on account of the indefiniteness of her answers, or for
some other reason. Once he handed the pen to her, so that she might
indicate how long she wanted the slit to be. She did so, and when she
handed the pen back to him, he seized something more than the
pen--namely, her hand. His own hand grasped it in such a way that the
pen fell to the floor and for a moment was lost to their memories, all
consciousness on both their parts being directed to their hands.
I will betray a great secret to you. The youth and the girl were the
Hunter and the beautiful, blond Lisbeth.
The wounded girl had been carried to her room on that night, and the
Justice, very much perturbed--something he seldom was--had come out of
his room and sent immediately for the nearest surgeon. The latter,
however, lived an hour and a half's ride from the Oberhof; he was,
moreover, a sound sleeper, and reluctant to go out at night. Thus, the
morning had already dawned when he finally arrived with his meagre
outfit of instruments. He removed the cloth from her shoulders, examined
the wound, and made a very grave face. Luckily, the young Suabian's
charge had merely grazed Lisbeth; only two shot had penetrated her
flesh, and these not very deeply. The surgeon extracted them, bandaged
the wound, recommended rest and cold water, and went home with the proud
feeling that if he had not been summoned so promptly and had not so
cheerfully done his duty, even in the night, gangrene would inevitably
have resulted from the wound.
Lisbeth, while they were waiting for the doctor, had been very calm; she
had scarcely uttered a complaint, although her face, which was deathly
pale, betrayed the fact that she was suffering pain. Even the operation,
which the surgeon's clumsy hand caused to be more painful than was
necessary, she had undergone bravely. She asked for the shot and
presented them jokingly to the Hunter. They were "sure shot," she said
to him--he should keep them, and they would bring him luck.
The Hunter accepted the "sure shot," wrapped them in a piece of paper,
and gently withdrew his beautiful victim's head from his encircling arms
to let her sleep. In these arms Lisbeth had rested with her pain, as up
on the "Open Tribunal," ever since entering the room in the Oberhof.
With sorrowful eyes he had gazed fixedly into her face, and had now and
then met a friendly return-glance, which she directed up to him as if to
He went out into the open. It was impossible for him to leave the
Oberhof now; he had, he said, to await the recovery of the poor wounded
girl, for human nature, he added, demanded that much. In the orchard he
found the Justice, who, having found out that there was no danger, had
gone on about his business as if nothing had happened. He asked the old
man to furnish him with quarters for a longer stay. The Justice
bethought himself, but knew of no room to accommodate the Hunter. "And
even if it is only a corner in the corn-loft!" cried the Hunter, who was
awaiting the decision of his old host as if his fate depended on it.
After much deliberation it finally occurred to the Justice that there
was a corner in the corn-loft, where he stored grain when the harvest
turned out too abundant for the usual storing-places. At that time it
was empty, and to it the old man now conducted his young guest, adding,
however, that he would probably not like it up there. The Hunter went
up, and although the bare and depressing room received its small amount
of light only through a hole in the roof, and there was nothing but a
board and a chest to sit on, nevertheless he was well satisfied. "For,"
he said, "it is all the same to me, if I can only remain here until I
feel certain that I haven't done any lasting damage with my accursed
shooting. The weather is fine, and I shan't need to be up here much of
And, as a matter of fact, he was not up there in his nook much of the
time, but down with Lisbeth. He begged her forgiveness for his act so
often that she grew impatient, and told him, with a frown of annoyance
which became her very well, to just stop it. After five days the wound
had completely healed, the bandage could be removed, and light reddish
spots on her white shoulder were all that remained to show the place of
She remained at the Oberhof, for the Justice had previously invited her
to the wedding. This event was postponed a few days because the dowry
would not be ready at the time appointed. The Hunter remained too,
although the Justice did not invite him. He invited himself to the
wedding, however, by saying to the old man one day that the customs of
the country seemed to him so remarkable that he wished to learn what
they were on the occasion of a wedding.
