Master Martin, the Cooper, and his Journeyman, by E. T. A. Hoffmann

Of Dame Martha’s conversation with Rose about the three journeymen, Conrad’s quarrel with Master Martin.

Generally it is the morning following a holiday when young girls are wont to enjoy all the pleasure of it, and taste it, and thoroughly digest it; and this after celebration they seem to like far better than the actual holiday itself. And so next morning pretty Rose sat alone in her room with her hands folded on her lap, and her head bent slightly forward in meditation — her spindle and embroidery meanwhile resting. Probably she was now listening to Reinhold’s and Frederick’s songs, and now watching Conrad cleverly gaining the victory over his competitors, and now she saw him coming to her for the prize of victory; and then she hummed a few lines of a pretty song, and then she whispered, “Do you want my flowers?” whereat a deeper crimson suffused her cheeks, and brighter glances made their way through her downcast eyelashes, and soft sighs stole forth from her inmost heart. Then Dame Martha came in, and Rose was delighted to be able to tell at full length all that had taken place in St. Catherine’s Church and on the Allerwiese. When Rose had done speaking, Dame Martha said, smiling, “Oh! so now, dear Rose, you will soon have to make your choice between your three handsome lovers.” “For God’s sake,” burst out Rose, quite frightened, and flushing hotly all over her face, “for mercy’s sake, Dame Martha, what do you mean by that? I— three lovers!” “Don’t take on so,” went on Dame Martha, “don’t take on in that way, dear Rose, as if you knew nothing, as if you could guess nothing. Why, where do you put your eyes, girl? you must be quite blind not to see that our journeymen. Reinhold, Frederick, and Conrad — yes, all three of them — are madly in love with you.” “What a fancy, to be sure, Dame Martha,” whispered Rose, holding her hands before her face. Then Dame Martha knelt down before her, and threw her arm about her, saying, “Come, my pretty, bashful child, take your hands away, and look me straight in the eyes, and then tell me you have not long ago perceived that you fill both the heart and the mind of each of our journeymen, deny that if you can. Nay, I tell you, you can’t do it; and it would, i’ faith, be a truly wonderful thing if a maiden’s eyes did not see a thing of that sort. Why, when you go into the shop, their eyes are off their work and flying across to you in a minute, and they bustle and stir about with new life. And Reinhold and Frederick begin their best songs, and even wild Conrad grows quiet and gentle; each tries to invent some excuse to approach nearer to you, and when you honour one of them with a sweet look or a kindly word, how his eyes sparkle, and his face flushes! Come now, my pet, is it not nice to have such handsome fellows all making love to you? But whether you will choose one of the three or which it will be, that I cannot indeed say, for you are good and kind to them all alike, and yet — and yet — but I must not say more. Now an you come to me and said, ‘O Dame Martha, give me your advice, to which of these young men, who are all wanting me, shall I give my hand and heart?’ then I should of course answer, ‘If your heart does not speak out loudly and distinctly. It’s this or it’s that, why, let them all three go.’ I must say Reinhold pleases me right well, and so does Frederick, and so does Conrad; and then again on the other hand I have something to say against each of them. In fact, dear Rose, when I see them working away so bravely, I always think of my poor Valentine; and I must say that, if he could not perhaps produce any better work, there was yet quite a different kind of swing and style in all that he did do. You could see all his heart was in his work; but with these young fellows it always seems to me as if they only worked so, so — as if they had in their heads different things altogether from their work; nay, it almost strikes me as if it were a burden which they have voluntarily taken up, and were now bearing with sturdy courage. Of them all I can get on best with Frederick; he’s such a faithful, affectionate fellow. He is the one who seems to belong to us most; I understand all that he says. And then his love for you is so still, and as shy as a good child’s; he hardly dares to look at you, and blushes if you only say a single word to him; and that’s what I like so much in the dear lad.” A tear seemed to glisten in Rose’s eye as Dame Martha said this. She stood up, and turning to the window, said, “I like Frederick very much, but you must not pass over Reinhold contemptuously.” “I never dreamt of doing so,” replied Dame Martha, “for Reinhold is by a long way the handsomest of all. And what eyes he has! And when he looks you through and through with his bright glances — no, it’s more than you can endure. And yet there’s something so strange and peculiar in his character, it quite makes me shiver at times, and makes me quite afraid of him. When Reinhold is working in the shop, I should think Herr Martin, when he tells him to do this or do that, must always feel as I should if anybody were to put a bright pan in my kitchen all glittering with gold and precious stones, and should bid me use it like any ordinary common pan — why, I should hardly dare to touch it at all. He tells his stories and talks and talks, and it all sounds like sweet music, and you are quite carried away by it, but when I sit down to think seriously about what he has been saying, I find I haven’t understood a single word. And then when he now and again jests in the way we do, and I think now he’s just like us, then all at once he looks so distinguished that I get really afraid of him. And yet I can’t say that he puffs himself up in the way that many of our Junkers or patricians do; no, it’s something else altogether different. In a word, it strikes me, by my troth, as if he held intercourse with higher spirits, as if he belonged, in fact, to another world. Conrad is a wild overbearing fellow, and yet there is something confoundedly distinguished about him as well; it doesn’t agree with the cooper’s apron somehow. And he always acts as if nobody but he had to give orders, and as if the others must obey him. In the short time that he has been here he has got so far that when he bellows at Master Martin in his loud ringing voice, his master generally does what he wishes. But at the same time he is so good-natured and so thoroughly honest that you can’t bear ill-will against him; rather, I must say, that in spite of his wildness, I almost like him better than I do Reinhold, for even if he does speak fearfully grand, you can yet understand him very well. I wager he has once been a campaigner, he may say what he likes. That’s why he knows so much about arms, and has even got something of knights’ ways about him, which doesn’t suit him at all badly. Now do tell me, Rose dear, without any ifs and ands, which of the three journeymen you like best?” “Don’t ask me such searching questions, dear Dame Martha,” answered Rose. “But of this I am quite sure, that Reinhold does not stir up in me the same feelings that he does in you. It’s perfectly true, too, that he is altogether different from his equals; and when he talks I could fancy I enter into a beautiful garden full of bright and magnificent flowers and blossoms and fruits, such as are not to be found on earth, and I like to be amongst them. Since Reinhold has been here I see many things in a different light, and lots of things that were once dim and formless in my mind are now so bright and clear that I can easily distinguish them.” Dame Martha rose to her feet, and shaking her finger at Rose as she went out of the room, said, “Ah! ah! Rose, so Reinhold is the favourite then? I didn’t think it, I didn’t even dream it.” Rose made answer as she accompanied her as far as the door, “Pray, dear Dame Martha, think nothing, dream nothing, but leave all to the future. What it brings is the will of God, and to that everybody must bow humbly and gratefully.”

