The Broommaker of Rychiswyl

Jeremias Gotthelf
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Everyone would like to be happy. And most folks think that being rich would make them happy. They figure money and happiness go together, like a potato and a potato plant, like a tree and its roots. How terribly mistaken they are and how little they understand the essence of human life, even though it's so obvious in everything we do.

The Bible tells us that for those who love God all things thrive, and so it is. Money is always just money, but the human hearts with which it comes into contact are all very different. That is why each combination of heart and money turns out so differently and why money can bring joy or despair according to how the two are combined. God has shown us this as clear as day, but unfortunately human beings rarely see what is most clear and obvious but obscure it instead with their own attempt at wisdom. In the broommaker of Rychiswyl we select, out of the hundreds of examples which illustrate the above-mentioned truth, one which shows a heart to whom money did bring happiness.

It is a well-known fact that brooms are desperately needed in our age and have been in fact for a long, long time. Such needs which must be filled daily and weekly are common to all homes, and everywhere there are people who willingly take on the pleasant duty of satisfying these needs. Those who do this kind of work are taken for granted as long as the needs are fulfilled at as low a cost as possible. This was not always the case. It used to be that the broom man, the egg lady, the tuff or sand girl, and so on, were each part of the family, so to speak. It was a solid relationship and the days on which these persons appeared were immutably fixed. According to how high they stood in the family's graces, something more or less special was given to them each time they came. And if they missed a single day, they would the next time be as apologetic as if they had committed a sin, worrying that their customers would think they weren't coming anymore and would therefore buy their goods elsewhere. They viewed the houses they served as the stars in their own private sky and did all they could to serve them well. If they gave up the trade or moved on to a better route, they tried their best to pass on their business to one of their children, to a cousin or to someone else. There was a mutual bond of loyalty and trust at work which unfortunately in our cold age, when all family warmth has fled, is becoming looser all the time.

Such a friend of the family was the broom man of Rychiswyl who was often to be seen in Bern but who actually enjoyed his greatest prestige and highest favor in Thun. In smaller places all relationships are much more intimate, and individuals are noticed more and are of greater importance. It would have been more likely for a Saturday to be missing from the calendar than for the little broom man not to appear in Thun on a Saturday. He hadn't always been the little broom man; for a long time he had been the broom boy, until folks found out that the broom boy had children old enough to be able to help him push his cart.

His father had been a soldier and had died young. When the broom man was a lad, his mother had been sickly and although the family had no money, they did not take to the notion of charity. An older sister had left home earlier, barefoot, and had found work with a woman who took pine cones and mill-ground flour to Bern. When she had earned her spurs, that is to say, shoes and stockings, she moved on to become the chicken maid for a tenant farmer who had a good-sized farm near the city. Her mother and brother were proud of her and spoke respectfully of their grand Babeli. Hansli could not leave his mother; she had to have someone who would help her with the wood for the fire and with other things. They lived off God's grace and that of good people but had a hard time of it.

Then one day the farmer in whose house they lived said to Hansli, "Listen, boy, it seems to me you're old enough and smart enough to be earning some money.".

"I'd be happy to," Hansli said, "if only I knew how."

"I know how you could earn a pretty penny. Start making brooms. There's enough brushwood in my pasture which otherwise just gets stolen. All I'd expect in return are a few brooms a year."

"Well, that's fine, but where could I learn to make brooms?" said Hansli.

"That's easy enough, "the farmer said, "I'll teach you. I've made all the brooms we need myself for many years as well as any broommaker could. The tools don't amount to much and until you can afford to get your own, you can use mine."

This was indeed what occurred, and happiness and God's blessing were in it. Hansli showed great devotion to the task and the farmer was very pleased with him.

"Don't scrimp any; do the job right. You have to earn their trust. Once you have that, you're sure to be successful, "the farmer reminded him, and Hansli followed his advice.

Naturally it went slowly at first, yet Hansli was always able to sell what he had made and as he became more proficient his business picked up. Soon folks were saying that no one made such good brooms as the broom boy from Rychiswyl. The more evident his success became, the more Hansli's zeal increased. His mother awoke to new life. Now they were home free, she said; as long as you could earn your daily bread by good honest work then you had good reason to be satisfied, for what more could anyone ask? She now had enough to eat every day and usually some left over for the next day; she could even have bread every day if she wanted. Once in a while Hansli even brought her a roll of white bread from town. How she enjoyed that and how she thanked God that he had arranged such a good life for her in her old age.

Hansli, however, had for some time been going around with a sour expression on his face. Finally he began to grumble that things couldn't go on like they had; he wouldn't be able to stand it. When the farmer finally asked him what he meant and what the problem was, it came out that Hansli was not able to carry all his brooms. Even having the miller carry them on his wagon, he said, was very inconvenient. He really needed a cart to haul the brooms in; that would be much easier and he could travel much farther. But he didn't have the money for one and didn't know of anyone who would loan him one.

"You're a real numbskull, "said the farmer." Listen, I don't want you turning into one of those fools who have to run out and buy whatever pops into his head. If you do that you'll always be in need of money and always be filling other folks' pockets. What an idea, you buy a cart! Make one!"

Hansli stood there looking at the farmer with his mouth open and with eyes in which tears were gathering.

"Yes, indeed. Make one. You can do it if you want to and if you work at it," the farmer continued. "You can whittle pretty well and what you don't know how to do I can show you. The wood won't cost you much; what I don't have, another farmer will and you can pay for it with brooms. For the metal you can use some old iron from someone's storeroom. We have an old cart around somewhere. We'll get it out, you can take a good look at it and even use it for the time being if you want. Winter is almost here; you can start then. By spring the cart will be finished and it won't have cost you much at all. Maybe you could pay off the blacksmith with brooms or maybe we can even get along without the blacksmith, who knows."

