Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Michael Kohlhaas
By Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811)
Translated by Francis Lloyd and William Newton

ABOUT the middle of the sixteenth century there lived on the banks of the Havel a horse-dealer named Michael Kohlhaas. He was the son of a schoolmaster, and was distinguished as at once the most right-feeling and most terrible man of his time. Up to his thirtieth year, he might have been selected as the model of a perfect citizen. In the village in which he dwelt, and which still bears his name, he possessed a farm, from the produce of which, together with his business, he derived a tranquil subsistence; he had several children, whom he brought up in the fear of God and the love of diligence and truth; and there was not one among his neighbors who was not witness either to his generosity or to his unswerving sense of justice. In a word, had he not carried to excess one virtue, posterity would have blessed his memory. Unluckily, however, his love of justice made him a robber and a murderer.  1
  One day he started from home with a drove of young horses, all in high condition, with which he hoped to do great things at the fair he was about to visit; he rode on, thinking what use he would make of his gains, both in future investments and in little additions to the pleasures of the moment, and was lost in thought as he came to that part of the road which runs parallel with the Elbe: when just beneath a noble Saxon castle, his horse shied at a turnpike which in his previous journeys he had never encountered. He pulled up amid the pouring rain, and called the pikeman, who soon presented his sulky visage at the window; the horse-dealer desired him to open.  2
  “Where on earth has this rained from?” he asked, as the man made his appearance after a leisurely delay.  3
  “It is a royal patent,” the man replied as he opened the gate, “lately granted to my Lord Wenzel von Tronka.”  4
  “Indeed,” said Kohlhaas: “is Wenzel the name?” and with that he gazed at the castle, whose glistening towers commanded the plain.  5
  “What! is the old lord dead?” he asked.  6
  “Dead of apoplexy,” the pikeman answered, as he threw wide the gate.  7
  “Well, well, it’s a bad job,” Kohlhaas replied: “he was a fine old fellow—a man that loved to see business, and lent a helping hand where it was needed. I remember he had a stone causeway built outside the village, because a mare of mine slipped there once and broke her leg.—Well, what’s to pay?” he inquired, as he extracted the pence the old man demanded, from beneath his storm-tossed mantle. “Ay, old man,” he added, as he caught an exhortation to haste, ’mid curses against the weather, “if the wood that gate is made of were still growing in the forest, it would be better for both you and me.” And therewith he handed him the money, and essayed to proceed on his journey. He had but just passed the gate, when a loud cry of “Hold hard there, you horse-dealer!” came ringing from the tower; turning, he saw the castellan hastily close a window and hurry down the decline.  8
  “Well, what’s up now?” thought Kohlhaas, checking his cavalcade; the steward did not leave him long in doubt, but buttoning his vest over his ample person and thrusting his head cornerwise against the wind, he inquired for his passport.  9
  “Passport?” repeated Kohlhaas; as far as he knew he had no idea that he had one, but if he would have the kindness to tell him what on earth it was, he might perchance be provided with it.  10
  The castellan eyed him askance, and gruffly replied that without a government passport no horse-dealer could carry his cattle over the frontier.  11
  Kohlhaas assured him that he had already crossed the frontier seventeen times without a line of writing by him, and that he had taken the trouble to study every by-law that concerned his business; further, that he was persuaded that there must be some mistake. Then, with a polite gesture, he begged the man to bethink himself, as he had a long day’s journey before him and did not wish to be frivolously delayed. The castellan grinned, and said that if he had got through seventeen times he would not find it so easy the eighteenth; adding, with a certain irony, that the order had been issued to fit just this case. To further questioning, he answered that he must either buy the passport on the spot or go where he came from. The horse-dealer, who began to be angry about these illegal exactions, after a little reflection dismounted, saying that he would himself have a talk with my Lord of Tronka about the matter. He then betook himself to the castle, whither the castellan followed him, mumbling about skinflints and the good it did them to lighten their purses; and they both entered the hall, each measuring the other with angry glances.  12
  It happened that my lord was feasting with sundry pleasant friends, and that a roar of laughter, starting at the bidding of some joke, met Kohlhaas as he pressed forward to prefer his complaint. My lord leaned back and asked him what he wanted, and the knights when they caught sight of the stranger held their peace; but he had hardly got out a word or two of his business when the whole gang shouted, “Horses! where are they?” And without further ado, they rose from their seats and ran to the windows to see them. Catching sight of the sleek-coated drove, they needed not the proposal of my lord to betake themselves with lightning speed into the court-yard below, where castellan, steward, valet, and groom crowded around to survey the animals. The rain had ceased, and they regarded them at their ease. One praised the sorrel with the star, another admired the chestnut brown, and a third petted the flea-bitten roan; and all agreed that the brutes were lithe-limbed as stags, and that none better had been bred in the country. Kohlhaas laughed gayly, and said the horses were no better than the knights who were to ride them; and with that he bade them make an offer for them. My lord, who had taken a great fancy to the sorrel stallion, inquired the price; and at the same time the steward pressed him to purchase a pair of horses, as he was short of cattle on the farm. But when the dealer named his terms, the knights found that he wished to sell his wares too dear; and my lord bade him seek out the Round Table and manage matters with King Arthur, if he valued his stock so highly. Kohlhaas, observing the castellan and the steward exchanging whispers, the while they threw telling glances on the steeds, did his best to drive a bargain. He had some vague presentiment; turning to my lord he said,—“I bought these animals six months ago for twenty-five gold florins: give me thirty and they are yours.”  13
