THE NEIGHBOURING FAMILIES
ONE would really have thought that something important was going on by the duck-pond; but nothing was going on. All the ducks lying quietly upon the water, or standing on their heads in it----for they could do that----swam suddenly to the shore. One could see the traces of their feet on the wet clay, and their quacking sounded far and wide. The water, lately clear and bright as a mirror, was quite in a commotion. Before, every tree, every neighbouring bush, the old farm-house with the holes in the roof and the swallow's nest, and especially the great rose bush covered with flowers, had been mirrored in it. This rose bush covered the wall and hung over the water, in which everything appeared as in a picture, only that everything stood on its head; but when the water was set in motion each thing ran into the other, and the picture was gone. Two feathers, which the fluttering ducks had lost, floated to and fro, and all at once they took a start, as if the wind were coming; but the wind did not come, so they had to be still, and the water became quiet and smooth again. One could see distinctly the gable, with the swallow's nest, and the rose bush. The Roses mirrored themselves in it again; they were beautiful, but they did not know it, for no one had told them. The sun shone among the delicate leaves; everything breathed in the sweet fragrance, and all felt as we feel when we are filled with the thought of our greatest happiness.
“How beautiful is life!” said each Rose. “Only one thing I wish, that I were able to kiss the sun, because it is so bright and so warm. The roses, too, in the water yonder, our images, I should like to kiss, and the pretty birds in the nests. There are some up yonder too; they thrust out their heads and pipe quite feebly: they have no feathers like their father and mother. They are good neighbours, below and above. How beautiful is life!”
The young ones above and below----those below are certainly only shadows in the water----were Sparrows; their parents were Sparrows too; they had taken possession of the empty swallow's nest of last year, and kept house in it as if it had been their own.
“Are those ducks' children swimming yonder?” asked the young Sparrows, when they noticed the ducks' feathers upon the water.
“If you must ask questions, ask sensible ones,” replied their mother. “Don' t you see that they are feathers? living clothes, stuff like I wear and like you will wear; but ours is finer. I wish, by the way, we had those up here in our own nest, for they keep one warm. I wonder what the ducks were so frightened at; there must have been something in the water. Not at me, certainly, though I said ‘Piep’ to you rather loudly. The Thick-headed roses ought to know it, but they know nothing; they only look at one another and smell. I'm very tired of those neighbours. ”
“Just listen to those darling birds up there,” said the Roses. “They begin to want to sing, but are not able yet. But it will come in time. What a pleasure that must be! It' s nice to have such merry neighbours.”
Suddenly two horses came gallopping up to water. A peasant boy rode on one, and he had taken off all his clothes, except his big black hat which was so big and broad. The boy whistled like a bird, and rode into the pond where it was deepest, and when he came past the rose bush he plucked a rose, and put it upon his hat. And now he thought he looked very fine, and rode on. The other Roses looked after their sister, and said to each other, “Whither may she be journeying?” but they did not know.
“I should like to go out into the world,” said the one to the other; “but it's beautiful, too, here at home among the green leaves. All day the sun shines warm and bright, and in the night-time the sky is more beautiful still; we can see that through all the little holes in it.”
They meant the stars, but they knew no better.
“We make it lively about the house,” said the Mother Sparrow; “and ‘the swallow's nest brings luck’, people say, so they're glad to see us. But the neighbours! Such a rose bush climbing up the wall causes damp. It will most likely be taken away; and then, at least, corn will perhaps grow here. The roses are fit for nothing but to be looked at and smelt, or at most one may be stuck on a hat. Every year, I know from my mother, they fall off. The farmer's wife preserves them, and puts salt among them; then they get a French name that I neither can nor will pronounce, and are put upon the fire to make a good smell. You see, that's their life. They' re only for the eye and the nose. Now you know it.”
When the evening came, and the gnats danced in the warm air and the red clouds, the Nightingale came and sang to the Roses, saying that the beautiful was like sunshine to the world, and that the beautiful lived for ever. But the Roses thought the Nightingale was singing of itself, and indeed one might easily have thought so; they never imagined that the song was about them. But they rejoiced greatly in it, and wondered whether all the little Sparrows might become nightingales.