Now Hansli really opened his eyes wide. He build a cart!

"How do you figure I could ever do that? I've never built one before."

"You numbskull!" the farmer snapped." You have to start sometime. If you just go at it with confidence, then the job's half done. Believe me, if more people had confidence, many a person who's running around begging now would be sitting on bags of gold, honestly earned."

Hansli was almost tempted to ask the farmer if he was out of his mind. He thought the farmer was doing him a great injustice to expect such a thing of him.

However, the idea began to take root in Hansli's mind. Hansli proceeded with the project very gingerly, like a child stepping into cold water. The farmer helped, and by spring the new cart was ready. On the Tuesday after Easter, Hansli pulled it for the first time to Bern and on the following Saturday for the first time to Thun. How proud and how happy Hansli was over his new cart, it would be difficult for anyone to understand. If Hansli had been offered the great Easter Monday steer, which was led around Bern the day before Easter and weighed perhaps 2500 pounds, in exchange for his cart, he would have scornfully rejected the offer. It seemed to him that everyone stopped to admire his cart and wherever he had a chance to stop and chat, he waxed eloquent in his description of the advantages of his cart over all the others there had ever been on the face of the earth. He maintained with grave conviction that it rolled all by itself and that it was only when going uphill that he had to help it along a little. A cook said she would not have believed he was so clever and if she ever needed a cart, he would have to make her one. From then on, this cook, whenever she bought brooms from Hansli, was given two very small whiskbrooms for the oven; these brooms are very convenient for cooks who like to keep the corners of the oven clean. Those are the same cooks who wash themselves on weekdays and who even wash behind their ears. But there aren't too many of them around.

It was only then that Hansli really started to bestir himself. His cart was his farm and he worked hard but cheerfully, and cheerfulness is something altogether different from peevishness; they are to one another what a sharp axe is to a dull one when it comes to chopping wood. The farmers in Rychiswyl were very pleased with the lad. There was not a one who did not tell him, "If you need brushwood, go ahead and take it from my pasture, just don't damage the birches and remember my womenfolk and how fast they go through brooms in a year."

Hansli did remember them, which pleased the farmers' wives greatly. There was no money to spend on brooms; the menfolk were supposed to make them. Now everyone knows how that goes, seeing as the men are often too lazy to chop wood, let alone to make brooms. Thus it often happened that the wives became desperately short of brooms, so that the family's peace was seriously threatened. Now Hansli was there with brooms before they realized it and it happened but rarely that a farmer's wife had to say, "Hansli, don't forget about us, we're on our last one." In addition the brooms were good, altogether different from those the menfolk slapped together, which came apart or got dull as if they were made of cheap straw.

Hansli, of course, gave these brooms away, and yet they were not the least profitable brooms to leave his hands. This was not so much because of the birch twigs he received for nothing, but rather because of the gifts which they brought in throughout the year--gifts of bread, milk and all sorts of things which a farmer's wife has on hand and doesn't keep a strict account of. It was seldom that butter was churned somewhere and he wasn't told, "Hansli, we'll be churning butter tomorrow. If you bring a pail, you can have some whey." He had more fruit than he needed and he scarcely ever had to buy bread.

Thus Hansli could not help but do well, for he was economical. If he spent four kreuzer on days when he went into town, that was quite a lot. In the morning his mother saw to it that he had a good breakfast and then he usually took something along with him. Here and there he was given something in a kitchen where he was well known. Finally, he did not think that he had to eat right away whenever he felt like it. Being hungry doesn't matter, he would say, as long as you know when you'll be eating; in fact, it just makes the food taste all the better. But to be hungry and not know whether or not you will ever get anything to eat again, that is painful. Hansli knew that as soon as he got home and put away his things, he could eat as much as he wanted; his mother saw faithfully to that. She knew what a difference there is between coming home to find something to eat and to find nothing at all. A person who knows that he will find something to eat at home doesn't stop on the way but brings home an empty stomach instead, and as he fills it he enjoys the comfort of being at home. Those who will find nothing at home fill up somewhere else and bring home a head full of wine, and such men do not enjoy being at home but rather do nothing there but gripe and complain.

Hansli was not miserly, but he was thrifty. He didn't mind spending money on good, useful things. As far as food and clothes were concerned, he wanted his mother to be well off. He bought a good bed and got great pleasure out of buying a sharp, handsome knife or some other tool. Anyone with good eyes can usually tell if a person or a house is on the way up or on the way down. With Hansli it was clear that he was on the way up, although this was not expressed through vanity but rather through cleanliness and care. The farmers derived great pleasure from this and wished Hansli well with all their hearts, for he thrived not through dishonesty, but through hard work.

At the same time he did not leave off praying and never made brooms on Sunday. Every Sunday he went to church in the morning and in the afternoon read a chapter from the Bible to his mother, whose eyes were getting bad. Then later he would perhaps indulge in a private pleasure which consisted of taking out his money, counting it, examining it and calculating how much it had increased and how much more it would become, and so on. There were some very nice pieces in the pile, in fact mostly good silver coins. Hansli was an avid trader. He gladly accepted copper coins, but did not hold on to them long; it always seemed to him the wind could easily come up and blow them away. He took the greatest pleasure in smooth new silver pieces, the handsome Bernese talers with the picture of the bear and the sturdy Swiss soldier. When he could get a hold of one of them it made him happy for days at a time.

