A very wealthy and worthy merchant, named Vollmar, lived in a large commercial city. Here he carried on a prosperous business which had descended to him from his father. By clever management, industry and honesty, he succeeded in enlarging it; and thereby increased his wealth.
Up to the present time, Mr. Vollmar had had unusual success, but circumstances were soon to change. One morning as the family was breakfasting, the postman delivered a letter containing the information that the ship which carried a valuable cargo belonging to Mr. Vollmar had been lost at sea.
This was a severe blow; for the greater part of his fortune was now gone. But as luck and riches had not made him proud, so this misfortune and loss did not make him despondent.
Turning to his children, he said: "God gives and He also takes away. He may restore all things unto us when His wise purposes have been fulfilled. You can see that this is true, when you review the lives of your grandparents and great-grandparents whose pictures in the golden frames grace this room so beautifully.
"Your great-grandfather, Lucas Vollmar, was the richest man in the city. All that we once had and now have would not have equalled his fortune by one quarter. Owing to the 'Thirty Years' War,' he lost all. He was obliged to flee from the enemy. His wife did not survive the journey. Their only son, my father, was then but a tender youth, and suffered much during those troublous times.
"Soon this city was invaded by the enemy and plundered. Many bombs were fired into it and homes were reduced to ashes. Into this very house, which belonged to him, fell a great cannon ball which did much damage but did not set it on fire. All the families, too, suffered the greatest misery. Hunger and pestilence carried off many of them.
"Your worthy great-grandfather sought refuge in strange lands and suffered many hardships. He had taken as much money with him as he could carry, but on the way he was robbed. He earned his livelihood in various ways, and soon put his son out as an apprentice. When the lad was fourteen years old, he was called upon to face another hardship in the loss of his father, who died in misery and poverty, although he had once been the richest man in this city.
"This son, my father, now alone in the world, continued as an apprentice and made progress in his trade. At last, when the war was over and peace had been restored, he returned to this city, poor in the world's goods, but rich in knowledge and goodness.
"Through a decision of the court, this house was returned to him. The things that he found when he entered were empty chests and those two pictures hanging on the wall opposite. Look at them. Do you not read in those faces kindness and true worth? Yes, my children, they were indeed good people.
"You never saw your great-grandparents, but you do remember your grandfather, for he often held you both on his lap. He had to work hard to build up a business, but through the help of his good wife he soon acquired wealth.
"So, my children, you have now seen how from wealth one may be reduced to poverty, and how from nothing one may rise and become something.
"My father showed me that no matter how rich he became, he always laid by some money for the time of need. He employed the best workers and paid the best wages; and was a great benefactor to the poor.
"His example and his teachings I have followed, or to-day we would be very poor indeed, now that I have lost my goods at sea. We must be very economical and, perhaps, in time we may retrieve our loss."
Other tradesmen, too, suffered by this shipwreck. Mr. Vollmar did what he could to help them and, little by little, they were able to go on with their business. But times changed, and there was little demand for Mr. Vollmar's goods. Failure stared him in the face.
"If I must give up my business, it will comfort me to know that when I have paid all my debts I shall still have a few dollars left. My conscience will be clear when I know that no one has lost one cent through me, and that my honor before God and man remains unspotted."
Pressed on all sides, he was almost forced to give up, but as a last resort he made up his mind to seek aid from two friends, both very rich men. But the one said: "I am sorry that I cannot help you, for I need my money myself." The other man said: "I would lend you some money, but I'm afraid I won't get it back."
This treatment at the hands of his best friends, pained him sorely, and he returned in sadness to his home. Before entering, he seated himself in a little bower to review the situation. The sun shone with a friendly light; the birds sang their gladsome songs; and the flowers stood forth in all their gay coloring.
"How hard it will be for me to leave this beautiful garden upon which I have spent so much money, and in which I have enjoyed so many happy hours. Who knows in what corner of the earth I shall be obliged to seek a new home?"
He became sadder each moment, and, sinking upon his knees, he prayed for help. Hearing footsteps, he arose, and, looking down the footpath, he saw an old man with snow-white hair being led by a little boy. Both seemed very poor, but they were neatly clothed.
