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Good Words 1860
In the Life of a Village Schoolmaster


"Grown old and gray in service, and still the same slender salary, and no hope of promotion." So sighed the good old schoolmaster, Lebrecht Friedefeld, as he sorrowfully contemplated a little heap of silver pieces that lay before him on the plain deal table that almost filled his tiny room. Good man, his thoughts were somewhat wandering this Sunday morning. It was very bright and still without; there were no steps up the village street; the sunshine lay in broad patches over the meadows, so fixed that it must have fallen asleep; you could hear the timid brook as it whispered to the rushes, and the wind had gone to rest among the great chestnuts, only stirring a leaf now and then to shew where it was. All this could be seen through the window—and the orchard blossoms, and here and there a gable end, or a chimney with its tremulous pillar of smoke, and the old stork solemnly silent on the roof, and the low wooden spire of the church, half smothered in trees, and beyond, the quiet sky with its blue depths and spots of stationary cloud. Moreover, with the sweet-briar and scent of limes, there stole into the room a broken murmur of prayer from a neighbour's house. It would have been better if the schoolmaster had thought of these things, and not drawn the heavy leathern purse out of his pocket, and emptied the crowns upon the table. For his meditations became worldly, and naturally brought little peace with them. And I do not excuse him. Neither do I excuse you, reader, for thinking, as you did, last Sunday, between breakfast and church-hour, when you walked to the window and found how much that young plantation had grown, or wondered how the wheat would yield, or when a remembrance of that clever stroke of business last week brightened through your reverie, or you admired the wise discernment that selected that pretty ribbon you were tying, or a misgiving came over you about a little bill that must be settled, or A------'s carriage passed, and left an ugly rumour behind about his credit, and you vexed yourself with the mysteries of bad debts. I do not excuse the schoolmaster, and I do not wish you to condemn him more harshly than yourself. It would have been better had the money been laid aside ; bat I cannot alter that, for this is a history, and not a story.

"One quarter's salary—thirty crowns. In these dear times that will scarce reach over six weeks, and after that I must be content with potatoes till the next quarter is due; and then the old song begins once more that I have sung these forty years. Thirty crowns! And corn is four crowns a bushel; and meat is so dear, and, alas ! the bones are so large in these days! Old Friedefeld, it will be a sharp quarter for you."

He shook his head sadly, folded his hands, and sunk into a profound reverie, which, to judge from the bitter expression that played round his lips, brought little comfort or help. He was interrupted by soft, clear, flute-like notes that rang out in the beautiful hymn—

"Leave God to order all thy ways,
And hope in Him, whate'er betide;
Thou'lt find Him, in the evil days,
Thy all-sufficient strength and guide."

It was the blackbird from its cage on the sunny wall; and as it sang, the old schoolmaster's eye lighted up, and the painful twitching about his mouth changed into a quiet, happy smile.

"Bravo, bravo! my little blackbird," he cried, as the song ended in one prolonged joyous note; "and you, old Friedefeld, shame on you for your weakness! Your God and Father in heaven, who has helped you in honour and faithfulness these forty hard years, will help you for the rest of your days. Courage, man ! though you are one of the least workers in the Lord's vineyard, yet will you finally receive your reward. Will you turn envious and peevish in your old days, after you have had your daily bread for a life, and never gone hungry to bed? Fie upon you, Lebrecht! And that I should be grumbling, of all days, on this day of the Lord, the blessed Sunday, when my heart should be full of thanks to our heavenly Father! God will make it all right in His wisdom and goodness; and so, cheerily divide the money as far as it will go. Thirty crowns ! Let me see; what is to be done for that? First of all, I must have a pair of new shoes; for these—ah, the soles are nearly worn off, and the uppers are revealing notable rents : that makes a crown and a half. And then a pair of new stockings; for these are visibly at an end, and the velvet is so faded and foxy that I am ashamed to go up the church. But—well, it can't be helped, a new pair must come; and, with the making, they cost summa summarum four crowns and a half; that is, in total, six crowns. Now breakfast, dinner, and supper for ninety days at sixpence—cheaper it will not be, and corn so high—fifteen crowns—make, together, one-and-twenty, and nine remain; of which neighbour Brown must have five for potatoes and rye-seed—remain four; and the miller two for last month's meal—remain two; and a crown must go to old Ursula, for they say she is so weak and sick these days; and a crown to Peter Staumann, who broke his arm on Friday; and a crown to William Burtels— poor fellow, he must eat a good supper, for he will be hungry after this bad fever; and a crown to David Smith—his wife is gone now, and he will have to sell their last cow toward the funeral; and a crown to Tommy—poor little orphan, who would think it is a year since his father and mother died of the cholera in two days?—and a crown for Widow Seiler, for she has trouble enough in bringing those three sickly children through the world; and a crown——"

