Claus And His Wonderful Staff by Howard Pyle

Story type: Literature

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.

“What!” cried Hans, “has that stupid Claus found so much money that he has to measure it in a quart-pot? We must see the inside of this business!” So off he went to Claus’s house, and there he found Claus sitting in the sun and smoking his pipe, just as though he owned all of the world.

“Where did you get all that money, Claus?” said Hans.

Oh! Claus could not tell him that.

But Hans was bound to know all about it, so he begged and begged so prettily that at last Claus had to tell him everything. Then, of course, nothing would do but Hans must have a try with the hazel staff also.

Well, Claus made no words at that. He was a good-natured fellow, and surely there was enough for both. So the upshot of the matter was that Hans marched off with the hazel staff.

But Hans was no such simpleton as Claus; no, not he. Oh no, he would not take all that trouble for two poor pocketfuls of money. He would have a bagful; no, he would have two bagfuls. So he slung two meal sacks over his shoulder, and off he started for the hill back of Herr Axel’s house.

When he came to the stone he knocked upon it, and it opened to him just as it had done for Claus. Down he went into the pit, and there sat the little old manikin, just as he had done from the very first.

“How do you find yourself, Hans?” said the little old manikin.

Oh, Hans found himself very well. Might he have some of the money that stood around the room in the sacks?

Yes, that he might; only remember to take the best away with him.

Prut! teach a dog to eat sausages. Hans would see that he took the best, trust him for that. So he filled the bags full of gold, and never touched the silver–for, surely, gold is better than anything else in the world, says Hans to himself. So, when he had filled his two bags with gold, and had shaken the pieces well down, he flung the one over one shoulder, and the other over the other, and then he had as much as he could carry. As for the staff of witch-hazel, he let it lie where it was, for he only had two hands and they were both full.

But Hans never got his two bags of gold away from the vault, for just as he was leaving–bang! came the stone together, and caught him as though he was a mouse in the door; and that was an end of him. That happened because he left the witch-hazel behind.

That was the way in which Claus came to lose his magic staff; but that did not matter much, for he had enough to live on and to spare. So he married the daughter of the Herr Baron (for he might marry whom he chose, now that he was rich), and after that he lived as happy as a fly on the warm chimney.

Now, this is so–it is better to take a little away at a
time and carry your staff with you, than to
take all at once and leave it behind.