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  1. Peter Redhat
  2. Strong Jack

Peter Redhat

There was once a princess in England. She was so beautiful that none might compare to her, and she actually had it printed in the papers. But at the same time she was so haughty that she scarcely recognized herself. The king in Denmark had a son, who also had a good opinion of himself, and it occurred to him to set forth and sue for the princess' hand. So he took ship and set sail with a great retinue. When he reached London, he went to the castle and told the king of his intentions. The king said he had no objection, save that the princess must have a free hand in the matter, and so they called her. But when the prince made his proposal, she threw back her head, and said she no more wished to have any dealings with him than with her father's blacking-brush or blacking. And with that he was at liberty to march off.

Now he decided that he would play a trick on her in payment for her answer. So he went back to his ship, and had his things brought ashore and placed in a room which he had hired, and instructed his people to sail home and tell his father he would not be back for a time.

Then he told his servant to go to town, find the shabbiest vagabond to be met with, and change clothes with him. The servant went up and down the streets, and there saw many a poor devil; but it was his task to find the most wretched-looking of all. At last he heard voices in a cellar and went down. There sat a fellow called Peter Redhat, and he was the most ragged man the servant had seen thus far. The servant asked whether he would change clothes with him. But Peter Redhat grew furious, because he thought the other wished to make a fool of him. Yet he was quite in earnest, and so the change was made. Peter had an enormously large, broad-brimmed hat, known throughout the city; and this the servant got as well. Back he went to the prince with these clothes, and all was satisfactory.

In the meantime the prince had visited a goldsmith, and had ordered a golden distaff, a golden spindle, and a golden yarn-reel, and when they were ready he put on Peter Redhat's clothes and went with his golden distaff to the king's garden. There he sat down and began to spin beneath the princess' windows. When she awoke and saw Peter Redhat sitting there, spinning with a golden distaff, she sent down one of her maids to him, with the princess' compliments, to ask whether she could not buy the distaff from him. Yes, it could be done, but he wished to speak to her himself. She did not much care to do so, yet she had never seen anything quite so handsome as the distaff, and she wanted it so much that she made up her mind to go down to Peter. Then she asked him what he asked for the distaff. All he wanted was permission to sit in her room for a night. The princess was half inclined to be angry, and turned on her heel with the words, "No! Fie, for shame, that such a pig should sit in my room! That cannot be." But that was the only way she could obtain the distaff, said he, for he would not sell it for money. The princess looked at the distaff, and her wish to possess it grew stronger, and the longer she looked the more she wanted it; till she felt that she simply could not go on living without the distaff. So she discussed with her ladies-in-waiting whether the matter might be arranged. They decided that it might, if he were willing to promise to remain seated in one and the same place, and they remained on guard in the room overnight.

So she received the distaff, and at evening Peter Redhat came and sat him down on a chair near a little table. There he sat all night long, and did not move from the spot. In the morning he had to leave, so he went down and took his golden spindle. The princess slept late, and when she awoke she saw Peter Redhat sitting in the garden, reeling the yarn that he had spun the day before. When the princess saw the spindle she sent down one of her maids, with her compliments, to ask whether she could not buy the spindle from him. Yes, the princess could buy it, but he wished to talk to her himself. So she came down to him, for she wanted the spindle very much, and it seemed to her that it must be joined to the distaff.

"What does it cost?" she asked him. It cost no more than the permission to sit over-night by the side of her bed.

"Fie, for shame! Peter Redhat sitting beside my bed," cried she, "that would never do!" But she could get the spindle no other way. So she went in to her ladies-in-waiting, and asked whether they did not think that he might be allowed to sit beside her bed, if all twelve of them sat there too, and three or four lights were placed on the table, because she had such a desire to obtain the spindle. And they decided that if they put the table, with five lights on it, close to the bed, and then stationed themselves around the table, close to the bed, it might answer. So she got the spindle, and Peter Redhat came that evening and sat down in a chair beside the bed in which she lay. But the princess did not sleep much that night, because Peter Redhat sat there and looked at her the whole night through.

