Wednesday, 22 November 2017
The old Church Bell
(Written for ‘The Schiller Album’)
In the German state of Würtemberg, where the acacia trees blossom so delightfully at the roadside and the apple and pear trees are laden in autumn with their mature blessing, there lies a small town, Marbach; it belongs to the more humble settlements, but is beautifully located down by the river Neckar that flows swiftly past towns, old baronial castles and slopes of green vineyards before mingling with the proud and mighty Rhine.
It was late in the year, the vines were decked with russet leaves, showers fell, and the cold wind increased; it was not the pleasantest time of the year for the poor; the days were dark, and it was even darker inside the old, small houses. One of these lay with its gable facing the street, with low windows, poor and inferior to look at, as was the family that lived there, although honest and industrious; and with devoutness in the treasure trove of their hearts. Yet another child God was about to grant them; the hour had come, the mother lay in pain and anguish, when in to her came a sound from the church tower! a chiming so deep, so festive, it was a special occasion, and the sound of the bell filled the praying woman with devotion and faith; her thoughts rose fervently towards God, and in that same moment she gave birth to her infant son and felt exceedingly joyful. The bell in the tower seemed to ring out her joy over town and country. Her child’s two bright eyes gazed at her and its hair shone as if it had been gilded; the child was received into the world with the chiming of the bell on that dark November day; mother and father kissed it, and in their Bible they wrote that ‘On the 10th November 1959 God gave us a son’, and later on came the addition that at his christening he was given the names ‘Johan Christoph Friedrich’.
What became of the little fellow, the poor boy from insignificant Marbach? Well, nobody knew back then, not even the old church bell, no matter how high up it hung and had rung and sung first for the one who later was to write the most delightful song about ‘The Bell’.
And the little boy grew and his world grew too; his parents admittedly moved to another town, but there were still dear friends in little Marbach, so mother and son paid it a visit one day; the boy was still only six years old at the time, but he already knew something of the Bible and the pious hymns, from his little cane chair he had many an evening heard his father read Gellert’s Fables and the Song of the Messiah; and he and his sister, who was two years older, had shed hot tears when reading of him who suffered death on the cross for us all.
When they first revisited Marbach, the town had not changed very much at all, but then it was not all that long after they had left it; the houses stood as before with pointed gables, sloping walls and low windows; in the cemetery new graves had appeared, and there, right up against the wall, the old bell now lay down in the grass, it had fallen down from its great height, cracked and could no longer ring – a new one had also replaced it.
Mother and son had entered the cemetery, they were standing in front of the old clock, and the mother told her little boy how the bell had been of use and benefit for several hundreds of years, had pealed at christenings, weddings and funerals; it had rung out about festive joy and the horrors of fire; indeed, it sang out the length of a human life. And the child never forgot what his mother told him, resounded in his breast until later, when a man, he had to sing out about it. And his mother told him how the old church bell had rung consolation and joy in to her in her hour of anguish, rung and sung when her little boy was given her. And the child gazed almost with veneration at the large old bell, he bent down and kissed it, even though it lay old, cracked and discarded here among grass and nettles.
It remained in the little boy’s memory as he grew up in poverty; tall and thin, with reddish hair, a freckled face – yes, it was – but he also had two bright eyes like clear, deep pools. What became of him? Things went well for him, enviably well! Excellent! He was quite exceptionally accepted as a pupil at the military school of Karlsschule, attended by the children of fine folk, and that was an honour, a piece of good fortune; he wore short boots, a stiff cravat and a powdered wig. He was given a education, and it was to the tune of ‘March!’ ‘Halt’ ‘To the Front!’. Something could really come of that.
