The silver shilling


El chelín de plata

There was once a shilling, which came forth from the mint springing and shouting, "Hurrah! now I am going out into the wide world." And truly it did go out into the wide world. The children held it with warm hands, the miser with a cold and convulsive grasp, and the old people turned it about, goodness knows how many times, while the young people soon allowed it to roll away from them. The shilling was made of silver, it contained very little copper, and considered itself quite out in the world when it had been circulated for a year in the country in which it had been coined. One day, it really did go out into the world, for it belonged to a gentleman who was about to travel in foreign lands. This gentleman was not aware that the shilling lay at the bottom of his purse when he started, till he one day found it between his fingers. "Why," cried he, "here is a shilling from home; well, it must go on its travels with me now!" and the shilling jumped and rattled for joy, when it was put back again into the purse.

Here it lay among a number of foreign companions, who were always coming and going, one taking the place of another, but the shilling from home was always put back, and had to remain in the purse, which was certainly a mark of distinction. Many weeks passed, during which the shilling had travelled a long distance in the purse, without in the least knowing where he was. He had found out that the other coins were French and Italian; and one coin said they were in this town, and another said they were in that, but the shilling was unable to make out or imagine what they meant. A man certainly cannot see much of the world if he is tied up in a bag, and this was really the shilling's fate. But one day, as he was lying in the purse, he noticed that it was not quite closed, and so he slipped near to the opening to have a little peep into society. He certainly had not the least idea of what would follow, but he was curious, and curiosity often brings its own punishment. In his eagerness, he came so near the edge of the purse that he slipped out into the pocket of the trousers; and when, in the evening, the purse was taken out, the shilling was left behind in the corner to which it had fallen. As the clothes were being carried into the hall, the shilling fell out on the floor, unheard and unnoticed by any one. The next morning the clothes were taken back to the room, the gentleman put them on, and started on his journey again; but the shilling remained behind on the floor. After a time it was found, and being considered a good coin, was placed with three other coins. "Ah," thought the shilling, "this is pleasant; I shall now see the world, become acquainted with other people, and learn other customs."

"Do you call that a shilling?" said some one the next moment. "That is not a genuine coin of the country,– it is false; it is good for nothing."

Now begins the story as it was afterwards related by the shilling himself.

"'False! good for nothing!' said he. That remark went through and through me like a dagger. I knew that I had a true ring, and that mine was a genuine stamp. These people must at all events be wrong, or they could not mean me. But yes, I was the one they called 'false, and good for nothing.'

'Then I must pay it away in the dark,' said the man who had received me. So I was to be got rid of in the darkness, and be again insulted in broad daylight.

'False! good for nothing!' Oh, I must contrive to get lost, thought I. And I trembled between the fingers of the people every time they tried to pass me off slyly as a coin of the country. Ah! unhappy shilling that I was! Of what use were my silver, my stamp, and my real value here, where all these qualities were worthless. In the eyes of the world, a man is valued just according to the opinion formed of him. It must be a shocking thing to have a guilty conscience, and to be sneaking about on account of wicked deeds. As for me, innocent as I was, I could not help shuddering before their eyes whenever they brought me out, for I knew I should be thrown back again up the table as a false pretender. At length I was paid away to a poor old woman, who received me as wages for a hard day's work. But she could not again get rid of me; no one would take me. I was to the woman a most unlucky shilling. 'I am positively obliged to pass this shilling to somebody,' said she; 'I cannot, with the best intentions, lay by a bad shilling. The rich baker shall have it,– he can bear the loss better than I can. But, after all, it is not a right thing to do.'

'Ah!' sighed I to myself, 'am I also to be a burden on the conscience of this poor woman? Am I then in my old days so completely changed?' The woman offered me to the rich baker, but he knew the current money too well, and as soon as he received me he threw me almost in the woman's face. She could get no bread for me, and I felt quite grieved to the heart that I should be cause of so much trouble to another, and be treated as a cast-off coin. I who, in my young days, felt so joyful in the certainty of my own value, and knew so well that I bore a genuine stamp. I was as sorrowful now as a poor shilling can be when nobody will have him. The woman took me home again with her, and looking at me very earnestly, she said, 'No, I will not try to deceive any one with thee again. I will bore a hole through thee, that everyone may know that thou art a false and worthless thing; and yet, why should I do that? Very likely thou art a lucky shilling. A thought has just struck me that it is so, and I believe it. Yes, I will make a hole in the shilling,' said she, 'and run a string through it, and then give it to my neighbor's little one to hang round her neck, as a lucky shilling.' So she drilled a hole through me.

