WISPS ARE IN THE TOWN，"
SAYS THE MOOR-WOMAN
THERE was a man who once knew many stories，butthey had slipped away from him-so he said； the storythat used to visit him of its own accord no longer cameand knocked at his door：and why did it come no longer？It is true enouhg that for days and years the man had notthouhgt of it，had not expected it to come and knock；butit certainly had not been there either，for outside therewas war，and within was the care and sorrow that warbrings with it．
The stork and the swallows came back from theirlong journey，for they thought of no danger；and，behold，when they arrived，the nest was burnt，the habitations ofmen were burnt，the gates were all in disorder，and evenquite gone，and the enemy's horses trampled on the oldgraves．Those were hard，gloomy times，but they came toan end．
And now they were past and gone，so people said；and yet no story came and knocked at the door，or gaveany tidings of its presence．
"I suppose it must be dead，or gone away with manyother things，said the man．
But the Story never dies．And more than a wholeyear went by，and he longed—oh，so very much！for theStory．
"I wonder if the Story will ever come back again,and knock？"
And he remembered it so well in all the variousforms in which it had come to him，sometimes young andcharming，like spring itself，sometimes as a beautifulmaiden，with a wreath of woodruff in her hair，and abeechen branch in her hand，and with eyes that gleamedlike deep woodland lakes in the bright sunshine．
Sometimes it had come to him in the guise of a ped-lar，and had opened its pack and let sliver ribbon comefluttering out，with verses and inscriptions of old remem-brances．But it was most charming of all when itan old grandmother，with silvery hair，and such large sen-sible eyes：she knew so well how to tell about the oldesttimes，long before the Princesses span with the goldenspindles，and the dragons lay outside the castles，guardingthem．She told with such an air of truth，that black spotsdanced before the eyes of all who heard her， and the floorbecame black with human blood；terrible to see and to hear，and yet so entertaining，because such a long timehad passed since it all happened．
"Will she ever knock at my door again？"said theman；and he gazed at the door， so that black spots camebefore his eyes and upon the floor；he did not know if itwas blood，or mourning crape from the dark heavy days．
And as he sat thus，the thought came upon him， whether the Story might not have hidden itself，like thePrincess in the old tale？And he would now go in search ofit：if he found it，it would beam in new splendour，lovelierthan ever．
"Who knows？ Perhaps it has hidden itself in the strawthat balances on the margin of the well．Carefully，careful-ly！Perhaps it lies hidden in a withered flower—that flowerin one of the great books on the bookshelf．"
And the man went and opened one of the newest books，to gain information on this point；but there was noflower to be found． There he read about Holger the Dane；and the man read that the whole tale had been invented andput together by a monk in France，that it was a romance，"translated into Danish and printed in that language"；thatHolger the Dane had never really lived，and consequentlycould never come again，as we have sung，and would haveso much liked to believe．It was just the same with Holgerthe Dane as with William Tell，mere idle legend，not to bedepended on，and all this was written in the book，withgreat learning．
"Well，I shall believe what I believe！"said the man；"there grows no plantain where no foot has trod．"And heclosed the book and put it back in its place，and went tothe fresh flowers at the window：perhaps the Story mighthave hidden itself in the red tulips，with the golden yellowedges，or in the fresh rose，or in the strongly-colouredcamelia．The sunshine lay among the flowers，but no Story．
The flowers winch had been here in the dark troubloustime had been much more beautiful；but they had been cutoff，one after another，to be woven into wreaths and placedin coffins，and the flag had waved over them！Perhaps theStory had been buried with the flowers；but then the flow-ers would have known of it，and the coffin would haveheard it，and every little blade of grass that shot forthwould have told of it．The Story never dies．
Perhaps it has been here once，and has knocked- but who had eyes or ears for it in those times？Peoplelooked darkly，gloomily，and almost angrily at the sunshineof spring，at the twittering birds，and all the cheerfulgreen；the tongue could not even hear the old，merry，popular songs，and they were laid in the coffin with somuch that our heart held dear．The Story may have knocked without obtaining a hearing；there was none to bidit welcome and so it may have gone away．
"I will go forth and seek it！Out in the country！outin the wood！and on the open sea beach！"
Out in the country lies an old manor house，with redwalls，pointed gables，and a flag that floats on the tower．The nightingale sings among the finely-fringed beech- leaves，looking at the blooming apple trees of the garden，and thinking that they bear roses．Here the bees are busyin the summer-time，and hover round their queen with theirhumming song．The autumn has much to tell of the wild chase，of the leaves of the trees，and of the races of menthat are passing away together．The wild swans sing atChristmas-time on the open water，while in the old hall theguests by the fire-side gladly listen to songs and to old leg-ends．
