The region round the little town of Kjöge is very bleak and bare. The
town certainly lies by the sea shore, which is always beautiful, but
just there it might be more beautiful than it is: all around are flat
fields, and it is a long way to the forest. But when one is very much
at home in a place, one always finds something beautiful, and
something that one longs for in the most charming spot in the world
that is strange to us. We confess that, by the utmost boundary of the
little town, where some humble gardens skirt the streamlet that falls
into the sea, it must be very pretty in summer; and this was the
opinion of the two children from neighbouring houses, who were playing
there, and forcing their way through the gooseberry bushes, to get to
In one of the gardens stood an elder tree, and in the
other an old willow, and under the latter the children were especially
very fond of playing; they were allowed to play there, though, indeed,
the tree stood close beside the stream, and they might easily have
fallen into the water. But the eye of God watches over the little
ones; if it did not, they would be badly off. And, moreover, they were
very careful with respect to the water; in fact, the boy was so much
afraid of it, that they could not lure him into the sea in summer,
when the other children were splashing about in the waves.
Accordingly, he was famously jeered and mocked at, and had to bear
the jeering and mockery as best he could. But once Joanna, the
neighbour”s little girl, dreamed she was sailing in a boat, and Knud
waded out to join her till the water rose, first to his neck, and
afterwards closed over his head, so that he disappeared altogether.
From the time when little Knud heard of this dream, he would no longer
bear the teasing of the other boys. He might go into the water now, he
said, for Joanna had dreamed it. He certainly never carried the idea
into practice, but the dream was his great guide for all that.
Their parents, who were poor people, often took tea together, and Knud
and Joanna played in the gardens and on the high-road, where a row of
willows had been planted beside the skirting ditch; these trees, with
their polled tops, certainly did not look beautiful, but they were not
put there for ornament, but for use. The old willow tree in the garden
was much handsomer, and therefore the children were fond of sitting
under it. In the town itself there was a great market-place, and at
the time of the fair this place was covered with whole streets of
tents and booths, containing silk ribbons, boots, and everything that
a person could wish for. There was great crowding, and generally the
weather was rainy; but it did not destroy the fragrance of the
honey-cakes and the gingerbread, of which there was a booth quite
full; and the best of it was, that the man who kept this booth came
every year to lodge during the fair-time in the dwelling of little
Knud”s father. Consequently there came a present of a bit of
gingerbread every now and then, and of course Joanna received her
share of the gift. But, perhaps the most charming thing of all was
that the gingerbread dealer knew all sorts of tales, and could even
relate histories about his own gingerbread cakes; and one evening, in
particular, he told a story about them which made such a deep
impression on the children that they never forgot it; and for that
reason it is perhaps advisable that we should hear it too, more
especially as the story is not long.
“On the shop-board,” he said, “lay two gingerbread cakes, one in the
shape of a man with a hat, the other of a maiden without a bonnet;
both their faces were on the side that was uppermost, for they were to
be looked at on that side, and not on the other; and, indeed, most
people have a favourable side from which they should be viewed. On the
left side the man wore a bitter almond–that was his heart; but the
maiden, on the other hand, was honey-cake all over. They were placed
as samples on the shop-board, and remaining there a long time, at last
they fell in love with one another, but neither told the other, as
they should have done if they had expected anything to come of it.
“He is a man, and therefore he must speak first,” she thought; but
she felt quite contented, for she knew her love was returned.
“His thoughts were far more extravagant, as is always the case with a
man. He dreamed that he was a real street boy, that he had four
pennies of his own, and that he purchased the maiden, and ate her up.
So they lay on the shop-board for weeks and weeks, and grew dry and
hard, but the thoughts of the maiden became ever more gentle and
“It is enough for me that I have lived on the same table with him,”
she said, and crack! she broke in two.
“If she had only known of my love, she would have kept together a
little longer,” he thought.
“And that is the story, and here they are, both of them,” said the
baker in conclusion. “They are remarkable for their curious history,
and for their silent love, which never came to anything. And there
they are for you!” and, so saying, he gave Joanna the man who was yet
entire, and Knud got the broken maiden; but the children had been so
much impressed by the story that they could not summon courage to eat
the lovers up.
