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  1. The Mill at the Bottom of the Sea
  2. Little May

The Mill at the Bottom of the Sea

Once there were two brothers who lived near one another. One was named Lars and he was rich, while the other was poor and was called Jack. The rich brother was very miserly as well as rich. It once chanced, not long before Christmas, that the poor brother came to the rich brother and asked whether he would not give him a few eatables as a contribution to his Christmas supper, seeing that he had so little at home and so many children.

"There you are again with another tale of woe," said Lars. "I suppose I cannot get rid of you, so there's a flitch of bacon for you, once and for all, and you can go to the devil with it!"

"Thanks ever so much," said Jack, "and that's what I'll do," for he was unsuspicious and trustful. So he loaded the bacon on his back and went. But instead of going home, he turned in the opposite direction, in order to inquire where he might find the devil.

He went a long way, and at last found an old man who was standing on a hill and digging.

"And where are you bound?" asked the man, "that you come this way this time of the day?" For it was already evening.

"Well," said Jack, "my brother told me I should go to the devil with this flitch of bacon; but I do not know where he is, and I see that I shall have my troubles finding him."

"Not at all," said the man, "it is easy enough to find the way to him. Just be kind enough to step down into the hole I have been digging here, it is deeper than you think, and keep on going till you meet something."

So the poor man wrapped up his bacon carefully, hugged it closely to him, and made himself as small as ever he could, for he thought he would be cramped in the hole; but there was so much room that a number of others could have gone along with him. At last he came to a frightful fire, burning in the middle of the ground, and so hot it could have roasted an ox. There he spied so many little devils that they were a sight to see. They ran around about the fire, and ran over to him, and wanted to know what he had in his bag.

"I have a flitch of bacon here," said he, "my brother gave it to me, and said that I should go to the devil with it; but now I do not know whether you want to buy it or not, for this is evidently where the devil lives."

Nothing could be better, said they, for bacon was just the kind of meat that they could use, for devils and swine had been living together since the days of the Christ. And they offered him a sort of coffee mill in exchange.

''But what am I to do with that?" he asked, "I have no coffee-beans to grind in it."

"If you have none, all you need to do is to think of grinding some," said they, "and then you will have them at once. But you do not have to grind coffee-beans; a mill such as this will grind out anything you want, and will keep on grinding as long as you wish. And when you think that you have enough and want to make it stop, you need only say three words to it - and the devil whispered something into his ear - "and then it will stop at once."

"Thank you kindly, and I'll bear them well in mind," said he, and left the devil, taking his mill with him.

When he came home to his wife it was late at night, and she was angry and began nagging him, "And where have you been, you silly Jack? Here it is past midnight, and we should have had a few bits of something to eat this Christmas Eve! You know that there's not a thing in the house, and I have been expecting you for an eternity, in constant fear that something might have happened to you."

"Now, dearest wife, do stop your talk," said he, "I must tell you that I really went to the devil, and there I got the mill that I have set on the table; that's a mill we can use, and we will give it a trial at once."

"That's all very well," said she, "but what we need most is missing, for we have no coffee-beans in the house."

"Oh, as to the beans, the mill furnishes those itself; that was part of the bargain!" said he.

"That is another matter. If you could get the mill to do that, it would be splendid, for we could have a cup of coffee. But what we really need more is a bit of bread and some candles, otherwise we will have to sit in the dark on Christmas night."

But the mill could grind out all these things, so he said, "Grind candles!" And at once the candles were ground out. They lit them, and then he had the mill grind bread, black bread first of all. The mill worked fast, one loaf after another tumbled out so quickly that in a short time he was able to say, "Now we have all the bread we need for a good while." Then the mill ground out fine white bread for their holiday dinner, and soon they had more bread than they needed.

"Is there anything else you need?" said he. "Tell me at once, since the mill is well under way now."

To tell the truth there was a good deal they needed, for as we have said Jack was as poor as poverty. So they ground out kitchen ware and furniture, pots and pans, and pitchers and jugs, as well as finer things of gold and silver. And they also ground out silver spoons, and goblets, and knives and forks, all of the purest silver.

"I think we will stop now," said his wife, "we already have so much that we can give a feast."

"Stop we shall," said he, and after the mill had once more thoroughly done its duty, he uttered the words agreed on and it stopped.

Then Jack nearly walked his legs off going around in the village inviting all to be good enough to come and visit his wife and himself on the day after Christmas. He invited the whole parish and all were surprised, for they knew he had scarcely enough salt for his soup, and thought he had gone out of his mind. He also went to his brother, thanked him for the help he had given him, and asked him to come to the feast he was giving the day after Christmas, together with his wife. The rich brother and his wife made a good pair, for she was quite as miserly as he was; but nevertheless she did not think it worthwhile going. There were others who thought the same, and they stayed home; but there were also many who came, and they stood open-mouthed when they saw the splendour and the abundance everywhere visible.

In the course of the afternoon, when Lars stepped out of the door, to see what sort of weather might be expected, he noticed a number of people going in and out of his brother's house. He kept turning it over in his thick head, and at last went in and told his wife what he had seen. She could not understand Jack's having so many guests, and they decided to step over for a moment, for Lars' wife was very inquisitive.

