The gate key


Every key has a history, and there are many kinds of keys - a chamberlain's key, a watch key, Saint Peter's key. We could tell you about all the keys; but now we will only tell about the councilor's gate key.
It had come into being at a locksmith's, but it might well have believed it had been made by a blacksmith, the way the man had worked on it with hammer and file. It was too large for one's trouser pocket, so it had to be put into the overcoat pocket. There it often lay in utter darkness; yet it had its own special hanging place on the wall, beside a childhood silhouette of the Councilor, in which he looked like a dumpling dressed in a frilled shirt.
It is said that every human being acquires in his character and conduct something from the astrological sign under which he has been born, such as the Bull, the Virgin, or Scorpion, as they are called in the almanacs. The Councilor's wife never mentioned the names of any of these; she said that her husband was born under the sign of the "Wheelbarrow," for he always had to be pushed on. His father had pushed him into an office; his mother had pushed him into matrimony; and his wife had pushed him on to become a councilor; the latter fact, however, she did not mention, being a good, sensible sort of woman who kept quiet in the right place and spoke and pushed in the right place.
He was now along in years - "well proportioned," as he said himself - a well-read man, good-natured, and "key wise" as well, which is something we shall better understand later. He was always in a good humor, loved all mankind, and liked to talk to everybody. If he went into the city, it was difficult to get him home again when his wife was not with him to push him along. He simply had to talk to every acquaintance he met; he had a lot of acquaintances, and this often made him late for dinner. Mrs. Councilor would sit at the window and watch for him. "Here he comes," she would say to the maid; "put the pot on the fire. Now he has stopped to speak to somebody, so take the pot off, or the food will be cooked too much. Now he is finally coming, so put the pot on again!"
But then he wouldn't come, after all. He would stand right under the windows of the house and nod up to her, and if an acquaintance happened to come by then, he could not keep from saying a few words to him; if while he was talking to this one, another one came by, he would take hold of the first by the buttonhole, clasp the other's hand, and shout to a third who wanted to pass by.
This was a heavy trial for the patience of the Councilor's wife. "Councilor! Councilor!" she would shout. "Yes, indeed, that man was born under the sign of the 'Wheelbarrow'; he won't move unless he is being pushed."
He was very fond of visiting bookshops and looking at books and periodicals. He would give his bookseller a small amount of money for the privilege of reading the new books at home, which meant he had permission to cut the leaves of the books along the side but not across the top, for then they could not be sold as new. He was a living newspaper, but a harmless one, and knew everything about engagements, weddings, and funerals, book talk and town talk. Yes, and he even gave out mysterious hints regarding matters no one else knew anything about. This mysterious information came from the gate key.
The Councilor and his wife had lived in their own house since young and newly married, and they'd had that very same gate key since then; but in those days they hadn't yet come to know of its unusual powers, and not until much later had they learned of these.
It was at the time of King Frederick VI. Copenhagen had no gas then; it had only train-oil lamps; it had no Tivoli Gardens, no Casino Theater, no streetcars, and no railways. It had very few public amusements, compared with what it now has. On Sundays one would go for a walk, out beyond the city gates, to the Assistants' Churchyard, read the inscriptions on the graves, sit down in the grass, eat from one's food basket, and drink a glass of schnapps; or one would go to Frederiksberg, where in front of the palace military music was played; and many people would go to see the royal family rowing about in the small, narrow canals of the park, with old King himself steering the boat, and he and the Queen greeting everyone, without distinction of rank. Well-to-do families from the city would come to this place and drink their afternoon tea. They could get hot water at a small farmhouse in the field outside the park, but they had to bring their own tea service along.
One sunny Sunday afternoon the Councilor and his wife went out to the park, the servant girl walking in front with the tea service, a basket of food, and a "sip of Spendrup's Liqueur."
"Bring the gate key," Mrs. Councilor had said, "so we can get in by ourselves when we return; you know, they lock the gate here at nightfall, and the bell cord was broken this morning! It will be late before we get home! After we've been in Frederiksberg Park, we are going to the Casorti's theater at Vesterbro to see the pantomime, Harlequin, Chief of the Thrashers. You see them come down in a cloud; it costs two kroner a person."
And so they went to Frederiksberg, heard the music, saw the royal barges with their waving banners, saw the old King and the white swans. After drinking some very good tea, they hurried away; yet they did not arrive at the theater on time.
The rope-dance act was finished, the dance on stilts was finished, and the pantomime had started; as always, they were too late, and that was the Councilor's fault; every moment on the road, he had stopped to speak to an acquaintance. Within the theater he also found several good friends, and when the performance was over, he and his wife were obliged to accompany a family home at Vesterbro, to enjoy a glass of punch; they would stop for only ten minutes. But this was extended to a whole hour. They talked and talked. Especially entertaining was a Swedish baron, or, perhaps, he was German, for the Councilor hadn't quite caught which - but, on the other hand, the trick with the key that the baron taught him he caught and always remembered. This trick was extraordinarily interesting! He could get the key to answer everything that one asked it, even questions pertaining to the most secret matters. The Councilor's gate key was particularly suitable for performing this trick; its bit was heavy, and this part had to hang downward. The baron let the handle of the key rest on the forefinger of his right hand. There it hung loosely and lightly, and every pulsebeat in his finger could put it into motion and make it swing; and if this failed to happen, the baron understood how unnoticeably to make it turn as he wished. Every turn denoted a letter of the alphabet, and as many letters as desired, from A on through the alphabet, could be indicated by the key. When the first letter of a word was revealed, the key would turn to the opposite side; then the next letter would be sought, and in that manner one got whole words, sentences, and answers to questions. It was all a fake, but at any rate provided amusement; this was the Councilor's first thought, but he did not retain it; he became very engrossed in the key.