Meanwhile it was becoming extremely lively in Master Martin’s workshop. In order to execute all his orders he had engaged with ordinary labourers and taken in some apprentices, and they all hammered and knocked till the din could be heard far and wide. Reinhold had finished his calculations and measurements for the great cask that was to be built for the Bishop of Bamberg, whilst Frederick and Conrad had set it up so cleverly that Master Martin’s heart laughed in his body, and he cried again and again, “Now that I call a grand piece of work; that’ll be the best little cask I’ve ever made — except my masterpiece.” Now the three apprentices stood driving the hoops on to the fitted staves, and the whole place rang again with the din of their mallets. Old Valentine was busy plying his draw-knife, and Dame Martha, her two youngest on her knee, sat just behind Conrad, whilst the other wideawake little rascals were shouting and making a noise, tumbling the hoops about, and chasing each other. In fact, there was so much hubbub and so much vigorous hard work going on that hardly anybody noticed old Herr Johannes Holzschuer as he stepped into the shop. Master Martin went to meet him, and politely inquired what he desired. “Why, in the first place,” said Holzschuer, “I want to have a look at my dear Frederick again, who is working away so lustily yonder. And then, goodman Master Martin, I want a stout cask for my wine-cellar, which I will ask you to make for me. Why look you, that cask they are now setting up there is exactly the sort of thing I want; you can let me have that, you’ve only got to name the price.” Reinhold, who had grown tired and had been resting a few minutes down in the shop, and was now preparing to ascend the scaffolding again, heard Holzschuer’s words and said, turning his head towards the old gentleman, “Marry, my friend Herr Holzschuer, you need not set your heart upon this cask; we are making it for his Lordship the Bishop of Bamberg.” Master Martin, his arms folded on his back, his left foot planted forward, his head thrown back in his neck, blinked at the cask and said proudly, “My dear master, you might have seen from the carefully selected wood and the great pains taken in the work that a masterpiece like that was meant for a prince’s1 cellar. My journeyman Reinhold has said the truth; don’t set your heart on a piece of work like that. But when the vintage is over I will get you a plain strong little cask made, such as will be suitable for your cellar.” Old Holzschuer, incensed at Master Martin’s pride, replied that his gold pieces weighed just as much as the Bishop of Bamberg’s, and that he hoped he could get good work elsewhere for ready money. Master Martin, although fuming with rage, controlled himself with difficulty; he would not by any means like to offend old Herr Holzschuer, who stood so high in the esteem both of the Council and of all the burghers. At this moment Conrad struck mightier blows than ever with his mallet, so that the whole shop rang and cracked; then Master Martin’s internal rage boiled over, and he shouted vehemently, “Conrad, you blockhead, what do you mean by striking so blindly and heedlessly? do you mean to break my cask in pieces?” “Ho! ho!” replied Conrad, looking round defiantly at his master, “Ho! ho! my comical little master, and why should I not?” And therewith he dealt such a terrible blow at the cask that the strongest hoop sprang, rattling, and knocked Reinhold down from the narrow plank on the scaffolding; and it was further evident from the hollow echo that a stave had been broken as well. Completely mastered by his furious anger, Master Martin snatched out of Valentine’s hand the bar he was shaving, and striding towards the cask, dealt Conrad a good sound stroke with it on the back, shouting, “You cursed dog!” As soon as Conrad felt the blow he wheeled sharply round, and after standing for a moment as if bereft of his senses, his eyes blazed up with fury, he ground his teeth, and screamed, “Struck! struck!” Then at one bound he was down from the scaffolding, had snatched up an adze that lay on the floor, and aimed a powerful stroke at his master; had not Frederick pulled Martin on one side the blow would have split his head; as it was, the adze only grazed his arm, from which, however, the blood at once began to spurt out. Martin, fat and helpless as he was, lost his equilibrium and fell over the bench, at which one of the apprentices was working, into the floor. They all threw themselves upon Conrad, who was frantic, flourishing his bloody adze in the air, and shouting and screaming in a terrible voice, “Let him go to hell! To hell with him!” Hurling them all off with the strength of a giant, he was preparing to deal a second blow at his poor master, who was gasping for breath and groaning on the floor — a blow that would have completely done for him — when Rose, pale as a corpse with fright, appeared in the shop-door. As soon as Conrad observed her he stood as if turned to a pillar of stone, the adze suspended in the air. Then he threw the tool away from him, struck his hands together upon his chest, and cried in a voice that went to everybody’s heart, “Oh, good God! good God! what have I done?” and away he rushed out of the shop. No one thought of following him.

