Once there was an old gentleman who did a lot of traveling but he never went anywhere without his
trunk. That trunk was by no means elegant, one might even say it was ugly. It was covered with a shaggy
sealskin and had iron straps and metal-plated corners. Moths had eaten the skin and the iron straps were
covered with rust and over the years it had received many a dent and countless scratches.
"This one can take a beating," said the porters when they took it off the coach. Boom! They would push it
around in such a way that it banged against the other trunks. That was not exactly what was needed to
soothe the already ill-tempered mood of the old trunk. With its metal corners it would scrape and bang
everything that got it its way: "You don’t have to come so close to me," it would shout when the other
trunks around it started to complain. "You just want to see how shabby you can make me."
The old gentleman to whom the trunk belonged was a rather strange person. When he was at home he
always had to have his trunk placed right beneath the gilded mirror, although it looked odd; the old, ugly
trunk in a room that was otherwise quite cozy and charming. And when he was travelling and would stay
at a hotel the first thing he did was to have the trunk brought in and have it placed right beside his bed.
"There is probably gold in that trunk," people thought, "because he can’t stand to have it out of sight."
But in this matter their thoughts were completely false. There was something in there to be sure, but
money? Money, no, by no means!
If the old gentleman happened to be all alone in his room he would press a secret spring devise. Click! The
suitcase would open. And what was in there? A splendid chest decorated with red velvet clasps and golden
bows and tassels.
But as soon as someone entered the room: Plop! Down went the lid.
Now the old gentleman's housemaid was very clever. Once she left her shoes standing by the door and
she slipped into the room very quietly in her stocking feet and went right over to the trunk which just
then was open.
When she got close to it and saw the bright red color and the glistening gold she forgot herself and said
cried out loud: "Oh my, how pretty this old trunk is inside!" At that moment the trunk noticed that
someone strange was there. Plop! The lid fell down heavily and almost closed on her finger. It all happened
just when she was about to reach in and touch the material to make sure it was really soft and velvety.
“Phooey!” she said in her astonishment. "What a mean old mean trunk this is; one can’t get along with
such a trunk!" But later when people questioned her about the trunk and the old gentleman who was so
secretive about it, as if it contained some precious treasure, she would answer: No, there is nothing
strange at all about the trunk and its contents. Every man has some kind of strange behavior, especially
when he is old and unmarried. That ragged old trunk means everything to this old man. There is nothing
more to it than that.
But there really was something special in that trunk. For every so often the old gentleman would carefully
lock all his doors, press his secret spring and the lid would open. Then he would stop and listen to make
sure all was quiet in the house, and if he heard nothing he would lift the red velvet chest out of the trunk
and put it down in front of him on the table. Then he would press a second secret spring on the chest and
the red velvet lid would open.
And what was in there?
Unbelievable, but true! A pretty little fairy-tale princess with two long pigtails down her back who wore a
pair of high-heeled red shoes. Immediately she would jump out of the chest and land on both feet, seat
herself on the chest and let her feet dangle — that made her so charming — and then she would start to
tell the loveliest fairy tales.
And the old gentleman would sit in his armchair and listen intently to every word she said. —
One day when she had just finished her fairy tale she said: "I have told you so many stories; I sometimes
think you have forgotten them. Perhaps you should write them down."
"O, yes," said the old gentleman, "I could write them down word for word but they would not be so
charming as when you tell them; and no one should ever know where they came from, and above all, that
you are hiding in this trunk. For I must have you all to myself. If people knew they would want to come
and see you and touch you with their dirty fingers. The satin on the chest would soon look shabby."
"No, heavens no!" answered the little princess. But I am sure that people would really be surprised if they
knew who was hiding in the old trunk."
And then she laughed.
"Hush!" said the old gentleman suddenly. "Someone is knocking at the door. Crawl back into the chest a
quick as you can." And then he hastily placed the chest in the trunk. Plop! The sealskin lid closed, and
when the housemaid—for it was she—came in to serve tea the old trunk was standing beneath the mirror,
sullen and worn. When she walked past it she gave it a kick, secretly, without the old gentleman seeing
her, and murmured: “You mean old trunk, yesterday you almost closed your lid on my finger."
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides
The Old Trunk
Richard von Volkmann-Leander