Sunday, 23 July 2017
Ogier the Dane
There is an old castle in Denmark by the name of Kronborg, it lies directly overlooking the Sound, where hundreds of large ships sail past every day, British, Russian and Prussian; and they salute the castle as they sail past with cannons: ‘boom!’ and the castle replies with cannons: ‘boom!’ for that’s how the cannons say ‘Good day!’, ‘Many thanks!’ – In winter no ships sail past, for then ice covers the Sound right across to the land of Sweden and it is just like a regular highway, there the Danish flag flutters and there the Swedish flag, and the Danish and Swedish peoples say to each other ‘Good day!’, ‘many thanks!’ but not with cannons, no with friendly handshakes, and the one fetches wheat bread and pretzels from the other, for foreign fare tastes best. But the jewel in the crown is nevertheless old Kronborg and the fact that beneath it Ogier the Dane sits in the deep, dark cellar where no one comes, he is clad in iron and steel and supports his head on his strong arms; his long beard hangs down over the marble table to which it has become firmly attached, he sleeps and dreams, but in his dreams he sees everything that happens up here in Denmark. Every Christmas Eve and angel of God comes and tells him that what he has dreamt is true, and that he can go back to sleep, for Denmark is as yet not in any real danger! but should such danger arise, well, then Ogier the Dane will rise to his feet and the table will split when he tugs up his beard! then he will come out and strike a blow that can be heard in every country in the world.
An old grandfather sat telling all this about Ogier the Dane to his young grandson, and the little boy knew that what his grandfather said was true. And while the old man told about him, he carved away at a large wooden figurehead that was to represent Ogier the Danes and be placed at the front of a ship, for the old grandfather was a ship’s woodcarver, which is a man who does figureheads according to what name the ship is going to have, and now he had carved Ogier the Dane standing so proudly with his long beard and holding in one hand his broadsword, but with his other hand on the Danish coat of arms.
And the old grandfather told so much about remarkable Danish men and women that the young grandson finally thought that he now knew as much as Ogier the Danes could possibly know as he only dreamt about it; and when the little boy went to bed, he thought so much about it that he pressed his chin hard into the duvet and felt that he had a long beard that had become firmly attached to it.
But the old grandfather kept on with his work and carved the last section of it, the Danish coat of arms; and then he had finished and he looked at all of it and thought about everything he had read and heard about what he had told the little boy that evening; and he nodded and wiped his spectacles, put them back on his nose and said: ‘Ah yes, Ogier the Dane will hardly come in my lifetime! but perhaps the boy will get to see him and be there when the country’s fate is in the balance,’ and the old grandfather nodded, and the more he looked at his Ogier the Dane, the more obvious it became to him that he had carved a good figurehead; it really seemed to fill with colour, the harness gleaming like iron and steel; the hearts in the Danish coat of arms grew redder and redder and the lions leapt with golden crowns on their heads.
‘It really is the loveliest coat of arms anyone has in the whole world!’ the old man said. ‘The lions represent strength and the hearts gentleness and love!’ and he looked at the uppermost lion and thought of King Canute, who linked great England to the Danish throne, and he looked at the second lion and thought of Waldemar, who gathered together the Danish realm and subdued the Wendish countries; he looked at the third lion and thought of Margrethe, who united Denmark, Sweden and Norway; but when he looked at the red hearts, they shone even more brightly that before and turned into flames.
The first flame led him into a cramped, dark prison cell; there a prisoner sad, a lovely woman, Christian IV’s daughter: Leonora Ulfeldt; and the flame came to rest like a rose on her breast and flowered along with her heart, she who was the noblest and best of all Danish women.
‘Yes, this is a heart in Denmark’s coat of arms!’ the old grandfather said.
And his thoughts followed the flame, which led him out onto the sea, where the cannons thundered, where the ships lay shrouded in smoke, and the flame attached itself like the ribbon of an order to the breast of Hvitfeldt as he blew up his ship in order to save the fleet.
And the third flame led him to the abject huts of Greenland, where the clergyman Hans Egede stood with love in both word and deed; the flame was a star on his breast, a heart in the Danish coat of arms.
