Included in a collection of stories entitled Geschichten, Märchen, und Sagen, Von Fr. H. v. d. Hagen, E. T. A. Hoffmann, und H. Steffens; Breslau, 1823.
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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
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At the time when people in the beautiful and pleasant town of Bamberg lived, according to the well-known saying, well, i.e., under the crook, namely in the end of the previous century, there was also one inhabitant, a man belonging to the burgher class, who might be called in every respect both singular and eminent His name was Johannes Wacht, and his trade was that of a carpenter.
Nature, in weighing and definitely determining her children’s destinies, pursues her own dark inscrutable path; and all that is claimed by convenience, and by the opinions and considerations which prevail in man’s narrow existence, as determining factors in settling the true tendency of every man’s self. Nature regards as nothing more than the pert play of deluded children imagining themselves to be wise. But short-sighted man often finds an insuperable irony in the contradiction between the conviction of his own mind and the mysterious ordering of this inscrutable Power, who first nourished and fed him at her maternal bosom and then deserted him; and this irony fills him with terror and awe, since it threatens to annihilate his own self.
The mother of Life does not choose for her favourites either the palaces of the great or the state-apartments of princes. And so she made our Johannes, who, as the kindly reader will soon learn, might be called one of her most richly endowed favourites, first see the light of the world on a wretched heap of straw, in the workshop of an impoverished master turner in Augsburg. His mother died of want and from suffering soon after the child’s birth, and his father followed her after the lapse of a few months.
The town government had to take charge of the helpless boy; and when the Council’s master carpenter, a well-to-do, respectable man, who found in the child’s face, notwithstanding that it was pinched with hunger, certain traits which pleased him — when he would not suffer the boy to be lodged in a public institution, but took him into his own house, in order to bring him up along with his own children, then there dawned upon Johannes his first genial ray of sunshine, heralding a happier lot in the future.
In an incredibly short space of time the boy’s frame developed, so that it was difficult to believe that the little insignificant creature in the cradle had really been the shapeless colourless chrysalis out of which this pretty, living, golden-locked boy had proceeded, like a beautiful butterfly. But — what seemed of more importance — along with this pleasing grace of physical form the boy soon displayed such eminent intellectual faculties as astonished both his foster-father and his teachers. Johannes grew up in a workshop which sent forth some of the best and highest work that mechanical skill was able to produce, since the master carpenter to the Council was constantly engaged upon the most important buildings. No wonder, therefore, that the child’s mind, which caught up everything with such keen clear perception, should be excited thereby, and should feel all his heart drawn towards a trade the deeper significance of which, in so far as it was concerned with the material creation of great and bold ideas, he dimly felt deep down in his soul. The joy that this bent of the orphan’s mind occasioned his foster-father may well be conceived; and hence he felt persuaded to teach the boy all practical matters himself with great care and attention, and furthermore, when he had grown into a youth, to have him instructed by the cleverest masters in all the higher branches of knowledge connected with the trade, both theoretical and practical, such as, for instance, drawing, architecture, mechanics, &c.
Our Johannes was four and twenty years of age when the old master carpenter died; and even at that time his foster-son was a thoroughly experienced and skilful journeyman in all branches of his craft, whose equal could not be found far and near. At this period Johannes set out, along with his true and faithful comrade Engelbrecht, on the usual journeyman’s1 travels.
Herewith you know, indulgent reader, all that it is needful to know about the youth of our worthy Wacht; and it only remains to tell you in a few words how it was that he came to settle in Bamberg and how he became master there.
After being on the travel for a pretty long time he happened to arrive at Bamberg on his way home along with his comrade Engelbrecht; and there they found the Bishop’s palace undergoing thorough repair, and particularly on that side of it where the walls rose up to a great height out of a very narrow alley or court. Here an entirely new roof was to be put up, of very great and very heavy beams; and they wanted a machine, which, whilst taking up the least possible room, would possess sufficient concentration of power to raise the heavy weights up to the required height. The Prince-bishop’s builder, who knew how to calculate to a nicety how Trajan’s Column in Rome had been made to stand, and also knew the hundred or more mistakes that had been made which he should never have laid himself open to the reproach of committing, had indeed constructed a machine — a sort of crane — which was very nice to look at, and was praised by everybody as a masterpiece of mechanical skill; but when the men tried to set the thing agoing, it turned out that the Herr builder had calculated upon downright Samsons and Herculeses. The wheels creaked and squeaked horribly; the huge beams which were hooked on to the crane did not budge an inch; the men declared, whilst shaking the sweat from their brows, that they would much sooner carry ships’ mainmasts up steep stairs than strain themselves in this way, and waste all their best strength in vain over such a machine; and there matters remained.
Standing at some distance, Wacht and Engelbrecht looked on at what they were doing, or rather, not doing; and it is possible that Wacht may have smiled just a little at the builder’s want of knowledge.
A grey-headed old foreman, recognising the strangers’ handicraft from their clothing, stepped up to them without more ado, and asked Wacht if he understood how to manage the machine any better since he looked so cunning about it. “Ah, well!” replied Wacht, without being in the least disconcerted, “ah well; it’s a doubtful point whether I know better, for every fool thinks he understands everything better than anybody else; but I can’t help wondering that in this part of the country you don’t seem to be acquainted with a certain simple contrivance, which would easily perform all that the Herr Builder yonder is vainly tormenting his men to accomplish.”
The young man’s bold answer nettled the grey-haired old foreman not a little; he turned away muttering to himself; and very soon it was known to them all that a young stranger, a carpenter’s journeyman, had laughed the builder together with his machine to scorn, and boasted that he was acquainted with a more serviceable contrivance. As is usually the case, nobody paid any heed to it; but the worthy builder as well as the honourable guild of carpenters in Bamberg were of opinion that the stranger had not, it was to be presumed, devoured up all the wisdom of the world, nor would he presume to dictate to and teach old and experienced masters. “Now do you see, Johannes,” said Engelbrecht to his comrade, “now do you see how your rash boldness has again provoked against you the people whom we must meet as comrades of the craft?”
“Who can, who may look on quietly,” replied Johannes, whilst his eyes flashed, “when the poor labourers — I’m sure they’re to be pitied — are tormented so and made to work beyond all reason, and that all to no purpose. And who knows whether my rash boldness may not, after all, have beneficial consequences?” And it really turned out to be so.
One single individual, of such preeminent intellectual capacity that no gleam of knowledge, however fugitive it might be, ever escaped his keen penetration, attached a quite different importance to the youth’s words from what the rest did, for the builder had reported them to him as the presumptuous saying of a young fledgling carpenter. This man was the Prince-bishop himself. He had the young man summoned to his presence, that he might inquire further into the import of his words, and was not a little astonished both at his appearance and at his general bearing and character. My kindly reader ought to know what this astonishment was due to, and now is the time to tell him something more about Johannes Wacht’s exterior and Johannes Wacht’s mind and thoughts.
As far as his face and figure were concerned, he might justly be called a remarkably handsome young fellow, and yet his noble features and majestic stature did not attain to full perfection until after he had reached a riper manhood. Æsthetic canons of the cathedral credited Johannes with having the head of an old Roman; a younger member of the same fraternity, who even in the severest winter was in the habit of going about dressed in black silk, and who had read Schiller’s Fiesko, maintained, on the contrary, that Johannes Wacht was Verrina2 in the flesh.
But the mysterious charm by means of which many highly-gifted men are enabled to win at once the confidence of those whom they approach does not consist in beauty and grace of external form alone. We in a certain sense feel their superiority; yet this feeling is by no means an oppressive feeling as might be imagined; but, whilst elevating the spirit, it also excites a certain kind of mental comfort that does us an incalculable amount of good. All the factors of the physical and intellectual organism are united into a whole by the most perfect harmony, so that the contact with the superior soul is like a pure strain of music; it suffers no discord. This harmony creates that inimitable deportment, that — one might almost say — comfort in the slightest movements, through which the consciousness of true human dignity is proclaimed. This deportment can be taught by no dancing-master, by no Prince’s tutor; and well and rightly does it deserve its proper name of the distinguished deportment, since it is stamped as such by Nature herself. Here need only be added that Master Wacht, unflinchingly constant in generosity, truth, and faithfulness to his burgher standing, became as the years went on ever more a man of the people. He developed all the virtues, but at the same time all the unconquerable prejudices, which are generally wont to form the unfavourable sides of such men’s characters. My kindly reader will soon learn of what these prejudices consisted.
I have now perhaps sufficiently explained why it was that the young man’s appearance made such an uncommon impression upon the respected Prince-bishop. For a long time he observed the stalwart young workman in silence, but with visible satisfaction; then he questioned him about his previous life. Johannes answered all his questions candidly and modestly, and finally explained to the Prince with convincing clearness, that the master-builder’s machine, though perhaps fitted for other purposes, would in the present case never effect what it was intended to do.
In reply to the Prince’s inquiry whether he could indeed trust himself to specify a machine that would be more suitable for the purpose, namely, to raise the heavy weights, the young man replied that all he required to construct such a machine was a single day, and the help of his comrade Engelbrecht and a few skilful and willing labourers.
It may be conceived with what malicious and mischievous inward joy, and with what impatience the master-builder, and all who were connected with him, looked forward to the morrow, when the forward stranger would be sent off home covered with shame and ridicule. But things turned out different from what these good-hearted people had expected, or indeed had wished.
Three capsterns suitably situated and so arranged as to exert an effect one upon another, and each only manned by eight labourers, elevated the heavy beams up to the giddy level of the roof with so much ease that they appeared to dance in the air. From this moment the brave clever craftsman could date the foundation of his reputation in Bamberg. The Prince urged him seriously to stay in that town and secure his mastership; towards the attainment of this end he would lend him all the assistance he possibly could. Wacht, however, hesitated, notwithstanding that he was very well pleased with the pleasant and cheap town of Bamberg. The fact that several important buildings were just then in course of erection put a heavy weight into the scale for staying; but the final turn to the balance was given by a circumstance which is very often wont to decide matters in life; namely, Johannes Wacht found again quite unexpectedly in Bamberg the beautiful virtuous maiden whom he had seen several years previously in Erlangen, and into whose friendly blue eyes he had then peeped a little too much. In a few words, Johannes Wacht became master, married the virtuous maiden of Erlangen, and soon contrived through industry and skill to purchase a pretty house on the Kaulberg,3 which had a large tract of garden ground stretching away back up the hill, and there he settled down for life.
But upon whom does the friendly star of good fortune shine unchangeably with the same degree of splendour at all times? Providence had decreed that our honest Johannes should be submitted to a trial under which perhaps any other man, with less firmness of spirit, would have sunk. The first fruit of this very happy marriage was a son, an excellent youth, who appeared to be walking steadfastly in his father’s footsteps. He was eighteen years of age when one night a large fire broke out not far from Wacht’s house. Father and son hurried to the spot, agreeably to their calling, to help in extinguishing the flames. Along with other carpenters the son boldly clambered up to the roof in order to cut away its burning framework, as far as could be done. His father, who had remained below, as he always did, to direct the demolition of walls, &c., and to superintend the work of extinction, looked up and seeing the imminent danger shouted, “Johannes! men! come down! come down!” Too late — with a fearful crash the wall fell in; the son lay struck to death in the flames, which leapt up crackling louder as if in horrid triumph.
