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Introductory Note: “The Johnnies” was published in The Family Economist, a penny monthly magazine devoted to instructing and mentoring lower middle class and working class families in the home. This story portrays a man, who upon traveling to visit his long-time Austrian war comrade, Jacob Pinkert, learns there might be an industrious fairy living under his roof.
“The Johnnies” is a tale aimed towards teaching the principles of work within the family and furnishes a moralistic message for all its readers.
When I was in Spain with the French, one of my comrades, in the same company with myself, was Jacob Pinkert, of Nussdorf, a right excellent man. He was a shoemaker by trade, and on his travels, when he was obliged to go home, as he was among the number of those from whom the new levies were to be made. Since he had there neither money nor land, neither house nor farm, neither father nor mother, in short, nothing which could be either lost or injured by his remaining away, he need not have gone. But the worthy man thought that in that case some one else would be obliged to go in his stead who perhaps could not so well be spared, he therefore went, drew his lot, and was obliged to become a soldier. We two were faithful comrades in the field; we had one heart and one mind. He came off better than I, and buried his leg in Spanish ground. He returned home in 1815, and wrote many letters to me, all of which terminated by “come back soon.” He had settled in Nussdorf, married, and appeared to be tolerably well off. At last, a fortnight ago, I thought that I would go, and you all know that I am not fond of going about. However, I packed up my clothes and set off. The last few weeks, although in October, had been as hot as August. I was therefore quite exhausted when I reached Nussdorf, and so worn out by thirst, that I thought that I had whistled my last note. My eye lighted upon the first house, and saw a long stretching-out iron, from which hung a golden star. I entered, and there sat two men; one was the host, the other was a shoemaker, as one could easily discover, by the pitch that stuck about him. I made my respects, sat down, and asked for half a tumbler of forty-six.
The host brought it, presented it, and said, ‘You’re welcome.’
The cobbler was a person whom,to judge by his red nose, one would not take for a water-drinker. He was as inquisitive as an old woman, or any one else who has nothing to do.
“Where do you come from, country-man?’ asked he.
“A good way off,’ said I.
“Are you going farther to-day?’ asked he.
‘Perhaps,’ answered I.
So it went on. I cannot endure questions. Thereupon the landlord joined in about the weather, the harvest, &c. ; the other then put in a word, until we got into pretty agreeable conversation.
Stop, thought I, I must inquire about my comrade. I therefore said, ‘About six-and-thirty or more years ago, I served under the French with a Nussdorf man. I think his name was Pinkert. Does he still live here?’
‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘he still lives here, and is a man very well off, but seems glued to his house for the whole year round; he never goes out except to church on Sundays, and he is a niggard into the bargain, who never spends a penny with an honest alehouse keeper.1“Niggard” is to be ungenerous, penny-pinching. If he goes out on Sundays with his wife Lisbeth, and his daughter, and his boy, the only inn he goes to is “The Sun” or “The Green Wood.” Do you understand?’
The cobbler laughed contemptuously
‘I must however say,’ pursued the landlord, ‘that he is a very sensible man, is a member of the Town Council, is getting up in the world, and, so I hear, bought yesterday the house which he has hitherto rented, and paid down a hundred guilders of the price, and yet he was as poor as a church mouse when he began, and his wife had something less than nothing.’
‘I would have bought the house,’ said the cobbler, whom the landlord called master Hopp, ‘even if I must have borrowed the money; but old Junggesell, to whom it belonged, and who has got another that he lives in himself, said nothing to any one about it; and I believe that Pinkert would not have let it go if he had paid double what he had for it. He knows why,’ added he, with a mysterious air.
‘Now’ said the landlord, laughing, ‘there’s something behind this; tell us what it is.’
‘Something there is,’ said Hopp, with a countenance that expressed that he alone was in the secret.
‘Come out with it, master Hopp,’ exclaimed the landlord, ‘you know everything that has happened in the town for the last hundred years.’
This pleased the cobbler, who I thought a very repulsive person. He cleared his throat with another draught, then said, ‘I will tell you in confidence, my good landlord of the Star; there is a little Johnnie in the house.’
‘What is there,’ asked the landlord, half angrily. ‘A little Johnnie. I think there’s something loose under your cobbler’s cap. What kind of thing is it?’
‘One would think you were either just born, or an infidel,’ exclaimed Hopp. ‘You either don’t know what it is, in which case I will tell you; or you don’t believe in it, and then I may as well hold my tongue.’
‘Upon my word, I don’t know what it is,’ said the landlord.
‘Well, then, listen’ said the cobbler, ‘little Johnnies or Jackies are good house fairies—pretty little fellows, who, when they are in a house, and one keeps friends with them, bring blessings on one, and do all one’s work without any body’s seeing them.’
‘These are child stories, master Hopp, which an old man like you ought to be ashamed of,’ said mine host of the Star.
‘Do you see,’ said he, turning to me, ‘he is also one of the unbelievers, of whom the world now-a-days is as full as a garden that is manured with sweepings, is of weeds. But I will tell you a story which will show which is the wiser of the two.’
