Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Knapsack

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THERE was once a soldier who had served his country faithfully for eight years, and staked his life many times both on land and water, both in war and in peace. At the end of the eight years he was to receive wages for his faithful service. But the war had caused the king so much expense that at the time when the soldier asked for his pay there remained only a few copper pennies in the treasury.

"Now, my friend," said the king—mark, he called the soldier his friend!—"you see how it is. There is nothing in the treasury."

"There is a little left, your majesty," answered the soldier, "give me three pennies, that is enough!"

"Take them," returned the king; "then I have five left, and those I will save. We may need them some day."

"Yes, indeed," observed the soldier, "and good-bye to your majesty."

"Good-bye, and take good care of yourself," cried the king; "if I can ever do anything for you, let me know of it!"

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"Much obliged!" answered the soldier, "and farewell."

When he had walked on a distance he met an old woman who asked him for a penny. "A penny!" exclaimed he. "Three pennies are all I have, but it makes no difference whether there are three or two." So he gave the old woman one of his pennies, and walked on. In a little while he met another old woman who begged for a penny. "Whether I have two or one is all the same," said he, and immediately handed her one. Soon afterwards a third woman stopped and asked him for a little help. "One penny is my whole property," replied the soldier, "besides an old shirt and a pair of stockings without heels; but one or none it is all the same, so here is the penny. You are welcome to keep it."

The three old women were, however, one and the same, and this one was, moreover, a great and good fairy who had only assumed the shape of an old, wrinkled woman in order to try the soldier, whose free and generous ways she liked. If his heart was as good and brave as she thought, he deserved to be rewarded. So she told him all, and added that he might make three wishes, which would all be fulfilled.

The soldier was much surprised, and at first did not know what to wish for. But at length he said, "I wish to have and hold the grace and good-will of God."

"That is a good wish," replied the fairy, "and so far as I can help you, you shall have it!"

"I further wish," continued he, "that my knapsack may never be worn out, and that all I wish to be placed in it may remain there until I desire to have it out again."

"It is all granted you," returned the fairy, smilingly; "and now I bid you good-bye in good earnest." So they separated, and the soldier pursued his way homeward. As he walked along he could not help stopping from time to time to think how strange it was that he could wish anything into his knapsack.

Towards evening he arrived at a castle, and as he was very hungry he went in and asked the cook for some supper. "I would gladly give you what you ask for," answered she, "but the master of this castle is so covetous that he locks up the pantry, and allows none or us to eat or take more than he gives us." So the soldier was obliged to walk away without even a drink of water. He promised himself, however, to remember the covetous squire.

The next morning he reached a small farm where he knew that his sweetheart was living. The buildings looked neglected and decayed, but the soldier walked briskly in, and found everything as of old, except for the great poverty which was everywhere apparent. The farm belonged to the wealthy squire, and he was not the man to allow any of his tenants to be very comfortable.

"What ails you?" asked the soldier, seeing that both his sweetheart and her mother looked careworn and sorrowful. They told him how the wealthy man defrauded them on all occasions, so that they could hardly gain their daily bread. They owed him a large amount of money, and on the following day it must be paid. "Let him come!" exclaimed their friend; "he shall have it all." At the same moment he said to himself, "I wish my knapsack was filled with the covetous squire's gold."

They now sat down to the scanty meal which had in the mean time been prepared by the girl, who could not help wondering how they would be able to pay the debts which had long been resting heavily upon their minds. At length they arose, whereupon the soldier placed his knapsack on the table and loosened the straps. The old shirt and the stockings without heels rolled out when he opened it, and the space beneath them was filled with more gold and silver than the king had ever had, at any one time, in his treasury.

"Hoorah!" shouted the soldier. "Let him come; he will open his eyes when he sees the gold and silver, and yet he will not dream that he is paid with his own money." The women now took what they needed, the rest was stowed away in a drawer, and the young man went to town for the purpose of buying some new clothes for himself, as he desired to be married as soon as possible to the girl who had been waiting patiently for him all the long eight years.

When he arrived in town he walked into a very fine inn where the wealthy citizens were accustomed to refresh themselves by good eating and drinking. Without paying attention to the curious glances and smiles which were directed towards him, he walked into the large dining-room, sat down at the table, and called the landlord, whom he asked to bring him a good dinner.

"People of your kind had better go into the kitchen," answered the landlord, haughtily.

"Never mind," said the soldier again, "this is good enough for me. Of course, I am accustomed to eat at a better table, but that does not matter, as I am hungry. Bring me a dozen snipes and two bottles of your best wine, and be quick!"

