The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen/The Chimney Sweep

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For other English-language translations of this work, see The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.

The Chimney Sweep


AVE you ever seen an old wooden cupboard, quite black with age, and ornamented with carved scrolls and foliage, and nondescript figures? Just such an one stood in a sitting-room; it was a legacy left by the great-grandmother of the family—it was covered from top to bottom with carved roses and tulips. There were the oddest scrolls, out of which peeped little stags’ heads with their antlers. But in the middle of the cupboard was represented the full-length figure of a man; it is, true he was rather ridiculous to look at, and was grinning—for one could not call it laughing—and, moreover, he had goat’s legs, little horns upon his head, and a long beard. The children always called him General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant—there’s a name for you! rather difficult to pronounce, certainly, nor are there many who obtain such a title—but to have had him carved was something indeed! However, there he was. He was always looking at the table under the looking-glass, where stood a pretty little china shepherdess.

Her shoes were gilt, and her dress was ornamented with a red rose, besides which she had a golden hat and a crook; she was marvellously pretty to behold. Close by her side stood a little chimney-sweeper, as black as a coal, though likewise of china; he was just as clean and as delicate as another, and as to his being a chimney-sweeper, it was only that he represented one; the potter might just as well have made a prince out of him, for it would have been all one!

There he stood so elegantly with his ladder, and with a countenance as white and as rosy as a girl’s—indeed, this was, properly speaking, a fault, for his face ought to have been rather black. He stood close to the shepherdess; they had both been placed where they stood; and having been so placed, they became betrothed to each other. They were well matched, being both young people, made of the same china, and equally fragile.

Close to them sat another figure, three times their size. He was an old Chinese, who could nod his head. He also was made of china, and pretended to be the grandfather of the little shepherdess; but this he could not prove. He maintained that he was entitled to control her, and, therefore, when General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant asked for the little shepherdess’s hand, he had nodded consent.

“You will obtain in him,” said the old Chinese, “a husband whom I verily believe to be of mahogany. You will become the lady of General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant! and he has a whole cupboardful of plate, to say nothing of what may be hid in the spring-drawers and secret compartments.”

“I don’t choose to live in the dark cupboard,” said the little shepherdess. “I have heard say that he has eleven china wives in it already.”

“Then you can become the twelfth!” said the Chinese. To-night, as soon as you hear a creaking in the old press, your wedding shall take place, as true as I’m a Chinese.” And thereupon he nodded his head, and fell asleep.

But the little shepherdess cried, and looked at her sweetheart, the china chimney-sweeper.

“I entreat you,” said she, “to go with me into the wide world, for we can’t remain here.”

“I will do anything you please,” said the little chimney-sweeper; “let us set out immediately. I think I can maintain you with my profession.” “I wish we were but safe down from the table!” said she. “I shall not be easy till we are out in the wide world.”

And he comforted her, and showed her how she might set her little foot on the carved projections and gilt foliage of the feet of the table; besides, he took his ladder to help, and so they managed to reach the floor. But when they looked towards the old cupboard, they saw it was all in an uproar. The carved stags poked out their heads, raised their antlers, and turned their necks. The General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant was cutting tremendous capers, and bawling out to the Chinese: “They are running away! they are running away!”

The fugitives were somewhat frightened, and jumped into the drawer in the window-seat.

Here lay several packs of cards, that were not complete, and a little dolls’ theatre, which had been built up as neatly as could be. A play was being represented, and all the queens, whether of hearts or diamonds, spades or clubs, sat in the front row, fanning themselves with their tulips; and behind them stood all the knaves, and showed that they had heads both upwards and downwards as playing-cards have. The play was about two lovers, who were not allowed to marry; and the shepherdess cried, for it seemed just like her own story.

“I cannot bear it,” said she; “I must leave the drawer.” But when they had reached the floor, and looked up at the table, there was the old Chinese awake, and shaking himself—and down he came on the floor like a lump.

“The old Chinese is coming!” shrieked the little shepherdess, falling on her china knee, for she was much affected.

