From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing

Joseph von Eichendorff

Chapter Nine

On guard the faithful mountains stand:
"Who wanders o'er the moorland there
From other climes, in morning fair?"
And as I look far o'er the land,
For very glee my heart laughs out.
The joyous "vivats" then I shout;
Watchword and battle-cry shall be:
Austria, for thee!

The landscape far and near I know;
The birds and brooks and forests fair
Send me their greetings on the air;
The Danube sparkles down below;
St. Stephen's spire far in the blue
Seems waving me a welcome too.
Warm to its eve my heart shall be,
Austria, for thee!

I was standing on the summit of a mountain whence the first view of Austria can be had, and I waved my hat joyfully in the air as I sang the last verse, when suddenly from the forest behind me some fine instrumental music joined in. I turned quickly and perceived three young fellows in long blue cloaks, one playing a hautboy, another a clarionet, and the third, who wore an old three-cornered hat, a horn. They played an accompaniment to my song, which made the woods ring again. I, nothing loath, took out my fiddle, and played and sang with a will. Then one glanced meaningly at the others; he who played the horn stopped puffing out his cheeks and took the instrument down from his mouth; at last they all ceased playing, and stared at me. I ended my performance also, and in turn stared at them.

"We supposed," the cornetist said at last, "from the length of the gentleman's coat that he was a traveling Englishman, journeying afoot here to admire the beauties of nature, and we thought we might perhaps earn a trifle for our own travels. But the gentleman seems to be a musician himself. "

"Properly speaking, a Receiver, " I interposed, "and I come at present directly from Rome; but, as it is some time since I received anything, I have paid my way with my violin."

"'Tis not worth much nowadays," said the cornetist, as he betook himself to the woods again, and began fanning with his cocked hat a fire that they had kindled there. "Wind-instruments are more profitable," he continued. "When a noble family is seated quietly at their mid-day meal, and we unexpectedly enter their vaulted vestibule and all three begin to blow with all our might, a servant is sure to come running out to us with money or food, just to get rid of the noise. But will you not share our repast?"

The fire in the forest was burning cheerily, the morning was fresh; we all sat down on the grass, and two of the musicians took from the fire a can in which there was coffee with milk. Then they brought forth some bread from the pockets of their cloaks, and each dipped it in the can and drank turn about with such relish that it was a pleasure to see them.

But the cornetist said, "I never could endure the black slops," and, after handing me a huge slice of bread and butter, he brought out a bottle of wine, from which he offered me a draught.

I took a good pull at it, but had to put it down in a hurry with my face all of a pucker, for it tasted like "old Gooseberry."

"The wine of the country," said the cornetist; "but Italy has probably spoilt your German taste. "

Then he rummaged in his wallet, and finally produced from among all sorts of rubbish an old, tattered map of the country, in the corner of which the emperor in his royal robes was still to be discerned, a sceptre in his right hand, the orb in his left. This map he carefully spread out upon the ground; the others drew nearer, and they all consulted together as to their route.

"The vacation is nearly over," said one; "let us turn to the left as soon as we leave Linz, so as to be in Prague in time."

"Upon my word!" exclaimed the cornetist. "Whom do you propose to pipe to on that road? Nobody there save wood-choppers and charcoal-burners; no culture nor taste for art - no station where one can spend a night for nothing!"

"Oh, nonsense!" rejoined the other. "I like the peasants best; they know where the shoe pinches, and are not so particular if you sometimes blow a false note."

"That is, you have no point d 'honneur," said the cornetist. "Odi profanum vulgus et arceo, as the Latin has it."

"Well, there must be some churches on the road," struck in the third; "we can stop at the Herr Pastors'."

"No, I thank you," said the cornetist; "they give little money, but long sermons on the folly of philandering about the world when we might be acquiring knowledge, and they wax specially eloquent when they sniff in me a future member of their fraternity. No, no, clericus clericum non decimat. But why be in such a hurry! The Herr Professors are still at Carlsbad, and are sure not to be precise about the very day."