And the old grandfather’s thoughts went ahead of the hovering flame, for he knew where the flame wished to go. In the humble living room of the peasant’s wife stood Frederik VI and wrote his name in chalk on the beam; the flame quivered on his breast, quivered in his heart; in that peasant’s living room his heart became a heart in the Danish coat of arms. And the old grandfather dried his eyes, for he had known and lived for King Frederik with his silvery hair and honest blue eyes, and he folded his hands and gazed quietly in front of him. Then his daughter-in-law came in and told him that it was late, that he was to rest, and that the supper table had been laid.
‘But what a lovely carving you’ve done, grandfather!’ she said. ‘Ogier the Dane and all of our ancient coat of arms! – It’s as if I had seen that face before!’
‘No, I hardly think you have!’ the old grandfather said, ‘but I have seen it, and I had tried to carve it in wood as I remember it. It was when the British fleet was At Reden, and the Danish off Copenhagen on the Second of April that we showed we were true old Danes! On the good ship “Denmark” where I was in Steen Bille’s squadron, I had a man at my side; it was as if the bullets were afraid of him! he merrily sang old songs and shot and fought as if he were more than a human being. I still remember his face; but where he came from and what became of him nobody knows. I have often thought that it was old Ogier the Dane himself who had swum down from Kronborg and helped us in our hour of danger; that was what I thought, and there you have his portrait!’
And it cast its large shadow right up the wall, even taking in part of the ceiling, it looked as if it was the real Ogier the Dane himself standing behind it, for the shadow moved, but it was also able to do so because the flame of the candle was not burning steadily. And the daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfather and led him to the large armchair in front of the table, and she and her husband, who was of course the old man’s son and the father of the little boy lying in bed, sat and ate their supper, and the old grandfather talked about the Danish lions and the Danish hearts, about strength and gentleness, and explained quite clearly that there was yet another strength than that which lay in the sword, and he pointed to the shelf with old books on them, where all of Holberg’s comedies lay, those plays that were so often read because they were so amusing, one felt one really knew all the characters from the old days in them.
‘See, he knew how to carve too!’ the old grandfather said; ‘he has carved the mad and uncouth side of people to the best of his ability!’ and the old grandfather nodded towards the mirror, where the calendar stood with ‘The Round Tower’ and said ‘Tycho Brahe, he was another one who used the sword, not to carve people’s flesh and blood, but to carve a clearer path up among all the stars of heaven!’ – And he too, whose father was of my occupation, the son of the old wood carver, he whom we ourselves have seen with his white hair and strong shoulders, he who is mentioned in every country of the world! yes, he was a real carver, I’m just a whittler! Yes, Ogier the Dane can come in many shapes and forms, so that all the countries of the world will come to hear of Denmark’s strength. Let us drink a toast to Bertel Thorvaldsen’!’
But the little boy in bed could clearly see old Kronborg down by the Sound, the real Ogier the Dane who sad deep down in the cellar with his beard firmly attached to the marble table, dreaming about everything that happens up here; Ogier the Dane also dreamt about the humble room where the figurehead carver sat, he heard everything that was spoken and nodded in his dreams and said:
‘Just remember me, you Danish people! keep me in your thoughts! I will come in your hour of need!’ And outside Kronborg the sun shone from a blue sky and the wind bore the notes of the hunting horn across the Sound from the neighbouring country, the ships sailed past and gave their greeting: ‘boom! boom!’ and from Kronborg came the reply: ‘boom! boom!’, but Ogier the Dane did not wake up no matter how loud the shooting of the cannons was, for it was nothing more than ‘Good day!’ – ‘Many thanks!’ It will take a different kind of shooting to wake him; but one day he will awaken, for there’s mettle a-plenty in Ogier the Dane!’
Saturday, 22 July 2017
Some large lizards scuttled nimbly in the cracks of an old tree; they were well able to understand each other, for they spoke lizard language.
What a great rumbling and grumbling’s going on in the old Elf-Hill!’ one of the lizards said; ‘because of all that commotion, I haven’t slept a wink for two nights, I could just as well have been in bed with toothache, for I don’t sleep then either!’
