“I will be something,”
said the oldest of five brothers. “I will
be of use in the world, let the position be ever so
insignificant which I may fill. If it be only
respectable, it will be something. I will make
bricks people can’t do without these and
then I shall have done something.”
“But something too trifling,”
said the second brother. “What you propose
to do is much the same as doing nothing; it is no better
than a hodman’s work, and can be done by machinery.
You had much better become a mason. That is
something, and that is what I will be. Yes, that
is a good trade. A mason can get into a trade’s
corporation, become a burgher, have his own colours
and his own club. Indeed, if I prosper, I may
have workmen under me, and be called ‘Master,’
and my wife ‘Mistress;’ and that would
“That is next to nothing,”
said the third. “There are many classes
in a town, and that is about the lowest. It is
nothing to be called ‘Master.’ You
might be very superior yourself; but as a master mason
you would be only what is called ‘a common man.’
I know of something better. I will be an architect;
enter upon the confines of science; work myself up
to a high place in the kingdom of mind. I know
I must begin at the foot of the ladder. I can
hardly bear to say it I must begin as a
carpenter’s apprentice, and wear a cap, though
I have been accustomed to go about in a silk hat.
I must run to fetch beer and spirits for the common
workmen, and let them be ‘hail fellow well met’
with me. This will be disagreeable; but I will
fancy that it is all a masquerade and the freedom
of maskers. To-morrow that is to say,
when I am a journeyman I will go my own
way. The others will not join me. I shall
go to the academy, and learn to draw and design; then
I shall be called an architect. That is something!
That is much! I may become ‘honourable,’
or even ’noble’ perhaps both.
I shall build and build, as others have done before
me. There is something to look forward to something
“But that something I should
not care about,” said the fourth. “I
will not march in the wake of anybody. I will
not be a copyist; I will be a genius will
be cleverer than you all put together. I shall
create a new style, furnish ideas for a building adapted
to the climate and materials of the country something
which shall be a nationality, a development of the
resources of our age, and, at the same time, an exhibition
of my own genius.”
“But if by chance the climate
and the materials did not suit each other,”
said the fifth, “that would be unfortunate for
the result. Nationalities may be so amplified
as to become affectation. The discoveries of
the age, like youth, may leave you far behind.
I perceive right well that none of you will, in reality,
become anything, whatever may be your expectations.
But do all of you what you please; I shall not follow
your examples. I shall keep myself disengaged,
and shall reason upon what you perform. There
is something wrong in everything. I will pick
that out, and reason upon it. That will be something.”
And so he did; and people said of
the fifth, “He has not settled to anything.
He has a good head, but he does nothing.”
Even this, however, made him something.
This is but a short history; yet it
is one which will not end as long as the world stands.
But is there nothing more about the
five brothers? What has been told is absolutely
nothing. Hear further; it is quite a romance.
The eldest brother, who made bricks,
perceived that from every stone, when it was finished,
rolled a small coin; and though these little coins
were but of copper, many of them heaped together became
a silver dollar; and when one knocks with such at
the baker’s, the butcher’s, and other
shops, the doors fly open, and one gets what one wants.
The bricks produced all this. The damaged and
broken bricks were also made good use of.
Yonder, above the embankment, Mother
Margrethe, a poor old woman, wanted to build a small
house for herself. She got all the broken bricks,
and some whole ones to boot; for the eldest brother
had a good heart. The poor woman built her house
herself. It was very small; the only window was
put in awry, the door was very low, and the thatched
roof might have been laid better; but it was at least
a shelter and a cover for her. There was a fine
view from it of the sea, which broke in its might
against the embankment. The salt spray often dashed
over the whole tiny house, which still stood there
when he was dead and gone who had given the bricks:
The second brother could build in
another way. He was also clever in his business.
When his apprenticeship was over he strapped on his
knapsack, and sang the mechanic’s song:
“While young, far-distant
lands I’ll tread.
Away from home
My handiwork shall win my
My heart with
hope be filled.
And when my fatherland I see,
And meet my bride hurra!
An active workman I shall
Then who so happy
And he was that. When
he returned to his native town, and became a master,
he built house after house a whole street.
It was a very handsome one, and a great ornament to
the town. These houses built for him a small
house, which was to be his own. But how could
the houses build? Ay, ask them that, and they
will not answer you; but people will answer for them,
and tell you, “It certainly was that street
which built him a house.” It was only a
small one, to be sure, and with a clay floor; but
when he and his bride danced on it the floor became
polished and bright, and from every stone in the wall
sprang a flower which was quite as good as any costly
tapestry. It was a pleasant house, and they were
a happy couple. The colours of the masons’
company floated outside, and the journeymen and apprentices
shouted “Hurra!” Yes, that was something;
and so he died and that was also something.
Then came the architect, the third
brother, who had been first a carpenter’s apprentice,
wearing a cap and going on errands; but, on leaving
the academy, rose to be an architect, and he became
a man of consequence. Yes, if the houses in the
street built by his brother, the master mason, had
provided him with a house, a street was called after
the architect, and the handsomest house in it was his
own. That was something; and he was somebody,
with a long, high-sounding title besides. His
children were called people of quality, and when he
died his widow was a widow of rank that
was something. And his name stood as a fixture
at the corner of the street, and was often in folks’
mouths, being the name of a street and that
was certainly something.
Next came the genius the
fourth brother who was to devote himself
to new inventions. In one of his ambitious attempts
he fell, and broke his neck; but he had a splendid
funeral, with a procession, and flags, and music.
