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Vol. 6, No. 1

Germelshausen
by Friedrich Gerstäcker


Friedrich Gerstäcker’s nineteenth-century story “Germelshausen” is widely credited with being the inspiration for the 1954 MGM musical Brigadoon. Though the film renames the enchanted town and relocates it from Germany to the Scottish Highlands, its premise remains the same. In both versions, a traveler happens upon a mysterious village that appears only once every hundred years. There he meets and falls in love with a local beauty, only to discover that remaining with his newfound love means leaving the modern world behind—forever. Not surprisingly, the wrenching ending of “Germelshausen” is happily transformed in Brigadoon with the kind of magic loophole only Hollywood can provide.
     The movie stars Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli, written by Alan Jay Lerner, and features music by Frederick Loewe. The film’s soundtrack includes such notable songs as “Once in the Highlands,” “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean,” and “Almost Like Being in Love.”
     
     

Germelshausen
Friedrich Gerstäcker

     
     In the autumn of the year 184– a strapping young fellow, knapsack on back and stick in hand, was walking with slow and easy stride along the broad highroad that leads up from Marisfeld to Wichtelhausen.
     He was not one of those journeyman artisans who travel about from place to place, seeking work; anyone could see that at the first glance, even if the small, neatly made leather portfolio, which he carried strapped on his knapsack, had not betrayed his calling. There was certainly no denying the fact that he was an artist.
     His black, broad-brimmed hat cocked jauntily on one side, his long, fair, curly hair, his downy beard, full but youthful still—everything announced it, even the somewhat threadbare black velvet jacket, which seemed a little too warm for him on this bright warm morning.
     His heart was at home with his loved ones in the dear little village among the Taurus Mountains, with his mother and his sisters, and it almost seemed as if a tear was like to spring to his eye. But his light and merry heart would not suffer the intrusion of sad and melancholy thought and he cast glances to right and left to see if he could anywhere discover some pleasanter footpath.
     At one point, indeed, a road did branch off to the right, but it looked to him unpromising, and besides, it would lead him too far out of his way; so he stuck to his original track a little longer, until he at length came to a limpid mountain stream, across which he could discern the ruins of an old stone bridge.
     Away on the other side ran a grassy path, leading farther into the valley; so, with no definite purpose in view—for he was only passing through the beautiful Werra Valley to enrich his portfolio—he crossed the brook by leaping from one great stone to another, and so reached the close-cropped meadow on the other side, where he advanced rapidly on the springy turf under the shadow of the thick alder bushes.
      “How wonderfully quiet it is in this valley! To be sure, on Sundays farmers have nothing to do out-of-doors, and since they have to walk behind their plow or by their cart the whole week, they don’t care much about going for a walk when Sunday comes; they first of all make up for their arrears of sleep in church during the morning, and after dinner stretch their legs under the table in the tavern. Tavern! Hm, a glass of beer wouldn’t be such a bad thing in this heat; but until I can get it this clear stream will quench my thirst just as well.”
     And with that he flung off his knapsack and hat, knelt down at the waterside, and drank to his heart’s content.
     He had wandered on thus for perhaps an hour or so, and he had just made up his mind to quicken his steps in order at least not to miss his dinner in the next village, when before him in the valley, sitting close to the brook and by an old stone, he caught sight of a peasant girl, who was gazing down the road along which he came.
     As he was hidden by the alders, he had been able to see her before she saw him; but following the bank of the stream, he had hardly passed beyond the bushes which had hitherto concealed him from her sight, when she leaped to her feet and flew toward him with a cry of pleasure.
     Arnold, as the young painter was called, stood amazed, for the beautiful girl of hardly seventeen years, dressed in a peculiar but extremely pretty peasant’s costume, was running up to him with outstretched arms.
     Arnold saw at once that she had mistaken him for someone else, and that this joyful greeting was not meant for him; and the girl no sooner recognized him than she stood stock-still with horror, turned pale at first and then red all over, and finally said with shy embarrassment: “Do not be offended, stranger! I—I thought—”
     “That it was your sweetheart, my dear child, didn’t you?” laughed the young man. “And now you are vexed that a different person, an uninteresting stranger, has met you! Don’t be angry because I am not he.”
     “Ah, how can you say such things?” said the girl in a distressed whisper. “Why should I be angry?—oh! But if you only knew how delighted I was!”
     “Then he certainly does not deserve that you should wait any longer for him,” said Arnold, who now for the first time noticed the truly wonderful charm of the graceful peasant girl. “Were I in his place, you would not have had to wait for me in vain for a single moment.”
     “You do say such strange things,” said the girl, abashed. “If he could have come he would certainly be here by now. Perhaps he is ill, or—even dead,” she added slowly and with a sigh that came from the depths of her heart.
     “And has he let you have no news of himself all this time?”
     “No, all this long, long time.”
     “Then his home is perhaps a long way from here?”
     “A long way? Why, yes; quite a great distance from here,” said the girl. “In Bischofsroda.”
     “Bischofsroda?” cried Arnold. “I spent four weeks there only recently, and I knew every child in the whole village. What is his name?”
     “Heinrich—Heinrich Vollgut,” said the girl shyly; “the mayor’s son in Bischofsroda.”
     “Hm,” mused Arnold, “I was in and out of the mayor’s house, and I never heard the name of Vollgut in the whole village.”
     “Probably you didn’t know all the people there,” argued the girl, and over the sorrowful expression which clouded her sweet face there stole a soft, roguish smile, which became her as well and much better than her previous melancholy.
     “Well, but from Bischofsroda,” said the young man, “you can get here over the mountains easily in two hours, at most in three.”
