Forest Winter

A novel of the Silesian mountains. A man escapes the big city life to spend the winter in a castle by a small village in the forest. There he learns that excitement and variety are not the sole preserve of the big city.


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Excerpt:

Now it is snowing. I open a window of the banqueting hall and try to stretch my sick arm’s hand out.

Two flakes fall on it — sweet, silvery, hexagonal stars.

Then it is as if a new feeling of strength draws up to my wounds.

Just what do you say, you green winter grain? The new flannel shawl may look quite beautiful on your thick tufted head. Your bright, greenish eyes merely sparkle quite furtively from below, and like a rascally child you flirt with the wind who would like to dance with you like a wild fellow.

Just do not dance too wildly! Just do not let your shawl be taken, young child! The shawl does not just keep you safe and warm like a Philistine; it also keeps you beautiful and healthy, you young child!

There a little hare is taking a stroll close to the moat. It is as thoughtful as a dignified philosopher and bobs its head like someone who is at a real loss.

Its wife comes after it. She sits quite still. Four long ears stiffen in the air, but one ear flaps down, the second, third, fourth. Thus they sit opposite each other. They gaze at each other and remain silent. What would there even be to say? At most that it snowing is a very shabby thing. Finally they hop away arduously. In spring and summer they loved each other a lot; now they are not speaking to each other already, and in a few days, when they both feel like gnawing at the same cherry tree, they will quarrel.

Well yes! Most happy marriages are matched with plenty of food.

I see a sparrow and a great tit. The little sparrow raises its beak in the air and chirps as cheerfully and brazenly as if just then the first cherries were ripe in the alley. The little tit sits on the branch like a real crybaby.

The sparrow has splendid quarters up in the tower, and gets board and lodging with Mrs Baumann. It fetches its meals from the window sill and consumes them at its leisure; for it knows that the cat cannot get through the glass.

The little tit is shy and must go hungry. Then the sparrow puffs itself up like a swank and looks on the tit as dumb riff-raff. It will dare anything for food — honour, freedom, and life; for without food, it thinks, there is neither honour, nor freedom, nor life.

The little tit, dumb thing, flies to the green, empty firs; the sparrow loafs around in the courtyard, and finally eats from the dog’s bowl; for it is convinced that Hector is sleeping.

Meanwhile it continues snowing, constantly snowing. How delightful it is! There is nothing in nature so soft as a snowflake. And yet there is flickering, shimmering, millionfold movement in it. There is no more soundless, no more peaceful a delight.

How I can lose myself in dreaming! I feel that I will be writing a lyrical poem once again shortly! —

The gate opens down below. A man steps into the castle courtyard.

It is Hartwig!

I have not seen him since that time when he carried me home.

What does he want?

Oh, how my heart suddenly pounds!

How suddenly the beautiful peace of winter is gone!

I feel my arm’s wound. It lies only a short distance from my heart.

What does Hartwig want?

Yesterday he married. Waldhofer told me about it.

What does he want now?

I listen to down below.

Steps are coming up the stairs. I must hold myself still in a chair, and I do not know whether it is mere agitation or nervous fear.

There is a knock, and the door opens.

Waldhofer!

“Doctor, would you like to receive Hartwig for a few minutes? He begs insistently for it. It is about an important matter. He will also not be staying here long!”

“Please, bring him in! But be present; I still feel weak —”

Waldhofer nods and leaves, and then they come.

Hartwig looks up briefly, he makes two steps; then he sinks to his knees.

He wants to say something; but he cannot emit a sound.

My throat is constricted too. Thus I stand before the kneeling man. It is dreadful for me when a man kneels before another man. Then I finally pull myself together.

“Stand up, Hartwig! Sit down on the chair.”

He stands up, but he does not sit. The strong man is trembling all over his body. And finally he speaks, “I — I just want still — still to ask for forgiveness — for I — I am departing today.”

“You are departing? To where?”

“To South Africa! To the Boers!”

That hits me.

“That — that is not possible, Hartwig!”

Waldhofer seizes him by the arm and forces him into a chair. There Hartwig throws both hands over his face and sits motionless. I too am incapable of saying anything. Then Waldhofer speaks, “It is so, Doctor; in an hour Hartwig goes away.”

