Hans Andersen's fairy tales (Robinson)/The Shepherdess and the Chimney-sweeper

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HAVE you never seen an old-fashioned oaken-wood cabinet, quite black with age and covered with varnish and carving- work? Just such a piece of furniture, an old heir-loom that had been the property of its present mistress's great-grandmother, once stood in a parlour. It was carved from top to bottom—roses, tulips, and little stags' heads with long, branching antlers, peering forth from the curious scrolls and foliage surrounding them. Moreover, in the centre panel of the cabinet was carved the full-length figure of a man, who seemed to be perpetually grinning, perhaps at himself, for in truth he was a most ridiculous figure; he had crooked legs, small horns on his forehead, and a long beard. The children of the house used to call him 'the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant,' for this was a long, hard name, and not many figures, whether carved in wood or in stone, could boast of such a title. There he stood, his eyes always fixed upon the table under the pier-glass, for on this table stood a pretty little porcelain shepherdess, her mantle gathered gracefully round her, and fastened with a red rose; her shoes and hat were gilt, her hand held a crook—oh, she was charming! Close by her stood a little chimney-sweeper, likewise of porcelain. He was as clean and neat as any of the other figures, indeed, the manufacturer might just as well have made a prince as a chimney-sweeper of him, for though elsewhere black as a coal, his face was as fresh and rosy as a girl's, which was certainly a mistake,—it ought to have been black. His ladder in his hand, there he kept his station, close by the little shepherdess; they had been placed together from the first, had always remained on the same spot, and had thus plighted their troth to each other; they suited each other so well, they were both young people, both of the same kind of porcelain, both alike fragile and delicate.

Not far off stood a figure three times as large as the others. It was an old Chinese mandarin who could nod his head; he too was of porcelain, and declared that he was grandfather to the little shepherdess. He could not prove his assertion; however, he insisted that he had authority over her, and so, when 'the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant made proposals to the little shepherdess, he nodded his head in token of his consent. Not far off stood a figure three times as large as the others. It was an old Chinese mandarin who could nod his head; he too was of porcelain, and declared that he was grandfather to the little shepherdess. He could not prove his assertion; however, he insisted that he had authority over her, and so, when 'the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant made proposals to the little shepherdess, he nodded his head in token of his consent.

'Now, you will have a husband,' said the old mandarin to her, 'a husband who, I verily believe, is of mahogany-wood; you will be the wife of a Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant, of a man who has a whole cabinet full of silverplate, besides a store of no one knows what in the secret drawers!'

'I will not go into that dismal cabinet!' declared the little shepherdess. 'I have heard say that eleven porcelain ladies are already imprisoned there.'

'Then you shall be the twelfth, and you will be in good company!' rejoined the mandarin. 'This very night, when the old cabinet creaks, your nuptials shall be celebrated, as sure as I am a Chinese mandarin!'

Whereupon he nodded his head and fell asleep.

But the little sheperdess wept, and turned to the beloved of her heart, the porcelain chimney-sweep.

'I believe I must ask you,' said she, 'to go out with me into the wide world, for here we cannot stay.'

'I will do everything you wish,' replied the little chimney-sweeper; 'let us go at once. I think I can support you by my profession.'

'If you could but get off the table!' sighed she; 'I shall never be happy till we are away, out in the wide world.'

And he comforted her, and showed her how to set her little foot on the carved edges and gilded foliage twining round the leg of the table, till at last they reached the floor. But turning to look at the old cabinet, they saw everything in a grand commotion, all the carved stags putting their little heads farther out, raising their antlers, and moving their throats, whilst 'the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant' sprang up, and shouted out to the old Chinese mandarin, l Look, they are eloping! they are eloping!' They were not a little frightened, and quickly jumped into an open drawer for protection.

In this drawer there were three or four incomplete packs of cards, and also a little puppet-theatre; a play was being performed, and all the queens, whether of diamonds, hearts, clubs, or spades, sat in the front row fanning themselves with the flowers they held in their hands; behind them stood the knaves, showing that they had each two heads, one above and one below, as most cards have. The play was about two persons who were crossed in love, and the shepherdess wept over it, for it was just like her own history.

