Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/Twelve by the Mail

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THE weather was sharp and frosty, the sky glittered with sparkling stars, and not a breath of wind stirred the air. "Bump!" there went a pot against the door.[1] "Bang!" went a gun in honor of the new year. It was New Year's Eve, and the clock was now striking twelve.

"Taratantarra!" There comes the mail. The big mail-coach halted at the town gate. There were in all twelve passengers. The coach could not hold more. All the places had been taken.

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" they shouted in all the houses where the people were keeping New Year's Eve, and had just stood up with filled glasses to drink success to the new year.

"Health and happiness in the new year!" they shouted. "A pretty wife, plenty of money, and no worries!"

And thus they drank success to one another, and clinked their glasses, while the mail-coach stood at the town gate with the stranger guests, the twelve travelers.

Who were they? They had passports and luggage with them, even presents for you and me and all the people in the town. Who were the strangers? What did they want, and what did they bring with them?

"Good morning," they said to the sentry at the gate.

"Good morning," said he, for the clock had just struck twelve.

"Your name? Your profession?" the sentry asked the first who stepped out of the coach.

"Look, at the passport," said the man. "That is I." He was a great big fellow, dressed in a bearskin coat and fur boots. "I am the man in whom so many persons place all their hopes. Come to-morrow, and you shall have a New Year's present. I throw coppers and silver dollars about, I give presents, and I give balls—altogether thirty-one balls.

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I have no more nights to spare. My ships are frozen fast in the ice, but it is nice and warm in my office. I am a merchant, and my name is January. I have got only bills with me."

Then came the next. He was a merry fellow. He was the manager of the theaters, of the masquerade balls and all the amusements you can think of. His luggage was a great barrel.

"We'll get more fun out of that at Shrovetide than out of the cat,"

said he. "I want to amuse others as well as myself, for I have the shortest time to live of the whole family. I can become only twenty-eight. Sometimes they put on an extra day, but that makes no difference. Hurrah!"

"You must n't shout so loud," said the sentry.

"Of course I must," said the man. "I am Prince Carnival, and travel under the name of February."

Now came the third. He looked the image of Lent, but carried his head high, for he was related to "the forty knights," and was a weather prophet; but it is not a very fat living, and that's why he praised the lenten time. His decoration was a bunch of violets in his button-hole, but the flowers were very small.

"March! March!" cried the fourth, and gave the third a push. "March! March! Let's go into the guard-room; there's punch there; I can smell it." But it wasn't true; he wanted to make an April fool of him; that's how the fourth began. He seemed to be a smart fellow; he didn't do much work, but kept a lot of holidays. "It makes one's temper very changeable," he said. "Rain and sunshine, moving in and moving out. I am also agent for furniture removals.[2] I go round and ask people to funerals; I can both laugh and cry. I have my summer clothes in the portmanteau, but it would be foolish to begin to wear them. Here I am. For show I go out in silk stockings, and carry a muff."

Then a lady stepped out of the coach. "Miss May," she said, announcing herself. She was dressed in summer clothes, and had galoshes on her feet. She wore a silk dress the color of the green beech leaves, and anemones in her hair, and she brought such a perfume of sweet woodruff with her that the sentry began to sneeze. "God bless you!" she said; that was her greeting. How lovely she was! She was a singer: not at the theaters, but in the woods; not at fairs, but in the fresh green woods, where she wandered about and sang for her own amusement. In her work-bag she carried Christian Winter's[3] "Woodcuts," for they are just like the beechwood, and Richardt's "Minor Poems," which are like woodruff.

"Now our young mistress is coming!" they cried in the coach, and then Mistress June stepped out. She was young and delicate, proud and charming. One could see at once she was born to keep the feast of the Seven Holy Sleepers. She gave a party on the longest day of the year, so that the guests might have time to partake of all the dishes on her table. She could well afford to drive in her own carriage, but she traveled by the mail-coach like the rest, for she wanted to show she was not proud. She did not travel alone, for she was accompanied by her younger brother, July. He was a strong, big fellow, dressed in summer clothes and a Panama hat. He had very little luggage with him, for it gave one such a lot of trouble in the hot weather. He had only a bathing cap and drawers with him, which was not much.

Then came old mother August in a big crinoline. She was a wholesale dealer in fruit, the owner of many fish-ponds and a farm. She was fat, and looked very warm; she took part in all kinds of work, and went herself with the beer-keg to the people in the fields. "In the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread," she said. "That's in the Bible. Afterward we can give a dance in the wood and a harvest festival."

Now a man came out of the coach. He was a painter by profession, — a master of colors, — which the woods soon got to know. The leaves soon had to change color, but he could do it so beautifully when he liked. The woods would soon begin to glow in red, yellow, and brown. The master whistled like the black starling, was a diligent worker, and hung the brownish, greenish hop-vine around his beer-jug; it looked ornamental, and he had an eye for the decorative. Here he now stood with his pot of colors, which was all the luggage he had.

Now came the squire who was thinking of October, of plowing and tilling his fields, and also a little of the pleasures of the chase. He had a dog and a gun with him, and nuts in his bag — crick, crack! He had an awful lot of luggage, amongst which was an English plow. He talked about agricultural affairs, but one could not hear very much for all the coughing and hawking that was going on. It was November that was coming.

He had a cold in his head, — a terrible cold, — so that he had to use sheets instead of handkerchiefs; and yet he had to accompany the servant girls to their situations, he said. But the cold would soon get better when he began cutting firewood; and this he was anxious to do, for he was the master of the guild of sawyers. He spent his evenings in cutting out skates. He knew that before many weeks were over this pleasure-giving foot-gear would be in great demand.

Now came the last passenger, good old mother December, with her

warming-pan. She felt very cold, but her eyes beamed like two bright stars. She carried a flower-pot with a small fir-tree. "I will look after it and tend it, so that it will be a big tree by Christmas Eve, and reach right from the floor up to the ceiling. It will be decorated with lighted candles, gilt apples, and garlands of colored paper. The warming-pan warmed like a stove. I take the fairy-tale book out of my pocket and read aloud, so that all the children in the room become quiet; but the dolls on the tree become alive, and the little wax angel at the top of the tree shakes her gold tinsel wings, and flies from the green top to kiss young and old in the room, even the poor children who are standing outside singing Christmas carols about the Star of Bethlehem."
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"Now the coach may drive away," said the sentry. "Now we have all twelve. Let the next coach drive up."

"First let the twelve get in all right," said the captain, who was on duty. "One at a time! I shall keep the passport; it holds good for a month for each of you. When the month is over I will write on the back of it and say how you have behaved yourselves. Mr. January, will you please step in?"

And so in he went.

When a year has passed I will tell you what the twelve have brought to you, to me, and to all of us. I don't know now, nor do they know themselves, I think — for they are wonderful times we live in.

  1. It is an old Danish custom to bang an earthen pot against the doors on New Year's Eve.
  2. In Denmark most removals take place in April.
  3. Winter and Richardt, now dead, are well-known Danish lyrical poets.