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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 20909

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Eva's Agnes's Story.

Eisleben, 1542.

Aunt Elsè says no one in the world ought to present more thanksgivings to God than Heinz and I, and I am sure she is right.

In the first place we have the best father and mother in the world, so that whenever from our earliest years they have spoken to us about our Father in heaven, we have had just to think of what they were on earth to us, and feel that all their love and goodness together are what God is; only (if we can conceive such a thing) much more. We have only had to add to what they are, to learn what God is, not to take anything away; to say to ourselves, as we think of our parents, so kind in judging others, so loving, so true, God is like that-only the love is greater and wiser than our father's, tenderer and more sympathizing than our mother's (difficult as it is to imagine). And then there is just one thing in which he is unlike. His power is unbounded. He can give to us every blessing he sees it good to give.

With such a father and mother on earth, and such a Father in heaven, and with Heinz, how can I ever thank our God enough?

And our mother is so young still! Our dear father said the other day, "her hair has not a tinge of grey in it, but is as golden as our Agnes's." And her face is so fair and sweet, and her voice so clear and full in her own dear hymns, or in talking! Aunt Elsè says, it makes one feel at rest to look at her, and that her voice always was the sweetest in the world, something between church music and the cooing of a dove. Aunt Elsè says also, that even as a child she had just the same way she has now of seeing what you are thinking about-of coming into your heart, and making everything that is good in it feel it is understood, and all that is bad in it feel detected and slink away.

Our dear father does not, indeed, look so young; but I like men to look as if they had been in the wars-as if their hearts had been well ploughed and sown. And the grey in his hair, and the furrows on his forehead-those two upright ones when he is thinking-and the firm compression of his mouth, and the hollow on his cheek, seem to me quite as beautiful in their way as our mother's placid brow, and the dear look on her lips, like the dawn of a smile, as if the law of kindness had moulded every curve.

Then, in the second place (perhaps I ought to have said in the first,) we have the "Catechism." And Aunt Elsè says we have no idea, Heinz and I, what a blessing that is to us. We certainly did not always think it a blessing when we were learning it. But I begin to understand it now, especially since I have been staying at Wittemberg with Aunt Elsè, and she has told me about the perplexities of her childhood and early youth.

Always to have learned about God as the Father who "cares for us every day"-gives us richly all things to enjoy, and "that all out of pure, fatherly, divine love and goodness; and of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he has redeemed me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, to be his own-redeemed me, not with gold and silver, but with his holy, precious blood;" and of the Holy Spirit, that "he dwells with us daily, calls us by his gospel, enlightens, and richly forgives;"-all this, she says, is the greatest blessing any one can know. To have no dark, suspicious thoughts of the good God, unconsciously drunk in from infancy, to dash away from our hearts-Dr. Luther himself says we have little idea what a gift that is to us young people of this generation.

It used to be like listening to histories of dark days centuries ago, to hear Aunt Elsè speak of her childhood at Eisenach, when Dr. Luther also was a boy, and used to sing for bread at our good kinswoman Ursula Cotta's door-when the monks and nuns from the many high-walled convents used to walk demurely in their dark robes about the streets; and Aunt Elsè used to tremble at the thought of heaven, because it might be like a convent garden, and all the heavenly saints like Aunt Agnes.

Our dear Great-Aunt Agnes, how impossible for us to understand her being thus dreaded!-she who was the playmate of our childhood; and used to spoil us, our mother said, by doing everything we asked, and making us think she enjoyed being pulled about, and made a lion or a Turk of, as much as we enjoyed it. How well I remember now the pang that came over Heinz and me when we were told to speak and step softly, because she was ill, and then taken for a few minutes in the day to sit quite still by her bed-side with picture-books, because she loved to look at us, but could not bear any noise. And at last the day when we were led in solemnly, and she could look at us no more, but lay quite still and white, while we placed our flowers on the bed, and we both felt it too sacred and too much like being at church to cry-until our evening prayer-time came, and our mother told us that Aunt Agnes did not need our prayers any longer, because God had made her quite good and happy in heaven. And Heinz said he wished God would take us all, and make us quite good and happy with her. But I, when we were left in our cribs alone, sobbed bitterly, and could not sleep. It seemed so terrible to think Aunt Agnes did not want us any more, and that we could do nothing more for her-she who had been so tenderly good to us! I was so afraid, also, that we had not been kind enough to her, had teased her to play with us, and made more noise than we ought; and that that was the reason God had taken her away. Heinz could not understand that at all. He was quite sure God was too kind; and, although he also cried, he soon fell asleep. It was a great relief to me when our mother came round, as she always did the last thing to see if we were asleep, and I could sob out my troubles on her heart, and say-

"Will Aunt Agnes never want us any more?"

