The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes online

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is a piece of impertinent mischief-making. As there must exist some
misunderstanding in this matter, I have made up my mind to present my
complaint once more, this time in person, to the sovereign himself."

"But why will you sell your house?" she cried, rising with a look of

The horse-dealer, clasping her tenderly to his breast, answered,
"Because, dear Lisbeth, I do not care to remain in a country where
they will not protect me in my rights. If I am to be kicked I would
rather be a dog than a man! I am sure that my wife thinks about this
just as I do."

"How do you know," she asked wildly, "that they will not protect you
in your rights? If, as is becoming, you approach the Elector humbly
with your petition, how do you know that it will be thrown aside or
answered by a refusal to listen to you?"

"Very well!" answered Kohlhaas; "if my fears on the subject are
unfounded, my house isn't sold yet, either. The Elector himself is
just, I know, and if I can only succeed in getting past those who
surround him and in reaching his person, I do not doubt that I shall
secure justice, and that, before the week is out, I shall return
joyfully home again to you and my old trade. In that case I would
gladly stay with you," he added, kissing her, "until the end of my
life! But it is advisable," he continued, "to be prepared for any
emergency, and for that reason I should like you, if it is possible,
to go away for a while with the children to your aunt in Schwerin,
whom, moreover, you have, for some time, been intending to visit!"

"What!" cried the housewife; "I am to go to Schwerin - to go across the
frontier with the children to my aunt in Schwerin?" Terror choked her

"Certainly," answered Kohlhaas, "and, if possible, right away, so that
I may not be hindered by any family considerations in the steps I
intend to take in my suit."

"Oh, I understand you!" she cried. "You now need nothing but weapons
and horses; whoever will may take everything else!" With this she
turned away and, in tears, flung herself down on a chair.

Kohlhaas exclaimed in alarm, "Dearest Lisbeth, what are you doing? God
has blessed me with wife and children and worldly goods; am I today
for the first time to wish that it were otherwise?" He sat down gently
beside his wife, who at these words had flushed up and fallen on his
neck. "Tell me!" said he, smoothing the curls away from her forehead.
"What shall I do? Shall I give up my case? Do you wish me to go to
Tronka Castle, beg the knight to restore the horses to me, mount and
ride them back home?"

Lisbeth did not dare to cry out, "Yes, yes, yes!" She shook her head,
weeping, and, clasping him close, kissed him passionately.

"Well, then," cried Kohlhaas, "if you feel that, in case I am to
continue my trade, justice must be done me, do not deny me the liberty
which I must have in order to procure it!"

With that he stood up and said to the groom who had come to tell him
that the chestnut horse was saddled, "To-morrow the bay horses must
be harnessed up to take my wife to Schwerin." Lisbeth said that she
had an idea! She rose, wiped the tears from her eyes, and, going over
to the desk where he had seated himself, asked him if he would give
her the petition and let her go to Berlin in his stead and hand it to
the Elector. For more reasons than one Kohlhaas was deeply moved by
this change of attitude. He drew her down on his lap, and said,
"Dearest wife, that is hardly practicable. The sovereign is surrounded
by a great many people; whoever wishes to approach him is exposed to
many annoyances."

Lisbeth rejoined that, in a thousand cases, it was easier for a woman
to approach him than it was for a man. "Give me the petition," she
repeated, "and if all that you wish is the assurance that it shall
reach his hands, I vouch for it; he shall receive it!"

Kohlhaas, who had had many proofs of her courage as well as of her
wisdom, asked her how she intended to go about it. To this she
answered, looking shamefacedly at the ground, that the castellan of
the Elector's palace had paid court to her in former days, when he had
been in service in Schwerin; that, to be sure, he was married now and
had several children, but that she was not yet entirely forgotten,
and, in short, her husband should leave it to her to take advantage of
this circumstance as well as of many others which it would require too
much time to enumerate. Kohlhaas kissed her joyfully, said that he
accepted her proposal, and informed her that for her to lodge with the
wife of the castellan would be all that was necessary to enable her to
approach the sovereign inside the palace itself. Then he gave her the
petition, had the bay horses harnessed, and sent her off, well bundled
up, accompanied by Sternbald, his faithful groom.

