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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The New Home and the Old One
By Berthold Auerbach (1812–1882)
From ‘On the Heights’: Translation of Simon Adler Stern

HANSEI received various offers for his cottage, and was always provoked when it was spoken of as a “tumble-down old shanty.” He always looked as if he meant to say, “Don’t take it ill of me, good old house: the people only abuse you so that they may get you cheap.” Hansei stood his ground. He would not sell his home for a penny less than it was worth; and besides that, he owned the fishing-right, which was also worth something. Grubersepp at last took the house off his hands, with the design of putting a servant of his, who intended to marry in the fall, in possession of the place.  1
  All the villagers were kind and friendly to them,—doubly so since they were about to leave,—and Hansei said:—  2
  “It hurts me to think that I must leave a single enemy behind me, I’d like to make it up with the innkeeper.”  3
  Walpurga agreed with him, and said that she would go along; that she had really been the cause of the trouble, and that if the innkeeper wanted to scold any one, he might as well scold her too.  4
  Hansei did not want his wife to go along, but she insisted upon it.  5
  It was in the last evening in August that they went up into the village. Their hearts beat violently while they drew near to the inn. There was no light in the room. They groped about the porch, but not a soul was to be seen. Dachsel and Wachsel, however, were making a heathenish racket. Hansei called out:  6
  “Is there no one at home?”  7
  “No. There’s no one at home,” answered a voice from the dark room.  8
  “Well, then tell the host, when he returns, that Hansei and his wife were here, and that they came to ask him to forgive them if they’ve done him any wrong; and to say that they forgive him too, and wish him luck.”  9
  “All right: I’ll tell him,” said the voice. The door was again slammed to, and Dachsel and Wachsel began barking again.  10
  Hansei and Walpurga returned homeward.  11
  “Do you know who that was?” asked Hansei.  12
  “Why, yes: ’twas the innkeeper himself.”  13
  “Well, we’ve done all we could.”  14
  They found it sad to part from all the villagers. They listened to the lovely tones of the bell which they had heard every hour since childhood. Although their hearts were full, they did not say a word about the sadness of parting. Hansei at last broke silence:—“Our new home isn’t out of the world: we can often come here.”  15
  When they reached the cottage they found that nearly all of the villagers had assembled in order to bid them farewell, but every one added, “I’ll see you again in the morning.”  16
  Grubersepp also came again. He had been proud enough before; but now he was doubly so, for he had made a man of his neighbor, or at all events had helped to do so. He did not give way to tender sentiment. He condensed all his knowledge of life into a few sentences, which he delivered himself of most bluntly.  17
  “I only want to tell you,” said he, “you’ll have lots of servants now. Take my word for it, the best of them are good for nothing; but something may be made of them for all that. He who would have his servants mow well, must take the scythe in hand himself. And since you got your riches so quickly, don’t forget the proverb: ‘Light come, light go.’ Keep steady, or it’ll go ill with you.”  18
  He gave him much more good advice, and Hansei accompanied him all the way back to his house. With a silent pressure of the hand they took leave of each other.  19
  The house seemed empty, for quite a number of chests and boxes had been sent in advance by a boat that was already crossing the lake. On the following morning two teams would be in waiting on the other side.  20
  “So this is the last time that we go to bed in this house,” said the mother. They were all fatigued with work and excitement, and yet none of them cared to go to bed. At last, however, they could not help doing so, although they slept but little.  21
  The next morning they were up and about at an early hour. Having attired themselves in their best clothes, they bundled up the beds and carried them into the boat. The mother kindled the last fire on the hearth. The cows were led out and put into the boat, the chickens were also taken along in a coop, and the dog was constantly running to and fro.  22
  The hour of parting had come.  23
  The mother uttered a prayer, and then called all of them into the kitchen. She scooped up some water from the pail and poured it into the fire, with these words:—“May all that’s evil be thus poured out and extinguished, and let those who light a fire after us find nothing but health in their home.”  24
  Hansei, Walpurga, and Gundel were each of them obliged to pour a ladleful of water into the fire, and the grandmother guided the child’s hand while it did the same thing.  25
  After they had all silently performed this ceremony, the grandmother prayed aloud:—  26
