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    Ch. 21 - What the Straws Said

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    Chapter 21
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    On the lake there glided a boat, and the party within it sang Swedish
    and Danish songs; but by the shore, under that tall, hanging birch,
    sat four young girls--so pretty--so sylph-like! and they each plucked
    up from the grass four long straws, and bound these straws two and two
    together, at the top and the bottom.

    "We shall now see if they will come together in a square," said the
    girls: "if it be so, then that which I think of will be fulfilled,"
    and they bound them, and they thought.

    No one got to know the secret thought, the heart's silent wish of the
    others. But yet a little bird sings about it.

    The thoughts of one flew over sea and land, over the high mountains,
    where the mule finds its way in the mists, down to Mignon's beautiful
    land, where the old gods live in marble and painting. "Thither,
    thither! shall I ever get there?" That was the wish, that was the
    thought, and she opened her hand, looked at the bound straws, and they
    appeared only two and two bound together.

    And where were the second one's thoughts? also in foreign lands, in
    the gunpowder's smoke, amongst the glitter of arms and cannons, with
    him, the friend of her childhood, fighting for imperial power, against
    the Hungarian people. Will he return joyful and unharmed--return to
    Sweden's peaceful, well-constituted, happy land? The straws showed no
    square: a tear dwelt in the girl's eye.

    The third smiled: there was a sort of mischief in the smile. Will our
    aged bachelor and that old maiden-lady yonder, who now wander along so
    young, smile so young, and speak so youthfully to each other, not be a
    married couple before the cuckoo sings again next year? See--that is
    what I should like to know! and the smile played around the thinker's
    mouth, but she did not speak her thoughts. The straws were
    separated--consequently the bachelor and the old maid also. "It may,
    however, happen nevertheless," she certainly thought: it was apparent
    in the smile; it was obvious in the manner in which she threw the
    straws away.

    "There is nothing I would know--nothing that I am curious to know!"
    said the fourth; but yet she bound the straws together; for within her
    also there was a wish alive; but no bird has sung about it; no one
    guesses it.

    Rock thyself securely in the heart's lotus flower, thou shining
    humming-bird, thy' name shall not be pronounced: and besides the
    straws said as before--"without hope!"

    "Now you! now you!" cried the young girls to a stranger, far from the
    neighbouring land, from the green isle, that Gylfe ploughed from
    Sweden. "What dear thing do you wish shall happen, or not
    happen!--tell us the wish!"--"If the oracle speaks well for me," said
    he, "then I will tell you the silent wish and prayer, with which I
    bind these knots on the grass straw; but if I have no better success
    than you have had, I will then be silent!" and he bound straw to
    straw, and as he bound, he repeated: "it signifies nothing!" He now
    opened his hand, his eyes shone brighter, his heart beat faster. The
    straws formed a square! "It will happen, it will happen!" cried the
    young girls. "What did you wish for?" "That Denmark may soon gain an
    honourable peace!"

    "It will happen! it will happen!" said the young girls; "and when it
    happens, we will remember that the straws have told it before-hand."

    "I will keep these four straws, bound in a prophetic wreath for
    victory and peace!" said the stranger; "and if the oracle speaks
    truth, then I will draw the whole picture for you, as we sit here
    under the hanging birch by the lake, and look on Zäther's blue
    mountains, each of us binding straw to straw."

    A red mark was made in the almanack; it was the 6th of July, 1849. The
    same day a red page was written in Denmark's history. The Danish
    soldier made a red, victorious mark with his blood, at the battle of
    Fredericia.
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