There is nobody in all the world who can tell so many stories as Olé Luköié! And such stories as he can tell!
When night is drawing on, and the children are sitting round the table as good as possible or on their little foot-stools, in walks Olé Shut-eyes. He comes so quietly up the stairs without his shoes, and opens the door so softly that nobody hears him; and, puff! he sends a shower of milk into their eyes in such fine spray as to be invisible; but they can't keep their eyes open after it, and so they never see him. He steals behind them and breathes upon their necks, making their heads as heavy as lead; but he never hurts them; he does it all from kindness to the children. He only wants them to be quiet, and the best way to make them quiet is to have them in bed; when they are settled there, he can tell them his stories.
Then as soon as the children are asleep, Olé Luköié seats himself upon their beds. He is well dressed; his clothes are all of silk, but it is impossible to say what colour they are, for it shimmers green, red and blue every time he turns. He has an umbrella under his arm, one with pictures on it, and this he holds over the good children, and then they dream the most delightful stories all night long. The other umbrella has no pictures on it, and he holds this one over the children who have been naughty, and then they sleep heavily till the morning and have no dreams at all.
I am now going to tell you about a little boy to whom Olé Luköié went every night for a whole week. His name was Hjalmar. There are just seven stories, because there are seven days in a week.
"Now, just listen!" said Olé Luköié, in the evening, when he had got Hjalmar to bed. "First I will smarten things up a bit," and then all the plants in pots became big trees, with their branches stretching right up to the ceiling and along the walls, so that the room looked like a delightful arbour. The branches were covered with flowers, and the flowers were more beautiful than roses; they had the most delightful scent, and, if you tried to eat them, were more delicious than the very nicest jam. The fruit shone like gold, and then there were buns bursting with plums; they were splendid!
All at once the most miserable grumbles came from the table-drawer where Hjalmar's schoolbooks were kept.
"What is that now?" said Olé Luköié, going along and opening the drawer.
It was the slate groaning and writhing because there was a wrong figure in the sum set on it, and it was ready to fall to pieces.
The pencil was hopping and skipping at the end of its piece of string, just as if it had been a little dog which would like to try and do the sum, but it couldn't! Then there was Hjalmar's copybook clamouring away inside its covers most pitifully. There was a row of capital letters down each side on every leaf, each with a little one beside it; then beside them letters which imagined that they looked like them, but these were written by Hjalmar. They looked almost as if they had tumbled over the line on which they ought to have been standing upright.
"See, this is how you ought to hold yourselves!" said the headlines, "so,—to one side with a brisk flourish!"
"Oh, we should like nothing better," said Hjalmar's letters, "but we can't, we are so crooked!"
"Then you shall have a dose of medicine," said Olé Luköié.
"Oh, no!" they cried, and then they stood up as stiffly as possible.
"Well now we can't tell any stories!" said Olé Luköié. "I must drill them! One, two! One, two!" and then he drilled the letters and they stood up stiffer than any headlines could stand. But when Olé Luköié went away and Hjalmar woke up in the morning they were as crooked as ever.
As soon as Hjalmar was in bed, Olé Luköié touched all the furniture in the room with his little wooden wand, and everything began to talk. They all talked about themselves except the spittoon, which was silent and much annoyed that they were all so vain, as only to talk about themselves, and to pay no attention to him, standing so modestly in the corner and allowing himself to be spat upon. There was a big picture in a gilt frame hanging over the chest of drawers; it was a landscape in which one saw tall, old trees, flowers growing in the grass, and a great piece of water, with a river flowing from it round behind a wood, past many castles and away to the open sea.
Olé Luköié touched the picture with his wand, and the birds in it began to sing, the branches of the trees moved and the clouds scudded along; you could see their shadows passing over the landscape.
Now Olé Luköié lifted little Hjalmar up close to the frame, and Hjalmar put his leg right into the picture among the long grass, and there he stood; the sun shone down upon him through the branches of the trees. He ran to the water and got into a little boat which lay there, it was painted red and white, and the sails shone like silver. Six swans, all with golden crowns round their necks, and a shining blue star upon their heads, drew the boat past the dark green woods, where the trees told stories about robbers and witches; and the flowers told other stories about the pretty little elves, and all that the butterflies had told them.