‘Something’s afoot in there!’ the second one said, ‘they’re letting the hill stand on four red posts right up until cockcrow, giving it a good airing and the elf-maidens have learnt new dances that involve stamping. There’s something afoot!’
‘I’ve spoken to an earthworm of my acquaintance,’ the third lizard said; ‘the worm had just come up from the hill where, for days and nights’ it had been rummaging around in the earth; it had heard quite a bit, it can’t see, the wretched creature, but feeling its way and listening, those are things it understands. They’re expecting strangers at Elf-Hill, distinguished strangers, but who these were the earthworm wouldn’t say, or maybe didn’t know. All the jack o’lanterns have been called in to form a torchlight procession, as it’s called, and silver and gold, which there’s plenty of, is being polished and placed out in the moonlight!’
‘Who on earth can these strangers be?’ all the lizards said. ‘What can it be that’s afoot? Just listen to the humming! listen to the drumming!’
Just at that moment the Elf-Hill divided, and an old elf-maid, backless but otherwise very respectably dressed, came tripping out – it was the housekeeper for the old elf-king, she was a very distant relation, and had an amber heart on her forehead. Her legs went at great speed: trip, trip! goodness gracious, how she could trip and straight down to the bog to the nightjar.
‘You are invited to Elf-Hill, this very night!’ she said, ‘but will you not first do us a great favour and take care of the invitations! You must be useful in some way, since you don’t keep house yourself! We’re going to have some highly distinguished strangers, trolls of importance, and therefore the old elf-king wants to go out of his way!’
‘Who’s to be invited?’ the nightjar asked.
‘Well, anyone in the world can come to the great ball, even humans, as long as they can talk in their sleep or do just a little of what complies with our species. But for the first do there is to be strict selection, we only want to have those who are top-drawer. I have had a disagreement with the elf-king, for I think that not even ghosts ought to be admitted. The merman and his daughters must first be invited, they’re not all that keen on being on dry land, but they’ll each be given a wet stone to sit on or something better, and so I don’t think they will decline this time. All the old first-class trolls with tails, the river man and the pixies we must invite, and then I don’t think we could leave out the grave-sow, the three-legged ghost horse and the church spectre; they are admittedly connected to the clergy, who are not of our folk, but that happens to be their occupation, they have close family connections even so and that still pay visits!’ –
‘Craw!’ the nightjar said and flew off to those who were to be invited. The elf-maidens were already dancing on Elf-Hill, and they were dancing with gossamer shawls made of mist and moonlight, which looks exquisite for those who like that sort of thing. Deep down inside Elf-Hill the large hall had been given a good refurbish; the floor had been washed in moonlight and the walls rubbed with witch–grease so that they gleamed like tulip petals in front of the light. The kitchen was full of skewered frogs, snakeskin with small children’s fingers inside and salads of toadstool seeds, wet mouse-snouts and hemlock, beer from the bog crone’s brew, sparkling saltpetre wine from the burial vault, all extremely substantial; rusty nails and shards of stained-glass windows were among the crunchy snacks.
The old elf-king had his golden crown polished with ground slate pencil, it was a teacher’s pet pencil and very difficult for the elf-king to procure! In the bed chamber curtains were hung up and starched with grass-snake spit. Oh yes, there was certainly humming and drumming.
‘Now all we need is to do is use horsehair and pig’s bristles for incense, and I think I’ve done my bit!’ the old elf-maid said.
‘Dearest father!’ the smallest of his daughters said; ‘can’t you tell me who the distinguished guests are?’
‘Oh well!’ the said, ‘I suppose I’ll have to say it! Two of my daughters must be prepared to get married! two are going to be married off. The greybeard troll from up north in Norway, the one that lives in old Dovre Mountain and who has many rock castles of fieldstone and a goldmine that is better that folk believe, is coming down with his two sons, who are to choose themselves a wife. The old troll is a real, old honest Norwegian greybeard, full of fun and forthright, I know him from the old days when we got on first-name terms, he was down here to fetch his wife, she’s dead now, she was a daughter of the chalk-cliff king on Møen. He chalked up his wife there, you could say! Oh how I long for the Norwegian greybeard troll! His boys are said to be a pair of ill-mannered, cocky young fellows, but it could be one is doing them an injustice, and that they will improve with age. Let’s see if you can’t lick them into shape!’’
