Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/The Nightingale

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IN China, you know, the emperor is a Chinaman, and all those he has about him are Chinamen. The story I am going to tell you happened many years ago, but just on that account it is worth hearing, before it is forgotten. The emperor's palace was the most magnificent in the world, built entirely of the finest porcelain. It was very costly, but so fragile that it would hardly stand being touched, so one had to be careful.

In the garden were to be seen the most wonderful flowers; to the most beautiful of them were fastened silver bells, which tinkled all the time, so that no one should pass by without noticing the flowers. Indeed, everything in the emperor's garden was cleverly thought out; and it was so big that the gardener himself did not know where it ended. If you kept on walking, you came to a most beautiful forest, with lofty trees and deep lakes. The forest went right down to the deep blue sea; great ships could sail right in under its branches, and in these lived a nightingale, which sang so exquisitely that even the poor fisherman, who had so many other things to attend to, would rest on his oars and listen to him when he went out at night to pull in his nets. "How beautiful it is!" he would say; but he had to look after his nets, and forgot the bird. Yet, when he was singing again next night, and the fisherman came there, he said the same thing: "How beautiful it is!"

Visitors came from all parts of the world to the emperor's city, and admired it, as well as the palace and the garden; but when they came to hear the nightingale, they all said: "He is the best of all!"

And on their return home they spoke of all they had seen, and the learned wrote many books about the city, the palace, and the garden, but they did not forget the nightingale, which they praised beyond everything; and those who could write poetry wrote the most beautiful poems, all about the nightingale in the forest by the deep blue sea.

These books went all over the world, and at last some of them reached the emperor. He sat in his golden chair and read and read; every moment he nodded his approval, for it pleased him to read the splendid descriptions of the city, the palace, and the garden. "But the nightingale is the best of all!" said the books.

"What's this?" said the emperor, "the nightingale! I don't know anything at all about him! Is there such a bird in my empire, and, fancy! in my garden, too. I have never heard of him. To think one has to find out such things from books."

And so he called his chamberlain, who was such a grand personage that when any one inferior to himself in rank ventured to speak to him or ask him a question, he only answered "P," and that really did not mean anything.

"There is, I hear, a most remarkable bird here, called a nightingale!" said the emperor; "they say he is the best thing in my great empire. Why have I never been told anything about him?"

"I have never heard him mentioned before," said the chamberlain; "he has never been presented at court!"

"It is my wish that he shall appear here this evening and sing before me!" said the emperor. "It seems the whole world knows what I possess, and I know nothing about him!"

"I have never heard him mentioned before," said the chamberlain; "I shall look for him, I shall find him!"

But where was he to be found? The chamberlain ran up and down all the staircases, through the halls and corridors; not one of those he met had heard of the nightingale; and the chamberlain ran back to the emperor again, and said it must all be a fable, invented by those who wrote the book. "Your Imperial Majesty must not believe all that is written. It is fiction, or what is called the black art!"

"But the book in which I have read it," said the emperor, "has been sent me by the great and mighty Emperor of Japan, and it cannot therefore be a falsehood. I will hear the nightingale! He must be here this evening! He shall have my most gracious patronage. And if he does not come, the whole of the court shall have their stomachs punched after they have had their supper!"

"Tsing-pe!" said the chamberlain, and again he ran up and down all the staircases, and through all the halls and corridors; and half the court ran after him, for they did not like the idea of having their stomachs punched.

And inquiries were made right and left after the wonderful nightingale which all the world knew of, but of which the court knew nothing.

At last they came across a poor little girl in the kitchen. She said: "Oh, yes! the nightingale! I know him well. How he can sing! Every evening they let me take home some leavings from the table for my poor sick mother, who lives down by the shore; and when I feel tired on my way back, and rest in the forest, I hear the nightingale sing. He brings tears to my eyes; it is just as if my mother was kissing me!"

"My little kitchen-maid," said the chamberlain, "I will get you a permanent place in the kitchen, and permission to see the emperor eat, if only you can take us to the nightingale. He has been commanded to appear at court this evening."