  The knights, standing beside my lord, expressed their plain opinion that the horses were worth so much at least: but the nobleman hinted that he would give the money for the stallions but not for the geldings; however, he turned his back and made as though he would return to the castle. Kohlhaas took his horse’s bridle and called to him that perhaps the next time he came that way they would manage the matter better; and with a parting salute he was about to betake himself on his journey.  14
  He had scarcely placed his foot in the stirrup, when the castellan stepped from the group and bade him heed what had been intimated; namely, that he could not proceed without a passport. Kohlhaas turned to his Lordship and asked if this were the case, adding that if it were so, it would altogether break up his business. The nobleman appeared put out and confused, but answered, “Ay, Kohlhaas, you must get yourself a passport: talk it over with the castellan, and get you gone.”  15
  And with this he turned on his heel as though it were no concern of his. Kohlhaas replied that he was not the man to play fast and loose with the law—that when he reached Dresden he would get the passport at the government office; but that for this once, having had no notice, he would beg to be allowed to proceed.  16
  “Well,” said my lord, as a fresh gust of wind buffeted his meagre limbs, “let the poor devil pass.”  17
  Turning away, he called to his guests to accompany him; and was about to re-enter the castle when the castellan, following him up, insisted that the man should leave some pledge of his good faith, either in money or goods. My lord stood in the doorway and seemed to reflect. Kohlhaas inquired what sum would be required of him, whereon the steward muttered something about it being better that the horses themselves should be left. The castellan caught the words and cried:—  18
  “Yes! good! that’s just to the purpose: when he gets his passport he can return and fetch them at his leisure.”  19
  Kohlhaas, annoyed at so shameless a demand, reiterated that the sole object of his journey was the sale of these very horses; but the nobleman, who with chattering teeth and garments folded closely about him was caught by a gust that drove a whole deluge of rain and hail through the arched entrance, beat a hasty retreat, crying, “Let him leave the horses if he will; but if not, back through the turnpike with him, in God’s name.”  20
  The horse-dealer, seeing that it was a case of might against right, determined to give way; and detaching from the rest the pair of geldings, led them to a stable pointed out by the castellan. Leaving his groom Herse in charge, he bade him take good care of them; and accompanying his instructions with a well-filled purse, he resumed his journey with the rest of the drove. Reflecting as he jogged along towards Leipsic (where he was minded to be present at the fair), it struck him that perhaps after all the Saxon government had forbidden the import of horses, with a view to encourage breeding within the frontier.  21
  Having transacted his business in Leipsic, he rode on to Dresden, where in one of the suburbs he possessed a house which he made his headquarters whenever he visited the petty markets in the neighborhood. Almost on the first moment of his arrival he hurried to the chancellor’s office; where one of the counselors (of whom, by-the-by, he knew several) at once confirmed his first instinctive suspicion, giving his word that there was not the faintest foundation for the story he had been told. Kohlhaas laughed heartily at what he called the practical joke of my lord-of-skin-and-bone; and having obtained a certificate from the counselors, who seemed only half pleased, he turned his attention to other matters. After a while, having disposed satisfactorily of what horses he had with him, he started in the best of humors for Castle Tronka, without any bitterer feeling than that of the sorrow common to all mortals. Arrived at the frontier, the castellan examined his certificate, but made no comment; and in answer to the dealer’s inquiry as to whether he could now have his horses, he grunted that he might go into the court-yard and fetch them himself. Crossing the yard, Kohlhaas was sadly grieved to learn that for sundry misdemeanors his servant Herse had been first flogged and then fairly hunted from the castle: he asked the lad who told him what these misdemeanors had been, and who had looked after the geldings meanwhile; but could get nothing out of him, but “Do’ know sir; do’ know, sir.” With his heart full of an evil presentiment, he went and opened the stable to which he was directed: but what was his amazement at finding, instead of two sleek, well-fed animals, a yoke of jades of no more value than so much carrion; creatures with bones like hat-pegs, with mane and tail twisted into ropes, with in fact all that could go to make up an epitome of brute suffering. The wretched animals greeted Kohlhaas with a faint neigh: and he, roused to the fiercest passion, demanded loudly how this had come about; the lad, who was standing near, replied that it was all right, that they had been fed regularly, but that as it was harvest-time and they were short of draught-horses, they had taken a turn with the others in the fields. Kohlhaas vented a string of curses against what he called “planned villainy”; but bethinking himself of his helplessness, he swallowed his wrath, and prepared to leave the castle with the horses. The castellan, however, who had heard him at a distance, came forward and asked what was the matter.  22
  “Matter!” roared Kohlhaas: “who gave my Lord of Tronka permission to use my geldings in his fields? Look here,” he added, vainly trying with his whip to arouse some sign of life in the worn-out animals, “was it a man or a beast that brought them to this?”  23
  The castellan, with arms akimbo, stared him impudently in the face.  24
  “You blackguard, you; you twopenny rascal! thank God you have the jades there at all with their legs under them.” Who was to tend them when his groom had taken leg-bail? he should like to know; or was it likely his master was going to find keep and stabling for nothing? Then raising his voice, he wound up with—“Make no bones about it; take the brutes and march, or I’ll turn the dogs loose and make matters smooth in no time.”  25
  The dealer’s heart beat hard against his doublet, impelling him to roll the pot-bellied scoundrel in the mud, that he might grind his brazen face under his heel. He was not yet satisfied, however; the balance wavered, for his sense of justice, delicate as a jeweler’s scale, weighed right and wrong to the uttermost atom. Nevertheless, he gulped down both wrath and railing together, and—passing his fingers through the tangled manes of the poor creatures—he asked with softened voice for what fault his groom had been dismissed the castle. The castellan answered, because the fellow had given himself airs in the stable-yard: had objected to a necessary change of stables, and had insisted that the steeds of two noblemen who came on a visit to the castle should pass the night on the high-road, while his horses were snugly housed within.  26