On the following day they went out with them to the churchyard, and
sat down by the church wall, which is covered, winter and summer, with
the most luxuriant ivy as with a rich carpet. Here they stood the two
cake figures up in the sunshine among the green leaves, and told the
story to a group of other children; they told them of the silent love
which led to nothing. It was called _love_ because the story was so
lovely, on that they all agreed. But when they turned to look again at
the gingerbread pair, a big boy, out of mischief, had eaten up the
broken maiden. The children cried about this, and afterwards–probably
that the poor lover might not be left in the world lonely and
desolate–they ate him up too; but they never forgot the story.
The children were always together by the elder tree and under the
willow, and the little girl sang the most beautiful songs with a voice
that was clear as a bell. Knud, on the other hand, had not a note of
music in him, but he knew the words of the songs, and that, at least,
was something. The people of Kjöge, even to the rich wife of the
fancy-shop keeper, stood still and listened when Joanna sang. “She has
a very sweet voice, that little girl,” they said.
Those were glorious days, but they could not last for ever. The
neighbours were neighbours no longer. The little maiden”s mother was
dead, and the father intended to marry again, in the capital, where he
had been promised a living as a messenger, which was to be a very
lucrative office. And the neighbours separated regretfully, the
children weeping heartily, but the parents promised that they should
at least write to one another once a year.[Illustration: THE NAUGHTY BOY WHO ATE THE GINGERBREAD MAIDEN.]
And Knud was bound apprentice to a shoemaker, for the big boy could
not be allowed to run wild any longer; and moreover he was confirmed.
Ah, how gladly on that day of celebration would he have been in
Copenhagen with little Joanna! but he remained in Kjöge, and had never
yet been to Copenhagen, though the little town is only five Danish
miles distant from the capital; but far across the bay, when the sky
was clear, Knud had seen the towers in the distance, and on the day of
his confirmation he could distinctly see the golden cross on the
principal church glittering in the sun.
Ah, how often his thoughts were with Joanna! Did she think of him?
Yes. Towards Christmas there came a letter from her father to the
parents of Knud, to say that they were getting on very well in
Copenhagen, and especially might Joanna look forward to a brilliant
future on the strength of her fine voice. She had been engaged in the
theatre in which people sing, and was already earning some money, out
of which she sent her dear neighbours of Kjöge a dollar for the merry
Christmas Eve. They were to drink her health, she had herself added in
a postscript, and in the same postscript there stood further, “A kind
greeting to Knud.”
The whole family wept: and yet all this was very pleasant; those were
joyful tears that they shed. Knud”s thoughts had been occupied every
day with Joanna; and now he knew that she also thought of him: and the
nearer the time came when his apprenticeship would be over, the more
clearly did it appear to him that he was very fond of Joanna, and that
she must be his wife; and when he thought of this, a smile came upon
his lips, and he drew the thread twice as fast as before, and pressed
his foot hard against the knee-strap. He ran the awl far into his
finger, but he did not care for that. He determined not to play the
dumb lover, as the two gingerbread cakes had done: the story should
teach him a lesson.
And now he was a journeyman, and his knapsack was packed ready for his
journey: at length, for the first time in his life, he was to go to
Copenhagen, where a master was already waiting for him. How glad
Joanna would be! She was now seventeen years old, and he nineteen.
Already in Kjöge he had wanted to buy a gold ring for her; but he
recollected that such things were to be had far better in Copenhagen.
And now he took leave of his parents, and on a rainy day, late in the
autumn, went forth on foot out of the town of his birth. The leaves
were falling down from the trees, and he arrived at his new master”s
in the metropolis wet to the skin. Next Sunday he was to pay a visit
to Joanna”s father. The new journeyman”s clothes were brought forth,
and the new hat from Kjöge was put on, which became Knud very well,
for till this time he had only worn a cap. And he found the house he
sought, and mounted flight after flight of stairs until he became
almost giddy. It was terrible to him to see how people lived piled up
one over the other in the dreadful city.
Everything in the room had a prosperous look, and Joanna”s father
received him very kindly. To the new wife he was a stranger, but she
shook hands with him, and gave him some coffee.
