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When I was a young man about twenty years of age, I was a sad hair-brained fellow. I lived entirely in the passing hour, the time gone by was quite forgotten, and about the future I never took the trouble to think a moment. Inclined to every possible species of foolish prank, I was always ready to rush headlong into any kind of frolic--anything that promised fun, even if that were a row; and never did I let slip the opportunity of amusing myself. I was a living proof that proverbs are not always infallible; for if 'bought wit is best,' that is to say, wisdom bought by experience, I must have become wise long ago; if 'a burned child or a scalded cat dreads the fire,' I was singed and scalded often enough to have felt some dread; and 'to pay the piper' had frequently fallen upon me. But I was none the wiser or more prudent. This preface was necessary in order to introduce the following episode of my mirth-loving youthful days.
My father thought that the best way of breaking off my intimacy with a somewhat riotous clique of young men, in whose jovial society I passed a good deal of my time, was to send me to Hamburg, where I was placed in the counting-house of a merchant, who was expected to keep a strict watch over me, on account of his well-known reputation for the most rigid morality; as if one could not find pleasant society in Hamburg if one were inclined to be gay! Before fourteen days had elapsed, I had at least three times outwitted the worthy man's vigilance, and twice out of these three times had not got home till close upon the dawn of day, without having been engaged in any fray; a pretty fair evidence that I sought good company, where the risk of getting a drubbing existed between the hours of one and three. But fate spread her protecting hand over me, and at the expiration of a year I returned safe and sound to Copenhagen, bringing back with me much experience in all manner of jolly diversions, and no small desire to carry my knowledge of them into continued practice.
I was of course destined to be bound hand and foot with the counting-house chains; but before putting them on I obtained leave to take a month's holiday in the country, and visit my uncles and my aunts in various parts of Zealand. One fine afternoon in the month of September, I sought out a common conveyance, such as is used by the peasantry, to take me the first few miles of my journey; and with my knapsack in my hand I was standing in the court-yard of the inn ready to step into the rustic carriage, when a servant entered the court and asked if there were any opportunity for Kjöge.
'That person standing there is going straight to Kjöge,' said the ostler of the inn.
The servant touched his hat. 'Here is a letter which it is of great consequence to my master should reach Kerporal's Inn at ----, where a private carriage will be waiting for him; he is not able to go where he is expected, as he has been taken ill. I would give the letter to the driver, but fear he might lose it.'
'Well, let me have it,' said I. 'I will be your master's messenger. What is his name?' He mentioned a name quite unknown to me. I pocketed the letter, and drove off.
My usual good luck did not attend me on this journey. In general I seldom drove a mile without meeting with some little adventure, if no better than taking up a passenger on the road, or mystifying some good-natured countryman, or playing the fool with some coquettish barmaid; but this time everything seemed bewitched, and I was tired to death. The Kjöge road is the stupidest of all possible roads--the wayfarers are too ragged and dirty for anyone to venture to take them up, the peasantry are deeper than coal-pits in cunning, and the barmaids are either as ugly as sin or engaged to the tapsters and cellarmen--in both cases disqualified for the situations they fill. I was dreadfully ennuyé, and, as if to add to my despair, one of the horses became lame, and they proceeded leisurely, step by step, at a snail's pace.