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THE DOOR-KEY

 

EVERY key has its story,and there are many keys;the chamberlain's key,the clockkey,St.Peter's key; we could tell about all the keys,but now we shall only tellabout the chamberlain's doorkey.

It came into being at a locksmith's,but it could wellbelieve that it was at a blacksmith's,it was hammered andfiled so much.It was too big for the trousers pocket,so ithad to be carried in the coat pocket.Here it lay for themost part in the dark,but it also had its appointed placeon the wall,by the side of the chamberlain's portrait fromchildhood's days,in which he looked like a forcemeatball with a frill on.

They say that every person has in his character andconduct something of the constellation he was born under,the bull,the virgin,or the scorpion,as they are called inthe almanac.The chamberlain's wife named none of these,but said her husband was born under the"sign of thewheelbarrow",because he had always to be shoved forward.

His father pushed him into an office,his motherpushed him into marriage,and his wife pushed him up tobe chamberlain,but she did not say so,she was an excellent discreet woman,who was silent in the right place,andtalked and pushed in the right place.

Now he was up in years,"well proportioned,"as hesaid himself,a man with education,good humour,and aknowledge of keys as well,something which we shall un-derstand better presently.

He was always in a good humour,every one thoughtmuch of him and liked to talk with him.If he went into thetown,it was difficult to get him home again if mother wasnot with him to push him along.He must talk with everyacquaintance he met.He had many acquaintances,andthe result was bad for the dinner.

His wife watched from the window."Now he iscoming!"said she to the servant,"put on the pot!Nowhe is stopping to talk to some one,so take off the pot,orthe food will be cooked too much!Now he is coming!Yes,put the pot on again!"But he did not come for allthat.

He would stand right under the window and nod upto her,but if an acquaintance came past,then he couldnot help it,he must say a word or two to him;if anotherone came past while he talked with the first,he held thefirst one by the buttonhole and seized the other one bythe hand,whilst he shouted to another one who was passing.

It was a trial of patience for his wife."Chamberlain!Chamberlain!"she shouted then."Yes,the man isborn under the sign of the wheelbarrow,he cannot comeaway unless he is pushed!"

He liked very much to go into the book shops,tolook at the books and papers.He gave the bookseller alittle present,to be allowed to take the new books hometo readthat is to say,to have leave to cut the books upthe long way,but not along the top,because then theycould not be sold as new.He was a living journal of etiquette,knew everything about engagements,weddings,funerals,literary talk and town gossip;he threw out mysterious allusions about knowing things which nobodyknew.He got it from the doorkey.

As young newly married people the chamberlain andhis wife had lived on their own estate,and from that timethey had the same doorkey,but then they did not knowits wonderful powerthey only got to know that later on.

It was in the time of Frederick Ⅵ.Copenhagen atthat time had no gas;it had oil lamps;it had no Tivolior Casino,no tramways and no railways.There were notmany amusements compared to what there are now.OnSunday people went out of the town on an excursion to thechurchyard,read the inscriptions on the graves,sat in thegrass and ate and drank,or they went to Fredericksberg,where the band played before the castle,and many peoplewatched the royal family rowing about on the little,narrowcanals where the old king steered the boat,and he and thequeen bowed to all the people without making any distinctions.Prosperous families came out there from the town anddrank their evening tea.They could get hot water at apeasant's little house,outside the garden,but they had tobring the other things with them.

The chamberlain's family went there one sunny Sun-day afternoon;the servant went on first with the teabasket,and a basket with eatables."Take the doorkey!"saidthe wife,"so that we can slip in ourselves when we comeback;you know they lock up at dusk,and the bellwirewas broken yesterday!We shall be late in coming home!After we leave Fredericksberg we shall go to the theatre tosee the pantomime."

And so they went to Fredericksberg,heard the music,saw the royal boat with the waving flag,saw the old king, and the white swans.After they had had a good tea,theyhurried off,but did not come in time to the theatre.

The rope-dance was over and the stilt-dance was pastand the pantomime begun:they were too late,as usual,and it was the chamberlain's fault;every minute he stoodand talked to some acquaintance on the way;in the theatrehe also found good friends,and when the performance wasover,he and his wife must necessarily go in with a family, to enjoy a glass of punch:it would only take about tenminutes,but they dragged on to an hour.They talked andtalked.Particularly entertaining was a Swedish Baron,orwas he a German?The chamberlain did not exactly remember,but on the contrary,the trick he taught him with thekey he remembered for all time.It was extraordinarilyinteresting!he could get the key to answer everything he asked it about,even the most secret things.

