There was once a merchant who was so rich that he could have paved a whole street with gold, and would even then have had enough left for a small alley. He did not do so; he knew the value of money better than to use it in this way. So clever was he that every shilling he put out brought him a crown, and so it continued as long as he lived.
His son inherited his wealth, and lived a merry life with it. He went to a masquerade every night, made kites out of five-pound notes, and threw pieces of gold into the sea instead of stones, making ducks and drakes of them.
In this manner he soon lost all his money. At last he had nothing left but a pair of slippers, an old dressing gown, and four shillings. And now all his companions deserted him. They would not walk with him in the streets, but one of them, who was very good-natured, sent him an old trunk with this message, “Pack up!”
“Yes,” he said, “it is all very well to say ‘pack up.'” But he had nothing left to pack, therefore he seated himself in the trunk.
It was a very wonderful trunk, for no sooner did any one press on the lock than the trunk could fly. He shut the lid and pressed the lock, when away flew the trunk up the chimney, with him in it, right up into the clouds. Whenever the bottom of the trunk cracked he was in a great fright, for if the trunk had fallen to pieces, he would have turned a tremendous somersault over the trees. However, he arrived safely in Turkey. He hid the trunk in a wood under some dry leaves and then went into the town. This he could do very well, for among the Turks people always go about in dressing gowns and slippers, just as he was.
He happened to meet a nurse with a little child. “I say, you Turkish nurse,” cried he, “what castle is that near the town, with the windows placed so high?”
“The Sultan’s daughter lives there,” she replied. “It has been prophesied that she will be very unhappy about a lover, and therefore no one is allowed to visit her unless the king and queen are present.”
“Thank you,” said the merchant’s son. So he went back to the wood, seated himself in his trunk, flew up to the roof of the castle, and crept through the window into the room where the princess lay asleep on the sofa. She awoke and was very much frightened, but he told her he was a Turkish angel who had come down through the air to see her. This pleased her very much. He sat down by her side and talked to her, telling her that her eyes were like beautiful dark lakes, in which the thoughts swam about like little mermaids; and that her forehead was a snowy mountain which contained splendid halls full of pictures. He related to her the story about the stork, who brings the beautiful children from the rivers. These stories delighted the princess, and when he asked her if she would marry him, she consented immediately.
“But you must come on Saturday,” she said, “for then my parents will take tea with me. They will be very proud when they find that I am going to marry a Turkish angel. But you must think of some very pretty stories to tell them, for they like to hear stories better than anything. My mother prefers one that is deep and moral, but my father likes something funny, to make him laugh.”
“Very well,” he replied, “I shall bring you no other marriage portion than a story”; and so they parted. But the princess gave him a sword studded with gold coins, and these he could make useful.
He flew away to the town and bought a new dressing gown, and afterwards returned to the wood, where he composed a story so as to be ready by Saturday; and that was no easy matter. It was ready, however, when he went to see the princess on Saturday. The king and queen and the whole court were at tea with the princess, and he was received with great politeness.
“Will you tell us a story?” said the queen; “one that is instructive and full of learning.”
“Yes, but with something in it to laugh at,” said the king.
“Certainly,” he replied, and commenced at once, asking them to listen attentively.
“There was once a bundle of matches that were exceedingly proud of their high descent. Their genealogical tree—that is, a great pine tree from which they had been cut—was at one time a large old tree in the wood. The matches now lay between a tinder box and an old iron saucepan and were talking about their youthful days. ‘Ah! then we grew on the green boughs,’ said they, ‘and every morning and evening we were fed with diamond drops of dew. Whenever the sun shone we felt his warm rays, and the little birds would relate stories to us in their songs. We knew that we were rich, for the other trees only wore their green dresses in summer, while our family were able to array themselves in green, summer and winter. But the woodcutter came like a great disaster, and our family fell under the ax. The head of the house obtained a situation as mainmast in a very fine ship and can sail round the world whenever he will. Other branches of the family were taken to different places, and our own office now is to kindle a light for common people. This is how such highborn people as we came to be in a kitchen.’
“‘Mine has been a very different fate,’ said the iron pot, which stood by the matches. ‘From my first entrance into the world I have been used to cooking and scouring. I am the first in this house when anything solid or useful is required. My only pleasure is to be made clean and shining after dinner and to sit in my place and have a little sensible conversation with my neighbors. All of us excepting the water bucket, which is sometimes taken into the courtyard, live here together within these four walls. We get our news from the market basket, but it sometimes tells us very unpleasant things about the people and the government. Yes, and one day an old pot was so alarmed that it fell down and was broken in pieces.’
“‘You are talking too much,’ said the tinder box; and the steel struck against the flint till some sparks flew out, crying, ‘We want a merry evening, don’t we?’
