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The Father of the Family

Once on a time there was a man who was out on a journey; so at last he came to a big and a fine farm, and there was a house so grand that it might well have been a little castle.

"Here it would be good to get leave to spend the night," said the man to himself, as he went inside the gate. Hard by stood an old man with grey hair and beard, hewing wood.

"Good evening, father," said the wayfarer. "Can I have house-room here tonight?"

"I'm not father in the house," said the greybeard. "Go into the kitchen, and talk to my father."

The wayfarer went into the kitchen, and there he met a man who was still older, and he lay on his knees before the hearth, and was blowing up the fire.

"Good evening, father," said the wayfarer. "Can I get house-room tonight?"

"I'm not father in the house," said the old man; "but go in and talk to my father. You'll find him sitting at the table in the parlour."

So the wayfarer went into the parlour, and talked to him who sat at the table. He was much older than either of the other two, and there he sat, with his teeth chattering, and shivered and shook, and read out of a big book, almost like a little child.

"Good evening, father," said the man. "Will you let me have house-room here tonight?"

"I'm not father in the house," said the man who sat at the table, whose teeth chattered, and who shivered and shook; "but speak to my father over there, he who sits on the bench."

So the wayfarer went to him who sat on the bench, and he was trying to fill himself a pipe of tobacco; but he was so withered up and his hands shook so with the palsy that he could scarce hold the pipe.

"Good evening, father," said the wayfarer again. " Can I get house-room here tonight?"

"I'm not father in the house," said the old withered fellow; "but speak to my father who lies in bed over there."

So the wayfarer went to the bed, and there lay an old, old man, who but for his pair of big staring eyes scarcely looked alive.

"Good evening, father," said the wayfarer. "Can I get house-room here tonight?"

"I'm not father in the house," said the old carle with the big eyes; "but go and speak to my father, who lies over there in the cradle."

Yes, the wayfarer went to the cradle, and there lay a carle as old as the hills, so withered and shrivelled he was no bigger than a baby, and it was hard to tell that there was any life in him, except that there was a sound of breathing every now and then in his throat.

"Good evening, father," said the wayfarer. "May I have house-room here tonight?"

It was long before he got an answer, and still longer before the carle brought it out; but the end was he said, as all the rest, that he was not father in the house. "But go," said he, "and speak to my father; you'll find him hanging up in the horn over there against the wall."

So the wayfarer stared about round the walls, and at last he caught sight of the horn; but when he looked for him who hung in it, he looked more like a film of ashes that had the likeness of a man's face. Then he was so frightened that he screamed out,

"Good evening, father! will you let me have houseroom here tonight?"

Then a chirping came out of the horn like a little torn-tit, and it was all he could do to make out that the chirping meant, "Yes, my child."

And now a table came in which was covered with the costliest dishes, and with ale and brandy; and when he had eaten and drunk, there came in a good bed with reindeer skins; and the wayfarer was so very glad because he had at last found the right father in the house.

Erik Werenskiold.
Drawing by Erik Werenskiold

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The Storehouse Key in the Disdaff

There was once a rich farmer's son who went out to woo. He had heard of a lass who was fair and gentle, and who was both clever in the house and good at cooking.

There he went, for it was just such a wife he wanted. The people on the farm knew, of course, on what errand he came, so they asked him to take a seat near to them, and they talked and chatted with him, as the custom is, and beside offered him a drink and asked him to stop to dinner. They went in and out of the room, so the lad had time to look about him, and over in a corner he saw a spinning wheel with the distaff full of flax.

"Whose spinning wheel is that?" asked the lad.

"Oh, that's our daughter's," said the woman of the house.

"There's a deal of flax on it," said the lad; "I suppose she takes more than a day to spin that," said he.

"No, not at all," said the woman; "she does it easily in one day and perhaps less than that."

That was more than he had ever heard of any one being able to spin in such a short time.

When they were going to carry in the dinner they all went out of the room and he was left alone. He then saw an old key lying in the window, and this he took and stowed well away among the flax on the distaff. So they ate and drank and got on well together, and when the lad thought he had been there long enough he said good-by and went his way. They asked him to come soon again, which he promised, but he did not speak of the matter he had at heart, although he liked the lass very well.

