HIS NAME WAS GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS...
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 Obermuller—” 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 Alps.