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The Old Bachelor’s Nightcap
by [?]

There is a street in Copenhagen that has this strange name–“Hysken Straede.” Whence comes this name, and what is its meaning? It is said to be German; but injustice has been done to the Germans in this matter, for it would have to be “Haeuschen,” and not “Hysken.” For here stood, once upon a time, and indeed for a great many years, a few little houses, which were principally nothing more than wooden booths, just as we see now in the market-places at fair-time. They were, perhaps, a little larger, and had windows; but the panes consisted of horn or bladder, for glass was then too expensive to be used in every house. But then we are speaking of a long time ago–so long since, that grandfather and great-grandfather, when they talked about them, used to speak of them as “the old times”–in fact, it is several centuries ago.

The rich merchants in Bremen and Lubeck carried on trade with Copenhagen. They did not reside in the town themselves, but sent their clerks, who lived in the wooden booths in the Haeuschen Street, and sold beer and spices. The German beer was good, and there were many kinds of it, as there were, for instance, Bremen, and Prussinger, and Sous beer, and even Brunswick mumm; and quantities of spices were sold–saffron, and aniseed, and ginger, and especially pepper. Yes, pepper was the chief article here, and so it happened that the German clerks got the nickname “pepper gentry;” and there was a condition made with them in Lubeck and in Bremen, that they would not marry at Copenhagen, and many of them became very old. They had to care for themselves, and to look after their own comforts, and to put out their own fires–when they had any; and some of them became very solitary old boys, with eccentric ideas and eccentric habits. From them all unmarried men, who have attained a certain age, are called in Denmark “pepper gentry;” and this must be understood by all who wish to comprehend this history.

The “pepper gentleman” becomes a butt for ridicule, and is continually told that he ought to put on his nightcap, and draw it down over his eyes, and do nothing but sleep. The boys sing,

“Cut, cut wood!
Poor bachelor so good.
Go, take your nightcap, go to rest,
For ’tis the nightcap suits you best!”

Yes, that’s what they sing about the “pepperer”–thus they make game of the poor bachelor and his nightcap, and turn it into ridicule, just because they know very little about either. Ah, that kind of nightcap no one should wish to earn! And why not?–We shall hear.

And he slept.

The day afterwards–it was the third day that his shop had remained closed–the snow-storm had ceased, and a neighbour from the opposite house came over towards the booth where dwelt old Anthony, who had not yet shown himself. Anthony lay stretched upon his bed–dead–with his old cap clutched tightly in his two hands! They did not put that cap on his head in his coffin, for he had a new white one.

Where were now the tears that he had wept? What had become of the pearls? They remained in the nightcap–and the true ones do not come out in the wash–they were preserved in the nightcap, and in time forgotten; but the old thoughts and the old dreams still remained in the “bachelor’s nightcap.” Don’t wish for such a cap for yourself. It would make your forehead very hot, would make your pulse beat feverishly, and conjure up dreams which appear like reality. The first who wore that identical cap afterwards felt all that at once, though it was half a century afterwards; and that man was the burgomaster himself, who, with his wife and eleven children, was well and firmly established, and had amassed a very tolerable amount of wealth. He was immediately seized with dreams of unfortunate love, of bankruptcy, and of heavy times.

“Hallo! how the nightcap burns!” he cried out, and tore it from his head.

And a pearl rolled out, and another, and another, and they sounded and glittered.

“This must be gout,” said the burgomaster. “Something dazzles my eyes!”

They were tears, shed half a century before by old Anthony from Eisenach.

Every one who afterwards put that nightcap upon his head had visions and dreams which excited him not a little. His own history was changed into that of Anthony, and became a story; in fact, many stories. But some one else may tell them. We have told the first. And our last word is–don’t wish for “The Old Bachelor’s Nightcap.”