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The White Silk Boy was written by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), and was translated from the Danish by M. R. James (1862-1936) as part of his Hans Andersen Forty-Two Stories (1930).
This ebook was produced by: Dr Mark Bear Akrigg
There was a farm called Larkendal, and there lived an old couple who had fallen into poverty. Well, they had a son, and when he had been confirmed they could not afford to keep him at home any longer. So his father told him that it was time for him to travel out into the world and try his luck. But they had nothing to give him to take away with him but a pair of big mittens which his mother tied to him; it was cold weather, and she didn't want him to get his hands frostbitten. So off he set, to go to look for a place. The last thing his mother told him was, never to pass by a church without going into it.
At the first church he came to, he saw a lot of people gathered in the churchyard and quarrelling with all their might. He was inquisitive, as boys like that always are, and he went up to them to listen to what was going on. It was the people of the parish, and each of them had his plot in the churchyard; but a poor man had just died who had no plot, and nobody would have him in theirs for less than three marks, and the three marks nobody would pay for him: that was what they were quarrelling about. Well, one of the men came up to this here poor boy and asked him what he would take for his mittens. "You might give me three marks for them," said he. The other man was willing to give that, and they made a bargain of it. Then the poor boy went off and paid the three marks to have the poor man buried, and when that was all properly done, he set off again along the high road.
When he had been walking a little time and it was now near evening, he happened to look behind him and there was a boy coming running after him in white silk clothes and with a white silk cap on his head. So he began to run too, for he didn't like the idea of getting in company with a person like that whom he didn't know, but the faster he ran, the faster this bit of a boy ran too, and at last he came up with him. And this boy said, "What made you run away from me like that?" "Why, I thought I could find room for to-night easier alone than if there were two of us."
"Where are you going, then?" says he.
"Oh, wherever I can get a lodging for God's sake," says the poor boy, "for I've nothing to pay for it with."
"Well, I won't do that," says the White Silk Boy. "I shall lodge in the inn, and so shall you; I'll pay for both of us all right. But shall we make it a bargain, and agree to go shares in whatever we can earn here in the world?"
"That might do," said he, and so they came to the inn, and the Silk Boy made him come in, though he wasn't much for it. He ordered in wine and meat and cakes and it looked as if they were to live like any lord. "It looks well enough," the poor boy thought to himself, "but if this should be a bit of a rascal and won't pay for me, what am I going to do then? But anyhow they can't get more off the fox than the skin."
At night time they were to be in one bed: and when late on in the night the poor boy woke up, the other was gone. "Ah," he thought, "this looks well! Not a penny have I to give them for all that bill, I'd best run off away from the whole business." So he made up his mind to jump out of the window; but just as he had got it open and was going to get out, here comes the Silk Boy running and pushing him in at the window again. "You meant to make a fool of me, I see, and run away from me," said he. So they got into bed again and slept till day. When the reckoning came, all went well, for the Silk Boy paid for both of them.
Next day they came in the neighbourhood of a market town, and the Silk Boy said, "Can you guess what I'll manage when we get there?" No, that wasn't easy. But the lad repented of the bargain he had struck, for he was afraid the other one was a bad lot.
They went to a very large inn, and the Silk Boy said, "You can stop here. I must go out into the town for a bit. You can order something to eat, you mustn't sit and starve, and I'll pay all right when I come back." So off he went, but the other one durst not order anything. He was that hungry that his belly cried out in his body. But meanwhile the Silk Boy had been busy enough. He had been out in the town and bought a coach with four black horses, and he had been to a goldsmith and got four silver shoes put on each and every horse, and he had bought a proper fine suit of clothes for the poor boy. So he came driving into the inn yard and made such a knocking as shook the whole place. Then the lad was dressed up in the fine clothes, and then they got them something to eat, and for the time being that was the best of all, for he was that hungry that he whined with it. The Silk Boy scolded him a bit for being so mistrustful. "It's not according to our agreement," he said, and the other promised to behave better in the future.
In the morning when they had had their breakfast, they were to go out driving; and away they drove past a big palace, and there sat one of the owner's daughters up on the second floor, and she had the casement windows open and sat and sewed. So they drove past, so fast that one of the horses hinder shoes flew off, and fell into her lap. In she ran to her father with it and called out, "Those must be some pretty rich folk that drove by; they've got silver shoes on their horses, for one flew up into my lap." "Well, you look out when they come back," said he, "so that they can have their shoe."
Well, she stood at the window and stared and looked for them. They hadn't driven but a short way along the road when they turned round; but when the Silk Boy got near the palace he cracked his whip fit to shake the whole place, and they flew by like a shooting star; so she got no chance to speak to them and give back the shoe.
It was settled now, that the poor lad should give himself out to be the master, and the Silk Boy was to be his coachman and servant. He went out with his horses and drove to the goldsmith to get him to take off the four silver shoes and put four gold shoes to each horse instead.
Next day they were to go out driving again. The girl was sitting up there at the window sewing, as on the day before, and a gold shoe flew off one of the horses on to her lap, as they went by at a great pace. So she ran in to her father and called out: "Those must be terrible rich people that came past here! Yesterday they had silver shoes, and to-day they've got gold shoes to their horses." "So!" said he; "well, we must look out for them when they come back, so that they can have it."
When they had been out driving a bit, and had turned the coach, the Silk Boy said: "Now, when we come near the palace, they'll be standing outside and will be for giving you the shoe; but you mustn't take it; you must say you don't reckon of such things at all, and the young lady is welcome to keep it. Then they will ask you in to dine with them, and that you must accept. I shall be coming in too, and I shall be put at the lower end of the table, but you needn't mind about that. Then they'll want to know where you come from, but you must say you come from a castle out in the country here. Then the man will offer you his daughter's hand, and you must accept her, and welcome."
