Monday, 25 September 2017
Sunday, 24 September 2017
The Pepper-man’s Night-cap
There’s a street in Copenhagen that has the strange name ‘Hyskenstræde’, and why is it called that and what does it signify? It’s said to be German, but that does German an injustice: ‘Häuschen’ is what one ought to say, and that means: small houses, these ones – back then and for many years after that – were practically nothing more than wooden shacks, rather like the stalls one now sees erected at markets; well, probably a little bigger and with windows, though the panes were of horn or bladder skin, for back then it was too expensive to have glass window-panes in all the houses, but that is also a long time ago, so that great-grandfather’s great-grandfather, when he talked about it, also used to refer to it as ‘in olden times’, meaning several centuries ago.
The rich merchants in Bremen and Lübeck used to do business in Copenhagen; they did not come up here in person, they sent their journeymen, who used to live in the wooden shacks in ‘Small House Street’ and also sold beer and spices. German beer was so delicious, and there were many different types: Bremer beer, Prysing, Emser – oh yes, and Braunschweiger-Mumme, and then there were all those spices, such as saffron, aniseed, ginger and especially pepper; yes, that was the most important here, and for that reason every German ‘svend’, the Danish for journeyman, got the name ‘pebersvend’, which means not only a pepper-man but also a bachelor, for back home they had to promise not to get married; many of them remained confirmed bachelors into old age – they had to earn a livelihood, take care of themselves, put out their own fires if they had any; some of them became lonely old fellows, with their own thoughts and own habits; and that is why every unmarried male person who has reached a certain age is now called a ‘pebersvend’. All this you have to know to be able to understand the story.
People make fun of him, say he must have a night-cap on, pull it down over his eyes and go to bed with it on:
‘Saw firewood, with no end in sight,
The pepper-men all share this plight, –
To bed they go with night-cap on,
Their candle themselves they must light!’ –
Yes, that’s what people sing about them! they poke fun at the pepper-man and his night-cap – simply because they know so little about him and his cap – ah, such a night-cap one must never wish for oneself! and why not? Well, just listen!
Down in Small House Street, in olden days, there were no cobbles, people stepped in one hole after the other, as in a much-used sunken road, and it was narrow there: the shacks were so close to both next-door and opposite neighbour that canvas was often stretched across the street from one shack to another, and there was such a spicy smell of pepper, saffron and ginger. Behind the counter not many a young journeyman stood, no, most of them were old fellows, and they did not, as we think of them, wear a wig or a night-cap, with coarse woollen trousers, waistcoat and dress coat buttoned all the way up, no, that was how great-grandfather’s grandfather used to dress and how he is portrayed in paintings; the pepper-men couldn’t afford to have their portrait painted, and it would have been worth quite a bit now to own a painting of one of them, dressed as they did when they stood behind the counter or walked to church on special days. Their hat was broad-brimmed and high-crowned, and often one of the youngest journeymen would stick a feather in his; the woollen shirt was hidden by a turned-down linen collar, the jacket tightly buttoned, the cloak worn loosely on top and the trousers stuffed down into broad-toed shoes, for they wore no stockings. At their belt they wore a kitchen knife and a spoon, there was also a larger knife they could use to defend themselves with, as was often necessary back then. Dressed like this on special days was old Anthon, one of the oldest pepper-men of the street, except that he did not wear a high-crowned hat, but a fur cap and under that a knitted cap, a real night-cap, he had got used to wearing it and did so always, and he possessed no less than two of them; he was exactly right for a portrait, he was so scrawny, so wrinkled round the mouth and eyes, had long, bony fingers and bushy grey eyebrows, and a large tuft of hair hung down over his left eye, not a pretty sight, but it made him instantly recognisable; it was known that he came from Bremen, although he wasn’t really from there, that was where his master lived; he himself was from Thüringen, from the town of Eisenach, just north of Wartburg; old Anthon didn’t speak much about it, though he thought about it all the more!
The old journeymen in the street did not meet much socially, each of them stayed in his own shack which closed early in the evening and then it looked quite black, only a dull gleam of light could be seen through the small horn window-pane up in the roof, where, inside, and usually on his bed, the old fellow would sit with his German song book and recite his evening hymn, or he pottered around, even late at night, with this or that; it was definitely not all that entertaining, a stranger in a foreign land is a harsh fate – one is of no interest to anybody, unless one happens to be standing in the way.
