Big Claus and Little Claus.
(Hans Christian Andersen. This version by Bonny Ploeg, 1998, revised 2003, re-shaped December 2005. Eternal thanks to 67oo)

The history of Big Claus and Little Claus is a strange one for more than one reason.
First of all, the names are very odd. You'd say that big and little would refer to their length, but that's not true. These two men lived in the same village, and were both farmers called Claus. But there was a striking difference between the two. One was rich, the other was poor. The people in the village called the rich guy Big Claus, and so the poor farmer had to be called Little Claus. The rich farmer had four horses, but Little Claus only had one.
Now ploughing your land is always a heavy task, especially if you have only one horse. But both Clauses had come up with a solution. Little Claus would plough the land of Big Claus from Mondays to Saturdays, with all five horses. And on Sundays Little Claus could borrow the four horses of his friend to plough his own land.
On those Sundays, Little Claus always worked with great devotion. He'd clack his tongue, he'd slap the whip about when shouting: "Come on, my dear horses! Tear the ground open! Then lots of oat will come off, and that will all be for you!"
Every Sunday, the churchgoers who passed his farm, looked with amusement how this farmer was working hard. But Big Claus, who was quite a pious man, would pass his farm too, and one day, he heard his friend say: "Come on, my dear animals!"
-"You shouldn't say that," Big Claus told Little Claus, "after all, only one of these horses is yours."
-"I promise, I won't do it again," Little Claus replied.
But the next Sunday, when he was behind the plough, he did it again and Big Claus heard it this time too. Latter interrupted his church walk to admonish Little Claus once more.
-"I forbid you to call my horses as if they were yours, and if you do it again, I'll smack your horse's brains out."
-"I'm sorry, it just slipped out, I won't do it again," Little Claus promised, but when he was standing behind his plough again, he loved his life so much that he accidentally made the mistake that Big Claus had forbidden him to make. Big Claus had been standing behind a tree to see if Little Claus wouldn't say the prohibited words again. Now, he jumped out of his hiding place and shouted:
-"But now it's over!" He took hold of a bludgeon and gave Little Claus' only horse such a severe blow on the head, that it died right on the spot.
-"How can you do something like that!" Little Claus cried. "Now I don't have a horse anymore!"
In tears, he removed the skin from his horse, let it dry and put it in a bag, and went to town to sell it.

It was a long way to town, so Little Claus decided to take a shortcut through the woods. He shouldn't have done that, because the forest was dark and cold, and it didn't take Little Claus long to get lost. To make matters worse, it started to rain too, and the wind blew so fiercely, that large branches fell off the trees.
Little Claus tried to shed under a spruce-fir, but after a while the raindrops just fell through the branches. Bravely, Little Claus continued his little quest and he ended up on the right way again. But by then, it was so late, Little Claus was sure he wouldn't arrive at the village on the same day. As it was getting dark, our friend feared that he would have to spend the night in the open air. But he felt a great relief when he saw a large homestead, where the lights were on.
"I'll ask if I can spend the night there," Little Claus muttered. He walked up to the house and knocked on the door
. But the farmer's wife who opened, replied to his request that she was home alone, and her husband told her not to let anyone in.
-"Oh, I'll crawl in the hay then, if you don't mind," Little Claus answered, and the farmer's wife said that he should do whatever he wanted to do, but she would not let him in. And to prove she was serious, she shut the door in his face.
Little Claus walked up to the haystack. He noticed a tiny shed with a flat, thatched roof. "Looks like a nice bed to me," he said to no-one in particular. He climbed up the roof, and just wanted to make himself comfortable, when he noticed he could look into the house through a narrow opening slightly above a window shutter.
He looked in, and he saw the well-lit living area of the house; and found out the woman at the door had been lying to him. She was not alone; the sexton had paid her a visit. They ate a fabulous meal together: a snappy brown chicken, red wine, a delicious cake and tons of fruit. What a party!
