“Wenn Menschen aus einander gehen,
So sagen sie, Auf Wiedersehen!
Eugen had said, “Very soon—it may be weeks, it may be days,” and had begged me not to inquire further into the matter. Seeing his anguish, I had refrained; but when two or three days had passed, and nothing was done or said, I began to hope that the parting might not be deferred even a few weeks; for I believe the father suffered, and with him the child, enough each day to wipe out years of transgression.
It was impossible to hide from Sigmund that some great grief threatened, or had already descended upon his father, and therefore upon him. The child’s sympathy with the man’s nature, with every mood and feeling—I had almost said his intuitive understanding of his father’s very thoughts, was too keen and intense to be hoodwinked or turned aside. He did not behave like other children, of course—versteht sich, as Eugen said to me with a dreary smile. He did not hang about his father’s neck, imploring to hear what was the matter; he did not weep or wail, or make complaints. After that first moment of uncontrollable pain and anxiety, when he had gone into the room whose door was closed upon him, and in which Eugen had not told him all that was coming, he displayed no violent emotion; but he did what was to Eugen and me much more heart-breaking—brooded silently; grew every day wanner and thinner, and spent long intervals in watching his father, with eyes which nothing could divert and nothing deceive. If Eugen tried to be cheerful, to put on a little gayety of demeanor which he did not feel in his heart, Sigmund made no answer to it, but continued to look with the same solemn, large and mournful gaze.
His father’s grief was eating into his own young heart. He asked not what it was; but both Eugen and I knew that in time, if it went on long enough, he would die of it. The picture, “Innocence Dying of Blood-stain,” which Hawthorne has suggested to us, may have its prototypes and counterparts in unsuspected places. Here was one. Nor did Sigmund, as some others, children both of larger and smaller growth, might have done, turn to me and ask me to tell him the meaning of the sad change which had crept silently and darkly into our lives. He outspartaned the Spartan in many ways. His father had not chosen to tell him; he would die rather than ask the meaning of the silence.
One night—when some three days had passed since the letter had come—as Eugen and I sat alone, it struck me that I heard a weary turning over in the little bed in the next room, and a stifled sob coming distinctly to my ears. I lifted my head. Eugen had heard too; he was looking, with an expression of pain and indecision, toward the door. With a vast effort—the greatest my regard for him had yet made—I took it upon myself, laid my hand on his arm, and coercing him again into the chair from which he had half risen, whispered:
“I will tell him. You can not. Nicht wahr?”
A look was the only, but a very sufficient answer.
I went into the inner room and closed the door. A dim whiteness of moonlight struggled through the shutters, and very, very faintly showed me the outline of the child who was dear to me. Stooping down beside him, I asked if he were awake.
“Ja, ich wache,” he replied, in a patient, resigned kind of small voice.
“Why dost thou not sleep, Sigmund? Art thou not well?”
“No, I am not well,” he answered; but with an expression of double meaning. “Mir ist’s nicht wohl.”
“What ails thee?”
“If you know what ails him, you know what ails me.”
“Do you not know yourself?” I asked.
“No,” said Sigmund, with a short sob. “He says he can not tell me.”
I slipped upon my knees beside the little bed, and paused a moment. I am not ashamed to say that I prayed to something which in my mind existed outside all earthly things—perhaps to the “Freude” which Schiller sung and Beethoven composed to—for help in the hardest task of my life.
“Can not tell me.” No wonder he could not tell that soft-eyed, clinging warmth; that subtle mixture of fire and softness, spirit and gentleness—that spirit which in the years of trouble they had passed together had grown part of his very nature—that they must part! No wonder that the father, upon whom the child built his every idea of what was great and good, beautiful, right and true in every shape and form, could not say, “You shall not stay with me; you shall be thrust forth to strangers; and, moreover, I will not see you nor speak to you, nor shall you hear my name; and this I will do without telling you why”—that he could not say this—what had the man been who could have said it?
As I knelt in the darkness by Sigmund’s little bed, and felt his pillow wet with his silent tears, and his hot cheek touching my hand, I knew it all. I believe I felt for once as a man who has begotten a child and must hurt it, repulse it, part from it, feels.
“No, my child, he can not tell thee, because he loves thee so dearly,” said I. “But I can tell thee; I have his leave to tell thee, Sigmund.”
