Those visions of hell, those poor babes and women
and girls and lads and men shrieking and supplicating
in anguish why, we could hardly bear it, but he
was as bland about it as if it had been so many
imitation rats in an artificial fire.
And always when he was talking about men and
women here on the earth and their doings even
their grandest and sublimest we were secretly
ashamed, for his manner showed that to him they
and their doings were of paltry poor consequence;
often you would think he was talking about flies,
if you didn't know. Once he even said, in so many
words, that our people down here were quite inter-
esting to him, notwithstanding they were so dull
and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so
diseased and rickety, and such a shabby, poor,
worthless lot all around. He said it in a quite
matter-of-course way and without bitterness, just as
a person might talk about bricks or manure or any
other thing that was of no consequence and hadn't
feelings. I could see he meant no offense, but in
my thoughts I set it down as not very good manners.
"Manners!" he said. "Why, it is merely the
truth, and truth is good manners; manners are a
fiction. The castle is done. Do you like it?"
Any one would have been obliged to like it. It
was lovely to look at, it was so shapely and fine,
and so cunningly perfect in all its particulars, even
to the little flags waving from the turrets. Satan
said we must put the artillery in place now, and
station the halberdiers and display the cavalry.
Our men and horses were a spectacle to see, they
were so little like what they were intended for;
for, of course, we had no art in making such things.
Satan said they were the worst he had seen; and
when he touched them and made them alive, it was
just ridiculous the way they acted, on account of
their legs not being of uniform lengths. They reeled
and sprawled around as if they were drunk, and
endangered everybody's lives around them, and
finally fell over and lay helpless and kicking. It
made us all laugh, though it was a shameful thing
to see. The guns were charged with dirt, to fire a
salute, but they were so crooked and so badly made
that they all burst when they went off, and killed
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
some of the gunners and crippled the others. Satan
said we would have a storm now, and an earthquake,
if we liked, but we must stand off a piece, out of
danger. We wanted to call the people away, too,
but he said never mind them; they were of no
consequence, and we could make more, some time
or other, if we needed them.
A small storm-cloud began to settle down black
over the castle, and the miniature lightning and
thunder began to play, and the ground to quiver,
and the wind to pipe and wheeze, and the rain to fall,
and all the people flocked into the castle for shelter.
The cloud settled down blacker and blacker, and one
could see the castle only dimly through it; the
lightning blazed out flash upon flash and pierced
the castle and set it on fire, and the flames shone
out red and fierce through the cloud, and the people
came flying out, shrieking, but Satan brushed them
back, paying no attention to our begging and crying
and imploring; and in the midst of the howling of
the wind and volleying of the thunder the magazine
blew up, the earthquake rent the ground wide, and
the castle's wreck and ruin tumbled into the chasm,
which swallowed it from sight, and closed upon it,
with all that innocent life, not one of the five hundred
poor creatures escaping. Our hearts were broken;
we could not keep from crying.
1 ' Don't cry, ' ' Satan said ; ' ' they were of no value ' '
"But they are gone to hell!"
"Oh, it is no matter; we can make plenty more."
It was of no use to try to move him ; evidently he
was wholly without feeling, and could not under-
stand. He was full of bubbling spirits, and as gay
as if this were a wedding instead of a fiendish
massacre. And he was bent on making us feel as
he did, and of course his magic accomplished his
desire. It was no trouble to him; he did whatever
he pleased with us. In a little while we were dancing
on that grave, and he was playing to us on a strange,
sweet instrument which he took out of his pocket;
and the music but there is no music like that,
unless perhaps in heaven, and that was where he
brought it from, he said. It made one mad, for
pleasure; and we could not take our eyes from him,
and the looks that went out of our eyes came from
our hearts, and their dumb speech was worship.
He brought the dance from heaven, too, and the
bliss of paradise was in it.
Presently he said he must go away on an errand.
But we could not bear the thought of it, and clung
to him, and pleaded with him to stay; and that
pleased him, and he said so, and said he would not
go yet, but would wait a little while and we would
sit down and talk a few minutes longer; and he
told us Satan was only his real name, and he was to
be known by it to us alone, but he had chosen
another one to be called by in the presence of
others; just a common one, such as people have
It sounded so odd and mean for such a being!
