27. Shankbone and Seashell (Leggur og skel)

Photo of threadbone, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

Gaimard lithograph of seashells, small version.
[larger image/full caption]

A threadbone.


Shankbone and Seashell
(A tale essentially after H. C. Andersen)

Once upon a time a sheep's shankbone and a seashell lived in a toybox along with some other children's toys. The shankbone said to the seashell: "How about the two of us getting married, since we both live in the same box?"

Unfortunately the shell had come from the sea and was pretty conceited, like lots of young girls who are still unmarried and living at home — though this shell certainly wasn't living at home any more! — and she wouldn't give the shankbone the time of day.

In the same toybox lived an ancient strap-ring, old-fashioned and decrepit. But at least he was made of copper.

"Ahem. Young lady," he said to the seashell, "I don't suppose you'd care to have some private conversation with me over there in the corner?"

"But of course," said the seashell. And the two of them stepped into the corner.

There the strap-ring said: "Ahem. Ah, I don't suppose you'd be interested in marrying someone who is exceptionally clever about money and very rich? Even though he doesn't have much interest in literature?"

Coming from the sea (as she did) the shell didn't begin to fathom all these elaborate courtesies (besides being so stuck-up, like lots of young girls who are still unwed and living at home).

So she didn't say a word.

"Alas!" said the strap-ring then, "Alas, my precious one, light of my life! Ah, please say: 'Yes'!"

But the seashell said "No." Insistently. And that was the end of the conversation.

Along came the boy who owned the toybox. He took out the shankbone, tied a piece of red thread around him, and rode him across the floor just like a horse. Later he found a brass pin and stuck it onto one end of him. It was very impressive to watch the light glance off the pin as the shankbone galloped around.

"Just take a look at this," he said to the seashell. "How do you like me now? Don't you think the two of us should get married? We were made for each other: you're from the sea and I'm from a sheepshank. I think we'd get along just fine."

"Oh, you do, do you," said the shell. "You forget that I was actually washed up on shore — by the waves, no less! — and am an exquisitely sophisticated creature. A great merchant came walking by and picked me up — himself! — and ate my original contents. Later I put in more than one appearance on fancy china, let me tell you!"

"That may be true," said the shankbone. "But I want you to know that I come from the leg of a dark-cream-colored lamb with a white breast and belly. Why, woman — once I was even pickled! It was the pastor himself who ate the flesh off me! And now — as you can see — they've stuck this distinguished-looking brass pin onto one end of me."

"Is all this really true?" said the shell.

"Blast me if I. . . . I mean, damned if I. . . . I mean, of course it's all true," said the shankbone.

"What a way you have with words," said the seashell. "But the answer is still no. I'm what you could almost call engaged. There's a dandelion out on the front lawn, you know, and when the boy takes us toys outside he often sets me down next to the dandelion and the dandelion whispers, 'Want to knit the knot, baby?' And I say 'Yes.' Just to myself, of course. But way down deep, in my heart. I think this practically amounts to a real engagement. . . . But anyhow, I promise never, never to forget you."

"Well, that's something, I guess," said the shankbone, and after this they didn't speak to each other again.

Next day the boy who owned the toybox came and picked it up and took it outside onto the grass along with all the toys. The sun was shining, a warm breeze was blowing from the south, and cloud-shadows were racing across the fields. The cotton grass, growing nearby in boggy spots, dipped its tufts every time the sky darkened and the breeze blew, and the twitch grass in the meadows danced up and down in waves. The whole valley glistened with grass and flowers.

Color photo of fífa at Hólar, small version.

The seashell ended up next to the dandelion, as usual, since children often follow the same routines when they play. The dandelion stared at her for a while, then said, "Want to marry me, sweetheart?"

"Oh, my goodness, yes!" said the seashell.

But the dandelion said, "Ah, my dear, I'm afraid it just can't be." And he went back to staring at the sun again, smiling a little less broadly than before, for the farmer had appeared with a long-handled scythe and was beginning to mow the field. The boy scampered off with his toys, accidentally leaving the seashell behind in the grass.

"What do you suppose happened to my seashell?" he asked later. "I had it when they started mowing."

"Then it's somewhere in the hay," he was told. "Maybe it will turn up when we feed the cows — or maybe in the hay sweepings next spring."

The shankbone heard everything they said and his heart was heavy with sorrow. He thought to himself: "So. Now they're together in the hay, the seashell and the dandelion. What a terrible situation."

