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THE OLD BACHELOR'S NIGHTCAP_安徒生童话全集



THERE is street in Copenhagen that has this strange name—“Hysken Str$de.”Whence comes this name and what is its meaning?It is said to be German;but injustice has been done to the Germans in this matter,for it would have to be“H uschen”,and that means little houses.For here stood,once upon a time,and indeed for a great many years,a few little houses,which were little more than wooden booths,just as we see now in the market-places at fair-time.They were,perhaps,a little larger,and had windows;but the panes were of horn or bladder,for glass was then too expensive to be used in every house.But then we are speaking of a long time ago—so long since,that grandfather's grandfather,when he talked about it,used to speak of it as“the old times”—in fact,it is several centuries ago.

The rich merchants in Bremen and Lübeck carried on trade with Copenhagen.They did not come here them-selves,but sent their clerks,who lived in the wooden booths in the street of the small houses,and sold beer and spices.

The German beer was good,and there were many kinds of it—Bremen,and Pryssing,Emser,and even Brunswick mumm;and quantities of spices were sold—saffron,and aniseed,and ginger,and especially pepper.Yes,pepper was the chief article here;and so it happened that the German clerks got the nickname,“pepper gentry”;and there was a condition which they had to enter into at home,that they would not marry at Copenhagen,and many of them became very old.They had to care for themselves,and to look after their own comforts,and to put out their own fires—when they had any;and some of them became very solitary old boys,with eccentric ideas and eccentric habits.From them,all unmarried men who have attained a certain age are called in Denmark“pepper gentry”;and this must be derstood by all who wish to comprehend this history.

The“pepper gentleman”becomes a butt for ridicule,and is told that he ought to put on his nightcap,draw it down over his eyes,and go to bed.The boys sing—

“Cut,cut wood,

Poor bachelor's a sorry elf;

A nightcap goes with him to bed,

And he must light his fire himself.”

Yes,that's what they sing about the“pepperer”—thus they make game of the poor bachelor and his night-cap,just because they know very little about either.Ah,that kind of nightcap no one should wish to earn!And why not?We shall hear.

In the old times the street of the small houses was not paved,and the people stumbled out of one hole into another,as in a neglected by-way;and it was narrow too.The booths leaned side by side,and stood so close together that in the summer-time a sail was often stretched from one booth to its opposite neighbour,on which occasion the fragrance of pepper,saffron,and ginger became doubly powerful.Behind the counters young men were seldom seen.The clerks were generally old boys;but they did not look like what we should fancy them,manely,with wig,and nightcap,and plush small-clothes,and with waistcoat and coat buttoned up to the chin.No,grandfather's great-grandfather may look like that,and has been thus portrayed,but the“pepper gentry”did not have the means to have their portraits taken;though,in-deed,it would be interesting now to have a picture of one of them,as he stood behind the counter or went to church on holy days.His hat was high-crowned and broad-brimmed,and sometimes one of the youngest clerks would mount a feather.The woollen shirt was hidden behind a broad clean collar,the close jacket was buttoned up to the chin,and the cloak hung loose over it;and the trousers were tucked into the broad-toed shoes,for the clerks did not wear stockings.In their girdles they carried a dinner-knife and spoon,and a larger knife was placed there also for the defense of the owner;and this weapon was often very necessary.Just so was Anthony,one of the oldest clerks,clad on high days and holy days,except that,instead of a high-crowned hat,he wore a low bonnet,and under it a knitted cap(a regular nightcap),to which he had grown so accustomed that it was always on his head;and he had two of them.The old fellow was a subject for a painter.He was as thin as a lath,had wrinkles about his eyes and mouth,and long bony fingers,and bushy grey eyebrows;over the left eye hung quite a tuft of hair,and that did not look very handsome,though it made him very noticeable.People knew that he came from Bremen;but that was not his native place,though his master lived there.His own native place was in Thuringia,the town of Eisenach,close by the Wartburg.Old Anthony did not speak much of this,but he thought of it all the more.

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