The old church bell, hidden away and forgotten probably ended up in a smelting furnace, and what came out of that? Well, it was impossible to say, nor was it possible to say that would come out of the bell inside the young man’s breast, there was bronze in there that rang, that simply had to sound out over the great wide world, and the more constricted it became behind the school wall and the more deafening the ‘March!’ ‘Halt’ ‘To the Front’ resounded, the louder the bell rang in the young man’s breast, and he sang it out to his circle of friends, and the sound could be heard beyond the state’s borders; but it was not for that reason that he had been granted an education, clothing and food; he had the number of the rivet he was going to be in the great clock we are all part of in what is tangible common benefit. – How little we understand ourselves, how then are others, even those best qualified, supposed to understand us! But it is precisely through pressure that a precious stone is created. The pressure was here, would perhaps the world, in the course of time, get to know the precious stone?
Great festivities were taking place in the capital of the state ruler. Thousands of lanterns glittered, rockets flared; that brilliance is still remembered by the man who in tears and pain was then attempting unnoticed to escape to foreign soil; he had to leave his fatherland, mother, all his dear ones, or be inundated by the commonplace.
The old bell was doing fine, it lay sheltered by the church wall in Marbach, hidden, forgotten! The wind passed over it and could have told of the one whose birth the church bell had once rung out, told of how coldly it had swept over him, that he had recently, exhausted by fatigue, collapsed in a wood of the neighbouring state, where his entire wealth and hope of the future were written pages about ‘The Conspiracy of Fiesco’; the wind could of told of his sole protectors, artists all of them, who sneaked away when he reading it aloud and played skittles instead. The wind could report about the pale refugee who lived for weeks, month in the poor inn where the innkeeper shouted and drank, where there was but coarse merriment, while he strove for the Ideal. Heavy days, dark days! the heart must itself suffer and undergo what it would sing out.
Dark days, cold nights passed over the old bell; it did not feel it, but the bell in the human breast feels its hard times. How did things go for the young man? How did they go for the old bell! Well, the bell ended up far away, farther than it had been able to be heard in its wholeness in the tower; the young man, well, the bell in his bread sounded farther off than his feet were to wander and his eyes see, it rang out and continues to ring out over the oceans of the world, all round the earth. Hear first about the bell! It came from Marbach, it was sold as scrap copper and was to be melted down in the state of Bavaria. How did it get there and when? Well, the bell will have to explain that itself, if it can, it is of no great importance; but it is certain that it came to the royal capital of Bavaria; many years had past since it fell down from the tower, now it was to be melted down, was to be used in casting a great monument, the statue in honour of a great figure for the country of Germany and its people. Just listen to how things turned out, strange and wonderful things happen in this world of ours! Up north in Denmark, on one of the green islands where the beech tree grows and where there are many large barrows, there was a very poor boy who had worn wooden clogs, carried food in an old cloth to his father who carved figureheads for ships on Holmen in Copenhagen; that poor child had become the pride of his country, he made magnificent statues out of marble at which the whole world marvelled, and he was precisely the one who was given the prestigious task of fashioning in clay a figure of greatness, of beauty that could then be cast in bronze, a statue of the man whose name his father had written in his Bible: Johan Christoph Friedrich.
And the bronze flowed white-hot into the mould, and the old church bell – well, no one thought about its native soil and no longer audible ringing, the bell also flowed into the mould and formed the head and chest of the statue, which was later unveiled and stands in Stuttgart in front of the former palace, on the square where the person it represents once walked in real life, struggling and striving, pressured by the world around him, the boy from Marbach, the pupil from the Karlsschule, the refugee, Germany’s great, immortal writer who sang of the liberator of Switzerland and the fervently religious leader of France, the Maid of Orleans.
It was a lovely sunny day, flags were waving from towers and roofs in the royal city of Stuttgart, the church bells were ringing out, calling people to festivities and gladness, only one bell was silent, it gleamed in the bright sunlight, gleamed from the head and chest of the figure of honour; precisely a hundred years had passed since the day the bell in the church tower of Marbach had rung out joy and consolation to the suffering mother giving birth to her child, a poor woman in a poor house, later destined to become the rich man whose treasures the world blesses; the man, the writer of the noble female heart, the singer of all that is great and magnificent – Johan Christoph Friedrich Schiller.
