Hans and Claus were born brothers. Hans was the elder and Claus was the younger; Hans was the richer and Claus was the poorer—that is the way that the world goes sometimes.
Everything was easy for Hans at home; he drank much beer, and had sausages and white bread three times a day; but Claus worked and worked, and no luck came of it—that, also, is the way that the world goes sometimes.
One time Claus spoke to Hans of this matter. "See, Hans," said he, "you should give me some money, for that which belongs to one brother should help the other."
But Hans saw through different colored spectacles than Claus. No; he would do nothing of the kind. If Claus wanted money he had better go out into, the world to look for it; for some folks said that money was rolling about in the wide world like peas on a threshing-floor. So said Hans, for Claus was so poor that Hans was ashamed of him, and wanted him to leave home so as to be rid of him for good and all.
This was how Claus came to go out into the world.
But before he went, he cut himself a good stout staff of hazel-wood to help his heavy feet over the road.
Now the staff that Claus had cut was a rod of witch-hazel, which has the power of showing wherever treasure lies buried. But Claus knew no more of that than the chick in the shell.
So off he went into the world, walking along with great contentment, kicking up little clouds of dust at every step, and whistling as gayly as though trouble had never been hatched from mares' eggs. By-and-by he came to the great town, and then he went to the market-place and stood, with many others, with a straw in his mouth—for that meant that he wanted to take service with somebody.
Presently there came along an old, old man, bent almost double with the weight of the years which he carried upon his shoulders. This was a famous doctor of the black-arts. He had read as many as a hundred books, so that he was more learned than any man in all of the world—even the minister of the village. He knew, as well as the birds know when the cherries are ripe, that Claus had a stick of witch-hazel, so he came to the market-place, peering here and peering there, just as honest folks do when they are looking for a servant. After a while he came to where Claus was, and then he stopped in front of him. "Do you want to take service, my friend?" said he.
Yes, that was what Claus wanted; why else should he stand in the market-place with a straw in his mouth?
Well, they bargained and bargained, and talked and talked, and the end of the matter was that Claus agreed to sell his services to the old master of black-arts for seven pennies a week. So they made their bargain, and off went the master with Claus at his heels. After they had come a little distance away from the crowd at the marketplace, the master of black-arts asked Claus where he had got that fine staff of hazel.
"Oh, I got it over yonder," said Claus, pointing with his thumb.
But could he find the place again?
Well, Claus did not know how about that; perhaps he could, and perhaps he could not.
But suppose that Claus had a thaler in his hand, then could he find the place again?
Oh yes; in that case Claus was almost sure that he could find the place again.
So good. Then here was a bottle of yellow water. If Claus would take the bottle of yellow water, and pour it over the stump from which he had cut his staff, there would come seven green snakes out of a hole at the foot of the hazel-bush. After these seven snakes, there would come a white snake, with a golden crown on its head, from out of the same hole. Now if Claus would catch that white snake in the empty bottle, and bring it to the master of black-arts, he should have not one thaler, but two—that was what the master said.
Oh yes, Claus could do that; that was no such hard thing. So he took the bottle of yellow water and off he went.
By-and-by he came to the place where he had cut his hazel-twig. There he did as the master of black-arts had told him; he poured the yellow water over the stump of hazel from which he had cut his staff. Then everything happened just as the other had said: first there came seven green snakes out of the hole at the foot of the hazel-bush, and after they had all gone, there came a white snake, with a little golden crown on its head, and with its body gleaming like real silver. Then Claus caught the white snake, and put it into the bottle and corked it up tightly. After he had done this he went back to the master of black-arts again.
Now this white snake was what the folk call a tomtsnake in that land. Whoever eats of a broth made of it can understand the language of all the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field; so nobody need wonder that the master was as glad as glad could be to have his white snake safe and sound.
He bade Claus build a fire of dry wood, and as soon as there was a good blaze he set a pot of water upon it to boil. When the water in the pot began to boil, he chopped up the white snake into little pieces and threw them into it. So the snake boiled and boiled and boiled, and Claus stared with wonder as though he would never shut his eyes again.
Now it happened that just about the time that the broth was cooked, the master was called out of the room for this or for that. No sooner was his back turned than Claus began to wonder what the broth was like. "I will just have a little taste," said he to himself; "surely it can do no harm to the rest of the soup." So he stuck his finger first into the broth and then into his mouth; but what the broth tasted like he never could tell, for just then the master came in again, and Claus was so frightened at what he had done that he had no wits to think of the taste of anything.