But this terrible blow was not the only one which was to fall upon poor Johannes. An inconsiderate maid-servant burst with a frantic cry of distress into her mistress’ room, who was only partly convalescent from a distracting nervous disorder, and was in great uneasiness and anxiety about the fire, the dark-red reflection of which was flickering on the walls of her chamber. “Your son, your Johannes, is killed; the wall has buried him and his comrades in the middle of the flames,” screamed the girl. As though stung with sharp, sudden pain, her mistress raised herself up in the bed; but breathing out a deep sigh, she sank back upon the cushions again. She was struck with paralysis of the nerves; she was dead.
“Now let us see,” said the citizens, “how Master Wacht will bear his great trouble. He has often enough preached to us that a man ought not to succumb to the greatest misfortune, but ought to bear his head erect and strive with the strength which the Creator has planted in every man’s breast to withstand the misery that threatens him, so long as the contrary is not evidently decreed in the Eternal counsels. Let us see now what sort of an example he will give us.”
They were not a little astonished when, although the master himself was not seen in the workshop, yet his journeymen’s activity continued without interruption, so that work never stood still for a single moment, but went on just as if the master had not experienced any trouble.
With steadfast courage and firm step, and with his face shining with all the consolation and all the hope that sprang from his belief — the true religion rooted deep down in his breast — he had followed the corpses of his wife and son; and on the noon of the same day after the funeral, which had taken place in the morning, he said to Engelbrecht, “Engelbrecht, it is now necessary for me to be alone with my grief, which is almost breaking my heart, in order that I may become acquainted with it and strengthen myself against it. You, brother, my honest, industrious foreman, will know what to do for a week; for that space I am going to shut myself up in my own chamber.”
And indeed for a whole week Master Wacht never left his room. The maid frequently brought down his food again untouched; and they often heard in the passage his low, sad cry, cutting them to the quick, “O my wife! O my Johannes!”
Many of Wacht’s acquaintances were of opinion that he ought not by any means to be left in this solitary state; by brooding constantly over his grief his mind might become unsettled Engelbrecht, however, met them with the reply, “Let him alone; you don’t know my Johannes. Since Providence, in its inscrutable purposes, has sent him this hard trial, it has also given him strength to overcome it, and all earthly consolation would only outrage his feelings. I know in what manner he is working his way out of his deep grief.” These last words Engelbrecht uttered with a well-nigh cunning look upon his face; but he would not give any further information as to what he meant. Wacht’s acquaintances had to content themselves, and leave the unfortunate man in peace.
A week was passed, and early the next morning, which was a bright summer morning, at five o’clock Master Wacht came out unexpectedly into the workyard amongst his journeymen, who were all hard at work. Their axes and saws stopped, whilst they greeted him with a half-sorrowful cry, “Master Wacht! Our good Master Wacht!”
With a cheerful face, upon which the traces of the struggle against grief which he had gone through had deepened the expression of sterling good-nature and given it a most touching character, he stepped amongst his faithful workpeople and told them how the goodness of Heaven had sent down the spirit of mercy and consolation upon him, and that he was now filled with strength and courage to go on and discharge the duties of his calling. He betook himself to the building in the middle of the yard, which served for the storage of the tools at night, and for keeping the plans and memoranda of work, &c. Englebrecht, the journeymen, the apprentices, followed him in a string. On entering, Johannes stood rooted to the spot.
His poor boy’s axe, which was identified by certain distinctive marks, had been found with half-charred handle under the ruins of the house that had been burnt down. His companions had fastened it high up on the wall directly opposite the door, and, in a rather rude attempt at art, had painted round it a wreath of roses and cypress-branches; and underneath the wreath they had placed their beloved comrade’s name, together with the year of his birth and the date of the ill-omened night when he had met such a violent death.
“Poor Hans!”4 exclaimed Master Wacht on perceiving this touching monument of the true faithful spirits, whilst a flood of tears gushed from his eyes. “Poor Hans! the last time you wielded that tool was for the welfare of your brothers; but now you are resting in your grave, and will never more stand by my side and use your earnest industry in helping to forward a good piece of work.”
Then Master Wacht went round the circle and gave each journeyman and each apprentice a good honest shake of the hand, saying, “Think of him.” Then they all went back to their work, except Engelbrecht, whom Wacht bid stay with him.
“See here, my old comrade,” cried Wacht, “what extraordinary means the Eternal Power has chosen to help me to overcome my great trouble. During the days when I was almost heart-broken with grief for my wife and child, whom I have lost in such a terrible way, there came into my mind the idea of a highly artistic and complicated trussed girder, which I had been thinking about for a long time without ever being able to see my way to the thing clearly. Look here.”
Therewith Master Wacht unrolled the drawing at which he had worked during the past week, and Engelbrecht was greatly astonished at the boldness and originality of the invention no less than at its exceptional neatness in the finished state. The mechanical part of the contrivance was so skilfully and cleverly arranged that even Engelbrecht, with all his great experience, could not comprehend it at once; but the greater therefore was his glad admiration when Master Wacht explained to him the whole construction down to the minutest details, and he had convinced himself that the putting of the plan into execution could not fail to be successful.
At this time Wacht’s household consisted of only two daughters besides himself; but it was very soon to be increased.
Albeit a clever and industrious workman, Master Engelbrecht had never been able to advance so far as that lowest grade of affluence which had been the reward of Wacht’s very earliest undertakings. He had to contend with the worst enemy of life, against which no human power is of any avail; it not only threatened to destroy him, but really did destroy him — namely, consumption. He died, leaving a wife and two boys almost in want. His wife went back to her own home; and Master Wacht would willingly have taken both boys into his own house, but this could only be arranged in the case of the elder, who was called Sebastian. He was a strong intelligent lad, and having an inclination to follow his father’s trade, promised to make a good clever carpenter. He had, however, a certain refractoriness of disposition, which at times seemed to border closely upon badness, as well as being somewhat rude in his manners, and even often wild and untamable; but these ill qualities Wacht hoped to conquer by wise training. The younger boy, Jonathan by name, was exactly the opposite of his elder brother; he was a very pretty little boy, but rather fragile, his blue eyes laughing with gentleness and kind-heartedness. This boy had been adopted during his father’s lifetime by Herr Theophilus Eichheimer, a worthy doctor of law, as well as the first and oldest advocate in the place. Noticing the boy’s remarkably good parts, as well as his most decided bent for knowledge, he had taken him to train him for a lawyer.
And here one of those unconquerable prejudices of our Wacht came to light which have been already spoken of above, namely, he was perfectly convinced in his own mind that everything understood under the name of law was nothing else but so many phrases artificially hammered out and put together by lawyers, with the sole purpose of perplexing the true feeling of right which had been planted in every virtuous man’s breast. Since he could not exactly shut his eyes to the necessity for law-courts, he discharged all his hatred upon the advocates, whom as a class he conceived to be, if not altogether miserable deceivers, yet at any rate such contemptible men that they practised usury in shameful fashion with all that was most holy and venerable in the world. It will be seen presently how Wacht, who in all other relations of life was an intelligent and clear-sighted man, resembled in this particular the coarsest-minded amongst the lowest of the people. The further prejudice that he would not admit there was any piety or virtue amongst the adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, and that he trusted no Catholic, might perhaps be pardoned him, since he had imbibed the principles of a well-nigh fanatical Protestantism in Augsburg. It may be conceived, therefore, how it cut Master Wacht to the heart to see the son of his most faithful friend entering upon a career that he so bitterly detested.
The will of the deceased, however, was in his eyes sacred; and it was, moreover, at any rate certain that Jonathan with his weakly body could not be trained up to any handicraft that made any very large demand upon physical strength. Besides, when old Herr Theophilus Eichheimer talked to the master about the divine gift of knowledge, at the same time praising little Jonathan as a good intelligent boy, Wacht for the moment forgot the advocate, and law, and his own prejudice as well. He fastened all his hopes upon the belief that Jonathan, who bore his father’s virtues in his heart, would give up his profession when he arrived at riper years, and was able to perceive all the disgrace that attached to it.
Though Jonathan was a good, quiet boy, fond of studying indoors, Sebastian was all the oftener and all the deeper engaged in all kinds of wild foolish pranks. But since in respect to his handiwork he followed in his father’s footsteps, and no fault could ever be found with his industry or with the neatness of his work, Master Wacht ascribed his at times too outrageous tricks to the unrefined untamed fire of youth, and he forgave the young fellow, observing that he would be sure to sow his wild oats when on his travels.
These travels Sebastian soon set out upon; and Master Wacht heard nothing more from him until Sebastian, on attaining his majority, wrote from Vienna, begging for his little patrimonial inheritance, which Master Wacht sent to him correct to the last farthing, receiving in return a receipt for it drawn up by one of the Vienna courts.
Just the same sort of difference in character as distinguished the Engelbrechts was noticeable also between Wacht’s two daughters, of whom the elder was called Rettel5 and the younger Nanni.
It may here be hastily remarked in passing, that, according to the taste generally prevalent in Bamberg, the Christian name Nanni is the prettiest and finest a girl can well have. And so, kindly reader, if you ever ask a pretty child in Bamberg, “What is your name, my little angel?” the little thing will be sure to cast down her eyes in shy confusion and tug at her black silk apron, and whisper in friendly fashion with a slight blush upon her cheeks, “‘N! ‘N! Nanni, y’r honour.”
Rettel, Wacht’s elder daughter, was a fat little thing, with red rosy cheeks and right friendly black eyes, with which she looked boldly into the face of the sunshine of life, as it had dawned upon her, without blinking. In respect of her education and her character she had not risen a hair’s breadth above the sphere of the handicraftsman. She gossiped with her female relatives and friends, and liked dressing herself, though in gay colours and without taste; but her own peculiar element, wherein she “lived and moved, and had her being,” was the kitchen. Nobody’s hare-ragout and geese giblets, not even those of the most experienced cook far and near, ever turned out so tasty as hers; in the preparation of sauces she was a perfect adept; vegetables, such as savoy and cauliflower, were dressed by Rettel’s cunning hand in a way that could not be beaten, since she knew in a moment through a subtle unfailing instinct when there was too much or too little dripping; and her short cakes put in the shade the most successful productions of a similar kind at the most sumptuous of church feasts.6
Father Wacht was very well satisfied with his daughter’s cooking; and he once hazarded the opinion that the Prince-bishop could not have more delicious vermicelli noodles7 on his table than those which Rettel made. This remark sank so deeply into the good girl’s pleased heart, that she was preparing to send a huge dish of the said vermicelli noodles up to the Prince-bishop, and that too on a fast day. Fortunately Master Wacht got scent of the plan in time, and amidst hearty laughter prevented the bold idea from being put into execution.
Not only was stout little Rettel a clever housekeeper, a perfect cook, and at the same time a pattern of good nature and childish affection and fidelity, but like a well-trained child she also loved her father very tenderly.
Now characters of Wacht’s class, in spite of their earnestness, often display a certain ironical waggishness which comes into play on easy provocation, and lends an agreeable charm to life, just as the deep brook greets with its silver curling waves the light breeze that skims its surface.
It could not fail but that good Rettel’s ways and doings frequently provoked this sly humour; and so the relations between Wacht and his daughter were invested with a curiously modified charm of colour. The indulgent reader will come across instances later on; for the present it may suffice to mention one such here, which certainly deserves to be called entertaining. In Master Wacht’s house there was a quiet, good-looking young man, who held a post in the Prince’s exchequer office and drew a very good income. In straightforward German fashion he sued the father for the hand of his elder daughter, and Master Wacht, if he would not do an injustice to the young man as well as to his Rettel, could not help but grant him permission to visit the house, that he might have opportunities to try and win the girl’s affections. Rettel, informed of the man’s purpose, received him with very friendly looks, in which might be read at times, “At our wedding, dear, I shall bake the cake myself.”
