Yonder, in the confined, crooked streets,
amidst several poor-looking houses, stood a narrow
high tenement, run up of framework that was much misshapen,
with corners and ends awry. It was inhabited by
poor people, the poorest of whom looked out from the
garret, where, outside the little window, hung in
the sunshine an old, dented bird-cage, which had not
even a common cage-glass, but only the neck of a bottle
inverted, with a cork below, and filled with water.
An old maid stood near the open window; she had just
been putting some chickweed into the cage, wherein
a little linnet was hopping from perch to perch, and
singing until her warbling became almost overpowering.
“Yes, you may well sing,”
said the neck of the bottle; but it did not say this
as we should say it, for the neck of a bottle cannot
speak, but it thought so within itself, just as we
human beings speak inwardly.
“Yes, you may well sing, you
who have your limbs entire. You should have experienced,
like me, what it is to have lost your lower part, to
have only a neck and a mouth, and the latter stopped
up with a cork, as I have; then you would not sing.
But it is well that somebody is contented. I
have no cause to sing, and I cannot. I could once
though, when I was a whole bottle. How I was
praised at the furrier’s in the wood, when his
daughter was betrothed! Yes, I remember that day
as if it were yesterday. I have gone through
a great deal when I look back. I have been in
fire and in water, down in the dark earth, and higher
up than many; and now I am suspended outside of a bird-cage
in the air and sunshine. It might be worth while
to listen to my story; but I do not speak it aloud,
because I cannot.”
So it went on thinking over its own
history, which was curious enough; and the little
bird poured forth its strains, and in the street below
people walked and drove, every one thinking of himself,
some scarcely thinking at all; but the neck of the
bottle was thinking.
It remembered the blazing smelt-furnace
at the manufactory where it was blown into life.
It remembered even now that it had been extremely
warm; that it had looked into the roaring oven, its
original home, and had felt strongly inclined to spring
back into it; but that by degrees, as it felt cooler,
it found itself comfortable enough where it was, placed
in a row with a whole regiment of brothers and sisters
from the same furnace, some of which, however, were
blown into champagne bottles, others into ale bottles;
and that made a difference, since out in the world
an ale bottle may contain the costly LACRYMAE
CHRISTI, and a champagne bottle may be filled
with blacking; but what they were born to every one
can see by their shape, so that noble remains noble
even with blacking in it.
All the bottles were packed up, and
our bottle with them. It then little thought
that it would end in being only the neck of a bottle
serving as a bird’s glass an honourable
state of existence truly, but still something.
It did not see daylight again until it was unpacked
along with its comrades in the wine merchant’s
cellar, and was washed for the first time. That
was a funny sensation. After that it lay empty
and uncorked, and felt so very listless; it wanted
something, but did not know what it wanted. At
length it was filled with an excellent, superior wine,
and, when corked and sealed, a label was stuck on
it outside with the words, “Best quality.”
It was as if it had taken its first academic degree.
But the wine was good, and the bottle was good.
The young are fond of music, and much singing went
on in it, the songs being on themes about which it
scarcely knew anything the green sunlit
hills where the wine grapes grew, where beautiful
girls and handsome swains met, and danced, and sang,
and loved. Ah! there it is delightful to dwell.
And all this was made into songs in the bottle, as
it is made into songs by young poets, who also frequently
know nothing at all about the subjects they choose.
One morning it was bought. The
furrier’s boy was ordered to purchase a bottle
of the best wine, and this one was carried away in
a basket, with ham, cheese, and sausage; there were
also the nicest butter and the finest bread.
The furrier’s daughter herself packed the basket.
She was so young, so pretty! Her brown eyes laughed,
and the smile on her sweet mouth was almost as expressive
as her eyes. She had beautiful soft hands they
were so white; yet her throat and neck were still
whiter. It could be seen at once that she was
one of the prettiest girls in the neighbourhood, and,
strange to say, not yet engaged.
The basket of provisions was placed
in her lap when the family drove out to the wood.
The neck of the bottle stuck out above the parts of
the white napkins that were visible. There was
red wax on its cork, and it looked straight into the
eyes of the pretty girl, and also into those of the
young sailor the mate of a ship who
sat beside her. He was the son of a portrait
painter, and had just passed a first-rate examination
for mate, and was to go on board his vessel the next
day to sail for far-distant countries. Much was
said about his voyage during the drive; and when it
was spoken of, there was not exactly an expression
of joy in the eyes and about the mouth of the furrier’s
The two young people wandered away
into the green wood. They were in earnest conversation.
