Hopes by Fredrika Bremer

I had a peculiar method of wandering without very much pain along the stormy path of life. Although, in a physical as well as in a moral sense, I wandered almost barefoot,-I HOPED, hoped from day to day; in the morning my hopes rested on evening, in the evening on the morning; in the autumn; upon the spring, in spring upon the autumn; from this year to the next, and this amid mere hopes, I had passed through nearly thirty years of my life, without, of all my privations, painfully perceiving the want of anything but whole boots. Nevertheless, I consoled myself easily for this out of doors in the open air but in a drawing-room it always gave me an uneasy manner to have to turn the heels, as being the part least torn, to the front. Much more oppressive was it to me, truly, that I could in the abodes of misery only console with kind words.

I comforted myself, like a thousand others, by a hopeful glance upon the rolling wheel of fortune, and with the philosophical remark, “When the time comes, comes the counsel.”

As a poor assistant to a country clergyman with a narrow income and meagre table, morally becoming mouldy in the company of the scolding housekeeper, of the willingly fuddled clergyman, of a foolish young gentleman and the daughters of the house, who, with high shoulders and turned-in toes, went from morning to night paying visits, I felt a peculiarly strange emotion of tenderness and joy as one of my acquaintance informed me by writing, that my uncle, the Merchant P—-in Stockholm, to me personally unknown, now lay dying, and in a paroxysm of kindred affection had inquired after his good-for-nothing nephew.

With a flat, meagre little bundle, and a million of rich hopes, the grateful nephew now allowed himself to be shaken up hill and down hill, upon an uncommonly uncomfortable and stiff-necked peasant cart, and arrived, head-over-heels, in the capital.

In the inn where I alighted, I ordered for myself a little—only a very little breakfast,—a trifle—a bit of bread-and-butter—a few eggs.

The landlord and a fat gentleman walked up and down the saloon and chatted. “Nay, that I must say,” said the fat gentleman, “this Merchant P—, who died the day before yesterday, he was a fine fellow.”

“Yes, yes,” thought I; “aha, aha, a fellow, who had heaps of money! Hear you, my friend” (to the waiter), “could not you get me a bit of venison, or some other solid dish? Hear you, a cup of bouillon would not be amiss. Look after it, but quick!”

“Yes,” said mine host now, “it is strong! Thirty thousand dollars, and they banko! Nobody in the whole world could have dreamed of it—thirty thousand!”

“Thirty thousand!” repeated I, in my exultant soul, “thirty thousand! Hear you, waiter! Make haste, give me here thirty then—; and give me here banko—no give me here a glass of wine, I mean;” and from head to heart there sang in me, amid the trumpet-beat of every pulse in alternating echoes, “Thirty thousand! Thirty thousand!”

“Yes,” continued the fat gentlemen, “and would you believe that in the mass of debts there are nine hundred dollars for credit and five thousand dollars for champagne. And now all his creditors stand there prettily and open their mouths; all the thing in the house are hardly worth two farthings; and out of the house they find, as the only indemnification—a calash!”

“Aha, that is something quite different! Hear you, youth, waiter! Eh, come you here! take that meat, and the bouillon, and the wine away again; and hear you, observe well, that I have not eaten a morsel of all this. How could I, indeed; I, that ever since I opened my eyes this morning have done nothing else but eat (a horrible untruth!), and it just now occurs to me that it would therefore be unnecessary to pay money for such a superfluous feast.”

“But you have actually ordered it,” replied the waiter, in a state of excitement.

“My friend,” I replied, and seized myself behind the ear, a place whence people, who are in embarrassment, are accustomed in some sort of way to obtain the necessary help—”my friend, it was a mistake for which I must not be punished; for it was not my fault that a rich heir, for whom I ordered the breakfast, is all at once become poor,—yes, poorer than many a poor devil, because he has lost more than the half of his present means upon the future. If he, under these circumstances, as you may well imagine, cannot pay for a dear breakfast, yet it does not prevent my paying for the eggs which I have devoured, and giving you over and above something handsome for your trouble, as business compels me to move off from here immediately.”