Monday, 20 November 2017
Twelve by Mail Coach
There was a crunching frost underfoot, a starry sky, dead calm. ‘Thud!’ a pot was broken against the door, ‘Bang!’ the New Year was getting off to a noisy start; it was New Year’s Eve; now twelve o’clock struck.
‘Tantantera!’ that was the mail coach arriving. The large coach had stopped outside the city gate, it had twelve passengers on board, there was no room for more, all the seats were taken.
‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ was being sung inside the houses, where people were celebrating New Year’s Eve and had just risen to their feet, their glasses filled, and were toasting the New Year:
‘Good health in the New Year!’ they said, ‘a nice wife! lots of money! An end to all troubles!’
Yes, that was what they wished each other and glasses were chinked and – the mail coach had stopped outside the city gate with the unknown visitors, the twelve travellers.
What sort of people were they? They had their passports and luggage with them, yes, gifts to you and me and everyone in the city. Who were the strangers? What did they want and what were they bringing with them?
‘Good morning!’ they said to the sentry at the gate.
‘Good morning!’ he said, for the clock had struck twelve.
‘Your name? Your station in life?’ the sentry asked the one who alighted from the coach first.
‘Look in my passport!’ the man said. ‘I am who I am!’ He was also a strapping fellow, clad in bearskin furs and wearing boots with runners. ‘I am the man who a very great many people put their trust in. Come tomorrow and get a real New Year! I throw shillings and thalers left and right, give away presents, I give balls, no less than thirty-one balls, I have no more nights to give away than that. My ships lie ice-bound, but it is warm inside my office. I am a merchant and my name is January. I have nothing but bills with me!’
Out came the next one, he was a joker, a director of comedies, masquerades and all conceivable types of entertainment. His luggage consisted of a large barrel.
‘We’ll beat a lot more than the cat out of the barrel at Shrovetide!’ he said. ‘I will amuse others and myself too, for I have the shortest life-span of the entire family – I only live to be twenty-eight well, perhaps I get an extra day, but that makes little difference. Hurrah!’
‘You mustn’t shout so loud!’ the sentry said.
‘Oh yes, I certainly must!’ the man said, ‘I am Prince Carnival and travel under the name of Februarius!’
Now the third one appeared; he looked exactly like Lent, but held his head up high, for he was related to ‘the forty knights’ and was a weather prophet; but that is not a plum job, so he praised the season of Lent. His adornment was a sprig of violets in his buttonhole, although they were very small.
‘March, quick march!’ the fourth one shouted and gave the third one a shove. ‘March, quick march! Into the guardhouse, here there’s punch! I can smell it!’ but this wasn’t true, April wanted to fool him, that was how the fourth fellow began. He seemed pretty jaunty, but didn’t really do all that much, had plenty of holidays! ‘Seesawing spirits!’ he said, ‘rain and sunshine, moving out and moving in! I am also quarter-day commissar, I am an undertaker, I can both laugh and cry. I have summer clothes in my suitcase, but it would be quite stupid to put it on. Here I am! For show I wear silk stockings and a muff!’
And now a lady emerged from the coach.
‘Miss May!’ she said. In summer clothes and galoshes; she was clad in a beech-leaf-green silken dress, with anemones in her hair, and she also had a strong scent of woodruff, which caused the sentry to sneeze. ‘God bless you!’ she said, that was her greeting. She was so pretty! and she was a singer; not in the theatre but out in the woods; not in tents, no, she walked out in the fresh, green woods and sang for her own pleasure; in her workbag she had Christian Winther’s ‘Woodcuts’, for they are like the beechwood itself, and ‘Little Poems by Richardt’, they are like woodruff.
‘Now the lady’s coming, the young lady!’ they cried out from inside the coach, and out the lady came, young and fine, proud and pretty. She was born to be a ‘lie-a-bed’, that one could see at once. She made a party out of the longest day of the year, so that one could have time to eat all the many dishes; she could afford to journey in her own coach, but came with the mail coach just like the others, she wanted to demonstrate that she was not at all haughty; nor was she travelling alone, she had her younger brother Julius with her.
