Hans Christian Andersen (1869)
Now I am going to tell a story,” said the Wind.
“Excuse me,” said the Rain, “but now it is my turn—, you have been howling round the corner as hard as ever you could, this long time past.”
“Is that your gratitude toward me?” said the Wind. “I who, in honor of you, turn inside out—yes, even break—all the umbrellas, when people won’t have anything to do with you.”
“I am going to speak!” said the Sunshine. “Silence!”
And the Sunshine said it with such glory and majesty, that the long, weary Wind fell prostrate, and the Rain beat against him, and shook him, and said,—“We won’t stand it! She always breaks through, that Madam Sunshine; we won’t listen to her. What she says is not worth hearing.”
But the Sunshine said,—“A beautiful swan flew over the rolling, tumbling waves of the ocean. Every one of its feathers shone like gold: one feather drifted down on the great merchant vessel that, with all sail set, was sailing away. The feather dropped on the curly light hair of a young man, whose business it was to have a care for the goods—,supercargo they called him. The bird of Fortune’s feather touched his forehead, became a pen in his hand, and brought him such luck, that very soon he became a wealthy merchant,—rich enough to have bought for himself spurs of gold; rich enough to change a golden dish into a nobleman’s shield; and I shone on it,” said the Sunshine.
“The swan flew further, away over the bright green meadow, where the little shepherd-boy, only seven years old, had lain down in the shadow of the old and only tree there was. The swan, in its flight, kissed one of the leaves of the tree. The leaf fell into the boy’s hand, and it was changed to three leaves, to ten,—yes, to a whole book,—and in it he read about all the wonders of nature, about his native language, about faith and knowledge. At night he laid the book under his head, that he might not forget what he had been reading. The wonderful book led him to the school-bench, and thence in search of knowledge. I have read his name among the names of learned men,” said the Sunshine.
“The swan flew into the quiet, lonely forest, rested awhile on the dark, deep lake, where the water-lilies grow; where the wild apples are to be found on the shore ; where the cuckoo and wild pigeon have their homes.
“A poor woman was in the wood, gathering firewood branches that had fallen down, and dry sticks; she carried them in a bundle on her back, and in her arms she held her little child. She saw the golden swan, the bird of Fortune, rise from among the reeds on the shore. What was that that glittered? A golden egg, quite warm yet. She laid it in her bosom, and the warmth remained in it. Surely there was life in the egg! She heard a gentle picking inside of the shell, but mistook the sound, and thought it was her own heart that she heard beating.
“At home, in the poor cottage, she took out the egg; ‘tick, tick,’ it said, as if it had been a valuable gold watch; but that it was not, only an egg—a real, living egg. The egg cracked and opened, and a dear little baby-swan, all feathered as with purest gold, put out its little head; round its neck it had four rings, and as the poor woman had four boys,—three at home, and the little one that she had had with her in the lonely wood,—she understood at once that here was a ring for each boy and just as she thought of that, the little gold-bt here was a ring for each boy and just as she thought of that, the little gold-biird took flight She kissed each ring, made each of the children kiss one of the rings, laid it next to the child’s heart, then put it on his finger. I saw it all,” said the Sunshine, “and I saw what followed.
“One of the boys was playing in a ditch, and took a lump of clay in his hand, turned and twisted and pressed it between his fingers, till it took shape, and was like Jason, who went in search of and found the golden fleece.
“The second boy ran out on the meadow, where the flowers stood,—flowers of all imaginable colors; he gathered a handful, and squeezed them so tight that all the juice spurted into his eyes, and some of it wetted the ring. It cribbled and crawled in his thoughts, and in his hands, and after many a day, and many a year, people in the great city talked of the great painter.
“The third child held the ring so tight in his teeth, that it gave forth sound, an echo of the song in the depth of his heart. Thoughts and feelings rose in beautiful sounds; rose like singing swans; plunged, like swans, into the deep, deep sea. He became a great master, a great composer, of whom every country has the right to say, ‘He was mine!’
“And the fourth little one was—yes, he was—the ‘ugly duck’ of the family; they said he had the pip, and must have pepper and butter, like the little sick chickens, and that he got; but of me he got a warm, sunny kiss,” said the Sunshine. “He got ten kisses for one; he was a poet, and was buffeted and kissed, alternately, all his life. But he held what no one could take from him,—the Ring of Fortune, from Dame Fortune’s golden swan. His thoughts took wings, and flew up and away, like singing butterflies,—the emblem of immortality!”
“That was a dreadfully long story,” said the Wind.
“And O, how stupid and tiresome !” said the Rain. “Blow on me, please, that I may revive a little.”
And the Wind blew, and the Sunshine said,—“The swan of Fortune flew over the beautiful bay, where the fishermen had set their nets; the poorest of them wanted to get married, and marry he did. To him the swan brought a piece of amber; amber draws things toward it, and it drew hearts to the house. Amber is the most wonderful incense, and there came a soft perfume, as from a church; there came a sweet breath from out of beautiful nature, that God has made. They were so happy and grateful for their peaceful home, and content even in their poverty. Their life became a real Sunshine story!”
“I think we had better stop now,” said the Wind, “the Sunshine has talked long enough, and I am dreadfully bored.”
“And I also,” said the Rain.
And what do we others, who have heard the story, say?
We say, “Now my story’s done.”