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

What The Moon Saw - Part 3


'I have spoken to you of Pompeii,' said the Moon; 'that
corpse of a city, exposed in the view of living towns: I know
another sight still more strange, and this is not the corpse,
but the spectre of a city. Whenever the jetty fountains splash
into the marble basins, they seem to me to be telling the
story of the floating city. Yes, the spouting water may tell
of her, the waves of the sea may sing of her fame! On the
surface of the ocean a mist often rests, and that is her
widow's veil. The bridegroom of the sea is dead, his palace
and his city are his mausoleum! Dost thou know this city? She
has never heard the rolling of wheels or the hoof-tread of
horses in her streets, through which the fish swim, while the
black gondola glides spectrally over the green water. I will
show you the place,' continued the Moon, 'the largest square
in it, and you will fancy yourself transported into the city
of a fairy tale. The grass grows rank among the broad
flagstones, and in the morning twilight thousands of tame
pigeons flutter around the solitary lofty tower. On three
sides you find yourself surrounded by cloistered walks. In
these the silent Turk sits smoking his long pipe, the handsome
Greek leans against the pillar and gazes at the upraised
trophies and lofty masts, memorials of power that is gone. The
flags hang down like mourning scarves. A girl rests there: she
has put down her heavy pails filled with water, the yoke with
which she has carried them rests on one of her shoulders, and
she leans against the mast of victory. That is not a fairy
palace you see before you yonder, but a church: the gilded
domes and shining orbs flash back my beams; the glorious
bronze horses up yonder have made journeys, like the bronze
horse in the fairy tale: they have come hither, and gone
hence, and have returned again. Do you notice the variegated
splendour of the walls and windows? It looks as if Genius had
followed the caprices of a child, in the adornment of these
singular temples. Do you see the winged lion on the pillar?
The gold glitters still, but his wings are tied- the lion is
dead, for the king of the sea is dead; the great halls stand
desolate, and where gorgeous paintings hung of yore, the naked
wall now peers through. The lazzarone sleeps under the arcade,
whose pavement in old times was to be trodden only by the feet
of high nobility. From the deep wells, and perhaps from the
prisons by the Bridge of Sighs, rise the accents of woe, as at
the time when the tambourine was heard in the gay gondolas,
and the golden ring was cast from the Bucentaur to Adria, the
queen of the seas. Adria! shroud thyself in mists; let the
veil of thy widowhood shroud thy form, and clothe in the weeds
of woe the mausoleum of thy bridegroom- the marble, spectral


'I looked down upon a great theatre,' said the Moon. 'The
house was crowded, for a new actor was to make his first
appearance that night. My rays glided over a little window in
the wall, and I saw a painted face with the forehead pressed
against the panes. It was the hero of the evening. The knighly
beard curled crisply about the chin; but there were tears in
the man's eyes, for he had been hissed off, and indeed with
reason. The poor Incapable! But Incapables cannot be admitted
into the empire of Art. He had deep feeling, and loved his art
enthusiastically, but the art loved not him. The prompter's
bell sounded; 'the hero enters with a determined air,' so ran
the stage direction in his part, and he had to appear before
an audience who turned him into ridicule. When the piece was
over, I saw a form wrapped in a mantle, creeping down the
steps: it was the vanquished knight of the evening. The
scene-shifters whispered to one another, and I followed the
poor fellow home to his room. To hang one's self is to die a
mean death, and poison is not always at hand, I know; but he
thought of both. I saw how he looked at his pale face in the
glass, with eyes half closed, to see if he should look well as
a corpse. A man may be very unhappy, and yet exceedingly
affected. He thought of death, of suicide; I believe he pitied
himself, for he wept bitterly, and when a man has had his cry
out he doesn't kill himself.

'Since that time a year had rolled by. Again a play was to
be acted, but in a little theatre, and by a poor strolling
company. Again I saw the well-remembered face, with the
painted cheeks and the crisp beard. He looked up at me and
smiled; and yet he had been hissed off only a minute before-
hissed off from a wretched theatre, by a miserable audience.
And tonight a shabby hearse rolled out of the town-gate. It
was a suicide- our painted, despised hero. The driver of the
hearse was the only person present, for no one followed except
my beams. In a corner of the churchyard the corpse of the
suicide was shovelled into the earth, and nettles will soon be
growing rankly over his grave, and the sexton will throw
thorns and weeds from the other graves upon it.'


