THE LOVE OF ULRICH NEBENDAHL
By Jerome K. Jerome
Author of "Paul Kelver," "Three Men in a Boat," etc., etc.
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD & COMPANY 1909
COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY JEROME K. JEROME COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY DODD, MEAD
& COMPANY Published, September, 1908
THE LOVE OF ULRICH NEBENDAHL
Perhaps of all, it troubled most the Herr Pfarrer. Was he not the father
of the village? And as such did it not fall to him to see his children
marry well and suitably? marry in any case. It was the duty of every
worthy citizen to keep alive throughout the ages the sacred hearth fire,
to rear up sturdy lads and honest lassies that would serve God, and the
Fatherland. A true son of Saxon soil was the Herr Pastor Winckelmann—kindly,
"Why, at your age, Ulrich—at your age," repeated the Herr Pastor,
setting down his beer and wiping with the back of his hand his large
uneven lips, "I was the father of a family—two boys and a girl. You
never saw her, Ulrich; so sweet, so good. We called her Maria." The Herr
Pfarrer sighed and hid his broad red face behind the raised cover of his
"They must be good fun in a house, the little ones," commented Ulrich,
gazing upward with his dreamy eyes at the wreath of smoke ascending from
his long-stemmed pipe. "The little ones, always my heart goes out to
"Take to yourself a wife," urged the Herr Pfarrer. "It is your duty. The
good God has given to you ample means. It is not right that you should
lead this lonely life. Bachelors make old maids; things of no use."
"That is so," Ulrich agreed. "I have often said the same unto myself. It
would be pleasant to feel one was not working merely for oneself."
"Elsa, now," went on the Herr Pfarrer, "she is a good child, pious and
economical. The price of such is above rubies."
Ulrich's face lightened with a pleasant smile. "Aye, Elsa is a good girl,"
he answered. "Her little hands—have you ever noticed them, Herr
Pastor—so soft and dimpled."
The Pfarrer pushed aside his empty pot and leaned his elbows on the table.
"I think—I do not think—she would say no. Her mother, I have
reason to believe—Let me sound them—discreetly." The old
pastor's red face glowed redder, yet with pleasurable anticipation; he was
a born matchmaker.
But Ulrich the wheelwright shuffled in his chair uneasily.
"A little longer," he pleaded. "Let me think it over. A man should not
marry without first being sure he loves. Things might happen. It would not
be fair to the maiden."
The Herr Pfarrer stretched his hand across the table and laid it upon
"It is Hedwig; twice you walked home with her last week."
"It is a lonesome way for a timid maiden; and there is the stream to
cross," explained the wheelwright.
For a moment the Herr Pastor's face had clouded, but now it cleared again.
"Well, well, why not? Elsa would have been better in some respects, but
Hedwig—ah, yes, she, too, is a good girl a little wild perhaps—it
will wear off. Have you spoken with her?"
"But you will?"
Again there fell that troubled look into those dreamy eyes. This time it
was Ulrich who, laying aside his pipe, rested his great arms upon the
"Now, how does a man know when he is in love?" asked Ulrich of the Pastor
who, having been married twice, should surely be experienced upon the
point. "How should he be sure that it is this woman and no other to whom
his heart has gone out?"
A commonplace-looking man was the Herr Pastor, short and fat and bald. But
there had been other days, and these had left to him a voice that still
was young; and the evening twilight screening the seared face, Ulrich
heard but the pastor's voice, which was the voice of a boy.
"She will be dearer to you than yourself. Thinking of her, all else will
be as nothing. For her you would lay down your life."
They sat in silence for a while; for the fat little Herr Pfarrer was
dreaming of the past; and long, lanky Ulrich Nebendahl, the wheelwright,
of the future.
That evening, as chance would have it, Ulrich returning to his homestead—a
rambling mill beside the river, where he dwelt alone with ancient Anna—met
Elsa of the dimpled hands upon the bridge that spans the murmuring Muhlde,
and talked a while with her, and said good-night.
How sweet it had been to watch her ox-like eyes shyly seeking his, to
press her dimpled hand and feel his own great strength. Surely he loved
her better than he did himself. There could be no doubt of it. He pictured
her in trouble, in danger from the savage soldiery that came and went like
evil shadows through these pleasant Saxon valleys, leaving death and
misery behind them: burnt homesteads; wild-eyed women, hiding their faces
from the light. Would he not for her sake give his life?