The more he thought about it, the more awful he felt, because he couldn't have the seashell all to himself. Day by day his passion grew more inflamed. She was enjoying someone else — it was an intolerable torment. The shankbone moped about. He tried to sleep but was tormented by insomnia. All he could do was think about the seashell. In his imagination she grew lovelier and lovelier.

Winter passed. By now he was beginning to think of her as an "old flame." And in the meantime he had gained enormously in experience and maturity. Then, all at once, the boy stopped riding him and tossed him into a corner, where one of the maids found him and dyed him a handsome shade of green — the sort of color we're all familiar with — and used him to wind her thread on. He had attained to high office and a fancy title, now, and was dubbed a threadbone. This was really something!

Then in the spring he disappeared, all of a sudden, and no one knew what had become of him. They searched high and low (after all, he was a threadbone!) but couldn't find him anywhere.

What do you suppose had become of this titled bone, with his high office, when no one on earth could find him any more? I'll tell you: he was lying out on the garbage dump. He had accidentally been taken out with the trash.

Not much high society out there. Some tattered old socks, some cast-off shoes, and a couple of other things that were distinctly worse. The shankbone looked crosseyed at these new acquaintances of his and said (as you might expect): "Yes, indeed, a mighty nice home I've got out here amongst all this trash!"

Then he noticed a seashell (if you could still call it a seashell), black as soot and full of cracks, maybe even fissures. It was the very same seashell that had lain out on the lawn in the sunshine a year ago, planning to marry the dandelion, and had ended up in the hay.

"How do you do?" said the seashell, her eyes fixed on the shankbone. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to come across a guest, here, who it's worth one's while to talk to. I myself am from the sea, of course, and was washed up onto the beach, an exquisitely sophisticated creature. A great merchant found me, picked me up, and ate my original contents. I've put in more that one appearance on a china plate — though it's hard to realize that, when you look at me now. . . . And I was just about to marry a dandelion when they mowed the field and I ended up in the hay and then later the hay sweepings and the dunghill. Then I was dumped out on the homefield along with the dung, and I turned up again when it was cleared off. . . .1 A terribly long time for a young lady to have to wait, you understand."

The shankbone said nothing. He was thinking about the seashell he had loved in days gone by. And the longer this seashell kept on talking, the more clearly he perceived that it was the same seashell. And look, here she was.

Suddenly the maid came by to dump out a garbage pail. "Good Lord," she said, "here's my old shankbone!" And she picked him up and carried him into the farmhouse. After being given a thorough wash-up, he looked just as distinguished as ever, was elevated once more to threadbone, and remained in use for a long, long time. The pin the boy had stuck into him always gleamed brightly on his end.

No one knew anything about the seashell, and the sheepbone never mentioned her. Love tends to dim, a little, when the loved one has gone through the hay chaff and the dungheap and been dumped out onto the field along with the dung. You can hardly be expected to renew your acquaintance with her, when you run into her one day in the garbage.

Leggur og skel
(Ævintýri, nokkurn veginn eftir H. C. Andersen)

Einu sinni voru leggur og skel; þau lágu bæði í gullastokki innan um önnur barnagull, og svo sagði leggurinn við skelina: "Eigum við ekki að taka saman, fyrst að við á annað borð liggjum hér í sama stokknum?"

En skelin var úr sjó og þóttist töluvert, rétt eins og ung heimasæta, — en hún var nú samt ekki heimasæta — og vildi ekki gegna því neinu.

Þar var líka í stokknum gömul gjarðarhringja, slitin og fornfáleg; en hún var samt úr eir.

Hún sagði við skelina: "Ekki vænti ég þú viljir heyra mér út í horn?"

Og skelin sagði "jú," og svo fóru þau bæði út í horn.

Þá sagði hringjan: "Ekki vænti ég þú viljir eiga þér mann, ríkan og forstöndugan, ekki svo mikið upp á bókaramennt?"

En skelin var úr sjó og skildi ekki þessa kurteisi, þóttist líka töluvert, rétt eins og ung heimasæta, og þagði eins og steinn.

Þá sagði hringjan: "Æ! segðu nú já, hjartans lífið mitt góða!"

En skelin sagði ekki annað en "nei," og svo töluðu þau ekki meira saman.