‘And when will they arrive?’ the one daughter asked.
‘That depends on the wind and the weather!’ the elf-king said. ‘They’re travelling most uneconomically! They’ll only come when a ship becomes available. I suggested they travel via Sweden, but the old man isn’t so keen on that! He doesn’t keep up with the times, which doesn’t please me!’
Just then two jack o’lanterns came leaping along, the one faster than the other and therefore one of the them came first.
‘They’re coming, they’re coming!’ they shouted.
‘Give me my crown, and let me stand in the moonlight!’ the elf-king said. The daughters lifted up their gossamer shawls and gave a deep curtsey.
They stood the greybeard troll from Dovre, with a crown of tempered icicles and polished pine cones, as well as a bearskin coat and sleigh-boots; his sons, on the other hand, were bare at the neck and without braces, for they were burly young blades.
‘Is this a hill?’ the smaller of the two boys asked, pointing at Elf-Hill. ‘Back in Norway we would call it a hole!’
‘Lads!’ the greybeard said. ‘Holes goes inwards, hills go upwards! haven’t you eyes in your heads!’
The only thing that surprised them down here, they said, was that they could understand the language without further ado!
‘Don’t give yourself airs!’ the old man said, ‘people will get the impression you’re only half-baked!’
And then they entered Elf-Hill, where indeed there was distinguished company, and with such haste that one would think they had been blown together, and everything was nicely and tidily arranged for everyone. The sea folk were at table in large vats, they said it was like being at home. Everyone observed table manners except for the two small Norwegian trolls, who put their feet up on the table, but they of course thought that everything they did was fine!
‘Feet out of the food!’ the old troll said and they obeyed, though not without a moment’s hesitation. They tickled their dinner partners with pine cones which they had in their pockets and then they pulled off their boots to sit more comfortably and gave them their boots to hold, but their father, the greybeard Dovre troll, he was completely different; he talked so delightfully about the proud Norwegian mountains, and about waterfalls that plunged down in white foam, with a roar like a thunderclap and the sound of an organ; he talked about the salmon that leapt up towards the plunging waters when the water-elf played on his golden harp. He talked about the shimmering winter nights when the sleigh bells jingled and the young men ran with lit torches over the glittering ice that was so transparent that they saw the fish take fright beneath their feet. Yes indeed, he was a great storyteller, one could see and hear what he talked about, it was as if the sawmills whined, as if the young man and women sang songs and danced the Hallinge dance; hurrah! suddenly the greybeard troll gave the old elf-maid a real avuncular smack of a kiss – and they weren’t even remotely related.
Now the elf-maidens had to dance and both the simple and the stamping kind, and it became them well, then came the art-dance, or ‘stepping outside the dance’ as it is called, good gracious, how they could stretch their legs, one didn’t know what was the end and what was the beginning, one didn’t know what were arms and what were legs, they interlaced like sawdust and twirled round so fast that the three-legged ghost horse felt ill and had to leave the table.
‘Prrrrr!’ the old troll said, ‘they’re really shaking a leg! But what else can they do besides dance, shake a leg and cause a whirlwind?’
‘You’ll soon find out!’ the elf-king said and called out the youngest of his daughters; she was as slight and clear as moonlight, she was the finest of all the sisters; she put a white wand in her mouth and simply vanished – that was her special skill.
But the greybeard troll said that he wouldn’t like his wife to have such a skill and didn’t believe his sons would either.
The second could walk alongside herself as if she had a shadow, which troll folk don’t have.
The third was a completely different type of elf, she had been taught in the bog crone’s brewery and she was the one who knew how to lard alder stumps with glowworms.
‘She’ll make a good housewife!’ the greybeard troll said and he toasted her with his eyes; for he didn’t want to drink all that much.
Now the fourth elf-maid came forward, she had a large golden harp to play on, and when she played the first string, everyone lifted their left leg, for troll folk are left-legged, and when she played the second string, everyone had to do as she wished.
‘That’s a dangerous piece of womankind!’ the greybeard troll said, but both sons left the hill, for they felt bored.
