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

Ole The Tower-keeper

'IN the world it's always going up and down; and now I
can't go up any higher!' So said Ole the tower-keeper. 'Most
people have to try both the ups and the downs; and, rightly
considered, we all get to be watchmen at last, and look down
upon life from a height.'

Such was the speech of Ole, my friend, the old
tower-keeper, a strange, talkative old fellow, who seemed to
speak out everything that came into his head, and who for all
that had many a serious thought deep in his heart. Yes, he was
the child of respectable people, and there were even some who
said that he was the son of a privy councillor, or that he
might have been. He had studied, too, and had been assistant
teacher and deputy clerk; but of what service was all that to
him? In those days he lived in the clerk's house, and was to
have everything in the house- to be at free quarters, as the
saying is; but he was still, so to speak, a fine young
gentleman. He wanted to have his boots cleaned with patent
blacking, and the clerk could only afford ordinary grease; and
upon that point they split. One spoke of stinginess, the other
of vanity, and the blacking became the black cause of enmity
between them, and at last they parted.

This is what he demanded of the world in general, namely,
patent blacking, and he got nothing but grease. Accordingly,
he at last drew back from all men, and became a hermit; but
the church tower is the only place in a great city where
hermitage, office and bread can be found together. So he
betook himself up thither, and smoked his pipe as he made his
solitary rounds. He looked upward and downward, and had his
own thoughts, and told in his own way of what he read in books
and in himself. I often lent him books- good books; and you
may know by the company he keeps. He loved neither the English
governess novels nor the French ones, which he called a
mixture of empty wind and raisin-stalks: he wanted
biographies, and descriptions of the wonders of, the world. I
visited him at least once a year, generally directly after New
Year's day, and then he always spoke of this and that which
the change of the year had put into his head.

I will tell the story of three of these visits, and will
reproduce his own words whenever I can remember them.

FIRST VISIT


Among the books which I had lately lent Ole, was one which
had greatly rejoiced and occupied him. It was a geological
book, containing an account of the boulders.

'Yes, they're rare old fellows, those boulders!' he said;
'and to think that we should pass them without noticing them!
And over the street pavement, the paving stones, those
fragments of the oldest remains of antiquity, one walks
without ever thinking about them. I have done the very thing
myself. But now I look respectfully at every paving-stone.
Many thanks for the book! It has filled me with thought, and
has made me long to read more on the subject. The romance of
the earth is, after all, the most wonderful of all romances.
It's a pity one can't read the first volume of it, because it
is written in a language that we don't understand. One must
read in the different strata, in the pebble-stones, for each
separate period. Yes, it is a romance, a very wonderful
romance, and we all have our place in it. We grope and ferret
about, and yet remain where we are; but the ball keeps
turning, without emptying the ocean over us; the clod on which
we move about, holds, and does not let us through. And then
it's a story that has been acting for thousands upon thousands
of years and is still going on. My best thanks for the book
about the boulders. Those are fellows indeed! They could tell
us something worth hearing, if they only knew how to talk.
It's really a pleasure now and then to become a mere nothing,
especially when a man is as highly placed as I am. And then to
think that we all, even with patent lacquer, are nothing more
than insects of a moment on that ant-hill the earth, though we
may be insects with stars and garters, places and offices! One
feels quite a novice beside these venerable million-year-old
boulders. On last New Year's eve I was reading the book, and
had lost myself in it so completely, that I forgot my usual
New Year's diversion, namely, the wild hunt to Amack. Ah, you
don't know what that is!

