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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘Out of the Life of a Good-for-Nothing’
By Joseph von Eichendorff (1788–1857)
 
Translation of William Henry Carpenter

THE WHEEL of my father’s mill rushed and roared again right merrily, the melting snow trickled steadily down from the roof, the sparrows twittered and bustled about. I sat on the door-sill and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes; I felt so comfortable in the warm sunshine. Just then my father came out of the house. He had worked since daybreak in the mill, and had his tasseled cap awry upon his head. To me he said:—“You Good-for-Nothing! There you are sunning yourself again and stretching and straining your bones tired, and leave me to do all the work alone. I cannot feed you here any longer. Spring is at the door; go out into the world and earn your own bread.” “Now,” said I, “if I am a Good-for-Nothing, well and good; I will go out into the world and seek my fortune.” And really I was very well pleased, for it had shortly before occurred to me too to travel, when I heard the yellow-hammer, who always sung his note in autumn and winter so plaintively at our window, now calling again in the beautiful spring so proudly and merrily from the trees. I went accordingly into the house and got my violin, which I played quite cleverly, down from the wall; my father gave me besides a few groschens to take along, and so I sauntered out through the long village. It gave me in truth a secret pleasure when I saw all my old acquaintances and comrades, right and left, just as yesterday, and day before yesterday, and always, going out to work, to dig and to plow; while I thus wandered out into the free world. I called out to the poor people on all sides proudly and contentedly, Adieu! but nobody paid very much attention to it. In my soul it seemed to me like an eternal Sunday. And when I at last came out into the open fields, I took up my dear violin and played and sang as I walked along the highway….  1
  When I presently looked about, a fine traveling carriage came up quite near to me, that may have been for some time driving along behind me without my having noticed it, since my heart was so full of music; for it went along quite slowly, and two ladies put their heads out of the carriage and listened to me. The one was particularly beautiful and younger than the other, but really both of them pleased me. When I now ceased singing, the elder one had the driver stop and spoke to me kindly: “Ah, you happy fellow, you know how to sing very pretty songs.” To which I, not at all backward, answered, “If it please your Excellency, I may have some that are prettier still.” Thereupon she asked me again, “Where then are you wandering so early in the morning?” Then I was ashamed that I did not know, myself, and said boldly, “To Vienna.” Thereupon both spoke together in a foreign language that I did not understand. The younger one shook her head several times, but the other laughed continuously and finally called out to me, “Spring up behind us: we are also going to Vienna.” Who was happier than I! I made a bow, and at a jump was on behind the carriage, the coachman cracked his whip, and we flew along over the glistening road, so that the wind whistled about my hat.  2
  Behind me disappeared village, gardens, and church towers; before appeared new villages, castles, and mountains. Below me grain fields, copse, and meadows flew in many colors past; above me were countless larks in the blue air. I was ashamed to cry aloud, but inwardly I exulted, and stamped and danced about on the footboard of the carriage, so that I had nearly lost my violin which I held under my arm. As the sun, however, rose continually higher, and heavy white noonday clouds came up round about the horizon, and everything in the air and on the broad plains became so empty and close and still over the gently waving grain fields,—then for the first time came into my mind my village, and my father, and our mill, and how it was so comfortable and cool there by the shady pond, and that now everything lay so far, far behind me. I felt so strangely, and as if I must turn back again. I put my violin in between my coat and waistcoat, sat down full of thought upon the footboard, and fell asleep.  3
  When I opened my eyes the carriage stood still under tall linden-trees, behind which a broad stairway led up between columns into a splendid castle. On one side, through the trees, I saw the towers of Vienna. The ladies, it appeared, had long since got out, and the horses were unharnessed. I was much frightened when I found myself all at once alone. As I sprang quickly up into the castle, I heard somebody above laughing out of the window.  4
