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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The First Mass

By Berthold Auerbach (1812–1882)

From “Ivo the Gentleman,” in “Black Forest Village Stories”: Translation of Charles Goepp

ONE Saturday afternoon the busy sound of hammer and adze was heard on the green hill-top which served the good folks of Nordstetten as their open-air gathering-place. Valentine the carpenter, with his two sons, was making a scaffolding, designed to serve no less a purpose than that of an altar and a pulpit. Gregory, the son of Christian the tailor, was to officiate at his first mass and preach his first sermon.

Ivo, Valentine’s youngest son, a child of six years of age, assisted his father with a mien which betokened that he considered his services indispensable. With his bare head and feet he ran up and down the timbers as nimbly as a squirrel. When a beam was being lifted, he cried, “Pry under!” as lustily as any one, put his shoulder to the crowbar, and puffed as if nine-tenths of the weight fell upon him. Valentine liked to see his little boy employed. He would tell him to wind the twine on the reel, to carry the tools where they were wanted, or to rake the chips into a heap. Ivo obeyed all these directions with the zeal and devotion of a self-sacrificing patriot. Once, when he perched upon the end of a plank for the purpose of weighing it down, the motion of the saw shook his every limb, and made him laugh aloud in spite of himself; he would have fallen off but for the eagerness with which he held on to his position and endeavored to perform his task in the most workmanlike manner.

At last the scaffolding was finished. Lewis the saddler was ready to nail down the carpets and hanging. Ivo offered to help him too; but being gruffly repelled, he sat down upon his heap of chips, and looked at the mountains, behind which the sun was setting in a sea of fire. His father’s whistle aroused him, and he ran to his side.

“Father,” said Ivo, “I wish I was in Hochdorf.”


“Because it’s so near to heaven, and I should like to climb up once.”

“You silly boy, it only seems as if heaven began there. From Hochdorf it is a long way to Stuttgart, and from there it is a long way to heaven yet.

“How long?”

“Well, you can’t get there until you die.”

Leading his little son with one hand, and carrying his tools in the other, Valentine passed through the village. Washing and scouring was going on everywhere, and chairs and tables stood before the houses,—for every family expected visitors for the great occasion of the morrow.

As Valentine passed Christian the tailor’s, he held his hand to his cap, prepared to take it off if anybody should look out. But nobody did so: the place was silent as a cloister. Some farmers’ wives were going in, carrying bowls covered with their aprons, while others passed out with empty bowls under their arms. They nodded to each other without speaking: they had brought wedding-presents for the young clergyman, who was to be married to his bride—the Church.

As the vesper-bell rang, Valentine released the hand of his son, who quickly folded his hands; Valentine also brought his hands together over his heavy tools and said an Ave.

Next morning a clear, bright day rose upon the village. Ivo was dressed by his mother betimes in a new jacket of striped Manchester cloth, with buttons which he took for silver, and a newly-washed pair of leathern breeches. He was to carry the crucifix. Gretchen, Ivo’s eldest sister, took him by the hand and led him into the street, “so as to have room in the house.” Having enjoined upon him by no means to go back, she returned hastily. Wherever he came he found the men standing in knots in the road. They were but half dressed for the festival, having no coats on, but displaying their dazzling white shirt-sleeves. Here and there women or girls were to be seen running from house to house without bodices, and with their hair half untied. Ivo thought it cruel in his sister to have pushed him out of the house as she had done. He would have been delighted to have appeared like the grown folks,—first in negligée, and then in full dress amid the tolling of bells and the clang of trumpets; but he did not dare to return, or even to sit down anywhere, for fear of spoiling his clothes. He went through the village almost on tiptoe. Wagon after wagon rumbled in, bringing farmers and farmers’ wives from abroad; at the houses people welcomed them, and brought chairs to assist them in getting down. All the world looked as exultingly quiet and glad as a community preparing to receive a hero who had gone forth from their midst and was returning after a victory. From the church to the hill-top the road was strewn with flowers and grass, which sent forth aromatic odors. The squire was seen coming out of Christian the tailor’s, and only covered his head when he found himself in the middle of the street. Soges had a new sword, brightly japanned and glittering in the sun.

The squire’s wife soon followed, leading her daughter Barbara, who was but six years old, by the hand. Barbara was dressed in bridal array. She wore the veil and the wreath upon her head, and a beautiful gown. As an immaculate virgin, she was intended to represent the bride of the young clergyman, the Church.

At the first sound of the bell the people in shirt-sleeves disappeared as if by magic. They retired to their houses to finish their toilet: Ivo went on to the church.

Amid the ringing of all the bells, the procession at last issued from the church-door. The pennons waved, the band of music brought from Horb struck up, and the audible prayers of the men and women mingled with the sound. Ivo, with the schoolmaster at his side, took the lead, carrying the crucifix. On the hill the altar was finely decorated; the chalices and the lamps and the spangled dresses of the saints flashed in the sun, and the throng of worshipers covered the common and the adjoining fields as far as the eye could reach. Ivo hardly took courage to look at the “gentleman,” meaning the young clergyman, who, in his gold-laced robe, and bare head crowned with a golden wreath, ascended the steps of the altar with pale and sober mien, bowing low as the music swelled, and folding his small white hands upon his breast. The squire’s Barbara, who carried a burning taper wreathed with rosemary, had gone before him and took her stand at the side of the altar. The mass began; and at the tinkling of the bell all fell upon their faces, and not a sound would have been heard, had not a flight of pigeons passed directly over the altar with that fluttering and chirping noise which always accompanies their motion through the air. For all the world Ivo would not have looked up just then; for he knew that the Holy Ghost was descending, to effect the mysterious transubstantiation of the wine into blood and the bread into flesh, and that no mortal eye can look upon Him without being struck with blindness.

The chaplain of Horb now entered the pulpit, and solemnly addressed the “permitiant.”

Then the latter took his place. Ivo sat near by, on a stool; with his right arm resting on his knee, and his chin upon his hand, he listened attentively. He understood little of the sermon; but his eyes hung upon the preacher’s lips, and his mind followed his intentions if not his thoughts.

When the procession returned to the church amid the renewed peal of the bells and triumphant strains of music, Ivo clasped the crucifix firmly with both his hands; he felt as if new strength had been given him to carry his God before him.

As the crowd dispersed, every one spoke in raptures of the “gentleman” and of the happiness of the parents of such a son. Christian the tailor and his wife came down the covered stairs of the church-hill in superior bliss. Ordinarily they attracted little attention in the village; but on this occasion all crowded around them with the greatest reverence, to present their congratulations. The young clergyman’s mother returned thanks with tearful eyes; she could scarcely speak for joyous weeping. Ivo heard his cousin, who had come over from Rexingen, say that Gregory’s parents were now obliged to address their son with the formal pronoun “they,” by which strangers and great personages are spoken to, instead of the simple “thee and thou,” by which German villagers converse with each other.

“Is that so, mother?” he asked.

“Of course,” was the answer: “he’s more than other folks now.”

With all their enthusiasm, the good people did not forget the pecuniary advantage gained by Christian the tailor. It was said that he need take no further trouble all his life. Cordele, Gregory’s sister, was to be her brother’s housekeeper, and her brother was a fortune to his family and an honor to all the village.