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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Returning from the Confirmation Lesson
By Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928)
 
From ‘Dame Care’

WHEN he arrived home his mother kissed him on both cheeks, and asked, “Well, was it nice?”  1
  “Quite nice,” he answered; “and mamma, Elsbeth from the White House was there too.”  2
  Then she blushed with joy, and asked all sorts of things: how she looked, whether she had grown pretty, and what she had said to him.  3
  “Nothing at all,” he answered, ashamed; and as his mother looked at him surprised, he added eagerly, “but you know she is not proud.”  4
  Next Monday when he entered the church, he found her already sitting in her place. She had the Bible lying on her knee, and was learning the verses they had been given as their task.  5
  There were not many children there: and when he sat down opposite to her she made a half movement as if she meant to get up and come over to him; but she sat down again immediately and went on learning.  6
  His mother had told him before he left just how to address Elsbeth. She had charged him with many greetings for her mother, and he was also to ask how she was. On his way he had studied a long speech, only he was not quite decided yet whether to address her with “Du” or “Sie.” “Du” would have been the simplest; his mother took it for granted. But the “Sie” sounded decidedly more distinguished,—so nice and grown-up. And as he could come to no decision, he avoided addressing her at all. He also took out his Bible, and both put their elbows on their knees and studied as if for a wager.  7
  It was not of much use to him, because when the vicar questioned him afterwards he had forgotten every word of it.  8
  A painful silence ensued; the Erdmanns laughed viciously, and he had to sit down again, his face burning with shame. He dared not look up any more; and when, on leaving the church, he saw Elsbeth standing at the porch as if she was waiting for something, he lowered his eyes and tried to pass her quickly. However, she stepped forward and spoke to him.  9
  “My mother has charged me—I am to ask you—how your mother is?”  10
  He answered that she was well.  11
  “And she sends her many kind regards,” continued Elsbeth.  12
  “And my mother also sends many kind regards to yours,” he answered, turning the Bible and hymn-book between his fingers; “and I also was to ask you how she is?”  13
  “Mamma told me to say,” she replied, like something learned by heart, “that she is often ill, and has to keep in-doors very much; but now that spring is here she is better: and would you not like to drive in our carriage as far as your house? I was to ask you, she said.”  14
  “Just look: Meyerhofer is sweethearting!” cried the elder Erdmann, who had hidden behind the church door, through the crack of which he wanted to tickle his companions with a little straw.  15
  Elsbeth and Paul looked at each other in surprise, for they did not know the meaning of this phrase; but as they felt that it must signify something very bad, they blushed and separated.  16
  Paul looked after her as she got into the carriage and drove away. This time the old lady was not waiting for her. It was her governess, he had heard. Yes: she was of such high rank that she even had a governess of her own.  17
  “The Erdmanns will get a good licking yet:” with that he ended his reflections.  18
  The next week passed without his speaking to Elsbeth. When he entered the church, she was generally already in her seat. Then she would nod to him kindly, but that was all.  19
  And then came a Monday when her carriage was not waiting for her. He noticed it at once: and as he walked towards the church-yard he breathed more freely; for the proud coachman with his fur cap, which he wore even in summer, always caused him a feeling of oppression. He had only to think of this coachman when he sat opposite to her, and she appeared to him like a being from another world.  20
  To-day he ventured to nod to her almost familiarly; and it seemed to him as if she answered more kindly than usual.  21
  And when the lesson was ended, she came towards him of her own accord, and said, “I must walk home to-day, for our horses are all in the fields. Mamma thought you might walk with me part of the way, as we go the same road.”  22
  He felt very happy, but did not dare to walk by her side as long as they were in the village. He also looked back anxiously from time to time, to see whether the two Erdmanns were lurking anywhere with their mocking remarks. But when they went through the open fields, it was quite natural that they should walk side by side.  23