Often, when it was a pitch-black night outside with rough, rainy weather, it could be so forbidding and deserted here; there were no lamps except for a single small one that hung right at one end of the street, in front of a picture of the Virgin Mary that had been painted on the wall. One could hear the water plashing and splashing against the timberwork close by, off Slotsholm, which the other end of the street faced. Such evenings felt long and lonely unless one busied oneself with something: unpacking and packing, making cornets and polishing scales isn’t a necessary chore each and every day, but then one finds something else to do, and old Anthon did so, he mended his own clothes, patched his shoes; and when he finally got to bed, he kept – out of habit – his night-cap on, pulled it a little further down, but then pulled it up slightly again to check if the candle had been properly gutted, felt it, squeezed the wick and then lay down again and on his other side, and pulled down his night-cap once more; for often a thought immediately came into his head: were, he wondered, all the coals in the small bed-warmer downstairs really out, properly doused – a tiny spark might still be there and that could set light and cause damage; and so he got up out of bed, crept down the ladder – it could hardly be called a staircase – and when he got to the bed-warmer, there was not a spark to be seen, and he could go back again; but often he only got halfway, for he wasn’t quite sure if the iron rod had been put up to bar the door, if the cramp-iron secured the shutters; well, down again he had to go on his spindly legs; he was very cold, his teeth chattered when he crept back into bed, for the cold only gets really bad when it knows it is about to be banished. He pulled his coverlet higher up over himself, his night-cap further down over his eyes and turned his thoughts away from the dealings and small difficulties of the day, but that did not make him feel comfortable, for now old memories came along and hung up their curtains, and sometimes they have pins in them that one can prick oneself on: ow! one says; and if they stick into one’s flesh and sting, it can bring tears to one’s eyes, and this was often the case with Anthon, there came hot tears, the brightest pearls; they fell onto the coverlet or onto the floor, and they rang out as if a string of pain broke, so heart-rending it was; they evaporated of course, they flared up in flames, but they then lit up a life-image for him that never disappeared from his heart; if he dried his eyes with his night-cap, the tear and the image were crushed, but the source of it remained, it lay in his heart. The images did not come in the order they do in real life, usually the most painful came, and then the happy yet melancholy ones gleamed too, but the latter were precisely the ones that cast the darkest shadows.
‘The beech wood is a delight in Denmark!’ people said, but more delightful to Anthon was the beech wood in the area around Wartburg; more majestic and more venerable did the old oak trees around the proud baronial castle seem to him, where the twining plants hung over the boulders of the cliff; the apple blossom smelt sweeter there that in the land of Denmark; he could still feel and sense it vividly; a tear rolled down, rang out and gleamed: in it he clearly saw the two young children, a boy and a girl, playing together; the boy had red cheeks, curly blond hair, honest blue eyes, it was the son of the rich hosier, little Anthon himself; the little girl had brown eyes and black hair, she looked both spirited and intelligent, it was the mayor’s daughter, Molly. The two of them were playing with an apple, they shook it and could hear the pips rattling inside it; they divided the apple and had a piece each; they shared the pips between them and ate them, except for one, that ought to be placed in the earth, the little girl felt.
‘Then you’ll see what comes out of it, something will comes that you can’t imagine, a whole apple tree, but not right away!’
And they planted the pip in a flower pot, both of them eagerly took part; the boy poked a hole in the soil with his finger, the little girl placed the pip in it and then both of them covered it over with earth.
‘Now you mustn’t take it up tomorrow to see if it has taken root,’ she said, ‘that’s not allowed! I did that with my flowers, only twice, I wanted to see if they were growing, I didn’t know any better, and the flowers died!’
The flower pot stayed at Anthon’s, and every morning, throughout all winter, he tended it, but all he could see was black earth; now spring came, the sun shone so warmly, and then two small green leaves started to sprout in the flower pot.
‘That’s me and Molly!’ Anthon said, ‘that’s lovely, that’s wonderful!’
Soon a third leaf made its appearance – what does that mean? Yes, and then one more and yet another one! every day and week the plant grew bigger and bigger, it became a whole tree. And this, all of it, was reflected in a single tear that was crushed and vanished; but it could come again from the endless source in old Anthon’s heart.
Close to Eisenach a range of rocky mountains stretches out, one is rounded and has neither trees, bushes or grass; it is called Venusberg. Inside it lives Mother Venus, a Germanic goddess from pagan times, Mother Holle she is also called, every child in Eisenach knew and knows this; she had enticed the noble knight Tannhäuser into the mountain, the minnesinger from the Wartburg circle of singers.
Little Molly and Anthon often used to stand outside her home, and on one occasion she said: ‘Do you dare knock and say: “Mother Holle! Mother Holle! open up, here stands Tannhäuser!” but Anthon did not dare; Molly dared, although she only said “Mother Holle! Mother Holle!” loudly and clearly, the rest she mumbled into the wind, so indistinctly that Anthon was sure she hadn’t really said anything; she looked so spirited, as spirited as when she sometimes met him in the garden along with other young girls, and they then all wanted to kiss him, simply because he didn’t want to be kissed, and resisted. She was the only one who dared.
‘I dare kiss him!’ she said proudly and put her arms round his neck; it was from conceitedness and Anthon put up with it, didn’t think any further about it. How charming she was, how spirited. Mother Holle was also said to be lovely, but that loveliness, people had said, was the seductive beauty of wickedness; the greatest loveliness on the other hand was that found in holy Elisabeth, the guardian saint of the land, the devout Thüringen princess whose good deeds, through stories and legends, lent glory many a place here; in the chapel her picture hung with silver lamps round it – though she didn’t look like Molly at all.
The apple tree the two children had planted grew year by year, it became so big it had to be planted out in the garden in the fresh air, where the dew fell, the sun shined warmly, and it gained strength to withstand the winter, and after the heavy burden of the winter it was as if it came into blossom out of sheer joy in spring; in the autumn there were two apples on it, one for Molly, one for Anthon; there could hardly be less than that.
The tree had been quick to grow, Molly grew like the tree did, she was as fresh as apple blossom; but he was not destined to see that blossom for long. Everything alters, everything changes! Molly’s father left his old home and Molly went with him, far away – well, in our present age of steam it is only a few hours’ journey, but back then it took more than a night and a day to get from Eisenach, which was right on the outermost edge of Thüringen, to the city that is still called Weimar.
