Слике страница

on the other side, fanning him constantly, and sprinkling eau de Cologne on his broad forehead, now so white and peaceful. Sometimes Frau Kehler would come in on tiptoe to see if any change had taken place; sometimes it was old Jacob who came up, and after standing silently at the foot of the bed for a few minutes, shook his head sadly and crept down stairs again.

In this manner hour after hour passed away. Natalie overcome by grief and weariness occasionally fell asleep for a few minutes, her face buried in her cousin's pillow, and as often woke suddenly with a start of fear, dreaming she had neglected to watch him. Evening came on, the sun was getting low, the spire of Strasbourg Minster glistened brightly in the sunset, the labourers were returning from their daily work, the fire from the mortar batteries recommenced—another night was approaching. No change was as yet apparent in the sufferer's condition, though the doctor had pronounced that twentyfour hours must end all. Hans apparently grew no worse, at any rate. A vague sense of hope took possession of Natalie, and she said, "Aunt Gretchen, you look so tired, almost as white as Hans. I fear you will be ill too; pray lie down and rest, if it be only for an hour, and I will watch by Hans."

"I must stay by my poor boy to the last," murmured Aunt Gretchen huskily.


No, aunt, indeed you must rest for a little time. I will let you know at once if any change takes place ;" and without listening to any further remonstrances, Natalie took her aunt's arm and led her into the next room, where she persuaded her to lie down for a time. After this the girl returned to the sick room and established herself by Hans' side. As she sat watching him, she could hardly believe that it was really he who lay there-that the motionless figure with that marble face could be the strong, healthy, active Hans Stürmer. Never had she known him to be ill or even ailing; he had been the very embodiment of health and strength; surely he would not die and become still whiter, still more motionless? No, nothing so cruel could happen. Oh, if this dreadful war had never broken out! She remembered how she had once rather exulted in it, as furnishing a little excitement to the dull life at the Tannenhaus, and now how bitterly she was punished. Hans dying, Louis in constant danger of his life. Troubles were coming thickly upon her; hitherto she had led such a childlike secluded life, now she seemed to be suddenly lifted into womanhood. But the

What would the old TannenNatalie could bear the thought no burst into a flood of tears. It

old days could never come back again. haus be without Hans and Louis? longer, and going to the window she was a relief to her to weep; she had kept up bravely since the morning, and now her composure gave way for a time. When at length her sobs subsided, she leaned out of the little window to cool her heated cheeks in the fresh evening air. The sun had set, a thick mist had fallen over the meadows below, (for the house was situated on a slight acclivity,) the moon rose red and full above the distant horizon; all nature seemed peaceful and at rest, but the booming of the cannon was borne incessantly on the night breeze, and the fiery rockets of destruction rose ever and anon into the clear sky.

These things, which had seemed so terrible to Natalie the evening before, did not affect her at all on this night. Death had come nearer now, and with our human selfishness sorrow for the mass of sufferers was merged in absorbing sorrow for the individual loss. As she knelt thus at the window gazing dreamily on the twilight beauty, she heard her name faintly uttered. She turned quickly towards the bed. Hans's eyes were open, his lips feebly moving. Natalie went up to him. "What

is it, dear cousin ?" she asked, but he could not articulate plainly, and she moistened his lips with brandy. In a short time he appeared to revive and murmured, "Does Mütterchen know ?"

"Yes, she has only just left you; she has been here all day. I will go and call her."

[ocr errors]

"Not just

alone, Natalie."

His words

Hans made a negative sign, and held her dress feebly. now . . I want to speak to you came in gasps, with a pause between each. 'Sévier . . is safe... I hope ?" he asked.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Safe as far as I know, Hans; but how can I rejoice in his safety, when you are lying here? Oh, my dear cousin, I cannot bear it," as she tried to force back her tears, which would flow.

There was a pause. Presently Hans resumed faintly, "You mustn't cry like this, Natalie, or I can't go on . . I want to say something . . . and I have not breath to speak... oh dear!" The unconsciousness seemed about to return; Natalie gave him brandy again and supported his head. He went on

Promise me, Natalie. . . . Don't let Mütterchen nor any one else know how I was hurt let her think that I was shot ... acci

dentally-by mistake, you know... or she may be set against Sévier

[ocr errors][merged small]

Natalie could not trust herself to speak. She nodded acquiescence, and pressed his cold moist hand.

[blocks in formation]

any one know... how it happened?" he asked,

[ocr errors]

"Franz Kehler does; he told me," whispered Natalie.

"Make him promise



. . not to tell," said Hans


"Yes, dearest, if you wish it; but how can I ever forget? Oh, Hans, I have been the curse of your life!" she cried, in another agony of self-reproach.


"No, no," repeated Hans with more strength; "a blessing always. I did love you, cousin, more than you can ever know, and since since I knew that I could not marry you, my life has not seemed worth much to me. It is all for the best I am glad it is so. Sévier is a good fellow . . . I hope he will get safely through the

war, and then you must marry him at once, Natalie. ...

take care of Mütterchen and our grandfather."

You will

'Oh, cousin, pray forgive me," sobbed Natalie; "it is I who have

made life gloomy and worthless to you."

