Only the children were fully grown. The Buchenhof was completely rebuilt and in perfect condition. He was statier and more beautiful than ever. So Mathias’ prophecy had come true: that it would not be difficult to get the economy going again.
The brickworks had also performed well. The clay camp in the hill had turned out to be much more productive and better than had initially been expected. Operation was orderly, sales excellent. So the company brought in surpluses, and a number of people calculated that the beech farmer would have to become a very rich man through the brick factory alone.
It was then possible to gradually pay off debts. Heinrich insisted that Mathias Berger collect his interest and his share of the profits from the brickworks and invest it for Liese. He himself saved for his sister Lene.
So everything was fine. At the end of the day, skilled people always make money easily.
On the other hand, the Buchenhof people had hardly made any progress in the sympathy of their fellow citizens. They had saved their spatial home, the other, real, ideal was still denied them.
It is very difficult to eradicate old prejudices from simple country people. In addition, nothing exciting had happened in the village in all these years. The Buchenhof affair remained topical. The unenlightened, the unknown retained the charm. There was always the hope that light would come once more into the dark events.
It should not be said that the guilt lay wholly on the villagers’ side. The Silesians are generally good, cozy people, not tough, dark and closed, as the people in the great northern plain are often, but easily accessible, funny and more like the cheerful southern Germans. The mountain people in particular are of a lighter type and have a lot of sun in their souls.
It was the same here in the village. But the Buchenhof people kept themselves apart. They did not want to go courting the homeland community and received no friendly invitation.
Mathias Berger knew that the old newspaper numbers were still kept in many dwellings, in which the negotiation of the fire process was described and his compulsory apology was written to Schräger. He had finally heard that he was suspicious because of his money has been. Then he could not refrain from writing a letter to Schräger in which he thanked him “late, but nevertheless” for having let him win five marks for which he had bought a lucky ticket. The money was just enough to keep the Buchenhof, which otherwise would have uselessly increased the landlord’s property. The letter had just barely passed a new injury. Stranger had cursed and cursed, and the villagers had not believed the lottery story, but all the more eagerly sought a rather adventurous solution to Berger’s property question.
Heinrich found the way least of all, although his soft soul was looking for him. Often he told himself he didn’t need the community, he had company on the farm, all dear people who meant it to him faithfully. But he could not avoid the old truth that man cannot always associate with the same people. The sailors, who lived close together on the same craft for a long time, split up when they came ashore. You once feel the need not to see the everyday faces for a while. And there are many people who work together peacefully and in a friendly manner in offices, shops, schools and yet do not like to see or meet each other in their free hours, but prefer to visit strangers or be alone.
The Buchenhof people lived together as if on a large, lonely ship. Weeks went by in winter without them exchanging a word with anyone from abroad. And so it came about that a trader when he went into the homestead strayed as a dear guest was held and asked about all sorts of things.
Hannes suffered the hardest on such gloomy winter days. Sometimes he lay down on the bench in the stove and howled with loneliness. Then he swore high and dearly that when spring came he would go abroad. When Lena heard that, she said he should just hurry to get away. And he always resented that.
Mathias also suffered from loneliness. Sometimes, when he stroked old Pluto, who was still getting the bread of grace, he thought of his days as a rag, and then it seemed to him as if he had been a happy young vagabond then, who drove freely and undaunted on green roads, today here, tomorrow there, always with other people, always funny and welcome everywhere.
At such times Heinrich sat behind his books and studied. Only one was happy and completely satisfied: that was Liese. Those lonely hours were her most blissful time. Then she sat quietly and friendly with her sewing kit and only sometimes raised her eyes to look at Heinrich.
But over in Buchenkretscham there was still a lonely human child, a child who had no home at all: that was Lotte Schräger.
She had no one. The father was drunk almost every day, the brother an idiot. And her relatively high level of education only increased the misfortune, heightened the horror that her “home” instilled in her.
She seldom saw any of the Buchenhof people. It was ignored even by them. The proud Lene Raschdorf even did not return her greetings twice. But Lene sometimes stopped and looked at her with her coal-black eyes, challenging and hostile. She was just like her father, old Raschdorf, of whom Lotte had always been a little afraid. And lately she wore fashionable clothes on Sundays. She wore them like a lady, with no faults. But Lotte knew she was going to do the same.
