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The Galoshes of Fortune
I. FOR THE BEGINNING
It was in Copenhagen, in one of the houses on
East Street, not far from King's Newmarket, that someone was giving
a large party. For one must give a party once in a while, if one
expects to be invited in return. Half of the guests were already at
the card tables, and the rest were waiting to see what would come of
their hostess's query:
"What can we think up now?"
Up to this point, their conversation had
gotten along as best it might. Among other things, they had spoken
of the Middle Ages. Some held that it was a time far better than our
own. Indeed Councilor of Justice Knap defended this opinion with
such spirit that his hostess sided with him at once, and both of
them loudly took exception to Oersted's article in the Almanac,
which contrasted old times and new, and which favored our own
period. The Councilor of Justice, however, held that the time of
King Hans, about 1500 A.D., was the noblest and happiest age.
While the conversation ran pro and con,
interrupted only for a moment by the arrival of a newspaper, in
which there was nothing worth reading, let us adjourn to the cloak
room, where all the wraps, canes, umbrellas, and galoshes were
collected together. Here sat two maids, a young one and an old one.
You might have thought they had come in attendance upon some
spinster or widow, and were waiting to see their mistress home.
However, a closer inspection would reveal that these were no
ordinary serving women. Their hands were too well kept for that,
their bearing and movements too graceful, and their clothes had a
certain daring cut.
They were two fairies. The younger one, though
not Dame Fortune herself, was an assistant to one of her ladies in
waiting, and was used to deliver the more trifling gifts of Fortune.
The older one looked quite grave. She was Dame Care, who always goes
in her own sublime person to see to her errands herself, for then
she knows that they are well done.
They were telling each other about where they
had been that day. The assistant of Fortune had only attended to a
few minor affairs, she said, such as saving a new bonnet from the
rain, getting a civil greeting for an honest man from an exalted
nincompoop, and such like matters. But her remaining errand was an
"I must also tell you," she said, "that today
is my birthday, and in honor of this I have been entrusted to bring
a pair of galoshes to mankind. These galoshes have this peculiarity,
that whoever puts them on will immediately find himself in whatever
time, place, and condition of life that he prefers. His every wish
in regard to time and place will instantly be granted, so for once a
man can find perfect happiness here below."
"Take my word for it." said Dame Care, "he
will be most unhappy, and will bless the moment when he can rid
himself of those galoshes."
" How can you say such a thing?" the other
woman exclaimed. "I shall leave them here beside the door, where
someone will put them on by mistake and immediately be the happy
That ended their conversation.
II. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COUNCILOR OF JUSTICE
It was getting late when Councilor Knap
decided to go home. Lost in thought about the good old days of King
Hans, as fate would have it, he put on the galoshes of Fortune
instead of his own, and wore them out into East Street. But the
power that lay in the galoshes took him back into the reign of King
Hans, and as the streets were not paved in those days his feet sank
deep into the mud and the mire.
"Why, how deplorable!" the Councilor of
Justice said. "The whole sidewalk is gone and all the street lights
As the moon had no yet risen high enough, and
the air was somewhat foggy, everything around him was dark and
blurred. At the next corner a lantern hung before an image of the
Madonna, but for all the light it afforded him it might as well not
have been there. Only when he stood directly under it did he make
out that painting of the mother and child.
"It's probably an art museum," he thought,
"and they have forgotten to take in the sign."
Two people in medieval costumes passed by.
"How strange they looked!" he said. "They must
have been to a masquerade."
Just then the sound of drums and fifes came
his way, and bright torches flared. The Councilor of Justice stopped
and was startled to see an odd procession go past, led by a whole
band of drummers who were dexterously drubbing away. These were
followed by soldiers armed with long bows and crossbows. The chief
personage of the procession was a churchman of rank. The astounded
Councilor asked what all this meant, and who the man might be.
"That is the Bishop of Seeland," he was told.
"What in the name of heaven can have come over
the Bishop?" the Councilor of Justice wondered. He sighed and shook
his head. "The Bishop? Impossible."
Still pondering about it, without glancing to
right or to left, he kept on down East Street and across Highbridge
Square. The bridge that led from there to Palace Square was not to
be found at all; at last on the bank of the shallow stream he saw a
boat with two men in it.
"Would the gentleman want to be ferried over
to the Holm"? they asked him.
"To the Holm?" blurted the Councilor, who had
not the faintest notion that he was living in another age. "I want
to go to Christian's Harbour on Little Market Street."
The men gaped at him.
"Kindly tell me where the bridge is," he said.
"It's disgraceful that all the street lamps are out, and besides,
it's as muddy to walk here as in a swamp." But the more he talked
with the boatmen, the less they understood each other. "I can't
understand your jabbering Bornholm accent," he finally said, and
angrily turned his back on them. But no bridge could he find. Even
the fence was gone.
"What a scandalous state of affairs! What a
way for things to look!" he said. Never had he been so disgruntled
with his own age as he was this evening. "I think I'd better take a
cab." But where were the cabs? There were none in sight. "I'll have
to go back to King's Newmarket, where there is a cab stand, or I
shall never reach Christian's Harbour."
So back he trudged to East Street, and had
nearly walked the length of it when the moon rose.
"Good Heavens, what have they been building
here?" he cried as he beheld the East Gate, which in the old days
stood at the end of East Street. In time, however, he found a gate
through which he passed into what is now Newmarket. But all he saw
there was a large meadow. A few bushes rose here and there and the
meadow was divided by a wide canal or stream. The few wretched
wooden huts on the far shore belonged to Dutch sailors, so at that
time the place was called Dutch Meadow.
