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      THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING

       

       THE one who could do the most incredible thing should have the king's daughter and the half of his kingdom

      The young men,and even the old ones,strained all their thoughts,sinews,and muscles;two ate themselves to death,and one drank until he died,to do the most incredible thing according to their own taste,but it was not inthis way it was to be doneLittle boys in the streets prac-tised spitting on their own backs,they considered that the most incredible thing

      On a certain day an exhibition was to be held of what each had to show as the most incredibleThe judges who were chosen were children from three years old to people upin the sixtiesThere was a whole exhibition of incredible things,but all soon agreed that the most incredible was ahuge clock in a case marvellously designed inside and out

      On the stroke of every hour living figures came out,which showed what hour was strikingthere were twelverepresentations in all,with moving figures and with musicand conversation

      "That was the most incredible thing,"the peoplesaid

      The clock struck one,and Moses stood on the mountain and wrote down on the tables of the law the first com-mandment,"There is only one true God"

      The clock struck two,and the garden of Eden appeared,where Adam and Eve met,happy both of them,without having so much as a wardrobe;they did not needone either

      On the stroke of three,the three kings from the Eastwere shown;one of them was coalblack,but he could nothelp that,—the sun had blackened himThey came withincense and treasures

      On the stroke of four came the four seasonsspringwith a cuckoo on a budding beech-bough;summer with agrasshopper on a stalk of ripe corn;autumn with an emptystork's nestthe birds were flown;winter with an oldcrow which could tell stories in the chimneycorner,oldmemories

      When the clock struck five,the five senses appearedsight as a spectacle-maker,hearing as a coppersmith,smell sold violets and woodruff,taste was cook,andfeeling was an undertaker with crape down to his heels

      The clock struck six;and there sat a gambler whothrew the dice,and the highest side was turned up andshowed six

      Then came the seven days of the week,or the sevendeadly sins,people were not certain which;they belongedto each other and were not easily distinguished

      Then came a choir of monks and sang the eighto'clock service

      On the stroke of nine came the nine muses;one wasbusy with astronomy;one with historical archives;the oth-ers belonged to the theatre

      On the stroke of ten,Moses again came forward withthe tables of the law,on which stood all God's command-ments,and they were ten

      The clock struck again;then little boys and girlsdanced and hopped aboutThey played a game,and sang,"Two and two and seven,the clock has struck eleven"

      When twelve struck the watchman appeared with hisfur cap and halberdhe sang the old watch verse

      "'Twas at the midnight hour Our Saviour He was born"

      And while he sang,roses grew and changed into angelheads borne on rainbow-coloured wings

      It was charming to hear,and lovely to seeThe wholewas a matchless work of artthe most incredible thing,every one said

      Tile designer of it was a young man,goodheartedand happy as a child,a true friend,and good to his oldparents;he deserved the Princess and the half of thekingdom

      The day of decision arrived;the whole of the townhad a holiday,and the Princess sat on the throne,whichhad got new horsehair,but which was not any more comfortableThe judges round about looked very knowingly atthe one who was to win,and he stood glad and confident;his good fortune was certain,he had made the most incredible thing

      "No,I shall do that now!"shouted just then a longbony fellow"I am the man for the most incrediblething,"and he swung a great axe at the work of art

      "Crash,crash!"and there lay the whole of itWheels and springs flew in all directionseverything wasdestroyed

      "That I could do!"said the man"My work hasovercome his and overcome all of youI have done themost incredible thing"

      "To destroy such a work of art!"said the judges"Yes,certainly that is the most incredible thing"

      All the people said the same,and so he was to havethe Princess and the half of the kingdom,for a promise isa promise,even if it is of the most incredible kind

      It was announced with trumpet-blast from the ram- parts and from all the towers that the marriage should becelebratedThe Princess was not quite pleased about it,but she looked charming and was gorgeously dressedThechurch shone with candles;it shows best late in theeveningThe noble maidens of the town sang and led thebride forward;the knights sang and accompanied thebridegroomHe strutted as if he could never be broken

      Now the singing stopped and one could have heard apin fall,but in the midst of the silence the great churchhdoor flew open with a crash and clatter,and boom!boom!the whole of the clockwork came marching up thepassage and planted itself between the bride and bridegroomDead men cannot walk again,we know that verywell,but a work of art can walk again;the body wasknocked to pieces,but not the spirit;the spirit of thework walked,and that in deadly earnest

      The work of art stood there precisely as if it werewhole and untouchedThe hours struck,the one after theother,up to twelve,and the figures swarmed forward;first Mosesflames of fire seemed to flash from hisforehead;he threw the heavy stone tables down on the feetof the bridegroom and pinned them to the church floor

      "I cannot lift them again,"said Moses,"you haveknocked my arm off!Stand as you stand now!"

      Then came Adam and Eve,the wise men from the Eaet,and the four Seasons;each of these told him un-pleasant truths,and said"For shame!"

      But he was not in the least ashamed

      All the figures which each stroke of the clock had toexhibit came out of it,and all increased to a terrible size;there seemed scarcely to be room for the real people;andwhen at the stroke of twelve the watchman appeared withhis fur cap and halberd,there was a wonderful commotion;the watchman walked straight up to the bridegroom andstruck him on the forehead with his halberd

      "Lie there,"he said,"like for like!we are avengedand our master as well!we vanish!"

      And so the whole work disappeared;but the candlesround about in the church became great bouquets,and thegilded stars on the ceiling of the church sent out long,clear beams,and the organ played of itselfAll the peoplesaid it was the most incredible thing they had ever experi-enced

      "Will you then summon the right one!"said thePrincess,"the one who made the work of art;let him bemy lord and husband"

      And he stood in the church with the whole of the people for his retinueAll were glad and all blessed him;there was not one who was jealousand that was the mostincredible thing of all

       


       

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