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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

Holger Danske

IN Denmark there stands an old castle named Kronenburg,
close by the Sound of Elsinore, where large ships, both
English, Russian, and Prussian, pass by hundreds every day.
And they salute the old castle with cannons, 'Boom, boom,'
which is as if they said, 'Good-day.' And the cannons of the
old castle answer 'Boom,' which means 'Many thanks.' In winter
no ships sail by, for the whole Sound is covered with ice as
far as the Swedish coast, and has quite the appearance of a
high-road. The Danish and the Swedish flags wave, and Danes
and Swedes say, 'Good-day,' and 'Thank you' to each other, not
with cannons, but with a friendly shake of the hand; and they
exchange white bread and biscuits with each other, because
foreign articles taste the best.

But the most beautiful sight of all is the old castle of
Kronenburg, where Holger Danske sits in the deep, dark cellar,
into which no one goes. He is clad in iron and steel, and
rests his head on his strong arm; his long beard hangs down
upon the marble table, into which it has become firmly rooted;
he sleeps and dreams, but in his dreams he sees everything
that happens in Denmark. On each Christmas-eve an angel comes
to him and tells him that all he has dreamed is true, and that
he may go to sleep again in peace, as Denmark is not yet in
any real danger; but should danger ever come, then Holger
Danske will rouse himself, and the table will burst asunder as
he draws out his beard. Then he will come forth in his
strength, and strike a blow that shall sound in all the
countries of the world.

An old grandfather sat and told his little grandson all
this about Holger Danske, and the boy knew that what his
grandfather told him must be true. As the old man related this
story, he was carving an image in wood to represent Holger
Danske, to be fastened to the prow of a ship; for the old
grandfather was a carver in wood, that is, one who carved
figures for the heads of ships, according to the names given
to them. And now he had carved Holger Danske, who stood there
erect and proud, with his long beard, holding in one hand his
broad battle-axe, while with the other he leaned on the Danish
arms. The old grandfather told the little boy a great deal
about Danish men and women who had distinguished themselves in
olden times, so that he fancied he knew as much even as Holger
Danske himself, who, after all, could only dream; and when the
little fellow went to bed, he thought so much about it that he
actually pressed his chin against the counterpane, and
imagined that he had a long beard which had become rooted to
it. But the old grandfather remained sitting at his work and
carving away at the last part of it, which was the Danish
arms. And when he had finished he looked at the whole figure,
and thought of all he had heard and read, and what he had that
evening related to his little grandson. Then he nodded his
head, wiped his spectacles and put them on, and said, 'Ah,
yes; Holger Danske will not appear in my lifetime, but the boy
who is in bed there may very likely live to see him when the
event really comes to pass.' And the old grandfather nodded
again; and the more he looked at Holger Danske, the more
satisfied he felt that he had carved a good image of him. It
seemed to glow with the color of life; the armor glittered
like iron and steel. The hearts in the Danish arms grew more
and more red; while the lions, with gold crowns on their
heads, were leaping up. 'That is the most beautiful coat of
arms in the world,' said the old man. 'The lions represent
strength; and the hearts, gentleness and love.' And as he
gazed on the uppermost lion, he thought of King Canute, who
chained great England to Denmark's throne; and he looked at
the second lion, and thought of Waldemar, who untied Denmark
and conquered the Vandals. The third lion reminded him of
Margaret, who united Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. But when he
gazed at the red hearts, their colors glowed more deeply, even
as flames, and his memory followed each in turn. The first led
him to a dark, narrow prison, in which sat a prisoner, a
beautiful woman, daughter of Christian the Fourth, Eleanor
Ulfeld, and the flame became a rose on her bosom, and its
blossoms were not more pure than the heart of this noblest and
best of all Danish women. 'Ah, yes; that is indeed a noble
heart in the Danish arms,' said the grandfather. and his
spirit followed the second flame, which carried him out to
sea, where cannons roared and the ships lay shrouded in smoke,
and the flaming heart attached itself to the breast of
Hvitfeldt in the form of the ribbon of an order, as he blew
himself and his ship into the air in order to save the fleet.
And the third flame led him to Greenland's wretched huts,
where the preacher, Hans Egede, ruled with love in every word
and action. The flame was as a star on his breast, and added
another heart to the Danish arms. And as the old grandfather's
spirit followed the next hovering flame, he knew whither it
would lead him. In a peasant woman's humble room stood
Frederick the Sixth, writing his name with chalk on the beam.
The flame trembled on his breast and in his heart, and it was
in the peasant's room that his heart became one for the Danish
arms. The old grandfather wiped his eyes, for he had known
King Frederick, with his silvery locks and his honest blue
eyes, and had lived for him, and he folded his hands and
remained for some time silent. Then his daughter came to him
and said it was getting late, that he ought to rest for a
while, and that the supper was on the table.