     “And yet he is not here,” said the girl, sighing deeply again, “though he promised so faithfully.”
     “Then he’ll come, sure enough,” Arnold assured her with hearty conviction; “for once anyone has given you a promise, he must surely have a heart of stone if he went back on his word—and that I am sure your Heinrich has not got.”
     “No,” she answered resolutely; “but now I cannot wait any longer for him, as I have to be home for dinner, or else Father will scold me.”
     “And where is your home?”
     “Straight down there in the valley. Hark! there’s the bell; they are just coming out of church.”
     Arnold listened, and at no great distance off he could hear the slow pealing of a bell, but the sound came to him not deep and full, but sharp and discordant, and when he turned his eyes toward the spot it seemed to him almost as if a thick mountain mist lay over that part of the valley.
     “Your bell is cracked,” he laughed; “it doesn’t ring true.”
     “Yes, I know that,” answered the girl calmly; “it has not a pleasant sound, and we should have had it recast long ago, but we are always short of money and time, for hereabouts there are no bellcasters. Yet, what does it matter? We know it all right, and we know what it means when it rings—so even though it is cracked it serves its purpose.”
     “And what is the name of your village?”
     “Germelshausen.”
     “And can I get to Wichtelhausen from there?”
     “Quite easily; by the footpath it takes hardly half an hour—perhaps, indeed, not so much, if you put your best foot forward.”
     “Then I’ll go with you through the village, sweetheart, and if you have a good inn in the place I’ll have my dinner there too.”
     “The inn is only too good,” said the maiden with a sigh, as she cast a glance backward to see if her expected lover might not yet be coming.
     “Can any inn be too good?”
     “For the farmer, yes,” said the girl gravely, as she walked slowly by his side along the valley. “Of an evening after his work he still has much to do in the house, and this he neglects if he sits in the public house till late at night.”
     “But I at any rate have nothing more to neglect today.”
     “Yes, with townfolk it is rather different; they don’t do anything, and consequently haven’t got much to neglect either. Yet the farmer has to earn bread for them.”
     “Well, not exactly so,” said Arnold with a laugh. “He has to grow it, I grant you, but we have to earn it for ourselves; and a hard job it is too, for what the farmer does he sees that he is well paid for it.”
     “But you don’t work, anyhow?”
     “Why not, pray?”
     “Your hands don’t look like it.”
     “Then I will show you at once how I work and what I work at,” laughed Arnold. “Just you sit down on that flat stone under the old lilac tree—”
     “And what am I to do there?”
     “Just sit down,” cried the young painter, who threw off his knapsack and took out his sketchbook and pencil.
     “But I must go home.”
     “I shall be done in five minutes. I should very much like to take a reminder of you away into the world with me; even your Heinrich will have no objection to that!”
     “A reminder of me? What a funny man you are!”
     “I will take your portrait away with me.”
     “You are a painter, then?”
     “Yes.”
     “What a lucky thing! Then you might set to work and touch up the pictures in Germelshausen Church; they look so very poor and shabby.”
     “What is your name?” was Arnold’s next question. He had meanwhile opened his portfolio and was rapidly sketching in the girl’s charming features.
     “Gertrud.”
     “And what is your father?”
     “The mayor of the village. If you are a painter, you must not go to the inn either; I will take you straight home with me, and after dinner you can talk over the whole matter with Father.”
     “Oh, the pictures in the church?” said Arnold, laughing.
     “Of course,” said the girl gravely; “and then you must stay with us a long, long time until—our day comes again and the pictures are finished.”
     “Well, we’ll talk about that later, Gertrud,” said the young painter, busily plying his pencil the while; “but won’t your Heinrich be angry if I am often—very often with you and if I talk with you a good deal?”
     “Heinrich?” said she. “Oh, he won’t come now.”
     “Not today, no; but perhaps tomorrow.”
     “No,” said Gertrud, quite calmly; “as he wasn’t there by eleven o’clock, he will stay away until our day comes again.”
     “Your day? What do you mean by that?”
     The girl looked at him with wide-open, earnest eyes, but gave no answer to his question, and her gaze, turning to the clouds floating away high over their heads, fastened upon them with a peculiar expression of pain and melancholy. Then she suddenly stood up, and tossing a kerchief over her head to shield her from the sun’s rays, she said:
     “Go I must; the day is short, and they are expecting me home.”
     But Arnold had finished his little picture, and indicating with a few bold strokes the fold of her dress, he held out the sketch to her and said:
     “Have I caught your likeness?”
     “It is myself!” gasped Gertrud, almost in fright.
     “Well, who else could it be?” laughed Arnold.
     “And do you wish to keep the picture and take it away with you?” asked the girl shyly, almost wistfully.
     “Why, certainly I do,” cried the young man, “and then when I am far, far away from here I shall think of you hard, and often.”
     “But will my father allow that?”
     “Allow me to think of you? Is he capable of forbidding me?”
     “No—but—to take the picture away with you—out into the world?”
     “He can’t hinder me, sweetheart,” said Arnold tenderly; “but would you yourself hate to know that it was in my possession?”
     “I? No!” was the girl’s answer after short reflection; “if only—but I must ask Father about it.”
     “What a silly child you are!” said the young painter with a laugh; “even a princess would have no objection to an artist securing a sketch of her features for himself. No harm can come from it. But please don’t run off like that, you wild creature; I am coming with you, you know—or do you want to leave me behind without my dinner? Have you forgotten about the church pictures?”
     “Oh! yes, the pictures,” said the girl, standing still and waiting for him; but Arnold was by her side in a moment, and they both continued their way toward the village far quicker than before.
