There is said to be an animal, called the sloth, that takes a week to get into a tree and a week to get out of it again. Now, Fritz Sahlmann did not take quite as long as that to come down out of the apple-tree; but still he was long enough, and it could hardly be for the sake of his trowsers that he climbed down so cautiously, and when he was down at the bottom of the tree, it was apparent that he was meditating deeply whether he should come or make off. But Fritz Sahlmann was an obedient boy, be came, only every now and then he stopped for a moment.
"Hanchen, what is he doing there behind that gooseberry-bush?" asked the old Herr.
"He has thrown something down behind it."
"That's it, is it? — Well, Fritz, you can come in at the back-door. — And, Hanchen, you go down, and take care that he does not make his escape through the front-door."
Hanchen went, and Fritz came — slowly as Christmas, but he came.
"Fritz Sahlmann, my lad, you must have enough intelligence to see that it can't be good for your health to be sitting out there in this rain without any umbrella; another time take one with you when you want to sit out in the rain. And you must also have sufficient intelligence to understand that it is not good for your trowsers to be climbing about trees in the rain; choose a fine day for such work in future. Now, tell me; what were you doing in the tree?"
"Oh, nothing, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Hm, hm," said the old Herr; "but what I wanted to ask was: Have you seen anything of Mamsell Westphalen?"
Fritz Sahlmann who had expected quite a different sort of question, seemed at once to brighten up and said quite boldly: "No, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Well, my lad, you could not be expected to know a thing that nobody knows. But now just do me the favour to look straight at me."
Fritz Sahlmann did him the favour; but his look was like bad money, and the old Herr cannot have taken it to be worth much, for he said — "Fritz Sahlmann, here is a knife, go down and cut me a stick from one of the hazel-bushes — you know where they are; — let it be as thick as — as — well, about as thick as your middle-finger; and, my lad, you have lost something behind the gooseberry- bush, call Hanchen to help you to look for it. But Hanchen is to go with you, do you hear?"
Fritz Sahlmann now saw a sad prospect opening before him; but he trusted in two things in which people generally trust in their difficulties, namely, in Providence, — that it would at the right time put some stone in the way of the old Herr's plans; and then, secondly, in his good luck in former difficulties; and besides these he had another help in need which ordinary mortals know nothing of; viz: a little bundle of papers which, in serious cases, he used to stuff up under the back of his waistcoat; and this he did not forget to-day.
He now went into the garden, tolerably quieted, with the secret hope that Hanchen would miss the right gooseberry-bush; but while he was busied look- ing for the right-sized stick, he saw, with inward quaking, that the girl had gone to the right bush, and picked up something that, in the distance, appeared to him to be very much like a sausage. He must try, therefore, to help himself in some other way. So he first of all cut a couple of imperceptible notches in the stick, which did not exactly add to its firmness, and then he tried to get the find from Hanchen. But this did not succeed, for Hanchen had no wish to undergo a second examination before the Herr Amtshauptmann; and, besides, it occurred to her that perhaps it had been Fritz Sahlmann, who had one night, about a week before, strewn her bed with hog's bristles.
So Fritz and Hanchen made their appearance once more before the Herr Amtshauptmann, the former with the stick, and the latter with a nice little pork sausage.
"Hanchen," said the Herr Amtshauptmann, taking the sausage from her; "you can go now. Neiting," he said, turning to his wife and holding up the before her eyes, "this is what we call a corpus delicti.”
"It may be, Weber, that it is called so in Latin, but we call it a 'pork sausage."
"Good, Neiting. But, tell me, can you swear that this is one of our sausages?"
"Yes, Weber, I know it by the string."
"Fritz Sahlmann, how did you come by this sausage?"
Now, this was a terrible question for Fritz; Providence was clearly not interfering on his behalf; his luck was deserting him; the Amtshauptmann stood before him, in one hand the sausage, in the other the stick, and the stick was hardly two feet from his back; he was therefore wholly thrown upon the little bundle of papers for help, and that too was only so-so, for the Amtshauptmann might discover it by the noise. So he gave himself up for lost, began to cry and said — "It was given me."
"That's a story," broke in the Frau Amtshauptmann, "you have stolen it with the long pole."
"Be quiet, Netting! No leading questions. Fritz, who gave you this sausage?"
"When I was sitting in the tree."
"Was she sitting by your side?"
"No, she was sitting in the smoking-garret, and then she fixed the sausage on the pole; I had stuck a nail into the end of it."
"But you said just now, you did not know where Mamsell Westphalen was. Fritz Sahlmann, you have told me a lie."
"Don't beat me, don't beat me, Herr Amtshauptmann. I couldn't help it, I couldn't really. The Rathsherr Herse made me take a solemn oath not to tell anybody, not even you, where Mamsell Westphalen was."
"Are you in the Rathsherr Herse's service or in mine? You have told me a falsehood, Fritz, and when you tell lies you are to be whipped; those are the terms of our contract."
And, so saying, the Herr Amtshauptmann took Fritz by the collar, and raised the stick in the air; and, if Providence was to come to his help, it was now the highest time, and — Providence did come. A knock was heard at the door, and in walked the Town Messenger — Luth.
"The Herr Burmeister's respects, and things are going hard against the watchmaker and the Miller, and would the Herr Amtshauptmann be so good as to come down at once and not fail to bring Mamsell Westphalen with him, for her evidence was of the greatest importance."
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13