It is really not at all pleasant to have a hole bored through one, but we can submit to a great deal when it is done with a good intention. A string was drawn through the hole, and I became a kind of medal. They hung me round the neck of a little child, and the child laughed at me and kissed me, and I rested for one whole night on the warm, innocent breast of a child.

In the morning the child's mother took me between her fingers, and had certain thoughts about me, which I very soon found out. First, she looked for a pair of scissors, and cut the string.

'Lucky shilling!' said she, 'certainly this is what I mean to try.' Then she laid me in vinegar till I became quite green, and after that she filled up the hole with cement, rubbed me a little to brighten me up, and went out in the twilight hour to the lottery collector, to buy herself a ticket, with a shilling that should bring luck. How everything seemed to cause me trouble. The lottery collector pressed me so hard that I thought I should crack. I had been called false, I had been thrown away,– that I knew; and there were many shillings and coins with inscriptions and stamps of all kinds lying about. I well knew how proud they were, so I avoided them from very shame. With the collector were several men who seemed to have a great deal to do, so I fell unnoticed into a chest, among several other coins.

Whether the lottery ticket gained a prize, I know not; but this I know, that in a very few days after, I was recognized as a bad shilling, and laid aside. Everything that happened seemed always to add to my sorrow. Even if a man has a good character, it is of no use for him to deny what is said of him, for he is not considered an impartial judge of himself.

A year passed, and in this way I had been changed from hand to hand; always abused, always looked at with displeasure, and trusted by no one; but I trusted in myself, and had no confidence in the world. Yes, that was a very dark time.

At length one day I was passed to a traveller, a foreigner, the very same who had brought me away from home; and he was simple and true-hearted enough to take me for current coin. But would he also attempt to pass me? and should I again hear the outcry, 'False! good-for-nothing!' The traveller examined me attentively, 'I took thee for good coin,' said he; then suddenly a smile spread all over his face. I have never seen such a smile on any other face as on his. 'Now this is singular,' said he, 'it is a coin from my own country; a good, true, shilling from home. Some one has bored a hole through it, and people have no doubt called it false. How curious that it should come into my hands. I will take it home with me to my own house.'

Joy thrilled through me when I heard this. I had been once more called a good, honest shilling, and I was to go back to my own home, where each and all would recognize me, and know that I was made of good silver, and bore a true, genuine stamp. I should have been glad in my joy to throw out sparks of fire, but it has never at any time been my nature to sparkle. Steel can do so, but not silver. I was wrapped up in fine, white paper, that I might not mix with the other coins and be lost; and on special occasions, when people from my own country happened to be present, I was brought forward and spoken of very kindly. They said I was very interesting, and it was really quite worth while to notice that those who are interesting have often not a single word to say for themselves.

At length I reached home. All my cares were at an end. Joy again overwhelmed me; for was I not good silver, and had I not a genuine stamp? I had no more insults or disappointments to endure; although, indeed, there was a hole through me, as if I were false; but suspicions are nothing when a man is really true, and every one should persevere in acting honestly, for an will be made right in time. That is my firm belief," said the shilling.
Érase una vez un chelín. Cuando salió de la ceca, pegó un salto y gritó, con su sonido metálico «¡Hurra! ¡Me voy a correr mundo!». Y, efectivamente, éste era su destino.

El niño lo sujetaba con mano cálida, el avaro con mano fría y húmeda; el viejo le daba mil vueltas, mientras el joven lo dejaba rodar. El chelín era de plata, con muy poco cobre, y llevaba ya todo un año corriendo por el mundo, es decir, por el país donde lo habían acuñado. Pero un día salió de viaje al extranjero. Era la última moneda nacional del monedero de su dueño, el cual no sabía ni siquiera que lo tenía, hasta que se lo encontró entre los dedos.