The landlord opened his eyes in wonder; such a soldier he had never seen before. With remarkable haste the table was laid, and our friend lost no time in satisfying his hunger. He took care to leave a great deal on his plate, as he knew that wealthy and important people usually do this. As soon as he arose from the table, the landlord presented his bill. "Oh," said the soldier, "I nearly forgot to pay you, my friend. Take this; I hope it is enough." At the sight of two shining gold pieces the landlord bowed three times almost to the floor, and expressed the hope that everything had been satisfactory to his excellency.

"Fairly well, fairly well, my good man," answered the soldier, drawing himself up with much importance. Upon this the landlord bowed again, and asked if his excellency desired anything more.

"Yes," said the soldier, "let me have a room for the night."

He was informed, however, with many excuses, that every room was occupied, with the exception of one which could not be used.

"Why not?" inquired he.

"All who have slept in that room," explained the landlord, "were found dead the next morning."

"That is the very room for me!" exclaimed the soldier. "Make it ready."

In spite of all objections, he persisted in occupying the haunted room, so when night came on, and he had finished his business, he bid good-night and retired. As soon as the door was closed behind him, he turned the key in the lock, unstrapped his faithful knapsack and placed it in a corner. Then he seated himself on a chair, prepared for whatever might come.

In a little while there was a noise in the chimney, and a black ball came suddenly rolling through the fireplace and into the room, where it unfolded itself into a black, long-haired devil with two horns and a tail, a long nose, and finger-nails which had lengthened into claws.

"Halloo! Is there more of that kind?" ejaculated the soldier, nodding at the tall black figure.

A fresh hubbub was heard, followed by the appearance of two other devils, the one uglier than the other, and both more hideous than the first.

"Be seated," said the soldier, pointing to three chairs, "and make yourselves at home." The three devils followed the invitation, but soon they began to approach him. One reached for his nose, another began to pull his ears with his claws, and the third grasped him by the throat As he considered this rather forward in them, he cried, "In the knapsack with all of you!" Whether they would or not, they were obliged to creep into the narrow space, and soon only a faint cracking and hissing was heard from within.

"You might have behaved better," said the soldier, talking into the corner where he had thrown his knapsack "But now you will please tell me why you always haunt this room at night."

They answered that it was because there was standing a large pot under the oven filled with old gold coin.

"Very well," said the soldier again; "I will see that you do not come here in the future, disturbing and even killing blameless people in their sleep." Upon this he undressed and went to bed.

Next morning the landlord came and knocked at the door. As the soldier did not answer, he glanced through the key-hole and saw him lying in bed, quiet and immovable. Thinking that he had suffered the same fate as all others who had slept in this room,
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the landlord cried for help, and tried to force the door open with his broad shoulders. The soldier, who was awakened by this noise, called and asked what had happened.

"Gracious!" exclaimed the stout landlord, panting for breath, "are you alive yet?"

"Go away from the door!" shouted the young man. "How dare you disturb me with such nonsense?"

"I thought—" began the landlord.

"Leave me alone!" roared the soldier. "If you do not go away I will break every bone in your body." On hearing this the landlord fled in terror.

Later in the morning our friend arose. After breakfast he asked for a blacksmith who could beat the dust out of his knapsack. "I have walked so long with it on my back," said he, "that it has become very dusty. It needs a good beating."

Two strong men were now ordered to carry the knapsack to the blacksmith's shop. In the beginning they wondered why one could not do this alone, but soon they found that their burden became as heavy as four bushels of wheat, and they were wellnigh exhausted when at length they reached their destination. The landlord could not think but that the soldier had lost his wits, so he took the blacksmith aside, and told him to order three of his strongest men to beat the dust out of the knapsack with their largest hammers. The blacksmith gave orders according to these instructions, but no sooner had the dusting begun than such a yelling and shouting was heard that every one thought the world had come to its end. "Don't mind that," said the soldier, "but knock as hard as you can." The men complied, but the knapsack did not seem to suffer the least by their mad hammering.

At length the soldier bid them stop, and asked the two strong men to go and empty the dust into the sea. His order was obeyed; and when the knapsack was opened a large pile of a black, evil-smelling powder fell out. It was the bodies of the three devils which had been beaten into dust.

When the soldier had paid the men well for their services, he accompanied the landlord back to the inn, telling him all that had happened. As soon as the oven was torn down the money came to light. One-half of it was the soldier's share.

Our friend now built a fine little house near the city, was married to his sweetheart, and had enough as long as he lived. The old knapsack followed him everywhere, obtaining for him all that he wished.

But he and his wife always thought their success might be due to the grace and the goodness of God even more than to the old knapsack.