The Goblin and the Huckster

The Goblin and the Huckster –  Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1853)

There was once a regular student : he lived in a garret, and nothing at all belonged to him ; but there was also once a regular huckster : he lived on the ground floor, and the whole house was his ; and the Goblin lodged with him, for here, every Christmas-eve, there was a dish of porridge, with a great piece of butter floating in the middle. The huckster could give that, and consequently the Goblin stuck to the huckster’s shop, and that was very interesting.

One evening the student came through the back door to buy candles and cheese for himself. He had no one to send, and that ’s why he came himself. He procured what he wanted and paid for it, and the huckster and his wife both nodded a ‘ good evening ‘ to him ; and the woman was one who could do more than merely nod she had an immense power of tongue ! And the student nodded too, and then suddenly stood still, reading the sheet of paper in which the cheese had been wrapped. It was a leaf torn out of an old book, a book that ought not to have been torn up, a book that was full of poetry.

‘ There lies more of it,’ said the huckster : ‘ I gave an old woman a few coffee beans for it ; give me three pence and you shall have the remainder.’

1 Thanks,’ said the student, ‘ give me the book instead of the cheese : I can eat my bread and butter without cheese. It would be a sin to tear the book up entirely. You are a capital man, a practical man, but you understand no more about poetry than does that cask yonder.’

Now, that was an impolite speech, especially towards the cask ; but the huckster laughed and the student laughed, for it was only said in fun. But the Goblin was angry that any one should dare to say such things to a huckster who lived in his own house and sold the best butter.

When it was night, and the shop was closed and all were in bed except the student, the Goblin came forth, went into the bedroom, and took away the good lady’s tongue ; for she did not want that while she was asleep ; and whenever he put this tongue upon any object in the room, the said object acquired speech and language, and could express its thoughts and feelings as well as the lady herself could have done ; but only one object could use it at a time, and that was a good thing, otherwise they would have interrupted each other.

And the Goblin laid the tongue upon the Cask in which the old newspapers were lying.

‘ Is it true,’ he asked, ‘ that you don’t know what poetry means ? ‘

‘ Of course I know it,’ replied the Cask : ‘ poetry is something that always stands at the foot of a column in the newspapers, and is sometimes cut out. I dare swear I have more of it in me than the student, and I’m only a poor tub compared to the huckster.’

Then the Goblin put the tongue upon the coffee-mill, and, mercy ! how it began to go ! And he put it upon the buttercask, and on the cashbox : they were all of the wastepaper Cask’s opinion, and the opinion of the majority must be respected.

‘ Now I shall tell it to the student ! ‘

And with these words the Goblin went quite quietly up the back stairs to the garret, where the student lived. The student had still a candle burning, and the Goblin peeped through the keyhole, and saw that he was reading in the torn book from downstairs.

But how light it was in his room ! Out of the book shot a clear beam, expanding into a thick stem, and into a mighty tree, which grew upward and spread its branches far over the student. Each leaf was fresh, and every blossom was a beautiful girFs head, some with dark sparkling eyes, others with wonderfully clear blue orbs ; every fruit was a gleaming star, and there was a glorious sound of song in the student’s room.

Never had the little Goblin imagined such splendour, far less had he ever seen or heard anything like it. He stood still on tiptoe, and peeped in till the light went out in the student’s garret. Probably the student blew it out, and went to bed ; but the little Goblin remained standing there nevertheless, for the music still sounded on, soft and beautiful a splendid cradle song for the student who had lain down to rest.

‘ This is an incomparable place/ said the Goblin : ‘ I never expected such a thing ! I should like to stay here with the student.’

And then he thought it over and thought sensibly ; then he sighed, ‘ The student has no porridge ! ‘ And then he went down again to the huckster’s shop : and it was a very good thing that he got down there again at last, for the Cask had almost worn out the good woman’s tongue, for it had spoken out at one side everything that was contained in it, and was just about turning itself over, to give it out from the other side also, when the Goblin came in, and restored the tongue to its owner. But from that time forth the whole shop, from the cashbox down to the firewood, took its tone from the Cask, and paid him such respect, and thought so much of him, that when the huckster afterwards read the critical articles on theatricals and art in the newspaper, they were persuaded the information came from the Cask itself.

But the Goblin could no longer sit quietly and contentedly listening to all the wisdom down there : as soon as the light glimmered from the garret in the evening, he felt as if the rays were strong cables drawing him up, and he was obliged to go and peep through the keyhole ; and there a feeling of greatness rolled around him, such as we feel beside the ever-heaving sea when the storm rushes over it, and he burst into tears ! He did not know himself why he was weeping, but a peculiar feeling of pleasure mingled with his tears. How wonderfully glorious it must be to sit with the student under the same tree ! But that might not be he was obliged to be content with the view through the keyhole, and to be glad of that. There he stood on the cold landing-place, with the autumn wind blowing down from the loft-hole : it was cold, very cold ; but the little

mannikin only felt that when the light in the room was extinguished and the tones in the tree died away. Ha ! then he shivered, and crept down again to his warm corner, where it was homely and comfortable.

And when Christmas came, and brought with it the porridge and the great lump of butter, why, then he thought the huckster the better man.

But in the middle of the night the Goblin was awakened by a terrible tumult and knocking against the windowshutters. People rapped noisily without, and the watchman blew his horn, for a great fire had broken out the whole street was full of smoke and flame. Was it in the house itself or at a neighbour’s ? Where was it ? Terror seized on all. The huckster’s wife was so bewildered that she took her gold earrings out of her ears and put them in her pocket, that at any rate she might save something ; the huckster ran up for his share-papers, and the maid for her black silk mantilla, for she had found means to purchase one. Each wanted to save the best thing they possessed ; the Goblin wanted to do the same thing, and in a few leaps he was up the stairs and into the room of the student, who stood quite quietly at the open window, looking at the conflagration that was raging in the house of the neighbour opposite. The Goblin seized upon the wonderful book which lay upon the table, popped it into his red cap, and held the cap tight with both hands. The best treasure of the house was saved ; and now he ran up and away, quite on to the roof of the house, on to the chimney. There he sat, illuminated by the flames of the burning house opposite, both hands pressed tightly over his cap, in which the treasure lay ; and now he knew the real feelings of his heart, and knew to whom it really belonged. But when the fire was extinguished, and the Goblin could think calmly again, why, then . . .

‘ I must divide myself between the two,’ he said ; ‘ I can’t quite give up the huckster, because of the porridge ! ‘

Now, that was spoken quite like a human creature. We all of us visit the huckster for the sake of the porridge.

  Indeks over H.C. Andersens eventyr — Index of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy tales