"Nay, distinguendeum est inter et inter," replied the other; "quod licet Jovi non licet bovi!"

I now saw that they were students from Prague, and I conceived a great respect for them, especially as they spoke Latin like their mother-tongue.

"Is the gentleman a student?" the cornetist asked me.

I replied modestly that I had always been very fond of study, but that I had had no money.

"That's of no consequence," said the cornetist; "we have neither money nor rich patrons, but we get along by mother-wit. Aurora musis amica, which means, being interpreted, 'Do not waste too much time at breakfast.' But when the bells at noon echo from tower to tower, and from mountain to mountain, and the scholars crowd out of the old dark lecture-room, and swarm shouting through the streets, we betake us to the Capuchin monastery, to the father who presides in the refectory, where there is sure to be a table spread for us, or if not actually spread, there will be at least a dish apiece, and we fall to, and perfect ourselves at the same time in our Latin. So you see we study right ahead from day to day. And when at last the vacation comes, and all the others depart for their homes, by coach or on horseback, then we stroll forth through the streets and through the city gate with our instruments under our cloaks and the world before us."

I can't tell how it was, but, while he spoke, the thought that such learned people were so forlorn and forsaken in this world went to my very heart. And then I thought of myself, and how I was not much better off, and the tears came into my eyes. The cornetist eyed me askance.

"I wouldn't give a fig," he went on, "to travel with horses, and coffee, and freshly-made beds, and nightcaps and bootjacks, all ordered beforehand. It's just the delightful part of it that, when we set out early in the morning, and the birds of passage are winging their flight high in the air above us, we do not know what chimney is smoking for us today, and can never foresee what special piece of luck may befall us before evening."

"Yes," said the other, "and wherever we go, and take out our instruments, people are merry; and when we play at noon in the vestibule of some great country-house, the maids will dance before the door, and their masters and mistresses will have the drawing room door opened a little, the better to hear the music, and the clatter of plates and the smell of the roast float out through the chink, and the young misses at table well-nigh twist their necks off to see the musicians outside."

"That's true!" exclaimed the cornetist, with sparkling eyes. "Let who will pore over their compendiums, we choose to study in the vast picture-book which the dear God spreads open before us! Yes, the gentleman may believe me, we make the right sort of fellows, who know how to preach to the peasants from the pulpit and to bang the cushion, so that the clodpoles down below are ready to burst with humiliation and edification."

At hearing them talk thus, I became so pleased and interested that I longed to be a student too. I could have listened forever, for I enjoy the conversation of men of learning, from whom much is to be gained. But we had no real, sensible conversation, for one of the students was worried because the vacation was so nearly at an end. He put his clarionet together, set up a sheet of music on his knees, and began to practice a difficult passage from a mass which was to be played when they returned to Prague. There he sat and fingered and played away, sometimes so false that it fairly pierced your ears and you couldn't hear your own voice.

Suddenly the cornetist exclaimed in his bass tones, "I have it!" and down came his fist on the map before him. The other stopped practicing for a moment, and looked at him in surprise. "Hark ye, "said the cornetist, "there is a castle not far from Vienna, and in that castle there is a porter, and that porter is my cousin! Dearest fellow students, that must be our goal; we must pay our respects to my cousin, and he will arrange for our further journey."

When I heard that, I sprang to my feet. "Doesn't he play on the bassoon?" I cried. "Is he not tall and straight, with a big, prominent nose?"

The cornetist nodded, upon which I embraced him so enthusiastically that his three-cornered hat fell off, and we all immediately determined to take the mail-boat on the Danube to the castle of the beautiful Countess.