Just then, Little Claus heard the farmer come home. The farmer was a nice man, he only had one shortcoming: he could not stand sextons! Just seeing one would make his face turn red with anger.
His wife and the sexton knew that too. The farmer had made him feel it on several occasions. But his wife and the sexton really liked each other, and they had been looking forward to pass time together. And with the farmer out, what could be a better day than today? The two had a nice day together and were planning to end it with a five-star meal.
Of course, the two had heard the farmer coming home, and they got a terrible fright. The wife hid the sexton in a chest in the corner of the room. She put all the food in the oven, hid all the dirty plates and put the wine in the basement, because she knew that the farmer would want to know what such an enormous dinner was for.
"What a pity, what a pity," Little Claus sighed, as he saw all the glorious food disappear into the oven.
The farmer noticed Little Claus on the roof, and yelled:
-"Hey, what are you doing there on my roof? Why don't you come in?"
-"Well, you see, I was going to town, but I got lost, and if it's not too much trouble, I'd like to spend the night at the farm."
-"Well come on in then! It be much more pleasant inside than on the roof."
The farmer's wife welcomed her husband and Little Claus warm-heartedly. Quickly, she made the table and gave both men a bowl of porridge. The farmer enjoyed his meal, but Little Claus, who didn't like porridge at all, couldn't stop thinking of the chicken and the tart in the oven.
He had put his bag with the horse skin under the table. By accident, he stepped on his bag, and the horse skin gave a loud crack.
-"Shh," said Little Claus, even though no-one was talking. He stepped on the bag again.
-"What is it you are carrying in that bag?" the farmer asked.
-"That's my little house gnome. I always take him with me, because he gets so unhappy when I leave him alone and now he says that we're behaving idiotic eating porridge, when the oven is stuffed with top-class food."
-"Whaat? Really?" exclaimed the farmer who immediately opened the tiny oven door, discovering the goodies that his wife had been hiding from him. The farmer believed it was the little gnome of his guest who did it, and his woman didn't dare to say anything. She took the porridge back to the kitchen and put the extravagant sexton dinner back on the table. Little Claus stepped on his back again, and the skin squealed.
-"Does he know anything else?"
-"Yes, he asks us why we don't have any wine with this. The wine is in the basement." And the wife had to bring up the wine, too. Then it all became a cheerful occasion. The more wine the farmer drank, the happier he got. He told Little Claus in confidence that he was a very happy man, but he'd crawl over broken glass to have a gnome like Little Claus's.
-"Say, do you think you can conjure up the devil? I'd love to see him, and I'm in the right mood now."
-"Sure I can," Little Claus assured him. He gave his bag such a nasty kick that the skin screamed.
-"My gnome would like to do it, but he says it's better you don't get to see him. He looks awful, and my buddy's afraid that he scares the hell out of you."
-"We'll see about that," the farmer laughed. "I don't get scared easily. What would he look like?"
-"He looks like a sexton."
"Well his face must be horrid then! I can't stand sextons, you know. But that's not the point. I've been warned now, and I think that I can cope with it, especially 'cos I know what he looks like."
-"I'll ask him." Little Claus kicked the back, listened carefully, and nodded. "The chest in that corner there. If you open it, you get to see the devil. But be careful! He may not escape."
"Give me a little hand then," and the farmer walked up to the chest. Little Claus pressed the cover, so the chest couldn't open that far. The farmer peeked inside.
He immediately smashed the cover back in place. He yelled nervously: "I saw him! And he looks just like our sexton! Oh my god how horrible!"
The farmer needed a pick-me-up. Another bottle of wine was opened, and by the time they'd reached the bottom of it, the farmer proposed:
-"Sell me that gnome. I don't care how much you want for it, I've got to have him. "
-"I cannot do that. It's my house gnome, and I've had so much fun with him."
-"But I really want to buy him very badly," and the farmer had to beg for over an hour to get an offer.
