Strong Hans


El fornido Juan

There were once a man and a woman who had an only child, and lived quite alone in a solitary valley. It came to pass that the mother once went into the wood to gather branches of fir, and took with her little Hans, who was just two years old. As it was spring-time, and the child took pleasure in the many-coloured flowers, she went still further onwards with him into the forest. Suddenly two robbers sprang out of the thicket, seized the mother and child, and carried them far away into the black forest, where no one ever came from one year's end to another. The poor woman urgently begged the robbers to set her and her child free, but their hearts were made of stone, they would not listen to her prayers and entreaties, and drove her on farther by force. After they had worked their way through bushes and briars for about two miles, they came to a rock where there was a door, at which the robbers knocked and it opened at once. They had to go through a long dark passage, and at last came into a great cavern, which was lighted by a fire which burnt on the hearth. On the wall hung swords, sabres, and other deadly weapons which gleamed in the light, and in the midst stood a black table at which four other robbers were sitting gambling, and the captain sat at the head of it. As soon as he saw the woman he came and spoke to her, and told her to be at ease and have no fear, they would do nothing to hurt her, but she must look after the house-keeping, and if she kept everything in order, she should not fare ill with them. Thereupon they gave her something to eat, and showed her a bed where she might sleep with her child.
The woman stayed many years with the robbers, and Hans grew tall and strong. His mother told him stories, and taught him to read an old book of tales about knights which she found in the cave. When Hans was nine years old, he made himself a strong club out of a branch of fir, hid it behind the bed, and then went to his mother and said, "Dear mother, pray tell me who is my father; I must and will know." His mother was silent and would not tell him, that he might not become home-sick; moreover she knew that the godless robbers would not let him go away, but it almost broke her heart that Hans should not go to his father. In the night, when the robbers came home from their robbing expedition, Hans brought out his club, stood before the captain, and said, "I now wish to know who is my father, and if thou dost not at once tell me I will strike thee down." Then the captain laughed, and gave Hans such a box on the ear that he rolled under the table. Hans got up again, held his tongue, and thought, "I will wait another year and then try again, perhaps I shall do better then." When the year was over, he brought out his club again, rubbed the dust off it, looked at it well, and said, "It is a stout strong club." At night the robbers came home, drank one jug of wine after another, and their heads began to be heavy. Then Hans brought out his club, placed himself before the captain, and asked him who was his father? But the captain again gave him such a vigorous box on the ear that Hans rolled under the table, but it was not long before he was up again, and beat the captain and the robbers so with his club, that they could no longer move either their arms or their legs. His mother stood in a corner full of admiration of his bravery and strength. When Hans had done his work, he went to his mother, and said, "Now I have shown myself to be in earnest, but now I must also know who is my father." - "Dear Hans," answered the mother, "come, we will go and seek him until we find him." She took from the captain the key to the entrance-door, and Hans fetched a great meal-sack and packed into it gold and silver, and whatsoever else he could find that was beautiful, until it was full, and then he took it on his back. They left the cave, but how Hans did open his eyes when he came out of the darkness into daylight, and saw the green forest, and the flowers, and the birds, and the morning sun in the sky. He stood there and wondered at everything just as if he had not been very wise. His mother looked for the way home, and when they had walked for a couple of hours, they got safely into their lonely valley and to their little house. The father was sitting in the doorway. He wept for joy when he recognized his wife and heard that Hans was his son, for he had long regarded them both as dead. But Hans, although he was not twelve years old, was a head taller than his father. They went into the little room together, but Hans had scarcely put his sack on the bench by the stove, than the whole house began to crack the bench broke down and then the floor, and the heavy sack fell through into the cellar. "God save us!" cried the father, "what's that? Now thou hast broken our little house to pieces!" - "Don't grow any grey hairs about that, dear father," answered Hans; "there, in that sack, is more than is wanting for a new house." The father and Hans at once began to build a new house; to buy cattle and land, and to keep a farm. Hans