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by John G. Morris
- excerpt -
THE FIRST INTERVIEW.
In the afternoon of a beautiful June day of the year 1527, a young man passed through the Elb gate of Wittenberg, and inquired of the keeper for the residence of the wood-carver, Homberg. Having received the information, he turned his steps towards the designated place, and soon stood before the house of the artist.
As he entered the passage, he encountered a young woman, simply and almost coarsely attired, whom he took to be the servant of the family. He perceived that, as she approached him, she inclined her head towards her breast, as though she would avoid his sight. When he also observed that, with extended hands, she carefully felt her way along the wall, in a tone of sympathy he said, "Poor girl, I see you are blind !"
Moved by the tender tone of his voice, she raised her sightless eyes towards the youth and replied, "Blind I certainly am, but not on that account poor. May I ask, Sir, whom you wish to see?"
"The carver, Homberg," said he.
"Proceed through this passage," she continued, "as far as the back door; then turn to the right, and you will find the door of his work-room open."
The young man cast another look of admiration upon her, and shaking his head as expressive of doubt and anxiety, he turned towards the work-shop. When he entered, he found the old master sitting at a table covered with hammers, chisels, and knives. His grey head was supported on his hand, and he was so deeply absorbed in thought, that he did not observe the entrance of the stranger. The greatest disorder reigned in the place. In one corner lay rough pieces of wood piled on one another in wild confusion; in another were seen, partly unfinished, partly broken statues of saints and other figures. On another table were lying mutilated papers, and fragments of designs and sketches, covered with dust and chips of wood. Add to these the forbidding aspect of the master, and one may well suppose it required some courage in a stranger to enter such a place.
The young man stood silent for some time, in the expectation of being observed; he then made a slight motion with his foot, to rouse the master from his dream. He started up as if alarmed, and with a scowl upon the stranger, he asked, "Who are you? How came you here? Who conducted you to this place?"
"Pardon me, Sir, if I have alarmed you, or if I have come at an unfavorable time," replied the stranger, in a tone of kind entreaty. "I inquired for you at the front door, and a blind servant directed me this way."
"A blind servant?" repeated the old man, angrily; but he soon restrained himself, and continued in a more subdued, but evidently bitter spirit; "But you are right; Margaret is a blind servant; blind in body and soul, she does not know how a stranger should be introduced. Have you come perhaps to make an engagement for a piece of work?"
"Pardon me, venerable Sir," replied the young man; "I am too poor to buy the productions of your chisel; I have come rather to aid you in your work, and to perfect myself in the art of wood-sculpture under your masterly instruction."
When he heard this, he smiled bitterly, and replied, "Then you have just come at the proper time. I have just been thinking of carving a statue of St. Antony of Padua, and representing him as having gone through the world with his bag on his back, and starving here in Wittenberg. You can help me in that work," continued he, with increasing bitterness, "unless you prefer to hew up these blocks and these wooden saints for fire-wood next winter ! They will then be of some service still !"
The stranger stood alarmed before the old man, and after an effort could only say, "I am truly sorry that my unexpected entrance has offended you. It was not my design, and again! beg your pardon."
"There 's no necessity to ask for pardon," continued Homberg, more calmly; "I only wished to tell you that you are young enough to adopt some other profession for a livelihood; for if you expect to support yourself by this, I would advise you, first of all, to carve for yourself a beggar's staff, for you will want to use it soon enough."
"Are the prospects of our beautiful art really so bad?"asked the youth. "I have already worked at several places, and found employment enough."
"And why did you not stay there?"said the old master. "If you think that here in Wittenberg our beautiful art, as you properly designate it, is as highly esteemed, or as extensively patronized as at other places, you are mistaken. In this place, Luther has taken good care that sculptors shall go to the almshouse, if they do not wish to starve."
"Luther, you say?"cried out the youth, whilst a deep glow mantled his cheeks, "What has the affair of Luther, which- only concerns the church and religion, to do with art?"
"A great deal, I tell you," sharply replied Homberg, and with newly awakened bitterness; "Luther is taking away from us masters and workmen our daily bread, and offers as a substitute what he calls, heavenly bread. Are you satisfied with this substitute, when your body is perishing with hunger and thirst? See here, young man ! ten years ago I worked in this shop with five journeymen, and then I could not meet all my engagements. But since Carlstadt has hurled all the images out of the churches, and Luther, if he could, would also throw out all other decorations and altars, since that, I have not work enough even for myself, and it's hard for an old man to be suffering anxiety about his daily bread."
