THE OLD HOUSE
DOWN yonder, in the street, stood an old, old house. It was almost three hundred years old, for one could read as much on the beam, on which was carved the date of its erection, surrounded by tulips and trailing hops. There one could read entire verses in the characters of olden times, and over each window a face had been carved in the beam, and these made all kinds of strange grimaces. One story projected a long way above the other, and close under the roof was a leaden gutter with a dragon's head. The rain water was to run out of the dragon's mouth, but it ran out of the creature's body instead, for there was a hole in the pipe.
All the other houses in the street were still new and trim, with smooth walls and large windowpanes. One could easily see that they would have nothing to do with the old house. They thought perhaps,“How long is that old rubbish-heap to stand there, a scandal to the whole street? The parapet stands so far forward that no one can see out of our windows what is going on in that direction. The staircase is as broad as a castle staircase, and as steep as if it led to a church tower. The iron railing looks like the gate of a family vault, and there are brass bosses upon it. It's too ridiculous!”
Just opposite stood some more new neat houses that thought exactly like the rest; but here at the window sat a little boy, with fresh red cheeks, with clear sparkling eyes, and he was particularly fond of the old house, in sunshine as well as by moonlight. And when he looked down at the wall where the plaster had fallen off, then he could sit and fancy all kinds of pictures----how the street must have appeared in old times, with stairs, balconies, and pointed gables; he could see soldiers with halberds, and roof-gutters running about in the form of dragons and griffins. It was just a good house to look at; and in it lived an old man who went about in leather knee-breeches, and wore a coat with great brass buttons, and a wig which one could at once see was a real wig. Every morning an old man came to him, to clean his rooms and run on his errands. With this exception the old man in the leather kneebreeches was all alone in the old house. Sometimes he came to one of the windows and looked out, and the little boy nodded to him, and the old man nodded back, and thus they became acquainted and became friends, though they had never spoken to one another; but, indeed, that was not at all necessary.
The little boy heard his parents say,“The old man opposite is very well off, but he is terribly lonely.”
Next Sunday the little boy wrapped something in a piece of paper, went with it to the house door, and said to the man who ran errands for the old gentleman,
“Hark-ye, will you take this to the old gentleman opposite for me? I have two tin soldiers; this is one of them, and he shall have it, because I know that he is terribly lonely.”
And the old attendant looked quite pleased, and nodded, and carried the Tin Soldier into the old house. Afterwards he was sent over, to ask if the little boy would not like to come himself and pay a visit. His parents gave him leave; and so it was that he came to the old house.
The brass bosses on the staircase shone much more brightly than usual; one would have thought they had been polished in honour of his visit. And it was just as if the carved trumpeters----for on the doors there were carved trumpeters, standing in tulips----were blowing with all their might; their cheeks looked much rounder than before. Yes, they blew “Tan-ta-ra-ra! the little boy's coming! tan-tara-ra!”and then the door opened.
The whole of the hall was hung with old portraits of knights in armour and ladies in silk gowns; and the armour rattled and the silk dresses rustled; and then came a staircase that went up a great way and down a little way, and then one came to a balcony which was certainly in a very rickety state, with long cracks and great holes; but out of all these grew grass and leaves, for the whole balcony,the courtyurd, and the wall, were overgrown with so much green that it looked like a garden, but it was only a balcony. Here stood old flower-pots that had faces with asses'ears; but the flowers grew just as they chose. In one pot pinks were growing over on all sides; that is to say, the green stalks, sprout upon sprout, and they said quite plainly, “The air has caressed me and the sun has kissed me, and promised me a little flower for next Sunday, a little flower next Sunday !”
And then they came to a room where the walls were covered, with pig-skin, and golden flowers had been stamped on the leather.
“Flowers fade fast,
But pig-skin will last,”
said the walls. And there stood chairs with quite high backs, with carved work and elbows on each side.
“Sit down!”said they.“Oh, how it cracks inside me! Now I shall be sure to have the gout, like the old cupboard. Gout in my back, ugh!”
And then the little boy came to the room where the old man sat .
“Thank you for the Tin Soldier, my little friend,”said the old man.“and thank you for coming over to me.”
“Thanks! thanks!”or “Crick! crack!”said all the farniture; there were so many pieces that they almost stood in each other's way to see the little boy.