Some time after he came again to the farm, and they received him still better than the first time. But just as they were chatting at their best the farmer's wife said:

"Last time you were here something very remarkable happened; our storehouse key disappeared all at once and we have never been able to find it since."

The lad went over to the spinning wheel, which stood in the corner with just as much flax on it as when last he was there. He put his hand in among the flax and said:

"Here is the key! Much cannot be made by the spinning when the spinning day lasts from Michaelmas [29 September] to Easter."

So he said good-by, and did not speak of the matter he had at heart that time either.

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Silly Men and Cunning Wives

Otto Sinding. Sepia-toned

Once on a time there were two goodies who quarrelled, as women often will; and when they had nothing else to quarrel about, they fell to fighting about their husbands, as to which was the silliest of them. The longer they strove the worse they got, and at last they had almost come to pulling caps about it; for, as everyone knows, it is easier to begin than to end, and it is a bad lookout when wit is wanting. At last one of them said there was nothing she could not get her husband to believe, if she only said it, for he was as easy as a troll. Then the other said there was nothing so silly that she could not get her husband to do, if she only said it must be done, for he was such a fool, he could not tell B from a bull's foot.

"Well! let us put it to the proof, which of us can fool them best, and then we'll see which is the silliest." That was what they said once, and so it was settled.

Now when the first husband, Master Northgrange, came home from the wood, his goody said,

"Heaven help us both! what is the matter? You are surely ill, if you are not at death's door!"

"Nothing ails me but want of meat and drink," said the man.

"Now, Heaven be my witness!" screamed out the wife, "it gets worse and worse. You look just like a corpse in your face; you must go to bed! Dear, dear! This never can last long!" And so she went on till she got her husband to believe he was hard at death's door, and she put him to bed; and then she made him fold his hands on his breast and shut his eyes. She went on to stretch his limbs, and laid him out and put him into a coffin. But that he might not be smothered while he lay there, she had some holes made in the sides, so that he could breathe and peep out.

The other goody took a pair of carding combs and began to card wool; but she had no wool on them. In came the man, and saw this tomfoolery.

"There's no use," he said, "in a wheel without wool; but carding combs without wool is work for a fool."

"Without wool!" said the goody; "I have wool, only you can't see it; it's of the fine sort." So when she had carded it all, she took her wheel and fell a-spinning.

"Nay, nay! This is all labour lost!" said the man. "There you sit, wearing out your wheel, as it spins and hums, and all the while you've nothing on it."

"Nothing on it!" said the goody; "the thread is so fine, it takes better eyes than yours to see it, that's all."

So, when her spinning was over, she set up her loom and put the woof in, and threw the shuttle, and wove cloth. Then she took it out of the loom and pressed it and cut it out, and sewed a new suit of clothes for her husband out of it, and when it was ready, she hung the suit up in the linen closet. As for the man, he could see neither cloth nor clothes; but as he had once for all got it into his head that it was too fine for him to see, he went on saying, "Aye, aye! I understand it all; it is so fine because it is so fine."

Well, in a day or two his goody said to him

"Today you must go to a funeral. Farmer Northgrange is dead, and they bury him today, and so you had better put on your new clothes."

"Yes, very true, he must go to the funeral;" and she helped him on with his new suit, for it was so fine, he might tear it asunder if he put it on alone.

So when he came up to the farm where the funeral was to be, they had all drank hard and long, and you may fancy their grief was not greater when they saw him come in in his new suit. But when the train set off for the churchyard and the dead man peeped through the breathing holes, he burst out into a loud fit of laughter.

"Nay, nay!" he said, "I can't help laughing, though it is my funeral, for if there isn't Olof Southgrange walking to my funeral stark naked!"

When the bearers heard that, they were not slow in taking the lid off the coffin, and the other husband, he in the new suit, asked how it was that he, over whom they had just drank his funeral ale, lay there in his coffin and chattered and laughed, when it would be more seemly if he wept.

"Ah!" said the other, "you know tears never yet dug up anyone out of his grave that's why I laughed myself to life again."

But the end of all their talk was that it came out that their goodies had played them those tricks. So the husbands went home, and did the wisest thing either of them had done for a long time; and if anyone wishes to know what it was, he had better go and ask the birch cudgel.

Notes

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Norwegian folktales, fairy tales of Norway, Asbjørnsen and Moe, stories, Literature  

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