He was stout, in summer clothes and wearing a panama hat. He had but little luggage, it was so troublesome in the hot weather. He only had a bathing cap and swimming trunks, and that is not very much.
Now the missus came, Madam August, fruit dealer by the barrel, the owner of many well-boxes, farmer in a large crinoline; she was fat and warm, took part in everything, even went out to people in the fields with a keg of beer. ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,’ she said, ‘it says so in the Bible; afterwards one can have a woodland ball and a harvest feast!’ She was the missus.
Now it was a man’s turn again, a painter by profession, a master of colour, the woods were soon to learn, their leaves had to change colour, but delightfully, at his bidding; soon the woods were clad in red, yellow and brown. The master whistled like the black starling, was a good worker and draped the brown-green hopbines round his beer tankard, most decorative, and he had an eye for decoration. There he now stood with his paint pot – that was his entire luggage.
Now came the proprietor, who was mindful of the month of sowing, of the ploughing and tending of the soil, yes, and a little of the pleasures of hunting; he had a hound and a gun, nuts in his bag, crick, crack! a fearful amount of stuff with him, and an English plough; he talked of agricultural matters, but it was difficult to hear him for all the rasping and gasping – it was November on his way.
He had a cold, a violent cold, so he used sheets and not handkerchiefs, and yet he was meant to accompany the servant girls in getting a job! he said, but the cold would probably pass once he started to chop firewood, which he was eager to do, for he was the guild’s sawyer master. He spent his evenings sharpening skates, he knew that in a few weeks’ time there would be a need of such pleasant footwear.
Now the last of the twelve came, old granny with her foot-warmer; she felt the cold, but her eyes gleamed like two bright stars. She was carrying a flowerpot with a small fir tree. ‘I will tend it and take care of it so that by Christmas Eve it will be tall, rich from floor to ceiling, and grow with lit candles, gold-painted apples and papercuts. The foot-warmer is as hot as a tiled stove, I take out my book of fairytales and read aloud, so all the children in the room fall silent, but the dolls on the tree come to life and the little wax angel at the very top of the tree shakes her gold-tinsel wings, flies down from the green tree-top and kisses both great and small in the room, yes, even the poor children who stand outside and sing the carol about the Star over Bethlehem!’
‘And now the coach can set off once more!’ the sentry said, ‘now we’ve got our dozen. Let a new coach drive up!’
‘Allow the twelve of them to come properly inside first!’ the captain on duty said. ‘One at a time! I will keep the passports; each one is valid for one month; when the time is over, I will make a note in each as to how they have behaved. Mr. January, step inside, if you please!’
And he went inside.
‘When a year is past, I will tell you what the twelve have brought you, me and all of us. Right now I do not know, and they themselves do not know either – for we live in strange times!
Sunday, 19 November 2017
Vænø and Glænø
Close to the coast of Sealand, off Holsteinborg, there once lay two wooded islands, Vænø and Glænø, on them were a village with a church and farms; they lay close to the coast, they lay close to each other, now there is only the one island left.
One night there was a terrible gale, the sea rose higher than it had done within living memory; the storm increased in violence; it was doomsday weather, it sounded as if the earth split asunder; the church bells were set ringing and tolled without human assistance.
During that night Vænø disappeared to the depths of the sea; it was as if the island had never existed. But since then, on many a summer’s night, at low tide in still, clear water, when the fisherman was out spearing eels by torchlight in the prow of his boat, he saw, with his keen eyesight, deep down beneath him the island of Vænø with its white church tower and the high church wall. ‘Vænø is waiting for Glænø,’ the legend had it; he saw the island, he heard the church bells tolling below, but he was wrong about the latter, it was assuredly the sound of the many wild swans that often lie on the surface here; they cluck and complain, as if one was hearing bells ringing from far off.
