CHAPTER I. - On midsummer-day 1829, a man was seated in an arbour in a desolate garden, plunged in sad reverie.

On midsummer-day 1829, a man was seated in an arbour in a desolate garden, plunged in sad reverie. The land to which the garden belonged was a leasehold, situated on the river Peen, between Anklam and Demmin, and the man who was seated in the cool, shady arbour was the tenant farmer — that is to say; that is what he had been, for he was now bankrupt, and an auction was going on in his yard, and all his goods and chattels were being scattered to the four winds.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man of forty-four years of age, with hair of a dusky blond colour. All that work can do for a man had been done for this man, and a better than he could nowhere be found. "Work," said his honest face: and "work" said his honest hands, which were now folded on his knee as if in prayer.

Yes, in prayer! No one in all Pomerania had so much need of a little talk with his God as this man. Tis a hard blow for any one when he sees the household goods which he has brought together with the labour of his hands and the sweat of his brow scattered over the wide world. 'Tis a hard blow for a farmer when he is obliged to let the cattle he has reared with pain and trouble, pass into the hands of strangers, who know nothing of the struggles that have filled his life; but it was neither of these things that was lying so heavily on his soul just now, it was another grievous sorrow that made him fold his hands, and raise his eyes to heaven.

He had been a widower for one day only. His wife lay upon her last bed — his wife! For ten long years he had been engaged to her; for ten years he had toiled and laboured and done all that man could do to provide a fitting home for her. His deep faithful love for his promised wife filled his heart with tender music, such as the Whitsun bells ring out over the green fields and blossoming trees. Four years ago he had attained the end for which he had striven, had scraped together enough money to set up house. An acquaintance of his who had inherited two farms from his parents, let one of them to him at a high rent; a very high rent; he knew that, none better; but love gives a man courage, that kind of courage which conquers difficulties. All would have gone well with him, if his good little wife had not got up so early in the morning, and worked so hard, and if she had not come to have that burning red spot on each cheek. All would have gone well with him, if his landlord, instead of being a mere acquaintance, had been a friend — and he was not that, for it was because of him that the auction was going on in the farm-yard to-day.

Friend? — A man like that one who is sitting in the oak arbour can have no friends? He had truehearted friends, but they could not help him, they had nothing to give or lend. Wherever he looked, it seemed to him as though he were surrounded by a high wall which hemmed him in and stifled him, and so he cried with all his strength to God to save him in his sore distress. A linnet and a chaffinch were singing in the oak-boughs above his head, their feathers shining in the sun, the flowers in the neglected garden scattered their fragrance all around, and the oak-trees cast their cool shadow over him. If two lovers had been sitting there, they would never have forgotten the place and how it looked all their lives long.

And had he not sat in that shady bower with a gentle hand clasped within his own? Had not the birds sung as cheerily, and was not the perfume of the flowers as sweet then as now? Had he not dreamt of sitting on that very seat in his old age, and while immersed in that dream of the future — who was it who had brought him a cool draught to refresh him after his hard day's work? Who was it who had shared the toil and care of his daily life, and had encouraged him by her sympathy?

Gone — all gone! — Everything he had was to be sold, and the gentle loving hand he had held in his own was stiff and cold. Then the man felt as if the birds no longer sang their glad songs for him, as if the flowers no longer grew for him in their sweetness and beauty, and as if the glorious sun no longer shone for him, although his poor overcharged heart still went on beating as strongly as before; and so he stretched out his hands beyond birds and flowers, and even the golden sun, to the divine Comforter, who better than any earthly joy can soothe the wounded heart.

Hawermann sat thus in silent prayer, his hands clasped, and his brave blue eyes, in which a wondrous light was shining as though from God's own sun, raised to heaven, when a little girl came up to him and laid a daisy on his knee. He drew the child, — she was his only one — closer to him, and rising, took her in his arms. His eyes were full of tears as he walked down the garden-path carrying his little girl and holding the daisy she had given him in his hand.

He came to a young tree that he himself had planted; the straw rope by which it was fastened to the pronged stick that supported it had become loose, and the young tree was leaning all on one side. He straightened it and fastened it again to its prop, scarcely conscious of what he was doing, for his thoughts were far away, but it was his nature to give help wherever it was wanted.

