‘Soup from a sausage stick’ – something out of next to nothing!
‘That was an excellent repast yesterday!’ an old she-mouse said to another who hadn’t been at the party. ‘I sat twenty-one places from the old mouse king– that’s not bad at all! Let me tell you about the various courses, they were extremely well combined! mouldy bread, pork crackling, tallow candles and sausage – and then the same all over again; it was as good as being served two meals. There was a pleasant atmosphere and convivial nonsense, just as there is in a family circle; and nothing at all was left over except the sausage sticks; everyone had heard about them, but no one had ever tasted the soup, let alone knew how to make it. A spirited toast was given to any future inventor of it, he deserved to be overseer of the poor! wasn’t that witty?! And the old mouse king stood up and promised that the young mouse who could make the tastiest soup just mentioned would be his queen – they were to have a year and a day to find a recipe.
‘Not bad at all!’ the other mouse said, ‘but how does one make such a soup?’
‘Yes, how does one make it?’ all the she-mice, both young and old, started to ask. All of them wanted to be queen, but weren’t at all keen on travelling out into the wide world to learn how to – and that would probably be necessary! but it is not everyone who is prepared to leave her family and the old haunts; one doesn’t simply come across cheese rinds and pork crackling out there, one might end up starving, or even be eaten alive by a cat!’
Such thoughts also probably scared most of them off setting out in search of knowledge; only four mice presented themselves ready for departure, they were young and agile, but poor; they agreed that they would divide the four corners of the world between them, and then fortune would decide the outcome; each of them took a sausage stick with her, so as to remember why they were travelling – it would be their walking staff.
In early May they set out and in early May the following year they returned, but only three of them, the fourth did not turn up, had not sent any message and now the day had come when all was to be decided.
‘Something sad must always hang around even the most pleasant occasion!’ the mouse king said, but he gave the order for all the mice for many miles around to be invited; they were to gather in the kitchen; the three travellers stood on their own in a row; for the fourth one who was missing a sausage stick with black crape round set up. No one dared state a personal opinion before the three had spoken and the mouse king had said all that remained to be said.
Now let’s hear what had taken place!
What the first little mouse had seen and heard on her journey
‘When I set out into the wide world,’ the little mouse said, ‘I thought, like so many of my age, that I had swallow all the wisdom of the world, but that was not the case, it takes days and years before that happens. I immediately went to sea, on board a ship that was heading northwards; I had heard that when at sea the cook had to know how to look after himself, but it’s easy to do so when one has plenty of flitches of bacon, barrels of salted food and flour full of mites – one leads a savoury live! but one’s doesn’t learn anything that can make soup out of a sausage stick. We sailed many days and nights, we had plenty of lurching and lashing waves. When we reached our destination, I left the vessel; it was far up in the North.
It feels strange to leave one’s one little nook, set out on board a ship, which is also a kind of little nook, and then suddenly be hundreds of miles away and standing in a foreign land. There were wild forests with pine and birch, they had such a strong smell, one i dislike! the strange herbs smelt so spicy, I sneezed, I thought of sausage. There were large forest lakes, the water so clear close by, but seen from a distance as black as ink, there wild swans floated, they lay so still I thought they were foam, but then I saw them fly and I saw them waddling and could recognise them; they belong to the geese species, you can see it from the way they move – no one can deny his kinship! I stuck to my own kind, I joined up with the wood long-tailed and short-tailed field mice, who by the way know precious little about preparing food, and that after all was the reason I was travelling abroad. To be able to make soup from a sausage stick was such an extraordinary idea to them that they immediately went through the whole forest, but that the task could be solved seemed to them to be quite impossible, so little did I think that here, and that very night, was to be initiated into the preparation of it. It was midsummer, that was why the forest had such a powerful scent, they said, that was why the herbs were so spicy, the lakes so clear and yet so dark, with swans floating on the surface. At the edge of the forest, between three or four houses, a pole had been raised like a main mast, and at the very top hung garlands and ribbons, it was a maypole; young men and women danced round it and sang as they did so, trying to outdo the fiddler’s violin. Things got quite lively at sunset and in the moonlight, but I didn’t join them – what has a little mouse to do at a forest dance! – I sat down in the soft moss and held onto my sausage stick. The moon shone especially on a spot where there was a tree with a moss that was so fine – yes, I dare say it – as fine as the coat of the mouse king, but it had a green colour that was a sheer delight to behold. Then suddenly the loveliest small folk came along, they reached no higher than my knee, they looked like human beings but were better proportioned, they called themselves elves and had fine clothes made of flower petals with fly- and mosquito-wing trimmings – not bad at all. It immediately seemed as if they were looking for something, I didn’t know what, but then a couple of them came over to me, the more distinguished-looking of the two pointed at my sausage stick and said: ‘it’s exactly one like this that we need! it has been trimmed, it is excellent!’ and he grew more and more enchanted as he gazed at my walking staff.
