But Trude had not only seen ghosts! Martha’s fresh, lively nature had made the more impression on Pastor Frank since his thoughts had so often been drawn to his great-grandmother since he had been living in Weißfeld, and he was now in Martha’s warm interest, in her dexterity, her dealings with the villagers, in the energy with which she found her way in difficult circumstances, as if she saw the image embodied before her that his imagination had created of the long-dead benefactor. The very next week he paid a visit to the ladies, ostensibly to find out how his mother was. Martha met him calmly and gravely and disappeared into the kitchen as long as she could; but there[p. 121]he evidently did not go away to await her return, but in the end she had no choice but to go back into the room. She played with great-grandmother’s wedding ring before his eyes; he didn’t seem to notice, and neither did Frau Feldwart.
As often as the councilor had the members of the English hour brought to Weissfeld on a beautiful summer’s day, Pastor Frank was certainly there in the evening and always had a special reason for having a serious chat with Martha. He also liked to address Suschen; but it was very plain to see that he still regarded her half as his schoolchild.
Martha noticed very well that she was upset about it and feared that a dividing wall could form between her and her friend, especially as this delicate point could not be discussed between them. Sometimes she felt decidedly mistaken, since she had never noticed anything unequal or agitated in Pastor Frank; but many tender attentions, which he showed her and her mother, made them anxious and worried again. It was bad that Trude had spoken prematurely that time; Otherwise she would certainly have accepted everything unconcerned and unselfconscious.
Suschen was visibly depressed for a while; but from[p. 122]Accustomed from youth to keep within the given limits, and living in such incessant activity that she had no time for dreaming, she sought to shake off the unaccustomed bondage of her soul by ever new objects of love and care for her sympathetic heart and sought her busy hands.
Ever since Pastor Wohlgemuth was there, a warm Christian life had awakened in little H.; All sorts of internal missionary work had been undertaken, and Suschen’s heart soon beat for this activity when she returned home from abroad. As her mother enjoyed a large work force and good health, she willingly allowed her daughter to help with the children’s school and to visit the poor and sick under the advice and guidance of her dear, honored pastor. It sometimes seemed to Suschen that she was better able to do this since she herself was carrying a hardly understood burden on her soul; she had become more serious, softer and more compassionate.
One Sunday after the afternoon church, Pastor Wohlgemuth asked the young girls to stay a little longer and then told them that he was planning to start a Sunday school; his young girlfriends were to help him, they were to be the little girls’ teachers, and he promised to teach them in every one[p. 123] week to teach and prepare for such work. This plan caught fire with both Suschen and Martha; it was Martha’s special gift, teaching! And how nice the hours would be with dear Pastor Wohlgemuth!
Both girls quickly and without hesitation promised to take part and on the way home they were full of anticipation and enthusiasm for the cause. Suschen knew that her parents would be happy to give her their consent; Martha didn’t doubt that her mother was happy with that. But she was wrong about that.
Frau Feldwart had been very excited since the hot July days, slept poorly, lost her appetite, became breathless at the slightest step, and although she actually complained of no pain, her mood was more depressed and irritable than usual. Martha carried her beautiful plans the next morning with youthful enthusiasm; she sighed deeply.
“Oh, child, one more thing! I mean, you have more than enough for your powers!”
“But mother, I’m quite fresh and healthy, and the hours with Pastor Wohlgemuth will refresh me so much!”
“Oh, Martha, and then I’ll sit alone on Sundays,[p. 124]just after morning church, when cooking has to be done!”
“Oh, Mom, let’s warm it up!”
“And then you want to go away to Pastor Wohlgemuth for another hour every week, and you don’t know how long the hours you have to give anyway are getting so long! No, child, if you think anything of your mother any longer, you won’t go.”
“But Mama, I already promised the pastor; what should he think if I cancel now?”
“Well, so sensible is he that he knows a child must obey its mother!”
Yes, of course Martha believed that too, but she didn’t say so. For the time being she didn’t rush to him to cancel, but walked around the house all day like a gray cloud, was mute and monosyllabic, and that didn’t improve her mother’s mood at all.
