THE OLD HOUSE 385
of all these grew grass and leaves, for the whole balcony, the courtyard, and the wall, were overgrown with so much green that it looked like a garden, but it was only a balcony. Here stood old flower-pots that had faces with asses' ears ; but the flowers grew just as they chose. In one pot pinks were growing over on all sides ; that is to say, the green stalks, sprout upon sprout, and they said quite plainly, 1 The air has caressed me and the sun has kissed me, and promised me a little flower for next Sunday, a little flower next Sunday ! '
And then they came to a room where the walls were covered with pig-skin, and golden flowers had been stamped on the leather.
'Flowers fade fast, But pig-skin will last/
said the walls. And there stood chairs with quite high backs, with carved work and elbows on each side.
' Sit down ! ' said they. ' Oh, how it cracks inside me ! Now I shall be sure to have the gout, like the old cupboard. Gout in my back, ugh ! '
And then the little boy came to the room where the old man sat.
1 Thank you for the Tin Soldier, my little friend,' said the old man, ' and thank you for coming over to me.'
1 Thanks ! thanks ! ' or ' Crick ! crack ! ' said all the furniture ; there were so many pieces that they almost stood in each other's way to see the little boy.
And in the middle, on the wall, hung a picture of a beautiful lady, young and cheerful in appearance, but dressed just like people of the old times, with powder in her hair and skirts that stuck out stiffly. She said neither ' Thanks' nor ' Crack ', but looked down upon the little boy with her mild eyes ; and he at once asked the old man,
1 Where did you get her from ? '
1 From the dealer opposite,' replied the old man. ' Many pictures are always hanging there. No one knows them or troubles himself about them, for they are all buried. But many years ago I knew this lady, and now she 's been dead and gone for half a century.'
And under the picture hung, behind glass, a nosegay of