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H.C. Andersen : Sixteenth Evening
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H.C. Andersen : Sixteenth Evening

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Sixteenth Evening

"I know a punchinello," the Moon said. "The audience rejoices whenever he appears. Every movement he makes is so comical that it brings roars of laughter in the house, and yet there is nothing remarkable in his work to account for this - it is more his peculiarity. Even when he was only a boy, playing about with the other boys, he was a punchinello. Nature had shaped him for the character by putting a hump on his back and another on his chest; but the mind and soul hidden under the deformities were, on the contrary, richly endowed. No one possessed a deeper feeling, a stronger spiritual feeling, than he. The theater was his ideal world; if he had been tall and handsome, he might have become a great tragedian on any stage. His soul was filled with all that was heroic and great; still, it was his fate to be a punchinello. His very sadness, his melancholy, heightened the dry wit of his sharply drawn face, and aroused the laughter of a vast audience, which lustily applauded its favorite.

"The lovely Columbine was gentle and kind to him; yet she preferred to marry Harlequin. It would indeed have been too funny if in reality 'Beauty and the Beast' had married. Whenever Punchinello was dejected, she was the only one who could bring a smile to his lips; yes, she could even make him laugh loudly. At first she was as melancholy as he, then somewhat calmer, and at last overflowing with gaiety.

" 'I know well enough what's the matter with you, ' she said. 'You are in love!'

"And then he couldn't help laughing. 'Love and I!' he cried. 'That would be funny indeed; how the public would applaud!'

" 'It's love!' she continued, and added with comical pathos, 'it is I you love!'

"Yes, one may speak this way when one thinks there is no love in the other's heart. Punchinello laughed heartily and jumped high into the air, and his melancholy was forgotten. And yet she had spoken the truth; he did love her, loved her deeply, as he loved all that was great and noble in art.

"On her wedding day he seemed the merriest of the merry, but that night he wept. If people had seen his tormented face they would have applauded him more than ever.

"A few days ago Columbine died. On the day of her burial Harlequin had permission not to appear on the stage, for he was a grief-stricken widower. The manager had to present something very gay, so that the public would not miss the pretty Columbine and the graceful Harlequin. Therefore the nimble Punchinello had to be doubly merry; with grief in his heart he danced and skipped about, and all applauded and cried, 'Bravo! Bravissimo!' Punchinello was called back again and again. Oh, he was priceless!

"After the performance last night the poor little man strolled out of the town to the lonely churchyard. The wreath of flowers on Columbine's grave had already faded. There he sat - and what a study for a painter! - with his chin on his hand and his eyes turned toward me; he looked like a grotesque monument - a punchinello on the grave, strange and comical. If the public had seen their favorite, how they would have applauded and cried, 'Bravo, Punchinello! Bravo! Bravissimo!' "