The chamberlain's key was peculiarly fitted for this,it was heavy in the wards,and it must hang down.TheBaron let the handle of the key rest on the first finger of his right hand.Loose and easy it hung there,every pulse beat in the finger point could set it in motion,so that it turned,and if that did not happen,then the Baron knew how to make it turn as he wished without being noticed.

Every turning was a letter,from A,and as far down the alphabet as one wished.When the first letter was found,the key turned to the opposite side,and then one sought for the next letter,and so one got the whole word, then whole sentences;the answer to the question.It was all fabrication,but always entertaining.That was also the chamberlain's first idea,but he did not stick to it.

"Man!Man!"shouted his wife."The west gate is shut at twelve o'clock!we will not get in,we have only a quarter of an hour." They had to hurry themselves;several people who wished to get into the town went quickly past them.As they approached the last guardhouse,the clock struck twelve,and the gate banged to:many people stood shut out,and amongst them the chamberlain and his wife and the girl with the tea-basket.Some stood there in great terror,others in vexation:each took it in his own way.

What was to be done? Fortunately,it had been settled lately that one of the town gates should not be locked,and through the guardhouse there,footpassengers could slip into the town.

The way was not very short,but the weather was beautiful,the sky clear and starry,frogs croaked in ditch and pond.The party began to sing,one song after anoth er,but the chamberlain neither sang nor looked at the stars,nor even at his own feet,so he fell all his length, along by the ditch;one might have thought that he had been drinking too much,but it was not the punch,it was the key,which had gone to his head and was turning about there.

Finally they got to the guardhouse,slipped over thebridge and into the town.

"Now I am glad again,"said the wife."Here is ourdoor!" "But where is the doorkey?"said the chamberlain. It was neither in the back pocket,nor the side pocket.

"Merciful God!"shouted his wife."Have you not gotthe key?You have lost it with your key-tricks with theBaron.How can we get in now?The bellwire was brokenyesterday,and the policeman has no key for the house.Weare in despair!"

The servant girl began to sob,the chamberlain wasthe only one who had any selfpossession.

"We must break one of the chandler's window panes,"said he;"get him up and then slip in." He broke one pane,he broke two."Petersen!"he shouted,and stuck his umbrella handle through the panes;the cellar-man's daughter inside screamed.The cellar-manthrew open the shop door and shouted"Police!"and beforehe had seen the chamberlain's family,recognized and letthem in;the policeman whistled,and in the next street another policeman answered with a whistle.People ran to thewindows."Where is the fire?Where is the disturbance?"they asked,and were still asking when the chamberlain wasalready in his room;there he took his coat off,and in itlay the doorkeynot in the pocket,but in the lining;ithad slipped down through a hole,which should not havebeen in the pocket.

From that evening the doorkey had a particularlygreat significance,not only when they went out in theevening,but when they sat at home,and the chamberlainshowed his cleverness and let the key give answers to ques-tions.He himself thought of the most likely answer,and sohe let the key give it,till at last he believed in it himself;but the apothecarya young man closely related to thechamberlaindid not believe.The apothecary had a goodcritical head;he had,from his schooldays,written criti-cisms on books and theatres,but without signing his name,that does so much.He was what one calls a wit,but didnot believe in spirits,and least of all in key-spirits.

"Yes,I believe,I believe,"said he,"dear cham-berlain,I believe in the doorkey and all key-spirits,asfirmly as I believe in the new science which is beginningto be known,table-turning and spirits in old and new fur-niture.Have you heard about it?I have!I have doubted,you know I am a sceptic,but I have become converted byreading in a quite trustworthy foreign paper,a terriblestory.Can you imagine,chamberlainI give you the story as I have it."Two clever children had seen their parents waken the spirit in a big dining-table.The little oneswere alone and would now try in the same way to rub lifeinto an old bureau.The life came,the spirit awoke,butit would not tolerate the command of the children;itraised itself,a crash sounded,it shot out its drawers andlaid each of the children in a drawer and ran with themout of the open door,down the stair and into the street,along to the canal,into which it rushed and drowned bothof them.The little ones were buried in Christian ground,but the bureau brought into the council room,triedfor child murder,and burnt alive in the market.

"I have read it!"said the apothecary,"read it in aforeign paper,it is not something that I have inventedmyself.It is,the key take me,true!now I swear a solemn oath!" The chamberlain thought that such a tale was toorude a jest.These two could never talk about the key,the apothecary was stupid on the subject of keys.

