The comet


El cometa

Now there came a comet with its shiny nucleus and its menacing tail. People from the great castles and people from the poor huts gazed at it. So did the crowd in the street, and so did the man who went his solitary way across the pathless heath. Everyone had his own thoughts. "Come and look at the omen from heaven. Come out and see this marvelous sight," they cried, and everyone hastened to look.

But a little boy and his mother still stayed inside their room. The tallow candle was burning and the mother thought she saw a bit of wood-shaving in the light. The tallow formed a jagged edge around the candle, and then it curled. The mother believed these were signs that her son would soon die. The wood-shaving was circling toward him. This was an old superstition, but she believed it. The little boy lived many more years on earth. Indeed he lived to see the comet return sixty years later.

The boy did not see the wood-shaving in the candle-light, and his thoughts were not about the comet which then, for the first time in his life, shone brightly in the sky. He sat quietly with an earthenware bowl before him. The bowl was filled with soapy water, into which he dipped the head of a clay pipe. Then he put the pipe stem in his mouth, and blew soap bubbles, large and small. They quivered and spun in beautiful colors. They changed from yellow to red, and from red to purple or blue and then they turned bright green, like leaves when the sun shines through them.

The boy's mother said, "May God grant you many more years on earth - as many years as the bubbles you are blowing."

"So many, so many!" he cried. "I can never blow all the soapy water into bubbles. There goes one year, there goes another one; see how they fly!" he exclaimed, as bubbles came loose from his pipe and floated away. A few of them blew into his eye, where they burned, and smarted, and made his tears flow. In every bubble he saw a picture of the future, glimmering and glistening.

"This is the time to look at the comet," cried their neighbors. "Come outdoors. Don't sit in your room."

The mother took her boy by the hand. He had to put aside his clay pipe, and stop playing with the soap bubbles, because there was a comet to see.

The boy saw the bright ball of fire, with its shining tail. Some said it was three yards long, while others insisted it was several million yards long - such a difference.

Most of the people who said these things were dead and buried when the comet came again. But the little boy, toward whom the wood-shaving had circled, and of whom his mother thought, "He will soon die," still lived on, though he had grown old and his hair was white. "White hairs are the flowers of age," the saying goes, and he had many such flowers. He was an old schoolmaster. The school children thought him very wise and learned, because he knew history, and geography, and all there is to be known about the heavens and the stars.

"Everything comes again," he said. "If you will pay attention to people and events, you will learn that they always come back. There may be a hundred years between, or many hundreds of years, but once again we shall see the same character, in another coat and in another country." And the schoolmaster then told them about William Tell, who was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head, but before he shot the arrow he hid another one in his shirt, to shoot into the heart of the wicked Gessler. This happened in Switzerland. But many years before, the same thing happened in Denmark to Palnatoke. He too was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head, and he too hid an arrow in his shirt to avenge the cruelty. And more than a thousand years before that, the same story was written in Egypt. It happened before and will happen again, just as sure as the comet returns. "Off it flies into space, and is gone for years, but still it comes back." He spoke of the comet that was expected, the same comet he had seen as a boy.

The schoolmaster knew what went on in the skies, and he thought much about it too, but he did not neglect history and geography. His garden was laid out in the shape of a map of Denmark. In it grew herbs and flowers which flourished in different parts of the land.

"Fetch me peas," he said, and they went to the garden bed that represented Laaland. "Fetch me buckwheat," he said, and they fetched it from Langeland. Lovely blue gentian was planted in Skagen, and the shining Christthorn in Silkeborg. Towns and cities were marked with small statues. Here was the dragon and St. Knud, who stood for Odense. Absalon with the bishop's staff stood for Sorö. The little boat with oars marked the site of Aarhus. In the schoolmaster's garden you could learn the geography of Denmark, but first you had to be instructed by him and that was a pleasure.

Now that the comet was expected again, he told about it, and he told what people had said in the old days when it last was seen. They had said that a comet year was a good year for wine, and that water could be mixed with this wine without being detected. Therefore the wine merchants thought well of a comet year.

For fourteen days and fourteen nights the sky was clouded over. They could not see the comet, and yet it was there. The old schoolmaster sat in his little chamber next to the schoolroom. The old Bornholm clock of his grandfather's time stood in the corner, though its heavy lead weights moved neither up nor down, nor did its pendulum ever swing. The little cuckoo, that used to come out to call the passing hours, had long ago stopped doing his duty. The clock neither struck nor ticked. The clock was decidedly out of order.

But the old clavichord at which he sat had been made in his parents' time, and it still had a tune or two left in it. The strings could still play. Tremulous though they were, they could play for him the melodies of a whole lifetime. As the old man heard them, he remembered many things, both pleasant and sad, that had happened in the long years which had gone by since he was a little boy and saw the comet. Now that the comet had come again, he remembered what his mother had said about the wood-shaving circling toward him. He remembered the fine soap bubbles he had blown, one for every year of his life he had said as he looked at them glistening and gleaming in wonderful colors. He saw in them all his pleasures and sorrow - everything, both the good and the bad. He saw the child at his play, and the youth with his fancies. His whole life, iridescent and bright, floated before his eyes. And in that splendor he saw his future too, in bubbles of time to come.

