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  1. The Princess on the Island
  2. The Little Wild Duck

The Princess on the Island

There once reigned a king in England, who had an only son. It chanced that on a time a picture of the princess of Denmark came into the young prince's hands, and from that moment on he had no peace: she and none other was the woman he wished to marry.

So he went to his father and told him that he loved the princess of Denmark above everything, and wished to marry her. His father was entirely satisfied. "If England and Denmark stand together, there is no power on earth that can stand against them," he said. He at once wrote a letter to the Danish king and asked his daughter's hand for his son, who would succeed him as king of England. But the Danish king wrote back that his daughter was still a child, and that at all events, she should never be queen of England. This made the English king angry, and he wrote again, and said that the Danish princess must become his son's bride, though blood be spilt as a consequence. Thereupon the Danish king answered that it should never happen so long as there was a drop of blood left in a Dane.

So war broke out. The English prince came to Denmark with a great army and besieged the capital. But the Danish king sent his daughter away to an island. He gave her seven maidens and a little dog to keep her company, together with supplies for seven years. Then he had the castle on the island walled up, so that no one could get in or out.

When seven years had passed, the English prince had captured the city and slain the king. He established himself in the castle, visited all the rooms, and also came to the princess's room. And there stood an ivory spinning-wheel whose spokes were of red gold. A fabric beautifully woven with birds, fishes and all sorts of beasts hung in the spindle; but it was unfinished. After the prince had the princess searched for and sought after for a long time, he bade proclaim throughout the country that she who could complete the fabric that hung from the spindle should be his queen. For he thought that the Danish princess would put in an appearance, once she knew she had nothing to fear from him.

Now there was a duke in the Danish land, whose daughter bore a close resemblance to the vanished princess, and who was a very skilful spinner. He told her to go to the castle and make the attempt; but the fabric had been woven with an art beyond her power to equal, and all that she wove turned out to be wrong.

In the meantime the princess, with her seven maids and the little dog, had been living in the walled-up castle on the island. They had eaten up their seven years' store of provisions, and began to suffer from hunger, so they tried to break through the wall; but it was slow work, and they were nearly dead of starvation, so little food was there left. Then, one after another, the seven maids who were with the princess leaped from the castle wall into the sea, that their mistress, whom they loved, might not perish of hunger. And with them went the little dog.

Meanwhile the princess killed mice in the castle, skinned them, hung up the skins and ate the flesh, and, just as the last of them was gone, she managed to break through the wall. Not far from the strand she saw a ship, waved to it and was taken on board. She was put ashore near her father's castle. Here she drew off her beautiful clothes, and wrapping herself in rags, went to the kitchen and asked whether they could use a scrub-woman. She made a good impression on the duke's daughter, and was engaged So now the Danish princess stood in the kitchen of her father's castle and did the most menial work. On Saturday the scrub-woman took her pail of water into the weaving-room. As she stood there, admiring the am ally woven fabric in the spindle, the duke's daughter said to her that she had never in all her life woven so difficult a pattern. But the scrub-girl answered she felt confident she could complete the work.

"Well, if you can do that, I will give you a hundred dollars and make you chamber-maid," said the duke's daughter.

The princess pulled out all the strands which the other girl had woven incorrectly, and then began to spin rapidly. The prince could hear the spinning-wheel humming till it echoed through the whole castle, and in the course of a few days he was informed that the fabric was completed. Then he came and examined it. He could find no fault with it whatever, and now had to keep his word and marry the duke's daughter, though he had his serious doubts as to whether she really was the Danish princess.

The Danish princess had owned a horse named Blanca. It had been left to its own devices during the seven years the war had lasted, and had become so vicious that two men had to lead it to water with strong poles. The wedding was to take place on a Sunday, and the prince had given orders that his bride was to ride to the church on Blanca; for well he knew that none but the Danish princess would dare to ride Blanca. The duke's daughter did not dare to do so. She told the real princess, who had become a scrub-girl, to take off her wretched clothes, and put on her own bridal gown, and to ride to church with the prince in her stead. As a reward she would give her another hundred dollars.

