The Sheperdess and the Chimney‑Sweep
H AVE you ever seen a very, very old clothes-press, quite black with age, on which all sorts of flourishes and foliage were carved? Just such a one stood in a certain room. It was a legacy from a grandmother, and it was carved from top to bottom with roses and tulips; the most curious flourishes were to be seen on it, and between them little stags popped out their heads with zigzag antlers. But on the top a whole man was carved. True, he was laughable to look at for he showed his teeth—laughing one could not call it—had goat's legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard. The children in the room always called him General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent Goatslegs, for this was a name difficult to pronounce, and there are very few who got the title; but to cut him out in wood—that was no trifle. However, there he was. He looked down upon the table and toward the mirror, for there a charming little porcelain Shepherdess was standing. Her shoes were gilded, her gown was tastefully looped up with a red rose, and she had a golden hat and cloak; in short, she was most exquisite. Close by stood a little Chimney-sweep, as black as a coal, but of porcelain too. He was just as clean and pretty as another; as to his being a sweep, that was only what he represented; and the porcelain manufacturer could just as well have made a prince of him as a chimney-sweep if he had chosen; one was as easy as the other.
There he stood so prettily with his ladder, and with a little round face as fair and as rosy as that of the Shepherdess. In reality this was a fault; for a little black he certainly ought to have been. He was quite close to the Shepherdess; both stood where they had been placed; and as soon as they were put there they had mutually promised each other eternal fidelity; for they suited each other exactly—they were young, they were of the same porcelain, and both equally fragile.
Close to them stood another figure three times as large as they were. It was an old Chinese that could nod his head. He was of porcelain too, and said that he was grandfather of the little Shepherdess; but this he could not prove. He asserted, moreover, that he had authority over her, and that was the reason he had nodded his assent to the General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent Goatslegs, who paid his addresses to the Shepherdess.
"In him," said the old Chinese, "you will have a husband who, I verily believe, is of mahogany. You will be Mrs. Goatslegs, the wife of a General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent, who has his shelves full of plate, besides what is hidden in secret drawers and recesses."
"I will not go into the dark cupboard," said the little Shepherdess; "I have heard say that he has eleven wives of porcelain in there already."
"Then you may be the twelfth," said the Chinese.
But the little Shepherdess wept and looked at her beloved—at the porcelain Chimney-sweep.
"I implore you," said she, "fly hence with me; for here it is impossible for us to remain."
"I will do all you ask," said the little Chimney-sweep. "Let us leave this place. I think my trade will enable me to support you."
"If we were only down from the table," said she. "I shall not be happy till we are far from here and free."
He consoled her and showed her how she was to set her little foot on the carved border and on the gilded foliage which twined around the leg of the table, brought his ladder to her assistance, and at last both were on the floor; but when they looked toward the old clothes-press they observed a great stir. All the carved stags stretched their heads out farther, raised their antlers, and turned round their heads. The General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent gave a jump and called to the old Chinese, "They are eloping! they are eloping!"
At this she grew a little frightened and jumped quickly over the ridge into the drawer.
Here lay three or four packs of cards which were not complete, and a little puppet-show, which was set up as well as it was possible to do. A play was being performed, and all the ladies, Diamonds, as well as Hearts, Clubs, and Spades, sat in the front row and fanned themselves with the tulips they held in their hands, while behind them stood the varlets. The play was about two persons who could not have each other, at which the Shepherdess wept, for it was her own history.
"I cannot bear it longer," said she; "I must get out of the drawer."
But when she had got down on the floor and looked up to the table she saw that the old Chinese was awake, and that his whole body was rocking.
"The old Chinese is coming!" cried the little Shepherdess; and down she fell on her porcelain knee, so frightened was she.
"A thought has struck me," said the Chimney-sweep; "let us creep into the great Potpourri Jar that stands in the corner; there we can lie on roses and lavender, and, if he comes after us, throw dust in his eyes."
" 'Tis of no use," said she. "Besides, I know that the old Chinese and the Potpourri Jar were once betrothed; and when one has been once on such terms a little regard always lingers behind. No; for us there is nothing left but to wander forth into the wide world."
"Have you really courage to go forth with me into the wide world?" asked the Chimney-sweep, tenderly. "Have you considered how large it is, and that we can never come back here again?"
"I have," said she.
And the Sweep gazed fixedly upon her, and then said, "My way lies up the chimney. Have you really courage to go with me through the stove, and to creep through all the flues? We shall then get into the main flue, after which I am not at a loss what to do. Up we mount, then, so high that they can never reach us; and at the top is an opening that leads out into the world."
And he led her toward the door of the stove.
"It looks quite black," said she; but still she went with him, and on through all the intricacies of the interior and through the flues, where a pitchy darkness reigned.
"We are now in the chimney," said she; "and behold, behold, above us is shining the loveliest star!"
It was a real star in the sky that shone straight down upon them, as if to show them the way. They climbed and they crept higher and higher. It was a frightful way; but he lifted her up, he held her, and showed her the best places on which to put her little porcelain feet; and thus they reached the top of the chimney, and seated themselves on the edge of it; for they were tired, which is not to be wondered at.
The heaven and all its stars were above them, and all the roofs of the town below them; they could see far around, far away into the world. The poor Shepherdess had never pictured it to herself thus; she leaned her little head on her Sweep and wept so bitterly that all the gilding of her girdle came off.
"Oh, this is too much!" said she; "I cannot bear it. The world is too large. Oh, were I but again on the little table under the looking-glass! I shall never be happy till I am there again. I have followed you into the wide world; now, if you really love me, you may follow me home again."
And the Chimney-sweep spoke sensibly to her, spoke to her about the old Chinese and the General-clothes-inspector-head-superintendent; but she sobbed so violently and kissed her little Sweep so passionately that he was obliged to give way, although it was not right to do so.
So now down they climbed again with great difficulty, crept through the flues and into the stove, where they listened behind the door to discover if anybody was in the room. It was quite still; they peeped, and there, on the floor in the middle of the room, lay the old Chinese. He had fallen from the table in trying to follow the fugitives and was broken in three pieces; his whole back was but a stump, and his head had rolled into a corner, while General-clothes-press-inspector-head-superintendent Goatslegs was standing where he had ever stood absorbed in thought.