When day dawned he had to leave again, and this time he went home and took the golden bobbin, for now he had to wind the yarn that he had reeled the day before. The princess slept somewhat late; but when she awoke and came to the window, there sat Peter Redhat, diligently winding yarn. She at once fell in love with the bobbin, for she had never yet seen one so beautiful, and if she could obtain it she would have the complete spinning-set. She sent down one of her ladies, with her compliments, to ask whether she could not buy the bobbin. Yes, surely she could buy the bobbin, but he himself wished to talk to her. So she had to come down to Peter for the third time.

"What does the bobbin cost?" she asked him. No more than permission to lie at the foot of the princess' bed that night.

Fie, for shame, that Peter Redhat should lie at the foot of her bed! That could never be! And she grew angry. But there was no other way of getting the bobbin, and so she consulted her ladies-in-waiting about it. They thought that if she placed twelve chairs along the sides of the bed, and one of them were to sit on each chair with a lighted candle, it might be done, for, of course, they knew what the princess wanted. The princess received the bobbin and at evening, when she had gone to bed, Peter Redhat came. She lay as close as she could to the wall, and he was ordered to lie as closely as he could against the foot of the bed. Then he began to undress, and he flung one garment here and another there, and his big red hat he threw in front of the door. Then he lay down and at once began to snore, so that the walls shook.

Now the ladies-in-waiting had been on guard for two nights in succession and, one after another, they fell asleep, and the candles fell from their hands, and went out and at last there was only a single light left burning all the other ladies were sleeping. Then the princess said that since he was sleeping so very soundly, the light might be put out, if only the ladies would be ready to come should she call them. But the ladies were not called, and all of them slept so very late, right into the next forenoon, that the king himself came to wake his daughter. But when he opened the door he could not get in, because of Peter's hat, which he first had to shove aside. The king recognized the hat at once, and became furiously angry. Peter Redhat had to get up, into his clothes and be off as soon as possible; and then came his daughter's turn. She was banished from the country and had to leave that very day. So she had to make the best of it and see that she got away. Some money was given her, but it was far too little, since she now had to look out for herself, and was not used to travelling alone.

When she drove off, Peter Redhat sat up behind, and when she stopped at an inn to remain overnight, Peter Redhat stopped there too. She saw to it that she had the best of everything, but Peter Redhat lived as simply as possible.

On the following day she drove on, and so it went for several days; while Peter always saw to it that he kept pace with her. In the course of time the princess' money came to an end, and she had to go on foot. Peter took a couple of good sandwiches with him and when the princess started out, he started out at the same time. He passed her and said good-day, but she did not answer him, and would not even glance at the side of the road on which he walked. In the evening they reached an inn, and she was given the best room, while Peter had to be satisfied with one less than second-best. On the following day he passed her again, and when he said good-day to her, she was at last able to look around and thank him. Then he asked her whether she would not like to have a sandwich. Yes, she would, for her money was going fast; soon she would be unable to pay for a night's lodging. Then Peter said he would pay for her. They came to an inn and left it again the following morning. Then he told her that he could not keep on paying her way because his money was also coming to an end. They came to a river and had to cross, and Peter paid for both. When they had crossed, it was evening, and again they had to look for a place where they might spend the night. They were in the prince's own country by this time, and they came to a forest close to his father's castle. Now the princess had to thank God that she had Peter Redhat; for there was no one else on whom she could lean, and they found a tiny hut in the woods, where they stayed.

"What shall we do now? We have not a single shilling left!" She did not know what to suggest. "Then there is nothing left for us to do," said he, "but wander about and beg; for, of course, we cannot steal."

So they agreed to meet at the hut once or twice a day. She made a little bag to hold meal, and grits and bread-crusts, and then they separated and each went his way for the day.

Of course the prince went home to the castle, and brought back a large purse of gold in his pocket; but she wandered about and gathered such scraps as the people gave her, and in the evening they met in the hut. He asked her what she had taken in, and she showed him: a few pieces of bread, a little meal and grits, and a few bits of meat.

