Holger Danske by Hans Christian Andersen
IN Denmark there stands an old castle named Kronenburgclose by the Sound ofElsinorewhere large shipsboth EnglishRussianand Prussianpass byhundreds every day. And they salute the old castle with cannons"Boomboom" which is as if they said"Good-day." And the cannons ofthe old castle answer "Boom" which means "Many thanks." Inwinter no ships sail byfor the whole Sound is covered with ice as far as theSwedish coastand has quite the appearance of a high-road. The Danish and theSwedish flags waveand Danes and Swedes say"Good-day" and "Thankyou" to each othernot with cannonsbut with a friendly shake of the hand;and they exchange white bread and biscuits with each otherbecause foreignarticles taste the best.
But the most beautiful sight of all is the old castle of KronenburgwhereHolger Danske sits in the deepdark cellarinto which no one goes. He is cladin iron and steeland rests his head on his strong arm; his long beard hangsdown upon the marble tableinto which it has become firmly rooted; he sleepsand dreamsbut in his dreams he sees everything that happens in Denmark. Oneach Christmas-eve an angel comes to him and tells him that all he has dreamedis trueand that he may go to sleep again in peaceas Denmark is not yet inany real danger; but should danger ever comethen Holger Danske will rousehimselfand the table will burst asunder as he draws out his beard. Then hewill come forth in his strengthand strike a blow that shall sound in all thecountries of the world.
An old grandfather sat and told his little grandson all this about HolgerDanskeand the boy knew that what his grandfather told him must be true. As theold man related this storyhe was carving an image in wood to represent HolgerDansketo be fastened to the prow of a ship; for the old grandfather was acarver in woodthat isone who carved figures for the heads of shipsaccording to the names given to them. And now he had carved Holger Danskewhostood there erect and proudwith his long beardholding in one hand his broadbattle-axewhile with the other he leaned on the Danish arms. The oldgrandfather told the little boy a great deal about Danish men and women who haddistinguished themselves in olden timesso that he fancied he knew as much evenas Holger Danske himselfwhoafter allcould only dream; and when the littlefellow went to bedhe thought so much about it that he actually pressed hischin against the counterpaneand imagined that he had a long beard which hadbecome rooted to it. But the old grandfather remained sitting at his work andcarving away at the last part of itwhich was the Danish arms. And when he hadfinished he looked at the whole figureand thought of all he had heard and readand what he had that evening related to his little grandson. Then he nodded hisheadwiped his spectacles and put them onand said"Ahyes; HolgerDanske will not appear in my lifetimebut the boy who is in bed there may verylikely live to see him when the event really comes to pass." And the oldgrandfather nodded again; and the more he looked at Holger Danskethe moresatisfied he felt that he had carved a good image of him. It seemed to glow withthe color of life; the armor glittered like iron and steel. The hearts in theDanish arms grew more and more red; while the lionswith gold crowns on theirheadswere leaping up. "That is the most beautiful coat of arms in theworld" said the old man. "The lions represent strength; and theheartsgentleness and love." And as he gazed on the uppermost lionhethought of King Canutewho chained great England to Denmark's throne; and helooked at the second lionand thought of Waldemarwho untied Denmark andconquered the Vandals. The third lion reminded him of Margaretwho unitedDenmarkSwedenand Norway. But when he gazed at the red heartstheir colorsglowed more deeplyeven as flamesand his memory followed each in turn. Thefirst led him to a darknarrow prisonin which sat a prisonera beautifulwomandaughter of Christian the FourthEleanor Ulfeldand the flame became arose on her bosomand its blossoms were not more pure than the heart of thisnoblest and best of all Danish women. "Ahyes; that is indeed a nobleheart in the Danish arms" said the grandfather. and his spirit followedthe second flamewhich carried him out to seawhere cannons roared and theships lay shrouded in smokeand the flaming heart attached itself to the breastof Hvitfeldt in the form of the ribbon of an orderas he blew himself and hisship into the air in order to save the fleet. And the third flame led him toGreenland's wretched hutswhere the preacherHans Egederuled with love inevery word and action. The flame was as a star on his breastand added anotherheart to the Danish arms. And as the old grandfather's spirit followed the nexthovering flamehe knew whither it would lead him. In a peasant woman's humbleroom stood Frederick the Sixthwriting his name with chalk on the beam. Theflame trembled on his breast and in his heartand it was in the peasant's roomthat his heart became one for the Danish arms. The old grandfather wiped hiseyesfor he had known King Frederickwith his silvery locks and his honestblue eyesand had lived for himand he folded his hands and remained for sometime silent. Then his daughter came to him and said it was getting latethat heought to rest for a whileand that the supper was on the table.