‘And what can the next daughter do?’ the greybeard troll asked.
‘I’ve learnt to love everything Norwegian!’ she said, ‘and I will never marry unless I can live in Norway!’
But the youngest of the sisters whispered to the greybeard troll: ‘That’s just because she’s heard of a Norwegian song that says when the world passes away, the Norwegian rocks will still stand like menhirs, and she’s so afraid of passing away.’
‘Ho, ho!’ the greybeard troll said, ‘that let the cat out of the bag. But what can the seventh and last one do?’
‘The sixth comes before the seventh!’ the elf-king said, for he could count, but the sixth daughter was not all that eager to come forward.
‘I can tell people the truth!’ she said, ‘nobody likes me, and I’ve got plenty to do to finish sewing my grave clothes!’
Then the seventh and last daughter came forward, and what could she do? Well, she could tell fairytales, as many as she wanted to.
‘Here are all my five fingers!’ the greybeard troll said, ‘tell me one about each of them!’
And the elf-maiden took him by the wrist, and he laughed till he chuckled, and when she got to the finger called Guldbrand, which had a gold ring round its waist as if it knew there was going to be a betrothal, the greybeard troll said, ‘hold on to what you have, the hand is yours! You are the one I myself want to have as my wife!’
And the elf-maiden said that she had yet to tell the tales of ring-finger Guldbrand and little-finger Peer Spillemand!
‘We can hear those when it’s winter!’ the greybeard troll said, ‘and hear about the pine and the birch and the wood-spirit gifts and the tinkling frost! You’ll have plenty of tales to tell, for no one else up there does much telling! – and then we’ll sit in the stone living room with a pine-chip fire burning, and drink mead out of the golden horn of the old Norwegian kings; the water-elf has given me a couple, and while we’re sitting there, the farm-pixie will pay us a visit and sing all the mountain pasture dairymaid songs. What fun that will be! The salmon will leap in the waterfall and strike the rockface, but it won’t get in! – Yes, believe me, things are fine in dear old Norway! But where are the lads?’
Yes, where were the lads! They were running about in the fields blowing out the jack o’lanterns who had come in good order and wanted to make a torchlight procession.
‘Stop gallivanting about!’ the greybeard troll said, ‘I’ve already found a mother for you, now you can find yourselves an aunt!’
But the sons said they preferred to hold speeches and toast new friendships, they had no inclination at all to get married. – And so they held speeches, toasted new friendships and turned their glasses upside-down to show that they had drained them; then they took their coats off and lay down on the table to sleep, for that didn’t bother them in the slightest. But the greybeard troll danced around the room with his young bride and exchanged boots with her, for that is finer than exchanging rings.
‘Now the cock’s crowing!’ the old elf-maid who kept house said. ‘We must put up the shutters so that the sun doesn’t burn us to death!’
And so the hill was shut.
But outside the lizards scuttled up and down the cracked tree and one of them said to the other:
‘Oh, I really did like the Norwegian greybeard troll!’
‘I preferred the lads!’ the earthworm said, but then it couldn’t see anything, the wretched creature.
Friday, 21 July 2017
There was once a little boy who had caught a cold; he’d been out walking and got his feet wet, no one could make out how he’d got them wet, for the weather was quite dry. His mother undressed him, put him in bed and had the tea urn brought in to make him a good cup of elder tea, for that warms a person up! Just then a funny old man entered by the door, he lived at the very top of the house all alone, for he had neither wife nor children, but he was extremely fond of children and was so good at telling lots of fairytales and stories that it was a real pleasure.
‘Now you just drink up your tea!’ his mother said, ‘and maybe you’ll get to hear such a fairytale.’
‘Yes if only I knew something new!’ the old man said and nodded very gently. ‘But where has the young boy got those wet feet from?’ he asked.
‘Yes, indeed!’ his mother said, ‘no one can understand it. ‘Can I hear a fairytale?’ the boy asked.
‘Well, can you tell me pretty exactly, for I have to know that first, just how deep the gutter is round the corner in the little street where you go to school.’
‘Exactly up to the middle of the shafts,’ the boy said, ‘but only if I go in the deep hole!’
