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

The Old House

A VERY old house stood once in a street with several that
were quite new and clean. The date of its erection had been
carved on one of the beams, and surrounded by scrolls formed
of tulips and hop-tendrils; by this date it could be seen that
the old house was nearly three hundred years old. Verses too
were written over the windows in old-fashioned letters, and
grotesque faces, curiously carved, grinned at you from under
the cornices. One story projected a long way over the other,
and under the roof ran a leaden gutter, with a dragon's head
at the end. The rain was intended to pour out at the dragon's
mouth, but it ran out of his body instead, for there was a
hole in the gutter. The other houses in the street were new
and well built, with large window panes and smooth walls. Any
one could see they had nothing to do with the old house.
Perhaps they thought, 'How long will that heap of rubbish
remain here to be a disgrace to the whole street. The parapet
projects so far forward that no one can see out of our windows
what is going on in that direction. The stairs are as broad as
the staircase of a castle, and as steep as if they led to a
church-tower. The iron railing looks like the gate of a
cemetery, and there are brass knobs upon it. It is really too
ridiculous.'

Opposite to the old house were more nice new houses, which
had just the same opinion as their neighbors.

At the window of one of them sat a little boy with fresh
rosy cheeks, and clear sparkling eyes, who was very fond of
the old house, in sunshine or in moonlight. He would sit and
look at the wall from which the plaster had in some places
fallen off, and fancy all sorts of scenes which had been in
former times. How the street must have looked when the houses
had all gable roofs, open staircases, and gutters with dragons
at the spout. He could even see soldiers walking about with
halberds. Certainly it was a very good house to look at for
amusement.

An old man lived in it, who wore knee-breeches, a coat
with large brass buttons, and a wig, which any one could see
was a real wig. Every morning an old man came to clean the
rooms, and to wait upon him, otherwise the old man in the
knee-breeches would have been quite alone in the house.
Sometimes he came to one of the windows and looked out; then
the little boy nodded to him, and the old man nodded back
again, till they became acquainted, and were friends, although
they had never spoken to each other; but that was of no
consequence.

The little boy one day heard his parents say, 'The old man
opposite is very well off, but is terribly lonely.' The next
Sunday morning the little boy wrapped something in a piece of
paper and took it to the door of the old house, and said to
the attendant who waited upon the old man, 'Will you please
give this from me to the gentleman who lives here; I have two
tin soldiers, and this is one of them, and he shall have it,
because I know he is terribly lonely.'

And the old attendant nodded and looked very pleased, and
then he carried the tin soldier into the house.

Afterwards he was sent over to ask the little boy if he
would not like to pay a visit himself. His parents gave him
permission, and so it was that he gained admission to the old
house.

The brassy knobs on the railings shone more brightly than
ever, as if they had been polished on account of his visit;
and on the door were carved trumpeters standing in tulips, and
it seemed as if they were blowing with all their might, their
cheeks were so puffed out. 'Tanta-ra-ra, the little boy is
coming; Tanta-ra-ra, the little boy is coming.'

Then the door opened. All round the hall hung old
portraits of knights in armor, and ladies in silk gowns; and
the armor rattled, and the silk dresses rustled. Then came a
staircase which went up a long way, and then came down a
little way and led to a balcony, which was in a very ruinous
state. There were large holes and long cracks, out of which
grew grass and leaves, indeed the whole balcony, the
courtyard, and the walls were so overgrown with green that
they looked like a garden. In the balcony stood flower-pots,
on which were heads having asses' ears, but the flowers in
them grew just as they pleased. In one pot pinks were growing
all over the sides, at least the green leaves were shooting
forth stalk and stem, and saying as plainly as they could
speak, 'The air has fanned me, the sun has kissed me, and I am
promised a little flower for next Sunday- really for next
Sunday.'

Then they entered a room in which the walls were covered
with leather, and the leather had golden flowers stamped upon
it.

'Gilding will fade in damp weather,
To endure, there is nothing like leather,'

said the walls. Chairs handsomely carved, with elbows on each
side, and with very high backs, stood in the room, and as they
creaked they seemed to say, 'Sit down. Oh dear, how I am
creaking. I shall certainly have the gout like the old
cupboard. Gout in my back, ugh.'

And then the little boy entered the room where the old man
sat.

'Thank you for the tin soldier my little friend,' said the
old man, 'and thank you also for coming to see me.'

'Thanks, thanks,' or 'Creak, creak,' said all the
furniture.

There was so much that the pieces of furniture stood in
each other's way to get a sight of the little boy.

