Story type: Literature
Translator: Charles Goepp
THE GIRLS AT THE WELL.
On Saturday afternoon the house of the Red Tailor was alive with singing. Doors were opened and closed with a bang, windows thrown up, chairs and tables moved here and there, and the broom rattled among the lifeless bones; but over all was heard a rich, full, female voice, travelling up and down stairs, into rooms and out of passages. Song followed hard upon song, grave and gay meeting with equal favor. At last the singer was forthcoming,–a girl of stout proportions but the utmost symmetry of form. A jacket of knitted gray yarn set off the swelling outlines to the best advantage: one corner of the apron was tucked up and left the other hanging jauntily. With the milking-pail in her hand, she went to the stable. The words of the songs were now more distinctly audible. One of them ran thus:–
“I climb’d up the cherry-tree;
For cherries I don’t care.
I thought I might my true love see:
My true love wasn’t there.
“It isn’t long since the rain came down,
And all the trees are wet;
I had a true love all my own:
I wish I had him yet.
“But he has gone abroad, abroad,
To see what luck would do;
And I have found another love:
He’s a good fellow, too.”
With a water-bucket under her arm, she made her appearance again, locked the door of the house, and concealed the key under a stack of kindling-wood. The well before the town-hall was empty and locked up; the upper well, also under lock and key, was only opened by Soges every morning and evening, and water distributed to each family in proportion to the number of its inmates. This scarcity of water is a great evil, particularly in the heat of summer. On the way our heroine was stopped by Anselm the Jew’s Betsy, who cried,–
“Wait, Crescence: I’ll go with you.”
“Hurry up, then. When is your intended coming back?” returned Crescence.
“At our Pentecost,–this day fortnight.”
“When is it to be?”
“Some time after the Feast of Tabernacles. You must dance with us all day, mind. We’ll have one more good time of it: we’ve always been good friends, haven’t we?”
“Betsy, you ought to have married Seligmann and stayed here. A bird in the hand’s worth two in the bush. Going all the way to Alsace! How do you know what’s to become of you after you get there?”
“Why, how you talk!” replied Betsy. “With my four hundred florins, how am I to choose? And over there it counts for almost a thousand francs; and that’s more like. Are you going to live in the village always? When your geometer gets an appointment, won’t you have to go with him? Oh, did I tell you?–my intended went with Florian to the Schramberg market the other day from Strasbourg. Florian had I don’t know how many–at least three hundred–ducats in his girdle, to buy beeves with. He carries himself like a prince, and his master trusts him with all his property. And they do say he’s going to give him his daughter.”
“I wish him much happiness.”
“Now, you needn’t make believe you didn’t like Florian’s little finger better than the whole geometer.”
“What if I did? He’s got nothing, and I’ve got nothing; and ‘twice nothing is nothing at all,’ says George the blacksmith.”
The two girls had reached the well, where many of their companions were already awaiting the arrival of the officer of Government.
“Have you heard, Crescence?” cried Christian’s Dolly–“Florian’s come back an hour ago: you’ve got a full team to drive now.”
“You preach to your grandmother,” retorted Crescence: “such a beanpole as you may open every shutter of her windows and ’11 never catch a gudgeon.”
“That’s it,” said a girl with forward air and manners, who bore the ominous designation of “Corpse Kitty,” because she fitted the shrouds. Passing her hand over her mouth, she went on:–“Give her her change, Crescence: we know it’s all cash-down where you come from.” She accompanied the words with a significant gesture.
“Oh, you’re nervous because nobody will lend you any thing,” replied the assailed one. “You’re a sweet one, Dolly, to set her a-going.”
“Well, what did you fly at Dolly that way for?” said Melchior’s Lenore: “she didn’t mean any harm by it. Can’t you take a little fun?”
“Has Florian really come home?” asked Crescence, softly.
“Of course he has,” cried Corpse Kitty, aloud. “Just look out, you hemp-toad: you’ll find you’ve ‘most done carrying your head as high as a sleigh-horse: Florian will take the geometer’s bearings before you know what’s what.”
Soges now appeared as another Moses to open the well for the daughters of Jethro: he did not seem to woo any of them, however, for he was not by any means in a bland or amiable frame of mind.
“Give Crescence the cream of the water: she’s got to have the geometer’s standees washed to-night,” cried Kitty.
“Let her talk,” said Lenore: “you can’t worry her more than by not listening to her. She’s just like the dogs: they bark at you, and if you walk on quietly they run home again and bark at the next person that comes along the road. She’s after making everybody out as bad as she is herself, if she can. But you must be on the look-out about Florian now, or you’ll get into trouble.”
“Yes,” said another girl: “he’s brought lots of money with him, and the first thing he did was to give his father a gold ducat. The money must ‘a’ looked scared when it got into that room. The old fellow’s so poor that the mice all ran away from him.”
“Florian can dress and undress himself five times over and not take all the fine clothes out of his chest,” said a third.
“And he speaks French ‘most all the time.”
“And he has a watch, with a chain, and all the tools of his trade hung to it in silver for charms.”
“And he’s got a black mustache you can hardly help kissing.”
A dispute interrupted this torrent of items.
“What’re you pushing me so for?” said Corpse Kitty to Kilian’s Annie: “I’m not a rich chap.”
“Hold your jaw, you!–you’ve been to the House of Correction twice already, and the third time’s written on your forehead now.”
“I’ll mark your forehead,” screeched Kitty, striking at Annie with her bucket; but she parried the blow, and struck another. A fierce struggle ensued: the buckets were dropped, and the combatants “clinched” hand to hand. After looking on passively a while, the others interfered, Soges particularly dealing official blows to the right and left with great vigor and impartiality. Like two fighting-cocks torn asunder, the hostile parties looked daggers at each other as they picked up their buckets. Annie brushed her hair out of her face, crying bitterly, and complaining that nobody was safe, nor ever would be, until Corpse Kitty was in the House of Correction for life.
Crescence’s turn having come at last, she carried the heavy bucket home on her head and a still heavier load in her heart. Tears were rolling down her cheeks; but she pretended that they were drops from the bucket, and always wiped the lower rim of it with her apron. There was confusion in her heart now, and she foresaw still greater troubles in the future.
Having returned home, she went through with her work, but without singing another note.
Lest our readers should be at a loss to divine what a titled personage like a geometer should be doing in the village, it is proper to remind them that the general survey of the country took place about this time. Every nook and corner of the land was mapped, labelled, and numbered; and in the course of the operation a new element was infused into the life of the people. A race of “city fellows,” belonging neither to the order of parsons nor to that of schoolmasters, made their way into the village: they were generally young, smart, and fond of enjoyment; and the importance they soon acquired among the female portion of the community has already become apparent.
These gentlemen received the sounding title of “geometers.” A surveyor was a plain surveyor; and as these people, for some reason or other, were to appear to the peasantry in the light of a superior rank of beings, and, as it was important to disseminate a knowledge of and taste for the classics, they received the Greek addition. Crescence’s playmate had married a geometer-general (should he not have been called a hypergeometer?) and lived at Biberach: this had made Crescence acquainted with one of his colleagues, and her parents were most anxious to push matters, for a better “providence” could not have been hoped for. The Red Tailor in his mind’s eye already saw his daughter as Madame Geometrix-General.
FLYING OFF THE HANDLE.
It was dark. Crescence stood by the fire in the kitchen: the College Chap came in with very audible steps, and said,–
“Crescence, how are you? I want a pound of that tobacco. Have you got any left?”
“Yes, walk in: my mother ‘ll wait on you.”
“I won’t poison your soup if I do stay here a bit,” he said aloud: then he continued, very softly, “Florian’s got home. Come out a little after a while, and you shall hear us.”
Without waiting for an answer, he went into the room. When he came out again, Crescence was gone.
A little later the voices of the three comrades were heard before the Red Tailor’s house, singing, whistling, and laughing. Florian’s, which had long been wanting, was doubly clear and full. Finding all their efforts unavailing, Peter cried under the window,–
“Crescence, isn’t this your goose running about here?”
The College Chap, crouching behind the wood-pile, was cackling with the accent of a native.
The window was opened; but, instead of Crescence, the tailor’s wife looked out, and said,–
“Crack your jokes before somebody else’s house.”
With a roar of laughter the College Chap returned to the middle of the road.
Within, Crescence sat with the geometer, paying but little heed to his blandishments: at last she feigned a headache and went to bed.
Tired of their fruitless watch, the three boys in the road bent their steps toward the inn. They had not gone far before they encountered Josey, the French simpleton. The College Chap cried, seizing him by the collar,–
” Qui vive? la bourse on la vie? “
” Paridadoin mullien,” calmly replied the person addressed, meaning to say, “What do you want?”
“Here’s a jolly lark!” cried the student, triumphantly. “Let’s take Josey with us and make him do the geometer. Come; we’ll treat you to a mug of beer.”
” Moin paroula goin,” answered Josey,–as if to say, “I’ve no objections.” His words were all formed by accident; and he eked them out with nods and grins. Originally Josey was not more than half a simpleton; but the half which Nature had denied had been carefully educated into him by the wags of the village. If any villager has a mole in his disposition, he may be assured that his townsmen will stretch it into a mountain for their common behoof and education.
Nobody knew, or cared to know, what had given Josey the notion that he was master of all the living tongues. Some contended that he had been dry-nurse so long as to have acquired the baby-lingo by incessant practice. Be that as it may, it was impossible to address him in any real or imaginary language without receiving an instantaneous reply. This apart, he was as good a field-hand as many others; and, whether he understood the language of the beasts or not, they understood him and did his bidding. In church Josey was the only member of the congregation who nodded at every word of the Latin mass, to imply that he understood it to perfection.
This individual was for this evening the fourth member of the usually so exclusive confederacy of three.
” Bon soir,” said Florian, as they entered the bar-room. He received a kindly welcome at all hands. The assembled guests scanned him from head to foot, and nodded to each other with looks that seemed to say, “A fine fellow, Florian; yes, if you want to come home you must go abroad first.”
One who sat behind the stove said to his neighbor, “This is a better way to come back than that thief Schlunkel’s: he’s been twice to the penitentiary, and has just come back. I wish we were rid of him again.”
Florian ordered a bottle of wine for himself and his comrades, while Josey was regaled with a mug of beer at an adjoining table.
When Babbett brought the refreshments, he remarked, in an under-tone, but yet loud enough to be heard by all, ” Comme elle est jolie! — bien jolie! “
” Qui? ” returned the College Chap. The company nudged each other,–to think they could talk French so well together.
Florian treated the whole company,–to their great satisfaction, for, though frequenters of the tavern, they sat there as dry customers: the stimulus made their hearts glad, and the sensation was reflected upon the spirits of Florian. He seemed to have expended his stock of French; for “Snuff the chandelle ” is not pure Parisian.
The point of the joke was lost, nevertheless; for the geometer, who put up at the Eagle, was not there.
“Are you going to stay with us, Florian?” asked Babbett.
” Nous verrons : we shall see.”
“Tell us something of your travels,” said Caspar, the host, who felt it incumbent on him to promote the conversation. “Have you been to Paris?”
“Of course,” answered Florian, in a tone of voice in which a shrewd observer would have detected the ring of false metal; “but I didn’t like it there. Nancy’s the finest place yet. Go into a tavern there, and the walls are all looking-glasses, the tables are marble, and you eat and drink out of nothing but silver. You ought to go there once: you’d open your eyes and ears.”
