THE OLD STREET LAMP
DID you ever hear the story of the old Street Lamp? It is not so remarkably entertaining, but it may be listened to for once in a way.
It was a very honest old Lamp, that had done its work for many, many years, but which was now to be pensioned off. It hung for the last time to its post, and gave light to the street. It felt as an old dancer at the theatre, who is dancing for the last time, and who tomorrow will sit forgotten in her garret. The Lamp was in great fear about the morrow, for it knew that it was to appear in the councilhouse, and to be inspected by the mayor and the council, to see if it were fit for further service or not.
And then it was to be decided whether it was to show its light in future for the inhabitants of some suburb, or in the country in some manufactory : perhaps it would have to go at once into an iron foundry to be melted down. In this last case anything might be made of it; but the question whether it would remember, in its new state, that it had been a Street Lamp, troubled it terribly. Whatever might happen, this much was certain, that it would be separated from the watchman and his wife, whom it had got to look upon as quite belonging to its family. It became a lamp when he became a watchman. The wife was a little proud in those days. Only in the evening, when she went by, she deigned to glance at the Lamp; in the daytime never. But now, in these latter years, when all three, the watchman, his wife, and the Lamp, had grown old, the wife had also tended it, cleaned it, and provided it with oil. The two old people were thoroughly honest; never had they cheated the Lamp of a single drop of the oil provided for it.
It was the Lamp's last night in the street, and tomorrow it was to go to the council-house; ----those were two dark thoughts! No wonder that it did not burn brightly. But many other thoughts passed through its brain. On what a number of events had it shone----how much it had seen! Perhaps as much as the mayor and the whole council had beheld. But it did not give utterance to these thoughts, for it was a good honest old Lamp, that would not willingly hurt any one, and least of all those in authority. Many things passed through its mind, and at times its light flashed up. In such moments it had a feeling that it, too, would be remembered.
“There was that handsome young man----it is certainly a long while ago----he had a letter on pink paper with a gilt edge. It was so prettily written, as if by a lady's hand. Twice he read it, and kissed it, and looked up to me with eyes which said plainly, ‘I am the happiest of men!’ Only he and I know what was written in this first letter from his true love. Yes, I remember another pair of eyes. It is wonderful how our thoughts fly about! There was a funeral procession in the street: the young beautiful lady lay in the decorated hearse, in a coffin adorned with flowers and wreaths; and a number of torches quite darkened my light. The people stood in crowds by the houses, and all followed the procession. But when the torches had passed from before my face, and I looked round, a single person stood leaning against my post, weeping. I shall never forget the mournful eyes that looked up to me! ”
This and similar thoughts occupied the old Street lantern, which shone tonight for the last time.
The sentry relieved from his post at least knows who is to succeed him, and may whisper a few words to him; but the Lamp did not know its successor; and yet it might have given a few useful hints with respect to rain and fog, and some information as to how far the rays of the moon lit up the pavement, and from what direction the wind usually came.
On the bridge of the gutter stood three persons who wished to introduce themselves to the Lamp, for they thought the lamp itself could appoint its successor. The first was a herring's head, that could gleam with light in the darkness. He thought it would be a great saving of oil if they put him up on the post. Number two was a piece of rotten wood, which also glimmers in the dark, and always more than a piece of fish, it said to itself; besides, it was the last piece of a tree which had once been the pride of the forest. The third person was a glow-worm. Where this one had come from, the Lamp could not imagine; but there it was, and it could give light. But the rotten wood and the herring's head swore by all that was good that it only gave light at certain times, and could not be brought into competition with themselves.
The old lamp declared that not one of them gave sufficient light to fill the office of a street lamp; but not one of them would believe this. When they heard that the Lamp had not the office to give away, they were very glad of it, and declared that the Lamp was too decrepit to make a good choice.
At the same moment the Wind came careering from the comer of the street, and blew through the air-holes of the old Street Lamp.
“What's this I hear?” he asked. “Are you to go away tomorrow? Is this the last evening that I shall find you here? Then I must make you a present at parting. I will blow into your brain-box in such a way that you shall be able in future not only to remember everything you have seen and heard, but that you shall have such light within you as shall enable you to see all that is read of or spoken of in your presence.”
“Yes, that is really much, very much! ” said the old Lamp. “I thank you heartily. I only hope I shall not be melted down.”
“That is not likely to happen at once,” said the Wind. “Now I will blow up your memory: if you receive several presents of this kind, you may pass your old days very agreeably. ”
“If only I am not melted down!” said the Lamp again. “Or should I retain my memory even in that case?”
“Be sensible, old Lamp,” said the Wind. And he blew, and at that moment the Moon stepped forth from behind the clouds.
“What will you give the old Lamp?” asked the Wind.
“I'll give nothing,” replied the Moon. “I am on the wane, and the lamps never lighted me; but, on the contrary, I've often given light for the lamps.”
And with these words the Moon hid herself again behind the cloud, to be safe from further importunity.
A drop now fell upon the Lamp, as if from the roof; but the drop explained that it came from the clouds, and was a present----perhaps the best present possible.
“I shall penetrate you so completely that you shall receive the faculty, if you wish it, to turn into rust in one night, and to crumble into dust.”
The Lamp considered this a bad present, and the Wind thought so too.
“Does no one give more? Does no one give more?” it blew as loud as it could.
Then a bright shooting star fell down, forming a long bright stripe.
“What was that?” cried the Herring's Head. “Did not a star fall? I really think it went into the Lamp! Certainly if such high-born personages try for this office, we may say good night and betake ourselves home.”
