Tales by Musæus, Tieck, Richter/Musæus/Dumb Love
There was once a wealthy merchant, Melchior of Bremen by name, who used to stroke his beard with a contemptuous grin, when he heard the Rich Man in the Gospel preached of, whom, in comparison, he reckoned little better than a petty shopkeeper. Melchior had money in such plenty, that he floored his dining-room all over with a coat of solid dollars. In those frugal times, as in our own, a certain luxury prevailed among the rich; only then it had a more substantial shape than now. But though this pomp of Melchior's was sharply censured by his fellow-citizens and consorts, it was, in truth, directed more to trading speculation than to mere vain-glory. The cunning Bremer easily observed, that those who grudged and blamed this seeming vanity, would but diffuse the reputation of his wealth, and so increase his credit. He gained his purpose to the full; the sleeping capital of old dollars, so judiciously set up to public inspection in the parlour, brought interest a hundredfold, by the silent surety which it offered for his bargains in every market; yet, at last, it became a rock on which the welfare of his family made shipwreck.
Melchior of Bremen died of a surfeit at a city-feast, without having time to set his house in order; and left all his goods and chattels to an only son, in the bloom of life, and just arrived at the years when the laws allowed him to take possession of his inheritance. Franz Melcherson was a brilliant youth, endued by nature with the best capacities. His exterior was gracefully formed, yet firm and sinewy withal; his temper was cheery and jovial, as if hung-beef and old French wine had joined to influence his formation. On his cheeks bloomed health; and from his brown eyes looked mirthfulness and love of joy. He was like a marrowy plant, which needs but water and the poorest ground to make it grow to strength; but which, in too fat a soil, will shoot into luxuriant overgrowth, without fruit or usefulness. The father's heritage, as often happens, proved the ruin of the son. Scarce had he felt the joy of being sole possessor and disposer of a large fortune, when he set about endeavouring to get rid of it as of a galling burden; began to play the Rich Man in the Gospel to the very letter; went clothed in fine apparel, and fared sumptuously every day. No feast at the bishop's court could be compared for pomp and superfluity with his; and never while the town of Bremen shall endure, will such another public dinner be consumed, as it yearly got from him; for to every burgher of the place he gave a Krusel-soup and a jug of Spanish wine. For this, all people cried: Long life to him! and Franz became the hero of the day.
In this unceasing whirl of joviality, no thought was cast upon the Balancing of Entries, which, in those days, was the merchant's vade-mecum, though in our times it is going out of fashion, and for want of it the tongue of the commercial beam too frequently declines with a magnetic virtue from the vertical position. Some years passed on without the joyful Franz's noticing a diminution in his incomes; for at his father's death every chest and coffer had been full. The voracious host of table-friends, the airy company of jesters, gamesters, parasites, and all who had their living by the prodigal son, took special care to keep reflection at a distance from him; they hurried him from one enjoyment to another; kept him constantly in play, lest in some sober moment Reason might awake, and snatch him from their plundering claws.
But at last their well of happiness went suddenly dry; old Melchior's casks of gold were now run off even to the lees. One day, Franz ordered payment of a large account; his cash-keeper was not in a state to execute the precept, and returned it with a protest. This counter-incident flashed keenly through the soul of Franz; yet he felt nothing else but anger and vexation at his servant, to whose unaccountable perversity, by no means to his own ill husbandry, he charged the present disorder in his finances. Nor did he give himself the trouble to investigate the real condition of the business; but after flying to the common Fool's-litany, and thundering out some scores of curses, he transmitted to his shoulder-shrugging steward the laconic order: Find means.
Bill-brokers, usurers and money-changers now came into play. For high interest, fresh sums were poured into the empty coffers; the silver flooring of the dining-room was then more potent in the eyes of creditors, than in these times of ours the promissory obligation of the Congress of America, with the whole thirteen United States to back it. This palliative succeeded for a season; but, underhand, the rumour spread about the town, that the silver flooring had been privily removed, and a stone one substituted in its stead. The matter was immediately, by application of the lenders, legally inquired into, and discovered to be actually so. Now, it could not be denied, that a marble-floor, worked into nice Mosaic, looked much better in a parlour, than a sheet of dirty, tarnished dollars: the creditors, however, paid so little reverence to the proprietor's refinement of taste, that on the spot they, one and all, demanded payment of their several moneys; and as this was not complied with, they proceeded to procure an act of bankruptcy; and Melchior's house, with its appurtenances, offices, gardens, parks and furniture, were sold by public auction, and their late owner, who in this extremity had screened himself from jail by some chicanery of law, judicially ejected.
It was now too late to moralise on his absurdities, since philosophical reflections could not alter what was done, and the most wholesome resolutions would not bring him back his money. According to the principles of this our cultivated century, the hero at this juncture ought to have retired with dignity from the stage, or in some way terminated his existence; to have entered on his travels into foreign parts, or opened his carotid artery; since in his native town he could live no longer as a man of honour. Franz neither did the one nor the other. The qu'en-dira-t-on, which French morality employs as bit and curb for thoughtlessness and folly, had never once occurred to the unbridled squanderer in the days of his profusion, and his sensibility was still too dull to feel so keenly the disgrace of his capricious wastefulness. He was like a toper, who has been in drink, and on awakening out of his carousal, cannot rightly understand how matters are or have been with him. He lived according to the manner of unprospering spendthrifts; repented not, lamented not. By good fortune, he had picked some relics from the wreck; a few small heir-looms of the family; and these secured him for a time from absolute starvation.
He engaged a lodging in a remote alley, into which the sun never shone throughout the year, except for a few days about the solstice, when it peeped for a short while over the high roofs. Here he found the little that his now much-contracted wants required. The frugal kitchen of his landlord screened him from hunger, the stove from cold, the roof from rain, the four walls from wind; only from the pains of tedium he could devise no refuge or resource. The light rabble of parasites had fled away with his prosperity; and of his former friends there was now no one that knew him. Reading had not yet become a necessary of life; people did not yet understand the art of killing time by means of those amusing shapes of fancy which are wont to lodge in empty heads. There were yet no sentimental, pedagogic, psychologic, popular, simple, comic, or moral tales; no novels of domestic life, no cloister-stories, no romances of the middle ages; and of the innumerable generation of our Henrys, and Adelaides, and Cliffords, and Emmas, no one had as yet lifted up its mantua-maker voice, to weary out the patience of a lazy and discerning public. In those days, knights were still diligently pricking round the tilt-yard; Dietrich of Bern, Hildebrand, Seyfried with the Horns, Rennewart the Strong, were following their snake and dragon hunt, and killing giants and dwarfs of twelve men's strength. The venerable epos, Theuerdank, was the loftiest ideal of German art and skill, the latest product of our native wit, but only for the cultivated minds, the poets and thinkers of the age. Franz belonged to none of those classes, and had therefore nothing to employ himself upon, except that he tuned his lute, and sometimes twanged a little on it; then, by way of variation, took to looking from the window, and instituted observations on the weather; out of which, indeed, there came no inference a whit more edifying than from all the labours of the most rheumatic meteorologist of this present age. Meanwhile his turn for observation ere long found another sort of nourishment, by which the vacant space in his head and heart was at once filled.
In the narrow lane right opposite his window dwelt an honest matron, who, in hope of better times, was earning a painful living by the long threads, which, assisted by a marvellously fair daughter, she winded daily from her spindle. Day after day the couple spun a length of yarn, with which the whole town of Bremen, with its walls and trenches, and all its suburbs, might have been begirt. These two spinners had not been born for the wheel; they were of good descent, and had lived of old in pleasant affluence. The fair Meta's father had once had a ship of his own on the sea, and, freighting it himself, had yearly sailed to Antwerp; but a heavy storm had sunk the vessel, "with man and mouse," and a rich cargo, into the abysses of the ocean, before Meta had passed the years of her childhood. The mother, a staid and reasonable woman, bore the loss of her husband and all her fortune with a wise composure; in her need she refused, out of noble pride, all help from the charitable sympathy of her relations and friends; considering it as shameful alms, so long as she believed, that in her own activity she might find a living by the labour of her hands. She gave up her large house, and all her costly furniture, to the rigorous creditors of her ill-fated husband, hired a little dwelling in the lane, and span from early morning till late night, though the trade went sore against her, and she often wetted the thread with her tears. Yet by this diligence she reached her object, of depending upon no one, and owing no mortal any obligation. By and by she trained her growing daughter to the same employment; and lived so thriftily, that she laid-by a trifle of her gainings, and turned it to account by carrying on a little trade in flax.
She, however, nowise purposed to conclude her life in these poor circumstances; on the contrary, the honest dame kept up her heart with happy prospects into the future, and hoped that she should once more attain a prosperous situation, and in the autumn of her life enjoy her woman's-summer. Nor were these hopes grounded altogether upon empty dreams of fancy, but upon a rational and calculated expectation. She saw her daughter budding up like a spring rose, no less virtuous and modest than she was fair; and with such endowments of art and spirit, that the mother felt delight and comfort in her, and spared the morsel from her own lips, that nothing might be wanting in an education suitable to her capacities. For she thought, that if a maiden could come up to the sketch which Solomon, the wise friend of woman, has left of the ideal of a perfect wife, it could not fail that a pearl of such price would be sought after, and bidden for, to ornament some good man's house; for beauty combined with virtue, in the days of Mother Brigitta, were as important in the eyes of wooers, as, in our days, birth combined with fortune. Besides, the number of suitors was in those times greater; it was then believed that the wife was the most essential, not, as in our refined economical theory, the most superfluous item in the household. The fair Meta, it is true, bloomed only like a precious rare flower in the greenhouse, not under the gay, free sky; she lived in maternal oversight and keeping, sequestered and still; was seen in no walk, in no company; and scarcely once in the year passed through the gate of her native town; all which seemed utterly to contradict her mother's principle. The old Lady E * * of Memel understood it otherwise, in her time. She sent the itinerant Sophia, it is clear as day, from Memel into Saxony, simply on a marriage speculation, and attained her purpose fully. How many hearts did the wandering nymph set on fire, how many suitors courted her! Had she stayed at home, as a domestic modest maiden, she might have bloomed away in the remoteness of her virgin cell, without even making a conquest of Kubbuz the schoolmaster. Other times, other manners. Daughters with us are a sleeping capital, which must be put in circulation if it is to yield any interest; of old, they were kept like thrifty savings, under lock and key; yet the bankers still knew where the treasure lay concealed, and how it might be come at. Mother Brigitta steered towards some prosperous son-in-law, who might lead her back from the Babylonian captivity of the narrow lane into the land of superfluity, flowing with milk and honey; and trusted firmly, that in the urn of Fate, her daughter's lot would not be coupled with a blank.
One day, while neighbour Franz was looking from the window, making observations on the weather, he perceived the charming Meta coming with her mother from church, whither she went daily, to attend mass. In the times of his abundance, the unstable voluptuary had been blind to the fairer half of the species; the finer feelings were still slumbering in his breast; and all his senses had been overclouded by the ceaseless tumult of debauchery. But now the stormy waves of extravagance had subsided; and in this deep calm, the smallest breath of air sufficed to curl the mirror surface of his soul. He was enchanted by the aspect of this, the loveliest female figure that had ever flitted past him. He abandoned from that hour the barren study of the winds and clouds, and now instituted quite another set of Observations for the furtherance of Moral Science, and one which afforded to himself much finer occupation. He soon extracted from his landlord intelligence of this fair neighbour, and learned most part of what we know already.
Now rose on him the first repentant thought for his heedless squandering; there awoke a secret good-will in his heart to this new acquaintance; and for her sake he wished that his paternal inheritance were his own again, that the lovely Meta might be fitly dowered with it. His garret in the narrow lane was now so dear to him, that he would not have exchanged it with the Schudding itself. Throughout the day he stirred not from the window, watching for an opportunity of glancing at the dear maiden; and when she chanced to show herself, he felt more rapture in his soul than did Horrox in his Liverpool Observatory, when he saw, for the first time, Venus passing over the disk of the Sun.
Unhappily the watchful mother instituted counter-observations, and ere long discovered what the lounger on the other side was driving at; and as Franz, in the capacity of spendthrift, already stood in very bad esteem with her, this daily gazing angered her so much, that she shrouded her lattice as with a cloud, and drew the curtains close together. Meta had the strictest orders not again to appear at the window; and when her mother went with her to mass, she drew a rain-cap over her face, disguised her like a favourite of the Grand Signior, and hurried till she turned the corner with her, and escaped the eyes of the lier-in-wait.
Of Franz, it was not held that penetration was his master faculty; but Love awakens all the talents of the mind. He observed, that by his imprudent spying, he had betrayed himself; and he thenceforth retired from the window, with the resolution not again to look out at it, though the Venerabile itself were carried by. On the other hand, he meditated some invention for proceeding with his observations in a private manner; and without great labour, his combining spirit mastered it.
