Many years ago, there was an Emperor, who was so excessively fond of new clothes, that he spent all his money in dress. He did not trouble himself in the least about his soldiers; nor did he care to go either to the theatre or the chase, except for the opportunities then afforded him for displaying his new clothes. He had a different suit for each hour of the day; and as of any other king or emperor, one is accustomed to say, “He is sitting in council,” it was always said of him, “The Emperor is sitting in his wardrobe.”
Time passed merrily in the large town which was his capital; strangers arrived every day at the court. One day, two rogues, calling themselves weavers, made their appearance. They gave out that they knew how to weave stuffs of the most beautiful colors and elaborate patterns, the clothes manufactured from which should have the wonderful property of remaining invisible to everyone who was unfit for the office he held, or who was extraordinarily simple in character.
“These must, indeed, be splendid clothes!” thought the Emperor. “Had I such a suit, I might at once find out what men in my realms are unfit for their office, and also be able to distinguish the wise from the foolish! This stuff must be woven for me immediately.” And he caused large sums of money to be given to both the weavers in order that they might begin their work directly.
So the two pretended weavers set up two looms, and affected to work very busily, though in reality they did nothing at all. They asked for the most delicate silk and the purest gold thread; put both into their own knapsacks; and then continued their pretended work at the empty looms until late at night.
“I should like to know how the weavers are getting on with my cloth,” said the Emperor to himself, after some little time had elapsed; he was, however, rather embarrassed, when he remembered that a simpleton, or one unfit for his office, would be unable to see the manufacture. To be sure, he thought he had nothing to risk in his own person; but yet, he would prefer sending somebody else, to bring him intelligence about the weavers, and their work, before he troubled himself in the affair. All the people throughout the city had heard of the wonderful property the cloth was to possess; and all were anxious to learn how wise, or how ignorant, their neighbors might prove to be.
“I will send my faithful old minister to the weavers,” said the Emperor at last, after some deliberation, “he will be best able to see how the cloth looks; for he is a man of sense, and no one can be more suitable for his office than he is.”
So the faithful old minister went into the hall, where the knaves were working with all their might, at their empty looms. “What can be the meaning of this?” thought the old man, opening his eyes very wide. “I cannot discover the least bit of thread on the looms.” However, he did not express his thoughts aloud.
The impostors requested him very courteously to be so good as to come nearer their looms; and then asked him whether the design pleased him, and whether the colors were not very beautiful; at the same time pointing to the empty frames. The poor old minister looked and looked, he could not discover anything on the looms, for a very good reason, viz: there was nothing there. “What!” thought he again. “Is it possible that I am a simpleton? I have never thought so myself; and no one must know it now if I am so. Can it be, that I am unfit for my office? No, that must not be said either. I will never confess that I could not see the stuff.”
“Well, Sir Minister!” said one of the knaves, still pretending to work. “You do not say whether the stuff pleases you.”
“Oh, it is excellent!” replied the old minister, looking at the loom through his spectacles. “This pattern, and the colors, yes, I will tell the Emperor without delay, how very beautiful I think them.”
“We shall be much obliged to you,” said the impostors, and then they named the different colors and described the pattern of the pretended stuff. The old minister listened attentively to their words, in order that he might repeat them to the Emperor; and then the knaves asked for more silk and gold, saying that it was necessary to complete what they had begun. However, they put all that was given them into their knapsacks; and continued to work with as much apparent diligence as before at their empty looms.
The Emperor now sent another officer of his court to see how the men were getting on, and to ascertain whether the cloth would soon be ready. It was just the same with this gentleman as with the minister; he surveyed the looms on all sides, but could see nothing at all but the empty frames.
“Does not the stuff appear as beautiful to you, as it did to my lord the minister?” asked the impostors of the Emperor’s second ambassador; at the same time making the same gestures as before, and talking of the design and colors which were not there.
“I certainly am not stupid!” thought the messenger. “It must be, that I am not fit for my good, profitable office! That is very odd; however, no one shall know anything about it.” And accordingly he praised the stuff he could not see, and declared that he was delighted with both colors and patterns. “Indeed, please your Imperial Majesty,” said he to his sovereign when he returned, “the cloth which the weavers are preparing is extraordinarily magnificent.”
The whole city was talking of the splendid cloth which the Emperor had ordered to be woven at his own expense.
And now the Emperor himself wished to see the costly manufacture, while it was still in the loom. Accompanied by a select number of officers of the court, among whom were the two honest men who had already admired the cloth, he went to the crafty impostors, who, as soon as they were aware of the Emperor’s approach, went on working more diligently than ever; although they still did not pass a single thread through the looms.
“Is not the work absolutely magnificent?” said the two officers of the crown, already mentioned. “If your Majesty will only be pleased to look at it! What a splendid design! What glorious colors!” and at the same time they pointed to the empty frames; for they imagined that everyone else could see this exquisite piece of workmanship.
“How is this?” said the Emperor to himself. “I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen— Oh! the cloth is charming,” said he, aloud. “It has my complete approbation.” And he smiled most graciously, and looked closely at the empty looms; for on no account would he say that he could not see what two of the officers of his court had praised so much. All his retinue now strained their eyes, hoping to discover something on the looms, but they could see no more than the others; nevertheless, they all exclaimed, “Oh, how beautiful!” and advised his majesty to have some new clothes made from this splendid material, for the approaching procession. “Magnificent! Charming! Excellent!” resounded on all sides; and everyone was uncommonly gay. The Emperor shared in the general satisfaction; and presented the impostors with the riband of an order of knighthood, to be worn in their button-holes, and the title of “Gentlemen Weavers.”
The rogues sat up the whole of the night before the day on which the procession was to take place, and had sixteen lights burning, so that everyone might see how anxious they were to finish the Emperor’s new suit. They pretended to roll the cloth off the looms; cut the air with their scissors; and sewed with needles without any thread in them. “See!” cried they, at last. “The Emperor’s new clothes are ready!”
And now the Emperor, with all the grandees of his court, came to the weavers; and the rogues raised their arms, as if in the act of holding something up, saying, “Here are your Majesty’s trousers! Here is the scarf! Here is the mantle! The whole suit is as light as a cobweb; one might fancy one has nothing at all on, when dressed in it; that, however, is the great virtue of this delicate cloth.”
“Yes indeed!” said all the courtiers, although not one of them could see anything of this exquisite manufacture.
“If your Imperial Majesty will be graciously pleased to take off your clothes, we will fit on the new suit, in front of the looking glass.”
The Emperor was accordingly undressed, and the rogues pretended to array him in his new suit; the Emperor turning round, from side to side, before the looking glass.
“How splendid his Majesty looks in his new clothes, and how well they fit!” everyone cried out. “What a design! What colors! These are indeed royal robes!”
“The canopy which is to be borne over your Majesty, in the procession, is waiting,” announced the chief master of the ceremonies.
“I am quite ready,” answered the Emperor. “Do my new clothes fit well?” asked he, turning himself round again before the looking glass, in order that he might appear to be examining his handsome suit.
The lords of the bedchamber, who were to carry his Majesty’s train felt about on the ground, as if they were lifting up the ends of the mantle; and pretended to be carrying something; for they would by no means betray anything like simplicity, or unfitness for their office.
So now the Emperor walked under his high canopy in the midst of the procession, through the streets of his capital; and all the people standing by, and those at the windows, cried out, “Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! What a magnificent train there is to the mantle; and how gracefully the scarf hangs!” in short, no one would allow that he could not see these much admired clothes; because, in doing so, he would have declared himself either a simpleton or unfit for his office. Certainly, none of the Emperor’s various suits, had ever made so great an impression, as these invisible ones.
“But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child.
“Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.
“But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.
There was once a poor Prince, who had a kingdom. His kingdom was very small, but still quite large enough to marry upon; and he wished to marry.
It was certainly rather cool of him to say to the Emperor’s daughter, “Will you have me?” But so he did; for his name was renowned far and wide; and there were a hundred princesses who would have answered, “Yes!” and “Thank you kindly.” We shall see what this princess said.
It happened that where the Prince’s father lay buried, there grew a rose tree— a most beautiful rose tree, which blossomed only once in every five years, and even then bore only one flower, but that was a rose! It smelt so sweet that all cares and sorrows were forgotten by him who inhaled its fragrance.
And furthermore, the Prince had a nightingale, who could sing in such a manner that it seemed as though all sweet melodies dwelt in her little throat. So the Princess was to have the rose, and the nightingale; and they were accordingly put into large silver caskets, and sent to her.
The Emperor had them brought into a large hall, where the Princess was playing at “Visiting,” with the ladies of the court; and when she saw the caskets with the presents, she clapped her hands for joy.
“Ah, if it were but a little pussy-cat!” said she; but the rose tree, with its beautiful rose came to view.
“Oh, how prettily it is made!” said all the court ladies.
“It is more than pretty,” said the Emperor, “it is charming!”
But the Princess touched it, and was almost ready to cry.
“Fie, papa!” said she. “It is not made at all, it is natural!”
“Let us see what is in the other casket, before we get into a bad humor,” said the Emperor. So the nightingale came forth and sang so delightfully that at first no one could say anything ill-humored of her.
“Superbe! Charmant!” exclaimed the ladies; for they all used to chatter French, each one worse than her neighbor.
“How much the bird reminds me of the musical box that belonged to our blessed Empress,” said an old knight. “Oh yes! These are the same tones, the same execution.”
“Yes! yes!” said the Emperor, and he wept like a child at the remembrance.
“I will still hope that it is not a real bird,” said the Princess.
“Yes, it is a real bird,” said those who had brought it. “Well then let the bird fly,” said the Princess; and she positively refused to see the Prince.
However, he was not discouraged; he daubed his face over brown and black; pulled his cap over his ears, and knocked at the door.
“Good day to my lord, the Emperor!” said he. “Can I have employment at the palace?”
“Why, yes,” said the Emperor. “I want someone to take care of the pigs, for we have a great many of them.”
So the Prince was appointed “Imperial Swineherd.” He had a dirty little room close by the pigsty; and there he sat the whole day, and worked. By the evening he had made a pretty little kitchen-pot. Little bells were hung all round it; and when the pot was boiling, these bells tinkled in the most charming manner, and played the old melody,
“Ach! du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist weg, weg, weg!”
Ah! dear Augustine!
All is gone, gone, gone!
But what was still more curious, whoever held his finger in the smoke of the kitchen-pot, immediately smelt all the dishes that were cooking on every hearth in the city— this, you see, was something quite different from the rose.
Now the Princess happened to walk that way; and when she heard the tune, she stood quite still, and seemed pleased; for she could play “Lieber Augustine”; it was the only piece she knew; and she played it with one finger.
“Why there is my piece,” said the Princess. “That swineherd must certainly have been well educated! Go in and ask him the price of the instrument.”
So one of the court-ladies must run in; however, she drew on wooden slippers first.
“What will you take for the kitchen-pot?” said the lady.
“I will have ten kisses from the Princess,” said the swineherd.
“Yes, indeed!” said the lady.
“I cannot sell it for less,” rejoined the swineherd.
“He is an impudent fellow!” said the Princess, and she walked on; but when she had gone a little way, the bells tinkled so prettily
“Ach! du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist weg, weg, weg!”
“Stay,” said the Princess. “Ask him if he will have ten kisses from the ladies of my court.”
“No, thank you!” said the swineherd. “Ten kisses from the Princess, or I keep the kitchen-pot myself.”
“That must not be, either!” said the Princess. “But do you all stand before me that no one may see us.”
And the court-ladies placed themselves in front of her, and spread out their dresses— the swineherd got ten kisses, and the Princess— the kitchen-pot.
That was delightful! The pot was boiling the whole evening, and the whole of the following day. They knew perfectly well what was cooking at every fire throughout the city, from the chamberlain’s to the cobbler’s; the court-ladies danced and clapped their hands.
“We know who has soup, and who has pancakes for dinner to-day, who has cutlets, and who has eggs. How interesting!”
“Yes, but keep my secret, for I am an Emperor’s daughter.”
The swineherd— that is to say— the Prince, for no one knew that he was other than an ill-favored swineherd, let not a day pass without working at something; he at last constructed a rattle, which, when it was swung round, played all the waltzes and jig tunes, which have ever been heard since the creation of the world.
“Ah, that is superbe!” said the Princess when she passed by. “I have never heard prettier compositions! Go in and ask him the price of the instrument; but mind, he shall have no more kisses!”
“He will have a hundred kisses from the Princess!” said the lady who had been to ask.
“I think he is not in his right senses!” said the Princess, and walked on, but when she had gone a little way, she stopped again. “One must encourage art,” said she, “I am the Emperor’s daughter. Tell him he shall, as on yesterday, have ten kisses from me, and may take the rest from the ladies of the court.”
“Oh— but we should not like that at all!” said they. “What are you muttering?” asked the Princess. “If I can kiss him, surely you can. Remember that you owe everything to me.” So the ladies were obliged to go to him again.
“A hundred kisses from the Princess,” said he, “or else let everyone keep his own!”
“Stand round!” said she; and all the ladies stood round her whilst the kissing was going on.
“What can be the reason for such a crowd close by the pigsty?” said the Emperor, who happened just then to step out on the balcony; he rubbed his eyes, and put on his spectacles. “They are the ladies of the court; I must go down and see what they are about!” So he pulled up his slippers at the heel, for he had trodden them down.
As soon as he had got into the court-yard, he moved very softly, and the ladies were so much engrossed with counting the kisses, that all might go on fairly, that they did not perceive the Emperor. He rose on his tiptoes.
“What is all this?” said he, when he saw what was going on, and he boxed the Princess’s ears with his slipper, just as the swineherd was taking the eighty-sixth kiss.
“March out!” said the Emperor, for he was very angry; and both Princess and swineherd were thrust out of the city.
The Princess now stood and wept, the swineherd scolded, and the rain poured down.
“Alas! Unhappy creature that I am!” said the Princess. “If I had but married the handsome young Prince! Ah! how unfortunate I am!”
And the swineherd went behind a tree, washed the black and brown color from his face, threw off his dirty clothes, and stepped forth in his princely robes; he looked so noble that the Princess could not help bowing before him.
“I am come to despise thee,” said he. “Thou would’st not have an honorable Prince! Thou could’st not prize the rose and the nightingale, but thou wast ready to kiss the swineherd for the sake of a trumpery plaything. Thou art rightly served.”
He then went back to his own little kingdom, and shut the door of his palace in her face. Now she might well sing,
“Ach! du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist weg, weg, weg!”
There was once a Prince who wished to marry a Princess; but then she must be a real Princess. He travelled all over the world in hopes of finding such a lady; but there was always something wrong. Princesses he found in plenty; but whether they were real Princesses it was impossible for him to decide, for now one thing, now another, seemed to him not quite right about the ladies. At last he returned to his palace quite cast down, because he wished so much to have a real Princess for his wife.
One evening a fearful tempest arose, it thundered and lightened, and the rain poured down from the sky in torrents: besides, it was as dark as pitch. All at once there was heard a violent knocking at the door, and the old King, the Prince’s father, went out himself to open it.
It was a Princess who was standing outside the door. What with the rain and the wind, she was in a sad condition; the water trickled down from her hair, and her clothes clung to her body. She said she was a real Princess.
