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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. The Three Wedding-Guests
  2. The Fox and the Hare
  3. The Brave Flute-Player
  4. Hop-o'-My-Thumb

The Three Wedding-Guests

In a certain village there once lived three dogs that used to stick together. One day they were taking a stroll when they heard there was to be a wedding celebration and that everyone in the village was invited.

Soon the smell of cooking and baking of all sorts of good food wafted in the breeze from the whole length of the village. The three dogs talked about how they best should go to the wedding to see if anything was left for them. They found it best not to go all three at once, but singly, one after the other, to avoid drawing much attention.

The first dog started off and made for the kitchen of the house. There he snatched up a great piece of meat and was about to make off with it when he was caught; He got a sound thrashing, and the meat was snatched out of his teeth.

He returned to his companions as hungry as he had left them. They eagerly asked him what had happened to him, but the dog was so ashamed that he did not tell that all he had got was a beating. He only said, "One must be very sharp and able to put up with both hard and soft."

When the other two dogs heard this, they imagined there was a vast variety of things to be had at the wedding and that many pieces, hard and soft, of flesh and bone, fell to the lot of those who attended. So the second dog ran away to the wedding as fast as he could. He too made his way into the kitchen and snatched up what came first. But he was seen before he got out of the kitchen. A saucepan of boiling-hot water was flung after him and hit him and scalded him somewhat, although he tried to shake off the water at once.

He hid his pain and made his way back to his comrades. "It is very hot in the kitchen. One ought to be able to bear both cold and heat."

This made the third dog believe that the guests were changing meals from warm food to dessert or cakes. Fearing to lose his chance, he ran off as quickly as he could in the hope of getting there before the sweets and the dessert were laid on the table. But he had scarcely walked into the house, when he was detected, and his tail shut in between the door and door case. He could neither walk backwards or forwards, and had to endure much whipping pain too. He only escaped by leaving the skin of his tail behind him.

"Well, how did you manage at the wedding?" asked both of his companions, chuckling to themselves. The third dog, worst-served of all, put his tail between his legs as well as he could and then answered, "One should be able to spare hair at such a place as that!"

The three dogs considered what good the wedding soup, the wedding meat and the wedding cake had done them, and concluded they had had quite enough of wedding-cookery.

[Mot. K 1022]

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The Fox and the Hare

A fox and a hare were travelling together in the wintertime. No herbs were to be found in the fields, and they saw nothing they could eat. "This is hungry weather," said the fox to the hare; "we must go begging."

"Yes, it is," answered the hare, "it is hungry everywhere."

While they were thus grumbling and trudging along, they saw at a distance a country maiden walking along with a basket in her hand. From thie basket the wind brought to the noses of the fox and the hare the delightful smell of new bread.

"Here's a chance for us!" exclaimed the fox. "Hare, lie down and pretend to be dead. Then the girl will set down her basket and come and pick you up for the sake of your skin, to make gloves of it. Meanwhile I will snatch up the basket and run away with it."

The hare followed this advice and the fox hid himself behind a snow-drift. A little later the girl came by and saw the hare stretched out all fours. She set her basket down and stooped to take up the dead animal. At the same moment the fox bolted out and snatched the basket by its handle. He ran off, closely followed by the hare, who had suddenly come to his feet again.

The hare soon was aware that the fox did not have in mind to share anything from the basket with him, but but he said nothing until they came to a small fish-pond. Then he said to the fox, "Would it not be nice to get some fish to eat with our bread? Then we could feast like great folks! Hang your tail down a little below the water and then the fish will lay hold of it, for they have not much to eat at this season. Make haste, or else the pond will freeze over!"

The fox did not suspect any trick, and dipped his tail in the water. He could feel it was on the point of freezing as he put his tail in it. Soon the ice had formed, and his tail was set fast.

Then the hare sat down in front of the fox, opened the basket and calmly ate the loaves that were in it. As he finished each loaf he said to the fox, "Wait a bit and it will thaw; wait till spring-time and it will thaw!"