Just then the boy said to his companion: "Here, under this tree, is a nice seat. You are so tired, dear grandfather, rest here a little and be comforted; for the way is not much longer." Then they both seated themselves.
"It is a great undertaking for a man like me, blind and feeble, to travel such a distance," said the old man. " 'Tis true, oculists often cure blind people, but I wonder if my blindness can be cured by that doctor of whom we have heard so much? Besides, we have so little money, and what will we live on while we're in the city? It must soon be fifty years since I worked as a mason there. I really know no one to whom we could apply for aid; for all my friends have passed on to a better land. But I trust God will help us find some place to rest."
As Mr. Vollmar heard these words, he became greatly touched. "To be blind," said he, "and not to see the blue sky, the trees, the flowers, the sun and the people—that must be hard indeed. This man's sorrows are greater than mine. I have my two strong eyes; and should I lose my whole wealth, it would be as nothing compared to the loss of my sight.
"These poor people—this blind man, this brave boy—know how to find comfort in their sorrow by trusting in God. I will learn from them and trust, too."
"This brave boy and this blind man."
Just then Mrs. Vollmar entered the garden with her two children, and Mr. Vollmar beckoned them to join him. He related all that he had heard the old man say.
"My dear husband," said Mrs. Vollmar, "let us take them into our house. Though we are getting poorer each day, I am sure that what we do for them will not hurt us; for, it is written: 'Be merciful and you shall obtain mercy.'"
"True," said Mr. Vollmar, "and you certainly have a bigger heart than I have. Let us not only give them food and shelter, but let us call in an eminent eye doctor and have him examine this man's eyes."
Just then the old man rose to depart with the boy, but Mrs. Vollmar hastened toward them, and said that they could remain with them for a while.
Thanking them for this exceeding kindness, the strangers entered the house, and soon the old man began to talk about himself.
"My name is Armand Seld. At one time I was a builder and mason, and lived with my son in this city. I have been blind for the last seven years."
As he seemed very tired, Mrs. Vollmar urged him to rest. She prepared a repast for him and after he had partaken of it, she showed him to his room.
On the following morning, Mr. Vollmar sent for the doctor. After examining the old man's eyes, he said that they were both covered with cataracts, of such a nature that he could remove them. He also held out the hope that he could cure them in a very short time.
"But," said he, "the old man must rest for three days before I can undertake the work."
After three days had elapsed the doctor returned and began the operation. Then the eyes were bandaged and the old man was kept in a darkened room. At the end of a week, the doctor removed the bandage from the patient's eyes and slowly led him to the light.
"I see! I see the light!" cried the old man. "I see your faces! Oh, I thank God!" Then he folded his hands and silence filled the room; for each one was in sympathy with the old man and thanked God for his mercy.
"But now," interrupted the doctor, "we must cover the eyes again, and let them become accustomed to the light by degrees, and each day they will grow stronger. I will return daily and watch their progress; meanwhile the patient must have nourishing food, in small quantities, and he must be kept very quiet in order to save his strength." Then he bade them good-bye and Mr. Vollmar and his wife escorted the doctor to the door.
The children kept shouting: "He sees! he sees!" and tumult and joy ran riot.
At last the bandages were removed for good, but the doctor warned the patient not to strain his eyes nor look into the sunshine for another week.
Armand Seld was now able to go about the house. The first room that he entered, after his tedious stay in his own darkened bedroom, was the dining-room, where the family loved best to sit. The walls of this room were graced by the pictures of the Vollmar ancestors, together with a landscape by a famous master.
The old man's attention was attracted to this painting.
"What do I see?" he shouted. "This picture I once saw by candlelight, and I cannot forget it."
"Strange," said Mr. Vollmar, "that it should have made such an impression upon you."
"May I ask," continued the old man, "have you owned this picture long? Have you lived here some time?"
Mr. Vollmar replied: "This house, as well as the picture, descended to me from my sainted grandparents. But why do you ask?"
"I must inquire still further before I can answer. Tell me—did your grandfather die in this house, or did he flee to a distant country during the war?"