Lotte saw Heinrich Raschdorf very rarely. She hadn’t spoken to him after the day when she had given him the bouquet and carried the suitcase. She had been a stupid kid then, but she still blushed when she thought about the old days. She often thought of the fact that he had kissed her, that she had persuaded him he would like to marry her, that he had thrown her bouquet on the street.
When he met her now he would take off his hat with urban politeness, and she bowed her head just as coldly and politely. She hardly knew what he looked like; she had only seen once that he had a mustache.
So it was spring again. It was a wonderful, soft evening outside, but the Kretscham was full of people. They all sat in the foul tobacco smoke and did not long for the wonderful air outside, through which the nightingales sang, through which the scented lilacs, through which the stars shone.
Farmers like to have bad room air, much better than townspeople. That is strange enough, since the air in the open air, which they mostly breathe, would have to make the peasants picky and spoiled. It can be assumed that death arranged it that way, because if the peasants also lived and slept healthy, the way they work healthy, all would probably live to be over a hundred years old. And that would be too many migrants. – – – –
It was tax day. “Community bid, pension, school fees, chimney sweep fees and night watchman fees” were received. Most of the housefathers had come in person to pay their taxes. But if any woman came, everyone would tease her, and Schräger had to pour her a ginger, which somebody gave her for the best. That is peasant chivalry.
A maid always brought the tax from the Buchenhof. She didn’t get ginger alone.
That day there had been great excitement in the Buchenhof, because Hannes had suddenly and without any external cause declared that he would go himself to deliver the tax. He added the bold assertion that he was not afraid of the devil either, and that he wanted to prove to the people that the Buchenhof had as much a sacred right to pay its taxes personally as everyone else. In addition, the matter was favorable because Mathias is not at home, who would otherwise speak against it.
As I said, it is difficult to determine what excited Hannes about his bold plan. It was in part Mood, partly the desire to finally experience something new and to be snatched from loneliness.
But just as there is always a lot of wise talk when deciding on “questions of principle”, so here too. Even the Schaffer took part in the debate, apparently against Hannes, but basically, as always, for him. Heinrich was undecided, and only Lene disagreed vehemently. But finally Hannes won. He was given the tax book, and Lene counted him the tax amount from the “Schwinge” and another mark about it, as Hannes wanted. She even had to borrow old Raschdorf’s large parade wallet, which he had only ever used on special occasions.
So equipped, Hannes walked across the street in his Sunday suit, proud like a hero going into battle, one against all.
The Buchenhof people watched him from the window. Everyone’s heart pounded, especially the hero’s worried father. It would be best, said the worker, to arm himself with a good stick and stand behind the gate so that he could cross over if he could hear Hannes screaming.
But Hannes didn’t scream. With a jerk he tore open the door of the Kretscham over there and stepped into the room with his head held high. His sudden appearance really had the desired effect. The peasants were amazed beyond measure, and there was great silence.
Hannes intended to increase this effect. So he made a face that should be majestic, in reality but had an accident, went to the court table and greeted in a careless voice:
“Enjoy the meal!”
In the urban greeting “meal,” said Hannes, the entire sum of majesty and refinement that a person can dispose of is clearly expressed.
“Meal!” He repeated when no one answered. “I personally bring the taxes from the Buchenhof, because the Buchenhof has the right to do so!”
Nobody denied that. None of those present answered at all.
“How much does it do?” Asked Hannes, pulling old Raschdorf’s huge parade wallet out of his pocket with great difficulty. He knew the exact amount, but his question gave him the opportunity to hold the wallet challengingly in hand while the clerk calculated the amount.
“So?” He said when he found out the tax amount, and began to count the money slowly, taking each piece out of his wallet. Towards the end, however, he suddenly became restless, skimmed the amount listed, peeked into his wallet, counted again, changed a little and asked anxiously:
“How much does it do?”
The community clerk repeated the amount.
O you dear saints! Hannes had a mark too little instead of a mark too much. The realization flashed through his head like a flash of lightning that Lena had looked at a thaler for a five-mark piece.
“It’s not enough!” Whispered a voice somewhere among the peasants watching intently, and a secret giggle broke out. Hannes straightened up angrily.
“What? Isn’t it enough? Who can’t get it? ”
And he turned back to the local authority.
“The change won’t be enough,” he said, and crossed in the amount listed. “Can you issue a hundred-mark note?”
