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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesO. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 3
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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 3 Post by :twoelfling Category :Long Stories Author :Hans Christian Andersen Date :May 2012 Read :1585

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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

"Who looks into the shadowy realm of my heart?"
A. V. CHAMISSO.


In the former chapter we heard mention made of a young student, Otto Thostrup, a clever fellow, with nine prae caeteris, as his comrades said, but also of a proud spirit, of which he must be broken. Not at the disputations, which have been already mentioned, will we make his acquaintance, although there we must be filled with respect for the good Latin scholar; not in large companies, where his handsome exterior and his speaking, melancholy glance must make him interesting; as little in the pit of the Opera although his few yet striking observations there would show him to be a very intellectual young man; but we will seek him out for the first time at the house of his friend, the young Baron Wilhelm. It is the beginning of November: we find them both with their pipes in their mouths; upon the table lie Tibullus and Anacreon, which they are reading together for the approaching philologicum.

In the room stands a piano-forte, with a number of music-books; upon the walls hang the portraits of Weyse and Beethoven, for our young Baron is musical, nay a composer himself.

"See, here we have again this lovely, clinging mist!" said Wilhelm. "Out of doors one can fairly taste it; at home it would be a real plague to me, here it only Londonizes the city."

"I like it!" said Otto. "To me it is like an old acquaintance from Vestervovov. It is as though the mist brought me greetings from the sea and sand-hills."

"I should like to see the North Sea, but the devil might live there! What town lies nearest to your grandfather's estate?"

"Lernvig," answered Otto. "If any one wish to see the North Sea properly, they ought to go up as far as Thisted and Hjorring. I have travelled there, have visited the family in Borglum-Kloster; and, besides this, have made other small journeys. Never shall I forget one evening; yes, it was a storm of which people in the interior of the country can form no conception. I rode--I was then a mere boy, and a very wild lad--with one of our men. When the storm commenced we found ourselves among the sand-hills. Ah! that you should have seen! The sand forms along the strand high banks, which serve as dikes against the sea; these are overgrown with sea-grass, but, if the storm bursts a single hole, the whole is carried away. This spectacle we chanced to witness. It is a true Arabian sand-storm, and the North Sea bellowed so that it might be heard at the distance of many miles. The salt foam flew together with the sand into our faces."

"That must have been splendid!" exclaimed Wilhelm, and his eyes sparkled. "Jutland is certainly the most romantic part of Denmark. Since I read Steen-Blicher's novels I have felt a real interest for that country. It seems to me that it must greatly resemble the Lowlands of Scotland. And gypsies are also found there, are they not?"

"Vagabonds, we call them," said Otto, with an involuntary motion of the mouth. "They correspond to the name!"

"The fishermen, also, on the coast are not much better! Do they still from the pulpit pray for wrecks? Do they still slay shipwrecked mariners?"

"I have heard our preacher, who is an old man, relate how, in the first years after he had obtained his office and dignity, he was obliged to pray in the church that, if ships stranded, they might strand in his district; but this I have never heard myself. But with regard to what is related of murdering, why, the fishermen-- sea-geese, as they are called--are by no means a tender-hearted people; but it is not as bad as that in our days. A peasant died in the neighborhood, of whom it was certainly related that in bad weather he had bound a lantern under his horse's belly and let it wander up and down the beach, so that the strange mariner who was sailing in those seas might imagine it some cruising ship, and thus fancy himself still a considerable way from land. By this means many a ship is said to have been destroyed. But observe, these are stories out of the district of Thisted, and of an elder age, before my power of observation had developed itself; this was that golden age when in tumble-down fishers' huts, after one of these good shipwrecks, valuable shawls, but little damaged by the sea, might be found employed as bed-hangings. Boots and shoes were smeared with the finest pomatum. If such things now reach their hands, they know better how to turn them into money. The Strand-commissioners are now on the watch; now it is said to be a real age of copper."

"Have you seen a vessel stranded?" inquired Wilhelm, with increasing interest.

