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    Ch. 8 - The Puppet Showman

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    Chapter 8
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    There was an elderly man on the steam-boat, with such a contented face
    that, if it did not lie, he must be the happiest man on earth. That he
    indeed said he was: I heard it from his own mouth. He was a Dane,
    consequently my countryman, and was a travelling theatrical manager.
    He had the whole _corps dramatique_ with him; they lay in a large
    chest--he was a puppet showman. His innate good-humour, said he, had
    been tried by a polytechnic candidate,[D] and from this experiment on
    his patience he had become completely happy. I did not understand him
    at the moment, but he soon laid the whole case clearly before me; and
    here it is.

    [Footnote D: One who has passed his examination at a polytechnic
    school.]

    "It was in Slagelse," said he, "that I gave a representation at the
    parsonage, and had a brilliant house and a brilliant company of
    spectators, all young persons, unconfirmed, except a few old ladies.
    Then there came a person dressed in black, having the appearance of a
    student: he sat down amongst the others, laughed quite at the proper
    time, and applauded quite correctly; that was an unusual spectator!

    "I was bent on ascertaining who he was, and then I heard that he was a
    candidate from the polytechnic school, who had been sent out to
    instruct people in the provinces. At eight o'clock my representation
    was over; the children were to go early to bed, and one must think of
    the convenience of the public.

    "At nine o'clock the candidate began his lectures and experiments, and
    now _I_ was one of _his_ auditory.

    "It was remarkable to hear and look at! The chief part of it went over
    my head and into the parson's, as one says. Can it be possible,
    thought I, that we human beings can find out such things? in that
    case, we must also be able to hold out longer, before we are put into
    the earth. It was merely small miracles that he performed, and yet all
    as easy as an old stocking--quite from nature. In the time of Moses
    and the prophets, such a polytechnic candidate would have been one of
    the wise men of the land, and in the Middle Ages he would have been
    burnt. I could not sleep the whole night, and as I gave a
    representation the next evening, and the candidate was there again, I
    got into a real merry humour.

    "I have heard of an actor, who when playing the lovers' parts, only
    thought of one of the spectators; he played for _her_ alone, and
    forgot all the rest of the house; the polytechnic candidate was my
    _her_, my only spectator, for whom I played. And when the performance
    was over, all the puppets were called forward, and I was invited by
    the polytechnic candidate to take a glass of wine with him; and he
    spoke about my comedy, and I of his science; and I believe we each
    derived equal pleasure from the other. But yet I had the advantage,
    for there was so much in his performance that he could not account
    for: as for instance, that a piece of iron which falls through a
    spiral line, becomes magnetic,--well, how is that? The spirit comes
    over it, but whence does it come from? it is just as with the human
    beings of this world, I think; our Lord lets them fall through the
    spiral line of time, and the spirit comes over them--and there stands
    a Napoleon, a Luther, or a similar person.

    "'All nature is a series of miracles,' said the candidate, 'but we are
    so accustomed to them that we call them things of every-day life.' And
    he spoke and he explained, so that it seemed at last as if he lifted
    my scull, and I honestly confessed, that if I were not an old fellow,
    I would go directly to the polytechnic school, and learn to examine
    the world in the summer, although I was one of the happiest of men.

    "'One of the happiest!' said he, and it was just as if he tasted it.
    'Are you happy?' 'Yes!' said I, 'I am happy, and I am welcome in all
    the towns I come to with my company! There is certainly one wish, that
    comes now and then like a night-mare, which rides on my good-humour,
    and that is to be a theatrical manager for a living company--a company
    of real men and women.'

    "'You wish to have your puppets animated; you would have them become
    real actors and actresses,' said he, 'and yourself be the manager? you
    then think that you would be perfectly happy?'

    "Now he did not think so, but I thought so; and we talked for and
    against; and we were just as near in our opinions as before. But we
    clinked our glasses together, and the wine was very good; but there
    was witchcraft in it, or else the short and the long of the story
    would be--that I was intoxicated.

    "That I was not; my eyes were quite clear; it was as if there was
    sunshine in the room, and it shone out of the face of the polytechnic
    candidate, so that I began to think of the old gods in my youth, and
    when they went about in the world. And I told him so, and then he
    smiled, and I durst have sworn that he was a disguised god, or one of
    the family!--And he was so--my first wish was to be fulfilled: the
    puppets become living beings and I the manager of men and women. We
    drank that it should be so! he put all my puppets in the wooden chest,
    fastened it on my back, and then let me fall through a spiral line. I
    can still hear how I came down, slap! I lay on the floor, that is
    quite sure and certain, and the whole company sprang out of the chest.
    The spirit had come over us all together; all the puppets had become
    excellent artists--they said so themselves--and I was the manager.
    Everything was in order for the first representation; the whole
    company must speak with me, and the public also. The female dancer
    said, that if she did not stand on one leg, the house would be in an
    uproar: she was master of the whole and would be treated as such.

    "She who played the queen, would also be treated as a queen when off
    the stage, or else she should get out of practice, and he who was
    employed to come in with a letter made himself as important as the
    first lover. 'For,' said he, 'the small are of just as much importance
    as the great, in an artistic whole.' Then the hero demanded that the
    whole of his part should only be retorts on making his exit, for these
    the public applauded; the prima donna would only play in a red light,
    for that suited her best--she would not be blue: they were all like
    flies in a bottle, and I was also in the bottle--for I was the
    manager. I lost my breath, my head was quite dizzy! I was as miserable
    as a man can be; it was a new race of beings I had come amongst; I
    wished that I had them altogether again in the chest, that I had never
    been a manager: I told them that they were in fact only puppets, and
    so they beat me to death. That was my feeling!

    "I lay on the bed in my chamber; but how I had come there from the
    polytechnic candidate, he must know best--for I do not. The moon shone
    in on the floor where the puppet-chest lay upset, and all the puppets
    spread about--great and small, the whole lot. But I was not floored! I
    sprang out of bed, and threw them all into the chest; some on their
    heads, and some on their legs; I smacked the lid down and sat myself
    upon it: it was worth painting, can't you conceive it? I can! 'Now you
    shall be there!' said I, 'and I will never more wish that you may
    become flesh and blood!' I was so glad; I was the happiest man
    alive--the polytechnic candidate had tried me! I sat in perfect bliss,
    and fell asleep on the chest; and in the morning--it was, properly
    speaking, at noon, for I slept so very long that morning--I sat there
    still, happy and edified--I saw that my previous and only wish had
    been stupid. I inquired for the polytechnic candidate, but he was
    gone, like the Greek and Roman gods.

    "And from that time I have been the happiest man alive. I am a
    fortunate manager; my company does not argue with me, neither does the
    public; they are amused to their heart's content, and I can myself put
    all my pieces nicely together. I take the best parts out of all sorts
    of comedies that I choose, and no one troubles himself about it.
    Pieces that are now despised at the large theatres, but which thirty
    years ago the public ran to see, and cried over--those pieces I now
    make use of. I now present them before the young folks; and the young
    folks--they cry just as their fathers and mothers used to do. I give
    'Johanna Montfakon' and 'Dyveke,' but abbreviated; for the little
    folks do not like long, twaddling love-stories. They must have it
    unfortunate--but it must be brief. Now that I have travelled through
    Denmark, both to the right and left, I know everybody and am known
    again. Now I have come to Sweden, and if I am successful and gain much
    money, I will be a Scandinavian, if the humour hold; and this I tell
    you, as you are my countryman."

    And I, as his countryman, naturally tell it again--only for the sake
    of telling it.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 8
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