'The journey of the witches on broomsticks is well enough
known- that journey is taken on St. John's eve, to the
Brocken; but we have a wild journey, also which is national
and modern, and that is the journey to Amack on the night of
the New Year. All indifferent poets and poetesses, musicians,
newspaper writers, and artistic notabilities,- I mean those
who are no good,- ride in the New Year's night through the air
to Amack. They sit backwards on their painting brushes or
quill pens, for steel pens won't bear them- they're too stiff.
As I told you, I see that every New Year's night, and could
mention the majority of the riders by name, but I should not
like to draw their enmity upon myself, for they don't like
people to talk about their ride to Amack on quill pens. I've a
kind of niece, who is a fishwife, and who, as she tells me,
supplies three respectable newspapers with the terms of abuse
and vituperation they use, and she has herself been at Amack
as an invited guest; but she was carried out thither, for she
does not own a quill pen, nor can she ride. She has told me
all about it. Half of what she said is not true, but the other
half gives us information enough. When she was out there, the
festivities began with a song; each of the guests had written
his own song, and each one sang his own song, for he thought
that the best, and it was all one, all the same melody. Then
those came marching up, in little bands, who are only busy
with their mouths. There were ringing bells that rang
alternately; and then came the little drummers that beat their
tattoo in the family circle; and acquaintance was made with
those who write without putting their names, which here means
as much as using grease instead of patent blacking; and then
there was the beadle with his boy, and the boy was worst off,
for in general he gets no notice taken of him; then, too,
there was the good street sweeper with his cart, who turns
over the dust-bin, and calls it 'good, very good, remarkably
good.' And in the midst of the pleasure that was afforded by
the mere meeting of these folks, there shot up out of the
great dirt-heap at Amack a stem, a tree, an immense flower, a
great mushroom, a perfect roof, which formed a sort of
warehouse for the worthy company, for in it hung everything
they had given to the world during the Old Year. Out of the
tree poured sparks like flames of fire; these were the ideas
and thoughts, borrowed from others, which they had used, and
which now got free and rushed away like so many fireworks.
They played at 'the stick burns,' and the young poets played
at 'heart-burns,' and the witlings played off their jests, and
the jests rolled away with a thundering sound, as if empty
pots were being shattered against doors. 'It was very
amusing!' my niece said; in fact, she said many things that
were very malicious but very amusing, but I won't mention
them, for a man must be good-natured, and not a carping
critic. But you will easily perceive that when a man once
knows the rights of the journey to Amack, as I know them, it's
quite natural that on the New Year's night one should look out
to see the wild chase go by. If in the New Year I miss certain
persons who used to be there, I am sure to notice others who
are new arrivals; but this year I omitted taking my look at
the guests, I bowled away on the boulders, rolled back through
millions of years, and saw the stones break loose high up in
the north, saw them drifting about on icebergs, long before
Noah's ark was constructed, saw them sink down to the bottom
of the sea, and re-appear with a sand-bank, with that one that
peered forth from the flood and said, 'This shall be Zealand!'
I saw them become the dwelling-place of birds that are unknown
to us, and then become the seat of wild chiefs of whom we know
nothing, until with their axes they cut their Runic signs into
a few of these stones, which then came into the calendar of
time. But as for me, I had gone quite beyond all lapse of
time, and had become a cipher and a nothing. Then three or
four beautiful falling stars came down, which cleared the air,
and gave my thoughts another direction. You know what a
falling star is, do you not? The learned men are not at all
clear about it. I have my own ideas about shooting stars, as
the common people in many parts call them, and my idea is
this: How often are silent thanksgivings offered up for one
who has done a good and noble action! The thanks are often
speechless, but they are not lost for all that. I think these
thanks are caught up, and the sunbeams bring the silent,
hidden thankfulness over the head of the benefactor; and if it
be a whole people that has been expressing its gratitude
through a long lapse of time, the thankfulness appears as a
nosegay of flowers, and at length falls in the form of a
shooting star over the good man's grave. I am always very much
pleased when I see a shooting star, especially in the New
Year's night, and then find out for whom the gift of gratitude
was intended. Lately a gleaming star fell in the southwest, as
a tribute of thanksgiving to many- many! 'For whom was that
star intended?' thought I. It fell, no doubt, on the hill by
the Bay of Plensberg, where the Danebrog waves over the graves
of Schleppegrell, Lasloes, and their comrades. One star also
fell in the midst of the land, fell upon Soro, a flower on the
grave of Holberg, the thanks of the year from a great many -
thanks for his charming plays!

'It is a great and pleasant thought to know that a
shooting star falls upon our graves. On mine certainly none
will fall- no sunbeam brings thanks to me, for here there is
nothing worthy of thanks. I shall not get the patent lacquer,'
said Ole, 'for my fate on earth is only grease, after all.'

SECOND VISIT


It was New Year's day, and I went up on the tower. Ole
spoke of the toasts that were drunk on the transition from the
Old Year into the New- from one grave into the other, as he
said. And he told me a story about the glasses, and this story
had a very deep meaning. It was this:

'When on the New Year's night the clock strikes twelve,
the people at the table rise up with full glasses in their
hands, and drain these glasses, and drink success to the New
Year. They begin the year with the glass in their hands; that
is a good beginning for drunkards. They begin the New Year by
going to bed, and that's a good beginning for drones. Sleep is
sure to play a great part in the New Year, and the glass
likewise. Do you know what dwells in the glass?' asked Ole. 'I
will tell you. There dwell in the glass, first, health, and
then pleasure, then the most complete sensual delight; and
misfortune and the bitterest woe dwell in the glass also. Now,
suppose we count the glasses- of course I count the different
degrees in the glasses for different people.