"He died far from here, in a strange land. But it surprises me how you should hit upon this question."
"Did your grandmother die first?"
"Yes; but your questions disturb me."
The old man continued: "Was your own father present before your grandfather's death, and did he not disclose to him a very important secret?"
"My grandfather died of a malignant fever which robbed him of his senses. My father, then a boy, was sent for, but when he arrived he found his father dead."
"One more question I must ask—and I know you will forgive me. Did your father receive a big fortune?"
"My father," continued Mr. Vollmar, "returned to this city and this house a poor man. He married a woman as poor as himself, but with industry they at last became rich."
"Do you know," continued the old man, "you look just like your grandfather? He, too, was about the same age as you are now, and I feel, as I talk to you, as if he were here. But listen to my story and perhaps it may be of value to you.
"Shortly before this city was plundered I worked as a mason. One day my employer, a very honest man, received word to call at once upon a gentleman who wished him to do some work which was to be kept a secret. As my employer was sick, he sent me in his place, vouching for my honor and trustworthiness.
"I entered the house and was ushered into a room where your grandfather (for I have no doubts but that it was he) was seated. He started, and was indeed surprised that my employer should have sent as a substitute such a young man as I was then. After reading my recommendation, he ordered the servants to light two candles and set them on the table over which this picture hung. He made me vow never to tell the secret which he would entrust to me, except in time of need, and then only to one of his descendants. He spoke the oath and I repeated it, word for word, looking up at this picture all the time.
"Then he led me into the cellar, down another stairway made of stone into a lower cellar, where he opened a strongly bolted door. I gazed into a hollow in the wall, where many chests were standing. 'These boxes hold all my valuables, which I wish to save,' said he. 'Now, I want you to cement this door so cleverly that no one will discover its whereabouts.'
"As all the tools were lying there in readiness, and the mortar had been previously prepared, I started to work at once. It cost a little labor and much pains to do the work well and to hide the door, but I succeeded, and received a gold piece for my labor.
"The gentleman laid his finger on my lips, and said: 'Remember your vow.'
"Soon after the enemy appeared. Your grandfather fled and so did I. Never again did I return to this city, nor did I think of the valuables secreted in these walls. The sight of this picture, however, recalls to my mind my vow." With a sigh of relief, Armand Seld continued: "My dear Mr. Vollmar, God moved your heart to help a poor, strange, blind man. He helped to open my eyes, so that I could behold this picture, and to disclose to you your buried riches. Thus has He rewarded you for your kindness to me."
Mr. Vollmar had listened attentively to the old man's story, and said: "You need not thank me. I did only what was my duty. You may be right about the treasure, for we often wondered what could have become of all my grandfather's wealth.
"Being the wise man that he was, he would have known what havoc the war would bring, and consequently would have collected his money and possibly have hidden it somewhere. But where? Neither my father nor I could ever get the slightest clue. What you have said of the little stone stairway and the lower cellar describes exactly the place under this house. I am more and more convinced, each moment, that my grandfather hid his treasures there, but now the question is whether they are still there. Let us go, at once, and find out."
They went, arm in arm. As they reached the lower cellar, the old man shouted: "This is the place. I remember this little round spot that I filled with putty and covered with cement." By means of a long crow-bar, an opening was at last made, and one stone after another fell to the floor.
"Victory!" shouted the old man. "Here are the chests, untouched. I know my work. The treasure is still here."
Mr. Vollmar then called his son and a helper to his assistance, and the chests were soon opened. Bags upon bags of money, jewels unnumbered, silverware, hammered copper ornaments and some papers which had yellowed and had almost fallen to pieces—all these, met their astonished eyes.
"The chests were opened."
Taking the papers first, Mr. Vollmar read many important family records, besides an index of the contents of the chests, and the disposition to be made of them.
"Oh, what good luck this is! It has all been sent to us just when we need it most," said Mr. Vollmar.
The family soon assembled to hear the good news and see the treasures.
A feast followed and fun and great merriment filled the house. The care of the old man and his grandchild was willingly undertaken by the Vollmars; and these good people lived together in peace and contentment for many years.