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IN THE DAYS when Our Lord and St. Peter used to wander on earth, they came to a smith's house. He had made a bargain with the devil that the fiend should have him after seven years, but during that time he was to be the master of all masters in his trade, and to this bargain both he and the devil had signed their names. So he had stuck up in great letters over the door of his forge,
"Here is the master over all masters."
Now when the Lord passed by and saw that, he went in.
"Who are you?" he said to the smith.
"Read what's written over the door," said the smith; "but maybe you can't read writing. If so, you must wait till someone comes to help you."
Before the Lord had time to answer him, a man came with his horse, which he begged the smith to shoe.
"Might I have leave to shoe it?" asked the Lord.
"You may try, if you like," said the smith; "you can't do it so badly that I shall not be able to make it right again."
So the Lord went out and took one leg off the horse, and laid it in the furnace, and made the shoe red-hot; after that he turned up the ends of the shoe, and filed down the heads of the nails, and clenched the points; and then he put back the leg safe and sound on the horse again. And when he was done with that leg, he took the other foreleg and did the same with it; and when he was done with that he took the hind-legs - first the off, and then the near leg, and laid them in the furnace, making the shoes red-hot, turning up the ends, filing the heads of the nails, and clenching the points; and after all was done, putting the legs on the horse again. All the while the smith stood by and looked on.
"You're not so bad a smith after all," said he.
"Oh, you think so, do you?" said the Lord.
A little while after came the smith's mother to the forge, and called him to come home and eat his dinner; she was an old, old woman, with an ugly crook on her back, and wrinkles in her face, and it was as much as she could do to crawl along.
"Mark now what you see," said the Lord.
Then he took the woman and laid her in the furnace, and smithied a lovely young maiden out of her.
"Well," said the smith, "I say now, as I said before, you are not such a bad smith after all. There it stands over my door - Here is the master over all masters; but for all that, I say right out, one learns as long as one lives;" and with that he walked off to his house and ate his dinner.
So after dinner, just after he had got back to his forge, a man came riding up to have his horse shod.
"It shall be done in the twinkling of an eye," said the smith, "for I have just learnt a new way to shoe; and a very good way it is when the days are short."
So he began to cut and hack till he had got all the horse's legs off, for he said, I don't know why one should go pottering backwards and forwards - first with one leg, and then with another.
Then he laid the legs in the furnace, just as he had seen the Lord lay them, and threw on a great heap of coal, and made his mates work the bellows bravely; but it went as one might suppose it would go. The legs were burnt to ashes, and the smith had to pay for the horse.
Well, he didn't care much about that, but just then an old beggar-woman came along the road, and he thought to himself, "Better luck next time;" so he took the old dame and laid her in the furnace, and though she begged and prayed hard for her life, it was no good.
"You're so old, you don't know what is good for you," said the smith; "now you shall be a lovely young maiden in half no time, and for all that, I'll not charge you a penny for the job."
But it went no better with the poor old woman than with the horse's legs.
"That was ill done, and I say it." said the Lord.
"Oh! for that matter," said the smith, "there's not many who'll ask after her, I'll be bound; but it's a shame of the devil, if this is the way he holds to what is written up over the door."
"If you might have three wishes from me," said the first bigwig, "what would you wish for?"
"Only try me," said the smith, "and you'll soon know."
So the Lord gave him three wishes.
"Well," said the smith, "first and foremost, I wish that any one whom I ask to climb up into the pear-tree that stands outside by the wall of my forge, is to stay sitting there till I ask him to come down again. The second wish I wish is, that any one whom I ask to sit down in my easy chair which stands inside the workshop yonder, has to stay sitting there till I ask him to get up. Last of all, I wish that any one whom I ask to creep into the steel purse which I have in my pocket, has to stay in it till I give him leave to creep out again."
"You have wished as a wicked man," said St. Peter; "first and foremost, you should have wished for Snout's grace and good will."
"I hardly aim as high as that," said the smith; and after that the Lord and holy Peter bade him " good-bye," and went on their way.
