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THE CRIPPLE

 

THERE was an old countryhouse which belonged toyoung,wealthy people.They had riches and blessings,they liked to enjoy themselves,but they did good as well, they wished to make everybody as happy as they werethemselves.

On Christmas Eve a beautifully decorated Christmastree stood in the old hall,where the fire burned in thechimney,and fir branches were hung round the old pictures.Here were assembled the family and their guests,and there was dancing and singing.

Earlier in the evening there had been Christmas gaietyin the servants'hall.Here also was a great firtree withred and white candles,small Danish flags,swans and fishingnets,cut out of coloured paper,and fined with"good-ies".The poor children from the neighbourhood were invit- ed,every one had his mother with him.The mothers didnot look much at the Christmastree,but at the Christmastable,where there lay linen and woollen clothstuff forgowns and stuff for trousers.They and the bigger childrenlooked there,only the very little ones stretched out theirhands to the candles,and the tinsel and flags.

The whole party came early in the afternoon and gotChristmas porridge and roast goose with red cabbage.Thenwhen the Christmastree was seen and the gifts distributed, each got a little glass of punch with apple fritters.Thenthey went back to their own poor homes and talked of thegood living,that is to say good things to eat;and the giftswere once more inspected.There were now Garden Kirstenand Garden Ole.They were married,and had their houseand daily bread for weeding and digging in the garden ofthe big house.Every Christmas festival they got a goodshare of the gifts;they had five children,and all of themwere clothed by the family.

"They are generous people,our master and mistress!" said they,"but they have the means to be so,and theyhave pleasure in doing it."

"Here are good clothes for the four children towear,"said Ole;"but why is there nothing for the'cripple'?They used to think about him too,although he wasnot at the festival."

It was the eldest of the children they called"TheCripple",he was called Hans otherwise.

As a little boy,he was the smartest and liveliestchild,but he became all at once"loose in the legs",asthey call it,he could neither walk nor stand,and now hehad been lying in bed for five years.

"Yes,I got something for him too,"said the mother,"but it is nothing much,it is only a book to read."

"He won't get fat on that,"said the father.

But Hans was glad of it.He was a very clever boywho liked to read,but used his time also for working,sofar as one who must always lie in bed could be useful.Hewas very handy,and knitted woollen stockings,and evenbedcovers.The lady at the big house had praised andbought them.It was a storybook Hans had got;in itthere was much to read and much to think about.

"It is not of any kind of use here in the house,"said his parents,"but let him read,it passes the time,he cannot always be knitting stockings!"

The spring came;flowers and green leaves began tosproutthe weeds also,as one may call the nettles,although the psalm speaks so nicely of them.

Though kings in all their power and might

Came forth in splendid row,

They could not make the smallest leaf

Upon a nettle grow.

There was much to do in the garden,not only forthe gardener and his apprentice,but also for Kirsten andOle.

"It is perfect drudgery,"said they."We have nosooner raked the paths and made them nice,than they arejust trodden down again.There is such a run of visitorsup at the house.How much it must cost!But the familyare rich people!"

"Things are badly divided,"said Ole;"the priestsays we are all our Father's children,why the differencethen?"

"It comes from the Fall!"said Kirsten.

They talked about it again in the evening,wherecripple Hans lay with his storybook.

Straitened circumstances,work,and drudgery,hadmade the parents not only hard in the hands,but also intheif opinions and judgements;they could not grasp it, could not explain it,and made themselves more peevishand angry as they talked.

"Some people get prosperity and happiness,othersonly poverty!Why should our first parents'disobedienceand curiosity be visited upon us?We would not have behaved ourselves as they did!"

"Yes,we would!"said cripple Hans,all at once."Itis all here in the book."

"What is in the book?"asked the parents.

And Hans read for them the old story of the woodcutter and his wife.They also scolded about Adam's andEve's curiosity,which was the cause of their misfortune. The king of the country came past just then."Come homewith me,"said he,"then you shall have it as good as I;seven courses for dinner and a course for show.That is in aclosed tureen,and you must not touch it;for if you do,itis all over with your grandeur.""What can there be in thetureen?"said the wife."That does not concern us,"saidthe man."Yes,I am not inquisitive,"said the wife,"butI would only like to know why we dare not lift the lid;it iscertainly something delicate!""If only it is not somethingmechanical,"said the man,"such as a pistol,which goesoff and wakens the whole house.""O my!"said the wife, and did not touch the tureen.But during the night shedreamt that the lid lifted itself,and from the tureen came asmell of the loveliest punch,such as one gets at weddingsand funerals.There lay a big silver shilling with the inscription,"Drink of this punch,and you will become thetwo richest people in the world,and everybody else willbecome beggars!"and the wife wakened at once andtold her husband her dream."You think too much aboutthe thing!"said he."We could lift it gently,"said thewife."Gently,"said the man,and the wife then liftedthe lid very gently.Then two little active mice sprangout,and ran at once into a mousehole."Good night,"said the king."Now you can go home and lie in your ownbed.Don't scold Adam and Eve any more,you your-selves have been as inquisitive and ungrateful!"