“Oh yes,” said Schulze, “we can do that. Where’s the one hundred mark note? ”
Hannes hadn’t expected that. He was terribly embarrassed. But when the peasants and the tax officials broke out in an irrepressible cheerfulness, he got himself up and shouted:
“Hundred mark note? We have tons of hundred-mark notes! But I must have lost mine on the way. Whoever finds it can keep it. Do you understand? Can keep it! And I’ll go get a new one. ”
He tried to step out again with the greatest possible dignity, which did not prevent the peasants from breaking out into roaring laughter.
Hannes crossed the street furiously, not without looking around a few times, as if he were looking for something. Behind the gate he met his father who had a big stick in his hand.
“Have they harmed you?” Asked the conductor.
“Leave me!” Growled Hannes and stomped towards the room. There he was greeted with expectant faces.
“We are plamed!” Shouted the returned ambassador, and sank into a chair. “Plated to the bone! I had a mark too little; Lene gave me a thaler for a five-mark piece. ”
The Schaffer hit the table with his club so that the room roared. Heinrich growled morosely about foolishness, and only Lena laughed.
Then Hannes started angrily:
“Lena,” he gasped, “did you do it on purpose?”
The girl looked at him flashing.
“You mean I can’t count? Think I don’t know the money? ”
“Lene, that’s cheeky; that’s – I – I – oh, there you have the curd; I – I – this is a Gemeenheet – I won’t put up with that – I’ll be moving away for three months – we’ll see – ”
“We’ll see!” Agreed the conductor and stomped out of the room behind Hannes.
Old Raschdorf’s parade wallet lay on the floor.
The two siblings were alone. Heinrich was also upset.
“Why are you doing this, Lene? Why are you embarrassing him and us? ”
The girl looked at him angrily.
“None of us has any business with the people over there. If nobody understands, I understand! Such a donkey – it suits him! ”
She pushed the wallet aside with her foot and went out.
The young beech farmer looked after her. For the first time it struck him how little he really had to say at his court. He wasn’t the master. Nobody cared about his opinion, at most Mathias. They were all masters: Hannes, the Schaffer, mostly Lene. He had always remained silent, feeling that the others understood better and that he owed them to be grateful.
But now defiance stirred in his soft soul. He picked up his father’s wallet and shook the contents into his own purse.
Now he would go to the steering wheel himself! Yup!
Berger-Liese came in.
“Heinrich, someone has to go to the wheel; it is high time. I will go. They won’t hurt me. ”
“No, Liese, you are not going! You least of all! But you are a sensible girl! ”
He extended his hand to her. Liese blushed because Heinrich rarely spoke to her.
‘But who should go? Hannes doesn’t like; I’ve already persuaded him, but he doesn’t want to, and the Schaffer is terribly angry. ”
“I’ll go myself!”
At that moment Lene came back into the room.
“I’ll go to the steering wheel myself!” Repeated Heinrich.
Then the girl turned pale.
“You’re not going!” She said firmly and vehemently.
“Yes, I’m going! I will leave soon!”
“You’re not going, I say!”
He looked at her.
“Lene, I am the Lord! Remember that!”
She walked up to him and met his eye.
“Heinrich, if you go to the steering wheel, I’ll run away!”
“Then run away!” He said indifferently.
And he walked out of the room with a firm step.
Still, his hand trembled when he touched the door handle to the beech crepes. He had not been in this room, which was just across the street, since childhood.
The door opened.
For a few seconds Heinrich saw nothing but smoke.
Nobody answered. Everyone looked in amazement at the young gentleman from the Buchenhof, and Schräger, who was already drunk again, stumbled against the mantelpiece and stared at the person entering, who stood for a few seconds at the door.
Then finally someone said: “The hundred-mark note is coming!”
That was the Bader. But only young Riedel laughed; the others were silent.
Heinrich went through the room to the community table.
“I’ll bring the tax,” he said softly, and counted the amount.
The parish clerk acknowledged.
“Six threesomes and a dog!” Sang the idiot in a corner. Two laughed. But Heinrich ignored it.
“Good evening!” He said, took the tax book and turned to go.
Then someone came up to him. It was the old, gray-haired millet farmer. He held out his hand.
“Herr Raschdorf,” he said in a friendly manner, “would you like to drink a schnapps with me?”
Heinrich was very frightened. Indecisive, he looked left and right at the many people and then said haltingly: “No, I – I have to thank you, Herr Hirsel!” Good night!”
And he gave his hand a quick squeeze and went out quickly.
The old, friendly man sat down, shaking his head. But the bather jumped on the chair.