Whereupon the schoolmaster suddenly started, and pursed up his lips, and whistled through them very gently, and a look of comic helplessness passed into his eyes, and he smote thrice upon his thigh, as if by way of atonement for his extravagance; and then his voice ran on in the same murmur as before:—"Four crowns over already, and Jonathan must have a crown —my Jonathan, my best scholar, my successor, if the Lord will, and if he has no crown to bring at the month's end, I know how his cruel father will send him out to herd geese upon the common. Ah, Friedefeld, teacher of arithmetic, what a blunder you are caught in! Seven crowns over! And yet I can't pare off a penny. Ursula Friedes, Widow Seiler, Bartels, Staumann—no; they all need it, they must have it. And neighbour Brown and the miller and I must eat. I can take nothing off, unless-------But indeed I do need them," he added hesitatingly, and, sinking his voice as he looked down at the shoes and stockings that certainly betrayed a very long acquaintance with the world, and might fairly be called shabby—"I really cannot do without them."

"And why not?" he added, after a moment's deep pause. "Three months soon go round; and if I take care and stitch the old shoes once more, they must hold out. Poor people, they need it more than I! Gray-haired fool that I am, must I be so vain in my old age, and play the fop! Come, Friedefeld, to work. Bis dat qui cito dat."

So saying, he took a sheet of paper, cut it into seven pieces, wrapped up a crown in each, and wrote an address on the back: And then, going to the window, he murmured, " Heavenly Father, let Thy blessing rest upon these mites, and help me, Thine aged servant, through this new quarter!"

And as he prayed, the blackbird piped, "Leave God to order all thy ways," and the village, and the meadow, and the tall trees lay quiet in the sunshine, and the lark's hymn came dripping down from the clouds, and the schoolmaster's heart was moved to gladness, and his care had passed from him to God, and he felt all the blessing of the morning, and his face was like a child's.

When it was time to begin his duties, he took down the great rusty keys from the wall, and walked across the churchyard with a grave step, but a bright and joyous face, on past the vicarage till he reached the church. The bells rang out through the Sunday calm, the street was dotted with little groups of villagers, and over the bypaths through the fields the peasants came in their best, the little children, with handfuls of flowers that they had plucked by the way, for people went gravely and leisurely to church in Bernsdorf. And when they had sat themselves reverently in the high pews, the schoolmaster sat himself at the organ, and played a wonderful prelude to the praise and glory of the Lord. Never had he played so well. He took his theme from the blackbird's piping, that had been piping in his heart ever since, and the notes rolled along the vaulted roof like strong waves of the sea, and then floated sweetly and clear like children's voices. Now all the wood seemed to whisper up its hymn through its fresh, tossing leaves, and the brook joined in with its murmur, and many an eye in the congregation ran over with joy; and when, at last, the organ passed into the grand, simple chorale, and the schoolmaster led the singing with a firm, hearty voice, every one stood up and sang as it had not been sung for many a day, till the old church rang with brave Christian hope and solemn thanksgiving.

"Admirable! admirable!" whispered a stranger, simply dressed in black, half to himself and half to the schoolmaster, as he rose up from the organ and went forward into the choir to hear the sermon. The words met with no other response than a gentle nod; and the stranger, having looked at him for a moment with a keen, penetrating glance, turned his attention to the preacher.

The service was over, the church empty, and at length the schoolmaster came out, and walked slowly back. It was still early, about half-past ten; and at eleven a few boys dropped in, and sat down very quiet on the forms of the schoolroom, and among them the stranger in black.