These signs of absorbing attention now showed themselves in Florian’s own features; for the geometer, with his two colleagues, entered the room. They passed through to the little back parlor, where a table was set for them.
Florian seized his glass, made it clink against those of his friends, and said, ” A votre sante. “
Caspar had lost his interest in Florian’s narration, and hastened to meet the new-comers and light them to their supportable, which was set in the back room. Florian, twirling his mustache, asked Constantine, very softly, “Which is it?”
“The lobsided one, with long hair, that came in first.”
For a time all were silent, and nothing was heard but the clatter of knives and forks behind the screen.
But suddenly Constantine began to sing:–
“Oh, man of geometry,
Pull up your pegs:
How can you see straight with such
Shocking round legs?”
A burst of laughter filled the room, instantly succeeded by another silence. The knives and forks behind the screen were breathless also.
Florian got up and said to Josey, ” Comment vous portez-vous, Monsieur Geometre? “
” Quadulta loing,” replied Josey, who continued to talk gibberish, amid renewed peals of laughter.
“‘Wish you joy of your berth,” said Constantine, taking the mop from the slop-bucket. “Here: just survey this table for me: you can do it very well, you know, for there’s no need of brains.”
Amid constant and increasing merriment, Josey entered upon his labors, and proceeded until Babbett came up, saying,–
“Have done with this, now, and crack your jokes somewhere else. Be quiet, Josey, or go about your business.”
Josey struck the table and jabbered grimly. The screen was suddenly pushed aside, and Steinhaeuser, the admirer of Crescence, appeared, restrained by his two comrades from assaulting the mocker. Caspar tried to pacify him, and, as soon as he had partially succeeded, he stepped up to the three, and said, with more decision than might have been expected,–
“I’ll tell you what: this sort of thing can’t be done on my premises; and the sooner you know it the better. Drink your wine quietly, or I’ll show you what’s outside of the door. I won’t have my guests insulted while I’m master of this house. No offence to one; but I will have order.”
” Juste,” said Florian: “all right: I’ll find the gentleman somewhere else in good time. You hear, you lobsided lout over there? If I catch you within half a mile of Crescence again, I’ll knock your crooked legs into a cocked hat, and then you may toddle on your tripod.”
“You ragamuffin!” roared Steinhaeuser, before whom Caspar had posted himself. Florian made for him with a “Comapulation smash! foudre de Dieu! ” but Caspar hauled him back, and Constantine was shrewd enough to interfere as a peacemaker.
The three left the house, followed by Josey. On the road they vowed never to patronize the Eagle again. Florian made an effort to go back, however: he hadn’t given the landlord all his change.
“Thunder an’ ouns!” said Constantine, “stay here, I tell you. You’re the best man for flying off the handle in Wurtemberg. Be quiet, now: we’ll manage to lay the geometer out some time, and make him forget the resurrection of the legs.”
This counsel prevailed; and, to compensate themselves for their enforced inaction, they travelled through the village, the College Chap howling like a whipped dog, and making, as he expressed it, all the dogs in the houses rebellious.
WEEKDAY LIFE ON SUNDAY.
Next day Crescence did not dress in her Sunday clothes to go to church, but complained of being unwell, and remained at home.
The tailor, when he came home from church and saw his daughter in dishabille, said,–
“What’s that? Be quiet, I tell you, once and for all,” he continued, seeing Crescence about to speak. “You don’t feel very well, because Florian’s come back, and you don’t want to be seen in the street. I’ve heard all about the fuss he had with the geometer last night. Now, just for spite, you must go to the Horb Garden to-day with the geometer. That’s what I tell you: and one word’s as good as a thousand.”
“No use. Go up-stairs and dress yourself, or I’ll measure your clothes with this yardstick.”
“Let him talk,” said the tailor’s wife, who had entered by this time: “what he says is for the mice to dance by. Crescence, if you don’t feel well, stay at home. If it depended on him, you wouldn’t have a shred of clothes to put on, good or bad: all he can do is to put his feet under the table three times a day and get himself fed like a billet of soldiers.”
The tailor advanced upon Crescence; but his wife posted herself in front of her, clenched her fists, and scared her liege-lord into a corner.
These people were fresh from church, where they had prayed and sung of love, peace, and happiness. Their hymn-books were still in their hands, and already had Discord resumed its reign.
Indeed, we have stumbled upon a peculiar household. The mother had been the parson’s cook, and had married the tailor rather suddenly. Crescence was her oldest child, and she had, besides, a son and a daughter. She still wore citizen’s dress, with the sole exception of the black cap of the peasant-woman, which, from its superiority in cheapness to the lace caps of the votaries of Paris, seems destined to survive all other traces of the peculiar costume of the peasantry.
During the early part of their wedded life they lived together very harmoniously; for where there is plenty of all things needful none but the most quarrelsome contract habits of dispute. Such a state of things is entitled, among the refined as well as among the vulgar, a happy match!
The tailor worked at his trade, and his wife kept a little shop for the sale of groceries and odds and ends.
But what is more subject to the fashions than those kings of fashion, the tailors? Balt only worked for the gentlefolks and for the Jews, who also wore citizens’ dress: make peasants’ clothes he could not,–and would not, for he had been to Berlin. New competitors established themselves in the village and in the neighborhood, and Balt would run about for days without finding work.
This induced him to enter upon a speculation, in which we find him still engaged. He went to Stuttgard in company with Anselm Meyer, Betsy’s father, and bought old clothes to make new ones of. He particularly affected the old scarlet swallow-tail coats of the court footmen, in procuring which Anselm was of great assistance to him, as he had made acquaintances in high places in the times when all things wanted for the court were obtained on the contract-system. These liveries were cut up into red waistcoats for the peasants, such as are worn in the Black Forest to this day. They also purchased the old uniforms of the officers, and transformed the red lining of the warrior’s habiliments into vestments for the peaceful shepherd. It was said, however, that Anselm managed to monopolize the lion’s share of the profits, besides securing an additional commission at the hands of the illustrious venders.
From the time that Balt went out of fashion and the fortunes of the house began to ebb, the couple ceased the practice of ever exchanging a word of good feeling. Balt was scarcely permitted to hold a spoon in his hand long enough to eat his dinner. He could hardly call his soul his own; and, though nominally the master-tailor, he had not the power to cut a piece of bacon to his liking of a Sunday. Wherever he was, he was in his wife’s way: she was absolute mistress, for she went on a trip every fall, and after her return the establishment always showed symptoms of a good supply of funds.
The children clung to the mother, of course, for not only had Balt fallen from his high estate, but he was not much at home. He hardly showed himself, except to eat and sleep. The former was well salted with pithy conversation, and the latter soothed with a well-ordered lecture.
Crescence now looked contemptuously at her father. The geometer entered, and at once the father and mother ran over with the milk of human kindness and loved each other tenderly. Crescence alone looked sad, and her lips trembled.
“Hurry, Crescence, and get dressed,” said her mother. “Mr. Geometer, will you take dinner with us to-day? Do, please. It’s nothing much, to-be-sure,–sourcrout, dumplings, and ham; but you’ll like it for all that: Crescence did the cooking.” A shrill giggle accompanied almost every word, the effect of which was further enhanced by a way the good lady had of twitching her nose as she spoke.
Balt exerted all his eloquence, and almost resorted to “gentle compulsion,” to induce the geometer to stay. He took his hat out of his hand and refused to return it, well knowing that if the geometer stayed there would not only be a peaceful dinner, but perhaps also a quart of beer. This hope was realized. Cordele, the youngest daughter, was sent to the Eagle, and returned with a bottle under her apron,–a concealment not owing to any scruple of public opinion on the subject of temperance, but to that desire to make a secret of every thing which arises in every village as a foil to the habitual endeavor of everybody to know every thing about everybody else’s business.
Crescence, finely dressed, but with eyes inflamed with weeping, brought the dinner. To guard against inquiries, she complained of smoke in the kitchen. Thus the dinner was richly spiced with falsehood. Before the geometer had half cleared his plate the worthy hostess put another piece upon it. He thanked her heartily for this hospitality, not perceiving that the good lady had only removed the savory morsel to snatch it away from her lord and master, who had honored it with his preference. From a similar motive, she took such excellent care to keep the guest’s glass replenished that very little of the beverage came to the tailor’s lips. The conversation was carried on by the lady of the house and the geometer exclusively. When the latter narrated the insolence of Florian, Crescence blushed, but found an excuse for leaving the table.
After dinner Balt said, “Now, wife, get in a cup of coffee.”
“None for me, I thank you,” said the geometer.
The tailor’s wife was not so ill-mannered as to press the refreshment upon her guest against his will, for she grudged her husband his share of it. She afterward boiled a cup for herself, and toasted a biscuit to eat with it.
When the afternoon church was over, Crescence could not avoid taking a walk with the geometer; but she managed to keep clear of the street and go along the back fences of the gardens. When they approached George’s ninepin-alley, she started with fright on seeing Florian standing there in his shirt-sleeves with his back to the road. Throwing a piece of money on the ground, he said, “‘Bet you six creutzers I’ll make five.” Under the pretext of having forgotten something, Crescence turned round quickly, and the geometer had nothing to do but to follow her. On arriving at home, they surprised her mother at her private cup of coffee,–which was unpleasant. They now took the street of the village.
Florian had no other design on this Sunday than to attract attention, in which he succeeded brilliantly. Everybody spoke of him,–of his black velvet roundabout with silver buttons, his free rifleman’s vest of red and black stripes, and his other glories. The people of a village, as of a city, are grateful to any one who will furnish them with a subject of conversation. The old butcher, Florian’s father, drank in the fame of his son from every mouth, and did his best to keep it at the full. He was still rather a handsome man himself, with a rubicund face and bright gray eyes. He walked about in his shirt-sleeves and carried his handkerchief in the armpit of his waistcoat,–which gave him an air of originality. Whenever he met any one, he drew out his snuff-box and offered a pinch of “doppelmops,” saying, “My Florian brought it with him: he’s a fine fellow, a’n’t he? None like him for twenty miles around. His master would give him his daughter in a minute, but the rapscallion won’t have her. His master makes more out of hoofs than three Horb butchers do out of beef: he kills eight calves every day and two or three oxen besides. What would you think,” he would generally add, taking off his little frontless cap, formed in the resemblance of a cabbage-leaf, and putting it on again, “if I was to go to Strasbourg and marry the girl? If she must have a tall man, why shouldn’t the old one be as good as the young? I won’t back out for any one yet a while.”
He stopped longest at the door of George the blacksmith,–a childless old man of more than eighty years of age,–who was always sitting before his house at the roadside and hearing the news from all who passed by. Old George and old Maurita of the Bridge were the two persons through whom a piece of news could be brought to the cognizance of every soul in the village. George repeated every thing, good or bad, to tease others and to show them that he knew every thing; Maurita told the good news to impart her gladness, and the sad ones to obtain sharers in her regret. George the blacksmith was the largest purchaser of the old butcher’s vaunts.
Thus the Sunday passed; and, when Crescence returned with the geometer, long after dark, she thanked her stars that the dreaded fracas had not occurred.
