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

Under The Willow-tree - Part 1

THE region round the little town of Kjoge is very bleak
and cold. The town lies on the sea shore, which is always
beautiful; but here it might be more beautiful than it is, for
on every side the fields are flat, and it is a long way to the
forest. But when persons reside in a place and get used to it,
they can always find something beautiful in it,- something for
which they long, even in the most charming spot in the world
which is not home. It must be owned that there are in the
outskirts of the town some humble gardens on the banks of a
little stream that runs on towards the sea, and in summer
these gardens look very pretty. Such indeed was the opinion of
two little children, whose parents were neighbors, and who
played in these gardens, and forced their way from one garden
to the other through the gooseberry-bushes that divided them.
In one of the gardens grew an elder-tree, and in the other an
old willow, under which the children were very fond of
playing. They had permission to do so, although the tree stood
close by the stream, and they might easily have fallen into
the water; but the eye of God watches over the little ones,
otherwise they would never be safe. At the same time, these
children were very careful not to go too near the water;
indeed, the boy was so afraid of it, that in the summer, while
the other children were splashing about in the sea, nothing
could entice him to join them. They jeered and laughed at him,
and he was obliged to bear it all as patiently as he could.
Once the neighbor's little girl, Joanna, dreamed that she was
sailing in a boat, and the boy- Knud was his name- waded out
in the water to join her, and the water came up to his neck,
and at last closed over his head, and in a moment he had
disappeared. When little Knud heard this dream, it seemed as
if he could not bear the mocking and jeering again; how could
he dare to go into the water now, after Joanna's dream! He
never would do it, for this dream always satisfied him. The
parents of these children, who were poor, often sat together
while Knud and Joanna played in the gardens or in the road.
Along this road- a row of willow-trees had been planted to
separate it from a ditch on one side of it. They were not very
handsome trees, for the tops had been cut off; however, they
were intended for use, and not for show. The old willow-tree
in the garden was much handsomer, and therefore the children
were very fond of sitting under it. The town had a large
market-place; and at the fair-time there would be whole rows,
like streets, of tents and booths containing silks and
ribbons, and toys and cakes, and everything that could be
wished for. There were crowds of people, and sometimes the
weather would be rainy, and splash with moisture the woollen
jackets of the peasants; but it did not destroy the beautiful
fragrance of the honey-cakes and gingerbread with which one
booth was filled; and the best of it was, that the man who
sold these cakes always lodged during the fair-time with
little Knud's parents. So every now and then he had a present
of gingerbread, and of course Joanna always had a share. And,
more delightful still, the gingerbread seller knew all sorts
of things to tell and could even relate stories about his own
gingerbread. So one evening he told them a story that made
such a deep impression on the children that they never forgot
it; and therefore I think we may as well hear it too, for it
is not very long.

'Once upon a time,' said he, 'there lay on my counter two
gingerbread cakes, one in the shape of a man wearing a hat,
the other of a maiden without a bonnet. Their faces were on
the side that was uppermost, for on the other side they looked
very different. Most people have a best side to their
characters, which they take care to show to the world. On the
left, just where the heart is, the gingerbread man had an
almond stuck in to represent it, but the maiden was honey cake
all over. They were placed on the counter as samples, and
after lying there a long time they at last fell in love with
each other; but neither of them spoke of it to the other, as
they should have done if they expected anything to follow. 'He
is a man, he ought to speak the first word,' thought the
gingerbread maiden; but she felt quite happy- she was sure
that her love was returned. But his thoughts were far more
ambitious, as the thoughts of a man often are. He dreamed that
he was a real street boy, that he possessed four real pennies,
and that he had bought the gingerbread lady, and ate her up.
And so they lay on the counter for days and weeks, till they
grew hard and dry; but the thoughts of the maiden became ever
more tender and womanly. 'Ah well, it is enough for me that I
have been able to live on the same counter with him,' said she
one day; when suddenly, 'crack,' and she broke in two. 'Ah,'
said the gingerbread man to himself, 'if she had only known of
my love, she would have kept together a little longer.' And
here they both are, and that is their history,' said the cake
man. 'You think the history of their lives and their silent
love, which never came to anything, very remarkable; and there
they are for you.' So saying, he gave Joanna the gingerbread
man, who was still quite whole- and to Knud the broken maiden;
but the children had been so much impressed by the story, that
they had not the heart to eat the lovers up.

The next day they went into the churchyard, and took the
two cake figures with them, and sat down under the church
wall, which was covered with luxuriant ivy in summer and
winter, and looked as if hung with rich tapestry. They stuck
up the two gingerbread figures in the sunshine among the green
leaves, and then told the story, and all about the silent love
which came to nothing, to a group of children. They called it,
'love,' because the story was so lovely, and the other
children had the same opinion. But when they turned to look at
the gingerbread pair, the broken maiden was gone! A great boy,
out of wickedness, had eaten her up. At first the children
cried about it; but afterwards, thinking very probably that
the poor lover ought not to be left alone in the world, they
ate him up too: but they never forgot the story.

