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The clouds in the sky of childhood do not last long, and they vanish away with a soft, warm shower of tears. I was soon at the castle again, and the Princess gave me her hand, which I ventured to kiss, and then she brought her children, the young prince and princesses, and we played together like old acquaintances. Those were happy days, when after school-time — for I had now begun to go to school I was allowed to go to the castle for my play. There we had everything which heart could wish. Playthings, which my mother had shown me in shop-windows, and which she had told me were so dear that poor people could live a whole week on the money they would cost, I found at the castle; and if I asked leave of the Princess, she would let me take them home and show them to mother, or even keep them for myself. Beautiful picture-books, which I had seen at the bookstores with my father, but which were only for very good children, these too I found at the castle, and might turn over the leaves by the whole hour. And everything that belonged to the young princes belonged also to
At least it seemed so to me. For I not only took away whatever I fancied, but often gave away the toys to other children; in short, I was a young communist in the full sense of the words. Once only, I remember, when the Princess had a golden serpent twined around her arm, as if it were alive, and she gave it to me to play with. Now when I was going home, the serpent was around my arm, and I thought I could frighten my mother with it. But as I was on the way home I met a woman who spied out my golden serpent, and begged me to show it to her; and then she said that, if she might keep the golden serpent, she could free her husband from jail. On this of course I did not hes.
. itate a moment, but ran on and left the woman behind with the golden bracelet. The next day, however, there was a great uproar; and the poor woman was brought up to the
castle, and the people said she had stolen the bracelet from me. I was greatly troubled at this, and told with great vehemence how I had given her the bracelet, and that I would not take it back again. I do not know what was the end of it, but I remember that after that I was told to show everything to the Princess that I wanted to carry home.
It was a long time, however, before my conceptions of meum and tuum were fully developed, and even quite lately they have been much confused, so that for a very long time I could not distinctly distinguish between the red and blue colors. The last time I remember my friends laughing about it was when my mother had given me some money to buy apples with. She gave me a groschen. Now the apples cost only a zechser, and as I was giving the woman the groschen, she said, and it seemed to me as if she were quite sorry, that she had sold nothing the livelong day, and had not a penny to give in change. She wanted that I should exchange the sixpence. Then I recollected I had another penny in my pocket, and, much delighted that I had solved the difficult problem, I gave it to the woman, saying, “ Now you can give me back a penny.” She understood me, however, so little, that she gave me back the sixpence and kept the penny.
About this time, when I used to go almost every day to play with the young princes at the castle, as well as to learn French with them, there comes to my memory another figure, this was the daughter of the Prince, the Countess Maria. Her mother had died soon after the birth of the child, and the Prince had afterwards married again. When I first saw her I do not know. She comes slowly and by degrees from the darkness of memory, - first as an aerial
shadow, which gains more and more in expression, presses nearer and nearer to me, and at last comes before my spirit like the moon on a stormy night, when she throws from her all at once the cloudy screen with which she has been enveloped. She was always ill and suffering and silent,
and I have never seen her otherwise than stretched on a couch, on which she was brought into our room by two bearers; and when she was tired, she was taken out in the same manner. Thus she lay in her ample white robe, her hands generally folded, and her face was so pale and yet so gentle and beautiful, and her eyes were so deep and impenetrable, that I often stood before her lost in thought, gazed upon her, and asked myself whether she too belonged to the world of strangers. And then sometimes she would lay her hand upon my head, and it seemed to me that some magnetic influence rushed through me, and I could not go away nor say anything, but could only gaze into her deep, impenetrable eyes. She said very little to us, but her eyes followed our sports; and even when we were very noisy and obstreperous, she never complained, but only held her hands over her white forehead, and closed her eyes as if she were asleep. Some days, however, she said she was better, and then she sat upright on her couch, and then there would be a light glow on her face, and she talked with us and told us fairy stories. I do not know how old she was at that time. She was like a child in her helplessness, and yet she was so serious and thoughtful that she must have been more than a child. If people spoke of her, they involuntarily spoke in a low voice, and gently. Often when I saw her lying so
I silent and helpless, and thought that she might never be able to walk, and that there was neither labor nor pleasure in store for her, and that she would be carried back and forward on her couch, until she should at last be laid on her last couch of rest, I asked myself why she was sent into this world, when she might have rested so sweetly in the lap of angels : they would have carried her through the air on their soft wings, as I have seen them in many of the images in the churches. And then I felt as if I must share a part of her sufferings, so that she might not suffer alone, but me with her. But I could not say all this to her, for I scarcely knew it myself. I only felt something; it was not as if I
must fall on her neck, — no one could do that, for it might have hurt her. But it seemed to me that I could pray for her from the very depths of my heart, that she might be released from her sufferings. One warm spring day she was again brought into our
She looked very pale, but her eyes were brighter and deeper than ever, and she sat on her couch and asked us to come near to her. “ This is my birthday,” she said, “and I have been confirmed this morning. Now it is quite possible," she continued, looking at her father with a smile on her face," that God will soon call me to himself, although I would gladly stay much longer with you. But when the time comes that I must leave you, I would not like to be wholly forgotten, and so I have brought a ring for each of you, which you must wear now on your forefinger, and when you grow larger, you can wear it on one of the others, till it comes to fit the little finger; but you must wear it there all
life." With these words she took the five rings which she wore on her fingers, drawing one off after the other, looking all the time so sad, and at the same time so lovingly, that I shut my eyes to keep from crying. She gave the first ring to her eldest brother, and kissed him, and then the second and the third to the two princesses, and the fourth to the youngest prince, kissing them all as she gave the rings to them. I stood by looking steadily at her white hand, and I saw that she had still a ring on her finger; but she took a reclining posture and seemed exhausted. Then my eye met hers, and as the eyes of a child speak so plainly, she could not but be aware what was passing within me. I would much rather not have had the last ring, for I felt that I was a stranger, that I did not belong to her, that she did not love me so much as her brothers and sisters. At this thought, something gave me a sudden pain in my breast, as if a vein, had opened or a nerve been cut, and I knew not which way to look to conceal my distress. But she raised herself up, laid her hand upon my forehead, and looked so deeply into my eyes that I felt as if there were no thought within me which she could not see. She drew the last ring slowly from her finger and gave it to me, saying: " I meant to take this with me when I leave you all, but it is better that thou shouldst wear it, and think of me when I am no longer with you. Read the words which are written on the ring : ' As God wills. Thou hast a wild and a tender heart; may life tame, but not harden it.” And saying this, she kissed me as she had her brothers, and gave me the ring
What passed within me on this, I cannot distinctly tell. I had grown up already to be a boy, and the soft beauty of the suffering angel had not been without its attraction to my young heart. I loved her as a boy can love, — and they love with a depth, truth, and purity which but few can retain in adolescence and maturity. But I thought that she belonged to those strangers to whom one must not say that they love. The serious words which she said to me I scarcely heard; I only felt that her spirit was as near to mine as those of two human beings can be to each other. All bitterness had vanished from my heart; I felt myself no longer alone, not strange, not excluded, but by her, with her, and in her. Then I thought that it would be a sacrifice for her to give me the ring, and that she would like better to take it with her to the grave. And then a feeling came to my heart, that overpowered all other feelings, and I said, with a hesitating voice : “ Thou must keep the ring, if thou wouldst give it to me; for what is thine, that is mine." She looked at me an instant with surprise, and musingly. Then she took the ring, replaced it on her finger, kissed me again on the forehead, and said to me in a low voice, “Thou dost not know what thou sayest. Learn to understand thyself, and thou wilt be happy, and make many others happy.”