“I understood the song of that bird very well,” said the young Sparrows, “only one word was not clear. What is the beautiful?”
“That's nothing at all,” replied the Mother-Sparrow “that's only an outside affair. Yonder, at the nobleman's seat, where the pigeons have their own house, and have corn and peas strewn before them every day,----I've been there myself, and dined with them; for tell me what company you keep, and I'll tell you who you are----yonder at the nobleman's seat there are two birds with green necks and a crest upon their head; they can spread out their tails like a great wheel, and then it plays with various colours, so that the sight makes one's eyes ache. These birds are called peacocks, and that's the beautiful. They should only be plucked a little, then they would look no better than all the rest of us. I should have plucked them myself if they had not been so large. ”
“I'll pluck them,” piped the little Sparrow who had no feathers yet.
In the farm-house dwelt two young married people; they loved each other well, were industrious and active and everything in their home looked very pretty. On Sunday morning the young wife came out, plucked a handful of the most beautiful roses, and put them into a glass of water, which she put upon the cupboard.
“Now I see that it is Sunday,” said the husband, and he kissed his little wife.
They sat down, read their hymn-book, and held each other by the hand; and the sun shone on the fresh roses and the young couple.
“This sight is really too wearisome,” said the MotherSparrow, who could look from the nest into the room; and she flew away.
The same thing happened the next Sunday, for every Sunday fresh noses were placed in the glass; but the rose bush bloomed as beautiful as ever.
The young Sparrows had feathers now, and wanted to fly out too, but the mother would not allow it, and they were obliged to stay at home . She flew alone; but, however it may have happened, before she was aware of it, she was entangled in a noose of horse-hair which some boys had fastened to the branches. The horse-hair wound itself fast round her legs, as fast as if it would cut the leg through. What pain, what a fright she was in!
The boys came running up, and seized the bird; and indeed, roughly enough.
“It's only a Sparrow,” said they; but they did not let her go, but took her home with them. And whenever she cried, they tapped her on the beak.
In the farm-house stood an old man, who understood making soap for shaving and washing, in cakes as well as in balls. He was a merry, wandering old man. When he saw the Sparrow, which the boys had brought, and for which they said they did not care, he said,
“Shall we make it very beautiful?”
The Mother-Sparrow felt an icy shudder pass through her.
Out of the box, in which were the most brilliant colours, the old man took a quantity of shining gold leaf, and the boys were sent for some white of egg, with which the Sparrow was completely smeared; the gold leaf was stuck upon that, and there was the Mother-Sparrow gilded all over. She did not think of the adornment, but trembled all over. And the soap-man tore off a fragment from the red lining of his old jacket, cut notches in it, so that it looked like a cock's comb, and stuck it on the bird's head.
“Now you shall see the gold bird fly,” said the old man; and he released the Sparrow, which flew away in deadly fear, with the sunlight shining upon her.
How it glittered! All the Sparrows, and even a Crow, a knowing old boy, were startled at the sight; but still they flew after her, to know what kind of strange bird this might be.
“From where, from where?” cried the Crow.
“Wait a bit, wait a bit! ” said the Sparrows, but it would not wait.
Driven by fear and horror, she flew homeward; she was nearly sinking powerless to the earth; the flock of pursuing birds increased, and some even tried to peck at her.
“Look at her! look at her!” they all cried.
“Look at her! look at her!” cried the young ones, when the Mother-Sparrow approached the nest. “That must be a young peacock. He glitters with all colours. It quite hurts one's eyes, as mother told us. Piep! that's the beautiful!”
And now they pecked at the bird with their little beaks, so that she could not possibly get into the nest; she was so much exhausted that she could not even say “Piep!” much less “I am your mother!”
The other birds also fell upon the Sparrow, and plucked off feather after feather till she fell bleeding into the rose bush.
“You poor creature!” said all the Roses: “Be quiet, and we will hide you. Lean your head against us.”
The Sparrow spread out her wings once more, then drew them tight to her body, and lay dead by the neighbouring family, the beautiful fresh Roses.
“Piep!” sounded from the nest. “Where can our mother be? It's quite inexplicable. It cannot be a trick of hers, and mean that we're to shift for ourselves: she has left us the house as an inheritance, but to which of us shall it belong when we have families of our own?”