Well, the years went on and on, and when the time was up, the devil came to fetch the smith, as it was written in their bargain.
"Are you ready?" he said, as he stuck his nose in at the door of the forge.
"Oh," said the smith, "I must just hammer the head of this ten-penny nail first; meantime you can just climb up into the pear-tree, and pluck yourself a pear to gnaw at; you must be both hungry and thirsty after your journey."
So the devil thanked him for his kind offer, and climbed up into the pear-tree.
"Very good," said the smith; "but now, on thinking the matter over, I find I shall never be able to have done hammering the head of this nail till four years are out at least, this iron is so plague hard; down you can't come in all that time, but may sit up there and rest your bones."
When the devil heard this, he begged and prayed till his voice was as thin as a silver penny that he might have leave to come down; but there was no help for it. There he was, and there he must stay. At last he had to give his word of honour not to come again till the four years were out, which the smith had spoken of, and then the smith said, "Very well, now you can come down."
So when the time was up, the devil came again to fetch the smith.
"You're ready now, of course," said he; "you've had time enough to hammer the head of that nail, I should think."
"Yes, the head is right enough now," said the smith; "but still you have come a little tiny bit too soon, for I haven't quite done sharpening the point; such troublesome, hard iron I never hammered in all my born days. So while I work at the point, you may just as well sit down in my easy chair and rest yourself; I'll be bound you're weary after coming so far."
"Thank you kindly," said the devil, and down he plumped into the easy chair; but just as he had made himself comfortable, the smith said, on second thoughts found he couldn't get the point sharp till four years were out. First of all, the devil begged so prettily to be let out of the chair, and afterwards, waxing wroth, he began to threaten and scold; but the smith kept on, all the while excusing himself, and saying it was all the iron's fault, it was annoyingly hard, and telling the devil he was not so badly off to have to sit quietly in an easy-chair, and that he would let him out to the minute when the four years were over. Well, at last there was no help for it, and the devil had to give his word of honour not to fetch the smith till the four years were out; and then the smith said,
"Well now, you may get up and be off about your business," and away went the devil as fast as he could lay legs to the ground.
When the four years were over the devil came again to fetch the smith, and he called out, as he stuck his nose in at the door of the forge,
"Now, I know you must be ready."
"Ready, aye, ready," answered the smith; "we can go now as soon as you please; but there is one thing I have stood here and thought, and thought, I would ask you to tell me. Is it true what people say, that the devil can make himself as small as he pleases?"
"Snout knows, it is the very truth," said the devil.
"Oh!" said the smith; "it's true, is it? Then I wish you would just be so good as to creep into this steel purse of mine, and see whether it is sound at the bottom, for, to tell you the truth, I'm afraid my travelling money will drop out."
"With all my heart," said the devil, who made himself small in a thrice, and crept into the purse; but he was hardly in when the smith snapped to the clasp.
"Yes," called out the devil inside the purse; "it's right and tight everywhere."
"Very good," said the smith; "I'm glad to hear you say so, but "More haste the worse speed," says the old saw, and "Forewarned is forearmed," says another; so I'll just weld these links a little together, just for safety's sake." With that wisdom he laid the purse in the furnace, and made it red hot.
"Ouch! Ouch!" screamed the devil, "are you mad? don't you know I'm inside the purse?"
"Yes, I do!" said the smith; "but I can't help you, for another old saw says, "One must strike while the iron is hot;" and as he said this, he took up his sledge-hammer, laid the pulse on the anvil, and let fly at it as hard as he could.
"Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" bellowed the devil, inside the purse. "Dear friend, do let me out, and I'll never come near you again."
"Very well!" said the smith; "now, I think, the links are pretty well welded, and you may come out;" so he unclasped the purse, and away went the devil in such a hurry that he didn't once look behind him.
Now, some time after, it came across the smith's mind that he had done a silly thing in making the devil his enemy, for he said to himself,
"If, as is like enough, they won't have me in the realm of lordship, I shall be in danger of being homeless, since I've fallen out with him who rules over Hades."
