Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/The Brownie at the Buttermans

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HE was a student of the good old sort; he lived in the garret and possessed nothing. The butterman, who was also one of the good old sort, lived on the ground floor and owned the whole house. The brownie stuck to him, for he always got a dish of porridge every Christmas eve with a big lump of butter in the middle. The butterman could well afford this, so the brownie settled down in the shop, where there was much to learn.

One evening the student came in through the back door to buy some candles and cheese; he had no one to send, so he went himself. He got what he asked for and paid for it, and the butterman and his wife nodded "good night" to him—she, by the by, could do more than nod to people, for she was gifted with a glib tongue—and the student nodded in return, but stopped to read the piece of paper in which the cheese was wrapped. It was a leaf torn out of an old book, which ought not to have been torn to pieces; it was an old book full of poetry.

"There is more of it over there!" said the butterman. "I gave an old woman some coffee-beans for it; if you'll give me fourpence you can have what there is left of it."

"Thanks!" said the student, "let me have it instead of the cheese! I can eat my bread and butter without anything to it; it would be a sin to let the whole of the book be torn into bits and pieces. You are an excellent man, a practical man, but poetry you don't understand, any more than the tub yonder."

This was rather rude of him to sav, especially as far as the tub was concerned, but the butterman and the student both laughed, for it was only said in fun, of course. But the brownie was annoyed that any one should dare to say such things to a butterman, who had a house of his own, and sold the best butter.

As soon as it was night and the shop was closed, and all, with the exception of the student, had gone to bed, the brownie went into the bedroom and took the wife's tongue — she had no use for it when she was asleep — and whatever object in the room he put it on, received voice and speech, and could express its thoughts and feelings just as well as the mistress of the house. But only one object at a time could make use of it, which was a blessing, for otherwise they would all have been speaking at once.

And the brownie put the woman's tongue on the tub, in which the old newspapers were kept. "Is it really true," asked the brownie, "that you don't know what poetry is.?"

"Of course I do," said the tub. "It is what you find at the bottom of the pages in newspapers and cut out. I should say I have more of it inside of me than the student, and I am only a simple tub compared with the butterman."

And the brownie put the tongue on the coffee-quern; how it rattled away! And he put it on the butter-firkin and the money-drawer — all were of the same opinion as the tub, and what all are agreed about one must respect.

"I'll just pay out that student!" said the brownie, as he went quietly up the kitchen stairs to the garret, where the student lived. He had a light burning, and the brownie peeped through the keyhole and saw "that the student was reading in the ragged book from the shop down-stairs. But how light it was in there! Out of the book shot forth a clear ray of light, which grew into a trunk — into a mighty tree, which rose high in the air and spread its branches out over the student. Every leaf was fresh and every flower was a beautiful girl's head, some with dark, sparkling eyes, others with clear blue eyes. Each fruit was a shining star and then there was such a wonderfully lovely sound of song and music.

Such splendor the little brownie had never dreamed of, much less seen or experienced. And so he remained standing on tip-toe, peeping and peering through the keyhole till the light was put out. The student had, no doubt, blown out his candle and gone to bed; but the little brownie stood there nevertheless, for he could still hear the beautiful soft melody, a delightful cradle-song for the student, who had lain down to rest.

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"It is really wonderful here!" said the little brownie. "I never should have thought it—I think I will stop with the student!" And he began to think it over, and reasoned quite sensibly with himself, and then he sighed: "But the student has no porridge!" and so he went away. He went down to the butterman's shop again, and it was a good thing he did, for the tub had quite exhausted the mistress's tongue, by discussing all it contained from one point of view and was just about to turn round to repeat it from another, when the brownie came to take back the tongue to its owner. But the whole of the shop, from the money-drawer to the firewood, had from that time the same opinion as the tub, and they respected it to such an extent and had such confidence in it, that when the butterman afterward read about "Art" and "The Drama" in his evening paper, they all believed it came from the tub.

But the little brownie could not sit quiet and listen any longer to all the wisdom and arguing down in the shop. As soon as the light shone out from the garret, he felt as if the rays were strong ropes which drew him up there; and he had to go and peep through the keyhole, and then a feeling of vastness came over him, such as we experience at the sight of the rolling ocean when the storm sweeps over it, and he burst into tears. He did not know why he cried, but he found some comfort in these tears. How wonderfully delightful it must be to sit with the student under that tree, but it could not be — he would have to be content with the keyhole. There he was standing on the cold landing, while the autumn wind blew down through the trap-door in the loft above him. It was so cold, so very cold; but the little brownie only felt it when the light in the garret was put out, and when the tones of the music died away. Ugh! How he shivered! He then crept down again to his snug little corner where it was so pleasant and comfortable ! And when the Christmas porridge came with a big lump of butter in the middle — ah, then the butterman's was the best place after all.

But in the middle of the night the brownie was awakened by a terrific noise against the shutters, caused by the people outside knocking and thundering away at them, while the watchmen were blowing their whistles. A big fire had broken out, and the whole street was enveloped in flames. Was the fire in this house, or in the neighbor's? Where? It was a terrible moment! The butterman's wife was so bewildered that she took her gold earrings out of her ears and put them in her pocket, in order to save something; the butterman ran to fetch his bonds and shares, and the servant girl to save her silk mantilla, which she had just managed to buy out of her savings. Every one wanted to save the best they possessed, and the brownie became possessed by the same desire; in a couple of bounds he was up the stairs and in the student's garret. The student was standing quite calmly at the open window, looking at the fire which was raging in the house opposite. The little brownie seized the wonderful book that was lying on the table, put it inside his red cap, and held it tightly to his bosom with both hands. The most valuable treasure in the house had been saved, and he rushed off with it, right out upon the roof, to the top of the chimney. There he sat, illuminated by the burning house opposite, and holding his hands on his red cap in which the treasure lay. Now he knew where his sympathies lay, and to whom he really belonged; but when the fire had been put out and he was himself again — well: "I shall have to divide myself between the two," he said, "I cannot quite give up the butterman because of the porridge!"

And, after all, it is only human! We all of us go to the butterman — for the sake of the porridge.