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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 12959

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Thekla's Story.

October, 1522.

Once more the letters come regularly from Flanders; and in most ways their tidings are joyful. Nowhere throughout the world, Bertrand writes, does the evangelical doctrine find such an eager reception as there. The people in the great free cities have been so long accustomed to judge for themselves, and to speak their minds freely. The Augustinian monks who studied at Wittemberg, took back the gospel with them to Antwerp, and preached it openly in their church, which became so thronged with eager hearers, that numbers had to listen outside the doors. It is true, Bertrand says, that the Prior and one or two of the monks have been arrested, tried at Brussels, and silenced; but the rest continue undauntedly to preach as before, and the effect of the persecution has been only to deepen the interest of the citizens.

The great new event which is occupying us all now, however, is the publication of Dr. Luther's New Testament. Chriemhild writes that is the greatest boon to her, because being afraid to trust herself to say much, she simply reads, and the peasants seem to understand that book better than anything she can say about it; or even, if at any time they come to anything which perplexes them, they generally find that by simply reading on it grows quite clear. Also, she writes, Ulrich reads it every evening to all the servants, and it seems to bind the household together wonderfully. They feel that at last they have found something inestimably precious, which is yet no "privilege" of man or class, but the common property of all.

In many families at Wittemberg the book is daily read, for there are few of those who can read at all who cannot afford a copy, since the price is but a florin and a half.

New hymns also are beginning to spring up among us. We are no more living on the echo of old songs. A few days since a stranger from the north sang before Dr. Luther's windows, at the Augustinian convent, a hymn beginning,-

"Es ist das Heil uns kommen her."

Dr. Luther desired that it might be sung again. It was a response from Prussia to the glad tidings which have gone forth far and wide through his words! He said "he thanked God with a full heart."

The delight of having Eva among us once more is so great! Her presence seems to bring peace with it. It is not what she says or does, but what she is. It is more like the effect of music than anything else I know. A quiet seems to come over one's heart from merely being with her. No one seems to fill so little space, or make so little noise in the world as Eva, when she is there; and yet when she is gone, it is as if the music and the light had passed from the place. Everything about her always seems so in tune. Her soft, quiet voice, her gentle, noiseless movements, her delicate features, the soft curve of her cheek, those deep loving eyes, of which one never seems able to remember anything but that Eva herself looks through them into your heart.

All so different from me, who can scarcely ever come into a room without upsetting something, or disarranging some person, and can seldom enter on a conversation without upsetting some one's prejudices, or grating on some one's feelings!

It seems to me sometimes as if God did indeed lead Eva, as the Psalm says, "by His eye;" as if he had trained her to what she is by the direct teaching of his gracious voice, instead of by the rough training of circumstances. And nevertheless, she never makes me feel her hopelessly above me. The light is not like a star, which makes one feel "how peaceful it must be there, in these heights," but brings little light upon our path. It is like a lowly sunbeam coming down among us, and making us warm and bright.

She always makes me think of the verse about the saint who was translated silently to heaven, because he had "walked with God." Yes, I am sure that is her secret.

Only I have a malicious feeling that I should like to see her for once thoroughly tossed out of her calm, just to be quite sure it is God's peace, and not some natural or fairy gift, or a stoical impassiveness from the "Theologia Teutsch." Sometimes, I fancy for an instant whether it is not a little too much with Eva, as if she were "translated" already; as if she had passed to the other side of the deepest earthly joy and sorrow, at least as regards herself. Certainly she has not as regards others. Her sympathy is indeed no condescending alms, flung from the other side of the flood, no pitying glance cast down on grief she feels, but could never share. Have I not seen her lip quiver, when I spoke of the dangers around Bertrand, even when my voice was firm, and felt her tears on my face when she drew me to her heart.

December, 1522.

That question at last is answered! I have seen Cousin Eva moved out of her calm, and feel at last quite sure she is not "translated" yet. Yesterday evening we were all sitting in the family room. Our grandmother was dozing by the stove. Eva and my mother were busy at the table, helping Atlantis in preparing the dresses for her wedding, which is to be early in next year. I was reading to my father from Dr. Melancthon's new book, "The Common Places," (which all learned people say is so much more elegant and beautifully written than Dr. Luther's works, but which is to me only just a composed book, and not like all Dr. Luther's writings, a voice from the depths of a heart.) I was feeling like my grandmother, a little sleepy, and, indeed, the whole atmosphere around us seemed drowsy and still, when our little maid, Lottchen, opened the door with a frightened expression, and before she could say anything, a pale tall man stood there. Only Eva and I were looking towards the door. I could not think who it was, until a low startled voice exclaimed "Fritz!" and looking around at Eva, I saw she had fainted.

In another instant he was kneeling beside her, lavishing every tender name on her, while my mother stood on the other side, holding the unconscious form in her arms, and sobbing out Fritz's name.

Our dear father stood up, asking bewildered questions-our grandmother awoke, and rubbing her eyes, surveyed the whole group with a puzzled expression, murmuring,-

"Is it a dream? Or are the Zwickau prophets right after all, and is it the resurrection?"

But no one seemed to remember that tears and endearing words and bewildered exclamations were not likely to restore any one from a fai

nting fit, until to my great satisfaction our good motherly Elsè appeared at the door, saying, "What is it? Lottchen ran over to tell me she thought there were thieves."