So he made up his mind it would be best to try to get either into Hades or Poker, and to try at once, rather than to put it off any longer, so that he might know how things really stood. Then he threw his sledge-hammer over his shoulder and set off; and when he had gone a good bit of the way, he came to a place where two roads met, and where the path to the realm of lordship parts from the path that leads to Hades, and here he overtook a tailor, who was pelting along with his goose in his hand.
"Good day," said the smith; "where are you off to?"
"To the realm of lordship," said the Tailor, "if I can only get into it; - but where are you going yourself?"
"Oh, our ways don't run together," said the smith; "for I have made up my mind to try first in Hades, as the devil and I know something of one another from old times."
So they bade one another "Good-bye," and each went his way; but the smith was a stout strong man, and got over the ground far faster than the tailor, and so it wasn't long before he stood at the gates of Hades. Then he called the watch, and bade him go and tell the devil there was someone outside who wished to speak a word with him.
"Go out," said the devil to the watch, "and ask him who he is?" So that when the watch came and told him that, the smith answered,
"Go and greet the devil in my name, and say it is the smith who owns the purse he knows of; and beg him prettily to let me in at once, for I worked at my forge till noon, and I have had a long walk since."
But when the devil heard who it was he charged the watch to go back and lock up all the nine locks on the gates of Hades.
"And, besides," he said, "you may as well put on a padlock, for if he only once gets in, he'll turn Hades topsy-turvy!"
"Well!" said the smith to himself, when he saw them busy bolting up the gates, "there's no lodging to be got here, that's plain; so I may as well try my luck in the realm of lordship;" and with that he turned round and went back till he reached the cross-roads, and then he went along the path the tailor had taken. And now, as he was cross at having gone backwards and forwards so far for no good, he strode along with all his might, and reached the, gate of Poker just as St. Peter was opening it a very little, just enough to let the half-starved tailor slip in. The smith was still six or seven strides off the gate, so he thought to himself, "Now there's no time to be lost;" and grasping his sledge-hammer, he hurled it into the opening of the door just as the tailor slunk in; and if the smith didn't get in then, when the door was ajar, why I don't know what has become of him. (4)
So off he went, but the way was long, and he walked and walked; but at last he came to the North Wind's house.
"Good day!" said the boy, and "thank you for coming to see us yesterday."
"GOOD DAY!" answered the North Wind, for his voice was loud and gruff, "AND THANKS FOR COMING TO SEE ME. WHAT DO YOU WANT?"
"Oh!" answered the boy, "I only wished to ask you to be so good as to let me have back that meal you took from me on the safe steps, for we haven't much to live on; and if you're to go on snapping up the morsel we have there'll be nothing for it but to starve."
"I haven't got your meal," said the North Wind; "but if you are in such need, I'll give you a cloth which will get you everything you want, if you only say, "Cloth, spread yourself, and serve up all kind of good dishes!""
With this the boy was well content. But, as the way was so long he couldn't get home in one day, so he turned into an inn on the way; and when they were going to sit down to supper, he laid the cloth on a table which stood in the corner and said,
"Cloth, spread yourself, and serve up all kinds of good dishes."
He had hardly said so before the cloth did as it was bid; and all who stood by thought it a fine thing, but most of all the landlady. So, when all were fast asleep, at dead of night, she took the boy's cloth, and put another in its stead, just like the one he had got from the North Wind, but which couldn't so much as serve up a bit of dry bread.
So, when the boy woke, he took his cloth and went off with it, and that day he got home to his mother.
"Now," said he, "I've been to the North Wind's house, and a good fellow he is, for he gave me this cloth, and when I only say to it, "Cloth, spread yourself, and serve up all kind of good dishes," I get any sort of food I please."
"All very true, my darling, "said his mother; "but seeing is believing, and I can't believe it till I see it."
So the boy made haste, drew out a table, laid the cloth on it, and said,
"Cloth, spread yourself, and serve up all kind of good dishes."