To make matters worse, Pastor Frank also appeared in the afternoon, brought a lovely bouquet of roses, carnations, asters and pelargoniums, and this time he did not give it to the mother, as he had usually done, but to the daughter.
Frau Feldwart smiled approvingly. Martha was angry inside. Couldn’t she?[p. 125]make it clear that she is not an object for such delicate attentions?
While Pastor Frank greeted the mother, she wrung her hands helplessly, and since the restlessness of the soul tends to have an effect on her movements, and since the great-grandmother was probably stronger than the granddaughter, the ring in question flew off her finger and rolled across the room, very much Danger of disappearing in one of the deep cracks between the old floorboards. Her anxious cry: “My ring, my dear ring!” prompted the guest to grab the jewel. When he handed it back to her, he looked at her seriously and questioningly, and his face had gone pale.
Martha was no longer in doubt about his feelings and resolved to give him a clearer sign as soon as possible. When she accompanied him to the corridor door, he stood still without saying goodbye.
“Miss Martha, the ring was very dear to you, wasn’t it? It is very immodest of me to ask, but if you only knew—”
Martha didn’t let him finish: “I’d like to tell you what the ring means to me. It’s only my great-grandmother’s wedding ring, and as such I really like it; but I wear it to show that I have been engaged nearly a year; and if above ours[p. 126]fate there are still dark clouds: God can take them away, and my heart is firmly, very firmly bound for life.”
She had said it in a trembling voice, but looked at him gravely and steadily. He bowed.
“Thank you for your frankness, Miss Martha! God bless you!”
Very relieved and yet wistful, she returned to the living room.
“Now tell me, Martha, what kind of ring you are making such a fuss over,” called out her mother; “Surely Pastor Frank could think it was an engagement ring.”
“That’s what he is, mother, even if it’s only from the great-grandmother; but since Siegfried couldn’t give me one, I’m wearing it now as an engagement ring.”
“Siegfried?” cried the mother, as if disappointed; “Are you still thinking about Siegfried?”
“But dear mom! of course I think of Siegfried; it is my first thought in the morning and my last thought in the evening!”
The mother looked at her for a while, very shocked: “So that’s why you were so dismissive of Pastor Frank?”
“I don’t know if I was dismissive, Mama, but it almost seemed my duty not to let him know that my heart and hand are no longer available. It is very possible that he would never have asked for it anyway.”
“Martha, Martha!” cried the mother painfully, “how can you hold on so tightly to a dream that will never, never come true. You know that your father rejected Siegfried; he himself has written to you that he neither asks for a promise nor gives you one; who knows where he is now and if he even thinks about you anymore. Oh, how happy I’ve been lately; how I hoped that all our troubles and sorrows were at an end, and I could leave my child well protected if God dismissed me! It is God’s providence that he had to meet you in Weißfeld; you could be there and work where your great-grandmother ruled and ruled. Martha, drop that childish thought; you were both much too young.”
“Yes, Mama, we are both young, but old enough to know what we have in each other and to be faithful to each other even across the sea. Look, I got four years older in that one year, but if I knew it before the breakup: I know it now[p. 128] I’m even more certain that I can’t love anyone like my Siegfried!”
“Oh, Martha, that is youthful exuberance; think of your poor mother! What will happen if I get even more miserable and you have to give up your hours to take care of me? I know: Frank would like to take me under his roof; I would be fine with him. Even if you don’t love him so ardently, you still respect him and will win him over more every day. There are so many marriages where people are calm and yet happy and content!”
Martha had been listening, pale and silent, but a mighty storm was raging within her; her whole heart, all her will, reared up when her innermost feelings were touched. She didn’t consider that her mother was ill, weak and unhappy, and now the speech broke from her lips like a swollen forest stream – passionate, ruthless, hurtful: “I carried everything quietly, worked, endured, overcame my pain, as much as I could, and for that you want to take my only jewel away from me? I shall be unfaithful to one and deceive another if I give him my hand without my heart! Oh mother! Mother! how can you be so cruel and unjust!”
