Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Hans Humdrum

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ONCE there were a man and his wife who owned a very small farm; they had three sons. The oldest was called Peter, the second Paul, and the third Hans, who was considered somewhat feeble-minded, and was, therefore, generally called Hans Humdrum. As the boys grew up it became more and more difficult for their parents to provide for them, and when they were grown and too large to run errands for the neighbors, they were obliged to go farther away and take such service as they might find. Peter, the oldest, went away first. He received a shirt, a pair of stockings, and a large parcel of bread-and-butter; and having bid his parents good-bye, he started on his journey.

When he had walked a couple of miles he met a man who was driving along in great style, and who stopped, inquiring where Peter was going. The boy replied that he was seeking a place where he might secure work. "I have just left home to find some one to serve me," answered the man; "would you care to take the place?" "How much wages will you pay?" inquired Peter. The wages were a bushel of dollars for six months' service. "Before engaging you," pursued the man, "I wish to have a clear agreement. When the cock crows in the morning you must go to work and do all that I say. I like to keep my servants as long as possible, but from the beginning I engage them only for six months, and by the time the cuckoo begins to tune his voice our agreement is over. Then there is one more thing: I am disposed, myself, to be glad and contented, and do not like to have sour faces around me; therefore I agree with my hired men that he who first becomes angry shall have a sound thrashing. If I become angry first, I at once give the man his wages, and he may go; but if he shows ill-temper first, I give him his whipping and then throw him out of the door."

Peter considered this a singular agreement, so he thought it over before entering upon it. The man was not at all good looking. His mouth reached as far as his ears on both sides, and never had Peter seen a nose of such size and length. But as he smiled pleasantly and blinked so joyfully with his small, half-closed eyes, the boy thought that he was, perhaps, only playing a joke on him; besides, the wages were extraordinarily high. He closed the agreement and at once entered upon his duties. Climbing into the carriage, he drove along with the man until they reached the farm where his future master lived. As it was towards evening when they arrived, Peter at once went to bed and slept soundly.

At six o'clock next morning the cock began to crow. Peter was dressed and at work in the barn before long threshing wheat, according to directions given by his Master on the previous night. He worked an hour, and still another, but no one called him to the breakfast-table. At length he laid down his flail and walked across the yard into his Master's dwelling-room. The man was sitting at the end of the table, but no breakfast was to be seen anywhere. Peter's mistress was, if possible, still more ugly than her husband; she was cross-eyed, and two long teeth reached far out of her mouth. A great many small, dirty children were crawling about everywhere; they fought one another, and yelled at the top of their voices. It looked as if they had already had their breakfast, but there seemed to be none for him.

"Are you hungry, Peter?" asked the farmer, winking and blinking and twinkling at him with his small eyes, until they almost seemed to disappear within the lids. "Yes," answered Peter, "of course I am hungry! I had no supper last night and no breakfast this morning, and I may well need it, as I have been threshing for over two hours." "Look at the writing above the door, Peter," continued the troll (for he was, of course, a troll, and no real farmer); "look above the door and see what is written there!" Peter looked, and read the following words: "No breakfast until to-morrow." As he looked sorely disappointed, the troll continued: "Are you angry, Peter?" "No, certainly not," answered he, skulking away, quite abashed. Fortunately he had kept a piece of bread-and-butter; it now served him for breakfast, while he said to himself: "For one day such a freak matters little. Of course Master wishes to put me to a test, and to-morrow I can eat twice as much!" He threshed on until nightfall, when he went to bed with a hungry stomach.

Next morning the cock crowed at four o'clock. "The sooner we will have our breakfast," thought Peter, hurrying into his clothes and hastening to his work in the barn. Soon the flail began to move, but every little while he stopped and listened if any one called him for breakfast. Every second minute he opened the door and looked out, expecting to see some one appear and call him in. But no one came. At six o'clock he put his flail aside and went over to the house. Everything looked as on the previous evening. Of breakfast he saw nothing at all, and his Master was sitting at the end of the table looking pleased and satiated, while his wife made a great noise with the many children, who did not seem to suffer from want of food.