'I come from Rome,' said the Moon. 'In the midst of the
city, upon one of the seven hills, lie the ruins of the
imperial palace. The wild fig tree grows in the clefts of the
wall, and covers the nakedness thereof with its broad
grey-green leaves; trampling among heaps of rubbish, the ass
treads upon green laurels, and rejoices over the rank
thistles. From this spot, whence the eagles of Rome once flew
abroad, whence they 'came, saw, and conquered,' our door leads
into a little mean house, built of clay between two pillars;
the wild vine hangs like a mourning garland over the crooked
window. An old woman and her little granddaughter live there:
they rule now in the palace of the Caesars, and show to
strangers the remains of its past glories. Of the splendid
throne-hall only a naked wall yet stands, and a black cypress
throws its dark shadow on the spot where the throne once
stood. The dust lies several feet deep on the broken pavement;
and the little maiden, now the daughter of the imperial
palace, often sits there on her stool when the evening bells
ring. The keyhole of the door close by she calls her turret
window; through this she can see half Rome, as far as the
mighty cupola of St. Peter's.

'On this evening, as usual, stillness reigned around; and
in the full beam of my light came the little granddaughter. On
her head she carried an earthen pitcher of antique shape
filled with water. Her feet were bare, her short frock and her
white sleeves were torn. I kissed her pretty round shoulders,
her dark eyes, and black shining hair. She mounted the stairs;
they were steep, having been made up of rough blocks of broken
marble and the capital of a fallen pillar. The coloured
lizards slipped away, startled, from before her feet, but she
was not frightened at them. Already she lifted her hand to
pull the door-bell- a hare's foot fastened to a string formed
the bell-handle of the imperial palace. She paused for a
moment- of what might she be thinking? Perhaps of the
beautiful Christ-child, dressed in gold and silver, which was
down below in the chapel, where the silver candlesticks
gleamed so bright, and where her little friends sung the hymns
in which she also could join? I know not. Presently she moved
again- she stumbled: the earthen vessel fell from her head,
and broke on the marble steps. She burst into tears. The
beautiful daughter of the imperial palace wept over the
worthless broken pitcher; with her bare feet she stood there
weeping; and dared not pull the string, the bell-rope of the
imperial palace!'


It was more than a fortnight since the Moon had shone. Now
he stood once more, round and bright, above the clouds, moving
slowly onward. Hear what the Moon told me.

'From a town in Fezzan I followed a caravan. On the margin
of the sandy desert, in a salt plain, that shone like a frozen
lake, and was only covered in spots with light drifting sand,
a halt was made. The eldest of the company- the water gourd
hung at his girdle, and on his head was a little bag of
unleavened bread- drew a square in the sand with his staff,
and wrote in it a few words out of the Koran, and then the
whole caravan passed over the consecrated spot. A young
merchant, a child of the East, as I could tell by his eye and
his figure, rode pensively forward on his white snorting
steed. Was he thinking, perchance, of his fair young wife? It
was only two days ago that the camel, adorned with furs and
with costly shawls, had carried her, the beauteous bride,
round the walls of the city, while drums and cymbals had
sounded, the women sang, and festive shots, of which the
bridegroom fired the greatest number, resounded round the
camel; and now he was journeying with the caravan across the

