The most incredible thing


Det utroligste

Whosoever could do the most incredible thing was to have the King's daughter and half of his kingdom.

The young men, yes, and the old ones too, bent their heads, their muscles, and their hearts upon winning. To do what they thought was the most incredible thing, two ate themselves to death, and one died of overdrinking. Even the boys in the street practiced spitting on their own backs, which they supposed was the most incredible thing anyone could do.

On a certain day there was to be an exhibition of things most incredible and everyone showed his best work. Judges were appointed, ranging from children of three to old men of ninety. It was a grand exposition of things out of the ordinary, but everybody promptly agreed that most incredible of all was a great hall clock - an extraordinary contraption, outside and in.

When the clock struck, out came lifelike figures to tell the hour. There were twelve separate performances of these moving figures, with speaking and singing. People said that nothing so incredible had ever before been seen.

The clock struck one, and there stood Moses on the mountain, writing in the tablets of the law the first great commandment: "There is only one true God." The clock struck two, and there were Adam and Eve, just as they first met in the Garden of Eden. Were ever two people so lucky! They didn't own so much as a clothes-closet, and they didn't need one. At the stroke of three the three Holy Kings appeared. One was as black as a coal, but he couldn't help that. The sun had blackened him. These kings brought incense and precious gifts. When the stroke of four sounded, the seasons advanced in their order. Spring carried a budding bough of beech, on which a cuckoo sang. Summer had for her sign a grasshopper on a ripening ear of wheat. Autumn had only an empty stork's nest, for the birds had flown away. Winter's tame crow perched on the corner of the stove, and told old tales of bygone days. At five o'clock there was a procession of the five senses. Sight was represented by a man who made spectacles. Hearing was a noisy coppersmith. Smell was a flower girl with violets for sale. Taste came dressed as a cook. Feeling was a mourner, with crape down to his heels. As the clock struck six, there sat a gambler, throwing dice for the highest cast of all, and they fell with the sixes up. Then came the seven days of the week, or they might be the seven deadly sins. People could not be sure which they were, for they were not easy to distinguish. Next came a choir of monks, to sing the eight o'clock evensong. At the stroke of nine, the nine muses appeared. One was an astronomer, one kept the books of history, and the others were connected with the theater. Ten o'clock struck, and Moses came forth again, this time with the tables in which were written all ten of God's commandments. When the clock struck again, boys and girls danced out. They played and sang this song:

"All the way to heaven
The clock struck eleven."
And eleven it struck. Then came the stroke of twelve. Out marched the night watchman, wearing his cap and carrying his morning star - which is a truncheon tipped with spikes. He sang the old watch song:

"'Twas at the midnight hour
Our Savior He was born-"
and as he sang the roses about him unfolded into the heads of angels, with rainbow-tinted wings.

It was good to hear. It was charming to see. The whole thing was a work of extraordinary craftsmanship, and everyone agreed that it was the most incredible thing. The artist who had made it was young, generous, and sincere, a true friend, and a great help to his poor father and mother. He was altogether worthy of the Princess and of half the kingdom.

On the day that they were to proclaim who had won, the whole town was bedecked and be-draped. The Princess sat on her throne. It had been newly stuffed with horsehair for the occasion, but it was still far from comfortable or pleasant. The judges winked knowingly at the man they had chosen, who stood there so happy and proud. His fortune was made, for had he not done the most incredible thing!

"No!" a tall, bony, powerful fellow bawled out. "Leave it to me, I am the man to do the most incredible thing," and then he swung his ax at the craftsman's clock. Crack, crash, smash! There lay the whole thing. Here rolled the wheels, and there flew the hairsprings. It was wrecked and ruined. "I did that," said the lout. "My work beat his, and bowled you over, all in one stroke. I have done the most incredible thing."

"To destroy such a work of art!" said the judges. "Why it's the most incredible thing we've ever seen." And the people said so too. So he was awarded the Princess and half the kingdom, because a law is a law, even if it happens to be a most incredible one.

They blew trumpets from the ramparts and the city towers, and they announced, "The wedding will now take place." The Princess was not especially happy about it, but she looked pretty and she wore her most expensive clothes. The church was at its best by candle-light, late in the evening. The ladies of the court sang in processions, and escorted the bride. The lords sung, and accompanied the groom. From the way he strutted and swaggered along, you'd think that nothing could ever bowl him over.

