Soup From A Sausage Skewer

: Hans Andersens Fairy Tales

"WE HAD such an excellent dinner yesterday," said an old lady-mouse to

another who had not been present at the feast. "I sat number twenty-one

below the mouse-king, which was not a bad place. Shall I tell you what

we had? Everything was excellent--moldy bread, tallow candle, and


"Then, when we had finished that course, the same came on all over

again; it was as good as two feasts. We were very so
iable, and there

was as much joking and fun as if we had been all of one family circle.

Nothing was left but the sausage skewers, and this formed a subject of

conversation till at last some one used the expression, 'Soup from

sausage sticks'; or, as the people in the neighboring country call it,

'Soup from a sausage skewer.'

"Every one had heard the expression, but no one had ever tasted the

soup, much less prepared it. A capital toast was drunk to the inventor

of the soup, and some one said he ought to be made a relieving officer

to the poor. Was not that witty?

"Then the old mouse-king rose and promised that the young lady-mouse who

should learn how best to prepare this much-admired and savory soup

should be his queen, and a year and a day should be allowed for the


"That was not at all a bad proposal," said the other mouse; "but how is

the soup made?"

"Ah, that is more than I can tell you. All the young lady-mice were

asking the same question. They wish very much to be the queen, but they

do not want to take the trouble to go out into the world to learn how to

make soup, which it is absolutely necessary to do first.

"It is not every one who would care to leave her family or her happy

corner by the fireside at home, even to be made queen. It is not always

easy in foreign lands to find bacon and cheese rind every day, and,

after all, it is not pleasant to endure hunger and perhaps be eaten

alive by the cat."

Probably some such thoughts as these discouraged the majority from going

out into the world to collect the required information. Only four mice

gave notice that they were ready to set out on the journey.

They were young and sprightly, but poor. Each of them wished to visit

one of the four divisions of the world, to see which of them would be

most favored by fortune. Each took a sausage skewer as a traveler's

staff and to remind her of the object of her journey.

They left home early in May, and none of them returned till the first of

May in the following year, and then only three of them. Nothing was seen

or heard of the fourth, although the day of decision was close at hand.

"Ah, yes, there is always some trouble mingled with the greatest

pleasure," said the mouse-king. But he gave orders that all the mice

within a circle of many miles should be invited at once.

They were to assemble in the kitchen, and the three travelers were to

stand in a row before them, and a sausage skewer covered with crape was

to stand in the place of the missing mouse. No one dared express an

opinion until the king spoke and desired one of them to proceed with her

story. And now we shall hear what she said.


"When I first went out into the world," said the little mouse, "I

fancied, as so many of my age do, that I already knew everything--but it

was not so. It takes years to acquire great knowledge.

"I went at once to sea, in a ship bound for the north. I had been told

that the ship's cook must know how to prepare every dish at sea, and it

is easy enough to do that with plenty of sides of bacon, and large tubs

of salt meat and musty flour. There I found plenty of delicate food but

no opportunity to learn how to make soup from a sausage skewer.

"We sailed on for many days and nights; the ship rocked fearfully, and

we did not escape without a wetting. As soon as we arrived at the port

to which the ship was bound, I left it and went on shore at a place far

towards the north. It is a wonderful thing to leave your own little

corner at home, to hide yourself in a ship where there are sure to be

some nice snug corners for shelter, then suddenly to find yourself

thousands of miles away in a foreign land.

"I saw large, pathless forests of pine and birch trees, which smelt so

strong that I sneezed and thought of sausage. There were great lakes

also, which looked as black as ink at a distance but were quite clear

when I came close to them. Large swans were floating upon them, and I

thought at first they were only foam, they lay so still; but when I saw

them walk and fly, I knew directly what they were. They belonged to the

goose species. One could see that by their walk, for no one can

successfully disguise his family descent.

"I kept with my own kind and associated with the forest and field mice,

who, however, knew very little--especially about what I wanted to know

and what had actually made me travel abroad.