‘Well, that’s where the wet feet come from,’ the old man said. ‘Now I really ought to tell a fairytale, but I don’t know any more!’
‘You can make one up just like that,’ the little boy said. ‘Mother says that everything you look at can turn into a fairytale, and everything you touch you can make a story out of!’
‘Yes, but those fairytales and stories are no good! no, the real ones come of their own accord, they knock on my forehead so to speak and say: here I am!’
‘Won’t there come a knock soon?’ the little boy asked, and his mother laughed, put elder tea into the pot and poured boiling water over it.
‘Tell me one! tell me one!’
‘Yes, if only a fairytale would come of its own accord, but such a tale is a bit high-class, it only comes if it feels like it –! stop!’ he suddenly said. ‘There’s one! careful, there’s one right now sitting on the tea pot!’
And the little boy looked over at the tea pot, the lid lifted itself higher and higher, and the elderflowers, so fresh and white, came into view, they grew large long branches, even out of the spout they spread out on all sides and grew bigger and bigger, it was the loveliest elder bush, a whole tree, it poked into the bed and pushed the curtains aside; oh, how it blossomed and had a wonderful scent! and in the middle of the tree there sat an old, kind-looking woman in a strange frock, it was completely green, like the leaves of the elder, and studded with large white elderflowers – one couldn’t see at first if it was clothing or real live foliage and flowers.
‘What’s the name of that woman!?’ the little boy asked.
‘Well, those Romans and Greeks,’ the old man said, ‘they used to call her a dryad, but we can’t understand that; out in the Nyboder district they have a better name for her, there she is called Elder-Mother, and she’s the one you must take note of; just listen, and look at the lovely elder tree:
Just such a large, flowering tree stands out there in Nyboder; it grew in the corner of a poor small yard; beneath this tree, in the loveliest sunshine, there sat one afternoon two old persons, a very, very old sailor and his very, very old wife – they were great grandparents and were soon going to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, but they couldn’t quite remember the date, and elder-mother sat up in the tree and looked so self-satisfied, as she does here. “I know for certain when their golden wedding anniversary is!” she said, but they didn’t hear her, they were talking about the old days.
“Remember the time,” the old sailor said, “when we were quite young and used to run and play, it was precisely in the same yard where we’re sitting now, and we used to push twigs into the earth and make a garden.”
“Yes,” the old woman said, “I remember it well! and we used to water the twigs, and one of them was an elder twig, it put down roots, put forth shoots and has now become the big tree under which we the old couple are now sitting.”
“Ah yes!” he said, “and over there in the corner there was a water tub, where my ship used to float, I’d carved it myself, oh how it could sail! but I soon was really out doing a different sort of sailing!”
“Yes, but first we went to school and learnt something!’ she said, “and then we were confirmed; we cried the both of us; but in the afternoon we climbed the Round Tower hand in hand and gazed out at the world from above Copenhagen and the water; and then we went to Frederiksberg, where the king and queen sailed around the canals in their magnificent boats.”
“I did a different sort of sailing, though, and for many years, far off on long voyages!”
“Yes, I often cried over you!” she said, “I thought you were dead and gone and were lying larking around down in the depths of the ocean! many a night I got up to see if the weather vane was turning; yes, it turned all right, but you still didn’t come! I remember so clearly how the rain was pouring down one day, the dustman came along outside where I was in service, I came down with the dustbin and stood there in the doorway, – what foul weather it was! and as I was standing there, the postman at my side gave me a letter: it was from you! Oh, what a journey it had taken! I started reading it at once; I laughed and I cried; I was so happy! it said that you were in the warm countries where the coffee beans grow! what a wonderful country that must be! you wrote so much, and I could see it all, while the rain poured down and I stood with the dustbin. Then all at once someone took me by the waist – –!”
“Yes, but you gave him a hefty clout round the ear, a right smack it was.”
“Well, I didn’t know it was you! You had arrived just as early as your letter; and you were so handsome! – you still are, of course, you had a long, yellow silk handkerchief in your pocket and a shiny hat on – you were so stylish. Good heavens, what terrible weather it was, and what a state the street was in!”
“Then we got married!” he said, “you remember! and then we had our first little boy and then Marie and Niels and Peter and Hans Christian!”