ploughed the fields, and when he followed the plough and pushed it into the ground, the bullocks had scarcely any need to draw. The next spring, Hans said, "Keep all the money and get a walking-stick that weighs a hundred-weight made for me that I may go a-travelling." When the wished-for stick was ready, he left his father's house, went forth, and came to a deep, dark forest. There he heard something crunching and cracking, looked round, and saw a fir-tree which was wound round like a rope from the bottom to the top, and when he looked upwards he saw a great fellow who had laid hold of the tree and was twisting it like a willow-wand. "Hollo!" cried Hans, "what art thou doing up there?" the fellow replied, "I got some faggots together yesterday and am twisting a rope for them." - "That is what I like," thought Hans, "he has some strength," and he called to him, "Leave that alone, and come with me." The fellow came down, and he was taller by a whole head than Hans, and Hans was not little. "Thy name is now Fir-twister," said Hans to him. Thereupon they went further and heard something knocking and hammering with such force that the ground shook at every stroke. Shortly afterwards they came to a mighty rock, before which a giant was standing and striking great pieces of it away with his fist. When Hans asked what he was about, he answered, "At night, when I want to sleep, bears, wolves, and other vermin of that kind come, which sniff and snuffle about me and won't let me rest; so I want to build myself a house and lay myself inside it, so that I may have some peace." - "Oh, indeed," thought Hans, "I can make use of this one also;" and said to him, "Leave thy house-building alone, and go with me; thou shalt be called Rock-splitter." The man consented, and they all three roamed through the forest, and wherever they went the wild beasts were terrified, and ran away from them. In the evening they came to an old deserted castle, went up into it, and laid themselves down in the hall to sleep. The next morning Hans went into the garden. It had run quite wild, and was full of thorns and bushes. And as he was thus walking round about, a wild boar rushed at him; he, however, gave it such a blow with his club that it fell directly. He took it on his shoulders and carried it in, and they put it on a spit, roasted it, and enjoyed themselves. Then they arranged that each day, in turn, two should go out hunting, and one should stay at home, and cook nine pounds of meat for each of them. Fir-twister stayed at home the first, and Hans and Rock-splitter went out hunting. When Fir-twister was busy cooking, a little shrivelled-up old mannikin came to him in the castle, and asked for some meat. "Be off, sly hypocrite," he answered, "thou needest no meat." But how astonished Fir-twister was when the little insignificant dwarf sprang up at him, and belaboured him so with his fists that he could not defend himself, but fell on the ground and gasped for breath! The dwarf did not go away until he had thoroughly vented his anger on him. When the two others came home from hunting, Fir-twister said nothing to them of the old mannikin and of the blows which he himself had received, and thought, "When they stay at home, they may just try their chance with the little scrubbing-brush;" and the mere thought of that gave him pleasure already.

The next day Rock-splitter stayed at home, and he fared just as Fir-twister had done, he was very ill-treated by the dwarf because he was not willing to give him any meat. When the others came home in the evening, Fir-twister easily saw what he had suffered, but both kept silence, and thought, "Hans also must taste some of that soup."

Hans, who had to stay at home the next day, did his work in the kitchen as it had to be done, and as he was standing skimming the pan, the dwarf came and without more ado demanded a bit of meat. Then Hans thought, "He is a poor wretch, I will give him some of my share, that the others may not run short," and handed him a bit. When the dwarf had devoured it, he again asked for some meat, and good-natured Hans gave it to him, and told him it was a handsome piece, and that he was to be content with it. But the dwarf begged again for the third time. "Thou art shameless!" said Hans, and gave him none. Then the malicious dwarf wanted to spring on him and treat him as he had treated Fir-twister and Rock-splitter, but he had got to the wrong man. Hans, without exerting himself much, gave him a couple of blows which made him jump down the castle steps. Hans was about to run after him, but fell right over him, for he was so tall. When he rose up again, the dwarf had got the start of him. Hans hurried after him as far as the forest, and saw him slip into a hole in the rock. Hans now went home, but he had marked the spot. When the two others came back, they were surprised that Hans was so well. He told them what had happened, and then they no longer concealed how it had fared with them. Hans laughed and said, "It served you quite right; why were you so greedy with your meat? It is a disgrace that you who