Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/James, the Huntsman

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


AN old man died, leaving behind him two sons. Their only heritage was an old thatched hut, with a small vegetable garden. A table, an old chest, and three or four chairs were all the hut contained.

"Our father has left us but little," said the oldest of the two brothers. As the other said nothing, but merely shook his head, he added: "There is hardly enough to divide between two."

"We might draw cuts," suggested the younger.

"That is hardly worth while," replied his brother. "I would better take it, since I am the oldest."

"You may do so," returned the younger.

"Very well, and you may seek a place in the world for yourself, as best you can. Since we are talking about it, you may as well go at once," continued the older.

So the younger brother departed. His name was James, and of him this story treats.

Having bid his brother farewell, he walked on until nightfall, when he lay down on the slope of a hill, resting his head upon his knapsack. He looked at the clouds, with their beautiful golden tinge, the blue sky, and the silver-gray rye-fields, and thought of the future and of what he would like to be in the world. He had often wished to become a huntsman, but how could he ever obtain the necessary equipment—a shot-gun, a horse, and a horn? While these thoughts came and went, he fell asleep, but was awakened by hearing himself addressed in a feeble voice which sounded near his ear: "Help me, help me!" He arose and looked around, but saw nothing. "Help me!" said the voice again, and this time it seemed to come from the ground beneath his feet. James bent down and examined the grass, where he saw the figure of a dwarf with a large head and thin legs, hardly taller than the finger of an ordinary man or woman.

"Help me, help me!" cried the little man again.

"What ails you?" inquired James.

"Listen!" said the dwarf. "I live in this hill. To-night I visited my grandfather, who lives in the hill opposite. When I returned, a cow had placed herself over the doorway, and I cannot pass her. Will you chase her away?"

"Let me look at you a moment!" said James. "I never saw such a little fellow before."

"Yes, but be quick, for if the sun shines on me, I shall be converted into cobweb and night's dew!"

James walked around to the other side of the hill and chased the cow away. "Come back to-morrow night at twelve, that we may reward you," said the dwarf, whereupon he skipped through a small opening, and disappeared in the ground.

The next evening James was standing at the foot of the hill, when suddenly the latter was raised on four red pillars, forming a portal under which the dwarf of the previous evening was standing. "Come in," said he to the young man. "My father will allow you to make three wishes, all of which we shall fulfil."

Without fear James accepted the invitation, and as soon as he had entered the portal, the hill closed above him, whereupon he was led from one magnificent room into another. Thousands of dwarfs were busily engaged in many different occupations, such as sword-making, weaving, and cutting precious stones, and from every corner curious and costly diamonds sent their sparkling rays into space. "Have you decided what wishes to make?" asked the little man. "Yes," replied James. "I want a shot-gun, a horse, and a horn." "You shall have them," said the dwarf, leading him into a room filled with all that belongs to a hunter's equipment. There were guns as large as trees and as small as pen-holders, some plain, some costly, some made of iron and steel, and some glittering with silver and gold and costly stones, such as we never see among us. James looked around, and finally reached for an old, rusty musket, hanging on the wall in a broad leathern strap. "This one will suit me best," said he. "All the fine fire-arms, mounted in gold and silver, I cannot use, but this one suits me." "Take it," said the dwarf, smilingly, "and keep it."

In another room they saw a great many beautiful horns. James looked around, trying to make a choice. At last he seized a plain-looking bugle-horn which some one had thrown into a corner. "All the others will do for kings and knights," said he, "but this one will suit me." The dwarf told him it was his, and added, "Now we will go into the stables and find a horse for you."

The stables were filled with the choicest horses of all kinds, from the fabled three-legged horse which walks past the windows at night, when some one is to die, to the charger which helps the soldier slay the enemies of his land. Near the door, James caught sight of a small gray steed, rumpled and badly kept; he pointed to this horse, saying, "I choose this little one; he matches the gun and the horn and me." The dwarf confirmed his choice, and in the next second James was standing outside the hill, with his rusty musket, his dented horn, and the little gray horse. He jumped into the saddle and rode straight to the king's court, where a sentry inquired about his errand. "I wish to become one of the royal hunters," said James. "Then you had better apply to the king's adjutant. If he has any use for you, he may engage your service," returned the sentry.

So James rode along an avenue shaded by tall chestnut-trees, and leading to the gateway of the palace. When he had about reached the latter, a little gray bird which was perched in one of the trees began to sing so beautifully that he involuntarily stopped and listened. The bird flew down, seated itself on the pommel of James's saddle, and began speaking. "Listen to my words! When you sound your horn every one must dance after it, and every one at whom you point with your musket must die. When you see the king, tell him that you will try to free his daughter from the king of the dwarfs, who seized her many years ago, and carried her into the same hill where you were a short time ago; but use your own judgment regarding the way in which to break the might of the dwarf-king. He is cunning. A young prince to whom the princess was to be married is also in his hands. But if you can set these two persons free, and gladden the king's heart, you will become a great hunter, and more."