Of what were they speaking? The bottle did not
hear that, for it was still standing in the basket
of provisions. It seemed a long time before it
was taken out, but then it saw pleasant faces round.
Everybody was smiling, and the furrier’s daughter
also smiled; but she spoke less, and her cheeks were
blushing like two red roses.
The father took the full bottle and
the corkscrew. Oh! it is astonishing to a bottle
the first time a cork is drawn from it. The neck
of the bottle could never afterwards forget that important
moment when, with a low sound, the cork flew, and
the wine streamed out into the awaiting glasses.
“To the health of the betrothed
pair!” cried the father, and every glass was
drained; and the young mate kissed his lovely bride.
“May happiness and every blessing attend you
both!” said the old people; and the young man
begged them to fill their glasses again for his toast.
“To my return home and my wedding,
within a year and a day!” he cried; and when
the glasses were empty he took the bottle, and lifted
it high above his head. “Thou hast been
present during the happiest day of my life; thou shalt
never serve another!”
And he cast the bottle high up in
the air. Ah! little did the furrier’s daughter
think then that she should often look on that which
was flung up; but she was destined to do so. It
fell among the thick mass of reeds that bordered a
pond in the woods. The neck of the bottle remembered
distinctly what it thought as it lay there, and it
was this: “I gave them wine, and they give
me bog-water; but it was well meant.” It
could no more see the betrothed young couple, or the
happy old people; but it heard in the distance the
sounds of music and of mirth. Then came two little
peasant children peering among the reeds. They
saw the bottle, and carried it off with them:
so it was provided for.
At home, in the cottage among the
woods where they lived, their eldest brother, who
was a sailor, had, the day before, come to say farewell;
for he was about to start on a long voyage. The
mother was busy packing various little matters, which
the father was to take with him to the town in the
evening, when he went to see his son once more before
his departure, and give him again his mother’s
blessing. A phial with spiced brandy was placed
in the package; but at that moment the children came
in with the larger, stronger bottle which they had
found. A larger quantity could go into it than
into the phial. It was not the red wine, as before,
that the bottle received, but some bitter stuff.
However, it also was excellent as a stomachic.
Our bottle was thus again to set forth on its travels.
It was carried on board to Peter Jensen, who happened
to be in the same ship as was the young mate; but
he did not see the bottle, and, if he had seen it,
he would not have known it to have been the same from
which were drunk the toasts in honour of his betrothal,
and to his safe return.
Although there was no longer wine
in it, there was something quite as good; and whenever
Peter Jensen brought it forth, his comrades called
it “the apothecary.” The nice medicine
was so much in vogue that very soon there was not
a drop of it left. The bottle had a pleasant time
of it, upon the whole, while its contents were in such
high favour. It acquired the name of the great
“Loerke” “Peter Jensen’s
But this time was passed, and it had
lain long neglected in a corner. It did not know
whether it was on the voyage out or homewards; for
it had never been on shore anywhere. One day
a great storm arose; the black, heavy waves rolled
mountains high, and heaved the ship up and cast it
down by turns; the mast came down with a crash; the
sea stove in a plank; the pumps were no longer of
any avail. It was a pitch-dark night. The
ship sank; but at the last minute the young mate wrote
on a slip of paper, “In the name of Jesus we
are lost!” He wrote down the name of his
bride, his own name, and that of his ship; then he
thrust the note into an empty bottle that was within
reach, pressed in the cork tightly, and cast the bottle
out into the raging sea. Little did he know that
it was the identical bottle which had contained the
wine in which had been drunk the toasts of joy and
hope for him and her, that was now tossing on the
billows with these last remembrances, and the message
The ship sank the crew
sank but the bottle skimmed the waves like
a sea-fowl. It had a heart then the
letter of love within it. And the sun rose, and
the sun set. This sight recalled to the bottle
the scene of its earliest life the red
glowing furnace, to which it had once longed to return.
It encountered calms and storms; but it was not dashed
to pieces against any rocks. It was not swallowed
by any shark. For more than a year and a day
it drifted on now towards the north, now
towards the south as the currents carried
it. In other respects it was its own master;
but one can become tired even of that.
The written paper the last
farewell from the bridegroom to his bride would
only bring deep sorrow if it ever reached the proper
hands. But where were these hands, that had looked
so white when they spread the tablecloth on the fresh
grass in the green wood on the betrothal-day?