  Kohlhaas would have given the value of the horses to have had his man at hand, to compare his tale with that of the braggart castellan. He stood there in a brown study, mechanically disentangling each hair, when suddenly the scene changed, and Lord Wenzel of Tronka dashed in hot from the chase, followed by a cavalcade of knights, hounds, and horse-boys. The dogs set up so fierce a howl when they caught sight of the stranger that they were hardly silenced by the whips of the knights. My lord reined in and asked what the matter might be; whereupon the castellan took up his parable, and—while maliciously distorting the facts—began complaining of the uproar the dealer had made because his horses had been put to work a little on the farm, adding with scornful glee that the fellow had even refused to acknowledge them as his own.  27
  “Those, most noble lord, are not my horses,” broke in Kohlhaas. “Those are not the horses I left here worth thirty gold florins apiece. I demand back my steeds sound and well-conditioned.”  28
  My lord paled before his glance; but recovering, sprang from the saddle and said, “If the cursed rogue won’t take ’em as they are, he may leave ’em! Hey, Hans! hey, Gunther!” he cried, as he beat the dust out of his breeches, “get up some wine, you lazy oafs;” and then ascended the stairs with the whole party. Kohlhaas said he would rather call a knacker and leave the pair to rot on a dunghill than take them to Kohlhaasenbrück as they were; and there he left them without once looking back, and swinging himself into the saddle, he took the road with a parting assurance that he would soon find a way to get justice done.  29
  He had already struck spurs for Dresden, when the thought of the accusation that had been brought against his groom at the castle made him draw rein and ride at a foot-pace: and he had not gone half a mile before it grew upon him so much that he turned his horse’s head and made for Kohlhaasenbrück, minded first to hear his servant’s account of the matter; for experience whispered in his ear that he knew the world too well to expect perfection in anybody. He reflected that possibly the man had gone wrong somehow, and in that case it would be better to put up with the loss as a proper consequence of his folly; but another voice, as loud as, but more emphatic than, that of experience, kept saying to him that if the thing should prove to be a planned trick, it was his duty to strive with his whole strength for redress of his own wrong and for the future security of others. As he rode along and heard at every wayside inn of the villanies constantly practiced against those whose ill fate led them by the Castle of Tronka, this latter thought absorbed him more and more fully, so as almost to shut out entirely that noble doubt which still prompted hesitation.  30
  On arriving at Kohlhaasenbrück, he had no sooner embraced his faithful wife and kissed the crowing children that clung around him, than he inquired after his groom Herse, asking whether anything had been seen of him.  31
  “Mercy on us!” his wife cried: “only think, it’s but a fortnight since he came back to us in a fearful plight, with scarcely a sound place in his body, and hardly able to draw breath for his wounds; we got him to bed and there he lay spitting blood: and when we inquired the why and wherefore, he told us a story of which none of us could make head or tail;—how he had been left at Castle Tronka with some horses, had been shamefully maltreated and compelled to fly the place; that the nags were still there, for they would not let him lay a finger upon them.”  32
  “Indeed?” said Kohlhaas, laying aside his mantle; “and is he all right again now?”  33
  “He spits blood yet,” she answered; “but he is getting stronger. I was just going to send a man to the castle to look after the horses till you came,—for I knew Herse too well to doubt his word, especially as he has so much to show for it, and I could not think for a moment that he had done anything with his charge,—but the poor fellow begged and prayed me not to risk any one in that den of thieves, saying it was better to lose the horses altogether than sacrifice a life for them.”  34
  “Is he in bed still?” asked Kohlhaas, leisurely divesting himself of his neckcloth.  35
  “No: he manages now to get about the yard a bit in the daytime,” she answered. “You will see that the man has not lied: not a day passes but we hear of some wanton outrage or other on those whose way lies by Castle Tronka, and this is one of them.”  36
  “I must inquire further before I agree with you,” Kohlhaas replied. “Go, Lizzy: bring him here if he’s up.”  37
  He sat down in his arm-chair; while his wife, delighted with a calmness she so little expected, made haste to fetch the groom.  38
  “Now tell me, pray,” said Kohlhaas, when his wife re-entered with the man, “what mischief you were up to at the castle. I have reason to be not over well pleased with you.”  39
  The servant’s pallid face flushed hotly at these words, and he remained silent for a moment.  40
  “You are right, master,” he said at last: “for as Providence would have it, I had a tinder-box with me with which I was going to burn out the thieves; but just as I was striking the flint, I heard the cry of a child within, and threw the match into the Elbe. May God’s lightning blast them, methought: ’tis his business, not mine.”  41
  Kohlhaas looked at him with amazement, and said, “But tell me, how did you manage to get turned out of the castle?”  42
  “All on account of a foolish trick of mine,” the man answered, wiping the sweat from his brow; “but it’s no use crying over spilt milk. I would not have the horses racked to death at field-work; I said they were too young, and had never been trained to go in the traces.”  43
  Kohlhaas, concealing his confusion as he might, corrected him in this, reminding him that they had been awhile in harness last spring, and added:—“As you were a sort of guest at the castle, it was your duty to do what lay in your power to satisfy them, and you might well have lent a helping hand when they were hard pressed to get in the harvest.”  44
  “That is just what I did, master,” Herse answered. “When I saw what wry faces they made, I thought after all it would not kill the nags; and so, on the third morning, I harnessed them and brought in three loads of wheat.”  45
  Kohlhaas, whose heart was in his mouth, looked down and said, “I heard no account of that, Herse;” but the latter assured him it was true.  46
  “What they took in such bad part was that I wouldn’t put the horses in again at midday before they had had their feed; and besides that, I wouldn’t listen to the castellan and the steward, who wished me to give up the nags to them, and pocket for myself the money you gave me for their expenses. I turned my back on them and told them they might go further afield.”  47
