Story type: Literature
Adapted From Ouida.
“The story-teller must take life into himself in its wholeness, must let it live and work whole and free within him. He must give it out free and unabbreviated, and yet STAND ABOVE THE LIFE which actually is.”–Froebel.
In a little brown house, far, far away in Germany, there lived a father and his children. There were ever so many of them,–let me see,–Hilda, the dear eldest sister, and Hans, the big, strong brother; then Karl and August, and the baby Marta. Just enough for the fingers of one hand. How many is that? But it is Karl that I am going to tell you about. He was nine years old, a rosy little fellow, with big bright eyes and a curly head as brown as a ripe nut. The dear mother was dead, and the father was very poor, so that Karl and his brothers and sisters sometimes knew what it was to be hungry; but they were happy, for they loved each other very dearly, and ate their brown bread and milk without wishing it were something nicer. One afternoon Karl had been sent on a long journey. It was winter time, and he had to run fast over the frozen fields of white snow. The night was coming on, and he was hurrying home with a great jug of milk, feeling cold and tired. The mountains looked high and white and still in the cold moonlight, and the stars seemed to say, when they twinkled, “Hurry, Karl! the children are hungry.” At last he saw a little brown cottage, with a snow-laden roof and a shining window, through which he could see the bright firelight dancing merrily,–for Hilda never closed the shutters till all the boys were safely inside the house. When he saw the dear home-light he ran as fast as his feet could carry him, burst in at the low front door, kissed Hilda, and shouted:–
“Oh! dear, dear Hirschvogel! I am so glad to get back to you again; you are every bit as good as the summer time.”
Now, Hirschvogel was not one of the family, as you might think, nor even a splendid dog, nor a pony, but it was a large, beautiful porcelain stove, so tall that it quite touched the ceiling. It stood at the end of the room, shining with all the hues of a peacock’s tail, bright and warm and beautiful; its great golden feet were shaped like the claws of a lion, and there was a golden crown on the very top of all. You never have seen a stove like it, for it was white where our stoves are black, and it had flowers and birds and beautiful ladies and grand gentlemen painted all over it, and everywhere it was brilliant with gold and bright colors. It was a very old stove, for sixty years before, Karl’s grandfather had dug it up out of some broken-down buildings where he was working, and, finding it strong and whole, had taken it home; and ever since then it had stood in the big room, warming the children, who tumbled like little flowers around its shining feet. The grandfather did not know it, but it was a wonderful stove, for it had been made by a great potter named Hirschvogel.
A potter, you know, children, is a man who makes all sorts of things, dishes and tiles and vases, out of china and porcelain and clay. So the family had always called the stove Hirschvogel, after the potter, just as if it were alive.
To the children the stove was very dear indeed. In summer they laid a mat of fresh moss all around it, and dressed it up with green boughs and beautiful wild flowers. In winter, scampering home from school over the ice and snow, they were always happy, knowing that they would soon be cracking nuts or roasting chestnuts in the heat and light of the dear old stove. All the children loved it, but Karl even more than the rest, and he used to say to himself, “When I grow up I will make just such things too, and then I will set Hirschvogel up in a beautiful room that I will build myself. That’s what I will do when I’m a man.”
After Karl had eaten his supper, this cold night, he lay down on the floor by the stove, the children all around him, on the big wolf-skin rug. With some sticks of charcoal he was drawing pictures for them of what he had seen all day. When the children had looked enough at one picture, he would sweep it out with his elbow and make another–faces, and dogs’ heads, and men on sleds, and old women in their furs, and pine-trees, and all sorts of animals. When they had been playing in this way for some time, Hilda, the eldest sister, said:–
“It is time for you all to go to bed, children. Father is very late to-night; you must not sit up for him.”
“Oh, just five minutes more, dear Hilda,” they begged. “Hirschvogel is so warm; the beds are never so warm as he is.”
In the midst of their chatter and laughter the door opened, and in blew the cold wind and snow from outside. Their father had come home. He seemed very tired, and came slowly to his chair. At last he said, “Take the children to bed, daughter.”
Karl stayed, curled up before the stove. When Hilda came back, the father said sadly:
“Hilda, I have sold Hirschvogel! I have sold it to a traveling peddler, for I need money very much; the winter is so cold and the children are so hungry. The man will take it away to-morrow.”
Hilda gave a cry. “Oh, father! the children, in the middle of winter!” and she turned as white as the snow outside.
Karl lay half blind with sleep, staring at his father.” It can’t be true, it can’t be true!” he cried. “You are making fun, father.” It seemed to him that the skies must fall if Hirschvogel were taken away.
“Yes,” said the father, “you will find it true enough. The peddler has paid half the money to-night, and will pay me the other half to-morrow when he packs up the stove and takes it away.”
“Oh, father! dear father!” cried poor little Karl, “you cannot mean what you say. Send our stove away? We shall all die in the dark and cold. Listen! I will go and try to get work to-morrow. I will ask them to let me cut ice or make the paths through the snow. There must be something I can do, and I will beg the people we owe money to, to wait. They are all neighbors; they will be patient. But sell Hirschvogel! Oh, never, never, never! Give the money back to the man.”
The father was so sorry for his little boy that he could not speak. He looked sadly at him; then took the lamp that stood on the table, and left the room.
Hilda knelt down and tried to comfort Karl, but he was too unhappy to listen. “I shall stay here,” was all he said, and he lay there all the night long. The lamp went out; the rats came and ran across the room; the room grew colder and colder. Karl did not move, but lay with his face down on the floor by the lovely rainbow-colored stove. When it grew light, his sister came down with a lamp in her hand to begin her morning work. She crept up to him, and laid her cheek on his softly, and said:–
“Dear Karl, you must be frozen. Karl! do look up; do speak.”