“Ah! we shall soon see that!” thought the old Queen-mother; however, she said not a word of what she was going to do; but went quietly into the bedroom, took all the bed-clothes off the bed, and put three little peas on the bedstead. She then laid twenty mattresses one upon another over the three peas, and put twenty feather beds over the mattresses.
Upon this bed the Princess was to pass the night.
The next morning she was asked how she had slept. “Oh, very badly indeed!” she replied. “I have scarcely closed my eyes the whole night through. I do not know what was in my bed, but I had something hard under me, and am all over black and blue. It has hurt me so much!”
Now it was plain that the lady must be a real Princess, since she had been able to feel the three little peas through the twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. None but a real Princess could have had such a delicate sense of feeling.
The Prince accordingly made her his wife; being now convinced that he had found a real Princess. The three peas were however put into the cabinet of curiosities, where they are still to be seen, provided they are not lost.
Wasn’t this a lady of real delicacy?
Every author has some peculiarity in his descriptions or in his style of writing. Those who do not like him, magnify it, shrug up their shoulders, and exclaim— there he is again! I, for my part, know very well how I can bring about this movement and this exclamation. It would happen immediately if I were to begin here, as I intended to do, with: “Rome has its Corso, Naples its Toledo”— “Ah! that Andersen; there he is again!” they would cry; yet I must, to please my fancy, continue quite quietly, and add: “But Copenhagen has its East Street.”
Here, then, we will stay for the present. In one of the houses not far from the new market a party was invited— a very large party, in order, as is often the case, to get a return invitation from the others. One half of the company was already seated at the card-table, the other half awaited the result of the stereotype preliminary observation of the lady of the house:
“Now let us see what we can do to amuse ourselves.”
They had got just so far, and the conversation began to crystallise, as it could but do with the scanty stream which the commonplace world supplied. Amongst other things they spoke of the middle ages: some praised that period as far more interesting, far more poetical than our own too sober present; indeed Councillor Knap defended this opinion so warmly, that the hostess declared immediately on his side, and both exerted themselves with unwearied eloquence. The Councillor boldly declared the time of King Hans to be the noblest and the most happy period.
While the conversation turned on this subject, and was only for a moment interrupted by the arrival of a journal that contained nothing worth reading, we will just step out into the antechamber, where cloaks, mackintoshes, sticks, umbrellas, and shoes, were deposited. Here sat two female figures, a young and an old one. One might have thought at first they were servants come to accompany their mistresses home; but on looking nearer, one soon saw they could scarcely be mere servants; their forms were too noble for that, their skin too fine, the cut of their dress too striking. Two fairies were they; the younger, it is true, was not Dame Fortune herself, but one of the waiting maids of her handmaidens who carry about the lesser good things that she distributes; the other looked extremely gloomy— it was Care. She always attends to her own serious business herself, as then she is sure of having it done properly.
They were telling each other, with a confidential interchange of ideas, where they had been during the day. The messenger Fortune had only executed a few unimportant commissions, such as saving a new bonnet from a shower of rain, etc.; but what she had yet to perform was something quite unusual.
“I must tell you,” said she, “that to-day is my birthday; and in honor of it, a pair of walking-shoes or galoshes has been entrusted to me, which I am to carry to mankind. These shoes possess the property of instantly transporting him who has them on to the place or the period in which he most wishes to be; every wish, as regards time or place, or state of being, will be immediately fulfilled, and so at last man will be happy, here below.”
“Do you seriously believe it?” replied Care, in a severe tone of reproach. “No; he will be very unhappy, and will assuredly bless the moment when he feels that he has freed himself from the fatal shoes.”
“Stupid nonsense!” said the other angrily. “I will put them here by the door. Some one will make a mistake for certain and take the wrong ones— he will be a happy man.”
Such was their conversation.
It was late; Councillor Knap, deeply occupied with the times of King Hans, intended to go home, and malicious Fate managed matters so that his feet, instead of finding their way to his own galoshes, slipped into those of Fortune. Thus caparisoned the good man walked out of the well-lighted rooms into East Street. By the magic power of the shoes he was carried back to the times of King Hans; on which account his foot very naturally sank in the mud and puddles of the street, there having been in those days no pavement in Copenhagen.
“Well! This is too bad! How dirty it is here!” sighed the Councillor. “As to a pavement, I can find no traces of one, and all the lamps, it seems, have gone to sleep.”
The moon was not yet very high; it was besides rather foggy, so that in the darkness all objects seemed mingled in chaotic confusion. At the next corner hung a votive lamp before a Madonna, but the light it gave was little better than none at all; indeed, he did not observe it before he was exactly under it, and his eyes fell upon the bright colors of the pictures which represented the well-known group of the Virgin and the infant Jesus.
“That is probably a wax-work show,” thought he; “and the people delay taking down their sign in hopes of a late visitor or two.”
A few persons in the costume of the time of King Hans passed quickly by him.
“How strange they look! The good folks come probably from a masquerade!”
Suddenly was heard the sound of drums and fifes; the bright blaze of a fire shot up from time to time, and its ruddy gleams seemed to contend with the bluish light of the torches. The Councillor stood still, and watched a most strange procession pass by. First came a dozen drummers, who understood pretty well how to handle their instruments; then came halberdiers, and some armed with cross-bows. The principal person in the procession was a priest. Astonished at what he saw, the Councillor asked what was the meaning of all this mummery, and who that man was.
“That’s the Bishop of Zealand,” was the answer.
“Good Heavens! What has taken possession of the Bishop?” sighed the Councillor, shaking his head. It certainly could not be the Bishop; even though he was considered the most absent man in the whole kingdom, and people told the drollest anecdotes about him. Reflecting on the matter, and without looking right or left, the Councillor went through East Street and across the Habro-Platz. The bridge leading to Palace Square was not to be found; scarcely trusting his senses, the nocturnal wanderer discovered a shallow piece of water, and here fell in with two men who very comfortably were rocking to and fro in a boat.
“Does your honor want to cross the ferry to the Holme?” asked they.
“Across to the Holme!” said the Councillor, who knew nothing of the age in which he at that moment was. “No, I am going to Christianshafen, to Little Market Street.”
Both men stared at him in astonishment.
“Only just tell me where the bridge is,” said he. “It is really unpardonable that there are no lamps here; and it is as dirty as if one had to wade through a morass.”
The longer he spoke with the boatmen, the more unintelligible did their language become to him.
“I don’t understand your Bornholmish dialect,” said he at last, angrily, and turning his back upon them. He was unable to find the bridge: there was no railway either. “It is really disgraceful what a state this place is in,” muttered he to himself. Never had his age, with which, however, he was always grumbling, seemed so miserable as on this evening. “I’ll take a hackney-coach!” thought he. But where were the hackney-coaches? Not one was to be seen.
“I must go back to the New Market; there, it is tobe hoped, I shall find some coaches; for if I don’t, I shall never get safe to Christianshafen.”
So off he went in the direction of East Street, and had nearly got to the end of it when the moon shone forth.
“God bless me! What wooden scaffolding is that which they have set up there?” cried he involuntarily, as he looked at East Gate, which, in those days, was at the end of East Street.
He found, however, a little side-door open, and through this he went, and stepped into our New Market of the present time. It was a huge desolate plain; some wild bushes stood up here and there, while across the field flowed a broad canal or river. Some wretched hovels for the Dutch sailors, resembling great boxes, and after which the place was named, lay about in confused disorder on the opposite bank.
“I either behold a fata morgana, or I am regularly tipsy,” whimpered out the Councillor. “But what’s this?”
He turned round anew, firmly convinced that he was seriously ill. He gazed at the street formerly so well known to him, and now so strange in appearance, and looked at the houses more attentively: most of them were of wood, slightly put together; and many had a thatched roof.
“No— I am far from well,” sighed he; “and yet I drank only one glass of punch; but I cannot suppose it— it was, too, really very wrong to give us punch and hot salmon for supper. I shall speak about it at the first opportunity. I have half a mind to go back again, and say what I suffer. But no, that would be too silly; and Heaven only knows if they are up still.”
He looked for the house, but it had vanished.
“It is really dreadful,” groaned he with increasing anxiety; “I cannot recognise East Street again; there is not a single decent shop from one end to the other! Nothing but wretched huts can I see anywhere; just as if I were at Ringstead. Oh! I am ill! I can scarcely bear myself any longer. Where the deuce can the house be? It must be here on this very spot; yet there is not the slightest idea of resemblance, to such a degree has everything changed this night! At all events here are some people up and stirring. Oh! oh! I am certainly very ill.”
He now hit upon a half-open door, through a chink of which a faint light shone. It was a sort of hostelry of those times; a kind of public-house. The room had some resemblance to the clay-floored halls in Holstein; a pretty numerous company, consisting of seamen, Copenhagen burghers, and a few scholars, sat here in deep converse over their pewter cans, and gave little heed to the person who entered.
“By your leave!” said the Councillor to the Hostess, who came bustling towards him. “I’ve felt so queer all of a sudden; would you have the goodness to send for a hackney-coach to take me to Christianshafen?”
The woman examined him with eyes of astonishment, and shook her head; she then addressed him in German. The Councillor thought she did not understand Danish, and therefore repeated his wish in German. This, in connection with his costume, strengthened the good woman in the belief that he was a foreigner. That he was ill, she comprehended directly; so she brought him a pitcher of water, which tasted certainly pretty strong of the sea, although it had been fetched from the well.
The Councillor supported his head on his hand, drew a long breath, and thought over all the wondrous things he saw around him.
“Is this the Daily News of this evening?” he asked mechanically, as he saw the Hostess push aside a large sheet of paper.
The meaning of this councillorship query remained, of course, a riddle to her, yet she handed him the paper without replying. It was a coarse wood-cut, representing a splendid meteor “as seen in the town of Cologne,” which was to be read below in bright letters.
“That is very old!” said the Councillor, whom this piece of antiquity began to make considerably more cheerful. “Pray how did you come into possession of this rare print? It is extremely interesting, although the whole is a mere fable. Such meteorous appearances are to be explained in this way— that they are the reflections of the Aurora Borealis, and it is highly probable they are caused principally by electricity.”
Those persons who were sitting nearest him and heard his speech, stared at him in wonderment; and one of them rose, took off his hat respectfully, and said with a serious countenance, “You are no doubt a very learned man, Monsieur.”
“Oh no,” answered the Councillor, “I can only join in conversation on this topic and on that, as indeed one must do according to the demands of the world at present.”
“Modestia is a fine virtue,” continued the gentleman; “however, as to your speech, I must say mihi secus videtur: yet I am willing to suspend my judicium.”
“May I ask with whom I have the pleasure of speaking?” asked the Councillor.
“I am a Bachelor in Theologia,” answered the gentleman with a stiff reverence.
This reply fully satisfied the Councillor; the title suited the dress. “He is certainly,” thought he, “some village schoolmaster— some queer old fellow, such as one still often meets with in Jutland.”
“This is no locus docendi, it is true,” began the clerical gentleman; “yet I beg you earnestly to let us profit by your learning. Your reading in the ancients is, sine dubio, of vast extent?”
“Oh yes, I’ve read something, to be sure,” replied the Councillor. “I like reading all useful works; but I do not on that account despise the modern ones; ‘tis only the unfortunate ‘Tales of Everyday Life’ that I cannot bear— we have enough and more than enough such in reality.”
“‘Tales of Everyday Life?’” said our Bachelor inquiringly.
“I mean those new fangled novels, twisting and writhing themselves in the dust of commonplace, which also expect to find a reading public.”
“Oh,” exclaimed the clerical gentleman smiling, “there is much wit in them; besides they are read at court. The King likes the history of Sir Iffven and Sir Gaudian particularly, which treats of King Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table; he has more than once joked about it with his high vassals.”
“I have not read that novel,” said the Councillor; “it must be quite a new one, that Heiberg has published lately.”
“No,” answered the theologian of the time of King Hans: “that book is not written by a Heiberg, but was imprinted by Godfrey von Gehmen.”
“Oh, is that the author’s name?” said the Councillor. “It is a very old name, and, as well as I recollect, he was the first printer that appeared in Denmark.”
“Yes, he is our first printer,” replied the clerical gentleman hastily.
So far all went on well. Some one of the worthy burghers now spoke of the dreadful pestilence that had raged in the country a few years back, meaning that of 1484. The Councillor imagined it was the cholera that was meant, which people made so much fuss about; and the discourse passed off satisfactorily enough. The war of the buccaneers of 1490 was so recent that it could not fail being alluded to; the English pirates had, they said, most shamefully taken their ships while in the roadstead; and the Councillor, before whose eyes the Herostratic event of 1801 still floated vividly, agreed entirely with the others in abusing the rascally English. With other topics he was not so fortunate; every moment brought about some new confusion, and threatened to become a perfect Babel; for the worthy Bachelor was really too ignorant, and the simplest observations of the Councillor sounded to him too daring and phantastical. They looked at one another from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet; and when matters grew to too high a pitch, then the Bachelor talked Latin, in the hope of being better understood— but it was of no use after all.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Hostess, plucking the Councillor by the sleeve; and now his recollection returned, for in the course of the conversation he had entirely forgotten all that had preceded it.
“Merciful God, where am I!” exclaimed he in agony; and while he so thought, all his ideas and feelings of overpowering dizziness, against which he struggled with the utmost power of desperation, encompassed him with renewed force. “Let us drink claret and mead, and Bremen beer,” shouted one of the guests—” and you shall drink with us!”
Two maidens approached. One wore a cap of two staring colors, denoting the class of persons to which she belonged. They poured out the liquor, and made the most friendly gesticulations; while a cold perspiration trickled down the back of the poor Councillor.
“What’s to be the end of this! What’s to become of me!” groaned he; but he was forced, in spite of his opposition, to drink with the rest. They took hold of the worthy man; who, hearing on every side that he was intoxicated, did not in the least doubt the truth of this certainly not very polite assertion; but on the contrary, implored the ladies and gentlemen present to procure him a hackney-coach: they, however, imagined he was talking Russian.
Never before, he thought, had he been in such a coarse and ignorant company; one might almost fancy the people had turned heathens again. “It is the most dreadful moment of my life: the whole world is leagued against me!” But suddenly it occurred to him that he might stoop down under the table, and then creep unobserved out of the door. He did so; but just as he was going, the others remarked what he was about; they laid hold of him by the legs; and now, happily for him, off fell his fatal shoes— and with them the charm was at an end.
The Councillor saw quite distinctly before him a lantern burning, and behind this a large handsome house. All seemed to him in proper order as usual; it was East Street, splendid and elegant as we now see it. He lay with his feet towards a doorway, and exactly opposite sat the watchman asleep.
“Gracious Heaven!” said he. “Have I lain here in the street and dreamed? Yes; ‘tis East Street! How splendid and light it is! But really it is terrible what an effect that one glass of punch must have had on me!”
Two minutes later, he was sitting in a hackney-coach and driving to Frederickshafen. He thought of the distress and agony he had endured, and praised from the very bottom of his heart the happy reality— our own time— which, with all its deficiencies, is yet much better than that in which, so much against his inclination, he had lately been.
