It was a blazing afternoon, late in July. The Cheruskan fraternity entered Ellerntal in celebration of their mid-summer festivity. They had let the great wagon stand at the outskirts of the village and now marched up its street in well-formed procession, proud and vain as a company of Schützen before whom all the world bows down once a year.
First came the regimental band of the nearest garrison, dressed in civilian’s clothes—then, under the vigilance of two brightly attired freshmen, the blue, white and golden banner of the fraternity, next the officers accompanied by other freshmen, and finally the active members in whom the dignity, decency and fighting strength of the fraternity were embodied. A gay little crowd of elderly gentlemen, ladies and guests followed in less rigid order. Last came, as always and everywhere, the barefoot children of the village. The procession came to a halt in front of the Prussian Eagle, a long-drawn single story structure of frame. The newly added dance hall with its three great windows protruded loftily above the house.
The banner was lowered, the horns of the band gave wild, sharp signals to which no one attended, and Pastor Rhode, a sedate man of fifty dressed in the scarf and slashed cap of the order, stepped from the inn door to pronounce the address of welcome. At this moment it happened that one of the two banner bearers who had stood at the right and left of the flag with naked foils, rigid as statues, slowly tilted over forward and buried his face in the green sward.
This event naturally put an immediate end to the ceremony. Everybody, men and women, thronged around the fallen youth and were quickly pushed back by the medical fraternity men who were present in various stages of professional development.
The medical wisdom of this many-headed council culminated in the cry:
“A glass of water!”
Immediately a young girl—hot-eyed and loose-haired, exquisite in the roundedness of half maturity—rushed out of the door and handed a glass to the gentlemen who had turned the fainting lad on his back and were loosening scarf and collar.
He lay there, in the traditional garb of the fraternity, like a young cavalry man of the time of the Great Elector—with his blue, gold-braided doublet, close-fitting breeches of white leather and mighty boots whose flapping tops swelled out over his firm thighs. He couldn’t be above eighteen or nineteen, long and broad though he was, with his cheeks of milk and blood, that showed no sign of down, no duelling scar. You would have thought him some mother’s pet, had there not been a sharp line of care that ran mournfully from the half-open lips to the chin.
The cold water did its duty. Sighing, the lad opened his eyes—two pretty blue boy’s eyes, long lashed and yet a little empty of expression as though life had delayed giving them the harder glow of maturity.
These eyes fell upon the young girl who stood there, with hands pressed to her heaving bosom, in an ecstatic desire to help.
“Where can we carry him?” asked one of the physicians.
“Into my room,” she cried, “I’ll show you the way.”
Eight strong hands took hold and two minutes later the boy lay on the flowered cover of her bed. It was far too short for him, but it stood, soft and comfortable, hidden by white mull curtains in a corner of her simple room.
He was summoned back to full consciousness, tapped, auscultated and examined. Finally he confessed with a good deal of hesitation that his right foot hurt him a bit—that was all.
“Are the boots your own, freshie?” asked one of the physicians.
He blushed, turned his gaze to the wall and shook his head.
“Well, then, off with the wretched thing.”
But all exertion of virile strength was in vain. The boot did not budge. Only a low moan of suffering came from the patient.
“There’s nothing to be done,” said one, “little miss, let’s have a bread-knife.”
Anxious and with half-folded hands she had stood behind the doctors.
Now she rushed off and brought the desired implement.
“But you’re not going to hurt him?” she asked with big, beseeching eyes.
“No, no, we’re only going to cut his leg off,” jested one of the by-standers and took the knife from her clinging fingers.
Two incisions, two rents along the shin—the leather parted. A steady surgeon’s hand guided the knife carefully over the instep. At last the flesh appeared—bloody, steel-blue and badly swollen.
“Freshie, you idiot, you might have killed yourself,” said the surgeon and gave the patient a paternal nudge. “And now, little miss, hurry—sugar of lead bandages till evening.”
Categories: English Literature