But it was his decision, and we said nothing; his
decision was sufficient.
We had seen wonders this day; and my thoughts
began to run on the pleasure it would be to tell
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
them when I got home, but he noticed those
thoughts, and said :
"No, all these matters are a secret among us four.
I do not mind your trying to tell them, if you like,
but I will protect your tongues, and nothing of the
secret will escape from them."
It was a disappointment, but it couldn't be helped,
and it cost us a sigh or two. We talked pleasantly
along, and he was always reading our thoughts and
responding to them, and it seemed to me that this
was the most wonderful of all the things he did, but
he interrupted my musings and said :
"No, it would be wonderful for you, but it is not
wonderful for me. I am not limited like you. I am
not subject to human conditions. I can measure
and understand your human weaknesses, for I have
studied them; but I have none of them. My flesh
is not real, although it would seem firm to your
touch; my clothes are not real; I am a spirit.
Father Peter is coming. We looked around, but
did not see any one. "He is not in sight yet, but
you will see him presently."
"Do you know him, Satan?"
"Won't you talk with him when he comes? He
is not ignorant and dull, like us, and he would so
like to talk with you. Will you?"
"Another time, yes, but not now. I must go on
my errand after a little. There he is now; you can
see him. Sit still, and don't say anything."
We looked up and saw Father Peter approaching
through the chestnuts. We three were sitting
together in the grass, and Satan sat in front of us
in the path. Father Peter came slowly along with
his head down, thinking, and stopped within a couple
of yards of us and took off his hat and got out his
silk handkerchief, and stood there mopping his face
and looking as if he were going to speak to us, but
he didn't. Presently he muttered, "I can't think
what brought me here; it seems as if I were in my
study a minute ago but I suppose I have been
dreaming along for an hour and have come all this
stretch without noticing; for I am not myself in
these troubled days." Then he went mumbling
along to himself and walked straight through Satan,
just as if nothing were there. It made us catch our
breath to see it. We had the impulse to cry out,
the way you nearly always do when a startling
thing happens, but something mysteriously restrained
us and we remained quiet, only breathing fast.
Then the trees hid Father Peter after a little, and
"It is as I told you I am only a spirit."
"Yes, one perceives it now," said Nikolaus, "but
we are not spirits. It is plain he did not see you,
but were we invisible, too? He looked at us, but
he didn't seem to see us."
"No, none of us was visible to him, for I wished
It seemed almost too good to be true, that we
were actually seeing these romantic and wonderful
things, and that it was not a dream. And there
he sat, looking just like anybody so natural and
simple and charming, and chatting along again the
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
same as ever, and well, words cannot make you
understand what we felt. It was an ecstasy; and
an ecstasy is a thing that will not go into words;
it feels like music, and one cannot tell about music
so that another person can get the feeling of it. He
was back in the old ages once more now, and making
them live before us. He had seen so much, so much !
It was just a wonder to look at him and try to think
how it must seem to have such experience behind one.
But it made you seem sorrowfully trivial, and the
creature of a day, and such a short and paltry day,
too. And he didn't say anything to raise up your
drooping pride no, not a word. He always spoke
of men in the same old indifferent way just as one
speaks of bricks and manure-piles and such things;
you could see that they were of no consequence to
him, one way or the other. He didn't mean to hurt
us, you could see that; just as we don't mean to
insult a brick when we disparage it; a brick's
emotions are nothing to us; it never occurs to us to
think whether it has any or not.
Once when he was bunching the most illustrious
kings and conquerors and poets and prophets and
pirates and beggars together just a brick-pile I
was shamed into putting in a word for man, and asked
him why he made so much difference between men
and himself. He had to struggle with that a moment ;
he didn't seem to understand how I could ask such
a strange question. Then he said:
"The difference between man and me? The
difference between a mortal and an immortal?
between a cloud and a spirit?" He picked up a
wood-louse that was creeping along a piece of bark:
"What is the difference between Caesar and this?"
