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Hans Christian Andersen : Twenty-fourth Evening
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Hans Christian Andersen : Twenty-fourth Evening

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Twenty-fourth Evening

Now listen to what the Moon told me.

"Several years ago, here in Copenhagen, I looked in through the window of a poor furnished room. The father and mother slept, but their little son was not asleep. I saw the flowered cotton bed curtain move, and the child peep out from behind it. At first I thought he was looking at the great Bornholm clock, which was brightly painted in red and green, with a cuckoo atop it, and heavy lead weights hanging below; the pendulum, with its glittering brass plate, swung to and fro - tick, tock! But it wasn't the clock that the little fellow looked at. No, it was his mother's spinning wheel, which stood just beneath the clock. To him this was the most precious thing in the entire house; yet, he never dared touch it, unless he wished to have his fingers slapped. For hours he would sit beside his mother while she spun, looking at the humming spindle and the circling wheel; and at those moments he always had his own thoughts. Ah, if he only dared to turn the spinning wheel by himself!

"His father and mother still slept; he looked at them first, then at the spinning wheel. Presently a little bare foot stuck out of bed, then another bare foot, and soon two small legs appeared. And - bumps! - then he was standing on the floor. Once more he turned around to see if his father and mother slept; yes, they did; and then, dressed only in his short little shirt, he stole very, very softly to the spinning wheel, and began to spin. The thread flew off, but the wheel only turned the more quickly. I kissed his yellow hair and his light blue eyes; it was a pretty picture.

"Suddenly his mother awoke. The bed curtains moved; she peeped out, and instantly thought of goblins or other little sprites. 'In Jesus' name!' she said, and in her fright she nudged her husband. He opened his eyes, rubbed them with his hand, and looked at the busy little fellow, 'Why,' he said, 'that is Bertel!'

"My eye turned from the humble room - I have so many things to see, you know - and in the same instant I was looking down into the halls of the Vatican, where stand the marble statues of the gods. I lighted up the Laocoön group, and the stone seemed to sigh. I pressed my silent kiss on the breasts of the Muses, and they seemed to come to life. But my rays rested longest on the Nile group - on the colossal figure of the god. There he lay leaning on the Sphinx, dreaming, thoughtful, as if he were thinking of the years gone by. Around him the little cupids played with the crocodiles. A tiny little cupid sat in the horn of plenty, his arms crossed, and gazed at the stern and mighty river god - a true picture of the little boy at the spinning wheel, with the very same features. Here, lifelike and charming, stood the little marble child; and yet the wheel of time has revolved more than a thousand times since it was cut out of the stone. And it would have to revolve again - as many times as the boy turned the spinning wheel in the humble room - before the world would once more produce marble figures like these.

"Many years have since passed," the Moon continued. "Only yesterday I looked down on a bay on the eastern coast of Zealand, surrounded with high banks and beautiful forests. There is an old manor house there, with red walls and swans on the waters of the moat, while near by is a pretty little country town, with its church situated among apple orchards.

"A great many boats, lighted with torches, glided over the calm surface of the water. The torches had not been lighted for catching eel; no, this was a festival. Music sounded, and a song was sung. In one of the boats stood the man who was the object of this homage, a tall, powerful figure, wrapped in a great cloak, a man with blue eyes and long white locks. I knew him, and I thought of the Nile group, and the marble statues of the gods in the Vatican. And I thought of that humble little room - I believe it was in Grönne Street - where little Bertel, in his short little shirt, sat and spun. The wheel of time has turned, and new gods have been carved in marble. . . . From the boats arose shouts, 'Hurrah! Hurrah for Bertel Thorvaldsen!' "