When we arrived at the wharf all was ready for departure. The fat host before whose inn the ship had lain all night was standing broad and cheery in his door-way, which he quite filled, shouting out all sorts of jokes and farewell speeches, while from every window a girl's head was poked out nodding to the sailors, who were just carrying the last packages aboard. An elderly gentleman with a gray overcoat and a black neckerchief, who was also going in the boat, stood on the shore talking very earnestly with a slim young fellow in leather breeches and a trig scarlet jacket, mounted on a magnificent chestnut. To my great surprise, they seemed to glance at times toward me, and to be speaking of me. At last the old gentleman laughed, and the slim young fellow cracked his riding-whip and galloped off through the fresh morning across the shining landscape, with the larks soaring above him.

Meanwhile, the students and I had combined our resources. The captain laughed and shook his head when the cornetist counted out our passage-money to him in coppers, for which we had diligently searched every corner of our pockets. I shouted aloud when I once more saw the Danube before me; we hurried aboard, the captain gave the signal, and away we glided in the brilliant morning sunshine past the meadows and the mountains.

The birds in the woods were singing, and the morning bells echoed afar from the villages on each side of us, while overhead the larks' clear notes were now and then heard. On the boat a canary-bird in its cage trilled and twittered back so that it was a delight to listen to it.

It belonged to a pretty young girl who was on the boat with us. She kept the cage close beside her, and under the other arm she had a small bundle of linen; she sat by herself, quite still, looking in great content, now at her new traveling-shoes, which peeped out from beneath her petticoats, and now down at the water, while the morning sun shone on her white forehead, above which the hair was neatly parted. I noticed that the students would have liked to engage her in polite discourse, for they kept passing to and fro before her, and the cornetist, whenever he did so, cleared his throat, and settled, first his cravat, and then his three-cornered hat. But their courage failed them, and moreover the girl cast down her eyes as soon as they approached her.

They seemed, besides, to stand in special awe of the elderly gentleman in the gray overcoat, who was now sitting on the other side of the boat, and whom they took for a divine. He held an open breviary, in which he was reading, looking up from it frequently to admire the lovely scenery, while the gilt edges of the book and the gay pictures of saints laid between its leaves shone brilliantly in the sunlight. He was perfectly well aware, too, of what was going on around him, and soon recognized the birds by their feathers, for before long he addressed one of the students in Latin, whereupon all three approached him, took off their hats, and made answer also in Latin.

Meanwhile, I had seated myself at the prow of the boat, where, highly delighted, I dangled my legs above the water, gazing, while the boat glided onward and the waves below me leaped and foamed, constantly into the blue distance, watching towers and castles one after another emerge from the dim depths of green, grow and grow upon the sight, and finally recede and vanish behind us. "If I had but wings at this moment!" I thought; and at last in my impatience I drew forth my dear violin and played all my oldest pieces, which I had learned at home and at the castle of the Lady fair.

All at once some one behind me tapped me on the .shoulder. It was the reverend gentleman, who had laid aside his book, and had been listening to me for a while.

"Aha," he said laughing, "aha, my young ludi magister is forgetting to eat and drink!"

Whereupon he bade me put away my fiddle and take a bit of luncheon with him, and he then led me to a pleasant little arbor which the boatmen had erected in the centre of the boat out of young birches and firs. He had a table placed beneath it, and I and the students, and even the young girl, were invited to sit down around it upon the casks and packages.

The reverend gentleman now produced cold meat and bread and butter, which had all been carefully wrapped in paper, and took from a case several bottles of wine and a silver goblet, gilt inside, which he filled, tasted first himself, then smelled, tasted again, and finally presented to each of us in turn. The students sat bolt upright on their casks, and only sipped a little, so great was their awe. The girl, too, just dipped her little beak in the goblet, glancing shyly first at me and then at the students; but the oftener she looked at us the bolder she grew.

At last she informed the reverend gentleman that she was leaving her home for the first time, to go into service at a certain castle, and as she spoke I blushed all over, for the castle she mentioned was that of the Lady fair. "Then she is my future lady's maid!" I thought, staring at her, and feeling almost giddy.

"There is soon to be a grand wedding at the castle," said his reverence.