The prince came and called for the princess, and took her with him. First they came to a bridge that creaked and groaned. Then the princess said:

"Bridge, break not beneath the bride!

You were the king, my father's pride!"

And the bridge became quiet.

"What did you say, heart of mine?" asked the prince.

"Nothing, my lord!" answered the princess.

Then they came to a gate, and before it lay a dog on a chain. The dog barked and growled. Then the princess said:

"Dog, bark no more, but stand aside!

You were the king, my father's pride!"

The dog stopped barking.

"What did you say, heart of mine?" asked the prince.

"Nothing, my lord!" answered the princess.

They went on and came to a dike. Here the princess said:

"Below the dike the fish are gay,

And merrily in the water play.

Could red gold have bought the food they craved,

My seven maids I mourn had been saved!"

"What did you say, little heart of my heart?" asked the prince. "Nothing, my lord!" replied the princess. And they rode on.

Far off in the distance the princess could see the island where she had dwelt for seven years. Then she said:

"Grey mouse-skins hanging whence I fled,

I drew you off with fear and dread.

Had I not starved, I'd not have fed

On mice, instead of goodly bread!"

"What did you say, little heart of my heart?'; asked the prince.

"Nothing, my lord!" replied the princess.

At last they came to Blanca. Blanca kicked out, reared and was quite unmanageable. At last the princess said:

"Blanca, Blanca, kneel for me,

No other maid has ridden thee,

Save her you see!"

No sooner had the horse heard the voice of the princess than it knelt for her, and she could mount it.

"What did you say, heart of my heart!'* asked the prince.

"Nothing, my lord!" answered the princess. But the prince was happy, for now he knew that none other than the Danish princess was riding beside him. And when they reached the church the prince gave her his golden gloves, and made her vow that she, and she alone would give the gloves back to him should he ask for them.

Then they were betrothed, and rode back from the church to the castle. Here they were to change their clothes; and the princess stepped into the weaving-room while the duke's daughter stepped out in her stead. Now all thought there would be a great feast with many guests; but the prince declared that he did not feel just in the humor for a feast that day, and that the guests were to return on the morrow, when the wedding would be celebrated.

When evening came the prince and the duke's daughter went into the bridal chamber. Then the prince begged her to repeat to him what she had said on the bridge. The duke's daughter said that it was strange, she had forgotten everything that day; but she had a chamber-maid to whom she had confided all that she had said during the day, and she would be sure to know. She would ask her.

So the bride ran out to the princess, and said to her: "Listen, you little silly, what did you say on the bridge?" The princess repeated her words, and the duke's daughter returned to the prince and said:

"Bridge, break not beneath the bride!

You were the king, my father's pride!"

"Yes, that's what it was," said the prince, and she thought that the questioning was over. But the prince now asked her what was it she said to the dog. She told him that her heart was so taken up with love for him that she simply could not remember anything; but she would go at once to her chamber-maid and ask her. So she ran to the princess, and told her that her head would turn with all the speeches she was supposed to have made underway. "Now what was it that you said to the dog?"

" And the princess told her, and she went back to the prince and repeated:

Dog, bark no more, but stand aside!

You were the king, my father's pride."

"Yes, that's what it was," said the prince, "that is a wonderful chamber-maid you have."

The duke's daughter now thought that he would stop. But the prince also wanted to know what she had said at the dike. So she had to ask the princess again, and came back and told him:

"Below the dike the fish are gay,

And merrily in the water play.

Could red gold have bought the food they craved,

My seven maids I mourn had been saved!"

The prince said that her chamber-maid must have a good memory; but he still wanted to know what she had said when she looked at the island out in the sea. So once more she was obliged to go to the princess, very much annoyed at all the running to and fro she had to do. And she asked her: "What was it you said, you chatterbox, when you saw the island out at sea?" The princess did not like the way she addressed her; but kept her temper, and quietly repeated the words. And when the duke's daughter came back to the prince she had once more remembered what she had said:

"Grey mouse-skins hanging whence I fled,

I drew you off with fear and dread.

