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By the Almshouse Window by Hans Christian Andersen


NEAR the grass-covered rampart which encircles Copenhagen lies a great redhouse. Balsams and other flowers greet us from the long rows of windows in thehousewhose interior is sufficiently poverty-stricken; and poor and old are thepeople who inhabit it. The building is the Warton Almshouse.

Look! at the window there leans an old maid. She plucks the withered leaffrom the balsamand looks at the grass-covered ramparton which many childrenare playing. What is the old maid thinking of? A whole life drama is unfoldingitself before her inward gaze.

"The poor little childrenhow happy they are- how merrily they play andromp together! What red cheeks and what angels' eyes! but they have no shoes norstockings. They dance on the green rampartjust on the place whereaccordingto the old storythe ground always sank inand where a sportivefrolicsomechild had been lured by means of flowerstoys and sweetmeats into an open graveready dug for itand which was afterwards closed over the child; and from thatmomentthe old story saysthe ground gave way no longerthe mound remainedfirm and fastand was quickly covered with the green turf. The little peoplewho now play on that spot know nothing of the old taleelse would they fancythey heard a child crying deep below the earthand the dewdrops on each bladeof grass would be to them tears of woe. Nor do they know anything of the DanishKing who herein the face of the coming foetook an oath before all histrembling courtiers that he would hold out with the citizens of his capitalanddie here in his nest; they know nothing of the men who have fought hereor ofthe women who from here have drenched with boiling water the enemyclad inwhiteand 'biding in the snow to surprise the city.

"No! the poor little ones are playing with lightchildish spirits. Playonplay onthou little maiden! Soon the years will come- yesthose gloriousyears. The priestly hands have been laid on the candidates for confirmation;hand in hand they walk on the green rampart. Thou hast a white frock on; it hascost thy mother much laborand yet it is only cut down for thee out of an oldlarger dress! You will also wear a red shawl; and what if it hang too far down?People will only see how largehow very large it is. You are thinking of yourdressand of the Giver of all good- so glorious is it to wander on the greenrampart!

"And the years roll by; they have no lack of dark daysbut you haveyour cheerful young spiritand you have gained a friend- you know not how. Youmetohhow often! You walk together on the rampart in the fresh springon thehigh days and holidayswhen all the world come out to walk upon the rampartsand all the bells of the church steeples seem to be singing a song of praise forthe coming spring.

"Scarcely have the violets come forthbut there on the rampartjustopposite the beautiful Castle of Rosenbergthere is a tree bright with thefirst green buds. Every year this tree sends forth fresh green shoots. Alas! Itis not so with the human heart! Dark mistsmore in number than those that coverthe northern skiescloud the human heart. Poor child! thy friend's bridalchamber is a black coffinand thou becomest an old maid. From the almshousewindowbehind the balsamsthou shalt look on the merry children at playandshalt see thine own history renewed."

And that is the life drama that passes before the old maid while she looksout upon the rampartthe greensunny rampartwhere the childrenwith theirred cheeks and bare shoeless feetare rejoicing merrilylike the other freelittle birds. - -