Translated from the German by Sophie A. Miller and Agnes M. Dunne
I. The Change of
The Change of Circumstances
A very wealthy and worthy merchant, named Vollmar, lived in a large
commercial city. Here he carried on a prosperous business which had
descended to him from his father. By clever management, industry and
honesty, he succeeded in enlarging it; and thereby increased his wealth.
Up to the present time, Mr. Vollmar had had unusual success, but
circumstances were soon to change. One morning as the family was
breakfasting, the postman delivered a letter containing the information
that the ship which carried a valuable cargo belonging to Mr. Vollmar
had been lost at sea.
This was a severe blow; for the greater part of his fortune was now
gone. But as luck and riches had not made him proud, so this misfortune
and loss did not make him despondent.
Turning to his children, he said: "God gives and He also takes away. He
may restore all things unto us when His wise purposes have been
fulfilled. You can see that this is true, when you review the lives of
your grandparents and great-grandparents, whose pictures in the golden
frames grace this room so beautifully.
"Your great-grandfather, Lucas Vollmar, was the richest man in the city.
All that we once had and now have would not have equalled his fortune by
one quarter. Owing to the 'Thirty Years' War,' he lost all. He was
obliged to flee from the enemy. His wife did not survive the journey.
Their only son, my father, was then but a tender youth, and suffered
much during those troublous times.
"Soon this city was invaded by the enemy and plundered. Many bombs were
fired into it and homes were reduced to ashes. Into this very house,
which belonged to him, fell a great cannon ball which did much damage
but did not set it on fire. All the families, too, suffered the greatest
misery. Hunger and pestilence carried off many of them.
"Your worthy great-grandfather sought refuge in strange lands and
suffered many hardships. He had taken as much money with him as he could
carry, but on the way he was robbed. He earned his livelihood in various
ways, and soon put his son out as an apprentice. When the lad was
fourteen years old, he was called upon to face another hardship in the
loss of his father, who died in misery and poverty, although he had once
been the richest man in this city.
"This son, my father, now alone in the world, continued as an apprentice
and made progress in his trade. At last, when the war was over and peace
had been restored, he returned to this city, poor in the world's goods,
but rich in knowledge and goodness.
"Through a decision of the court, this house was returned to him. The
things that he found when he entered were empty chests and those two
pictures hanging on the wall opposite. Look at them. Do you not read in
those faces kindness and true worth? Yes, my children, they were indeed
"You never saw your great-grandparents, but you do remember your
grandfather, for he often held you both on his lap. He had to work hard
to build up a business, but through the help of his good wife he soon
"So, my children, you have now seen how from wealth one may be reduced
to poverty, and how from nothing one may rise and become something.
"My father showed me that no matter how rich he became, he always laid
by some money for the time of need. He employed the best workers and
paid the best wages; and was a great benefactor to the poor.
"His example and his teachings I have followed, or to-day we would be
very poor indeed, now that I have lost my goods at sea. We must be very
economical and, perhaps, in time we may retrieve our loss."
Other tradesmen, too, suffered by this shipwreck. Mr. Vollmar did what
he could to help them and, little by little, they were able to go on
with their business. But times changed, and there was little demand for
Mr. Vollmar's goods. Failure stared him in the face.
"If I must give up my business, it will comfort me to know that when I
have paid all my debts I shall still have a few dollars left. My
conscience will be clear when I know that no one has lost one cent
through me, and that my honor before God and man remains unspotted."
Pressed on all sides, he was almost forced to give up, but as a last
resort he made up his mind to seek aid from two friends, both very rich
men. But the one said: "I am sorry that I cannot help you, for I need my
money myself." The other man said: "I would lend you some money, but I'm
afraid I won't get it back."
This treatment at the hands of his best friends, pained him sorely, and
he returned in sadness to his home. Before entering, he seated himself
in a little bower to review the situation. The sun shone with a friendly
light; the birds sang their gladsome songs; and the flowers stood forth
in all their gay coloring.
"How hard it will be for me to leave this beautiful garden upon which I
have spent so much money, and in which I have enjoyed so many happy
hours. Who knows in what corner of the earth I shall be obliged to seek
a new home?"
