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666 Come, brother Wolf," he said, now you are ripe, now I have you as I wanted you ; I shall get honour by you; follow me.'
“Where will you lead me?' “. Do not stop to ask--follow. He dragged me on forcibly.
“We had gone a short quarter of a mile; the forest grew steeper, more impenetrable, and wilder; neither of us spoke a word, until at last the whistle of my guide roused me from my meditations. I raised my eyes; we stood on the rugged brink of a rock, which descended into a deep cleft ; a second whistle answered from the innermost recesses of the rock, and a ladder rose, as if of itself, slowly from the depths of the cave. My guide climbed down first, and told me to wait till he returned.
“I must first tie up the dog," he added; you are strange here, the animal would tear you to pieces. With this he went.
“I now stood alone before the gulph, and I well knew that I was alone. The heedlessness of my guide did not escape my observation. It had only cost me a bold resolution to draw up the ladder, so I was free, and my flight secured. I confess that I perceived this. I looked down into the gulph which was now to receive me; it reminded me darkly of the abyss of hell from which there is no deliverance. I began to shudder at the course I was about to tread; only a speedy flight could save me; I resolve on this fight. I already stretch out my arm to the ladder, but suddenly it thunders in my ears; it sounds round about me like the mocking laughter of hell— What has a murderer to risk? and my arm falls back lame. My reckoning was full; the time of repentance was gone by; the murder I had committed lay behind me towering like a rock, and shut out my return for ever. At the same time my guide appeared again and announced to me that I must come. There was no longer any choice. I climbed down.
“We had gone on a few steps below the wall of rock, when the valley widened, and some huts became visible. In the midst of these there opened a round grass plot, on which a number of from eighteen to twenty persons had lain down round a coal fire. • Here, comrades,' said my guide, and placed me in the middle of the circle, ‘our friend Wolf; welcome him.'
«• Wolf!' they all cried together; and all rose up and crowded round me, men and women. Shall I confess it? The joy was unfeigned and hearty ; confidence and even esteem appeared in each countenance. One pressed my hand, another shook me familiarly by the coat; the whole scene was like the return of an old and valued friend. My arrival had interrupted the feast which had just begun; they at once went on with it, and forced me to drink the welcome. Game of all kinds composed the meal, and the wine-flask travelled unweariedly from neighbour to neighbour. Feasting and harmony seemed to inspire the whole band,
of all kind on with it, the feast
. 457 and all strove to discover more immoderately their pleasure at my presence.
“ They had placed me between two women, which was the place of honour at the table. I expected the dregs of their species, but how great was my astonishment when I discovered among this shameful gang the most beautiful female forms which had ever come before my eyes! Margaret, the elder and more beautiful of the two, could be scarcely five-and-twenty; Mary, the younger, was married, but had left a husband who had ill-used her. She was more delicately made, but looked pale and slender, and was less striking than her fiery neighbour. Both women strove to attract my attention; the beautiful Margaret by bold jests, but the whole woman was repugnant to me, and the timid Mary had gained my heart for ever.
"• You see, brother Wolf,' the man now began who had brought me hither, you see how we live among ourselves, and each day is like this. Is it not so, comrades ?
“ Each day like this,' the whole band repeated.
«. If you, then, can determine to find pleasure in our way of life, shake hands, and be our captain. Until now I have been captain, but I will give up to you. Are you content, comrades ?'
" All voices answered by a cheerful 'Yes.'
“My heart glowed, my brain was stunned, my blood boiled with wine and excitement. The world had cast me out as an infected thing; here I found a brotherly reception, a merry life, and honour. Whatever choice I made, death awaited me; but here I could at least sell my life at a higher price. The other sex had hitherto shown me only contempt; here favour and unbounded pleasure were promised to my ruling passion. My determination cost me little.
66I remain with you, comrades,' I cried aloud with firmness, and stepped into the midst of the band; “I remain with you,' I cried again, “if you will resign to me my lovely neighbour.'
“ All agreed to grant my desire; I was the declared possessor of a mistress, and the head of a band of thieves.”
The following portion of the history I entirely omit; what is simply detestable contains nothing instructive to the reader. An unhappy man who had sunk to this depth must at last lend himself to everything which is revolting to human nature ; but he committed no second murder, as he himself declared.
The fame of this man soon spread itself through the whole province. The highways became unsafe, nightly burglaries disturbed the citizens, the name of Wolf was the terror of the country people, justice sought for him, and a reward was put upon his head. He was fortunate enough to baffle every attempt upon his freedom, and crafty enough to take advantage of the superstition of the wondering peasants for his security. They said that his
bundance with w Hunger and came aware hown of wine, blimpo
helpmates must fly away, he must have made a league with the devil, and know how to use witchcraft. The district in which he played his part belonged then, even less than it does now, to the enlightened part of Germany; these reports were believed, and his person secure. No one cared to engage himself with the dangerous man who held the devil in his service.
He had carried on this miserable business for a year, when it began to be unbearable to him. The gang at whose head he had placed himself did not fulfil his splendid expectations. A tempting outside had formerly, in the intoxication of wine, blinded him; now he, with horror, became aware how frightfully he had been deceived. Hunger and want appeared in the room of that abundance with which they had lulled him into rest; he was often obliged to risk his life for a meal which scarcely protected him from starving. The phantom of that brotherly union vanished; every suspicion and jealousy raged in the midst of this abandoned band. Justice had promised to whomsoever should deliver him up alive a reward, and if it were an accomplice a solemn pardon; a powerful temptation for the outcasts of the earth! The unhappy man knew his danger. The integrity of those who betrayed men and God was a bad security for his life. From this time his sleep was gone ; an eternal anxiety corroded his rest; the frightful phantom of suspicion pursued him when he fled, tormented him when he woke, lay down with him when he slept, and terrified him with fearful dreams. His silent conscience suddenly found voice again, and the sleeping adder of remorse woke up upon this universal storm in his bosom. His hatred now turned from mankind, and directed its frightful edge against himself. He now forgave all nature, and found only himself to curse.
