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It was a lovely evening, and the sun was setting behind the Schwarzwald. The day's work was over, and all around spoke of rest from labour and toil. The cattle were foddered in their sheds, the tired cart-horses rubbed their noses contentedly against the farm-yard gate, the fowls were gone to roost, and the sounds of country life usually heard at the Tannenhaus were hushed and still. Inside the house, supper was over, Aunt Gretchen was busy" clearing away" and getting things in readiness for the next day's work. Hans had gone out with his gun; old Jacob sat on a stone seat in the little porch, smoking his pipe, and occasionally nodding over it in a suspiciously sleepy manner, for the day had been hot, and the old man had been labouring in his harvest field since sunrise. In the orchard behind the house, under a gnarled apple-tree laden with ripening fruit, sat Natalie. In her hand was a piece of coarse household linen to be mended, but she was not very industrious about it; her bands had fallen listlessly into her lap, and she was gazing dreamily at the lovely evening sky. The sun, now setting behind the pine wood which skirted the back of the orchard, cast long rays of golden light through the trees; the shadows falling upon the grass in dancing lines of brilliant green made even the homely little orchard look picturesque, all aglow as it lay in the golden glory of the sunset. The soft evening breeze rustled in the tall poplars and played with Natalie's fair hair, unnoticed however by the young girl, who seemed absorbed in a reverie. Rather a long one too it must have been, for nearly half an hour elapsed, and she had not altered her position nor withdrawn her eyes from the western clouds.
At last, however, the silence was broken, a step was heard. A young man cleared the stone stile which separated the orchard from the fir wood. His gun was across his shoulder, and a young dead rabbit dangled from his left hand. He approached Natalie unobserved, and laid his right hand on her shoulder, then, as she started, he said,
half in apology,
“No offence, my cousin, I hope, even if I have roused you from a dream. Ah, Natalie,” as he placed his gun against a tree, and sat down on the grass by her side, we shall have something else to do now than dream, for I fear there are terrible times coming."
“Yes, terrible, perhaps, and yet glorious," said the girl enthusiastically. “I have been thinking about them all this evening; they will be like the former days of the Empire, may be, when Napoleon III. and his soldiers invade the Prussian soil, march triumphantly to Berlin, and
there, setting his foot upon the neck of prostrate Germany, the Emperor will show himself a worthy descendant of the hero of Lodi and Arcola!"
“Ah, that is a subject we shall never agree upon,” said Hans slowly.
“No, never," returned his cousin, “nothing will ever alter my views, and really you are terribly obstinate, Hans. I can't remember how often we have disputed about the claims of these two nations,I always standing up for my own dear France, and you vigorously defending your uninteresting old Fatherland.”
"It is interesting to me as my Fatherland, if for no other reason, replied Hans, “and yet, Natalie, it is not I who have always sought this subject, knowing as I do how differently we think about it.”
“ That is true, Hans," and Natalie smiled archly, “ but I like tease you about it just to rouse you a little. You are so heavy and stolid, you know—no other subject would wake you up, now would it?”
Hans coloured, hesitated, and twisted the rabbit's ears slowly round his finger in an absent nervous way.
“Oh, you horrid, cruel fellow !" resumed Natalie, observing the rabbit for the first time, " have you shot one of those dear little soft things ? they are so pretty, and live so happily, running about in the wood yonder.”
Hans smiled. “Ay, that's where you women are so curious; one cannot really understand you at all. You make such a fuss now about my shooting this one rabbit, and yet you think nothing of the hundreds and thousands of men who must perish in the course of this war by those mitrailleuses which we hear are so destructive. Forget the 'glory,' as you call it, if you can, and think of the mothers, wives, and sisters, who will have to mourn their lost ones before this war is at an end.” The girl's face softened. "I had not thought much of that, I own,"
“ she said humbly.
· And, I suppose, you have never thought how nearly this war may affect us,' continued the young man.
“ It is no question now of thoughts and opinions, but of deeds. You slow and plodding, cousin, and content with the life of daily labour here; so I am. A quiet life like this suits me well; but although I work early and late on the farm, although I am so concerned about the growth of our crops, and the well-doing of our cattle, still I have room in my heart for other things. I love my
say I am
and now that all Germany is rallying round the Prussian eagles, I must not be behindhand. I go in three days' time to Strasbourg to join a regiment there on its way to the head-quarters of the Prussian army, and perhaps I may never come back here again to sow the corn,
I and pasture the cattle, and tease you, cousin, with my slow stupid ways."
He stopped, with a shy glance at Natalie, who said kindly, almost caressingly, “Poor Hans, good old cousin, I know you are brave and true. You must forgive my hasty ways and careless speeches, for I did not mean to be unkind. I had never thought of your turning a soldier. It seems so strange to me now, I can hardly believe it. Your mother, too, does she know of it?”
“ Ab! the liebe Mütterchen,' said Hans, with a stifled sigh ; “yes, she knows all about it, and, I believe, does not grudge her son to the Vaterland ;' still she will miss me sorely, for the Mütterchen has seen some trouble."
“I will be good to her, Hans,” Natalie responded eagerly. “I know I am careless and idle about housekeeping matters, but I will try to be industrious, and help her as much as I can whilst you are away.”
