You Aren't Big
Enough by Hans
Translated By John Poole
Eric was always having adventures: he loved them. The only trouble
was that he entered into them heart and soul, and wanted to go through
with them to the bitter end. He never saw the troll until the very
last moment and was invariably taken completely by surprise. The
others always ran away in time, leaving behind a dark, pale-faced
little boy who was too scared to turn round and look the troll in the
With the coming of the fine Autumn weather the villagers' cattle
were let out to graze. Eric was allowed to be with them all day long;
from the early morning when it was so cool and the dew ringed
everything a faint blueish colour, until evening when the calls of
"Git-oop- there..." echoed through the meadows and set the cows moving
slowly up the valley, necks craning and ears pointing forward, slowly
advancing columns homeward bound.
On one such delightful day Eric and his friend Chris were lying in
a sand-pit; spread out beside them was a supply of newspaper and
tobacco. It was not their first adventure of this kind, and they were
enjoying every moment of it. In this particular field of activity Eric
had been able to demonstrate quite convincingly that his thin and
skinny type was better able to cope with tobacco than that to which
the other sturdier fair-haired children belonged. He had skipped the
green face and sickness stage, and this had won for him a great deal
This particular adventure went as all adventures should, until the
time came for the troll to put in his appearance. His coming was as
unexpected as it always is to those who really live their adventures.
The local postman chanced to shamble past as Eric was lighting a
All that happened was that he said: "You aren't big enough," and
went on his way with his cap pulled down over his bearded face.
In a flash Erik took in the full implication of what had occurred.
The postman was just starting on his round; in a little while he would
be in Harrup village where he could easily let fall some casual
remark, as he often did, just as he was leaving one of the houses
there. It would be just like him to talk in riddles and say: "He's not
big enough, that young Eric," and there straight away would be half
He let the cigar fall to the ground and stole home. On the way he
chewed juicy grasses and sucked clover flowers in the manner approved
by those who were considered experts in removing traces of tobacco
smoke. He stopped every other minute and breathed into his cupped
hands, quickly inhaling his own breath again to test it for purity.
When he got home he drank water from the well, quantities of it,
before going indoors as if nothing had happened.
So far as his father was concerned, there was nothing to fear; he
always seemed to be buried so deep in something children could never
understand that no tobacco smell could ever penetrate to him. It was
practically certain that he did not have a sense of smell like
The postman came once a day, his face rank with beard and the peak
of his cap pulled well down over his eyes. Eric awaited his coming in
terrified apprehension. He had, however, already discovered that he
was being watched over by a benevolently forgetful Providence, and
every day that followed helped to confirm this. The postman came and
went. When he was on duty there were some things that he was not
allowed to talk about and others that he did not choose to talk about.
Eric was aware of this and was grateful to the old man for having, as
it now seemed, treated the knowledge of his crime as confidential
information which he was bound as a public servant not to divulge.
All this helped to prepare the ground for the birth of a new
monster which then proceeded to grow up in Eric's mind. It was the
idea of becoming the owner of a pipe. It loomed large and black and it
made him afraid, but it grew none the less, became more substantial,
and as the days went by, developed into the tiny, obstinate and
irrepressible germ of a criminal desire.
He hardened himself in solitude, spending hours gazing at the
gnarled branches and young shoots of an elderberry tree. He managed to
make himself a pipe from this material, but the finished article was
ugly and unsatisfactory. Besides which it tasted green. This caused
the veil over his great desire to be lifted: the notion which had
irresistably come to maturity in his mind of becoming the owner of a
One day he noticed that there were three ore lying on the plate
rack. They were there the next day, and the next. Fate must have had a
hand in it, for it was the very sum that he deeded.
His father was as usual in the study writing something unreadable
and uninteresting. His mother was on her hands and knees in the garden
grubbing up potatoes, and Eric was supposed to be going into the
village to buy bread.
In the kitchen the kettle was sitting over the warm stove like a
broody hen. As he came in and looked at the money it seemed to him
that he was very far from being alone and without witnesses. The
kettle was making clucking noises which animated the whole kitchen.
