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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesO. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 5
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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 5 Post by :twoelfling Category :Long Stories Author :Hans Christian Andersen Date :May 2012 Read :2268

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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

"Hark to trumpets and beaten gongs,
Squeaking fiddles, shouts and songs.
Hurra! hurra!
The Doctor is here;
And here the hills where fun belongs."
J. L. HEIBERG.


We will not follow the principal characters of our story step for step, but merely present the prominent moments of their lives to our readers, be these great or small; we seize on them, if they in any way contribute to make the whole picture more worthy of contemplation.

The winter was over, the birds of passage had long since returned; the woods and fields shone in the freshest green, and, what to the friends was equally interesting, they had happily passed through their examen philologicum. Wilhelm, who, immediately after its termination, had accompanied his sister home, was again returned, sang with little Jonas, reflected upon the philosophicum, and also how he would thoroughly enjoy the summer,--the summer which in the north is so beautiful, but so short. It was St. John's Day. Families had removed from Copenhagen to their pretty country-seats on the coast, where people on horseback and in carriages rushed past, and where the highway was crowded with foot-passengers. The whole road presented a picture of life upon the Paris Boulevard. The sun was burning, the dust flew up high into the air; on which account many persons preferred the pleasanter excursion with the steamboat along the coast, from whence could be seen the traffic on the high-road without enduring the annoyance of dust and heat. Boats skimmed past; brisk sailors, by the help of vigorous strokes of the oar, strove to compete with the steam-packet, the dark smoke from which, like some demon, partly rested upon the vessel, partly floated away in the air.

Various young students, among whom were also Wilhelm and Otto, landed at Charlottenlund, the most frequented place of resort near Copenhagen. Otto was here for the first time; for the first time he should see the park.

A summer's afternoon in Linken's Bad, near Dresden, bears a certain resemblance to Charlottenlund, only that the Danish wood is larger; that instead of the Elbe we have the Sound, which is here three miles broad, and where often more than a hundred vessels, bearing flags of all the European nations, glide past. A band of musicians played airs out of "Preciosa;" the white tents glanced like snow or swans through the green beech-trees. Here and there was a fire-place raised of turf, over which people boiled and cooked, so that the smoke rose up among the trees. Outside the wood, waiting in long rows, were the peasants' vehicles, called "coffee-mills," completely answering ho the couricolo of the Neapolitan and the coucou of the Parisian, equally cheap, and overladen in the same manner with passengers, therefore forming highly picturesque groups. This scene has been humorously treated in a picture by Marstrand. Between fields and meadows, the road leads pleasantly toward the park; the friends pursued the foot-path.

"Shall I brush the gentlemen?" cried five or six boys, at the same time pressing upon the friends as they approached the entrance to the park. Without waiting for an answer, the boys commenced at once brushing the dust from their clothes and boots.

"These are Kirsten Piil's pages," said Wilhelm, laughing; "they take care that people show themselves tolerably smart. But now we are brushed enough!" A six-skilling-piece rejoiced these little Savoyards.

The Champs Elysees of the Parisians on a great festival day, when the theatres are opened, the swings are flying, trumpets and drums overpowering the softer music, and when the whole mass of people, like one body, moves itself between the booths and tents, present a companion piece to the spectacle which the so-called Park-hill affords. It is Naples' "Largo dei Castello," with its dancing apes, shrieking Bajazzoes, the whole deafening jubilee which has been transported to a northern wood. Here also, in the wooden booths, large, tawdry pictures show what delicious plays you may enjoy within. The beautiful female horse-rider stands upon the wooden balcony and cracks with her whip, whilst Harlequin blows the trumpet. Fastened to a perch, large, gay parrots nod over the heads of the multitude. Here stands a miner in his black costume, and exhibits the interior of a mine. He turns his box, and during the music dolls ascend and descend. Another shows the splendid fortress of Frederiksteen: "The whole cavalry and infantry who have endured an unspeakable deal; here a man without a weapon, there a weapon without a man; here a fellow without a bayonet, here a bayonet without a fellow; and yet they are merry and contented, for they have conquered the victory." (Note: Literal translation of the real words of a showman.) Dutch wafer-cake booths, where the handsome Dutch women, in their national costume, wait on the customers, entice old and young. Here a telescope, there a rare Danish ox, and so forth. High up, between the fresh tree boughs, the swings fly. Are those two lovers floating up there? A current of air seizes the girl's dress and shawl, the young man flings his arm round her waist; it is for safety: there is then less danger. At the foot of the hill there is cooking and roasting going on; it seems a complete gypsy-camp. Under the tree sits the old Jew--this is precisely his fiftieth jubilee; through a whole half-century has he sung here his comical Doctor's song. Now that we are reading this he is dead; that characteristic countenance is dust, those speaking eyes are closed, his song forgotten tones. Oehlenschlager, in his "St. John's Eve," has preserved his portrait for us, and it will continue to live, as Master Jakel (Punch), our Danish Thespis, will continue to live. The play and the puppets were transferred from father to son, and every quarter of an hour in the day the piece is repeated. Free nature is the place for the spectators, and after every representation the director himself goes round with the plate.