  “Take from us, O Lord our God, all heartache and home-sickness and all trouble, and grant us health and a happy home where we next kindle our fire.”  27
  She was the first to cross the threshold. She had the child in her arms and covered its eyes with her hands while she called out to the others:—  28
  “Don’t look back when you go out.”  29
  “Just wait a moment,” said Hansei to Walpurga when he found himself alone with her. “Before we cross this threshold for the last time, I’ve something to tell you. I must tell it. I mean to be a righteous man and to keep nothing concealed from you. I must tell you this, Walpurga. While you were away and Black Esther lived up yonder, I once came very near being wicked—and unfaithful—thank God, I wasn’t. But it torments me to think that I ever wanted to be bad; and now, Walpurga, forgive me and God will forgive me, too. Now I’ve told you, and have nothing more to tell. If I were to appear before God this moment, I’d know of nothing more.”  30
  Walpurga embraced him, and sobbing, said, “You’re my dear good husband!” and they crossed the threshold for the last time.  31
  When they reached the garden, Hansei paused, looked up at the cherry-tree, and said:—  32
  “And so you remain here. Won’t you come with us? We’ve always been good friends, and spent many an hour together. But wait! I’ll take you with me, after all,” cried he, joyfully, “and I’ll plant you in my new home.”  33
  He carefully dug out a shoot that was sprouting up from one of the roots of the tree. He stuck it in his hat-band, and went to join his wife at the boat.  34
  From the landing-place on the bank were heard the merry sounds of fiddles, clarinets, and trumpets.  35
  Hansei hastened to the landing-place. The whole village had congregated there, and with it the full band of music. Tailor Schneck’s son, he who had been one of the cuirassiers at the christening of the crown prince, had arranged and was now conducting the parting ceremonies. Schneck, who was scraping his bass-viol, was the first to see Hansei, and called out in the midst of the music:—  36
  “Long live farmer Hansei and the one he loves best! Hip, hip, hurrah!”  37
  The early dawn resounded with their cheers. There was a flourish of trumpets, and the salutes fired from several small mortars were echoed back from the mountains. The large boat in which their household furniture, the two cows, and the fowls were placed, was adorned with wreaths of fir and oak. Walpurga was standing in the middle of the boat, and with both hands held the child aloft, so that it might see the great crowd of friends and the lake sparkling in the rosy dawn.  38
  “My master’s best respects,” said one of Grubersepp’s servants, leading a snow-white colt by the halter: “he sends you this to remember him by.”  39
  Grubersepp was not present. He disliked noise and crowds. He was of a solitary and self-contained temperament. Nevertheless he sent a present which was not only of intrinsic value, but was also a most flattering souvenir; for a colt is usually given by a rich farmer to a younger brother when about to depart. In the eyes of all the world—that is to say, the whole village—Hansei appeared as the younger brother of Grubersepp.  40
  Little Burgei shouted for joy when she saw them leading the snow-white foal into the boat. Gruberwaldl, who was but six years old, stood by the whinnying colt, stroking it and speaking kindly to it.  41
  “Would you like to go to the farm with me and be my servant?” asked Hansei of Gruberwaldl.  42
  “Yes, indeed, if you’ll take me.”  43
  “See what a boy he is,” said Hansei to his wife. “What a boy!”  44
  Walpurga made no answer, but busied herself with the child.  45
  Hansei shook hands with every one at parting. His hand trembled, but he did not forget to give a couple of crown thalers to the musicians.  46
  At last he got into the boat and exclaimed:—  47
  “Kind friends! I thank you all. Don’t forget us, and we shan’t forget you. Farewell! may God protect you all.”  48
  Walpurga and her mother were in tears.  49
  “And now, in God’s name, let us start!” The chains were loosened; the boat put off. Music, shouting, singing, and the firing of cannon resounded while the boat quietly moved away from the shore. The sun burst forth in all his glory.  50
  The mother sat there, with her hands clasped. All were silent. The only sound heard was the neighing of the foal.  51
  Walpurga was the first to break the silence. “O dear Lord! if people would only show each other half as much love during life as they do when one dies or moves away.”  52
  The grandmother, who was in the middle of a prayer, shook her head. She quickly finished her prayer and said:—  53
  “That’s more than one has the right to ask. It won’t do to go about all day long with your heart in your hand. But remember, I’ve always told you that the people are good enough at heart, even if there are a few bad ones among them.”  54
