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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 Miller and the Justice
By Fritz Reuter (1810–1874)
 
From ‘In the Year ’13’

I WAS baptized, and had godfathers—four of them; and if my godfathers were still alive, and walked through the streets with me, people would stop and say, “Look, what fine fellows! You won’t see many such.” They were indeed godfathers! And one of them was a head taller than the others, and towered above them as Saul did above his brethren. This was old Amtshauptmann Weber. He used to wear a well-brushed blue coat, yellowish trousers, and well-blacked boots; and his face was so marked by the small-pox that it looked as if the Devil had been threshing his peas on it, or as if he had sat down upon his face on a cane-bottomed chair. On his broad forehead there stood written, “Not the fear of Man, but the fear of God.” And he was the right man in the right place.  1
  About eleven o’clock in the morning he might be seen sitting in an arm-chair in the middle of the room, whilst his wife fastened a napkin under his chin, put the powder on his hair, tied it behind, and twisted it into a neat pigtail.  2
  When the old gentleman walked up and down under the shade of the chestnut-trees at noon, his little rogue of a pigtail wagged merrily, and nodded over the collar of his blue coat, as if it wanted to say to any one who would listen: “Yes; look, old fellow! What do you think of me? I am only the tip of his hair; and if I wag so comically out here, you may fancy how merry it must be inside his head.”  3
  When I took him a message from my father, and managed to give it straight off, he would pat me on the head, and then say: “Now, away with you, boy. Off like a shot! When you pull the trigger, the gun mustn’t hang fire, but must go off like a flash of lightning. Run to Ma’m’selle Westphalen, and ask her for an apple.”  4
  To my father he would say: “Well, friend, what do you think? Are you not glad that you have a son? Boys are much better than girls: girls are always fretting and crying. Thank God, I have a boy too,—my Joe. What say you, eh?”  5
  My father told my mother. “Do you know,” said he, “what the old Amtshauptmann says? boys are better than girls.” Now, I was in the room at the time, and overheard this; and of course I said to myself: “My godfather is always right: boys are better than girls, and every one should have his deserts.” So I took the large piece of plum-cake for myself, and gave my sister the small one, and thought not a little of myself, for I knew now that I was the larger half of the apple. But this was not to last: the tables were to be turned.  6
  One day—it was at the time when the rascally French had just come back from Russia, and everything was in commotion—some one knocked at the Herr Amtshauptmann’s door. “Come in,” cried the old gentleman; and in came old Miller Voss of Gielow, ducking his head nearly down to the ground by way of a bow.  7
  “Good afternoon, Herr Amtshauptmann,” said he.  8
  “Good morning, miller.”  9
  Now, though the one said “good afternoon,” and the other said “good morning,” each was right from his own point of view: for the miller got up at four o’clock in the morning, and with him it was afternoon; while with the Amtshauptmann it was still early in the morning, as he did not rise until eleven.  10
  “What is it, miller?”  11
  “Herr Amtshauptmann, I’ve come to you about a weighty matter. I’ll tell you what it is: I want to be made a bankrupt.”  12
  “What, miller!”  13
  “I want to be made a bankrupt, Herr Amtshauptmann.”  14
  “Hm—hm,” muttered the Amtshauptmann, “that’s an ugly business.” And he paced up and down the room scratching his head. “How long have you been at the bailiwick of Stemhagen?”  15
  “Three-and-thirty years, come midsummer.”  16
  “Hm—hm,” again muttered the Amtshauptmann: “and how old are you, miller?”  17
  “Come peas-harvest five-and-sixty, or maybe six-and-sixty: for as to our old Pastor Hammerschmidt, he wasn’t much given to writing, and didn’t trouble his head about parish registers; and the Frau Pastor, who made the entries,—i’ faith she had a deal to do besides,—only attended to them every three years, so that there might be enough to make it worth while, and then some fine afternoon she would go through the village and write down the children’s ages—but more according to height and size than to what they really were; and my mother always said she had cut a year from me because I was small and weakly. But less than five-and-sixty I’m not. I am sure of that.”  18
  During this speech the Amtshauptmann had kept walking up and down the room, listening with only one ear; he now stood still before the miller, looked straight into his eyes, and said sharply, “Then, Miller Voss, you’re much too old for anything of the kind.”  19
  “How so, Herr?” exclaimed the poor miller, quite cast down.  20
  “Bankruptcy is a hard matter: at your age you could not carry it through.”  21
  “Do you think so, Herr?”  22
  “Yes, I do. We are both too old for it. We must leave such things to younger people. What do you think folks would say if I were to get myself declared bankrupt? Why, they would say, of course, the old Amtshauptmann up at the Schloss had gone quite mad! And,” added he, laying his hand gently on the miller’s shoulder, “they would be right, Miller Voss. What say you, eh?”  23
  The miller looked down at the toes of his boots, and scratched his head: “It’s true, Herr.”  24
