In a village there lived two men who had the self-same name. Both were named Claus. But one of them owned four horses, and the other owned only one horse; so to distinguish between them people called the man who had four horses Big Claus, and the man who had only one horse Little Claus. Now I'll tell you what happened to these two, for this is a true story.
The whole week through, Little Claus had to plow for Big Claus and lend him his only horse. In return, Big Claus lent him all four of his horses, but only for one day a week and that had to be Sunday.
High up in the thin, clear air there flew an angel bearing a flower from the garden of heaven. As he kissed it, a tiny leaf drifted down into the muddy soil in the middle of the wood; it very soon took root there, and sprouted, and sent up shoots among the other plants.
"That's a funny kind of slip," said the plants.
And neither the thistle nor the stinging nettle would have anything to do with the stranger. "It must be some low kind of garden plant," they said, grinning and making fun at it. But it grew and grew, and like no other plant its long branches spread far about.
There was a rich and happy house. All those in it-the owners, and servants, and friends, too-were happy and cheerful, for on this day a son and heir had been born, and mother and child were doing well.
The lamp in the cozy bedroom had been partly covered, and heavy curtains of costly silken material had been drawn tightly together before the windows. The carpet was as thick and soft as moss. Everything here invited rest and sleep; it was a delightful place for repose. And the nurse found it so, too; she slept, and indeed she might, for all was well and blessed here.
There was once an old mansion with a moat and drawbridge. The drawbridge was more often up than down; not all visitors are good or welcome. Under the eaves were loopholes to shoot out through, and for throwing boiling water, yes, even molten lead, down on the enemy if he approached too closely. Indoors were high rafted ceilings, and this was good because of the space it provided for the large amount of smoke that rolled up from the hearth fires, where huge, damp logs burned. On the walls hung pictures of men in armor and proud ladies in heavy robes; the grandest of all the ladies was living here. She was named Mette Mogens, and she was the lady of the manor.
One evening robbers came; they killed three of her guards; along with the watchdog, and they bound Lady Mette with the dog chain in the kennel and then seated themselves in the great hall and drank the wine and all the good beer from her cellar.
Once upon a time a flea, a grasshopper, and a jumping goose wanted to see which one could jump the highest; so they invited the whole world, and even a few others, to come to a festival to watch the test. They were three famous jumpers indeed, and they all met together in a big room.
"I'll give my daughter to the one who jumps the highest," said the King. "It seems so stingy to have these fellows jump for nothing."
The flea was the first to be introduced. He had such beautiful manners and bowed right and left, for he had noble blood in him, and besides, he was accustomed to move in human society, and that makes a great difference.
Among the other children in the charity school was a little Jewish girl, clever and good-in fact, the brightest of them all. But there was one class she could not attend, the one where religion was taught, for she was in a Christian school.
During the hour of this class, she had her geography book before her to study, or did her arithmetic, but the lessons were quickly learned, and then, though the book might still be open before her, she did not read from it; she listened. And the teacher soon noticed that she listened more intently than any of the rest.
"Study your book," said the teacher, gently yet earnestly. But she looked back at him with her black, eager eyes, and when he put his questions to her as well as the rest he found she knew more than all the others. She had listened, understood, and kept his words.
"It's a dreadful story!" said a hen, and she said it in a part of town, too, where it had not taken place. "It's a dreadful story to happen in a henhouse. I'm afraid to sleep alone tonight; it's a good thing there are many of us on the perch!" And then she told a story that made the feathers of the other hens stand on end and the rooster's comb fall. It's quite true!
But we will begin at the beginning and tell what had happened in a henhouse at the other end of town.
A duck arrived from Portugal. Some people said she came from Spain, but that doesn't really matter. She was called the Portuguese; she laid eggs, and was killed and dressed and cooked; that's the story of her life. But all the ducklings that were hatched from her eggs were also called Portuguese, and there's some distinction in that. At last there was only one left of her whole family in the duck yard - a yard to which the hens also had access, and where the cock strutted about with endless arrogance.
"His loud crowing annoys me," said the Portuguese Duck. "But there's no denying he's a handsome bird, even if he isn't a drake. Of course, he should moderate his voice, but that's an art that comes from higher education, such as the little songbirds over in our neighbours lime trees have. How sweetly they sing; There's something so touching over their melodies; I call it Portugal. If I only had a little songbird like that I'd be a kind and good mother to him, for that's in my blood - my Portuguese blood!"
Father and mother and all the brothers and sisters had gone to the theater; only little Anna and her grandfather were left at home.
"We'll put on a play, too," he said, "and it can start right away."
"But we don't have any theater!" said little Anna. "And we haven't anybody to do the acting. My old doll can't, because she looks dreadful, and my new one mustn't, because she'd rumple her new dress."
Near the river Gudenaa in the forest of Silkeborg, a great ridge of land rises. This ridge is called Aasen, and it resembles a large ball. Below it, on the western side, stands a little farmhouse surrounded by very poor land; in fact, the sand of the soil can be seen through the sparse rye and wheat that grow there.
We are speaking of a time some years ago, when the people who lived there cultivated the fields, and kept three sheep, a pig, and two oxen. To put it briefly, they supported themselves very well, with enough to live on if they took things in their stride; yes, and they were even well enough off to have kept a couple of horses, but, like the neighboring farmers, they said, "A horse eats itself up" - it eats as much as it earns. In summer Jeppe-Jens cultivated his small field, and in the winter he made wooden shoes; and at that time he had a journeyman assistant who, like him, knew how to make the wooden shoes strong, light, and fashionable. Their carved shoes and spoons brought in good money, and therefore no one could call the Jeppe-Jenses poor people.