HOW FLORIAN AND CRESCENCE MET AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Crescence rose an hour before daybreak next morning, fed the cattle, and attended quietly to the house-affairs. Once she looked up with pain when it occurred to her that she had not hummed a single tune. She went into the field.
With a bundle of fresh clover on her head, she came up the valley on her return, looking beautiful, as the healthful exercise brought out her fine form in all its strength and pliancy. With her right hand she held the bundle, and with her left the rake, which lay on her shoulder and also served to steady the load. She walked with leisurely and measured pace, the red blossoms blinking into her rosy face. Not far from Jacob’s crucifix, the voice of Florian, who said, “God bless you, Crescence!” rooted her to the earth.
“Come,” said Florian, again; “I’ll carry it for you.”
“For pity’s sake, don’t make me stop here, Florian, when all the people are looking at us. You see I can’t help myself now, and can’t run away, but I’ll never speak a word to you again as long as I live if you don’t go away. Come to Melchior’s Lenore to-night before curfew, and I’ll tell you every thing.”
“Shake hands, won’t you?”
Laying her left arm across the rake, Crescence took his hand, saying, “Good-bye till to-night.”
All at once, in resuming her steps, Crescence perceived what a heavy load she had to carry: she groaned as if Firnut Pete had clambered on her shoulders in broad daylight. Having reached the crucifix, she deposited the burden on the high stone erected there for that purpose. This silent assistant is always found beside the symbol of faith. At the feet of Him who laid the heaviest burden on himself to make men free and brotherly, men take off a while the load of the day, to gather strength for further toil.
Crescence looked intently at the crucifix, but without thinking of what she did; for her mind was occupied with dread of Florian’s following her. She determined not to turn round to look at him, and did turn, nevertheless; while a glow of pleasure lighted her face as she saw the brisk young fellow striding across the field.
All that day Crescence was serious and taciturn. Before dark, she took a collar, to get Walpurgia to wash it, as she said; but, instead of going to Walpurgia, she hurried to Lenore’s house. The latter came to meet her, saying,–
“Go through the barn: you’ll find him in the garden.”
“Come with me,” said Crescence.
“I’m coming directly: just you go first.”
As she entered the garden, Crescence saw Florian sitting on a log, stooping greatly, and digging into the wood with a knife which looked somewhat like a stiletto. His long chestnut hair nearly covered his forehead.
“Florian, what are you doing?” asked Crescence.
He threw the knife aside, shook his hair out of his face threw his arms around Crescence, and kissed her. She offered no resistance, but at length said,–
“There! that’s enough now: you are just the same you always were.”
“Yes; but you’re not what you used to be.”
“Not a bit changed. You are cross because I go with the geometer, a’n’t you? Well, you know you and I could never have got married. My folks won’t let me go to service; and stay with them I don’t want to, either, until my hair turns gray.”
“If that’s the way, and you like the geometer, I’ve nothing more to say: you might have told me that this morning. I remember a time when the king might have come,–and he owns the whole country, which is more than helping to measure it,–and you’d have said, ‘No, thank you: I like my Florian better, even if he have nothing but the clothes on his back.’”
“Why, how you talk! What’s the use of all that when we never can get married?”
“Oh, yes: there’s the Red Tailor’s daughter all over. If I’d only never cast eyes on you again! If I’d only broken both my legs before they ever carried me back home!”
“Oh, don’t be so solemn, now! You’ll look kindly at me yet, and laugh with me a little when you meet me, won’t you?”
She gave him a look of playful tenderness, and smiled,–though she was more disposed to weep. Florian, picking up his knife and putting it in his pocket, made a move to go, when Crescence seized his hand and said,–
“Don’t be angry with me, Florian: talk to me, dear. Don’t you see? I haven’t married the geometer yet, but cut him I can’t now: my folks would throttle me in my sleep if I was to turn him off. Nothing can come of it for two or three years, anyhow; and who knows what may happen in that time? Perhaps I shall die. I wish I would, I’m sure.”
Her voice was choked.
Florian’s manner suddenly changed. The languor so unusual in him was gone: their eyes met, and held each other beaming with joy.
“You see,” he began, “as I sat there waiting, I felt as if somebody had broken all my bones. I was thinking how unlucky we are, and again and again I was tempted to stab myself with this knife. If some one had come under my hands, I don’t know—- And I don’t want to go away, either; and I must stay here; and I must have you.”
“Yes; I wish you had; but we can’t live on the old Emperor’s exchequer. I know somebody who could help us, and I could make him.”
“Never tell me about him: he’s nothing to you, and shall be nothing. I won’t have it: you are your father’s child, and if anybody says any thing else I’ll stick him like an eight-day calf. My father has half emptied my pockets already, but I’ve got some money yet: I mean to stay here a while and work under my father’s right as a master-butcher. I want to show these Nordstetters what Florian can do: they shall have respect for me, they shall.”
“You’re a fine fellow,” said Crescence. “Haven’t you brought me any thing?”
“Yes, I have. Here.”
Taking from his pocket a broad ring of silver, and a flaming heart in colors, with a motto in it, he handed them to Crescence.
After the first expressions of delight, she offered to read the motto; but Florian stopped her, saying, “You can do that after I am gone: now let’s have a talk.”
“Yes; tell me something. Is it true that you are courting your master’s daughter in Strasbourg?”
“Not a bit of it. If I was, I wouldn’t stay here; and stay I shall. All the Nordstetters must say that the like of Florian’s not to be seen anywhere.”
They remained long together. When Crescence returned home, she found the geometer waiting for her, and was forced to receive him with smiles. With a heavy heart she reached her chamber at last, and read the motto on the flaming heart:–
“Better build my grave of stone
Than love and call you not my own.”
Weeping, she laid the picture into her hymn-book. It was the old story of what occurs in thousands of instances, in town and country, though often the colors are more blended and the contrasts not so harsh. Crescence loved Florian, and yet could not renounce the hope of a good establishment, such as she might expect to receive at the hands of the geometer: love drew her in one direction, interest in another. It would be strange if such discords did not lead to misery.
FLORIAN DROPS A BUTTON OR TWO.
Florian remained in the village, and slaughtered first one heifer and then another. Though at first things looked prosperous, the run of good luck soon came to an end. The old butcher went around hawking out the meat which had not been sold at the shambles; but he generally spent not only the profit, but the cost besides. The competition of the Jewish butchers was not to be overcome even by Florian’s superior skill; for the Jews can undersell Christians in the hindquarters of beef, because an opportune provision of the Bible forbids them to eat any thing but the fore-quarters. Moreover, it is almost impossible in a German village to support a household on mechanical labor alone, without some resort to agriculture. Florian had no opportunity, and still less inclination, to till the soil. He preferred to go into partnership with a Jewish butcher for a time; but this was also of short duration.
His next resource was to assist the Strasbourg butchers in purchasing oxen. This helped him to some good commissions, and enabled him to make his father the happiest of men. The old gentleman was restored to his favorite occupation of guessing at the weight of oxen. It quite made him young again. Florian was the leading young man in the village. Unfortunately, he made the squire his enemy. The latter, wishing to sell his oxen to some dealers passing through the village, invited Florian to come to his house. “They weigh fourteen hundred, and over,” he asseverated. “What they weigh over eleven,” said Florian, “I’ll eat raw.” This was foolish; for from that day the squire hated him cordially.
Florian cared but little for this, however: he played the fine gentleman every Sunday, played longest at ninepins, and was a fast man generally.
It is strange how soon the glory of the stranger in a village is consumed. The honor acquired merely by presenting an unusual appearance ceases the moment all eyes have become accustomed to it: the rainbow would be forgotten if it were always in the sky. Thus, Florian soon sunk into oblivion; and it required a special occurrence to attract attention to him again.
One evening he was standing, with his comrades, near the Eagle, while the squire sat on a bench before the house, talking to the geometer. Florian perceived that they were looking at him: he saw the squire pass his hand over his upper lip, while the geometer laughed immoderately and said something which sounded like “Samson.” Florian did not understand what it all meant; but he was soon to have an explanation.
He received a summons next day to appear before the squire, who, as our renders may remember, had formerly been a non-commissioned officer. He now ordered Florian to “take the hair off his mouth,” because he had never been a soldier, and none but soldiers were allowed to wear mustaches. Florian laughed at the squire, who took it in dudgeon; Florian answered his vituperations, and was marched off to prison.
It is a dangerous thing to arrest a man who is innocent of crime: it palls his feeling and his sense of moral responsibility for those occasions in which these qualities are particularly tried.
When Florian came out he was compelled to obey the cruel behest. With an indescribable mixture of wrath and humiliation he stood before the looking-glass, compressing his naked lips and gnashing his teeth. A dreadful vow was formed in his heart. Nothing was talked of in the village but the loss of Florian’s mustache; and, now that it was gone, all united in singing its praises. Florian felt as if his skin had been peeled off. Of course, when he appeared in the street, every passer-by regaled him with an expression of condolence. But ambition had already perverted him to such an extent that he fairly enjoyed even this sort of notoriety. To be thought about was the first thing; what people thought of him was only the second. He was never seen near the tailor’s house in the daytime; and when he met Crescence in the evening, and she laughed at him, he swore to make the geometer pay him for every hair. She tried to pacify him; and he was silent.
Very soon after, the geometer, in returning home from Horb one evening, was waylaid by three men, who dragged him into the woods, and, with the cry of “Wale him! he’s from Ulm!” beat him so unmercifully that he could scarcely walk home. One of them cried after him, as he went away, “This was out of kindness; but if you show your face in the village a week after this we’ll try the other persuasion.” The geometer thought he recognised Florian’s voice. He tried to institute a prosecution; but the polities of the village were then in such a state of agitation that no business of public import was properly attended to.
The shaving of Florian was the last official act of the noncommissioned squire. The election came on, and Buchmaier received almost every vote. Under his administration people were free from paltry vexations, and Florian’s mustache regained its pristine beauty.
In spite of the exertions of the Red Tailor and mine host of the Eagle, the geometer transferred his head-quarters to Muehl.
Meantime Florian also had met with reverses. He appeared to have quarrelled with the Strasbourgers, for he no longer acted as their agent. The old butcher also was generally at home: he had found a new source of revenue, which was very productive. On his travels as a drover he had made the acquaintance of some smuggler in Baden, which at that time had not acceded to the Zollverein. He sold coffee and sugar free of duty, and made money by the operation. The Red Tailor found his grocery-business ruined by the interference of the secret competitor; and yet the quarrel existing between the parents on account of their children made it necessary to keep up a continental system and rigid prohibitory tariff. The tailor’s wife, however, hit upon a fortunate expedient: the house of Corpse Kitty became the neutral ground for negotiations. Corpse Kitty bought the imported goods for the account of the legitimate trade. Thus intrigues are at work between the great powers even when to the uninitiated they appear to be at open war.
Almost every Sunday Crescence was compelled, with cruel maltreatment, to go with her father and meet the geometer in Muehl or at the half-way house in Eglesthal. She was then gay and sprightly against her will; and, after she had carried on this hypocrisy long enough, the wine would come to her aid and really elevate her spirits,–so that the geometer always ended with thinking that she was still really fond of him.
But in the evening she always contrived to meet Florian; and, when she returned home, new maltreatment awaited her. Thus poor Crescence led a wretched life,–though, fortunately for her, she was so much inured to deceit and untruth that she was not aware of the full extent of its depravity.
FLORIAN IN CLOVER.
