In a village there once lived two men who had the same name. They were both called
Claus. One of them had four horses, but the other had only one; so to distinguish
them, people called the owner of the four horses, “Great Claus,” and he who had
only one, “Little Claus.” Now we shall hear what happened to them, for this is
a true story.
Through the whole week, Little Claus was obliged to plough for Great Claus,
and lend him his one horse; and once a week, on a Sunday, Great Claus lent him
all his four horses. Then how Little Claus would smack his whip over all five
horses, they were as good as his own on that one day. The sun shone brightly,
and the church bells were ringing merrily as the people passed by, dressed in
their best clothes, with their prayer-books under their arms. They were going
to hear the clergyman preach. They looked at Little Claus ploughing with his
five horses, and he was so proud that he smacked his whip, and said, “Gee-up,
my five horses.”
“You must not say that,” said Big Claus; “for only one of them belongs to you.”
But Little Claus soon forgot what he ought to say, and when any one passed he
would call out, “Gee-up, my five horses!”
“Now I must beg you not to say that again,” said Big Claus; “for if you do,
I shall hit your horse on the head, so that he will drop dead on the spot, and
there will be an end of him.”
“I promise you I will not say it any more,” said the other; but as soon as
people came by, nodding to him, and wishing him “Good day,” he became so pleased,
and thought how grand it looked to have five horses ploughing in his field,
that he cried out again, “Gee-up, all my horses!”
“I’ll gee-up your horses for you,” said Big Claus; and seizing a hammer, he
struck the one horse of Little Claus on the head, and he fell dead instantly.
“Oh, now I have no horse at all,” said Little Claus, weeping. But after a while
he took off the dead horse’s skin, and hung the hide to dry in the wind. Then
he put the dry skin into a bag, and, placing it over his shoulder, went out
into the next town to sell the horse’s skin. He had a very long way to go, and
had to pass through a dark, gloomy forest. Presently a storm arose, and he lost
his way, and before he discovered the right path, evening came on, and it was
still a long way to the town, and too far to return home before night. Near
the road stood a large farmhouse. The shutters outside the windows were closed,
but lights shone through the crevices at the top. “I might get permission to
stay here for the night,” thought Little Claus; so he went up to the door and
knocked. The farmer’s wife opened the door; but when she heard what he wanted,
she told him to go away, as her husband would not allow her to admit strangers.
“Then I shall be obliged to lie out here,” said Little Claus to himself, as
the farmer’s wife shut the door in his face. Near to the farmhouse stood a large
haystack, and between it and the house was a small shed, with a thatched roof.
“I can lie up there,” said Little Claus, as he saw the roof; “it will make a
famous bed, but I hope the stork will not fly down and bite my legs;” for on
it stood a living stork, whose nest was in the roof. So Little Claus climbed
to the roof of the shed, and while he turned himself to get comfortable, he
discovered that the wooden shutters, which were closed, did not reach to the
tops of the windows of the farmhouse, so that he could see into a room, in which
a large table was laid out with wine, roast meat, and a splendid fish. The farmer’s
wife and the sexton were sitting at the table together; and she filled his glass,
and helped him plenteously to fish, which appeared to be his favorite dish.
“If I could only get some, too,” thought Little Claus; and then, as he stretched
his neck towards the window he spied a large, beautiful pie,—indeed they had
a glorious feast before them.
At this moment he heard some one riding down the road, towards the farmhouse.
It was the farmer returning home. He was a good man, but still he had a very
strange prejudice,—he could not bear the sight of a sexton. If one appeared
before him, he would put himself in a terrible rage. In consequence of this
dislike, the sexton had gone to visit the farmer’s wife during her husband’s
absence from home, and the good woman had placed before him the best she had
in the house to eat. When she heard the farmer coming she was frightened, and
begged the sexton to hide himself in a large empty chest that stood in the room.