And Molly cried and Anthon cried – all those tears, well they merged into a single tear that had the lovely red colour of happiness. Molly had told him that she was more fond of him that all the splendour of Weimar.
A year passed, then two, three and during all that time two letters arrived, one brought by a carrier, the other by a traveller; the road was long, heavy and winding, past cities and towns.
How often hadn’t Anthon and Molly listened together to the story of Tristan and Isolde and he had then thought of himself and Molly, although the name Tristan was said to mean ‘he was born to them in sorrow’, and that didn’t apply to Anthon, nor would he ever, like Tristan, come to think ‘she has forgotten me!’, but Molly did not forget her dear friend either, and when, in the legend, they were both dead and buried on either side of the church, the linden trees from their graves grew higher than the church roof and met up above it when they blossomed; that was so beautiful, Anthon thought, but so sad – but it could never be such between him and Molly and then he whistled a song by the minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide:
‘Under the linden on the heath’
and he especially liked the lines:
‘At the forest edge, in a vale –
sweetly sang the nightingale!’
That song was constantly on his lips, he sang and whistled it in the moonlit night when he rode off on horseback along the deep sunken road to get to Weimar and visit Molly; he wanted to come unexpectedly, and that he did.
He was welcomed, goblets were filled with wine, there was convivial company, fine company, a cosy room and a good bed, and yet it wasn’t at all as he had imagined and dreamt it! he did not understand himself, he did not understand the others; though we are able to understand it! One can be in a house, in a family, and yet not take root; one converses as one does in a stage coach, knows each other as one does in a stage coach, makes each other feel uncomfortable, wishes that one could take one’s leave, or that one’s good neighbour could do so. Yes, it was something similar that Anthon felt.
‘I am an honest girl,’ Molly said to him, ‘I will tell you straight out! Much has changed since we were together as children, both outside and inside. Custom and will have no power over our hearts! Anthon! I do not want to lose you as a friend, now that I am soon to be far from here! – believe me, I have many a kind thought for you, but to be fond of you as I now know it is possible to be of another human being is something I have never with regard to you! This you will have to accept! – Goodbye, Anthon!’
And Anthon also said goodbye; not a tear did he shed, but he sensed that he was no longer Molly’s friend. The white-hot iron rod and the frozen iron rod rip the skin off our lips with an identical sensation when we kiss it, and he kissed love just as strongly as he did hatred.
It did not take even one whole day for Anthon to ride back to Eisenach, but the horse he rode on was also ruined.’
‘So what!’ he said, ‘I am ruined and I will ruin everything that can remind me of her: Mother Holle, Mother Venus, you pagan woman! – I will shake and break the apple tree, pull it up by the roots; it will never blossom again and bear fruit!’
But the tree was not laid waste, it was he himself who was laid waste and lay in his bed with a high fever. What could help him rise from his sick-bed? There was one medicine able to, the bitterest of all medicines, one that shakes up the sick body and the shrinking soul: Anthon’s father was no longer a rich merchant. The burdensome days, the days of trial and tribulation, were imminent; misfortunes surged in over the formerly rich household and inundated it like great lakes. His father became a pauper, sorrow and misfortune stunned him; then Anthon had something else to think about than a broken heart and being angry with Molly; now he had to be both master and mistress of the house, he had to organise, assist, really get down to work, get out into the wide world and earn a living.
He went to Bremen, experienced adversity and difficult days, and they make the mind either hard or soft, often much too soft. How different the world and people there were than he had imagined when he was a child. What were the songs of the minnesingers to him now? Tinkling cymbals, hot air! Yes, that is what he sometimes felt, but at other times the songs spoke directly to his soul and he grew devout.
‘God’s will is what is best!’ he then said, ‘it was a good thing that the Lord God did not let Molly’s heart hang on to me, what would that have led to, now that this reversal of fortune has struck. She let go of me before she knew or considered the sudden loss of prosperity that was to take place. It was an act of divine mercy towards me, everything has turned out for the best! Everything has turned out wisely! she couldn’t prevent it; and I have been so bitterly hostile towards her!’
And the years passed; Anthon’s father was dead, strangers now lived in his family home; Anthon was to see it again, however, his rich master sent him on a business matter that took him through his native town of Eisenach. The old castle of Wartburg stood unchanged up there on the mountain, with ‘The Monk and the Nun’ slabs of carved stone; the majestic oak trees formed the same silhouette for the entire scene as in his childhood. The Venusberg gleamed, bare and greyish, down in the valley. He would have liked to have said: ‘Mother Holle!, Mother Holle! Unlock the mountain! then at least I would be on home ground!’ It was a sinful thought, and he crossed himself; then a small bird started to sing from the bush, and the old minnelied came to mind:
‘where the forest ends in a vale –
sweetly sang the nightingale!’
He remembered so much, here close to the town of his childhood, which he saw once more through tears. The family home was as before, but the garden had been relaid, a field lane led across one corner of the plot, and the apple tree – he had not ruined it – still stood there, but outside the garden, on the far side of the lane, although the sun shone on it as before and the dew fell on it as before, it bore much fruit that caused its branches to bow down towards the ground.