Florian tried to earn some money here and there, but rarely succeeded. He would only work at his trade or at some other agreeable occupation. Field-labor was beneath his dignity; and he would rather have starved than break stone on the highroad,–the usual resource of men without capital. Like many others, he would only work at what he liked,–a principle upon which very few men indeed ever manage to prosper. But a time came for him to obtain some funds and a plentiful supply of that glory which he so much craved. The bel-wether dance was approaching, and great preparations were being made for it. Mine host of the Eagle had made his peace with Florian and his friends; for he understood his position too well to keep up a feud with his neighbors in the quarrel of a customer who had left. Florian now slaughtered for Caspar a heifer and a hog. The latter ceremony was performed in the street, so that everybody stopped to watch the active functionary, whom it was indeed a pleasure to see in the labor of his trade. The muscles of his bare arms were so strong and smooth that the life and death of the poor beasts seemed indeed to lie in his hand. With three strokes upon the steel he whetted his knife so sharp that he could cut a hair loose at one end. But the greatest crowd of idlers always assembled when he began to chop the sausage-meat. He handled his cleavers as lightly as a drummer his sticks, whistling a waltz the meanwhile to keep himself in time. A particular flourish consisted in throwing one of the cleavers into the air while he chopped on uninterruptedly with the other, snapping the fingers of the empty hand, catching the cleaver again, and chopping on without getting out of the time. At this achievement all lifted up their hands in astonishment.
The old butcher was present also, mainly to assist in consuming the kettle-meat, fresh from the fire; after which the renown of his son afforded an excellent dessert. He strolled to George the blacksmith’s door, and found him in deep lamentation. “All my subjects refuse to obey me,” he said. “They leave me sitting here all alone and run to watch Florian. I’d give three creutzers if he’d come and do his killing here.”
“Yes,” added the old butcher, rubbing his hands, “the court-butcher at Stuttgard can’t come up to my Florian. He once made a bet with his friends in Strasbourg to get four calves and two hogs into marketing-order without bringing a speck on his clothes; and he did it, and his apron and his shirt were as white as the driven snow.”
Florian now received so many orders that he found no rest by day or night, and when the day of the bel-wether dance came he overslept the morning service.
Crescence had promised the geometer an interview at Eglesthal; but Florian easily succeeded in inducing her to break her word.
The close of the afternoon service was the signal of rejoicings throughout the village. In the yard of the manor-house a number of stakes were put up in a ring, with a rope around them. In the middle stood a fine wether, decorated with a red ribbon, while a glittering bowl of pewter was on a little table beside him. The band of musicians headed the procession, followed by the boys and girls in couples, hand in hand.
At the gate of the yard a clock had been fastened so that it could not be seen. At the stroke of two the “free dance” began. A march was played, and the couples walked around the rope in strict order. An old-fashioned sabre had been stuck into one of the stakes; and whenever a couple came up to it the man pulled it out and thrust it into the next stake to which they came. When Florian and Crescence reached the sword, the former balanced it on his teeth, and thus carried it in safety to the next station. A general “Look a’ there!” was his reward. Corpse Kitty prophesied that he would win the wether. Thus they all went round and round, laughing and talking. When Florian took the sword for the second time, the clock suddenly struck three. A hurrah resounded on all sides. The rope was torn away, and the wether, the ribbon, and the bowl were brought to Florian. The girls came up, wished Crescence joy, and wound the ribbon into her hair. “It’s all right now,” said Melchior’s Lenore: “you’re bound to have each other before the year’s out.” Crescence was weeping, however, for her father stood before her, clenching his fist.
They now followed the band to the inn, where Florian and Crescence opened the dance.
Buchmaier, the new squire, had revived an ancient custom. Instead of ordering the beadle or a gens d’armes to keep order during the dance, he had summoned all the boys who had passed their eighteenth year to meet on the preceding evening for the purpose of electing two “dance-boys.” Constantine, and Valentine the carpenter’s son Xavier, received the greatest number of votes: the winner of the wether was to be the third, the squire only stipulating the right of nominating him in case this good fortune should befall one of the two who had been elected. Florian now entered upon this office, and was marked, like his colleagues, with a white ribbon tied round his arm. These three were made responsible for any disturbances; but no disturbance occurred,–for people are always easily governed by rulers of their own selection.
Crescence was overflowing with happiness, and forgot all about the geometer. None–not even George–could dance like Florian: he clapped his feet together at every bar of the music, so that all eyes were directed to his glistening boots. Sometimes, in the middle of the dance, he would cry, “Sing out!” Not his feet, but all his body and soul, rose and sunk in accordance with the music: he was a dancer all over. He would not stand still for an instant; and, when the musicians stopped to rest a while, he said to the clarionet, “Make your old bones rattle.” “Pour something in to make it swell,” was the answer. Florian threw six creutzers on the table.
Late at night the “barber’s dance” was executed, in which Florian appeared in all his glory. A man was brought in, looking as white as milk, with a hump before and behind, and bandaged from head to foot with white sheets and kerchiefs. You would hardly have recognised the College Chap. The band played the air of the song,–
“Oh, my! I feel so bad!
Bring me the barber’s lad.”
A chair was placed in the middle of the room, and the patient deposited upon it. The expected man of simples came, hung round about with knives, with a huge pinch nose, and a wig of tow. It was Florian who thus entered, amid roars of laughter.
With comical gestures, he skipped around the patient, opened the bandage on his arm, bled him, and finally stuck a knife into the hump and left it there. The sick man fell dead, and a funeral-march was played. The unlucky surgeon rushed around the room in an agony of despair, pulled his wig out by handfuls, and threw them into the faces of the company. The music died away. At last, laying his hand upon his forehead, he collected his scattered wits, and cried, “Music!” Notes of mourning responded. He knelt down beside the dead man, opened his mouth, and drew out yards on yards of white tape, but without producing any relief. Then, taking a quart-tumbler, he filled it to the brim with wine, placed it on his forehead, and lay down on his back beside the sick man, moving in time to the music. All held their breath in expectation of a crash; but the feat was successfully performed. The entire contents of the glass were now poured down the patient’s throat. He struck about him and threw off his disguise. Florian did the same: the band struck up a gallop: the old squire’s Babbett ran up and danced with Constantine, Crescence and Florian followed suit, and all were once more in motion. The fictitious misfortunes with which they had amused themselves gave an additional zest to the return of pleasure.
Some hours later, when they were all seated at table, drinking and singing, Florian favored the company with a new song which he had picked up on his travels:–
“In Strasbourg on the rampart,
She loved me much indeed:
She always brought my breakfast
And a letter for to read.
“I always got the letter:
The breakfast never came:
And in it there was written,
‘Winter has come again.’
“Winter has come, as usual;
The bosses are feeling good:
They say to the poor journeymen,
‘Go out and split some wood.
“‘And mind you make it small enough,
And make it not too small;
And you shall be my journeymen,
As you have been this fall.’
“And winter is past and over;
The jours are full of pluck:
They come to the boss’s table
And tell him what’s o’clock.
“‘Come, boss; its time to settle:
Bring out your little bill:
You gave us beans this winter,
And we have had our fill.’
“‘Oh, if the bread’s not white enough,
I’ll get another kind,
And if your bed’s not soft enough—-‘”
At the lines which followed, sad to say, Crescence did not blush, nor did any of the other girls; but all received the production with unmingled merriment.
Who could doubt, after this, that Florian was the leading young man in the village?
But when Crescence came home she had to expiate her glory with bitter sufferings: her mother was sick, and her father, for the time-being, reigned supreme. But she bore all without a murmur, knowing that Florian would be hers; for hadn’t they won the wether?
With the jollification the importance of Florian came to an end. He was pushed into a corner, like a bass-fiddle in working-time: people went about their business, and thought little of the fun-makers. Florian alone had no business to go about: he hung around the taverns until he ceased to be welcome even there.
In a village it is very difficult to keep up appearances on fictitious capital. Baden had joined the “Zollverein,” and the old butcher’s occupation was gone likewise. Nevertheless, Florian continued to walk about, erect and proud, in the fine clothes he had purchased in his best days. He was always neatly brushed; and, though his boots were soleless, the upper leathers shone as heretofore.
“They can look at my clothes, but not into my stomach,” was his motto.
The watch with the silver seals he wore on Sunday only, having received this privilege when he left it with old Gudel.
The fair at Horb brought another holiday for half the village. At daybreak the old butcher was seen standing at Jacob’s Well, while all the farmers who passed on the road with their cattle asked him what they weighed. He was delighted with this occupation, for it made him feel as if he could buy them all himself; and, besides, he hoped that one or the other would invite him to go to town. In this he was disappointed, however,–poor fellow! He had handled so much fine meat in his time, and for two weeks he had been compelled to put up with a vegetable diet! Finding all his trouble in vain, he sighed heavily, wiped the sweat from his forehead, went home to get his stick and walk over to the fair on speculation, to look out for something to turn up.
Florian ran distractedly up and down the village. He met Crescence, who was going to the fair with her father, but ran past them without stopping to talk: he had not a copper, in his pocket. Whenever he met a young man, he meditated asking him for a loan, but would stop himself with “Oh, he won’t give me any thing,” or, “He hasn’t much to spare, and then I’d only have the shame of it.” Thus he suffered one and another to pass by. “What should I go to market for? They’re not selling me out there, and there’s a great many not going besides myself; but then that is because they don’t want to, and I don’t go because I can’t.” It now seemed to him as if a joy never to be replaced would be lost if he remained at home: he must go: every thing depended upon it. With a flushed face and flashing eyes, he walked along the village, constantly talking to himself. “There lives Jack the blacksmith. I treated him ever so often at the bel-wether dance; but he won’t give me any thing, for all that. There’s Koch the carpenter: he’s been abroad like myself. I’ll go to him: it’s the first time I’m so familiar with him; but it can’t be helped.”
He found Koch the carpenter untying a heifer from the crib, complaining bitterly of hard times. He went away without mentioning the object of his visit. The College Chap had left home already, and Florian made up his mind to go to the Eagle and say that the College Chap had sent him to ask for a loan of six dollars: he scorned to ask for a trifle. Mine host of the Eagle answered, “I won’t lend any thing to anybody: it only sets the best of friends by the ears.” “Just what I said myself,” said Florian, laughing bitterly, as he turned away.
With a feeling of utter desolation, he walked about, thinking, “Without money a man’s a stranger in his own house.” Suffused with perspiration, he ran up one street and down another: it seemed as if every minute wasted was a loss not to be retrieved. He now bethought himself of the aristocratic expedient of borrowing from a Jew. Like the noble lords and ladies who first invented this practice, he had no reason to fear the reproving looks of these people in his further extravagances and vain-glory. “Jews’ claims are no disgrace,” he said to himself, and applied to Mendle’s son Meyer, who was going to market with a belt full of money, for the loan of some ducats at a high rate of interest. The offer was rejected.
At last it occurred to him to go straight to Horb and pretend that he had lost or forgotten his money. Vexed with himself for not having thought of this before, he set out immediately. He passed George the blacksmith, sitting at his front door as usual, and in the best of spirits,–for the marketers afforded him plenty of entertainment.
“Where bound so fast, Florian? You look as if you could buy the world out.”
