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H.C. Andersen : Twentieth Evening
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The Hans Christian Andersen Center

H.C. Andersen : Twentieth Evening

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Twentieth Evening

"I come from Rome," the Moon said. "There on one of the seven hills in the middle of the city are the ruins of the Emperor's palace. The wild fig tree grows in the breaches of the wall, and covers its bareness with broad, gray-green leaves. The donkey treads on the green laurels and enjoys the barren thistle among heaps of rubbish. To this spot, from which the Roman eagles once flew out over the world, and came, saw, and conquered, an entrance now leads through a humble little house, built of clay, and wedged between two broken marble columns. Vine tendrils hang down like a mourning wreath over the crooked window.

"An old woman lives there with her little granddaughter. They are now the rulers of the Emperor's palace, and show the place to tourists. A bare wall is all that remains of the magnificent throne hall, and the long shadow of a dark cypress points to the spot where the throne once stood. There is earth a yard high on the broken floor. The little girl, now the daughter of the Emperor's palace, often sits there on her stool while the evening bells ring. Through the keyhole of a near-by door, which she calls her balcony window, she can overlook half of Rome, as far as the mighty dome of St. Peter's.

"The evening as always, was still, and down below the little girl was walking in my full clear light. Carrying an antique earthen pitcher of water on her head, she was barefooted, and her short skirt and little sleeves were torn. I kissed the child's finely rounded shoulders, her black eyes, and her dark, shining hair. She mounted the steps up to the house, which were steep and formed of broken bits of masonry and a crumbled column. Spotted lizards ran frightened past her feet, but she was not afraid of them. Her hand was raised to ring the doorbell - a rabbit's foot suspended from a string was now the bell handle at the Emperor's palace - but she paused for a moment. What was she thinking of? Perhaps of the beautiful image of the infant Jesus, clad in silver and gold, in the chapel below, where the silver lamps burned, and where her little friends sang the hymn she knew so well. I do not know. She moved, and stumbled. The earthern pitcher fell from her head and crashed on the marble step! She burst into tears; the beautiful daughter of the Emperor's palace wept over a cheap, broken clay pitcher. She stood there barefooted and wept, and dared not pull the string, the bell rope at the Emperor's palace."