"The idea that soup could be made from a sausage skewer was so startling

to them that it was repeated from one to another through the whole

forest. They declared that the problem would never be solved--that the

thing was an impossibility. How little I thought that in this place, on

the very first night, I should be initiated into the manner of its


"It was the height of summer, which the mice told me was the reason that

the forest smelt so strong, and that the herbs were so fragrant, and

that the lakes with the white, swimming swans were so dark and yet so


"On the margin of the wood, near several houses, a pole as large as the

mainmast of a ship had been erected, and from the summit hung wreaths of

flowers and fluttering ribbons. It was the Maypole. Lads and lasses

danced round it and tried to outdo the violins of the musicians with

their singing. They were as gay as ever at sunset and in the moonlight,

but I took no part in the merrymaking. What has a little mouse to do

with a Maypole dance? I sat in the soft moss and held my sausage skewer

tight. The moon shone particularly bright on one spot where stood a

tree covered with very fine moss. I may almost venture to say that it

was as fine and soft as the fur of the mouse-king, but it was green,

which is a color very agreeable to the eye.

"All at once I saw the most charming little people marching towards me.

They did not reach higher than my knee, although they looked like human

beings but were better proportioned. They called themselves elves, and

wore clothes that were very delicate and fine, for they were made of the

leaves of flowers, trimmed with the wings of flies and gnats. The effect

was by no means bad.

"They seemed to be seeking something--I knew not what, till at last one

of them espied me. They came towards me, and the foremost pointed to my

sausage skewer, saying: 'There, that is just what we want. See, it is

pointed at the top; is it not capital?' The longer he looked at my

pilgrim's staff the more delighted he became.

"'I will lend it to you,' said I, 'but not to keep.'

"'Oh, no, we won't keep it!' they all cried. Then they seized the

skewer, which I gave up to them, and dancing with it to the tree

covered with delicate moss, set it up in the middle of the green. They

wanted a Maypole, and the one they now had seemed made especially for

them. This they decorated so beautifully that it was quite dazzling to

look at. Little spiders spun golden threads around it, and it was hung

with fluttering veils and flags, as delicately white as snow glittering

in the moonlight. Then they took colors from the butterfly's wing,

sprinkling them over the white drapery until it gleamed as if covered

with flowers and diamonds, and I could no longer recognize my sausage

skewer. Such a Maypole as this has never been seen in all the world.

"Then came a great company of real elves. Nothing could be finer than

their clothes. They invited me to be present at the feast, but I was to

keep at a certain distance because I was too large for them. Then began

music that sounded like a thousand glass bells, and was so full and

strong that I thought it must be the song of the swans. I fancied also

that I heard the voices of the cuckoo and the blackbird, and it seemed

at last as if the whole forest sent forth glorious melodies--the voices

of children, the tinkling of bells, and the songs of the birds. And all

this wonderful melody came from the elfin Maypole. My sausage peg was a

complete peal of bells. I could scarcely believe that so much could have

been produced from it, till I remembered into what hands it had fallen.

I was so much affected that I wept tears such as a little mouse can

weep, but they were tears of joy.

"The night was far too short for me; there are no long nights there in

summer, as we often have in this part of the world. When the morning

dawned and the gentle breeze rippled the glassy mirror of the forest

lake, all the delicate veils and flags fluttered away into thin air. The

waving garlands of the spider's web, the hanging bridges and galleries,

or whatever else they may be called, vanished away as if they had never

been. Six elves brought me back my sausage skewer and at the same time

asked me to make any request, which they would grant if it lay in their

power. So I begged them, if they could, to tell me how to make soup from

a sausage skewer.

"'How do we make it?' asked the chief of the elves, with a smile. 'Why,

you have just seen us. You scarcely knew your sausage skewer again, I am


"'They think themselves very wise,' thought I to myself. Then I told

them all about it, and why I had traveled so far, and also what promise

had been made at home to the one who should discover the method of

preparing this soup.

"'What good will it do the mouse-king or our whole mighty kingdom,' I

asked, 'for me to have seen all these beautiful things? I cannot shake

the sausage peg and say, "Look, here is the skewer, and now the soup

will come." That would only produce a dish to be served when people were

keeping a fast.'