     The village, however, was much nearer than Arnold had supposed from the sound of the cracked bell, for what the young man from afar had taken for an alder grove proved to be, on their nearer approach, a row of fruit trees enclosed by a hedge. Closely hidden behind these, yet surrounded on the north and northeast by broad fields, lay the old village with its low church tower and its smoke-blackened cottages.
     Here, too, it was that the pair first struck a firm, well-laid street, planted on either side with fruit trees. But over the village lowered a thick mist which Arnold had already perceived from afar, and it dimmed the bright sunshine, which fell upon the gray, old, weather-beaten roofs with a weird yellowish light.
     But Arnold scarcely had eyes for this. Gertrud, stepping out by his side, had meekly slipped her hand in his as they came to the first houses, and clasping it in her own she turned with him into the next street.
     A strange feeling thrilled the lusty youth at the touch of her warm hand, and almost involuntarily his eyes sought to meet those of the young maiden. But Gertrud did not look in his direction; with eyes fixed modestly on the ground, she conducted her guest to her father’s house, and Arnold’s attention, too, was at length taken up with the villagers she met, who all passed him by in silence and without a word of greeting.
     He could not help noticing this at first, for in all the neighboring villages it would have been deemed a crime not to offer a stranger at least a “Good day” or “God bless you.” Arnold, to whom this silence at last became oppressive, said to his companion: “Do you observe Sunday in your village so strictly that people when they meet one another haven’t even a word of greeting to utter? If one didn’t hear a dog barking now and then or a cock crowing, one might really think the whole place dumb and dead.”
     “It is dinnertime,” said Gertrud quietly, “and people are not inclined to talk then; this evening you will find them all noisier.”
     “Thank heaven!” exclaimed Arnold, “there are at least some children yonder playing in the street. I had begun to feel quite uncanny; I can tell you they spend Sunday quite differently in Bischofsroda.”
     “There’s my father’s house,” said Gertrud in a low voice.
     “But I can’t thrust myself in upon him thus unexpectedly at dinnertime. I might be an unwelcome intruder, and I like to have friendly faces around me at meals.
     “So show me rather where the inn is, my child, or let me find it myself, for probably Germelshausen is no exception to the rule of other villages. Generally the public house is quite close to the church, and if you take the church tower to guide you, you can’t go far wrong.”
     “There you are right; that is exactly the case with us,” said Gertrud quietly; “but they expect us already at home, and you need have no fear of getting an unfriendly reception.”
     “Expect us? Ah, you mean yourself and your Heinrich? Yes, Gertrud, if you would take me today in his place, then I would stay with you—until—until you yourself should tell me to go away again.”
     He had spoken these last words in such feeling tones, almost against his will, the while gently pressing the hand which still held his, that Gertrud suddenly stopped, looked at him out of her big, grave eyes, and said:
     “Would you really wish that?”
     “A thousand times yes,” cried the young painter, utterly carried away by the young girl’s wonderful beauty. But Gertrud made no further answer, and pursuing her way as if she was pondering over the words of her companion, she at length came to a halt in front of a tall house, which was approached by a flight of broad, stone steps, protected by iron railings. Speaking in her former shy and timid manner she resumed:
     “This is where I live, kind sir, and if it would please you, come in with me to my father, who will no doubt be proud to see you at his table.”
     
II
     Before Arnold could return any answer to this invitation, the mayor himself appeared in the doorway at the top of the steps, and a window was thrown open, revealing the kindly face of an old lady, who looked out and nodded to them.
     “Why, Gertrud,” exclaimed the farmer, “what a long time you have stayed out today, and look what a smart young fellow she has brought back with her!”
     “My dear sir!”
     “Please, no ceremony on the steps! The dumplings are ready; come in, or they’ll get hard and cold.”
     “But that’s not Heinrich,” cried the old lady from the window. “Now, didn’t I always say that he would never come back again?”
     “All right, mother, all right,” said the mayor, “this one will do very well instead”; and holding out his hand to the stranger, he went on: “A hearty welcome to Germelshausen, young gentleman, wherever the lass may have picked you up. And now come in to dinner and fall to to your heart’s content; anything else we can talk of later.”
     He left the young painter no chance to make any excuses, but vigorously shaking his hand, which Gertrud had released as soon as he had set foot on the stone steps, he took his arm with familiar kindness and conducted him into the spacious living room.
     Although he was well acquainted with the habits of the German farmer, who shuts himself off from every breath of fresh air in his room, and not infrequently even in summer keeps a fire so as to produce the broiling heat he so delights in, yet what was most noticeable to Arnold at once was the musty, earthy atmosphere which pervaded the house.
     The narrow entrance hall was likewise far from inviting. The plaster had fallen from the walls and appeared to have just been hastily swept to one side. The single dim window at the back of the hall hardly admitted the meager light, and the stairs which led to the upper story looked old and out of repair.
     Little time, however, was given him to observe all this, for in the very next moment his hospitable host threw open the door of the parlor, and Arnold saw himself in a low but broad and spacious room, which was airy and fresh, with white sand sprinkled over the floor, and which with its large table in the center spread with a snow-white cloth contrasted pleasantly with the rest of the rather dilapidated arrangements of the house.
     Besides the old lady, who now had shut the window and moved her chair up to the table, there were a few red-cheeked children; and a buxom peasant woman, who also was wearing a costume utterly different from that of the neighboring villages, was just opening the door to admit the maid, who came in with a large dish.
     And now the dumplings were smoking on the board and everyone made for the chairs; but no one sat down, and the children, as it seemed to Arnold, cast almost anxious eyes on their father.
