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THERE was a man who once knew many storiesbutthey had slipped away from him-so he said the storythat used to visit him of its own accord no longer cameand knocked at his doorand why did it come no longerIt is true enouhg that for days and years the man had notthouhgt of ithad not expected it to come and knockbutit certainly had not been there eitherfor outside therewas warand within was the care and sorrow that warbrings with it

The stork and the swallows came back from theirlong journeyfor they thought of no dangerandbeholdwhen they arrivedthe nest was burntthe habitations ofmen were burntthe gates were all in disorderand evenquite goneand the enemy's horses trampled on the oldgravesThose were hardgloomy timesbut they came toan end

And now they were past and goneso people saidand yet no story came and knocked at the dooror gaveany tidings of its presence

"I suppose it must be deador gone away with manyother thingssaid the man

But the Story never diesAnd more than a wholeyear went byand he longedohso very muchfor 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 himsometimes young andcharminglike spring itselfsometimes as a beautifulmaidenwith a wreath of woodruff in her hairand abeechen branch in her handand with eyes that gleamedlike deep woodland lakes in the bright sunshine

Sometimes it had come to him in the guise of a ped-larand had opened its pack and let sliver ribbon comefluttering outwith verses and inscriptions of old remem-brancesBut it was most charming of all when itan old grandmotherwith silvery hairand such large sen-sible eyesshe knew so well how to tell about the oldesttimeslong before the Princesses span with the goldenspindlesand the dragons lay outside the castlesguardingthemShe told with such an air of truththat black spotsdanced before the eyes of all who heard her and the floorbecame black with human bloodterrible to see and to hearand yet so entertainingbecause such a long timehad passed since it all happened

"Will she ever knock at my door again"said themanand he gazed at the door so that black spots camebefore his eyes and upon the floorhe did not know if itwas bloodor mourning crape from the dark heavy days

And as he sat thusthe thought came upon him whether the Story might not have hidden itselflike thePrincess in the old taleAnd he would now go in search ofitif he found itit would beam in new splendourlovelierthan ever

"Who knows Perhaps it has hidden itself in the strawthat balances on the margin of the wellCarefullycareful-lyPerhaps it lies hidden in a withered flowerthat flowerin one of the great books on the bookshelf"

And the man went and opened one of the newest booksto gain information on this pointbut there was noflower to be found There he read about Holger the Daneand the man read that the whole tale had been invented andput together by a monk in Francethat it was a romance"translated into Danish and printed in that language"thatHolger the Dane had never really livedand consequentlycould never come againas we have sungand would haveso much liked to believeIt was just the same with Holgerthe Dane as with William Tellmere idle legendnot to bedepended onand all this was written in the bookwithgreat learning

"WellI 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 placeand went tothe fresh flowers at the windowperhaps the Story mighthave hidden itself in the red tulipswith the golden yellowedgesor in the fresh roseor in the strongly-colouredcameliaThe sunshine lay among the flowersbut no Story

The flowers winch had been here in the dark troubloustime had been much more beautifulbut they had been cutoffone after anotherto be woven into wreaths and placedin coffinsand the flag had waved over themPerhaps theStory had been buried with the flowersbut then the flow-ers would have known of itand the coffin would haveheard itand every little blade of grass that shot forthwould have told of itThe Story never dies

Perhaps it has been here onceand has knocked- but who had eyes or ears for it in those timesPeoplelooked darklygloomilyand almost angrily at the sunshineof springat the twittering birdsand all the cheerfulgreenthe tongue could not even hear the oldmerrypopular songsand they were laid in the coffin with somuch that our heart held dearThe Story may have knocked without obtaining a hearingthere was none to bidit welcome and so it may have gone away

"I will go forth and seek itOut in the countryoutin the woodand on the open sea beach"