Yet he had his sorrows too and his bad days. For example, it was a bad day for him when he lost a customer or when he thought he had, and when he had counted on selling a dozen brooms at a house and was turned away with the brusque statement "Already got ours." A new cook had perhaps arrived on the scene who knew nothing of the well-known broom boy and shouted in her steely voice from the top of the stairs, "Don't need any." Now Hansli did not know the real explanation, did not realize that in many places the cooks had to be changed as often as shirts, sometimes even more often. At first he racked his brains trying to figure out what he had done wrong, whether a broom hadn't been bound properly or whether folks had spread false rumors about him. He took it very much to heart and it even kept him from sleeping. He couldn't rest till he found out the real reason. Later he took it more matter-of-factly, even when a cook who knew him well chased him away. He realized that cooks were people, too, so to speak, and when the master or mistress snapped at the cook for having peppered the soup or over-salted the sauce, all because her sweetheart had moved to the land where pepper grows, then the cook had her rights too and could snap at others in return.

Yet one thing caused him even more painful days and this he could never learn to accept coolly. He knew all his birch trees, and in fact he had his own names for the meadows and even for the individual trees, giving the nicest birches pretty names like Anne Mareili, Liseli, Rosy Aster, and so on. He derived great joy from these trees all year long. He looked forward with great pleasure to gathering their twigs, treating the trees with tenderness and taking these brooms to his best customers. These were true master brooms and deserved this title more than many other brooms. When, however, he joyfully entered a field and found his Rosy or his Aster cruelly hacked and mistreated, then it grieved him so that the tears ran down his cheeks and his blood gradually became so hot from anger that one could have lit matches from it.

That made him miserable for days, for he couldn't get over it. He wanted nothing more than to get his hands on the culprit, not because of the value of the twigs but because of the harm done to his trees. Hansli was not tall, but he knew how to use his strength and his limbs well, and he had a lot of courage. This was the one matter in which he did not obey his mother, when she pleaded with him for God's sake just to forget it. After all, he had enough twigs, she said, and he shouldn't try to find those responsible since they could kill him or do something to make his life miserable. But Hansli did not care about that; he would search and keep watch till he finally caught the culprit. Then it came to blows, and terrible fights took place there in the lonesome meadows. Sometimes Hansli won, sometimes he came home looking dreadful.

Yet he gradually succeeded so far as to have his meadows left to himself, such as always happens when something is defended with courageous tenacity. Why should someone expose himself to blows in order to get a hold of something which he can get elsewhere with no danger at all? Besides, the Rychiswyl farmers took pleasure in their brave little forest ranger and when he was worsted in a fight, one or another of the farmers would say something like this: "It doesn't matter, he must have his saints on his side. Tell me when you notice something again and I'll be there, too. Then we'll cure him of cutting broom twigs once and for all."

Then Hansli told the farmer when he noticed some damage. The farmer hid and Hansli attacked. The enemy, thinking he was the stronger, did not run but waited, thinking to repeat his previous success. Once Hansli had a hold of him, the farmer came out. Then the culprit would gladly have paid to be able to get away, but Hansli would not let loose; the thief had to stay there and take it until he had his fill of blows and had lost much of the hair on his head. That was an effective weapon against the birch plundering; Mareili and Bäbeli gradually became fairly safe in their lonely pastures.

Hansli went on in this way for many years, which passed in delightful uniformity, and he never thought that things would be any different. A week went by like the second hand on a clock, so that he did not know where the time went. Before he knew it, it was Tuesday, the day he drove to Bern, and scarcely had Tuesday gone by when Saturday was there, the day he had to go to Thun, whether he wanted to or not, for how could they get along in Thun without him! In between he had his hands full with getting his next load ready and supplying his neighbors, that is to say, those amongst them who found favor in his eyes. Our Hansli was a human being and every human being, if he will only admit it, has his gracious and his ungracious moods. Anyone who had offended Hansli but slightly had a hard time of it trying to get brooms from him. He would not have sold brooms to the pastor's wife, for instance, for double the money. She could send for brooms whenever she wanted, he was always sorry but he did not have any on hand right then. She had told him once that he used the same trick as all the others, wrapping a few long twigs around the outside and putting nothing but short stumpy twigs in the middle. In that case, he said, it didn't matter if she got her brooms from him or from someone else. And he stuck by that and the pastor's wife died without ever having gotten another broom from Hansli.

One Tuesday he again pulled his heavily loaded cart to Bern, containing his best brooms, made from his dearest trees, from Rosy, Aster, and so on. He had difficulty in pulling it and perspired heavily. He thought it was strange that his cart did not roll by itself as it had at the beginning; there must be something wrong somewhere, for it seemed much too difficult to pull. He stopped often in order to catch his breath and wipe the sweat from his brow. If only he were already at the top of the hill, he thought, for that was going to be a difficult climb. With these thoughts he stopped by the Muri Woods, just in front of a bench. On it sat a girl with a bundle beside her. She was crying bitterly.

Hansli had a kind heart and asked, "What are you crying for?"

The girl said she had to go into town but dreaded the thought so much that she was tempted not to go. Her father was a shoemaker and had his best customers in town. She had been carrying shoes into town for a long time and hadn't ever thought twice about it. But now there was a new gendarme in town who was terribly mean. For the past few Tuesdays he had been very nasty to her when she had entered the town gate and had threatened, if she came again, to take the shoes away and put her in jail, for it was forbidden to take shoes into the city to sell. No matter what she said, it was all to no avail. She had pleaded with her father not to send her anymore, but he was as strict as a Prussian. He had said she should just go ahead and if anyone did anything to her they would have to answer to him for it. But what good was that to her? In the meantime she would be the one to bear the brunt of it all and have the shame of being taken away to jail.

