Volume Viii Part 26

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It was a happy family--in the parlor, in the yard, in the field. The Farmer often said that his food for years had not tasted so good to him as it did now; and he used to get Amrei to prepare things for him three or four times a day, at quite irregular hours. And he made her sit with him while he ate it.

The wife, with a feeling of proud satisfaction, took Amrei into the dairy, and then into the store-rooms. In the latter place she opened a large, gaily-painted chest, full of fine, bleached linen, and said:

"This is your outfit--nothing is lacking but shoes. I am very glad that you kept the shoes you got with your wages, for I have a superst.i.tion about that."

When Amrei questioned her about the way things had been done in the house hitherto, she nodded approvingly. She did not, however, express any approval in words, but the confidential tone in which she discussed ordinary matters made it quite evident that she felt it. The very supremity of satisfaction lay in her words. And when she began to depute certain matters in the household management to Barefoot, she said:

"Child, let me tell you something; if there is anything about our ways of doing things in the house that doesn't please you, you needn't be afraid to alter it so that it suits you. I am not one of those who think that things must always remain just as they were originally arranged, and that no changes should be made. You have a perfect right to do as you think best, and I shall be glad to see a fresh hand at work. Only if you'll listen to me--I advise you, for your own sake, to do it gradually."

It was pleasant, indeed, to see old experience and young strength joining hands, physically and mentally. Amrei declared with heartfelt sincerity that she found everything capitally arranged, and that she should be only too glad if one day, when she was old, the household was in as good order as it was now.

"You look far ahead," said the old woman. "And that is a good thing; for whosoever thinks of the future thinks of the past as well, and so you will not forget me when I am gone."

Messengers had been sent out to announce the family event to the sons and sons-in-law of the house, and to invite them to Zumarshofen the following Sunday. After that the old man trotted about after Amrei more than ever; he seemed to have something on his mind which he wanted to say, but could not express.

There is a saying about buried treasures to the effect that a black monster squats over them, and that on holy nights a blue flame appears over the spot where the rich treasures lie buried; furthermore that children, born on Sunday, can see this flame, and if they remain calm and unmoved, they can secure the treasure. One would never have thought that such a treasure was hidden in old Farmer Landfried, and that squatting over it was black obstinacy and contempt for humankind. But Amrei saw the little blue flame hovering above him, and knew how to conduct herself in such a way as to release the treasure.

No one could tell how she produced such an effect upon him that he manifestly strove to appear particularly good and benevolent in her eyes--the mere fact that he took any interest in a poor girl at all was in itself a wonder. This alone was clear to Amrei--that he did not want his wife alone to appear as the just and amiable one, and himself as the angry snarler, of whom people must be afraid. Perhaps the fact that Amrei, even before she knew who he was, had accused him of not thinking it worth while to appear good and kind before men, had opened his heart.

At all events he had so much to say now, every time he encountered her, that it seemed as if he had been keeping all his thoughts in a savings-box, which he was at last opening. And in it there were some very singular old coins which had declined in value, also some large medals which were no longer in circulation at all, and again there were some quite fresh ones, of pure, unalloyed silver. He could not express his thoughts as well as his wife had done on that day when she had talked with John--his language was stiff in all its joints--but still he managed to hit the point, and almost gave himself the appearance of taking Amrei's part against his wife; nor was it at all amiss when he said:

"Look you, the Dame is like the 'good hour' itself; but the good hour is not a good day, a good week, or a good year. She is but a woman, and with women it is always April weather; for a woman is only half a person--that I maintain, and n.o.body can dissuade me from it!"

"You give us fine praise," said Amrei.

"Yes, it is true," said the Farmer, "I am talking to you. But as I was saying, the Dame is a good soul, only she's too good. Consequently it annoys her when one doesn't do as she says, because she means well; and she thinks one doesn't know how good she really is, if one does not obey her. She can't understand that often one does not obey her because what she asks is inadvisable, however good her intentions may have been. And remember this especially; don't ever do anything after her, that is, just as she does it; do it your own way, the way you think is right--she likes that much better. She does not like to have it appear that people are subject to her orders--but you will find all that out yourself. And if anything should happen, for heaven's sake don't put your husband between two fires! There is nothing worse than when a husband stands between his wife and mother, and the mother says: 'I no longer amount to anything as far as my daughter-in-law is concerned; yes, even my own children are untrue to me;' and the wife says 'Yes, now I see what kind of a man you are--you let your wife be trampled on!' I advise you, if anything should come up that you can't manage by yourself, to tell me about it quietly, and I'll help you. But; as I say, don't put your husband between two fires. He has been a bit spoiled by his mother, but he'll grow more manly now. Just keep on pushing ahead, and think of me as one of your family, and as your natural protector. For that is true; on your mother's side I am very distantly related to you."

And now he tried to disentangle a strangely intricate genealogy; but be was unable to find the right thread, and succeeded only in getting the different relationships more and more mixed up, like a skein of yarn.

And at last he always concluded by saying:

"You may believe me on my word that we are related; for we _are_ related, although I can't quite figure out how."

And now the time before his end had really come, when he no longer gave away merely bad grosschens; it did him good to donate at last a part of his possessions having some real significance and value. For one evening he called Amrei out behind the house and said to her:

"Look, my girl, you are good and sensible, but you don't know just how it is with a man. My John has a good heart, but some day it may possibly annoy him, the thought that you had absolutely nothing of your own. So then, take this, but don't tell a soul anything about it, or from whom you got it. Say that you worked hard and saved it up. There--take it!"