"I hope I don't disturb you," he said apologis-ingly; "but do you really keep school to-day—Sunday—my good friend?"

"Only an hour," replied Friedefeld, who regarded his little Sunday school with much favour, but before a stranger with some trepidation.

"Is that in the agreement?"

"Well, yes and no," he replied, smiling; "it is no part of the official duty; but it is a duty of the conscience. I am here to seek the spiritual wellbeing of the children; and as for work, I think one can never do too much, if one is to walk uprightly before the Lord."

"You are a noble fellow," muttered the stranger, arching his brows in astonishment; and then, aloud— "With your permission, I shall remain during the lesson. I will be no disturbance. There, in the corner, I spy just the place for me."

He sat down behind, and the schoolmaster began his lesson without further delay. It was very clear and simple; the children were interested and attentive, and gave ready and good answers, and the hour was almost over when an old dame burst into the room, holding tightly by the hand a pretty little fellow, who looked sorely downcast, and whose eyes were red with crying.

"Schoolmaster! schoolmaster! " she panted, and her face was glowing; "ha! the good-for-nothing! the good-for-nothing! ha! the good-for-nothing!" and her voice died away inarticulately in her throat, where some gurgling sounds still kept repeating, "the good-for-nothing!"

"What is it, Mrs Barber? What has your grandson done? Come here, Willie. Pray sit down, Mrs Barber; you must be tired. And you, Willie, what have you done to your grandmother? Hide nothing."

"Oh, the good-for-nothing! the good-for-nothing!" cried the grandame; "he robbed a bird's nest! Have always told him it was a sin. He had pandies for it once. Must be well punished, the good-for-nothing! To rob a bird's nest! Oh, fie, Willie! and I your grandmother, eh? What a sin! and on the blessed Sunday, too. Oh, that ever children were born !"

"Is that true, Willie?" said the schoolmaster, with a grave, severe face.

"It—it—it—is," stammered the little fellow, through his tears; "bu—bu—but, indeed—indeed— gr—gr—grandma" ....

"Enough, Willie; we shall learn the whole story when school is over. And now, stand there, beside the desk—so. And, Mrs Barber, wait a moment. Willie is mostly a good boy, but if he has sinned, he shall be punished. Now, children."

Having stood quite still, the grandmother sat quietly upon a bench by the window, and the lesson was continued with the same interest till twelve struck. And when it was over, and the children were out—"Now, Willie," said Friedefeld, "tell me all about the bird's nest; but let it be the truth, for you know I hate nothing so much as a lie; for lying is sin, and 'sin is a reproach to any people,' as is written in—where, Willie?"

"In the Proverbs of Solomon, 14th chapter, thirty-fourth verse."

"Well answered. And how did it happen about the bird's nest?"'

"Sir, Bessie Ritchie's goldfinch died; and she is sick, you know, sir; and she cried, and I was so sorry; and I said I would get another for her; and then I hunted through the hedges and garden till I found a goldfinch's nest with four young ones, and I waited till they were fledged, and—and—then------"

" Well, Willie, and what then?"

"And then I went early this morning to take out a bird for Bessie—only one, sir—only just one; the beautifullest, because Bessie is sick; and just then grandma came and caught me, and said I was a good-for-nothing, and would not let me say a word, but brought me straight here to you, sir; and now—and —indeed—indeed, sir, I didn't mean any wrong; and because Bessie is sick I thought it was no sin to take one little bird, only just one.....Oh, sir, forgive me, or I won't have a kind look from grandmother the whole week! "

"Well, Willie," said the schoolmaster, kindly, "I see you speak the truth, and that you meant well; so we'll not say anything more about the bird's nest this time. It is right always to try and make sick people happy; but, remember, if you want to do good another time, tell it first to grandmother; and next Sunday, see that you come here instead of running after birds' nests; and don't forget to read out of the Bible to grandmother, for her eyes are not so strong as yours. Now, good-by; and tell Bessie I shall see her in the afternoon."