By my excellent logic, and the “something handsome,” I removed from my throat, with a bleeding heart and a watering mouth, that dear breakfast, and wandered forth into the city, with my little bundle under my arm, to seek for a cheap room, while I considered where I w as to get the money for it.

In consequence of the violent coming in contact of hope and reality I had a little headache. But when I saw upon my ramble a gentleman, ornamented with ribbons and stars, alight from a magnificent carriage, who had a pale yellow complexion, a deeply-wrinkled brow, and above his eyebrows an intelligible trace of ill-humour; when I saw a young count, with whom I had become acquainted in the University of Upsala, walking along as if he were about to fall on his nose from age and weariness of life, I held up my head, inhaled the air, which accidentally (unfortunately) at this place was filled with the smell of smoked sausage, and extolled poverty, and a pure heart.

I found at length, in a remote street, a little room, which was more suited to my gloomy prospects than to the bright hopes which I cherished two hours before.

I had obtained permission to spend the winter in Stockholm, and had thought of spending it in quite a different way to what now was to be expected. But what was to be done? To let the courage sink was the worst of all; to lay the hands in the lap and look up to heaven, not much better. “The sun breaks forth when one least expects it,” thought I, as heavy autumn clouds descended upon the city. I determined to use all the means I could to obtain for myself a decent substance with a somewhat pleasanter prospect for the future, than was opened to me under the miserable protection of Pastor G., and, in the meantime, to earn my daily bread by copying,—a sorrowful expedient in a sorrowful condition.

Thus I passed my days amid fruitless endeavors to find ears which might not be deaf, amid the heart-wearing occupation of writing out fairly the empty productions of empty heads, with my dinners becoming more and more scanty, and with ascending hopes, until that evening against whose date I afterwards made a cross in my calendar.

My host had just left me with the friendly admonition to pay the first quarter’s rent on the following day, if I did not prefer (the politeness is French) to march forth again with bag and baggage on a voyage of discovery through the streets of the city.

It was just eight o’clock, on an indescribably cold November evening, when I was revived with this affectionate salutation on my return from a visit to a sick person, for whom I, perhaps—really somewhat inconsiderately, had emptied my purse.

I snuffed my sleepy, thin candle with my fingers, and glanced around the little dark chamber, for the further use of which I must soon see myself compelled to gold-making.

“Diogenes dwelt worse,” sighed I, with a submissive mind, as I drew a lame table from the window where the wind and rain were not contented to stop outside. At that moment my eye fell upon a brilliantly blazing fire in a kitchen, which lay, Tantalus-like, directly opposite to my modest room, where the fireplace was as dark as possible.

“Cooks, men and women, have the happiest lot of all serving mortals!” thought I, as, with a secret desire to play that fire-tending game, I contemplated the well-fed dame, amid iron pots and stewpans, standing there like an empress in the glory of the firelight, and with the fire-tongs sceptre rummaging about majestically in the glowing realm.

A story higher, I had, through a window, which was concealed by no envious curtain, the view into a brightly lighted room, where a numerous family were assembled round a tea-table covered with cups and bread baskets.

I was stiff in my whole body, from cold and damp. How empty it was in that part which may be called the magazine, I do not say; but, ah, good Heavens! thought I, if, however, that pretty girl, who over there takes a cop of tea-nectar and rich splendid rusks to that fat gentleman who, from satiety, can hardly raise himself from the sofa, would but reach out her lovely hand a little further, and could—she would with a thousand kisses—in vain!—ah, the satiated gentleman takes his cup; he steeps and steeps his rusk with such eternal slowness—it might be wine. Now the charming girl caresses him. I am curious whether it is the dear papa himself or the uncle, or, perhaps—Ah, the enviable mortal! But no, it is quite impossible; he is at least forty years older than she. See, that indeed must be his wife—an elderly lady, who sits near him on the sofa, and who offers rusks to the young lady. The old lady seems very dignified; but to whom does she go now? I cannot see the person. An ear and a piece of a shoulder are all that peep forth near the window. I cannot exactly take it amiss that the respectable person turns his back to me; but that he keeps the young lady a quarter of an hour standing before him, lets her courtesy and offer her good things, does thoroughly provoke me. It must be a lady—a man could not be so unpolite towards this angelic being. But—or—now she takes the cup; and now, oh, woe! a great man’s hand grasps into the rusk-basket—the savage! and how he helps himself—the churl! I should like to know whether it is her brother,—he was perhaps hungry, poor fellow! Now come in, one after the other, two lovely children, who are like the sister. I wonder now, whether the good man with one ear has left anything remaining. That most charming of girls, how she caresses the little ones, and kisses them, and gives to them all the rusks and the cakes that have escaped the fingers of Monsieur Gobble. Now she has had herself, the sweet child! of the whole entertainment, no more than me—the smell.

