New Years Day

There are years in which time sits tired and sleepy by our flock and weaves its gray everyday threads, so that we do not notice how spring and summer flow and how we grow older in the uniformity of the days. But there are also years where time manages and switches like a change-mad woman: destroys and rebuilds, moves, pushes, changes, planting new flowers on our windows, pushing people out and calling others in and at the end shows us a home that we don’t recognize.

Such a year came for the Buchenhof.

It started on New Years Day. Schräger had stepped into the room and had to find out from Raschdorf that he would not continue to put up with the confidential address “Hermann” or the “Du” from his neighbor.

“I don’t want to sit down like that either,” said Schräger, offended; “I just want to say in a nutshell that I have the[88] I quit 20,000 marks. I will then send a letter that it is legal. Adieu!”

Raschdorf didn’t move and didn’t say a word. Schräger went slowly to the door. He turned around again and looked at Raschdorf questioningly. But it remained completely motionless. Then Schräger went out of the room.

An hour later a servant brought the written notice and handed it over to the beech farmer personally. Beneath the letter, in addition to Schräger’s signature, were the words: “Ernst Riedel, landowner, as a witness.”

The beech farmer had changed since he got back from prison. He seldom said another word, he never went to an inn, he no longer cursed or complained. Shy and depressed, he brought the days by. He had sold the cattle that had been quartered with the farmers in the village. He didn’t like favors. He was a farmer who no longer owned a head of cattle or horse and whose barns and stables were in ruins.

And on the afternoon of that New Year’s Day another messenger came and brought a letter of resignation from the village for 5,000 marks, and besides the name of the creditor there was another signed “as a witness” under the letter.

Then the beech farmer looked over at the Kretscham and knew who had initiated this second letter.

In the evening the family was together. Otherwise the Christmas tree lights were lit again on New Year’s Eve[89] been. This year it was forgotten to decorate a fir tree.

So mournfully the clock ticked down those first hours of the new year. There was a letter on the table. A cigar seller from a distant city wished the beech farmer a happy New Year. No one else had sent a card.

A couple of times the sick woman tried to start a conversation. Raschdorf gave her absent-minded, absurd answers. He always blinked at the lamplight, and then read the merchant’s greeting card – a dozen times.

He said nothing about the resignations.

It was sad over in the servants’ house too. Hannes lay on a bench and slept; his father smoked tobacco and sometimes looked at the boy in silence.

Two young maids sat by the stove, crying and whispering softly. Tomorrow was draw day; they came to distant places and had their treasures here in the village. The new year and all future lay gloomy before her young eyes.

Over in the Buchenkretscham, however, there was a lot of life, and the barber, who had gotten drunk, was noisy about the court and the public prosecutor and said that Raschdorf had to leave the community.

January 2nd was draw day. Many large wagons rumbled through the village to pick up the new servants and maids. On this “death day” it is customary for the servants to get drunk. Farewell is drunk and new friendship[90] closed; Many a man who leaves the village wants to take courage in the brandy and adds physical misery to the homesickness that will seize him the next day.

The innkeeper, Schräger, did good business. He understood it too, he was a “community” man, patted the maids confidentially on the back and talked to every horse boy; he listened and asked a lot, knew everything and was proud to be so popular.

Another one moved his street – Mathias Berger, the rag man. He had converted his little cart into a sleigh because the roads were full of snow and it was snowing lightly today too.

He drove quickly past the two beech farms. Over on the right, where the ruins yawned, there was too much that he loved, and over on the left, where business was flourishing, too much that he hated.

He was due to appear before the referee on December 28th. He had been careful. The stranger might sue him in the ordinary court if he had the courage. What if he were locked up again -?

Ah, you don’t get locked up for being insulted, you pay a fine. And Mathias Berger had a lot of money – a lot more than people suspected.

The fact that he had been imprisoned for three days drained him. During the whole of Christmas he had not gone to anyone; even now he was glad that he could leave.

[91]

He was sitting! That was a bad word. He was the only one who had received a judicial sentence as a result of the fire down there.

Mathias was thinking of that now as he drove his dog sled along the edge of the forest. And he stopped and pulled a newspaper out of his pocket that said that an editor had been locked up for six months for giving his opinion. It has now turned out that this opinion was correct and that the prisoner was a martyr. This sheet was Berger’s consolation.

