Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—Across the Lake  by Lisa M. Ripperton

Little Claus and Big Claus

T HERE lived in a village two men who both had the same name—they were called Claus; but one of them had four horses and the other had only one horse, so in order to tell one from the other people called the owner of the four horses "Big Claus" and him who had only one "Little Claus." Now we shall hear what happened to the two, for this is a true story.

The whole week through Little Claus was obliged to plow for Big Claus, and lend him his one horse, and in return Big Claus lent him all his four horses, but only on one day of the week, and that was Sunday. Then how proudly Little Claus would smack his whip over all five horses! They were as good as his own on that one day. The sun shone brightly, and all the bells in the church-tower were ringing merrily as the people passed by, dressed in their best clothes, with their prayer-books under their arms. They were going to hear the clergyman preach, and they looked at Little Claus plowing with his five horses, and he was so proud that he smacked his whip and said, "G'up, all my horses!"

"You must not say that," said Big Claus, "for only one of them belongs to you."

But when another lot of people went by to church Little Claus forgot what he ought to say and called out, "G'up, all my horses!"

"Now, I tell you not to say that again," said Big Claus; "for if you do I shall hit your horse on the head so that he will drop dead on the spot, and that will be the end of him."

"I promise you I will not say it any more," said the other; but as soon as people came by, nodding to him, and wishing him "Good day," he became so pleased and thought how grand it looked to have five horses plowing in his field that he cried out again, "G'up, all my horses!"

"I'll g'up your horses for you," said Big Claus, and, seizing a carriage-weight, he struck the one horse of Little Claus on the head, and he fell dead instantly.


"Ah! now I have no horse at all," said Little Claus, and he began to weep. But after a while he took off the dead horse's skin and hung the hide to dry in the wind. Then he put the dry skin into a bag and, placing it over his shoulder, went out into the next town to sell the horse's hide.

He had a very long way to go and had to pass through a dark, gloomy forest. Presently a storm arose and he lost his way, and before he discovered the right path evening came on, and it was still a long way to the town, and too far to return home before night.

Near the road stood a large farm-house. The shutters outside the windows were closed, but lights shone through the crevices and at the top. "I might get permission to stay here for the night," thought Little Claus; so he went up to the door and knocked.

The Farmer's Wife opened the door, but when she heard what he wanted she told him to go away, as her husband would not allow her to admit strangers.

"Then I shall be obliged to lie out here," said Little Claus to himself; and the Farmer's Wife shut the door in his face.

Near to the farm-house stood a large haystack, and between it and the house was a small shed with a thatched roof.

"I can lie up there," said Little Claus as he saw the roof; "it will make a famous bed, but I hope the stork will not fly down and bite my legs"; for on it stood a living stork, whose nest was in the roof.

So Little Claus climbed to the roof of the shed, and while he turned himself to get comfortable he discovered that the wooden shutters, which were closed, did not reach to the tops of the windows of the farm-house, so that he could see into a room in which a large table was laid out with wine, roast meat, and a splendid fish. The Farmer's Wife and the Sexton were sitting at the table together, and she filled his glass and helped him plentifully to fish, for that was something he was fond of.

"If I could only get some, too," thought Little Claus; and he stretched his neck toward the window. Oh, what a lovely pie he could see there! Oh, but that was a feast!

Now he heard some one riding down the road toward the farm-house. It was the woman's husband coming home. He was a good man, but still he had a very strange prejudice—he could not bear the sight of a sexton. If one appeared before him he would put himself in a terrible rage. And so it was that the Sexton had gone to visit the Farmer's Wife during her husband's absence from home, and the good woman had placed before him the best she had in the house to eat. When she heard the Farmer coming she was frightened, and begged the Sexton to hide himself in a large empty chest that stood in the room. He did so, for he knew her husband could not endure the sight of a sexton. The woman then quickly put away the wine and hid all the rest of the nice things in the oven, for if her husband had seen them he would have asked what they were brought out for.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Little Claus, from the top of the shed, as he saw all the good things disappear.

"Is any one up there?" asked the Farmer, looking up and discovering Little Claus. "Why are you lying up there? Come down and come into the house with me."

So Little Claus came down and told the Farmer how he had lost his way and begged for a night's lodging.

"All right," said the Farmer, "but we must have something to eat first."

The woman received them both very kindly, laid the cloth on a large table, and placed before them a dish of groats. The Farmer was very hungry and ate his groats with a good appetite; but Little Claus could not help thinking of the nice roast meat, fish, and pies which he knew were in the oven. Under the table at his feet lay the sack containing the horse's skin, which he intended to sell at the next town. Now Little Claus did not relish groats at all, so he trod with his foot on the sack under the table, and the dry skin squeaked quite loud. "Hush!" said Little Claus to his sack, at the same time treading upon it again till it squeaked louder than before.

