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"The day will come," Reinhold heard him murmur.
They crossed the bridge of boats, with the water gurgling and splashing against the sharp keels; through the wide gateway sounded a subdued hum of voices.
Now for the first time as they pa.s.sed through the gate, they saw why the village had looked deserted. The immense courtyard was filled, particularly at the end nearest to the castle, with a crowd of nearly a thousand people, standing about in large groups, who as they respectfully made way for the gentlemen advancing to the door, took note of them curiously, and made whispered remarks upon them behind their backs. "The one next to the Captain was the President!" said those who knew him, and they were the majority, to the others. "If the President, who was the princ.i.p.al person in the whole province, and such a good gentleman too, who was sure to act for the best, had come here and was going to be present at the funeral, why then the parson could not possibly stay at home. And if the parson had known that the President would be here, he would never have been ill. He wouldn't get the parsonage at Golm for a long time yet, and if the Count liked to make him his domestic chaplain, why he might please himself; but whether the Count and his chaplain would be any richer than the mice in the chapel at Golm was another question. And if the Count meant to play the master here, they would soon put him out of conceit with that; but Herr Damberg said there was no chance of that; he might think himself fortunate if he came off with his life, and at any rate his property would be sequestrated!"
The four gentlemen had entered the castle. A more numerous and brilliant group which now appeared on the bridge, attracted the attention of the mult.i.tude. It was a party of officers in full uniform, followed at a little distance by a larger number of non-commissioned officers--belonging to Herr von Werben's regiment, said those who had been in the army and who had seen Ottomar in his coffin. "And the Colonel, who came first, he commanded his regiment too, and any one who had served under him in France could see that he knew how to command, by the look of his eyes and nose; and the Captain, who came next to him, was one of the Staff who had been sent here by Field Marshal Moltke himself; and the tall Lieutenant, also in the uniform of Herr von Werben's regiment, was the young Herr von Wartenberg of the Bolswitz Wartenbergs; and as for the old Bolswitz people, they had arrived more than an hour ago in their carriage with three outriders from their place ten miles off. And so how could a word be true of all the nonsense talked about young Herr von Werben, that he had not been taken to Berlin because he would not have had an honourable burial there, and now here were people coming the whole way from Berlin to a.s.sist at his funeral!"
Justus, who had readily undertaken the direction of the simple funeral ceremonies, and who now saw the officers crossing the courtyard, waited in the hall long enough to receive them, and to conduct them into the room on the right hand where the company was a.s.sembled. Then he made a sign to Reinhold to follow him, and led him through a door at the end of the hall which he opened cautiously and immediately shut behind him.
"No one is allowed to enter now," said he. "What do you say to it, Reinhold?"
The lofty and handsome room had its shutters closed, but was filled with the soft light of innumerable wax candles in chandeliers and branches on the walls, and in candelabra between ma.s.ses of evergreen plants and young fir-trees, which were beautifully arranged in a semicircle opening towards the entrance to the room, and surrounding the two coffins which stood on a high das, carpeted and covered with flowers. The walls around were adorned with old armour which Justus had rescued from the lumber-room, and fine casts from the antique, even some originals collected by a former art-loving possessor of the castle, and which he had brought together from the various rooms, and also with bouquets of leafy plants and fir-trees, between which lights were burning.
"Have not I made it splendid!" whispered Justus, "and all in these few hours this morning! How they would both have liked it--he the armour, and she the statues! But the most beautiful things here are themselves.
I must call the family now, Reinhold, before we close the coffins; do you take your farewell now. You have not had so much opportunity yet as the others."
Justus disappeared through a door which led to the inner apartments; and Reinhold mounted the steps and stood between the coffins, in which they slept the sleep that knows no waking.
Yes, they were beautiful! more beautiful than they had been in life.
