Fairy tales and stories (Andersen, Tegner)/What the Old Man Does is Always Right

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For other versions of this work, see What the Old Man does is Always Right.




I WILL now tell you a story which I heard when I was a little lad, and every time I have thought of it since it seems to become more and more delightful, for it is with stories as with many people—they become more and more delightful the older they grow; and that is so pleasant.

You have been in the country, of course. You have seen a real old farm-house with thatched roof, where moss and grass grow of themselves; there is a stork's nest on the ridge of the roof, for one cannot do without the stork. The walls are crooked and the windows low; only one of them can be opened; the baking-oven projects far into the room, and the elder bush leans over the hurdle, where there is a little pool of water with a duck and some ducklings under the knotty willow tree. And then there is a yard dog, which barks at everybody.

There was just such a farm-house out in the country, and in it lived an old couple, a farmer and his wife. Although they did not possess much, there was one of their belongings which they thought they could do without, and that was a horse which managed to live upon the grass that grew in the ditch beside the highroad. The old man used to ride it to town, and the neighbors borrowed it, and for this they rendered him services in return; but the old couple thought it would be more serviceable for them to sell the horse, or change it for something or other which would be more useful to them. But what should it be?

"You understand that best, father," said the woman; "there is a fair in Copenhagen now; ride there and get money for the horse, or change it for something good. What you do is always right, so ride to the fair."

And she tied his neckerchief for him, for she understood that better than he; she tied it in a double bow and made him look quite smart. Then she brushed his hat with her flat hand and gave him a hearty kiss, and so he set out on the horse which was to be sold or changed. Yes, her old man understood that all right.

The sun shone hotly; there were no clouds to be seen. The road was dusty, for a number of people were on the way to the fair, either driving, riding, or walking. The heat from the sun was terrible, and there was no shelter to be found on the way.

Just then a man came along the road, driving a cow to the fiir. The cow was as tine a creature as any cow could be.

"She is sure to give good milk," thought the farmer; "it would be a good thing if I could get her in exchange for the horse."

"I say, you with the cow!" he shouted; "we two ought to have a talk. You see, a horse costs more than a cow, as you know, but that does not matter. I have more use for the cow; shall we change?"

"All right," said the man with the cow; and so they changed animals.

The farmer had now done his business, and he might just as well have turned back; but since he had made up his mind to go to the fair, he would go there, if only to look on, and so he set out with his cow. Both he and the cow walked at a brisk pace, and soon they came up to a man who was driving a sheep. It was a fine sheep, in good condition and with plenty of wool on its back.

"I should like to have it," thought the farmer. "There would be enough grass for it on the sides of the road, and in the winter we could keep it in the room with us. It would really be better for me to keep a sheep than a cow. Shall we change?"

Yes, the man with the sheep would not mind that, and so they changed animals, and the farmer set out with his sheep along the highroad. Over by the stile he saw a man with a big goose under his arm.


"That is a big bird you have there," said the farmer; "it has a lot of feathers and plenty of fat. She would look well in our little pool at home. That would be something for mother to save up her parings for. She has often said: 'If only we had a goose!' Now she can get it and she shall have it. Will you change with me? I give you the sheep for the goose and my thanks into the bargain."

Yes, the man was quite willing, and so they changed animals, and the farmer got the goose. He was close to the town and the road was getting more and more crowded. It swarmed with people and cattle. They walked along the road and in the ditch alongside it, and right up into the toll-keeper's potato-field, where his hen was tied up so that she should not lose herself if she took fright and wanted to run away. She was a bobtailed hen, and stood winking with one eye, but looked in good condition. "Cluck, cluck!" she said. What she meant by it I cannot say, but the farmer, when he saw her, thought: "She is the finest hen I have ever seen. She is finer than the parson's brood hen. I should like to have her. A hen can always find a grain or two. She can almost keep herself I think it would be a good thing it I could get it for the goose."

"Shall we change?" he asked. "Change!" said the toll-keeper; "yes, that wouldn't be a bad thing," and so they changed animals and the toll-keeper got the goose and the farmer got the hen.