"Oh," said he, "you do not bring back much when you go begging! Just see what I have!" And he drew the big purse with all the money in it from his pocket, and said that it was what he had collected that day.

"But it would be best for us to take service somewhere."

Yes, she was willing, was her answer.

"Well, what work can you do?" he asked her.

She would prefer to find a place as a seamstress.

He did not know whether she could manage to get a place as a seamstress, but he did know where they would take her in to wash dishes. The fact was that the following day there was to be a great banquet at court, because the prince had returned and, to judge by what the people said, there would be a wedding.

Then he made her believe that he had found employment at the castle as a woodchopper, and so he would be able to have her out in the kitchen. "But could you not arrange to bring me a pot of soup at dinner-time from what is left on the table!":

"Yes, but how am I to manage to carry it to you without attracting attention?" said she.

"You can tie a cord around your waist, under your apron, and hang the pot on it."

She thought she could manage this, and he told her which way to go in order to meet him.

In the morning she went up to the castle and began her work. They gave her a pair of old kettles to scour, and she nearly scoured them to pieces; but the prince had told the cook in advance that a girl would put in an appearance at a certain time, and that he was to give her plenty to do, but she was not to be otherwise molested, and they were not to push, beat or handle her ungently. When the court had eaten dinner, the kitchen maid asked permission to go to town for a while; and filling a little pot with soup and meat, she tied it under her apron, and started out to find Peter Redhat. She had to pass several doors at which guards were standing, who invited her to come in and dance with them; for on that day whoever wished to was allowed to enter the great hall and dance. But she excused herself, saying that she had no time to spare. At last she saw the door through which Peter had told her to pass, and there some one seized her, and dragged her into the hall where the banquet was in progress. The prince came up at once, and led her out to dance, and she had to yield, willy-nilly. But she did not recognize him, for he was wearing his princely clothes. The music began, and the prince danced with her so lustily that the dumplings and scraps fairly rolled all around the floor. Everyone wanted to know whose they were, because a number of others were also dancing. But she at once admitted that she was guilty. She had a sweetheart, she said, who was employed in the castle, and she had been on her way to him with a little pot of soup. Then the king asked her which way she had been told to take. Her sweetheart had told her she should pass through the door at the right-hand side of the castle gate. Then the king asked her again whether she would recognize the man again if she saw him. Indeed she would recognize him, for they had travelled many miles together.

"Then pick him out, "said the king, " for here are all the people who are employed in the castle." No, he was not among them, said she. But the king kept on talking to her, and meanwhile the prince stole out of the room, put on the old clothes he had worn while they had been together, went outside and walked past the window at which she stood. Then she pointed him out and said, "That is my sweetheart walking there." Thereupon he came in to them, and the king himself could hardly recognize him as he now appeared. He said to the princess, "Do you not think it might have been better for you had you taken the king's son out of Denmark, of whom you made so much fun?"

"Ah, do not speak of it," said she, "I have trouble enough as it is."

"Yes, but if he is still willing to take you, do you think he would be good enough for you?"

"It would be wonderful, no doubt, but that opportunity will never recur."

''And yet it might," said he, "if you promise me that you will never again be ruled by arrogance and haughtiness."

Then he told his father and guests that this was the princess for whose sake he had travelled to England; and that he had played a trick on her because she had been so arrogant when he had sought her out the first time, and had not been willing to so much as look at him. But now he was convinced that she had changed, and that the time had come when she should know who he really was, and be raised from her low estate. So they brought her garments, and he laid aside Peter Redhat's rags, and the wedding was held at once. Since he was the crown-prince of the land, he became king after his father's death and she, as was no more than right, became queen. But her parents always held a grudge against him because he had humiliated her.



Strong Jack

Once there was a man whose wife presented him with a son, and since he had heard that children who are weaned late grow to be exceptionally strong, he did not allow his son to be weaned for full ten years. When the ten years were up, he took him to the woods to see how strong he had become. There he told him to take hold of a tree and said: "Now, Jack, see if you can pull it up!