"Either I'm seeing what is called Fata
Morgana, or I'm drunk," the Councilor of Justice moaned. "What sort
of place is this? Where am I?" He turned back, convinced that he
must be a very ill man. As he walked through the street again he
paid more attention to the houses. Most of them were of wood, and
many were thatched with straw.
"No, I don't feel myself at all," he
complained. "I only took one glass of punch, but it doesn't agree
with me. The idea of serving punch with hot salmon! I'll speak about
it severely to our hostess-that agent's wife. Should I march
straight back and tell her how I feel? No, that would be in bad
taste, and besides I doubt whether her household is still awake." He
searched for the house, but wasn't able to find it.
"This is terrible!" he cried. "I don't even
recognize East Street. There's not a shop to be seen; wretched old
ramshackle huts are all I see, as if I were in Roskilde or
Ringstedt. Oh, but I'm ill! There's no point in standing on
ceremony, but where on earth is the agent's house? This hut doesn't
look remotely like it, but I can hear that the people inside are
still awake. Ah, I'm indeed a very sick man."
He reached a half-open door, where light
flickered through the crack. It was a tavern of that period-a sort
of alehouse. The room had the look of a farmer's clay-floored
kitchen in Holstein, and the people who sat there were sailors,
citizens of Copenhagen, and a couple of scholars. Deep in
conversation over their mugs, they paid little attention to the
"Pardon me," the Councilor of Justice said to
the landlady who came toward him, "but I am far from well. Would you
send someone for a cab to take me to Christian's Harbour?"
The woman stared at him, shook her head, and
addressed him in German. As the Councilor of Justice supposed that
she could not speak Danish, he repeated his remarks in German. This,
and the cut of his clothes, convinced the woman that he was a
foreigner. She soon understood that he felt unwell, and fetched him
a mug of water, decidedly brackish, for she drew it directly from
the sea-level well outside. The Councilor put his head in his hands,
took a deep breath, and thought over all of the queer things that
"Is that tonight's number of The Day?
" he remarked from force of habit, as he saw the woman putting away
a large folded sheet.
Without quite understanding him, she handed
him the paper. It was a woodcut, representing a meteor seen in the
skies over Cologne.
"This is very old," said the Councilor, who
became quite enthusiastic about his discovery. "Where did you get
this rare old print? It's most interesting, although of course the
whole matter is a myth. In this day and age, such meteors are
explained away as a manifestation of the Northern Lights, probably
caused by electricity."
Those who sat near him heard the remark and
looked at him in astonishment. One of them rose, respectfully doffed
his hat, and said with the utmost gravity:
"Sir, you must be a great scholar."
"Not at all," replied the Councilor. "I merely
have a word or two to say about things that everyone should know."
"Modestia is an admirable virtue,"
the man declared. "In regard to your statement, I must say, mihi
secus videtur, though I shall be happy to suspend my
"May I ask whom I have the pleasure of
addressing?" the Councilor of Justice inquired.
"I am a Bachelor of Theology," the man told
him in Latin.
This answer satisfied the Councilor of
Justice, for the degree was in harmony with the fellow's way of
dressing. "Obviously," he thought, "this is some old village
schoolmaster, an odd character such as one still comes across now
and then, up in Jut land."
"This is scarcely a locus docendi ,"
the man continued, "but I entreat you to favor us with your
conversation. You, of course, are well read in the classics?"
"Oh, more or less," the Councilor agreed. "I
like to read the standard old books, and the new ones too, except
for those 'Every Day Stories' of which we have enough in reality."
"Every Day Stories?" our bachelor asked.
"Yes, I mean these modern novels."
"Oh," the man said with a smile. "Still they
are very clever, and are popular with the court. King Hans is
particularly fond of the 'Romance of Iwain and Jawain,' which deals
with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The king has
been known to jest with his lords about it."
"Well," said the Councilor, "one can't keep up
with all the new books. I suppose it has just been published by
"No," the man said, "not by Heiberg, but by
Gotfred von Ghemen."
"Indeed! What a fine old name for a literary
man. Why Gotfred von Ghemen was the first printer in Denmark."
"Yes," the man agreed, "he is our first and
Thus far, their conversation had flowed quite
smoothly. Now one of the townsmen began to talk about the pestilence
which had raged some years back, meaning the plague of 1484. The
Councilor understood him to mean the last epidemic of cholera, so
they agreed well enough.
The freebooter's War of 1490 was so recent
that it could not be passed over. The English raiders had taken
ships from our harbor, they said, and the Councilor of Justice, who
was well posted on the affair of 1801, manfully helped them to abuse
After that, however, the talk floundered from
one contradiction to another. The worthy bachelor was so completely
unenlightened that the Councilor's most commonplace remarks struck
him as being too daring and too fantastic. They stared at each
other, and when they reached an impasse the bachelor broke into
Latin, in the hope that he would be better understood, but that
The landlady plucked at the Councilor's sleeve
and asked him, "How do you feel now?" This forcibly recalled to him
all of those things which he had happily forgotten in the heat of
"Merciful heaven, where am I?" he wondered,
and the thought made him dizzy.
"We will drink claret wine, and mead, and
Bremen beer," one of the guests cried out, "and you shall drink with
Two girls came in, and one of them wore a cap
of two colors. They filled the glasses and made curtsies. The
Councilor felt cold shivers up and down his spine. "What is all
this? What is all this?" he groaned, but drink with them he must.
They overwhelmed him with their kind intentions until he despaired,
and when one man pronounced him drunk he didn't doubt it in the
least. All he asked was that they get him a droschke ."
Then they thought he was speaking in Russian.
Never before had he been in such low and
vulgar company! "One would think that the country had lapsed back
into barbarism," he told himself. "This is the most dreadful moment
of my life."