  Hansei bestowed an admiring glance upon his wife, who had so many different thoughts about almost everything. He supposed it was caused by her having been away from home. But his heart was full, too, although in a different way.  55
  “I can hardly realize,” said Hansei, taking a long breath and putting the pipe, which he had intended to light, back into his pocket, “what has become of all the years that I spent there and all that I went through during the time. Look, Walpurga! the road you see there leads to my home. I know every hill and every hollow. My mother’s buried there. Do you see the pines growing on the hill over yonder? That hill was quite bare; every tree was cut down when the French were here; and see how fine and hardy the trees are now. I planted most of them myself. I was a little boy about eleven or twelve years old when the forester hired me. He had fresh soil brought for the whole place and covered the rocky spots with moss. In the spring I worked from six in the morning till seven in the evening, putting in the little plants. My left hand was almost frozen, for I had to keep putting it into a tub of wet loam, with which I covered the roots. I was scantily clothed into the bargain, and had nothing to eat all day long but a piece of bread. In the morning it was cold enough to freeze the marrow in one’s bones, and at noon I was almost roasted by the hot sun beating on the rocks. It was a hard life. Yes, I had a hard time of it when I was young. Thank God, it hasn’t harmed me any. But I shan’t forget it; and let’s be right industrious and give all we can to the poor. I never would have believed that I’d live to call a single tree or a handful of earth my own; and now that God has given me so much, let’s try and deserve it all.”  56
  Hansei’s eyes blinked, as if there was something in them, and he pulled his hat down over his forehead. Now, while he was pulling himself up by the roots as it were, he could not help thinking of how thoroughly he had become engrafted into the neighborhood by the work of his hands and by habit. He had felled many a tree, but he knew full well how hard it was to remove the stumps.  57
  The foal grew restive. Gruberwaldl, who had come with them in order to hold it, was not strong enough, and one of the boatmen was obliged to go to his assistance.  58
  “Stay with the foal,” said Hansei. “I’ll take the oar.”  59
  “And I too,” cried Walpurga. “Who knows when I’ll have another chance? Ah! how often I’ve rowed on the lake with you and my blessed father.”  60
  Hansei and Walpurga sat side by side plying their oars in perfect time. It did them both good to have some employment which would enable them to work off the excitement.  61
  “I shall miss the water,” said Walpurga; “without the lake, life’ll seem so dull and dry. I felt that, while I was in the city.”  62
  Hansei did not answer.  63
  “At the summer palace there’s a pond with swans swimming about in it,” said she, but still received no answer. She looked around, and a feeling of anger arose within her. When she said anything at the palace, it was always listened to.  64
  In a sorrowful tone she added, “It would have been better if we’d moved in the spring; it would have been much easier to get used to things.”  65
  “Maybe it would,” replied Hansei, at last, “but I’ve got to hew wood in the winter. Walpurga, let’s make life pleasant to each other, and not sad. I shall have enough on my shoulders, and can’t have you and your palace thoughts besides.”  66
  Walpurga quickly answered, “I’ll throw this ring, which the Queen gave me, into the lake, to prove that I’ve stopped thinking of the palace.”  67
  “There’s no need of that. The ring’s worth a nice sum, and besides that it’s an honorable keepsake. You must do just as I do.”  68
  “Yes; only remain strong and true.”  69
  The grandmother suddenly stood up before them. Her features were illumined with a strange expression, and she said:—  70
  “Children! Hold fast to the good fortune that you have. You’ve gone through fire and water together; for it was fire when you were surrounded by joy and love and every one greeted you with kindness—and you passed through the water, when the wickedness of others stung you to the soul. At that time the water was up to your neck, and yet you weren’t drowned. Now you’ve got over it all. And when my last hour comes, don’t weep for me; for through you I’ve enjoyed all the happiness a mother’s heart can have in this world.”  71
  She knelt down, scooped up some water with her hand, and sprinkled it over Hansei’s and also over Walpurga’s face.  72
  They rowed on in silence. The grandmother laid her head on a roll of bedding and closed her eyes. Her face wore a strange expression. After a while she opened her eyes again, and casting a glance full of happiness on her children, she said:  73
  “Sing and be merry. Sing the song that father and I so often sang together; that one verse, the good one.”  74
  Hansei and Walpurga plied the oars while they sang:—
  “Ah, blissful is the tender tie
  That binds me, love, to thee;
And swiftly speed the hours by,
  When thou art near to me.”