'You see, the first glass, that's the glass of health, and
in that the herb of health is found growing. Put it up on the
beam in the ceiling, and at the end of the year you may be
sitting in the arbor of health.

'If you take the second glass- from this a little bird
soars upward, twittering in guileless cheerfulness, so that a
man may listen to his song, and perhaps join in 'Fair is life!
no downcast looks! Take courage, and march onward!'

'Out of the third glass rises a little winged urchin, who
cannot certainly be called an angel child, for there is goblin
blood in his veins, and he has the spirit of a goblin- not
wishing to hurt or harm you, indeed, but very ready to play
off tricks upon you. He'll sit at your ear and whisper merry
thoughts to you; he'll creep into your heart and warm you, so
that you grow very merry, and become a wit, so far as the wits
of the others can judge.

'In the fourth glass is neither herb, bird, nor urchin. In
that glass is the pause drawn by reason, and one may never go
beyond that sign.

'Take the fifth glass, and you will weep at yourself, you
will feel such a deep emotion; or it will affect you in a
different way. Out of the glass there will spring with a bang
Prince Carnival, nine times and extravagantly merry. He'll
draw you away with him; you'll forget your dignity, if you
have any, and you'll forget more than you should or ought to
forget. All is dance, song and sound: the masks will carry you
away with them, and the daughters of vanity, clad in silk and
satin, will come with loose hair and alluring charms; but tear
yourself away if you can!

'The sixth glass! Yes, in that glass sits a demon, in the
form of a little, well dressed, attractive and very
fascinating man, who thoroughly understands you, agrees with
you in everything, and becomes quite a second self to you. He
has a lantern with him, to give you light as he accompanies
you home. There is an old legend about a saint who was allowed
to choose one of the seven deadly sins, and who accordingly
chose drunkenness, which appeared to him the least, but which
led him to commit all the other six. The man's blood is
mingled with that of the demon. It is the sixth glass, and
with that the germ of all evil shoots up within us; and each
one grows up with a strength like that of the grains of
mustard-seed, and shoots up into a tree, and spreads over the
whole world: and most people have no choice but to go into the
oven, to be re-cast in a new form.

'That's the history of the glasses,' said the tower-keeper
Ole, 'and it can be told with lacquer or only with grease; but
I give it you with both!'

THIRD VISIT


On this occasion I chose the general 'moving-day' for my
visit to Ole, for on that day it is anything but agreeable
down in the streets in the town; for they are full of
sweepings, shreds, and remnants of all sorts, to say nothing
of the cast-off rubbish in which one has to wade about. But
this time I happened to see two children playing in this
wilderness of sweepings. They were playing at 'going to bed,'
for the occasion seemed especially favorable for this sport.
They crept under the straw, and drew an old bit of ragged
curtain over themselves by way of coverlet. 'It was splendid!'
they said; but it was a little too strong for me, and besides,
I was obliged to mount up on my visit to Ole.

'It's moving-day to day,' he said; 'streets and houses are
like a dust-bin- a large dust-bin; but I'm content with a
cartload. I may get something good out of that, and I really
did get something good out of it once. Shortly after Christmas
I was going up the street; it was rough weather, wet and
dirty- the right kind of weather to catch cold in. The dustman
was there with his cart, which was full, and looked like a
sample of streets on moving-day. At the back of the cart stood
a fir tree, quite green still, and with tinsel on its twigs;
it had been used on Christmas eve, and now it was thrown out
into the street, and the dustman had stood it up at the back
of his cart. It was droll to look at, or you may say it was
mournful- all depends on what you think of when you see it;
and I thought about it, and thought this and that of many
things that were in the cart: or I might have done so, and
that comes to the same thing. There was an old lady's glove,
too: I wonder what that was thinking of? Shall I tell you? The
glove was lying there, pointing with its little finger at the
tree. 'I'm sorry for the tree,' it thought; 'and I was also at
the feast, where the chandeliers glittered. My life was, so to
speak, a ball night- a pressure of the hand, and I burst! My
memory keeps dwelling upon that, and I have really nothing
else to live for!' This is what the glove thought, or what it
might have thought. 'That's a stupid affair with yonder fir
tree,' said the potsherds. You see, potsherds think everything
is stupid. 'When one is in the dust-cart,' they said, 'one
ought not to give one's self airs and wear tinsel. I know that
I have been useful in the world- far more useful than such a
green stick.' This was a view that might be taken, and I don't
think it quite a peculiar one; but for all that, the fir tree
looked very well: it was like a little poetry in the
dust-heap; and truly there is dust enough in the streets on
moving-day. The way is difficult and troublesome then, and I
feel obliged to run away out of the confusion; or, if I am on
the tower, I stay there and look down, and it is amusing
enough.

