The Princess In The Chest
: The Pink Fairy Book
Translated from the Danish.
There were once a king and a queen who lived in a beautiful castle, and
had a large, and fair, and rich, and happy land to rule over. From
the very first they loved each other greatly, and lived very happily
together, but they had no heir.
They had been married for seven years, but had neither son nor daughter,
and that was a great grief to both of t
em. More than once it happened
that when the king was in a bad temper, he let it out on the poor queen,
and said that here they were now, getting old, and neither they nor the
kingdom had an heir, and it was all her fault. This was hard to listen
to, and she went and cried and vexed herself.
Finally, the king said to her one day, 'This can't be borne any longer.
I go about childless, and it's your fault. I am going on a journey and
shall be away for a year. If you have a child when I come back again,
all will be well, and I shall love you beyond all measure, and never
more say an angry word to you. But if the nest is just as empty when I
come home, then I must part with you.'
After the king had set out on his journey, the queen went about in her
loneliness, and sorrowed and vexed herself more than ever. At last her
maid said to her one day, 'I think that some help could be found, if
your majesty would seek it.' Then she told about a wise old woman in
that country, who had helped many in troubles of the same kind, and
could no doubt help the queen as well, if she would send for her. The
queen did so, and the wise woman came, and to her she confided her
sorrow, that she, was childless, and the king and his kingdom had no
The wise woman knew help for this. 'Out in the king's garden,' said she,
'under the great oak that stands on the left hand, just as one goes out
from the castle, is a little bush, rather brown than green, with hairy
leaves and long spikes. On that bush there are just at this moment three
buds. If your majesty goes out there alone, fasting, before sunrise, and
takes the middle one of the three buds, and eats it, then in six months
you will bring a princess into the world. As soon as she is born, she
must have a nurse, whom I shall provide, and this nurse must live with
the child in a secluded part of the palace; no other person must visit
the child; neither the king nor the queen must see it until it is
fourteen years old, for that would cause great sorrow and misfortune.'
The queen rewarded the old woman richly, and next morning, before the
sun rose, she was down in the garden, found at once the little bush
with the three buds, plucked the middle one and ate it. It was sweet to
taste, but afterwards was as bitter as gall. Six months after this, she
brought into the world a little girl. There was a nurse in readiness,
whom the wise woman had provided, and preparations were made for her
living with the child, quite alone, in a secluded wing of the castle,
looking out on the pleasure-park. The queen did as the wise woman had
told her; she gave up the child immediately, and the nurse took it and
lived with it there.
When the king came home and heard that a daughter had been born to him,
he was of course very pleased and happy, and wanted to see her at once.
The queen had then to tell him this much of the story, that it had been
foretold that it would cause great sorrow and misfortune if either he or
she got a sight of the child until it had completed its fourteenth year.
This was a long time to wait. The king longed so much to get a sight of
his daughter, and the queen no less than he, but she knew that it was
not like other children, for it could speak immediately after it was
born, and was as wise as older folk. This the nurse had told her, for
with her the queen had a talk now and again, but there was no one who
had ever seen the princess. The queen had also seen what the wise woman
could do, so she insisted strongly that her warning should be obeyed.
The king often lost his patience, and was determined to see his
daughter, but the queen always put him off the idea, and so things went
on, until the very day before the princess completed her fourteenth
The king and the queen were out in the garden then, and the king said,
'Now I can't and I won't wait any longer. I must see my daughter at
once. A few hours, more or less, can't make any difference.'
The queen begged him to have patience till the morning. When they had
waited so long, they could surely wait a single day more. But the king
was quite unreasonable. 'No nonsense,' said he; 'she is just as much
mine as yours, and I will see her,' and with that he went straight up to
He burst the door open, and pushed aside the nurse, who tried to
stop him, and there he saw his daughter. She was the loveliest young
princess, red and white, like milk and blood, with clear blue eyes and
golden hair, but right in the middle of her forehead there was a little
tuft of brown hair.
The princess went to meet her father, fell on his neck and kissed him,
but with that she said, 'O father, father! what have you done now?
to-morrow I must die, and you must choose one of three things: either
the land must be smitten with the black pestilence, or you must have a
long and bloody war, or you must as soon as I am dead, lay me in a plain
wooden chest, and set it in the church, and for a whole year place a
sentinel beside it every night.'
The king was frightened indeed, and thought she was raving, but in order
to please her, he said, 'Well, of these three things I shall choose the
last; if you die, I shall lay you at once in a plain wooden chest, and
have it set in the church, and every night I shall place a sentinel
beside it. But you shall not die, even if you are ill now.'