Master Wacht, however, was not altogether well pleased with his daughter’s growing liking for the Herr Administrator of the Prince’s revenues, since the Herr Administrator himself didn’t seem to him to be all that he should be. In the first place, the man was as a matter of course a Roman Catholic, and in the second place Wacht thought he perceived in him on nearer acquaintance a certain sneaking dissimulation of manner, which pointed to a mind ill at ease. He would willingly have got the undesirable suitor out of the house again if he could have done so without hurting Rettel’s feelings. Master Wacht observed him closely, and knew how to make shrewd and cunning use of his observations. He perceived that the Herr Administrator did not set much store by well-cooked dishes, but swallowed down everything in the same indiscriminate fashion, and that, moreover, in a disagreeably repulsive way. One Sunday, when the Herr Administrator was dining at Master Wacht’s, as he usually did on that day, the latter began to heap up praises and commendations upon every dish which busy Rettel caused to be served up; and not only did he call upon the Herr Administrator to join him in his encomiums, but he also asked him pointedly what he thought of various ways of dressing dishes. The Herr Administrator replied somewhat dryly that he was a temperate and abstemious man, accustomed from his youth up to the greatest frugality. At noon, for dinner, he was satisfied with a spoonful or two of soup and a little piece of beef, but the latter must be cooked hard, since so cooked a smaller quantity sufficed to satisfy the hunger, and there was no need to overload the stomach with large pieces. For his evening meal he generally managed upon a saucer of good egg and butter beaten up together and a very small glass of liquor; moreover, the only other refreshment he allowed himself was a glass of extra beer at six o’clock in the evening, taken if possible in the good fresh air. It may be imagined what looks Rettelchen fixed upon the unfortunate administrator. And yet the worst was still to come. Bavarian puffy noodles were next served, and they were swollen up to such a big, big size that they seemed to be the masterpiece of the table. The frugal Herr Administrator took his knife and with the most cool-blooded indifference cut the noodle which was passed to him into many pieces. Rettel rushed out of the room with a loud cry of despair.
I must inform the reader who does not know the secret of eating Bavarian puffy noodles that when eaten they must be cleverly pulled to pieces, since when cut they lose all taste and bring disgrace upon the professional pride of the cook who made them.
From that moment Rettel looked upon the frugal Herr Administrator as the most abominable man under the face of the sun. Master Wacht did not contradict her in any way; and so the reckless iconoclast in the province of cookery lost his bride for ever.
Though the chequered figure of little Rettel has cost almost too many words, yet a very few strokes will suffice to put clearly before my reader’s eyes the face, figure, and character of pretty, graceful Nanni.
It is only in South Germany, particularly in Franconia, and almost exclusively in the burgher classes, that you can meet with such elegant and delicate figures, such good and pleasing angelic little faces, where there is a sweet heavenly yearning in the blue eyes and a divine smile upon the rosy lips, as Nanni’s; from them we at once see that the old painters had not far to seek the originals of their Madonnas. Of exactly the same type in figure, face, and character was the Erlangen maiden whom Master Wacht had married; and Nanni was a most faithful copy of her mother. With respect to her genuine tender womanliness and with respect to that beneficial culture which is nothing but true tact under all conditions of life, her mother was the exact counterpart of what Master Wacht was with respect to his distinguishing qualities as man. Perhaps the daughter was less serious and firm than her mother, but on the other hand she was the perfection of maidenly sweetness; and the only fault that could be found with her was that her womanly tenderness of feeling and a sensitiveness which, as a consequence of her weakened organisation, was easily provoked to a tearful and unhealthy degree, made her too delicate and fragile for the realities of life.
Master Wacht could not look at the dear child without emotion, and he loved her in a way that is seldom found in the case of strong characters like his. It is possible that he may have always spoiled her a little; and it will soon be shown in what way her tenderness so often received that special material and encouragement which made it often degenerate into sickly sentimentality.
Nanni loved to dress with extreme simplicity, but in the finest stuffs and according to cuts which rose above the limits of her station in life. Wacht, however, let her do as she liked, since when dressed according to her own taste the dear child looked so very pretty and engaging.
I must now hasten to destroy an idea which perhaps might arise in the mind of any reader who should happen to have been in Bamberg several years ago, and so would call to mind the hideous and tasteless head-dress with which at that time even the prettiest maidens were wont to disfigure their faces — the flat hood fitting close to the head and not allowing the smallest little lock of hair to be seen, a black and not over-broad ribbon crossing close over the forehead, and meeting behind low down on the neck in an outrageously ugly bow. This ribbon afterwards continued to increase in width until it reached the preposterous breadth of nearly half an ell; hence it had to be specially ordered in the manufactory and strengthened inside with stiff card-board, so that it projected above the head like a steeple-hat; just above the hollow of the neck they wore a bow, which owing to its breadth stuck out far beyond the shoulders, and resembled the outspread wings of an eagle; and along the temples and about the ears tiny curls crept out from beneath the hood. And strange to say, many a fine Bamberg beauty looked quite charming in this head-covering.
It formed a very picturesque sight to stand behind a funeral procession and watch it set itself in motion. It is the custom in Bamberg for the burghers to be invited to attend the funeral procession of a deceased person by the so-called “death-woman,” who in a croaking voice and in the name of the deceased screams out her invitation in the street, in front of the house of the persons she is inviting; as, for instance, “Herr so-and-so, or Frau so-and-so, beg you to pay them the last honours.” The good gossips and the young maidens, who in general seldom get out into the open air, fail not to put in an appearance in great numbers; and when the troop of women sets itself in motion and the wind catches the immense ends of the bows, it can be likened to nothing else but a huge flock of black ravens or eagles suddenly startled and just beginning their rustling flight.
The indulgent reader is therefore requested not to picture pretty Nanni in any other head-dress except a neat little Erlangen hood.
However objectionable it was to Master Wacht that Jonathan was to belong to a class which he hated, he did not by any means make the boy, or later the youth, feel the consequences of his displeasure. Rather he was always very pleased to see the good quiet Jonathan look in after his day’s work was done, to spend the evening with his daughters and old Barbara. But then Jonathan also wrote the finest hand that could be seen anywhere; and it afforded Master Wacht no little joy, for he was uncommonly fond of good handwriting, when his Nanni, whose writing-master Jonathan had installed himself to be, began gradually after a time to write the same elegant hand as her master.
In the evening Master Wacht himself was either busy in his own work-room, or, as was often the case, he visited a beer-house, where he met with his fellow-craftsmen and the gentlemen of the council, and in his way enlivened the company with his own rare wit. Meanwhile in the house at home Barbara busily kept her distaff on the whirl and whizz, whilst Rettel balanced the house-keeping accounts, or thought out the preparation of new and hitherto unheard-of dishes, or related again to the old woman, mingled with a good deal of loud laughter, what she had learned in confidence from her various gossips in the town.
And the youth Jonathan? He sat at the table with Nanni; and she also wrote and drew, of course under his guidance. And yet to sit writing and drawing the whole evening through is a downright tiring piece of business; hence it was no unfrequent occurrence for Jonathan to draw some neatly-bound book out of his pocket and read it to pretty, sensitive Nanni in a low softly-whispering tone.
Through old Eichheimer’s influence Jonathan had won the patronage of the minor canon, who designated Master Wacht a real Verrina. The canon, Count von Kösel, a man of genius, lived and revelled in Goethe’s and Schiller’s works, which were just at that time beginning to rise like bright streaming meteors, overtopping all others, above the horizon of the literary sky. He thought, and rightly, that he discerned a similar tendency in his attorney’s young clerk, and took a special delight not only in lending him the works in question, but in reading them in common with him, and so helping him to thoroughly digest them.
But Jonathan won his way to the Count’s heart in an especial way, because he expressed a very favourable opinion of the verses which the Count patched together out of high-sounding phrases in the sweat of his own brow, and because he was, to the Count’s unspeakable satisfaction, edified and touched by them to the proper pitch. Nevertheless it is a fact that Jonathan’s taste in æsthetic matters was really greatly improved by his intercourse with the intellectual, though somewhat euphuistic, Count.
My kind reader now knows what class of books Jonathan used to take out of his pocket and read to pretty Nanni, and can form a just conception of the way in which this kind of writings would inevitably excite a girl mentally organised as Nanni was. “O star of the gloaming eve!” Would not Nanni’s tears flow when her attractive writing-master began in this low and solemn fashion?
It is a fact of common experience that young people who are in the habit of singing tender love-duets together very easily put themselves in the places of the fictitious characters of the song, and come to look upon the duets in question as giving both the melody and the text for the whole of life; so also the youth who reads a love romance to a maiden very readily becomes the hero of the story, whilst the girl dreams herself into the role of the heroine. In the case of such fitly adapted spirits as Jonathan and Nanni such incitement as this even was not required to provoke them to love each other. They were one heart and one soul; the maiden and the youth were, so to speak, but one brightly burning flame of love, pure and inextinguishable. Of his daughter’s tender passion Father Wacht had not the slightest inkling; but he was soon to learn all.
Through unwearied industry and genuine talent Jonathan succeeded in a brief space of time in completing his legal studies and qualifying for admission to the grade of advocate; and, as a matter of fact, his admission soon followed. He intended one Sunday to surprise Master Wacht with this glad news, which established him upon a secure footing for life. But imagine how he trembled with dismay when Wacht bent his eyes upon him, blazing with anger; he had never seen him look so passionately wrathful. “What!” cried Wacht, in a tone that made the walls ring again, “what! you miserable good-for-nothing fellow! Nature has neglected your body, but richly endowed you with splendid intellectual gifts, and these you are intending to abuse in a shameless way, like a bad crafty knave, and so putting your knife at your own mother’s throat? You mean to say you are going to traffic in justice as in some cheap paltry ware in the public market, and weigh it out with false scales to the poor peasants and the oppressed burgher, who in vain utter their plaintive cries before the soft-cushioned seat of the inexorable judge, and going to get yourself paid with blood-stained pence which the poor man hands to you whilst bathed in tears? Will you fill your brains with lying laws of man’s contriving, and practise knavish tricks and schemes, and make a lucrative business of it to fatten yourself upon? Is all your father’s virtue, tell me, vanished from your heart? Your father — your name is Engelbrecht — no! when I hear you called so I will not believe that it is the name of my comrade, who was a pattern of virtue and honesty, but I must believe that it is Satan, who in the apish mockery of Hell is shouting the name across his grave, and so beguiling men to take the young lying lawyer’s cub for the real son of that excellent carpenter Gottfried Engelbrecht. Begone! you are no longer my foster-son! You are a serpent whom I will pluck from my bosom, whom I will disown”——
At this point Nanni rushed in and threw herself at Master Wacht’s feet with a piercing heart-rending cry of distress. “Father!” she cried, completely overcome by her incontrollable anguish and unbridled despair, “father, if you disown him, you will disown me also — me, your own favourite daughter; he is mine, my Jonathan; I can never, never part with him in this world.”