First the old man heard from the strings of the clavichord the melodies of times past, and saw the bubbles of years gone by, colored with memories. He heard his grandmother's knitting song:

"Surely no Amazon
The first stockings knit."
And then the strings played the songs his old nurse used to sing for him:

"There were so many dangers
In this world to pass through
For people who were young
And only little knew."
Now the melodies of his first ball were playing, for the minuet and molinasky - soft melancholy tunes that brought tears to the old man's eyes. A roaring war-march, then a psalm, then happy tunes. The years whirled past as if they were those bubbles he blew when he was a little boy.

His eyes were turned towards the window. A cloud billowed across the sky, and as it passed he saw the comet with its shining nucleus and its shining, misty veil. It seemed to him as though it were only yesterday evening when he had last seen that comet, yet a whole busy lifetime lay between that evening and this. Then he was a child, looking through bubbles into the future; now those bright bubbles were all behind him. Once more he had a child's outlook and a child's faith. His eyes sparkled, and his hands struck the keys. There was the sound of a breaking string.

"Come out and see," cried his neighbors. "The comet is here, and the sky is clear. Come out and look!"

The old schoolmaster did not answer. He had gone where he could see more clearly. His soul was on a journey far greater than the comet's, and the realm to which it went was far more spacious than that in which the comet moved.

Again the comet was seen from the high castle and from the lowly hut. The crowd in the street gazed up at it, and so did the man who went his solitary way across the pathless heath. But the schoolmaster's soul was seen by God, and by those dear ones who had gone before him, and whom he longed to see.
Y vino el cometa: brilló con su núcleo de fuego, y amenazó con la cola. Lo vieron desde el rico palacio y desde la pobre buhardilla; lo vio el gentío que hormiguea en la calle, y el viajero que cruza llanos desiertos y solitarios; y a cada uno inspiraba pensamientos distintos.

- ¡Salid a ver el signo del cielo! ¡Salid a contemplar este bellísimo espectáculo! - exclamaba la gente; y todo el mundo se apresuraba, afanoso de verlo.

Pero en un cuartucho, una mujer trabajaba junto a su hijito. La vela de sebo ardía mal, chisporroteando, y la mujer creyó ver una viruta en la bujía; el sebo formaba una punta y se curvaba, y aquello, creía la mujer, significaba que su hijito no tardaría en morir, pues la punta se volvía contra él.

Era una vieja superstición, pero la mujer la creía.

Y justamente aquel niño estaba destinado a vivir muchos años sobre la Tierra, y a ver aquel mismo cometa cuando, sesenta años más tarde, volviera a aparecer.

El pequeño no vio la viruta de la vela, ni pensó en el astro que por primera vez en su vida brillaba en el cielo. Tenía delante una cubeta con agua jabonosa, en la que introducía el extremo de un tubito de arcilla y, aspirando con la boca por el otro, soplaba burbujas de jabón, unas grandes, y otras pequeñas. Las pompas temblaban y flotaban, presentando bellísimos y cambiantes colores, que iban del amarillo al rojo, del lila al azul, adquiriendo luego un tono verde como hoja del bosque cuando el sol brilla a su través.

- Dios te conceda tantos años en la Tierra como pompas de jabón has hecho - murmuraba la madre.

- ¿Tantos, tantos? - dijo el niño -. No terminaré nunca las pompas con toda esta agua -. Y el niño sopla que sopla.

- ¡Ahí vuela un año, ahí vuela un año! ¡Mira cómo vuelan! - exclamaba a cada nueva burbuja que se soltaba y emprende el vuelo. Algunas fueron a pararle a los ojos; aquello escocía, quemaba; le asomaron las lágrimas. En cada burbuja veía una imagen de lo por venir, brillante, fúlgida.

- ¡Ahora se ve el cometa! - gritaron los vecinos -. ¡Salid a verlo, no os quedéis ahí dentro!

La madre salió entonces, llevando el niño de la mano; el pequeño hubo de dejar el tubito de arcilla y las pompas de jabón; había salido el cometa.

Y el niño vio la reluciente bola de fuego y su cola radiante; algunos decían que medía tres varas, otros, que millones de varas. Cada uno ve las cosas a su modo.

- Nuestros hijos y nietos tal vez habrán muerto antes de que vuelva a aparecer - decía la gente.

La mayoría de los que lo dijeron habían muerto, en efecto, cuando apareció de nuevo. Pero el niño cuya muerte, al creer de su madre, había sido pronosticada por la viruta de la vela, estaba vivo aún, hecho un anciano de blanco cabello. «Los cabellos blancos son las flores de la vejez», reza el proverbio; y el hombre tenía muchas de aquellas flores. Era un anciano maestro de escuela.

Los alumnos decían que era muy sabio, que sabía Historia y Geografía y cuanto se conoce sobre los astros.

- Todo vuelve - decía -. Fijaos, si no, en las personas y en los acontecimientos, y os daréis cuenta de que siempre vuelven, con ropaje distinto, en otros países.