I said, "One cannot compare things which by
their nature and by the interval between them are
"You have answered your own question," he
said. "I will expand it. Man is made of dirt I
saw him made. I am not made of dirt. Man is a
museum of diseases, a home of impurities; he comes
to-day and is gone to-morrow; he begins as dirt
and departs as stench; I am of the aristocracy of
the Imperishables. And man has the Moral Sense.
You understand? He has the Moral Sense. That
would seem to be difference enough between us, all
He stopped there, as if that settled the matter.
I was sorry, for at that time I had but a dim idea of
what the Moral Sense was. I merely knew that we
were proud of having it, and when he talked like
that about it, it wounded me, and I felt as a girl
feels who thinks her dearest finery is being admired
and then overhears strangers making fun of it. For
a while we were all silent, and I, for one, was
depressed. Then Satan began to chat again, and
soon he was sparkling along in such a cheerful and
vivacious vein that my spirits rose once more. He
told some very cunning things that put us in a gale
of laughter; and when he was telling about the time
that Samson tied the torches to the foxes' tails and
set them loose in the Philistines' corn, and Samson
sitting on the fence slapping his thighs and laughing,
with the tears running down his cheeks, and lost his
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
balance and fell off the fence, the memory of that
picture got him to laughing, too, and we did have a
most lovely and jolly time. By and by he said:
"I am going on my errand now."
"Don't!" we all said. "Don't go; stay with us.
You won't come back."
"Yes, I will; I give you my word."
"When? To-night? Say when."
"It won't belong. You will see."
"We like you."
"And I you. And as a proof of it I will show you
something fine to see. Usually when I go I merely
vanish; but now I will dissolve myself and let you
see me do it."
He stood up, and it was quickly finished. He
thinned away and thinned away until he was a
soap-bubble, except that he kept his shape. You
could see the bushes through him as clearly as you
see things through a soap-bubble, and all over him
played and flashed the delicate iridescent colors of
the bubble, and along with them was that thing
shaped like a window-sash which you always see on
the globe of the bubble. You have seen a bubble
strike the carpet and lightly bound along two or
three times before it bursts. He did that. He
sprang touched the grass bounded floated along
touched again and so on, and presently exploded
puff ! and in his place was vacancy.
It was a strange and beautiful thing to see. We
did not say anything, but sat wondering and dream
ing and blinking; and finally Seppi roused up and
said, mournfully sighing :
"I suppose none of it has happened."
Nikolaus sighed and said about the same.
I was miserable to hear them say it, for it was the
same cold fear that was in my own mind. Then we
saw poor old Father Peter wandering along back,
with his head bent down, searching the ground.
When he was pretty close to us he looked up and saw
us, and said, "How long have you been here, boys?"
"A little while, Father."
"Then it is since I came by, and maybe you can
help me. Did you come up by the path?"
"That is good. I came the same way. I have
lost my wallet. There wasn't much in it, but a very
little is much to me, for it was all I had. I suppose
you haven't seen anything of it?"
"No, Father, but we will help you hunt."
"It is what I was going to ask you. Why, here
We hadn't noticed it; yet there it lay, right
where Satan stood when he began to melt if he
did melt and it wasn't a delusion. Father Peter
picked it up and looked very much surprised.
"It is mine," he said, "but not the contents.
This is fat; mine was flat; mine was light; this is
heavy." He opened it; it was stuffed as full as it
could hold with gold coins. He let us gaze our fill;
and of course we did gaze, for we had never seen so
much money at one time before. All our mouths
came open to say "Satan did it!" but nothing
came out. There it was, you see we couldn't tell
what Satan didn't want told; he had said so himself.
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
"Boys, did you do this?"
It made us laugh. And it made him laugh, too,
as soon as he thought what a foolish question it was.
"Who has been here?"
Our mouths came open to answer, but stood so
for a moment, because we couldn't say "Nobody,"
for it wouldn't be true, and the right word didn't
seem to come; then I thought of the right one, and
said it :
"Not a human being."