What a movement suddenly takes place in the room! The old gentleman heaves himself up from the sofa—the person with one ear starts forward, and in so doing, gives the young lady a blow (the dromedary!) which makes her knock against the tea-table, whereby the poor lady, who was just about springing up from the sofa, is pushed down again—the children hop about and clap their hands—the door flies open—a young officer enters—the young girl throws herself into his arms. So, indeed! Aha, now we have it! I put to my shutters so violently that they cracked, and seated myself on a chair, quite wet through with rain, and with my knees trembling.

What had I to do at the window? That is what one gets when one is inquisitive.

Eight days ago, this family had removed from the country into the handsome house opposite to me; and it had never yet occurred to me to ask who they were, or whence they came. What need was there for me to-night to make myself acquainted with their domestic concerns in an illicit manner? How could it interest me? I was in an ill-humor; perhaps, too, I felt some little heartache. But for all that, true to my resolution, not to give myself up to anxious thoughts when they could do no good, I seized the pen with stiff fingers, and, in order to dissipate my vexation, wished to attempt a description of domestic happiness, of a happiness which I had never enjoyed. For the rest, I philosophized whilst I blew upon my stiffened hands. “Am I the first who, in the hot hour of fancy, has sought for a warmth which the stern world of reality has denied him? Six dollars for a measure of fir-wood. Yes, prosit, thou art not likely to get it before December! I write!

“Happy, threefold happy, the family, in whose narrow, contracted circle no heart bleeds solitarily, or solitarily rejoices! No look, no smile, remains unanswered; and where the friends say daily, not with words but with deeds, to each other, ‘Thy cares, thy joys, thy happiness, are mine also!’”

“Lovely is the peaceful, the quiet home, which closes itself protectingly around the weary pilgrim through life—which, around its friendly blazing hearth, assembles for repose the old man leaning on his staff, the strong man, the affectionate wife, and happy children, who, shouting and exulting, hop about in their earthly heaven, and closing a day spent in the pastimes of innocence, repeat a thanksgiving prayer with smiling lips, and drop asleep on the bosom of their parents, whilst the gentle voice of the mother tells them, in whispered cradle-tones, how around their couch—

     “The little angels in a ring,
      Stand round about to keep
      A watchful guard upon the bed
      Where little children sleep.”

Here I was obliged to leave off, because I felt something resembling a drop of rain come forth from my eye, and therefore could not any longer see clearly.

“How many,” thought I, as my reflections, against my will, took a melancholy turn—”how many are there who must, to their sorrow, do without this highest happiness of earthly life—domestic happiness!”

For one moment I contemplated myself in the only whole glass which I had in my room—that OF TRUTH,—and then wrote again with gloomy feeling:—”Unhappy, indeed, may the forlorn one be called, who, in the anxious and cool moments of life (which, indeed, come so often), is pressed to no faithful heart, whose sigh nobody returns, whose quiet grief nobody alleviates with a ‘I understand thee, I suffer with thee!’

“He is cast down, nobody raises him up; he weeps, nobody sees it, nobody will see it; he goes, nobody follows him; he comes, nobody goes to meet him; he rests, nobody watches over him. He is lonely. Oh, how unfortunate he is! Why dies he not? Ah, who would weep for him? How cold is a grave which no warm tears of love moisten!

“He is lonesome in the winter night; for him the earth has no flowers, and dark burn the lights of heaven. Why wanders he, the lonesome one; why waits he; why flies he not, the shadow, to the land of shades? Ah, he still hopes, he is a mendicant who begs for joy, who yet waits in the eleventh hour, that a merciful hand may give him an alms.

