The Galoshes of Fortune

The Galoshes of Fortune –  Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1838)

I

A BEGINNING

It was in Copenhagen, in East Street, and in one of the houses not far from the King’s New Market, that a large company had assembled, for one must occasionally give a party, in order to be invited in return. Half of the company already sat at the card-tables, the other half awaited the result of the hostess’s question, ‘ What shall we do now ? ‘ They had progressed so far, and the conversation went as best it could. Among other subjects the conversation turned upon the Middle Ages. Some considered that period much more interesting than our own times : yes, Councillor Knap defended this view so zealously that the lady of the house went over at once to his side ; and both loudly exclaimed against Oersted’s treatise in the Almanac on old and modern times, in which the chief advantage is given to our own day. The councillor considered the times of the Danish King Hans as the noblest and happiest age.

While the conversation takes this turn, only interrupted for a moment by the arrival of a newspaper, which contains nothing worth reading, we will betake ourselves to the antechamber, where the cloaks, sticks, and goloshes had found a place. Here sat two maids an old one and a young one. One would have thought they had come to escort their mistresses home ; but, on looking at them more closely, the observer could see that they were not ordinary servants :their hands were too fine for that, their bearing and all their movements too majestic, and the cut of their dresses too uncommon. They were two fairies. The younger was not Fortune, but lady’s-maid to one of her ladies of the bed-chamber, who carry about the more trifling gifts of Fortune. The elder one looked somewhat more gloomy she was Care, who always goes herself in her own exalted person to perform her business, for then she knows that it is well done.

They were telling each other where they had been that day. The messenger of Fortune had ontyjbransacted a few unimportant affairs, as, for instance, she had preserved a new bonnet from a shower of rain, had procured an honest man a bow from a titled Nobody, and so on ; but what she had still to relate was something quite extraordinary.

‘I can likewise tell,’ said she, ‘ that to-day is my birthday ; and in honour of it a pair of goloshes has been entrusted to me, which I am to bring to the human race. These goloshes have the property that every one who puts them on is at once transported to the time and place in which he likes best to be every wish in reference to time, place, and circumstance is at once fulfilled ; and so for once man can be happy here below ! ‘

‘ Believe me,’ said Care, ‘ he will be very unhappy, and will bless the moment when he can get rid of the goloshes again.’

‘ What are you thinking of ? ‘ retorted the other. ‘ Now I shall put them at the door. Somebody will take them by mistake, and become the happy one ! ‘

You see, that was the dialogue they held.

II

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COUNCILLOR

It was late. Councillor Knap, lost in contemplation of the times of King Hans, wished to get home ; and fate willed that instead of his own goloshes he should put on those of Fortune, and thus went out into East Street. But by the power of the goloshes he had been put back three hundred years into the days of King Hans ; and therefore he put his foot into mud and mire in the street, because in those days there was not any pavement.

‘ Why, this is horrible how dirty it is here ! ‘ said the councillor. ‘ The good pavement is gone, and all the lamps are put out.’

The moon did not yet stand high enough to give much light, and the air was tolerably thick, so that all objects seemed to melt together in the darkness. At the next corner a lamp hung before a picture of the Madonna, but the light it gave was as good as none ; he only noticed it when he stood just under it, and his eyes fell upon the painted figure of the mother and child.

That is probably a museum of art,’ he thought, ‘ where they have forgotten to take down the sign.’

A couple of men in the costume of those past days went by him.

‘ How they look ! ‘ he said. ‘ They must come from a masquerade.’

Suddenly there was a sound of drums and fifes, and torches gleamed brightly. The councillor started. And now he saw a strange procession go past. First came a whole troop of drummers, beating their instruments very dexterously ; they were followed by men-at-arms, with longbows and crossbows. The chief man in the procession was a clerical lord. The astonished councillor asked what was the meaning of this, and who the man might be.

‘ That is the Bishop of Zealand.’

‘ What in the world has come to the bishop ? ‘ said the councillor, with a sigh, shaking his head. ‘ This could not possibly be the bishop ! ‘

Ruminating on this, and without looking to the right or to the left, the councillor went through the East Street, and over the Highbridge Place. The bridge which led to the Palace Square was not to be found ; he perceived the shore of a shallow water, and at length encountered two people, who sat in a boat.