Soon there were just two times in the day for the Hunter, an unhappy and
a happy one. The unhappy time was when Lisbeth was helping the bride
with her linen--and this she did every day. The Hunter then was
absolutely at a loss what to do with his time. The happy time, on the
other hand, began when Lisbeth rested from her work and took the fresh
air. It was then certain that the two would come together, the Hunter
and she. And were he ever so far away behind the bushes, it would always
seem as if somebody were saying to him, "Lisbeth is now outdoors." Then
he would fly to the place where he suspected she was, and behold! his
suspicions had not deceived him, for even from a distance he would catch
sight of her slender form and pretty face. Then she would always bend
over sideways after a flower, as if she were not aware of his approach.
But beforehand, to be sure, she had looked in the direction from which
he was coming.
And now they would walk together through field and meadow, for he would
beg her so earnestly to do it that it seemed almost sinful to her to
refuse him so small a request. The further away from the Oberhof they
wandered in the waving fields and green meadows, the more free and happy
would their spirits grow. When the red, setting sun lighted up
everything about them, including their own youthful forms, it seemed to
them as if anxiety and pain could never enter into their lives again.
On these walks the Hunter would do everything possible to please Lisbeth
that he could guess from her eyes she wanted him to do. If she happened
accidentally to look toward a cluster of wild field-flowers that were
blooming on a high hedge at some distance from the road, before the wish
to have them had even had time to enter her mind, he had swung himself
up on the hedge. And in places where the road dropped off somewhat
abruptly, or where a stone lay in their way, or where it was necessary
for them to cross an insignificant bit of water, he would stretch out
his arm to lead and support her, while she would laugh over this
unnecessary readiness to help. Nevertheless she would accept his arm,
and permit her own to rest in it for a while, even after the road had
become level again. On these quiet, pleasant walks the young souls had
a great deal to impart to each other. He told her all about the Suabian
mountains, the great Neckar, the Alps, the Murg Valley, and the
Hohenstaufen Mountain on which the illustrious imperial family, whose
deeds he related to her, originated. Then he would speak of the great
city where he had studied, and of the many clever people whose
acquaintance he had made there. Finally, he told her about his mother,
how tenderly he had loved her, and how it was perhaps for that reason
that he afterwards came to cherish and revere all women more, because
each one of them made him think of his own deceased mother.
Lisbeth, on the other hand, had only the story of her own simple life to
tell him. In it there were no big cities, no clever people, and, alas,
no mother! And yet he thought he had never heard anything more
beautiful. For every menial service which she had performed, she had
rendered noble by love. Of the young lady and the Baron she had a
thousand touching things to tell, in all the little haunts in and behind
the castle garden she had had adventures to relate, and she had read in
the books which she had secretly brought down from the garret all sorts
of astounding things about strange peoples and countries and remarkable
occurrences on land and water--and all this she had retained in her
Thus their days at the Oberhof passed, one after the other. The Justice,
to be sure, looked upon it all with different eyes, but was, of course,
obliged to let things which he could not prevent go on. But he often
shook his head when he saw his young guests walking and talking with
each other so much, and would say to himself: "It isn't right for a
young nobleman like that!"
THE DISTURBANCE. WHAT HAPPENED IN A VILLAGE CHURCH
Finally the Hunter finished cutting the pen. He pushed a sheet of paper
toward her and asked her to try it and see if it would write. She did
so, but could not make it work very well; it had teeth, she said. He
looked at what she had written; it was her own name, in the clearest and
most regular lines. The fine letters delighted him.
Then the door opened and the bridesmaid entered with a dress and a
request that Lisbeth be the third bridesmaid.
Outside the music, varied by the ringing of bells, was coming nearer and
nearer, and now the bridal carriage, drawn by two strong horses, hove
into sight at the farther end of the road leading through the oak grove.
