Well, what could the poor young girl have done if she hadn’t put her trust in her Heavenly Father? She was no longer under any illusions, she knew that the new situation brought great difficulties. For the first time she did not join someone else’s household as a member, for the first time she was to be deprived of immediate protection!
In external things, life in the Märzfeld house had been very similar to that which she had led in her parents’ house; there was never a lack of food and drink; she was in such a position that she could buy decent clothes and a good book on the side without worrying; all the surroundings were fine and nice; yes, she was spoiled again now, very spoiled! Would she learn to get by decently on her small salary?
Her first route was to the principal of the school; he received her gravely and with dignity, but sympathetically. When she asked his advice about her future apartment, he had referred her to Fraulein Klug, and although she had at first met her more brusquely than cordially, the need for some kind of connection had triumphed: she was on the same floor as the old colleague pulled, and we have already seen how much that was for the good of both parties involved.
At school, too, there were great difficulties in the beginning. She had become accustomed to paying the greatest attention to her pupil’s peculiarities, and would have liked to continue doing so; but if so many differently constituted children were to reach a class goal, this was only possible to a limited extent; the director had to intervene and point her in the right direction, and when Martha had to follow him it seemed as if she were giving up her very best! She also liked to go on excursions in class, preferring what was interesting and stimulating to what was absolutely necessary, and then she got into a rush with her subject matter. There was some friction, some inner and outer unhappiness, until an unspoken agreement was reached in which Martha realized that in such a large, well-organized whole, the individual must submit[p. 287]even if it happens with some sacrifices, and the headmaster, on the other hand, when he saw Martha’s educating influence on her young pupils, gave her as much freedom as was compatible with his school rules.
All these experiences of her young and yet so eventful life passed her mind’s eye as she watched the lights on the Christmas tree die down on Christmas Eve. How much she had experienced since she sang her great-grandmother’s Christmas carol with Siegfried in her parents’ house! Since then she had read this song often, often, but she had never sung it again; it had always seemed to her that she couldn’t do it without him. Yes, she had had to go through poverty, through suffering, through lowliness; she had stood at the gates of death when her loved ones had passed through; but God’s hand had held her everywhere and, tenderly like a mother, had guided her through the most difficult hours. She had gained something from every difficult situation in life, a lot of love and friendship, that’s what she had experienced in those days.
There, under the mirror, lay the letters from her loved ones; there in the closet were the treasures that Judith had sent her from her inn; there in the little box lay Fanny’s and Lucien’s fine work; saw there[p. 288]she also on Suschen’s last happy letter after the birth of her first child; and as rich and beautiful as all this was, the inner gain was still greater. The longing probably came for her Siegfried, the concern: “Will I make it? How will I feel when I grow old and frail like Miss Klug?” But no! she didn’t want to tremble and hesitate, she wanted to place herself and Siegfried firmly in the father’s hands, who gave us the only begotten son out of love. Yes, today, today she could, today she wanted to sing her great-grandmother’s song again; she opened the instrument and sang in a full, clear voice:
Greetings, hallowed night,
Who brought us the highest good:
You, son of God, you, king’s child,
That one finds in the stable and in the manger.
A few hours earlier, the courier train to B. dragged itself through the snowy landscape. He did little credit to his name today; The masses of snow fell too violently, the wind blew them too violently into the ravines through which the train had to pass. As long as one drove through the open country, columns of workers could tolerably clear the tracks of snow, and although the going was much slower than usual and the station times could not be kept anywhere, it was still going forward!
In a second-class coupé sat a gentleman with a still young but serious and tanned face, who looked almost sadly out into the snowstorm, which threw its small, fine crystal stars against the window so that one could only see the surroundings during isolated, rare pauses got; he also showed nothing more than a large white-grey cloth, which houses, trees, fields and[p. 290]every unevenness of terrain veiled and concealed. The cars were heated, but you didn’t notice it; the icy storm penetrated every crack, and two youths, opposite the fur-clad man, crossed their arms to warm themselves.
“Will we come home today, Alfred?”
