Chapter VIII. Each One According to His Kind.
 

In all Tannenegg and Fohrensee, nothing was talked of but the affair of the night before. Never was such excitement known. In every house, at every corner, in all the roads, groups of people stood talking it over; each telling what he knew.

Everyone asked questions, and no one listened to the answers. Such a fight at the Rehbock! It began over the card-table. The cattle-dealer from Fohrensee was on his way home with his bag full of money, when he stopped in at the Rehbock, and joined the game. When the dispute broke out, his big fists took their share in the fray. Not until two of the party lay for dead on the ground, did the brawling cease and the combatants begin to cool. Then the cattle-dealer discovered that his bag full of gold was gone, and raised a fearful alarm.

Then the red-haired man from Fohrensee shouted into the midst of the excited crowd,

"Don't let any one get away. Run after them! That's the only way to find out the thief!"

This man had not taken part in the fight, but had mixed with the crowd, trying to pacify them, and to restore quiet.

His advice was useless. A good many had already gone. First of all, Dietrich had disappeared; then several fellows ran after him, and then all the rest went together.

On the way home, Jost had told his companions that Dietrich had made off with himself, and that he, Jost, had told him when he saw him going that there was doubtless good reason for his wishing to be out of the way. But in truth Jost had not said any such thing to Dietrich!

One of the men had run at once for the doctor, and the doctor had come in the night to the Rehbock, and had found that the two men were not dead after all. So he had given orders that they should be let alone till they had slept off the effect of their carouse.

In the morning, all those who had been at the Rehbock the night before, were called together; and every one denied stoutly having any knowledge of the cattle-dealer's money, and all were ready to be searched in proof of their innocence. Dietrich alone was not there; he had vanished, no one knew whither. Some one whispered, and then it was softly repeated, then louder and louder, that Dietrich would not have taken himself off if he had had a clear conscience; and although nobody seriously believed Dietrich capable of a disgraceful act, yet after awhile it seemed to grow more likely, especially when it became known that he had lost a great deal of money in betting and gambling, and was unable to pay back what he had lost. And many shook their heads and said, "How easy it is for a man to be drawn into evil ways if he once begins to go down hill!"

Where Dietrich had gone, was now the important question. No trace of him had been discovered from the moment of his disappearance. The cattle-dealer left no stone unturned to find him, but he could get no clue to his whereabouts. He had entered complaints against Dietrich, and hoped that the hands of the law would succeed in getting track of him. But it was all in vain. Gradually, no one knew how, a report got about that Dietrich had fled to Australia, and would never come back. Little by little every one came to believe it.

Except one. One single person in all Tannenegg was bold enough to swim against this stream of suspicion. This was Judith. Not timidly and in secret, but aloud, at all times and in all places, she declared decidedly,

"There's not one word of truth in what you all say. It's a lie from beginning to end. Dietrich has no more stolen than I have, and I needn't say more than that. I'll ferret this thing out, till I find the true culprit, or my name's not Judith."

The first thing to do was to get a clear account of the whole affair; for although she had already heard it told a dozen times, it had always been among other people, who were continually interrupting and asking questions, and were too anxious to hear the end, to wait for the full account of the beginning. So she decided to apply to Blasi, who, as he had been on the spot, must know all about it. But she had to hunt him up; for since that unlucky evening he had kept himself out of sight. She placed her bucket under the spout at the well, and then took a turn about the kitchen garden behind the sexton's cottage. Blasi stood in the back doorway, just as he was in the habit of standing in the front doorway, only instead of holding his face up as if to catch any agreeable odors that might be floating about, he stood to-day with drooping head, gazing sadly at the uncared-for garden.

"What's amiss, Blasi?" asked Judith, sharply, coming upon him before he was aware of her approach.

"Nothing; if you know of anything we will share it," said Blasi sullenly.

"Well, perhaps I know something that it would not be a bad thing for you to share with me. Perhaps it's worth while for some one who has learned it by the sweat of her brow, to tell you that vegetables can be made to grow in a garden, instead of nettles, which you seem to cultivate."

"I don't care what grows anywhere; one thing is as good as another to me, now that Dietrich has gone. There's nothing to do in the evening now. I've half a mind to go after him."

"Go where? do you know where he is?"

"I don't, myself, but Jost does, and I know that Jost is expecting to hear from him. Though he does call me stupid, I have my eye on him," said Blasi, with angry emphasis. "And I know it was Jost who advised Dietrich to run away and hide, though he didn't mean to let me know. Oh, I'm no fool!"

Judith nodded assentingly, as if Blasi's information confirmed her own suspicions.

