Saturday, 14 October 2017

Veslefrikk with His Fiddle

There was once, upon a time, a smallholder who had a single son, and this boy was feeble and had such poor health that he could not manage to go to work. He was called Frikk, and so small of growth was he that they called him Veslefrikk.1

At home there was little to bite and retch, so his father went out in the village and would bind him as a herder or a messenger boy. But there was none who would have his boy until he came to the sheriff; he would take him, for he had recently chased away his messenger boy, and there was none who would go to him, for he had a reputation of being a hoarder. Better something than nothing, thought the smallholder. Food he would have, then; for at the sheriff’s he would work for his keep. Wages and clothing were not discussed. But when the boy had been there for three years, he would leave, and so the sheriff gave him all his wages at once. He should have a shilling a year—less it could not be, said the sheriff—so he got three shillings altogether.

Veslefrikk thought this was a lot of money, for he had never had so much, but he asked if he should not have something more.

“You have got more than you should have,” said the sheriff.

“Should I not have anything for clothing, then?” said Veslefrikk. “Those I had when I came here, I have worn out, and I have not got any more.” And now he was so ragged that his rags hung and swung around him, he said.

“Now you have got what we agreed upon, and three shillings on top, so I have nothing more to give you,” said the sheriff. But he would be allowed to go into the kitchen and put a little food in his knapsack. And then he went out on the road to the village to buy clothes. He was both lusty and happy, for he had never seen a shilling before, and just like that, he felt to make sure that he had them, all three.

When he had gone far, and farther than far, he came into a tight valley with tall mountains on every side, so that he thought there was no way to go forward. He began to wonder what might be on the other side, and how he might come over.

But he had to go up, and so he began on his way; he could not manage much, and had to rest from time to time, and then he counted how much money he had. When he came up to the highest point, there was nothing but a great mossy plateau. There he sat to make sure that he had his shillings with him, and before he knew it, he came to a pauper who was so big and tall that the boy began to scream when he saw properly how big and tall he was.

“Do not be afraid, you,” said the pauper, “I will not harm you, I merely beg a shilling in God’s name!”

“Dear me,” said the boy, “I only have three shillings, and these I would go to town with, to buy clothes,” he said.

“It is worse for me than it is for you,” said the pauper; “I have no shilling, and I am even more ragged than you.”

“Well, then you shall have it, then,” said the boy.

When he had gone a while, he grew weary and sat down to rest again. When he looked up, there was a pauper again, but he was even bigger and uglier than the first, and when the boy properly saw how how big and ugly and tall he was, then he began to scream.

“Do not be afraid of me, I will do you no harm, I merely beg a shilling in God’s name,” said the pauper.

“Dear me, truly,” said the boy; “I have only two shillings, and these I am going to town, to buy clothes with, so…”

“It is worse for me than for you,” said the pauper. “I have no shilling, and a bigger body and fewer clothes.”

“Well, then you shall have it,” said the boy.

So he went a while until he grew weary again, and so he sat down to rest, and when he had done so well, there came to him a pauper again. And he was so big and ugly and tall that the boy looked up and up until he looked all the way up to the sky, and when he saw just how big and ugly and ragged he was, he began to scream.

“Do not be afraid of me, my boy” said the man; “I will do you no harm, for I am merely a pauper who begs a shilling in God’s name,” said the pauper.

“Dear me, so true!” said Veslefrikk. “I have only one shilling left, and I am going to town with it, to buy myself some clothes. Had I but met you before…”

“Well, I have no shilling, I don’t, and bigger body and fewer clothes, so it is worse for me than for you,” said the pauper.

So, he would have the shilling, then, said Veslefrikk; there was nothing for it, for it was such that each had his, and he had none.

“Yes, since you have such a good heart that you give away everything you have,” said the pauper, “then I shall give you a wish for each shilling.” It was the same pauper who had received them all three; he had merely changed his form each time, so that the boy would not recognise him.

“I have always had such a desire to hear the fiddle sound, and see the folk so lusty and glad that they dance,” said the boy, “so—if I may wish for what I will, then I wish for a fiddle that is such that all that has life must dance to it,” he said.

This he would have, but it was a feeble wish, said the pauper. “You must wish better with the other shillings.”

“I have always wanted so to hunt and shoot,” said Veslefrikk, “so if I may wish for what I will, then I wish for a gun that is such that I hit everything I aim at, no matter how far away.”

This he would have, but it was a feeble wish, said the pauper. “You should wish better with the last shilling.”