Crime had finished its lesson on the unhappy man ; his naturally good understanding at last triumphed over the melancholy delusion. Now he felt how deeply he had fallen ; a quiet melancholy came in the place of grating despair. With tears he wished to recall the past; he now knew certainly that he would go over it again quite differently. He began to hope that he might yet become honest, because he felt that he could become so; at the summit of his apparent depravity he was better in heart than he had perhaps been before his first step towards evil.
About this time the Seven Years' War broke out, and the levying went on vigorously. The unhappy man gathered hope from this circumstance, and wrote a letter to his reigning prince of which I here insert an abridgment.
“ If it loathe not your princely kindness to descend even to me; if criminals such as I lie not beyond your pity, grant me a hearing, most illustrious sovereign. I am a thief and a murderer; the law condemns me to death, justice seeks me, and I offer to come for
ward voluntarily. But at the same time I bring a strange request before your throne. I abhor my life, and fear not death ; but it is frightful to me to die without having lived. I desire to live to make good a portion of the past ; I desire to live to atone to the state which I have injured. My execution would be an example to the world, but no reparation of my deeds. I hate vice, and long ardently after integrity and virtue. I have shown ability to become fearful to my country; I hope that some power is yet left me to be useful to it.
“I know that I ask for a thing unheard of; my life is forfeited, it becomes me not to make terms with justice. But I appear not in chains and bonds before you; I am yet free, and fear has the smallest part in my request.
" It is for mercy that I pray; had I a claim upon justice I could no longer dare to make it good. Yet of one thing I would presume to remind my judge,—The time of my crimes dates from the sentence which deprived me for ever of my honour. Had greater moderation been shown to me then, I had perhaps needed no favour now.
“Let mercy stand for justice, my prince. If it lie in your princely power to forego the law for me, give me my life. It shall, from henceforward, be dedicated to your service. If you can do it, let me learn your gracious will through the newspapers, and I will appear on your princely word in the capital. If you determine otherwise with me, let justice do her part, I must do mine.”
This petition remained unanswered, as also a second and third, in which the suppliant prayed for the place of a trooper in the service of the prince. His hope of pardon expired entirely : he therefore formed the resolution to fly the country, and to die a brave soldier in the service of the King of Prussia.
He escaped luckily from his band, and entered upon his journey. The way led him through a small country town where he intended to pass the night. Shortly before a sharp edict had been issued through the country for the rigid examination of travellers, because the reigning prince, a prince of the empire, had taken part in the war. Such a command had been also received by the keeper of the gates of this little town, who was sitting on a bench before the bar when Wolf rode up. The appearance of this man had in it something ludicrous, and at the same time wild and frightful. The meagre nag which he rode, and the burlesque selection of his articles of dress, in which, apparently, his taste had been less consulted than the chronology of his thefts, contrasted strangely enough with a countenance in which so many raging passions were displayed, like the mangled corpses on a field of battle. The gate-keeper started at the sight of this singular wanderer. He had grown grey at the gate, and a service of forty
years had made him an unerring physiognomist in all vagabonds. The eagle eye of this inquirer did not miss his man now. He immediately shut the gate, and demanded the horseman's passport, at the same time securing his reins. Wolf was prepared for an accident of this kind, and really carried with him a passport which he had not long since taken from a plundered merchant. But this single witness was not enough to render void the observation of forty years, and to move the oracle of the gate to a recantation. The gate-keeper believed his eyes rather than this paper, and Wolf was obliged to follow him to the office.
The superintendent of the place examined the passport and declared it to be correct. He was a sturdy worshipper of news, and particularly loved to talk over the news with a bottle before him. The passport informed him that the possessor came straight from the hostile country, which was the seat of the war. He hoped to coax some private intelligence from the stranger, and sent a secretary back with the passport to invite him to a bottle of wine.
In the meantime Wolf remained before the office; the ridiculous spectacle had assembled round him the mob of the town in troops. They whispered in each other's ears, pointed alternately to the horse and the rider, at length the excitement of the crowd rose to a loud tumult. Unluckily the horse, to which all now pointed, was a stolen one ; he imagines that the horse has been described in an advertisement, and is recognised. The unexpected hospitality of the superintendent consummates his suspicion. Now he holds it for certain that the deception of the pass is discovered, and this invitation is the snare to take him alive and without opposition. His evil conscience makes a blockhead of him; he puts spurs to his horse and runs off without giving any answer.
This sudden Aight is the signal for the uproar. “A thief !” all exclaim, and all rush after him. To the horseman life or death is upon it, he has already the start ; his pursuers pant after him breathlessly, he is near his escape; but a heavy hand presses invisibly on him, the hour of his destiny has gone down, the inexorable Nemesis seizes on her debtor. The street to which he trusted himself has no outlet, he must turn back on his pursuers.
The noise of this occurrence has, in the meantime, set the whole town in an uproar; crowds on crowds assemble, all the streets are blocked up, an army of enemies comes marching against him. He shows a pistol, the people give way, he endeavours to force a way through the crowd. “This bullet,” he cries, “is for the fool-hardy man who endeavours to restrain me.” Fear imposes a general pause; a bold journeyman locksmith at last falls on his arm from behind, seizes the finger with which the frantic man was about to fire, and presses his wrist. The pistol falls; the weaponless man is pulled from his horse, and dragged back to the office in triumph.