Whenever the coals shifted underneath it, the clucking turned into the
shrill cackle a hen makes as it gets up in answer to the peeping of
At any other time he would have been comforted by the kettle, and
found romance and far distant music in the noises it made. But just
then he wanted to be alone. There it sat on the hot plate, plump and
self-confident, minding its own business, but keeping a watchful eye
on him all the same.
And sure enough it became restive and screeched just as he was
picking up the money.
But the deed was done, and tight-lipped he went out to fetch his
cap. Before going down to the village he would have to go into the
His father scratched among his small change for a long time before
he found the right money for a loaf. As he waited, Eric had an
uncomfortable feeling that the three ore would break the silence and
call out from their hiding place in his pocket. At length the
necessary fifty ore lay on the table; two-ore and five-ore pieces
which his father had obtained from the sale of pens and pencils in the
His father never made a fuss as men so often do when they have to
part with money for food which they are going to eat themselves. He
merely shrugged his shoulders involuntarily, as if something had
caused him pain.
Eric recognised the gesture, pre-occupied as he was. He hurried
away and went down the garden to tell his mother that he was off.
Down on her hands and knees, she was supporting herself with her
left hand as she scraped away the earth from under a potato plant.
Then covering the hole she had made with a shower of clayey soil she
moved forward over it and straightened her back.
"You remembered without being told," she said with a trace of
surprise in her voice which she could not hide. It occurred to Eric
that a somewhat watchful look had come into his mother's face just
lately; for a moment her eyes would sometimes get suddenly bigger, and
he did not like it.
She knelt there looking straight in front of her with muddy hands
twice their normal size hanging at her side, for all the world as if
they did not belong to her at all.
"You can get the money from father—if he's got any, that is," she
said with a sudden sadness in her eyes.
"Oh, I expect he has," Eric burst out, thereby plunging carelessly
into the labyrinth of deceit.
Up by the house Eric stopped. He thought he heard someone call but
he did not answer because he was not sure whether it could not have
been the money in his pocket that had cried out. There it was again
disturbing the peace of the garden like the humming of a noisy bumble
bee. His mother was calling. His heart beat faster as he went back to
her and heard her say, without even looking at him: "There are three
ore on the plate rack, so you need only ask you father for forty-
He went indoors making the kitchen door creak so that it could be
heard outside. What was he to do? There was nothing for it but to take
the three ore back to his father. If his father then happened to say
nothing to his mother the matter would rest there. But Eric had the
feeling that he was on very thin ice and that he would have to move
Without further deliberation he opened the study door and gave
three ore to his father.
"Mother had three ore already," he said, which was perfectly true.
Without lifting his eyes from the paper in front of him his father
fumbled blindly on the table for the coins. It was plain that he had
idea of what he had been given. All was well then. Eric went into the
yard full of a warm feeling of reassurance.
It was only when he had got out there that he realised how much the
situation had changed. There was now no longer any point in his going
into the village to fetch the bread!
The schoolroom door was standing open, and he went into the doorway
to think things over a bit. It was an awful shame that he would have
to go on living without that pipe, but also a surprising piece of good
luck that his first set-back had turned out so well. He was back where
he started but he was still free to act. What was more, he had not
stolen any money and had hardly lied at all. Almost unconsciously he
kicked off his clogs and went into the schoolroom and up to the
teacher's desk, where he sat on the tall chair and started pulling the
stuffing from under the torn leather cover.
He could not hide it from himself for very long that he was only
sitting there because he was going to take three ore out of the drawer
in the desk.
They were there all right—and many more; his father would have no
idea how much money there was altogether.
When he stood outside again he had the feeling that everything had
gone reasonably well. He started to run and did not stop until his
clogs rang out on the village cobbles.
He soon bought the bread and went with the loaf under his arm to
the shop where there were clay pipes lying on a glass shelf which hung
in the window. Some had their bowls nearest to him, some their stems;
they were on view both inside and outside the shop, and they were all
The shopkeeper was busy, but his wife caught sight of Eric and came
to the counter. Eric pretended not to see her, because he did not like
the idea of telling her what he wanted. She looked like a mother, he
thought, the sort that knows everything.
