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There once lived an old man and his wife in a dirty, tumble-down cottage. It was not very far from the splendid castle where the king and queen dwelt. In spite of the wretched state of the hut, the old man was rich, for he was a great miser, and lucky too, and would often go without food all day sooner than change one of his beloved gold pieces.

But after a while he found that he had starved himself once too often. He fell ill, and had no strength to get well again, and in a few days he died, leaving his wife and one son behind him.

The night after he died, his son dreamed that an unknown man appeared to him and said: "Listen to me; your father is dead and your mother will soon die, and all their riches will belong to you. Half of his wealth is ill-gotten, and this you must give back to the poor from whom he squeezed it. The other half you must throw into the sea. Watch, however, as the money sinks into the water, and if anything should float, catch it and keep it, even if it is nothing more than a bit of paper."

Then the man vanished, and the youth woke up, recalling the dream. It troubled him greatly. He did not want to part with the riches that his father had left him, for he had known all his life what it was to be cold and hungry, and now he had hoped for a little comfort and pleasure. Still, he was honest and good-hearted, and if his father had come wrongfully by his wealth he felt he could never enjoy it, and at last he made up his mind to do as he had been bidden. He found out who were the people who were poorest in the village, and spent half of his money in helping them, and the other half he put in his pocket. From a rock that jutted right out into the sea he flung it in. In a moment it was out of sight, and no man could have told the spot where it had sunk, except for a tiny scrap of paper floating on the water. He stretched down carefully and managed to reach it, and on opening it found six shillings wrapped inside. This was now all the money he had in the world.

The young man stood and looked at it thoughtfully. "Well, I can't do much with this," he said to himself; but, after all, six shillings were better than nothing, and he wrapped them up again and slipped them into his coat.

He worked in his garden for the next few weeks, and he and his mother contrived to live on the fruit and vegetables he got out of it, and then she too died suddenly. The son felt sad when he had laid her in her grave, and with a heavy heart he wandered into the hills without known where he was going. By-and-by he began to get hungry, and when he saw a small hut in front of him, he knocked at the door and asked if they could give him some milk. The old woman who opened it begged him to come in. She added kindly that if he wanted a night's lodging he might have it without having to pay for it.

Two women and three men were at supper when he entered, and silently made room for him to sit down by them. When he had eaten, he began to look about him, and was surprised to see an animal sitting by the fire. The animal was different from anything he had ever noticed before. It was grey and not very big; but had large and very bright eyes, and it seemed to be singing in an odd way, quite unlike any animal in the forest. "What is the name of that strange little creature?" he asked.

They answered, "We call it a cat."

"I should like to buy it – if it does not cost too much for me" said the young man; "it would be company for me."

They told him that he might have it for six shillings, if he cared to give so much. The young man took out his precious bit of paper, handed them the six shillings, and the next morning bade them farewell, with the cat lying snugly in his cloak.

For the whole day they wandered through meadows and forests, till in the evening they reached a house. The young fellow knocked at the door and asked the old man who opened it if he could rest there that night, adding that he had no money to pay for it. "Then I must give it to you for free," answered the man, and led him into a room where two women and two men were sitting at supper. One of the women was the old man's wife, the other his daughter. He placed the cat on the mantel shelf, and they all crowded round to examine this strange beast, and the cat rubbed itself against them, and held out its paw, and sang to them; and the women were delighted, and gave it everything that a cat could eat, and a great deal more besides.

After hearing the youth's story, and how he had nothing in the world left him except his cat, the old man advised him to go to the castle that was only a few miles away, and take counsel of the king, who was kind to everyone, and would certainly be his friend. The young man thanked him, and said he would gladly take his advice; and early next morning he set out for the royal castle.

He sent a message to the king where he asked for an audience, and was speedily told to go into the great hall. There he would find the king.

The king was at dinner with his court when the young man entered, and he signed to him to come near. The youth bowed deeply, and then gazed in surprise at the crowd of little black creatures that were running about the floor, and even on the table itself. Indeed, they were so bold that they snatched pieces of food from the king's own plate, and if he drove them away, they tried to bite his hands so that he could not eat his food, and his courtiers were no better off.

