lunes, 6 de noviembre de 2017



HIS name was Gustavus Adolphus, and he was the son of the
clock-maker Lacknail, who led a modest life in a little town.
Gustavus Adolphus wished to become a clergyman, and had begun
very early to devote his services to the church: he rang the
bells on Sunday; at first the little ones, and then afterwards,
when he became strong enough, the large ones; and when the
congregation found edification in singing, he blew the organ with
holy zeal, till the perspiration rolled down over his forehead.
Then, too, he buried the dead bodies of pet birds and rabbits
under the cabbage-heads in his parents’ vegetable garden, and
preached such touching discourses over them that tears came into
the eyes of the listening washerwomen, who were working by the
brook which flowed past.

At school, he was frankly none of the best. He was thick-headed,
and learned but slowly how to read, write, and reckon; but the
catechism he had at his tongue’s end, and he knew a little trick,
too; that is, he could repeat “Our Father,” as rapidly backwards
as forwards, and none of his schoolmates could emulate him in
that. Besides, Gustavus Adolphus was no devotee, nor hypocrite,
but he was a good-natured, honest fellow, whom everybody could endure.

Whenever the boy spoke in the presence of his parents of wishing
to become a clergyman, his father would knit his brows, not
because he was opposed to the calling as such, but because in
consideration of his modest income he feared the expense of such
an education. But his mother smiled with delight at the thought
of seeing her son one day in the pulpit, and when the principal
of the town school once told her plainly that Gustavus Adolphus
was of too limited capacity to be able to study, she went away
indignant, and would not believe it.

But the matter had one difficulty. Gustavus Adolphus had what is
called a stammering, or stuttering tongue, and could not pronounce certain
letters well; for example, R and S gave him great trouble. One
day he read in his reading-book of the celebrated orator
Demosthenes, who had to contend with a similar impediment, and he
at once determined to imitate him. Like him, he no longer cut his
hair, but went every day to the roaring mill-dam and declaimed in
a loud voice, “John the silly soap-suds stirrer.”

Indeed, his indefatigable perseverance would have surely made him
a pulpit orator, if Providence had not frustrated his plans. His
mother, who till now had taken his part, laid her down and died.
His father spoke the word of command, and Gustavus Adolphus
entered his father’s workshop as a clock-maker’s apprentice.
There the poor young fellow had to sit, with shaded eyes, and was
obliged to clean and oil the clocks of his fellow-townsmen; and,
in his opinion, there was no more unfortunate creature to be
found on God’s earth than Gustavus Adolphus Lacknail.

Time heals all things. He learned to become resigned; and when
the winding of the clock in the church tower was intrusted to
him, he was half reconciled to his fate.

The years passed away one after another. Gustavus Adolphus had
served his time and went out as a journeyman. But he did not go
beyond the next town, and returned home as soon as the required
term had expired. For a year or two he worked on as his father’s
assistant; then his father departed this life, and he was master
in the business, and the business prospered.

Soon after, the place of sexton in the town church was vacated.
To the astonishment of all the inhabitants Gustavus Adolphus
sought the position, and obtained it, too. Evil tongues said that
a contemptible love of gain lead the wealthy man to this step;
but when it became known that the new church sexton had made over
his salary to the poor-house, then the slanderers were silent,
and Gustavus Adolphus’ reputation grew like the crescent moon.
The pastor brought it about that Mr. Lacknail received the title
of “assistant.” This sounded better than “sexton.”

Henceforth Gustavus Adolphus was never seen in public except in a
long black coat, which he wore buttoned up to the neck; above the
collar, however, appeared a modest white cravat, and above this a
round, smoothly shaven face, about whose mouth constantly played
a kindly smile.

Gustavus Adolphus was reconciled to his fate. The dreams of his
boyhood years were not fulfilled, to be sure; he was not the
first person in the church, but unquestionably the second; for
the organist, to whom this rank properly belonged, took his drams
secretly, and on this account did not stand well in the community.

