Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

THE WATCHMAKER.

B

ENEATH the shadow of the old and venerable castle of Rosenthal, on the beauteous river Rhine, there lived some years ago a humble husbandman with his family, the cultivators of a small patch of ground, whence they drew the meagre means of support. Hans Ruysdael, as this obscure tiller of the fields was named, and Greta his wife, though poor and hard wrought, though rising early and lying down late, were contented with the lot which Providence had assigned them, and the only heavy sigh they ever uttered was when a thought as to the rearing of their numerous children passed through their minds.

[graphic]

Besides requiring much labour, the grounds which Hans cultivated bore precarious crops. They were principally laid out for vines; and some seasons, from the effects of blighting winds and rains, these yielded scarcely any harvest. It was sometimes in vain that Greta would toilsomely carry earth from the low grounds to the higher, and lay it at the roots of the plants where the soil was the thinnest; or that the elder children would be set to pick the dead leaves from the drooping stalks; or that Hans himself would turn up the ground with his powerful mattock, so as to expose it to the In a single night a blighting wind would rush up the valley, and at a blow disconcert the toils and plans of a whole summer. 'It is clear, Greta,' said Hans Ruysdael to his wife one day, after No. 48.

sun.

I

the occurrence of a calamity of this kind-'it is clear that at least one of the boys must leave us, and perhaps more than one. The family cannot all live in this wretched spot, and in such circumstances it is wisdom to disperse. What do you say, Greta, to our beginning with Walter? He is too feeble for this toilsome and precarious profession, and would do better as an artisan in Strasbourg or some other large town.'

'I have had many sad thoughts on that score, dear Hans,' replied Greta. 'I should not by any means like to part with even one of them; but God's will be done. Let Walter go. He may become a great man.'

'I care nothing for that,' rejoined the husband and father. 'What I desire is to see my sons grow up honest men, diligent in their calling, whatever it may be. I say that a man, though ever so hard working and obscure, if he be honest and happy in his own mind, is a great man-greater far than the overbearing and sinful barons who used to live in the proud old tower up yonder.'

'No doubt of it, Hans; yet Walter is an aspiring child, and who knows to what height he may push himself?'

Walter was delighted with the notion of going to Strasbourg, to which it was arranged he should be taken, and placed under the charge of his uncle, the head worker in one of the principal watchmaking establishments of that city. Ever since he had seen the watch of a passing stranger, he had formed a fancy for mechanical pursuits, and took a pleasure in making wheels and other little objects with his knife-all which he exhibited to his twin-sister Margaret, who admired them as prodigies of ingenuity.

Influenced by necessity, as well as by what he perceived to be his boy's inclinations, Hans applied to his brother, who promised, at the first vacancy, to place his nephew in a situation in the same employment with himself. A vacancy occurring when Walter was about fourteen years of age, and the master watchmaker being willing to gratify his foreman, Hans had the pleasure of learning that as soon as he could bring Walter to Strasbourg, his brother would take charge of the boy, and set him to a good line of business.

Walter scarcely knew how or where he stood with joy and pride when his father told him the good news. Choking with emotion, he ran to the old tower, where his sister was at the time employed, and there poured out to her his full and happy heart. They sat down together on a stone bench, and when Walter had finished speaking, she looked up in his face with her large tearful eyes. She thought how lonely she would be without him; but she remembered it was for his good, and she took his hand between hers and smiled. The brother and sister sat late that evening; but no one called them away, for they knew it would be their last evening together for many years-perhaps for ever. Walter talked of his projects

for the future, and Margaret already fancied she saw him the great man which he wished to be. He promised her a watch of his own manufacture one day, and they counted the months and weeks. which would elapse before they met again. Margaret scarcely liked to see him so glad to part with her, but she did not say so; and she talked to him of next Christmas, and her hopes that he would be allowed to come and see them then, and that they should all be very happy. Walter, however, was too full of his new greatness to think of returning so soon home; and his sister already thought she saw her brother was extinguishing affection in ambition. Her heart was heavy as they entered their father's dwelling, and tears forced themselves unbidden into her eyes.

The next morning was bright and beautiful as a May morning could be. Margaret had helped her mother to put up Walter's little bundle of clothes long before daybreak, and prepared breakfast for him and her father. It had been arranged that they should travel by one of the barges employed in passing up and down the Rhine; for at this time no steam-vessels navigated the river. The only conveyances were these barges, a clumsy kind of boats, partly moved by oars and sails, but chiefly by means of horses yoked one after the other to a long rope passing from a mast in the barge to the shore. Hans's occupation near the banks of the river had made him acquainted with many of the barge owners, and by some of them he was occasionally carried to Mayence and other places on the river to which his business led him. He had never, however, gone as far as Strasbourg with any of them. That was a long way up the river, and few barges went to such a remote distance. On the present occasion, he expected the passage upwards of an old acquaintance, whose profession was the conducting of large rafts of timber from the Black Forest, on the borders of Switzerland, down the Rhine all the way to Dort in Holland, and who therefore passed Strasbourg in his voyage. Having performed his duty of conductor of the raft, and consigned it to the timber-merchants who waited its arrival, Ludwig, as this pilot was called, was in the habit of returning up the Rhine in a barge along with the men under his charge.

