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"THE WILL-O'-THE-_安徒生童话全集



WISPS ARE IN THE TOWN,"

SAYS THE MOOR-WOMAN

 

THERE was a man who once knew many stories,butthey had slipped away from him-so he said; the storythat used to visit him of its own accord no longer cameand knocked at his door:and why did it come no longer?It is true enouhg that for days and years the man had notthouhgt of it,had not expected it to come and knock;butit certainly had not been there either,for outside therewas war,and within was the care and sorrow that warbrings with it.

The stork and the swallows came back from theirlong journey,for they thought of no danger;and,behold,when they arrived,the nest was burnt,the habitations ofmen were burnt,the gates were all in disorder,and evenquite gone,and the enemy's horses trampled on the oldgraves.Those were hard,gloomy times,but they came toan end.

And now they were past and gone,so people said;and yet no story came and knocked at the door,or gaveany tidings of its presence.

"I suppose it must be dead,or gone away with manyother things,said the man.

But the Story never dies.And more than a wholeyear went by,and he longed—oh,so very much!for theStory.

"I wonder if the Story will ever come back again,and knock?"

And he remembered it so well in all the variousforms in which it had come to him,sometimes young andcharming,like spring itself,sometimes as a beautifulmaiden,with a wreath of woodruff in her hair,and abeechen branch in her hand,and with eyes that gleamedlike deep woodland lakes in the bright sunshine.

Sometimes it had come to him in the guise of a ped-lar,and had opened its pack and let sliver ribbon comefluttering out,with verses and inscriptions of old remem-brances.But it was most charming of all when itan old grandmother,with silvery hair,and such large sen-sible eyes:she knew so well how to tell about the oldesttimes,long before the Princesses span with the goldenspindles,and the dragons lay outside the castles,guardingthem.She told with such an air of truth,that black spotsdanced before the eyes of all who heard her, and the floorbecame black with human blood;terrible to see and to hear,and yet so entertaining,because such a long timehad passed since it all happened.

"Will she ever knock at my door again?"said theman;and he gazed at the door, so that black spots camebefore his eyes and upon the floor;he did not know if itwas blood,or mourning crape from the dark heavy days.

And as he sat thus,the thought came upon him, whether the Story might not have hidden itself,like thePrincess in the old tale?And he would now go in search ofit:if he found it,it would beam in new splendour,lovelierthan ever.

"Who knows? Perhaps it has hidden itself in the strawthat balances on the margin of the well.Carefully,careful-ly!Perhaps it lies hidden in a withered flower—that flowerin one of the great books on the bookshelf."

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