Death seemed to have purified them from every earthly taint, that their n.o.ble natures might show themselves in all their grandeur. How grand, how fine was this maiden's face! how exquisitely sweet the youth's! And as if in dying the union of their souls had been truly accomplished, and each had lovingly given to the other what best adorned them in life, on her lips that had been so proudly closed was a tender, happy, humble smile, while from his delicate pure features death had wiped away with the restless glance of the nervous eyes and the impatient quiver of the delicate mouth, all that was imperfect and unfinished, and left nothing but the expression of heroic determination with which he had gone to his death, and to which a solemn seal was set by the broad red scar on the white forehead. There was a slight rustle in the leaves behind him; he turned and opened his arms to Elsa. She leant against him weeping: "Only for a moment," she whispered, "that I may feel your dear heart beat, and know that I have you living still, my comfort, my help!" She raised herself again. "Farewell, farewell! For the last time, farewell, my dear, dear brother! Farewell, my beautiful, proud sister, whom I should have loved so dearly!"
She kissed them both on their pale lips; then Reinhold took her in his arms and led her down from the side of the das, where he saw Justus and Meta standing hand in hand a little way off between the shrubs, while from the back appeared upon the das the General, Valerie, and Sidonie, Uncle Ernst and Aunt Rikchen, to take leave of the dead. It was a solemn yet exciting moment, the details of which Reinhold's tear-filled eyes could not seize or retain, while to Justus's keen artist's eye one touching and beautiful picture followed another--none more touching or beautiful to him, who knew these people and their circ.u.mstances so well, than the last which he saw: the General with tender care almost carrying down the steps of the das the utterly exhausted Valerie--she had only left her sick-room for this moment, and had covered her head with a thick lace veil--while Uncle Ernst's powerful figure, still standing above, bent down to good little Aunt Rikchen, and he pa.s.sed his strong large hand soothingly over her pale, sorrowful, tear-stained cheek.
"Do you know," whispered Meta, "they are feeling now just what we did when he stood by our sleeping angel, that they must love one another very much now, you know."
Half an hour later the funeral procession moved from the gateway, from whose battlements floated in the soft evening breeze on one side the German flag, on the other a black flag, and pa.s.sed over the bridge of boats, up the gully, and from there turning to the right, entered the gradually ascending road to the churchyard, which lay on the highest of the hills that had now become the sh.o.r.e, a few hundred paces from the village. It was a long, solemn procession.
First came village children, strewing with fir branches the sandy road before the coffins, the one adorned with palms, in which lay hidden the virgin form of the beautiful and heroic maiden, carried by st.u.r.dy pilots and fishermen from Wissow, who insisted upon bearing their Captain's cousin to her last resting-place; and the other with the warlike emblems of the man for whom she had died, and whom a merciful fate had permitted to die the death of a brave man, worthy of the decorations he had won in presence of the enemy, and which the sergeant of his troop carried behind him on a silk cushion, worthy that the gallant soldiers who had known him in his brightest days, whose shoulders his kindly hand had so often rested on in the heat of battle, by the blazing camp-fire, on the weary march, should carry him now on his way to answer to the great roll-call.
Behind the coffins came the two fathers, then Reinhold leading his Elsa, Justus with his Meta,--Sidonie and Aunt Rikchen had remained with Valerie,--the President and Colonel von Bohl, Schonau and the brilliant company of other officers, the neighbouring gentry with their wives, Herr and Frau von Strummin, the Wartenbergs, the Griebens, the Boltenhagens and Warnekows, and all the rest of the descendants of the old, long-established families; the innumerable following of landsmen and sailors, the gigantic form of the worthy Politz, and the stalwart figure of the head pilot, Bonsak, at their head.
A long, solemn, silent procession, accompanied step by step by the monotonous sound of the tide washing against the steep banks, and now and then the shrill cry of a gull, as skimming over the dazzling water, it seemed curiously to watch the strange sight, or a whispered word from some man to his neighbour, that even those nearest before or behind could not hear.
Such was the word that the General spoke to Uncle Ernst, as the head of the procession reached the graveyard, "Do you feel strong enough?" and that which Uncle Ernst answered, "Now for the first time I feel myself strong again."
But even Reinhold and Elsa, who walked behind them, would not have understood it if they had heard. Uncle Ernst had not shown to any one yet, excepting the General, the telegram of which Justus had spoken, the fateful message, in the dry hard style of a police official.
"Philip Schmidt, on the point of embarking to-night on board steamer 'Hansa,' from Bremerhaven to Chili, recognised, and shot himself with a revolver in his cabin; misappropriated money recovered untouched; will be buried to-morrow evening at six o'clock."