  They repeated the verse again, although at times the joyous shouting of the child and the neighing of the foal bade fair to interrupt it.
*        *        *        *        *
  As they drew near the house, they could hear the neighing of the white foal.  77
  “That’s a good beginning,” cried Hansei.  78
  The grandmother placed the child on the ground, and got her hymn-book out of the chest. Pressing the book against her breast with both hands, she went into the house, being the first to enter. Hansei, who was standing near the stable, took a piece of chalk from his pocket and wrote the letters C. M. B., and the date, on the stable door. Then he too went into the house,—his wife, Irma, and the child following him.  79
  Before going into the sitting-room the grandmother knocked thrice at the door. When she had entered she placed the open hymn-book upon the open window-sill, so that the sun might read in it. There were no tables or chairs in the room.  80
  Hansei shook hands with his wife and said, “God be with you, freeholder’s wife.”  81
  From that moment Walpurga was known as the “freeholder’s wife,” and was never called by any other name.  82
  And now they showed Irma her room. The view extended over meadow and brook and the neighboring forest. She examined the room. There was naught but a green Dutch oven and bare walls, and she had brought nothing with her. In her paternal mansion, and at the castle, there were chairs and tables, horses and carriages; but here— None of these follow the dead.  83
  Irma knelt by the window and gazed out over meadow and forest, where the sun was now shining.  84
  How was it yesterday—was it only yesterday when you saw the sun go down?  85
  Her thoughts were confused and indistinct. She pressed her hand to her forehead; the white handkerchief was still there. A bird looked up to her from the meadow, and when her glance rested upon it it flew away into the woods.  86
  “The bird has its nest,” said she to herself, “and I—”  87
  Suddenly she drew herself up. Hansei had walked out to the grass plot in front of Irma’s window, removed the slip of the cherry-tree from his hat, and planted it in the ground.  88
  The grandmother stood by and said, “I trust that you’ll be alive and hearty long enough to climb this tree and gather cherries from it, and that your children and grandchildren may do the same.”  89
  There was much to do and to set to rights in the house, and on such occasions it usually happens that those who are dearest to one another are as much in each other’s way as closets and tables which have not yet been placed where they belong. The best proof of the amiability of these folks was that they assisted each other cheerfully, and indeed with jest and song.  90
  Walpurga moved her best furniture into Irma’s room. Hansei did not interpose a word. “Aren’t you too lonely here?” asked Walpurga, after she had arranged everything as well as possible in so short a time.  91
  “Not at all. There is no place in all the world lonely enough for me. You’ve so much to do now; don’t worry about me. I must now arrange things within myself. I see how good you and yours are; fate has directed me kindly.”  92
  “Oh, don’t talk in that way. If you hadn’t given me the money, how could we have bought the farm? This is really your own.”  93
  “Don’t speak of that,” said Irma, with a sudden start. “Never mention that money to me again.”  94
  Walpurga promised, and merely added that Irma needn’t be alarmed at the old man who lived in the room above hers, and who at times would talk to himself and make a loud noise. He was old and blind. The children teased and worried him, but he wasn’t bad and would harm no one. Walpurga offered at all events to leave Gundel with Irma for the first night; but Irma preferred to be alone.  95
  “You’ll stay with us, won’t you?” said Walpurga hesitatingly. “You won’t have such bad thoughts again?”  96
  “No, never. But don’t talk now: my voice pains me, and so does yours too. Good-night! leave me alone.”  97
  Irma sat by the window and gazed out into the dark night. Was it only a day since she had passed through such terrors? Suddenly she sprang from her seat with a shudder. She had seen Black Esther’s head rising out of the darkness, had again heard her dying shriek, had beheld the distorted face and the wild black tresses.—Her hair stood on end. Her thoughts carried her to the bottom of the lake, where she now lay dead. She opened the window and inhaled the soft, balmy air. She sat by the open casement for a long while, and suddenly heard some one laughing in the room above her.  98
