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      THE PUPPET SHOWMAN

       

      ON board the steamer was an elderly man with such a merry face that,if it did not belie him,he must have been the happiest fellow in creationAnd,indeed,he declared the happiest man;I heard it out of his own mouthHe was a Dane,a countryman of mine,and a traveling theater directorHe had all his company with him in a large box,for he was proprietor a puppet-showHis inborn cheerfulness,he said,had been purified by a ytechnic candidate and the experiment had made him completely happyI did not at first understand all this,but afterwards he explained the whole story to me,and here it is

      It was in the little town of slagelse I gave a performance in the hall of the posthouse, and had a brilliant audience,entirely a juvenile one,with the exception of two old ladiesAll at once a person in black,of student-like appearance,came into the room and sat down;he laughed aloud at the telling parts,and applauded quite appropriatelyThat was quite an unusual spectator for me!I felt anxious to know who he was,and I heard he was a candidate from the Polytechnic Institution in Copenhagen,who had been sent out to instruct the folks in the provinces

      At eight o'clock my performance closed;for children must go early to bed,and a manager must consult the convenience of his publicAt nine o'clock the candidate commenced his lecture,with experiments,and now I formed part of his audience It was wonderful to hear and to seeThe greater part of it went over my head and into the clergyman's,as one says,but still it made me think that if we can find out so much,we must be surely intended to last longer than the little span until we are hidden away in the earthThey were quite miracles in a small way that he showed,and yet altogether genuine,straight out of nature!At the time of Moses and the prophets such a man would have been received among the sages of the land;in the Middle Ages they would have burned him at a stakeAll night long I could not go to sleep And the next evening,when I gave another performance,and the candidate was again present,I felt fairly overflowing with humorI once heard from a player that when he acted a lover he always thought of one particular lady among the audience;he only played for her,and forgot all the rest of the house;and now the Polytechnic candidate was myshe’, my only spectator,for whom alone I playedAnd when the performance was over,all the puppets were called before the curtain,and the Polytechnic candidate invited me into his room to take a glass of wine;and he spoke of my comedies,and I of his science;and I believe we were both equally pleasedBut I had the best of it, for there was much in what he did of which he could not always give me an explanationFor instance,that a piece of iron that falls through a spiral should become magneticNow,how does that happen?The spirit comes upon it;but whence does it come?It is as with people in this world;they are made to tumble through the spiral of the time,and the spirit comes upon them,and there stands a Napoleon,or spirit comes up a Luther,or a person of that kind

      The whole world is a series of miracles,'said the candidate;‘but we are so accustomed to them that we call them everyday matters.’

      And he went on explaining things to me until my skull seemed lifted up over my brain,and I declared that if I were not an old fellow I would at once go to the polytechnic Institution,that I might learn to look at the seamy side of the world,though I am one of the happiest of men

      “‘ One of the happiest!'said the candidate,and he seemed to take real pleasure in it.‘Are you happy?’

      “‘Yes,’I replied,‘and they welcome me in all the towns where I come with my company;but I certainly have one wish,which sometimes comes over me,like a nightmare and rides upon my good humorI should like to become a real theatrical manager,the director of a real troupe of men and women!’

      “‘I see,’he said,‘ you would like to have life breathed into your puppets,so that they might be real actors,and you their director;and would you then be quite happy?’

      He did not believe it;but I believe it,and we talked it over all manner of ways without coming any nearer to an agreement;but we clinked our glasses together,and the wine was excellentThere was some magic in it,or I should certainly have become tipsyBut that did not happen;I retained my clear view of things,and somehow there was sunshine in the room,and sunshine beamed out of the eyes of the Polytechnic candidateIt made me think of the old gods,in their eternal youth,when they still wandered earth;and I said so to him,and he smiled,and I could have sworn he was one of the ancient gods in disguise,or one of the family!And certainly he must have been something of the kind,for in my highest wish was to be fulfilled,the puppets were to be gifted with life,and I was to be director of a real company

      We drank to my success clinked our glassesHe packed all my dolls into a box,bound the box on my back,and then let me fall through a spiralI can still hear how I dumped down,and then I was lying on the floor——I know that well——and the whole company sprang out of the boxThe spirit had come upon all of usall the puppets had become distinguished artists,so they said themselves,and I was the directorAll was ready for the first Performance;the whole company wanted to speak to me,and the public also

      The dancing lady said the house would fall down if she did not stand on one leg;for she was the great genius,and begged to be treated as suchThe lady who acted the queen wished to be treated off the stage as a queen,or else she should get out of practice

      The man who was only employed to deliver a letter gave himself just as many airs as the first lover,for he declared the little ones were just as important as the great ones,and all were of equal consequence,considered in an artistic wholeThe hero would only play parts composed of nothing but points;for those brought down the applauseThe prima donna would only play in a red light ;for she declared that a blue one did not suit her complexion

      It was like a company of flies in a bottle;and I was in the bottle with them,for I was the directorMy breath stopped and my head whirled round;I was as miserable as a man can beIt was quite a novel kind of men among whom I now found myselfI only wished I had them all in the box again,and that I had never been a director at all;so I told them roundly that after all they were nothing but puppets;and then they killed me

      I found myself lying on my bed in my room;and how I got there,and how I got away at all from the Polytechnic candidate,he may perhaps know,for I don'tThe moon shone upon the floor where the box lay open,and the dolls all in a confusion together——great and small all scattered about;but I was not slowOut of bed I jumped,and into the box they all had to go,some on their heads,some on their feet,and I shut down the lid and seated myself upon the box

      “‘Now you'll just have to stay there,'said I,‘and I shall beware how I wish you flesh and blood again.’

      I felt quite light;my good humor had come back,and I was the happiest of mortalsThe Polytechnic student had fully purified meI sat as happy as a king, and went to sleep on the boxThe next morning——strictly speaking it was noon,for I slept wonderfully late that day——I was still sitting there,happy and conscious that my former wish had been a foolish oneI inquired for the Polytechnic candidate,but he was gone,like the Greek and Roman gods;and from that time I've been the happiest of men

      I am a happy directornone of my company ever grumble,nor my public either,for they are always merryI can put my pieces together just as I pleaseI take out of every comedy what pleases me best,and no one is angry at itPieces that are neglected nowadays at the great theaters,but which the public used to run after thirty years ago,and at which it used to cry till the tears ran down its cheeks,these pieces I now take upI put them before the little ones,and the little ones cry just as papa and mamma used to cry;but I shorten them,for the youngsters don't like a long palaver of a love story;what they want is something mournful,but quick

      Now I have through all Denmark in every manner of way;I know all people and am known in re-turn;now I am on my way to Sweden,and if I am successful there,and make out of it,I shall be a zealous Scandinavian——not otherwise;I tell you that because you are my countryman

      And I,being his countryman,of course immediately tell it again,just for the pleasure of telling it

       


       

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