The poor child fell down in a swoon and struck her head against the closet-door, so that the drops of blood trickled down her delicate white forehead. Barbara and Rettel ran in and carried the insensible girl to the sofa. Jonathan stood like a statue, as if thunderstruck, incapable of the slightest movement. It would be difficult to describe the inner emotions which revealed themselves on Wacht’s countenance. His face, instead of being flushed with the redness of anger, was now pale as a corpse’s; there only remained a dark fire gleaming in his fixed set eyes; the cold perspiration of death appeared to be standing on his forehead. After gazing unchangeably before him for some minutes without speaking, he relieved his labouring breast by saying in a significant tone, “So that was it!” then he strode slowly towards the door, where he again stood still, and turning half round towards the women, cried, “Dont’ spare eau de Cologne, and this foolery will soon be over.”
Shortly afterwards the Master was seen to leave the house at a quick pace and bend his steps towards the hills. It may be conceived in what great trouble and distress the family was plunged. Rettel and Barbara could not for the life of them imagine what terrible thing had happened; but when the Master did not return to dinner, but stayed out till late at night — a thing he had never done before — they were greatly agitated with anxiety and fear. At length they heard him coming, heard him open the street-door, bang it violently to, ascend the stairs with strong firm footsteps, and lock himself in his own chamber.
Poor Nanni soon recovered herself again and wept quietly to herself. But Jonathan did not stop short of wild outbreaks of inconsolable despair, and several times spoke of shooting himself. It is a fortunate thing that pistols are articles which do not necessarily belong to the furniture of sentimental young lawyers; or at least, if they are to be found amongst their effects, they generally have no lock or else won’t go off.
After he had run through certain streets like a madman, Jonathan’s course led him instinctively to his noble patron, to whom he lamented all his unheard-of misery in outbreaks of the most violent passion. It need hardly be added, it is so self-evident a thing, that the young love-smitten advocate was, according to his own desperate assertions, the first and only individual in all the wide world whom such a terrible fate had befallen, wherefore he reproached destiny and all the powers of enmity as having conspired together against him.
The canon listened to him calmly and with a certain share of interest; but nevertheless he did not appear to appreciate the full extent of the trouble which the young lawyer imagined he felt “My dear young friend,” said the canon, taking the advocate by the hand in a friendly way, and leading him to a seat, “my dear young friend, hitherto I have looked upon our carpenter Herr Johannes Wacht as a great man in his way, but I now perceive that he is also a very great fool. Great fools are like jibbing horses; it’s hard to make them move; but once they have been got to move, they trot merrily along the way they are wanted to go. In spite of the old man’s senseless anger you ought not by any means to give up your beautiful Nanni in consequence of the unpleasant scene of today. But before proceeding to talk further about your love-affair, which is indeed very charming and romantic, let us turn to and discuss a little breakfast. It was noon when you went to old Wacht, and I don’t dine until four o’clock in Seehof.”8
A very appetising breakfast indeed was served up on the little table at which they both sat — the canon and the advocate — Bayonne hams, garnished round about with slices of Portuguese onions, a cold larded partridge of the red kind and a foreigner to boot, truffles cooked in red wine, a dish of Strasburg pâtés de foie gras, finally a plate of genuine Strachino9 and another with butter, as yellow and shining as lilies of the valley.
The indulgent reader who loves such dainty butter, and ever goes to Bamberg, will be pleased at getting there the finest and best, but will also at the same time be annoyed when he learns that the inhabitants, from mistaken notions of housekeeping, melt it down to a grease, which generally tastes rancid and spoils all the food.
Besides, good dry champagne was sending up its pearly sparkles in a beautifully-cut crystal decanter. The canon had not unloosed the napkin from his neck, but had let it stay where it was when he had received the young lawyer; and, after the footman had quickly supplied a second cover, he proceeded to place the choicest morsels before the despairing lover and to pour out wine for him; and then he set to work heartily himself. Some one once had the hardihood to maintain that the stomach is equivalent to all the other physical and intellectual parts of man put together. That is a profane and abominable doctrine; but this much is certain, that the stomach is like a despotic tyrant or ironical mystifier, and often carries through its own will. And this was the case in the present instance. For instinctively, without being clearly conscious of what he was about, the young lawyer had in a few minutes devoured a huge piece of Bayonne ham, created terrible devastation amongst the Portuguese garniture, put out of sight half a partridge, no inconsiderable quantity of trufles, and also more Strasburg pâtés than was exactly becoming in a young advocate full of trouble. Moreover, they both relished the champagne so much that the footman soon had to fill up the crystal decanter a second time.
The advocate felt a pleasant and beneficial degree of warmth penetrate his vitals, and all he experienced of his trouble was a singular sort of shiver, which exactly resembled electric shocks, causing pain but doing good. He proved himself susceptible to the consolations of his patron, who, after comfortably sipping up his last glass of wine and elegantly wiping his mouth, settled himself into position and began as follows:—
“In the first place, my dear good friend, you must not be so foolish as to imagine that you are the only man on earth to whom a father has refused the hand of his daughter. But that’s nothing to do with the present case. As I have already told you, the old fool’s reason for hating you is so preposterously absurd that it cannot last long; and whether it appear to you at this moment nonsensical or not, I can hardly bear the thought of all ending in a tame commonplace wedding, so that the whole thing may be summed up in the few words — Peter has wooed Grete,10 and Peter and Grete are man and wife.
“The situation is, however, so far new and grand in that it is merely hatred against a class to which the beloved foster-son belongs that can furnish the sole lever for setting a new and special tragic development in motion; but to the real matter at issue! You are a poet, my friend, and that alters everything. Your love, your trouble, ought to appear in your eyes as something magnificent, in the full splendours of the sacred art of poesy. You will hear the strains of the lyre struck by the muse who is nearest akin to you, and in the divine gush of inspiration you will receive the winged words in which to express your love and your unhappiness. As a poet you might be called at this moment the happiest man on the earth, since, your heart having been really wounded as deep as it can be wounded, your heart’s blood is now gushing out. You require, therefore, no artificial incitement to allure you to a poetic mood; and mark my words, this period of trouble will enable you to produce something great and admirable.
“I must draw your attention to the fact that in these first moments of your unhappiness there will be mingled with it a peculiar and very unpleasant feeling which cannot be woven into any poetry; but it is a feeling which soon vanishes away. Let me make you understand. For example, after the unfortunate lover has had a good sound drubbing from the enraged father, and has been kicked out of the house, and the outraged mamma has locked the young lady in her chamber, and repelled the attempted storming on the part of the desperate lover by the armed domestics of the house, and when plebeian fists have even entertained no shyness of the very finest cloth” (here the canon sighed somewhat), “then this fermented prose of miserable vulgarity must evaporate in order that the pure poetic unhappiness of love may settle as sediment You have been fearfully scolded, my dear young friend, this was the bitter prose that had to be surmounted; you have surmounted it, and so now give yourself up entirely to poetry. Here — here are Petrarch’s Sonnets and Ovid’s Elegies; take them, read them, write yourself, and come and read to me what you have written. Perhaps in the meantime I also may experience a disappointment in love, of which I am not altogether deprived of hopes, since I shall in all likelihood fall in love with a stranger lady who has stopped at the ‘White Lamb’ in the Steinweg,11 and whom Count Nesselstädt maintains to be a paragon of beauty and grace, albeit he has only caught a fugitive glimpse of her at the window. Then, my friend, like the Dioscuri, we will travel the same bright path of poetry and disappointed love. Note, my good fellow, what a great advantage my station in life gives me, for every affection which I conceive, being a longing and hoping which can never be gratified, rises to tragic intensity. But now, my friend, out, out, away into the woods as you ought to.”
It would doubtless be very wearisome to my kind reader, if not unbearable, were I to describe here at length, in detail and with all sorts of over-choice and exquisite words and phrases, all that Jonathan and Nanni did in their trouble. Such things may be found in any indifferent romance; and it is often amusing enough to see into what postures the struggling author throws himself, merely in order to appear original. On the other hand, it seems to be of great importance to follow Master Wacht on his walks, or rather in his mental journeyings.
It must appear very remarkable that a man of such strong self-reliant spirit as Master Wacht, who had borne with unshaken courage and unbending steadfastness the most terrible misfortunes that had befallen him, and that would have crushed many less stouthearted spirits, could be thus put beside himself with passion at an occurrence which any other father of a family would have regarded as an ordinary event and one easy to remedy, and would in fact have set about remedying it in some way or other, good or bad. Of course the indulgent reader is well aware that this behaviour of Wacht’s must be traced to some good psychological reason. The thought that poor Nanni’s love for innocent Jonathan was a misfortune which would exercise a pernicious influence upon the whole course of his subsequent life was only due to the perverse discord in Wacht’s soul. But the very fact that this discord was able to go on making itself heard in the otherwise harmonical character of this thoroughly noble man, embraced the impossibility of smothering it or reducing it completely to silence.
Wacht had made his acquaintance with the feminine character in one who possessed it in a simple but also at the same time grand and noble form. His own wife had enabled him to see into the depths of the real woman’s nature, as in a bright mirror-like lake. He saw in her the true heroine who fought with weapons that were constantly unconquerable. His orphan wife had forfeited the inheritance of an immensely rich aunt, she had forfeited the love of all her relatives, and she had opposed with unshaken courage the persistent efforts of the Church, which embittered her life with many a hard trial, when, though herself trained up in the Catholic religion, she had married the Protestant Wacht, and shortly before had gone over to this faith in Augsburg, impelled thereto by the pure enthusiasm of conviction. All this now passed through Master Wacht’s mind; and as he thought upon the sentiments he had felt when he led the maiden to the altar, the warm tears ran down his cheeks. Nanni was her mother over again; Wacht loved the child with an intensity of affection that was quite unparalleled, and this fact was of itself more than enough to make him reject as abominable, nay, as fiendishly cruel, any attempt to separate the lovers that appeared in the remotest degree to savour of violence. When, on the other hand, he reflected upon the whole course of Jonathan’s previous life, he was obliged to admit that all the virtues of a good, industrious, and modest youth could not easily be so happily united in another as they were in Jonathan, albeit his handsome expressive face bore the impress of traits which were perhaps a little too soft, and almost effeminate, and his diminutive and weak but elegant bodily frame bespoke a tender intellectual spirit. When he reflected further that the two children had always been together, and how evident had been their mutual liking for each other, he was really puzzled to understand how it was that he had not expected beforehand what had now really happened, and so could have taken precautions in time. Now it was too late.
He was urged on through the hills by a mood of mind which set his whole being in a turmoil of distraction; such a state as this he had hitherto never experienced, and he was inclined to take it for a seduction of Satan, since several thoughts arose in his mind which in the very next minute he could not help regarding as diabolical. He could not recover his self-composure, still less form any decisive plan of action. The sun was beginning to set when he reached the village of Buch;12 turning into the hotel, he ordered something good to eat and a bottle of excellent beer from the rock.13
“Ah! a very fine evening! Ah! what a remarkable occurrence to see our good Master Wacht here in beautiful Buch, on this glorious Sunday evening. To tell you the truth, I can hardly believe my eyes. Your respected family is, I presume, somewhere else in the country.” Thus was Master Wacht addressed by some one with a shrill, squeaking voice. The man who thus interrupted his meditations was no less a personage than Herr Pickard Leberfink, a decorator and gilder by trade, and one of the drollest men in the world.
