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Nursery Rhymes . . . for children.

Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Puppet-show Man

ON board a steamer I once met an elderly man, with such a
merry face that, if it was really an index of his mind, he
must have been the happiest fellow in creation; and indeed he
considered himself so, for I heard it from his own mouth. He
was a Dane, the owner of a travelling theatre. He had all his
company with him in a large box, for he was the proprietor of
a puppet-show. His inborn cheerfulness, he said, had been
tested by a member of the Polytechnic Institution, and the
experiment had made him completely happy. I did not at first
understand all this, but afterwards he explained the whole
story to me; and here it is:-

'I was giving a representation,' he said, 'in the hall of
the posting-house in the little town of Slagelse; there was a
splendid audience, entirely juvenile excepting two respectable
matrons. All at once, a person in black, of student-like
appearance, entered the room, and sat down; he laughed aloud
at the telling points, and applauded quite at the proper time.
This was a very unusual spectator for me, and I felt anxious
to know who he was. I heard that he was a member of the
Polytechnic Institution in Copenhagen, who had been sent out
to lecture to the people in the provinces. Punctually at eight
o'clock my performance closed, for children must go early to
bed, and a manager must also consult the convenience of the

'At nine o'clock the lecturer commenced his lecture and
his experiments, and then I formed a part of his audience. It
was wonderful both to hear and to see. The greater part of it
was beyond my comprehension, but it led me to think that if we
men can acquire so much, we must surely be intended to last
longer than the little span which extends only to the time
when we are hidden away under the earth. His experiments were
quite miracles on a small scale, and yet the explanations
flowed as naturally as water from his lips. At the time of
Moses and the prophets, such a man would have been placed
among the sages of the land; in the middle ages they would
have burnt him at the stake.

'All night long I could not sleep; and the next evening
when I gave another performance and the lecturer was present,
I was in one of my best moods.

'I once heard of an actor, who, when he had to act the
part of a lover, always thought of one particular lady in the
audience; he only played for her, and forgot all the rest of
the house, and now the Polytechnic lecturer was my she, my
only auditor, for whom alone I played.

'When the performance was over, and the puppets removed
behind the curtain, the Polytechnic lecturer invited me into
his room to take a glass of wine. He talked of my comedies,
and I of his science, and I believe we were both equally
pleased. But I had the best of it, for there was much in what
he did that he could not always explain to me. For instance,
why a piece of iron which is rubbed on a cylinder, should
become magnetic. How does this happen? The magnetic sparks
come to it,- but how? It is the same with people in the world;
they are rubbed about on this spherical globe till the
electric spark comes upon them, and then we have a Napoleon,
or a Luther, or some one of the kind.

''The whole world is but a series of miracles,' said the
lecturer, 'but we are so accustomed to them that we call them
everyday matters.' And he went on explaining things to me till
my skull seemed lifted from my brain, and I declared that were
I not such an old fellow, I would at once become a member of
the Polytechnic Institution, that I might learn to look at the
bright side of everything, although I was one of the happiest
of men.

''One of the happiest!' said the lecturer, as if the idea
pleased him; 'are you really happy?'

''Yes,' I replied; 'for I am welcomed in every town, when
I arrive with my company; but I certainly have one wish which
sometimes weighs upon my cheerful temper like a mountain of
lead. I should like to become the manager of a real theatre,
and the director of a real troupe of men and women.'

''I understand,' he said; 'you would like to have life
breathed into your puppets, so that they might be living
actors, and you their director. And would you then be quite

'I said I believed so. But he did not; and we talked it
over in all manner of ways, yet could not agree on the
subject. However, the wine was excellent, and we clanked our
glasses together as we drank. There must have been magic in
it, or I should most certainly become tipsy; but that did not
happen, for my mind seemed quite clear; and, indeed, a kind of
sunshine filled the room, and beamed from the eyes of the
Polytechnic lecturer. It made me think of the old stories when
the gods, in their immortal youth, wandered upon this earth,
and paid visits to mankind. I said so to him, and he smiled;
and I could have sworn that he was one of these ancient
deities in disguise, or, at all events, that he belonged to
the race of the gods. The result seemed to prove I was right
in my suspicions; for it was arranged that my highest wish
should be granted, that my puppets were to be gifted with
life, and that I was to be the manager of a real company. We
drank to my success, and clanked our glasses. Then he packed
all my dolls into the box, and fastened it on my back, and I
felt as if I were spinning round in a circle, and presently
found myself lying on the floor. I remember that quite well.
And then the whole company sprang from the box. The spirit had
come upon us all; the puppets had become distinguished actors-
at least, so they said themselves- and I was their director.

'When all was ready for the first representation, the
whole company requested permission to speak to me before
appearing in public. The dancing lady said the house could not
be supported unless she stood on one leg; for she was a great
genius, and begged to be treated as such. The lady who acted
the part of the queen expected to be treated as a queen off
the stage, as well as on it, or else she said she should get
out of practice. The man whose duty it was to deliver a letter
gave himself as many airs as he who took the part of first
lover in the piece; he declared that the inferior parts were
as important as the great ones, and deserving equal
consideration, as parts of an artistic whole. The hero of the
piece would only play in a part containing points likely to
bring down the applause of the house. The 'prima donna' would
only act when the lights were red, for she declared that a
blue light did not suit her complexion. It was like a company
of flies in a bottle, and I was in the bottle with them; for I
was their director. My breath was taken away, my head whirled,
and I was as miserable as a man could be. It was quite a
novel, strange set of beings among whom I now found myself. I
only wished I had them all in my box again, and that I had
never been their director. So I told them roundly that, after
all, they were nothing but puppets; and then they killed me.
After a while I found myself lying on my bed in my room; but
how I got there, or how I got away at all from the Polytechnic
professor, he may perhaps know, I don't. The moon shone upon
the floor, the box lay open, and the dolls were all scattered
about in great confusion; but I was not idle. I jumped off the
bed, and into the box they all had to go, some on their heads,
some on their feet. Then I shut down the lid, and seated
myself upon the box. 'Now you'll have to stay,' said I, 'and I
shall be cautious how I wish you flesh and blood again.'

'I felt quite light, my cheerfulness had returned, and I
was the happiest of mortals. The Polytechnic professor had
fully cured me. I was as happy as a king, and went to sleep on
the box. Next morning- correctly speaking, it was noon, for I
slept remarkably late that day- I found myself still sitting
there, in happy consciousness that my former wish had been a
foolish one. I inquired for the Polytechnic professor; but he
had disappeared like the Greek and Roman gods; from that time
I have been the happiest man in the world. I am a happy
director; for none of my company ever grumble, nor the public
either, for I always make them merry. I can arrange my pieces
just as I please. I choose out of every comedy what I like
best, and no one is offended. Plays that are neglected
now-a-days by the great public were ran after thirty years
ago, and listened to till the tears ran down the cheeks of the
audience. These are the pieces I bring forward. I place them
before the little ones, who cry over them as papa and mamma
used to cry thirty years ago. But I make them shorter, for the
youngsters don't like long speeches; and if they have anything
mournful, they like it to be over quickly.'

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