‘ Bo you wish to be ferried over to the Holm, sir ? ‘ they asked.

‘ To the Holm ! ‘ repeated the councillor, who did not know, you see, in what period he was. ‘ I want to go to Christian’s Haven and to Little Turf Street.’

The men stared at him.

‘ Pray tell me where the bridge is ? ‘ said he. ‘It is shameful that no lanterns are lighted here ; and it is as muddy, too, as if one were walking in a marsh.’ But the longer he talked with the boatmen the less could he understand them. ‘ I don’t understand your Bornholm talk,’ he at last cried, angrily, and turned his back upon them.

He could not find the bridge, nor was there any paling. ‘ It is quite scandalous how things look -here 1 ‘ he said never had he thought his own times so miserable as this evening. ‘ I think it will be best if I take a cab,’ thought he. But where were the cabs ? not one was to be seen. ‘ I shall have to go back to the King’s New Market, where there are many carriages standing, otherwise I shall never get as far as Christian’s Haven.’

Now he went towards East Street, and had almost gone through it when the moon burst forth.

‘ What in the world have they been erecting here ? ‘ he exclaimed, when he saw the East Gate, which in those days stood at the end of East Street.

In the meantime, however, he found a passage open, and through this he came out upon our New Market ; but it was a broad meadow. Single bushes stood forth, and across the meadow ran a great canal or stream. A few miserable wooden booths for skippers from Holland were erected on the opposite shore.

‘ Either I behold a Fata Morgana, or I am tipsy,’ sighed the councillor. ‘ What can that be ? what can that be ? ‘

He turned back, in the full persuasion that he must be ill. In walking up the street he looked more closely at the houses ; most of them were built of laths, and many were only thatched with straw.

‘ No, I don’t feel well at all ! ‘ he lamented. ‘ And yet I only drank one glass of punch ! But I cannot stand that ; and besides, it was very foolish to give us punch and warm salmon. I shall mention that to our hostess the agent’s lady. Suppose I go back, and say how I feel ? But that looks ridiculous, and it is a question if they will be up still.’

He looked for the house, but could not find it.

‘ That is dreadful ! ‘ he cried ; ‘ I don’t know East Street again. Not one shop is to be seen ; old, miserable, tumble-down huts are all I see, as if I were at Roskilde or Ringstedt. Oh, I am ill ! It ’s no use to make cere- mony. But where in all the world is the agent’s house ? It is no longer the same ; but within there are people up still. I certainly must be ill ! ‘

He now reached a half -open door, where the light shone through a chink. It was a tavern of that date a kind of beer-house. The room had the appearance of a farmhouse kitchen in Holstein ; a number of people, consisting of seamen, citizens of Copenhagen, and a few scholars, sat in deep conversation over their jugs, and paid little attention to the new-comer.

‘ I beg pardon,’ said the councillor to the hostess, ‘ but I feel very unwell ; would you let them get me a fly to go to Christian’s Haven ? ‘

The woman looked at him and shook her head ; then she spoke to him in German.

The councillor now supposed that she did not understand Danish, so he repeated his wish in the German language. This, and his costume, convinced the woman that he was a foreigner. She soon understood that he felt unwell, and therefore brought him a jug of water. It certainly tasted a little of sea water, though it had been taken from the spring outside.

The councillor leaned his head on his hand, drew a deep breath, and thought of all the strange things that were happening about him.

‘ Is that to-day’s number of the Day ? ‘ he said, quite mechanically, for he saw that the woman was putting away a large sheet of paper.

She did not understand what he meant, but handed him the leaf : it was a woodcut representing a strange appearance in the air which had been seen in the city of Cologne.

‘ That is very old ! ‘ said the councillor, who became quite cheerful at sight of this antiquity. ‘ How did you come by this strange leaf ? That is very interesting, although the whole thing is a fable. Nowadays these appearances are explained to be northern lights that have been seen ; probably they arise from electricity.

Those who sat nearest to him and heard his speech, looked at him in surprise, and one of them rose, took off his hat respectfully, and said, with a very grave face, ‘ You must certainly be a very learned man, sir ! ‘

‘ Oh, no ! ‘ replied the councillor ; ‘ I can only say a word or two about things one ought to understand.’

