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The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith


 

 

"LARS, MY LAD!"

THERE was once a Prince or a Duke, or something of that sort, but at any rate he belonged to a very grand family, and he would not stop at home. So he traveled all over the world, and wherever he went he was well liked, and was received in the best and gayest families, for he had no end of money. He made friends and acquaintances, as you may imagine, wherever he went, for he who has a well-filled trough is sure to fall in with pigs who want to have their fill. But he went on spending his money until he came to want, and at last his purse became so empty that he had not even a farthing left. And now there was an end to all his friends as well, for they [71] behaved like the pigs; when the trough was empty and he had no more to give them, they began to grunt and grin, and then they ran away in all directions. There he stood alone with a long face. Everybody had been so willing to help him get rid of his money, but nobody would help him without it; and so there was nothing for it but to trudge home and beg for crusts on the way.

So late one evening he came to a great forest. He did not know where he should find a shelter for the night, but he went on looking and searching till he caught sight of an old tumble-down hut, which stood in the middle of some bushes. It was not exactly good enough for such a fine cavalier, but when you cannot get what you want you must take what you can get. And, since there was no help for it, he went into the hut. Not a living soul was to be seen; there was not even a stool to sit upon, but alongside the wall stood a big chest. What could there be inside that chest? If only there were some bits of moldy bread in it! How nice they would taste! For, you must know, he had not had a single bit of food the whole day, and he was so hungry and his stomach so empty that it groaned with pain. He lifted the lid. But inside the chest was another chest, and inside that chest there was another; and so it went on, each one smaller than the other, until they became quite tiny boxes. The more there were the harder he worked away, for there must be something very fine inside, he thought, since it was so well hidden.

At last he came to a tiny, little box, and in this box lay a bit of paper—and that was all he got for his trouble! It was very annoying, of course, but then he discovered there was something written on the paper, and when he looked at it he was just able to spell it out, although at first it looked somewhat difficult.

"Lars, my lad!"

As he pronounced these words something answered right in his ear:

"What are master's orders?"

[72] He looked round, but he saw nobody. This was very funny, he thought, and so he read out the words once more:

"Lars, my lad!"

And the answer came as before:

"What are master's orders?"

But he did not see anybody this time either.

"If there is anybody about who hears what I say, then be kind enough to bring me something to eat," he said. And the next moment there stood a table laid out with all the best things one could think of. He set to work to eat and drink, and had a proper meal. He had never enjoyed himself so much in all his life, he thought.

When he had eaten all he could get down, he began to feel sleepy, and so he took out the paper again:

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"Well, you have given me food and drink, and now you must get me a bed to sleep in as well. But I want a really fine bed," he said, for you must know he was a little more bold now that his hunger was stayed. Well, there it stood, a bed so fine and dainty that even the King himself might covet it. Now this was all very well in its way, but when once you are well off you wish for still more, and he had no sooner got into bed than he began to think that the room was altogether too wretched for such a grand bed. So he took out the paper again:

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"Since you are able to get me such food and such a bed here in the midst of the wild forest, I suppose you can manage to get me a better room, for you see I am accustomed to sleep in a palace, with golden mirrors and draped walls and ornaments and comforts of all kinds," he said. Well, he had no sooner spoken the words than he found himself lying in the grandest chamber anybody had ever seen.

Now he was comfortable, he thought, and felt quite satisfied as he turned his face to the wall and closed his eyes.

[73] But that was not all the grandeur; for when he woke up in the morning and looked round, he saw it was a big palace he had been sleeping in. One room led into the other, and wherever he went the place was full of all sorts of finery and luxuries, both on the walls and on the ceilings, and they glittered so much when the sun shone on them that he had to shade his eyes with his hand, so strong was the glare of gold and silver wherever he turned. He then happened to look out of the window. Good gracious! How grand it was! There was something else than pine forests and juniper bushes to look at, for there was the finest garden anyone could wish for, with splendid trees and roses of all kinds. But he could not see a single human being, or even a cat; and that, you know, was rather lonely, for otherwise he had everything so grand and had been set up as his own master again.

