By Hans Christian Andersen
There was an old country-house which
belonged to young, 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
On Christmas Eve a beautifully decorated
Christmas-tree stood in the old hall, where
the fire burned in the chimney, 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 gaiety in the servants' hall. Here
also was a great fir-tree with red and white
candles, small Danish flags, swans and
fishing-nets, cut out of coloured paper, and
filled with ' goodies '. The poor children
from the neighbourhood were
invited, every one had his mother with him.
The mothers did not look much at the
Christmas-tree, but at the Christmas table,
where there lay linen and woollen cloth
stuff for gowns and stuff for trousers. They
and the bigger children looked there, only
the very little ones stretched out their
hands to the candles, and the tinsel and
The whole party came early in the afternoon
and got Christmas porridge and roast goose
with red cabbage. Then when the
Christmas-tree was seen and the gifts
distributed, each got a little glass of
punch with apple fritters. Then they went
back to their own poor homes and talked of
the good living, that is to say good things
to eat ; and the gifts were once more
inspected. There were now Garden Kirsten and
Garden Ole. They were married, and had their
house and daily bread for weeding and
digging in the garden of the big house.
Every Christmas festival they got a good
share of the gifts ; they had five children,
and all of them were clothed by the family.
' They are generous people, our master and
mistress ! ' said they, ' but they have the
means to be so, and they have pleasure in
' Here are good clothes for the four
children to wear,' said Ole ; ' but why is
there nothing for the "cripple " ? They used
to think about him too, although he was not
at the festival.
It was the eldest of the children they
called ' The Cripple ', he was called Hans
As a little boy, he was the smartest and
liveliest child, but he became all at once '
loose in the le'gs ', as they call it, he
could neither walk nor stand, and now he had
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 boy who liked to read, but used his
time also for working, so far as one who
must always lie in bed could be useful. He
was very handy, and knitted woollen
stockings, and even bedcovers. The lady at
the big house had praised and bought them.
It was a story-book Hans had got ; in it
there was much to read and much to think
'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 to sprout the 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
for the gardener and his apprentice, but
also for Kirsten and Ole.
' It is perfect drudgery,' said they. ' We
have no sooner raked the paths and made them
nice, than they are just trodden down again.
There is such a run of visitors up at the
house. How much it must cost ! But the
family are rich people ! '
' Things are badly divided,' said Ole ; '
the priest says we are all our Father's
children, why the difference then ? '
' It comes from the Fall ! ' said Kirsten.
They talked about it again in the evening,
where cripple Hans lay with his story-book.
Straitened circumstances, work, and drudgery,
had made the parents not only hard in the
hands, but also in their opinions and
judgements ; they could not grasp it, could
not explain it, and made themselves more
peevish and angry as they talked.
' Some people get prosperity and happiness,
others only poverty ! Why should our first
parents' disobedience and curiosity be
visited upon us ? We would not have behaved
ourselves as they did ! '
' Yes, we would ! ' said cripple Hans, all
at once. ' It is all here in the book.'
' What is in the book ? ' asked the parents.
And Hans read for them the old story of the
wood -cutter and his wife. They also scolded
about Adam's and Eve's curiosity, which was
the cause of their misfortune. The king of
the country came past just then. ' Come home
with me,' said he, ' then you shall have it
as good as I ; seven
courses for dinner and a course for show.