"From where has that story come in the book?"saidOle."It looks as if it concerned us.It is something tothink about!"

Next day they went to work again;they were roastedby the sun,and soaked to the skin with rain;in themwere fretful thoughts,and they ruminated on them.

It was still quite light at home after they had eatentheir milk porridge.

"Read the story of the woodcutter to us again,"saidOle.

"There are so many nice ones in the book,"saidHans,"so many,you don't know."

"Yes,but I don't care about them,"said Ole,"Iwant to hear the one I know."

And he and his wife listened to it again.

More than one evening they returned to the story.

"It cannot quite make everything clear to me,"saidOle."It is with people as with sweet milk,which sours;some become fine cheese,and others the thin,waterywhey;some people have luck in everything,sit at thehightable every day,and know neither sorrow nor want."

Cripple Hans heard that.He was weak in the legs,but clever in the head.He read to them from his storybook,read about"The man without sorrow or want".Where was he to be found,for found he must be!

The king lay sick and could not be cured,except bybeing dressed in the shirt which had been worn on thebody of a man who could truthfully say that he had neverknown sorrow or want.

Messages were sent to all the countries in the world,to all castles and estates,to all prosperous and happymen,but when it was properly investigated, every one ofthem had experienced sorrow and want.

"That I have not!"said the swineherd who sat in theditch and laughed and sang,"I am the happiest man!"

"Then give us your shirt,"said the king's messengers."You shall be paid for it with the half of the king-dom."

But he had no shirt,and yet he called himself thehappiest man.

"That was a fine fellow,"shouted Ole,and he andhis wife laughed as they had not laughed for a year and aday.Then the schoolmaster came past.

"How you are enjoying yourselves!"said he,"that issomething new in this house.Have you won a prize in thelottery!"

"No,we are not of that kind,"said Ole."It is Hanswho has been reading his storybook to us,about'The manwithout sorrow or want',and the fellow had no shirt.One' s eyes get moist when one hears such things,and that froma printed book.Every one has his load to draw,one is notalone in that.That is always a comfort."

"Where did you get that book?"asked the schoolmaster.

"Our Hans got it more than a year ago at Christmastime.The master and mistress gave it to him.They knowthat he likes reading so much,and he is a cripple.Wewould rather have seen him get two linen shirts at the time. But the book is wonderful,it can almost answer one'sthoughts."

The schoolmaster took the book and opened it.

"Let us have the same story again!"said Ole"Ihave not quite taken it in yet.Then he must also read theother about the woodcutter!"

These two stories were enough for Ole.They were liketwo sunbeams coming into the poor room,into the stuntedthought which made him so cross and illnatured.Hans hadread the whole book,read it many times.The stories carried him out into the world,there,where he could not go, because his legs would not carry him.

The schoolmaster sat by his bed:they talked together,and it was a pleasure for both of them.

From that day the schoolmaster came oftener toHans,when the parents were at work.It was a treat forthe boy,every time he came.How he listened to what theold man told him,about the size of the world and itsmany countries,and that the sun was almost half a million times bigger than the earth,and so far away that acannonball in its course would take a whole twentyfiveyears to come from the sun to the earth whilst the beamsof light could come in eight minutes.

Every industrious schoolboy knew all that,but forHans it was all new,and still more;wonderful than whatwas in the story-book.

The schoolmaster dined with the squire's family twoor three times a year,and he told how much importancethe storybook had in the poor house,where two stories init alone had been the means of spiritual awakening andblessing.The weakly,clever little boy had with his reading brought reflection and joy into the house.

When the schoolmaster went away,the lady pressedtwo or three silver dollars into his hand for the littleHans.

"Father and mother must have them!"said Hans,when the schoolmaster brought the money.

And Ole and kirsten said,"Cripple Hans after all isa profit and a blessing."

Two or three days after,when the parents were atwork at the big house,the squire's carriage stopped outside.It was the kindhearted lady who came,glad thather Christmas present had been such a comfort and pleasure for the boy and his parents.She brought with herfine bread,fruit,and a bottle of fruit syrup,but whatwas still more delightful she brought him,in a gilt cage,a little blackbird,which could whistle quite charmingly.The cage with the bird was set up on the old clothechest,a little bit away from the boy's bed;he could see thebird and hear it;even the people out in the road couldhear its song.

