What the Old Man does is Always Right
By Hans Christian Andersen
I will tell you a story that was told me
when I was a little boy. Every time I
thought of this story, it seemed to me more
and more charming; for it is with stories as
it is with many people- they become better
as they grow older.
I have no doubt that you have been in the
country, and seen a very old farmhouse, with
a thatched roof, and mosses and small plants
growing wild upon it. There is a stork's
nest on the ridge of the gable, for we
cannot do without the stork. The walls of
the house are sloping, and the windows are
low, and only one of the latter is made to
open. The baking-oven sticks out of the wall
like a great knob. An elder-tree hangs over
the palings; and beneath its branches, at
the foot of the paling, is a pool of water,
in which a few ducks are disporting
themselves. There is a yard-dog too, who
barks at all corners. Just such a farmhouse
as this stood in a country lane; and in it
dwelt an old couple, a peasant and his wife.
Small as their possessions were, they had
one article they could not do without, and
that was a horse, which contrived to live
upon the grass which it found by the side of
the high road. The old peasant rode into the
town upon this horse, and his neighbors
often borrowed it of him, and paid for the
loan of it by rendering some service to the
old couple. After a time they thought it
would be as well to sell the horse, or
exchange it for something which might be
more useful to them. But what might this
"You'll know best, old man," said the wife.
"It is fair-day to-day; so ride into town,
and get rid of the horse for money, or make
a good exchange; whichever you do will be
right to me, so ride to the fair."
And she fastened his neckerchief for him;
for she could do that better than he could,
and she could also tie it very prettily in a
double bow. She also smoothed his hat round
and round with the palm of her hand, and
gave him a kiss. Then he rode away upon the
horse that was to be sold or bartered for
something else. Yes, the old man knew what
he was about. The sun shone with great heat,
and not a cloud was to be seen in the sky.
The road was very dusty; for a number of
people, all going to the fair, were driving,
riding, or walking upon it. There was no
shelter anywhere from the hot sunshine.
Among the rest a man came trudging along,
and driving a cow to the fair. The cow was
as beautiful a creature as any cow could be.
"She gives good milk, I am certain," said
the peasant to himself. "That would be a
very good exchange: the cow for the horse.
Hallo there! you with the cow," he said. "I
tell you what; I dare say a horse is of more
value than a cow; but I don't care for
that,- a cow will be more useful to me; so,
if you like, we'll exchange."
"To be sure I will," said the man.
Accordingly the exchange was made; and as
the matter was settled, the peasant might
have turned back; for he had done the
business he came to do. But, having made up
his mind to go to the fair, he determined to
do so, if only to have a look at it; so on
he went to the town with his cow. Leading
the animal, he strode on sturdily, and,
after a short time, overtook a man who was
driving a sheep. It was a good fat sheep,
with a fine fleece on its back.
"I should like to have that fellow," said
the peasant to himself. "There is plenty of
grass for him by our palings, and in the
winter we could keep him in the room with us.
Perhaps it would be more profitable to have
a sheep than a cow. Shall I exchange?"
The man with the sheep was quite ready, and
the bargain was quickly made. And then our
peasant continued his way on the high-road
with his sheep. Soon after this, he overtook
another man, who had come into the road from
a field, and was carrying a large goose
under his arm.
"What a heavy creature you have there!" said
the peasant; "it has plenty of feathers and
plenty of fat, and would look well tied to a
string, or paddling in the water at our
place. That would be very useful to my old
woman; she could make all sorts of profits
out of it. How often she has said, 'If now
we only had a goose!' Now here is an
opportunity, and, if possible, I will get it
for her. Shall we exchange? I will give you
my sheep for your goose, and thanks into the
The other had not the least objection, and
accordingly the exchange was made, and our
peasant became possessor of the goose. By
this time he had arrived very near the town.
The crowd on the high road had been
gradually increasing, and there was quite a
rush of men and cattle. The cattle walked on
the path and by the palings, and at the
turnpike-gate they even walked into the
toll-keeper's potato-field, where one fowl
was strutting about with a string tied to
its leg, for fear it should take fright at
the crowd, and run away and get lost. The
tail-feathers of the fowl were very short,
and it winked with both its eyes, and looked
very cunning, as it said "Cluck, cluck."
What were the thoughts of the fowl as it
said this I cannot tell you; but directly
our good man saw it, he thought, "Why that's
the finest fowl I ever saw in my life; it's
finer than our parson's brood hen, upon my
word. I should like to have that fowl. Fowls
can always pick up a few grains that lie
about, and almost keep themselves. I think
it would be a good exchange if I could get
it for my goose. Shall we exchange?" he
asked the toll-keeper.
"Exchange," repeated the man; "well, it
would not be a bad thing."