He did so, for he knew her husband could not endure the sight of a sexton. The
woman then quickly put away the wine, and hid all the rest of the nice things
in the oven; for if her husband had seen them he would have asked what they
were brought out for.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Little Claus from the top of the shed, as he saw all the
good things disappear.
“Is any one up there?” asked the farmer, looking up and discovering Little
Claus. “Why are you lying up there? Come down, and come into the house with
me.” So Little Claus came down and told the farmer how he had lost his way and
begged for a night’s lodging.
“All right,” said the farmer; “but we must have something to eat first.”
The woman received them both very kindly, laid the cloth on a large table,
and placed before them a dish of porridge. The farmer was very hungry, and ate
his porridge with a good appetite, but Little Claus could not help thinking
of the nice roast meat, fish and pies, which he knew were in the oven. Under
the table, at his feet, lay the sack containing the horse’s skin, which he intended
to sell at the next town. Now Little Claus did not relish the porridge at all,
so he trod with his foot on the sack under the table, and the dry skin squeaked
quite loud. “Hush!” said Little Claus to his sack, at the same time treading
upon it again, till it squeaked louder than before.
“Hallo! what have you got in your sack!” asked the farmer.
“Oh, it is a conjuror,” said Little Claus; “and he says we need not eat porridge,
for he has conjured the oven full of roast meat, fish, and pie.”
“Wonderful!” cried the farmer, starting up and opening the oven door; and there
lay all the nice things hidden by the farmer’s wife, but which he supposed had
been conjured there by the wizard under the table. The woman dared not say anything;
so she placed the things before them, and they both ate of the fish, the meat,
and the pastry.
Then Little Claus trod again upon his sack, and it squeaked as before. “What
does he say now?” asked the farmer.
“He says,” replied Little Claus, “that there are three bottles of wine for
us, standing in the corner, by the oven.”
So the woman was obliged to bring out the wine also, which she had hidden,
and the farmer drank it till he became quite merry. He would have liked such
a conjuror as Little Claus carried in his sack. “Could he conjure up the evil
one?” asked the farmer. “I should like to see him now, while I am so merry.”
“Oh, yes!” replied Little Claus, “my conjuror can do anything I ask him,—can
you not?” he asked, treading at the same time on the sack till it squeaked.
“Do you hear? he answers ’Yes,’ but he fears that we shall not like to look
“Oh, I am not afraid. What will he be like?”
“Well, he is very much like a sexton.”
“Ha!” said the farmer, “then he must be ugly. Do you know I cannot endure the
sight of a sexton. However, that doesn’t matter, I shall know who it is; so
I shall not mind. Now then, I have got up my courage, but don’t let him come
too near me.”
“Stop, I must ask the conjuror,” said Little Claus; so he trod on the bag,
and stooped his ear down to listen.
“What does he say?”
“He says that you must go and open that large chest which stands in the corner,
and you will see the evil one crouching down inside; but you must hold the lid
firmly, that he may not slip out.”
“Will you come and help me hold it?” said the farmer, going towards the chest
in which his wife had hidden the sexton, who now lay inside, very much frightened.
The farmer opened the lid a very little way, and peeped in.
“Oh,” cried he, springing backwards, “I saw him, and he is exactly like our
sexton. How dreadful it is!” So after that he was obliged to drink again, and
they sat and drank till far into the night.
“You must sell your conjuror to me,” said the farmer; “ask as much as you like,
I will pay it; indeed I would give you directly a whole bushel of gold.”
“No, indeed, I cannot,” said Little Claus; “only think how much profit I could
make out of this conjuror.”
“But I should like to have him,” said the fanner, still continuing his entreaties.
“Well,” said Little Claus at length, “you have been so good as to give me a
night’s lodging, I will not refuse you; you shall have the conjuror for a bushel
of money, but I will have quite full measure.”
“So you shall,” said the farmer; “but you must take away the chest as well.
I would not have it in the house another hour; there is no knowing if he may
not be still there.”
So Little Claus gave the farmer the sack containing the dried horse’s skin,
and received in exchange a bushel of money—full measure. The farmer also gave
him a wheelbarrow on which to carry away the chest and the gold.
