The Storm Shifts the Sign-Boards


The Storm Shifts the Sign-Boards
Such a storm has never raged in our day.

IN the old days, when grandfather was quite a little boy and wore red trousers and a red jacket, a scarf around his waist and a feather in his cap (for that was the way in which little boys were dressed in the days of his childhood when they wore their best clothes) -- at that time so many things were different from what they are now. There were often grand sights in the streets which we do not see, for they have all been done away with, as they were getting so old-fashioned; but it is delightful to hear grandfather tell about them.
It must have been a great sight to see the shoemakers change their signs when they moved into their new guild-hall.
On their silk banner, which was waving in the air, was painted a large boot and an eagle with two heads; the youngest of the journeymen carried the "cup of welcome" and the "casket" of their guild, and wore flowing red and white ribbons on their shirt-sleeves; the older ones carried drawn swords with a lemon stuck on the point. There was a full band of music, and the finest of the instruments was the "bird," as grandfather called the great pole with the half-moon at the top, and all kinds of jingling gewgaws -- quite Turkish music. It was lifted aloft and swung to and fro, and it jingled and tinkled, and it hurt one's eyes to look at all the gold and silver and brass on which the sun was shining.
The Storm Shifts the Sign-Boards
The people shouted and cheered still more when the Harlequin came on the scaffolding and made faces at them.

In front of the procession ran a harlequin dressed in clothes made of patches of every possible color, with a black face, and bells on his head like a sledge-horse. He struck the people with his wand, which made a loud noise without hurting them, and the people crushed against each other in trying to get backward or forward; little boys and girls tumbled over one another and fell right into the gutter; old women pushed their way with their elbows, looked cross, and kept on scolding. Some laughed and others talked; there were people on all the door-steps and in the windows, and even on the roofs. The sun was shining brightly; then it began to rain a little also, but that was good for the farmers, and when the people were thoroughly drenched the rain was a blessing to the country.
Ah, how grandfather could tell stories! As a little boy he had seen all these grand sights in their greatest splendor. The oldest journeyman of the guild made a speech from the scaffolding where the sign was to be hung up, and the speech was a versified one, just as if it had been poetry, which it was; in fact, there had been three people busy composing it, and they had first drunk a whole bowl of punch in order to make the speech really good. And the people shouted and cheered the speech, but they shouted and cheered still more when the harlequin came on the scaffolding and made faces at them. The buffoon was great at playing the fool, and drank mead out of dram-glasses, which he threw among the people, who caught them in the air.
Grandfather had one of these glasses, which the mason who mixed the mortar had caught and presented to him. It was all very amusing, and the sign on the new guild-hall was hung with flowers and foliage.
"Such a sight one never forgets, no matter how old one gets," said grandfather; nor did he forget it, although he had seen many other sights and splendors, which he told us about. But what amused us most was to hear him telling about the shifting of sign-boards in the big town where he went to live.
Grandfather had remained there with his parents when he was a little boy; he had never before seen the biggest town in the country. There were so many people in the street that he thought they were going to move the sign-boards, and there were a good many to move: a hundred rooms could have been filled with pictures, if they had been hung indoors instead of outside. Thus there were all sorts of clothes painted on the tailors' sign-boards: they could make shabbily dressed people into quite grand folks; there were sign-boards outside the tobacco manufacturers' with the most delightful little boys smoking cigars, just as in real life; there were sign-boards on which were painted butter and salted herrings, parsons' ruffs and coffins, with inscriptions and announcements of all kinds. One could easily spend a whole day in going up and down the streets, looking at the pictures till one got tired of it, and at the same time one could learn what sort of people lived in those houses where they had hung out sign-boards; and, as grandfather said, it was a good thing, and very instructive as well, to know who lived in all the houses in a big town.
But just as grandfather came to town what I am about to tell you happened to the sign-boards. He has told me all about it himself, and he was not chaffing me, as mother said he always did when he wanted to "palm off" anything upon me; he looked as if you could rely upon every word he said.
The Storm Shifts the Sign-Boards

The night he arrived in the big town the weather was the most terrible one had ever read about in the papers -- such weather as no one within the memory of man had experienced. The air was filled with tiles; old palings were blown down; there was even a wheelbarrow which ran up the street just to save itself. The wind howled in the air; it whined and shook everything it came in contact with. It was indeed a terrible storm. The water in the canals splashed over the sides; it did not know what to do with itself. The storm swept over the town, carrying the chimneys along with it. More than one of the noble old church steeples had to lean over, and has never got straight since.
Outside the house of the old, respected captain of the fire brigade, who always arrived at a fire with the last engine, stood a sentry-box. The storm begrudged the captain this little box and blew it off its pivot. It rolled down the street, and, strange to say, it righted itself and was left standing outside the house of the foolish carpenter who had saved three lives in the last fire. But the sentry-box did not give that a thought.
The barber's sign, the great brazen dish, was torn off and thrown right into the window recess of the judge's, and it seemed almost as if it was done out of malice, said the whole neighborhood, for they and the most intimate friends of the judge's wife called her "the razor," she was so sharp. She knew more about people than they knew themselves.
Then flew a sign-board with a dried codfish painted on it. It stuck over the door of a house where there lived a man who wrote in a newspaper. It was a foolish joke on the part of the storm. It did not recollect that a newspaper writer is not at all to be trifled with. He is king in his own paper and in his own opinion.
The weathercock flew across to the neighbor's roof opposite, and there it stood, the very picture of blackest malice, said the neighbors.
The cooper's barrel got fixed under a sign, "Ladies' trimmings."
The bill of fare at the cookshop, which hung near the door in a heavy frame, was pitched by the storm above the entrance of the theater, which nobody went to. It was a funny bill: "Horse-radish soup and stuffed cabbage." But then plenty of people came to the theater.
The fox-skin of the furrier, the honorable sign of his trade, was shifted to the bell-pull of a young man who always went to early church service, and who looked like a shut-down umbrella, and was always searching for truth, and was a "model young man," as his aunt said.
The inscription, "Institute for Higher Education," was blown over to the billiard club, and the institute itself got another sign-board in exchange: "Children reared here by the bottle." This was not at all witty, only rude; but the storm had done it, and one cannot control the storm.
It was a terrible night, and in the morning -- just fancy! -- nearly all the sign-boards in the town had been shifted, and at some places it was done with such malice that grandfather would not talk about it; but, I noticed, he laughed to himself, and it is possible he was up to some mischief.
The unfortunate inhabitants of the big town, and especially the strangers, went wrong altogether when they tried to find people. Nor could they do otherwise, since they went by the sign-boards. Some people were going to a very solemn meeting of elders, where most important things were to be settled, and they found themselves in a noisy boys' school, where the boys were just about to jump on the tables.
There were people who mistook the church for the theater, and that was really too terrible!
Such a storm has never raged in our days. It is only grandfather who has experienced such a one, and that was when he was quite a little boy.
Such a storm may not occur in our time, but perhaps it may in that of our grandchildren, and we can only hope and pray that they will keep indoors while the storm is shifting the sign-boards.

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The Stories on this site were compiled from the following historical publications and others.

Hans Christian Andersen
Andersen's Fairy Tales
Chicago - New York - San Francisco
Belford, Clarke & Co.

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen's
for the
Copyrighted 1893, McLoughlin Bros.

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen
Camden Press
Dalziel Bros. Engravers and Printers Copyright Unknown, est. 1870

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen
E.P. Dutton and Co.
© 1906-1907

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen
The Century Company,
The DeVinne Press
Copyright 1900