Of all the unsuccessful steps, however, which he had taken in regard
to his suit, this journey was the most unfortunate. For only a few
days later Sternbald entered the courtyard again, leading the horses
at a walk before the wagon, in which lay his wife, stretched out, with
a dangerous contusion of the chest. Kohlhaas, who approached the wagon
with a white face, could learn nothing coherent concerning the cause
of the accident. The castellan, the groom said, had not been at home;
they had therefore been obliged to put up at an inn that stood near
the palace. Lisbeth had left this inn on the following morning,
ordering the servant to stay behind with the horses; not until evening
had she returned, and then only in this condition. It seemed she had
pressed forward too boldly toward the person of the sovereign, and
without any fault of his, but merely through the rough zeal of a
body-guard which surrounded him, she had received a blow on the chest
with the shaft of a lance. At least this was what the people said who,
toward evening, had brought her back unconscious to the inn; for she
herself could talk but little for the blood which flowed from her
mouth. The petition had been taken from her afterward by a knight.
Sternbald said that it had been his wish to jump on a horse at once
and bring the news of the unfortunate accident to his master, but, in
spite of the remonstrances of the surgeon who had been called in, she
had insisted on being taken back to her husband at Kohlhaasenbrück
without previously sending him word. She was completely exhausted by
the journey and Kohlhaas put her to bed, where she lived a few days
longer, struggling painfully to draw breath.

They tried in vain to restore her to consciousness in order to learn
the particulars of what had occurred; she lay with fixed, already
glassy eyes, and gave no answer.

Once only, shortly before her death, did she recover consciousness. A
minister of the Lutheran church (which religion, then in its infancy,
she had embraced, following the example of her husband) was standing
beside her bed, reading in a loud solemn voice, full of emotion, a
chapter of the Bible, when she suddenly looked up at him with a stern
expression, and, taking the Bible out of his hand, as though there
were no need to read to her from it, turned over the leaves for some
time and seemed to be searching for some special passage. At last,
with her fore-finger she pointed out to Kohlhaas, who was sitting
beside her bed, the verse: "Forgive your enemies; do good to them that
hate you." As she did so she pressed his hand with a look full of deep
and tender feeling, and passed away.

Kohlhaas thought, "May God never forgive me the way I forgive the
Squire!" Then he kissed her amid freely flowing tears, closed her
eyes, and left the chamber.

He took the hundred gold gulden which the bailiff had already sent him
for the stables in Dresden, and ordered a funeral ceremony that seemed
more suitable for a princess than for her - an oaken coffin heavily
trimmed with metal, cushions of silk with gold and silver tassels, and
a grave eight yards deep lined with stones and mortar. He himself
stood beside the vault with his youngest child in his arms and watched
the work. On the day of the funeral the corpse, white as snow, was
placed in a room which he had had draped with black cloth.

The minister had just completed a touching address by the side of the
bier when the sovereign's answer to the petition which the dead woman
had presented was delivered to Kohlhaas. By this decree he was ordered
to fetch the horses from Tronka Castle and, under pain of
imprisonment, not to bring any further action in the matter. Kohlhaas
put the letter in his pocket and had the coffin carried out to the

As soon as the mound had been raised, the cross planted on it, and the
guests who had been present at the interment had taken their
departure, Kohlhaas flung himself down once more before his wife's
empty bed, and then set about the business of revenge.

He sat down and made out a decree in which, by virtue of his own
innate authority, he condemned the Squire Wenzel Tronka within the
space of three days after sight to lead back to Kohlhaasenbrück the
two black horses which he had taken from him and over-worked in the
fields, and with his own hands to feed the horses in Kohlhaas' stables
until they were fat again. This decree he sent off to the Squire by a
mounted messenger, and instructed the latter to return to
Kohlhaasenbrück as soon as he had delivered the document.

