The Miller muttered something in his teeth about fine weather, and Mamsell Westphalen whispered to Fritz Sahlmann to run up in advance and take the Frenchman's helmet and sword out of the Herr Amtshauptmann's room, so that he should not see them. "Take them into my room," said she, "and put them behind my bed." Friedrich now applied his whip to the horses, and drove down the hill into the Malchin road, and said to himself: "This'll be the proof; if the Miller remains sitting on his sack with all this jolting, he will be able to get down from the waggon alone to-night." But when they had got as far as the Barns, and he turned round to look;, the Miller lay between the foremost and the hindmost sack, and Friedrich thought: "He won't get down without help to-night, that's clear." And he threw a couple of sacks over the Miller to prevent his getting cold.
And so they passed through the Barns, and the horses trotted along at an even pace through the heavy roads and the dark night; and all kinds of thoughts came into Friedrich's head. First of all, he thought of the Miller's wife, and what she had said once before when the Miller had come home in this state; but then he had been alone — what would she say to-night when there were two of them? And what would the Miller's daughter, Fieka, say to it? and he shook his head: "It can't go well anyhow." And then he remembered how it was just about this time of year and in such a night that he had run away from the Prussians at Prenzlow, ten years before, and how until he got to Stemhagen he had been obliged to sleep in the open air, and had covered himself over with hawthorn boughs. And then, too, he recollected — and as the remembrance came back upon him he gnashed his teeth — the time when he was in France under the Duke of Brunswick, and had no clothes and nothing inside him except craving hunger, and how the French had hunted and pursued them, and how many of his comrades had fallen dead by the roadside, amongst them his best friend, Kristian Krüger, and how the people had had no pity for him. "And my two beautiful bays," he added to himself, "which they took away from me, and here I must drive two lame old broken-winded jades. It's a shame they should be tormented drawing a harpy of a marauder along these heavy roads — a fellow who's not a real soldier, even. Cursed patriots! Gallowsbird Dumouriez!" These were his oaths when he was angry. "Wo!" he cried, jumped down from the waggon, went round to the back of it, raised up the straw, drew the Frenchman half out by his leg, then laid him across his shoulders, carried him into the Stemhagen Wood, and laid him down under a beech-tree. "Yes," said he, as the Frenchman moved rather uneasily, "it's rather damp, no doubt, but then you're damp inside; so why shouldn't you be damp outside too?" And he looked up at the sky and said, "For the end of February it's a nice warm night, and if the cuckoo isn't singing just now, I heard him singing in this beech-tree last summer, and he'll sing here again this year, please Good." And, on the Frenchman giving a slight shudder as though he were cold, he added: "It's a bit cool, camerade, isn't it? I might cover you with a good three foot of clay and nobody be the wiser, but I'll show you that I have a Christian heart." With that he went to the waggon, fetched a couple of armfuls of straw, and threw it over the Frenchman and said: "Now adieu! I can't take you with me; for why should the Miller's wife and Fieka be troubled with you?" — climbed into the waggon again and drove off.
When they were near the mill, he woke up the Miller and said: "Miller, sit up straight on the sack. I'll help you down again." Voss sat up and said: "Thank you, Herr Amtshauptmann;" and stared wildly about to see where he was, and asked whose horse that was running after the waggon. When he had a little recovered his senses, he put his hand under the straw and asked: "Friedrich, where's the Frenchman?" "Yes, where is he?" answered Friedrich; and drew up before the door, and jumped down, and helped the Miller off before the women came out with a light. The Miller scrambled up the steps, and his wife came out to meet him, "Well, father, how has it gone?" she asked. The Miller stumbled over the doorsill into the room, laid hat and gloves on the table, and walked up and down the room a couple of times, fixing his eyes on the cracks of the floor to steady himself, and at last brought out the words: "It's very hard work."
"So I see," said his wife. Fieka sat at the other side of the table mending clothes.
And the Miller walked up and down again proudly and asked: "Don't you see anything remarkable about me to-night?,"
"Indeed I do," replied his wife; "you have been sitting drinking again with Baker Witte and have forgotten your wife and children, and that we are all ruined."