"Husband! Husband!" cried Mrs. Councilor. "The Westgate closes at twelve o'clock! We won't get through; we have only a quarter of an hour in which to hurry there."
They had to hurry indeed; several persons who were going into the city soon got ahead of them. They finally approached the outside guardhouse as the clock was striking twelve and the gates were being slammed shut. A number of people were locked out, and among these were the Councilor and his wife, with their servant girl, tea service, and empty food basket. Some stood there greatly frightened, while others were very annoyed, each reacting in his own manner. What could be done? Fortunately, an ordinance had been passed of late that one of the city gates, the Northgate, should not be locked at night, and there pedestrians were allowed to slip through the guardhouse into the city.
The road to the Northgate was by no means short, but the weather was fine, the sky bright with starlight and shooting stars; the frogs were croaking in the ditches and ponds. The party began singing and sang one song after another, but the Councilor did not sing; nor did he look up at the stars or even look at his own feet. He then fell down at the edge of the ditch, the full length of his body alongside it. One might have thought that he had had too much to drink; but it was not the punch, it was the key, that had gone to his head, and kept on turning there. They finally reached the Northgate guardhouse, slipped across the bridge and into the city.
"Now I am happy again, " said the Councilor's wife. "Here's our gate."
"But where is the gate key," said the Councilor. It was neither in the back pocket nor in the side pocket.
"Good gracious!" cried the Councilor's wife. "Haven't you got the key? You must have lost it after letting the Baron use it for the key trick. How will we get in now? You know the bell cord was broken this morning, and the watchman doesn't have a key to our home. We are in a hopeless situation!"
The servant girl began to cry. The Councilor was the only one who showed presence of mind.
"We must break in a windowpane at the grocer's downstairs!" he said, "get him up, and then we can get into the building."
He broke one pane; he broke two. "Petersen!" he shouted, as the put the handle of his umbrella in through the windowpanes. Whereupon the grocer's daughter began to scream loudly. The grocer threw open the door of his shop and shouted, "Watchman!" And before he had a chance to see and recognize the Councilor's family and let them in, the watchman blew his whistle, and in the next street another watchman answered and whistled. People appeared in the windows. "Where is the fire? Where is the cause of all the excitement?" they asked, and were still asking such questions even after the Councilor was in his room. There he removed his overcoat - and in it lay the gate key, not in the pocket, but inside the lining; it had slipped through a hole that should not have been in the pocket.
From that night on, the gate key held a unique and great importance, not only when it was taken out in the evening, but also when remaining at home, for in either case the Councilor would show how clever he was by making the key answer questions. He would think of the most likely answer and then pretend to let the key give it. Finally, he himself came to believe in the power of the key.
That was not so of the Pharmacist, however, a young man closely related to the Councilor's wife. The Pharmacist had a good head, a critical mind; he had, as mere schoolboy, sent in critical articles on books and the theater, but without his signature, which is always important. He was what one calls a bel esprit, but he by no means believed in spirits, and, least of all, key spirits.
"Yes, I believe, I believe," he said, "blessed Mr. Councilor, I believe in gate keys and all key spirits as firmly as I believe in that new science which is beginning to become known the table dance and the spirits in old and new furniture. Have you heard about that? I have! I have doubted - you know I am a skeptic - but I have been converted by reading, in a quite reliable foreign paper, a dreadful story. Councilor, can you imagine! I will give you the story as I read it. Two clever children had seen their parents raise the spirits in a large dining-room table. The little ones were alone, and decided they would try, in the same manner, to rub life into an old chest of drawers. Life came, for a spirit was awakened; but it did not tolerate the commands of mere children; it arose, and the chest of drawers creaked; it then shot out the drawers, and with its wooden legs put each of the children in a separate drawer. The chest of drawers then ran off with them, out the open door, down the stairs, into the street, and over to the canal, where it jumped out into the water and drowned both the children. Their little bodies were given Christian burial, but the chest of drawers was taken to the town hall, tried for murder, and burned alive in the market place! I have read this," said the Pharmacist, "in a foreign paper; it is not something I have invented myself. This is the truth, and may the key take me if it isn't! I swear to it - on my oath!"
The Councilor found that such talk was all too much like a coarse joke. The two could never speak agreeably about the key. The Pharmacist was key ignorant.
The Councilor made progress in his key knowledge; the key was his diversion and channel of wisdom.
One evening, as the Councilor was getting ready to go to bed, and was half undressed, there was a knock on the front door. It was the shopkeeper from downstairs who was calling at this late hour; he, too, was half undressed, but he had suddenly had a thought, he said, which he was afraid he would not be able to retain through the night.
"It is my daughter Lotte-Lene I must talk about. She is a beautiful girl, and has been confirmed, and now I would like to see her well provided for."
"But I am not as yet a widower!" said the Councilor, and chuckled, "and I have no son to offer her."
