Translation:Danish Folktales (Grundtvig 1884)/Esben Ashpuffer
With illustrations by Hans Nik. Hansen.
Once there was a king who had an only daughter. She was pretty as well as clever, but horribly stuck up, so jeering and foul-mouthed that all the princes who came to sue for her hand, they soon got their fill, and in time they turned away and journeyed back home again the way they had come.
The King at last was fed up with this: now there was no one of her rank who wanted to have anything to do with her; and so he swore that she would take the man, whoever he might be, who succeeded in making her shut up.—"Well, let them give it a try," said the Princess; "but if they fail they'll be hanged."—"Well, all right!" said the King, and so it was decided, and it was posted on all the street corners, and read to church congregations throughout the land, that that's how it would be.
There were many young lads who were brave enough to try, and thought that their mouths were up to the task, and that here they would make their fortune. But they came in plenty of time: when they had to face off with her in a verbal duel, one on one, they would become tongue-tied, but never her, and so they had to go out by the other door and were hanged, one after the other.
The king was rather annoyed at this. "You're destroying all my lads for me; there'll be no end of trouble when it comes to enlistments." But of course he had to obey his own rule; there was nothing he could do about it.
So there was a farmer out in the countryside, who had three sons, they were called Per and Povl and Esben. The two older ones were considered to be great wits, they had been to high school, and could talk the ears off the Devil, so it was said, and they thought so too, and now they wanted to see if one of them, with his gift of gab, couldn't win the Princess and become king of the land. The one who didn't become king, he would be prime minister, they were in agreement on that.
Their father was proud of them and had faith in their verbal prowess, so he gave them fine clothes, and a pair of fine horses with silver bits, and now they were ready to be off. "I'll go too," said Esben, who played the part of oddball at home, and was deemed all but an idiot. He was given only the meanest and crudest tasks, such as digging turf and hauling dung, and he made his bed among the ashes and coals; for this they called him Esben Ashpuffer. "I'll go too," he said.—No, they would have none of that, said his brothers; he could stay home in his chimney-corner, that was the best place for him.—"I look nice enough as I am, I'm not asking for new clothes," said Esben; but he still wanted a horse to ride on, it didn't matter what sort. But that was out of the question; his father and brothers merely laughed at him and said that he could always ride shanks' mare.—"Well, I will go too," said Esben, and so he trotted along after his two stately brothers when they rode off from the farmyard.
When they have come a small part of the way, Esben yells after them: "Hey there! see what I found!"—"What have you found?" said his brothers, yet they turned back, to see what it was; it was just a dead crow he had discovered on the road. "This'll have to go along to the King's Court," he said, "you never know what it might be good for."—"Ah, you're a downright fool!"
said his brothers, and each gave him a whack with their horsewhips, and so they rode on. "Wait a bit and take me along!" said Esben. "You can come after us," they said. "Ah, I just might get there in time," said Esben, and he stuffed the crow in his pocket and trotted on after them.
A little later he yells again: "Hey there! see what I found!" His brothers wouldn't even look back; it was an old clog-ring. "There's no one who knows what this might be good for," said Esben, he stuffed the ring into his pocket, and trotted on.
Now when he has travelled another part of the way, he yells: "Hey there! see what I found!" It was an old bottle-stopper. His brothers were by then far ahead. And the stopper goes down into his pocket with the other things.
And a little after Esben stops again and yells: "Hey there! see what I found!" It was a ram's horn. And just after that he found another ram's horn, and they both go down into his pocket.
Finally Esben stops yet one more time and yells: "Hey there! see what I found!" It was a nice big, round road-apple. He was delighted with this, and it had to go down into his pocket with all the other rarities.
In the mean time Per and Povl had reached the King's Court and had announced their business. "You're aware, aren't you, of what's at stake?" said the guardsman. Yes, they were well aware, and first Per was brought in before the Princess. She sat in all her magnificence up on a dais in a gilded chair, while all her court ladies stood behind her and on both sides. And farther in back in the hall sat the King himself on his throne, with his counsellors standing in a circle around him.
"Good day, Your Grace!" said Per and bowed, as nicely as he could. "I'll give you Death and the Devil. You won't get fat off my grace!" said the Princess. Poor Per was gobsmacked by this retort and no longer knew what he should say. So he was done for, he was led out through the other door and strung up on the gallows.
So Povl came in. He couldn't help thinking about what had happened to Per in the wink of an eye; and yet he stepped forward bravely and began: "Good day, Your Highness!"—"Well, you're going to a high place yourself, you muck-stopper!" said the Princess. So he was stumped. "Don't forget what you were going to say!" added the Princess scornfully; but now Povl had nothing at all to say. So out he went through the other door and was strung up next to Per.
"Are there any more suitors?" asked the Princess. Yes, the door swung open, and in came Esben Ashpuffer, all sweaty and grimy as he was. He had had to trot the whole way. When he came to the palace, the guard showed him all the gallows, where the suitors hung cheek by jowl. But he lost no time in looking at them, he had to go right in to the Princess, he said, and in he came."Good day, Miss Cheeky!" said Esben, "it's awfully warm in here by you."—"It's no warmer here today than it was yesterday," said the Princess. "What do you use all this heat for?" says Esben, "here it's enough to roast a pig." "Well, yesterday my father roasted eighteen hogs; today we've still only roasted two," said the Princess. "That's good," says Esben, "so I can get this little fowl roasted too," and he pulls the dead crow up out of his pocket. "No, that'll split open," says the Princess. "Here's a cinch for that," says Esben, "so it will hold together;" and he takes out the clog-ring.—"The grease will run out the end of it," says the Princess. "So we'll plug up the hole with a stopper," says Esben, and the bottle-stopper made its appearance.—"I believe you have all your wit in your pocket," said the Princess; "but we'll find a hook to hang you on yet!" "Did you say hook?" says Esben, "here's one; you can make a point of it," and fishes the first ram's horn up out of his pocket.—"Now I've never seen the like," says the Princess. "You won't have to wait for that," says Esben, and comes up with the other ram's horn and tries to hand it all to her. "Keep away from me with that filth!" says the Princess. "No, if you want filth," says Esben, "I've got it here;" and he pulls the road-apple up out of his pocket and flings it straight into the Princess's lap, plop in the middle of her lovely white silk robe.
The Princess was so cross that she couldn't find a word in response; but she sprang up and shook off her robe and burst into tears from sheer exasperation. She had never ever been treated this way.
"Well, now you've ground to a halt," says Esben, "so now you're mine." And the King immediately said Yes: now she had found her husband. And that was that. Esben was married to the Princess, and he immediately received half the Kingdom, and the whole of it after the King's death.
And if the one who told me this story wasn't lying, then it's true from start to finish.