114 HANS, THE MERMAID'S SON
When seven years had passed since the smith went out to sea, it happened one morning, as he stood in the smithy, mending a plough, that a handsome young lad came in to him and said, ' Good-day, father; my mother the mermaid sends her greetings, and says that she has had me for six years now, and you can keep me for as long.'
He was a strange enough boy to be six years old, for he looked as if he were eighteen, and was even bigger and stronger than lads commonly are at that age.
' Will you have a bite of bread ?' said the smith.
' Oh, yes,' said Hans, for that was his name.
The smith then told his wife to cut a piece of bread for him. She did so, and the boy swallowed it at one mouthful and went out again to the smithy to his father.
' Have you got all you can eat? ' said the smith.
' No,' said Hans, ' that was just a little bit.'
The smith went into the house and took a whole loaf, wThich he cut into two slices and put butter and cheese between them, and this he gave to Hans. In a while the boy came out to the smithy again.
'Well, have you got as much as you can eat?' said the smith.
'No, not nearly,' said Hans; 'I must try to find a better place than this, for I can see that I shall never get my fill here.'
Hans wished to set off at once, as soon as his father would make a staff for him of such a kind as he wanted.
' It must be of iron,' said he, 'and one that can hold out.'
The smith brought him an iron rod as thick as an ordinary staff, but Hans took it and twisted it round his finger, so that would n't do. Then the smith came dragging one as thick as a waggon-pole, but Hans bent it over his knee and broke it like a straw. The smith then had to collect all the iron he had, and Hans held it while his father forged for him a staff, which was heavier than the