Had I not starved, I'd not have fed

On mice, instead of goodly bread."

"Yes, that's what it was," said the prince; and now she thought that he would at last content himself. But the prince still wanted to know what she said to Blanca. Why, that had also completely slipped her memory; but the chamber-maid would be sure to recall it, since she had told it all to her when she came out of church.

Again she ran to the princess, and if she had not been angry before she was decidedly angry now: what did she mean by all the speeches she had been reciting to the prince while they were underway! One might imagine that she, the duke's daughter, had nothing else to do but run back and forth between them. "Tell me at once, what sort of speech did you make to him when you were to ride Blanca?" The princess still kept her temper, and told her the truth. And when the duke's daughter had the answer she went to the prince and repeated it to him:

"Blanca, Blanca, kneel for me,

No other maid has ridden thee,

Save her you see!"

"Yes, that's what it was," said the prince. "Your chamber-maid has memory enough for two." So now the duke's daughter thought he would let her be. But no, the prince now insisted that she return to him the golden gloves that he had asked her to take charge of for him. She said that they were in her room, and that she would get them at once. When she came to the princess this time she was far more polite than before, and asked her for the gloves. But the princess said: no, she could not give them to her, since she had sworn an oath that she herself, and none other, would give back the gloves to the prince. The duke's daughter wrung her hands, and did not know what to do. Then the princess had an idea: they both would enter the bridal chamber, put out the lights, and give the prince his gloves; then she would slip from the room, and the duke's daughter would stay with the prince, and he would never notice the deception.

They went back together to the bridal chamber. The princess entered, put out the lights, and went up to the prince with the gloves. And then she wanted to slip from the room; but the prince held her arm, and said she would have to stay with him, and that whoever else might be in the room was to go out. In the morning the duke's daughter was sent back to her father; but in the castle they celebrated the wedding of the English prince with the Danish princess.

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The Little Wild Duck

THERE was once a woman who had three children; two of them were stepchildren and the other was her own child. Then the son went away to seek service, and came to the king's court, where he became a prime favourite. The daughters, however, remained at home with the mother. She treated her stepdaughter as unkindly as ever she could, and her main ambition was to take her life. Yet the girl was always good and well-behaved, a dear little thing.

One day the stepmother took her and placed her on the edge of the well, and told her to wind yarn, and as she sat there, working away, the stepmother came from behind and pushed her, so that she fell head over heels into the well. But there was not enough water in the bottom to drown her, and she kept looking around the sides of the well until she found an old, rusty door. She passed through it and on the other side found some little people, who were very busy, for it was baking day, and they had a hard time of it because they had a little child, ill and not at all strong, and could not attend to it properly because they had so much to do. So they asked the girl whether she would not mind the child for them a bit; since it was a shame that it should have to cry so. Surely, if they wished her to, said the girl. Well, if she would, said they, it would suit them very well.

So she took care of the child the whole day long, played with it, and lulled it to sleep, and the child was glad to be with her. In the evening the people said that now she could wish three wishes, because she had been so good to the little one. But she only wished to get out of the well, that was all the wish she had. So the women said since she would not wish for herself, they would wish for her, and she should be helped out of the well besides. So the first wish was, that whenever she took off her hood, and let down her hair, it would grow bright round about her, no matter how dark it might be. The next wish was, that whenever she opened her mouth and blew, a ring of gold would be blown out; and the third was, that if ever she were in danger of drowning, she should not sink, but float on the water in the shape of a little wild duck. When they had spoken her wishes, the people saw to it that she got out of the well, and so she came back to her stepmother.

"What! You're back again?" called out the latter. The girl blew in the air, and a number of beautiful golden rings fell to the floor, and lay there shining brightly. When the stepmother saw this she came running, and tried to pick them up; but the girl quickly picked them up herself, and put them in her pocket. In the evening, when it grew dark, she threw back her hood and let down her hair, and the room grew bright as day. Then her stepmother became more curious, and questioned the girl as to what she had done for the people down in the well, in return for such handsome gifts.