Frau Feldwart was horrified — Martha had never been so violent and unchildlike before —; she wrung her hands and burst into tears. Martha, although inwardly certain that she must not fulfill her mother’s wish, was deeply shocked that she had allowed herself to be carried away so far, and wept too; it was a rather unhappy afternoon. She would have liked to have complained and cried; but her dear Suschen was not allowed to know anything about this suffering. If she could have brought herself to forgive her mother for her vehemence, both of them would have been helped; but the stirrings of her own soul now seemed too high and sublime, her mother’s wishes much too unnatural and cruel. Nevertheless she had the desire to know that her mother was happier again, to do something for her sake,
Frau Feldwart nodded silently and Martha left. It was strange: she was not only fond of Pastor Wohlgemuth, but also of his friendly wife, and otherwise she had always rushed off as if on wings; today it seemed to her as if she could not meet the couple as freely as before. Shyly she asked the girl about her old one[p. 130] Friends; he was in the garden, his wife went to her daughter-in-law. Martha knew the friendly house garden and looked up the pastor there. In the middle way he walked slowly up and down; a comfortable housecoat encircled his tall, slender figure; a velvet cap covered the dignified head with the fine features and the sparse silver hair; the light puffs of steam from his long pipe, golden in the evening light, floated around it. He seemed to be lost in friendly thoughts as he bent down to his flowers, now to the right and now to the left, erecting and fastening a small plant here, breathing in the fragrance of a blossom with pleasure there. Now he turned and saw Martha.
“Oh, welcome! That’s wonderful; the later the evening, the nicer the guests!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “Now come straight here; the fiery ribbon carnation is lit up so beautifully, and just look at this white and brown one, my neighbor over there gave it to me in the spring.”
Martha bent to the flowers; but she was not in the mood for speaking and admiring, and since this was quite unusual for the pastor’s petty hobbies, given her lively interest, the pastor quickly took notice.
“But forgive me, dear Martha, you look sad; I didn’t even ask if I could serve or help you in any way! Come here in the arbor, it’s very peaceful there, and tell me what’s on your mind!”
“Oh, Pastor, I was so happy to help with the children’s services and now my mother won’t let me.”
Martha’s heart was very sorrowful; she burst into tears.
“Well, well, dear child, that’s no reason for such bitter tears. I don’t know the mother’s reasons, but it says: ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice.’”
Martha told why the mother found it so difficult; but she spoke differently, with far less respect and forbearance, and far more excited than usual; and the experienced pastor soon noticed that other troubles lay at the bottom of her soul.
‘My dear child,’ he said, ‘this cannot be the only thing that upsets you. Can you tell me what else you need that I can try to help you with?”
Oh, Martha longed to speak out and inwardly[p. 132]possibly becoming clear and solid again; here, she knew, everything was safe, and so she told her story: her engagement, Siegfried’s farewell, Pastor Frank’s little gifts and her mother’s bad words; alas, when she mentioned it, she became just as bitter and violent as in the afternoon. Pastor Wohlgemuth sat quietly beside her, sometimes sending a ring out of his pipe into the clear air, and letting her speak and complain to the full. Then he continued the pipe, walked up and down the garden a few times, and finally faced Martha.
‘My dear child,’ he said, ‘before we look at things on the outside, we must first put things in order on the inside. If you had reported to me for the children’s service, I would have gone through the ten commandments with you first, and we would then have very quickly come to the commandment that has promise; You know, dear Martha, what I mean? Ask yourself if you have kept that commandment today.”
“Mr. Pastor, you cannot want me to be unfaithful to Siegfried!”
“That is a completely different matter; I’m not sure about that yet. But you will admit to yourself that today you are quite unchildlike[p. 133]nurtured and nurtured thoughts and feelings; for this you must first ask God and then your mother for forgiveness, before peace will return to your soul.”
Martha looked at him sadly: “If I wanted to do what my mother wants and renounce my fiancé, I would feel this to be such a grave injustice that there could be no question of peace.”