“Farewell,” said Little Claus, as he went off with his money and the great
chest, in which the sexton lay still concealed. On one side of the forest was
a broad, deep river, the water flowed so rapidly that very few were able to
swim against the stream. A new bridge had lately been built across it, and in
the middle of this bridge Little Claus stopped, and said, loud enough to be
heard by the sexton, “Now what shall I do with this stupid chest; it is as heavy
as if it were full of stones: I shall be tired if I roll it any farther, so
I may as well throw it in the river; if it swims after me to my house, well
and good, and if not, it will not much matter.”
So he seized the chest in his hand and lifted it up a little, as if he were
going to throw it into the water.
“No, leave it alone,” cried the sexton from within the chest; “let me out first.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Little Claus, pretending to be frightened, “he is in there
still, is he? I must throw him into the river, that he may be drowned.”
“Oh, no; oh, no,” cried the sexton; “I will give you a whole bushel full of
money if you will let me go.”
“Why, that is another matter,” said Little Claus, opening the chest. The sexton
crept out, pushed the empty chest into the water, and went to his house, then
he measured out a whole bushel full of gold for Little Claus, who had already
received one from the farmer, so that now he had a barrow full.
“I have been well paid for my horse,” said he to himself when he reached home,
entered his own room, and emptied all his money into a heap on the floor. “How
vexed Great Claus will be when he finds out how rich I have become all through
my one horse; but I shall not tell him exactly how it all happened.” Then he
sent a boy to Great Claus to borrow a bushel measure.
“What can he want it for?” thought Great Claus; so he smeared the bottom of
the measure with tar, that some of whatever was put into it might stick there
and remain. And so it happened; for when the measure returned, three new silver
florins were sticking to it.
“What does this mean?” said Great Claus; so he ran off directly to Little Claus,
and asked, “Where did you get so much money?”
“Oh, for my horse’s skin, I sold it yesterday.”
“It was certainly well paid for then,” said Great Claus; and he ran home to
his house, seized a hatchet, and knocked all his four horses on the head, flayed
off their skins, and took them to the town to sell. “Skins, skins, who’ll buy
skins?” he cried, as he went through the streets. All the shoemakers and tanners
came running, and asked how much he wanted for them.
“A bushel of money, for each,” replied Great Claus.
“Are you mad?” they all cried; “do you think we have money to spend by the
“Skins, skins,” he cried again, “who’ll buy skins?” but to all who inquired
the price, his answer was, “a bushel of money.”
“He is making fools of us,” said they all; then the shoemakers took their straps,
and the tanners their leather aprons, and began to beat Great Claus.
“Skins, skins!” they cried, mocking him; “yes, we’ll mark your skin for you,
till it is black and blue.”
“Out of the town with him,” said they. And Great Claus was obliged to run as
fast as he could, he had never before been so thoroughly beaten.
“Ah,” said he, as he came to his house; “Little Claus shall pay me for this;
I will beat him to death.”
Meanwhile the old grandmother of Little Claus died. She had been cross, unkind,
and really spiteful to him; but he was very sorry, and took the dead woman and
laid her in his warm bed to see if he could bring her to life again. There he
determined that she should lie the whole night, while he seated himself in a
chair in a corner of the room as he had often done before. During the night,
as he sat there, the door opened, and in came Great Claus with a hatchet. He
knew well where Little Claus’s bed stood; so he went right up to it, and struck
the old grandmother on the head. thinking it must be Little Claus.
“There,” cried he, “now you cannot make a fool of me again;” and then he went
“That is a very wicked man,” thought Little Claus; “he meant to kill me. It
is a good thing for my old grandmother that she was already dead, or he would
have taken her life.” Then he dressed his old grandmother in her best clothes,
borrowed a horse of his neighbor, and harnessed it to a cart. Then he placed
the old woman on the back seat, so that she might not fall out as he drove,
and rode away through the wood. By sunrise they reached a large inn, where Little
Claus stopped and went to get something to eat. The landlord was a rich man,
and a good man too; but as passionate as if he had been made of pepper and snuff.