"Yes, darling," said our mother; "she wants us now. She is waiting for us all to come to her."

"Then it was not because we teased her, and were noisy, she was taken away? We did love her so very dearly! And can we do nothing for her now?"

Then she told me how Aunt Agnes had suffered much here, and that our heavenly Father had taken her home, and that, although we could not do anything for her now, we need not leave her name out of our nightly prayers, because we could always say, "Thank God for taking dear Aunt Agnes home!"

And so two things were written on my heart that night, that there was a place like home beyond the sky, where Aunt Agnes was waiting for us, loving us quite as much as ever, with God who loved us more than any one; and that we must be as kind as possible to people, and not give any one a moment's pain, because a time may come when they will not need our kindness any more.

It is very difficult for me who always think of Aunt Agnes waiting for us in heaven, with the wistful loving look she used to have when she lay watching for Heinz and me to come and sit by her bed-side, to imagine what different thoughts Aunt Elsè had about her when she was a nun.

But Aunt Elsè says that she has no doubt that Heinz and I, with our teasing, and our noise, and our love, were among the chief instruments of her sanctification. Yes, those days of Aunt Elsè's childhood appear almost as far away from us as the days of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who lived at the Wartburg, used to seem from Aunt Elsè. It is wonderful to think what that miner's son, whom old John Reineck remembers carrying on his shoulders to the school-house up the hill, here at Eisleben, has done for us all. So completely that grim old time seems to have passed away. There is not a monastery left in all Saxony, and the pastors are all married, and schools are established in every town, where Dr. Luther says the young lads and maidens hear more about God and Christianity than the nuns and monks in all the convents had learned thirty years ago.

Not that all the boys and maidens are good as they ought to be. No; that is too plain from what Heinz and I feel and know, and also from what our dear father preaches in the pulpit on Sundays. Our mother says sometimes she is afraid we of this generation shall grow up weak, and self-indulgent, and ease-loving, unlike our fathers who had to fight for every inch of truth they hold, with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But our dear father smiles gravely, and says, she need not fear. These three enemies are not slain yet and will give the young generation enough to do. Besides, the Pope is still reigning at Rome, and the Emperor is even now threatening us with an army, to say nothing of the Turks, and the Anabaptists, of whom Dr. Luther says so much.

I knew very little of the world until two years ago, and not much, I am afraid, of myself. But when I was about fifteen I went alone to stay with Aunt Chriemnild and Aunt Elsè, and then I learned many things which in learning troubled me not a little, but now that they are learned make me happier than before, which our mother says is the way with most of God's lessons. Before these visits I had never left home; and although Heinz, who had been away, and was also naturally more thrown with other people as a boy than I was, often told me I knew no more of actual life than a baby, I never understood what he meant.

I suppose I had always unconsciously thought our father and mother were the centre of the world to every one as well as to us; and had just been thankful for my lot in life, because I believed in all respects no one else had anything so good; and entertained a quiet conviction that in their hearts every one thought the same. And to find that to other people our lot in life seemed pitiable and poor, was an immense surprise to me, and no little grief!

When we left our old home in the forest many years since, when Heinz and I were quite children; and it only lingered in our memories as a kind of Eden or fairy-land, where, amongst wild flowers, and green glades, and singing birds, and streams, we made a home for all our dreams, not questioning, however, in our hearts that our new home at Eisleben was quite as excellent in its way. Have we not a garden behind the house with several apple-trees, and a pond as large as any of our neighbours, and an empty loft for wet days-the perfection of a loft-for telling fairy tales in, or making experiments, or preparing surprises of wonderful cabinet work with Heinz's tools? And has not our Eis

leben valley also its green and wooded hills, and in the forests around are there not strange glows all night from the great miners' furnaces to which those of the charcoal-burners in the Thuringian forest are mere toys? And are there not, moreover, all kinds of wild caverns and pits from which, at intervals, the miners come forth, grimy and independent, and sing their wild songs in chorus as they come home from work? And is not Eisleben Dr. Luther's birth-place? And have we not a high grammar-school which Dr. Luther founded, and in which our dear father teaches Latin? And do we not hear him preach once every Sunday?

