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THE BOTTLE-NECK

 

IN a narrow crooked streetamong other abodes of povertystood an especially narrow and tall house huilt of timberwhich had given way in every directionThe house was inhabited by poor peopleand the deepest poverty was in the garret-lodging in the gablewherein front of the only windowhung an old bent birdcagewhich had not even a proper water-glassbut only a Bottle-neck reversedwith a cork stuck in the mouthand filled with waterAn old maid stood by the windowshe had hung the cage with green chickweedand a little chaffinch hopped from perch to perchand sang and twittered merrily enough

Yesit's all very will for you to sing,”said the Bottle-neckthat is to sayit did not pronounce the words as we can speak themfor a bottle-neck can't speakbut that's what he thought to himself in his own mindas when we people talk quietly to ourselves.“Yesit's all very well for you to singyou that have all your limbs uninjuredYou ought to feel what it's like to lose one's bodyand to have only mouth and neck leftand that with a cork into the bargainas in my caseand then I'm sure you would not singBut after all it is well that there should be somebody at least who is merryI've no reason to singandmoreoverI can't singYeswhen I was a whole bottleI sang out well if they rubbed me with a corkThey used to call me a perfect larta magnificent larkAhwhen I was out at a picnic with the tanner's familyand his daughter was betrothedYesI remember it as if it had happened only yesterdayI have gone through a great dealWhen I come to recollectI've been in the fire and the waterhave been deep in the black earthand have mounted higher than most of the othersand now I'm hanging hereoutside the birdcagein the air and the sunshineOhit would be quite worth while to hear my historybut I don't speak aloud of itbecause I can't.”

And now the Bottleneck told its storywhich was sufficiently remarkableIt told the story to itselfor only thought it in its own mindand the little bird sang his song merrilyand down in the street there was driving and burryingand every one thought of his own affairsor perhaps of nothing at allbut the Bottle-neck did thinkIt thought of the flaming furnace in the manufactorywhere it had been blown into lifeit still remembered that it had been quite warmthat it had glanced into the hiss-in furnacethe home of its originand had felt a great desire to leap directly back againbut that gradually it had become coolerand had been very comfortable in the place to which it was takenIt had stood in a rank with a whole regiment of brothers and sistersall out of the same furnacesome of them had certainly been blown into champagne bottlesand others into beer bottlesand that makes a differenceLaterout in the worldit may well happen that a beer bottle may contain the most precious wineand a champagne bottle be filled with blackingbut even in decay there is always something left by which people can see what one has beennobility is nobilityeven when filled with blacking

All the bottles were packed upand our bottle was among themAt that time it did not think to finish its career as a bottle-neckor that it should work its way up to be a bird's glasswhich is always an honourable thingfor one is of some consequenceafter allThe bottle did not again behold the light of day till it was unpacked with the other bottles in the cellar of the wine merchantand rinsed out for the first timeand that was a strange sensationThere it layempty and without a corkand felt strangely unwellas if it wanted somethingit could not tell whatAt last it was filled with good costly wineand was provided with a corkand sealed downA ticket was placed on it markedfirst quality”;and it felt as if it had carried off the first prize at an examinationforyou seethe wine was good and the bottle was goodWhen one is youngthat's the time for poetryThere was a singing and sounding within itof things which it could not understandof green sunny mountainswhereon the grape growswhere many vine dressersmen and womensing and dance and rejoice.“Ahhow beautiful is life!”There was a singing and sounding of all this in the bottleas in a young poet's brainand many a young poet does not understand the meaning of the song that is within him

One morning the bottle was boughtfor the tanner's apprentice was dispatched for a bottle of wine—“of the best.”And now it was put in the provision basketwith ham and cheese and sausagesthe finest butter and the best bread were put into the basket toothe tanner's daughter herself packed itShe was young and very prettyher brown eyes laughedand round her mouth played a smile which said just as much as her eyesShe had delicate handsbeautifully whiteand her neck was whiter stillyou saw at once that she was one of the most beautiful girls in the townand still she was not engaged

The provision basket was in the lap of the young girl when the family drove out into the forestThe bottle-neck looked out from the folds of the white napkinThere was red wax upon the corkand the bottle looked straight into the girl's faceIt also looked at the young sailor who sat next to the girlHe was a friend of old daysthe son of the portrait painterQuite lately he had passed with honour through his examination as mateand tomorrow he was to sail away in a shipfar off to a distant landThere had been much talk of this while the basket was being packedand certainly the eves and mouth of the tanner's pretty daughter did not wear a very joyous expression just then