He hired the largest looking-glass that he could find, and hung it up in his room, with such an elevation and direction, that he could distinctly see whatever passed in the dwelling of his neighbours. Here, as for several days the watcher did not come to light, the screens by degrees went asunder; and the broad mirror now and then could catch the form of the noble maid, and, to the great refreshment of the virtuoso, cast it truly back. The more deeply love took root in his heart, the more widely did his wishes extend. It now struck him that he ought to lay his passion open to the fair Meta, and investigate the corresponding state of her opinions. The commonest and readiest way which lovers, under such a constellation of their wishes, strike into, was in his position inaccessible. In those modest ages, it was always difficult for Paladins in love to introduce themselves to daughters of the family; toilette calls were not in fashion; trustful interviews tête-à-tête were punished by the loss of reputation to the female sharer; promenades, esplanades, masquerades, pic-nics, goutés, soupés, and other inventions of modern wit for forwarding sweet courtship, had not then been hit upon; yet, notwithstanding, all things went their course, much as they do with us. Gossipings, weddings, lykewakes, were, especially in our Imperial Cities, privileged vehicles for carrying on soft secrets, and expediting marriage contracts; hence the old proverb, One wedding makes a score. But a poor runagate no man desired to number among his baptismal relatives; to no nuptial dinner, to no wakesupper, was he bidden. The by-way of negotiating, with the woman, with the young maid, or any other serviceable spirit of a go-between, was here locked up. Mother Brigitta had neither maid nor woman; the flax and yarn trade passed through no hands but her own; and she abode by her daughter as closely as her shadow.
In these circumstances, it was clearly impossible for neighbour Franz to disclose his heart to the fair Meta, either verbally or in writing. Ere long, however, he invented an idiom, which appeared expressly calculated for the utterance of the passions. It is true, the honour of the first invention is not his. Many ages ago, the sentimental Celadons of Italy and Spain had taught melting harmonies, in serenades beneath the balconies of their dames, to speak the language of the heart; and it is said that this melodious pathos had especial virtue in love-matters; and, by the confession of the ladies, was more heart-affecting and subduing, than of yore the oratory of the reverend Chrysostom, or the pleadings of Demosthenes and Tully. But of all this the simple Bremer had not heard a syllable; and consequently the invention of expressing his emotions in symphonious notes, and trilling them to his beloved Meta, was entirely his own.
In an hour of sentiment, he took his lute: he did not now tune it merely to accompany his voice, but drew harmonious melodies from its strings; and Love, in less than a month, had changed the musical scraper to a new Amphion. His first efforts did not seem to have been noticed; but soon the population of the lane were all ear, every time the dilettante struck a note. Mothers hushed their children, fathers drove the noisy urchins from the doors, and the performer had the satisfaction to observe that Meta herself, with her alabaster hand, would sometimes open the window as he began to prelude. If he succeeded in enticing her to lend an ear, his voluntaries whirled along in gay allegro, or skipped away in mirthful jigs; but if the turning of the spindle, or her thrifty mother, kept her back, a heavy-laden andante rolled over the bridge of the sighing lute, and expressed, in languishing modulations, the feeling of sadness which love-pain poured over his soul.
Meta was no dull scholar; she soon learned to interpret this expressive speech. She made various experiments to try whether she had rightly understood it, and found that she could govern at her will the dilettante humours of the unseen lute-twanger; for your silent modest maidens, it is well known, have a much sharper eye than those giddy flighty girls, who hurry with the levity of butterflies from one object to another, and take proper heed of none. She felt her female vanity a little flattered; and it pleased her that she had it in her power, by a secret magic, to direct the neighbouring lute, and tune it now to the note of joy, now to the whimpering moan of grief. Mother Brigitta, on the other hand, had her head so constantly employed with her traffic on the small scale, that she minded none of these things; and the sly little daughter took especial care to keep her in the dark respecting the discovery; and, instigated either by some touch of kindness for her cooing neighbour, or perhaps by vanity, that she might show her hermeneutic penetration, meditated on the means of making some symbolical response to these harmonious apostrophes to her heart. She expressed a wish to have flower-pots on the outside of the window; and to grant her this innocent amusement was a light thing for the mother, who no longer feared the coney-catching neighbour, now that she no longer saw him with her eyes.
Henceforth Meta had a frequent call to tend her flowers, to water them, to bind them up, and guard them from approaching storms, and watch their growth and flourishing. With inexpressible delight the happy Franz explained this hieroglyphic altogether in his favour; and the speaking lute did not fail to modulate his glad emotions, through the alley, into the heedful ear of the fair friend of flowers. This, in her tender virgin heart, worked wonders. She began to be secretly vexed, when Mother Brigitta, in her wise table-talk, in which at times she spent an hour chatting with her daughter, brought their melodious neighbour to her bar, and called him a losel and a sluggard, or compared him with the Prodigal in the Gospel. She always took his part; threw the blame of his ruin on the sorrowful temptations he had met with; and accused him of nothing worse than not having fitly weighed the golden proverb, A penny saved is a penny got. Yet she defended him with cunning prudence; so that it rather seemed as if she wished to help the conversation, than took any interest in the thing itself.
While Mother Brigitta within her four walls was inveighing against the luckless spendthrift, he on his side entertained the kindest feelings towards her; and was considering diligently how he might, according to his means, improve her straitened circumstances, and divide with her the little that remained to him, and so that she might never notice that a portion of his property had passed over into hers. This pious outlay, in good truth, was specially intended not for the mother, but the daughter. Underhand he had come to know, that the fair Meta had a hankering for a new gown, which her mother had excused herself from buying, under pretext of hard times. Yet he judged quite accurately, that a present of a piece of stuff, from an unknown hand, would scarcely be received, or cut into a dress for Meta; and that he should spoil all, if he stept forth and avowed himself the author of the benefaction. Chance afforded him an opportunity to realise this purpose in the way he wished.
Mother Brigitta was complaining to a neighbour, that flax was very dull; that it cost her more to purchase than the buyers of it would repay; and that hence this branch of industry was nothing better, for the present, than a withered bough. Eaves-dropper Franz did not need a second telling; he ran directly to the goldsmith, sold his mother's ear-rings, bought some stones of flax, and, by means of a negotiatress, whom he gained, had it offered to the mother for a cheap price. The bargain was concluded; and it yielded so richly, that on All-Saints' day the fair Meta sparkled in a fine new gown. In this decoration, she had such a splendour in her watchful neighbour's eyes, that he would have overlooked the Eleven Thousand Virgins, all and sundry, had it been permitted him to choose a heart's-mate from among them, and fixed upon the charming Meta.
But just as he was triumphing in the result of his innocent deceit, the secret was betrayed. Mother Brigitta had resolved to do the flax-retailer, who had brought her that rich gain, a kindness in her turn; and was treating her with a well-sugared rice-pap, and a quarter-stoop of Spanish sack. This dainty set in motion not only the toothless jaw, but also the garrulous tongue of the crone: she engaged to continue the flax-brokerage, should her consigner feel inclined, as from good grounds she guessed he would. One word produced another; Mother Eve's two daughters searched, with the curiosity peculiar to their sex, till at length the brittle seal of female secrecy gave way. Meta grew pale with affright at the discovery, which would have charmed her, had her mother not partaken of it. But she knew her strict ideas of morals and decorum; and these gave her doubts about the preservation of her gown. The serious dame herself was no less struck at the tidings, and wished, on her side too, that she alone had got intelligence of the specific nature of her flax-trade; for she dreaded that this neighbourly munificence might make an impression on her daughter's heart, which would derange her whole calculations. She resolved, therefore, to root out the still tender germ of this weed, in the very act, from the maiden heart. The gown, in spite of all the tears and prayers of its lovely owner, was first hypothecated, and next day transmitted to the huckster's shop; the money raised from it, with the other profits of the flax speculation, accurately reckoned up, were packed together, and under the name of an old debt, returned to "Mr. Franz Melcherson, in Bremen," by help of the Hamburg post. The receiver, nothing doubting, took the little lot of money as an unexpected blessing; wished that all his father's debtors would clear off their old scores as conscientiously as this honest unknown person; and had not the smallest notion of the real position of affairs. The talking brokeress, of course, was far from giving him a true disclosure of her blabbing; she merely told him that Mother Brigitta had given up her flax-trade.
Meanwhile, the mirror taught him, that the aspects over the way had altered greatly in a single night. The flower-pots were entirely vanished; and the cloudy veil again obscured the friendly horizon of the opposite window. Meta was seldom visible; and if for a moment, like the silver moon, from among her clouds in a stormy night, she did appear, her countenance was troubled, the fire of her eyes was extinguished, and it seemed to him, that, at times, with her finger, she pressed away a pearly tear. This seized him sharply by the heart; and his lute resounded melancholy sympathy in soft Lydian mood. He grieved, and meditated to discover why his love was sad; but all his thinking and imagining were vain. After some days were past, he noticed, to his consternation, that his dearest piece of furniture, the large mirror, had become entirely useless. He set himself one bright morning in his usual nook, and observed that the clouds over the way had, like natural fog, entirely dispersed; a sign which he at first imputed to a general washing; but ere long he saw that, in the chamber, all was waste and empty; his pleasing neighbours had in silence withdrawn the night before, and broken up their quarters.
He might now, once more, with the greatest leisure and convenience, enjoy the free prospect from his window, without fear of being troublesome to any; but for him it was a dead loss to miss the kind countenance of his Platonic love. Mute and stupefied, he stood, as of old his fellow-craftsman, the harmonious Orpheus, when the dear shadow of his Eurydice again vanished down to Orcus; and if the bedlam humour of those "noble minds," who raved among us through the bygone lustre, but have now like drones disappeared with the earliest frost, had then been ripened to existence, this calm of his would certainly have passed into a sudden hurricane. The least he could have done, would have been to pull his hair, to trundle himself about upon the ground, or run his head against the wall, and break his stove and window. All this he omitted; from the very simple cause, that true love never makes men fools, but rather is the universal remedy for healing sick minds of their foolishness, for laying gentle fetters on extravagance, and guiding youthful giddiness from the broad way of ruin to the narrow path of reason; for the rake whom love will not recover is lost irrecoverably.
When once his spirit had assembled its scattered powers, he set on foot a number of instructive meditations on the unexpected phenomenon, but too visible in the adjacent horizon. He readily conceived that he was the lever which had effected the removal of the wandering colony: his money-letter, the abrupt conclusion of the flax-trade, and the emigration which had followed thereupon, were like reciprocal exponents to each other, and explained the whole to him. He perceived that Mother Brigitta had got round his secrets, and saw from every circumstance that he was not her hero; a discovery which yielded him but little satisfaction. The symbolic responses of the fair Meta, with her flower-pots, to his musical proposals of love; her trouble, and the tear which he had noticed in her bright eyes shortly before her departure from the lane, again animated his hopes, and kept him in good heart. His first employment was to go in quest, and try to learn where Mother Brigitta had pitched her residence, in order to maintain, by some means or other, his secret understanding with the daughter. It cost him little toil to find her abode; yet he was too modest to shift his own lodging to her neighbourhood; but satisfied himself with spying out the church where she now attended mass, that he might treat himself once each day with a glance of his beloved. He never failed to meet her as she returned, now here, now there, in some shop or door which she was passing, and salute her kindly; an equivalent for a billet-doux, and productive of the same effect.
Had not Meta been brought up in a style too nunlike, and guarded by her rigid mother as a treasure, from the eyes of thieves, there is little doubt that neighbour Franz, with his secret wooing, would have made no great impression on her heart. But she was at the critical age when Mother Nature and Mother Brigitta, with their wise nurture, were perpetually coming into collision. The former taught her, by a secret instinct, the existence of emotions, for which she had no name, and eulogised them as the panacea of life; the latter warned her to beware of the surprisals of a passion, which she would not designate by its true title, but which, as she maintained, was more pernicious and destructive to young maidens than the small-pox itself. The former, in the spring of life, as beseemed the season, enlivened her heart with a genial warmth; the latter wished that it should always be as cold and frosty as an ice-house. These conflicting pedagogic systems of the two good mothers gave the tractable heart of the daughter the direction of a ship which is steered against the wind, and follows neither the wind nor the helm, but a course between the twotheir silent hearts, each for himself, under the seal of secrecy, the oath of faithfulness to the other.She maintained the modesty and virtue which her education, from her youth upwards, had impressed upon her; but her heart continued open to all tender feelings. And as neighbour Franz was the first youth who had awakened these slumbering emotions, she took a certain pleasure in him, which she scarcely owned to herself, but which any less unexperienced maiden would have recognised as love. It was for this that her departure from the narrow lane had gone so near her heart; for this that the little tear had trickled from her beautiful eyes; for this that, when the watchful Franz saluted her as she came from church, she thanked him so kindly, and grew scarlet to the ears. The lovers had in truth never spoken any word to one another; but he understood her, and she him, so perfectly, that in the most secret interview they could not have explained themselves more clearly; and both contracting parties swore in
In the quarter, where Mother Brigitta had now settled, there were likewise neighbours, and among these likewise girl-spiers, whom the beauty of the charming Meta had not escaped. Right opposite their dwelling lived a wealthy Brewer, whom the wags of the part, as he was strong in means, had named the Hop-King. He was a young stout widower, whose mourning year was just concluding, so that now he was entitled, without offending the precepts of decorum, to look about him elsewhere for a new helpmate to his household. Shortly after the departure of his whilom wife, he had in secret entered into an engagement with his Patron Saint, St. Christopher, to offer him a wax-taper as long as a hop-pole, and as thick as a mashing-beam, if he would vouchsafe in this second choice to prosper the desire of his heart. Scarcely had he seen the dainty Meta, when he dreamed that St. Christopher looked in upon him, through the window of his bedroom in the second story, and demanded payment of his debt. To the quick widower this seemed a heavenly call to cast out the net without delay. Early in the morning he sent for the brokers of the town, and commissioned them to buy bleached wax; then decked himself like a Syndic, and set forth to expedite his marriage speculation. He had no musical talents, and in the secret symbolic language of love he was no better than a blockhead; but he had a rich brewery, a solid mortgage on the city-revenues, a ship on the Weser, and a farm without the gates. With such recommendations he might have reckoned on a prosperous issue to his courtship, independently of all assistance from St. Kit, especially as his bride was without dowry.
