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HANS, THE ABSENT-MINDED MAN

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There once lived a man named Hans who was so absent-minded he would sometimes ring the bell of his own house and ask if Hans were home. Sometimes he wondered what his name was. And sometimes when he left his house and walked to town, he would scratch his head when he arrived and say, "Why am I here?"

Hans was a good man, but he was so absent-minded that he made a great deal of trouble for himself.One day Hans was standing in the middle of the sidewalk in town thinking about his lunch. He wondered where he would find something to eat and how he would pay for it. Hans did not have even a penny in his pocket. He had left home early that morning and had walked for several hours. Now he was too far away from home to turn around and go back to fetch his money.

"Oh, poor me," he said to himself. "I'm hungry and tired and chilly, but I have no money. And I don't know what to eat. Oh, poor me." The more he thought about his troubles, the sadder he became.

As he stood on the sidewalk, hungry and confused, a friend passed by. Poor Hans looked so miserable, his friend stopped and asked, "Dear Hans, what is wrong? You look so sad."

"I am starving. I have no money and my home is far away. If I want to eat lunch, I will have to walk all the way home and fetch some money. But by the time I return home, it will be past lunch, and by then I may be too hungry to walk back into town. Surely that is enough trouble to make anyone sad."

Now his friend suddenly caught sight of something bulging from Hans' coat pocket. He looked closer and saw a piece of fresh bread and a big, fat sausage stuffed inside.

"Oh, poor Hans," said the friend. "You do look cold and hungry. I suppose you forgot to take along your lunch with you."

"Yes," said Hans mournfully. "I knew I would be walking a long distance from home. I knew I would not return to my home until evening. But I never thought of lunch - until now. Oh, poor me."

Hans' friend was a cheery fellow who didn't mind playing a trick or two. "Poor Hans," said his friend. "I do wish I could help you, but I don't have any money with me." And with that his friend reached in his own pockets and pulled them out. "There, you see," he said to Hans. "Quite empty!"

"That does make things worse," said Hans. "Not only am I penniless, but so are you. Dear me, I am afraid I will grow quite sick from hunger."

"I can think of only one thing to do," said the merry fellow.

"What? Please tell me. Do you have some kind of plan?"

"You may not like my plan," said the merry fellow. And now he frowned and twirled his curly mustache. He looked very sternly at Hans.

"I would do anything," Hans said, "so long as it is right and just and would bring no shame to an honest man. You see, I am terribly hungry, and I have no money, and I am far from home, and even you, my friend, have no money."

Now the merry fellow laughed. "Oh, the plan I have in mind is strictly honest. Still . . ." And now the friend looked down at the ground. He pursed his lips, brought his finger to his chin and looked very thoughtful indeed. "Dear Hans, this may not be something you wish to do."

"Why would that be? Why wouldn't I do something honest? Please tell me what it is you are planning."

"This is something you have never done before," said the merry fellow. "It is an easy thing - easy indeed."

"I will do it then!" cried Hans. "I am so very hungry."

"All right, then," said his friend. "All you have to do is reach into your coat pocket and pull out that great big slice of bread and that nice juicy sausage I see there. I am sure you will find that your sausage will fill up that empty stomach of yours."

Hans stared in amazement at his friend. And then, very carefully, he put his hand into his pocket, and with a slight tug he pulled out his sausage sandwich. Now he was completely confused.

The merry fellow burst out laughing and turned and walked away.

Hans fell into a deep sadness. "How could this have happened?" he wondered. "How on earth could I have felt so hungry and left this sausage sandwich in my pocket all morning?"

He wondered and wondered so hard that he forgot all about his sandwich. Without thinking, he put it back in his pocket and walked on.

He walked until it was nearly dark. As the light began to fade and the air grew colder, Hans started to think about supper. He thought about a big hot bowl of stew and some warm biscuits. Oh, how lovely that stew would taste! And how marvelous would be those biscuits dripping with butter!

Now Hans heard a yip and a yap. Turning around, he saw to his surprise a long line of dogs. You see, each time he had passed a dog, the creature had sniffed the sausage. By noon there were five dogs following Hans; by 4 o'clock, 10 more had joined the parade. They trotted patiently along, hoping Hans would feed them his sausage.

"Oh my," said Hans, "look at all these poor hungry dogs!" He stopped in his tracks, and the dogs stopped too. And now they began to jump and snap and sniff at his pocket where the big, juicy sausage still lay.

"These dogs seem hungry indeed. I suppose I could feed them my sausage," Hans said to himself. "A hot bowl of stew is ever so much nicer than a cold sausage on a cold day." Hans reached into his pocket and took out the sausage. He looked at it and thought a while, and on he walked in the direction of home, the dogs on his heels.

Soon Hans came to his own little street. Snow had begun to fall, and the evening was quiet and beautiful - except for the sound of the panting dogs.

Supper bells began to chime. Hans stopped to admire the great steeple and the pretty houses capped with snow. He smiled at the sight of the pine trees waving lightly in the wind. He turned and smiled at the dogs. And when he saw his own house, with a bright light burning in the entry, he smiled still more broadly.

"How nice to be back home." He looked down at the sausage sandwich in his hand. "And what a delicious-looking sandwich," he said. "It warms me just to think of eating it."

Hans sat down on his doorstep, and right then and there he ate every single morsel of his sausage sandwich.

The dogs lay down before him, hoping against hope that they might gain a crumb. Hans patted each one and said, "How nice to have so many companions. What a grand day this has been, though I do wish I had eaten lunch."