“Yes, it won't do for you to stay with me when I enlarge my establishment with a wife and children,” observed the smallest.
“I shall have more wives and children than you!” cried the second.
“But I am the eldest!” said the third.
Now they all became excited. They struck out with their wings, hacked with their beaks, and flump! one after another was thrust out of the nest. There they lay with their anger, holding their heads on one side, and blinking with the eye that looked upwards. That was their way of being sulky.
They could fly a little; by practice they improved, and at last they fixed upon a sign by which they should know each other when they met later in the world. This sign was to be the cry of “Piep!” with a scratching of the left foot three times against the ground.
The young Sparrow that had remained behind in the nest made itself as broad as it possibly could, for it was the proprietor. But the proprietorship did not last long. In the night the red fire burnt through the window, the flames seized upon the roof, the dry straw blazed brightly up, and the whole house was burned, and the young Sparrow too; but the others escaped with their lives.
When the sun rose again, and everything looked as much refreshed as if nature had had a quiet sleep, there remained of the farm-house nothing but a few charred beams, leaning against the chimney that was now its own master. Thick smoke still rose from among the fragments, but without stood the rose bush quite unharmed, and every flower, every twig, was reflected in the clear water.
“How beautifully those roses bloom before the ruined house!” cried a passer-by. “I cannot imagine a more agreeable picture: I must have that.”
And the traveller took out of his portfolio a little book with white leaves: he was a painter, and with his pencil he drew the smoking house, the charred beams, and the overhanging chimney, which bent more and more; quite in the foreground appeared the blooming rose bush, which presented a charming sight, and indeed for its sake the whole picture had been made.
Later in the day, the two Sparrows that had been born here came by .
“Where is the house?” asked they. “Where is the nest? Piep! All is burned, and our strong brother is burnt too. That's what he has got by keeping the nest to himself. The Roses have escaped well enough----there they stand yet, with their red cheeks. They certainly don't mourn at their neighbour's misfortune. I won't speak to them; it's so ugly here, that's my opinion.” And they flew up and away.
On a beautiful sunny autumn day, when one could almost have believed it was the middle of summer, there hopped about in the clean dry courtyard of the
nobleman's seat, in front of the great steps, a number of pigeons, black, and white, and violet, all shining in the sunlight. The old Mother-Pigeons said to their young ones,
“Stand in groups, stand in groups for that looks much better.”
“What are those Little grey creatures. that run about among us?” asked an old Pigeon, with red and green in her eyes. “Little grey ones, little grey ones!” she cried.
“They are sparrows, good creatures. We have always had the reputation of being kind, so we will allow them to pick up the corn with us. They don' t interrupt conversation, and they scrape so nicely with the leg. ”
Yes, they scraped three times each with the left leg, and said, “Piep.” By that they recognized each other as the Sparrows from the nest by the burned house.
“Here's very good eating,” said the Sparrows.
The Pigeons strutted round one another, bulged out their chests mightily, and had their own opinions.
“Do you see that pouter-pigeon?” said one, speaking to the others. “Do you see that one, swallowing the peas? She takes too many, and the best, moreover. Curoo! curoo! Do you see how bald she is getting on her crest, the ugly spiteful thing! Curoo! curoo! ”
And all their eyes sparkled with spite.
“Stand in groups, stand in groups! Little grey ones, little grey ones! Curoo! curoo! ”
So their beaks went on and on, and so they will go on when a thousand years are gone.
The Sparrows feasted bravely. They listened attentively, and even stood in the ranks of the Pigeons, but it did not suit them well. They were satisfied, and so they quitted the Pigeons, exchanged opinions concerning them, slipped under the garden railings, and when they found the door of the garden open, one of them, who was overfed, and consequently valorous, hopped on the threshold.
“Piep!” said he, “I may venture that.”
“Piep!” said the other, “so can I, and something more too. ”
And he hopped right into the room. No one was present; the third Sparrow saw that, and hopped still farther into the room, and said,
“Right in or not at all! By the way, this is a funny man's-nest; and what have they put up there? What's that?”