But, as Willie slipped away, radiant with joy, the schoolmaster said, softly, to the grandmother, "Everything in measure, Mrs Barber. It is good to be firm with the children, and not to spare the rod; but first, you know, Mrs Barber, first make inquiry, and then punish, if it be necessary. You understand me?"

Right well—right well, sir; and Willie is a good boy, and my heart's flower, but just for that he must never be a good-for-nothing. Yet now I know—first inquire and then punish. Won't forget it; and thank you, sir, for telling me, and God reward you!"

As the old lady left with a profound courtesy, which was chiefly directed towards the seat she had occupied, the stranger, who had been quietly observing everything from his retreat, came forward, and was about to address the schoolmaster, when a succession of vehement tappings at the door, followed by a great shuffling of feet, interrupted the half-formed words, and, before he could go on, the room filled up with a motley group of people, that seemed to have broken out of an hospital. Wooden legs, crutches, arms in slings, and sleeves that were armless, heads bound up with handkerchiefs, stooped people and crooked people, had surrounded the schoolmaster, who was trying to make himself heard through a very Babel of voices and coughs.

"Now, good friends, what do you want? Don't you know how wrong it is to be out? And you, Stanpily, with that broken arm; and, Bartels—you ought to be in bed; and, Ursula—tut! tut! Are you gone mad?" And then, thinking it was too severe, he added, "Well, well; God bless you all. Sit down; but quiet, quiet—not a word; if you say a word, I shall get angry and run away;" and, as the noise did not much subside, he turned aside, as if in great wrath, but it was only to rub his spectacles very hard, and let no one see the tears that were making them dim. However, it had its effect, and they stood looking sorrowfully down upon the ground, and without even a whisper. And now the stranger came forward, and, catching Friedefeld by the hand—

"Do not take it ill, my worthy friend, but I should like to know what brings these people to you? It seems," (turning round to the rest,) "good people, you are very fond of your schoolmaster? "

It was like opening a sluice-door, such a stream of words poured irrepressibly out of every mouth. The faithful working of forty years was revealed, and how the schoolmaster had nursed the sick, and comforted the stricken, and pinched himself to feed the hungry, and,—there never was any one like him, and it was like the sunshine to see him stepping into their houses; and for all he was such a scholar, he was just as humble as themselves, and sure they only wanted to come up this quiet day and thank him for his loving heart, and hear the blessed words he spoke about the Lord Jesus ; and from lip to lip his praise flew round, while he stood by ashamed, and blushing as red as a young girl, and then hung his head like a poor sinner or thief caught in the act, and finally fled out of the room, into the garden, where he walked up and down between the sweet-briar and laburnums, wofully disturbed. And there, not long after, a deep, sweet voice spoke softly by his side, "Oh, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things;" and, starting sharply, and half frightened, round, he saw the stranger in black, who continued, with a smile:—

"The Lord has had some purpose in sending me here this day, and surely will fulfil this word that He has spoken. Patiently and hiddenly you have sown the good seed these many years, and cared nothing for yourself. And now it may be the Lord will give you your reward, even on earth, and the time of the reaping is come. You will hear from me again."

Before the astonished schoolmaster could answer, the stranger had disappeared. There was nothing left for him but these odd mysterious words, over which he shook his head, and could find no meaning in them, and so, like a wise man, soon forgot them, and made ready for the afternoon service. When that was over, be visited, as his custom was, the poor and sick of the congregation, returning towards evening, somewhat tired, but happy, and knelt in his little room with a thankful heart to Almighty God, and did not forget the stranger in his prayer, and then lay down to sleep the tranquil sleep of the righteous, whose soul rests in the bosom of God.

Rather more than a week had passed. The shoes had been stitched, except one obstinate rent that refused entreaty, and the well-known stockings had been seen again at church—I question if the honest villagers would have liked the new ones half so well— and the blackbird was piping to himself before the school began, when there came a clatter of a horse's feet, and the express postman rode straight up to the window, and reaching in a packet, cried, ''Nothing to pay," and rode off before Bernsdorf had time to take in the astounding fact, though, on reflection, it would have admitted that the king himself might correspond with its schoolmaster. Friedefeld contemplated the packet from all sides, and ended with the superscription. It was addressed, "Lebrecht Friedefeld, late schoolmaster in Bemsdorf." No mistake then about the person. But "late"—and he turned it round again, and looked at the seal. It was the official seal of the Board.