- ¡Toma! ¡Aún me queda un chelín de mi tierra! - exclamó - ¡Hará el viaje conmigo! -. Y la pieza saltó y cantó de alegría cuando la metieron de nuevo en el bolso. Y allí estuvo junto a otros compañeros extranjeros, que iban y venían, dejándose sitio unos a otros mientras el chelín continuaba en su lugar. Era una distinción que se le hacía.

Llevaban ya varias semanas de viaje, y el chelín recorría el vasto mundo sin saber fijamente dónde estaba. Oía decir a las otras monedas que eran francesas o italianas. Una explicaba que se encontraban en tal ciudad, pero el chelín no podía formarse idea. Nada se ve del mundo cuando se permanece siempre metido en el bolso, y esto le ocurría a él. Pero un buen día se dio cuenta de que el monedero no estaba cerrado, por lo que se asomó a la abertura, para echar una mirada al exterior. Era una imprudencia, pero pudo más la curiosidad, y esto se paga. Resbaló y cayó al bolsillo del pantalón, y cuando, a la noche, fue sacado de él el monedero, nuestro chelín se quedó donde estaba y fue a parar al vestíbulo con las prendas de vestir; allí se cayó al suelo, sin que nadie lo oyera ni lo viese. A la mañana siguiente volvieron a entrar las prendas en la habitación; el dueño se las puso y se marchó, pero el chelín se quedó atrás. Alguien lo encontró y lo metió en su bolso, para que tuviera alguna utilidad.

«Siempre es interesante ver el mundo - pensó el chelín -, conocer a otras gentes, otras costumbres».

- ¿Qué moneda es ésta? - exclamó alguien -. No es del país. Debe ser falsa, no vale.

Y aquí empieza la historia del chelín, tal y como él la contó más tarde.

- ¡Falso! ¡Que no valgo! Aquello me hirió hasta lo más profundo - dijo el chelín -. Sabía que era de buena plata, que tenía buen sonido, y el cuño auténtico. «Esta gente se equivoca - pensé - o tal vez no hablan de mí». Pero sí, a mí se referían: me llamaban falso e inútil. «Habrá que pasarlo a oscuras», dijo el hombre que me había encontrado; y me pasaron en la oscuridad, y a la luz del día volví a oír pestes: «¡Falso, no vale! Tendremos que arreglarnos para sacárnoslo de encima».

Y el chelín temblaba entre los dedos cada vez que lo colaban disimuladamente, haciéndolo pasar por moneda del país.