There was a time when there were still many people on Glænø who could remember that stormy night and that they, when young, had driven between the two islands at low tide, just as one nowadays can drive across, not far from Holsteinborg, to Glænø from the Sealand coast; the water only comes up to the hubs of the wheels. ‘Vænø is waiting for Glænø,’ people used to say, and that became a legend and a certainty.
Many a young boy and girl lay in in bed on stormy nights and thought: tonight the hour will come when Vænø fetches Glænø. Fearfully, they said their Lord’s Prayer, fell asleep, had sweet dreams – and the following morning Glænø was still there with its woods and cornfields, its friendly farmsteads and hop gardens; the birds sang; the fallow deer leapt; the mole did not smell any sea-water as far as it could tunnel in the earth.
Even so, Glænø’s days are numbered; we are not able to say how many days there still are, but they are numbered – one fine morning the island will have disappeared.
You were perhaps down here by the shore only yesterday, saw the wild swans lying on the water between Sealand and Glænø, a sailing boat with taut sails glided past the wood thicket, you yourself drove across the shallow ford, there was no other possible route; the horses stomped in the water, it splashed up over the cart wheels.
You have travelled from this spot, are perhaps travelling some way out into the great wide world and after some years return once more: now you see the wood here fringing a large green stretch of meadowland where the hay smells sweetly outside decorative farmhouses. Where are you? Holsteinborg lies there still, resplendent with its gilded spires, but not close to the fjord, it lies higher inland; you walk through the wood, across fields down towards the shore – where is Glænø? You see no wooded island in front of you, you see open water. Has Vænø fetched Glænø, the island it had so long been waiting for? When did that stormy night take place when this came to pass, when the earth shook so that Holsteinborg was shifted many thousand hands’ breadths inland?
There was no stormy night, it was in broad daylight. Human ingenuity built a dike to keep out the sea, human ingenuity blew away the inland waters, linked Glænø to the mainland. The fjord has become a meadow with lush grass, Glænø has joined itself to Sealand. The old estate lies where it always did. It was not Vænø that fetched Glænø, it was Sealand that reached out with long dike arms and with the breathing of pumps blew and uttered the magic formula, the nuptial words, and Sealand received many acres of land as a wedding present. This is the truth, it has been registered, you can see it with your own eyes, the island Glænø has disappeared.
Saturday, 18 November 2017
In the Duckyard
There was this duck from Portugal, some said from Spain, no matter which, she was called ‘The Portuguese Bird’, she laid eggs, was slaughtered and made a meal of – that’s the course of her life. All those that crawled out of her eggs were called the Portuguese and that meant something; now there was only one left of her entire line in the duckyard, a yard the hens also had admittance to and where the cock paraded with endless arrogance.
‘He insults me with his clamorous crowing!’ the one remaining Portuguese said. ‘But he’s a handsome sight, you can’t deny him that, even though he isn’t a drake. He ought to learn how to restrain himself, that is a sign of better breeding, something the small songbirds up in the linden tree in the next-door garden possess! how delightfully they sing! there is something so moving about their song – I call it Portugal! If I had such a little songbird, I would be a mother to him, loving and kind, it’s in my blood, in my Portuguese blood!’
And just as she said this, a small songbird appeared; it tumbled down headlong from the roof. A cat was after it, but the bird escaped with a broken wing and fell down into the duckyard.
‘It looks like the cat, that scum of the earth!’ the Portuguese said; ‘I know him from the time I had ducklings myself! That such a creature is allowed to live and roam around on the rooftops! I don’t think that occurs in Portugal!
And she commiserated with the little songbird, and the other ducks, which weren’t Portuguese, also did likewise.
‘Poor little dear!’ they said, and did so one after the other. ‘We are admittedly no songsters,’ they said, ‘but we have an inner sounding board or something similar; we feel this, even though we don’t talk about it!’