Now poor Master Martin was after some difficulty lifted up; it was found, however, that the adze had only penetrated into the thick fleshy part of the arm, and the wound could not therefore be called serious. Old Herr Holzschuer, whom Martin had involved with him in his fall, was pulled out from beneath the shavings, and Dame Martha’s children, who ceased not to scream and cry over good Father Martin, were appeased as far as that could be done. As for Martin himself, he was quite dazed, and said if only that devil of a bad journeyman had not spoilt his fine cask he should not make much account of the wound.

Sedan chairs were brought for the old gentlemen, for Holzschuer also had bruised himself rather in his fall. He hurled reproaches at a trade in which they employed such murderous tools, and conjured Frederick to come back to his beautiful art of casting and working in the precious metals, and the sooner the better.

As soon as the dusk of evening began to creep up over the sky, Frederick, and along with him Reinhold, whom the hoop had struck rather sharply, and who felt as if every limb was benumbed, strode back into the town in very low spirits. Then they heard a soft sighing and groaning behind a hedge. They stood still, and a tall figure at once rose up; they immediately recognised Conrad, and began to withdraw timidly. But he addressed them in a tearful voice, saying, “You need not be so frightened at me, my good comrades; of course you take me for a devilish murderous brute, but I am not — indeed I am not so. I could not do otherwise; I ought to have struck down the fat old master, and by rights I ought to go along with you and do it now, if I only could. But no, no; it’s all over. Remember me to pretty Rose, whom I love so above all reason. Tell her I will bear her flowers on my heart all my life long, I will adorn myself with them when I— but she will perhaps hear of me again some day. Farewell! farewell! my good, brave comrades.” And Conrad ran away across the field without once stopping.

Reinhold said, “There is something peculiar about this young fellow; we can’t weigh or measure this deed by any ordinary standard. Perhaps the future will unfold to us the secret that has lain heavy upon his breast.”

1 The word “prince” is expressed in German by two distinct words; one, like the English word, designates a member of a royal or reigning house; the other is used as a simple title, often official, ranking above duke. The Bishop of Bamberg was in this latter sense a prince of the empire.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55