"I mean to be somebody, and do something useful in the world," said the eldest of five brothers. "I don't care how humble my position is, so that I can only do some good, which will be something. I intend to be a brickmaker; bricks are always wanted, and I shall be really doing something."
"Your 'something' is not enough for me," said the second brother; "what you talk of doing is nothing at all, it is journeyman's work, or might even be done by a machine. No! I should prefer to be a builder at once, there is something real in that. A man gains a position, he becomes a citizen, has his own sign, his own house of call for his workmen: so I shall be a builder. If all goes well, in time I shall become a master, and have my own journeymen, and my wife will be treated as a master's wife. This is what I call something."
"I call it all nothing," said the third; "not in reality any position. There are many in a town far above a master builder in position. You may be an upright man, but even as a master you will only be ranked among common men. I know better what to do than that. I will be an architect, which will place me among those who possess riches and intellect, and who speculate in art. I shall certainly have to rise by my own endeavors from a bricklayer's laborer, or as a carpenter's apprentice– a lad wearing a paper cap, although I now wear a silk hat. I shall have to fetch beer and spirits for the journeymen, and they will call me 'thou,' which will be an insult. I shall endure it, however, for I shall look upon it all as a mere representation, a masquerade, a mummery, which to-morrow, that is, when I myself as a journeyman, shall have served my time, will vanish, and I shall go my way, and all that has passed will be nothing to me. Then I shall enter the academy, and get instructed in drawing, and be called an architect. I may even attain to rank, and have something placed before or after my name, and I shall build as others have done before me. By this there will be always 'something' to make me remembered, and is not that worth living for?"
"Not in my opinion," said the fourth; "I will never follow the lead of others, and only imitate what they have done. I will be a genius, and become greater than all of you together. I will create a new style of building, and introduce a plan for erecting houses suitable to the climate, with material easily obtained in the country, and thus suit national feeling and the developments of the age, besides building a storey for my own genius."
"But supposing the climate and the material are not good for much," said the fifth brother, "that would be very unfortunate for you, and have an influence over your experiments. Nationality may assert itself until it becomes affectation, and the developments of a century may run wild, as youth often does. I see clearly that none of you will ever really be anything worth notice, however you may now fancy it. But do as you like, I shall not imitate you. I mean to keep clear of all these things, and criticize what you do. In every action something imperfect may be discovered, something not right, which I shall make it my business to find out and expose; that will be something, I fancy." And he kept his word, and became a critic.
People said of this fifth brother, "There is something very precise about him; he has a good head-piece, but he does nothing." And on that very account they thought he must be something.
Now, you see, this is a little history which will never end; as long as the world exists, there will always be men like these five brothers. And what became of them? Were they each nothing or something? You shall hear; it is quite a history.
The eldest brother, he who fabricated bricks, soon discovered that each brick, when finished, brought him in a small coin, if only a copper one; and many copper pieces, if placed one upon another, can be changed into a shining shilling; and at whatever door a person knocks, who has a number of these in his hands, whether it be the baker's, the butcher's, or the tailor's, the door flies open, and he can get all he wants. So you see the value of bricks. Some of the bricks, however, crumbled to pieces, or were broken, but the elder brother found a use for even these.
On the high bank of earth, which formed a dyke on the sea-coast, a poor woman named Margaret wished to build herself a house, so all the imperfect bricks were given to her, and a few whole ones with them; for the eldest brother was a kind-hearted man, although he never achieved anything higher than making bricks. The poor woman built herself a little house– it was small and narrow, and the window was quite crooked, the door too low, and the straw roof might have been better thatched. But still it was a shelter, and from within you could look far over the sea, which dashed wildly against the sea-wall on which the little house was built. The salt waves sprinkled their white foam over it, but it stood firm, and remained long after he who had given the bricks to build it was dead and buried.
The second brother of course knew better how to build than poor Margaret, for he served an apprenticeship to learn it. When his time was up, he packed up his knapsack, and went on his travels, singing the journeyman's song,–
"While young, I can wander without a care,
And build new houses everywhere;
Fair and bright are my dreams of home,
Always thought of wherever I roam.
