Danish Fairy and Folk Tales/Three Happy Tailors

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LONG time ago three tailors were living at a town called Landery. As times became bad, and grew from bad to worse, as they sometimes will, they considered it folly to let the needles rust in the cloth, and resolved, therefore, to set out for a more prosperous location. All three were married, so each one received from his wife a good-sized knapsack and the best wishes, whereupon they started on their journey. They walked many miles, and finally found themselves in a large forest, where they lost their way. The more eagerly they sought an opening among the trees the more confused were they, and when the knapsacks were empty, the three friends found themselves obliged to feed upon roots and herbs. This mode of living was, of course, very disagreeable to all, so their joy was great when one day they discovered far away among the trees a magnificent castle. Approaching the beautiful building, they soon arrived at the gate and sounded the knocker. As no one made any response to their call, they walked in. All the doors were open, and the three tailors passed from one gorgeous hall into another without seeing a single person until they entered the kitchen, where a white goose was moving about.

On seeing the tailors, the goose came forward, craned her neck, and greeted the men in the manner of geese which are pleased to see each other. The tailors were happy to find, in the absence of men or women, at least a real goose, and became further pleased when she opened a door and showed them a well-filled pantry. Upon this the bird made a fire in the stove, and, as there were no bellows, flapped her wings towards the flames until a good fire was burning. The tailors now prepared a hearty supper, and carried the dishes into the great dining-room, where they seated themselves and ate to their hearts' content. Arising from the table they thanked the goose, which at once began to speak, saying: "Your hunger and thirst are satisfied, now I shall show you a good resting-place for the night." So she led them into a bedroom containing three fine beds. "Here you may sleep safe and sound," said she, "but one promise you owe me in return for what I have done for you. At midnight a beautiful maiden will enter the room and offer you wine and cake, but you are not allowed to touch it, whatever she says." The men promised to obey her, and so she departed, leaving them alone to enjoy a good night's rest.

At midnight they awoke, when a beautiful maiden entered the room with a beaker of wine in one hand and dainty cakes in the other. She offered it to the three men with much kindness, but they all refused, saying they had had enough at the supper-table and needed no more. Realizing that they were determined to receive nothing, the maiden withdrew, and the tailors slept quietly until morning. When they arose, the goose had already prepared their breakfast. She bade them kindly good-morning, saying: "Last night you braved the temptation, so I am in hopes that you may be able to dispel the enchantment that rests upon this castle and the forest all around. When breakfast is over, you may start in search of the sorcery. Somewhere you will pass, however, a tree which carries gold leaves from midnight until noon, but if you wish to free me, you are forbidden to touch them."

The three tailors accordingly left the castle and passed through a fine garden. There stood the tree, gleaming in the morning sunshine with its sparkling golden-red splendor. "Well," cried one of the men, "a fool is he who will go in search of sorcerers when he may become wealthy here without the least danger!" The second tailor thought likewise, and so the two seized upon the leaves, and filled their pockets and knapsacks until these were entirely stuffed with the golden treasure. But the third tailor said to his comrades: "I intend to keep my promise to the goose, and, besides, I should like to see the end of this enchantment. So you may return home if you like, but I shall remain here."

The comrades received these words with laughter and scorn, and said they considered him very foolish. In spite of this he remained firm, and so the two men started for their homes, being fortunate enough to find their way out of the forest.

The third tailor now pursued his way among the trees and bushes until he heard the sound of delicious music, which seemed to come from far away. Following the direction of the sound, he walked on, and finally reached a hill, at the top of which a giant was lying on the bare ground, tied securely with ropes on hands and feet, and unable to make a single movement. A flock of geese were trotting back and forth over his body, and near by sat the young woman who had appeared the previous night, playing a harp.

The giant, turning his head, looked at the tailor, and said: "If you are a Christian seize the club which lies behind my head and knock me dead, for it is a slow death to be trodden down by geese." The tailor did not hesitate, but grasped the club and struck the giant's large head with all his might. At the same moment a great change took place. The geese were transformed into men and women, and the giant arose, active and alive, but quite altered; he was a prince of fair countenance and stately bearing. But the beautiful maiden was changed into an old, ugly-looking witch, which flew far away, never to be seen again. The prince thanked the little tailor most heartily for his brave and noble conduct, while his wife, who had been living at the castle in the shape of a white goose, joined them. "A malicious witch," said she, "had changed us all. Because of your timely help, we now offer you a gift which will be very useful to yourself and your family. Take this table-cloth. When you spread it out, saying, 'Cloth, serve quick!' it will provide you with all you wish to eat or drink." The tailor thanked them for this valuable gift, thinking that he now possessed all that he could wish for, and bade the good people a hearty good-bye.

When he had walked a while and gained sight of the open land outside the forest, he determined to make a trial with the cloth, and spread it out upon the sod, saying, "Cloth, serve quick!" At once a fine array of all his favorite dishes stood before him. He had barely finished his meal, however, when twelve giants rode up, and, seeing the remnants of the feast, asked why he had reserved nothing for them. They were hungry and thirsty, and demanded all they could eat, coaxing and threatening the poor tailor, until he ordered the cloth to bring forth whatever they wanted. This done, the giants fell to eating, and were quite contented with the tailor's quick response to their orders. When they all were satisfied, they inquired about the cloth, which they wanted to buy of him. "Here is a sack," said the chief of the twelve; "when you open it, calling, 'Every one out,' you will have as many soldiers with swords and cannon under your command as you wish for, until you call, 'Every one in.' I am willing to exchange this sack for your table-cloth." But no, the tailor did not wish to part with his treasure. "I care more for having a good meal," said he, "than for killing people."