‘You can borrow it, but not keep it!’ I said.
‘Not keep it!’ all of them said, took hold of the sausage stick, which I let go of, and danced with it over to the area of fine moss, raised the sausage stick there, in the middle of the green patch. They also wanted to have a maypole, and the one they had now was really tailor-made for them. Now it was decorated, yes, it was a fine sight!
Small spiders spun gold threat round it, suspended swaying veils and banners, so finely woven, so snowy white, were lit up by the moon so that they almost hurt my eyes; they took the colour from butterfly’s wings and sprinkled it on the white linen and flowers and diamonds glittered – I could not recognise my sausage stick any more, such a maypole as it had now become was unrivalled anywhere in the world. And only now did the whole host of elves arrive, they weren’y wearing a stitch of clothing, though it couldn’t have been more refined; I was invited to look at the spectacle, though from a distance for to them I seemed too big.
Now the playing started! it was as if thousands of glass bells were ringing, with such a rich, round sound that I thought it was the swans singing – yes, it seemed to me that I could also hear cuckoos and thrushes, finally it was as if the whole forest joined in, there were children’s voices, bells chiming and birds singing, the loveliest melodies, and all this delightful orchestra of sound came from the elves’ maypole – it was a whole carillon and yet it was my sausage stick. I would never have believed that so much could come from it, but it all depends on whose hands it is in. I was really so moved that I cried, as only a little mouse can, from sheer pleasure.
The night was much too short! but it doesn’t last any longer up there at that time of year. At daybreak a light breeze blew up, the surface of the forest lake became ruffled, all the finely waving veils and banners spread out in the air; the rocking tracery of spider’s web (suspension bridges and balustrades, or whatever they are called) was strung out from leaf to leaf, flew off as if nothing; six elves brought me back my sausage stick and at the same time asked me if I had a wish they could fulfil; then I asked them how one makes soup from a sausage stick.
‘How we set about it!’ the most distinguished of them said with a laugh, ‘well you’ve only just seen how! you could hardly recognise your sausage stick!’
‘Oh, that’s what you mean by it!’ I said, and told them exactly why I was on my travels, and what was expected when I returned home. ‘What use,’ I asked, ‘has the mouse king and all our great kingdom of the fact that I have seen such a lovely spectacle! I can’t shake it out of the sausage stick and say: look, here’s the stick, now comes the soup! For the guests it was a kind of dessert after the main course!’
Then the elf dipped his little finger in a blue violet and said to me: ‘watch out! I’m going to coat your walker’s staff and when you get back to the mouse king’s palace, then touch the king’s warm breast with the staff and violets will come into flower along the entire staff, even in the depths of winter. So now you’ve got something to take home with you, and a little more besides,’ but before the little mouse had said what this little more was, she turned her staff towards the king’s breast, and indeed, a beautiful bouquet of violets appeared that had so strong a fragrance that the mouse king ordered the mice who were closest to the chimney to stick their tails in the fire so that one could have a good smell of singeing, for the scent from the violets was unbearable, that wasn’t the kind of thing one was fond of.
‘But what was the little more besides you mentioned!’ the mouse king asked.
‘Well,’ the little mouse said, ‘it is what one could probably call the dramatic effect!’ and she twiddled the stick and there were no flowers any longer, she was holding the bare stick and she lifted it like a conductor’s baton.
