Lotte was preparing the Vespers table. Heinrich watched her with a smile. Now she put a gold-rimmed cup in front of him, on which was written: “To the bridegroom,” and next to it she placed a cup with the inscription: “The bride”.
“Father and mother drank from the cups at their wedding,” she said.
He looked at her standing in front of him in her lovely housewife beauty and put his arm around her shoulders.
“Lotte! I can’t tell you how I feel. I think that’s how someone rescued from a shipwreck and sits in a safe, warm room. ”
Only when they heard Father coming outside did they part.
Schräger stepped into the room disgruntled.
“What do you say – the gang is not coming! Everyone cancels it, everyone; the only millet wants to come. ”
Heinrich gritted his teeth. The landlord had invited his former regulars, who had been absent more and more recently, to an engagement party and had brought a keg of real beer for this purpose.
Now nobody wanted to appear.
“Yes, it is bad,” said Heinrich. “I didn’t think they’d take it that far. But today the Riedel announced a festival down in the village in Poler’s inn and promised free beer, and the barber has gone through the whole village to invite people to it. That is mean, that is just mean! ”
His hands dug more obliquely into his trouser pockets.
“You will go bankrupt,” he growled in deep displeasure.
A shadow flew over Heinrich’s face. Lotte noticed it and put her hands on her father’s shoulders.
“Father, don’t be grumpy! Not today! People will come back. They won’t like the Poler for long. Then everyone will come back to you. ”
Something growled more obliquely and went over to the tavern. There he poured a large glass of rum and drank it.
The girl went to the kitchen and Heinrich was alone. He went to the window and looked across at his courtyard. The sooner, the better he wanted to get Lotte over. Because we couldn’t get by with Schräger in the long run.
As he stood there looking out into the snowy weather, Heinrich thought of the last few days and could not remember an hour that he would have spent happily and content with his future father-in-law, beginning from the moment when this man with a heavy, slurping tongue gave him that I said yes until today. He had disgusted him then. This man could not stay sober even on the important day when years of enmity were to be buried and the connection between his only daughter and the enemy was to be decided. And it was ten o’clock in the morning. But Lotte had tried to excuse her father even then and said that he must have been drinking in great excitement.
He had imagined it to be so beautiful, so solemn, so big, this hour of reconciliation, and he – was drunk. He hadn’t been able to say anything but the same thing over and over again: “Let the dead rest!” Leave the old stories! Take you! Everything is fine! I can’t do anything for anything! Leave me alone! Do what you want for me. ”
And then he had asked so greedily and interestedly about the brickworks and the excesses of the estate, despite his drunkenness, that the young suitor had shuddered. And he always had to look after the lovely, innocent Lotte, who sat next to him with heavy tears so that he was only master of himself.
The feeble-minded brother also made it difficult for him. This fellow was incredibly shy of him. He always ran away if he only smelled him, and once, when Lotte had locked him in, to meet to force, and Heinrich brought a whole packet of chocolate, which the boy loved to eat, he fled screaming through the window at the last moment.
He had been gone a whole night and only came back in the morning. Since that time he has been disregarded.
The Buchenhof! How it snowed in so gently and now lay there so peacefully, so tempting and inviting to come in and leave all storms and all bad weather outside, to be at home within these solid walls. The house looked like a home. But whoever it belonged to knew it wasn’t home.
Now he was thinking about it again, and a thought went through his brooding soul: Home is not space! Home is not friendship either! Will home be love? –
“Lotte, if that’s all right with you, we’ll get married soon after Christmas,” he said to his bride when she returned.
The girl looked at him kindly.
“Yes, Heinrich; I also know why. And you’re right. ”She came very close to him.
“But you don’t have to be too angry with him. Basically it’s out of grief for your father! ”
“Yes, Lotte, I know!”
“Do you not like it when I always speak for him?”
“No! He is your father. If you weren’t a good daughter you won’t be a good wife.
Heinrich’s engagement evening had come. Despite urgent defense, Schräger had the large beer barrel brought up to the inn. It now stood in all its tragicomic size in the lonely dining room.
The Stenzeln had prepared a good supper, which Heinrich, Lotte and Schräger had eaten in silence. Sometimes the host just cursed bluntly.
The old Hirsel farmer came around seven o’clock. Schräger laughed mockingly.
“Well, Hirsel,” he said in grim self-irony, and patted the large barrel, “you can drink there, but you can drink there!”
“Will nobody come, nobody else?” Asked Heinrich. Hirsel shook his head in embarrassment.
“Rushed! All incited! The barber is a scoundrel. ”
“So sit down, Herr Hirsel: I won’t forget that you came.”
