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THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE CHIMNEY-SWEEPER

 

HAVE you ever seen a very old wooden cupboard, quite black with age, and ornamented with carved foliage and arabesques? Just such a cupboard stood in a parlour: it had been a legacy from the great-grandmother, and was covered from top to bottom with carved roses and tulips. There were the quaintest flourishes upon it, and from among these peered forth little stags' heads with antlers. In the middle of the cupboard door an entire figure of a man had been cut out: he was certainly ridiculous to look at, and he grinned, for you could not call it laughing: he had goat's legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard. The children in the room always called him the Billygoate-legs-Lieutenant-and-Major-General-War-Com- mander-Sergeant; that was a difficult name to pronounce, and there are not many who obtain this title; but it was something to have cut him out. And there he was! He was always looking at the table under the mirror, for on this table stood a lovely little Shepherdess made of china. Her shoes were gilt, her dress was neatly caught up with a red rose, and besides this she had a golden hat and a shepherd's crook: she was very lovely. Close by her stood a little Chimney-Sweeper, black as a coal, but also made of porcelain: he was as clean and neat as any other man, for it was only make-believe that he was a sweep; the china-workers might just as well have made a prince of him, if they had been so minded.

There he stood very nattily with his ladder, and with a face as white and pink as a girl's; and that was really a fault, for he ought to have been a little black. He stood quite close to the Shepherdess: they had both been placed where they stood; but as they had been placed there they had become engaged to each other. They suited each other well. Both were young people, both made of the same kind of china, and both equally frail.

Close to them stood another figure, three times greater than they. This was an old Chinaman, who could nod. He was also of porcelain, and declared himself to be the grandfather of the little Shepherdess; but he could not prove his relationship. He declared he had authority over her, and that therefore he had nodded to Mr. Billygoatlegs-Lieutenant-and-Major-General-War-Commander- Sergeant, who was wooing her for his wife.

Then you will get a husband!said the old Chinaman, a man who I verily believe is made of mahogany. He can make you Billygoat-legs-Lieutenant-and-Major-General-War-Commander-Sergeantess: he has the whole cupboard full of silver plate, besides what he hoards up in secret drawers.

I won't go into the dark cupboard!said the little Shepherdess.I have heard tell that he has eleven porcelain wives in there.

Then you may become the twelfth,cried the Chinaman.This night, so soon as it creaks in the old cupboard, you shall be married, as true as I am an old Chinaman!

And with that he nodded his head and fell asleep. But the little Shepherdess wept and looked at her heart's beloved, the porcelain Chimney-Sweeper.

I should like to beg of you,said she,to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot remain here.

I'll do whatever you like,replied the little Chimney-Sweeper.Let us start directly! I think I can keep you by exercising my profession.

If we were only safely down from the table! said she.I shall not be happy until we are out in the wide world.

And he comforted her, and showed her how she must place her little foot upon the carved corners and the gilded foliage down the leg of the table; he brought his ladder, too, to help her, and they were soon together upon the floor. But when they looked up at the old cupboard there was great commotion within: all the carved stag were stretching out their heads, rearing up their antlers, and turning their necks; and the Billygoat-legs-Lieutenant-and- Major-General-War-Commander-Sergeant sprang high in the air, and called across to the old Chinaman,

Now they're running away! now they're running away!

Then they were a little frightened, and jumped quickly into the drawer of the window-seat. Here were three or four packs of cards which were not complete, and a little puppet-show, which had been built up as well as it could be done. There plays were acted, and all the ladies, diamonds, clubs, hearts, and spades, sat in the first row, fanning themselves with their tulips; and behind them stood all the knaves, showing that they had a head above and below, as is usual in playing-cards. The play was about two people who were not to be married to each other, and the Shepherdess wept, because it was just like her own history.

I cannot bear this!said she.I must go out of the drawer.

But when they arrived on the floor, and looked up at the table, the old Chinaman was awake and was shaking over his whole body----for below he was all one lump.

Now the old Chinaman's coming!cried the little Shepherdess and she fell down upon her porcelain knee, so startled was she.