Under the broad hand which he had thrust into his overcoat lay the paper, and against it beat his mighty heart, beat in truth stronger and with revived pride, now that he might say to himself that his unhappy son was not at least one of the cowards who prized life above all things; that even for him there had been a measure of infamy which could not be over-pa.s.sed, since at that moment he had spilt the cup of life--a draught too insipid and miserable for even his dishonoured lips.
The coffins had been let down into their common grave. At the head of the grave stood Uncle Ernst bareheaded, and bareheaded stood the crowd in a wide semicircle around him.
Bareheaded, silent, looking up to the stately man whose figure stood out giant-like from the hill-side in the rosy evening light.
And now he lifted his great eyes, which seemed to embrace the whole a.s.sembly in one glance, and now he raised his deep voice, whose bell-like tones carried every word distinctly to the extreme edge of the circle:
"My friends all! I may call you so, for in the presence of a great sorrow all men are friends, and in this lies the healing and saving power of a tragic fate, and also its necessity. As my shadow falls here upon you, so does every one stand between other men and the sun of fortune, and each envies the other his portion, which should, he thinks, belong to him; and he forgets that it is only an outward show that he so eagerly desires, a glittering show without warmth, and that the warmth which he should indeed desire dwells in the heart of every man, and is that alone which makes life worth having, or even possible.
Woe to us poor human creatures, that we forget this for long, loveless years, forget the sublime words that love is above all, and drown the pleadings of the heart that longs for love with the hollow tinkle of our meagre knowledge and our paltry wisdom! Woe to the individual, and woe to the nation!
"Woe to the nation that forgets it, and exists for generations and centuries in cra.s.s selfishness and blind hatred, till the hereditary foe breaks into its fields, and, waking the people from their dull dreams, reminds them at length that they are brothers; and as brothers they stand by one another, as we have done on innumerable battle-fields in the most glorious and most righteous of all wars, only on returning home to begin anew the struggle over mine and thine--the wild, desolating struggle of self-advancement, that feels no shame and knows no mercy, desires no peace and gives no pardon, and respects no right but that of the victor, who scornfully tramples the conquered under foot. Oh, my friends! we have experienced this! These last years will remain noted as the most shameful, following immediately upon the most glorious in our history--a melancholy memorial and sign how low a great nation can sink.
"But our great German nation cannot, will not sink deeper.
"Let us, my friends, take this fearful storm with its desolating horrors, which have now exhausted themselves and upon which this sublime peace has come down from heaven, as a token that the storm which is now raging through German society will sweep away the poisonous vapours of self-love, and make the glorious German sun shine brighter than before; that the barren waters which now cover so many acres of young green gra.s.s will pa.s.s away, and offer a new land for fresh honest labour and honest golden fruits.
"May this hope and this a.s.surance soften the grief for the beloved dead whom we now commit to the sacred bosom of the earth--this hope, this a.s.surance, and the certainty that they have not died in vain; that they were blossoms struck down by the storm to warn the gardener that he must tend and cherish the n.o.ble tree more carefully.
"The call comes thus to us the elders and old men. As they died gladly and joyfully, without asking whether they might not still live, hastening to death as to a feast, so must we live without asking whether we had not rather die.
"The call comes thus to you who are younger, to you all the louder and more urgently, the longer the road stretches before you, the more powerful are the obstacles that rise in your path.
"Oh! thou bright star of day, whose last ray now shines upon us, and thou holy sea, and thou reviving earth, I take you all to witness the vow which we make at the grave of these too early dead: to renounce from this hour all littleness and meanness, to live henceforth in the light of truth, to love each other with the whole strength of our hearts! May the G.o.d of truth and love overrule all to the honour of man, and the glory of the German name!"
The voice of the speaker died away, but the echo of his words reverberated in the hearts of the hearers as they pressed silently round to offer the last honours to the dead, bathed in the reflection of the rosy glow which the sun, now set, threw up to the sky, and which the sky lovingly returned to the earth.
[Footnote 1: No translation can give the full effect of the play upon the word "Schmidt;" _Anglice_, Smith.--_Translator's Note_.]