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

The Old Street Lamp

DID you ever hear the story of the old street lamp? It is
not remarkably interesting, but for once in a way you may as
well listen to it. It was a most respectable old lamp, which
had seen many, many years of service, and now was to retire
with a pension. It was this evening at its post for the last
time, giving light to the street. His feelings were something
like those of an old dancer at the theatre, who is dancing for
the last time, and knows that on the morrow she will be in her
garret, alone and forgotten. The lamp had very great anxiety
about the next day, for he knew that he had to appear for the
first time at the town hall, to be inspected by the mayor and
the council, who were to decide if he were fit for further
service or not;- whether the lamp was good enough to be used
to light the inhabitants of one of the suburbs, or in the
country, at some factory; and if not, it would be sent at once
to an iron foundry, to be melted down. In this latter case it
might be turned into anything, and he wondered very much
whether he would then be able to remember that he had once
been a street lamp, and it troubled him exceedingly. Whatever
might happen, one thing seemed certain, that he would be
separated from the watchman and his wife, whose family he
looked upon as his own. The lamp had first been hung up on
that very evening that the watchman, then a robust young man,
had entered upon the duties of his office. Ah, well, it was a
very long time since one became a lamp and the other a
watchman. His wife had a little pride in those days; she
seldom condescended to glance at the lamp, excepting when she
passed by in the evening, never in the daytime. But in later
years, when all these,- the watchman, the wife, and the lamp-
had grown old, she had attended to it, cleaned it, and
supplied it with oil. The old people were thoroughly honest,
they had never cheated the lamp of a single drop of the oil
provided for it.

This was the lamp's last night in the street, and
to-morrow he must go to the town-hall,- two very dark things
to think of. No wonder he did not burn brightly. Many other
thoughts also passed through his mind. How many persons he had
lighted on their way, and how much he had seen; as much, very
likely, as the mayor and corporation themselves! None of these
thoughts were uttered aloud, however; for he was a good,
honorable old lamp, who would not willingly do harm to any
one, especially to those in authority. As many things were
recalled to his mind, the light would flash up with sudden
brightness; he had, at such moments, a conviction that he
would be remembered. 'There was a handsome young man once,'
thought he; 'it is certainly a long while ago, but I remember
he had a little note, written on pink paper with a gold edge;
the writing was elegant, evidently a lady's hand: twice he
read it through, and kissed it, and then looked up at me, with
eyes that said quite plainly, 'I am the happiest of men!' Only
he and I know what was written on this his first letter from
his lady-love. Ah, yes, and there was another pair of eyes
that I remember,- it is really wonderful how the thoughts jump
from one thing to another! A funeral passed through the
street; a young and beautiful woman lay on a bier, decked with
garlands of flowers, and attended by torches, which quite
overpowered my light. All along the street stood the people
from the houses, in crowds, ready to join the procession. But
when the torches had passed from before me, and I could look
round, I saw one person alone, standing, leaning against my
post, and weeping. Never shall I forget the sorrowful eyes
that looked up at me.' These and similar reflections occupied
the old street lamp, on this the last time that his light
would shine. The sentry, when he is relieved from his post,
knows at least who will succeed him, and may whisper a few
words to him, but the lamp did not know his successor, or he
could have given him a few hints respecting rain, or mist, and
could have informed him how far the moon's rays would rest on
the pavement, and from which side the wind generally blew, and
so on.

On the bridge over the canal stood three persons, who
wished to recommend themselves to the lamp, for they thought
he could give the office to whomsoever he chose. The first was
a herring's head, which could emit light in the darkness. He
remarked that it would be a great saving of oil if they placed
him on the lamp-post. Number two was a piece of rotten wood,
which also shines in the dark. He considered himself descended
from an old stem, once the pride of the forest. The third was
a glow-worm, and how he found his way there the lamp could not
imagine, yet there he was, and could really give light as well
as the others. But the rotten wood and the herring's head
declared most solemnly, by all they held sacred, that the
glow-worm only gave light at certain times, and must not be
allowed to compete with themselves. The old lamp assured them
that not one of them could give sufficient light to fill the
position of a street lamp; but they would believe nothing he
said. And when they discovered that he had not the power of
naming his successor, they said they were very glad to hear
it, for the lamp was too old and worn-out to make a proper
choice.

