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The Cripple

But upon thorough questioning, every one of them was found to have known sorrow and want. "I haven't!" said the swineherd, who sat laughing and singing on the edge of the ditch. "I'm the happiest person!" "Then give us your shirt," said the messengers. "You will be paid for it with half of a kingdom." But he had no shirt at all, and yet he called himself the happiest person!

"He was a fine fellow!" shouted Garden-Ole, and he and his wife laughed as they hadn't laughed for years.

Then the schoolmaster came by.

"How pleased you are!" he said. "That is unusual in this house. Have you won a prize in the lottery?"

"No, it isn't that sort of pleasure," said Garden-Ole. "It is because Hans has been reading to us from his book of fairy tales; he read about ' 'The Man Without Sorrow and Want,' and that fellow had no shirt. Your eyes get moist when you hear such things, and from a printed book, at that! Everyone has a load to carry; one is not alone in that. That, at least, is a comfort!"

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

"Our Hans got it at Christmastime over a year ago. The manor house family gave it to him. They know he likes reading and, of course, that he is a cripple. At the time, we would rather have seen him get two linen shirts. But that book is unusual; it can almost answer one's thoughts."

The schoolmaster took the book and opened it.

"Let's have the same story again," said Garden-Ole. "I don't quite get it yet. And then he must also read the one about the woodcutter."

These two stories were enough for Ole. They were like two sunbeams pouring into that humble room, into the oppressed thoughts that had made them cross and grumbly. Hans had read the whole book, read it many times. The fairy tales carried him out into the world, where he, of course, could not go because his legs would not carry him. The schoolmaster sat beside his bed; they talked together, and both of them enjoyed it.

From that day on, the schoolmaster visited Hans often when his parents were at work, and every time he came it was a great treat for the boy.

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