Hurrah for a workman's life of glee!
There's a loved one at home who thinks of me;
Home and friends I can ne'er forget,
And I mean to be a master yet."
And that is what he did. On his return home, he became a master builder,– built one house after another in the town, till they formed quite a street, which, when finished, became really an ornament to the town. These houses built a house for him in return, which was to be his own. But how can houses build a house? If the houses were asked, they could not answer; but the people would understand, and say, "Certainly the street built his house for him." It was not very large, and the floor was of lime; but when he danced with his bride on the lime-covered floor, it was to him white and shining, and from every stone in the wall flowers seemed to spring forth and decorate the room as with the richest tapestry. It was really a pretty house, and in it were a happy pair. The flag of the corporation fluttered before it, and the journeymen and apprentices shouted "Hurrah." He had gained his position, he had made himself something, and at last he died, which was "something" too.
Now we come to the architect, the third brother, who had been first a carpenter's apprentice, had worn a cap, and served as an errand boy, but afterwards went to the academy, and risen to be an architect, a high and noble gentleman. Ah yes, the houses of the new street, which the brother who was a master builder erected, may have built his house for him, but the street received its name from the architect, and the handsomest house in the street became his property. That was something, and he was "something," for he had a list of titles before and after his name. His children were called "wellborn," and when he died, his widow was treated as a lady of position, and that was "something." His name remained always written at the corner of the street, and lived in every one's mouth as its name. Yes, this also was "something."
And what about the genius of the family– the fourth brother– who wanted to invent something new and original? He tried to build a lofty storey himself, but it fell to pieces, and he fell with it and broke his neck. However, he had a splendid funeral, with the city flags and music in the procession; flowers were strewn on the pavement, and three orations were spoken over his grave, each one longer than the other. He would have liked this very much during his life, as well as the poems about him in the papers, for he liked nothing so well as to be talked of. A monument was also erected over his grave. It was only another storey over him, but that was "something," Now he was dead, like the three other brothers.
The youngest– the critic– outlived them all, which was quite right for him. It gave him the opportunity of having the last word, which to him was of great importance. People always said he had a good head-piece. At last his hour came, and he died, and arrived at the gates of heaven. Souls always enter these gates in pairs; so he found himself standing and waiting for admission with another; and who should it be but old dame Margaret, from the house on the dyke! "It is evidently for the sake of contrast that I and this wretched soul should arrive here exactly at the same time," said the critic. "Pray who are you, my good woman?" said he; "do you want to get in here too?"
And the old woman curtsied as well as she could; she thought it must be St. Peter himself who spoke to her. "I am a poor old woman," she said, "without my family. I am old Margaret, that lived in the house on the dyke."
"Well, and what have you done– what great deed have you performed down below?"
"I have done nothing at all in the world that could give me a claim to have these doors open for me," she said. "It would be only through mercy that I can be allowed to slip in through the gate."
"In what manner did you leave the world?" he asked, just for the sake of saying something; for it made him feel very weary to stand there and wait.
