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A SOLDIER was marching along the highroad left, right! left, right! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword by his side, for he had been to the wars, and was now returning home. And on the road he met an old witch; a horrid-looking creature she was.
"Good-evening, soldier!" said she. "What a bright sword, and what a large knapsack you have, my fine fellow! I'll tell you what: you shall have as much money for your own as you can wish!"
"Thanks, old witch!" cried the soldier.
"Do you see yonder large tree?" said the witch, pointing to a tree that stood close by the wayside. "It is quite hollow. Climb up to the top, and you will find a hole large enough for you to creep through, and thus you will get down into the tree. I will tie a rope round your waist, so that I can pull you up again when you call me."
"But what am I to do down in the tree?" asked the soldier.
"What are you to do?" repeated the witch; "why, fetch money, to be sure! As soon as you get to the bottom, you will find yourself in a wide passage; it is quite light more than a hundred lamps are burning there. Then you will see three doors; you can open them, the keys are in the locks. On opening the first door you will enter a room. In the middle of it, on the floor, lies a large chest. A dog is seated on it, his eyes are as large as tea-cups; but never you mind, don't trouble yourself about him! I will lend you my blue apron; you must spread it out on the floor, then go briskly up to the dog, seize him, and set him down on it. When that is done, you can open the chest, and take as much money out of it as you please. That chest contains none but copper coins. If you like silver better, you have only to go into the next room; there you will find a dog with eyes as large as mill-wheels. Don't be afraid of him; you have only to set him down on my apron, and then rifle the chest at your leisure. But if you would rather have gold than either silver or copper, that is to be had too, and as much of it as you can carry, if you pass on into the third chamber. The dog that sits on this third moneychest has eyes as large as the Round Tower. But don't be alarmed; if you set him down on my apron, he will do you no harm, and you can take as much golden treasure from the chest as you like."
"Not a bad plan that, upon my word!" said the soldier. "But how much of the money am I to give you, old woman?"
"Not a penny will I have," returned the witch. "The only thing I want you to bring me is an old tinder-box which my grandmother left there by mistake last time she was down in the tree."
"Well, then, give me the rope and I'll be gone," said the soldier.
"Here it is," said the witch, "and here is my blue apron."
So the soldier climbed the tree, let himself down through the hole in the trunk, and suddenly found himself in the wide passage, lighted up by many hundred lamps, as the witch had described.
He opened the first door. Bravo! There sat the dog with eyes as large as tea-cups, staring at him as though in utter amazement.
"There's a good dog!" quoth the soldier, as he spread the witch's apron on the floor, and lifted the animal upon it. He then filled his pockets with the copper coins in the chest, shut the lid, put the dog back in his place, and passed on into the second apartment.
Huzza! There sat the dog with eyes as large as mill-wheels.
"You had really better not stare at me so," remarked the soldier; "it will make your eyes weak!" and with that he set the dog down on the witch's apron. But when he beheld the vast quantity of silver the chest contained, he threw all his pence away in disgust, and hastened to fill his pockets and his knapsack with it. And he passed on into the third chamber. The dog in this chamber actually had a pair of eyes each as large as the Round Tower, and they kept rolling round and round in his head like wheels.
"Good-evening!" said the soldier, and he lifted his cap respectfully, for such a monster of a dog as this he had never before seen or heard of. He stood still for a minute or two, looking at him; then thinking, "the sooner it's done the better!" he took hold of the immense creature, removed him from the chest to the floor, and raised the lid of the chest. Oh, what a sight of gold was there! enough to buy not only all Copenhagen, but all the cakes and sugar-plums, all the tin-soldiers, whips, and rocking-horses in the world! Yes, he must be satisfied now. Hastily the soldier threw out all the silver money he had stuffed into his pockets and knapsack, and took gold instead; not only his pockets and knapsack, but his soldier's cap and boots he crammed full of gold; he could hardly walk for the weight he carried. He lifted the dog on to the chest again, banged the door of the room behind him, and called out: "Halloo, you old witch! pull me up again!"
"Have you got the tinder-box?" asked the witch.