“Thanks, cousin,” and the young man pressed her hand warmly; then he continued hesitatingly: “There is yet another reason why it is hard to me to leave the old Ta nenhaus.”
At this moment he was interrupted by a shrill voice sounding through the trees, “Natalie, Natalie !"
“Ah, it is your mother calling,” said Natalie; “I must go, Hans.”
• Stay one moment, cousin. I want to speak to you,” cried the young man, snatching at her dress; but she broke from him, and ran lightly through the orchard towards the house.
Her aunt met her in the courtyard.
“Here, Natalie, is news! A battle has been fought at Saarbrück, and our German arms are victorious. Neighbour Franz is just come to tell us of it.”
The women hastened into the porch, where the two old men were sitting-Jacob and Franz Kehler, the landlord of the little Wirthshaus, in Nieder Brünnen—the latter busy detailing his news ; the former drinking it in eagerly. Hans soon joined the group, and they sat there until the evening had closed in. Stürmer, Aunt Gretchen, and
Hans full of questions and speculations about the war, old Franz only too delighted at being the bearer of such important tidings. Natalie alone was silent, she alone seemed weary and dispirited. At last, when pipes and beer were produced, and the old men adjourned to the kitchen to continue their conversation there, she slipped away unobserved, and hurried up stairs to her own room. It was a tiny room under the roof, very simply furnished, and looking out on the orchard. Natalie sat down on a little stool by the window, and resting her head on her hands, began to “ think.” A cloud seemed to have come over her, and she felt dull and sad, she scarcely knew why. She could not sympathize with all these rejoicings over the defeat of the French army, for was not France her own dear country ? German though her father was by birth, she knew his heart would have been with France in her misfortunes. Her mother, whose memory the poor girl almost worshipped, how she had loved France! Her grandfather and greatgrandfather had given up their lives for their country, and how could she, their descendant, rejoice in the failure of the French arms ? She felt grieved, too, at the same time that hers should be the only dissentient voice in the exultations at the Tannenhaus, for she loved her grandfather, Aunt Gretchen, and Cousin Hans; they had all been so kind to her in their homely way. Yes, especially she liked Cousin Hans, poor fellow! She had hardly known it before, but now that he was going away, she felt she should miss him terribly. She had never known until to-night that there was so much feeling and patriotism in him. He had never spoken at such length, and so earnestly to her before. Then, with a slight feeling of curiosity dominant, she began to wonder what it could have been that Hans wanted to say to her when his mother interrupted them. Well, it did not matter much, if he was going away, perhaps she should never know, and somehow she could not make
her mind to ask him. He was really a very good fellow. Not quite her idea of what a soldier ought to be; too heavy and clumsy for that, still he would be very brave in real danger, doubtless, for certainly Hans was no coward. He had been very kind to her, and very patient with her when she teased and worried him, although being nearly ten years her elder, he might so easily have assumed a little authority over her. In fact, he had been like a kind elder brother to her, and the old Tannenhaus, never a very lively place, would be much duller without him. She had often wished for some excitement, and therefore had almost hailed the outbreak of the
war at first; pow she began to wish that it had never taken place. What would be the result of it all? Thus Natalie meditated, and reasoned, and questioned with herself, until drowsiness overpowered her, and she was obliged to relinquish her castles in the air, for the present at least, and attend to the very prosaic business of going to bed. She was soon asleep, dreaming that she headed the French army like a second Jeanne d'Arc, and that she saved Hans's life, by rescuing him from the ruins of a burning town in Germany.
The next morning, Natalie was down early as usual, assisting Aunt Gretchen to milk the cows and attend to the poultry. Frau Stürmer was rather less active that morning than her wont. She did not bustle about so much as usual, nor find fault with her niece for being slow. In fact, the poor woman was altogether subdued, and every now and then would furtively apply a handkerchief to her eyes, resuming her employment most diligently the next moment, as though half ashamed of her emotion.
Later on in the day began the preparations for Hans's departure; indeed, these occupied the whole of the next day, too; it was a melancholy occupation for both the women, but they had a great deal to do in a very short time, and were really too busy to dwell much on thoughts of the approaching parting.
The last evening came, and the family assembled for the evening meal. Hans was to leave early the next morning for Strasbourg, to enter one of the regiments destined to march to the defence of Weissenburg. The declining rays of the August sun streamed into the large old kitchen, lighting up the homely walls, illuminating Aunt Gretchen's shining tin plates and pewter mugs, and making the raftered ceiling and cavernous chimney-place look bright and cheerful. The supper that night was a silent meal. Aunt Gretchen said but little, and kept her eyes steadily fixed upon her plate, Natalie was almost as silent, whilst Jacob Stürmer talked of Hans's future in a would-be cheerful tone, and discussed with his grandson the probable movements of the
When supper was over, and the little group was dispersing, Hans touched Natalie lightly on the shoulder,
Come, cousin, let us see the sun set behind the Schwarzwald,” he
“there is yet time," and the two went out together. They passed through the little orchard, where we have seen them together before, then crossing the stile at the end of it, they entered