Sunday, 29 April 2018

Farmer Weatherbeard

[Note on the title.]

There was once upon a time a husband and wife who had only one son, and he was called Hans. The wife thought he should go out to work, and said to her husband that he should go with him. “You shall do so well by him for me that he becomes the master of all masters,” she said, and then she put some food and a roll of tobacco in a sack for them.

Well, they were with many masters, and all of them said they could make the boy as good as themselves, but better they could not make him.

When the man came home to his wife with that reply, she said: “Well, I do not mind what you make of the boy, but this I say, that you do so well by him for me that he becomes the master of all masters.”

Then she put some food and a roll of tobacco in his sack again, and the man and his son had to go off again.

When they had walked a way, they came to a glacier; there they met one who came driving with a black horse.

“Where are you going?” he said.

“I was to go out and bind my son into an apprenticeship with one who is able to teach him; for my wife comes from such good folk that she will have him taught to be a master of all masters,” said the man.

“You have met well,” said he who drove, “for that is what I am fellow enough for, and such an apprentice do I travel for. Stand here behind me,” he said to the boy.

Then they set off up through the air.

“No, no, wait a little!” cried the boy’s father. “I would like to know what you are called, and where you live,” he said.

“Oh, I am at home both north and south and east and west, and Farmer Weatherbeard am I called,” said the master. “In one year you can come back, and I shall tell you whether he has grown so good,” he said. Then off they went, and gone were they.

When the year had passed, the man came to hear of his son. “It is just not done, to be fully apprenticed in only one year,” said the master; “now he has learned to walk alongside the stools.” Well, they agreed that Farmer Weatherbeard should have him for a year more, and teach him fully, and then should the man come back.

When the year was done, they met in the same place again.

“Has he now completed the apprenticeship?” asked the father.

“Now he is my master, and you will never see him again,” said Farmer Weatherbeard, and before the man really sensed what had become of them, they were both gone, both he and the boy.

When the man came home, his wife asked if their son would not be coming, or what had become of him.

“Oh, God knows what has become of him,” said the man; “they went into the air,” and then he told her how things had gone.

But when the wife heard that her husband did not know where their boy was, then she sent him on his way again. “You shall fetch the boy, even if you have to go to Old Erik2 himself!” she said, and she gave him a sack of food and a roll of tobacco.

When he had walked a distance, he came to a great forest, and it lasted all day, as far as he walked, but when it grew dark, he saw a great light; so he walked towards it. After a long, long time, he came to a small cabin close by a mountain, and outside it stood a woman, drawing water from a well, with her nose, so long it was.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the wife. “No one has called me mother in a hundred years,” she said.

“May I stay here, tonight?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco, burned a little, and gave the wife some snuff. So glad was she that she began to dance, and so the man would be allowed to stay there for the night. Just like that, he asked after Farmer Weatherbeard. She knew nothing of him, she said, but she ruled over all four-footed animals; perhaps some of them would know of him. So she blew them together with a whistle she had, and asked them, but there was none that knew of Farmer Weatherbeard. “Well, we are three sisters,” said the woman; “perhaps one of the other two knows where he is to be found. You shall borrow a ride from me, so that you arrive there this evening; but it is three-hundred leagues by the shortest route.”

The man travelled, and he made it in the evening. When he arrived, the woman stood, also drawing water from a well, with her nose.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the woman. “Now, no one has called me mother in a hundred years.”

“May I stay here, tonight?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco, burned a little, and gave the woman some snuff on the back of her hand. Then she was so glad that she began to dance, and then the man would be allowed to stay there for the night. But just like that, he asked after Farmer Weatherbeard. No, she did not know anything of him, but she ruled over all the fish, she said; perhaps some of them would know something of him; but there was none that knew anything of Farmer Weatherbeard. “Well, I have one more sister,” said the woman. “Perhaps she may know something of him. She lives six-hundred leagues from here, but you shall have a ride from me, so you will arrive there this evening.”

The man travelled, and he arrived in the evening, where the woman stood, raking the fire, and she did so with her nose, so long it was.

“Good evening, mother,” said the man.

“Good evening to you,” said the woman. “Now, no one has called me mother in a hundred years,” she said.

“May I stay here for the night?” said the man.

“No,” said the woman.