"What you have been carving is very beautifulgrandfather" saidshe. "Holger Danske and the old coat of arms; it seems to me as if I haveseen the face somewhere."
"Nothat is impossible" replied the old grandfather; "but Ihave seen itand I have tried to carve it in woodas I have retained it in mymemory. It was a long time agowhile the English fleet lay in the roadson thesecond of Aprilwhen we showed that we were trueancient Danes. I was on boardthe Denmarkin Steene Bille's squadron; I had a man by my side whom even thecannon balls seemed to fear. He sung old songs in a merry voiceand fired andfought as if he were something more than a man. I still remember his facebutfrom whence he cameor whither he wentI know not; no one knows. I have oftenthought it might have been Holger Danske himselfwho had swam down to us fromKronenburg to help us in the hour of danger. That was my ideaand there standshis likeness."
The wooden figure threw a gigantic shadow on the walland even on part ofthe ceiling; it seemed as if the real Holger Danske stood behind itfor theshadow moved; but this was no doubt caused by the flame of the lamp not burningsteadily. Then the daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfatherand led him to alarge arm-chair by the table; and sheand her husbandwho was the son of theold man and the father of the little boy who lay in bedsat down to supper withhim. And the old grandfather talked of the Danish lions and the Danish heartsemblems of strength and gentlenessand explained quite clearly that there isanother strength than that which lies in a swordand he pointed to a shelfwhere lay a number of old booksand amongst them a collection of Holberg'splayswhich are much read and are so clever and amusing that it is easy tofancy we have known the people of those dayswho are described in them.
"He knew how to fight also" said the old man; "for he lashedthe follies and prejudices of people during his whole life."
Then the grandfather nodded to a place above the looking-glasswhere hung analmanacwith a representation of the Round Tower upon itand said "TychoBrahe was another of those who used a swordbut not one to cut into the fleshand bonebut to make the way of the stars of heaven clearand plain to beunderstood. And then he whose father belonged to my calling- yeshethe sonof the old image-carverhe whom we ourselves have seenwith his silvery locksand his broad shoulderswhose name is known in all lands;- yeshe was asculptorwhile I am only a carver. Holger Danske can appear in marbleso thatpeople in all countries of the world may hear of the strength of Denmark. Nowlet us drink the health of Bertel."
But the little boy in bed saw plainly the old castle of Kronenburgand theSound of Elsinoreand Holger Danskefar down in the cellarwith his beardrooted to the tableand dreaming of everything that was passing above him.
And Holger Danske did dream of the little humble room in which theimage-carver sat; he heard all that had been saidand he nodded in his dreamsaying"Ahyesremember meyou Danish peoplekeep me in your memoryIwill come to you in the hour of need."
The bright morning light shone over Kronenburgand the wind brought thesound of the hunting-horn across from the neighboring shores. The ships sailedby and saluted the castle with the boom of the cannonand Kronenburg returnedthe salute"Boomboom." But the roaring cannons did not awake HolgerDanskefor they meant only "Good morning" and "Thank you."They must fire in another fashion before he awakes; but wake he willfor thereis energy yet in Holger Danske. - -