So it was made clear to him that little Elsa was his love.
Until next morning, when, raising his eyes from the whirling saw, there
stood before him Margot, laughing. Margot, mischief-loving, wayward, that
would ever be to him the baby he had played with, nursed, and comforted.
Margot weary! Had he not a thousand times carried her sleeping in his
arms. Margot in danger! At the mere thought his face flushed an angry
All that afternoon Ulrich communed with himself, tried to understand
himself, and could not. For Elsa and Margot and Hedwig were not the only
ones by a long way. What girl in the village did he not love, if it came
to that: Liesel, who worked so hard and lived so poorly, bullied by her
cross-grained granddam. Susanna, plain and a little crotchety, who had
never had a sweetheart to coax the thin lips into smiles. The little ones—for
so they seemed to long, lanky Ulrich, with their pleasant ways—Ulrich
smiled as he thought of them—how should a man love one more than
The Herr Pfarrer shook his head and sighed.
"That is not love. Gott in Himmel! think what it would lead to? The good
God never would have arranged things so. You love one; she is the only
woman in the world for you."
"But you, yourself, Herr Pastor, you have twice been married," suggested
the puzzled wheelwright.
"But one at a time, Ulrich—one at a time. That is a very different
Why should it not come to him, alone among men? Surely it was a beautiful
thing, this love; a thing worthy of a man, without which a man was but a
useless devourer of food, cumbering the earth.
So Ulrich pondered, pausing from his work one drowsy summer's afternoon,
listening to the low song of the waters. How well he knew the winding
Muhlde's merry voice. He had worked beside it, played beside it all his
life. Often he would sit and talk to it as to an old friend, reading
answers in its changing tones.
Trudchen, seeing him idle, pushed her cold nose into his hand. Trudchen
just now was feeling clever and important. Was she not the mother of the
five most wonderful puppies in all Saxony? They swarmed about his legs,
pressing him with their little foolish heads. Ulrich stooped and picked up
one in each big hand. But this causing jealousy and heartburning,
laughing, he lay down upon a log. Then the whole five stormed over him,
biting his hair, trampling with their clumsy paws upon his face; till
suddenly they raced off in a body to attack a floating feather. Ulrich sat
up and watched them, the little rogues, the little foolish, helpless
things, that called for so much care. A mother thrush twittered above his
head. Ulrich rose and creeping on tiptoe, peeped into the nest. But the
mother bird, casting one glance towards him, went on with her work.
Whoever was afraid of Ulrich the wheelwright! The tiny murmuring insects
buzzed to and fro about his feet. An old man, passing to his evening rest,
gave him "good-day." A zephyr whispered something to the leaves, at which
they laughed, then passed upon his way. Here and there a shadow crept out
from its hiding-place.
"If only I could marry the whole village!" laughed Ulrich to himself.
But that, of course, is nonsense!
The spring that followed let loose the dogs of war again upon the
blood-stained land, for now all Germany, taught late by common suffering
forgetfulness of local rivalries, was rushing together in a mighty wave
that would sweep French feet for ever from their hold on German soil.
Ulrich, for whom the love of woman seemed not, would at least be the lover
of his country. He, too, would march among those brave stern hearts that,
stealing like a thousand rivulets from every German valley, were flowing
north and west to join the Prussian eagles.
But even love of country seemed denied to Ulrich of the dreamy eyes. His
wheelwright's business had called him to a town far off. He had been
walking all the day. Towards evening, passing the outskirts of a wood, a
feeble cry for help, sounding from the shadows, fell upon his ear. Ulrich
paused, and again from the sombre wood crept that weary cry of pain.
Ulrich ran and came at last to where, among the wild flowers and the
grass, lay prone five human figures. Two of them were of the German
Landwehr, the other three Frenchmen in the hated uniform of Napoleon's
famous scouts. It had been some unimportant "affair of outposts," one of
those common incidents of warfare that are never recorded—never
remembered save here and there by some sad face unnoticed in the crowd.
Four of the men were dead; one, a Frenchman was still alive, though
bleeding copiously from a deep wound in the chest that with a handful of
dank grass he was trying to staunch.