"Are you hungry, Peter?" asked the farmer, grinning all over his ugly face. "I suppose I ought to be hungry by this time," answered the boy; "yesterday I had nothing to eat, and to-day I have been working two mortal hours. Yes, I ought to be hungry, indeed!" "Look at the writing above the door, Peter," continued the farmer, smiling blandly at him. Peter read the same words as on the day before: "No breakfast until to-morrow." "Yes," he said, "this is to-morrow, and I am tired of such foolishness. One cannot work without eating." "You are not angry, I suppose," resumed the farmer, just as kindly as before. Yes—and Peter swore to it—he was angry, for that was not the right way to treat the servants. "Well," said the troll, "no doubt you remember the agreement between us!" In less time than it can be told Peter received as sound a thrashing as he had ever dreamed of, and the next moment he found himself outside of the gate, sore all over his body, and hardly able to walk away. It took him many days to return home, and he was obliged to stay in bed for quite a length of time. His parents gave him no consolation, but told him that he had behaved himself in a wrong manner. No doubt his Master had only wished to put him to a test; a bushel of dollars was too good wages to throw away in such a careless manner.

Paul now set out to find the place. He had a large package of bread-and-butter and his clothes in a bundle, and when he followed the road which Peter had pointed out for him he was fortunate enough to meet the farmer, who came driving along. He stopped and asked Paul where he was going, and when he learned that the boy was seeking a place, he offered him one. The agreement was the same as in Peter's case. Paul worked hard for three days and received neither bite nor sip. Finally he lost his patience, received his thrashing, and returned home in a miserable state.

While the old folks doctored their two oldest sons, cursing the cruel Master, Hans Humdrum went around and said nothing. One morning he was gone, no one knew where. He knew it himself, however, for he followed the road described by Peter and Paul, and as luck would have it he happened to meet the old farmer with the long nose and the smiling face. When he stopped and inquired where Hans was going, he offered him a place on his farm. "How much wages will you pay?" inquired Hans. "I will give you a bushel of dollars for six months' service," answered the man, repeating the agreement which we already know. "We will get on pleasantly together," declared Hans. "I hope so," answered the troll, and laughed so heartily that Hans could see all his long teeth; "you will stay with me until the cuckoo tunes his voice; then our agreement is fulfilled, if we do not part earlier. Every morning when the cock crows you must arise, and you will have to do all that I tell you." Yes, Hans was willing enough to agree upon this, and so they drove on together. They reached the farm, and without receiving any supper Hans slept during the whole night in the room which his brothers had occupied before him.

At six o'clock next morning the cock crowed. Hans arose and went to the barn, as he was told. When he had worked for an hour without being called to breakfast, he went into the house where the fine-looking troll family was assembled. The troll himself was sitting at the end of the table; his wife rested in the chimney-corner, and all the ugly children were romping about the room. "Good-morning," said Hans; "it is time for breakfast, is it not?" "Our agreement says nothing about that," replied the other; "but read what it says above the door." Hans was no ready reader, but at length he succeeded in spelling the words, "No breakfast until to-morrow." "To-morrow is far ahead," said Hans, "and we may think of that when the time comes." "You may look to the rye for your breakfast," remarked the troll, grinning at the boy, who was retreating through the door. Hans made no reply, but returned to his work threshing rye. Towards dinner-time he filled a sack with rye and carried it to an innkeeper who lived in the neighborhood, and to whom Hans said: "My Master and I have agreed that I shall receive no breakfast at the house; he has told me to look to the rye. Will you board me for this bushel of rye?" The innkeeper was willing to do this, and Hans received an excellent meal and provisions besides in his scrip. Upon this he returned to his work.

As it happened the first day, it did on the following days also. The letters above the door were always the same, but Hans was as complaisant and obedient as when he entered upon his duties. The troll asked him each morning, "You are not angry, Hans?" The boy promptly answered, "No, I have no reason to be angry."

