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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Wedding and a Betrothal
By Karl Leberecht Immermann (1796–1840)
From ‘Oberhof’: Translation of Olga Flinch

DURING the singing the deacon ascended the pulpit, and when he happened to let his eye sweep over the congregation he had an unexpected sight. A fine gentleman from the court was standing among the peasants, whose attention he absorbed; they were continually looking up from their hymn-books and casting side glances at his decorations. The nobleman wanted to look over the hymn-book with some one or other of the peasants, that he might join in the singing; but as every one stepped aside respectfully as soon as the gentleman approached, he did not succeed, and merely caused an almost general disturbance. For no sooner did he sit down on a bench than all the peasants who were already seated slid over into the farthest corner, and fled the bench entirely when the noble gentleman slid after them. This sliding and sliding was continued to the third and even fourth bench; so that the gentleman from court, who had come to the village service with the best intentions, finally had to give up the hope of taking any part in it. He had business in the neighborhood, and would not neglect the opportunity of letting his graciousness win the hearts of these country people for the throne to which he stood so near. As soon as he heard of the peasant wedding, he therefore made up his mind to lend it his amiable presence from beginning to end.  1
  To the deacon the sight of the nobleman, whom he knew to be from the brilliant circles of the capital, was not a welcome one. He knew to what strange customs the sermon had to conform, and he dreaded the nobleman’s ridicule. His thoughts lost thereby their natural clearness, his expressions became somewhat veiled, and the more he said the further he got away from the point. His preoccupation increased when he noticed that the nobleman sent him understanding glances, and nodded his head approvingly in some places, generally where the speaker was the least satisfied with himself. He therefore cut short the separate parts of the address and hastened to get to the ceremony.  2
  The bridal couple knelt down, and the fateful questions were put to them. But then something happened which threw the noble stranger into the most abject fear. To the right and to the left of him, in front and behind him, he saw men and women, girls and boys, drawing out stout ropes twisted of sackcloth. All had risen and were whispering to each other, and looking about, so it seemed to him, with wild malicious eyes. As it was impossible for him to guess the meaning of this preparation, he lost all self-control; and as the lashes were undoubtedly intended for some one who was to be beaten, the thought came to him that he would be the object of this general abuse. He remembered how shyly everybody had got out of his way, and he considered how rough was the character of the country people, and that the peasants, ignorant of his gracious frame of mind, had decided to get rid of the stranger who was in their way. All this passed through his mind with lightning quickness, and he did not know how to save his dignity and his body from the awful attack.  3
  While he was still helplessly trying to make up his mind, the deacon finished the ceremony, and immediately the wildest tumult ensued. All the men and women, carrying rope lashes, rushed forward swinging their weapons, screaming in a perfect frenzy; the courtly gentleman scaled several benches with three strides and reached the pulpit, which he at once ascended, and from this elevated position he called down to the frenzied crowd below: “I advise you not to attack me! I have the kindest and most gracious feelings towards you; but every insult shown me, the King will requite as if it had been shown to himself.”  4
  But the peasants, carried away with their purpose, did not listen to this speech. They ran toward the altar, and on the way one and another got a chance beating before they reached the object for whom it was intended. This was the bridegroom. Raising his hands above his head, he did his best to break a way through the crowd, which let their lashes dance about his head and shoulders, and for that matter anywhere where there was room to hit. Forcing a way for himself, he ran toward the church door; but before he reached it he had received at least a hundred strokes, and thus beaten black and blue he left the sanctuary on his wedding day. Everybody pursued him; the bride’s father and the bride followed; the sexton immediately shut the door when the last one had departed, and went into the vestry, from which there was a special exit. The church had been emptied in a few seconds.  5
  But the nobleman was still standing in the pulpit, and the deacon was standing at the altar bowing to the noble gentleman with a friendly smile. When the former on his Ararat had seen that the beating was not intended for him, he had let his arms sink reassured; and now that everything had become still, he asked the deacon: “But tell me for heaven’s sake, sir, what meant this furious scene, and what had the poor man done to his assailants?”  6
