Distress, danger, confusion, increased every minute. A little boy ran about crying, “O God, O God, my little sister!” And when he was asked, “Where is your sister?” he repeated his horrifying cry, as though, incapable of every intelligent thought, he had not understood the question.
One old woman had to be forcibly dragged from her house. “My hen,” she moaned, “my poor little hen!” And indeed it was touching to see how the little creature fluttered terrified from one corner to the other in the suffocating smoke, and yet, because in better days it was probably accustomed not to cross the threshold, it would not allow itself to be driven through the open door into the air, even by its mistress.
Anna, weeping, screaming, beating her breast, and then again laughing, rushed into every kind of danger with the reckless daring of despair. She rescued, extinguished, and was an object at once of surprise, admiration, and uncanny mystery to all the others. At last they despaired of being able even to arrest the fire, which, continuing to spread, threatened to reduce the whole village to ashes. It was then that they saw her sink down on her knees in a burning house and gaze up to Heaven, wringing her hands.
The pastor called out, “For God’s sake, rescue the heroic girl, the roof is falling in!” Anna, still on her knees, hearing his words, stuck out her tongue at him with a gesture of violent abhorrence, and laughed crazily. At this moment Frederick appeared. Hardly had he perceived the terrible danger in which she was placed than, growing deathly pale, he rushed toward the house which seemed about to collapse. She, however, noticing him at once, sprang up terrified and cried, “Don’t, Frederick, don’t; I, I am guilty, there—there.” She pointed with her hand to the place where the castle lay, and, in order to make any rescue impossible, hurried up the already burning ladder, which led to the garret of the house. The ladder, too far consumed by the fire, broke under her, and at the same moment the roof fell in, forming a wall of flame. They heard one more piercing cry; then there was silence.
Baron Eichenthal arrived. As soon as Frederick caught sight of him he rushed up to him and before the Baron could defend himself kicked him in the abdomen, so that he fell over backward to the ground; then Frederick quietly gave himself up to the peasants, who at the order of the justice of the peace were trying to overpower him.
When the Baron learned next morning what had happened to Anna, he ordered them to search for her bones among the ashes and to bury them in the potter’s field. This was done.
By FRIEDRICH HEBBEL
TRANSLATED BY FRANCES H. KING