The Shoes of Fortune - Chapter II - What Happened to the Councillor
It was late; Councillor Knap, deeply occupied with the times of King Hans, intended to go home, and malicious Fate managed matters so that his feet, instead of finding their way to his own galoshes, slipped into those of Fortune. Thus caparisoned the good man walked out of the well-lighted rooms into East Street. By the magic power of the shoes he was carried back to the times of King Hans; on which account his foot very naturally sank in the mud and puddles of the street, there having been in those days no pavement in Copenhagen.
“Well! This is too bad! How dirty it is here!” sighed the Councillor. “As to a pavement, I can find no traces of one, and all the lamps, it seems, have gone to sleep.”
The moon was not yet very high; it was besides rather foggy, so that in the darkness all objects seemed mingled in chaotic confusion. At the next corner hung a votive lamp before a Madonna, but the light it gave was little better than none at all; indeed, he did not observe it before he was exactly under it, and his eyes fell upon the bright colors of the pictures which represented the well-known group of the Virgin and the infant Jesus.
“That is probably a wax-work show,” thought he; “and the people delay taking down their sign in hopes of a late visitor or two.”
A few persons in the costume of the time of King Hans passed quickly by him.
“How strange they look! The good folks come probably from a masquerade!”
Suddenly was heard the sound of drums and fifes; the bright blaze of a fire shot up from time to time, and its ruddy gleams seemed to contend with the bluish light of the torches. The Councillor stood still, and watched a most strange procession pass by. First came a dozen drummers, who understood pretty well how to handle their instruments; then came halberdiers, and some armed with cross-bows. The principal person in the procession was a priest. Astonished at what he saw, the Councillor asked what was the meaning of all this mummery, and who that man was.
“That’s the Bishop of Zealand,” was the answer.
“Good Heavens! What has taken possession of the Bishop?” sighed the Councillor, shaking his head. It certainly could not be the Bishop; even though he was considered the most absent man in the whole kingdom, and people told the drollest anecdotes about him. Reflecting on the matter, and without looking right or left, the Councillor went through East Street and across the Habro-Platz. The bridge leading to Palace Square was not to be found; scarcely trusting his senses, the nocturnal wanderer discovered a shallow piece of water, and here fell in with two men who very comfortably were rocking to and fro in a boat.
“Does your honor want to cross the ferry to the Holme?” asked they.
“Across to the Holme!” said the Councillor, who knew nothing of the age in which he at that moment was. “No, I am going to Christianshafen, to Little Market Street.”
Both men stared at him in astonishment.
“Only just tell me where the bridge is,” said he. “It is really unpardonable that there are no lamps here; and it is as dirty as if one had to wade through a morass.”
The longer he spoke with the boatmen, the more unintelligible did their language become to him.
“I don’t understand your Bornholmish dialect,” said he at last, angrily, and turning his back upon them. He was unable to find the bridge: there was no railway either. “It is really disgraceful what a state this place is in,” muttered he to himself. Never had his age, with which, however, he was always grumbling, seemed so miserable as on this evening. “I’ll take a hackney-coach!” thought he. But where were the hackney-coaches? Not one was to be seen.
“I must go back to the New Market; there, it is to be hoped, I shall find some coaches; for if I don’t, I shall never get safe to Christianshafen.”
So off he went in the direction of East Street, and had nearly got to the end of it when the moon shone forth.
“God bless me! What wooden scaffolding is that which they have set up there?” cried he involuntarily, as he looked at East Gate, which, in those days, was at the end of East Street.
He found, however, a little side-door open, and through this he went, and stepped into our New Market of the present time. It was a huge desolate plain; some wild bushes stood up here and there, while across the field flowed a broad canal or river. Some wretched hovels for the Dutch sailors, resembling great boxes, and after which the place was named, lay about in confused disorder on the opposite bank.
“I either behold a fata morgana, or I am regularly tipsy,” whimpered out the Councillor. “But what’s this?”