Leberfink’s exterior struck everybody’s eye as something eccentric and extraordinary. He was of small size, thick and stumpy, with a body too long, and with short bowed legs; his face was not at all ugly, but good-natured, with round red little cheeks and small grey eyes that were by no means wanting in vivacity. Pursuant to an old obsolete French fashion, he was elaborately curled and powdered every day; but it was on Sundays that his costume was especially striking. For then he wore, to take one example, a striped silk coat of a lilac and canary-yellow colour with immense silver-plated buttons, a waistcoat embroidered in gay tints, satin hose of a brilliant green, white and light-blue silk stockings, delicately striped, and shining black polished shoes, upon which glittered large buckles set with precious stones. If to this we add that his gait was the elegant gait of a dancing master, that he had a certain cat-like suppleness of body, and that his little legs had a strange knack of knocking the heels together on fitting occasions — for instance, when leaping across a gutter — it could not fail but that the little decorator got himself singled out everywhere as an extraordinary creature. With other aspects of his character my kindly reader will make an acquaintance presently.
Master Wacht was not altogether displeased at having his painful meditations interrupted in this way. Herr, or better Monsieur Pickard Leberfink, decorator and gilder, was a great fop, but at the same time the most honest and faithful soul in the world; he was a very liberal-minded man, was generous to the poor, and always ready to serve his friends. He only practised his calling now and again, merely out of love for it, since he had no need of business. He was rich; his father had left him some landed property, having a magnificent rock-cellar, which was only separated from Master Wacht’s premises by a large garden. Master Wacht was fond of the droll little Leberfink on account of his downright genuineness, and also because he was a member of the small Protestant community which was permitted to exercise the rites of its faith in Bamberg. With conspicuous alacrity and willingness Leberfink accepted Wacht’s invitation to join him at his table, and drink another bottle of beer from the rock along with him. He began the conversation by saying that for a long time he had been wanting to call upon Master Wacht at his own house, since he had two things he wished to talk to him about, one of which was almost making his heart burst. Wacht made answer, he thought Leberfink knew him, and must be aware that anybody who had anything to say to him, no matter what it was, might speak out his thoughts frankly. Leberfink now imparted to the Master in confidence that the wine-dealer who owned the beautiful garden, with the massive pavilion, which lay between their two properties, had privately offered to sell it to him. He thought he recollected having heard Wacht once express a wish how very much he should like to own this garden; if now the opportunity was come to satisfy this wish, he (Leberfink) offered his services as negotiator, and expressed his willingness to settle everything for him.
It was a fact that Master Wacht had for some time entertained a desire to enlarge his property by the addition of a good garden, and especially so since Nanni was always longing for the beautiful shrubs and trees which gave out such a luxurious abundance of sweet scents in this very garden. Moreover, it seemed to him now as if Fortune were graciously smiling upon him, and just at the time when poor Nanni had experienced such bitter trouble, an opportunity for affording her pleasure should present itself so unexpectedly. The Master at once settled all the needful particulars with the obliging decorator, who promised that on the following Sunday Wacht should be able to stroll through the garden as its owner. “Come now,” cried Master Wacht, “come now, friend Leberfink, out with it — what is it that is making your heart burst?”
Then Herr Pickard Leberfink fell to sighing in the most pitiable manner; and he pulled the most extraordinary faces, and ran on with such a string of gibberish that nobody could make either head or tail of it. Master Wacht, however, knew what to make of it, for he shook his head, saying, “Ah! that may be contrived;” and he smiled to himself at the wonderful sympathy of their related spirits.
This meeting with Leberfink had certainly done Master Wacht good; he believed he had conceived a plan by virtue of which he should manage not only to stand against, but even to overcome, the severest and most terrible misfortune which, according to his infatuated way of thinking, had come upon him. The only thing that can declare the verdict of the tribunal within him is the course of action he adopted; and perhaps, kindly reader, this tribunal faltered for the first time. Here is the place to offer a brief remark, which, perhaps, would not very well lend itself for insertion later. As so frequently happens in such cases, old Barbara had interfered in the matter, and been very urgent in her accusations of the loving pair to Master Wacht, making it a special charge against them that they had always read worldly books together. The Master caused her to bring two or three of the books which Nanni had. One was a work of Goethe’s; unfortunately it is not known which work it was. After turning over the leaves, he gave it back to Barbara, that she might restore it to the place whence she had secretly taken it. Not a single word about Nanni’s reading ever escaped him; once only, when some seasonable occasion presented at dinner, did he say, “There is a remarkable mind rising up amongst us Germans; God grant him success! My days are over; such things are not for my age, nor yet for my calling; but you — Jonathan? I envy you many things that will come to light in the days to come.” Jonathan understood Wacht’s oracular words the more easily, since some days previously he had discovered by chance Götz von Berlichingen 14 lying on the Master’s work-table, half covered by other papers. Wacht’s great mind, whilst acknowledging the uncommon genius of the new writer, had also perceived the impossibility of beginning a new flight himself.
Next day poor Nanni hung her head like a sick dove. “What’s the matter with my dear child?” asked Master Wacht in the tender sympathetic tone that was so peculiarly his own, and with which he knew how to stir everybody’s heart, “what’s the matter with my dear child? are you ill? I can’t believe it. You don’t get out into the fresh air sufficiently. See here now; I have a long time been wishing you would for once in a way bring me my tea out to the workshop. Do so today; we may expect a most beautiful evening. You will come, won’t you, Nanni, my darling? You will butter me some rolls yourself — that will make them ever so good.” Therewith Master Wacht took the dear girl in his arms and stroked her brown curls back from her forehead, and he kissed her and pressed her to his heart, and tenderly caressed her — treating her, in fact, in the most affectionate way that he knew how; and he was well aware of the irresistible charm of his manner at such times. A flood of tears gushed from Nanni’s eyes, and with some difficulty all she could get out was, “Father! father!” “Well, well!” said Wacht, and a strain of embarrassment might have been detected in his voice, “all may yet turn out well.”
A week passed; naturally enough Jonathan had not shown himself, and the Master had not mentioned him with a single syllable. On Sunday, when the soup was standing smoking on the table, and the family were about to take their seats for dinner. Master Wacht asked gaily, “And where is our Jonathan?” Rettel, with a view to sparing poor Nanni, replied in an undertone, “Father, don’t you know then what’s taken place? Wouldn’t Jonathan of course be shy of showing himself here in your presence?” “Oh the monkey!” said Wacht, laughing; “let Christian run over at once and fetch him.”
It need hardly be said that the young advocate failed not to put in an appearance immediately, nor that during the first moments after his arrival a dark oppressive thunder-cloud, as it were, hovered over them all. At length, however, Master Wacht’s unconstrained good spirits, seconded by Leberfink’s droll sallies, succeeded in calling forth a tone of conversation which, if it could not be called exactly merry, yet managed to maintain the balance of concord pretty evenly. After dinner Master Wacht said, “Let us get a little fresh air and stroll out to my workyard.” And they did so.
Monsieur Pickard Leberfink deliberately kept close to Rettelchen’s side, who was a pattern of friendliness towards him, since the polite decorator had exhausted himself in praising her dishes, and had confessed that never so long as he had lived, not even when dining with the ecclesiastics in Banz,15 had he enjoyed a more delicious meal. As Master Wacht now hurried on at a quick pace right across the middle of the workyard, with a large bundle of keys in his hand, the young lawyer was unintentionally brought close to Nanni. But all that the lovers ventured upon were stolen sighs and low soft-breathed love-plaints.
Master Wacht came to a halt in front of a fine newly-made door, which had been constructed in the wall parting his workyard from the merchant’s garden. He unlocked the door and stepped in, inviting his family to follow him. They, none of them, knew exactly what to make of the old gentleman, except Herr Pickard Leberfink, who never laid aside his sly smile, or ceased his soft giggle. In the midst of the beautiful garden there was a very spacious pavilion; this too Master Wacht opened, and stepping in remained standing in its centre; from every one of its windows one obtained a different romantic view. “Yes,” said Master Wacht in a voice that bore witness to a heart well pleased with itself, “here I am in my own property; this beautiful garden is mine. I was obliged to buy it, not so much to augment my own place or increase the value of my property, no! but because I knew that a certain darling little thing longed so for these shrubs and trees, and for these beautiful sweet-smelling flower-beds.”
Then Nanni threw herself upon the old gentleman’s breast and cried, “O father! father! You will break my heart with your kindness, with your goodness; do have pity”—— “There, there, say no more,” Master Wacht interrupted his suffering child, “be a good girl, and all may be brought right in some marvellous way. You can find a great deal of comfort in this little paradise”—— “Oh! yes, yes, yes,” exclaimed Nanni in a burst of enthusiasm, “O ye trees, ye shrubs, ye flowers, ye distant hills, you beautiful fleeting evening clouds — my spirit lives wholly in you all; I shall come to myself again when your sweet voices comfort me.” Therewith Nanni ran out of the open door of the pavilion into the garden like a startled young roe; and Jonathan, the lawyer, delayed not to follow her at his fastest speed, for no power would then have been able to keep him back. Monsieur Pickard Leberfink requested permission to show Rettelchen round the new property.
Meanwhile old Wacht had beer and tobacco brought to a spot under the trees, close at the brow of the hill, whence he could look down into the valley; and there he sat in a right glad and comfortable humour, puffing the blue clouds of genuine Holland into the air. No doubt my kindly reader is wondering greatly at this frame of mind in Master Wacht, and is at a loss to explain to himself how a mood like this was at all possible to a temperament like Wacht’s. He had arrived, not so much at any determined plan as at the conviction that the Eternal Power could not possibly let him live to experience such a very terrible misfortune as that of seeing his favourite child united to a lawyer; that is, to Satan himself. “Something will happen,” he said to himself; “something must happen, by which either this unhappy affair will be broken off or Jonathan snatched from the pit of destruction. It would be rash temerity, nay, perhaps a ruinous piece of mischief, producing the exact contrary of what was wished, if with my feeble hand I were to attempt to control the fly-wheel of Destiny.”
It is hard to credit what miserable, nay, often what absurd reasons a man will hunt up in order to represent the approaching misfortune as avertable. So there were moments in which Wacht built his hopes upon the arrival of wild Sebastian, whom he pictured to himself as a stalwart young fellow in the full flush and pride of youth, just on the point of attaining to manhood, and that he would bring about a change of direction in the drifting of circumstances, and make things different from what they then were. The very common, and alas! often too true idea came into his head, that woman is too greatly impressed by strong and striking manliness not to be conquered by it at last.
When the sun began to go down, Monsieur Pickard Leberfink invited the family to go into his garden, which adjoined their own, and take a little refreshment. Beside Wacht’s new possession the noble decorator and gilder’s garden formed a most ridiculous and extraordinary contrast. Whilst almost too small in size, so that the only thing it could perhaps boast in its favour was the good height at which it was situated, it was laid out in Dutch style, the trees and hedges clipped with the shears in the most scrupulous and pedantic fashion. The slender stems of the fruit-trees standing in the flower-beds looked very pretty in their coats of light blue and rose tints, and pale yellow, and other colours. Leberfink had varnished them, and so beautified Nature. Moreover they saw in the trees the apples of the Hesperides.16
But yet several further surprises were in store. Leberfink bade the girls pluck themselves a nosegay each; but on gathering the flowers they perceived to their amazement that both stalks and leaves were gilded. It was also very remarkable that all the leaves which Rettel took into her hands were shaped like hearts.
The refreshment upon which Leberfink regaled his guests consisted of the choicest confectionery, the finest sweetmeats, and old Rhine wine and Muscatel. Rettel was quite beside herself over the confectionery, observing with special emphasis that such sweetmeats, which were for the most part splendidly silvered and gilded, were not, she knew made in Bamberg. Then Monsieur Pickard Leberfink assured her privately, with a most amorous smirk, that he himself knew a little about baking cakes and sweets, and that he was the happy maker of all these delicious dainties. Rettel almost fell upon her knees before him in reverence and astonishment; and yet the greatest surprise, was still in store for her.