He had now got through a good deal of business on his way to town. It was warm and he was beginning to feel tired. He wanted a dram and a mouthful of bread. He had now arrived at the inn, and he was just about to enter it when the potman, who was coming out, ran up against him in the doorway, carrying a bagful of something on his back.

"What have you got there?" asked the farmer.

"Rotten apples," answered the potman; "a whole sackful for the pigs."

"That's a terrible lot. I should like mother to see this sight. Last year we had only one apple on the old tree by the turf-shed. That apple was to be kept, and it was left on the cupboard till it went bad. 'It's always a sign of prosperity,' mother said. Now, here she could see plenty of prosperity. Yes, I would like her to see it."

"Well, what will you give?" asked the potman.

"Give? I'll give you my hen for it," and so he gave him the hen for the apples and went into the inn right up to the bar. The bag of apples he placed against the stove, but he did not notice that it was lighted. There were many strangers in the room—horse-dealers, cattle-dealers, and two Englishmen. The latter are generally so rich that their pockets are bursting with gold money and they are always making bets. Now you shall hear.

"Hiss—s—s! hiss—s—s!" What noise was that near the stove? The apples were beginning to frizzle.

"What's that?" they all asked. Well, they soon got to know, as well as the whole story about the horse, which had been changed for the cow and so on down to the rotten apples.

"Well, your old woman will give it you when you get home," said the Englishmen; "there will be a row in the house."

"She'll give me kisses, not kicks," said the farmer; "mother will say that what the old man does is the right thing."

"Shall we have a bet?" they said; "we have gold by the barrel. A hundred pounds to a hundredweight."


"That will fill a bushel," said the farmer; "I can only fill it with apples, but I will throw in mvself and the old woman. That's piling up the measure, I should say."

"Done! We agree," they said, and so the bet was made.

The innkeeper's carriage was brought out, and the Englishmen and the farmer got into it, taking with them the bag of rotten apples, and so they arrived at the farmer's house.

"Good morning, mother."

"The same to you, father."

"Well, I have changed the horse."

"Ah, you know what vou are about," said the woman, and put her arm round his waist, forgetting both the strangers and the bag.

"I changed the horse for a cow." Heaven be praised for the milk we shall get!" said the woman; "now we can have milk, butter, and cheese on the table. That was well done."

"Yes, but I changed the cow for a sheep."

"Ah, that's better still," said the woman. "You are always very thoughtful. We have just enough of grass for a sheep. Now we can have sheep's milk, and sheep's cheese, and woolen stockings, and even woolen shirts. The cow could not give us that; her hairs are not good for anvthing. Well, you are a thoughtful man!"

"But I changed the sheep for a goose!"

"Shall we, then, really have goose for Michaelmas this year, father dear? You always think of pleasing me. It's so very kind of you! The goose we can keep in tether and let her get still fatter for Michaelmas."

"But I have changed the goose for a hen," said the man.

"A hen! Well, that was a good exchange," said the woman; "the hen lays eggs and hatches them; we shall have a regular poultry-yard—just what I have been wishing for so long."

"Yes, but I changed the hen for a bag of rotten apples."

"Well, now I must kiss you!" said the woman. "Thank you, my own husband; I have got something to tell you. When you were gone I thought of making a nice little dish for you, a savory omelet with chives. So I went over to the schoolmistress's, where I know they have chives. I asked her to lend me some. 'Lend you?' she said. 'Nothing grows in our garden, not even a rotten apple,' which I could lend her. Now I can lend her ten—aye, a bagful! Well, it is great fun, father!" and she kissed him right on the mouth.

"That's what I like!" said both the Englishmen. "Always going down hill, and still be just as content. That's worth the money!" and so they paid a hundredweight of gold to the farmer who got kisses and no kicks.

Yes, it is always best that a wife should maintain that her husband is the wisest, and that what he does is the right thing.

Well, this is the story I heard when I was a little lad, and now you have heard it too, and know that what the old man does is always right.