Hans Christian Andersen
The Goblin and Grocer
THERE was once a hard-working student who lived in an attic, and he had nothing in the world of his own. There was also a hard-working grocer who lived on the first floor, and he had the whole house for his own.
The Goblin belonged to him, for every Christmas Eve there was waiting for him at the grocer's a dish of jam with a large lump of butter in the middle.
The grocer could afford this, so the Goblin stayed in the grocer's shop; and this teaches us a good deal. One evening the student came in by the back door to buy a candle and some cheese; he had no one to send, so he came himself.
He got what he wanted, paid for it, and nodded a good evening to the grocer and his wife (she was a woman who could do more than nod; she could talk).
When the student had said good night he 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 of poetry
'There's more of that over there!' said the grocer 'I gave an old woman some coffee for the book. If you like to give me twopence you can have the rest.'
'Yes,' said the student, 'give me the book instead of the cheese. I can eat my bread without cheese. It would be a shame to leave the book to be torn up. You are a clever and practical man, but about poetry you understand as much as that old tub over there!'
And that sounded rude as far as the tub was concerned, but the grocer laughed, and so did the student. It was only said in fun.
But the Goblin was angry that anyone should dare to say such a thing to a grocer who owned the house and sold the best butter.
When it was night and the shop was shut, and everyone was in bed except the student, the Goblin went upstairs and took the grocer's wife's tongue. She did not use it when she was asleep, and on whatever object in the room he put it that thing began to speak, and spoke out its thoughts and feelings just as well as the lady to whom it belonged. But only one thing at a time could use it, and that was a good thing, or they would have all spoken together.
The Goblin laid the tongue on the tub in which were the old newspapers.
'Is it true,' he asked, ' that you know nothing about poetry?'
'Certainly not!' answered the tub. 'Poetry is something that is in the papers, and that is frequently cut out. I have a great deal more in me than the student has, and yet I am only a small tub in the grocer's shop.'
And the Goblin put the tongue on the coffee-mill, and how it began to grind! He put it on the butter-cask, and on the till, and all were of the same opinion as the waste-paper tub. and one must believe the majority.
'Now I will tell the student!' and with these words he crept softly up the stairs to the attic where the student lived.
There was a light burning, and the Goblin peeped through the key-hole and saw that he was reading the torn book that he had bought in the shop.
But how bright it was! Out of the book shot a streak of light which grew into a large tree and spread its branches far above the student. Every leaf was alive, and every flower was a beautiful girl's head, some with dark and shining eyes, others with wonderful blue ones. Every fruit was a glittering star, and there was a marvellous music in the student's room. The little Goblin had never even dreamt of such a splendid sight, much less seen it.
He stood on tiptoe gazing and gazing, till the candle in the attic was put out; the student had blown it out and had gone to bed, but the Goblin remained standing outside listening to the music, which very softly and sweetly was now singing the student a lullaby.
'I have never seen anything like this!' said the Goblin. 'I never expected this! I must stay with the student.'
The little fellow thought it over, for he was a sensible Goblin. Then he sighed, 'The student has no jam!'
And on that he went down to the grocer again. And it was a good thing that he did go back, for the tub had nearly worn out the tongue. It had read everything that was inside it, on the one side, and was just going to turn itself round and read from the other side when the Goblin came in and returned the tongue to its owner.
But the whole shop, from the till down to the shavings, from that night changed their opinion of the tub, and they looked up to it, and had such faith in it that they were under the impression that when the grocer read the art and drama critiques out of the paper in the evenings, it all came from the tub.
But the Goblin could no longer sit quietly listening to the wisdom and intellect downstairs. No, as soon as the light shone in the evening from the attic it seemed to him as though its beams were strong ropes dragging him up, and he had to go and peep through the key-hole. There he felt the sort of feeling we have looking at the great rolling sea in a storm, and he burst into tears. He could not himself say why he wept, but in spite of his tears he felt quite happy. How beautiful it must be to sit under that tree with the student, but that he could not do; he had to content himself with the key-hole and be happy there!
There he stood out on the cold landing, the autumn wind blowing through the cracks of the floor. It was cold--very cold, but he first found it out when the light in the attic was put out and the music in the wood died away. Ah ! then it froze him, and he crept down again into his warm corner; there it was comfortable and cosy.
When Christmas came, and with it the jam with the large lump of butter, ah! then the grocer was first with him.
But in the middle of the night the Goblin awoke, hearing a great noise and knocking against the shutters--people hammering from outside. The watchman was blowing his horn: a great fire had broken out; the whole town was in flames.
Was it in the house? or was it at a neighbour's? Where was it?
The alarm increased. The grocer's wife was so terrified that she took her gold earrings out of her ears and put them in her pocket in order to save something. The grocer seized his account books. and the maid her black silk dress.
Everyone wanted to save his most valuable possession; so did the Goblin, and in a few leaps he was up the stairs and in the student's room. He was standing quietly by the open window looking at the fire that was burning in the neighbour's house just opposite. The Goblin seized the book lying on the table, put it in his red cap, and clasped it with both hands. The best treasure in the house was saved, and he climbed out on to the roof with it--on to the chimney. There he sat, lighted up by the flames from the burning house opposite, both hands holding tightly on his red cap, in which lay the treasure; and now he knew what his heart really valued most--to whom he really belonged. But when the fire was put out, and the Goblin thought it over--then--
'I will divide myself between the two,' he said. 'I cannot quite give up the grocer, because of the jam!'
And it is just the same with us. We also cannot quite give up the grocer--because of the jam.
Lang, Andrew, ed. The Pink Fairy Book. New York:
Dover, 1967. (Original published 1897.)