  “But this,” said Kohlhaas, “was not the reason why they drove you from the castle?”  48
  “God forbid!” the man cried, “I did worse. One evening two knights came on a visit, and when I found their horses in the stable, and mine tethered to the rail outside, I asked the castellan where I should house them: he pointed to a pig-sty, a filthy hovel of mud and wattles, built up against the inner wall.”  49
  “You mean,” broke in Kohlhaas, “that it was a stable in such a wretched condition that it looked more like a pig-sty.”  50
  “It was a pig-sty, master!” Herse answered; “nothing more and nothing less. I could hardly stand upright in it, and the pigs ran in and out between my legs.”  51
  “Perhaps,” said Kohlhaas, “there was no room elsewhere; and of course, a knight’s steed has a right to be the better housed.”  52
  “The stable was a trifle small,” the groom answered, lowering his voice; “there were altogether seven knights at the castle: but if you had been master there, you would have made room by packing the steeds a little closer. I said I should go into the village and hire a stable; but the steward said he would not let the nags out of his sight, and bade me on my life not attempt to move them from the yard.”  53
  “Well,” said Kohlhaas, “what did you do then?”  54
  “As the steward told me the two knights were only passing visitors, and would be gone in the morning, I led the horses into the pig-sty; but the next day went by and they were still there, and the day following I heard that the gentlemen thought of staying several weeks.”  55
  “I daresay,” said Kohlhaas, “the pig-sty wasn’t so bad as you fancied it was when you first put your nose in.”  56
  “That’s true,” the man answered: “when I had swept it out and put it to rights a bit, it was so-so, and I gave the girl a groschen to shift for the pigs elsewhere. I managed to let the nags stand upright in the daytime by taking off the loose boards, and of a night, you know, I put them on again: the poor things stuck their necks through the roof like a pair of geese, and looked about for home or some other place where they would be better off.”  57
  “Well now,” said Kohlhaas, “why on earth did they drive you from the castle?”  58
  “Master, I’ll tell you plainly,” the groom answered: “because they would be rid of me; for so long as I was by they couldn’t have their will with the brutes and worry ’em to death. In the servants’ hall, the court-yard, and everywhere, they made wry faces at me; and as I took no heed, but let them twist their jaws out of joint if they chose, they picked a quarrel with me on purpose and drove me out.”  59
  “But why?” said Kohlhaas; “they must have had some cause for what they did.”  60
  “Of course they had, master,” answered Herse, “and a most righteous one too. On the second evening of their stay in the pig-sty the horses were in a pretty pickle; so I mounted one and was taking them to the pond, when just as I got through the gate and was turning into the road, I heard a great noise from the servants’ hall, and out marched castellan, steward, dogs, and servants all together, yelling and shouting like mad. ‘Stop the scoundrel!’ cried one; ‘Have at the thief!’ shrieked another: and when the gate-keeper placed himself in my path, I asked him and the wild pack that came howling around me, what the devil was up? ‘Up!’ roared the castellan, seizing my horse’s bridle: ‘where are you taking those brutes, you rascal?’ and with that he gripped me by the throat. I replied, ‘Why, in the name of all that’s holy, to the pond of course. Do you think that I—?’ ‘To the pond, eh?’ the fellow cried: ‘I’ll teach you, you thief, to go swimming along the road to Kohlhaasenbrück!’ and thereupon he and the steward, with a savage wrench, tore me from the saddle, and I measured my whole length in the mud. I got up cursing them body and soul. I had left harness and horse-cloths and a bundle of linen of my own in the stable, but they did not mind that; and while the steward led the horses back, the castellan and servants laid on me with whips and cudgels, and beat me till I fell half dead beneath the archway. When I came to myself a bit and called out, ‘You thieving dogs, what have you done with my horses?’ the castellan shouted, ‘Out of the place with you!’ and calling the hounds by name, he set a round dozen of them yelping and tearing at me. I broke a pale or something from the fence, and laid three of them dead at my feet; but just as I was giving way from loss of blood and the fearful agony, a shrill whistle called the hounds back into the court-yard, the wings of the gates flew to, the bolts were drawn, and I sank down fainting on the high-road.”  61
  Kohlhaas, who had grown very pale, said with a kind of forced humor, “I fancy after all, Herse, it wasn’t so much against the grain with thee to leave the place;” and seeing that his servant remained silent, with downcast look and flushed face he continued, “Come, let’s have the truth: methinks the pig-sty didn’t suit you; you had a sneaking preference for the stable here at home?”  62
  “Damnation!” cried Herse. “Why, the harness-cloths and linen are there in the sty now: don’t you think if I had wanted to run for it, I would have brought with me the three rix-florins I hid behind the manger wrapped in a red silk handkerchief? By God! to hear you talk so makes me long to have in my hand again the tinder-box I threw away.”  63
  “Never mind that,” answered the dealer: “I am not against thee; look here, I believe word for word all that you’ve said, and I’d take the sacrament on each syllable; I am sorry too that you have had such hard measure in my service. Come, get you to bed, Herse; ask for a bottle of wine and make yourself easy, for I will undertake to procure you justice.”  64
  He rose from his seat, and going to his desk, made out a list of the articles left behind by the groom in the sty, specifying their value and adding the man’s estimate of the expenses attendant on his illness; this done, he gave him his hand and dismissed him to his rest.  65
  He talked over the whole matter with his wife Elizabeth, and made no secret of his intention to strain every nerve to obtain full redress; and when he had put the matter in a clear light, he was overjoyed to find that she heartily agreed with him. She said indeed that some day, perhaps, travelers less gifted with forbearance than he might happen upon the castle; that it was a good work before God and man to put a speedy end to such villainies; and that she herself would know where to find the costs of the suit if her husband would take immediate action. Kohlhaas told her she was his own brave wife, and together with the children they passed that day and the next in the quiet enjoyment of their love; but on the following morning—having dispatched all necessary business—he started for Dresden to bring his case before the tribunals….