"Hello! What have you got in your sack?" asked the Farmer.

"Oh, it is a conjurer," said Little Claus; "and he says we need not eat groats, for he has conjured the oven full of roast meat, fish, and pie."

"Wonderful!" cried the Farmer, and he opened the oven door; and there lay all the nice things hidden by the Farmer's Wife, but which he supposed had been conjured there by the wizard under the table. The woman dared not say anything; so she placed the things before them, and they both ate of the fish, the meat, and the pastry.

Then Little Claus trod again upon his sack, and it squeaked as before.

"What does he say now?" asked the Farmer.

"He says," replied Little Claus, "that there are three bottles of wine for us standing in the corner by the oven."

So the woman was obliged to bring out the wine also, which she had hidden, and the Farmer drank it till he became quite merry. He would have liked such a conjurer as Little Claus carried in his sack. "Could he conjure up the devil?" asked the Farmer. "I should like to see him now, while I am so merry."

"Oh yes!" replied Little Claus, "my conjurer can do anything I ask him—can you not?" he asked, treading at the same time on the sack till it squeaked. "Do you hear? He answers 'Yes,' but he fears that we shall not like to look at him."

"Oh, I am not afraid. What will he be like?"

"Well, he is very much like a sexton."

"Ha!" said the Farmer. "Then he must be ugly. Do you know, I cannot endure the sight of a sexton. However, that doesn't matter; I shall know who it is, so I shall not mind. Now then, I have got up my courage, but don't let him come too near me."

"Stop! I must ask the conjurer," said Little Claus; so he trod on the bag, and stooped his ear down to listen.

"What does he say?"

"He says that you must go and open that large chest which stands in the corner, and you will see the devil crouching down inside; but you must hold the lid firmly, that he may not slip out."

"Will you come and help me hold it?" said the Farmer, going toward the chest in which his wife had hidden the Sexton, who now lay inside, very much frightened. The Farmer lifted the lid a very little way and peeped in.


"Eh!" cried he, springing backward. "Ah, I saw him, and he is exactly like our sexton. How dreadful it is!" So after that he was obliged to drink again, and they sat and drank till far into the night.

"You must sell your conjurer to me," said the Farmer; "ask as much as you like, I will pay it; indeed, I would give you directly a whole bushel of gold."

"No, indeed, I cannot," said Little Claus; "only think how much profit I could make out of this conjurer."

"But I should like to have him," said the Farmer, still continuing his entreaties.

"Well," said Little Claus, at length, "you have been so good as to give me a night's lodging, I will not refuse you; you shall have the conjurer for a bushel of money, but I will have quite full measure."

"So you shall," said the Farmer; "but you must take away the chest as well. I would not have it in the house another hour; there is no knowing if he  may not be still there."

So Little Claus gave the Farmer the sack containing the dried horse's skin and received in exchange a bushel of money—full measure. The Farmer also gave him a wheelbarrow on which to carry away the chest and the gold.

"Farewell," said Little Claus, as he went off with his money and the great chest, in which the Sexton lay still concealed. On one side of the forest was a broad, deep river; the water flowed so rapidly that very few were able to swim against the stream. A new bridge had lately been built across it, and in the middle of this bridge Little Claus stopped, and said, loud enough to be heard by the Sexton:

"Now, what shall I do with this stupid chest? It is as heavy as if it were full of stones. I shall be tired if I roll it any farther, so I may as well throw it into the river; if it swims after me to my house, well and good; and if not, it will not much matter."

So he seized the chest in his hand and lifted it up a little, as if he were going to throw it into the water.

"No, leave it alone," cried the Sexton, from within the chest. "Let me out first."

"Oh!" exclaimed Little Claus, pretending to be frightened, "he is in there still, is he? I must throw him into the river, that he may be drowned."

"Oh no! Oh no!" cried the Sexton. "I will give you a whole bushelful of money if you will let me go."

"Why, that is another matter," said Little Claus, opening the chest. The Sexton crept out, pushed the empty chest into the water, and went to his house; then he measured out a whole bushelful of gold for Little Claus, who had already received one from the Farmer, so that now he had a barrowful.

"I have been well paid for my horse," said he to himself, when he reached home, entered his own room, and emptied all his money into a heap on the floor. "How vexed Big Claus will be when he finds how rich I have become all through my one horse; but I shall not tell him exactly how it all happened." Then he sent a boy to Big Claus to borrow a bushel measure.

"What can he want it for?" thought Big Claus; so he smeared the bottom of the measure with tar, that some of whatever was put into it might stick there and remain. And so it happened; for, when the measure returned, three new silver florins were sticking to it.

"What does this mean?" said Big Claus; so he ran off directly to Little Claus and asked, "Where did you get so much money?"