     The latter advanced to his chair, and leaning his arm upon it, stared dumbly, silently, even gloomily upon the ground. Was he praying? Arnold saw that he kept his lips firmly pressed while his right hand hung down clenched by his side. In his features was no sign of prayer, only an obstinate yet irresolute defiance.
     “Let us eat,” growled the man, “it’s of no use, I fear”; and pushing his chair aside, nodded to his guest, dropped into his seat, and, seizing the huge ladle, served out helpings all round.
     To Arnold the man’s whole behavior was almost uncanny, nor could he feel comfortable amid the depression shown by the others. But the mayor was not the man to eat his dinner to the accompaniment of melancholy thoughts. In answer to his rap on the table the maid came in again, bearing bottles and glasses, and with the rich old wine which he now poured out, a very different and more cheerful state of mind soon prevailed among the company round the table.
     The glorious beverage ran through Arnold’s veins like liquid fire; never in his life had he tasted anything like it. Gertrud drank some too, and so did the old lady, who later seated herself at her spinning wheel in the corner and in a low voice sang a little song of the merry life in Germelshausen. The mayor himself seemed a different being.
     He now became as cheerful and jovial as he had earlier been morose and silent, and Arnold himself could not escape the influence of the rich wine.
     He could not precisely tell how it came about, but the mayor had taken a violin in his hand and was playing a merry dance, and Arnold with his arm about fair Gertrud’s waist whirled her round the room so madly that he upset the spinning wheel and the chair, bumped into the maid, who was trying to carry away the dinner things, and cut all sorts of merry capers, so that the others almost died of laughter to see him.
     Suddenly there was complete silence in the room, and as Arnold looked round at the magistrate in astonishment, the latter pointed with his violin bow out the window and then laid the instrument back again in the wooden case from which he had taken it. And Arnold perceived that outside in the street a coffin was being carried by.
     Six men dressed in white shirts were bearing it upon their shoulders and behind them, quite alone, walked an old man, leading a little fair-haired girl by the hand.
     The old man walked along the street as one crushed with grief, but the little girl, who could hardly have been four years old, and probably had no idea who was lying in that black coffin, kept gaily nodding her head wherever she saw a face she knew, and laughed shrilly when two or three dogs scampered by and one of them ran up against the steps of the mayor’s house and rolled over and over.
     But the silence endured only as long as the coffin was in sight, and Gertrud drew up to the young man and said:
     “Now rest a little while; otherwise, the heavy wine will get into your head more and more. Come, take your hat and let us go for a little walk together. By the time we get back it will be time to go to the inn, for there is a dance this evening.”
     “A dance? That’s splendid,” exclaimed Arnold, delighted; “I’ve come just at the right time. You’ll give me the first dance, I hope, Gertrud?”
     “Certainly, if you wish.”
     Arnold had already seized his hat and sketchbook.
     “What do you want with the book?” asked the mayor.
     “He sketches, Father,” said Gertrud, “and he has already drawn me. Just have a look at the pictures.”
     Arnold opened the sketchbook and held out the picture to her father.
     The farmer looked at it quietly for a while, without speaking.
     “And do you want to take that home with you,” he asked at length, “and perhaps frame it and hang it up in your room?”
     “Why not, pray?”
     “May he, Father?” asked Gertrud.
     “If he does not stay with us,” laughed the mayor, “I have no objection—but there’s something wanting in the background.”
     “What?”
     “Why, the funeral procession that passed a moment ago. Draw that on the paper and you may take the picture with you.”
     “What! the funeral procession with Gertrud!”
     “There’s room enough,” said the mayor obstinately; “you must put it in the sketch, or else I will not permit you to take away with you my lassie’s portrait all by itself. In such solemn company no one can possibly think evil of it.”
     At this strange proposal to give the pretty maiden a funeral party as a guard of honor, Arnold laughingly shook his head. But the old man seemed to have made up his mind, and so, to humor him, he did as he wished. Later on he could quite easily rub out the dismal additional feature.
     The whole family crowded round him as he worked, and watched with evident astonishment the rapid completion of the drawing.
     “There, have I been successful?” cried Arnold at length, jumping up from his chair and holding out the picture at arm’s length.
     “Splendidly!” nodded the mayor; “I should never have thought you could finish it so quickly. Now, that will do; out you go with the lassie and have a look at the village; it may be a long while before you have a chance of seeing it again. Be back here by five o’clock sharp—we are having high jinks tonight and you must be there.”
     The musty room and the wine which had mounted to his head had begun to make Arnold feel heavy and oppressed. He longed to be out-of-doors, and a few minutes later he was striding along the street which led through the village, with fair Gertrud by his side.
     “Is the moor or forest on fire hereabouts?” he asked the girl. “This sort of smoke does not hang over any other village and cannot come from the chimneys.”
     “It is earth vapor,” said Gertrud quietly; “but have you never heard of Germelshausen?”
     “Never.”
     “That is strange, and yet the village is old, oh! so old.”
     “The houses look like it, at any rate, and the people too have such a curious way with them, and their speech sounds quite different from that of places near at hand. You go very little outside your own village, I expect?”
     “Very little,” said Gertrud curtly.
     “And not a single swallow is left. They can’t surely have flown away yet?”
     “Oh, a long time ago,” answered the girl apathetically; “in Germelshausen they never come now to build their nests. Perhaps they can’t stand the earth vapor.”
     “But surely you don’t have that always?”
     “Yes, always.”
     “Then that is the reason why your fruit trees bear no fruit, and yet in Marisfeld this year they had to prop up the branches, so fruitful has the season been.”
