There was once a big wax candle who had the highest opinion of his merits.
"I," he said, "am made of the purest wax, cast in the best mold. I burn more brilliantly than any other candle, and I outlast them all. I belong in the high chandelier or the silver candlestick."
"What a delightful life you must lead," the tallow candle admitted. "I am only tallow. Just a tallow dip. But it's a comfort to think how much better off I am than the taper. He's only dipped twice, while I am dipped eight times to make a thick and respectable candle of me. I'm satisfied. To be sure it would be better to be born of wax than of tallow, and a lucky thing to be shaped in a mold, but one isn't asked how he wants to be born. Your place is in the big rooms with glass chandeliers. Mine is in the kitchen. But kitchen is a good place too. All the food in the house comes from there."
The butterfly wanted a sweetheart, and naturally he wanted one of the prettiest of the dear little flowers. He looked at each of them; there they all sat on their stalks as quiet and modest as little maidens ought to sit before they are engaged; but there were so many to choose from that it would be quite difficult to decide. So the Butterfly flew down to the Daisy, whom the French call "Marguerite." They know she can tell fortunes. This is the way it's done: the lovers pluck off the little petals one by one, asking questions about each other, "Does he love me from the heart? A little? A lot? Or loves he not at all?" - or something like that; everyone asks in his own language. So the Butterfly also came to ask, but he wouldn't bite off the leaves; instead he kissed each one in turn, thinking that kindness is the best policy.
"Sweet Miss Marguerite Daisy," he said, "you're the wisest woman of all the flowers - you can tell fortunes! Tell me, should I choose this one or that one? Which one am I to have? When you have told me, I can fly straight to her and propose."
When after a thunderstorm you pass by a field in which buckwheat is growing, you will very often notice that the buckwheat appears quite blackened and singed as if a fire had swept over it. The farmer will tell you, "It got that from lightning." But why and how did it happen?
I'll tell you the story as the sparrow told it to me, and he heard it from an old willow tree that stands beside a buckwheat field. And who could possibly know better than that old willow tree, for he still stands there? He is such a respectable and dignified tree, but is old and crippled, with grass and brambles growing out of a cleft in his middle. He bends forward, with his branches hanging down to the ground as if they were long green hair.
In the narrow, crooked street, among several shabby dwellings, stood a very tall and very narrow house, the framework of which had given so that it was out of joint in every direction. Only poor people lived here, and poorest of all were those who lived in the attic. Outside the small attic window an old, bent bird cage hung in the sunshine; it didn't even have a real bird glass, but had only a bottle neck, upside down, with a cork in its mouth, and filled with water. At the open window stood an old maid who had just been decking the cage with chickweed; the little canary in it hopped from perch to perch and sang with all his might.
"Yes, you may well sing!" said the Bottle Neck. Of course, it didn't say it audibly, as we're able to, for a bottle neck cannot speak, but it thought it, just as when we humans speak inwardly. "Yes, you may well sing - you, with your limbs whole! But what if you had lost your lower half as I have, and had only a neck and a mouth left, and then had a cork stuffed into you! You certainly wouldn't sing then! But it's good that somebody is pleased. I have no reason to sing, and I can't anyway; I could once, when I was a whole bottle, and someone rubbed me with a cork; they used to call me a real lark then, 'the grand lark.' Didn't I sing that day in the woods when the furrier's daughter became engaged? I can remember it as though it were yesterday. When I come to think of it, I've lived through many things; I've been through fire and water - down in the black earth, and higher up than most people. And now I hang here on the outside of the cage in the air and sunshine. It might be worth while to hear my story, but I'm not going to tell it aloud, because I can't!"
We've recently made a little journey, and already we want to make a longer one. Where? To Sparta, or Mycenae, or Delphi? There are hundreds of places whose names make the heart pound with the love of travel. On horseback we climb mountain paths, through shrubs and brush. A single traveler looks like a whole caravan. He rides in front with his guide; a pack horse carries luggage, tent, and provisions; a couple of soldiers guard the rear for his protection. No inn with soft beds awaits him at the end of a tiring day's journey; often the tent is his roof in nature's great wilderness, and the guide cooks him his supper-a pilau of rice, fowl, and curry. Thousands of gnats swarm around the little tent. It is a miserable night, and tomorrow the route will head across swollen streams. Sit tight on your horse lest you are washed away!
