Flea and the Professor
By Hans Christian Andersen
Once upon a time there was a balloonist with
whom things went badly ; the balloon burst,
and the man came down and was dashed to
pieces. He had sent his boy down with the
parachute two minutes before : that was
lucky for the boy. He was unhurt, and went
about with great abilities for becoming a
balloonist, but he had no balloon, and no
means of getting one.
Live he must, and so he laid himself out to
acquire the art of legerdemain, and to be
able to talk with his stomach, which is
called being a ventriloquist.
He was young and good-looking, and when he
got a moustache, and was dressed in good
clothes, he might have been taken for a
nobleman's son. The ladies thought him
beautiful : one young lady was so enchanted
with his beauty and his cleverness, that she
accompanied him to
strange towns and countries ; there he
called himself Professor ; less it could not
His constant thought was to get a balloon
and fly in the air with his little wife, but
as yet they had not the means.
' They will come,' said he.
' If only they would,' said she.
' We are young people ! and now I am a
Professor. Even crumbs are bread ! '
She helped him faithfully, sat by the door
and sold tickets for the performance, and
that was a cold entertainment in winter. She
helped him also in one trick. He put his
wife in a table-drawer, a big table-drawer ;
she crept into the back drawer, and so was
not to be seen from the front ;
it was like an optical illusion.
But one evening, when he pulled the drawer
out, she had gone ; she was not in the front
drawer, nor in the back drawer, nor in the
whole house not to be seen, not to be heard.
It was her clever trick. She never came
back. She was tired of it, and he became
tired of it, lost his good humour, could not
talk or play tricks any more, and so nobody
came ; the profits became poor, his clothes
became poor ; he owned at last only a huge
flea, an inheritance from his wife, and
therefore he thought so much of it. So he
trained it, taught it to do clever tricks,
taught it to
present arms, and fire a cannon.
The Professor was proud of the flea, and it
was proud of itself ; it had learnt
something and had human blood in it, and had
been in the biggest towns, had been seen by
princes and princesses, and had won their
high admiration. It appeared printed in the
newspapers and on placards. It
knew that it was famous, and could maintain
a Professor, yes, even a whole family.
Proud and famous it was, and yet, when it
and the Professor travelled, they went
fourth class on the railway ; that travels
just as quickly as the first. There was a
nmise that they would never separate, never
marry, the would remain a bachelor, and the
Professor a widower. It comes to the same
' Where one has the greatest success,' said
the Professor, ' one should not come twice.'
He was a judge of character, and that is
also an art.
At last he had travelled in all countries
except savage countries, and so he decided
to go there ; there, indeed, they ate
Christian men, the Professor knew, but he
was not really a Christian, and the flea was
not really a man, so he imagined that they
might venture to travel there and have good
They travelled by steamship and sailing ship
; the flea went through his tricks, and so
they travelled free on the way and came to
the country of the savages.
Here reigned a little Princess ; she was
only eight years old, but she reigned. She
had taken the power from her father and
mother, for she had a will and was
exception- ally charming and naughty. As
soon as the flea had presented arms and
fired the cannon, she was so enchanted
with it, that she said, ' Him, or no one ! '
She became quite wild with love, and was
already wild before that. ' Sweet little
sensible child ! ' said her father, ' if one
could first make a man of it ! '
' Leave that to me, old man ! ' said she,
and it was not nicely said by a little
princess, who talks to her father, but she
She set the flea on her little hand. ' Now
you are a man ruling with me, but you shall
do what I wish, or I shall kill you and eat
The Professor got a big room to live in. The
walls were made of sugar-cane he could go
and lick them, but he had not a sweet tooth.
He got a hammock to sleep in. It was as if
he lay in a balloon such as he had always
wished for, and which was his constant
The flea stayed with the Princess, sat on
her little hand and on her smooth neck. She
had taken a hair from her head, and the
Professor had to tie it to the leg of the
flea, and so she kept it tied to the great
piece of coral which she wore in her ear.
It was a delightful time for the Princess,
also for the flea, she thought ; but the
Professor was not quite at his ease ; he was
a traveller, and liked to go from town to
town, and to read in the newspapers about
his perseverance and cleverness in teaching
a flea all human actions. Day
in and day out he lay in his hammock, dozed,
and got good food fresh eggs, elephants'
eyes, and giraffe steak ; cannibals do not
live only on human flesh, that is a delicacy.
' Child's shoulder with sharp sauce,' said
the mother of the Princess, ' is the most
delicate ! '
The Professor was wearied, and wished to get
away from the savage country, but he must
have the flea with him, it was his prodigy
and bread-winner. How could he get it ? That
was not so easy. He strained all his powers
of thought, and then he said, ' Now I have
it ! '
' Princess -father ; vouchsafe me something
to do ! May I exercise the inhabitants of
this country in presentations, or
introductions ; that is what one calls
culture in the greatest countries of the
' And what can you teach me ? ' said the
father of the Princess.
' My greatest art,' said the Professor ' to fire a cannon, so that the
whole earth trembles, and all the nicest
birds of the air fall down cooked ! That
makes a noise ! '
' Come with the cannon ! ' said the Princess
But in the whole country there was no cannon,
except the one the flea had brought, and
that was too little.
' I will make a bigger one,' said the
Professor ; ' give me only the materials ; I
must have fine silk, needle and thread, rope
and cord, together with stomach drops for
the balloon they puff up, make lighter and
lift up ; they make the explosion in the
stomach of the cannon.'
All that he demanded he got.
The whole country came together to see the
big cannon. The Professor did not call
before he had the balloon quite ready to
fill up and to ascend.
The flea sat on the Princess's hand and
looked on. The balloon was filled up, it
bulged out and could scarcely be held, it
was so wild.
' I must take it up into the air, so that it
may be cooled, said the Professor, and took
his seat in the basket which hung under it.
' But I cannot manage to steer it alone. I
must have an experienced companion with me
to help me. There is no one here but the
flea who can do that ! '
' I am not willing to allow it ! ' said the
Princess, but passed the flea to the
Professor, who set it on his hand.
' Let go the ropes and cords ! ' said he. '
Now the balloon goes off ! '
They thought he said, ' Cannon ! '
And so the balloon went higher and higher,
up over the clouds, away from the savage
land. The little Princess, with her father
and mother and all the people, stood and
waited. They wait still, and if you don't
believe it, go to the savage land, where
every child talks about the flea and
the Professor, and believes that they will
come again when the cannon is cooled, but
they come not, they are at home with us,
they are in their fatherland, ride on the
railway, first class, not fourth ; they have
good fortune and a huge balloon. No one asks
how they have got the balloon, or from where
they have it ; they are well-to-do and
honourable people, the flea and the