Sometimes Lene took his hand gently. And he leaned in the corner and looked out into the darkness from which only the railroad lanterns or the lights of a peaceful village flashed at times.
From the king’s tent on they were alone in the car. The lights of Freiburg shimmered, then the train gasped up to the Waldenburg plateau.
“Is it such a heavy sacrifice for you, Heinrich?”
He looked at her kindly.
“Well! Oh yes! But you are worth it, Lena! ”
She took his hand violently.
“Heinrich, you don’t believe, as I’ve already suffered because of it, that you have just made my fortune and that I used to get in your way.”
“Leave it alone, Lena! Without you it would have just turned out the way it did. And those are old stories and now over. ”
The conductor was waiting at the station. When he saw Heinrich coming with him, something happened that had never happened before what happened in his life: the tobacco pipe fell out of his otherwise hermetically sealed mouth. For the first time in all his days on earth he had done something like a whoop.
“Pretty is, pretty is! Welcome! ”That was his whole welcoming speech. And Heinrich felt his heart beating violently when he shook hands with the good giant.
Then it went home. The man returning home was seized with great excitement, and yet he would not have liked to undo this trip now. In all the excitement there was a feeling of joy that even the poorest of all people does not stay away from when he moves home.
Now they were leaving the forest; Lights flashed down there.
The beech farms!
With his eyes closed, Heinrich drove past the Kretscham and into his courtyard. There he quickly jumped out of the car and went into the house.
“Heinrich is coming! Heinrich is coming! Hooray!”
That was the groom. He fell on his friend’s neck and was beside himself with joy.
And someone came up quietly: Mathias. Heinrich held out his hand to him and wanted to say something. But his lips just twitched and he couldn’t utter a word. So Mathias put his arm around him, and the old friends stood silent and silent for a while.
A little later Heinrich stood in the middle of the living room and looked around. Everything was still as usual: the stove radiated a cozy warmth, the large kerosene lamp was on fire and outside the autumn storm rumbled with the vine trellises.
But around him stood lovely people with beaming faces.
Heinrich Raschdorf felt as if he had come to a homeland.
Then they sat around the big table and chatted, and he got warm and said suddenly:
“I’m happy to be with you!”
How happy they were!
“So stay here for a few days, Heinrich!”
“No, Lene! I’ll drive soon after the wedding. You know, this is an appointment. ”
“And you won’t even go to the field or to the brickworks?”
“No, Mathias; but I’ll go to the stables and the barn tomorrow morning if you want. ”
It was late in the night when everyone was still sitting together.
Over in the Kretscham, a seriously ill man had sat up in bed when Heinrich’s carriage came by.
“That’s a – Lotte, that’s a!”
The girl didn’t answer.
“Go to the window, Lotte! See if a is that! ”
“No, father! I’m not going to the window. ”
The patient groaned and sank back on the pillows.
“I – I have to – talk to him; I can’t take it – ooooh – ”
There was an attack of pain. The girl leaned over the sick man. The lamp lit her face. It was so white and transparent, as if this nurse were seriously ill herself. The Stenzeln came into the room.
“Has a come, Stenzeln?” Asked the patient.
“Yes! I’ve seen one. A went straight into the house. But it was. ”
A tremor went over Lotte’s body.
“Stenzeln, go out again!”
When he was alone with the daughter, Schräger gasped:
“Write to him, Lotte – write him a letter – a should come over to me – a should come -”
“I can’t write to him, father – no, I can’t! Be quiet, be quiet! ”
“You don’t know, Lotte, how it is – I can’t die; I can’t die! ”
The pale girl stood motionless by the bed. Only a twitch went to her mouth. She no longer had tears. “What do you want from him, father?”
“I want to tell him, tell him everything!”
“Say everything – I – I – can’t die otherwise!”
“Do you want to betray yourself? Father!”
“The pain, Lotte – oooh, and old Raschdorf – my – my friend – a keeps coming back to me – and now I should go down – down under the earth to him – down -”
A terrible night came, a night of torment and agony and fear. But still lived in this grief-stricken, doomed man hoped it would be easier and better if he shifted the burden from his heart.
Towards morning Lotte wrote to Heinrich: “My father, who is seriously ill, has asked you to visit him for a few minutes before you leave. Charlotte Schräger. ”
She took her hand more obliquely.
“Will you be there, Lotte, child – my only one, will you be there when I – when I tell him? Otherwise I won’t find out – otherwise I will despair! ”
“Yes, I’ll be there!”
She said that softly but firmly.
In the morning Stenzeln went to the Buchenhof with the letter. It wasn’t long before she returned with the answer.
“I am leaving immediately after my sister’s wedding and cannot visit your father, whom I wish a speedy recovery. Heinrich Raschdorf. ”
She read it to the father. He stared at her with wide-open eyes. Then he slurred:
“A is not coming? A is not coming? ”
She was silent. After a while he laughed hoarsely.
“I go like this – stop like that – like that – over – down -”
Lotte was standing at the window and had pulled the curtains far back. Now the two wedding cars drove up over there.
Heinrich came out of the house first and looked over at the window where Lotte was standing. He was frightened and took off his hat, including Mathias, who was there. Lotte didn’t move. Then the bridal couple came. So the wagons went down to the church.
Old Schräger heard them drive too.
“They are gone now,” he said with a mad smile; “Now is the old Raschdorf bride’s father!”
Lotte was still standing motionless.
“Bride’s father!” He shivered to himself.
An hour passed. Lotte called Stenzeln into the room and went out herself.
She scurried across the street – to the Buchenhof.
“I’ll wait here for Herr Raschdorf, I’ve got to talk to him. Tell him when he comes, ”she ordered a maid, and sat down in the armchair by the window of the living room in the Buchenhof.