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Produced by David Widger


By Charlotte Niese

Translated from the German by Miss E. C. Emerson

"Have you got something good? Then put the basket down and go along
home!" This was one usual greeting from old Mahlmann when we brought
him provisions. He was very old, and rarely out of his bed, only now and
then on warm summer days he sat on the bench before his tiny cottage and
basked in the sun. If a painter had ever strayed to our uninteresting
little town he would certainly have put old Mahlmann's characteristic
head on his canvas. He had a clever old face with a firm mouth and
glittering eyes whose expression was so sombre and at the same time
observant that we children imagined old Mahlmann was different from
other people. And indeed so he was. To begin with he never thanked
anyone for bringing him food; in fact he criticized freely the benefits
he received. If one brought what was not to his liking, he would say:
"Go home and tell your mother old Mahlmann is not a waste-tub where you
throw what's not fit to eat. You needn't come again either!"

In this manner he got himself into disfavor with many a good housewife,
who would protest by all that was holy that never would she send the
hoary old sinner anything again. But Mahlmann never cared. His needs
were few and there was always some one to satisfy them.

For me the old man with the sombre eyes had a peculiar fascination; I
think from the fact that he once told me a wonderful ghost-story. There
were at least half a dozen witches and a whole dozen ghosts in this
tale, and for many nights after I went to bed in tears, and only on
condition some one sat with me till I fell asleep. Still the spell of
these horrors was so strong upon me that I visited Mahlmann all the
more» and often bought him something out of my own slender pocket-money
to induce him to tell stories. I was not always successful, for the old
man had morose moods, when he spoke little. At other times he would tell
us his own experiences, and his life had not lacked variety. He had been
in Paris at the time of the Revolution, as servant to a Danish officer
of high rank, and his description "how the fine gentlemen all rode in an
old butcher's cart to have their heads chopped off," left nothing to the
imagination. "My Baron was once near going himself to the 'Gartine,'
or whatever they call it," he told me one day when he was especially
talkative; "but he got well out of it. He was one that could turn the
heads of the women, and it was a woman got him safely out of the city."

Mahlmann sat on the bench before the door and stretched his skinny hands
to the sun. About his shoulders he had a ragged coat which had once
been red, but was now a coat of many colors. It was so hot that I
took shelter in the shadow of the doorway, but the chilly old man was
shivering. I had brought him a great piece of cake and now offered it to
him. He slowly reached for it, and slowly ate it up.

"That's like what I used to get in Paris. Dear me! My Baron was a
handsome man, and for my age, I must have been about fifteen, I was a
sharp lad--only I couldn't rightly understand their French lingo, which
put me out. But I understood the affair of the little Mamsell well
enough. She lived opposite; her father was a grocer and she helped in
the shop. At first we didn't buy anything there, till a long-legged
Englishman told my Baron that this grocer kept a fine Hungarian wine. It
was out of the King's wine-cellar and he wasn't drinking any more wine
because he had gone to the 'Gartine/ And a few sensible people had
divided the wine, which was only right, and it was to be had very cheap.
Then I went over and bought some. Mamsell Manon was in the shop, and
laughed till she cried over my way of speaking. Then I got angry, and
when I brought my Baron the wine I said that I wasn't going again to
that stupid Mamsell who couldn't even understand German. The next day my
master was for sending me again, but I rebelled. 'Herr Baron,' I said,
'you can give me the whip because I'm only a servant, but I won't go
again to that silly girl opposite, and if you make me I'll accuse you to
the authorities of being an aristocrat. We're all free and equal now, I
can understand that much French, and I'll be sorry if you have to go to
the "Gartine," but I won't be ill-treated!'

"My Baron looked at me queerly, but he listened to reason, and I didn't
have to go to the Mamsell again because he went himself. And then he
made friends with Mamsell Manon, and she came over and brought the
King's wine herself. When I knew her better she wasn't bad; she laughed
a good deal, and sang all the time like a little bird, but one can't go
against nature. And she was a good girl too, for once when my Baron put
his arm around her and tried to kiss her, she boxed his ears. I never
knew my master could look such a fool. The fine gentlemen don't always
get their way."