  “Nothing, your Excellency,” answered the deacon, who in spite of the holiness of the place could scarcely keep from laughing at the sight of the little courtier in the pulpit. “This beating of the bridegroom after the ceremony is a very old custom, which the people will not abandon. The meaning, they say, is that the bridegroom shall feel how a beating hurts, that he may not abuse his wife.”  7
  “Well, well, these are indeed strange customs!” murmured his Excellency, as he descended from the pulpit. The deacon received him most courteously below, and was honored with three kisses on his flat cheek. Then the clergyman led his noble acquaintance into the vestry, that he might let him out into the open air that way. The still intimidated man said he would have to consider whether he could take part in the rest of the festivities. And on the way to the vestry the clergyman expressed his deep regret that he had not known earlier of his Excellency’s intentions, as he would then have been able to tell him of the beating custom, and thus have saved him the terror and alarm.  8
  When they had both gone, the church was still and silent. It was a pretty little chapel, clean and not too brilliantly colored: a rich protector had done a great deal for it. The ceiling was painted blue, with golden stars; on the pulpit was ingenious wood carving; and among the tombstones of the old clergymen which covered the floor, there were even three or four made of brass. The benches were kept clean and neat. A beautiful cloth covered the altar, above which rose a set of twisted columns painted to look like marble.  9
  The light fell bright into the little church, the trees rustled outside, and once in a while a little draught of air making its way through a broken pane stirred the white scarf of the angel over the baptismal font, or the tinsel of the crowns which had been taken from the coffins of young girls, and which were now decorating the columns.  10
  Bride and bridegroom were gone, the bridal procession was gone, and yet the little church was not entirely forsaken. Two young people were still there, and did not know of each other’s presence; and it had happened in this way: The hunter had left the bridal couple when they entered the church, and had gone quietly up-stairs. There he sat down on a footstool unseen by the others, with his back to them and to the altar, alone with himself. He buried his face in his hands, but he could not stand this long; his face, forehead, and cheeks burned too hotly. The deep serious tones of the church hymn fell like a cooling dew upon his passion, and he thanked God that at last the highest happiness had been vouchsafed him; and with the pious words which came up to him from below he mixed his worldly lines:—
  “Whether laughing or in earnest,
By a sweet right thou art mine.”
  A little child who had slipped up out of curiosity he took softly by the hand and patted. Then he thought of giving the child money, and did not do it, but took the little one in his arms and kissed its forehead. And when the child, frightened by his passionate caress, wanted to go down-stairs, he led it down gently that it should not fall. Then he returned to his seat, and heard nothing of the speech and the noise that followed; but was lost in a deep blissful dream, in which he saw his mother and his castle on the green mountain, and in the castle he saw another too.  12
  Lisbeth had followed the bride, feeling awkward and shy in her strange costume. “Oh,” she thought, “at the very time when he says of me that I am always so natural, I must go about in borrowed clothes!” She longed for her own. She heard the peasants and the townspeople whisper her name behind her; the nobleman who met the procession at the church door looked long and critically at her through his lorgnette. She had to stand all this now, when her beauty had just been praised in song, when her heart was overflowing with joy and happiness. She entered the church half dazed, and made up her mind to stay behind when the procession went out, that she might not again be the object of the talking and the joking of which she had been conscious for the last quarter of an hour. She too heard but little of the address, although she tried to follow the words of her honored friend. And when the rings were exchanged, the indifferent faces of the bride and bridegroom gave her a peculiar feeling of mixed sadness, envy, and vexation that so heavenly a moment should pass over unfeeling souls.  13
  Then came the tumult, and she instinctively fled behind the altar. When all was still again she took a deep breath, smoothed out her apron, pushed back a curl which had fallen over her forehead, and took new heart. She would try to get back to the Oberhof by a side path, and get rid of these tiresome clothes. She walked with short steps and lowered eyes through a side aisle to the door.  14
  The hunter, at last awakened from his dreams, came down the stairs. He too wished to get out of the church, although he did not know whither he should then go. His heart beat high when he saw Lisbeth; she raised her eyes and stood still, shy and demure. Then silently, without looking at each other, they went toward the door and he laid his hand on the latch to open it. “It is locked!” he cried in a tone of delight, as if the greatest happiness had come to him. “We are locked into the church!”  15