  In this castle it fared strangely with me. In the first place, as I was looking about in the wide cool hall, some one tapped me with a stick upon the shoulder. I turned quickly, and there stood a great gentleman in court dress, a broad scarf of gold and silk hanging down to his hips, with a silver-topped staff in his hand, and an extraordinarily long, hooked, princely nose, big and splendid as a puffed-up turkey, who asked me what I wanted there. I was quite taken aback, and for fear and astonishment could not bring forth a sound. Thereupon more servants came running up and down the stairs, who said nothing at all, but looked at me from head to foot. Straightway came a lady’s-maid (as I afterward learned she was) right up to me and said that I was a charming fellow, and her ladyship desired to ask me whether I would take service here as a gardener. I put my hand to my waistcoat. My couple of groschens, God knows, must have sprung out of my pocket in my dancing about in the carriage, and were gone. I had nothing but my violin-playing, for which, moreover, the gentleman with the staff, as he said to me curtly, would not give a farthing. In my anguish of heart I accordingly said yes to the lady’s-maid, my eyes still directed from one side to the uncomfortable figure which continually, like the pendulum of a steeple clock, moved up and down the hall, and just then again came majestically and awfully up out of the background. Last of all the head gardener finally came, growled something to himself about rabble and country bumpkins, and led me to the garden, preaching to me on the way a long sermon—how I should be sober and industrious, should not rove about in the world, should not devote myself to unprofitable arts and useless stuff: in that case I might in time be of some account. There were still more very pretty, well-put, useful maxims, only since then I have forgotten almost all of them again. On the whole, I did not really at all rightly know how everything had come about. I only said yes continually to everything, for I was like a bird whose wings had been wet. Thus I was, God be praised, in possession of my daily bread.  5
  In the garden, life went on finely. I had every day my warm food in plenty, and more money than I needed for wine,—only, alas! I had quite a good deal to do. The temples, too, the arbors, and the beautiful green walks,—all that would have pleased me very well, if I had only been able to walk placidly about and converse rationally, like the ladies and gentlemen who came there every day. As often as the head gardener was away and I was alone, I immediately pulled out my short tobacco pipe, sat down and thought out pretty polite speeches, such as I would use to entertain the young and beautiful lady who brought me along with her into the castle, if I were a cavalier and walked about with her. Or I lay down on my back on sultry afternoons, when everything was so still that one could hear the bees buzzing, and watched the clouds as they floated along to my own village, and the grasses and flowers as they moved hither and thither, and thought of the lady; and then it often happened too that the beautiful lady, with her guitar or a book, really went through the garden at a distance, as gently, as lofty and gracious, as an angel, so that I did not rightly know whether I dreamed or was awake….  6
  Close by the castle garden ran the highway, only separated from it by a high wall. A very neat little toll-keeper’s house with a red tile roof was built there, and behind it was a little flower garden, inclosed with a gay-colored picket fence, which, through a break in the wall of the castle garden, bordered on its shadiest and most concealed part. The toll-keeper had just died, who had occupied it all. Early one morning while I still lay in the soundest sleep, the secretary from the castle came to me and called me in all haste to the head steward. I dressed myself quickly and sauntered along behind the airy secretary, who on the way, now here, now there, broke off a flower and stuck it on the lapel of his coat, now brandished his cane skillfully in the air, and talked to the wind all sorts of matters of which I understood nothing, since my eyes and ears were still full of sleep. When I entered the office, where it was not yet wholly light, the steward looked at me from behind a tremendous inkstand and piles of paper and books and a portly wig, like an owl from her nest, and began, “What’s your name? Where do you come from? Can you write, read, and cipher?” When I had answered this affirmatively, he added, “Well, her ladyship designs to offer you, in consideration of your good behavior and your particular merits, the vacant toll-keeper’s position.” I went over quickly in my mind my previous behavior and manners, and I was obliged to confess that I found at the end, myself, that the steward was right. And so I was, then, really toll-keeper, before I was aware of it.  7
