Twelve by the Mail
By Hans Christian Andersen
It was bitterly cold ; the sky gleamed with
stars, and not a breeze was stirring.
Bump ! an old pot was thrown at the
neighbours' house doors. Bang ! bang ! went
the gun ; for they were welcoming the New
Year. It was New Year's Eve ! The church
clock was striking twelve !
Tan-ta-ra-ra ! the mail came in. The great
carriage stopped at the gate of the town.
There were twelve persons in it ; all the
places were taken.
' Hurrah ! hurrah ! ' sang the people in the
houses of the town, for the New Year was
being welcomed, and they had just risen with
the filled glass in their hand, to drink
success to the new year.
' Happy New Year ! ' was the cry. A pretty
wife, plenty of money, and no sorrow or care
This wish was passed round, and then glasses
were clashed together till they rang again,
and in front of the town gate the
post-carriage stopped with the strange
guests, the twelve travellers.
And who were these strangers ? Each of them
had his passport and his luggage with him ;
they even brought presents for me and for
you and for all the people of the little
town. Who are they ? What did they want ?
and what did they bring with them ?
' Good morning ! ' they cried to the sentry
at the town gate.
' Good morning ! ' replied the sentry, for
the clock struck twelve.
' Your name and profession ? ' the sentry
inquired of the one who alighted first from
c See yourself, in the passport,' replied
the man. ' I am myself ! ' And a capital
fellow he looked, arrayed in a bear-skin and
fur boots. ' I am the man on whom many
persons fix their hopes. Come to me
to-morrow, and I'll give you a New Year's
present. I throw pence and dollars
among the people, I even give balls,
thirty-one balls ; but I cannot devote more
than thirty-one nights to this. My ships are
frozen in, but in my office it is warm and
fortable. I'm a merchant. My name is JANUARY,
and I only carry accounts with me.'
Now the second alighted. He was a merry
companion ; he was a theatre director,
manager of the masque balls, and all the
amusements one can imagine. His luggage
consisted of a great tub.
' We'll knock more than the cat out of the
tub at the Shrovetide sports,' said he. '
I'll prepare a merry tune for you and for
myself too. I have the shortest lifetime of
my whole family, for I only become
twenty-eight. Sometimes they pop me in an
extra day, but I trouble myself very little
about that. Hurrah ! '
' You must not shout so ! ' said the sentry.
' Certainly, I may shout ! ' retorted the
man. 'I'm Prince Carnival, travelling under
the name of FEBRUARY '
The third now got out. He looked like
Fasting itself, but carried his nose very
high, for he was related to the ' Forty
Knights ', and was a weather prophet. But
that 's not a profitable office, and that 's
why he praised fasting. In his buttonhole he
had a little bunch of violets, but they
were very small.
' MARCH ! MARCH ! ' the fourth called after
him, and slapped him on the shoulder. ' Into
the guard-room ; there is punch ! I can
But it was not true ; he only wanted to make
an APRIL fool of him ; for with that the
fourth began his career in the town. He
looked very jovial, did little work, but had
the more holidays.
' Up and down it goes with one's humour ! '
said he ; ' now rain, now sunshine. I am a
kind of house and office-letting agent, also
a manager of funerals. I can both laugh and
cry, according to circumstances. Here in
this box I have my summer wardrobe, but it
would be very foolish to put it on. Here I
am now ! On Sundays I go out walking in
shoes and silk stockings, and with a muff !
After him, a lady came out of the carriage.
She called herself Miss MAY. She wore a
summer costume and overshoes, a light green
dress, and anemones in her hair, and she was
so scented with woodruff that the sentry had
' God bless you ! ' she said, and that was
How pretty she was ! and she was a singer,
not a theatre singer, but a singer of the
woods, for she roamed through the gay green
forest, and sang there for her own amusement.
' Now comes the young dame ! ' said those in
And the young dame stepped out, delicate,
proud, and pretty. It was easy to see that
she was Mistress JUNE, accustomed to be
served by drowsy marmots. She gave a great
feast on the longest day of the year, that
the guests might have time to partake of the
many dishes at
her table. She, indeed, kept her own
carriage ; but still she travelled in the
mail with the rest, because she wanted to
show that she was not high-minded. But she
was not without protection ; her elder
brother JULY was with her.
He was a plump young fellow, clad in summer
garments, and with a Panama hat. He had but
little baggage with him, because it was
cumbersome in the great heat ; therefore he
had only swimming-drawers, and those are not
Then came the mother herself, Madam AUGUST,
wholesale dealer in fruit, proprietress of a
large number of fishponds, and land
cultivator, in a great crinoline ; she was
fat and hot, could use her hands well, and
would herself carry out beer to the workmen
in the fields.
' In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread,' said she : ' that is written in the
Book. Afterwards one can have dancing in the
greenwood, and the harvest feasts ! '
She was a thorough housewife.
After her, a man came out of the coach, a
painter, Mr. Master-colourer. The forest had
to receive him ; the leaves were to change
their colours, but how beautifully ! when he
wished it ; soon the wood gleamed with red,
yellow, and brown. The master whistled like
the black magpie, was a quick workman, and
wound the brown green hop plants round his
beer-jug. That was an ornament for the jug,
and he had a good idea of ornament. There he
stood with his colour pot, and that was his
A landed proprietor followed him, one who
cared for the ploughing and preparing of the
land, and also for field sports. He brought
his dog and his gun with him, and had nuts
in his game-bag. ' Crack ! crack ! ' He had
much baggage, even an English plough ; and
he spoke of farming,
but one could scarcely hear what he said,
for the coughing and gasping of his
It was NOVEMBER who came. He was very much
plagued by a cold, a violent cold, so that
he used a sheet and not a
pocket-handkerchief, and yet, he said, he
was obliged to accompany the servant girls
to their new winter places. He said he
should get rid of his cold when he went out
wood-cutting, and had to saw and split wood,
for he was master-sawyer to the firewood
guild. He spent his evenings cutting the
wooden soles for skates, for he knew, he
said, that in a few weeks there would be
occasion to use these amusing shoes.
At length appeared the last passenger, the
old Mother with her fire-stool. The old lady
was cold, but her eyes glistened like two
bright stars. She carried a flower-pot with
a little fir tree.
' This tree I will guard and cherish, that
it may grow large by Christmas Eve, and may
reach from the ground to the ceiling, and
may rear itself upward with flaming candles,
golden apples, and little carved figures.
The firestool warms like a stove. I bring
the story-book out of my pocket and read
aloud, so that all the children in the room
become quite quiet ; but the little figures
on the trees become lively, and the little
waxen angel on the top spreads out his wings
of gold leaf, flies down from his green
perch, and kisses great and small in the
room, yes, even the poor
children who stand outside, singing the
carol about the Star of Bethlehem. '
' Well, now the coach may drive away ! '
said the sentry : ' we have the whole twelve.
Let a new chaise drive up.'
'First let all the twelve come in to me,'
said the captain on duty, e one after the
other. The passports I will keep here. Each
of them is available for a month ; when that
has passed, I shall write their behaviour on
each passport. Mr. January, have the
goodness to come here.'
And Mr. January stepped forward.
When a year is passed I think I shall be
able to tell you what the twelve have
brought to me, and to you, and to all of us.
Now I do not know it, and they don't know it
themselves, probably, for we live in strange