Down into the old part of the garden，where the greatavenue of wild chestnut trees lures the wanderer to tread itsshades，went the man who was in search of the Story；forhere the wind had once murmured something to him of
"Waldemar Daa and his Daughters"．The Dryad in the tree，who was the Story-mother herself，had here told him the "Last Dream of the old Oak Tree．"Here，in grandmother'stime， had stood clipped hedges，but now only ferns and stinging-nettles grew there， hiding the scattered fragmentsof old sculptured figures；the moss is growing in their eyes，but they could see as well as ever，which was more than the man could do who was in search of the Story， for hecould not find it．Where could it be？
The crows flew over him by hundreds across the old trees，and screamed，"Krch！da！—Krah！da！"
And he went out of the garden，and over the grass- plot of the yard，into the alder grove；there stood a littlesix-sided house，with a poultry-yard and a duck-yard．In the middle of the room sat the old woman who had the management of the whole，and who knew accurately aboutevery egg that was laid， and about every chicken that couldcreep out of an egg．But she was not the Story of which theman was in search；that she could attest with a certificateof Christian baptism and of vaccination that lay in her drawer．
Without，not far from the house， is a mound coveredwith red-thorn and laburnum：here lies an old gravestone，which was brought many years ago rom the churchyard of the provincial town，a rememhrance of one of the most hon-oured councillors of the place；his wife and his five daugh-ters，all with folded hands and stiff ruffs，stand round him．One could look at them so long， that it had an effect uponthe thoughts，and these reacted upon the stone， so that ittold of old times；at least it had been so with the man whowas in search of the Story．
As he came nearer，he noticed a living butterfly sit- ting on the forehead of the sculptured councilor．The but-terfly flapped its wings，and flew a little bit farther，andsettled again close by the gravestone， as if to point outwhat grew there．Four-leaved clover grew there；there wereseven of them．When fortune comes，it comes in a heap．He plucked the clover leaves，and put them in his pocket．
"Fortune is as good as ready money， but a new， charming story would be better still，thought the man；buthe could not find it here．
And the sun went down， red and large；the meadowwas covered with vapour：the Moor-woman was at her brewing．
It was evening：he stood alone in his room，and looked out upon the sea，over the meadow，over moor andcoast． The moon shone bright， a mist was over the mead-ow，making it look like a great lake；and，indeed，it wasonce so，as the legend tells—and in the moonlight therewas evidence of the truth of the story．
Then the man thought of what he had been reading in the town，that William Tell and Holger the Dane neverreally lived，but yet live in popular story，like the lakeyonder，a living evidence for such myths． Yes， Holgerthe Dane will return again！
As he stood thus and thought，something beat quitestrongly against the window．Was it a bird， a bat，or anowl？Those are not let in，even when they knock．The window flew open of itself，and an old woman lookd in atthe man．
"What's your pleasure？"said he．"Who are you？You're looking in at the first floor window．Are youstanding on a ladder？"
"You have a four-leaved clover in your pocket，"shereplied．"Indeed， yon have seven， and one of them is asix-leaved one．"
"Who are you？" asked the man again．
"The Moor-woman，"she replied．"The Moor-womanwho brews．I was at it．The hung was in the cask， butone of the little moor-imps pulled it out in his mischief，and flung it up into the yard，where it beat against thewindow；and now the beer's running out of the cask， andthat won't do good to anybody．"
"Pray tell me some more！"said the man．
"Ah，wait a little，answered the Moor-woman．"I've something else to do just now．"And she was gone．
The man was going to shut the window，when the woman stood before him again．
"Now it is done，"she said；"but I shall have halfthe beer to brew over again tomorrow，if the weather issuitable．Well，what have you to ask me？I've comeback，for I always keep my word， and you have seven four-leaved clovers in your pocket，and one of them is a six-leaved one．That inspires respect，for that's a decorationthat grows beside the high-way；but every one does not findit．What have you to ask me？Don't stand there like a ridiculous oaf，for I must go back again directly to my bungand my cask．
And the man asked about the Story，and inquired ifthe Moor-woman had met it in her journeyings．
"By the big brewing-vat！"exclaimed the woman，
"haven't you got stories enough？ I really believe that mostpeople have enough of them．Here are other things to takenotice of，other things to look after．Even the childrenhave go beyond that．Give the little boy a cigar，and thelittle girl a new crinoline；they like that much better．Tolisten to stories！No，indeed，there are more important things to be done here， and other things to attend to！
"What do you mean by that？" asked the man，"and what do you know of the world？ You don't see anything butfrogs and will-o'-the-wisps！