“One only little blossom of earth will he gather, bear it upon his heart, in order henceforth not so lonesomely, not so entirely lonesome, to wander down to rest.”

It was my own condition which I described. I deplored myself.

Early deprived of my parents, without brothers and sisters, friends, and relations, I stood in the world yet so solitary and forlorn, that but for an inward confidence in heaven, and a naturally happy temper, I should often enough have wished to leave this contemptuous world; till now, however, I had almost constantly hoped from the future, and this more from an instinctive feeling that this might be the best, than to subdue by philosophy every too vivid wish for an agreeable present time, because it was altogether so opposed to possibility. For some time, however, alas! it had been otherwise with me; I felt, and especially this evening, more than ever an inexpressible desire to have somebody to love,—to have some one about me who would cleave to me—who would be a friend to me;—in short, to have (for me the highest felicity on earth) a wife—a beloved, devoted wife! Oh, she would comfort me, she would cheer me! her affection, even in the poorest hut, would make of me a king. That the love-fire of my heart would not insure the faithful being at my side from being frozen was soon made clearly sensible to me by an involuntary shudder. More dejected than ever, I rose up and walked a few times about my room (that is to say, two steps right forward, and then turn back again). The sense of my condition followed me like the shadow on the wall, and for the first time in my life I felt myself cast down, and threw a gloomy look on my dark future. I had no patron, therefore could not reckon upon promotion for a long time; consequently, also, not upon my own bread—on a friend—a wife, I mean.

“But what in all the world,” said I yet once more seriously to myself, “what helps beating one’s brains?” Yet once more I tried to get rid of all anxious thoughts. “If, however, a Christian soul could only come to me this evening! Let it be whoever it would—friend or foe—it would be better than this solitude. Yes, even if an inhabitant of the world of spirits opened the door, he would be welcome to me! What was that? Three blows on the door! I will not, however, believe it—again three!” I went and opened; there was nobody there; only the wind went howling up and down the stairs. I hastily shut the door again, thrust my hands into my pockets, and went up and down for a while, humming aloud. Some moments afterwards I fancied I heard a sigh—I was silent, and listened,—again there was very evidently a sigh—and yet once again, so deep and so mournful, that I exclaimed with secret terror, “Who is there?” No answer.

For a moment I stood still, and considered what this really could mean, when a horrible noise, as if cats were sent with yells lumbering down the whole flight of stairs, and ended with a mighty blow against my door, put an end to my indecision. I took up the candle, and a stick, and went out. At the moment when I opened the door my light was blown out. A gigantic white figure glimmered opposite to me, and I felt myself suddenly embraced by two strong arms. I cried for help, and struggled so actively to get loose that both myself and my adversary fell to the ground, but so that I lay uppermost. Like an arrow I sprang again upright, and was about to fetch a light, when I stumbled over something—Heaven knows what it was (I firmly believe that somebody held me fast by the feet), by which I fell a second time, struck my head on the corner of the table, and lost my consciousness, whilst a suspicions noise, which had great resemblance to laughter, rang in my ears.

When I again opened my eyes, they met a dazzling blaze of light. I closed them again, and listened to a confused noise around me—opened them again a very little, and endeavoured to distinguish the objects which surrounded me, which appeared to me so enigmatical and strange that I almost feared my mind had vanished. I lay upon a sofa, and—no, I really did not deceive myself,—that charming girl, who on this evening had so incessantly floated before my thoughts, stood actually beside me, and with a heavenly expression of sympathy bathed my head with vinegar. A young man whose countenance seemed known to me held my hand between his. I perceived also the fat gentleman, another thin one, the lady, the children, and in distant twilight I saw the shimmer of the paradise of the tea-table; in short, I found myself by an incomprehensible whim of fate amidst the family which an hour before I had contemplated with such lively sympathy.

When I again had returned to full consciousness, the young man embraced me several times with military vehemence.

“Do you then no longer know me?” cried he indignantly, as he saw me petrified body and soul. “Have you then forgotten August D—, whose life a short time since you saved at the peril of your own? whom you so handsomely fished up, with danger to yourself, from having for ever to remain in the uninteresting company of fishes? See here, my father, my mother, my sister, Wilhelmina!”