“Why, there is a pair of galoshes, as sure as I’m alive!” said the watchman, awaking from a gentle slumber. “They belong no doubt to the lieutenant who lives over the way. They lie close to the door.”
The worthy man was inclined to ring and deliver them at the house, for there was still a light in the window; but he did not like disturbing the other people in their beds, and so very considerately he left the matter alone.
“Such a pair of shoes must be very warm and comfortable,” said he; “the leather is so soft and supple.” They fitted his feet as though they had been made for him. “‘Tis a curious world we live in,” continued he, soliloquizing. “There is the lieutenant, now, who might go quietly to bed if he chose, where no doubt he could stretch himself at his ease; but does he do it? No; he saunters up and down his room, because, probably, he has enjoyed too many of the good things of this world at his dinner. That’s a happy fellow! He has neither an infirm mother, nor a whole troop of everlastingly hungry children to torment him. Every evening he goes to a party, where his nice supper costs him nothing: would to Heaven I could but change with him! How happy should I be!”
While expressing his wish, the charm of the shoes, which he had put on, began to work; the watchman entered into the being and nature of the lieutenant. He stood in the handsomely furnished apartment, and held between his fingers a small sheet of rose-colored paper, on which some verses were written— written indeed by the officer himself; for who has not, at least once in his life, had a lyrical moment? And if one then marks down one’s thoughts, poetry is produced. But here was written:
OH, WERE I RICH!
“Oh, were I rich! Such was my wish, yea such
When hardly three feet high, I longed for much.
Oh, were I rich! an officer were I,
With sword, and uniform, and plume so high.
And the time came, and officer was I!
But yet I grew not rich. Alas, poor me!
Have pity, Thou, who all man’s wants dost see.
“I sat one evening sunk in dreams of bliss,
A maid of seven years old gave me a kiss,
I at that time was rich in poesy
And tales of old, though poor as poor could be;
But all she asked for was this poesy.
Then was I rich, but not in gold, poor me!
As Thou dost know, who all men’s hearts canst see.
“Oh, were I rich! Oft asked I for this boon.
The child grew up to womanhood full soon.
She is so pretty, clever, and so kind
Oh, did she know what’s hidden in my mind—
A tale of old. Would she to me were kind!
But I’m condemned to silence! oh, poor me!
As Thou dost know, who all men’s hearts canst see.
“Oh, were I rich in calm and peace of mind,
My grief you then would not here written find!
O thou, to whom I do my heart devote,
Oh read this page of glad days now remote,
A dark, dark tale, which I tonight devote!
Dark is the future now. Alas, poor me!
Have pity Thou, who all men’s pains dost see.”
Such verses as these people write when they are in love! But no man in his senses ever thinks of printing them. Here one of the sorrows of life, in which there is real poetry, gave itself vent; not that barren grief which the poet may only hint at, but never depict in its detail— misery and want: that animal necessity, in short, to snatch at least at a fallen leaf of the bread-fruit tree, if not at the fruit itself. The higher the position in which one finds oneself transplanted, the greater is the suffering. Everyday necessity is the stagnant pool of life— no lovely picture reflects itself therein. Lieutenant, love, and lack of money— that is a symbolic triangle, or much the same as the half of the shattered die of Fortune. This the lieutenant felt most poignantly, and this was the reason he leant his head against the window, and sighed so deeply.
“The poor watchman out there in the street is far happier than I. He knows not what I term privation. He has a home, a wife, and children, who weep with him over his sorrows, who rejoice with him when he is glad. Oh, far happier were I, could I exchange with him my being— with his desires and with his hopes perform the weary pilgrimage of life! Oh, he is a hundred times happier than I!”
In the same moment the watchman was again watchman. It was the shoes that caused the metamorphosis by means of which, unknown to himself, he took upon him the thoughts and feelings of the officer; but, as we have just seen, he felt himself in his new situation much less contented, and now preferred the very thing which but some minutes before he had rejected. So then the watchman was again watchman.
“That was an unpleasant dream,” said he; “but ‘twas droll enough altogether. I fancied that I was the lieutenant over there: and yet the thing was not very much to my taste after all. I missed my good old mother and the dear little ones; who almost tear me to pieces for sheer love.”
He seated himself once more and nodded: the dream continued to haunt him, for he still had the shoes on his feet. A falling star shone in the dark firmament.
“There falls another star,” said he: “but what does it matter; there are always enough left. I should not much mind examining the little glimmering things somewhat nearer, especially the moon; for that would not slip so easily through a man’s fingers. When we die— so at least says the student, for whom my wife does the washing— we shall fly about as light as a feather from one such a star to the other. That’s, of course, not true: but ‘twould be pretty enough if it were so. If I could but once take a leap up there, my body might stay here on the steps for what I care.”
Behold— there are certain things in the world to which one ought never to give utterance except with the greatest caution; but doubly careful must one be when we have the Shoes of Fortune on our feet. Now just listen to what happened to the watchman.
As to ourselves, we all know the speed produced by the employment of steam; we have experienced it either on railroads, or in boats when crossing the sea; but such a flight is like the travelling of a sloth in comparison with the velocity with which light moves. It flies nineteen million times faster than the best race-horse; and yet electricity is quicker still. Death is an electric shock which our heart receives; the freed soul soars upwards on the wings of electricity. The sun’s light wants eight minutes and some seconds to perform a journey of more than twenty million of our Danish miles; borne by electricity, the soul wants even some minutes less to accomplish the same flight. To it the space between the heavenly bodies is not greater than the distance between the homes of our friends in town is for us, even if they live a short way from each other; such an electric shock in the heart, however, costs us the use of the body here below; unless, like the watchman of East Street, we happen to have on the Shoes of Fortune.
In a few seconds the watchman had done the fifty-two thousand of our miles up to the moon, which, as everyone knows, was formed out of matter much lighter than our earth; and is, so we should say, as soft as newly-fallen snow. He found himself on one of the many circumjacent mountain-ridges with which we are acquainted by means of Dr. Madler’s “Map of the Moon.” Within, down it sunk perpendicularly into a caldron, about a Danish mile in depth; while below lay a town, whose appearance we can, in some measure, realize to ourselves by beating the white of an egg in a glass of water. The matter of which it was built was just as soft, and formed similar towers, and domes, and pillars, transparent and rocking in the thin air; while above his head our earth was rolling like a large fiery ball.
He perceived immediately a quantity of beings who were certainly what we call “men”; yet they looked different to us. A far more correct imagination than that of the pseudo-Herschel had created them; and if they had been placed in rank and file, and copied by some skilful painter’s hand, one would, without doubt, have exclaimed involuntarily, “What a beautiful arabesque!”
Probably a translation of the celebrated Moon hoax, written by Richard A. Locke, and originally published in New York.
They had a language too; but surely nobody can expect that the soul of the watchman should understand it. Be that as it may, it did comprehend it; for in our souls there germinate far greater powers than we poor mortals, despite all our cleverness, have any notion of. Does she not show us— she the queen in the land of enchantment— her astounding dramatic talent in all our dreams? There every acquaintance appears and speaks upon the stage, so entirely in character, and with the same tone of voice, that none of us, when awake, were able to imitate it. How well can she recall persons to our mind, of whom we have not thought for years; when suddenly they step forth “every inch a man,” resembling the real personages, even to the finest features, and become the heroes or heroines of our world of dreams. In reality, such remembrances are rather unpleasant: every sin, every evil thought, may, like a clock with alarm or chimes, be repeated at pleasure; then the question is if we can trust ourselves to give an account of every unbecoming word in our heart and on our lips.
The watchman’s spirit understood the language of the inhabitants of the moon pretty well. The Selenites disputed variously about our earth, and expressed their doubts if it could be inhabited: the air, they said, must certainly be too dense to allow any rational dweller in the moon the necessary free respiration. They considered the moon alone to be inhabited: they imagined it was the real heart of the universe or planetary system, on which the genuine Cosmopolites, or citizens of the world, dwelt. What strange things men— no, what strange things Selenites sometimes take into their heads!
About politics they had a good deal to say. But little Denmark must take care what it is about, and not run counter to the moon; that great realm, that might in an ill-humor bestir itself, and dash down a hail-storm in our faces, or force the Baltic to overflow the sides of its gigantic basin.
We will, therefore, not listen to what was spoken, and on no condition run in the possibility of telling tales out of school; but we will rather proceed, like good quiet citizens, to East Street, and observe what happened meanwhile to the body of the watchman.
He sat lifeless on the steps: the morning-star, that is to say, the heavy wooden staff, headed with iron spikes, and which had nothing else in common with its sparkling brother in the sky, had glided from his hand; while his eyes were fixed with glassy stare on the moon, looking for the good old fellow of a spirit which still haunted it.
“What’s the hour, watchman?” asked a passer-by. But when the watchman gave no reply, the merry roysterer, who was now returning home from a noisy drinking bout, took it into his head to try what a tweak of the nose would do, on which the supposed sleeper lost his balance, the body lay motionless, stretched out on the pavement: the man was dead. When the patrol came up, all his comrades, who comprehended nothing of the whole affair, were seized with a dreadful fright, for dead he was, and he remained so. The proper authorities were informed of the circumstance, people talked a good deal about it, and in the morning the body was carried to the hospital.
Now that would be a very pretty joke, if the spirit when it came back and looked for the body in East Street, were not to find one. No doubt it would, in its anxiety, run off to the police, and then to the “Hue and Cry” office, to announce that “the finder will be handsomely rewarded,” and at last away to the hospital; yet we may boldly assert that the soul is shrewdest when it shakes off every fetter, and every sort of leading-string— the body only makes it stupid.
The seemingly dead body of the watchman wandered, as we have said, to the hospital, where it was brought into the general viewing-room: and the first thing that was done here was naturally to pull off the galoshes— when the spirit, that was merely gone out on adventures, must have returned with the quickness of lightning to its earthly tenement. It took its direction towards the body in a straight line; and a few seconds after, life began to show itself in the man. He asserted that the preceding night had been the worst that ever the malice of fate had allotted him; he would not for two silver marks again go through what he had endured while moon-stricken; but now, however, it was over.
The same day he was discharged from the hospital as perfectly cured; but the Shoes meanwhile remained behind.
Every inhabitant of Copenhagen knows, from personal inspection, how the entrance to Frederick’s Hospital looks; but as it is possible that others, who are not Copenhagen people, may also read this little work, we will beforehand give a short description of it.
The extensive building is separated from the street by a pretty high railing, the thick iron bars of which are so far apart, that in all seriousness, it is said, some very thin fellow had of a night occasionally squeezed himself through to go and pay his little visits in the town. The part of the body most difficult to manage on such occasions was, no doubt, the head; here, as is so often the case in the world, long-headed people get through best. So much, then, for the introduction.
One of the young men, whose head, in a physical sense only, might be said to be of the thickest, had the watch that evening. The rain poured down in torrents; yet despite these two obstacles, the young man was obliged to go out, if it were but for a quarter of an hour; and as to telling the door-keeper about it, that, he thought, was quite unnecessary, if, with a whole skin, he were able to slip through the railings. There, on the floor lay the galoshes, which the watchman had forgotten; he never dreamed for a moment that they were those of Fortune; and they promised to do him good service in the wet; so he put them on. The question now was, if he could squeeze himself through the grating, for he had never tried before. Well, there he stood.
“Would to Heaven I had got my head through!” said he, involuntarily; and instantly through it slipped, easily and without pain, notwithstanding it was pretty large and thick. But now the rest of the body was to be got through!
“Ah! I am much too stout,” groaned he aloud, while fixed as in a vice. “I had thought the head was the most difficult part of the matter— oh! oh! I really cannot squeeze myself through!”
He now wanted to pull his over-hasty head back again, but he could not. For his neck there was room enough, but for nothing more. His first feeling was of anger; his next that his temper fell to zero. The Shoes of Fortune had placed him in the most dreadful situation; and, unfortunately, it never occurred to him to wish himself free. The pitch-black clouds poured down their contents in still heavier torrents; not a creature was to be seen in the streets. To reach up to the bell was what he did not like; to cry aloud for help would have availed him little; besides, how ashamed would he have been to be found caught in a trap, like an outwitted fox! How was he to twist himself through! He saw clearly that it was his irrevocable destiny to remain a prisoner till dawn, or, perhaps, even late in the morning; then the smith must be fetched to file away the bars; but all that would not be done so quickly as he could think about it. The whole Charity School, just opposite, would be in motion; all the new booths, with their not very courtier-like swarm of seamen, would join them out of curiosity, and would greet him with a wild “hurrah!” while he was standing in his pillory: there would be a mob, a hissing, and rejoicing, and jeering, ten times worse than in the rows about the Jews some years ago— “Oh, my blood is mounting to my brain; ‘tis enough to drive one mad! I shall go wild! I know not what to do. Oh! were I but loose; my dizziness would then cease; oh, were my head but loose!”
You see he ought to have said that sooner; for the moment he expressed the wish his head was free; and cured of all his paroxysms of love, he hastened off to his room, where the pains consequent on the fright the Shoes had prepared for him, did not so soon take their leave.
But you must not think that the affair is over now; it grows much worse.
The night passed, the next day also; but nobody came to fetch the Shoes.
In the evening “Dramatic Readings” were to be given at the little theatre in King Street. The house was filled to suffocation; and among other pieces to be recited was a new poem by H. C. Andersen, called, My Aunt’s Spectacles; the contents of which were pretty nearly as follows:
“A certain person had an aunt, who boasted of particular skill in fortune-telling with cards, and who was constantly being stormed by persons that wanted to have a peep into futurity. But she was full of mystery about her art, in which a certain pair of magic spectacles did her essential service. Her nephew, a merry boy, who was his aunt’s darling, begged so long for these spectacles, that, at last, she lent him the treasure, after having informed him, with many exhortations, that in order to execute the interesting trick, he need only repair to some place where a great many persons were assembled; and then, from a higher position, whence he could overlook the crowd, pass the company in review before him through his spectacles. Immediately ‘the inner man’ of each individual would be displayed before him, like a game of cards, in which he unerringly might read what the future of every person presented was to be. Well pleased the little magician hastened away to prove the powers of the spectacles in the theatre; no place seeming to him more fitted for such a trial. He begged permission of the worthy audience, and set his spectacles on his nose. A motley phantasmagoria presents itself before him, which he describes in a few satirical touches, yet without expressing his opinion openly: he tells the people enough to set them all thinking and guessing; but in order to hurt nobody, he wraps his witty oracular judgments in a transparent veil, or rather in a lurid thundercloud, shooting forth bright sparks of wit, that they may fall in the powder-magazine of the expectant audience.”
The humorous poem was admirably recited, and the speaker much applauded. Among the audience was the young man of the hospital, who seemed to have forgotten his adventure of the preceding night. He had on the Shoes; for as yet no lawful owner had appeared to claim them; and besides it was so very dirty out-of-doors, they were just the thing for him, he thought.
The beginning of the poem he praised with great generosity: he even found the idea original and effective. But that the end of it, like the Rhine, was very insignificant, proved, in his opinion, the author’s want of invention; he was without genius, etc. This was an excellent opportunity to have said something clever.