Florian stared, and stood still. He forgot that it was George’s peculiar delight, when people passed with a heavy burden, a sack of corn, or a bundle of clover, to hold them fast with questions. Many were caught in this trap; and then the old gossip would rejoice that he could sit there doing nothing while others toiled and struggled. He was equally fond of laying hands on such as had heavy loads upon their hearts; for it was just at such times that they were likely to be most communicative. All this escaped Florian; and he inquired,–
“How do you know that?”
“Can’t you tell by looking at a stocking when the leg’s out of it? I know all about it. Crescence went up just now, with her mother’s husband, going to market, too.”
“I know all about it. They say you’re well tied up with her.” Florian smiled and passed on, glad to know that the truth was not suspected.
In the hollow Florian saw Schlunkel,–an outcast of a fellow, who had been to the penitentiary twice, sitting by the roadside and counting money. At another time he would not have honored such a wretch with a look; but now he could not help addressing him with, “Shall I help you count?” The fellow looked at him without answering.
Florian sat down beside him and at last asked him for a florin. Schlunkel grinned, tightened the strings of his purse, passed his finger across his mouth, and whistled. Florian held his arm convulsively.
“You wouldn’t take the money from me, would you?” asked Schlunkel. “What do you want so much money for?”
“I want to buy something.”
“Well, I’ll go to Horb with you.”
Florian would rather have perished on the spot than to have been seen walking with Schlunkel in broad daylight. “Give me six creutzers,” he said: “I’ll meet you in the ‘Knight’ in an hour, and pay you.”
Schlunkel gave him the money, and Florian ran away with the speed of lightning, often putting his hand into his pocket to make quite sure of how much he had. He squeezed the four coins through his fingers one by one, as if to make each one bring forth another. He went whistling through the cattle-fair, to reach the fancy fair in the upper part of the town.
FLORIAN LOSES MONEY AND WINS CRESCENCE.
He was brought to a pause by the sight of a gaming-table. He passed on, and inspected the tobacco-pipes in the next booth. Turning back, he resolved merely to look at the others who were playing. One was particularly fortunate with No. 8. Putting his hand in his pocket, he set a three-creutzer piece on the same number, and lost it. He tried again, and again he lost. He bit his lips until they bled, but immediately looked around with a smile, to conceal his vexation. He lost again. He felt his knees knocking, and his intestines boiled. With hot, trembling hand, he threw down his last coin, and looked another way. He won back all the money he had lost. He seized it hastily, thinking, “There! so much for playing with edged tools. I’ll hold on to you now, my darling!” Yet he remained rooted to the spot. It would not do to let people see how glad he was to walk off without being fleeced.
Then again he reflected that he must, somehow, raise money to pay Schlunkel. He would try one piece, and put the rest of his money into his right pocket, where he never put his hand.
He played: he did put his hand into his right pocket; and he walked away with empty pockets. With inexpressible grief and self-accusation, he now ran about the market: thousands of things were offered for sale, but he could not stretch forth his hand to take them. A terrible curse against the world rose to his lips: he longed to turn every thing topsy-turvy.
We might be tempted to ask, “What reason has a man like Florian to rave at the world? The world has done him no harm: he is himself the cause of his own distress.” But then people like Florian–whether they belong to the class of society which wears gloves, or to that which wears them not–are never ready to think: when in bad luck they scold.
His only comfort was that he was firmly resolved never to touch a die again as long as he lived. To-be-sure, it was easy to shut the stable-door after the horse was stolen: still, there was some comfort in a virtuous resolution.
He met his father looking very happy. “Have you any money, father?” said Florian, running up to him.
“Yes: I’ve earned three six-creutzer pieces, selling some oxen. See!”
“Give me two of them.”
Without waiting for an answer, he disappeared with the money. He now walked up and down among the booths in good spirits, sustained by the consciousness of possession. He no longer cast a look upon the gambling-tables.
But soon he began to think that he had been very stupid in skipping about from one number to another: how could he help losing them? Should the rascally sweat-cloth fellows have the satisfaction of keeping it? But then he had sworn never to touch a die again! Well, he would keep his vow: he would go where the croupier made the die roll through the coils of a snake, and where he might play without touching any thing.
At first he played for creutzers, like the others. He used great circumspection, taking care to remember the numbers which had won frequently, and betting upon the others. For some time he neither lost nor won. Finding this tedious, he staked larger pieces, and tried several numbers at a time, and with success. Seeing some of his acquaintances, he beckoned to them to come up and join him.
But the tide soon turned, and Florian lost. He now wandered about the board, passed every number, and changed his bet before the throw fell. When, at such times, the deserted number proved the winning one, he laughed aloud. Fortune frowned more and more, though he returned to his old system of remaining true to certain numbers. Taking his last groat, he laid it upon the table with such force as to make the table quiver,–and lost.
Florian continued to regard the board intently, with breath almost suppressed, though a tempest of emotion was raging within him. Having stayed long enough to prevent his acquaintances from suspecting the true state of the case, he stole away. Now he had neither vows nor curses, neither good nor evil intentions: he wandered from place to place like a body without a soul, without thoughts, without will, dull, hollow, and ruined.
The sound of music awakened him from his trance, and he found himself before the Rose Inn. The French simpleton, who was standing at the door and waiting for somebody to treat him, cried, ” Drenda marioin,” and made a sign of thirst; but Florian pushed him aside and went up into the dancing-hall.
Every one treated him: he only sipped at the glass and offered to set it down again. “It’s in good hands,” was the cry,–meaning, “Drink it all.” “High up behind, they say at the Rhine,” he would then say, and drain the glass at a draught.
The frequent repetition of this ceremony infused new life into him: the various kinds of wine had the same effect, and he wiped his forehead. At length Peter came up to him, saying, “Have you seen Crescence? She is sitting at the Knight with the geometer.”
Florian hardly stayed to drain his friend’s glass. An object had appeared upon which to vent his wrath: he had an excuse for committing a crime, for destroying himself and others. Through lanes and alleys, passing the little apothecary-shop where the crowd never came, he made his way to the Knight, and bounded up-stairs, taking three steps at a time.
Oh that men would run to do good with half the impetuosity which wafts them on the road to evil! How often do they scorn wind and weather, distance and darkness, in the gratification of their baser passions! but, when a duty is to be done, every breath is too rude, and every pebble an insurmountable hindrance.
As he entered the room, panting and out of breath, Crescence ran to meet him with beaming eyes, and, taking his trembling hand in hers, she said, “God be praised, you are mine again, and I am all yours now: I’ve just sent the geometer about his business for good and all. It’s been boiling in me a long time, and at last it ran over. Oh, I’m so glad! I don’t know what to do. I know whom I belong to now, and I belong to you, and will belong to you, no matter what happens. What makes you look so cross? A’n’t you glad, too, that there’s an end of this lying?”
She straightened his cap, which had been pushed to one side of his head. Florian suffered her to say and do what she liked. He awoke from a dream of vice, blood, and horror, to find himself in the arms of love and peace. He almost recoiled from this true-hearted love which came to him in the abyss of his degradation. Nothing had been left him but his poor, wasted life, which he would so gladly have thrown off likewise: now he learned to prize it again when he saw another life twined so confidingly around it. Smiling with a mixture of sadness and glee, he said at last, “Come, Crescence: let’s go.”
Crescence made no objection, though she could not help looking up with a smile at hearing the musicians strike up a fresh waltz: full as her heart was, she would gladly have danced a little, though she refrained from saying so,–not so much to guard against misunderstanding as because it made her happy just to live according to Florian’s pleasure.
Near the front door Schlunkel was sitting over his wine without a companion. To the astonishment of Crescence, he asked Florian to drink with him; and Florian not only acknowledged the salutation, but said to her, “Go on a little: I’ll come right-away.”
She waited for him on the front door-steps. Schlunkel said, “Well, where’s my money?”
“I can’t pay you now: I can’t cut it out of my ribs.”
“Then you must give me the knife there in pawn.”
“Oh, now, just wait till to-morrow night: do. If I don’t give it to you then, you shall have it double.”
“Oh, yes: you can promise it double; but who’s to give it to me?”
“Will you come to me to-morrow night?”
“Well, I’m agreed.”
Florian passed on, and when Crescence asked him, “What does that wretch want of you?” he blushed like a fire-thief, and answered, “Nothing: he wanted me to sell him my knife.”
“Don’t let him have it: he’d murder somebody with it.”
Florian shuddered; and it pained him to see the undoubting faith with which Crescence received his words.
WHAT BECOMES OF A SCAPEGRACE AND OF A LOVING GIRL.
Half the world do not know how the other half lives. People could not imagine how Florian managed to get enough to eat. The truth was, he very often had not enough. In one of these emergencies he applied to the College Chap for a loan.
“Why, Florian,” was the answer, “this sort of thing won’t do: you must manage to get a living: you can’t go on this way.”
“That’s neither here nor there,” replied Florian: “you can tell me all that some other time when I’m not head over ears in trouble. Help me out now, and preach your sermons afterward.”
The admonition was ill-timed, and therefore worse than useless: Florian pitied instead of blaming himself, and thought himself more sinned against than sinning. With a certain air of forgiveness, he repeated his request.
“It won’t do,” said the College Chap, “for a man to scatter his money about just when he’s going to be married. You’ll have to get along without me.”
The College Chap was betrothed to the old squire’s Babbett,–although, as the readers of Ivo’s story may remember, he was not inordinately fond of her. He had asked for the hand of Buchmaier’s Agnes, and had met with a refusal. This he told wherever he went, calculating that he must pass for a trump card if people knew he’d had the pluck to try for the first girl in the village: “they all knew that the richest would come in for their turn in no time.” But they did not come in, and he contented himself with Babbett.
Like many other spendthrifts, the College Chap was no sooner thrown upon his own resources than he turned stingy and unfeeling.
It was Florian’s misfortune that of all others the College Chap was his most intimate companion. He could not but say to himself, “He isn’t a bit better than I am: why am I so much worse off?” He quarrelled with his fortunes more and more, lost his energy, and became morose and querulous.
Meanwhile Crescence was quite happy. Her father’s ill-treatment of her, though unrelenting, afforded her at bottom more gratification than regret. She was restored to herself from the moment she had determined to be his alone whom her heart had chosen. Knowing Florian’s circumstances, she did not scruple to relieve him by all the means in her power. She took tobacco and other creature-comforts out of the store, and forced them upon Florian’s acceptance. Though at first ashamed to receive them, he soon came to devising plans with her for more extensive peculations, having found means of disposing of them through Schlunkel’s intervention. Crescence obeyed in all things. To her mind Florian was lawfully the lord of the world and of all it contained, and entitled to regard all men as his subjects. For a while, she thought, he chose to live without the insignia of his power, but he would soon arise and show the world what was really in him. She hoped that the time was at hand when he would come forth in all his glory. This hope was as clear and confident in her heart as her expectation of the coming day; and yet she knew not what she hoped. But a storm soon broke in rudely upon her daydreams. The tailor detected the embezzlements of his daughter, and drove her out of his house, threatening to hand her over to justice if she returned. Her mother was at the point of death and unable to protect her.
Crescence knew not where to turn. She went to Florian’s door; but he was not at home. When told the name of the nightly associate with whom he had gone abroad, she wept aloud. Drawing her gown over her head to ward off the beating rain, she wandered up and down for hours in a state bordering on distraction. Could she but have crept away from herself! At length she took courage to seek out Melchior’s Lenore, and was kindly received by her father.