Then it occurred to him to slip down under the
table, crawl to the door, and try to sneak out, but just as he
neared the threshold his companions discovered him and tried to pull
him out by his feet. However, by great good luck they pulled off his
galoshes, and-with them-the whole enchantment.
The Councilor of Justice now distinctly saw a
street lamp burning in front of a large building. He knew the
building and the other buildings near-by. It was East Street as we
all know it today. He lay on the pavement with his legs against a
gate, and across the way a night watchman sat fast asleep.
"Merciful heavens! Have I been lying here in
the street dreaming?" the Councilor of Justice said. "To be sure,
this is East Street. How blessedly bright and how colorful it looks.
But what dreadful effect that one glass of punch must have had on
Two minutes later he was seated in a cab, and
well on his way to Christian's Harbour. As he recalled all the past
terror and distress to which he had been subjected, he
wholeheartedly approved of the present, our own happy age. With all
its shortcomings it was far preferable to that age into which he had
recently stumbled. And that, thought the Councilor of Justice, was
good common sense.
III. THE WATCHMAN'S ADVENTURE
"Why, I declare! There's a pair of galoshes,"
said the watchman. They must belong to the lieutenant who lives up
there on the top floor, for they are lying in front of the door." A
light still burned upstairs, and the honest fellow was perfectly
willing to ring the bell and return the overshoes. But he didn't
want to disturb the other tenants in the house, so he didn't do it.
"It must be quite comfortable to wear a pair
of such things," he said. "How soft the leather feels." They fitted
his feet perfectly. "What a strange world we live in. The lieutenant
might be resting easy in his soft bed, yet there he goes, pacing to
and fro past his window. There's a happy man for you! He has no
wife, and he has no child, and every night he goes to a party. Oh,
if I were only in his place, what a happy man I would be."
Just as he expressed his wish, the galoshes
transformed him into the lieutenant, body and soul, and there he
stood in the room upstairs. Between his fingers he held a sheet of
pink paper on which the lieutenant had just written a poem. Who is
there that has not at some time in his life felt poetic? If he
writes down his thoughts while this mood is on him, poetry is apt to
come of it. On the paper was written:
IF ONLY I WERE RICH
If only I were rich; I often said in prayer
When I was but a tiny lad without much care
If only I were rich, a soldier I would be
With uniform and sword, most handsomely;
At last an officer I was, my wish I got
But to be rich was not my lot;
But You, oh Lord, would always help.
I sat one eve, so happy, young and proud;
A darling child of seven kissed my mouth
For I was rich with fairy tales, you see
With money I was poor as poor can be,
But she was fond of tales I told
That made me rich, but - alas - not with gold;
But You, oh Lord, You know!
If only I were rich, is still my heavenly
My little girl of seven is now a lady fair;
She is so sweet, so clever and so good;
My heart's fair tale she never understood.
If only, as of yore, she still for me would
But I am poor and silent; I confess I do not
It is Your will, oh Lord!
If only I were rich, in peace and comfort
I would my sorrow to this paper never trust.
You, whom I love, if still you understand
then read this poem from my youth's far land,
Though best it be you never know my pain.
I am still poor, my future dark and vain,
But may, O Lord, You bless her!
Yes, a man in love writes many a poem that a
man in his right mind does not print. A lieutenant, his love and his
lack of money - there's an eternal triangle for you, a broken life
that can never be squared. The lieutenant knew this all too well. He
leaned his head against the window, and sighed, and said:
"The poor watchman down there in the street is
a far happier man than I. He does not know what I call want. He has
a home. He has a wife and children who weep with him in his sorrows
and share in his joy. Ah, I would be happier if I could trade places
with him, for he is much more fortunate than I am."
Instantly, the watchman was himself again. The
galoshes had transformed him into the lieutenant, as we have seen.
He was far less contended up there, and preferred to be just what he
had been. So the watchman turned back into a watchman.
"I had a bad dream," he said. "Strangely
enough, I fancied I was the lieutenant, and I didn't like it a bit.
I missed my wife and our youngsters, who almost smother me with
He sat down and fell to nodding again, unable
to get the dream out of his head. The galoshes were still on his
feet when he watched a star fall in the sky.
"There goes one," he muttered. "But there are
so many it will never be missed. I'd like to have a look at those
trinkets at close range. I'd especially like to see the moon, which
is not the sort of thing to get lost in one's hands. The student for
whom my wife washes, says that when we die we fly about from star to
star. There's not a word of truth in it. But it would be nice, just
the same, if I could take a little jaunt through the skies. My body
could stay here on the steps for all that I'd care."
Now there are certain things in the world that
we ought to think about before we put them into words, and if we are
wearing the galoshes of Fortune it behooves us to think twice. Just
listen to what happened to that watchman.
All of us know how fast steam can take us.
We've either rushed along in a train or sped by steamship across the
ocean. But all this is like the gait of a sloth, or the pace of a
snail, in comparison with the speed of light, which travels nineteen
million times faster than the fastest race horse. Yet electricity
moves even faster. Death is an electric shock to the heart, and the
soul set free travels on electric wings. The sunlight takes eight
minutes and some odd seconds to travel nearly one hundred million
miles. On the wings of electricity, the soul can make the same
journey in a few moments, and to a soul set free the heavenly bodies
are as close together as the houses of friends who live in the same
town with us, or even in the same neighborhood. However, this
electric shock strips us of our bodies forever, unless, like the
watchman, we happen to be wearing the galoshes of Fortune.
