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

The Old Bachelor's Nightcap

THERE is a street in Copenhagen with a very strange name.
It is called 'Hysken' street. Where the name came from, and
what it means is very uncertain. It is said to be German, but
that is unjust to the Germans, for it would then be called
'Hauschen,' not 'Hysken.' 'Hauschen,' means a little house;
and for many years it consisted only of a few small houses,
which were scarcely larger than the wooden booths we see in
the market-places at fair time. They were perhaps a little
higher, and had windows; but the panes consisted of horn or
bladder-skins, for glass was then too dear to have glazed
windows in every house. This was a long time ago, so long
indeed that our grandfathers, and even great-grandfathers,
would speak of those days as 'olden times;' indeed, many
centuries have passed since then.

The rich merchants in Bremen and Lubeck, who carried on
trade in Copenhagen, did not reside in the town themselves,
but sent their clerks, who dwelt in the wooden booths in the
Hauschen street, and sold beer and spices. The German beer was
very good, and there were many sorts- from Bremen, Prussia,
and Brunswick- and quantities of all sorts of spices, saffron,
aniseed, ginger, and especially pepper; indeed, pepper was
almost the chief article sold here; so it happened at last
that the German clerks in Denmark got their nickname of
'pepper gentry.' It had been made a condition with these
clerks that they should not marry; so that those who lived to
be old had to take care of themselves, to attend to their own
comforts, and even to light their own fires, when they had any
to light. Many of them were very aged; lonely old boys, with
strange thoughts and eccentric habits. From this, all
unmarried men, who have attained a certain age, are called, in
Denmark, 'pepper gentry;' and this must be remembered by all
those who wish to understand the story. These 'pepper
gentlemen,' or, as they are called in England, 'old
bachelors,' are often made a butt of ridicule; they are told
to put on their nightcaps, draw them over their eyes, and go
to sleep. The boys in Denmark make a song of it, thus:-

'Poor old bachelor, cut your wood,
Such a nightcap was never seen;
Who would think it was ever clean?
Go to sleep, it will do you good.'

So they sing about the 'pepper gentleman;' so do they make
sport of the poor old bachelor and his nightcap, and all
because they really know nothing of either. It is a cap that
no one need wish for, or laugh at. And why not? Well, we shall
hear in the story.

In olden times, Hauschen Street was not paved, and
passengers would stumble out of one hole into another, as they
generally do in unfrequented highways; and the street was so
narrow, and the booths leaning against each other were so
close together, that in the summer time a sail would be
stretched across the street from one booth to another
opposite. At these times the odor of the pepper, saffron, and
ginger became more powerful than ever. Behind the counter, as
a rule, there were no young men. The clerks were almost all
old boys; but they did not dress as we are accustomed to see
old men represented, wearing wigs, nightcaps, and
knee-breeches, and with coat and waistcoat buttoned up to the
chin. We have seen the portraits of our great-grandfathers
dressed in this way; but the 'pepper gentlemen' had no money
to spare to have their portraits taken, though one of them
would have made a very interesting picture for us now, if
taken as he appeared standing behind his counter, or going to
church, or on holidays. On these occasions, they wore
high-crowned, broad-brimmed hats, and sometimes a younger
clerk would stick a feather in his. The woollen shirt was
concealed by a broad, linen collar; the close jacket was
buttoned up to the chin, and the cloak hung loosely over it;
the trousers were tucked into the broad, tipped shoes, for the
clerks wore no stockings. They generally stuck a table-knife
and spoon in their girdles, as well as a larger knife, as a
protection to themselves; and such a weapon was often very
necessary.

