He had been standing opposite to her, as if spellbound, listening blissfully to the lofty flight of his own words. Trembling with passionate emotion, he yet restrained himself until she had raised her eyes from his lines and lifted the book, then his power of resistance flew to the winds and, fairly beside himself, he exclaimed: “Maria, my sweet wife!”
“Wife?” echoed in her breast like a cry of warning, and it seemed as if an icy hand clutched her heart. The intoxication passed away, and as she saw him standing before her with out-stretched arms and sparkling eyes, she shrank back, a feeling of intense loathing of him and her own weakness seized upon her and, instead of throwing the book aside and rushing to meet him, she tore it in halves, saying proudly: “Here are your verses, Junker von Dornburg; take them with you.” Then, maintaining her dignity by a strong effort, she continued in a lower, more gentle tone, “I shall remember you without this book. We have both dreamed; let us now wake. Farewell! I will pray that God may guard you. Give me your hand, Georg, and when you return, we will bid you welcome to our house as a friend.”
With these words Maria turned away from the Junker and only nodded silently, when he exclaimed: “Past! All past!”
Georg descended the stairs in a state of bewilderment. Both halves of the book, in which ever since the wedding at Delft he had written a succession of verses to Maria, lay in his hand.
The light of the kitchen-fire streamed into the entry. He followed it, and before answering Barbara’s kind greeting, went to the hearth and flung into the fire the sheets, which contained the pure, sweet fragrance of a beautiful flower of youth.
“Oho! Junker!” cried the widow. “A quick fire doesn’t suit every kind of food. What is burning there?”
“Foolish paper!” he answered. “Have no fear. At the utmost it might weep and put out the flames. It will be ashes directly. There go the sparks, flying in regular rows through the black, charred pages. How pretty it looks! They appear, leap forth and vanish—like a funeral procession with torches in a pitch-dark night. Good-night, poor children—good-night, dear songs! Look, Frau Barbara! They are rolling themselves up tightly, convulsively, as if it hurt them to burn.”
“What sort of talk is that?” replied Barbara, thrusting the charred book deeper into the fire with the tongs. Then pointing to her own forehead, she continued: “One often feels anxious about you. High-sounding words, such as we find in the Psalms, are not meant for every-day life and our kitchen. If you were my own son, you’d often have something to listen to. People who travel at a steady pace reach their goal soonest.”
“That’s good advice for a journey,” replied Georg, holding out his hand to the widow. “Farewell, dear mother. I can’t bear it here any longer. In half an hour I shall turn my back on this good city.”