“You shall, I wish it,” cried Frederick, releasing her.
Anna, without making any answer, took up the flax-comb and looked down on the ground before her.
“Will you, or will you not?” persisted
Frederick, and stepped right in front of her.
“How could I?” returned Anna, looking confidingly in his eyes, and laying her hand on her heart.
“Very well,” cried Frederick. “You will not. God damn me if I ever see you again!” He rushed out like a mad man.
“Frederick,” cried Anna after him, “Do stay, stay a moment, listen how the wind is howling.”
She was starting to hurry after him when her dress brushed against the candle placed low down on an oak-block; it fell over and set fire to the flax which burst at once into powerful flames. Frederick, crazed with wine and anger, forced himself, as usually happens in such moments, to sing a song as he strode out into the night, which had turned out to be very stormy. The familiar tones, in wild hilarity, penetrated to where Anna was. “Oh! oh!” she sighed from the depth of her heart. Then for the first time she noticed that half of the room was already on fire. Beating with her hands and stamping with her feet she threw herself upon the greedy flames which, hot and burning, leaped toward her and scorched her. Frederick’s voice died away in the distance in a last halloo. “Pshaw, why should I put it out, let it be!” she cried, and slamming the door behind her with all her might, she hurried out with a horrible laugh, involuntarily following the same path through the garden that Frederick had taken.
Soon, however, she sank down, exhausted, almost fainting, in a meadow which adjoined the garden, and groaning aloud pressed her face into the cold, wet grass. Thus she lay for a long time.
Then from far and near the fire and alarm bells sounded, hollow and terrifying. She half raised herself, but did not look around. Above her the sky was blood-red and full of sparks; an unnatural heat was spreading, and increasing from minute to minute. The wind howled and roared, the flames crackled, wails and shouts resounded. She lay down again at full length on the ground, and it seemed to her as though she could sleep. But the next moment she was frightened out of this death-like state by the words of two people hurrying past her, one of whom cried out, “Lord have mercy on us! the village is already burning!” She pulled herself together then with a superhuman effort, and hurried, with flying hair, down to the village, which adjoined the burning side of the castle. There, in more than one place the inflammable straw roofs had already burst into flame.
The wind grew stronger and stronger. Most of the inhabitants, with the exception of the children and decrepit old people, were more than four miles away at the kermess. Had the necessary men been on the spot the miserable fire apparatus could have offered only a vain resistance to the league of the two dread elements. Since the summer had been unusually dry, even water was lacking.