“Yes, and now they have all grown up and become good-natured people that everyone likes!”
“And their children in turn have had offspring!” the old sailor said; “yes and there’s plenty of spark in the great grandchildren! – and I seem to recall that it was this time of year when we held our wedding –!”
‘Yes, today is the exact day of your golden wedding anniversary!” elder-mother said, sticking her head right in between the old couple, and they thought it was the woman next door nodding; they looked at each other and took hold of each other’s hands; a little later their children and grandchildren came; they knew very well it was the golden wedding anniversary, they had already congratulated them that morning, but the old couple had forgotten that, whereas they could remember everything that had happened many years earlier; and the elder tree was so full of scent and the sun, which was now setting, shone straight into the old couple’s faces; they both began to look quite rosy-cheeked, and the youngest of the grandchildren danced round them and called out so rapturously that there was going to be a great party and they were going to have hot potatoes; and elder-mother nodded up in the tree and shouted Hurrah with all the others. – ”
‘But that wasn’t a fairytale!’ exclaimed the little boy it was told to.
‘Well, possibly, if properly understood!’ the storyteller said, ‘but let’s ask elder-mother!’
‘That wasn’t a fairytale;’ elder-mother said, ‘but here comes one now! For out of real life the most marvellous fairytales grow; otherwise my lovely elder bush couldn’t have grown out of the tea pot!’ and then she took the little boy out of his bed, laid him to her bosom, and the elder branches, full of blossom, wrapped themselves round them, they sat there as in the thickest bower, and it flew with them through the air – it was so incomparably delightful. Suddenly the elder-mother had turned into a lovely young girl, but her frock was still of the same green, white-flowered material that elder-mother had been wearing; at her breast she had a real elderflower, and round her blond, curly hair a whole garland of elderflowers; her eyes were so big, so blue, oh, she was so wonderful to look at! she and the boy kissed, and now they were of the same age and shared the same wishes.
They walked out of the bower hand in hand and were now standing in the home’s lovely flower garden; by the fresh plot of grass father’s walking-stick had been tethered to a post; for the young children there was life in the walking-stick; as soon as they sat astride it, the shiny knob changed into a wonderful neighing head, its flowing, black man fluttered, four strong, slender legs shot out; the animal was strong and spirited; they rode round the plot of grass at a gallop – hurrah! – ‘Now we’ll ride off many a mile!’ the boy said; ‘we’ll ride to the manor house where we were last year!’ and they rode round and round the plot of grass; and all the time the little girl – who, as we know, was nobody else than elder-mother – cried out: ‘Now we’re out in the country! Can you see the farmer’s house with the large baking oven like a huge egg in the wall facing the road; the elder tree is bending its branches down over it, and the cock is scratching away for the hens, just look at how it’s strutting about! – now we’re by the church! it lies high up on the hill between the great oak trees, one of which is half-dead! – Now we’re at the forge, where the fire is white-hot, and the bare-chested men strike with their hammers so the sparks fly all around them. Off, off to the marvellous manor house!’ and everything the little girl sitting behind on the stick said also flew past; the boy saw it, despite the fact they were only riding round the plot of grass. Then they played in the side path and scratched a small garden in the earth, and she took the elderflower from her hair, planted it, and it grew exactly as had happened for the old couple in Nyboder that time when they were small, and that has already been related. They walked hand in hand, just as the old couple had done as children, but not up the Round Tower or to Frederiksberg Garden, no, the little girl took the boy by the waist, and they flew around all of Denmark, and it was spring and it became summer, and it was autumn and became winter, and a thousand images were reflected in the boy’s eyes and heart, and all the while the little girl sang for him: ‘this you will never forget!’ and throughout their flight the elder tree had such a sweet and lovely scent; he noticed the roses and the fresh beeches, but the elder tree’s fragrance was even more wonderful for its flowers hung close to the little girl’s heart, and as they flew he leant his head against it.
It’s lovely here in spring!’ the young girl said, and they are standing in the beech wood that had just come into leaf, with the scent of the green woodruff at their feet, and the pale-red anemones looked so lovely out in the open air. ‘Oh, if only it was always spring in the sweet-smelling Danish beech wood!’