This was the first spectacle which exhibited itself to the friends. Not far off stood a juggler in peasant's clothes, somewhat advanced in years, with a common ugly countenance. His short sleeves were rolled up, and exhibited a pair of hairy, muscular arms. The crowd, withdrawing from Master Jakel when the plate commenced its wanderings, pushed Otto and Wilhelm forward toward the low fence before the juggler's table.

"Step nearer, my gracious gentlemen, my noble masters!" said the juggler, with an accentuation which betrayed his German birth. He opened the fence; both friends were fairly pushed in and took their places upon the bench, where they, at all events, found themselves out of the crowd.

"Will the noble gentleman hold this goblet?" said the juggler, and handed Otto one from his apparatus. Otto glanced at the man: he was occupied with his art; but Otto's cheek and forehead were colored with a sudden crimson, which was immediately afterward supplanted by a deathly paleness: his hand trembled, but this lasted only a moment; he gathered all his strength of mind together and appeared the same as before.

"That was a very good trick!" said Wilhelm.

"Yes, certainly!" answered Otto; but he had seen nothing whatsoever. His soul was strangely affected. The man exhibited several other tricks, and then approached with the plate. Otto laid down a mark, and then rose to depart. The juggler remarked the piece of money: a smile played about his mouth; he glanced at Otto, and a strange malicious expression lay in the spiteful look which accompanied his loudly spoken thanks: "Mr. Otto Thostrup is always so gracious and good!"

"Does he know you?" asked Wilhelm.

"He has the honor!" grinned the juggler, and proceeded.

"He has exhibited his tricks in the Jutland villages, and upon my father's estate," whispered Otto.

"Therefore an acquaintance of your childhood?" said Wilhelm.

"Of my childhood," repeated Otto, and they made themselves a way through the tumult.

They met with several young noblemen, relatives of Wilhelm, with the cousin who had written the verses for the Christmas tree; also several friends from the carouse, and the company increased. They intended, like many others, to pass the night in the wood, and at midnight drink out of Kirsten Piil's well. "Only with the increasing darkness will it become thoroughly merry here," thought they: but Otto had appointed to be in the city again toward evening. "Nothing will come out of that!" said the poet; "if you wish to escape, we shall bind you fast to one of us."

"Then I carry him away with me on my back," replied Otto; "and still run toward the city. What shall I do here at night in the wood?"

"Be merry!" answered Wilhelm. "Come, give us no follies, or I shall grow restive."

Hand-organs, drums, and trumpets, roared against each other; Bajazzo growled; a couple of hoarse girls sang and twanged upon the guitar: it was comic or affecting, just as one was disposed. The evening approached, and now the crowd became greater, the joy more noisy.

"But where is Otto?" inquired Wilhelm. Otto had vanished in the crowd. Search after him would help nothing, chance must bring them together again. Had he designedly withdrawn himself? no one knew wherefore, no one could dream what had passed within his soul. It became evening. The highway and the foot-path before the park resembled two moving gay ribbons.

In the park itself the crowd perceptibly diminished. It was now the high-road which was become the Park-hill. The carriages dashed by each other as at a race; the people shouted and sung, if not as melodiously as the barcarole of the fisher men below Lido, still with the thorough carnival joy of the south. The steamboat moved along the coasts. From the gardens surrounding the pretty country-houses arose rockets into the blue sky, the Moccoli of the north above the Carnival of the Park.

Wilhelm remained with his young friends in the wood, and there they intended, with the stroke of twelve, to drink out of Kirsten's well. Men and women, girls and boys of the lower class, and jovial young men, meet, after this manner, to enjoy St. John's Eve. Still sounded the music, the swings were in motion, lamps hung out, whilst the new moon shone through the thick tree boughs. Toward midnight the noise died away; only a blind peasant still scratched upon the three strings which were left on his violin; some servant-girls wandered, arm-in-arm, with their sweethearts, and sang. At twelve o'clock all assembled about the well, and drank the clear, ice-cold water. From no great distance resounded, through the still night, a chorus of four manly voices. It was as if the wood gods sang in praise of the nymph of the well.