“Good morning,” said he to Little Claus; “you are come betimes to-day.”
“Yes,” said Little Claus; “I am going to the town with my old grandmother;
she is sitting at the back of the wagon, but I cannot bring her into the room.
Will you take her a glass of mead? but you must speak very loud, for she cannot
“Yes, certainly I will,” replied the landlord; and, pouring out a glass of
mead, he carried it out to the dead grandmother, who sat upright in the cart.
“Here is a glass of mead from your grandson,” said the landlord. The dead woman
did not answer a word, but sat quite still. “Do you not hear?” cried the landlord
as loud as he could; “here is a glass of mead from your grandson.”
Again and again he bawled it out, but as she did not stir he flew into a passion,
and threw the glass of mead in her face; it struck her on the nose, and she
fell backwards out of the cart, for she was only seated there, not tied in.
“Hallo!” cried Little Claus, rushing out of the door, and seizing hold of the
landlord by the throat; “you have killed my grandmother; see, here is a great
hole in her forehead.”
“Oh, how unfortunate,” said the landlord, wringing his hands. “This all comes
of my fiery temper. Dear Little Claus, I will give you a bushel of money; I
will bury your grandmother as if she were my own; only keep silent, or else
they will cut off my head, and that would be disagreeable.”
So it happened that Little Claus received another bushel of money, and the
landlord buried his old grandmother as if she had been his own. When Little
Claus reached home again, he immediately sent a boy to Great Claus, requesting
him to lend him a bushel measure. “How is this?” thought Great Claus; “did I
not kill him? I must go and see for myself.” So he went to Little Claus, and
took the bushel measure with him. “How did you get all this money?” asked Great
Claus, staring with wide open eyes at his neighbor’s treasures.
“You killed my grandmother instead of me,” said Little Claus; “so I have sold
her for a bushel of money.”
“That is a good price at all events,” said Great Claus. So he went home, took
a hatchet, and killed his old grandmother with one blow. Then he placed her
on a cart, and drove into the town to the apothecary, and asked him if he would
buy a dead body.
“Whose is it, and where did you get it?” asked the apothecary.
“It is my grandmother,” he replied; “I killed her with a blow, that I might
get a bushel of money for her.”
“Heaven preserve us!” cried the apothecary, “you are out of your mind. Don’t
say such things, or you will lose your head.” And then he talked to him seriously
about the wicked deed he had done, and told him that such a wicked man would
surely be punished. Great Claus got so frightened that he rushed out of the
surgery, jumped into the cart, whipped up his horses, and drove home quickly.
The apothecary and all the people thought him mad, and let him drive where he
“You shall pay for this,” said Great Claus, as soon as he got into the highroad,
“that you shall, Little Claus.” So as soon as he reached home he took the largest
sack he could find and went over to Little Claus. “You have played me another
trick,” said he. “First, I killed all my horses, and then my old grandmother,
and it is all your fault; but you shall not make a fool of me any more.” So
he laid hold of Little Claus round the body, and pushed him into the sack, which
he took on his shoulders, saying, “Now I’m going to drown you in the river.
He had a long way to go before he reached the river, and Little Claus was not
a very light weight to carry. The road led by the church, and as they passed
he could hear the organ playing and the people singing beautifully. Great Claus
put down the sack close to the church-door, and thought he might as well go
in and hear a psalm before he went any farther. Little Claus could not possibly
get out of the sack, and all the people were in church; so in he went.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” sighed Little Claus in the sack, as he turned and twisted
about; but he found he could not loosen the string with which it was tied. Presently
an old cattle driver, with snowy hair, passed by, carrying a large staff in
his hand, with which he drove a large herd of cows and oxen before him. They
stumbled against the sack in which lay Little Claus, and turned it over. “Oh
dear,” sighed Little Claus, “I am very young, yet I am soon going to heaven.”
