A Winter’s Tale
In keeping with seasonal Yuletide customs, here is an abridged version of the Scandinavian Folk-tale ‘The old Dame and Her Hen’. It features in:
Popular Tales from the Norse, by George Webbe Dasent, , at sacred-texts.com
The Old Dame and Her Hen
Once upon a time there was an old widow who, with her three daughters, lived far away from the rest of the world, under a hill-side, on high. But, she was so poor that she owned one little hen alone, which she prized as the apple of her eye; it followed her everywhere, cackling at her heels. Well! one day, suddenly, the hen was missing. The old wife went out, looking and calling for her hen, but it was gone, and there was no getting it back.
So the woman said to her eldest daughter, “You must just go out and see if you can find our hen, for have it back we must, even if we have to fetch it out of the hill.”
And so her first daughter set off walking up and down, looking and calling, but no hen could she find. But then, all at once, just as she was about to give up the hunt, she heard someone calling out in a cleft in the rock—
“Your hen trips inside the hill! Your hen trips inside the hill!”
So she went into the cleft to see for herself, but she had scarce set her foot inside the cleft, before she fell through a trap-door, deep, deep down, into a vault underground. When she got to the bottom she went through many rooms, each finer than the other, but in the innermost room of all, a great ugly man of the hill-folk came up to her and asked, “Will you be my sweetheart?”
“No! I will not,” she said. She would never take him, at any price, not she! Desperately, she sought to escape him – all she wanted was to find her hen, and escape this mound. Then the Man o’ the Hill got so angry that he took her up and wrung her head off, and threw both head and trunk down into the cellar.
Unaware of this, her mother sat at home waiting and waiting, but no daughter returned. So, after awhile she said to her second daughter, that she must seek after her sister, adding, “You can just give our hen a call at the same time.”
And so the second sister set off, and of course, the very same thing befell her. As she went about looking and calling, she too heard a voice away in the cleft of the rock saying—”Your hen trips inside the hill! Your hen trips inside the hill!”
Thinking this strange, and went to see what it could be; and likewise fell through the trap-door, deep, deep down, into the vault. Searching from room to room, she arrived at the innermost one, whereupon she discovered the Man o’ the Hill, who came to her and asked if she would be his sweetheart? No! she would not. She rebuked him strongly, just as her sister had done. Once again, the Man o’ the Hill got angry, and took her up and wrung her head off, and threw both head and trunk down into the cellar.
Now, when the Old Dame had sat and waited seven lengths and seven breadths for her second daughter, and could neither see nor hear anything of her, she said to the youngest—
“Now, you must set off to see after your sisters. ‘Twas silly to lose the hen, but ’twill be sillier still if we lose both your sisters; and you can give the hen a call at the same time”—for the Old Dame’s heart was still set on her hen.
And so, her youngest daughter walked over hill and moor, hunting for her sisters and calling the hen, but she could neither see nor hear anything of them. So at last she too came, up to the cleft in the rock, and heard how something said—”Your hen trips inside the hill! Your hen trips inside the hill!”
She thought this strange, and peering in, fell through the trap-door too, deep, deep down, into a vault. When she reached the bottom she went from one room to another, each grander than the other; but she wasn’t at all afraid, and took good time to look about her. So, as she was peeping into this and that, she cast her eye on the trap-door into the cellar, and looked down it, and what should she see there but her sisters, who lay dead. She had scarce time to slam the trap-door before the Man o’ the Hill came to her and asked—
“Will you be my sweetheart?”
“With all my heart,” answered the girl, for she saw very well how The Man o’ the Hill had dealt with her sisters. So delighted was the Man o’ the Hill when he heard this, he acquired for her the finest clothes in the world. Everything she wanted, she had only to ask. So overjoyed was the Man o’ the Hill that anyone would be his sweetheart, nothing was beyond his care.
But when she had been there a little while, she was one day even more doleful and downcast than was her wont. So the Man o’ the Hill asked her what was the matter, and why she was in such dumps. “Ah!” said the girl, “it’s because I can’t get home to my mother. She’s hard pinched, I know, for meat and drink, and has no one with her.”
“Well!” said the Man o’ the Hill, “I can’t let you go to see her; but just stuff some meat and drink into a sack, and I’ll carry it to her.”
Yes! she would do so, she said, with many thanks; but at the bottom of the sack she stuffed a lot of gold and silver, and afterwards she laid a little food on the top of the gold and silver. Then she told the ogre the sack was ready, but he must be sure not to look into it. So he gave his word he wouldn’t, and set off. Now, as the Man o’ the Hill walked off, she peeped out after him through a chink in the trap-door; but when he had gone a bit on the way, he said—”This sack is so heavy, I’ll just see what there is inside it.”
And so he was about to untie the mouth of the sack, but the girl called out to him—
“I see what you’re at! I see what you’re at!”
Startled by this bewitchment, he shouted back to her: “The deuce you do!” said the Man o’ the Hill;” then you must have plaguy sharp eyes in your head, that’s all!”
So he threw the sack over his shoulder, and dared not try to look into it again. When he reached the widow’s cottage, he threw the sack in through the cottage door, and said—
“Here you have meat and drink from your daughter; she doesn’t want for anything.”