“It’s possible!” said Pastor Wohlgemuth. “But don’t think so much now about what you feel or would feel, but realize for a moment what your dear mother thought and felt at the time, the mother to whom you owe respect and love, even if she did Should she not be able to take the path she desires. When I was alone with her the other day, she complained to me that she felt how her health had suffered from all the blows of fate, and that at the thought of her death she was weighed down with a heavy worry about what her future would be like, if so, the annuity would fall away and you would be forced to look for your bread among strangers without having received sufficient preparation for it. Your mother sees the relationship between you and young Kraus,[p. 134]and if you look at the thing from the outside, she’s right about it. Now she sees a capable young man approaching, who is courting you with a sincere heart, who offers you a modest but secure fate, and through whose loyalty and piety she herself hopes to achieve a peaceful old age. I myself confess that I have harbored similar wishes and suspicions, and that I may have been careless in what I said to your mother. Considered in this way, aren’t the mother’s wishes inexcusable, are they not actually good and reasonable? My dear Martha, when you’re so upset and indignant inside, it’s always good to mentally put yourself in the opponent’s position and look at the matter from there; one will then at least understand those who think differently,
Martha sighed, “If God requires the fulfillment of the fourth commandment, why does he allow conflicts to arise so severely?”
“Dear child, with the ‘why’ we don’t get very far with our Lord God; there it is always said: ‘afterwards – afterwards you will experience it.’ Against this very commandment there are many and severe temptations. The children grow up and become independent[p. 135]Personalities who have their own accountability to the Lord in heaven and the world. So obedience is often a very difficult thing; but he is also a beautiful, dear Martha! who bears the reward. Young people often rush forward in a dark thirst for action; Old age stands in the way with its multiple experiences and its need for rest; God put them both side by side, one to balance the other. When youth pays attention and accepts, and old age gives way a little in gentleness and godliness, the right harmonic center emerges. Because our Lord God knows that this is difficult, he has given the promise to the commandment, and he keeps it, he keeps it, Martha! experience always confirms this.”
A suffering, agitated heart relates everything to its particular case: “But Herr Pastor, I can take no other than Siegfried!”
“It is possible, dear Martha! in fact no one else can decide that but you yourself. But if you want to remain faithful to your fiancé, you must first be very clear about the sacrifices that loyalty can demand of you. God can take your mother away from you, so you may have to look for a miserable bread among strangers; completely different, much more difficult conflicts[p. 136]come over you than is the case now. You have to put up with being very low and small, and that will be difficult for your nature. You must also be prepared not to hear from your fiancé again, yes, one day you may get the news that he is happily married and then you must not say: ‘Oh, if I had acted differently, I would be now instead of a deserted girl, a happy woman!’”
“I’ve already told myself all this, Mr. Pastor! that is to say, not everything, for I shall never hear of the fact that he is married to another, and I am quite calm and firm in this that I will remain faithful to him as long as I breathe!”
“Well, God be with you!” said Pastor Wohlgemuth. “But don’t forget that deference, love, and gentle consideration for your mother now become a double duty. As soon as you get home, ask your mother about your vehemence; if you are forced to stand up for your convictions, do so with childlike, gentle, pleading words and ask God for his blessing; who knows how to bring all conflicts to the right end for sincere hearts. My poor,[p. 137]young brother in office! I had better things in mind for him!”
“Mr. Pastor,” said Martha, looking at him with a look that in its cheerful mischievousness recalled earlier happy times, “believe me, he’s only in love with my great-grandmother! Good night and thank you! You’re not angry with me because of the hours, are you?”
“How could I? Your dear mother is probably right here: You are very busy with your time and energy! God has not commanded everyone everything, and He commands you through your mother’s mouth to forsake this work—so we content ourselves!”
It was dusk when Martha left; she found her mother sitting at the window and waiting for her.
Martha could now approach her mother with a humble heart.
“Oh, dear mother, I beg you, forgive me! I was very violent and naughty; but this thing is so difficult for me!”
The mother stroked her hair.
“My poor Martha, you will have to bear whatever comes after that!”
The peace was established, and it was best preserved by the fact that Pastor Frank was not to be seen in town for the time being.