In the deepening dusk Monsieur Pickard Leberfink very cleverly contrived to entice little Rettel into a small arbour. No sooner was he alone with her than he recklessly plumped himself down upon both knees in the wet grass, notwithstanding that he was wearing his brilliant green satin hose; and, amidst many strange and unintelligible sounds of distress — not very dissimilar to the midnight elegies of the tom-cat Hinz17 — he presented her with an immense nosegay of flowers, in the middle of which was the finest full-blown rose that could be found anywhere. Rettel did what everybody does who has a nosegay given to him; she raised it to her nose; but in the selfsame moment she felt a sharp prick. In her alarm she was about to throw the nosegay away. But see what charming wonder had revealed itself in the meantime! A beautifully varnished little cupid had leapt up out of the heart of the rose and was holding out a burning heart with both hands towards Rettel. From his mouth depended a small strip of paper on which were written the words, “Voilà le cœur de Monsieur Pickard Leberfink, que je vous offre” (Here I offer you the heart of Monsieur Pickard Leberfink).
“Good gracious!” exclaimed Rettel, very much alarmed. “Good gracious! what are you doing, my good Herr Leberfink? Don’t kneel down in front of me as if I were a princess. You will make marks on your beautiful satin — in the wet grass, and you will catch cold yourself; but elder tea and white sugar candy are good remedies.”
“No!” exclaimed the desperate lover —“No, O Margaret, Pickard Leberfink, who loves you with all his heart, will not rise from the wet grass until you promise to be his”—— “You want to marry me?” asked Rettel. “Well then, up you get at once. Speak to my father, darling Leberfink, and drink one or two cups of elder tea this evening.”
Why should the reader be longer wearied with Leberfink’s and Rettel’s folly? They were made for each other, and were betrothed, at which Father Wacht was right glad in his own teasing, humorous way.
A certain degree of life was introduced into Wacht’s house by Rettel’s betrothal; and even the disconsolate lovers had more freedom, since they were less observed. But something of a quite special character was to happen to put an abrupt end to this quiet and comfortable condition in which they were all living. The young lawyer seemed particularly preoccupied, and his thoughts busy with some affair or another that absorbed all his energies; his visits at Wacht’s house even began to be less frequent, and he often stayed away in the evening — a thing he had never been wont to do previously. “What can be the matter with our Jonathan? He is completely preoccupied; he’s quite another fellow from what he used to be,” said Master Wacht, although he knew very well what was the cause, or rather the event, which was exercising such a visible influence upon the young lawyer, at least to all outward appearance. To tell the truth, he looked upon this event as the dispensation of Providence through which he should perhaps escape the great misfortune by which he believed himself threatened, and which he felt would completely upset all the happiness of his life.
Some few months previously a young and unknown lady had arrived in Bamberg, and under circumstances which could only be called singular and mysterious. She was staying at the “White Lamb.” All the servants she had with her were an old grey-haired manservant and an old lady’s-maid. Very various were the opinions current about her. Many maintained she was a distinguished and immensely rich Hungarian countess, who, owing to matrimonial dissensions, was compelled to take up her residence in solitary retirement in Bamberg for a time. Others, on the contrary, set her down as an ordinary forsaken Dido, and yet others as an itinerant singer, who would soon throw off her veil of nobility and announce herself as about to give a concert — possibly she had no recommendations to the Prince-bishop. At any rate the majority were unanimous in making up their minds to regard the stranger, who, according to the statements of the few persons who had seen her, was of exceptional beauty, as an extremely ambiguous person.
It had been noticed that the stranger lady’s old man-servant had followed the young lawyer about a long time, until one day he caught him at the spring in the market-place, which is ornamented with an image of Neptune (whom the honest folk of Bamberg are generally in the habit of calling the Fork-man); and there the old man stood talking to Jonathan a long, long time. Spirits alive to all that goes forward, who can never meet anybody without asking eagerly, “Wherever has he been? Wherever is he going? Whatever is he doing?” and so on, had made out that the young advocate very often visited the beautiful unknown, in fact almost every day and at night-time, when he spent several hours with her. It was soon the talk of the town that the lawyer Jonathan Engelbrecht had got entangled in the dangerous toils of the young unknown adventuress.
It would have been, both then and always, entirely contrary to Master Wacht’s character to make use of this apparent erring conduct of the young advocate as a weapon against poor Nanni. He left it to Dame Barbara and her whole following of gossips to keep Nanni informed of all particulars; from them she would learn every item of intelligence, and that, he made no doubt, with a due amplification of all the details. The crisis of the whole affair was reached when one day the young lawyer suddenly set off on a journey along with the lady, nobody knew whither. “That’s the way frivolity goes on; the forward young gentleman will lose his business,” said the knowing ones. But this was not the case; for not a little to the astonishment of the public, old Eichheimer himself attended to his foster-son’s business with the most painstaking care; he seemed to be initiated into the secret about the lady and to approve of all the steps taken by his foster-son.
Master Wacht never spoke a word about the matter, and once when poor Nanni could no longer hide her trouble, but moaned in a low tone, her voice half-choked with tears, “Why has Jonathan left us?” Master Wacht replied in an off-handed way, “Ay, that’s just what lawyers do. Who knows what sort of an intrigue Jonathan has got entangled in with the stranger, thinking it will bring him money, and be to his advantage?” Then, however, Herr Pickard Leberfink was wont to take Jonathan’s side, and to assert that he for his part was convinced the stranger could be nothing less than a princess, who had had recourse to the already world-renowned young advocate in an extremely delicate law-suit And therewith he also unearthed so many stories about lawyers who, through especial sagacity and especial penetration and skill, had unravelled the most complicated difficulties, and brought to light the most closely hidden things, till Master Wacht begged him for goodness’ sake to hold his tongue, since he was feeling quite ill and sick; Nanni, on the contrary, derived inward comfort from all Leberfink’s remarkable stories, and she plucked up her hopes again. With her trouble, however, there was united a perceptible mixture of annoyance and anger, and particularly at the moments when it seemed to her utterly impossible that Jonathan could have been untrue to her. From this it might be inferred that Jonathan had not sought to exculpate himself, but had obstinately maintained silence about his adventure.
After some months had elapsed the young lawyer came back to Bamberg in the highest good spirits; and Master Wacht, on seeing the bright glad light in Nanni’s eyes when she looked at him, could not well do otherwise than conclude that Jonathan had fully justified his conduct to her. Doubtless it would not be disagreeable to the indulgent reader to have the history of what had taken place between the stranger lady and the young lawyer inserted here as an episodical novella.
Count Z— — a Hungarian, owner of more than a million, married from pure affection a miserably poor girl, who drew down upon her head the hatred of his family, not only because her own family was enshrouded in complete obscurity, but also because the only valuable treasures she possessed were her divine virtue, beauty, and grace. The Count promised his wife that at his death he would settle all his property upon her by will.
Once when he returned to Vienna into the arms of his wife, after having been summoned from Paris to St. Petersburg on diplomatic business, he related to her that he had been attacked by a severe illness in a little town, the name of which he had quite forgotten; there he had seized the opportunity whilst recovering from his illness to draw up a will in her favour and deposit it with the court. Some miles farther on the road he must have been seized with a new and doubly virulent attack of his grave nervous complaint, so that the name of the place where he had made his will and that of the court where he had deposited it had completely slipped his memory; moreover, he had lost the document of receipt from the court acknowledging the deposition of the testament. As so often happens in similar cases the Count postponed the making of a new will from day to day, until he was overtaken by death. Then his relatives did not neglect to lay claim to all the property he left behind him, so that the poor Countess saw her too rich inheritance melted down to the insignificant sum represented by certain valuable presents she had received from the Count, and which his relatives could not deprive her of. Many different notifications bearing upon the features of the case were found amongst the Count’s papers; but since such statements, that a will was in existence, could not take the place of the will itself, they proved not to be of the slightest advantage to the Countess. She had consulted many learned lawyers about her unfortunate situation, and had finally come to Bamberg to have recourse to old Eichheimer; but he had directed her to young Engelbrecht, who, being less busy and equipped with excellent intellectual acuteness and great love for his profession, would perhaps be able to get a clue to the unfortunate will or furnish some other circumstantial proof of its actual existence.
The young advocate set to work by requesting permission of the competent authorities to submit the Count’s papers in the castle to another searching investigation. He himself went thither along with the Countess; and in the presence of the officials of the court he found in a cupboard of nut-wood, that had hitherto escaped observation, an old portfolio, in which, though they did not find the Count’s document of receipt relating to the deposition of the will, they yet discovered a paper which could not fail to be of the utmost importance for the young advocate’s purpose. For this paper contained an accurate description of all the circumstances, even the minutest details, under which the Count had made a will in favour of his wife and deposited it in the keeping of a court. The Count’s diplomatic journey from Paris to Petersburg had brought him to Königsberg in Prussia. Here he chanced to come across some East Prussian noblemen, whom he had previously met with whilst on a visit to Italy. In spite of the express rate at which the Count was travelling, he nevertheless suffered himself to be persuaded to make a short excursion into East Prussia, particularly as the big hunts had begun, and the Count was a passionate sportsman. He named the towns Wehlau, Allenburg, Friedland, &c., as places where he had been. Then he set out to go straight forwards directly to the Russian frontier, without returning to Königsberg.
In a little town, whose wretched appearance the Count could hardly find words to describe, he was suddenly prostrated by a nervous disorder, which for several days quite deprived him of consciousness. Fortunately there was a young and right clever doctor in the place, who opposed a stout resistance to the disease, so that the Count not only recovered consciousness but also his health, so far that after a few days he was in a position to continue his journey. But his heart was oppressed with the fear that a second attack on the road might kill him, and so plunge his wife in a condition of the most straitened poverty. Not a little to his astonishment he learned from the doctor that the place, in spite of its small size and wretched appearance, was the seat of a Prussian provincial court, and that he could there have his will registered with all due formality, as soon as he could succeed in establishing his identity. This, however, was a most formidable difficulty, for who knew the Count in this district? But wonderful are the doings of Accident! Just as the Count got out of his carriage in front of the inn of the little town, there stood in the doorway a grey-haired old invalid, almost eighty years old, who dwelt in a neighbouring village and earned a living by plaiting willow baskets, and who only seldom came into the town. In his youth he had served in the Austrian army, and for fifteen successive years had been groom to the Count’s father. At the first glance he remembered his master’s son; and he and his wife acted as fully legitimated vouchers of the Count’s identity, and not to their detriment, as may well be conceived.
The young advocate at once saw that all depended upon the locality and its exact correspondence with the Count’s statements, if he wanted to glean further details and find a clue to the place where the Count had been ill and made his testament. He set off with the Countess for East Prussia. There by examination of the post-books he was desirous of making out, if possible, the route of travel pursued by the Count. But after a good deal of wasted effort, he only managed to discover that the Count had taken post-horses from Eylau to Allenburg. Beyond Allenburg every trace was lost; nevertheless he satisfied himself that the Count had certainly travelled through Prussian Lithuania, and of this he was still further convinced on finding registered at Tilsit that the Count had arrived there and departed thence by extra post. Beyond this point again all traces were lost. Accordingly it seemed to the young advocate that they must seek for the solution of the difficulty in the short stretch of country between Allenburg and Tilsit.