Out in the country lies an old manor housewith redwallspointed gablesand a flag that floats on the towerThe nightingale sings among the finely-fringed beech- leaveslooking at the blooming apple trees of the gardenand thinking that they bear rosesHere the bees are busyin the summer-timeand hover round their queen with theirhumming songThe autumn has much to tell of the wild chaseof the leaves of the treesand of the races of menthat are passing away togetherThe wild swans sing atChristmas-time on the open waterwhile 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 gardenwhere the greatavenue of wild chestnut trees lures the wanderer to tread itsshadeswent the man who was in search of the Storyforhere the wind had once murmured something to him of

"Waldemar Daa and his Daughters"The Dryad in the treewho was the Story-mother herselfhad here told him the "Last Dream of the old Oak Tree"Herein grandmother'stime had stood clipped hedgesbut now only ferns and stinging-nettles grew there hiding the scattered fragmentsof old sculptured figuresthe moss is growing in their eyesbut they could see as well as everwhich was more than the man could do who was in search of the Story for hecould not find itWhere could it be

The crows flew over him by hundreds across the old treesand screamed"Krchda!—Krahda"

And he went out of the gardenand over the grass- plot of the yardinto the alder grovethere stood a littlesix-sided housewith a poultry-yard and a duck-yardIn the middle of the room sat the old woman who had the management of the wholeand who knew accurately aboutevery egg that was laid and about every chicken that couldcreep out of an eggBut she was not the Story of which theman was in searchthat she could attest with a certificateof Christian baptism and of vaccination that lay in her drawer

Withoutnot far from the house is a mound coveredwith red-thorn and laburnumhere lies an old gravestonewhich was brought many years ago rom the churchyard of the provincial towna rememhrance of one of the most hon-oured councillors of the placehis wife and his five daugh-tersall with folded hands and stiff ruffsstand round himOne could look at them so long that it had an effect uponthe thoughtsand these reacted upon the stone so that ittold of old timesat least it had been so with the man whowas in search of the Story

As he came nearerhe noticed a living butterfly sit- ting on the forehead of the sculptured councilorThe but-terfly flapped its wingsand flew a little bit fartherandsettled again close by the gravestone as if to point outwhat grew thereFour-leaved clover grew therethere wereseven of themWhen fortune comesit comes in a heapHe plucked the clover leavesand put them in his pocket

"Fortune is as good as ready money but a new charming story would be better stillthought the manbuthe could not find it here

And the sun went down red and largethe meadowwas covered with vapourthe Moor-woman was at her brewing

It was eveninghe stood alone in his roomand looked out upon the seaover the meadowover moor andcoast The moon shone bright a mist was over the mead-owmaking it look like a great lakeandindeedit wasonce soas the legend tellsand in the moonlight therewas evidence of the truth of the story

Then the man thought of what he had been reading in the townthat William Tell and Holger the Dane neverreally livedbut yet live in popular storylike the lakeyondera living evidence for such myths Yes Holgerthe Dane will return again

As he stood thus and thoughtsomething beat quitestrongly against the windowWas it a bird a bator anowlThose are not let ineven when they knockThe window flew open of itselfand an old woman lookd in atthe man

"What's your pleasure"said he"Who are youYou're looking in at the first floor windowAre 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 brewsI was at itThe hung was in the cask butone of the little moor-imps pulled it out in his mischiefand flung it up into the yardwhere it beat against thewindowand now the beer's running out of the cask andthat won't do good to anybody"

"Pray tell me some more"said the man

"Ahwait a littleanswered the Moor-woman"I've something else to do just now"And she was gone

The man was going to shut the windowwhen the woman stood before him again

"Now it is done"she said"but I shall have halfthe beer to brew over again tomorrowif the weather issuitableWellwhat have you to ask meI've comebackfor I always keep my word and you have seven four-leaved clovers in your pocketand one of them is a six-leaved oneThat inspires respectfor that's a decorationthat grows beside the high-waybut every one does not finditWhat have you to ask meDon't stand there like a ridiculous oaffor I must go back again directly to my bungand my cask

