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

her room.

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

princess's chest?

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

daughter's chest.

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

shrieked again,

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

struck one.

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