Hansli felt a great sympathy for the girl, particularly since she had shown such trust in him and had unburdened her soul to him, which she probably would not have done to just anyone. But she had seen at first glance, he thought, that he wasn't one of the bad ones but had a kind heart. Oh Hansli, you dear boy! But, as they say, a trusting soul is a sure road to paradise.

"Listen, girl, I know what you can do," he said, "give me your sack, and I'll put it in amongst my brooms where no one can see it. I'm well known and it won't occur to anybody that your shoes are there with my brooms. You can tell me where to take them or where I should meet you, and then you follow me a long ways off so that no one will think there's anything going on between us."

The girl accepted without any coy protests.

"Would you?" she asked with a brightened face." That would be more than I could have hoped for."

She handed over the bundle and Hansli hid it so well that not even an eagle's eye would have detected anything.

"Should I push or help pull?" the girl asked, as if it were a matter of course that she would do her part.

"Whichever you want, but you don't actually need to; it hasn't gotten any heavier from those few pairs of shoes."

At first the girl pushed the cart from behind, but after a little while she moved to the front where she helped Hansli pull. It seemed to her, she said, that it worked better that way. She pulled well, as one can imagine, and yet she still had enough breath left to talk and to give an account by and by of everything that was on her mind or in her heart. They were on top of the highest hill before Hansli realized it; the long climb seemed to him to have been cut in half. In accordance with their plan the girl remained behind while Hansli pulled his cart with brooms and bundle into the city. His entry had been uncontested and he handed over the bundle to the girl without a hitch. But before they had said anything else to one another, before the girl had thanked him, they were pushed apart by a flood of people, animals and carriages, so that Hansli had to take care that his cart was not knocked to pieces.

This, then, was to be the end of their acquaintance. That bothered Hansli somewhat, yet he did not think anymore about it, let alone take it to heart. We unfortunately cannot say that the girl made an indelible impression on him; it was not in her nature. She was a thick-set girl with a broad face; her best qualities were a good, true heart and an untiring industry. These qualities, however, did not immediately stand out and besides they are ones to which many people do not attach much importance.

On the following Tuesday, as Hansli was pulling his cart, it again seemed very heavy to him. He wouldn't have believed, he said to himself, what a difference it made if two were pulling rather than one.

"Will she be there again?" he wondered as he approached the Muri Woods. "I'd gladly take her little sack if she'd help pull again; there's no worse stretch than that between here and town."

And sure enough, the girl was sitting on the bench just like the previous week, though this time she was not crying.

"Do you have something for me again?" asked Hansli, who felt like the cart had gotten lighter just from seeing the girl.

"That's not the only reason I've been sitting here; I would have come even if I didn't have anything to take into town," the girl answered, "since I didn't get a chance last week to thank you and to ask if I owed you anything."

"There's no question of that; after all, you pulled like a mule and I never asked how much I owed you."

As if it were a long-established custom, the girl handed over her bundle to Hansli, who hid it, and, as if it were part of a trade she had learned, the girl went and took the handle of the cart. She had thought, she said, when she was already on her way that she should have brought a rope along that they could have tied to the cart; she could be of more help then. The next time she came, however, she wouldn't forget it. This alliance for mutual aid was effected without lengthy diplomatic negotiations; in fact, it could not have come about any simpler. This time it turned out that they both left town at the same time and headed home together, as far as their paths coincided. Yet they were clever enough not to let the gendarme see them together at the gate.

Hansli's mother had become very pleased with her son. He seemed to her to have gotten very cheerful, she said; he could whistle or sing the whole blessed day long and he was always so clean and nicely dressed that it was marvelous to see. He had recently had a half-linen coat made and he looked almost as fine in it as the governor himself. She didn't begrudge him that at all, for he was so good to her; she hoped that the dear Lord would repay him in heaven, for she could do nothing but include him in her prayers. It wasn't that he spent all his money on his appearance either, he had plenty left over. She thought for certain that if God granted him a long life and continued prosperity he'd rise so far as to own a cow. He had been talking for a long time about getting a goat, but she wouldn't be around when that happened, and besides it wasn't that she had her heart set on it that much and that she thought it just had to be.

"Mother," Hansli said one day, "I don't know whether the cart has gotten heavier or I've gotten weaker, but I can hardly seem to handle it by myself anymore. It's gotten to be real hard on me, especially towards Bern, where it's uphill most of the way."

"I believe it," his mother said, "but why do you keep taking more and more brooms every week? It makes me shudder to see it, 'cause all that strain will bring you misery in your old age. But you can solve that problem easy enough, just load three or four dozen fewer. Then you can pull it as easily as before.''

"But, Mother, I can't do that," said Hansli." I hardly take enough as it is and I don't have time to go twice a week. I don't want to give up Thun, for I've got my best customers there."

"Well, Hansli, what about getting a little donkey? I've often heard what marvelous animals they are. They cost next to nothing, don't eat much and are satisfied with just about anything they get, yet they can pull as well as a horse, and you can even use their milk--not that I'd want it, but so people say."

"No, Mother," Hansli said, "they are supposed to be so stubborn that you often can't get them to move. And what would I do with it the other five days? No, but I was thinking, Mother, of getting a wife. What do you say to that?"

"But Hansli, what an idea! Why not a goat or a donkey instead? What would you do with a wife?"

"Well, Mother, what any other fellow would," said Hansli, "and then I thought too that she could help me pull the cart. It would go more than half again as easily if someone helped me, and in between trips she could work in the garden and help make brooms, which neither a goat nor a donkey could do."