"Oh, for my horse's hide; I sold it yesterday."

"It was certainly well paid for, then," said Big Claus; and he ran home to his house, seized a hatchet, and knocked all his four horses on the head, flayed off their skins, and took them to the town to sell. "Hides, hides! Who'll buy hides?" he cried, as he went through the streets. All the shoemakers and tanners came running and asked how much he wanted for them.

"A bushel of money for each," replied Big Claus.

"Are you mad?" they all cried. "Do you think we have money to spend by the bushel?"

"Hides, hides!" he cried again. "Who'll buy hides?" But to all who inquired the price his answer was, "A bushel of money."

"He is making fools of us," said they all; then the shoemakers took their straps, and the tanners their leather aprons, and began to beat Big Claus.

"Hides, hides!" they cried, mocking him. "Yes, we'll mark your hide for you till it is black and blue."

"Out of the town with him," said they. And Big Claus was obliged to run as fast he could; he had never before been so thoroughly beaten.

"Ah," said he, as he came to his house, "Little Claus shall pay me for this; I will beat him to death."

Now it happened that the old grandmother of Little Claus died. She had been cross, unkind, and really spiteful to him; but he was very sorry, and took the dead woman and laid her on his warm bed to see if he could bring her to life again. There he determined that she should lie the whole night, while he seated himself in a chair in a corner of the room, as he had often done before.

During the night, as he sat there, the door opened, and in came Big Claus with a hatchet. He knew well where Little Claus's bed stood, so he went right up to it and struck the old grandmother on the head, thinking it must be Little Claus.

"There!" cried he. "Now you cannot make a fool of me again," and then he went home.

"That is a very wicked man," thought Little Claus; "he meant to kill me. It is a good thing for my old grandmother that she was already dead, or he would have taken her life."

Then he dressed his old grandmother in her best clothes, borrowed a horse of his neighbor, and harnessed it to a cart. Then he placed the old woman on the back seat, so that she might not fall out as he drove, and rode away through the wood. By sunrise they reached a large inn, where Little Claus stopped and went to get something to eat.

The Landlord was a rich man and a good man, too, but as passionate as if he had been made of pepper and snuff.

"Good morning," said he to Little Claus; "you are come betimes to-day."

"Yes," said Little Claus; "I am going to the town with my old grandmother; she is sitting at the back of the wagon, but I cannot bring her into the room. Will you take her a glass of mead? But you must speak very loud, for she cannot hear well."

"Yes, certainly I will," replied the Landlord. And, pouring out a glass of mead, he carried it out to the dead grandmother, who sat upright in the cart.

"Here is a glass of mead from your grandson," said the Landlord.

The dead woman did not answer a word, but sat quite still.

"Do you not hear?" cried the Landlord, as loud as he could. "Here is a glass of mead from your grandson."

Again and again he bawled it out, but as she did not stir he flew into a passion and threw the glass of mead in her face; it struck her on the nose, and she fell backward out of the cart, for she was only seated there, not tied in.

"Mercy!" cried Little Claus, and sprang out of the door, and seized hold of the Landlord by the throat. "You have killed my grandmother! See, here is a great hole in her forehead."

"Oh, how unfortunate," said the Landlord, wringing his hands. "This all comes of my fiery temper. Dear Little Claus, I will give you a whole bushel of money, and will bury your grandmother as if she were my own; only keep silent, or else they will cut off my head, and that would be disagreeable."

So it happened that Little Claus received another bushel of money, and the Landlord buried his old grandmother as if she had been his own.

When now Little Claus reached home again he immediately sent a boy to Big Claus, requesting him to lend him a bushel measure.

"How is this?" thought Big Claus. "Did I not kill him? I must go and see for myself." So he went to Little Claus, and took the bushel measure with him. "How did you get all this money?" asked Big Claus, staring with wide-open eyes at his neighbor's treasures.

"You killed my grandmother instead of me," said Little Claus, "so I have sold her for a bushel of money."

"That is a good price, anyway," said Big Claus. So he went home, took a hatchet and killed his own grandmother with one blow. Then he placed her on a cart and drove into the town to the Apothecary and asked him if he would buy a dead body.

"Whose is it, and where did you get it?" asked the Apothecary.

"It is my grandmother," he replied; "I struck her dead for a bushel of money."

"Heaven preserve us!" cried the Apothecary. "You are out of your mind. Don't say such things, or you will lose your head." And then he talked to him seriously about the wicked deed he had done, and told him that such a wicked man would surely be punished. Big Claus got so frightened that he rushed out of the apothecary shop, jumped into the cart, whipped up his horses, and drove home quickly. The Apothecary and all the people thought him mad and let him drive where he liked.

