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Tales of the Dead


{234} "Pray excuse me, worthy sir," said he; "and permit me to ask you a question."

Francis, who was by no means in a mood to talk, and who now heard from the mouth of a beggar the words which he had so anxiously expected from a friend, answered him in rather an angry tone: "Well then! what is it you want to know, old man?"

"Sir, you and I were the two first persons on this bridge today; and here we are still the only remaining two. As for me and my companions, it is pretty clear that we only come to ask alms: but it is equally evident you do not belong to our profession; and yet you have not quitted the bridge the whole day. My dear sir, for the love of God, if it is no secret, tell me I entreat you for what purpose you came, and what is the grief that rends your heart?"

"What can it concern you, old dotard, to know where the shoe pinches me, or what afflictions I am labouring under?"

"My good sir, I wish you well; you have twice bestowed your charity on me, which I hope the Almighty will return to you with interest. I could not but observe, however, that this evening your countenance no longer looked gay and happy as in the morning; and, believe me, I was sorry to see the change."

{235} The unaffected interest evinced by the old man pleased Francis. "Well," replied he, "since you attach so much importance to the knowledge of the reason I have for remaining the whole day here plaguing myself, I will inform you that I came in search of a friend who appointed to meet me on this bridge, but whom I have expected in vain."

"With your permission I should say your friend is a rogue, to play the fool with you in this manner. If he had so served me, I should make him feel the weight of my crutch whenever I met him: for if he has been prevented from keeping his word by any unforeseen obstacle, he ought at least to have sent to you, and not have kept you here on your feet a whole day."

"And yet I have no reason to complain of his not coming, for he promised me nothing. In fact, it was only in a dream that I was told I should meet a friend here."

Francis spoke of it as a dream, because the history of the ghost was too long to relate.

"That alters the case," replied the old man. "Since you rest your hopes on dreams, I am not astonished at your being deceived. I have also had many dreams in my life; but I was never fool enough to pay attention to them. If I had all the treasures that have been promised me in dreams, I could purchase the whole city of Bremen: but {236} I have never put faith in dreams, and have not taken a single step to prove whether they were true or false; for I know full well, it would be useless trouble: and I am astonished that you should have lost so fine a day, which you might have employed so much more usefully, merely on the strength of a dream which appears to me so wholly devoid of sense or meaning."

"The event proves the justness of your remark, old father; and that dreams generally are deceitful. But it is rather more than three months since I had a very circumstantial dream relative to my meeting a friend on this particular day, here on this bridge; and it was so clearly indicated that he should communicate things of the utmost importance, that I thought it worth while to ascertain whether this dream had any foundation in truth.''

"Ah! sir, no one has had clearer dreams than myself; and one of them I shall never forget. I dreamt, several years since, that my good angel stood at the foot of my bed, in the form of a young man, and addressed me as follows: -- 'Berthold, listen attentively to my words, and do not lose any part of what I am about to say. A treasure is allotted you; go and secure it, that you may be enabled to live happily the rest of your days. To-morrow evening, when the sun is setting, take a pickaxe and spade over your shoulder and go out {237} of the city by the gate leading to Hamburgh: when you arrive facing the convent of Saint Nicholas, you will see a garden, the entrance to which is ornamented by two pillars; conceal yourself behind one of these until the moon rises: then push the door hard, and it will yield to your efforts; go without fear into the garden, follow a walk covered by a treillage of vines, and to the left you will see a great apple-tree: place yourself at the foot of this tree, with your face turned towards the moon, and you will perceive, at fifteen feet distance, two bushy rose-trees: search between these two shrubs, and at the depth of about six feet you will discover a great flag-stone, which covers the treasure inclosed within an iron chest; and although it is heavy and difficult to handle, do not regret the labour it will occasion you to move it from the hole where it now is. You will be well rewarded for your pains and trouble, if you look for the key which is hid under the box.'"

Francis remained like one stupified at this recital; and certainly would have been unable to conceal his astonishment, if the darkness of the night had not favoured him. The various particulars pointed out by the beggar brought to his recollection a little garden which he had inherited from his father, and which garden was the favorite spot of that good man; but possibly for that very reason {238} it was not held in estimation by the son. Melchior had caused it to be laid out according to his own taste, and his son in the height of his extravagance had sold it at a very low price.

The beggar with his wooden leg was now become a very interesting personage to Francis, who perceived that he was the friend alluded to by the ghost in the castle of Rummelsbourg. The first impulse of joy would have led him to embrace the mendicant; but he restrained his feelings, thinking it best not to communicate the result of his intelligence to him.

"Well, my good man," said he, "what did you when you awoke? did you not attend to the advice given by your good angel?"

"Why should I undertake a hopeless labour? It was only a vague dream; and if my good angel was anxious to appear to me, he might choose a night when I am not sleeping, which occurs but too frequently: but he has not troubled his head much about me; for if he had, I should not have been reduced, as I now am, to his shame, to beg my bread."