But then she spoke to him: "And what would you like, my dear?"
People in the shop turned round waiting for his answer, and he
wished he were outside again. Suddenly he hit upon a way out of his
"I was told to ask if you had any clay pipes."
To his dismay the woman smiled.
"Have we any pipes for this young man?"
The shopkeeper, who as usual had been listening with half an ear to
what was going on in the rest of the shop, had also heard Eric's
request, and he laughed, and so did the customer he was serving.
"Who is it wants to know, you little Caiaphas?"
Eric could not answer that one. He moved his lips, but his voice
just would not come.
At last the shopkeeper took a pipe from a box under the counter and
pushed it over to him.
"Three ore," he said, and went back to talk to the other customers.
As he was leaving, Eric heard someone say: "That must be one of the
schoolmaster's kids from over Harrup way."
It was just about as bad as it could be.
He kept the pipe in his pocket until he got as far as a sheltered
spot along the road where he had looked forward to a little rest. As
he reached down for the pipe he stopped momentarily in his tracks and
then went on again pretending that he unfortunately could not spare
the time to rest in the ditch after all...
He had forgotten to bring any tobacco with him from home. He
realised at the same time that he was being saved from returning home
from the village smelling of tobacco.
Even so, his mother looked hard at him at he came in. He looked
away and felt his confidence dwindling. He decided to do penance by
not smoking the pipe the first evening. It took some of the weight off
his mind, as if he had been relieved of some unpleasant duty.
He mooched around, hung about the house, leaned up against the barn
wall and talked to his small sister. It did not enter his head to go
off and join Chris and the other boys.
His mother saw all this, but kept her ideas to herself until Eric
had fallen asleep, tired and confused after his drawn battle with the
demons in his soul.
Then she went straight up and took the pipe out of his pocket and
went and put it on her husband's writing table.
The interrogation began the very next morning before Eric had got
up. It was cleverly conceived. He was like a prisoner who was being
questioned without knowing whether his accomplice had confessed—where
was the pipe and what did his mother know about it?
In his terror he denied everything. The denial was something that
in his soul longer than the crime itself. When his mother fetched the
pipe from the study and, sure that he would own up, held it up in
front of him, it was too late. A knot had been tied inside him. All
the powers of affirmation and confession that his soul possessed were
already securely bound up. He said no, and he kept on saying no.
But the circumstantial evidence was too strong.
He took his preliminary punishment like a man; it warmed and stung
him. The position that the nature of the execution demanded that he
should take up, enabled him to stifle in his pillow any cry that might
otherwise have escaped his lips.
Mrs. Meissel then went away taking the pipe with her and left him
to cover up the stripes with his trousers.
It seemed to Eric that his father tried to avoid him all that day,
although it was not possible to be sure of this, as Mr. Meissel was a
very retiring sort of man at the best of times; buttoned up, probably
against his will. Eric often wondered whether his father was just as
much a stranger to his mother. He knew perfectly well, of course, that
they laid their plans together when the children were asleep. They
also discussed a great many things quite openly, and when it came to
the point they always backed one another up. This could be both good
Early in the afternoon Eric was sent into the study and told to get
on with his home-work. With the feeling that the painful episode was
now over he went briskly ahead with learning his hymns and his
multiplication tables. It was quite a relief to get back to the daily
He hummed his way through the first verse of the hymn that he had
to learn. It was full of mysterious things which very likely nobody
knew anything about. The whole piece was silly anyway, as that sort of
thing always was. Then came the six times table; not easy to grasp
either. The best part was "six-sixes-are-thirty-six", which at least
sounded funny. He alternated between the two kinds of "verse", reading
each in the same tone and with equal lack of understanding.
As he sat muttering by the window he caught sight of a small grey
object which lay on the writing table, half covered by a sheet of
It was the clay pipe.
The unfortunate affair had all of a sudden reached its climax. As
soon as his father came home he would sit down at the table, lift up
the piece of paper and...
Eric knew straight away that this must not happen.
He shuddered helplessly, then grew calm and terribly determined;
there was absolutely no doubt at all in his mind. He snatched up the
pipe, jumped up on to the book-case ledge, looked round the room, and
then reached up and put the pipe right on top of the case.
