"But what in all the world," said I yet once more seriously to myself, "what helps beating one's brains?" Yet once more I tried to get rid of all anxious thoughts. "If, however, a Christian soul could only come to me this evening! Let it be whoever it would— friend or foe—it would be better than this solitude. Yes, even if an inhabitant of the world of spirits opened the door, he would be welcome to me! What was that? Three blows on the door! I will not, however, believe it—again three!" I went and opened; there was nobody there; only the wind went howling up and down the stairs. I hastily shut the door again, thrust my hands into my pockets, and went up and down for a while, humming aloud. Some moments afterwards I fancied I heard a sigh—I was silent, and listened,— again there was very evidently a sigh—and yet once again, so deep and so mournful, that I exclaimed with secret terror, "Who is there?" No answer.
For a moment I stood still, and considered what this really could mean, when a horrible noise, as if cats were sent with yells lumbering down the whole flight of stairs, and ended with a mighty blow against my door, put an end to my indecision. I took up the candle, and a stick, and went out. At the moment when I opened the door my light was blown out. A gigantic white figure glimmered opposite to me, and I felt myself suddenly embraced by two strong arms. I cried for help, and struggled so actively to get loose that both myself and my adversary fell to the ground, but so that I lay uppermost. Like an arrow I sprang again upright, and was about to fetch a light, when I stumbled over something—Heaven knows what it was (I firmly believe that somebody held me fast by the feet), by which I fell a second time, struck my head on the corner of the table, and lost my consciousness, whilst a suspicions noise, which had great resemblance to laughter, rang in my ears.
When I again opened my eyes, they met a dazzling blaze of light. I closed them again, and listened to a confused noise around me— opened them again a very little, and endeavoured to distinguish the objects which surrounded me, which appeared to me so enigmatical and strange that I almost feared my mind had vanished. I lay upon a sofa, and—no, I really did not deceive myself,—that charming girl, who on this evening had so incessantly floated before my thoughts, stood actually beside me, and with a heavenly expression of sympathy bathed my head with vinegar. A young man whose countenance seemed known to me held my hand between his. I perceived also the fat gentleman, another thin one, the lady, the children, and in distant twilight I saw the shimmer of the paradise of the tea-table; in short, I found myself by an incomprehensible whim of fate amidst the family which an hour before I had contemplated with such lively sympathy.
When I again had returned to full consciousness, the young man embraced me several times with military vehemence.
"Do you then no longer know me?" cried he indignantly, as he saw me petrified body and soul. "Have you then forgotten August D—, whose life a short time since you saved at the peril of your own? whom you so handsomely fished up, with danger to yourself, from having for ever to remain in the uninteresting company of fishes? See here, my father, my mother, my sister, Wilhelmina!"
I pressed his hand; and now the parents embraced me. With a stout blow of the fist upon the table, August's father exclaimed, "And because you have saved my son's life, and because you are such a downright honest and good fellow, and have suffered hunger yourself—that you might give others to eat—you shall really have the parsonage at H—. Yes, you shall become clergyman, I say!—I have jus patronatum, you understand!"
For a good while I was not at all in a condition to comprehend, to think, or to speak; and before all had been cleared up by a thousand explanations, I could understand nothing clearly excepting that Wilhelmina was not—that Wilhelmina was August's sister.
He had returned this evening from a journey of service, during which, in the preceding summer, chance had given to me the good fortune to rescue him from a danger, into which youthful heat and excess of spirit had thrown him. I had not seen him again since this occurrence; earlier, I had made a passing acquaintance with him, had drunk brotherhood with him at the university, and after that had forgotten my dear brother.
He had now related this occurrence to his family, with the easily kindled-up enthusiasm of youth, together with what he knew of me beside, and what he did not know. The father, who had a living in his gift, and who (as I afterwards found) had made from his window some compassionate remarks upon my meagre dinner-table, determined, assailed by the prayers of his son, to raise me from the lap of poverty to the summit of good fortune. August would in his rapture announce to me my good luck instantly, and in order, at the same time, to gratify his passion for merry jokes, made himself known upon my stairs in a way which occasioned me a severe, although not dangerous, contusion on the temples, and the unexpected removal across the street, out of the deepest darkness into the brightest light. The good youth besought a thousand times forgiveness for his thoughtlessness; a thousand times I assured him that it was not worth the trouble to speak of such a trifling blow. And, in fact, the living was a balsam which would have made a greater wound than this imperceptible also.
Astonished, and somewhat embarrassed, I now perceived that the ear and the shoulder, whose possessor had seized so horribly upon the contents of the rusk basket, and over whom I had poured out my gall belonged to nobody else than to August's father, and my patron. The fat gentleman who sat upon the sofa was Wilhelmina's uncle.
The kindness and gayety of my new friends made me soon feel at home and happy. The old people treated me like a child of the house, the young ones as a brother, and the two little ones seemed to anticipate a gingerbread-friend in me.
After I had received two cups of tea from Wilhelmina's pretty hand, to which I almost feared taking, in my abstraction of mind, more rusks than my excellent patron, I rose up to take my leave. They insisted absolutely upon my passing the night there; but I abode by my determination of spending the first happy night in my old habitation, amid thanksgiving to the lofty Ruler of my fate.
They all embraced me afresh; and I now also embraced all rightly, from the bottom of my heart, Wilhelmina also, although not without having gracious permission first. "I might as well have left that alone," thought I afterwards, "if it is to be the first and last time!" August accompanied me back.