As the three days went by without the horses being returned, Kohlhaas
called Herse and informed him of what he had ordered the Squire to do
in regard to fattening them. Then he asked Herse two questions: first,
whether he would ride with him to Tronka Castle and fetch the Squire;
and, secondly, whether Herse would be willing to apply the whip to the
young gentleman after he had been brought to the stables at
Kohlhaasenbrück, in case he should be remiss in carrying out the
conditions of the decree. As soon as Herse understood what was meant
he shouted joyfully - "Sir, this very day!" and, throwing his hat into
the air, he cried that he was going to have a thong with ten knots
plaited in order to teach the Squire how to curry-comb. After this
Kohlhaas sold the house, packed the children into a wagon, and sent
them over the border. When darkness fell he called the other servants
together, seven in number, and every one of them true as gold to him,
armed them and provided them with mounts and set out for the Tronka

At night-fall of the third day, with this little troop he rode down
the toll-gatherer and the gate-keeper who were standing in
conversation in the arched gateway, and attacked the castle. They set
fire to all the outbuildings in the castle inclosure, and, while, amid
the outburst of the flames, Herse hurried up the winding staircase
into the tower of the castellan's quarters, and with blows and stabs
fell upon the castellan and the steward who were sitting, half
dressed, over the cards, Kohlhaas at the same time dashed into the
castle in search of the Squire Wenzel. Thus it is that the angel of
judgment descends from heaven; the Squire, who, to the accompaniment
of immoderate laughter, was just reading aloud to a crowd of young
friends the decree which the horse-dealer had sent to him, had no
sooner heard the sound of his voice in the courtyard than, turning
suddenly pale as death, he cried out to the gentlemen - "Brothers, save
yourselves!" and disappeared. As Kohlhaas entered the room he seized
by the shoulders a certain Squire, Hans Tronka, who came at him, and
flung him into the corner of the room with such force that his brains
spurted out over the stone floor. While the other knights, who had
drawn their weapons, were being overpowered and scattered by the
grooms, Kohlhaas asked where the Squire Wenzel Tronka was. Realizing
the ignorance of the stunned men, he kicked open the doors of two
apartments leading into the wings of the castle and, after searching
in every direction throughout the rambling building and finding no
one, he went down, cursing, into the castle yard, in order to place
guards at the exits.

In the meantime, from the castle and the wings, which had caught fire
from the out-buildings, thick columns of smoke were rising heavenward.
While Sternbald and three busy grooms were gathering together
everything in the castle that was not fastened securely and throwing
it down among the horses as fair spoils, from the open windows of the
castellan's quarters the corpses of the castellan and the steward,
with their wives and children, were flung down into the courtyard amid
the joyful shouts of Herse. As Kohlhaas descended the steps of the
castle, the gouty old housekeeper who managed the Squire's
establishment threw herself at his feet. Pausing on the step, he asked
her where the Squire Wenzel Tronka was. She answered in a faint
trembling voice that she thought he had taken refuge in the chapel.
Kohlhaas then called two men with torches, and, since they had no
keys, he had the door broken open with crowbars and axes. He knocked
over altars and pews; nevertheless, to his anger and grief, he did
not find the Squire.

It happened that, at the moment when Kohlhaas came out of the chapel,
a young servant, one of the retainers of the castle, came hurrying
upon his way to get the Squire's chargers out of a large stone stable
which was threatened by the flames. Kohlhaas, who at that very moment
spied his two blacks in a little shed roofed with straw, asked the man
why he did not rescue the two blacks. The latter, sticking the key in
the stable-door, answered that he surely must see that the shed was
already in flames. Kohlhaas tore the key violently from the
stable-door, threw it over the wall, and, raining blows as thick as
hail on the man with the flat of his sword, drove him into the burning
shed and, amid the horrible laughter of the bystanders, forced him to
rescue the black horses. Nevertheless, when the man, pale with fright,
reappeared with the horses, only a few moments before the shed fell in
behind him, he no longer found Kohlhaas. Betaking himself to the men
gathered in the castle inclosure, he asked the horse-dealer, who
several times turned his back on him, what he was to do with the
animals now.

Kohlhaas suddenly raised his foot with such terrible force that the
kick, had it landed, would have meant death; then, without answering,
he mounted his bay horse, stationed himself under the gateway of the
castle, and, while his men continued their work of destruction,
silently awaited the break of day.