And so they did, all three. But the old Lamp shed a marvellous strong light around.
“That was a glorious present,” it said. “The bright stars which I have always admired, and which shine as I could never shine though I shone with all my might, have noticed me, a poor old lamp, and have sent me a present, by giving me the faculty that all I remember and see as clearly as if it stood before me, shall also be seen by all whom I love. And in this lies the true pleasure; for joy that we cannot share with others is only half enjoyed.”
“That sentiment does honour to your heart,” said the Wind. “But for that wax lights are necessary. If these are not lit up in you, your rare faculties will be of no use to others. Look you, the stars did not think of that; they take you and every other light for wax. But now I am tired and I will lie down.” And he lay down.
The next day----yes, it will be best that we pass over the next day. The next evening the Lamp was resting in a grandfather's chair. And guess where! In the watchman's dwelling. He had begged as a favour of the mayor and the council that he might keep the Street Lamp. They laughed at his request, but the Lamp was given to him, and now it lay in the great arm-chair by the warm stove. It seemed as if the Lamp had grown bigger, now that it occupied the chair all alone.
The old people sat at supper, and looked kindly at the old Lamp, to whom they would willing lg have granted a place at their table.
Their dwelling was certainly only a cellar two yards below the footway, and one had to cross a stone passage to get into the room. But within it was very comfortable and warn, and strips of list had been nailed to the door. Everything looked clean and neat, and there were curtains round the bed and the little windows. On the window-sill stood two curious flower-pots, which sailor Christian had brought home from the East or West Indies. They were only of clay, and represented two elephants. The backs of these creatures were wanting; and instead of them there bloomed from within the earth with which one elephant was filled, some very excellent leeks, and that was the old folk's kitchen garden; out of the other grew a great geranium, and that was their flower garden. On the wall hung a great coloured print representing the Congress of Vienna. There you had all the Kings and Emperors at once. A Grandfather' s clock with heavy weights went “tick! tick!” and in fact it always went too fast; but the old people declared this was far better than if it went too slow. They ate their supper, and the Street Lamp lay, as I have said, in the arm-chair close beside the stove. It seemed to the Lamp as if the whole world had been turned round. But when the old watchman looked at it, and spoke of all that they two had gone through in rain and in fog, in the bright short nights of summer and in the long winter nights, when the snow beat down, and one longed to be at home in the cellar, then the old Lamp found its wits again. It saw everything as clearly as if it was happening then; yes, the Wind had kindled a capital light for it.
The old people were very active and industrious; not a single hour was wasted in idleness. On Sunday afternoon some book or other was brought out; generally a book of travels. And the old man read aloud about Africa, about the great woods, with elephants running about wild; and the old woman listened intently, and looked furtively at the clay elephants which served for flower-pots.
“I can almost imagine it to myself! ” said she.
And the Lamp wished particularly that a wax candle had been there, and could be lighted up in it; for then the old woman would be able to see everything to the smallest detail, just as the Lamp saw it----the tall trees with great branches all entwined, the naked black men on horseback, and whole droves of elephants crashing through the reeds, with their broad clumsy feet.
“Of what use are all my faculties if I can't obtain a wax light?” sighed the Lamp. “They have only oil and tallow candles, and that's not enough.”
One day a great number of wax candle-ends came down into the cellar： the larger pieces were burned, and the smaller ones the old woman used for waxing her thread. So there were wax candles enough; but no one thought of putting a little piece into the Lamp.
“Here I stand with my rare faculties!” thought the Lamp. “I carry everything within me, and cannot let them partake of it; they don't know that I am able to cover these white walls with the most gorgeous tapestry, to change them into noble forests, and all that they can possibly wish.”
The Lamp, however, was kept neat and clean, and stood all shining in a comer, where it caught the eyes of all. Strangers considered it a bit of old rubbish; but the old people did not care for that; they loved the Lamp.
One day----it was the old watchman's birthday----the old woman approached the Lantern, smiling to herself, and said,
“I'll make an illumination today, in honour of my old man!”
And the Lamp rattled its metal cover, for it thought, “Well, at last there will be a light within me.” But only oil was produced, and no wax light appeared. The Lamp burned throughout the whole evening, but now understood, only too well, that the gift of the stars would be a hidden treasure for all its life. Then it had a dream: for one possessing its rare faculties, to dream was not difficult. It seemed as if the old people were dead, and that itself had been taken to the iron foundry to be melted down. It felt as much alarmed as on that day when it was to appear in the council-house to be inspected by the mayor and council. But though the power had been given to it to fall into rust and dust at will, it did not use this power. It was put into the furnace, and turned into an iron candlestick, as fair a candlestick as you would desire----one on which wax lights were to be burned. It had received the form of an angel holding a great nosegay; and the wax light was to be placed in the middle of the nosegay.
The candlestick had a place assigned to it on a green writing-table. The room was very comfortable; many books stood round about the walls, which were hung with beautiful pictures; it belonged to a poet. Everything that he wrote or composed showed itself round about him. The room was changed to thick dark forests, sometimes to beautiful meadows, where the storks strutted about, sometimes again to a ship sailing on the foaming ocean.
“What faculties lie hidden in me! ” said the old Lamp, when it awoke. “I could almost wish to be melted down! But no! that must not be so .long as the old people live. They love me for myself; I am like a child to them; they have cleaned me and have given me oil. I am as well off now as the whole Congress.”
And from that time it enjoyed more inward peace; and the honest old Street Lamp had well deserved to enjoy it.