The Old Man of the Mountain/X
Edward found marks of blood in the warehouse and on the ground without, and he and his companions followed them. Anon they lost sight of them, then discovered them again in a thicket on one side, and a little after in one of the bypaths. Edward walkt on with anxious feelings; a boding prest upon his heart; he was unwilling to confess his misgivings even to himself. Ere long however they turned to certainty; for the traces led to the house of Eleazar, which lay on a green slope. When they got up to it they found all the neighbours already in motion; people were coming from the town; the priest of the parish was just passing through the door. Within everything was in confusion, and a physician and surgeon were busy upstairs.
Edward left his companions without, and with a beating heart opened the chamber door. Eleazar was lying pale and with ghastly features in his bed. His wound had just been examined, and a bandage placed on it. Everybody in the room, the physician, surgeon, priest, and servants lookt frightened and distrest; for there was something in this accident so mysterious and terrible that no one could help being struck with awe by it.
The surgeon, whom Edward took aside, shook his head, and assured him that all assistance was in vain; the patient would hardly live through the day. Eleazar now raised himself out of his stupour, lookt round, and perceived Edward.
— Aha! he cried with a strained and faint voice. You too are already there! Well! You have at last got the better of me. This is what you have been driving at this long time. I am now lying here, and all is over, all is found out; there are no more questions and answers, no more todays and tomorrows. How it will fare with you remains to be seen hereafter. Not well, most undoubtedly. So don't triumph in your imaginary virtue.
He beckoned and made the priest bring him a paper that was lying in the window.
— Give this to the old man of the mountain, he then went on; he will see from it how I loved him; for it is my will.
The priest now said a few words, begging to be left alone with the sick man. Edward was glad to leave the room and refresh himself in the open air. Here Conrad again ran up to him out of breath, and cried:
— Confusion worse confounded! Only think what he has been doing, our virtuous Eleazar! his last loaf has already been baked for him. Look you, this fellow, this lord and master of the country, this son-in-law of the old man of the mountain, is a scurvy thief. Now I will forgive that white-faced Hungarian wretch for serving me as he did the other day; for what is all the reputation in the earth, all the honour in the world come to?
The whole neighbourhood, town and country, was in consternation at this event. The most incredible thing in the world had taken place, a crime that could neither be denied nor concealed, committed by a man whom all had been forced to regard with respect, whom all had lookt upon as their future master and protector; and they could not recover from their astonishment, or fall back into their ordinary occupations; for their minds in this turmoil had for a while lost every standard by which a man measures himself.
The old man amid the general tumult had already learnt the whole story, in spite of the pains Edward had taken to prevent it. He had lockt himself up in his room and let nobody in.
Edward now interrogated the stranger. This man had for a long time had dealings with Eleazar; he lived in a town a good many miles off, and had often sent agents up the mountains and helpt in selling the stolen goods. A tradesman in another small town was also a party in the affair. The Hungarian had quarelled with Eleazar, and had come up into these parts with a view of going to old Balthasar, sounding him, and, if he found him inclined to pay well for it, disclosing the whole history of the abominable transaction. But as the old man had not shewn any mind to have recourse to superstitious devices, still less to give ear to his covert hints, so that the stranger might have brought his own neck into the noose if he had betrayed too much, he drew off and remained faithful to his confederate Eleazar, who had quieted him with a sum of money, along with large promises for the future.
The old man's great bell now rang, and Edward took up his papers and went to him.
— You have lookt over and corrected all my accounts, my dear friend? he began with outward calmness. Edward said yes, as he set down the books; but he hesitated and knew not whether to give in Eleazar's will along with them. The old man however took it himself out of his hand and cast his eyes over it.
— It is now three months, he began, since he made me heir to all he has, in case he should die before me. He has drawn up a list of all his effects, and points out where each thing may be found. The chief article is a number of gold bars, which he says are of his own making. Read it.
Edward took the papers with some embarrassment.
— Is it not true? said the old man after some time. Does any thing but madness animate and rule the whole world? Can you understand this man and his character in any other way? To be sure this word itself does not help us to understand it. O young man, young man, do you not feel now how thoroughly right I was? I trusted this man unlimitedly, because he was not girt round with any delusive deceitful show; because nothing in my heart sallied forth to meet him, and I did not lie to myself in his behalf for the sake of pampering my own vanity. Ay, my friend, now everything is detected and noised abroad; he is going, and in this will he gives me back what the lawyers would call my property. His will! Now forsooth it must also be time to make mine, and a different one from what I intended. Now your nice feelings of honour will no doubt condescend to stay with me a little longer. And my child, my Rose! Alas, how fearful it is that this darling of my heart is also a human being!
