Little Ellie and Other Tales/The Sheperdess and the Chimney-Sweep
The Shepherdess and Chimney-Sweep.
AVE you ever seen a very, very old clothespress, quite black with age, on which all sorts of flourishes and foliage were carved? Just such a one stood in a certain room. It had been handed down as a legacy to the owner from a great great grandmother, and it was carved from top to bottom with roses and tulips; the most curious flourishes were to be seen on it, and between them little stags popped out their heads with zig-zag antlers.
But on the top a man at full length was carved. True he was laughable to look at; for he showed his teeth—laughing one could not call it—had goat’s legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard. The children in the room always called him General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent Goat-legs, for this was a name difficult to pronounce, and there are very few who get the title: but to cut him out in wood—that was no trifle. However, there he was. He looked down upon the table and towards the mirror, for there a charming little porcelain Shepherdess was standing. Her shoes were gilded, her gown was tastefully looped up with a red rose, and she had a golden hat and cloak; in short, she was most exquisite.
Close by her stood a little Chimney-sweep, as black as a coal, although he was made of porcelain too. He was just as clean and pretty as the rest of them; as to his being a chimney-sweep, that was only what he represented; and the porcelain manufacturer could just as well have made a prince of him as a chimney-sweep, if he had chosen; one was as easy as the other, to a clever workman.
There he stood so prettily with his ladder, and with a little round face as fair and as rosy as that of the Shepherdess. In reality this was a fault; for a little black he certainly ought to have been. He was quite close to the Shepherdess; both stood where they had been placed; and as soon as they were put there, they had mutually promised each other eternal fidelity; for they suited each other exactly—they were young, they were of the same porcelain, and both equally fragile.
Close to them stood another figure three times as large as they were. It was an old Chinese, that could nod his head. He was made of porcelain too, and said that he was grandfather of the little Shepherdess; but this he could not prove. He asserted, moreover, that he had authority over her, and that was the reason he had nodded his assent to the General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent-Goat-legs, who paid his addresses to the Shepherdess.
“In him,” said the old Chinese, “you will have a husband who, I verily believe, is of mahogany. You will be Mrs. Goat- legs, the wife of a General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent, who has his shelves full of plate, besides what is hidden in secret drawers and recesses.”
“I will not go into the dark cupboard,” said the little Shepherdess; “I have heard say that he has eleven wives of porcelain in there already.”
“Then you may be the twelfth,” said the Chinese. “To-night, as soon as the old clothes-press cracks, as sure as I am a Chinese, we will keep the wedding. And then he nodded his head, and fell asleep.
But the little Shepherdess wept, and looked at her beloved—at the porcelain Chimney-sweep.
“I implore you,” said she, “fly hence with me into the wide world: for here it is impossible for us to remain.”
“I will do all you ask,” said the little Chimney-sweep. “Let us instantly leave this place. I think my trade will enable me to support you.”
“If we were only down from the table,” said she. “I shall not be happy till we are far from here, and free.”
He consoled her, and showed her how she was to set her little foot on the carved border and on the gilded foliage which twined around the leg of the table, brought his ladder to her assistance, and at last both were on the floor; but when they looked towards the old clothes-press, they observed a great stir. All the carved stags stretched their heads out farther, raised their antlers, and turned round their heads. The General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent gave a jump, and called to the old Chinese, “They are running away! they are running away!”
At this she grew a little frightened, and jumped quickly over the ridge into a low drawer near the window.
Here lay three or four packs of cards, which were not complete, and a little puppet-show, which was set up as well as it was possible to do. A play was being performed, and all the ladies, Diamonds as well as Hearts, Clubs and Spades, sat in the front row, and fanned themselves with the tulips they held in their hands, while behind them stood all the knaves ready to wait upon them when they wanted anything. The play was about two persons who could not have each other as they wished, at which the Shepherdess wept, for it was her own history.
“I cannot bear it any longer,” said she; “I must get out of the drawer.”
But when she had got down on the floor, and looked up to the table, she saw that the old Chinese was awake, and that his whole body was rocking.
“The old Chinese is coming!” cried the little Shepherdess; and down she fell on her porcelain knee, so frightened was she.
