Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/The Three Pennies

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MANY years ago an old soldier was discharged from the army. He received in consideration of his excellent and faithful service a small loaf of rye-bread and three pennies, whereupon he was at liberty to go whither he pleased. As he was walking along the high-road, he met three men; the one carried a shovel, the second a pickaxe, and the third a spade. The soldier stopped, looked at them, and said, "Where are you going?" "I will tell you," answered one of them. "To-day there was buried a man who owed each of us one penny, and now we will dig him up, since we are determined upon getting our dues." "What an idea!" returned the soldier; "you had better leave the dead man alone. At any rate, he is at present unable to pay you even one penny, so don't disturb his peace!" "It is all very fine for you to talk," answered the man; "but we must have the money, and up he must come."

When the soldier felt that his fair words could not settle the matter, he said, "Here, I have two pennies; will you take them and promise to leave the dead man undisturbed?" "Two pennies are not to be refused," said the man again, "but they will pay only two of us. What can you give the third one, since he is bent upon having his share?"

As the soldier saw that there was no dealing with these three wretches, he resumed: "Since you are so desperately determined, here is my third and last penny. Take it, and be content." Now all three were well satisfied, so they pursued their way with the three pennies in their pockets.

When the soldier had advanced a distance, a stranger came walking along. He looked rather pale, but saluted the soldier in a very civil manner, and followed him along the road without uttering a single sound. At last they reached a church, and here the stranger turned to his companion, saying, "Let us walk in!" The soldier looked wistfully at him, and answered: "That would not do. What business have we in the church at midnight?" "I tell you," replied the stranger, "we must walk in!" Upon this they entered the church and walked straight up to the altar. There was an old woman sitting with a burning light in her hand. "Take a hair from her head, and smell at it!" commanded the stranger. The soldier complied, but nothing remarkable happened. The stranger asked him to repeat the action, which he did; but there was no effect. The third time, however, when he tore a whole tuft of hair from the woman's head, she became so furious that she darted off, out above the church, carrying the whole leaden vault with her.

The two men went out of the church and down to the beach, where they found the whole leaden vault. Turning to the soldier, the stranger said, "Sit up; we will put to sea!" "Is that so?" remarked the soldier, who understood nothing of all this. "I see no ship, however." "Let me manage it all," says the stranger; "just seat yourself by me on the vault! Beyond the sea there is a princess of whom it was predicted that she would be married only to a man who should come across the sea in a leaden ship. Here you will be able to make your fortune." The leaden vault now floated out upon the open sea, and landed them safely on the other side. Great was the joy and happiness throughout the country, and the marriage between the soldier and the princess was celebrated with such pomp and splendor as was never seen, before or after.

When the ceremony had been performed, and the carriage was standing in front of the church door, bride and groom entered, with the stranger who had followed the soldier all along. The coachman asked to what place he might drive them. "Drive away, as fast as you can, towards the side where the sun will rise," said the stranger, and in a little while they were carried along at a furious rate. Somewhere they saw a large herd of cattle. They stopped, and the soldier called the herdsman to the carriage door, asking who he was. "I am the Count of Ravensburg," answered the shepherd, "and yonder is my castle." The stranger again bid the coachman drive as fast as possible. In a little while they rushed up to Ravensburg Castle. As they were ready to alight from the carriage, there was some one who knocked hard at the gate. It was the herdsman, who was anxious to come in. The stranger walked to the gate, inquiring what he could do for him. He wished to come into the castle, he said, for it belonged to him, and he had a right to demand admittance. The stranger meditated a little, whereupon he told the herdsman—who was a conjurer—that he might be allowed to come in, but first he must suffer the whole fate of the rye. "The fate of the rye!" repeated the conjurer; "what do you mean by that?" "I mean," answered the stranger, "that next fall you must be sown deep in the ground, and towards spring, when you come up, you must ripen in the sunshine and grow in the rain until you are ready for the harvest. Then you will be mowed and dried, and kept in the barn, until at length you will be threshed." "How is that!" cried the conjurer; "am I to be threshed?" "Of course you are," replied the stranger. "First you will be threshed, and then taken to the mill and ground." "Ground, too!" shouted the conjurer; "will I be ground also?" "Yes, both ground and sifted," answered the stranger. But the conjurer, hearing this, became so furious that he burst all into flint-stones.

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The stranger now bid good-bye to the princess and the soldier, shook hands with them, and said: "Now I have seen you married to the princess; the troll of Ravensburg is dead and gone, and his castle, with all its treasures, is yours. I was as good to you as you were to me when you gave away your three pennies for my sake!" "What do you say?" exclaimed the soldier; "I never thought of those three pennies again!" "I know that," answered the stranger, "and otherwise I would not have been able to help you. However, I bid farewell to you and your wife, for I must return to the place where I belong."