It was a Sunday morning. The sun shone brightly and warmly into the room, as the air, mild and refreshing, flowed through the open window. And out under God's blue heaven, where fields and meadows were covered with greens and flowers, all the little birds rejoiced. While joy and contentment were everywhere outside, in the house lived sorrow and misery. Even the wife, who otherwise always was in good spirits, sat that morning at the breakfast table with a downcast expression; finally she arose, without having touched a bite of her food, dried her eyes, and walked toward the door.
It really seemed as if there were a curse hanging over this house. The cost of living was high, the food supply low; taxes had become heavier and heavier; year after year the household belongings had depreciated more and more, and now at last there was nothing to look forward to but poverty and misery. For a long time all this had depressed the husband, who always had been a hard-working and law-abiding citizen; now the thought of the future filled him with despair; yes, many times he even threatened to end his miserable and hopeless existence. Neither the comforting words of his good-humored wife nor the worldly or spiritual counsel of his friends had helped him; these had only made him more silent and sorrowful. It is easy to understand that his poor wife finally should lose her courage, too. However, there was quite another reason for her sadness, which we soon shall hear.
You know the Goblin, but do you know the Woman-the Gardener's wife? She was very well read and knew poems by heart; yes, and she could write them, too, easily, except that the rhymes-"clinchings," as she called them-gave her a little trouble. She had the gift of writing and the gift of speech; she could very well have been a parson or at least a parson's wife.
"The earth is beautiful in her Sunday gown," she said, and this thought she had expanded and set down in poetic form, with "clinchings," making a poem that was so long and lovely.
You have quite likely heard of the girl who trod on a loaf so as not to soil her pretty shoes, and what misfortunes this brought upon her. The story has been written and printed, too.
She was a poor child, but proud and arrogant, and people said she had a bad disposition. When but a very little child, she found pleasure in catching flies, to pull off their wings and make creeping insects of them. And she used to stick May bugs and beetles on a pin, then put a green leaf or piece of paper close to their feet, so that the poor animals clung to it, and turned and twisted as they tried to get off the pin.
Every key has a history, and there are many kinds of keys - a chamberlain's key, a watch key, Saint Peter's key. We could tell you about all the keys; but now we will only tell about the councilor's gate key.
It had come into being at a locksmith's, but it might well have believed it had been made by a blacksmith, the way the man had worked on it with hammer and file. It was too large for one's trouser pocket, so it had to be put into the overcoat pocket. There it often lay in utter darkness; yet it had its own special hanging place on the wall, beside a childhood silhouette of the Councilor, in which he looked like a dumpling dressed in a frilled shirt.
There was once a king's son, no one had so many beautiful books as he. In them he could read of everything that had ever happened in this world, and he could see it all pictured in fine illustrations. He could find out about every race of people and every country, but there was not a single word about where to find the Garden of Paradise, and this, just this, was the very thing that he thought most about.
When he was still very young and was about to start his schooling, his grandmother had told him that each flower in the Garden of Paradise was made of the sweetest cake, and that the pistils were bottles full of finest wine. On one sort of flower, she told, history was written, on another geography, or multiplication tables, so that one only had to eat cake to know one's lesson, and the more one ate, the more history, geography, or arithmetic one would know.
About four miles from the city stood an old manor house with thick walls, towers, and pointed gables. Here lived, but only in the summer season, a rich and noble family. Of all the different estates they owned, this was the best and the most beautiful; on the outside it looked as if it had just been cast in a foundry, and the inside was made for comfort and ease. The family coat of arms was carved in stone over the gate; beautiful roses climbed about the arms and the balconies; the courtyard was covered with grass; there were red thorn and white thorn, and many rare flowers even outside the greenhouse.
The owners of the manor house also had a very skillful gardener. It was a pleasure to see the flower garden, the orchard, and the vegetable garden. A part of the manor's original old garden was still there, consisting of a few box-tree hedges cut so that they formed crowns and pyramids. Behind these stood two old, mighty trees, almost always without leaves, and one might easily think that a storm or a waterspout had scattered great lumps of dirt on their branches, but each lump was a bird's nest. Here, from time immemorial, a screaming swarm of crows and rooks had built their nests; it was a regular bird town, and the birds were the owners, the manor's oldest family - the real lordship! The people below meant nothing to them; they tolerated these crawling creatures, even if every now and then they shot with their guns, making the birds' backbones shiver, so that every bird flew up in fear and cried, "Rak! Rak!"
It was in Copenhagen, in one of the houses on East Street, not far from King's Newmarket, that someone was giving a large party. For one must give a party once in a while, if one expects to be invited in return. Half of the guests were already at the card tables, and the rest were waiting to see what would come of their hostess's query:
"What can we think up now?"
Up to this point, their conversation had gotten along as best it might. Among other things, they had spoken of the Middle Ages. Some held that it was a time far better than our own. Indeed Councilor of Justice Knap defended this opinion with such spirit that his hostess sided with him at once, and both of them loudly took exception to Oersted's article in the Almanac, which contrasted old times and new, and which favored our own period. The Councilor of Justice, however, held that the time of King Hans, about 1500 A.D., was the noblest and happiest age.
"Last night I saw a German play, " the Moon said. "It was in a small town, where a stable had been converted into a theater; that is to say, the stalls were still there, but had been fitted up as boxes, and all the woodwork was covered with colored paper. From the low roof hung a small iron chandelier; an inverted tub was fastened over it so that, as in a real theater, the lights could be drawn up when the prompter's bell tinkled.
" 'Ting-a-ling,' and the little iron chandelier skipped up half a yard; this was the sign that the play was about to begin.
"A young nobleman and his lady, who happened to be passing through the town, were present at the performance, and consequently the house was filled to capacity. The space directly under the chandelier, however, was as clear as a small crater; not a soul sat there, for the candles of the chandelier dripped down - drip, drip!
The Moon spoke. "Near the forest path are two farmhouses. The doors are low and the windows placed irregularly; white thorn bushes and barberry ramble around them. Their mossy roofs are overgrown with yellow flowers and houseleek. Only green cabbage and potatoes grow in the little garden, but by the hedge grows a willow tree; and beneath it sat a little girl, her eyes fixed on the old oak tree between the farmhouses. Its tall and withered trunk had been sawed off at the top, and upon it a stork had built his nest. He stood above it now, rattling his bill. A little boy came out and stood beside the girl; they were brother and sister.
" 'What are you looking at?' he asked.
" 'At the stork,' she said. 'The neighbor woman told me he'll bring us a little brother or sister tonight, and I'm watching so I can see it when it comes.'