“I have thought of a plan,” said the chimney-sweeper. “Suppose we creep into the jar of perfumes that stands in the corner. There we might lie upon roses and lavender, and throw salt into his eyes if he comes near us.”

“That would be of no use,” said she. “Besides, I know that the old Chinese and the jar were formerly betrothed, and there always remains a degree of good-will when one has been on such terms. No! we have nothing for it but to go out into the wide world!”

“Have you really the courage to go out into the wide world with me?” asked the chimney-sweeper. “Have you reflected how large it is, and that we can never come back hither?”

“I have,” said she.

And the chiinney-sweeper looked hard at her, and said: “My way lies through the chimney. Have you really the courage to go with me, not only through the stove itself, but to creep through the flue? We shall then come out by the chimney, and then I know how to manage. We shall climb so high that they won't be able to reach us, and quite at the top is a hole that leads out into the wide world.”

And he led her to the door of the stove.

“It looks very black,” said she; still, in she went with him, both through the stove and through the pipe, where it was as dark as pitch.

“Now we are in the chimney,” said he; “and look! there shines the most beautiful star above!”

And it was a real star in the sky that seemed to shine down upon them as though it would light them on their way. And now they climbed and crept, and a frightful way it was—so steep and so high! But he went first, and smoothed it as much as he could; he held her, and showed her the best places to set her little china foot upon, and so they managed to reach the edge of the chimney-pot, on which they sat down—for they were vastly tired, as may be imagined.

The sky and all its stars was above them, and all the roofs of the town lay below. They saw far around them, and a great way out into the wide world. It was not like what the poor shepherdess had fancied it. She leaned her little head on her chimney-sweeper’s shoulder, and cried till she washed the gilding off her sash, “This is too much!” said she; “it is more than I can bear. The world is too large! I wish I were safe back on the table under the looking-glass. I shall never be happy till I am once more there. Now I have followed you into the wide world, you can accompany me back if you really love me.”

Then the chimney-sweeper tried to reason with her, and spoke of the old Chinese, and of General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant; but she sobbed so violently, and kissed her little chimney-sweeper, till he could not do otherwise than what she wished, foolish as it was.

And so they climbed down the chimney with infinite difficulty. They next crept through the flue and the stove, which were anything but pleasant places; and then they stood in the dark stove, and listened behind the door, to catch what might be going forward in the room.
All was quiet; so they peeped out—and behold! there lay the old Chinese sprawling in the middle of the floor. He had fallen down from the table, when he attempted to pursue them, and lay broken into three pieces: his whole back had come off in one lump, and his head had rolled into a corner. The General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field-Sergeant stood where he always had done, and was wrapped in thought.

“This is shocking!” said the little shepherdess; “my old grandfather is broken in pieces, and by our fault! I shall not be able to survive such a mishap!” And so saying, she wrung her little hands.

“He can be rivetted!” said the chimney-sweeper—“he can be rivetted. Do not take on so! If they cement his back, and put a proper rivet through his neck, he will be just as good as new, and will be able to say as many disagreeable things to us as ever.”

“Do you think so?” said she. And then they crept up to the table, where they formerly stood.

“Since we have got no farther than this,” said the chimney-sweeper, “we might have saved ourselves a deal of trouble.”

“I wish grandfather was rivetted,” said the shepherdess; “I wonder if it costs much?”

And rivetted sure enough he was. The family had his back cemented, and an efficient rivet run through his neck. He was as good as new, except that he could no longer nod.

“You have become proud since you were broken to shivers,” observed General-and-Lieutenant-General-Goat-Bandylegs-Field Sergeant. “Methinks there is no reason why you should be so captious. Am I to have her or not?”

And the chimney-sweeper and the little shepherdess looked most touchingly at the old Chinese. They were afraid he would nod. But he could not; and it would have been derogatory to have confessed to a stranger that he had a rivet in his neck. And so the china couple remained together, and blessed the grandfather's rivet, and loved each other till they were broken to pieces.