Y el maestro les contó el episodio de Guillermo Tell, que de un flechazo hubo de derribar una manzana colocada sobre la cabeza de su hijo; pero antes de disparar la flecha escondió otra en su pecho, destinada a atravesar el corazón del malvado Gessler. La cosa ocurrió en Suiza, pero muchos años antes había sucedido lo mismo en Dinamarca, con Palnatoke . También él fue condenado a derribar una manzana puesta sobre la cabeza de su hijo, y también él se guardó una flecha para vengarse. Y hace más de mil años los egipcios contaban la misma historia. Todo volverá, como los cometas, los cuales se alejan, desaparecen y vuelven.

Y habló luego del que esperaban, y que él había visto de niño. El maestro sabía mucho acerca de los cuerpos celestes y pensaba sobre ellos, pero sin olvidarse de la Historia y la Geografía.

Había dispuesto su jardín de manera que reprodujese el mapa de Dinamarca. Estaban allí las plantas y las flores tal como aparecen distribuidas en las diferentes regiones del país.

- Tráeme guisantes - decía, y uno iba al bancal que representaba Lolland -. Tráeme alforfón - y el interpelado iba a Langeland. La hermosa genciana azul y el romero se encontraban en Skagen, y la brillante oxiacanta, en Silkeborg. Las ciudades estaban señaladas con pedestales. Ahí estaba San Canuto con el dragón, indicando Odense; Absalón con el báculo episcopal indicaba Söro; el barquito con los remos significaba que en aquel lugar se levantaba la ciudad de Aarhus. En el jardín del maestro se aprendía muy bien el mapa de Dinamarca, pero antes había que escuchar sus explicaciones, y ésta era lo mejor de todo.

Estaban esperando el cometa, y el buen señor les habló de él y de lo que la gente había dicho y pensado sobre el astro muchos años antes, cuando había aparecido por última vez.

- El año del cometa es año de buen vino - dijo -. Se puede diluir con agua sin que se note. Los bodegueros deben esperar con agrado los años del cometa.

Por espacio de dos semanas enteras el cielo estuvo nublado, y, a pesar de que el meteoro brillaba en el firmamento, no podía verse.

El anciano maestro estaba en su pequeña vivienda contigua a la escuela. El reloj de Bornholm, heredado de sus padres, estaba en un rincón, pero las pesas de plomo no subían ni bajaban, ni el péndulo se movía; el cuclillo, que antaño salía a anunciar las horas, llevaba ya varios años encerrado, silencioso, en su casita. Todo en la habitación permanecía callado y mudo; el reloj no andaba. Mas el viejo piano, también del tiempo de los padres, tenía aún vida; las cuerdas aunque algo roncas podían tocar las melodías de toda una generación. El viejo recordaba muchas cosas, alegres y tristes, sucedidas durante todos aquellos años, desde que, siendo niño, viera el cometa, hasta su actual reaparición. Recordaba lo que su madre había dicho acerca de la viruta de la vela, y recordaba también las hermosas pompas de jabón, cada una de los cuales era un año - había dicho la mujer -, y ¡qué brillantes y ricas de colores! Todo lo bello y lo agradable se reflejaba en ellas: juegos de infancia e ilusiones de juventud, todo el vasto mundo desplegado a la luz del sol, aquel mundo que él quería recorrer. Eran burbujas del futuro. Ya viejo, arrancaba de las cuerdas del piano melodías del tiempo pasado: burbujas de la memoria, con las irisaciones del recuerdo. La canción de su madre mientras hacía calceta, el arrullo de la niñera...

Ora sonaban melodías del primer baile, un minueto y una polca, ora notas suaves y melancólicas que hacían asomar las lágrimas a los ojos del anciano. Ya era una marcha guerrera, ya un cántico religioso, ya alegres acordes, burbuja tras burbuja, como las que de niño soplara en el agua jabonosa.

Tenía fija la mirada en la ventana; por el cielo desfilaba una nube, y de pronto vio el cometa en el espacio sereno, con su brillante núcleo y su cabellera.

Parecióle que lo había visto la víspera, y, sin embargo, mediaba toda una larga vida entre aquellos días y los presentes. Entonces era un niño, y las pompas le decían: «¡Adelante!». Hoy todo le decía: «¡Atrás!». Sintió revivir los pensamientos y la fe de su infancia, sus ojos brillaron, y su mano se posó sobre las teclas; el piano emitió un sonido como si saltara una cuerda.

- ¡Venid a ver el cometa! - gritaban los vecinos -. El cielo está clarísimo. ¡Venid a verlo!

El anciano maestro no contestó; había partido para verlo mejor; su alma seguía una órbita mayor, en unos espacios más vastos que los que recorre el cometa. Y otra vez lo verán desde el rico palacio y desde la pobre buhardilla, desde el bullicio de la calle y desde el erial que cruza el viajero solitario. Su alma fue vista por Dios v por los seres queridos que lo habían precedido en la tumba y con los que él ansiaba volver a reunirse.

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