Chapter 7

My uncle Herse, what he was and what he did; and why Fritz Sahlmann had to whistle.

When the watchmaker was led off to prison, Fritz Sahlmann must of necessity go too, merely to see what would happen to the prisoner, and whether he would escape; but, in this last he was disappointed. The procession moved but slowly down to the Rathhaus, for they had to wind their way through all the carts and waggons which had been ordered up from the town and neighbouring Villages for the transport of the baggage and cannon, and were now collected in the courtyard and along the road leading to the Schloss. They were surrounded by French soldiers, that they might not escape, for our old peasants had got wonderfully clever at that. The watchmaker marched along with his two guards, through the crowd, as quiet and patient as a lamb; for though at first he had been dreadfully frightened, and though the affair of last night looked decidedly awkward, yet during the interview with the adjutant, he had fallen into a state of apathy, in which he had seemed to say — "Talk away as long as you like; you may go on talking all day for what I care," and his answers had been few and far between. And, though he was not one of those wild spirits that fly at once at everything, he had been too long in the world, and had been in too many scrapes before, to lose heart immediately now. He made up his mind for whatever might come. "What's to be the end of this I wonder?" he thought, as he was pushed in at the Rathhaus door.

"Fritz Sahlmann," said Rathsherr Herse, as the boy was about to return to the Schloss, "what's the meaning of this?"

Fritz now related with immense importance all that had taken place yesterday; how Droz had slept in Mamsell Westphalen's room and turned everything upside down; and how he himself had smashed the Herr Amtshauptmann's pipes — he couldn't help it, though — it was Hanchen's fault; — and how the Colonel had been going to run the Herr Amtshauptmann through the body with his sword; and how Mamsell Westphalen was sitting in the kitchen, like a picture of woe. But he said nothing about the lump" of ice.

Now, my uncle, the Rathsherr Herse, was an ardent patriot, but he kept it a profound secret.

And he had his reasons. For, as he whispered to me many years afterwards when Buonaparte had long been dead, he belonged at this time to the secret society of the " Tugendbund." And I can believe it, for when he was in company he was always playing with a long watch-chain made of light-coloured hair — and Aunt Herse's was black — and he wore a large dangerous-looking iron ring on his finger, with which he once struck Höpner the locksmith's apprentice nearly dead, when he was behaving rudely in court. "Fritz," he said to me later on, "this light hair is that of an heroic Virgin who had her head shaven for the Fatherland in the year thirteen, and the iron ring cost me my gold one. But don't talk of it; I don't like it spoken about." He was rightly therefore much given to secrets about the time of this story.

And it is possible, too, that his habit of looking at life from a commanding point of view and seizing everything as a whole without regard to details had something to do with his secret brotherhood, for while my Father had to plague himself day and night with the smallest squabbles and quarrels, in order that the government of the little town might not lose what small amount of life it had, Rathsherr Herse commanded Kutusoff to march to the right and Czernitcheff to the left, and praised York, and blamed Billow because he didn't understand his business, for he ought not to have gone to Berlin, he ought to have marched to the right of Stemhagen and fallen on Buonaparte's flank. — In short Uncle Herse was just the man to make a thunderstorm out of a sunshower. In every innocent French corporal he saw the Corsican monster, and if Luth, the Town Messenger, happened to get a blow in a peasants' row on Blue Monday, he made as much fuss as if the Duke of Mecklenburg himself had been struck.

"Hold your tongue, boy," he whispered impressively. "Do you want to scream out your sentence of death in the public market-place! I wouldn't give a groschen for the watchmaker's chance of life, for it is certain that the Miller and his Friedrich have murdered the French Chasseur."

"Not the Miller," interrupted Fritz, "the Miller was made up of brandy and good-nature yesterday."

"Well, then, his Friedrich has. He's a Prussian. Do you know what a Prussian is? Do you know what the meaning of Prussian is? Do you know .....? Blockhead! What are you staring at me for? Do you think I'm going to tell you all my secrets? But what I was going to say is — they'll send the old Amtshauptmann to Bayonne in France, where they also sent Graf Ivenacker's white horse, Herodotus; and Mamsell Westphalen — as far as I know the French laws — will simply be strung up, and you, my lad, will get a good flogging for coming down here."

Fritz Sahlmann now saw a sad prospect before him, and made a wry face accordingly. —

"But, Herr Rathsherr, not in a public place?" he asked.

"Wherever they can catch you. Though, if the matter is taken up in the proper quarters, everything may still be made right. — Can you be silent?"

Fritz Sahlmann replied that he could be most modestly silent.

"Well, then, come here, and put both your hands in your trowsers' pockets, and whistle. That's it. And now look quite unconcerned as you do in summer time when you are knocking down the apples from the tree in the Schlossgarden, and you see Mamsell Westphalen coming. Yes that's right. And now, observe every word that I say; go with this face and with this look of child-like innocence through the French and peasants up to the Schloss into the kitchen, and take Mamsell Westphalen aside into a corner and then say to her just these words — 'help is near,' If she is not satisfied with this you can break to her gently what I have told you about hanging, and, if she's at all frightened at that, say she is to keep up her heart, for I, Rathsherr Herse, have taken the matter in hand. But first of all, she must at once shut and bolt the kitchen-door and the back-door leading to the garden, and she and the two maids and you must each arm yourselves with weapons, and on no account let any Frenchman in, and you must defend yourselves to the last man till I come. I will go at once and will come through the Schlossgarden to the back-door — I'll only get my cloak first for it's raining desperately, and my pass-word will be 'All's well' and my war-cry 'York.' But no! She won't understand that. What do you say? It's all the same — it's all the same. Well, my war-cry will be 'Pickled pork.' She'll understand that. So when some one comes, and calls it out, she is to open the back-door. Have you understood it all?"

Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13