‘It thrives!’ he said, ‘it’s able to thrive!’
One of its large branches, however, had been snapped, wanton hands had done this, for the tree stood close to the beaten track.
‘Some of its blossoms have been broken off with no thanks given, some of its fruit stolen and branches snapped; one could say, if it possible to speak of a tree in this way as one does of a human being: it was not sung at its cradle that this would come to pass. Its story began so beautifully, and what has come out of it? abandoned and forgotten, a garden tree by a ditch, close to field and lane! there it stands unsheltered, shaken and broken! it won’t wither as a result, but as the years pass it will blossom less, bear no fruit and finally – well, that’s the end of the story!’
That is what Anthon thought under the tree, what he thought many a night in the small, lonely room in the wooden shack in a foreign country in Small House Street in Copenhagen, where his rich master, the merchant in Bremen, had sent him and stipulated that he was not to marry.
‘Get married! ho, ho!’ and he laughed deeply and oddly.
Winter had arrived early, there was a keen frost; outside a snowstorm caused everyone who was able to stay indoors; and that was also why Anthon’s opposite neighbour did not notice that the door of his shack had not been opened for two days, that he had not shown himself – who goes out in such weather unless it is necessary?
The days were grey and dark, and inside the shack, where the window panes were not of glass, it was either twilight or pitch darkness. For two days, Anthon had not left his bed, he did not have enough strength to do so; the harsh weather outside he had long since sensed in his own limbs. The old pepper-man lay there, abandoned by other, and unable to help himself, scarcely able to reach out for the jug of water he had placed beside the bed, and the last drop had already been drunk. It was not a fever, not an illness, it was old age that incapacitated him. It was almost like unbroken night around him, up there where he lay. A small spider, which he couldn’t see, busily and contentedly wove its web over him, as if to ensure a little new, fresh mourning crape if the old man should close his eyes for good.
Time was so sluggish and meaninglessly empty; he had no tears, no pain either; he did not think at all of Molly; he had a feeling that the world and its bustle was no longer any affair of his, that he lay outside it – no one thought of him. For an instant it seemed to him he felt hungry, thirsty as well, – yes, he did! but no one came to satisfy those needs, no one would come. He thought of those who languished, recalled how holy Elisabeth, when she lived on this earth, she who was the saint of his home and childhood, the noble Duchess of Thüringen, the exalted lady, used to enter even the poorest dwelling and bring hope and refreshment to anyone who was sick. Her pious deeds illuminated his thoughts, he recalled how she came with words of solace to those who suffered, bathed the wounds of the afflicted, brought food to the hungry, even though her strict husband was angry with her. He recalled the legend about her, how, when she came with her basket, full to the brim with food and wine, her husband, who watched her every step, came forward and asked her angrily what she was carrying, and when she out of fear answered, it is roses I have picked in the garden, he tore off the cloth, and the miracle took place for the pious woman – the wine and bread, everything in the basket, had been transformed into roses.
So did the saint live on in old Anthon’s thoughts, so did she stand as large as life before his feeble eyes, before his bed in the shabby shack in the country of Denmark. He bared his head, looked directly into her gentle eyes and everything around him was radiance and roses, indeed, these even spread out so fragrantly, he then discerned a distinct, lovely smell of apples, he saw that it was an apple tree in blossom, it stretched out over him, it was the tree he and Molly had planted as a tiny seed.
And the tree let its scented leaves sift down onto his hot forehead and cool it; they fell onto his parched lips and were like fortifying wine and bread, they fell onto his chest and he felt so light, so secure that he dozed.
‘Now I am sleeping!’ he quietly whispered, ‘sleep is good! tomorrow I will be in full vigour once more and up on my feet! wonderful! wonderful! The apple tree planted in love I see in all its glory!’
And he slept.
The following day, it was the third day the shack was closed, the snow now longer swirled in eddies, the neighbour opposite went over to Anthon, who did not show himself. He lay there stretched out on the bed. Dead. With his old night-cap clenched in his hands. He was not given it to wear in his coffin, he owned another one, pure and white.
Where now were the tears he had wept? Where were the pearls? They remained in the night-cap – genuine ones do not dissolve in the wash – with the cap they were kept and forgotten – the old thoughts, the old dreams, yes, they continued to remain in the pepper-man’s night-cap. Don’t wish for it! it will make your forehead much too hot, cause your pulse to race, cause you to have dreams you confuse withs reality; this is what the first person who tried it on experienced and this was even so fifty years later, and it was the mayor in person, who sat with a wife and eleven children, safely within four walls; he immediately dreamt of unhappy love, bankruptcy and hard times.
‘Ooh! how hot that night-cap makes you feel!’ he said and pulled it off and one pearl after the other rolled out and sounded and gleamed. ‘It’s my rheumatics!’ the mayor said, ‘I can see stars!’
These were tears wept fifty years previously, wept by old Anthon from Eisenach.
Anyone who put on the night-cap since then was sure to have visions and dreams, his own story became that of Anthon, it became a fairytale, it became many, those other people can relate, now we have told the first one and with that our final word is: ‘Never wish for the pepper-man’s night-cap.’
Friday, 22 September 2017
‘Soup from a sausage stick’ – something out of next to nothing!