According to old use and wont, he went directly to the master hand, and disclosed to the mother, in a kind neighbourly way, his christian intentions towards her virtuous and honourable daughter. No angel's visit could have charmed the good lady more than these glad tidings. She now saw ripening before her the fruit of her prudent scheme, and the fulfilment of her hope again to emerge from her present poverty into her former abundance; she blessed the good thought of moving from the crooked alley, and in the first ebullition of her joy, as a thousand gay ideas were ranking themselves up within her soul, she also thought of neighbour Franz, who had given occasion to it. Though Franz was not exactly her bosom-youth, she silently resolved to gladden him, as the accidental instrument of her rising star, with some secret gift or other, and by this means likewise recompense his well-intended flax-dealing.
In the maternal heart the marriage-articles were as good as signed; but decorum did not permit these rash proceedings in a matter of such moment. She therefore let the motion lie ad referendum, to be considered by her daughter and herself; and appointed a term of eight days, after which "she hoped she should have it in her power to give the much-respected suitor a reply that would satisfy him;" all which, as the common manner of proceeding, he took in good part, and with his usual civilities withdrew. No sooner had he turned his back, than spinning-wheel and reel, swingling-stake and hatchel, without regard being paid to their faithful services, and without accusation being lodged against them, were consigned, like some luckless Parliament of Paris, to disgrace, and dismissed as useless implements into the lumber-room. On returning from mass, Meta was astonished at the sudden catastrophe which had occurred in the apartment; it was all decked out as on one of the three high Festivals of the year. She could not understand how her thrifty mother, on a work-day, had so neglectfully put her active hand in her bosom; but before she had time to question the kindly-smiling dame concerning this reform in household affairs, she was favoured by the latter with an explanation of the riddle. Persuasion rested on Brigitta's tongue; and there flowed from her lips a stream of female eloquence, depicting the offered happiness in the liveliest hues which her imagination could lay on. She expected from the chaste Meta the blush of soft virgin bashfulness, which announces the novitiate in love; and then a full resignation of herself to the maternal will. For of old, in proposals of marriage, daughters were situated as our princesses are still; they were not asked about their inclination, and had no voice in the selection of their legal helpmate, save the Yes before the altar.
But Mother Brigitta was in this point widely mistaken; the fair Meta did not at the unexpected announcement grow red as a rose, but pale as ashes. An hysterical giddiness swam over her brain, and she sank fainting in her mother's arms. When her senses were recalled by the sprinkling of cold water, and she had in some degree recovered strength, her eyes overflowed with tears, as if a heavy misfortune had befallen her. From all these symptoms, the sagacious mother easily perceived that the marriage-trade was not to her taste; at which she wondered not a little, sparing neither prayers nor admonitions to her daughter to secure her happiness by this good match, not flout it from her by caprice and contradiction. But Meta could not be persuaded that her happiness depended on a match, to which her heart gave no assent. The debates between the mother and the daughter lasted several days, from early morning to late night; the term for decision was approaching; the sacred taper for St. Christopher, which Og King of Bashan need not have disdained had it been lit for him as a marriage-torch at his espousals, stood in readiness, all beautifully painted with living flowers like a many-coloured light, though the Saint had all the while been so inactive in his client's cause, that the fair Meta's heart was still bolted and barred against him fast as ever.
Meanwhile she had bleared her eyes with weeping, and the maternal rhetoric had worked so powerfully, that, like a flower in the sultry heat, she was drooping together, and visibly fading away. Hidden grief was gnawing at her heart; she had prescribed herself a rigorous fast, and for three days no morsel had she eaten, and with no drop of water moistened her parched lips. By night sleep never visited her eyes; and with all this she grew sick to death, and began to talk about extreme unction. As the tender mother saw the pillar of her hope wavering, and bethought herself that she might lose both capital and interest at once, she found, on accurate consideration, that it would be more advisable to let the latter vanish, than to miss them both; and with kindly indulgence plied into the daughter's will. It cost her much constraint, indeed, and many hard battles, to turn away so advantageous an offer; yet at last, according to established order in household governments, she yielded unconditionally to the inclination of her child, and remonstrated no more with her beloved patient on the subject. As the stout widower announced himself on the appointed day, in the full trust that his heavenly deputy had arranged it all according to his wish, he received, quite unexpectedly, a negative answer, which, however, was sweetened with such a deal of blandishment, that he swallowed it like wine-of-wormwood mixed with sugar. For the rest, he easily accommodated himself to his destiny; and discomposed himself no more about it, than if some bargain for a ton of malt had chanced to come to nothing. Nor, on the whole, had he any cause to sorrow without hope. His native town has never wanted amiable daughters, who come up to the Solomonic sketch, and are ready to make perfect spouses; besides, notwithstanding this unprospered courtship, he depended with firm confidence upon his Patron Saint; who in fact did him such substantial service elsewhere, that ere a month elapsed, he had planted with much pomp his devoted taper at the friendly shrine.
Mother Brigitta was now fain to recall the exiled spinning-tackle from its lumber-room, and again set it in action. All once more went its usual course. Meta soon bloomed out anew, was active in business, and diligently went to mass; but the mother could not hide her secret grudging at the failure of her hopes, and the annihilation of her darling plan; she was splenetic, peevish and dejected. Her ill-humour had especially the upper hand that day when neighbour Hop-King held his nuptials. As the wedding company proceeded to the church, with the town-band bedrumming and becymballing them in the van, she whimpered and sobbed as in the evil hour when the Job's-news reached her, that the wild sea had devoured her husband, with ship and fortune. Meta looked at the bridal pomp with great equanimity; even the royal ornaments, the jewels in the myrtle-crown, and the nine strings of true pearls about the neck of the bride, made no impression on her peace of mind; a circumstance in some degree surprising, since a new Paris cap, or any other meteor in the gallery of Mode, will so frequently derange the contentment and domestic peace of an entire parish. Nothing but the heart-consuming sorrow of her mother discomposed her, and overclouded the gay look of her eyes; she strove by a thousand caresses and little attentions to work herself into favour; and she so far succeeded that the good lady grew a little more communicative.
In the evening, when the wedding-dance began, she said, "Ah, child! this merry dance it might have been thy part to lead off. What a pleasure, hadst thou recompensed thy mother's care and toil with this joy! But thou hast mocked thy happiness, and now I shall never see the day when I am to attend thee to the altar."—"Dear mother," answered Meta, "I confide in Heaven; and if it is written above that I am to be led to the altar, you will surely deck my garland: for when the right wooer comes, my heart will soon say Yes."—"Child, for girls without dowry there is no press of wooers; they are heavy ware to trade with. Nowadays the bachelors are mighty stingy; they court to be happy, not to make happy. Besides, thy planet bodes thee no good; thou wert born in April. Let us see how it is written in the Calendar: 'A damsel born in this month is comely of countenance, slender of shape, but of changeful humour, has a liking to men. Should have an eye upon her maiden garland, and so a laughing wooer come, not miss her fortune.' Alas, it answers to a hair! The wooer has been here, comes not again: thou hast missed him."—"Ah, mother! let the planet say its pleasure, never mind it; my heart says to me that I should love and honour the man who asks me to be his wife: and if I do not find that man, or he do not seek me, I will live in good courage by the labour of my hands, and stand by you, and nurse you in your old age, as beseems a good daughter. But if the man of my heart do come, then bless my choice, that it may be well with your daughter on the Earth; and ask not whether he is noble, rich, or famous, but whether he is good and honest, whether he loves and is loved."—"Ah, daughter! Love keeps a sorry kitchen, and feeds one poorly, along with bread and salt."—"But yet Unity and Contentment delight to dwell with him, and these season bread and salt with the cheerful enjoyment of our days."
The pregnant subject of bread and salt continued to be sifted till the night was far spent, and the last fiddle in the wedding-dance was resting from its labours. The moderation of the prudent Meta, who, with youth and beauty on her side, pretended only to an altogether bounded happiness, after having turned away an advantageous offer, led the mother to conjecture that the plan of some such salt-trade might already have been sketched in the heart of the virgin. Nor did she fail to guess the trading-partner in the lane, of whom she never had believed that he would be the tree for rooting in the lovely Meta's heart. She had looked upon him only as a wild tendril, that stretches out towards every neighbouring twig, to clamber up by means of it. This discovery procured her little joy; but she gave no hint that she had made it. Only, in the spirit of her rigorous morality, she compared a maiden who lets love, before the priestly benediction, nestle in her heart, to a worm-eaten apple, which is good for the eye, but no longer for the palate, and is laid upon a shelf and no more heeded, for the pernicious worm is eating its internal marrow, and cannot be dislodged. She now despaired of ever holding up her head again in Bremen; submitted to her fate, and bore in silence what she thought was now not to be altered.
Meanwhile the rumour of the proud Meta's having given the rich Hop-King the basket, spread over the town, and sounded even into Franz's garret in the alley. Franz was transported with joy to hear this tale confirmed; and the secret anxiety lest some wealthy rival might expel him from the dear maiden's heart tormented him no more. He was now certain of his object; and the riddle, which for every one continued an insoluble problem, had no mystery for him. Love had already changed a spendthrift into a dilettante; but this for a bride-seeker was the very smallest of recommendations, a gift which in those rude times was rewarded neither with such praise nor with such pudding, as it is in our luxurious century. The fine arts were not then children of superfluity, but of want and necessity. No travelling professors were at that time known, save the Prague students, whose squeaking symphonies solicited a charitable coin at the doors of the rich. The beloved maiden's sacrifice was too great to be repaid by a serenade. And now the feeling of his youthful dissipation became a thorn in the soul of Franz. Many a touching monodrama did he begin with an O and an Ah, besighing his past madness: "Ah, Meta," said he to himself, "why did I not know thee sooner! Thou hadst been my guardian angel, thou hadst saved me from destruction. Could I live my lost years over again, and be what I was, the world were now Elysium for me, and for thee I would make it an Eden! Noble maiden, thou sacrificest thyself to a wretch, to a beggar, who has nothing in the world but a heart full of love, and despair that he can offer thee no happiness such as thou deservest." Innumerable times, in the paroxysms of these pathetic humours, he struck his brow in fury, with the repentant exclamation: "O fool! O madman! thou art wise too late."
Love, however, did not leave its working incomplete. It had already brought about a wholesome fermentation in his spirit, a desire to put in use his powers and activity, to try if he might struggle up from his present nothingness: it now incited him to the attempt of executing these good purposes. Among many speculations he had entertained for the recruiting of his wrecked finances, the most rational and promising was this: To run over his father's ledgers, and there note down any small escheats which had been marked as lost, with a view of going through the land, and gleaning, if so were that a lock of wheat might still be gathered from these neglected ears. With the produce of this enterprise, he would then commence some little traffic, which his fancy soon extended over all the quarters of the world. Already, in his mind's eye, he had vessels on the sea, which were freighted with his property. He proceeded rapidly to execute his purpose; changed the last golden fragment of his heritage, his father's hour-egg, into money, and bought with it a riding nag, which was to bear him as a Bremen merchant out into the wide world. Yet the parting with his fair Meta went sore against his heart. "What will she think," said he to himself, "of this sudden disappearance, when thou shalt no more meet her in the church-way? Will she not regard thee as faithless, and banish thee from her heart?" This thought afflicted him exceedingly; and for a great while he could think of no expedient for explaining to her his intention. But at last inventive Love suggested the idea of signifying to her from the pulpit itself his absence and its purpose. With this view, in the church, which had already favoured the secret understanding of the lovers, he bought a Prayer "for a young Traveller, and the happy arrangement of his affairs;" which was to last, till he should come again and pay his groschen for the Thanksgiving.
At the last meeting, he had dressed himself as for the road; he passed quite near his sweetheart; saluted her expressively, and with less reserve than before; so that she blushed deeply; and Mother Brigitta found opportunity for various marginal notes, which indicated her displeasure at the boldness of this ill-bred fop, in attempting to get speech of her daughter, and with which she entertained the latter not in the most pleasant style the livelong day. From that morning Franz was no more seen in Bremen, and the finest pair of eyes within its circuit sought for him in vain. Meta often heard the Prayer read, but she did not heed it, for her heart was troubled because her lover had become invisible. This disappearance was inexplicable to her; she knew not what to think of it. After the lapse of some months, when time had a little softened her secret care, and she was suffering his absence with a calmer mind, it happened once, as the last appearance of her love was hovering upon her fancy, that this same Prayer struck her as a strange matter. She coupled one thing with another, she guessed the true connexion of the business, and the meaning of that notice. And although church litanies and special prayers have not the reputation of extreme potency, and for the worthy souls that lean on them are but a supple staff, inasmuch as the fire of devotion in the Christian flock is wont to die out at the end of the sermon; yet in the pious Meta's case, the reading of the last Prayer was the very thing which fanned that fire into a flame; and she never neglected, with her whole heart, to recommend the young traveller to his guardian angel.
Under this invisible guidance, Franz was journeying towards Brabant, to call in some considerable sums that were due him at Antwerp. A journey from Bremen to Antwerp, in the time when road-blockades were still in fashion, and every landlord thought himself entitled to plunder any traveller who had purchased no safe-conduct, and to leave him pining in the ward-room of his tower, was an undertaking of more peril and difficulty, than in our days would attend a journey from Bremen to Kamtschatka: for the Land-fried (or Act for suppressing Private Wars), which the Emperor Maximilian had proclaimed, was in force through the Empire, rather as a law than an observance. Nevertheless our solitary traveller succeeded in arriving at the goal of his pilgrimage, without encountering more than a single adventure.
