The Racers – Illustration
By Hans Christian Andersen (1858)
A prize, or rather two prizes, had been announced a big one and a little one for the greatest swiftness, not in a single race, but for swiftness throughout an entire year.
‘ I got the first prize 1 ‘ said the Hare ; there must be justice when relations and good friends are among the prize committee ; but that the Snail should have received the second prize, I consider almost an insult to myself.’
‘ No ! ‘ declared the Fence-rail, who had been witness at the distribution of prizes, ‘ reference must also be had to industry and perseverance. Many respectable people said so, and I understood it well. The Snail certainly took half a year to get across the threshold ; but has broken his thigh-bone in the haste he was compelled to make. He devoted himself entirely to his work, and he ran with his house on his back ! All that is very praiseworthy, and that ’s how he got the second prize.’
‘ I might certainly have been considered too,’ said the Swallow. ‘ I should think that no one appeared swifter in flying and soaring than myself, and how far I have been around far far far ! ‘
‘ Yes, that ’s just your misfortune,’ said the Fence-rail. ‘ You’re too fond of fluttering. You must always be journeying about into far countries when it begins to be cold here. You’ve no love of fatherland in you. You cannot be taken into account.’
But if I lay in the swamp all through the winter ? ‘ said the Swallow. ‘ Suppose I slept through the whole time ; should I be taken into account then ? ‘
‘ Bring a certificate from the old swamp-wife that you have slept away half the time in your fatherland, and you shall be taken into account.’
‘ I deserved the first prize, and not the second,’ said the Snail. ‘ I know so much at least, that the Hare only ran from cowardice, because he thought each time there was danger in delay. I, on the other hand, made my running the business of my life, and have become a cripple in the service. If any one was to have the first prize, I should have had it ; but I make no fuss, I despise it ! ‘
And so he spat.
‘ I am able to depose with word and oath that each prize, at least my vote for each, was given after proper consideration,’ observed the old Boundary-post in the wood, who had been a member of the body of judges. ‘ I always go on with due consideration, with order, and calculation. Seven times before I have had the honour to be present at the distribution of prizes, but not till to-day have I carried out my will. At each distribution I have started from a fixed principle. I always went to the first prize from the beginning of the alphabet, and to the second from the end. And if you will now take notice, when one starts from the beginning, the eighth letter from A is H, and there we have the Hare, and so I awarded him the first prize ; the eighth
letter from the end of the alphabet is S, and therefore the Snail received the second prize. Next time, I will have its turn for the first prize, and R for the second : there must be due order in everything ! One must have a certain starting-point ! ‘
‘ I should certainly have voted for myself, if I had not been among the judges,’ said the Mule, who had been one of the committee. One must not only consider the rapidity of advance, but every other quality also that is found as, for example, how much a candidate is able to draw ;
but I would not have put that prominently forward this time, nor the sagacity of the Hare in his flight, or the cunning with which he suddenly takes a leap to one side to bring people on a false track, so that they may not know where he has hidden himself. No ! there is something else on which many lay great stress, and which one may not leave out of the calculation. I mean what is called the beautiful. On the beautiful I particularly fixed my eyes ; I looked at the beautiful well-grown ears of the Hare : it ’s quite a pleasure to see how long they are ; it almost seemed to me as if I saw myself in the days of my childhood. And so I voted for the Hare.’
‘ But,’ said the Fly, ‘ I ‘m not going to talk, I’m only going to say something. I know that I have overtaken more than one hare. Quite lately I crushed the hind legs of one. I was sitting on the engine in front of a railway train I often do that, for thus one can best notice one’s own swiftness.
A young hare ran for a long time in front of the engine ; he had no idea that I was present ; but at last he was obliged to give in and spring aside and then the engine crushed his hind legs, for I was upon it. The hare lay there, but I rode on. That certainly was conquering him ! But I don’t count upon getting the prize ! ‘
‘ It certainly appears to me/ thought the Wild Rose but she did not say it, for it is not her nature to give her opinion, though it would have been quite as well if she had done so it certainly appears to me jthat the sunbeam ought to have had the first prize and the second too. The
sunbeam flies in a moment along the enormous path from the sun to ourselves, and arrives in such strength that all nature awakes at it ; such beauty does it possess that all we roses blush and exhale fragrance in its presence. Our worshipful judges do not appear to have noticed this at
all. If I were the sunbeam, I would give each of them a sunstroke but that would only make them mad, and that they may become as things stand. I say nothing,’ thought the Wild Rose. ‘ May peace reign in the forest ! It is glorious to blossom, to scent, and to refresh to live in song and legend. The sunbeam will outlive us all.’
‘ What ’s the first prize ? ‘ asked the Earthworm, who had overslept the time, and only came up now.
‘ It consists in a free admission to a cabbage garden,’ replied the Mule. ‘ I proposed that as the prize. The Hare was decided to have won it, and therefore I, as an active and reflective member, took especial notice of the advantage of him who was to get it : now the Hare is provided for.
The Snail may sit upon the fence and lick up moss and sunshine, and has further been appointed one of the first umpires in the racing. It is so good to have a professional in the thing men call a committee. I must say I expect much from the future we have made so good a beginning.’