Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Saucy Jesper

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Danish Fairy and Folk Tales
by Jens Christian Bay, Svend Hersleb Grundtvig and others, translated by Jens Christian Bay
Saucy Jesper


THERE was once a king who lived far, far away in a country the name of which no one knows. He had an only daughter, who was of so sad and melancholy a disposition that no one remembered having ever seen her smile. She was now a grown girl, pretty and good, but always sorrowful and downcast; if she did not weep she was melancholy, and showed such low spirits that it seemed utterly impossible for any one to cheer or to gladden her.

The king was of a very amiable disposition, and indeed a very able man to manage his country; but the condition of his daughter caused him such deep distress and anxiety that he became gloomy and was out of humor. He had only this one child, and she would, of course, inherit the kingdom when he died. She looked so downcast, however, that he feared she might suffer an early and untimely death.

The king consequently made known throughout the land that he who could win a smile from the princess would be honored with her hand in marriage and ascend the throne with her when he, himself, died. There were many who came and tried their best, but no one could even make her smile. They only succeeded in making twofold fools of themselves, first, when they attempted to amuse her, and, second, when they were obliged to return home with a long face—disappointed.

His majesty grew tired of witnessing all their endeavor: both the merriment he had to look at and the jokes to which he must listen wearied him; but he was disappointed, especially, when he looked at his daughter, who remained as gloomy and sour-faced as before, in spite of all their pranks and jokes. A new order was now given to the effect that those who came and tried, without success, to make the princess laugh, should be dipped in tar, rolled in feathers, and sent away in disgrace. This edict lessened the number of contestants, but the princess remained as downhearted as before.

In the same land there lived a man who had three sons; the eldest was called Peter, the second Paul, and the youngest Saucy Jesper. They lived a quiet, secluded life, hence a long time passed before they learned of the king's edict, and how easily their fortunes were made if they could win a laugh from the princess. Peter thought he might as well do his best, and try. His mother gave him a good knapsack, and his father a purse filled with money. Thus equipped, he started on his journey.

On his way he met an old woman who drew a small sledge after her. She stopped and asked him for a bite of bread and a penny. Peter answered, however, that he had no more of each than he would need in the long voyage before him. "Your voyage may be an unhappy one," said the woman. But Peter did not listen to her; he went on, announced himself at the royal palace, and was ushered into the presence of the king and the princess. He now began singing the funniest songs ever heard—this was the art in which he trusted—and one after another he sang the most amusing airs, but with no effect; the princess remained gloomy as ever. Peter was accordingly dipped in tar, rolled in feathers, and dismissed from the palace. His mother used a whole barrel of butter in removing all the tar from him.

If Peter did not succeed, Paul might have better fortune, at least he thought so, and wished to try. He, too, received a good-sized knapsack and a purse; and he, too, met the old woman, who asked for a bite of bread and a penny. But as he also refused to help her, she left him saying that his journey might not bring him happiness. When Paul was called into the presence of the king and the princess, he tried his art, which was to tell the funniest stories anybody had ever heard, and with which he had amused many other persons. He did his best; both he and the king laughed heartily, but the princess only yawned. So he met Peter's fate and returned home in a miserable condition.

Saucy Jesper was not frightened by the awful fate of his two brothers, but declared he would start on the same errand. "What are you thinking of!" said his parents. "How can you imagine that you will ever succeed when both of your brothers failed? And yet they are better men than you. They know songs and stories, and you know nothing but how to make such a fool of yourself that one can both laugh and cry over it."

"To laugh is sufficient," said Jesper. As no amount of reasoning would move him, and as he was determined to go, his mother gave him a piece of dry bread, and his father one penny, whereupon he left with no one's blessing.

When he had walked a while, and needed rest, he seated himself at the road-side and began eating his dry bread. While he was thus engaged, an old woman came along the road, drawing a small sledge after her. She stopped and begged for a bite of bread and a penny. Jesper at once gave her what remained of his bread, and his one penny.

