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OLE THE TOWER-KEEPER

 

IN the world it's always going up and downand now I can't go up any higher!”[So said Ole the tower-keeper.]“Most people have to try both the ups and the downsandrightly consideredwe all get to be watchmen at lastand look down upon life from a height.”

Such was the speech of Olemy friendthe old tower-keeperan amusing talkative old fellowwho seemed to speak out everything that came into his headand who for all that had many a serious thought deep in his heartYeshe was the child of respectable peopleand there were even some who said that he was the son of a privy councilloror that he might have beenhe had studied tooand had been assistant teacher and deputy clerkbut of what service was all that to himIn those days he lived in the dean's houseand was to have everything in the houseto be at free quartersas the saying isbut he was stillso to speaka fine young gentlemanHe wanted to have his boots cleaned with patent blackingand the dean would only give ordinary greaseand upon that point they splitone spoke of stinginessthe other of vanityand the blacking became the black cause of enmity between themand at last they parted

But what he demanded from the dean he also demanded from the worldnamelypatent blackingand he got nothing but greaseAccordingly he at last drew back from all menand became a hermitbut the church tower is the only place in a great city where hermitageofficeand bread can be found togetherSo he betook himself up thitherand smoked his pipe on his solitary roundsHe looked upward and downwardand had his own thoughtsand told in his way of what he saw and did not seeof what he read in books and in himselfI often lent him booksgood booksand you may know a man by the company he keepsHe loved neither the English governess-novelsnor the French oneswhich he called a mixture of empty wind and raisin-stalkshe wanted biographies and descriptions of the wonders of the worldI visited him at least once a yeargenerally directly after New Year's Dayand then he always spoke of this and that which the change of the year had put into his head

I will tell the story of two of these visitsand will give his own words if I can do so

 

FIRST VISIT

 

Among the books which I had lately lent Olewas one about cobble-stoneswhich had greatly rejoiced and occupied him

Yesthey're rare old fellowsthose cobble-stoneshe said;“and to think that we should pass them without noticing themI have often done that myself in the fields and on the beachwhere they lie in great numbersAnd over the street pavementthose fragments of the oldest remains of antiquityone walks without ever thinking about themI have done the very thing myselfBut now I look respectfully at every paving-stoneMany thanks for the bookIt has filled me with thoughthas pushed old thoughts and habits asideand has made me long to read more on the subjectThe romance of the earth isafter allthe most wonderful of all romancesIt's a pity one can't read the first volumes of itbecause they're written in a language that we don't understandOne must read in the different stratain the pebble-stonesfor each separate periodAnd it is only in the sixth volume that the human personages first appearAdam and Evethat is a little too late for some readersthey would like to have them at oncebut it is all the same to meYesit is a romancea very wonderful romanceand we all have our place in itWe grope and ferret aboutand yet remain where we arebut the ball keeps turningwithout emptying the ocean over usthe crust we walk upon holds togetherand does not let us throughAnd then it's a story that has been acting for millions of yearswith constant progressMy best thanks for the book about the cobble-stonesThose are fellows indeedThey could tell us something worth hearingif they only knew how to talkIt's really a pleasurenow and then to become a mere nothingespecially when a man is as highly placed as I amAnd then to think that we alleven with patent lacquerare nothing more than insects of a moment on that anthill the earththough we may be in-sects with stars and gartersplaces and officesOne feels quite a novice beside these venerable million-year-old cob-ble-stonesOn last Mew Year's Eve I was reading the bookand had lost myself in it so completelythat I forgot my usual New Year's diversionnamelythe wild hunt to AmagerAhyou don't know what that is

The journey of the witches on broomsticks is well enough knownthat journey is taken on StJohn's Eveto the Brokenbut we have a wild journey alsowhich is national and modernand that is the journey to Amager on the eve of the New YearAll indifferent poets and poetessesmusiciansnewspaper writersand artistic notabilitiesI mean those who are no goodride in the New Year's Eve through the air to AmagerThey sit astride on their painting brushes or quill pensfor steel pens won't bear themthey're too stiffAs I told youI see it every New Year's Eveand could mention most of them by namebut I should not like to draw their enmity upon myselffor they don't like people to talk about their ride to Amager on quill pensI've a kind of niecewho is a fishwifeand whoas she tells mesupplies three respectable newspaing brushes or quill pensfor steel pens won't bear themthey're too stiffAs I told youI see it every New Year's Eveand could mention most of them by namebut I should not like to draw their enmity upon myselffor they don't like people to talk about their ride to Amager on quill pensI've a kind of niecewho is a fishwifeand whoas she tells mesupplies three respectable newspapers with the terms of abuse they useand she has herself been there as an invited guestbut she was carried out thitherfor she does not own a quill pennor can she rideShe has told me all about itHalf of what she says is not truebut the half is quite enough