When a man is lost in thought, even though that thought may have led him up to the blue heavens, if any little bit of his daily work should happen to fall under his notice, he takes up the wonted task involuntarily, and does what may be required at the moment, and so he is wakened out of his reverie, and reminded of what is lying close at hand and ought to be done, and that it is so is a great gift of God.

Hawermann walked up and down the garden, his eyes saw what was round about him, and his thoughts returned to earth once more. Though the sky of his future life was heavy with black, stormy clouds, still there was one little scrap of blue that the clouds could not overcast, and that was the thought of his little girl whom he was carrying in his arms, and whose small childish hand was playing with his hair.

He left the garden and entered the farm-yard. — And what was going on there? — Indifferent strangers were pressing up to the table where the auctioneer was selling off the farmer's effects, each thinking only of the bargains he wished to make. One after another all of Hawermann's possessions were knocked down to the highest bidder. Those things that he had collected bit by bit with toil and trouble to furnish his house, were now being scattered abroad amid the jokes and laughter of all present. Even the old things were going — that cupboard had belonged to his old mother; that chest of drawers his wife had brought home with her when she was married; he had given her that little work-table when he was engaged to her. — His cows were tied in a long line and were lowing to be taken to the pasture-field. The brown heifer his wife had reared from a calf, and which had always been her pet, was standing amongst them. He went up to it, and passed his hand caressingly down its back. "Sir," said Niemann, the head-ploughman, "this is very sad." — "Yes, Niemann, it is sad, but it can't be helped," he answered, turning away and mingling in the crowd round the auction-table.

As soon as the people saw that he wanted to get to the table they made room for him courteously and kindly. He asked the auctioneer if he might speak to him for a moment: "Immediately, Mr. Hawermann," was the reply, "in one moment, I've just finished with the household things, then . . . . . . . a chest of drawers! six and two-pence! three-pence! six and four-pence! going! going! — six and four-pence! — No one else bid anything? — Going! going! gone!" — "Whose is it?" — "Tailor Brandt's," was the answer.

Just at this moment some farmers rode into the yard, probably to look at the cattle which were now about to be sold. Foremost amongst them was a stout red-faced man, whose fat face was made even broader than it was by nature, by the insolent expression that it wore. Men of this species are often to be met with, but what distinguished this man from the rest of his type were the small cunning eyes that peeped out over his fat cheeks, and which seemed to say: It's all thanks to us that you are so well up in the world, we know how to manage. The owner of these eyes was also the owner of the farm of which Hawermann was tenant. He rode right in amongst the crowd, and when he saw his unhappy tenant standing among the other people, he was at once struck with terror lest he should not get his full rent, and the cunning little eyes that knew so well how to manage things for their own advantage said to the insolence that found its home on his mouth and in his expression: Up brother, now's the time to make yourself as big as possible, for it'll cost you nothing! Then forcing his horse closer to Hawermann, he called out in a loud voice so that every one might hear: "Ha ha! These are the clever Mecklenburgers, who think they can teach us how to farm properly! And what have they taught us? They've taught us to drink red wine and cheat at cards, but as for farming! — they can teach us better how to become bankrupt."

There was deep silence during this hard speech. Everyone looked first at the speaker, and then at the man whom he had addressed. Hawermann had started on hearing the voice and the words as though some one had plunged a knife into his heart, and now he stood gazing silently on the ground at his feet, not caring to defend himself, but a murmur arose among the people, and a cry of: "ss — ss — for shame! This man drank no red wine, he never cheated at cards — and his farming was most excellent!" — "Who's the great gaby that was talking such nonsense?" asked old Drenkhahn of Liepen, pressing closer with his heavy thorn-stick in his hand. — "It's the man whose labourers go about amongst us begging," cried lame Smidt. — "They hav'n't money to buy a coat for their backs," cried Brandt, the tailor from Jarmen, "and have to wear their Sunday clothes when they are working in the fields." — "Yes," laughed the smith, "it's the man who was so glad to see his labourers wearing such grand cloth coats when they were at work, and they only did it because they couldn't afford to buy smockfrocks, you know!"*)

*) Translator’s note. The feudal-system was kept up longer in Mecklenburg than elsewhere, the peasantry belonged to the estate, and always continued to work on it. A Mecklenburg squire often beat his labourers when he was angry with them.