“Ah!” said poor Karl, “it will never be warm again.”
Soon after some one knocked at the door. A strange voice called through the keyhole,–
“Let me in! quick! there is no time to lose. More snow like this and the roads will all be blocked. Let me in! Do you hear? I am come to take the great stove.”
Hilda unfastened the door. The man came in at once, and began to wrap the stove in a great many wrappings, and carried it out into the snow, where an ox-cart stood in waiting. In another moment it was gone; gone forever!
Karl leaned against the wall, his tears falling like rain down his pale cheeks.
An old neighbor came by just then, and, seeing the boy, said to him: “Child, is it true your father is selling that big painted stove?”
Karl nodded his head, and began to sob again. “I love it! I love it!” he said.
“Well, if I were you I would do better than cry. I would go after it when I grew bigger,” said the neighbor, trying to cheer him up a little. “Don’t cry so loud; you will see your stove again some day,” and the old man went away, leaving a new idea in Karl’s head.
“Go after it,” the old man had said. Karl thought, “Why not go with it?” He loved it better than anything else in the world, even better than Hilda. He ran off quickly after the cart which was carrying the dear Hirschvogel to the station. How he managed it he never knew very well himself, but it was certain that when the freight train moved away from the station Karl was hidden behind the stove. It was very dark, but he wasn’t frightened. He was close beside Hirschvogel, but he wanted to be closer still; he meant to get inside the stove. He set to work like a little mouse to make a hole in the straw and hay. He gnawed and nibbled, and pushed and pulled, making a hole where he guessed that the door might be. At last he found it; he slipped through it, as he had so often done at home for fun, and curled himself up. He drew the hay and straw together carefully, and fixed the ropes, so that no one could have dreamed that a little mouse had been at them. Safe inside his dear Hirschvogel, he went as fast asleep as if he were in his own little bed at home. The train rumbled on in its heavy, slow way, and Karl slept soundly for a long time. When he awoke the darkness frightened him, but he felt the cold sides of Hirschvogel, and said softly, “Take care of me, dear Hirschvogel, oh, please take care of me!”
Every time the train stopped, and he heard the banging, stamping, and shouting, his heart seemed to jump up into his mouth. When the people came to lift the stove out, would they find him? and if they did find him, would they kill him? The thought, too, of Hilda, kept tugging at his heart now and then, but he said to himself, “If I can take Hirschvogel back to her, how pleased she will be, and how she will clap her hands!” He was not at all selfish in his love for Hirschvogel; he wanted it for them at home quite as much as for himself. That was what he kept thinking of all the way in the darkness and stillness which lasted so long. At last the train stopped, and awoke him from a half sleep. Karl felt the stove lifted by some men, who carried it to a cart, and then they started again on the journey, up hill and down, for what seemed miles and miles. Where they were going Karl had no idea. Finally the cart stopped; then it seemed as though they were carrying the stove up some stairs. The men rested sometimes, and then moved on again, and their feet went so softly he thought they must be walking on thick carpets. By and by the stove was set down again, happily for Karl, for he felt as though he should scream, or do something to make known that he was there. Then the wrappings were taken off, and he heard a voice say, “What a beautiful, beautiful stove!”
Next some one turned the round handle of the brass door, and poor little Karl’s heart stood still.
“What is this?” said the man. “A live child!”
Then Karl sprang out of the stove and fell at the feet of the man who had spoken.
“Oh, let me stay, please let me stay!” he said. “I have come all the way with my darling Hirschvogel!”
The man answered kindly, “Poor little child! tell me how you came to hide in the stove. Do not be afraid. I am the king.”
Karl was too much in earnest to be afraid; he was so glad, so glad it was the king, for kings must be always kind, he thought.
“Oh, dear king!” he said with a trembling voice, “Hirschvogel was ours, and we have loved it all our lives, and father sold it, and when I saw that it really did go from us I said to myself that I would go with it; and I do beg you to let me live with it, and I will go out every morning and cut wood for it and for all your other stoves, if only you will let me stay beside it. No one has ever fed it with wood but me since I grew big enough, and it loves me; it does indeed!” And then he lifted up his little pale face to the young king, who saw that great tears were running down his cheeks.
“Can’t I stay with Hirschvogel?” he pleaded.
“Wait a little,” said the king. “What do you want to be when you are a man? Do you want to be a wood-chopper?”
“I want to be a painter,” cried Karl. “I want to be what Hirschvogel was. I mean the potter that made my Hirschvogel.”
“I understand,” answered the king, and he looked down at the child, and smiled. “Get up, my little man,” he said in a kind voice; “I will let you stay with your Hirschvogel. You shall stay here, and you shall be taught to be a painter, but you must grow up very good, and when you are twenty-one years old, if you have done well, then I will give you back your beautiful stove.” Then he smiled again and stretched out his hand. Karl threw his two arms about the king’s knees and kissed his feet, and then all at once he was so tired and so glad and hungry and happy, that he fainted quite away on the floor.
Then the king had a letter written to Karl’s father, telling him that Karl had drawn him some beautiful charcoal pictures, and that he liked them so much he was going to take care of him until he was old enough to paint wonderful stoves like Hirschvogel. And he did take care of him for a long time, and when Karl grew older, he often went for a few days to his old home, where his father still lives.
In the little brown house stands Hirschvogel, tall and splendid, with its peacock colors as beautiful as ever,–the king’s present to Hilda; and Karl never goes home without going into the great church and giving his thanks to God, who blessed his strange winter’s journey in the great porcelain stove.
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