The boy gave the tree a good tug, so that it trembled from top to bottom, but still he could not pull it up. Then his father went back home with him, and Jack was not weaned for full ten years more.

When the second ten years were up, his father took him out into the woods again, and now he could pull up the tree with ease. Then his father thought that now his son was strong enough to help him at work. But no one was willing to stay on the farm when they saw how strong Jack was. When he mowed corn he tossed it so far from him that it was impossible to gather it up again, and so it went with everything else he did.

At last his father said to Jack one day, "Stop!"We cannot go on in this way. I cannot keep you here at home; you will have to go out into the world, and take service where there is more room, and where people have more to break and to eat than we have here."

So Jack wandered out into the world to look for work, and came to a place where he heard that the pastor's farm-hand had just left, and where he could probably find employment, though the pastor was a terrible miser. Jack paid no attention to this; but went to the pastor and asked him whether he would engage a man as a farm hand. The only wages he asked at the end of the year was the right to give the pastor three good cracks over the back. As soon as the pastor understood that he did not have to pay him any money, he at once agreed to this condition.

The first day Jack had taken service, he was told to bring water and firewood to the kitchen. But the pails seemed too small for him; he could do nothing with them, he said; so he found two enormous soup-kettles and fetched water in those, and brought in a whole cord of fire-wood at once. When the cook saw this she was much frightened, ran to the pastor, said the farm-hand he had engaged was a strange fellow, and told her master what he had done. Then the pastor's heart leaped to his mouth at the thought of the wages he had agreed to pay, and he said, "Wait a bit, I'll send him to the devil's wood. He is not likely to come back, and then we'll be rid of him." And he went out and said to Jack, "You must drive out to the forest tomorrow and fetch fire-wood."

"Very well, master," said Jack, and the next morning he hitched up early and drove to the wood. When he arrived he first cut down a tree, split it up, and then loaded it on a wagon. But he was no more than half -through before every corner of the wood was swarming with devils, who began to attack him. But Jack knew how to help himself. Beside him stood an enormous tree with a mighty crown. He pulled it up by the roots, turned it upside-down, and using it as a broom, he swept every last devil away.

When he had finished his work, he loaded the big tree on his wagon. But now the load was so heavy that the horses could not move the wagon from the spot, so he unhitched them, loaded them on the wagon as well, and drew it home himself. If the pastor had not been alarmed before, he was alarmed now, when he saw Jack coming back in such style. He had to think of another way out, so he told Jack he had made a contract with the devil, and that Jack must fetch it out of hell. If he did so, he would give him a wagonload of money. For he thought to himself, "If he is once in hell, it is not likely that he will get out again."

Jack did as he was told, went to hell, and insisted that the devil give him the pastor's contract. Then the devil dragged up an iron ring and said to Jack, "Now we'll see which of us can throw this iron ring the highest. If you throw it higher than I do, then I'll give you the contract; but if I throw it higher than you do, then I'll keep the contract, and you will have to stay here as well." So the devil threw the ring up into the air first, and it flew a long time; but at last it came down again. Now it was Jack's turn; but Jack was well aware that he was not strong enough to cope with the devil. He did not betray his thoughts, however, took the ring in both hands and spread his legs as though he really intended throwing it into the air. But suddenly he stopped and turned it around as though he were thinking of something.

"What is on your mind?" asked the devil.

"Why," said Jack, "I was only thinking, suppose I do throw the ring high, up to the very Ancient of Days. You know who He is, sitting up above; why then, of course, you would never see your ring again."

"No, no, you must not do that!" said the devil, "I would rather give you the contract." So Jack took the contract and went back to the miserly pastor, who was frightened when he saw Jack once more. But whether he liked it or not, he now had to give Jack a wagon-load of money, and Jack drove away with it.

On his way he came to a smithy, stopped and asked the smith whether he could make him a cane.

"No," said the smith, "that is not in my line of work, for I'd have you know that I do not trouble with odds and ends."

"You'll not need to do so in this case," answered Jack, "for the cane that I want must weigh four hundred pounds, three hundred for the shaft, and a hundred for the handle."