That the new assistant, soon after entering his office, should
wed a Christian maiden seemed sensible to the people; but when,
after a year and a day, he stood beaming with joy by the
baptismal font, over which was held a little screaming Lacknail,
then they all shook their heads, and the pastor as well, for the
happy father, disregarding all the customary baptismal names, had
chosen the name of Matthew for his first-born. Gustavus paid no
heed to the people’s talk, and took great delight in the little
Matthew’s growth.

Again joy entered the house of Mr. Lacknail; a second son was
born to him; and when the pastor asked by what name the child
should be baptized, the father said, proudly smiling, “Mark.”
Then it was evident what Mr. Lacknail was striving after; and he
did not deny it; he had no other intention than to surround
himself with the four evangelists.

Really, Heaven seemed to favor the honest man’s intention, for
after a year and a half a struggling Luke joined Matthew and
Mark; and, moreover, a year later Mr. Lacknail dared to hope that
he should shortly reach the goal of his desires. But who would
have thought the expected child capable of such wickedness! It
came, came in good time; but it came into the world a little maiden.

Then was Gustavus Adolphus very much grieved. At first he was
angry with Providence, and would not even look at the child,— it
bore the name of Elizabeth,— but then he scolded himself severely
for his ingratitude, behaved henceforth towards the little one as
it became a father and a servant of the church, and placed his
hopes on the next child. But this was still worse than the last —
that is, it stayed away entirely. One year passed after another;
Matthew, Mark, and Luke grew to sturdy lads, and the coming of
the fourth evangelist, John, was still looked forward to.

Then a consuming malady came to the little town, and among others
Mrs. Lacknail fell a victim to it. When the year of mourning was
over, the widower thought seriously of marrying again, that he
might possibly yet possess a John; but the children dissuaded him
from his intention, and Gustavus Adolphus remained a widower.

The young Lacknails prospered. Matthew was already studying, and
what else but theology; Mark went to the seminary; Luke worked in
his father’s workshop; and Elizabeth kept the house. She was a
beautiful, slender maiden, with a fresh, round face, and thick,
blonde braids; and when Lacknail, now advancing in life, looked
at her, he smiled, and laughed to himself. He had a design for
his daughter, but he did not say what it was.

At that time the handsomest young man in the town and country
round was head-waiter in the inn of the Wild Man. His name was
“Jean,” but they pronounced it “Zhang,” the French way.
To the affability which graces the brotherhood of waiters he 
united the polite manners of a diplomatist; he wore his 
blonde moustache like the captain of a ship, and his curly hair 
was parted evenly from his forehead to the nape of his neck. 
Besides, he always wore snow-white linen,
very conspicuous cuffs, and shirt-studs of aluminum as large as a
dollar. Indeed, he was a splendid young man. Then, too, it was
rumored about in the town that he rejoiced in a pretty little
property, and that he intended sometime to purchase the Wild Man.
So it really was not to be wondered at that the hearts of the
townspeople’s daughters beat more loudly when the handsome Jean
greeted them as he passed by.

Just as skilful as the young man was in going about with plates
and glasses, just so unskillful he had been for some time in
handling his watch. Hardly a week passed that his chronometer did
not need the help of Mr. Lacknail; sometimes the crystal was
cracked, sometimes the spring was broken. Then Jean always took
care to give the patient with his own hands to the physician, and
when discharged well, to take it promptly away again; and in
coming and going it seldom failed to happen that the kitchen door
opened a little, and in the crack appeared a pretty maiden’s
head, which nodded sweetly, and then disappeared.

On fine Sundays, when the afternoon service was over, Mr.
Lacknail was wont to take a walk with his daughter to the
so-called huntsman’s house, where the people of the town amused
themselves by playing ninepins. Mr. Lacknail never played, for he
did not think it consistent with his position; but he was not
averse to a good drink of beer, especially if it was seasoned
with sensible conversation, and this seasoning for some weeks had
been supplied by Jean, the head-waiter. What a cultivated young
man he was, and what a knowledge he had of the world! And
moreover, he was a proper, steady man, and went regularly to
church on Sundays, and carried a gilt-edged singing-book in his hand.