When they went in they opened their eyes wide, too, for there was not a house in the village so richly appointed. They were immediately asked to sit down to dinner, but when they were through, Lars spoke to his brother in the hall and asked him what it all meant, "You poor, needy devil, have you stolen it or borrowed it? Tell me where you got it all."

"Gladly," said Jack. "Do you remember, when you gave me the bacon for Christmas, that you told me to go to the devil with it? I took you at your word, and they took the bacon and gave me in exchange a mill that grinds out everything that one wishes and furnishes everything that one may need."

"That's a pretty untruth you are telling me," said his brother, "but let me have a look at your mill, and I will buy it from you."

So Jack showed it to him, "How much do you want for it?"

"Well, a mill like this is not cheap, as you may well imagine," said Jack. "It will cost you three hundred dollars. I really had no intention of selling it; but since you are my brother, you shall have it."

That was a great deal of money, and would he not sell it cheaper? No, that was his last word, he would not sell it for a shilling less; and besides he wanted to keep it for another six months, and keep it grinding out whatever he needed. And with that the rich man had to be content, for though he bitterly regretted having to pay so much money; yet he was still less inclined to look on quietly and see his brother keep the mill, for he was afraid that Jack might become as rich as he was.

It was not until fall that the mill was handed over to Lars, and he could take it home. Then he decided that his wife might just as well go out to work in the field with him from morning till night during the fall, instead of staying home, as usual, to cook the meals. That would be a great saving, for all that he need do would be to go home at noon, set the mill going, and the mill would grind out their dinner in no time. They agreed to have mush and herring the first day, since it was a long time since they had eaten any fresh herring. A little before noon the man ran home. He gave the mill a turn and said, "Mill, grind mush and herring for me!" The mill at once began to creak and quickly ground out mush and herring together. He put one keg after another under it, and in a short time all that he had were filled. Then he had the mill fill the tubs, "for we can use it for the pigs," thought he, and the mill kept on grinding. At last all his pails were full as well, and now he thought he had enough for the time being, and wanted to stop the mill. But the mill would not stop, for his brother had not taught him the words that would stop it. "I can hold the mill down," thought he, "it is not very large"; but by the time he had tired himself out, he was standing up to his waist in mush and herring.

His wife out in the field thought it strange that it took him so long to call her to dinner, and she went down the hill to see whether he were not standing outside the house beckoning to her. But he came running out of the yard, calling his hands to hurry back home and help him hold down the mill. By the time they got there, the mill had filled the whole farmhouse. A door burst and it all rolled out into the garden like a veritable flood, and made an enormous porridge outside. Then Lars began to feel somewhat uncomfortable, and it occurred to him that it might be best to send for his brother. His brother came, but he was willing to stop the mill only on condition that it be returned to him.

While they stood and bargained, the mill kept on grinding, until the whole yard was well-nigh full. Now Lars was forced to save his property and gave up the mill. So the mill was stopped, and his brother took it away with him. And then they had to work themselves weary cleaning up the yard and the house. Lars and his hands were kept busy all fall clearing out all the herring and mush, and it was not pleasant work; for it soon began to smell so horribly. But the worst of it was that the whole fall was gone, and Lars could not get his crops into the barn, which meant a great loss for him. And when the winter came, his cattle starved and he lost them, one after another, and in short, the end of it all was that from a rich man he grew to be a poor one.

But the other brother increased his possessions and became a well-off man. Then he no longer cared to remain in his little house; and he ground out a splendid dwelling for himself on a hill that overlooked the sea, and it had a roof of pure gold. There he lived, and all those who sailed past at sea set their course by his roof, so brightly did it shine; and all who passed near shore visited him in order to see his house.

One day a Norwegian ship captain, who sailed the seas with cargoes of salt, visited him and asked him how he had become so wealthy. Well, he was not so wealthy if it came to that; but he had a mill that could grind out anything he wanted. A mill like that would be worthwhile having, said the skipper, and could it grind salt?

"Of course it can," said Jack, and set it in motion, and the skipper could see that it ground out fine salt, or coarse salt as one might prefer. So he took a great fancy to the mill, and insisted on buying it.

"It would be tremendously useful to me and would save me long sea voyages, going and coming, for it is a long way to the salt cliffs."

Well, he could have it if he paid a thousand dollars for it, and so the bargain was closed without much discussion. The skipper took the mill with him; but what had happened to the rich man also happened to him, for he had not even thought of having Jack tell him how to stop the mill when he had once started it.

When he got out to sea, he decided to set the mill to work, and first it ground out fine salt, and then coarse salt, when he had enough of the fine. But when he had kept it grinding until he had no more than a single plank above water, he wanted to stop it. He seized it with both hands, and tried to check it, but in vain, for the mill acted as though it did not understand him, and kept on grinding just as hard as before.

Then he quickly called together his whole ship's company; yet though they put forth all their strength, they could not stop the mill. Then they began to throw out the salt, but they could not throw it out as fast as the mill ground it out, and the end of it all was that the ship became top-heavy and sank. The mill sank along with it, and had still not been stopped, so that it is running yet, and the proof of it is: no matter how much fresh water runs into the sea, the sea stays as salt as ever it was.



