Translator's Preface/Chapter 1
"Come peas-harvest five-and-sixty, or may be six-and-sixty; for as to our old Pastor Hammerschmidt he wasn't much given to writing, and didn't trouble his head about parish registers, and the Frau Pastor, who made the entries — I' faith she had a deal to do besides — only attended to them every three years, so that there might be enough to make it worth while; and then some fine afternoon she would go through the village and write down the children's ages, but more according to height and size than to what they really were; and my mother always said she had cut off a year from me, because I was small and weakly. But less than five-and-sixty I'm not. I am sure of that."
During this speech the Amtshauptmann had kept walking up and down the room, listening with only one ear; he now stood still before the Miller, looked straight into his eyes, and said sharply: "Then, Miller Voss, you're much too old for anything of the kind."
"How so, Herr?" exclaimed the poor Miller, quite cast down.
"Bankruptcy is a hard matter-, at your age you could not carry it through."
"Do you think so, Herr?"
"Yes, I do. We are both too old for it. We must leave such things to younger people. What do you think folks would say if I were to get myself declared bankrupt? Why, they would say, of course, the old Amtshauptmann up at the Schloss has gone quite mad! And," added he, laying his hand gently on the Miller's shoulder, "they would be right. Miller Voss. What say you, eh?"
The Miller looked down at the toes of his boots and scratched his head: "It's true, Herr."
"Tell me," said the old gentleman, patting him kindly on the shoulder, "where does the shoe pinch? What is troubling you?"
"Troubling! say you, Herr Amtshauptmann," shouted the Miller, clapping his hand to the side of his head as if a wasp had stung him. "Troubling! Torturing, you mean. Torturing! — That Jew! That cursed Jew! And then the lawsuit, Herr Amtshauptmann, the cursed lawsuit!"
"Look you. Miller, that's another of your follies, entangling yourself at your age in a lawsuit."
"True enough, Herr; hut when I began it I was in my prime and thought to he able to fight it out; now, I see clear enough that your lawsuit has a longer breath than an honest Miller."
"But I think it's coming to an end now."
"Yes, Herr Amtshauptmann, and then I shall be hard up, for my affairs are in a bad way. The lawyers have muddled them, and as for my uncle, old Joe Voss, why his son who will soon get possession of all is a downright vagabond, and they say he's sworn a great oath to oust me from the Borcherts Inn at Malchin. But I have the right on my side, Herr Amtshauptmann. And how I got into this lawsuit I don't know to this day, for old Frau Borcherts while she was still alive — she was the aunt of my mother's sister's daughter — and Joe Voss — he was my cousin......"
"I know the story," interrupted the Amtshauptmann, "and if you would follow my advice, you would make it up."
"But I can't, Herr, for Joe Voss's rascally son wouldn't be satisfied with less than half the money, and if I pay that, I shall be a beggar. No, Herr Amtshauptmann, it may go as it will, but one thing I'm resolved on, I won't give in though I go to prison for it. Is a ruffian like that, who struts about with his father's money in his pocket, spending it right and left, and who doesn't know what it is to have to keep up a house in these hard times — and who's never had his cattle carried off by those cursed French, nor his horses stolen out of the stable, nor his house plundered, — is such a rascal as that, to get the better of me? By your leave, Herr, I could kick the fellow."
"Miller Voss, gently, Miller Voss," said the old gentleman, "the lawsuit will come to an end sometime or other. It is going on."
"Going, Herr Amtshauptmann? It's flying, as the Devil said when he tied the Bible to his whip and swung it round his head."
"True, true. Miller Voss; but at present you're not much pressed."
"Pressed? Why, I'm fixed in a vice — in a vice, I say! That Jew, Herr Amtshauptmann, that thrice cursed Jew!"
"What Jew is it?" asks the Herr Amtshauptmann. And the Miller twirls his hat between his finger and thumb, looks cautiously round to see that no one is listening, draws closer to the old gentleman, and, laying a finger on his lip, whispers: "Itzig, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Whew!" said the old Herr. "How came you to be mixed up with that fellow?"
"Herr Amtshauptmann, how came the ass to have long ears? Some go to gather wild strawberries, and get stung by nettles. The sexton of Gragelow thought his wheelbarrow was full of holy angels, and when he had got to the to'p of the mountain and expected to see them fly up to heaven, the Devil's grandmother was sitting in the wheelbarrow, and she grinned at him and said: 'Neighbour, we shall meet again!' In my troubles, when the enemy had taken everything I had, I borrowed two hundred thalers from him, and for the last two years I have been obliged to renew the bill from term to term, and the debt has crept up to five hundred thalers, and the day after to-morrow I shall be forced to pay it."
"But, Miller, did you sign?"
"Yes, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Then you must pay. What's written is written."
"But, Herr Amtshauptmann, I thought ...."
"It can't be helped. Miller; what's written is written."
"But the Jew? ...."
"Miller, what's written is written."
"Then, Herr Amtshauptmann, what shall I do?"
The old gentleman began again to walk backwards and forwards in the room, tapping his forehead. At last he stopped, looked earnestly in the Miller's face, and said: "Miller, young people get out of such difficulties better than old ones; send me one of your boys."
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13