"I've never had that much iron in all my life," said the smith.

"Oh, well," said Jack, and he took a handful of money from the wagon and offered it to the smith, "here is money to buy the iron. I'll be back in eight days to get my cane."

Then he drove home to his father, who was very glad to see him again, and shed no tears over all the money he brought along. Jack gave it all to him, for he cared nothing for it himself. His father would have been pleased to have had Jack stay at home with him and enjoy himself, but this Jack did not want to do. When the eight days were up, he said farewell to his father, called at the smithy for his cane, and again wandered out into the wide world. After he had wandered for a while, he came to a bridge and there stood a man breaking stone. With every blow he smashed a rock as large as a mill-stone.

"That fellow is not half-bad, " thought Jack, and he went over to the man and asked him, "Why do you stand here breaking rock!"

"Well," said the man, "one has to make a living some one way or another."

"There's not much pleasure making it that way, "said Jack, "you will do better if you come along with me."

The stonebreaker had no objection, for he had neither wife nor children, and so he joined Jack. After they had wandered on for a while, they came to a forest. There stood a man chopping wood, and with each blow he split an enormous block.

"That fellow is not half -bad either," thought Jack, went over to the man, and asked him why he stood there splitting wood.

"Well, one has to have something to do," said the wood-chopper.

"Yes, but it is hard work," answered Jack, "you can find something better to do if you come along with me."

So he went along with him. After they had wandered for quite a time they reached a dense forest, and in the middle of the forest they came on a handsome castle.

"That suits me very well," said Jack, "let us go in." So they went in, and passed through one handsome room after another, but without finding a single human being. At last they came to a room in which hung a number of beautiful muskets and other weapons.

"Let us each take a musket," said Jack, "and go out and shoot some game. Then we can have a meal, for it looks as though we would have to provide our own meals." Each took a musket, and went hunting, and after they had secured a quantity of game, they agreed that the woodchopper should stay at home and prepare the meal; while his two companions went after more game. So the wood-chopper stayed at home, cooked the soup, roasted the meat, and prepared everything against the return of the others.

Suddenly an old woman came in through the door, and when she saw the food she said to the woodchopper, "Oh, give me a little something to eat, too!"

"Why, certainly," said the woodchopper, and he ladled out soup for her, and gave her some of the roast, and she ate. But when she had eaten, she drew forth a cudgel and began to beat the woodchopper lustily. At first he struck back at her; but she was the stronger, and beat him until he lay on the ground and could not move. Then she opened a trap door in the floor, threw the woodchopper down, and closed it again.

When the others came back there was the dinner all prepared; but the woodchopper was nowhere to be found. So they decided that he had grown weary of adventure and had run away, ate and then went to bed.

On the following day the stone-breaker was to stay at home and cook, while Jack went abroad. In brief, he had the same experience as his companion, and when Jack came home, there was dinner all prepared, and some of it already had been eaten, but there was no stone-breaker.

"They are a fine brace of comrades!" said Jack.

The following day he had to get his dinner and cook it as well. When he had finished, the old woman came and asked for a bit to eat. He had no objection, he said, and they sat down at the table together and ate; but when they were through, the old woman at once pulled out her cudgel and began to thrash Jack lustily. Jack was not lazy either; he seized his cane and began to thrash her. He noticed that each of her blows raised a lump; and that while each of his raised a lump as well, she had a box of salve hidden beneath her apron, and when she rubbed it on her bruises they at once disappeared. Jack saw that under these circumstances he was bound to be the loser in the end. So he closed in on her, tore the box from her, and after he had given her a few more cracks with his cane, she had come to the end of her tether and had to beg for mercy. Then Jack told her he would not stop thrashing her until she told him what she had done with his two comrades. She had to tell the truth, and show him the trap door. He lifted it and drew them both out, alive, though badly beaten. But he took the salve and rubbed them with it, and they were cured at once.