‘Let it be so,’ said the landlord.
‘My grandfather, by the mother’s side, was a joiner in Dessau; he was a good man, and an industrious one also. He bought himself a house, in which was a little Johnnie, but he did not know this when he bought it. If he had begun a piece of work in the evening, and came early in the morning into the workshop, there it was all done and ready, and polished so that one could see one’s-self in it as in a looking-glass. At first this puzzled him, but he remembered to have heard of the little Johnnies, and knew then how it all happened. As this was a great advantage to him, and he knew that one must not speak of the little Johnnies in one’s own house, and also take care not to see them, he kept the matter quite to himself and did not even tell it to his wife. He knew that women cannot keep from chattering, and that their curiosity knows neither law nor bounds. Every evening he locked up his workshop, and, if he could possibly help it, would not let his wife come in at all. Women’s scent is very fine. Grandfather thought that his wife knew nothing about it, but she took advantage of meal times. She had already some suspicion, but had not the courage to ask any questions. Curiosity, however, to see a little Johnnie burned in her heart.
‘It happened once that the noble owner of an estate at some distance sent for my grandfather to his castle, because he wanted to have a model made, and grandfather went there. As the distance was considerable, he was obliged to remain there all night. His thoughts were so much occupied by the good piece of business that was offered him, that he left the key of the workshop in his every-day jacket, and set off. In the evening, my grandmother thought, ‘If I don’t see the little Johnnie at work now, I shall not get another opportunity.’ After she had had her supper, she blew out the light, and hid herself under the work-bench, on which a heap of boards were lying, so that no one could see she was there. She had scarcely got into her hiding-place than it became as clear as day in the workshop, and yet far and wide there was no light. Suddenly there came out from behind the stove a little fellow, as big only as a doll, very neat and pretty to look at. It began to hammer and plane, the work went from his hand as quick as lightning, and yet there was no noise nor sound. Before she could have expected it would have been a quarter done, a little bat was ready and polished. But now grandmother felt inclined to sneeze. The little Johnnie did not know that she was there. She made all possible grimaces, held her hand to her nose, but in vain. She suddenly sneezed loudly. Little Johnnie was frightened. It was suddenly pitch dark in the work-room, and—the little Johnnie was gone for ever. There’s also a little Johnnie in Pinkert’s house. How else could he make so many shoes? I’m a shoemaker also, and sit hard at it; but no one can work as much and as well as Pinkert, unless he has a little Johnnie to help him. That’s the reason that he never keeps a workman, though he has work enough for one. He’s afraid of folks talking, which might drive away the little Johnnie from him, as it did from grandfather.’
The landlord now stood up and said, ‘Master Hopp, if you will let yourself be serenaded home, I will pay for the music.’ Upon this he went out, and as I had had enough, I followed him, paid for my half tumbler and went away.
When I was in the street, I asked the way to Pinkert’s house, and was directed to a pretty looking house. I went in, and found everything beautifully clean and neat. I opened the room door, and there was presented to me a very pleasing picture.
Opposite to me stood a table, at which sat his wife, Lisbeth, her hands folded in her lap, and her countenance beaming with as happy an expression as one could wish to see. Before her sat my old friend Pinkert. He had a glass of wine in his hand, and was just exclaiming, ‘Long live Lisbeth!’ A pretty daughter leaned over her mother’s shoulder, and was pointing to the first blank leaf of a little Bible, in which the dear mother’s birth-day was inscribed. A boy who beamed with health and mischief peeped out near the father, and was rejoicing, partly on account of the joy of his parents, and partly on account of the coffee and holiday cakes which his sister had made in honour of their mother’s birth-day; and at the kitchen door appeared the merry face of the maid, bringing in the milk for the coffee.
I should have liked to remain there, and quietly enjoy the sight of my old comrade’s domestic happiness; but he perceived me, and recognised me at the first glance.
‘Jacob,’ exclaimed he, ‘Well, old friend, are you come at last?’ He almost demolished me for joy. ‘That you should just happen to come on the fifty-fifth birth-day of my Lisbeth, which is a holiday and day of rejoicing for the whole house, makes your coming still more pleasant.’
His wife, Lisbeth, his daughter, Gretchen, the boy, even the maid, came and heartily stretched out their hands, and said how happy they were, since they had all known me long since from the father’s narrations, to see me at last before their eyes.
‘You must know, Jacob,’ said Pinkert, ‘that early this morning Gretchen said to me, “To-day is mother’s birth-day. I saw that in the Bible.”’
‘Say nothing about,’ said I, ‘make some holiday cakes, get ready some good coffee, bring out a bottle of wine. She was to know nothing about it. When we all together wished her many happy returns, she would not believe it. Then Gretchen got out the Bible and showed her where it was written. Just then you came in. This makes it doubly a day of rejoicing, and not a stitch of work shall be done to-day, so we can have a good chat. Now sit down, old comrade.’