En nú kom drengurinn, sem átti gullastokkinn, og tók legginn og batt um hann rauðum þráðarspotta og reið honum um pallinn, og seinast tók hann látúnsbólu og rak í endann á honum; það var ekki mjög ljótt að sjá skína á bóluna, þegar leggnum var riðið.

"Líttu nú á mig," sagði hann við skelina; "hvernig líst þér nú á? ættum við nú ekki að taka saman? hjónasvipur er með okkur; þú ert úr sjó, og ég úr lambsfæti; ég sé ekki betur, en það geti farið vel á með okkur."

"Á! haldið þér það?" sagði skelin; "þér munið líklega ekki eftir, að ég er rekin á fjöru, og er orðin forfrömuð; kaupmaðurinn hefur fundið mig sjálfur og étið úr mér fiskinn, og ég hef komið á meir en einn postulínsdisk."

"Satt er það," sagði leggurinn; "en ég er líka úr golmögóttum lambsfæti, og hef verið súrsaður, blessuð mín! og presturinn hefur borðað af mér sjálfur, og nú er búið að setja bólu í endann á mér, eins og þú getur séð."

"Er það nú víst?" sagði skelin.

"Svei mér ef — fari ég þá sem — skammi mig ef ég skrökva," sagði leggurinn.

"Þér getið komið fyrir yður orði," sagði skelin, "en ég má það ekki samt; ég er hálflofuð, að kalla má; það er fífill í hlaðbrekkunni, eins og þér vitið, og þegar drengurinn ber okkur út, gullin sín, hefur hann oftar en einu sinni lagt mig niður hjá fíflinum, og þá hefur fífillinn sagt: 'Viljið þér koma til í það?' og ég hef þá sagt 'já' svona í huga mínum innanbrjósts, og það álít ég hálfgildings lofun. En því lofa ég yður, að ég skal aldrei gleyma yður."

"Það er nú til nokkurs," sagði leggurinn, og svo töluðu þau aldrei saman.

Daginn eftir kom drengurinn, sá sem átti gullastokkinn, og tekur hann og fer með hann og allt saman út í hlaðbrekku. Þá var sólskin og sunnanvindur, skýskuggar flugu yfir engin, og fífan hneigði sig á mýrinni í hvert sinn og hún dökknaði, og það gekk eins og bárur yfir puntinn á túninu, dalurinn skein allur í grösum og blómum.

Skelin lenti hjá fíflinum, eins og vant var, því börn eru oft vanaföst í leikum; hann leit á hana stundarkorn og sagði: "Viltu eiga mig, hróið mitt?"

"Það vil ég fegin," sagði skelin.

En fífillinn sagði: "Þú færð það nú ekki samt, góðin mín!" og svo horfði hann aftur í sólina, nærri því eins brosandi og áður.

Þá kom sláttumaðurinn með orf og ljá og fór að bera út. Drengurinn varð að flýta sér burtu með gullin sín, og skelin varð óvart eftir í hlaðvarpanum.

"Hvað er orðið af skelinni minni?" sagði drengurinn; "ég var með hana úti í varpa, þegar farið var að slá."

En fólkið sagði: "Hún hefur farið í heyið; hún finnst, ef til vill, þegar gefið er kúnum, eða þá í moðinu í vor."

En leggurinn heyrði allt, sem fólkið sagði, og honum sveið það sárt. Hann hugsaði með sér: "Nú hefur skelin átt fífilinn í heyinu; það er útséð um það."

Og því lengur sem hann hugsaði um þetta, því meira sárnaði honum, og það kom til af því, að hann gat ekki fengið skelina sjálfur; svo óx ástin dag frá degi; þetta: að eiga annan, það var svo óbærilegt. Leggurinn lá og kúrði, og vildi feginn geta sofið, en það gat hann ekki, og ekkert nema hugsað um skelina; alltaf varð hún fallegri og fallegri.

Veturinn leið, og svo voru það orðnar fornar ástir; því leggurinn hafði elst og var nú farinn töluvert að framast; drengurinn hætti einu sinni að ríða honum og fleygði honum út í skot; en ein vinnukonan fann hann og litaði hann fagurgrænan, eins og við þekkjum, og vatt svo upp á hann þráð; og nú fékk hann bæði embætti og nafnbót, og var kallaður þráðarleggur; þa var nú ofurlítill munur!

En svo hvarf hann um vorið, og enginn vissi hvað af honum varð; það var leitað og leitað, af því hann var þráðarleggur, en hann fannst hvergi.