are so big should have let yourselves be beaten by the dwarf." Thereupon they took a basket and a rope, and all three went to the hole in the rock into which the dwarf had slipped, and let Hans and his club down in the basket. When Hans had reached the bottom, he found a door, and when he opened it a maiden was sitting there who was lovely as any picture, nay, so beautiful that no words can express it, and by her side sat the dwarf and grinned at Hans like a sea-cat! She, however, was bound with chains, and looked so mournfully at him that Hans felt great pity for her, and thought to himself, "Thou must deliver her out of the power of the wicked dwarf," and gave him such a blow with his club that he fell down dead. Immediately the chains fell from the maiden, and Hans was enraptured with her beauty. She told him she was a King's daughter whom a savage count had stolen away from her home, and imprisoned there among the rocks, because she would have nothing to say to him. The count had, however, set the dwarf as a watchman, and he had made her bear misery and vexation enough. And now Hans placed the maiden in the basket and had her drawn up; the basket came down again, but Hans did not trust his two companions, and thought, "They have already shown themselves to be false, and told me nothing about the dwarf; who knows what design they may have against me?" So he put his club in the basket, and it was lucky he did; for when the basket was half-way up, they let it fall again, and if Hans had really been sitting in it he would have been killed. But now he did not know how he was to work his way out of the depths, and when he turned it over and over in his mind he found no counsel. "It is indeed sad," said he to himself, "that I have to waste away down here," and as he was thus walking backwards and forwards, he once more came to the little chamber where the maiden had been sitting, and saw that the dwarf had a ring on his finger which shone and sparkled. Then he drew it off and put it on, and when he turned it round on his finger, he suddenly heard something rustle over his head. He looked up and saw spirits of the air hovering above, who told him he was their master, and asked what his desire might be? Hans was at first struck dumb, but afterwards he said that they were to carry him above again. They obeyed instantly, and it was just as if he had flown up himself. When, however, he was above again, he found no one in sight. Fir-twister and Rock-splitter had hurried away, and had taken the beautiful maiden with them. But Hans turned the ring, and the spirits of the air came and told him that the two were on the sea. Hans ran and ran without stopping, until he came to the sea-shore, and there far, far out on the water, he perceived a little boat in which his faithless comrades were sitting; and in fierce anger he leapt, without thinking what he was doing, club in hand into the water, and began to swim, but the club, which weighed a hundredweight, dragged him deep down until he was all but drowned. Then in the very nick of time he turned his ring, and immediately the spirits of the air came and bore him as swift as lightning into the boat. He swung his club and gave his wicked comrades the reward they merited and threw them into the water, and then he sailed with the beautiful maiden, who had been in the greatest alarm, and whom he delivered for the second time, home to her father and mother, and married her, and all rejoiced exceedingly.
Éranse un hombre y una mujer que tenían un hijo y vivían completamente solos en un valle muy apartado. Ocurrió que un día la madre se fue por leña y a recoger ramillas de pino, y se llevó consigo al pequeño Juan, que no tendría entonces más de dos años. Como estaban en primavera y el niño se entretenía mucho buscando florecillas, la madre se adentró cada vez más en el bosque. De pronto salieron dos bandidos de la maleza, apresaron a la madre y al hijo y se los llevaron a lo más tenebroso y profundo de la selva, a un lugar donde raramente se aventuraba nadie. La pobre mujer rogó y suplicó a los bandoleros que la dejasen en libertad con su hijito; pero aquellos hombres tenían el corazón de roca y, desoyendo las súplicas y lamentaciones de la pobre campesina, se la llevaron por la fuerza. Después de dos horas de penosa marcha entre matas y espinos llegaron a una roca, en la que había una puerta, la cual se abrió al llamar los bandidos. Después de seguir un largo y tenebroso corredor, entraron, finalmente, en una espaciosa cueva, iluminada por un fuego que ardía en el hogar. De sus paredes colgaban espadas, sables y otras armas, que brillaban a la luz de la hoguera. En el centro, alrededor de una mesa negra, otros bandoleros estaban jugando; en el lugar más elevado de la cueva se hallaba el capitán. Éste, al ver a la mujer, se dirigió a ella y le dijo que no se preocupase ni temiese nada; no se le causaría ningún daño, y únicamente tendría que cuidar del gobierno doméstico; y si mantenía las cosas en orden, no lo pasaría mal. Diéronle luego de comer y le indicaron una cama, en la que se acostó con su hijo.