The chamberlain made progress in the knowledge ofkeys;the key was his amusement and his hobby.

One evening the chamberlain was just about to go tobedhe stood half undressed,and then he heard aknocking on the door out in the passage;it was the cellarman who came so late;he also was half undressed,buthe had,he said,suddenly got a thought which he wasafraid he could not keep over the night.

"It is my daughter,LotteLena,I must speak about.She is a pretty girl,and she is confirmed,andnow I would like to see her well placed."

"I am not yet a widower,"said the chamberlain,andsmiled,"and I have no son I can offer her!"

"You understand me,I suppose,Chamberlain,"saidthe cellar-man."She can play the piano,and sing;you might be able to hear her up here in the house.You don'tknow all that that girl can hit upon.She can imitate every-body in speaking and walking.She is made for comedy' and that is a good way for pretty girls of good family'theymight be able to marry a count,but that is not the thoughtwith me or LotteLena.She can sing and she can play piano!so I went with her the other day up to the musicschool.She sang,but she has not the finest kind of voicefor a woman;she has not the canaryshriek in the highestnotes which one demands in lady singers,and so they advised her against that career.Then,I thought,if she cannot be a singer,she can at any rate be an actress,whichonly requires speech.Today I spoke to the instructor,asthey call him.'Has she education?'he asked.'No,'saidI,'absolutely none!''Education is necessary for anartist!'said he.She can get that yet,I thought,and so Iwent home.She can go into a lending library and read whatis there.But as I sat this evening,undressing,it occurredto me,why hire books when one can borrow them?Thechamberlain is full up with books,let her read them;thatis education enough,and she can have that free!"

"LotteLena is a nice girl!"said the chamberlain,"apretty girl!She shall have books for her education.But hasshe that which one calls'go'in her braingenius?And hasshe,what is of as much importanceluck?"

"She has twice won a prize in the lottery,"said thecellarman,"once she won a wardrobe,and once six pairsof sheets;I call that luck,and she has that!"

"I will ask the key!"said the chamberlain.And heplaced the key upon his forefinger and on the cellar-man'sforefinger,let it turn itself and give letter by letter.

The key said,"Victory and Fortune!"and so LotteLena's future was settled.

The chamberlain at once gave her two books to read: the play of"Dyveke"and Knigge's"Intercourse withPeople".

From that evening a kind of closer acquaintanceshipbetween Lotte-Lena and the chamberlain's family began.She came up into the family,and the chamberlain thoughtthat she was an intelligent girl;she believed in him andin the key.The chamberlain's wife saw,in the boldnesswith which she every moment showed her great ignorance,something childish and innocent.The couple,each intheir own way,thought much of her,and she of them.

"There is such a nice smell upstairs,"said LotteLena.There was a smell,a scent of apples in the pas-sage,where the wife had laid out a whole barrel of"grey-stone"apples.There was also an incense smell of rosesand lavender through all the rooms.

"It is something lovely,"said LotteLena.Her eyeswere delighted with the many lovely flowers,which thechamberlain's wife always had here;yes,even in winterthe lilac and cherry branches flowered here.The leaflessbranches were cut off and put in water,and in the warmroom they soon bore leaves and flowers.

"One might believe that the bare branches weredead,but,look!how they rise up from the dead."

"That has never occurred to me before,"said LotteLena."Nature is charming!"

And the chamberlain let her see his"Key-book"where he had written the remarkable things the key hadsaid,even about half of an apple cake which had disap-peared from the cupboard just the evening when the servant girl had a visit from her sweetheart.The chamberlainasked his key,"Who has eaten the apple cakethe cator the sweetheart?"and the doorkey answered,"Thesweetheart!"The chamberlain knew it before he asked,and the servant girl confessed:the cursed key kneweverything.

"Yes,is it not remarkable?"said the chamberlain."The key!the key!and about LotteLena it predicted'Victory and Fortune!'We shall see that yetI answerfor it!

"That is delightful,"said LotteLena.

The chamberlain's wife was not so confident,but shedid not express her doubt when her husband could hear it, but confided to LotteLena that the chamberlain,when hewas a young man,had been quite given up to the theatre.If any one at that time had pushed him,he would certainlyhave been trained as an actor,but the family pushed theother way.He insisted on going on the stage,and to getthere he wrote a comedy.

"It is a great secret I confide to you,little LotteLena.The comedy was not bad,it was accepted at theRoyal Theatre and hissed off the stage,so that it has neverbeen heard of since,and I am glad of it.I am his wife andknow him.Now,you will go the same way;I wish youeverything good,but I don't believe it will happen,I donot believe in the key!"

