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.
The Peasant-Nurse and the Prince
By Berthold Auerbach (1812–1882)
From ‘On the Heights’: Translation of Simon Adler Stern

“THERE, my boy! Now you’ve seen the sun. May you see it for seven and seventy years to come, and when they’ve run their course, may the Lord grant you a new lease of life. Last night they lit millions of lamps for your sake. But they were nothing to the sun up in heaven, which the Lord himself lighted for you this very morning. Be a good boy, always, so that you may deserve to have the sun shine on you. Yes, now the angel’s whispering to you. Laugh while you sleep! That’s right. There’s one angel belongs to you on earth, and that’s your mother! And you’re mine, too! You’re mine, indeed!”  1
  Thus spake Walpurga, the nurse, her voice soft, yet full of emotion, while she gazed into the face of the child that lay in her lap. Her soul was already swayed by that mysterious bond of affection which never fails to develop itself in the heart of the foster-mother. It is a noble trait in human nature, that we love those on whom we can confer a kindness. Their whole life gradually becomes interwoven with our own.  2
  Walpurga became oblivious of herself and of all that was dear to her in the cottage by the lake. She was now needed here, where a young life had been assigned to her loving-charge.  3
  She looked up at Mademoiselle Kramer, with beaming eyes, and met a joyful glance in return.  4
  “It seems to me,” said Walpurga, “that a palace is just like a church. One has only good and pious thoughts here; and all the people are so kind and frank.”  5
  Mademoiselle Kramer suddenly smiled and replied:—  6
  “My dear child—”  7
  “Don’t call me ‘child’! I’m not a child! I’m a mother!”  8
  “But here, in the great world, you are only a child. A court is a strange place. Some go hunting, others go fishing; one builds, another paints; one studies a rôle, another a piece of music; a dancer learns a new step, an author writes a new book. Every one in the land is doing something—cooking or baking, drilling or practicing, writing, painting, or dancing—simply in order that the king and queen may be entertained.”  9
  “I understand you,” said Walpurga; and Mademoiselle Kramer continued:—  10
  “My family has been in the service of the court for sixteen generations;”—six would have been the right number, but sixteen sounded so much better;—“my father is the governor of the summer palace, and I was born there. I know all about the court, and can teach you a great deal.”  11
  “And I’ll be glad to learn,” interposed Walpurga.  12
  “Do you imagine that every one is kindly disposed towards you? Take my word for it, a palace contains people of all sorts, good and bad. All the vices abound in such a place. And there are many other matters of which you have no idea, and of which you will, I trust, ever remain ignorant. But all you meet are wondrous polite. Try to remain just as you now are, and when you leave the palace, let it be as the same Walpurga you were when you came here.”  13
  Walpurga stared at her in surprise. Who could change her?  14
  Word came that the Queen was awake and desired Walpurga to bring the Crown Prince to her.  15
  Accompanied by Doctor Gunther, Mademoiselle Kramer, and two waiting-women, she proceeded to the Queen’s bedchamber. The Queen lay there, calm and beautiful, and with a smile of greeting, turned her face towards those who had entered. The curtains had been partially drawn aside, and a broad, slanting ray of light shone into the apartment, which seemed still more peaceful than during the breathless silence of the previous night.  16
  “Good morning!” said the Queen, with a voice full of feeling. “Let me have my child!” She looked down at the babe that rested in her arms, and then, without noticing any one in the room, lifted her glance on high and faintly murmured:—  17
  “This is the first time I behold my child in the daylight!”  18
  All were silent; it seemed as if there was naught in the apartment except the broad slanting ray of light that streamed in at the window.  19
  “Have you slept well?” inquired the Queen. Walpurga was glad the Queen had asked a question, for now she could answer. Casting a hurried glance at Mademoiselle Kramer, she said:—  20
  “Yes, indeed! Sleep’s the first, the last, and the best thing in the world.”  21
  “She’s clever,” said the Queen, addressing Doctor Gunther in French.  22
  Walpurga’s heart sank within her. Whenever she heard them speak French, she felt as if they were betraying her; as if they had put on an invisible cap, like that worn by the goblins in the fairy-tale, and could thus speak without being heard.  23
  “Did the Prince sleep well?” asked the Queen.  24
  Walpurga passed her hand over her face, as if to brush away a spider that had been creeping there. The Queen doesn’t speak of her “child” or her “son,” but only of “the Crown Prince.”  25
  Walpurga answered:—  26
  “Yes, quite well, thank God! That is, I couldn’t hear him, and I only wanted to say that I’d like to act towards the—” she could not say “the Prince”—“that is, towards him, as I’d do with my own child. We began on the very first day. My mother taught me that. Such a child has a will of its own from the very start, and it won’t do to give way to it. It won’t do to take it from the cradle, or to feed it, whenever it pleases; there ought to be regular times for all those things. It’ll soon get used to that, and it won’t harm it either, to let it cry once in a while. On the contrary, that expands the chest.”  27
  “Does he cry?” asked the Queen.  28
  The infant answered the question for itself, for it at once began to cry most lustily.  29
  “Take him and quiet him,” begged the Queen.  30
  The King entered the apartment before the child had stopped crying.  31
  “He will have a good voice of command,” said he, kissing the Queen’s hand.  32