Then the singing stopped. It was so still that you could have heard a pin fall in the street. But it was not quiet for long. Crash! crash! the great church doors flew open, and boom! boom! all the works of the clock came marching down the church aisle and halted between the bride and the groom.

Dead men cannot walk the earth. That's true, but a work of art does not die. Its shape may be shattered, but the spirit of art cannot be broken. The spirit of art jested, and that was no joke.

. To all appearances it stood there as if it were whole, and had never been wrecked. The clock struck one hour right after another, from one to twelve, and all the figures poured forth. First Moses came, shining as if bright flames issued from his forehead. He cast the heavy stone tablets of the law at the bridegroom's feet, and tied them to the church floor. "I cannot lift them again," said Moses, "for you have broken my arms. Stand where you are!"

Then came Adam and Eve, the three Wise Men of the East, and the four Seasons. Each told him the disagreeable truth. "Shame on you!" But he was not ashamed.

All the figures of all the hours marched out of the clock, and they grew wondrous big. There was scarcely room for the living people. And at the stroke of twelve out strode the watchman, with his cap and his many-spiked morning star. There was a strange commotion. The watchman went straight to the bridegroom, and smote him on the forehead with his morning star.

"Lie where you are," said the watchman. "A blow for a blow. We have taken out vengeance and the master's too, so now we will vanish."

And vanish they did, every cogwheel and figure. But the candles of the church flared up like flowers of fire, and the gilded stars under the roof cast down long clear shafts of light, and the organ sounded though no man had touched it. The people all said that they had lived to see the most incredible thing.

"Now," the Princess commanded, "summon the right man, the craftsman who made the work of art. He shall be my husband and my lord."

He stood beside her in the church. All the people were in his train. Everyone was happy for him, everyone blessed him, and there was no one who was envious. And that was the most incredible thing.
Den som kunne gøre det utroligste skulle have kongens datter og det halve rige.

De unge mennesker, ja de gamle med, anspændte alle deres tanker, sener og muskler; to spiste sig til døde og én drak sig ihjel for at gøre det utroligste efter deres smag, men det var ikke på den måde, det skulle gøres. Små gadedrenge øvede sig hver i at spytte sig selv på ryggen, det anså de for det utroligste.

På en bestemt dag skulle det fremvises, hvad enhver havde at fremvise som det utroligste. Der var ansat som dommere børn fra tre år til folk op i de halvfems. Der blev en hel udstilling af utrolige ting, men alle var snart enige om at det utroligste var her et stort stueur i foderal, mærkværdigt udspekuleret uden og inden. Ved hvert klokkeslæt kom der levende billeder, som viste hvad klokken var slået; det var hele tolv forestillinger med bevægelige figurer og med sang og tale.

"Det var det utroligste!" sagde folk.

Klokken slog et, og Moses stod på bjerget og nedskrev på lovens tavler det første troens bud: "Der er kun en eneste sand Gud."

Klokken slog to, da viste sig Paradisets have hvor Adam og Eva mødtes, lykkelige begge to, uden at eje så meget som et klædeskab; de behøvede det heller ikke.

Ved slaget tre viste sig de hellige tre konger, den ene kulsort, det han ikke kunne gøre ved, solen havde sværtet ham. De kom med røgelse og kostbarheder.

På slaget fire kom årstiderne: Foråret med kukkeren på en udsprunget bøgegren, sommeren med en græshoppe på det modne kornaks, efteråret med en tom storkerede, fuglen var fløjet bort, vinteren med en gammel krage, der kunne fortælle historier i kakkelovnskrogen, gamle minder.

Slog klokken fem viste sig de fem sanser: Synet kom som brillemager, hørelsen som kobbersmed, lugten solgte violer og skovmærker, smagen var kok og følelsen bedemand med sørgeflor ned til hælene.

Klokken slog seks: Der sad en spiller, han kastede terning og denne vendte den højeste side op, og der stod seks.

Så kom de syv ugedage eller de syv dødssynder, det var folk ikke enige om, de hørte jo sammen og var ikke let at skille.

Så kom et munkekor og sang ottesang.

På slaget ni fulgte de ni muser; en var ansat ved astronomien, en ved det historiske arkiv, resten hørte til teatret.

På slaget ti trådte atter Moses frem med lovens tavler, der stod alle Guds bud og de var ti.