After this fashion was Anthony dressed on holidays and
festivals, excepting that, instead of a high-crowned hat, he
wore a kind of bonnet, and under it a knitted cap, a regular
nightcap, to which he was so accustomed that it was always on
his head; he had two, nightcaps I mean, not heads. Anthony was
one of the oldest of the clerks, and just the subject for a
painter. He was as thin as a lath, wrinkled round the mouth
and eyes, had long, bony fingers, bushy, gray eyebrows, and
over his left eye hung a thick tuft of hair, which did not
look handsome, but made his appearance very remarkable. People
knew that he came from Bremen; it was not exactly his home,
although his master resided there. His ancestors were from
Thuringia, and had lived in the town of Eisenach, close by
Wartburg. Old Anthony seldom spoke of this place, but he
thought of it all the more.

The old clerks of Hauschen Street very seldom met
together; each one remained in his own booth, which was closed
early enough in the evening, and then it looked dark and
dismal out in the street. Only a faint glimmer of light
struggled through the horn panes in the little window on the
roof, while within sat the old clerk, generally on his bed,
singing his evening hymn in a low voice; or he would be moving
about in his booth till late in the night, busily employed in
many things. It certainly was not a very lively existence. To
be a stranger in a strange land is a bitter lot; no one
notices you unless you happen to stand in their way. Often,
when it was dark night outside, with rain or snow falling, the
place looked quite deserted and gloomy. There were no lamps in
the street, excepting a very small one, which hung at one end
of the street, before a picture of the Virgin, which had been
painted on the wall. The dashing of the water against the
bulwarks of a neighboring castle could plainly be heard. Such
evenings are long and dreary, unless people can find something
to do; and so Anthony found it. There were not always things
to be packed or unpacked, nor paper bags to be made, nor the
scales to be polished. So Anthony invented employment; he
mended his clothes and patched his boots, and when he at last
went to bed,- his nightcap, which he had worn from habit,
still remained on his head; he had only to pull it down a
little farther over his forehead. Very soon, however, it would
be pushed up again to see if the light was properly put out;
he would touch it, press the wick together, and at last pull
his nightcap over his eyes and lie down again on the other
side. But often there would arise in his mind a doubt as to
whether every coal had been quite put out in the little
fire-pan in the shop below. If even a tiny spark had remained
it might set fire to something, and cause great damage. Then
he would rise from his bed, creep down the ladder- for it
could scarcely be called a flight of stairs- and when he
reached the fire-pan not a spark could be seen; so he had just
to go back again to bed. But often, when he had got half way
back, he would fancy the iron shutters of the door were not
properly fastened, and his thin legs would carry him down
again. And when at last he crept into bed, he would be so cold
that his teeth chattered in his head. He would draw the
coverlet closer round him, pull his nightcap over his eyes,
and try to turn his thoughts from trade, and from the labors
of the day, to olden times. But this was scarcely an agreeable
entertainment; for thoughts of olden memories raise the
curtains from the past, and sometimes pierce the heart with
painful recollections till the agony brings tears to the
waking eyes. And so it was with Anthony; often the scalding
tears, like pearly drops, would fall from his eyes to the
coverlet and roll on the floor with a sound as if one of his
heartstrings had broken. Sometimes, with a lurid flame, memory
would light up a picture of life which had never faded from
his heart. If he dried his eyes with his nightcap, then the
tear and the picture would be crushed; but the source of the
tears remained and welled up again in his heart. The pictures
did not follow one another in order, as the circumstances they
represented had occurred; very often the most painful would
come together, and when those came which were most full of
joy, they had always the deepest shadow thrown upon them.

The beech woods of Denmark are acknowledged by every one
to be very beautiful, but more beautiful still in the eyes of
old Anthony were the beech woods in the neighborhood of
Wartburg. More grand and venerable to him seemed the old oaks
around the proud baronial castle, where the creeping plants
hung over the stony summits of the rocks; sweeter was the
perfume there of the apple-blossom than in all the land of
Denmark. How vividly were represented to him, in a glittering
tear that rolled down his cheek, two children at play- a boy
and a girl. The boy had rosy cheeks, golden ringlets, and
clear, blue eyes; he was the son of Anthony, a rich merchant;
it was himself. The little girl had brown eyes and black hair,
and was clever and courageous; she was the mayor's daughter,
Molly. The children were playing with an apple; they shook the
apple, and heard the pips rattling in it. Then they cut it in
two, and each of them took half. They also divided the pips
and ate all but one, which the little girl proposed should be
placed in the ground.

