It was at the time when the earth was most beautiful and it was hard for people to die because the lilacs were in
bloom and roses were budding. Two wanderers were walking along heaven's road, a rich man and a poor man.
While on earth they had lived side by side in the same street, the rich man in a great elegant house and the poor
man in a little hut. But because death makes no distinctions, it happened that both of them died at the same hour.
And now they came together while walking on a road in heaven, and even though they were walking side by side
they did not exchange a word.
But the road was on a steep slope and the rich man was soon out of breath for he was fat and short-winded and
he had never walked so far in his life. And it happened that the poor man got ahead of him and reached the gate
of heaven first. But because he did not have the courage to knock, he sat down quietly before the gate and
thought: "I had better wait for the rich man; perhaps he will knock."
After a long while the rich man arrived and when he found the gate closed and locked and there was no one to
open it, he began to jolt it loudly and to hammer on it with his fists. Soon Peter appeared, opened the gate,
looked at both men and said to the rich man: "You were certainly the one who was not able to wait. There is no
reason to make such a fuss. We have not heard good reports about you up here while you were living down on
The rich man felt taken aback by this; Peter did not pay any more attention to him, but instead reached his hand
to the poor man to help get on his feet and said: "Both of you should go into the reception room; the rest will be
taken care of!"
They had not entered heaven yet but came to a large wide hall where all the doors were locked and the walls were
lined with benches.
"Stay here for a while," said Peter "and wait until I return; but use your time well because you should consider in
the meantime how you want things to be up here. Each one of you should have things exactly as you wish. So
think about it, and when I return do no waste time but tell me. And do not forget anything, because you cannot
change things later on."—
Then he left them. When he returned he asked if they were finished with their deliberations as to how they wanted
their eternity to be. The rich man sprang up from the bench and said that he wanted to have a great golden
castle, as nice as the one the Kaiser had, and every day a splendid meal. Chocolate in the morning and every day
for lunch veal with apple sauce and rice pudding with fried sausage and red raspberry compote. Those were his
favorite dishes. And every evening something different. And besides that he wanted to have a grandfather's
armchair and a green silk lounging jacket; and Peter should not forget the morning paper for he wanted to know
what was going on.
Peter looked at him sympathetically, remained silent for some time and finally asked: "And you wish for nothing
more?" — "Oh, yes!" the rich man added quickly, "Money, a lot of money, cellars full of money, so much that I
could never count it all!"
"You shall have everything you ask for," replied Peter, "Come, follow me!" and he opened one of the many doors
and led the rich man into a gorgeous castle where everything was just as he had wished it. After he had shown
him around he left and slid thick iron bolt to lock the castle gate. The rich man put on his green silk lounging
jacket, sat down in the grandfather chair, ate and drank and enjoyed everything, and when he was satisfied he
read the newspaper. And once a day he went down to the cellar and inspected his money. —
And twenty and fifty years passed and another fifty, until the years added up to a hundred — that is just a short
time-span of eternity — and the rich man had grown so bored with his magnificent golden castle that he could no
longer bear it. "The veal and the sausages are getting worse all the time," he said, "They taste awful!" That was
not exactly the truth, it was rather the result of having so much of it. "And I have stopped reading the
newspaper," he continued; "I have no interest in what is happening down on earth. I don't know a single person
there any more. My acquaintances have been dead for a long time. The people who go on living do such foolish
things and speak such a strange language that I get dizzy when I read it." Then he said nothing more and yawned
for it was so boring, but after a while he spoke again:
"I don't know what I should do with all the money I have. Of what use is it to me? I cannot buy anything here
anyway. How can I be so stupid and wish to have money in heaven!" Then he got up, opened the window and
But although it was lit up everywhere in the castle, it was pitch dark outside; pitch dark, so that you could not
even see your hand in front of your face, pitch dark, day and night, year in and year out and as quiet as a
graveyard. Then he closed the window again and sat down again in his armchair; and every day he would get up
once or twice and look out again. And it went on and on like that. Every morning chocolate and every day at noon
veal and apple sauce and rice pudding with sausages and red raspberry compote. Always the same, day after day.