The young people sauntered through the greenwoodand talked to one anotherWhat were they talking ofNothe bottle could not hear thatfor it was in the provision basketA long time passed before it was drawn forthbut when that happenedthere had been pleasant things going onfor all were laughingand the tanner's daughter laughed toobut she spoke less than beforeand her cheeks glowed like two roses

The father took the full bottle and the corkscrew in his handYesit's a strange thing to be drawn thusthe first timeThe Bottle-neck could never afterwards forget that impressive momentand indeed there was quite a con-vulsion within him when the cork flew outand a great throbbing as the wine poured forth into the glasses

Health to the betrothed pair!”cried the papaAnd every glass was emptied to the bottomand the young mate kissed his beautiful bride

Happiness and blessingsaid the two old peopleAnd the young man filled the glasses again

Safe returnand a wedding this day next year!”he criedand when the glasses were emptiedhe took the bottleraised it on highand said,“The hast been pre-sent at the happiest day of my lifethou shalt never serve another!”

And so sayinghe hurled it high into the airThe tanner's daughter did not then think that she should see the bottle fly againand yet it was to be soIt then fell into the thick reeds on the margin of a little woodland lakeand the Bottle-neck could remember quite plainly how it lay there for sometime

I gave them wineand they give me marsh water,”he said:“but it is well meant.”

He could no longer see the betrothed couple and the cheerful old peoplesbut for a long time be could hear them rejoicing and singingThen at last came two peasant boysand looked into the reedsthey spied out the bottleand took it upand now it was provided for

At their homein the wooden cottagethe eldest of three brotherswho was a sailorand about to start on a long voyagehad been the day before to take leaveThe mother was just engaged in packing up various things he was to take with him upon his journeyand which the father was going to carry into the town that evening to see his son once moreto give him a farewell greeting from the lad's mother and himselfand a little bottle of medicated brandy had already been wrapped up in a parcelwhen the boys came in with the larger and stronger bottle which they had foundThis bottle would hold more than the little oneand they pronounced that the brandy would be capital for a bad digestioninasmuch as it was mixed with medical herbsThe draught that was poured into the bottle was not so good as the red wine with which it had once been filledthese were bitter thoughtsbut even these are sometimes goodThe new big bottle was to goand not the little oneand so the bottle went travelling againIt was taken on board for Peter Jensenin the very same ship in which the young mate sailedBut he did not see the bottleandindeedhe would not have known itor thought it was the same one out of which had been drunk a health to the betrothed pair and to his own happy return

Certainly it had no longer wine to givebut still it contained something that was just as goodAccordinglywhenever Peter Jensen brought it outit was dubbed by his messmates The ApothecaryIt contained the best medicinemedicine that strengthened the weakand it gave liberally so long as it hid a drop leftThat was a pleasant timeand the bottle sang when it was rubbed with the corkand it was called the Great Lark,“Peter Jensen's Lark.”

Long days and months rolled onand the bottle al-ready stood empty in a cornerwhen it happenedwhether on the passage out or home the bottle could not tellfor it had never been ashorethat a storm arosegreat waves came careering alongdarkly and heavilyand lifted and tossed the ship to and froThe mainmast was shiveredand a wave started one of the planksand the pumps became uselessIt was black nightThe ship sankbut at the last moment the young mate wrote on a leaf of paper,“God's will be doneWe are sinking!”He wrote the name of his betrothedand his own nameand that of the shipand put the leaf in an empty bottle that happened to be at handhe corked it firmly downand threw it out into the foaming seaHe knew not that it was the very bottle from which the goblet of joy and hope had once been filled for him and for herand now it was tossing on the waves with his last greeting and the message of death

The ship sankand the crew sank with herThe bottle sped on like a birdfor it bore a hearta loving letterwithin itselfAnd the sun rose and setand the bottle felt as at the timewhen it first came into being in the red gleaming ovenit felt a strong desire to leap back into the light

It experienced calms and fresh stormsbut it was hurled against no rockand was devoured by no sharkand thus it drifted on for a year and a daysometimes towards the northsometimes towards the southjust as the current carried itBeyond this it was its own masterbut one may grow tired even of that