And so they made an exchange,- the
toll-keeper at the turnpike-gate kept the
goose, and the peasant carried off the fowl.
Now he had really done a great deal of
business on his way to the fair, and he was
hot and tired. He wanted something to eat,
and a glass of ale to refresh himself; so he
turned his steps to an inn. He was just
about to enter when the ostler came out, and
they met at the door. The ostler was
carrying a sack. "What have you in that sack?"
asked the peasant.
"Rotten apples," answered the ostler; "a
whole sackful of them. They will do to feed
the pigs with."
"Why that will be terrible waste," he
replied; "I should like to take them home to
my old woman. Last year the old apple-tree
by the grass-plot only bore one apple, and
we kept it in the cupboard till it was quite
withered and rotten. It was always property,
my old woman said; and here she would see a
great deal of property- a whole sackful; I
should like to show them to her."
"What will you give me for the sackful?"
asked the ostler.
"What will I give? Well, I will give you my
fowl in exchange."
So he gave up the fowl, and received the
apples, which he carried into the inn parlor.
He leaned the sack carefully against the
stove, and then went to the table. But the
stove was hot, and he had not thought of
that. Many guests were present- horse
dealers, cattle drovers, and two Englishmen.
The Englishmen were so rich that their
pockets quite bulged out and seemed ready to
burst; and they could bet too, as you shall
hear. "Hiss-s-s, hiss-s-s." What could that
be by the stove? The apples were beginning
to roast. "What is that?" asked one.
"Why, do you know"- said our peasant. And
then he told them the whole story of the
horse, which he had exchanged for a cow, and
all the rest of it, down to the apples.
"Well, your old woman will give it you well
when you get home," said one of the
Englishmen. "Won't there be a noise?"
"What! Give me what?" said the peasant. "Why,
she will kiss me, and say, 'what the old man
does is always right.'"
"Let us lay a wager on it," said the
Englishmen. "We'll wager you a ton of coined
gold, a hundred pounds to the hundred-weight."
"No; a bushel will be enough," replied the
peasant. "I can only set a bushel of apples
against it, and I'll throw myself and my old
woman into the bargain; that will pile up
the measure, I fancy."
"Done! taken!" and so the bet was made.
Then the landlord's coach came to the door,
and the two Englishmen and the peasant got
in, and away they drove, and soon arrived
and stopped at the peasant's hut. "Good
evening, old woman." "Good evening, old
man." "I've made the exchange."
"Ah, well, you understand what you're about,"
said the woman. Then she embraced him, and
paid no attention to the strangers, nor did
she notice the sack.
"I got a cow in exchange for the horse."
"Thank Heaven," said she. "Now we shall have
plenty of milk, and butter, and cheese on
the table. That was a capital exchange."
"Yes, but I changed the cow for a sheep."
"Ah, better still!" cried the wife. "You
always think of everything; we have just
enough pasture for a sheep. Ewe's milk and
cheese, woollen jackets and stockings! The
cow could not give all these, and her hair
only falls off. How you think of everything!"
"But I changed away the sheep for a goose."
"Then we shall have roast goose to eat this
year. You dear old man, you are always
thinking of something to please me. This is
delightful. We can let the goose walk about
with a string tied to her leg, so she will
be fatter still before we roast her."
"But I gave away the goose for a fowl."
"A fowl! Well, that was a good exchange,"
replied the woman. "The fowl will lay eggs
and hatch them, and we shall have chickens;
we shall soon have a poultry-yard. Oh, this
is just what I was wishing for."
"Yes, but I exchanged the fowl for a sack of
"What! I really must give you a kiss for
that!" exclaimed the wife. "My dear, good
husband, now I'll tell you something. Do you
know, almost as soon as you left me this
morning, I began to think of what I could
give you nice for supper this evening, and
then I thought of fried eggs and bacon, with
sweet herbs; I had eggs and bacon, but I
wanted the herbs; so I went over to the
schoolmaster's: I knew they had plenty of
herbs, but the schoolmistress is very mean,
although she can smile so sweetly. I begged
her to lend me a handful of herbs. 'Lend!'
she exclaimed, 'I have nothing to lend;
nothing at all grows in our garden, not even
a shrivelled apple; I could not even lend
you a shrivelled apple, my dear woman. But
now I can lend her ten, or a whole sackful,
which I'm very glad of; it makes me laugh to
think about it;" and then she gave him a
"Well, I like all this," said both the
Englishmen; "always going down the hill, and
yet always merry; it's worth the money to
see it." So they paid a hundred-weight of
gold to the peasant, who, whatever he did,
was not scolded but kissed.
Yes, it always pays best when the wife sees
and maintains that her husband knows best,
and whatever he does is right.
That is a story which I heard when I was a
child; and now you have heard it too, and
know that "What the old man does is always