"Our estate lies only half a mile from the sea. Every year about this time, when the mist spreads itself out as it does to-day and the storms begin to rage, then was it most animated. In my wild spirits, when I was a boy, and especially in the midst of our monotonous life, I truly yearned after it. Once, upon a journey to Borglum-Kloster, I experienced a storm. In the early morning; it was quite calm, but gray, and we witnessed a kind of Fata Morgana. A ship, which had not yet risen above the horizon, showed itself in the distance, but the rigging was turned upside down; the masts were below, the hull above. This is called the ship of death, and when it is seen people are sure of bad weather and shipwreck. Later, about midday, it began to blow, and in an hour's time we had a regular tempest. The sea growled quite charmingly; we travelled on between sand-hills--they resemble hills and dales in winter time, but here it is not snow which melts away; here never grows a single green blade; a black stake stands up here and there, and these are rudders from wrecks, the histories of which are unknown. In the afternoon arose a storm such as I had experienced when riding with the man between the sand-hills. We could not proceed farther, and were obliged on this account to seek shelter in one of the huts which the fishermen hail erected among the white sand-hills. There we remained, and I saw the stranding of a vessel: I shall never forget it! An American ship lay not a musket-shot from land. They cut the mast; six or seven men clung fast to it in the waters. O, how they rocked backward and forward in the dashing spray! The mast took a direction toward the shore; at length only three men were left clinging to the mast; it was dashed upon land, but the returning waves again bore it away; it had crushed the arms and legs of the clinging wretches--ground them like worms! I dreamed of this for many nights. The waves flung the hull of the vessel up high on the shore, and drove it into the sand, where it was afterward found. Later, as we retraced our steps, were the stem and sternpost gone: you saw two strong wooden walls, between which the road took its course. You even still travel through the wreck!"

"Up in your country every poetical mind must become a Byron," said Wilhelm. "On my parents' estate we have only idyls; the whole of Funen is a garden. We mutually visit each other upon our different estates, where we lead most merry lives, dance with the peasant-girls at the brewing-feast, hunt in the woods, and fish in the lakes. The only melancholy object which presents itself with us is a funeral, and the only romantic characters we possess are a little hump-backed musician, a wise woman, and an honest schoolmaster, who still firmly believes, as Jeronimus did, that the earth is flat, and that, were it to turn round, we should fall, the devil knows where!"

"I love nature in Jutland!" exclaimed Otto. "The open sea, the brown heath, and the bushy moorland. You should see the wild moor in Vendsyssel--that is an extent! Almost always wet mists float over its unapproachable interior, which is known to no one. It is not yet fifty years since it served as an abode for wolves. Often it bursts into flames, for it is impregnated with sulphuric gas,-- one can see the fire for miles."

"My sister Sophie ought to hear all this!" said Wilhelm. "You would make your fortune with her! The dear girl! she has the best head at home, but she loves effect. Hoffman and Victor Hugo are her favorites. Byron rests every night under her pillow. If you related such things of the west coast of Jutland, and of heaths and moors, you might persuade her to make a journey thither. One really would not believe that we possessed in our own country such romantic situations!"

"Is she your only sister?" inquired Otto.

"No," returned Wilhelm, "I have two--the other is named Louise; she is of quite an opposite character: I do not know of which one ought to think most. Have you no brothers or sisters?" he asked of Otto.

"No!" returned the latter, with his former involuntary, half-melancholy expression. "I am an only child. In my house it is solitary and silent. My grandfather alone is left alive. He is an active, strong man, but very grave. He instructed me in mathematics, which he thoroughly understands. The preacher taught me Latin, Greek, and history: two persons, however, occupied themselves with my religious education-- the preacher and my old Rosalie. She is a good soul. How often have I teased her, been petulant, and almost angry with her! She thought so much of me, she was both mother and sister to me, and instructed me in religion as well as the preacher, although she is a Catholic. Since my father's childhood she has been a sort of governante in the house. You should have seen her melancholy smile when she heard my geography lesson, and we read of her dear Switzerland, where she was born, and of the south of France, where she had travelled as a child. The west coast of Jutland may also appear very barren in comparison with these countries!"

"She might have made you a Catholic! But surely nothing of this still clings to you?"

"Rosalie was a prudent old creature; Luther himself need not have been ashamed of her doctrine. Whatever is holy to the heart of man, remains also holy in every religion!"

"But then, to erect altars to the Madonna!" exclaimed Wilhelm; "to pray to a being; whom the Bible does not make a saint!--that is rather too much. And their tricks with burning of incense and ringing of bells! Yes, indeed, it would give me no little pleasure to cut off the heads of the Pope and of the whole clerical body! To purchase indulgence!--Those must, indeed, be curious people who can place thorough faith in such things! I will never once take off my hat before the Madonna!"