Far in the wastes of Westphalia, he rode one sultry day till nightfall, without reaching any inn. Towards evening stormy clouds towered up at the horizon, and a heavy rain wetted him to the skin. To the fondling, who from his youth had been accustomed to all possible conveniences, this was a heavy matter, and he felt himself in great embarrassment how in this condition he should pass the night. To his comfort, when the tempest had moved away, he saw a light in the distance; and soon after, reached a mean peasant hovel, which afforded him but little consolation. The house was more like a cattle-stall than a human habitation; and the unfriendly landlord refused him fire and water, as if he had been an outlaw. For the man was just about to stretch himself upon the straw among his steers; and too tired to relight the fire on his hearth, for the sake of a stranger. Franz in his despondency uplifted a mournful miserere, and cursed the Westphalian steppes with strong maledictions: but the peasant took it all in good part; and blew out his light with great composure, troubling himself no farther about the stranger; for in the laws of hospitality he was altogether uninstructed. But as the wayfarer, standing at the door, would not cease to annoy him with his lamentations, he endeavoured in a civil way to get rid of him, consented to answer, and said: "Master, if you want good entertainment, and would treat yourself handsomely, you could not find what you are seeking here. But ride there to the left hand, through the bushes; a little way behind, lies the Castle of the valiant Eberhard Bronkhorst, a knight who lodges every traveller, as a Hospitaller does the pilgrims from the Holy Sepulchre. He has just one maggot in his head, which sometimes twitches and vexes him; he lets no traveller depart from him unbasted. If you do not lose your way, though he may dust your jacket, you will like your cheer prodigiously."
To buy a mess of pottage, and a stoup of wine, by surrendering one's ribs to the bastinado, is in truth no job for every man, though your spungers and plate-lickers let themselves be tweaked and snubbed, and from rich artists willingly endure all kinds of tar-and-feathering, so their palates be but tickled for the service. Franz considered for a while, and was undetermined what to do; at last he resolved on fronting the adventure. "What is it to me," said he, "whether my back be broken here on miserable straw, or by the Ritter Bronkhorst? The friction will expel the fever which is coming on, and shake me tightly if I cannot dry my clothes." He put spurs to his nag, and soon arrived before a castle-gate of old Gothic architecture; knocked pretty plainly on the iron door, and an equally distinct "Who's there?" resounded from within. To the freezing passenger, the long entrance ceremonial of this door-keeper precognition was as inconvenient, as are similar delays to travellers who, at barriers and gates of towns, bewail or execrate the despotism of guards and tollmen. Nevertheless he must submit to use and wont, and patiently wait to see whether the philanthropist in the Castle was disposed that night for cudgelling a guest, or would choose rather to assign him a couch under the open canopy.
The possessor of this ancient tower had served, in his youth, as a stout soldier in the Emperor's army, under the bold Georg von Fronsberg, and led a troop of foot against the Venetians; had afterwards retired to repose, and was now living on his property; where, to expiate the sins of his campaigns, he employed himself in doing good works; in feeding the hungrygiving drink to the thirsty, lodging pilgrims, and cudgelling his lodgers out of doors. For he was a rude wild son of war; and could not lay aside his martial tone, though he had lived for many years in silent peace. The traveller, who had now determined for good quarters to submit to the custom of the house, had not waited long till the bolts and locks began rattling within, and the creaking gate-leaves moved asunder, moaning in doleful notes, as if to warn or to deplore the entering stranger. Franz felt one cold shudder after the other running down his back, as he passed in; nevertheless he was handsomely received; some servants hastened to assist him in dismounting; speedily unbuckled his luggage, took his steed to the stable, and its rider to a large well-lighted chamber, where their master was in waiting.
The warlike aspect of this athletic gentleman,—who advanced to meet his guest, and shook him by the hand so heartily, that he was like to shout with pain, and bade him welcome with a Stentor's voice, as if the stranger had been deaf, and seemed withal to be a person still in the vigour of life, full of fire and strength,—put the timorous wanderer into such a terror, that he could not hide his apprehensions, and began to tremble over all his body.
"What ails you, my young master," asked the Ritter, with a voice of thunder, "that you quiver like an aspen leaf, and look as pale as if Death had you by the throat?"
Franz plucked up a spirit; and considering that his shoulders had at all events the score to pay, his poltroonery passed into a species of audacity.
"Sir," replied he, "you perceive that the rain has soaked me, as if I had swum across the Weser. Let me have my clothes dried or changed; and get me, by way of luncheon, a well-spiced aleberry, to drive away the ague-fit that is quaking through my nerves; then I shall come to heart, in some degree."
"Good!" replied the Knight; "demand what you want; you are at home here."
Franz made himself be served like a bashaw; and having nothing else but currying to expect, he determined to deserve it; he bantered and bullied, in his most imperious style, the servants that were waiting on him; it comes all to one, thought he, in the long-run. "This waistcoat," said he, "would go round a tun; bring me one that fits a little better: this slipper burns like a coal against my corns; pitch it over the lists: this ruff is stiff as a plank, and throttles me like a halter; bring one that is easier, and is not plastered with starch."
At this Bremish frankness, the landlord, far from showing any anger, kept inciting his servants to go briskly through with their commands, and calling them a pack of blockheads, who were fit to serve no stranger. The table being furnished, the Ritter and his guest sat down to it, and both heartily enjoyed their aleberry. The Ritter asked: "Would you have aught farther, by way of supper?"
"Bring us what you have," said Franz, "that I may see how your kitchen is provided."
Immediately appeared the Cook, and placed upon the table a repast with which a duke might have been satisfied. Franz diligently fell to, without waiting to be pressed. When he had satisfied himself: "Your kitchen," said he, "is not ill-furnished, I perceive; if your cellar corresponds to it, I shall almost praise your housekeeping."
Bronkhorst nodded to his Butler, who directly filled the cup of welcome with common table wine, tasted, and presented it to his master, and the latter cleared it at a draught to the health of his guest. Franz pledged him honestly, and Bronkhorst asked: "Now, fair sir, what say you to the wine?"
"I say," answered Franz, "that it is bad, if it is the best sort in your catacombs; and good, if it is your meanest number."
"You are a judge," replied the Ritter: "Here, Butler, bring us of the mother-cask."
The Butler put a stoup upon the table, as a sample, and Franz having tasted it, said, "Ay, this is genuine last year's growth; we will stick by this."
The Ritter made a vast pitcher of it be brought in; soon drank himself into hilarity and glee beside his guest; began to talk of his campaigns, how he had been encamped against the Venetians, had broken through their barricado, and butchered the Italian squadrons, like a flock of sheep. In this narrative he rose into such a warlike enthusiasm, that he hewed down bottles and glasses, brandishing the carving-knife like a lance, and in the fire of action came so near his messmate with it, that the latter was in fright for his nose and ears.
It grew late, but no sleep came into the eyes of the Ritter; he seemed to be in his proper element, when he got to speak of his Venetian campaigns. The vivacity of his narration increased with every cup he emptied; and Franz was afraid that this would prove the prologue to the melodrama, in which he himself was to play the most interesting part. To learn whether it was meant that he should lodge within the Castle, or without, he demanded a bumper by way of good-night. Now, he thought, his host would first force him to drink more wine, and if he refused, would, under pretext of a drinking quarrel, send him forth, according to the custom of the house, with the usual viaticum. Contrary to his expectation, the request was granted without remonstrance; the Ritter instantly cut asunder the thread of his narrative, and said: "Time will wait on no one; more of it tomorrow!"
"Pardon me, Herr Ritter," answered Franz, "tomorrow by sunrise I must over hill and dale; I am travelling a far journey to Brabant, and must not linger here. So let me take leave of you tonight, that my departure may not disturb you in the morning."
"Do your pleasure," said the Ritter; "but depart from this you shall not, till I am out of the feathers, to refresh you with a bit of bread, and a toothful of Dantzig, then attend you to the door, and dismiss you according to the fashion of the house."
Franz needed no interpretation of these words. Willingly as he would have excused his host this last civility, attendance to the door, the latter seemed determined to abate no whit of the established ritual. He ordered his servants to undress the stranger, and put him in the guest's-bed; where Franz, once settled on elastic swan's down, felt himself extremely snug, and enjoyed delicious rest; so that ere he fell asleep, he owned to himself that, for such royal treatment, a moderate bastinado was not too dear a price. Soon pleasant dreams came hovering round his fancy. He found his charming Meta in a rosy grove, where she was walking with her mother, plucking flowers. Instantly he hid himself behind a thick-leaved hedge, that the rigorous duenna might not see him. Again his imagination placed him in the alley, and by his looking-glass he saw the snow-white hand of the maiden busied with her flowers; soon he was sitting with her on the grass, and longing to declare his heartfelt love to her, and the bashful shepherd found no words to do it in. He would have dreamed till broad mid-day, had he not been roused by the sonorous voice and clanking spurs of the Ritter, who, with the earliest dawn, was holding a review of kitchen and cellar, ordering a sufficient breakfast to be readied, and placing every servant at his post, to be at hand when the guest should awake, to dress him, and wait upon him.
It cost the happy dreamer no small struggling to forsake his safe and hospitable bed. He rolled to this side and to that; but the pealing voice of the worshipful Knight came heavy on his heart; and dally as he might, the sour apple must at last be bit. So he rose from his down; and immediately a dozen hands were busy dressing him. The Ritter led him into the parlour, where a small well-furnished table waited them; but now, when the hour of reckoning had arrived, the traveller's appetite was gone. The host endeavoured to encourage him. "Why do you not get to? Come, take somewhat for the raw foggy morning."
"Herr Ritter," answered Franz, "my stomach is still too full of your supper; but my pockets are empty; these I may fill for the hunger that is to come."
With this he began stoutly cramming, and stowed himself with the daintiest and best that was transportable, till all his pockets were bursting. Then, observing that his horse, well curried and equipt, was led past, he took a dram of Dantzig for good-b'ye, in the thought that this would be the watch-word for his host to catch him by the neck, and exercise his household privileges.
But, to his astonishment, the Ritter shook him kindly by the hand, as at his first entrance, wished him luck by the way, and the bolted door was thrown open. He loitered not in putting spurs to his nag; and, tip! tap! he was without the gate, and no hair of him harmed.
A heavy stone was lifted from his heart, as he found himself in safety, and saw that he had got away with a whole skin. He could not understand how the landlord had trusted him the shot, which, as he imagined, must have run pretty high on the chalk: and he embraced with warm love the hospitable man, whose club-law arm he had so much dreaded; and he felt a strong desire to search out, at the fountain-head, the reason or unreason of the ill report which had affrighted him. Accordingly he turned his horse, and cantered back. The Knight was still standing in the gate, and descanting with his servants, for the forwarding of the science of horse-flesh, on the breed, shape and character of the nag, and his hard pace: he supposed the stranger must have missed something in his travelling gear, and he already looked askance at his servants for such negligence.
"What is it, young master," cried he, "that makes you turn again, when you were for proceeding?"
"Ah! yet a word, valiant Knight," cried the traveller. "An ill report has gone abroad, that injures your name and breeding. It is said that you treat every stranger that calls upon you with your best; and then, when he leaves you, let him feel the weight of your strong fists. This story I have credited, and spared nothing to deserve my due from you. I thought within myself, His worship will abate me nothing; I will abate him as little. But now you let me go, without strife or peril; and that is what surprises me. Pray tell me, is there any shadow of foundation for the thing; or shall I call the foolish chatter lies next time I hear it?"
The Ritter answered: "Report has nowise told you lies; there is no saying that circulates among the people but contains in it some grain of truth. Let me tell you accurately how the matter stands. I lodge every stranger that comes beneath my roof, and divide my morsel with him, for the love of God. But I am a plain German man, of the old cut and fashion; speak as it lies about my heart, and require that my guest also should be hearty and confiding; should enjoy with me what I have, and tell frankly what he wants. Now, there is a sort of people that vex me with all manner of grimaces; that banter me with smirkings, and bows, and crouchings; put all their words to the torture; make a deal of talk without sense or salt; think they will cozen me with smooth speeches; behave at dinner as women at a christening. If I say, Help yourself! out of reverence, they pick you a fraction from the plate which I would not offer to my dog: if I say, Your health! they scarcely wet their lips from the full cup, as if they set God's gifts at naught. Now, when the sorry rabble carry things too far with me, and I cannot, for the soul of me, know what they would be at, I get into a rage at last, and use my household privilege; catch the noodle by the spall, thrash him sufficiently, and pack him out of doors. This is the use and wont with me, and I do so with every guest that plagues me with these freaks. But a man of your stamp is always welcome: you told me plump out in plain German what you thought, as is the fashion with the Bremers. Call on me boldly again, if your road lead you hither. And so, God be with you."
Franz now moved on, with a joyful humour, towards Antwerp; and he wished that he might everywhere find such a reception as he had met from the Ritter Eberhard Bronkhorst. On approaching the ancient queen of the Flemish cities, the sail of his hope was swelled by a propitious breeze. Riches and superfluity met him in every street; and it seemed as if scarcity and want had been exiled from the busy town. In all probability, thought he, there must be many of my father's debtors who have risen again, and will gladly make me full payment whenever I substantiate my claims. After resting for a while from his fatigues, he set about obtaining, in the inn where he was quartered, some preliminary knowledge of the situation of his debtors.
"How stands it with Peter Martens?" inquired he one day of his companions at table; "is he still living, and doing much business?"
"Peter Martens is a warm man," answered one of the party; "has a brisk commission trade, and draws good profit from it."
"Is Fabian van Plürs still in good circumstances?"