He was noticed in the newspapers, and three funeral
orations were pronounced over him, the one longer than
the others; and much delighted he would have been
with them if he had heard them, for he was fond of
being talked about. A monument was erected over
his grave. It was not very grand, but a monument
is always something.
He now was dead, as well as the three
other brothers; but the fifth he who was
fond of reasoning or arguing out-lived them
all; and that was quite right, for he had thus the
last word. And he thought it a matter of great
importance to have the last word. It was he who,
folks said, “had a good head.” At
length his last hour also struck. He died, and
he arrived at the gate of the kingdom of heaven.
Spirits always come there two and two, and along with
him stood there another soul, which wanted also to
get in, and this was no other than the old Mother
Margrethe, from the house on the embankment.
“It must surely be for the sake
of contrast that I and yon paltry soul should come
here at the same moment,” said the reasoner.
“Why, who are you, old one? Do you also
expect to enter here?” he asked.
And the old woman courtesied as well
as she could. She thought it was St. Peter himself
“I am a miserable old creature
without any family. My name is Margrethe.”
“Well, now, what have you done
and effected down yonder?”
“I have effected scarcely anything
in yonder world nothing that can tell in
my favour here. It will be a pure act of mercy
if I am permitted to enter this gate.”
“How did you leave yon world?”
he asked, merely for something to say. He was
tired of standing waiting there.
“Oh! how I left it I really
do not know. I had been very poorly, often quite
ill, for some years past, and I was not able latterly
to leave my bed, and go out into the cold and frost.
It was a very severe winter; but I was getting through
it. For a couple of days there was a dead calm;
but it was bitterly cold, as your honour may remember.
The ice had remained so long on the ground, that the
sea was frozen over as far as the eye could reach.
The townspeople flocked in crowds to the ice.
I could hear it all as I lay in my poor room.
The same scene continued till late in the evening till
the moon rose. From my bed I could see through
the window far out beyond the seashore; and there
lay on the horizon, just where the sea and sky seemed
to meet, a singular-looking white cloud. I lay
and looked at it; looked at the black spot in the
middle of it, which became larger and larger; and I
knew what that betokened, for I was old and experienced,
though I had not often seen that sign. I saw
it and shuddered. Twice before in my life had
I seen that strange appearance in the sky, and I knew
that there would be a terrible storm at the springtide,
which would burst over the poor people out upon the
ice, who were now drinking and rushing about, and
amusing themselves. Young and old the
whole town in fact were assembled yonder.
Who was to warn them of coming danger, if none of
them observed or knew what I now perceived? I
became so alarmed, so anxious, that I got out of my
bed, and crawled to the window. I was incapable
of going further; but I put up the window, and, on
looking out, I could see the people skating and sliding
and running on the ice. I could see the gay flags,
and could hear the boys shouting hurra, and the
girls and the young men singing in chorus. All
was jollity and merriment there. But higher and
higher arose the white cloud with the black spot in
it. I cried out as loud as I could, but nobody
heard me. I was too far away from them. The
wind would soon break loose, the ice give away, and
all upon it sink, without any chance of rescue.
Hear me they could not, and for me to go to them was
impossible. Was there nothing that I could do
to bring them back to land? Then our Lord inspired
me with the idea of setting fire to my bed; it would
be better that my house were to be burned down than
that the many should meet with such a miserable death.
Then I kindled the fire. I saw the red flames,
and I gained the outside of the house; but I remained
lying there. I could do no more, for my strength
was exhausted. The blaze pursued me it
burst from the window, and out upon the roof.
The crowds on the ice perceived it, and they came
running as fast as they could to help me, a poor wretch,
whom they thought would be burned in my bed.
It was not one or two only who came they
all came. I heard them coming; but I also heard
all at once the shrill whistle, the loud roar of the
wind. I heard it thunder like the report of a
cannon. The springtide lifted the ice, and suddenly
it broke asunder; but the crowd had reached the embankment,
where the sparks were flying over me. I had been
the means of saving them all; but I was not able to
survive the cold and fright, and so I have come up
here to the gate of the kingdom of heaven; but I am
told it is locked against such poor creatures as I.
And now I have no longer a home down yonder on the
embankment, though that does not insure me any admittance
At that moment the gate of heaven
was opened, and an angel took the old woman in.
She dropped a straw; it was one of the pieces of straw
which had stuffed the bed to which she had set fire
to save the lives of many, and it had turned to pure
gold, but gold that was flexible, and twisted itself
into pretty shapes.
“See! the poor old woman brought
this,” said the angel. “What dost
thou bring? Ah! I know well; thou hast done
nothing not even so much as making a brick.
If thou couldst go back again, and bring only so much
as that, if done with good intentions, it would be
something: as thou wouldst do it, however, it
would be of no avail. But thou canst not go back,
and I can do nothing for thee.”
Then the poor soul, the old woman
from the house on the embankment, begged for him.
“His brother kindly gave me
all the stones with which I built my humble dwelling.
They were a great gift to a poor creature like me.
May not all these stones and fragments be permitted
to value as one brick for him? It was a deed
of mercy. He is now in want, and this is Mercy’s
“Thy brother whom thou didst
think the most inferior to thyself him
whose honest business thou didst despise shares
with thee his heavenly portion. Thou shalt not
be ordered away; thou shalt have leave to remain outside
here to think over and to repent thy life down yonder;
but within this gate thou shalt not enter until in
good works thou hast performed something.”
“I could have expressed that
sentence better,” thought the conceited logician;
but he did not say this aloud, and that was surely