Klokken slog igen, da hoppede og sprang små drenge og piger, de legede en leg og sang dertil: "Bro, bro, brille, klokken er slået elve!" og det var den slået.

Nu slog den tolv, da trådte frem vægteren med kabuds og morgenstjerne, han sang det gamle vægtervers:

"Det var ved midnatstide,
Vor Frelser han blev født!"

og idet han sang, voksede roser, og de blev til englehoveder, båret af regnbuefarvede vinger.

Det var yndigt at høre, det var dejligt at se. Det hele var et mageløst kunstværk, det utroligste, sagde alle mennesker.

Kunstneren var en ung mand, hjertensgod, barneglad, tro ven og hjælpsom mod sine fattige forældre; han fortjente prinsessen og det halve rige.

Afgørelsens dag var kommet, hele byen stod i stads og prinsessen sad på landets trone, der havde fået nye krølhår, men dog ikke var blevet mere magelig og behagelig. Dommerne rundt om så så poliske hen til ham der skulle vinde, og han stod frejdig og glad, hans lykke var vis, han havde gjort det utroligste.

"Nej, det skal nu jeg gøre!" råbte lige i det samme en lang knoklet kraftkarl. "Jeg er manden for det utroligste!" og så svingede han en en stor økse mod kunstværket.

"Krisk! krask! kvas!" der lå det hele. Hjul og fjedre fór rundt om, alt var ødelagt!

"Det kunne jeg!" sagde manden; "min gerning har slået hans og slået eder alle sammen; jeg har gjort det utroligste!"

"Ødelægge et sådant kunstværk!" sagde dommerne. "Ja det var det utroligste!"

Hele folket sagde det samme, og så skulle han have prinsessen og det halve rige, for en lov er en lov, selv om den er det utroligste.

Der blæses fra volden og fra alle byens tårne: "Brylluppet skal fejres!" Prinsessen var slet ikke fornøjet for det, men yndig så hun ud og kostelig var hun klædt på. Kirken strålede med lys, sent på aftnen, det tager sig bedst ud. Byens adelige jomfruer sang og førte bruden frem, ridderskabet sang og fulgte brudgommen; han knejsede som om han aldrig kunne knækkes over.

Nu holdt sangen op, der blev så stille at man kunne have hørt en knappenål falde til jorden, men midt i den stilhed fløj med bulder og brag den store kirkedør op og – "bum! bum!" der kom hele urværket marcherende midt igennem kirkegangen og stillede sig mellem brud og brudgom. Døde mennesker kan ikke gå igen, det ved vi meget godt, men et kunstværk kan gå igen, legemet var slået i stykker, men ikke ånden, kunstånden spøgede, og det var ingen spøg.

Kunstværket stod der livagtigt som da det var helt og urørt. Klokkeslagene lød, det ene på det andet, lige til tolv, og skikkelserne der myldrede frem; først Moses; der lyste ligesom ildsluer ud af hans pande, han kastede lovens tunge stentavler på brudgommens fødder og bandt dem til kirkegulvet.

"Jeg kan ikke løfte dem igen!" sagde Moses. "Du har slået armene af mig! stå som du står!"

Nu kom Adam og Eva, de Vise fra Østerland og de fire årstider, hver sagde ham ubehagelige sandheder, "skam dig!"

Men han skammede sig ikke.

Alle de skikkelser, hvert klokkeslæt havde at fremvise, trådte ud af uret, og alle voksede de i forfærdelig størrelse, det var som om der ikke blev plads for de virkelige mennesker. Og da ved tolvte slag vægteren trådte ud med kabuds og morgenstjerne blev der et underligt røre; vægteren gik lige ind på brudgommen og slog ham for panden med morgenstjernen.

"Lig der!" sagde han, "Lige for lige! Vi er hævnet og mester med! vi forsvinder!"

Og så forsvandt hele kunstværket; men lysene rundt om i kirken blev til store lysblomster, og de forgyldte stjerner under loftet sendte lange, klare stråler, orglet klang af sig selv. Alle mennesker sagde at det var det utroligste, de havde oplevet.

"Vil De så tilsige den rigtige!" sagde prinsessen. "Han, som gjorde kunstværket, han skal være min ægtemand og herre!"

Og han stod i kirken, det hele folk var hans følgeskab, alle glædede sig, alle velsignede ham; der var ikke én, der var misundelig, – ja det var det utroligste!

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