Popular Tales From the Norse
Rich Peter the Pedlar
Once on a time there was a man whom they called Rich Peter the Pedlar, because he used to travel about with a pack, and got so much money that he became quite rich. This Rich Peter had a daughter, whom he held so dear that all who came to woo her were sent about their business, for no one was good enough for her, he thought. Well, this went on and on, and at last no one came to woo her, and as years rolled on, Peter began to be afraid that she would die an old maid.
"I wonder now," he said to his wife, "why suitors no longer come to woo our lass, who is so rich. 'Twould be odd if nobody cared to have her, for money she has, and more she shall have. I think I'd better just go off to the p. 200 Stargazers, and ask them whom she shall have, for not a soul comes to us now."
"But how," asked the wife, "can the Stargazers answer that?"
"Can't they?" said Peter; "why! they read all things in the stars."
So he took with him a great bag of money, and set off to the Stargazers, and asked them to be so good as to look at the stars, and tell him the husband his daughter was to have.
Well, the Stargazers looked and looked, but they said they could see nothing about it. But Peter begged them to look better, and to tell him the truth; he would pay them well for it. So the Stargazers looked better, and at last they said that his daughter's husband was to be the miller's son, who was only just born, down at the mill below Rich Peter's house. Then Peter gave the Stargazers a hundred dollars, and went home with the answer he had got.
Now, he thought it too good a joke that his daughter should wed one so newly born, and of such poor estate. He said this to his wife, and added,--
"I wonder now if they would sell me the boy; then I'd soon put him out of the way?"
"I daresay they would," said his wife; "you know they're very poor."
So Peter went down to the mill, and asked the miller's wife whether she would sell him her son; she should get a heap of money for him?
"No!" that she wouldn't.
"Well!" said Peter, "I'm sure I can't see why you p. 201 shouldn't; you've hard work enough as it is to keep hunger out of the house, and the boy won't make it easier, I think."
But the mother was so proud of the boy she couldn't part with him. So when the miller came home, Peter said the same thing to him, and gave his word to pay six hundred dollars for the boy, so that they might buy themselves a farm of their own, and not have to grind other folks' corn, and to starve when they ran short of water. The miller thought it was a good bargain, and he talked over his wife; and the end was, that Rich Peter got the boy. The mother cried and sobbed, but Peter comforted her by saying the boy should be well cared for; only they had to promise never to ask after him, for he said he meant to send him far away to other lands, so that he might learn foreign tongues.
So when Peter the Pedlar got home with the boy he sent for a carpenter, and had a little chest made, which was so tidy and neat, 'twas a joy to see. This he made water-tight with pitch, put the miller's boy into it, locked it up, and threw it into the river, where the stream carried it away.
"Now, I'm rid of him," thought Peter the Pedlar.
But when the chest had floated ever so far down the stream, it came into the mill-head of another mill, and ran down and hampered the shaft of the wheel, and stopped it. Out came the miller to see what stopped the mill, found the chest, and took it up. So when he came home to dinner to his wife, he said,--
"I wonder now whatever there can be inside this chest, which came floating down the mill-head and stopped our mill to-day?"
"That we'll soon know," said his wife; "see, there's the key in the lock, just turn it."
So they turned the key, and opened the chest, and lo! there lay the prettiest child you ever set eyes on. So they were both glad, and were ready to keep the child, for they had no children of their own, and were so old they could now hope for none.
Now, after a little while, Peter the Pedlar began to wonder how it was no one came to woo his daughter, who was so rich in land, and had so much ready money. At last, when no one came, off he went again to the Stargazers, and offered them a heap of money if they could tell him whom his daughter was to have for a husband.
"Why, we have told you already, that she is to have the miller's son down yonder," said the Stargazers.
"All very true, I daresay," said Peter the Pedlar; "but it so happens he's dead; but if you can tell me whom she's to have, I'll give you two hundred dollars, and welcome."
So the Stargazers looked at the stars again, but they got quite cross, and said,--
"We told you before, and we tell you now, she is to have the miller's son, whom you threw into the river, and wished to make an end of; for he is alive, safe and sound, in such and such a mill, far down the stream."
So Peter the Pedlar gave them two hundred dollars for this news, and thought how he could best be rid of the miller's son. The first thing Peter did when he got home was to set off for the mill. By that time the boy was so big that he had been confirmed, and went about the mill, and helped the miller. Such a pretty boy you never saw.