‘Violets are for sight, smell and touch,’ the elf told me, ‘but there is something left for hearing and taste!’ And she started to beat time: there was music, but not like the sound in the forest at the elves’ festivities, no, like that which can be heard in the kitchen. The sound of food being prepared! It was there suddenly, as if the wind was rushing down all the chimneys, pots and pans were boiling over, the fire shovel clanged against the brass kettle, and then suddenly everything went quiet; one could hear the faint singing of the tea kettle, so strange it was, one couldn’t make out if it was finishing or beginning; and the small pot boiled and the large pot boiled, the one took no notice of the other, it was as if they had not a thought between them. And the little mouse swung her baton increasingly wildly – the pots foamed, bubble, boiled over, the wind roared, the chimney howled – hoo-hah! it became so terrifying that the little mouse even dropped her baton.
‘That was quite a pottage!’ the old mouse king said, ‘aren’t you going to serve it?’
‘That the lot!’ the little mouse said, and curtseyed.
‘The lot?! well, let’s hear what the next mouse has to say, then!’ the mouse king said.
What the second little mouse had to relate
‘I was born in the palace library,’ the second mouse said, ‘along with several of my family who have never known the joy of entering the dining room, let along the larder; not until I travelled and now, today, have I seen a kitchen. We really suffered from hunger in the library, but we acquired much knowledge. Up there we heard the rumour of the royal prize announced for making soup from a sausage stick, and it was my old grandmother who dug out a manuscript, one she was unable to read, but she had heard it read, and in it stood: ‘if one is a poet, then one can make soup from a sausage stick.’ She asked me if I was a poet. I answered in the negative, and she said that in that case I was to become one straight away; but what is required, I asked, for that was as difficult to ascertain as making the soup, but grandmother had listened when it was read aloud; she said that three main things were necessary: ‘Reason, Fantasy and Feelings! If you can get all three inside you, you are a poet, and then you can solve the riddle of the sausage stick.’
And then I travelled westwards out into the wide world to become a poet.
Reason I knew is the most important thing in all matters; the two others do not command the same respect! so I went off in search of Reason first – well, where does it dwell? Go to the ant and be wise, a great king of the Old Testament once said, I knew that from the library, and I did not stop until I came to the first ant-hill, where I lay in wait to become wise.
The ants are a highly respectable people, they are pure Reason, everything with them is like a sum that is correct, it all adds up. Working and laying eggs, they say, is to live in the present and ensure the future, and that’s certainly what they do. They divide the ants up into the clean ones and the dirty ones. Rank consists in a number, the ant queen is number one and her opinion is the only right one, she has devoured all wisdom, and that was important for me to discover! She said so much, it was so wise that I felt I was stupid. She said that their ant-hill was the highest in the world, although close by there stood a tree that was even higher, much higher, that could not be denied and so one did not speak of it; one evening an ant had strayed over to it, crept up its trunk, not even as far as the top, though higher than any ant had ever been, and went it turned round and found its way home, it spoke in the ant-hill of something that was far higher outside, but all the other ants found this offended against the entire community and so the ant was sentenced to be muzzled and to solitary confinement; but another ant also arrived at the tree and made the same journey and the same discovery, and it spoke of this with what one would call level-headedness and indistinctness and since it moreover was a respected ant, one of the clean ones, the others believed it, and when it died, they raised an egg-shell for it, as a monument, for they respected knowledge. I saw,’ the little mouse said, ‘that the ants continually ran with their eggs in the hill; if one of them lost hers, it needed a great effort to pick it up again, but if it did not succeed, two others would come and help it with all their strength, to the point where they almost lost their own eggs, but then they would instantly stop doing so, for one has to look after oneself; and the queen ant said that in doing so they had shown both emotion and reason. ‘These two place us ants highest among the creatures of reason. Reason must and should be the chief factor, and I possess the greatest reason!’ and she raised herself on her hind legs, she was so easily recognisable – I couldn’t be mistaken – and so I swallowed her. Go to the ant and be wise! now I had the queen!