"How I left the world?" she replied; "why, I can scarcely tell you. During the last years of my life I was sick and miserable, and I was unable to bear creeping out of bed suddenly into the frost and cold. Last winter was a hard winter, but I have got over it all now. There were a few mild days, as your honor, no doubt, knows. The ice lay thickly on the lake, as far one could see. The people came from the town, and walked upon it, and they say there were dancing and skating upon it, I believe, and a great feasting. The sound of beautiful music came into my poor little room where I lay. Towards evening, when the moon rose beautifully, though not yet in her full splendor, I glanced from my bed over the wide sea; and there, just where the sea and sky met, rose a curious white cloud. I lay looking at the cloud till I observed a little black spot in the middle of it, which gradually grew larger and larger, and then I knew what it meant– I am old and experienced; and although this token is not often seen, I knew it, and a shuddering seized me. Twice in my life had I seen this same thing, and I knew that there would be an awful storm, with a spring tide, which would overwhelm the poor people who were now out on the ice, drinking, dancing, and making merry. Young and old, the whole city, were there; who was to warn them, if no one noticed the sign, or knew what it meant as I did? I was so alarmed, that I felt more strength and life than I had done for some time. I got out of bed, and reached the window; I could not crawl any farther from weakness and exhaustion; but I managed to open the window. I saw the people outside running and jumping about on the ice; I saw the beautiful flags waving in the wind; I heard the boys shouting, 'Hurrah!' and the lads and lasses singing, and everything full of merriment and joy. But there was the white cloud with the black spot hanging over them. I cried out as loudly as I could, but no one heard me; I was too far off from the people. Soon would the storm burst, the ice break, and all who were on it be irretrievably lost. They could not hear me, and to go to them was quite out of my power. Oh, if I could only get them safe on land! Then came the thought, as if from heaven, that I would rather set fire to my bed, and let the house be burnt down, than that so many people should perish miserably. I got a light, and in a few moments the red flames leaped up as a beacon to them. I escaped fortunately as far as the threshold of the door; but there I fell down and remained: I could go no farther. The flames rushed out towards me, flickered on the window, and rose high above the roof. The people on the ice became aware of the fire, and ran as fast as possible to help a poor sick woman, who, as they thought, was being burnt to death. There was not one who did not run. I heard them coming, and I also at the same time was conscious of a rush of air and a sound like the roar of heavy artillery. The spring flood was lifting the ice covering, which brake into a thousand pieces. But the people had reached the sea-wall, where the sparks were flying round. I had saved them all; but I suppose I could not survive the cold and fright; so I came up here to the gates of paradise. I am told they are open to poor creatures such as I am, and I have now no house left on earth; but I do not think that will give me a claim to be admitted here."
Then the gates were opened, and an angel led the old woman in. She had dropped one little straw out of her straw bed, when she set it on fire to save the lives of so many. It had been changed into the purest gold– into gold that constantly grew and expanded into flowers and fruit of immortal beauty.
"See," said the angel, pointing to the wonderful straw, "this is what the poor woman has brought. What dost thou bring? I know thou hast accomplished nothing, not even made a single brick. Even if thou couldst return, and at least produce so much, very likely, when made, the brick would be useless, unless done with a good will, which is always something. But thou canst not return to earth, and I can do nothing for thee."
Then the poor soul, the old mother who had lived in the house on the dyke, pleaded for him. She said, "His brother made all the stone and bricks, and sent them to me to build my poor little dwelling, which was a great deal to do for a poor woman like me. Could not all these bricks and pieces be as a wall of stone to prevail for him? It is an act of mercy; he is wanting it now; and here is the very fountain of mercy."
"Then," said the angel, "thy brother, he who has been looked upon as the meanest of you all, he whose honest deeds to thee appeared so humble,– it is he who has sent you this heavenly gift. Thou shalt not be turned away. Thou shalt have permission to stand without the gate and reflect, and repent of thy life on earth; but thou shalt not be admitted here until thou hast performed one good deed of repentance, which will indeed for thee be something."
"I could have expressed that better," thought the critic; but he did not say it aloud, which for him was something, after all.
"Jeg vil være noget!" sagde den ældste af fem brødre, "jeg vil være til nytte i verden; lad det være nok så ringe en stilling, kun at det er godt, det jeg udretter, så er det noget. Jeg vil lave mursten, dem kan man ikke undvære! så har jeg dog gjort noget!"
"Men noget alt for lidt!" sagde den anden broder, "det du gør, er så godt som ingenting; det er håndlangerarbejde, kan udrettes ved maskine. Nej så hellere blive murer, det er dog noget, det vil jeg være. Det er en stand! ved den kommer man ind under lavene, bliver borger, har sin egen fane og sin egen kro; ja, går det godt, kan jeg holde svende, bliver kaldt mester og min kone bliver mesterinde; det er noget!"