  It was a sunny forenoon in June. The white sand on the road glittered; round about, golden hawkweed was blooming, and meadow-sweet waved in the warm wind; the midday bell sounded from the village: no human creature was to be seen far and wide; the heath seemed quite deserted.  24
  Elsbeth wore a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head as a protection against the sun’s rays. She took it off now, and swung it to and fro by the elastic.  25
  “You will be too hot,” he said; but as she laughed at him a little he took his off also, and threw it high in the air.  26
  “You are quite a merry fellow,” she said, nodding approvingly.  27
  He shook his head; and the lines of care which always made him look old appeared again upon his brow.  28
  “Oh no,” he said: “merry I am certainly not.”  29
  “Why not?” she asked.  30
  “I have always so many things to think of,” he answered; “and if ever I want to be really happy, something always goes wrong.”  31
  “But what do you always have to think about?” she asked.  32
  He reflected for a while, but nothing occurred to him. “Oh, it is all nonsense,” he said: “clever thoughts never come to me by any means.”  33
  And then he told her about his brothers; of the thick books, which were quite filled with figures (the name he had forgotten), and which they had already known by heart when they were only as old as he was now.  34
  “Why don’t you learn that as well, if it gives you pleasure?” she asked.  35
  “But it gives me no pleasure,” he answered: “I have such a dull head.”  36
  “But something you know, surely?” she went on.  37
  “I know absolutely nothing at all,” he replied sadly: “father says that I am too stupid.”  38
  “Oh, you must not heed that,” she replied consolingly. “My Fräulein Rothmaier also finds fault with many things I do. But I—pah, I—” she was silent, and pulled up a sorrel-plant which she began to chew.  39
  “Has your father still such sparkling eyes?” he asked.  40
  She nodded, and her face brightened.  41
  “You love him very much—your father?”  42
  She looked at him wonderingly, as if she had not understood his question; then answered, “Oh yes: I love him very much.”  43
  “And he loves you too?”  44
  “Well, I should think so.”  45
  Now he also rooted up a sorrel-plant and sighed.  46
  “Why do you sigh?” she asked.  47
  Something was just crossing his mind, he said; and then asked laughingly if her father still took her on his knee sometimes, as on the day when he had been in the White House.  48
  She laughed and said she was a big girl now, and he should not ask such silly questions; but afterwards it came out that all the same she still sat on her father’s knee,—“Of course, not astride any more!” she added laughing.  49
  “Yes, that was a nice day,” he said; “and I sat on his other knee. How small we must have been then.”  50
  “And we were so pitifully stupid,” she answered: “when I think now how you wanted to whistle, and could not!”  51
  “Do you remember that?” he asked; and his eyes sparkled in the consciousness of his present attainments in the art.  52
  “Of course,” she replied; “and when you went away you came running back and—do you still remember?”  53
  He remembered very well.  54
  “Now you can whistle, of course,” she laughed: “at our age that is no longer an accomplishment,—even I can do it;” and she pointed her lips in a very funny manner.  55
  He was sad that she spoke so slightingly of his art, and reflected whether it would not be better to give up whistling altogether.  56
  “Why are you so silent?” she asked. “Are you tired too?”  57
  “Oh no; but you—eh?”  58
  Yes: the walk through the sand and the noontide heat had tired her.  59
  “Then come into our house and rest,” he cried with sparkling eyes; for he thought what joy his mother would feel at seeing her.  60
  But she refused. “Your father is not kindly disposed towards us, mamma said; and that’s why you may not come for a visit to Helenenthal. Your father would perhaps send me away.”  61
  He replied with a deep blush, “My father would not do that;” and felt much ashamed.  62
  She cast a glance towards the Haidehof, which lay scarcely a hundred yards from the road. The red fence shone in the sunshine, and even the gray half-ruined barns looked more cheerful than usual.  63
  “Your house looks very nice,” she said, shading her eyes with her hand.  64