So he took out the bit of paper:

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"Well, now you have given me food and bed and a palace to live in, I intend to remain here, for I like the place," he said, "yet I don't like to live quite by myself. I must have both lads and lasses whom I may order about to wait on me," he said.

And there they were. There came servants and stewards and scullery maids and chambermaids of all sorts, and some came bowing and some curtseying. So now the Duke thought he was really satisfied.

But now it happened that there was a large palace on the other side of the forest, and there the King lived who owned the forest, and the great, big fields around it. As he was walking up and down in his room he happened to look out through the window and saw the new palace, where the golden weathercocks were swinging to and fro on the roof in the sunlight, dazzling his eyes.

"This is very strange," he thought; and so he called his courtiers. They came rushing in, and began bowing and scraping.

[74] "Do you see the palace over there?" said the King.

They opened their eyes and began to stare.

Yes, of course, they saw it.

"Who is it that has dared to build such a palace on my grounds?" said the King.

They bowed, and they scraped with their feet, but they did not know anything about it.

The King then called his generals and captains.

They came, stood at attention and presented arms.

"Be gone, soldiers and troopers," said the King, "and pull down the palace over there, and hang him who has built it; and don't lose any time about it!"

Well, they set off in great haste to arm themselves, and away they went. The drummers beat the skins of their drums, and the trumpeters blew their trumpets, and the other musicians played and blew as best they could, so that the Duke heard them long before he could see them. But he had heard this kind of noise before, and knew what it meant, so he took out his scrap of paper:

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"There are soldiers coming here," he said, "and now you must provide me with soldiers and horses, that I may have double as many as those over in the wood, and with sabers and pistols, and guns and cannons with all that belongs to them; but be quick about it."

And no time was lost; for when the Duke looked out, he saw an immense number of soldiers, who were drawn up around the palace.

When the King's men arrived, they came to a sudden halt and dared not advance. But the Duke was not afraid; he went straight up to the Colonel of the King's soldiers and asked him what he wanted.

The Colonel told him his errand.

"It's of no use," said the Duke. "You see how many men I have; and if the King will listen to me, we shall become good friends, and I will help him against his enemies, [75] and in such a way that it will be heard of far and wide," he said.

The Colonel was of the same opinion, and the Duke then invited him and all his soldiers inside the palace, and the men had more than one glass to drink and plenty of everything to eat as well.

But while they were eating and drinking they began talking; and the Duke then got to hear that the King had a daughter who was his only child, and was so wonderfully fair and beautiful that no one had ever seen her like before. And the more the King's soldiers ate and drank the more they thought she would suit the Duke for a wife.

And they went on talking so long that the Duke at last began to be of the same opinion. "The worst of it," said the soldiers, "is that she is just as proud as she is beautiful, and will never look at a man."

But the Duke laughed at this. "If that's all," said the Duke, "there's sure to be a remedy for that complaint."

When the soldiers had eaten and drunk as much as they could find room for, they shouted "Hurrah!" so that it echoed among the hills, and then they set out homeward. But, as you may imagine, they did not walk exactly in parade order, for they were rather unsteady about the knees, and many of them did not carry their guns in regulation manner. The Duke asked them to greet the King from him. He would call on him the following day, he said.

When the Duke was alone again, he began to think of the Princess, and to wonder if she were as beautiful and fair as they had made her out to be. He would like to make sure of it; and as so many strange things had happened that day it might not be impossible to find that out as well, he thought.

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"Well, now you must bring me the King's daughter as soon as she has gone to sleep," he said; "but she must not be awakened either on the way here or back. Do you hear [76] that?" he said. And before long the Princess was lying on the bed. She slept so soundly and looked so wonderfully beautiful as she lay there. Yes, she was as sweet as sugar, I can tell you.

The Duke walked round about her, but she was just as beautiful from whatever point of view he looked at her.

The more he looked the more he liked her.

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"You must now carry the Princess home," he said, "for now I know how she looks and to-morrow I will ask for her hand," he said.

Next morning the King looked out of the window. "I suppose I shall not be troubled with the sight of that palace any more," he thought. But, zounds! There it stood just as on the day before, and the sun shone so brightly on the roof, and the weathercocks dazzled his eyes.

He now became furious, and called all his men.

They came quicker than usual.