"Upon my honour, I'd quite forgotten it!" shouted the soldier, and back he went to fetch it. The witch then drew him up through the tree, and now he again stood in the highroad, his pockets, boots, knapsack, and cap stuffed with gold pieces.
"What are you going to do with the tinder-box?" asked the soldier.
"That's no concern of yours," returned the Witch. "You've got your money; give me my tinder-box this instant!"
"Well, take your choice!" said the soldier. "Tell
me at once what you want with the tinder-box, or I'll cut off your head."
"I won't tell you!" screamed the witch.
So the soldier drew his sword and cut off her head. Then he made haste to knot all his money securely in her blue apron, slung it across his back, put the tinder-box into his pocket, and went on to the nearest town.
It was a large, handsome city. He walked into the first hotel in the place, called for the best rooms, and ordered the choicest dishes for his supper, for he was now a rich man, with plenty of gold to spend.
The servant who cleaned his boots could not help thinking they were disgracefully shabby and worn to belong to such a grand gentleman; however, next day he provided himself with new boots, and very gay clothes besides. Our soldier was now a great man, and the people of the hotel were called in to give him information about all the places of amusement in the city, and about their King, and the beautiful Princess, his daughter.
"I should rather like to see her," said the soldier.
"No one can see her at all," was the reply; "she dwells in a great copper palace, with ever so many walls and towers round it. No one but the King may go and visit her there, because it has been foretold that she will marry a common soldier, and our King would not like that at all."
"Shouldn't I like to see her, though, just for once!" thought the soldier.
And now he lived a gay life; went continually to the theatre, drove out in the Royal Gardens, and gave much money in alms to the poor. He knew by past experience how miserable it was not to have a shilling in one's pocket. He was always gaily dressed, and had a crowd of friends, who, one and all, declared he was a most capital fellow, a real gentleman; and that pleased our soldier very much. But, as he was now giving and spending every day, and never received anything in return, his money began to fail him. At last he had only twopence left, and was forced to remove from his splendid apartments, and take refuge in an attic, where he had to brush his boots and darn his clothes himself, and where none of his friends ever came to see him, because there were so many stairs to go up, it was quite fatiguing.
It was a very dark evening, and he could not afford to buy himself so much as a rush-light; however, he remembered, all at once, that there were a few matches lying in the tinder-box that the old witch had bade him fetch out of the hollow tree. So he brought out this tinder-box and began to strike light; but no sooner had he rubbed the flint-stone, and made the sparks fly out, than the door burst suddenly open, and the dog with eyes as large as tea-cups, which he had seen in the cavern beneath the tree, stood before him and said: "What commands has my master for his slave?"
"This is a pretty joke!" cried the soldier; "a fine sort of tinder-box this is, if it will really provide me with whatever I want. Fetch me some money this instant!" said he to the dog. The creature vanished, and in half a minute he was back again, holding in his mouth a large bag full of pence.
So now the soldier understood the rare virtue of this charming tinder-box. If he struck the flint only once, the dog that sat on the chest full of copper came to him; if he struck it twice, the dog that watched over the silver answered his summons; and if he struck it three times, he was forthwith attended by the monstrous guardian of the golden treasure.
The soldier could now remove back to his princely apartments; he bought himself an entirely new suit of clothes, and all his friends remembered him again, and loved him as much as ever. But one evening the thought occurred to him: "How truly ridiculous it is that no one should be allowed to see this Princess! They all say she is so very beautiful; what a shame it is that she should be shut up in that great copper palace. And I do so want to see her where's my tinder-box, by the bye?" He struck the flint, and lo! before him stood the dog with eyes as large as tea-cups.
"It is rather late, I must own," began the soldier; "but I do want to see the Princess so much, only for one minute, you know!"
And the dog was out of the door, and, before the soldier had time to think of what he should say or do, he was back again with the Princess sitting asleep on his back. A real Princess was this; so beautiful, so enchantingly beautiful! The soldier could not help himself, he knelt and kissed her hand. The dog ran back to the palace with the Princess that very minute. Next morning, while she was at breakfast with the King and Queen, the Princess said that she had had a very strange dream. She had dreamt that she was riding on a dog, an enormously large dog, and that a soldier had knelt and kissed her hand.