When he had eaten all the bread he ran away, leaving the fox in a rage.

[AT 1* + 2]

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The Brave Flute-Player

Once on a time there was a merry musician. He was a master of the flute and made his living by travelling about the country playing tunes in towns and villages he passed through.

One evening he was glad to get a lodging in a farm-house, for it was too late to go on to the next village. He was very kindly received. The farmer gave him a good supper in return for the tunes he played on his flute.

Some time during the evening the musician chanced to look out at the window. By the light of the moon he saw the ruins of a fine old castle. "What old castle is that and who owns it?" he asked the farmer.

The farmer in reply told him a long story about how a very rich count had lived there many, many years ago very rich, but very covetous and miserly too. He had been a tyrant to his tenants, had given alms to none of the poor on his estate or elsewhere. At last had died without heirs, for he could not afford the luxury of a wife, as he said.

After his death the estate fell to his next of kin, but when he came to the castle, he could not find a single penny of the dead count's riches. People liked to think that a great treasure was hidden somewhere, but no one had hit on the right place. And besides, many of those who had entered the castle to search for the money had never shown up again. Therefore the ruler of the province had forbidden anyone to go within the bounds of the castle, and all the people round were warned not to go there.

The musician listened very attentively to all this, and when the farmer had ended his tale, he told the farmer that he had a mind to enter the ruins, granted he would not get afraid of meeting whatever he might find there. The farmer tried hard to persuade him not go there at night. He entreated and threatened, but the musician wanted to go there, and go there he did.

Two of the farm-servants had to take lanterns and accompany the musician to the ruined castle. As soon as they arrived at the gates, he sent them both back with one of the lanterns. The other he took in his hand and went up the steps to the main door. He went in and found himself in a spacious hall with doors on all sides of it. He opened one of them and came into a room. There he set his light on a fine old table, took out his flute and started to play.

The farmer meanwhile had been quite unable to go to bed out of anxiety for his guest's safety so he placed himself at an opened window towards the castle. When he heard the tunes on the flute, he was relieved and thought his guest was safe.

But as his clock struck eleven, the music stopped. At once the farmer imagined that when the clock struck, his guest had been seized by some evil spirit.

But the musician had rested in order to have something to eat, for he had not eaten much at the farmer's table. He went into the next room to see if there was something eatable there. He found a saucepan full of uncooked lentils, a pan of water, some salt and a flask of wine.

He poured the water on the lentils, added some salt and made a fire on the hearth to cook his food over. While the soup was boiling he drank the wine and played some more tunes. Then when the lentils were done enough, he poured them into a dish that stood ready on the table and made a hearty meal.

While he was eating, he looked at his watch and found it was just eleven. In a few minutes after the door suddenly opened and two tall men appeared. They carried a frame between them, with a coffin placed on the frame. They set this without a word on the table before the musician. He was not the least disturbed by it. Then the two lanky men left as silently as they had come.

As soon as they were gone, the musician hastily stood up and opened the coffin. Within it lay a withered, little old man with long grey hair and beard. He did not seem to be quite dead, so the musician took him out and laid him by the fire. The warmth quickly revived the man.

The musician gave him some lentil-soup, and the old man seemed to revive as he ate it, and said to the musician, "Come with me."

Taking his lantern, the musician did as he was told and following the old man down a long flight of steps until they came to a spacious cavern far underground. A great heap of money was lying there. Stopping before it, the old man said to the musician, "Divide this heap into two equally big portions and if one piece is left over, you will pay with your life!"

The musician laughed at the threat, but nevertheless set about the task. Quickly counting the money, he laid it in two equal heaps. But he found one piece over. He looked for a while at this solitary piece, but he soon thought out what to do: Taking out his pocket-knife, he placed it edgeways on the coin and then split the coin with a hammer into two halves. Then he threw one half on one heap of money and the other on the other heap.

As he did so the old man exclaimed, "You have saved me! I was doomed to watch my treasure for a hundred years, unless anyone should come and manage to divide the heap into two equal portions. All who have tried and given up before you have lost heir lives. But now that you have succeeded one heap is yours and the other half is for the poor."

