Translator's Preface/Chapter 1
The old Miller looked once more at the toes of his boots, and then turning his face away, said in a tone which went straight to the old Amtshauptmann's heart: "Sir, whom shall I send? My Joe was ground to death in the mill, and Karl was carried off to Russia by the French last year, and he's not come back."
"Miller," replied the old Amtshauptmann patting him on the back, "have you then no children at all?"
"I have," said he wiping a tear from his eye, "a little girl left."
"Well, Miller, I am not particularly fond of girls myself, they are always fretting and crying."
"That's true, sir, they me always fretting and crying."
"And they can be of no use in a matter like this. Miller."
"But what will happen to me then?"
"The Jew will put in an execution, and will take away everything."
"Well, Herr Amtshauptmann, the French have done that twice already, so the Jew may as well try it now. At any rate he will leave the millstone behind. — And you think I'm too old to be made bankrupt?"
"Yes, Miller, I fear so."
"Well, then, good day, Herr Amtshauptmann." And so saying he went away.
The old gentleman stands still a while and looks after the Miller as he goes across the courtyard of the Schloss, and says to himself: "It's hard for one old man to see another gradually going to ruin through the bad times and bad people. But who can help him? . . . The only thing is to give him time. — Five hundred thalers!! Who in these days can pay down five hundred thalers? . . . Take away old Boggenbom of Scharfzow, and I think you might set the whole bailiwick of Stemhagen, town and all, on its head, and no five hundred thalers would fall out. . . . And Boggenbom won't do it. . . . Possibly at Easter it might be done; but the Jew will not wait as long as that. — Yes, yes, they are hard times for everybody."
But while he thus stood and looked out of the window, the courtyard became full of life, and seven French Chasseurs rode in at the gate. One of them got down, and fastened his horse to the door of Mamsell Westphalen's hen-house, and went straight into the Amtshauptmann's room, and began swearing and gesticulating at him, while the old gentleman remained standing, and stared at him. But as it grew more serious, and the Frenchman began to draw his sword, the Amtshauptmann stepped towards the bell and called for his factotum Fritz Sahlmann, who used to run his errands for him, and "Fritz," said he, "run down to the Herr Burmeister *. and see if he cannot come up here a little while, for I have come to the end of my Latin."
And Fritz Sahlmann now comes down to my father and says: "Herr Burmeister, come quickly to the Amtshauptmann's help, or, by my life, things will go badly."
"Why, what's the matter?" asks my father.
"There are six rascally French Chasseurs in the courtyard at the Schloss, — and the Captain of them, — he is in with the Herr, — and has forgotten his manners, — and has drawn his sword, and is brandishing it before the eyes of the Herr, and the Herr stands fixed to the spot, and doesn't move an inch; for he knows about as much of French as the cow does of Sunday."
"The devil!" said my father and jumped up, for he was a quick, determined man, and did not know what fear meant.
When he entered the room, the Frenchman was rushing about like a wild beast, and the words came sputtering out of his mouth like the beer from a barrel without a bung. The Amtshauptmann was standing quite still, and had his French pocket dictionary in his hand, and whenever he caught a word the Frenchman said, he turned over the leaves to see what the dictionary made of it, and when my father came in, he asked: "My friend, what does the fellow want? Eh! . . . Ask the fellow what he wants."
My father thereupon began to speak to the Frenchman, but he was so loud and vehement, shouted and gesticulated so much, that the old Amtshauptmann asked: "What is he so excited for, friend?" Well, at last my father got out of the Frenchman what it was he wanted: — "fifteen fat oxen, and a load of corn, and seven hundred ells of green cloth, and a hundred louisd'ors;" — and a great deal "doo vang," (as my father told the Amtshauptmann) for himself, and his men besides. "My friend," then said the old Herr, "tell the fellow he is a scound . . . ."
"Stop!" cried my father, "don't say that word, Herr Amtshauptmann, he will often have heard it lately, and maybe he understands it. No, I advise that we should give him plenty 'doo Vang' now, it will be time enough to think of the rest afterwards."
And the Herr Amtshauptmann agreed, and ordered Fritz Sahlmann to get glasses and wine from Mamsell Westphalen, "but not the best."
Well, the wine comes, and my father fills the Frenchman's glass and the Frenchman fills my father's, and they drink and fill alternately, and my father soon says: "Herr Amtshauptmann, you must sit down too and help me, for this fellow is a cask without a bottom."
"My friend," answered the Amtshauptmann, "I am an old man and the chief justiciary in his Grace's bailiwick of Stemhagen; it is not fitting that I should sit and drink with this fellow."
"Yes," said my father, "but Necessity knows no law*, and besides, this is for our country."
And so the old Herr sat down and did his best. But after some time my father said: "Herr Amtshauptmann, the fellow is too many for us; what amercy it would be if we could get hold of some one with a strong head." And as he said this, there came a knock at the door. "Come in."
"Good day," says old Miller Voss of Gielow, coming in, "good day, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Good day. Miller, what is the matter now?"
"O! Herr, I have come again about my lawsuit."
"There's no more time for that to-day, you see the position we are in."
But my father cried out: "Voss, come here, and do a Christian deed. Just seat yourself by this Frenchman and drink him down." Miller Voss looked first at my father and then at the Amtshauptmann, and thought to himself: "I've never been at a session like this before;" but nevertheless he soon found himself at home in it.
My father now goes to the Amtshauptmann, and says: "Herr Amtshauptmann, this is our man; he will finish the fellow, I know him."
"Good," said the old Herr, "but how are we to get rid of the six fellows out there in the courtyard?"
"They are but a band of ruffians and marauders," replied my father, "only let me do as I like, and I will soon get rid of them," and he called Fritz Sahlmann and said: "Fritz, my lad, go down through the Schloss-garden, — mind no one sees you, — and run to Droz the watchmaker; he is to put on his uniform and his black leggings and bearskin and sword and gun, and slip across the garden through the little green gate to the corner window, and then cough."
*.The Burmeister is the chief magistrate or mayor of a town, while the Amtshauptmann is the chief magistrate of a bailiwick or whole district.
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13