‘That was an excellent repast yesterday!’ an old she-mouse said to another who hadn’t been at the party. ‘I sat twenty-one places from the old mouse king– that’s not bad at all! Let me tell you about the various courses, they were extremely well combined! mouldy bread, pork crackling, tallow candles and sausage – and then the same all over again; it was as good as being served two meals. There was a pleasant atmosphere and convivial nonsense, just as there is in a family circle; and nothing at all was left over except the sausage sticks; everyone had heard about them, but no one had ever tasted the soup, let alone knew how to make it. A spirited toast was given to any future inventor of it, he deserved to be overseer of the poor! wasn’t that witty?! And the old mouse king stood up and promised that the young mouse who could make the tastiest soup just mentioned would be his queen – they were to have a year and a day to find a recipe.
‘Not bad at all!’ the other mouse said, ‘but how does one make such a soup?’
‘Yes, how does one make it?’ all the she-mice, both young and old, started to ask. All of them wanted to be queen, but weren’t at all keen on travelling out into the wide world to learn how to – and that would probably be necessary! but it is not everyone who is prepared to leave her family and the old haunts; one doesn’t simply come across cheese rinds and pork crackling out there, one might end up starving, or even be eaten alive by a cat!’
Such thoughts also probably scared most of them off setting out in search of knowledge; only four mice presented themselves ready for departure, they were young and agile, but poor; they agreed that they would divide the four corners of the world between them, and then fortune would decide the outcome; each of them took a sausage stick with her, so as to remember why they were travelling – it would be their walking staff.
In early May they set out and in early May the following year they returned, but only three of them, the fourth did not turn up, had not sent any message and now the day had come when all was to be decided.
‘Something sad must always hang around even the most pleasant occasion!’ the mouse king said, but he gave the order for all the mice for many miles around to be invited; they were to gather in the kitchen; the three travellers stood on their own in a row; for the fourth one who was missing a sausage stick with black crape round set up. No one dared state a personal opinion before the three had spoken and the mouse king had said all that remained to be said.
Now let’s hear what had taken place!
What the first little mouse had seen and heard on her journey
‘When I set out into the wide world,’ the little mouse said, ‘I thought, like so many of my age, that I had swallow all the wisdom of the world, but that was not the case, it takes days and years before that happens. I immediately went to sea, on board a ship that was heading northwards; I had heard that when at sea the cook had to know how to look after himself, but it’s easy to do so when one has plenty of flitches of bacon, barrels of salted food and flour full of mites – one leads a savoury live! but one’s doesn’t learn anything that can make soup out of a sausage stick. We sailed many days and nights, we had plenty of lurching and lashing waves. When we reached our destination, I left the vessel; it was far up in the North.
It feels strange to leave one’s one little nook, set out on board a ship, which is also a kind of little nook, and then suddenly be hundreds of miles away and standing in a foreign land. There were wild forests with pine and birch, they had such a strong smell, one i dislike! the strange herbs smelt so spicy, I sneezed, I thought of sausage. There were large forest lakes, the water so clear close by, but seen from a distance as black as ink, there wild swans floated, they lay so still I thought they were foam, but then I saw them fly and I saw them waddling and could recognise them; they belong to the geese species, you can see it from the way they move – no one can deny his kinship! I stuck to my own kind, I joined up with the wood long-tailed and short-tailed field mice, who by the way know precious little about preparing food, and that after all was the reason I was travelling abroad. To be able to make soup from a sausage stick was such an extraordinary idea to them that they immediately went through the whole forest, but that the task could be solved seemed to them to be quite impossible, so little did I think that here, and that very night, was to be initiated into the preparation of it. It was midsummer, that was why the forest had such a powerful scent, they said, that was why the herbs were so spicy, the lakes so clear and yet so dark, with swans floating on the surface. At the edge of the forest, between three or four houses, a pole had been raised like a main mast, and at the very top hung garlands and ribbons, it was a maypole; young men and women danced round it and sang as they did so, trying to outdo the fiddler’s violin. Things got quite lively at sunset and in the moonlight, but I didn’t join them – what has a little mouse to do at a forest dance! – I sat down in the soft moss and held onto my sausage stick. The moon shone especially on a spot where there was a tree with a moss that was so fine – yes, I dare say it – as fine as the coat of the mouse king, but it had a green colour that was a sheer delight to behold. Then suddenly the loveliest small folk came along, they reached no higher than my knee, they looked like human beings but were better proportioned, they called themselves elves and had fine clothes made of flower petals with fly- and mosquito-wing trimmings – not bad at all. It immediately seemed as if they were looking for something, I didn’t know what, but then a couple of them came over to me, the more distinguished-looking of the two pointed at my sausage stick and said: ‘it’s exactly one like this that we need! it has been trimmed, it is excellent!’ and he grew more and more enchanted as he gazed at my walking staff.
‘You can borrow it, but not keep it!’ I said.
‘Not keep it!’ all of them said, took hold of the sausage stick, which I let go of, and danced with it over to the area of fine moss, raised the sausage stick there, in the middle of the green patch. They also wanted to have a maypole, and the one they had now was really tailor-made for them. Now it was decorated, yes, it was a fine sight!
