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The Dean's Watch   By:

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By Erckmann Chatrian

Translated by Ralph Browning Fiske

Copyright, 1897, by The Current Literature Publishing Company


On the day before Christmas of the year 1832, my friend Wilfred, with his double bass slung over his back, and I, with my violin under my arm, started to walk from the Black Forest to Heidelberg. It was unusually snowy weather; as far as we could see across the great, deserted plain, there was no trace of road nor path. The wind kept up its harsh aria with monotonous persistency, and Wilfred, with his flattened wallet at his belt, and the vizor of his cap drawn over his eyes, moved on before me, straddling the drifts with his long, heron legs, and whistling a gay tune to keep up his spirits. Now and then, he would turn around with a waggish smile, and cry: "Comrade, let's have the waltz from 'Robin,' I feel like dancing." A burst of laughter followed these words, and then the good fellow would resume his march courageously. I followed on as well as I could, up to my knees in snow, and I felt a sense of melancholy take possession of me.

The spires of Heidelberg began to appear on the extreme horizon, and we hoped to reach there before nightfall. It was then about five o'clock in the afternoon, and great flakes of snow were whirling through the gray atmosphere. Suddenly we heard the sound of a horse approaching from behind us. When the rider was within twenty yards of us, he moderated his speed, studying us meanwhile with a sidelong glance. We returned his gaze.

Picture to yourself a large man, with reddish hair and beard, in a three cornered hat and loose fox skin pelisse; his arms buried to the elbows in fur gloves. He carried a handsome valise behind him, resting on the haunches of his powerful stallion. He was evidently some alderman or burgomaster or personage of like importance.

"Ho! Ho! my good fellows!" he cried; "you are on your way to Heidelberg to perform, I see." Wilfred surveyed the traveler from the corner of his eye, and replied briefly: "Is that of any interest to you, sir?" "Yes, for in that case I wish to give you a bit of advice." "Advice?" "Precisely; if you wish it." Wilfred started on without replying. I noticed that the traveler's appearance was like that of an enormous cat; his ears wide apart, his eyelids half closed, with a bristling mustache, and a fatherly, almost caressing manner. "My friend," he continued, addressing himself to me, "frankly, you will do well to retrace your steps." "Why so, sir?" "The great Maestro Pimenti has just now announced a concert to take place at Heidelberg on Christmas day. The entire city will be there, and you will not earn a kreutzer." At this point, Wilfred turned around ill humoredly: "We care not a sou for your Maestro nor all the Pimentis in Christendom," he said; "look at this young fellow here, without even the sign of a beard on his chin! He has never yet played outside of the ale houses of the Black Forest, for the woodcutters and charcoal women to dance; and yet this boy, with his long yellow curls and big blue eyes, defies all your Italian impostors. His left hand is possessed of inimitable melody, grace, and suppleness, and his right of a power to draw the bow, that the Almighty rarely accords us mortals."

"Oh! ho! Indeed!" returned the other. "It is just as I tell you," Wilfred replied, and he resumed his pace, blowing on his fingers that were red with the cold, I saw that he was ridiculing the horseman, who continued to follow us at an easy trot. We continued thus for a full half mile in silence. Suddenly the stranger said to us abruptly: "Whatever skill you may possess, go back to the Black Forest; we have vagabonds enough in Heidelberg without you to increase the number. I give you good advice, particularly under the existing circumstances; you will do well to profit by it."

Wilfred, now thoroughly out of patience, was about to reply, but the traveler, urging his horse into a gallop, had already crossed the broad Avenue d'Electeur... Continue reading book >>

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