"Well," Nils invariably answered, "I like him and he likes me. He brings me luck."
This was a standing dispute between Nils and Inga, his wife, and they never came to an agreement. She knew as well as her husband that before little Hans was born there was want and misery in their cottage. But from the hour the child lifted up its tiny voice, announcing its arrival, there had been prosperity and contentment. Their luck had turned, Nils said, and it was the child that had turned it. They had been married for four years, and though they had no one to provide for but themselves, they scarcely managed to keep body and soul together. All sorts of untoward things happened. Now a tree which he was cutting down fell upon Nils and laid him up for a month; now he got water on his knee from a blow he received while rolling logs into the chute; now the pig died which was to have provided them with salt pork for the winter, and the hens took to the bush, and laid their eggs where nobody except the rats and the weasels could find them. But since little Hans had come and put an end to all these disasters, his father had a superstitious feeling that he could not bear to have him away from him. Therefore every morning when he started out for the forest or the river he carried Hans on his shoulder. And the little boy sat there, smiling proudly and waving his hand to his mother, who stood in the door looking longingly after him.
"Hello, little chap!" cried the lumbermen, when they saw him. "Good-morning to you and good luck!"
They always cheered up, however bad the weather was, when they saw little Hans, for nobody could look at his sunny little face without feeling something like a ray of sunlight stealing into his heart. Hans had a smile and a wave of his hand for everybody. He knew all the lumbermen by name, and they knew him.
They sang as they swung the axe or the boat-hook, and the work went merrily when little Hans sat on the top of the log pile and shouted to them. But if by chance he was absent for a day or two they missed him. No songs were heard, but harsh words, and not infrequently quarrels. Now, nobody believed, of course, that little Hans was such a wizard that he could make people feel and behave any better than it was in their nature to do; but sure it was--at least the lumbermen insisted that it was so--there was joy and good-tempered mirth wherever that child went, and life seemed a little sadder and poorer to those who knew him when he was away.
No one will wonder that Nils sometimes boasted of his little son.
He told not once, but a hundred times, as they sat about the camp-fire eating their dinner, that little Hans was a child of luck, and that no misfortune could happen while he was near. Lumbermen are naturally superstitious, and though perhaps at first they may have had their doubts, they gradually came to accept the statement without question. They came to regard it as a kind of right to have little Hans sit on the top of the log pile when they worked, or running along the chute, while the wild-cat strings of logs shot down the steep slide with lightning speed. They were not in the least afraid lest the logs should jump the chute, as they had often done before, killing or maiming the unhappy man that came too near. For was not little Hans's life charmed, so that no harm could befall him?
Now, it happened that Inga, little Hans's mother, came one day to the river to see how he was getting on. Nils was then standing on a raft hooking the floating logs with his boat-hook, while the boy was watching him from the shore, shouting to him, throwing chips into the water, and amusing himself as best he could. It was early in May, and the river was swollen from recent thaws. Below the cataract where the lumbermen worked, the broad, brown current moved slowly along with sluggish whirls and eddies; but the raft was moored by chains to the shore, so that it was in no danger of getting adrift. It was capital fun to see the logs come rushing down the slide, plunging with a tremendous splash into the river, and then bob up like live things after having bumped against the bottom. Little Hans clapped his hands and yelled with delight when a string of three or four came tearing along in that way, and dived, one after the other, headlong into the water.