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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875)

The Lovers

From “Fairy Tales”

A WHIP-TOP and a little ball were together in a drawer among some other toys; and the top said to the ball, “Shall we not be bridegroom and bride, as we live together in the same box?”

But the ball, which had a coat of morocco leather, and was just as conceited as any fine lady, would make no answer to such a proposal.

Next day the little boy came to whom the toys belonged; he painted the top red and yellow, and hammered a brass nail into it; and it looked splendid when the top turned round!

“Look at me!” he cried to the ball. “What do you say now? Shall we not be engaged to each other? We suit one another so well! You jump, and I dance! No one could be happier than we two should be.”

“Indeed! Do you think so?” replied the little ball. “Perhaps you do not know my papa and mama were morocco slippers, and that I have a Spanish cork inside me?”

“Yes, but I am made of mahogany,” said the top; “and the mayor himself turned me. He has a turning-lathe of his own, and it amuses him greatly.”

“Can I depend upon that?” asked the little ball.

“May I never be whipped again if it is not true!” replied the top.

“You can speak well for yourself,” observed the ball, “but I cannot grant your request. I am as good as engaged to a swallow; every time I leap up into the air she puts her head out of her nest and says, ‘Will you?’ And now I have silently said ‘Yes,’ and that is as good as half engaged. But I promise I will never forget you.”

“Yes, a lot of good that will be!” said the top.

And they spoke no more to each other.

The next day the ball was taken out by the boy. The top saw how it flew high into the air, like a bird; at last one could no longer see it. Each time it came back again, but gave a high leap when it touched the earth, and that was done either from its longing to mount up again, or because it had a Spanish cork in its body. But the ninth time the little ball remained absent, and did not come back again; and the boy sought and sought, but it was gone.

“I know very well where it is!” sighed the top. “It is in the swallow’s nest, and has married the swallow.”

The more the top thought of this the more it longed for the ball. Just because it could not get the ball, its love increased; and the fact that the ball had chosen another formed a peculiar feature in the case. So the top danced round and hummed, but always thought of the little ball, which became more and more beautiful in his fancy. Thus several years went by, and now it was an old love.

And the top was no longer young! But one day he was gilt all over; never had he looked so handsome; he was now a golden top, and sprang till he hummed again. Yes, that was something worth seeing! But all at once he sprang up too high, and—he was gone.

They looked and looked, even in the cellar, but he was not to be found. Where could he be?

He had jumped into the dust-box, where all kinds of things were lying: cabbage-stalks, sweepings, and rubbish that had fallen down from the roof.

“Here’s a nice place to lie in! The gilding will soon leave me here. Among what a rabble have I alighted!”

And then he looked sideways at a long, leafless cabbage-stump, and at a curious round thing that looked like an old apple; but it was not an apple—it was an old ball, which had lain for years in the gutter on the roof, and was quite saturated with water.

“Thank goodness, here comes one of us, with whom one can talk!” said the little ball, and looked at the gilt top. “I am really morocco, worked by maiden’s hands, and have a Spanish cork within me; but no one would think it, to look at me. I was very nearly marrying a swallow, but I fell into the gutter on the roof, and have lain there full five years, and become quite wet through. You may believe me; that’s a long time for a young girl.”

But the top said nothing. He thought of his old love; and the more he heard, the clearer it became to him that this was she.

Then came the servant-girl, and wanted to turn out the dust-box.

“Ah, there’s a gilt top!” she cried.

And so the top was brought again to notice an honor, but nothing was heard of the little ball. And the top spoke no more of his old love; for that dies away when the beloved object has lain for five years in a roof gutter and got wet through. Yes, one does not know her again when one meets her in the dust-box.