  “Tell me,” said the old gentleman, patting him kindly on the shoulder, “where does the shoe pinch? What is troubling you?”  25
  “Troubling, say you! Herr Amtshauptmann,” shouted the miller, clapping his hand to the side of his head as if a wasp had stung him, “troubling! torturing, you mean. Torturing! That Jew! that cursed Jew! and then the lawsuit, Herr Amtshauptmann, the cursed lawsuit!”  26
  “Look you, miller, that’s another of your follies,—entangling yourself at your age in a lawsuit.”  27
  “True enough, Herr: but when I began it I was in my prime, and thought to be able to fight it out; now I see clear enough that your lawsuit has a longer breath than an honest miller.”  28
  “But I think it is coming to an end now.”  29
  “Yes, Herr Amtshauptmann, and then I shall be hard up; for my affairs are in a bad way. The lawyers have muddled them; and as for my uncle, old Joe Voss,—why, his son, who will soon get possession of all, is a downright vagabond, and they say he’s sworn a great oath to oust me from the Borcherts Inn at Malchin. But I have the right on my side, Herr Amtshauptmann, and how I got into this lawsuit I don’t know to this day; for old Frau Borcherts while she was still alive—she was the aunt of my mother’s sister’s daughter—and Joe Voss—he was my cousin—”  30
  “I know the story,” interrupted the Amtshauptmann; “and if you would follow my advice you would make it up.”  31
  “But I can’t, Herr: for Joe Voss’s rascally son wouldn’t be satisfied with less than half the money; and if I pay that I shall be a beggar. No, Herr Amtshauptmann, it may go as it will; but one thing I’m resolved on: I won’t give in though I go to prison for it. Is a ruffian like that, who struts about with his father’s money in his pocket, spending it right and left, and who doesn’t know what it is to have to keep up a house in these hard times,—and who’s never had his cattle carried off by those cursed French, nor his horses stolen out of the stable, nor his house plundered,—is such a rascal as that to get the better of me? By your leave, Herr, I could kick the fellow.”  32
  “Miller Voss, gently, Miller Voss,” said the old gentleman: “the lawsuit will come to an end some time or other. It is going on.”  33
  “Going, Herr Amtshauptmann? It’s flying, as the Devil said when he tied the Bible to his whip and swung it around his head.”  34
  “True, true, Miller Voss; but at present you’re not much pressed.”  35
  “Pressed? Why, I’m fixed in a vise—in a vise—and say! That Jew, Herr Amtshauptmann, that thrice-cursed Jew!”  36
  “What Jew is it?” asked the Herr Amtshauptmann; and the miller twirls his hat between his finger and thumb, looks cautiously round to see that no one is listening, draws closer to the old gentleman, and laying a finger on his lips, whispers, “Itzig, Herr Amtshauptmann.”  37
  “Whew!” said the old Herr. “How came you to be mixed up with that fellow?”  38
  “Herr Amtshauptmann, how came the ass to have long ears? Some go to gather wild strawberries, and get stung by nettles. The sexton of Gägelow thought his wheelbarrow was full of holy angels, and when he had got to the top of the mountain, and expected to see them fly up to heaven, the Devil’s grandmother was sitting in the wheelbarrow, and she grinned at him and said, ‘Neighbor, we shall meet again!’ In my troubles, when the enemy had taken everything I had, I borrowed two hundred thalers from him; and for the last two years I have been obliged to renew the bill from term to term, and the debt has crept up to five hundred thalers, and the day after to-morrow I shall be forced to pay it.”  39
  “But, miller, did you sign?”  40
  “Yes, Herr Amtshauptmann.”  41
  “Then you must pay. What’s written is written.”  42
  “But, Herr Amtshauptmann, I thought—”  43
  “It can’t be helped, miller. What’s written is written.”  44
  “But the Jew—?”  45
  “Miller, what’s written is written.”  46
  “Then, Herr Amtshauptmann, what shall I do?”  47
  The old gentleman began again to walk backwards and forwards in the room, tapping his forehead. At last he stopped, looked earnestly in the miller’s face, and said,—“Miller, young people get out of such difficulties better than old ones: send me one of your boys.”  48
  The old miller looked once more at the toes of his boots, and then turning his face away, said in a tone which went straight to the old Amtshauptmann’s heart, “Sir, whom shall I send? My Joe was ground to death in the mill; and Karl was carried off to Russia by the French last year, and he’s not come back.”  49
  “Miller,” replied the old Amtshauptmann, patting him on the back, “have you then no children at all?”  50
  “I have,” said he, wiping a tear from his eye, “a little girl left.”  51
  “Well, miller, I am not particularly fond of girls myself: they are always fretting and crying.”  52
  “That’s true, sir: they are always fretting and crying.”  53
  “And they can be of no use in a matter like this, miller.”  54
  “But what will happen to me then?”  55
  “The Jew will put in an execution, and will take away everything.”  56
  “Well, Herr Amtshauptmann, the French have done that twice already, so the Jew may as well try it now. At any rate he will leave the millstone behind; and you think I’m too old to be made bankrupt?”  57
  “Yes, miller, I fear so.”  58
  “Well then, good day, Herr Amtshauptmann;” and so saying he went away.  59
 
 
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