A long pause follows. Then a spasmodic sobbing forces itself from Hartwig’s chest, and he cries. Oh God, how he cries! If I though — no, I lack the words.

Then Waldhofer places a hand on his head.

“Right, it is difficult? You were more fond of your home than anything else. I know. But it must be though! You must remain free, Hartwig, and here you cannot! Freedom is more than home! And you are helping a noble cause! You will not leave any resentment here either — right, Doctor?”

I go and grasp Hartwig’s hand.

“Hartwig, that it had to come to that in this way. Your resentment towards me was entirely in vain! Ingeborg will belong to me no more than to you, Hartwig, she loves me no more than you.”

Then he cries like a child, and there is another pause. Suddenly his wife occurs to me.

“But Hartwig, you cannot though! You were married yesterday though. What will become of your wife then?” There he pulls himself together.

“Martha loved me — and I her too — earlier — before Ingeborg came home — and then — I do not need my money — I have nobody else either — I want to leave it to her and her father — it is not going well with them — and then — she always wanted to become my wife — then I wanted to give her the pleasure — it is all the same anyway —”

“And she knows nothing, Hartwig, nothing?”

“She cannot know anything — otherwise she would scream it through the entire village. Mr Waldhofer will look after her a bit.”

“But that isn’t right though; you will not secretly abandon your young wife though. You must not do that, Hartwig!”

He looks sadly at me.

“I must indeed — otherwise I will end up in prison, and there it is a thousand times worse — for Martha too.”

There I certainly do not know how to comfort him. Then Waldhofer speaks again. It is still the best solution, he says. In war amongst brave comrades Hartwig will re-find his balance soonest. It would also correspond best to his nature. And meanwhile the affair would die away here. Perhaps even Hartwig would find a new home over there and could then have his wife follow later.

Then someone races up the stairs — the door is thrown open —

Hartwig’s wife.

“Joseph!”

“Martha — what do you want?”

“Joseph — are you still here — are you still here?”

She clasps him like a madwoman.

“Jesus, your letter, your letter, you want to leave!”

“I must, Martha, I must! Otherwise I will end up in prison.”

“Rather in prison. Just not in a war, just not in a war!”

“Don’t shout, Martha, don’t shout so!”

“I will not let you, I will not let you, and if they kill you and me as a result — or you will take me with you!”

“Martha, dear good Martha — do you think so well of me?”

“I love you, and I will die with you, Joseph!”

Then he enclosed her in his arms and kissed her. — The homeless man, the criminal, the outcast was loved so ardently.

Then Hartwig straightened up, and it was as if he were thinking deeply.

“Will that work? Will that work?”, he asked Waldhofer, “That I take Martha —”

“It will work,” Waldhofer answered, “and in fact, now it must work!”

Then the young woman exulted, and again slung her arms about the neck of her husband.

“I will remain with you — forever!”

“Yes, Martha — for my sake — dear good Martha!”

I was leaning palely on the window. Then Waldhofer said to Hartwig and his wife, “Now come; there is much yet to be discussed.”

Hartwig nodded. Then he approached me.

“Doctor, that you have not sent me to prison, that our Lord will set down to you — and right, you forgive me everything — who knows what will become of me!”

I was shaken to the depths of my heart.

“Hartwig, God preserve you! Let us part as friends!”

Then we offered each other the hand and gazed for the last time in each other’s eyes. Then the young woman also came, and then I was alone. — —

I walked wearily across the hall, and gazed out the window. The cool glass did my forehead good. And then I saw them once more.

They were going out into the falling night — hand in hand. Waldhofer accompanied them for a small stretch.

It was snowing outside, snowing! But they were going to where it was now summer.

God, how far that was!

Then I went to my bedroom, and sank wearily into my bed.

I lay still for an hour. In the banqueting hall the lamp burnt for a long time.

Then the piano sounded above — an old, solemn choral melody came down to me.

“Commit thy ways!”

You unfamiliar girl, I thought, how well you know what can do me good! Now you could not say anything better to my soul than that there is a God who reigns in the south and the north, and whose love watches over the just and unjust.

I rose comforted. I stepped again to the window and let the cool night air waft into my face.