'For many nights I followed the train. I saw them rest by
the wellside among the stunted palms; they thrust the knife
into the breast of the camel that had fallen, and roasted its
flesh by the fire. My beams cooled the glowing sands, and
showed them the black rocks, dead islands in the immense ocean
of sand. No hostile tribes met them in their pathless route,
no storms arose, no columns of sand whirled destruction over
the journeying caravan. At home the beautiful wife prayed for
her husband and her father. 'Are they dead?' she asked of my
golden crescent; 'Are they dead?' she cried to my full disc.
Now the desert lies behind them. This evening they sit beneath
the lofty palm trees, where the crane flutters round them with
its long wings, and the pelican watches them from the branches
of the mimosa. The luxuriant herbage is trampled down, crushed
by the feet of elephants. A troop of negroes are returning
from a market in the interior of the land: the women, with
copper buttons in their black hair, and decked out in clothes
dyed with indigo, drive the heavily-laden oxen, on whose backs
slumber the naked black children. A negro leads a young lion
which he has brought, by a string. They approach the caravan;
the young merchant sits pensive and motionless, thinking of
his beautiful wife, dreaming, in the land of the blacks, of
his white lily beyond the desert. He raises his head, and- '
But at this moment a cloud passed before the Moon, and then
another. I heard nothing more from him this evening.


'I saw a little girl weeping,' said the Moon; 'she was
weeping over the depravity of the world. She had received a
most beautiful doll as a present. Oh, that was a glorious
doll, so fair and delicate! She did not seem created for the
sorrows of this world. But the brothers of the little girl,
those great naughty boys, had set the doll high up in the
branches of a tree and had run away.

'The little girl could not reach up to the doll, and could
not help her down, and that is why she was crying. The doll
must certainly have been crying too, for she stretched out her
arms among the green branches, and looked quite mournful. Yes,
these are the troubles of life of which the little girl had
often heard tell. Alas, poor doll! it began to grow dark
already; and suppose night were to come on completely! Was she
to be left sitting on the bough all night long? No, the little
maid could not make up her mind to that. 'I'll stay with you,'
she said, although she felt anything but happy in her mind.
She could almost fancy she distinctly saw little gnomes, with
their high-crowned hats, sitting in the bushes; and further
back in the long walk, tall spectres appeared to be dancing.
They came nearer and nearer, and stretched out their hands
towards the tree on which the doll sat; they laughed
scornfully, and pointed at her with their fingers. Oh, how
frightened the little maid was! 'But if one has not done
anything wrong,' she thought, 'nothing evil can harm one. I
wonder if I have done anything wrong?' And she considered.
'Oh, yes! I laughed at the poor duck with the red rag on her
leg; she limped along so funnily, I could not help laughing;
but it's a sin to laugh at animals.' And she looked up at the
doll. 'Did you laugh at the duck too?' she asked; and it
seemed as if the doll shook her head.'


'I looked down upon Tyrol,' said the Moon, 'and my beams
caused the dark pines to throw long shadows upon the rocks. I
looked at the pictures of St. Christopher carrying the Infant
Jesus that are painted there upon the walls of the houses,
colossal figures reaching from the ground to the roof. St.
Florian was represented pouring water on the burning house,
and the Lord hung bleeding on the great cross by the wayside.
To the present generation these are old pictures, but I saw
when they were put up, and marked how one followed the other.
On the brow of the mountain yonder is perched, like a
swallow's nest, a lonely convent of nuns. Two of the sisters
stood up in the tower tolling the bell; they were both young,
and therefore their glances flew over the mountain out into
the world. A travelling coach passed by below, the postillion
wound his horn, and the poor nuns looked after the carriage
for a moment with a mournful glance, and a tear gleamed in the
eyes of the younger one. And the horn sounded faint and more
faintly, and the convent bell drowned its expiring echoes.'


Hear what the Moon told me. 'Some years ago, here in
Copenhagen, I looked through the window of a mean little room.
The father and mother slept, but the little son was not
asleep. I saw the flowered cotton curtains of the bed move,
and the child peep forth. At first I thought he was looking at
the great clock, which was gaily painted in red and green. At
the top sat a cuckoo, below hung the heavy leaden weights, and
the pendulum with the polished disc of metal went to and fro,
and said 'tick, tick.' But no, he was not looking at the
clock, but at his mother's spinning wheel, that stood just
underneath it. That was the boy's favourite piece of
furniture, but he dared not touch it, for if he meddled with
it he got a rap on the knuckles. For hours together, when his
mother was spinning, he would sit quietly by her side,
watching the murmuring spindle and the revolving wheel, and as
he sat he thought of many things. Oh, if he might only turn
the wheel himself! Father and mother were asleep; he looked at
them, and looked at the spinning wheel, and presently a little
naked foot peered out of the bed, and then a second foot, and
then two little white legs. There he stood. He looked round
once more, to see if father and mother were still asleep- yes,
they slept; and now he crept softly, softly, in his short
little nightgown, to the spinning wheel, and began to spin.
The thread flew from the wheel, and the wheel whirled faster
and faster. I kissed his fair hair and his blue eyes, it was
such a pretty picture.