In a few seconds the watchman took in his
stride the two hundred and sixty thousand miles to the moon. As we
know, this satellite is made of much lighter material than the
earth, and is as soft as freshly fallen snow. The watchman landed in
one of the numerous mountain rings which we all know from Doctor
Maedler's large map of the moon. Within the ring was a great bowl,
fully four miles deep. At the bottom of this bowl lay a town. We may
get some idea of what it looked like by pouring the white of an egg
into a glass of water. The town was made of stuff as soft as the egg
albumen, and its form was similar, with translucent towers, cupolas,
and terraces, all floating in thin air.
Over the watchman's head hung our earth, like
a huge dull red ball. Around him he noticed crowds of beings who
doubtless corresponded to men and women of the earth, but their
appearance was quite different from ours. They also had their own
way of speaking, but no one could expect that the soul of a watchman
would understand them. Nevertheless he did understand the language
of the people in the moon very well. They were disputing about our
earth, and doubting whether it could be inhabited. The air on the
earth, they contended, must be too thick for any intelligent
moon-man to live there. Only the moon was inhabited, they agreed,
for it was the original sphere on which the people of the Old World
Now let us go back down to East Street, to see
how the watchman's body was making out. Lifeless it lay, there on
the steps. His morning star, that spiked club which watchmen carry,
had fallen from his hands, and his eyes were turned toward the moon
that his honest soul was exploring.
"What's the hour, watchman?" asked a
passer-by. But never an answer did he get. He gave the watchman a
very slight tweak of the nose, and over he toppled. There lay the
body at full length, stretched on the pavement. The man was dead. It
gave the one who had tweaked him a terrible fright, for the watchman
was dead, and dead he remained. His death was reported, and
investigated. As day broke, his body was taken to the hospital.
It would be a pretty pass if the soul should
come back and in all probability look for its body in East Street,
and fail to find it. Perhaps it would rush to the police station
first, next to the Directory Office where it could advertise for
lost articles, and last of all to the hospital. But we needn't
worry. The soul by itself is clever enough. It's the body that makes
As we said before, the watchman's body was
taken to the hospital. They put it in a room to be washed, and
naturally the galoshes were pulled off first of all. That brought
the soul dashing back posthaste, and in a flash the watchman came
back to life. He swore it had been the most terrible night he had
ever experienced, and he would never go through it again, no, not
for two pennies. But it was over and done with. He was allowed to
leave that same day, but the galoshes were left at the hospital.
IV. A GREAT MOMENT, AND A MOST EXTRAORDINARY
Everyone in Copenhagen knows what the entrance
to Frederic's Hospital looks like, but as some of the people who
read this story may not have been to Copenhagen, we must describe
The hospital is fenced off from the street by
a rather high railing of heavy iron bars, which are spaced far
enough apart-at least so the story goes-for very thin internes to
squeeze between them and pay little visits to the world outside. The
part of the body they had most difficulty in squeezing through was
the head. In this, as often happens in the world, small heads were
the most successful. So much for our description.
One of the young internes, of whom it could be
said that he had a great head only in a physical sense, had the
night watch that evening. Outside the rain poured down. But in spite
of these difficulties he was bent upon getting out for a quarter of
an hour. There was no need for the doorman to know about it, he
thought, if he could just manage to slip through the fence. There
lay the galoshes that the watchman had forgotten, and while the
interne had no idea that they were the galoshes of Fortune, he did
know that they would stand him in good stead out in the rain. So he
pulled them on. Now the question was whether he could squeeze
between the bars, a trick that he had never tried before. There he
stood, facing the fence.
"I wish to goodness I had my head through," he
said, and though his head was much too large and thick for the
space, it immediately slipped through quickly and with the greatest
of ease. The galoshes saw to that. All he had to do now was to
squeeze his body through after his head, but it wouldn't go. "Uff!"
he panted, "I'm too fat. I thought my head would be the worst
difficulty. No, I shall never get through."
He quickly attempted to pull his head back
again, but it couldn't be done. He could move his neck easily, but
that was all. First his anger flared up. Then his spirits dropped
down to zero. The galoshes of Fortune had gotten him in a terrible
fix, and unluckily it did not occur to him to wish his way out of
it. No, instead of wishing he struggled and strove, but he could not
budge from the spot. The rain poured down; not a soul could be seen
in the street; and he could not reach the bell by the gate. How
could he ever get free? He was certain he would have to stay there
till morning, and that they would have to send for a blacksmith to
file through the iron bars. It would take time. All the boys in the
school across the way would be up and shout, and the entire
population of "Nyboder," where all the sailors lived, would turn out
for the fun of seeing the man in a pillory. Why, he would draw a
bigger crowd than the one that went to see the championship
wrestling matches last year.
"Huff!" he panted, "the blood's rushing to my
head. I'm going mad! Yes, I'm going mad! Oh, if I were only free
again, and out of this fix, then I would be all right again."
This was what he ought to have said in the
first place. No sooner had he said it than his head came free, and
he dashed indoors, still bewildered by the fright that the galoshes
of Fortune had given him. But don't think that this was the end of
it. No! The worst was yet to come.
The night went by, and the next day passed,
but nobody came for the galoshes. That evening there was to be a
performance at the little theatre in Kannike Street. The house was
packed and in the audience was our friend, the interne, apparently
none the worse for his adventure of the night before. He had again
put on the galoshes. After all, no one had claimed them, and the
streets were so muddy that he thought they would stand him in good
At the theatre a new sketch was presented. It
was called "My Grandmother's Spectacles and had to do with a pair of
eyeglasses which enabled anyone who wore them to read the future
from people's faces, just as a fortune teller reads it from cards.
The idea occupied his mind very much. He would
like to own such a pair of spectacles. Properly used, they might
enable one to see into people's hearts. This, he thought, would be
far more interesting than foresee what would happen next year.
