Fritz Reuter.

An Old Story of My Farming Days Vol. I (of III). online

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2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

_Each volume sold separately at the price of M 1,60_.





* * * * *

VOL. 34.







_This Collection of German Authors may be introduced_
_into England or any other country_.




VOL. 34.

* * * * *



By the same Author,
IN THE YEAR '13: . . . . . . . . 1 vol.

* * *









_Authorized Edition_.



Well, well, it was not always so. - The father of the man who now rides
to town with white reins for his horse, and who drinks his couple of
bottles of champagne, had probably nothing better than small beer with
which to quench his thirst, and had his reins tied together with his
wife's garter. Ah, those were hard times in Mecklenburg when wheat was
sold in barrels on the public road for sixteen pence a bushel, good
measure too, to the labourers to feed their pigs with, and when, as in
Rostock, a whole load of oats was given in exchange for a loaf of

Mecklenburg is a beautiful and a rich land, just the kind of country
that delights a farmer, but at the time of which I am speaking there
was great poverty and distress throughout the length and breadth of it,
and the collector knocked at every door, and demanded that the rent
should be paid, and whoever had anything to give, gave his last penny,
and he who had nothing to give was sold up.

Let no one imagine from this that our country-people hobbled about the
land like scare-crows during these hard times, or that one could read
the "Vater-unser" through their sunken cheeks - Nay! - they were as true
Mecklenburgers every bit then as now, only they had to manage
differently. Now-a-days one says: "Butter costs a shilling a pound,
which comes to so much a hundredweight, and if I sell so many
hundredweights of it, I shall be able to buy a glass-coach and four
horses to match from the sale of butter alone." - At that time one said:
"What mother? Butter cost two-pence? Then let's eat it by itself. - What
mother? The butcher offers fifteen shillings for the fat pig? Cut its
throat, mother, and put it in our own salting-tub." - The country-people
were all quite as strong and healthy then as now, and were quite as
well off as regarded food in the third decade of this century as at the
present day, it was the shoemakers' and tailors' bills that were the
difficulty, and as for ready money, they learnt what that really was
when they were called upon to pay their rent.

Yes, things are much improved of late years, and although the priests
say a thousand times that the world is worse than it was, I maintain
that it has grown better.

"Good morning, Mr. bailiff Wilbrandt!" - "Good morning, old friend, come
and have some breakfast" - "Good morning, father Hellwig!" - "Don't
bother me, I'm in a bad humour." - "Why, what's the matter?" - "A great
deal's the matter. My rent has almost doubled itself, and Zirzow has
done its part this year, and so here I am with £3000 that I don't
know how to invest. The Rostock bank won't take in any more money, so
what's to be done? Ah, Wilbrandt, it's a bad world!" - "Yes, it's a bad
world," replied the bailiff; and I also said: "Very bad," without for a
moment remembering the large sum of money I shall have to invest next
term. - "Yes," continued Wilbrandt, "who the devil thought of mortgages
in the old days?" - "True," said father Hellwig, "nobody thought of such
things then. Look you, when I went to old Solomon in Stemhagen[1], and
told him I wanted to borrow some money from him, he said to me:
'Hellwig,' he said, 'you have an honest face, it is marked with
small-pox - but there's no harm in that - you shall have the money.' And
then I had to spend one night in his house, and sleep in the same room
as he did. Now I have a bad habit of smoking myself to sleep, and so I
always take a freshly lit pipe to bed with me, and as Solomon was very
nervous about fire, he kept continually calling to me: 'Hellwig, are
you still smoking?' Ah, those were good old times!" - "Yes," said the
bailiff, "and how we used to rejoice when we had paid off the last
farthing of our small debts! The happiest part of my life passed away
with my last debts. Those were good old times." - "No," said I, "they
were bad old times. You managed to keep afloat in spite of hardships
and difficulties, and therefore you are worthy of all honour and
respect, but many other honest men couldn't do so, try as they
might." - Then Mr. X Y Z, a land-owner in the neighbourhood, came up,
and striking the table so hard with his walking-stick that all the
bottles danced, said: "Those who didn't get the better of their
difficulties weren't worth their salt." - "What," cried the bailiff,
"have you got to say to that?" - Then father Hellwig rose, and looking
at him with his honest old face, said: "You are a young man, and have
inherited your estate from your ancestors. You hav'n't the faintest
idea of the misery of those times. - You know all about it, old friend,"
he added, turning to me, "so tell us about what happened then." - "Yes,"
I answered, "I will tell the story of those old days."