"What sort of animals are these?" asked the youth of one of the ladies sitting near him.

"They are called rats," answered the king, who had overheard the question, "and for years we have tried some way of putting an end to them, but have not succeeded, as you can see. They come into our very beds."

At this moment something was seen flying through the air. The cat was on the table, and with two or three shakes a number of rats were lying dead round him. Then a great scuffling of feet was heard, and in a few minutes the hall was clear.

For some minutes the king and his courtiers only looked at each other in astonishment. "What kind of animal is that which can work magic of this sort?" asked he. And the young man told him that it was called a cat, and that he had bought it for six shillings.

And the king answered: "Because your cat has freed my castle from the plague which has tormented me for many years, I will give you the choice of two things. Either you shall be my Prime Minister, or else you shall marry my daughter and reign after me. What will you choose?"

"The princess and the kingdom," said the young man.

And so it was.




Icelandic folktale illustrated, Bukolla

Once on a time a peasant and his wife lived with their son in a little farmhouse. Their only livestock was a cow called Bukolla.

The cow calved, and the peasant's wife herself sat up with it. As soon as the cow had recovered, the wife went back to the farmhouse. She came out again shortly afterwards to see how the cow was, but it had disappeared. Both the peasant and his wife started to hunt for the cow; they searched far and wide for a long time, but without success. They were very cross and ordered their son to go off and not to let them set eyes on him again till he came back with the cow. They fitted him out with new shoes and a store of provisions, and he set off without much idea of where to go.

After walking for a long, long time, he sat down to eat, and said, "Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." Then he heard Bukolla mooing far, far away.

Again he walked for a long, long time, and again he sat down to eat and said, 'Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." Then he heard Bukolla moo a little closer than before.

Once more he walked for a long, long time, till he came to the top of a very high cliff. Once more he sat down to eat and said, "Bukolla, moo now if you are alive anywhere." This time he heard the cow moo right underneath him. He climbed down the cliff till he came to a very big cave. He went inside the cave and there he found Bukolla tied to a beam. Untying her, he led her out behind him and set off for home.

When he had gone some distance, he saw an enormous giantess coming after him, and a smaller one with her. The big giantess was taking such long strides that he could tell that she would catch up with him in no time. So he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?'

Bukolla answered, "Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground."

He did so; then Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I now declare: turn into a river so great that nothing can cross it but a bird on the wing." At once the hair turned into a vast river.

When the giantess came to the river she said, "That's not going to help you, my lad. Dash home, lass, and fetch my father's big bull." The smaller giantess went off and came back with a huge bull, which promptly drank up the whole river.

Then the peasant's son again saw that the giantess would catch up with him directly, because she took such big strides. So again he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?'

"Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground," Bukolla replied. And when he had done so, Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I declare: turn into a blaze so fierce that none can get over it but a bird on the wing." And at once the hair turned into a blaze of fire.

When the giantess came to the fire she said, "That's not going to help you, my lad. Go and fetch my father's big bull, lass." The smaller giantess again went off and came back with the bull, which put out the fire with all the water he had drunk out of the river.

The peasant's son now saw once more that the giantess would soon catch him up, because she took such long strides. So once more he asked, "What are we to do now, Bukolla?" and once more Bukolla replied, "Take a hair out of my tail and lay it on the ground." Then Bukolla said to the hair, "Moo, I say: turn into a mountain so big that no one can cross it but a bird on the wing."

The hair turned into a mountain so high that the peasant's son could see nothing over it except clear sky.

When the giantess came to the mountain, she said, 'That's not going to help you, my lad. Fetch my father's big gimlet, my lass!" The smaller giantess went away and came back with the gimlet. The big giantess then bored a hole in the mountain, but once she was able to see through it she became too impatient. She squeezed herself into the hole, but it was too narrow, so that she stuck fast and finally turned to stone, and there she remains to this day.

The peasant's son reached home safely with Bukolla, and his parents were overjoyed.

Icelandic folktales, notes



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