THERE was a man who once knew many stories, but they had
slipped away from him- so he said. The Story that used to
visit him of its own accord no longer came and knocked at his
door. And why did it come no longer? It is true enough that
for days and years the man had not thought of it, had not
expected it to come and knock; and if he had expected it, it
would certainly not have come; for without there was war, and
within was the care and sorrow that war brings with it.
The stork and the swallows came back from their long
journey, for they thought of no danger; and, behold, when they
arrived, the nest was burnt, the habitations of men were
burnt, the hedges were all in disorder, and everything seemed
gone, and the enemy's horses were stamping in the old graves.
Those were hard, gloomy times, but they came to an end.
And now they were past and gone- so people said; yet no
Story came and knocked at the door, or gave any tidings of its
'I suppose it must be dead, or gone away with many other
things,' said the man.
But the story never dies. And more than a whole year went
by, and he longed- oh, so very much!- for the Story.
'I wonder if the Story will ever come back again and
And he remembered it so well in all the various forms in
which it had come to him, sometimes young and charming, like
spring itself, sometimes as a beautiful maiden, with a wreath
of thyme in her hair, and a beechen branch in her hand, and
with eyes that gleamed like deep woodland lakes in the bright
Sometimes it had come to him in the guise of a peddler,
and had opened its box and let silver ribbon come fluttering
out, with verses and inscriptions of old remembrances.
But it was most charming of all when it came as an old
grandmother, with silvery hair, and such large, sensible eyes.
She knew so well how to tell about the oldest times, long
before the princesses spun with the golden spindles, and the
dragons lay outside the castles, guarding them. She told with
such an air of truth, that black spots danced before the eyes
of all who heard her, and the floor became black with human
blood; terrible to see and to hear, and yet so entertaining,
because such a long time had passed since it all happened.
'Will it ever knock at my door again?' said the man, and
he gazed at the door, so that black spots came before his eyes
and upon the floor; he did not know if it was blood, or
mourning crape from the dark heavy days.
And as he sat thus, the thought came upon him whether the
Story might not have hidden itself, like the princess in the
old tale. And he would now go in search of it; if he found it,
it would beam in new splendor, lovelier than ever.
'Who knows? Perhaps it has hidden itself in the straw that
balances on the margin of the well. Carefully, carefully!
Perhaps it lies hidden in a certain flower- that flower in one
of the great books on the book-shelf.'
And the man went and opened one of the newest books, to
gain information on this point; but there was no flower to be
found. There he read about Holger Danske; and the man read
that the tale had been invented and put together by a monk in
France, that it was a romance, 'translated into Danish and
printed in that language;' that Holger Danske had never really
lived, and consequently could never come again, as we have
sung, and have been so glad to believe. And William Tell was
treated just like Holger Danske. These were all only myths-
nothing on which we could depend; and yet it is all written in
a very learned book.
'Well, I shall believe what I believe!' said the man.
'There grows no plantain where no foot has trod.'
And he closed the book and put it back in its place, and
went to the fresh flowers at the window. Perhaps the Story
might have hidden itself in the red tulips, with the golden
yellow edges, or in the fresh rose, or in the beaming
camellia. The sunshine lay among the flowers, but no Story.
The flowers which had been here in the dark troublous time
had been much more beautiful; but they had been cut off, one
after another, to be woven into wreaths and placed in coffins,
and the flag had waved over them! Perhaps the Story had been
buried with the flowers; but then the flowers would have known
of it, and the coffin would have heard it, and every little
blade of grass that shot forth would have told of it. The
Story never dies.
Perhaps it has been here once, and has knocked; but who
had eyes or ears for it in those times? People looked darkly,
gloomily, and almost angrily at the sunshine of spring, at the
twittering birds, and all the cheerful green; the tongue could
not even bear the old merry, popular songs, and they were laid
in the coffin with so much that our heart held dear. The Story
may have knocked without obtaining a hearing; there was none
to bid it welcome, and so it may have gone away.
'I will go forth and seek it. Out in the country! out in
the wood! and on the open sea beach!'