"But Hansli, do you think you could find a girl who could help you pull the cart and do the other things a wife has to do?" his mother asked doubtfully.

"Well, Mother, there's a girl who's often helped me pull the cart," answered Hansli, "and she would work out fine in other ways, too. But I don't know whether she'd marry me; I haven't asked her. I thought I should talk to you first."

"Why, you rascal! Who would have thought it ! No, really, I don't know what the world is coming to," his mother cried out." So that's what you've turned out to be, is it? I never would have believed this, even if God himself had told me. What! A girl has been helping you pull the cart and you asked her and arranged it all? My God, I'll never trust another soul as long as I live."

At that Hansli told her the whole story, how they had met by chance and how she was a girl just right for him, as punctual as a clock, not vain or wasteful, and he'd wager she could pull as well as a mid-sized cow. He hadn't talked to her about it, but he thought she wasn't altogether disinclined towards him. She had often said that she was in no special hurry to marry but that if she could marry and be better off than she was, then she wouldn't hesitate because that would give her a real purpose in life. Her younger brothers and sisters were growing up, and she knew how that went, namely that the younger ones are always favored over the older ones, and the older ones are never thanked for having to take care of their siblings.

This did not sound unpromising to his mother, and the more she got over the unexpectedness of it and thought it over, the better she liked the idea. She sent after information about the girl and heard that nothing bad was known about her; in fact, folks said that she helped her parents quite a bit around the house. They also said, however, that a fellow wouldn't get rich marrying into her family. Well, so much the better, Hansli's mother thought, then neither will have reason to reproach the other for being poor.

While Hansli was loading his cart on Tuesday, his mother said to him, "Well, go ahead and ask the girl! If it's all right with her, it's all right with me, but I won't go begging her. Tell her to come over on Sunday so I can meet her and we can talk. If she's willing to behave sensibly, then it should turn out all right. I guess it was bound to happen sometime."

"Listen, Mother, this isn't something which has to be. If you're against it, we can just drop the whole thing," Hansli answered.

"Don't talk nonsense. Just get going and tell the girl that if she will think of me as her mother, she'll be welcome here."

Hansli left and found his girl, and as Hansli pulled the handle and the girl quite energetically pulled on the rope she had brought, he said, "It goes more than half again as easily when two people help each other and pull on the same cart. I was in Thun last Saturday and almost had to work myself to death."

"I've often thought," the girl said, "that it was silly of you not to hire someone; it would be half again as easy and you could earn more."

"What can I say," Hansli said, "sometimes a fellow thinks of a thing too early, sometimes too late, that's just the way we are. But now it seems to me that I would like to hire someone. If you'd agree, you'd be just the one for me. I'd like to marry you if that's all right with you."

"Well, why not, if I'm not too ugly or too poor for you," the girl answered, "but once you've married me, it'll be too late to start looking down on me. I'll never do better than you. I could always find someone to marry, but what he'd be like it's hard to say. You're strong enough, you take good care of what you have, and you won't treat your wife like a dog."

"That's right, she and I will be treated just the same and if that's not good enough, it's too bad, for there's nothing more I can do," Hansli answered. "But I don't think you'll be worse off with us than you were before. If it's all right with you, come over to our house on Sunday. My mother says you're welcome and that you should think of her as your mother."

"Sure," said the girl, "why not? I'm used to having a mother around, obeying what she says and taking things as they come, the good and the bad, the sour and the sweet. I've always figured that a sharp word can't cut holes in your flesh, otherwise I wouldn't have a piece of skin the size of a penny left anywhere on my body."

But as was customary the girl wanted first to get her parents' consent. They wouldn't have anything against it, she said, there were enough children at home and they'd be glad to let anyone go who wanted to.

So it was, too. On Sunday the girl appeared in Rychiswyl. Hansli had given her good directions so that she had not needed to ask too often where the broommaker lived. His mother quizzed her thoroughly on her knowledge of gardening and cooking, and also wanted to know what prayers she said and whether or not she could read the Bible. It was bad for the children if their mother couldn't read the Holy Word, the old woman said, for they would suffer the consequences of it all their lives. She liked the girl and the engagement was decided on.

"You're not getting a beauty," she said to Hansli in front of the girl, "and as far as money is concerned there's not much to boast about either. But that doesn't matter. You can't live off beauty and many a lad gets tricked into thinking he's getting a rich wife and then afterwards has to pay off his in-laws' debts. If she's healthy and doesn't mind working, then everything will turn out all right. You do own a few good shirts and two sets of clothes, don't you, so that you won't have to wear the same clothes Sundays and weekdays?"

"Oh heavens, yes!" said the girl." You don't need to worry about that. I've got a brand new shirt, two which are still good and four which are worn. But Mother said I'd get another one and Father said he'd make me my wedding shoes and they won't cost me a penny. And I have an especially kind godmother who'll give me something nice, maybe even a frying pan or a pot, and who knows if there won't be something to inherit when she dies. She does have children, but they might die."

They were both completely satisfied, especially the girl, to whom their home, which was always kept clean, seemed like a palace next to the shoemaker's hole, full of leather, shoe lasts and children. They separated in order to come together again soon and then for good. So it happened, too. There were no objections, the preparations did not take months, since new shoes and a new shirt can be made in no time, as long as the materials are on hand, and so within four weeks Hansli and his wife were pulling the cart together to Thun. It was a funny thing: the old cart rolled along quite easily again, as if on its own. He wouldn't have believed, Hansli said, that a cart could take such a turn for the better; many a person could learn a lesson from it.