LotteLena believed in it;and the chamberlain agreedwith her.Their hearts understood each other in all virtueand honour.The girl had several abilities which the chamberlain appreciated.LotteLena knew how to make starchfrom potatoes,to make silk gloves from old silk stockingsand to cover her silk dancingshoes,although she had hadthe means to buy everything new.She had what the chandler called "money in the table-drawer,and bonds in thebank".The chamberlain's wife thought she would make agood wife for the apothecary,but she did not say so anddid not let the key say it either.The apothecary was goingto settle down soon,and have his own business in one ofthe nearest and biggest provincial towns.

Lotte-Lena constantly read the books she had borrowed from the chamberlain.She kept them for two years,but by that time she knew by heart all the parts of"Dyveke",but she only wished to appear in one of them,that of Dyveke herself,and not in the capital where therewas so much jealousy,and where they would not have her. She would begin her artistic career(as the chamberlaincalled it)in one of the bigger provincial towns.

Now it was quite miraculous,that it was just thevery same place where the young apothecary had settledhimself as the town's youngest,if not the only,apothecary.

The longlooked-for evening came when LotteLenashould make her first appearance and win victory and fortune,as the key had said.The chamberlain was not

there,he was ill in bed and his wife nursed him;he hadto have warm bandages and chamomile tea;the bandageson the stomach and the tea in the stomach.

The couple were not present themselves at the performance of"Dyveke",but the apothecary was there andwrote a letter about it to his relative the chamberlain'swife.

"If the chamberlain's key had been in my pocket,"he wrote,"I would have taken it out and whistled in it;she deserved that,and the doorkey deserved it,whichhad so shamefully lied to her with its'Victory and For-tune'."

The chamberlain read the letter.The whole thingwas malice,said hehatred of the keywhich venteditself on the innocent girl.

And as soon as he rose from his bed,and was himself again,he sent a short but venomous letter to theapothecary,who answered it as if he had not found any-thing but jest and good humour in the whole epistle.

He thanked him for that as for every future,benevolent contribution to the publication of the key's incompa-rable worth and importance.Next,he confided to thechamberlain,that he,besides his work as apothecary,was writing a great key romance,in which all the characters were keys;without exception,keys."The door-key"was naturally the leading person,and the chamberlain'sdoorkey was the model for him,endowed with propheticvision and divination.All the other keys must revolveround it;the old chamberlain's key,which knew thesplendor and festivities of the court;the clockkey,little, fine,and elegant,costing three-pence at the iron-mon-ger's;the key of the pulpit,which reckons itself amongthe clergy,and has,by sitting through the night in thekeyhole,seen ghosts.The diningroom,the woodhouseand the winecellar keys all appear,curtsy,and revolvearound the door-key.The sunbeams light it up like silver; the wind,the spirit of the universe,rushes in on it,sothat it whistles.It is the key of all keys,it was the chamberlain's door-key,now it is the key of the gate of Heav-en,it is the Pope's key,it is"infallible".

"Malice,"said the chamberlain,"colossal malice!"

He and the apothecary did not see each other againexcept at the funeral of the chamberlain's wife.

She died first.

There was sorrow and regret in the house.Even thebranches of cherrytree,which had sent out fresh shootsand flowers,sorrowed and withered;they stood forgotten,she cared for them no more.

The chamberlain and the apothecary followed her coffin,side by side,as the two nearest relations;here was notime or inclination for wrangling.

LotteLena sewed the mourning-band round the cham-berlain's hat.She was here in the house,come back longago without victory and fortune in her artistic career.But itwould come;Lotte-Lena had a future.The key had said it,and the chamberlain had said it.

She came up to him.They talked of the dead,andthey wept,Lotte-Lena was tender;they talked of art,andLotteLena was strong.

"The theatre life is charming,"said she,"but thereis so much quarrelling and jealousy!I would rather go myown way.First myself,then art!"

Knigge had spoken truly in his chapter about actors;she saw that the key had not spoken truly,but she did notspeak about that to the chamberlain;she thought too muchof him.

The door-key was his comfort and consolation all theyear of mourning.He asked it questions and it gave answers.And when the year was ended,and he and LotteLena sat together one evening,he asked the key,

"Shall I marry,and whom shall I marry?"

There was no one to push him,he pushed the key, and it said"LotteLona".So it was said,and Lotte-Lenabecame the chamberlain's wife.

"Victory and Fortune!"These words had been saidbeforehandby the doorkey.

 


 

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