The first bridesmaid stood demurely beside the bride, with her large and
rather malodorous bouquet; the men stood by the chests and bundles in
the entrance-hall, all ready to seize them for the last time; the
Justice was looking about anxiously for the second and third
bridesmaids, for if the latter were not on hand before the appearance of
the bridegroom to take the place which the day assigned to them, the
entire ceremony, according to his notion, was done for. But finally,
exactly at the right time, the two awaited girls came down the steps and
took their stands on either side of the first, just as the carriage
turned in toward the open space in front of the house.
With an expression of unconcern on his face, like that of all the
principal persons of this ceremony, the bridegroom alighted from the
carriage. Some young people, his most intimate friends, followed him,
adorned with ribbons and bouquets. He slowly approached the bride, who
even now did not look up, but went on spinning and spinning. The first
bridesmaid then fastened the large bouquet of sage to the breast of his
wedding-jacket. The bridegroom accepted the bouquet without thanks, for
thanks were not included in the traditional routine. He silently
offered his hand to his father-in-law, then, just as silently, to his
bride, who thereupon arose and placed herself with the bridesmaids,
between the first and second and in front of the third.
In the meanwhile, the servants had carried the dowry to the wagon. The
scene assumed a rather wild aspect, for the people with the baggage, in
hurrying back and forth among the cooking-fires, kicked from its place
many a burning fagot which crackled and showered sparks in the very path
down which the bridal pair were to walk. After the loading of linen, the
flax, and the various pieces of wearing apparel, the bride, with the
three bridesmaids and the spinning wheel, which she carried herself,
took a seat in the carriage. The bridegroom sat down apart from her in
the back part of the vehicle, and the young fellows were obliged to
follow on foot, as the dowry occupied so much room that there was none
left for them. One of them made this the subject of traditional
facetious remarks, which he addressed to the Justice, who replied to
them with a smirk. He walked along behind the young men, and the Hunter
placed himself at his side. Thus two men walked together, who on this
day were cherishing the most radically opposed feelings. For the Justice
was thinking of nothing but the wedding, and the Hunter of anything but
the wedding, although his thoughts were hovering about the bridal
Now let us allow the latter to drive slowly to the home of the
bridegroom, where already the entire wedding-company is waiting for
it--men, women, girls and youths from all the surrounding estates, in
addition to friends from the city, the Captain and the Collector. There
the carriage is unloaded. Meanwhile let us go on ahead to the church,
which, shaded by walnut-trees and wild chestnuts, stands on a green hill
in the centre of the entire community.
Inasmuch as it was the proper time, and as the people had already
gathered in the church, the Sexton began to play the customary "Battle
of Prague" on the organ. He knew but one prelude, and this was that
forgotten battle-hymn which perhaps a few elderly people will recollect
if I recall to their memories that the musical picture begins with the
advance of Ziethen's Hussars. From this march the Sexton managed to
swing over, with transitions which, to be sure, were not infrequently
rather bold, into the ordinary church melodies.
While the hymn was being sung the Pastor entered the pulpit, and when he
chanced to cast his eyes over the congregation, they met an unexpected
sight. A gentleman from court, namely, was standing among the peasants,
whose attention he was diverting because they were all constantly
looking up from their hymnals and glancing at his star. The aristocratic
gentleman wanted to share a hymn book with some one of the peasants, in
order to join in the singing, but since each one of them, as soon as the
gentleman drew near to him, respectfully stepped aside, he was unable to
accomplish his purpose, and succeeded only in causing an almost general
unrest. For when he sat down in one of the pews, every one of the
peasants seated in it moved along to the extreme farther end, and when
he moved along toward them they finally deserted the pew altogether.
This moving along and getting up was repeated in three or four pews, so
that the aristocratic gentleman, who was attending this little country
service with the best of intentions, was finally obliged to give up the
idea of taking an active part in it. He had business in the region, and
did not want to miss an opportunity of winning, by means of
condescension, the hearts of these country people for the throne to
which he felt himself so near. For that reason, as soon as he heard of
the peasant wedding, the idea of attending it affably from beginning to
end immediately occurred to him.