"You must understand me, Councilor," said the man from downstairs. "She can play the piano, and she can sing; you must be able to hear her upstairs. You have no idea of all the things that little girl is able to do; she can talk and entertain people. She is made for the stage, and that is a good course for pretty girls of good families to take; they may even have an opportunity to marry a count, though neither I nor Lotte-Lene are thinking of that. She can indeed sing and play the piano, so the other day I took her up to the singing school. She sang; but she doesn't have a beer bass, as I call it in women, nor does she shriek those very high canary-bird notes which they now demand in singers, and so they advised her strongly against pursuing that career. Well, I thought, if she can't become a singer, she can always become an actress; that only requires the ability to speak. Today I talked about it to the Instructor as they call him. 'Is she well read?' he asked. 'No, ' I said, 'not at all.' 'But it is necessary for an actress to be well read!' said he. She still has time for that, was my opinion; and then I went home. She can go to a rental library and read what is to be had there, I thought.
"But then tonight, while I was undressing, it occurred to me - why rent books when one can borrow them? The Councilor has plenty of books; let her read them; there is enough reading here for her, and it could be hers gratis!"
"Lotte-Lene is a nice girl," said the Councilor, "a beautiful girl! She shall have books to read. But has she what one calls grit and spirit - aptitude - genius? And, what is equally important, has she luck with her?"
"She has twice won in the lottery," said the grocer from downstairs. "Once she won a clothes cabinet, and another time six pairs of bed sheets; that I call luck, and that she has!"
"I shall ask the key," said the Councilor. And he placed the key on his right forefinger, and on the grocer's right forefinger as well, and then the key swung and gave out letter after letter.
The key said, "Victory and luck!" And so Lotte-Lene's future was decided.
The Councilor at once gave her two books to read, Dyveke and Knigge's Social Intercourse.
That night marked the beginning of a closer acquaintance between Lotte-Lene and the Councilor and his wife. She would come upstairs to the couple, and the Councilor found her to be a sensible girl; she believed in him and the key. The Councilor's wife saw something childish and innocent in the frankness with which she would at every moment show her great ignorance. The couple was fond of her, he in his way and she in hers, and Lotte-Lene was fond of them.
"It smells so lovely upstairs," Lotte-Lene would say. There was an odor, a fragrance, an apple fragrance, in the hallway, where the Councilor's wife had put away a whole barrel of graystone apples. There was also an incense odor of roses and lavender throughout all the rooms. "There is something refined in that!" Lotte-Lene would say.
Then, too, her eyes were pleased by the many pretty flowers the Councilor's wife always had. Even in the middle of winter, lilacs and cherry-tree slips bloomed here. The leafless twigs were cut off and put into water and in the warm room soon bore leaves and flowers.
"One would have thought that all life was gone from these naked branches, but see how they rise from the dead. It has never occurred to me before," said Lotte-Lene, "how wonderful nature is!"
And the Councilor let her look at his "key book, " in which were written strange things the key had said - even about the half of an apple cake that had disappeared from the cupboard on the very evening that the servant girl had had her sweetheart there for a visit. The Councilor had asked his key. "Who has eaten the apple cake, the cat or the sweetheart?" and the key had replied, "The sweetheart." The Councilor had already thought so before asking the key; and the servant girl had confessed, "That cursed key knows everything!"
"Yes, isn't it strange!" said the Councilor. "That key, that key! And about Lotte-Lene it has said, 'Victory and luck.' That we shall see! I swear to it."
"That's wonderful" said Lotte-Lene.
The Councilor's wife was not so confident, but she did not express her doubts when her husband was within hearing distance. She later told Lotte-Lene in confidence that the Councilor, when a young man, had been quite taken with the theater. Had someone pushed him a little in that direction, he surely would have become an actor; his family, however, had pushed him in the opposite direction. But, he had still aspired to the stage, and to further that ambition he had written a play.
"This is a great secret that I am entrusting you with, little Lotte-Lene. The play was not bad; it was accepted at the Royal Theater, and then hissed out, and no one has since heard of it, for which I am glad. I am his wife and know him. Now you want such a career, too. I wish you all that is good, but I don't think that things will work out as predicted; I don't believe in the gate key."
Lotte-Lene believed in it, and in that belief she was united with the Councilor. Within their hearts they had a mutual understanding, in all honor and chastity.
The girl had many qualifications that the Councilor's wife valued. Lotte-Lene knew how to make starch from potatoes, make silk gloves from old silk stockings, and recover her silk dancing shoes, although she could afford to buy all her clothes new. She had, as the grocer said, pennies in the table drawer and credit notes in her money safe. She would make just the wife for the Pharmacist, thought the Councilor's wife, but she did not say so, and of course didn't permit the key to say anything about it. The Pharmacist was going to settle down soon and have his own pharmacy in one of the nearest and largest provincial towns.
Lotte-Lene was continually reading Dyveke and Knigge's Social Intercourse. She kept the two books for two years, and by the end of that time she had learned one, Dyveke, by heart - all the parts, although she wished to play only one, that of Dyveke; she did not, however, want to appear at first in the capital, where there is so much envy, and where they would not have her, anyway. She wanted to start her artistic career, as the Councilor called it, in one of the country's large provincial towns. Now that, strangely enough, turned out to be the same place where the youthful Pharmacist had settled down as the youngest of the town's pharmacists.