"Yes，beware of the will-o'-the-wisps，"said the
Moor-woman，"for they're out—they're let loose—that iswhat we must talk about！Come to me in the moor，where
my presence is necessary，and I will tell you all about it；but you must make haste，and come while your seven four-leaved clovers，of which one has six leaves， are still fresh，and the moon stands high！"
And the Moor-woman was gone．
It struck twelve on the church-clock，and before thelast stroke had died away，the man was out in the yard，out in the garden， and stood in the meadow．The mist hadvanished，and the Moor-woman stopped her brewing．
"You've been a long time coming！"said the Moor-woman．"Witches get forward faster than men，and I'mglad that I belong to the witch folk！"
"What have you to say to me now？ asked the man．"Is it anything about the Story？"
"Can you never get beyond asking about that？"retorted the woman．
"Can you tell me anything about the poetry of the fu-ture？"resumed the man．
"Don't get on your stilts，"said the crone，"and I'llanswer you．You think of nothing but poetry，and only askabout that Story，as if she were the lady of the whole
troop．She's the oldest of us all，but she always passes forthe youngest．I know her well．I've been young，too，andshe's no chicken now．I was once quite a pretty elf-maid-en，and have danced in my time with the others in the moonlight，and have heard the nightingale，and have gone into the forest and met the Story-maiden，who was always to be found out there，running about．Sometimes she tookup her night's lodgingh in a half-blown tulip，or in a filedflower；sometimes she would slip into the church，and wrapherself in the mourning crape that hung down from the can-dles on the altar．"
"You are capitally well informed，"said the man．
"I ought at least to know as much as you，"answeredthe Moor-woman．"Stories and poetry-yes，they're liketwo yards of the same piece of stuff：they can go and liedown where they like， and one can brew all their prattle，and have it all the better and cheaper． You shall have itfrom me for nothing． I have a whole cupboardful of poetryin bottles．It makes essences；and that's the best of it—bitter and sweet herbs．I have everything people want of poetry，in bottles，so that I can put a little on my hand-kerchief，on holidays，to smell．"
"Why，these are wonderful things that you're telling！"said the man，"You have poetry in bottles？
"More than you can stand，"said the woman，"I sup-pose you know the history of'the Girl who trod on theLoaf，so that she might not soil her new Shoes？'That hasbeen written，and printed too．
"I told that story myself，"said the man．
"Yes，then you must know it；and you must know al-so that the girl sank into the earth directly，to the Moor-woman，just as Old Bogey's grandmother was paying her morning visit to inspect the brewery. She saw the girl glid-ing down，and asked to have her as a remembrance of hervisit，and got her too ；while I received a present that's ofno use to me—a travelling druggist't shop—a whole cupboardful of poetry in bottles．Grandmother told me where the cupboard was to be placed，and there it's standing still．Just look！You've your seven four-leaved clovers in your pocket，one of which is a six-leaved one，and so you will be able to see it．"
And really in the misdst of the moor lay something likea great knotted block of alder，and that was the old grand-mother's cupboard．The Moor-woman said that this was al-way open to her and to every one in all lands and at alltimes，if they only knew where the cupboard stood．Itcould be opened either at the front or at the back， and atevery side and corner-a perfect work of art，and yet onlyan old alder stump in appearance．The poets of all lands，and especially those of our own counry，had been arranged here；the spirit of them had been extracted，refined，criti-cized and renOVated， and then stored up in battles． With what may be called great aptitude， ifit was not gemus， the grandmother had taken as it were the flavour of this and of that poet， and had added a little deviltry，and then corkedup the bottles for use during all future times．
"Pray let me see，"said the man．
"Yes，but there are more important things to hear，"replied the Moor-woman．
"But now we are at the cupboard！"said the man．And he looked in．"Here are bottles of all sizes．What is in this one？and what in that one yonder？"
"Here is what they call may-balm，" replied the wom-an："I have not tried it myself，but I know that if onesprinkles ever so little of it on the floor，there immediately appears a beautiful woodland lake，with water-lilies，andcalla and wild mint．One need only pour two drops on anold exercise-book，even one from the lowest class at school，and the book becomes a whole drama of perfume，which one may very well perform and fall asleep over，thescent of it is so powerful．It is intended as a compliment tome that the label on the flask bears the words，'The Moor-woman's brewing．'
Here stands the Scandal-Bottle．It looks as if there were only dirty water in it，and it is dirty water，but with an effervescing power of town-gossip，three ounces of lies and two grains of truth，stirred about with a birch-twig，not one that has been steeped in brine and used on a criminal's back，nor yet a piece of a schoolmaster's birch-rod，but one taken direct from the broom with which the gutter has been swept．