'You will see what will come out,' she said; 'something
you don't expect. A whole apple-tree will come out, but not
directly.' Then they got a flower-pot, filled it with earth,
and were soon both very busy and eager about it. The boy made
a hole in the earth with his finger, and the little girl
placed the pip in the hole, and then they both covered it over
with earth.

'Now you must not take it out to-morrow to see if it has
taken root,' said Molly; 'no one ever should do that. I did so
with my flowers, but only twice; I wanted to see if they were
growing. I didn't know any better then, and the flowers all
died.'

Little Anthony kept the flower-pot, and every morning
during the whole winter he looked at it, but there was nothing
to be seen but black earth. At last, however, the spring came,
and the sun shone warm again, and then two little green leaves
sprouted forth in the pot.

'They are Molly and me,' said the boy. 'How wonderful they
are, and so beautiful!'

Very soon a third leaf made its appearance.

'Who does that stand for?' thought he, and then came
another and another. Day after day, and week after week, till
the plant became quite a tree. And all this about the two
children was mirrored to old Anthony in a single tear, which
could soon be wiped away and disappear, but might come again
from its source in the heart of the old man.

In the neighborhood of Eisenach stretches a ridge of stony
mountains, one of which has a rounded outline, and shows
itself above the rest without tree, bush, or grass on its
barren summits. It is called the 'Venus Mountain,' and the
story goes that the 'Lady Venus,' one of the heathen
goddesses, keeps house there. She is also called 'Lady Halle,'
as every child round Eisenach well knows. She it was who
enticed the noble knight, Tannhauser, the minstrel, from the
circle of singers at Wartburg into her mountain.

Little Molly and Anthony often stood by this mountain, and
one day Molly said, 'Do you dare to knock and say, 'Lady
Halle, Lady Halle, open the door: Tannhauser is here!'' But
Anthony did not dare. Molly, however, did, though she only
said the words, 'Lady Halle, Lady Halle,' loudly and
distinctly; the rest she muttered so much under her breath
that Anthony felt certain she had really said nothing; and yet
she looked quite bold and saucy, just as she did sometimes
when she was in the garden with a number of other little
girls; they would all stand round him together, and want to
kiss him, because he did not like to be kissed, and pushed
them away. Then Molly was the only one who dared to resist
him. 'I may kiss him,' she would say proudly, as she threw her
arms round his neck; she was vain of her power over Anthony,
for he would submit quietly and think nothing of it. Molly was
very charming, but rather bold; and how she did tease!

They said Lady Halle was beautiful, but her beauty was
that of a tempting fiend. Saint Elizabeth, the tutelar saint
of the land, the pious princess of Thuringia, whose good deeds
have been immortalized in so many places through stories and
legends, had greater beauty and more real grace. Her picture
hung in the chapel, surrounded by silver lamps; but it did not
in the least resemble Molly.

The apple-tree, which the two children had planted, grew
year after year, till it became so large that it had to be
transplanted into the garden, where the dew fell and the sun
shone warmly. And there it increased in strength so much as to
be able to withstand the cold of winter; and after passing
through the severe weather, it seemed to put forth its
blossoms in spring for very joy that the cold season had gone.
In autumn it produced two apples, one for Molly and one for
Anthony; it could not well do less. The tree after this grew
very rapidly, and Molly grew with the tree. She was as fresh
as an apple-blossom, but Anthony was not to behold this flower
for long. All things change; Molly's father left his old home,
and Molly went with him far away. In our time, it would be
only a journey of a few hours, but then it took more than a
day and a night to travel so far eastward from Eisenbach to a
town still called Weimar, on the borders of Thuringia. And
Molly and Anthony both wept, but these tears all flowed
together into one tear which had the rosy shimmer of joy.
Molly had told him that she loved him- loved him more than all
the splendors of Weimar.

