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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 2

She sailed to France, and Knud wandered about the muddy
streets of Copenhagen. The other journeymen in the shop asked
him why he looked so gloomy, and wanted him to go and amuse
himself with them, as he was still a young man. So he went
with them to a dancing-room. He saw many handsome girls there,
but none like Joanna; and here, where he thought to forget
her, she was more life-like before his mind than ever. 'God
gives us strength to bear much, if we try to do our best,' she
had said; and as he thought of this, a devout feeling came
into his mind, and he folded his hands. Then, as the violins
played and the girls danced round the room, he started; for it
seemed to him as if he were in a place where he ought not to
have brought Joanna, for she was here with him in his heart;
and so he went out at once. As he went through the streets at
a quick pace, he passed the house where she used to live; it
was all dark, empty, and lonely. But the world went on its
course, and Knud was obliged to go on too.

Winter came; the water was frozen, and everything seemed
buried in a cold grave. But when spring returned, and the
first steamer prepared to sail, Knud was seized with a longing
to wander forth into the world, but not to France. So he
packed his knapsack, and travelled through Germany, going from
town to town, but finding neither rest or peace. It was not
till he arrived at the glorious old town of Nuremberg that he
gained the mastery over himself, and rested his weary feet;
and here he remained.

Nuremberg is a wonderful old city, and looks as if it had
been cut out of an old picture-book. The streets seem to have
arranged themselves according to their own fancy, and as if
the houses objected to stand in rows or rank and file. Gables,
with little towers, ornamented columns, and statues, can be
seen even to the city gate; and from the singular-shaped
roofs, waterspouts, formed like dragons, or long lean dogs,
extend far across to the middle of the street. Here, in the
market-place, stood Knud, with his knapsack on his back, close
to one of the old fountains which are so beautifully adorned
with figures, scriptural and historical, and which spring up
between the sparkling jets of water. A pretty servant-maid was
just filling her pails, and she gave Knud a refreshing
draught; she had a handful of roses, and she gave him one,
which appeared to him like a good omen for the future. From a
neighboring church came the sounds of music, and the familiar
tones reminded him of the organ at home at Kjoge; so he passed
into the great cathedral. The sunshine streamed through the
painted glass windows, and between two lofty slender pillars.
His thoughts became prayerful, and calm peace rested on his
soul. He next sought and found a good master in Nuremberg,
with whom he stayed and learnt the German language.

The old moat round the town had been converted into a
number of little kitchen gardens; but the high walls, with
their heavy-looking towers, are still standing. Inside these
walls the ropemaker twisted his ropes along a walk built like
a gallery, and in the cracks and crevices of the walls
elderbushes grow and stretch their green boughs over the small
houses which stand below. In one of these houses lived the
master for whom Knud worked; and over the little garret window
where he sat, the elder-tree waved its branches. Here he dwelt
through one summer and winter, but when spring came again, he
could endure it no longer. The elder was in blossom, and its
fragrance was so homelike, that he fancied himself back again
in the gardens of Kjoge. So Knud left his master, and went to
work for another who lived farther in the town, where no elder
grew. His workshop was quite close to one of the old stone
bridges, near to a water-mill, round which the roaring stream
rushed and foamed always, yet restrained by the neighboring
houses, whose old, decayed balconies hung over, and seemed
ready to fall into the water. Here grew no elder; here was not
even a flower-pot, with its little green plant; but just
opposite the workshop stood a great willow-tree, which seemed
to hold fast to the house for fear of being carried away by
the water. It stretched its branches over the stream just as
those of the willow-tree in the garden at Kjoge had spread
over the river. Yes, he had indeed gone from elder-mother to
willow-father. There was a something about the tree here,
especially in the moonlight nights, that went direct to his
heart; yet it was not in reality the moonlight, but the old
tree itself. However, he could not endure it: and why? Ask the
willow, ask the blossoming elder! At all events, he bade
farewell to Nuremberg and journeyed onwards. He never spoke of
Joanna to any one; his sorrow was hidden in his heart. The old
childish story of the two cakes had a deep meaning for him. He
understood now why the gingerbread man had a bitter almond in
his left side; his was the feeling of bitterness, and Joanna,
so mild and friendly, was represented by the honeycake maiden.
As he thought upon all this, the strap of his knapsack pressed
across his chest so that he could hardly breathe; he loosened
it, but gained no relief. He saw but half the world around
him; the other half he carried with him in his inward
thoughts; and this is the condition in which he left
Nuremberg. Not till he caught sight of the lofty mountains did
the world appear more free to him; his thoughts were attracted
to outer objects, and tears came into his eyes. The Alps
appeared to him like the wings of earth folded together;
unfolded, they would display the variegated pictures of dark
woods, foaming waters, spreading clouds, and masses of snow.
'At the last day,' thought he, 'the earth will unfold its
great wings, and soar upwards to the skies, there to burst
like a soap-bubble in the radiant glance of the Deity. Oh,'
sighed he, 'that the last day were come!'

