Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Greyfoot

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2502297Danish Fairy and Folk Tales — GreyfootJens Christian BayJens Christian Bay, Svend Hersleb Grundtvig and others


THERE was once a king of England whose daughter was very famous. She was the most beautiful princess ever seen or heard of. But she had one great fault—namely, that she was haughty and proud. Of course she had many suitors, but all were refused, and as she possessed a sharp tongue, she moreover scorned them, giving nicknames to every one who was bold enough to woo her.

At that time there was a young prince in Denmark. The fame of her beauty had reached him, and he sent word, asking for her hand in marriage. The princess answered, however, that she would rather earn her bread by spinning all her life than marry such a poor and miserable prince. The messengers were obliged to return with this unfavorable response.

The young prince had determined, however, that he would win her. He despatched fresh messengers with letters, and sent her a gift consisting of six beautiful horses, white as milk, with pink muzzles, gold shoes, and scarlet rugs. Such horses had never been seen in England before, hence the king put in a good word for the Danish prince: He who could send such a gift of betrothal must by all means be considered her equal. But the beautiful princess ordered the grooms to cut off the manes and tails of the six steeds, to soil them with dirt, and turn them over to the messengers, whom she instructed to tell the prince that rather than be married to him would she sit in the street and sell earthen-ware.

When the messengers returned, relating all that the princess had said and done, the Danish king became so incensed that he wanted to put to sea with all his ships and revenge this insult. His son asked him, however, to desist from any such action; he wished to attempt once more, by fair means. If he were unsuccessful, he would himself know how to take revenge. To this his father assented.

The prince now built a ship, so beautiful and costly that its like had never been. The gunwale was artistically carved with all sorts of animals; deer, dragons, and lions were seen jumping about, and the stem and stern were richly gilded. The masts were mounted with gold, the sails made of silk, every second canvas being red, and the remainder white. This ship was manned with the handsomest lads in the country, and the prince gave them a letter to the king of England and his proud daughter, the princess, asking her to accept him, and receive the ship as his gift of betrothment.

The gorgeous ship rapidly crossed the sea and stopped immediately outside of the royal palace. It commanded general attention, no one having seen such a magnificent vessel before. The couriers landed and delivered their message. Now the king used his best efforts to persuade his daughter: A suitor so wealthy and munificent, so true and devoted as this prince, certainly deserved a favorable answer.

The princess graciously listened to his entreaties, feigning an intention to think the matter over until the next day. But at night she gave orders to sink the ship, and in the morning she told the couriers to return as best they could; that she would rather beg her food at the doors than call their poor fellow of a Danish prince her husband.

The couriers returned to Denmark with this disdainful answer, and with the tidings of the fate of the king's ship, which was now, with its gilded masts and its silken sails, at the bottom of the sea. Upon hearing this, the king at once determined to man his fleet and take a bloody revenge. The prince dissuaded him, however, vowing solemnly that he would make the haughty princess repent the disdain with which she had treated him.

Upon this he left Denmark quite alone, and reached England, no one knowing him. Disguised, as he was, in an old hat, dingy clothes, and wooden shoes, he arrived at the palace towards evening and asked the herdsman for a bite of bread and a couch. He obtained both, and during the night kept company with the cows in the stable. The next morning the beggar—Greyfoot, so he called himself—sought and obtained permission to help in driving the cattle to their watering-place. The latter happened to be situated exactly outside of the windows occupied by the princess. Greyfoot now opened a bundle which he had brought with him, and produced a golden spindle which he proceeded to use in driving forth the cows. The princess, who was standing at one of the windows, saw the spindle, and taking at once a great fancy to it, she sent some one down to inquire whether the beggar were willing to sell it. Greyfoot answered that he did not care to sell it for money; the price he asked was permission to sleep outside of her door the following night. No, said the princess; she could not think of such a price. "Very well," answered Greyfoot; "that settles the matter, and I keep my spindle." The princess had taken it into her head, however, that she must possess the beggar's treasure, but as she did not like any one to know that such a poor-looking man was admitted to the palace, she sent a secret message by one of her maids, telling him to come late at night, and to be gone early in the morning. This he did.