And the man asked about the Storyand 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 themHere are other things to takenotice ofother things to look afterEven the childrenhave go beyond thatGive the little boy a cigarand thelittle girl a new crinolinethey like that much betterTolisten to storiesNoindeedthere 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

"Yesbeware of the will-o'-the-wisps"said the

Moor-woman"for they're outthey're let loosethat iswhat we must talk aboutCome to me in the moorwhere

my presence is necessaryand I will tell you all about itbut you must make hasteand come while your seven four-leaved cloversof which one has six leaves are still freshand the moon stands high"

And the Moor-woman was gone

It struck twelve on the church-clockand before thelast stroke had died awaythe man was out in the yardout in the garden and stood in the meadowThe mist hadvanishedand the Moor-woman stopped her brewing

"You've been a long time coming"said the Moor-woman"Witches get forward faster than menand 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 youYou think of nothing but poetryand only askabout that Storyas if she were the lady of the whole

troopShe's the oldest of us allbut she always passes forthe youngestI know her wellI've been youngtooandshe's no chicken nowI was once quite a pretty elf-maid-enand have danced in my time with the others in the moonlightand have heard the nightingaleand have gone into the forest and met the Story-maidenwho was always to be found out thererunning aboutSometimes she tookup her night's lodgingh in a half-blown tulipor in a filedflowersometimes she would slip into the churchand 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-yesthey're liketwo yards of the same piece of stuffthey can go and liedown where they like and one can brew all their prattleand have it all the better and cheaper You shall have itfrom me for nothing I have a whole cupboardful of poetryin bottlesIt makes essencesand that's the best of itbitter and sweet herbsI have everything people want of poetryin bottlesso that I can put a little on my hand-kerchiefon holidaysto smell"

"Whythese 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 theLoafso that she might not soil her new Shoes'That hasbeen writtenand printed too

"I told that story myself"said the man

"Yesthen you must know itand you must know al-so that the girl sank into the earth directlyto the Moor-womanjust as Old Bogey's grandmother was paying her morning visit to inspect the brewery. She saw the girl glid-ing downand asked to have her as a remembrance of hervisitand got her too while I received a present that's ofno use to mea travelling druggist't shopa whole cupboardful of poetry in bottlesGrandmother told me where the cupboard was to be placedand there it's standing stillJust lookYou've your seven four-leaved clovers in your pocketone of which is a six-leaved oneand so you will be able to see it"

And really in the misdst of the moor lay something likea great knotted block of alderand that was the old grand-mother's cupboardThe Moor-woman said that this was al-way open to her and to every one in all lands and at alltimesif they only knew where the cupboard stoodItcould be opened either at the front or at the back and atevery side and corner-a perfect work of artand yet onlyan old alder stump in appearanceThe poets of all landsand especially those of our own counryhad been arranged herethe spirit of them had been extractedrefinedcriti-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 deviltryand then corkedup the bottles for use during all future times

"Pray let me see"said the man

"Yesbut there are more important things to hear"replied the Moor-woman

"But now we are at the cupboard"said the manAnd he looked in"Here are bottles of all sizesWhat is in this oneand what in that one yonder"

"Here is what they call may-balm" replied the wom-an"I have not tried it myselfbut I know that if onesprinkles ever so little of it on the floorthere immediately appears a beautiful woodland lakewith water-liliesandcalla and wild mintOne need only pour two drops on anold exercise-bookeven one from the lowest class at schooland the book becomes a whole drama of perfumewhich one may very well perform and fall asleep overthescent of it is so powerfulIt is intended as a compliment tome that the label on the flask bears the words'The Moor-woman's brewing'

Here stands the Scandal-BottleIt looks as if there were only dirty water in itand it is dirty waterbut with an effervescing power of town-gossipthree ounces of lies and two grains of truthstirred about with a birch-twignot one that has been steeped in brine and used on a criminal's backnor yet a piece of a schoolmaster's birch-rodbut one taken direct from the broom with which the gutter has been swept

