Gottfried Keller (18191890). The Banner of the Upright Seven.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
KASPAR HEDIGER, master tailor of Zurich, had reached the age at which an industrious craftsman begins to allow himself a brief hour of rest after dinner. So it happened that one beautiful March day he was sitting not in his manual but in his mental workshop, a small, separate room which for years he had reserved for himself. He was glad that the weather was warm enough for him to occupy it again. In winter neither the old customs of his class nor his income permitted him to have an extra room heated simply that he might sit there to read. And this was at a time when there were already tailors who went shooting and rode their horses daily. So closely do the gradations of culture dovetail into one another.
Master Hediger, however, might have been proud of the appearance he presented in his neatly kept little back room. He looked almost more like an American settler than a tailor. A strong and intelligent face with heavy whiskers, surmounted by a powerful, bald dome was bending over The Swiss Republican. while he read the leading article with a critical expression. There were at least twenty-five well-bound folio volumes of this Republican in a little walnut bookcase with a glass door, and they contained scarcely anything that Hediger, for twenty-five years, had not lived and fought through. The case also held Rottecks Universal History. a Swiss history by Johannes Müller, and a handful of political brochures and such like; a geographical atlas and a portfolio full of caricatures and pamphletsmementoes of bitterly passionate dayslay on the lowest shelf. The wall of the little room was adorned with the portraits of Columbus, Zwingli, Hutten, Washington, and Robespierre; for Hediger was not to be trifled with and sanctioned the Reign of Terror, after it was over. Besides these world-famous heroes, there were portraits of several progressive Swiss to which were affixed in their own handwriting highly edifying and discursive inscriptions, regular little essays. Leaning against the bookcase was a well-kept, shining musket with a short side-arm hanging on it and a cartridge-pouch in which, at all times, there were thirty cartridges. That was his fowling-piece with which he went out, not for hares and partridges, but for aristocrats and Jesuits, for breakers of the constitution and traitors to the people. Until now his lucky star had kept him from shedding any blood, owing to lack of opportunity; nevertheless more than once he had seized his musket and hurried to the square. That was at the time of the riots, when he kept the gun standing between the bed and the wardrobe and would not allow it to be moved, for, he used to say, no government and no battalions can protect justice and liberty where a citizen is not able to step out of doors and see what is going on.
But why not? I wont hurt it, his son continued humbly and still insistently, because he simply had to have a gun if he did not want to be marched off to the detention room. But the old man only repeated in a louder tone:
Wont hear of it! I can only wonder at the persistence of these gentlemen sons of mine who show so little persistence in other things that not one of them has stuck to the occupation which I allowed him to learn of his own free choice. You know that your three older brothers, one after another, as soon as they had to begin to drill, wanted my gun and that they none of them got it. And yet now here you come slinking along after it. You have your own fair pay, no one to supportget your own weapons, as becomes a man of honor. This gun doesnt leave its place except when I need it myself.
Sharpshooters! Thats good too! I should only like to know why you feel it to be so necessary to join the sharpshooters when youve never yet fired a single shot. In my day a man had to have burnt a good deal of powder before he might make such an application. Nowadays a man turns sharpshooter haphazard, and there are fellows wearing the green coat who couldnt bring down a cat off the roof, but who, to be sure, can smoke cigars and act the gentleman. Its no concern of mine.
I will not give my gun to anyone, replied Master Hediger, who does not know how to handle it. If you can take the lock off this gun and take it apart properly you can have it, otherwise it stays here.
With that he hunted in a drawer for a screwdriver, handed it to his son and pointed to the gun. In desperation Karl tried his luck and began to loosen the screws in the lock. His father watched him scornfully and it was not long before he cried:
Karl now held the lock in his hand but didnt know what next to do with it, so he laid it down with a sigh, already, in imagination, seeing himself in the detention room. But old Hediger, once interested, now picked up the lock to give his son a lesson, explaining it as he took it apart.
You see, he said, first you remove the plunger-spring with this spring-hooklike this; then comes the screw of the sear-spring, you only unscrew that half way, then knock the sear-spring like this so that the pin here comes out of the hole; now you take the screw out entirely. Now the sear-spring, then the sear-pin, the sear; now then, the bridle-screw and here the bridle-hammer; next the tumbler-pin, the trigger, and finally the tumbler; this is the tumbler. Hand me the neats-foot oil out of the little cupboard there; Ill oil the screws a bit while I have them here.