“Thou art a very little boy, but thou art not like other boys; thy father is not just like other fathers.”
“I know it.”
“He is very sad.”
“And his life which he has to live will be a sad one.”
The child began to weep again. I had to pause. How was I to open my lips to instruct this baby upon the fearful, profound abyss of a subject—the evil and the sorrow that are in the world—how, how force those little tender, bare feet, from the soft grass on to the rough up-hill path all strewed with stones, and all rugged with ups and downs? It was horribly cruel.
“Life is very sad sometimes, mein Sigmund.”
“Yes. Some people, too, are much sadder than others. I think thy father is one of those people. Perhaps thou art to be another.”
“What my father is I will be,” said he, softly; and I thought that it was another and a holier version of Eugen’s words to me, wrung out of the inner bitterness of his heart. “The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, even unto the third and fourth generation, whether they deserve it or not.” The child, who knew nothing of the ancient saying, merely said with love and satisfaction swelling his voice to fullness, “What my father is, I will be.”
“Couldst thou give up something very dear for his sake?”
“What a queer question!” said Sigmund. “I want nothing when I am with him.”
“Ei! mein kind! Thou dost not know what I mean. What is the greatest joy of thy life? To be near thy father and see him, hear his voice, and touch him, and feel him near thee; nicht?”
“Yes,” said he, in a scarcely audible whisper.
There was a pause, during which I was racking my brains to think of some way of introducing the rest without shocking him too much, when suddenly he said, in a clear, low voice:
“That is it. He would never let me leave him, and he would never leave me.”
Silence again for a few moments, which seemed to deepen some sneaking shadow in the boy’s mind, for he repeated through clinched teeth, and in a voice which fought hard against conviction, “Never, never, never!”
“Sigmund—never of his own will. But remember what I said, that he is sad, and there is something in his life which makes him not only unable to do what he likes, but obliged to do exactly what he does not like—what he most hates and fears—to—to part from thee.”
“Nein, nein, nein!” said he. “Who can make him do anything he does not wish? Who can take me away from him?”
“I do not know. I only know that it must be so. There is no escaping from it, and no getting out of it. It is horrible, but it is so. Sometimes, Sigmund, there are things in the world like this.”
“The world must be a very cruel place,” he said, as if first struck with that fact.
“Now dost thou understand, Sigmund, why he did not speak? Couldst thou have told him such a thing?”
“Where is he?”
“There, in the next room, and very sad for thee.”
Sigmund, before I knew what he was thinking of, was out of bed and had opened the door. I saw that Eugen looked up, saw the child standing in the door-way, sprung up, and Sigmund bounded to meet him. A cry as of a great terror came from the child. Self-restraint, so long maintained, broke down; he cried in a loud, frightened voice:
“Mein Vater, Friedel says I must leave thee!” and burst into a storm of sobs and crying such as I had never before known him yield to. Eugen folded him in his arms, laid his head upon his breast, and clasping him very closely to him, paced about the room with him in silence, until the first fit of grief was over. I, from the dark room, watched them in a kind of languor, for I was weary, as though I had gone through some physical struggle.
They passed to and fro like some moving dream. Bit by bit the child learned from his father’s lips the pitiless truth, down to the last bitter drop; that the parting was to be complete, and they were not to see each other.
“But never, never?” asked Sigmund, in a voice of terror and pain mingled.
“When thou art a man that will depend upon thyself,” said Eugen. “Thou wilt have to choose.”
“Whether thou wilt see me again.”
“When I am a man may I choose?” he asked, raising his head with sudden animation.
“Yes; I shall see to that.”
“Oh, very well. I have chosen now,” said Sigmund, and the thought gave him visible joy and relief.
Eugen kissed him passionately. Blessed ignorance of the hardening influences of the coming years! Blessed tenderness of heart and singleness of affection which could see no possibility that circumstances might make the acquaintance of a now loved and adored superior being appear undesirable! And blessed sanguineness of five years old, which could bridge the gulf between then and manhood, and cry, Auf wiedersehen!