La mujer vivió muchos años con los ladrones. Juan creció y se hizo fuerte y robusto. Su madre le contaba historias, y le enseñó a leer sirviéndose de un libro de caballerías que encontró en la cueva. Cuando Juan cumplió los nueve años, armóse de un recio garrote, que hizo con una rama de abeto, y lo escondió detrás de su cama. Luego fue a su madre y le dijo:
- Madre, dime de una vez quién es mi padre, pues quiero y debo saberlo.
Pero la mujer guardó silencio; no quería decírselo, para que el pequeño no lo echara de menos, pues sabía muy bien que los bandidos no lo dejarían marcharse. Pero se le partía el corazón al pensar que Juan no podía volver al lado de su padre. Cuando los ladrones llegaron aquella noche de sus rapiñas, Juan sacó su garrote y, encarándose con el capitán, le dijo:
- Ahora quiero saber quién es mi padre, y si no me lo dices enseguida, te derribo de un garrotazo.
Echóse a reir el capitán y largó a Juan tal bofetón que lo tiró debajo de la mesa. Levantóse el niño sin chistar y pensó:
"Esperaré otro año, y entonces volveré a probar; tal vez me salga mejor."
Transcurrido el año, volvió el chiquillo a sacar su garrote, le quitó el polvo y, contemplándolo, se dijo: "Es un buen garrote y muy recio."
Al anochecer regresaron los bandidos y se pusieron a beber, vaciando jarro tras jarro, hasta que empezaron a dar cabezadas. Sacó entonces Juanito su estaca y, volviendo a encararse con el capitán, le preguntó quién era su padre. El hombre le respondió con otra bofetada tan fuerte, que el chiquillo fue a parar nuevamente bajo la mesa. Pero se levantó enseguida y se puso a arrear estacazos sobre el capitán y los bandoleros, dejándolos a todos incapaces de mover brazos y piernas. La madre, desde un rincón, contemplaba, admirada, la valentía y el vigor de su hijo, el cual, cuando hubo terminado su tarea, se fue a ella y le dijo:
- Esta vez ha sido en serio; pero ahora debo saber quién es mi padre.
- Mi querido Juan - respondió la madre -, ven, marchémonos a buscarlo, hasta que lo encontremos.
Quitó al capitán la llave de la puerta, y el niño cogió un saco harinero y lo llenó de oro, plata y otros objetos de valor; luego se lo cargó a la espalda y los dos abandonaron la caverna. ¡Qué ojos abrió el niño al pasar de las tinieblas a la luz del día y contemplar el verde bosque con sus flores y pájaros, y el sol matutino en el cielo! Se quedó inmóvil de asombro, como si no estuviese en sus cabales. La madre buscó el camino de su casa, y al cabo de un par de horas de andar, llegaron, felizmente, a su solitario valle y a su casita. El padre, que estaba sentado a la puerta, lloró de alegría al reconocer a su esposa y saber que Juan era su hijo, pues los había dado por muertos a ambos desde hacía muchos años. El niño, a pesar de que no tenía más que doce, le llevaba a su padre toda la cabeza.
Entraron los tres juntos en la casita, y al dejar Juan el saco en el suelo, todo el edificio empezó a crujir; el banco se partió y se hundió en el suelo, y el pesado saco cayó a la bodega.
- ¡Dios nos ampare! - exclamó el padre -. ¿Qué es esto? Has derruido nuestra casa.
- No te preocupes por eso, padre - respondióle Juan -. Este saco contiene más dinero del que se necesita para construir una casa nueva.
Padre e hijo se pusieron enseguida a levantar una nueva Vivienda, y luego compraron ganado y tierras y las explotaron. Juan araba los campos, y cuando guiaba el arado e introducía la reja en el suelo, los bueyes casi no habían de tirar ni hacer fuerza alguna. Al llegar la primavera, dijo el muchacho:
- Padre, guardaos todo el dinero y procuradme un bastón que pese un quintal, pues quiero salir a correr mundo.
Cuando tuvo el bastón, abandonó la casa de su padre y se puso en camino. Al llegar a un espeso y tenebroso bosque, oyó de pronto unos crujidos y chasquidos; paseó la mirada en torno suyo y vio un abeto que, desde el pie a la copa, aparecía retorcido como una cuerda; y, al levantar los ojos, vio un tipo altísimo que, abrazado al árbol, lo estaba torciendo como si fuese un mimbre.