  “Ha! ha! I won’t do you the favor! I won’t die! I won’t die! Pooh, pooh! I’ll live till I’m a hundred years old, and then I’ll get a new lease of life.”  99
  It was the old pensioner. After a while he continued:—  100
  “I’m not so stupid; I know that it’s night now, and the freeholder and his wife are come. I’ll give them lots of trouble. I’m Jochem. Jochem’s my name, and what the people don’t like, I do for spite. Ha! ha! I don’t use any light, and they must make me an allowance for that. I’ll insist on it, if I have to go to the King himself about it.”  101
  Irma started when she heard the King mentioned.  102
  “Yes, I’ll go to the King, to the King! to the King!” cried the old man overhead, as if he knew that the word tortured Irma.  103
  She heard him close the window and move a chair. The old man went to bed.  104
  Irma looked out into the dark night. Not a star was to be seen. There was no light anywhere; nothing was heard but the roaring of the mountain stream and the rustling of the trees. The night seemed like a dark abyss.  105
  “Are you still awake?” asked a soft voice without. It was the grandmother.  106
  “I was once a servant at this farm,” said she. “That was forty years ago; and now I’m the mother of the freeholder’s wife, and almost the head one on the farm. But I keep thinking of you all the time. I keep trying to think how it is in your heart. I’ve something to tell you. Come out again. I’ll take you where it’ll do you good to be. Come!”  107
  Irma went out into the dark night with the old woman. How different this guide from the one she had had the day before!  108
  The old woman led her to the fountain. She had brought a cup with her and gave it to Irma. “Come, drink; good cold water’s the best. Water comforts the body; it cools and quiets us; it’s like bathing one’s soul. I know what sorrow is too. One’s insides burn as if they were afire.”  109
  Irma drank some of the water of the mountain spring. It seemed like a healing dew, whose influence was diffused through her whole frame.  110
  The grandmother led her back to her room and said, “You’ve still got the shirt on that you wore at the palace. You’ll never stop thinking of that place till you’ve burned that shirt.”  111
  The old woman would listen to no denial, and Irma was as docile as a little child. The grandmother hurried to get a coarse shirt for her, and after Irma had put it on, brought wood and a light and burnt the other at the open fire. Irma was also obliged to cut off her long nails and throw them into the fire. Then Beate disappeared for a few moments, and returned with Irma’s riding-habit. “You must have been shot; for there are balls in this,” said she, spreading out the long blue habit.  112
  A smile passed over Irma’s face, as she felt the balls that had been sewed into the lower part of the habit, so that it might hang more gracefully. Beate had also brought something very useful,—a deerskin. “Hansei sends you this,” said she. “He thinks that maybe you’re used to having something soft for your feet to rest on. He shot the deer himself.”  113
  Irma appreciated the kindness of the man who could show such affection to one who was both a stranger and a mystery to him.  114
  The grandmother remained at Irma’s bedside until she fell asleep. Then she breathed thrice on the sleeper and left the room.  115
  It was late at night when Irma awoke.  116
  “To the King! to the King! to the King!” The words had been uttered thrice in a loud voice. Was it hers, or that of the man overhead? Irma pressed her hand to her forehead and felt the bandage. Was it sea-grass that had gathered there? Was she lying alive at the bottom of the lake? Gradually all that had happened became clear to her.  117
  Alone, in the dark and silent night, she wept. And these were the first tears she had shed since the terrible events through which she had passed.  118
  It was evening when Irma awoke. She put her hand to her forehead. A wet cloth had been bound round it. She had been sleeping nearly twenty-four hours. The grandmother was sitting by her bed.  119
  “You’ve a strong constitution,” said the old woman, “and that helped you. It’s all right now.”  120
  Irma arose. She felt strong, and guided by the grandmother, walked over to the dwelling-house.  121
  “God be praised that you’re well again,” said Walpurga, who was standing there with her husband; and Hansei added, “yes, that’s right.”  122
  Irma thanked them, and looked up at the gable of the house. What words there met her eye?  123
  “Don’t you think the house has a good motto written on its forehead?” asked Hansei.  124
  Irma started. On the gable of the house she read the following inscription:—

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