During the next few days more letters were exchanged. Eugen received one which he answered. Part of the answer he showed to me, and it ran thus:
“I consent to this, but only upon one condition, which is that when my son is eighteen years old, you tell him all, and give him his choice whether he see me again or not. My word is given not to interfere in the matter, and I can trust yours when you promise that it shall be as I stipulate. I want your answer upon this point, which is very simple, and the single condition I make. It is, however, one which I can not and will not waive.”
“Thirteen years, Eugen,” said I.
“Yes; in thirteen years I shall be forty-three.”
“You will let me know what the answer to that is,” I went on.
He nodded. By return of post the answer came.
“It is ‘yes,’” said he, and paused. “The day after to-morrow he is to go.”
“Not alone, surely?”
“No; some one will come for him.”
I heard some of the instructions he gave his boy.
“There is one man where you are going, whom I wish you to obey as you would me, Sigmund,” he told him.
“Is he like thee?”
“No; much better and wiser than I am. But, remember, he never commands twice. Thou must not question and delay as thou dost with thy weak-minded old father. He is the master in the place thou art going to.”
“Is it far from here?”
“Not exceedingly far.”
“Hast thou been there?”
“Oh, yes,” said Eugen, in a peculiar tone, “often.”
“What must I call this man?” inquired Sigmund.
“He will tell thee that. Do thou obey him and endeavor to do what he wishes, and so thou mayst know thou art best pleasing me.”
“And when I am a man I can choose to see thee again. But where wilt thou be?”
“When the time comes thou wilt soon find me if it is necessary—And thy music,” pursued Eugen. “Remember that in all troubles that may come to thee, and whatever thou mayst pass through, there is one great, beautiful goddess who abides above the troubles of men, and is often most beautiful in the hearts that are most troubled. Remember—whom?”
“Beethoven,” was the prompt reply.
“Just so. And hold fast to the service of the goddess Music, the most beautiful thing in the world.”
“And thou art a musician,” said Sigmund, with a little laugh, as if it “understood itself” that his father should naturally be a priest of “the most beautiful thing in the world.”
I hurry over that short time before the parting came. Eugen said to me:
“They are sending for him—an old servant. I am not afraid to trust him with him.”
And one morning he came—the old servant. Sigmund happened at the moment not to be in the sitting-room; Eugen and I were. There was a knock, and in answer to our Herein! there entered an elderly man of soldierly appearance, with a grizzled mustache, and stiff, military bearing; he was dressed in a very plain, but very handsome livery, and on entering the room and seeing Eugen, he paused just within the door, and saluted with a look of deep respect; nor did he attempt to advance further. Eugen had turned very pale.
It struck me that he might have something to say to this messenger of fate, and with some words to that effect I rose to leave them together. Eugen laid his hand upon my arm.
“Sit still, Friedhelm.” And turning to the man, he added: “How were all when you left, Heinrich?”
“Well, Herr Gr—”
“All were well, mein Herr.”
“Wait a short time,” said he.
A silent inclination on the part of the man. Eugen went into the inner room where Sigmund was, and closed the door. There was silence. How long did it endure? What was passing there? What throes of parting? What grief not to be spoken or described?
Meanwhile the elderly man-servant remained in his sentinel attitude, and with fixed expressionless countenance, within the door-way. Was the time long to him, or short?
At last the door opened, and Sigmund came out alone. God help us all! It is terrible to see such an expression upon a child’s soft face. White and set and worn as if with years of suffering was the beautiful little face. The elderly man started, surprised from his impassiveness, as the child came into the room. An irrepressible flash of emotion crossed his face; he made a step forward. Sigmund seemed as if he did not see us. He was making a mechanical way to the door, when I interrupted him.
“Sigmund, do not forget thy old Friedhelm!” I cried, clasping him in my arms, and kissing his little pale face, thinking of the day, three years ago, when his father had brought him wrapped up in the plaid on that wet afternoon, and my heart had gone out to him.
“Lieber Friedhelm!” he said, returning my embrace, “Love my father when I—am gone. And—auf—auf—wiedersehen!”
He loosed his arms from round my neck and went up to the man, saying:
“I am ready.”
The large horny hand clasped round the small delicate one. The servant-man turned, and with a stiff, respectful bow to me, led Sigmund from the room. The door closed after him—he was gone. The light of two lonely lives was put out. Was our darling right or wrong in that persistent auf wiedersehen of his?