"Then the elf dipped his finger into the cup of a violet and said,

'Look, I will anoint your pilgrim's staff, so that when you return to

your home and enter the king's castle, you have only to touch the king

with your staff and violets will spring forth, even in the coldest

winter time. I think I have given you something worth carrying home, and

a little more than something.'"

Before the little mouse explained what this something more was, she

stretched her staff toward the king, and as it touched him the most

beautiful bunch of violets sprang forth and filled the place with their

perfume. The smell was so powerful that the mouse-king ordered the mice

who stood nearest the chimney to thrust their tails into the fire that

there might be a smell of burning, for the perfume of the violets was

overpowering and not the sort of scent that every one liked.

"But what was the something more, of which you spoke just now?" asked

the mouse-king.

"Why," answered the little mouse, "I think it is what they call

'effect.'" Thereupon she turned the staff round, and behold, not a

single flower was to be seen on it! She now held only the naked skewer,

and lifted it up as a conductor lifts his baton at a concert.

"Violets, the elf told me," continued the mouse, "are for the sight, the

smell, and the touch; so we have only to produce the effect of hearing

and tasting." Then, as the little mouse beat time with her staff, there

came sounds of music; not such music as was heard in the forest, at the

elfin feast, but such as is often heard in the kitchen--the sounds of

boiling and roasting. It came quite suddenly, like wind rushing through

the chimneys, and it seemed as if every pot and kettle were boiling


The fire shovel clattered down on the brass fender, and then, quite as

suddenly, all was still,--nothing could be heard but the light, vapory

song of the teakettle, which was quite wonderful to hear, for no one

could rightly distinguish whether the kettle was just beginning to boil

or just going to stop. And the little pot steamed, and the great pot

simmered, but without any regard for each other; indeed, there seemed no

sense in the pots at all. As the little mouse waved her baton still more

wildly, the pots foamed and threw up bubbles and boiled over, while

again the wind roared and whistled through the chimney, and at last

there was such a terrible hubbub that the little mouse let her stick


"That is a strange sort of soup," said the mouse-king. "Shall we not now

hear about the preparation?"

"That is all," answered the little mouse, with a bow.

"That all!" said the mouse-king; "then we shall be glad to hear what

information the next may have to give us."


"I was born in the library, at a castle," said the second mouse. "Very

few members of our family ever had the good fortune to get into the

dining room, much less into the storeroom. To-day and while on my

journey are the only times I have ever seen a kitchen. We were often

obliged to suffer hunger in the library, but we gained a great deal of

knowledge. The rumor reached us of the royal prize offered to those who

should be able to make soup from a sausage skewer.

"Then my old grandmother sought out a manuscript,--which she herself

could not read, to be sure, but she had heard it read,--and in it were

written these words, 'Those who are poets can make soup of sausage

skewers.' She asked me if I was a poet. I told her I felt myself quite

innocent of any such pretensions. Then she said I must go out and make

myself a poet. I asked again what I should be required to do, for it

seemed to me quite as difficult as to find out how to make soup of a

sausage skewer. My grandmother had heard a great deal of reading in her

day, and she told me that three principal qualifications were

necessary--understanding, imagination, and feeling. 'If you can manage

to acquire these three, you will be a poet, and the sausage-skewer soup

will seem quite simple to you.'

"So I went forth into the world and turned my steps toward the west,

that I might become a poet. Understanding is the most important matter

of all. I was sure of that, for the other two qualifications are not

thought much of; so I went first to seek understanding. Where was I to

find it?

"'Go to the ant and learn wisdom,' said the great Jewish king. I learned

this from living in a library. So I went straight on till I came to the

first great ant hill. There I set myself to watch, that I might become

wise. The ants are a very respectable people; they are wisdom itself.

