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- The Nuts - 3/3 -
"'And I,' cried a former peddler, breaking into the carpenter's story, 'I assuredly have not forgotten the nut-tree, where I always set down my pack when my shoulders were nearly broken, and under whose shade I used to rest my weary limbs before entering the village.'
"'I, too! How often have I stopped under the spreading branches of that tree on a hot summer day and found refreshment!' cried a former post- messenger of Dorbstadt. A porter who had also lived there added his praises.
"'But the nut-trees were cut down many years ago,' the latter added.
"'I saw it,' cried the spirit of little Hannele, and one heard from her tone how she deplored it. 'They were felled when the Poor-house was given up. 'But the great Son of God has now heard what he wished to know.'
"'No, no,' the Saviour answered, 'I should still like to know what became of the wood of these trees.'
"The voices of several angels were heard at the same moment, for many of the poor weavers of Dorbstadt were to be found in the Heavenly Kingdom. St. Peter, however, bade them to be quiet, and permitted only the one who had last entered the Abode of the Blessed to speak.
"'I was the village doctor,' this one began, 'and I quitted the earth because I, too, fell a victim to the pestilence of which many of the poor people were dying, and against which I fought with all my powers, but with small success. I can tell you all that you wish to know, my Master, for, during forty-five years, I devoted my humble services to the sick poor there. When Hannele died in our Poor-house--it happened before my time--the misery was even greater than at present. The weavers were ground down by the large manufacturers, until an energetic man built a factory in our village, and paid them better wages. As the population then increased, and consequently the number of patients, space was wanting in which to house them, for the dilapidated Poor-house--whither they were carried--was no longer large enough to accommodate them all. Therefore the parish, aided by the owner of the factory, built a hospital for the whole district, and the site of the old Poor-house was chosen for it. The beautiful nut-trees which Hannele had planted had to be destroyed. I was sorry to be obliged to give the order, but we needed the ground where they stood. As we had to be economical in everything, big and little, we had planks sawn out of the trees for our use.'
"At this point another spirit interrupted the physician. 'I have lain in one of the beds made from the wood. At home I slept on a bundle of straw, and very uncomfortable it was when I was shaken by the fever. In the hospital all was different, and when I lay in my comfortable bed, I felt as if I were already in Heaven.'
"'And I,' cried another broad-winged angel, 'for ten years I walked with the crutches that were made for me from the nut-tree by the Fresh Spring, and old Conrad, below on the earth, is still using them.'
"'And mine also,' another continued, 'were of the same wood. I had lain for a long time on my back; but after I got them, I learned to walk with them and they enabled me to stand before the loom, and to earn bread once more for my family. That man yonder from Hochdorf has had the same experience, and the wooden leg of William, the toll-gate keeper, who entered here shortly before me, was made of wood from the nut-tree.'
"'I owe it a debt of gratitude, too, but for an entirely different service,' said a beautiful angel, as it bowed its crowned head reverently before the Son of God. 'My lot below was a very hard one. I was early left a widow, and I supported my children entirely by the work of my hands. By dint of great effort I brought them up well, and my three sons grew to be brave men, who took care of themselves, and helped their mother. But all three, my Master, were lost to me, taken away by the unfathomable wisdom of the Father. Two fell in war, the third was killed by the machinery while at his work. That broke my strength, and when they brought me to the hospital I was on the verge of despair, and life seemed a greater burden than I could bear. Your image, my Saviour, had just been finished by a sculptor, who had carved it from the wood of the nut-tree by the Fresh Spring. They put it up opposite to my bed. It represented you, my Lord, on the cross, and your head bowed in agony, with its crown of thorns, was a very sorrowful sight. Yet I paid but small heed to it. One morning, however--it was the anniversary of the death of my two dear sons, who had lost their lives, fighting bravely side by side for their Fatherland--on that morning the sun fell upon your sad face, and bleeding hands pierced by the nails, and then I reflected how bitterly you had suffered, though innocent, that you might redeem us, and how your mother must have felt to lose such a child. Then a voice asked me if I had any right to complain, when the Son of God himself had willingly endured such torments for our sake, and I felt compelled to answer no, and determined then to bear patiently whatever might be laid upon me, a poor, sinful woman. Thenceforth, my Lord, was your image my consolation and, since the wood of which it was made came from the tree planted by Hannele near the Fresh Spring, I owe beyond doubt the better years that followed, and the joy of being with you in Paradise, my Saviour, to the nuts which that condemned woman gave to the child.'
"Humbly she bowed her head again. The Son of God turned to St. Peter, saying: 'Well, Peter?'
"The latter called to the guardians of Hell: 'Let her go free, the gates of Heaven are open to her. How rich and manifold, O Lord! is the fruit that springs from the smallest gift offered in true love!'
"'You are right,' answered the Saviour, gently, and turned away."
The colonel had talked for a longer time than was allowed him by his doctor, and he needed rest. When he appeared again at supper time, in order to help us eat our Christmas carps, he found little Hermy standing with Karl and Kurt before the fire, and he noticed how his favourite's eyes rested with pleasure on the nuts which he had bought for his grandmother; and how the older boys, who were only too prone to tease their younger brother, treated him with a certain tenderness, as if they had something to make up for.
At table we overheard Kurt say to Karl: "Little Hermy's present for grandmother was not a bad idea," to which Karl answered quickly: "I am going to put away some of my nuts to-morrow, and plant them in the spring."
"To make a pair of crutches for me, or in order that you may go to Heaven?" asked the colonel.
The boy blushed, and could find no answer; but I came to his rescue, and replied: "No, his trees shall remind us of you, Colonel, and of your stories. When we give, we will, in remembrance of you, give in all love and willingness, and when we receive, even the smallest gift, we will only ask in what spirit it was offered."
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