He had laid all the parts on the newspaper. Karl watched him eagerly and handed him the little bottle, thinking that the atmosphere had cleared. But after his father had wiped off the parts of the lock and oiled them afresh, instead of putting them together again he threw them promiscuously into the cover of a little box and said,
Disappointed and savage, Karl went out to complain to his mother. He stood in intense awe of the state authority whose school he was now to enter as a recruit. He had never been punished since he had outgrown school and not during his last years there either, and now the thing was to begin again on a higher plane, merely because he had depended upon his fathers gun.
His mother said: Your father is really quite right. All you four boys earn more than he does, and that thanks to the education he gave you; but not only do you spend all your money on yourselves, you keep on coming all the time to annoy your father by borrowing all sorts of things: his dress-coat, field-glass, drawing instruments, razor, hat, gun, and sabre. The things that he takes such good care of you borrow and bring back ruined. It seems as if the whole year round you are busy thinking up something else to borrow from him; but he, on his part, never asks anything of you, although you owe him your life and everything else. Just this once more I will help you.
Hereupon she went in to Master Hediger and said: I forgot to tell you that Frymann the carpenter sent a message to say that the Band of Seven would meet this evening to discuss certain matters, something political, I think. He was at once pleasantly affected.
Is that so? he said, rose, and began to walk up and down; I am surprised that Frymann didnt come himself to speak with me first about it, to consult me. After a few minutes he dressed quickly, put on his hat, and left with the words.
Well, I can, answered his mother and went into the little room with her son. She turned the parts of the lock out of the cover, sorted out the springs and screws and very skilfully began to put them together.
I learnt it in my fathers house, she replied. My father and my seven brothers used to make me clean all their guns and rifles when they had been shooting. I often cried as I did it, but I was finally able to handle them like a gunsmiths apprentice. The whole village called me Gunsmithy, # and I nearly always had dirty hands and a black smudge on the tip of my nose. My brothers shot and drank us out of house and home, so that I, poor child, was glad enough that your father, the tailor, married me.
While she talked her dexterous fingers had really put the lock together and fastened it to the stock. Karl hung the shining cartridge-pouch over his shoulder, took the gun and hurried off as fast as he could go to the drill-ground, where he arrived only just in time. Soon after six oclock he brought the things back again, succeeded to taking the lock apart himself, and mixed the parts together in the box-cover.
By the time he had finished supper it had grown dark. He went to the boat-landing, hired a boat and rowed along the shore till he came to that part of the lake where carpenters and stone-cutters had their yards. It was a glorious evening; a mild south wind gently rippled the water, the full moon shone on the distant stretches of the lake and sparkled brightly on the little waves near by, and the stars burned brilliantly in the sky. The snow mountains, their presence felt rather than seen, looked down on the lake like pale spectres. All industrial litter, the petty and restless outline of the buildings, disappeared in the darkness and were transformed by the moonlight into great calm massesin short, the landscape was appropriately set for the coming scene.
Karl Hediger rowed rapidly on until he was close to a large lumber-yard; there he softly sang the first verse of a little song a couple of times, and then rowed slowly and easily out from the shore. A slender girl rose from where she had been sitting among the piles of lumber, untied a skiff, stepped into it and rowed deliberately, making a few turns as she went, after the soft-voiced boatman. When she caught up with him the young people greeted each other and rowed on without stopping, gunwale to gunwale, far out into the liquid silver of the lake. With youthful vigor they described a wide curve with several spirals, the girl leading and the boy following with gentle strokes of his oar, without leaving her side, and one could see that the couple were not unpractised in rowing together. When they found themselves in absolute silence and solitude, the young woman pulled in her oars and stopped. That is, she shipped only one oar and continued to hold the other over the gunwale as if playing with it, but not without a purpose, for when Karl, who had also stopped, tried to approach quite close to her, to board her skiff in fact, she was most skilful in keeping his boat off by giving it a single push with her oar every now and then. Nor did this manuvre seem to be new, for the young man soon resigned himself and sat still in his little boat.
Dear Hermine! Now I can really turn the proverb about and say: what I had in abundance in my youth I wish for in old age, but in vain. How often we used to kiss when I was ten and you were seven, and now that I am twenty I maynt even kiss your finger-tips.
Once for all, I never want to hear another word of those impudent lies! cried the girl half angrily, half laughing. Youve made it all up and its false, I certainly dont remember any such familiarity.
You must remember how often, when we were tired helping the poor children fill their broken baskets with shavingsand how cross it always made your carpentersI used to have to build a little hut out of ends of boards, hidden away in among the big piles of lumber, a little hut with a roof and a door and a bench in it. And then when we sat on the little bench, with the door shut, and I might at last sit idle a minute, who was it that used to throw her arms around my neck and kiss me more times than I could count?
At these words he nearly pitched into the water, for as he had tried again to approach unnoticed as he talked, she suddenly gave his little boat such a violent push that it almost upset. Her clear laugh rang out as his left arm slipped into the water to the elbow and he swore.