Little May

Once there was a little girl who herded sheep, and her name was May. Now the Prince of England decided, one day, that he would set forth and hunt up a wife for himself, and he passed by little May, as she was sitting by the edge of the road, herding her sheep. So he greeted her and said, "Good-day, little May, and how are you?"

"I am very well, for though I wear rags on rags until I marry the king of England's son, then I shall wear gold on gold."

"That will never happen, little May."

"Yes, indeed, it will happen."

So the prince travelled on to woo a bride, and he was not refused; but it was agreed that the bride should first visit him in order to see whom she was marrying. And when the foreign princess came, her way led her past little May, who was herding her sheep, and she greeted her and said, "How is the prince of England?"

"He is very well, but he has a stone set in the threshold of his door that tells everything one has ever done."

So the bride journeyed on. And when she came to the prince and trod on the stone, the stone said:

"There's no truth in what she said

For she already has been wed!"

When the prince heard that, he would hear no more of the princess, since he wished to marry a maid and not a widow, and the princess had to return whence she came.

Again the prince set forth to hunt up a bride, and once more his way led him past little May. He greeted her and said:

"Good-day, little May. And how are you today?"

"I am very well, for though I wear rags on rags until I marry the king of England's son, when I marry him I shall wear gold on gold."

"That will never happen, little May."

"Yes, indeed, it will happen."

Then he journeyed on, and again his suit was successful. The foreign princess was willing to marry him, and it was agreed that she should go and visit him; for he always made this a condition.

Now on her way to the prince she passed little May, So she asked after the English prince, and May answered, "He is well, but he has a stone set in the threshold of his door that tells everything one has ever done."

"When she entered the prince's home and trod on the stone, the stone said:

"There's no truth, in what she said

Twice already she has wed!"

That would not answer, and so the prince did not wish to have anything more to do with her. She was welcome to go back whence she came, for the prince had made up his mind to marry a maid and not a widow twice over.

So once more he set forth to hunt for a bride, and as usual, his way led him past little May. He greeted her and said, "How are you, little May:

"I am very well, for though I wear rags over rags until I marry the king of England's son, when I marry him I shall wear gold over gold."

"That will never happen, little May."

"Yes, indeed, it will happen."

Thereupon the prince went his way, and came to the princess whom he wished to make his bride. His suit was successful, and it was agreed that she should come and visit him, and with this consolation he travelled back home again.

Now when the new bride came to visit him, her way took her past little May, and she asked after the prince of England.

"Yes, he is well, but he has a stone set in the threshold of his door that tells everything one has ever done."

The princess went on, and when she trod on the stone, the stone said:

"There's no truth in what she said

Thrice already she has wed."

This was going from bad to worse, and the princess was at once sent home again.

So once more the prince had to start out on his wanderings; for he had made up his mind to take a wife. On the way he passed little May, who was herding her sheep.

"Good-day, little May, and how are you?"

"I am well, for though I wear rags over rags until I marry the king of England's son, then I shall wear gold over gold."

"That will never happen, little May."

"Yes, indeed, it will happen."

He travelled on and found a fourth princess; sued for her hand and was informed that he might have it. It was agreed that she was to pay him a visit, and then he travelled home again.

When the princess went to visit him, she inquired how the other three princesses had fared with the prince, and she had no mind to be the fourth one rejected. When she passed little May she first asked her how the king of England's son was.

"Oh, he is well, but he has a stone set in the threshold of his door that tells everything one has ever done."

So the princess asked whether she could not visit the prince in her place. They could change clothes, and she would mind the sheep for her in the meantime.

Little May was quite willing, and was dressed in the princess's clothes, and thus went to visit the prince. When she trod on the stone, the stone said:

"This maid who visits you Is lovely, pure and true!"

"Well, at last the right one has come," thought the prince. "I have found the maid I have wished for so long." And in order that there might be no mistake, and that he would be sure to recognize her again, he wove a ring in her hair, and allowed her to travel home again for the present; for she was not to return until the wedding.

When little May had been dismissed by the prince, she changed clothes once more, and the princess went back to her people, and was glad that everything had gone so smoothly, for she was as much a widow as the rest.

When the time came for the prince to go to his bride, and celebrate the wedding, he passed little May as usual. He greeted her and said:

"How do you do, little May?"

"I am very well, for though I wear rags over rags until I marry the king of England's son, then I shall wear gold over gold."

And as the king's son stood there and looked at her he noticed something gleaming in her hair. His curiosity aroused, he looked more closely to see what it might be, and found his own golden ring, which he had woven into it. Then he knew that she and no one else had visited him, and since he knew that she was a pure and good maiden, and he had already been deceived so many times, he determined to take her straight home with him and marry her. As for her sheep, anyone who felt so inclined might look after them. So they were married, and that is how it happened that little May secured the king of England's son after all, and could wear gold over gold.

Notes to Danish folktales



 The Danish Fairy Book, ed Clara Stroebe, tr. Frederick Herman Martens, Danish folktales, fairy tales of Denmark, To top    Section     Set    Next

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