He immediately summoned all the best doctors in the country, and they
came with all their prescriptions and their medicine bottles, but next
day the princess was stiff and cold in death. All the doctors could
certify to that and they all put their names to this and appended their
seals, and then they had done all they could.
The king kept his promise. The princess's body was lain the same day in
a plain wooden chest, and set in the chapel of the castle, and on that
night and every night after it, a sentinel was posted in the church, to
keep watch over the chest.
The first morning when they came to let the sentinel out, there was no
sentinel there. They thought he had just got frightened and run away,
and next evening a new one was posted in the church. In the morning he
was also gone. So it went every night. When they came in the morning to
let the sentinel out, there was no one there, and it was impossible to
discover which way he had gone if he had run away. And what should they
run away for, every one of them, so that nothing more was over heard
or seen of them, from the hour that they were set on guard beside the
It became now a general belief that the princess's ghost walked, and ate
up all those who were to guard her chest, and very soon there was no one
left who would be placed on this duty, and the king's soldiers deserted
the service, before their turn came to be her bodyguard. The king then
promised a large reward to the soldier who would volunteer for the post.
This did for some time, as there were found a few reckless fellows,
who wished to earn this good payment. But they never got it, for in the
morning, they too had disappeared like the rest.
So it had gone on for something like a whole year; every night a
sentinel had been placed beside the chest, either by compulsion or of
his own free will, but not a single one of the sentinels was to be seen,
either on the following day or any time thereafter. And so it had also
gone with one, on the night before a certain day, when a merry young
smith came wandering to the town where the king's castle stood. It was
the capital of the country, and people of every king came to it to
get work. This smith, whose name was Christian, had come for that same
purpose. There was no work for him in the place he belonged to, and he
wanted now to seek a place in the capital.
There he entered an inn where he sat down in the public room, and got
something to eat. Some under-officers were sitting there, who were out
to try to get some one enlisted to stand sentry. They had to go in this
way, day after day, and hitherto they had always succeeded in finding
one or other reckless fellow. But on this day they had, as yet, found no
one. It was too well known how all the sentinels disappeared, who were
set on that post, and all that they had got hold of had refused with
thanks. These sat down beside Christian, and ordered drinks, and drank
along with him. Now Christian was a merry fellow who liked good company;
he could both drink and sing, and talk and boast as well, when he got a
little drop in his head. He told these under-officers that he was one of
that kind of folk who never are afraid of anything. Then he was just
the kind of man they liked, said they, and he might easily earn a good
penny, before he was a day older, for the king paid a hundred dollars to
anyone who would stand as sentinel in the church all night, beside his
Christian was not afraid of that he wasn't afraid of anything, so they
drank another bottle of wine on this, and Christian went with them up
to the colonel, where he was put into uniform with musket, and all the
rest, and was then shut up in the church, to stand as sentinel that
It was eight o'clock when he took up his post, and for the first hour
he was quite proud of his courage; during the second hour he was well
pleased with the large reward that he would get, but in the third hour,
when it was getting near eleven, the effects of the wine passed off, and
he began to get uncomfortable, for he had heard about this post; that
no one had ever escapeed alive from it, so far as was known. But neither
did anyone know what had become of all the sentinels. The thought of
this ran in his head so much, after the wine was out of it, that he
searched about everywhere for a way of escape, and finally, at eleven
o'clock, he found a little postern in the steeple which was not locked,
and out at this he crept, intending to run away.
At the same moment as he put his foot outside the church door, he saw
standing before him a little man, who said, 'Good evening, Christian,
where are you going?'
With that he felt as if he were rooted to the spot and could not move.
'Nowhere,' said he.
'Oh, yes,' said the little man, 'You were just about to run away, but
you have taken upon you to stand sentinel in the church to-night, and
there you must stay.'
Christian said, very humbly, that he dared not, and therefore wanted to
get away, and begged to be let go.
'No,' said the little one, 'you must remain at your post, but I shall
give you a piece of good advice; you shall go up into the pulpit, and
remain standing there. You need never mind what you see or hear, it will
not be able to do you any harm, if you remain in your place until you
hear the lid of the chest slam down again behind the dead; then all
danger is past, and you can go about the church, wherever you please.'
The little man then pushed him in at the door again, and locked it after
him. Christian made haste to get up into the pulpit, and stood there,
without noticing anything, until the clock struck twelve. Then the lid
of the princess's chest sprang up, and out of it there came something
like the princess, dressed as you see in the picture. It shrieked and
howled, 'Sentry, where are you? Sentry, where are you? If you don't
come, you shall get the most cruel death anyone had ever got.'