"Det er slet ingenting!" sagde den tredje, "det er uden for klasserne og der er mange klasser i en by, langt over mesters! Du kan være en brav mand, men du er som mester dog kun hvad man kalder "simpel"! nej, så ved jeg noget bedre! jeg vil være bygmester, træde ind på det kunstneriske, det tænkende, komme op til de højerestående i åndens rige; vel må jeg begynde nedefra, ja, jeg kan gerne sige det lige rent ud: jeg må begynde, som tømrerdreng, gå med kasket, skønt jeg er vant til at gå med silkehat, løbe for de simple svende at hente øl og brændevin, og de siger du til mig, det er graverende! men jeg vil bilde mig ind, at det hele er en maskerade, det er maskefrihed! i morgen - det vil sige, når jeg er svend, går jeg min vej, de andre kommer ikke mig ved! jeg går på akademiet, lærer at tegne, kaldes arkitekt -! det er noget! det er meget! jeg kan blive højædle og velbyrdige, ja lidt til både for og bag, og jeg bygger og bygger, ligesom de andre før mig! det er altid noget man kan stole på! det hele er noget!"
"Men det noget bryder jeg mig ikke om!" sagde den fjerde, "jeg vil ikke gå i kølvand, ikke være kopi, jeg vil være geni, være dygtigere end I alle tilsammen! jeg skaber en ny stil, giver ideen til en bygning, passende for landets klima og materiale, landets nationalitet, vor tidsalders udvikling og så én etage til for mit eget geni!"
"Men når nu klimaet og materialet ikke dur!" sagde den femte, "det vil være slemt, for det har indvirkning! Nationaliteten kan også let blive så udvidet, at den bliver affekteret, tidsalderens udvikling kan lade dig løbe løbsk, som tit ungdommen løber. Jeg ser nok, at ingen af eder bliver egentligt til noget, ihvor meget I selv tror det! Men gør som I vil, jeg skal ikke ligne eder, jeg stiller mig udenfor, jeg vil ræsonnere over, hvad I udretter! der er altid noget galt ved enhver ting, det skal jeg pille ud og omtale, det er noget!"
Og det gjorde han, og folk sagde om den femte: "Ham er der bestemt noget ved! han er et godt hoved! men han gør ikke noget!" - Men derved var han noget.
Se det er kun en lille historie, og dog får den ikke ende så længe verden står!
Men blev der da ikke videre af de fem brødre! det var jo ikke noget! Hør videre, det er et helt eventyr!
Den ældste broder, som lavede mursten, fornemmede, at fra hver sten, når den var færdig, trillede en lille skilling, kun af kobber, men mange små kobberskillinger, lagt på hinanden, bliver til en blank daler, og hvor man banker på med den, hos bager, slagter, skrædder, ja hos dem alle sammen, dér flyver døren op og man får, hvad man bruger; se, det gav murstenene af sig; nogle gik vel i brokker eller midt over, men de kom også til brug.
Oppe på diget ville mor Margrethe, den fattige kone, så gerne kline sig et lille hus; hun fik alle stenbrokkerne og så et par hele, for et godt hjerte havde den ældste broder, om han i gerning kun drev det til at gøre mursten. Den fattige kone rejste selv sit hus; smalt var det, det ene vindue sad skævt, døren var alt for lav, og stråtaget kunne været lagt bedre, men ly og læ var der og ses kunne der langt ud over havet, der i sin vælde brødes mod diget; de salte dråber sprøjtede over hele huset, der endnu stod, da han var død og borte der havde gjort murstenene.
Den anden broder, ja han kunne nu anderledes mure op, han var jo også oplært deri. Da svendestykket var leveret, snørede han sin ransel og sang håndværkerens vise:
"Jeg rejse kan, mens jeg er ung
og ude hjemlig bygge,
mit håndværk er min pengepung,
mit ungdomssind min lykke!
Og ser jeg så mit fædreland,
jeg kæresten gav ordet!
Hurra! en driftig håndværksmand
får let fod under bordet!"