"Yes," replied the girl, who would have liked to learn more of the matter; "they say it is an old secret attachment, but that the Countess could never be brought to give her consent."

His reverence replied only by "hm! hm!" refilling his goblet, and sipping from it with a thoughtful air. I leaned forward with both elbows on the table, that I might lose no word of the conversation. His reverence observed it.

"Let me tell you," he began again, "that both Countesses sent me forth to discover whether the bridegroom be not in the country hereabouts. A lady wrote from Rome that he left there some time ago."

When he began about the lady in Rome I blushed again. "Is your reverence acquainted with the bridegroom?" I asked, in confusion.

"No," replied the old gentleman; "but they say he is a gay bird."

"Oh, yes, "said I, hastily, "a bird that escapes as soon as it can from every cage, and sings gaily when it regains its freedom. "

"And wanders about in foreign countries, " the old gentleman continued, composedly, "goes everywhere at night, and sleeps on door-steps in the daytime."

That vexed me extremely.

"Reverend sir," I exclaimed, with some heat, "you have been falsely informed. The bridegroom is a slender, moral, promising youth, who has been living in luxury in an old castle in Italy, and has associated solely with Countesses, famous painters, and lady's-maids, who knows perfectly well how to take care of his money, if he had any, who - "

"Come, come, I had no idea that you knew him so well," the divine here interrupted me, laughing so heartily that he grew quite purple in the face and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"But I heard," the girl interposed, "that the bridegroom was a stout, very wealthy gentleman."

"Good heavens, yes, yes, to be sure! Confusion worse confounded!" exclaimed his reverence, laughing so that it brought on a fit of coughing. When he had somewhat recovered himself, he raised his goblet aloft and cried, "Here's to the bridal pair!"

I did not know what to make of the reverend gentleman and his talk, and I was ashamed, because of my adventures in Rome, to tell him here before all these people that I myself was the missing thrice happy bridegroom.

The goblet kept passing from hand to hand; the reverend gentleman had a kind word for every one, so that all liked him, and finally the entire company chatted gaily together. The students grew more and more loquacious, recounting their experiences in the mountains, and at last brought out their instruments and played away merrily. The cool breeze from the water sighed through the leaves of the arbor, the afternoon sun gilded the woods and vales which flew past us, while the shores echoed back the notes of the horn.

And when the reverend gentleman, stimulated by the music, grew more and more genial, and told us stories of his youth, how in vacation-time he too had wandered over hills and dales, and had been often hungry and thirsty, but always happy, and how, in fact, a student's whole life, from its first day in the narrow, dry lecture-room to its last, is one long vacation, then the students drank all around once more, and struck up a song, that reechoed among the distant mountains:

The birds are southward winging
Their yearly, airy flight,
And roving lads are swinging
Their caps in morning's light;
We students thus are going,
And, when the gates are nigh,
Our trumpets shall be blowing,
In token of good-bye.
A long farewell we give thee,
O Prague, for we must leave thee,
Et habeas bonam pacem,
Qui sedet post fornacem!

When through the towns we're going
At night, the windows shine,
Behind their curtains showing
Full many a damsel fine.
We play at many a gate-way,
And when our throats are dry
We call mine host, and straightway
He treats us generously;
And o'er a goblet foaming
We rest awhile from roaming.
Venit ex sua domo -
Beatus ille homo!

When roaming through the forest
Cold Boreas whistles shrill,
'Tis then our need is sorest;
Wet through on plain and hill,
Our cloaks the winds are tearing,
Our shoes are worn and old,
Still playing, onward faring,
In spite of rain and cold.
Beatus ille homo
Qui sedet in sua domo
Et sedet post fornacern,
Et habeas bonam pacem!

I, the captain, and the girl, although we did not understand Latin, joined gaily in the last lines of each verse; but I was the gayest of all, for I had caught a glimpse in the distance of my toll-house, and soon afterward the castle shone among the trees in the light of the setting sun.

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© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University
Department of Foreign Languages