'There are the good people below, playing at 'changing
houses.' They toil and tug away with their goods and chattels,
and the household goblin sits in an old tub and moves with
them. All the little griefs of the lodging and the family, and
the real cares and sorrows, move with them out of the old
dwelling into the new; and what gain is there for them or for
us in the whole affair? Yes, there was written long ago the
good old maxim: 'Think on the great moving-day of death!' That
is a serious thought. I hope it is not disagreeable to you
that I should have touched upon it? Death is the most certain
messenger, after all, in spite of his various occupations.
Yes, Death is the omnibus conductor, and he is the passport
writer, and he countersigns our service-book, and he is
director of the savings bank of life. Do you understand me?
All the deeds of our life, the great and the little alike, we
put into this savings bank; and when Death calls with his
omnibus, and we have to step in, and drive with him into the
land of eternity, then on the frontier he gives us our
service-book as a pass. As a provision for the journey, he
takes this or that good deed we have done, and lets it
accompany us; and this may be very pleasant or very terrific.
Nobody has ever escaped the omnibus journey. There is
certainly a talk about one who was not allowed to go- they
call him the Wandering Jew: he has to ride behind the omnibus.
If he had been allowed to get in, he would have escaped the
clutches of the poets.

'Just cast your mind's eye into that great omnibus. The
society is mixed, for king and beggar, genius and idiot, sit
side by side. They must go without their property and money;
they have only the service-book and the gift out of the
savings bank with them. But which of our deeds is selected and
given to us? Perhaps quite a little one, one that we have
forgotten, but which has been recorded- small as a pea, but
the pea can send out a blooming shoot. The poor bumpkin who
sat on a low stool in the corner, and was jeered at and
flouted, will perhaps have his worn-out stool given him as a
provision; and the stool may become a litter in the land of
eternity, and rise up then as a throne, gleaming like gold and
blooming as an arbor. He who always lounged about, and drank
the spiced draught of pleasure, that he might forget the wild
things he had done here, will have his barrel given to him on
the journey, and will have to drink from it as they go on; and
the drink is bright and clear, so that the thoughts remain
pure, and all good and noble feelings are awakened, and he
sees and feels what in life he could not or would not see; and
then he has within him the punishment, the gnawing worm, which
will not die through time incalculable. If on the glasses
there stood written 'oblivion,' on the barrel 'remembrance' is
inscribed.

'When I read a good book, an historical work, I always
think at last of the poetry of what I am reading, and of the
omnibus of death, and wonder, which of the hero's deeds Death
took out of the savings bank for him, and what provisions he
got on the journey into eternity. There was once a French
king- I have forgotten his name, for the names of good people
are sometimes forgotten, even by me, but it will come back
some day;- there was a king who, during a famine, became the
benefactor of his people; and the people raised up to his
memory a monument of snow, with the inscription, 'Quicker than
this melts didst thou bring help!' I fancy that Death, looking
back upon the monument, gave him a single snow-flake as
provision, a snow-flake that never melts, and this flake
floated over his royal head, like a white butterfly, into the
land of eternity. Thus, too, there was Louis XI. I have
remembered his name, for one remembers what is bad- a trait of
him often comes into my thoughts, and I wish one could say the
story is not true. He had his lord high constable executed,
and he could execute him, right or wrong; but he had the
innocent children of the constable, one seven and the other
eight years old, placed under the scaffold so that the warm
blood of their father spurted over them, and then he had them
sent to the Bastille, and shut up in iron cages, where not
even a coverlet was given them to protect them from the cold.
And King Louis sent the executioner to them every week, and
had a tooth pulled out of the head of each, that they might
not be too comfortable; and the elder of the boys said, 'My
mother would die of grief if she knew that my younger brother
had to suffer so cruelly; therefore pull out two of my teeth,
and spare him.' The tears came into the hangman's eyes, but
the king's will was stronger than the tears; and every week
two little teeth were brought to him on a silver plate; he had
demanded them, and he had them. I fancy that Death took these
two teeth out of the savings bank of life, and gave them to
Louis XI, to carry with him on the great journey into the land
of immortality; they fly before him like two flames of fire;
they shine and burn, and they bite him, the innocent
children's teeth.

'Yes, that's a serious journey, the omnibus ride on the
great moving-day! And when is it to be undertaken? That's just
the serious part of it. Any day, any hour, any minute, the
omnibus may draw up. Which of our deeds will Death take out of
the savings bank, and give to us as provision? Let us think of
the moving-day that is not marked in the calendar.'


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