Meanwhile he was haunted by the idea— he should like to possess such a pair of spectacles himself; then, perhaps, by using them circumspectly, one would be able to look into people’s hearts, which, he thought, would be far more interesting than merely to see what was to happen next year; for that we should all know in proper time, but the other never.
“I can now,” said he to himself, “fancy the whole row of ladies and gentlemen sitting there in the front row; if one could but see into their hearts— yes, that would be a revelation— a sort of bazar. In that lady yonder, so strangely dressed, I should find for certain a large milliner’s shop; in that one the shop is empty, but it wants cleaning plain enough. But there would also be some good stately shops among them. Alas!” sighed he, “I know one in which all is stately; but there sits already a spruce young shopman, which is the only thing that’s amiss in the whole shop. All would be splendidly decked out, and we should hear, ‘Walk in, gentlemen, pray walk in; here you will find all you please to want.’ Ah! I wish to Heaven I could walk in and take a trip right through the hearts of those present!”
And behold! to the Shoes of Fortune this was the cue; the whole man shrunk together and a most uncommon journey through the hearts of the front row of spectators, now began. The first heart through which he came, was that of a middle-aged lady, but he instantly fancied himself in the room of the “Institution for the cure of the crooked and deformed,” where casts of mis-shapen limbs are displayed in naked reality on the wall. Yet there was this difference, in the institution the casts were taken at the entry of the patient; but here they were retained and guarded in the heart while the sound persons went away. They were, namely, casts of female friends, whose bodily or mental deformities were here most faithfully preserved.
With the snake-like writhings of an idea he glided into another female heart; but this seemed to him like a large holy fane. The white dove of innocence fluttered over the altar. How gladly would he have sunk upon his knees; but he must away to the next heart; yet he still heard the pealing tones of the organ, and he himself seemed to have become a newer and a better man; he felt unworthy to tread the neighboring sanctuary which a poor garret, with a sick bed-rid mother, revealed. But God’s warm sun streamed through the open window; lovely roses nodded from the wooden flower-boxes on the roof, and two sky-blue birds sang rejoicingly, while the sick mother implored God’s richest blessings on her pious daughter.
He now crept on hands and feet through a butcher’s shop; at least on every side, and above and below, there was nought but flesh. It was the heart of a most respectable rich man, whose name is certain to be found in the Directory.
He was now in the heart of the wife of this worthy gentleman. It was an old, dilapidated, mouldering dovecot. The husband’s portrait was used as a weather-cock, which was connected in some way or other with the doors, and so they opened and shut of their own accord, whenever the stern old husband turned round.
Hereupon he wandered into a boudoir formed entirely of mirrors, like the one in Castle Rosenburg; but here the glasses magnified to an astonishing degree. On the floor, in the middle of the room, sat, like a Dalai-Lama, the insignificant “Self” of the person, quite confounded at his own greatness. He then imagined he had got into a needle-case full of pointed needles of every size.
“This is certainly the heart of an old maid,” thought he. But he was mistaken. It was the heart of a young military man; a man, as people said, of talent and feeling.
In the greatest perplexity, he now came out of the last heart in the row; he was unable to put his thoughts in order, and fancied that his too lively imagination had run away with him.
“Good Heavens!” sighed he. “I have surely a disposition to madness— ’tis dreadfully hot here; my blood boils in my veins and my head is burning like a coal.” And he now remembered the important event of the evening before, how his head had got jammed in between the iron railings of the hospital. “That’s what it is, no doubt,” said he. “I must do something in time: under such circumstances a Russian bath might do me good. I only wish I were already on the upper bank.”
And so there he lay on the uppermost bank in the vapor-bath; but with all his clothes on, in his boots and galoshes, while the hot drops fell scalding from the ceiling on his face.
“Holloa!” cried he, leaping down. The bathing attendant, on his side, uttered a loud cry of astonishment when he beheld in the bath, a man completely dressed.
The other, however, retained sufficient presence of mind to whisper to him, “‘Tis a bet, and I have won it!” But the first thing he did as soon as he got home, was to have a large blister put on his chest and back to draw out his madness.
The next morning he had a sore chest and a bleeding back; and, excepting the fright, that was all that he had gained by the Shoes of Fortune.
The watchman, whom we have certainly not forgotten, thought meanwhile of the galoshes he had found and taken with him to the hospital; he now went to fetch them; and as neither the lieutenant, nor anybody else in the street, claimed them as his property, they were delivered over to the police-office.
“Why, I declare the Shoes look just like my own,” said one of the clerks, eying the newly-found treasure, whose hidden powers, even he, sharp as he was, was not able to discover. “One must have more than the eye of a shoemaker to know one pair from the other,” said he, soliloquizing; and putting, at the same time, the galoshes in search of an owner, beside his own in the corner.
“Here, sir!” said one of the men, who panting brought him a tremendous pile of papers.
The copying-clerk turned round and spoke awhile with the man about the reports and legal documents in question; but when he had finished, and his eye fell again on the Shoes, he was unable to say whether those to the left or those to the right belonged to him. “At all events it must be those which are wet,” thought he; but this time, in spite of his cleverness, he guessed quite wrong, for it was just those of Fortune which played as it were into his hands, or rather on his feet. And why, I should like to know, are the police never to be wrong? So he put them on quickly, stuck his papers in his pocket, and took besides a few under his arm, intending to look them through at home to make the necessary notes. It was noon; and the weather, that had threatened rain, began to clear up, while gaily dressed holiday folks filled the streets. “A little trip to Fredericksburg would do me no great harm,” thought he; “for I, poor beast of burden that I am, have so much to annoy me, that I don’t know what a good appetite is. ‘Tis a bitter crust, alas! at which I am condemned to gnaw!”
Nobody could be more steady or quiet than this young man; we therefore wish him joy of the excursion with all our heart; and it will certainly be beneficial for a person who leads so sedentary a life. In the park he met a friend, one of our young poets, who told him that the following day he should set out on his long-intended tour.
“So you are going away again!” said the clerk. “You are a very free and happy being; we others are chained by the leg and held fast to our desk.”
“Yes; but it is a chain, friend, which ensures you the blessed bread of existence,” answered the poet. “You need feel no care for the coming morrow: when you are old, you receive a pension.”
“True,” said the clerk, shrugging his shoulders; “and yet you are the better off. To sit at one’s ease and poetise— that is a pleasure; everybody has something agreeable to say to you, and you are always your own master. No, friend, you should but try what it is to sit from one year’s end to the other occupied with and judging the most trivial matters.”
The poet shook his head, the copying-clerk did the same. Each one kept to his own opinion, and so they separated.
“It’s a strange race, those poets!” said the clerk, who was very fond of soliloquizing. “I should like some day, just for a trial, to take such nature upon me, and be a poet myself; I am very sure I should make no such miserable verses as the others. Today, methinks, is a most delicious day for a poet. Nature seems anew to celebrate her awakening into life. The air is so unusually clear, the clouds sail on so buoyantly, and from the green herbage a fragrance is exhaled that fills me with delight. For many a year have I not felt as at this moment.”
We see already, by the foregoing effusion, that he is become a poet; to give further proof of it, however, would in most cases be insipid, for it is a most foolish notion to fancy a poet different from other men. Among the latter there may be far more poetical natures than many an acknowledged poet, when examined more closely, could boast of; the difference only is, that the poet possesses a better mental memory, on which account he is able to retain the feeling and the thought till they can be embodied by means of words; a faculty which the others do not possess. But the transition from a commonplace nature to one that is richly endowed, demands always a more or less breakneck leap over a certain abyss which yawns threateningly below; and thus must the sudden change with the clerk strike the reader.
“The sweet air!” continued he of the police-office, in his dreamy imaginings; “how it reminds me of the violets in the garden of my aunt Magdalena! Yes, then I was a little wild boy, who did not go to school very regularly. O heavens! ‘tis a long time since I have thought on those times. The good old soul! She lived behind the Exchange. She always had a few twigs or green shoots in water— let the winter rage without as it might. The violets exhaled their sweet breath, whilst I pressed against the windowpanes covered with fantastic frost-work the copper coin I had heated on the stove, and so made peep-holes. What splendid vistas were then opened to my view! What change— what magnificence! Yonder in the canal lay the ships frozen up, and deserted by their whole crews, with a screaming crow for the sole occupant. But when the spring, with a gentle stirring motion, announced her arrival, a new and busy life arose; with songs and hurrahs the ice was sawn asunder, the ships were fresh tarred and rigged, that they might sail away to distant lands. But I have remained here— must always remain here, sitting at my desk in the office, and patiently see other people fetch their passports to go abroad. Such is my fate! Alas!”— sighed he, and was again silent.
“Great Heaven! What is come to me! Never have I thought or felt like this before! It must be the summer air that affects me with feelings almost as disquieting as they are refreshing.”
He felt in his pocket for the papers. “These police-reports will soon stem the torrent of my ideas, and effectually hinder any rebellious overflowing of the time-worn banks of official duties”; he said to himself consolingly, while his eye ran over the first page. “DAME TIGBRITH, tragedy in five acts.” “What is that? And yet it is undeniably my own handwriting. Have I written the tragedy? Wonderful, very wonderful!— And this— what have I here? ‘INTRIGUE ON THE RAMPARTS; or THE DAY OF REPENTANCE: vaudeville with new songs to the most favorite airs.’ The deuce! Where did I get all this rubbish? Some one must have slipped it slyly into my pocket for a joke. There is too a letter to me; a crumpled letter and the seal broken.”
Yes; it was not a very polite epistle from the manager of a theatre, in which both pieces were flatly refused.
“Hem! hem!” said the clerk breathlessly, and quite exhausted he seated himself on a bank. His thoughts were so elastic, his heart so tender; and involuntarily he picked one of the nearest flowers. It is a simple daisy, just bursting out of the bud. What the botanist tells us after a number of imperfect lectures, the flower proclaimed in a minute. It related the mythus of its birth, told of the power of the sun-light that spread out its delicate leaves, and forced them to impregnate the air with their incense— and then he thought of the manifold struggles of life, which in like manner awaken the budding flowers of feeling in our bosom. Light and air contend with chivalric emulation for the love of the fair flower that bestowed her chief favors on the latter; full of longing she turned towards the light, and as soon as it vanished, rolled her tender leaves together and slept in the embraces of the air. “It is the light which adorns me,” said the flower.
“But ‘tis the air which enables thee to breathe,” said the poet’s voice.
Close by stood a boy who dashed his stick into a wet ditch. The drops of water splashed up to the green leafy roof, and the clerk thought of the million of ephemera which in a single drop were thrown up to a height, that was as great doubtless for their size, as for us if we were to be hurled above the clouds. While he thought of this and of the whole metamorphosis he had undergone, he smiled and said, “I sleep and dream; but it is wonderful how one can dream so naturally, and know besides so exactly that it is but a dream. If only to-morrow on awaking, I could again call all to mind so vividly! I seem in unusually good spirits; my perception of things is clear, I feel as light and cheerful as though I were in heaven; but I know for a certainty, that if to-morrow a dim remembrance of it should swim before my mind, it will then seem nothing but stupid nonsense, as I have often experienced already— especially before I enlisted under the banner of the police, for that dispels like a whirlwind all the visions of an unfettered imagination. All we hear or say in a dream that is fair and beautiful is like the gold of the subterranean spirits; it is rich and splendid when it is given us, but viewed by daylight we find only withered leaves. Alas!” he sighed quite sorrowful, and gazed at the chirping birds that hopped contentedly from branch to branch, “they are much better off than I! To fly must be a heavenly art; and happy do I prize that creature in which it is innate. Yes! Could I exchange my nature with any other creature, I fain would be such a happy little lark!”
He had hardly uttered these hasty words when the skirts and sleeves of his coat folded themselves together into wings; the clothes became feathers, and the galoshes claws. He observed it perfectly, and laughed in his heart. “Now then, there is no doubt that I am dreaming; but I never before was aware of such mad freaks as these.” And up he flew into the green roof and sang; but in the song there was no poetry, for the spirit of the poet was gone. The Shoes, as is the case with anybody who does what he has to do properly, could only attend to one thing at a time. He wanted to be a poet, and he was one; he now wished to be a merry chirping bird: but when he was metamorphosed into one, the former peculiarities ceased immediately. “It is really pleasant enough,” said he: “the whole day long I sit in the office amid the driest law-papers, and at night I fly in my dream as a lark in the gardens of Fredericksburg; one might really write a very pretty comedy upon it.” He now fluttered down into the grass, turned his head gracefully on every side, and with his bill pecked the pliant blades of grass, which, in comparison to his present size, seemed as majestic as the palm-branches of northern Africa.
Unfortunately the pleasure lasted but a moment. Presently black night overshadowed our enthusiast, who had so entirely missed his part of copying-clerk at a police-office; some vast object seemed to be thrown over him. It was a large oil-skin cap, which a sailor-boy of the quay had thrown over the struggling bird; a coarse hand sought its way carefully in under the broad rim, and seized the clerk over the back and wings. In the first moment of fear, he called, indeed, as loud as he could— “You impudent little blackguard! I am a copying-clerk at the police-office; and you know you cannot insult any belonging to the constabulary force without a chastisement. Besides, you good-for-nothing rascal, it is strictly forbidden to catch birds in the royal gardens of Fredericksburg; but your blue uniform betrays where you come from.” This fine tirade sounded, however, to the ungodly sailor-boy like a mere “Pippi-pi.” He gave the noisy bird a knock on his beak, and walked on.
He was soon met by two schoolboys of the upper class— that is to say as individuals, for with regard to learning they were in the lowest class in the school; and they bought the stupid bird. So the copying-clerk came to Copenhagen as guest, or rather as prisoner in a family living in Gother Street.
“‘Tis well that I’m dreaming,” said the clerk, “or I really should get angry. First I was a poet; now sold for a few pence as a lark; no doubt it was that accursed poetical nature which has metamorphosed me into such a poor harmless little creature. It is really pitiable, particularly when one gets into the hands of a little blackguard, perfect in all sorts of cruelty to animals: all I should like to know is, how the story will end.”
The two schoolboys, the proprietors now of the transformed clerk, carried him into an elegant room. A stout stately dame received them with a smile; but she expressed much dissatisfaction that a common field-bird, as she called the lark, should appear in such high society. For to-day, however, she would allow it; and they must shut him in the empty cage that was standing in the window. “Perhaps he will amuse my good Polly,” added the lady, looking with a benignant smile at a large green parrot that swung himself backwards and forwards most comfortably in his ring, inside a magnificent brass-wired cage. “To-day is Polly’s birthday,” said she with stupid simplicity: “and the little brown field-bird must wish him joy.”
Mr. Polly uttered not a syllable in reply, but swung to and fro with dignified condescension; while a pretty canary, as yellow as gold, that had lately been brought from his sunny fragrant home, began to sing aloud.
“Noisy creature! Will you be quiet!” screamed the lady of the house, covering the cage with an embroidered white pocket handkerchief.
“Chirp, chirp!” sighed he. “That was a dreadful snowstorm”; and he sighed again, and was silent.
The copying-clerk, or, as the lady said, the brown field-bird, was put into a small cage, close to the Canary, and not far from “my good Polly.” The only human sounds that the Parrot could bawl out were, “Come, let us be men!” Everything else that he said was as unintelligible to everybody as the chirping of the Canary, except to the clerk, who was now a bird too: he understood his companion perfectly.
