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The Little Swiss Man - from Harper's


There was once a little Swiss man who had a mind and will of his own. He was one inch high, and carved out of wood by the busy people of Brienz, in the long cold winter season. Perhaps the bit of wood out of which he was cut was unusually hard, and even knotted; but certainly he had more character than his companions, the pretty birds perched on boxes, the deer and chamois supporting vases, and all the trinkets made in that town, where the wooden houses with projecting roofs, and balconies filled with flowers, on the border of Lake Brienz, are precisely like the tiny toy mansions in shop windows.

When he was finished, the little Swiss man was very proud of himself. He wore gaiters, a jacket, a broad straw hat—all in wood—and carried a creel on his back, as if just about to climb a mountain, laden with butter, cheese, or wine.

The contents of the workshop were scattered like a handful of leaves in the wind. The chamois were sent to Paris and London, the little birds on the boxes journeyed as far as Russia and America, with the luggage of travellers.

"I am sure to be much admired wherever I go," said the little Swiss man, with a smile, which was none the less conceited because it was a wooden one.

Soon he found himself in the window of a shop at Geneva, and he was not immediately bought, to his own surprise. However, he was in very good company, although he took upon himself to look down on his companions, and he only an inch high!

The shop was located on the Rue du Rhone, but the small window where the toys were exposed opened on the rear. The river Rhone, of a beautiful color, as pure as ice, quitting the Lake Leman above, swept down under the bridges past this window, dividing the city of Geneva. Had the little Swiss man possessed any eyes except for his own importance, he would have found the view from his shelf interesting. On the right the Isle Rousseau was visible, where the ducks and swans live; opposite, a foot-bridge crossed the rushing Rhone; and below were the tall old houses of the island, with plants in the windows, terminating in a clock tower. Along the river margin the Geneva washer-women toiled all day, not like those of America, scrubbing at a steaming wash-tub, but under long sheds which appeared to float on the surface of the stream, and dipping their linen in the flowing water.

The little Swiss man could not understand why he was not bought immediately. To be sure, the next shop displayed sparkling heaps of crystal, veined agate, and onyx, yet he found himself better than all. Children paused before the pane, and laughed with delight, pointing out different objects. Our hero took all this admiration to himself as his due. On the same shelf was a goose, wearing top-boots, the Ulster of a tourist, a bag fastened over his shoulder with a strap, and an eyeglass. Here were to be found also a fat little boy in India rubber, from Nuremberg; a beautiful pasteboard theatre, with a lady of blue paper advancing from a side scene; tiny Swiss houses in boxes; two rope-dancers hanging over their cord; balls and tops. The shelf below held the most tempting dishes, representing cakes and dessert, in china, ever placed on the table of a doll-house; wax babies rocking in cradles; tiny lamps; sewing-machines; miniature goats and cows.

The little Swiss man observed especially a large bear of Berne, wearing a cotton night-cap with a red tassel, and a white shirt collar, who carried a hand-organ, and a good St. Bernard dog, with the flask suspended about his throat, ready to help the poor wanderers lost in the snow. Beyond was an interesting company of monkeys on a music-box, some playing harps, others scraping violins in obedience to the head monkey, who stood in the attitude of a leader of the orchestra, wearing a black coat with long tails. The vain little Swiss man fancied the passers-by paused only to admire him.

Night came, and the master of the shop closed the door, placed shutters before the show-cases, and seated himself at his desk. The little window in the rear was still uncovered, and revealed the light on the desk where the master wrote. He heard the scratching of his pen on the paper, and the patter of rain-drops outside, for the night was stormy. There was another sound in the shop, softer than fall of the rain, and finer than chirp of a cricket, or humming sound of a mosquito: the toys in the window were talking together.

"I have been here for a month, and everybody says I am too dear at five francs," said the goose in top-boots.

"How could you expect to sell, when I am in the same window?" growled the bear.

"What do you say?" cackled the goose, indignantly.

"He is only a bear," said one of the rope-dancers, cutting a caper.

"Do you know who I am?" retorted the bear, with dignity. "I am the Bear of Berne. You will find me on the shield of the city, and kept in a pit by the citizens to this day."

"What is the use of boasting?" interposed the St. Bernard dog, pettishly. "The bears of Berne live in idleness; they walk about in a pit all day, or stand on their hind-legs begging for nuts. A St. Bernard dog is better employed, I should hope. We save the travellers in the snow who lose their way on the great St. Bernard mountain. If you wish to see the dog Barry, who saved fifteen lives, look for him in the Berne Museum, stuffed, and kept in a glass case.

The bear was very cross at this reply. He pulled his cotton night-cap over his right eye, which gave him a very savage appearance, and turned the handle of his organ as if his life depended on it.

"I am not Swiss; I am a German," said the Nuremberg fat boy, puffing out his India rubber cheeks.

"Hear him!" cried the lady made of blue paper, on the stage of the little theatre—"hear the rubber boy boast of being a German, when there are French toys about!"

At this all the little babies made of pink wax, in the cradles, laughed; and even the goats shook their heads, because they came from the Savoy side of Lake Geneva, which made them very French in their feelings.

"If somebody would wind us up, we would play," said the monkeys.

The little Swiss man listened.

"I shall not stay in the shop window a month," he said.

His neighbors looked at each other in surprise. On the wall was placed a card, and on it was grouped a bunch of flowers like white velvet.

"See, we are above the rest of you; we are the Edelweiss," said these flowers. "We grow high up on the mountains, and as we can only bloom in such a pure air, a poet has compared us with Gratitude."

At this moment something happened. A boy pressed his face against the pane, and stared at the toys. Crack!—a stone hit the glass, and the boy ran away. The wind and the rain swooped in together, upsetting the theatre, and knocking the dolls about. The master hastened to close the shutter.

The little Swiss man had fallen outside.

In the morning a porter passing by kicked the tiny bit of wood toward the parapet, and the next comer sent it spinning into the river.

"Pride goes before a fall," said the St.Bernard dog.

"Why did he feel so superior to the rest of us?" inquired the goose.

"It was all in the grain of the wood," said the leading monkey.

Below Geneva the Rhone joins the Arve, and the two rivers remain distinct for a long while—the Rhone like a green ribbon, and the Arve whitened by glacier torrents. Here a poor boy was fishing. What he caught was the little Swiss man, bobbing along on the stream, and he took this prize to the stone cottage, his home.

"I am glad to be out of the water," thought our wooden hero. "All the same, I wish I was back in the shop window. Ah! I did not know gratitude, as the Edelweiss said."