The courtiers bowed and scraped, and the soldiers stood at attention and presented arms.

"Do you see the palace there?" screamed the King.

They stretched their necks, and stared and gaped.

Yes, of course, that they did.

"Have I not ordered you to pull down the palace and hang the builder?" he said.

Yes, they could not deny that; but then the Colonel himself stepped forward and reported what had happened and how many soldiers the Duke had, and how wonderfully grand the palace was.

And next he told him what the Duke had said, and how he had asked him to give his greetings to the King, and all that sort of thing.

The King felt quite confused, and had to put his crown on the table and scratch his head. He could not understand all this, although he was a king; for he could take his oath it had all been built in a single night; and if the Duke [77] were not the evil one himself, he must in any case have done it by magic.

While he sat pondering, the Princess came into the room.

"Good morning to you, father!" she said. "Just fancy, I had such a strange and beautiful dream last night!" she said.

"What did you dream then, my girl?" said the King.

"I dreamed I was in the new palace over yonder, and that I saw a Duke there, so fine and handsome that I could never have imagined the like; and now I want to get married, father," she said.

"Do you want to get married?—you, who never cared to look at a man! That's very strange!" said the King.

"That may be." Said the Princess; "but it's different now, and I want to get married, and it's the Duke I want," she said.

The King was quite beside himself, so frightened did he become of the Duke.

But all of a sudden he heard a terrible noise of drums and trumpets and instruments of all kinds; and then came a message that the Duke had just arrived with a large company, all of whom were so grandly dressed that gold and silver glistened in every fold. The King put on his crown and his coronation robes, and then went out on the steps to receive them. And the Princess was not slow to follow him.

The Duke bowed most graciously, and the King of course did likewise, and when they had talked awhile about their affairs and their grandeur they became the best of friends. A great banquet was then prepared, and the Duke was placed next to the Princess at the table. What they talked about is not easy to tell, but the Duke spoke so well for himself that the Princess could not very well say "No" to anything he said, and then he went up to the King and asked for her hand. The King could not exactly say "No" either, for he could very well see that the Duke was a person with whom it was best to be on friendly terms; but [78] give his sanction there and then, he could not very well do that either. He wanted to see the Duke's palace first, and find out about the state of affairs over there, as you may understand.

So it was arranged that he should visit the Duke and take the Princess with him to see his palace; and with this they parted company.

When the Duke returned home, Lars became busier than ever, for there was so much to attend to. But he set to work and strove hard; and when the King and his daughter arrived everything was so magnificent and splendid that no words can describe it. They went through all the rooms and looked about, and they found everything as it should be, and even still more splendid, thought the King, and so he was quite pleased.

The wedding then took place, and that in grand style; and on the Duke's arrival home with his bride he, too, gave a great feast, and then there was an end to the festivities.

Some time passed by, and one evening the Duke heard these words:

"Are you satisfied now?"

It was Lars, as you may guess, but the Duke could not see him.

"Well, I ought to be," said the Duke. "You have provided me with everything I have," he said.

"Yes, but what have I got in return?" asked Lars.

"Nothing," said the Duke; "but, bless me, what could I have given you, who are not of flesh and blood, and whom I cannot see either?" he said. "But if there is anything I can do for you, tell me what it is, and I shall do it."

"Well, I should like to ask you for that little scrap of paper which you found in the chest," said Lars.

"Nothing else?" said the Duke. "If such a trifle can help you, I can easily do without it, for now I begin to know the words by heart," he said.

Lars thanked the Duke, and asked him to put the paper [79] on the chair in front of the bed when he retired to rest, and he would be sure to fetch it during the night.

The Duke did as he was told; and so he and the Princess lay down and went to sleep.

But early in the morning the Duke awoke and felt so cold that his teeth chattered, and when he had got his eyes quite open he found that he was quite naked and had not even as much as a thread on his back; and instead of the grand bed and the beautiful bedroom, and the magnificent palace, he lay on the big chest in the old tumble-down hut.

He began to shout:

"Lars, my lad!" But he got no answer. He shouted once more:

"Lars, my lad!" But he got no answer this time either. So he shouted all he could:

"Lars, my lad!" But it was all in vain.