One, two, three years went by, and during the whole time
he received only two letters. One came by the carrier, and the
other a traveller brought. The way was very long and
difficult, with many turnings and windings through towns and
villages. How often had Anthony and Molly heard the story of
Tristan and Isolda, and Anthony had thought the story applied
to him, although Tristan means born in sorrow, which Anthony
certainly was not; nor was it likely he would ever say of
Molly as Tristan said of Isolda, 'She has forgotten me.' But
in truth, Isolda had not forgotten him, her faithful friend;
and when both were laid in their graves, one, on each side of
the church, the linden-trees that grew by each grave spread
over the roof, and, bending towards each other, mingled their
blossoms together. Anthony thought it a very beautiful but
mournful story; yet he never feared anything so sad would
happen to him and Molly, as he passed the spot, whistling the
air of a song, composed by the minstrel Walter, called the
'Willow bird,' beginning-

'Under the linden-trees,
Out on the heath.'

One stanza pleased him exceedingly-

'Through the forest, and in the vale,
Sweetly warbles the nightingale.

This song was often in his mouth, and he sung or whistled
it on a moonlight night, when he rode on horseback along the
deep, hollow way, on his road to Weimar, to visit Molly. He
wished to arrive unexpectedly, and so indeed he did. He was
received with a hearty welcome, and introduced to plenty of
grand and pleasant company, where overflowing winecups were
passed about. A pretty room and a good bed were provided for
him, and yet his reception was not what he had expected and
dreamed it would be. He could not comprehend his own feelings
nor the feelings of others; but it is easily understood how a
person can be admitted into a house or a family without
becoming one of them. We converse in company with those we
meet, as we converse with our fellow-travellers in a
stage-coach, on a journey; we know nothing of them, and
perhaps all the while we are incommoding one another, and each
is wishing himself or his neighbor away. Something of this
kind Anthony felt when Molly talked to him of old times.

'I am a straightforward girl,' she said, 'and I will tell
you myself how it is. There have been great changes since we
were children together; everything is different, both inwardly
and outwardly. We cannot control our wills, nor the feelings
of our hearts, by the force of custom. Anthony, I would not,
for the world, make an enemy of you when I am far away.
Believe me, I entertain for you the kindest wishes in my
heart; but to feel for you what I now know can be felt for
another man, can never be. You must try and reconcile yourself
to this. Farewell, Anthony.'

Anthony also said, 'Farewell.' Not a tear came into his
eye; he felt he was no longer Molly's friend. Hot iron and
cold iron alike take the skin from our lips, and we feel the
same sensation if we kiss either; and Anthony's kiss was now
the kiss of hatred, as it had once been the kiss of love.
Within four-and-twenty hours Anthony was back again to
Eisenach, though the horse that he rode was entirely ruined.

'What matters it?' said he; 'I am ruined also. I will
destroy everything that can remind me of her, or of Lady
Halle, or Lady Venus, the heathen woman. I will break down the
apple-tree, and tear it up by the roots; never more shall it
blossom or bear fruit.'

The apple-tree was not broken down; for Anthony himself
was struck with a fever, which caused him to break down, and
confined him to his bed. But something occurred to raise him
up again. What was it? A medicine was offered to him, which he
was obliged to take: a bitter remedy, at which the sick body
and the oppressed spirit alike shuddered. Anthony's father
lost all his property, and, from being known as one of the
richest merchants, he became very poor. Dark days, heavy
trials, with poverty at the door, came rolling into the house
upon them like the waves of the sea. Sorrow and suffering
deprived Anthony's father of his strength, so that he had
something else to think of besides nursing his love-sorrows
and his anger against Molly. He had to take his father's
place, to give orders, to act with energy, to help, and, at
last, to go out into the world and earn his bread. Anthony
went to Bremen, and there he learnt what poverty and hard
living really were. These things often harden the character,
but sometimes soften the heart, even too much.