The great, long-awaited night came on which Lotte-Lene was to make her debut and have "victory and luck," as the key had said. The Councilor was not there, for he lay in his bed, and his wife was nursing him; he had to have warm napkins and camomile tea; the napkins about his body and the tea in his body.
While the couple was absent from the Dyveke performance, the Pharmacist was there, and wrote a letter about it to his relative, the Councilor's wife.
"Dyveke's ruff was the best thing about it," he wrote. "If I had had the Councilor's gate key in my pocket, I would have pulled it out and used it as a whistle; she deserved it, and the key deserved it, because of its nasty lie about her 'victory and luck.'"
The Councilor read the letter. It was all spitefulness, he said, key hatred, aimed at that innocent girl. And as soon as he was out of bed and was himself again, he sent a short but poisonous note to the Pharmacist, who in turn replied as if he had seen only jest and good humor in the whole epistle. He thanked him for this and for any future contribution to the revelation of the incomparable worth and significance of keys; next he confided to the Councilor that, apart from his activities as an apothecary, he was writing a great key novel in which all the characters were keys and keys alone. A gate key naturally was the central character and - patterned after the Councilor's gate key - was gifted with prophetic vision and second sight; around this all the other keys had to revolve - the old chamberlain's key, experienced in the splendor and festivity of the court; the watch key, small, refined, and distinguished, but worth only a few pennies at the ironmonger's; the key to the church pew, which counted itself among the clergy, and which, from remaining one night in its keyhole in the church, could see ghosts; the larder key, the wine-cellar key, and the coal-cellar key all appeared, and bowed before, and turned around, the gate key. The sunbeams brightened it into silver, and the wind, that spirit of the earth, entered its body and made it whistle!
It was the key of all keys; it was the Councilor's gate key. It was now the key of the heavenly gate itself; it was the papal key; it was infallible!
"Wickedness!" said the Councilor. "Great wickedness!"
He and the Pharmacist never saw each other again - except once, and that was at the funeral of the Councilor's wife.
She was the first to die. There were sorrow an emptiness in the house. Even the slips of cherry which had thrown out fresh roots and flowers seemed to mourn and fade away; they stood forgotten, for she was not there to tend them.
The Councilor and the Pharmacist walked behind her coffin, side by side, as the two nearest relations of the departed. This was not the time, nor were they in the mood, for quarreling. Lotte-Lene tied the mourning crape around the Councilor's hat. She was living in the house again, having long since returned without victory and luck in her career. Yet that still might come; Lotte-Lene had a future before her; the key had said so, and the Councilor had said so.
She went up to him. They talked about the departed and they wept, for Lotte-Lene was tenderhearted; but when they talked about the art, Lotte-Lene felt strong. "Life in the theater is charming," she said, "but there is so much nonsense and envy! I would rather go my own way. Myself first, then art!"
Knigge had told the truth in his chapter about actors; that she was aware of; the key had not told the truth, but she never spoke of this to the Councilor; she was fond of him. Besides, the gate key was his comfort and relief during the whole year of mourning. He gave it questions, and it gave him answers.
And when the year had passed, and he and Lotte-Lene were sitting together one inspiring evening; he asked the key, "Will I marry, and whom will I marry?" No one pushed him, but he pushed the key, and it answered, "Lotte-Lene!"
So it was said, and Lotte-Lene became Mrs. Councilor.
"Victory and luck!"
And these words had been said before -by the gate key.
Hver nøgle har sin historie og der er mange nøgler: kammerherrenøgle, urnøgle, Sankt Peters nøgle; vi kan fortælle om alle nøglerne, men nu fortæller vi kun om kammerrådens portnøgle.
Den var blevet til hos en klejnsmed, men den kunne godt tro at det var hos en grovsmed, således tog manden på den, hamrede og filede. Den var for stor for bukselomme, så måtte den i frakkelomme. Her lå den tit i mørke, men forresten havde den sin bestemte plads på væggen, ved siden af kammerrådens silhuet fra barndomstiden, der så han ud som en bolle med kalvekrøs.
Man siger, at ethvert menneske får i sin karakter og handlemåde noget af det himmeltegn, han fødes under, Tyren, Jomfruen, Skorpionen, som de kaldes i almanakken. Kammerrådinden nævnede ingen af disse, hun sagde, hendes mand var født under "Hjulbørens Tegn," altid måtte han skubbes frem.
Hans fader skubbede ham ind på et kontor, hans moder skubbede ham ind i ægtestanden, og hans kone skubbede ham op til kammerråd, men det sidste sagde hun ikke, hun var en besindig, brav kone, der tav på rette sted, talte og skubbede på rette sted.
Nu var han oppe i årene, "velproportioneret," som han selv sagde, en mand med læsning, godmodighed og dertil nøgleklog, noget vi nærmere skal forstå. Altid var han i godt humør, alle mennesker holdt han af og gad gerne tale med. Gik han i byen, var det svært at få ham hjem igen, når ikke mutter var med og skubbede ham. Han måtte tale med enhver bekendt, han mødte. Han havde mange bekendte, og det gik ud over middagsmaden.
Fra vinduet passede kammerrådinden på. "Nu kommer han!" sagde hun til pigen, "sæt gryden på! - Nu står han stille og taler med én, tag så gryden af, ellers bliver maden kogt for meget! - Nu kommer han da! ja sæt så gryden på igen!"
