Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Peter Fiddle-de-dee

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THERE was once a king whose only daughter was so extremely conceited, and so much inclined to sneer, and in spite of her beauty and brightness so impertinent towards every one, that all the suitors who came to woo her turned aside in time and returned home again.

The king at length grew tired of this state of affairs. Hardly any of her equals desired to have anything to do with her, and her father finally swore that she would be forced to marry the man, whoever he was, who could silence her. "Let them try," said the princess; "let them try all they wish; but if they fail they'll be hanged." "Very well," answered the king. So a decree was issued and posted at the street corners, and announced throughout the land.

There were many young men ready to make the trial, who thought they knew how to amuse one with fair words. They hoped to make their fortunes on this occasion. But they reckoned without their host, for when they were brought face to face with the princess, they invariably stopped short; which the princess never did. One after another was seized and hanged without mercy.

The king was quite vexed by watching how matters went. "You ruin all my young men," said he to his daughter; "the prospects for enlistments in our army are extremely bad." But he was, of course, obliged to act according to his own decree, as kings must always do.

Somewhere in the country there lived a farmer who had three sons. Their names were John, James, and Peter. The two older ones were said to be quite ready talkers; they "had graduated" from a high-school, and every one considered them capable of talking a leg off an iron pot. Indeed, they thought themselves great fellows, and neither of them for a moment doubted his ability to win the princess by means of his ready tongue, and to become king of the land. It was agreed between them that the one who should ascend the throne would make the other his prime-minister.

Their father was proud of them and believed in their superior oratorical powers; he therefore equipped them with fine clothes and beautiful horses with silver bridles, and thus they were ready to depart. "I wish to go along," said Peter, their brother. Hitherto he had been looked upon as a scapegoat, and his parents considered him a mere simpleton. He had been doing all the disagreeable work that no one else wished to do, such as turf-digging and the spreading of manure; he slept among the ashes in the chimney-corner, and was generally called Peter Fiddle-de-dee. "I want to go, too," said he. "No," answered his brothers; he must stay where he was, in his chimney-corner—that would suit him best. "I am pretty enough," continued Peter. "I ask for no new clothes." All that he wanted was a horse to ride on; whether it was good or bad, young or old, would not matter. He was only laughed at, however; his father was unwilling to grant him permission to ride even the oldest mare in the stable, and said that if he desired to go he must be contented with his own legs. "It is all the same," cried Peter," for I will try to make my fortune," and so he trudged along after his two stately brothers.

When they had travelled a short distance Peter made a jump, and exclaimed: "Look what I have found!" "What did you find?" inquired one of his brothers, turning around. It was only a dead crow which was lying in the road. "I must take it along to the palace," said Peter again; "no one knows what use one may have of it." "Oh, you are a real fool!" said his brothers, spurring on their horses and fetching him a rap with their horsewhips. "Wait and take me along!" shouted he. "You may follow us as well as you can," answered they. Peter stuffed the dead bird into his pocket and quickened his walk.

In a little while he cried again: "Look what I have found!" His brothers did not even care to turn around and look; but it was an old shoestring. "No one knows what it may be good for," said Peter, stuffing it into his pocket, and pursuing his way.

Soon he stopped again, shouting: "Look what I have found!" It was an old cork. His brothers were, by this time, far ahead. The cork, however, was passed down to the crow and the shoestring.

A few steps farther on he stopped again; this time for the purpose of picking up a ram's horn. It went promptly into his pocket. When, the next minute, he found a similar one, it followed the other. "They may be of use, somehow or other," said he again.

When he had gone a little farther he again stopped; this time before a large mud-hole. "Oh," cried he, "look at this, will you!" But no one heard him. "That may be of use," continued Peter, thrusting a handful of mud into his pocket; "no one knows."

John and James had, in the mean time, reached the king's palace, where they announced their errand. "You know, I suppose, what you stake," said the guardsman to them. Yes, they knew all, they said, and so John was conducted into the room where the princess met her suitors. She was sitting in a gilded chair, on an elevated place, surrounded by all her court ladies. A short distance from her the king himself was sitting on his throne, and around him stood all his courtiers and counsellors.

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"How does your Royal Highness do?" inquired John, bowing politely to the princess. "I give you the deuce," answered she. "How in the world does that concern you?" Poor John stood aghast at this answer. So surprised and shocked was he, that he did not know what to say. Of course he was done with at once, and taken through a side door to be hanged.

Now James entered the hall. He could not guess what had become of John in such a hurry, but stepped briskly forward, and, bowing to the princess, he said: "How is your Highness?" "Highness!" exclaimed the princess; "we will give you highness before very long, my good fellow!" James was absolutely dumfounded. "Don't forget what you wish to say," continued the princess, sneeringly. James could not, in fact, utter a single word, and so he was brought out and hanged.

"Are there more suitors?" inquired the princess. Yes; the door was opened, and in came Peter Fiddle-de-dee, dusty and exhausted. He had been walking all the way, and when he arrived at the palace the guard showed him all the gallows. He lost no time in looking at them, but asked to be conducted to the princess.

"How do you do, Miss Fickle?" said Peter. "How hot it is here!" "It is not warmer to-day than it was yesterday," answered the princess. "I wonder what you are using all that heat for," pursued he; "why, it is warm enough here for roasting a pig." "Yes," replied the princess, "yesterday we roasted eighteen of them; to-day we had only two here." "That is well," said Peter, readily, "for then I have a chance to roast this crow;" and up came the dead crow which he had found in the road. "It will split in the oven," observed the princess. "Here is a string which we will tie around it," answered Peter, producing the shoestring. "The grease will run out of its bill," continued the princess. "Then we may cork it up," returned he, showing her the cork. "You seem to keep your wits in your pockets," remarked the princess; "but we will find a hook to hang you on!" "Hook?" repeated the boy, taking from his pocket one of the ram's horns; "here is one, if you wish to have a look at it." "Well," exclaimed she, "I never saw the like!" "It is not far away," cried Peter, pulling forth the other ram's horn, and handing it to her. "Keep your muddy hands by yourself!" commanded the princess. "Oh no," returned Peter; "if you wish to have some real fine mud, here it is." Now he brought forward the mud which he had found in the road, and threw it into the lap of the princess, soiling her beautiful white silk robe.

The princess was so enraged that she arose, swept the mud from her dress, stamped on the floor with both her feet, and burst into tears from mere desperation,

"Now you are silenced," said Peter, "and now you are mine." The king at once arose and gave his consent. She had found the right man for a husband.

Peter married her and received one-half of the kingdom. When the old king died he had it all.