The auctioneer came up to the landlord, who was listening to all these remarks with perfect indifference, and asked him: "How could you say that, Mr. Pomuchelskopp, how could you?" — "Yes," said one of the men who had come with him, "these people are right, you should be ashamed of yourself for having aimed another blow at a man who is selling everything he has honestly, that he may meet and pay off all his debts." — "Ah," said the auctioneer, "if that were all. Mr. Hawermann's wife died yesterday, and is lying upstairs on her last bed, and so he is left alone in the world with a little girl, and w/iaf prospects?" — "I didn't know that," muttered Pomuchelskopp sullenly. The murmur of disapprobation now spread from the crowd to the landlord's companions, and in a few moments more, Mr. Pomuchelskopp was left alone, all the men who had accompanied him having ridden away to the other side of the yard.

The auctioneer now approached Hawermann and said: "You wanted to speak to me Mr. Hawermann?" — "Yes — yes," replied the farmer slowly, he seemed to be coming to himself again like a martyr when he has been removed from the rack. "I wished to ask you if you will also sell the few things that remain to me by law, at the auction. I mean the bed and the other things." — "With pleasure, but the furniture has sold badly, the people have no money, and if you really want to sell those things, it would be better to do so by private bargain." — "I hav'n't time for that, and I'm badly in want of the money." — "Well if you really wish it, I'll manage it for you," and then the auctioneer went about his business again.

"Hawermann," said farmer Grot, who was one of the people that had come on horseback, "you are so lonely here in your sorrow, do bring your little girl and come and pay me a visit, my wife will be so glad " — "Thank you heartily for your kindness, but I can't accept your invitation, I have something to do here." — "You mean your dear wife's funeral, Hawermann," said farmer Hartmann, "when is it to be? We will all be glad to do her the last honours." — "Thank you, thank you, but that cannot be, it wouldn't be fitting, and I've just learnt that one oughtn't to stretch one's foot further than one's own roof will cover." —"Old friend, dear old neighbour and fellow-countryman," said Wienk, the farm-bailiff, laying his hand on his shoulder, "don't despair, things will get better." — ''Despair! Wienk," said Hawermann earnestly, and pressing his child closer in his arms he looked calmly at the farm-bailiff with his honest blue eyes, and continued: "Is it despair when one looks one's future full in the face, and tries to find the best way of getting out of one's difficulties? I can't remain here, no one could stay in a place where his ship had run aground. I must live in another man's house. I must begin at the beginning again, and do as I did before. I must take service once more, and so earn my daily bread. And now good-bye all of you. You've been kind friends and neighbours to me. Good-bye — good-bye. Shake hands, Louie. Remember me to all at home. My wife . . . " — He was going to have said something more, but could not get out the words, so he turned quickly and hastened away.

"Niemann," he said to his head-ploughman whom he met at the other end of the yard, "tell the rest of my people that my wife's funeral will be at four o'clock to-morrow morning. Then he entered the house and went into his bed-room. Everything had been taken away, even his bed and the few small articles of furniture which had been left to him; nothing remained but the four bare walls. Except that there was an old chest in the corner near the window, on which the young wife of one of the labourers was seated, her eyes red with weeping, and in the middle of the room was a black coffin in which a pale, still, solemn figure was lying, and the young woman had a green branch in her hand, with which she fanned away the flies from the quiet face. "Stina," said Hawermann, "you may go now, I will remain here." — "Oh, Sir, let me stay." — "No, Stina, I shall remain here all night." — "Then, shall I take the little one home with me?" — "No, leave her, she'll go to sleep." — The young woman left the room. After a time the auctioneer brought Hawermann the money for his things, and then everyone left the yard, and all was as still and quiet without as within. He put the child down, and counted the money on the window sill: "so much for the carpenter for making the coffin; so much for the cross on the grave; so much for the burial fee; so much for Stina, and with what remains I can make my way to my sister's house." — It grew dark, the young woman brought in a candle, and placed it beside the coffin, and gazed long in the pale face of her dead mistress, then drying her eyes with her apron, she said: "Good night," and Hawermann was once more alone with his child.