Quite a few girls were sorry to see Hansli married. She wouldn't have minded taking him herself, one girl thought; if she had known he was in such a hurry, she would have attracted his attention in such a way that he would not have had anything to do with that pancake face. She wouldn't have believed that Hansli was so stupid: he could have gotten an altogether different kind of wife if he had known how to go about it. He'd regret it before next Lent, but she didn't feel sorry for him; he had brought it on himself. But Hansli was not stupid and he did not regret his choice. He had just the kind of wife that suited him: a modest, hard-working and undemanding woman who felt like she had entered heaven in marrying Hansli.

She was not able, however, to help Hansli pull the cart for long; he soon had to do that by himself again. But once a baby boy had arrived, he consoled himself. He was a real lively one, Hansli said, and would grow up fast and then he could help out and even pull the cart himself in no time. His wife soon wanted to help out with the cart again. If they hurried back, she said, the baby would be all right. Grandmother could feed him while they were gone. But the little one thought differently and soon brought them around to his way of thinking.

They had hurried on their way home but were still more than half an hour away when Hansli's wife cried out, "My God, what's that I hear?"

It sounded like a young pig being butchered.

"My God, what is it? What's happened?" the woman cried out again, let go of the cart and ran off. She met the grandmother, whom the lad had frightened to death with his screaming and who hadn't known what else to do but to carry him towards his mother in mortal fear that he would fall into cramps. The heavy baby, the fright and the running had so taken the old woman's breath away that it was high time someone took the baby off her hands.

She was exhausted and it was quite a while before she could say, "No, I'll never go through that again; I'd rather pull the cart myself. I've never seen a more determined baby in all my life."

The good people learned what it was like to have a master in the house, even if it were a tiny one. But that did not disrupt the household any. The wife took very good care of things at home, did a good deal of gardening and helped make brooms. She did not overdo it but was always busy and got everything done very quickly; it seemed as if she never got tired. Hansli was amazed how well off he was with a wife and how his money grew. He obtained a small plot of land; his mother did get a goat, and even a second one. Hansli did not want a donkey, but he did have to arrange with the miller who drove to town to take along part of his brooms, which of course reduced his profit somewhat. Hansli regretted that a good deal, for it pained him to see a single penny spent unnecessarily.

Hansli's life once again went very smoothly and predictably, the days flowing into one another like waves in a river, one scarcely different from the next. The broom twigs grew every year and his wife bore him a child almost every year without it seeming to bother her any. She would bear a child, put it in its cradle; it cried a little every day and grew a little every day, and in no time it could help out, too. The grandmother said she was old but she had never seen anything like it. They reminded her of young cats who could start to catch mice in just six weeks.

And there was a blessing in the children, for the more children there were, the more the money increased. Just think, Hansli's mother even lived to see him buy a cow. If she hadn't seen Hansli pay for it with her own eyes, she would scarcely have believed that he hadn't stolen it, she said.

If his mother had lived two more years, she would have seen Hansli become the owner of the little house in which they had lived for years. Along with the house he obtained the right to gather wood from the forest and to use the commons for grazing the cow and the two sheep he was now able to keep, the latter being especially convenient when there are children at home who need wool socks. Hansli still owed quite a bit on the house, but it was a debt which would not be called in as long as he kept up his payments. He didn't mind owing money, he said, as long as he stayed alive long enough to pay it back; and he was right in thinking that way.

Hansli learned how the first few pennies are the hardest to save. There is always a hole through which they can slip or a mouth which is ready to swallow them up. Once you're out of debt, once everyone has enough clothes and you've achieved that without borrowing any money, then things start to improve. Solid ground begins to appear beneath your feet, money becomes more plentiful and easier to save. This is true as long as one condition is fulfilled: the way of life does not change. But it's a very narrow passage between the cliff and the sandbank. Overnight, like mold on the manure pile, needs and wants spring up out of nowhere and if the husband doesn't feel them, his wife does and if the parents don't, then the children do. All at once there are a hundred things which are necessary, although you hadn't realized it before, and all of a sudden you feel ashamed at not possessing them, You start to overestimate how much money you have because you previously did not have any at all; you overestimate your own ability to make money because you ascribe your rise in the world solely to your own efforts, and you overestimate your future gains, because you assume they will necessarily be the same as those of the past. In consequence of all your calculations you change your whole way of life. In proportion to the increase in consumption your zeal for work decreases, and therefore your income drops too, so that you sink just as you had risen. The marvelous life fades away as quickly as it came, for the old adage is still true: pride comes before the fall.

This, however, was not the case with Hansli. He continued to live and work just the same as before, spending almost no money unnecessarily and being very glad just to get home and find a warm meal waiting for him. Nothing changed except that the helping hands increased in number. His wife possessed, without being aware of it herself, the marvelous and rare gift of being able to put the children to use very early, teaching them to help themselves according to their age and doing it all without having to say much to them: she didn't know herself how she did it. A pedagogue certainly would not have been able to get a sensible word on the subject out of her. The children took care of one another, helped their father make brooms, carried things for their mother and worked in the garden. None of them ever got a taste of the sweetness of dreamy idleness, but on the other hand they were never overburdened with chores nor did they suffer from a shortage of food or from uncleanliness. They grew up as well-rooted as willows along a stream and were happy and healthy. The parents did not have time to fondle the children, but the latter felt their parents' love and could see their satisfaction when they did their chores well. Their parents prayed with them, and on Sundays their father read to them from the Bible, explaining what he read as best he could. As a consequence the children had a great respect for their father, viewing him as the master of the house who spoke with God and told God and Jesus if they did not behave. The true respect of children for their parents depends very much on the parents' relationship to God and on how the children perceive this relationship. If only all parents kept that in mind!

