In a village there lived two men who had the self-same name. Both were named Claus. But one of them owned four horses, and the other owned only one horse;so to distinguish between them people called the man who had four horses Big Claus, and the man who had only one horse Little Claus. Now I’ll tell you what happened to these two, for this is a true story.
The whole week through, Little Claus had to plow for Big Claus and lend him his only horse. In return, Big Claus lent him all four of his horses, but only for one day a week and that had to be Sunday.
Each Sunday how proudly Little Claus cracked his whip over all the five horses, which were as good as his own on that day. How brightly the sun shone. How merry were the church bells that rang in the steeple. How well dressed were all the people who passed him with hymn books tucked under their arms. And as they went their way to church, to hear the parson preach, how the people did stare to see Little Claus plowing with all five horses. This made him feel so proud that he would crack his whip and hollo, “Get up, all my horses.”
“You must not say that,” Big Claus told him. “You know as well as I do that only one of those horses is yours.” But no sooner did another bevy of churchgoers come by than Little Claus forgot he mustn’t say it, and holloed, “Get up, all my horses.”
“Don’t you say that again,” Big Claus told him. “If you do, I’ll knock your horse down dead in his traces, and that will be the end of him.”
“You won’t catch me saying it again,” Little Claus promised. But as soon as people came by, nodding to him and wishing him “Good morning,” he was so pleased and so proud of how grand it looked to have five horses plowing his field, that he holloed again, “Get up, all my horses!”
“I’ll get up your horse for you,” Big Claus
said, and he snatched up a tethering mallet, and he knocked Little Claus’s one and only horse on the head so hard that it fell down dead.
“Now I haven’t any horse at all,”said Little Claus, and he began to cry. But by and by he skinned his dead horse and hung the hide to dry in the wind. Then he crammed the dry skin in a sack, slung it up over his shoulder, and set out to sell it in the nearest town.
It was a long way to go, and he had to pass through a dark, dismal forest. Suddenly a terrible storm came up, and he lost his way. Before he could find it again, evening overtook him. The town was still a long way off, and he had come too far to get back home before night.
Not far from the road he saw a large farmhouse. The shutters were closed, but light showed through a crack at the top of the windows. “Maybe they’ll let me spend the night here,” Little Claus thought, as he went to the door and knocked.
The farmer’s wife opened it, but when she heard what he wanted she told him to go away. She said her husband wasn’t home, and she wouldn’t have any strangers in the house.
“Then I’ll have to sleep outside,”Little Claus decided, as she slammed the door in his face.
Near the farmhouse stood a large haystack, leading up to the thatched roof of a shed which lay between it and the house. “That’s where I’ll sleep,” said Little Claus when he noticed the thatch. “It will make a wonderful bed. All I hope is that the stork doesn’t fly down and bite my legs.” For a stork was actually standing guard on the roof where it had a nest.
So Little Claus climbed to the roof of the shed. As he turned over to make himself comfortable, he discovered that the farmhouse shutters didn’t come quite to the top of the windows, and he could see over them.