Silently he wandered on through the country of the Alps,
which seemed to him like a fruit garden, covered with soft
turf. From the wooden balconies of the houses the young
lacemakers nodded as he passed. The summits of the mountains
glowed in the red evening sunset, and the green lakes beneath
the dark trees reflected the glow. Then he thought of the sea
coast by the bay Kjoge, with a longing in his heart that was,
however, without pain. There, where the Rhine rolls onward
like a great billow, and dissolves itself into snowflakes,
where glistening clouds are ever changing as if here was the
place of their creation, while the rainbow flutters about them
like a many-colored ribbon, there did Knud think of the
water-mill at Kjoge, with its rushing, foaming waters. Gladly
would he have remained in the quiet Rhenish town, but there
were too many elders and willow-trees.

So he travelled onwards, over a grand, lofty chain of
mountains, over rugged,- rocky precipices, and along roads
that hung on the mountain's side like a swallow's nest. The
waters foamed in the depths below him. The clouds lay beneath
him. He wandered on, treading upon Alpine roses, thistles, and
snow, with the summer sun shining upon him, till at length he
bid farewell to the lands of the north. Then he passed on
under the shade of blooming chestnut-trees, through vineyards,
and fields of Indian corn, till conscious that the mountains
were as a wall between him and his early recollections; and he
wished it to be so.

Before him lay a large and splendid city, called Milan,
and here he found a German master who engaged him as a
workman. The master and his wife, in whose workshop he was
employed, were an old, pious couple; and the two old people
became quite fond of the quiet journeyman, who spoke but
little, but worked more, and led a pious, Christian life; and
even to himself it seemed as if God had removed the heavy
burden from his heart. His greatest pleasure was to climb, now
and then, to the roof of the noble church, which was built of
white marble. The pointed towers, the decorated and open
cloisters, the stately columns, the white statues which smiled
upon him from every corner and porch and arch,- all, even the
church itself, seemed to him to have been formed from the snow
of his native land. Above him was the blue sky; below him, the
city and the wide-spreading plains of Lombardy; and towards
the north, the lofty mountains, covered with perpetual snow.
And then he thought of the church of Kjoge, with its red,
ivy-clad walls, but he had no longing to go there; here,
beyond the mountains, he would die and be buried.

Three years had passed away since he left his home; one
year of that time he had dwelt at Milan.

One day his master took him into the town; not to the
circus in which riders performed, but to the opera, a large
building, itself a sight well worth seeing. The seven tiers of
boxes, which reached from the ground to a dizzy height, near
the ceiling, were hung with rich, silken curtains; and in them
were seated elegantly-dressed ladies, with bouquets of flowers
in their hands. The gentlemen were also in full dress, and
many of them wore decorations of gold and silver. The place
was so brilliantly lighted that it seemed like sunshine, and
glorious music rolled through the building. Everything looked
more beautiful than in the theatre at Copenhagen, but then
Joanna had been there, and- could it be? Yes- it was like
magic,- she was here also: for, when the curtain rose, there
stood Joanna, dressed in silk and gold, and with a golden
crown upon her head. She sang, he thought, as only an angel
could sing; and then she stepped forward to the front and
smiled, as only Joanna could smile, and looked directly at
Knud. Poor Knud! he seized his master's hand, and cried out
loud, 'Joanna,' but no one heard him, excepting his master,
for the music sounded above everything.