"It may be," replied the young man, "that the new faith which rejects the adoration of saints, will interfere somewhat with our art; but it is everywhere said, that Luther has severely rebuked the intemperate zeal of Carlstadt, and has taught that pictures and images may be used without injury; for in themselves they are neither good nor bad, if we only do not trust in them. And even if images of the virgin and the other saints are no longer set up in the churches, surely those of Christ and his apostles will only be the more numerous."
"I observe," rejoined Homberg, sternly, "that you are infected with the new faith, and already on that account there can be little communion between us."
"You are too severe in your judgment, Sir," said the young man. "If I dare not deny that much which I hear of the new faith does not seem to be objectionable, yet I am still a good Catholic Christian; and even this morning, in a village near this city, I attended mass. If you could give me some work, only for a year, I would serve you without pay. I wish to learn from you, for you have been represented to me as a finished master in our glorious art. I can also say that I do not come here without recommendation !"
At these words, the young man took from the side-pocket of his mantle, a book ornamented with silver clasps, which he opened with the pressure of his hand, and taking from it a letter, presented it to Homberg.
"Not so fast, young man !" cried he; "your words do not exactly harmonize; you call yourself poor, and yet everything that I see about you betokens affluence; and if you are willing to work for me without pay, your poverty cannot be pressing. And then you want to be a good Catholic Christian, and yet you eulogize this Luther, who will at last himself be consumed in the fire which he has kindled; for he can no longer extinguish it. All those for whom the holy mother church is too strict, and the government too severe, are running after him. How now do your expressions correspond?"
"You are dealing severely with me," said the youth; "believe at least that I am acting honestly with regard to you and our profession. Put me on trial, and see whether I am worthy of becoming a master under your instruction. But will you not read this letter first?"
Homberg took the letter into his hand with a sullen aspect, broke the seal, and read it with a wrinkled brow.
"Your name is Leonard Fichtner?" he asked, whilst a restless, suspicious glance, shot through his eyes. "Do you speak Italian?" he then suddenly inquired, whilst the mouldering spark of a painful reminiscence shot up into a burning flame.
The young man's cheeks reddened, and, after some hesitation, he replied, "My name is Leonard Fichtner, and I have lived some time in Italy."
"And," said Homberg, suddenly interrupting him, "in Italian your name is Leonardo Pinetta?"
The young man, during this time, had, with great exertion, recovered his composure. He now assumed an un suspecting and friendly tone, and said, "I observe, Sir, that you also are acquainted with the Italian language, and doubtless better than I am. But I can assure you that I am more pleased with my real domestic name than with the Italian translation of it. But will you not pay some regard to the recommendation which the honored master Urban of Augsburg had thought me worthy of? He told me so much good of you, that you will not surely turn me away when I ask you for work. He has told me often, how you and he worked together in the same shop for years, and loved each other as brothers."
During this conversation, old Homberg had walked up and down in a state of uneasy excitement, and was evidently contending against conflicting thoughts. He finally stood still before the young man, gave back the letter, and said, "No; it will not do; I cannot give you any work. You must go on further; you had better return to Urban at Augsburg; you can there learn better than from me.
But I will not send you away without some refreshment. Come with me!"
Without waiting for a reply, Homberg led the way into the family living-room.
"Catharine," — said he, to a young lady who was sitting at the window examining the contents of a small casket — "Catharine, prepare some refreshment."
The lady, alarmed at the unexpected entrance of the young and handsome man, cast a hasty glance at him, and left the room.
"I shall be with you presently," said Homberg; "sit down in the meantime," — and he also left the apartment.
"I fear it will all be in vain!" said Leonard to him self. "How powerful must the voice of the guilt of so many years since still be, that in the first moment he suspected what I intended should be concealed from him for a long time yet. "
He walked to and fro, absorbed in deep reflection, and only after some time he discovered that he was not alone. In a corner, half-concealed by the stove, he observed a form which sat still before a spinning-wheel; the head was sunk on the breast. Leonard immediately recognized the blind girl whom Homberg had called Margaret. He feared he had been overheard in his soliloquy, and felt it necessary as far as possible to prevent a misapplication of his words. He turned to the girl and said,
"Your name is Margaret, as Mr. Homberg has said?"
"Yes, Sir," she replied.
"And you are at service in this house?" continued the young man; "how can you do that, being blind?"
"They have patience with me!" said she. "Father and sister are satisfied with what I can do !"
"How ! father and sister?" cried out Leonard, alarmed; "are you Mr. Homberg's daughter, and is Miss. Catharine, as I have heard her called, your sister?"
"Yes, Sir," replied Margaret; "why are you so surprised?"