I now approached the aforementioned large tree, it was an oak, it had a high trunk, a mighty crown and was very old; I knew that here a living creature dwelt, a woman, known as a dryad, who was born with the tree and would die with it, I had heard about it in the library; now I saw such a tree, saw such an oak-girl; she let out a fearful cry when she saw me; like all females she was afraid of mice, though she had more cause to be so than the others, for I could gnaw through the tree and on this her life depended. I spoke to her in a friendly and kindly manner, gave her courage, and she took me by her finely formed hand and when she heard why I had set out into the wide world, she promised me that perhaps that very same evening I would that very same evening acquire on of the two treasures I was still searching for. She told me that Fantasy was a very good friend of hers and that he was so delightful as a god of love, and that many a time he used to rest under the leafy branches of the tree when the wind roared even more strongly over both of them. He use to call her his dryad, she said, the tree’s tree, the knotted, exceedingly beautiful oak tree was precisely to his liking, the roots spread out side and deep in the earth, the trunk and crown soared high into the fresh air and knew the whirling snow, the sharp winds and the warm sunshine as they ought to be known. Yes, that was how she spoke: ‘the birds sing up there and tell of foreign parts! and on the only withered branch the stork has build its nest, it is a fine adornment and one gets to hear a thing or two from the land of the pyramids. All this, Fantasy likes a great deal, it is not even enough for him, I personally have to tell him about life in the forest since I was little and the tree was so small that a nettle could conceal it until now that it is large and mighty. Just you sit down there among the woodruff and keep a close watch, when fantasy comes I will find an opportunity to pinch one of his wings and shake a small feather out – take it, no poet has ever had better – that will suffice for you!’
And Fantasy came, the feather was plucked out and I seized it,’ the little mouse said, ‘I held it in water until it became soft! – it was still extremely difficult to digest, but I managed to gnaw it down! It’s not at all easy to gnaw oneself into a poet, there is so much one has to ingest. Now I had two of them, Reason and Fantasy, and by means of them I now know that the third thing was to be found in the library, since a great man has said and written that there are novels that only exist so as to free people from excess tears, that they are, so to speak, sponges for absorbing feelings. I recalled a couple of these books, they had always seemed quite appetising to me, they were so much read, so greasy, they must had absorbed an endless amount.
I went back to the library, ate what was virtually a whole novel, by which I mean the soft part, the real bit, the crust, the binding, I left uneaten. When I had digested it and one more as well, I could already begin to feel how things were moving inside me, I ate a bit of the third one, and then I was a poet, I said to myself and so did the others too! I had a head-ache, stomach-ache, you can’t imagine how many aches I had. I now started to think about what stories could be linked to a sausage stick, and I had so many sticks in my mind. The queen ant must have had an unusually good sense of reason, I remembered the man that put a white stick into his mouth and then both he and the stick became invisible; I thought of carrot and stick, of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, and of stick and stones that could break my bones. All my thoughts were stuck on sticks! and it must be possible to write a poem about them if one is a poet, which I am, I have worked my way up to it! So every day of the week I will serve you a stick, a story – that is my soup!’
‘Let’s hear the third mouse!’ the mouse king said.
‘Squeak! squeak!’ came from the kitchen doorway and a little mouse, it was the fourth mouse, the one they thought dead, rushed in, it overturned the sausage stick with the black crape, it had hurried both night and day, it had travelled with a goods train, as it had got the opportunity to, and even so it had almost arrived too late; it pushed its way forward, looked quite dishevelled, had lost its sausage stick but not its tongue, it starting talking immediately, as if people were only waiting for it to do so, only interested in hearing what it had to say, everything else in the world was of no interest to the world; it spoke immediately, had its say; it all happened so unexpectedly that no one had the time to react to it or its speech while it told its story. And here it is!
What the fourth mouse, which spoke before the third one could, had to relate
‘I immediately set out to the largest city,’ it said, ‘I can’t remember its name, I’m not very good at remembering names. I went from the railway with confiscated goods to the city hall where I went over to the gaoler, he talked about his prisoners, especially about one that had said many rash words, and much had in turn been said about them, and spoken, read and written down – ‘all of it soup from a sausage stick!’ he said, ‘but the soup can cost him his noddle!’ ‘This got me interested in the prisoner,’ the little mouse said, ‘and I seized the opportunity to slip in to him – there’s always a mouse hole behind locked doors! He looked pale, had a large beard and big gleaming eyes. The lamp smoked and the walls were used to it, they couldn’t get any blacker. The prisoned scratched both pictures and verses in white on black, I didn’t read them. I think he was bored; I was a welcome guest. He enticed me with crumbs of bread, whistling and gentle words; he was so glad to see me; he gained my trust and so we became friends. He shared his bread and water with me, gave me cheese and sausage; I lived well, though it was especially the good company, I have to say, that kept me going. He let me run up his hand and arm, right up his sleeve; he let me crawl around in his beard, called me his little friend; I became quite attached to him; such a thing works both ways! I forgot my mission out in the wide world, forgot my sausage stick in a crack in the floor; it must still be lying there. I wanted to stay where I was; if I left him, the poor prisoner would have no one at all, and that is too little in this world! I stayed, he didn’t stay! he spoke to me so sadly the last time we were together, gave me twice as much bread and cheese rind, blew a kiss at me with his fingers; he left and never came back. I know nothing about what became of him. ‘Soup from a sausage stick!’ the gaoler said and I went to him, but I ought not to have trusted him; he admittedly took me up in his hand, but he put me in cage, in a treadmill; that’s violent! one runs and runs and gets nowhere and is simply a laughing-stock! The gaoler’s grandchild was a lovely little girl with blond curly hair, bright eyes and a laughing mouth. ‘Poor little mouse!’ she said, peered into my horrible cage, pulled the iron rod out and I leapt down onto the window sill and out into the roof gutter. Free, free! that was all I thought of, not of the goal of my travelling!
