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 dowry.

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 as before.

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 for laughing.

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 sure.

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 to laugh.

Then the King proclaimed that Taper Tom should wed the Princess, and that half the kingdom would be her dowry.