"That is so," said the others, and let their mouths
"It is not so," said Father Peter, and looked at
us very severely. "I came by here a while ago, and
there was no one here, but that is nothing; some
one has been here since. I don't mean to say that
the person didn't pass here before you came, and I
don't mean to say you saw him, but some one did
pass, that I know. On your honor you saw no
"Not a human being."
"That is sufficient; I know you are telling me the
He began to count the money on the path, we on
our knees eagerly helping to stack it in little piles.
"It's eleven hundred ducats odd!" he said. "Oh
dear! if it were only mine and I need it so!" and
his voice broke and his lips quivered.
"It is yours, sir!" we all cried out at once, "every
"No it isn't mine. Only four ducats are mine;
the rest . . . !" He fell to dreaming, poor old soul,
and caressing some of the coins in his hands, and
forgot where he was, sitting there on his heels with
his old gray head bare; it was pitiful to see. "No,"
he said, waking up, "it isn't mine. I can't account
for it. I think some enemy ... it must be a trap."
Nikolaus said: "Father Peter, with the exception
of the astrologer you haven't a real enemy in the
village nor Marget, either. And not even a half-
enemy that's rich enough to chance eleven hundred
ducats to do you a mean turn. I'll ask you if that's
so or not?"
He couldn't get around that argument, and it
cheered him up. "But it isn't mine, you see it
isn't mine, in any case."
He said it in a wistful way, like a person that
wouldn't be sorry, but glad, if anybody would con
"It is yours, Father Peter, and we are witness to
it. Aren't we, boys?"
"Yes, we are and we'll stand by it, too."
"Bless your hearts, you do almost persuade me;
you do, indeed. If I had only a hundred-odd ducats
of it! The house is mortgaged for it, and we've no
home for our heads if we don't pay to-morrow. And
that four ducats is all we've got in the "
"It's yours, every bit of it, and you've got to take
it we are bail that it's all right. Aren't we,
Theodor? Aren't we, Seppi?"
We two said yes, and Nikolaus stuffed the money
back into the shabby old wallet and made the owner
take it. So he said he would use two hundred of it,
for his house was good enough security for that, and
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
would put the rest at interest till the rightful owner
came for it; and on our side we must sign a papet
showing how he got the money a paper to show to
the villagers as proof that he had not got out of his
IT made immense talk next day, when Father
Peter paid Solomon Isaacs in gold and left the
rest of the money with him at interest. Also, there
was a pleasant change; many people called at the
house to congratulate him, and a number of cool
old friends became kind and friendly again; and, to
top all, Marget was invited to a party.
And there was no mystery; Father Peter told the
whole circumstance just as it happened, and said
he could not account for it, only it was the plain
hand of Providence, so far as he could see.
One or two shook their heads and said privately
it looked more like the hand of Satan; and really
that seemed a surprisingly good guess for ignorant
people like that. Some came slyly buzzing around
and tried to coax us boys to come out and "tell the
truth;" and promised they wouldn't ever tell, but
only wanted to know for their own satisfaction,
because the whole thing was so curious. They even
wanted to buy the secret, and pay money for it;
and if we could have invented something that would
answer but we couldn't; we hadn't the ingenuity,
so we had to let the chance go by, and it was a pity.
We carried that secret around without any trouble,
but the other one, the big one, the splendid one,
burned the very vitals of us, it was so hot to get
out and we so hot to let it out and astonish people
with it. But we had to keep it in; in fact, it kept
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
itself in. Satan said it would, and it did. We went
off every day and got to ourselves in the woods so
that we could talk about Satan, and really that was
the only subject we thought of or cared anything
about; and day and night we watched for him and
hoped he would come, and we got more and more
impatient all the time. We hadn't any interest in
the other boys any more, and wouldn't take part in
their games and enterprises. They seemed so tame,
after Satan ; and their doings so trifling and common
place after his adventures in antiquity and the con
stellations, and his miracles and meltings and ex
plosions, and all that.
During the first day we were in a state of anxiety
on account of one thing, and we kept going to Father
Peter's house on one pretext or another to keep track
of it. That was the gold coin; we were afraid it
would crumble and turn to dust, like fairy money.
