It is better, on the whole,
For an ordinary soul,
(So I gather from this song I’ve tried to sing,)
For to take the luck that may
Chance to fall within his way,
Than to toil for an imaginary thing.
Hans and Claus were born brothers. Hans was the elder and Claus was the younger; Hans was the richer and Claus was the poorer—that is the way that the world goes sometimes.
Everything was easy for Hans at home; he drank much beer, and had sausages and white bread three times a day; but Claus worked and worked, and no luck came of it—that, also, is the way that the world goes sometimes.
One time Claus spoke to Hans of this matter. “See, Hans,” said he, “you should give me some money, for that which belongs to one brother should help the other.”
But Hans saw through different colored spectacles than Claus. No; he would do nothing of the kind. If Claus wanted money he had better go out into, the world to look for it; for some folks said that money was rolling about in the wide world like peas on a threshing-floor. So said Hans, for Claus was so poor that Hans was ashamed of him, and wanted him to leave home so as to be rid of him for good and all.
This was how Claus came to go out into the world.
But before he went, he cut himself a good stout staff of hazel-wood to help his heavy feet over the road.
Now the staff that Claus had cut was a rod of witch-hazel, which has the power of showing wherever treasure lies buried. But Claus knew no more of that than the chick in the shell.
So off he went into the world, walking along with great contentment, kicking up little clouds of dust at every step, and whistling as gayly as though trouble had never been hatched from mares’ eggs. By-and-by he came to the great town, and then he went to the market-place and stood, with many others, with a straw in his mouth—for that meant that he wanted to take service with somebody.
Presently there came along an old, old man, bent almost double with the weight of the years which he carried upon his shoulders. This was a famous doctor of the black-arts. He had read as many as a hundred books, so that he was more learned than any man in all of the world—even the minister of the village. He knew, as well as the birds know when the cherries are ripe, that Claus had a stick of witch-hazel, so he came to the market-place, peering here and peering there, just as honest folks do when they are looking for a servant. After a while he came to where Claus was, and then he stopped in front of him. “Do you want to take service, my friend?” said he.
Yes, that was what Claus wanted; why else should he stand in the market-place with a straw in his mouth?
Well, they bargained and bargained, and talked and talked, and the end of the matter was that Claus agreed to sell his services to the old master of black-arts for seven pennies a week. So they made their bargain, and off went the master with Claus at his heels. After they had come a little distance away from the crowd at the marketplace, the master of black-arts asked Claus where he had got that fine staff of hazel.