On another side an old well formed the boundary between our garden and the next. Shaded by trees and deep, as it was, with its rickety wooden roof covered with dark green moss, I never could look at it without a shudder. The longish quadrangle was closed by the garden of a dairy-man who was treated with the greatest respect by the whole neighborhood on account of the cows which he owned—and by the courtyard of a dresser of white leather, the most ill-humored of men. My mother always said of him that he looked as if he had swallowed one person and was just about to catch another by the head and take the first bite.
This was the atmosphere in which I lived as a child. It could not have been more restricted, and yet its impressions live on to the present day. Still the merry joiner looks at me over the hedge, the morose minister over the board fence. Still I see the strapping, corpulent dairy-man standing in his doorway, with his hands in his pockets, in token that they are not empty; still I look upon the dresser of white leather, with his bilious yellow face, to whom the mere red cheeks of a child were an insult, and who always seemed more terrible to me when he began to smile. Still I sit upon the little bench under the spreading pear-tree, and while refreshing myself in its shade, wait to see if a fruit, prematurely ripened by worm-holes, will not drop from its sun-lit top branches; and the well, the roof of which had to be repaired every little while, still inspires me with a feeling of dread.
[Illustration: GUNTHER AND HAGEN BROUGHT CAPTIVE BEFORE KRIEMHILD From the Painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld]
My father was of a very serious disposition in his home, outside of it he was gay and talkative. He had acquired a reputation on account of his talent for telling fairy-tales; many years passed, however, before we heard them with our own ears. He could not bear to hear us laugh or make any noise; on the other hand he was fond of singing hymns, and indeed worldly songs as well, in the twilight of the long winter evenings, and loved to have us join in. My mother was excessively good-hearted and somewhat quick-tempered; the most touching kindliness shone from her blue eyes; when she felt passionately agitated, she began to cry. I was her favorite; my brother, two years younger than I, was my father’s favorite. The reason was that I resembled my mother, and my brother seemed to resemble my father, though this was by no means the case, as was proved later.
My parents lived on the best of terms with one another so long as there was bread in the house. There were painful scenes at times when it was lacking. This seldom occurred in summer, but often happened in winter when work was scarce. Although these scenes never degenerated into violence, I cannot remember the time when they were not more terrible to me than anything else, and for that very reason I may not pass over them in silence.