And so they all set out for the forest, where the nightingale used to sing, and half the court went with them. As they walked along a cow began lowing.

"Ah!" said one of the courtiers, "there he is! What wonderful strength for such a small creature to possess! I have certainly heard him before!"

"No, that's the cows lowing!" said the little kitchen-maid. "We are still far from the place."

Some frogs now began croaking in a pool.

"Beautiful!" said the palacedean; "now I hear him; it sounds just like tiny church bells!"

"No, that's the frogs!" said the little kitchen-maid. "But I think we shall soon hear him!"

just then the nightingale began to sing.

"There he is!" said the little girl. "Listen, listen! and there he sits!" and she pointed at a little gray bird up among the branches.

"Is it possible? "said the chamberlain; "I never imagined he would be like that! How common he looks! He must have lost his color at seeing so many grand folks here!"

"Little nightingale!" cried the little kitchen-maid quite loudly, "our gracious emperor would like so much to hear you sing before him."

"With the greatest pleasure!" said the nightingale, and began to sing in good earnest.

"It sounds like crystal bells," said the chamberlain; "and how he does use his little throat! It is most remarkable that we have never heard him before. He will be a great success at court!"

"Shall I sing once more before the emperor?" said the nightingale, believing that the emperor was present.

"My excellent little nightingale!" said the chamberlain, "I have great pleasure in commanding you to appear at a court festival this evening, where you shall enchant his Imperial Majesty with your charming singing!"

"It sounds best in the greenwood," said the nightingale; but he was quite willing to go when he heard that the emperor wished it.

At the palace everything had been polished and smartened up. The walls and floors, which were all of porcelain, shone in the light of many thousands of golden lamps. The most beautiful flowers with tinkling bells were placed along the corridors; there was such a running to and fro, and such a draught, that all the bells were set tinkling, until at last one could not hear one's self speak.

In the middle of the great hall, where the emperor sat, a golden perch had been fixed, and on this the nightingale was to sit. The whole court was present, and the little kitchen-maid had got permission to stand behind the door, for she was now a real kitchen-maid by title. All were dressed in their best finery, and all were looking at the little gray bird, at which the emperor was nodding his head.

And the nightingale sang so beautifully that tears came into the emperor's eyes, and rolled down his cheeks, and then the nightingale sang still more beautifully; his song went straight to every one's heart, and the emperor was so happy, and said that the nightingale should have his golden slipper to wear round his neck. But the nightingale declined the honor with thanks; he had already received sufficient reward.

"I have seen tears in the emperor's eyes," the nightingale said; "that is the greatest reward you can give me. An emperor's tears possess wonderful virtue. Heaven knows I have been sufficiently rewarded!" And so he sang again with his sweet, blessed voice.

"That's the most lovely coquetry I know of!" said the ladies all around; and so they took water in their mouths so that they might make a warbling sound when anybody spoke to them, believing that they also were nightingales; even the footmen and chamber-maids made it known that they too were satisfied—and that is saying a great deal, for they are the most difficult of all to please. Yes, the nightingale was indeed a great success.

He was now to remain at court, to have his own cage, with liberty to take a walk twice a day, and once at night. He had twelve footmen to attend upon him, all of whom had a silk ribbon which was fastened to his leg, and which they all held tightly. There was no pleasure at all in that kind of outing.

The whole city was talking of the wonderful bird, and when two of the inhabitants met, one would merely say "Nightin—," and the other "gale," and then they sighed and understood each other. Yes, the children of eleven buttermen were named after him, but not one of them could sing a note.

One day a large parcel arrived for the emperor, and on the outside was written: "Nightingale."

"Here we have a new book about our celebrated bird!" said the emperor; but it was not a book, it was a small mechanical toy, which lay in a box—an artificial nightingale, which had been made to look exactly like the living one, but was set with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. As soon as the artificial bird had been wound up, it began to sing one of the songs of the real bird, while the tail moved up and down, sparkling with silver and gold. Around its neck hung a small ribbon on which was written: The Emperor of Japan's nightingale is poor compared with the Emperor of China's."

