Michael Kohlhaas by platatoe 2018-03-05 20:57:02

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Michael Kohlhaas by platatoe
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Toward the middle of the sixteenth century there lived on the banks of the river Havel a horse-dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas, the son of a school-master, one of the most upright and, at the same time, one of the most terrible men of his day. Up to his thirtieth year this extraordinary man would have been considered the model of a good citizen. In a village which still bears his name, he owned a farmstead on which he quietly supported himself by plying his trade. The children with whom his wife presented him were brought up in the fear of God, and taught to be industrious and honest; nor was there one among his neighbors who had not enjoyed the benefit of his kindness or his justice. In short, the world would have had every reason to bless his memory if he had not carried to excess one virtue—his sense of justice, which made of him a robber and a murderer. He rode abroad once with a string of young horses, all well fed and glossy-coated, and was turning over in his mind how he would employ the profit that he hoped to make from them at the fairs; part of it, as is the way with good managers, he would use to gain future profits, but he would also spend part of it in the enjoyment of the present. While thus engaged he reached the Elbe, and near a stately castle, situated on Saxon territory, he came upon a toll-bar which he had never found on this road before. Just in the midst of a heavy shower he halted with his horses and called to the toll-gate keeper, who soon after showed his surly face at the window. The horse-dealer told him to open the gate. "What new arrangement is this?" he asked, when the toll-gatherer, after some time, finally came out of the house. "Seignorial privilege" answered the latter, unlocking the gate, "conferred by the sovereign upon Squire Wenzel Tronka." "Is that so?" queried Kohlhaas; "the Squire's name is now Wenzel?" and gazed at the castle, the glittering battlements of which looked out over the field. "Is the old gentleman dead?" "Died of apoplexy," answered the gate keeper, as he raised the toll-bar. "Hum! Too bad!" rejoined Kohlhaas. "An estimable old gentleman he was, who liked to watch people come and go, and helped along trade and traffic wherever he could. He once had a causeway built because a mare of mine had broken her leg out there on the road leading to the village. Well, how much is it?" he asked, and with some trouble got out the few groschen demanded by the gate keeper from under his cloak, which was fluttering in the wind. "Yes, old man," he added, picking up the leading reins as the latter muttered "Quick, quick!" and cursed the weather; "if this tree had remained standing in the forest it would have been better for me and for you." With this he gave him the money, and started to ride on. He had hardly passed under the toll-bar, however, when a new voice cried out from the tower behind him, "Stop there, horse-dealer!" and he saw the castellan close a window and come hurrying down to him. "Well, I wonder what he wants!" Kohlhaas asked himself, and halted with his horses. Buttoning another waistcoat over his ample body, the castellan came up to him and, standing with his back to the storm, demanded his passport. "My passport?" queried Kohlhaas. Somewhat disconcerted, he replied that he had none, so far as he knew, but that, if some one would just describe to him what in the name of goodness this was, perhaps he might accidentally happen to have one about him. The castellan, eying him askance, retorted that without an official permit no horse-dealer was allowed to cross the border with horses.

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