Here stands the bottle with pious poetrywritten topsalm-tunesEach drop has a terrifying ring about itand it is made from the blood and sweat of punishmentSome say it is only dove's gallbut doves are most innocent creaturesand have no gallso say those who do not know natural history

Here stood the greatest bottle of allit occupied half of the cupboard,—the bottle of Everyday StoriesIts mouth was covered both with bladder and with pigskinsothat it might lose none of its strengthEach nation could get its own soup hereit came according as one turnedabout the bottleHere was old German blood-soup with robber-dumplings in italso thin peasant-soup with realprivy councilors swimming in itThere was English gov-erness-soup and French pottage a la Kockmade from cooks'legs and sparrows'eggsbut the best soup of all was the CopenhagenSo the family said

Here stood Tragedy in a champagne bottleit could popand so it oughtComedy looked like fine sand to throw in people's eyesthat is to saythe finer Comedythe coarser was also in a bottlebut consisted only of theatre-billson 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 itbut the more important matter which you ought to knowyou do not know yetThe Will-o'-the-Wisps are in the townThat's of much more consequence than poetry and stories I oughtindeedto hold my tonguebut there must be a necessity-a fatea something that sticks in my throatand that wants to come outTake care you mortals"

"I don't understand a word of all this"cried theman

"Be kind enough to seat yourself on that cupboardshe retorted"but take care you don't fall through andbreak the bottlesyou know what' s inside them I must tell of the great eventIt occurred no longer ago than yesterdayIt did not happen earlierIt has now three hundred and six-ty-four days to run aboutI 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 marshThere was a christening feastA little Will-o'-Wispwas born here-in facttwelve of them were born all togeth-erand they have permissionif they choose to use itto goabroad among menand to move about and command among themjust as if they were born mortalsThat was a great event in the marshand accordingly all the Will-o'-the- Wisps wnet dancing like little lights across the moorboth male and femalefor there are some of them of the female sexthough they are not usually spoken aboutI sat there on the cupboardand had all the twelve little new-bron Will-o'-the-Wisps upon my lapthey shone like glow-wormsthey already began to hopand increased in size moment so that before a quarter of an hour had elapsedeach of them looked just as large as his father or his uncleNow it's an old-established regulation and privilegethat when the moon stands just as it did yesterdayand the wind blows just as it blew thenit is allowed and accorded to all Will-o'-the- Wispsthat isto all those who are born at that minute of time-to become mortalsand 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 worldif it is not afraid of falling into the seaor of being blown out by a heavy stormIt can enter in-to a person and speak for himand make all the movements it pleasesThe Will-o'-the-Wisp may take whatever form he likesof man or womanand can act in their spirit and in their disguise in such a way that he can effect whatever he wishes to doBut he must managein the course of the yearto lead three hundred and sixty-five people into a wrong wayand in a grand styletooto lead them away from the right and the truthand then he reaches the highest point that a Will-o'-the-Wisp can attain-to become a run- ner before the devil's state coachand then he'll wear clothes of fiery yellowand breathe forth flames out of his throatThat's enough to make a simple Will-o'-the-Wisp smack his lipsBut there's some danger in thisand a greatdeal ot work for a will-o'-the-Wisp who aspires to play so distinguished a partIf the eyes of the man are opened to what he isand if the man can then blow him awayit's all over with himand he must come back into the marshor ifbefore the year is upthe Will-o'-the-Wisp is seized with a longing to see his familyand so returns to it and gives the matter upit is over with him likewiseand he can no longer burn clearand soon becomes extinguishedand cannot be lit up againand when the year has elapsedand he has not led three hundred and sixty-five people away from the truth and from all that is grand and noblehe is condemned to be imprisoned in decayed woodand to lie glimmering there without being able to moveand that's the most terriblepunishment that can be inflicted on a lively Will-o'-the-Wisp