"Late!" he cried, in alarm. "Will the gentlemen in town really drive me from my post? Though my hair is gray, body and spirit are active still. Late! Ah! what news lies under this great red seal! Well, whatever happens, everything goes by God's will and grace.

So saying, he broke the seal hastily, but his hand trembled, and a dark mist drew before his eyes. A paper fell out—another—then a third. Catching at the first, he spread it open, stole one glance at it, became white, and sank back into his chair. "Was I not right? Who could have thought it? My dismissal ! Graciously indeed, but without a word about pension. Cast as a useless servant out of the vineyard, where I have worked, and sowed, and planted. That is hard;" and a tear slowly filled his eye, and stole down a furrow in his cheek.

"Leave God to order all thy ways," sang the blackbird, who was watching intently, with head on one side, and evidently felt the gravity of the situation, "and hope in Him, whate'er betide."

"Right, right, my pretty blackbird—well spoken; but truly my mind is troubled, and needs every comfort. O Lord my God, how hast Thou laid this sore burden on Thy servant?"

"What? Murmuring!—sad! What is this ?" said a familiar voice; and the schoolmaster's eyes fell upon the stranger in black, who had slipped into the room unnoticed. "Read on, Lebrecht Friedefeld. If the Lord takes, can He not also give?"

Seizing the second paper, the schoolmaster read— "Wh—, what!" he stammered, with altered face. "Chief organist!—Income, four hundred crowns!— I, old Lebrecht Friedefeld!—I to play that glorious organ in the cathedral, finger it, unlock its heavenly music?"

"Certainly; but read further, you faithful, old, God-fearing man. There is another paper."

Friedefeld took it, unfolded it with unsteady fingers, and, as he read, his eyes fairly ran over with tears, and he looked up, speaking in broken words: "Too much—too much goodness, O Father, for Thy sinful child! Lord, how is it possible—how shall I believe it—that I, the old village schoolmaster, shall be rector in the capital, with eight hundred crowns a-year! I, the poor schoolmaster! No, it is a dream. My thoughts must have got confused."

"No dream, but reality, my dear rector and chief organist. You are wide awake, and hold the proof of your good fortune in your hands; for you will observe that these papers are made out and confirmed by the Board; and see, there is your name. So, now you must be happy; for God has appointed you to a place where you can do much to His glory."

"Hosanna! Bless the Lord, O my soul!" And, after a pause, the schoolmaster added, "Just permit me one question. How have I deserved this in my humble position?"

"Remember the parable of the Lord that is written in Matt. xxv. 14-80: 'Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'"

"But you, sir, who are you?"

"I? I am one who went out to seek, and whose steps God guided till he found. I am Bishop Weilert, from the capital. The seminary needed a head. I made long and fruitless trial, and what I could not find in honour I sought in lowliness, until, at last, my feet passed over your quiet threshold. There I found what I sought: true fear of God, true righteousness, true humility, and faith and piety to do the good only for the good's sake, and not by order of the commandments; true husbandry, true self-denial; and I said in my heart, This is the man! I hurried home, and related to the prince what I had seen, heard, and observed. He received my words graciously, and here, my worthy rector, is the result— not of my words, but of your life."

The two men grasped each other by the hand; tears stood in their eyes; and Friedefeld spoke—

"Glory be to God in the highest! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! " But the blackbird only sang its clear stead-fast words—

"Leave God to order all thy ways,

And hope in Him, whate'er betide; Thou'lt find Him, in the evil days, Thy all-sufficient strength and guide."

This is my story. It happened in the village of Bemsdorf, on the borders of Silesia. If you will not believe me, you will be kind enough to travel there (it is a beautiful country, and as they say in it, "very friendly,") and satisfy yourself. Old Ursula's cough is worse, perhaps, but no cough will ever prevent her telling you of all that came to pass out of that Sunday morning not so many springs ago. And if you go to the rector himself, you may have the story from his own lips. He is simple Lebrecht Friedefeld still.


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