"Here, Blasi, here's a little something for you. Now I want you to tell me exactly how this thing happened, from the very beginning; and don't leave out a single thing. I want to hear the whole story, connectedly."

"You may be sure I will," said Blasi, weighing the silver piece which Judith had given him affectionately in his hand. "You see they were all together in the little back room at first; the red-haired man and Jost and Dietrich, and when I went in I noticed at once that something had happened that our two didn't like; for Dietrich sat with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, and Jost was swearing roundly. Presently Jost said, 'We will double our bets, Dietrich, and perhaps the luck will turn.' Dietrich, only groaned. Then the red-haired fellow said, 'Come, let's go down and play cards with the cattle-dealer, and take a glass of something that will raise your spirits.'"

"Dietrich never used to gamble; nor to drink when he was not thirsty;" cried Judith angrily.

"Pooh! When every one is playing cards, a fellow can't hold off and say he won't join, and as for the drink, Dietrich has washed down a good deal of vexation with it lately, and he took it powerfully too, I can tell you. Well, the play began, and it went on fast. I noticed that the red man looked mightily pleased, and urged them all on, and the louder the cattle-dealer scolded, the more the red man filled up his glass. When the quarrel came to blows, I heard the red-head call out to the cattle-dealer, 'Come over here, you'll soon silence them,' So he kept exciting him, and he struck out well with his great fists. The red-head mixed in the crowd, and stuck close to the cattle-dealer, but he never struck a blow himself; of course not, such a gentleman as he is! I did not see Dietrich knock the Fohrensee fellow down, but just when the storm was most furious, I saw Dietrich run out, and Jost after him, and I thought I saw Jost give Dietrich something. I ran out after them, and I heard Jost advising Dietrich to make off as fast as he could, and send him word where he hid himself. When I came up to them, Jost pushed me back; I couldn't get a word with Dietrich, who ran right off, and Jost pulled me into the house. There the noise was increasing every minute, for the cattle-dealer had discovered that his money-bag was gone, and red-head screamed out like a mad-man, that nobody must get away, and everybody must be searched. When they found that Dietrich had gone, the cattle-man started off after him, and some others too, and then they all broke up. Now you know all that I know. Nothing else happened; except that I went for the doctor, who said the two men were not dead. When Jost tells Dietrich that, why, there's nothing to prevent his coming back. That is, unless there's something else."

"What do you mean by 'something else'?" said Judith sharply. "But there--you're all alike. One repeats what another has said, till you all get to saying the same thing and then of course you believe it. A nice set of friends you are--the whole of you. I mean to stir up the ground under you all until I find out where the truth is. Then you can begin to stare with the others, you blind mole!" and Judith suddenly walked off as if the earth were burning beneath her angry feet.

Blasi understood neither her words nor her anger. He looked after her, shook his head rather sadly, and said to himself,

    "Women folk are a very foolish folk."

Home sped the "foolish" Judith; put on her Sunday garments and started on her journey. If ever she had a project in her head, she did not wait till to-morrow to put it into execution. And to-day she was bent on giving the cattle dealer a piece of her mind. She paused a moment when she came to Gertrude's house, then went on her way, saying half aloud,

"No, I'll say nothing to her, since she says nothing to me. If 'mum's' the word I can use it as well as she."

Judith was pained that Gertrude had not from the beginning talked with her of her troubles, for Judith was one who liked to give and receive sympathy. Veronica too was much too reticent to please her kind-hearted neighbor who could never get a word with her about what was going on. Veronica and Gertrude were both very silent by nature, about anything that touched them deeply, especially in sorrow. On the first day after the terrible blow that had befallen them, they talked it all over, and wept together, to ease their hearts of the first misery. Then Gertrude said,

"Dietrich has sinned and he must make atonement, but he has not stolen; I am sure that my son is not a thief." And Veronica had responded promptly,

"If every one in the whole world said that he had stolen that money, I should not listen; for I know he is no thief."

As soon as it became known that Dietrich was gone, letters and bills came pouring in upon the poor widow. Her son had borrowed large sums of money and had lost even more at play. She soon found that not only all her husband's savings, but also the house and the business were deeply encumbered. She talked things over with the workman who had been so many years in her employ and asked if he would help her carry on the business as he had done after her husband's death while Dietrich was still a child. The man was very angry with Dietrich for having thrown away the result of all those years of labor, and at first refused to have anything more to do with the business. He yielded at last, however, to Gertrude's urgent request, and consented to remain with her at least till the future prospects of the business could be decided upon; and Gertrude agreed that if it should prosper she would hand it over to him, in case Dietrich should not return within a certain time.

And so the mother set herself again to her task. She worked early and late; she seemed to have gained new strength and courage instead of being crushed down by this new burden.