When the morning dawned the entire castle had burned down and only the
walls remained standing; no one was left in it but Kohlhaas and his
seven men. He dismounted from his horse and, in the bright sunlight
which illuminated every crack and corner, once more searched the
inclosure. When he had to admit, hard though it was for him to do so,
that the expedition against the castle had failed, with a heart full
of pain and grief he sent Herse and some of the other men to gather
news of the direction in which the Squire had fled. He felt
especially troubled about a rich nunnery for ladies of rank, Erlabrunn
by name, which was situated on the shores of the Mulde, and whose
abbess, Antonia Tronka, was celebrated in the neighborhood as a pious,
charitable, and saintly woman. The unhappy Kohlhaas thought it only
too probable that the Squire, stripped as he was of all necessities,
had taken refuge in this nunnery, since the abbess was his own aunt
and had been his governess in his early childhood. After informing
himself of these particulars, Kohlhaas ascended the tower of the
castellan's quarters in the interior of which there was still a
habitable room, and there he drew up a so-called "Kohlhaas mandate" in
which he warned the country not to offer assistance to Squire Wenzel
Tronka, against whom he was waging just warfare, and, furthermore,
commanded every inhabitant, instead, relatives and friends not
excepted, to surrender him under penalty of death and the inevitable
burning down of everything that might be called property.

This declaration he scattered broadcast in the surrounding country
through travelers and strangers; he even went so far as to give
Waldmann, his servant, a copy of it, with definite instructions to
carry it to Erlabrunn and place it in the hands of Lady Antonia.
Thereupon he had a talk with some of the servants of Tronka Castle who
were dissatisfied with the Squire and, attracted by the prospect of
plunder, wished to enter the horse-dealer's service. He armed them
after the manner of foot-soldiers, with cross-bows and daggers, taught
them how to mount behind the men on horseback, and after he had turned
into money everything that the company had collected and had
distributed it among them, he spent some hours in the gateway of the
castle, resting after his sorry labor.

Toward midday Herse came and confirmed what Kohlhaas' heart, which was
always filled with the most gloomy forebodings, had already told
him - namely, that the Squire was then in the nunnery of Erlabrunn with
the old Lady Antonia Tronka, his aunt. It seemed that, through a door
in the rear wall behind the castle, leading into the open air, he had
escaped down a narrow stone stairway which, protected by a little
roof, ran down to a few boats on the Elbe. At least, Herse reported
that at midnight the Squire in a skiff without rudder or oars had
arrived at a village on the Elbe, to the great astonishment of the
inhabitants who were assembled on account of the fire at Tronka Castle
and that he had gone on toward Erlabrunn in a village cart.

Kohlhaas sighed deeply at this news; he asked whether the horses had
been fed, and when they answered "Yes," he had his men mount, and in
three hours' time he was at the gates of Erlabrunn. Amid the rumbling
of a distant storm on the horizon, he and his troop entered the
courtyard of the convent with torches which they had lighted before
reaching the spot. Just as Waldmann, his servant, came forward to
announce that the mandate had been duly delivered, Kohlhaas saw the
abbess and the chapter-warden step out under the portal of the
nunnery, engaged in agitated conversation. While the chapter-warden, a
little old man with snow-white hair, shooting furious glances at
Kohlhaas, was having his armor put on and, in a bold voice, called to
the men-servants surrounding him to ring the storm-bell, the abbess,
white as a sheet, and holding the silver image of the Crucified One in
her hand, descended the sloping driveway and, with all her nuns, flung
herself down before Kohlhaas' horse.

Herse and Sternbald overpowered the chapter-warden, who had no sword
in his hand, and led him off as a prisoner among the horses, while
Kohlhaas asked the abbess where Squire Wenzel Tronka was. She
unfastened from her girdle a large ring of keys, and answered, "In
Wittenberg, Kohlhaas, worthy man!" - adding, in a shaking voice, "Fear
God, and do no wrong!" Kohlhaas, plunged back into the hell of
unsatisfied thirst for revenge, wheeled his horse and was about to
cry, "Set fire to the buildings!" when a terrific thunder-bolt struck
close beside him. Turning his horse around again toward the abbess he
asked her whether she had received his mandate. The lady answered in a
weak, scarcely audible voice - "Just a few moments ago!" "When?" "Two
hours after the Squire, my nephew, had taken his departure, as truly
as God is my help!" When Waldmann, the groom, to whom Kohlhaas turned
with a lowering glance, stammered out a confirmation of this fact,
saying that the waters of the Mulde, swollen by the rain, had
prevented his arriving until a few moments ago, Kohlhaas came to his
senses. A sudden, terrible downpour of rain, sweeping across the
pavement of the courtyard and extinguishing the torches, relaxed the
tension of the unhappy man's grief; doffing his hat curtly to the
abbess, he wheeled his horse, dug in his spurs, calling "Follow me, my
brothers; the Squire is in Wittenberg," and left the nunnery.