"It is beautitul!" exclaimed all; and he who had brought the artificial bird received at once the title ot "Imperial Nightingale-Carrier-in-Chief."

"Now they must sing together! What a duet it will be!"

And so they had to sing together; but they did not get on well, for the real nightingale sang in his own way, while the artificial bird was dependent upon its barrels.

"It's not its fault," said the musical director; "it keeps time beautifully, and sings quite in my style." So the artificial bird was to sing alone. It had just as much success as the real bird, and then it was so much prettier to look at; it glittered like diamond bracelets and brooches.

It sang the same piece thirty-three times over, and still it was not tired; the audience would have liked to hear it from the beginning again, but the emperor thought that the living nightingale ought also to sing a little—but where was he? Nobody had noticed that he had flown out through the open window, away into his green forest.

"But what's the meaning of this?" said the emperor; and all the courtiers began abusing the nightingale, saying he was a most ungrateful creature.

"But we have the best bird after all!" they said; and so the artificial bird had to sing again, and they heard the same piece tor the thirty-fourth time, but still they did not know it, for it was rather difficult to learn, and the musical director was loud in his praises of the bird; nay, he even protested that it was better than the real nightingale, not only as regards its attire, and its many beautiful diamonds, but also with regard to its internal arrangements.

"For you must know, ladies and gentlemen, and, above all, your Imperial Majesty, that with the real nightingale you carr never be sure of what is coming; but with the artificial bird everything has been arranged beforehand. So what is coming, will come, and nothing else. Everything can be accounted for; it may be ripped open and will show what human thought and skill can do; you may see how the barrels are placed, how they are worked, and how one thing is the result of another."

"That's exactly what we have been thinking!" they all said. And the musical director got permission to show the bird to the people on the following Sunday. "They should also hear it sing," said the emperor. And they heard it, and were as pleased as if they had got too merry on strong tea, for that's quite Chinese, you know. They all exclaimed, "Oh!" and held up their forefingers and nodded their heads; but the poor fisherman, who had heard the real nightingale, said: "It sounds pretty enough, and it is very like the other; but there 's something wanting, I can't tell exactly what!"

The real nightingale was banished from the land.

The artificial bird was placed on a silk cushion close to the emperor's bed; all the presents which it had received, the gold and the precious stones, lay round about it, and its title had been raised to "Singer of the Imperial Toilet-table," to rank number One on the left side, for the emperor considered that the side nearest the heart was of most importance—for even an emperor has his heart on the left side.

And the musical director wrote five-and-twenty volumes about the artificial bird; they were very learned and long, and full of the most difficult Chinese words, and everybody said that they had read them and understood them, for otherwise they would, of course, have been stupid, and would then have had their stomachs punched. In this way a whole year passed by; the emperor, the court, and all the other Chinamen knew by heart every little note in the artificial bird's song, but just on that account they liked it best; they could now join in the song themselves, which they did. The boys in the street sang " Ze-ze-ze! Cluck-cluck-cluck!" and the emperor sang the same.—Yes, it was really delightful!

But one evening, when the artificial bird was singing its best, and the emperor lay in bed listening to it, something inside the bird went "pop"; a spring had broken, and, "whir-r-r," round went all the wheels, and then the music stopped.

The emperor jumped out of bed at once and called for his physician; but how could he be of any help? Then they fetched the watchmaker, and after a great deal of talking and a long and careful examination he got the bird into something like order, but he said it must not be used so much, for the pinions were so worn—and it was not possible to put in new ones — that one could not be sure of the music. This caused a great deal of sorrow in the land. Only once a year did they venture to let the


artificial bird sing, and that was almost too often; but then the musical director made a little speech, full of difficult words, and said it was just as good as ever—and so it was, of course, just as good as ever.

Five years had passed, when the whole of the country was threatened with a very great affliction, for the people were really fond of their emperor, and now he was ill, and it was said he was not expected to live.

A new emperor had already been chosen, and the people stood outside in the street and asked the chamberlain how it fared with their emperor.