On the fourth morning, when Hans came into the room and the farmer showed him the letters above the door, he turned around, intending to return to the barn, when the troll said: "Are you not angry, Hans?" "No," answered he, "not particularly." "Have you had nothing to eat for these three days?" continued the troll. "Yes," replied Hans; "I had all that I needed. I looked to the rye, as Master said. The innkeeper is willing enough to give me all that I need for a bushel of rye every day." "What do you say?" shouted the troll. "I hope Master is not angry with me," pursued Hans. "No, no, by no means," eagerly returned the troll; "but you had better leave the threshing and do something else. You had better plough some of the fields. Load the plough on a wagon and drive out. My dog will go in front of you; where he lies down you must begin ploughing, and when he returns home you must follow him back to the house." Hans obeyed; but towards noon he began to feel hungry. As the dog remained lying in the grass, and seemed to have no intentions of moving, the boy seized his whip and reached him a good blow across the back, which caused him to jump up and run homeward at great speed. Hans skipped
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down, cut the traces, jumped on the horse again, and rode after the dog at a furious rate. When they reached the house the animal jumped the garden fence, and Hans followed him promptly. Unfortunately one of the horses fell and broke his leg, however, and the other ran into one of the hedge-stakes. Thus both horses were disabled. The troll, who heard the uproar, came running out, but Hans said: "I acted upon your instructions, Master. I followed the dog, and here we are. You are not angry, I hope, because both of our horses were spoiled." "Nonsense!" replied the troll; "no, I am not angry. Come in and have some dinner." He really began to be afraid of the boy who obeyed him so literally.

Hans received both dinner and supper, and the next morning he was ordered to tend the swine. There were about fifty of them, and beautiful, fat animals they were. "Let them go wherever they wish," said the troll, "even if they want to root themselves into the ground." "All right!" cried Hans, driving the swine out of the yard. When he had followed them a short distance he met a couple of men who travelled about buying up cattle and swine. The men stopped and inquired whether these animals were for sale. "To be sure they are," replied Hans, "all except the old sow yonder. She is intended for a present for our minister." Soon the price was fixed, and Hans received a sum of money, which he put into his pocket. When the two men had driven all the animals away, except the old sow, he took her to a marsh, where she soon buried herself in the mud, leaving only her tail above the ground. Hans, however, returned to the house. "What has become of the swine?" inquired the troll. "They went straight into the peat-bog, Master," answered Hans, "and they are all down there except the old sow, which I tried to stop. Her tail is yet above the ground, but all the rest of the animals are gone." The troll hastened along to the place, followed by Hans. Now the troll bent down, seized the sow's tail, and tried to pull her out. The tail slipped out of his hands, however, and he tumbled into the water. When he came out again he ran around furiously, trying to find his swine, but, as Hans said, they were already far away. "I hope that Master is not angry with me," said Hans. No, he was not at all angry, he asserted.

When the troll returned home he said to his wife: "How in the world can I get rid of this wretch? He will ruin and spoil our whole property. Oh, how I wish I could cool my rage upon him! But I must keep our agreement, even if it costs all that I have." "I have an idea!" cried his wife. "I think I know how we may get rid of him. He knows that his time is up when the cuckoo begins to tune his voice. Of course it will be long before that time comes, but we may deceive him. You tar me and roll me in feathers until I look like a bird, then help me up into the large apple-tree, where I will cry,
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'Cuckoo, cuckoo!' until he thinks that the cuckoo has really come!" "You are a cunning woman," answered the troll, admiringly; "it shall be as you say." Upon this they retired, well pleased.

Next morning Hans and the troll were sitting at the breakfast-table—the woman was outside—when all at once they heard the cuckoo chant from the apple-tree, "Cuckoo, cuckoo!" "Listen!" said the troll; "the cuckoo has come." "I must see him," exclaimed Hans, jumping up and running out of the door; "I always used to have a look at the first cuckoo in the summer!" When he came into the garden he seized a sharp flint-stone and threw it at the head of the old woman, who was sitting in the tree cuckooing with all her might. She fell to the ground at once, stone dead. "Come, Master," called Hans, "come and look at this wonderful cuckoo!" The troll at once came running, and when he saw what had happened he began to curse and swear with such force that sparks flew from both of his eyes. "Master is not angry, I hope," said the boy. "You great scoundrel," yelled the troll, furiously, "yes, yes, I am! I am so furious, raving mad that I feel like bursting with rage! Now you know it. You sold my rye, you spoiled my horses and swine, and now you have killed my wife. Hoo, hoo, hoo!" and he was fairly shaking and trembling with fury.

"Well," said Hans, quietly, "we must deal with each other according to our agreement!" So he seized the troll and thrashed him until he was hardly able to stir. When this was done he walked into the house, took the bushel of dollars which was due him, returning home with it. He lived long and happily with his parents and his brothers, and they saw or heard no more of the troll.