It was curious to see how differently the two women nearest to Dietrich were affected by this trouble. Gertrude's countenance gradually resumed its customary look of cheerfulness and peace, while on Veronica's handsome features rested a heavy scowl which now seldom left her clouded brow. Yet she was almost an object of envy to all the young girls of the neighborhood, and no wonder; for she was an attractive sight to all eyes, with her neat, well-fitting clothes, that always looked new and fresh, and her air of strength and activity. Not a few of the strangers who came to Fohrensee, made inquiries about her, wondering where she could have come from; for they noticed the marked difference between her and the other women of the place. The work which passed through her hands, even if it were most elaborately embroidered, was never crumpled nor soiled, but looked as fresh as if it had not been handled at all. She could obtain any price she chose to set upon her work, and everything she did found ready sale. Moreover, she had been appointed to the place of which Sabina had spoken to her. She was at the head of the great Industrial School for women, where she received so handsome a salary, that she was in a fair way to the accumulation of a nice little fortune. It was common to hear it said of her, "She is really a lady! she can have whatever she pleases," and it was often added, "If I were in her shoes, I wouldn't go about with a face like a thirty days' storm, as she does, when she can be a gentleman's wife whenever she chooses!" It had been proposed that Veronica should go to live in the school-buildings at Fohrensee. But she did not accept the offer; she could not leave her mother alone in this time of trouble. Every evening after her work she returned to Gertrude's cottage.

During the long summer days it was easy for Veronica to get home before the twilight was over. But when the days grew shorter, dusk came on even before she could reach the wood. One bright Saturday afternoon, late in August, Veronica had delayed longer than usual in the work-room, to clear all away and leave things in perfect order for Sunday.

She hurried up the hill road, not so much from fear of going through the wood alone, as from desire to spare Gertrude the anxiety of watching for her. Just before she reached the wood, she met Jost coming towards her. He held out his hand with a friendly smile, saying,

"I came to meet you; I thought it would be getting too dark for you to go alone through the forest; I can't let you go unprotected."

"You may spare yourself the pains," said Veronica shortly and crossed over to the other side of the road. Jost crossed too.

"Veronica," he began after a little while, "it is not nice of you to treat me as you have done since Dietrich went off. I know as well as you do, that he did wrong in running away from you without letting you know where he went to; but he may write yet, and meantime--"

"Don't say another word," interrupted Veronica; so decidedly that Jost was silent for awhile. She crossed the road again, and presently Jost did the same, and as he came up to her, he began again in a soft insinuating tone,

"Don't you see Veronica, that it isn't my fault that things have taken this turn? I often thought of you when Dietrich was risking so much money, and I used to say to him "think of her," for I knew how you would feel about it."

"Oh, you Judas!" cried Veronica, swelling with rage, and she sprang forward and ran on with all her might. Jost followed close at her heels. When she had passed through the wood, and had come out on the Tannenegg side, he said, in a flattering voice,

"Veronica, do you see how precious you are to me? I will protect you and take care of you even if you do not speak one kind word to me. I shall come to meet you every day, for I will not allow you to go through the wood alone. You may meet all sorts of people there and may sometimes be glad of my company. Bye-and-bye you will be convinced how much I care for you."

Veronica was now near the house. She hurried on and without once looking back, she sprang through the door and shut it fast behind her.

"You shall be tame enough before I have done with you," muttered Jost, and he bit his lips until the blood came.

Veronica stood still on the other side of the door until she heard his retreating footsteps; then she opened it and went out again. She went over to the sexton's house. Blasi stood in the doorway, in a despondent attitude, with his hands in his pockets. He was brooding over the melancholy reflection that he had paid away the last penny of the coin that Judith had given him, for last evening's glass at the Rehbock, and that he had no credit. He saw no glimmer of hope in the prospect before him, and looked disconsolately at the ground. Suddenly Veronica stood before him. He stared at her with surprise.

"Blasi, will you do me a favor?" she asked in a friendly tone, "I will return it sometime when you need help."

Here was an unexpected chance. He opened his eyes yet wider with delight.

"Tell me what it is, Veronica," he said; "I will go through fire and water for you."

"It is only to go through the wood for me, to-morrow evening, and every evening till the days grow longer again. Will you? You can have your evening glass afterwards at my expense."

Blasi stood speechless; staring at Veronica, who waited for his answer.

"Why; do you want two of us?" he said presently, "I don't see why. Jost is going too, for you told him to go and meet you every evening."

Veronica's dark eyes flashed forth a fire that dazzled poor Blasi.

"So! I told him to go, did I? Who told you such a thing as that?"