Just in front of the Sparrows the noses were blooming; they were mirrored in the water, and the charred beams leaned against the toppling chimney.
Why, what is this? How came this in the room in the nobleman's house?
And then these Sparrows wanted to fly over the chimney and the roses, but flew against a flat wall. It was all a picture, a great beautiful picture, that the painter had completed from a sketch.
“Piep!” said the Sparrows, “it's nothing, it only looks like something. Piep! that's the beautiful! Can you understand it? I can't.”
And they flew away, for some people came into the room.
Days and years went by. The Pigeons had often cooed, not to say growled,----the spiteful things; the Sparrows had suffered cold in winter, and lived riotously in summer; they were all betrothed or married, or whatever you like to call it. They had little ones, and of course each thought his own the handsomest and the cleverest: one flew this way, another that, and when they met they knew each other by their “Piep!” and the three scrapes with the left leg. The eldest had remained a maiden Sparrow, with no nest and no young ones. Her great idea was to see a town, therefore she flew to Copenhagen.
There was to be seen a great house painted with many colours, close by the castle and by the canal, in which latter swam many ships laden with apples and Pottery. The windows were broader below than at the top, and when the Sparrows looked through, every room appeared to them like a tulip with the most beautiful colours and shades. But in the middle of the tulip were white people, made of marble; a few certainly were made of plaster, but in the eyes of a sparrow that's all the same. Upon the roof stood a metal carriage, with metal horses harnessed to it, and the Goddess of Victory, also of bronze, driving. It was THORWALDSEN'S MUSEUM.
“How it shines! how it shines!” said the little maiden Sparrow. “I suppose that's what they call the beautiful. Piep! But this is greater than the peacock!”
It still remembered what, in its days of childhood, the Mother-Sparrow had declared to be the greatest among the beautiful. The Sparrow flew down into the courtyard. There everything was very splendid: upon the walls palms and branches were painted; in the midst of the court stood a great blooming rose tree, spreading out its fresh branches, covered with many roses, over a grave. Thither the Sparrow flew, for there she saw many of her own kind. “Piep!” and three scrapes with the left leg----that salutation it had often made throughout the summer, and nobody had replied, for friends who are once parted don't meet every day; and now this form of greeting had become quite a habit with it. But today two old Sparrows and a young one replied “Piep!” and scraped three times each with the left leg.
“Ah! good day! good day!” They were three old ones from the nest, and a little one belonging to the family. “Do we meet here again? It's a grand place, but there's not much to eat. This is the beautiful! Piep!”
And many people came out of the side chambers where the glorious marble statues stood, and approached the grave where slept the great master who had formed these marble images. All stood with radiant faces by Thorwaldsen' s grave, and some gathered up the fallen rose leaves and kept them. They had come from afar: some from mighty England, others from Germany and France. The most beautiful among the ladies plucked one of the roses and hid it in her bosom. Then the Sparrows thought that the roses ruled here, and that the whole househad been built for their sake; that appeared to them to be too much; but as all the people showed their love for the roses, they would not be behind hand. “Piep!” they said, and swept the ground with their tails, and glanced with one eye at the roses; and they had not looked long at the flowers before they recognized them as old neighbours. And so the roses really were. The painter who had sketched the rose bush by the ruined house had afterwards received permission to dig it up, and had given it to the architect, for nowhere could more beautiful roses be found. And the architect had planted it upon Thorwaldsen's grave, where it bloomed, an image of the beautiful, and gave its red fragrant petals to be carried into distant lands as mementoes.
“Have you found a situation here in the town?” asked the Sparrows.
And the Roses. nodded; they recognized their grey neighbours, and were glad to see them again. “How glorious it is to live and bloom, to see old faces again, and cheerful faces every day. Here it is as if every day was a great holiday.
“Piep!” said the Sparrows. “Yes, these are truly our old neighbours; we remember their origin by the pond. Piep! how they' ve got on! Yes, some people succeed while they're asleep, and what rarity there is in a red thing like that, I can't understand. Why, yonder is a withered leaf----I see it quite plainly!”
And they pecked at it till the leaf fell. But the tree stood there greener and fresher than ever; the Roses bloomed in the sunshine by Thorwaldsen's grave, and were associated with his immortal name.