Some time later, when the girl had resided in the hill longer still, a roaming billy goat happened to fall down the trap-door. Surprised by this, the Man o’ the Hill shouted,
“Who sent for you, I should like to know.. you long-bearded beast!” Beset then by an awful rage, he whipped up the goat, and wrung his head off, and threw him down into the cellar.
“Oh!” bemoaned the girl to him, “why did you do that? I am so lonely, and I might have had the goat as playmate, down here.”
“Well!” said the Man o’ the Hill, “you needn’t be so sad, for I can soon put life into the billy-goat again.”
So saying, he took a flask which hung up against the wall, put the billy-goat’s head on his body again, and smeared it with some ointment out of the flask, and he was as well and as lively as ever again.
“Ho! ho!” said the girl to herself; “that flask is worth something to me—so it is.”
So again, time passed as she watched and waited for a day when the Man o’ the Hill was away. Then seizing her chance she took the flask from the nail, crept into the vault and placed her eldest sister’s head back upon its shoulders. Next she smeared her with some of the ointment out of the flask, just as she had seen the Man o’ the Hill do with the billy-goat, and in a trice her sister came to life again. Then the girl stuffed her into a sack, laid a little food over her, and as soon as the Man o’ the Hill came home, she said to him—
“Dear friend! Now do go home to my mother with a morsel of food again; poor thing! For I can see that she is both hungry and thirsty. Take this sack to her, but mind you must mind and not look into the sack.”
Well! he said he would carry the sack; and he said, too, that he would not look into it; but when he had gone a little way, he thought the sack got awfully heavy; and when he had gone a bit farther he said to himself—
“Come what will, I must see what’s inside this sack, for however sharp her eyes may be, she can’t see me all this way off.”
But just as he was about to untie the sack, the girl who sat inside the sack called out—
“I see what you’re at! I see what you’re at!”
Startled again, the ogre said, “The deuce you do! You must have plaguy sharp eyes;” for of course, he realised not it was the girl in the sack that called to him, and not his wife at home. So he did not dare peep again into the sack, but carried it straight to her mother as fast as he could, and when he got to the cottage door he threw it in through the door, bawling out—”Here you have meat and drink from your daughter; she wants for nothing.”
Once again, time passed, and another day came when the girl found herself alone in the Hill. So, taking the flask into the vault, she revived her second sister. Placing her safely inside a sack, she covered her with silver and with gold, a finally a little meat near the top of the sack. She instructed the Man o’ the Hill to take the sack to her dear mother as before, reminding him never to peer inside it. “Dear friend,” she said to the Man o’ the Hill, “you really must run home to my mother with a little food again; and mind you don’t look into the sack.” Again, he did as she wished. Staggering under its weight, he paused to look inside, pulling at the string but stopped the moment he heard – “I see what you’re at! I see what you’re at!”
“The deuce you do,” said the Man o’ the Hill, “then you must have plaguy sharp eyes of your own.”
Well, he made all the haste he could, and carried the sack straight to the girl’s mother. When he got to the cottage door he threw the sack in through the door, and roared out—”Here you have food from your daughter; she wants for nothing.”
Satisfied she had freed her sisters, the girl began to plot her own escape, and feigning illness, declared to the Man o’ the Hill, that when next he departed for the day, there would be no supper ready for him upon his return.
“It’s no use your coming home before twelve o’clock at night,” she said, “for I shan’t be able to have supper ready before,—I’m so sick and poorly.”
But when the Man o’ the Hill was well out of the house, she stuffed some of her clothes with straw, and stuck up this lass of straw in the corner by the chimney, with a besom in her hand, so that it looked just as if she herself were standing there. After that she crept off home, armed with a rifle to defend the cottage with her mother and sisters.
So when the clock struck twelve, home came the Man o’ the Hill, and the first thing he said to the straw-girl was, “Give me something to eat.” No word did he receive form this girl of straw.
“Give me something to eat, I say!” called out the Man o’ the Hill, “for I am almost starved.”
Silence was all she gave him.
“Give me something to eat!” roared out the ogre the third time. “I think you’d better open your ears and hear what I say, or else I’ll wake you up, that I will!”
But the straw girl stood motionless. Flying into a rage, he struck her head so hard that the straw flew all about the room. Seeing this, he knew he had been tricked, and began to hunt everywhere. At last, he came to the cellar, and found both sisters missing. In a rage he ran to the cottage, shouting, “I’ll make her pay her for this treachery!”
But upon reaching the cottage, the girl who had been his good-wife, turned the rifle into the air above him and fired. Afraid of the thunderous volley, the Man o’ the Hill dared not go further towards the house, for he thought it was indeed thunder. So he turned tail and scarpered back to his Hill, running as fast as he could lay legs to the ground. But what do you think, just as he got to the trap-door, the sun rose and the Man o’ the Hill burst asunder.
The Old Dame and her daughters lived happily ever after of course, but Oh! if one only knew where the trap-door was, I’ll be bound there’s a treasure hoard of gold and silver down there still!
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