Hans paused for breath and replied, "No . . . not worthless .





dark, perhaps, but you remember, Natalie, my motto . . . the one you gave you know . . . 'Durch Nacht zum Licht,' don't you remember? . . . The evening, when we stood at the edge of the pinewood at home, and looked at the river, and the Schwarzwald. Well, Natalie, the 'Nacht' has been very dark . . . but I have come to the 'Licht' now. Kiss me once, dearest, and call Mütterchen; I am so tired, I must sleep."


In silence Natalie bent down and kissed him, then went to arouse Aunt Gretchen, for she saw that Hans' strength was rapidly failing. Then, thinking mother and son ought to be alone together, she went down stairs, and after stopping a moment to reply to the inquiries of old Jacob and the Kehlers, she strolled out into the garden. She felt that she would be thankful all her life for even this short period of consciousness which had been granted to Hans, for it had given her a still clearer insight into the depth and stability of his character. She thought he had scorned the motto and laughed at it as a childish idea, when she suggested it to him that evening-not two months' ago yet.

She fancied he had not understood the beauty of its meaning; she saw now that he had understood it in the truest sense, for he had acted upon it. He had unhesitatingly faced the "darkness," that through it he might come to the "light." Long did Natalie kneel in the shade of the little garden, praying that Hans might pass safely through the yet deeper shadow of darkness that was gathering around him, into a fuller and more perfect "Licht."

Towards nine o'clock Frau Stürmer came to find her. "My own dear son, he has known me and talked to me. Thank GOD, he is prepared to die, I trust. Can you bear to be with him now, Natalie. He dozes a little, but I fear his time with us is very short."

The women went up stairs together, and seated themselves on each side of the bed. Old Jacob sat on a low chair at the foot, his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. Hans was sleeping now; his breathing was so faint that one could scarcely believe he still lived. All was silent, none of them spoke, for the hush of a great sorrow was upon them-and their silence continued for about half an hour, perhaps. Then Hans awoke, and a change for the worse was visible at once. Natalie fanned him, and his mother tried to revive him with stimulants, but he was past taking anything, so they left him at peace. He did not seem to know any one now, and they thought his mind wandered. Once or twice he murmured: "The shadows in the wood were dark very dark, but beyond. . . over the plain

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

it is true too."


... there was light . . . Natalie said so His mother and grandfather did not understand his words, but took them for the wanderings of weakness-Natalie alone knew what he was thinking of. Presently the moon, coming from behind a cloud, poured a flood of light into the room and on the bed. Hans opened his eyes, recognised Natalie, and said with a bright smile, "The 'Nacht' was very dark, but it is all Licht' now- Durch Nacht zum Licht.' But the effort of even these few words was too much for his dying powers. His head fell back, and in a few minutes all was over. He never spoke again-the noble generous spirit was gone where alone it could be fully rewarded. His self-denial, his heroic self-sacrifice, were never known among men. They spoke of him as an honest, industrious farmer, and a brave soldier; but the secret of Hans Stürmer's life was hidden from them-hidden here, perhaps, that it may shine out more brightly hereafter.

They buried him in his soldier's dress, in the little graveyard attached

to the chapel at Nieder Brünnen, by the side of his father. It was a sad little party that wound up the steep hill into the village, bearing him who had so lately left it in the full tide of health and strength. Far away from the din of war and the booming of the cannon they laid him down-beneath the green trees and the waving grass-a meet resting-place for him who had loved them so. Before the autumn leaves had finished falling over his grave, they raised a little stone to his memory with his name and age carved on it, and below them these words, at Natalie's earnest request: “Called out of darkness into His marvellous light."

And what of Natalie herself? She went home to the old Tannenhaus and devoted herself to the comfort and solace of poor Aunt Gretchen. It was a dreary anxious winter for her; she seldom heard of Sévier, and the knowledge of the dangers he was constantly exposed to, was hard to bear. When the spring came back again, however, better days returned. The terrible war which had cost them all so much was at last ended, and all Europe rejoiced in the prospect of peace. Sévier lost no opportunity of returning at once to Nieder Brünnen to claim his bride, and their happiness was clouded only by the thought that he to whom they owed it all, was not there to share it with them. The July sun was lighting up that fair “Rhine-land,” and the roses were blooming round poor Hans's grave, when Louis Sévier and Natalie stood there as man and wife, feeling themselves drawn especially near together by the knowledge of the love he had borne to both. He had not sacrificed himself in vain. His hopes for their happiness were now fully realized, the remembrance of his self-denying love was fondly cherished by the girl he had held so dear, and his name will be a "household word" amongst the Séviers in the time to


And so we must leave them for the present. The old Tannenhaus at Nieder Brünnen is still standing. Jacob Stürmer still potters about his farm, and Aunt Gretchen is busy as usual with her cheese and buttermaking; but a little damsel, Marie Kehler by name, (niece to old Franz,) lives with Frau Stürmer, and helps her in all her household work, for Natalie is far away. She has no settled home now, as she must live in any place where her husband's regiment is stationed. She and Louis are devotedly attached to each other, and they have a little Hans who is very dear to them, but Natalie has found out that a soldier's life is not (as she once thought it) perfection; that at best it

« ПретходнаНастави »