Where was the furrier’s daughter? Nay, where
was her country? and to what country was it nearest?
The bottle knew not. It drifted and drifted,
and it was so tired of always drifting on; but it
could not help itself. Still, still it had to
drift, until at last it reached the land; but it was
a foreign country. It did not understand a word
that was said, for the language was not such as it
had been formerly accustomed to hear; and one feels
quite lost if one does not understand the language
The bottle was taken up and examined;
the slip of paper in it was observed, taken out, and
opened; but nobody could make out what was written
on it, though every one knew that the bottle must have
been cast overboard, and that some information was
contained in the paper; but what that was remained
a mystery, and it was put back into the bottle, and
the latter laid by in a large press, in a large room,
in a large house.
Whenever any stranger came the slip
of paper was taken out, opened, and examined, so that
the writing, which was only in pencil, became more
and more illegible from the frequent folding and unfolding
of the paper, till at length the letters could no
longer be discerned. After the bottle had remained
about a year in the press it was removed to the loft,
and was soon covered with dust and cobwebs. Ah!
then it thought of its better days, when red wine
was poured from it in the shady wood, and when it
swayed about upon the waves, and had a secret to carry a
letter, a farewell sigh.
It now remained in the loft for twenty
mortal years, and it might have remained longer, had
not the house been going to be rebuilt. The roof
was taken off, the bottle discovered and talked about;
but it did not understand what was said. One
does not learn languages, living up alone in a loft,
even in twenty years. “Had I but been down
in the parlour,” it thought, and with truth,
“I would, of course, have learned it.”
It was now washed and rinsed.
It certainly wanted cleaning sadly, and very clear
and transparent it felt itself after it indeed,
quite young again in its old age; but the slip of
paper committed to its charge, that was lost in the
washing. The bottle was now filled with seeds.
Such contents were new to it. Well stopped up
and wrapped up it was, and it could see neither a
lantern nor a candle, not to mention the sun or the
moon. “One ought to see something when one
goes on a journey,” thought the bottle; but
it did not, however, until it reached the place it
was going to, and was there unpacked.
“What trouble these people abroad
have taken about it!” was remarked; “yet
no doubt it is cracked.” But it was not
cracked. The bottle understood every word that
was said, for they were spoken in the language it
had heard at the furnace, at the wine merchant’s,
in the wood, and on board ship the only
right good old language, one which could be understood.
The bottle had returned to its own country, and in
its joy had nearly jumped out of the hands that were
holding it. It scarcely observed that the cork
had been removed, its contents shaken out, and itself
put away in the cellar to be kept and forgotten.
But home is dearest, even in a cellar. It had
enough to think over, and time enough to think, for
it lay there for years; but at last one day folks
came down there to look for some bottles, and took
this one with them.
Outside, in the garden, there were
great doings; coloured lamps hung in festoons; paper
lanterns, formed like large tulips, gave forth their
subdued light. It was also a charming evening;
the air was calm and clear; the stars began, one after
the other, to shine in the deep blue heavens above;
while the round moon looked like a pale bluish-grey
ball, with a golden border encircling it.
There were also some illuminations
in the side walks, at least enough to let people see
their way; bottles with lights in them were placed
here and there among the hedges; and amidst these stood
the bottle we know, the one that was destined to end
as the mere neck of a bottle and the glass of a bird-cage.
At the period just named, however, it found everything
so exquisitely charming. It was again among flowers
and verdure, again surrounded by joy and festivity;
it again heard singing and musical instruments, and
the hum and buzz of a crowd of people, especially
from that part of the gardens which were most brilliantly
illuminated. It had a good situation itself, and
stood there useful and happy, bearing its appointed
light. During such a pleasant time it forgot
the twenty years up in the loft, and it is good to
be able to forget.
Close by it passed a couple arm-in-arm,
like the happy pair in the wood, the mate and the
furrier’s daughter. It seemed to the bottle
as if it were living that time over again. Guests
and visitors of different ages wandered up and down,
gazing upon the illuminations; and among these was
an old maid, without relations, but not without friends.
Probably her thoughts were occupied, as were those
of the bottle; for she was thinking of the green woods,
and of a young couple just betrothed. These souvenirs
affected her much, for she had been a party in them a
prominent party. This was in her happier hours;
and one never forgets these, even when one becomes
a very old maid. But she did not recognise the
bottle, and it did not recognise her. So it is
we wear out of each other’s knowledge in this
world, until people meet again as these two did.