I pressed his hand; and now the parents embraced me. With a stout blow of the fist upon the table, August’s father exclaimed, “And because you have saved my son’s life, and because you are such a downright honest and good fellow, and have suffered hunger yourself—that you might give others to eat—you shall really have the parsonage at H—. Yes, you shall become clergyman, I say!—I have jus patronatum, you understand!”

For a good while I was not at all in a condition to comprehend, to think, or to speak; and before all had been cleared up by a thousand explanations, I could understand nothing clearly excepting that Wilhelmina was not—that Wilhelmina was August’s sister.

He had returned this evening from a journey of service, during which, in the preceding summer, chance had given to me the good fortune to rescue him from a danger, into which youthful heat and excess of spirit had thrown him. I had not seen him again since this occurrence; earlier, I had made a passing acquaintance with him, had drunk brotherhood with him at the university, and after that had forgotten my dear brother.

He had now related this occurrence to his family, with the easily kindled-up enthusiasm of youth, together with what he knew of me beside, and what he did not know. The father, who had a living in his gift, and who (as I afterwards found) had made from his window some compassionate remarks upon my meagre dinner-table, determined, assailed by the prayers of his son, to raise me from the lap of poverty to the summit of good fortune. August would in his rapture announce to me my good luck instantly, and in order, at the same time, to gratify his passion for merry jokes, made himself known upon my stairs in a way which occasioned me a severe, although not dangerous, contusion on the temples, and the unexpected removal across the street, out of the deepest darkness into the brightest light. The good youth besought a thousand times forgiveness for his thoughtlessness; a thousand times I assured him that it was not worth the trouble to speak of such a trifling blow. And, in fact, the living was a balsam which would have made a greater wound than this imperceptible also.

Astonished, and somewhat embarrassed, I now perceived that the ear and the shoulder, whose possessor had seized so horribly upon the contents of the rusk basket, and over whom I had poured out my gall belonged to nobody else than to August’s father, and my patron. The fat gentleman who sat upon the sofa was Wilhelmina’s uncle.

The kindness and gayety of my new friends made me soon feel at home and happy. The old people treated me like a child of the house, the young ones as a brother, and the two little ones seemed to anticipate a gingerbread-friend in me.

After I had received two cups of tea from Wilhelmina’s pretty hand, to which I almost feared taking, in my abstraction of mind, more rusks than my excellent patron, I rose up to take my leave. They insisted absolutely upon my passing the night there; but I abode by my determination of spending the first happy night in my old habitation, amid thanksgiving to the lofty Ruler of my fate.

They all embraced me afresh; and I now also embraced all rightly, from the bottom of my heart, Wilhelmina also, although not without having gracious permission first. “I might as well have left that alone,” thought I afterwards, “if it is to be the first and last time!” August accompanied me back.

My host stood in my room amid the overturned chairs and tables, with a countenance which alternated between rain and sunshine; on one side his mouth drew itself with a reluctant smile up to his ear, on the other it crept for vexation down to his double chin; the eyes followed the same direction, and the whole had a look of a combat, till the tone in which August indicated to him that he should leave us alone, changed all into the most friendly, grinning mien, and the proprietor of the same vanished from the door with the most submissive bows.

August was in despair about my table, my chair, my bed, and so on. It was with difficulty that I withheld him from cudgelling the host who would take money for such a hole. I was obliged to satisfy him with the most holy assurances, that on the following day I would remove without delay. “But tell him,” prayed August, “before you pay him, that he is a villain, a usurer, a cheat, a—or if you like, I will—”

“No, no; heaven defend us!” interrupted I, “be quiet, and let me only manage.”

After my young friend had left me, I passed several happy hours in thinking on the change in my fate, and inwardly thanking God for it. My thoughts then rambled to the parsonage; and heaven knows what fat oxen and cows, what pleasure grounds, with flowers, fruits, and vegetables, I saw in spirit surrounding my new paradise, where my Eve walked by my side, and supported on my arm; and especially what an innumerable crowd of happy and edified people I saw streaming from the church when I had preached. I baptized, I confirmed, I comforted my beloved community in the zeal and warmth of my heart—and forgot only the funerals.