But then the man took out his roll of tobacco again, and burned some, and gave the woman the whole of the back of her hand covered in snuff. Then she was so glad that she began to dance, and then the man was allowed to stay there for the night. Just like that, he asked about Farmer Weatherbeard. She knew nothing of him, she said, but she ruled over all the birds, and she blew them together with her whistle.

When she had heard with all of them, she missed the eagle; but a little while afterwards, it came, and when she asked it, it said that it had just come from Farmer Weatherbeard’s. Then the woman said that it should take the man there. But the eagle would have something to eat first, and then it would rest until the second day, for it was so tired after the long journey that it could hardly take off from the ground.

When it was well-fed and rested, the woman plucked a feather out from it tail, and put the man in its stead, and then it flew off with him; but they did not arrive at Farmer Weatherbeard’s before midnight. When they arrived, then the eagle said: “There are bones and carrion before the door, but you must not mind. Those who are inside sleep so soundly that they cannot be woken; but you are to go straight to the draw in the table, and take three pieces of bread; and if you hear one snore, then pluck three feathers from his head; he will not wake from it.”

The man did so; when he had got the three pieces of bread, he plucked first one feather. “Uff!” cried Farmer Weatherbeard. Then he plucked another, then he cried “Uff!” again; but when he plucked the third, Farmer Weatherbeard cried so that the man thought the foundations and walls would collapse, but he slept just as soundly.

Then the eagle told him how he should behave later, and that he did. He went to the door of the barn, and there he stumbled against a boulder; this he picked up. Beneath it lay three wooden splinters; these he also picked up. Then he knocked on the door of the barn, and it opened immediately. He let go the three pieces of bread, and a hare came out and ate them; he took it. The eagle bade him pluck three feather from its tail, and put the hare, the stone, and the splinters, and himself in their stead, and then it would take them home.

When the eagle had flown a long way, it alighted on a stone. “Do you see anything?” it asked.

“Yes, I see a flock of crows, flying after us,” said the man.

“We shall travel a distance more, we shall,” said the eagle, and set off.

After a while, it asked, “Do you see anything now?”

“Yes, I see the crows close by us,” said the man.

“Drop the three feathers you plucked from his head,” said the eagle.

Well, the man did so, and as soon as he dropped them, the feathers turned into a flock of ravens that chased the crows home again.

Then the eagle flew flew far away with the man; finally, it alighted on a stone, to rest. “Do you see anything?” it said.

“I am not certain of it,” said the man, “but I think I see something coming, far away.”

“We shall travel a distance more, then,” said the eagle.

“Do you see anything now?” it said after a while.

“Yes, now he is close by us,” said the man.

“You shall drop the splinters that you took from beneath the granite stone by the door of the barn,” said the eagle.

Well, the man did so, and as soon as he had dropped them, they grew up into a great, dense forest, so that Farmer Weatherbeard had to travel home for axes, so he could chop his way through.

Then the eagle flew far away again; but then it grew so weary that it alighted in a pine tree. “Do you see anything?” it said.

“Yes, I am not certain,” said the man, “but I think I can glimpse something far away.”

“Then we shall travel a distance more,” said the eagle, and so it set off.

“Do you see anything now?” it asked, after a while.

“Yes, now he is close by us,” said the man.

“You shall drop the boulder you took from before the door of the barn, then,” said the eagle.

The man did so, and it became a great, tall stone mountain that Farmer Weatherbeard had to break himself through first. But when he had come to the middle of the mountain, he broke one of his legs, and so he had to go home, and tend to it.

But while that happened, the eagle flew home to the man, both with him, and the hare, and when they had come home, the man went into the churchyard and put Christian soil on it, so that it became Hans his son again.

When they came to the mark, the boy turned himself into a buckskin horse, and asked his father to travel the mark with him. “When you come to one who will buy me, you shall say that you want a hundred dollars for me; but you must not forget to take off the bridle, else I will never escape Farmer Weatherbeard, for it is he who will come to trade,” he said.

So it went, too; there came a horse trader who had a great mind to buy his horse, and the man got a hundred dollars, but when the deal was done, and Hans’s father had got the money, the horse trader would have the bridle. “No, that is not part of the agreement,” said the man, “so you cannot have the bridle, for I have more horses I want to take to town.” So each went on his way. But they had not come far before Hans turned himself into himself, and when he had come home, he was sitting on the bench by the stove.

