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"Dance and stamp Till the shoe-soles drop!" --Danish Popular Song.
On the following day should the much-talked-of mowing-festival take place. It was the hay-harvest which occasioned all this merriment. [Author's Note: It is true that serfdom is abolished, but the peasant is still not quite free; neither can he be so. For his house and land he must pay a tribute, and this consists in labor. His own work must give way to that of his lord. His wagon, which he has had prepared to bring home his own harvest, must, if such be commanded, go to the nobleman's land, and there render service. This is, therefore, a kind of tax which he pays, and for the faithful payment of which he is rewarded by a harvest and mowing-feast; at the latter he receives a certain quantity of brandy, and as much ale as he can drink. The dance generally takes place in the middle of the court-yard, and the dancers themselves must pay their musicians.]
During three afternoons in succession, in the inner court and under free heaven, should a ball be held. Along the walls, rough planks, laid upon logs of wood, formed a row of benches. At both ends of the court lay two barrels of the newly brewed ale, which had received more malt than usual, and which, besides, through the silver skilling, and the magic dance of the maidens round the tub, had acquired extraordinary strength. A large wooden tankard, containing several measures of brandy, stood upon a table; the man who watched the bleaching-ground was placed as a kind of butler to preside at this sideboard. A bread-woman, with new white bread from Nyborg upon her barrow, wheeled into the court, and there established her stall for every one; for it was only liquors the guests received gratis.
The guests now entered the court by pairs; the men, part in jackets, part in long coats which hung down to their ankles. Out of the waistcoat-pocket protruded a little nosegay of sweet-williams and musk. The girls carried their "posies," as they called them, in their neatly folded pocket-handkerchiefs. Two musicians--one quite a young blade, in a laced coat with a stiff cravat, mid the other the well-known Peter Cripple, "Musikanti" as he was called--led the procession. They both played one and the same piece, but each according to his own manner. It was both good and old.
They now began to draw lots, who should dance before the door of the family and who before that of the steward; after which the two parties drew lots for the musicians. The girls seated themselves in a row upon the bench, from whence they were chosen. The gallantry accorded with the ball-room,--the hard stone pavement. Not even had the grass been pulled up, but that would be all right after dancing there the first day. "Nay, why art thou sitting there?" spoken with a kind of morose friendliness, was the invitation to dance; and this served for seven dances. "Only don't be melancholy!" resounded from the company, and now the greater portion moved phlegmatically along, as if in sleep or in a forced dance: the girl with her eyes staring at her own feet, her partner with his head bent toward one side, and his eyes in a direct line with the girl's head-dress. A few of the most active exhibited, it is true, a kind of animation, by stamping so lustily upon the stone pavement that the dust whirled up around them. That was a joy! a joy which had occupied them many weeks, but as yet the joy had not reached its height; "but that will soon come!" said Wilhelm, who, with his sister and Otto, had taken his place at an open window.
The old people meanwhile kept to the ale-barrels, and the brandy. The latter was offered to the girls, and they were obliged, at least, to sip. Wilhelm soon discovered the prettiest, and threw them roses. The girls immediately sprang to the spot to collect the flowers: but the cavaliers also wished to have them, and they were the stronger; they, therefore, boldly pushed the ladies aside, so that some seated themselves on the stone pavement and got no roses: that was a merry bit of fun! "Thou art a foolish thing! It fell upon thy shoulder and thou couldst not catch it!" said the first lover to his lady, and stuck the rose into his waistcoat-pocket.
All got partners--all the girls; even the children, they leaped about to their own singing out upon the bridge. Only ONE stood forlorn,--Sidsel, with the grown-together eyebrows; she smiled, laughed aloud; no one would become her partner. Peter Cripple handed his violin to one of the young men and asked him to play, for he himself wished to stretch his legs a little. The girls drew back and talked with each other; but Peter Cripple stepped quietly forward toward Sidsel, flung his arms around her, and they danced a whirling dance. Sophie laughed aloud at it, but Sidsel directed her extraordinary glance maliciously and piercingly toward her. Otto saw it, and the girl was doubly revolting and frightful in his eyes. With the increasing darkness the assembly became more animated; the two parties of dancers were resolved into one. At length, when it was grown quite dark, the ale barrels become empty, the tankard again filled and once more emptied, the company withdrew in pairs, singing. Now commenced the first joy, the powerful operation of the ale. They now wandered through the wood, accompanying each other home, as they termed it; but this was a wandering until the bright morning.
Otto and Wilhelm were gone out into the avenue, and the peasants shouted to them a grateful "Good night!" for the merry afternoon.
"Now works the witchcraft!" said Wilhelm; "the magical power of the ale! Now begins the bacchand! Give your hand to the prettiest girl, and she will immediately give you her heart!"
"Pity," answered Otto, "that the Maenades of the north possess only that which is brutal in common with those of the south!"
"See, there goes the smith's pretty daughter, to whom I threw the best rose!" cried Wilhelm. "She has got two lovers, one under either arm!"
"Yes, there she goes!" simpered a female voice close to them. It was Sidsel, who sat upon the steps of a stile almost concealed in the darkness, which the trees and the hedge increased still more.
"Has Sidsel no lover?" asked Wilhelm.
"Hi, hi, hi," simpered she; "the Herr Baron and the other gentleman seek, doubtless, for a little bride. Am I beautiful enough? At night all cats are gray!"
"Come!" whispered Otto, and drew Wilhelm away from her. "She sits like some bird of ill omen there in the hedge."
"What a difference!" exclaimed Wilhelm, as he followed; "yes, what a difference between this monster, nay, between the other girls and Eva! She was, doubtless, born in the same poverty, in similar circumstances, and yet they are like day and night. What a soul has been given to Eva! what inborn nobility! It must be, really, more than a mere freak of Nature!"
"Only do not let Nature play her freaks with you!" said Otto, smiling, and raised his hand. "You speak often of Eva."
"Here it was association of ideas," answered Wilhelm. "The contrast awoke remembrance."
Otto entered his chamber--he opened the window; it was a moonlight night. From the near wood resounded laughter and song. They came from the young men and girls, who, on their wandering, gave themselves up to merriment. Otto stood silent and full of thought in the open window. Perhaps it was the moon which lent her paleness to his countenance. On what did he reflect? Upon his departure, perhaps? Only one more day would he remain here, where he felt himself so much at home; but then the journey was toward his own house, to his grandfather, to Rosalie, and the old preacher, who all thought so much of him. Otto stood listening and silent. The wind bore the song more distinctly over from the wood.
"That is their joy, their happiness!" said he. "It might have been my joy also, my happiness!" lay in the sigh which he heaved. His lips did not move, his thoughts alone spoke their silent language. "I might have stood on a level with these; my soul might have been chained to the dust, and yet it would have been the same which I now possess, with which I long to compass all worlds! the same, endowed with this sentiment of pride, which drives me on to active exertion. My fate wavered whether I should become one such as these or whether I should rise into that circle which the world calls the higher. The mist-form did not sink down into the mire, but rose above into the high refreshing air. And am I become happy through this?" His eye stared upon the bright disk of the moon. Two large tears rolled over his pale cheeks. "Infinite Omnipotence! I acknowledge Thy existence! Thou dost direct all; upon Thee will I depend!"
A melancholy smile passed over his lips; he stepped back into the chamber, folded his hands, prayed, and felt rest and peace.
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