Every poor clergyman who has received a living, every mortal, especially to whom unexpectedly a long-cherished wish has been accomplished, will easily picture to himself my state.

Later in the night it sunk at last like a veil before my eyes, and my thoughts fell by degrees into a bewilderment which exhibited on every hand strange images. I preached with a loud voice in my church, and the congregation slept. After the service, the people came out of the church like oxen and cows, and bellowed against me when I would have admonished them. I wished to embrace my wife, but could not separate her from a great turnip, which increased every moment, and at last grew over both our heads. I endeavored to climb up a ladder to heaven, whose stars beckoned kindly and brightly to me; but potatoes, grass, vetches, and peas, entangled my feet unmercifully, and hindered every step. At last I saw myself in the midst of my possessions walking upon my head, and whilst in my sleepy soul I greatly wondered how this was possible, I slept soundly in the remembrance of my dream. Yet then, however, I must unconsciously have continued the chain of my pastoral thoughts, for I woke in the morning with the sound of my own voice loudly exclaiming, “Amen.”

That the occurrences of the former evening were actual truth, and no dream, I could only convince myself with difficulty, till August paid me a visit, and invited me to dine with his parents.

The living, Wilhelmina, the dinner, the new chain of hopes for the future which beamed from the bright sun of the present, all surprised me anew with a joy, which one can feel very well, but never can describe.

Out of the depths of a thankful heart, I saluted the new life which opened to me, with the firm determination that, let happen what might, yet always TO DO THE RIGHT, AND TO HOPE FOR THE BEST.

Two years after this, I sat on an autumn evening in my beloved parsonage by the fire. Near to me sat my dear little wife, my sweet, Wilhelmina, and spun. I was just about to read to her a sermon which I intended to preach on the next Sunday, and from which I promised myself much edification, as well for her as for the assembled congregation. Whilst I was turning over the leaves, a loose paper fell out. It was the paper upon which, on that evening two years before, in a very different situation, I had written down my cheerful and my sad thoughts. I showed it to my wife. She read, smiled with a tear in her eye, and with a roguish countenance which, as I fancy, is particular to her, took the pen and wrote on the other side of the paper:

“The author can now, thank God, strike out a description which would stand in perfect contrast to that which he once, in a dark hour, sketched of an unfortunate person, as he himself was then.

“Now he is no more lonesome, no more deserted. His quiet sighs are answered, his secret griefs shared, by a wife tenderly devoted to him. He goes, her heart follows him; he comes back, she meets him with smiles; his tears flow not unobserved, they are dried by her hand, and his smiles beam again in hers; for him she gathers flowers, to wreathe around his brow, to strew in his path. He has his own fireside, friends devoted to him, and, counts as his relations all those who have none of their own. He loves, he is beloved; he can make people feel happy, he is himself happy.”

Truly had my Wilhelmina described the present; and, animated by feelings which are gay and delicious as the beams of the spring sun, I will now, as hitherto, let my little troop of light hopes bound out into the future.

I hope, too, that my sermon for the next Sunday may not be without benefit to my hearers; and even if the obdurate should sleep, I hope that neither this nor any other of the greater or the less unpleasantnesses which can happen to me may go to my heart and disturb my rest. I know my Wilhelmina, and believe also that I know myself sufficiently, to hope with certainty that I may always make her happy. The sweet angel has given me hope that we may soon be able to add a little creature to our little happy family, I hope, in the future, to be yet multiplied. For my children I have all kinds of hopes in petto. If I have a son, I hope that he will be my successor; if I have a daughter, then—if August would wait—but I fancy that he is just about to be married.

I hope in time to find a publisher for my sermons. I hope to live yet a hundred years with my wife.

We—that is to say, my Wilhelmina and I—hope, during this time, to be able to dry a great many tears, and to shed as few ourselves as our lot, as children of the earth, may permit.

We hope not to survive each other.

Lastly, we hope always to be able to hope; and when the hour comes that the hopes of the green earth vanish before the clear light of eternal certainty, then we hope that the All-good Father may pass a mild sentence upon His greatful and, in humility, hoping children.

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