The next morning a bright Epiphany lay over the wintry earth

Leaning, tired and bruised, rose from the armchair in which he had spent a few hours in dull slumber[113] of intoxication. It was past eight o’clock. He woke his son and once again insisted on silence. Then he promised him that he would have a second bed created in this room and that Gustav could always sleep with him now. He just couldn’t say anything.

The servants rumbled down in the house. Schräger did well. The light also calmed him. But a good thought he had had during the night helped him more: he wanted to go over to Frau Raschdorf and withdraw his notice.

He had to be able to sleep again, he had to be calm again, even at the risk of not getting the Buchenhof. Otherwise, he said, he would go mad with fear.

So he went to the Buchenhof right before breakfast. At the door he met Magdalene Raschdorf.

The beautiful child looked at him sharply.

“Lene, has your mother got up yet?”

The girl shook her head darkly.

“I would like to speak to your mother.”

“She is sick!” Said Lena, turning her back on him.

“Just like his father,” thought Schräger, “so proud and dismissive.” But he forced himself to be friendly.

“Lene, has it got worse with your mother?”

The child nodded and covered her face with her hands; then it ran into the house.

A maid appeared and explained Schräger. The woman had hemorrhaged that night. A team had fetched the doctor and a benevolent sister from the[114] Brought the city with them, and the pastor and the old cantor had come that night too.

“With a lantern?” Asked Schräger haltingly.

“Yes, with a church lantern!”

“Aah!” Sighed Schräger and nodded.

The doctor came down the stairs.

“What do you want?” He asked obliquely.

“I – I gave Frau Raschdorf some money and I want to withdraw my notice.”

“Dear friend, you are unfortunately too late. Frau Raschdorf has just died. ”

A shrill scream came from above. That was Lene who was just now finding out. – Schräger went home with heavy steps. – – – –

The death certificate flew through the village again and the people fell silent. A horror came over the people.

So much grief in one house made fear everywhere. A faint horror mingled with it, as if a punishment from heaven had been visible and manifested itself here for sins that the crowd did not exactly know. But pity stirred in the softer hearts for the two orphaned children. This pity could have helped to victory in the struggle for the homeland. Through pity Heinrich Raschdorf could have bought that heart from the members of the community for which he had to fight so bitterly for many years. A propitious moment came when he never came back. – A few demonstrations of sympathy came from the village. Carriages were offered, as well as other assistance, and twelve men reported[115] volunteered to carry the corpse. The farmer who had apologized for influenza days ago had gathered the twelve men. He sent a maid and asked if the porters were needed.

Mathias Berger brought the news to his ward Heinrich from the kitchen into the living room.

“People are getting sensible, Heinrich! You see, they are not bad at all. You just couldn’t get along with your father. It’s okay, Heinrich, if you get along with people, because otherwise you’ll stay in a foreign country, even when you’re at home. You can believe me.”

“They didn’t like to carry their father,” said the boy darkly. “Why not?”

Mathias Berger did not immediately know a correct answer. A passionate blush flared over the boy’s face.

“Because they’re stupid, because they’re bad! Mathias, I heard it, I heard you scolding my father back in town. They all laughed at the sloppy barber, and when I blew his nose bloody, they wanted to attack me – twenty men over a boy! Mathias, you are not allowed to carry my mother. I’m not sorry! ”

The proud, imperious manner of the Raschdorfs broke through with the boy. Mathias remained calm and mild.

“Heinrich, you can be offered yourself. It is the custom in the village. If we refuse that, it will be a huge insult. ”

[116]

“And the? Didn’t they offend my father? I begged, begged, Mathias, that they should believe it, they didn’t bark. I’m not sorry, Mathias, I’m not sorry that you are carrying your mother. ”

“Listen to me, Heinrich! You see, we will rebuild the barn, and the stable too. It’s not difficult. We’ll also get the economy back on track. It’s not difficult either. All of this can be done if you have a bit of money and are diligent. But Heinrich – the people, the people! They also have to learn to be friendly with us again. That is the main thing, Heinrich! That is more important than that we rebuild the economy. Look, I used to be such a poor guy. I barely had a pair of Sunday pants. But I was at home, I had a home. That was because I liked people. Your father, Heinrich, he had no such home. ”

“Do you want to scold your father too, Mathias?”

“Don’t cry, Heinrich! I just want to talk to you because you are already a big, clever person. Look, I say it was your father’s misfortune that a did not get along with a people in the village. I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m just saying it was his misfortune. Because you see, you couldn’t always be alone, you couldn’t always go to town either, well, and then you got annoyed and went to the Schräger, and that was his ruin. ”

The boy wept softly to himself. Berger put his arm around his shoulder.

[117]

“Heinrich, you are so attached to home. It is necessary, Heinrich, that we have good friends in the village. I’m too a clumsy guy, I can’t describe it to you the way I think it will. But I know that: we need people, even if we don’t need them. We have to accept it, Heinrich! ”

“There – tell them to carry their mother; You are smarter, you should know. ”

At the same moment the door opened and Magdalene Raschdorf hurriedly entered.

Her brown eyes were full of tears. Her voice trembled when she spoke: “Mathias, she said – she said to our Martha – you – you have – you kissed our mother!”

“Lene! What are you thinking! Who said that? ”Cried Berger.

“Who said that, Lene?” Stammered Heinrich.

“The – the maid from the Perschke farmer who is there – she said it to Martha – and I – I heard it!”

Mathias jumped out of the room to the kitchen. A young maid stood chatting with another.

‘Women, pathetic, what did you say? To the child? To the child? ”

The maid turned pale and fled to a corner.

“What is it? What is it? Jeses! A wants to hit me! ”

“What did you say about me and the dead Frau Raschdorf – girl?”

Berger, who had followed her, stepped threateningly and panting in front of her.

[118]

“I didn’t say anything – I have – Jeses -!”

A slap smacked her cheek.

“Confess it, women, or -”

“Oh God, oh God, let me!”

“I want to know what you said!”

Again he raised his fist threateningly.

“I just said it, the gentleman says it, the woman, the whole village. I can’t help it -! ”

“The whole village? Out! And tell your master, if there’s one more to be seen in the Buchenhof, I’ll chase the dogs! ”

“I’ll kill her! I’m going to kill her! “Shouted Heinrich in mad rage and clung to the girl. Berger tore him loose.

“Let her! Let them go, Heinrich! ”

“Let go, Mathias, go! I’ll kill her! ”

Heinrich hit Mathias with his feet, who held him while the girl ran away crying.

After a long time, when they had calmed down a bit, Berger said:

“It was wrong, Heinrich! The stupid thing is just gossiping what people are telling her. But, Heinrich, I was a big donkey. You’re right, your mother can’t wear them. You are too bad! ”

The boy turned his back on him and stood there trembling with grim resentment and terrible brooding. Berger looked at him and suspected what was going on in this soul. Then he said mildly:

“Heinrich, come with me to see my mother!”

[119]

The coffin stood in the small room. The transfigured woman lay so peacefully on the white pillows. Heinrich sobbed loudly and knelt by the coffin. Mathias Berger stood there with folded hands, for a long time – in mute contemplation. It was very lucky that he could stand here so quietly.

“Heinrich,” he said softly, “I loved your mother very much, but this is the first time I kiss her.”

And he leaned over the coffin and kissed the smiling dead woman.

Then he took the boy’s hand and led him out. And Heinrich snuggled close to him.

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