‘It’s lovely here in summer!’ she said, and they passed by old manor houses from the age of chivalry, where the red walls and crenelated gables were reflected in the canals, where the swans swam and looked up in the old, cool avenues. In the field the corn was waving as if it was a sea, the waysides were full of red and yellow flowers, the hedgerows with wild hops and flowering bindweed; and in the evening the moon rose large and round, the haystacks in the meadows smelled so sweet. ‘This will never be forgotten!’
It’s lovely here in autumn!’ the little girl said, and the sky grew twice as tall and blue, the woods took on the loveliest shades of russet, yellow and green, the hunting hounds were let loose, whole hosts of game birds flew up screeching over the barrow where the branches of bramble clung round the ancient stones; the sea was a blackish blue with white sailing ships and in the barn old women, girls and children sat peeling hops into a large vat; the young people sang songs, but the old ones told tales of pixies and trolls. Nothing could be better than this!’
‘It is lovely here in winter!’ the little girl said; and all the trees stood coated in hoar frost, they looked like white coral, the snow crunched underfoot, as it one always had new boots on, and from the sky fell one shooting star after the other. In the living room the Christmas tree was lit, there were presents and good spirits; in the country the violin could be heard in the farmer’s living room, mounds of pancake puffs were quickly grabbed, even the poorest child said: ‘But it’s so lovely in winter!’
Yes, it was lovely! and the little girl showed everything to the boy, and all the time there was the scent of the elder tree and all the time the red flag with the white cross was waving, the flag under which the old sailor in Nyboder had sailed; – and the boy became a young man, and he was to be off into the great wide world, far away to the warm countries where coffee grows; but when she said goodbye, the little girl took an elderflower from her breast, gave it to him as a keepsake and it was laid in his hymn-book, and whenever he opened the book in foreign climes, it opened precisely there where the flower of remembrance lay, and the more he gazed at it, the fresher it became; it was as if he could sense a scent from Danish woods, and he saw clearly the little girl peeping out among the petals of the flower with her clear blue eyes, and then she would whisper: ‘It’s lovely here in spring, in summer, in autumn and winter!’ and a hundred images would pass through his mind.
This was how many years passed, and now he was an old man and sat with his old wife beneath a flowering tree; they were holding hands, just like great-grandfather and great-grandmother were doing out in Nyboder, and talking to each other about the old days, and about their golden wedding anniversary; the little girl with the blue eyes and with the elderflowers in her hair sat up in the tree, nodded to both of them, and said: ‘today the day of the golden wedding anniversary!’ and then she took two flowers from her garland, kissed them, and the gleamed first like silver, then like god, and when she placed them on the old couple’s heads, each flower became a golden crown; there they both sat like a king and a queen, under the scented tree that looks absolutely like an elder tree, and he told his old wife the story about elder-mother, just as it had been told to him when he was a young boy, and both of them felt that there was so much in the story that was similar to their own, and that which was similar was what they liked best.
‘Yes, that’s how it is!’ the little girl in the tree said, ‘Some call me Elder-Mother, others Dryad, but in actual fact my name is Memory, I am the one who sits in the tree that grows and grows, I can remember, I can tell stories! Let me see if you still have your flower!’
And the old man opened his hymn-book, there lay the elderflower, so fresh as if it had only just been placed there, and Memory nodded, and the old couple wearing the golden crowns sat there in the red evening sun; they closed their eyes, and – and –! well, then the fairytale was at an end!
The little boy lay in his bed, he didn’t know if he had dreamt it or heard it told; the tea pot stood on the table, but no elder tree was growing out of it, and the old man who had told the story was just about to go out through the door, which he did.
‘How lovely it was!’ the little boy said. ‘Mother, I have been in the warm countries!’
‘Well, that’s hardly a surprise!’ his mother said, when one downs two whole cups of elder tea, one’s sure to get to the warm countries!’ – and she tucked him up well, so that he wouldn’t get cold. ‘You’ve probably been asleep, while I was arguing with him as to whether it was a story or a fairytale!’
‘And where’s the elder-mother?’
‘She’s on the tea pot!’ his mother said, ‘And there she can stay!’