          [Kohlhaas seeks to obtain redress by every means known to the law, and patiently awaits its slow process. After many disappointments, he discovers that the real impediment is Baron Tronka’s interest at court; and his lawyer refuses to compromise his own position further by conducting the dealer’s case. Unwilling to dwell longer in a land which denies to its inhabitants the protection of its laws, Kohlhaas sells his house and farm to one of his neighbors. His wife, however, with tearful entreaties induces him to allow her to make a last appeal to the Elector himself.]
  Kohlhaas had already proved that his wife possessed foresight and determination alike; he inquired what plan she had formed as to her conduct. With downcast eyes and blushing cheeks she replied that the castellan of the electoral palace, when on duty years ago in Schwerin, had known and wooed her; true, he was now married and the father of a family, but she had reason to believe he had not quite forgotten her: indeed, she thought her husband had better content himself with simple trust, as she hoped to turn to account several matters of which it would take too long to tell. Kohlhaas was radiant with joy; he kissed his wife, and told her to do as she would, and that she only needed to be received by the castellan’s wife to have at any moment the opportunity she sought. He then had the brown geldings put in; and commending her to the care of his faithful groom Sternbald, he handed the petition into the carriage and bade them God-speed.  67
  Of all the unsuccessful efforts he had made to further his cause, this turned out the most disastrous. A few days later on he saw Sternbald enter the yard on foot, leading the horses at a snail’s pace. Kohlhaas rushed out, pale as death, and found his wife lying in the carriage and suffering greatly from a bruise on the right breast. From the man he could get no plain account of what had happened: but it appeared that the castellan was not at home when they arrived, and that they had been obliged to take up their quarters in the neighborhood of the palace, whence next morning Elizabeth started, leaving orders for Sternbald to stay and tend the horses; and he had seen nothing more of her till the evening, when she was brought back in the condition he saw. He had heard that she had pushed her way boldly towards the presence of his Highness, and that one of the guards, impelled only by rude zeal for his master, had—without order—struck her with the shaft of his lance. This at least Sternbald had been told by the people who bore her unconscious to the inn; for she had not as yet been able to speak since, for the blood that gushed from her mouth. The petition, it seemed, had been afterwards taken from her by one of the knights in attendance. Sternbald wanted to saddle a horse and ride back with the news at once; but in spite of all the surgeon could urge, she had insisted upon being taken back immediately to her husband, and had forbidden them to give him any warning. Kohlhaas got her to bed: the journey had completely broken her strength, and her whole frame quivered every time she drew breath; but still he contrived to keep life in her for the space of several days.  68
  They tried in vain to bring her to herself, that they might get out the truth of what had befallen: but she lay there with eyes fixed and glassy and spoke no word; only in the presence of death did she recover consciousness. A Lutheran clergyman (to which rising sect she, following her husband’s example, had adhered) had called; and sitting by her bedside, was reading with loud and solemn voice a chapter in the Bible, when she suddenly raised her head, and throwing upon him a glance of sad meaning, took the book from his hands as though she would not have it read, and passing her fingers through it, began searching leaf by leaf until at last she found what she wanted. With a sign to Kohlhaas, who sat by the bed, she pointed to the verse, “Love your enemies—do good to those that hate you;” she pressed his hand, and with a long look of passionate love she passed away.  69
  Kohlhaas thought, “If I forgive Lord Wenzel, so may not God forgive me!” He bent over the corpse and kissed it, bathing the face with a torrent of tears; then, closing the eyes of her he loved, he quitted the room. With the advance of the hundred florins which he had already received from the farmer on his Dresden property, he prepared for Elizabeth’s interment on a scale rather befitting a princess than the wife of a simple trader: he had an oak coffin made, studded with massive brass nails and bound with the same metal, and therein he placed a silken cushion with tassels of silver and gold thread; the grave was eight yards deep, walled within with masonry: and he himself overlooked the work, standing on the brink with his youngest infant on his arm. When the day of the funeral came round, the body was robed in pure white and placed in the chief room covered with a black pall.  70
  The minister had just finished an eloquent address beside the coffin, when Kohlhaas received the royal answer to the petition which the dead woman had borne: it was to the effect that he should fetch his horses from Castle Tronka, and not trouble the State any further in the matter on pain of instant imprisonment. When the grave had been filled in and the cross planted thereon, he dismissed those who had been present to render the last offices, and returned home. Once more he threw himself on his knees beside the bed of the departed, and then betook himself to the business of revenge. He sat down and drew up a decree, wherein, by virtue of the authority native to him, he condemned Lord Wenzel of Tronka to present himself, with the horses which had been reduced to such evil plight in his fields, within three days at Kohlhaasenbrück, there to serve in person about them till they should be restored to their former condition: this decree he dispatched to the castle by a mounted messenger, with instructions to deliver it and then make the best of his way back without losing a moment.  71
