The Goblin and the Huckster
There was once a real student who lived in an attic and possessed nothing at all. There was also a real huckster who lived onthe ground floor and owned the whole house. The goblin made friends with him, for every Christmas he was given a plateful of porridge with a lump of butter in it. The huckster could very well afford this; so the goblin stayed in very instructive place.
One evening the student came in by the back door to buy himself some candles and cheese; he had no one to send so he went himself. He got what he asked for and paid for it, and the huckster nodded to him and said "good evening" to him, and his wife did the same. She was a woman who could do more than nod, she had "the gift of the gab!" The student returned the nod, and then remained standing buried in something he found printed on the paper in which the cheese was wrapped. It was a page torn out of an old book which ought never to have been torn up at all; it was an old book of poetry.
"There is more of it lying there," said the huckster. "I gave a few coffee beans to an old woman for it; if you will give me two pence you may have the rest of it."
"Thank you," said the student; "let me have it instead of the cheese! I can eat plain bread and butter just as well; it would be a sin if the whole of that book were to be torn to bits. You are a capital fellow and a practical man, but you know no more about poetry than that tub!"
Now this was a very rude speech, especially to the tub, but the huckster laughed; of course it was said as a kind of joke. But the goblin was much annoyed that anyone dared to say such a thing to a huckster who was a landlord and who sold the best butter.
At night when the shop was shut and everybody in bed except the student, the goblin went in and stole the good-wife's long tongue which she had no use for when she was asleep. On whatever object in the room he laid this article, it conferred the power of speech, and whatever the object, it became able to express its thoughts and feelings as glibly as the goodwife herself. But only one could have it at a time, and this was a very good thing or they would all have been talking at once.
The goblin laid the tongue down upon the tub which contained the old newspapers.
"Is it really true," asked he, "that you do not know what poetry is?"
"Of course I know," said the tub; "it is the kind of stuff which is printed at the foot of the newspaper columns, and is sometimes cut out. I imagine that I have more of it within me than the student has, and after all I am only a poor tub compared to the huckster."
Then the goblin put the tongue upon the coffee-mill, and what a pace it went at! He also put it on the butter cask and the cash box. They were all of the same opinion as the tub; and what the majority agree upon must be respected.
"Now the student shall have it," said the goblin, and he stole silently up the back stairs to the attic where the student lived. There was a light burning, and the goblin peeped through the key-hole, and saw that the student was reading the tattered book from downstairs. But how bright the room was! A clear ray of light shot forth from the book, which widened out to a stem, and then to a mighty tree, which rose and spread its branches right over the student. The leaves were delightfully fresh, and every flower was like a lovely girl's face, some with dark and sparkling eyes, while others were wonderfully blue and clear. Every fruit was a shining star and the air was filled with music. No, the little goblin had never imagined, much less seen or taken part in such splendours. So then he stood on tip-toe peeping and peeping till the light was put out. The student blew out his lamp and went to bed, but the little goblin remained by the door, for the sweet songs still echoed through the air, making a charming lullaby for the student who was taking his rest.
"This is splendid," said the goblin; "I hadn't expected anything of the kind!—I think I will stay with the student—!" and he thought—and thought again—and then he sighed, "but the student has no porridge!"—Then he went away,—yes, he went back to the huckster, and it was a good thing he went, for the tub had almost used up the goodwife's volubility. He had given a description of all he contained from one side, and now he was just about to turn himself over to repeat the same from the other side, when the goblin came and took away the lady's tongue to return it to her. But the whole shop, from the cash drawer to the firewood, took their opinions from the tub from that time; and they respected it so highly and confided in it to such a degree, that when the huckster afterwards read the Art and Theatrical announcements in his Times, the evening one, they all thought that they came from the tub.
But the little goblin no longer sat quietly listening to all the wisdom and learning downstairs; no, as soon as a light appeared in the attic, it had the same effect upon him as if the rays of light had been stout anchor hawsers, for they drew him upwards and forced him to go and peep through the key-hole. A mighty power surged around him, such as we feel when the Almighty moves over the face of the rolling waters in a storm, and he burst into tears; he did not himself know wherefore, but there was some soothing in these tears. How splendid it must be to sit with the student under that tree, the tree of knowledge, but that might not be—he was glad even to stand at the key-hole.
He still came to peep through the key-hole when the autumn winds blew down upon it from the trap-door; it was cold, very cold, but the little creature did not feel it till the light went out in the attic and the sounds died away on the wind. Then how he shivered! he crept down again to his cosy corner, it was warm and comfortable there! And when the Christmas porridge appeared with a lump of butter in it,—why then the huckster was master.
But in the middle of the night the goblin was roused up by a frightful uproar and banging on the window shutters; the people outside were thundering on them. The watchman was blowing his whistle; there was a great fire, the whole street was lighted, up. Was it in this house, or the next? Where? It was terrible. The huckster's wife was so upset that she took the gold earrings out of her ears and put them into her pocket, so as at least to save something. The huckster ran to look for his bonds, and the maid-servant for the silk mantle she had just managed to afford herself. Everybody wanted to save the most precious thing he had, and the goblin wanted to do the same, so with a hop and a skip he was up the stairs and into the student's room. The student stood calmly at the window looking at the fire which was in the opposite house. The little goblin seized the marvellous book which was lying on the table, stuffed it into his red cap, and held it with both his hands; the greatest treasure in the house was saved! Then he rushed away, right out on to the roof to the very top of the chimney, and there he sat lighted 'up by the blaze opposite. He still held his red cap tightly grasped with both hands, in which the treasure was hidden.
Now he knew the leaning of his heart, and to whom he really belonged; but when the fire was out and he thought the matter over—why then—" I will divide myself between them," he said. "I can't give up the huckster, because of the porridge." In this he was quite human! We others go to the huckster too—for the porridge.