When the princess looked out of the window the next morning, she noticed Greyfoot chasing the cows with a golden reel, and at once sent one of her maids down to inquire whether it could be


bought. "Yes," said Greyfoot, "and the price is the same as yesterday." When the princess heard this she was not a little astonished by the audacity of the beggar, but as the treasure could be obtained in no other way, she assented, and everything passed as on the previous night.

The third morning Greyfoot drove the cattle to the watering-place, as usual, but this time he was using a weaver's shuttle of pure gold. She sent for him, and when he appeared in her presence she said: "Now, Greyfoot, how much do you ask for this treasure of yours? Will you take a hundred dollars for it?" "No," answered Greyfoot, "it cannot be bought for money. If you will permit me to sleep inside the door of your room to-night, you may have it." "I think you are mad," said the princess. "No, I cannot hear of any such price. But I am willing to pay you two hundred dollars." "No," said Greyfoot again; "it must be as I say: If you want the shuttle, you must pay the price which I ask. Otherwise, I will keep the treasure myself."

The princess looked at her maids, and they looked back at her, and all looked at the magnificent shuttle. She must possess it, whispered the maids; they would sit in a circle around her, keeping guard the whole night. Finally the princess told Greyfoot that he might come late at night; they would let him in. He must be careful, however, and tell no one, since they were all running a great risk. When it grew late, and the princess was about to fall asleep, the maids were all sitting around her, each one holding a lighted candle in her hands. Greyfoot entered, and quietly stretched himself on a rug near the door. But as the maids were not accustomed to much waking, one by one they became drowsy, and very soon every one in the room was soundly asleep. As the ladies had rested little during the two previous nights, it was no wonder that the sun did not wake them very early the next morning.

The king, who was accustomed to see his daughter at the breakfast-table, became alarmed when she did not appear as usual, and hastened to her rooms. Imagine his surprise when he found, outside of her door, an old hat and a pair of well-worn wooden shoes. Opening the door quietly, he stole into the room. There the princess was, fast asleep, with all her maids; and so was Greyfoot, on the rug inside the door. Usually the king was a very amicable and quiet man, but when this spectacle met his eyes he became angry. He controlled himself, however, and called his daughter's name aloud. She awoke, and so did the maids, who at once escaped in all directions. But the king turned to his daughter and said: "I now see what kind of company you prefer, and although it is in my power to let this fellow hang and have you buried alive, I will allow you to keep each other. The minister shall unite you in marriage, whereupon you will both be


sent away. I will never bear the sight of you again." The king left them, and shortly afterwards the minister appeared with two witnesses. The haughty princess was married to Greyfoot, the beggar; then the couple were at liberty to go whither they desired.

When they passed the barn-door Greyfoot turned to the princess, saying: "We cannot walk on the high-road in this style; you must change your clothes before we depart!" So they paid a visit to the herdsman's wife, who gave the princess—now Greyfoot's wife—a gown of linsey-woolsey, a woollen jacket, a cape, and a pair of heavy shoes. "That fits better," said Greyfoot, and they walked away.

At first they walked each on his own side of the road, without speaking; but in a little while the princess raised her eyes to look at the man who was now her rightful husband. To her astonishment she observed that he was neither old nor ugly, but really a handsome young man, in spite of his old and dingy clothes. Being not accustomed to walk very far, especially with such heavy footwear, the princess soon felt exhausted, and said: "Dear Greyfoot, do not walk so fast!" "No," he returned, "as I have now been burdened with you, I suppose I cannot leave you on the open road." So he entered the next house and hired an old carriage, the bottom of which was covered with straw. They now drove on, until at length they arrived at a seaport. Greyfoot immediately sought and obtained passage for himself and his wife, as servants, and the princess felt much relieved when at last they were out of her father's domains, although she had no idea of their destination.

The voyage ended in Denmark, and when they had safely landed, Greyfoot proceeded to rent a small hut in the neighborhood of the royal palace. It consisted of only one little room with a stone floor and an open fireplace, where she must prepare their frugal meals. In a little while Greyfoot went out, and returned with an old spinning-wheel and a large bundle of tow, of the meanest quality. "While you work with this," he said, "I must try to find some occupation, as best I can. Neither of us can afford to be idle."

