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- The Making of an American - 5/49 -

nowadays who think it is not proper to tell children fairy-stories. I am sorry for those children. I wonder what they will give them instead. Algebra, perhaps. Nice lot of counting machines we shall have running the century that is to come! But though we loved Andersen, we were not above playing our pranks upon him when occasion offered. In those days Copenhagen was girt about with great earthen walls, and there were beautiful walks up there under the old lindens. On moonlight nights when the smell of violets was in the air, we would sometimes meet the poet there, walking alone. Then we would string out irreverently in Indian file and walk up, cap in hand, one after another, to salute him with a deeply respectful "Good evening, Herr Professor!" That was his title. His kind face would beam with delight, and our proffered fists would be buried in the very biggest hand, it seemed to us, that mortal ever owned,--Andersen had very large hands and feet,--and we would go away gleefully chuckling and withal secretly ashamed of ourselves. He was in such evident delight at our homage.

They used to tell a story of Andersen at the time that made the whole town laugh in its sleeve, though there was not a bit of malice in it. No one had anything but the sincerest affection for the poet in my day; his storm and stress period was then long past. He was, it was said, greatly afraid of being buried alive. So that it might not happen, he carefully pinned a paper to his blanket every night before he went to sleep, on which was written: "I guess I am only in a trance." [Footnote: In Danish: "Jeg er vist skindod."] Needless to say, he was in no danger. When he fell into his long sleep, the whole country, for that matter the whole world, stood weeping at his bier.

Four years I dreamt away in Copenhagen while I learned my trade. The intervals when I was awake were when she came to the town on a visit with her father, or, later, to finish her education at a fashionable school. I mind the first time she came. I was at the depot, and I rode with her on the back of their coach, unknown to them. So I found out what hotel they were to stay at. I called the next day, and purposely forgot my gloves. Heaven knows where I got them from I probably borrowed them. Those were not days for gloves. Her father sent them to my address the next day with a broad hint that, having been neighborly, I needn't call again. He was getting square for the ball. But my wife says that I was never good at taking a hint, except in the way of business, as a reporter. I kept the run of her all the time she was in the city. She did not always see me, but I saw her, and that was enough. I watched her home from school in the evening, and was content, though she was escorted by a cadet with a pig-sticker at his side. He was her cousin, and had given me his word that he cared nothing about her. He is a commodore and King Christian's Secretary of Navy now. When she was sick, I pledged my Sunday trousers for a dollar and bought her a bouquet of flowers which they teased her about until she cried and threw it away. And all the time she was getting more beautiful and more lovable. She was certainly the handsomest girl in Copenhagen, which is full of charming women.

[Illustration: Down by her Garden, on the River Nibs.]

There were long spells when she was away, and when I dreamt on undisturbed. It was during one of these that I went to the theatre with my brother to see a famous play in which an assassin tried to murder the heroine, who was asleep in an armchair. Now, this heroine was a well-known actress who looked singularly like Elizabeth. As she sat there with the long curls sweeping her graceful neck, in imminent danger of being killed, I forgot where I was, what it was, all and everything except that danger threatened Elizabeth, and sprang to my feet with a loud cry of murder, trying to make for the stage. My brother struggled to hold me back. There was a sensation in the theatre, and the play was held up while they put me out. I remember King George of Greece eying me from his box as I was being transported to the door, and the rascal murderer on the stage looking as if he had done something deserving of praise. Outside, in the cold, my brother shook me up and took me home, a sobered and somewhat crestfallen lad. But, anyhow, I don't like that kind of play. I don't see why the villain on the stage is any better than the villain on the street. There are enough of them and to spare. And think if he _had_ killed her!

The years passed, and the day came at last when, having proved my fitness, I received my certificate as a duly enrolled carpenter of the guild of Copenhagen, and, dropping my tools joyfully and in haste, made a bee-line for Ribe, where she was. I thought that I had moved with very stealthy steps toward my goal, having grown four years older than at the time I set the whole community by the ears. But it could not have been so, for I had not been twenty-four hours in town before it was all over that I had come home to propose to Elizabeth; which was annoying but true. By the same sort of sorcery the town knew in another day that she had refused me, and all the wise heads wagged and bore witness that they could have told me so. What did I, a common carpenter, want at the "castle"? That was what they called her father's house. He had other plans for his pretty daughter.

As for Elizabeth, poor child! she was not yet seventeen, and was easily persuaded that it was all wrong; she wept, and in the goodness of her gentle heart was truly sorry; and I kissed her hands and went out, my eyes brimming over with tears, feeling that there was nothing in all the wide world for me any more, and that the farther I went from her the better. So it was settled that I should go to America. Her mother gave me a picture of her and a lock of her hair, and thereby roused the wrath of the dowagers once more; for why should I be breaking my heart over Elizabeth in foreign parts, since she was not for me? Ah, but mothers know better! I lived on that picture and that curl six long years.