“I flew about beneath the green palms and the blossoming almond-trees,” sang the Canary; “I flew around, with my brothers and sisters, over the beautiful flowers, and over the glassy lakes, where the bright water-plants nodded to me from below. There, too, I saw many splendidly-dressed paroquets, that told the drollest stories, and the wildest fairy tales without end.”
“Oh! those were uncouth birds,” answered the Parrot. “They had no education, and talked of whatever came into their head.
“If my mistress and all her friends can laugh at what I say, so may you too, I should think. It is a great fault to have no taste for what is witty or amusing— come, let us be men.”
“Ah, you have no remembrance of love for the charming maidens that danced beneath the outspread tents beside the bright fragrant flowers? Do you no longer remember the sweet fruits, and the cooling juice in the wild plants of our never-to-be-forgotten home?” said the former inhabitant of the Canary Isles, continuing his dithyrambic.
“Oh, yes,” said the Parrot; “but I am far better off here. I am well fed, and get friendly treatment. I know I am a clever fellow; and that is all I care about. Come, let us be men. You are of a poetical nature, as it is called— I, on the contrary, possess profound knowledge and inexhaustible wit. You have genius; but clear-sighted, calm discretion does not take such lofty flights, and utter such high natural tones. For this they have covered you over— they never do the like to me; for I cost more. Besides, they are afraid of my beak; and I have always a witty answer at hand. Come, let us be men!”
“O warm spicy land of my birth,” sang the Canary bird; “I will sing of thy dark-green bowers, of the calm bays where the pendent boughs kiss the surface of the water; I will sing of the rejoicing of all my brothers and sisters where the cactus grows in wanton luxuriance.”
“Spare us your elegiac tones,” said the Parrot giggling. “Rather speak of something at which one may laugh heartily. Laughing is an infallible sign of the highest degree of mental development. Can a dog, or a horse laugh? No, but they can cry. The gift of laughing was given to man alone. Ha! ha! ha!” screamed Polly, and added his stereotype witticism. “Come, let us be men!”
“Poor little Danish grey-bird,” said the Canary; “you have been caught too. It is, no doubt, cold enough in your woods, but there at least is the breath of liberty; therefore fly away. In the hurry they have forgotten to shut your cage, and the upper window is open. Fly, my friend; fly away. Farewell!”
Instinctively the Clerk obeyed; with a few strokes of his wings he was out of the cage; but at the same moment the door, which was only ajar, and which led to the next room, began to creak, and supple and creeping came the large tomcat into the room, and began to pursue him. The frightened Canary fluttered about in his cage; the Parrot flapped his wings, and cried, “Come, let us be men!” The Clerk felt a mortal fright, and flew through the window, far away over the houses and streets. At last he was forced to rest a little.
The neighboring house had a something familiar about it; a window stood open; he flew in; it was his own room. He perched upon the table.
“Come, let us be men!” said he, involuntarily imitating the chatter of the Parrot, and at the same moment he was again a copying-clerk; but he was sitting in the middle of the table.
“Heaven help me!” cried he. “How did I get up here— and so buried in sleep, too? After all, that was a very unpleasant, disagreeable dream that haunted me! The whole story is nothing but silly, stupid nonsense!”
The following day, early in the morning, while the Clerk was still in bed, someone knocked at his door. It was his neighbor, a young Divine, who lived on the same floor. He walked in.
“Lend me your Galoshes,” said he; “it is so wet in the garden, though the sun is shining most invitingly. I should like to go out a little.”
He got the Galoshes, and he was soon below in a little duodecimo garden, where between two immense walls a plumtree and an apple-tree were standing. Even such a little garden as this was considered in the metropolis of Copenhagen as a great luxury.
The young man wandered up and down the narrow paths, as well as the prescribed limits would allow; the clock struck six; without was heard the horn of a post-boy.
“To travel! to travel!” exclaimed he, overcome by most painful and passionate remembrances. “That is the happiest thing in the world! That is the highest aim of all my wishes! Then at last would the agonizing restlessness be allayed, which destroys my existence! But it must be far, far away! I would behold magnificent Switzerland; I would travel to Italy, and—”
It was a good thing that the power of the Galoshes worked as instantaneously as lightning in a powder-magazine would do, otherwise the poor man with his overstrained wishes would have travelled about the world too much for himself as well as for us. In short, he was travelling. He was in the middle of Switzerland, but packed up with eight other passengers in the inside of an eternally-creaking diligence; his head ached till it almost split, his weary neck could hardly bear the heavy load, and his feet, pinched by his torturing boots, were terribly swollen. He was in an intermediate state between sleeping and waking; at variance with himself, with his company, with the country, and with the government. In his right pocket he had his letter of credit, in the left, his passport, and in a small leathern purse some double louis d’or, carefully sewn up in the bosom of his waistcoat. Every dream proclaimed that one or the other of these valuables was lost; wherefore he started up as in a fever; and the first movement which his hand made, described a magic triangle from the right pocket to the left, and then up towards the bosom, to feel if he had them all safe or not. From the roof inside the carriage, umbrellas, walking-sticks, hats, and sundry other articles were depending, and hindered the view, which was particularly imposing. He now endeavored as well as he was able to dispel his gloom, which was caused by outward chance circumstances merely, and on the bosom of nature imbibe the milk of purest human enjoyment.
Grand, solemn, and dark was the whole landscape around. The gigantic pine-forests, on the pointed crags, seemed almost like little tufts of heather, colored by the surrounding clouds. It began to snow, a cold wind blew and roared as though it were seeking a bride.
“Augh!” sighed he, “were we only on the other side the Alps, then we should have summer, and I could get my letters of credit cashed. The anxiety I feel about them prevents me enjoying Switzerland. Were I but on the other side!”
And so saying he was on the other side in Italy, between Florence and Rome. Lake Thracymene, illumined by the evening sun, lay like flaming gold between the dark-blue mountain-ridges; here, where Hannibal defeated Flaminius, the rivers now held each other in their green embraces; lovely, half-naked children tended a herd of black swine, beneath a group of fragrant laurel-trees, hard by the road-side. Could we render this inimitable picture properly, then would everybody exclaim, “Beautiful, unparalleled Italy!” But neither the young Divine said so, nor anyone of his grumbling companions in the coach of the vetturino.
The poisonous flies and gnats swarmed around by thousands; in vain one waved myrtle-branches about like mad; the audacious insect population did not cease to sting; nor was there a single person in the well-crammed carriage whose face was not swollen and sore from their ravenous bites. The poor horses, tortured almost to death, suffered most from this truly Egyptian plague; the flies alighted upon them in large disgusting swarms; and if the coachman got down and scraped them off, hardly a minute elapsed before they were there again.
The sun now set: a freezing cold, though of short duration pervaded the whole creation; it was like a horrid gust coming from a burial-vault on a warm summer’s day— but all around the mountains retained that wonderful green tone which we see in some old pictures, and which, should we not have seen a similar play of color in the South, we declare at once to be unnatural. It was a glorious prospect; but the stomach was empty, the body tired; all that the heart cared and longed for was good night-quarters; yet how would they be? For these one looked much more anxiously than for the charms of nature, which every where were so profusely displayed.
The road led through an olive-grove, and here the solitary inn was situated. Ten or twelve crippled-beggars had encamped outside. The healthiest of them resembled, to use an expression of Marryat’s, “Hunger’s eldest son when he had come of age”; the others were either blind, had withered legs and crept about on their hands, or withered arms and fingerless hands. It was the most wretched misery, dragged from among the filthiest rags. “Excellenza, miserabili!” sighed they, thrusting forth their deformed limbs to view. Even the hostess, with bare feet, uncombed hair, and dressed in a garment of doubtful color, received the guests grumblingly. The doors were fastened with a loop of string; the floor of the rooms presented a stone paving half torn up; bats fluttered wildly about the ceiling; and as to the smell therein— no— that was beyond description.
“You had better lay the cloth below in the stable,” said one of the travellers; “there, at all events, one knows what one is breathing.”
The windows were quickly opened, to let in a little fresh air. Quicker, however, than the breeze, the withered, sallow arms of the beggars were thrust in, accompanied by the eternal whine of “Miserabili, miserabili, excellenza!” On the walls were displayed innumerable inscriptions, written in nearly every language of Europe, some in verse, some in prose, most of them not very laudatory of “bella Italia.”
The meal was served. It consisted of a soup of salted water, seasoned with pepper and rancid oil. The last ingredient played a very prominent part in the salad; stale eggs and roasted cocks’-combs furnished the grand dish of the repast; the wine even was not without a disgusting taste— it was like a medicinal draught.
At night the boxes and other effects of the passengers were placed against the rickety doors. One of the travellers kept watch while the others slept. The sentry was our young Divine. How close it was in the chamber! The heat oppressive to suffocation— the gnats hummed and stung unceasingly— the “miserabili” without whined and moaned in their sleep.
“Travelling would be agreeable enough,” said he groaning, “if one only had no body, or could send it to rest while the spirit went on its pilgrimage unhindered, whither the voice within might call it. Wherever I go, I am pursued by a longing that is insatiable— that I cannot explain to myself, and that tears my very heart. I want something better than what is butwhatis fled in an instant. But what is it, and where is it to be found? Yet, I know in reality what it is I wish for. Oh! most happy were I, could I but reach one aim— could but reach the happiest of all!”
And as he spoke the word he was again in his home; the long white curtains hung down from the windows, and in the middle of the floor stood the black coffin; in it he lay in the sleep of death. His wish was fulfilled— the body rested, while the spirit went unhindered on its pilgrimage. “Let no one deem himself happy before his end,” were the words of Solon; and here was a new and brilliant proof of the wisdom of the old apothegm.
Every corpse is a sphynx of immortality; here too on the black coffin the sphynx gave us no answer to what he who lay within had written two days before:
“O mighty Death! thy silence teaches nought,
Thou leadest only to the near grave’s brink;
Is broken now the ladder of my thoughts?
Do I instead of mounting only sink?
Our heaviest grief the world oft seeth not,
Our sorest pain we hide from stranger eyes:
And for the sufferer there is nothing left
But the green mound that o’er the coffin lies.”
Two figures were moving in the chamber. We knew them both; it was the fairy of Care, and the emissary of Fortune. They both bent over the corpse.
“Do you now see,” said Care, “what happiness your Galoshes have brought to mankind?”
“To him, at least, who slumbers here, they have brought an imperishable blessing,” answered the other.
“Ah no!” replied Care. “He took his departure himself; he was not called away. His mental powers here below were not strong enough to reach the treasures lying beyond this life, and which his destiny ordained he should obtain. I will now confer a benefit on him.”
And she took the Galoshes from his feet; his sleep of death was ended; and he who had been thus called back again to life arose from his dread couch in all the vigor of youth. Care vanished, and with her the Galoshes. She has no doubt taken them for herself, to keep them to all eternity.
Out in the woods stood a nice little Fir Tree. The place he had was a very good one: the sun shone on him: as to fresh air, there was enough of that, and round him grew many large-sized comrades, pines as well as firs. But the little Fir wanted so very much to be a grown-up tree.
He did not think of the warm sun and of the fresh air; he did not care for the little cottage children that ran about and prattled when they were in the woods looking for wild-strawberries. The children often came with a whole pitcher full of berries, or a long row of them threaded on a straw, and sat down near the young tree and said, “Oh, how pretty he is! What a nice little fir!” But this was what the Tree could not bear to hear.
At the end of a year he had shot up a good deal, and after another year he was another long bit taller; for with fir trees one can always tell by the shoots how many years old they are.
“Oh! Were I but such a high tree as the others are,” sighed he. “Then I should be able to spread out my branches, and with the tops to look into the wide world! Then would the birds build nests among my branches: and when there was a breeze, I could bend with as much stateliness as the others!”
Neither the sunbeams, nor the birds, nor the red clouds which morning and evening sailed above him, gave the little Tree any pleasure.
In winter, when the snow lay glittering on the ground, a hare would often come leaping along, and jump right over the little Tree. Oh, that made him so angry! But two winters were past, and in the third the Tree was so large that the hare was obliged to go round it. “To grow and grow, to get older and be tall,” thought the Tree— “that, after all, is the most delightful thing in the world!”
In autumn the wood-cutters always came and felled some of the largest trees. This happened every year; and the young Fir Tree, that had now grown to a very comely size, trembled at the sight; for the magnificent great trees fell to the earth with noise and cracking, the branches were lopped off, and the trees looked long and bare; they were hardly to be recognised; and then they were laid in carts, and the horses dragged them out of the wood.
Where did they go to? What became of them?
In spring, when the swallows and the storks came, the Tree asked them, “Don’t you know where they have been taken? Have you not met them anywhere?”
The swallows did not know anything about it; but the Stork looked musing, nodded his head, and said, “Yes; I think I know; I met many ships as I was flying hither from Egypt; on the ships were magnificent masts, and I venture to assert that it was they that smelt so of fir. I may congratulate you, for they lifted themselves on high most majestically!”
“Oh, were I but old enough to fly across the sea! But how does the sea look in reality? What is it like?”
“That would take a long time to explain,” said the Stork, and with these words off he went.
“Rejoice in thy growth!” said the Sunbeams. “Rejoice in thy vigorous growth, and in the fresh life that moveth within thee!”
And the Wind kissed the Tree, and the Dew wept tears over him; but the Fir understood it not.
When Christmas came, quite young trees were cut down: trees which often were not even as large or of the same age as this Fir Tree, who could never rest, but always wanted to be off. These young trees, and they were always the finest looking, retained their branches; they were laid on carts, and the horses drew them out of the wood.
“Where are they going to?” asked the Fir. “They are not taller than I; there was one indeed that was considerably shorter; and why do they retain all their branches? Whither are they taken?”
“We know! We know!” chirped the Sparrows. “We have peeped in at the windows in the town below! We know whither they are taken! The greatest splendor and the greatest magnificence one can imagine await them. We peeped through the windows, and saw them planted in the middle of the warm room and ornamented with the most splendid things, with gilded apples, with gingerbread, with toys, and many hundred lights!”
“And then?” asked the Fir Tree, trembling in every bough. “And then? What happens then?”
“We did not see anything more: it was incomparably beautiful.”
“I would fain know if I am destined for so glorious a career,” cried the Tree, rejoicing. “That is still better than to cross the sea! What a longing do I suffer! Were Christmas but come! I am now tall, and my branches spread like the others that were carried off last year! Oh! were I but already on the cart! Were I in the warm room with all the splendor and magnificence! Yes; then something better, something still grander, will surely follow, or wherefore should they thus ornament me? Something better, something still grander must follow— but what? Oh, how I long, how I suffer! I do not know myself what is the matter with me!”
“Rejoice in our presence!” said the Air and the Sunlight. “Rejoice in thy own fresh youth!”
But the Tree did not rejoice at all; he grew and grew, and was green both winter and summer. People that saw him said, “What a fine tree!” and towards Christmas he was one of the first that was cut down. The axe struck deep into the very pith; the Tree fell to the earth with a sigh; he felt a pang— it was like a swoon; he could not think of happiness, for he was sorrowful at being separated from his home, from the place where he had sprung up. He well knew that he should never see his dear old comrades, the little bushes and flowers around him, anymore; perhaps not even the birds! The departure was not at all agreeable.