He opened the window, and looked out into the night; it was dark for the time of year, no star was to be seen, the sky was covered with black clouds, and the light breeze that sighed in the distance was warm and fragrant. The quails were calling in the meadow, and a corncrake was sounding its rain signal, and the first drops of the coming shower were falling softly on the thirsty earth, which in its gratitude filled the air with that sweet smell, known and loved by farmers, the smell of the earth. How often had he been refreshed in spirit by such weather; how often had his cares been chased away, and his hope been renewed by it. Now he was free from those cares, but his joy was gone also — his one great joy had gone from him, and had taken with it all the smaller ones as well. He closed the window, and turning round saw his little daughter standing by the coffin, trying in vain to reach and stroke the quiet face within. He lifted the child higher so that she might do so, and the little girl stroked and patted her mother's face: "Mammy — oh!" — "Yes," said Hawermann, "Mammy's cold,” and seating himself on the chest, he took the child on his knee, and wept bitterly; seeing this, the little one cried too, till she cried herself to sleep, so he held her gently in his arms, and drew his coat warmly round her. He sat there all night long, keeping a true lyke-wake by his wife and his dead happiness.

Next morning punctually at four o'clock the head-ploughman and the other men who worked on the farm arrived, the lid of the coffin was screwed down, and the procession moved off slowly to the little churchyard. His child and he were the only mourners. The coffin was lowered into the grave — a silent prayer — a handful of earth — and the form of her who had encouraged and comforted him for years, of her who had been his life and his joy, was hidden from his sight, and if ever he wished to see her, he must live over again in thought the happy old days when she was still at his side, until the time when the book of memory will be closed on earth, and then — yes, then, his dear one will reappear before him, beautiful and glorious.

He went and spoke to his work-people, shook hands with each of them, and thanked them for the last service they had rendered him, said good-bye to all, and then, after giving the head-ploughman the money to pay for the coffin, the cross, and the burial fee, he set out on his journey into the unknown future.

When he got to the last house in the hamlet, the labourer's young wife was standing at the door with a child in her arms, he went up to her, and said: "Stina, you nursed my poor wife faithfully in her last illness. Here Stina!" and he tried to slip a few shillings into her hand. — "Sir, Sir," cried the young woman. "Don't! you pain me. What have you not done for us when you were rich, and now that evil days have come to you, should we not do our part? — Ah, Sir, I have a favour to ask of you. Leave your little girl here with me. I will love and tend her as if she were my own. And is she not as good as mine? Did I not nurse her when her mother was too weak to do it herself? Let me have charge of the child!" Hawermann stood buried in thought. "Sir," continued the woman, "from what I hear you'll have to part with the child sooner or later, and — but see, here comes Joseph, he will tell you the same." The labourer came up, and as soon as he heard what they were talking about, said: "Yes, Sir, she shall be treated like a princess. We are strong, and well-to-do in the world, and the kindness you have shown to us, we will richly repay to her." — "Nay," said Hawermann, rousing himself, "that will never do, I can't consent to that. I may be wrong in taking the child with me when my future is so uncertain, but I've left so much behind me here, that I can't do without the last that remains to me. No, no, I can't," he exclaimed turning to go, "my child must remain with me. Goodbye, Stina — good-bye, Rassow." — "If you won't leave the child with us. Sir," said the labourer, "at least let me go with you, and carry her for you." — "No, no," replied Hawermann, "I don't find her at all too heavy." Then the young woman kissed and fondled his little daughter, and kissed her again and again, and after he had resumed his journey, both she and her husband stood for a long, long time looking after him. She, with tears in her eyes and thinking most of the child; he, gravely and thinking most of the man. — "Stina," he said, "we shall never have such another master." — "God knows that," said she, and then they both went away sorrowfully to their daily work.
Reuter, Fritz (1810-1874) Mecklenburger, Dichter und Schriftsteller der niederdeutschen Sprache

Reuter, Fritz (1810-1874) Mecklenburger, Dichter und Schriftsteller der niederdeutschen Sprache

alle Kapitel sehen