The most painful emotions were displayed in the countenance of the young man. When he compared the simple dress of Margaret with the costly and dazzling attire of Catharine, and thought of the contemptuous language in which her father had spoken of his own child, an involuntary shudder filled his heart. He earnestly gazed on the poor girl; with deep interest he regarded her marble-white yet full and expressive face; he advanced towards her, and grasping her hand, said, "Miss Margaret, you do not know me, and you cannot even judge from my countenance that I am an honest man, but still you can rely upon me ! A few minutes ago, thinking I was alone, I uttered some things which I do not wish to be told; will you promise to keep them to yourself?"
"You certainly can have no evil design against us," replied Margaret; "the tone of your language gives evidence of that. I heard every word you spoke; but as you desire it, I shall never betray you."
"Margaret," he continued, "the ways of God are wonderful, but He does all things well. He has deprived you of sight, but only that your heart might be illuminated with more brilliant light. You can now give proof of your confidence in me. I wish to procure employment from your father; hut he refuses me. Speak a good word for me. So that I may remain here."
The poor girl withdrew her hand, smiled painfully, and said, "I am but a poor girl, and my intercession would do you more harm than good. Secure the interest of my sister Catharine, and you will accomplish your object. Pay no regard to me, and you will succeed the better."
Fichtner was about to reply, when Homberg entered the room. He had laid aside his workman's apron and put on a more genteel dress. "You said"— turning to the stranger — "that you have been in Italy: were you in Rome? did you work there?"
"I have been in Rome !" replied Fichtner; "but let me candidly tell you, I wish I had never been there. What I gained there in my profession I lost in my faith."
"What do you mean?" hurriedly asked the master.
Catharine's entrance with the refreshments interrupted the conversation. The stranger was invited to partake of "the homely fare," as Homberg called it, and remarked, "You have doubtless travelled a good distance to-day, and you will need strength for to-day and to-morrow. If you have no objections, I will give you a letter to Master Urban of Augsburg."
"It does not become me to oppose you," replied Fichtner: "I shall go out of the gate with deep regret through which I entered with such high hopes. Yes, venerable sir, you cannot conceive how you have blasted my most cherished expectations. For months past I have thought of myself as being in your work-room, laboring under your direction, and going out as a master of my profession. But it is all over now !"
With every word of Leonard the displeasure of Hornberg rose. "I am not accustomed," said he, in a cold and reproachful tone, "to be opposed in my own house.
I have already told you that I can give you no work, and I had hoped to part with you in peace. Take some of this poor refreshment, and then proceed further."
This was surely not a very cordial invitation, and Fichtner showed no disposition to partake of it. He looked sadly on the floor, and then threw a hasty glance on Margaret, who was seated, motionless, at her spinning-wheel.
A painful pause ensued, which was interrupted by Catharine, who, with a deep crimson tint on her cheek, turned to her father, and, in a tone of flattering softness, said, "Dear Father, you will surely not be displeased when I remind you that this very day a highly elaborate altar has been bespoken, — do you not need help in executing such a piece of work as that?"
The old master angrily replied, "Child, what nonsense you are speaking !" But as his eye fell on his daughter, his excitement subsided at once. He suddenly changed his abrupt manner, and more calmly continued "I know, Catharine, that your intentions are good, but still you have spoken thoughtlessly. Excuse me," turning to the youth, "I need fresh air. If you should not leave town until to-morrow, call on me again for a moment; I wish to see you about the letter to Urban."
With this he left the room a second time, in a state of high excitement, which he was vainly endeavoring to subdue. a Fichtner rose at the same time. "I came here," he said, "at a very unfavorable time. Accept my thanks, Miss Catharine, for the offer of this refreshment; but you will understand why I cannot partake of it. I shall be satisfied with the privilege of calling again to-morrow. May God be with you."
He bowed to Catharine, cast a furtive glance on the blind girl, and with a beating heart left the house.
THE SECOND INTERVIEW.
The impatience with which young Fichtner awaited the decision of his fate, drove him to Homberg's house at an earlier hour than would otherwise have been proper. When he knocked at the door, he suddenly heard the confusion of surprise and indistinct voices. He was about going away, when he heard "come in," and with a trembling heart he entered.
On his entrance he saw no one, but soon after he observed Margaret sitting by her spinning-wheel, in the same corner which she had occupied the day before.
" Take a seat, Sir," said she, politely, even before he had uttered a word of salutation ; " and excuse my sister, — she will be in presently."
" How do you know it is I ?" said Fichtner, quite surprised.
