Little Hans

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“Little Hans. This stovepipe has a hole in it. Go to the workshop, find the big piece of metal there, and from it cut a piece just the right size to fix it.”

Little Hans, as always, obeyed his father immediately. With swift steps he walked past the vegetable garden, where the heads of cabbages were just beginning to appear, past the fruit trees that lined the pasture fence, where the apples and pears were starting to change colour, and past his mother’s flower garden, which grew along the workshop wall, where the sympathetic flowers waved their heads to him in the gentle breeze of the late summer’s day.

Little Hans entered the old, dark workshop. The old workshop was his favourite place. It was full of tools and woods and metals and everything in the world to make things and to mend things and when he was there, especially when he was there alone, he felt there was nothing in the world he couldn’t do.

But today something special captured Little Hans’ attention. In the middle of the dark room, dazzling bright with a sunbeam that streamed in through the only small window, stood a great sheet of shining metal. His father had gotten it in trade from a strange man who had come passing by the day before. He had been very pleased with his good fortune, as at that sad time metal was impossible to find. It was all being used to make bullets and guns and cannons and swords as war raged throughout the lands.

Little Hans approached the beautifully symmetrical rectangle and ran his little hand along its mysteriously smooth surface. But I must be quick, he thought, or father will be cross with me. So he fetched the metal cutters and made, with the greatest of care, a neat little hole perfectly in the centre.

The sun, which had been shining off the metal with such dazzling brightness, now poured through the little hole and onto the dark wall behind. Little Hans stood as if bewitched. Never had he seen anything so curious. On the old stone wall the sunlight flitted and capered about as if it were a living creature. And then, as if this was not already marvellous enough, before Little Hans’ very eyes, the light began to separate into merry little dancing shapes. But just then Little Hans heard his father shouting for him and he forgot about the dancing shapes and hurried out of the workshop back past the flowers and back past the fruit trees and back past the cabbages in the garden.

“Very good, Little Hans,” said his father when he saw the piece of metal his son had cut. Little Hans was proud and his heart shone like the sunbeam through the workshop window.

That evening, as Little Hans was helping his mother set the table for dinner, he told her how he had cut the piece of metal just right and how proud his father had been. But he felt like he had another much more important story to tell. For a moment he was puzzled- then he remembered the dancing little shapes on the wall.

But just then his father came in. Little Hans was terrified when he saw his father’s face. It was full of blackness and thunder.

“He cut the piece straight out of the middle! What a stupid boy! Why didn’t you cut the piece from a corner? What the devil were you thinking?”

Little Hans had no answer. He was sent to bed without dinner and lay in bed sobbing. He felt terribly stupid. All he wanted was to shrink and to disappear forever. Gradually, he slipped into a sorrowful sleep.

Then, late that night, after everyone had gone to bed, there came a terrible noise. Little Hans woke to find his bed shaking. The windows rattled terribly, and his toys fell off their shelves, smashing onto the ground.

It was the pounding of thousands and thousands of soldiers’ feet. The war was coming to their little farm.

Outside, the little cabbages shook and rolled out of their leafy houses and the fruit fell prematurely from the trees and the flowers looked pityingly toward the bedroom window of Little Hans.

But there in the darkness of the old workshop, on the old stone wall where Little Hans had watched the sunlight turn to little dancing shapes, little fairies stretched and yawned. Beautiful little women with wings so delicate the wind and the sunlight passed straight through them. Hearing the flowers’ cries for help and the soldiers’ marching feet the fairies flew out of the workshop, swiftly scattering over the countryside. One of them flew into the bedroom window of Little Hans.

Alone in the shaking room, amid the terrible noise, Little Hans was not afraid. He was sitting perched on a fold of his pillowcase, as he had shrunk very, very small. The fairy flew straight up to him. They looked at each other and Little Hans thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful. She settled onto his pillow and Little Hans climbed onto her back. Just then, Little Hans’ mother rushed into the room. She came in just in time to see the fairy flying out the window. The fairy hovered there for a moment, in the darkness outside the open window, smiled at her, winked, and then disappeared.

flying fairy carrying child on her back

Illustration by Eliza Pratt

She joined the other fairies as they returned from the surrounding countryside. On each one’s back there was a child. Streaming in through the old workshop door, one by one they flew through the little hole Little Hans had made in the middle of the mysterious metal and disappeared.

The land the children left behind became quickly engulfed in terror and sadness, as the dark thunder of war raged and raged for many, many years. Only the mothers knew, without saying it to one another, that they had all seen the same thing. Rushing into their children’s rooms, they had all gotten there just in time to see their beloveds fleeing to safety on the backs of the fairies. And every mother had been reassured by a wink and a smile from the vanishing women.

The fairies took the children away to the highest treetops, to a place where the silvery moon perpetually shone. There the children played and danced with the fairies, and slept peacefully curled up in silvery leaves, and knew nothing of fear.

Finally, after many, many years, the terrible war came to an end. But the sadness and grief had soaked into the land, and the people were gripped by an intractable sorrow. The cabbages in the gardens wouldn’t ripen and the trees let go of their fruit too soon and no flowers grew. There was no hope to be found and even the mothers had forgotten their children.

Then, one day, the people toiling in the fields put down their tools. Everyone came rushing out of their houses as a tremendous sound filled the air. Issuing from the forests all over the countryside came hundreds and hundreds of butterflies, of a kind no one had seen before, with wings so beautiful and delicate the sunlight and the air passed straight through them.

Amid the swarming butterflies appeared the children.

The mothers recognized their children, and they recognized the wings of the fairies. The children shone with the love of the fairies, remembering only days and nights in the silvery treetops, knowing nothing of sadness and fear.

And so with them hope returned. The cabbages ripened once more; the fruit became again beautiful and abundant and sweet to eat; and the flowers that bloomed in the garden next to the old workshop told each other the story (and are still telling it today) of the children taken away by the fairies, and how they had returned with hope and love to heal a sorrowful land.

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Rating: 7.90/10. From 60 votes.
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- Total nr. of readings: 3,193 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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4 thoughts on “Little Hans

  1. Denise-Juliane Fritz

    It’s all true! Thank you William!
    Little Hans was in fact my uncle and his father was my grand-father and as a child I played in the gardens with all those flowers and fruit and it was truly a magical place. Whenever I visited in the summer I would immediately get into one of those old pre-war nightgowns made of „lavable“ my grand-mother called it. That was my day nightgown and at night I would change into a night nightgown and I swear I felt just like one of those fairies with the light shining through my gowns as I foraged through the berry bushes or lay around in hammocks reading my grand-mothers old books for days.
    When my uncle visited my little horse farm south of Berlin many years later, he said it looked just like his parents’ place with small gardens all around the house and fruit growing everywhere. I had recreated what I had learned from my grand-parents and even though Germany is very affluent now I feel about my old treasures in the barn just like my uncle ( little Hans) did all those years ago – that I could do anything with them. And I do.

  2. Kimmy

    Beautiful story that saves the children from the horribleness of war. Poor child. He was so proud of himself when praised by his father for cutting the perfect circle. Using the edge to save the rest of some material definitely needs to be taught as I have experienced with my own children. Children think of the now abut the parents also consider the future. Enjoyed the story greatly.

  3. Jennie

    I really enjoyed this fairy tale, though I would have liked to hear once again of what became of the sheet of metal with a hole in the middle.


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