  Walpurga quieted the child, and she and Mademoiselle Kramer were sent back to their apartments.  33
  The King informed the Queen of the dispatches that had been received, and of the sponsors who had been decided upon. She was perfectly satisfied with the arrangements that had been made.  34
  When Walpurga had returned to her room and had placed the child in the cradle, she walked up and down and seemed quite agitated.  35
  “There are no angels in this world!” said she. “They’re all just like the rest of us, and who knows but—” She was vexed at the Queen: “Why won’t she listen patiently when her child cries? We must take all our children bring us, whether it be joy or pain.”  36
  She stepped out into the passage-way and heard the tones of the organ in the palace-chapel. For the first time in her life these sounds displeased her. “It don’t belong in the house,” thought she, “where all sorts of things are going on. The church ought to stand by itself.”  37
  When she returned to the room, she found a stranger there. Mademoiselle Kramer informed her that this was the tailor to the Queen.  38
  Walpurga laughed outright at the notion of a “tailor to the Queen.” The elegantly attired person looked at her in amazement, while Mademoiselle Kramer explained to her that this was the dressmaker to her Majesty the Queen, and that he had come to take her measure for three new dresses.  39
  “Am I to wear city clothes?”  40
  “God forbid! You’re to wear the dress of your neighborhood, and can order a stomacher in red, blue, green, or any color that you like best.”  41
  “I hardly know what to say; but I’d like to have a workday suit too. Sunday clothes on week-days—that won’t do.”  42
  “At court one always wears Sunday clothes, and when her Majesty drives out again you will have to accompany her.”  43
  “All right, then. I won’t object.”  44
  While he took her measure, Walpurga laughed incessantly, and he was at last obliged to ask her to hold still, so that he might go on with his work. Putting his measure into his pocket, he informed Mademoiselle Kramer that he had ordered an exact model, and that the master of ceremonies had favored him with several drawings, so that there might be no doubt of success.  45
  Finally he asked permission to see the Crown Prince. Mademoiselle Kramer was about to let him do so, but Walpurga objected. “Before the child is christened,” said she, “no one shall look at it just out of curiosity, and least of all a tailor, or else the child will never turn out the right sort of man.”  46
  The tailor took his leave, Mademoiselle Kramer having politely hinted to him that nothing could be done with the superstition of the lower orders, and that it would not do to irritate the nurse.  47
  This occurrence induced Walpurga to administer the first serious reprimand to Mademoiselle Kramer. She could not understand why she was so willing to make an exhibition of the child. “Nothing does a child more harm than to let strangers look at it in its sleep, and a tailor at that.”  48
  All the wild fun with which, in popular songs, tailors are held up to scorn and ridicule, found vent in Walpurga, and she began singing:—
  “Just list, ye braves, who love to roam!
A snail was chasing a tailor home.
And if Old Shears hadn’t run so fast,
The snail would surely have caught him at last.”
  Mademoiselle Kramer’s acquaintance with the court tailor had lowered her in Walpurga’s esteem; and with an evident effort to mollify the latter, Mademoiselle Kramer asked:—  50
  “Does the idea of your new and beautiful clothes really afford you no pleasure?”  51
  “To be frank with you, no! I don’t wear them for my own sake, but for that of others, who dress me to please themselves. It’s all the same to me, however! I’ve given myself up to them, and suppose I must submit.”  52
  “May I come in?” asked a pleasant voice. Countess Irma entered the room. Extending both her hands to Walpurga, she said:—  53
  “God greet you, my countrywoman! I am also from the Highlands, seven hours distance from your village. I know it well, and once sailed over the lake with your father. Does he still live?”  54
  “Alas! no: he was drowned, and the lake hasn’t given up its dead.”  55
  “He was a fine-looking old man, and you are the very image of him.”  56
  “I am glad to find some one else here who knew my father. The court tailor—I mean the court doctor—knew him too. Yes, search the land through, you couldn’t have found a better man than my father, and no one can help but admit it.”  57
  “Yes: I’ve often heard as much.”  58
  “May I ask your Ladyship’s name?”  59
  “Countess Wildenort.”  60
  “Wildenort? I’ve heard the name before. Yes, I remember my mother’s mentioning it. Your father was known as a very kind and benevolent man. Has he been dead a long while?”  61
  “No, he is still living.”  62
  “Is he here too?”  63
  “No.”  64
  “And as what are you here, Countess?”  65
  “As maid of honor.”  66
  “And what is that?”  67
  “Being attached to the Queen’s person; or what, in your part of the country, would be called a companion.”  68
  “Indeed! And is your father willing to let them use you that way?”  69
  Irma, who was somewhat annoyed by her questions, said:—  70
  “I wished to ask you something—Can you write?”  71
  “I once could, but I’ve quite forgotten how.”  72
  “Then I’ve just hit it! that’s the very reason for my coming here. Now, whenever you wish to write home, you can dictate your letter to me, and I will write whatever you tell me to.”  73
  “I could have done that too,” suggested Mademoiselle Kramer, timidly; “and your Ladyship would not have needed to trouble yourself.”  74
  “No, the Countess will write for me. Shall it be now?”  75
  “Certainly.”  76
  But Walpurga had to go to the child. While she was in the next room, Countess Irma and Mademoiselle Kramer engaged each other in conversation.  77
  When Walpurga returned, she found Irma, pen in hand, and at once began to dictate.  78

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