Far away across the sea, in a country called Switzerland, there once lived a little boy whose name was Hans.
Switzerland is a wonderful country, full of beautiful snowy mountains, where gleaming ice fields shine, and dark pine forests grow.
Hans lived with his aunt and uncle in a village up among these mountains. He could not remember any other home, for his father and mother had died when he was a little baby, and his aunt and uncle, who had not a child of their own, had taken care of him ever since.
Hans's uncle was a guide. He showed the safest ways and best paths to the travelers, who came from all over the world to see the mountains.
Every summer the little town where Hans lived was full of strangers. Some of them came in carriages, some on foot; some were rich, some were poor; but all of them wanted to climb to the mountain tops, where the snows are always white and dazzling against the blue sky.
The paths over the mountains are slippery and dangerous, leading across the ice fields by cracks and chasms most fearful to see. The travelers dared not climb them without some one to show the way, and nobody in the village knew the way so well as Hans's uncle.
The uncle was so brave and trusty that he was known throughout the whole country, and everybody who came to the mountains wanted him as a guide.
One day a Prince came, and no sooner had he rested from his journey than he sent for the uncle.
That very day Hans was five years old, and so his uncle told him that because it was his birthday, he, too, might go to see the Prince.
This was a great treat for Hans, and his aunt made haste to dress him in his best clothes.
"You must be good," she told him a dozen times before he set out with his uncle to the hotel where the Prince was staying.
When they got there they found everything in a bustle, for the place was full of fine ladies and gentlemen who had come with the Prince, and the servants were hurrying here and there to wait on them.
Nobody even saw the little boy, in holiday clothes, who tiptoed so quietly over the beautiful carpets. Nobody, I should say, but the Prince; for after the Prince had finished his business with Hans's uncle, he smiled at Hans and asked his name and how old he was. Hans was very proud to say that he was five years old that very day; and when the Prince heard this he took a gold piece from his purse and gave it to Hans.
"This is for a birthday present," he said, "and you must buy what you want most."
Hans could scarcely believe his own eyes. He ran every step of the way home, to show the gold piece to his aunt; and, when she saw it, she was almost as pleased as he was.
"You must buy something that you can keep always," she said. "What shall it be?—A silver chain!" she cried, clasping her hands at the thought of it. "A silver chain to wear upon your coat when you are a man, and have, perhaps, a watch to hang upon it! 'Twill be a fine thing to show—a silver chain that a Prince gave you!"
Hans was not certain that he wanted a chain more than anything else, but his aunt was very sure about it; so she gave the gold piece to a soldier cousin, who bought the chain in a city where he went to drill before the very Prince who had given Hans the money.
When the chain came the aunt called all the neighbors to see it. "The Prince himself gave the child the money that bought it," she said over and over.
Hans thought the chain very fine; but after he had looked at it awhile he was quite willing that his aunt should put it away in the great chest where she kept the holiday clothes and best tablecloths.
The chain lay there so long that Hans felt sorry for it, and wondered if it did not get lonely. He got lonely often himself, for there was nobody to play with him at his own home, and his aunt did not encourage him to play with other children. She liked a quiet house, she said, and she supposed that everybody else did.
Hans made no more noise than a mouse. He stayed a great deal in the stable with the cows. The cows and he were good friends. One of them, the oldest of all, had given milk for him when he was a baby, and he never forgot to carry her a handful of salt at milking time.
He often thought that he would rather have bought a cow with the gold piece than a silver chain; but he did not tell anybody, for fear of being laughed at.
Once he asked his aunt to let him play with the silver chain; but she held up her hands in amazement at the thought of such a thing. So the chain lay in the dark chest, as I have said, for a long time—nearly a year.
Then there was a great festival in the town, and the aunt took the chain from its wrappings and fastened it about Hans's neck with a ribbon.
She and Hans had on their best clothes, and all the village was prepared for a holiday.
Flags were flying, fiddlers were playing gay tunes on their fiddles, and the drummer boy kept time on his drum and made a great noise.
In the middle of the village square was a merry-go-round, which Hans and the other children liked best of all.
"If you are good, you shall ride," said Hans's aunt, as she hurried him on to the place where the strong men of the village were lifting great stones to show their strength. Then the swift runners ran races, and the skilful marksmen shot at targets.