Og det gjorde han. Inde i byen, da han kom tilbage og blev mester, murede han op hus ved hus, en hel gade; da den stod, så godt ud og gav byen anseelse, så byggede husene for ham et lille hus, der skulle være hans eget; men hvorledes kunne husene bygge? Ja spørg dem ad, og de svarer ikke, men folk svarer og siger: "jo vist har den gade bygget ham hans hus!" lille var det og med lergulv, men da han med sin brud dansede henover det, blev gulvet blankt og bonet, og fra hver sten i væggen sprang en blomst, det var lige så godt som et kostbart betræk. Det var et yndigt hus og et lyksaligt ægtepar. Lavsfanen vajede udenfor og svende og læredrenge råbte: Hurra! jo, det var noget! og så døde han, det var også noget!
Nu kom arkitekten, den tredje broder, som først havde været tømrerlærling, gået med kasket og løbet byærinder, men fra akademiet var steget til bygmester, "højædle og velbyrdige"! ja havde husene i gaden bygget et hus for broderen, der var murermester, så fik nu gaden navn efter denne, og det smukkeste hus i gaden blev hans, det var noget og han var noget - og det med en lang titel for og bag; hans børn kaldtes fornemme børn, og da han døde var hans enke en enke af stand - det er noget! og hans navn stod stadigt på gadehjørnet og var i folkemunde, som gadenavn - ja det er noget!
Så kom geniet, den fjerde broder, der ville finde på noget nyt, noget aparte og én etage til, men den knak af for ham og han faldt ned og brak halsen, - men han fik en dejlig begravelse med lavsfaner og musik, blomster i avisen og på gaden hen over brolægningen; og der blev holdt tre ligtaler over ham, den ene meget længere end den anden, og det ville have fornøjet ham, for han holdt meget af at tales om; der kom et monument på graven, kun én etage, men det er altid noget!
Nu var han død, ligesom de tre andre brødre, men den sidste, han, som ræsonnerede, overlevede dem alle sammen, og det var jo det rette, for så havde han det sidste ord og det var ham af stor vigtighed at have det sidste ord. Han var jo det gode hoved! sagde folk. Nu slog også hans time, han døde og kom til Himmeriges port. Her kommer altid to og to! her stod han med en anden sjæl, der også gerne ville ind, og det var netop den gamle mor Margrethe fra digehuset.
"Det er nok for kontrastens skyld, at jeg og den usselige sjæl skal komme her på én gang!" sagde ræsonnøren. "Nå, hvem er hun, morlille? Vil hun også ind her!" spurgte han.
Og den gamle kone nejede så godt hun kunne, hun troede, det var Sankt Peder selv, der talte. "Jeg er en sølle stakkel, uden al familie! gamle Margrethe fra digehuset!"
"Nå, hvad har hun gjort og udrettet dernede?"
"Jeg har såmænd slet ikke udrettet noget i denne verden! ikke noget, der kan lukke op for mig her! det er en sand nådens gerning, om jeg får lov at komme inden for døren!"
"Hvorledes har hun forladt denne verden?" spurgte han, for at tale om noget, da det kedede ham at stå der og vente.