Small spiders spun gold threat round it, suspended swaying veils and banners, so finely woven, so snowy white, were lit up by the moon so that they almost hurt my eyes; they took the colour from butterfly’s wings and sprinkled it on the white linen and flowers and diamonds glittered – I could not recognise my sausage stick any more, such a maypole as it had now become was unrivalled anywhere in the world. And only now did the whole host of elves arrive, they weren’y wearing a stitch of clothing, though it couldn’t have been more refined; I was invited to look at the spectacle, though from a distance for to them I seemed too big.
Now the playing started! it was as if thousands of glass bells were ringing, with such a rich, round sound that I thought it was the swans singing – yes, it seemed to me that I could also hear cuckoos and thrushes, finally it was as if the whole forest joined in, there were children’s voices, bells chiming and birds singing, the loveliest melodies, and all this delightful orchestra of sound came from the elves’ maypole – it was a whole carillon and yet it was my sausage stick. I would never have believed that so much could come from it, but it all depends on whose hands it is in. I was really so moved that I cried, as only a little mouse can, from sheer pleasure.
The night was much too short! but it doesn’t last any longer up there at that time of year. At daybreak a light breeze blew up, the surface of the forest lake became ruffled, all the finely waving veils and banners spread out in the air; the rocking tracery of spider’s web (suspension bridges and balustrades, or whatever they are called) was strung out from leaf to leaf, flew off as if nothing; six elves brought me back my sausage stick and at the same time asked me if I had a wish they could fulfil; then I asked them how one makes soup from a sausage stick.
‘How we set about it!’ the most distinguished of them said with a laugh, ‘well you’ve only just seen how! you could hardly recognise your sausage stick!’
‘Oh, that’s what you mean by it!’ I said, and told them exactly why I was on my travels, and what was expected when I returned home. ‘What use,’ I asked, ‘has the mouse king and all our great kingdom of the fact that I have seen such a lovely spectacle! I can’t shake it out of the sausage stick and say: look, here’s the stick, now comes the soup! For the guests it was a kind of dessert after the main course!’
Then the elf dipped his little finger in a blue violet and said to me: ‘watch out! I’m going to coat your walker’s staff and when you get back to the mouse king’s palace, then touch the king’s warm breast with the staff and violets will come into flower along the entire staff, even in the depths of winter. So now you’ve got something to take home with you, and a little more besides,’ but before the little mouse had said what this little more was, she turned her staff towards the king’s breast, and indeed, a beautiful bouquet of violets appeared that had so strong a fragrance that the mouse king ordered the mice who were closest to the chimney to stick their tails in the fire so that one could have a good smell of singeing, for the scent from the violets was unbearable, that wasn’t the kind of thing one was fond of.
‘But what was the little more besides you mentioned!’ the mouse king asked.
‘Well,’ the little mouse said, ‘it is what one could probably call the dramatic effect!’ and she twiddled the stick and there were no flowers any longer, she was holding the bare stick and she lifted it like a conductor’s baton.
‘Violets are for sight, smell and touch,’ the elf told me, ‘but there is something left for hearing and taste!’ And she started to beat time: there was music, but not like the sound in the forest at the elves’ festivities, no, like that which can be heard in the kitchen. The sound of food being prepared! It was there suddenly, as if the wind was rushing down all the chimneys, pots and pans were boiling over, the fire shovel clanged against the brass kettle, and then suddenly everything went quiet; one could hear the faint singing of the tea kettle, so strange it was, one couldn’t make out if it was finishing or beginning; and the small pot boiled and the large pot boiled, the one took no notice of the other, it was as if they had not a thought between them. And the little mouse swung her baton increasingly wildly – the pots foamed, bubble, boiled over, the wind roared, the chimney howled – hoo-hah! it became so terrifying that the little mouse even dropped her baton.
‘That was quite a pottage!’ the old mouse king said, ‘aren’t you going to serve it?’
‘That the lot!’ the little mouse said, and curtseyed.
‘The lot?! well, let’s hear what the next mouse has to say, then!’ the mouse king said.
What the second little mouse had to relate
‘I was born in the palace library,’ the second mouse said, ‘along with several of my family who have never known the joy of entering the dining room, let along the larder; not until I travelled and now, today, have I seen a kitchen. We really suffered from hunger in the library, but we acquired much knowledge. Up there we heard the rumour of the royal prize announced for making soup from a sausage stick, and it was my old grandmother who dug out a manuscript, one she was unable to read, but she had heard it read, and in it stood: ‘if one is a poet, then one can make soup from a sausage stick.’ She asked me if I was a poet. I answered in the negative, and she said that in that case I was to become one straight away; but what is required, I asked, for that was as difficult to ascertain as making the soup, but grandmother had listened when it was read aloud; she said that three main things were necessary: ‘Reason, Fantasy and Feelings! If you can get all three inside you, you are a poet, and then you can solve the riddle of the sausage stick.’
And then I travelled westwards out into the wide world to become a poet.
Reason I knew is the most important thing in all matters; the two others do not command the same respect! so I went off in search of Reason first – well, where does it dwell? Go to the ant and be wise, a great king of the Old Testament once said, I knew that from the library, and I did not stop until I came to the first ant-hill, where I lay in wait to become wise.