  I moved now immediately into my new dwelling, and in a short time was settled. I found a number of things that the late toll-keeper had left behind, among others a splendid red dressing-gown with yellow dots, green slippers, a tasseled cap, and some pipes with long stems. All these things I had wished for when I was still at home, when I always saw our pastor going about so comfortably. The whole day (I had nothing further to do) I sat there on the bench before my house in dressing-gown and cap, smoking tobacco out of the longest pipe that I had found among those left by the late toll-keeper, and looked at the people on the highway as they went to and fro, and drove and rode about. I only wished all the time that people too out of my own village, who always said that nothing would come of me all the days of my life, might come by and see me. The dressing-gown was very becoming to me, and in point of fact all of it pleased me very well. So I sat there and thought of all sorts of things: how the beginning is always hard, how a higher mode of life is nevertheless very comfortable; and secretly came to the decision henceforth to give up all traveling about, to save money, too, like others, and in good time surely to amount to something in the world. In the mean time, however, with all my decisions, cares, and business, I by no manner of means forgot the beautiful lady.  8
  The potatoes and other vegetables that I found in my little garden I threw away, and planted it entirely with the choicest flowers; at which the janitor from the castle, with the big princely nose, who since I lived here often came to me and had become my intimate friend, looked askance and apprehensively at me, and regarded me as one whom sudden fortune had made mad. But I did not allow this to disturb me, for not far from me in the manor garden I heard low voices, among which I thought to recognize that of my beautiful lady, although on account of the thick shrubbery I could see nobody. Then I bound every day a nosegay of the most beautiful flowers that I had, climbed every evening when it was dark over the wall, and placed it on a stone table which stood in the middle of an arbor, and every evening when I brought the new bouquet the old one was gone from the table….  9
  I continually felt as I always feel when spring is at hand,—so restless and glad without knowing why, as if a piece of great good fortune or something else extraordinary awaited me. The hateful accounts, in particular, would no longer get on at all; and when the sunshine through the chestnut-tree before the window fell green-golden upon the figures, and added them up so nimbly from “amount brought forward” to “balance,” and then up and down again, very strange thoughts came to me, so that I often became quite confused and actually could not count up to three. For the eight appeared always to me like the stout, tightly laced lady with the broad hat that I knew, and the unlucky seven was wholly like a guide-post always pointing backward, or a gallows. The nine however played the greatest pranks, in that often, before I was aware of it, it stood itself as a six merrily on its head; while the two looked on so cunningly, like an interrogation point; as if it would ask:—“What shall be the outcome of all this in the end, you poor naught? Without her, this slender one-and-all, you will always be nothing!”  10
  Sitting outside before the door, too, no longer pleased me. I took a footstool out with me, in order to make myself more comfortable, and stretched out my feet upon it, and I mended an old parasol of the toll-keeper’s and held it against the sun above me, like a Chinese summer-house. But it did not at all avail. It seemed to me as I sat thus, and smoked and speculated, that my legs gradually became longer from very weariness, and my nose grew from idleness, as I looked down on it for hours at a time. And when many a time before daybreak an extra post came by, and I stepped half asleep out into the cool air, and a pretty little face, of which in the dim light only the sparkling eyes were to be seen, bent with curiosity out of the carriage and gave me pleasantly a good-morning, and in the village round about the cocks crew so freshly out over the gently waving grain fields, and between the morning clouds high in the heavens already soared a few too early awakened larks, and the postilion took his post-horn and drove on, and blew and blew—then I stood for a long time still and looked after the coach, and it seemed to me as if nothing else would do, except to go along with them, far, far out into the world.  11
  The nosegays I always placed, in the mean time, as soon as the sun went down, on the stone table in the dim arbor. But that was just it. That was all over now, since that evening; no one troubled himself about them. As often as I, early in the morning, looked after them, the flowers still lay there just as they did the day before, and looked at me in real sorrow with their wilted hanging heads, and the dew-drops standing on them as if they wept. That grieved me very much. I bound no more nosegays. In my garden the weeds might now flourish as they would, and the flowers I let stand and grow until the wind blew away the leaves. My heart was just as waste and wild and disordered….  12