And in the middle, on the wall, hung a picture of a beautiful lady, young and cheerful in appearance, but dressed just like people of the old times, with powder in her hair and skirts that stuck out stiffly. She said neither “Thanks”nor “Crack”, but looked down upon the little boy with her mild eyes; and he at once asked the old man,
“Where did you get her from?”
“From the dealer opposite,”replied the old man. “Many pictures are always hanging there. No one knows them or troubles himself about them, for they are all buried. But many years ago I knew this lady, and now she's been dead and gone for half a century.”
And under the picture hung, behind glass, a nosegay of withered flowers; they were certainly also half a century old----at least they looked it ; and the pendulum of the great clock went to and from, and the hands turned round, and everything in the room grew older still, but no one noticed it.
“They say at home,”said the little boy,“that you are always terribly solitary.”
“Oh,”answered the old man,“old thoughts come, with all that they bring, to visit me; and now you come as well, I'm very well off. ”
And then he took from a shelf a book with pictures there were long processions of wonderful coaches, such as one never sees at the present day, soldiers like the knave of clubs, and citizens with waving flags. The tailors had a flag with shears on it held by two lions, and the shoemakers a flag, without boots, but with an eagle that had two heads; for among the shoemakers everything must be so arranged that they can say, “There's a pair.”Yes, that was a picture-book! And the old man went into the other room, to fetch preserves, and apples, and nuts. It was really glorious in that old house.
“I can't stand it,”said the Tin Soldier, who stood upon the shelf. “It is terribly lonely and dull here. When a person has been accustomed to family life, one cannot get accustomed to their existence here. I cannot stand it! The day is long enough, but the evening is longer still ! Here it is not at all as it was in your house opposite, where your father and mother were always conversing cheerfully together, and you and all the other dear children made a famous noise. How solitary it is here at the old man's ! Do you think he gets any kisses? Do you think he gets friendly looks, or a Christmas tree? He'll get nothing but a funeral ! I cannot stand it !”
“You must not look at it from the sorrowful side,”said the little boy. “To me it all appears remarkably pretty, and all the old thoughts, with all they bring with them, come to visit here.”
“Yes, but I don't see them, and don't know them,” objected the Tin Soldier. “I can't bear it!”
“You must bear it,”said the little boy.
And the old man came with the pleasantest face and with the best of preserved fruits and apples and nuts; and then the little boy thought no more of the Tin Soldier. Happy and delighted, the youngster went home; and days went by, weeks went by, and there was much nodding from the boy's home across to the old house and back; and then the little boy went over there again.
And the carved trumpeters blew, “Tan-ta-ra-ra! tan-ta-ra-ra! there's the little boy, tan-ta-ra-ra!” and the swords and armour on the old pictures rattled, and the silken dresses rustled, and the leather told tales, and the old chairs had the gout in their backs. Ugh! it was just like the first time, for over there one day or one hour was just like another.
“I can't stand it!”said the Tin Soldier. “I've wept tears of tin. It's too dreary here. I had rather go to war and lose my arms and legs; at any rate, that's a change. I cannot stand it! Now I know what it means to have a visit from one's old thoughts and all they bring with them. I've had visits from my own, and you may believe me, that's no pleasure in the long run. I was very nearly jumping down from the shelf. I could see you all in the house opposite as plainly as if you had been here. It was Sunday morning, and you children were all standing round the table singing the psalm you sing every morning. You were standing reverently with folded hands, and your father and mother were just as solemn; then the door opened, and your little sister Maria, who is not two years old yet, and who always dances when she hears music or song, of whatever description they may be, was brought in. She was not to do it, but she immediately began to dance, though she could not get into right time, for the song was too slow, so she first stood on one leg and bent her head quite over in front, but it was not long enough. You all stood very quietly, though that was rather difficult; but I laughed inwardly, and so I fell down from the table and got a bruise which I have still; for it was not right of me to laugh. But all this, and all the rest that I have experienced, now passes before my mind's eye, and those must be the old thoughts with everything they bring with them. Tell me, do you still sing on Sundays? Tell me something about little Maria. And how is my comrade and brother Tin Soldier? Yes, he must be very happy, I can't stand it !”
“You have been given away,”said the little boy. “You must stay where you are. Don't you see that?”
