Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

affairs of their country, nor was anything to be gathered from his looks. He had a general knowledge of the fact that the Prussian kingdom was on the verge of ruin; but he did not take the slightest interest in obtaining the latest news as to the state of affairs. And it was just the same with his wife. A woman came one day from the village to tell her the news, which her husband had brought from Norden, of a great battle having been fought; and Uwen, who from an adjoining room had heard a few words of her report, afterwards asked Deena where the battle had taken place and who had won. But she could tell him nothing about it, and only replied, with a yawn: "What did it matter to him ; it was all the same whichever might be slaughtered. His business was to learn all he could as fast as possible, so that he might leave the island and maintain himself, whether as a pastor or a scavenger she did not care, so that she had no longer to feed him.

Thus Uwen and Teda knew very little about the affairs of the war, beyond an occasional rumour that might be current in the village. They had, indeed, no particular wish to learn what was going on. But one day their curiosity was aroused, and they went at once across to Walmot, from whom they knew they would be able to gain the best intelligence that the island afforded.

Roeluf and Freda had brought back with them from their trip news of the defeat at Friedland, and a spirit of the deepest sadness reigned throughout the little room, which in days gone by had always been so cheerful.

Nothing was talked of but this fresh misfortune that had befallen their country. Walmot, Freda, and Roeluf thought of nothing else; they lamented and grieved over it. The two visitors from the parsonage listened for awhile in silence, and then Teda proposed to go back home. Her passing curiosity had been quickly satisfied, and she had afterwards found the conversation wearisome, so that she declared it would be a good while before she visited the house again. She remarked, with a mocking laugh:

'I really think they were ready to cry about the battle.'

For some time Uwen walked silently by her side; then he said :

'I can't altogether blame them, for, after all, they are our countrymen who are in this distress.'

But Teda interrupted him :

Their talk is most absurd. My father and mother are quite right; it does not matter to us; we don't suffer through it. And it can't really hurt, for it is God's will, and must therefore work good to those whom it affects; if not, then they have deserved punishment for their unbelief. You, who are to be a pastor, ought to know this as well as I do.'

Uwen was unable to refute the justice of her reasoning, and it was quite in contradiction to the principles which he had imbibed at the parsonage, as to the value and import of worldly affairs, that he ventured to repeat his visit to Walmot, in order to ascertain the further course of the war. He felt no direct personal interest in the matter, only the same sort of feeling that he had for the events of olden days, which had formed ani Essential part of his historical education. He sat listening, and from the discourse of the others, he pictured to himself what was taking place in his own day.

Late one afternoon, about the end of July, Uwen was walking towards the western side of the island, when he saw Freda sitting alone on the downs at a little distance from the cottage. A book lay on her lap, but she was not reading; her eyes were fixed, gazing sadly into the far distance. As she turned round on hearing Uwen’s footsteps, tears were in her eyes, and he asked in surprise :

• What is the matter ? What are you crying for ?'

She did not seek to conceal the cause, as she had done a year ago on the sea-gulls' isle, but she answered, fixing her eyes

on his :

[ocr errors]

6

* Have you not heard then yet ?'
· Heard what ?'
That we are to be Germans no longer.'

It was only too true. An event had occurred in the remote east the results of which affected even this secluded island of the North-Sea. Prussia had been forced to conclude a disgraceful peace at Tilsit, which it had only been able to purchase by the cession of the half of its territories. Amongst those surrendered was East Friesland, and it was annexed by the Emperor Napoleon to the crown of Holland, which he had given to his brother Louis. Henceforth it was to be called the department of East Ems, being a portion of the Dutch state that was dependent upon France. The war was at an end. The whole continent of Europe, Russia excepted, lay groaning under the sway of the conqueror. England alone, safe from the invasion of his armies, continued the struggle, and, in order to weaken her as far as possible, Napoleon had issued an imperial edict, forbidding the States belonging to or in dependence upon him to have any commerce or communication with Great Britain. All the harbours and coasts of the North-Sea were by this edict deprived of the goods which had previously been imported, and the few remaining States of Prussia had been forced to introduce the same measure along the coasts of the Baltic.

This news had been brought from Emden the day before by Roeluf and Freda, and the latter repeated it in answer to Uwen's inquiries. He listened, and then observed :

But surely you were not crying for that?' As she merely gave a silent nod of assent, he continued : 'You and your people don't lose anything by it.'

'But surely,' she exclaimed, 'you love your native land, don't you?'