He handed her a stocking full of round thalers, and added:

"That was not to have been found until after I was dead; but it is better so--he'll get it now and think it came from you. This whole affair is out of the common way, so that it can easily be added that you had a secret sum of money. But don't forget that there are also thirty-two feather-thalers in it, which are worth a grosschen each more than ordinary thalers. Take good care of it--put it in the chest where your linen is, and always keep the key with you. And on Sunday, when the entire family is a.s.sembled, pour it out on the table."

"I don't like to do that. I think John ought to do that, if it is necessary to do it at all."

"It is necessary. But if you like, John may do it--but sh! put it out of sight!--quickly! Hide it in your ap.r.o.n, for I hear John coming! I think he is jealous." And the two parted in haste.

And that very evening the mother took Amrei up into the attic, and out of a drawer drew forth a tolerably heavy bag. The cord which held it together was tied and knotted in a remarkable manner. She said to Amrei:

"There--untie that!"

Amrei tried, but it was hard work.

"Wait! I'll get a pair of shears and we'll cut it open!"

"No," objected Amrei. "I don't like to do that! Just have a little patience, mother, I'll undo it all right!"

The mother smiled; and Amrei, with great difficulty, but with a skilful hand, finally got the cord untied. Then the old woman said:

"Good! That's fine! Now look at what's inside of it."

Amrei looked in and saw a quant.i.ty of gold and silver coins. Then the mother went on to say:

"Look you, child, you have wrought a miracle upon the Farmer. Even now I can't understand how he came to give in--but you have not entirely converted him yet. My husband is always talking about it, saying what a pity it is that you have nothing of your own. He can't get over it, and keeps thinking that you must have a neat little sum tucked away somewhere, and that you are deceiving us about it, merely to find out if we are content to take you as you are. He won't let himself be talked out of that notion, and so I hit upon an idea. G.o.d will not impute it to us as a sin. Look--this is what I have saved during the thirty-six years my husband and I have kept house together. There was no deception about it, and some of it I inherited from my mother anyway. But now you take it and say it is your property. It will make the Farmer very happy, especially since he was clever enough to suspect it beforehand. Why do you look at me in such a confused way? Believe me when I tell you that you may do it--there is no wrong in it, for I have thought it over time and again. Now, go and hide it, and don't say a word against it--not a single word. Don't thank me or do anything--for it's the same to me whether my child gets it now or later, and it will please my husband while he's yet alive. And now, quick!--tie it up again!"

Early the next morning Amrei told John all about what his parents had said to her, and what they had given her. And John cried out joyously:

"Lord in heaven, forgive me! I could have believed such a thing of my mother, but of my father I should never have dreamt it! Why, you must be a witch! And look you! We will do that--we won't tell either of them about the other. And the best part of it is, that each wants to deceive the other, whereas, in reality, both of them will be deceived! Yes, they must both think that you really had some extra money! Hurrah! That will be a merry jest for the betrothal party!"

But in the midst of all the joy in the house there were all sorts of anxieties too!

CHAPTER XX

IN THE FAMILY CIRCLE

It is not morality that rules the world, but a hardened form of it called "custom." As the world is now disposed, it would rather forgive an offense against morality than an offense against custom. Happy are those times and countries in which morality and custom are still one.

Every dispute that arises, on a small scale as well as on a large one, in general as well as in particular, hinges on the effort to reconcile the contradiction between these two; and to melt the hardened form of custom back into the true ore of morality, and stamp the coin anew according to its value.

Even here, in this little story dealing with people who live apart from the great tumult of the world, the reflection of this truth is seen.

The mother, who was secretly the most rejoiced over the happy realization of her hopes, was yet full of peculiar anxiety concerning the opinion of the world.

"After all," she said, complainingly, to Amrei, "you did a thoughtless thing to come into the house in the way you did, so that we cannot go and fetch you to the wedding. It was not good, not customary. If I could only send you away for a short time, or else John, so that it would all be more according to rule."

And to John she said plaintively:

"I hear already the talk there'll be if you marry in such a hurry.

People will say: 'Twice asked, the third time persuaded--that's the way worthless people do it!'"

But she allowed herself to be pacified by both of them, and smiled when John said:

"Mother, you have studied up everything, like a clergyman. Then tell me, why should decent people refrain from doing something, simply because indecent people use it as a cloak? Can any one say anything bad about me?"

"No,--you have been a good lad all your life."

"Well, then let them have a little confidence in me now, and believe that a thing may be good, even if it does not look so at first sight. I have a right to ask that much of them. The way Amrei and I came together was out of the usual order, to be sure, and the affair has gone on in its own way from the very beginning. But it wasn't a bad way. Why, it's like a miracle, if we look at it rightly. And what is it to us if people refuse to believe in miracles nowadays, and prefer to find all sorts of badness in these things? One must have courage and not ask the world's opinion in everything. The clergyman at Hirlingen once said: 'If a prophet were to rise today, he would first have to pa.s.s the government examination and show that what he wanted was in the regular order.' Now, mother, when one knows for oneself that something is right, then it is best to go forward in a straight line and push aside, right and left, whatever stands in one's way. Let people stare and wonder for a while--they will think better of it in time."

The mother very likely felt that a thing might be accepted as a miracle if it came in the form of a sudden, happy event, but that even the most unusual things later on must gradually conform to the laws of tradition and of strong, established custom. The wedding might appear as a miracle, but the marriage, which involved a continuance, would not. She therefore said:

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