Then comprehending everything at a glance, she dipped a handkerchief in water, and bathed Eva's brow, and fanned her with it, until in a few minutes she awoke with a short sobbing breath, and in a little while her eyes opened, and as they rested on Fritz, a look of the most perfect rest came over her face, she placed her other hand on the one he held already, and closed her eyes again. I saw great tears falling under the closed eyelids. Then looking up again and seeing my mother bending over her, she drew down her hand and laid it on Fritz's, and we left those three alone together.

When we were all safely in the next room, we all by one impulse began to weep. I sobbed,-

"He looks so dreadfully ill. I think they have all but murdered him."

And Elsè said,-

"She has exactly the same look on her face that came over it when she was recovering from the plague, and he stood motionless beside her, with that rigid hopeless tranquility on his face, just before he left to be a monk. What will happen next?"

And my grandmother said in a feeble broken voice,

"He looks just as your grandfather did when he took leave of me in prison. Indeed, sometimes I am quite confused in mind. It seems as if things were coming over again. I can hardly make out whether it is a dream, or a ghost, or a resurrection."

Our father only did not join in our tears. He said what was very much wiser.

"Children, the greatest joy our house has known since Fritz left has came to it to-day. Let us give God thanks." And we all stood around him while he took the little velvet cap from his bald head and thanked God, while we all wept out our Amen. After that we grew calmer; the overwhelming tumult of feeling, in which we could scarcely tell joy from sorrow, passed, and we began to understand it was indeed a great joy which had been given to us.

Then we heard a little stir in the house, and my mother summoned us back; but we found her alone with Fritz, and would insist on his submitting to an unlimited amount of family caresses and welcomes.

"Come, Fritz, and assure our grandmother that you are alive, and that you have never been dead," said Elsè. And then her eyes filling with tears, she added, "What you must have suffered! If I had not remembered you before you received the tonsure, I should scarcely have known you now with your dark, long beard, and your white thin face."

"Yes," observed Atlantis in the deliberate way in which she usually announces her discoveries, "no doubt that is the reason why Eva recognized Fritz before Thekla did, although they were both facing the door, and must have seen him at the same time. She remembered him before he received the tonsure."

We all smiled a little at Atlantis' discovery, whereupon she looked up with a bewildered expression, and said, "Do you think, then, she did not recognize him? I did not think of that. Probably, then, she took him for a thief, like Lottchen!"

Fritz was deep in conversation with our mother, and was not heeding us, but Elsè laughed softly as she patted Atlantis' hand, and said,-

"Conrad Winkelried must have expressed himself very plainly, sister, before you understood him."

"He did, sister Elsè," replied Atlantis gravely. "But what has that to do with Eva?"

When I went up to our room, Eva's and mine, I found her kneeling by her bed. In a few minutes she rose, and clasping me in her arms, she said,-

"God is very good, Thekla. I have believed that so long, but never half enough until to-night."

I saw that she had been weeping, but the old calm had come back to her face, only with a little more sunshine on it.

Then, as if she feared to be forgetting others in her own happiness, she took my hand and said-

"Dear Thekla, God is leading us all through all the dark days to the morning. We must never distrust Him any more!"

And without saying another word we retired to rest. In the morning when I woke Eva was sitting beside me with a lamp on the table, and the large Latin Bible open before her. I watched her face for some time. It looked so pure, and good, and happy, with that expression on it which always helped me to understand the meaning of the words, "child of God," "little children," as Dr. Melancthon says our Lord called his disciples just before he left them. There was so much of the unclouded trustfulness of the "child" in it, and yet so much of the peace and depth which are of God.

After I had been looking at her a while she closed the Bible and began to alter a dress of mine which she had promised to prepare for Christmas. As she was sewing, she hummed softly, as she was accustomed, some strains of old church music. At length I said-

"Eva, how old were you when Fritz became a monk?"

"Sixteen," she said softly; "he went away just after the plague."

"Then you have been separated twelve long years," I said. "God, then, sometimes exercises patience a long while."

"It does not seem long now," she said; "we both believed we were separated by God, and separated for ever on earth."

"Poor Eva," I said; "and this was the sorrow which helped to make you so good."

"I did not know it had been so great a sorrow, Thekla," she said with a quivering voice, "until last night."

"Then you had loved each other all that time," I said, half to myself.

"I suppose so," she said in a low voice. "But I never knew till yesterday how much."

After a short silence, she began again with a smile,-

"Thekla, he thinks me unchanged during all those years; me, the matron of the novices! But oh, how he is changed! What a life-time of suffering on his face! How they must have made him suffer!"

"God gives it to you as your life-work to restore and help him," I said. "O Eva, it must be the best woman's lot in the world to bind up for the dearest on earth the wounds which men have inflicted. It must be joy unutterable to receive back from God's own hands a love you have both so dearly proved you were ready to sacrifice for him."

"Your mother thinks so too," she said. "She said last night the vows which would bind us together would be holier than any ever uttered by saint or hermit."

"Did our mother say that?" I asked.

"Yes," replied Eva. "And she said she was sure Dr. Luther would think so also."

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