- ¡Eh! - gritó Juan -. ¿Qué estás haciendo ahí arriba?
- Ayer recogí un haz de leña - contestó el otro -, y hago una cuerda para atarlo.
"Me gusta ese individuo - pensó Juanito -; es forzudo," y le dijo:
- Deja eso y vente conmigo.
Cuando hubo bajado aquel hombre, resultó que le llevaba a Juan toda la cabeza, y eso que nuestro amigo no tenía nada de bajo.
- Desde ahora te llamarás Tuercepinos - le dijo el muchacho.
Prosiguieron ambos, y al cabo de un trecho oyeron como unos golpes y martillazos, tan fuertes, que a cada uno retemblaba el suelo. No tardaron en llegar ante una poderosa roca, que un gigante desmoronaba a puñetazos, arrancando grandes pedazos a cada golpe. Al preguntarle Juan qué se proponía, respondió él:
- Cuando me echo a dormir por la noche, vienen osos, lobos y otras alimañas, que merodean a mi alrededor y no me dejan descansar; por eso quiero construirme una casa en la que pueda refugiarme y estar tranquilo.
"Éste también puede servirme," pensó Juan, y le dijo:
- Deja la casa y vente conmigo; te llamarás Desmoronarrocas.
Aceptó el gigante, y los tres continuaron bosque a través, y por dondequiera que pasaban, los animales salvajes huían asustados. Al anochecer llegaron a un viejo castillo abandonado; entraron en él y durmieron en un salón. Por la mañana salió Juan al jardín, el cual aparecía también abandonado, invadido de espinos y matorrales. De repente le acometió un jabalí, pero él lo derribó de un estacazo, se lo cargó a la espalda y lo llevó al palacio. Allí lo espetaron en un asador y prepararon una sabrosa comida, que puso a los tres de muy buen humor. Concertaron entonces que cada día, por turno, dos saldrían de caza, y el tercero se quedaría en casa a guisar, a razón de nueve libras de carne por cabeza. El primer día le tocó quedarse a Tuercepinos, mientras Juan y Desmoronarrocas salían a cazar.
Hallándose Tuercepinos ocupado en la preparación de la comida, presentóse un enanillo viejo y arrugado y le pidió carne.
- ¡Fuera de aquí, bribón! - respondió el cocinero -; tú no necesitas carne.
Pero cual no sería la sorpresa de Tuercepinos al ver que aquel enano minúsculo e insignificante se le echó encima y la emprendió a puñetazos con tanta fuerza que lo tumbó en el suelo sin darle tiempo a defenderse. El enanillo no lo soltó hasta haber descargado todo su enojo sobre las costillas de su víctima. Cuando regresaron sus dos compañeros, Tuercepinos no les dijo nada del hombrecillo ni de la paliza que le propiné pensando: "El día que les toque quedarse en casa, ya verán lo que es bueno," y sólo de imaginarlo sentía un gran regocijo. Al día siguiente le tocó quedarse en casa a Desmoronarrocas, y le sucedió lo mismo que a Tuercepinos: el hombrecillo lo dejó mal parado por haberse negado a darle carne. Al llegar los otros dos al atardecer, Tuercepinos se dio cuenta de que el otro había llevado lo suyo; pero ambos se lo callaron, pensando:
"Que pruebe también Juan de esta sopa." El muchacho, que al día siguiente se quedó de guardia, estaba trabajando en la cocina, como le correspondía, y cuando se preparaba a espumar el caldero se presentó el enano y pidió un pedazo de carne. Pensó Juan: "Es un infelizote; le daré algo de mi ración para no tener que reducir la de los otros," y le alargó un trozo. Cuando el enano se la hubo comido pidió más, y el bonachón de Juan le sirvió otro pedazo, diciéndole que iba bien servido y debía darse por satisfecho. Pero el hombrecillo le pidió por tercera vez.