At this moment the wind came rushing round the corner of
the street, and through the air-holes of the old lamp. 'What
is this I hear?' said he; 'that you are going away to-morrow?
Is this evening the last time we shall meet? Then I must
present you with a farewell gift. I will blow into your brain,
so that in future you shall not only be able to remember all
that you have seen or heard in the past, but your light within
shall be so bright, that you shall be able to understand all
that is said or done in your presence.'

'Oh, that is really a very, very great gift,' said the old
lamp; 'I thank you most heartily. I only hope I shall not be
melted down.'

'That is not likely to happen yet,' said the wind; 'and I
will also blow a memory into you, so that should you receive
other similar presents your old age will pass very
pleasantly.'

'That is if I am not melted down,' said the lamp. 'But
should I in that case still retain my memory?'

'Do be reasonable, old lamp,' said the wind, puffing away.

At this moment the moon burst forth from the clouds. 'What
will you give the old lamp?' asked the wind.

'I can give nothing,' she replied; 'I am on the wane, and
no lamps have ever given me light while I have frequently
shone upon them.' And with these words the moon hid herself
again behind the clouds, that she might be saved from further
importunities. Just then a drop fell upon the lamp, from the
roof of the house, but the drop explained that he was a gift
from those gray clouds, and perhaps the best of all gifts. 'I
shall penetrate you so thoroughly,' he said, 'that you will
have the power of becoming rusty, and, if you wish it, to
crumble into dust in one night.'

But this seemed to the lamp a very shabby present, and the
wind thought so too. 'Does no one give any more? Will no one
give any more?' shouted the breath of the wind, as loud as it
could. Then a bright falling star came down, leaving a broad,
luminous streak behind it.

'What was that?' cried the herring's head. 'Did not a star
fall? I really believe it went into the lamp. Certainly, when
such high-born personages try for the office, we may as well
say 'Good-night,' and go home.'

And so they did, all three, while the old lamp threw a
wonderfully strong light all around him.

'This is a glorious gift,' said he; 'the bright stars have
always been a joy to me, and have always shone more
brilliantly than I ever could shine, though I have tried with
my whole might; and now they have noticed me, a poor old lamp,
and have sent me a gift that will enable me to see clearly
everything that I remember, as if it still stood before me,
and to be seen by all those who love me. And herein lies the
truest pleasure, for joy which we cannot share with others is
only half enjoyed.'

'That sentiment does you honor,' said the wind; 'but for
this purpose wax lights will be necessary. If these are not
lighted in you, your particular faculties will not benefit
others in the least. The stars have not thought of this; they
suppose that you and every other light must be a wax taper:
but I must go down now.' So he laid himself to rest.

'Wax tapers, indeed!' said the lamp, 'I have never yet had
these, nor is it likely I ever shall. If I could only be sure
of not being melted down!'