Oh! Hans was tired before he saw half the sights; and he wished that his aunt would remember about the merry-go-round. He did not like to worry her, though, so he sat down on a doorstep to rest, while she talked to her friends in the crowd.
By and by a man with a covered basket came and sat down beside him. He put the basket down on the step, and Hans heard a queer little grumbling sound inside. "Oh! yes," said the man, "you want to get out."
"Row, row!" said the thing in the basket.
When the man saw how surprised Hans looked he lifted the lid of the basket and let him peep in. What do you think was in the basket? The dearest baby puppy that Hans had ever seen.
"There," said the man, shutting down the lid, "there is the finest Saint Bernard dog in Switzerland. Do you know anybody who might want to buy him?"
"Are you going to sell him?" asked Hans.
"Yes, indeed," said the man. "How would you like to buy him yourself?"
"I!" said Hans. "Oh! I would rather have him than anything in the world; but I haven't any money. I haven't anything of my own but this silver chain."
"Is that yours?" asked the man. "It is a very fine chain."
"Oh, yes," cried Hans. "But I would a thousand times rather have a dog."
"Well, then," said the man, "if you are sure that the chain is yours and if you want the dog so much, I'll let you have him for it, although he's worth a fortune."
And so, in less time than I take to tell it, the chain was off of Hans's neck and the dog was in his arms.
Then he ran to find his aunt. "Oh, Aunt!" he called, even before he reached her, "look at this beautiful dog. He is my very own. The man let me have him for my silver chain."
"Your silver chain!" cried his aunt angrily, coming to meet him in haste. "Your silver chain! What do you mean, you stupid child? Not the silver chain that was bought for your birthday? Not the silver chain that the Prince gave you? A nice bargain, indeed! Where is the man?" and, catching the child by the hand, she hurried back through the crowd so fast that he almost had to run to keep up with her. The great tears rolled down Hans's cheeks and on to the dog's back, but his aunt did not notice them. She scolded and scolded as she made her way back to the doorstep.
When they got there the man was nowhere to be seen, and nobody could tell them which way he had gone. So, although they looked for him until almost dark, they had to go home without finding him.
Hans still carried the dog in his arms, and all the neighbors they met stopped to ask if silly Hans had really given his silver chain for a dog, as they had heard.
His aunt had a great deal to say to them, but Hans said nothing at all. He only hugged the dog closer, and wondered how long it would be before he would have to give him up.
But Hans's aunt let him keep the dog in spite of her scolding. "A dog is better than nothing," she said.
Hans named him Prince, for after all the dog was the Prince's birthday present.
At first Prince did nothing but sleep and eat. Then he began to grow, oh! so fast. By the time he had lived two years in the house he was a great, fine dog, with long thick hair and soft loving eyes. He was very beautiful. All the travelers who came in the summer to see the mountains said so, and even Hans's aunt thought so, although she did not love the dog.
Hans was never lonely after Prince came. Even at night they stayed together; and in the winter Hans would put his arms about his friend's shaggy neck and sleep close beside him to keep warm.
The winters are very cold in the country where Hans lived. The winds whistle through the pine trees, and the snow comes down for days, till the valleys are as white as the mountain tops.
Few travelers go to the mountains then. They are afraid of the bad roads, and of the snow, which sometimes slides down the mountain side in great masses, burying everything in its way.
Hans's uncle knew many stories of travelers
who had been lost in the snow, and he
told, too, of some good men, living in the
mountains, who sent their dogs out to find
and help people who were lost;—"dogs
like our Prince here," he would say; and
Hans would hug Prince and
"Do you hear? Your uncles and cousins and brothers save people out of the cold snow."
Prince would bark sharply whenever Hans told him this, just as if he were proud. He knew all about travelers, and snow, for, often, Hans's uncle took him on short trips over the mountains.
Hans always let him go, willingly, with his good uncle; but one day when his soldier cousin (the one who had bought the silver chain in the city) asked if he might take the dog with him for a day, Hans was very sorry to let Prince go.
"Fie!" said his aunt, when she saw his sorrowful face. "What harm could come to a great dog like that?"
But Hans was not satisfied. All day long his heart was heavy, and when, in the afternoon, the little white snowflakes came flying down he watched for the return of his soldier cousin and the dog with anxious eyes.