"O! there is no end to Fabian's wealth. He is a Councillor; his woollen manufactories are thriving incredibly."
"Has Jonathan Frischkier good custom in his trade?"
"Ah! Jonathan were now a brisk fellow, had not Kaiser Max let the French chouse him out of his Princess. Jonathan had got the furnishing of the lace for the bride's dress; but the Kaiser has left poor Frischkier in the lurch, as the bride has left himself. If you have a fair one, whom you would remember with a bit of lace, he will give it you at half-price."
"Is the firm Op de Bütekant still standing, or has it sunk?"
"There was a crack in the beams there some years ago; but the Spanish caravelles have put a new prop to it, and it now holds fast."
Franz inquired about several other merchants who were on his list; found that most of them, though in his father's time they had "failed," were now standing firmly on their legs; and inferred from this, that a judicious bankruptcy has, from of old, been the mine of future gains. This intelligence refreshed him mightily: he hastened to put his documents in order, and submit them to the proper parties. But with the Antwerpers, he fared as his itinerating countrymen do with shopkeepers in the German towns: they find everywhere a friendly welcome at their first appearance, but are looked upon with cheerfulness nowhere when they come collecting debts. Some would have nothing to do with these former sins; and were of opinion, that by the tender of the legal five-per-cent composition they had been entirely abolished: it was the creditor's fault if he had not accepted payment in time. Others could not recollect any Melchior of Bremen; opened their Infallible Books; found no debtor-entry marked for this unknown name. Others, again, brought out a strong counter-reckoning; and three days had not passed till Franz was sitting in the Debtors' Ward, to answer for his father's credit, not to depart till he had paid the uttermost farthing.
These were not the best prospects for the young man, who had set his hope and trust upon the Antwerp patrons of his fortune, and now saw the fair soap-bubble vanish quite away. In his strait confinement, he felt himself in the condition of a soul in Purgatory, now that his skiff had run ashore and gone to pieces, in the middle of the haven where he thought to find security. Every thought of Meta was as a thorn in his heart; there was now no shadow of a possibility, that from the whirlpool which had sunk him, he could ever rise, and stretch out his hand to her; nor, suppose he should get his head above water, was it in poor Meta's power to pull him on dry land. He fell into a sullen desperation; had no wish but to die speedily, and give his woes the slip at once; and, in fact, he did attempt to kill himself by starvation. But this is a sort of death which is not at the beck of every one, so ready as the shrunk Pomponius Atticus found it, when his digestive apparatus had already struck work. A sound peptic stomach does not yield so tamely to the precepts of the head or heart. After the moribund debtor had abstained two days from food, a ravenous hunger suddenly usurped the government of his will, and performed, of its own authority, all the operations which, in other cases, are directed by the mind. It ordered his hand to seize the spoon, his mouth to receive the victual, his inferior maxillary jaw to get in motion, and itself accomplished the usual functions of digestion, unordered. Thus did this last resolve make shipwreck, on a hard bread-crust; for, in the seven-and-twentieth year of life, it has a heroism connected with it, which in the seven-and-seventieth is entirely gone.
At bottom, it was not the object of the barbarous Antwerpers to squeeze money from the pretended debtor, but only to pay him none, as his demands were not admitted to be liquid. Whether it were, then, that the public Prayer in Bremen had in truth a little virtue, or that the supposed creditors were not desirous of supporting a superfluous boarder for life, true it is, that after the lapse of three months Franz was delivered from his imprisonment, under the condition of leaving the city within four-and-twenty hours, and never again setting foot on the soil and territory of Antwerp. At the same time, he received five crowns for travelling expenses from the faithful hands of Justice, which had taken charge of his horse and luggage, and conscientiously balanced the produce of the same against judicial and curatory expenses.
With heavy-laden heart, in the humblest mood, with his staff in his hand, he left the rich city, into which he had ridden some time ago with high-soaring hopes. Broken down, and undetermined what to do, or rather altogether without thought, he plodded through the streets to the nearest gate, not minding whither the road into which chance conducted him might lead. He saluted no traveller, he asked for no inn, except when fatigue or hunger forced him to lift up his eyes, and look around for some church-spire, or sign of human habitation, when he needed human aid. Many days he had wandered on, as if unconsciously; and a secret instinct had still, by means of his uncrazed feet, led him right forward on the way to home; when, all at once, he awoke as from an oppressive dream, and perceived on what road he was travelling.
He halted instantly, to consider whether he should proceed or turn back. Shame and confusion took possession of his soul, when he thought of skulking about in his native town as a beggar, branded with the mark of contempt, and claiming the charitable help of his townsmen, whom of old he had eclipsed by his wealth and magnificence. And how in this form could he present himself before his fair Meta, without disgracing the choice of her heart? He did not leave his fancy time to finish this doleful picture; but wheeled about to take the other road, as hastily as if he had been standing even then at the gate of Bremen, and the ragged apprentices had been assembling to accompany him with jibes and mockery through the streets. His purpose was formed: he would make for the nearest seaport in the Netherlands; engage as sailor in a Spanish ship, to work his passage to the new world; and not return to his country, till in the Peruvian land of gold he should have regained the wealth, which he had squandered so heedlessly, before he knew the worth of money. In the shaping of this new plan, it is true, the fair Meta fell so far into the background, that even to the sharpest prophetic eye she could only hover as a faint shadow in the distance; yet the wandering projector pleased himself with thinking that she was again interwoven with the scheme of his life; and he took large steps, as if by this rapidity he meant to reach her so much the sooner.
Already he was on the Flemish soil once more; and found himself at sunset not far from Rheinberg, in a little hamlet, Rummelsburg by name, which has since, in the Thirty-Years War, been utterly destroyed. A caravan of carriers from Lyke had already filled the inn, so that Mine Host had no room left, and referred him to the next town; the rather that he did not draw too flattering a presage from his present vagabond physiognomy, and held him to be a thieves' purveyor, who had views upon the Lyke carriers. He was forced, notwithstanding his excessive weariness, to gird himself for march, and again to take his bundle on his back.
As in retiring, he was muttering between his teeth some bitter complaints and curses of the Landlord's hardness of heart, the latter seemed to take some pity on the forlorn wayfarer, and called after him, from the door: "Stay, neighbour, let me speak to you: if you wish to rest here, I can accommodate you after all. In that Castle there are empty rooms enow, if they be not too lonely; it is not inhabited, and I have got the keys." Franz accepted the proposal with joy, praised it as a deed of mercy, and requested only shelter and a supper, were it in a castle or a cottage. Mine Host, however, was privily a rogue, whom it had galled to hear the stranger drop some half-audible contumelies against him, and meant to be avenged on him, by a Hobgoblin that inhabited the old fortress, and had many long years before expelled the owners.
The Castle lay hard by the hamlet, on a steep rock, right opposite the inn, from which it was divided merely by the highway, and a little gurgling brook. The situation being so agreeable, the edifice was still kept in repair, and well provided with all sorts of house-gear; for it served the owner as a hunting-lodge, where he frequently caroused all day; and so soon as the stars began to twinkle in the sky, retired with his whole retinue, to escape the mischief of the Ghost, who rioted about in it the whole night over, but by day gave no disturbance. Unpleasant as the owner felt this spoiling of his mansion by a bugbear, the nocturnal sprite was not without advantages, for the great security it gave from thieves. The Count could have appointed no trustier or more watchful keeper over the Castle, than this same Spectre, for the rashest troop of robbers never ventured to approach its station. Accordingly he knew of no safer place for laying up his valuables, than this old tower, in the hamlet of Rummelsburg, near Rheinberg.
The sunshine had sunk, the dark night was coming heavily on, when Franz, with a lantern in his hand, proceeded to the castle-gate, under the guidance of Mine Host, who carried in his hand a basket of victuals, with a flask of wine, which he said should not be marked against him. He had also taken along with him a pair of candlesticks, and two wax-lights; for in the whole Castle there was neither lamp nor taper, as no one ever stayed in it after twilight. In the way, Franz noticed the creaking heavy-laden basket, and the wax-lights, which he thought he should not need, and yet must pay for. Therefore he said: "What is this superfluity and waste, as at a banquet? The light in the lantern is enough to see with, till I go to bed; and when I awake, the sun will be high enough, for I am tired completely, and shall sleep with both eyes."
"I will not hide from you," replied the Landlord, "that a story runs of there being mischief in the Castle, and a Goblin that frequents it. You, however, need not let the thing disturb you; we are near enough, you see, for you to call us, should you meet with aught unnatural; I and my folks will be at your hand in a twinkling, to assist you. Down in the house there we keep astir all night through, some one is always moving. I have lived here these thirty years; yet I cannot say that I have ever seen aught. If there be now and then a little hurly-burlying at nights, it is nothing but cats and martins rummaging about the granary. As a precaution, I have provided you with candles: the night is no friend of man; and the tapers are consecrated, so that sprites, if there be such in the Castle, will avoid their shine."
It was no lying in Mine Host to say that he had never seen anything of spectres in the Castle; for by night he had taken special care not once to set foot in it; and by day the Goblin did not come to sight. In the present case, too, the traitor would not risk himself across the border. After opening the door, he handed Franz the basket, directed him what way to go, and wished him good-night. Franz entered the lobby without anxiety or fear; believing the ghost-story to be empty tattle, or a distorted tradition of some real occurrence in the place, which idle fancy had shaped into an unnatural adventure. He remembered the stout Ritter Eberhard Bronkhorst, from whose heavy arm he had apprehended such maltreatment, and with whom, notwithstanding, he had found so hospitable a reception. On this ground he had laid it down as a rule deduced from his travelling experiences, when he heard any common rumour, to believe exactly the reverse, and left the grain of truth, which, in the opinion of the wise Knight, always lies in such reports, entirely out of sight.
Pursuant to Mine Host's direction, he ascended the winding stone stair; and reached a bolted door, which he opened with his key. A long dark gallery, where his footsteps resounded, led him into a large hall, and from this, a side-door, into a suite of apartments, richly provided with all furniture for decoration or convenience. Out of these he chose the room which had the friendliest aspect, where he found a well-pillowed bed; and from the window could look right down upon the inn, and catch every loud word that was spoken there. He lit his wax-tapers, furnished his table, and feasted with the commodiousness and relish of an Otaheitean noble. The big-bellied flask was an antidote to thirst. So long as his teeth were in full occupation, he had no time to think of the reported devilry in the Castle. If aught now and then made a stir in the distance, and Fear called to him, "Hark! hark! there comes the Goblin;" Courage answered: "Stuff! it is cats and martins bickering and caterwauling." But in the digestive half-hour after meat, when the sixth sense, that of hunger and thirst, no longer occupied the soul, she directed her attention from the other five exclusively upon the sense of hearing; and already Fear was whispering three timid thoughts into the listener's ear, before Courage had time to answer once.
As the first resource, he locked the door, and bolted it; made his retreat to the walled seat in the vault of the window. He opened this, and to dissipate his thoughts a little, looked out on the spangled sky, gazed at the corroded moon, and counted how often the stars snuffed themselves. On the road beneath him all was void; and in spite of the pretended nightly bustle in the inn, the doors were shut, the lights out, and everything as still as in a sepulchre. On the other hand, the watchman blew his horn, making his "List, gentlemen!" sound over all the hamlet; and for the composure of the timorous astronomer, who still kept feasting his eyes on the splendour of the stars, uplifted a rusty evening-hymn right under his window; so that Franz might easily have carried on a conversation with him, which, for the sake of company, he would willingly have done, had he in the least expected that the watchman would make answer to him.
In a populous city, in the middle of a numerous household, where there is a hubbub equal to that of a bee-hive, it may form a pleasant entertainment for the thinker to philosophise on Solitude, to decorate her as the loveliest playmate of the human spirit, to view her under all her advantageous aspects, and long for her enjoyment as for hidden treasure. But in scenes where she is no exotic, in the isle of Juan Fernandez, where a solitary eremite, escaped from shipwreck, lives with her through long years; or in the dreary night-time, in a deep wood, or in an old uninhabited castle, where empty walls and vaults awaken horror, and nothing breathes of life, but the moping owl in the ruinous turret; there, in good sooth, she is not the most agreeable companion for the timid anchorite that has to pass his time in her abode, especially if he is every moment looking for the entrance of a spectre to augment the party. In such a case it may easily chance that a window conversation with the watchman shall afford a richer entertainment for the spirit and the heart, than a reading of the most attractive eulogy on solitude. If Ritter Zimmermann had been in Franz's place, in the castle of Rummelsburg, on the Westphalian marches, he would doubtless in this position have struck out the fundamental topics of as interesting a treatise on Society, as, inspired to all appearance by the irksomeness of some ceremonious assembly, he has poured out from the fulness of his heart in praise of Solitude.
Midnight is the hour at which the world of spirits acquires activity and life, when hebetated animal nature lies entombed in deep slumber. Franz inclined getting through this critical hour in sleep rather than awake; so he closed his window, went the rounds of his room once more, spying every nook and crevice, to see whether all was safe and earthly; snuffed the lights to make them burn clearer; and without undressing or delaying, threw himself upon his bed, with which his wearied person felt unusual satisfaction. Yet he could not get asleep so fast as he wished. A slight palpitation at the heart, which he ascribed to a tumult in the blood, arising from the sultriness of the day, kept him waking for a while; and he failed not to employ this respite in offering up such a pithy evening prayer as he had not prayed for many years. This produced the usual effect, that he softly fell asleep while saying it.
