Hans Hecklemann had no luck at all. Now and then we hear folks say that they have no luck, but they only mean that their luck is bad and that they are ashamed of it. Everybody but Hans Hecklemann had luck of some kind, either good or bad, and, what is more, everybody carries his luck about with him; some carry it in their pocket-books, some carry it in their hats, some carry it on their finger tips, and some carry it under their tongues—these are lawyers. Mine is at this moment sitting astride of my pen, though I can no more see it than though it was thin air; whether it is good or bad depends entirely as to how you look upon it.
But Hans Hecklemann had no luck at all. How he lost it nobody knows, but it is certain that it was clean gone from him.
He was as poor as charity, and yet his luck was not bad, for, poor as he was, he always had enough for his wife and his family and himself to eat. They all of them worked from dawn to nightfall, and yet his luck was not good, for he never laid one penny on top of the other, as the saying is. He had food enough to eat, and clothes enough to wear, so his luck was not indifferent. Now, as it was neither good, bad, nor indifferent, you see that it could have been no luck at all.
Hans Hecklemann's wife was named Catherine. One evening when Hans came into the cottage with just enough money to buy them all bread and not a cracked farthing to spare, Catherine spoke to him of this matter.
"Hans," said she, "you have no luck at all."
"No," said Hans, "I have not," which was the truth, as I have already told you.
"What are you going to do about it?" said Catherine.
"Nothing at all," said Hans.
"Doing nothing puts no cabbage into the pot," said Catherine.
"It takes none out," said Hans.
"See, Hans," said Catherine; "go to the old wise woman in the wood and talk to her about it; who knows but that she can tell you how and where you lost your luck?"
"If I should find my luck it might be bad and not good," said Hans.
"It is worth having a look at," said Catherine; "you can leave it where you find it if it does not please you."
"No," said Hans; "when a man finds his luck he has to take it, whether he likes it or no."
So Hans talked, but he had made up his mind to do as Catherine said, to go and see the old wise woman in the wood. He argued with her, but he only argued with her to let her know how little was her knowledge and how great was his. After he had clearly shown her how poor her advice was, he took it. Many other men are like Hans Hecklemann.
So, early the next morning, Hans jogged along to the old wise woman's cottage, while the day was sweet and fresh. The hedgerows were covered all over with white blossoms, as though it was with so much snow; the cuckoo was singing among the budding branches, and the little flowers were looking up everywhere with their bright faces. "Surely," said Hans to himself, "if I find my luck on this day, it must be good and not ill."
So he came to the little red cottage at the edge of the wood wherein lived the wise woman who knew many things and one. Hans scraped his feet on the stones until they were clean, and then he knocked at the door.
"Come in," said the old wise woman.
She was as strange an old woman as one could hope to see in a lifetime. Her nose bent down to meet her chin, and her chin bent up to reach her nose; her face was gray with great age, and her hair was as white as snow. She wore a long red cloak over her shoulders, and a great black cat sat on the back of her chair.
"What do you want, Son Hans?" said she.
"I want to find my luck, mother," said Hans.
"Where did you lose it, Son Hans?" said she.
"That I do not know, mother," said Hans.
Then the old wise woman said "Hum-m-m!" in a very thoughtful voice, and Hans said nothing at all.
After a while she spoke again. "Have you enough to eat?" said she.
"Oh yes!" said Hans.
"Have you enough to drink?" said she.
"Plenty of water, enough of milk, but no beer," said Hans.
"Have you enough clothes to cover you?" said she.
"Oh yes!" said Hans.
"Are you warm enough in winter?" said she.
"Oh yes!" said Hans.
"Then you had better leave well enough alone," said she, "for luck can give you nothing more."
"But it might put money into my pocket," said Hans.
"And it might take away the good things that you already have," said she.
"All the same, I should like to find it again," said Hans; "if I could only lay my hands on it I might make good out of it, even if it is bad."
"I doubt that," said the old wise woman. Nevertheless, she saw that Hans was set in his own way, and that he only talked stiffness into his stubbornness. So she arose from her chair with much groaning, for her joints were stiffened with age, and limping to a closet in the wall she brought a book thence. Then she ran her finger down one page and up another, until she had found that which she sought. When she had found it she spoke:
"Son Hans, you lost your luck three years ago when you were coming from the fair at Kneitlingen. You sat down on the overturned cross that lies where three roads meet, and it fell out of your pocket along with a silver shilling. Now, Hans, your luck was evil, therefore it stuck to the good sign, as all evil things of that kind must, like a fly to butter. Also, I tell you this: when an evil manikin such as this touches the sign of the good cross, he becomes visible to the eyes of everybody who chooses to look upon him. Therefore go to the stone cross and you will find your luck running this way and that, but never able to get away from it." So saying, the old woman shut her book again. Then she arose from her chair and went once more to the closet in the wall. This time she took from it a little sack woven of black goat's hair. "When you have found your luck again, put it into this little bag," said she; "once in it, no evil imp will be able to get out again so long as you keep the strings tied. And now good-bye!"