“We hope so,” replied the person asked; “it would be uncomfortable to spend the evening in the snow instead of under the Christmas tree.”
The older one looked at his watch: “It’s almost two hours past the time, there can’t be anyone at the station anymore.”
Then a shrill whistle sounded – station lights – the conductor opens the door: “N., get out!”
With one bound, happily raising their brightly colored student caps, the two youths were outside; one saw two hooded girls and a boy of about ten years of age.
“Fritz, Elisabeth, Julchen, all of you here? Well, come home quickly! There’s Heinrich with the sleigh too!” The door slammed shut, the train steamed on.
The traveler in the corner sighed heavily: “Home! The lucky ones go home! O, where is my home in all the wide world?”
Five years ago today he had had a home for the last time; not with her father and mother, they had been lying under the lawn for a long time, but with her; they had stood together under the burning tree, they had dreamed of a sweet home together—and the next morning everything had collapsed! When his ardent wishes were not immediately fulfilled, he stormed off into the distance without farewell, anger and pride in his heart and high hopes and expectations for happiness and wealth. He had crossed the ocean, there in Missouri he knew a door, he could only knock on it so that Fortune poured her cornucopia over him; there lived the lonely uncle, who longed for his help and company and whose inheritance he was to inherit.
After various dangers on water and on land, he stood in front of the stately house; the uncle had gone out; a fresh young woman, with a merry little boy in her arms, received him. She was not heartless, not unfriendly, neither was my uncle when he returned home; but nobody needed to tell him that his prospects here had changed completely.
The uncle had wanted to give him a helping hand, pave the way for him to get ahead; he had everything[p. 292]rejected in his pride and relying on his own strength. He soon became aware that he had undertaken something difficult; he sought a job as a farmer — he was offered slave labor; he wanted to work as a clerk in a counter – and couldn’t find a job.
Then came the need. His small paternal fortune was secured in his fatherland, he could not and would not touch it; He could not make up his mind to write to his fatherly friend; there it went deep down with its lofty thoughts.
For months he had earned his living as a worker, then he had been a language teacher; he had lived his life poorly; but acquired, acquired anything to offer her, he had not.
That’s why he didn’t write to her; what should he write to her? One miserable night, when his entire fate lay very dark in front of him, and hers too, it became clear to him: “With worries and with grief and with even his own pain, God will not let anything be taken from him, it must be asked for! ”
And he learned to pray again; the lost child knocked on the right father’s door and the father opened it and comforted him.
He had met a German who had a wonderful piece of land for an industrial enterprise[p. 293]and a large capital to begin with; but he lacked what Siegfried possessed: intelligence, knowledge, energy. He offered a considerable sum if the latter would get his business going for him, and a continuing share of the profits.
The company succeeded; as soon as this turned out to be Siegfried had written to her, to his Martha; he received no answer.
“You don’t want to show her the letter,” he thought, and when there was no answer after three months, he wrote again, this time to his father; again long, long time no answer. The letter finally came back: “Recipient has been dead for years, relatives have moved.”
Oh God, how heavy his heart became! As soon as he could, he went to New York, to meet some countrymen there; he succeeded; they brought the terrifying news of bankruptcy and the death of the councilor of commerce immediately afterwards; but no one, no one knew where his family had gone.
What torment! He wrote to the uncle consul and also learned of his death. How long, how endlessly long was the year that he absolutely had to spend in America if the enterprise was to get off to a safe start!
Now he was at home, having driven over in the storm and weather at an unfavorable time of year, and for weeks he had been wandering around looking for her without having discovered a trace of her. Her address was no longer known at the post office; the Uncle Consul’s family had gone south; distant acquaintances remembered having read the news of Frau Feldwart’s death in some newspaper; they no longer knew when and from where, and the newspaper was nowhere to be found. He was certain of that: he had to stay at home, had to continue his investigations; it had to be possible to find her; if there was no other way, by indenting it in the papers.
Ah, if only he hadn’t gone away in his arrogance then! How much could he have been the Forsaken! But it might take longer to find them, and he wanted to create a sphere of activity in order not to be idle, and had looked here and there at a property that suited his means and needs.