As he jumped down again the bookcase shook and he thought he heard
a rattling noise behind it.
He almost hoped that it was the pipe, for it would mean that it had
as good as disappeared for ever. He could not imagine that the case
had ever been moved from where it now stood. The pipe had taken it
upon itself to go a step further than he himself had dared.
He was determined to stand firm in his position, and with his
defences prepared he was ready to meet his fate. Right or wrong he
would have to take the consequences of his action. But whatever
happened it would be far worse if the pipe were to lie on the table
when his father came in.
Eric thought no more about multiplication tables or hymns. He did
not think about anything except that he was now standing in a dark
place where everything was malevolent and hostile. There was peace and
sunshine everywhere, yet in the middle of it all there was this one
dark spot which the light shunned and where he stood quite alone.
He went to the window and saw that the sun was also shining out in
the garden, throwing long shadows over the grass. All the leaves were
still. It was a frightening sight.
With no fixed purpose in his mind he opened the door that led to
the little passage behind the baking oven. What did he want there
anyway? The strangely spicy smell, which normally was what he loved
best in the house, was now malevolent too.
Perhaps he should...He tried to open the door to the parlour, but
it screeched a warning to him to shut it quickly for God's sake, and
screeched again as he did so.
He was shut in with his crime. The chair, the desk, the hymn book
and the multiplication table remained unfeelingly indifferent and left
him to himself.
Then suddenly he was seized with the desire to see his pipe again.
He drew the chair over to the bookcase and clambered up. He scraped
the top of the case with his hand, but could not find it. Then he
peered between the back of the case and the wall, into the pitch black
space which for as long as he could remember he had thought of as the
hiding place of eternity.
There was no pipe to be seen. It had completely vanished. If only
he too could vanish in there like the pipe.
He heard his sister clattering over the cobbles in the yard. She
was talking to herself and to her doll as she pushed the wretched
little doll's pram on to one of the garden paths and with maternal
efficiency tucked the doll up in a blanket.
Unbearably peaceful sight!
He turned round into the room as if looking for cover, for
something to do.
He put the sheet of paper on the writing table back where he had
found it, and pushed the paper-knife underneath. It was lucky that he
had done so, for a minute or so later there was his mother in the
doorway. Her eyes took in at a single glance the writing table and
everything else in the room. But the boy was sitting where he should,
his book in front of him. The sheet of paper lay on the table.
He was allowed to run out for a while to play with his sister. The
garden and the sun brought him light; but the dark eternity from
behind the bookcase was there too, like a sharp black thing, a pin in
his clothes, which suddenly pricked him in the middle of a game and
filled him with a sudden feeling of weariness.
Then came oblivion in the heat of the game.
A couple of children from a neighbouring cottage came and stood at
the corner of the house—they were at a loose end. They came and
played in the garden, and the noise they all made attracted other
children from nearby farms. They rolled in the grass round the
flagpole, they vanished into the bushes. Eric romped until he was
bruised all over and entirely free of the shadow that had been hanging
over him. With all the children chasing him he rushed about like a
whirlwind which bends the trees and bushes in the hedgerows. It turned
into one of those games which only happen once or twice in a
life-time; when the participants enter so much into the joyous spirit
of the romp that they never quite forget the experience. Eric's
entangled soul opened up in response to the game as parched earth
opens up to receive the rain from a thunder shower and never thinks it
will get enough.
Pursued by brigands he jumped across paths and through shrubberies
up the big garden towards the house. He saw nothing, heard nothing
except his pursuers' tussle with the dense foliage and whipping
branches which swung back dangerously in his wake. As he ran the
exhilaration of the terror and excitement sent shivers down his spine
as it welled up inside him. He did not know whether he would get away;
whether he or the brigands were making the noises behind him. He
leaped like a wild thing out of the last of the elderberry bushes, and
stood with ecstatic, darting eyes looking for the safest way out of
his present far too exposed position.