     Gertrud said not a word in answer, and walked on in silence by his side straight through the village until they came to the extreme limit. On the way she gave a kindly nod to a child here and there or spoke a low word or two with one of the young girls—maybe about the evening’s dance and the dresses they were to wear.
     And as they talked, the girls cast sympathetic glances at the young painter, so that his heart warmed and saddened—he did not quite know why—and for all that he did not dare to ask Gertrud why it should be so.
     They had now at length reached the last houses. The gardens looked as if they had not been walked in for years and years; grass was growing in the pathways, and it seemed especially noticeable to the young stranger that not a single fruit tree bore a single bit of fruit.
     Arnold tried to cheer up his companion, who seemed to him so very serious, by telling her about other places where he had been and what the great outer world was like. She had never seen a railway, never even heard of one, and listened with attention and astonishment to his explanations.
     Nor had she any knowledge of the electric telegraph, and she knew just as little about all the other more modern inventions; so that the young artist could not understand how it was possible that there should be still living in Germany human beings so secluded, so absolutely cut off from the rest of the world and without the slightest connection with it.
     Conversing thus, they reached the cemetery, and here the young stranger was immediately struck by the old-world appearance of the stones and monuments.
     “Here is an old, old stone,” he said, bending down to the nearest one and with difficulty deciphering the scrollwork upon it. “Anna Maria Bethold, maiden name Stieglitz, born 16th December, 1188, died 2nd December, 1224.”
     “That is my mother,” said Gertrud solemnly, and crystal tears filled her eyes and slowly trickled down on to her bodice.
     “Your mother, dear child?” said Arnold in astonishment; “your great-great-grandmother perhaps it might have been.”
     “No,” said Gertrud, “my own mother. Father married again, and the one at home is my stepmother.”
     “But surely it says died 1224?”
     “What does the year matter?” said Gertrud mournfully. “It is sad enough to be thus parted from one’s mother, and yet,” she added sorrowfully under her breath, “perhaps it was well, very well that she was suffered to go to God beforehand.”
     Arnold bent down over the stone, shaking his head, and made a closer examination of the inscription, in case the first “2” in the date might be an “8.” For in the old-time writing such a thing was not impossible, but the second “2” was exactly the same as the first, and it was as yet too soon to write 1884. Perhaps it was the stonemason who made the mistake, and the girl was so deep in her memories of the departed that he did not like to trouble her any further with questions that were perhaps displeasing to her.
     He therefore left her by the gravestone before which she had sunk to her knees and was silently praying, and proceeded to examine some other monuments, but all of them without exception bore dates of many hundred years back, even as far back as A.D. 930 and 900. No more recent gravestone could be discovered, and yet the dead were even now laid to rest in this place, as the latest fresh grave betokened.
     Then from the village came the sound of the old cracked bell again, and Gertrud, quickly rising from her knees and dashing the tears from her eyes, gently beckoned to the young man to follow her.
     “Now we must sorrow no more,” she said with a smile; “the church bell is ringing the end of the service, and now for the dance. Up to the present you have no doubt imagined that the people of Germelshausen are nothing but kill-joys, but tonight you will think the contrary.”
     “But yonder is the church door,” said Arnold, “and I can see nobody coming out.”
     “That is perfectly natural,” laughed the girl, “for no one ever goes in, not even the priest. Only the old verger allows himself no rest, and still rings the service in and out.”
     “And do none of your people ever go to church?”
     “No, neither to Mass nor to confession,” said the girl quietly. “We have quarreled with the Pope, who lives among foreigners, and has forbidden it until we return to obedience.”
     “Why, I’ve never heard of such a thing in all my life.”
     “Yes. It is a long time ago,” said the girl carelessly.
     “And how has this all come about?” asked Arnold, who was amazed not so much at the facts he had heard as at the girl’s simplicity.
     “It’s a long story,” Gertrud said, “and the priest has written it all down in a big, thick book. If you are interested, and if you understand Latin, you may read all about it there.
     “But,” she added by way of warning, “don’t speak of it when Father is by, for he doesn’t like it. Look, here come the boys and girls out-of-doors already; I must hurry off home now and dress, for I should not like to be the last.”
     “And the first dance, Gertrud?”
     “I dance it with you; you have my promise.”
     The two walked quickly back to the village, which was now all astir with life. Laughing groups of young people were standing about on all sides; the girls were all dressed up for the festival, and the young fellows too were in their best clothes, while on the face of the inn, as they sped past, festoons of leaves were hanging from window to window, and formed a broad triumphal arch over the door.
     Seeing that everyone was tricked out most resplendently, Arnold was unwilling to mingle with the merrymakers dressed in his traveling garb; so he unbuckled his knapsack in the mayor’s house, took out of it his smart suit, and had just completed his toilet when Gertrud knocked at the door and called him.
     And what a picture of loveliness the girl looked now in her simple yet rich gown, and how cordially she asked him to escort her, saying that her father and mother would not follow on till later!
     “Yearning after her Heinrich cannot be depressing her spirits to any particular extent,” was the youth’s uppermost thought as he drew her arm through his and passed with her to the ballroom through the gathering dusk. But he refrained from giving utterance to such thoughts, and his own heart throbbed violently as he felt the girl’s heart beating against his arm.
     “To think that tomorrow I must depart,” he sighed softly to himself. Although he had not intended it, his words reached the ears of his companion, and she said with a smile:
     “Don’t trouble about that; we shall be together longer—longer perhaps than you like.”
     “And would you be glad, Gertrud, if I stayed with you?” asked Arnold, and as he spoke he felt the blood surging over forehead and temples.
     “Of course I should,” said the young girl simply: “You are nice and kind, and Father likes you too, of that I’m sure, and—Heinrich hasn’t come, you know,” she added in an undertone and somewhat angrily.