Now he began to understand how matters stood. When Lars had got the scrap of paper he was freed from service at the same time, and now he had taken everything with him. But there was no help for it. There stood the Duke in the old hut quite naked; and as for the Princess she was not much better off, although she had her clothes on, for she had got them from her father, so Lars had no power over them.

The Duke had now to tell the Princess everything, and ask her to leave him. He would have to manage as best he could, he said. But she would not hear of it. She well remembered what the parson had said when he married them, and she would never, never leave him, she said.

In the meantime the King in his palace had also awakened, and when he looked out of the window he did not see any sign whatever of the other palace where his daughter and son-in-law lived. He became uneasy, as you may imagine, and called his courtiers.

They came in, and began to bow and scrape.

"Do you see the palace over yonder behind the forest?" he asked.

[80] They stretched their necks and stared with all their might.

No, they did not see it.

"Where had it gone to, then?" asked the King.

Well, really they did not know.

It was not long before the King set out with all his court through the forest; and when he arrived at the place where the palace with the beautiful gardens should have been, he could not see anything but heather and juniper bushes and firs. But then he discovered the old tumble-down hut, which stood there among the bushes. He entered the hut and—mercy on us!—what a sight met his eyes! There stood his son-in-law, quite naked, and his daughter, who had not very many clothes on either, and who was crying and moaning.

"Dear, dear! what does all this mean?" said the King; but he did not get any answer, for the Duke would rather have died than tell him.

The King did his utmost to get him to speak; but in spite of all the King's promises and threats the Duke remained obstinate and would not utter a word.

The King then became angry—;and no wonder, for now he could see that this grand Duke was not what he pretended to be, and so he ordered the Duke to be hanged, and that without any loss of time. The Princess begged and prayed for mercy; but neither prayers nor tears were of any help now; for an impostor he was, and as an impostor he should die, said the King.

And so it had to be. They erected a gallows, and placed the rope round the Duke's neck. But while they were getting the gallows ready, the Princess got hold of the hangman, and gave both him and his assistant some money, that they should so manage the hanging of the Duke that he should not lose his life, and in the night they were to cut him down, so that he and the Princess might then flee the country. And that's how the matter was arranged.

In the meantime they had strung up the Duke, and the King and his court and all the people went their way.

[81] The Duke was now in great straits. He had, however, plenty of time to reflect how foolish he had been in not saving some of the crumbs when he was living in plenty, and how unpardonably stupid he had been in letting Lars have the scrap of paper. This vexed him more than all. If only he had it again, he thought, they should see he had been gaining some sense in return for all he had lost. But it is of little use snarling if you haven't got any teeth. "Ah, well, well!" he sighed, and so he dangled his legs, which was really all he could do.

The day passed slowly and tediously for him, and he was not at all displeased when he saw the sun setting behind the forest. But just before it disappeared he heard a fearful shouting, and when he looked down the hill, he saw seven cartloads of worn-out shoes, and on the top of the hindmost cart he saw a little old man in gray clothes and with a red pointed cap on his head. His face was like that of the worst scarecrow, and the rest of him was not very handsome either.

He drove straight up to the gallows, and when he arrived right under it he stopped and looked up at the Duke, and then burst out laughing, the ugly old fellow!

"How stupid you were!" he said; "but what should the fool do with his stupidity if he did not make use of it?" And then he laughed again. "Yes, there you are hanging now, and here am I carting away all the shoes I have worn out for your whims. I wonder if you can read what is written on this bit of paper, and if you recognize it?" he said with an ugly laugh, holding up the paper before the Duke's eyes.

But all who hang are not dead, and this time it was Lars who was befooled.

The Duke made a clutch, and snatched the paper from him.

"Lars, my lad!"

"What are master's orders?"

"Well, you must cut me down from the gallows and put [82] the palace and all the rest in its place again, exactly as it was before, and when the night has set in you must bring back the Princess."

All went merrily as in a dance, and before long everything was in its place, just as it was when Lars took himself off.

When the King awoke the next morning he looked out of the window, as was his custom, and there stood the palace again, with the weathercocks glittering so beautifully in the sunshine. He called his courtiers, and they came and began to bow and scrape.

They stretched their necks as far as they could, and stared and gaped.