Ulrich raised him in his arms. The man spoke no German, and Ulrich knew
but his mother tongue; but when the man, turning towards the neighbouring
village with a look of terror in his half-glazed eyes, pleaded with his
hands, Ulrich understood, and lifting him gently carried him further into
He found a small deserted shelter that had been made by charcoal-burners,
and there on a bed of grass and leaves Ulrich laid him; and there for a
week all but a day Ulrich tended him and nursed him back to life, coming
and going stealthily like a thief in the darkness. Then Ulrich, who had
thought his one desire in life to be to kill all Frenchmen, put food and
drink into the Frenchman's knapsack and guided him half through the night
and took his hand; and so they parted.
Ulrich did not return to Alt Waldnitz, that lies hidden in the forest
beside the murmuring Muhlde. They would think he had gone to the war; he
would let them think so. He was too great a coward to go back to them and
tell them that he no longer wanted to fight; that the sound of the drum
brought to him only the thought of trampled grass where dead men lay with
curses in their eyes.
So, with head bowed down in shame, to and fro about the moaning land,
Ulrich of the dreamy eyes came and went, guiding his solitary footsteps by
the sounds of sorrow, driving away the things of evil where they crawled
among the wounded, making his way swiftly to the side of pain, heedless of
Thus one day he found himself by chance near again to forest-girdled
Waldnitz. He would push his way across the hills, wander through its quiet
ways in the moonlight while the good folks all lay sleeping. His
foot-steps quickened as he drew nearer. Where the trees broke he would be
able to look down upon it, see every roof he knew so well—the
church, the mill, the winding Muhlde—the green, worn grey with
dancing feet, where, when the hateful war was over, would be heard again
the Saxon folk-songs.
Another was there, where the forest halts on the brow of the hill—a
figure kneeling on the ground with his face towards the village. Ulrich
stole closer. It was the Herr Pfarrer, praying volubly but inaudibly. He
scrambled to his feet as Ulrich touched him, and his first astonishment
over, poured forth his tale of woe.
There had been trouble since Ulrich's departure. A French corps of
observation had been camped upon the hill, and twice within the month had
a French soldier been found murdered in the woods. Heavy had been the
penalties exacted from the village, and terrible had been the Colonel's
threats of vengeance. Now, for a third time, a soldier stabbed in the back
had been borne into camp by his raging comrades, and this very afternoon
the Colonel had sworn that if the murderer were not handed over to him
within an hour from dawn, when the camp was to break up, he would before
marching burn the village to the ground. The Herr Pfarrer was on his way
back from the camp where he had been to plead for mercy, but it had been
"Such are foul deeds!" said Ulrich.
"The people are mad with hatred of the French," answered the Herr Pastor.
"It may be one, it may be a dozen who have taken vengeance into their own
hands. May God forgive them."
"They will not come forward—not to save the village?"
"Can you expect it of them! There is no hope for us; the village will burn
as a hundred others have burned."
Aye, that was true; Ulrich had seen their blackened ruins; the old sitting
with white faces among the wreckage of their homes, the little children
wailing round their knees, the tiny broods burned in their nests. He had
picked their corpses from beneath the charred trunks of the dead elms.
The Herr Pfarrer had gone forward on his melancholy mission to prepare the
people for their doom.
Ulrich stood alone, looking down upon Alt Waldnitz bathed in moonlight.
And there came to him the words of the old pastor: "She will be dearer to
you than yourself. For her you would lay down your life." And Ulrich knew
that his love was the village of Alt Waldnitz, where dwelt his people, the
old and wrinkled, the laughing "little ones," where dwelt the helpless
dumb things with their deep pathetic eyes, where the bees hummed drowsily,
and the thousand tiny creatures of the day.
They hanged him high upon a withered elm, with his face towards Alt
Waldnitz, that all the village, old and young, might see; and then to the
beat of drum and scream of fife they marched away; and forest-hidden
Waldnitz gathered up once more its many threads of quiet life and wove
them into homely pattern.
They talked and argued many a time, and some there were who praised and
some who blamed. But the Herr Pfarrer could not understand.
Until years later a dying man unburdened his soul so that the truth became
Then they raised Ulrich's coffin reverently, and the young men carried it
into the village and laid it in the churchyard that it might always be
among them. They reared above him what in their eyes was a grand monument,
and carved upon it:
"Greater love hath no man than this."