     “Suppose he came tomorrow?”
     “Tomorrow?” said Gertrud, looking at him gravely out of her great dark eyes; “between now and tomorrow lies a long, long night. Tomorrow! You will understand tomorrow what that word means. But today, let us not speak of it,” she said abruptly, yet pleasantly; “today is a holiday, to which we have looked forward for so long, oh! so long, and do not let us spoil it by gloomy thoughts.
     “Here we are at the place; the boys will stare a good deal when they see me bringing a new partner.”
     Gertrud led him into the center of the hall, where a bevy of young peasant girls stood chatting together, and not till then did she leave him to himself so that, until the real business of the dance began, he might look about him a little and make the acquaintance of the other young men.
     
III
     At the first moment Arnold felt ill at ease among these many strangers; moreover, their strange costume and their strange speech repelled him, and though the harsh, unwonted accents came sweetly from Gertrud’s lips, yet they grated on his ear when pronounced by others. The young fellows were all friendly disposed toward him, however, and one of them approached him, took him by the hand, and said:
     “You have done wisely, sir, in choosing to bide with us. We lead a merry life, and the interval passes quickly enough.”
     “What do you mean by the ‘interval’?” asked Arnold, astonished not so much at the expression as because the youth pronounced so firmly his conviction that he had chosen to make the village his home. “Do you mean that I shall come back here?”
     “But do you wish to go away?” asked the young peasant sharply.
     “Tomorrow, yes, or the day after tomorrow; but I’ll come back.”
     “Tomorrow; oh!” laughed the youth; “then that’s all right. Well, we’ll talk more about it tomorrow. But now come, and I’ll show you how we enjoy ourselves, for if you really want to go away tomorrow, you might not after all get a chance of seeing the fun.”
     The others looked at each other and laughed knowingly, while the young peasant took Arnold by the hand and conducted him all over the house, which was now packed full of a crowd of merrymakers. All of the sudden a flourish from the band, which up to now had been playing away merrily, gave the signal for the dance to commence, and Gertrud stood at Arnold’s side and took his arm.
     “Come, we must not be the last,” said the lovely girl, “for as the mayor’s daughter it is for me to open the ball.”
     “But what strange tune is that?” said Arnold; “I can’t catch the time at all.”
     “Oh, you soon will,” smiled Gertrud; “you’ll catch the time in the first five minutes, and I’ll tell you how.”
     With jubilant shouts the whole company crowded into the ballroom, and Arnold was soon oblivious of everything else in the first blissful feeling of holding the wondrously beautiful maiden in his arms.
     Again and again he danced with Gertrud, and no one else seemed to want to claim his partner from him, although the other girls often threw teasing remarks at him as they flew by.
     One thing only struck him and alarmed him. Close by the inn stood the ancient church, and the shrill, discordant clack of the cracked bell could be distinctly heard in the ballroom. At the first stroke of the bell it was as if a magician’s wand had smitten the dancers.
     The music stopped playing in the middle of a beat, the merry surging crowd stood still and motionless, as if spellbound, and everyone silently counted the slow strokes one by one.
     But as soon as the last sound died away, the animation and merriment broke out afresh. This was repeated at eight, at nine, at ten o’clock, and when Arnold would fain inquire what was the reason for such a strange proceeding, Gertrud laid her finger on her lips and at the same time looked so solemn and sad that he would not have troubled her further for all the world.
     At ten o’clock there was a pause in the dancing, and the musicians, who must have had lungs of iron, headed the procession of young people down to the supper room.
     There were merry doings there. The wine ran in streams, and Arnold, who could not be behindhand among all the others, reckoned up in his own mind what sort of hole this expensive evening would make in his modest pocket.
     But Gertrud was sitting by his side, drinking with him out of the same glass, and how could he give way to any such misgivings? Even though her Heinrich should come tomorrow. The first stroke of eleven o’clock rang out. Again the loud merriment of the revelers was silenced, again the same breathless listening to the long-drawn strokes.
     A peculiar horror overcame him; he could not tell why; and the thought of his mother at home smote through his heart. He slowly raised his glass and drained it in a toast to his absent dear ones.
     “Who was it you drank your last toast to?” asked Gertrud, as she laid her arm again in his.
     Arnold hesitated before replying. Maybe Gertrud would only laugh at him if he told her. But no; she herself had prayed so fervently on that very afternoon by her own mother’s grave—and so he said in a low voice: “My mother.”
     Gertrud answered never a word but walked in silence by his side up the stairs. Her laughter had ceased also, and before they took their places for the dance again she asked him: “Do you love your mother so much?”
     “More than life itself.”
     “And does she love you?”
     “Does not a mother love her child?”
     “And what if you never went back home to her?”
     “Poor Mother!” said Arnold, “her heart would break.”
     “The dance is just starting again,” cried Gertrud quickly; “come along, we mustn’t miss a moment more.”
     So wilder than ever the dance began. The young men, fired by the strong wine, shouted and hurrahed, and shrieked, and such a din arose as threatened to drown the music.
     Arnold did not now feel so happy in all this uproar, and Gertrud too had become serious and silent. But with all the others the merriment seemed only to increase, and during a pause the mayor came up to them, gave the young man a hearty slap on the shoulder, and said, laughing:
     “That’s right, Mr. Painter, shake a merry leg tonight; we shall have plenty of time to have a good long rest. Nay, then, Gertie, why pull such a solemn face? Does that fit in with the dance this day? Merry’s the word—there, they’re off again!” And with a huzzah he plunged through the crowd of revelers.
