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Hans Christian Andersen

The Swiftest Runners

T HERE was a prize offered—or rather two prizes, a large and a small one—for the greatest speed, not in a single race, but to such as had raced the whole year.

"I took the first prize," said the Hare. "One had a right to expect justice when one's own family and best friends were in the council; but that the Snail should have got the second prize I consider as almost an insult to me.:

"No," observed the Fence-rail, who had been a witness to the distribution of the prizes; "you must take diligence and good-will into consideration. That remark was made by several very estimable persons, and that was also my opinion. The Snail, to be sure, took half a year to cross the threshold; but he broke his thight0bone in the haste he made. He devoted himself entirely to this race; and, moreover, he ran with his house on his back. All these weighed in his favor, and so he took the second prize."

"I think my claims might also have been taken into considerations," said the Swallow. "More speedy than I, in flight and motion, I believe no one has shown himself. And where have I not been? Far, far away!"

"And that is just your misfortune," said the Fence-rail. "You gad about too much. You are always on the wing, ready to start out of the country when it begins to freeze. You have no love for your father-land. You cannot claim any consideration in it."

"But if I were to sleep all the winter through on the moor," inquired the Swallow—"sleep my whole time away—should I be thus entitled to be taken into consideration?"

"Obtain an affidavit from the old woman of the moor that you did sleep half a year in your father-land, then your claims will be taken into consideration."

"I deserved the first prize instead of the second," said the Snail. "I know very well that the Hare only ran from cowardice, whenever he thought there was danger near. I on the contrary, made the trial the business of my life, and I have become a cripple in consequence of my exertions. If any one had a right to the first prize it was I; but I make no fuss; I scorn to do so." And then he spat.

"I can declare upon my honor that each prize, at least as far as my voice in the matter went, was accorded with strict justice," said the old Sign-post in the wood, who had been one of the arbitrators. "I always act from order, reflection, and calculation. Seven times before have I had the honor to be engaged in the distribution of the prizes, but never until to-day have I had my own way carried out. My plan has always hitherto been thwarted—that was, to give the first prize to one of the first letters in the alphabet, and the second prize to one of the last letters. If you will be so good as to grant me your attention, I will explain it to you. The eight letter in the alphabet from A  is H—that stands for Hare, and therefore I awarded the greatest prize to the Hare; and the eight letter from the end is S, therefore the Snail  obtained the second prize. Next time the I  will carry off the first prize, and R  the second. A due attention to order and rotation should prevail in all rewards and appointments. Everything should go according to rule. Rule  must precede merit."

"I should certainly have voted for myself, had I not been among the judges," said the Mule. "People must take into account not only how quickly one goes, but what other circumstances are in question; as, for instance, how much one carries. But I would not this time have thought about that, neither about the Hare's wisdom in his flight—his tact in springing suddenly to one side, to put his pursuers on the wrong scent, away from his place of concealment. No; there is one thing many people think much of, and which out never to be disregarded. It is called the beautiful. I saw that in the Hare's charming, well grown ears; it is quite a pleasure to see how long they are. I fancied that I beheld myself when I was little, and so I voted for him."

"Hush!" said the Fly. "As for me I will not speak; I will only say one word. I know right well that I have outrun more than one hare. The other day I broke the hind legs of one of the young ones. I was sitting on the locomotive before the train: I often do that. One sees so well there one's own speed. A young hare ran for a long time in front of the engine; he had no idea that I was there. At length he was just going to turn off the line, when the locomotive went over his hind legs and broke them, for I was sitting on it. The hare remained lying there, but I drove on. This was surely getting before him; but I do not care for the prize."

"It appears to me," thought the Wild Rose, but she did not say it—it is not her nature to express her ideas openly, though it might have been well had she done so—"it appears to me that the Sunbeam should have had the first prize of honor, and the second also. It passes in a moment the immeasurable space from the sun down to us, and comes with such power that all nature is awakened by it. It has such beauty, that all we roses redden and become fragrant under it. The high presiding authorities do not seem to have noticed it at all. Were I the Sunbeam, I would give each of them a sun-stroke—that I would; but it would only make them crazy, and they will very likely be that without it. I shall say nothing," thought the Wild Rose. "There is peace in the wood; it is delightful to blossom, to shed refreshing perfume around, to live amidst the songs of birds and the rustling of trees; but the sun's rays will outlive us all."

"What is the first prize?" asked the Earth-worm, who had overslept himself, and only now joined them.

"It is free entrance to the kitchen garden," said the Mule. "I proposed the prize. The Hare ought to have it; and so I thought, as a clear-sighted and judicious member of the meeting, that this was a sensible view of the matter. I was resolved he should have it, and he is now provided for. The Snail has permission to sit on the stone fence, and to enjoy the moss and the sunshine; and, moreover, he is appointed to be one of the chief judges of the next race. It is well to have one who is practically acquainted with the business in hand—on a committee, as human beings call it. I must say I expect great things from the future—we have made so good a beginning."