What reward is there for these hardships? The greatest! The richest! Nature reveals herself here in all her glory; every spot is history; eye and mind alike are delighted. The poet can sing of it, the painter portray it in splendid pictures; but neither can reproduce the air of reality that sinks deep into the soul of the spectator, and remains there.
We are up in Jutland, near the wild marsh. We can hear the North Sea, hear it tossing about, for it is quite close by. Before us there rises a great sand dune; we have been looking at it for a long while, and we've been, and still are, driving toward it, very slowly, through the deep sand. On the top of this sand dune is an old, rambling building, the Börglum Monastery, the largest wing of which is the church. We arrive there in the late evening, but the air is clear and the night is bright, so we can enjoy an expansive view over meadow and moor as far as the Aalborg Fiord, over field and heath, out over the dark-blue sea.
Now that we are up there, we drive on through barn and shed, then turn through the gates and on into the old castle court, where the linden trees stand in a row along the walls; sheltered from wind and weather, they thrive here, and their leafy branches almost hide the windows.
It is wintertime, and the earth is covered with a layer of snow, as smooth as if it were marble cut from a mountain. The sky is high and clear, and the wind as sharp as an elfin-forged sword; the trees stand like white coral, or resemble blooming almond branches, and the air is as fresh as it is in the high Alps. The night is beautiful with streaming northern lights and countless twinkling stars.
Storms are coming; the clouds rise and scatter swan feathers; the snowflakes drift down, covering the hollow lane, the houses, the open fields, and the quiet streets. But we are sitting in a cozy room, before a glowing fire, and tales of olden days are being told. We hear a legend.
"Ding-dong! Ding-dong!" rings out from the Bell Deep in the Odense River. And what sort of river is that? Why, every child in Odense Town knows it well. It flows around the foot of the gardens, from the locks to the water mill, under the wooden bridges. Yellow water lilies grow in the river, and brown, featherlike reeds, and the black, velvety bulrushes, so high and so thick. Decayed old willow trees, bent and gnarled, hang far over the water beside the monks' marsh and the pale meadows; but a little above are the many gardens, each very different from the next. Some have beautiful flowers and arbors as clean and neat as dolls' houses, while some have only cabbages, and in others no attempts at formal gardens can be seen at all, only great elder trees stretching out and overhanging the running water, which in places is deeper that an oar can measure.
The deepest part is right opposite the old nunnery. It is called the Bell Deep, and it is there that the Merman lives. By day, when the sun shines through the water, he sleeps, but on clear, starry, or moonlit nights he comes forth. He is very old; Grandmother has heard of him from her grandmother, she says; and he lives a lonely life, with hardly anyone to speak to except the big old church bell. It used to hang up in the steeple of the church, but now no trace is left either of the steeple or of the church itself, which used to be called St. Alban's.
In the narrow streets of the big town, toward evening when the sun was setting and the clouds shone like gold on the chimney tops, people would hear a strange sound like that of a church bell. But they heard it only for a few moments before it was lost in the rumble of city carriages and the voices of the multitudes, for such noises are very distracting. "Now the evening bell is ringing," people used to say. "The sun is setting."
People who were outside the town, where the houses were more scattered, with little gardens or fields between them, could see the evening sky in even more splendor and hear the bell more distinctly. It was as if the tones came from some church, buried in the silent and fragrant depths of the forest, and people looked solemnly in that direction.
A long time passed, and people began to say to each other, "I wonder if there really is a church out there in the woods? That bell has a mysterious, sweet tone. Let's go out there and see what it looks like."
The Emperor's horse was shod with gold - a golden shoe on each of its feet.
And why was he getting golden shoes?
He was a magnificent-looking animal, with slender legs, intelligent eyes, and a mane that hung down his neck like a soft veil of silk. He had carried his master through the smoke and flame of battle and heard the bullets sing and whistle around him; he had kicked and bitten those about him and done his share of the fighting whenever the enemy advanced; he had leaped, carrying his master on his back, over the enemy's fallen horse and had saved the Emperor's red gold crown, saved the life of the Emperor, which was much more valuable than the red gold; and that's why the Emperor's horse had golden shoes, a golden shoe on each of his feet.