Future events would be known in due time, but no one would ever know
the secrets that lie in people's hearts.
"Look at those ladies and gentlemen in the
front row," he said to himself. "If I could see straight into their
hearts what stores of things-what great shops full of goods would I
behold. And how my eyes would rove about those shops. In every
feminine heart, no doubt I should find a complete millinery
establishment. There sits one whose shop is empty, but a good
cleaning would do it no harm. And of course some of the shops would
be well stocked. Ah me," he sighed, "I know of one where all the
goods are of the very best quality, and it would just suit me,
but-alas and alack-there's a shopkeeper there already, and he's the
only bad article in the whole shop. Many a one would say, "Won't you
walk in?" and I wish I could. I would pass like a nice little
thought through their hearts."
The galoshes took him at his word. The interne
shrank to almost nothing, and set out on a most extraordinary
journey through the hearts of all the spectators in the first row.
The first heart he entered was that of a lady, but at first he
mistook it for a room in the Orthopaedic Institute, or Hospital,
where the plaster casts of deformed limbs are hung upon the walls.
The only difference was that at the hospital those casts were made
when the patients came in, while these casts that were kept in the
heart were made as the good people departed. For every physical or
mental fault of the friends she had lost had been carefully stored
He quickly passed on to another woman's heart,
which seemed like a great holy cathedral. Over the high altar
fluttered the white dove of innocence, and the interne would have
gone down on his knees except that he had to hurry on to the next
heart. However, he still heard the organ roll. And he felt that it
had made a new and better man of him-a man not too unworthy to enter
the next sanctuary. This was a poor garret where a mother lay ill,
but through the windows the sun shone, warm and bright. Lovely roses
bloomed in the little wooden flower box on the roof, and two
bluebirds sang of happy childhood, while the sick woman prayed for a
blessing on her daughter.
Next the interne crawled on his hands and
knees through an overcrowded butcher shop. There was meat, more
meat, and meat alone, wherever he looked in this heart of a wealthy,
respectable man, whose name you can find in the directory.
Next he entered the heart of this man's wife,
and an old tumble-down dove-cot he found it. Her husband's portrait
served as a mere weathervane, which was connected with the doors in
such a way that they opened and closed as her husband turned round.
Then he found his way into a cabinet of
mirrors such as is to be seen at Rosenborg Castle, though in this
heart the mirrors had the power of magnifying objects enormously.
Like the Grand Lama of Tibet, the owner's insignificant ego sat in
the middle of the floor, in admiring contemplation of his own
After this he seemed to be crammed into a
narrow case full of sharp needles. "This," he thought, "must
certainly be an old maid's heart," but it was nothing of the sort.
It was the heart of a very young officer who had been awarded
several medals, and of whom everyone said, "Now there's a man of
both intellect and heart."
Quite befuddled was the poor interne when he
popped out of the heart of the last person in the front row. He
could not get his thoughts in order, and he supposed that his strong
imagination must have run away with him.
"Merciful heavens," he groaned, "I must be
well on the road to the madhouse. And it's so outrageously hot in
here that the blood is rushing to my head." Suddenly he recalled
what had happened the night before, when he had jammed his head
between the bars of the hospital fence. "That must be what caused
it," he decided. "I must do something before it is too late. A
Russian bath might be the very thing. I wish I were on the top shelf
No sooner said, than there he lay on the top
shelf of the steam bath. But he was fully dressed, down to his shoes
and galoshes. He felt the hot drops of condensed steam fall upon him
from the ceiling.
" Hey!" he cried, and jumped down to take a
shower. The attendant cried out too when he caught sight of a fully
dressed man in the steam room. However, the interne had enough sense
to pull himself together and whisper, "I'm just doing this because
of a bet."
But the first thing he did when he got back to
his room was to put hot plasters on his neck and his back, to draw
out the madness.
Next morning he had a blistered back and that
was all he got out of the galoshes of Fortune.
V. THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE COPYING CLERK
The watchman-you remember him-happened to
remember those galoshes he had found, and that he must have been
wearing them when they took his body to the hospital. He came by for
them, and as neither the lieutenant nor anyone else in East Street
laid claim to them, he turned them in at the police station.
"They look exactly like my own galoshes," one
of the copying clerks at the police station said, as he set the
ownerless galoshes down beside his own. "Not even a shoemaker could
tell one pair from the other."
"Mr. Copying Clerk!" said a policeman, who
brought him some papers.
The clerk turned around to talk with the
policeman, and when he came back to the galoshes he was uncertain
whether the pair on the right or the pair on the left belonged to
"The wet ones must be mine," he thought, but
he was mistaken, for they were the galoshes of Fortune. The police
make their little mistakes too.
So he pulled them on, pocketed some papers,
and tucked some manuscripts under his arm to read and abstract when
he got home. But as this happened to be Sunday morning, and the
weather was fine, he thought, "A walk to Frederiksberg will be good
for me." And off he went.
A quieter, more dependable fellow than this
young man you seldom see. Let him take his little walk, by all
means. It will do him a world of good after so much sitting. At
first he strode along without a wish in his head, so there was no
occasion for the galoshes to show their magic power. On the avenue
he met an acquaintance of his, a young poet, who said he was setting
out tomorrow on a summer excursion.
"What, off again so soon?" said the clerk.
"What a free and happy fellow you are! You can fly away wherever you
like, while the rest of us are chained by the leg."
"Chained only to a breadfruit tree," the poet
reminded him. "You don't have to worry along from day to day, and
when you get old they will give you a pension."
"You are better off, just the same," the clerk
said. "How agreeable it must be to sit and write poetry. Everyone
pays you compliments, and you are your own master. Ah, you should
see what it's like to devote your life to the trivial details of the
The poet shook his head, and the clerk shook
his too. Each held to his own conviction, and they parted company.
