Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Little Mare

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THE LITTLE MARE


ONCE there was a king whose only son was the most beautiful youth ever seen. He was a tender-hearted and noble-minded boy, but haughty and conceited on account of his rank, his beauty and accomplishments. As he was himself handsome, he liked all that was fair and graceful, but hated anything ugly or hideous; he would always say that he grew sick when looking at what was displeasing to his eyes.

It happened one day, when he went hunting with his comrades, and the party was camping near the high-road to enjoy a good breakfast, that they noticed an old man who came along the road riding a miserable mare. This old man was very unpleasant to look at, as he was hump-backed and one-eyed, had a crooked neck, and of course was poorly dressed. The mare was not prettier than her rider; she was a small, fleshy, long-haired jade, lame in one fore-leg.

"Pooh," said the prince, "get that ugly old fellow and his hideous mare out of the way. I cannot endure the sight of anything so shocking." The courtiers were at once ready to obey him, and soon the shabby rider and his horse were driven out of the prince's sight.

The old man was not, however, what he appeared to be, but a great and mighty conjurer, who did not always present himself in such a wretched shape. One day when the prince was walking alone in the woods, the old man suddenly stood before him and, touching him with his staff, said: "Now you try and see what it is to be a mare like mine, and that you shall be until an innocent young princess calls you her dearest friend." The moment he had uttered these words, the prince was transformed into just such an ugly little mare as the one which he could not bear to look at.

At the home of the prince every one was alarmed at his disappearance, and no one knew what had become of him. In the mean time he walked about in the woods as a common little mare, not at all satisfied with himself. He knew it would be useless for him to return to his father's palace, as no one would know or care for him. When he had been walking about in the forest for a couple of days, a little boy who gathered wood happened to see him, and approaching him he patted his back and talked kindly to him. The little mare followed the boy wherever he went, and finally they came to the boy's home just outside of the forest.

"Look, father," said the boy, "here I bring us a new horse instead of the old one which died yesterday.'

"That is a poor bargain," answered his father; "this one is an utterly miserable animal. It is hardly worth its feed; but we will try it, anyway." So the little mare was put in the stable, and the next day, when the man hitched her to his plough, he found that she served him well. "She works better than she looks," said he to Hans—this was the boy's name; "you must feed her well; in course of time she may prove a great help." Hans thought a great deal of his little mare, as he called her; he curried and fed her with great care, and treated her kindly. Of course she was obliged to work for her food; but towards spring, when the fields had all been tilled, the farmer said to his son: "To-morrow you may go to town with the mare and have two of her hoofs shoed, for now I will sell her."

Hans was not pleased with this, for he would rather keep his little mare. When he came to town and had her two hoofs shoed a one-eyed man came walking along, fell into talk with him, and at length asked if he would sell the animal. "Two hundred dollars is the price," answered Hans, jokingly. "That is too much for her," said the man; "but well and good, I will pay it." "No," said Hans again, "she does not belong to me; she is the property of my father, and I have no permission to sell her." "Then you may go home and ask permission," said the man. Hans declined, however; he mounted and rode home, but did not
 
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"THE SHABBY RIDER AND HIS HORSE"

 
mention to his father the offer of the two hundred dollars which had been made him.

Shortly afterwards there was a horse-market in town, and the farmer now said to his son: "Go and make the mare look pretty; I wish to take her to the market." Hans was very sorry, and asked his father if he would not allow him to take the mare to the market. His father, however, desired to go himself. "Then father must ask three hundred dollars for her," said Hans. "You must be mad, boy," answered his father; "I know myself the value of the horse. She is not worth even one hundred dollars." Now Hans told that some one had made him an offer of two hundred. "Then you are a great fool," said his father, giving him a good box on his ear. He mounted the mare and rode away to the market-place. He was thinking, however, of what Hans had said, and when any one inquired how much he asked for the mare, he answered, briskly: "Three hundred dollars." The buyers laughed at him and said that was a large price for such an old jade, worth not even one hundred. The farmer did not lower the price, however, and at length an old one-eyed man came up to him; he did not haggle about the price, but paid it at once and took the mare. The farmer went home, and was well pleased with the profit he had made. Hans wept, however, and was very sorry. The next morning, when his father looked for him, he was not to be found. "He has run after the mare," said Hans's mother, and thus they satisfied themselves.

Hans had, indeed, run after his little mare. In town he succeeded in finding out that the man who had bought her had gone with her to a place a hundred miles away. He was thought to be a rich and a great man, and presumably he belonged somewhere at the king's palace. Hans at once started on his long journey, and finally had all the hundred miles behind him. He went straight to the king's palace, and applied for a place as groom. This was granted him, but the mare was not to be found in the king's stables.

One day Hans found a small carriage out in the court-yard, and what should be attached to it but his own dear little mare: He was of course delighted to find her again, and patted and talked kindly to her. It so happened that at the same moment the king's youngest daughter—as yet a mere child—came running past; when she saw Hans standing by the little mare she came up to him and said: "Such a little pet I would like to have; I could use it both for riding and driving. Don't you think so, Hans?" Yes, Hans was quite certain; he told her that he knew the animal to be the swiftest and most pleasant in existence. The little princess skipped up to her father and asked him to buy the mare for her. "That ugly little beast!" said the king; "no, there are enough pretty horses in my stable, and you may select for yourself the one you like best." She had taken such a fancy to the mare, however, that she went on begging and praying, until the king assented and bought the animal for her. "Now take good care of her, Hans," said the little princess. Hans readily promised, and kept his word so well that every day the little mare grew more and more beautiful. The princess drove with and rode on her, and liked her very much.

Some time afterwards the king's oldest daughter—for he had two daughters and no sons—had been fishing in a pond in the garden. She happened to lose a ring which had belonged to her mother, and as it was both a great treasure and a talisman, she and her father were alike unhappy over her misfortune. The king ordered a careful search for it, but all were unsuccessful. At last the king proclaimed that he who could find the ring could be married to the princess and be endowed with one-half of the kingdom. Many princes and noblemen from this and other countries came and searched, but no one found the ring, although several actually lost their lives by exercising too much zeal.

In the mean time the little princess liked her mare better and better every day; she both kissed and patted it, and had it shoed with splendid gold shoes.

One day, when Hans was watering the little mare by the pond, he noticed a beautiful goldfish in the water, and at once jumped for it, without, however, succeeding in catching it. But a couple of days after, when he again watered the mare, she kicked the same goldfish to the shore. Hans seized the fish and brought it to the king's kitchen, where every one was anxious to see it. When it was cut open the missing ring rolled out. Then the king said to his oldest daughter: "Well, now, you will have to marry Hans!" She was willing enough, and so was Hans; but, he said, the honor was really due rather to the little mare which had kicked the fish ashore with her hoof.

When the little princess heard this she skipped down to the stable, folded her arms around the mare's neck, kissed her, and said: "No, you shall not be married to my sister, she may take Hans; but I am going to keep you always, for you are my dearest friend." As soon as she had uttered these words the mare was gone, and she was embracing a beautiful young prince. He thanked her, and told her all about his punishment, and how he had now been set free. Afterwards they walked up to the king, and their marriage was celebrated on the same day when Hans was united with the other princess.

The beautiful prince went home to his father with his bride, and his return caused great happiness throughout the land. He is no more haughty or conceited, but noble and good, and happy with his little princess. Hans is also happy with his princess, and is now in possession of the whole kingdom, the old king having died.