Then Hans slipped the little sack into his pocket, and set out for the overturned stone cross where the three roads meet. When he had come to the place, he looked here and there, and this way and that, but for a long time he could see nothing at all. At last, after much looking, he beheld a little black beetle running hither and thither on the stone. "I wonder," said Hans, "if this can be my luck."
So saying, he caught the little beetle betwixt his finger and thumb, but very carefully, for he could not tell whether or not it might bite him. The beetle stuck to the stone as though it had been glued there, but, at last, Hans pulled it away; then—lo! it was not a beetle that he held in his hand, but a little manikin about as long as your thumb and as black as ink. Hans Hecklemann was so frightened that he nearly dropped it, for it kicked and screeched and rolled its red eyes in a very ugly way as he held it. However, he popped it into the little sack and pulled the strings tight, and there it was, safe and sound.
That is what Hans Hecklemann's luck was like.
So Hans having his luck secure in the little sack began to bargain with it. "What will you do for me if I let you out?" said he.
"Nothing at all," snarled his luck.
"Very well," said Hans, "we will see about that."
So he carried it home with him, and threw sack and all into a nasty pot where Catherine cast the scrapings of the dishes—the fat and what not that she boiled down into soap now and then. There he left his luck to stay until the next day, and then he went to it again. "What will you do for me if I will let you out now?" said he.
"Nothing at all," snarled his luck.
"Very well," said Hans, "we will see about that." So he let him stay where he was for another day. And so the fiddle played; every day Hans Hecklemann went to his luck and asked it what it would give him if he would let it out, and every day his luck said nothing; and so a week or more passed.
At last Hans's luck gave in.
"See, Hans," it said one morning; "if you will let me out of this nasty pickle I will give you a thousand thalers."
"Ah no!" said Hans. "Thalers are only thalers, as my good father used to say. They melt away like snow, and then nothing is left of them. I will trust no such luck as that!"
"I will give you two thousand thalers," said his luck.
"Ah no!" said Hans; "two thousand thalers are only twice one thousand thalers. I will trust no such luck as that, either!"
"Then what will you take to let me out, Hans Hecklemann?" said his luck.
"Look," said Hans; "yonder stands my old plough. Now, if you will give me to find a golden noble at the end of every furrow that I strike with it I will let you out. If not—why, then, into the soap you go."
"Done!" said Hans's luck.
"Done!" said Hans.
Then he opened the mouth of the sack, and—puff! went his luck, like wind out of a bag, and—pop! it slipped into his breeches pocket.
He never saw it again with his mortal eyes, but it stayed near to him, I can tell you. "Ha! ha! ha!" it laughed in his pocket, "you have made an ill bargain, Hans, I can tell you!"
"Never mind," said Hans, "I am contented."
Hans Hecklemann did not tarry long in trying the new luck of his old plough, as you may easily guess. Off he went like the wind and borrowed Fritz Friedleburg's old gray horse. Then he fastened the horse to the plough and struck the first furrow. When he had come to the end of it—pop! up shot a golden noble, as though some one had spun it up from the ground with his finger and thumb. Hans picked it up, and looked at it and looked at it as though he would swallow it with his eyes. Then he seized the handle of the plough and struck another furrow—pop! up went another golden noble, and Hans gathered it as he had done the other one. So he went on all of that day, striking furrows and gathering golden nobles until all of his pockets were as full as they could hold. When it was too dark to see to plough any more he took Fritz Friedleburg's horse back home again, and then he went home himself.
All of his neighbors thought that he was crazy, for it was nothing but plough, plough, plough, morning and noon and night, spring and summer and autumn. Frost and darkness alone kept him from his labor. His stable was full of fine horses, and he worked them until they dropped in the furrows that he was always ploughing.
"Yes; Hans is crazy," they all said; but when Hans heard them talk in this way he only winked to himself and went on with his ploughing, for he felt that he knew this from that.
But ill luck danced in his pocket with the golden nobles, and from the day that he closed his bargain with it he was an unhappy man. He had no comfort of living, for it was nothing but work, work, work. He was up and away at his ploughing at the first dawn of day, and he never came home till night had fallen; so, though he ploughed golden nobles, he did not turn up happiness in the furrows along with them. After he had eaten his supper he would sit silently behind the stove, warming his fingers and thinking of some quicker way of doing his ploughing. For it seemed to him that the gold-pieces came in very slowly, and he blamed himself that he had not asked his luck to let him turn up three at a time instead of only one at the end of each furrow; so he had no comfort in his gathering wealth. As day followed day he grew thin and haggard and worn, but seven boxes of bright new gold-pieces lay hidden in the cellar, of which nobody knew but himself. He told no one how rich he was growing, and all of his neighbors wondered why he did not starve to death.
So you see the ill luck in his breeches pocket had the best of the bargain, after all.
After Hans had gone the way of all men, his heirs found the chests full of gold in the cellar, and therewith they bought fat lands and became noblemen and gentlemen; but that made Hans's luck none the better.
From all this I gather:
That few folks can turn ill luck into good luck.
Ye Song of ye Rajah and ye Fly
Pride in Distress
Profession and Practice
A Tale of a Tub