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The Puppet-show Man

On board the steamer was an elderly man with such a joyful face that if it didn't belie him he must have been the happiest person on earth. In fact, he said he was the happiest; I heard it from his own mouth. He was a Dane, a countryman of mine, and a traveling theatrical producer. His whole company was with him and lay in a large box, for he was the proprietor of a puppet show. He said that his natural cheerfulness had been enlightened by a Polytechnic student, and the experiment had left him completely happy. At first I didn't understand what he meant, but later he explained the whole thing to me, and here is the story.

"In the town of Slagelse," he said, "I gave a performance in the post-office courtyard before a brilliant audience, all juvenile except for two old matrons. Suddenly a person in black, looking like a student, entered the hall and sat down; he laughed at the right places and applauded appropriately. He was an unusual spectator. I was anxious to know who he was, and I learned that he was a student from the Polytechnic Institute of Copenhagen who had been sent out to teach the people in the provinces. My performance ended promptly at eight o'clock, for children must go to bed early, and a manager must consider the convenience of his public. At nine o'clock the student began his lecture and experiments, and now I was one of his spectators. It was all extraordinary to hear and see. Most of it went over my head and into the parson's, as one says, but it made me think that if we mortals can learn so much we must surely be intended to last longer than the little span we're here on earth. What he performed were miracles, and though only small ones, everything was done as easily as a foot fits into a stocking, as naturally as nature functions. In the days of Moses and the prophets such a man would have been counted among the wise men of the land; in the Middle Ages he would have been burned at the stake. I didn't sleep that whole night. And the next evening, when I gave another performance, and the student was again present, I was in an exuberantly good humor.

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