After about an hour, as he supposed, he started up with a sudden terror; a thing not at all surprising when there is tumult in the blood. He was broad awake: he listened whether all was quiet, and heard nothing but the clock strike twelve; a piece of news which the watchman forthwith communicated to the hamlet in doleful recitative. Franz listened for a while, turned on the other side, and was again about to sleep, when he caught, as it were, the sound of a door grating in the distance, and immediately it shut with a stifled bang. "Alake! alake!" bawled Fright into his ear; "this is the Ghost in very deed!"—"'Tis nothing but the wind," said Courage manfully. But quickly it came nearer, nearer, like the sound of heavy footsteps. Clink here, clink there, as if a criminal were rattling his irons, or as if the porter were walking about the Castle with his bunch of keys. Alas, here was no wind business! Courage held his peace; and quaking Fear drove all the blood to the heart, and made it thump like a smith's fore-hammer.
The thing was now beyond jesting. If Fear would still have let Courage get a word, the latter would have put the terror-struck watcher in mind of his subsidiary treaty with Mine Host, and incited him to claim the stipulated assistance loudly from the window; but for this there was a want of proper resolution. The quaking Franz had recourse to the bed-clothes, the last fortress of the timorous, and drew them close over his ears, as Bird Ostrich sticks his head in the grass, when he can no longer escape the huntsman. Outside it came along, door up, door to, with hideous uproar; and at last it reached the bed-room. It jerked sharply at the lock, tried several keys till it found the right one; yet the bar still held the door, till a bounce like a thunder-clap made bolt and rivet start, and threw it wide open. Now stalked in a long lean man, with a black beard, in ancient garb, and with a gloomy countenance, his eyebrows hanging down in deep earnestness from his brow. Over his right shoulder he had a scarlet cloak; and on his head he wore a peaked hat. With a heavy step he walked thrice in silence up and down the chamber; looked at the consecrated tapers, and snuffed them that they might burn brighter. Then he threw aside his cloak, girded on a scissor-pouch which he had under it, produced a set of shaving-tackle, and immediately began to whet a sharp razor on the broad strap which he wore at his girdle.
Franz perspired in mortal agony under his coverlet; recommended himself to the keeping of the Virgin; and anxiously speculated on the object of this manœuvre, not knowing whether it was meant for his throat or his beard. To his comfort, the Goblin poured some water from a silver flask into a basin of silver, and with his skinny hand lathered the soap into light foam; then set a chair, and beckoned with a solemn look to the quaking looker-on to come forth from his recess.
Against so pertinent a sign, remonstrance was as bootless as it is against the rigorous commands of the Grand Turk, when he transmits an exiled vizier to the Angel of Death, the Capichi Bashi with the Silken Cord, to take delivery of his head. The most rational procedure that can be adopted in this critical case, is to comply with necessity, put a good face on a bad business, and with stoical composure let one's throat be noosed. Franz honoured the Spectre's order; the coverlet began to move, he sprang sharply from his couch, and took the place pointed out to him on the seat. However strange this quick transition from the uttermost terror to the boldest resolution may appear, I doubt not but Moritz in his Psychological Journal could explain the matter till it seemed quite natural.
Immediately the Goblin Barber tied the towel about his shivering customer; seized the comb and scissors, and clipped off his hair and beard. Then he soaped him scientifically, first the beard, next the eyebrows, at last the temples and the hind-head; and shaved him from throat to nape as smooth and bald as a Death's-head. This operation finished, he washed his head, dried it clean, made his bow, and buttoned-up his scissor-pouch; wrapped himself in his scarlet mantle, and made for departing. The consecrated tapers had burnt with an exquisite brightness through the whole transaction; and Franz, by the light of them, perceived in the mirror that the shaver had changed him into a Chinese pagoda. In secret he heartily deplored the loss of his fair brown locks; yet now took fresh breath, as he observed that with this sacrifice the account was settled, and the Ghost had no more power over him.
So it was in fact; Redcloak went towards the door, silently as he had entered, without salutation or good-b'ye; and seemed entirely the contrast of his talkative guild-brethren. But scarcely was he gone three steps, when he paused, looked round with a mournful expression at his well-served customer, and stroked the flat of his hand over his black bushy beard. He did the same a second time; and again, just as he was in the act of stepping out at the door. A thought struck Franz that the Spectre wanted something; and a rapid combination of ideas suggested, that perhaps he was expecting the very service he himself had just performed.
As the Ghost, notwithstanding his rueful look, seemed more disposed for banter than for seriousness, and had played his guest a scurvy trick, not done him any real injury, the panic of the latter had now almost subsided. So he ventured the experiment, and beckoned to the Ghost to take the seat from which he had himself just risen. The Goblin instantly obeyed, threw off his cloak, laid his barber tackle on the table, and placed himself in the chair, in the posture of a man that wishes to be shaved. Franz carefully observed the same procedure which the Spectre had observed to him, clipped his beard with the scissors, cropt away his hair, lathered his whole scalp, and the Ghost all the while sat steady as a wig-block. The awkward journeyman came ill at handling the razor: he had never had another in his hand; and he shore the beard right against the hair; whereat the Goblin made as strange grimaces as Erasmus's Ape, when imitating its master's shaving. Nor was the unpractised bungler himself well at ease, and he thought more than once of the sage aphorism, What is not thy trade make not thy business; yet he struggled through the task, the best way he could, and scraped the Ghost as bald as he himself was.
Hitherto the scene between the Spectre and the traveller had been played pantomimically; the action now became dramatic. "Stranger," said the Ghost, "accept my thanks for the service thou hast done me. By thee I am delivered from the long imprisonment, which has chained me for three hundred years within these walls; to which my departed soul was doomed, till a mortal hand should consent to retaliate on me what I practised on others in my lifetime.
"Know that of old a reckless scorner dwelt within this tower, who took his sport on priests as well as laics. Count Hardman, such his name, was no philanthropist, acknowledged no superior and no law, but practised vain caprice and waggery, regarding not the sacredness of hospitable rights: the wanderer who came beneath his roof, the needy man who asked a charitable alms of him, he never sent away unvisited by wicked joke. I was his Castle Barber, still a willing instrument, and did whatever pleased him. Many a pious pilgrim, journeying past us, I allured with friendly speeches to the hall; prepared the bath for him, and when he thought to take good comfort, shaved him smooth and bald, and packed him out of doors. Then would Count Hardman, looking from the window, see with pleasure how the foxes' whelps of children gathered from the hamlet to assail the outcast, and to cry as once their fellows to Elisha: 'Baldhead! Baldhead!' In this the scoffer took his pleasure, laughing with a devilish joy, till he would hold his pot-paunch, and his eyes ran down with water.
"Once came a saintly man, from foreign lands; he carried, like a penitent, a heavy cross upon his shoulder, and had stamped five nail-marks on his hands, and feet, and side; upon his head there was a ring of hair like to the Crown of Thorns. He called upon us here, requesting water for his feet, and a small crust of bread. Immediately I took him to the bath, to serve him in my common way; respected not the sacred ring, but shore it clean from off him. Then the pious pilgrim spoke a heavy malison upon me: 'Know, accursed man, that when thou diest, Heaven, and Hell, and Purgatory's iron gate, are shut against thy soul. As goblin it shall rage within these walls, till unrequired, unbid, a traveller come and exercise retaliation on thee.'
"That hour I sickened, and the marrow in my bones dried up; I faded like a shadow. My spirit left the wasted carcass, and was exiled to this Castle, as the saint had doomed it. In vain I struggled for deliverance from the torturing bonds that fettered me to Earth; for thou must know, that when the soul forsakes her clay, she panteth for her place of rest, and this sick longing spins her years to æons, while in foreign element she languishes for home. Now self-tormenting, I pursued the mournful occupation I had followed in my lifetime. Alas! my uproar soon made desolate this house! But seldom came a pilgrim here to lodge. And though I treated all like thee, no one would understand me, and perform, as thou, the service which has freed my soul from bondage. Henceforth shall no hobgoblin wander in this Castle; I return to my long-wished-for rest. And now, young stranger, once again my thanks, that thou hast loosed me! Were I keeper of deep-hidden treasures, they were thine; but wealth in life was not my lot, nor in this Castle lies there any cash entombed. Yet mark my counsel. Tarry here till beard and locks again shall cover chin and scalp; then turn thee homewards to thy native town; and on the Weser-bridge of Bremen, at the time when day and night in Autumn are alike, wait for a Friend, who there will meet thee, who will tell thee what to do, that it be well with thee on Earth. If from the golden horn of plenty, blessing and abundance flow to thee, then think of me; and ever as the day thou freedst me from the curse comes round, cause for my soul's repose three masses to be said. Now fare thee well. I go, no more returning."
With these words the Ghost, having by his copiousness of talk satisfactorily attested his former existence as court-barber in the Castle of Rummelsburg, vanished into air, and left his deliverer full of wonder at the strange adventure. He stood for a long while motionless; in doubt whether the whole matter had actually happened, or an unquiet dream had deluded his senses; but his bald head convinced him that here had been a real occurrence. He returned to bed, and slept, after the fright he had undergone, till the hour of noon. The treacherous Landlord had been watching since morning, when the traveller with the scalp was to come forth, that he might receive him with jibing speeches under pretext of astonishment at his nocturnal adventure. But as the stranger loitered too long, and mid-day was approaching, the affair became serious; and Mine Host began to dread that the Goblin might have treated his guest a little harshly, have beaten him to a jelly perhaps, or so frightened him that he had died of terror; and to carry his wanton revenge to such a length as this had not been his intention. He therefore rang his people together, hastened out with man and maid to the tower, and reached the door of the apartment where he had observed the light on the previous evening. He found an unknown key in the lock; but the door was barred within; for after the disappearance of the Goblin, Franz had again secured it. He knocked with a perturbed violence, till the Seven Sleepers themselves would have awoke at the din. Franz started up, and thought in his first confusion that the Ghost was again standing at the door, to favour him with another call. But hearing Mine Host's voice, who required nothing more but that his guest would give some sign of life, he gathered himself up and opened the room.
With seeming horror at the sight of him, Mine Host, striking his hands together, exclaimed: "By Heaven and all the saints! Redcloak" (by this name the Ghost was known among them) "has been here, and has shaved you bald as a block! Now, it is clear as day that the old story is no fable. But tell me how looked the Goblin: what did he say to you? what did he do?"
Franz, who had now seen through the questioner, made answer: "The Goblin looked like a man in a red cloak; what he did is not hidden from you, and what he said I well remember: 'Stranger,' said he, 'trust no innkeeper who is a Turk in grain. What would befall thee here he knew. Be wise and happy. I withdraw from this my ancient dwelling, for my time is run. Henceforth no goblin riots here; I now become a silent Incubus, to plague the Landlord; nip him, tweak him, harass him, unless the Turk do expiate his sin; do freely give thee prog and lodging till brown locks again shall cluster round thy head.'"
The Landlord shuddered at these words, cut a large cross in the air before him, vowed by the Holy Virgin to give the traveller free board so long as he liked to continue, led him over to his house, and treated him with the best. By this adventure, Franz had well-nigh got the reputation of a conjuror, as the spirit thenceforth never once showed face. He often passed the night in the tower; and a desperado of the village once kept him company, without having beard or scalp disturbed. The owner of the place, having learned that Redcloak no longer walked in Rummelsburg, was, of course, delighted at the news, and ordered that the stranger, who, as he supposed, had laid him, should be well taken care of.
By the time when the clusters were beginning to be coloured on the vine, and the advancing autumn reddened the apples, Franz's brown locks were again curling over his temples, and he girded up his knapsack; for all his thoughts and meditations were turned upon the Weser-bridge, to seek the Friend, who, at the behest of the Goblin Barber, was to direct him how to make his fortune. When about taking leave of Mine Host, that charitable person led from his stable a horse well saddled and equipt, which the owner of the Castle had presented to the stranger, for having made his house again habitable; nor had the Count forgot to send a sufficient purse along with it, to bear its travelling charges; and so Franz came riding back into his native city, brisk and light of heart, as he had ridden out of it twelve months ago. He sought out his old quarters in the alley, but kept himself quite still and retired; only inquiring underhand how matters stood with the fair Meta, whether she was still alive and unwedded. To this inquiry he received a satisfactory answer, and contented himself with it in the mean while; for, till his fate were decided, he would not risk appearing in her sight, or making known to her his arrival in Bremen.
With unspeakable longing, he waited the equinox; his impatience made every intervening day a year. At last the long-wished-for term appeared. The night before, he could not close an eye, for thinking of the wonders that were coming. The blood was whirling and beating in his arteries, as it had done at the Castle of Rummelsburg, when he lay in expectation of his spectre visitant. To be sure of not missing his expected Friend, he rose by daybreak, and proceeded with the earliest dawn to the Weser-bridge, which as yet stood empty and untrod by passengers. He walked along it several times in solitude, with that presentiment of coming gladness, which includes in it the real enjoyment of all terrestrial felicity; for it is not the attainment of our wishes, but the undoubted hope of attaining them, which offers to the human soul the full measure of highest and most heartfelt satisfaction. He formed many projects as to how he should present himself to his beloved Meta, when his looked-for happiness should have arrived; whether it would be better to appear before her in full splendour, or to mount from his former darkness with the first gleam of morning radiance, and discover to her by degrees the change in his condition. Curiosity, moreover, put a thousand questions to Reason in regard to the adventure. Who can the Friend be that is to meet me on the Weser-bridge? Will it be one of my old acquaintances, by whom, since my ruin, I have been entirely forgotten? How will he pave the way to me for happiness? And will this way be short or long, easy or toilsome? To the whole of which Reason, in spite of all her thinking and speculating, answered not a word.