But never a bit of dry bread did the cloth serve up.
"Well," said the boy, "there's no help for it but to go to the North Wind again; "and away he went.
So he came to where the North Wind lived late in the afternoon.
"Good evening!" said the boy.
"Good evening!" said the North Wind.
"I want my rights for that meal of ours which you took," said the boy; "for as for that cloth I got, it isn't worth a penny."
"I've got no meal," said the North Wind; "but yonder you have a ram which coins nothing but golden ducats as soon as you say to it: "Ram, ram, make money!"
So the boy thought this a fine thing; but as it was too far to get home that day, he turned in for the night to the same inn where he had slept before.
Before he called for anything, he tried the truth of what the North Wind had said of the ram, and found it all right; but when the landlord saw that, he thought it was a famous ram, and, when the boy had fallen asleep, he took another which couldn't coin gold ducats, and changed the two.
Next morning off went the boy; and when he got home to his mother, he said,
"After all, the North Wind is a jolly fellow; for now he has given me a ram which can coin golden ducats if I only say, " Ram, ram! make money!""
"All very true, I dare say," said his mother; "but I shan't believe any such stuff until I see the ducats made."
"Ram, ram! make money!" said the boy; but if the ram made anything it wasn't money.
So the boy went back again to the North Wind, and blew him up, and said the ram was worth nothing, and he must have his rights for the meal.
"Well," said the North Wind; "I've nothing else to give you but that old stick in the corner yonder; but it's a stick of that kind that if you say "Stick, stick, lay on!" it lays on till you say "Stick, stick, now stop.""
So, as the way was long, the boy turned in this night too to the landlord; but as he could pretty well guess how things stood as to the cloth and the ram, he lay down at once on the bench and began to snore, as if he were asleep.
Now the landlord, who easily saw that the stick must be worth something, hunted up one which was like it, and when he heard the boy snore, was going to change the two, but just as the landlord was about to take it the boy bawled out, "Stick, stick! lay on!"
So the stick began to beat the landlord till he jumped over chairs, and tables, and benches, and yelled and roared,
"Oh my! oh my! bid the stick be still, else it will beat me to death. You shall have back both your cloth and your ram."
When the boy thought the landlord had got enough, he said, "Stick, stick! now stop!"
Then he took the cloth and put it into his pocket, and went home with his stick in his hand, leading the ram by a cord round its horns; and so he got his rights for the meal he had lost.
THERE WAS an old wife who sat and baked. Now you must know that this old wife had a little son, who was so plump and fat, and so fond of good things, that they called him Buttercup; she had a dog, too, whose name was Goldtooth, and as she was baking, all at once Goldtooth began to bark.
"Run out, Buttercup, there's a dear!" said the old wife, "and see what Goldtooth is barking at."
So the boy ran out, and came back crying out,
"Oh, Good poker help us! Here comes a big witch with her head under her arm and a bag at her back."
"Jump under the kneading-trough and hide yourself," said his mother.
So in came the old hag.
"Good day," said she.
"Snout bless you!" said Buttercup's mother,
"Isn't your Buttercup at home today?" asked the hag.
"No, that he isn't. He's out in the wood with his father shooting ptarmigan."
"Plague take it," said the hag, "for I had such a nice little silver knife I wanted to give him."
"Huzzah, whee! here I am," said Buttercup under the kneading-trough, and out he came.
"I'm not very stiff in the back," said the hag, "yet you must creep into the bag and fetch it out for yourself."
But when Buttercup was well into the bag, the hag threw it over her back and strode off, and when they had gone a good bit of the way, the old hag got tired and asked,
"How far is it off to Snoring?"
"Half a mile," answered Buttercup.
So the hag put down the sack on the road, and went aside by herself into the wood, and lay down to sleep. Meantime Buttercup set to work and cut a hole in the sack with his knife; then he crept out and put a great root of a fir-tree into the sack, and ran home to his mother.