- Eres un sinvergüenza - respondióle Juan, negándose a darle más. Entonces el iracundo enano quiso tratarlo como a sus dos compañeros; pero salió trasquilado. Sin el menor esfuerzo, Juan le propinó unas tortas que le hicieron saltar de dos en dos los peldaños de la escalera. Juan quiso perseguirlo, pero cayó tan largo como era y, al levantarse, vio que el enano se hallaba ya muy lejos. El muchacho lo persiguió por el bosque y pudo ver que se metía en un hueco de una roca; tomó nota del lugar y regresó a casa. Cuando los otros dos llegaron al anochecer, extrañáronse al ver a Juan tan campante. Contóles lo que le había sucedido, y entonces los otros, a su vez, le dieron cuenta de su percance. Echóse Juan a reir y dijo:
- Os estuvo bien empleado, por haberos mostrado tan avariciosos con la carne; pero es una vergüenza que dos grandullones como vosotros os hayáis dejado zurrar por un enano.
Provistos de una cesta y una cuerda, se dirigieron los tres a la cueva donde se había metido el pigmeo, y Juan, con su bastón, bajó al fondo en el cesto. Al llegar abajo encontró una puerta; al abrirla se le apareció una hermosísima doncella, de una belleza que no cabe pintar con palabras; junto a ella estaba sentado el enano, mirando a Juan con cara avinagrada. Pero la doncella estaba atada con cadenas, y en su rostro se reflejaba tanta tristeza, que Juan sintió una gran compasión y pensó: "Hay que librarla de las garras de este bicho," y asestó al enano un garrotazo tan recio, que lo mató en el acto. Enseguida desató a la doncella, cuya hermosura tenía arrobado a Juan.
Contóle la muchacha que era una princesa, hija de un rey, y que un malvado conde la había raptado de su patria y encerrado en aquella cueva, en venganza por no haber querido ella acceder a sus peticiones. El conde la había puesto bajo la vigilancia de aquel enano, el cual la había sometido a toda suerte de vejaciones y tormentos. Luego la instaló Juan en el cesto y llamó a los de arriba para que la subiesen. Volvió a bajar el cesto; pero el muchacho desconfiaba de sus dos compañeros, pensando: "Ya una vez se han mostrado falsos conmigo al callarse lo del enano. ¿Quién sabe lo que se traen entre ceja y ceja?." Con el fin de probarlos, colocó su bastón en el cesto, y suerte que lo hizo así, pues a mitad de camino soltaron los otros la carga; y de haber estado Juan en el cesto, sin duda se habría matado al caer. Pero entonces se le presentó el problema de salir de allí y, por muchas vueltas que le dio, no encontró solución. "Es bien triste - decía - tener que morir aquí de hambre y sed. Andando de un lado a otro, volvió a entrar en la cámara que había servido de prisión a la doncella y se fijó en que el enano llevaba en el dedo un anillo brillantísimo. Se lo quitó y se lo puso; al darle la vuelta en el dedo, de repente oyó un rumor sobre su cabeza. Miró hacia arriba y vio flotar unos espíritus aéreos que le saludaron como a su amo y le preguntaron qué les mandaba. De momento, Juan se quedó mudo de asombro; pero luego les ordenó que lo transportasen a la superficie. Obedeciéronle al instante, y él experimentó la sensación de estar volando.
Pero una vez arriba no vio a nadie, y al volver al castillo también lo encontró desierto. Tuercepinos y Desmoronarrocas habían huido, llevándose a la hermosa doncella. Dio la vuelta al anillo y presentáronse los etéreos espíritus, comunicándole que sus compañeros se hallaban en el mar. Corrió Juan a la orilla y descubrió a lo lejos un barquito, ocupado por sus desleales amigos. En un arranque de cólera, se arrojó al agua con su bastón y se puso a nadar; mas la pesadísima madera lo hundía, y por poco se ahoga. Tomó a dar vuelta al anillo, y al instante acudieron los espíritus y lo transportaron al barco con la rapidez del rayo. Blandiendo allí su garrote, dio su merecido a los dos malvados y los arrojó al mar. Luego, empuñando los remos, volvió a la costa con la hermosa princesa, que acababa de pasar otro gran peligro, y a quien había liberado por segunda vez. La condujo hasta donde se hallaban sus padres y luego se casó con ella, entre el general regocijo.

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