“Joanna will be glad to see you,” said the father: “you have grown
quite a nice young man. You shall see her presently. She is a girl who
rejoices my heart, and, please God, she will rejoice it yet more. She
has her own room now, and pays us rent for it.” And the father knocked
quite politely at the door, as if he were a visitor, and then they
But how pretty everything was in that room! such an apartment was
certainly not to be found in all Kjöge: the queen herself could not be
more charmingly lodged. There were carpets, there were window curtains
quite down to the floor, and around were flowers and pictures, and a
mirror into which there was almost danger that a visitor might step,
for it was as large as a door; and there was even a velvet chair.
Knud saw all this at a glance: and yet he saw nothing but Joanna. She
was a grown maiden, quite different from what Knud had fancied her,
and much more beautiful. In all Kjöge there was not a girl like her.
How graceful she was, and with what an odd unfamiliar glance she
looked at Knud! But that was only for a moment, and then she rushed
towards him as if she would have kissed him. She did not really do so,
but she came very near it. Yes, she was certainly rejoiced at the
arrival of the friend of her youth! The tears were actually in her
eyes; and she had much to say, and many questions to put concerning
all, from Knud”s parents down to the elder tree and the willow, which
she called Elder-mother and Willow-father, as if they had been human
beings; and indeed they might pass as such, just as well as the
gingerbread cakes; and of these she spoke too, and of their silent
love, and how they had lain upon the shop-board and split in two–and
then she laughed very heartily; but the blood mounted into Knud”s
cheeks, and his heart beat thick and fast.
No, she had not grown proud at all. And it was through her–he noticed it well–that her parents invited him to stay the whole evening with them; and she poured out the tea and gave him a cup with her own hands; and afterwards she took a book and read aloud to them, and it seemed to Knud that what she
read was all about himself and his love, for it matched so well with
his thoughts; and then she sang a simple song, but through her singing
it became like a history, and seemed to be the outpouring of her very
heart. Yes, certainly she was fond of Knud. The tears coursed down his
cheeks–he could not restrain them, nor could he speak a single word:
he seemed to himself as if he were struck dumb; and yet she pressed
his hand, and said,
“You have a good heart, Knud–remain always as you are now.”
That was an evening of matchless delight to Knud; to sleep after it
was impossible, and accordingly Knud did not sleep.
At parting, Joanna”s father had said, “Now, you won”t forget us
altogether! Don”t let the whole winter go by without once coming to
see us again;” and therefore he could very well go again the next
Sunday, and resolved to do so. But every evening when working hours
were over–and they worked by candlelight there–Knud went out through
the town: he went into the street in which Joanna lived, and looked up
at her window; it was almost always lit up, and one evening he could
see the shadow of her face quite plainly on the curtain–and that was
a grand evening for him. His master”s wife did not like his
gallivanting abroad every evening, as she expressed it; and she shook
her head; but the master only smiled.
“He is only a young fellow,” he said.
But Knud thought to himself: “On Sunday I shall see her, and I shall
tell her how completely she reigns in my heart and soul, and that she
must be my little wife. I know I am only a poor journeyman shoemaker,
but I shall work and strive–yes, I shall tell her so. Nothing comes
of silent love: I have learned that from the cakes.”
And Sunday came round, and Knud sallied forth; but, unluckily, they
were all invited out for that evening, and were obliged to tell him
so. Joanna pressed his hand and said,
“Have you ever been to the theatre? You must go once. I shall sing on
Wednesday, and if you have time on that evening, I will send you a
ticket; my father knows where your master lives.”
How kind that was of her! And on Wednesday at noon he received a
sealed paper, with no words written in it; but the ticket was there,
and in the evening Knud went to the theatre for the first time in his
life. And what did he see? He saw Joanna, and how charming and how
beautiful she looked! She was certainly married to a stranger, but
that was all in the play–something that was only make-believe, as
Knud knew very well. If it had been real, he thought, she would never
have had the heart to send him a ticket that he might go and see it.
And all the people shouted and applauded, and Knud cried out “hurrah!”
Even the king smiled at Joanna, and seemed to delight in her. Ah, how
small Knud felt! but then he loved her so dearly, and thought that
she loved him too; but it was for the man to speak the first word, as
the gingerbread maiden in the child”s story had taught him: and there
was a great deal for him in that story.
So soon as Sunday came, he went again. He felt as if he were going
into a church. Joanna was alone, and received him–it could not have
happened more fortunately. “It is well that you are come,” she said.
