Hans Christian Andersen
THERE was once a fine gentleman whose entire worldly possessions consisted of a boot-jack and a hair-brush; but he had the most beautiful shirt-collar in the world, and it is about this that we are going to hear a story.
The shirt-collar was so old that he began to think about marrying; and it happened one day that he and a garter came into the wash-tub together.
'Hulloa!' said the shirt-collar, 'never before have I seen anything so slim and delicate, so elegant and pretty! May I be permitted to ask your name?'
'I shan't tell you,' said the garter.
'Where is the place of your abode?' asked the shirt-collar.
But the garter was of a bashful disposition, and did not think it proper to answer.
'Perhaps you are a girdle?' said the shirt-collar, 'an under girdle? for I see that you are for use as well as for ornament, my pretty miss!'
'You ought not to speak to me!' said the garter' 'I'm sure I haven't given you any encouragement!'
'When anyone is as beautiful as you,' said the shirt-collar, 'is not that encouragement enough?'
'Go away, don't come so close!' said the garter. 'You seem to be a gentleman!'
'So I am, and a very fine one too!' said the shirt-collar; 'I possess a boot-jack and a hair-brush!'
That was not true; it was his master who owned these things; but he was a terrible boaster.
'Don't come so close,' said the garter. 'I'm not accustomed to such treatment!'
'What affectation!' said the shirt-collar. And then they were taken out of the wash-tub, starched, and hung on a chair in the sun to dry, and then laid on the ironing-board. Then came the glowing iron.
'Mistress widow!' said the shirt-collar, 'dear mistress widow! I am becoming another man, all my creases are coming out; you are burning a hole in me! Ugh! Stop, I implore you!'
'You rag!' said the iron, travelling proudly over the shirt-collar, for it thought it was a steam engine and ought to be at the station drawing trucks.
'Rag!' it said.
The shirt-collar was rather frayed out at the edge, so the scissors came to cut off the threads.
'Oh!' said the shirt-collar, 'you must be a dancer! How high you can kick! That is the most beautiful thing I have ever s een! No man can imitate you!'
'I know that!' said the scissors.
'You ought to be a duchess!' said the shirt-collar. 'My worldly possessions consist of a fine gentleman, a boot-jack, and a hair-brush. If only I had a duchy!'
'What! He wants to marry me?' said the scissors, and she was so angry that she gave the collar a sharp snip, so that it had to be cast aside as good for nothing.
'Well, I shall have to propose to the hair-brush!' thought the shirt-collar. 'It is really wonderful what fine hair you have, madam! Have you never thought of marrying?'
'Yes, that I have!' answered the hair-brush; 'I'm engaged to the boot-jack!'
'Engaged!' exclaimed the shirt-collar. And now there was no one he could marry, so he took to despising matrimony.
Time passed, and the shirt-collar came in a rag-bag to the paper-mill. There was a large assortment of rags, the fine ones in one heap, and the coarse ones in another, as they should be. They had all much to tell, but no one more than the shirt-collar, for he was a hopeless braggart.
'I have had a terrible number of love affairs!' he said. 'They give me no peace. I was such a fine gentleman, so stiff with starch! I had a boot-jack and a hair-brush, which I never used! You should just have seen me then! Never shall I forget my first love! She was a girdle, so delicate and soft and pretty! She threw herself into a wash-tub for my sake! Then there was a widow, who glowed with love for me. But I left her alone, till she became black. Then there was the dancer, who inflicted the wound which has caused me to be here now; she was very violent! My own hair-brush was in love with me, and lost all her hair in consequence. Yes, I have experienced much in that line; but I grieve most of all for the garter,-I mean, the girdle, who threw herself into a wash-tub. I have much on my conscience; it is high time for me to become white paper!'
And so he did! he became white paper, the very paper on which this story is printed. And that was because he had boasted so terribly about things which were not true. We should take this to heart, so that it may not happen to us, for we cannot indeed tell if we may not some day come to the rag-bag, and be made into white paper, on which will be printed our whole history, even the most secret parts, so that we too go about the world relating it, like the shirt-collar.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The
Pink Fairy Book. New York: Dover, 1967. (Original published 1897.)