And the old man came with a box in which many things were to be seen: little rouge-pots and scent-boxes; and old cards, larger and more richly gilt than one ever sees them in these days; and many large drawers were opened, likewise the piano; and in this were painted landcapes, inside the lid, But the piano was Quite hoarse when the old man played upon it, and then he hummed a song.
“Yes, she could sing that,”he said, and then he nodded to the picture that he had bought at the dealer's, and the old man's eyes shone quite brightly.
“I'll go to the war ! I'll go to the war !”cried the Tin Soldier, as loud as he could; and he threw himself down on the floor.
Where had he gone? The old man searched, the little boy searched, but he was gone, and could not be found.
“I shall find him,” said the old man.
But he never found him: the flooring was so open and full of holes, that the Tin Soldier had fallen through a crack, and there he lay as in an open grave.
And the day passed away, and the little boy went home; and the week passed by, and many weeks passed by. The windows were quite frozen up, and the little boy had to sit and breathe upon the panes, to make a peep-hole to look at the old house; and snow had blown among all the carving and the inscriptions, and covered the whole staircase, as if no one were in the house at all. And, indeed, there was no one in the house, for the old man had died !
In the evening a carriage stopped at the door, and in that he was laid, in his coffin; he was to rest in a family vault in the country. So he was carried away; but no one followed him on his last journey, for all his friends were dead. And the little boy kissed his hand after the coffin as it rolled away.
A few days later, and there was an auction in the old house; and the little boy saw from his window how the old knights and ladies, the flower-pots with the long eats, the chairs and the cupboards, were carried away. One was taken here, and another there: her portrait, that had been bought from the dealer, went back into his shop, and there it was hung, for no one cared for the old picture.
In the spring the house itself was pulled down, for the people said it was old rubbish. One could look from the street straight into the room with the leather wall-covering, which was taken down, ragged and tom; and the green of the balcony hung straggling over the beams, that threatened to fall in altogether. And now a clearance was made.
“That is good ! ” said the neighbour houses .
And a capital house was built, with large windows and smooth white walls; but in front of the place where the old house had really stood, a little garden was planted, and by the neighbour's wall tall vine shoots clambered up. In front of the garden was placed a great iron railing with an iron door; and it had a stately look. The people stopped in front, and looked through. And the sparrows sat down in dozens upon the vine branches, and chattered all at once as loud as they could; but not about the old house, for they could not remember that, for many years had gone by----so many, that the little boy had grown to be a man, a thorough man, whose parents rejoiced in him. And he had just married, and was come with his wife to live in the house, in front of which was the garden; and here he stood next to her while she planted a field flower which she considered very pretty; she planted it with her little hand, pressing the earth close round it with her fingers. “Ah, what was that?”She pricked herself. Out of the soft earth something pointed was sticking up. Only think! that was the Tin Soldier, the same that had been lost up in the old man's room, and had been hidden among old wood and rubbish for a long time, and had lain in the ground many a year.
And the young wife first dried the Soldier in a green leaf, and then with her fine handkerchief, that smelt so deliciously. And the Tin Soldier felt just as if he were waking from a fainting fit.
“Let me see him,”said the young man. And then he smiled and shook his head.“Ah! It can scarcely be the same; but it reminds me of an affair with a Tin Soldier which I had when I was a little boy.”
And then he told his wife about the old house, and the old man, and of the Tin Soldier he had sent across to the old man whom he had thought so lonely; and the tears carne into the young wife's eyes for the old house and the old man.
“It is possible, after all, that it may be the same Tin Soldier,”said she. “I will take care of him, and remember what you have told me; but you must show me the old man's grave.”
“I don't know where it is,”replied he,“and no one knows. All his friends were dead; none tended his grave, and I was but a little boy.”
“Ah, how terribly lonely he must have been!” said she .
“Yes, horribly lonely,”said the Tin Soldier; “but it is glorious not to be forgotten. ”
“Glorious!”repeated a voice close to them.
But nobody except the Tin Soldier perceived that it came from a rag of the pig's-leather hangings, which was now devoid of all gilding. It looked like wet earth, but yet it had an opinion, which it expressed thus:
“Gilding fades fast,
Pig-skin will last！”
But the Tin Soldier did not believe that.