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The Story Of The Little Mamsell   By: (1854-1935)

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By Charlotte Niese

Translated from the German by Miss E. C. Emerson

"Have you got something good? Then put the basket down and go along home!" This was one usual greeting from old Mahlmann when we brought him provisions. He was very old, and rarely out of his bed, only now and then on warm summer days he sat on the bench before his tiny cottage and basked in the sun. If a painter had ever strayed to our uninteresting little town he would certainly have put old Mahlmann's characteristic head on his canvas. He had a clever old face with a firm mouth and glittering eyes whose expression was so sombre and at the same time observant that we children imagined old Mahlmann was different from other people. And indeed so he was. To begin with he never thanked anyone for bringing him food; in fact he criticized freely the benefits he received. If one brought what was not to his liking, he would say: "Go home and tell your mother old Mahlmann is not a waste tub where you throw what's not fit to eat. You needn't come again either!"

In this manner he got himself into disfavor with many a good housewife, who would protest by all that was holy that never would she send the hoary old sinner anything again. But Mahlmann never cared. His needs were few and there was always some one to satisfy them.

For me the old man with the sombre eyes had a peculiar fascination; I think from the fact that he once told me a wonderful ghost story. There were at least half a dozen witches and a whole dozen ghosts in this tale, and for many nights after I went to bed in tears, and only on condition some one sat with me till I fell asleep. Still the spell of these horrors was so strong upon me that I visited Mahlmann all the moreĀ» and often bought him something out of my own slender pocket money to induce him to tell stories. I was not always successful, for the old man had morose moods, when he spoke little. At other times he would tell us his own experiences, and his life had not lacked variety. He had been in Paris at the time of the Revolution, as servant to a Danish officer of high rank, and his description "how the fine gentlemen all rode in an old butcher's cart to have their heads chopped off," left nothing to the imagination. "My Baron was once near going himself to the 'Gartine,' or whatever they call it," he told me one day when he was especially talkative; "but he got well out of it. He was one that could turn the heads of the women, and it was a woman got him safely out of the city."

Mahlmann sat on the bench before the door and stretched his skinny hands to the sun. About his shoulders he had a ragged coat which had once been red, but was now a coat of many colors. It was so hot that I took shelter in the shadow of the doorway, but the chilly old man was shivering. I had brought him a great piece of cake and now offered it to him. He slowly reached for it, and slowly ate it up.

"That's like what I used to get in Paris. Dear me! My Baron was a handsome man, and for my age, I must have been about fifteen, I was a sharp lad only I couldn't rightly understand their French lingo, which put me out. But I understood the affair of the little Mamsell well enough. She lived opposite; her father was a grocer and she helped in the shop. At first we didn't buy anything there, till a long legged Englishman told my Baron that this grocer kept a fine Hungarian wine. It was out of the King's wine cellar and he wasn't drinking any more wine because he had gone to the 'Gartine/ And a few sensible people had divided the wine, which was only right, and it was to be had very cheap. Then I went over and bought some. Mamsell Manon was in the shop, and laughed till she cried over my way of speaking. Then I got angry, and when I brought my Baron the wine I said that I wasn't going again to that stupid Mamsell who couldn't even understand German. The next day my master was for sending me again, but I rebelled... Continue reading book >>

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