Feet in the Fire      
Conrad Ferdinand Meyer
(1825-1898)
© English translation by Anita C. Schulze


Fiercely flashes a bolt. In lurid light there stands a tower.
The thunder rolls. A horseman fighting with his steed
jumps off, pounds on the gate and clamours. His coat is whizzing
in the wind. He holds the skittish sorrel by the bridles.
A tiny lattice window gleams like shining gold,
and with a creaking sound the gate is opened by a nobleman ...

- “I am a servant of the king, sent as a messenger
to Nîmes. Give me shelter! You know the royal colours!”
- “It's stormy weather. Be my guest. The colour of your coat, what do I care?
Come in. While you warm up I'll look after your horse!”
The horseman steps into a dark knights' hall,
From far away, illuminated by the fire of a hearth,
depending on its flickering, capricious light,
a harnessed Huguenot is looming here, a lady there,
a stately noblewoman in a brown ancestral portrait
The horseman throws himself into a chair before the fireplace
And stares at blazing flames. He's brooding, gawping
His hair's standing on end. He knows the hearth, the hall
The flame is hissing. Two feet are twitching in the sweltering heat.

The aged mistress lays the table for the evening meal
With linen in a dazzling white. The master's daughter lends a hand.
A boy carries a jug of wine. The children
Gaze at him with fear, stare at the hearth with terror
The flame is hissing. Two feet are twitching in the sweltering heat.
- “Damn it! I know that coat of arms. That hall!
Three years ago while on a Huguenot hunt
A fine, obstinate lady 'Where hides the master? Tell me!'
She's silent. 'Confess!' She's silent. 'Surrender him!' She's silent.

I'm growing angry. T h a t pride! I drag the creature
I grab her naked feet and stick them
Into the glowing heat 'Surrender him!' She's silent
She's squirming Did you not see the coat of arms outside?
Who told you to seek shelter here, you stupid fool?
If he's got just one drop of blood, he'll strangle you.”
Upon entering says the nobleman: “You're dreaming! Have a seat, my guest ”

And there they sit. All three in their black robes
And he. But neither child is saying grace.
They stare at him with frightened eyes
He fills his mug and spills and drinks his wine,
jumps up: “Master, show me my chamber now!
I'm tired as a dog!” A servant shows the way
But on the threshold he looks back
And watches how the boy whispers into his father's ear
Staggering, he follows the servant to the tower chamber.
He tightly locks the door, examines both his pistol and his sword.
The storm is howling. The floorboards shake. The ceiling groans.

The stairs are creaking Is this a pounding tread? Is that a creeping step?
His ear deceives him. Midnight passes by.
A heavy weight rests on his eyelids, and slumbering he sinks
Onto his bed. Outside a flood of rain is splattering.
He dreams. “Confess!” She's silent. “Surrender him!” She's silent.

He drags the woman. Two feet are twitching in the sweltering heat.
A sparkling, hissing sea of fire is devouring him
- “Wake up! You should be on your way by now! Dawn's breaking!”
Through a concealed door had entered the chamber - grizzled,
The master whose crisp hair had been brown the night before.

The two are riding through the woods and not a single leaf is moving.
Where shattered rubble-branches lie across the path.
Still half asleep, the early birds are chirping,
And peaceful clouds are shimmering brightly through the air
Like angels who returned from a nocturnal watch.
The soil exhales a strong and clay-like smell.
The plain is opening up. A plough is moving on a field.
The horseman lurking from the corner of his eyes: “Master,
You are a wise and prudent man
Who knows I serve the greatest lord.
Farewell! I hope we'll never meet again!” The other says:
“You're right! We serve the greatest Lord! Today
Fulfilling my duty was hard you devil murdered
My dear wife! And you're alive Revenge be mine, says God.”

Copyright © 2005 Anita C. Schulze
Published with kind permission of Mrs. Anita C. Schulze


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