Old and trustworthy Ludwig was now bending his way homewards to the Black Forest after one of these excursions. His barge had been perceived toiling its way up the strait of the Lurli, and was expected to pass the village and old tower of Rosenthal on the following morning.

By early morn, as we have said, everything was prepared for the departure of Walter and his father as soon as Ludwig should make his appearance. In a state of agitation, Margaret would one moment run out to see if the towing-horses were yet in sight at the nearest turn of the river, and the next she would rush into the cottage and again busy herself about Walter and his bundle, saying

to him a thousand things which she had said over and over again before.

At length, about seven o'clock, the cracking of whips and the noise of horses were heard. 'There they are at last!' exclaimed every one. Walter seized his bundle with one hand, and with the other led Margaret down the bank to the side of the Rhine, their hearts too full to speak. The anxious moment of departure had arrived. Hans, who had signalled his old acquaintance Ludwig to draw nigh, was already speaking to him of his proposed journey to Strasbourg. The bargain was settled in a moment, for the raft-pilot had made a more than usually good excursion, and was in the best possible humour. Besides, he was glad to have a fresh companion to talk to about his adventures on the river, and was quite happy to welcome Hans and Walter to a lift in the barge. They accordingly stepped on board, Walter's brothers giving him a hearty cheer, and his mother her blessing, as they left the shore. Margaret was the last they saw, as she stood on a bank near, straining her eyes through her fast-coming tears, to catch the last glimpse of Walter as they turned a bend in the Rhine.

Walter, who had never been more than a few miles up and down the Rhine from Rosenthal, was charmed with every new feature of the scenery which came into view, and he was equally delighted with the stories and anecdotes of Ludwig, who had something to say of every old castle and crag which they passed in their journey. Although a man of rough manners, he was kind to Walter, and gave him a place in which to sleep at night, under a little deck mounted near the stern of the vessel.

The first night Walter was on board the barge, he had little inclination to sleep, his mind being too much agitated with the novelty of his situation to allow of repose.

'Since you do not seem to wish to lie down,' said old Ludwig to him, as he sat looking out upon the broad river glittering in the moonlight, if you like I will tell you a story about that curious old tower which we are going to pass on our right.'

'What tower?' asked Walter. 'I do not see any one on the banks just now.'

'It does not stand on the banks at all, my young friend; it is situated on a rock which rises from the middle of the Rhine-a kind of island; and a strongly fortified place it must have been in the times of the old German wars. Do you not see it now, almost right ahead, like a grim giant rising from the bosom of the stream?'

Now, I think I see it,' replied Walter. 'Do tell me the story about it, if you please. I am sure it must be something very

terrible.'

'Terrible it is, if all be true, though of that one cannot be certain. Like all the Rhine stories, it is no doubt a mixture of truth and invention, and we must just take it as we find it. At all events,

here it is as the people round about tell it.' And Ludwig related the following legend.

'Once on a time, ages ago, when the castles on the Rhine were inhabited by barons and their men-at-arms, this tower in the midst of the river was erected by a wicked and powerful chief named Count Graaf, for the purpose of exacting tolls from every one who passed up or down the Rhine. If a boat or barge dared to go by without drawing up to the tower to pay a certain toll, the warders on the top of the battlements had orders to shoot with cross-bows at the voyager, and either oblige him to draw nigh, or kill him for daring to pass without paying. You must understand that the baron who exacted this toll had done nothing to deserve it, and had no law in his favour. It was solely from his own will and pleasure that he demanded a duty on passing boats; a means of supporting himself, and of acquiring wealth without working for it.

‘Everybody far and near feared this domineering rascal. He kept a band of men in another castle which he had at some distance, and with these he defied any one to challenge his assumed rights. Often he had battles with neighbouring barons, but he was generally victorious, and on such occasions he never made any prisoners. All who were taken he put to death with shocking barbarism and ignominy.

'Among other ways by which he gathered money was that of occasionally buying up, or rather taking for a small price which he put upon it, the corn grown by the peasants in his neighbourhood. Graaf was a very cunning man in this respect. He could very easily have taken all the crops for ten miles round for nothing; but the consequence would have been, that no one would have tilled any more land in that quarter, and so he could not have taken more than the corn of a single season. He was, as I say, too cunning for this; his plan was to make a show of kindness to the peasantry, but to take advantage of their necessities. Sometimes he sent the corn which he thus got at a trifling expense to Mayence, and procured large sums for it; but more frequently he kept the corn up till there was a dearth, and then he could get for it any money he liked to

name.

'Year after year Count Graaf grew richer and richer with spoils of one kind and another; and every one said that he could not pass out of the world without some sharp and signal punishment for his greed and manifold oppressions. This, however, seemed long of coming about. Yet the time of vengeance arrived at last. He had become old and more hard-hearted than ever, when one year there arose a dreadful famine in the land. The summer and autumn were so wet that the grain did not ripen, and it continued still green when the snows of winter fell on the ground. In every town and village the cry of distress was heard; the husbandman saw his little ones fainting and perishing for lack of food, and the wealthy were becoming

« ForrigeFortsæt »