"They are a queer race, these poets." thought
the clerk. "I should like to try my hand at their trade-to turn poet
myself. I'm sure I would never write such melancholy stuff as most
of them do. What a splendid spring day this is, a day fit for a
poet. The air is so unusually clear, the clouds so lovely, and the
green grass so fragrant. For many a year I have not felt as I feel
Already, you could tell that he had turned
poet. Not that there was anything you could put your finger on, for
it is foolish to suppose that a poet differs greatly from other
people, some of whom are far more poetic by nature than many a great
and accepted poet. The chief difference is that a poet has a better
memory for things of the spirit. He can hold fast to an emotion and
an idea until they are firmly and clearly embodied in words, which
is something that others cannot do. But for a matter-of-fact person
to think in terms of poetry is noticeable enough, and it is this
transformation that we can see in the clerk.
"What a glorious fragrance there is in the
air!" he said. "It reminds me of Aunt Lone's violets. Ah me, I
haven't thought of them since I was a little boy. The dear old girl!
She used to live over there, behind the Exchange. She always had a
spray or a few green shoots in water, no matter how severe the
winter was. I'd smell those violets even when I was putting hot
pennies against the frozen window pane to make peep holes. What a
view that was-ships frozen tight in the canal, deserted by their
crew, and a shrieking crow the only living creature aboard them. But
when the springtime breezes blew the scene turned lively again.
There were shouts and laughter as the ice was sawed away. Freshly
tarred and rigged, the ships sailed off for distant lands. I stayed
here, and I must forever stay here, sitting in the police office
where others come for their passports to foreign countries. Yes,
that's my lot! Oh, yes!" he said, and heaved a sigh. Then he stopped
abruptly. "Great heavens! What's come over me. I never thought or
felt like this before. It must be the spring air! It is as
frightening as it is pleasant." He fumbled among the papers in his
"These will give me something else to think
about," he said, as he glanced at the first page. "Lady
Sigbrith, An Original Tragedy in Five Acts," he read. "Why,
what's this? It's in my own handwriting too. Have I written a
tragedy? The Intrigue on the Ramparts, or The Great Fast Day - a
Vaudeville. Where did that come from? Someone must have slipped
it in my pocket. And here's a letter." It was from the board of
directors of the theatre, who rejected his plays, and the letter was
anything but politely phrased.
"Hem, hem!" said the copying clerk as he sat
down on a bench. His thoughts were lively and his heart sensitive.
He plucked a flower at random, an ordinary little daisy. What the
professor of botany requires several lectures to explain to us, this
flower told in a moment. It told of the mystery birth, and of the
power of the sunlight which opened those delicate leaves and gave
them their fragrance. This made him think of the battle of life,
which arouses emotions within us in similar fashion. Air and light
are the flowers' lovers, but light is her favorite. Toward it the
flower is ever turning, and only when the light is gone does she
fold her petals and sleep in the air's embrace.
"It is the light that makes me lovely," the
"But," the poet's voice whispered, "the air
enables you to breathe."
Not far away, a boy was splashing in a muddy
ditch with his stick. As the water flew up among the green branches,
the clerk thought of the innumerable microscopic creatures in the
splashing drops. For them to be splashed so high, was as if we were
to be tossed up into the clouds. As the clerk thought of these
things, and of the great change that had come over him, he smiled
"I must be asleep and dreaming. It's marvelous
to be able to dream so naturally, and yet to know all along that
this is a dream. I hope I can recall every bit of it tomorrow, when
I wake up. I seem to feel unusually exhilarated. How clearly I
understand things, and how wide awake I feel! But I know that if I
recall my dream it will only be a lot of nonsense, as has happened
to me so often before. All those brilliant and clever remarks one
makes and one hears in his dreams, are like the gold pieces that
goblins store underground. When one gets them they are rich and
shining, but seen in the daylight they are nothing but rocks and dry
leaves. Ah me," he sighed, as he sadly watched the singing birds
flit merrily from branch to branch. "They are so much better off
than I. Flying is a noble art, and lucky is he who is born with
wings. Yes, if I could change into anything I liked, I would turn
into a little lark."
In a trice his coat-tails and sleeves grew
together as wings, his clothes turned into feathers, and his
galoshes became claws. He noticed the change clearly, and laughed to
"Now," he said, "I know I am dreaming, but I
never had a dream as silly as this one."
Up he flew, and sang among the branches, but
there was no poetry in his song, for he was no longer a poet. Like
anyone who does a thoroughgoing job of it, the galoshes could only
do one thing at a time. When he wishes to be a poet, a poet he
became. Then he wanted to be a little bird, and in becoming one he
lost his previous character.
"This is most amusing," he said. "In the
daytime I sit in the police office, surrounded by the most
matter-of-fact legal papers, but by night I can dream that I'm a
lark flying about in the Frederiksberg Garden. What fine material
this would make for a popular comedy."
He flew down on the grass, twisting and
turning his head, and pecking at the waving grass blades. In
proportion to his own size, they seemed as large as the palm
branches in North Africa. But this lasted only a moment. Then
everything turned black, and it seemed as if some huge object had
dropped over him. This was a big cap that a boy from Nyboder had
thrown over the bird. A hand was thrust in. It laid hold of the
copying clerk by his back and wing so tightly that it made him
shriek. In his terror he called out, "You impudent scoundrel! I am
the copying clerk at the police office!" But this sounded like
"Peep! peep!" to the boy, who thumped the bird on its beak and
walked off with it.