“I have always wanted to be together with folk who are kind and good-hearted,” said Veslefrikk, “so if I may have what I wish for, then I wish that no one may refuse me the first thing I ask for.”

“That wish is not so feeble,” said the pauper, and then he struck out between the mounds and was gone, and the boy lay down to sleep, and the next day he came down off the mountain, with his fiddle and his gun.

First he went to the merchant’s and asked for some clothes, and on a farm, he asked for a horse, and on another, he asked for a sleigh. Another place he asked for a reindeer-skin coat. And there was not a no to be heard for him, no matter how much he asked for, they had to give him what he asked for. Finally, he went through the village like a fancy bigwig, and had both horse and sleigh.

When he had travelled a way, he met the sheriff with whom he had been in service.

“Good day, master,” said Veslefrikk with the fiddle, stopping to greet him.

“Good day,” said the sheriff. “Have I been your master?” he asked.

“Yes, do you not remember that I served you for three years for three shillings?” said Veslefrikk.

“My word, you have recovered in a hurry, then,” said the sheriff. “How have things gone, since you are become such a bigwig?”

“Well, that is the thing,” said the little one.

“Are you so lusty that you go with a fiddle now, too?” said the sheriff.

“Yes, I have always wanted to get folk dancing,” said the boy, “but the bravest thing I have is this gun here,” he said, “for it fells nearly everything I point it at, no matter how far away it is. Do you see that magpie that sits in the spruce over there?” said Veslefrikk. “What do you wager I can hit it from where we now stand?” he said.

Ther sheriff was very willing to wager horse and farm and a hundred dollars that he was not good enough for it—but then he too should wager all the money he had, but he could collect it when it fell, for he never thought any gun could reach so far. But as soon as the gun sounded, the magpie fell down into a large dog-rose bush, and the sheriff struck out into the bush after it, to pick it up and bring it to the boy. At the same moment, Veslefrikk began to play the fiddle, and the sheriff began to dance so that the thorns tore at him; and the boy played and the sheriff danced and cried and begged for mercy, until the rags flew off him, and he had hardly a thread on him.

“Well, now I think you are as ragged as I was when I left your service,” said the boy, “so now you will have to suffer with it.” But first, the sheriff had to give him what he had wagered on his not hitting the magpie.

When the boy came to the town, he went into a guesthouse. He played, and those who came there danced, and he lived lustily and well; there was no grief for him, for no one could say no to whatever he asked for.

But when they were in their best spirits, the constables came to take the boy to the town hall, for the sheriff had complained about him, and said that he has assaulted him and robbed him and nearly taken his life. And now he should hang, there was no question about it. But Veslefrikk had an answer to all the complaints about him, and that was the fiddle. He began to play on it, so the constables danced until they lay there, gasping. Then they sent soldiers and guard to him. But things went no better with them than with the constables; when Veslefrikk took out his fiddle, they had to begin dancing for as long as he could make it sound. But they were done long before then.

Finally they surprised him and took him while he slept at night, and when they had got him, he was sentenced to hang immediately, and they took him straight to the gallows. A crowd of people streamed together to see this spectacle, and the sheriff was there, too, happy to the core that he would have justice for his money and his skin, and to see that they should hang him.

But things did not go so quickly; for Veslefrikk was poorly to walk, and poorer he made himself. His fiddle and his gun he dragged with him, too—no one was good to take them from him—and when he came to the gallows and should climb up the ladder, he rested on each step. On the top step he sat down and asked if they could refuse him him a wish, if he might be allowed to do one thing. He had such a desire to sound a tune and play a melody on his fiddle before they hanged him. No, it was both a sin and a shame to refuse him this, they said; there was no refusal to what he asked for. But the sheriff begged that for God’s sake they should not let him even pluck a string, else it would be over for all of them. Should the boy be allowed to play, then they should tie him to the birch that stood there.

Veslefrikk was not slow in getting the fiddle to sound, and everyone who was there began to dance, both those who walked on two, and those who went on four—both prevost and parson and magistrate and bailiff and sheriff and master, and dogs and swine. They danced and laughed and cried one upon the other. Some danced until they lay as dead, some danced until they fainted. It went badly with them all, but it went worst of all with the sheriff, for he stood tied to the birch and danced and scoured large chunks of his back off on it. There was none who thought of doing anything to Veslefrikk, and he got to leave with his gun and his fiddle as he would, and he lived well all his days, for there was none who could refuse the first thing he asked for.


  1. Vesle = tiny. 

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