He turned round anew, firmly convinced that he was seriously ill. He gazed at the street formerly so well known to him, and now so strange in appearance, and looked at the houses more attentively: most of them were of wood, slightly put together; and many had a thatched roof.
“No—I am far from well,” sighed he; “and yet I drank only one glass of punch; but I cannot suppose it—it was, too, really very wrong to give us punch and hot salmon for supper. I shall speak about it at the first opportunity. I have half a mind to go back again, and say what I suffer. But no, that would be too silly; and Heaven only knows if they are up still.”
He looked for the house, but it had vanished.
“It is really dreadful,” groaned he with increasing anxiety; “I cannot recognise East Street again; there is not a single decent shop from one end to the other! Nothing but wretched huts can I see anywhere; just as if I were at Ringstead. Oh! I am ill! I can scarcely bear myself any longer. Where the deuce can the house be? It must be here on this very spot; yet there is not the slightest idea of resemblance, to such a degree has everything changed this night! At all events here are some people up and stirring. Oh! oh! I am certainly very ill.”
He now hit upon a half-open door, through a chink of which a faint light shone. It was a sort of hostelry of those times; a kind of public-house. The room had some resemblance to the clay-floored halls in Holstein; a pretty numerous company, consisting of seamen, Copenhagen burghers, and a few scholars, sat here in deep converse over their pewter cans, and gave little heed to the person who entered.
“By your leave!” said the Councillor to the Hostess, who came bustling towards him. “I’ve felt so queer all of a sudden; would you have the goodness to send for a hackney-coach to take me to Christianshafen?”
The woman examined him with eyes of astonishment, and shook her head; she then addressed him in German. The Councillor thought she did not understand Danish, and therefore repeated his wish in German. This, in connection with his costume, strengthened the good woman in the belief that he was a foreigner. That he was ill, she comprehended directly; so she brought him a pitcher of water, which tasted certainly pretty strong of the sea, although it had been fetched from the well.
The Councillor supported his head on his hand, drew a long breath, and thought over all the wondrous things he saw around him.
“Is this the Daily News of this evening?” he asked mechanically, as he saw the Hostess push aside a large sheet of paper.
The meaning of this councillorship query remained, of course, a riddle to her, yet she handed him the paper without replying. It was a coarse wood-cut, representing a splendid meteor “as seen in the town of Cologne,” which was to be read below in bright letters.
“That is very old!” said the Councillor, whom this piece of antiquity began to make considerably more cheerful. “Pray how did you come into possession of this rare print? It is extremely interesting, although the whole is a mere fable. Such meteorous appearances are to be explained in this way—that they are the reflections of the Aurora Borealis, and it is highly probable they are caused principally by electricity.”
Those persons who were sitting nearest him and heard his speech, stared at him in wonderment; and one of them rose, took off his hat respectfully, and said with a serious countenance, “You are no doubt a very learned man, Monsieur.”
“Oh no,” answered the Councillor, “I can only join in conversation on this topic and on that, as indeed one must do according to the demands of the world at present.”
“Modestia is a fine virtue,” continued the gentleman; “however, as to your speech, I must say mihi secus videtur: yet I am willing to suspend my judicium.”
“May I ask with whom I have the pleasure of speaking?” asked the Councillor.
“I am a Bachelor in Theologia,” answered the gentleman with a stiff reverence.
This reply fully satisfied the Councillor; the title suited the dress. “He is certainly,” thought he, “some village schoolmaster—some queer old fellow, such as one still often meets with in Jutland.”
“This is no locus docendi, it is true,” began the clerical gentleman; “yet I beg you earnestly to let us profit by your learning. Your reading in the ancients is, sine dubio, of vast extent?”
“Oh yes, I’ve read something, to be sure,” replied the Councillor. “I like reading all useful works; but I do not on that account despise the modern ones; ‘tis only the unfortunate ‘Tales of Every-day Life’ that I cannot bear—we have enough and more than enough such in reality.”
“‘Tales of Every-day Life?’” said our Bachelor inquiringly.