To me it always seemed, and seems still, that nothing can be nobler than our dear father's office of telling the people the way to heaven on Sundays, and teaching their children the way to be wise and good on earth in the week. It was a great shock to me when I found every one did not think the same.

Not that every one was not always most kind to me; but it happened in this way.

One day some visitors had been at Uncle Ulrich's castle. They had complimented me on my golden hair, which Heinz always says is the colour of the princess' in the fairy tale. I went out at Aunt Chriemhild's desire, feeling half shy and half flattered, to play with my cousins in the forest. As I was sitting hidden among the trees, twining wreaths from the forget-me-nots my cousins were gathering by the stream below, these ladies passed again. I heard one of them say,-

"Yes, she is a well-mannered little thing for a schoolmaster's daughter."

"I cannot think whence a burgher maiden-the Cottas are all burghers, are they not-should inherit those little white hands and those delicate features," said the other.

"Poor, too, doubtless, as they must be!" was the reply, "one would think she had never had to work about the house, as no doubt she must."

"Who was her grandfather?"

"Only a printer at Wittemberg!"

"Only a schoolmaster!" and "only a printer!"

My whole heart rose against the scornful words. Was this what people meant by paying compliments? Was this the estimate my father was held in in the world-he, the noblest man in it, who was fit to be the Elector or the Emperor? A bitter feeling came over me, which I thought was affection and an aggrieved sense of justice. But love is scarcely so bitter, or justice so fiery.

I did not tell any one, nor did I shed a tear, but went on weaving my forget-me-not wreaths, and forswore the wicked and hollow world. Had I not promised to do so long since, through my godsponsers, at my baptism? Now, I thought, I was learning what all that meant.

At Aunt Elsè's, however, another experience awaited me. There was to be a fair, and we were all to go in our best holiday dresses. My cousins had rich Oriental jewels on their bodices; and although, as burgher maidens, they might not, like my cousins at the castle, wear velvets, they had jackets and dresses of the stiffest, richest silks, which Uncle Reichenbach had sent for from Italy and the East.

My stuff dress certainly looked plain beside them, but I did not care in the least for that; my own dear mother and I had made it together; and she had hunted up some old precious stores to make me a taffetas jacket, which, as it was the most magnificent apparel I had ever possessed, we had both looked at with much complacency. Nor did it seem to me in the least less beautiful now. The touch of my mother's fingers had been on it, as she smoothed it round me the evening before I came away. And Aunt Elsè had said it was exactly like my mother. But my cousins were not quite pleased, it was evident; especially Fritz and the elder boys. They said nothing; but on the morning of the fête, a beautiful new dress, the counterpart of my cousins', was laid at my bed-side before I awoke.

I put it on with some pleasure, but, when I looked at myself in the glass-it was very unreasonable-I could not bear it. It seemed a reproach on my mother, and on my humble life and my dear, poor home at Eisleben, and I sat down and cried bitterly, until a gentle knock at the door aroused me; and Aunt Elsè came in, and found me sitting with tears on my face and on the beautiful new dress, exceedingly ashamed of myself.

"Don't you like it, my child? It was our Fritz's thought. I was afraid you might not be pleased."

"My mother thought the old one good enough," I said in a very faltering tone. "It was good enough for my home. I had better go home again."

Aunt Elsè was carefully wiping away the tears from my dress, but at these words she began to cry herself, and drew me to her heart, and said it was exactly what she should have felt in her young days at Eisenach, but that I must just wear the new dress to the fête, and then I need never wear it again unless I liked; and that I was right in thinking nothing half so good as my mother, and all she did, because nothing ever was, or would be, she was sure.

So we cried together, and were comforted; and I wore the green taffetas to the fair.