-"Oh well," Little Claus said. "You're my host, and your wife has fed me. All right, you can have him for a bucket of silver coins. But it has to be a full bucket!"
The farmer agreed, but he demanded that Little Claus should take the chest with him, because he didn't want to have the devil in his house, especially because he looked like a sexton. Little Claus gave him the bag with the skin, and he got in exchange a bucket of silver coins, the chest with the sexton in it, and a wheelbarrow to load both things on.
-"Have fun with the gnome," Little Claus said when saying good-bye, and went on his way.
After an hour, he reached a bridge. Little Claus stopped and said loudly, so the sexton had to be able to hear it:
-"What a fool I am to drag this chest with me! I think I'll throw it in the water here. Then I won't have to carry it anymore."
He grabbed one of the handles and lifted the chest a little, as if he planned to push it over the parapet.
The sexton in the chest was scared stiff and he moaned: "Don't do it! Please let me out!"
-"Oh my god!" Little Claus shouted. The devil is still in the chest. Now it has to go in the water, I'd render humanity a service."
-"NO!!! Don't do it!" the sexton screamed, crying with fear. "I'm not the devil, and I'll give you a bucket of silver coins if you let me out.
-"Sounds fair." thought Little Claus, and he opened the chest, freed the sexton and threw the chest in the river afterwards. He accompanied the sexton to his house, where he received another bucket of silver coins. He now had his wheelbarrow filled with coins, and he concluded 'his horse had produced him a lot of money'.

He turned over the wheelbarrow when he got home." I'd love to see Big Claus' face when he sees how rich I am now, but I'm not going to tell him how I did it," Little Claus muttered, and he sent a little neighbourhood boy to Big Claus to borrow a corn measure.
"A corn measure? What does Little Claus need a corn measure for?" Big Claus thought. He put a bit of tar in the corn measure, so something of whatever Little Claus had to measure would stick to it. And he succeeded in his little plan, when the neighbourhood boy returned the corn measure, there were some silver coins stuck to the bottom.
"WHOA!!!" Big Claus shouted. "Money!" and he walked to Little Claus' house to ask him how he got so much money that he needed a corn measure to find out how much he had.
"Oh, nothing special," he replied. "I sold my horse's skin."
"Well you got a pretty high price for that!" Big Claus said, and he went home, slaughtered his four horses and stripped off their skins.
He went to town the very next day. When he found a fell monger who wanted to buy the skins and asked him how much he wanted to have, he said: "A bucket of silver coins each." The fell monger started to laugh and asked him if he had gone insane. Big Claus went to another one interested, but he too didn't want to pay him that much.
He spent all day walking from fell monger to shoemaker, but no-one was willing to pay more than just a few coins for the skins.
"Thieves and swindlers!" he called them, and that made the fell mongers so angry that they beat him up together and threw him out the town afterwards.
"I'll pay Little Claus back for this!" Big Claus promised himself. "I'll kill that guy!"

In the mean time, something awful had happened at Little Claus' place. His old grandmother, who lived with him, had died that night. Even though they were arguing almost every day, Little Claus was very sad. Hoping to make her a little alive again, he decided to put her in his bed and sleep on a chair himself.
He hadn't been sitting for half an hour, when he heard Big Claus coming in. Big Claus was armed with an axe, he walked to the bed, and, thinking it was Little Claus sleeping there, he smacked the granny's face in.
"That's done." Big Claus sighed with satisfaction. "He won't trouble me anymore."
"What a mean dirty bastard!" Little Claus muttered. That comes in in the middle of the night to kill me! What luck my granny just died, or else he would have succeeded!"
Little Claus suddenly realized what to do. He put Granny her best clothes on, he borrowed a horse and carriage from his neighbour and put the dead body in it in such a way that she wouldn't tumble over if the horse was pulling too heavily. Then he put his own best clothes on and, as the sun was coming up, he climbed on the box, clacked his tongue, and they rode away.

