O NCE upon a time there was a little boy named Anders, who had a new cap. And a prettier cap you never have seen, for mother herself had knit it; and nobody could make anything quite so nice as mother did. It was altogether red, except a small part in the middle which was green, for the red yarn had given out; and the tassel was blue.
His brothers and sisters walked about squinting at him, and their faces grew long with envy. But Anders cared nothing about that. He put his hands in his pockets and went out for a walk, for he wished everybody to see how fine he looked in his new cap.
The first person he met was a farmer walking along by the side of a wagon load of wood. He made a bow so deep that his back came near breaking. He was dumbfounded, I can tell you, when he saw it was nobody but Anders.
"Dear me," said he, "if I did not think it was the gracious little count himself!" And then he invited Anders to ride in his wagon.
But when one has a pretty, red cap with a blue tassel, one is too fine to ride in a wagon, and Anders walked proudly by.
At the turn of the road he met the tanner's son, Lars.
He was such a big boy that he wore high boots, and
"Let's trade caps," he said. "I will give you my
Now this knife was a very good one, though half the
blade was gone and the handle was a little cracked; and
Anders knew that one is almost a man as soon as one has
"Oh, no, I'm not so stupid as all that; no, I'm not!" Anders said.
And then he said good-by to Lars with a nod; but Lars only made faces at him, for he had not been to school much, poor boy; and, besides, he was very much put out because he could not cheat Anders out of his cap which mother had made.
Anders went along, and he met a very old, old woman who courtesied till her skirts looked like a balloon. She called him a little gentleman, and said that he was fine enough to go to the royal court ball.
"Yes, why not?" thought Anders. "Seeing that I am so fine, I may as well go and visit the King."
And so he did. In the palace yard stood two soldiers with shining helmets, and with muskets over their shoulders; and when Anders came to the gate, both the muskets were leveled at him.
"Where may you be going?" asked one of the soldiers.
"I am going to the court ball," answered Anders.
"No, you are not," said the other soldier, stepping forward. "Nobody is allowed there without a uniform."
But just at this instant the princess came tripping across the yard. She was dressed in white silk with bows of gold ribbon. When she saw Anders and the soldiers, she walked over to them.
"Oh," she said, "he has such a very fine cap on his head, and that will do just as well as a uniform."
And she took Anders' hand and walked with him up the broad marble stairs where soldiers were posted at every third step, and through the beautiful halls where courtiers in silk and velvet stood bowing wherever he went. For no doubt they thought him a prince when they saw his fine cap.
At the farther end of the largest hall a table was set with golden cups and golden plates in long rows. On huge silver dishes were piles of tarts and cakes, and red wine sparkled in shining glasses.
The princess sat down at the head of this long table; and she let Anders sit in a golden chair by her side.
"But you must not eat with your cap on your head," she said, putting out her hand to take it off.
"Oh, yes, I can eat just as well," said Anders, holding on to his cap; for if they should take it away from him nobody would any longer believe that he was a prince; and, besides, he did not feel sure that he would get it back again.
"Well, well, give it to me," said the princess, "and I will give you a kiss."
The princess was certainly beautiful, and Anders would have dearly liked to be kissed by her, but the cap which mother had made he would not give up on any condition. He only shook his head.
"Well, but see," said the princess; and she filled his pockets with cakes, and put her own gold chain around his neck, and bent down and kissed him.
But he only moved farther back in his chair and did not take his hands away from his head.
Then the doors were thrown open, and the King entered with a large number of gentlemen in glittering uniforms and plumed hats. The King himself wore a purple mantle which trailed behind him, and he had a large gold crown on his white curly, hair.
He smiled when he saw Anders in the gilt chair.
"That is a very fine cap you have," he said.
"So it is," replied Anders. "Mother knit it of her very best yarn, and everybody wishes to get it away from me."
"But surely you would like to change caps with me," said the King, raising his large, heavy crown from his head.
Anders did not answer. He sat as before, and held on to his red cap which everybody was so eager to get. But when the King came nearer to him, with his gold crown between his hands, then Anders grew frightened as never before. If he did not take good care, the King might cheat him out of his cap; for a King can do whatever he likes.
With one jump Anders was out of his chair. He darted like an arrow through all the beautiful halls, down all the marble stairs, and across the yard.
He twisted himself like an eel between the outstretched arms of the courtiers, and over the soldiers' muskets he jumped like a little rabbit.
He ran so fast that the princess's necklace fell off his neck, and all the cakes jumped out of his pockets. But his cap he still had. He was holding on to it with both hands as he rushed into his mother's cottage.
His mother took him up in her lap, and he told her all his adventures, and how everybody wanted his cap. And all his brothers and sisters stood around and listened with their mouths open.
But when his big brother heard that he had refused to give his cap for the King's golden crown, he said that Anders was stupid. Just think how much money one might get for the King's crown; and Anders could have had a still finer cap.
That Anders had not thought of, and his face grew red. He put his arms around his mother's neck and asked:
"Mother, was I stupid?"
His mother hugged him close and kissed him.
"No, my little son," said she. "If you were dressed in silver and gold from top to toe, you could not look any nicer than in your little red cap." Then Anders felt brave again. He knew well enough that mother's cap was the best cap in all the world.