“I had an idea of sending my father to you, only I felt a presentiment
that you would be here this evening; for I must tell you that I start
for France on Friday: I must go there, if I am to become efficient.”
It seemed to Knud as if the whole room were whirling round and round
with him. He felt as if his heart would presently burst: no tear rose
to his eyes, but still it was easy to see how sorrowful he was.
“You honest, faithful soul!” she exclaimed; and these words of hers
loosened Knud”s tongue. He told her how constantly he loved her, and
that she must become his wife; and as he said this, he saw Joanna
change colour and turn pale. She let his hand fall, and answered,
seriously and mournfully,
“Knud, do not make yourself and me unhappy. I shall always be a good
sister to you, one in whom you may trust, but I shall never be
anything more.” And she drew her white hand over his hot forehead.
“Heaven gives us strength for much,” she said, “if we only endeavour
to do our best.”
At that moment the stepmother came into the room; and Joanna said
“Knud is quite inconsolable because I am going away. Come, be a man,”
she continued, and laid her hand upon his shoulder; and it seemed as
if they had been talking of the journey, and nothing else. “You are a
child,” she added; “but now you must be good and reasonable, as you
used to be under the willow tree, when we were both children.”
But Knud felt as if the whole world had slid out of its course, and
his thoughts were like a loose thread fluttering to and fro in the
wind. He stayed, though he could not remember if she had asked him to
stay; and she was kind and good, and poured out his tea for him, and
sang to him. It had not the old tone, and yet it was wonderfully
beautiful, and made his heart feel ready to burst. And then they
parted. Knud did not offer her his hand, but she seized it, and said,
“Surely you will shake hands with your sister at parting, old
And she smiled through the tears that were rolling over her cheeks,
and she repeated the word “brother”–and certainly there was good
consolation in that–and thus they parted.
She sailed to France, and Knud wandered about the muddy streets of
Copenhagen. The other journeymen in the workshop asked him why he went
about so gloomily, and told him he should go and amuse himself with
them, for he was a young fellow.
And they went with him to the dancing-rooms. He saw many handsome
girls there, but certainly not one like Joanna; and here, where he
thought to forget her, she stood more vividly than ever before the
eyes of his soul. “Heaven gives us strength for a great deal, if we
only try to do our best,” she had said; and holy thoughts came into
his mind, and he folded his hands. The violins played, and the girls
danced round in a circle; and he was quite startled, for it seemed to
him as if he were in a place to which he ought not to have brought
Joanna–for she was there with him, in his heart; and accordingly he
went out. He ran through the streets, and passed by the house where
she had dwelt: it was dark there, dark everywhere, and empty, and
lonely. The world went on its course, but Knud pursued his lonely way,
The winter came, and the streams were frozen. Everything seemed to be
preparing for a burial. But when spring returned, and the first
steamer was to start, a longing seized him to go away, far, far into
the world, but not to France. So he packed his knapsack, and wandered
far into the German land, from city to city, without rest or peace;
and it was not till he came to the glorious old city of Nuremberg that
he could master his restless spirit; and in Nuremberg, therefore, he
decided to remain.
Nuremberg is a wonderful old city, and looks as if it were cut out of
an old picture-book. The streets seem to stretch themselves along just
as they please. The houses do not like standing in regular ranks.
Gables with little towers, arabesques, and pillars, start out over the
pathway, and from the strange peaked roofs water-spouts, formed like
dragons or great slim dogs, extend far over the street.
Here in the market-place stood Knud, with his knapsack on his back. He
stood by one of the old fountains that are adorned with splendid
bronze figures, scriptural and historical, rising up between the
gushing jets of water. A pretty servant-maid was just filling her
pails, and she gave Knud a refreshing draught; and as her hand was
full of roses, she gave him one of the flowers, and he accepted it as
a good omen.
From the neighbouring church the strains of the organ were sounding:
they seemed to him as familiar as the tones of the organ at home at
Kjöge; and he went into the great cathedral. The sunlight streamed in
through the stained glass windows, between the two lofty slender
pillars. His spirit became prayerful, and peace returned to his soul.
And he sought and found a good master in Nuremberg, with whom he
stayed, and in whose house he learned the German language.
