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people will answer you and say, "Why, of course, the street built him his house!" It was small enough, and had only a clay floor, but when he and his bride danced over it, the floor grew as smooth as if it had been polished, and from every stone in the wall sprang a flower, that looked as gay as the costliest tapestry. It was a pretty house and a happy wedded pair. The banner of the Masons' Guild waved outside, and workmen and apprentices shouted "Hurra!" Yes, that was Something! and at last he died—that, too, was Something!
Next comes the architect, the third brother. He began as a carpenter's apprentice, and ran about the town on errands, wearing a paper cap; but he studied industriously at the Academy, and rose steadily upward. If the street full of houses had built a house for his brother the mason, the street took its name from the architect; the handsomest house in the whole street was his—that was Something, and he was Something! His children were gentlemen, and could boast of their "birth"; and when he died, his widow was a widow of condition —that is Something—and his name stood on the corner of the street, and was in everybody's lips— that is Something, too!
Now for the genius, the fourth brother, who wanted to invent something new, something original. Somehow the ground gave way beneath his feet; he fell and broke his neck. But he had a splendid funeral, with music and banners, and flowery paragraphs in the newspapers; and three eulogiums were pronounced over him, each longer than the last, and this would have pleased him mightily, for he loved speechifying, of all things. A monument was erected over his grave, only one story high—but that is Something!
So now he was dead, as well as his three elder brothers; the youngest, the critic, outlived them all, and that was as it should be, for thus he had the last word, which to him was a matter of the greatest importance. "He had plenty of brains," folk said. Now his hour had struck; he died, and his soul sought the gates of heaven. There it stood side by side with another soul—old Mother Margaret from the trenches.
"It is for the sake of contrast, I suppose, that I and this miserable soul wait here together," thought the critic. "Well, now, who are you, my good woman?" he inquired.
And the old woman replied, with as much respect as though Saint Peter himself were addressing her —in fact, she took him for Saint Peter, he gave himself such grand airs—"I am a poor old soul, I have no family—I am only old Margaret from the house near the trenches."
"Well, and what have you done down below?"
"I have done as good as nothing in the world! nothing whatever! It will be mercy, indeed, if such as I am suffered to pass through this gate."
"And how did you leave the world?" inquired the critic, carelessly. He must talk about something; it wearied him to stand there, waiting.
"Well, I can hardly tell how I left it; I have been sickly enough during these last few years, and could not well bear to creep out of bed at all during the cold weather. It has been a severe winter, but now that is all past. For a few days, as your highness must know, the wind was quite still, but it was bitterly cold; the ice lay over the water as far as one could see. All the people in the town were out on the ice; there was dancing, and music, and feasting, and sledge-racing, I fancy; I could hear something of it all as I lay in my poor little chamber.
"And when it was getting towards evening, the moon was up, but was not yet very bright; I looked from my bed through the window, and I saw how there rose up over the sea a strange white cloud; I lay and watched it, watched the black dot in it, which grew bigger and bigger, and then I knew what it foreboded; that sign is not often seen, but I am old and experienced. I knew it, and I shivered with horror. Twice before in my life have I seen that sign, and I knew that there would be a terrible storm and a spring flood; it would burst over the poor things on the ice, who were drinking and dancing and merrymaking. Young and old, the whole town was out on the ice; who was to warn them, if no one saw it, or no one knew what I knew? I felt so terrified, I felt all alive, as I had not felt for years! I got out of bed, forced the window open; I could see the folk running and dancing over the ice; I could see the gay-colored flags, I could hear the boys shout 'Hurra!' and the girls and lads a-singing. All were so merry; and all the time the white cloud with its black speck rose higher and higher! I screamed as loud as I could; but no one heard me, I was too far off. Soon would the storm break loose, the ice would break in pieces, and all that crowd would sink and drown. Hear me they could not; get out to them I could not; what was to be done?
"Then our Lord sent me a good thought: I could set fire to my bed. Better let my house be burned to the ground than that so many should miserably perish. So I kindled a light; I saw the red flame mount up; I got out at the door, but then I fell down; I lay there, I could not get up again. But the flames burst out through the window and over the roof; they saw it down below, and they all ran as fast as they could to help me—the poor old crone they believed would be burned; there was not one who did not come to help me.
"I heard them come, and I heard, too, such a rustling in the air, and then a thundering as of heavy cannon shots, for the spring flood was loosening the ice, and it all broke up. But the folk were all come off it to the trenches, where the sparks were flying about me; I had them all safe.
"But I could not bear the cold and the fright, and that is how I have come up here. Can the gates of heaven be opened to such a poor old creature as I? I have no house now at the trenches; where can I go, if they refuse me here?"
Then the gates opened, and the Angel bade poor Margaret enter. As she passed the threshold, she dropped a blade of straw—straw from her bed— that bed which she had set alight to save the people on the ice; and lo! it had changed into gold! dazzling gold! yet flexible withal, and twisting into various forms.
"Look, that was what yonder poor woman brought," said the Angel. "But what dost thou bring? Truly, I know well that thou hast done nothing, not even made bricks. It is a pity thou canst not go back again to fetch at least one brick—not that it is good for anything when it is made, but because anything, the very least, done with a good will, is Something. But thou mayst not go back, and I can do nothing for thee."
Then poor Margaret pleaded for him thus: "His brother gave me all the bricks and broken bits wherewith I built my poor little house—that was a great kindness toward a poor old soul like me! May not all those bits and fragments, put together, be reckoned as one brick for him? It will be an act of mercy; he needs it, and this is the home of mercy."
"To thy brother, whom thou didst despise," said the Angel, "to him whose calling, in respect of worldly honor, was the lowest, shalt thou owe this mite of heavenly coin. Thou shalt not be sent away; thou shalt have leave to stand here without, and think over thy manner of life down below. But within thou canst not enter, until thou hast done something that is good—Something!"
"I fancy I could have expressed that better," thought the critic; but he did not say it aloud, and that was already—Something!
In the beginning of the story, the second brother says, "Better be a mason. Then one belongs to a guild," etc. Do you know what a guild was? Well, a long time ago, about a thousand years ago, in fact, the men of different trades formed clubs or societies and called them guilds. The carpenters had a guild, the jewelers a guild, the masons a guild, and so on. Some of the guilds became very powerful, owned fine buildings and even ruled big cities. The second brother, if he wanted to become a mason, must first be an apprentice and live in the house of his master and work very hard for his food and