Every effort at a reconciliation with her father failed. She now knitted stockings and worked by the day: sometimes Florian assisted her, for he had again found means to raise the wind. But she could not touch a single coin without a shudder: in looking at the portraitures of the august sovereigns which they bore, Schlunkel’s features seemed to peer out of every one of them.
Lenore always found out when the tailor went to Horb with his wallet, and at such times Crescence would go home and supply herself with such things as she most needed.
Florian also was often on the watch to see whether he might go to see Schlunkel without impairing his reputation. A characteristic occurrence, however, soon put an end to this joyless companionship. Schlunkel had stolen two wethers from the paper-miller of Eglesthal. One day when Florian was with him he called upon the latter to slaughter and dress them. Florian’s pride and glory up to that time had been his art and mystery: the request was therefore the greatest affront he could possibly have received. “Before I’d butcher stolen cattle in secret,” said he, “I’d cut your throat and mine both.”
“Oh, you soft-head,” said Schlunkel, adroitly snatching Florian’s knife out of his pocket, “I’ll never let you get out of this room alive unless you slaughter these wethers, or pay me my two dollars.”
“I’ll see you!” Florian had him by the throat, and dragged at the knife with all his might. They both struggled fiercely, without any success on either side; but, suddenly hearing a noise, Florian released his hold and jumped out of the window.
He went to Crescence sorrowfully and told her all.
Without saying a word, she took her necklace of garnets, with the brooch, from her neck, drew her silver ring from her finger, and handed them to him.
“What’s that for?” asked Florian.
“To pawn or sell and pay the wretch with.”
Florian embraced and kissed her, saying, “Do you do it; there’s a good girl: you shall have ’em back, depend upon it.”
Crescence did as requested, and brought him his knife. There was no blood upon it: he rejoiced greatly to know that his treasure had not been abused.
FLORIAN DISDAINS THE HELP WHICH IS OFFERED HIM.
“Crescence,” said Florian, one day, “this sort of thing must come to an end. I can’t go abroad any more, because of you, and because it’s a matter of honor for me to get through without it. What do you say to seeing the parson? If we can get a few hundred florins out of him we can get married.”
“I thought you didn’t want to have any thing to do with him.”
“What must be must,” replied Florian. “Will you give me a letter to him, and get your mother to sign it?”
“Just as you please: you know best. I’ll do exactly as you wish me to.”
Next day Florian was under way. His thoughts were gloomy when he reflected upon where he was going; but the exercise soon improved his spirits. For many weeks he had scarcely been outside of the village. All his thoughts had been absorbed by paltry troubles and circumscribed efforts: now he once more found a larger standard to measure things by, and said to himself, “Why can’t we live somewhere else? The Nordstetten grass can grow without us. I can be happy with my Crescence, even though George the blacksmith and the host of the Eagle know nothing about it: but they must respect me first, and then I’ll go. Not a living soul must ever hear a word of this trip that I’m on now.”
It was late in the afternoon when he reached his destination. At the parsonage he found no one but the housekeeper,–a well-fed, proud-looking personage. She made various efforts to fathom his purpose, but could obtain no other answer than that he must see the parson himself. At length he came, preceded by his brace of half-shorn Pomeranian poodles, who offered to attack the stranger, but were deterred by a single look. It was not without reason that people said Florian could charm dogs with magic: the most furious suddenly took fright when he eyed them sharply.
When Florian saw the parson, his own eyes fell. He was a powerful, thick-set man, with a white-and-black cravat. Crescence was his image, to the very freckles. The parson saw something suspicious in the shyness of his visitor, and asked him what he wanted.
“I wish to speak a word with you alone,” said Florian.
The parson bade him follow to his study.
Florian delivered the letter, and the parson read it. Florian watched the play of his features narrowly.
“From whom is this letter?” asked the parson. “I don’t know the person.”
“You know the Red Tailor’s wife, surely? Her name is below there, and the letter is from her oldest daughter. The tailor’s wife is at the point of death, and won’t get well again.”
“Sorry to hear it. Give the people my good wishes, and if I can do any thing for them it shall be done.”
“And you won’t do something particular for Crescence now?”
“I don’t see why.”
“But I see it, your reverence. Not a soul shall ever hear of it, I’ll take my oath and sacrament upon it; but help us you must, or I don’t know what’s to become of us both.”
The parson fumbled in his pocket for his keys, and, having found the right one, he twirled it in his fingers, saying, “I always like to assist the poor, but can do very little just now.”
“Then give me your handwriting for the balance.”
At these words the parson looked around him with an air of wrath and terror. He thought he must have betrayed himself in permitting Florian to make such a demand. With forced hardness in his tone, he repeated, “Once for all, I have nothing to do with these people; and here is something toward your expenses.”
Florian flung the money at his feet, crying, “I want to know whether you mean to do your duty by your child or not. She’s as like you as one rain-drop’s like the other. Yes or no? You are the father of my Crescence. I dare not hurt you, and I will not hurt you; but–Lord God!–I don’t know what I am doing!” He seized the handle of the knife in his pocket, snapped the lock of the door with his other hand, and went on:–“I never slaughtered the wrong sort of cattle yet; but—-” He foamed and trembled with fury.
“You villain!” cried the parson, making for the window and opening it.
Suddenly the wall opened, and the housekeeper entered by a masked door, saying, “The councilmen and the squire are over there, your reverence, and want you to come over directly.”
The knife almost fell from Florian’s hand. The parson stood in the open door in safety.
“What is your last word?” demanded Florian, once more.
“Clear out of my house this instant, or I’ll have you arrested.”
Florian departed with faltering steps: the last bough of the tree of his hopes was broken. He wandered home in the darkness, accompanied by dreadful thoughts. Once, looking up to the stars, he broke out into, “Good God in heaven, can it be thy will that there should be men on earth who must deny their children and cast them into misery? But it’s all my own fault. Why didn’t I stick to my principle and have nothing to do with him?”
It was three days before he set foot in the village again. He felt as if a heavy chastisement were awaiting him,–as if he would be made to do penance there; and yet he knew of no crime he had committed.
But, when some tale-bearers informed him that during his absence people had said he had run away, his blood boiled within him. He had sacrificed every thing to his reputation among the villagers; and now he found the dearly-bought prize so fragile of texture that it could not live three days without his nursing. A bitter contempt of humanity began to take root in his soul.
On Sunday, as Florian was standing among the usual group of idlers in front of the Eagle, Buchmaier stopped before him and said, “Florian, let’s have a word with you: I want to ask your advice about something.”
“Certainly,” said Florian, going off with him: “what is it?”
“I only said that because the others were listening. I want to talk with you, but frankly. Where were you last week?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Well, as you please. But look here, Florian: you are a smart fellow, a quick and ready fellow: you understand your business through and through.”
“There’s something behind all that. Out with it.”
“I’d like to see you make something out of it all.”
“All in good time.”
“Now, listen to me quietly. I’m not talking to you as squire now, but I say this because I wish you well. If you stay here as you do now you’ll go to wreck. What are you waiting for?”
Florian was evidently struck by the force of this question. After a considerable pause, Buchmaier went on:–
“I know how it is very well. It’s just like getting up out of bed: let it be ever so hard, you don’t like to stay there; but the minute you’re up and doing you feel a great deal better. So take my advice, and go. If there was war I should say, ‘Florian, take two suits of clothes, and if one won’t wear the other will;’ but even as it is you can make out finely without going to butchering men. But stay here you can’t: you must go.”
“But I can’t go, and won’t go; and I’d like to see who’s going to make me.”
“That’s neither here nor there. You needn’t come the fiery game over me. I know you go to see Crescence. Well, if you have luck you can come and fetch her. But here you’re not respected.”
“Who says that? Why, squire, if this was anybody but you, I’d show him. Who can say any thing against my reputation?”
“Not a soul; and that’s the very reason you ought to go now.”
“But I can’t, and I won’t.”
“If you’re short of change, I’ll try to get you a loan from the treasury of the commune.”
“I tell you I’d rather rob the saints. I’d rather lay my hand on this block and chop it off than touch a pittance out of the public chest.”
“You’re far gone: you want to make a ten-strike, and there are only nine pins standing. Florian, Florian, consider, there’s not only a right and a left, but there’s a straight road too. If you don’t ask too much you shall have any money to travel with,–not as a gift, but as a loan. ‘Only half your money’s lost on a young loafer,’ they always say: don’t take it amiss, though.”
Florian answered, gnashing his teeth, “I didn’t ask your money nor your advice, and no one has a right to call me names.”
“Well, I’ve done: I’ve nothing more to say. But, if you should think better of it, come to see me again to-morrow. Good-bye.”
He left Florian harrowed in his inmost soul. Whistling a lively air, he sauntered down the village, looking every one in the face, as if to ask them, with defiance, whether they did not respect him.
Crescence never knew that this interview had taken place; and Florian strove to banish it from his own recollection.
FLORIAN HELPS HIMSELF.
Autumn had come: the Feast of Tabernacles was over, and Betsy’s wedding once more brought back the spirit of fun and frolic to the village. According to the Hebrew ritual, the marriage was performed on the highroad, under a spreading baldachin. The fanners–always glad of an excuse to be idle–gathered around with open mouths: Florian and Schlunkel were both among them. The latter pulled his former comrade by the sleeve, whispering that he had something important to tell him; and when the ceremony was over he stole round the rear of the manor-house into the vaulted springhouse. Florian followed after some time, he knew not why.
Schlunkel came to meet him, saying, “Shake hands: we’ll both be rich to-morrow.” Without understanding him, Florian took his hand, saying, “How so?”
“Just this way,” said Schlunkel, with a skip and a jump. “This morning Mendle’s Meyer came home from the horse-market, where he sold all his horses. He must have brought at least seven or eight hundred florins home with him. I saw the belt: it looked like a liver-pudding. You know how to handle a liver-pudding, don’t you? We’ll slice this up tonight. A week ago the fire-committee had Meyer’s bake-oven pulled down, because it was in the corner there. He had the hole walled up with brick. I helped to do it; and I laid one of the bricks so that you can just take it out with your hand. So to-night, when they’re all at the wedding, we’ll slip in and fetch the Jew’s sausage.”
“Not I,” said Florian.
“Just as you please: you can get the money the commune offered you, if you like that better, and see how far it’ll go.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve got a little bird that told me: you fool, all the swallows in the chimneys are talking of it.”
Florian stamped and bit his mustache. If he could have set fire to the village at that moment he would gladly have done so. He saw them all laughing at him, pitying him: the goal of his ambition–the veneration of the community–had fallen to ashes. At last he was ready for any thing. The enormity of the crime proposed never occurred to him for a moment. As honor was lost, he would go away laden with booty. Like one awaking from sleep, he said,–
“I’m in for it. What time?”
“About eight o’clock, I guess.”
After another shake of the hand, Florian left his accomplice. As he emerged from the dark house to the sunlight, he staggered like a drunken man, and was obliged to stand still for a time and steady himself by the wall. Then he went all through the village, whistling and singing: Crescence alone he avoided with a sort of terror.
It seemed as if the crime were already perpetrated. He looked at people’s faces, to see whether their features showed any marks of suspicion; and then, again, “What’s the odds?” he said to himself: “they don’t think much of me, anyhow.” Still, he was glad to remember that the thing was not yet really accomplished. Once, on seeing Buchmaier, he felt a desire to run away; but, ashamed of his weakness, he renewed his vow not to falter in his purpose.
