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THE PUPPET SHOWMAN

 

ON board the steamer was an elderly man with such a merry face thatif it did not belie himhe must have been the happiest fellow in creationAndindeedhe declared the happiest manI heard it out of his own mouthHe was a Danea countryman of mineand a traveling theater directorHe had all his company with him in a large boxfor he was proprietor a puppet-showHis inborn cheerfulnesshe saidhad been purified by a ytechnic candidate and the experiment had made him completely happyI did not at first understand all thisbut afterwards he explained the whole story to meand here it is

It was in the little town of slagelse I gave a performance in the hall of the posthouse and had a brilliant audienceentirely a juvenile onewith the exception of two old ladiesAll at once a person in blackof student-like appearancecame into the room and sat downhe laughed aloud at the telling partsand applauded quite appropriatelyThat was quite an unusual spectator for meI felt anxious to know who he wasand I heard he was a candidate from the Polytechnic Institution in Copenhagenwho had been sent out to instruct the folks in the provinces

At eight o'clock my performance closedfor children must go early to bedand a manager must consult the convenience of his publicAt nine o'clock the candidate commenced his lecturewith experimentsand now I formed part of his audience It was wonderful to hear and to seeThe greater part of it went over my head and into the clergyman'sas one saysbut still it made me think that if we can find out so muchwe must be surely intended to last longer than the little span until we are hidden away in the earthThey were quite miracles in a small way that he showedand yet altogether genuinestraight out of natureAt the time of Moses and the prophets such a man would have been received among the sages of the landin the Middle Ages they would have burned him at a stakeAll night long I could not go to sleep And the next eveningwhen I gave another performanceand the candidate was again presentI felt fairly overflowing with humorI once heard from a player that when he acted a lover he always thought of one particular lady among the audiencehe only played for herand forgot all the rest of the houseand now the Polytechnic candidate was myshe’, my only spectatorfor whom alone I playedAnd when the performance was overall the puppets were called before the curtainand the Polytechnic candidate invited me into his room to take a glass of wineand he spoke of my comediesand I of his scienceand I believe we were both equally pleasedBut I had the best of it for there was much in what he did of which he could not always give me an explanationFor instancethat a piece of iron that falls through a spiral should become magneticNowhow does that happenThe spirit comes upon itbut whence does it comeIt is as with people in this worldthey are made to tumble through the spiral of the timeand the spirit comes upon themand there stands a Napoleonor spirit comes up a Lutheror a person of that kind

The whole world is a series of miracles'said the candidate;‘but we are so accustomed to them that we call them everyday matters.’

And he went on explaining things to me until my skull seemed lifted up over my brainand I declared that if I were not an old fellow I would at once go to the polytechnic Institutionthat I might learn to look at the seamy side of the worldthough I am one of the happiest of men

“‘ One of the happiest'said the candidateand he seemed to take real pleasure in it.‘Are you happy?’

“‘Yes,’I replied,‘and they welcome me in all the towns where I come with my companybut I certainly have one wishwhich sometimes comes over melike a nightmare and rides upon my good humorI should like to become a real theatrical managerthe director of a real troupe of men and women!’

“‘I see,’he said,‘ you would like to have life breathed into your puppetsso that they might be real actorsand you their directorand would you then be quite happy?’

He did not believe itbut I believe itand we talked it over all manner of ways without coming any nearer to an agreementbut we clinked our glasses togetherand the wine was excellentThere was some magic in itor I should certainly have become tipsyBut that did not happenI retained my clear view of thingsand somehow there was sunshine in the roomand sunshine beamed out of the eyes of the Polytechnic candidateIt made me think of the old godsin their eternal youthwhen they still wandered earthand I said so to himand he smiledand I could have sworn he was one of the ancient gods in disguiseor one of the familyAnd certainly he must have been something of the kindfor in my highest wish was to be fulfilledthe puppets were to be gifted with lifeand I was to be director of a real company

We drank to my success clinked our glassesHe packed all my dolls into a boxbound the box on my backand then let me fall through a spiralI can still hear how I dumped downand then I was lying on the floor——I know that well——and the whole company sprang out of the boxThe spirit had come upon all of usall the puppets had become distinguished artistsso they said themselvesand I was the directorAll was ready for the first Performancethe whole company wanted to speak to meand the public also

The dancing lady said the house would fall down if she did not stand on one legfor she was the great geniusand begged to be treated as suchThe lady who acted the queen wished to be treated off the stage as a queenor else she should get out of practice

The man who was only employed to deliver a letter gave himself just as many airs as the first loverfor he declared the little ones were just as important as the great onesand all were of equal consequenceconsidered in an artistic wholeThe hero would only play parts composed of nothing but pointsfor those brought down the applauseThe prima donna would only play in a red light for she declared that a blue one did not suit her complexion

It was like a company of flies in a bottleand I was in the bottle with themfor I was the directorMy breath stopped and my head whirled roundI was as miserable as a man can beIt was quite a novel kind of men among whom I now found myselfI only wished I had them all in the box againand that I had never been a director at allso I told them roundly that after all they were nothing but puppetsand then they killed me

I found myself lying on my bed in my roomand how I got thereand how I got away at all from the Polytechnic candidatehe may perhaps knowfor I don'tThe moon shone upon the floor where the box lay openand the dolls all in a confusion together——great and small all scattered aboutbut I was not slowOut of bed I jumpedand into the box they all had to gosome on their headssome on their feetand I shut down the lid and seated myself upon the box

“‘Now you'll just have to stay there'said I,‘and I shall beware how I wish you flesh and blood again.’

I felt quite lightmy good humor had come backand I was the happiest of mortalsThe Polytechnic student had fully purified meI sat as happy as a king and went to sleep on the boxThe next morning——strictly speaking it was noonfor I slept wonderfully late that day——I was still sitting therehappy and conscious that my former wish had been a foolish oneI inquired for the Polytechnic candidatebut he was gonelike the Greek and Roman godsand from that time I've been the happiest of men

I am a happy directornone of my company ever grumblenor my public eitherfor they are always merryI can put my pieces together just as I pleaseI take out of every comedy what pleases me bestand no one is angry at itPieces that are neglected nowadays at the great theatersbut which the public used to run after thirty years agoand at which it used to cry till the tears ran down its cheeksthese pieces I now take upI put them before the little onesand the little ones cry just as papa and mamma used to crybut I shorten themfor the youngsters don't like a long palaver of a love storywhat they want is something mournfulbut quick

Now I have through all Denmark in every manner of wayI know all people and am known in re-turnnow I am on my way to Swedenand if I am successful thereand make out of itI shall be a zealous Scandinavian——not otherwiseI tell you that because you are my countryman

And Ibeing his countrymanof course immediately tell it againjust for the pleasure of telling it

 


 

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