It was a gloomy engagement mood. More obliquely, he always stared in front of himself and scolded himself, Heinrich and Lotte were holding hands, and old Hirsel was sitting in front of his beer glass and didn’t want to drink. Finally, they talked about the weather, about the beet prices, about a few incidental events in the village. Then there were long pauses again, and the old clock ticked bleak, monotonous. Nobody wanted to talk, nobody knew what to say.
In the midst of all this silence, Heinrich was very excited. Sometimes he pressed the hand of the girl he loved. Then he wished he was far away with her. If he has one only friend, someone who was happy with him! So he was alone. And that was the evening that for most people is the brightest and happiest in life, when a few good people crowd around everyone to show friendship, to wish luck.
It was so terrifyingly barren here. Hardly that old Hirsel sometimes gave him a little smile.
Then he thought about the fact that the actual engagement would have to take place after all. Who should do that? Who? Weird wouldn’t start.
So himself! But it was extremely difficult for him to speak such a difficult, decisive word in such surroundings and such mood. And then how should he address the man? Now he had to say “Father” to him! And it seemed to him as if a pale figure appeared in front of his soul and said to him with a commanding look: “Don’t abuse my name!”
So he put it off in an inner restlessness, and half an hour and another passed. The clock purred across the room, and then there was that oppressive silence again. Then, when Lotte looked at him anxiously, Heinrich stood up: “Va – father, you gave me your yes to my advertisement, and Lotte and I will now get engaged with your consent.”
He was waiting for an answer. Stared more obliquely.
“Yes,” he said, “yes, for me! Cheers!”
And he drank.
Heinrich’s eyes got hot and Lotte began to cry softly. So he put the gold ring on her Finger and she gave him his. Old Hirsel got up and said a few words of congratulations. And then it was quiet again. –
Then there was a knock on the window.
“And a dog, a big … o … oo dog!”
The brother! He had been absent all afternoon and nowhere to be found. Now he was standing outside the window, bleating his tongue in. Schilt rose, cursing, and went out. After a short time he came back and said the boy had disappeared. Perhaps he had now gone to sleep. One should let him be.
Outside, however, Gustav Schräger crouched against the garden wall of the Buchenhof. He had been down in the village at Poler’s inn, the barber had given him a lot of beer to drink, and everyone had laughed at the idiot until a sensible peasant chased him home.
Now the boy was crouching against the garden wall in half a fever. Sometimes he looked at the lighted windows of the inn, clenched his fists, gritted his teeth or bleated his tongue out.
Then he looked in his pants pockets and brought out a box of matches. An evil grin crossed the stupid face, and the fists clenched again.
The idiot looked at the matchbox with sparkling eyes. Then he held it to his ear, shook it, and was pleased with the faint clatter.
“It’s a lot,” he grunted, “a lot!”
He sat up quietly, turned his head, watching and peering, and finally crept silently and bent down along the garden wall. He opened the door to the Buchenhof. It creaked loudly. But the fellow wasn’t put off. He just looked around a little and then ran quickly across the yard to the barn.
The gate wasn’t locked, but it made a noise when it opened. Now he was in the barn. He stopped, took a deep breath, and his eyes sparkled.
“Oh! Ooh! High! High! It will burn! Burning! ”And he held up his arms.
Then he struck a match. It broke and fell, extinguishing, on the empty threshing floor. A second match! It burned, and in its glow the idiot was walking towards the grain-filled bansen.
“You! What are you doing there?”
A scream! A second!
The match went out. A hunt started. In front the idiot, afterwards a servant of the Buchenhof, who had heard the sound of the gates and had crept after the boy.
“Stand still! Stop! Stand still! ”
A terrible roar came from the boy’s mouth. He fell over an object, got up, jumped on and in his fear couldn’t find the gate. It was pitch black. You could hear the panting of the two people. A couple of times the servant brushed the boy with his hand. But that always evasive skillfully. It was a terrible, dreadful search and pursuit. There was a ladder that led to the grain floor – now the idiot took the ladder and climbed it, as silently as a cat.
The servant stood below, listening. Where was he?
“Where are you, rascal? Wait, maybe on the ladder – wait, I’ll get you! ”
A slide – a faint crack – then a bloodcurdling scream, and a heavy body swooped down onto the threshing floor. The servant let out a slurping sound of horror. Then there was dead silence.
At the screaming of the servant, people rushed to the barn with lights, then a maid hurried across the street to the Kretscham. She opened the door and shouted into the room:
“Jeses, a misfortune, a misfortune! Gustav wanted to set our barn on fire, and someone fell off the ladder and broke a neck! ”
»You – you – oh you – I – i – what – what? – «
Lotte stared at the maid in mad horror; wanted to talk, scream, ask, but couldn’t.
Heinrich took her arm tightly.
“Weird! Mr. Schräger! Your Gustav! Oh God, oh God! The maid whimpered.