Her look awoke a far-off memory—how he had once worked the whole night long to make her a float, because he had seen her blue eyes filled with just such tears. It had pained him then, and it pained him now; he had never seen anyone on the island weep but Freda; he used to cry himself in days long gone by. And so he tried to dry up these incomprehensible tears by diverting her mind to other thoughts, and he asked:

“What are you reading there ?'

For answer, she held out to him the open page of the book ; her finger pointed, as if by chance, to the lines, which he hastily read :

* Alas ! 'tis but too true : thy home of old
Has grown to thee now strange. Oh, Uly, Uly,
Scarce do I know thee now.'

6

He turned away his eyes in some confusion; in the hasty glance it had seemed to him as if 'Uwen ! Uwen !' had stood upon the page. He turned to look at the title of the book, and read : William Tell: a drama by Frederick Schiller.'

He returned the book.
Who is that? I never heard of him.

How did you

get it?'

For answer Freda turned over some pages of the little volume, and then, with evident design, pointed to a few lines on the open page :

'Knit ever closer to thy heart all ties
Of kindred, friendship, home, of native land.

Cling fast to them with all thy heart and soul ! It was the first time that Uwen had met with any poetry in his own language, except the verses in his hymn-book. It was quite a fresh experience to him. He knew not what answer to make, and merely stammered out :

'Is this one of the books you bought at Emden? Pastor Remmert has none like it, for he says it is not necessary to learn by heart poems written in our own language.'

Walmot came out of the cottage, joined them, and interrupted the conversation. She could think of nothing else but the last disaster that had befallen Prussia, and the ill-fate it had brought on the island.

She soon re-entered her dwelling with Freda, and Uwen accompanied them. All were in a melancholy mood, and very little was said. Once or twice Walmot exclaimed, with an earnest pressure of Roeluf's hand:

“We are Germans all the same, and mean to continue so.' And he nodded. 'Yes, as long as we live !'

Uwen sat, as usual, listening in silence, his mind full of incomprehensible emotions. He pondered over it all, as he walked back to the parsonage, but failed to gain any clear insight into his own thoughts and feelings. One thing alone he was sure of—the annexation of the island to the kingdom of Holland must be a very dreadful affair, for it had been the cause of Freda's tears.

On the following Sunday the faces of the villagers assembled in church wore a look of general expectation. The features of Pastor Remmert, as he strode in, were, however, impassive as usual ; but instead of going direct to the pulpit, he stepped to the front of the rows of seats, and drew from beneath his cassock a sealed document, which he opened and read. It was an official despatch from Aurich announcing that, by the treaty of peace concluded at Tilsit, East Friesland had passed from the kingdom of Prussia, and was annexed to that of Holland, now under the rule of his Majesty King Louis, who had, on behalf of all his territories, assented to the order issued by his Majesty the Emperor of the French, forbidding all trade and

[ocr errors]

intercourse with England. Pastor Remmert read the document with the utmost composure, and, in accordance with the accompanying instructions, took an oath of allegiance and submission to the new government on behalf of himself and the inhabitants of the island. He then ascended the pulpit, in order, after the performance of this worldly business, to lift the minds of his hearers to the only things that, amid earth's changes, remain eternally the same. At the conclusion of the sermon, he offered the usual prayer for the new ruler, his most gracious Majesty Louis, by the grace of God King of Holland, Guelders, Brabant, Friesland, etc.; and then, the service being ended, he quitted the church as usual.

The congregation followed him into the open air, and they looked as if they were expecting from him some further explanation ; but he entered the parsonage with his wonted silence. It was plain that nothing had occurred which he considered worthy of, or needing, any further comment.

A bright blue sky shone over the sea and the sandhills ; the women went indoors to get ready the mid-day meal; the men sat down upon the beach, grouped together, most of them smoking their short clay pipes. They puffed forth the smoke, and now and then a few words were uttered. One man said he was really sorry that they were no longer to be Germans, but another replied:

Weel, we be yit Frisians, and hallus will be.'
A third observed :

‘The Dutch, which be ower the Ems yonder, be Frisians, too; we be hall on us won foäke.'

As one of them was knocking the tobacco out of his pipe, the thought occurred to him :

If the English weeänt coom ower here naw moor, the baccy 'll be a bigger price.'

From several sides could then be heard :
'Ay, that it will.'
• Ay, that be a pity.'

Evidently, all thought this the greatest, if not the only, evil attendant on the change of rulers. They continued smoking in silent contemplation, until at last someone said:

'Sewerly it mun be toime fur dinner.'

In the afternoon Uwen set out to go and pay a visit to Walmot. He had hesitated a moment, as Teda refused to go with him, and seemed displeased when she heard of his inten

6

6

« ForrigeFortsett »