On midsummer-day 1829, a man was seated in an arbour in a desolate
garden, plunged in sad reverie. The land to which the garden belonged
was a leasehold, situated on the river Peen, between Anclam and Demmin,
and the man who was seated in the cool, shady arbour was the tenant
farmer - that is to say; that is what he had been, for he was now
bankrupt, and an auction was going on in his yard, and all his goods
and chattels were being scattered to the four winds.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man of forty-four years of age, with
hair of a dusky blond colour. All that work can do for a man had been
done for this man, and a better than he could nowhere be found. "Work,"
said his honest face: and "work" said his honest hands, which were now
folded on his knee as if in prayer.

Yes, in prayer! No one in all Pomerania had so much need of a little
talk with his God as this man. ''Tis a hard blow for any one when he
sees the household goods which he has brought together with the labour
of his hands and the sweat of his brow scattered over the wide world.
'Tis a hard blow for a farmer when he is obliged to let the cattle he
has reared with pain and trouble, pass into the hands of strangers, who
know nothing of the struggles that have filled his life; but it was
neither of these things that was lying so heavily on his soul just now,
it was another grievous sorrow that made him fold his hands, and raise
his eyes to heaven.

He had been a widower for one day only. His wife lay upon her last
bed - his wife! For ten long years he had been engaged to her; for ten
years he had toiled and laboured and done all that man could do to
provide a fitting home for her. His deep faithful love for his promised
wife filled his heart with tender music, such as the Whitsun bells ring
out over the green fields and blossoming trees. Four years ago he had
attained the end for which he had striven, had scraped together enough
money to set up house. An acquaintance of his who had inherited two
farms from his parents, let one of them to him at a high rent; a very
high rent; he knew that, none better; but love gives a man courage,
that kind of courage which conquers difficulties. All would have gone
well with him, if his good little wife had not got up so early in the
morning, and worked so hard, and if she had not come to have that
burning red spot on each cheek. All would have gone well with him,
if his landlord, instead of being a mere acquaintance, had been a
friend - and he was not that, for it was because of him that the auction
was going on in the farm-yard to-day.

Friend? - A man like that one who is sitting in the oak arbour can have
no friends? He _had_ true-hearted friends, but they could not help him,
they had nothing to give or lend. Wherever he looked, it seemed to him
as though he were surrounded by a high wall which hemmed him in and
stifled him, and so he cried with all his strength to God to save him
in his sore distress. A linnet and a chaffinch were singing in the
oak-boughs above his head, their feathers shining in the sun, the
flowers in the neglected garden scattered their fragrance all around,
and the oak-trees cast their cool shadow over him. If two lovers had
been sitting there, they would never have forgotten the place and how
it looked all their lives long.

And had _he_ not sat in that shady bower with a gentle hand clasped
within his own? Had not the birds sung as cheerily, and was not the
perfume of the flowers as sweet then as now? Had he not dreamt of
sitting on that very seat in his old age, and while immersed in that
dream of the future - who was it who had brought him a cool draught to
refresh him after his hard day's work? Who was it who had shared the
toil and care of his daily life, and had encouraged him by her

Gone - all gone! - Everything he had was to be sold, and the gentle
loving hand he had held in his own was stiff and cold. Then the man
felt as if the birds no longer sang their glad songs for him, as if the
flowers no longer grew for him in their sweetness and beauty, and as if
the glorious sun no longer shone for him, although his poor overcharged
heart still went on beating as strongly as before; and so he stretched
out his hands beyond birds and flowers, and even the golden sun, to the
divine Comforter, who better than any earthly joy can soothe the
wounded heart.

Hawermann sat thus in silent prayer, his hands clasped, and his brave
blue eyes, in which a wondrous light was shining as though from God's
own sun, raised to heaven, when a little girl came up to him and laid a
daisy on his knee. He drew the child, - she was his only one - closer to
him, and rising, took her in his arms. His eyes were full of tears as
he walked down the garden-path carrying his little girl and holding the
daisy she had given him in his hand.

He came to a young tree that he himself had planted; the straw rope by
which it was fastened to the pronged stick that supported it had become
loose, and the young tree was leaning all on one side. He straightened
it and fastened it again to its prop, scarcely conscious of what he was
doing, for his thoughts were far away, but it was his nature to give
help wherever it was wanted.

When a man is lost in thought, even though that thought may have led
him up to the blue heavens, if any little bit of his daily work should
happen to fall under his notice, he takes up the wonted task
involuntarily, and does what may be required at the moment, and so he
is wakened out of his reverie, and reminded of what is lying close at
hand and ought to be done, and that it is so is a great gift of God.

Hawermann walked up and down the garden, his eyes saw what was round
about him, and his thoughts returned to earth once more. Though the sky
of his future life was heavy with black, stormy clouds, still there was
one little scrap of blue that the clouds could not overcast, and that
was the thought of his little girl whom he was carrying in his arms,
and whose small childish hand was playing with his hair.