"Nowall this I knewand all this I told to the twelve little Will-o'-the-Wisps whom I had on my lapand who seemed quite crazy with joy

"I told them that the safest and most convenient course was to give up the honourand do nothing at allbut the little flames would not agree to this and alreadyfancied themselves clad in fiery yellow clothesbreathing 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 meadowsthey've tak- en to drainingWhat will our successors do'

"'We want to flamewe will flame-flame" cried the new-born Will-o'-the-Wisps

"And thus the affair was settled

"And now a ball was givena minute longit could not wel be shorterThe little elf-maidens whirled round three times with the restthat they mightnot appear proudbut they prefer dancing with one an- other

"And noe the sponsors' gifts were presentedand presents were thrown themThese presents flew like pebbles across the swamp-waterEach of the elf-maid- end gave a little piece of her veil

"'Take that'they said'and then you'll know the higher dancethe most difficult turns and twists- that is to sayif you should find them necessary

You'll know the proper deportmentand 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 placeand that's a great giftwhich brings its own reward

"The owl and the stork also made some remarks-but they said it was not worth mentioningand so we won't men- tion it"

"King Waldemar's wild chase was just them rushinng over the moorand when the great lords heard of the festivi-ties that were going onthey sent as a present a couple of handsome dogswhich hunt with the speed of the wind and can well bear two or three of the Will-o'-the WispsA cou-ple of old Nightmaresspirits who support themselves with ridingwere also at the feastand from there the young Will-o'-the-Wisps learned the art of slipping through every key-holeas if the door stood open before themThese offered to carry the youngsters to the townwith which they were well acquaintedThey usually rode through the air on their own back hairwhich is fastened into a knotfor they love a hard seatbut now they sat astride no the wild hunting dogstook the young Will-o'-the-Wisps in their lapswho wanted to go into the town to mislead and entice mortalsandwhiskaway they wereNowthis is what happened last nightTo-day the Will-o'-Wisps are in the townand have taken the matter in hand-but where and howAhcan you tell me thatStillI've a lightning-conductor in mp great toe and that will always tell me somthing'"

"Whythis is a complete story"exclaimed the man

"Yesbut it is only the beginning"replied the woman

"Can you tell me how the Will-o'-the-Wisps'deport themselvesand how they behaveand 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-Wispsin twelve partsorbetter stillone 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 newspapersand not be tied up by themwhich is just as uncomfortable as for a Will-o'-the-Wisps to lie in decaying woobto have to gleamand not be able to stir"

"I don' t care about it either way"cried the woman"Let the rest writethose who canand those who cannotlikewiseI'll give you an old tap from my cask that willopen the cupboard where poetry is kept in bottlesand you may take from that whatever may be wantingBut youmy good manseem to have blackened your hands sufficiently with inkand to have come to that age of se-datenessthat you need not be running about every yearfor storiesespecially as there are much more importantthings to be doneYou must have understood what is go-ing on"

"The Will-o'-the-Wisps are in the town"said theman"I've heard itand I have understood itBut whatdo you think I ought to doI should be thrashed if I wereto go to the people and say'Lookyonder 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 formsand appear in every placeHe goes into the churchbutnot for the sake of the serviceand perhaps he may enterinto one or other of the priestsHe speaks at the elec-tionsnot for the benefit of the countrybut only for him-selfHe's an artist with the colour-pot as well as in thetheatrebut when he gets all the power into his own

handsthen the pot's emptyI chatter and chatterbut itmust come outwhat's sticking in my thatto the dis-advantage of my own familyBut I must now be the wom-an that will save a good many peopleIt is not done withmy goodwillor for the sake of a medalI do the most in-sane things I possibly canand then I tell a poet about itand 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 personfor they willall think I'm only telling them a story when I say with thegreatest seriousness'The Will-o'-the-Wisps are in thetownsays the Moor-womanTake care of yourselves'"



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