LL HIS CHILDHOOD had gone out of him, all his gleeful, careless, sunny temper had gone with it; he spoke sullenly and wearily, choking down the great sobs in his chest. To him it was as if the end of the world had come.
His sister lingered by him while striving to persuade him to go to his place in the little crowded bedchamber with Albrecht and Waldo and Christof. But it was in vain. "I shall stay here," was all he answered her. And he stayed-all the night long.
The lamps went out; the rats came and ran across the floor; as the hours crept on through midnight and past, the cold intensified and the air of the room grew like ice. August did not move; he lay with his face downward on the golden and rainbow hued pedestal of the household treasure, which henceforth was to be cold for evermore, an exiled thing in a foreign city in a far-off land.
Whilst yet it was dark his three elder brothers came down the stairs and let themselves out, each bearing his lantern and going to his work in stone-yard and timber-yard and at the salt-works. They did not notice him; they did not know what had happened.
A little later his sister came down with a light in her hand to make ready the house ere morning should break.
She stole up to him and laid her hand on his shoulder timidly.
"Dear August, you must be frozen. August, do look up! do speak!"
August raised his eyes with a wild, feverish, sullen look in them that she had never seen there. His face was ashen white: his lips were like fire. He had not slept all night; but his passionate sobs had given way to delirious waking dreams and numb senseless trances, which had alternated one on another all through the freezing, lonely, horrible hours.
"It will never be warm again," he muttered, "never again!"
Dorothea clasped him with trembling hands.
"August! do you not know me!" she cried, in an agony. "I am Dorothea. Wake up, dear-wake up! It is morning, only so dark!"
August shuddered all over.
"The morning!" he echoed.
He slowly rose up on to his feet.
"I will go to grandfather," he said, very low. "He is always good: perhaps he could save it."
Loud blows with the heavy iron knocker of the house-door drowned his words. A strange voice called aloud through the keyhole:
"Let me in! Quick!-there is no time to lose! More snow like this, and the roads will be all blocked. Let me in. Do you hear? I am come to take the great stove."
August sprang erect, his fists doubled, his eyes blazing.
"You shall never touch it!" he screamed; "you shall never touch it!"
"Who shall prevent us?" laughed a big man, who was a Bavarian, amused at the fierce little figure fronting him.
"I!" said August "You shall never have it! you shall kill me first!"
"Strehla," said the big man, as August's father entered the room, "you have got a little mad dog here: muzzle him."
One way and another they did muzzle him. He fought like a little demon, and hit out right and left, and one of his blows gave the Bavarian a black eye. But he was soon mastered by four grown men, and his father flung him with no light hand out from the door of the back entrance, and the buyers of the stately and beautiful stove set to work to pack it heedfully and carry it away.
When Dorothea stole out to look for August, he was nowhere in sight. She went back to little 'Gilda, who was ailing, and sobbed over the child, whilst the others stood looking on, dimly understanding that with Hirschvogel was going all the warmth of their bodies, all the light of their hearth.
Even their father now was very sorry and ashamed; but two hundred florins seemed a big sum to him, and, after all, he thought the children could warm themselves quite as well at the black iron stove in the kitchen. Besides, whether he regretted it now or not, the work of the Nurnberg potter was sold irrevocably, and he had to stand still and see the men from Munich wrap it in manifold wrappings and bear it out into the snowy air to where an ox-cart stood in waiting for it.
In another moment Hirschvogel was gone-gone forever and aye.
August stood still for a time, leaning, sick and faint from the violence that had been used to him, against the back wall of the house. The wall looked on a court where a well was, and the backs of other houses, and beyond them the spire of the Muntze Tower and the peaks of the mountains.
Into the court an old neighbour hobbled for water, and, seeing the boy, said to him:
"Child, is it true your father is selling the big painted stove?"
August nodded his head, then burst into a passion of tears.
"Well, for sure he is a fool," said the neighbour. "Heaven forgive me for calling him so before his own child! but the stove was worth a mint of money. I do remember in my young days, in old Anton's time (that was your great-grandfather, my lad), a stranger from Vienna saw it, and said that it was worth its weight in gold."
August's sobs went on their broken, impetuous course.
"I loved it! I loved it!" he moaned. "I do not care what its value was. I loved it! I loved it!"
"You little simpleton!" said the old man, kindly. "But you are wiser than your father, when all's said. If sell it he must, he should have taken it to good Herr Steiner over at Spruz, who would have given him honest value. But no doubt they took him over his beer, ay, ay! but if I were you I would do better than cry. I would go after it."
August raised his head, the tears raining down his cheeks.
"Go after it when you are bigger," said the neighbour, with a good-natured wish to cheer him up a little. "The world is a small thing after all: I was a travelling clockmaker once upon a time, and I know that your stove will be safe enough whoever gets it; anything that can be sold for a round sum is always wrapped up in cotton wool by everybody. Ay, ay, don't cry so much; you will see your stove again some day."
Then the old man hobbled away to draw his brazen pail full of water at the well.