"Ja, hvordan jeg forlod den, det ved jeg ikke! syg og dårlig var jeg jo i de sidste åringer, og så har jeg vel ikke kunnet tåle at krybe ud af sengen og komme i frost og kulde derudenfor. Det er jo en hård vinter, men nu har jeg da forvundet det. Det var et par dage blikstille, men bitterlig koldt, som Deres Velærværdighed nok ved, isen havde lagt til så langt ud i stranden, man kunne øjne; alle folk fra byen tog ud på isen; der var, hvad de kalder skridtskoløben og dans, tror jeg, der var fuld musik og beværtning derude; jeg kunne høre det lige ind, hvor jeg lå i min fattige stue. Da var det sådan hen mod aftenstid, månen var oppe, men den var ikke endnu kommet til kræfter, jeg så fra min seng gennem vinduet helt ud over stranden, og dér lige i kanten af himmel og hav kom en underlig hvid sky; jeg lå og så på den, så på den sorte prik midt i, der blev større og større; og så vidste jeg hvad det betød; jeg er gammel og erfaren, skønt det tegn ser man ikke ofte. Jeg kendte det og fik en gru! jeg har to gange forud i min levetid set den ting komme, og vidste, at der ville blive en forfærdelig storm med springflod, der ville komme over de arme mennesker derude, som nu drak og sprang og jubilerede; unge og gamle, den hele by var jo derude, hvem skulle advare dem, hvis ingen dér så og kendte, hvad jeg nu kendte. Jeg blev så ræd, jeg blev så levende, som ikke i mange tider! ud af sengen kom jeg og hen til vinduet, længere kunne jeg ikke orke; vinduet fik jeg dog op, jeg kunne se menneskene løbe og springe derude på isen, se de pyntelige flag, høre, hvor drengene råbte hurra, og piger og karle sang, det gik lystigt til, men højere og højere steg den hvide sky med den sorte pose i! jeg råbte alt hvad jeg kunne, men ingen hørte mig, jeg var for langt derfra. Snart ville vejret bryde løs, isen gå i stykker og alle derude synke igennem uden frelse. Høre mig kunne de ikke, nå ud til dem mægtede jeg ikke; kunne jeg dog få dem i land! Da gav Vorherre mig den tanke at stikke ild i min seng, hellere lade huset brænde af, end at de mange så ynkeligt skulle dø. Jeg fik lyset tændt, så den røde flamme - ja, jeg nåede ud af døren, men der blev jeg liggende, jeg kunne ikke mere; luen stod ud efter mig og ud af vinduet, hen over taget; de så den derudefra og de løb alle, hvad de kunne, for at hjælpe mig arme stakkel, som de troede brændte inde; der var ikke én, som jo løb af sted; jeg hørte de kom, men jeg hørte også, hvor det med ét susede i luften; jeg hørte det dundrede som svære kanonskud, springfloden løftede isen, der brødes itu; men til diget nåede de, hvor gnisterne fløj hen over mig; jeg fik dem alle i behold; men jeg har ikke måttet kunne tåle kulden og den forskrækkelse, og så er jeg kommet herop til Himmeriges port; de siger, den bliver lukket op også for sådan en stakkel, som jeg! og nu har jeg jo ingen hus mere dernede på diget, dog det giver mig da ingen adgang her."
Da åbnede sig Himmeriges port og englen førte den gamle kone ind; hun tabte et sengehalm udenfor, et af de strå, der havde ligget i hendes seng, den hun tændte for at frelse de mange, og det var blevet til det pure guld, men et guld, der voksede og slyngede sig i de dejligste forsiringer.
"Se, det bragte den fattige kone!" sagde englen. "Hvad bringer nu du? Ja, jeg ved nok, du har ingenting udrettet, ikke engang lavet en mursten; kunne du bare gå tilbage igen og bringe i det mindste så meget; den duede sagtens ikke, når du havde gjort den, dog gjort med en god vilje, det var altid noget; men du kan ikke gå tilbage, og jeg kan ikke gøre noget for dig!"
Da bad den fattige sjæl, konen fra digehuset, for ham: "hans broder har gjort og givet mig alle sten og stumper, hvoraf jeg klinede mit usselige hus, det var grumme meget for mig arme stakkel! kan nu ikke alle de stumper og stykker gælde som én mursten for ham? Det er en nådens gerning! nu trænger han til den og her er jo nådens hjem!"
"Din broder, den, du kaldte den ringeste," sagde englen, "den, hvis dont i al ærlighed var dig nedrigst, giver dig sin himmerigsskærv. Du skal ikke vises bort, du skal have lov til at stå herudenfor og tænke over, se at ophjælpe dit liv dernede, men ind kommer du ikke, før du i god gerning har udrettet - noget!"
"Det kunne jeg have sagt bedre!" tænkte ræsonnøren, men han sagde det ikke højt, og det var nok allerede noget.