It went all round the church, and when it finally caught sight of the
smith, up in the pulpit, it came rushing thither and mounted the steps.
But it could not get up the whole way, and for all that it stretched and
strained, it could not touch Christian, who meanwhile stood and trembled
up in the pulpit. When the clock struck one, the appearance had to go
back into the chest again, and Christian heard the lid slam after it.
After this there was dead silence in the church. He lay down where he
was and fell asleep, and did not awake before it was bright daylight,
and he heard steps outside, and the noise of the key being put into the
lock. Then he came down from the pulpit, and stood with his musket in
front of the princess's chest.
It was the colonel himself who came with the patrol, and he was not a
little surprised when he found the recruit safe and sound. He wanted
to have a report, but Christian would give him none, so he took him
straight up to the king, and announced for the first time that here
was the sentinel who had stood guard in the church over-night. The king
immediately got out of bed, and laid the hundred dollars for him on the
table, and then wanted to question him. 'Have you seen anything?' said
he. 'Have you seen my daughter?' 'I have stood at my post,' said the
young smith, 'and that is quite enough; I undertook nothing more.'
He was not sure whether he dared tell what he had seen and heard, and
besides he was also a little conceited because he had done what no other
man had been able to do, or had had courage for. The king professed to
be quite satisfied, and asked him whether he would engage himself
to stand on guard again the following night. 'No, thank you,' said
Christian, 'I will have no more of that!'
'As you please,' said the king, 'you have behaved like a brave fellow,
and now you shall have your breakfast. You must be needing something to
strengthen you after that turn.'
The king had breakfast laid for him, and sat down at the table with him
in person; he kept constantly filling his glass for him and praising
him, and drinking his health. Christian needed no pressing, but did full
justice both to the food and drink, and not least to the latter. Finally
he grew bold, and said that if the king would give him two hundred
dollars for it, he was his man to stand sentry next night as well.
When this was arranged, Christian bade him 'Good-day,' and went down
among the guards, and then out into the town along with other soldiers
and under-officers. He had his pocket full of money, and treated them,
and drank with them and boasted and made game of the good-for-nothings
who were afraid to stand on guard, because they were frightened that the
dead princess would eat them. See whether she had eaten him! So the day
passed in mirth and glee, but when eight o'clock came, Christian was
again shut up in the church, all alone.
Before he had been there two hours, he got tired of it, and thought only
of getting away. He found a little door behind the altar which was not
locked, and at ten o'clock he slipped out at it, and took to his heels
and made for the beach. He had got half-way thither, when all at once
the same little man stood in front of him and said, 'Good evening,
Christian, where are you going?' 'I've leave to go where I please,'
said the smith, but at the same time he noticed that he could not move a
foot. 'No, you have undertaken to keep guard to-night as well,' said the
little man, 'and you must attend to that.' He then took hold of him, and
however unwilling he was, Christian had to go with him right back to
the same little door that he had crept out at. When they got there, the
little man said to him, 'Go in front of the altar now, and take in your
hand the book that is lying there. There you shall stay till you hear
the lid of the chest slam down over the dead. In that way you will come
to no harm.'
With that the little man shoved him in at the door, and locked it.
Christian then immediately went in front of the altar, and took the
book in his hand, and stood thus until the clock struck twelve, and
the appearance sprang out of the chest. 'Sentry, where are you? Sentry,
where are you?' it shrieked, and then rushed to the pulpit, and right
up into it. But there was no one there that night. Then it howled and
My father has set no sentry in,
War and Pest this night begin.
At the same moment, it noticed the smith standing in front of the altar,
and came rushing towards him. 'Are you there?' it screamed; 'now I'll
catch you.' But it could not come up over the step in front of the
altar, and there it continued to howl, and scream, and threaten, until
the clock struck one, when it had to go into the chest again, and
Christian heard the lid slam above it. That night, however, it had not
the same appearance as on the previous one; it was less ugly.
When all was quiet in the church, the smith lay down before the altar
and slept calmly till the following morning, when the colonel came to
fetch him. He was taken up to the king again, and things went on as the
day before. He got his money, but would give no explanation whether he
had seen the king's daughter, and he would not take the post again,
he said. But after he had got a good breakfast, and tasted well of the
king's wines, he undertook to go on guard again the third night, but he
would not do it for less than the half of the kingdom, he said, for it
was a dangerous post, and the king had to agree, and promise him this.