Theres time enough ahead, she replied, you neednt be in too much of a hurry, my dear sir. Then she continued somewhat more seriously, Father has found out about our intentions; I didnt deny them, in the main; he wont hear of such a thing, and forbids us ever to think of it again. So that is how we stand now.
At least I shall never do the exact opposite of his wishes, and still less would I dare to stand in open hostility to him, for you know that he bears a grudge a long time, and is capable of a deep, slow-consuming anger. You know too, that, although he has been a widower for five years, he has not married again on my account; that is something that a daughter ought certainly to consider. And, now that we are on this subject, I must tell you too, that, under these circumstances, I dont think it proper for us to see each other so often. Its bad enough for a child to be disobedient in her heart; but there would be something hateful in our actually doing things every day that would displease our parents if they knew about them, and so I dont want to meet you alone oftener than once a month at the most, instead of nearly every day as we have been doing. And for the rest just let time go on.
Why not? Are they so important? It is possible that we may have each other after all, it is also possible that we may not. But the world will go on just the same, perhaps we will forget each other of our own accord, for we are still young; in any case, it doesnt seem to me that weve any reason to make a great to-do.
The seventeen-year-old beauty delivered this speech in an apparently cold and matter-of-fact tone, at the same time picking up her oars and heading for the shore. Karl rowed beside her full of anxiety and apprehension, and no less full of vexation at Hermines words. She was half glad to know that the hot-headed fellow had something to worry about, but at the same time, the conversation had made her, too, pensive, and particularly the separation of four weeks which she had imposed on herself.
Thus Karl finally succeeded in taking her by surprise and bringing his boat up against hers with a sudden pull. In an instant he held her slender body in his arms, and drew her part way towards him, so that they both leaned over the deep water, their boats tipped away over threatening to overturn at the slightest movement. Hence the girl was helpless and had to submit when Karl pressed seven or eight passionate kisses on her lips. Then gently and carefully he righted her and her boat. She stroked her hair back out of her face, seized her oars, panted, and, with tears in her eyes, cried angrily and threateningly:
Mrs. Hediger had told her husband nothing but the truth when she caused him to go out. She had merely saved up the message to use when she thought best, and then had done so at the right moment. A meeting really was held, a meeting of the Band of Seven, or of the Staunch, or of the Upright, or of the Lovers of Liberty, as they interchangeably called themselves. They were simply a circle of seven old and tried friends, all master-craftsmen, patriots, arch-politicians and stern domestic tyrants after the pattern of Master Hediger. Born, one and all, in the previous century, they, as children, had seen the downfall of the old régime, and then for many years had lived through the storms and birth-pangs of the new period, until, with the clearing of the political atmosphere in the late forties, Switzerland once more came into power and unity. Several of them came from the common domains, the former subject-land of the Swiss Confederates, and they remembered how, as peasant children, they had been obliged to kneel by the roadside when a coach with Confederate barons and the court-usher came driving by. Others were distant relatives or connections of captive or executed revolutionaries; in short, they were all filled with an unquenchable hatred of all aristocracy, which, since the downfall of the latter, had merely turned to bitter scorn. But when later the same thing reappeared in democratic garb, and, combined with the old usurpers of power, the priests, stirred up a struggle that lasted for several years, there was added to their hatred of the aristocracy a hatred of the blackcoats; indeed their belligerent temper now turned not only against lords and priests, but even against their own kind, against entire masses of the excited populace. This demanded of them in their old age an unexpected, composite expenditure of power, which test, however, they stood bravely.
These seven men were anything but insignificant. In all popular assemblies, meetings and such like, they helped to form a solid centre, stuck to their posts indefatigably, and were ready day and night to do for their party errands and business which could not be trusted to paid workers, but only to those who were absolutely reliable. The party leaders often consulted them and took them into their confidence, and if a sacrifice was required, the seven men were always the first to contribute their mite. For all this they desired no other reward but the triumph of their cause, and their clear conscience; never did one of them put himself forward, or strive for his own advantage or aspire to an office, and their greatest honor was, on occasion, to shake the hand of this or that famous Confederate; but he must be the right sort and clean above the loins as they put it.
