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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502

Horacker is a story told by an outside narrator, who leads the reader into the setting of the novel, descending from the area’s highest mountain down into the hills, forest, and meadows. The reader first encounters Dr. Werner Eckerbusch, vice principal of the local school and the last of a dying breed, and is thus introduced to the rhythms of village life, where the most important thing for the inhabitants is the spate of rumors about Cord Horacker: “Horacker was rampant in the land.”

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In this setting, Eckerbusch and Victor Windwebel, the drawing master, spend their last day of vacation before school starts again, hiking to the neighboring village of Gansewinckel to visit their friend, Pastor Christian Winckler. In the forest, the schoolmasters encounter Horacker’s mother and finally Horacker himself. Up to this moment, the reader knows only the horrible rumors. Reality is restored as a young man of nineteen—“trembling, emaciated, ragged”—emerges from the forest with his suffering mother. The reader learns that Horacker grew up in abject poverty and was constantly harassed by the villagers. When he was driven to stealing and pranks, the authorities sent him to a reformatory—where he was learning to be a tailor—from which he escaped only after being told that Lottchen Achterhang, the girl he loves, would not wait for him.

Meanwhile, Lottchen, an orphan reared by the Wincklers, has been caught stealing carrots. She has run away from her job on the other side of Berlin with Pastor Noleke, after hearing of Horacker’s supposed crimes, and arrives on foot, ragged and hungry. After the Wincklers have taken her into their care once again, Eckerbusch arrives with the news that he and Windwebel have seen Horacker, who ran away in panic at the mention of the public prosecutor. Windwebel chases him, finally persuading the youth to return. Pastor Winckler himself goes out and brings Horacker to the parsonage, where he is reunited with Lottchen.

By five o’clock in the afternoon, the rumor that Horacker has murdered two schoolmasters is spreading. Hedwig Windwebel, nearly hysterical with grief, goes immediately to Ida Eckerbusch, a strong, sensible woman, who maintains that the rumor is nonsense. Unable to comfort Hedwig, however, Ida hires a coach and, accompanied by Assistant Master Neubauer, the women travel to Gansewinckel, where they surprise their husbands at the end of the story.

Just before they arrive, Eckerbusch disperses the assembled villagers by pointing out that their failings are greater than young Horacker’s: “the night cannot grow black enough to cover your shame, you threefold Horackers of Gansewinckel!” He encourages each person to examine his own conscience and leave Horacker in the capable hands of the pastor and his wife. Soon the public prosecutor and his assistant arrive, in time to discover that Horacker has been found and that no murders have been committed. All join in drink and fellowship, and the women reassure Widow Horacker and the two young people that everything will turn out well.

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