Out in the country lies an old manor house, with red
walls, pointed gables, and a red flag that floats on the
tower. The nightingale sings among the finely-fringed
beech-leaves, looking at the blooming apple trees of the
garden, and thinking that they bear roses. Here the bees are
mightily busy in the summer-time, and hover round their queen
with their humming song. The autumn has much to tell of the
wild chase, of the leaves of the trees, and of the races of
men that are passing away together. The wild swans sing at
Christmas-time on the open water, while in the old hall the
guests by the fireside gladly listen to songs and to old
Down into the old part of the garden, where the great
avenue of wild chestnut trees lures the wanderer to tread its
shades, went the man who was in search of the Story; for here
the wind had once murmured something to him of 'Waldemar Daa
and his Daughters.' The Dryad in the tree, who was the
Story-mother herself, had here told him the 'Dream of the Old
Oak Tree.' Here, in the time of the ancestral mother, had
stood clipped hedges, but now only ferns and stinging nettles
grew there, hiding the scattered fragments of old sculptured
figures; the moss is growing in their eyes, but they can see
as well as ever, which was more than the man could do who was
in search of the Story, for he could not find that. Where
could it be?
The crows flew past him by hundreds across the old trees,
and screamed, 'Krah! da!- Krah! da!'
And he went out of the garden and over the grass-plot of
the yard, into the alder grove; there stood a little six-sided
house, with a poultry-yard and a duck-yard. In the middle of
the room sat the old woman who had the management of the
whole, and who knew accurately about every egg that was laid,
and about every chicken that could creep out of an egg. But
she was not the Story of which the man was in search; that she
could attest with a Christian certificate of baptism and of
vaccination that lay in her drawer.
Without, not far from the house, is a hill covered with
red-thorn and broom. Here lies an old grave-stone, which was
brought here many years ago from the churchyard of the
provincial town, a remembrance of one of the most honored
councillors of the place; his wife and his five daughters, all
with folded hands and stiff ruffs, stand round him. One could
look at them so long, that it had an effect upon the thoughts,
and these reacted upon the stones, as if they were telling of
old times; at least it had been so with the man who was in
search of the Story.
As he came nearer, he noticed a living butterfly sitting
on the forehead of the sculptured councillor. The butterfly
flapped its wings, and flew a little bit farther, and then
returned fatigued to sit upon the grave-stone, as if to point
out what grew there. Four-leaved shamrocks grew there; there
were seven specimens close to each other. When fortune comes,
it comes in a heap. He plucked the shamrocks and put them in
'Fortune is as good as red gold, but a new charming story
would be better still,' thought the man; but he could not find
And the sun went down, round and large; the meadow was
covered with vapor. The moor-woman was at her brewing.
It was evening. He stood alone in his room, and looked out
upon the sea, over the meadow, over moor and coast. The moon
shone bright, a mist was over the meadow, making it look like
a great lake; and, indeed, it was once so, as the legend
tells- and in the moonlight the eye realizes these myths.
Then the man thought of what he had been reading in the
town, that William Tell and Holger Danske never really lived,
but yet live in popular story, like the lake yonder, a living
evidence for such myths. Yes, Holger Danske will return again!
As he stood thus and thought, something beat quite
strongly against the window. Was it a bird, a bat or an owl?
Those are not let in, even when they knock. The window flew
open of itself, and an old woman looked in at the man.
'What's your pleasure?' said he. 'Who are you? You're
looking in at the first floor window. Are you standing on a
'You have a four-leaved shamrock in your pocket,' she
replied. 'Indeed, you have seven, and one of them is a
'Who are you?' asked the man again.
'The Moor-woman,' she replied. 'The Moor-woman who brews.
I was at it. The bung was in the cask, but one of the little
moor-imps pulled it out in his mischief, and flung it up into
the yard, where it beat against the window; and now the beer's
running out of the cask, and that won't do good to anybody.'
'Pray tell me some more!' said the man.
'Yes, wait a little,' answered the Moor-woman. 'I've
something else to do just now.' And she was gone.
The man was going to shut the window, when the woman
already stood before him again.
'Now it's done,' she said; 'but I shall have half the beer
to brew over again to-morrow, if the weather is suitable.
Well, what have you to ask me? I've come back, for I always
keep my word, and you have seven four-leaved shamrocks in your
pocket, and one of them is a six-leaved one. That inspires
respect, for that's an order that grows beside the sandy way;
but that every one does not find. What have you to ask me?
Don't stand there like a ridiculous oaf, for I must go back
again directly to my bung and my cask.'
And the man asked about the Story, and inquired if the
Moor-woman had met it in her journeyings.