He left the garden and entered the farm-yard. - And what was going on
there? - Indifferent strangers were pressing up to the table where the
auctioneer was selling off the farmer's effects, each thinking only of
the bargains he wished to make. One after another all of Hawermann's
possessions were knocked down to the highest bidder. Those things that
he had collected bit by bit with toil and trouble to furnish his house,
were now being scattered abroad amid the jokes and laughter of all
present. Even the old things were going - that cupboard had belonged to
his old mother; that chest of drawers his wife had brought home with
her when she was married; he had given her that little work-table when
he was engaged to her. - His cows were tied in a long line and were
lowing to be taken to the pasture-field. The brown heifer his wife had
reared from a calf, and which had always been her pet, was standing
amongst them. He went up to it, and passed his hand caressingly down
its back. "Sir," said Niemann, the head-ploughman, "this is very
sad." - "Yes, Niemann, it _is_ sad, but it can't be helped," he
answered, turnings away and mingling in the crowd round the

As soon as the people saw that he wanted to get to the table they made
room for him courteously and kindly. He asked the auctioneer if he
might speak to him for a moment: "_Im_mediately, Mr. Hawermann," was
the reply, "in one moment, I've just finished with the household
things, then ...... a chest of drawers! six and two-pence! three-pence!
six and four-pence! going! going! - six and four-pence! - No one else bid
anything? - Going! going! gone!" - "Whose is it?" - "Tailor Brandt's," was
the answer.

Just at this moment some farmers rode into the yard, probably to look
at the cattle which were now about to be sold. Foremost amongst them
was a stout red-faced man, whose fat face was made even broader than it
was by nature, by the insolent expression that it wore. Men of this
species are often to be met with, but what distinguished this man from
the rest of his type were the small cunning eyes that peeped out over
his fat cheeks, and which seemed to say: It's all thanks to _us_ that
you are so well up in the world, _we_ know how to manage. The owner of
these eyes was also the owner of the farm of which Hawermann was
tenant. He rode right in amongst the crowd, and when he saw his unhappy
tenant standing among the other people, he was at once struck with
terror lest he should not get his full rent, and the cunning little
eyes that knew so well how to manage things for their own advantage
said to the insolence that found its home on his mouth and in his
expression: Up brother, now's the time to make yourself as big as
possible, for it'll cost you nothing! Then forcing his horse closer to
Hawermann, he called out in a loud voice so that every one might hear:
"Ha ha! These are the clever Mecklenburgers, who think they can teach
us how to farm properly! And what have they taught us? They've taught
us to drink red wine and cheat at cards, but as for farming! - they can
teach us better how to become bankrupt."

There was deep silence during this hard speech. Everyone looked first
at the speaker, and then at the man whom he had addressed. Hawermann
had started on hearing the voice and the words as though some one had
plunged a knife into his heart, and now he stood gazing silently on the
ground at his feet, not caring to defend himself, but a murmur arose
among the people, and a cry of: "ss - ss - for shame! This man drank no
red wine, he never cheated at cards - and his farming was most
excellent!" - "Who's the great gaby that was talking such nonsense?"
asked old Drenkhahn of Liepen, pressing closer with his heavy
thorn-stick in his hand. - "It's the man whose labourers go about
amongst us begging," cried lame Smidt. - "They hav'n't money to buy
a coat for their backs," cried Brandt, the tailor from Jarmen, "and
have to wear their Sunday clothes when they are working in the
fields." - "Yes," laughed the smith, "it's the man who was so glad to
see his labourers wearing such grand cloth coats when they were at
work, and they only did it because they couldn't afford to buy
smock-frocks, you know!"[2]

The auctioneer came up to the landlord, who was listening to all these
remarks with perfect indifference, and asked him: "How _could_ you say
that, Mr. Pomuchelskopp, how _could_ you?" - "Yes," said one of the men
who had come with him, "these people are right, you should be ashamed
of yourself for having aimed another blow at a man who is selling
everything he has honestly, that he may meet and pay off all his
debts." - "Ah," said the auctioneer, "if that were all. Mr. Hawermann's
wife died yesterday, and is lying upstairs on her last bed, and
so he is left alone in the world with a little girl, and _what_
prospects?" - "I didn't know that," muttered Pomuchelskopp sullenly. The
murmur of disapprobation now spread from the crowd to the landlord's
companions, and in a few moments more, Mr. Pomuchelskopp was left
alone, all the men who had accompanied him having ridden away to the
other side of the yard.

The auctioneer now approached Hawermann and said: "You wanted to speak
to me Mr. Hawermann?" - "Yes - yes," replied the farmer slowly, he seemed
to be coming to himself again like a martyr when he has been removed
from the rack. "I wished to ask you if you will also sell the few
things that remain to me by law, at the auction. I mean the bed and the
other things." - "With pleasure, but the furniture has sold badly, the
people have no money, and if you really want to sell those things, it
would be better to do so by private bargain." - "I haven't time for
that, and I'm badly in want of the money." - "Well if you really wish
it, I'll manage it for you," and then the auctioneer went about his
business again.