Men derfor kom han ikke.
Han kunne stå lige under husets vindue og nikke op, men kom så en bekendt forbi, da kunne han ikke lade være, han måtte sige ham et par ord; kom da, idet han talte med denne, en anden bekendt, så holdt han den første ved knaphullet og tog den anden i hånden, mens han råbte på en tredje, der ville forbi.
Det var en tålmodighedsprøve for kammerrådinden. "Kammerråd! Kammerråd!" råbte hun da, "ja den mand er født under Hjulbørens Tegn, af sted kan han ikke komme, uden han skubbes frem!"
Han holdt meget af at gå i boglader, se i bøger og blade. Han gav sin boghandler et lille honorar for hjemme hos sig at turde læse de nye bøger, det vil sige, have lov til at skære bøgerne op på langs, men ikke på tværs, thi da kan de ikke sælges som nye. Han var en levende avis i al skikkelighed, vidste besked om forlovelser, bryllupper og begravelser, bogsnak og bysnak, ja han henkastede hemmelighedsfulde hentydninger om at vide besked, hvor ingen vidste den. Han havde det fra portnøglen.
Allerede som unge nygifte boede kammerrådens i deres egen gård, og fra den tid havde de samme portnøgle, men ikke da kendte de dens forunderlige kræfter, dem lærte de først senere at kende.
Det var i kong Frederik den Sjettes tid. København havde dengang ingen gas, den havde tranlygter, den havde intet Tivoli eller Casino, ingen sporvogne og ingen jernbaner. Det var småt med fornøjelser imod hvad det nu er. Om søndagen gik man sig en tur ud af porten til Assistenskirkegården, læste indskrifterne på gravene, satte sig i græsset, spiste af sin madkurv og drak sin snaps til, eller man gik til Frederiksberg, hvor der foran slottet var regimentsmusik og mange mennesker for at se den kongelige familie ro om i de små, snævre kanaler, hvor den gamle konge styrede båden, han og dronningen hilste alle mennesker, uden standsforskel. Derud kom velstående familier fra byen og drak deres aftente. Varmt vand kunne de få i et lille bondehus på marken uden for haven, men de måtte selv bringe maskine med.
Derud drog kammerrådens en solskins-søndag-eftermiddag; tjenestepigen gik foran med maskine og en kurv med madvarer og "en Sobian af Spendrups."
"Tag portnøglen!" sagde kammerrådinden, "at vi kan slippe ind i vort eget, når vi kommer tilbage; du ved her lukkes ved mørkningen og klokkestrengen er itu fra i morges! - Vi kommer silde hjem! vi skal, efter at have været på Frederiksberg ind i Casortis teater på Vesterbro og se pantomimen: 'Harlekin, formand for tærskerne'; der kommer de ned i en sky; det koster to mark personen!"
Og de gik til Frederiksberg, hørte musikken, så de kongelige både med vajende flag, så den gamle konge og de hvide svaner. Efter at have drukket en god te skyndte de sig af sted, men kom dog ikke betids i teatret.
Linedansen var forbi, styltedansen var forbi, og pantomimen begyndt; de kom som altid for silde, og deri var kammerråden skyld; hvert øjeblik på vejen standsede han for at tale med bekendte; inde i teatret fandt han også gode venner, og da forestillingen var forbi, måtte han og hans frue nødvendigvis følge med ind til en familie på "Broen," for at nyde et glas punch, det ville blive et ophold, kun på ti minutter, men disse drog rigtignok ud til en hel time. Der blev talt og talt. Særdeles underholdende var en svensk baron, eller var det en tysk, det havde kammerråden ikke nøjagtig beholdt, men derimod den kunst med nøglen, han lærte ham, beholdt han for alle tider. Det var overordentlig interessant! han kunne få nøglen til at svare på alt, hvad man spurgte den om, selv det allerhemmeligste.
Kammerrådens portnøgle egnede sig især dertil, den var tung i kammen, og den må hænge ned. Grebet af nøglen lod baronen hvile på sin højre hånds pegefinger. Løst og let hang den der, hvert pulsslag i fingerspidsen kunne sætte den i bevægelse, så at den drejede, og skete det ikke, så forstod baronen umærkeligt at lade den dreje sig, som han ville. Hver drejning var et bogstav fra A og så langt ned i alfabetet, man ville. Når det første bogstav var fundet, drejede nøglen til modsat side; derpå søgte man det næste bogstav, og således fik man hele ord, hele sætninger, svar på spørgsmålet. Løgn var det hele, men altid en morskab, det var også så temmelig kammerrådens første tanke, men den holdt han ikke, den gik med ham helt op i nøglen.
"Mand! Mand!" råbte kammerrådinden. "Vesterport lukkes klokken tolv! vi kommer ikke ind, vi har kun et kvarter at skynde os i."
De måtte skynde sig; flere personer, der ville ind i byen, kom dem snart forbi. Endelig nærmede de sig det yderste vagthus, da slog klokken tolv, porten smældede i; en hel del mennesker stod lukket ude og mellem disse kammerrådens med pige, maskine og tom madkurv. Nogle stod der i stor forskrækkelse, andre i ærgrelse; hver tog det på sin måde. Hvad var der at gøre.
