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SOMETHING

 

I WANT to be something!”said the eldest of five brothers.“I want to be of use in the worldI don't care how humble my position may be in societyif I only effect some goodfor that will really be somethingI'll make bricksfor they are quite indispensable thingsand then I shall truly have done something.”

But that something will not be enough!”quoth the second brother.“What you intend doing is just as much as nothing at allIt is journeyman's workand can be done by a machineNoI would rather be a bricklayer at oncefor that is something realand that's what I will beThat brings rankas a bricklayer one belongs to a guildand is a citizenand has one's own flag and one's own house of callYesand if all goes wellI will keep journeymenI shall become a master bricklayerand my wife will be a master's wifethat is what I call something.”

That's nothing at all!”said the third.“That is outside of the classesand there are many of those in a town that stand far above the mere master artisanYou may be an honest manbut as amaster you will after all only belong to those who are ranked among common menI know something better than thatI will be an architectand will thus enter into the territory of art and speculationI shall be reckoned among those who stand high in point of intellectI must begin at the bottomI may as well say it straight outso I must begin as a carpenter's apprenticeand must go about with a capthough I am accustomed to wear a silk hatI shall have to fetch beer and spirits for the common journeymenand they will call methou’,and that is insultingBut I shall imagine to myself that the whole thing is only actinand a kind of masqueradeTomorrowthat is to saywhen I have served my timeI shall go my own wayand the others will be nothing to meI shall go to the academyand get instructions in drawingand shall be called an architectThat's somethingI may get to be calledsir’and evenworshipful sir’or even get a handle at the front or at the back of my nameand shall go on building and buildingjust as those before me have builtThat will always be a thing to rememberand that's what I call something!”

But I don't care at all for that something,”said the fourth.“I won't sail in the wake of othersand be a copyistI will be a geniusand will stand up greater than all the rest of you togetherI shall be the creator of a new styleand will give the plan of a building suitable to the climate and the material of the countryfor the nationality of the peoplefor the development of the ageand an additional story for my own genius.”

But supposing the climate and the material are bad,”said the fifth,“that would be a disastrous circumstancefor these two exert a great influenceNationalitymoreovermay expand itself until it becomes affectationand the development of the century may run wild with your workas youth often runs wildI can quite well see that none of you will be anything realhowever much you may believe in yourselvesButdo what you likeI will not resemble youI shall keep on the outside of thingsand criticize whatever you produceTo every work there is attached something that is not rightand I will ferret that out and find fault with itand that will be doing something!”

And he kept his wordand everybody said concernin this fifth brother,“There is certainly something in himhe has a good headbut he does nothing.”And by that very means they thought something of him

Nowyou seethis is only a little storybut it will never end so long as the world lasts

But did nothing further come of the five brothersFor this was nothing at all

Listenit is a story in itself

The eldest brotherwho made bricksbecame aware that every brickwhen it was finishedproduced for him a little coinonly of copperbut many copper pennies laid one upon the other can become a shining dollarand wherever one knocks with such a dollar in one's handwherever at the baker'sor the butcher'sor the tailor's wherever it may bethe door flies openand one gets what one wantsYou seethat is what comes of bricksSome certainly went to piecesor broke in twobut there was a use even for these

On the sea-dykeMargaretthe poor womanwished to build herself a little houseAll the faulty bricks were given to herand a few perfect ones into the bargainfor the eldest brother was a good-natured manthough he certainly did not achieve anything beyond the manufacture of bricksThe poor woman put together the house for herselfIt was little and narrowand the single window was guite crookedThe door was too lowand the thatched roof might have shown better wordmanshipBut after all it was a shelterand from the little house you could look far across the seawhose waves broke vainly against the dykeThe salt billows spurted their spray over the whole housewhich was still standing when he who had given the bricks was dead and gone

The second brother knew better how to build a wallfor he had served an apprenticeship to itWhen he had served his time and passed his examinationhe packed his knapsack and sang the journeyman's song

While I am young I'll wander

from place to place I'll roam

And everywhere build houses

until I come back home

And youth will give me courage

and my true love won't forget

Hurrah then for a workman's life

I'll be a master yet

And he carried his idea into effectWhen he had come home and become a masterhe built one house after another in the townHe built a whole streetand when the street was finished and had become an ornament to the placethe houses built a house for him in returnthat was to be his ownBut how can houses build a houseIf yon ask them they will not answer youbut people will answerand say,“Certainlyit was the street that built his house for him.”It was littleand the floor was covered with claybut when he danced with his bride upon this clay floorit became polished oakand from every stone in the wall sprang forth a flowerand the room was gayas if with the costliest paperhanger's workIt was a pretty houseand in it lives a happy pairThe flag of the guild fluttered before the houseand the journeymen and apprentices shouted hurrahYesthat was somethingAnd at last he diedand that was something too

Now came the architectthe third brotherwho had been at first a caroenter's apprenticehad worn a capand served as an errand boybut had afterwards gone to the academyand risen to become an architectand to be calledhonoured sir.”Yesif the houses of the street had built a house for the brother who had become a bricklayerthe street now received its name from the architectand the handsomest house in it became hisThat was somethingand hewas somethingand he had a long title before and after his nameHis children were called genteel childrenand when he died his widow wasa widow of rank”,and that is something!—and his name always remained at the corner of the streetand lived on in the mouth of every one as the street's nameand that was something

