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Adventures Of Ashpot

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES FROM SCANDINAVIA





Norwegian children are just as fond of fairy stories as are any other
children, and they are lucky in having a great number, for that famous
story-teller, Hans Christian Andersen, was a Dane, and as the Danish
language is very like the Norwegian, his stories were probably known in
Norway long before they were known in England. But the Norwegians have
plenty of other stories of their own, and they love to sit by the fire
of burning logs or round the stove in the long winter evenings and
listen to them. Of course, they know all about people like Cinderella
and Jack the Giant-Killer, but their favorite hero is called by the name
of Ashpot, who is sometimes a kind of boy Cinderella and sometimes a
Jack the Giant-Killer.

The following are two stories which the little yellow-haired Norse
children never fail to delight in:

Once upon a time there was a man who had been out cutting wood, and when
he came home he found that he had left his coat behind, so he told his
little daughter to go and fetch it. The child started off, but before
she reached the wood darkness came on, and suddenly a great big
hill-giant swooped down upon her.

"Please, Mr. Giant," said she, trembling all over, "don't take me away
to-night, as father wants his coat; but to-morrow night, if you will
come when I go to the stabbur to fetch the bread, I will go away with
you quietly."

So the giant agreed, and the next night, when she went to fetch the
bread, he came and carried her off. As soon as it was found that she was
missing, her father sent her eldest brother to look for her, but he came
back without finding her. The second brother was also sent, but with no
better result. At last the father turned to his youngest son, who was
the drudge of the house, and said: "Now, Ashpot, you go and see if you
can find your sister."

So away went Ashpot, and no sooner had he reached the wood than he met a
bear.

"Friend bear," said Ashpot, "will you help me?"

"Willingly," answered the bear. "Get up on my back."

And Ashpot mounted the bear's back and rode off. Presently they met a
wolf.

"Friend wolf," said Ashpot, "will you do some work for me?"

"Willingly," answered the wolf.

"Then jump up behind," said Ashpot, and the three went on deeper into
the wood.

They next met a fox, and then a hare, both of whom were enlisted into
Ashpot's service, and, mounted on the back of the bear, were swiftly
carried off to the giant's abode.

"Good day, Mr. Giant!" said they.

"Scratch my back!" roared the giant, who lay stretched in front of the
fire warming himself.

The hare immediately climbed up and began to scratch as desired; but the
giant knocked him over, and down he fell on to the hearthstone, breaking
off his forelegs, since which time all hares have had short forelegs.

The fox next clambered up to scratch the giant's back, but he was served
like the hare. Then the wolf's turn came, but the giant said that he was
no better at scratching than the others.

"You scratch me!" shouted the giant, turning impatiently to the bear.

"All right," answered Bruin; "I know all about scratching," and he
forthwith dug his claws into the giant's back and ripped it into a
thousand pieces.

Then all the beasts danced on the dead body of the monster, and Ashpot
recovered his sister and took her home, carrying off, at the same time,
all the giant's gold and silver. The bear and the wolf burst into the
cattle-sheds and devoured all the cows and sheep, the fox feasted in the
hen-roost, while the hare had the free run of the oatfield. So every one
was satisfied.

* * *

The other story is also about Ashpot, whose two elder brothers still
treated him very badly, and eventually turned him out of his home. Poor
Ashpot wandered away up into the mountains, where he met a huge giant.
At first he was terribly afraid, but after a little while he told the
giant what had happened to him, and asked him if he could find a job for
him.

"You are just the very man I want," said the giant. "Come along with
me."

The first work to be done was to make a fire to brew some ale, so they
went off together to the forest to cut firewood. The giant carried a
club in place of an axe, and when they came to a large birch-tree he
asked Ashpot whether he would like to club the tree down or climb up and
hold the top of it. The boy thought that the latter would suit him best,
and he soon got up to the topmost branches and held on to them. But the
giant gave the tree such a blow with his club as to knock it right out
of the ground, sending Ashpot flying across the meadows into a marsh.
Luckily he landed on soft ground, and was none the worse for his
adventure; and they soon managed to get the tree home, when they set to
work to make a fire.

But the wood was green, and would not burn, so the giant began to blow.
At the first puff Ashpot found himself flying up to the ceiling as if he
had been a feather, but he managed to catch hold of a piece of
birch-bark among the rafters, and on reaching the ground again he told
the giant that he had been up to get something to make the fire burn.

The fire was soon burning splendidly, and the giant commenced to brew
the ale, drinking it off as fast as it was made. Ashpot watched him
getting gradually stupid, and heard him mutter to himself, "To-night I
will kill him," so he began to think of a plan to outwit his master.
When he went to bed he placed the giant's cream-whisk, with which the
giant used to beat his cream, between the sheets as a dummy, while
Ashpot himself crept under the bedstead, where he was safely hidden.

In the middle of the night, just as he had expected, he heard the giant
come into his room, and then there was a tremendous whack as the giant
brought his club down on to the bed. Next morning the boy came out of
his room as if nothing had happened, and his master was very much
surprised to find him still alive.

"Hullo!" said the giant. "Didn't you feel anything in the night?"

"I did feel something," said Ashpot; "but I thought that it was only a
sausage-peg that had fallen on the bed, so I went to sleep again."

The giant was more astonished than ever, and went off to consult his
sister, who lived in a neighboring mountain, and was about ten times
his size. At length it was settled that the giantess should set her
cooking-pot on the fire, and that Ashpot should be sent to see her, when
she was to tip him into the caldron and boil him. In the course of the
day the giant sent the boy off with a message to his sister, and when he
reached the giantess's dwelling he found her busy cooking. But he soon
saw through her design, and he took out of his pocket a nut with a hole
in it.

"Look here," he said, showing the nut to the ogress, "you think you can
do everything. I will tell you one thing that you can't do: you can't
make yourself so small as to be able to creep into the hole in this
nut."

"Rubbish!" replied the giantess. "Of course I can!"

And in a moment she became as small as a fly, and crept into the nut,
whereupon Ashpot hurled it into the fire, and that was the end of the
giantess.

The boy was so delighted that he returned to his old tyrant the giant
and told him what had happened to his sister. This set the big man
thinking again as to how he was to rid himself of this sharp-witted
little nuisance. He did not understand boys, and he was afraid of
Ashpot's tricks, so he offered him as much gold and silver as he could
carry if he would go away and never return. Ashpot, however, replied
that the amount he could carry would not be worth having, and that he
could not think of going unless he got as much as the giant could carry.

The giant, glad to get rid of him at any cost, agreed, and, loading
himself with gold and silver and precious stones, he set out with the
boy toward his home. When they reached the outskirts of the farms they
saw a herd of cattle, and the giant began to tremble.

"What sort of beasts are these?" he asked.

"They are my father's cows," replied Ashpot, "and you had better put
down your burden and run back to your mountain, or they may bite you."

The giant was only too happy to get away, so, depositing his load, which
was as big as a small hill, he made off, and left the boy to carry his
treasure home by himself.

So enormous was the amount of the valuables that it was six years before
Ashpot succeeded in removing everything from the field where the giant
had set it down; but he and all his relations were rich people for the
rest of their lives.





Next: Norwegian Bird-legends

Previous: The Lad And The Fox



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