Sleepy Goatherd Continued…
II. When Peter Klaus awoke he found himself lying on the grass where he had been in the habit of feeding his goats. He sat up and looked around. There were the same rocks upon which he had sat a hundred times; there were the same hills among which he had so often wandered; and there was the same noisy brook along which he had walked a thousand times with so much delight. But the trees and shrubs seemed strange to him—they were much larger than when he had seen them before, and there were many new ones that he did not remember.
He looked for his goats, but they were nowhere in sight. He called, but not one of them came to him. He started out to seek them, but was surprised to see that all the well-known paths among the hills were overgrown with tall grass. He rubbed his eyes to make sure that he was awake. “Strange! strange!” he muttered. “I will go back to the village and see if the beasts are there.”
His legs were so stiff that walking was a hard task. He stumbled along slowly, wondering why the rheumatism should trouble him so much. After a while he came to a spot from which he could see the village spread out before him at the bottom of the valley. It was the same pretty village of Sittendorf; he could not see that it had changed. He hurried along to the main road, hoping to find his flock there. But not a goat could he see.
Before reaching the village he met a number of people; but they were all strangers to him, and they looked at him so queerly that he did not dare to ask any questions. In the village the women and children stood in their doorways and stared at him as he passed. All were strangers to him. He noticed that some of them stroked their chins and laughed; and without thinking much about it, he put his hand to his own chin. What was his surprise to find that he had a beard more than a foot long!
“Ah, me!” thought he. “Am I mad, and has all the world gone mad too? Where am I?”
But he knew that the village was Sittendorf—for there were the church and the long street which he knew so well, and towering above them was the great Kyffhäuser Mountain looking just as it did when he was a child.
He went on until he came to his own house. It was greatly altered. The roof was beginning to fall in; the door was off its hinges; the rooms were empty and bare. He called his wife and children by their names; but no one answered him. A strange dog came round the corner and snarled at him. A strange man in the next dooryard looked over the fence and told him to go away.
Soon a crowd of idlers and women and children gathered around him. They were laughing at his long beard and his tattered clothes. A woman who seemed more thoughtful than the rest asked him what he wanted.
“I don’t know what I want,” he answered. “I came here to find my goats and I find everything and everybody lost. Does anybody know—”
He was about to inquire for his wife and children; but he thought how odd that would seem, and stopped short. He was silent for a moment; then he looked around at the circle of strange faces and asked, “Where is Kurt Steffen, the blacksmith?”
The crowd stared at him, but no one spoke. Then an old woman who had hobbled across the street to look at him answered, “Kurt Steffen! Why, Kurt Steffen went to the wars years and years ago. Nobody has heard from him since.”