“I mean those new fangled novels, twisting and writhing themselves in the dust of commonplace, which also expect to find a reading public.”
“Oh,” exclaimed the clerical gentleman smiling, “there is much wit in them; besides they are read at court. The King likes the history of Sir Iffven and Sir Gaudian particularly, which treats of King Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table; he has more than once joked about it with his high vassals.”
“I have not read that novel,” said the Councillor; “it must be quite a new one, that Heiberg has published lately.”
“No,” answered the theologian of the time of King Hans: “that book is not written by a Heiberg, but was imprinted by Godfrey von Gehmen.”
“Oh, is that the author’s name?” said the Councillor. “It is a very old name, and, as well as I recollect, he was the first printer that appeared in Denmark.”
“Yes, he is our first printer,” replied the clerical gentleman hastily.
So far all went on well. Some one of the worthy burghers now spoke of the dreadful pestilence that had raged in the country a few years back, meaning that of 1484. The Councillor imagined it was the cholera that was meant, which people made so much fuss about; and the discourse passed off satisfactorily enough. The war of the buccaneers of 1490 was so recent that it could not fail being alluded to; the English pirates had, they said, most shamefully taken their ships while in the roadstead; and the Councillor, before whose eyes the Herostratic [*] event of 1801 still floated vividly, agreed entirely with the others in abusing the rascally English. With other topics he was not so fortunate; every moment brought about some new confusion, and threatened to become a perfect Babel; for the worthy Bachelor was really too ignorant, and the simplest observations of the Councillor sounded to him too daring and phantastical. They looked at one another from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet; and when matters grew to too high a pitch, then the Bachelor talked Latin, in the hope of being better understood—but it was of no use after all.
* Herostratus, or Eratostratus—an Ephesian, who wantonly
set fire to the famous temple of Diana, in order to
commemorate his name by so uncommon an action.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Hostess, plucking the Councillor by the sleeve; and now his recollection returned, for in the course of the conversation he had entirely forgotten all that had preceded it.
“Merciful God, where am I!” exclaimed he in agony; and while he so thought, all his ideas and feelings of overpowering dizziness, against which he struggled with the utmost power of desperation, encompassed him with renewed force. “Let us drink claret and mead, and Bremen beer,” shouted one of the guests—“and you shall drink with us!”
Two maidens approached. One wore a cap of two staring colors, denoting the class of persons to which she belonged. They poured out the liquor, and made the most friendly gesticulations; while a cold perspiration trickled down the back of the poor Councillor.
“What’s to be the end of this! What’s to become of me!” groaned he; but he was forced, in spite of his opposition, to drink with the rest. They took hold of the worthy man; who, hearing on every side that he was intoxicated, did not in the least doubt the truth of this certainly not very polite assertion; but on the contrary, implored the ladies and gentlemen present to procure him a hackney-coach: they, however, imagined he was talking Russian.
Never before, he thought, had he been in such a coarse and ignorant company; one might almost fancy the people had turned heathens again. “It is the most dreadful moment of my life: the whole world is leagued against me!” But suddenly it occurred to him that he might stoop down under the table, and then creep unobserved out of the door. He did so; but just as he was going, the others remarked what he was about; they laid hold of him by the legs; and now, happily for him, off fell his fatal shoes—and with them the charm was at an end.
The Councillor saw quite distinctly before him a lantern burning, and behind this a large handsome house. All seemed to him in proper order as usual; it was East Street, splendid and elegant as we now see it. He lay with his feet towards a doorway, and exactly opposite sat the watchman asleep.
“Gracious Heaven!” said he. “Have I lain here in the street and dreamed? Yes; ‘tis East Street! How splendid and light it is! But really it is terrible what an effect that one glass of punch must have had on me!”
Two minutes later, he was sitting in a hackney-coach and driving to Frederickshafen. He thought of the distress and agony he had endured, and praised from the very bottom of his heart the happy reality—our own time—which, with all its deficiencies, is yet much better than that in which, so much against his inclination, he had lately been.