"P!" he said, and shook his head. The emperor lay pale and cold in his large and gorgeous bed. .AH the court thought he was dead, and every one ran off to greet the new emperor; the footmen rushed out to gossip about it, and the chamber-maids gave a great coffee-party at the palace.

All the floors of the halls and the corridors had been covered with carpets, so that no footsteps should be heard, and therefore it was so silent, so quiet there. But the emperor was not dead yet; pale and stiff he lay in his splendid bed, with the long velvet curtains and the heavy golden tassels; high above, a window stood open and the moon shone in upon the emperor and the artificial bird.

The poor emperor could scarcely breathe; he felt as if some one was sitting on his chest. He opened his eyes, and then he saw it was Death, who was sitting on his chest and had put on his golden crown, and held in one hand the emperor's golden saber and in the other his gorgeous banner, while round about were strange faces peering forth from among the folds of the large velvet bed-curtains; some of them were horrible, others kind and gentle-looking—they were the emperor's evil and good deeds, which were looking at him, now that Death sat over his heart.

"Do you remember that?" whispered one after the other. "Do you remember that?" And then they told him of so many things that the perspiration stood out on his brow.

"That I never knew!" said the emperor. "Music, music! The big Chinese drum!" he cried, "so that I may not hear all they say! "

And they went on, while Death sat nodding just like a Chinaman to everything they said.

"Music, music!" cried the emperor. "You blessed, little golden bird! Sing, do sing! I have given vou gold and precious things, I have myself hung my golden slipper round your neck. Sing, do sing!"

But the bird remained silent; there was no one to wind it up, and it could not sing until this was done; but Death kept on staring at the emperor with his great hollow eyes, and everything was so still, so terribly quiet around them.

Suddenly the most lovely song was heard close to the window; it was the little, living nightingale, which sat outside on a branch; he had heard of the emperor's illness, and had therefore come to sing to him of life and hope; and as he sang the specters grew paler and paler, the blood began to course more and more rapidly through the emperor's weak body, and Death himself listened and said: "Go on, you little nightingale, go on!"

"Yes, if you will give me that splendid golden saber! Yes, if you will give me that costly banner! Will you give me the emperor's crown?"

And Death gave each of the precious things for a song, and still the nightingale went on singing. He sang of the quiet churchyard, where the white roses grow, where the elder-tree perfumes the air, and where the fresh grass is moistened by the tears of those left behind; then Death began to long for his garden, and floated like a cold white mist out through the window.

"Thanks, thanks!" said the emperor. "You heavenly little bird, I knew you well! I banished you from land and realm, and yet you have driven away with your song the horrible visions from my bed, and Death from my heart! How shall I reward you?"

"You have rewarded me!" said the nightingale. "I drew tears from your eyes the first time I sang before you; I shall never forget that! Those are the jewels that bring joy to a singer's heart; but go to sleep now, and grow well and strong. I will sing to you."

And he sang—and the emperor fell into a sweet sleep; so gentle and refreshing was that sleep.

The sun was shining in through the windows at him, when he awoke hale and hearty; none of his servants had as yet returned, for they thought he was dead, but the nightingale still sat and sang.

"You must stay with me always!" said the emperor. "You shall only sing when you please, and the artificial bird I will break into a thousand pieces."

"Do not do that!" said the nightingale. "It has done what it could. Keep it as before. I cannot settle down and live in the palace; let me come when I like; I will then sit on the branch outside the window in the evenings and sing to you, so that you can be happy and be inspired with fruitful thoughts. I will sing to you about those who are happy and about those who suffer; I will sing about the good and the evil around you which are kept hidden from you, for the little song-bird flies far around to the poor fisherman, to the peasant's roof, to every one, far away from you and your court. I love your heart better than your crown, and yet the crown has a fragrance of sanctity about it!—I will come, I will sing to you!—But one thing you must promise me."

"Everything!" said the emperor, as he stood there in his imperial robes, which he had himself put on, pressing the golden saber to his heart.

"One thing I beg of you! Do not tell any one that you have a little bird that tells you everything, and then all will go still better with you!"

And then the nightingale flew away. The servants came in to look after the dead emperor—yes, there they stood, and the emperor said: "Good morning!"