I have an idea, said the Chimney-Sweeper. Shall we creep into the great pot-pourri vase which stands in the corner? Then we can lie on roses and lavender, and throw salt in his eyes if he comes.

That will be of no use, she replied.Besides, I know that the old Chinaman and the pot-pourri vase were once engaged to each other, and a kind of liking always remains when people have stood in such a relation to each other. No, there's nothing left for us but to go out into the wide world.

Have you really courage to go into the wide world with me?asked the Chimney-Sweeper.Have you considered how wide the world is, and that we can never come back here again?

I have,replied she.

And the Chimney-Sweeper looked fondly at her, and said,

My way is through the chimney. If you have really courage to creep with me through the stove----through the iron fire-box as well as up the pipe, then we can get out into the chimney, and I know how to find my way through there. We'll mount so high that they can't catch us, and quite at the top there's a hole that leads out into the wide world.

And he led her to the door of the stove.

It looks very black there,said she; but still she went with him, through the box and through the pipe, where it was pitch-dark night.

Now we are in the chimney,said he;and look, look! up yonder a beautiful star is shining.

And it was a real star in the sky, which shone straight down upon them, as if it would show them the way. And they clambered and crept: it was a frightful way, and terribly steep; but he supported her and helped her up; he held her, and showed her the best places where she could place her little porcelain feet; and thus they reached the edge of the chimney, and upon that they sat down, for they were desperately tired, as they well might be.

The sky with all its stars was high above, and all the roofs of the town deep below them. They looked far around----far, far out into the world. The poor Shepherdess had never thought of it as it really was: she leaned her little head against the Chimney-Sweeper, then she wept so bitterly that the gold ran down off her girdle.

That is too much,she said.I cannot bear that. The world is too large! If I were only back upon the table below the mirror! I shall never be happy until I am there again. Now I have followed you out into the wide world, you may accompany me back again if you really love me.

And the Chimney-Sweeper spoke sensibly to her---- spoke of the old Chinaman and of the Billygoat-legs-Lieu- tenant-and-Major-General-War-Commander-Sergeant; but she sobbed bitterly and kissed her little Chimney-Sweeper, so that he could not help giving way to her, though it was foolish.

And so with much labour they climbed down the chimney again. And they crept through the pipe and the fire-box. That was not pleasant at all. And there they stood in the dard stove; there they listened behind the door, to find out what was going on in the room. Then it was quite quiet: they looked in----ah! there lay the old Chinaman in the middle of the floor! He had fallen down from the table as he was pursuing them, and now he lay broken into three pieces; his back had come off all in one piece, and his head had rolled into a corner. The Billy goat-legs-Lieutenant-and-Major-General-War-Commander Sergeant stood where he had always stood, considering.

That is terrible! said the little Shepherdess.The old grandfather has fallen to pieces, and it is our fault. I shall never survive it!And then she wrung her little hands.

He can be mended! he can be mended!said the Chimney-Sweeper.Don't be so violent. If they glue his back together and give him a good rivet in his neck he will be as good as new, and may say many a disagreeable thing to us yet.

Do you think so?cried she.

So they climbed back upon the table where they used to stand.

You see, we have come back to this,said the Chimney-Sweeper:we might have saved ourselves all the trouble we have had.

If the old grandfather were only riveted!said the Shepherdess.I wonder if that is dear?

And he was really riveted. The family had his back cemented, and a great rivet was passed through his neck: he was as good as new, only he could no longer nod.

It seems you have become proud since you fell to pieces,said the Billygoat-legs-Lieutenant-and-Major- General-War-Commandr-Sergeant.I don't think you have any reason to give yourself such airs. Am I to have her, or am I not?

And the Chimney-Sweeper and the little Shepherdess looked at the old Chinaman most piteously, for they were afraid he might nod. But he could not do that, and it was irksome to him to tell a stranger that he always had a rivet in his neck. And so the porcelain people remained together, and they blessed Grandfather's rivet, and loved one another until they broke.


 

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