And when a thousand years had passed the great iron lock on the gate slid open and Peter entered. "Well," he
said, "how do you like it here?"
The rich man shot back angrily: "How I like it? Not at all; it is awful! As bad as it can be for a person living in a
wretched castle! How do you think someone could live here for a thousand years! One hears nothing, one sees
nothing, no one cares for you. All the fantastic things we ever heard about heaven and eternal happiness are
nothing but lies. It is a horrible place to be in!"
Peter looked at him with astonishment and said: "Don't you know where you are? Do you think you are in
heaven? No, you are in hell. You yourself wanted to be here. This castle is a part of hell."
"Part of hell," repeated the rich man, startled. "Is this place hell? Where is the devil and where is the fire and the
"Do you think," asked Peter, "that sinners are still fried like they used to be? That method has long since been
abandoned. But you are in hell, you can be sure of that, and so deep in hell that one feels sorry for you. The time
will come when you will be fully aware of it."
The rich man fell back in his armchair, aghast, and held his hand before his face and sobbed: "In hell, in hell! Poor
me, poor wretch, what will become of me?"
But Peter opened the door and left, and as he was sliding the lock back in place he could hear the rich man inside,
still sobbing: "In hell, in hell! Poor me, poor wretch, what will become of me?" —
And again a hundred years passed and another hundred, and time passed slower for the rich man than ever
before. And when the second thousand had passed Peter came back again.
"Finally," the rich man shouted, "How I have been longing to see you! I am very sad! Is it supposed to keep on like
this? Forever and ever?" And after a while he asked: "Saint Peter, How long is eternity?"
Peter answered: "When ten thousand years have passed, then eternity is just the beginning."
When the rich man heard that he let his head sink down on his breast and began to cry bitterly. But Peter stood
behind his chair and counted his tears without his knowing it, and when he saw that they were so many he knew
that God would forgive him he said: "Come with me, I want to show you something you will like! Up above on the
top floor I know where there is a hole in the wall, and there we can look up and see a bit of heaven."
So Peter led him up the stairs and through heaps of junk to a little room. When they entered they saw a golden
ray of light come shining through a hole that touched Peter's forehead with a flame that seemed to hover there.
"That is certainly from heaven!" said the rich man trembling.
"Yes," said Peter, "now look through here!"
But the hole was rather high up on the wall and the rich man was not very tall so that he could hardly reach it.
"You must stretch and stand on your tip-toes," said Peter. The rich man tried with all his might to do that, and
when he finally managed to look through the knothole he could actually look right into heaven. Between clouds and
stars he could see God sitting there on his golden throne in all his glory and splendor and around him were all the
angels and saints.
"Ah," he muttered, "How wonderful, how magnificent, better than anyone on earth can imagine. But tell me, who is
that sitting at the God's feet with his back turned to us?"
"That is the poor man who lived next door to you while you were on earth, the man you arrived here with. When I
told the two of you to think about what you wanted for eternity he said he only wanted a footstool so that he
could sit at God's feet. And that is what he got, just like you got your castle."—
After Peter had said this he went away quietly, without the rich man noticing it. The latter was still standing on his
tip-toes and looking up to heaven and could not see enough of it. Of course it was difficult for him because the
knothole was up high and he had to stand on his tip-toes the whole time, but he was glad to do it, because what
he saw was so beautiful.
And after a thousand years Peter came back for the last time. The rich man was still standing on his tip-toes at the
wall in the attic looking intently at heaven, and he was so lost in the sight that he failed to notice Peter when he
Finally Peter put his hand on his shoulder and made him turn around and said:
"Come with me. You have been standing here long enough! Your sins have been forgiven; I am supposed to take
you into heaven. — But don't you think it would have been so much easier, if only you had wished for something
|About Heaven and Hell
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustration: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides