MOUNTAIN AND FOREST.
“Come, you fellows, that’s enough joking. This defection of yours, melancholy Eynhardt, combines obstinacy with wisdom, like Balaam’s ass! Well! may you rest in peace. And now let us be off.”
The glasses, filled with clear Affenthaler, rang merrily together, the smiling landlord took up his money, and the company rose noisily from the wooden bench, overturning it with a bang. The round table was only proof against a similar accident on account of its structure, which some one with wise forethought had so designed that only the most tremendous shaking could upset its equilibrium. The boisterous group consisted of five or six young men, easily recognized as students by their caps with colored bands, the scars on their faces, and their rather swaggering manner. They slung their knapsacks on, stepped through the open door of the little arbor where they had been sitting, on to the highroad, and gathered round the previous speaker. He was a tall, good-looking young man, with fair hair, laughing blue eyes, and a budding mustache.
“Then you are determined, Eynhardt, that you won’t go any further?” asked he, with an accent which betrayed him as a Rhinelander.
“Yes, I am determined,” Eynhardt answered.
“A groan for the worthless fellow; but more in sorrow than in anger,” said the tall one to the others. They groaned three times loudly, all together, while the Rhinelander gravely beat time. An unpracticed ear would very likely have failed to note the shade of feeling implied in the noise; but he appeared satisfied.
“Well, just as you like. No compulsion. Freedom is the best thing in life—including the freedom to do stupid things.”
“Perhaps he knows of some cave where he is going to turn hermit,” said one of the group.
“Or he has a little business appointment, and we should be in the way,” said another.
They laughed, and the Rhinelander went on:
“Well! moon away here, and we will travel on. But before all things be true to yourself. Don’t forget that the whole world is as much a phantom as the brown Black Forest maiden. And now farewell; and think a great deal about us phantom people, who will always keep up the ghost of a friendship for you.”
The young man whom he addressed shook him and the others by the hand, and they all lifted their caps with a loud “hurrah,” and struck out vigorously on the road. The sentiment of the farewell, and the tender speeches, had been disposed of in the inn, so they now parted gayly, in youth’s happy fullness of life and hope for the future, and without any of that secret melancholy which Time the immeasurable distils into every parting. Hardly had they turned their backs on the friend they left behind them when they began to sing, “Im Schwarzen Walfisch zu Askalon,” exaggerating the melancholy of the first half of the tune, and the gayety of the second, passing riotously away behind a turn of the road, their song becoming fainter and fainter in the distance.