These stout-hearted citizens had grown accustomed to one another through decades of intimacy, called one another by their Christian names, and finally came to form a strong private society, but without any other statutes than those they bore in their hearts. They met twice a week, and as, even in this small band, there were two inn-keepers, the meetings were held alternately at their houses. Those were very pleasant and informal times; quiet and grave as the Seven were in larger assemblies, they were equally noisy and merry among themselves; none of them made any pretences, and none beat round the bush; sometimes they all talked at once, sometimes they listened attentively to one of their number, according to their humor and mood. Not only politics was the subject of their conversations, but also their domestic life. If one of them was in trouble and anxiety, he laid before the others whatever oppressed him; the cause was discussed, and its remedy was made a common matter; if one of them felt himself injured by another, he would bring his complaint to the Seven, who would sit in judgment and admonish the offender. During these proceedings they were alternately very passionate, or very quiet and dignified, or even ironical. Twice, traitors, crooked fellows, had sneaked in among them, been recognized and in solemn assembly condemned and turned out, that is, beaten black and blue by the fists of the doughty greybeards. If a real misfortune overtook the party to which they were attached that entirely eclipsed any domestic misfortune, they would hide singly in the darkness and shed bitter tears.
The most eloquent and prosperous among them was Frymann, the carpenter, a veritable Croesus with an imposing establishment. The most impecunious was Hediger, the tailor; but his opinion was only second in importance to Frymanns. His political fanaticism had long since lost him his best customers; nevertheless he had educated his sons well, and so had no means left. The other five men were well situated; they listened more than they talked when important matters were under discussion by the Band of Seven, but made up for that by the weightiness of their words at home, and among their neighbors.
To-day there were really important transactions on hand, which Frymann and Hediger had already discussed. The period of unrest, of struggle and of political effort, was past for these stout-hearted citizens, and their long experiences seemed for once to have come to an end with the conditions that they had attained. Alls well that ends well, they might say, and they felt themselves to be victorious and content. And so, as the shades of evening were falling on their political life, they felt that they might indulge in a crowning festivity, and, as the Band of Seven, attend in a body the first national shooting match to be held since the adoption of the new constitution of 1848, which was to take place at Aarau the following summer.
Now most of them had long since become members of the Swiss Shooting Association, and they all, except Hediger, who contented himself with his musket, possessed good rifles, with which in former years they had sometimes gone shooting on Sunday. Singly, they had also already attended other festivals, so that there seemed to be nothing so very unusual in their present purpose. But a spirit of outward pomp had taken possession of some of them, and the proposal made was really nothing less than that they should appear in Aarau with their own banner, bringing a handsome trophy as a gift.
When the little company had drunk a few glasses of wine and were in good spirits, Frymann and Hediger came out with the proposal, which somewhat surprised their modest fellow-members nevertheless, so that they wavered irresolutely for some minutes. For the idea of attracting so much attention and marching out with a banner did not quite appeal to them. But as they had long since forgotten how to refuse their support to any bold stroke or undertaking with a real meaning, they resisted only long enough for the speakers to paint to them in glowing colors the banner as a symbol, and their procession as a triumph of true and tried friendship, and to show them that the appearance of seven old greybeards such as they, with a banner of friendship, would certainly make good sport. Only a little banner should be made, of green silk, with the Swiss coat of arms and a fitting inscription.
Once the question of the banner was settled, the trophy was taken up; its value was fixed fairly easily at about two hundred francs, old style. But the choice of the object itself caused a lengthier and almost heated discussion. Frymann opened the general inquiry and invited Kuser, the silversmith, as a man of taste, to give his opinion. Kuser gravely drank a good draught, coughed, thought a while, and said it was fortunate that he just happened to have a beautiful silver cup in his shop, which, if that were agreeable to the others, he could thoroughly recommend, and would let them have at the very lowest price. Hereupon followed a general silence broken only by brief remarks such as That might do! or Why not? Then Hediger asked whether anyone else wished to propose anything. Whereupon Syfrig, the skilful smith, took a swallow, plucked up courage, and said:
If it is agreeable to you all, I will also express an idea now. I have forged a very practical plough of solid iron, which, as you know, won praise at the agricultural exhibition. I am prepared to part with this fine piece of work for two hundred francs, although that would not pay for the labor of making it; but it is my opinion that this tool and symbol of agriculture would be the kind of prize that would most suitably represent the common people. Not that I wish to reflect on other proposals.
During this speech Bürgi, the crafty cabinet-maker, had also been thinking the matter over, and when again a short silence ensued and the silversmith began to pull a long face, the cabinet-maker unburdened himself thus:
An idea has occurred to me too, dear friends, which would probably give rise to a great deal of fun. Years ago I had an order from a couple from out of town who were about to be married, for a double canopy bed of the finest walnut, with birds-eye maple veneer; the young couple hung round my workshop every day measuring the length and the breadth, and billing and cooing before the journeymen and apprentices, minding neither their jokes nor their insinuations. But when the time came for the wedding they suddenly parted, hating each other as a cat hates a dog, not a soul knew why; one went this way, one went that, and the bedstead was left standing as immovable as a rock. At cost price its worth a hundred and eighty francs, but Ill gladly lose eighty and let it go for a hundred. Then we can have a mattress made for it and set it up in the trophy hall, fully made up, with the inscription: For a single Confederate, as an encouragement! Hows that?