On the avenue this boy met with two other
schoolboys. Socially, they were of the upper classes, though,
properly ranked according to their merit, they were in the lowest
class at school. They bought the bird for eight pennies, and in
their hands the clerk came back to Copenhagen, to a family who lived
in Gothers Street.
"It's a good thing I'm only dreaming this,"
said the clerk, "or I'd be furious. First I was a poet, and now I'm
a lark. It must have been my poetic temperament which turned me into
this little creature. It is a very sad state of affairs, especially
when one falls into the hands of a couple of boys. But I wonder how
it will all turn out."
The boys carried him into a luxuriously
appointed room, where a stout, affable lady received them. She was
not at all pleased with their common little field bird, as she
called the lark, but she said that, for one day only, they could
keep it in the empty cage near the window.
"Perhaps Polly will like it," she said, and
smiled at the large parrot that swung proudly to and fro on the ring
in his ornate brass cage. "It's Polly's birthday," she said, like a
simpleton. "The little field bird wants to congratulate him."
Polly did not say a word, as proudly he swung
back and forth. But a pretty canary bird who had been brought here
last summer from his warm, sweet-scented homeland, began to sing at
the top of his voice.
"Bawler!" the lady said, and threw a white
handkerchief over his cage.
"Peep, peep. What a terrible snowstorm," the
canary sighed, and with that sigh he kept quiet.
The clerk, or as the lady called him, the
field bird, was put in a cage next to the canary's and not far from
the parrot's. The only human words that the parrot could say, and
which at times sounded quite comical, were "Come now, let us be
men." All the rest of his chatter made as little sense as the
twittering of the canary. However, the clerk, who was now a bird
himself, understood his companions perfectly.
"I used to fly beneath green palms and
flowering almond trees," the canary bird sang. "With my brothers and
sisters, I flew above beautiful flowers, and over the smooth sea
where the plants that grow under water waved up at us. We used to
meet many brilliant parrots, who told us the funniest stories-long
ones and so many."
"Those were wild parrots!" said Polly. "Birds
without any education. Come now, let us be men. Why don't you laugh?
If the lady and all her guests laugh at my remark, so should you. To
lack a sense of humor is a very bad thing. Come now, let us be men."
"Do you remember the pretty girls who danced
in the tents spread beneath those flowering trees?" the canary sang.
"Do you remember those delicious sweet fruits, and the cool juice of
the wild plants?"
"Why yes," said the parrot, "but I am much
better off here, where I get the best of food and intimate
treatment. I know that I am a clever bird, and that's enough for me.
Come now, let us be men. You have the soul of a poet, as they call
it, and I have sound knowledge and wit. You have genius, but no
discretion. You burst into that shrill, spontaneous song of yours.
That's why people cover you up. They don't ever treat me like that.
No, I have cost them a lot and, what is more imposing, my beak and
my wits are sharp. Come now, let us be men."
"Oh, my warm flowery homeland!" said the
canary. "I shall sing of your deep green trees and your quiet
inlets, where the down-hanging branches kiss the clear mirror of the
waters. I shall sing of my resplendent brothers and sisters, who
rejoice as they hover over the cups of water in the cactus plants
that thrive in the desert."
"Kindly stop your whimpering tunes," the
parrot said. "Sing something to make us laugh. Laughter is a sign of
the loftiest intellectual development. Can a dog or a horse laugh?
No! They can cry, but as for laughter-that is given to mankind
alone. Ho, ho, ho!" the parrot chuckled, and added his, "Come now,
let us be men."
"You little grey bird of Denmark," the canary
said to the lark, "have they made you a prisoner too? Although it
must be very cold in your woods, you have your freedom there. Fly
away! They have forgotten to close your cage. The door of the top is
open. Fly! fly!"
Without pausing to think, the clerk did as he
was told. In a jiffy he was out of the cage. But just as he escaped
from his prison, the half-open door leading into the next room began
to creak. Stealthily, with green shining eyes, the house cat pounced
in and gave chase to him. The canary fluttered in his cage. The
parrot flapped his wings and called out, "Come now, let us be men."
The dreadfully frightened clerk flew out of the window and away over
the streets and houses, until at last he had to stop to rest.
That house across the street looked familiar.
He flew in through one of its open windows. As he perched on the
table he found that he was in his own room.
"Come now, let us be men," he blurted out, in
spontaneous mockery of the parrot. Instantly he resumed the body of
the copying clerk, who sat there, perched on the table.
"How in the name of heaven," he said, "do I
happen to be sleeping here? And what a disturbing dream I've had-all
nonsense from beginning to end."
VI. THE BEST THAT THE GALOSHES BROUGHT
Early the next morning, before the clerk was
out of bed, someone tapped on his door. In walked his neighbor, a
young theological student who lived on the same floor.
"Lend me your galoshes," he requested. "It is
very wet in the garden, but the sun is shining so gloriously that
I'd like to smoke a pipeful down there."
He pulled on the galoshes and went out into
the garden, where there was one plum tree and a pear tree. But even
a little garden like this one is a precious thing in Copenhagen.
It was only six o'clock. As the student walked
up and down the path, he heard the horn of a stagecoach in the
"Oh, to travel, to travel!" he exclaimed,
"that's the most pleasant thing in the world. It's the great goal of
all my dreams. If only I could travel, I'm sure that this
restlessness within me would be stilled. But it must be far, far
away. How I should like to see beautiful Switzerland, to tour Italy,
Fortunately the galoshes began to function at
once, or he might have traveled entirely too much to suit him or to
please us. Travel he did. He was high up in Switzerland, tightly
packed in a diligence with eight other travelers. He had a pain in
his head, his neck felt tired, and the blood had ceased to circulate
in his legs. His feet were swollen and his heavy boots hurt him. He
was half awake and half asleep. In his right-hand pocket he had his
letter of credit, in his left-hand pocket he had his passport, and
sewn into a little bag inside his breast pocket he had a few gold
pieces. Every time he dozed off he dreamed that he had lost one or
another of these things. Starting feverishly awake, his first
movement would be to trace with his hand a triangle from right to
left, and up to his breast, to feel whether his treasures were still
Umbrellas, hats, and walking sticks swung in
the net above him and almost spoiled the magnificent view. As he
glanced out the window his heart sang, as at least one poet has sung
in Switzerland, these as yet unpublished words:
"This view is as fine as a view can be.