After an hour, Little Claus arrived at a tavern. Everyone knew that the inn-keeper was a wealthy man. He was known to be a nice guy, as long as he didn't get cross. He was like a wild animal when he was mad.
Little Claus entered the tavern, said 'hello' and took a seat.
-"Good morning," the inn-keeper said. "You're up early."
-"Yep," Little Claus replied. "My granny and I are going to town, but we're thirsty."
-"Her as well? But where is she then?"
-"She's still in the carriage. Her legs are not what they used to be, that's why she's not coming in. But could you please bring her a cup of coffee? You do have to talk very loudly 'cos she's as deaf as a post."
-"Okay," the inn-keeper said. A few seconds later, he walked out with a cup of hot coffee.
-"Here is your coffee, Granny!" he yelled, and when the old woman did not seem to respond, the inn-keeper repeated his call. He did that three or four times after that. And when Granny still didn't react, he got so angry that he threw the coffee in her face. She got such a fright that she tumbled off the carriage and didn't move anymore. At least that's what the inn-keeper thought.
Little Claus came running out. "Look what you've done! You killed my granny!"
-"But I really did not intend to harm her. But I'm so touchy and she let me say the same line five, no six times... and then... and then..."
-"And then you killed her!" Little Claus finished the line for him.
-"My dear Little Claus, let's not argue over this. After all, your granny was over 90 years old, so it cannot matter much. I'll give you a bucket of silver coins and I'll give your granny a nice funeral, but let's not talk about it anymore, both of us, or else the judge will get me hanging for murder."
-"And you would have deserved it!" Little Claus said with a poker-face. But when he left an hour later, he was a bucket of coins richer, and he was certain that his granny would get an appropriate funeral.

Back home, the first thing he did was sending the neighbourhood boy to Big Claus to borrow a corn measure.
-"Does Little Claus NEED a corn measure?" Big Claus shouted. "I beat him to death last night with my own hands."
-"Well he seems to be alive and kicking to me." the boy said.
-"I want to see it for myself." Big Claus quickly put his coat on and went to Little Claus' farm.
When he arrived, he was astonished on seeing how big Little Claus' pile of money had become.
Little Claus told him, that the other Claus had made a mistake that night and that he had killed his granny instead of his former friend.
-"The thing you did was bad, but I have to thank you. I've been able to sell her body to the pharmacist, and he gave me a lot of money for it."
-"I can see that," Big Claus said, "the pile of money I mean." And he ran home, where he found his own granny catching a nap. He grabbed an axe and killed her, then rode the body to the pharmacist in the town, trying to sell it to him.
-"That depends on who it is and how you came to possess it."
-"Oh, it's just my granny, who I killed just a few hours ago."
-"Good God, man, and you just 'tell me'? Don't you know they can hang you for that?" And the farmer explained to Big Claus that something like that is called 'murder' and that the judge would certainly sentence the killer to death. He didn't have to continue his speech, because Big Claus jumped on his carriage and hurried back home.

"Now he cheated on me again, the bastard," he hissed. "But I'll get back at him!" Back home, he found an old potato bag. Armed with that, he went to Little Claus, saying it was all his fault. That because of him, Big Claus' horses and his granny passed away.
"But its all over now!" he decided and without much trouble he lifted Little Claus, put him in the bag and tied it up.
"I'm going to take you to the river where I will drown you," Big Claus spoke to the closed bag, that he lifted, and he went on his way to execute his plan.
The walk to the river was quite a long one, and because Little Claus was in fact not that little and certainly didn't weigh little, Big Claus had to take a rest half-way.
When he passed an inn, he threw the bag to the pub's wall. The bag had been tied up properly, so nothing could happen as Big Claus went in to have a bite.
As Big Claus was away, Little Claus was doing whatever he could to free himself, but all efforts were in vain. It was a strong bag, and Big Claus had tied him up well.
