The simplicity of his grief drew numbers about him, and La Fleur among the rest, whilst the horses were getting ready; as I continued sitting in the postchaise, I could see and hear over their heads.
He said he had come last from Spain, where he had been from the farthest borders of Franconia; and he had got so far on his return home, when his ass died. Every one seemed desirous to know what business could have taken so old and poor a man so far a journey from his own home.
“It had pleased heaven,” he said, “to bless him with three sons, the finest lads in all Germany; but having in one week lost two of them by the small-pox, and the youngest falling ill of the same distemper, he was afraid of being bereft of them all; and made a vow, if Heaven would not take him from him also, he would go in gratitude to St. Iago, in Spain.”
When the mourner got thus far on his story, he stopped to pay nature her tribute, and wept bitterly.
He said Heaven had accepted the conditions, and that he had set out from his cottage, with this poor creature, who had been a patient partner of his journey—that it had eat the same bread with him all the way, and was unto him as a friend.
Everybody who stood about heard the poor fellow with concern. La Fleur offered him money; the mourner said he did not want it; it was not the value of the ass, but the loss of him. “The ass,” he said, “he was assured, loved him;” and upon this, told them a long story of a mischance upon their passage over the Pyrenean mountains, which had separated them from each other three days; during which time the ass had sought him as much as he had sought the ass, and they had neither scarce eat or drank till they met.
“Thou hast one comfort, friend,” said I, “at least in the loss of the poor beast; I’m sure thou hast been a merciful master to him.” “Alas!” said the mourner, “I thought so when he was alive; but now he is dead I think otherwise. I fear the weight of myself and my afflictions together have been too much for him—they have shortened the poor creature’s days, and I fear I have them to answer for.” “Shame on the world!” said I to myself. “Did we love each other as this poor soul but loved his ass, ’twould be something.”