Here stands the bottle with pious poetry，written topsalm-tunes．Each drop has a terrifying ring about it，and it is made from the blood and sweat of punishment．Some say it is only dove's gall；but doves are most innocent creatures，and have no gall；so say those who do not know natural history．
Here stood the greatest bottle of all；it occupied half of the cupboard，—the bottle of Everyday Stories．Its mouth was covered both with bladder and with pigskin，sothat it might lose none of its strength．Each nation could get its own soup here；it came according as one turnedabout the bottle．Here was old German blood-soup with robber-dumplings in it；also thin peasant-soup with realprivy councilors swimming in it．There was English gov-erness-soup and French pottage a la Kock，made from cooks'legs and sparrows'eggs；but the best soup of all was the Copenhagen．So the family said．
Here stood Tragedy in a champagne bottle；it could pop，and so it ought．Comedy looked like fine sand to throw in people's eyes—that is to say，the finer Comedy；the coarser was also in a bottle，but consisted only of theatre-bills，on which the name of the piece was thestrongest item．
The man fell quite into a reverie over this， but theMoor-woman looked farther ahead， and wished to make an end of the matter．
"Now you have seen quite enough of the old cup- board，"she said，"and know what is in it；but the more important matter which you ought to know，you do not know yet．The Will-o'-the-Wisps are in the town！That's of much more consequence than poetry and stories． I ought，indeed，to hold my tongue；but there must be a necessity-a fate—a something that sticks in my throat，and that wants to come out．Take care， you mortals！"
"I don't understand a word of all this！"cried theman．
"Be kind enough to seat yourself on that cupboard，she retorted，"but take care you don't fall through andbreak the bottles—you know what' s inside them． I must tell of the great event．It occurred no longer ago than yesterday．It did not happen earlier．It has now three hundred and six-ty-four days to run about．I suppose you know how many days there are in a year？"
And this is what the Moor-woman told：
"There was a great commotion yesterday out here in the marsh！There was a christening feast！A little Will-o'-Wispwas born here-in fact，twelve of them were born all togeth-er；and they have permission，if they choose to use it，to goabroad among men，and to move about and command among them，just as if they were born mortals．That was a great event in the marsh，and accordingly all the Will-o'-the- Wisps wnet dancing like little lights across the moor，both male and female，for there are some of them of the female sex，though they are not usually spoken about．I sat there on the cupboard，and had all the twelve little new-bron Will-o'-the-Wisps upon my lap：they shone like glow-worms；they already began to hop，and increased in size moment， so that before a quarter of an hour had elapsed，each of them looked just as large as his father or his uncle．Now it's an old-established regulation and privilege，that when the moon stands just as it did yesterday，and the wind blows just as it blew then，it is allowed and accorded to all Will-o'-the- Wisps—that is，to all those who are born at that minute of time-to become mortals，and individually to exert their power for the space of one year．
"The Will-o'-the-Wisps may run about in the country and through the world，if it is not afraid of falling into the sea，or of being blown out by a heavy storm．It can enter in-to a person and speak for him，and make all the movements it pleases．The Will-o'-the-Wisp may take whatever form he likes，of man or woman，and can act in their spirit and in their disguise in such a way that he can effect whatever he wishes to do．But he must manage，in the course of the year，to lead three hundred and sixty-five people into a wrong way，and in a grand style，too：to lead them away from the right and the truth；and then he reaches the highest point that a Will-o'-the-Wisp can attain-to become a run- ner before the devil's state coach；and then he'll wear clothes of fiery yellow，and breathe forth flames out of his throat．That's enough to make a simple Will-o'-the-Wisp smack his lips．But there's some danger in this，and a greatdeal ot work for a will-o'-the-Wisp who aspires to play so distinguished a part．If the eyes of the man are opened to what he is，and if the man can then blow him away，it's all over with him，and he must come back into the marsh；or if，before the year is up，the Will-o'-the-Wisp is seized with a longing to see his family，and so returns to it and gives the matter up，it is over with him likewise，and he can no longer burn clear，and soon becomes extinguished，and cannot be lit up again；and when the year has elapsed，and he has not led three hundred and sixty-five people away from the truth and from all that is grand and noble，he is condemned to be imprisoned in decayed wood，and to lie glimmering there without being able to move；and that's the most terrible，punishment that can be inflicted on a lively Will-o'-the-Wisp．
"Now，all this I knew，and all this I told to the twelve little Will-o'-the-Wisps whom I had on my lap，and who seemed quite crazy with joy．