All they do is like the working of a sum in arithmetic, which comes

right. 'To work, and to lay eggs,' say they, 'and to provide for

posterity, is to live out your time properly.' This they truly do. They

are divided into clean and dirty ants, and their rank is indicated by a

number. The ant-queen is number ONE. Her opinion is the only correct one

on everything, and she seems to have in her the wisdom of the whole

world. This was just what I wished to acquire. She said a great deal

that was no doubt very clever--yet it sounded like nonsense to me. She

said the ant hill was the loftiest thing in the world, although close to

the mound stood a tall tree which no one could deny was loftier, much

loftier. Yet she made no mention of the tree.

"One evening an ant lost herself on this tree. She had crept up the

stem, not nearly to the top but higher than any ant had ever ventured,

and when at last she returned home she said that she had found something

in her travels much higher than the ant hill. The rest of the ants

considered this an insult to the whole community, and condemned her to

wear a muzzle and live in perpetual solitude.

"A short time afterwards another ant got on the tree and made the same

journey and the same discovery. But she spoke of it cautiously and

indefinitely, and as she was one of the superior ants and very much

respected, they believed her. And when she died they erected an

egg-shell as a monument to her memory, for they cultivated a great

respect for science.

"I saw," said the little mouse, "that the ants were always running to

and fro with their burdens on their backs. Once I saw one of them, who

had dropped her load, try very hard to raise it again, but she did not

succeed. Two others came up and tried with all their strength to help

her, till they nearly dropped their own burdens. Then they were obliged

to stop a moment, for every one must think of himself first. The

ant-queen remarked that their conduct that day showed that they

possessed kind hearts and good understanding. 'These two qualities,' she

continued, 'place us ants in the highest degree above all other

reasonable beings. Understanding must therefore stand out prominently

among us, and my wisdom is greatest.' So saying, she raised herself on

her two hind legs, that no one else might be mistaken for her. I could

not, therefore, have made a mistake, so I ate her up. We are to go to

the ants to learn wisdom, and I had secured the queen.

"I now turned and went nearer to the lofty tree already mentioned, which

was an oak. It had a tall trunk, with a wide-spreading top, and was very

old. I knew that a living being dwelt here, a dryad, as she is called,

who is born with the tree and dies with it. I had heard this in the

library, and here was just such a tree and in it an oak maiden. She

uttered a terrible scream when she caught sight of me so near to her.

Like women, she was very much afraid of mice, and she had more real

cause for fear than they have, for I might have gnawed through the tree

on which her life depended.

"I spoke to her in a friendly manner and begged her to take courage. At

last she took me up in her delicate hand, and I told her what had

brought me out into the world. She told me that perhaps on that very

evening she would be able to obtain for me one of the two treasures for

which I was seeking. She told me that Phantaesus, the genius of the

imagination, was her very dear friend; that he was as beautiful as the

god of love; that he rested many an hour with her under the leafy boughs

of the tree, which then rustled and waved more than ever. He called her

his dryad, she said, and the tree his tree, for the grand old oak with

its gnarled trunk was just to his taste. The root, which spread deep

into the earth, and the top, which rose high in the fresh air, knew the

value of the drifting snow, the keen wind, and the warm sunshine, as it

ought to be known. 'Yes,' continued the dryad, 'the birds sing up above

in the branches and talk to each other about the beautiful fields they

have visited in foreign lands. On one of the withered boughs a stork has

built his nest--it is beautifully arranged, and, besides, it is pleasant

to hear a little about the land of the pyramids. All this pleases

Phantaesus, but it is not enough for him. I am obliged to relate to him

of my life in the woods and to go back to my childhood, when I was

little and the tree so small and delicate that a stinging nettle could

overshadow it, and I have to tell everything that has happened since

then until now, when the tree is so large and strong. Sit you down now

under the green bindwood and pay attention. When Phantaesus comes I will

find an opportunity to lay hold of his wing and to pull out one of the

little feathers. That feather you shall have. A better was never given

to any poet, and it will be quite enough for you.'

"And when Phantaesus came the feather was plucked," said the little

mouse, "and I seized and put it in water and kept it there till it was

quite soft. It was very heavy and indigestible, but I managed to nibble

it up at last. It is not so easy to nibble oneself into a poet, there

are so many things to get through. Now, however, I had two of them,

understanding and imagination, and through these I knew that the third

was to be found in the library.