Francis took from his pocket another piece of money, and gave it to the old man, saying: "Take this to procure half a pint of wine, and drink it ere you retire to rest. Your conversation has dispelled my sorrowful thoughts; do not fail to come regularly {239} to this bridge, where I hope we shall meet again."

The old lame man, not having for a long while made so good a day's work, overwhelmed Francis with his grateful benedictions. They separated, and each went their way. Francis, whose joy was at its height from the near prospect of his hopes being realised, very speedily reached his lodging in the bye street.

The following day he ran to the purchaser of the little garden, and proposed to re-purchase it. The latter, to whom this property was of no particular value, and indeed who began to be tired of it, willingly consented to part with it. They very soon agreed as to the conditions of the purchase, and went immediately to sign the contract: with the money he had found in his bag, as a gift from the lord of Rummelsbourg, Francis paid down half the price: he then procured the necessary tools for digging a hole in the earth, conveyed them to the garden, waited till the moon was up, strictly adhered to the instructions given him by the old beggar, set to work, and without any unlucky adventure he obtained the hidden treasure.

His father, as a precaution against necessity, had buried this money, without any intention to deprive his son of this considerable portion of his inheritance; but dying suddenly, he had carried {240} the secret to his grave, and nothing but a happy combination of circumstances could have restored this lost treasure to its rightful owner.

The chest filled with gold pieces was too heavy for Francis to remove to his lodging without employing some person to assist him: and feeling unwilling to become a topic of general conversation, he preferred concealing it in the summer-house belonging to the garden, and fetching it at several times. On the third day the whole was safely conveyed to his lodging in the little back street.

Francis dressed himself in the best possible style, and went to the church to request that the priest would substitute for the prayers which had been previously offered up, a thanksgiving, for the safe return of a traveller to his native country, after having happily terminated his business. He concealed himself in a corner, where, unseen, he could observe Meta. The sight of her gave him inexpressible delight, especially when he saw the beautiful blush which overspread her cheeks, and the brilliancy of her eyes, when the priest offered up the thanksgiving. A secret meeting took place as had been formerly arranged; and so much was Meta affected by it, that any indifferent person might have divined the cause.

Francis repaired to the Exchange, set up again in business, and in a very short time had enough to {241} do; his fortune each succeeding day becoming better known, his neighbours judged that he had had greater luck than sense in his journey to collect his father's debts. He hired a large house in the best part of the town, engaged clerks, and continued his business with laudable and indefatigable assiduity; he conducted himself with the utmost propriety and sagacity, and abstained from the foolish extravagancies which had formerly been his ruin.

The re-establishment of Francis's fortune formed the general topic of conversation. Every one was astonished at the success of his foreign voyage: but in proportion to the spreading fame of his riches, did Meta's tranquillity and happiness diminish; for it appeared that her silent lover was now in a condition to declare himself openly, and yet he remained dumb, and only manifested his love by the usual rencontre on coming out of church; and even this species of rendezvous became less frequent, which appeared to evince a diminution of his affection.

Poor Meta's heart was now torn by jealousy; for she imagined that the inconstant Francis was offering up his vows to some other beauty. She had experienced secret transports of delight on learning the change of fortune of the man she loved, not from interested motives and the wish to participate in his bettered fortune herself, but {242} from affection to her mother, who, since the failure of the match with the rich brewer, absolutely seemed to despair of ever enjoying happiness or comfort in this world. When she thought Francis faithless, she wished that the prayers put up for him in the church had not been heard, and that his journey had not been attended with such entire success; for had he been reduced to means merely sufficient to procure the necessaries of life, in all probability he would have shared them with her.

Mother Bridget failed not to perceive her daughter's uneasiness, and easily guessed the cause; for she had heard of her old neighbour's surprising return, and she knew he was now considered an industrious intelligent merchant; therefore she thought if his love for her daughter was what it ought to be, he would not be thus tardy in declaring it; for she well knew Meta's sentiments towards him. However, feeling anxious to avoid the probability of wounding her daughter's feelings, she avoided mentioning the subject to her: but the latter, no longer able to confine her grief to her own bosom, disclosed it to her mother, and confided the whole to her.

Mother Bridget did not reproach her daughter for her past conduct, but employed all her eloquence to console her, and entreated her to bear up with courage under the loss of all her hopes:

{243} "You must resign him," said she: "you scorned at the happiness which presented itself to your acceptance, therefore you must now endeavour to be resigned at its departure. Experience has taught me that those hopes which appear the best founded are frequently the most delusive; follow my example, and never again deliver up your heart. Do not reckon on any amelioration of your condition, and you will be contented with your lot. Honour this spinning-wheel which produces the means of your subsistence and then fortune and riches will be immaterial to you: you may do without them."