The written pagethe last farewell of the sweetheart to his betrothedwould only bring sorrow if it came into her handsbut where were the handsso white and delicatewhich had once spread the cloth on the fresh grass in the greenwoodon the betrothal dayWhere was the tanner's daughterYeswhere was the landand which land might be nearest to ber dwellingThe bottle knew notit drove onward and onwardand was at last tired of wanderingbecause that was not in its waybut yet it had to travel until at last it came to landto a strange landIt understood not a word of what was spoken herefor this was not the language it had heard spoken beforeand one loses a good deal if one does not understand the language

The bottle was fished out and examinedThe leaf of paper within it was discoveredand taken outand turned over and overbut the people did not understand what was written thereonThey saw that the bottle must have been thrown overboardand that something about this was written on the paperbut what were the wordsThat question remained unansweredand the paper was put back into the bottleand the latter was deposited in a great cupboard in a great room in a great house

Whenever strangers camethe paper was brought out and turned over and overso that the inscriptionwhich was only written in pencilbecame more and more illegibleso that at last no one could see that there were letters on itAnd for a whole year more the bottle remained standing in the cupboardand then it was put into the loftwhere it became covered with dust and cobwebsThen it thought of the better daysthe times when it had poured forth red wine in the greenwoodwhen it had been rocked on the waves of the seaand when it had carried a secreta lettera parting sigh

For full twenty years it stood up in the loftand it might have remained there longerbut that the house was to be rebuiltThe roof was taken offand then the bottle was noticedand they spoke about itbut it did not understand their languagefor one cannot learn a language by being shut up in a lofteven if one stays there twenty years

If I had been down in the room,”thought the Bottle,“I might have learned it.”

It was now washed and rinsedand indeed this was requisiteIt felt quite transparent and freshand as if its youth had been renewed in this its old agebut the paper it had carried so faithfully had been destroyed in the wash-in

The bottle was filled with seedsit did not know the kindIt was corked and well wrapped upIt saw neither lantern nor candleto say nothing of sun or moonand yetit thoughtwhen one goes on a journey one ought to see somethingbut though it saw nothingit did what was most importantit travelled to the place of its destinationand was there unpacked

What trouble they have taken over yonder with that bottle!”it heard people say;“and yet it is most likely broken.”But it was not broken

The bottle understood every word that was now saidthis was the language it had heard at the furnaceand at the wine merchant'sand in the forestand in the shipthe only good old language it understoodit had come back homeand the language was as a salutation of welcome to itFor very joy it felt ready to jump out of people's handshardly did it notice that its cork had been drawnand that it had been emptied and carried into the cellarto be placed there and forgottenThere's no place like homeeven if it's in a cellarIt never occurred to the bottle to think how long it lay therefor it felt comfortableand ac-cordingly lay there for yearsAt last people came down into the cellar to carry off all the bottlesand ours among the rest

Out in the garden there was a great festivalFlaming lamps hung like garlandsand paper lanterns shone transparentlike great tulipsThe evening was lovelythe weather still and clearthe stars twinkledit was the time of the new moonbut in reality the whole moon could be seen as a bluishgrey disk with a golden rim round half its surfacewhich was a very beautiful sight for those who had good eyes

The illumination extended even to the most retired of the garden walksat leastso much of it that one could find one's way thereAmong the leaves of the bedges stood bottleswith a light in eachand among them was also the bottle we knowand which was destined one day to finish its career as a bottle-necka bird's drinking-glass

Everything here appeared lovely to our bottlefor it was once more in the greenwoodamid joy and feastingand heard song and musicand the noise and murmur of a crowdespecially in that part of the garden where the lamps blazed and the paper lanterns displayed their many coloursThus it stoodin a distant walk certainlybut that made it the more importantfor it bore its lightand was at once ornamental and usefuland that is as it should bein such an hour one forgets twenty years spent in a loftand it is right one should do so

There passed close to it a pairlike the pair who had walked together long ago in the woodthe sailor and the tanner's daughterthe bottle seemed to experience all that over againIn the garden were walking not only the guestsbut other people who were allowed to view all the splendourand among these latter came an old maid with-out kindredbut not without friendsShe was just think-inlike the bottleof the greenwoodand of a young betrothed pairof a pair which concerned her very nearlya pair in which she had an interestand of which she had been a part in that happiest hour of her lifethe hour one never forgetsif one should become ever so old a maidBut she did not know the bottleand it did not know herit is thus we pass each other in the worldmeeting again and againas these two metnow that they were together again in the same town