- ¡Mísero de mí! ¿De qué me sirve mi plata, mi valor, mi cuño, si nadie los estima? Para el mundo nada vale lo que uno posee, sino sólo la opinión que los demás se han formado de ti. Debe ser terrible tener la conciencia cargada, haber de deslizarse por caminos tortuosos, cuando yo, que soy inocente, sufro tanto sólo porque tengo las apariencias en contra. Cada vez que me sacaban, sentía pavor de los ojos que iban a verme. Sabía que me rechazarían, que me tirarían sobre la mesa, como si fuese mentira y engaño.
Una vez fui a parar a manos de una mujer vieja y pobre, en pago de su duro trabajo del día; y ella no encontraba medio de sacudírseme; nadie quería aceptarme, era una verdadera desgracia para la pobre.
- No tengo más remedio que colarlo a alguien - decía -; no puedo permitirme el lujo de guardar un chelín falso. El rico panadero se lo tragará; no le hace tanta falta como a mí; pero, sea como fuere, es una mala acción de mi parte.
- ¡Vaya! ¡Encima voy a ser una carga sobre la conciencia de esta vieja! - suspiró el chelín -. ¿Tanto he cambiado en estos últimos tiempos?
La mujer se fue a la tienda del rico panadero, pero el hombre era perito en materia de monedas buenas y falsas. No me quiso, y hube de sufrir que me arrojaran a la cara de la vieja, la cual tuvo que volverse sin pan. Mi corazón sangraba, pues sólo me habían acuñado para causar disgustos a los demás. ¡Yo, que de joven tanta confianza había merecido y había estado tan seguro y orgulloso de mi valor y de la autenticidad de mi cuño! Me invadió una melancolía tal como sólo un pobre chelín puede sentir cuando nadie lo quiere.
Pero la mujer se me llevó nuevamente a su casa y me miró con cariño, con dulzura y bondad. «¡No, no engañaré a nadie más contigo! - dijo -. Voy a agujerearte para que todo el mundo vea que eres falso; y, no obstante - se me ocurre una idea -, tal vez eres una moneda de la suerte. Se me acaba de ocurrir este pensamiento, y quiero creer en él. Haré un agujero en el chelín, le pasaré un cordón y lo colgaré del cuello del pequeñuelo de la vecina como moneda de la suerte».
Y me agujereó, operación nada agradable, pero que uno soporta cuando se hace con buena intención. Me pasaron un cordón por el orificio, y quedé convertido en una especie de medallón. Colgáronme del cuello del niño, que me sonrió y me besó; y toda la noche descansé sobre el pecho calentito e inocente de la criatura.
A la mañana siguiente, la madre me cogió entre sus dedos y me examinó; pronto comprendí que traía alguna intención. Cogiendo las tijeras, cortó la cuerdecita que me ataba.
- ¿El chelín de la suerte? - dijo -. Pronto lo veremos -. Me puso en vinagre, con lo que muy pronto estuve completamente verde. Luego taponó el agujero y, tras haberme frotado un poco, al atardecer se fue conmigo a la administración de loterías para comprar un número, que debía ser el de la suerte.
¡Qué mal lo pasé! Sentíame oprimido como si fuese a romperme; sabía que me calificarían de falso y me rechazarían, y ello en presencia de todo aquel montón de monedas, todas con su cara y su inscripción, de que tan orgullosas podían sentirse. Pero me fue ahorrada aquella vergüenza; había tanta gente en el despacho de loterías, y el hombre estaba tan atareado, que fui a parar a la caja junto con las demás piezas. Si luego salió premiado el billete, es cosa que ignoro; lo que sí sé es que al día siguiente fui reconocido por falso, puesto aparte y destinado a seguir engañando, siempre engañando. Esto es insoportable cuando se tiene una personalidad real y verdadera, y nadie puede negar que yo la tengo.
Durante mucho tiempo fui pasando de mano en mano, de casa en casa, recibido siempre con improperios, y siempre mal visto. Nadie fiaba en mí; yo había perdido toda confianza en mí mismo y en el mundo. ¡Fueron duros aquellos tiempos!
Un día llegó un viajero; me pusieron en sus manos, y el hombre fue lo bastante cándido para aceptarme como moneda corriente. Pero cuando llegó el momento de pagar conmigo, volví a oír el sempiterno insulto: «No vale. Es falso».
- Pues yo lo tomé por bueno - dijo el hombre, examinándome con detenimiento. Y, de repente, se dibujé una amplia sonrisa en su cara, cosa que no se había producido en ninguna de cuantas me habían mirado. - ¡Qué es esto! - exclamó -. Pero si es una moneda de mi país, un bueno y auténtico chelín de casa, que agujerearon y ahora tienen por falso. ¡Vaya caso divertido! Me lo guardaré y me lo llevaré a mi tierra.
Me estremecí de alegría al oírme llamar chelín bueno y legítimo. Volvería a mi patria, donde todos me conocerían, y sabrían que soy de buena plata y de auténtico cuño. Habría echado chispas de puro gozo, pero eso de despedir chispas no me va, lo hace el acero, pero no la plata.
Me envolvieron en un papel fino y blanco para no confundirme con las demás monedas y pasarme por descuido. Y sólo me sacaban en ocasiones solemnes, cuando acertaban a encontrarse paisanos míos, y siempre hablaban muy bien de mí. Decían que era interesante; es chistoso eso de ser interesante sin haber pronunciado una sola palabra. Y al fin volví a mi patria. Mis penalidades tocaron a su fin y comenzó mi dicha. Era de buena ley, llevaba el cuño legitimo, y el haber sido agujereado para marcarme como falso no suponía desventaja alguna. Con tal de no serlo, la cosa no tiene importancia. Hay que tener paciencia y perseverar, que con el tiempo se hace justicia. Ésta es mi creencia - terminó el chelín.

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