Yes, our Hansli was viewed with respect by more people than just his children. He was so self-assured, so dependable, always spoke so sensibly, always behaved so decently, neither putting on airs nor acting like a beggar, that many a highbrowed city woman came into the kitchen when she heard that the broom man was there just to hear how things were going in the country and to hear all the details of this or that. Indeed, many a household in Bern hired him to deliver their winter food supplies, which brought Hansli some nice extra income. This was not the case in Thun, of course, for there every city councillor's wife is herself at least partly a farm woman and grows so much food for both people and animals that they can hardly find room to store it all. Yet these women, too, came into the kitchen, often asking Hansli to step into the parlor, and then chatted away pleasantly a half hour or so with him over some sweet Thun wine. For even though they did work in the garden themselves, they did not think that for that reason they had no right to gossip with whomever they chose just like the other city councillors' wives who never planted a single seed. Even the mayor's wife chatted with Hansli; it had become, so to speak, a matter of urgent necessity for her to see him every Saturday and when she was talking to Hansli, it sometimes even happened that the mayor had to wait his turn to talk to her. After all, it does even a mayor's wife good to have a bit of intelligent conversation once a week.

Then one day it happened that it was Saturday in Thun, and yet the broom man was not there. This caused a great disturbance and resulted in many worried faces. Many a cook stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips and without a second thought let the soup upstairs in the kitchen boil away in the pan so that the two remained permanently plastered together." Haven't you seen him either? Have you heard where he is?" the cooks asked one another. Many a house mistress burst into the kitchen intending to lambaste the cook for not having called her while the broom man was there. But she found the kitchen empty except for something over the fire which stank to high heaven: it was the soup and the pan celebrating their marriage. Even the mayor's wife was moved into action, first going to her husband and then to the sheriff, and when neither could help she herself went into town after supper in order to ask after her broom man. She was all out of brooms, she said, and had wanted to sweep next week but had no brooms, just imagine.

But the broom man did not appear. The whole following week a certain emptiness was noticeable in the city, and on Saturday there was great excitement." Is he coming or not?" was the word on everyone's lips. And he came, he actually came, but it would have been better for him to have stayed home, for if he had answered all the questions asked him, he would have had to stay a week in Thun. He shook off their questions by simply telling them he had gone to a funeral.

"Whose?" asked the mayor's wife, whom he could not brush off so quickly.

"My sister's," the broom man answered.

"Who was she and where was she buried?" the lady wanted to know.

The broom man gave a brief reply but told the truth. At that the mayor's wife suddenly cried out, "But my God! What are you saying? Are you the brother of that cook who's caused such a stir because after the death of her master it turned out that she had been his wife and therefore was his heir, but then she died too all of a sudden soon afterwards?"

"Yep, that's me," Hansli answered matter-of-factly.

"But, ye gods!" the mayor's wife cried out and clapped her hands." You've just inherited at least fifty thousand talers and you're still going around selling brooms!"

"Why not?" Hansli answered." I don't have the money yet and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

"Two in the bush!" the mayor's wife cried out, nearly beside herself." Just this morning, the mayor and I were talking about it and he said that it was all settled and that the brother would inherit everything."

"Well, so much the better," answered Hansli, "but what I wanted to ask was, should I bring you brooms again in a week or in a fortnight?"

"Brooms, fiddlesticks!" the mayor's wife cried out." Come inside. I want to see what my husband will say to this."

"I'm in a hurry," Hansli answered. "I've got a long way home and the days are getting shorter."

"Shorter or longer, just you come along," the lady ordered, and Hansli, as one can imagine, had to obey.

She led him not into the kitchen but rather into the dining room, ordered Gattung or Fanchette or whatever the maid was called to bring a bottle of wine and to tell the mayor that the broom man was there. Then she had Hansli sit down, no matter how much he protested and said he didn't have time and had to be on his way. The mayor was there in a minute, sat down, poured himself some wine, drank to Hansli's health and wished him happiness and had him tell how it had all happened.

Hansli kept it short. There wasn't much to tell, he said. As soon as his sister had been confirmed, she had left home to look for work. She had gone from place to place and apparently had steadily risen in position. She had never bothered much with her family, had only been home twice in all that time and hadn't been back since his mother's death. He had seen her occasionally in Bern, but she had never had him come inside the house where she worked, having simply sent her greetings to his wife and children and said she would come soon to visit, which she had never done. Of course it was true that she hadn't been in Bern for very long but rather had worked in some of the castles around the country and had even been in France, as he had heard. She had restless blood and a roving mind and thus had never stayed in one place for long. But at the same time she was very conscientious and reliable so that she could be entrusted with any task that needed to be done. Recently folks had said his sister had married a rich old man who had done it to spite his relatives because he was mad at them. But he hadn't really believed it and hadn't given it a second thought. Then he had suddenly been told that he should go to his sister if he wanted to find her still alive; she was living near Murten. He had gone and had arrived soon enough to see her die but hadn't been able to talk to her very much. When she was buried, he had returned home, for he was in a hurry. He had never lost so much time since he had started working.

"My God!" said the mayor's wife, "lost time when you inherited fifty thousand talers in the process! And do you intend to go on making and selling brooms with such a fortune?"