  In these critical times it came to pass that once when I was lying in the window at home and looking gloomily out into the empty air, the lady’s-maid from the castle came tripping along the road. When she saw me, she turned quickly toward me and stood still at the window. “His Lordship returned yesterday from his journey,” said she briskly. “Is it so?” I replied in astonishment, for for several weeks past I had not concerned myself about anything, and did not even know that his Lordship was away. “Then his daughter, the gracious young lady, has also had, I am sure, a very pleasant time.” The lady’s-maid looked at me oddly from top to toe, so that I really was forced to consider whether I had not said something stupid. “You don’t know anything at all,” she finally said, and turned up her little nose. “Now,” she continued, “there is going to be a dance and masquerade this evening at the castle in his Lordship’s honor. My mistress is also to go in mask, as a flower-girl—do you quite understand?—as a flower-girl. Now my mistress has noticed that you have particularly beautiful flowers in your garden.” “That is strange,” thought I to myself, “since there are now scarcely any more flowers to be seen on account of the weeds.” But she continued: “As my mistress needs beautiful flowers for her costume, but quite fresh ones that have just come out of the flower-bed, you are to bring her some, and wait with them this evening, when it has grown dark, under the great pear-tree in the castle garden. She will come and get the flowers.”  13
  I was quite dumbfounded by this news, and in my rapture ran from the window out to the lady’s-maid.  14
  “Pah! the nasty dressing-gown!” she cried out when she saw me all at once out-of-doors in my costume. That vexed me. I did not wish to be behind her in gallantry, and made a few pretty motions to catch her and kiss her. But unfortunately the dressing-gown, which was much too long for me, got tangled up at the same time under my feet and I fell my whole length on the ground. When I pulled myself together again the lady’s-maid was far away, and I heard her still laughing in the distance; so that she had to hold her sides.  15
  Now, however, I had something to think about and to make me happy. She still thought of me and of my flowers! I went into my garden and quickly pulled all the weeds out of the flower-beds, and threw them high up over my head away into the glistening air, as if I drew out with the roots every bit of evil and melancholy. The roses were again like her mouth; the sky-blue morning-glories like her eyes; the snow-white lily with its sorrowfully drooping head looked quite like her. I laid them all carefully in a little basket together.  16
  It was a still, beautiful evening, with not a cloud in the heavens. A few stars were already out in the sky; from afar came the sound of the Danube over the fields; in the tall trees in the castle garden near me joyfully sang innumerable birds. Ah, I was so happy!  17
  When night finally came on, I took my little basket over my arm and set out on my way to the great garden. In my basket all lay so bright and pretty together—white, red, blue, and so fragrant that my heart fairly laughed when I looked in.  18
  Full of happy thoughts, I went along in the beautiful moonlight through the quiet paths tidily strewed with sand, over the little white bridges, under which the swans sat sleeping upon the water, and past the pretty arbors and summer-houses. I had soon found the great pear-tree, for it was the same one under which I had lain on sultry afternoons when I was still a gardener.  19
  Here it was so lonely and dark. Only a tall aspen continually whispered with its silver leaves. From the castle sounded now and then the dance music. At times I heard, too, in the garden human voices, which often came quite near to me, and then all at once it was again perfectly still.  20
  My heart beat fast. A strange feeling of dread came over me, as if I intended to steal from somebody. I stood for a long time stock still, leaning against the tree and listened on all sides; but as nobody came, I could no longer endure it. I hung my basket on my arm and climbed quickly up into the pear-tree, in order to breathe again in the open air….  21
  I now directed my eyes immovably toward the castle, for a circle of torches below on the steps of the entrance threw a strange light there, over the sparkling windows and far out into the garden. It was the servants, who were just then serenading their young master and mistress. In the midst of them, splendidly dressed like a minister of state, stood the porter before a music stand, working hard on his bassoon.  22