Upon the hill all was now deserted and quiet. Bajazzo and il Padrone slept behind the thin linen partition, under a coverlid. The moon set, but the night was clear; no clear, frosty winter night has a snore beautiful starry heaven to exhibit. Wilhelm's party was merry, quickly flew the hours away; singing in chorus, the party wandered through the wood, and down toward the strand. The day already dawned; a red streak along the horizon announced its approach.

Nature sang to them the mythos of the creation of the world, even as she had sung it to Moses, who wrote down this voice from God, interpreted by Nature. Light banished the darkness, heaven and earth were parted; at first birds showed themselves in the clear air; later rose the beasts of the field; and, last of all, appeared man.

"The morning is fairly sultry," said Wilhelm; "the sea resembles a mirror: shall we not bathe?"

The proposal was accepted.

"There we have the Naiades already!" said one of the party, as a swarm of fishermen's wives and daughters, with naked feet, their green petticoats tucked up, and baskets upon their backs, in which they carried fish to Copenhagen, came along the road. The gay young fellows cast toward the prettiest glances as warm and glowing as that cast by the sun himself, who, at this moment, came forth and shone over the Sound, where a splendid three-masted vessel had spread all her sails to catch each breeze. The company reached the strand.

"There is some one already swimming out yonder," said Wilhelm. "He stands it bravely. That is an excellent swimmer!"

"Here lie his clothes," remarked another.

"How!" exclaimed Wilhelm: "this is Otto Thostrup's coat! But Otto cannot swim; I have never been able to persuade him to bathe. Now, we will out and make a nearer acquaintance."

"Yes, certainly it is he," said another; "he is now showing his skill."

"Then he must have been all night in the wood," exclaimed Wilhelm. "Yes, indeed, he's a fine bird. Does he fly us? He shall pay for this. Good morning, Otto Thostrup," criedhe; "have you lain all night in the water, or in any other improper place? To quit friends without saying a word does not appertain to the customs of civilized people. Since you, therefore, show yourself such a man of nature, we will carry away your garments; it cannot annoy you in puris naturalibus to seek us out in the wood."

Otto raised his head, but was silent.

"Now, will you not come forth?" cried Wilhelm. "Only kneeling before each of us can you receive the separate articles of your dress, so that you may again appear as a civilized European." And saying this he divided the clothes among the others; each one held an article in his hand.

"Leave such jokes!" cried Otto with singular earnestness. "Lay down the clothes, and retire!"

"Aye, that we will, presently," returned Wilhelm. "You are a fine fellow! You cannot swim, you say. Now, if you should not kneel"--

"Retire!" cried Otto, "or I will swim out into the stream, and not return again!"

"That might be original enough," answered Wilhelm. "Swim forth, or come and kneel here!"

"Wilhelm!" cried Otto, with an affecting sigh, and in a moment swam forth with quick strokes.

"There he shoots away," said one of the party. "How he cuts the waves! He is a splendid swimmer!"

Smiling they gazed over the expanse; Otto swam even farther out.

"But where will he swim to?" exclaimed, somewhat gravely, one of the spectators. "He will certainly lose his strength before he returns the same distance."

They unmoored the boat. Otto swam far out at sea; with quick strokes of the oars they rowed after him.

"Where is he now?" cried Wilhelm shortly afterwards; "I see him no longer."

"Yes, there he comes up again," said another; "but his strength is leaving him."

"On! on!" cried Wilhelm; "he will be drowned if we do not come to his help. Only see--he sinks!"

Otto had lost all power; his head disappeared beneath the water. The friends had nearly reached him; Wilhelm and several of the best swimmers flung from themselves boots and coats, sprang into the sea, and dived under the water. A short and noiseless moment passed. One of the swimmers appeared above water. "He is dead!" were the first words heard. Wilhelm and the three others now appeared with Otto; the boat was near oversetting as they brought him into it. Deathly pale lay he there, a beautifully formed marble statue, the picture of a young gladiator fallen in the arena.

The friends busied themselves about him, rubbing his breast and hands, whilst two others rowel toward the land.

"He breathes!" said Wilhelm.

Otto opened his eyes; his lips moved; his gaze became firmer; a deep crimson spread itself over his breast and countenance; he raised himself and Wilhelm supported him. Suddenly a deep sigh burst from his breast; he thrust Wilhelm from him, and, like a madman, seized an article of dress to cover himself with; then, with a convulsive trembling of the lips, he said to Wilhelm, who held his hand, "I HATE YOU!"

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