The Tree only came to himself when he was unloaded in a court-yard with the other trees, and heard a man say, “That one is splendid! We don’t want the others.” Then two servants came in rich livery and carried the Fir Tree into a large and splendid drawing-room. Portraits were hanging on the walls, and near the white porcelain stove stood two large Chinese vases with lions on the covers. There, too, were large easy-chairs, silken sofas, large tables full of picture-books and full of toys, worth hundreds and hundreds of crowns— at least the children said so. And the Fir Tree was stuck upright in a cask that was filled with sand; but no one could see that it was a cask, for green cloth was hung all round it, and it stood on a large gaily-colored carpet. Oh! how the Tree quivered! What was to happen? The servants, as well as the young ladies, decorated it. On one branch there hung little nets cut out of colored paper, and each net was filled with sugarplums; and among the other boughs gilded apples and walnuts were suspended, looking as though they had grown there, and little blue and white tapers were placed among the leaves. Dolls that looked for all the world like men— the Tree had never beheld such before— were seen among the foliage, and at the very top a large star of gold tinsel was fixed. It was really splendid— beyond description splendid.
“This evening!” they all said. “How it will shine this evening!”
“Oh!” thought the Tree. “If the evening were but come! If the tapers were but lighted! And then I wonder what will happen! Perhaps the other trees from the forest will come to look at me! Perhaps the sparrows will beat against the windowpanes! I wonder if I shall take root here, and winter and summer stand covered with ornaments!”
He knew very much about the matter— but he was so impatient that for sheer longing he got a pain in his back, and this with trees is the same thing as a headache with us.
The candles were now lighted— what brightness! What splendor! The Tree trembled so in every bough that one of the tapers set fire to the foliage. It blazed up famously.
“Help! Help!” cried the young ladies, and they quickly put out the fire.
Now the Tree did not even dare tremble. What a state he was in! He was so uneasy lest he should lose something of his splendor, that he was quite bewildered amidst the glare and brightness; when suddenly both folding-doors opened and a troop of children rushed in as if they would upset the Tree. The older persons followed quietly; the little ones stood quite still. But it was only for a moment; then they shouted that the whole place re-echoed with their rejoicing; they danced round the Tree, and one present after the other was pulled off.
“What are they about?” thought the Tree. “What is to happen now!” And the lights burned down to the very branches, and as they burned down they were put out one after the other, and then the children had permission to plunder the Tree. So they fell upon it with such violence that all its branches cracked; if it had not been fixed firmly in the ground, it would certainly have tumbled down.
The children danced about with their beautiful playthings; no one looked at the Tree except the old nurse, who peeped between the branches; but it was only to see if there was a fig or an apple left that had been forgotten.
“A story! A story!” cried the children, drawing a little fat man towards the Tree. He seated himself under it and said, “Now we are in the shade, and the Tree can listen too. But I shall tell only one story. Now which will you have; that about Ivedy-Avedy, or about Humpy-Dumpy, who tumbled downstairs, and yet after all came to the throne and married the princess?”
“Ivedy-Avedy,” cried some; “Humpy-Dumpy,” cried the others. There was such a bawling and screaming— the Fir Tree alone was silent, and he thought to himself, “Am I not to bawl with the rest? Am I to do nothing whatever?” for he was one of the company, and had done what he had to do.
And the man told about Humpy-Dumpy that tumbled down, who notwithstanding came to the throne, and at last married the princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried. “Oh, go on! Do go on!” They wanted to hear about Ivedy-Avedy too, but the little man only told them about Humpy-Dumpy. The Fir Tree stood quite still and absorbed in thought; the birds in the wood had never related the like of this. “Humpy-Dumpy fell downstairs, and yet he married the princess! Yes, yes! That’s the way of the world!” thought the Fir Tree, and believed it all, because the man who told the story was so good-looking.
“Well, well! who knows, perhaps I may fall downstairs, too, and get a princess as wife!” And he looked forward with joy to the morrow, when he hoped to be decked out again with lights, playthings, fruits, and tinsel.
“I won’t tremble to-morrow!” thought the Fir Tree. “I will enjoy to the full all my splendor! To-morrow I shall hear again the story of Humpy-Dumpy, and perhaps that of Ivedy-Avedy too.” And the whole night the Tree stood still and in deep thought.
In the morning the servant and the housemaid came in.
“Now then the splendor will begin again,” thought the Fir. But they dragged him out of the room, and up the stairs into the loft: and here, in a dark corner, where no daylight could enter, they left him. “What’s the meaning of this?” thought the Tree. “What am I to do here? What shall I hear now, I wonder?” And he leaned against the wall lost in reverie. Time enough had he too for his reflections; for days and nights passed on, and nobody came up; and when at last somebody did come, it was only to put some great trunks in a corner, out of the way. There stood the Tree quite hidden; it seemed as if he had been entirely forgotten.
“‘Tis now winter out-of-doors!” thought the Tree. “The earth is hard and covered with snow; men cannot plant me now, and therefore I have been put up here under shelter till the spring-time comes! How thoughtful that is! How kind man is, after all! If it only were not so dark here, and so terribly lonely! Not even a hare! And out in the woods it was so pleasant, when the snow was on the ground, and the hare leaped by; yes— even when he jumped over me; but I did not like it then! It is really terribly lonely here!”
“Squeak! Squeak!” said a little Mouse, at the same moment, peeping out of his hole. And then another little one came. They snuffed about the Fir Tree, and rustled among the branches.
“It is dreadfully cold,” said the Mouse. “But for that, it would be delightful here, old Fir, wouldn’t it?”
“I am by no means old,” said the Fir Tree. “There’s many a one considerably older than I am.”
“Where do you come from,” asked the Mice; “and what can you do?” They were so extremely curious. “Tell us about the most beautiful spot on the earth. Have you never been there? Were you never in the larder, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from above; where one dances about on tallow candles: that place where one enters lean, and comes out again fat and portly?”
“I know no such place,” said the Tree. “But I know the wood, where the sun shines and where the little birds sing.” And then he told all about his youth; and the little Mice had never heard the like before; and they listened and said,
“Well, to be sure! How much you have seen! How happy you must have been!”
“I!” said the Fir Tree, thinking over what he had himself related. “Yes, in reality those were happy times.” And then he told about Christmas-eve, when he was decked out with cakes and candles.
“Oh,” said the little Mice, “how fortunate you have been, old Fir Tree!”
“I am by no means old,” said he. “I came from the wood this winter; I am in my prime, and am only rather short for my age.”
“What delightful stories you know,” said the Mice: and the next night they came with four other little Mice, who were to hear what the Tree recounted: and the more he related, the more he remembered himself; and it appeared as if those times had really been happy times. “But they may still come— they may still come! Humpy-Dumpy fell downstairs, and yet he got a princess!” and he thought at the moment of a nice little Birch Tree growing out in the woods: to the Fir, that would be a real charming princess.
“Who is Humpy-Dumpy?” asked the Mice. So then the Fir Tree told the whole fairy tale, for he could remember every single word of it; and the little Mice jumped for joy up to the very top of the Tree. Next night two more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats even; but they said the stories were not interesting, which vexed the little Mice; and they, too, now began to think them not so very amusing either.
“Do you know only one story?” asked the Rats.
“Only that one,” answered the Tree. “I heard it on my happiest evening; but I did not then know how happy I was.”
“It is a very stupid story! Don’t you know one about bacon and tallow candles? Can’t you tell any larder stories?”
“No,” said the Tree.
“Then good-bye,” said the Rats; and they went home.
At last the little Mice stayed away also; and the Tree sighed: “After all, it was very pleasant when the sleek little Mice sat round me, and listened to what I told them. Now that too is over. But I will take good care to enjoy myself when I am brought out again.”
But when was that to be? Why, one morning there came a quantity of people and set to work in the loft. The trunks were moved, the tree was pulled out and thrown— rather hard, it is true— down on the floor, but a man drew him towards the stairs, where the daylight shone.
“Now a merry life will begin again,” thought the Tree. He felt the fresh air, the first sunbeam— and now he was out in the courtyard. All passed so quickly, there was so much going on around him, the Tree quite forgot to look to himself. The court adjoined a garden, and all was in flower; the roses hung so fresh and odorous over the balustrade, the lindens were in blossom, the Swallows flew by, and said, “Quirre-vit! My husband is come!” but it was not the Fir Tree that they meant.
“Now, then, I shall really enjoy life,” said he exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas, they were all withered and yellow! It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine.
In the court-yard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir Tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star.
“Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!” said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet.
And the Tree beheld all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he beheld himself, and wished he had remained in his dark corner in the loft; he thought of his first youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas-eve, and of the little Mice who had listened with so much pleasure to the story of Humpy-Dumpy.
“‘Tis over— ’tis past!” said the poor Tree. “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so! But now ‘tis past, ‘tis past!”
And the gardener’s boy chopped the Tree into small pieces; there was a whole heap lying there. The wood flamed up splendidly under the large brewing copper, and it sighed so deeply! Each sigh was like a shot.
The boys played about in the court, and the youngest wore the gold star on his breast which the Tree had had on the happiest evening of his life. However, that was over now— the Tree gone, the story at an end. All, all was over— every tale must end at last.
Now then, let us begin. When we are at the end of the story, we shall know more than we know now: but to begin.
Once upon a time there was a wicked sprite, indeed he was the most mischievous of all sprites. One day he was in a very good humor, for he had made a mirror with the power of causing all that was good and beautiful when it was reflected therein, to look poor and mean; but that which was good-for-nothing and looked ugly was shown magnified and increased in ugliness. In this mirror the most beautiful landscapes looked like boiled spinach, and the best persons were turned into frights, or appeared to stand on their heads; their faces were so distorted that they were not to be recognised; and if anyone had a mole, you might be sure that it would be magnified and spread over both nose and mouth.
“That’s glorious fun!” said the sprite. If a good thought passed through a man’s mind, then a grin was seen in the mirror, and the sprite laughed heartily at his clever discovery. All the little sprites who went to his school— for he kept a sprite school— told each other that a miracle had happened; and that now only, as they thought, it would be possible to see how the world really looked. They ran about with the mirror; and at last there was not a land or a person who was not represented distorted in the mirror. So then they thought they would fly up to the sky, and have a joke there. The higher they flew with the mirror, the more terribly it grinned: they could hardly hold it fast. Higher and higher still they flew, nearer and nearer to the stars, when suddenly the mirror shook so terribly with grinning, that it flew out of their hands and fell to the earth, where it was dashed in a hundred million and more pieces. And now it worked much more evil than before; for some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about in the wide world, and when they got into people’s eyes, there they stayed; and then people saw everything perverted, or only had an eye for that which was evil. This happened because the very smallest bit had the same power which the whole mirror had possessed. Some persons even got a splinter in their heart, and then it made one shudder, for their heart became like a lump of ice. Some of the broken pieces were so large that they were used for windowpanes, through which one could not see one’s friends. Other pieces were put in spectacles; and that was a sad affair when people put on their glasses to see well and rightly. Then the wicked sprite laughed till he almost choked, for all this tickled his fancy. The fine splinters still flew about in the air: and now we shall hear what happened next.
In a large town, where there are so many houses, and so many people, that there is no roof left for everybody to have a little garden; and where, on this account, most persons are obliged to content themselves with flowers in pots; there lived two little children, who had a garden somewhat larger than a flower-pot. They were not brother and sister; but they cared for each other as much as if they were. Their parents lived exactly opposite. They inhabited two garrets; and where the roof of the one house joined that of the other, and the gutter ran along the extreme end of it, there was to each house a small window: one needed only to step over the gutter to get from one window to the other.
The children’s parents had large wooden boxes there, in which vegetables for the kitchen were planted, and little rosetrees besides: there was a rose in each box, and they grew splendidly. They now thought of placing the boxes across the gutter, so that they nearly reached from one window to the other, and looked just like two walls of flowers. The tendrils of the peas hung down over the boxes; and the rose-trees shot up long branches, twined round the windows, and then bent towards each other: it was almost like a triumphant arch of foliage and flowers. The boxes were very high, and the children knew that they must not creep over them; so they often obtained permission to get out of the windows to each other, and to sit on their little stools among the roses, where they could play delightfully. In winter there was an end of this pleasure. The windows were often frozen over; but then they heated copper farthings on the stove, and laid the hot farthing on the windowpane, and then they had a capital peep-hole, quite nicely rounded; and out of each peeped a gentle friendly eye— it was the little boy and the little girl who were looking out. His name was Kay, hers was Gerda. In summer, with one jump, they could get to each other; but in winter they were obliged first to go down the long stairs, and then up the long stairs again: and out-of-doors there was quite a snow-storm.
“It is the white bees that are swarming,” said Kay’s old grandmother.
“Do the white bees choose a queen?” asked the little boy; for he knew that the honey-bees always have one.
“Yes,” said the grandmother, “she flies where the swarm hangs in the thickest clusters. She is the largest of all; and she can never remain quietly on the earth, but goes up again into the black clouds. Many a winter’s night she flies through the streets of the town, and peeps in at the windows; and they then freeze in so wondrous a manner that they look like flowers.”
“Yes, I have seen it,” said both the children; and so they knew that it was true.
“Can the Snow Queen come in?” said the little girl.
“Only let her come in!” said the little boy. “Then I’d put her on the stove, and she’d melt.”
And then his grandmother patted his head and told him other stories.
In the evening, when little Kay was at home, and half undressed, he climbed up on the chair by the window, and peeped out of the little hole. A few snow-flakes were falling, and one, the largest of all, remained lying on the edge of a flower-pot.
The flake of snow grew larger and larger; and at last it was like a young lady, dressed in the finest white gauze, made of a million little flakes like stars. She was so beautiful and delicate, but she was of ice, of dazzling, sparkling ice; yet she lived; her eyes gazed fixedly, like two stars; but there was neither quiet nor repose in them. She nodded towards the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and jumped down from the chair; it seemed to him as if, at the same moment, a large bird flew past the window.
The next day it was a sharp frost— and then the spring came; the sun shone, the green leaves appeared, the swallows built their nests, the windows were opened, and the little children again sat in their pretty garden, high up on the leads at the top of the house.
That summer the roses flowered in unwonted beauty. The little girl had learned a hymn, in which there was something about roses; and then she thought of her own flowers; and she sang the verse to the little boy, who then sang it with her:
“The rose in the valley is blooming so sweet,
And angels descend there the children to greet.”
And the children held each other by the hand, kissed the roses, looked up at the clear sunshine, and spoke as though they really saw angels there. What lovely summer-days those were! How delightful to be out in the air, near the fresh rose-bushes, that seem as if they would never finish blossoming!
Kay and Gerda looked at the picture-book full of beasts and of birds; and it was then— the clock in the church-tower was just striking five— that Kay said, “Oh! I feel such a sharp pain in my heart; and now something has got into my eye!”
The little girl put her arms around his neck. He winked his eyes; now there was nothing to be seen.
“I think it is out now,” said he; but it was not. It was just one of those pieces of glass from the magic mirror that had got into his eye; and poor Kay had got another piece right in his heart. It will soon become like ice. It did not hurt any longer, but there it was.