  When the three days’ grace had elapsed without anything having been seen or heard of the horses, he summoned Herse and explained to him the commands he had laid upon Lord Wenzel as to the tending of the animals, and inquired whether Herse had a mind to strike spurs with him for the castle and haul his lordship thence by force; he further asked whether, when they had taken him and set him to work in the stables at Kohlhaasenbrück, Herse felt able and willing to correct with a cut of his whip any occasional tendency to laziness. When Herse caught the import of his words, he shouted, “This very day, if you will, master.” He swore he would plait a thong ten strands thick to teach the rascal how to use the curry-comb.  72
  Kohlhaas said no more, but went and gave up possession of the house, dispatching the children ere evening beyond the frontier to the care of his relations in Schwerin: and when night fell he gathered his servants together, seven in number, each true as steel, and bound to him for life and death; he armed and mounted them, and with them sallied forth towards Castle Tronka.  73
  At dusk of the third day, he and his little band rode beneath the walls. The toll collector and the gate-keeper were standing talking together under the archway when the eight dashed in, overthrowing them in their course; they spurred into the churchyard, and while some set fire to the sheds and other woodwork, Herse made his way up the winding staircase to the castellan’s rooms. He found his man playing cards with the steward—both partly undressed—and fell upon the twain, cut and thrust, sparing nothing. At the same time Kohlhaas sped to the great hall of the castle. His coming was like the judgment of God. My lord was just stirring the laughter of a knot of young friends by a recital of the summons the horse-dealer had served upon him; but while reading it he caught the harsh tones of his enemy in the court below. Pallid as a corpse, he threw down the paper, and warning all present to look to their lives, vanished from the place. Kohlhaas, being confronted at the door by a certain Sir Hans of Tronka, seized him by the throat and hurled him into a corner, spattering his brains upon the walls; while his servants made short work of the rest, who had armed themselves, by securing them or forcing them to flight. But the dealer sought Lord Wenzel in vain: no one had seen him, and finding that the terrified prisoners could tell nothing, he burst open with a kick the doors leading to the inner apartments, and sword in hand essayed every possible hiding-place,—still in vain, however. At last he came down, cursing, into the court-yard, and gave orders to set a guard at every point by which he might escape.  74
  Meanwhile smoke and flame broke forth on every side; the fire, leaping from the sheds, had seized first upon the main building and then upon the wings. Sternbald and three more were tearing everything that hand could move, and piling it for booty in the yard. With loud shouts they greeted Herse when he thrust his head from the window above, and hurled down the dead bodies of the castellan and steward with those of their wives and children. As Kohlhaas was descending the staircase, an old rheumatic housekeeper of my lord’s threw herself at his feet whining for mercy; he asked where her master was, and she replied with cracked and trembling voice that she thought he had taken refuge in the chapel. Kohlhaas called two of his men, for lack of keys broke in the door with axe and crowbar, and overturning bench and altar, was maddened with the discovery that his victim had fled.  75
  Just as Kohlhaas was sallying from the chapel, it chanced that a lad belonging to the castle came running to try and save his lordship’s chargers, which were stabled in a vast stone building now threatened by the flames. Kohlhaas, who had just caught sight of his two geldings, stopped him, and pointing to the thatched shed in which they were secured, asked why he did not bring them out; the lad replied that the place was on fire, and taking the key, attempted to open the door of the stable. Kohlhaas knocked him aside, and snatching the key savagely from the door, threw it over the wall; then, amid the ruthless laughter of his men, he so belabored the lad with the flat of his sword that he was fain to rush into the burning shed and unloose the brutes. He had barely seized their halters when the roof fell in, and his face was corpse-like when he struggled forth out of the smoke into the yard. Kohlhaas no longer heeded him, and turned his back upon him once and again; but the lad followed to where he was standing with several of his servants, and when at last he faced him and asked what he should now do with the horses, Kohlhaas lifted his foot and launched at him so savage a kick that had it taken him, it must have been his death. Then without deigning another syllable he mounted his brown steed, and leaving his men to their unholy business, rode beneath the archway and there awaited the dawn of day….

          [Kohlhaas pursues Baron Tronka to the convent where he has taken refuge; his band of malcontents increases; he forms a military organization, burns villages, and terrorizes the entire country. The regular troops are called out against him, and are defeated. Kohlhaas lays siege to Leipsic. At this point Luther interposes with a proclamation against Kohlhaas, and the men are shaken in their allegiance to their intrepid leader. He resolves to have an interview with Luther, that he may convince him of the absolute justice of his cause. As a price is set upon his head, it is a perilous undertaking, and he must go disguised.]