With these words the old man disappeared. At the same time the musician went up the steps to the room where they had enjoyed lentil soup, took out his flute and played a series of merry tunes on it.

The farmer heard him again and was glad that his guest was alive and playing. As soon as day broke, he went to the castle - anyone could go there in the daytime - and congratulated the musician for having survived the night in the castle.

The musician told the farmer all that had come his way, and when he had told his tale, he went down into the cavern and brought up the gold. Half of it he gave to the poor. With his own half he built himself a good castle on the site of the ruined one and there he lived for the rest of his days, healthy and happy.

[AT 326]

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Hop-o'-My-Thumb

Once on a time there was a poor basket maker. He and his wife had seven sons, each smaller than the next. The seventh was not much more than a finger's length, so he was called Hop o' my Thumb. He did grow a bit later on, but not so very much, and he kept his name of Hop o' my Thumb. However, he was a clever, artful boy, quicker witted than all his brothers put together.

One year the parents of these seven children became very poor; for basket-making and straw-weaving are by no means such good and certain employments as baking bread or killing fat calves. They did not know what to do to get food for their seven boys, who were all blessed with good appetites. So one night, when they had put their children to bed, the husband and wife decided to take their boys into the wood, to the spot where they gathered rushes to make baskets of. At that spot they would secretly leave their children.

But Hop-o'-My-Thumb chanced to lie awake that night and heard what his parents planned. The rest of the night he did not sleep at all; he was trying to find out how to escape the impending danger and to save his brothers and himself.

Early in the morning Hop-o'-My-Thumb got up and went to a stream that ran close by the house, filled his little pockets full of small white pebbles and returned home as quietly as he went. He did not say a word to his brothers about what he had overheard last night.

Soon the basket-maker and his wife called to their children to come along with them into the forest. Hop-o'-My-Thumb lagged behind, for small as he often got tired before the others. But he was secretly dropping pebbles as he walked, so that he might find the path home again.

When they reached the destined spot, the parents slyly slipped away without their children noticing it.

But after a short time the young ones discovered that they were alone. Then all raised a loud and dreadful outcry, except Hop-o'-My-Thumb, He only laughed and said to his brothers, "There, there, do not howl so frightfully. We will soon find the way!"

Then Hop-o'-My-Thumb went in front, and not behind, and looked for white pebbles as he walked, and found the right path.

Meanwhile the parents had reached home. There they found to their surprise that a neighbour had visited their cottage and paid an old debt. Gold money was lying in an old box he had left. They hurried to buy foodstuff; so much of it that their table groaned underneath it all. But when they sat down to eat, they felt terrible remorse at how that had treated their children. The wife began to lament bitterly. "Our dear children," she cried, "If they had been here now; all of them might eat as much as they liked. But perhaps the wolves have already eaten our dear children!"

"Here we are, mother!" cried Hop-o'-My-Thumb. He had come to the cottage and overheard his mother's lament. Opening the door, in he trotted with his brothers, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven!

They had brought their good appetites with them, and the richly spread table invited to a feast. Everyone rejoiced, and so long as the money lasted all of them they lived very well.

However, after some time, when they had used up all the money, the basket-maker and his family were poor again. In their distress in the basket-maker and his wife were tempted to leave the children alone in the forest again. But Hop-o'-My-Thumb luckily overheard this second time too, and wanted to gather white pebbles as he had done the first time.

Early in the morning he went downstairs. He had in mind to slip out and fetch some pebbles; but this time the door was bolted, and Hop-o'-My-Thumb could not reach so high. So he had to device another plan, and therefore put his breakfast in his pocket instead of eating it. He wanted to drop crumbs as he went along.

The children were left to themselves, and this time Hop-o'-My-Thumb could not find the way home, for the birds had picked up all the crumbs. His brothers took to howling out loud, but they still had to walk on in the wood till it was dark.

When night fell on, the seven brothers slept on a mossy bank under a wide-spreading beech-tree.