Now came the geniusthe fourth brotherwho wanted to invent something new and originaland an additional story on the top of itBut the top story tumbled downand he came tumbling down with itand broke his neckNevertheless he had a splendid funeralwith guild flags and musicpoems in the papersand flowers strewn on the paving-stones in the streetand three funeral orations were held over himeach one longer than the lastwhich would have rejoiced him greatlyfor he was always fond of being talked abouta monument also was erected over his graveIt was only one story highbut that is always something

Now he was deadlike the three other brothersbut the lastthe one who was a criticoutlived them alland that was quite rightfor by this means he got the last wordand it was of great importance to him to have the last wordThe people always said he had a good head of his ownAt last his hour cameand he diedand came to the gates of ParadiseSouls always enter there two and twoand he came up with another soul that wanted to get into Paradise tooand who should this be but old Dame Margaret from the house upon the sea wall

I suppose this is done for the sake of contrastthat I and this wretched soul should arrive here at exactly the same time,”said the critic.“Praywho are youmy good woman?”he asked.“Do you want to get in here too?”

And the old woman curtsied as well as she couldshe thought it must be StPeter himself talking to her

I'm a poor old woman of a very humble family,”she replied.“I'm old Margaret that lived in the house on the sea wall.”

Welland what have you doneWhat have you accomplished down there?”

I have really accomplished nothing at all in the worldnothing that can open the door for me hereIt would be a real mercy to allow me to slip in through the gate.”

In what manner did you leave the world?”asked hejust for the sake of saying somethingfor it was wearisome work standing there and waiting

WhyI really don't know how I left itI was sick and poorly during my last yearsand could not well bear creeping out of bedand going out suddenly into the frost and coldIt was a hard winterbut I have got out of it all nowFor a few days the weather was quite calmbut very coldas your honour must very well knowThe sea was covered with ice as far as one could lookAll the people from the town walked out upon the iceand I think they said there was a dance thereand skatingThere was beautiful music and a great feast there toothe sound came into my poor little roomwhere I lay illAnd it was towards eveningthe moon had risenbut was not yet in its full splendourI looked from my bed out over the wide seaand far offjust where the sea and sky joina strange white cloud came upI lay looking at the cloudand I saw a little black spot in the middle of itthat grew larger and largerand now I knew what it meantfor I am old and experiencedthough this token is not often seenI knew itand a shuddering came upon meTwice in my life I have seen the same thingand I knew there would be an awful tempestand a spring floodwhich would overwhelm the poor people who were now drinking and dancing and rejoicingyoung and oldthe whole town had issued fofthwho was to warn themif no one saw what was coming yonderor knewas I didwhat it meantI was dreadfully alarmedand felt more lively than I had done for a long timeI crept out of bedand got to the windowbut could not crawl fartherI was so exhaustedBut I managed to open the windowI saw the people outside running and jumping about on the iceI could see the beautiful flags that waved in the windI heard the boys shoutinghurrah’and the servant men and maids singingThere were all kinds of merriment go-in onBut the white cloud with the black spot rose higher and higherI cried out as loud as I couldbut no one heard meI was too far from the peopleSoon the storm would burstand the ice would breakand all who were upon it would be lost without remedyThey could not hear meand I could not come out to themOhif I could only bring them ashoreThen kind Heaven inspired me with the thought of setting fire to my bedand rather to let the house burn downthan that all those people should perish so miserablyI succeeded in lighting up a beacon for themThe red flame blazed up on highand I escaped out of the doorbut fell down exhausted on the thresholdand could get no fartherThe flames rushed out towards meflickered through the windowand rose high above the roofAll the people on the ice yonder beheld itand ran as fast as they couldto give aid to a poor old woman whothey thoughtwas being burned to deathNot one remained behindI heard them comingbut I also became aware of a rushing sound in the airI heard a rumbling like the sound of heavy artillerythe spring flood was lifting the covering of icewhich broke in piecesBut the people succeeded in reaching the sea wall where the sparks were flying over meI saved them allBut I fancy I could not bear the cold and the frightand so I came up here to the gates of ParadiseI am told they are opened to poor creatures like meand now I have no house left down upon the dykenot that I think this will give me admission here

Then the gates of heaven were openedand the angel led the old woman inShe left a straw behind hera straw that had been in her bed when she set it on fire to save the lives of manyand this straw had been changed into the purest goldinto gold that grew and grewand spread out into beauteous leaves and flowers

Lookthis is what the poor woman brought,”said the angel to the critic.“What dost thou bringI know that thou hast accomplished nothingthou hast not made so much as a single brickAhif thou couldst only returnand effect at least as much as thatProbably the brickwhen thou hadst made itwould not be worth muchbut if it were made with a good willit would at least be somethingBut thou canst not go backand I can do nothing for the!”

Then the poor soulthe old dame who had lived on the dykeput in a petition for himShe said

His brother gave me the bricks and the pieces out of which I built up my houseand that was a great deal for a poor woman like meCould not all those bricks and pieces be counted as a single brick in his favourIt was an act of mercyHe wants it nowand is not this the very fountain of merct?”

Then the angel said

Thy brotherhim whom thou hast regarded as the least among you allhe whose honest industry seemed to the as the most humblehath given the this heavenly giftThe shalt not be turned awayIt shall be vouchsafed to the to stand here without the gateand to re-fleetand repent of they life down yonderbut thou shalt not be admitted until thou hast in earnest acconplished something.”

I could have said that in better words!”thought the criticbut he did not find fault aloudand for himthat was alreadySOMETHING!”

 


 

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