The second day, he turned himself into a brown horse, and said to his father that he should travel the mark with him. “When one who will buy me comes, you shall say you want two-hundred dollars, for he will give it, and he will pour you a dram too; but whatever you drink, and whatever you do, then do not forget to take the bridle off me, or you will never see me again,” said Hans. Well, so it went; he got two-hundred dollars for the horse, and a dram too, and then they parted, it was a close thing that he remembered to take off the bridle. But they had not come far on the way before the boy turned himself back, and when the man returned, Hans sat on the bench by the stove.

The third day went the same way. The boy turned himself into a great black horse, and said to his father there would come one offering three-hundred dollars, and to get him good and drunk as well; but whatever he did, and however much he drank, then he must not forget to take off the bridle, else he would not get away from Farmer Weatherbeard in this life. No, he would certainly not forget that, said the man.

When he came on to the mark, he got the three-hundred dollars; but Farmer Weatherbeard got him so drunk that he forgot to take off the bridle, and so Farmer Weatherbeard went away with the horse. When he had come a distance on the way, he would go in and have some more brandy, so he sat a smoldering nail barrel under the horse’s nose, and a trough of oats under the tail of his horse, hung the reins on to a hand rake, and went in to the innkeeper. The horse stood there, tramping and kicking and whinnying and snorting. Then there came a girl in, who felt sorry for it. “Oh, you poor thing! What manner of farmer have you, who treats you this way?” she said, pushing the reins off the hand rake, so that the horse could turn around and taste the oats.

“That is me, that is!” cried Farmer Weatherbeard, coming out through the door.

But the horse had already shaken off the bridle, and thrown itself into the goose-pond, and turned itself into a small fish at the same moment. Farmer Weatherbeard went after it, and turned himself into a large pike. So Hans turned himself into a dove, and Farmer Weatherbeard turned himself into a large hawk, and flew after, to catch the dove.

But now, there stood a princess at a window of the king’s farm, watching this contest. “If you knew as much as I do, then you would come in through the window to me, you would,” said the king’s daughter to the dove. The dove came in through the window, turned itself into Hans again, and told how things stood.

“Turn yourself into a gold ring, and put yourself on my finger,” said the king’s daughter.

“No, that does no good,” said Hans, “for then Farmer Weatherbeard will make the king sick, and then there will be none who can make him well again before Farmer Weatherbeard comes to make him so, and for that he will demand the ring.”

“I shall say I have it after my mother, and that I certainly will not part with it,” said the king’s daughter.

So Hans turned himself into a gold ring and put himself on the king’s daughter’s finger, and there could Farmer Weatherbeard not get at him. But then it went as the boy had said it would; the king fell sick, and there was no doctor who could heal him, before Farmer Weatherbeard came, and he wanted the king’s daughter’s ring for it. So the king sent to his daughter for her ring. But she did not want to part with it, she said, for she had it after her mother. When the king heard this, he was sorry, and said that he would have the ring, no matter whom she had it after.

“Well, it does no good that you are sorry,” said the king’s daughter. “I cannot get it off me; if you want the ring, you will have to take the finger, too.”

“I shall help, and the ring will come off,” said Farmer Weatherbeard.

“No thank you, I shall try myself,” said the king’s daughter, and she went to the hearth and put ash on it.

Then the ring came off, and was lost among the ashes. Farmer Weatherbeard turned himself into a cock, which scratched and kicked for the ring in the chimney, so the ash flew about their ears. But Hans turned himself into a fox and bit the cock’s head off—and if there was any evil in Farmer Weatherbeard, then it is over for him now.


  1. The title is tentative, and subject to change. The problem is with the interpretation of the farmer’s name. The Norwegian “vær,” the first part of “Værskjegg” may mean “weather,” or “air,” or “ram,” or “small fishing village.” The orthography as originally published was “veirskjægg,” which brings Old Norse into play; “veir” there means “look,” or “see,” perhaps making the eponymous character even more magical than the action of the tale would suggest. Other Norwegian variants of this tale have been given the title “Farmer Redbeard,” “Farmer Generous-beard,” and even “Vraal [a given name] Horse-cloud.” English translations have previously given “Farmer Weathersky” and “Farmer Weatherbeard.” Until I am struck with better inspiration, I will keep the latter title, as both plausible and familiar to readers of English. 

  2. Old Erik is a folk-name for the devil. 

 

Norwegian source: Bonde værskjegg

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