Mathias Berger went down the village street to school. The two boys had long been home; little Liese lay in bed and slept and had the silver ring on her finger.
The old village cantor Johannes Henschel sat at a harmonium and played from an organ score.
“It’s a difficult thing, a very difficult thing, Herr Kontor, for which I come,” said Berger.
“What is it?”
“Herr Kantor, before the others tell you: Your son-in-law, Herr Raschdorf, is losing his money at the factory.”
The old teacher’s pale face grew pale a bit, and the withered right hand touched his chest.
“With the stocks ?! Is that possible, Berger? Is that possible?”
Mathias Berger looked at the old man with pity.
“It is so, Herr Kantor. In Altwasser over there the pond man is also losing three thousand. I know from him. The shareholders get fifteen percent. That’s all.”
The old man’s face trembled. Then he put his head heavily on his hand.
“O my God!”
It was very quiet in the room, only the clock ticked softly. Outside a weak night wind rose and drove wearily through the old trees of the school garden.
Mathias Berger spoke up again.
“You see, Herr Kantor, that’s not really my business. It is none of my business. But you know I owe him a lot of thanks. When I was an anemic boy, without a father and mother, you took me in and fed me big. I won’t forget that, even if I “turn” a hundred years. I can’t say what I’m sorry about now. But, Herr Kantor, Herr Raschdorf shouldn’t get involved with the weirdest. That’s a bad guy! ”
“The innkeeper? Oh no, Berger! He always helped out my son-in-law when it was missing. ”
“Helped out, Mr. Cantor! Why then? Why then? Because a gradually wants to get him completely under his control. Just because of that! I tell you, the fat fellow won’t be completely well until a has both yards. A speculates on it, a has looked for it! Stranger is Raschdorf’s greatest enemy! ”
The old cantor shook his head unwillingly.
“You don’t have to say that, Berger, it’s wrong! Schräger put his money on the last mortgage. He’s a friend of my son-in-law. ”
Mathias Berger got up.
“Well, there – I’m sorry I said something.”
“Sit down, Berger, sit down again! You look too black. The stranger and my son-in-law are friends. They went to school together, they grew up together. Weird is not to blame. That’s just bad luck, Berger, terrible bad luck! Oh God, I don’t know what will happen! Five thousand thalers! And he always didn’t tell me how it was, nothing! ”
There was a pause. Both men stared straight ahead.
“I’m sorry about your daughter,” said Berger at last in a low voice.
The old teacher turned away.
“And about the boy, about Heinrich! Today a tells me, a don’t want to study; a want to become a farmer – take over the economy – that’s a shame. ”
The old man turned his eyes serious and large towards the simple man.
“I’ve done an injustice, Mathias – me, not the weird one. I didn’t have to give Anna to Raschdorf. There must be money in such a good! What were the few pennies that I could give her? Nothing at all! Nothing at all! – And now the misery is here. It’s my fault, Mathias – me! ”
Berger straightened up.
“Herr Kantor, don’t take it amiss, but that’s – that’s nonsense what you’re saying. It is not your fault! The Raschdorf was doing very well. He didn’t need a rich woman. He went without a dowry. But how did a live? How a gracious lord! Always up! And the worst: a has got involved with the weird, and that is and remains a maleficent scoundrel, no matter how hypocritical a does, and no matter how much you talk for him. ”
The cantor shook his head.
“It would be bad, Mathias, to blame someone else if we were to suffer misfortune. And even if he had persuaded him, who could have guessed? Nobody could know the outcome. It’s a bitter thing, Mathias, when you’re old and have an only child, and that’s how it feels! ”
When the rag man went home, the summer night lay over the slumbering village. Harvest! The doomed field breathed in heavy, sultry gusts outside.
Mathias Berger stopped and looked back once more to the school house, which had been a second, better father’s house in his childhood and where a faint longing led him again and again now. He loved the old man there, who was so good-natured and short-sighted that he did not recognize the malice of the people, not the malice, but also not the secret, deep ailments that were bleeding close to him.
As a very poor child, the cantor had taken him into his house, raised him, and taught him outside of school. Mathias had grown up together with Anna, and they had lived like brother and sister. Mathias later went into the mine as a miner. But when he had a Sunday off, he was in the schoolhouse. As he was growing up, love had quietly entered his heart. Nobody knew anything, neither the cantor nor Anna. It would have been so terribly cheeky and ungrateful if he had shown something of it, he, the poor coal hauler.
Until she got engaged. That was the end of his composure. He couldn’t bring himself to go to the school anymore. And then Anna knew it. The cantor just wondered and annoyed the apostate.
Oh, the terrible work in the coal mine! To be alone in the dark underground tunnels and have no hope for any future. Berger couldn’t stand that.
A relative of his died and left him a house and the rag shop. The cantor wanted nothing to do with the change of profession; but Mathias was glad that he could now always be outdoors, wander around the world with so many people and no longer have to be alone with his heartache. Then he became calmer and more cheerful again. After a few years he married a good girl. He didn’t have her cloudy Hour prepares, neither does it for him. But she died after a year when the Liese was born.
Then he was lonely again. And over marriage and the grave, the old love sometimes came back in quiet hours from the youth, quite desirably, but painfully deep – just like today, when sick and weak it was now supposed to face poverty, the poverty that once forbade him alone to desire them.
A thunderstorm came from far away and Mathias went home.