Quite dispirited and full of anxious care he arrived one rainy evening at the small country town of Insterburg, accompanied by the Countess. On entering the wretched apartments in the inn, he became conscious that a strange kind of expectant feeling was taking possession of him. He felt so like being at home in them, as if he had even been there before, or as if the place had been most accurately described to him. The Countess withdrew to her apartments. The young advocate tossed restlessly on his bed. When the morning sun shone in brightly through the window, his eyes fell upon the paper in one corner of the room. He noticed that a large patch of the blue colour with which the room was but lightly washed had fallen off, showing the disagreeable glaring yellow that formed the ground colour, and upon it he observed that all kinds of hideous faces in the New Zealand style had been painted to serve as pleasing arabesques. Perfectly beside himself with joy and delight, the young lawyer sprang out of bed. He was in the room in which Count Z—— had made the all-important will. The description agreed too exactly; there could not be any doubt about the matter.
But why now weary the reader with all the minor details of the things that now took place one after the other? Suffice it to say that Insterburg was then, as it still is, the seat of a Prussian superior tribunal, at that time called an Imperial Court. The young advocate at once waited upon the president with the Countess. By means of the papers which she had brought with her, and which were drawn up in due authenticated form, the Countess established her own identity in the most satisfactory manner; and the will was publicly declared to be perfectly genuine. Hence the Countess, who had left her own country in great distress and poverty, now returned in the full possession of all the rights of which a hostile destiny had attempted to deprive her.
In Nanni’s eyes the advocate appeared like a hero from heaven, who had victoriously protected deserted innocence against the wickedness of the world. Leberfink also poured out all his great admiration of the young lawyer’s acuteness and energy in exaggerated encomiums. Master Wacht, too, praised Jonathan’s industry, and this trait he emphasised; and yet the boy had really done nothing but what it was his duty to do; still he somehow fancied that things might have been managed in a much shorter way. “This event I regard,” said Jonathan, “as a star of real good fortune, which has risen upon the path of my career almost before I have started upon it The case has created a great deal of sensation. All the Hungarian magnates are excited about it. My name has become known. And what is a long way the best of all, the Countess was so liberal as to honour me with ten thousand Brabant thalers.”18
During the course of the young advocate’s narration, the muscles of Master Wacht’s face began to move in a remarkable way, till at last his countenance wore an expression of the greatest indignation. “What!” he at length shouted in a lion-like voice, whilst his eyes flashed fire —“What! did I not tell you? You have made a sale of justice. The Countess, in order to get her lawful inheritance out of the hands of her rascally relations, has had to pay money, to sacrifice to Mammon. Faugh! faugh! be ashamed of yourself.” All the sensible protestations of the young advocate, as well as of the rest of the persons who happened to be present, were not of the slightest avail. For a second it seemed as if their representations would gain a hearing, when it was stated that no one had ever given a present with more willing pleasure than the Countess had done on the sudden conclusion of her case, and that, as good Leberfink very well knew, the young advocate had only himself to blame that his honorarium had not turned out to be more in amount as well as more on a level with the magnitude of the lady’s gain; nevertheless Master Wacht stuck to his own opinion, and they heard from him in his own obstinate fashion the familiar words, “So soon as you begin to talk about justice, you and everybody else in the world ought to hold your tongues about money. It is true,” he went on more calmly after a pause, “there are several circumstances connected with this history which might very well excuse you, and yet at the same time lead you astray into base selfishness; but have the kindness to hold your tongue about the Countess, and the will, and the ten thousand thalers, if you please. I should indeed be fancying many a time that you didn’t altogether belong to your place at my table there.”
“You are very hard — very unjust towards me, father,” said the young advocate, his voice trembling with sadness. Nanni’s tears flowed quietly; Leberfink, like an experienced man of the world, hastened to turn the conversation upon the new gildings in St. Gangolph’s.19
It may readily be conceived in what strained relations the members of Wacht’s family now lived. Where was their unconstrained conversation, their bright good spirits, where their cheerfulness? A deadly vexation was slowly gnawing at Wacht’s heart, and it stood plainly written upon his countenance.
Meanwhile they received not the least scrap of intelligence from Sebastian Engelbrecht, and so the last feeble ray of hope that Master Wacht had seen glimmering appeared about to fade. Master Wacht’s foreman, Andreas by name, was a plain, honest, faithful fellow, who clung to his master with an affection that could not be matched anywhere. “Master,” said he one morning as they were measuring beams together —“Master, I can’t bear it any longer; it breaks my heart to see you suffer so. Fräulein Nanni — poor Herr Jonathan!” Quickly throwing away the measuring lines, Master Wacht stepped up to him and took him by the breast, saying, “Man, if you are able to tear out of this heart the convictions as to what is true and right which have been engraven upon it by the Eternal Power in letters of fire, then what you are thinking about may come to pass.” Andreas, who was not the man to enter upon a dispute with his master upon these sort of terms, scratched himself behind his ear, and replied with an embarrassed smirk, “Then if a certain distinguished gentleman were to pay a morning visit to the workshop, I suppose it would produce no particular effect?” Master Wacht perceived in a moment that a storm was brewing against him, and that it was in all probability being directed by Count von Kösel.
Just as the clock struck nine Nanni appeared in the workshop, followed by old Barbara with the breakfast. The Master was not well pleased to see his daughter, since it was out of rule; and he saw the programme of the concerted attack already peeping out. Nor was it long before the minor canon really made his appearance, as smart and prim and proper as a pet doll. Close at his heels followed Monsieur Pickard Leberfink, decorator and gilder, clad in all sorts of gay colours, so that he looked not unlike a spring-chafer. Wacht pretended to be highly delighted with the visit, the cause of which he at once insinuated to be that the minor canon very likely wanted to see his newest models. The truth is, Master Wacht felt very shy at the possibility of having to listen to the canon’s long-winded sermons, which he would deliver himself of uselessly if he attempted to shake his (Wacht’s) resolution with respect to Nanni and Jonathan. Accident came to his rescue; for just as the canon, the young lawyer, and the varnisher were standing together, and the first-named was beginning to approach the most intimate relations of life in the most elegantly turned phrases, fat Hans shouted out “Wood here!” and big Peter on the other side pushed the wood across to him so roughly that it caught the canon a violent blow on the shoulder and sent him reeling against Monsieur Pickard; he in his turn stumbled against the young advocate, and in a trice the whole three had disappeared. For just behind them was a huge piled-up heap of chips and saw-dust and so on. The unfortunates were buried under this heap, so that all that could be seen of them were four black legs and two buff-coloured ones; the latter were the gala stockings of Herr Pickard Leberfink, decorator and gilder. It couldn’t possibly be helped; the journeymen and apprentices burst out into a ringing peal of laughter, notwithstanding that Master Wacht bade them be still and look grave.
Of them all the canon cut the worst figure, since the saw-dust had got into the folds of his robe and even into the elegant curls which adorned his head. He fled as if upon the wings of the wind, covered with shame, and the young advocate hard after him. Monsieur Pickard Leberfink was the only one who preserved his good humour and took the thing in merry part, notwithstanding that it might be regarded as certain he would never be able to wear the buff-coloured stockings again, since the saw-dust had proved especially injurious to them and had quite destroyed the “clock.” Thus the storm which was to have been adventured against Wacht was baffled by a ridiculous incident. But the Master did not dream what terrible thing was to happen to him before the day was over.
Master Wacht had finished dinner and was just going downstairs in order to betake himself to his workyard, when he heard a loud, rough voice shouting in front of the house, “Hi, there! This is where that knavish old rascal, Carpenter Wacht, lives, isn’t it?” A voice in the street made answer, “There is no knavish old rascal living here; this is the house of our respected fellow-citizen Herr Johannes Wacht, the carpenter.” In the same moment the street-door was forced open with a violent bang, and a big strong fellow of wild appearance stood before the master. His black hair stuck up like bristles through his ragged soldier’s cap, and in scores of places his tattered tunic was unable to conceal his loathsome skin, browned with filth and exposure to rough weather. The fellow wore soldier’s shoes on his feet, and the blue weals on his ankles showed the traces of the chains he had been fettered with. “Ho, ho!” cried the fellow, “I bet you don’t know me. You don’t know Sebastian Engelbrecht, whom you’ve cheated out of his property — not you.” With all the imposing dignity of his majestic form, Master Wacht took a step towards the man, mechanically advancing the cane he held in his hand. Then the wild fellow seemed to be almost thunderstruck; he recoiled a few paces, and then raised his doubled fists shouting, “Ho, ho! I know where my property is, and I’ll go and help myself to it, in spite of you, you old sinner.” And he ran off down the Kaulberg like an arrow from a bow, followed by the crowd.
Master Wacht stood in the passage like a statue for several seconds. But when Nanni cried in alarm, “Good heavens! father, that was Sebastian,” he went into the room, more reeling than walking, and sank down exhausted in an arm-chair; then, holding both hands before his face, he cried in a heart-rending voice, “By the eternal mercy of God, that is Sebastian Engelbrecht.”
There arose a tumult in the street, the crowd poured down the Kaulberg, and voices in the far distance could be heard shouting “Murder! murder!” A prey to the most terrible apprehensions, the Master, ran down to Jonathan’s dwelling, situated immediately at the foot of the Kaulberg. A dense mass of people were pushing and crowding together in front of him; in their midst he perceived Sebastian struggling like a wild animal against the watch, who had just thrown him upon the ground, where they overpowered him and bound him hand and foot, and led him away. “O God! O God! Sebastian has slain his brother,” lamented the people, who came crowding out of the house. Master Wacht forced his way through and found poor Jonathan in the hands of the doctors, who were exerting themselves to call him back to life. As he had received three powerful blows upon the head, dealt with all the strength of a strong man, the worst was to be feared.
As generally happens under such circumstances, Nanni learnt immediately the whole history of the affair from her kind-hearted friends, and at once rushed off to her lover’s dwelling, where she arrived just as the young lawyer, thanks to the lavish use of naphtha, opened his eyes again, and the doctors were talking about trepanning. What further took place may be conceived. Nanni was inconsolable; Rettel, notwithstanding her betrothal, was sunk in grief; and Monsieur Pickard Leberfink exclaimed, whilst tears of sorrow ran down his cheeks, “God be merciful to the man upon whose pate a carpenter’s fist falls.” The loss of young Herr Jonathan would be irreparable. At any rate the varnish on his coffin should be of unsurpassed brightness and blackness; and the silvering of the skulls and other nice ornaments should baffle all comparison.
It appeared that Sebastian had escaped out of the hands of a troop of Bavarian soldiers, whilst they were conducting a band of vagabonds through the district of Bamberg, and he had found his way into the town in order to carry out a mad project which he had for a long time been brooding over in his mind. His career was not that of an abandoned, vicious criminal; it afforded rather an example of those supremely frivolous-minded men, who, despite the very admirable qualities with which Nature has endowed them, give way to every temptation to evil, and finally sinking to the lowest depths of vice, perish in shame and misery. In Saxony he had fallen into the hands of a petti-fogging lawyer, who had made him believe that Master Wacht, when sending him his patrimonial inheritance, had paid him very much short, and kept back the remainder for the benefit of his brother Jonathan, to whom he had promised to give his favourite daughter Nanni to wife. Very likely the old deceiver had concocted this story out of various utterances of Sebastian himself. The kindly reader already knows by what violent means Sebastian set to work to secure his own rights. Immediately after leaving Master Wacht he had burst into Jonathan’s room, where the latter happened to be sitting at his study table, ordering some accounts and counting the piles of money which lay heaped up before him. His clerk sat in the other corner of the room. “Ah! you villain!” screamed Sebastian in a fury, “there you are sitting over your mammon. Are you counting what you have robbed me of? Give me here what yon old rascal has stolen from me and bestowed upon you. You poor, weak thing! You greedy clutching devil — you!” And when Sebastian strode close up to him, Jonathan instinctively stretched out both hands to ward him off, crying aloud, “Brother! for God’s sake, brother!” But Sebastian replied by dealing him several stunning blows on the head with his double fist, so that Jonathan sank down fainting. Sebastian hastily seized upon some of the rolls of gold and was making off with them — in which naturally enough he did not succeed.