Beautiful fish with gold and silver scales swam after the boat; every now and then they sprang out of the water and back again with a splash. Red and blue birds, large and small, flew in two long lines behind them; the gnats buzzed, and the cockchafers boomed; they all wanted to go with Hjalmar, and each of them had a story to tell.
That was a sailing trip indeed! Now the woods were thick and dark, now they were like beautiful gardens full of sunshine and flowers, and among them were castles of glass and marble. Princesses stood upon the balconies, and they were all little girls whom Hjalmar knew and used to play with.
They stretched out their hands, each one holding the most beautiful sugar pig which any cakewoman could sell. Hjalmar took hold of one end of the pig as they sailed by, and the princess held the other tight, and each had a share, she the smaller and Hjalmar the bigger! Little princes stood sentry by each castle, they saluted with golden swords, and showered down sugar plums and tin soldiers; they were princes indeed.
Now he sailed through a wood, now through great halls, or right through a town; he passed through the one where his nurse lived, she who used to carry him about when he was quite a little boy and who was so fond of him. She nodded and waved her hand to him, and sang a pretty little song which she had written herself and sent to Hjalmar:
"I dream of thee for many an hour,
Hjalmar, my own, my sweeting;
My kisses once fell like a shower,
Thy brow and red cheeks greeting.
Mine ear thy first formed word addressed,
Thy last must be in parting;
May you on earth by Heaven be blessed,
Angel, from Heavenward darting!"
All the birds sang too, the flowers danced upon their stalks, and the old trees nodded, just as if Olé uköié were telling them stories.
How the rain was pouring down outside! Hjalmar could even hear it in his sleep, and when Olé Luköié opened the window, the water stood right up to the sill; it was a regular lake, and a beautiful ship lay close up to the house.
"Will you sail with me, little Hjalmar?" said Olé Luköié; "if you will, you can go to distant countries to-night, and be back here again in the morning!"
Then all at once Hjalmar found himself in his best Sunday clothes, on board the beautiful ship; it was heavenly weather, and they sailed through the streets, past the church, till they reached a wild open sea. They sailed so far that there was no more land to be seen. They saw a flock of storks leaving home on their way to the warm countries, flying in a line, one behind the other; they had already down a long, long way. One of them was so tired, that his wings could hardly carry him any further; he was the last one in the row, and soon he was a long way behind. At last he sank, with outspread wings, lower and lower; he flapped his wings feebly for a few strokes, but it was no use. Now he touched the rigging of the ship with his feet, and slid down the sail with a flop on to the deck.
Then the cabin boy picked him up and put him into the henhouse, with the chickens, and ducks and turkeys; the poor stork stood among them looking quite depressed.
"What a creature!" said all the hens. The turkey-cock puffed himself up as big as he could, and asked who he was; and the ducks waddled backwards pushing against each other, saying "Quack, quack!"
Then the stork told them about sunny Africa, and the pyramids, and the ostrich running across the deserts like a wild horse; but the ducks did not understand him, and they pushed each other and said, "Are we agreed that he is an idiot?"
"Yes, indeed, he's an idiot," said the turkey-cock with a gobble. Then the stork became quite silent, and thought about his beloved Africa.
"Nice thin legs you've got!" said the turkey-cock; "how much a yard?"
"Quack, quack, quack!" grinned all the ducks, but the stork appeared not to hear them.
"You're quite at liberty to laugh too," said the turkey-cock to him; "it was a very witty remark, or perhaps it was too low for you, gobble gobble. He's not many-sided," he said to the others; "it's good enough to amuse us!" Then all the hens clucked and the ducks quacked; it was tremendous the amusement they got out of it.
But Hjalmar went along to the hen-house, opened the door and called the stork, and it hopped out on to the deck to him. It was rested now, and it seemed to nod to Hjalmar to thank him; thereupon it spread its wings and flew away to the warm countries. But the hens clucked, the ducks quacked, and the turkey-cock's head got as red as fire.
"To-morrow we'll make you into soup," said Hjalmar, and then he woke up and found himself lying in his own little bed. That was an extraordinary journey Olé Luköié had taken him.
"I'll tell you what!" said Olé Luköié; don't be frightened, and I will show you a little mouse." And he stretched out his hand with the tiny little animal in it. "It has come to invite you to a wedding. There are two little mice who intend to enter the wedded state to-night. They live under the floor of your mother's larder, which they say is a most delightful residence."
"But how can I get through a little mouse hole in the floor?" said Hjalmar.