"Do you see the palace over there?" said the King.

Yes, of course, they did.

The King then sent for the Princess, but she was not to be found. He then went out to see if his son-in-law was still hanging on the gallows, but neither son-in-law nor gallows was to be seen.

He had to lift off his crown and scratch his head. But that did not improve matters; he could not make head or tail of either one thing or the other. He set off at once with all his court through the forest, and when he came to the place where the palace should stand, there it stood sure enough. The gardens and the roses were exactly as they used to be, and the Duke's people were to be seen everywhere among the trees. His son-in-law and his daughter received him on the steps, dressed in their finest clothes.

"Well, I never saw the like of this," said the King to himself; he could scarcely believe his own eyes, so wonderful did it all seem to him.

"God's peace be with you, father, and welcome here!" said the Duke.

The King stood staring at him.

"Are you my son-in-law?" he asked.

"Well, I suppose I am," said the Duke. "Who else should I be?"

[83] "Did I not order you to be hanged yesterday like any common thief?" said the King.

"I think you must have been bewitched on the way," said the Duke, with a laugh. "Do you think I am the man to let myself be hanged? Or is there anyone here who dares to believe it?" he said, and looked so fiercely at the courtiers that they felt as if they were being pierced through and through.

They bowed and scraped and cringed before him.

Who could believe such a thing? Was it at all likely?

"Well, if there is anyone who dares to say the King could have wished me such evil, let him speak out," said the Duke, and fixed his eyes upon them still more fiercely than before.

They went on bowing and scraping and cringing.

How could anyone dare say such a thing? No, they had more sense than that, they should hope.

The King did not know what to believe, for when he looked at the Duke he thought he never could have wished him such evil; but still he was not quite convinced.

"Did I not come here yesterday, and was not the whole palace gone, and was there not an old hut in its place? And did not I go into that hut, and did not you stand stark naked right before my eyes?" he asked.

"I wonder the King can talk so," said the Duke. "I think the trolls must have bewitched your eyes in the forest and made you quite crazy; or what do you think?" he said, and turned round to the courtiers.

They bowed and bowed till their backs were bent double, and agreed with everything he said, there could be no mistake about that. The King rubbed his eyes, and looked round about him.

"I suppose it is as you say, then," he said to the Duke, "and it is well I have got back my proper sight and have come to my senses again. For it would have been a sin and a shame if I had let you be hanged," he said; and so [84] he was happy again, and nobody thought any more about the matter.

"Once bitten, twice shy," as the proverb says; and the Duke now took upon himself to manage and look after most of his affairs, so that it was seldom Lars had to wear out his shoes. The King soon gave the Duke half the kingdom into the bargain; so he had now plenty to do, and people said they would have to search a long time to find his equal in wise and just ruling.

Then one day Lars came to the Duke, looking very little better than the first time he had seen him; but he was, of course, more humble, and did not dare giggle and make grimaces.

"You do not want my help any longer, now," he said; "for although I did wear out my shoes at first, I am now unable to wear out a single pair, and my feet will soon be covered all over with moss. So I thought I might now get my leave of absence," he said.

The Duke quite agreed with him. "I have tried to spare you, and I almost think I could do without you," he said. "But the palace and all the rest I do not want to lose, for such a clever builder as you I shall never get again; nor do I ever want to adorn the gallows again, as you can well understand; so I cannot give you back the paper on any account," he said.

"Well, as long as you have got it, I need not fear," said Lars; "but if anybody else should get hold of it there will be nothing but running and trudging about again, and that's what I want to avoid; for when one has been tramping about for a thousand years, as I have done, one begins to get tired of it," he said.

But they went on talking, and at last they agreed that the Duke should put the paper in the box, and then bury it seven ells under the ground, under a stone fixed in the earth. They then gave mutual thanks for the time they had spent in each other's company, and so they parted.

The Duke carried out his part of the agreement, for he [85] was not likely to want to change it. He lived happy and contented with the Princess, and they had both sons and daughters. When the King died, he got the whole of the kingdom, and you may guess he was none the worse off for that; and there no doubt he still lives and reigns, if he is not dead.

But as for the box with the scrap of paper in it, there are many who are still running about looking for it.


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