Presently the master of black-arts went to the pot of broth, and, taking off the lid, began smelling of it. But no sooner had he sniffed a smell of the steam than he began thumping his head with his knuckles, and tearing his hair, and stamping his feet. "Somebody's had a finger in my broth!!!" he roared. For the master knew at once that all the magic had been taken out of it by the touch of Claus's finger.
As for poor Claus, he was so frightened that he fell upon his knees, and began begging: "Oh! dear master—" But he got no further than this, for the master bawled at him,
"You have taken the best,
You may have the rest."
And so saying, he threw pot and broth and all at Claus, so that if he hadn't ducked his head he might have been scalded to death. Then Claus ran out into the street, for he saw that there was no place for him to stay in that house.
Now in the street there was a cock and a hen, scratching and clucking together in the dust, and Claus understood every word that they said to each other, so he stopped and listened to them.
This is what they said:
The cock said to the hen, "Yonder goes our new serving-man."
And the hen said to the cock, "Yes, yonder he goes."
And the cock said to the hen, "He is leaving the best behind him."
And the hen said to the cock, "What is it that he is leaving?"
And the cock said to the hen, "He is leaving behind him the witch-hazel staff that he brought with him."
And the hen said to the cock, "Yes, that is so. He would be a fool to leave that behind, yet he is not the first one to think that peas are pebbles."
As for Claus, you can guess how he opened his eyes, for he saw how the land lay, and that he had other ears than he had before.
"Hui!" said he, "that is good! I have bought more for my penny than I had in my bargain."
As for the hazel staff, he was not going to leave that behind, you may be sure. So he sneaked about the place till he laid hand on it again; then he stepped away, right foot foremost, for he did not know what the master of black-arts might do to him if he should catch him.
Well, after he had left the town, he went along, tramp! tramp! tramp! until, by-and-by, he grew tired and sat down beneath an oak-tree to rest himself.
Now, as he sat there, looking up through the leaves, thinking of nothing at all, two ravens came flying and lit in the tree above him. After a while the ravens began talking together, and this was what they said:
The one raven said, "Yonder is poor Claus sitting below us."
And the other raven said, "Poor Claus, did you say, brother? Do you not see the witch-hazel lying on the ground beside him?"
The one raven said, "Oh yes; I see that, but what good does it do him?"
And the other raven said, "It does him no good now, but if he were to go home again and strike on the great stone on the top of the hill back of Herr Axel's house, then it would do him good; for in it lies a great treasure of silver and gold."
Claus had picked up his ears at all this talk, you may be sure. "See," said he, "that is the way that a man will pass by a great fortune in the little world at home to seek for a little fortune in the great world abroad"—which was all very true. After that he lost no time in getting back home again.
"What! are you back again?" said Hans.
"Oh yes," said Claus, "I am back again."
"That is always the way with a pewter penny," said Hans—for that is how some of us are welcomed home after we have been away.
As for Claus, he was as full of thoughts as an egg is of meat, but he said nothing of them to Hans. Off he went to the high hill back of Herr Axel's house, and there, sure enough, was the great stone at the very top of the hill.
Claus struck on the stone with his oaken staff, and it opened like the door of a beer vault, for all was blackness within. A flight of steps led down below, and down the steps Claus went. But when he had come to the bottom of the steps, he stared till his eyes were like great round saucers; for there stood sacks of gold and silver, piled up like bags of grain in the malt-house.
At one end of the room was a great stone seat, and on the seat sat a little manikin smoking a pipe. As for the beard of the little man, it was as long as he was short, for it hung down so far that part of it touched the stone floor.
"How do you find yourself, Claus?" said the little manikin, calling Claus by his name.
"So good!" said Claus, taking off his hat to the other.
"And what would you like to have, Claus?" said the little man.
"I would like," said Claus, "to have some money, if you please."
"Take what you want," said the little man, "only do not forget to take the best with you."
Oh no; Claus would not forget the best; so he held the staff tighter than ever in his fist—for what could be better than the staff that brought him there? So he went here and there, filling his pockets with the gold and silver money till they bulged out like the pockets of a thief in the orchard; but all the time he kept tight hold of his staff, I can tell you.
When he had as much as his pockets could hold, he thanked the little manikin and went his way, and the stone door closed behind him.