There sat more obliquely like a stone picture, completely wordless. He just groaned. A dull gurgle came from his throat; the eyes stared at the maid in horror, who kept screaming and moaning, then caught his hands to feel, his feet to slide, and so he slipped heavily under the table.
A few minutes later they brought the victim over on a feeder. He was dead.
They laid it on the hall of the dining room and then all stood in silence at the door. Schräger, whom Hirsel and Heinrich had helped onto the bench, had watched silently. Now he got up. He wanted to go, but his limbs failed him. In the middle of the room he fell down, and before the others could pull him up he crawled like an animal on hands and feet to his dead child, lay down with his body over the corpse and lay there, twitching and whimpering. Lotte led the women over to the living room. –
Heinrich Raschdorf went home late at night. When he had lit the lamp, he looked around shyly. The large picture of his father looked down from the wall. And the son looked at the picture in the silence of this night of his engagement, and a deep shiver went through his body and soul.
“You are justified now, father! Justified and avenged! ”
Then he climbed slowly like a sick person into his room.
A stormy day followed that night. The wind chased the snow clouds over forest and village and lashed houses and trees. And so it stormed into that too Ghosts of the people. Like lightning suddenly shining through a black, narrow valley into which no eye could see, so it was here. People now realized who had been the first arsonist.
Work went on that day in all houses, for everyone was talking, standing together and chatting excitedly. Everyone felt that: that the people of the Buchenhof had been seriously sinned. The repentance reached some people, and he resolved to make amends wherever he was missing. The men in particular regretted that they had not accepted the invitation to be engaged in the Kretscham, because it had offended Raschdorf-Heinrich again. The barber, however, met with the heaviest accusations because he had given the idiot beer, and everyone now said that he was to blame for Gustav Schräger’s horrific death, that he had always been the agitator and the culprit; without him everything would not have been so bad.
So it was that the barber lost his home during this time. After just a few weeks a nimble competitor settled in the village, and a little later the barber left, despised and homeless. Public opinion is also sovereign in village life; whoever falls out of favor with her has no calling; he goes into exile.
People did not agree on weird. His person remained in the dark. The women were inclined to condemn him, but the men thought it was now appropriate to go to the beech cretscham quite often in order to find out something or experience something in the end. –
Heinrich Raschdorf went to the Kretscham around nine in the morning. The people had just put the dead man in an empty room on the ground floor. They had placed an oil lamp at his head, which burned in a dim light.
Heinrich looked at the corpse, shaken. The corrupter of his house, the brother of his bride and all in all an unhappy, deplorable person!
Outside he met Stenzeln and asked her about Lotte. The woman wiped her face with her apron. “Oh, my God! She has locked herself in her room and does not come out and does not answer. ”
He climbed the stairs and knocked on her door.
“Lotte! Lotte! ”
A quiet cry.
“Lotte! Answer! Are you sick?”
“Heinrich, I can’t today – not today -”
“Are you sick, Lotte? Shall we get a doctor? ”
“No, not – not! I’m just tired – tired! ”
“Don’t get so upset, dear Lotte! I beg you!”
“Yes, Heinrich, yes!”
He stood at the door a while longer, but she said nothing more. So he went and told Stenzeln not to leave Lotte alone.
It was not yet more slanted. He too had locked himself in his room and did not come out; he didn’t answer either. Only his shuffling step could sometimes be heard.
The day went out at around three in the afternoon. Heinrich came back from town, where he had arranged for the funeral. Again he asked to see Lotte. But Stenzeln only asked him to leave her completely alone.
“Stenzeln! What is she doing? What is she doing so alone? ”
The woman shrugged.
“O my dear God! What will she do? Nothin ‘! She sits there brooding and doesn’t say a word! ”
“Stenzeln, bring her the roses and say I want to give her a rest today; but tomorrow I have to see her. Definitely! And she shouldn’t worry, Gustav was a poor, unhappy person; he didn’t understand better. ”
Die Stenzeln nodded and promised to do everything. Then Heinrich went home.
Around seven o’clock the Stenzeln knocked on Schräger’s door. “Mr. Schräger, open up! You have to eat something! ”
He opened it. The Stenzeln backed away in horror. This man looked like a huddled, scared animal.
“Mr. Schräger! Jeses! How do you look? ”
He leaned against the wall and stared at her.
‘Has anyone come? Has anyone asked? ”
“Who is supposed to have come?”
“Nobody asked? After me? After me, Stenzeln? ”
“Who then? Oh God, who? ”
“Stenzeln, when the sergeant comes, I – I’m not there! Do you hear? – Not there! – Away – away! – Do you hear?”
“Oh my heavens, he’s not coming! Oh God, what a misfortune, what a terrible misfortune! ”
He came very close to her.
“Stenzeln! Do people say something about me? ”
“What should they say?”