He had never felt so abandoned, so sad, so full of longing as he did today; for the first time it occurred to him that she might have died or—what was worse? married. He thought of it: “It’s Christmas!” He remembered the angelic greeting: “Look, I’m announcing[p. 295]great joy to you!” Ah, in his heart there was only sorrow; he asked God for a crumb of the abundance of joy that was pouring out over the whole world today, and his heart became calmer and more devoted, even if it wasn’t yet happy.
The train now slowly passed a small station; the courier trains did not stop here, it continued into the night. Then all of a sudden it went slowly, more and more slowly; one could see black, hooded figures working with lanterns and shovels on the sides; through the storm one could hear the conductors talking to the people. But all efforts were in vain; the wall in the ravine grew higher and higher, which the train could not break through; should it not be completely buried under it, one had to return to the little station; it happened.
The traveler got out, freezing, and was just about to go into the restaurant when, through the storm, it sounded like bells ringing, and through the snow, it shimmered on a nearby hill like lighted windows.
“Is it Christmas Eve here?” he asked.
“Yes, our children want to go there.”
The traveler was cold, he would have liked to warm himself up first, but a German Christvesper – that made him feel too at home.[p. 296]Oh yes, he also felt warm and well inside when he was allowed to sing along: “This is the night when the kindness of the great God appeared to me!” He tasted the sweet consolation for all woe that lay in the heavenly message of joy; but he prayed, prayed with all his heart, that God would give him back the one who celebrated the last Christmas Vespers next to him five years ago.
Siegfried, don’t you see her, the slender figure, not far from you, bending over her hymn book next to the pillar? No, he did not see her; she turned her back on him, and her white capote hid her youthful head.
When Christmas Vespers was over, he went into an inn to warm himself and eat some food; he found few travelers here—they were all at home today!
An hour passed in indifferent conversation; Siegfried went to the window: it had brightened up during the service, now it was completely quiet. He wanted to go to the station and inquire about the onward journey. A shrill whistle from the locomotive made him think it was high time.
“Is this the next way to the train station?” he asked a passing woman.
“No, go through Schustergasse, it’s closer!”
He went on, but he walked as in a dream; his mind was on Christmas Eve five years ago; he thought of great-grandmother’s Christmas carol: ‘You became poor that I became rich; now it’s the same for me to be poor or rich.” He remembered that because he had linked his application to that at the time. Oh, how he wishes he could still know the whole song, now he could sing it with a different meaning!
What was that? Was it a ghost voice? It sounded high above him, and oh, with what a voice: “Greetings, blessed night, which has brought us the highest good; you son of God, you king’s child, which one finds in the stable and in the manger.”
For a moment he stood as if lost in a dream, then consciousness and movement came.
“Who’s singing?” he asked a shoemaker’s boy, who was hurrying by to carry away shoes that were to be given away.
“It will be the new teacher, Fraulein Feldwart!”
Oh, the stranger disappeared into the house in no time; down in the hallway a dim lamp was burning, which he[p. 298]the stairs showed. He wanted to go up very quietly, but there was no light upstairs; he slipped and the steps creaked. Martha broke off in the middle of the second verse and opened the door.
Almost frightened she stood facing the man in the traveling fur coat; cautiously and shyly he approached.
“Don’t be alarmed, Martha, it’s an old, loyal friend!”
Oh, now she knew who it was, now he was holding her in his arms and had to hold her so that she didn’t fall over, and then for a long, long time all you could hear was soft sobbing; yes, this Christmas present was so big that the weak heart could not grasp it at once.
But then they exchanged their experiences, first fragmentarily and then more coherently, looking at each other and realizing that something of the roundness and smoothness of early youth was gone from the trains, but there was something in them that was much, much nicer was; and the old love and loyalty remained, and neither of them had ever doubted that.
“And where are you from today, Siegfried?”
