Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/Silly Hans

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OUT in the country there was an old mansion, and in it lived an old squire and his two sons, who were so witty that they were really too clever by half; they wanted to woo the king's daughter, which they were quite at liberty to do, for she had publicly announced that she would marry the person who could speak best for himself.

The two brothers took eight days to prepare themselves—that was all the time they could give to it; but that was quite sufficient, for they possessed a good deal of elementary knowledge, and that comes in useful. One of them knew the whole of the Latin dictionary, and the contents of the newspaper of the city for the last three years, by heart; in fact, he could say it just as well backward as forward. The other one had studied the rules and regulations of all the guilds and everything that an alderman ought to know, so he thought he should be able to talk of the affairs of the state; and besides this he could also embroider braces, for he was of a gentle nature and very nimble with his fingers.

"I shall win the king's daughter," said both of them; and then their father gave each of them a beautiful horse: the one who knew the dictionary by heart got a coal-black horse, and he who knew all about the guilds and the aldermen and could embroider received a milk-white horse. And then they rubbed the corners of their mouths with cod-liver oil, so that they might be able to talk more glibly. All the servants were in the courtyard to see them mount their horses, and just then came the third brother,—for there were three,—but no one took him into account as one of the brothers, for he did not know as much as they, and he was only called "Silly Hans."

"Where are you going to, since you have got your fine clothes on?" he asked.

"To the palace to woo the king's daughter. Haven't you heard what the drummer is announcing all over the country?" And then they told him.

"My word! then I'll go too," said Silly Hans; and the brothers laughed at him and rode away.

"Father, let me have a horse," said Silly Hans. "I should like so much to get married. If she takes me, she takes me; and if she doesn't take me, I will take her for all that."

"What nonsense!" said his father; "I sha'n't give you a horse, Why, you can't talk properly. No; your brothers are fine specimens of what young fellows ought to be."

"If I can't have a horse," said Silly Hans, "I'll take the billy-goat; he's mine, and he carries me very well." And so he jumped astride the billy-goat, stuck his heels into its side, and set off along the highroad. "Heigh! what a pace! I am coming," said Silly Hans, and sang away till you heard him far and wide.

But the brothers rode quietly on in front; they did not speak a word; they were thinking over all the clever sayings with which they would have to be prepared, for they intended to be so very smart, you know.


"Hullo!" shouted Silly Hans, "here I am. Just look what I have found in the highroad!" and he showed them a dead crow which he had found.

"Blockhead!" they said, "what are you going to do with that?"

"I'll make a present of it to the king's daughter."

"Yes, do so by all means," they said, as they laughed and rode on.

"Hullo! here I am! Just look what I have found now; you don't find that every day in the highroad."

And the brothers turned round again to see what it was.

"Blockhead!" they said, "that's an old wooden clog, and the upper leather is gone. Is the king's daughter going to have that as well?"

"That she shall," said Silly Hans; and the brothers laughed and rode on, and got a long way ahead.


"Hullo! here I am!" shouted Silly Hans; "I am really in luck's way. Heigh-ho! This is really wonderful!"

"What have you found now?" asked the brothers.

"Oh," said Silly Hans, "it is hardly worth mentioning, but how pleased the king's daughter will be!"

"Ugh!" said the brothers; "why; that's mud just thrown up from the ditch."

"Yes, that's what it is," said Silly Hans; "and it is of the finest sort—so fine that you can't hold it between your fingers;" and so he filled his pocket with it.

But the brothers rode on as fast as their horses' legs could carry them, and thus they arrived at the city gate an hour earlier than Hans. Here the suitors received numbers in the order in which they arrived, and were then placed in rows of six each, and placed so closely that they could not even move their arms, which was a very good thing, for otherwise they would have cut each other's backs to pieces, for the one was standing in front of the other.

All the other inhabitants of the country stood round about the palace, right up to the windows, to see che king's daughter receive the suitors. As they entered the room, one by one, the power of speech seemed to desert them.

"No good," said the king's daughter. "Away with you!"

Now came the turn of the brother who knew the dictionary by heart, but he had forgotten it all while standing in the row; the floor creaked at each step he took, and the ceiling was of looking-glass, so that he could see himself standing on his head, and at every window there were three clerks and an alderman, who wrote down everything that was said, so that it could get into the papers at once, and be sold for a penny at the street corner. It was really terrible, and, moreover, they had put so much fire in the stove that the drum was red-hot.

"It's dreadfully hot in here," said the suitor.

"Yes, that's because my father is roasting chickens to-day," said the king's daughter.

Bah! there he stood; he had not expected to be spoken to in that way; he did not know what to say, although he wanted to say something clever. Bah!

"No good," said the king's daughter. "Go away; "and so he had to go.

Next came his brother.

"There's a dreadful heat in here," he said.

"Yes, we are roasting chickens to-day," said the king's daughter.

"Beg your par—" he said; and all the clerks wrote down "Beg your par—."

"No good," said the king's daughter. "Go away."

Then came Silly Hans, riding his billy-goat right into the room. "What a sweltering heat!" he said.

"That's because I am roasting chickens," said the king's daughter.

"That's lucky," said Silly Hans. "I suppose I can get a crow roasted here, then?"

"That you may," said the king's daughter; "but have you got anything to roast it in, for I have neither pot nor pan."

"That I have," said Silly Hans. "Here's a cooking apparatus with a tin handle;" and so he pulled out the old wooden clog and placed the crow on it.

"That's enough for one meal," said the king's daughter; "but where shall you get the dripping from?"

"I have it in my pocket," said Silly Hans. "I have got so much that I don't mind if I spill some of it; "and so he took a little of the mud out of his pocket and basted the crow with it.

"That's what I like," said the king's daughter. "You can give one an answer, at any rate, and you can speak; and so I will have you for my husband. But do you know that every word we say and have said is written down, and will appear in the paper to-morrow? At every window you will see three clerks and an old alderman, and the alderman is the worst of all, for he doesn't understand anything." She said this to frighten Hans, and all the clerks giggled and upset the ink on the floor.

"Oh, these are the gentlemen, are they?" said Silly Hans; "then I suppose I must give the alderman the best;" and so he turned out his pocket and flung the mud right into his face.

"That was clever," said the king's daughter; "I could not have done it. But I shall learn it right enough."

And so Silly Hans was made king, and got a wife and a crown, and sat on a throne, all of which we have read about in the alderman's paper — and that's one you can't depend upon.