How different the world, and the people in it, appeared to
Anthony now, to what he had thought in his childhood! What to
him were the minstrel's songs? An echo of the past, sounds
long vanished. At times he would think in this way; yet again
and again the songs would sound in his soul, and his heart
become gentle and pious.

'God's will is the best,' he would then say. 'It was well
that I was not allowed to keep my power over Molly's heart,
and that she did not remain true to me. How I should have felt
it now, when fortune has deserted me! She left me before she
knew of the change in my circumstances, or had a thought of
what was before me. That is a merciful providence for me. All
has happened for the best. She could not help it, and yet I
have been so bitter, and in such enmity against her.'

Years passed by: Anthony's father died, and strangers
lived in the old house. He had seen it once again since then.
His rich master sent him journeys on business, and on one
occasion his way led him to his native town of Eisenach. The
old Wartburg castle stood unchanged on the rock where the monk
and the nun were hewn out of the stone. The great oaks formed
an outline to the scene which he so well remembered in his
childhood. The Venus mountain stood out gray and bare,
overshadowing the valley beneath. He would have been glad to
call out 'Lady Halle, Lady Halle, unlock the mountain. I would
fain remain here always in my native soil.' That was a sinful
thought, and he offered a prayer to drive it away. Then a
little bird in the thicket sang out clearly, and old Anthony
thought of the minstrel's song. How much came back to his
remembrance as he looked through the tears once more on his
native town! The old house was still standing as in olden
times, but the garden had been greatly altered; a pathway led
through a portion of the ground, and outside the garden, and
beyond the path, stood the old apple-tree, which he had not
broken down, although he talked of doing so in his trouble.
The sun still threw its rays upon the tree, and the refreshing
dew fell upon it as of old; and it was so overloaded with
fruit that the branches bent towards the earth with the
weight. 'That flourishes still,' said he, as he gazed. One of
the branches of the tree had, however, been broken:
mischievous hands must have done this in passing, for the tree
now stood in a public thoroughfare. 'The blossoms are often
plucked,' said Anthony; 'the fruit is stolen and the branches
broken without a thankful thought of their profusion and
beauty. It might be said of a tree, as it has been said of
some men- it was not predicted at his cradle that he should
come to this. How brightly began the history of this tree, and
what is it now? Forsaken and forgotten, in a garden by a hedge
in a field, and close to a public road. There it stands,
unsheltered, plundered, and broken. It certainly has not yet
withered; but in the course of years the number of blossoms
from time to time will grow less, and at last it was cease
altogether to bear fruit; and then its history will be over.'

Such were Anthony's thoughts as he stood under the tree,
and during many a long night as he lay in his lonely chamber
in the wooden house in Hauschen Street, Copenhagen, in the
foreign land to which the rich merchant of Bremen, his
employer, had sent him on condition that he should never
marry. 'Marry! ha, ha!' and he laughed bitterly to himself at
the thought.