"Well, it's like this, ma'am," Hansli said, "I can't really believe it's true; it doesn't seem right to me that I should inherit all that money. But they said it's a sure thing and told me when the time comes I can just pocket the money and be on my way. Still, be that as it may, I'll continue the same as before for the time being. If it should all fall through, wouldn't folks laugh and say, 'He thought he was so grand but now he'll have to start pulling his broom cart again.' Once I have the money, I'll probably leave the broom trade, although I'll be sorry to do it, for I've never grown tired of it. But folks would talk and laugh if I kept to it and I wouldn't want that. Being a farmer is nice, too, and if a fellow has the money, there's probably a farm he can buy somewhere. I already have a little house, thank the Lord, and almost enough land for two cows, and I've sometimes thought while pulling my cart that if I weren't the broom man, I'd like to be a farmer. And maybe I could manage to buy a small farm where there'd be enough work for all my children and enough to eat for the whole family; then we'd have a secure place in the world."

"But is the money in safe hands in the meantime? They won't pull any shenanigans?" the mayor asked.

"I think it's safe," Hansli answered. "I tested out the ones who could get a hold of it easiest. I offered them money if they could see to it that I became the heir. They told me off and said if it belonged to me I'd get it, if not, then money wouldn't help; they'd send me the bill for the estate costs if it came to that. I saw from that that it's in good hands, so I can wait till the time comes."

"Well, I declare," said the mayor's wife, "I don't understand you. You're so cool and calm about it that if I were your wife I'd jump out of my skin."

"She won't," said Hansli, "not unless someone tells her how to get back into it again."

This matter-of-factness and his continued broom peddling reconciled many people to the enviable "lucky fellow," while others put Hansli's behavior down to simple-mindedness and stupidity. Some said that Hansli was so stupid that someone clever would be able to milk him dry. Folks came running from all around, trying to scare him and then afterwards offering him their help. Others wanted to buy his interest in the inheritance, telling him he'd never get the money. There would be lawsuits whose settlement he wouldn't live to see; where would he get the money to keep them going on his side? Well, Hansli said, nothing was certain in this world, but he'd just think it over for the time being; there would still be time enough to do something if a hitch developed.

But there was no hitch. At the appointed time he received notice that he should come to Bern; the affair was settled.

When he returned home a rich man, his wife wept loud and long. He had to ask several times, "What's the matter? Did something bad happen?"

"Now that you're rich," his wife finally said, who, because she so seldom cried, had all the more difficult a time controlling herself, "you'll despise me and wish you had married someone else. I did all I could, but now I'm nothing more than an old hag. Oh, if only I were six feet under the ground!"

At that Hansli sat down on the bench and said, "Listen, woman, you know that we've lived together in peace now for almost thirty years; whatever one of us wanted the other wanted as well. I've never beaten you, and we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of quarrels we've had. So now, woman, don't start making a ruckus and changing things, let everything stay just the same between us. The inheritance isn't mine and it isn't yours, it's God's which he sent for both us and the children. I'll tell you this, and you can believe it as if it stood in the Bible, that if you start up on this again, either with or without your howling, I'll take a new rope and beat you so hard that they'll hear you scream over on Lake Constance. That's the way it is; just so you know for the future."

This sounded very definite, more so than the recent correspondence between Prussia and Austria. The woman knew what to expect, for she knew Hansli; she didn't bring up the topic again and things remained the same between them. They pulled together on their cart, so to speak, and the cart rolled along very easily.

Hansli immediately bought a large farm so that there'd be enough work and enough to eat for his children. But before he retired as the broom man, he did one last good turn: he brought all his customers a dozen brooms for free. He often said afterwards, and usually with tears in his eyes, that it was a day he could never forget; he never would have believed that the people cared so much for him. As a farmer he kept to the same industry and to the same simple life as before, praying and working just the same. Yet he knew there was a difference between a broom man and a farmer, namely that the former takes and the latter gives, and he was as willing to do the one as he had been to do the other. Hansli had long ago formed his notions on how a farm should be run and he kept them in mind in running his own household. What he himself had appreciated as a broom man, he now did for others.

He kept to the same standard of behavior with his children; that was perhaps the most difficult thing of all. He knew that they should be somewhat better clothed now than they were as the broom man's children, but it was not altogether easy to find just the right solution, namely to satisfy the children and other folks too, so that they would not say he had skimped too much or had gone overboard either. With the help of his wife Hansli hit the mark pretty well. They had the children wear good clothes which were durable and mostly homemade, but Hansli would not let them wear anything overly conspicuous.

He often told them, "Children, don't show off and make a big deal over anything. As soon as one of you offends folks somehow, you can count on hearing from all sides: he can afford it, he's the son of the broom man. But his father would still be pulling his cart if he hadn't inherited all that money. Many another fellow would be just as rich, they'll say, if an inheritance came his way; that doesn't take any skill. Now I'll never be ashamed of being called a broommaker as long as I live. Let anyone who wants call me that; I'm not at all proud. But if you turn proud, you'll grow ashamed of your mother and father, and folks will remind you as long as you live of your father's having been a broommaker."

The children believed him and acted accordingly. We can't say, however, that parents and children were able to strip off entirely all traces of their former ways and always marched surely and securely on their new path of life. That's impossible, for it takes generations for a family to feel at home in a new class, and the more anxiously they try and the more self-conscious they are, the less they succeed. This, however, was not the case with the broommaker's family.

The good Lord let them live a long time and gave them the joy of having solid sons-in-law who were very satisfied with their wives and fine daughters-in-law who loved and honored the parents of their husbands. And if they were still living today, they would see how the family has taken root, blossomed and borne fruit amongst the upright of the land, for they have always kept to the true founding principles of the family: industry, piety, and a true character which does not change according to the prevailing wind or changing conditions.

Translation by Robert Godwin-Jones, 1984


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