Thus saying, mother Bridget turned her wheel round with redoubled velocity, in order to make up for the time lost in conversation. She spoke nothing but the truth to her daughter: for since the opportunity was gone by when she hoped it was possible to have regained her lost comforts, she had in such a manner simplified her present wants and projects of future life, that it was not in the power of destiny to produce any considerable derangement in them. But as yet Meta was not so great a philosopher; so that her mother's exhortations, consolations, and doctrines, produced a precisely different effect on her from what they were intended. Meta looked on herself as the destroyer of the flattering hopes her mother had {244} entertained. Although she did not formerly accept the offer of marriage proposed to her, and even then could not have reckoned on possessing beyond the common necessaries of life; yet, since she had heard the tidings of the great fortune obtained by the man of her heart, her views had become enlarged, and she anticipated with pleasure that by her choice she might realize her mother's wishes.

Now, however, this golden dream had vanished: Francis would not come again; and indeed they even began to talk in the city of an alliance about to take place between him and a very rich young lady of Anvers. This news was a death-blow to poor Meta: she vowed she would banish him from her thoughts; but still moistened her work with her tears.

Contrary, however, to her vow, she was one day thinking of the faithless one: for whenever she filled her spinning-wheel, she thought of the following distich, which her mother had frequently repeated to her to encourage her in her work:

"Spin the thread well; spin, spin it more,
For see your intended is now at the door."
Some one did in reality knock gently at the door; and mother Bridget went to see who it was. Francis entered, attired as for the celebration of a {245} wedding. Surprise for a while suspended mother Bridget's faculties of speech. Meta, blushing deeply and trembling, arose from her seat, but was equally unable with her mother to say a word. Francis was the only one of the three who could speak; and he candidly declared his love, and demanded of Bridget the hand of her daughter. The good mother, ever attentive to forms, asked eight days to consider the matter, although the tears of joy which she shed, plainly evinced her ready and prompt acquiescence: but Francis, all impatience, would not hear of delay: finding which, she, comformable to her duty as a mother, and willing to satisfy Francis's ardour, adopted a mid-way, and left the decision to her daughter. The latter, obeying the dictates of her heart, placed herself by the side of the object of her tenderest affection; and Francis, transported with joy, thanked her by a kiss.

The two lovers then entertained themselves with talking over the delights of the time when they so well communicated their sentiments by signs. Francis had great difficulty in tearing himself away from Meta and such 'converse sweet,' but he had an important duty to fulfil.

He directed his steps towards the bridge over the Weser, where he hoped to find his old friend with the wooden leg, whom he had by no means forgotten, although he had delayed making the {246} promised visit. The latter instantly recognised Francis; and no sooner saw him at the foot of the bridge, than he came to meet him, and shewed evident marks of pleasure at sight of him.

"Can you, my friend," said Francis to him, after returning his salutation, "come with me into the new town and execute a commission? You will be well rewarded for your trouble."

"Why not? -- with my wooden leg I walk about just as well as other people; and indeed have an advantage over them, for it is never fatigued. I beg you, however, my good sir, to have the kindness to wait till the man with the grey great-coat arrives."

"What has this man in the grey greatcoat to do with you?"

"He every day comes as evening approaches and gives me a demi-florin; I know not from whom. It is not indeed always proper to learn all things; so I do not breathe a word. I am sometimes tempted to believe, that it is the devil who is anxious to buy my soul; but it matters little, I have not consented to the bargain, therefore it cannot be valid."

"I verily believe that grey surtout has some malice in his head; so follow me, and you shall have a quarter-florin over and above the bargain."

Francis conducted the old man to a distant {247} corner, near the ramparts of the city, stopped before a newly built house, and knocked at the door. As soon as the door was opened, he thus addressed the old beggar: "You have procured a very agreeable evening for me in the course of my life; it is but just, therefore, that I should shed some comforts over your declining days. This house and every thing appertaining thereto belongs to you. The kitchen and cellar are both well stocked; there is a person to take care of you, and every day at dinner you will find a quarter-florin under your plate. It is now time for you to know that the man in the grey surtout is my servant, whom I every day sent with my alms till this house was ready to receive you. You may, if you please, consider me as your guardian angel, since your good angel did not acquit himself uprightly in return for your gratitude."

Saying this, he made the old man go into his house; where the latter found everything he could possibly desire or want. The table was spread; and the old man was so much astonished at this unexpected good fortune, that he thought it must be a dream; for he could in no way imagine why a rich man should feel so much interest for a miserable beggar. Francis having again assured him that every thing he saw was his own, a torrent of tears expressed his thanks; and before he could {248} sufficiently recover from his astonishment to express his gratitude by words, Francis had vanished.

The following day, mother Bridget's house was filled with merchants and shopkeepers of all descriptions, whom Francis had sent to Meta, in order that she might purchase and get ready every thing she required for her appearance in the world with suitable éclat. Three weeks afterwards he conducted her to the altar. The splendour of the wedding far exceeded that of the King of Hops. Mother Bridget enjoyed the satisfaction of adorning her daughter's forehead with the nuptial crown, and thereby obtained the accomplishment of all her desires, and was recompensed for her virtuous and active life. She witnessed her daughter's happiness with delight, and proved the very best of grand-mothers to her daughter's children.