If it did But it didn't. At the end of the day no
complaint had been made about it, so after that we
were satisfied that it was real gold, and dropped the
anxiety out of our minds.
There was a question which we wanted to ask
Father Peter, and finally we went there the second
evening, a little diffidently, after drawing straws,
and I asked it as casually as I could, though it did
not sound as casual as I wanted, because I didn't
know how :
"What is the Moral Sense, sir?"
He looked down, surprised, over his great spec
tacles, and said, "Why, it is the faculty which en
ables us to distinguish good from evil."
It threw some light, but not a glare, and I was a
little disappointed, also to some degree embarrassed
He was waiting for me to go on, so, in default ol
anything else to say, I asked, "Is it valuable?"
"Valuable? Heavens! lad, it is the one thing
that lifts man above the beasts that perish and makes
him heir to immortality!"
This did not remind me of anything further to say,
so I got out, with the other boys, and we went away
with that indefinite sense you have often had oi
being filled but not fatted. They wanted me to
explain, but I was tired.
We passed out through the parlor, and there was
Marget at the spinnet teaching Marie Lueger. So
one of the deserting pupils was back; and an in
fluential one, too; the others would follow. Marget
jumped up and ran and thanked us again, with tears
in her eyes this was the third time for saving her
and her uncle from being turned into the street, and
we told her again we hadn't done it; but that was
her way, she never could be grateful enough for
anything a person did for her; so we let her have
her say. And as we passed through the garden,
there was Wilhelm Meidling sitting there waiting,
for it was getting toward the edge of the evening,
and he would be asking Marget to take a walk along
the river with him when she was done with the lesson.
He was a young lawyer, and succeeding fairly well
and working his way along, little by little. He was
very fond of Marget, and she of him. He had not
deserted along with the others, but had stood his
ground all through. His faithfulness was not lost on
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
Marget and her uncle. He hadn't so very much
talent, but he was handsome and good, and these
are a kind of talents themselves and help along. He
asked us how the lesson was getting along, and we
told him it was about done. And maybe it was so;
we didn't know anything about it, but we judged it
would please him, and it did, and didn't cost us
ON the fourth day comes the astrologer fron
his crumbling old tower up the valley, when
he had heard the news, I reckon. He had a privat<
talk with us, and we told him what we could, fo:
we were mightily in dread of him. He sat then
studying and studying awhile to himself; then h<
"How many ducats did you say?"
"Eleven hundred and seven, sir."
Then he said, as if he were talking to himself
"It is ver-y singular. Yes . . . very strange. ^
curious coincidence." Then he began to ask ques
tions, and went over the whole ground from the
beginning, we answering. By and by he said
"Eleven hundred and six ducats. It is a large sum.'
"Seven," said Seppi, correcting him.
"Oh, seven, was it? Of course a ducat more 01
less isn't of consequence, but you said eleven hundred
and six before."
It would not have been safe for us to say he was
mistaken, but we knew he was. Nikolaus said, "We
ask pardon for the mistake, but we meant to say
"Oh, it is no matter, lad; it was merely that I
noticed the discrepancy. It is several days, and you
cannot be expected to remember precisely. One is
apt to be inexact when there is no particular circum
stance to impress the count upon the memory."
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
"But there was one, sir," said Seppi, eagerly.
"What was it, my son?" asked the astrologer,
"First, we all counted the piles of coin, each in
turn, and all made it the same eleven hundred and
six. But I had slipped one out, for fun, when the
count began, and now I slipped it back and said,
'I think there is a mistake there are eleven hundred
and seven; let us count again.' We did, and of
course I was right. They were astonished; then I
told how it came about."
The astrologer asked us if this was so, and we said
"That settles it," he said. "I know the thiei
now. Lads, the money was stolen."
Then he went away, leaving us very much troubled,
and wondering what he could mean. In about an
hour we found out ; for by that time it was all over
the village that Father Peter had been arrested for
stealing a great sum of money from the astrologer.
Everybody's tongue was loose and going. Many said
it was not in Father Peter's character and must be a
mistake; but the others shook their heads and said