He read it again now and said to himself that it was a beautiful thing to suffer for the truth. Even if people think you’re a rag. Then even more so! But you don’t have to lose yourself and be pretty strong and brave –

There – one shot.

At the same time a dull scream from near by from the forest.

Berger started as if the shot had hit him. The dog breaks out into a howling bark. What was that? Who was this shot aimed at? What kind of voice was that?

Berger pulls himself up and harnesses the dog.

“Find, Pluto, seek!”

Both jump over the edge of the ditch and disappear into the forest.

A quick search – there you will find it – not far from the edge of the forest.

[92]

He lies against a spruce with his chest bleeding, and next to him lies the hunting rifle in the snow.

»Raschdorf! Mr. Raschdorf! O great God! ”

The rag man bends deeply to the wounded man. He doesn’t move an eyelash.

»Raschdorf! Hermann! Come to you! Come to you! ”

He lies with glazed eyes and groans heavily and eerily.

Berger tears open the wounded man’s skirt, vest and shirt and sees the blood pouring out of many tiny wounds. So he takes a clean handkerchief and ties it tightly to the wounds with a string.

Now he picks it up and with a terrible effort carries it to the street. There he lays it on the snow and fetches the little sledge. There he beds the wounded man and drives carefully back to the Buchenhof. And the dog walks by with bowed head, because he feels that his master is crying, feels that this is a sad journey beyond compare.

The proud beech farmer drives home on Lumpenmann’s little sleigh, and Death walks alongside, a gloomy companion, a gruesome comrade whom the dull sound of the rifle called to the scene. Now he is still walking next to the beech farmer across the white snow; but soon he will take the lead and walk with the other on his way.

Down in the village a couple of servants are singing:

»Well goodbye, my dear homeland,
[93]
Dear homeland, goodbye;
It goes now to the strange beach,
Dear homeland, goodbye! ”
Mathias Berger listens down and says to himself, shocked: “It’s drawing day!”

In the afternoon, Raschdorf came to for a few seconds.

“Raschdorf, for Christ’s sake you repent of your sins!”

And the clergyman who stood by the bed held out a cross to him.

Raschdorf stared at him with glassy eyes, then his face twisted as if to cry, and he tried to kiss the cross. But then he lost consciousness again.

“Through this holy anointing and through his mild and rich mercy, the Lord forgive you everything.”

Around 4 a.m. Hermann Raschdorf was dead.

Frau Anna and Heinrich leaned against the window. They held each other tightly. The winter evening lay in the corridor, and the sun went pale over the snow-covered forest, the distant sun which is infinitely closer to us than the souls of the dear dead who have gone home. With a white, unmoved face, Mrs. Anna looked at the yellow sheen. Soon she too went on the long journey, and the boy she loved was left lonely, without parents and without a home. But in many years, if he too, they would meet again. These are the hours in which God speaks to people, he, the comfort and[94] Having peace for the mourners when the world and all its wisdom and consolation fail.

The news flew through the village: “Raschdorf shot himself! His conscience has given him no peace! ”

Berger had taken on the task of getting the bearers of the corpse for the funeral. Otherwise farmers are carried to their graves by farmers. But the first farmer whom Berger approached about love affairs said he didn’t have time, and the second said he had influenza. Mathias Berger spat in front of the gate, drove into town and ordered a hearse with the morgue. They cost a lot of money, but they came on time.

“Money is something good,” said the simple philosopher to himself, “it is often much more reliable than charity.”

The funeral took place on January 5th. Hundreds and hundreds of spectators filled the cemetery. The clergyman said the usual prayers. Then the talk had to come. All eyes were on the priest’s mouth. He spoke clearly and distinctly:

“We pray for the deceased and all who slumber here with him, now one more Our Father.”

And not a word else. Soon after the Lord’s Prayer, the clergyman left. He did not even say the usual thanks for the “Christian funeral parade”. Apart from the blessing of the grave, Mathias Berger had forbidden anything else called the bereaved, including thanksgiving.[95] The people who came there, said Berger, came out of curiosity and not out of participation, but nobody had to thank them for their curiosity.

A great disappointment seized the participants at the funeral, and the men sought something to compensate themselves and went to the inn.

Many funeral speeches were given there for the dead Hermann Raschdorf.

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