The next day. Well, perhaps we had better pass over the
next day. The evening had come, and the lamp was resting in a
grandfather's chair, and guess where! Why, at the old
watchman's house. He had begged, as a favor, that the mayor
and corporation would allow him to keep the street lamp, in
consideration of his long and faithful service, as he had
himself hung it up and lit it on the day he first commenced
his duties, four-and-twenty years ago. He looked upon it
almost as his own child; he had no children, so the lamp was
given to him. There it lay in the great arm-chair near to the
warm stove. It seemed almost as if it had grown larger, for it
appeared quite to fill the chair. The old people sat at their
supper, casting friendly glances at the old lamp, whom they
would willingly have admitted to a place at the table. It is
quite true that they dwelt in a cellar, two yards deep in the
earth, and they had to cross a stone passage to get to their
room, but within it was warm and comfortable and strips of
list had been nailed round the door. The bed and the little
window had curtains, and everything looked clean and neat. On
the window seat stood two curious flower-pots which a sailor,
named Christian, had brought over from the East or West
Indies. They were of clay, and in the form of two elephants,
with open backs; they were hollow and filled with earth, and
through the open space flowers bloomed. In one grew some very
fine chives or leeks; this was the kitchen garden. The other
elephant, which contained a beautiful geranium, they called
their flower garden. On the wall hung a large colored print,
representing the congress of Vienna, and all the kings and
emperors at once. A clock, with heavy weights, hung on the
wall and went 'tick, tick,' steadily enough; yet it was always
rather too fast, which, however, the old people said was
better than being too slow. They were now eating their supper,
while the old street lamp, as we have heard, lay in the
grandfather's arm-chair near the stove. It seemed to the lamp
as if the whole world had turned round; but after a while the
old watchman looked at the lamp, and spoke of what they had
both gone through together,- in rain and in fog; during the
short bright nights of summer, or in the long winter nights,
through the drifting snow-storms, when he longed to be at home
in the cellar. Then the lamp felt it was all right again. He
saw everything that had happened quite clearly, as if it were
passing before him. Surely the wind had given him an excellent
gift. The old people were very active and industrious, they
were never idle for even a single hour. On Sunday afternoons
they would bring out some books, generally a book of travels
which they were very fond of. The old man would read aloud
about Africa, with its great forests and the wild elephants,
while his wife would listen attentively, stealing a glance now
and then at the clay elephants, which served as flower-pots.

'I can almost imagine I am seeing it all,' she said; and
then how the lamp wished for a wax taper to be lighted in him,
for then the old woman would have seen the smallest detail as
clearly as he did himself. The lofty trees, with their thickly
entwined branches, the naked negroes on horseback, and whole
herds of elephants treading down bamboo thickets with their
broad, heavy feet.

'What is the use of all my capabilities,' sighed the old
lamp, 'when I cannot obtain any wax lights; they have only oil
and tallow here, and these will not do.' One day a great heap
of wax-candle ends found their way into the cellar. The larger
pieces were burnt, and the smaller ones the old woman kept for
waxing her thread. So there were now candles enough, but it
never occurred to any one to put a little piece in the lamp.

'Here I am now with my rare powers,' thought the lamp, 'I
have faculties within me, but I cannot share them; they do not
know that I could cover these white walls with beautiful
tapestry, or change them into noble forests, or, indeed, to
anything else they might wish for.' The lamp, however, was
always kept clean and shining in a corner where it attracted
all eyes. Strangers looked upon it as lumber, but the old
people did not care for that; they loved the lamp. One day- it
was the watchman's birthday- the old woman approached the
lamp, smiling to herself, and said, 'I will have an
illumination to-day in honor of my old man.' And the lamp
rattled in his metal frame, for he thought, 'Now at last I
shall have a light within me,' but after all no wax light was
placed in the lamp, but oil as usual. The lamp burned through
the whole evening, and began to perceive too clearly that the
gift of the stars would remain a hidden treasure all his life.
Then he had a dream; for, to one with his faculties, dreaming
was no difficulty. It appeared to him that the old people were
dead, and that he had been taken to the iron foundry to be
melted down. It caused him quite as much anxiety as on the day
when he had been called upon to appear before the mayor and
the council at the town-hall. But though he had been endowed
with the power of falling into decay from rust when he
pleased, he did not make use of it. He was therefore put into
the melting-furnace and changed into as elegant an iron
candlestick as you could wish to see, one intended to hold a
wax taper. The candlestick was in the form of an angel holding
a nosegay, in the centre of which the wax taper was to be
placed. It was to stand on a green writing table, in a very
pleasant room; many books were scattered about, and splendid
paintings hung on the walls. The owner of the room was a poet,
and a man of intellect; everything he thought or wrote was
pictured around him. Nature showed herself to him sometimes in
the dark forests, at others in cheerful meadows where the
storks were strutting about, or on the deck of a ship sailing
across the foaming sea with the clear, blue sky above, or at
night the glittering stars. 'What powers I possess!' said the
lamp, awaking from his dream; 'I could almost wish to be
melted down; but no, that must not be while the old people
live. They love me for myself alone, they keep me bright, and
supply me with oil. I am as well off as the picture of the
congress, in which they take so much pleasure.' And from that
time he felt at rest in himself, and not more so than such an
honorable old lamp really deserved to be.



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