'At that moment the mother awoke. The curtain shook, she
looked forth, and fancied she saw a gnome or some other kind
of little spectre. 'In Heaven's name!' she cried, and aroused
her husband in a frightened way. He opened his eyes, rubbed
them with his hands, and looked at the brisk little lad. 'Why,
that is Bertel,' said he. And my eye quitted the poor room,
for I have so much to see. At the same moment I looked at the
halls of the Vatican, where the marble gods are enthroned. I
shone upon the group of the Laocoon; the stone seemed to sigh.
I pressed a silent kiss on the lips of the Muses, and they
seemed to stir and move. But my rays lingered longest about
the Nile group with the colossal god. Leaning against the
Sphinx, he lies there thoughtful and meditative, as if he were
thinking on the rolling centuries; and little love-gods sport
with him and with the crocodiles. In the horn of plenty sat
with folded arms a little tiny love-god, contemplating the
great solemn river-god, a true picture of the boy at the
spinning wheel- the features were exactly the same. Charming
and life-like stood the little marble form, and yet the wheel
of the year has turned more than a thousand times since the
time when it sprang forth from the stone. Just as often as the
boy in the little room turned the spinning wheel had the great
wheel murmured, before the age could again call forth marble
gods equal to those he afterwards formed.

'Years have passed since all this happened,' the Moon went
on to say. 'Yesterday I looked upon a bay on the eastern coast
of Denmark. Glorious woods are there, and high trees, an old
knightly castle with red walls, swans floating in the ponds,
and in the background appears, among orchards, a little town
with a church. Many boats, the crews all furnished with
torches, glided over the silent expanse- but these fires had
not been kindled for catching fish, for everything had a
festive look. Music sounded, a song was sung, and in one of
the boats the man stood erect to whom homage was paid by the
rest, a tall sturdy man, wrapped in a cloak. He had blue eyes
and long white hair. I knew him, and thought of the Vatican,
and of the group of the Nile, and the old marble gods. I
thought of the simple little room where little Bertel sat in
his night-shirt by the spinning wheel. The wheel of time has
turned, and new gods have come forth from the stone. From the
boats there arose a shout: 'Hurrah, hurrah for Bertel


'I will now give you a picture from Frankfort,' said the
Moon. 'I especially noticed one building there. It was not the
house in which Goethe was born, nor the old Council House,
through whose grated windows peered the horns of the oxen that
were roasted and given to the people when the emperors were
crowned. No, it was a private house, plain in appearance, and
painted green. It stood near the old Jews' Street. It was
Rothschild's house.

'I looked through the open door. The staircase was
brilliantly lighted: servants carrying wax candles in massive
silver candlesticks stood there, and bowed low before an old
woman, who was being brought downstairs in a litter. The
proprietor of the house stood bare-headed, and respectfully
imprinted a kiss on the hand of the old woman. She was his
mother. She nodded in a friendly manner to him and to the
servants, and they carried her into the dark narrow street,
into a little house, that was her dwelling. Here her children
had been born, from hence the fortune of the family had
arisen. If she deserted the despised street and the little
house, fortune would also desert her children. That was her
firm belief.'

The Moon told me no more; his visit this evening was far
too short. But I thought of the old woman in the narrow
despised street. It would have cost her but a word, and a
brilliant house would have arisen for her on the banks of the
Thames- a word, and a villa would have been prepared in the
Bay of Naples.

'If I deserted the lowly house, where the fortunes of my
sons first began to bloom, fortune would desert them!' It was
a superstition, but a superstition of such a class, that he
who knows the story and has seen this picture, need have only
two words placed under the picture to make him understand it;
and these two words are: 'A mother.'

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