Mahlmann nodded once or twice and ate some crumbs of cake before he went

"No, they don't always get their way," he continued. "My Baron wanted
to stay longer in Paris, though many of his noble friends lay already
in the lime-pit with their heads off. He didn't want to go away, and
sat half the day in the shop with Mamsell Manon, and said a Dane wasn't
afraid of the French--they'd not do anything to him! Things never turn
out as one expects, and one evening my Baron was fetched away by a
couple of long soldiers. That was unpleasant I can tell you. My master
had been at me sometimes with the whip, and I didn't care specially
about him; but to be all alone in such a crazy town where there's not a
Christian that understands a word you say, it's enough to give you the
horrors. Then the next morning Mamsell Manon came and talked to me, and
cried dreadfully, and stroked my cheeks, and I understood her all right
in spite of that jabbering French. Mamsell thought a cousin of hers had
got the Baron put in prison, because he was jealous. I don't know what
more she said, but I soon found out what she wanted, and my hair stood
on end. She wanted to borrow my confirmation suit that I had only had on
three times; once at the confirmation, then for communion, and then when
I came to the Baron to apply for the place. It was lying in my trunk
because I had always worn livery, and when the French wouldn't have
liveries any more, the Baron gave me an old gray suit of his. When
Mamsell insisted upon having my best clothes I naturally said, 'nong,
nong,' and shook my head till I was dizzy, but Manon patted me and
coaxed me, and sure as the world she got her way, as women always
do. All at once I had got my trunk unlocked and she ran away with my
confirmation coat and all the rest of the tilings. And I was still
looking after her with my mouth open, when she came back dressed like a

Mahlmann was silent for a moment and wrapped himself with a shiver in
his red coat.

"Dear me! how cold it always is now; it used to be warm in July. Things
never turn out as one expects. The little Mamseli had promised me
faithfully I should have my good clothes back--yes, indeed--bless you!
But I must say she looked downright pretty in my best black suit, and I
saw why she hadn't worn clothes of the Baron's, or of her own father's.
He was short and fat, and the Baron was tall and broad-shouldered,
and the little one would not have looked well in their things. Now she
looked like a real boy, and like two boys we ran to one of the many
prisons where the aristocrats were, I With a basket and she with a
basket, with bread and writing-paper, and we took them to the wife
of one of the gaolers who earned a lot of money by selling them. The
aristocrats were always writing letters, which shows what do-nothings
they were; for an honest man has a tongue to talk with, and doesn't need
to make marks on paper to kill time. We went to the great prison two or
three times; I stayed outside because I was afraid, but Mamseli Manon
went in and talked with the gaolers. What more she did I don't know;
I waited outside and thought of my confirmation suit, for the little
Mamseli wasn't very careful of it. She had had it three days and took
it home with her, and I never knew where it was when she was in the shop
with her ordinary clothes on. It was always dark when we went out, then
she'd come for me and we'd start* I must say she always brought me some*
thing, a drop of wine or a bit of cake. The evening of the fourth day
when I was waiting for her at the gate of the prison, someone seized
hold of my shoulder and said in German, 'Forward!' It was my Baron who
stood before me all at once and was in a devil of a hurry to get away.
'Franz!' he said to me, 'be quick or I am lost!' 'Where is the little
Mamsell?' I asked, 'and where is my confirmation suit?' Then he grabbed
me by the arm and dragged me through the streets till I was out of
breath. 'She will come,' he said half to himself, 'to-morrow the mistake
will be cleared up, when I am out of the city. Her father will save
her.' But though he was still pulling me along, I stopped short. 'Herr
Baron,' I said, 'the little Mamsell has got on my best black suit, and
the trousers were made out of the Herr Pastor's own, and I tell you if
I don't get my suit that I was confirmed in, I'll go to the gentlemen
of the head-chopping company and tell them you've broken out of prison,
which they certainly won't like. For by rights all the aristocrats ought
to go to the "Gartine," or whatever you call it, so that we can have
"égalité" and liberty, and we poor fellows can amuse ourselves instead
of having all the good times used up by the great gentlemen!' Then he
looked at me as if he would like to kill me, but he couldn't do that,
so he tried to talk me round with promises. Dear me! what didn't the man
promise me! A bag full of money, and a pig every year, and every year a
black suit, if I would only go quietly home with him. And he put on my
finger on the spot a ring with a red stone that I had always fancied,
so I went along quietly with him to his apartment that I had the key of.
The Baron slept in my attic room, and I had to lie on the sofa in his
best room to look as if I was trying to play the gentleman.

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