"You shall pay for this," said Big Claus, as soon as he got into the highroad. "That you shall, Little Claus." So as soon as he reached home he took the largest sack he could find and went over to Little Claus. "You have played me another trick," said he. "First I killed all my horses, and then my old grandmother, and it is all your fault, but you shall not make a fool of me any more." So he laid hold of Little Claus round the body and pushed him into the sack, which he took on his shoulders, saying, "Now I'm going to drown you in the river."

He had a long way to go before he reached the river, and Little Claus was not a very light weight to carry. The road led by the church, and as they passed he could hear the organ playing and the people singing beautifully. Big Claus put down the sack close to the church door, and thought he might as well go in and hear a psalm before he went any farther. Little Claus could not possibly get out of the sack, and all the people were in church, so in he went.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" sighed Little Claus in the sack, as he turned and twisted about; but he found he could not loosen the string with which it was tied. Presently an old cattle-driver with snowy hair passed by, carrying a large staff in his hand with which he drove a large herd of cows and oxen before him. They stumbled against the sack in which lay Little Claus, and turned it over. "Oh, dear!" sighed Little Claus. "I am so young and going so soon to heaven."

"And I, poor fellow," said the drover, "I, who am so old already, cannot get there."

"Open the sack," cried Little Claus; "creep into it instead of me, and you will soon be there."

"With all my heart," replied the drover, opening the sack, from which sprang Little Claus as quickly as possible. "Will you take care of my cattle?" said the old man as he crept into the bag.

"Yes," said Little Claus, and he tied up the sack, and then walked off with all the cows and oxen.

When Big Claus came out of church he took up the sack and placed it on his shoulders. It appeared to have become lighter, for the old drover was not half so heavy as Little Claus.

"How light he seems now," said he. "Ah, it is because I have been to church." So he walked on to the river, which was deep and broad, and threw the sack containing the old drover into the water, believing it to be Little Claus. "There you may lie!" he exclaimed. "You will play me no more tricks now." Then he turned to go home, but when he came to a place where two roads crossed there was Little Claus driving the cattle. "How is this?" said Big Claus. "Did I not drown you just now?"

"Yes," said Little Claus, "you threw me into the river about an hour ago."

"But where ever did you get all these fine beasts?" asked Big Claus.

"These beasts are sea-cattle," replied Little Claus. "I'll tell you the whole story, and thank you for drowning me. I am above you now; I am really very rich. I was frightened, to be sure, while I lay tied up in the sack, and the wind whistled in my ears when you threw me into the river from the bridge, and I sank to the bottom immediately, but I did not hurt myself, for I fell upon beautifully soft grass which grows down there, and in a moment the sack opened and the sweetest little maiden came toward me. She had snow-white robes and a wreath of green leaves on her wet hair. She took me by the hand and said, 'So you are come, Little Claus, and here are some cattle for you to begin with. About a mile farther on the road there is another herd for you.' Then I saw that the river formed a great highway for people who live in the sea. They were walking and driving here and there from the sea to the land at the spot where the river terminates. The bed of the river was covered with the loveliest flowers and sweet, fresh grass. The fish swam past me as rapidly as the birds do here in the air. How handsome all the people were, and what fine cattle were grazing on the hills and in the valleys!"

"But why did you come up again," said Big Claus, "if it was all so beautiful down there? I should not have done so."

"Well," said Little Claus, "it was good policy on my part; you heard me say just now that I was told by the sea-maiden to go a mile farther on the road and I should find a whole herd of cattle. By the road she meant the river, for she could not travel any other way, but I knew the winding of the river, and how it bends, sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, and it seemed a long way, so I chose a shorter one, and by coming up to the land and then driving across the fields back again to the river I shall save half a mile and get all my cattle more quickly."

"What a lucky fellow you are!" exclaimed Big Claus. "Do you think I should get any sea-cattle if I went down to the bottom of the river?"

"Yes, I think so," said Little Claus; "but I cannot carry you there in a sack; you are too heavy. However, if you will go there first, and then creep into a sack, I will throw you in with the greatest pleasure."

"Thank you," said Big Claus; "but, remember, if I do not get any sea-cattle down there I shall come up again and give you a good thrashing."

"No, now, don't be too fierce about it!" said Little Claus, as they walked on toward the river. When they approached it the cattle, who were very thirsty, saw the stream and ran down to drink. "See what a hurry they are in," said Little Claus; "they are longing to get down again."

"Come. Help me make haste," said Big Claus, "or you'll get beaten." So he crept into a large sack which had been lying across the back of one oxen. "Put in a stone," said little Big Claus, "or I may not sink."

"Oh, there's not much fear of that," replied Little Claus; still he put a large stone into the bag and then tied it tightly and gave it a push.


"Plump!" In went Big Claus, and immediately sank to the bottom of the river.

"I'm afraid he will not find any cattle," said Little Claus, and then he drove his own beasts homeward.