MUCH LATER—a year or so after the events of the Mysteria, which I’ll soon describe—I discovered something strange.
In those later days when Lothar was no longer around, I noticed how people’s memories of him started changing—to the point that little was left of the real person who’d actually lived among us. In these transformed memories, Lothar wasn’t Lothar at all, but rather like some sort of angel who descended from heaven into Rundschau.
There’s no doubt how all this started—it was Frau Margreta Bern and the other village matrons in their busybody chatter among themselves. It was enough to make you sick: “Oh, he was so wonderful,” they would say. “So sweet.” “Such a good boy.” “Always so open to my advice.” They made it sound as if Lothar Lange’s greatest virtue was being always affectionate and obliging toward themselves. “Our Lothar,” they called him.
Gradually they slipped into ridiculous babbling that made your ears burn with embarrassment. “Ah, our Lothar had those cute sapphire eyes.” As if they were cooing over a baby!
And of course, because Lothar was a saint, then so were they, since they understood him so well and faithfully guarded his memory.
I’m absolutely certain Lothar would have been disgusted by such talk on his account. (Who in their right mind wouldn’t be?)
I, however, knew the real Lothar; this is the person I’ll faithfully describe to you now. My witnesses are Father Theodor Riechmann, and old man Jürgen Zielmeister, and many others who are no longer with us. When the time comes for the angel Gabriel to blow his horn, these men will rise up and testify that Arnold Enke, son of a harness-maker from Rundschau, is telling no lies upon these pages.
Lothar was a month and a day older than I. His only sibling, his younger sister Martha, died as an infant, and when Lothar turned seven, both his parents also passed away. Because they were kind people who left behind such good memories of themselves, the entire village of Rundschau took upon itself the care and upbringing of orphaned Lothar. By decision of the village council, Lothar was placed with Jürgen Zielmeister the shepherd as his apprentice. Jürgen was growing old, and he’d already been thinking about finding his replacement.
Meanwhile young Lothar was welcome at every door. He fit in everywhere—especially at the house of my father, Hans-Heinrich Enke, who’d been quite close to Lothar’s father, Dietrich Lange. Lothar and I became fast friends, and by age eight we were inseparable.
Lothar was always tall for his age. He grew to be agile and quick, with broad shoulders and a strong back, the kind one gets in our part of the world from hard work. His hair, which he parted down the middle, was dark brown and wavy. His complexion was smooth and unblemished, never marred by smallpox, which had ravaged the cheeks and foreheads of so many village children.
What distinguished Lothar most were his eyes, which were light gray when he first went to live with old man Jürgen, but within a year had changed to bright blue. Lothar and I believed that this was because of his work as a shepherd. He was helping his foster father from spring to fall in Alpine meadows, where he loved to gaze into our magnificent mountain sky, which is indeed a gift from God. Thanks to its location and altitude, Rundschau is more open than many places to the interplay of sun and sky. Even in winter we can get a good tan. Lothar was naturally pale and did not tan easily—so it was his eyes, not his skin, that changed color.
Those eyes and their mountain-sky blueness seemed closely connected to Lothar’s distinctive inner qualities, which gave him an aura of purity—that’s the best way I can describe it. He gave the impression of being a youth who was pure in heart and mind. This tended to make people enjoy his company.
Among Lothar’s peers (like me), there were of course those who tried to be as pure as good Christian children should be. But whereas we tried, Lothar simply was. Meanwhile he lived side by side with us, played with us—tag, wrestling, ball games—and confided his youthful secrets to us, as we in turn did to him. He was there when we told scary stories in a dark barn. In so many ways he was normal—except a bit more natural than the rest of us, with a heart more pure, a soul more open. But then, my judgment may be biased.
Lothar seemed unaware of the unique impression he made upon people around him. Nevertheless, when he was no longer a child, this impression grew only stronger. Lothar was truly a favorite in the village, this humble, clear-hearted young shepherd whom everyone respected—which, I trust you understand, is quite different from being everyone’s pal or chum.
For example, Lothar rarely took part in the banter and teasing that marked most village children’s interactions. Of course, once you got him going, he could dish it out as well as the next guy, and get the better of some wisecracking bigmouth. But it seemed to give him no real pleasure, and the older he got, the more he avoided this sort of thing.
Growing older also meant that in the winter, when there was nothing better to do, he would join us boys in going off to neighboring villages—Lüneberg, Waltzholm, sometimes even Linden—to fight other gangs like our own. More than once Lothar came home with a badge of honor in the form of a black eye or bloodied nose. But around the age of fifteen, he began to lose interest in these forays. What he liked better was to trek into the mountains.
I often accompanied him. We would shoulder our skis and race up snow-covered fields, so that steam rose from our sweat-soaked clothing. Here by the still unfrozen waterfall at Kreuzbach, we cast off our clothes and plunged naked into the icy water. Then we ran and rolled in snowbanks until our bodies felt almost burning in the frigid Alpine air.
After putting our clothes back on, we put on our skis and flew like the wind down the slopes, dodging trees. We could easily have broken our necks in this game—but a different fate awaited us.
Meanwhile it became increasingly obvious over the years that Lothar had a God-given talent for shepherding. By age fifteen, he was taking out the sizeable village herd entirely on his own, and earning enough to support both himself and old man Jürgen Zielmeister, who now gave up this occupation and planted himself by his fireplace, carving dishware out of wood, and thanking God for blessing him in his old age with such a wonderful son. Jürgen also taught Lothar his woodcarving hobby, and in winter, when the sheep-tending was over, they both put their whittling knives to work. In the spring they rented a cart from Deacon Vogt, loaded it with wooden spoons, mugs, plates, and saucers, and took these to market at Linden. Their wares would quickly sell out.
As Lothar reached his late teens, my father and I helped him fix up old man Zielmeister’s aging dwelling, making it worthy of some future household. So it was that Lothar stood firmly on his own two feet, and the whole village was guessing when and whom he would marry. Plenty of our village matrons with eligible daughters could easily imagine him as their choice for a groom. I suppose none of them ever thought that a man might have a different calling in this world than starting a family. Whatever the case may be, Lothar never paid attention to their schemes, and at the age of twenty he was still a virgin—his body as pure as his mind and heart.