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THERE was once a Man who had a daughter called Clever Elsa.
When she was grown up, her Father said: ‘We must get her married.’
‘Yes,’ said her Mother; ‘if only somebody came who would have her.’
At last a suitor, named Hans, came from a distance.
He made an offer for her on condition that she really was as clever as she was said to be.
said her Father, ‘she is a long-headed lass.’
And her Mother said: ‘She can see the wind blowing in the street, and hear the flies coughing.’
‘Well,’ said Hans, ‘if she is not really clever, I won't have her.’
When they were at dinner, her Mother said: ‘Elsa, go to the cellar and draw some beer.’
Clever Elsa took the jug from the nail on the wall, and went to the cellar, clattering the lid as she went, to pass the time.
When she reached the cellar she placed a chair near the cask so that she need not hurt her back by stooping.
Then she put down the jug before her and turned the tap.
And while the beer was running, so as not to be idle, she let her eyes rove all over the place, looking this way and that.
Suddenly she discovered a pickaxe just above her head, which a mason had by chance left hanging among the rafters.
Clever Elsa burst into tears, and said: ‘If I marry Hans, and we have a child, when it grows big, and we send it down to draw beer, the pickaxe will fall on its head and kill it.’
So there she sat crying and lamenting loudly at the impending mishap.
The others sat upstairs waiting for the beer, but Clever Elsa never came back.
Then the Mistress said to her Servant: ‘Go down to the cellar, and see why Elsa does not come back.’
The Maid went, and found Elsa sitting by the cask, weeping bitterly.
‘Why, Elsa, whatever are you crying for?’
she answered, ‘have I not cause to cry?
If I marry Hans, and we have a child, when he grows big, and we send him down to draw beer, perhaps that pickaxe will fall on his head and kill him.’
Then the Maid said: ‘What a Clever Elsa we have’; and she, too, sat down by Elsa, and began to cry over the misfortune.
After a time, as the Maid did not come back, and they were growing very thirsty, the Master said to the Serving-man: ‘Go down to the cellar and see what has become of Elsa and the Maid.’
The Man went down, and there sat Elsa and the Maid weeping together.
So he said:
‘What are you crying for?’
said Elsa, ‘have I not enough to cry for?
If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and we send it when it is big enough into the cellar to draw beer, the pickaxe will fall on its head and kill it.’
The Man said: ‘What a Clever Elsa we have’; and he, too, joined them and howled in company.
The people upstairs waited a long time for the Serving-man, but as he did not come back, the Husband said to his Wife: ‘Go down to the cellar yourself, and see what has become of Elsa.’
So the Mistress went down and found all three making loud lamentations, and she asked the cause of their grief.
Then Elsa told her that her future child would be killed by the falling of the pickaxe when it was big enough to be sent to draw the beer.
Her Mother said with the others:
‘Did you ever see such a Clever Elsa as we have?’
Her Husband upstairs waited some time, but as his Wife did not return, and his thirst grew greater, he said: ‘I must go to the cellar myself to see what has become of Elsa.’
But when he got to the cellar, and found all the others sitting together in tears, caused by the fear that a child which Elsa might one day have, if she married Hans, might be killed by the falling of the pickaxe, when it went to draw beer, he too cried — ‘What a Clever Elsa we have!’
Then he, too, sat down and added his lamentations to theirs.
The bridegroom waited alone upstairs for a long time; then, as nobody came back, he thought: ‘They must be waiting for me down there, I must go and see what they are doing.’
So down be went, and when he found them all crying and lamenting in a heart-breaking manner, each one louder than the other, he asked: ‘What misfortune can possibly have happened?’
‘Alas, dear Hans!’
said Elsa, ‘if we marry and have a child, and we send it to draw beer when it is big enough, it may be killed if that pickaxe left hanging there were to fall on its head.
Have we not cause to lament?’
‘Well,’ said Hans, ‘more wits than this I do not need; and as you are such a Clever Elsa I will have you for my wife.’
He took her by the hand, led her upstairs, and they celebrated the marriage.
When they had been married for a while, Hans said : ‘Wife, I am going to work to earn some money; do you go into the fields and cut the corn, so that we may have some bread.’
‘Yes, my dear Hans; I will go at once.’
When Hans had gone out, she made some good broth and took it into the field with her.
When she got there, she said to herself: ‘What shall I do, reap first, or eat first?
I will eat first.’
So she finished up the bowl of broth, which she found very satisfying, so she said again:
‘Which shall I do, sleep first, or reap first?
I will sleep first.’
So she lay down among the corn and went to sleep.
Hans had been home a long time, and no Elsa came, so he said: ‘What a Clever Elsa I have.
She is so industrious, she does not even come home to eat.’
But as she still did not come, and it was getting dusk, Hans went out to see how much corn she had cut.
He found that she had not cut any at all, and that she was lying there fast asleep.
Hans hurried home to fetch a fowler's net with little bells on it, and this he hung around her without waking her.
Then he ran home, shut the house door, and sat down to work.
At last, when it was quite dark, Clever Elsa woke up, and when she got up there was such a jangling, and the bells jingled at every step she took.
She was terribly frightened, and wondered whether she really was Clever Elsa or not, and said:
‘Is it me, or is it not me?’
But she did not know what to answer, and stood for a time doubtful.
At last she thought: ‘I will go home, and ask if it is me, or if it is not me; they will be sure to know,’
She ran to the house, but found the door locked; so she knocked at the window, and cried: ‘Hans, is Elsa at home?’
‘Yes,’ answered Hans, ‘she is!’
Then she started and cried: ‘Alas! then it is not me,’ and she went to another door; but when the people heard the jingling of the bells, they would not open the door, and nowhere would they take her in.
So she ran away out of the village, and was never seen again.