There once was a merchant so wealthy that he could have paved a whole street with silver, and still have had enough left over to pave a little alley. But he did nothing of the sort. He knew better ways of using his money than that. If he parted with pennies they came back to him as crowns. That's the sort of merchant he was-and then he died.
Now his son got all the money, and he led a merry life, went to masquerades every night, made paper dolls out of banknotes, and played ducks and drakes at the lake with gold pieces instead of pebbles. This makes the money go, and his inheritance was soon gone. At last he had only four pennies, and only a pair of slippers and a dressing gown to wear.
There was an aëronaut, and things went badly with him. His balloon burst, hurled him out, and went all to pieces. Just two minutes before, the aëronaut had sent his boy down by parachute - wasn't the boy lucky! He wasn't hurt, and he knew enough to be an aëronaut himself, but he had no balloon and no means of getting one.
Live he must, so he took to sleight-of-hand tricks, and to throwing his voice, which is called ventriloquism. He was young and good-looking. When he grew a mustache and wore his best clothes, he might well have been mistaken for the son of a nobleman. Ladies found him handsome and one young lady was so taken by his charm and dexterity that she eloped with him to foreign lands. There he called himself "The Professor" - he could scarcely do less.
The flax was in full bloom. It had such pretty blue blossoms, as soft as the wings of a moth, and even more delicate. And the sun shone down on the flax, and the rain clouds watered it, and that was as good for it as it is for little children to be bathed and kissed by their mothers-it makes them look so much prettier, and so it did the flax.
"People say that I stand exceedingly well," said the flax, "and that I am growing so charmingly tall that I'll make a grand piece of linen. Oh, how happy I am! No one could possibly be happier! How well off I am! And I'm sure I'll be put to some good use, too. The sunshine makes me so cheerful, and the rain tastes so fresh! I'm exceedingly happy; yes, I'm sure I'm the happiest being in the world!"
There were five peas in one pod; the peas were green and the pod was green, and so they believed that the whole world was green-and that was absolutely right! The pod grew and the peas grew; they adjusted themselves to their surroundings, sitting straight in a row. The sun shone outside and warmed the pod; the rain made it clear and clean. It was nice and cozy inside, bright in the daytime and dark at night, just as it should be; and the peas became larger, and more and more thoughtful, as they sat there, for surely there was something they must do.
"Shall I always remain sitting here?" said one. "If only I don't become hard from sitting so long. It seems to me there must be something outside; I have a feeling about it."
Out in the woods stood such a pretty little fir tree. It grew in a good place, where it had plenty of sun and plenty of fresh air. Around it stood many tall comrades, both fir trees and pines.
The little fir tree was in a headlong hurry to grow up. It didn't care a thing for the warm sunshine, or the fresh air, and it took no interest in the peasant children who ran about chattering when they came to pick strawberries or raspberries. Often when the children had picked their pails full, or had gathered long strings of berries threaded on straws, they would sit down to rest near the little fir. "Oh, isn't it a nice little tree?" they would say. "It's the baby of the woods." The little tree didn't like their remarks at all.
"Last night" - these are the Moon's own words - "I glided through the clear sky of India and reflected myself in the Ganges. My rays struggled to force their way through the thick roof of old sycamore trees that arched beneath me like the shell of a tortoise. From the thicket, a Hindu maiden stepped out, graceful as a gazelle and beautiful as Eve. There was something truly spiritual, and yet material, about her, and I could even make out her thoughts beneath her delicate skin. The thorny liana plants tore her sandals, but she walked rapidly forward. The wild beasts that came up from the river after quenching their thirst fled away in fright, for the maiden held a lighted lamp in her hand. I could see the blood in the delicate fingers arched into a shield over the flame of the lamp.
"Yesterday," said the Moon, "I looked down on the busy city of Paris - and my gaze penetrated into the apartments of the Louvre. An old grandmother, poorly clad, for she belonged to the class of beggars, followed one of the attendants into the great, empty throne room. She had to see it, and it had cost her many a little sacrifice and many a fawning word before she had managed to make her way this far into the palace. She folded her scrawny hands and gazed around as solemnly as if she were in a church.
" 'It was here!' she said. 'Here!' And she approached the throne, from which the rich, gold-edged velvet covering hung down. 'There!' she said. 'There!' And she fell to her knees and kissed the purple hanging. I believe she wept.
"I sailed over Lüneburg Heath," the Moon said. "A lonely hut stood there by the roadside. Around it grew a few withered bushes where a nightingale, which had lost its way, was singing. It would surely die during that cold night; it was its swan's song that I heard.
"Morning dawned, and along came a group of emigrant peasant families who wanted to go to Bremen or Hamburg to take a ship for America, where they hoped to see their dreams of good fortune come true. The youngest children were carried on the backs of the women, while the bigger ones skipped along beside them. A wretched horse was dragging a cart that bore the few household effects they possessed.
Once there were two cocks, one on a dunghill and one on the roof, both of them conceited; but which of the two did the most? Tell us what you think - we'll keep our own opinion, anyway.
The chicken yard was separated by a board fence from another yard, where there lay a manure heap, and on this grew a great cucumber, which was fully aware of being a forcing - bed plant.
"That's a privilege of birth," said the Cucumber to herself. "Not everyone can be born a cucumber; there must be other living things, too. The fowls, the ducks, and the cattle in the next yard are creatures, too, I suppose. I now look up to the Farmyard Cock on the fence. He certainly is much more important than the Weathercock way up there, who can't even creak, much less crow, who has no hens or chickens, who thinks only about himself and perspires rust. No, the Farmyard Cock - he's a real cock! His walk is like a dance, to hear him crow is like music, and whenever he comes around people can hear what a trumpeter he is! If he would only come over here! Even if he should eat me up, stalk and all, it would be a happy death!" said the Cucumber.
In the most fashionable street in the city stood a fine old house; the wall around it had bits of glass worked into it, so that when the sun or the moon shone it looked as if it were covered with diamonds. That was a sign of wealth, and there was great wealth inside. It was said that the merchant was a man rich enough to put two barrels of gold into his best parlor and could even put a barrel of gold pieces, as a savings bank against the future, outside the door of the room where his little son was born.
When the baby arrived in the rich house, there was great joy from the cellar up to the garret; and up there, there was still greater joy an hour or two later. The warehouseman and his wife lived in the garret, and there, too, at the same time, a little son arrived, given by our Lord, brought by the stork, and exhibited by the mother. And there, too, was a barrel outside the door, quite accidentally; but it was not a barrel of gold - it was a barrel of sweepings.