  Kohlhaas assumed the dress of a Thuringian peasant, and summoning several of his most reliable men, he placed Sternbald in command of the party assembled at Lützen; explaining that business of importance called him to Wittenberg, and that no attack need be feared within three days, he then took his departure, promising to return within that time. Under an assumed name, he took up his quarters in a little inn at Wittenberg, and at nightfall—carrying beneath his cloak a pair of pistols which he had captured at Castle Tronka—he made his way to Luther’s residence.  77
  The doctor was sitting at his desk, engaged with a heap of books and manuscripts; but seeing a stranger push open the door, enter, and then carefully bolt it behind him, he inquired who he was, and what was his business. With a half-fearful consciousness of the terror he was causing, the man advanced, and doffing his hat respectfully, said, “I am Michael Kohlhaas, the horse-dealer.”  78
  Luther sprang from his chair and cried, “Get thee from hence, thou villain! thy breath is the plague, and the sight of thee perdition.” He was pushing past the table to where a bell stood, when Kohlhaas, without stirring from the spot, drew a pistol and said, “Most reverend sir, touch but that bell, and this shall lay me dead at your feet: be seated and lend me your ear. Were you among the angels whose psalms you are inditing, you would not be safer than with me.”  79
  Luther resumed his seat and asked, “What would you with me?”  80
  Kohlhaas replied, “I come to disprove your accusation that I am an unjust man. In your epistle you declare that those in authority wot not of my cause. Go to, then: procure me a safe-conduct to Dresden, and I will lay my suit before them in person.”  81
  These words at once puzzled the doctor and somewhat allayed his fears. “Godless and terrible evil-doer!” he cried, “who gave thee the right to set thyself up a judge and fall upon the lord of Tronka? Foiled at the castle, by whose authority didst thou dare to carry fire and sword into the heart of the community that shields him?”  82
  Kohlhaas answered, “By no one, most reverend sir, was this authority granted to me: I was deceived and misled by information I received from Dresden. The war I wage against the community is a crime, if, as you have pledged your word, I was never cast out from its midst.”  83
  “Cast out!” Luther exclaimed: “what mad idea hath seized thee? Who could have cast thee out from the community in which thou wast bred? Nay, canst quote me one—be he who he might—as long as nations have been on earth, who has thus been cast out?”  84
  Kohlhaas answered, clenching his fist, “I call him an outcast to whom the protection of the law is denied. I need that protection in the peaceful exercise of my calling; for that, and that alone, I and mine seek security in the bosom of a community, and whoso denies it to me casts me out to the savages of the wilderness, and—who will dispute it?—himself places in my hands the club that serves for my own defense.”  85
  “Who denied thee the protection of the law? Did I not write that thy plaint had never reached the ear of thy sovereign? If his ministers bring not forward the suits that are preferred, or abuse his hallowed name without his knowledge, who but God can call him to account for the choice of such servants? and art thou—thou God-abandoned man of wrath—art thou empowered to bring him to justice therefore?”  86
  “Go to!” Kohlhaas answered. “If my sovereign has not cast me out, I will return once more to the community he protects. Again I say, procure me a safe-conduct to Dresden, and I will disband the force now gathered before Lützen, and will depart to urge the suit that was rejected by the tribunal of my country.”  87
  Luther sat fretfully tossing about the papers that lay on his desk, and remained silent. The high ground this marvelous man took in dealing with the State was not to his taste. Recalling to mind the judicial decision which was forwarded from Kohlhaasenbrück to Lord Wenzel, he inquired what Kohlhaas was minded to demand from the tribunal at Dresden. The dealer answered:  88
  “Chastisement of the nobleman, according to the letter of the law; restoration of the horses to their former condition; and compensation for the losses which my servant Herse, who fell at Mühlberg, sustained through the violence practiced on us.”  89
  “Compensation for losses!” cried Luther. “Hast gotten thee thousands on thousands from Jew and Christian by bills and mortgages to further thy wild, fanciful revenge? Wilt thou add these to thy account when the day of reckoning comes?”  90
  “God forbid!” Kohlhaas returned: “house and land, the wealth I possessed, are gone; these I ask not back, nay not even the cost I was at to bury my wife. Herse’s old mother will produce a note of the expenses of his illness, and a list of the articles her son lost at Castle Tronka; and the government may refer to an expert the assessment of the damages I suffered by the delay in the sale of the horses.”  91
  “Mad and terrible man,” exclaimed Luther, “thou art beyond all comprehension;” and with steadily fixed gaze continued, “when thy sword hath already gotten thee the most fearful vengeance on the head of this man, what impels thee to demand a judgment against him, which, when it falls at length, will be but dust in the balance?”  92
  A tear rolled down Kohlhaas’s cheek as he answered, “Most reverend sir, this thing has cost me my wife; Kohlhaas would show the world that she did not perish in an unjust cause. Give me my will in this matter and let the voice of justice be heard. All else that may be in dispute between us I yield to your decision.”  93
  “If matters be as public report states,” answered Luther, “thy demand is just; and hadst thou referred thy claim to the decision of thy sovereign before assuming the business of revenge, I doubt not that—item by item—it would have been granted thee. But consider well: had it not been better thou hadst forgiven Lord Wenzel for the sake of Him who saved thee, and hadst taken the brutes by the halters and ridden them home, wretched and famine-stricken as they were, to fatten in thine own stables at Kohlhaasenbrück?”  94
  Kohlhaas walked to the window and answered, “Maybe; maybe; yet perchance not. Had I known they would have been fed on my wife’s heart’s blood, maybe, reverend sir, I would have acted as you say, and not spared a bushel or two of oats. But now they have cost me so dear, let things have their course; be the judgment given that is my right, and let Lord Wenzel get me my nags into condition.”  95
  Luther again applied himself to his papers. For a while he was lost in thought, but at last turned to Kohlhaas and said that he would essay to mediate between him and the Elector. He begged him to suspend all further operations with the force at Lützen; adding that if his Highness granted the safe-conduct, it would be made known by public proclamation. Kohlhaas bent down to kiss his hand, but he waved him away and continued:—  96
  “Whether the Elector will let mercy take the place of justice, I know not. I have heard that he has already assembled an army to assail you in your quarters; but be that as it may, rest assured that if I fail the fault will not be mine.”  97
  The dealer answered that his intercession sufficed to remove every doubt. Luther saluted him with another wave of the hand, and was returning to his labors, when Kohlhaas sank on his knees before him and preferred yet one other humble request. He had been accustomed all his life to partake of the Lord’s Supper at Whitsuntide, but had this year neglected the duty on account of his present enterprise: would the reverend doctor, he asked, receive his confession and thereafter dispense unto him the holy sacrament? Luther darted an inquiring glance upon him, and after a moment’s reflection, said:—  98
  “Yes, Kohlhaas, it shall be so; but remember that He of whose body thou wouldst partake forgave his enemies. Art thou prepared,” he added, marking intently the dealer’s emotion, “art thou prepared in like manner to forgive the man who did thee wrong? And wilt thou then hie thee to Castle Tronka and lead thence thy horses to be fed in their own stables at Kohlhaasenbrück?”  99
  “Most reverend sir,” Kohlhaas answered with mantling color, grasping the doctor’s hand, “why ask this now? The Lord himself forgave not all his enemies. I am content to forgive my two liege lords, the Electors, the castellan and the steward, the noble lords Hinz and Kunz, and all else who have wronged me in this matter; but Lord Wenzel I must needs compel to bring my horses into condition.”  100
  With a look of deep displeasure Luther turned his back upon him and rang the bell. An amanuensis made his way with a light across the antechamber, while Kohlhaas, much moved, remained in the same position, with his kerchief to his eyes; but observing that Luther was again busy writing, and hearing the vain attempts of the man to unclose the bolted door, he rose and opened it for him. Luther, with a side glance at the stranger, bade the amanuensis light him out; the man seemed much puzzled at the presence of the unknown visitor, but took the house key from a nail and waited at the half-open door. Kohlhaas, with his hat between his hands, spoke once more with deep emotion: “Most reverend sir,” he said, “I cannot then hope to partake of that which I desired! I cannot be reconciled to—!”  101
  Luther broke in hastily, “To thy Savior? no: to thy sovereign, perhaps. I have promised I will do what in me lies.”  102
  Thereupon he signed to his attendant to comply with his orders without delay. Kohlhaas pressed his hands upon his breast with a look of bitter agony, and following the man down-stairs vanished into the night….