On the wall near the centre of the room hung the picture
of a beautiful lady, young and gay, dressed in the fashion of
the olden times, with powdered hair, and a full, stiff skirt.
She said neither 'thanks' nor 'creak,' but she looked down
upon the little boy with her mild eyes; and then he said to
the old man,

'Where did you get that picture?'

'From the shop opposite,' he replied. 'Many portraits hang
there that none seem to trouble themselves about. The persons
they represent have been dead and buried long since. But I
knew this lady many years ago, and she has been dead nearly
half a century.'

Under a glass beneath the picture hung a nosegay of
withered flowers, which were no doubt half a century old too,
at least they appeared so.

And the pendulum of the old clock went to and fro, and the
hands turned round; and as time passed on, everything in the
room grew older, but no one seemed to notice it.

'They say at home,' said the little boy, 'that you are
very lonely.'

'Oh,' replied the old man, 'I have pleasant thoughts of
all that has passed, recalled by memory; and now you are come
to visit me, and that is very pleasant.'

Then he took from the book-case, a book full of pictures
representing long processions of wonderful coaches, such as
are never seen at the present time. Soldiers like the knave of
clubs, and citizens with waving banners. The tailors had a
flag with a pair of scissors supported by two lions, and on
the shoemakers' flag there were not boots, but an eagle with
two heads, for the shoemakers must have everything arranged so
that they can say, 'This is a pair.' What a picture-book it
was; and then the old man went into another room to fetch
apples and nuts. It was very pleasant, certainly, to be in
that old house.

'I cannot endure it,' said the tin soldier, who stood on a
shelf, 'it is so lonely and dull here. I have been accustomed
to live in a family, and I cannot get used to this life. I
cannot bear it. The whole day is long enough, but the evening
is longer. It is not here like it was in your house opposite,
when your father and mother talked so cheerfully together,
while you and all the dear children made such a delightful
noise. No, it is all lonely in the old man's house. Do you
think he gets any kisses? Do you think he ever has friendly
looks, or a Christmas tree? He will have nothing now but the
grave. Oh, I cannot bear it.'

'You must not look only on the sorrowful side,' said the
little boy; 'I think everything in this house is beautiful,
and all the old pleasant thoughts come back here to pay
visits.'

'Ah, but I never see any, and I don't know them,' said the
tin soldier, 'and I cannot bear it.'

'You must bear it,' said the little boy. Then the old man
came back with a pleasant face; and brought with him beautiful
preserved fruits, as well as apples and nuts; and the little
boy thought no more of the tin soldier. How happy and
delighted the little boy was; and after he returned home, and
while days and weeks passed, a great deal of nodding took
place from one house to the other, and then the little boy
went to pay another visit. The carved trumpeters blew
'Tanta-ra-ra. There is the little boy. Tanta-ra-ra.' The
swords and armor on the old knight's pictures rattled. The
silk dresses rustled, the leather repeated its rhyme, and the
old chairs had the gout in their backs, and cried, 'Creak;' it
was all exactly like the first time; for in that house, one
day and one hour were just like another. 'I cannot bear it any
longer,' said the tin soldier; 'I have wept tears of tin, it
is so melancholy here. Let me go to the wars, and lose an arm
or a leg, that would be some change; I cannot bear it. Now I
know what it is to have visits from one's old recollections,
and all they bring with them. I have had visits from mine, and
you may believe me it is not altogether pleasant. I was very
nearly jumping from the shelf. I saw you all in your house
opposite, as if you were really present. It was Sunday
morning, and you children stood round the table, singing the
hymn that you sing every morning. You were standing quietly,
with your hands folded, and your father and mother. You were
standing quietly, with your hands folded, and your father and
mother were looking just as serious, when the door opened, and
your little sister Maria, who is not two years old, was
brought into the room. You know she always dances when she
hears music and singing of any sort; so she began to dance
immediately, although she ought not to have done so, but she
could not get into the right time because the tune was so
slow; so she stood first on one leg and then on the other, and
bent her head very low, but it would not suit the music. You
all stood looking very grave, although it was very difficult
to do so, but I laughed so to myself that I fell down from the
table, and got a bruise, which is there still; I know it was
not right to laugh. So all this, and everything else that I
have seen, keeps running in my head, and these must be the old
recollections that bring so many thoughts with them. Tell me
whether you still sing on Sundays, and tell me about your
little sister Maria, and how my old comrade is, the other tin
soldier. Ah, really he must be very happy; I cannot endure
this life.'