From the garden the bottle was dispatched once more to the wine merchant'swhere it was filled with wine and sold to the aeronautwho was to make an ascent in his balloon on the following SundayA great crowd had as-sembled to witness the sightmilitary music had been providedand many other preparations had been madeThe bottle saw everything from a basket in which it lay next to a live rabbitwhich latter was quite bewildered because he knew he was to be taken up into the airand let down again in a parachutebut the bottle knew nothing of theupor thedown”;it only saw the balloon swelling up bigger and biggerand at lastwhen it could swell no morebeginning to riseand to grow more and more restlessThe ropes that held it were cutand the huge machine floated aloft with the aeronaut and the bas-ket containing the bottle and the rabbitand the music soundedand all the people cried,“Hurrah!”

This is a wonderful passageup into the air!”thought the Bottle;“this is a new way of sailingat any rateup here we cannot strike upon anything.”

Thousands of people gazed up at the balloonand theold maid looked up at it alsoshe stood at the open window of the garretin which hung the cagewith the little chaffinchwho had no water-glass as yetbut was obliged to be content with an old cupIn the window stood a myrtle in a potand it had been put a little aside that it might not fall outfor the old maid was leaning out of the window to lookand she distinctly saw the aeronaut in the balloonand how he let down the rabbit in the parachuteand then drank to the health of all the spectatorsand at length hurled the bottle high in the airshe never thought that this was the identical bottle which she had already once seen thrown aloft in honour of her and of her friend on the day of rejoicing in the greenwoodin the time of her youth

The bottle had no time for thoughtfor it was quite startled at thus suddenly reaching the highest point in its careerSteeples and roofs lay farfar beneathand the people looked like mites

But now it began to descend with a much more rapid fall than that of the rabbitthe bottle threw somersaults in the airand felt quite youngand quite free and unfetteredand yet it was half full of winethough it did not remain so for longWhat a journeyThe sun shone on the bottleall the people were looking at itthe balloon was already far awayand soon the bottle was far away toofor it fell upon a roof and brokebut the pieces had got such an impetus that they could not stop themselvesbut went jumping and rolling on till they came down into the court-yard and lay there in smaller pieces yetonly the Bottle-neck managed to keep wholeand that was cut off as if it had been done with a diamond

That would do capitally for a bird-glass.”said the cellar-manbut he had neither a bird nor a cageand to expect him to provide both because they had found a bottleneck that might be made available for a glasswould have been expecting too muchbut the old maid in the garretperhaps it might be useful to herand now the Bottle-neck was taken up to herand was provided with a corkThe part that had been uppermost was now turned downwardsas often happens when changes take placefresh water was poured into itand it was fastened to the cage of the little birdwhich sang and twittered right merrily

Yesit's very well for you to sing,”said the Bottleneck

And it was considered remarkable for having been in the balloonfor that was all they knew of its historyNow it hung there as a bird-glassand heard the murmur-in and noise of the people in the street belowand also the words of the old maid in the room withinAn old friend had just come to visit herand they talkednot of the Bottle-neckbut about the myrtle in the window

Noyou certainly must not spend two dollars for your daughter's bridal wreath,”said the old maid.“You shall have a beautiful little nosegay from mefull of blossomsDo you see how splendidly that tree has come onYesthat has been raised from a spray of the myrtle you gave me on the day after my betrothaland from which I was to have made my own wreath when the year was pastbut that day never cameThe eyes closed that were to have been my joy and delight through lifeIn the depths of the sea he sleeps sweetlymy dear oneThe myrtle has become an old treeand I have become a yet older womanand when it faded at lastI took the last green shootand planted it in the groundand it has become a great treeand now at length the myrtle will serve at the weddingas a wreath for your daughter.”

There were tears in the eyes of the old maidShe spoke of the beloved of her youthof their betrothal in the woodmany thoughts came to herbut the thought never came thatquite close to herbefore the very windowwas a remembrance of those timesthe neck of the bottle which had shouted for joy when the cork flew out with a bang on the betrothal dayBut the Bottleneck did not recognize her eitherfor he was not listening to what she saidpartly because it only thought about itself

 


 

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