          [Luther procures the safe-conduct, a general amnesty is granted, and Kohlhaas disbands his troop. Upon his return to Kohlhaasenbrück, the dealer buys back his old home and awaits the promised restoration of his horses; but through the machinations of his enemies at court he is treacherously arrested, charged with murder, and condemned to death. The Elector wishes to pardon him; but the Emperor himself insists upon the execution of the sentence, since Kohlhaas has offended against imperial law by waging civil war. Reluctantly the Elector pronounces the sentence.]
  Arrived at the place of death, he found the Elector of Brandenburg present on horseback, with his retinue, among whom he observed Lord Henry of Geusau, and a vast concourse of people. On the Elector’s right was Francis Müller, the imperial advocate, bearing a copy of the judicial sentence; on his left, his own representative, Anthony Zäuner, with the judgment of the Dresden tribunal; and in the centre of the ring formed by the crowd there stood a herald bearing a bundle of linen, and holding by their bridles a pair of noble, sleek-coated, prancing steeds. Lord Henry, it seems, had pressed the suit against Lord Wenzel of Tronka point by point with unsparing rigor, and with such success that the horses had been withdrawn from the knacker’s and been restored to honor by the ceremony of waving a flag over their heads; after which they had been intrusted to the nobleman’s servants to be brought into condition: this accomplished, they were delivered over to Záuner in the market-place at Dresden in presence of a special commission. And so it was that, when Kohlhaas made his way to the rising ground followed by the guard, the Elector thus addressed him. “At length, Kohlhaas, the day has come when full justice shall be meted out to thee: behold, here I deliver unto thee all of which thou wast by violence deprived at Castle Tronka, and all that I, as thy sovereign, was bound to recover for thee; here I restore unto thee thy horses, the neckcloth, money, and linen, nay,—even the expenses of the illness of thy servant Herse, who fell at Mühlberg. Art thou content with me?”  104
  Kohlhaas set down his children beside him, and began to read the judgment which was handed to him at a sign from the lord chancellor. When he came to an article which condemned Lord Wenzel to two years’ imprisonment, carried away by the fullness of his satisfaction he crossed his hands upon his breast, and fell upon his knees before the Elector. Rising to his feet, he laid his hand upon his head and declared to the chancellor that his highest desire on earth was accomplished. Stepping up to the horses, he did not conceal his delight,—patting their arched and rounded necks; from them he turned again to the Lord of Geusau, and told him cheerily that he intended them for his two sons, Henry and Leopold. The chancellor bent towards him from his saddle and promised, in the Elector’s name, that his last wishes should be solemnly regarded; he bade him, further, to dispose as he pleased of the articles contained in the bundle. Kohlhaas at once called Herse’s aged mother, whom he had seen in the crowd, and saying, “There, good mother, these belong to you,” handed her the things, with the sum he had himself received as compensation, for the support and comfort of her declining years.  105
  The Elector then spake:—“Kohlhaas the horse-dealer, now that thou hast thus received full satisfaction for the wrong done unto thee, prepare thyself to atone to his Imperial Majesty, whose representative is here present, for thine own outrages against the peace of his realm.”  106
  Kohlhaas took off his hat and threw it on the ground, and said, “I am ready!”  107
  He pressed his little ones each tenderly to his breast, and confided them to his friend the farmer; and while the latter silently but tearfully withdrew from the scene, he walked up to the block with unwavering step,… and immediately after, his head fell beneath the axe of the executioner.  108
  Here ends the story of Kohlhaas. Amid the lamentations of the people his body was placed in a coffin; and as the bearers were about to carry it out to a church-yard in the suburbs, the Elector called for the sons of the departed and dubbed them knights, telling the chancellor he would have them brought up among his own pages.  109
  Broken in body and mind, the Elector of Saxony soon after appeared in his capital; and the rest of the story the reader may find in the chronicles of his time.  110
  In the last century, several hearty, sturdy descendants of Kohlhaas were still to be found in Mecklenburg.  111

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