“What are you crying for?” asked he. “You look so ugly! There’s nothing the matter with me. Ah,” said he at once, “that rose is cankered! And look, this one is quite crooked! After all, these roses are very ugly! They are just like the box they are planted in!” And then he gave the box a good kick with his foot, and pulled both the roses up.
“What are you doing?” cried the little girl; and as he perceived her fright, he pulled up another rose, got in at the window, and hastened off from dear little Gerda.
Afterwards, when she brought her picture-book, he asked, “What horrid beasts have you there?” And if his grandmother told them stories, he always interrupted her; besides, if he could manage it, he would get behind her, put on her spectacles, and imitate her way of speaking; he copied all her ways, and then everybody laughed at him. He was soon able to imitate the gait and manner of everyone in the street. Everything that was peculiar and displeasing in them— that Kay knew how to imitate: and at such times all the people said, “The boy is certainly very clever!” But it was the glass he had got in his eye; the glass that was sticking in his heart, which made him tease even little Gerda, whose whole soul was devoted to him.
His games now were quite different to what they had formerly been, they were so very knowing. One winter’s day, when the flakes of snow were flying about, he spread the skirts of his blue coat, and caught the snow as it fell.
“Look through this glass, Gerda,” said he. And every flake seemed larger, and appeared like a magnificent flower, or beautiful star; it was splendid to look at!
“Look, how clever!” said Kay. “That’s much more interesting than real flowers! They are as exact as possible; there is not a fault in them, if they did not melt!”
It was not long after this, that Kay came one day with large gloves on, and his little sledge at his back, and bawled right into Gerda’s ears, “I have permission to go out into the square where the others are playing”; and off he was in a moment.
There, in the market-place, some of the boldest of the boys used to tie their sledges to the carts as they passed by, and so they were pulled along, and got a good ride. It was so capital! Just as they were in the very height of their amusement, a large sledge passed by: it was painted quite white, and there was someone in it wrapped up in a rough white mantle of fur, with a rough white fur cap on his head. The sledge drove round the square twice, and Kay tied on his sledge as quickly as he could, and off he drove with it. On they went quicker and quicker into the next street; and the person who drove turned round to Kay, and nodded to him in a friendly manner, just as if they knew each other. Every time he was going to untie his sledge, the person nodded to him, and then Kay sat quiet; and so on they went till they came outside the gates of the town. Then the snow began to fall so thickly that the little boy could not see an arm’s length before him, but still on he went: when suddenly he let go the string he held in his hand in order to get loose from the sledge, but it was of no use; still the little vehicle rushed on with the quickness of the wind. He then cried as loud as he could, but no one heard him; the snow drifted and the sledge flew on, and sometimes it gave a jerk as though they were driving over hedges and ditches. He was quite frightened, and he tried to repeat the Lord’s Prayer; but all he could do, he was only able to remember the multiplication table.
The snow-flakes grew larger and larger, till at last they looked just like great white fowls. Suddenly they flew on one side; the large sledge stopped, and the person who drove rose up. It was a lady; her cloak and cap were of snow. She was tall and of slender figure, and of a dazzling whiteness. It was the Snow Queen.
“We have travelled fast,” said she; “but it is freezingly cold. Come under my bearskin.” And she put him in the sledge beside her, wrapped the fur round him, and he felt as though he were sinking in a snow-wreath.
“Are you still cold?” asked she; and then she kissed his forehead. Ah! it was colder than ice; it penetrated to his very heart, which was already almost a frozen lump; it seemed to him as if he were about to die— but a moment more and it was quite congenial to him, and he did not remark the cold that was around him.
“My sledge! Do not forget my sledge!” It was the first thing he thought of. It was there tied to one of the white chickens, who flew along with it on his back behind the large sledge. The Snow Queen kissed Kay once more, and then he forgot little Gerda, grandmother, and all whom he had left at his home.
“Now you will have no more kisses,” said she, “or else I should kiss you to death!”
Kay looked at her. She was very beautiful; a more clever, or a more lovely countenance he could not fancy to himself; and she no longer appeared of ice as before, when she sat outside the window, and beckoned to him; in his eyes she was perfect, he did not fear her at all, and told her that he could calculate in his head and with fractions, even; that he knew the number of square miles there were in the different countries, and how many inhabitants they contained; and she smiled while he spoke. It then seemed to him as if what he knew was not enough, and he looked upwards in the large huge empty space above him, and on she flew with him; flew high over the black clouds, while the storm moaned and whistled as though it were singing some old tune. On they flew over woods and lakes, over seas, and many lands; and beneath them the chilling storm rushed fast, the wolves howled, the snow crackled; above them flew large screaming crows, but higher up appeared the moon, quite large and bright; and it was on it that Kay gazed during the long long winter’s night; while by day he slept at the feet of the Snow Queen.
But what became of little Gerda when Kay did not return? Where could he be? Nobody knew; nobody could give any intelligence. All the boys knew was, that they had seen him tie his sledge to another large and splendid one, which drove down the street and out of the town. Nobody knew where he was; many sad tears were shed, and little Gerda wept long and bitterly; at last she said he must be dead; that he had been drowned in the river which flowed close to the town. Oh! those were very long and dismal winter evenings!
At last spring came, with its warm sunshine.
“Kay is dead and gone!” said little Gerda.
“That I don’t believe,” said the Sunshine.
“Kay is dead and gone!” said she to the Swallows.
“That I don’t believe,” said they: and at last little Gerda did not think so any longer either.
“I’ll put on my red shoes,” said she, one morning; “Kay has never seen them, and then I’ll go down to the river and ask there.”
It was quite early; she kissed her old grandmother, who was still asleep, put on her red shoes, and went alone to the river.
“Is it true that you have taken my little playfellow? I will make you a present of my red shoes, if you will give him back to me.”
And, as it seemed to her, the blue waves nodded in a strange manner; then she took off her red shoes, the most precious things she possessed, and threw them both into the river. But they fell close to the bank, and the little waves bore them immediately to land; it was as if the stream would not take what was dearest to her; for in reality it had not got little Kay; but Gerda thought that she had not thrown the shoes out far enough, so she clambered into a boat which lay among the rushes, went to the farthest end, and threw out the shoes. But the boat was not fastened, and the motion which she occasioned, made it drift from the shore. She observed this, and hastened to get back; but before she could do so, the boat was more than a yard from the land, and was gliding quickly onward.
Little Gerda was very frightened, and began to cry; but no one heard her except the sparrows, and they could not carry her to land; but they flew along the bank, and sang as if to comfort her, “Here we are! Here we are!” The boat drifted with the stream, little Gerda sat quite still without shoes, for they were swimming behind the boat, but she could not reach them, because the boat went much faster than they did.
The banks on both sides were beautiful; lovely flowers, venerable trees, and slopes with sheep and cows, but not a human being was to be seen.
“Perhaps the river will carry me to little Kay,” said she; and then she grew less sad. She rose, and looked for many hours at the beautiful green banks. Presently she sailed by a large cherry-orchard, where was a little cottage with curious red and blue windows; it was thatched, and before it two wooden soldiers stood sentry, and presented arms when anyone went past.
Gerda called to them, for she thought they were alive; but they, of course, did not answer. She came close to them, for the stream drifted the boat quite near the land.
Gerda called still louder, and an old woman then came out of the cottage, leaning upon a crooked stick. She had a large broad-brimmed hat on, painted with the most splendid flowers.
“Poor little child!” said the old woman. “How did you get upon the large rapid river, to be driven about so in the wide world!” And then the old woman went into the water, caught hold of the boat with her crooked stick, drew it to the bank, and lifted little Gerda out.
And Gerda was so glad to be on dry land again; but she was rather afraid of the strange old woman.
“But come and tell me who you are, and how you came here,” said she.
And Gerda told her all; and the old woman shook her head and said, “A-hem! a-hem!” and when Gerda had told her everything, and asked her if she had not seen little Kay, the woman answered that he had not passed there, but he no doubt would come; and she told her not to be cast down, but taste her cherries, and look at her flowers, which were finer than any in a picture-book, each of which could tell a whole story. She then took Gerda by the hand, led her into the little cottage, and locked the door.
The windows were very high up; the glass was red, blue, and green, and the sunlight shone through quite wondrously in all sorts of colors.
On the table stood the most exquisite cherries, and Gerda ate as many as she chose, for she had permission to do so. While she was eating, the old woman combed her hair with a golden comb, and her hair curled and shone with a lovely golden color around that sweet little face, which was so round and so like a rose.
“I have often longed for such a dear little girl,” said the old woman. “Now you shall see how well we agree together”; and while she combed little Gerda’s hair, the child forgot her foster-brother Kay more and more, for the old woman understood magic; but she was no evil being, she only practised witchcraft a little for her own private amusement, and now she wanted very much to keep little Gerda. She therefore went out in the garden, stretched out her crooked stick towards the rose-bushes, which, beautifully as they were blowing, all sank into the earth and no one could tell where they had stood. The old woman feared that if Gerda should see the roses, she would then think of her own, would remember little Kay, and run away from her.
She now led Gerda into the flower-garden. Oh, what odour and what loveliness was there! Every flower that one could think of, and of every season, stood there in fullest bloom; no picture-book could be gayer or more beautiful. Gerda jumped for joy, and played till the sun set behind the tall cherry-tree; she then had a pretty bed, with a red silken coverlet filled with blue violets. She fell asleep, and had as pleasant dreams as ever a queen on her wedding-day.
The next morning she went to play with the flowers in the warm sunshine, and thus passed away a day. Gerda knew every flower; and, numerous as they were, it still seemed to Gerda that one was wanting, though she did not know which. One day while she was looking at the hat of the old woman painted with flowers, the most beautiful of them all seemed to her to be a rose. The old woman had forgotten to take it from her hat when she made the others vanish in the earth. But so it is when one’s thoughts are not collected. “What!” said Gerda. “Are there no roses here?” and she ran about amongst the flowerbeds, and looked, and looked, but there was not one to be found. She then sat down and wept; but her hot tears fell just where a rose-bush had sunk; and when her warm tears watered the ground, the tree shot up suddenly as fresh and blooming as when it had been swallowed up. Gerda kissed the roses, thought of her own dear roses at home, and with them of little Kay.
“Oh, how long I have stayed!” said the little girl. “I intended to look for Kay! Don’t you know where he is?” she asked of the roses. “Do you think he is dead and gone?”
“Dead he certainly is not,” said the Roses. “We have been in the earth where all the dead are, but Kay was not there.”
“Many thanks!” said little Gerda; and she went to the other flowers, looked into their cups, and asked, “Don’t you know where little Kay is?”
But every flower stood in the sunshine, and dreamed its own fairy tale or its own story: and they all told her very many things, but not one knew anything of Kay.
Well, what did the Tiger-Lily say?
“Hearest thou not the drum? Bum! Bum! Those are the only two tones. Always bum! Bum! Hark to the plaintive song of the old woman, to the call of the priests! The Hindoo woman in her long robe stands upon the funeral pile; the flames rise around her and her dead husband, but the Hindoo woman thinks on the living one in the surrounding circle; on him whose eyes burn hotter than the flames— on him, the fire of whose eyes pierces her heart more than the flames which soon will burn her body to ashes. Can the heart’s flame die in the flame of the funeral pile?”
“I don’t understand that at all,” said little Gerda.
“That is my story,” said the Lily.
What did the Convolvulus say?
“Projecting over a narrow mountain-path there hangs an old feudal castle. Thick evergreens grow on the dilapidated walls, and around the altar, where a lovely maiden is standing: she bends over the railing and looks out upon the rose. No fresher rose hangs on the branches than she; no appleblossom carried away by the wind is more buoyant! How her silken robe is rustling!
“‘Is he not yet come?’”
“Is it Kay that you mean?” asked little Gerda.
“I am speaking about my story— about my dream,” answered the Convolvulus.
What did the Snowdrops say?
“Between the trees a long board is hanging— it is a swing. Two little girls are sitting in it, and swing themselves backwards and forwards; their frocks are as white as snow, and long green silk ribands flutter from their bonnets. Their brother, who is older than they are, stands up in the swing; he twines his arms round the cords to hold himself fast, for in one hand he has a little cup, and in the other a clay-pipe. He is blowing soap-bubbles. The swing moves, and the bubbles float in charming changing colors: the last is still hanging to the end of the pipe, and rocks in the breeze. The swing moves. The little black dog, as light as a soap-bubble, jumps up on his hind legs to try to get into the swing. It moves, the dog falls down, barks, and is angry. They tease him; the bubble bursts! A swing, a bursting bubble— such is my song!”
“What you relate may be very pretty, but you tell it in so melancholy a manner, and do not mention Kay.”
What do the Hyacinths say?
“There were once upon a time three sisters, quite transparent, and very beautiful. The robe of the one was red, that of the second blue, and that of the third white. They danced hand in hand beside the calm lake in the clear moonshine. They were not elfin maidens, but mortal children. A sweet fragrance was smelt, and the maidens vanished in the wood; fragrance stronger— three coffins, and in them three lovely maidens, glided out of the forest and across the lake: the shining glow-worms flew around like little floating lights. Do the dancing maidens sleep, or are they dead? The odour of the flowers says they are corpses; evening bell tolls for the dead!”
“You make me quite sad,” said little Gerda. “I cannot help thinking of the dead maidens. Oh! is little Kay really dead? The Roses have been in the earth, and they say no.”
“Ding, dong!” sounded the Hyacinth bells. “We do not toll for little Kay; we do not know him. That is our way of singing, the only one we have.”
And Gerda went to the Ranunculuses, that looked forth from among the shining green leaves.
“You are a little bright sun!” said Gerda. “Tell me if you know where I can find my playfellow.”
And the Ranunculus shone brightly, and looked again at Gerda. What song could the Ranunculus sing? It was one that said nothing about Kay either.
“In a small court the bright sun was shining in the first days of spring. The beams glided down the white walls of a neighbor’s house, and close by the fresh yellow flowers were growing, shining like gold in the warm sun-rays. An old grandmother was sitting in the air; her grand-daughter, the poor and lovely servant just come for a short visit. She knows her grandmother. There was gold, pure virgin gold in that blessed kiss. There, that is my little story,” said the Ranunculus.
“My poor old grandmother!” sighed Gerda. “Yes, she is longing for me, no doubt: she is sorrowing for me, as she did for little Kay. But I will soon come home, and then I will bring Kay with me. It is of no use asking the flowers; they only know their own old rhymes, and can tell me nothing.” And she tucked up her frock, to enable her to run quicker; but the Narcissus gave her a knock on the leg, just as she was going to jump over it. So she stood still, looked at the long yellow flower, and asked, “You perhaps know something?” and she bent down to the Narcissus. And what did it say?
“I can see myself— I can see myself! Oh, how odorous I am! Up in the little garret there stands, half-dressed, a little Dancer. She stands now on one leg, now on both; she despises the whole world; yet she lives only in imagination. She pours water out of the teapot over a piece of stuff which she holds in her hand; it is the bodice; cleanliness is a fine thing. The white dress is hanging on the hook; it was washed in the teapot, and dried on the roof. She puts it on, ties a saffron-colored kerchief round her neck, and then the gown looks whiter. I can see myself— I can see myself!”