Merry laughter rewarded this idea; only the smiles of the silversmith and the blacksmith were faint and wry; but Pfister, the inn-keeper, immediately raised his hearty voice and said with his accustomed frankness:
Well gentlemen, if its the programme for each of us to bring his own pig to market, then I know of something better than anything yet proposed. I have in my cellar a well-sealed cask of 34 claret, so-called Swiss blood, which I bought myself in Basle more than twelve years ago. You are all so temperate and modest in your demands, that I have never ventured to tap the wine, and yet I have two hundred francs tied up in it, for there are just a hundred measures. I will give you the wine for what it cost, and reckon the cask as cheaply as possible, glad if I can only make room for something that will sell better, and may I never leave this place if such a gift wouldnt do us honor.
If this is the way its going, I wont be left behind either, but am ready to declare that I think I have the best thing for our purpose, and that is my young milch cow, a thoroughbred Oberland, that I am just ready to sell if I can find a good purchaser. If we tie a bell round the neck of this handsome animal, a milking stool between her horns, adorn her with flowers
And put her under a glass globe in the trophy hall! interrupted Pfister, irritated; and with that, one of those thunderstorms broke that sometimes made the meetings of the Seven tempestuous, but only to be succeeded by sunshine that was all the brighter for what had passed. They all talked at once, defended their own proposals, attacked those of the others and accused one another of selfish motives. For they always came right out with what they thought, and settled matters by means of the plain truth, not by dissimulation and covering up, as a kind of false culture often leads men to do.
Men! Dont get excited but let us proceed calmly to our goal. As trophies there have been suggested a cup, a plough, a complete canopy bed, a cask of wine and a cow. Permit me to examine your proposals more closely. Your cup, my dear Ruedi, I know well; it is a fixture in your in your shop, has been there in your show window for years and years; in fact, I believe it was once your masterpiece. Nevertheless, its antiquated form would forbid our choosing it and presenting it as new. Your plough, Chueri Syfrig, seems to be not absolutely practical after all, otherwise you would certainly have sold it three years ago. But we must bear in mind that our prize ought to give real pleasure to whoever wins it. Your canopy bed, on the contrary, Henry, is a novel and certainly a delightful idea, and it would undoubtedly occasion remarks of a very popular character. But to carry it out properly, would require plenty of fine bedding and that would exceed the sum we have fixed by too much for only seven people. Your Swiss blood Lienert Pfister is good, and it will be still better if you will give us a cheaper price, and finally tap the cask for us so that we can have it to drink on our anniversaries. Finally, against your cow, Felix Erismann, there is nothing to be said except that she kicks over the pail regularly whenever she is milked. That is why you want to sell her; for, to be sure, that is not a pleasing habit. But what do you think? Would it be right if some honest young peasant won the animal, took it joyfully home to his wife, who would joyfully start to milk it, and then would see the sweet, frothy milk upset on the ground? Think of the poor womans disgust, vexation, and disappointment, and of the embarrassment of the good marksman after this scene had been repeated two or three times. Yes, my dear friends, dont take it amiss, but it must be said: all our proposals have the common fault of thoughtlessly and hastily seeking to make the honor of the fatherland a source of profit and calculation. What if the same thing has been done thousands of times by high and low, we, in our circle, have not done it, and we wish so to continue. So let every man bear the cost of the gift without ulterior motive, so that it may really be a trophy of honor!
The five profit-seekers who had hung their heads in shame, now cried in one voice, Well said! Kaspar has spoken well, and they demanded that he himself should propose something. But Frymann took the floor and said:
It seems to me that a silver cup is more suitable than anything else to be given as a trophy. It retains its value, cannot be used up, and is a handsome reminder of happy days and of the valiant men of the house. The house in which a silver cup is preserved can never quite decay, and who can say whether much else is not also preserved for the sake of such a memorial. And is not art given the opportunity by fashioning ever new and pleasing forms, to increase the variety of these vessels, and thus to exercise its creative power and to bear a ray of beauty into the most distant valley, so that gradually a vast treasure of precious prize-cups will accumulate in our fatherland, precious alike in form and metal? And how fitting it is that these treasures, scattered over the whole country, cannot be made to serve the common uses of every-day life, but in their pure brilliance, in their chaste forms, continue to keep the higher things before our eyes, and thus seem to hold fast the idea of unity and the sunlight of days ideally spent. Away then with the trash that is beginning to pile up in our trophy-halls, a prey to moths and to the most ordinary uses, and let us hold fast to the venerable old drinking-cup! Truly, if I were living in the days when all that is Swiss was drawing to its end, I could not imagine a more uplifting crowning festivity than to gather together the thousands and tens of thousands of cups of all sorts and shapes belonging to all the clubs, societies and individuals, in all their radiance of by-gone days, with all their memories, and to drink a last toast to the declining fatherland
As it becomes a man in the vigor of his prime sometimes to think of death, so, too, in a meditative hour he may turn his gaze on the certain end of his fatherland, that he may love its present all the more fervently, for everything is transitory and subject to change on this earth. Have not much greater nations than we perished? Or would you linger on like the Wandering Jew who cannot die, serving in turn all the new nations as they arise, he who buried the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans? No, a nation that knows that a time will come when it will no longer be makes all the more intense use of its days, lives so much the longer, and leaves a glorious memory; for it will not rest until it has brought to light and exercised the capabilities that lie within it, like a man who knows no rest until he has set his house in order before he leaves this life. That, in my opinion, is the chief thing. Once a nation has performed its task, what do a few longer or shorter days of existence matter? New figures are already waiting at the portals of their time. And so I must confess that once a year, during some sleepless night, or on quiet paths, I fall a prey to such thoughts, and try to imagine what the nation will be like that will some day hold sway in these mountains after we are gone. And each time I return to my work with greater energy, as if I could thus hasten the work of my nation so that that people of the future will walk over our graves with respect.
But away with these thoughts and back to our joyful prospects! I would suggest that we order a new cup from our master silversmith, on which he promises to make no profit, but to give as much value as possible. For this purpose let us have an artist make a good design which shall depart from the ordinary meaningless pattern, but because of our limited means let him pay more attention to the proportions, to the form and simple grace of the whole, than to rich ornamentation and, after this design, Master Kuser will furnish us with a pleasing and substantial piece of work.
Now that we have settled these matters of general interest, my friends, permit me to bring up another special question, and to make a complaint that we may adjust it together in friendly fashion according to our old custom. You know that our good friend, Kaspar Hediger, is the father of four lively boys whose desire to marry as youngsters makes the whole neighborhood unsafe. In fact, three of them already have wives and children, although the eldest is not yet twenty-seven. There remains the youngest, just turned twenty, and what is he doing? Running after my only daughter and turning her head. Thus these diabolical marriage-fiends have penetrated into the circle of intimate friendship, and now threaten to cloud it. Apart from the fact that the children are much too young, I frankly confess here that such a marriage would be contrary to my wishes and intentions. I have a large business and a considerable fortune; therefore, when the time comes, I shall seek a son-in-law who is a business man with a capital corresponding to mine, and thus able to carry on the building enterprises that I have in mind; for you know that I have bought up extensive building lots, and am convinced that Zurich will grow considerably larger. But your son, my good Kaspar, is a government clerk, and has nothing but his scanty salary, and even if he rises it will never be much bigger, and his income is fixed once for all with no way of augmenting it. Let him stick to his position, he is provided for for life, if he is economical; but he doesnt need a rich wife. A rich official is an absurdity, taking the bread out of other peoples mouths, and I certainly would not give my money for a fellow to loaf on, or, in his inexperience, to use for all sorts of experiments. In addition to all this, it would go against the grain with me to have the true and tried friendship that exists between Kaspar and me transformed into a relationship. What, are we to burden ourselves with family trials and mutual dependence? No, my friends, let us remain closely united until death, but independent of each other, free and answerable to none for our actions, and let us hear nothing of sons father-in-law and daughters father-in-law and all such titles. And so I call upon you, Kaspar, to declare in this intimate circle of friends that you will support me in my purpose and will oppose your sons course. And no offense, we all know one another.
We know one another, that is well said, said Hediger solemnly after slowly taking a pinch of snuff. You all know what bad luck I have had with my sons, although they are smart and lively lads. I had them taught everything that I wish I myself had learnt. They all knew something of languages, could write a good composition, were splendid at figures and had sufficient grounding in other branches of knowledge to keep, with a little effort, from ever relapsing into complete ignorance. Thank God, I used to think, that we are at last able to educate our boys to be citizens who cant be made to believe that black is white. And then I allowed each one to learn the trade he chose. But what happened? Scarcely did they have their indentures in their pockets and had looked about them a little, when the hammer got too heavy for them, they thought themselves too clever for artisans and began to look for clerical jobs. The devil knows how they did it, but the young scamps went like hot cakes. Well, apparently they do their work satisfactorily. Ones in the post office, two are employed by railroad companies and the fourth sits in an office and maintains that hes a government official. After all, its none of my business. He who doesnt want to be a master must remain a journeyman and work under others all his life. But, as money passes through their hands, all these young gentlemen clerks had to give security; I have no property myself, and so you all, in turn, furnished security for my boys, amounting to forty thousand francs; the old tradesmen, their fathers friends, were good enough for that! And now, how do you suppose I feel? How would I stand in your eyes if only one out of the four should take a false step, be guilty of some indiscretion or piece of carelessness?
I know all that, replied Hediger, but a year is a long time, and when its gone theres another to come. I can assure you that it frightens me every time one of them comes into the house with a better cigar than usual. Will he not fall a victim to habits of luxury and self-indulgence? If I see one of their young wives coming along in a new dress, I fear that she is plunging her husband into difficulties and debt. If I see one of them talking in the street to a man who lives beyond his means, a voice within me cries, Will he not lead him into some piece of folly? In short, you see that I feel myself humble and dependent enough, and am far from wishing to add a feeling of obligation towards a rich kinsman, and from turning a friend into a master and patron. And why should I want my cocky young son to feel rich and safe, and to run round under my eyes with the arrogance that such a fellow assumes when he has never had the slightest experience of life? Shall I help to close the school of life to him so that he shall early become hard-hearted, an unmannerly and insolent duffer, who doesnt know how to earn his bread, and still has a tremendous opinion of himself? No, rest easy, my friend, here is my hand on it. No kith and kin for us!
Who would believe that you two who have just spoken such wise words in the cause of the fatherland, and have rapped us so hard on the knuckles, would turn round and do anything so foolish. Thank Heaven, Ive still a chance to dispose of my double bed and I propose that we give it to the young couple for a wedding present.
The next day at dinner, after the journeymen had gone, Hediger informed his son and his wife of the solemn decision of the day before, that from now on no romance between Karl and the carpenters daughter would be tolerated. Mrs. Hediger, the Gunsmithy, was so tempted to laugh by this decree that the last drop of wine in her glass, which she was just about to swallow, got into her windpipe and caused a terrible fit of coughing.
You laugh like a woman and talk like a woman, replied Hediger, very much in earnest, it is just in the family that true politics begin; we are political friends, it is true, but in order to remain so it is necessary that we should not mix our families up, and treat the wealth of one as common property. I am poor and Frymann is rich, and so it shall remain we enjoy our inward equality so much the more. And now, shall a marriage be the means of my sticking my finger into his house and his affairs, and arousing jealousy and embarrassment? Far be it from me!
Oh my, my, what wonderful principles! answered Mrs. Hediger; thats a fine friendship when one friend wont give his daughter to the son of the other! And since when has it meant treating wealth as common property when prosperity is brought into a family through marriage? Is it a reprehensible policy when a fortunate son succeeds in winning a rich and beautiful girl, because he thus attains to property and prominence, and is able to assist his aged parents and brothers, and help them to a place in the sun? For where once good fortune has entered it easily spreads, and without doing any damage to the one, the others can skilfully throw out their hooks in his shade. Not that I am looking for a life of luxury! But there are very many cases in which it is right and proper that a man who has become rich should be consulted by his poor relatives. We old people shall need nothing more; on the other hand, the time might come perhaps, when one or another of Karls brothers might venture on a promising enterprise, or make a fortunate change if someone would lend him the means. And one or another of them will have a talented son who would rise to great things, if there was money enough to send him to the university. One might perhaps become a popular physician, another a prominent lawyer or even a judge, another an engineer or an artist, and all of them, once they had got so far, would find it easy to marry well, and so at last would form a respected, numerous, and happy family. What could be more natural than to have a prosperous uncle who, without harming himself, could throw open the doors of the world to his industrious but poor relatives? For how often does it happen that, owing to the presence in a family of one fortunate member, all the others get a taste of the world and grow wise? And will you drive in the bung on all these things and seal good fortune at its source?
