Big Hans

Many years ago, there were several poor workers, or serfs, who all lived together in a small village. The lord of the manor owned the town, and the serfs had to work very hard for him. They worked from dawn to dusk but were not unhappy, for although their lord was a strict master, he was not cruel. They did not have much to eat, but they never went hungry. They did not have fine clothes but were never actually in rags. Then, one day, their lord died, and a new manor lord came to take his place as their master.

The new lord was harsh and cruel. All the serfs had to work ten times harder than before. They were always tired, cold and hungry and grew very sad.

In the village lived a young lad named Hans. He was tall, blond, broad-shouldered, and as strong as an ox, but he was so lazy that he had never been known to do a day’s work. When it came to harvest time in the village, the serfs were working so hard for their new lord that they did not have time to gather their poor crops, and yet Hans just sat under a tree, idly watching them. At last, they could stand it no longer. “Unless you help with the work, you can starve this Winter,” they said. “You sit around all day doing nothing, yet eat enough food for six men.”

“I am sorry about that,” replied Hans cheerfully. “Why did you not ask me before? I will be glad to help with your threshing.”

The villagers looked on in surprise as Hans tore two small trees from the ground and tied them together. Then he used them as a flail to thresh the grain, which was done in no time.

Of course, the serfs w delighted, but the lord and his men were worried. If this Big Hans decided to thresh us, like he did that corn, we could do nothing to stop him. He is too strong. We must get rid of him before he can do any harm,” they said to each other.

The bailiff, who looked after the lord’s farm for him, had a plan. He asked Big Hans to go up the river to clear a place where it had been blocked by a significant fall of rock. When Hans went off to do so, the bailiff and his men followed. They waited until Hans was in the middle of the stream and then began hurling large boulders down on him, hoping to drown him, but he merely brushed the stones aside and, not realising what the bailiff was doing, said, “These are the biggest hail- stones I have ever seen.”

Not to be put off, the bailiff sent for a large millstone, which he threw at Hans, but Hans only caught it, put his head through the middle and said, “Thank you for my fine, new collar.

“We need something heavier,” ordered the angry bailiff, and he sent for a big iron bell that took three men even to lift it. However, when he and his men threw it at Hans, the boy caught that, too, thinking it was some hat. The bailiff returned to the lord of the manor, looking very worried. “Unless we get rid of this boy soon,” he said, “no one is safe.’

The lord thought hard for a minute, then sent for Hans and said, “Hans, I am suddenly short of money. I have heard that the Devil keeps. Great sacks of gold, so full of money that only a strong man could carry one away. Go down to Hell and ask the Devil to give you one. When you return, you shall have a share of it.”

Hans went off and eventually found the long dark path leading to Hell: He came to an old iron door and knocked on it so hard that it crashed in front of him. Stepping over it, he entered a vast hall lit by the flames from a thousand fires.

All this noise brought the Devil running to see what was wrong. When Hans told him he had come for some gold, the Devil was furious and tried to throw Hans out, but Big Hans struck him with a blow that made all his teeth rattle and his tail twitch.

The Devil let go at once. “I will make a bargain with you,” he said, “if you can win three wagers against me, you can have your gold. If not, your soul is mine.”

Hans agreed, and the Devil took a hunting horn and put it to his lips. He blew such a blast on it that it put out seven of the thousand fires of Hell. Then it was the turn of Hans. His explosion echoed around the hall, and the Devil watched in dismay as a hundred fires went out.

Then the Devil picked up a large boulder, as big as an oven, and hurled that far across the hall. “You cannot beat that,” he said confidently.

Hans, however, could. He picked up the boulder as if it were a fruit cake and began tossing it lightly from hand to hand.

“Wait a moment while I run back to Earth and pull up some oak trees to strengthen the roof,” said Hans. “I would not like it to fall.”

The Devil was now shaking with fear. “Go no further.” he pleaded, “you have won. You have won.” He gave Hans the sack of gold, and Hans took it back to his lord. The lord was astonished. He had never expected to see Hans again.

“You have done well,” he said slyly. “Come and celebrate with us.”

The lord and his men waited until the drinks began to make Hans sleepy. At last, he slipped off his chair, asleep.

“This is our chance,” the village lord said, “take him into the courtyard. We will pile brushwood and logs around him and set fire to them. We can be rid of Big Hans for good.”

However, soon after the fire had started, the heat from the flames woke Hans up again. When he saw the lord and his men laughing, he was so angry that he leapt up and dashed from the fire, seizing two trees that he completely uprooted. With these, he set about the lord and his men, just as if he were threshing corn, and that was the end of all of them.

Hans took back the sack of gold and returned to his village. When the villagers heard about him, they voted at once that Hans should be the new lord of the manor, and he was so kind and well-meaning that they could not have had a better one.

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