"A great man has said and written that there are novels whose sole and

only use appears to be to attempt to relieve mankind of overflowing

tears--a kind of sponge, in fact, for sucking up feelings and emotions.

I remembered a few of these books. They had always appeared tempting to

the appetite, for they had been much read and were so greasy that they

must have absorbed no end of emotions in themselves.

"I retraced my steps to the library and literally devoured a whole

novel--that is, properly speaking, the interior, or soft part of it. The

crust, or binding, I left. When I had digested not only this, but a

second, I felt a stirring within me. I then ate a small piece of a third

romance and felt myself a poet. I said it to myself and told others the

same. I had headache and backache and I cannot tell what aches besides.

I thought over all the stories that may be said to be connected with

sausage pegs; and all that has ever been written about skewers, and

sticks, and staves, and splinters came to my thoughts--the ant-queen

must have had a wonderfully clear understanding. I remembered the man

who placed in his mouth a white stick, by which he could make himself

and the stick invisible. I thought of sticks as hobbyhorses, staves of

music or rime, of breaking a stick over a man's back, and of Heaven

knows how many more phrases of the same sort, relating to sticks,

staves, and skewers. All my thoughts ran on skewers, sticks of wood, and

staves. As I am at last a poet and have worked terribly hard to make

myself one, I can of course make poetry on anything. I shall therefore

be able to wait upon you every day in the week with a poetical history

of a skewer. And that is my soup."

"In that case," said the mouse-king, "we will hear what the third mouse

has to say."

"Squeak, squeak," cried a little mouse at the kitchen door. It was the

fourth, and not the third, of the four who were contending for the

prize, the one whom the rest supposed to be dead. She shot in like an

arrow and overturned the sausage peg that had been covered with crape.

She had been running day and night, for although she had traveled in a

baggage train, by railway, yet she had arrived almost too late. She

pressed forward, looking very much ruffled.

She had lost her sausage skewer but not her voice, and she began to

speak at once, as if they waited only for her and would hear her

only--as if nothing else in the world were of the least consequence.

She spoke out so clearly and plainly, and she had come in so suddenly,

that no one had time to stop her or to say a word while she was

speaking. This is what she said.


"I started off at once to the largest town," said she, "but the name of

it has escaped me. I have a very bad memory for names. I was carried

from the railway, with some goods on which duties had not been paid, to

the jail, and on arriving I made my escape, running into the house of

the keeper. He was speaking of his prisoners, especially of one who had

uttered thoughtless words. These words had given rise to other words,

and at length they were written down and registered. 'The whole affair

is like making soup of sausage skewers,' said he, 'but the soup may cost

him his neck.'

"Now this raised in me an interest for the prisoner," continued the

little mouse, "and I watched my opportunity and slipped into his

apartment, for there is a mousehole to be found behind every closed


"The prisoner, who had a great beard and large, sparkling eyes, looked

pale. There was a lamp burning, but the walls were so black that they

only looked the blacker for it. The prisoner scratched pictures and

verses with white chalk on the black walls, but I did not read the

verses. I think he found his confinement wearisome, so that I was a

welcome guest. He enticed me with bread crumbs, with whistling, and with

gentle words, and seemed so friendly towards me that by degrees I gained

confidence in him and we became friends. He divided his bread and water

with me and gave me cheese and sausage, and I began to love him.

Altogether, I must own that it was a very pleasant intimacy. He let me

run about on his hand, on his arm, into his sleeve, and even into his

beard. He called me his little friend, and I forgot for what I had come

out into the world; forgot my sausage skewer, which I had laid in a

crack in the floor, where it is still lying. I wished to stay with him

always, for I knew that if I went away, the poor prisoner would have no

one to be his friend, which is a sad thing.

"I stayed, but he did not. He spoke to me so mournfully for the last

time, gave me double as much bread and cheese as usual, and kissed his

hand to me. Then he went away and never came back. I know nothing more

of his history.