The bottle passed from the public
gardens to the wine merchant’s; it was there
again filled with wine, and sold to an aeronaut, who
was to go up in a balloon the following Sunday.
There was a multitude of people to witness the ascent,
there was a regimental band, and there were many preparations
going on. The bottle saw all this from a basket,
in which it lay with a living rabbit, who was very
much frightened when it saw it was to go up in the
parachute. The bottle did not know where it was
to go; it beheld the balloon extending wider and wider,
and becoming so large that it could not be larger;
then lifting itself up higher and higher, and rolling
restlessly until the ropes that held it were cut,
when it arose majestically into the air, with the
aeronaut, the basket, the bottle, and the rabbit; then
the music played loudly, and the assembled crowd shouted,
“It is droll to go aloft,”
thought the bottle; “it is a novel sort of a
voyage. Up yonder one cannot run away.”
Many thousand human beings gazed up
at the balloon, and the old maid gazed among the rest.
She stood by her open garret window, where a cage
hung with a little linnet, which at that time had no
water-glass, but had to content itself with a cup.
Just within the window stood a myrtle tree, that was
moved a little aside, that it might not come in the
way while the old maid was leaning out to look at the
balloon. And she could perceive the aeronaut
in it; she saw him let the rabbit down in the parachute,
and then, having drunk the health of the crowd below,
throw the bottle high up in the air. Little did
she think that it was just the same bottle she had
seen thrown up high in honour of herself and her lover,
on a well-remembered happy day amidst the green wood,
when she was young.
The bottle had no time to think, it
was so unexpectedly exalted to the highest position
it had ever attained in its life. The roofs and
the spires lay far below, and the people looked as
small as pigmies.
It now descended, and that at a different
rate of speed from the rabbit. The bottle cast
somersaults in the air it felt itself so
young, so buoyant. It was half full of wine, but
not long. What a trip that was! The sun
shone upon the bottle, and all the crowd looked up
at it. The balloon was soon far away, and the
bottle was soon also out of sight, for it fell upon
a roof and broke in two; but the fragments rebounded
again, and leaped and rolled till they reached the
yard below, where they lay in smaller pieces; for only
the neck of the bottle escaped destruction, and it
looked as if it had been cut round by a diamond.
“It may still serve as a glass
for a bird’s cage,” said the man in the
But he himself had neither a bird
nor a cage, and it would have cost too much to buy
these because he had found the neck of a bottle that
would answer for a glass. The old maid, however,
up in the garret, might make use of it; and so the
neck of the bottle was sent up to her. A cork
was fitted to it, and, as first mentioned, after its
many changes, it was filled with fresh water, and
was hung in front of the cage of the little bird,
that sang until its warbling became almost overpowering.
“Yes, you may well sing,”
was what the neck of the bottle had said.
It was somewhat of a wonder, as it
had been up in a balloon; but with more of its history
no one was acquainted. Now it hung as a bird’s
glass, it could hear the people driving and walking
in the street below, and it could hear the old maid
talking in her room to a female friend of her youthful
days. They were chatting together, but speaking
of the myrtle plant in the window, not of the neck
of the bottle.
“You must not throw away two
rix dollars for a wedding bouquet for your daughter,”
said the old maid. “You shall have one from
me full of flowers. Look how pretty that plant
is! Ah! it is a slip of the myrtle tree you gave
me the day after my betrothal, that I myself, when
the year was past, might take my wedding bouquet from
it. But that day never came. The eyes were
for ever closed that were to have illumined for me
the path of happiness in this life. Away, down
in the ocean’s depths, he sleeps calmly that
angel soul! The tree became an old tree, but
I have become still older; and when it died, I took
its last green branch and planted it in the earth.
That slip has now grown into a high plant, and will
at last appear amidst bridal array, and form a wedding
bouquet for my friend’s daughter.”
And tears started to the old maid’s
eyes. She spoke of the lover of her youth of
the betrothal in the wood; she thought of the toasts
that were there drunk; she thought of the first kiss,
but she did not speak of that, for she was now but
an old maid. She thought of much much;
but little did she think that outside of her window
was even then a souvenir from that regretted
time the neck of the very bottle that had
been drawn when the unforgotten toasts were drunk!
Nor did the bottle-neck know her; for it had not heard
all she had said, because it had been thinking only