— At such an hour as this, answered Edward, which must needs strike you with horrour, I will not again declare the wishes of my heart to you; you yourself have toucht upon them, or I should have refrained even from these words. But undoubtedly I must now stay with you: destiny compells me to do so, and imposes it as a sacred duty upon me.
— Destiny with a vengeance! said the old man with his bitter smile: you take a fancy to Rose; you hear she is already engaged; this drives you away from me; but before you take leave, your honour must be cleared and furbisht up; and as a remembrance you shoot my most intimate friend, the man after my own soul, and tear him from my side. Now Rose is at liberty, you are your own master, your rival is got rid of; and destiny has managed the whole matter admirably. But whether this shot has not pierced through my heart, whether it has not rent and burst asunder the innermost sanctuary of my soul — these questions are never thought of. There is as it were a huge chasm yawning in my spirit — confidence, faith — everything — did not I say so? good is the only real evil — Edward! don't look so sad — methinks I am talking quite wildly.
He took the young man's hand.
— Bring me the mayor this evening, and the priest and bailiff as witnesses. You are now my son, and this is the spirit I shall now make my will in. I feel it is high time; for it would be horrible if Helbach were to fling all my fortune to the dogs. O if I could but totally forget this shot and Eleazar! if such wild thoughts did not keep rushing about in my brain! Now you and Rose will stay with me.
Edward withdrew. He went to look for Rose in her room. She burst out a-crying, jumpt up from her chair, and threw herself into the young man's arms with an expression of the fondest affection.
— Alas Edward! she cried sobbing, and hid her face on his breast: only look now at what I have to go through in my youth. This was never sung over me in my cradle, that I should lose my husband in so shocking a manner, and even before our wedding. And the last thing I should have thought of was that you were to shoot him dead, you, the dearest and kindest of all men. Alas! poor, poor Eleazar! when he came from nature's hands, such an odious misshapen abortion of a man! And now into the bargain to steal, to lie, and to cheat! to rob my good father, who meant to give him everything! What will become of his poor soul now? Oh yes, he has perisht still more cruelly, he is much more unhappy than my cat with her kittens, that he shot so barbarously on the orange tree. Alas Edward! are you then in real truth such a good creature, as I have always believed you? or are you perchance very wicked too? You did not mean it, did you? that Eleazar should die so?
Edward took pains to explain the nature of the whole affair to her.
— Be composed, he continued; the course of our lives here has suddenly undergone a violent change; we must all overcome this shock, to get back again into the path of our ordinary duty. A few days since you were sorry that I was going away; if it can give you any comfort, let me assure you that for the present at least I shall and must stay here. Do you still wish that I should?
She gazed at him affectionately and seemed comforted.
— So then that is settled now! she exclaimed: ah yes, I always thought you would stay; for I can't live without you; and my father can't live without you; and all our poor workmen and spinners, our good miners, for whom you are always saying and doing something, and who, when they come for their wages or for relief, look with their whole souls into your kind eyes, these above all can never live without you.
— This calamity, said Edward, may hereafter make you, your father, me, and all of us happy. The discovery was inevitable; and perhaps, if it had not taken place now, it would have come at a time when it would have plunged us all in misery.
— If my father now, said Rose, were to have no objection, I might perhaps in time accustom myself to look upon you as my future husband. If I could but feel a little more respect and awe for you! If you would behave very roughly to me now and then, not always so kindly, but angrily and savagely at times, I might by and by grow reconciled to it.
Edward went to his business. The uprore had ceast, and the whole house was now quiet and silent: it seemed as if people were afraid of even breathing: all walkt about softly and on tiptoe. News came that Eleazar was dead.
Toward evening Edward went with the mayor and witnesses into old Balthasar's room. He was surprised to find him in bed. On being spoken to by his visitors he lifted himself up, stared fixedly at them, and seemed to know no one.
— Aha! reverend Sir, he cried out after a while, you are come to fetch away a second poor sinner today. It is a busy time in your vocation. Is master Eleazar come with you?
He beckoned to Edward.
— Thou yellow blockhead! he whispered to him; what am I to do with thy gold bars that thou hast left me? don't thrust thy stupid cheat into men's eyes so — it is far too glaring. But beware of Edward, he is wise and good. If he should ever suspect thee, thou art lost.
He talkt to the others, but still quite at random, and was taken up with the phantoms of his own brain. The mayor and witnesses retired, and Edward went after the physician. The business of drawing up the will was put off, until the sick man should have recovered and be restored to his perfect consciousness.
The physician found the patient's state very alarming. Edward was called up in the night; but when he entered the room Herr Balthasar had already breathed his last.
The dismay, the sorrow was universal. The mayor sent to have everything sealed up. In the midst of this confusion, it seemed a matter of very little moment that the Hungarian had found means to escape from his prison.