'You are given away,' said the little boy; 'you must stay.
Don't you see that?' Then the old man came in, with a box
containing many curious things to show him. Rouge-pots,
scent-boxes, and old cards, so large and so richly gilded,
that none are ever seen like them in these days. And there
were smaller boxes to look at, and the piano was opened, and
inside the lid were painted landscapes. But when the old man
played, the piano sounded quite out of tune. Then he looked at
the picture he had bought at the broker's, and his eyes
sparkled brightly as he nodded at it, and said, 'Ah, she could
sing that tune.'

'I will go to the wars! I will go to the wars!' cried the
tin soldier as loud as he could, and threw himself down on the
floor. Where could he have fallen? The old man searched, and
the little boy searched, but he was gone, and could not be
found. 'I shall find him again,' said the old man, but he did
not find him. The boards of the floor were open and full of
holes. The tin soldier had fallen through a crack between the
boards, and lay there now in an open grave. The day went by,
and the little boy returned home; the week passed, and many
more weeks. It was winter, and the windows were quite frozen,
so the little boy was obliged to breathe on the panes, and rub
a hole to peep through at the old house. Snow drifts were
lying in all the scrolls and on the inscriptions, and the
steps were covered with snow as if no one were at home. And
indeed nobody was home, for the old man was dead. In the
evening, a hearse stopped at the door, and the old man in his
coffin was placed in it. He was to be taken to the country to
be buried there in his own grave; so they carried him away; no
one followed him, for all his friends were dead; and the
little boy kissed his hand to the coffin as the hearse moved
away with it. A few days after, there was an auction at the
old house, and from his window the little boy saw the people
carrying away the pictures of old knights and ladies, the
flower-pots with the long ears, the old chairs, and the
cup-boards. Some were taken one way, some another. Her
portrait, which had been bought at the picture dealer's, went
back again to his shop, and there it remained, for no one
seemed to know her, or to care for the old picture. In the
spring; they began to pull the house itself down; people
called it complete rubbish. From the street could be seen the
room in which the walls were covered with leather, ragged and
torn, and the green in the balcony hung straggling over the
beams; they pulled it down quickly, for it looked ready to
fall, and at last it was cleared away altogether. 'What a good
riddance,' said the neighbors' houses. Very shortly, a fine
new house was built farther back from the road; it had lofty
windows and smooth walls, but in front, on the spot where the
old house really stood, a little garden was planted, and wild
vines grew up over the neighboring walls; in front of the
garden were large iron railings and a great gate, which looked
very stately. People used to stop and peep through the
railings. The sparrows assembled in dozens upon the wild
vines, and chattered all together as loud as they could, but
not about the old house; none of them could remember it, for
many years had passed by, so many indeed, that the little boy
was now a man, and a really good man too, and his parents were
very proud of him. He was just married, and had come, with his
young wife, to reside in the new house with the garden in
front of it, and now he stood there by her side while she
planted a field flower that she thought very pretty. She was
planting it herself with her little hands, and pressing down
the earth with her fingers. 'Oh dear, what was that?' she
exclaimed, as something pricked her. Out of the soft earth
something was sticking up. It was- only think!- it was really
the tin soldier, the very same which had been lost up in the
old man's room, and had been hidden among old wood and rubbish
for a long time, till it sunk into the earth, where it must
have been for many years. And the young wife wiped the
soldier, first with a green leaf, and then with her fine
pocket-handkerchief, that smelt of such beautiful perfume. And
the tin soldier felt as if he was recovering from a fainting
fit. 'Let me see him,' said the young man, and then he smiled
and shook his head, and said, 'It can scarcely be the same,
but it reminds me of something that happened to one of my tin
soldiers when I was a little boy.' And then he told his wife
about the old house and the old man, and of the tin soldier
which he had sent across, because he thought the old man was
lonely; and he related the story so clearly that tears came
into the eyes of the young wife for the old house and the old
man. 'It is very likely that this is really the same soldier,'
said she, and I will take care of him, and always remember
what you have told me; but some day you must show me the old
man's grave.'

'I don't know where it is,' he replied; 'no one knows. All
his friends are dead; no one took care of him, and I was only
a little boy.'

'Oh, how dreadfully lonely he must have been,' said she.

'Yes, terribly lonely,' cried the tin soldier; 'still it
is delightful not to be forgotten.'

'Delightful indeed,' cried a voice quite near to them; no
one but the tin soldier saw that it came from a rag of the
leather which hung in tatters; it had lost all its gilding,
and looked like wet earth, but it had an opinion, and it spoke
it thus:-

'Gilding will fade in damp weather,
To endure, there is nothing like leather.'

But the tin soldier did not believe any such thing.



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