“From a small place that you probably hardly know, from Weißfeld. The bailiff there has bought a large estate in Silesia and wants to sell Weißfeld; I[p. 299]want to complete the purchase; there were a lot of things I liked there.”
“What did you like, Siegfried?” Martha asked with beaming eyes.
“Oh, an old, crooked woman was showing me around; that was a splendid old creature; I thought it would be so nice to take care of her until death. And then, Martha – oh, it’s almost a bit strange – but you’ll understand; there was a little iron table and a Bible on it, and the old woman said it was from a previous owner who wished it to stay that way, it would bring blessings to the good. I liked that too!”
He was surprised to see her face streaming with tears.
“O great-grandmother! she exclaimed.
So Siegfried was amazed when he found out the connection.
“Yes,” said Martha, “‘I do well to the thousandth member of those who love me and keep my commandments!’ That is certainly true! O Siegfried! Siegfried! There is a connection between the great-grandmother’s prayer stool and the happiness of her great-granddaughter!”
Siegfried was also moved.
“It’s a beautiful thought, but also a serious and responsible one,” he said, “when you consider yourself a link in such a great chain, influenced by the past and continuing into the future.”
Martha was surprised that he hadn’t heard from her in Weißfeld; but his stay had only been short—”and,” said Martha, “the great-grandmother herself must have wanted to bring us together again with her Christmas carol.”
“How happy Suschen, my dear Suschen, will be when I move in there! But I still have one request, Siegfried, a really big one. Don’t we have a little room left for my dear old friend Klug?”
And when the happy bridegroom heard what this bride had been, he gladly consented; she was to be called immediately to supper and hear her good fortune.
“But first I want to get everything ready for the party!” said Martha.
She put new lights on the Christmas tree, she covered the table with a clean, white cloth and decorated it with Judith’s good gifts, to which “my Georg” added a few bottles of red wine. Then the bride and groom stood[p. 301]in front of the old friend who was very surprised and moved but full of love and faithful wishes.
“And now you must eat with us,” Martha urged, “I must have a bride’s mother!”
And at the merry evening table they told her the beautiful plans for the future. At first it was too new and wonderful for her, then she folded her hands as if in a silent prayer: “Yes, children, if the good Lord doesn’t point me to another little room for the elderly, I’ll go with you; I don’t want to be a burden to you if he helps!”
“What will my children, my dear children, say?” went wistfully through Martha’s soul; but she consoled herself: “I’ll be with you until Easter, and Agnes, Helene and Eva must be my bridesmaids anyway!”
The supper was eaten, the clock showed ten.
“And now, Martha,” said Siegfried, “before I go—”
She interrupted him: “Now, Siegfried, let’s sing our great-grandmother’s Christmas carol together again!”
“Yes, Martha, and with more understanding than five years ago.”
The lights on the tree shone, eyes shone even brighter, and hearts beat with holy Christmas joy as they sang:
Greetings, hallowed night,
who brought us the highest good,
You son of God, you king’s child,
That one finds in the stable and in the manger.
that I may receive the rights of a child,
you dwell like a humble servant;
That’s why I want to be despised and small,
Lord, to love and honor you.
Yours was the glory of heaven
All the world’s treasures far and wide;
You became poor that I became rich
Now I don’t care about being poor or rich.
You came from the bright hall of heaven
And you walked through the dark valley for me;
I’m ready for suffering now
Because you consecrated it through your suffering.
For me, my prince of life and God,
you gave yourself in agony;
That I’m a child dying
Find eternal life through you.
I kneel down to your crib
And don’t grasp the miracle inside
And ask you: O Lord, lend
May this be my request in earnest!
You give yourself to me, Lord Christ, I have
Only me as a poor gift.
O accept me, council, strength and hero,
And make of me what you please.
Yes, now her pleas were earnest; they knew that the Lord had much to do with them, and cover much with his love, if they were to please him; they also knew that he would lead them to this end along many a sour path and many a rough path; but they were confident. They no longer relied on themselves or other human supports, but on the one who guided them with his eyes through all the difficult years, and:
Lord God Sabaoth, blessed is the man who trusts in you!