Winter one year set in early, and it was freezing hard.
Without, a snowstorm made every one remain at home who could
do so. Thus it happened that Anthony's neighbors, who lived
opposite to him, did not notice that his house remained
unopened for two days, and that he had not showed himself
during that time, for who would go out in such weather unless
he were obliged to do so. They were gray, gloomy days, and in
the house whose windows were not glass, twilight and dark
nights reigned in turns. During these two days old Anthony had
not left his bed, he had not the strength to do so. The bitter
weather had for some time affected his limbs. There lay the
old bachelor, forsaken by all, and unable to help himself. He
could scarcely reach the water jug that he had placed by his
bed, and the last drop was gone. It was not fever, nor
sickness, but old age, that had laid him low. In the little
corner, where his bed lay, he was over-shadowed as it were by
perpetual night. A little spider, which he could however not
see, busily and cheerfully spun its web above him, so that
there should be a kind of little banner waving over the old
man, when his eyes closed. The time passed slowly and
painfully. He had no tears to shed, and he felt no pain; no
thought of Molly came into his mind. He felt as if the world
was now nothing to him, as if he were lying beyond it, with no
one to think of him. Now and then he felt slight sensations of
hunger and thirst; but no one came to him, no one tended him.
He thought of all those who had once suffered from starvation,
of Saint Elizabeth, who once wandered on the earth, the saint
of his home and his childhood, the noble Duchess of Thuringia,
that highly esteemed lady who visited the poorest villages,
bringing hope and relief to the sick inmates. The recollection
of her pious deeds was as light to the soul of poor Anthony.
He thought of her as she went about speaking words of comfort,
binding up the wounds of the afflicted and feeding the hungry,
although often blamed for it by her stern husband. He
remembered a story told of her, that on one occasion, when she
was carrying a basket full of wine and provisions, her
husband, who had watched her footsteps, stepped forward and
asked her angrily what she carried in her basket, whereupon,
with fear and trembling, she answered, 'Roses, which I have
plucked from the garden.' Then he tore away the cloth which
covered the basket, and what could equal the surprise of the
pious woman, to find that by a miracle, everything in her
basket- the wine, the bread- had all been changed into roses.

In this way the memory of the kind lady dwelt in the calm
mind of Anthony. She was as a living reality in his little
dwelling in the Danish land. He uncovered his face that he
might look into her gentle eyes, while everything around him
changed from its look of poverty and want, to a bright rose
tint. The fragrance of roses spread through the room, mingled
with the sweet smell of apples. He saw the branches of an
apple-tree spreading above him. It was the tree which he and
Molly had planted together. The fragrant leaves of the tree
fell upon him and cooled his burning brow; upon his parched
lips they seemed like refreshing bread and wine; and as they
rested on his breast, a peaceful calm stole over him, and he
felt inclined to sleep. 'I shall sleep now,' he whispered to
himself. 'Sleep will do me good. In the morning I shall be
upon my feet again, strong and well. Glorious! wonderful! That
apple-tree, planted in love, now appears before me in heavenly
beauty.' And he slept.

The following day, the third day during which his house
had been closed, the snow-storm ceased. Then his opposite
neighbor stepped over to the house in which old Anthony lived,
for he had not yet showed himself. There he lay stretched on
his bed, dead, with his old nightcap tightly clasped in his
two hands. The nightcap, however, was not placed on his head
in his coffin; he had a clean white one on then. Where now
were the tears he had shed? What had become of those wonderful
pearls? They were in the nightcap still. Such tears as these
cannot be washed out, even when the nightcap is forgotten. The
old thoughts and dreams of a bachelor's nightcap still remain.
Never wish for such a nightcap. It would make your forehead
hot, cause your pulse to beat with agitation, and conjure up
dreams which would appear realities.

The first who wore old Anthony's cap felt the truth of
this, though it was half a century afterwards. That man was
the mayor himself, who had already made a comfortable home for
his wife and eleven children, by his industry. The moment he
put the cap on he dreamed of unfortunate love, of bankruptcy,
and of dark days. 'Hallo! how the nightcap burns!' he
exclaimed, as he tore it from his bead. Then a pearl rolled
out, and then another, and another, and they glittered and
sounded as they fell. 'What can this be? Is it paralysis, or
something dazzling my eyes?' They were the tears which old
Anthony had shed half a century before.

To every one who afterwards put this cap on his head, came
visions and dreams which agitated him not a little. His own
history was changed into that of Anthony till it became quite
a story, and many stories might be made by others, so we will
leave them to relate their own. We have told the first; and
our last word is, don't wish for a 'bachelor's nightcap.'



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