Then I will talk about it!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘and I will do something for it, for that is one’s duty!’ and she climbed up into the water trough and flapped around in the water, almost drowning the little songbird in the sudden shower it got, though the intention was good. ‘That is a good deed,’ she said, ‘one that the others can observe and take example by!’
‘Cheep!’ the little bird said, its one wing was broken; it was difficult for it to shake itself, but it perfectly understood the well-meant splashing. ‘You are so good-hearted, Madam!’ it said, but refrained from asking for more.
‘I have never considered the kindness of my heart!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘but I know that I love all my fellow-creatures except the cat, but that no one can expect of me! it has eaten two of my offspring; but one can well do as if at home here; I myself am from a foreign region, as you can see from my bearing and plumage! my drake is a native, does not have my blood, but I am not haughty on account of that! – if you are understood by anyone here, I dare assert that it is by me!’
‘She’s got portulaca (purslane) in her crop! a little common duckling said that was witty, and the other common bird found ‘portulaca’ quite excellent, for it sounded a bit like ‘Portugal’, and they nudged each other and said quack! the duckling was so exceptionally witty! and then they struck up a conversation with the little songbird.
‘The Portuguese bird really has a way with words!’ they said. ‘We’re not birds with big words in our beaks, but our concern is just as great even so; if we don’t do anything for you, we’re discreet about it; and that we feel is the best way to do things!’
‘You have a delightful voice!’ one of the oldest ones said. ‘It must be lovely to know one brings pleasure to as many as you do! I really don’t understand it at all! so I keep my mouth shut, and that is always better than saying something stupid, as so many others do to you!’
‘Don’t pester it!’ the Portuguese duck said, ‘it needs rest and care. Little songbird, shall I give you another splashing?’
‘Oh no, let me stay dry!’ it begged.
‘The water cure is the only thing that helps me,’ the Portuguese duck said; ‘diversion is also excellent! now the neighbouring hens will soon be paying a visit, there are two Chinese hens, they wear bloomers, have much breeding, and have been imported, which raises them in my estimation!’
And the hens came and the cock came, today he was so polite that he wasn’t coarse at all.
‘You are truly a songbird!’ he said, ‘and you make the most of your little voice that can possibly be made of such a little voice. But one needs a bit more locomotion, more driving force, if anyone is to hear that one is a male bird!’
The two Chinese hens stood entranced at the sight of the songbird, it looked so ruffled from the splashing it had been subjected to that they felt it resembled a Chinese chicken. ‘It’s quite delightful!’ and they began to converse with it, speaking in whispers and P-sounds in refined Chinese.
‘We happen to belong to your species. The ducks, even the Portuguese one, belong to the web-footed birds, as you have probably noticed. They do not know us yet, but how many do know us or take the trouble, no one, no even among the hens, despite the fact that we were born to sit on a higher perch than most of the others. But that is no matter, we mingle unobtrusively among the others, whose principles are not the same as ours, but we only look on the positive side, only speak of what is good, although it’s difficult to find something where there is nothing. With the exception of us two and the cock there are none in the henhouse who are intelligent but seemly! that cannot be said about those who live in the duckyard. We warn you, little songbird! do not believe her with the stumpy tail, she is treacherous! the speckled one there, with the diagonal wing-bays, she is cantankerous and never lets anyone have the last word, and what’s more she is always in the wrong! – the fat duck says bad things about everyone, and that is against our nature, if one cannot say something good, they one should keep one’s beak shut. The Portuguese bird is the only one with a smidgen of breeding and possible to associate with, but she is passionate and talks too much about Portugal!’
‘What a lot the two Chinese have to whisper about!’ a couple of the ducks said, ‘I find them boring; I’ve never spoken to them!’
Now the drake came! he thought that the songbird was a house sparrow. ‘Well, I don’t make any difference! he said, ‘and it’s the same either way! It belongs to the music-making machines, and if one’s one of those, that’s the way it is!’