He became sadder each moment, and, sinking upon his knees, he prayed for
help. Hearing footsteps, he arose, and, looking down the footpath, he
saw an old man with snow-white hair being led by a little boy. Both
seemed very poor, but they were neatly clothed.
Just then the boy said to his companion: "Here, under this tree, is a
nice seat. You are so tired, dear grandfather, rest here a little and be
comforted; for the way is not much longer." Then they both seated
"It is a great undertaking for a man like me, blind and feeble, to
travel such a distance," said the old man. "'Tis true, oculists often
cure blind people, but I wonder if my blindness can be cured by that
doctor of whom we have heard so much? Besides, we have so little money,
and what will we live on while we're in the city? It must soon be fifty
years since I worked as a mason there. I really know no one to whom we
could apply for aid; for all my friends have passed on to a better land.
But I trust God will help us find some place to rest."
As Mr. Vollmar heard these words, he became greatly touched. "To be
blind," said he, "and not to see the blue sky, the trees, the flowers,
the sun and the people—that must be hard indeed. This man's sorrows are
greater than mine. I have my two strong eyes; and should I lose my whole
wealth, it would be as nothing compared to the loss of my sight.
"These poor people—this blind man, this brave boy—know how to find
comfort in their sorrow by trusting in God. I will learn from them and
Just then Mrs. Vollmar entered the garden with her two children, and Mr.
Vollmar beckoned them to join him. He related all that he had heard the
old man say.
"My dear husband," said Mrs. Vollmar, "let us take them into our house.
Though we are getting poorer each day, I am sure that what we do for
them will not hurt us; for, it is written: 'Be merciful and you shall
"True," said Mr. Vollmar, "and you certainly have a bigger heart than I
have. Let us not only give them food and shelter, but let us call in an
eminent eye doctor and have him examine this man's eyes."
Just then the old man rose to depart with the boy, but Mrs. Vollmar
hastened toward them, and said that they could remain with them for a
Thanking them for this exceeding kindness, the strangers entered the
house, and soon the old man began to talk about himself.
"My name is Armand Seld. At one time I was a builder and mason, and
lived with my son in this city. I have been blind for the last seven
As he seemed very tired, Mrs. Vollmar urged him to rest. She prepared a
repast for him and after he had partaken of it, she showed him to his
On the following morning, Mr. Vollmar sent for the doctor. After
examining the old man's eyes, he said that they were both covered with
cataracts, of such a nature that he could remove them. He also held out
the hope that he could cure them in a very short time.
"But," said he, "the old man must rest for three days before I can
undertake the work."
After three days had elapsed the doctor returned and began the
operation. Then the eyes were bandaged and the old man was kept in a
darkened room. At the end of a week, the doctor removed the bandage from
the patient's eyes and slowly led him to the light.
"I see! I see the light!" cried the old man. "I see your faces! Oh, I
thank God!" Then he folded his hands and silence filled the room; for
each one was in sympathy with the old man and thanked God for his mercy.
"But now," interrupted the doctor, "we must cover the eyes again, and
let them become accustomed to the light by degrees, and each day they
will grow stronger. I will return daily and watch their progress;
meanwhile the patient must have nourishing food, in small quantities,
and he must be kept very quiet in order to save his strength." Then he
bade them good-bye and Mr. Vollmar and his wife escorted the doctor to
The children kept shouting: "He sees! he sees!" and tumult and joy ran
At last the bandages were removed for good, but the doctor warned the
patient not to strain his eyes nor look into the sunshine for another
Armand Seld was now able to go about the house. The first room that he
entered, after his tedious stay in his own darkened bedroom, was the
dining-room, where the family loved best to sit. The walls of this room
were graced by the pictures of the Vollmar ancestors, together with a
landscape by a famous master.
The old man's attention was attracted to this painting.
"What do I see?" he shouted. "This picture I once saw by candlelight,
and I cannot forget it."
"Strange," said Mr. Vollmar, "that it should have made such an
impression upon you."
"May I ask," continued the old man, "have you owned this picture long?
Have you lived here some time?"
Mr. Vollmar replied: "This house, as well as the picture, descended to
me from my sainted grandparents. But why do you ask?"
"I must inquire still further before I can answer. Tell me—did your
grandfather die in this house, or did he flee to a distant country
during the war?"