The sight of the gentleman did not make a pleasant impression on the
Pastor, who knew him to be a member of one of the brilliant social
circles in the capital. He knew what a peculiar custom would follow the
sermon and feared the gentleman's ridicule. For that reason his thoughts
lost some of their usual clearness, his feelings were somewhat
concealed, and the more he talked the further he digressed from the
subject. His distraction increased when he noticed that the gentleman
was casting appreciative glances at him and occasionally nodding his
head in approval; this last happened usually when the speaker was most
dissatisfied with what he was saying. He consequently cut short certain
parts of the nuptial address and hurried along to the formal ceremony.
The bridal pair were kneeling, and the fateful questions were being put
to them. Then something happened which gave the aristocratic stranger a
violent shock. For, looking to the right and left and before and behind
him, he saw men and women, girls and youths drawing out thick clubs of
twisted sack-cloth. Everybody was standing up and whispering and looking
around, as it seemed to him, with wild and malicious glances. As it was
impossible for him to guess the true meaning of these preparations, he
completely lost his composure; and since the clubs seemed to indicate
incontestably that somebody was to be the recipient of blows, he got the
notion into his head that he himself was going to be the object of a
general maltreatment. He remembered how fearsomely the people had moved
away from him, and he thought to himself how rough the character of
country people was, and how perhaps the peasants, not understanding his
condescending motive, had resolved to get rid of the disagreeable
intruder. All this went through his soul like a streak of lightning, and
he was at a loss to know how he was going to protect his person and
dignity from the horrible attack.
While he was helplessly wrestling for a decision, the Pastor concluded
the ceremonies, and there immediately arose the wildest tumult. All the
bearers of clubs, men and women, rushed forward yelling and screaming
and flourishing their weapons; the aristocratic gentleman, however, in
three sidewise bounds over several pews, reached the pulpit. In a trice
he had ascended it, and from this elevated position called out in a loud
voice to the raging crowd below:
"I advise you not to attack me! I cherish the kindest and most
condescending feelings toward you all, and any injury done to me will be
resented by the King, as one done to himself."
The peasants, however, inspired by the object they had in view, did not
listen to this speech, but ran on up to the altar. On the way this and
that person received some unpremeditated blows before the intended
object of them was reached. This was the bridegroom. Clapping his hands
over his head, the latter with great exertion forced a passage for
himself through the crowd, who rained blows on his back, shoulders and
wherever there was room. He ran, violently pushing people aside, to the
church door; but before he got there he had received certainly more than
a hundred blows, and thus, well covered with black-and-blue marks, he
left the church on his wedding-day. Everybody ran after him; the bride's
father and bride followed, the Sexton closed the door immediately after
the last one had passed through it and betook himself to the vestry,
which had a private exit. In a few seconds the entire church was empty.
All this time the aristocratic gentleman had remained in the pulpit,
while the Pastor stood before the altar, bowing to him with a friendly
smile. The gentleman, when he saw from his Ararat that the blows were
not meant for him, grew calm and dropped his arms. When it was quiet, he
asked the clergyman:
"For heaven's sake, Pastor, tell me what this furious scene meant; what
had the poor man done to his assailants?"
"Nothing, your Excellency," replied the Pastor who, notwithstanding the
dignity of the place, could hardly help laughing at the nobleman in the
pulpit. "This act of beating the bridegroom after the marriage ceremony
is an old, old custom which the people refuse to give up. They say that
it is intended to let the bridegroom feel how much blows hurt, so that
in the future he will not abuse his rights as a husband toward his
"Well, but that is certainly a most remarkable custom," mumbled his
Excellency, descending from the pulpit.
The Pastor received him very courteously below and conducted his
aristocratic acquaintance into the vestry, in order to let him outdoors
from there. The latter, who was still somewhat frightened, said that he
would have to think it over, whether or not he could take part in the
further proceedings of the ceremony. The clergyman, on the way to the
vestry, expressed profound regret that he had not been previously
advised of his Excellency's design, because he then would have been in a
position to inform him of the beating custom, and thus to avert so great