It was dark, night was drawing in, I sheltered in an old tower, there a watchman lived and an owl; I didn’t believe either of them, least of all the owl; it looks like a cat and has the great fault that it eats mice; but one can be wrong, and I was; it was a respectable, extremely educated old owl, she knew more than the watchman and just as much as me; her young grumbled about everything, ‘don’t make soup from a sausage stick!’ she said, that was the most severe thing she could say, she had such intense feelings for her own family. I feel so much trust in her that I said peeep! from the crack where I was sitting; she liked this show of reliance and assured me that I would be under her protection; no animal would be allowed to harm me, she would even do this in winter when food became scarce.
She was wise in all matters; she proved to me that the watchman could only hoot with the horn that hung loosely at his side, ‘he quite fancies himself because of that, thinks he’s an owl up in a tower! He really thinks he’s something, but he’s next to nothing! Soup from a sausage stick!’ I asked her for the recipe, and she explained it to me: ‘Soup from a sausage stick is just a saying humans have and it can be understood in various ways, and each person thinks his interpretation is the most correct one – but all of it is hardly anything at all!’
‘Hardly anything at all!’ I said. Then it struck me! The truth is not always pleasant, but the truth is the supreme thing!’ the old owl also said. I thought about that and realised that if I brought the supreme thing, I would be bringing more than soup from a sausage stick. So I hurried off so I could get back here in time and bring the supreme, best thing: the truth. Mice are an enlightened race and the mouse king is above them all. He is in a position to make me queen for the sake of truth.’
‘Your truth is a lie!’ said the mouse who had not yet been allowed to speak. ‘I can make the soup and I shall!’
How it came to be made
‘I haven’t travelled,’ the fourth mouse said, ‘I stayed in this country, that’s the right thing to do! one doesn’t need to travel, one can get everything here just as easily. I stayed put! I have learnt what I know from supernatural beings, not eaten my way to it or talked with owls. I have thought it out for myself. Just get the cauldron, fill it with water, right up to the brim! fire up beneath it! bring the water to the boil, it must boil really furiously! now through the stick in! Will it now please the mouse king to dip his tail in the boiling water and stir! the more he stirs, the tastier the soup will become; it doesn’t cost anything! nothing needs to be added – just stir!’
‘Can’t someone else do it?’ the mouse king asked.
‘No,’ the mouse said, ‘the strength is only in the mouse king’s tail!’
And the water boiled away, and the mouse kind stood up close – it was almost dangerous – and he stuck out his tail, the way that mice do in the dairy when they skim the cream off a bowl and lick their tail afterwards, but no sooner had his tail felt the hot steam than he immediately jumped down:
‘Of course, you must be my queen!’ he said, ‘we will wait with the soup until our golden wedding anniversary, so that the poor people in my kingdom have something to look forward to and a long time to do so!’
And so they got married; but a number of the mice, when they got back home, said: but you can’t call that soup from a sausage stick, it was more what you could call soup from a mouse’s tail!’ – This thing and that of what was related, they found, was well said, but everything could have been different! ‘I, for example, would have said such and such – –!’
That was the criticism, and it is always so wise – after the event.
And the story went all round the work, opinions about it were divided, but the story itself became whole; and that’s the most correct in things great and small, in soup from a sausage stick; one can’t expect one unreserved Thank You!