"Leave that to me," said Olé Luköié; "I'll soon make you small enough!"
Then he touched Hjalmar with his wand, and he quickly grew smaller and smaller; at last he was not as tall as one's finger.
"Now you may borrow the tin soldier's clothes; I think they'll just fit you, and it looks so smart to have on a uniform when one's in company."
"Yes indeed!" said Hjalmar, and in a moment he was dressed like the grandest tin soldier.
"Be so good as to take a seat in your mother's thimble," said the little mouse, "and I shall have the honour of drawing you!"
"Heavens! are you going to take that trouble yourself, young lady?" said Hjalmar, and off they drove to the mouse's wedding.
First they went down under the floor into a long passage, which was just high enough for them to drive through, and the whole passage was lighted up with touch-wood.
"Isn't there a delicious smell here?" said the mouse who was drawing him; "the whole passage has been smeared over with bacon fat! Nothing could be nicer."
Then they came to the bridal hall, where all the little lady mice stood on the right whispering and giggling, as if they were making fun of each other, and on the left stood all the gentlemen mice stroking their whiskers with their paws. The bridal pair stood in the middle of the room, in the hollow rind of a cheese, kissing each other most energetically before all the othertpeople, but then they were engaged, you know, and just about to be married.
More and more visitors poured in, the mice were almost crushing each other to death, and the bridal pair had taken their place in the doorway, so that one could neither get in nor out. The whole room, like the passage, was smeared with bacon fat; there were no other refreshments, but for dessert a pea was produced, in which one of the little mice of the family had bitten the name of the bridal pair; that is to say the first letter of it, and this was something quite extraordinary.
All the mice said it was a delightful wedding, and the conversation most entertaining.
And then Hjalmar drove home again; he had been in very grand company, but in order to get there he had been obliged to shrink wonderfully, to make himself small enough to get into the uniform of a tin soldier.
"It is astounding what a number of grown-up people would like to get hold of me!" said Olé Luköié, "especially those with a bad conscience. 'Good little Olé,' they say to me, 'we can't close our eyes, and there we lie all night with all our bad deeds staring us in the face. They are like naughty elfins; they come and sit on our beds and squirt hot water over us. Won't you come and chase them away so that we may have a good sleep?' and then they sigh deeply. 'We will gladly pay you, Olé; good-night. You will find the money on the window-sill.' 'But I don't do it for money!' " said Olé Luköié.
"What are we going to do to-night?" asked Hjalmar.
"Well, I don't know whether you would like to go to a wedding again to-night; it's a different kind from yesterday's. Your sister's big doll, the one which looks like a man and is called Herman, is to be married to Bertha; besides which it is her birthday, so there will be no end of presents."
"Oh, I know all about that; whenever the dolls want new clothes my sister lets them have a birthday or a wedding. It has happened hundreds of times!"
"Yes, but to-night it's the hundred and first wedding, and the hundred and first is the end of all things, so that's why this one will be so grand. Just look "
Hjalmar looked along at the table; there was the little pasteboard house with lights in the windows, and all the tin soldiers presenting arms outside. The bridal pair sat upon the floor leaning against the leg of the table; they were very thoughtful, and they had reason to be. Olé Luköié, dressed in grandmother's black skirt, married them; when the ceremony was over, all the furniture in the room joined in singing the following pretty song which had been written by the pencil; it went to the tune of the tattoo.
"Our song shall swing like the wind, like the wind,
Till the bridal pair are enshrin'd, are enshrin'd,
And they curtsey both like a stick, do you mind?
For they're wood inside with kid for a rind.
Hurrah! hurrah! wood and skin well combin'd,
We'll sing it aloud to the rain and the wind!"
Then the presents were given, but they had declined any eatables; love was enough for them without anything else.
"Shall we go into the country or travel abroad?" asked the bridegroom, and then they consulted the swallow which had travelled so much, and the old mother hen which had reared five broods of chickens. The swallow told them all about the delightful warm countries where the grapes hung in luscious clusters, and where the air was so mild, and the colours on the mountains were such as were not to be found elsewhere.
"But they haven't got our green cabbage," said the hen. "I was in the country all one summer with my chicks; there was a gravel pit that we scratched in all day, and then we got admission to a garden where the cabbage grew! Oh, how green it was! I can't imagine anything more beautiful."