[Illustration: The Picture her Mother gave me]

One May morning my own mother went to the stagecoach with me to see me off on my long journey. Father stayed home. He was ever a man who, with the tenderest of hearts, put on an appearance of great sternness lest he betray it. God rest his soul! That nothing that I have done caused him greater grief in his life than the separation that day is sweet comfort to me now. He lived to take Elizabeth to his heart, a beloved daughter. For me, I had been that morning, long before the sun rose, under her window to bid her good-by, but she did not know it. The servants did, though, and told her of it when she got up. And she, girl-like, said, "Well, I didn't ask him to come;" but in her secret soul I think there was a small regret that she did not see me go.

So I went out in the world to seek my fortune, the richer for some $40 which Ribe friends had presented to me, knowing that I had barely enough to pay my passage over in the steerage. Though I had aggravated them in a hundred ways and wholly disturbed the peace of the old town, I think they liked me a little, anyway. They were always good, kind neighbors, honest and lovable folk. I looked back with my mother's blessing yet in my ears, to where the gilt weather-vanes glistened on her father's house, and the tears brimmed over again. And yet, such is life, presently I felt my heart bound with a new courage. All was not lost yet. The world was before me. But yesterday the chance befell that, in going to communion in the old Domkirke, I knelt beside her at the altar rail. I thought of that and dried my eyes. God is good. He did not lay it up against me. When next we met there, we knelt to be made man and wife, for better or worse; blessedly, gloriously for better, forever and aye, and all our troubles were over. For had we not one another?



The steamer _Iowa_, from Glasgow, made port, after a long and stormy voyage, on Whitsunday, 1870. She had come up during the night, and cast anchor off Castle Garden. It was a beautiful spring morning, and as I looked over the rail at the miles of straight streets, the green heights of Brooklyn, and the stir of ferryboats and pleasure craft on the river, my hopes rose high that somewhere in this teeming hive there would be a place for me. What kind of a place I had myself no clear notion of. I would let that work out as it could. Of course I had my trade to fall back on, but I am afraid that is all the use I thought of putting it to. The love of change belongs to youth, and I meant to take a hand in things as they came along. I had a pair of strong hands, and stubbornness enough to do for two; also a strong belief that in a free country, free from the dominion of custom, of caste, as well as of men, things would somehow come right in the end, and a man get shaken into the corner where he belonged if he took a hand in the game. I think I was right in that. If it took a lot of shaking to get me where I belonged, that was just what I needed. Even my mother admits that now. To tell the truth, I was tired of hammer and saw. They were indissolubly bound up with my dreams of Elizabeth that were now gone to smash. Therefore I hated them. And straightway, remembering that the day was her birthday, and accepting the fact as a good omen, I rebuilt my air-castles and resolved to try on a new tack. So irrational is human nature at twenty-one, when in love. And isn't it good that it is?

In all of which I have made no account of a factor which is at the bottom of half our troubles with our immigrant population, so far as they are not of our own making: the loss of reckoning that follows uprooting; the cutting loose from all sense of responsibility, with the old standards gone, that makes the politician's job so profitable in our large cities, and that of the patriot and the housekeeper so wearisome. We all know the process. The immigrant has no patent on it. It afflicts the native, too, when he goes to a town where he is not known. In the slum it reaches its climax in the second generation, and makes of the Irishman's and the Italian's boys the "toughs" who fight the battles of Hell's Kitchen and Frog Hollow. It simply means that we are creatures of environment, that a man everywhere is largely what his neighbors and his children think him to be, and that government makes for our moral good too, dreamers and anarchists to the contrary notwithstanding. But, simple as it is, it has been too long neglected for the safety of the man and of the State. I am not going to discuss here plans for mending this neglect, but I can think of three that would work; one of them does work, if not up to the top notch--the public school. In its ultimate development as the neighborhood centre of things, I would have that the first care of city government, always and everywhere, at whatever expense. An efficient parish districting is another. I think we are coming to that. The last is a rigid annual enrolment--the school census is good, but not good enough--for vaccination purposes, jury duty, for military purposes if you please. I do not mean for conscription, but for the ascertainment of the fighting strength of the State in case of need--for anything that would serve as an excuse. It is the enrolment itself that I think would have a good effect in making the man feel that he is counted on for something; that he belongs as it were, instead of standing idle and watching a procession go by, in which there is

The Making of an American - 5/49

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