"The jailer took possession of me now. He said something about soup from

a sausage skewer, but I could not trust him. He took me in his hand,

certainly, but it was to place me in a cage like a treadmill. Oh, how

dreadful it was! I had to run round and round without getting any

farther, and only to make everybody laugh.

"The jailer's granddaughter was a charming little thing. She had merry

eyes, curly hair like the brightest gold, and such a smiling mouth.

"'You poor little mouse,' said she one day, as she peeped into my cage,

'I will set you free.' She then drew forth the iron fastening, and I

sprang out on the window-sill, and from thence to the roof. Free! free!

that was all I could think of, and not of the object of my journey.

"It grew dark, and as night was coming on I found a lodging in an old

tower, where dwelt a watchman and an owl. I had no confidence in either

of them, least of all in the owl, which is like a cat and has a great

failing, for she eats mice. One may, however, be mistaken sometimes, and

I was now, for this was a respectable and well-educated old owl, who

knew more than the watchman and even as much as I did myself. The young

owls made a great fuss about everything, but the only rough words she

would say to them were, 'You had better go and try to make some soup

from sausage skewers.' She was very indulgent and loving to her own

children. Her conduct gave me such confidence in her that from the crack

where I sat I called out 'Squeak.'

"This confidence pleased her so much that she assured me she would take

me under her own protection and that not a creature should do me harm.

The fact was, she wickedly meant to keep me in reserve for her own

eating in the winter, when food would be scarce. Yet she was a very

clever lady-owl. She explained to me that the watchman could only hoot

with the horn that hung loose at his side and that he was so terribly

proud of it that he imagined himself an owl in the tower, wanted to do

great things, but only succeeded in small--soup from a sausage skewer.

"Then I begged the owl to give me the recipe for this soup. 'Soup from a

sausage skewer,' said she, 'is only a proverb amongst mankind and may be

understood in many ways. Each believes his own way the best, and, after

all, the proverb signifies nothing.' 'Nothing!' I exclaimed. I was quite

struck. Truth is not always agreeable, but truth is above everything

else, as the old owl said. I thought over all this and saw quite plainly

that if truth was really so far above everything else, it must be much

more valuable than soup from a sausage skewer. So I hastened to get

away, that I might be in time and bring what was highest and best and

above everything--namely, the truth.

"The mice are enlightened people, and the mouse-king is above them all.

He is therefore capable of making me queen for the sake of truth."

"Your truth is a falsehood," said the mouse who had not yet spoken. "I

can prepare the soup, and I mean to do so."


"I did not travel," said the third mouse, "I stayed in this country;

that was the right way. One gains nothing by traveling. Everything can

be acquired here quite as easily, so I stayed at home. I have not

obtained what I know from supernatural beings; I have neither swallowed

it nor learned it from conversing with owls. I have gained it all from

my own reflections and thoughts. Will you now set the kettle on the

fire--so? Now pour the water in, quite full up to the brim; place it on

the fire; make up a good blaze; keep it burning, that the water may

boil, for it must boil over and over. There, now I throw in the skewer.

Will the mouse-king be pleased now to dip his tail into the boiling

water and stir it round with the tail? The longer the king stirs it the

stronger the soup will become. Nothing more is necessary, only to stir


"Can no one else do this?" asked the king.

"No," said the mouse; "only in the tail of the mouse-king is this power


And the water boiled and bubbled, as the mouse-king stood close beside

the kettle. It seemed rather a dangerous performance, but he turned

round and put out his tail, as mice do in a dairy when they wish to skim

the cream from a pan of milk with their tails and afterwards lick it

off. But the mouse-king's tail had only just touched the hot steam when

he sprang away from the chimney in a great hurry, exclaiming:

"Oh, certainly, by all means, you must be my queen. We will let the soup

question rest till our golden wedding, fifty years hence, so that the

poor in my kingdom who are then to have plenty of food will have

something to look forward to for a long time, with great joy."

And very soon the wedding took place. Many of the mice, however, as they

were returning home, said that the soup could not be properly called

"soup from a sausage skewer," but "soup from a mouse's tail." They

acknowledged that some of the stories were very well told, but thought

that the whole might have been managed differently.