"He died far from here, in a strange land. But it surprises me how you
should hit upon this question."
"Did your grandmother die first?"
"Yes; but your questions disturb me."
The old man continued: "Was your own father present before your
grandfather's death, and did he not disclose to him a very important
"My grandfather died of a malignant fever which robbed him of his
senses. My father, then a boy, was sent for, but when he arrived he
found his father dead."
"One more question I must ask—and I know you will forgive me. Did your
father receive a big fortune?"
"My father," continued Mr. Vollmar, "returned to this city and this
house a poor man. He married a woman as poor as himself, but with
industry they at last became rich."
"Do you know," continued the old man, "you look just like your
grandfather? He, too, was about the same age as you are now, and I feel,
as I talk to you, as if he were here. But listen to my story and perhaps
it may be of value to you.
"Shortly before this city was plundered I worked as a mason. One day my
employer, a very honest man, received word to call at once upon a
gentleman who wished him to do some work which was to be kept a secret.
As my employer was sick, he sent me in his place, vouching for my honor
"I entered the house and was ushered into a room where your grandfather
(for I have no doubts but that it was he) was seated. He started, and
was indeed surprised that my employer should have sent as a substitute
such a young man as I was then. After reading my recommendation, he
ordered the servants to light two candles and set them on the table over
which this picture hung. He made me vow never to tell the secret which
he would entrust to me, except in time of need, and then only to one of
his descendants. He spoke the oath and I repeated it, word for word,
looking up at this picture all the time.
"Then he led me into the cellar, down another stairway made of stone
into a lower cellar, where he opened a strongly bolted door. I gazed
into a hollow in the wall, where many chests were standing. 'These boxes
hold all my valuables, which I wish to save,' said he. 'Now, I want you
to cement this door so cleverly that no one will discover its
"As all the tools were lying there in readiness, and the mortar had been
previously prepared, I started to work at once. It cost a little labor
and much pains to do the work well and to hide the door, but I
succeeded, and received a gold piece for my labor.
"The gentleman laid his finger on my lips, and said: 'Remember your
"Soon after the enemy appeared. Your grandfather fled and so did I.
Never again did I return to this city, nor did I think of the valuables
secreted in these walls. The sight of this picture, however, recalls to
my mind my vow." With a sigh of relief, Armand Seld continued: "My dear
Mr. Vollmar, God moved your heart to help a poor, strange, blind man. He
helped to open my eyes, so that I could behold this picture, and to
disclose to you your buried riches. Thus has He rewarded you for your
kindness to me."
Mr. Vollmar had listened attentively to the old man's story, and said:
"You need not thank me. I did only what was my duty. You may be right
about the treasure, for we often wondered what could have become of all
my grandfather's wealth.
"Being the wise man that he was, he would have known what havoc the war
would bring, and consequently would have collected his money and
possibly have hidden it somewhere. But where? Neither my father nor I
could ever get the slightest clue. What you have said of the little
stone stairway and the lower cellar describes exactly the place under
this house. I am more and more convinced, each moment, that my
grandfather hid his treasures there, but now the question is whether
they are still there. Let us go, at once, and find out."
[Illustration: "The chests were opened."]
They went, arm in arm. As they reached the lower cellar, the old man
shouted: "This is the place. I remember this little round spot that I
filled with putty and covered with cement."
By means of a long crow-bar, an opening was at last made, and one stone
after another fell to the floor.
"Victory!" shouted the old man. "Here are the chests, untouched. I know
my work. The treasure is still here."
Mr. Vollmar then called his son and a helper to his assistance, and the
chests were soon opened. Bags upon bags of money, jewels unnumbered,
silverware, hammered copper ornaments and some papers which had yellowed
and had almost fallen to pieces—all these, met their astonished eyes.
Taking the papers first, Mr. Vollmar read many important family records,
besides an index of the contents of the chests, and the disposition to
be made of them.
"Oh, what good luck this is! It has all been sent to us just when we
need it most," said Mr. Vollmar.
The family soon assembled to hear the good news and see the treasures.
A feast followed and fun and great merriment filled the house. The care
of the old man and his grandchild was willingly undertaken by the
Vollmars; and these good people lived together in peace and contentment
for many years.