"I recognized you by your step," she replied. "But take a seat ! Father has had an uneasy night, I am told, and has probably not yet risen."
" Then it would have been better if I had not come so early," said Fichtner, and made a slight motion towards leaving.
"No, — do stay, Sir!" begged the blind girl. "My sister has requested you to wait a few moments for her !"
"But I feel," said Fichtncr, "that I have come too early, and I do not wish to bo unwelcome a second time."
"No, certainly not, Sir !" responded Margaret. "My sister has expressly enjoined it upon me not to let you go away."
" You are always talking of your sister !" said the young man. " Am I not here too early for you ? or is it so per fectly indifferent to you whether your father gives me employment or not?"
" Sir !" said the girl, in a meek and patient tone, " To a blind person nothing is too early or too late. We divide the day differently from those who see. It is day with us when we wake, and night when we sleep ; and We do not know whether it accords with your time or not, unless you tell us."
"I know," replied Fichtner, "you have reproved me for calling you poor, and yet I can do nothing else than pity you from the bottom of my heart that you are denied the privilege of sight !"
Margaret laughingly shook her head, and observed, " How you people who see do judge of us ! It is true, I do not see your world, of which you tell so many wonderful things, and I do not behold its brilliancy and magnificence, which you say so often dazzle your eyes. I do not even know what you mean, when you say that this or that occasionally blinds your eyes. To you it appears to be something awful, and yet I am so happy in that condition. Do you not think, Sir, that we blind people have a world within us which is perhaps more beautiful than yours, and that we have a light within us which shines more brilliantly than your sun?"
O, by no means!" replied Fichtner. "When my eyes look upon a beautiful landscape, illuminated by the golden rays of the sun, I feel as if my eyes were feasting on heavenly food ! Miss Margaret," he added, "the sun is a refreshing picture of life !"
"Perhaps for you!" answered she, "but not for the most of others. Why do you have so many unhappy persons among you, for they all see the sun?"
" Then you were never unhappy ?" he suddenly inquired.
" no !" she replied. " It is true, I hear many things which might make me unhappy, but I have never yet observed that the world within me has thereby changed. I always behold the same beautiful picture of perfection, and it is always the Lord of heaven and earth who hovers over it in such transparent glory, that I am always moved to adoration. My soul is often overwhelmed with deep emotion, and I seem to hear the songs of the angels. I enjoy happy communion with God, and yet I tremble in the presence of his awful majesty ! Ah ! when I so often hear my father or sister or neighbors complain of the evil in the world — of false friends, and blasted hopes — of unrequited good and perverted truth — then, I think to myself, you poor people, could you but see my world, wherein the folly and wickedness of men can neither change nor destroy anything — but" — she suddenly stopped — "what foolish things I am speaking to you ! You will certainly call them silly dreams, as others do ?"
"What say you, Margaret?" cried Fichtner, with emotion; "silly dreams? Yes, dreams I call them, but heavenly dreams ; pictures of a happy world. Margaret, speak on ! It seems to me as if an angel were telling me of the happiness of the blessed in the world above ! Now I believe that you have never been unhappy ; and yet" — he suddenly interrupted himself — "have you been really exalted above all human suffering ? have you no heart of feeling ? do you not suffer when others suffer ? do you really feel nothing of the pain which harasses our minds ? Margaret, tell me, were you never, never unhappy ? Is there nothing on earth that distresses you?"
Margaret depressed her head deeper than usual, and relapsed into silence. The young man, impelled by an unusual emotion of his heart, advanced nearer to her, and gently lifted up her head; and when he saw her pale cheeks covered with a fleeting blush, and observed silent tears trickling from her sightless eyes, he said, "Margaret, you cannot deceive me ! You also have your sorrows ; and over that mental picture of heaven which you behold, there is spread a mist which conceals from your inner eye the glory of God. But as truly as I believe in a Saviour, you shall be delivered from these troubles !"
" Sir," replied she, in great excitement, "what right have you to disturb the peace of my mind ?" But she immediately recovered herself, and proceeded in a milder and almost suppliant tone — " Say nothing more — you deceive yourself ! How can you, a stranger, know what no one has ever told you ?"
"Margaret!" continued the young man, "shall I tell you the source of your trouble? You are the ill-treated and rejected daughter of this family ! That is the wound which makes your heart bleed. But as I am a living man, by God's help, this wound shall be healed."
The blind girl slowly shook her head in manifest trouble, whilst tears flowed copiously down her marble cheeks. " God is merciful I" she then said, as if to herself. " He has deprived me of sight, but He has granted me the privilege of tears. How happy I am that I can yet weep. For many, many years, even this gift was almost denied me."