  “Oh yes,” he answered, his heart swelling with pride; “and there is an owl nailed to the door of one of the sheds. But it shall become much nicer still,” he added after a little while, seriously, “only let me begin to rule.” And then he set to work to explain to her all his plans for the future. She listened attentively, but when he had finished she said again:—  65
  “I am tired—I must rest;” and she wanted to sit down on the edge of the ditch.  66
  “Not here in the blazing sun,” he cautioned her: “we’ll look out for the first juniper-bush we can find.”  67
  She gave him her hand, and let him drag her wearily over the heath, which undulated with mole-hills like the waves on a lake; and near the edge of the wood there were some solitary juniper-bushes, which stood out like a group of black dwarfs above the level plain.  68
  Under the first of these bushes she cowered down, so that its shadow almost entirely shrouded her slight, delicate figure.  69
  “Here is just room enough for your head,” she said, pointing to a mole-hill which was just within range of the shade.  70
  He stretched himself out on the grass, his head resting on the mole-hill, his forehead covered by the hem of her dress.  71
  She leaned back on the bush in order to find support in its branches.  72
  “The needles don’t prick at all,” she said: “they mean well by us. I believe we could pass through the Sleeping Beauty’s hedge of thorns.”  73
  “You—not I,” he answered, lifting his eyes to her from his recumbent position: “every thorn has pricked me. I am no fairy prince; not even a simple Hans in luck, am I?”  74
  “That will all come in time,” she replied consolingly: “you must not always have sad thoughts.”  75
  He wanted to reply, but he lacked the right words; and as he looked up meditatively, a swallow flitted through the blue sky. Then involuntarily he uttered a whistle, as if he wanted to call it; and as it did not come, he whistled again, and for a second and third time.  76
  Elsbeth laughed, but he went on whistling—first without knowing how, and without reflecting why; but when one tone after the other flowed from his lips, he felt as if he had become very eloquent all of a sudden, and as if in this manner he could say all that weighed on his heart, and for which in words he never could have found courage. All that which made him sad, all that which he cared about, came pouring forth. He shut his eyes and listened, so to speak, to what the tones were saying for him. He thought that the good God in heaven spoke for him, and was relating all that concerned him, even that which he had never been clear about himself.  77
  When he looked up, he did not know how long he had been lying there whistling; but he saw that Elsbeth was crying.  78
  “Why do you cry?” he asked.  79
  She did not answer him; but dried her eyes with her handkerchief, and rose.  80
  Silently they walked side by side for a while. When they reached the wood, which lay thick and dark before them, she stopped and asked:—  81
  “Who has taught you that?”  82
  “Nobody,” he said: “it came to me quite naturally.”  83
  “Can you also play the flute?” she went on.  84
  No, he could not: he had never even heard it; he only knew that it was the favorite pastime of “Old Fritz.”  85
  “You must learn it,” she said.  86
  He thought it would probably be too difficult for him.  87
  “You shall try all the same,” she counseled him; “you must be an artist—a great artist.”  88
  He was startled when she said that; he scarcely dared to follow out her thoughts.  89
  When they reached the other side of the wood they separated. She went towards the White House, and he went back. When he passed the juniper-bush where they had both been sitting, all seemed to him like a dream; and henceforth it always remained so to him. Two or three days elapsed before he dared to say anything of his adventure to his mother, but then he could contain himself no longer: he confessed everything to her.  90
  His mother looked at him for a long time, and then went out; but from that time she used to listen secretly, to catch if possible some notes of his whistling.  91
  The two children often walked home together; but such an hour as the one beneath the juniper-bush never came to them again.  92
 
  [Upon Paul, Dame Care lays more and heavier burdens with each advancing year. Out of unquestioning devotion to his responsibilities, he renounces all claims to personal happiness; and he and Elsbeth drift apart. Only when he is brought to trial for a noble but punishable act, does she reappear as his good angel.]  93
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
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