"I'll tell you what I did," said she. "They were baking down below there, and they had a little child, and I took care of it for them, and in return they wished three good wishes for me."

"Then my own daughter must go down tomorrow, and have three wishes granted her, too," said the woman. So the next morning she sent her daughter to the well; and while she was sitting on its edge and spinning, her mother ran up and pushed her in.

At the bottom of the well the girl looked around until she found the rusty door, and came in to the people who lived behind it. This day they were slaughtering and had their hands full. When she heard the child crying, she offered to mind it for them for a while, like her sister. But it was very restless, and she was unkind and angry with it, so that the child grew peevish and cried the whole time; and the more it cried, the more impatient the girl became, and slapped and cuffed it. In the evening she was also allowed to make three wishes, and when she only asked to be let out of the well, since she had had all she wanted of the life below, they said, "You shall surely get out again." And then they earnestly wished for her that whenever she took off her hood and let down her hair, all would grow dark about her, though it were bright daylight; and furthermore, that a fox-tail should grow out of her head, and the oftener it were cut off, the longer it should grow. And then the woman said, "And the third wish is, that whenever you purse your mouth and blow, a grey toad fall to the ground." The wishes had now been wished, and the people agreed that she must be helped out of the well, and so she came back to her mother.

"But what sort of a tail is that hanging from your head?" asked her mother. "We'll have to cut it off. " She took her scissors and cut off the tail it grew longer. Then she cut it again, but this time it grew so long it dragged along the ground after her, and seeing there was no help for it, she had to keep it. After that people called her "Foxtail."

The other little girl's brother served the king, and stood high in his favour. Every day, after dinner, he begged permission to go to the woods. This aroused the king's curiosity, and one day he followed him, in order to find out why he went to the woods every day. And he found that the young fellow had carved a beautiful picture on a tree, a picture of his sister. So the king asked him what sort of a likeness it was, and whether it were an idol to which he prayed? No, said he, it was his little sister at home, and she had a hard time of it because her stepmother treated her so unkindly. Therefore he went out into the woods every day, and prayed the good God might help her, and that life might be made easier for her. At the same time he told the king how beautiful she was, and at last the king said, that if she were so beautiful, her brother had better travel home and fetch her to court, for he might marry her.

So the brother started out, and on the road he bought handsome clothes for his sister, for well he knew that she had but inferior things to wear. And he had luck with his buying, for the new things fitted her to perfection, and she looked beautiful in them. And he delivered the message that she was to come to court in the king's service. Yes, indeed, said the stepmother, and she and Foxtail would go along with them. He could not very well forbid them to go, so all four of them started on their journey.

When they were out at sea for they had to take ship to reach the royal castle it stormed so that the brother came on deck, and said to his sister: "Take good care of yourself!" For the waves fell inboard, and swept the deck in a terrifying manner. But she could not hear what her brother said, for her stepmother had boxed her ears so severely that she was hard of hearing. So she asked her stepmother: "What did my brother say?"

"He said you were to take off your dress, and give it to my daughter to put on." Whatever her brother told her to do the girl did gladly. So she took off her dress, and exchanged it for that which Foxtail had been wearing. Not long after her brother once more cried: "Sister, take good care of yourself!"

"What did my brother say then?" she asked.

"He says that you are to take the jewels from your head, and give them to my daughter." Well, she was glad to do whatever her brother told her, she said, and took the jewels from her own head and put them on that of Foxtail. But they did not show to such advantage there because of the tail on her head. Then her brother called out once more to her: "Little sister, do take good care of yourself!"

"What did my brother say?"

"He said that you were to lay your head in my lap, so that I might comb your hair," said the mother, and the girl did so, since whatever her brother told her to do she was glad to do. That very moment, however, her stepmother threw her into the sea.

Yet she did not drown, but turned into a little wild duck, and swam after the ship.