  Just as I had seated myself aright in order to listen to the beautiful serenade, all at once the doors opened, up on the balcony of the castle. A tall gentleman, handsome and stately in his uniform and with many glittering stars on his breast, stepped out upon the balcony, leading by the hand—the beautiful young lady in a dress all of white, like a lily in the night or as if the moon passed across the clear firmament.  23
  I could not turn my glance from the place, and garden, trees, and fields vanished from my senses; as she, so wondrously illuminated by the torches, stood there tall and slender, and now talked pleasantly with the handsome officer and then nodded kindly down to the musicians. The people below were beside themselves with joy, and I too could not restrain myself at last, and joined in the cheers with all my might.  24
  As she however soon afterward again disappeared from the balcony, and below one torch after the other went out and the music stands were taken away, and the garden now round about also became dark again and rustled as before,—for the first time I noticed all this,—then it fell all at once upon my heart that it was really only the aunt who had sent for me with the flowers, and that the beautiful lady did not think of me at all and was long since married, and that I myself was a great fool.  25
  All of this plunged me truly into an abyss of reflection. I wrapped myself up like a hedgehog in the stings of my own thoughts; from the castle the dance music came more rarely across, the clouds wandered lonely along over the dark garden. And so I sat up in the tree, like a night owl, all night long in the ruins of my happiness.  26
  The cool morning air waked me finally from my dreamings. I was fairly astonished when I looked all at once about me. Music and dance was long over, and in the castle and round about the castle, on the lawn, and the stone steps, and the columns, everything looked so still and cool and solemn; only the fountain before the entrance plashed solitarily along. Here and there in the twigs near me the birds were already awakening and shaking their bright feathers; and while they stretched their little wings they looked with curiosity and astonishment at their strange bedfellow. The joyous beaming rays of morning sparkled along over the garden upon my breast.  27
  Then I straightened myself out up in my tree, and for the first time for a long while, once more looked fairly out into the land, and saw how a few ships were already sailing down the Danube between the vineyards, and how the still empty highways swung themselves like bridges across the glistening country, far out over the mountains and valleys.  28
  I do not know how it came about, but all at once my old desire to travel seized hold of me again: all the old sadness and joy and great anticipation. It came into my mind, at the same time, how the beautiful lady up in the castle was sleeping among the flowers and under silken coverlets, and an angel was sitting beside her on the bed in the stillness of the morning.——“No,” I cried out, “I must go away from here, and on and on, as far as the sky is blue!”  29
  And at this I took my basket and threw it high into the air, so that it was very pretty to see how the flowers lay gayly round about in the twigs and on the greensward below. Then I climbed down quickly and went through the quiet garden to my dwelling. Often indeed I stopped still at many a place where I had once seen her, or where lying in the shade I had thought of her.  30
  In and about my house everything still looked just as I had left it yesterday. The garden was plundered and bare; in my room inside, the great account-book still lay open; my violin, which I had almost wholly forgotten, hung covered with dust on the wall. A morning beam, however, from the window opposite fell gleaming across the strings. That struck a true accord within my heart. “Yes,” I said, “do thou come here, thou faithful instrument! Our kingdom is not of this world!”  31
  And so I took the violin from the wall, left the account-book, dressing-gown, slippers, pipes, and parasol lying, and wandered, as poor as I had come, out of my little house away on the glistening highway.  32
  I still often looked back. A strange feeling had taken possession of me. I was so sad and yet again so thoroughly joyous, like a bird escaping from its cage. And when I had gone a long way I took up my violin, out there in the free air, and sang.  33
  The castle, the garden, and the towers of Vienna had already disappeared behind me in the fragrance of morning; above me exulted innumerable larks high in the air. Thus I went between the green mountains and past cheerful cities and villages down toward Italy.  34
 
 
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