     Arnold was embracing Gertrud once more for a fresh dance when the latter suddenly broke away from him, gripped his arm, and whispered softly: “Come!”
     Arnold had no time to ask her whither, for she slipped from his grasp and sped away toward the door.
     “Whither away, Gertie?” some of her playmates called out to them.
     “Coming back in a moment,” came the sound of her curt answer, and a few seconds later she was standing with Arnold outside before the house in the sharp night air.
     “Where do you propose to go, Gertrud?”
     “Come!”
     Again she caught his arm and led him through the village, past her father’s house, into which she dashed and presently emerged with a small bundle.
     “What is the meaning of this?” asked Arnold in alarm.
     “Come!” was the only word she said in answer, and past the houses she strode with him until they left the outermost wall of the village behind them. So far they had followed the broad, firm, hard-trodden highway; now Gertrud turned off the road to the left and mounted a little low hill, from the top of which could be seen the brilliantly lighted windows and doors of the inn.
     Here she came to a halt, held out her hand to Arnold, and said tenderly:
     “My greetings to your mother; farewell!”
     “Gertrud,” cried Arnold, astonished, aghast, “do you wish to send me away from you thus, now, in the middle of the night? Has any word of mine offended you?”
     “No, Arnold,” said the girl, calling him by his Christian name for the first time. “Just...just because I love you, you must go away.”
     “But I cannot let you go away from me back to the village like this, all alone and in the dark,” pleaded Arnold. “You don’t know how much I love you, how utterly and entirely you have won my heart in these few hours. You know not...”
     “Say no more,” she interrupted him quickly, “we will not say good-bye. When the clock has struck twelve—it can hardly want ten minutes yet—return to the inn door; there I shall be expecting you.”
     “And until then...!”
     “Stay just where you are. Promise me not to take one step to right or left till the clock has struck the last stroke of twelve.”
     “I promise, Gertrud; but then...”
     “Then come,” she said, holding out her hand in farewell, and would have left him.
“Gertrud!” cried Arnold, in a pleading anguished voice.
     Gertrud stood a moment as if in hesitation, then suddenly she turned toward him, threw her arms around his neck; and Arnold felt the icy lips of the lovely maiden pressed on his. It was but for a moment; in the next instant she had torn herself away and was flying toward the village. And Arnold in amazement at her strange behavior, yet mindful of his promise, remained standing just where she had left him.
     Now for the first time he saw how the weather had changed in these few hours. The wind was howling through the trees, the sky was overcast with heavy racing clouds, and one or two large drops of rain proclaimed the approach of a storm.
     Through the darkness of the night the lights glowed bright from the inn, and when the wind came roaring across he could hear in broken waves of sound the riotous blare of the instruments—but not for long. Only for a few moments had he been standing in his place when the clock in the old church tower began to strike. In that same instant the music ceased or was drowned in the howling storm, which raged so violently over the hill slope that Arnold was obliged to stoop down to the ground in order not to lose his balance.
     Before him on the ground he felt the bundle which Gertrud had fetched out of the house—his own knapsack and sketchbook—and affrighted, he stood upright again. The clock had finished striking, the hurricane roared past his head, but nowhere in the village was there any longer a light to be seen. The dogs which but a short while ago had been barking and howling were silent, and a thick, damp mist was rising up from the hollow.
     “The time is up,” muttered Arnold to himself, hoisting his knapsack on his back, “and I must see Gertrud once again; I cannot part from her like this. The dance is over; the dancers will now be going home, and if the mayor will not put me up for the night I can stay at the inn. Besides, in the darkness I shouldn’t find my way through the forest.”
     He cautiously went down the gentle slope which he and Gertrud had ascended together, in order to strike the broad white road which would bring him to the village, but in vain did he grope about for it among the bushes below.
     The ground was soft and swampy, and in his thin boots he sank in up to the ankles; there was everywhere a tangle of alder bushes growing just where he had imagined the road to be. He could not possibly have crossed it in the dark; he could not have failed to feel it the moment he stepped on it; and besides, he knew that the village wall ran right across it—this at any rate he could not miss.
     But it was in vain that with anguished haste he sought for it; the undergrowth became thicker and everywhere beset with thorns, which tore his clothes and scratched his hands till they bled.
     Had he wandered off to the right or to the left and beyond the village? He feared lest he should lose his bearings still more completely, and came to a halt on a fairly dry spot, determined to wait there until the old clock should strike one.
     But it did not strike, not a dog barked, no sound of human voice reached him, and with great difficulty, wet to the skin and shivering with cold, he toiled back again to the higher ground of the hill slope where Gertrud had left him.
     From this spot he tried, indeed, a few more times to penetrate the thicket and find the village, but in vain. Tired to death, and a prey to a peculiar horror, he at last avoided the low, dark, weird hollow and sought the shelter of a tree, there to spend the night.
     And how slowly for him did the hours pass by! For shivering as he was with cold, he was not able to steal from that long night even one moment’s sleep. And he was forever straining his ears into the darkness, as again and again he thought he heard the rasping sound of the bell, only to find again and again that he had been mistaken.
     At last the first glow of light began to dawn out of the far east. The clouds had dispersed, the sky was once more clear and bright with stars, and the awakening birds twittered softly in the gloomy trees. Already he could clearly discern the treetops round about him; but it was in vain that his eye sought the view of the old brown church tower and the weather-worn roofs. Nothing but a wilderness of alder bushes, dotted here and there with a few stunted willows, stretched out before him. No road was to be seen leading to the right or to the left, no sign of human habitation in the vicinity.
     He must, he thought, have lost his way in the dark, without knowing it, while he was seeking for the place, and had got too far away. He was now firmly determined to find it again.
