|Chapter 11||Contents||Chapter 2|
It would not be easy to find a married pair differing so widely from each other, as did our father and mother. The latter being a daughter and grand-daughter of men alike noted for piety and originality of mind, felt at home in a sphere of thought dealing with subjects of revealed truth, and higher life of communion with God, together with the practice of Christian charity. My father on the other hand, belonged to a family, some of whose members had attained to worldly distinction, one of them being a noted rationalist; hence his interest lay chiefly in intellectual and scientific research, and the enjoyment of social intercourse.
Notwithstanding this marked dissimilarity our parents were united in hearty affection, mutual admiration and respect characterising their relations. Although differing from the views held by his wife, our father regarded her convictions as sacred, and venerated in her a high spiritual life in which he was not a sharer. As a child, I remember his calling me to a window to witness two pious clergymen approaching our parsonage. "Look, little Philip," said he; "there are two servants of God." When in the course of subsequent conversation they asked him whether any "pietists"1.1 lived in the parish, "Certainly, and not a few," was his prompt reply. Surprised, they inquired the number. "Thirty," he said ; and noticing their wondering looks, added playfully— "Well, you see, there is my wife, who counts for twenty-four in her own person, and six other women hold with her, heart and soul!"
For ten years our parents had thus lived very happily together, and were now located at Astelsheim, a village near Calw in the Black Forest, where my father's genial temper united to our mother's unfailing kindness, had won the hearts of the simple peasants around them. The exceptionally fine vintage of the year 1811 had filled our country with rejoicing, and it was in the midst of this pleasant excitement that our mother sickened, and was soon prostrated by nervous fever. In the middle of one night, our father hurriedly sent for his brother, a physician in practice at Stuttgart, for our village doctor began to despair of coping with the disease. Our uncle came in haste, bringing with him a female cousin, who found plenty of work in nursing and the care of six small children under the age of ten, No one besides was in the house, except our old grandmother, and the offers of help made by kind but inexperienced neighbors availed little. Uncle Carl startled our poor father terribly, by declaring that recovery would be possible only in one such case out of a hundred, and consternation spread through the village with the sad tidings of our impending loss, for her constant sympathy and kindness had endeared the sufferer to a surprising extent. Our grandmother alone remained calm and collected amid the general lamentation. For long ago she had passed through God's school of sorrow, in the early death of her husband and three highly-gifted children just reaching maturity. Under such circumstances she had learned to sacrifice her own will to a higher and Divine one.
The illness had now lasted for a week, and we were anxiously awaiting the crisis. Vainly the little children gathered round the sick bed, entreating their mother in imploring tones, not to go away and leave them. Increasing weakness showed us that death was rapidly approaching, and mournfully our grandmother commenced the sad though needful preparation for the end. By degrees, the room became crowded with villagers who, having heard the rumor of the Frau Pastorin's expected death, longed to have a farewell word from her lips. With his face hidden in his hands, our father stood by the side of his wife in dumb anguish, and behind crowded the children, sobbing and wringing their hands in terror and a helpless longing to hold back the parting spirit. It was a touching sight, and many tears were shed by those who looked upon it. Only one soul in all the company was calm, and did not weep ; that was the mother herself. For she believed that all her toil was over, and being ready to die nothing remained for her but to say good-bye. So she fixed her fading eyes once more upon her husband, and drawing him to her with trembling hands, kissed him, as for the last time; she then beckoned the children to her side and caressed them; finally, making a sign to those around her, she gave her hand to each in turn, and then in a faint voice murmured: "My hour is come, I have reached the goal. Has it not been worth a struggle of some thirty years down here, to win ages of immortal glory?"
Her tired eyes now closed, and she entered upon the final conflict. That was a moment of strange and holy significance to all of us. At this time of utter helplessness, when we had come to feel that any power which might raise her would be simply miraculous, a great inexpressible sighing, or rather, a groaning which no, words could utter, ascended up to God from out of the hearts gathered round that lowly bed.
Suddenly our father roused himself, as if from a dream, and signing to the children to follow, left the chamber of mourning. Inquiring looks accompanied the band on their way upstairs, the little ones thronging like sheep behind a shepherd, not knowing whither they went. Quickly opening his study door, the father marshaled them round the table, and bade them kneel, himself taking the central place. Then, drawing off the customary little velvet cap from his head, and with folded hands, he prayed that although he did not deserve the mercy, God would take pity upon him and his children, and leave them the mother whom they so sorely needed. Down upon our knees, we children felt a mysterious thrill pass through us. It seemed as if we had been admitted within the upper sanctuary, before the throne of the Everlasting God. A vivid expectancy had taken the place of tears, when, with a glance of deep tenderness, our father said: "Now, children, let us go back." And out we stepped again in his wake, down into the silent chamber where many still stood waiting, and as we entered, they looked up at us wonderingly, as if they would have asked whether we had gotten a glimpse into the high places of Him, whose seat is above the clouds, in whose hands are poised the mystic balances that weigh out life and death.
Again we resumed our posts of watching, but who can picture what was going on within our hearts, for into them had entered a calm, deep and still, like the calm of eternity. No movement or grief was visible now; all the company seemed to be holding their breath. Only our eyes were active still, and they remained fixed upon that colorless face on the pillow— and fixed indeed with such intensity, as if our gaze could draw her back to this life of ours.
It was not long before, suddenly opening her eyes— already closed, as it seemed, in the death-sleep— she spoke, almost inaudibly: "Let the people all go. I shall not die."
The room was noiselessly emptied of its occupants, and from that hour, she gradually began to recover. Before long, she related the following incidents. "I stood at the very door of eternity, and saw my brothers who had come to fetch me and was rejoicing greatly at the thought of our eternal union. All at once it occurred to me that if my life on earth could be of further service to my children, I wished God might restore it, and immediately it was impressed upon me that He would do so."
The illness lasted eleven weeks longer, but we felt happy all the time, in the quiet confidence that God had given our beloved mother back to us. What He had given us in her, and with her, we little thought: the future was to reveal it.
1.1 Pietists is a term of reproach in Germany, applied to any spiritual and earnest Christians.
|Chapter 11||Contents||Chapter 2|