Ole and kirsten came home after the lady had drivenaway;they noticed how glad Hans was,but thought therewould only be trouble with the present he had got.

"Rich people don't have much foresight!"saidthey.

"Shall we now have that to look after also?CrippleHans cannot do it.The end will be that the cat will takeit!"

Eight days passed,and still another eight days:thecat had in that time been often in the room without frightening the bird,to say nothing of hurting it.Then a greatevent happened.It was afternoon.The parents and the other children were at work,Hans was quite alone;he had thestorybook in his hand,and read about the fisherwomanwho got everything she wished for;she wished to be aking,and that she became;she wished to be an emperor,and that she became;but when she wished to become thegood God,then she sat once more in the muddy ditch shehad come from.

The story had nothing to do with the bird or the cat,but it was just the story he was reading when the incidenthappened:he always remembered that afterwards.

The cage stood on the chest,the cat stood on thefloor and stared at the bird with his greenygold eyes.There was something in the cat's face which seemed tosay,"How lovely you are!How I should like to eat you!"

Hans could understand that;he read it in the cat'sface.

"Be off,cat!"he shouted,"will you go out of theroom?"

It seemed as if it were just about to spring.

Hans could not get at him,and he had nothing elseto throw at him but his dearest treasure,the storybook. He threw that,but the binding was loose,and it flew toone side,and the book itself with all its leaves flew tothe other.The cat went with slow steps a little back intothe room,and looked at Hans as much as to say,

"Don't mix yourself up in this affair,little Hans!Ican walk,and I can spring,and you can do neither."

Hans kept his eye on the cat and was greatly distressed;the bird was also anxious.There was no onethere to call;it seemed as if the cat knew it:it prepareditself again to spring.Hans shook the bedcover at him;his hands he could use;but the cat paid no attention tothe bedcover;and when it was also thrown at him without avail,he sprang upon the chair and into the windowsill,where he was nearer to the bird.

Hans could feel his own warm blood in himself but

he did not think of that he thought only about the cat

and the birdthe hoy could not help himself out of bedcould not stand on his legs still less walk It seemed asif his heart turned inside him when he saw the cat spring from the windowright on to the chest and push the cage so that it was upset The bird fluttered wildly about inside

Hans gave a scream something gave a tug inside himand without thinking about it he jumped out of bed flew across to the chest tore the cat down and gothold of the cage where the bird was in a great frightHeheld the cage in his hand and ran with it out of the door and out on to the road

Then the tears streamed out of his eyes he shouted with joy"I can walkI can walk"

He had recovered his activity againsuch things can happen and it had happened to him

The schoolmaster lived close by Hans ran in to himwith his bare feet with only his shirt and jacket onandwith the bird in the cage

"I can walk" he shouted" My God" and hesobbed and wept with joy

And there was joy in the house of Ole and Kirsten

"A more joyful day we could not see"said both of them

Hans was called up to the big house he had not gone that way for many years it seemed as if the trees and the nut bushes which he knew so well nodded tohim and said"Good day Hans welcome here" The sun shone on his face as well as in his heart

The master and mistress let him sit with them and looked as glad as if he had belonged to their own family

Gladdest of all was the lady who had given him the story bookgiven him the singing-bird which was now as a matter of fact dead dead of fright but it had been themeans of restoring him to health and the book had brought the awakening of the parents he had the book still and he would keep it and read it if he were ever soold Now he could be a benefit to those at home He would learn a trade by preference a bookbinder"be cause" said he"I can get all the new books to read"

In the afternoon the lady called both parents up toherShe and her husband had talked together about hanshe was a wise and clever boy had pleasure in readingand ability

That evening the parents came home joyfully from the farmKirsten in particularbut the week after she wept for then little Hans went away he was dressed in good clothes he was a good boy but now he must go away across the salt waterfar away to schooland many years would pass before they would see him again

He did not get the story-book with him the parents kept that for remembrance And the father often read in itbut nothing except the two stories for he knew them

And they got lettetd from Hanseach one gladder than the lastHe was with fine peoplein good circum- stances and it was most delightful to go to school therewas so much to learn and to know he only wanted to re main there a hundred years and then be a schoohmaster

"If we should live to see it"said the parents and pressed each other's hands as if at communion

"To think of what has happened to Hans" said Ole"Our Father thinks also of the poor man's child And that it should happen just with the cripple Is it not as if Hanswere to read it for us out of the story-book"

 


 

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