“Did you see it? That’s for the millet Drink the Raschdorf and a schnapps with someone! There must be no Raschdorf! This is and remains a snooty gang! ”
And now the bathroom operator had everyone to himself again. –
Heinrich met Lotte Schräger outside the front door.
He stopped, shocked.
She didn’t say a word either.
But then they looked at each other shyly like two people who knew each other a long time ago and meet again and now don’t know whether they are friends or enemies.
“Good evening!” Said Heinrich, and took off his hat. With that he wanted to go. But he thought about it.
“Fraulein Lotte,” he said softly and hastily, “I – I still have something to say to you.”
He broke off. He was waiting for a word from her, but she said nothing. Then he began again:
“You were very kind to me once – you know well – back when we were still children – it was about eight years now – but I just wanted to tell you I didn’t throw the bouquet on the street – not me! You have certainly been very angry with me for a long time. ”
She blushed at him, shook her head, and went quickly into the house.
Heinrich walked slowly across the street. He stopped at the gate and took a deep breath. He looked at the beech crepes, behind whose lighted windows there was a loud noise. He was very happy.
That he could tell her that made him happy. It had depressed him all these years.
She had become a wonderfully beautiful girl. He had only really seen that today. So ripe and so beautiful!
Why was his heart beating so loudly?
He kept looking over to where he’d stood with her. She hadn’t said a word, she had just looked at him.
It was getting light in the gable of the beech crepes. Heinrich looked up.
Now a figure came to the window.
That was Lotte!
She leaned against the panes and looked across at the Buchenhof.
How his heart beat! He looked at her dark silhouette and could not move.
Then she saw him standing below in the moonlight.
Startled, she put a hand on her forehead. Soon after, she walked away from the window and the light went out.
Heinrich stood still for a minute, then left.
His sister Lene was sitting on the stairs in the hallway. She rested her head on both hands. Next to her stood Mathias, who had been in town and had just come home.
“You were in the Kretscham, Heinrich?”
“Yes, I carried the tax over!”
Mathias looked at him mildly.
“It’s all right, Heinrich, you can do what you want.”
“But I – I’m running away!” Cried Lene.
She jumped up.
“Go into the room, Heinrich! Lena leave me! She can’t run away. She belongs here as well as you! ”
Heinrich went to the room. Liese Berger brought him dinner. She looked at him kindly.
“Did it go well?” She asked.
“Yes, Liese, very good.”
The pale girl nodded happily.
“And Lene will stay there, we all encourage her.”
She served him with her great kindness and her quiet zeal. She handed everything to him and asked if he liked it too.
He had to force himself to eat. And he almost wished that the friendly Liese wasn’t with him. Your kindness hurt him today!
She looked at him worried.
“You don’t have to be so angry, Heinrich. Everything will be fine. You must eat, Heinrich! ”
Soon afterwards he went to his room. He had to be alone. For whatever reason he didn’t want to speak to anyone now, not even Lene. He hardly thought of her.
He wanted to think, but he could not sit still in his chair. Dressed, he threw himself on the bed and squinted in the lamplight.
Yes, it was like that. He was glad that he had gone to the Kretscham. He was happy even if it didn’t suit everyone else.
He was brave. And this beautiful consciousness drove the blood to his head, like all soft-hearted people who are not used to it. It was like a frenzy. Because it is true that courage makes you drunk, one sooner, one later, depending on how much it can take.
They were silent; only two had laughed at him, the two most pathetic. The others don’t. And one of them had even invited him for a drink. The good old one Man! It was a pity that he had to turn it down, but to sit down among these people, that would have been impossible.
Had the millet offended? Maybe! Probably even!
Heinrich jumped up, sat down at the table, and wrote a long letter of apology to Hirsel.
A feeling of love for the old man flooded the young man’s heart. If he looked down into the village now, he would have known that there was someone down there who meant well with him.
Oh, he was so happy that he had won a very small piece of home.
When midnight was over, the young beech farmer had still not slept. He had to think of his people now. For the first time he had contradicted them, for the first time he was excited and happy, while they must have all gone to rest with oppressed hearts.
A slight regret came, or at least the desire to reconcile them all very soon, including Lena.
Of course they hadn’t lost anything.
Lotte occurred to him.
What would they say if they knew that he had spoken to Lotte Schräger? He really had to tell them. That would be sincere.
But he was ashamed and decided to keep the meeting to himself.
What happened too? He had apologized because of a naughtiness, really apologized late enough. Then nothing.
And now he was even with Lotte Schräger.