'What you have been carving is very beautiful,
grandfather,' said she. 'Holger Danske and the old coat of
arms; it seems to me as if I have seen the face somewhere.'

'No, that is impossible,' replied the old grandfather;
'but I have seen it, and I have tried to carve it in wood, as
I have retained it in my memory. It was a long time ago, while
the English fleet lay in the roads, on the second of April,
when we showed that we were true, ancient Danes. I was on
board the Denmark, in Steene Bille's squadron; I had a man by
my side whom even the cannon balls seemed to fear. He sung old
songs in a merry voice, and fired and fought as if he were
something more than a man. I still remember his face, but from
whence he came, or whither he went, I know not; no one knows.
I have often thought it might have been Holger Danske himself,
who had swam down to us from Kronenburg to help us in the hour
of danger. That was my idea, and there stands his likeness.'

The wooden figure threw a gigantic shadow on the wall, and
even on part of the ceiling; it seemed as if the real Holger
Danske stood behind it, for the shadow moved; but this was no
doubt caused by the flame of the lamp not burning steadily.
Then the daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfather, and led
him to a large arm-chair by the table; and she, and her
husband, who was the son of the old man and the father of the
little boy who lay in bed, sat down to supper with him. And
the old grandfather talked of the Danish lions and the Danish
hearts, emblems of strength and gentleness, and explained
quite clearly that there is another strength than that which
lies in a sword, and he pointed to a shelf where lay a number
of old books, and amongst them a collection of Holberg's
plays, which are much read and are so clever and amusing that
it is easy to fancy we have known the people of those days,
who are described in them.

'He knew how to fight also,' said the old man; 'for he
lashed the follies and prejudices of people during his whole
life.'

Then the grandfather nodded to a place above the
looking-glass, where hung an almanac, with a representation of
the Round Tower upon it, and said 'Tycho Brahe was another of
those who used a sword, but not one to cut into the flesh and
bone, but to make the way of the stars of heaven clear, and
plain to be understood. And then he whose father belonged to
my calling,- yes, he, the son of the old image-carver, he whom
we ourselves have seen, with his silvery locks and his broad
shoulders, whose name is known in all lands;- yes, he was a
sculptor, while I am only a carver. Holger Danske can appear
in marble, so that people in all countries of the world may
hear of the strength of Denmark. Now let us drink the health
of Bertel.'

But the little boy in bed saw plainly the old castle of
Kronenburg, and the Sound of Elsinore, and Holger Danske, far
down in the cellar, with his beard rooted to the table, and
dreaming of everything that was passing above him.

And Holger Danske did dream of the little humble room in
which the image-carver sat; he heard all that had been said,
and he nodded in his dream, saying, 'Ah, yes, remember me, you
Danish people, keep me in your memory, I will come to you in
the hour of need.'

The bright morning light shone over Kronenburg, and the
wind brought the sound of the hunting-horn across from the
neighboring shores. The ships sailed by and saluted the castle
with the boom of the cannon, and Kronenburg returned the
salute, 'Boom, boom.' But the roaring cannons did not awake
Holger Danske, for they meant only 'Good morning,' and 'Thank
you.' They must fire in another fashion before he awakes; but
wake he will, for there is energy yet in Holger Danske.



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