"Oh! that's what you think? Well then, let me tell you, even wise hens sometimes lay outside the nest. No, I have been drinking with the Herr Amtshauptmann, and the Herr Burmeister, and a French General, or something of that sort, and the Herr Amtshauptmann has told me, he won't forget me, for 'this was for our country.' — And Fieka, I say to you, don't throw yourself away. You needn't do it. I wouldn't mind your marrying the Malchin Merchant; but you don't want to."
Fieka looked up from her work and said: "Father, don't talk of that, — at least not this evening."
"Very well. You are right, my child. — Remember, you are my only one now, for where are Karl and Joe? Ah! merciful heaven! — But I only said, don't throw yourself away, that was all I said. — And, Mother, about the money, think of what the old Herr Amtshauptmann said. 'Miller Voss, I will not forget you!' — But the Frenchman, where is he? Donnerwetter! where's the Frenchman? He was lying in the straw. Friedrich must know," and he threw up the window and shouted: "Friedrich, Friedrich, don't you hear me?"
Friedrich heard him well enough, but he winked to himself and said: "Yes, yes, cry away as long as you like. Why should I go and blurt out what the Miller's wife can see for herself plainly enough? I'm not going to burn my fingers." So saying he fastened up the Frenchman's horse and took off the saddle, and as he took down the Valise he said: "The Devil, isn't this heavy!" and laid it in the oat bin, gave his horses their last feed, lay down on his bed, and slept as if nothing had happened that day.
As the Miller was beginning to fume because Friedrich did not come, his wife said: "Father, never mind him; you are tired and wearied with the jolting of the waggon — come to bed; Fieka shall warm a little beer for you to drive out the night air."
"Mother," he answered, "you're right as usual, I am dreadfully tired, for money business is so wearying. Well, it's in order now — as good as in order at least — for the Herr Amtshauptmann said: 'Miller Voss, I shall not forget you.' I must be in again at Stemhagen early to-morrow morning."
So saying, he went to bed, and was asleep and snoring in five minutes.
Mother and daughter sat up a while longer, Fieka lost in thought and knitting away rapidly. "Pieka, you are industrious," said her mother at last; "and I don't fold my hands and lay them in my lap either; and Father has worked and done what he could all his life. But what is the use of it all? The bad times come and what the French have left, the Jews and lawyers take; the day after to-morrow we must pay Itzig five hundred thalers, and we haven't a shilling."
"But Father speaks as if it were all right now?"
"Don't trust what he says this evening; a red sky in the morning and a red sky in the evening are very different things; but he was right about one thing this evening; if you had only accepted the Malchin Merchant!"
"Mother dear," said Fieka and laid her hand gently in her mother's and looked up into her face, "He was not the right one."
"Few people are able to marry exactly as they would like now-a-days, daughter; there is always something. The Merchant is well off and if your father and I knew that you were well provided for, it would take a great stone off our hearts."
"Mother, dear mother, don't talk so. Would you have me leave you when you're in trouble, and in a dishonest way?"
"Yes, dishonest, mother," she answered, "for when the Merchant sought me, he thought we were rich, and therefore he wished to have me, but I would not deceive him. I knew we were poor, for though you and father in your goodness have tried to keep it from me that we had lost our money, I have seen it for a long while. Now, pretty nearly every one knows it, so if any one comes and wants to marry me, he will want me and not my money, and perhaps he will be the right one."
Then she got up, and put her knitting things away and kissed her mother. " Grood night," she said and went into her bedroom.
The Miller's wife, after sitting thinking some time longer, sighed: "She's right, and we must trust in God, who orders all for the best."
She too went to bed, and everything lay in deep quiet. Only the Mill went working on without ceasing or resting, grinding and groaning, flinging its arms about like a man in sore trouble striving and struggling to rise above the toil of daily life. And from the wheel the water ever drips like bitter sweat-, and deep down below the stream rushes on with its monotonous chant: "Nought avails it, nought avails it. I am thy heart. As long as I flow wave upon wave, wish upon wish, so long hast thou no rest. But when autumn comes and the corn is ripe, my stream will slacken; and then the miller will close his mill, and everything be standing still, —and then 'tis Sunday."
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13