"But one cabbage is just like another," said the swallow, "and then there's so much bad weather here!"
"Oh, we're used to that," said the hen.
"But it's so cold, it freezes."
"That's good for the cabbage," said the hen. "Besides, sometimes it is warm enough. Four years ago didn't we have a summer with tremendous heat, for five weeks one could hardly breathe! And then we don't have all the poisonous creatures they have abroad, and there are no robbers. Anyone who doesn't think our own country the best, must be a fool! He doesn't deserve to live here." And the hen began to cry. "I've had my journeys too; I once travelled twelve miles in a barrel, and there's no pleasure in travelling."
"Ah, the hen is a wise woman!" said Bertha the doll. "I don't like travelling among mountains either, for first you go up and then you go down! No, we will move out by the gravel pit and take our walks in the cabbage garden."
And that was the end of it.
"Are we going to have some stories?" asked little Hjalmar, as soon as Olé Luköié had got him to bed.
"We haven't time for any to-night," said Ole, as he opened his prettiest umbrella. "Just look at these Chinese! "The whole umbrella looked exactly like a big Chinese bowl, with blue trees all over it, and arched bridges on which stood little people nodding their heads. "We must have the whole world polished up for to-morrow," said Olé; "it is a holiday for it is Sunday. I must go up into the church tower to see if the little church brownies are polishing the bells so that they may sound well. I must go into the fields to see if the wind has blown the dust off the grass and leaves. My biggest piece of work is to get down all the stars to polish them; I take them in my apron; but first I have to number each one and the holes they belong to have to be numbered too, so that they may go back into their proper places or they wouldn't stick, and then we should be having too many falling stars, one after the other would drop out."
"Now, I say, Mr Luköié," said one of the old portraits hanging on the wall, "I am Hjalmar's great-grandfather; I am much obliged to you for telling him stories, but you mustn't puzzle his brains. The stars can't be taken down to be polished! The stars are planets just like our own earth, and that's the best of them!"
"Much obliged to you, old great-grandfather," said Olé Luköié. "My best thanks to you; you are the head of the family; you are an antiquity, but I am older than you! I am an old heathen; the Greeks and Romans call me the Dream-god! I have my footing in the grandest houses; I can get on both with big and little! You may tell the stories yourself!" And then Olé Luköié went away and took his umbrella with him.
"I suppose one mayn't give an opinion now!" said the old portrait.
And then Hjalmar woke.
"Good evening," said Olé Luköié, and Hjalmar nodded; and then he jumped up and turned great-grandfather's portrait with its face to the wall, so that it should not talk as it did last time.
"Now you must tell me some stories about 'The five green peas which lived in a peaspod,' and about the 'Cock paying his addresses to the hen,' and about the 'Darning-needle,' which was so fine that it fancied it was an ordinary needle!"
"You may have too much of a good thing," said Olé Luköié; "I would rather show you something you know! I will show you my brother; he is also called Olé Luköié, but he never comes more than once to anybody, and when he comes he takes them away with him on his horse, and tells them stories. He only knows two, one which is so beautiful that nobody on earth can imagine it, and one which is too horrible to be described!" And then Olé lifted little Hjalmar up to the window, and said, "Now you can see my brother, the other Olé Luköié! He is also called Death; you see he doesn't look at all bad, as he sometimes does in pictures, all bones and joints! No, he has a silver embroidered border round his coat; it is a Hussar's uniform, and a black velvet cloak streams out behind over his horse's back! See how they are galloping."
And Hjalmar saw how Olé Luköié rode off, taking both old and young with him on his horse. He put some of them before him and some behind, but he always asked first, "What character have you in your mark book?" They all said "good." "Let me see myself," said he, and then they had to show him the book. All those who had "very good" or "excellent "against their names were put up in front of him, and were told the most delightful stories; but those who had only "pretty good" or "tolerable," had to sit behind him, and were told horrible stories. They shivered, and cried, and tried to get off the horse, but they couldn't do that, because they grew fast to it at once.
"But Death is a beautiful Olé Luköié," said Hjalmar. "I am not a bit afraid of him!"
"Nor need you be," said Olé Luköié; "if only you take care to have a good character in your book."
"Ah, now, that's instructive!" mumbled great-grandfather's portrait. "It's some good after all to speak one's mind!" and he was quite pleased.
Now this is the story about Olé Luköié! To-night he can tell you some more himself.