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.
Freed from Dame Care
By Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928)
From ‘Dame Care’

TWO years later, on a bright morning in June, the red-painted gate of the prison opened and let out a prisoner, who with a laugh on his face was blinking his eyes in the bright sun, as if trying to learn to bear the light again. He swung the bundle which he carried to and fro, and looked carelessly to the right and the left, like one who was not decided which direction to follow, but for whom, on the whole, it was unimportant whither he strayed.  1
  When he passed the front of the prison building, he saw a carriage standing there which appeared known to him; for he stopped and seemed to be reflecting. Then he turned to the coachman, who in his tasseled fur cap nodded haughtily from the box.  2
  “Is anybody from Helenenthal here?” he asked.  3
  “Yes: master and the young lady. They have come to fetch Mr. Meyerhofer.”  4
  And directly after was heard from the steps:—  5
  “Hey, holloa! there he is already—Elsbeth, see! there he is already.”  6
  Paul jumped up the steps, and the two men lay in each other’s arms.  7
  Then the heavy folding-doors were opened softly and timidly, and let out a slender female figure clad in black, who, with a melancholy smile, leaned against the wall and quietly waited until the men unclasped each other.  8
  “There, you have him, Elsbeth!” shouted the old man.  9
  Hand in hand they stood opposite each other, and looked in one another’s eyes; then she leaned her head on his breast and whispered, “Thank God that I am with you again!”  10
  “And in order that you may have each other all to yourself, children,” said the old man, “you two shall drive home; and I will meanwhile drink a bottle of claret to the health of my successor. I am well off, for I retire from business this day.”  11
  “Mr. Douglas!” exclaimed Paul, terrified.  12
  “Father, I am called—do you understand? Let me be fetched towards evening. You are now master at home. Good-by.”  13
  With that he strode down the steps.  14
  “Come,” said Paul gently, with downcast eyes. Elsbeth went after him with a shy smile; for now when they were alone, neither dared to approach the other.  15
  And then they drove silently out on to the sunny, flowery heath. Wild pinks, bluebells, and ground-ivy wove themselves into a many-colored carpet; and the white meadow-sweet lifted its waving blossoms, as if snowflakes had been strewn on the flowers. The leaves of the weeping willow rustled softly, and like a net of sparkling ribbons the little streams flowed along beneath their branches. The warm air trembled, and yellow butterflies fluttered up and down in couples.  16
  Paul leaned back in the cushions, and gazed with half-shut eyes at this profusion of charming sights.  17
  “Are you happy?” asked Elsbeth, leaning towards him.  18
  “I don’t know,” he answered: “it is too much for me.”  19
  She smiled: she well understood him.  20
  “See there, our home!” she said, pointing to the White House, which stood out clear in the distance. He pressed her hand, but his voice failed him.  21
  At the edge of the wood the carriage had to stop. Both got out and proceeded on foot.  22
  Then he saw that she carried a little white parcel under her arm, which he had not seen before.  23
  “What is that?” he asked.  24
  “You will soon see,” she answered, while a serious smile crossed her face.  25
  “A surprise?”  26
  “A remembrance.”…  27
  When they approached the opposite edge of the wood, he said, pointing to two trees which stood twenty steps away from the road:—  28
  “Here is the place where I found you lying in your hammock.”  29
  “Yes,” she said: “it was there also that I found out for the first time that I should never be able to do without you.”  30
  “And there is the juniper-tree,” he continued, when they stepped out into the fields, “where we—” and then he suddenly cried aloud, and stretched out both his hands into space.  31
  “What is the matter?” she exclaimed anxiously, looking up at him. He had turned deathly pale, and his lips quivered.  32
  “It is gone,” he stammered.  33
  “What?”  34
  “It—it—my own.”  35
  Where once the buildings of the Haidehof rose, there now stretched a level plain; only a few trees spread out their miserable branches.  36
  He could not accustom himself to this sight, and covered his face with his hands, while he shivered feverishly.  37
  “Do not be sad,” she pleaded. “Papa would not have it rebuilt before you could make your own arrangements.”  38
  “Let us go there,” he said.  39
  “Please, please not,” she replied: “there is nothing to be seen except a few heaps of ruins—at another time when you are not so excited.”  40
  “But where shall I sleep?”  41
  “In the same room in which you were born—I have had it arranged for you, and your mother’s furniture put in. Can you still say now that you have lost your home?”  42
  He pressed her hand gratefully; but she pointed to the juniper-bush, which had struck them before.  43
  “Let us go there,” she said; “lay your head on the mole-hill and whistle something. Do you remember?”  44
  “I should think so!”  45
  “How long is it since then?”  46
  “Seventeen years.”  47
  “O heavens, I have loved you so long already, and in the mean time have become an old maid! And I have waited for you from year to year, but you would not see it. ‘He must come at last,’ I thought; but you did not come. And then I was discouraged, and thought, ‘You cannot force yourself upon him; in reality he does not want you at all. You must come to some resolution.’ And to put an end to all my longings, I accepted my cousin, who for the last ten years had been dangling after me. He had made me laugh so often, and I thought he would—but enough of this—” and she shuddered. “Come, lie down—whistle.”  48
  He shook his head, and pointed with his hand silently across the heath, where, on the horizon, three lonely fir-trees stretched their rough arms towards the sky.  49
  “Thither,” he said. “I cannot rest ere I have been there.”  50
  “You are right,” she replied; and hand in hand they walked through the blooming heather, over which the wild bees were swarming, sleepily humming.  51
  When they entered the cemetery the clock at the White House was striking noon. Twelve times it sounded in short strokes; a soft echo quivered in the air, and then all was quiet again: only the humming and singing continued.  52
  His mother’s grave was overgrown with ivy and wild myrtle, and at its head rose the radiant blossom of a golden-rod. Between the leaves rust-colored ants were creeping, and a lizard rustled down into the green depths.  53
  Silently they both stood there, and Paul trembled. Neither dared to interrupt the solemn stillness.  54
  “Where have they buried my father?” Paul asked at last.  55
  “Your sisters took the body over to Lotkeim,” answered Elsbeth.  56
  “That is as well,” he replied. “She has been lonely all her life: let her be so in death too. But to-morrow we will also go over to him.”  57
  “Will you go and see your sisters?”  58
  He shook his head sadly. Then they relapsed into silence.  59
  He leaned his head on his hands and cried.  60
  “Do not cry,” she said: “each one of you has now a home.” And then she took the little parcel that she held under her arm, unfastened the white paper of the cover, and there appeared an old manuscript book with torn cover and faded leaves.  61
  “See,” she cried, “she sends you this,—her greeting.”  62
  “Where did you get it from?” he asked surprised, for he had recognized his mother’s handwriting.  63
  “It lay in an old chest of drawers which was saved from the fire, squeezed between the drawers and the back. It seems to have been lying there ever since her death.”  64
  Then they sat down together on the grave, laid the book between them on their knees, and began to study it. Now he remembered that Katie, at the time when he surprised her with her lover, had spoken of a song-book which had belonged to their mother; but he had never made up his mind to ask after it, because he did not want to bring to life again the painful remembrance of that hour.  65
  All sorts of old songs were in it, copied out neatly; near them others half scratched out and corrected. The latter she seemed to have reproduced from memory, or perhaps composed herself….  66
  And directly after stood written, in big letters, this title:—