“I didn’t know anything, Stenzeln! Do you hear? Didn’t know anything! Tell the people! I – I can’t help it, I’m innocent! Do you hear? Tell the people, otherwise I’ll sue them, otherwise I’ll sue them all! Tell them that! ”
He sank into a chair. The Stenzeln started to cry.
“Come down with me, Herr Schräger! Don’t be so alone! ”
He shook himself.
»Go Stenzeln, go out! Someone comes in the hallway. Go! Gently! Gently! Don’t say anything, Stenzeln, don’t say anything! I am not there! Do you hear? Go, go out! Stenzeln, go out! ”
He pushed her through the door and locked it behind him.
It was deep in the night. Lotte lay in bed with her eyes wide open. It was pitch dark in the room and the clock had stopped. Outside, the storm hit the gable, and the branches of a tall tree sometimes hit the window.
The girl folded her hands. Then she pressed something – that was the gold ring!
His ring! And below was her brother!
How the roses smelled!
“He didn’t understand better, poor, unhappy man!”
Heinrich was so noble!
But she – she? Wasn’t it a crime that she wore this ring? That she sought love and happiness in a family where poverty, hardship, death and shame carried her brother?
The Lene! Oh God, what would Lene say! If she found out now, then her curse rested on her and Heinrich’s love, rightly now.
The ring! How cruelly he pressed!
If she could die and erase that, then she would be happy to die tonight!
There! – A step was taken outside, a very quiet step! – now! – A faint glow of light flitted past the threshold below. What was that? – What was that? – And now a whimper, a terrible, heavily suppressed whimper down in the hallway.
“O God, the Father!”
After a short time she crept down the stairs. She leaned over the railing. Then she saw him. In the open door to the mortuary chamber he knelt, crouched, his head pressed against the doorpost.
The light he had carried was extinguished; only the totenlämplein seemed pale from the vault.
She whispered it. He winced in horror.
“Who is calling me? Oh, you Lotte, you – just you – just you! ”
She hurried down and took his hand.
“Come along! Come up to me! ”
“Yes! – Yes! – Yes! – Lotte – to you – oh – there – there – ”
He looked again at the dead man, at his horrible, fear-contorted face and the shattered forehead. Lotte then closed the vault.
Up there she lit the lamp with trembling hands.
When the light came on, he groaned. Then he choked for words.
“I can’t stand it – I have to tell you, it strangles me – I’m so terrified – Lotte – I – I’m to blame for everything!”
She looked at him blankly.
“Lotte, I knew it, I always knew it.”
“What? – What?”
“That he – that our Gustav set fire to it!”
“Did you know that?”
She stammered it.
He looked at her, crouched down and stood without a word.
“Speech! Speech! Say everything! Everything! Speech! Say it! Right away! Say everything! I want it! ”
He groaned, but couldn’t utter a word.
“When did you know?”
The criminal stood before her angry judge’s eyes.
“Lotte! Have – have mercy, Lotte! ”
“When did you know?”
“Right away – right on the first day!”
“Before Judgment Day?”
“Ih – ih – yes – yes – before court day!”
A terrible pause. The wind pulled around the corner of the house with a very low, devilish whistle.
“You! – you! – You! ”
She approached him with a terrible hatred in her eyes.
»Say everything! Everything!”
“I – I – I swore wrong – wrong, Lotte!”
She didn’t speak. You just heard -! A trumpet roared across the house, a crunch and rattle and a whimpering whimper.
“Wrong sworn? Why?”
“I wanted the Buchenhof – the Buchenhof – for – for you.”
“Did you want the Buchenhof?”
She said that in a broken voice.
Then she walked slowly through the room, pushed the curtain away from the window, and looked across at the Buchenhof.
Striker sat down on the edge of her bed and stared at her.
She stood motionless, her hands hanging limply.
After long minutes she turned. Slowly she came back from the window and went to the table. There she pulled the gold ring from her finger, kissed it and placed it next to the roses.
“What are you doing, Lotte?”
She looked at him with dead eyes.
“That’s over now, of course! The daughter and sister of such – such criminals – – he cannot marry. ”
“What do you want to do, Lotte?”
“I’ll tell him everything!”
Then it was quiet. The lamp smoked up. After a while a branch struck the window and a pane cracked. There stood up obliquely. He walked slowly across the room to a basket that he had been staring at in the meantime.
He took a clothesline from the basket. Lotte heard the faint noise, looked up and saw the father with the gray rope in his hand.
He didn’t turn around.
She was with him, tore the rope from his hand and tossed him behind her. He fell on her bed and lay like a gray snake over the white pillows.
“If you tell him, I’ll be sent to prison in my old days! That’s better – that’s it! ”
“Father, I won’t tell him – I won’t tell him, I won’t betray you, but you have to do everything I want – everything!”