Fichtner was about to continue the conversation, when he heard a door open and close in an adjoining room. This sound greatly agitated the blind girl. As if alarmed out of a dream, she hurriedly said, "Sir, what did you say a moment ago ? believe me, you are mistaken ! You told me yesterday that you have no evil designs upon us, and I hold you to that word ! Give me your promise that you will, neither by word or action, occasion pain to any one ; do you hear, to any one in this house !"
" Margaret," replied Fichtner, earnestly, " where a righteous and holy God speaks in his own judgments, there man can add nothing to them, nor take anything away. But I promise you, that what I say or do in this house, shall be said and clone only as the servant of my Lord in Heaven. Does that satisfy you?"
"No, no!" rejoined the girl, in a voice of agonizing entreaty, and firmly held the hand of the young man. At this moment the door of the adjoining room opened, and Fichtner had scarcely time to assume a position free from suspicion.
It was Catharine who entered. She had decorated herself in costly style ; brilliant rings and bracelets glittered on her fingers and arms ; a beautiful green velvet cap with a golden border covered the top of her head and a portion of her deep blond braids of hair ; an ornamented reticule was suspended at her right side by two silver chains, which was designed as a badge of the industrious housewife ; in her eyes, as well as in her full, blooming countenance, there played the smile of benevolence, and of the most perfect self-satisfaction.
"Pardon me, Mr. Fichtner," said she, in a pleasant tone, " that I compelled you to wait ; in the name of my father, I bid you welcome."
" It is my part to ask pardon of you," replied he. "I now see that I have come at an unseasonable hour, but my impatience is too great. May I hope to find employment in your house ?"
" I believe you may hope," answered Catharine. "It is true that father has not distinctly expressed his mind, but I have reason to think that he will be more willing today than yesterday."
" And to whom am I indebted for this favorable change in my destiny?" asked Fichtner. "Most certainly to no one but yourself, worthy Miss, and to your kind intercession."
Catharine cast down her eyes as if embarrassed, and yet it was evident from her deportment that she was gratified at what he said. "Is it not a Christian duty," said she, finally, in a half-loud tone, "to render services to our fellow-men ?"
"Certainly!" replied Fichtner. "But you do not know me ; you are not sure whether you are showing your kindness to one worthy of it, and whether you may not regret your Christian intercession."
" Sir!" said the lady, as if in jest, "you are surely not a heretic?" Scarcely had these words escaped her lips when her face reddened with shame. " I meant to say," she quickly added, "you are certainly a Christian!"
"Yes, with all my heart!" affirmed the young man. "But, although you have explained your own language, allow me to ask still further, who and what must I be to deserve the name of heretic ?"
" Well," replied Catharine, in real perplexity, "I only wished to say, as you, like my father, are a sculptor in wood, you, like him, are also faithful to our holy mother Church. Luther has turned the heads of many persons here."
"And their hearts, too !" said Fichtner, quickly. "But I observe that this is not pleasant to you. Be assured, however, that with all my heart I am a Christian ; and if this proof is satisfactory to you, I will tell you that no longer ago than yesterday I attended mass ; and now accept my cordial thanks for your kind intercession."
Catharine avoided making any further reply to this part of the subject. "Yesterday," said she, "you did not partake of the refreshment which I hastily prepared for you ; to-day I hope you will not refuse. I am only carrying out father's directions. I shall be with you shortly. Margaret, set out the table immediately."
Without waiting for a reply, she suddenly left the room. Margaret rose from her seat without delay, and advancing towards the table, which stood at a window, she took from the drawer a clean cloth and the necessary dishes, and set out three covers as neatly as a person who could see ; she performed all as silently and faithfully as a servant obeying the orders of her mistress.
Fichtner regarded the blind girl with a feeling of deep sympathy. Now, for the first time, he observed how poorly she was clothed. A grey, coarse dress covered her from the shoulders to the ankles, similar to the penitential garb of a nun. This was her whole dress, without the slightest ornament. Her only decoration was her full, black hair that threw back a real silver lustre, and fell on both sides over her shoulders in long, massive ringlets. She then silently glided by Fichtner towards her accustomed corner.
The young man could scarcely restrain himself ; as she passed by him he grasped her by the hand, and said, " Margaret, have my words composed your mind ?"
" We are in the hands of God I" she replied.
"And does God's sun now shine in your world ?" he asked again.
She did not reply, but covered her blind eyes with the other hand, and with an unsteady step she proceeded to her place in the corner.
The blind girl of Wittenberg :
fonte da obra integral: http://archive.org/