"I told them that the safest and most convenient course was to give up the honour，and do nothing at all；but the little flames would not agree to this， and alreadyfancied themselves clad in fiery yellow clothes，breathing flames from their throats．
"'Stay with us，'said some of the older ones．
"Carry on your sport with mortals，'said the others．
"'The mortals are drying up our meadows；they've tak- en to draining．What will our successors do？'
"'We want to flame；we will flame-flame！" cried the new-born Will-o'-the-Wisps．
"And thus the affair was settled．
"And now a ball was given，a minute long；it could not wel be shorter．The little elf-maidens whirled round three times with the rest，that they mightnot appear proud，but they prefer dancing with one an- other．
"And noe the sponsors' gifts were presented，and presents were thrown them．These presents flew like pebbles across the swamp-water．Each of the elf-maid- end gave a little piece of her veil．
"'Take that，'they said，'and then you'll know the higher dance，the most difficult turns and twists- that is to say，if you should find them necessary．
You'll know the proper deportment，and them you can show yourself in the very pick of society．'
"The night raven taught each of the young Will-o'-the-Wisps to say，'Goo-goo-good，'and to say it in the right place；and that's a great gift，which brings its own reward．
"The owl and the stork also made some remarks-but they said it was not worth mentioning，and so we won't men- tion it．"
"King Waldemar's wild chase was just them rushinng over the moor，and when the great lords heard of the festivi-ties that were going on，they sent as a present a couple of handsome dogs，which hunt with the speed of the wind， and can well bear two or three of the Will-o'-the Wisps．A cou-ple of old Nightmares，spirits who support themselves with riding，were also at the feast；and from there the young Will-o'-the-Wisps learned the art of slipping through every key-hole，as if the door stood open before them．These offered to carry the youngsters to the town，with which they were well acquainted．They usually rode through the air on their own back hair，which is fastened into a knot，for they love a hard seat；but now they sat astride no the wild hunting dogs，took the young Will-o'-the-Wisps in their laps，who wanted to go into the town to mislead and entice mortals，and，whisk！away they were．Now，this is what happened last night．To-day the Will-o'-Wisps are in the town，and have taken the matter in hand-but where and how？Ah，can you tell me that？Still，I've a lightning-conductor in mp great toe， and that will always tell me somthing．'"
"Why，this is a complete story，"exclaimed the man．
"Yes，but it is only the beginning，"replied the woman．
"Can you tell me how the Will-o'-the-Wisps'deport themselves，and how they behave？and in what shapes they have appeared in order to lead people into crooked paths？"
"I believe，"replied the man，"that one could tell quite a romance about the Will-o'-the-Wisps，in twelve parts；or，better still，one might make quite a popular play of them．"
"You might write that，"said the woman，"but it's best let alone．
"Yes that's better and more agreeable，"the man replied，"for them we shall escape from the newspapers，and not be tied up by them，which is just as uncomfortable as for a Will-o'-the-Wisps to lie in decaying woob，to have to gleam，and not be able to stir．"
"I don' t care about it either way，"cried the woman．"Let the rest write，those who can，and those who cannotlikewise．I'll give you an old tap from my cask that willopen the cupboard where poetry is kept in bottles，and you may take from that whatever may be wanting．But you，my good man，seem to have blackened your hands sufficiently with ink，and to have come to that age of se-dateness，that you need not be running about every yearfor stories，especially as there are much more importantthings to be done．You must have understood what is go-ing on？"
"The Will-o'-the-Wisps are in the town，"said theman．"I've heard it，and I have understood it．But whatdo you think I ought to do？I should be thrashed if I wereto go to the people and say，'Look，yonder goes a will-o'-the-Wisps in his best clothes！'"
"They also go in undress，"replied the woman．
"The Will-o'-the-Wisp can assume all kinds of forms，and appear in every place．He goes into the church，butnot for the sake of the service；and perhaps he may enterinto one or other of the priests．He speaks at the elec-tions，not for the benefit of the country，but only for him-self．He's an artist with the colour-pot as well as in thetheatre；but when he gets all the power into his own
hands，then the pot's empty！I chatter and chatter，but itmust come out，what's sticking in my that，to the dis-advantage of my own family．But I must now be the wom-an that will save a good many people．It is not done withmy goodwill，or for the sake of a medal．I do the most in-sane things I possibly can，and then I tell a poet about it，and thus the whole town gets to know of it directly．
"The town will not take that to heart，"observed theman；"that will not disurb a single person；for they willall think I'm only telling them a story when I say with thegreatest seriousness，'The Will-o'-the-Wisps are in thetown，says the Moor-woman．Take care of yourselves！'"