"Whither are you going?" asked the woman.

"To the king's palace. I think I can make the princess laugh, and then I shall marry her," answered Jesper.

"How will you do it?" continued the woman.

Jesper said he did not know, but hoped he would get an idea.

"I think I can help you," said the woman, "since you helped me. You may have my sledge—you will notice there is a little bird carved on the back. When you seat yourself in it, and say 'Pip, little bird!' it will drive along, until you cry stop. When any one touches the sledge the bird will say 'Pip.' If then you call 'Hold on!' they must remain where they are until you bid them 'Let go!' Be careful that no one shall steal your vehicle, and I think you will be successful."

Jesper thanked her kindly for the good gift, seated himself in the sledge, said "Pip, little bird!" and was at once carried as swiftly along the road as if drawn by a pair of the best horses. All who saw it became so astonished that they nearly dropped nose and mouth from surprise. Jesper did not care, however; he drove straight onward until evening, when he stopped at an inn to rest for the night. He tied the sledge to his bed in order to prevent its being stolen. But the people at the inn having seen him arrive were, of course, very curious to know more about the remarkable vehicle. Late at night, when everybody thought he was asleep, one of the servant-girls, anxious to examine the wonderful sledge, stole slyly into the room. But as soon as she touched the sledge the bird said "Pip!" "Hold on!" commanded Jesper, and there the girl stood, unable to tear herself loose. Soon another girl stole into the room and took hold of the sledge. "Pip!" cried the bird again. "Hold on!" shouted Jesper. There were three servant-girls at the inn, all equally curious, so at length the third one came
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in and was caught like the rest. There all three stood.

Early in the morning, before any one was up, Jesper took his sledge into the court-yard, the girls, of course, following. Appearing not to see or hear them, he took his seat, saying "Pip, little bird!" and the sledge immediately began to move on as the day before. The girls, who were not prepared for such an event, ran as fast as they could, and you may be sure that they had a most excellent exercise at this early hour of the day.

After a while they passed a church. It so happened that the minister and the sexton were about to walk in; but when they became aware of the singular procession, they stopped and gazed at it in great astonishment. The minister became angry and called to the girls to stop. As they did not obey him, he ran after them and tried to hold them back. "Pip!" said the bird. "Hold on!" added Jesper, and the minister was obliged to follow, running at the top of his speed. The sexton, who saw this, and considered it his duty to assist the minister, ran after them and caught hold of the reverend gentleman's coat-tails. "Pip!" "Hold on!" said Jesper again, and the poor sexton was forced to dance along with the rest.

They soon reached a blacksmith-shop, the owner of which was standing near the road with a pair of tongs in one hand, and in the other one some hay he was reaching to a horse which he had just been shoeing. This blacksmith was a merry fellow, and when the procession passed him he burst into laughing and reached for the sexton with his tongs. "Pip!" said the bird. "Hold on!" cried Jesper; and the blacksmith was, himself, forced to fall in line.

Some geese came walking slowly along. When they saw the hay in the blacksmith's hand, they could not afford to miss the opportunity, but rushed after and snapped at it. They could not tear themselves loose again, however, but were obliged to join the parade.

Very soon Jesper and his followers arrived at the palace, and passing through the gate, in great speed, drove three times around the court-yard. The girls wept and cried; the minister and the sexton panted and yelled; the blacksmith laughed and swore, and the geese quacked and hissed. The whole court came out and looked at this wonderful procession. The king laughed until the tears stood in his eyes, and when he turned around—behold! there the princess was standing, laughing as if she would never stop, and wiping the tears from her eyes with her handkerchief.

"Stop!" cried Jesper. The sledge obeyed. "Let go!" was the next command. The geese, the blacksmith, the sexton, the minister, and the girls immediately disappeared in different directions.

But Jesper skipped up-stairs to the princess. "Now you are cured," said he, "and now you are mine!" And thus it came to pass that Saucy Jesper came into possession of the princess and the kingdom.