Fortunately it turned out that none of Jonathan’s wounds, which outwardly wore the appearance of large bumps, had occasioned any serious concussion of the brain, and hence none of them could be esteemed as likely to prove dangerous. After a lapse of two months, when Sebastian was taken away to the convict prison, where he was to atone for his attempt at murder by a heavy punishment, the young lawyer felt himself quite well again.
This terrible occurrence exerted such a shattering effect upon Master Wacht that a consuming surly peevishness was the consequence of it. This time the stout strong oak was shaken from its topmost branch to its deepest root. Often when his mind was thought to be busy with quite different matters, he was heard to murmur in a low tone, “Sebastian — a fratricide! That’s how you reward me?” and then he seemed to come to himself like one awakening out of a nasty dream. The only thing that kept him from breaking down was the hardest and most assiduous labour. But who can fathom the unsearchable depths in which the secret links of feeling are so strangely forged together as they were in Master Wacht’s soul? His abhorrence of Sebastian and his wicked deed faded out of his mind, whilst the picture of his own life, ruined by Jonathan’s love for Nanni, deepened in colour and vividness as the days went by. This frame of mind Master Wacht betrayed in many short exclamations —“So then your brother is condemned to hard labour and to work in chains! — That’s where he has been brought by his attempted crime against you — It’s a fine thing for a brother to be the cause of making his own brother a convict — shouldn’t like to be in the first brother’s place — but lawyers think differently; they want justice, that is, they want to play with a lay figure and dress it up and give it whatever name they please.”
Such like bitter, and even incomprehensible reproaches, the young advocate was obliged to hear from Master Wacht, and to hear them only too often. Any attempt at rebutting these charges would have been fruitless. Accordingly Jonathan made no reply; only often when his heart was almost distracted by the old man’s fatal delusion, which was ruining all his happiness, he broke out in his exceeding great pain, “Father, father, you are unjust towards me, exasperatingly unjust.”
One day when the family were assembled at the decorator Leberfink’s, and Jonathan also was present, Master Wacht began to tell how somebody had been saying that Sebastian Engelbrecht, although apprehended as a criminal, could yet make good by action at law his claim against Master Wacht, who had been his guardian. Then, smiling venomously and turning to Jonathan, he went on, “That would be a pretty case for a young advocate. I thought you might take up the suit; you might play a part in it yourself; perhaps I have cheated you as well?” This made the young lawyer start to his feet; his eyes flashed, his bosom heaved; he seemed all of a sudden to be quite a different man; stretching his hand towards Heaven he cried, “No, you shall no longer be my father; you must be insane to sacrifice without scruple the peace and happiness of the most loving of children to a ridiculous prejudice. You will never see me again; I will go and at once accept the offer which the American consul made to me today; I will go to America.” “Yes,” replied Wacht filled with rage and anger, “ay, away out of my eyes, brother of the fratricide, who’ve sold your soul to Satan.” Casting upon Nanni, who was half fainting, a look full of hopeless love and anguish and despair, the young advocate hurriedly left the garden.
It was remarked earlier in the course of this story when the young lawyer threatened to shoot himself à la Werther,20 what a good thing it was that the indispensable pistol was in very many cases not within reach. And here it will be just as useful to remark that the young advocate was not able, to his own good be it said, to embark there and then on the Regnitz and sail straight away to Philadelphia. Hence it was that his threat to leave Bamberg and his darling Nanni for ever remained still unfulfilled, even when at last, after two years more had elapsed, the wedding-day of Herr Leberfink, decorator and gilder, was come. Leberfink would have been inconsolable at this unjust postponement of his happiness, although the delay was almost a matter of necessity after the terrible events which had fallen blow after blow in Wacht’s house, had it not afforded him an opportunity to decorate over again in deep red and appropriate gold the ornamental work in his parlour, which had before been gay with nice light-blue and silver, for he had picked up from Rettelchen that a red table, red chairs, and so on, would be more in accordance with her taste.
When the happy decorator insisted upon seeing the young lawyer at his wedding. Master Wacht had not offered a moment’s opposition; and the young lawyer — he was pleased to come. It may be imagined with what feelings the two young people saw each other again, for since that terrible moment when Jonathan had left the garden they had literally not set eyes upon each other. The assembly was large; but not a single person with whom they were on a friendly footing fathomed their pain.
Just as they were on the point of setting out for church. Master Wacht received a thick letter; he had read no more than a few lines when he became violently agitated and rushed off out of the room, not a little to the consternation of the rest, who at once suspected some fresh misfortune. Shortly afterwards Master Wacht called the young advocate out. When they were alone together in the Master’s own room, the latter, vainly endeavouring to conceal his excessive agitation, began, “I’ve got the most extraordinary news of your brother; here is a letter from the governor of the prison relating fully all the circumstances of what has taken place. As you cannot know them all, I must begin at the beginning and tell you everything right to the end so as to make credible to you what is incredible; but time presses.” So saying, Master Wacht fixed a keen glance upon the advocate’s face, so that he blushed and cast down his eyes in confusion. “Yes, yes,” went on Master Wacht, raising his voice, “you don’t know how great a remorse took possession of your brother a very few hours after he was put in prison; there is hardly anybody whose heart has been more torn by it. You don’t know how his attempt at murder and theft has prostrated him. You don’t know how that in mad despair he prayed Heaven day and night either to kill him or to save him that he might henceforth by the exercise of the strictest virtue wash himself pure from bloodguiltiness. You don’t know how that on the occasion of building a large wing to the prison, in which the convicts were employed as labourers, your brother so distinguished himself as a clever and well-instructed carpenter that he soon filled the post of foreman of the workmen, without anybody’s noticing how it came about so. You don’t know how his quiet good behaviour, and his modesty, combined with the decision of his regenerate mind, made everybody his friend. All this you do not know, and so I am telling it you. But to go on. The Prince-bishop has pardoned your brother; he has become a master. But how could all this be done without a supply of money?” “I know,” said the young advocate in a low voice, “I know that you, my good father, have sent money to the prison authorities every month, in order that they might keep my brother separate from the other prisoners and find him better accommodation and better food. Later on you sent him materials for his trade”—— Then Master Wacht stepped close up to the young advocate, took him by both arms, and said in a voice that vacillated in a way that cannot be described between delight, sadness, and pain, “But would that alone have helped Sebastian to honour again, to freedom, and his civil rights, and to property, however strongly his fundamental virtuous qualities had sprung up again? An unknown philanthropist, who must take an especially warm interest in Sebastian’s fate, has deposited ten thousand ‘large’ thalers with the court, to”—— Master Wacht could not speak any further owing to his violent emotion; he drew the young advocate impetuously to his heart, crying, though he could only get out his words with difficulty, “Advocate, help me to penetrate to the deep import of law such as lives in your breast, and that I may stand before the Eternal Bar of justice as you will one day stand before it. — And yet,” he continued after a pause of some seconds, releasing the young lawyer, “and yet, my dear Jonathan, if Sebastian now comes back as a good and industrious citizen and reminds me of my pledged word, and Nanni”—— “Then I will bear my trouble till it kills me,” said the young advocate; “I will flee to America.” “Stay here,” cried Master Wacht in an enthusiastic burst of joy and delight, “stay here, son of my heart! Sebastian is going to marry a girl whom he formerly deceived and deserted. Nanni is yours.”
Once more the Master threw his arms around Jonathan’s neck, saying, “My lad, I feel like a schoolboy before you, and should like to beg your pardon for all the blame I have put upon you, and all the injustice I have done you. But let us say no more; other people are waiting for us.” Therewith Master Wacht took hold of the young lawyer and pulled him along into the room where the wedding guests were assembled; there he placed himself and Jonathan in the midst of the company, and said, raising his voice and speaking in a solemn tone, “Before we proceed to celebrate the sacred rite I invite you all, my honest friends, ladies and gentlemen, and you too, my virtuous maidens and young men, six weeks hence to a similar festival in my house; for here I introduce to you Herr Jonathan Engelbrecht, the advocate, to whom I herewith solemnly betroth my youngest daughter, Nanni.” The lovers sank into each other’s arms. A breath of the profoundest astonishment passed over the whole assembly; but good old Andreas, holding his little three-cornered carpenter’s cap before his breast, said softly, “A man’s heart is a wonderful thing; but true, honest faith overcomes the base and even sinful resoluteness of a hardened spirit; and all things turn out at last for the best, just as the good God wishes them to do.”
1 See Footnote 19 above, for “Master Martin, The Cooper.”
2 The stern inexorable Republican patriot, who kills even his friend Fiesco when the latter refuses to throw aside the purple dignity he had assumed. See Schiller’s Fiesko, act v., last scene (cf. I. 10–13; III. 1).
3 A long hilly street in Bamberg.
4 Pet name for Johannes, the name of Wacht’s son.
5 Rettel and Rettelchen (little Rettel) are pet names for Margaret.
6 The anniversary of the consecration of the church is made the occasion of a great and general festive holiday in many parts of Germany, particularly in the south.
7 “Noodles” are long strips of rolled-out paste, made up and cooked in various ways.
8 Seehof or Marquardsburg, situated to the north-east of Bamberg, was formerly a bishop’s castle, and was rebuilt by Marquard Sebastian Schenk of Stauffenberg in 1688.
9 Stracchino, a kind of cheese made in North Italy, especially in Brescia, Milan, and Bergamo.
10 A pet name for Gretchen (Margaret), frequently used also as equivalent to “sweetheart,” “lass,” just as we might say, “Every Johnny has his Jeannie.”
11 A long winding suburb of Bamberg.
12 Or Bug, as it is generally spelled, a pleasure resort on the Regnitz, about half an hour distant from Bamberg. Hoffmann was in the habit of visiting it almost daily when he lived at Bamberg.
13 In the days before ice was preserved on such an extensive scale by the German brewers as it is at the present time, beer was kept in excavations in rock, wherever a suitable place could be found; this made it deliciously cool and fresh.
14 Goethe’s well-known work.
15 A once rich and celebrated Benedictine abbey between Bamberg and Coburg, founded in the eleventh century, and frequently destroyed and sacked in war.
16 That is, they were golden, or gilded.
17 Hinze is Tieck’s Gestiefelter Kater (Puss in Boots). The reference is perhaps to act ii. scene 2, where Hinze goes out to catch rabbits, &c., and hears the nightingale singing, the humour of the scene lying in the quick alternation of the human poetic sentiments and the native instincts of the cat.
18 So named from the place where they were struck. See note, p. 281, Vol. I., viz. — Imperial thalers varied in value at different times, but estimating their value at three shillings, the sum here mentioned would be equivalent to about £22,500. A Frederick d’or was a gold coin worth five thalers.
19 A church situated at the beginning of the Steinweg.
20 It need scarcely be said this refers to the excessively sentimental hero of Goethe’s Leiden des jungen Werthers.
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