“‘Yes, of course,’ said the matches. ‘Let us talk about those who are the highest born.’
“‘No, I don’t like to be always talking of what we are,’ remarked the saucepan. ‘Let us think of some other amusement; I will begin. We will tell something that has happened to ourselves; that will be very easy, and interesting as well. On the Baltic Sea, near the Danish shore—’
“‘What a pretty commencement!’ said the plates. ‘We shall all like that story, I am sure.’
“‘Yes. Well, in my youth I lived in a quiet family where the furniture was polished, the floors scoured, and clean curtains put up, every fortnight.’
“‘What an interesting way you have of relating a story,’ said the carpet broom. ‘It is easy to perceive that you have been a great deal in society, something so pure runs through what you say.’
“‘That is quite true,’ said the water bucket; and it made a spring with joy and splashed some water on the floor.
“Then the saucepan went on with its story, and the end was as good as the beginning.
“The plates rattled with pleasure, and the carpet broom brought some green parsley out of the dust hole and crowned the saucepan. It knew this would vex the others, but it thought, ‘If I crown him to-day, he will crown me to-morrow.’
“‘Now let us have a dance,’ said the fire tongs. Then how they danced and stuck one leg in the air! The chair cushion in the corner burst with laughter at the sight.
“‘Shall I be crowned now?’ asked the fire tongs. So the broom found another wreath for the tongs.
“‘They are only common people after all,’ thought the matches. The tea urn was now asked to sing, but she said she had a cold and could not sing unless she felt boiling heat within. They all thought this was affectation; they also considered it affectation that she did not wish to sing except in the parlor, when on the table with the grand people.
“In the window sat an old quill pen, with which the maid generally wrote. There was nothing remarkable about the pen, except that it had been dipped too deeply in the ink; but it was proud of that.
“‘If the tea urn won’t sing,’ said the pen, ‘she needn’t. There’s a nightingale in a cage outside, that can sing. She has not been taught much, certainly, but we need not say anything this evening about that.’
“‘I think it highly improper,’ said the teakettle, who was kitchen singer and half brother to the tea urn, ‘that a rich foreign bird should be listened to here. Is it patriotic? Let the market basket decide what is right.’
“‘I certainly am vexed,’ said the basket, ‘inwardly vexed, more than any one can imagine. Are we spending the evening properly? Would it not be more sensible to put the house in order? If each were in his own place, I would lead a game. This would be quite another thing.’
“‘Let us act a play,’ said they all. At the same moment the door opened and the maid came in. Then not one stirred; they remained quite still, although there was not a single pot among them that had not a high opinion of himself and of what he could do if he chose.
“‘Yes, if we had chosen,’ each of them thought, ‘we might have spent a very pleasant evening.’
“The maid took the matches and lighted them, and dear me, how they spluttered and blazed up!
“‘Now then,’ they thought, ‘every one will see that we are the first. How we shine! What a light we give!’ But even while they spoke their lights went out.”
“What a capital story!” said the queen. “I feel as if I were really in the kitchen and could see the matches. Yes, you shall marry our daughter.”
“Certainly,” said the king, “thou shalt have our daughter.” The king said “thou” to him because he was going to be one of the family. The wedding day was fixed, and on the evening before, the whole city was illuminated. Cakes and sweetmeats were thrown among the people. The street boys stood on tiptoe and shouted “Hurrah,” and whistled between their fingers. Altogether it was a very splendid affair.
“I will give them another treat,” said the merchant’s son. So he went and bought rockets and crackers and every kind of fireworks that could be thought of, packed them in his trunk, and flew up with it into the air. What a whizzing and popping they made as they went off! The Turks, when they saw the sight, jumped so high that their slippers flew about their ears. It was easy to believe after this that the princess was really going to marry a Turkish angel.
As soon as the merchant’s son had come down to the wood after the fireworks, he thought, “I will go back into the town now and hear what they think of the entertainment.” It was very natural that he should wish to know. And what strange things people did say, to be sure! Every one whom he questioned had a different tale to tell, though they all thought it very beautiful.
“I saw the Turkish angel myself,” said one. “He had eyes like glittering stars and a head like foaming water.”
“He flew in a mantle of fire,” said another, “and lovely little cherubs peeped out from the folds.”
He heard many more fine things about himself and that the next day he was to be married. After this he went back to the forest to rest himself in his trunk. It had disappeared! A spark from the fireworks which remained had set it on fire. It was burned to ashes. So the merchant’s son could not fly any more, nor go to meet his bride. She stood all day on the roof, waiting for him, and most likely she is waiting there still, while he wanders through the world telling fairy tales—but none of them so amusing as the one he related about the matches.