Just then, an old herdsman passed with his herd. The man could not walk without a stick and he was stooping. One of his cows tripped over the bag in which Little Claus was awaiting his demise.
-"Horrible," Little Claus sighed loudly, "to be sent to heaven at my age."
-"I am an old man," said the herdsman. He had approached the bag to put it in his previous position, and had heard the words of Little Claus. "I'm an old man and I would be grateful if my end was coming, but they don't want me up there yet."
-"Well open this bag then," Little Claus said, "crawl in and take my place."
-"I'd love to," the herdsman replied. He untied the rope, with which the bag had been tied up. Little Claus stepped out, and the herdsman stepped in.
"Will you take care of my cows?" he asked before he bent his head so Little Claus could tie up the bag.
-"Yes, I promise," Little Claus replied, and he hurried away with his cows.
Not much later, Big Claus came back. He grabbed the back and noticed it was much lighter, but he thought that was because the bacon-and-eggs he had consumed in the inn had given him more strength.
He walked straight to the river and threw the bag in.
"There it is done!" he said, satisfied. "He won't bother me again. One should know that I'm not one to trifle with." He walked back home and...

...And when he was half way, he saw Little Claus, whipping a huge herd.
-"It cannot be!" Big Claus yelled. "I just threw you in the river and drowned you."
-"Well you did throw me in the river," Little Claus said. "But you didn't drown me. You should be able to understand that without me explaining it to you."
-"But where did you get this gorgeous herd from?"
-"Well, I admit. These cows may look ordinary, but they are underwater cows. Let's walk to the pub, where I'll tell you what happened."
They both walked to the inn, driving the cows ahead. There, Little Claus managed to park his herd and the Clauses found themselves a table near the window.
-"First, I want to thank you for trying to drown me," Little Claus said. "You could not have done more for me, because now, I'm filthy rich thanks to you. I was deadly scared when I felt you were throwing me in the water. Up to the last moment, I didn't think you were going to do it. But you did it and there I went. I felt the wind blowing through the bag when I was falling and not much later I felt the water penetrating through the holes. I felt I was sinking, deeper and deeper, and then I reached the bottom. I thought I would feel tight on the chest, but no, I could breathe easily. Down there, a young beautiful girl in a long white dress and flowers in her hair opened my bag and pulled me out. "
""Welcome, Little Claus," she said, "I've been waiting for you. Look, I got a herd of underwater cows for you, and if you like, there are much more just a few meters away you can consider yours.":
"Then, I noticed that the river is not a river. It's a long road, where the underwater people live. There were fruit trees everywhere with apples and pears, you could pick as much as you like. "Under water," the underwater people say, "everyone owns everything." All you have to do is enter that world and take what you want there. "
-"But why did you come back up then?" Big Claus asked.
-"That's quite logical. Their road is quite winding. I came back up because it's easier for me to move over land. But if you'd like to drown me there again..."
-"Shall we," Big Claus said, "bury the hatchet?"
-"We should. This row lasted way too long."
-"Well," Big Claus resumed. "You just said I paid you a service and that I made you a rich man. Let's be friends, like we used to be. Then I paid you a kind turn, and one service deserves another. Of course, I would like to throw you in the water again, but don't you think it should be my turn now? You now have a beautiful herd, and I, your friend, have nothing. As you know, it is your fault that I lost my granny and my horses."
-"You're right," Little Claus said, with a guilty look on his face. "Fair is fair. It's your turn now. Come along, I'll show you the spot."
Both men walked to the river, and Little Claus suddenly stopped. "This is the right spot!"
Big Claus stepped in a bag they had got from the inn, and Little Claus tied it up firmly.
"Don't forget to say hello to my girl from me. She won't be seeing me for a while," Little Claus said.
"I certainly will," the other replied, as Little Claus picked up the bag and threw it in the river. The bag sank immediately.
Little Claus watched it for a while, then he walked back to the inn to get his cows back.
"I wonder with how many cows Big Claus returns," he smiled.