When she was out therethe festivities began with a songeach of the guests had written his own songand each one sang his own songfor he thought that the bestand it was all oneall the same melodyThen those came marching upin little bandswho are only busy with their monthsThere were ringing bells that sang alternatelyand then came the little drummers that beat their tattoo in the family circleand acquaintance was made with those who write without putting their nameswhich here means as much as using grease instead of patent blackingand then there was the hangman with his boyand the boy was the smartestotherwise he would not be noticedthen too there was the good street-sweeper with his cartwho turns over the dust-binand calls itgoodvery goodremarkably good.’And in the midst of the pleasure there shot up out of the great dirt-heap a stema treean immense flowera great mushrooma perfect roofwhich formed a sort of storehouse for the worthy companyfor in it hung everything they had given to the world during the Old YearOut of the tree poured sparks like flames of firethese were the ideas and thoughtsborrowed from otherswhich they had usedand which now got free and rushed away like so many fireworksThey played atthe fuse burns,’and the young poets played atheart-burns,’and the witlings played off their jestsand the jests rolled away with a thundering soundas if empty pots were being shattered against doors.‘It was very amusing'my niece saidin factshe said many things that were very malicious but very amusingbut I won't mention themfor a man must be good-natured and not a carping criticBut you will easily perceive that when a man once knows the rights of the festival out thereas I know themit's quite natural that on the New Year's Eve one should look out to see the wild chase go byIf in the New Year I miss certain persons who used to be thereI am sure to notice others who are new arrivalsbut this year I omitted taking my look at the guestsI bowled away on the cobble-stonesrolled back through millions of yearsand saw the stones break loose high up in the Northsaw them drifting about on icebergslong before Noah's ark was constructedsaw them sink down to the bottom of the seaand reappear again on a sand-bankthe one that stuck up out of the water and said,‘This shall be Zealand!’I saw them become the dwelling-place of birds that are unknown to usand then became the seat of wild chiefs of whom we know nothinguntil with their axes they cut their Runic signs into a few of these stoneswhich then came into the calendar of timeBut as for meI had quite gone out of itand had become a nothing

Then three or four beautiful falling stars came downwhich cleared the airand gave my thoughts another directionYou know what a falling star isdo you notThe learned men are not at all clear about itI have my own ideas about shooting starsand my idea is thisHow often are silent thanksgivings offered up for one who has done a good and noble actionThe thanks are often speechlessbut they are not lost for all thatI think these thanks are caught upand the sunbeams bring the silenthidden thankfulness over the head of the benefactorand if it be a whole people that has been expressing its gratitude through a long lapse of timethe thankfulness appears as a nosegay of flowersand falls in the form of a shooting star over the good man's graveI am always very much pleased when I see a shooting starespecially in the New Year's Eveand then find out for whom the gift of gratitude was intendedLately a gleaming star fell in the southwestas a tribute of thanksgiving to manymany!‘For whom was that star in-tended'thought IIt fellno doubton the hill by the Bay of Flensborgwhere the Danebrog waves over the graves of SchleppegrellLaessoeand their comradesOne star also fell in the midst of the landfell upon soroa flower on the grave of Holbergthe thanks of the year from a great manythanks for his charming plays

It is a great and pleasant thought to know that a shooting star falls upon our graveson mine certainly none will fallno sunbeam brings thanks to mefor here there is nothing worthy of thanksI shall not get the patent lacquer,”said Ole;“for my fate on earth is only greaseafter all.”

 

SECOND VISIT

 

It was New Year's Dayand I went up the towerOle spoke of the toasts that were drunk at the passing of the Old Year into the NewAnd he told me a story about the glassesand this story had a very deep meaningIt was this

When on the New Year's Eve the clock strikes twelvethe people at the table rise up with full glasses in their handsand drink success to the New YearThey begin the year with the glass in their handsthat is a good beginning for topersThey begin the New Year by going to bedand that's a good beginning for dronesSleep is sure to play a great part in the course of the yearand the glass likewiseDo you know what dwells in the glass?”asked Ole.“There dwell in the glasshealthpleasure and the wildest delightand misfortune and the bitterest woe dwell there alsoNow suppose we count the glassesof course I count the different degrees in the glasses for different people

You seethe first glassthat's the glass of healthand in that the herb of health is found growingput it up on the beam in the ceilingand at the end of the year you may be sitting in the arbour of health

If you take the second glassfrom this a little bird soars upwardstwittering in guileless cheerfulnessso that a man may listen to his song and perhaps join in,‘Fair is lifeNo downcast lookTake courage and march onward!’

Out of the third glass rises a little winged urchinwho cannot certainly be called an angel-childfor there is goblin blood in his veinsand he has the spirit of a goblinnot wishing to hurt or harm youindeedbut very ready to play off tricks upon youHe'll sit at your ear and whisper merry thoughts to youhe'll creep into your heart and warm youso that you grow very merry and be-come a witso far as the wits of the others can judge

In the fourth glass is neither herbbirdnor urchinin that glass is the pause drawn by reasonand one may never go beyond that sign

Take the fifth glassand you will weep at yourselfyou will feel such a deep emotionor it will affect you in a different wayOut of the glass there will spring with a bang Prince Carnivalimpertinent and extravagantly merryhe'll draw you away with himyou'll forget your dignityif you have anyand you'll forget more than you should or ought to forgetAll is dancesongand soundthe masks will carry you away with themand the daughters of vanityclad in silk and satinwill come with loose hair and alluring charms;—tear yourself away if you can

The sixth glassYesin that glass sits a demonin the form of a littlewell-dressedattractive and very fascinating manwho thoroughly understands youagrees with you in everythingand becomes quite a second self to youHe has a lantern with himto give you light as he accompanies you homeThere is an old legend about a saint who was allowed to choose one of the seven deadly sinsand who accordingly chose drunkennesswhich appeared to him the leastbut which led him to commit all the other sixThe man's blood is mingled with that of the demonit is the sixth glassand with that the germ of all evil shoots up within usand each one grows up with a strength like that of the grains of mustard seedand shoots up into a treeand spreads over the whole worldand most people have no choice but to go into the ovento be recast in a new form

That's the history of the glasses,”said the towerkeeper Ole,“and it can be told with lacquer or only with greasebut I give it you with both!”

That was my second visit to Oleand if you want to hear about more of themthen the visits must becontinued

 


 

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