My host stood in my room amid the overturned chairs and tables, with a countenance which alternated between rain and sunshine; on one side his mouth drew itself with a reluctant smile up to his ear, on the other it crept for vexation down to his double chin; the eyes followed the same direction, and the whole had a look of a combat, till the tone in which August indicated to him that he should leave us alone, changed all into the most friendly, grinning mien, and the proprietor of the same vanished from the door with the most submissive bows.
August was in despair about my table, my chair, my bed, and so on. It was with difficulty that I withheld him from cudgelling the host who would take money for such a hole. I was obliged to satisfy him with the most holy assurances, that on the following day I would remove without delay. "But tell him," prayed August, "before you pay him, that he is a villain, a usurer, a cheat, a— or if you like, I will—"
"No, no; heaven defend us!" interrupted I, "be quiet, and let me only manage."
After my young friend had left me, I passed several happy hours in thinking on the change in my fate, and inwardly thanking God for it. My thoughts then rambled to the parsonage; and heaven knows what fat oxen and cows, what pleasure grounds, with flowers, fruits, and vegetables, I saw in spirit surrounding my new paradise, where my Eve walked by my side, and supported on my arm; and especially what an innumerable crowd of happy and edified people I saw streaming from the church when I had preached. I baptized, I confirmed, I comforted my beloved community in the zeal and warmth of my heart—and forgot only the funerals.
Every poor clergyman who has received a living, every mortal, especially to whom unexpectedly a long-cherished wish has been accomplished, will easily picture to himself my state.
Later in the night it sunk at last like a veil before my eyes, and my thoughts fell by degrees into a bewilderment which exhibited on every hand strange images. I preached with a loud voice in my church, and the congregation slept. After the service, the people came out of the church like oxen and cows, and bellowed against me when I would have admonished them. I wished to embrace my wife, but could not separate her from a great turnip, which increased every moment, and at last grew over both our heads. I endeavored to climb up a ladder to heaven, whose stars beckoned kindly and brightly to me; but potatoes, grass, vetches, and peas, entangled my feet unmercifully, and hindered every step. At last I saw myself in the midst of my possessions walking upon my head, and whilst in my sleepy soul I greatly wondered how this was possible, I slept soundly in the remembrance of my dream. Yet then, however, I must unconsciously have continued the chain of my pastoral thoughts, for I woke in the morning with the sound of my own voice loudly exclaiming, "Amen."
That the occurrences of the former evening were actual truth, and no dream, I could only convince myself with difficulty, till August paid me a visit, and invited me to dine with his parents.
The living, Wilhelmina, the dinner, the new chain of hopes for the future which beamed from the bright sun of the present, all surprised me anew with a joy, which one can feel very well, but never can describe.
Out of the depths of a thankful heart, I saluted the new life which opened to me, with the firm determination that, let happen what might, yet always TO DO THE RIGHT, AND TO HOPE FOR THE BEST.
Two years after this, I sat on an autumn evening in my beloved parsonage by the fire. Near to me sat my dear little wife, my sweet, Wilhelmina, and spun. I was just about to read to her a sermon which I intended to preach on the next Sunday, and from which I promised myself much edification, as well for her as for the assembled congregation. Whilst I was turning over the leaves, a loose paper fell out. It was the paper upon which, on that evening two years before, in a very different situation, I had written down my cheerful and my sad thoughts. I showed it to my wife. She read, smiled with a tear in her eye, and with a roguish countenance which, as I fancy, is particular to her, took the pen and wrote on the other side of the paper:
"The author can now, thank God, strike out a description which would stand in perfect contrast to that which he once, in a dark hour, sketched of an unfortunate person, as he himself was then.
"Now he is no more lonesome, no more deserted. His quiet sighs are answered, his secret griefs shared, by a wife tenderly devoted to him. He goes, her heart follows him; he comes back, she meets him with smiles; his tears flow not unobserved, they are dried by her hand, and his smiles beam again in hers; for him she gathers flowers, to wreathe around his brow, to strew in his path. He has his own fireside, friends devoted to him, and, counts as his relations all those who have none of their own. He loves, he is beloved; he can make people feel happy, he is himself happy."
Truly had my Wilhelmina described the present; and, animated by feelings which are gay and delicious as the beams of the spring sun, I will now, as hitherto, let my little troop of light hopes bound out into the future.
I hope, too, that my sermon for the next Sunday may not be without benefit to my hearers; and even if the obdurate should sleep, I hope that neither this nor any other of the greater or the less unpleasantnesses which can happen to me may go to my heart and disturb my rest. I know my Wilhelmina, and believe also that I know myself sufficiently, to hope with certainty that I may always make her happy. The sweet angel has given me hope that we may soon be able to add a little creature to our little happy family, I hope, in the future, to be yet multiplied. For my children I have all kinds of hopes in petto. If I have a son, I hope that he will be my successor; if I have a daughter, then—if August would wait— but I fancy that he is just about to be married.
I hope in time to find a publisher for my sermons. I hope to live yet a hundred years with my wife.
We—that is to say, my Wilhelmina and I—hope, during this time, to be able to dry a great many tears, and to shed as few ourselves as our lot, as children of the earth, may permit.
We hope not to survive each other.
Lastly, we hope always to be able to hope; and when the hour comes that the hopes of the green earth vanish before the clear light of eternal certainty, then we hope that the All-good Father may pass a mild sentence upon His greatful and, in humility, hoping children.