Taper Tom, A Scandinavian Story
In a certain kingdom there was a very beautiful
Princess, but she was so sad that no one could
make her laugh; she would not even smile, though
all in the court were gay and happy.
For a long time her father tried hard to find
something that would amuse her. But she would
sit all day at her window, and, though the members
of the court passed and repassed, and called
out greetings to her, she would only sigh.
So at last her father the King caused it to be
published abroad that whoever should make the
Princess laugh should have her hand in marriage,
and that half of the kingdom would be her
But, that none might attempt this difficult feat
without fair assurance, the King added as a sort
of postscript to his decree that whoever tried to
make the Princess laugh and failed should have
two broad red stripes cut in his back, and salt
should be rubbed into the stripes!
Now, as you may imagine, soon there were a
great many sore backs in the kingdom and in the
kingdoms round about. For it was deemed but a
slight matter to make a Princess laugh: did not
women giggle at little and at nothing?
But, although many came, and there were
strange things done, the Princess remained as sad
Now, there was in the kingdom a farmer who
had three sons, and they decided that each should
have a trial at this task; for to win a dowry of
half a kingdom was well worth trying.
The oldest of the farmer’s sons was a soldier,
and had served in the wars, where there was
always much laughter. And he said that it would
not be worth while for his two brothers to plan
to journey to the court, because he intended
to win the Princess that very first day.
So he dressed up in his uniform, and put his
knapsack on his back, and strutted up and down
the road in front of the window of the Princess
like any pouter-pigeon. But, though the Princess
looked at him, once, she did not even turn her
eyes in his direction a second time, and the stripes
which were cut in his back were deep and broad,
and he went home feeling very sore.
His next brother was a schoolmaster, and had
one long leg and one short leg, so that when he
stood on the long leg he seemed a very tall man,
and when he stood on the short leg he seemed but
a dwarf, and he had always found that he could
make folk laugh by quickly changing himself
from a tall man to a mere dwarf. Moreover, he
was a preacher, and he came out on the road in
front of the Princess’ window and preached like
seven parsons and chanted like seven clerks; but
it was all for naught, for after the first glance the
Princess did not even look at him, though the
King who stood near had to hold on to the pillars
So the schoolmaster also went home with a very
sore back; and when the third brother, whose
name was Taper Tom, because he sat in the ashes
and made tapers out of fir, said he now would go
and make the Princess laugh, the two older
brothers turned to him in scorn, for how could he
do what neither of them, the soldier and the
schoolmaster, had quite failed to do? The Princess
would not even look at him, he might be
But Taper Tom said that he would try.
But when he came to the court he did not go
before the King to say that he had come to make
the Princess laugh. Many there were who were
trying that each day, and there was hardly a well
back in all the kingdom by now, and Taper Tom
had no mind to have his own back cut, for they
were cutting the stripes broader and rubbing
the salt in harder every day.
So Taper Tom went to the court and asked for
work to do. They told him that there was no
work to be done, but he said:
“What, no work—even in the kitchen? I am
sure that the cook needs some one to fetch and
carry for her.”
“Well, now,” said the lord high chamberlain,
“that might perhaps be. You may go to the
kitchen and see.”
So Taper Tom went to the kitchen and the
cook gave him work fetching and carrying. And
every day Taper Tom saw the men who came
and went away with their backs sore.
One morning he was sent to the stream to catch
a fish, and he caught a nice, fat one. As he
came back he met a woman leading a goose with
golden feathers by a string tied around its neck.
The old woman wanted a fish, so she asked
Taper Tom if he would trade the fish for the
golden goose. “For,” she said, “it is a very
strange goose. If you lead it about and anyone
lays hands on it, and you say, ‘Hang on, if you
care to come with us,’ he will have to hang on and
go with the goose wherever you lead.”
“Then,” said Taper Tom, “you may have my
fish and I will take your goose.”
So the old woman took the fish, and Taper Tom
took the end of the string in his hand, and the
goose followed after.
He had not gone far when he met a goody
who looked longingly at the goose with the
golden feathers, and at last she said to Taper
Tom: “That is a very fine goose, and I would
like to stroke it.”
“All right,” said Taper Tom.
So the goody laid her hand on the back of
the goose, and Taper Tom said: “Hang on, if
you care to go with us.” And the old woman
could not take her hands off the goose, no matter
how hard she tried.
They went on down the road a way and came
to a man who for a long time had hated the
goody, and he laughed loudly to see her hanging
on to the goose and trying so hard to let go; and
thinking to make more difficulty for her he lifted
up his foot and kicked at her.
As his foot touched her dress Taper Tom said:
“Hang on, if you care to come with us.” And
the man’s foot hung on to the dress of the goody,
and, try as hard as he would, he could not let go.
He had to follow, hopping on one foot all the
while, and falling often and being dragged. He
was very angry, and said a great many bad words.
As they passed the blacksmith shop the brawny
smith stood at the door, and when he saw Taper
Tom leading the goose, and the goody hanging
on to its back, and the man following, hopping
on one leg, he began to laugh very much, and
ran up to the man and struck him with his
bellows, which he held in his hand.
And as the bellows touched the man, Taper
Tom said: “Hang on, if you care to come with
us.” And the smith had to follow after the man,
for, try as he would, he could not let go of the
bellows, nor would the bellows let go of the man.
Then Taper Tom turned in on the road that
lay in front of the window of the Princess, and
though he did not look up, he knew that the
Princess was watching.
And when the Princess saw the boy leading
the golden goose, and the goody hanging on to
the back of the goose, and the man hopping on
one leg behind the goody, and the smith hanging
on to his bellows, she smiled inwardly, but she
did not laugh.
Taper Tom did not stop, but went on around
to the kitchen; and when the cook came out to
ask for her fish, with her pot and ladle in her
hand, and she saw the golden goose, and the
goody, and the man, and the smith, she began
to laugh, and laugh, and laugh, so that all the
court came out to see what had happened, and
the Princess leaned from her window to know
what it was all about.
And just then the cook’s ladle touched the
shoulder of the smith, and at that moment Taper
Tom said: “Hang on, if you care to come with us.”
And he turned and started back past the window
of the Princess. And when the Princess saw the
cook hanging on to the shoulder of the smith, with
her ladle and her pot in her hand, and trying hard
to get loose, and the smith hanging on with his
bellows to the coat of the man, and the man hanging
on with one foot to the goody, and the goody
with her hands on the back of the golden goose,
and the golden goose following Taper Tom, led
by a string, she began to laugh and to laugh and
Then the King proclaimed that Taper Tom
should wed the Princess, and that half the kingdom
would be her dowry.