When they landed, the king came down from the castle to meet them, and asked whether this was his sister. For now, of course, the brother had only his stepsister with him. And the king grew angry when he saw her, and said the brother should be cast into the serpents' den, and there the serpents should devour him. That was the punishment in those days for a person who had done some great wrong. So they cast him into the serpents' den as the king had ordered.

Now at nightfall there came a little wild duck, and swam up the drainpipe so that she reached the king's kitchen, and there she flung off all her feathers, and warmed her poor, naked little body by the fire. A little dog was sitting in the kitchen, and the duck went up to him and said:

"Rowzer, Towzer, under the bench!

Is the king in his castle asleep?

Is the old rogue asleep behind the stove?

Is my brother asleep in the serpents' den?

Is my sister Foxtail asleep, and her mother as well?"

Then she threw a rod to the dog, which he was to give her brother to ward off the serpents, and finally she blew out a golden ring for the kitchen-maid, because she had allowed her to warm herself by the fire.

Now as a matter of fact, an old rogue had been lying behind the stove; but he had been awake, not asleep, all the time, and listening. At last, when the duck had drawn on all her feathers again, she said, "I will come twice more, and if I am not delivered then, I will have to pass the rest of my life on the seashore."

The rascally old servant heard that, too; but he did not venture to tell the king, because if it did not turn out to be true, he was afraid he would also be cast into the serpents' den.

On the following evening the duck again appeared, swimming up the drainpipe to the kitchen as before. When she came into the kitchen she shook off her feathers, and said to the dog:

"Rowzer, Towzer, under the bench!

Is the king in his castle asleep?

Is the old rogue asleep behind the stove?

Is my brother asleep in the serpents' den?

Is my sister Foxtail asleep, and her mother as well?"

And at the same time she threw him a rod to give to her brother, so that he might ward off the serpents, and then she blew out a golden ring for the kitchen maid to reward her for letting her warm herself. At last she said, "Now I shall come once more, and if I am not released then, I will have to pass the rest of my life on the seashore."

The old rogue was lying behind the stove as before, and heard everything, and the next day he told the king all that had happened, and all that he had heard. So the king decided to lie behind the stove himself and listen, and if what he heard did not agree with what his servant had said, the latter would have to go into the serpents' den.

And at nightfall the little wild duck came swimming in through the head of the drain-pipe, as usual, and said to the dog:

"Rowzer, Towzer, under the bench!

Is the king in his castle asleep?

Is the old rogue asleep behind the stove?

Is my brother asleep in the serpents' den?

Is my sister Foxtail asleep and her mother as well?"

Then she threw a rod to the dog to give her brother so that he might ward off the serpents, and blew out a golden ring for the kitchen maid, because she let her warm herself. "Now I will never come back again, and will have to spend the rest of my life on the seashore," she said, and waddled along the floor as ducks do. But she had shaken off her feathers, as usual, when she came; and these the king had taken secretly, while she was going up and down, and now she needed her feathers and could not find them at all. So she began to complain bitterly: that now she did not even have her feathers, and she would be sure to freeze, since she could no longer come and warm herself in the kitchen. Yet the moment came when she had to go, and she was about to swim out through the drainpipe as usual, when the king seized her, and though she tried to escape, he held her firmly. Then she turned into a cheese, and when the king laid the cheese into the ashes of the hearth, the cheese turned into an eel. Then the king took a knife to cut off its head, when suddenly it was changed into the loveliest maiden he had ever seen. First of all they sent to release her brother from the serpents' den, where the serpents had done him no harm, because he had been innocent when cast into their lair. Then Foxtail and her mother were seized, and had to admit all they had done against the little wild duck, her brother and the king. And they were punished and came to an evil end.

But the king married the lovely maiden who had been the little wild duck, and her brother is in the king's service to this very day.

Notes

Contents


The Danish Fairy Book, ed Clara Stroebe, tr. Frederick Herman Martens, Danish folktales, fairy tales of Denmark, Literature  

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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