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THE STORM SHIFTS THE SIGNS

 

IN the old days whenGrandpapa wasquitea littleboyand ranabout inlittle red breeches and a red coatasash roumd his waist and a feather in his capfor that'sthe costume the little boyswore in his time when they weredressed intheirbestmany thingswere verydifferent fromwhat they are nowtherewasoftena good dealof show inthe streetsshow that we don't see nowadays because ithas been abolished as too oldfashioned still it is veryinteresting to hearGrandfather tell about it

It must reallyhavebeen a gorgeous sight tobehold in those days when the shoemakers shifted their sign when they changed their guildhall The silken flag wavedon it a doubleheaded eagle was displayed and a big bootthe youngest lads carried the welcome cup and the chestofthe guild and theirshirtsleeves were adorned withredand white ribbons the elder ones carried drawn swordseach with alemon stuck on its pointThere was a full bandofmusicandthemost splendid of alltheinstruments wasthe"bird" as Grandfather called the big stick with thecrescent atthetopand all manner of dingle-dangles hang- ingtoit aperfectTurkishclatterofmusic Thestickwaslifted high in the air and swung up and down till it jingledagain and quite dazzled one's eyes when the sun shone onall its glory ofgold and silver and brass

In front of the procession ran theHarlequindressedin clothesmade ofall kindsof coloured patches artfullysewn togetherwith a blackfaceand bells on hisheadlike a sledge horse he beat the people with his bat whichmade a great clattering without hurting them and the people pushed each other in order to move back or move for- ward the next momentLittleboysandgirlsfell over theirowntoes intothegutterold women dispenseddigs withtheir elbowsand looked sourand scoldedOne laughed another chatted the people throngedthewindowsand door-steps and even allthe roofs. Thesun shoneand althoughthey had a little rain too that was good forthe farmerandwhen theygotwetted thoroughly they only thought what ablessing it was for thecountry

And what stories Grandpapa could tellAs a little boyhe had seenallthese finedoings intheir greatest pomp

The oldest member of the guild used to make a speech fromtheplatform onwhich the shieldwashung up and thespeechwasin versesas if ithad beenmade by a poet as indeed it had for three peoplehad concocted it together andthey had first drunk a good bowl of punch sothat the speech mighttunout well

And the people gave a cheer for the speech but theyshouted much louder for the Harlequin whenheappearedinfrontoftheplatform andmadeagrimace at them

The fool played the fool most ad- mirablyanddrankmeadoutofspiritglasses whichhethenflung among the crowd bywhom they were caught upGrandfatherwasthe possessorofoneofthese glasses whichhadbeen given him by a plasterer who had managed to catch itSuch a scenewas really very pleasant and the shield onthe new guildhouse was hung with flowersand green wreaths

"One never forgets a display like that however olo one may grow" said Grandfather Nor did he forget it though hesawmany other grandspectacles in his time and could tell about them too butit was most pleasant of all to hear him tell about shiftingthe signs inthegreattownitself

Oncewhen he was a little boyGrandpapahadgonethere with his parentsHehad never yet been in themetropolisofthecountryThere were so many people inthe streets that he thought that the signs werebeingmovedand there weremany signs to move here ahundred rooms might have been filledwith them if they hadbeen hung up insideand not outside. Atthe tailor's werepictures of all kinds of clothing to show that he couldstitch up people from the coarsest to the finest;at the to-bacco manufacturer's were pictures of the most charminglittle boys, smoking cigars, just as they do in reality; therewere signs with painted butter and herrings, clerical col-lars, and coffins, and inscriptions and announcements into the bargain. A person could walk up and down for a whole day through the streets, and tire himself out with looking atthe pictures; and then hewould know all about what people lived in the houses,for they had hung out their signs;and, as Grandfather said, it was a very instructive thing,in a great town,to know at once who the inhabitants were. And this is what happinid with these signs,whenGrandpapa came tothe town. He told it me himself, and he hadn' t a "rogue on his back", as mother used to tell me he had when he wanted to make me believe something outrageous, for now he looked quite trustworthy. The first night after he came to the town, there was the most terrible gale ever recorded in the newspapers, a gale such as none of the inhabitants had ever before experi-enced. The air was filled with flying tiles;old wood-work crashed and fell; and a wheelbarrow ran up the street all alone, only to get out of the way. There was a groaning in the air, and a howling and a shrieking, and altogether it was a terrible storm. The water in the canal rose over thebanks, for it did not know where to run. The storm swept over the town, carrying plenty of chimneys with it ,and more than one proud old church spire had to bend, and hasnever got over it from that time. There was a kind of sentry-box,where dwelt the ven-erable old superintendent of the fire brigade, who always arrived with the last engine. The storm would not leave thislittle sentry-box alone, but must needs tear it from its fas-tenings, and roll it down the street; and , wonderfullyenough, it rose up and stopped opposite to the door of thehumble carpenter, who had saved three lives at the lastfire, but the sentry-box thought nothing of that. The barber's sign, the great brazen dish, was carriedaway, and hurled straight into the embrasure of the coun-cillor of justice; and the whole neighbourhood said this looked almost like malice, inasmuch as even her most inti-mate friends used to call the councillor's lady "the Razor" ;for she was so sharp that she knew more about other people's business than they knew about it themselves.

A sign with adried salt fish painted on it flew exactly in front of the door of a house where dwelt a man whowrote a newspaper That was a very poor joke of the gale which did not rememberthat a man who writes in apaperis not tobejokedwith forhe is a king in hisown news-paper and likewise in his own opinion. The weathercock flewto theopposite house wherehe perched looking the pictureofmaliceso the neigh- bours said

The cooper's tub stuck itselfup underthe head of"ladies costumes"

The eatinghouse keeper's billoffarewhich hadhung athis door in a heavy framewasposted by the stormoverthe entrance to the theatre where nobody wentit wasa ridiculous list"Horse-radish soupand stuffed cabbage"And now people camein plenty.

The fox's skin the honourable signofthefurrierwasfoundfastenedtothebellpullofayoungmanwho always went toearlylecture and looked like afurledum- brella and said he was striving after truth and was considered by his aunt"a model and an example"

The inscription"Institute for HigherEducation"was foundover the billiard clubandthe Institute itself got the sign"Children brought up by hand" Now this was not at all wittymerely naughty but the storm had doneit and no one has any control over that

Itwasa terrible night and in themorningonly think!—nearly all the signs had changed placesin some places the inscriptions were so malicious thatGrandfather would not speak of them at all butI saw thathe was chuckling secretly andit is possible he was keep ingsomething to himself

The poor people in the town and stillmore the strangers were continually making mistakes in thepeople they wanted to see nor was this to be avoided when theywentaccordingto thesigns Thus for instancesome who wanted to go to a very grave assembly of elderly menwhere important affairs were to be discussed found themselves in a noisy boys'school where all the company were leaping over the chairs and tables

There were also people who made a mistake between the churchand the theatre and that wasterrible indeed

Such a storm wehave never witnessed in our day forthat only happened in Grandpapa's time when he was quite a little boy Perhaps we shall neverexperience a storm of the kind but our grandchildren may and we canonlyhope andpray that all may stayat home while the stormisshiftingthesigns

 


 

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