Well, as soon as the Silk Boy had given him these instructions, they drove past the palace. There stood the owner and his daughter, outside the door. They clapped their hands and beckoned to them to pull up, so they did; and the daughter came to offer the gentleman the shoe that his horse had dropped. Oh no, he didn't mind about that, she might keep it, and welcome. "Well, would he please to come in and take dinner with them?" "Yes, that he would." And so in he went, and was set up at the high table, but the Silk Boy was put at the lower table, for he was only the coachman. Then they wanted him to tell them where he came from, and he said, according as the other had told him, that he came from a big castle out here in the country. Then the gentleman made him the offer; wouldn't he perhaps take a fancy to his daughter? Yes, he would. And they agreed on it, and as she was just as ready, everything was settled and signed. The wedding clothes were bought, and the wedding arranged, and everything went off in great style.
When it was all over, the poor lad was to go home to his castle with his wife. He didn't know where he was going to take her, for one thing was quite certain, that he hadn't got any castle—but he left everything to the White Silk Boy. The closed carriage, with the four horses, drove up to the door, and her father and mother were to come with them and see the husband's home, and the Silk Boy sat up on a dickey behind, but he looked after the driving all the same. When they had driven a short way, they came to a paddock where there was a big flock of sheep. Now, the White Boy had given the bridegroom his instructions beforehand, so when they asked whose sheep those were, he said: "Oh, they're mine." "Now, I never knew the like of that," said his wife. "My father has many sheep, and has had many sheep, but never have I seen such good sheep and so many sheep as there are here."
So they drove on a little, and they came past another paddock, that was full of bullocks. "Whose might the bullocks be?" said she. "Oh, they're mine," said the poor lad. "Now, I never knew the like of that," said she; "no, really now, I never could have believed you were so well off. For my father has many bullocks, and has had many bullocks, but never have I seen such good bullocks nor so many bullocks nor such big bullocks as there are here."
So they drove on a bit, till they came to another paddock that was full of cows and nothing else. "Whose might the cows be?" said she. "Oh, they're mine," said the lad. "Well, the farther I go the more I am surprised," said she. "My father has many cows, and has had many cows, but never have I seen such good cows, nor such big cows nor so many cows as there are here." So they drove a little further, and they came to another paddock that was full of horses. "Who might be the owner of these horses?" said she. "Oh, that's me," said the lad. "No! now really, I never knew the like," said she. "My father has many horses, and has had many horses, but such good horses and such big horses and so many horses, as there are here, I never did see."
A little after, they came to the fifth paddock, and that was full of pigs and nothing else. "What! Are these really yours, too, these pigs?" said she. "Yes, to be sure they are." "Oh no, now really, never did I see the like," said she. "My father has many pigs, and has had many pigs, but so many pigs and such good pigs and such large pigs, I really and truly never did see."
When they had driven a little farther, they could just see a big castle, a long way off. So she asked him whose castle that was. It was his, he said. Now really, she never had known the like. Her father had a big castle, and she had seen a number of them, but never had she seen one so big as this here one.
Meanwhile, evening had come on, and they were driving through a wood. It so happened, that the lad looked out of the window, and the Silk Boy was gone! What was he to do, now? He didn't know the way, and he did know that the whole of what he had been sitting and stuffing up his wife with, was lies from beginning to end. A regular bad lot, this boy was, who was leaving him in the lurch at the end of it all. Anyhow, he made up his mind that he would run away from the lot of them. He threw open the carriage door and was just jumping out, when at the very minute his servant came running, and slammed the door to again, and said: "What sort of a trick is this? Do you mean to make a fool of me again?"
So then they drove on a bit, and the coachman asked what it was he could see up there. That was the big house they were to go to, said the servant. It was dark, to be sure, but when they got close up to it, they could see there was a moat round it, and a drawbridge, too. Everything was in readiness to receive them when they drove into the castle, and the parents were in the greatest of delight, that they had got their daughter married into such a nice place. So they must go for a look round, and of course the lad must show his wife over the castle; but he was as much of a stranger there as she was, and the Silk Boy was gone out to unharness his horses. But after all, he came, and he knew it all and could show them all about. Every room they went into was full of gold and silver, and there was store of all manner of things, and it was like that all through the place. And the parents, they were near losing their mouths and noses at the sight of all the grandeur there was.
Now, when a day had passed by after their coming there, the servant had disappeared again. The lad went and hunted for him all round about, and at last he found him, round behind the castle in a straw-stack. "Why will you make me so sad, stopping away like this?" said he. "Ah! now I must be leaving you," said the other. "Oh no, no! Why should you do that? Do stay with me; there's enough for us both to live on."
No, he couldn't do so, he said. "But now we ought to divide up what we've got, together; that's what we agreed to do." Yes, the lad was ready to do that, but what should they do about his wife? "You'd better take the house and all that, while I keep her; it isn't mine anyhow."
"Well, now I'll tell you how it all hangs together. It was I that you paid three marks for, to have me buried in the churchyard, and so I wanted to do you a good turn and repay you. The first time I went off from you—that was at night in the inn—I was out at the castle here, to kill a troll who had taken possession of it; but I had no luck that time, you woke too quick, and I was obliged to meet you at the window. When we drove out here, by the road, I was off again, and this time I got the better of the troll and got everything ready to receive the gentry who I said were coming. But it was something of a shock for me, when you wanted to try and steal off again. I have no need of anything that is here on earth, and so you may have it all yourself. I don't wish for any of it at all, and so I must bid you farewell." Thereupon, they took a solemn leave of each other, and the poor lad went on living with his wife there at the mansion, in great state and happiness, till their dying day.