On hearing this the giants laughed, and their chief cried: "You are a great fool! It would serve you right if we robbed you of the cloth; but, as an honest man, I can't do this. The sack you shall have, and we take the table-cloth." So he threw the sack down to him, seized the cloth, and the twelve giants were off.

The tailor was not at all satisfied with this treatment, but after a moment's thought he exclaimed: "That fellow called himself honest. Maybe he was even more silly. Let us see!" Opening the sack he called aloud, "Every one out!" whereat one soldier after another came forth until there was a great and formidable army. Then the tailor ordered them to pursue the giants and return with his table-cloth. The soldiers obeyed, overtook the twelve men, and, after a fearful struggle, succeeded in slaying them and in recovering the precious article. The little man was well pleased; holding out his sack, he cried, "Every one in!" whereupon the entire army disappeared in the sack. So the tailor went home, contented with his good luck.

When he arrived at his old house in Landery the door was opened by his wife, who at once asked if he had been as successful as his two comrades, who were now rolling in wealth, and had become so haughty that their wives did not seem to know her at all. But the little tailor could not show her the least gold; he had found nothing of that kind. So the woman scolded him and said he was a simpleton who did not deserve better than to stand at the doors of his former friends begging for a breadcrumb and a penny. "Well," answered the tailor, "I think I shall go and see if they don't remember me." He went out accordingly and asked the two men, who were now wealthy merchants, if they were not willing to assist him with some of their riches, as he had been less successful than they and returned empty-handed. They answered, however, that this was impossible. If he had watched his opportunity and been as careful of his chances as they were he needed not return home without means. Now it was too late, and—dear them—they must be mindful of their own business.

"Well," said the tailor, "though you refuse to help me I shall at least show you that I remember old comradeship. Come and take dinner with me to-morrow, and let me make a little feast in honor of my safe return." The others wondered at this, but promised to come, silently asking themselves what such a poor devil might have to feast upon.

When the little man returned home, telling his wife that he had asked the two wealthy merchants to come and dine with them the next day, she clapped her hands in dismay, and said she did not know what to put on the table. Her husband asked her, however, to remain quiet, and keep the room tidy for their guests; he would himself provide for the table. So on the following day the two men arrived. The tailor had gone out, but his wife told the guests he would return with some bread and butter, and a bottle of something, perhaps. When they had waited a little the tailor arrived with his table-cloth, which he spread out on the table, saying the magic words. Thus he brought forth a number of the most excellent dishes and cakes and wine, such as would satisfy even the most pampered appetite. The woman was much astonished, and the two merchants ate and drank to their hearts' content, entirely forgetting their pride and high station. They wished to learn how he had come into possession of such a treasure, and the tailor told them it was a gift from the white goose. But now they must, he said, drink a glass of wine in honor of his happy return. This they did, but at the same moment there was such a shooting outside that even a king's birthday could not be celebrated with greater honor. The guests were fairly trembling for fear, but the tailor laughed and said that he merely wished them to know how wealthy and noble persons were wont to entertain their friends. A moment later he went outside and bid his soldiers to get back into the sack so no one saw them. In a little while the two guests departed, but near the tailor's door they were met by a royal servant. His majesty had heard the shooting, and wanted to know what it meant. So they told how it had all happened, and what a wonderful table-cloth the tailor possessed. As soon as the king learned this he started for the little man's house, followed by all his noblemen, and asked permission to look at the treasure. The tailor readily complied, and spread out a fine lunch for his majesty and the courtiers. The king was pleased and wished at once to buy the wonderful cloth; he offered the tailor any price, but in vain; the little man refused all offers. Then the king grew angry. "I shall show you, upon my word," cried he, "who I am! If you are obstinate I shall use force against you. Don't you know, man, that a king should have his will?" But the tailor persisted, and so the king rode away, carrying with him the precious table-cloth.

On the following day, when the royal court dined at the castle, every one being in high spirits on account of the glorious meals he was now to receive every day, whether the treasury were filled or empty, a fearful shooting and hubbub was heard outside. The castle had been surrounded by a great army, and some one cried out that unless the table-cloth was surrendered the tailor was determined to kill every one, from the king downward, and not leave behind him as much as a tired crow might perch upon. The king became terribly frightened, and was nearly choked in a fine piece of canary-bird steak; but as he found that defence would be of no use, he forwarded the table-cloth at once, and offered to the tailor, who proved himself such a mighty man, a position as chief commander of the government armies. The offer was accepted, and the tailor liked his new occupation, because he was never himself asked to fight, but able to let his soldiers do the acting. So he lived pleasantly all the rest of his days, and often visited the court, bringing with him the magic table-cloth, which gained for him the good-will and friendship of the king and all others. He died in old age, honored and beloved on account of his fine dinners; and the two other tailors often thought their comrade had taken the wiser course, and gained the greatest happiness.

I think so too.