PEARL

MICHAEL KOHLHAAS

No passion is stronger in the breast of a man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high.
Virginia Woolf

As night closed in on the third evening, Kohlhaas slipped with his little cohort into the castle. They mowed down the toll collector and the gatekeeper, who were standing at the gate chatting, and entered the castle. They set fire to all the outbuildings within the castle walls, and these suddenly crackled in flames. Herse hurried up the winding staircase to the castellan’s tower quarters. Here he found the castellan and the steward, sitting half-dressed at cards, and pounced on them slashing and stabbing. At the same time Kohlhaas dashed into the castle in search of Squire Wenzel. Thus does the Angel of Judgment descend from heaven. The squire was just then amusing a party of young friends visiting at the time by reading aloud, amid much raucous laughter, the decree that the horse dealer had sent him. But he had no sooner heard Kohlhaas’ voice coming up from the courtyard below when he instantly turned deathly pale, and called out to the party: ‘Brothers, run for it!’ and disappeared instantly.

Bursting into the hall, Kohlhaas seized hold of a Squire Hans von Tronka, who was coming towards him, and hurled him with such violence into a corner that his brains splattered onto the stone floor. His men overpowered and scattered the other knights, who had reached for arms. Kohlhaas asked for the whereabouts of Squire Wenzel von Tronka, but none of the stunned servants could tell him. He kicked open the doors to two chambers that led into the wings of the castle and scoured every corner all through the sprawling building without finding anyone. He stormed back, cursing, down into the courtyard to have all the exits manned.

By this time the fire had spread from the sheds to engulf the whole castle together with all its wings, sending thick plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Sternbald and three busy companions dragged together everything that was not nailed down and tipped it over by the horses as fair spoils. Amid jubilation by Herse, down came the bodies of the castellan, the steward, their wives and children, flung out from the open windows of the castellan’s quarters into the courtyard. As Kohlhaas made his way down the castle stairs, the old gout-ridden housekeeper who kept house for the squire, threw herself at his feet. He paused on the stairs and asked her for the whereabouts of the squire. In a weak, trembling voice she replied that she thought he had taken refuge in the chapel. Kohlhaas called for two men with torches and, since he had no keys, had the doors smashed open with crowbars and axes and overturned altars and benches; nevertheless, to his grim chagrin, he did not find the squire.

It happened that at the moment Kohlhaas emerged from the chapel, a young stable boy from the castle hurried by to take the squire’s coursers out of a large stone stable that was threatened by the flames. At this moment Kohlhaas spotted his own two black horses in a little thatched shed. He asked the boy why he did not rescue them. The lad inserted the key in the stable door and answered that the shed was already in flames, as they could see. Kohlhaas wrenched the key out of the stable door and flung it over the wall, drove the boy into the blazing shed by battering him with volleys of blows with the flat side of his sword, and forced him to rescue the black horses amid the ghastly laughter of the bystanders. But when the servant emerged leading the horses a few moments later, pale with fright, barely making it out before the shed collapsed behind him, he no longer found Kohlhaas there. He joined the servants standing about in the castle square, saw and asked the horse dealer, who turned his back on him several

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