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FROM THE GERMAN.
For more than 150 years had the family of Schroll been settled at Taubendorf, and generally respected for knowledge and refinement of manners superior to its station. Its present representative, the bailiff Elias Schroll, had in his youth attached himself to literature, but, later in life, from love to the country, he had returned to his native village, and lived there in great credit and esteem.
During this whole period of 150 years, tradition had recorded only one single Schroll as having borne a doubtful character; he, indeed, as many persons affirmed, had dealt with the devil. Certain it is that there was still preserved in the house a scrutoire fixed in the wall, and containing some mysterious manuscripts attributed to him, and the date of the year, 1630, which was carved upon the front, tallied with his era. The key to this scrutoire had been constantly handed down to the eldest son through five generations, with a solemn charge to take care that no other eye or ear should ever become acquainted with its contents. Every precaution had been taken to guard against accidents or oversights; the lock was so constructed, that even with the right key it could not be opened without special instructions; and for still greater security the present proprietor had added a padlock of most elaborate workmanship, which
presented a sufficient obstacle before the main lock could be approached.
In vain did the curiosity of the whole family direct itself to this scrutoire. Nobody had succeeded in discovering any part of its contents, except Rudolph, the only son of the bailiff; he had succeeded ; at least his own belief was, that the old folio with gilt edges, and bound in black velvet, which he had one day surprised his father anxiously reading, belonged to the mysterious scrutoire; for the door of the scrutoire, though not open, was unlocked, and Elias had hastily closed the book with great agitation, at the same time ordering his son out of the room in no very gentle tone. At the time of this incident Rudolph was about twelve years of age.
Since that time the young man had sustained two great losses in the deaths of his excellent mother and a sister tenderly beloved. His father also had suffered deeply in health and spirits under these afflictions. Every day he grew more fretful and humorsome; and Rudolph, upon his final return home from school in his eighteenth year, was shocked to find him greatly altered in mind as well as in person. His flesh had fallen away, and he seemed to be consumed by some internal strife of thought. It was evidently his own opinion that he was standing on the edge of the grave, and he employed himself unceasingly in arranging his affairs, and in making his successor acquainted with all such arrangements as regarded his more peculiar interests. One evening as Rudolph came in suddenly from a neighbor's house, and happened to pass the scrutoire, he found the door wide open, and the inside obviously empty. Looking round he observed his father standing on the hearth close to a great fire, in the midst of which was consuming the old black book. Elias entreated his son earnestly to withdraw, but
Rudolph could not command himself; and he exclaimed, "I doubt, I doubt, sir, that this is the book which belongs to the scrutoire.”
His father assented with visible confusion.
“Well, then, allow me to say that I am greatly surprised at your treating in this way an heirloom that for a century and more has always been transmitted to the eldest son.”
“You are in the right, my son," said the father affectionately, taking him by the hand. “You are partly in the right; it is not quite defensible, I admit; and I myself have had many scruples about the course I have taken. Yet still I feel myself glad upon the whole that I have destroyed this accursed book. He that wrote it never prospered, — all traditions agree in that; why then leave to one's descendants a miserable legacy of unhallowed mysteries?”
This excuse, however, did not satisfy Rudolph. He maintained that his father had made an aggression upon his rights of inheritance; and he argued the point so well, that Elias himself began to see that his son's complaint was not altogether groundless. The whole of the next day they behaved to each other, not unkindly, but yet with some coolness. At night Elias could bear this no longer, and he said, “ Dear Rudolph, we have lived long together in harmony and love; let us not begin to show an altered countenance to each other during the few days that I have yet to live."
Rudolph pressed his father's offered hand with a filial warmth ; and the latter went on to say,
purpose now to communicate to you by word of mouth the contents of the book which I have destroyed. I will do this with good faith and without reserve, unless you yourself can be persuaded to forego your own right to such a communication.”
Elias paused, flattering himself as it seemed that his son
would forego his right. But in this he was mistaken ; Rudolph was far too eager for the disclosure, and earnestly pressed his father to proceed.
Again Elias hesitated, and threw a glance of profound love and pity upon his son, — a glance that conjured him to think better, and to waive his claim, but this being at length obviously hopeless, he spoke as follows: “ The book relates chiefly to yourself; it points to you as to the last of our race. You turn pale. Surely, Rudolph, it would have been better that you had resolved to trouble yourself no further about it?”
“ No,” said Rudolph, recovering his self-possession. “No; for it still remains a question whether this prophecy be true.”
“ It does so; it does, no doubt.”
“No, it is not all; there is something more. But possibly you will only laugh when you hear it; for at this day nobody believes in such strange stories. However, be that as it may, the book goes on to say plainly and positively, that the Evil One (Heaven protect us !) will make you an offer tending greatly to your worldly advantage.”
Rudolph laughed outright, and replied, that, judging by the grave exterior of the book, he had looked to hear of more serious contents.
“ Well, well, my son,” said the old man, “I know not that I myself am disposed to place much confidence in these tales of contracts with the devil. But, true or not, we ought not to laugh at them. Enough for me that under any circumstances I am satisfied you have so much natural
piety, that you would reject all worldly good fortune that t could meet you upon unhallowed paths.” cc Here Elias would have broken off, but Rudolph said,
One thing more I wish to know: what is to be the nature of the good fortune offered to me? and did the book say whether I should accept it or not?”
“ Upon the nature of the good fortune the writer has not explained himself; all that he says is, that by a discreet use of it, it is in your power to become a very great man. Whether you will accept it -- but God preserve thee, my child, from any thought so criminal — upon this question there is a profound silence. Nay, it seems even as if this trader in black arts had at that very point been overtaken by death, for he had broken off in the very middle of the word. The Lord have mercy upon his soul!”
Little as Rudolph's faith was in the possibility of such a proposal, yet he was uneasy at his father's communication and visibly disturbed; so that the latter said to him, “ Had it not been better, Rudolph, that you had left the mystery to be buried with me in the grave?”
Rudolph said, “No:" but his restless eye and his agitated air too evidently approved the accuracy of his father's solicitude.
The deep impression upon Rudolph's mind from this conversation — the last he was ever to hold with his father — was rendered still deeper by the solemn event which followed. About the middle of that same night he was awakened suddenly by a summons to his father's bedside; his father was dying, and earnestly asking for him.
“My son !” he exclaimed with an expression of the bitterest anguish; stretched out both his arms in supplication towards him; and in the anguish of the effort he expired.
The levity of youthful spirits soon dispersed the gloom which at first hung over Rudolph's mind. Surrounded by jovial companions at the university which he now visited,