III. The Watchman's Adventure
"Why, there is a pair of galoshes, as sure as I'm alive!" said the watchman, awaking from a gentle slumber. "They belong no doubt to the lieutenant who lives over the way. They lie close to the door."
The worthy man was inclined to ring and deliver them at the house, for there was still a light in the window; but he did not like disturbing the other people in their beds, and so very considerately he left the matter alone.
"Such a pair of shoes must be very warm and comfortable," said he; "the leather is so soft and supple." They fitted his feet as though they had been made for him. "'Tis a curious world we live in," continued he, soliloquizing. "There is the lieutenant, now, who might go quietly to bed if he chose, where no doubt he could stretch himself at his ease; but does he do it? No; he saunters up and down his room, because, probably, he has enjoyed too many of the good things of this world at his dinner. That's a happy fellow! He has neither an infirm mother, nor a whole troop of everlastingly hungry children to torment him. Every evening he goes to a party, where his nice supper costs him nothing: would to Heaven I could but change with him! How happy should I be!"
While expressing his wish, the charm of the shoes, which he had put on, began to work; the watchman entered into the being and nature of the lieutenant. He stood in the handsomely furnished apartment, and held between his fingers a small sheet of rose-colored paper, on which some verses were written--written indeed by the officer himself; for who has not, at least once in his life, had a lyrical moment? And if one then marks down one's thoughts, poetry is produced. But here was written:
OH, WERE I RICH!
"Oh, were I rich! Such was my wish, yea such When hardly three feet high, I longed for much. Oh, were I rich! an officer were I, With sword, and uniform, and plume so high. And the time came, and officer was I! But yet I grew not rich. Alas, poor me! Have pity, Thou, who all man's wants dost see.
"I sat one evening sunk in dreams of bliss, A maid of seven years old gave me a kiss, I at that time was rich in poesy And tales of old, though poor as poor could be; But all she asked for was this poesy. Then was I rich, but not in gold, poor me! As Thou dost know, who all men's hearts canst see.
"Oh, were I rich! Oft asked I for this boon. The child grew up to womanhood full soon. She is so pretty, clever, and so kind Oh, did she know what's hidden in my mind-- A tale of old. Would she to me were kind! But I'm condemned to silence! oh, poor me! As Thou dost know, who all men's hearts canst see.
"Oh, were I rich in calm and peace of mind, My grief you then would not here written find! O thou, to whom I do my heart devote, Oh read this page of glad days now remote, A dark, dark tale, which I tonight devote! Dark is the future now. Alas, poor me! Have pity Thou, who all men's pains dost see."
Such verses as these people write when they are in love! But no man in his senses ever thinks of printing them. Here one of the sorrows of life, in which there is real poetry, gave itself vent; not that barren grief which the poet may only hint at, but never depict in its detail--misery and want: that animal necessity, in short, to snatch at least at a fallen leaf of the bread-fruit tree, if not at the fruit itself. The higher the position in which one finds oneself transplanted, the greater is the suffering. Everyday necessity is the stagnant pool of life--no lovely picture reflects itself therein. Lieutenant, love, and lack of money--that is a symbolic triangle, or much the same as the half of the shattered die of Fortune. This the lieutenant felt most poignantly, and this was the reason he leant his head against the window, and sighed so deeply.
"The poor watchman out there in the street is far happier than I. He knows not what I term privation. He has a home, a wife, and children, who weep with him over his sorrows, who rejoice with him when he is glad. Oh, far happier were I, could I exchange with him my being--with his desires and with his hopes perform the weary pilgrimage of life! Oh, he is a hundred times happier than I!"
In the same moment the watchman was again watchman. It was the shoes that caused the metamorphosis by means of which, unknown to himself, he took upon him the thoughts and feelings of the officer; but, as we have just seen, he felt himself in his new situation much less contented, and now preferred the very thing which but some minutes before he had rejected. So then the watchman was again watchman.
"That was an unpleasant dream," said he; "but 'twas droll enough altogether. I fancied that I was the lieutenant over there: and yet the thing was not very much to my taste after all. I missed my good old mother and the dear little ones; who almost tear me to pieces for sheer love."