Late that evening, there was a knock on my door, and when I carefully opened it, Mr. Mümmelke, the Fur King, stepped in, relieved himself of his face mask and asked, after several polite preambles, if it were truly the case that the world was fated to end on the 13th of July of the present year. I replied that this unfortunately seemed to be the case, whereupon he praised my erudition and remarked that he had heard I had knowledge of certain kinds of sorcery and was also in possession of the famed mandrake roots, by means of which it was possible to gain all the riches you could desire, and whether I could, in exchange for a hefty sum, permit him to obtain one. I asked whether he, such a formidable man of riches and king of furs, was really in need of such means to increase his wealth, which comment he quickly dismissed, for, he said, on the contrary, he intended to divest himself of his entire fortune and ready himself for the heavenly kingdom, having always believed that happiness is to be found not in full crates and barrels, but floating on high, not allowing itself to be dragged down to earth. Nevertheless, he went on, a wise man should also consider the possibility of our world unexpectedly scraping through these dangerous events, and what would happen then? Well, as nature, as far as he had heard, had provided people with all sorts of innocent means of coming into possession of her treasures, he saw no reason not to avail oneself of them, even under these circumstances.
These means, I countered, are not as innocent as you think, in fact, they can lead you all too easily into the arms of the Devil and deprive you of your eternal salvation, which is also the reason why I have never tried them myself. At this, the Fur King smiled as innocently as a child at play and said a devout disposition such as his had no need to fear the Devil, I need have no qualms in providing him with a mandrake root and teaching him how to use it. So I brought out a strangely formed yellowish root of a harmless nature, of the kind I found in the woods from time to time, and said that he was to go to the churchyard on a moonlit night and look for the freshest grave, then, after calling the Devil’s name three times, eat half of the root, burying the other half in the fresh grave, whereupon after much digging and searching he would find more treasures than he could ever use. After we had both sworn each other to eternal secrecy over the deal, he left as cautiously as he had arrived. As it tuned out, I sold a similar root to the Ducat-Man the very next evening, and over the following days seven more to other great businessmen and councillors, which business brought me in total four thousand five hundred golden guilders.
These and many other men now spread their gold and silver out on the marketplace next to that of Mr. Johannsen, and there it would have stayed had it not been seen that from this side and that, people came with barrows, filling them up and happily wheeling them off again. It now appeared that the money that had been sacrificed was still causing evil by tempting the folk, and the Fur King suggested that all the available precious metals should be melted to create a monstrous statue, which would be of the golden calf and displayed as a loathsome idol to be publicly abused and scorned. This proposal found general approval, and the raw materials were immediately handed over to a famous sculptor so that he could use them in the task.
Incidentally, not all of the townsfolk were to be counted among the followers of Old Misery Guts, and there were some, always keeping their riches hidden carefully like a precious flower, who continued to go about their business as inconspicuously as possible and mocked the others as idle fantasists; there were others who were accustomed to greeting all possible events joyfully, if only to break up the daily routine and have opportunities to celebrate. These people gravitated towards the Pleasure-Seeker, who always had a few pleasantries on hand to justify their exuberance, such as how God had provided the Earth as a place for people to dwell in, and that we must, from gratitude, enjoy ourselves here as much as possible, and what is more, regardless of what might occur later, this pleasant, foolish life here on Earth is at the same time the childhood of our soul, and they who failed to enjoy their youth would surely regret it eternally. By means of such sophistry, he was even able to enthral the children of his rival, Pastor Wolke, twins who were so alike that, had they not been of different genders, could scarcely have been distinguished from one another.
When they were born, someone had dubbed them Droplet and Snowflake as a joke, which later turned out to be rather apt, for the chatter of the young boy, whose tongue seemed to move uncontrollably from one side of his mouth to the other, resembled the swift running of water, such as that from a gutter in strong rain, and the quiet girl was not only as white as a snowflake, but also had the air of one who might melt away and vanish at any moment. As a result, they remained Droplet and Snowflake, or Vikus and Vika, as the solemn names they had been christened with, Ludovikus and Ludovika, were obviously unsuited to them. They were known to almost everyone and yet friends to none, not because they were disliked but rather because nature had placed them beside one another, meaning it never occurred to them to seek anyone else’s company.
However, although they cared for each other immensely, indeed couldn’t have got by without one another, they felt far from content and satisfied in their love, on the contrary, when the tidings of the end of the world reached them, they suddenly realised in what awful solitude they had lived their lives up to now, that’s to say exclusively with one another, as alike inside as out. The news that everything would soon be over for good roused them with trumpet blasts from their slumber, and in their fear and impatience they had no idea how to take control of their lives. They were ready to do anything that would make them feel alive. When the Worldly Ones, those who lived a life of pleasure, realised what was happening, they found this immensely amusing; they received the twins most tenderly, the women took charge of Droplet and the men did the same with Snowflake, for first, they said, they needed to learn all about love, then life would open itself to them of its own accord.
As it happened, though, it proved impossible to teach Vikus about love as he was completely unable to take seriously and focus upon what the girl he happened to be with wanted. In the midst of the tenderest exchanges and caresses, he thought of a hundred other things, chief among which was how he would relate this adventure to his sister, the consequence of which was serious inattention and absentmindedness that only served to insult his lovers. In the end, he gave it all up entirely and hung around with the young men, whom he admired just as much, particularly if they were big, strong and slightly rough, played dice and caroused with them, without really having any more real interest in matters than would a cheerful ape imitating human antics.
In the meantime, Vika slipped softly and silently from the arms of one lover to the next, thinking each time that the kiss of the new lover would bring her the joy of life for which she so yearned. As her heart wasn’t really in it when she allowed herself to be kissed – for she was always listening and waiting for the wonders that were about to occur -, she didn’t feel overly degraded by the constant switches, it was just that, as her heart, in spite of everything, felt nothing of the clandestine violators, her internal awakenings and the rush of blood, she became ever sadder and wished she could go off to be with her brother, in order to daydream against the background of the harmless chatter splashing from his lips.
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.