"But that will I do, and in my heart bow myself before her!" answered Otto, gravely.

"Did I not think so? she has made you a Catholic!"

"No such thing! I am as good a Protestant as you yourself: but wherefore should we not respect the mother of Christ? With regard to the ceremonials of Catholicism, indulgence, and all these additions of the priesthood, I agree with you in wishing to strike off the heads of all who, in such a manner, degrade God and the human understanding. But in many respects we are unjust: we so easily forget the first and greatest commandment, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself!' We are not tolerant. Among our festivals we have still one for the Three Kings--it is yet celebrated by the common people; but what have these three kings done? They knelt before the manger in which Christ lay, and on this account we honor them. On the contrary, the mother of God has no festival-day; nay, the multitude even smile at her name! If you will only quietly listen to my simple argument, we shall soon agree. You will take off your hat and bow before the Madonna. Only two things are to be considered--either Christ was entirely human, or He was, as the Bible teaches us, a divine being. I will now admit the latter. He is God Himself, who in some inexplicable manner, is born to us of the Virgin Mary. She must therefore be the purest, the most perfect feminine being, since God found her worthy to bring into the world the Son, the only one; through this she becomes as holy as any human being can, and low we must bow ourselves before the pure, the exalted one. Take it for granted that Christ was human, like ourselves, otherwise He cannot, according to my belief, call upon us to imitate Him; neither would it be great, as God, to meet a corporeal death, from which He could remove each pain. Were He only a man, born of Mary, we must doubly admire Him; we must bow in the dust before His mighty spirit, His enlightening and consoling doctrine. But can we then forget how much the mother has must have influenced the child, how sublime and profound the soul must have been which spoke to His heart? We must reverence and honor her! Everywhere in the Scriptures where she appears we see an example of care and love; with her whole soul she adheres to her Son. Think how uneasy she became, and sought for Him in the temple--think of her gentle reproaches! The words of the Son always sounded harsh in my ears. 'Those are the powerful expressions of the East!' said my old preacher. The Saviour was severe, severe as He must be! Already there seemed to me severity in His words! She was completely the mother; she was it then, even as when she wept at Golgotha. Honor and reverence she deserves from us!"

"These she also receives!" returned Wilhelm; and striking him upon the shoulder he added, with a smile, "you are, according to the Roman Catholic manner, near exalting the mother above the Son! Old Rosalie has made a proselyte; after all, you are half a Catholic!"

"That am I not!" answered Otto, "and that will I not be!"

"See! the thunder-cloud advances!" resounded below in the court: the sweet Neapolitan song reached the ears of the friends. They stepped into the adjoining room and opened the window. Three poor boys stood below in the wind and rain, and commenced the song. The tallest was, perhaps, fourteen or fifteen years old, his deep, rough voice seemed to have attained its strength and depth more through rain and bad weather than through age. The dirty wet clothes hung in rags about his body; the shoes upon the wet feet, and the hat held together with white threads, were articles of luxury. The other two boys had neither hat nor shoes, but their clothes were whole and clean. The youngest appeared six or seven years old; his silvery white hair formed a contrast with his brown face, his dark eyes and long brown eyelashes. His voice sounded like the voice of a little girl, as fine and soft, beside the voices of the others, as the breeze of an autumnal evening beside that of rude November weather.

"That is a handsome boy!" exclaimed the two friends at the same time.

"And a lovely melody!" added Otto.

"Yes, but they sing falsely!" answered Wilhelm: "one sings half a tone too low, the other half a tone too high!"

"Now, thank God that I cannot hear that!" said Otto. "It sounds sweetly, and the little one might become a singer. Poor child!" added he gravely: "bare feet, wet to the very skin; and then the elder one will certainly lead him to brandy drinking! Within a month, perhaps, the voice will be gone! Then is the nightingale dead!" He quickly threw down some skillings, wrapped in paper.

"Come up!" cried Wilhelm, and beckoned. The eldest of the boys flew up like an arrow; Wilhelm, however, said it was the youngest who was meant. The others remained standing before the door; the youngest stepped in.

