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Dame Care   By: (1857-1928)

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Just when Meyerhofer's estate was to be sold by auction, his third son Paul was born.

That was a hard time indeed.

Frau Elsbeth, with her haggard face and melancholy smile, lay in her big four post bed, with the cradle of the new born child near her, and listened to every noise that reached her in her sad sickroom from the yard and the house.

At each suspicious sound she started up, and each time, when a strange man's voice was heard, or a vehicle came driving along with a rolling sound, she asked, clinging with great anxiety to the bedposts:

"Has it come to the worst? Has it come to the worst?"

Nobody answered her. The doctor had given strict orders to keep every excitement from her, but little he thought, good man, that this constant suspense would torment her a thousand times more than the most terrible certainty.

One morning, the fifth day after her child's birth, she heard her husband, whom she had scarcely seen during this trying time, pacing up and down in the next room, swearing and sighing. She could only understand one word, only one; that he repeated over and over again: the word "Homeless."

Then she knew. It had come to the worst.

She put her feeble hand on the little head of the new born child, who with his little serious face was quietly dozing, hid her face in her pillow and wept.

After a while she said to the servant who attended the little one,

"Tell your master I want to speak to him."

And he came. With loud steps he approached the bed of the sick woman, and looked at her with a face that seemed doubly distorted and desperate in his endeavor to look unconcerned.

"Max," she said, timidly, for she always feared him "Max, don't hide anything from me; I am prepared for the worst, anyhow."

"Are you?" he asked, distrustfully, for he remembered the doctor's warning.

"When have we to go?"

As he saw that she took their misfortune so calmly, he thought it no longer necessary to be careful, and broke out, with an oath:

"To day to morrow just as it pleases the new owner. By his charity only we are still here, and, if it pleased him, we might have to lodge in the streets this very night."

"It won't be as bad as that, Max," she said, painfully striving to keep her composure, "if he hears that, only a few days ago, a little one arrived "

"Oh, I suppose I shall have to beg of him shall I?"

"Oh no; he will do it without that. Who is it?"

"Douglas, he is called. He comes from Insterburg. He seemed to swagger very much, this gentleman very much. I should have liked to have driven him from the premises."

"Is anything left us?" she asked, softly, looking hesitatingly down on the new born child, for his young, tender life might be depending on the answer.

He broke out into a hard laugh. "Yes; a wretched pittance: full two thousand thalers."

She sighed with relief, for she almost felt as if she had already heard that terrible "Nothing" hissed from his lips.

"What good are two thousand thalers to us?" he continued, "after we have thrown fifty thousand into the swamp? Perhaps I shall open a public house in the town, or trade in buttons and ribbons. Perhaps you might help me, if you were to do the sewing in some aristocratic houses; and the children might sell matches in the streets. Ha, ha, ha!"

He thrust his hand through his gray and bushyhair, and inadvertently kicked the cradle with his foot, so that it swayed to and fro violently.

"Why has this brat been born?" he murmured, gloomily. He knelt down near the cradle and buried the tiny little fists in his big red hands, and talked to his child: "If you had known, my boy, how bad and vile this world is, how impudence triumphs, and honesty goes to ruin in it, you would really have stayed where you were. What fate will yours be? Your father is a sort of vagabond, a ruined man, who has to roam about the streets with his wife and his three children till he has found a place where he can completely ruin himself and his family... Continue reading book >>

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