In about an hour, the Bridge began to get awake; there was riding, driving, walking to and fro on it; and much commercial ware passing this way and that. The usual day-guard of beggars and importunate persons also by degrees took up this post, so favourable for their trade, to levy contributions on the public benevolence; for of poor-houses and work-houses, the wisdom of the legislature had as yet formed no scheme. The first of the tattered cohort that applied for alms to the jovial promenader, from whose eyes gay hope laughed forth, was a discharged soldier, provided with the military badge of a timber leg, which had been lent him, seeing he had fought so stoutly in former days for his native country, as the recompense of his valour, with the privilege of begging where he pleased; and who now, in the capacity of physiognomist, pursued the study of man upon the Weser-bridge, with such success, that he very seldom failed in his attempts for charity. Nor did his exploratory glance in anywise mislead him in the present instance; for Franz, in the joy of his heart, threw a white engel-groschen into the cripple's hat.
During the morning hours, when none but the laborious artisan is busy, and the more exalted townsman still lies in sluggish rest, he scarcely looked for his promised Friend; he expected him in the higher classes, and took little notice of the present passengers. About the council-hour, however, when the Proceres of Bremen were driving past to the hall, in their gorgeous robes of office, and about exchange-time, he was all eye and ear; he spied the passengers from afar; and when a right man came along the bridge, his blood began to flutter, and he thought here was the creator of his fortune. Meanwhile hour after hour passed on; the sun rose high; ere long the noontide brought a pause in business; the rushing crowd faded away; and still the expected Friend appeared not. Franz now walked up and down the Bridge quite alone; had no society in view but the beggars, who were serving out their cold collations, without moving from the place. He made no scruple to do the same; and, not being furnished with provisions, he purchased some fruit, and took his dinner inter ambulandum.
The whole club that was dining on the Bridge had remarked the young man, watching here from early morning till noon, without addressing any one, or doing any sort of business. They held him to be a lounger; and though all of them had tasted his bounty, he did not escape their critical remarks. In jest, they had named him the Bridge-bailiff. The physiognomist with the timber-toe, however, noticed that his countenance was not now so gay as in the morning; he appeared to be reflecting earnestly on something; he had drawn his hat close over his face; his movement was slow and thoughtful; he had nibbled at an apple-rind for some time, without seeming to be conscious that he was doing so. From this appearance of affairs, the man-spier thought he might extract some profit; therefore he put his wooden and his living leg in motion, and stilted off to the other end of the Bridge, and lay in wait for the thinker, that he might assail him, under the appearance of a new arrival, for a fresh alms. This invention prospered to the full: the musing philosopher gave no heed to the mendicant, put his hand into his pocket mechanically, and threw a six-groat piece into the fellow's hat, to be rid of him.
In the afternoon, a thousand new faces once more came abroad. The watcher was now tired of his unknown Friend's delaying, yet hope still kept his attention on the stretch. He stept into the view of every passenger, hoped that one of them would clasp him in his arms; but all proceeded coldly on their way; the most did not observe him at all, and few returned his salute with a slight nod. The sun was already verging to decline, the shadows were becoming longer, the crowd upon the Bridge diminished; and the beggar-piquet by degrees drew back into their barracks in the Mattenburg. A deep sadness sank upon the hopeless Franz, when he saw his expectation mocked, and the lordly prospect which had lain before him in the morning vanish from his eyes at evening. He fell into a sort of sulky desperation; was on the point of springing over the parapet, and dashing himself down from the Bridge into the river. But the thought of Meta kept him back, and induced him to postpone his purpose till he had seen her yet once more. He resolved to watch next day when she should go to church, for the last time to drink delight from her looks, and then forthwith to still his warm love forever in the cold stream of the Weser.
While about to leave the Bridge, he was met by the invalided pikeman with the wooden leg, who, for pastime, had been making many speculations as to what could be the young man's object, that had made him watch upon the Bridge from dawn to darkness. He himself had lingered beyond his usual time, that he might wait him out; but as the matter hung too long upon the pegs, curiosity incited him to turn to the youth himself, and question him respecting it.
"No offence, young gentleman," said he: "allow me to ask you a question."
Franz, who was not in a very talking humour, and was now meeting, from the mouth of a cripple, the address which he had looked for with such longing from a friend, answered rather testily: "Well, then, what is it? Speak, old graybeard!"
"We two," said the other, "were the first upon the Bridge today, and now, you see, we are the last. As to me and others of my kidney, it is our vocation brings us hither, our trade of alms-gathering; but for you, in sooth you are not of our guild; yet you have watched here the whole blessed day. Now I pray you, tell me, if it is not a secret, what it is that brings you hither; or what stone is lying on your heart, that you wished to roll away."
"What good were it to thee, old blade," said Franz bitterly, "to know where the shoe pinches me, or what concern is lying on my heart? It will give thee small care."
"Sir, I have a kind wish towards you, because you opened your hand to me, and twice gave me alms, for which God reward you; but your countenance at night was not so cheerful as in the morning, and that grieves my heart."
The kindly sympathy of this old warrior pleased the misanthrope, so that he willingly pursued the conversation.
"Why, then," answered he, "if thou wouldst know what has made me battle here all day with tedium, thou must understand that I was waiting for a Friend, who appointed me hither, and now leaves me to expect in vain."
"Under favour," answered Timbertoe, "if I might speak my mind, this Friend of yours, be who he like, is little better than a rogue to lead you such a dance. If he treated me so, by my faith, his crown should get acquainted with my crutch next time we met. If he could not keep his word, he should have let you know, and not bamboozled you as if you were a child."
"Yet I cannot altogether blame this Friend," said Franz, "for being absent; he did not promise; it was but a dream that told me I should meet him here."
The goblin-tale was too long for him to tell, so he veiled it under cover of a dream.
"Ah! that is another story," said the beggar; "if you build on dreams, it is little wonder that your hope deceives you. I myself have dreamed much foolish stuff in my time; but I was never such a madman as to heed it. Had I all the treasures that have been allotted to me in dreams, I might buy the city of Bremen, were it sold by auction. But I never credited a jot of them, or stirred hand or foot to prove their worth or worthlessness: I knew well it would be lost. Ha! I must really laugh in your face, to think that on the order of an empty dream, you have squandered a fair day of your life, which you might have spent better at a merry banquet."
"The issue shows that thou art right, old man, and that dreams many times deceive. But," continued Franz, defensively, "I dreamed so vividly and circumstantially, above three months ago, that on this very day, in this very place, I should meet a Friend, who would tell me things of the deepest importance, that it was well worth while to go and see if it would come to pass."
"O, as for vividness," said Timbertoe, "no man can dream more vividly than I. There is one dream I had, which I shall never in my life forget. I dreamed, who knows how many years ago, that my Guardian Angel stood before my bed in the figure of a youth, with golden hair, and two silver wings on his back, and said to me: 'Berthold, listen to the words of my mouth, that none of them be lost from thy heart. There is a treasure appointed thee, which thou shalt dig, to comfort thy heart withal for the remaining days of thy life. Tomorrow, about evening, when the sun is going down, take spade and shovel on thy shoulder; go forth from the Mattenburg on the right, across the Tieber, by the Balkenbrücke, past the Cloister of St. John's, and on to the Great Roland. Then take thy way over the Court of the Cathedral, through the Schüsselkorb, till thou arrive without the city at a garden, which has this mark, that a stair of three stone steps leads down from the highway to its gate. Wait by a side, in secret, till the sickle of the moon shall shine on thee, then push with the strength of a man against the weak-barred gate, which will resist thee little. Enter boldly into the garden, and turn thee to the vine-trellises which overhang the covered-walk; behind this, on the left, a tall apple-tree overtops the lowly shrubs. Go to the trunk of this tree, thy face turned right against the moon: look three ells before thee on the ground, thou shalt see two cinnamon-rose bushes; there strike in, and dig three spans deep, till thou find a stone plate; under this lies the treasure, buried in an iron chest, full of money and money's worth. Though the chest be heavy and clumsy, avoid not the labour of lifting it from its bed; it will reward thy trouble well, if thou seek the key which lies hid beneath it.'"
In astonishment at what he heard, Franz stared and gazed upon the dreamer, and could not have concealed his amazement, had not the dusk of night been on his side. By every mark in the description, he had recognised his own garden, left him by his father. It had been the good man's hobby in his life; but on this account had little pleased his son; according to the rule that son and father seldom sympathise in their favourite pursuit, unless indeed it be a vice, in which case, as the adage runs, the apple often falls at no great distance from the trunk. Father Melchior had himself laid out this garden, altogether to his own taste, in a style as wonderful and varied as that of his great-great-grandson, who has immortalised his paradise by an original description in Hirschfeld's Garden-Calendar. He had not, it is true, set up in it any painted menagerie for the deception of the eye; but he kept a very large one, notwithstanding, of springing-horses, winged-lions, eagles, griffins, unicorns and other wondrous beasts, all stamped on pure gold, which he carefully concealed from every eye, and had hid in their iron case beneath the ground. This paternal Tempe the wasteful son, in the days of his extravagance, had sold for an old song.
To Franz the pikeman had at once become extremely interesting, as he perceived that this was the very Friend, to whom the Goblin in the Castle of Rummelsburg had consigned him. Gladly could he have embraced the veteran, and in the first rapture called him friend and father: but he restrained himself, and found it more advisable to keep his thoughts about this piece of news to himself. So he said: "Well, this is what I call a circumstantial dream. But what didst thou do, old master, in the morning, on awakening? Didst thou not follow whither thy Guardian Angel beckoned thee?"
"Pooh," said the dreamer, "why I should I toil, and have my labour for my pains? It was nothing, after all, but a mere dream. If my Guardian Angel had a fancy for appearing to me, I have had enow of sleepless nights in my time, when he might have found me waking. But he takes little charge of me, I think, else I should not, to his shame, be going hitching here on a wooden leg."
Franz took out the last piece of silver he had on him: "There," said he, "old Father, take this other gift from me, to get thee a pint of wine for evening-cup: thy talk has scared away my ill humour. Neglect not diligently to frequent this Bridge; we shall see each other here, I hope, again."
The lame old man had not gathered so rich a stock of alms for many a day, as he was now possessed of; he blessed his benefactor for his kindness, hopped away into a drinking-shop, to do himself a good turn; while Franz, enlivened with new hope, hastened off to his lodging in the alley.
Next day he got in readiness everything that is required for treasure-digging. The unessential equipments, conjurations, magic formulas, magic girdles, hieroglyphic characters, and suchlike, were entirely wanting; but these are not indispensable, provided there be no failure in the three main requisites: shovel, spade, and, before all, a treasure underground. The necessary implements he carried to the place a little before sunset, and hid them for the mean while in a hedge; and as to the treasure itself, he had the firm conviction that the Goblin in the Castle, and the Friend on the Bridge, would prove no liars to him. With longing impatience he expected the rising of the moon; and no sooner did she stretch her silver horns over the bushes, than he briskly set to work; observing exactly everything the Invalid had taught him; and happily accomplished the raising of the treasure, without meeting any adventure in the process; without any black dog having frightened him, or any bluish flame having lighted him to the spot.
Father Melchior, in providently burying this penny for a rainy day, had nowise meant that his son should be deprived of so considerable a part of his inheritance. The mistake lay in this, that Death had escorted the testator out of the world in another way than said testator had expected. He had been completely convinced, that he should take his journey, old and full of days, after regulating his temporal concerns with all the formalities of an ordinary sick-bed; for so it had been prophesied to him in his youth. In consequence he purposed, when, according to the usage of the Church, extreme unction should have been dispensed to him, to call his beloved son to his bed-side, having previously dismissed all bystanders; there to give him the paternal blessing, and by way of farewell memorial direct him to this treasure buried in the garden. All this, too, would have happened in just order, if the light of the good old man had departed, like that of a wick whose oil is done; but as Death had privily snuffed him out at a feast, he undesignedly took along with him his Mammon secret to the grave; and almost as many fortunate concurrences were required before the secreted patrimony could arrive at the proper heir, as if it had been forwarded to its address by the hand of Justice itself.
With immeasurable joy the treasure-digger took possession of the shapeless Spanish pieces, which, with a vast multitude of other finer coins, the iron chest had faithfully preserved. When the first intoxication of delight had in some degree evaporated, he bethought him how the treasure was to be transported, safe and unobserved, into the narrow alley. The burden was too heavy to be carried without help; thus, with the possession of riches, all the cares attendant on them were awakened. The new Crœsus found no better plan, than to intrust his capital to the hollow trunk of a tree that stood behind the garden, in a meadow: the empty chest he again buried under the rose-bush, and smoothed the place as well as possible. In the space of three days, the treasure had been faithfully transmitted by instalments from the hollow tree into the narrow alley; and now the owner of it thought he might with honour lay aside his strict incognito. He dressed himself with the finest; had his Prayer displaced from the church; and required, instead of it, "a Christian Thanksgiving for a Traveller, on returning to his native town, after happily arranging his affairs." He hid himself in a corner of the church, where he could observe the fair Meta, without himself being seen; he turned not his eye from the maiden, and drank from her looks the actual rapture, which in foretaste had restrained him from the break-neck somerset on the Bridge of the Weser. When the Thanksgiving came in hand, a glad sympathy shone forth from all her features, and the cheeks of the virgin glowed with joy. The customary greeting on the way homewards was so full of emphasis, that even to the third party who had noticed them, it would have been intelligible.