Hvað var þá orðið af þessum embættislegg með nafnbót, sem enginn lifandi maður gat fundið? Það skal ég segja þér: hann lá úti á haugi; hann hafði óvart verið borinn út í sorpinu.

Þar var lítið um dýrðir, gamlir íleppar og skóvörp og annað þaðan af verra. Leggurinn gaut hornauga til þessa samsafnaðar, og sagði eins og von var: "Jú jú! ég er fallega settur innan um allan þennan hroða!"

En svo sér hann skel, ef svo mætti kalla, kolmórauða og skörðótta, og gott ef ekki rifna, og það var sama skelin, sem árinu áður hafði legið í sólskininu frammi í varpa, og ætlað sér að eiga fífilinn, og farið í heyið.

"Fegin verð ég," sagði skelin, "að einhver kemur hér, sem talandi er við. Komið þér sælir!" sagði hún, og virti legginn fyrir sér; "ég er í rauninni úr sjó og rekin á fjöru og hef verið forfrömuð; kaupmaðurinn hefur fundið mig sjálfur og borðað úr mér fiskinn, og ég hef komið á meir en einn postulínsdisk; nú er það ekki á mér að sjá; ég var rétt komin að því að eignast fífil; en svo var slegið túnið, og ég lenti í heyinu, og svo í moðinu og fjóshaugnum, og var borin á völl og borin af aftur, þegar hreinsað var; það er löng bið, eins og þér skiljið, fyrir unga stúlku."

En leggurinn svaraði engu; hann var að hugsa um unnustu sína, sem verið hafði; og eftir því, sem hann heyrði skelina tala lengur, sá hann alltaf betur og betur, að þetta væri sama skelin og sé nú þar komin.

Þá kom vinnukonan að kasta úr sorptrogi. "Hér er þá leggurinn minn," sagði hún, og svo tók hún hann upp og bar hann inn í bæ; og hann var allur þveginn og þótti fallegur enn, og varð aftur þráðarleggur og var geymdur lengi, og bólan sat alltaf í endanum á honum, sem drengurinn hafði rekið í.

En skeljarinnar er ekki getið, og leggurinn nefndi hana aldrei á nafn. Ástin fyrnist, þegar unnustan hefur farið í moðið og fjóshauginn, og verið borin á völl; maður þekkir hana ekki aftur, þegar maður rekst á hana í sorpinu.

Manuscript:None surviving.
First published:1847 (9F54-57; image) under the title "Leggur og skel."

Commentary:        The tale is based on Hans Christian Andersen's "Kjærestefolkene" ("The Sweethearts"), published in Nye Eventyr (Første Bind, Første Samling, 1844; the actual publication date was 11 November 1843). For the original Danish text see 2HCA27-9.

It is very instructive to compare Jónas's adaptation with Andersen's original. The adaptation is more than half again as long and Jónas has — very wittily — transposed everything to rural Iceland, where children's toys were extremely plain (see Íþh271). He has also added the episode of the ancient strap-ring and various minor digressions and details (including a wonderful description of the Icelandic countryside in summer).

Andersen's bittersweet tale was supposedly inspired by a chance meeting with his old love Riborg Voigt (along with her husband and children) in the summer of 1843. Matthías Þórðarson argued that Jónas may have chosen to adapt Andersen's tale because something exactly parallel happened to him when — in the 1840s, in Copenhagen — he chanced to meet Christiane Knudsen, whom he had courted vainly in Reykjavík in his younger years. But the account of this meeting is a little suspect (see 169Skí8-9) and if one is looking for autobiography in Jónas's tale, one is more likely to find it in Jónas's memories of his relationship with Þóra Gunnarsdóttir: memories that were surfacing in several poems that may have been composed about the same time he made this adaptation. Hence it is possible that Jónas's most important addition to Andersen's story — the "ancient strap-ring" — is an allusion to the man fourteen years older than herself whom Þóra married in 1834.


1 Early every spring, on farms in Iceland, dung collected from the cowbarn and pulverized as finely as possible was spread over the homefield, where hay would be grown to feed the cows during the next winter. When the grass in the homefield began to sprout, excess dung was raked into heaps, sometimes to be used for other purposes, sometimes burnt. Sheep-dung was not treated in this fashion but was collected and used to fuel fires or smoke food. See Íþh56-9.

Copyright © 1996-8 Dick Ringler. All rights reserved.

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