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When they entered the coffee-room, Mr. Tusmann endeavoured to conceal his face.
Why do you hide the light of your countenance from us?' asked the goldsmith.
'Bless my heart,' said the secretary, do you forget that that impertinent young man daubed my face all over with green paint?'
The goldsmith conducted Mr. Tusmann before one of the mirrors. Not only had the greenness disappeared, but his visage was blooming and looked quite juvenile. Mr. Tusmann made a most extraordinary leap, and cried out:
What do I see! Do I owe this excess of felicity to you, most worthy professor? Speak, you are my benefactor.'
I will not deny,' said the goldsmith, that this happy change is owing to me, and, therefore, you may judge that I am not so ill-disposed towards you as you have thought. I expect, as a return for my offices, that you will not go near Miss Albertine Vosswinkel until next Sunday. If you do, dread my vengeance. Adieu.'
A very short time afterwards, Leonard entered Mr.Vosswinkel's private room. The councillor did not appear very pleased to see him, and asked rudely, what he wanted at that late hour.
'You are,' said Leonard, an unfortunate and much to be pitied man, and I have hastened to you, late as it is, to warn you of your danger.'
Good heavens!' exclaimed the councillor, is there any bad news from London or Hamburgh ?'
No, this is another kind of affair. Do you absolutely refuse your daughter to young Lehsien?'
Why should you doubt it? I give my daughter to a vile dauber!'
He painted you and your daughter very well.'
I should make an excellent bargain, to dispose of my daughter
for two portraits. I sent the pictures back to him.'
He will avenge himself cruelly upon you.'
I should like very much to know how such a stripling can annoy me,' said the councillor.
'I will tell you how,' answered Leonard; he is now retouching your portrait up in a very strange style. He has covered your before open and smiling countenance with wrinkles, and has not forgotten the white hairs which you conceal so carefully. In place of the agreeable announcement of the lottery prize, he has put into your hand the letter which you received from London yesterday, announcing the failure of the house of Eatbeef, Pudding, and Drinkale. The cover is addressed "To the (disappointed) Aulic Councillor, Melchior Vosswinkel," for he is not ignorant that you have solicited that title in vain. From your pockets the ducats will be painted tumbling out; and this charming portrait will be
exposed to public view to-morrow morning in Exchange-street, a few steps from the bank.'
The devil!' exclaimed the councillor, but he dare not do it; I will call in the police.'
Fifty people will have seen the picture before then, and the news will be all over the city in a thousand different shapes. You will be covered with ridicule; they will speak of your loss from the bankruptcy of the English firm, and your credit will suffer.'
I will have the portrait back to-morrow morning-to night.' I should think he would not let you have it, as you never paid anything for it, and sent it back of your own accord. But, even if he does, he has had time to get it lithographed, and he can send it all over the world in no time.'
'O dear me,' said the councillor, will you have the goodness to seek this young man, and offer him fifty-offer him a hundred crowns, not to execute this horrible plan.'
The goldsmith began to laugh. You don't know, then,' said he, that Lehsien has no want of money. Why, his great aunt allows him a very handsome income, and he will certainly inherit all her fortune.'
What's that you say? Now listen, Leonard, I do really believe that my Albertine is very much attached to this young chap; and I am very soft-hearted, and cannot see her miserable; indeed, I like the young man very much. He is an excellent painter, and has certainly many good qualities. Do you know, Leonard, I am much inclined to let them come together.' very
Hem! you must allow me to tell you something rather pleasant,' said the goldsmith. Just before I came here I was in the botanical garden. Close by the great basin, I found your friend, your old schoolfellow, Mr. Tusmann, who, on account of the scorn of Miss Albertine, was just getting ready to throw himself into the water. I turned him from his dreadful design, by persuading him that you would certainly keep your word. Now, if you give Albertine to Edmund, the secretary will drown himself, that is quite certain. Well, the suicide will cause a great sensation, and everybody will accuse you of being the murderer of poor Mr. Tusmann. You will be universally cut. Again, the private secretary is much valued; he is very industrious and exact in all his official duties, and if the government judge that your want of good faith caused his death, be assured that you never will be Aulic councillor. They will, indeed, most likely, take from you your present title, then your credit will be shaken, your property will dwindle away, things will go from bad to worse, everybody will pass you in the streets with their hats immovable on their heads, and you will fall into utter poverty and misery.'
Oh, stop!" cried the councillor, I am on the rack! who would imagine that Mr. Tusmann, at his age, could be guilty of such conduct? But you are right, whatever happens I must keep
my word with him, otherwise I am a ruined man. Yes, I am resolved my good old schoolfellow shall marry Albertine.'
You quite forget,' continued the goldsmith, old Manasseh. If you neglect the advances of his nephew, he will be a terrible thorn in your side. He will thwart you in all your speculations, and spare no pains to annoy you, and hurt your credit. To whichever of the three aspirants you grant your daughter's hand, you will fall equally into trouble, and that is the reason why I addressed you as a very unfortunate and much to be pitied
The councillor began to stride about the room, muttering. I am lost, I am ruined! who would ever have a daughter? I wish the painter, the Jew, and my old schoolfellow were all at the devil together.'
< There is one method by which you may disentangle yourself,' said the goldsmith.
What is it?' asked the councillor, stopping short, I will consent to almost anything.'
Have you been to the theatre to see "The Merchant of Venice?""