‘Don’t take any notice of what he says!’ the Portuguese duck whispered. ‘He’s a respected businessman and business is doing far too well. But now I’m going to have a rest! one owes it to oneself if one’s to become nice and plump, for the time when one’s to be embalmed with apples and prunes!’
And she lay down in the sun, blinked with one eye; she lay so well, she was so well-meaning, and so she slept well too. The little songbird pecked at its broken wing, lay down close to its protector, the sun shone warmly and delightfully, it was a good place to be.
The neighbouring hens went around scratching, they basically only came because of the food; the Chinese were the first to leave, followed by the others; the witty duckling said about the Portuguese that the old bird would soon be in its ‘duckage’, and the other ducks laughed, ‘duckage’, it sound like ‘dotage’ he’s so exceptionally witty!’ and then they repeated the previous joke ‘portulaca!’ that was very funny; and then they lay down.
They lay there for a while, when suddenly some old leavings were thrown into the duckyard, it landed with a smack that woke up all the birds, who leapt up and flapped their wings, the Portuguese duck woke up too, rolled over and squashed the little songbird terribly.
‘Cheep!’ it said, ‘you came down very hard on me, Madam!’
‘Why were you lying in the way!’ she said, ‘you mustn’t be so touchy! I have nerves too, but I’ve never said cheep!’
‘Don’t be angry,!’ the little bird said, ‘the cheep just slipped out of my beak!’
The Portuguese bird didn’t listen to this, but dived into the leavings and had herself a good meal, and when that was over and she had lain down, the little songbird came up and wanted to be amiable:
Of your heart so sweet
I’ll sing as a treat
At every wing-beat!’
‘I’m resting after my meal!’ she said, ‘you must learn house manners in there! I’m having a sleep!’
The little songbird was quite surprised, for it had only meant well. When Madam woke up later, it was standing in front of her with a small grain it had found; it placed it in front of her; but she hadn’t slept well, so naturally she was surly.
‘That you can give to a chicken!’ she said; ‘don’t stand there hanging over me!’
‘But you’re angry with me!’ it said. ‘What have I done?’
‘Done!’ the Portuguese said, ‘that expression is hardly comme il faut, I would draw your attention to!’
‘Yesterday there was sunshine,’ the little bird said, ‘today it is dark and grey! I feel so terribly sad!’
‘You’re no good at telling the time!’ the Portuguese said, ‘the day isn’t over yet, don’t just stand there in their ignorance!’
‘You’re looking at me just as angrily as the two horrid eyes did when I fell down into the yard!’
‘What impertinence!’ the Portuguese said, ‘are you comparing me to the cat, that predator! there is not a drop of evil blood in my veins; I have taken care of you, and now I shall teach you some manners!’
And she bit off the songbird’s head – it lay there dead.
‘What’s all this!’ she said, ‘couldn’t it even stand that? in that case it was no good for this world! I’ve been like a mother to it, that I know! for I am tender-hearted!’
And the neighbour’s cock stuck its head into the yard and crowed at full blast.
‘You’ll be the death of one with that crowing of yours!’ she said, ‘the whole thing’s your fault; it lost its head and I almost lost mine.’
‘He doesn’t take up much space lying there!’ the cock said.
‘Speak of the little bird with respect!’ the Portuguese said, ‘it had tone, it had melody and it had breeding! it was loving and gentle and that suits animals, just as it does so-called human beings.’
And all the ducks gathered around the dead little songbird; the ducks have strong passions, they either feel envy or compassion, and since there was nothing to be envious of here, they were compassionate – as were the two Chinese hens.
‘We will never have such a songbird again! he was almost Chinese,’ and they wept till they clucked, and all the hens clucked, but the ducks were the ones whose eyes were more red-rimmed than all the rest.
‘We have a heart!’ they said, that nobody can deny!’
‘A heart!’ the Portuguese said, ‘yes, indeed – almost as much as in Portugal!’
‘Let’s concentrate now on having a good feed!’ the drake said, ‘that’s more important! If one of the music-making machines stops working, we’ve plenty left even so!’