The two children still continued to play together by the
elder-tree, and under the willow; and the little maiden sang
beautiful songs, with a voice that was as clear as a bell.
Knud, on the contrary, had not a note of music in him, but
knew the words of the songs, and that of course is something.
The people of Kjoge, and even the rich wife of the man who
kept the fancy shop, would stand and listen while Joanna was
singing, and say, 'She has really a very sweet voice.'

Those were happy days; but they could not last forever.
The neighbors were separated, the mother of the little girl
was dead, and her father had thoughts of marrying again and of
residing in the capital, where he had been promised a very
lucrative appointment as messenger. The neighbors parted with
tears, the children wept sadly; but their parents promised
that they should write to each other at least once a year.

After this, Knud was bound apprentice to a shoemaker; he
was growing a great boy, and could not be allowed to run wild
any longer. Besides, he was going to be confirmed. Ah, how
happy he would have been on that festal day in Copenhagen with
little Joanna; but he still remained at Kjoge, and had never
seen the great city, though the town is not five miles from
it. But far across the bay, when the sky was clear, the towers
of Copenhagen could be seen; and on the day of his
confirmation he saw distinctly the golden cross on the
principal church glittering in the sun. How often his thoughts
were with Joanna! but did she think of him? Yes. About
Christmas came a letter from her father to Knud's parents,
which stated that they were going on very well in Copenhagen,
and mentioning particularly that Joanna's beautiful voice was
likely to bring her a brilliant fortune in the future. She was
engaged to sing at a concert, and she had already earned money
by singing, out of which she sent her dear neighbors at Kjoge
a whole dollar, for them to make merry on Christmas eve, and
they were to drink her health. She had herself added this in a
postscript, and in the same postscript she wrote, 'Kind
regards to Knud.'

The good neighbors wept, although the news was so
pleasant; but they wept tears of joy. Knud's thoughts had been
daily with Joanna, and now he knew that she also had thought
of him; and the nearer the time came for his apprenticeship to
end, the clearer did it appear to him that he loved Joanna,
and that she must be his wife; and a smile came on his lips at
the thought, and at one time he drew the thread so fast as he
worked, and pressed his foot so hard against the knee strap,
that he ran the awl into his finger; but what did he care for
that? He was determined not to play the dumb lover as both the
gingerbread cakes had done; the story was a good lesson to
him.

At length he become a journeyman; and then, for the first
time, he prepared for a journey to Copenhagen, with his
knapsack packed and ready. A master was expecting him there,
and he thought of Joanna, and how glad she would be to see
him. She was now seventeen, and he nineteen years old. He
wanted to buy a gold ring for her in Kjoge, but then he
recollected how far more beautiful such things would be in
Copenhagen. So he took leave of his parents, and on a rainy
day, late in the autumn, wandered forth on foot from the town
of his birth. The leaves were falling from the trees; and, by
the time he arrived at his new master's in the great
metropolis, he was wet through. On the following Sunday he
intended to pay his first visit to Joanna's father. When the
day came, the new journeyman's clothes were brought out, and a
new hat, which he had brought in Kjoge. The hat became him
very well, for hitherto he had only worn a cap. He found the
house that he sought easily, but had to mount so many stairs
that he became quite giddy; it surprised him to find how
people lived over one another in this dreadful town.

On entering a room in which everything denoted prosperity,
Joanna's father received him very kindly. The new wife was a
stranger to him, but she shook hands with him, and offered him
coffee.

'Joanna will be very glad to see you,' said her father.
'You have grown quite a nice young man, you shall see her
presently; she is a good child, and is the joy of my heart,
and, please God, she will continue to be so; she has her own
room now, and pays us rent for it.' And the father knocked
quite politely at a door, as if he were a stranger, and then
they both went in. How pretty everything was in that room! a
more beautiful apartment could not be found in the whole town
of Kjoge; the queen herself could scarcely be better
accommodated. There were carpets, and rugs, and window
curtains hanging to the ground. Pictures and flowers were
scattered about. There was a velvet chair, and a looking-glass
against the wall, into which a person might be in danger of
stepping, for it was as large as a door. All this Knud saw at
a glance, and yet, in truth, he saw nothing but Joanna. She
was quite grown up, and very different from what Knud had
fancied her, and a great deal more beautiful. In all Kjoge
there was not a girl like her; and how graceful she looked,
although her glance at first was odd, and not familiar; but
for a moment only, then she rushed towards him as if she would
have kissed him; she did not, however, although she was very
near it. Yes, she really was joyful at seeing the friend of
her childhood once more, and the tears even stood in her eyes.
Then she asked so many questions about Knud's parents, and
everything, even to the elder-tree and the willow, which she
called 'elder-mother and willow-father,' as if they had been
human beings; and so, indeed, they might be, quite as much as
the gingerbread cakes. Then she talked about them, and the
story of their silent love, and how they lay on the counter
together and split in two; and then she laughed heartily; but
the blood rushed into Knud's cheeks, and his heart beat
quickly. Joanna was not proud at all; he noticed that through
her he was invited by her parents to remain the whole evening
with them, and she poured out the tea and gave him a cup
herself; and afterwards she took a book and read aloud to
them, and it seemed to Knud as if the story was all about
himself and his love, for it agreed so well with his own
thoughts. And then she sang a simple song, which, through her
singing, became a true story, and as if she poured forth the
feelings of her own heart.