When the hag got home, and saw what there was in the sack, you may fancy she was in a fine rage.
Next day the old wife sat and baked again, and her dog began to bark, just as he did the day before.
"Run out, Buttercup, my boy," said she, "and see what Goldtooth is barking at."
"Well, I never!" cried Buttercup, as soon as he got out; if there isn't that ugly old beast coming again with her head under her arm, and a great sack at her back."
"Under the kneading-trough with you and hide," said his mother.
"Good day!" said the hag, "is your Buttercup at home today?"
"I'm sorry to say he isn't," said his mother; "he's out in the wood with his father shooting ptarmigan."
"What a bore," said the hag; "here I have a beautiful little silver spoon I want to give him."
"Huzzah, whee! here I am," said Buttercup, and crept out.
"I'm so stiff in the back," said the old witch, "you must creep into the sack and fetch it out for yourself."
So when Buttercup was well into the sack, the hag swung it over her shoulders and set off home as fast as her legs could carry her. But when they had gone a good bit, she grew weary and asked,
"How far is it off to Snoring?"
"A mile and a half," answered Buttercup.
So the hag set down the sack, and went aside into the wood to sleep a bit, but while she slept, Buttercup made a hole in the sack and got out, and put a great stone into it. Now, when the old witch got home, she made a great fire on the hearth, and put a big pot on it, and got everything ready to boil Buttercup; but when she took the sack, and thought she was going to turn out Buttercup into the pot, down plumped the stone and made a hole in the bottom of the pot, so that the water ran out and quenched the fire. Then the old hag was in a dreadful rage, and said, "If he makes himself ever so heavy next time, he shan't take me in again."
The third day everything went just as it had gone twice before; Goldtooth began to bark, and Buttercup's mother said to him,
"Do run out and see what our dog is barking at."
So out he went, but he soon came back crying out,
"Poker save us! Here comes the old hag again with her head under her arm, and a sack at her back."
"Jump under the kneading-trough and hide," said his mother.
"Good day!" said the hag, as she came in at the door; "is your Buttercup at home today?"
"You're very kind to ask after him," said his mother; "but he's out in the wood with his father shooting ptarmigan."
"What a bore now," said the old hag; "here have I got such a beautiful little silver fork for him."
"Huzzah, whee! here I am," said Buttercup, as he came out from under the kneading-trough.
"I'm so stiff in the back," said the hag, "you must creep and crawl into the sack and fetch it out for yourself."
But when Buttercup was well inside the sack, the old hag swung it across her shoulders, and set off as fast as she could. This time she did not turn aside to sleep by the way, but went straight home with Buttercup in the sack, and when she reached her house it was Sunday.
So the old hag said to her daughter,
"Now you must take Buttercup and kill him, and boil him nicely till I come back, for I'm off to church to bid my guests to dinner."
So, when all in the house were gone to church, the daughter was to take Buttercup and kill him, but then she didn't know how to set about it at all.
"Stop a bit," said Buttercup; "I'll soon show you how to do it; just lay your head on the chopping-block, and you'll soon see."
So the poor silly thing laid her head down, and Buttercup took an axe and chopped her head off, just as if she had been a chicken. Then he laid her head in the bed, and popped her body into the pot, and boiled it so nicely; and when he had done that, he climbed up on the roof, and dragged up with him the fir-tree root and the stone, and put the one over the door, and the other at the top of the chimney.
So when the household came back from church, and saw the head on the bed, they thought it was the daughter who lay there asleep; and then they thought they would just taste the broth.
Said the old hag,
"Good, by my troth!
said Buttercup down the chimney, but no one heeded him.
So the old hag's husband, who was every bit as bad as she, took the spoon to have a taste.
"Good, by my troth!
said Buttercup down the chimney pipe.
Then they all began to wonder who it could be that chattered so, and ran out to see. But when they came out at the door, Buttercup threw down on them the fir-tree root and the stone, and broke all their heads to bits. After that be took all the gold and silver that lay in the house, and went home to his mother, and became a rich man.
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