Franz now appeared once more on the Exchange; began a branch of trade which in a few weeks extended to the great scale; and as his wealth became daily more apparent, Neighbour Grudge, the scandal-chewer, was obliged to conclude, that in the cashing of his old debts, he must have had more luck than sense. He hired a large house, fronting the Roland, in the Market-place; engaged clerks and warehousemen, and carried on his trade unweariedly. Now the sorrowful populace of parasites again diligently handled the knocker of his door; appeared in crowds, and suffocated him with assurances of friendship, and joy-wishings on his fresh prosperity; imagined they should once more catch him in their robber claws. But experience had taught him wisdom; he paid them in their own coin, feasted their false friendship on smooth words, and dismissed them with fasting stomachs; which sovereign means for scaring off the cumbersome brood of pickthanks and toad-eaters produced the intended effect, that they betook them elsewhither.
In Bremen, the remounting Melcherson had become the story of the day; the fortune which in some inexplicable manner he had realised, as was supposed, in foreign parts, was the subject-matter of all conversations at formal dinners, in the Courts of Justice and at the Exchange. But in proportion as the fame of his fortune and affluence increased, the contentedness and peace of mind of the fair Meta diminished. The friend in petto was now, in her opinion, well qualified to speak a plain word. Yet still his Love continued Dumb; and except the greeting on the way from church, he gave no tidings of himself. Even this sort of visit was becoming rarer, and such aspects were the sign not of warm, but of cold weather in the atmosphere of Love. Jealousy, the baleful Harpy, fluttered round her little room by night, and when sleep was closing her blue eyes, croaked many a dolorous presage into the ear of the re-awakened Meta. "Forego the flattering hope of binding an inconstant heart, which, like a feather, is the sport of every wind. He loved thee, and was faithful to thee, while his lot was as thy own: like only draws to like. Now a propitious destiny exalts the Changeful far above thee. Ah! now he scorns the truest thoughts in mean apparel, now that pomp, and wealth, and splendour dazzle him once more; and courts who knows what haughty fair one that disdained him when he lay among the pots, and now with siren call allures him back to her. Perhaps her cozening voice has turned him from thee, speaking with false words: 'For thee, God's garden blossoms in thy native town: friend, thou hast now thy choice of all our maidens; choose with prudence, not by the eye alone. Of girls are many, and of fathers many, who in secret lie in wait for thee; none will withhold his darling daughter. Take happiness and honour with the fairest; likewise birth and fortune. The councillor dignity awaits thee, where vote of friends is potent in the city.'"
These suggestions of Jealousy disturbed and tormented her heart without ceasing: she reviewed her fair contemporaries in Bremen, estimated the ratio of so many splendid matches to herself and her circumstances; and the result was far from favourable. The first tidings of her lover's change of situation had in secret charmed her; not in the selfish view of becoming participatress in a large fortune; but for her mother's sake, who had abdicated all hopes of earthly happiness, ever since the marriage project with neighbour Hop-King had made shipwreck. But now poor Meta wished that Heaven had not heard the Prayer of the Church, or granted to the traveller any such abundance of success; but rather kept him by the bread and salt, which he would willingly have shared with her.
The fair half of the species are by no means calculated to conceal an inward care: Mother Brigitta soon observed the trouble of her daughter; and without the use of any great penetration, likewise guessed its cause. The talk about the re-ascending star of her former flax-negotiator, who was now celebrated as the pattern of an orderly, judicious, active tradesman, had not escaped her, any more than the feeling of the good Meta towards him; and it was her opinion, that if he loved in earnest, it was needless to hang off so long, without explaining what he meant. Yet out of tenderness to her daughter, she let no hint of this discovery escape her; till at length poor Meta's heart became so full, that of her own accord she made her mother the confidante of her sorrow, and disclosed to her its true origin. The shrewd old lady learned little more by this disclosure than she knew already. But it afforded opportunity to mother and daughter for a full, fair and free discussion of this delicate affair. Brigitta made her no reproaches on the subject; she believed that what was done could not be undone; and directed all her eloquence to strengthen and encourage the dejected Meta to bear the failure of her hopes with a steadfast mind.
With this view, she spelt out to her the extremely reasonable moral, a, b, ab; discoursing thus: "My child, thou hast already said a, thou must now say b too; thou hast scorned thy fortune when it sought thee, now thou must submit when it will meet thee no longer. Experience has taught me, that the most confident Hope is the first to deceive us. Therefore, follow my example; abandon the fair cozener utterly, and thy peace of mind will no longer be disturbed by her. Count not on any improvement of thy fate; and thou wilt grow contented with thy present situation. Honour the spinning-wheel, which supports thee: what are fortune and riches to thee, when thou canst do without them?"
Close on this stout oration followed a loud humming symphony of snap-reel and spinning-wheel, to make up for the time lost in speaking. Mother Brigitta was in truth philosophising from the heart. After her scheme for the restoration of her former affluence had gone to ruin, she had so simplified the plan of her life, that Fate could not perplex it any more. But Meta was still far from this philosophical centre of indifference; and hence this doctrine, consolation and encouragement affected her quite otherwise than had been intended: the conscientious daughter now looked upon herself as the destroyer of her mother's fair hopes, and suffered from her own mind a thousand reproaches for this fault. Though she had never adopted the maternal scheme of marriage, and had reckoned only upon bread and salt in her future wedlock; yet, on hearing of her lover's riches and spreading commerce, her diet-project had directly mounted to six plates; and it delighted her to think, that by her choice she should still realise her good mother's wish, and see her once more planted in her previous abundance.
This fair dream now vanished by degrees, as Franz continued silent. To make matters worse, there spread a rumour over all the city, that he was furnishing his house in the most splendid fashion for his marriage with a rich Antwerp lady, who was already on her way to Bremen. This Job's-news drove the lovely maiden from her last defence: she passed on the apostate sentence of banishment from her heart; and vowed from that hour never more to think of him; and as she did so, wetted the twining thread with her tears.
In a heavy hour she was breaking this vow, and thinking, against her will, of the faithless lover: for she had just spun off a rock of flax; and there was an old rhyme which had been taught her by her mother for encouragement to diligence:
'Spin, daughterkin, spin;
Thy sweetheart's within!'
which she always recollected when her rock was done; and along with it the memory of the Deceitful necessarily occurred to her. In this heavy hour, a finger rapped with a most dainty patter at the door. Mother Brigitta looked forth: the sweetheart was without. And who could it be? Who else but neighbour Franz, from the alley? He had decked himself with a gallant wooing-suit; and his well-dressed, thick brown locks shook forth perfume. This stately decoration boded, at all events, something else than flax-dealing. Mother Brigitta started in alarm; she tried to speak, but words failed her. Meta rose in trepidation from her seat, blushed like a purple rose, and was silent. Franz, however, had the power of utterance; to the soft adagio which he had in former days trilled forth to her, he now appended a suitable text, and explained his dumb love in clear words. Thereupon he made solemn application for her to the mother; justifying his proposal by the statement, that the preparations in his house had been meant for the reception of a bride, and that this bride was the charming Meta.
The pointed old lady, having brought her feelings once more into equilibrium, was for protracting the affair to the customary term of eight days for deliberation; though joyful tears were running down her cheeks, presaging no impediment on her side, but rather answer of approval. Franz, however, was so pressing in his suit, that she fell upon a middle path between the wooer's ardour and maternal use and wont, and empowered the gentle Meta to decide in the affair according to her own good judgment. In the virgin heart there had occurred, since Franz's entrance, an important revolution. His presence here was the most speaking proof of his innocence; and as, in the course of conversation, it distinctly came to light, that his apparent coldness had been nothing else than zeal and diligence in putting his commercial affairs in order, and preparing what was necessary for the coming nuptials, it followed that the secret reconciliation would proceed forthwith without any stone of stumbling in its way. She acted with the outlaw, as Mother Brigitta with her disposted spinning gear, or the First-born Son of the Church with an exiled Parliament; recalled him with honour to her high-beating heart, and reinstated him in all his former rights and privileges there. The decisive three-lettered little word, that ratifies the happiness of love, came gliding with such unspeakable grace from her soft lips, that the answered lover could not help receiving it with a warm melting kiss.
The tender pair had now time and opportunity for deciphering all the hieroglyphics of their mysterious love; which afforded the most pleasant conversation that ever two lovers carried on. They found, what our commentators ought to pray for, that they had always understood and interpreted the text aright, without once missing the true sense of their reciprocal proceedings. It cost the delighted bridegroom almost as great an effort to part from his charming bride, as on the day when he set out on his crusade to Antwerp. However, he had an important walk to take; so at last it became time to withdraw.
This walk was directed to the Weser-bridge, to find Timbertoe, whom he had not forgotten, though he had long delayed to keep his word to him. Sharply as the physiognomist, ever since his interview with the open-handed Bridge-bailiff, had been on the outlook, he could never catch a glimpse of him among the passengers, although a second visit had been faithfully promised. Yet the figure of his benefactor had not vanished from his memory. The moment he perceived the fair-apparelled youth from a distance, he stilted towards him, and gave him kindly welcome. Franz answered his salutation, and said: "Friend, canst thou take a walk with me into the Neustadt, to transact a small affair? Thy trouble shall not be unpaid."
"Ah; why not?" replied the old blade; "though I have a wooden leg, I can step you with it as stoutly as the lame dwarf that crept round the city-common; for the wooden leg, you must know, has this good property, it never tires. But excuse me a little while till Graycloak is come: he never misses to pass along the Bridge between day and night."
"What of Graycloak?" inquired Franz: "let me know about him."
"Graycloak brings me daily about nightfall a silver groschen, I know not from whom. It is of no use prying into things, so I never mind. Sometimes it occurs to me Graycloak must be the devil, and means to buy my soul with the money. But devil or no devil, what care I? I did not strike him on the bargain, so it cannot hold."
"I should not wonder," answered Franz, with a smile, "if Graycloak were a piece of a knave. But do thou follow me: the silver groschen shall not fail thee."
Timbertoe set forth, hitched on briskly after his guide, who conducted him up one street and down another, to a distant quarter of the city, near the wall; then halted before a neat little new-built house, and knocked at the door. When it was opened: "Friend," said he, "thou madest one evening of my life cheerful; it is just that I should make the evening of thy life cheerful also. This house, with its appurtenances, and the garden where it stands, are thine; kitchen and cellar are full; an attendant is appointed to wait upon thee; and the silver groschen, over and above, thou wilt find every noon lying under thy plate. Nor will I hide from thee that Graycloak was my servant, whom I sent to give thee daily an honourable alms, till I had got this house made ready for thee. If thou like, thou mayest reckon me thy proper Guardian Angel, since the other has not acted to thy satisfaction."
He then led the old man into his dwelling, where the table was standing covered, and everything arranged for his convenience and comfortable living. The grayhead was so astonished at his fortune, that he could not understand or even believe it. That a rich man should take such pity on a poor one, was incomprehensible: he felt disposed to take the whole affair for magic or jugglery, till Franz removed his doubts. A stream of thankful tears flowed down the old man's cheeks; and his benefactor, satisfied with this, did not wait till he should recover from his amazement and thank him in words, but, after doing this angel-message, vanished from the old man's eyes, as angels are wont; and left him to piece together the affair as he best could.
Next morning, in the habitation of the lovely Meta, all was as a fair. Franz dispatched to her a crowd of merchants, jewellers, milliners, lace-dealers, tailors, sutors and sempstresses, in part to offer her all sorts of wares, in part their own good services. She passed the whole day in choosing stuffs, laces and other requisites for the condition of a bride, or being measured for her various new apparel. The dimensions of her dainty foot, her beautifully-formed arm and her slim waist, were as often and as carefully meted, as if some skilful statuary had been taking from her the model for a Goddess of Love. Meanwhile the bridegroom went to appoint the bans; and before three weeks were past, he led his bride to the altar, with a solemnity by which even the gorgeous wedding pomp of the Hop-King was eclipsed. Mother Brigitta had the happiness of twisting the bridal-garland for her virtuous Meta; she completely attained her wish of spending her woman's-summer in propitious affluence; and deserved this satisfaction, as a recompense for one praiseworthy quality which she possessed: She was the most tolerable mother-in-law that has ever been discovered.
- Prefatory Introduction to Musæus, suprà, at p. 232, Vol. VI. of Works (Vol. I. of Miscellanies).
- One of the largest buildings in Bremen, where the meetings of the merchants are usually held.
- Ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁρᾷν ἔρχεται τὸ ἐρᾷν.
- St. Christopher never appears to his favourites, like the other Saints, in a solitary room, encircled with a glory: there is no room high enough to admit him; thus the celestial Son of Anak is obliged to transact all business with his wards outside the window.
- The oldest watches, from the shape they had, were named hour-eggs.
- Anne of Brittany.
- I know not whether the reader has observed that our Author makes the Spectre speak in iambics; a whim which here and there comes over him in other tales also.—Wieland.
- Here too, on the Spectre's score, Franz makes extempore iambics.—Wieland.
- The rude figure of a man in armour, usually erected in the public square or market-place of old German towns, is called the Rolandsäule, or Rutlandsäule, from its supposed reference to Roland the famous peer of Charlemagne. The proper and ancient name, it seems, is Rügelandsäule, or Pillar of Judgment; and the stone indicated, of old, that the town possessed an independent jurisdiction.—Ed.
- Jealousy too (at bottom a very sad spectre, but not here introduced as one) now croaks in iambics, as the Goblin Barber lately spoke in them.—Wieland.
- There is an old tradition, that a neighbouring Countess promised in jest to give the Bremers as much land as a cripple, who was just asking her for alms, would creep round in a day. They took her at her word; and the cripple crawled so well, that the town obtained this large common by means of him.