'Oh,' he thought, 'she knows I am fond of her.' The tears
he could not restrain rolled down his cheeks, and he was
unable to utter a single word; it seemed as if he had been
struck dumb.

When he left, she pressed his hand, and said, 'You have a
kind heart, Knud: remain always as you are now.' What an
evening of happiness this had been; to sleep after it was
impossible, and Knud did not sleep.

At parting, Joanna's father had said, 'Now, you won't
quite forget us; you must not let the whole winter go by
without paying us another visit;' so that Knud felt himself
free to go again the following Sunday evening, and so he did.
But every evening after working hours- and they worked by
candle-light then- he walked out into the town, and through
the street in which Joanna lived, to look up at her window. It
was almost always lighted up; and one evening he saw the
shadow of her face quite plainly on the window blind; that was
a glorious evening for him. His master's wife did not like his
always going out in the evening, idling, wasting time, as she
called it, and she shook her head.

But his master only smiled, and said, 'He is a young man,
my dear, you know.'

'On Sunday I shall see her,' said Knud to himself, 'and I
will tell her that I love her with my whole heart and soul,
and that she must be my little wife. I know I am now only a
poor journeyman shoemaker, but I will work and strive, and
become a master in time. Yes, I will speak to her; nothing
comes from silent love. I learnt that from the
gingerbread-cake story.'

Sunday came, but when Knud arrived, they were all
unfortunately invited out to spend the evening, and were
obliged to tell him so.

Joanna pressed his hand, and said, 'Have you ever been to
the theatre? you must go once; I sing there on Wednesday, and
if you have time on that day, I will send you a ticket; my
father knows where your master lives.' How kind this was of
her! And on Wednesday, about noon, Knud received a sealed
packet with no address, but the ticket was inside; and in the
evening Knud went, for the first time in his life, to a
theatre. And what did he see? He saw Joanna, and how beautiful
and charming she looked! He certainly saw her being married to
a stranger, but that was all in the play, and only a pretence;
Knud well knew that. She could never have the heart, he
thought, to send him a ticket to go and see it, if it had been
real. So he looked on, and when all the people applauded and
clapped their hands, he shouted 'hurrah.' He could see that
even the king smiled at Joanna, and seemed delighted with her
singing. How small Knud felt; but then he loved her so dearly,
and thought she loved him, and the man must speak the first
word, as the gingerbread maiden had thought. Ah, how much
there was for him in that childish story. As soon as Sunday
arrived, he went again, and felt as if he were about to enter
on holy ground. Joanna was alone to welcome him, nothing could
be more fortunate.

'I am so glad you are come,' she said. I was thinking of
sending my father for you, but I had a presentiment that you
would be here this evening. The fact is, I wanted to tell you
that I am going to France. I shall start on Friday. It is
necessary for me to go there, if I wish to become a first-rate
performer.'

Poor Knud! it seemed to him as if the whole room was
whirling round with him. His courage failed, and he felt as if
his heart would burst. He kept down the tears, but it was easy
to see how sorrowful he was.

'You honest, faithful soul,' she exclaimed; and the words
loosened Knud's tongue, and he told her how truly he had loved
her, and that she must be his wife; and as he said this, he
saw Joanna change color, and turn pale. She let his hand fall,
and said, earnestly and mournfully, 'Knud, do not make
yourself and me unhappy. I will always be a good sister to
you, one in whom you can trust; but I can never be anything
more.' And she drew her white hand over his burning forehead,
and said, 'God gives strength to bear a great deal, if we only
strive ourselves to endure.'

At this moment her stepmother came into the room, and
Joanna said quickly, 'Knud is so unhappy, because I am going
away;' and it appeared as if they had only been talking of her
journey. 'Come, be a man' she added, placing her hand on his
shoulder; 'you are still a child, and you must be good and
reasonable, as you were when we were both children, and played
together under the willow-tree.'

Knud listened, but he felt as if the world had slid out of
its course. His thoughts were like a loose thread fluttering
to and fro in the wind. He stayed, although he could not tell
whether she had asked him to do so. But she was kind and
gentle to him; she poured out his tea, and sang to him; but
the song had not the old tone in it, although it was
wonderfully beautiful, and made his heart feel ready to burst.
And then he rose to go. He did not offer his hand, but she
seized it, and said-

'Will you not shake hands with your sister at parting, my
old playfellow?' and she smiled through the tears that were
rolling down her cheeks. Again she repeated the word
'brother,' which was a great consolation certainly; and thus
they parted.


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