The old moat round the town has been converted into a number of little
kitchen gardens; but the high walls are standing yet, with their heavy
towers. The ropemaker twists his ropes on a gallery or walk built of
wood, inside the town wall, where elder bushes grow out of the clefts
and cracks, spreading their green twigs over the little low houses
that stand below; and in one of these dwelt the master with whom Knud
worked; and over the little garret window at which Knud sat the elder
waved its branches.
Here he lived through a summer and a winter; but when the spring came
again he could bear it no longer. The elder was in blossom, and its
fragrance reminded him so of home, that he fancied himself back in the
garden at Kjöge; and therefore Knud went away from his master, and
dwelt with another, farther in the town, over whose house no elder
His workshop was quite close to one of the old stone bridges, by a low
water-mill, that rushed and foamed always. Without, rolled the roaring
stream, hemmed in by houses, whose old decayed gables looked ready to
topple down into the water. No elder grew here–there was not even a
flower-pot with its little green plant; but just opposite the workshop
stood a great old willow tree, that seemed to cling fast to the house,
for fear of being carried away by the water, and which stretched forth
its branches over the river, just as the willow at Kjöge spread its
arms across the streamlet by the gardens there.
Yes, he had certainly gone from the “Elder-mother” to the
“Willow-father.” The tree here had something, especially on moonlight
evenings, that went straight to his heart–and that something was not
in the moonlight, but in the old tree itself.
Nevertheless, he could not remain. Why not? Ask the willow tree, ask
the blooming elder! And therefore he bade farewell to his master in
Nuremberg, and journeyed onward.
To no one did he speak of Joanna–in his secret heart he hid his
sorrow; and he thought of the deep meaning in the old childish story
of the two cakes. Now he understood why the man had a bitter almond in
his breast–he himself felt the bitterness of it; and Joanna, who was
always so gentle and kind, was typified by the honey-cake. The strap
of his knapsack seemed so tight across his chest that he could
scarcely breathe; he loosened it, but was not relieved. He saw but
half the world around him; the other half he carried about him, and
within himself. And thus it stood with him.
Not till he came in sight of the high mountains did the world appear
freer to him; and now his thoughts were turned without, and tears came
into his eyes.
The Alps appeared to him as the folded wings of the earth; how if they
were to unfold themselves, and display their variegated pictures of
black woods, foaming waters, clouds, and masses of snow? At the last
day, he thought, the world will lift up its great wings, and mount
upwards towards the sky, and burst like a soap-bubble in the glance of
“Ah,” sighed he, “that the Last Day were come!”
Silently he wandered through the land, that seemed to him as an
orchard covered with soft turf. From the wooden balconies of the
houses the girls who sat busy with their lace-making nodded at him;
the summits of the mountains glowed in the red sun of the evening;
and when he saw the green lakes gleaming among the dark trees, he
thought of the coast by the Bay of Kjöge, and there was a longing in
his bosom, but it was pain no more.
There where the Rhine rolls onward like a great billow, and bursts,
and is changed into snow-white, gleaming, cloud-like masses, as if
clouds were being created there, with the rainbow fluttering like a
loose band above them; there he thought of the water-mill at Kjöge,
with its rushing, foaming water.
Gladly would he have remained in the quiet Rhenish town, but here too
were too many elder trees and willows, and therefore he journeyed on,
over the high, mighty mountains, through shattered walls of rock, and
on roads that clung like swallows” nests to the mountain-side. The
waters foamed on in the depths, the clouds were below him, and he
strode on over thistles, Alpine roses, and snow, in the warm summer
sun; and saying farewell to the lands of the North, he passed on under
the shade of blooming chestnut trees, and through vineyards and fields
of maize. The mountains were a wall between him and all his
recollections; and he wished it to be so.
Before him lay a great glorious city which they called _Milano_, and
here he found a German master who gave him work. They were an old
pious couple, in whose workshop he now laboured. And the two old
people became quite fond of the quiet journeyman, who said little, but
worked all the more, and led a pious Christian life. To himself also
it seemed as if Heaven had lifted the heavy burden from his heart.