‘ Modestia is a beautiful virtue,’ said the man. ‘ Moreover, I must say to your speech, mihi secus videtur ; yet I will gladly suspend my judicium’

‘ May I ask with whom I have the pleasure of speaking ? ‘ asked the councillor.

‘ I am a bachelor of theology,’ replied the man.

This answer sufficed for the councillor ; the title corresponded with the garb.

‘ Certainly,’ he thought, ‘ this must be an old village schoolmaster, a queer character, such as one finds sometimes over in Jutland.’

‘ This is certainly not a locus docendi,’ began the man ; ‘ but I beg you to take the trouble to speak. You are doubtless well read in the ancients ? ‘

‘ Oh, yes,’ replied the councillor. ‘ I am fond of reading useful old books ; and am fond of the modern ones, too, with the exception of the ” Every -day Stories “, of which we have enough, in all conscience.’

‘ Every-day Stories ? ‘ replied the bachelor, inquiringly.

‘ Yes, I mean the new romances we have now.’

‘ Oh ! ‘ said the man, with a smile, ‘ they are very witty, and are much read at court. The king is especially partial to the romance by Messieurs Iffven and Gaudian, which talks about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. He has jested about it with his noble lords.’

‘ That I have certainly not yet read,’ said the councillor ; ‘ that must be quite a new book published by Heiberg.’

‘ No,’ retorted the man, ‘ it is not published by Heiberg, but by Godfrey von Gehmen.’ .

‘ Indeed ! is he the author ? ‘ asked the councillor. ‘ That is a very old name : was not that the name of about the first printer who appeared in Denmark ? ‘

‘ Why, he is our first printer,’ replied the man.

So far it had gone well. Now one of the men began to speak of a pestilence which he said had been raging a few years ago : he meant the plague of 1484. The councillor supposed that he meant the cholera, and so the conversation went on tolerably. The Freebooters’ War of 1490 was so recent that it could not escape mention. The English pirates had taken ships from the very wharves,

The first printer and publisher in Denmark, under King Hans. said the man ; and the councillor, who was well acquainted with the events of 1801, joined in manfully against the English. The rest of the talk, however, did not pass over so well ; every moment there was a contradiction. The good bachelor was terribly ignorant, and the simplest assertion of the councillor seemed too bold or too fantastic. They looked at each other, and when it became too bad, the bachelor spoke Latin, in the hope that he would be better understood ; but it was of no use.

‘ How are you now ? ‘ asked the hostess, and she plucked the councillor by the sleeve.

Now his recollection came back : in the course of the conversation he had forgotten everything that had happened.

‘ Good heavens ! where am I ? ‘ he said, and he felt dizzy when he thought of it.

‘ We’ll drink claret, mead, and Bremen beer/ cried one of the guests, ‘ and you shall drink with us.’

Two girls came in. One of them had on a cap of two colours. They poured out drink and bowed : the coun- cillor felt a cold shudder running all down his back. ‘ What ’s that ? what ’s that ? ‘ he cried ; but he was obliged to drink with them. They took possession of the good man quite politely. He was in despair, and when one said that he was tipsy he felt not the slightest doubt regarding the truth of the statement, and only begged them to procure him a droshky. Now they thought he was speaking Muscovite.

Never had he been in such rude vulgar company.

‘ One would think the country was falling back into heathenism,’ was his reflection. ‘ This is the most terrible moment of my life.’

But at the same time the idea occurred to him to bend down under the table, and then to creep to the door. He did so ; but just as he had reached the entry the others discovered his intention. They seized him by the feet ; and now the goloshes, to his great good fortune, came off, and the whole enchantment vanished.

The councillor saw quite plainly, in front of him, a lamp burning, and behind it a great building ; everything looked familiar and splendid, It was East Street, as we know it now. He lay with his legs turned towards a porch, and opposite to him sat the watchman asleep,

‘ Good heavens ! have I been lying here in the street dreaming ? ‘ he exclaimed. ‘ Yes, this is East Street sure enough ! how splendidly bright and gay ! It is terrible what an effect that one glass of punch must have had on me ! ‘

Two minutes afterwards he was sitting in a fly, which drove him out to Christian’s Haven. He thought of the terror and anxiety he had undergone, and praised from his heart the happy present, our own time, which, with all its shortcomings, was far better than the period in which he had been placed a short time before.

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