Heldigvis var i den sidste tid taget den bestemmelse, at én af byens porte, Nørreport, blev ikke låst af, der kunne fodgængere slippe igennem vagthuset ind i byen.
Vejen var ikke så kort endda, men vejret smukt, himlen klar med stjerner og stjerneskud, frøerne kvækkede i grøft og i kær. Selskabet selv begyndte at synge, den ene vise efter den anden, men kammerråden sang ikke, så heller ikke efter stjernerne, ja ikke engang efter sine egne ben, han faldt så lang han var lige ved grøftekanten, man kunne tro han havde drukket for meget, men det var ikke punchen, det var nøglen, der var gået ham i hovedet og drejede der.
Endelig nåede de Nørrebros vagthus, slap over broen og ind i staden.
"Nu er jeg glad igen!" sagde kammerrådinden. "Her er vor port!"
"Men hvor er portnøglen!" sagde kammerråden. Den var ikke i baglommen, heller ikke i sidelommen.
"Du forbarmende!" råbte kammerrådinden. "Har du ikke nøglen? Den har du tabt ved de nøglekunster med baronen. Hvordan kommer vi nu ind! Klokkestrengen ved du er itu fra i morges, vægteren har ikke nøgle til huset. Vi er jo i fortvivlelse!"
Tjenestepigen begyndte at hyle, kammerråden var den eneste, der viste fatning.
"Vi må slå en rude ind til spækhøkeren!" sagde han, "få ham op og så slippe ind."
Han slog en rude, han slog to, "Petersen!" råbte han og stak paraplyskaftet ind af ruderne; da skreg højt derinde kældermandens datter. Kældermanden slog butiksdøren op med råbet "vægter!" og før han ret fik set kammerrådsfamilien, kendt den og lukket den ind, peb vægteren og i næste gade svarede en anden vægter og peb. Folk kom frem i vinduerne. "Hvor er ilden? Hvor er spektakel?" spurgte de, og spurgte endnu, da kammerråden allerede var i sin stue, tog frakken af og - i den lå portnøglen, - ikke i lommen, men i foret; dér var den sluppet ned gennem et hul, som ikke skulle være i lommen.
Fra den aften fik portnøglen en særegen stor betydning, ikke blot når man gik ud om aftnen, men når man sad hjemme og kammerråden viste sin kløgt og lod nøglen give svar på spørgsmål.
Han tænkte sig det rimeligste svar og så lod han nøglen give det, til sidst troede han selv derpå; men det gjorde ikke apotekeren, en ung mand i nær slægt med kammerrådinden.
Den apoteker var et godt hoved, et kritisk hoved, han havde allerede fra skoledreng leveret kritikker over bøger og teater, men uden navns nævnelse, det gør så meget. Han var hvad man kalder skønånd, men troede aldeles ikke på ånder, mindst på nøgleånder.
"Jo jeg tror, jeg tror," sagde han, "velsignede hr. kammerråd, jeg tror på portnøglen og alle nøgleånder, så fast som jeg tror på den nye videnskab, som begynder at kendes: borddansen og ånderne i gamle og nye møbler. Har De hørt derom? Jeg har hørt! Jeg har tvivlet, De ved jeg er en tvivler, men jeg er blevet omvendt ved at læse i et ganske troværdigt udenlandsk blad en forfærdelig historie. Kammerråd! vil De tænke Dem, ja jeg giver historien som jeg har den. To kloge børn havde set forældrene vække ånden i et stort spisebord. De små var alene og ville nu forsøge på samme måde at gnide liv i en gammel kommode. Livet kom der, ånden vågnede, men den tålte ikke børnekommando; den rejste sig, det knagede i kommoden, den skød skufferne ud og lagde med sine kommodeben børnene hver i sin skuffe, og så løb kommoden med dem ud af den åbne dør, ned ad trappen og ud på gaden, hen til kanalen, hvor den styrtede sig ud og druknede begge børnene. De små lig kom i kristen jord, men kommoden blev bragt på rådstuen, dømt for barnemord og levende brændt på torvet. Jeg har læst det!" sagde apotekeren, "læst det i et udenlandsk blad, det er ikke noget jeg selv har fundet på. Det er nøglen tage mig sandt! nu bander jeg en høj ed!"
Kammerråden fandt, at en sådan tale var for grov en spøg, de to kunne aldrig tale om nøglen. Apotekeren var nøgledum.
Kammerråden skred frem i nøglekundskab; nøglen var hans morskab og klogskab.
En aften, kammerråden var ved at gå i seng, han stod halv afklædt, da bankede det på døren ud til gangen. Det var kældermanden, som kom så sent; han var også halv afklædt, men han havde, sagde han, fået pludselig en tanke, som han var bange for, at han ikke kunne holde på natten over.
"Det er min datter, Lotte-Lene, jeg må tale om. Hun er en køn pige, hun er konfirmeret, nu ville jeg gerne se hende godt anbragt!"
"Jeg er endnu ikke enkemand!" sagde kammerråden og smålo, "og jeg har ingen søn, jeg kan byde hende!"