After a long while he heard a great laughing and talking on the road, and he ran out to see who was coming.
It was the soldier cousin with a party of friends, and they laughed still more when they saw Hans.
"Little Hans! little Hans!" cried one of them, "this fine cousin of yours has forgotten your dog."
"Forgotten my dog!" said Hans. "What do you mean?"
"He was asleep behind the stove at the inn," said the soldier cousin, who looked very much ashamed of himself.
"And he never missed him until now," cried the friends. "Think of that—a great dog like Prince!"
Hans looked from one to another with tears in his eyes; but they were all too busy with their joking to notice him. Only the soldier cousin, who was really sorry for his carelessness, tried to comfort him.
"He'll be here," he said, patting Hans on the head, "by milking time, I warrant; for he is wise enough to take care of himself anywhere."
"Wiser than you," laughed the rest; and they all went off merrily, leaving the little boy standing in the road.
He scarcely saw them go, for he was thinking of the night so near at hand, and the winds and the snow slides. How could the dear dog find his way through the darkness alone?
"I will go for him in the morning, if he does not come home to-night," called the soldier cousin.
But morning seemed very far away to the dog's anxious little master, and the big tears began to roll down his cheeks.
Just then a thought sprang into his mind, as thoughts will. "Why not go yourself for him, now?" was the thought.
He clapped his hands joyfully. Of course he could go. He knew the way, for he had been to the inn only the summer before with his uncle.
The loud winds whistled, and the snowflakes kissed his cheeks and his nose; but he thought of his playmate and started out bravely.
"Moo! moo!" called the old cow from the stable. Hans knew her voice. "Bring me my salt," she seemed to say.
"When I come back," he answered, as he struggled up the frozen road.
He was very cold, for he had even forgotten his cap in his haste; but the snowflakes powdered his hair till he looked as if he wore a white one.
He could scarcely pucker up his mouth to whistle. His feet were numb and his fingers tingled, and the wind sang in his ears till he was as sleepy as sleepy could be.
"I'll sit down and rest," said Hans to himself, "and then I can go faster." But when he sat down he could not keep his eyes open, and before many minutes he was fast asleep and lay in a little dark heap on the white snow.
"Let's cover him up," said the snowflakes, hurrying down; but before they had time to whiten his clothes a great big beautiful Saint Bernard dog came bounding down the road.
It was Prince. He had waked up from his nap behind the stove, and hastened after the soldier cousin as fast as his four feet could carry him. He was not afraid of the night or the snow, and he was as warm as toast in his shaggy coat.
He was thinking of Hans as he hurried along—when, suddenly, he spied him lying there so still by the roadside!
In an instant the good dog sprang to the child's side, barking furiously, for every dog in Switzerland knows that those who sleep on snow pillows seldom wake up.
"Bow-wow! Bow-wow!" he barked loud and long. "Bow-wow! Bow-wow!" which meant, in his language, "Little master, wake up!"
But Hans was dreaming of the mountains where the travelers went, and did not hear.
"Bow-wow! Bow-wow! Wake up! Wake up!" called the dog; and he licked Hans's face and tugged at his coat, pulling him along with his strong teeth.
"You can't wake him up," said the wind.
"Bow-wow! I can," barked Prince; and he ran down the road and called for help: "Bow-wow! Bow-wow! Come here! Come here!"
The sound of his voice reached the village, where everything was as quiet as the snow itself. The cows heard it first and mooed in their stalls. The soldier cousin heard it, on his way to Hans's house, where he was going to find out whether Prince had come back. Hans's uncle and aunt heard it as they searched through the house for their little boy. The neighbors heard it, and opened their doors to listen.
"Bow-wow! Bow-wow! Come here! Come here!"
"Something is wrong," said the people, and they all hurried out of their houses, away from their fires and their suppers, up the mountain side, till they came to the spot where the faithful dog kept guard over his little master.
The faithful dog kept guard over his little master.
Hans's uncle is never tired of telling how Prince saved Hans. He tells it on the long winter evenings when the winds whistle through the pines, and he tells it in summer to the travelers as they climb the mountains.
Hans thinks it is more beautiful than a fairy story, and so does his aunt; for ever since that snowy night she is ready to agree that the dear dog is better than all the silver chains in the world.