  “Locked in?” she asked, full of sweet alarm.—“Why does that frighten you: where can one be safer than in church?” he said blissfully. He laid his arm around her waist; with the other hand he took her hand, and so he led her to a seat, made her sit down, and seated himself beside her. She looked down into her lap, and let the ribbons of the many-colored bodice she wore glide through her fingers. He had leaned his head on the prayer-book rest; he looked at her askance, and touched the cap she wore as if to try the material. He heard her heart beat and saw her neck blush. “Yes, isn’t it a hideous costume?” she asked, hardly audibly after a long pause. “Oh!” he cried, and tore his vest open, “I did not look at the costume!”  16
  He took both her hands, pressed them violently to his breast, and drew her up from the bench.  17
  “I cannot endure to sit so still! Let us look about the church,” he cried. “There is not much worth seeing, I’m afraid,” she answered trembling.  18
  He walked with her over to the font, in which were still some drops of the holy water; before the wedding there had been a baptism in the church. He made her bend over it with him, and look at the water in the bottom of the font. Then he dipped his finger in and touched first her forehead, then his own.  19
  “For Heaven’s sake, what are you doing!” she exclaimed anxiously, quickly wiping off what she considered a blasphemous touch. “’Tis a second baptism I am giving,” he said with a wonderful smile. “This water blesses the birth into life, and then life goes on and on—for a long, long while; that is what is called life and is no life—and then true life suddenly comes, and one ought then to be baptized anew.” She felt frightened in his presence, and said falteringly, “Come, we must find a way out through the vestry.” “No,” he cried, “we will first look at the crown of the dead: between birth and death our life finds its light and beauty.” He led her to the stateliest crown hanging on the opposite column, and on the way he murmured with a dazed look, as if intoxicated by his happiness, a sentence from Gray which had no connection with his other thoughts, and which the surroundings only suggested:—
  “Full many a gem of purest ray serene
  The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
  And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
  Did he think of the girl from whose coffin the glittering crown was taken? I know not. Tinsel and shining rings were hanging down in thin silk ribbons. He tore off two rings and whispered, “You are only poor rings, but I will raise you and consecrate you to costly gold.” He put one on Lisbeth’s hand before she could prevent him, and the other on his own. And he looked angry, his lips curled as if in exalted scorn; he laid his clutched hand on the back of her head as if he meant to revenge himself upon her for having captured his soul. In this young heart, love made as deep marks and furrows as a forest stream rushing down a mountain.  21
  “Oswald!” she cried, and stepped back from him. It was the first time she had called him by his first name. “We can do that as well as the stupid peasants,” he said, “and if no other rings are at hand, then we will take those that decorated the coffins, for life is stronger than death.” “Now I am going,” she whispered, tottering. Her breath came quickly, so that her bodice rose and fell.  22
  But his strong arms had already enfolded her, and lifted her and carried her up before the altar. There he put her down; she lay half unconscious in his arms, and he murmured, sobbing with the suffering and passion of his love: “Lisbeth! love! my only one! Cruel one! You little thief and robber! Forgive me! Will you be mine? mine for always?”  23
  She did not answer. Her heart beat against his; she clung close to him as if now they were but one. Her tears fell upon his breast. Then she lifted her head, and their lips met. United in this kiss, they stood a long, long time.  24
  Then he pulled her gently down upon her knees beside him, and both of them lifted their hands to the altar in prayer. But they could only repeat, “Father, dear Father in Heaven;” and they did not tire of repeating this in voices trembling with joy. They said it as confidently as if the Father they were addressing were holding out his hand to them.  25
  Finally they ceased their praying, and laid their faces silently against the altar cloth. Each had put an arm around the neck of the other; their cheeks glowed side by side, and their fingers played gently with each other’s locks.  26
  Thus they both knelt for a long while silently in the sanctuary. Suddenly they felt some one touch their heads; they looked up. The deacon was standing before them with radiant face, and held his hand on their heads in blessing. He had happened to step into the church from the vestry, and with great emotion had witnessed the betrothal which had taken place here after the wedding and in the very sight of God. He too was silent, but his eyes spoke. He drew the young man and the girl to his breast, and held his favorites close.  27
  Then he led the couple into the vestry to let them out that way. And thus all three went out of the little, bright, and quiet village church.  28

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