Hew my uncle Herse came with pass-word and war-cry; and Mamsell Westphalen refused to hide in the peat bog. How the Herr Rathsherr got into Miller's cart, and how he got out of it again.
In the meanwhile, Fritz Sahlmann had made his way to the Schloss with his hands in his pockets, whistling, with an unconcerned face, as directed by the Rathsherr; but, when he came into the kitchen, he forgot his orders and made a face like Balaam's when his ass began to speak, and he stammered into Mamsell Westphalen's ear, —
"Oh! I'm to say there's help near."
"Boy! Fritz Sahlmann," cried Mamsell Westphalen, "what is this? What do you mean? What do you mean I say?"
Fritz now told her what she was to do; that she was to hold out the kitchen to the last man and let no Frenchman in, and that Rathsherr Herse would come with pass-word and war-cry and take the command.
"Heavens! What shall I do?" exclaimed Mamsell Westphalen, "I can't let myself be seen by the Herr Amtshauptmann after what has passed. Well, I suppose I had best trust to the Herr Rathsherr and follow his counsel; it must be right, for else what would be the good of his being a councillor. Hanchen and Corlin, you look after the back-door, Fritz Sahlmann and I will talke the front. Now, mind, and be sure you don't miss the war-cry."
The doors were locked; Hanchen armed herself with a broom, Corlin with a poker, Fritz Sahlmann with a long brass ladle; and Mamsell Westphalen took up a pestle; but she quickly let it drop again, exclaiming —
"No, merciful heavens! I have done enough harm already without slaying and killing besides. No, I know what will do better;" and she fetched the box in which the peat-ashes were carried away, and set it down before her on the table — from this point she could command both front and back-doors. — "Now let them come when they like," she said, "but whoever gets a volley in the face from me may rub his eyes for a long time before he'll be able to see again."
It was not long before they heard a Voice at the back-door crying: "All's well;" and presently the same Voice said half aloud through the keyhole "Pickled pork."
"That's the Rathsherr," said Mamsell Westphalen, "Corlin, open the door just wide enough for a man to pass, and, as soon as he is inside, shut it fast again."
So Corlin opens the door a little way, and the Rathsherr proceeds to squeeze through; but in the process the cape of his cloak falls back, and reveals the cocked hat and the red uniform collar.
"Ah! Ah!" — screamed Corlin, and held the Rathsherr fast in the door. "A Frenchman! The French!"
"Pickled pork," cried Rathsherr Herse. "Don't you hear? Pickled pork."
But it came too late; Hanchen had knocked the hat off his head and the skin off his face with her broom, and Mamsell Westphalen had thrown two hands full of ashes into his eyes.
My uncle Herse now stood in the kitchen, puffing, and blowing, and snorting and groping with his hands out, as if he were playing at "blind man's buff," — his heart full of rage, and dark night before his eyes. His whole plan had turned out a nest of addled eggs; for what is there in a secret that becomes a kitchen scene! what can an imposing face do when it is battered about by a broom! And what becomes of the splendour of a Rathsherr's uniform when peat-ashes lie on it like blight on a flower!
The first who recovered her senses, and became aware who it was that they had been treating in this fashion, was Hanchen. With one bound she was out of doors in the rain. Corlin followed and said to her — "I'd rather be wet through, than get one of Mamsell Westphalen's scoldings."
"By George! It's the Herr Rathsherr," cried Fritz Sahlmann.
Mamsell Westphalen stood there like Lot's wife — only that she was perhaps stouter — and looked at the Rathsherr as if he were Sodom and Gomorrah.
"Merciful heavens! We are all wandering in the dark," she said in a feeble Voice.
"It's very well for you to talk of wandering in the dark," sputtered my uncle Herse. "You can see, but I can't open my eyes. Get me some water."
Now began a scene of washing, and rubbing, and pitying, and wondering, and scolding, and consoling; but my uncle was still angry, and said that all the women in the Schloss might be hanged for what he cared, it would be a long time before he was caught entering into secret conspiracies with women again. Mamsell Westphalen held her apron up to her eyes and began to cry:
"Herr Rathsherr," she said, "tell me what I ought to do. I have no father or mother left and, after last night, I couldn't let myself be seen by the Herr Amtshauptmann. You are the only one I can look to for help now."
My uncle Herse had a heart, a soft heart; my uncle Herse had a soul, a tender soul; and, when he had quite got the ashes out of his eyes, and Mamsell Westphalen had rubbed cold cream on the scratches in his face till it looked like a red and white toadstool, he said kindly:
"Leave off crying. I will help you. You must take to flight."
"Take to flight!" she exclaimed and looked in a puzzled way at her figure from head to foot; "Do you mean me to take to flight?"
And she thought of the pigeons up in her pigeon-house; and if the matter had not been too serious for her, she would almost have laughed.
"Yes," said my uncle. "Do you think that with these roads and in this weather you could walk three or four miles at a stretch, for no conveyance is to be had — and besides it would not be secret enough?"
"Herr Rathsherr," she said, and all desire to laugh entirely left her, "look at me for a moment. Is it likely I could? Why, it's hard work for me now to go upstairs."
"Can you ride then?"
"I ask, can you ride?"
Mamsell Westphalen now got up, set her arms a kimbo and said: "What respectable woman ever rides? I have known one female in my life who did; she was a young lady, and the rest of her conduct was of a piece with it."
Rathsherr Herse now also got up, and walked once or twice up and down the kitchen, lost in thought, and at last asked —
"Do you think you could sit for twenty-four hours in the town peat-bog?"
"But, Herr Rathsherr," said Mamsell Westphalen, and put her apron up to her eyes again and wiped away the tears, "I'm now over fifty, and I had my great illness last autumn and....."
"Then that won't do either," broke in the Rathsherr. "There are only two ways left, one upstairs, the other down below. Fly you must, either on to the roof or into the cellar."
"Herr Rathsherr," cried Fritz Sahlmann, and he crept from behind the stove, "I know a place."
"What you here!" exclaimed Rathsherr Herse.
"Yes," said Fritz quite abashed.
"Well then it's all over again with secrecy, for what three know, the whole world knows."
"I promise faithfully I won't tell, Herr Rathsherr," said Fritz. "And, Mamsell, I know a capital place. There's a plank loose in the garret where you hang your hams and sausages to smoke, and, if you make yourself small, you can squeeze through, and behind there by the chimney there's a little place where you can hide and no one would ever find you."
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13