"De forstår mig nok, kammerråd!" sagde kældermanden. "Spille klaver kan hun, synge kan hun; det må kunne høres her op i huset. De ved ikke alt, hvad det pigebarn kan hitte på, hun kan tale og gå efter alle mennesker. Hun er skabt for komedien, og det er en god vej for nette piger af god familie, de kan gifte sig et grevskab til, dog derom er ikke tanke hos mig eller Lotte-Lene. Synge kan hun, klaver kan hun! så gik jeg forleden med hende op på sangskolen. Hun sang; men hun har ikke, hvad jeg kalder ølbas hos fruentimmer, ikke kanariefugleskrig op i de højeste toner, som man nu forlanger af sangerinderne, og så rådede man hende aldeles fra den vej. Nå, tænkte jeg, kan hun ikke blive sangerinde, så kan hun altid blive skuespillerinde, der hører da kun mæle til. I dag talte jeg derom til instruktøren, som de kalder ham. 'Har hun læsning?' spurgte han; 'nej,' sagde jeg, 'aldeles ingen!' - 'Læsning er nødvendig for en kunstnerinde!' sagde han; den kan hun få endnu, mente jeg, og så gik jeg hjem. Hun kan gå ind i et lejebibliotek og læse hvad der er, tænkte jeg. Men så sidder jeg nu i aften og klæder mig af, og da falder det mig ind: Hvorfor leje bøger, når man kan få dem at låne. Kammerråden har fuldt op af bøger, lad hende læse dem; der er læsning nok, og den kan hun have frit!"
"Lotte-Lene er en rar pige!" sagde kammerråden, "en køn pige! Bøger skal hun få til læsning. Men har hun dette, som man kalder fut i ånden, det geniale, geniet? Og har hun, hvad her er lige så vigtigt, har hun lykke med sig?"
"Hun har vundet to gange i varelotteriet," sagde kældermanden, "én gang vandt hun et klædeskab, og én gang seks par lagner, det kalder jeg lykke og den har hun!"
"Jeg vil spørge nøglen!" sagde kammerråden.
Og han stillede nøglen på sin højre pegefinger og på kældermandens højre pegefinger, lod nøglen dreje sig og give bogstav på bogstav.
Nøglen sagde: "Sejr og lykke!" og så var Lotte-Lenes fremtid bestemt.
Kammerråden gav hende straks to bøger til læsning: "Dyveke" og Knigges "Omgang med Mennesker."
Fra den aften begyndte et slags nærmere bekendtskab mellem Lotte-Lene og kammerrådens. Hun kom derop i familien, og kammerråden fandt, at hun var en forstandig pige, hun troede på ham og nøglen. Kammerrådinden så i den frimodighed, hvormed hun hvert øjeblik viste sin store uvidenhed, noget barnligt, uskyldigt. Ægteparret hver på sin vis syntes om hende og hun om dem.
"Der lugter så yndigt deroppe!" sagde Lotte-Lene.
Der var lugt, en duft, en æbleduft på gangen, hvor kammerrådinden havde henlagt en hel tønde gråsteneræbler. Der var også en røgelsesduft af roser og lavendler gennem alle stuer.
"Det giver noget fint!" sagde Lotte-Lene. Hendes øjne frydedes dernæst ved de mange smukke blomster, kammerrådinden her altid havde; ja midt om vinteren blomstrede her syren og kirsebærgren. De afskårne bladløse grene blev sat i vand, og i den varme stue bar de snart blomst og blad.
"Man skulle tro at livet var borte i de nøgne grene, men se dog, hvor det står op fra de døde."
"Det er aldrig før faldet mig ind!" sagde Lotte-Lene. "Naturen er dog yndig!"
Og kammerråden lod hende se sin "nøglebog," hvori stod opskrevet mærkelige ting, nøglen havde sagt; selv om en halv æblekage, der var forsvundet fra skabet, netop den aften tjenestepigen havde sin kæreste i besøg.
Og kammerråden spurgte sin nøgle: "Hvem har spist æblekagen, katten eller kæresten?" og portnøglen svarede: "Kæresten!" Kammerråden troede det allerede før han spurgte, og tjenestepigen tilstod: Den forbandede nøgle vidste jo alt.
"Ja er det ikke mærkeligt!" sagde kammerråden. "Den nøgle, den nøgle! og om Lotte-Lene har den sagt: 'Sejr og lykke!' - Det skal vi nu se! - Jeg svarer for det."
"Det er yndigt!" sagde Lotte-Lene.
Kammerrådens frue var ikke så tillidsfuld, men hun sagde ikke sin tvivl når manden hørte på det, men betroede senere Lotte-Lene, at kammerråden, da han var et ungt menneske, havde været aldeles forfalden til teatret. Havde nogen dengang skubbet til ham, da var han bestemt trådt op som skuespiller, men familien skubbede fra. På scenen ville han, og for at komme der skrev han en komedie.
"Det er en stor hemmelighed, jeg betror Dem, lille Lotte-Lene. Komedien var ikke dårlig, den blev antaget på det Kongelige og pebet ud, så at man aldrig siden har hørt om den, og det er jeg glad ved. Jeg er hans kone og kender ham. Nu vil De gå samme vej; - jeg ønsker Dem alt godt, men jeg tror ikke det går, jeg tror ikke på portnøglen!"
Lotte-Lene troede på den, og i den tro mødtes hun med kammerråden.
Deres hjerter forstod hinanden i al tugt og ære.