After dark, the boys and girls came to the dance, some of them bringing wedding-presents. According to custom, they had three dances each.
Florian was among these arrivals. The bride came to welcome him, saying, “Are you here too? Where’s Crescence? I suppose she don’t feel much like dancing. Be sure you do the fair thing by her, Florian. Come; let’s have our last dance together.”
The best dancer in the village was for once soon compelled to stop. His knees shook: with such thoughts in his heart as he had, and with no soles to his boots, it was not easy to waltz well.
“What’s the matter with you? Why, you always danced like a humming-top,” said the bride. “Well, never mind. You don’t know how sorry I am not to see Crescence any more. We were always the best of friends; but we’re going off very early to-morrow morning. Come: I’ll give you a piece of wedding-cake for her: bring it to her, and say ‘Good-bye’ from me.”
Florian followed her into the back room, where he received the cake and a glass of warm wine, which he swallowed at a draught. He found new vigor coursing through his veins. As soon as he could, he stole away,–soon returned, however, and then left again.
Schlunkel was already waiting behind Meyer’s house with a little ladder. There was no light: the whole family had gone to the wedding. The breach was soon effected, and they slipped in. Having forced the kitchen and the room door and the press, they found the money and pocketed it, as well as some silver spoons and cups.
Florian was in the yard again, while Schlunkel tugged at a piece of bedding which would not pass through the narrow aperture. Just at this moment the owner of the house, who was coming up the stairs and had seen the doors open, entered the kitchen and saw the pillow in motion: he seized it on the inside and shouted lustily for help. Schlunkel released his hold, fell upon the ground, and broke his leg. Florian tried to help him; but, hearing the sound of footsteps, he only whispered, “Don’t betray me: you shall have the half,” and made his escape.
Schlunkel persisted in saying that he had had no accomplices. In regard to a piece of wedding-cake which, was found in the yard, his declarations varied: at first he pretended to know nothing about it, but subsequently he remembered it was one of the articles stolen. Florian had been seen at the dance about that time, and no one dared to suppose he was in any manner connected with the crime.
NEW BOOTS, AND HOW THEY PINCHED.
Florian intended to run away with the money and to send for Crescence to follow him; but his boots would not consent to the plan. So he went to town and bought a pair of new ones. What a comfort it was! For months he had walked with downcast eyes, carefully avoiding every little puddle; and at last he could tread the slippery road without fear or favor. To enjoy the change fully, he even extended his walk a little farther than was necessary.
But soon his walks came to a sudden close. He had accidentally paid out a perforated dollar, of a description exactly answering to that of one designated by the man who had been robbed. That same evening the squire came, with a beadle and a gens d’armes, to arrest him.
At his earnest request, Buchmaier consented to have him led through the gardens instead of along the street.
As he walked along he complained bitterly of his misfortune, and protested his innocence. This is usual when persons are arrested, whether guilty or innocent. It is so natural to appeal to the humanity of those who surround the prisoner like moving walls, ere he has reached the heartless stones of the jail. When the Jeremiad is finished, the answer is, invariably, “We shall see that at the proper time: it’s none of our business now.” Then the unfortunate one comes to understand that he has been asking the stone hurled by a force outside of itself, “Why smitest thou me?”–that he has been begging the net in which he is ensnared to pity him and set him free.
Florian had spoken without any ulterior design at first; but presently it occurred to him that it might be well to talk in the same strain before the judge. He therefore spoke at great length,–for lies are easier when you have practised them than when they appear as first efforts.
Not more than fifty florins had been found in Florian’s possession; and these, he said, he had won at play at the Horb fair. Besides the perforated dollar, an important circumstance going to show his guilt was the wedding-cake found in the yard: several of the girls had seen the bride give him the present. Florian denied every thing. He had heard somewhere that “denial was lawful in Wurtemberg;” and this maxim comprised his entire knowledge of jurisprudence.
Many of the villagers, who previously would never have allowed themselves to suspect any evil of Florian, now boasted loudly that they had said ten years ago that Florian would come to no good, and revived the memory of all the forgotten, pranks of his boyhood.
Florian meditated a flight. One night he pulled down the tile stove which stood at the wall of his cell and formed a part of it, and escaped by the hole thus made in the wall. His escape was just like the crime. This brought him to the corridor, but no farther. It was locked; and to jump out of the window was as much as his life was worth. His eye fell on a broom which stood in a corner. Without hesitation, he opened the window, pressed the end of the broom into the corner formed by the junction of the tower with the side-building, balanced himself on the handle, and slid down to the ground.
The watchman had seen him; but he crossed himself three times and ran up the nearest alley,–for he had beheld the devil himself riding through the air on a broomstick.
Thus Florian was free, Running up the street, he crept into a covered sewer, tore up the earth with his hands, found the money, and ran off through the woods.
During his imprisonment, Crescence’s mother had died, and the Red Tailor, forced to yield to one of those general bursts of neighborly feeling which are the relieving features of village life, had allowed his daughter to return to his house.
In the night of Florian’s escape she awoke from her sleep in terror. She had dreamed that Florian had called her out to dance, and, do what she would, she could not get her stocking on her foot. Weeping, she sat up in her bed and spoke the prayer for the poor souls in purgatory. Hearing the clock strike four, she arose and did all the housework. Before daybreak she went into the wood to get kindling. Indeed, ever since her misfortune her activity was morbid: she seemed anxious to compensate for the idle life of Florian. Though no thanks rewarded her industry, she had scarcely left a nook or corner of the house not garnered with dry sticks and fir-cones.
At the edge of the wood she found a white button, which she recognised as belonging to Florian’s jacket and secreted in her bosom. Looking over the landscape, she said to herself, “My cross is great; and if I were to climb to the top of the highest hill I couldn’t look beyond it.”
She returned without having gathered any thing. On hearing of Florian’s flight, she wept and rejoiced: she wept because she could no longer doubt he was a criminal, and rejoiced to know that he was free.
At night Florian built himself a hut of some sheaves in a harvest-field and slept in it.
In a tavern he had stolen a knife, having at the same time concealed twelve creutzers in the salt-cellar: with this implement he now scraped off his mustache.
Nevertheless, he had no sooner crossed the frontier than he was arrested. This time he did not stop to enlist the pity of the gens d’armes, but defended himself with all his might and made desperate efforts to get free: he was thrown down, however, and manacled.
He was now forwarded from circuit to circuit by the hands of the gens d’armes. In silence he walked along, his right hand chained to his right foot: he looked upon himself as upon an animal driven to the slaughter.
But when, coming from Sulz, he issued from the Empfingen copse and found that he was to be dragged in chains through his native village, he fell on his knees before the gens d’armes and begged him with tears to be so merciful as to take him around outside of the village.
But the voice of authority answered “No,” and Florian struck his left hand into his eyes to blind himself to his own degradation: his right hand rattled helplessly in the chain. Florian–the cynosure of neighboring eyes, he who had known no keener joy than to be the object of universal attention–was now to be exposed in these shameful trappings and in such disgraceful company. For the first time in his life he could have prayed that people might not have eyes to cast upon him. As he passed the Red Tailor’s house, Crescence was chopping wood at the pile. The hatchet dropped from her hand, and for a moment she stood paralyzed: the next instant she rushed upon Florian with open arms and fell upon his neck. The gens d’armes disengaged her gently. “I’ll go with you through the village,” said Crescence, without weeping. “You sha’n’t bear your shame alone. Does the iron hurt you? Don’t fret too much, for my sake.”
Florian, unable to speak, motioned to her with his left hand to turn back; but she walked by his side, as if riveted to him by an invisible chain. The news spread through the village like wildfire. Caspar and Babbett were standing before the Eagle: the former had a mug of beer in his hand, and brought it to Florian to drink. The gens d’armes would not permit it. Florian begged them not to let Crescence go any farther, and Babbett at last persuaded her to remain. All were weeping.
He went alone through the rest of the familiar streets.
George the blacksmith, prevented by the cold from sitting in front of his door, saw him from behind his window and touched his cap from sheer embarrassment. At the manor-house farmer’s he met the French simpleton, who pointed to his upper lip, saying, ” Mus a loni ringo. ” In spite of himself, a painful smile passed over Florian’s features.
When at last he had left the last hut behind him, he vowed never to return to his old home again.
His incarceration was now more severe than it had been: though in the same tower as formerly, he was kept in the most secure apartment. He often looked through the grating; but when a Nordstetter passed he started back as if he had been shot.
As the anguish of his mind became more subdued, he tried many devices to pass away the time. He walked about with a blade of straw standing on his forehead: when this became easy, he added others, until at last he could build a whole house and take it to pieces again. With much exertion, he learned to stand out horizontally from the iron bars, and even acquired the art of placing his knees behind his head.
One day, in looking through the grating, he saw Crescence coming to town. Hot tears fell on the iron bars: he could not speak to her,–scarcely give her a sign.
At night he heard a cough beneath the window, which was repeated several times. Recognising Crescence, he returned the signal. Crescence unwound the red ribbon which had adorned her hair since the bel-wether dance, tied it round a letter and a stone, and flung it up to Florian, who caught it adroitly. She went briskly away; but in the distance Florian caught the last words of the song,–
“The fire may be extinguish’d,
Love cannot be diminish’d;
Fire burns to scathe and kill,
But love burns hotter still.”
Florian never dosed an eye that night: he had a letter from Crescence, and yet he could not read it. At the first ray of morning, he was at the window, and read:–
“I don’t know whether this letter will get into your hands or not; and so I won’t sign my name. I have been to town to get my certificate of settlement. Betsy has got a place for me in Alsace: I’m going off the day after to-morrow. I have had a long dress made, too. My mother is dead, and my father is going to marry Walpurgia the seamstress. I need not tell you that I can never forget you, even if you had done I don’t know what. If you have been bad once, you’re not bad now. I know that. Be good and patient, and bear your fate. Our Lord is my witness, I’d gladly take it on myself. I got your father to give me your knife, which you always liked so much; I hope, with God’s blessing, to see you work honestly with it, someday. Only don’t give up hope; for then you would be quite lost. Don’t reproach yourself about what’s past and gone: that won’t do any good: but be good now. With the first money I earn I’m going to redeem your ring and my garnets. Oh, I have so much to tell you! ten clerks couldn’t write it down. I will close, and be yours till death.”
The letter was bathed in a flood of happy tears. Never till now did Florian know the treasure he possessed in Crescence. And he had not a little joy left, besides, for the thought that his precious knife was safe.
MISERY AND FUN.
Florian was sent to the penitentiary for six years. He was almost pleased to lay aside his velvet roundabout and put on in place of it the gray coat of the convict; for his favorite was thus saved for those happy days in which he hoped to see Crescence again. Indeed, the six years seemed a mere week to his imagination. His heart was so full of hope again that he skipped over the interval of time as if it had been but a span.