His favourite pastime was to mount now and then upon the mighty marble
church, which seemed to him to have been formed of the snow of his
native land, fashioned into roofs, and pinnacles, and decorated open
halls: from every corner and every point the white statues smiled upon
him. Above him was the blue sky, below him the city and the
wide-spreading Lombard plains, and towards the north the high
mountains clad with perpetual snow; and he thought of the church at
Kjöge, with its red, ivy-covered walls, but he did not long to go
thither: here, beyond the mountains, he would be buried.
He had dwelt here a year, and three years had passed away since he
left his home, when one day his master took him into the city, not to
the circus where riders exhibited, but to the opera, where was a hall
worth seeing. There were seven storeys, from each of which beautiful
silken curtains hung down, and from the ground to the dizzy height of
the roof sat elegant ladies, with bouquets of flowers in their hands,
as if they were at a ball, and the gentlemen were in full dress, and
many of them decorated with gold and silver. It was as bright there as
in the brilliant sunshine, and the music rolled gloriously through
the building. Everything was much more splendid than in the theatre at
Copenhagen, but then Joanna had been there, and–-could it be? Yes,
it was like magic–she was here also! for the curtain rose, and Joanna
appeared, dressed in silk and gold, with a crown upon her head: she
sang as he thought none but angels could sing, and came far forward,
quite to the front of the stage, and smiled as only Joanna could
smile, and looked straight down at Knud. Poor Knud seized his master”s
hand, and called out aloud, “Joanna!” but no one heard but the master,
who nodded his head, for the loud music sounded above everything.
“Yes, yes, her name is Joanna,” said the master; and he drew forth a
printed playbill, and showed Knud her name–for the full name was
No, it was not a dream! All the people applauded, and threw wreaths
and flowers to her, and every time she went away they called her back,
so that she was always going and coming.
In the street the people crowded round her carriage, and drew it away
in triumph. Knud was in the foremost row, and shouted as joyously as
any; and when the carriage stopped before her brilliantly lighted
house, Knud stood close beside the door of the carriage. It flew open,
and she stepped out: the light fell upon her dear face, as she smiled,
and made a kindly gesture of thanks, and appeared deeply moved. Knud
looked straight into her face, and she looked into his, but she did
not know him. A man, with a star glittering on his breast, gave her
his arm–and it was whispered about that the two were engaged.
Then Knud went home and packed his knapsack. He was determined to go
back to his own home, to the elder and the willow tree–ah, under the
willow tree! A whole life is sometimes lived through in a single hour.
The old couple begged him to remain, but no words could induce him to
stay. It was in vain they told him that winter was coming, and pointed
out that snow had already fallen in the mountains; he said he could
march on, with his knapsack on his back, in the wake of the
slow-moving carriage, for which they would have to clear a path.
So he went away towards the mountains, and marched up them and down
them. His strength was giving way, but still he saw no village, no
house; he marched on towards the north. The stars gleamed above him,
his feet stumbled, and his head grew dizzy. Deep in the valley stars
were shining too, and it seemed as if there were another sky below
him. He felt he was ill. The stars below him became more and more
numerous, and glowed brighter and brighter, and moved to and fro. It
was a little town whose lights beamed there; and when he understood
that, he exerted the remains of his strength, and at last reached the
shelter of a humble inn.
That night and the whole of the following day he remained there, for
his body required rest and refreshment. It was thawing; there was rain
in the valley. But early on the second morning came a man with an
organ, who played a tune of home; and now Knud could stay no longer.
He continued his journey towards the north, marching onward for many
days with haste and hurry, as if he were trying to get home before all
were dead there; but to no one did he speak of his longing, for no one
would have believed in the sorrow of his heart, the deepest a human
heart can feel. Such a grief is not for the world, for it is not
amusing; nor is it even for friends; and moreover he had no friends–a
stranger, he wandered through strange lands towards his home in the
It was evening. He was walking on the public high-road. The frost
began to make itself felt, and the country soon became flatter,
containing mere field and meadow. By the road-side grew a great willow
tree. Everything reminded him of home, and he sat down under the tree:
he felt very tired, his head began to nod, and his eyes closed in
slumber, but still he was conscious that the tree stretched its arms
above him; and in his wandering fancy the tree itself appeared to be
an old, mighty man–it seemed as if the “Willow-father” himself had
taken up his tired son in his arms, and were carrying him back in