The fair-haired Elizabeth grew happier each day, and sang at her
work like a skylark. But her father became more and more silent
and thoughtful.

And it happened one Sunday about noon, that the handsome Jean
turned his steps towards Mr. Lacknail’s house. He was dressed in
black and had a red carnation in his buttonhole, which looked from a
distance like a badge. On his curly head he wore a hat that shone
like a mirror, on his hands straw-coloured gloves, and over his
left arm hung a dove-coloured overcoat lined with brown silk. And
the people who saw him passing, put their heads together and
said: “Now he is going to propose to Elizabeth. What a lucky girl
she is!”

The people were not mistaken. Jean found the father, who had
already laid aside his official robe, and was smoking his pipe in
a comfortable dressing-gown, alone in the sitting-room. The young
man expressed his desire in appropriate language. He spoke of his
love for Elizabeth, and then dexterously turned the conversation
to the state of his finances. He had already taken a little
package of papers from his breast pocket, when Mr. Lacknail said
in a serious, almost melancholy voice: “Sit down, young man; I
have something to tell you.” And Jean sat down in confusion on
the edge of a chair.

Mr. Lacknail began talking. He expatiated on the dreams of his
youth, and his disappointed hopes, —things which are sufficiently
well known. to us. Then he went on to say:—

“You know, dear Mr. Zhang, that it was my dearest wish to call a
fourth son mine; I should have had him baptized John. Heaven was
not willing; it gave me a daughter instead of the longed-for son.
She is a dear, good child, the joy of my old age, and to see her
happy is my daily prayer. But I made an oath, an oath which now,
since I have made your acquaintance, dear Zhang, I almost regret,
for it separates you and my Elizabeth forever. I have sworn this,
that my daughter shall only marry a man who is named John, and
therefore she can never become the wife of a Zhang.” Having
spoken thus, Mr. Lacknail hung his head sorrowfully.

But Jean jumped up from his seat like a shuttlecock. “And is the
name the only hindrance?” he asked.

“The only one; I swear it to you.”

Jean stood as though he were transfigured. Then he took a paper
out of his breast pocket, unfolded it, and laid it before the old
man. “Read, Mr. Lacknail,” he said, triumphantly.

The latter took the paper in surprise and read, “Sponsor for John

He read no further. The paper fell from his hands, and his voice
failed him. “And this John Obermuller?” he asked, finally, in a
trembling voice.

“I am he!” said the happy waiter, exultingly. “Jean and John are
exactly the same.”

“O thou benignant Heaven!” Cried Mr. Lacknail, folding his hands.
“You have at last sent me a John. But, dear John, what
unchristian tongue has so distorted the beautiful name of the evangelist?”

“That is French,” explained the suitor; “but I promise you
solemnly that in future I will always be called John instead, if
I attain the object of my desires.”

“Give me your hand on it, John,” said Mr. Lacknail. Then he
opened the door and called, “Elizabeth, come in here!” And a few
moments later the two were in each other’s embrace, and the third
was wiping his eyes.

The happiness of the betrothed, the joy of the father when he
went to church with his four evangelists to attend the wedding,
and what followed — all that the reader must picture to himself;
my pen’s not equal to it.

At the present time Mr. John Obermuller is the proprietor of the
inn of the Wild Man, and the plump wife Elizabeth stands
faithfully by his side. They already have two big boys; the
larger one is called Peter, the little one James, and it is said
in the town that the couple have resolved to present the
grandfather by degrees with the twelve apostles.

Rudolph Baumbach, the author, is a poet. He was born in Thuringia, and now
(in the 1890s) lives in Leipsic (sic), where he is a favorite both as a writer and in
society. Most of his works have been written in verse, which is
spontaneous, full of melody, and as witty as Heine, but perfectly
free from bitterness. He draws his inspiration largely from the

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