Monarchical governments have their advantages, and in some respects put those of republics to shame. Here every man is fortunate as long as he is free; but, once immured in the walls of a prison, his rights and his comforts become every man’s business, and therefore nobody’s, and society neither knows nor cares whether he is properly fed, clothed, and watched, or whether his jailors enrich themselves on the sale of the food he should eat, or make his ordinary comforts contingent upon the alacrity he displays in doing their menial services. In Europe it is otherwise. There the government, and its hirelings the office-holders, consider every individual their natural enemy so long as he lives on his own exertions, and withholds a fragment of his existence from the surveillance of the high and mighty. With unrelenting taxation, and interminable regulations, prohibitions, and prescriptions, they waste his substance and goad him into prison; but, once there, their wishes are accomplished, and they treat him henceforth with paternal kindness. Favors shown to prisoners can never be regarded as concessions to civil liberty, and therefore they are freely extended. Whoever finds his way there may calculate upon friendly treatment. Perhaps, instead of opposing the government, it would be better for the citizens to bring about a general measure of criminal incarceration as the surest road to the good-will of their sovereigns.
Still, the time passed but slowly. He learned the art of making brushes. When at length and at last the day of delivery came, he hastened to Crescence. He was received with open arms. With a little money, which she had saved out of her earnings, they both travelled from village to village as brush-makers. But soon Florian renounced this trade for one more satisfactory to his peculiar desire for admiration. He attended the fairs, markets, and harvest homes as rope-dancer and juggler. His great exploit was the sword-trick, which consisted in throwing three swords around in a circle and always catching them by the handle: he had mastered the principle when engaged in chopping sausage-meat. Crescence clung to him faithfully through all this; and once, when he fell from the rope and broke his leg, she nursed him with the most tender care.
After this he purchased a gambling-table and frequented the markets and harvest-homes of the adjoining countries of Germany,–the game of dice having been, in the mean time, prohibited in Wurtemberg. It is the peculiar good fortune of Germany that every one may cultivate his besetting sin there to his heart’s content, if he can only find the proper principality. What would have become of Florian had he not been a son of that favored country? He could not have made a living out of that which had first led to his ruin. Whenever this occurred to him, he raised his voice, as if to encourage himself: his morsel of French stood him in good stead,–for it is the most respectable dress for immorality that was ever fashioned.
” Messieurs, faites votre jeu! ” he would say. “Step up, step up: play here, gentlemen. Messieurs, eight creutzers for one creutzer: one creutzer has eight young ones. La fortune, la fortune, la fortune! A creutzer is nothing: out of nothing God made the world: out of no money money will come. Step up, Messieurs: faites votre jeu! “
Often, when his tricks began to pall on the taste of the crowd, and he found time to observe the young fellows dancing and making merry, a two-edged sword would pierce his heart: he had been like them once, and like the finest among them; and now he was a despised joker for the amusement of others. To banish such thoughts, he would grow, more and more extravagant in his sallies, and endeavor to persuade himself that he was doing it all for his own edification.
Of four children, only two survived,–the oldest boy and a little girl. Never would Florian suffer them to look at him when he drove his trade. They were kept in a barn or a farmer’s room, with the household goods of the family.
Once only Crescence took courage to suggest that it might be for the advantage of their children if they were to go home and try to support themselves there by their daily labor.
“Don’t talk of it,” said Florian, gnashing his teeth: “ten horses wouldn’t drag me up the Horb steep again. I lost my honor there; and never, never will I look at the Nordstetten steeple again!”
A CHILD LOST AND A FATHER FOUND.
In Braunsbach by the Kocher, opposite Maerxle’s house, is a linden-tree, toward which a strolling family might have been seen making their way one Sunday afternoon. The father–a powerful man, in a blue smock and gray felt hat numerously indented–was drawing a cart which contained a whetstone and some household-utensils. A gaunt, brown dog, of middle size, was his yokefellow. The woman assisted in helping the cart forward by pushing from behind. The two children followed, carrying some dry sticks gathered along the road. Arrived at the tree, the man took off the strap by which he was harnessed, threw his hat on the ground, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and sat down with his back resting against the tree. Though much altered, we cannot but recognise Florian and his family.
The dog had lain down beside him, resting his head on his fore-paws. The boy caressed him.
“Leave Schlunkel alone now, Freddie,” said Florian. “Go and help your mother.”
The boy obeyed quickly: he knew that his father was out of humor by his calling the dog “Schlunkel,”–for whenever Florian was ill at ease he tortured himself by giving to the sharer of his burden the name of the man who had first made him unhappy.
Crescence, meantime, had taken the stand and the kettle from the cart, had made a fire and placed the kettle filled with water upon it.
“Go and got us some potatoes,” said she to Freddie. He took a pot and went up to a house which looked down upon their resting-place. The beams of the framework in the walls–visible, as is always the case in that part of the country–were painted a bright red. An elderly man was looking out of the window.
“Won’t you be so kind,” asked Freddie, “as to give us some potatoes? God reward you!”
“Where are you from?” asked the man, who looked as if he had eaten a good dinner.
“My father always says, ‘From the place where people are hungry too.’”
“Is that your father down there?”
“Yes: but don’t be too long about it if you want to give us any thing, for our wood’s all burning away.”
The man came down and opened the door: the neighbors wondered how Peter Mike came to open his house to a beggar.
Freddie soon came out again with a potfull of potatoes and a little lard in a bowl. Soon the boiled potatoes became a porridge, and after all the family had dined the dog received permission to lick the plates.
Florian arose, and passed through the village, crying, “Scissor-grinder from Paris!” Freddie went from house to house to get work, promising the best of Parisian edge. And, without doubt, Florian was perfectly master of his new trade.
Peter Mike spent the afternoon in following the scissor-grinder from place to place. It gave him pleasure to follow his agile motions and hear the pretty tunes he whistled. He also chatted a little with the woman and the children. At dark he even tendered them his barn as a night’s lodging. All the village cried, “A judgment! a judgment! Stingy Peter Mike is getting kind!” And yet this was but a trifle compared with what followed. Peter Mike sat down with them in the barn, and said, “Let me keep this boy of yours. I’ll do well by him. What do you say to it?”
Seeing them look at each other in astonishment, he went on:–“Sleep on it, and tell me what you think of it in the morning.”
Florian and Crescence talked for half the night without coming to any conclusion. The mother, much as her inclination protested against it, was ready to give up her child, in order to give it a prospect in life, and the hope, at least, of an ordinary education.
Florian said little, but looked at the boy as he slept in the moonlight, looking very beautiful.
“He’ll be a rouser some day,” he said at last, turned over on his side, and fell asleep.
It may seem strange that Peter Mike, with such a reputation for avarice, should suddenly offer to adopt the child of a stroller; nor was charity his only motive. He was alone and childless,–had rented out his fields, and lived upon his income. His brother’s children–the only kindred he had–had offended him in someway; and he wished to mark his displeasure by the adoption of a stranger’s child. Besides, the boy with the clear blue eyes had inspired him with an unaccountable affection.
At daybreak Peter Mike was at the barn-door, and asked whether they were awake. Being answered in the affirmative, he requested Florian and Crescence to come up to his room, in order to discuss the question. They complied.
“Well, how is it? Have you made up your minds?” he asked.
“Why,” said Florian, “the plain English of it is, we should like to give up the boy very well, because he would be in good hands with you and could learn something; but it won’t do: will it, Crescence?”
“Why won’t it do?”
“Because we want the boy in our business; and we must live too, you know,–and our little girl.”
“See here,” said Peter Mike: “I’ll show you that I mean you well. I’ll give you a hundred florins,–not for the boy, but so that you can go about some other business,–a trade in dishes, or something of that kind. A hundred florins is something. What do you say?”
The parents looked at each other sorrowfully.
“Crescence, do you talk. I’ve nothing more to say: whatever you do, I’m satisfied.”
“Why, I don’t think the boy’ll want to stay and leave us. You mean well, I know that; but the child might die of home-sickness.”
“I’ll ask him,” said Peter Mike, leaving the parents more astonished than ever; for habitual poverty deprives people of the power of forming resolutions, and makes them surprised to find this faculty in others. Neither spoke: they dreaded the forthcoming answer, whatever it might be.
Peter Mike returned, leading Freddie by the hand. He nodded significantly, and Freddie cried, “Yes, I’ll stay with cousin: he’s going to give me a whip and a horse.”
Crescence wept; but Florian said, “Well, then, let’s go; what must be, the sooner it’s done the better.”
He went down-stairs, packed the cart, and hitched the dog. Peter Mike brought him the money.
When all was ready, Crescence kissed her son once more, and said, weeping, “Be a good boy, and mind your cousin: go to school and learn your lessons. Perhaps we shall come back in winter.”
Florian turned his head away when his son took his hand, and tightened the strap by which he pulled the cart. Freddie put his arms round the dog’s head and took leave of him.
Not a word was spoken until they reached Kochersteinfeld: each mentally upbraided the other for having made so little opposition. Here they rested, and Florian called for a pint of wine to cheer their spirits. Taking a long draught, he pushed the glass over to Crescence, bidding her do the same. She raised the glass to her lips, but set it down again and cried, weeping aloud, “I can’t drink: it seems as if I had to drink the blood of my darling Freddie.”
“Don’t get up such a woman’s fuss now: you ought to ‘ve said that before. Let’s sleep over it: we shall feel better tomorrow.”
As if to escape from their own thoughts, they never stopped till they got to Kuenzelsau. On the way they held counsel as to the best investment of their money, and agreed to act upon the advice of Peter Mike.
Next day they set out for Oehringen; but suddenly Florian stopped and said, “Crescence, what do you say to turning round and going back for Freddie?”
“Yes, yes, yes! come.”
In a moment the cart was headed the other way, and the dog leaped up Florian’s side, as if he knew what was going on. But suddenly Crescence cried, “Oh, mercy, mercy! He’ll never let us have him: there’s a whole florin gone,–the night’s lodging; and I’ve bought Lizzie a dress!”
“O women and vanity!” groaned Florian. “Well, we must try it, anyhow. I’m bound to have my Freddie back.”
The dog barked assent
It was noonday again when the caravan reached the linden-tree. Freddie ran to meet them, crying, “Is it winter?”
His mother went up to Peter Mike, laid down the money, begged him to overlook the florin which was gone, and demanded her child.
The parson was in Peter Mike’s room, and had almost succeeded in persuading him to be reconciled to his brother’s children and to give the adopted child but a small portion of his property. At sight of Crescence he rose, without knowing why, and raised his hands. He tried to induce the woman not to give her child away; and, when she answered, the sound of her voice was like a reminiscence of something long unthought of.
Peter Mike had called Florian. When the latter saw the parson, he rushed up to him, seized him by the collar, and cried, “Ha, old fellow! I’ve caught you again at last.” Crescence and Peter Mike interfered. The parson, with a husky voice, begged the latter to retire, as he had important communications to make to the strangers. Peter Mike complied.
“Is your name Crescence?” asked the parson.
“My child! my child!” said the parson, hoarsely, falling on her neck.
For a time all wept in silence. The parson passed his hand over her face, and then made them both swear never to reveal the relation in which they stood to him. He would give them a house and set them up in business. Crescence was to be regarded as his sister’s child.
Thus the vagrant family settled in the village. Florian has returned to the active use of his faithful knife.
The wife of the Protestant minister, who is very religious, claims to have discovered beyond a doubt that Crescence is not the parson’s niece, but his daughter; but people don’t believe it.
The dog, who is also in the butchering-line, has exchanged his name of Schlunkel for the honest one of Bless. The gloomy recollections of the past are buried in oblivion.