These are persons after God’s own heart. This was the happiest day I have spent, after those of Philip’s wedding, and the christening of his two children. All the old Spanish and French stories, all the misery we had endured and battled through together, all the pleasure which had come to our share, were brought back again to our memory.
We sat together till late in the evening, and then went to bed with cheerful, happy hearts.
The next morning, when the clock struck four, I perceived signs of activity below. Then, thought I, redeem the hours while you are with your friend; who knows whether you may meet again on earth, so get up.
When I came down, Lisbeth was spinning thread for sewing shoes; Gretchen was binding shoes; the boy, little Andrew, was drawing cobbler’s thread; and the maid tended the cattle in the stable.
When the boy had done his task of thread, he took his books, and learned his lessons for school; the others continued their work without interruption. Pinkert’s work flew from his hand, and yet the stitches were as firm as nails. He chatted with me at the same time. After breakfast, Gretchen went into the field with the maid, the mother prepared the dinner, the boy was at school and Pinkert worked with all his might. Thus all went on till dinner, and then again till it was time for recreation. We then went into the pretty garden behind the house, where the last works of autumn were going on. After supper, work was renewed till ten o’clock. Then Pinkkert offered up the evening prayer, as before breakfast he had done the morning prayer, and we went to bed. Thus everything in the house had its own order, which was observed with the greatest punctuality.
I asked Pinkert why he did not keep a shopman. He answered, ‘Good ones are scarce, and I should not like an indifferent one. The present is a bad time for workmen; they want much wages and little work, and their work is bad. Good workmen seldom find their way to villages. I had one three years ago, who was a very worthy fellow. He is now at home, and—I may tell you—he is soon to come back, and marry Gretchen. He is a worthy, honest Wurtemburger. Until he comes, I would rather not have one.’
When Sunday came, we all went to church. After church, the Bible was read. After dinner, again to church; and then we took a walk and Pinkert showed me his field. I perceived that he was a very prosperous man. Everything in his house was as quiet as if nobody lived in it. One never heard a hard word, or scolding, or quarrelling. The parents were punctually and unhesitatingly obeyed. On Saturday night Andrew took the work home and brought back good, hard money. In Pinkert’s ledger were also standing some good credit accounts. ‘These are rich people,’ said he, ‘who pay punctually on St Martin’s-day. This money covers my expenses for leather, which I buy every year at the fair. When my son-in-law comes, business will go on still better.’
When I had spent a happy week, I departed. At the door of his house stood the landlord of the Star. ‘Take a drink, to help you on the way,’ said he; and as I had time enough, I went in. We had scarcely sat down, when in came Master Hopp.
‘He has the full advantage of it,’ said I.
‘What!’ cried the landlord, springing up; ‘do you believe it also.’
‘There,’ said Hopp, laughing triumphantly. ‘No, no; things don’t go on like that with fair play. I’ve always said so.’
‘It is just so, landlord,’ thereupon said I. ‘But the little Johnnie’s name is Diligence, Piety, Order, Frugality.’ Hopp looked as white as chalk.
I then related circumstantially what I had seen and experienced in Pinkert’s house. I added, ‘this little Johnnie does not run away when it hears a sneeze, but says, politely, ‘bless you.’ It does not run away, either, on being seen, otherwise I should have scared it; but I have seen it very active at fingers’ ends. I believe Master Hopp, that it was not it that left your grandfather in Dessau, when he began to go down in the world, but that he had become too independent of his business. He therefore grew idle. There was no economy in his house. He and his wife ate and drank every day, as if it were a feast-day. Truly, when things go on like that, the real little Johnnie whom I have told you of is off in a twinkling, and with him God’s blessing.’
‘I think, also, that little Johnnies will not stop with tipplers. They dwell not in the house, but the heart. Everybody can keep one who fears God and keeps his commandments, who prays and works, is orderly and frugal. You, Master Hopp, who have many children, I would advise to endeavour to seek one where it may be found; and I do not think that you will seek in vain; but you find nothing that you do not find at the board of the landlord of the Star.’
The host said, ‘Bravo! I will let this pass; such a little Johnnie there is,’
‘Hark ye, countryman,’ pursued the landlord, ‘you have certainly driven a good customer from my door, with your wonderful little Johnnie; but, nevertheless, I am glad that, in respect of this blockhead, you have hit the right nail on the head. I hope that it may do him good, and that he may find the true Johnnie. You shall have it of the very best.’
I thanked him, and went on my way.
Readers, young and old, try to obtain the presence of such an inmate in your house. If it does not, like the little Johnnie in the house of Hopp’s grandfather in Dessau, do your work at night, it will help by day right diligently and well. It is a spirit—that spirit piety, temperance, order, and frugality which God gives to all who ask it. It is not a fairy; but it makes every one to prosper who fosters and maintains in his house such a LITTLE JOHNNIE.
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10 March 2023
16 July 2023
|↑1||“Niggard” is to be ungenerous, penny-pinching.|
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