That is in a closed tureen, and you must not
touch it ; for if you do, it is all over
with your grandeur.' ' What can there be in
the tureen ? ' said the wife. ' That does
not concern us,' said the man. ' Yes, I am
not inquisitive,' said the wife, ' but I
would only like to know why we dare not lift
the lid ; it is certainly something delicate
! ' 'If only it is not
something mechanical,' said the man, 'such
as a pistol, which goes off and wakens the
whole house.' ' O my ! ' said the wife, and
did not touch the tureen. But during the
night she dreamt that the lid lifted itself,
and from the tureen came a smell of the
loveliest punch, such as one gets at
weddings and funerals. There lay a big
silver shilling with the inscription, '
Drink of this punch, and you will become the
two richest people in the world, and
everybody else will become beggars ! ' and
the wife wakened at once and told her
husband her dream. ' You think too
much about the thing ! ' said he. ' We could
lift it gently,' said the wife. ' Gently,'
said the man, and the wife then lifted the
lid very gently. Then two little active mice
sprang out, and ran at once into a mouse
-hole. ' Good night,' said the king. Now you
can go home and lie in your own bed. Don't
scold Adam and Eve any more, you yourselves
have been as inquisitive and ungrateful ! '
' From where has that story come in the book
? ' said Ole. ' It looks as if it concerned
us. It is something to think about ! '
Next day they went to work again ; they were
roasted by the sun, and soaked to the skin
with rain ; in them were fretful thoughts,
and they ruminated on them.
It was still quite light at home after they
had eaten their milk porridge.
' Read the story of the wood-cutter to us
again,' said Ole.
' There are so many nice ones in the book,'
said Hans, ' so many, you don't know.'
' Yes, but I don't care about them,' said
Ole, ' I want to hear the one I know.'
And he and his wife listened to it again.
More than one evening they returned to the
' It cannot quite make everything clear to
me,' said Ole. ' It is with people as with
sweet milk, which sours ; some become fine
cheese, and others the thin, watery whey ;
some people have luck in everything, sit at
the high-table 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 story-book, 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 by being dressed in the shirt which
had been worn on the body of a man who could
truthfully say that he had never known
sorrow or want.
Messages were sent to all the countries in
the world, to all castles and estates, to
all prosperous and happy men, but when it
was properly investigated, every one of them
had experienced sorrow and want.
' That I have not ! ' said the swineherd who
sat in the ditch 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 kingdom.'
But he had no shirt, and yet he called
himself the happiest man.
' That was a fine fellow,' shouted Ole, and
he and his wife laughed as they had not
laughed for a year and a day. Then the
schoolmaster came past.
' How you are enjoying yourselves ! ' said
he, ' that is something new in this house.
Have you won a prize in the lottery ? '
' No, we are not of that kind, said Ole. c
It is Hans who has been reading his
story-book to us, about " The man without
sorrow or want ", and the fellow had no
shirt. One's eyes get moist when one hears
such things, and that from a printed book.
Every one has his load to draw, one
is not alone in that. That is always a
' Where did you get that book ? ' asked the
' Our Hans got it more than a year ago at
Christmastime. The master and mistress gave
it to him. They know that he likes reading
so much, and he is a cripple. We would
rather have seen him get two linen shirts at
the time. But the book is wonderful, it can
almost answer one's thoughts.'
The schoolmaster took the book and opened
' Let us have the same story again ! ' said
Ole, ' I have not quite taken it in yet.
Then he must also read the other about the
wood-cutter ! '
These two stories were enough for Ole. They
were like two sunbeams coming into the poor
room, into the stunted thought which made
him so cross and ill-natured. Hans had read
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 to Hans, when the parents were
at work. It was a treat for the boy, every
time he came. How he listened to what the
old man told him, about the
size of the world and its many countries,
and that the sun was almost half a million
times bigger than the earth, and so far away
that a cannon-ball in its course would take
a whole twenty-five years to come from the
sun to the earth, whilst the beams of light
could come in eight minutes.
Every industrious schoolboy knew all that,
but for Hans it was all new, and still more
wonderful than what was in the story-book.
The schoolmaster dined with the squire's
family two or three times a year, and he
told how much importance the Story-book had
in the poor house, where two stories in it
alone had been the means of spiritual
awakening and blessing. The weakly, clever
little boy had with his reading
brought reflection and joy into the house.
When the schoolmaster went away, the lady
pressed two or three silver dollars into his
hand for the little Hans.
' Father and mother must have the'm ! ' said
Hans, when the schoolmaster brought the
And Ole and Kirsten said, ' Cripple Hans
after all is a profit and a blessing.'