The remainder of the day went like the previous one. He played
the boastful soldier, and the merry smith, and he had comrades and
boon-companions in plenty. At eight o'clock he had to put on his uniform
again, and was shut up in the church. He had not been there for an hour
before he had come to his senses, and thought, 'It's best to stop now,
while the game is going well.' The third night, he was sure, would be
the worst; he had been drunk when he promised it, and the half of the
kingdom, the king could never have been in earnest about that! So he
decided to leave, without waiting so long as on the previous nights. In
that way he would escape the little man who had watched him before. All
the doors and posterns were locked, but he finally though of creeping
up to a window, and opening that, and as the clock struck nine, he crept
out there. It was fairly high in the wall, but he got to the ground with
no bones broken, and started to run. He got down to the shore without
meeting anyone, and there he got into a boat, and pushed off from land.
He laughed immensely to himself at the thought of how cleverly he had
managed and how he had cheated the little man. Just then he heard a
voice from the shore, 'Good evening, Christian, where are you going?' He
gave no answer. 'To-night your legs will be too short,' he thought, and
pulled at the oars. But he then felt something lay hold of the boat, and
drag it straight in to shore, for all that he sat and struggled with the
The man then laid hold of him, and said, 'You must remain at your post,
as you have promised,' and whether he liked it or not, Christian had
just to go back with him the whole way to the church.
He could never get in at that window again, Christian said; it was far
too high up.
'You must go in there, and you shall go in there,' said the little man,
and with that he lifted him up on to the window-sill. Then he said to
him: 'Notice well now what you have to do. This evening you must stretch
yourself out on the left-hand side of her chest. The lid opens to the
right, and she comes out to the left. When she has got out of the chest
and passed over you, you must get into it and lie there, and that in
a hurry, without her seeing you. There you must remain lying until day
dawns, and whether she threatens you or entreats you, you must not come
out of it, or give her any answer. Then she has no power over you, and
both you and she are freed.'
The smith then had to go in at the window, just as he came out, and
went and laid himself all his length on the left side of the princess's
chest, close up to it, and there he lay stiff as a rock until the clock
struck twelve. Then the lid sprang up to the right, and the princess
came out, straight over him, and rushed round the church, howling and
shrieking 'Sentry, where are you? Sentry, where are you?' She went
towards the altar, and right up to it, but there was no one there; then
she screamed again,
My father has set no sentry in,
War and Pest will now begin.
Then she went round the whole church, both up and down, sighing and
My father has set no sentry in,
War and Pest will now begin.
Then she went away again, and at the same moment the clock in the tower
Then the smith heard in the church a soft music, which grew louder and
louder, and soon filled the whole building. He heard also a multitude of
footsteps, as if the church was being filled with people. He heard
the priest go through the service in front of the altar, and there was
singing more beautiful than he had ever heard before. Then he also heard
the priest offer up a prayer of thanksgiving because the land had been
freed from war and pestilence, and from all misfortune, and the king's
daughter delivered from the evil one. Many voices joined in, and a hymn
of praise was sung; then he heard the priest again, and heard his own
name and that of the princess, and thought that he was being wedded to
her. The church was packed full, but he could see nothing. Then he heard
again the many footsteps as ol' folk leaving the church, while the music
sounded fainter and fainter, until it altogether died away. When it was
silent, the light of day began to break in through the windows.
The smith sprang up out of the chest and fell on his knees and thanked
God. The church was empty, but up in front of the altar lay the
princess, white and red, like a human being, but sobbing and crying, and
shaking with cold in her white shroud. The smith took his sentry coat
and wrapped it round her; then she dried her tears, and took his hand
and thanked him, and said that he had now freed her from all the sorcery
that had been in her from her birth, and which had come over her again
when her father broke the command against seeing her until she had
completed her fourteenth year.
She said further, that if he who had delivered her would take her in
marriage, she would be his. If not, she would go into a nunnery, and he
could marry no other as long as she lived, for he was wedded to her with
the service of the dead, which he had heard.
She was now the most beautiful young princess that anyone could wish to
see, and he was now lord of half the kingdom, which had been promised
him for standing on guard the third nigh. So they agreed that they would
have each other, and love each other all their days.
With the first sunbeam the watch came and opened the church, and not
only was the colonel there, but the king in person, come to see what had
happened to the sentinel. He found them both sitting hand in hand on the
step in front of the altar, and immediately knew his daughter again,
and took her in his arms, thanking God and her deliverer. He made no
objections to what they had arranged, and so Christian the smith held
his wedding with the princess, and got half the kingdom at once, and the
whole of it when the king died.
As for the other sentries, with so many doors and windows open, no doubt
they had run away, and gone into the Prussian service. And as for what
Christian said he saw, he had been drinking more wine than was good for