The ants are a highly respectable people, they are pure Reason, everything with them is like a sum that is correct, it all adds up. Working and laying eggs, they say, is to live in the present and ensure the future, and that’s certainly what they do. They divide the ants up into the clean ones and the dirty ones. Rank consists in a number, the ant queen is number one and her opinion is the only right one, she has devoured all wisdom, and that was important for me to discover! She said so much, it was so wise that I felt I was stupid. She said that their ant-hill was the highest in the world, although close by there stood a tree that was even higher, much higher, that could not be denied and so one did not speak of it; one evening an ant had strayed over to it, crept up its trunk, not even as far as the top, though higher than any ant had ever been, and went it turned round and found its way home, it spoke in the ant-hill of something that was far higher outside, but all the other ants found this offended against the entire community and so the ant was sentenced to be muzzled and to solitary confinement; but another ant also arrived at the tree and made the same journey and the same discovery, and it spoke of this with what one would call level-headedness and indistinctness and since it moreover was a respected ant, one of the clean ones, the others believed it, and when it died, they raised an egg-shell for it, as a monument, for they respected knowledge. I saw,’ the little mouse said, ‘that the ants continually ran with their eggs in the hill; if one of them lost hers, it needed a great effort to pick it up again, but if it did not succeed, two others would come and help it with all their strength, to the point where they almost lost their own eggs, but then they would instantly stop doing so, for one has to look after oneself; and the queen ant said that in doing so they had shown both emotion and reason. ‘These two place us ants highest among the creatures of reason. Reason must and should be the chief factor, and I possess the greatest reason!’ and she raised herself on her hind legs, she was so easily recognisable – I couldn’t be mistaken – and so I swallowed her. Go to the ant and be wise! now I had the queen!
I now approached the aforementioned large tree, it was an oak, it had a high trunk, a mighty crown and was very old; I knew that here a living creature dwelt, a woman, known as a dryad, who was born with the tree and would die with it, I had heard about it in the library; now I saw such a tree, saw such an oak-girl; she let out a fearful cry when she saw me; like all females she was afraid of mice, though she had more cause to be so than the others, for I could gnaw through the tree and on this her life depended. I spoke to her in a friendly and kindly manner, gave her courage, and she took me by her finely formed hand and when she heard why I had set out into the wide world, she promised me that perhaps that very same evening I would that very same evening acquire on of the two treasures I was still searching for. She told me that Fantasy was a very good friend of hers and that he was so delightful as a god of love, and that many a time he used to rest under the leafy branches of the tree when the wind roared even more strongly over both of them. He use to call her his dryad, she said, the tree’s tree, the knotted, exceedingly beautiful oak tree was precisely to his liking, the roots spread out side and deep in the earth, the trunk and crown soared high into the fresh air and knew the whirling snow, the sharp winds and the warm sunshine as they ought to be known. Yes, that was how she spoke: ‘the birds sing up there and tell of foreign parts! and on the only withered branch the stork has build its nest, it is a fine adornment and one gets to hear a thing or two from the land of the pyramids. All this, Fantasy likes a great deal, it is not even enough for him, I personally have to tell him about life in the forest since I was little and the tree was so small that a nettle could conceal it until now that it is large and mighty. Just you sit down there among the woodruff and keep a close watch, when fantasy comes I will find an opportunity to pinch one of his wings and shake a small feather out – take it, no poet has ever had better – that will suffice for you!’
And Fantasy came, the feather was plucked out and I seized it,’ the little mouse said, ‘I held it in water until it became soft! – it was still extremely difficult to digest, but I managed to gnaw it down! It’s not at all easy to gnaw oneself into a poet, there is so much one has to ingest. Now I had two of them, Reason and Fantasy, and by means of them I now know that the third thing was to be found in the library, since a great man has said and written that there are novels that only exist so as to free people from excess tears, that they are, so to speak, sponges for absorbing feelings. I recalled a couple of these books, they had always seemed quite appetising to me, they were so much read, so greasy, they must had absorbed an endless amount.
I went back to the library, ate what was virtually a whole novel, by which I mean the soft part, the real bit, the crust, the binding, I left uneaten. When I had digested it and one more as well, I could already begin to feel how things were moving inside me, I ate a bit of the third one, and then I was a poet, I said to myself and so did the others too! I had a head-ache, stomach-ache, you can’t imagine how many aches I had. I now started to think about what stories could be linked to a sausage stick, and I had so many sticks in my mind. The queen ant must have had an unusually good sense of reason, I remembered the man that put a white stick into his mouth and then both he and the stick became invisible; I thought of carrot and stick, of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, and of stick and stones that could break my bones. All my thoughts were stuck on sticks! and it must be possible to write a poem about them if one is a poet, which I am, I have worked my way up to it! So every day of the week I will serve you a stick, a story – that is my soup!’
‘Let’s hear the third mouse!’ the mouse king said.
‘Squeak! squeak!’ came from the kitchen doorway and a little mouse, it was the fourth mouse, the one they thought dead, rushed in, it overturned the sausage stick with the black crape, it had hurried both night and day, it had travelled with a goods train, as it had got the opportunity to, and even so it had almost arrived too late; it pushed its way forward, looked quite dishevelled, had lost its sausage stick but not its tongue, it starting talking immediately, as if people were only waiting for it to do so, only interested in hearing what it had to say, everything else in the world was of no interest to the world; it spoke immediately, had its say; it all happened so unexpectedly that no one had the time to react to it or its speech while it told its story. And here it is!