James was much astonished to hear the bird speak in this manner, and when the little feathered singer left him and swung itself high into the air, he rode into the court-yard, where he was met by the king's adjutant, who asked what he wished. "I desire to become one of the king's hunters," replied James. The adjutant smiled and called several men who were sitting around a table under a large oak-tree, drinking and discussing, as it seemed, very important matters. They gathered about James and the adjutant, and the latter said, "Here you see a young man who wishes to become one of you!"

"He looks well enough," remarked one of the men. "See his gun! I am sure that barrel was made of the purest gold."

"His horn beats ours!" cried another, winking at his comrades; "it was no doubt cut from one large diamond."

"But his horse!" added a tall hunter. "I verily believe that it served Alexander Magnus when he travelled from India across the ocean to America."

The men laughed uproariously at these jokes, and the adjutant especially had great difficulty in recovering his breath. He was purple in the face from laughing, when he said: "The king had better see him; he has but little amusement since the loss of his children. One of you may go and call him down."

When the king came into the court-yard and saw James and his equipment, he asked, gravely, what he could do for him.

"I wish to become your majesty's huntsman," answered James, "and also to try and rescue the princess and her betrothed husband from the dwarf-king's might. If your majesty will follow me alone, we may depart at once."

"Do you know what you promise?" asked the king. "Six years have passed since these young persons were spirited off into the mountains, and I have no hope of seeing them again. How will you rescue them?"

"Your majesty shall see," replied the young man. "Follow me to the hill, and let us lose no time. Every second may be valuable."

"If you can save my children," said the king, again, "I will make you my prime-minister, and grant you one-fourth of my kingdom. As you look good and true, I will also follow you. Saddle my horse," continued he, turning to his servants, "and quickly."

Late in the evening James and the king arrived at the foot of the hill which the young man knew so well. "Now we must call the king of the dwarfs," said he, "and force matters with him if he will not come to terms." Thus saying, he sounded his horn for the first time. When the last tone had died away, a fearful noise came from within the hill, and in the next minute the latter was raised upon four pillars, red as fire, disclosing a hall, from the background of which a fearful-looking troll came forward. His body was that of a child, but he had a very large head, with a nose like an old-fashioned winder, and a couple of eyes like dessert-plates. When he saw James, he began to howl furiously.

"Stop your yelling," said the king, "and bring forth my children whom you spirited away. We have come to rescue them, and we will force you to give them up."

"Hoo, hoo!" shouted the troll. "She is the sweetest nightingale. She sings for me from nightfall to daybreak. Hoo, hoo!"

"If you do not bring my daughter here," cried the king, "we will never leave you until we take your life, you monster!"

"Hoo, hoo-o-o-o!" began the troll, again, but at the same moment James again sounded his horn, blowing a merry tune. The dwarf-king fell upon his face, and began to hop about on the point of his nose with wonderful rapidity. He looked so singular that the king could not help smiling, although he had almost forgotten how during the six years in which he had not seen his daughter.

"Hoo, stop! I am over five hundred years old, and you will kill me if this goes on—hoo-o-o-o, hoo!" shouted the troll.

"Bring my daughter!" roared the king. "Bring her as young and pretty and innocent as she was when I saw her last."

"Yes, yes!" panted the troll. "Stop, stop, stop!"

James stopped, and the dwarf-king rushed into another cave, from which he appeared a moment later with the princess, who ran to her father, and was clasped in his strong arms.

"Where is the prince?" asked James. "Forth with him, if you do not wish to hop about another time."

"He is here no more," replied the troll.

"Here he is," suddenly exclaimed the princess,
Danish fairy and folk tales 333.jpg


pointing to the little gray steed, which stood near by, gazing at them.

"Give him back his human shape," commanded James.

"Then give me back the gun and the horn," answered the troll. He received them, when suddenly the horse vanished, and before them stood a young and stately knight. With a fearful crash the hill was closed, but the four happy persons were standing in the open field, the sun rising over their heads.

"I will keep my word," said the king, addressing James. "One-fourth of my country shall be yours, and I will give you a duke's rank and title."

"I am contented with less," replied James. "I have received no education, and would not make a good duke, I am sure."

"Never mind your education," asserted the king. "You can easily fill a duke's place without an education."

"Yes, indeed," said the princess.

"To be sure," added the prince.

Thus James became a duke. But the hunters at the royal palace died of envy, every one.