"Jost said so himself at the Rehbock last evening, before a room full of people; and some of them said that you were going to prove that you could get along very well without the fellow that ran away."

Veronica flushed burning red.

"Tell Jost," she said, scornfully, "that if he is clever in nothing else he is a master liar. I would tell him myself, but I will never speak to him again. Will you come for me tomorrow or not, Blasi?" she had turned to leave him.

"Why of course, if that's the way it is about Jost, I'll come. You may count on me," he replied gleefully. She held out her hand to him, and was gone.

The next evening, as Blasi was walking at his ease, towards the wood, he met Jost hurrying along from another direction.

"Where may you be going?" asked Jost peremptorily.

"I am going to meet Veronica; she engaged me to," answered Blasi, not at all unwilling to make known his errand.

"Well, you are a dunderhead to take a joke like that for sober earnest," said Jost, bursting into a loud laugh. "Hadn't you sense enough to see that she was making a fool of you? We had a good laugh together about it last night, she and I, and she said she had a mind to make you go all winter long to Fohrensee, to fetch her; and that you would never find out that she was making sport of you. She seems to have made a good beginning."

Jost laughed again immoderately, and Blasi began to waver.

"If I only knew which of you was telling a lie;" he said, and stood still to think it over. Suddenly he started forward on the full run, for it occured to him that he could decide by Veronica's air when he met her, whether she had cheated him or not. Jost saw that Blasi was determined not to give up his enterprise so he turned about, and disappeared among the bushes; for he had no desire to have Blasi see how Veronica treated him.

When Blasi met Veronica, her face had so pleasant and bright a look, that the lad was struck with her beauty. It was not the look of one who was making a fool of him. Veronica was sincere. She talked kindly with him all the way home, more kindly than he had ever thought she could talk, and when they parted, she said persuasively,

"You'll come tomorrow, and every day, won't you Blasi?"

Then she pressed a piece of money into his hand, and thanked him for his kindness so gratefully, that it seemed as if he had conferred a great favor on her, instead of having received payment for service rendered.

As the young man turned away, a new set of ideas took possession of his mind. For the first time in his life, he felt a desire to use the money that he held in his hand, for something better than drink. He recollected that he had no necktie on, and he was conscious of looking slovenly and dirty. That was not the way for a fellow to look who was going to be seen walking with the pretty Veronica along the high-road. He would buy a neck-tie in the morning; he had money enough for that. Then his thoughts ran on still farther. Veronica had not spoken to him in this friendly way for many a long year. It was not to make fun of him, Jost was a liar as she had said; else why did he run away instead of going with him to meet her? No, he wouldn't be taken in by that fellow, any longer. As they walked along she had asked him all sorts of questions about himself; what his business was, and how he succeeded in it and so on. He had not been able to answer very satisfactorily about his business, for since Confirmation, three years before, he had only been waiting for something to turn up. He had had nothing to do except to ring the bell at eleven o'clock, and then stand in the door-way of his house until it was time to ring it again at four. Then towards evening he always went to the Rehbock to hear the news. All this appeared in a new light before his eyes, now that Veronica had inquired about his occupation. Then she had encouraged him so sympathetically to try to get something to do, and promised to be of service to him if she could. It was exactly as if she had an especial interest in his welfare. Why did she concern herself about him? Suddenly a light broke through his darkness.

"Dietrich is gone, and is not likely to come back," he said to himself, "she detests Jost; and women always do the very thing you least expect them to; I've heard that a hundred times. She is after me! Good heavens!" he called out in his surprise as this idea seized him. "A fellow must spruce up! I will take the first step this very day."

The idea which had seized Blasi's mind that he was to take Dietrich's place with Veronica, suggested a farther plan. He decided immediately to become a saddler too, and before he went into his own house, he turned back and sought Gertrude's garden.

Gertrude's workman was walking up and down, for recreation; for he never went to the tavern. Blasi went to him and opened his mind; he wanted to be a saddler, and to learn the trade from him.

The man was quite willing; he bethought himself that it would be rather an agreeable change to have a young fellow to talk to, instead of merely sitting all day by the side of the silent widow. He said he would speak to his employer, and Blasi could come on the morrow. He was sure she would agree, for she generally took his opinion about the business.

"You see, Blasi," said he pompously, "if I were not there to look after things, they would all go to ruin. In fact there are only two ways to save this business; either Dietrich must come back and quickly too, and take hold of the business better than he ever did before, or else it must fall into my hands entirely, and I will take all the risks and all the profits."

"There may be yet a third way; who knows?" said Blasi, significantly, and he winked so mysteriously first with one eye and then with the other, that the saddler said to himself, "I guess he's been at the Rehbock."