“Zat was a terrible time, Nicolinka,” continued Karl Ivanitch, “ze time of Napoleon. He vanted to conquer Germany, ant we protected our Vaterland to ze last trop of plot. Me vere at Ulm, me vere at Austerlitz, me vere at Wagram.”
“Did you really fight?” I asked with a gaze of astonishment “Did you really kill anybody?”
Karl instantly reassured me on this point,
“Vonce one French grenadier was left behint, ant fell to ze grount. I sprang forvarts wis my gon, ant vere about to kill him, aber der Franzose warf sein Gewehr hin und rief, ‘Pardon’— ant I let him loose.
“At Wagram, Napoleon cut us open, ant surrountet us in such a way as zere vas no helping. Sree days hat we no provisions, ant stoot in ze vater op to ze knees. Ze evil Napoleon neiser let us go loose nor catchet us.
“On ze fours day zey took us prisoners — zank Got! ant sent us to one fortress. Upon me vas one blue trousers, uniforms of very goot clos, fifteen of Thalers, ant one silver clock which my Vater hat given me, Ze Frans Soldaten took from me everysing. For my happiness zere vas sree tucats on me which my Mamma hat sewn in my shirt of flannel. Nopoty fount zem.
“I liket not long to stay in ze fortresses, ant resoluted to ron away. Von day, von pig holitay, says I to the sergeant which hat to look after us, ‘Mister Sergeant, to-day is a pig holitay, ant me vants to celeprate it. Pring here, if you please, two pottle Mateira, ant we shall trink zem wis each oser.’ Ant ze sergeant says, ‘Goot!’ Ven ze sergeant pring ze Mateira ant we trink it out to ze last trop, I taket his hant ant says, ‘Mister Sergeant, perhaps you have still one Vater and one Mutter?’ He says, ‘So I have, Mister Mayer.’ ‘My Vater ant Mutter not seen me eight year,’ I goes on to him, ‘ant zey know not if I am yet alive or if my bones be reposing in ze grave. Oh, Mister Sergeant, I have two tucats which is in my shirt of flannel. Take zem, ant let me loose! You will pe my penefactor, ant my Mutter will be praying for you all her life to ze Almighty Got!’
“Ze sergeant emptiet his glass of Mateira, ant says, ‘Mister Mayer, I loaf and pity you very much, pot you is one prisoner, ant I one soldat.’ So I take his hant ant says, ‘Mister Sergeant!’
“Ant ze sergeant says, ‘You is one poor man, ant I will not take your money, pot I will help you. Ven I go to sleep, puy one pail of pranty for ze Soldaten, ant zey will sleep. Me will not look after you.’ Sis was one goot man. I puyet ze pail of pranty, ant ven ze Soldaten was trunken me tresset in one olt coat, ant gang in silence out of ze doon.
“I go to ze wall, ant will leap down, pot zere is vater pelow, ant I will not spoil my last tressing, so I go to ze gate.
“Ze sentry go up and town wis one gon, ant look at me. ‘Who goes zere? ‘ ant I was silent. ‘Who goes zere ze second time?’ ant I was silent. ‘ Who goes zere ze third time? ‘ ant I ron away, I sprang in ze vater, climp op to ze oser site, ant walk on.
“Ze entire night I ron on ze vay, pot ven taylight came I was afrait zat zey woult catch me, ant I hit myself in ze high corn. Zere I kneelet town, zanket ze Vater in Heaven for my safety, ant fall asleep wis a tranquil feeling.
“I wakenet op in ze evening, ant gang furser. At once one large German carriage, wis two raven-black horse, came alongside me. In ze carriage sit one well-tresset man, smoking pipe, ant look at me. I go slowly, so zat ze carriage shall have time to pass me, pot I go slowly, ant ze carriage go slowly, ant ze man look at me. I go quick, ant ze carriage go quick, ant ze man stop its two horses, ant look at me. ‘Young man,’ says he, ‘where go you so late?’ I says, ‘I go to Frankfort.’ ‘Sit in ze carriage — zere is room enough, ant I will trag you,’ he says. ‘Bot why have you nosing about you? Your boots is dirty, ant your beart not shaven.’ I seated wis him, ant says, ‘lch bin one poor man, ant I would like to pusy myself wis somesing in a manufactory. My tressing is dirty because I fell in ze mud on ze roat.’
“‘You tell me ontruse, young man,’ says he. ‘Ze roat is kvite dry now.’ I was silent. ‘Tell me ze whole truse,’ goes on ze goot man —‘who you are, ant vere you go to? I like your face, ant ven you is one honest man, so I will help you.’ Ant I tell all.
“‘Goot, young man!’ he says. ‘Come to my manufactory of rope, ant I will give you work ant tress ant money, ant you can live wis os.’ I says, ‘Goot!’
“I go to ze manufactory of rope, ant ze goot man says to his voman, ‘Here is one yong man who defented his Vaterland, ant ron away from prisons. He has not house nor tresses nor preat. He will live wis os. Give him clean linen, ant norish him.’
“I livet one ant a half year in ze manufactory of rope, ant my lantlort loaft me so much zat he would not let me loose. Ant I felt very goot.
“I were zen handsome man — yong, of pig stature, with blue eyes and romische nose — ant Missis L— (I like not to say her name — she was ze voman of my lantlort) was yong ant handsome laty. Ant she fell in loaf wis me.”
Here Karl Ivanitch made a long pause, lowered his kindly blue eyes, shook his head quietly, and smiled as people always do under the influence of a pleasing recollection.
“Yes,” he resumed as he leant back in his arm-chair and adjusted his dressing-gown, “I have experiencet many sings in my life, pot zere is my witness,”— here he pointed to an image of the Saviour, embroidered on wool, which was hanging over his bed —“zat nopoty in ze worlt can say zat Karl Ivanitch has been one dishonest man, I would not repay black ingratitude for ze goot which Mister L— dit me, ant I resoluted to ron away. So in ze evening, ven all were asleep, I writet one letter to my lantlort, ant laid it on ze table in his room. Zen I taket my tresses, tree Thaler of money, ant go mysteriously into ze street. Nopoty have seen me, ant I go on ze roat.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14