“That’s nothing to me,” said little Gerda. “That does not concern me.” And then off she ran to the further end of the garden.
The gate was locked, but she shook the rusted bolt till it was loosened, and the gate opened; and little Gerda ran off barefooted into the wide world. She looked round her thrice, but no one followed her. At last she could run no longer; she sat down on a large stone, and when she looked about her, she saw that the summer had passed; it was late in the autumn, but that one could not remark in the beautiful garden, where there was always sunshine, and where there were flowers the whole year round.
“Dear me, how long I have staid!” said Gerda. “Autumn is come. I must not rest any longer.” And she got up to go further.
Oh, how tender and wearied her little feet were! All around it looked so cold and raw: the long willow-leaves were quite yellow, and the fog dripped from them like water; one leaf fell after the other: the sloes only stood full of fruit, which set one’s teeth on edge. Oh, how dark and comfortless it was in the dreary world!
Gerda was obliged to rest herself again, when, exactly opposite to her, a large Raven came hopping over the white snow. He had long been looking at Gerda and shaking his head; and now he said, “Caw! Caw!” Good day! Good day! He could not say it better; but he felt a sympathy for the little girl, and asked her where she was going all alone. The word “alone” Gerda understood quite well, and felt how much was expressed by it; so she told the Raven her whole history, and asked if he had not seen Kay.
The Raven nodded very gravely, and said, “It may be— it may be!”
“What, do you really think so?” cried the little girl; and she nearly squeezed the Raven to death, so much did she kiss him.
“Gently, gently,” said the Raven. “I think I know; I think that it may be little Kay. But now he has forgotten you for the Princess.”
“Does he live with a Princess?” asked Gerda.
“Yes— listen,” said the Raven; “but it will be difficult for me to speak your language. If you understand the Raven language I can tell you better.”
“No, I have not learnt it,” said Gerda; “but my grandmother understands it, and she can speak gibberish too. I wish I had learnt it.”
“No matter,” said the Raven; “I will tell you as well as I can; however, it will be bad enough.” And then he told all he knew.
“In the kingdom where we now are there lives a Princess, who is extraordinarily clever; for she has read all the newspapers in the whole world, and has forgotten them again— so clever is she. She was lately, it is said, sitting on her throne— which is not very amusing after all— when she began humming an old tune, and it was just, ‘Oh, why should I not be married?’ ‘That song is not without its meaning,’ said she, and so then she was determined to marry; but she would have a husband who knew how to give an answer when he was spoken to— not one who looked only as if he were a great personage, for that is so tiresome.
She then had all the ladies of the court drummed together; and when they heard her intention, all were very pleased, and said, ‘We are very glad to hear it; it is the very thing we were thinking of.’ You may believe every word I say,” said the Raven; “for I have a tame sweetheart that hops about in the palace quite free, and it was she who told me all this.
“The newspapers appeared forthwith with a border of hearts and the initials of the Princess; and therein you might read that every good-looking young man was at liberty to come to the palace and speak to the Princess; and he who spoke in such wise as showed he felt himself at home there, that one the Princess would choose for her husband.
“Yes, Yes,” said the Raven, “you may believe it; it is as true as I am sitting here. People came in crowds; there was a crush and a hurry, but no one was successful either on the first or second day. They could all talk well enough when they were out in the street; but as soon as they came inside the palace gates, and saw the guard richly dressed in silver, and the lackeys in gold on the staircase, and the large illuminated saloons, then they were abashed; and when they stood before the throne on which the Princess was sitting, all they could do was to repeat the last word they had uttered, and to hear it again did not interest her very much. It was just as if the people within were under a charm, and had fallen into a trance till they came out again into the street; for then— oh, then— they could chatter enough. There was a whole row of them standing from the town-gates to the palace. I was there myself to look,” said the Raven. “They grew hungry and thirsty; but from the palace they got nothing whatever, not even a glass of water. Some of the cleverest, it is true, had taken bread and butter with them: but none shared it with his neighbor, for each thought, ‘Let him look hungry, and then the Princess won’t have him.’”
“But Kay— little Kay,” said Gerda, “when did he come? Was he among the number?”
“Patience, patience; we are just come to him. It was on the third day when a little personage without horse or equipage, came marching right boldly up to the palace; his eyes shone like yours, he had beautiful long hair, but his clothes were very shabby.”
“That was Kay,” cried Gerda, with a voice of delight. “Oh, now I’ve found him!” and she clapped her hands for joy.
“He had a little knapsack at his back,” said the Raven.
“No, that was certainly his sledge,” said Gerda; “for when he went away he took his sledge with him.”
“That may be,” said the Raven; “I did not examine him so minutely; but I know from my tame sweetheart, that when he came into the court-yard of the palace, and saw the body-guard in silver, the lackeys on the staircase, he was not the least abashed; he nodded, and said to them, ‘It must be very tiresome to stand on the stairs; for my part, I shall go in.’ The saloons were gleaming with lustres— privy councillors and excellencies were walking about barefooted, and wore gold keys; it was enough to make any one feel uncomfortable. His boots creaked, too, so loudly, but still he was not at all afraid.”
“That’s Kay for certain,” said Gerda. “I know he had on new boots; I have heard them creaking in grandmama’s room.”
“Yes, they creaked,” said the Raven. “And on he went boldly up to the Princess, who was sitting on a pearl as large as a spinning-wheel. All the ladies of the court, with their attendants and attendants’ attendants, and all the cavaliers, with their gentlemen and gentlemen’s gentlemen, stood round; and the nearer they stood to the door, the prouder they looked. It was hardly possible to look at the gentleman’s gentleman, so very haughtily did he stand in the doorway.”
“It must have been terrible,” said little Gerda. “And did Kay get the Princess?”
“Were I not a Raven, I should have taken the Princess myself, although I am promised. It is said he spoke as well as I speak when I talk Raven language; this I learned from my tame sweetheart. He was bold and nicely behaved; he had not come to woo the Princess, but only to hear her wisdom. She pleased him, and he pleased her.”
“Yes, yes; for certain that was Kay,” said Gerda. “He was so clever; he could reckon fractions in his head. Oh, won’t you take me to the palace?”
“That is very easily said,” answered the Raven. “But how are we to manage it? I’ll speak to my tame sweetheart about it: she must advise us; for so much I must tell you, such a little girl as you are will never get permission to enter.”
“Oh, yes I shall,” said Gerda; “when Kay hears that I am here, he will come out directly to fetch me.”
“Wait for me here on these steps,” said the Raven. He moved his head backwards and forwards and flew away.
The evening was closing in when the Raven returned. “Caw— caw!” said he. “She sends you her compliments; and here is a roll for you. She took it out of the kitchen, where there is bread enough. You are hungry, no doubt. It is not possible for you to enter the palace, for you are barefooted: the guards in silver, and the lackeys in gold, would not allow it; but do not cry, you shall come in still. My sweetheart knows a little back stair that leads to the bedchamber, and she knows where she can get the key of it.”
And they went into the garden in the large avenue, where one leaf was falling after the other; and when the lights in the palace had all gradually disappeared, the Raven led little Gerda to the back door, which stood half open.
Oh, how Gerda’s heart beat with anxiety and longing! It was just as if she had been about to do something wrong; and yet she only wanted to know if little Kay was there. Yes, he must be there. She called to mind his intelligent eyes, and his long hair, so vividly, she could quite see him as he used to laugh when they were sitting under the roses at home. “He will, no doubt, be glad to see you— to hear what a long way you have come for his sake; to know how unhappy all at home were when he did not come back.”
Oh, what a fright and a joy it was!
They were now on the stairs. A single lamp was burning there; and on the floor stood the tame Raven, turning her head on every side and looking at Gerda, who bowed as her grandmother had taught her to do.
“My intended has told me so much good of you, my dear young lady,” said the tame Raven. “Your tale is very affecting. If you will take the lamp, I will go before. We will go straight on, for we shall meet no one.”
“I think there is somebody just behind us,” said Gerda; and something rushed past: it was like shadowy figures on the wall; horses with flowing manes and thin legs, huntsmen, ladies and gentlemen on horseback.
“They are only dreams,” said the Raven. “They come to fetch the thoughts of the high personages to the chase; ‘tis well, for now you can observe them in bed all the better. But let me find, when you enjoy honor and distinction, that you possess a grateful heart.”
“Tut! That’s not worth talking about,” said the Raven of the woods.
They now entered the first saloon, which was of rose-colored satin, with artificial flowers on the wall. Here the dreams were rushing past, but they hastened by so quickly that Gerda could not see the high personages. One hall was more magnificent than the other; one might indeed well be abashed; and at last they came into the bedchamber. The ceiling of the room resembled a large palm-tree with leaves of glass, of costly glass; and in the middle, from a thick golden stem, hung two beds, each of which resembled a lily. One was white, and in this lay the Princess; the other was red, and it was here that Gerda was to look for little Kay. She bent back one of the red leaves, and saw a brown neck. Oh! that was Kay! She called him quite loud by name, held the lamp towards him— the dreams rushed back again into the chamber— he awoke, turned his head, and— it was not little Kay!
The Prince was only like him about the neck; but he was young and handsome. And out of the white lily leaves the Princess peeped, too, and asked what was the matter. Then little Gerda cried, and told her her whole history, and all that the Ravens had done for her.
“Poor little thing!” said the Prince and the Princess. They praised the Ravens very much, and told them they were not at all angry with them, but they were not to do so again. However, they should have a reward. “Will you fly about here at liberty,” asked the Princess; “or would you like to have a fixed appointment as court ravens, with all the broken bits from the kitchen?”
And both the Ravens nodded, and begged for a fixed appointment; for they thought of their old age, and said, “It is a good thing to have a provision for our old days.”
And the Prince got up and let Gerda sleep in his bed, and more than this he could not do. She folded her little hands and thought, “How good men and animals are!” and she then fell asleep and slept soundly. All the dreams flew in again, and they now looked like the angels; they drew a little sledge, in which little Kay sat and nodded his head; but the whole was only a dream, and therefore it all vanished as soon as she awoke.
The next day she was dressed from head to foot in silk and velvet. They offered to let her stay at the palace, and lead a happy life; but she begged to have a little carriage with a horse in front, and for a small pair of shoes; then, she said, she would again go forth in the wide world and look for Kay.
Shoes and a muff were given her; she was, too, dressed very nicely; and when she was about to set off, a new carriage stopped before the door. It was of pure gold, and the arms of the Prince and Princess shone like a star upon it; the coachman, the footmen, and the outriders, for outriders were there, too, all wore golden crowns. The Prince and the Princess assisted her into the carriage themselves, and wished her all success. The Raven of the woods, who was now married, accompanied her for the first three miles. He sat beside Gerda, for he could not bear riding backwards; the other Raven stood in the doorway, and flapped her wings; she could not accompany Gerda, because she suffered from headache since she had had a fixed appointment and ate so much. The carriage was lined inside with sugar-plums, and in the seats were fruits and gingerbread.
“Farewell! Farewell!” cried Prince and Princess; and Gerda wept, and the Raven wept. Thus passed the first miles; and then the Raven bade her farewell, and this was the most painful separation of all. He flew into a tree, and beat his black wings as long as he could see the carriage, that shone from afar like a sunbeam.
They drove through the dark wood; but the carriage shone like a torch, and it dazzled the eyes of the robbers, so that they could not bear to look at it.
“‘Tis gold! ‘Tis gold!” they cried; and they rushed forward, seized the horses, knocked down the little postilion, the coachman, and the servants, and pulled little Gerda out of the carriage.
“How plump, how beautiful she is! She must have been fed on nut-kernels,” said the old female robber, who had a long, scrubby beard, and bushy eyebrows that hung down over her eyes. “She is as good as a fatted lamb! How nice she will be!” And then she drew out a knife, the blade of which shone so that it was quite dreadful to behold.
“Oh!” cried the woman at the same moment. She had been bitten in the ear by her own little daughter, who hung at her back; and who was so wild and unmanageable, that it was quite amusing to see her. “You naughty child!” said the mother: and now she had not time to kill Gerda.
“She shall play with me,” said the little robber child. “She shall give me her muff, and her pretty frock; she shall sleep in my bed!” And then she gave her mother another bite, so that she jumped, and ran round with the pain; and the Robbers laughed, and said, “Look, how she is dancing with the little one!”
“I will go into the carriage,” said the little robber maiden; and she would have her will, for she was very spoiled and very headstrong. She and Gerda got in; and then away they drove over the stumps of felled trees, deeper and deeper into the woods. The little robber maiden was as tall as Gerda, but stronger, broader-shouldered, and of dark complexion; her eyes were quite black; they looked almost melancholy. She embraced little Gerda, and said, “They shall not kill you as long as I am not displeased with you. You are, doubtless, a Princess?”
“No,” said little Gerda; who then related all that had happened to her, and how much she cared about little Kay.
The little robber maiden looked at her with a serious air, nodded her head slightly, and said, “They shall not kill you, even if I am angry with you: then I will do it myself”; and she dried Gerda’s eyes, and put both her hands in the handsome muff, which was so soft and warm.
At length the carriage stopped. They were in the midst of the court-yard of a robber’s castle. It was full of cracks from top to bottom; and out of the openings magpies and rooks were flying; and the great bull-dogs, each of which looked as if he could swallow a man, jumped up, but they did not bark, for that was forbidden.
In the midst of the large, old, smoking hall burnt a great fire on the stone floor. The smoke disappeared under the stones, and had to seek its own egress. In an immense caldron soup was boiling; and rabbits and hares were being roasted on a spit.
“You shall sleep with me to-night, with all my animals,” said the little robber maiden. They had something to eat and drink; and then went into a corner, where straw and carpets were lying. Beside them, on laths and perches, sat nearly a hundred pigeons, all asleep, seemingly; but yet they moved a little when the robber maiden came. “They are all mine,” said she, at the same time seizing one that was next to her by the legs and shaking it so that its wings fluttered. “Kiss it,” cried the little girl, and flung the pigeon in Gerda’s face. “Up there is the rabble of the wood,” continued she, pointing to several laths which were fastened before a hole high up in the wall; “that’s the rabble; they would all fly away immediately, if they were not well fastened in. And here is my dear old Bac”; and she laid hold of the horns of a reindeer, that had a bright copper ring round its neck, and was tethered to the spot. “We are obliged to lock this fellow in too, or he would make his escape. Every evening I tickle his neck with my sharp knife; he is so frightened at it!” and the little girl drew forth a long knife, from a crack in the wall, and let it glide over the Reindeer’s neck. The poor animal kicked; the girl laughed, and pulled Gerda into bed with her.
“Do you intend to keep your knife while you sleep?” asked Gerda; looking at it rather fearfully.
“I always sleep with the knife,” said the little robber maiden. “There is no knowing what may happen. But tell me now, once more, all about little Kay; and why you have started off in the wide world alone.” And Gerda related all, from the very beginning: the Wood-pigeons cooed above in their cage, and the others slept. The little robber maiden wound her arm round Gerda’s neck, held the knife in the other hand, and snored so loud that everybody could hear her; but Gerda could not close her eyes, for she did not know whether she was to live or die. The robbers sat round