What the fourth mouse, which spoke before the third one could, had to relate
‘I immediately set out to the largest city,’ it said, ‘I can’t remember its name, I’m not very good at remembering names. I went from the railway with confiscated goods to the city hall where I went over to the gaoler, he talked about his prisoners, especially about one that had said many rash words, and much had in turn been said about them, and spoken, read and written down – ‘all of it soup from a sausage stick!’ he said, ‘but the soup can cost him his noddle!’ ‘This got me interested in the prisoner,’ the little mouse said, ‘and I seized the opportunity to slip in to him – there’s always a mouse hole behind locked doors! He looked pale, had a large beard and big gleaming eyes. The lamp smoked and the walls were used to it, they couldn’t get any blacker. The prisoned scratched both pictures and verses in white on black, I didn’t read them. I think he was bored; I was a welcome guest. He enticed me with crumbs of bread, whistling and gentle words; he was so glad to see me; he gained my trust and so we became friends. He shared his bread and water with me, gave me cheese and sausage; I lived well, though it was especially the good company, I have to say, that kept me going. He let me run up his hand and arm, right up his sleeve; he let me crawl around in his beard, called me his little friend; I became quite attached to him; such a thing works both ways! I forgot my mission out in the wide world, forgot my sausage stick in a crack in the floor; it must still be lying there. I wanted to stay where I was; if I left him, the poor prisoner would have no one at all, and that is too little in this world! I stayed, he didn’t stay! he spoke to me so sadly the last time we were together, gave me twice as much bread and cheese rind, blew a kiss at me with his fingers; he left and never came back. I know nothing about what became of him. ‘Soup from a sausage stick!’ the gaoler said and I went to him, but I ought not to have trusted him; he admittedly took me up in his hand, but he put me in cage, in a treadmill; that’s violent! one runs and runs and gets nowhere and is simply a laughing-stock! The gaoler’s grandchild was a lovely little girl with blond curly hair, bright eyes and a laughing mouth. ‘Poor little mouse!’ she said, peered into my horrible cage, pulled the iron rod out and I leapt down onto the window sill and out into the roof gutter. Free, free! that was all I thought of, not of the goal of my travelling!
It was dark, night was drawing in, I sheltered in an old tower, there a watchman lived and an owl; I didn’t believe either of them, least of all the owl; it looks like a cat and has the great fault that it eats mice; but one can be wrong, and I was; it was a respectable, extremely educated old owl, she knew more than the watchman and just as much as me; her young grumbled about everything, ‘don’t make soup from a sausage stick!’ she said, that was the most severe thing she could say, she had such intense feelings for her own family. I feel so much trust in her that I said peeep! from the crack where I was sitting; she liked this show of reliance and assured me that I would be under her protection; no animal would be allowed to harm me, she would even do this in winter when food became scarce.
She was wise in all matters; she proved to me that the watchman could only hoot with the horn that hung loosely at his side, ‘he quite fancies himself because of that, thinks he’s an owl up in a tower! He really thinks he’s something, but he’s next to nothing! Soup from a sausage stick!’ I asked her for the recipe, and she explained it to me: ‘Soup from a sausage stick is just a saying humans have and it can be understood in various ways, and each person thinks his interpretation is the most correct one – but all of it is hardly anything at all!’
‘Hardly anything at all!’ I said. Then it struck me! The truth is not always pleasant, but the truth is the supreme thing!’ the old owl also said. I thought about that and realised that if I brought the supreme thing, I would be bringing more than soup from a sausage stick. So I hurried off so I could get back here in time and bring the supreme, best thing: the truth. Mice are an enlightened race and the mouse king is above them all. He is in a position to make me queen for the sake of truth.’
‘Your truth is a lie!’ said the mouse who had not yet been allowed to speak. ‘I can make the soup and I shall!’
How it came to be made
‘I haven’t travelled,’ the fourth mouse said, ‘I stayed in this country, that’s the right thing to do! one doesn’t need to travel, one can get everything here just as easily. I stayed put! I have learnt what I know from supernatural beings, not eaten my way to it or talked with owls. I have thought it out for myself. Just get the cauldron, fill it with water, right up to the brim! fire up beneath it! bring the water to the boil, it must boil really furiously! now through the stick in! Will it now please the mouse king to dip his tail in the boiling water and stir! the more he stirs, the tastier the soup will become; it doesn’t cost anything! nothing needs to be added – just stir!’
‘Can’t someone else do it?’ the mouse king asked.
‘No,’ the mouse said, ‘the strength is only in the mouse king’s tail!’
And the water boiled away, and the mouse kind stood up close – it was almost dangerous – and he stuck out his tail, the way that mice do in the dairy when they skim the cream off a bowl and lick their tail afterwards, but no sooner had his tail felt the hot steam than he immediately jumped down:
‘Of course, you must be my queen!’ he said, ‘we will wait with the soup until our golden wedding anniversary, so that the poor people in my kingdom have something to look forward to and a long time to do so!’
And so they got married; but a number of the mice, when they got back home, said: but you can’t call that soup from a sausage stick, it was more what you could call soup from a mouse’s tail!’ – This thing and that of what was related, they found, was well said, but everything could have been different! ‘I, for example, would have said such and such – –!’
That was the criticism, and it is always so wise – after the event.
And the story went all round the work, opinions about it were divided, but the story itself became whole; and that’s the most correct in things great and small, in soup from a sausage stick; one can’t expect one unreserved Thank You!