The night having set in, he stopped at an inn on the highroad, and had
to rest here for a day because the horses were so exhausted. As he
clearly saw that with a troop of ten men (for his company numbered
that many now) he could not defy a place like Wittenberg, he drew up a
second mandate, in which, after a short account of what had happened
to him in the land, he summoned "every good Christian," as he
expressed it, to whom he "solemnly promised bounty-money and other
perquisites of war, to take up his quarrel against Squire Tronka as
the common enemy of all Christians." In another mandate which appeared
shortly after this he called himself "a free gentleman of the Empire
and of the World, subject only to God" - an example of morbid and
misplaced fanaticism which, nevertheless, with the sound of his money
and the prospect of plunder, procured him a crowd of recruits from
among the rabble, whom the peace with Poland had deprived of a
livelihood. In fact, he had thirty-odd men when he crossed back to the
right side of the Elbe, bent upon reducing Wittenberg to ashes.

He encamped with horses and men in an old tumble-down brick-kiln, in
the solitude of a dense forest which surrounded the town at that time.
No sooner had Sternbald, whom he had sent in disguise into the city
with the mandate, brought him word that it was already known there,
than he set out with his troop on the eve of Whitsuntide; and while
the citizens lay sound asleep, he set the town on fire at several
points simultaneously. At the same time, while his men were plundering
the suburbs, he fastened a paper to the door-post of a church to the
effect that "he, Kohlhaas, had set the city on fire, and if the Squire
were not delivered to him he would burn down the city so completely
that," as he expressed it, "he would not need to look behind any wall
to find him."

The terror of the citizens at such an unheard-of outrage was
indescribable, though, as it was fortunately a rather calm summer
night, the flames had not destroyed more than nineteen buildings,
among which, however, was a church. Toward daybreak, as soon as the
fire had been partially extinguished, the aged Governor of the
province, Otto von Gorgas, sent out immediately a company of fifty men
to capture the bloodthirsty madman. The captain in command of the
company, Gerstenberg by name, bore himself so badly, however, that the
whole expedition, instead of subduing Kohlhaas, rather helped him to a
most dangerous military reputation. For the captain separated his men
into several divisions, with the intention of surrounding and crushing
Kohlhaas; but the latter, holding his troop together, attacked and
beat him at isolated points, so that by the evening of the following
day, not a single man of the whole company in which the hopes of the
country were centred, remained in the field against him. Kohlhaas, who
had lost some of his men in these fights, again set fire to the city
on the morning of the next day, and his murderous measures were so
well taken that once more a number of houses and almost all the barns
in the suburbs were burned down. At the same time he again posted the
well-known mandate, this time, furthermore, on the corners of the
city hall itself, and he added a notice concerning the fate of Captain
von Gerstenberg who had been sent against him by the Governor, and
whom he had overwhelmingly defeated.

The Governor of the province, highly incensed at this defiance, placed
himself with several knights at the head of a troop of one hundred and
fifty men. At a written request he gave Squire Wenzel Tronka a guard
to protect him from the violence of the people, who flatly insisted
that he must be removed from the city. After the Governor had had
guards placed in all the villages in the vicinity, and also had
sentinels stationed on the city walls to prevent a surprise, he
himself set out on Saint Gervaise's day to capture the dragon who was
devastating the land. The horse-dealer was clever enough to keep out
of the way of this troop. By skilfully executed marches he enticed the
Governor five leagues away from the city, and by means of various
manoeuvres he gave the other the mistaken notion that, hard pressed by
superior numbers, he was going to throw himself into Brandenburg.
Then, when the third night closed in, he made a forced ride back to
Wittenberg, and for the third time set fire to the city. Herse, who
crept into the town in disguise, carried out this horrible feat of
daring, and because of a sharp north wind that was blowing, the fire
proved so destructive and spread so rapidly that in less than three
hours forty-two houses, two churches, several convents and schools,

Online LibraryUnknownThe German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04 Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. in Twenty Volumes → online text (page 26 of 38)