Meanwhile, the witch had disappeared. When his comrades had recovered their spirits somewhat after their fright, Jack said, "After all, it might be worth our while to examine the castle a little more closely, for there may be more in it than we suspect." So they went from one room to another, and at length came to a place where there was a deep hole in the ground, like an abyss. "We must find out what this is!" said Jack. So they took a long rope and tied a basket to it, and agreed that first the wood-chopper and then the stonebreaker should be let down, and should then come up and let Jack know what there was below. And when they got down and had looked around a bit, they came to a door. This they opened and found a room in which sat two beautiful princesses. When they saw the strangers they cried out to them to beware, that the witch had gone out for a moment; but that when she returned they would have a hard time of it. Then they were frightened, ran back to the basket, and gave Jack the signal to pull them up again. When they got up they told Jack what they had seen.

"I must go down," said Jack; and had them let him down by the rope. Then he went to the door and opened it. In the meantime the witch had come home, but this did not trouble Jack. He thrashed her until she allowed him to take the two princesses along with him. So they went to the basket, and first the one princess was drawn up, and then the other. But once they had been drawn up, the woodchopper and the stone-cutter decided to leave Jack down below. For if he came up, thought they, he would want one of the princesses, and one of them would have to go short. So they let down the basket, and when they had pulled it up half-way, and noticed how heavy it was, concluding Jack was probably in it, they cut the rope and let it fall. But they had made a mistake, after all, for Jack had only laid his cane in the basket, and it fell down and lay at his feet. As he now realized how matters stood, and that he could not get up again, he turned around and set forth on new voyages of discovery.

Soon he came to a gate heavily barred with iron, behind which sat a third princess combing the hair of a troll with seven heads. The troll was asleep, but Jack beat on the iron gate with such power that it burst open, and the troll awoke. But Jack was not idle: he pounced on him, and struck off all seven of his heads at a single blow. Then he took the princess's hand, told her to follow him, and both went back to the witch, whom Jack thrashed until she promised to bring the princess and himself to the surface of the earth once more. The princess now wished to return to her parents, and the witch had to attend to that; but Jack would not go with her. Before they parted the princess gave Jack two gold pieces, one shaped like a half-sun, the other like a half-moon.

Then Jack wandered out into the world again, and after he had travelled for a while, he came to a city whose king had offered a great reward for the man who could make a half -sun and a half-moon. So Jack went to an old goldsmith, and said he was a journeyman goldsmith, and could easily make a half-sun and a half-moon. The goldsmith needed only go to the king and tell him he would undertake the job, and that the two should be ready in three days' time. The old goldsmith did so, and then wanted Jack to begin work; but he would not bother with work; he ran about, killed time, and came home in the evening singing. The old goldsmith told his wife all about it, and felt very badly; for he was convinced that Jack was a swindler who wanted to take advantage of him. But on the last morning he suddenly heard such a rumbling and thundering in the smithy that his hair stood on end.

"Well, it seems as though he is beginning to work after all," said the goldsmith. "I must go down and see how he gets along.?" And when he came to the smithy, there stood Jack beating the smithy floor with his cane till the sparks flew, and the whole smithy seemed to be aflame.

"What are you doing there?" asked the goldsmith, horrified.

"I have finished now," said Jack. "Do you want to take the half-sun and the half-moon up to the castle?"

"No, thank you," said the smith, "I have worried enough about the whole affair; you had better take them there yourself."

"Well, that can be done," said Jack, and went up to the castle.

When he said that he had come with the half-sun and the half -moon, he was led straightway before the king, who sat with the queen at table, together with the three princesses who had been in the troll's castle. But the very first persons Jack saw when he stepped into the room were the two men who had betrayed him: the woodchopper and the rock-breaker. They were also seated at the table, had become great lords, and married the two princesses. Jack now showed the two gold-pieces that the princess had given him. And when the third princess, the loveliest of all, saw them, she at once recognized her deliverer, told the king and queen the whole story, and said she would marry no one else. So Jack got the princess, and they had a big wedding, and everyone in the castle had a jolly time, except the two former friends of Jack.

Jack and his princess stayed at the castle, and perhaps they are living there this very day.

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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