What! that play in which a cruel Jew, named Shylock, is dying to have a pound of the merchant's flesh. Yes, I did see it, but what of it?"
'Well, I dare say you recollect that there is also in that play a young lady named Portia, whose father left a very strange will. Her lovers are obliged to choose one of three caskets, and he who chooses the casket which contains Portia's portrait obtains her hand. Now you, living, must imitate Portia's dead papa, and oblige Albertine's three lovers so to decide their pretensions.'
'What a cursed foolish proposition!' said the councillor; you for an instant imagine, that I shall be less exposed to the revenge of the two unlucky ones?'
I promise you, councillor, to arrange matters so that everybody shall be contented.'
May I trust to you?'
Certainly you may.'
The councillor hesitated no longer, and it was settled that Leonard's project should be put into execution on the following Sunday.
It may easily be imagined, that Albertine was quite in despair when her papa acquainted her with the strange way in which she was to be disposed of in marriage. Above all she fretted at the conduct of Edmund, which was quite inexplicable, as she had never seen or heard from him since that never to be forgotten morning.
On the Saturday before the fatal day, Albertine sat alone in her
chamber, sadly afflicted with the blue devils. When she considered the possibility of being obliged to marry the old private secretary, or the odious Baron Benjamin, she was greatly inclined to take a sudden flight from the paternal mansion. At last, however, she made up her mind to put on her best frock the next day, to appear with great elegance, and to await the course of events with resignation.
The next day, at the appointed hour, appeared old Manasseh and his worthy nephew, Mr. Tusmann, Edmund and the goldsmith. All were struck with admiration at the sight of Albertine; never had she looked so beautiful; she only required the crown of myrtle to complete the bridal attire.
The councillor had had the good sense and taste to provide an elegant déjeuner à la fourchette. When Manasseh was invited to take his place at the table, one might have read in his looks the answer of Shylock—
'Yes, to smell pork, &c.'
When the repast was finished, the councillor, in a short speech, informed the three lovers that they were met to choose one of the three caskets, and that Albertine would bless with her hand the happy man who chose the casket containing her miniature.
Folding doors were then opened, and a table covered with rich tapestry was discovered, upon which stood three little caskets. One was gold, surmounted by a ring of ducats, and on it was written,
'He who chooses me, will gratify his soul's desire.'
The second was artistically worked in silver, and in the midst of the ornaments might be read,
'He who chooses me, will have more than he could hope for.' The third casket was formed of ivory, and it bore this inscription,
'He who chooses me, will gain the happiness he dreamed of.'
Albertine and her papa sat on a sofa behind the table, and Manasseh retired with the goldsmith to the other end of the apartment.
It was decided by lot that Mr. Tusmann was to have the first choice, so the two other pretenders went into the next room.
Mr. Tusmann approached the table and carefully examined the caskets, reading the inscriptions one after the other. At last he was attracted by the beautiful scroll-work upon the silver casket. Bless my heart,' said he, with enthusiasm, what fine Arabesque flourishes.' He who chooses me, will have more than he could hope for!" Well, did I ever expect that Miss Albertine would marry me? Did I not always despair? Was I not going to throw myself into the basin? My choice is made, I will take
the silver casket.'
Albertine rose up, and presented him with the key. Mr. Tusmann opened the casket, and sad was his affright when he found, not Albertine's portrait, but a little blank book, bound in parch
Merciful heavens!' stammered out the book; no, not even a book; it is blank paper. destroyed! O wretched private secretary! the basin.'
Mr. Tusmann would have run out, but Leonard barred the way, and said, 'Are you mad, Tusmann? I tell you, man, that you have found a treasure. Now, just oblige me by putting that book, which was in the casket, into your pocket.'
secretary, only a All my hopes are Come, let's be off to
Mr. Tusmann obeyed.
'Now,' continued the goldsmith, think of some book that you would like to consult at the moment.'
'I only wish,' said the secretary, that I had again "The Treatise of Politic Wisdom, by Thomasius," which, like a jackass as I am, I threw into the basin at the Botanic Garden.'
'Look at the book you have in your pocket,' said Leonard. Mr. Tusmann looked, and lo and behold it was the treatise by Thomasius.
Oh! my beloved Thomasius,' exclaimed he, do I see you once again!'
Silence!' said Leonard. Put the book into your pocket, and think of any work that you have sought after in vain at all the bookstalls, and at the collectors of books, and in the libraries.'
During many years,' replied Mr. Tusmann, I have endeavoured to lay my hand upon a scarce, curious, and valuable work, entitled, "Braces for Unbelievers' Breeches; or, a Short Treatise upon Faith; proving it possible for Ten Thousand Angels to dance at one time upon the point of a Needle."
Look in your pocket,' said the goldsmith. Mr. Tusmann drew the book from his pocket, and jumped with joy when he found that he held in his hand the identical Braces for Unbelievers' Breeches.'
Now,' said the goldsmith, I dare say you perceive that by means of the book which you found in the casket you have in your own possession the most complete and portable library that ever
But the secretary paid no further attention to what was passing. He threw himself into an arm-chair in a corner of the room, put the book into his pocket, and drew it out, again and again; in short, it was very easy to perceive that he was the happiest of
The Baron Benjamin's turn now arrived. He lounged into the room; and, approaching the table, examined the inscriptions through his glass, reading them in a lisping tone. Soon, however, a natural and irresistible instinct drew him towards the No. 100.