The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep
Have you ever seen a really old wooden cabinet, quite black with age and with ornamental scrolls and foliage? Just such a one stood in a living room, it had been inherited from a great-grandmother, and was decorated with roses and tulips from top to bottom; there were the strangest scrolls and between them young stags stuck their heads out with their many-pointed antlers, but in the middle of the cabinet an entire man had been carved, he was certainly laughable to look at and laugh he did, it couldn’t be called smiling, he had billygoat legs, small horns on his forehead and a long beard. The children in the room always called him Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneralwar-commandingsergeant, for that’s a difficult name to say, and there aren’t many who get such a title, though to actually make such a figure of him was quite something.
But there he was! he always looked across toward the table under the mirror, for on it stood an exquisite small porcelain shepherdess; she wore gilt shoes, her dress was tastefully tucked up with a red rose and she had a gold hat and shepherd’s crook – she was delightful. Close to her stood a small chimney sweep, as black as coal, though also made of porcelain; he was just as nice and clean as anyone else; that he was a chimney sweep was just something he represented, the porcelain-maker could just have well have made a prince of him, for it was one and the same thing!
He stood there so takingly with his ladder, and with a face as white and red as a girl’s and this was in fact a mistake, for he could perhaps have been just a bit black. He stood quite close to the shepherdess; both of them had been positioned where they now stood, as since those were their positions, they had become engaged, they were so well suited to each other, they were young, they were of the same porcelain and both of them equally fragile.
Close to them was a further figure, three times as large, it was an old Chinaman who was able to nod; he was also made of porcelain and said that was the little shepherdess’s grandfather, but he couldn’t prove it, he claimed he had power over her, and therefore he had nodded to the Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneral-warcommandingsergeant, who proposed to the little shepherdess.
‘In him you will gain a man,’ the old Chinaman said, ‘a man who I almost believe is made of mahogany, he can make a Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneralwarcommandingsergeantina of you, he has a whole cabinet full of silverware, apart from what he has stashed away in secret places!’
‘I don’t want to go inside that dark cabinet!’ the little shepherdess said, ‘I have heard tell that he has eleven porcelain wives in there!’ –
‘In that case you can be number twelve!’ the Chinaman said, ‘tonight, as soon as the old cabinet starts to creak, you can be wed, as true as I’m a Chinaman!’ and then he nodded and fell asleep.
Bu the little shepherdess wept and gazed at her heart’s desire, the porcelain chimney sweep.
‘I think I will ask you,’ she said, ‘to come with me out into the great wide world, for we can’t stay here!’
‘I want everything that you want!’ the little chimney sweep said, ‘let’s set out immediately, I’m confident because of my profession that I can provide for you!’
‘If only we were safely down off the table!’ she said, ‘I won’t be happy until we are out in the great wide world.!’
And he comforted her and showed her where she was to place her little foot on the carved edges and gilt foliage along the table leg, he often used his ladder to help her and soon they were down on the floor, but when they looked across to the old cabinet, there was such a commotion; all the carved stags stuck their heads out even further, raised their antlers and turned their necks; the Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneralwarcommandingsergeant jumped high into the air, and shouted over to the Chinaman, ‘they’re absconding! they’re absconding!’
That frightened them somewhat, and so they quickly jumped up into the drawer of the dais.
Here there lay three or four packs of cards that were incomplete as well as a small puppet theatre that had been erected as well as possible; there plays were enacted and all the queens, of both diamonds and hearts, of clubs and spades, sat in the front row and waved with their tulips and behind them stood all the jacks and showed they possessed heads both up top and down below, as playing cards do. The play had to do with two who could not have each other, and the shepherdess wept at this, for it was like her the story of her own life.
‘I can’t stand it!’ she said. ‘I must get out of this drawer!’ but when they were back on the floor and looked up at the table, the old Chinaman had woken up, and was rocking with his whole body, for he had a weighted base!
‘Now the old Chinaman’s out to get us!’ the little shepherdess shrieked and dropped down on her porcelain knees in her distress.
