As this Swedish tale reminds us, the loyalties expressed in our attachments-even to such humble things as the cap that Mother made-are important elements in the kinds of persons that we have chosen to make of ourselves.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Anders who had a new cap. A more handsome cap you never have seen, for Anders’s mother herself, had knit it, and nobody can make anything quite so nice as a mother! It was red except for a small part in the middle, which was green (that was because Anders’s mother had run out of red yarn), and the tassel was blue.
Anders walked around his house for a while, letting his brothers and sisters admire him in his new cap. Then he put his hands in his pockets and went out for a walk because he wanted everybody to see how fine a cap his mother had made.
The first person he met was a farmer walking down the road alongside a wagon loaded with wood. The farmer bowed so deeply, Anders thought he might fall over.
“Well, if it isn’t Anders,” cried the cheerful farmer. “At first I
thought you were a duke, or maybe even prince, with such a fine cap as that. Would you like to ride in my wagon?”
But Anders smiled politely and shook his head, and walked proudly by, holding his head high.
At the turn in the road, he met Lars, the tanner’s son. He was such a big boy that he wore high boots and carried a pocket knife. When he saw Anders’s cap, he couldn’t help but stop and gape at it, and he couldn’t keep himself from coming up close and fingering the blue tassel.
“Let’s trade caps,” he suggested. “I’ll even give you my pocket knife too.”
Now, this knife was a very good one, though half the blade was gone and the handle was a little cracked. Anders had often admired that knife, but still, it did not measure up to the new cap his mother
“No, I don’t think I could make a trade like that,” he told Lars, and he nodded and went on his way.
Soon he met a very old woman who curtsied until her skirts looked like a balloon.
“My, my, you look like such a little gentleman,” she said. “I dare say you’re dressed up to go to the royal ball.”
“Yes, why not?” thought Anders. “Seeing that I look so fine, I may as well go and visit the king.”
And so he did.
In the palace, yard stood two soldiers with shining helmets, and with muskets over their shoulders. When Anders reached the gate, both the muskets were leveled at him.
“Where may you be going?” demanded one of the soldiers. “I am going to the royal ball,” answered Anders.
“No, you are not,” said the other soldier, stepping forward. “Nobody can go to the royal ball without a uniform.”
But at that very instant, the princess came tripping across the yard. She was dressed in white silk, with bows of gold ribbon.
“This lad has no uniform, it’s true,” she told the soldiers, “but he has a very fine cap on his head, and that will do just as well.”
And she took Anders’s hand and walked him up the broad marble stairs where soldiers were posted at every third step, and through the beautiful halls where courtiers in silk and velvet stood bowing wherever he went. For no doubt, they thought him a prince when they saw his fine cap.
At the far end of the largest hall, a table was set with golden cups and golden plates in long rows. On huge silver dishes were piles of tarts and cakes, and red wine sparkled in shining glasses.
The princess sat down at the head of the long table. She let Anders sit in a golden chair by her side.
“But you must not eat with your cap on your head,” she said, putting out her hand to take it off.
“Oh, yes, I can eat just as well with it on,” said Anders, holding tight to his cap. For he thought that if they took it away from him, they would no longer believe he was a prince. Besides, he did not feel sure he would get it back again.
“Well, well, give it to me,” said the princess, “and I will give you a kiss.”
The princess was certainly beautiful, and Anders would have liked to be kissed by her, but not for anything in the world could he give up the cap Mother had made. He only shook his head.
The princess filled his pockets with cakes, and even put her own gold chain around his neck, and bent down and kissed him.
“Now will you give me the cap?” she asked.
But Anders only moved farther back in his chair and did not take his hands away from his head.
Suddenly the doors flew open, and in marched the king with all his gentlemen in glittering uniforms and plumed hats. The king himself wore a purple mantle which trailed behind him, and he had a large gold crown on his white curly hair.
He smiled when he saw Anders in the golden chair. “That is a very fine cap you have,” he said.
“So it is,” replied Anders. “Mother knit it of her very best yarn, and everyone who sees it tries to get it from me. “
“But surely you would like to change caps with me,” said the king, raising his heavy crown from his head.
Anders stayed as quiet as a mouse. He sat as still as he could and held on to his red cap. But when the king came nearer to him, with his gold crown between his hands, Anders grew frightened as never before. If he didn’t watch out, the king might grab his cap! For a king can do whatever he likes, of course.
With one jump, Anders was out of his chair. He darted like an arrow through all the beautiful halls, down all the marble stairs, and across the yard .
He twisted himself like an eel between the outstretched arms of the courtiers and jumped like a little rabbit over the soldiers’ muskets.
He ran so fast, the princess’s necklace fell off his neck, and all
the cakes jumped out of his pockets. But he still had his cap! No matter what else, he still had his cap! He clutched it with both hands as he rushed into his cottage.
“Well, Anders, where have you been?” his mother asked. So he climbed into her lap and told her all his adventures, and how every body wanted his cap. His brothers and sisters stood around and listened with their mouths open.
When his big brother heard that Anders had refused to trade his cap for the king’s golden crown, he whistled and whooped.
“Now weren’t you foolish!” he exclaimed. “You could have sold that crown for a whole fortune in gold, and bought a castle, and a carriage with horses, and a boat to sail on the river. And you still would have had enough money left over to buy a brand-new hat with a purple plume sticking out!”
Anders had not thought of that, and his face turned three shades of red. He put his arms around his mother’s neck. “Mother,” he asked, “was I foolish?”
His mother hugged him close and kissed him.
“No, my little son,” she said. “If you were dressed in silver and gold from top to toe, you could not look any nicer than you do in your little red cap.”
Then Anders felt fine again. He knew well enough that mother’s cap was the best cap in the whole world.