Thus time passed slowly and quietly. Greyfoot had secured work at the palace as a wood-cutter, and returned every evening with a loaf of bread and a few pennies. His wife was spinning until her finger-tips were scorched, and her knees shaking under her. One evening Greyfoot brought home a wheelbarrow filled with earthen-ware. This he had bought on credit, he said, and she was in duty bound to go to town the next day and sell the things. She of course made no objections. The next day Greyfoot went to his work, as usual, and his wife set out for the town with her earthen-ware. But when she had just managed to sell a few of them, a troop of stately knights came galloping down the street. One of the horses became wild


and rushed in among her articles, which went into a thousand pieces under the heavy hoofs which trampled upon them. The riders pursued their way; but the poor princess returned to the hut, and, sitting down, wept bitterly.

In the evening, when Greyfoot returned, she told him of her misfortune. "Now we are utterly unfortunate," said he, "for I have no money with which to pay for these articles. You will now have to sew a wallet, go from door to door, and beg for victuals and pennies, until our debts have been paid." The princess did as he bid her, and was glad that her husband did not scold her for her ill fortune. She begged at every one's door, bringing home, at length, several pieces of bread and some pennies.

"That will not bring us very far," said Greyfoot, when the princess had displayed the contents of the wallet. "I have now found a good place for you at the palace. They are preparing for a wedding, and to-morrow you are to lend a hand in the kitchen. Do your best and make yourself useful; maybe they will keep you and pay you good wages. To-morrow you will obtain your meals and twenty pennies."

The next morning, before Greyfoot's wife went away, her husband said: "To-day I must stay at home; I have felt an illness coming upon me, so I will rest and try to get better." She burst into tears, and told him that when he was ill she could not think of leaving him. When he answered, however, that she was expected, and necessarily must go, she kissed him good-bye, hoping that he would soon feel better, and promising to return as speedily as possible.

"The haughty princess" spent the whole day among the pots and pans in the royal kitchen. When she returned to the hut, Greyfoot told her that he felt better, and further related how an order had been issued announcing that the Prince of Denmark was to be married to a Russian princess. Her costly bridal-gown had arrived, but the princess herself, having been detained by wind and waves, was unable to arrive in due time for the ceremony, and on the following day every girl and woman was to present herself at the palace and be measured. She who filled the measure would be selected as the bride's deputy. "And you," concluded Greyfoot, "you must put in an appearance. If you are fortunate, your wages may be sufficient for paying our debts."

In the morning Greyfoot declared that he felt worse than on the day before, but would not keep her from going. She hesitated, but as he insisted, she threw her arms around him, kissed him, and left.

The royal measurer was busy among the many women assembled in the court-yard, and it seemed impossible to find any one who was the right measure. But when at length he reached Greyfoot's wife, he declared that she was the very person they wanted. Now she was taken into the palace, and attired in the gorgeous gown, the bridal veil, and a pair of exquisite slippers. When finally the crown was placed on her head, every one declared that the real princess could hardly be prettier. In a little while a beautiful carriage drawn by six milk-white horses was seen at the door, and Greyfoot's wife was asked to enter. The prince was already seated in the carriage; she had never seen him, but remembered having heard of him in past days.

They drove along the road until they came to Greyfoot's hut. Seeing already at a distance that it was afire, the poor woman in the carriage uttered a piercing shriek, and cried: "My husband! save him, for Heaven's sake! He was ill when I left him, and may not have escaped." The prince now spoke to her for the first time, and said: "If that ugly wood-cutter is your husband, you had better leave him; he is no husband for you." But she answered: "He is my husband, and was always good and kind to me. How could I leave him? Even if you offered me the place which I am now occupying for your real bride, I would refuse it, and gladly return to the hut where I have lived the happiest part of my life!"

The prince smilingly answered: "You are my real bride, and kept your word when you said that rather than marry me would you earn your bread by spinning, or by selling earthen-ware, or beg for it at the doors."

Now she recognized him, and throwing her arms around him, she said that her sufferings had been of great benefit to her, and that she would now stay with him forever.

Thus "the haughty princess of England" became queen of Denmark. This happened so long ago, however, that hardly any one remembers having seen her. But the story is true, nevertheless.