He was met by the piercing gaze of a pair of eyes. His mother was
standing quietly on the stone steps to the kitchen, like a piece of
It was not only to his pursuers that he had exposed himself. So far
as he was concerned they no longer existed; he was not even conscious
that they came rushing round him, caught hold of him and pulled him to
It was as if his now completely unfolded being had momentarily
become drenched with some corrosive liquid, while he was still off his
guard. In a brief death-struggle, when the darkness behind the
bookcase, Eternity and Hellfire rushed over him with long strides, his
soul crumpled up and was emptied of all life.
Then he got up and, lashing out wildly all round him, shook off his
astounded playmates. As devilish as the devil he was about to
encounter, he followed his mother through the house to the study.
His father was standing there, irresolute, in the midst of all the
injustice and evil of this world. He too found the whole situation
Eric felt as if he had been blinded; as if all light had gone out
of the room; he was aware of nothing but the imminence of the
inevitable fate which was closing in on him, on his father and him. He
was conscious of his mother's hand leading him to the writing table.
He heard her ask: Where is the pipe? and noticed that her voice was
strange and full of sorrow.
He said nothing. His father said nothing. Eric noted that he turned
away and sighed. It was an action that he knew well and it told him
that a full grown man can also be in distress.
"Where have you put the pipe, Eric?" he heard his mother ask. She
held him by the shoulders and shook him. He realised that she would
not know what to do if he did not own up now. She lifted up the sheet
of paper as if hoping that the paper knife had changed back into the
pipe since she had last looked.
"Where have you put it?"
Eric was well aware that this was the most dangerous answer that he
could make, and he saw from his mother's movements how near she was to
laying hands on him.
If only she had done so, he thought, as he heard her give up the
struggle and leave the room.
He was now completely defenceless. His mother's anger was at least
of this world: forgiving and forgetting. Not like his father's, an
earthquake-impending judgment day.
He stood there, not daring to move; not daring to lift his eyes
from the spot on the table leg on which he had fixed his gaze as soon
as he had come into the room.
Behind him his father moved restlessly about the room. If only his
mother had stayed behind. It was unbearable to have to stand here with
a man who was going to say the words that only his mother knew how to
say. His father was not even angry: merely weary and depressed.
When at last he heard a voice, uncomfortably quiet in that tiny
room, ask: "Eric, where have you put it, please?" it was as if they
were both committing some terrible sin.
Eric could not move, could not speak. A sickening feeling came over
him with a rush. He was no longer a criminal, but a much-maligned
individual who was being forced into a dastardly action by a man who
had also been wronged and who was extremely loath to do it.
He saw the man pick up the sheet of paper—or rather sensed that he
was doing so—and realised that the question was being put to him
again and again. It sounded as if the Saviour on the cross was
accusing him and at the same time pitying him because he had committed
the world's greatest sin.
Not for one moment did he think of admitting his guilt. He denied
everything, blindly, as though he had every justification to do so. At
length he became aware that he was being led out of the room, through
the passage behind the oven through the empty schoolroom and out into
My poor child, said the Man—Our Lord from the cross. The boy
lifted up his perplexed eyes and saw that the Man was his father and
that there were tears in his eyes. He saw him take a strap from his
pocket and felt in one biting flash—this is Abraham sacrificing
Isaac. The one and only blow felt like a murder survived, a mortal
blow which scarcely hurt. It was an injustice crying aloud to the
heavens, never to be forgotten, which would for ever make him an enemy
of that house.
Another question. In vain. Once again a denial, a tight-lipped,
He had won after all. The door of the half-darkened shed flew open,
the peat dust whirled up in the doorway, and the late afternoon
sunlight streamed in.
Mr. Meissel went out quickly—it looked like flight—leaving the
boy by himself.
Eric stood motionless in the dusty mist and listened to his
father's footsteps over the yard. He waited for the back door to slam,
but it did not.
Relaxed now that it was all over, he stood still and looked down
the road. The postman was coming back from his round. The smoke from
his pipe dissolved into the air behind him as he walked. He was going
to the post-office with parcels and things, and there he would stick
stamps on letters and sort out newspapers. A fortunate man who could
openly and before the whole world light up his pipe. He did not have
to go through hell first.
Eric sat down on the warm peat in the shaft of sunlight. He was
tired, very tired.