Mount Blanc is sublime beyond a doubt,
And the traveler's life is the life for me-
But only as long as my money holds out."
Vast, severe, and somber was the whole
landscape around him. The pine woods looked like patches of heather
on the high cliffs, whose summits were lost in fog and cloud. Snow
began to fall, and the cold wind blew.
"Ah," he sighed, "if only we were on the other
side of the Alps, then it would be summer weather and I could get
some money on my letter of credit. Worrying about my finances spoils
all my enjoyment of Switzerland. Oh, if only I were on the other
And there he was on the other side, in the
middle of Italy, between Florence and Rome. Before him lay Lake
Thrasymene. In the evening light it looked like a sheet of flaming
gold among the dark blue hills. Here, where Hannibal beat Flaminius,
the grape vines clung peacefully to each other with their green
tendrils. Pretty little half-clothed children tended a herd of
coal-black pigs under a fragrant clump of laurels by the roadside,
and if we could paint the scene in its true colors all would
exclaim, "Glorious Italy!" But neither the student nor his
companions in the stagecoach made any such exclamation.
Poisonous flies and gnats swarmed into the
coach by the thousands. In vain the travelers tried to beat them off
with myrtle branches. The flies stung just the same. There was not a
passenger whose face was not puffed and spotted with bites. The poor
horses looked like carcasses. The flies made life miserable for
them, and it only brought them a momentary relief when the coachman
got down and scraped off swarms of the insects that settled upon
Once the sun went down, an icy chill fell upon
everything. It wasn't at all pleasant. However, the hills and clouds
took on that wonderful green tint, so clear and so shining. Yes, go
and see for yourself. That is far better than to read about it. It
was a lovely sight, and the travelers thought so too, but their
stomachs were empty, their bodies exhausted, and every thought in
their heads was directed toward a lodging for the night. But where
would they lodge? They watched the road ahead far more attentively
than they did the splendid view.
Their road ran through an olive grove, and the
student could fancy that he was at home, passing through a wood of
gnarled willow trees. And there stood a lonely inn. A band of
crippled beggars were camping outside and the liveliest among them
looked like the eldest son of Famine who had just come of age. The
rest either were blind, or so lame that they crawled about on their
hands, or had withered arms and hands without any fingers. Here
really was misery in rags.
"Eccelenza, miserabili!" they groaned, and
stretched forth their crippled limbs. The hostess herself went
barefoot. With uncombed hair and an unwashed blouse, she received
her guests. The doors were hinged with string; half of the bricks of
the floors had been put to other use; bats flew about the ceiling;
and the smell-
"It were better to have supper in the stable,"
one traveler maintained. "There one at least knows what he is
The windows were opened to let a little fresh
air come inside, but swifter than the air came those withered arms
and that perpetual whine, "Miserabili, eccellenza." On the walls
were many inscriptions, and half of them had little good to say for
la bella Italia.
Supper was served. Supper was a watery soup
flavored with pepper and rancid oil. This same oil was the better
part of the salad. Dubious eggs and roasted cockscombs were the best
dishes, and even the wine was distasteful. It was a frightful
That night the trunks were piled against the
door, and one of the travelers mounted guard while the others slept.
The student stood the first guard mount. How close it was in there!
The heat was overpowering, the gnats droned and stabbed, and
outside, the miserabili whined in their dreams.
"Traveling," said the student, "would be all
very well if one had no body. Oh, if only the body could rest while
the spirit flies on without it. Wherever I go, there is some lack
that I feel in my heart. There is always something better than the
present that I desire. Yes, something better-the best of all, but
what is it, and where shall I find it? Down deep in my heart, I know
what I want. I want to reach a happy goal, the happiest goal of
As soon as the words were said, he found
himself back in his home. Long white curtains draped the windows,
and in the middle of the floor a black coffin stood. In this he lay,
sleeping the quiet sleep of death. His wish was fulfilled-his body
was at rest, and his spirit was free to travel. "Call no man happy
until he rests in his grave," said Solon, and here his words proved
Every corpse is a sphinx of immortality. The
sphinx in this black casket that confronts us could say no more than
the living man had written two days before:
"Stern Death, your silence has aroused my
Shall not my soul up Jacob's ladder pass,
Or shall your stone weight me throughout the
And I rise only in the graveyard grass?
"Our deepest grief escapes the world's sad
You who are lonely to the very last,
A heavier burden on your heart must lie
Than all the earth upon your coffin cast!"
Two figures moved about the room. We know them
both. Those two who bent over the dead man were Dame Care and
"Now," said Care, "you can see what happiness
your galoshes have brought mankind."
"They have at least brought everlasting rest
to him who here lies sleeping," said Fortune's minion.
"Oh, no!" said Care. "He went of his own free
will. He was not called away. His spiritual power was not strong
enough to undertake the glorious tasks for which he is destined. I
shall do him a favor."
She took the galoshes from his feet. Then the
sleep of death was ended, and the student awakened to life again.
Care vanished, and she took the galoshes along with her, for she
probably regarded them as her own property.