But when I came home again to Eisleben, I felt more ashamed of myself than of the taffetas dress or of the flattering ladies at the Castle. The dear, precious old home, in spite of all I could persuade myself to the contrary, did look small and poor, and the furniture worn and old. And yet I could see there new traces of care and welcome everywhere-fresh rushes on the floors; a new white quilt on my little bed, made, I knew, by my mother's hands.

She knew very soon that I was feeling troubled about something, and soon she knew it all, as I told her my bitter experiences of life.

"Your father, 'only a schoolmaster!'" she said, "and you yourself presented with a new taffetas dress! Are these all your grievances, little Agnes?"

"All, mother!" I exclaimed; "and only!"

"Is your father anything else than a schoolmaster, Agnes?" she said.

"I am not ashamed of that for an instant, mother," I said; "you could not think it. I think it is much nobler to teach children than to hunt foxes, and buy and sell bales of silk and wool. But the world seems to me exceedingly hollow and crooked; and I never wish to see any more of it. Oh, mother, do you think it was all nonsense in me?"

"I think, my child, you have had an encounter with the world, the flesh, and the devil; and I think they are no contemptible enemies. And I think you have not left them behind."

"But is not our father's calling nobler than any one's, and our home the nicest in the world?" I said; "and Eisleben really as beautiful in its way as the Thuringian forest, and as wise as Wittemberg?"

"All callings may be noble," she said; "and the one God calls us to is the noblest for us. Eisleben is not, I think, as beautiful as the old forest-covered hills at Gersdorf; nor Luther's birth-place as great as his dwelling-place, where he preaches and teaches, and sheds around him the influence of his holy daily life. Other homes may be as good as yours, dear child, though none can be so to you."

And so I learned that what makes any calling noble is its being commanded by God, and what makes anything good is its being given by God; and that contentment consists not in persuading ourselves that our things are the very best in the world, but in believing they are the best for us, and giving God thanks for them.

That was the way I began to learn to know the world. And also in that way I began better to understand the Catechism, especially the part about the Lord's Prayer, and that on the second article of the Creed, where we learn of Him who suffered for our sins and redeemed us with his holy precious blood.

I have just returned from my second visit to Wittemberg, which was much happier than my first-indeed, exceedingly happy.

The great delight of my visit, however, has been seeing and hearing Dr. Luther. His little daughter, Magdalen, three years younger than I am, had died not long before, but that seemed only to make Dr. Luther kinder than ever to all young maidens-"the poor maiden-kind," as he calls them.

His sermons seemed to me like a father talking to his children; and Aunt Elsè says he repeats the Catechism often himself "to God" to cheer his heart and strengthen himself-the great Dr. Martin Luther!

I had heard so much of him, and always thought of him as the man nearest God on earth, great with a majesty surpassing infinitely that of the Elector or the Emperor. And now it was a great delight to see him in his home, in the dark wainscoted room looking on his garden, and to see him raise his head from his writing and smile kindly at us as he sat at the great table in the broad window, with Mistress Luther sewing on a lower seat beside him, and little Margaretha Luther, the youngest child, quietly playing beside them, contented with a look now and than from her father.

I should like to have seen Magdalen Luther. She must have been such a good and loving child. But that will be hereafter in heaven!

I suppose my feeling for Dr. Luther is different from that of my mother and father. They knew him during the conflict. We only know him as the conqueror, with the palm, as it were, already in his hand.

But my great friend at Wittemberg is Aunt Thekla. I think, on the whole, there is no one I should more wish to be like. She understands one in that strange way, without telling, like my mother. I think it is because she has felt so much. Aunt Elsè told me of the terrible sorrow she had when she was young.

Our dear mother and father also had their great sorrows, although they came to the end of their sorrow in this life, and Aunt Thekla will only come to the end of hers in the other world. But it seems to have consecrated them all, I think, in some peculiar way. They all, and Dr. Luther also, make me think of the people who, they say, have the gift, by striking on the ground, of discovering where the hidden springs lie that others may know where to dig for the wells. Can sorrow only confer this gift of knowing where to find the hidden springs in the heart? If so, it must be worth while to suffer. Only there are just one or two sorrows which it seems almost impossible to bear!

But, as our mother says, our Saviour has all the gifts in His hands; and "the greatest gift" of all (in whose hands the roughest tools can do the finest work) "is love!" And that is just the gift every one of us may have without limit.

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