‘The thought’s just occurred to me,’ the chimney sweep said, ‘that we could crawl down into the large pot-pourri jar that stands in the corner, there we could lie on roses and lavender and throw salt in his eyes when he comes.’
‘I wouldn’t suggest that!’ she said, ‘apart from which I know that the old Chinaman and the pot-pourri jar have been engaged and there is always a little goodwill left when one has been in that sort of relationship! no, there’s nothing else left but to set out into the great wide world!’
‘Do you really dare go out with me into the great wide world?’ the chimney sweep asked. ‘Have you thought about how immense it is, and that we will never be able to return here again!’
And the chimney sweep fixed his gaze on her and then said: ‘My path takes me through the chimney! if you really have enough courage to crawl with me through the tiled stove, both the drum and the flue, then we will come out into the chimney and there I’ll know what to do! we will climb up so high that they won’t be able to catch us, and at the very top there is a hole out into the great wide world!’
And he led her to the door of the tiled stove.
‘It all looks pretty black!’ she said, but she went with him even so, both through the drum and through the flue, where it was pitch-black.
‘Now we’re in the chimney!’ she said, ‘and just look! look! up there the loveliest star is shining!’
And there really was a star in the sky that shone directly down on them, just as if it wanted to show them the way. And they crept and they crawled, it was a horrible path, so high, so high; but he lifted and lightened, he held her and showed her the best places to put her small porcelain feet and then they came to the edge of the chimney and sat down on it, for they were tired out as well they might be.
The sky with all its stars was up above, and all the roofs of the town below; they could see so far in every direction, so far out into the world; the poor shepherdess have never imagined it like this, she lay her small head up against her chimney sweep and wept, so that the gold sprang from her corsage.
‘It’s far too much!’ she said. ‘I simply can’t bear it! The world is much too big! if only I was back on my little table under the mirror! I will never be happy until I’m back there again! I’ve followed you now out into the great wide world, now it’s your turn to follow me back home, if you are truly fond of me!’
And the chimney sweep talked sense into her, talked about the old Chinaman and about the Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneral-warcommandingsergeant, but she sobbed so terribly and kissed her little chimney sweep, so that he could do nothing else than give in to her, even though it was madness.
And so, with great difficulty, they crawled back down the chimney, and they crawled through the flue and the drum, it was not at all pleasant, and finally they stood in the dark tiled stove once more; there they peeked out from behind the door to find out how things were in the living room. It was quite silent; they peered out – oh, there in the middle of the floor lay the old Chinaman, he had fallen down from he table when he was trying to chase them and lay there in three pieces; his entire back had broken off in one piece and his head had rolled over into a corner; the Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneralwar-commandingsergeant stood where he always had stood and was thinking things over.
‘It’s horrible!’ the little shepherdess said, ‘old grandfather is in pieces, and it’s our fault! I can never survive that!’ and she wrung her tiny hands at this.
‘He can still be glued together!’ the chimney sweep said. ‘He can definitely be glued together! – Don’t react so strongly! once they have glued his back and given him a good rivet in his neck, he’ll be as good as new and say all sorts of unpleasant things to us!’
‘Do you really think so?’ she said. And then they clambered back up onto the table where they had stood before.
‘Just look at how far we got!’ the chimney sweep said, ‘we could have spared ourselves all the trouble!’
‘If only we had got grandfather glued together!’ the shepherdess said. ‘Do you think it’s very expensive?’
And glued together he was, the family had his back glued, he was given a fine rived in his neck, he was as good as new, although he couldn’t nod.
‘You have certainly become a bit hoity-toity since you got broken!’ the Billygoatlegs-Majorandminorgeneralwarcommanding-sergeant said, ‘though I don’t think it’s something to make all that much of a fuss about! am I to have her or not have her?’
And the chimney sweep and the little shepherdess looked at the old Chinaman so anxiously, they were so afraid he was going to nod, but he couldn’t and it was embarrassingly to tell a stranger that he still had a rivet in his neck, and so the two porcelain figure stayed together and they blessed grandfather’s rivet and were devoted to each other until they fell to pieces.