  THERE was once a mother, to whom the good God had given a son; but she was so poor and lonely that she had nobody who could stand godmother to him. And she sighed, and said, “Where shall I get a godmother from?”
  Then one evening at dusk there came a woman to her house who was dressed in gray and had a gray veil over her head. She said, “I will be your son’s godmother, and I will take care that he grows up a good man, and does not let you starve; but you must give me his soul.”
  Then his mother trembled, and said, “Who are you?”
  “I am Dame Care,” answered the gray woman; and the mother wept; but as she suffered much from hunger, she gave the woman her son’s soul, and she was his godmother.
  And her son grew up and worked hard to procure her bread. But as he had no soul, he had no joy and no youth; and often he looked at his mother with reproachful eyes, as if he would ask:—
  “Mother, where is my soul?”
  Then the mother grew sad, and went out to find him a soul.
  She asked the stars in the sky, “Will you give me a soul?” But they said, “He is too low for that.”
  And she asked the flowers on the heath: they said, “He is too ugly.”
  And she asked the birds in the trees: they said, “He is too sad.”
  And she asked the high trees: they said, “He is too humble.”
  And she asked the clever serpents; but they said, “He is too stupid.”
  Then she went away weeping. And in the wood she met a young and beautiful princess surrounded by her court.
  And because she saw the mother weeping, she descended from her horse, and took her to the castle, which was all built of gold and precious stones.
  There she asked, “Tell me why you weep?” And the mother told the princess of her grief, that she could not procure her son a soul, nor joy and youth.
  Then said the princess, “I cannot see anybody weep: I will tell you something—I will give him my soul.”
  Then the mother fell down before her and kissed her hands.
  “But,” said the princess, “I will not do it for nothing: he must ask me for it.” Then the mother went to her son; but Dame Care had laid her gray veil over his head, so that he was blind and could not see the princess.
  And the mother pleaded, “Dear Dame Care, set him free.”
  But Care smiled,—and whoever saw her smile was forced to weep,—and she said, “He must free himself.”
  “How can he do that?” asked the mother.
  “He must sacrifice to me all that he loves,” said Dame Care.
  Then the mother grieved very much, and lay down and died. But the princess waits for her suitor to this very day.
  “Mother, mother!” he cried; and sank down on the grave.  68
  “Come,” said Elsbeth, struggling with her tears, as she laid her hand on his shoulder; “let mother be,—she is at peace. And she shall not harm us any more—your wicked Dame Care!”  69

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