The Runaway Heart and Other Tales
Five tales of love, kindness, self-interest, despair, and betrayal.
Whenever the music ends in villages, the moon draws back a bit, hangs a veil over its white face, closes its shadowy eyes, and turns the young people adrift. For it knows they will then all carry such a bright fiery light in themselves that it cannot rise against it with its pale light.
On such a night, the heart on earth whose tale I will now tell came alive.
The tavern “of the three stalks” lay in a high raised area which sank on all sides towards the mountains on which three villages flowed up three valleys, so high up that the last houses hung completely above the forest: Klein-Pinz, Groß-Mohrau and Wenig-Rohme.
They all lay quiet and faded for week after week in the forest and above the fields, and of the three villages, Klein-Pinz was the most inconspicuous. The houses of which it consisted had few furrows of their own and if the stream, which fell day and night with a whisper over little rocky steps into a pond, had not been in its midst, the people of this tiny little village would have languished and died in their lonely poverty. But the whispering of the water kept them alive, and the young men were jaunty and agile and the girls fresh and bright-eyed like the ripples of water running past them.
Hard by the waterfall of Klein-Pinz stood the house of Lenore Negwer. It had been moved so close to the drop that, in adverse winds, the drops of the falling stream sprayed onto its panes and the roar filled the house without break so that there was no peace at all for a single thought.
Thus for this house things went both better and worse than for all the other houses of Klein-Pinz. Better, for it needed to deal with nothing else, worse, because it had nothing else in the world.
Within living memory, only mothers had lived in it, that is, those who never knew in what way they had come to have a child. God liked to shepherd as he wanted, there was nothing to be done about it. Hardly did the little breasts press through the jacket of a Negwer girl than the roaring in the house became so strong that it led the maiden out, and when she returned, she was doubled. It proved thus for Lenore Negwer, her mother had to suffer the same fate and her grandmother had been played with in the same way. Of more remote ancestors, nobody could think anymore; but it had surely been no different with them.
When the difficult hour approached for the poor being, it was decided that no man should ever come near her again, and as certainly as the hot roar in the maelstrom had turned her, as firmly did each hold to the resolution all the way to their lonely death.
They did not bring more than one child into the world, and it was always a girl.
The house was thus called by everyone that of “the water maidens”, and some really believed that something not right was going on there. It was said that the Negwer girls only had to sit by the water in the light of the moon for it to happen. But those about which this was spoken did not say “yes” or “no” to it; were surely sad in the first weeks with their fatherless child, but gathered themselves in the quiet, cheerful way which had formed their inheritance from time immemorial, bent down diligently in the few furrows behind their house, collected wood in the forest, carried mushrooms and berries to the town and smiled peacefully when they saw other women suffering under their husbands.