“A thought has struck me,” said the Chimney-sweep; “let us creep into the great Pot-pourri Jar that stands in the corner; there we can lie on roses and lavender, and if he comes after us, throw dust in his eyes.”
“’Tis of no use,” said she. “Besides, I know that the old Chinese and the Pot-pourri Jar were once betrothed; and when one has been once on such terms, a little regard always lingers behind. No; for us there is nothing left but to wander forth into the wide world.”
“Have you really courage to go forth with me into the wide world?” asked the Chimney-sweep tenderly. “Have you considered how large it is, and that we can never come back here again?”
“I have thought of all that,” said she.
And the Sweep gazed fixedly upon her, and then said, “My way lies up the chimney. Have you really courage to go with me through the stove, and to creep through all the flues? We shall then get into the main flue, after which I am not at a loss what to do. Up we mount, then, so high that they can never reach us; and at the top is an opening that leads out into the world.”
And he led her towards the door of the stove.
“It looks quite black,” said she; but still she went with him, and on through all the intricacies of the interior, and through the flues, where a pitchy darkness reigned.
“We are now in the chimney,” said he; and behold, behold, above us is shining the loveliest star!”
It was a real star in the sky that shone straight down upon them, as if to show the way. They climbed and they crept higher and higher. It was a frightful way; but he lifted her up, he held her, and showed her the best places on which to put her little porcelain feet; and thus they reached the top of the chimney, and seated themselves on the edge of it; for they were tired, which is not to be wondered at.
The heaven and all its stars were above them, and all the roofs of the town below them; they could see far around, they had such a splendid view of the world. The poor Shepherdess had never pictured it to herself thus; she leaned her little head on her Sweep, and wept so bitterly that all the gilding of her girdle came off.
“Oh, this is too much!” said she; “I cannot bear it. The world is too large. Oh, were I but again on the little table under the looking-glass! I shall never be happy till I am there again. I have followed you into the wide world; now if you really love me, you may follow me home again.”
And the Chimney-sweep spoke sensibly to her, spoke to her about the old Chinese and the General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent; but she sobbed so violently, and kissed her little Sweep so passionately, that he was obliged to give way, although it was not right to do so.
So now down they climbed again with great difficulty, crept through the flue and into the stove, where they listened behind the door, to discover if anybody was in the room. It was quite still; they peeped out, and there, on the floor, in the middle of the room, lay the old Chinese. He had fallen from the table in trying to follow the fugitives, and was broken in three pieces; his whole back was but a stump, and his head had rolled into a corner, while General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent-Goat-legs was standing where he had ever stood, absorbed in thought.
“How dreadful!” said the little Shepherdess. “My old grandfather is dashed to pieces, and we are the cause. I never can survive the accident.” And she wrung her little hands in agony.
“He can be mended,” said the Chimney-sweep; “he can easily be mended. Only do not be so hasty. If they glue his back together, and rivet his neck well, he will be as good as new, and will be able to say enough disagreeable things to us for some time to come.”
“Do you think so?” said she; and then they clambered up again to the table on which they had stood before.
“You see,” said the Sweep, “we might have spared ourselves these disagreeables, after all.”
“If we had but mended my old grandfather!” said the Shepherdess. “Does it cost much?"
And mended he was. The family had his back glued, and his neck riveted, so that he was as good as new, except that he could not nod.
“Meseems, you have grown haughty since you were dashed to pieces,” said General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent Goat-legs. “However, I think there is not so very much to be proud of. Am I to have her, or am I not?”
Then the Chimney-sweep and the little Shepherdess looked so touchingly at the old Chinese; they were so afraid he would nod! But he could not, and it was disagreeable to him to tell a stranger that he constantly carried a rivet in his neck. So the little porcelain personages remained together. They blessed the old grandfather’s rivet over and over again, and loved each other till they both fell to pieces.
- The flues in Germany are much larger than in the houses in England; so much so indeed, that men only are employed as sweeps. The lower part being very wide, they have short ladders of about eight feet in length to enable them to get up to the narrower part, where they then scramble on in the usual way.—C. B.