"Whose son art thou?" asked Wilhelm. The boy was silent, and cast down his eyes in an embarrassed manner. "Now, don't be bashful! Thou art of a good family--that one can see from thy appearance! Art not thou thy mother's son? I will give thee stockings and--the deuce! here is a pair of boots which are too small for me; if thou dost not get drowned in them they shall be thy property: but now thou must sing." And he seated himself at the piano-forte and struck the keys. "Now, where art thou?" he cried, rather displeased. The little one gazed upon the ground.

"How! dost thou weep; or is it the rain which hangs in thy black eyelashes?" said Otto, and raised his head: "we only wish to do thee a kindness. There--thou hast another skilling from me."

The little one still remained somewhat laconic. All that they learned was that he was named Jonas, and that his grandmother thought so much of him.

"Here thou hast the stockings!" said Wilhelm; "and see here! a coat with a velvet collar, a much-to-be-prized keepsake! The boots! Thou canst certainly stick both legs into one boot! See! that is as good as having two pairs to change about with! Let us see!"

The boy's eyes sparkled with joy; the boots he drew on, the stockings went into his pocket, and the bundle he took under his arm.

"But thou must sing us a little song!" said Wilhelm, and the little one commenced the old song out of the "Woman-hater," "Cupid never can be trusted!"

The lively expression in the dark eyes, the boy himself in his wet, wretched clothes and big boots, with the bundle under his arm; nay, the whole had something so characteristic in it, that had it been painted, and had the painter called the picture "Cupid on his Wanderings," every one would have found the little god strikingly excellent, although he were not blind.

"Something might be made of the boy and of his voice!" said Wilhelm, when little Jonas, in a joyous mood, had left the house with the other lads.

"The poor child!" sighed Otto. "I have fairly lost my good spirits through all this. It seizes upon me so strangely when I see misery and genius mated. Once there came to our estate in Jutland a man who played the Pandean-pipes, and at the same time beat the drum and cymbals: near him stood a little girl, and struck the triangle. I was forced to weep over this spectacle; without understanding how it was, I felt the misery of the poor child. I was myself yet a mere boy."

"He looked so comic in the big boots that I became quite merry, and not grave," said Wilhelm. "Nevertheless what a pity it is that such gentle blood, which at the first glance one perceives he is, that such a pretty child should become a rude fellow, and his beautiful voice change into a howl, like that with which the other tall Laban saluted us. Who knows whether little Jonas might not become the first singer on the Danish stage? Yes, if he received education of mind and voice, who knows? I could really have, pleasure in attempting it, and help every one on in the world, before I myself am rightly in the way!"

"If he is born to a beggar's estate," said Otto, "let him as beggar live and die, and learn nothing higher. That is better, that is more to be desired!"

Wilhelm seated himself at the piano-forte, and played some of his own compositions. "That is difficult," said he; "every one cannot play that."

"The simpler the sweeter!" replied Otto.

"You must not speak about music!" returned the friend "upon that you know not how to pass judgment. Light Italian operas are not difficult to write."

In the evening the friends separated. Whilst Otto took his hat, there was a low knock at the door. Wilhelm opened it. Without stood a poor old woman, with pale sharp features; by the hand she led a little boy--it was Jonas: thus then it was a visit from him and his grandmother.

The other boys had sold the boots and shoes which had been given him. They ought to have a share, they maintained. This atrocious injustice had induced the old grandmother to go immediately with little Jonas to the two good gentlemen, and relate how little the poor lad had received of flint which they had assigned to him alone.

Wilhelm spoke of the boy's sweet voice, and thought that by might make his fortune at the theatre; but then he ought not now to be left running about with bare feet in the wind and rain.

"But by this means he brings a skilling home," said the old woman. "That's what his father and mother look to, and the skilling they can always employ. Nevertheless she had herself already thought of bringing him out at the theatre,--but that was to have been in dancing, for they got shoes and stockings to dance in, and with these they might also run home; and that would be an advantage."

"I will teach the boy music!" said Wilhelm; "he can come to me sometimes."

"And then he will, perhaps, get a little cast-off clothing, good sir," said the grandmother; "a shirt, or a waistcoat, just as it happens?"

"Become a tailor, or shoemaker," said Otto, gravely, and laid his hand upon the boy's head.

"He shall be a genius!" said Wilhelm.

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