And now Claus lived like a calf in the green corn-field. Everything he had was of the best, and he had twice as much of that as any of the neighbors. Then how brother Hans stared and scratched his head and wondered, when he saw how Claus sat in the sun all day, doing nothing but smoking his pipe and eating of the best, as though he were a born prince! Every day Claus went to the little man in the hill with his pockets empty, and came back with them stuffed with gold and silver money. At last he had so much that he could not count it, and so he had to send over to brother Hans for his quart-pot, so that he might measure it.
But Hans was cunning. "I will see what makes brother Claus so well-off in the world all of a sudden," said he; so he smeared the inside of the quart-pot with bird-lime.
Then Claus measured his gold and silver money in Hans's quart-pot, and when he was done with it he sent it back again. But more went back with the quart-pot than came with it, for two gold-pieces stuck to the birdlime, and it was these that went back with the pot to brother Hans.
"What!" cried Hans, "has that stupid Claus found so much money that he has to measure it in a quart-pot? We must see the inside of this business!" So off he went to Claus's house, and there he found Claus sitting in the sun and smoking his pipe, just as though he owned all of the world.
"Where did you get all that money, Claus?" said Hans.
Oh! Claus could not tell him that.
But Hans was bound to know all about it, so he begged and begged so prettily that at last Claus had to tell him everything. Then, of course, nothing would do but Hans must have a try with the hazel staff also.
Well, Claus made no words at that. He was a good-natured fellow, and surely there was enough for both. So the upshot of the matter was that Hans marched off with the hazel staff.
But Hans was no such simpleton as Claus; no, not he. Oh no, he would not take all that trouble for two poor pocketfuls of money. He would have a bagful; no, he would have two bagfuls. So he slung two meal sacks over his shoulder, and off he started for the hill back of Herr Axel's house.
When he came to the stone he knocked upon it, and it opened to him just as it had done for Claus. Down he went into the pit, and there sat the little old manikin, just as he had done from the very first.
"How do you find yourself, Hans?" said the little old manikin.
Oh, Hans found himself very well. Might he have some of the money that stood around the room in the sacks?
Yes, that he might; only remember to take the best away with him.
Prut! teach a dog to eat sausages. Hans would see that he took the best, trust him for that. So he filled the bags full of gold, and never touched the silver—for, surely, gold is better than anything else in the world, says Hans to himself. So, when he had filled his two bags with gold, and had shaken the pieces well down, he flung the one over one shoulder, and the other over the other, and then he had as much as he could carry. As for the staff of witch-hazel, he let it lie where it was, for he only had two hands and they were both full.
But Hans never got his two bags of gold away from the vault, for just as he was leaving—bang! came the stone together, and caught him as though he was a mouse in the door; and that was an end of him. That happened because he left the witch-hazel behind.
That was the way in which Claus came to lose his magic staff; but that did not matter much, for he had enough to live on and to spare. So he married the daughter of the Herr Baron (for he might marry whom he chose, now that he was rich), and after that he lived as happy as a fly on the warm chimney.
A tailor came a-walking by,
The fire of courage in his eye.
"Where are you going Sir?" Said I.
"I slew a mouse
In our house
Where other tailors live," said he,
"And not a Jack
Among the pack
Would dare to do the like; pardie!
Therefore, I'm going out to try
If there be greater men that I;
Or in the land
As bold a hand
At wielding brand as I, you see!"
The tailor came a-limping by
With woeful face and clothes awry
And all his courage gone to pie.
"I met a knight
In armor bright
And bade him stand and draw," said he;
"He straightaway did
As he was bid,
And treated me outrageously.
So I shall get me home again,
And probably shall there remain.
A little man.
Sir, always can
Be great with folk of less degree!"
I'll tell of a certain old dame;
Had a beautiful piggy, whose name
and whose beauty and worth,
From the day of his birth,
Were matters of popular fame,
And his claim
To gentility no one could blame.
So, seeing his promise, she thought
To have him sufficiently taught
Of deportment, to go
Into company; so
A master of dancing she brought,
Who was fraught
With a style which the piggiwig caught.
So his company manners were rare.
Of social observances there
The closest inspection,
And not a reflection
Could rest on his actions, howe'er
You might care
To examine 'em down to a hair.
Now, things went beau-ti-ful-ly,
Fell in love with a dame of degree;
When he tried for to speak,
But could only say, "O w-e-e-k!"
For, whatever his polish might be,
Why, dear me!
He was pig at the bottom, you see.