Chapter 58




Galgenberg, Dec. 4th.

Dear Mr. Anstruther,—This morning I woke up and wondered at the strange hush that had fallen on our house, set so near to a sighing, restless forest; and I looked out of the window and it was the first snow. All night it must have snowed, for there was the most beautiful smooth bank of it without a knob anywhere to show where lately I had been digging, from beneath my window up into the forest. Each pine tree was a fairy tree, its laden branches one white sparkle. The clouds were gone, and by the time I had done breakfast there was a brilliant blue sky, and the hills round Jena stood out so sharply against it that they looked as if somebody had been at them with a hatchet. Never was there such a serene and silent world as the one I stepped out into, shovel in hand. I had come to clear a pathway from the kitchen to the pump; instead I stood as silent as everything else, the shovel beneath my arm, gazing about me and drinking in the purity in a speechless ecstasy. Oh the air, Mr. Anstruther, the air! Unhappy young man, who did not breathe it. It was like nothing you've got in Berlin, of that you may be very certain. It was absolutely calm; not a breath stirring. It was icy, yet crisp and frappé du soleil. And then how wonderful the world looked after the sodden picture of yesterday still in my mind. Each twig of the orchard trees had its white rim on the one side, exact and smooth, drawn along it by the finger of the north wind. The steps down from the back door had vanished beneath the loveliest, sleekest white covering. The pump, till the day before and ever since I have known it, a bleakly impressive object silhouetted in all its lankness and gauntness against a background of sky and mountain, was grown grotesque, bulky, almost playful, its top and long iron handle heaped with an incredible pile of snow, its spout hung about with a beard of icicles. Frau von Lindeberg's kitchen smoke went up straight and pearly into the golden light. The roofs of Jena were in blue shadow. Our neighbor's roof flashed with a million diamonds in the sun. Two rooks cawed to each other from the pine tree nearest our door; and Rose-Marie Schmidt said her morning prayers then and there, still clinging to her shovel. Then she pulled off her coat, hung her hat on the door-handle, and began in a sort of high rapture to make a pathway to the pump. What are the joys of summer to these? There is nothing like it, nothing, nothing in the world. I know no mood of Nature's that I do not love—or think I do when it is over—but for keenness of feeling, for stinging pleasure, for overflowing life, give me a winter's day with the first snow, a clear sky, and the thermometer ten degrees Réaumur below zero.

Vicki called out from her doorway—you could hear the least call this morning at an extraordinary distance—to ask if I were snowed up too much to come down as usual.

'I'm coming down, and I'm making the path to do it with,' I called back, shovelling with an energy that set my hair dancing about my ears.

She shouted back—her very shout was cheerful, and I did not need to see her face to know that today there would be no tears—that she too would make a path up to meet mine; and presently I heard the sounds of another joyful shovel.

Underneath, the ground was hard with frost; it had frozen violently for several hours before the snow came up on the huge purple wings of the north wind. The muddy roads, the soaked forest, the plaintive patter of the rain, were wiped out of existence between a sleeping and a waking. This was no world in which to lament. This was no place in which sighs were possible. The thought that a man's marrying one or not could make so much as the faintest smudge across the bright hopefulness of life made me laugh aloud with healthiest derision. Oh, how my shovel rang against the frozen stones! The feathery snow was scattered broadcast at each stroke. My body glowed and tingled. My hair grew damp about my forehead. The sun smiled broadly down upon my back. Papa flung up his window to cheer me on, but shut it again with a slam before he had well got out his words. Johanna came for an instant to the door, peeped out, gasped that it was cold—unheimlich kalt was her strange expression: unheimlich=dismal, uncanny; think of it!—and shut the door as hurriedly as Papa had shut the window. An hour later two hot and smiling young women met together on the path they had shovelled, and straightened themselves up, and looked proudly at the results of their work, and laughed at each other's scarlet faces and at the way their noses and chins were covered with tiny beads. 'As if it were August and we'd been reaping,' said Vicki; and the big girl laughed at this, and the small girl laughed at this, with an excessiveness that would have convinced a passer-by that somebody was being very droll.

But there was no passer-by. You don't pass by if snow lies on the roads three feet deep. We are cut off entirely from Jena and shops. This letter won't start for I haven't an idea how long. Milk cannot come to us, and we cannot go to where there is a cow. I have flour enough to bake bread with for about ten days unless the Lindebergs should have none, in which case it will last less than five. The coal-hole is stored with cabbages and carrots, buried, with cunning circumvention of decay, in sand. Potatoes abound in earth-covered heaps out of doors. Apples abound in Johanna's attic. We vegetarians come off well on occasions like this, for the absence of milk and butter does not afflict the already sorely afflicted, and of course the absence of meat leaves us completely cold.

Vicki and I have been mending a boy's sled we found in the lumber room of their house, I suppose the sled used in his happier days by the Assessor now chained to a desk in Berlin, and with this we are going out after coffee this afternoon when the sky turns pale green and stars come out and blink at us, to the top of the road where it joins the forest, dragging the sled up as best we can over the frozen snow, and then, tightly clutching each other, and I expect not altogether in silence, we intend to career down again as far as the thing will career, flashing, we hope, past her mother's gate at a speed that will prevent all interference. Perhaps we shall not be able to stop, and will be landed at last in the middle of the market-place in Jena. I'll take this letter with me in case that happens, because then I can post it. Good-by. It's going to be glorious. Don't you wish you had a sled and a mountain too?

Yours in a great hurry,

ROSE-MARIE SCHMIDT.






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