'Yes, yes, it is Joanna,' said his master; and he drew
forth a printed bill, and pointed to her name, which was there
in full. Then it was not a dream. All the audience applauded
her, and threw wreaths of flowers at her; and every time she
went away they called for her again, so that she was always
coming and going. In the street the people crowded round her
carriage, and drew it away themselves without the horses. Knud
was in the foremost row, and shouted as joyously as the rest;
and when the carriage stopped before a brilliantly lighted
house, Knud placed himself close to the door of her carriage.
It flew open, and she stepped out; the light fell upon her
dear face, and he could see that she smiled as she thanked
them, and appeared quite overcome. Knud looked straight in her
face, and she looked at him, but she did not recognize him. A
man, with a glittering star on his breast, gave her his arm,
and people said the two were engaged to be married. Then Knud
went home and packed up his knapsack; he felt he must return
to the home of his childhood, to the elder-tree and the
willow. 'Ah, under that willow-tree!' A man may live a whole
life in one single hour.

The old couple begged him to remain, but words were
useless. In vain they reminded him that winter was coming, and
that the snow had already fallen on the mountains. He said he
could easily follow the track of the closely-moving carriages,
for which a path must be kept clear, and with nothing but his
knapsack on his back, and leaning on his stick, he could step
along briskly. So he turned his steps to the mountains,
ascended one side and descended the other, still going
northward till his strength began to fail, and not a house or
village could be seen. The stars shone in the sky above him,
and down in the valley lights glittered like stars, as if
another sky were beneath him; but his head was dizzy and his
feet stumbled, and he felt ill. The lights in the valley grew
brighter and brighter, and more numerous, and he could see
them moving to and fro, and then he understood that there must
be a village in the distance; so he exerted his failing
strength to reach it, and at length obtained shelter in a
humble lodging. He remained there that night and the whole of
the following day, for his body required rest and refreshment,
and in the valley there was rain and a thaw. But early in the
morning of the third day, a man came with an organ and played
one of the melodies of home; and after that Knud could remain
there no longer, so he started again on his journey toward the
north. He travelled for many days with hasty steps, as if he
were trying to reach home before all whom he remembered should
die; but he spoke to no one of this longing. No one would have
believed or understood this sorrow of his heart, the deepest
that can be felt by human nature. Such grief is not for the
world; it is not entertaining even to friends, and poor Knud
had no friends; he was a stranger, wandering through strange
lands to his home in the north.

He was walking one evening through the public roads, the
country around him was flatter, with fields and meadows, the
air had a frosty feeling. A willow-tree grew by the roadside,
everything reminded him of home. He felt very tired; so he sat
down under the tree, and very soon began to nod, then his eyes
closed in sleep. Yet still he seemed conscious that the
willow-tree was stretching its branches over him; in his
dreaming state the tree appeared like a strong, old man- the
'willow-father' himself, who had taken his tired son up in his
arms to carry him back to the land of home, to the garden of
his childhood, on the bleak open shores of Kjoge. And then he
dreamed that it was really the willow-tree itself from Kjoge,
which had travelled out in the world to seek him, and now had
found him and carried him back into the little garden on the
banks of the streamlet; and there stood Joanna, in all her
splendor, with the golden crown on her head, as he had last
seen her, to welcome him back. And then there appeared before
him two remarkable shapes, which looked much more like human
beings than when he had seen them in his childhood; they were
changed, but he remembered that they were the two gingerbread
cakes, the man and the woman, who had shown their best sides
to the world and looked so good.

'We thank you,' they said to Knud, 'for you have loosened
our tongues; we have learnt from you that thoughts should be
spoken freely, or nothing will come of them; and now something
has come of our thoughts, for we are engaged to be married.'
Then they walked away, hand-in-hand, through the streets of
Kjoge, looking very respectable on the best side, which they
were quite right to show. They turned their steps to the
church, and Knud and Joanna followed them, also walking
hand-in-hand; there stood the church, as of old, with its red
walls, on which the green ivy grew.

The great church door flew open wide, and as they walked
up the broad aisle, soft tones of music sounded from the
organ. 'Our master first,' said the gingerbread pair, making
room for Knud and Joanna. As they knelt at the altar, Joanna
bent her head over him, and cold, icy tears fell on his face
from her eyes. They were indeed tears of ice, for her heart
was melting towards him through his strong love, and as her
tears fell on his burning cheeks he awoke. He was still
sitting under the willow-tree in a strange land, on a cold
winter evening, with snow and hail falling from the clouds,
and beating upon his face.

'That was the most delightful hour of my life,' said he,
'although it was only a dream. Oh, let me dream again.' Then
he closed his eyes once more, and slept and dreamed.

Towards morning there was a great fall of snow; the wind
drifted it over him, but he still slept on. The villagers came
forth to go to church; by the roadside they found a workman
seated, but he was dead! frozen to death under a willow-tree.


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