     At length he came to the stone near which he had drawn Gertrud’s picture. This spot he would have recognized again out of thousands, for the old lilac tree with its stiff branches indicated it only too clearly.
     He now knew exactly from what direction he had come and where Germelshausen must lie; so he paced rapidly back along the valley, keeping closely to the same track which he and Gertrud had followed yesterday. Over there also he recognized the bend in the slope over which had hung the murky fog, and only the alder bushes still separated him from the nearest houses.
     Now he had reached it; he pressed on and—found himself once more in the very same swampy morass in which he had waded the night before.
     Completely at a loss and not trusting his own sense, he was forcing a way through at this point, but the filthy swamp ooze at length compelled him to make for dry ground again and there he wandered helplessly backward and forward.
     The village had disappeared, and that was the end of it.
     Several hours had perhaps been consumed in this fruitless search, and his weary limbs at last refused to serve him any longer. He could go no farther; before anything else he must rest. What had been the use of his vain quest? At the first village he came across he could easily find a guide to conduct him to Germelshausen, and then he could not miss the road again.
     Dead tired, he flung himself down under a tree. He produced his sketchbook and out of it he took Gertrud’s portrait. With bitter pain his eyes fastened on the dear, sweet features of the maiden, who, as he realized to his great alarm, had already taken too firm a hold upon his heart.
     Then he heard behind him a rustling among the leaves—a dog began to bark; and quickly springing to his feet, he was aware of an old woodsman standing not far away from him and curiously observing the strange figure who was so decently dressed and yet presented such a wild appearance.
     “Greetings!” exclaimed Arnold, heartily pleased to meet a human being, and quickly thrusting the picture back into the portfolio. “You could not have been more welcome if I had invited you here, Herr Forester, for I think I have lost my way.”
     “Hm,” said the old man, “if you have been lying here in the bush all night, I should think so too, and over yonder to Dillstedt and a good inn. Heavens! what a sight you are, for all the world as if you had been dragged neck and crop out of thorns and mud!”
     “Are you quite familiar with the forest here?” asked Arnold, who before all things wanted to know where he really was.
     “I should think I was,” laughed the woodsman as he stuck a light and lighted his pipe again.
     “What is the name of the nearest village?”
     “Dillstedt—straight over there. When you get to that little hill yonder, you can easily see it lying below you.”
     “And how far is it from here to Germelshausen?”
     “To where?” cried the woodsman, removing his pipe in horror from his lips.
     “To Germelshausen.”
     “God help me!” said the old man, casting a scared look about him; “the forest I know well enough, but how many fathoms deep down below the earth the ‘cursed village’ lies, God alone knows—nor is it any business of ours.”
     “The ‘cursed village’?” cried Arnold in astonishment.
     “Germelshausen—yes,” said the woodsman. “Just there in the swamp, where now grow the old willows and alders, it is said to have stood hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Later on it sank away, no man knows why or whither; and the story goes that every hundred years on a certain day it is raised up again to the light of heaven, but I should not wish any Christian man to chance to be there then.
     “But, man alive! camping out in the bush last night does not seem to have agreed with you. You look as white as a ghost. There now, just you have a sip out of this flask; it will do you good—now have a good pull!”
     “Thank you.”
     “Tut, tut, that wasn’t half enough—take a proper, first-class pull at it. That’s right; that’s the real stuff to take. And now make haste and get across to the inn, and into a warm bed.”
     “In Dillstedt?”
     “Why, of course: there’s none nearer.”
     “What about Germelshausen?”
     “Be good enough not to mention the place again, especially here on the spot where we are standing. Let the dead rest, and above all those who do not even enjoy rest, but keep on rising again unexpectedly among us.”
     “But only yesterday the village was still standing here,” cried Arnold, who had almost lost his trust in his own senses. “I was inside it—eating and drinking and dancing there!”
     The woodsman calmly looked the young man up and down, and then said with a smile:
     “But it went by some other name, didn’t it? Probably you have come straight over from Dillstedt. There was a dance there yesterday evening, and it’s not everybody can stand the strong beer that the landlord brews at present.”
     By the way of answer Arnold opened his portfolio and drew out the drawing.
     “Do you know this village?”
     “No,” said the woodsman, shaking his head; “there’s not such a flat tower as that in the whole countryside.”
     “That is Germelshausen,” cried Arnold; “and do the peasant girls in this neighborhood dress as this girl does here?”
     “Um—no! and what’s that queer-looking funeral procession you have put in the picture?”
     Arnold returned no answer. He thrust the sheets back into the portfolio, and a strange feeling of pain thrilled through him.
     “You can’t miss the road to Dillstedt,” said the woodsman good-naturedly, for a dark suspicion occurred to him now that the stranger might perhaps not be quite right in the head. “But if you would like, I will accompany you till we come to where we can see the place; that won’t take me much out of my way.”
     Arnold declined with many thanks. “I’ll find my way over there all right. And so it is only once in every hundred years that they say the village comes up again?”
     “So people say,” answered the woodsman, “but who can say if it is true?”
     Arnold had taken up his knapsack again.
     “God be wi’ you!” he said, holding out his hand to the woodsman.
     “Many thanks,” answered he; “where are you going now?”
     “To Dillstedt.”
     “That’s right—when you get over the slope you’ll come to the broad highroad again.”
     Arnold turned away, and slowly proceeded on his way. Only when he had reached the top of the slope which commanded a view over the whole of the valley did he pause once again and look back.
     “Farewell, Gertrud!” he murmured softly, and as he walked over the hill, tears were streaming from his eyes.

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