Two or three days after, when the parents
were at work at the big house, the squire's
carriage stopped outside. It was the
kind-hearted lady who came, glad that her
Christmas present had been such a comfort
and pleasure for the boy and his parents.
She brought with her fine bread, fruit, and
a bottle of fruit syrup, but what was 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 clothes-chest, a
little bit away from the boy's bed ; he
could see the bird and hear it ; even the
people out in the road could hear its song.
Ole and Kirsten came home after the lady had
driven away ; they noticed how glad Hans was,
but thought there would only be trouble with
the present he had got.
' Rich people don't have much foresight ! '
said they. ' Shall we now have that to look
after also ? Cripple Hans cannot do it. The
end will be that the cat will take it ! '
Eight days passed, and still another eight
days : the cat had in that time been often
in the room without frightening the bird, to
say nothing of hurting it. Then a great
event happened. It was afternoon. The
parents and the other children were at work,
Hans was quite alone ; he had the
story-book in his hand, and read about the
fisherwoman who got everything she wished
for ; she wished to be a king, and that she
became ; she wished to be an emperor, and
that she became ; but when she wished to
become the good God, then she sat once more
in the muddy ditch she
had 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 incident happened : he
always remembered that afterwards.
The cage stood on the chest, the cat stood
on the floor and stared at the bird with his
greeny-gold eyes. There was something in the
cat's face which seemed to say, ' How lovely
you are ! How I should like to eat you ! '
Hans could understand that ; he read it in
the cat's face.
' Be off, cat ! ' he shouted, ' will you go
out of the room? ' It seemed as if it were
just about to spring. Hans could not get at
him, and he had nothing else to throw at him
but his dearest treasure, the story-book. He
threw that, but the binding was loose, and
it flew to one side, and the book itself
with all its leaves flew to the other. The
cat went with slow steps a little back into
the room, and looked at Hans as much as to
' Don't mix yourself up in this affair,
little Hans ! I can 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 one there to call ; it seemed
as if the cat knew it : it prepared itself
again to spring. Hans shook the bed-cover at
him ; his hands he could use ; but the cat
paid no attention to the bed-cover ; and
when it was also thrown at him without avail,
he sprang upon the chair and into the
window-sill, 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 bird ;
the boy could not help
himself out of bed, could not stand on his
legs, still less walk. It seemed as if his
heart turned inside him when he saw the cat
spring from the window, right 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 him, and without thinking about it,
he jumped out of bed, flew across to the
chest, tore the cat down, and got hold of
the cage, where the bird was in a great
fright. He held the cage in his hand and ran
with it out of the door and out on to the
Then the tears streamed out of his eyes ; he
shouted with joy, ' I can walk ! I can walk
He had recovered his activity again ; such
things can happen, and it had happened to
The schoolmaster lived close by ; Hans ran
in to him with his bare feet, with only his
shirt and jacket on, and with the bird in
' I can walk ! ' he shouted. ' My God ! '
and he sobbed and wept with joy.
And there was joy hi 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 nutbushes, which he knew so well,
nodded to him 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
Gladdest of all was the lady, who had given
him the story book, given him the
singing-bird, which was now as a matter of
fact dead, dead of fright, but it had been
the means 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
so old. Now he could be a benefit to those
at home. He would learn a trade, by
preference a bookbinder, ' because,' said he,
' I can get all the new books to read ! '
In the afternoon the lady called both
parents up to her. She and her husband had
talked together about Hans ; he was a wise
and clever boy : had pleasure in reading,
That evening the parents came home joyfully
from the farm, Kirsten in particular, but
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 water, far away
to school, and 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 it, but nothing except
the two stories, for he knew them.
And they got letters from Hans, each one
gladder than the last. He was with fine
people, in good circumstances, and it was
most delightful to go to school ; there was
so much to learn and to know ; he only
wanted to remain there a hundred years and
then be a schoolmaster.
' 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 Hans
were to read it for us out of the story-book