"Hawermann," said farmer Grot, who was one of the people that had
come on horseback, "you are so lonely here in your sorrow, do bring
your little girl and come and pay me a visit, my wife will be so
glad...." - "Thank you heartily for your kindness, but I can't accept
your invitation, I have something to do here." - "You mean your dear
wife's funeral, Hawermann," said farmer Hartmann, "when is it to be? We
will all be glad to do her the last honours." - "Thank you, thank you,
but that cannot be, it wouldn't be fitting, and I've just learnt that
one oughtn't to stretch one's foot further than one's own roof will
cover." - "Old friend, dear old neighbour and fellow-countryman," said
Wienk, the farm-bailiff, laying his hand on his shoulder, "don't
despair, things will get better." - "Despair! Wienk," said Hawermann
earnestly, and pressing his child closer in his arms he looked calmly
at the farm-bailiff with his honest blue eyes, and continued: "Is it
despair when one looks one's future full in the face, and tries to find
the best way of getting out of one's difficulties? I can't remain here,
no one could stay in a place where his ship had run aground. I must
live in another man's house. I must begin at the beginning again, and
do as I did before. I must take service once more, and so earn my daily
bread. And now good-bye all of you. You've been kind friends and
neighbours to me. Good-bye - good-bye. Shake hands, Louie. Remember me
to all at home. My wife...." - He was going to have said something more,
but could not get out the words, so he turned quickly and hastened

"Niemann," he said to his head-ploughman whom he met at the other end
of the yard, "tell the rest of my people that my wife's funeral will be
at four o'clock to-morrow morning." Then he entered the house and went
into his bed-room. Everything had been taken away, even his bed and the
few small articles of furniture which had been left to him; nothing
remained but the four bare walls. Except that there was an old chest in
the corner near the window, on which the young wife of one of the
labourers was seated, her eyes red with weeping, and in the middle of
the room was a black coffin in which a pale, still, solemn figure was
lying, and the young woman had a green branch in her hand, with which
she fanned away the flies from the quiet face. "Stina," said Hawermann,
"you may go now, I will remain here." - "Oh, Sir, let me stay." - "No,
Stina, I shall remain here all night." - "Then, shall I take the little
one home with me?" - "No, leave her, she'll go to sleep." - The young
woman left the room. After a time the auctioneer brought Hawermann the
money for his things, and then everyone left the yard, and all was as
still and quiet without as within. He put the child down, and counted
the money on the window sill: "so much for the carpenter for making the
coffin; so much for the cross on the grave; so much for the burial fee;
so much for Stina, and with what remains I can make my way to my
sister's house." - It grew dark, the young woman brought in a candle,
and placed it beside the coffin, and gazed long in the pale face of her
dead mistress, then drying her eyes with her apron, she said: "Good
night," and Hawermann was once more alone with his child.

He opened the window, and looked out into the night; it was dark for
the time of year, no star was to be seen, the sky was covered with
black clouds, and the light breeze that sighed in the distance was warm
and fragrant. The quails were calling in the meadow, and a corncrake
was sounding its rain signal, and the first drops of the coming shower
were falling softly on the thirsty earth, which in its gratitude filled
the air with that sweet smell, known and loved by farmers, the smell of
the earth. How often had he been refreshed in spirit by such weather;
how often had his cares been chased away, and his hope been renewed by
it. Now he was free from those cares, but his joy was gone also - his
_one_ great joy had gone from him, and had taken with it all the
smaller ones as well. He closed the window, and turning round saw his
little daughter standing by the coffin, trying in vain to reach and
stroke the quiet face within. He lifted the child higher so that she
might do so, and the little girl stroked and patted her mother's face:
"Mammy - oh!" - "Yes," said Hawermann, "Mammy's cold," and seating
himself on the chest, he took the child on his knee, and wept bitterly;
seeing this, the little one cried too, till she cried herself to sleep,
so he held her gently in his arms, and drew his coat warmly round her.
He sat there all night long, keeping a true lyke-wake by his wife and
his dead happiness.

Next morning punctually at four o'clock the head-ploughman and the
other men who worked on the farm arrived, the lid of the coffin was
screwed down, and the procession moved off slowly to the little
churchyard. His child and he were the only mourners. The coffin was
lowered into the grave - a silent prayer - a handful of earth - and the
form of her who had encouraged and comforted him for years, of her who
had been his life and his joy, was hidden from his sight, and if ever
he wished to see her, he must live over again in thought the happy old
days when she was still at his side, until the time when the book of

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Online LibraryFritz ReuterAn Old Story of My Farming Days Vol. I (of III). → online text (page 1 of 19)