"Can't you spare me that lad yonder?" said Peter the Pedlar to the miller.
"No, that I can't," he answered; "I've brought him up as my own son, and he has turned out so well that now he's a great help and aid to me in the mill, for I'm getting old and past work."
"It's just the same with me," said Peter the pedlar; that's why I'd like to have some one to learn my trade. Now, if you'll give him up to me, I'll give you six hundred dollars, and then you can buy yourself a farm, and live in peace and quiet the rest of your days."
Yes, when the miller heard that, he let Peter the Pedlar have the lad.
Then the two travelled about far and wide, with their packs and wares, till they came to an inn, which lay by the edge of a great wood. From this Peter the Pedlar sent the lad home with a letter to his wife, for the way was not so long if you took the short cut across the wood, and told him to tell her she was to be sure and do what was written in the letter as quickly as she could. But it was written in the letter that she was to have a great pile made there and then, fire it, and cast the miller's son into it. If she didn't do that, he'd burn her alive himself when he came back. So the lad set off with the letter across the wood, and when evening came on he reached a house far, far away in the wood, into which he went; but inside he found no one. In one of the rooms was a bed ready made, so he threw himself across it and fell asleep. The letter he had stuck into his hat-band, and the hat he pulled over his face. So when the robbers came back--for in that house twelve robbers had their abode--and saw the lad lying on the bed, they p. 204 began to wonder who he could be, and one of them took the letter and broke it open, and read it.
"He! he!" said he; "this comes from Peter the Pedlar, does it? Now we'll play him a trick. It would be a pity if the old niggard made an end of such a pretty lad."
So the robbers wrote another letter to Peter the Pedlar's wife, and fastened it under his hat-band while he slept; and in that they wrote that as soon as ever she got it she was to make a wedding for her daughter and the miller's boy, and give them horses and cattle, and household stuff, and set them up for themselves in the farm which he had under the hill; and if he didn't find all this done by the time he came back she'd smart for it--that was all.
Next day the robbers let the lad go, and when he came home and delivered the letter, he said he was to greet her kindly from Peter the Pedlar, and to say that she was to carry out what was written in the letter as soon as ever she could.
"You must have behaved very well then," said Peter the Pedlar's wife to the miller's boy, "if he can write so about you now, for when you set off, he was so mad against you he didn't know how to put you out of the way." So she married them on the spot, and set them up for themselves, with horses, and cattle, and household stuff, in the farm up under the hill. No long time after Peter the Pedlar came home, and the first thing he asked was, if she had done what he had written in his letter. "Ay! ay!" she said; "I thought it rather odd, but I dared not do anything else;" and so Peter asked where his daughter was.
"Why, you know well enough where she is," said his wife. "Where should she be but up at the farm under the hill, as you wrote in the letter."
So when Peter the Pedlar came to hear the whole story, and came to see the letter, he got so angry he was ready to burst with rage, and off he ran up to the farm to the young couple.
"It's all very well, my son, to say you have got my daughter," he said to the miller's lad; "but if you wish to keep her, you must go to the Dragon of Deepferry, and get me three feathers out of his tail; for he who has them may get anything he chooses."
"But where shall I find him?" said his son-in-law.
"I'm sure I can't tell," said Peter the Pedlar; "that's your look-out, not mine."
So the lad set off with a stout heart, and after he had walked some way he came to a king's palace.
"Here I'll just step in and ask," he said to himself, for such great folk know more about the world than others, and perhaps I may here learn the way to the Dragon."
Then the king asked him whence he came, and whither he was going?
"Oh!" said the lad, "I'm going to the Dragon of Deepferry to pluck three feathers out of his tail, if I only knew where to find him."
"You must take luck with you, then," said the King, "for I never heard of any one who came back from that search. But if you find him, just ask him from me why I can't get clear water in my well; for I've dug it out time after time, and still I can't get a drop of clear water."
"Yes, I'll be sure to ask him," said the lad. So he p. 206 lived on the fat of the land at the palace, and got money and food when he left it. At even he came to another king's palace; and when he went into the kitchen, the King came out of the parlour and asked whence he came, and on what errand he was bound.
"Oh," said the lad, "I'm going to the Dragon of Deepferry to pluck three feathers out of his tail."
"Then you must take luck with you," said the King, for I never yet heard that any one came back who went to look for him. But if you find him, be so good as to ask him from me where my daughter is, who has been lost so many years. I have hunted for her, and had her name given out in every church in the country, but no one can tell me anything about her.