As soon as daylight appeared, Hop-o'-My-Thumb climbed up the tree to see how the land lay. At first he saw nothing but forest trees and boughs, but then he detected there was a little cottage in the middle of the forest. He climbed down from the tree and walked in the direction of the cottage, and his brothers followed him. After struggling through many thickets of bramble bushes and briars, they all saw the house ahead among the trees. They went up to it and one of them knocked at the door. A woman opened it and Hop-o'-My-Thumb asked her if she could take them in, for they had lost their way and did not know where to turn.

"Oh, you poor children!" cried the woman and then let the brothers in. But she warned them that they were in the house of an ogre who liked to eat little children. This was a terrible situation!

The children trembled like aspen leaves when they heard they might be eaten up instead of getting food themselves when what they wanted was something to eat. However, the woman was kind-hearted; she gave them some food and hid them in a safe place.

Soon afterwards they heard heavy footsteps and a loud knocking at the door. The ogre had come. As soon as he came in he sat down to the table and began to eat, and drink a lot of wine. When he was satisfied, he called to his wife, "I smell human food!"

He soon looked about till he found the seven brothers. They were half-dead with terror when the ogre began to whet his knife to kill them. But his wife talked him out of it by saying they all needed to be fattened first, and especially the youngest.

Hence, the young ones were put to bed together. In the same room was another bed, a huge one. The seven daughters of the ogre slept there, and they were about the same size as the boys. They each wore a crown of gold. Hop-o'-My-Thumb had noticed that. Instead of going to sleep when his brothers did, he slipped out of bed and gently took the crowns from off the sisters' heads and placed them on the heads of his six brothers and himself. Instead of the crowns they got the night-caps the brothers had been furnished with.

While Hop-o'-My-Thumb was doing this, the ogre had been drinking heavily. It made him feel so savage and murderous that he rose from the table, took his knife and stepped softly into the sleeping-room. There he meant to chop off the heads of the seven brothers. But it was pitch dark in the room.

As he was stumbling about, he knocked against a bed. "Aha!" he cried as he felt the crowns on the heads of those lying in it, "I nearly made a fine mistake and killed my seven daughters instead of those seven young rascals!"

So saying, he groped about the room till he came to the other bed and felt only night-caps on the heads of the seven sleepers. Then he killed all of them in a minute before he lay down and went to sleep.

As soon as the ogre began to snore, Hop-o'-My-Thumb woke his brothers and led them out of the house into the forest. But there they wandered up and down for hour after hour, but they did not find a way back home.

The ogre woke up as morning dawned and asked his wife to go and have a look at his catch the night before.

She thought he wished her to wake up the boys and went at once to the room. But when she saw their seven daughters had been killed, she fell senseless to the floor at the dreadful sight. Some time later the ogre began to wonder what kept his wife and went to see.

When he understood what he had done he put on his seven-league boots in a hurry. The boots carried him two miles a step, so he made tremendous speed when he went to find the brothers.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb was the first to see him coming. Luckily there was a cave close by. He and his brothers took shelter in it. In a minute or two afterwards the ogre came up to the spot, but he did not see them anywhere.

All the running had made the ogre weary, so he threw himself down for a nap on the rock above the cave, and was soon fast asleep. While he snored loudly, Hop-o'-My-Thumb slipped out of his hiding-place and succeeded in pulling off the wonderful boots after a great deal of tugging. The wonder-boots used to shrink or expand to the size of the feet of those who wore them, so when Hop-o'-My-Thumb put them on, they formed themselves to his feet.

With the boots on his feet he managed to get his brothers away from there. They grasped one another tightly, and with the help of the boots they soon reached home. There their parents welcomed them all back.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb told his father and mother to take good care of his brothers while he went to seek his fortune in the seven league boots. Then he took one stride and got to the top of a hill. With another stride he was out of sight.

Hop-o'-My-Thumb bow made his fortune with the help of the seven league boots. He went on many long and dangerous journeys in the service of many good masters. No one on horseback or foot could catch up with him on his journeys.

[AT 327 B]

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