"A pretty sort of a dream, indeed!" exclaimed the Queen. And she insisted that one of the ladies of the court should watch by the Princess's bedside on the following night, in case she should again be disturbed by dreams.
Next evening, the soldier summoned the dog to fetch the Princess again. So he did, and ran as fast as he could; however, not so fast but that the ancient dame watching at the Princess's couch was able to follow them. She saw the dog vanish in a large house; then, thinking to herself: "Now I know what to do", she took out a piece of chalk and made a great white cross on the door. But on his way back the dog chanced to observe the white cross on the door; so he immediately took another piece of chalk, and set crosses on every door throughout the town.
Early in the morning came out the King, the Queen, the old court dame, and all the officers of the royal household, every one of them curious to see where the Princess had been. "Here it is!" exclaimed the King, as soon as he saw the first street-door with a cross chalked on it. "My dear, where are your eyes? this is the house!" cried the Queen, seeing the second door bear a cross. "No, this is it surely -- why, here's a cross too!" cried all of them together, on discovering that there were crosses on all the doors. It was evident that their search would be in vain, and they gave it up.
But the Queen was an exceedingly wise and prudent woman. She now took her gold scissors, cut a large piece of silk stuff into strips, and sewed these strips together, to make a pretty neat little bag. This bag she filled with the finest, whitest flour, tied it to the Princess's waist, and then again took up her golden scissors and cut a little hole in the bag, just large enough to let the flour drop out gradually all the time the Princess was moving.
That evening the dog came again, took the Princess on his back, and ran away with her to the soldier. He never perceived how the flour went drip, drip, dripping, all the way from the palace to the soldier's room, and from the soldier's room back to the palace. So next morning the King and Queen easily found where their daughter had been carried, and they took the soldier and cast him into prison.
And now he sat in the prison. Oh! how dark it was, and how wearisome! and the turnkey kept coming in to remind him that to-morrow he was to be hanged. This piece of news was by no means agreeable; and the tinderbox had been left in his lodgings at the hotel.
When morning came, he could, through his narrow iron grating, watch the people all hurrying out of the town to see him hanged; he could hear the drums beating, and presently, too, he saw the soldiers marching to the place of execution. What a crowd there was rushing by! Among the rest was a shoemaker's apprentice; he bustled on with such speed that one of his slippers flew off and struck the bars of the soldier's prison window.
"Stop, stop, little 'prentice!" cried the soldier; "it's of no use for you to be in such a hurry, for none of the fun will begin till I come, but if you'll oblige me by running to my lodgings, and fetching me my tinder-box, I'll give you twopence. But you must run for your life!" The boy liked the idea of earning twopence, so away he raced and brought the tinder-box, to the soldier. And then -- ah, yes, now we shall hear what happened then!
Outside the city a gibbet had been built; round it were marshalled the soldiers, with many hundred thousand people. The King and Queen were seated on magnificent thrones, opposite the judges and the whole council.
The soldier was brought out, and the executioner was on the point of fitting the rope round his neck, when, turning to their Majesties, he asked them to let him smoke a pipe of tobacco before he died.
The King could not refuse this harmless request, so the soldier took out his tinder-box and struck the flint -- once he struck it, twice he struck it, three times he struck it! -- and lo! the three wizard dogs stood before him.
"Now, help me, don't let me be hanged!" cried the soldier. And forthwith the three terrible dogs fell upon the judges and councillors, tossing them high into the air, so high that in falling again they were broken in pieces.
"We will not--" began the King, but the monster dog with eyes as large as the Round Tower did not wait to hear what his Majesty would not; he seized both him and the Queen, and flung them up into the air after the councillors. And the soldiers were all desperately frightened, and the people shouted out with one voice: "Good soldier, you shall be our King, and the beautiful Princess shall be your wife, and our Queen!"
So the soldier was taken to the palace, and the Princess was made Queen, which she liked much better than living a prisoner in the copper palace.