Pigebarnet havde i øvrigt flere dygtigheder, som kammerrådinden satte pris på. Lotte-Lene forstod at lave stivelse af kartofler, sy silkehandsker af gamle silkestrømper, overtrække sine silkedansesko, uagtet hun havde råd til at købe alt sit tøj nyt. Hun havde hvad spækhøkeren sagde: Skillinger i bordskuffen og obligationer i pengeskabet. Det var egentlig en kone for apotekeren, tænkte kammerrådinden, men hun sagde det ikke, og lod heller ikke nøglen sige det. Apotekeren skulle snart sætte sig ned, have eget apotek og det i en af de nærmeste, største provinsbyer.
Lotte-Lene læste stadigt "Dyveke" og Knigges "Omgang med Mennesker." Hun beholdt de to bøger i to år, men så kunne hun også den ene udenad, Dyveke, alle rollerne, men hun ville kun optræde i den ene, Dyvekes, og ikke optræde i hovedstaden, hvor der er så megen misundelse, og hvor de ikke ville have hende. Hun ville begynde sin kunstnerbane, som kammerråden kaldte det, i en af landets større provinsbyer.
Nu traf det sig ganske forunderligt, at det netop var sammesteds, hvor den unge apoteker havde sat sig ned som byens yngste, om ikke eneste apoteker.
Den store, forventningsfulde aften kom, Lotte-Lene skulle optræde, vinde sejr og lykke, som nøglen havde sagt. Kammerråden var der ikke, han lå til sengs og kammerrådinden plejede ham; han skulle have varme servietter og kamillete: Servietterne om livet og teen i livet.
Ægteparret overværede ikke "Dyveke-forestillingen," men apotekeren var der og skrev brev herom til sin slægtning, kammerrådinden.
"Dyveke-kraven var det bedste!" skrev han. "Havde kammerrådens portnøgle været i min lomme, jeg havde taget den frem og pebet i den, det fortjente hun og det fortjente nøglen, der så skammeligt har løjet hende på: 'Sejr og lykke'."
Kammerråden læste brevet. Det hele var ondskab, sagde han, nøglehad, der gik ud over den uskyldige pige.
Og så snart han rejste sig fra sengen og var menneske igen, sendte han en lille men giftspydig skrivelse til apotekeren, der igen svarede, som om han slet ikke havde forstået andet end spøg og godt humør i den hele epistel.
Han takkede for dette som for hvert fremtidigt, velvilligt bidrag til kundgørelsen om nøglens uforlignelige værd og betydning; dernæst betroede han kammerråden, at han, uden for sin apotekervirksomhed, skrev på en stor nøgleroman, i hvilken alle de handlende personer var nøgler, ene og alene nøgler; "portnøglen" var naturligvis hovedpersonen, og kammerrådens portnøgle var ham forbilledet, begavet med seerblik og spådomsevne; om dén måtte alle de andre nøgler dreje sig: Den gamle kammerherrenøgle, der kendte hoffets glans og festligheder; urnøglen, lille, fin og fornem, til fire skilling hos isenkræmmeren; nøglen til kirkestolen, den regner sig med til gejstligheden og har, ved at sidde en nat over i nøglehul i kirken, set ånder; spisekammer-, brændekammer- og vinkældernøglen, alle træder op, nejer sig og drejer sig om portnøglen. Solstrålerne lyser den op til sølv, vinden, verdensånden, farer ind i den så det fløjter. Den er nøglen for alle nøgler, den var kammerrådens portnøgle, nu er den himmelportens nøgle, den er pavenøgle, den er ufejlbarlig!"
"Ondskab!" sagde kammerråden. "Pyramidal ondskab!"
Han og apotekeren så aldrig oftere hinanden. - Jo, ved kammerrådindens begravelse.
Hun døde først.
Der var sorg og savn i huset. Selv de afskårne kirsebærgrene, som havde sat friske skud og blomster, sørgede og visnede hen; de stod glemte, hun plejede dem ikke.
Kammerråden og apotekeren gik bag efter hendes kiste, side om side, som de to nærmeste slægtninge, her var ikke tid eller stemning til at mundhugges.
Lotte-Lene bandt sørgeflor om kammerrådens hat. Hun var der i huset, forlængst vendt tilbage, uden sejr og lykke på kunstens bane. Men den kunne komme, Lotte-Lene havde en fremtid. Nøglen havde sagt det, og kammerråden havde sagt det.
Hun kom op til ham. De talte om den afdøde og de græd, Lotte-Lene var blød, de talte om kunsten og Lotte-Lene var stærk.
"Teaterlivet er yndigt!" sagde hun, "men der er så meget vrøvl og misundelse! jeg går hellere min egen vej. Først mig selv, så kunsten!"
Knigge havde talt sandt i sit kapitel om skuespillere, det indså hun, nøglen havde ikke talt sandt, men derom talte hun ikke til kammerråden; hun holdt af ham.
Portnøglen var i øvrigt under hele sørgeåret hans trøst og opmuntring. Han gav den spørgsmål, og den gav ham svar. Og da året var omme og han og Lotte-Lene en stemningsfuld aften sad sammen, spurgte han nøglen:
"Gifter jeg mig, og med hvem gifter jeg mig?"
Der var ingen, der skubbede til ham, han skubbede til nøglen, og den sagde: "Lotte-Lene!"
Så var det sagt, og Lotte-Lene blev kammerrådinde.
"Sejr og lykke!"
De ord var sagt, forud - af portnøglen.