'I cannot bear this!' said she. 'Let us leave the drawer.' But when they had again reached the floor, on looking up at the table, they saw that the old Chinese mandarin had awakened, and was rocking his whole body to and fro with rage.

'Oh, the old mandarin is coming!' cried the little shepherdess, and down she fell on her porcelain knees in the greatest distress. 'A sudden thought has struck me,' said the chimney-sweeper: 'suppose we creep into the large pot-pourri vase that stands in the corner; there we can rest upon roses and lavender, and throw salt in his eyes if he come near us.'

'That will not do at all,' said she; 'besides, I know that the old mandarin was once betrothed to the pot-pourri vase, and no doubt there is still some slight friendship existing between them. No, there is no help for it, we must wander forth together into the wide world.'

'Hast thou indeed the courage to go with me into the wide world?' asked the chimney-sweeper. 'Hast thou considered how large it is, and that we may never return home again?'

'I have,' replied she.

And the chimney-sweeper looked keenly at her, and then said, 'My path leads through the chimney! hast thou indeed the courage to creep with me through the stove, through the flues and the tunnel? Well do I know the way! We shall mount up so high that they cannot come near us, and at the top there is a cavern that leads into the wide world.'

And he led her to the door of the stove.

'Oh, how black it looks!' sighed she; however, she went on with him, through the flues and through the tunnel, where it was dark, pitch dark.

'Now we are in the chimney,' said he; 'and look, what a lovely star shines above us!'

And there was actually a star in the sky, shining right down upon them, as if to show them the way. And they crawled and crept—a fearful path was theirs—so high, so very high! but he guided and supported her, and showed her the best places whereon to plant her tiny porcelain feet, till they reached the edge of the chimney, where they sat down to rest, for they were very tired, and indeed not without reason.

Heaven with all its stars was above them, and the town with all its roofs lay beneath them; the wide, wide world surrounded them. The poor shepherdess had never imagined all this; she leant her little head on her chimney-sweeper's arm, and wept so vehemently that the gilding broke off from her waistband.

'This is too much!' exclaimed she. 'This can I not endure! The world is all too large! Oh that I were once more upon the little table under the pier-glass! I shall never be happy till I am there again. I have followed thee out into the wide world, surely thou canst follow me home again, if thou lovest me!'

And the chimney-sweeper talked very sensibly to her, reminding her of the old Chinese mandarin and ' the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant, 'but she wept so bitterly, and kissed her little chimney-sweep so fondly, that at last he could not but yield to her request, unreasonable as it was.

So with great difficulty they crawled down the chimney, crept through the flues and the tunnel, and at length found themselves once more in the dark stove; but they still lurked behind the door, listening, before they would venture to return into the room. Everything was quite still; they peeped out: alas! on the ground lay the old Chinese mandarin. In attempting to follow the runaways, he had fallen down off the table and had broken into three pieces; his head lay shaking in a corner; 'the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant' stood where he had always stood, thinking over what had happened.

'Oh, how shocking!' exclaimed the little shepherdess; 'old grandfather is broken in pieces, and we are the cause! I shall never survive it!' and she wrung her delicate hands.

'He can be put together again,' replied the chimney-sweeper. 'He can very easily be put together; only be not so impatient! If they glue his back together, and put a strong rivet in his neck, then he will be as good as new again, and will be able to say plenty of unpleasant things to us.'

'Do you really think so?' asked she. And then they climbed up the table to the place where they had stood before.

'See how far we have been!' observed the chimney-sweeper, 'we might have spared ourselves all the trouble.'

'If we could but have old grandfather put together!' said the shepherdess. 'Will it cost very much?'

And he was put together; the family had his back glued and his neck riveted; he was as good as new, but could no longer nod his head.

'You have certainly grown very proud since you broke in pieces!' remarked the crooked-legged Field-marshal-Major-General-Corporal-Sergeant, 'but I must say, for my part, I do not see that there is anything to be proud of. Am I to have her or am I not? Just answer me that!'

And the chimney-sweeper and the little shepherdess looked imploringly at the old mandarin; they were so afraid lest he should nod his head. But nod he could not, and it was disagreeable to him to tell a stranger that he had a rivet in his neck: so the young porcelain people always remained together; they blessed the grandfather's rivet, and loved each other till they broke in pieces.