Castles in the air! You talk like the peasant woman with her milk pail! I see a different picture of the man who has become rich among his poor relatives. He, it is true, denies himself nothing and has always thousands of ideas and desires which he gratifies, and which lead him to spend money on thousands of occasions. But let his parents and his brothers come to him, down he sits at his account book, looking important and vexed, sighs, and says, with his pen between his teeth: Thank God that you havent the trouble and burden of administering such a fortune. Id rather herd goats than watch a pack of spiteful and procrastinating debtors! No money coming in from any of them, and all of them trying to get out of paying and slip through my fingers. Day and night you have to be on the lookout that you are not cheated right and left. And if ever you do get a scoundrel by the collar, he sets up such a howl that you have to let him go in a hurry, or be decried as a usurer and a monster. Every official paper, every notice of days of expiration, every announcement, every advertisement has to be read over and over, or you will miss some petition or overlook some term. And theres never any money on hand. If someone repays a loan, he lays his money bag on the table in all the taverns in town and announces with a swagger that hes paid, and before hes out of the house there are three others waiting to borrow the money, one of whom even wants it without giving security! And then the demands made on you by the community, the charitable institutions, public enterprises, subscription lists of all kindsthey cant be avoided, your position demands it; but I can tell you, you often dont know whether you are standing on your head or your heels. This year Im harder pressed even than usual; Ive had my garden improved and a balcony built on to the house, my wife has been wanting to have it done for a long time, and now here are the bills. My physician has advised me a hundred times to keep a saddle horseI cant even think of it, for new expenses keep coming up to prevent. Look there, see the little wine-press, of the most modern construction, that I had built so that I could press out the Muscatel grapes that I grow on trellisesGod knows, I cant pay for it this year. Well, my credit is still good, thank Heaven.
That is the way he talks with a cruel boast underlying all his words and thus so intimidates his poor brothers and his old father that they say nothing about their request, and take themselves off again after admiring his garden and his balcony and his ingenious wine-press. And they go to strangers for help and gladly pay higher interest simply to avoid listening to so much chatter. His children are handsomely and expensively dressed, and tread the streets daintily; they bring their poor cousins little presents and come twice a year to invite them to dinner, and that is a great lark for the rich children; but when the guests lose their shyness and even begin to be noisy, their pockets are filled with apples and they are sent home. There they tell all that they have seen and what they had to eat and everything is criticized; for rancor and envy fill the hearts of the poor sisters-in-law who flatter the prosperous member of the family notwithstanding, and are eloquent in their praise of her fine clothes. Finally some misfortune overtakes the father or the brothers and, whether he will or not, the rich man has to step into the breach for the sake of the family reputation. And he does so without much persuasion; but now the bond of brotherly equality and love is completely severed. The poorer brothers and their children are now the servants and slave-children of the master; year in, year out they are nagged at and corrected, they have to wear coarse clothing and eat black bread in order to make up a small part of the damage. The children are sent to orphan asylums and schools for the poor, and if they are strong enough they have to work in the masters house and sit at the lower end of the table in silence.
Phew! cried Mrs. Hediger, what a tale! And do you really think that your own son here would be such a scoundrel? And has Fate ordained that just his brothers should meet with misfortunes that would make them his servants? They, who have always managed to take care of them-selves till now? No, for the honor of our own blood I believe that a rich marriage would not turn all our heads like that, but that, on the contrary, my view would prove to be right.
I dont mean to assert, replied Hediger, that it would be just that way with us; but in our family too we should introduce outward differences and in time they would be followed by inward inequality; he who aspires to wealth, aspires to rise above his equals
Bosh! interrupted his wife, taking up the table cloth and shaking it out the window; has Frymann, who actually owns the property that we are quarrelling about, grown any different from the rest of you? Arent you of one mind and one heart and always putting your heads together?
Thats different, cried her husband, entirely different. He didnt get his property by scheming, nor win it in the lottery, but acquired it slowly franc by franc through the toil of forty years. And then we are not brothers, he and I, and are not concerned in each others affairs, and thats the way we want it to continue, thats the point. And finally, he is not like other people, he is still one of the Staunch and Upright. But dont let us keep on considering only these petty personal affairs. Fortunately there are no tremendously rich people among us, prosperity is fairly well distributed; but let men with many millions spring up, men with political ambition, and youll see how much mischief they do. There is the well-known spinner-king; he really has millions and is often accused of being an indifferent citizen and a miser, because he doesnt concern himself with public matters. On the contrary, he is a good citizen who consistently lets everyone go his own way, governs himself, and lives like any other man. But let this goldbug be a politically ambitious genius, give him some amiability, pleasure in ostentation and love of all sorts of theatrical pomp, let him build palaces and institutions and then see what harm he would do in the community, and how he would ruin the character of the people. There will come a time when, in our country, as elsewhere, large masses of money will accumulate without having been honestly earned and saved; then it will be for us to show our teeth to the devil; then it will be seen whether the bunting of our flag is made of fast colors and strong thread. To put it briefly, I dont see why a son of mine should stretch out his hand for anothers goods, without having done a stroke to earn them. Thats a fraud as much as anything is!
Its a fraud thats as old as the world, said his wife, laughing, for two people who love each other to want to marry. All your long and high-sounding words wont change that. Moreover, you are the only one to be made a fool of; for Master Frymann is wisely trying to prevent your children from becoming equal to his. But the children will have a policy of their own and will carry it out if theres anything in the affair, and that I dont know.