It made immense talk next day, when Father Peter paid Solomon Isaacs in
gold and left the rest of the money with him at interest. Also, there
was a pleasant change; many people called at the house to congratulate
him, and a number of cool old friends became kind and friendly again;
and, to top all, Marget was invited to a party.
And there was no mystery; Father Peter told the whole circumstance just
as it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was the
plain hand of Providence, so far as he could see.
One or two shook their heads and said privately it looked more like the
hand of Satan; and really that seemed a surprisingly good guess for
ignorant people like that. Some came slyly buzzing around and tried to
coax us boys to come out and "tell the truth;" and promised they wouldn't
ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction, because
the whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy the secret, and
pay money for it; and if we could have invented something that would
answer--but we couldn't; we hadn't the ingenuity, so we had to let the
chance go by, and it was a pity.
We carried that secret around without any trouble, but the other one, the
big one, the splendid one, burned the very vitals of us, it was so hot to
get out and we so hot to let it out and astonish people with it. But we
had to keep it in; in fact, it kept itself in. Satan said it would, and
it did. We went off every day and got to ourselves in the woods so that
we could talk about Satan, and really that was the only subject we
thought of or cared anything about; and day and night we watched for him
and hoped he would come, and we got more and more impatient all the time.
We hadn't any interest in the other boys any more, and wouldn't take part
in their games and enterprises. They seemed so tame, after Satan; and
their doings so trifling and commonplace after his adventures in
antiquity and the constellations, and his miracles and meltings and
explosions, and all that.
During the first day we were in a state of anxiety on account of one
thing, and we kept going to Father Peter's house on one pretext or
another to keep track of it. That was the gold coin; we were afraid it
would crumble and turn to dust, like fairy money. If it did--But it
didn't. At the end of the day no complaint had been made about it, so
after that we were satisfied that it was real gold, and dropped the
anxiety out of our minds.
There was a question which we wanted to ask Father Peter, and finally we
went there the second evening, a little diffidently, after drawing
straws, and I asked it as casually as I could, though it did not sound as
casual as I wanted, because I didn't know how:
"What is the Moral Sense, sir?"
He looked down, surprised, over his great spectacles, and said, "Why, it
is the faculty which enables us to distinguish good from evil."
It threw some light, but not a glare, and I was a little disappointed,
also to some degree embarrassed. He was waiting for me to go on, so, in
default of anything else to say, I asked, "Is it valuable?"
"Valuable? Heavens! lad, it is the one thing that lifts man above the
beasts that perish and makes him heir to immortality!"
This did not remind me of anything further to say, so I got out, with the
other boys, and we went away with that indefinite sense you have often
had of being filled but not fatted. They wanted me to explain, but I was
We passed out through the parlor, and there was Marget at the spinnet
teaching Marie Lueger. So one of the deserting pupils was back; and an
influential one, too; the others would follow. Marget jumped up and ran
and thanked us again, with tears in her eyes--this was the third time--
for saving her and her uncle from being turned into the street, and we
told her again we hadn't done it; but that was her way, she never could
be grateful enough for anything a person did for her; so we let her have
her say. And as we passed through the garden, there was Wilhelm Meidling
sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge of the evening,
and he would be asking Marget to take a walk along the river with him
when she was done with the lesson. He was a young lawyer, and succeeding
fairly well and working his way along, little by little. He was very
fond of Marget, and she of him. He had not deserted along with the
others, but had stood his ground all through. His faithfulness was not
lost on Marget and her uncle. He hadn't so very much talent, but he was
handsome and good, and these are a kind of talents themselves and help
along. He asked us how the lesson was getting along, and we told him it
was about done. And maybe it was so; we didn't know anything about it,
but we judged it would please him, and it did, and didn't cost us