“And I, poor fellow,” said the drover, “I who am so old already, cannot get
“Open the sack,” cried Little Claus; “creep into it instead of me, and you
will soon be there.”
“With all my heart,” replied the drover, opening the sack, from which sprung
Little Claus as quickly as possible. “Will you take care of my cattle?” said
the old man, as he crept into the bag.
“Yes,” said Little Claus, and he tied up the sack, and then walked off with
all the cows and oxen.
When Great Claus came out of church, he took up the sack, and placed it on
his shoulders. It appeared to have become lighter, for the old drover was not
half so heavy as Little Claus.
“How light he seems now,” said he. “Ah, it is because I have been to a church.”
So he walked on to the river, which was deep and broad, and threw the sack containing
the old drover into the water, believing it to be Little Claus. “There you may
lie!” he exclaimed; “you will play me no more tricks now.” Then he turned to
go home, but when he came to a place where two roads crossed, there was Little
Claus driving the cattle. “How is this?” said Great Claus. “Did I not drown
you just now?”
“Yes,” said Little Claus; “you threw me into the river about half an hour ago.”
“But wherever did you get all these fine beasts?” asked Great Claus.
“These beasts are sea-cattle,” replied Little Claus. “I’ll tell you the whole
story, and thank you for drowning me; I am above you now, I am really very rich.
I was frightened, to be sure, while I lay tied up in the sack, and the wind
whistled in my ears when you threw me into the river from the bridge, and I
sank to the bottom immediately; but I did not hurt myself, for I fell upon beautifully
soft grass which grows down there; and in a moment, the sack opened, and the
sweetest little maiden came towards me. She had snow-white robes, and a wreath
of green leaves on her wet hair. She took me by the hand, and said, ’So you
are come, Little Claus, and here are some cattle for you to begin with. About
a mile farther on the road, there is another herd for you.’ Then I saw that
the river formed a great highway for the people who live in the sea. They were
walking and driving here and there from the sea to the land at the, spot where
the river terminates. The bed of the river was covered with the loveliest flowers
and sweet fresh grass. The fish swam past me as rapidly as the birds do here
in the air. How handsome all the people were, and what fine cattle were grazing
on the hills and in the valleys!”
“But why did you come up again,” said Great Claus, “if it was all so beautiful
down there? I should not have done so?”
“Well,” said Little Claus, “it was good policy on my part; you heard me say
just now that I was told by the sea-maiden to go a mile farther on the road,
and I should find a whole herd of cattle. By the road she meant the river, for
she could not travel any other way; but I knew the winding of the river, and
how it bends, sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, and it seemed
a long way, so I chose a shorter one; and, by coming up to the land, and then
driving across the fields back again to the river, I shall save half a mile,
and get all my cattle more quickly.”
“What a lucky fellow you are!” exclaimed Great Claus. “Do you think I should
get any sea-cattle if I went down to the bottom of the river?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Little Claus; “but I cannot carry you there in a sack,
you are too heavy. However if you will go there first, and then creep into a
sack, I will throw you in with the greatest pleasure.”
“Thank you,” said Great Claus; “but remember, if I do not get any sea-cattle
down there I shall come up again and give you a good thrashing.”
“No, now, don’t be too fierce about it!” said Little Claus, as they walked
on towards the river. When they approached it, the cattle, who were very thirsty,
saw the stream, and ran down to drink.
“See what a hurry they are in,” said Little Claus, “they are longing to get
“Come, help me, make haste,” said Great Claus; “or you’ll get beaten.” So he
crept into a large sack, which had been lying across the back of one of the
“Put in a stone,” said Great Claus, “or I may not sink.”
“Oh, there’s not much fear of that,” he replied; still he put a large stone
into the bag, and then tied it tightly, and gave it a push.
“Plump!” In went Great Claus, and immediately sank to the bottom of the river.
“I’m afraid he will not find any cattle,” said Little Claus, and then he drove
his own beasts homewards.