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Taper Tom

Once on a time there was a King who had a daughter, and she was so lovely that her good looks were well known far and near. But she was so sad and serious she could never be got to laugh, and besides, she was so high and mighty that she said “No” to all who came to woo her. She would have none of them, were they ever so grand—lords or princes,—it was all the same.

The King had long ago become tired of this, for he thought she might just as well marry; she, too, like all other people. There was no use in waiting; she was quite old enough, nor would she be any richer, for she was to have half the kingdom,—that came to her as her mother’s heir.

So he had word sent throughout the kingdom, that anyone who could get his daughter to laugh should have her for his wife and half the kingdom besides. But, if there was anyone who tried and could not, he was to have a sound thrashing. And sure it was that there were many sore backs in that kingdom, for lovers and wooers came from north and south, and east and west, thinking it nothing at all to make a King’s daughter laugh. And gay fellows they were, some of them too, but for all their tricks and capers there sat the Princess, just as sad and serious as she had been before.

Now, not far from the palace lived a man who had three sons, and they, too, had heard how the King had given it out that the man who could make the Princess laugh was to have her to wife and half the kingdom.

The eldest was for setting off first. So he strode off, and when he came to the King’s grange, he told the King he would be glad to try to make the Princess laugh.

“All very well, my man,” said the King, “but it’s sure to be of no use, for so many have been here and tried. My daughter is so sorrowful it’s no use trying, and it’s not my wish that anyone should come to grief.”

But the lad thought he would like to try. It couldn’t be such a very hard thing for him to get the Princess to laugh, for so many had laughed at him, both gentle and simple, when he enlisted for a soldier and was drilled by Corporal Jack.

So he went off to the courtyard, under the Princess’s window, and began to go through his drill as Corporal Jack had taught him. But it was no good, the Princess was just as sad and serious and did not so much as smile at him once. So they took him and thrashed him well, and sent him home again.

Well, he had hardly got home before his second brother wanted to set off. He was a schoolmaster, and the funniest figure one ever laid eyes upon; he was lopsided, for he had one leg shorter than the other, and one moment he was as little as a boy, and in another, when he stood on his long leg, he was as tall and long as a giant. Besides this he was a powerful preacher.

So when he came to the king’s palace, and said he wished to make the Princess laugh, the King thought it might not be so unlikely after all. “But mercy on you,” he said, “if you don’t make her laugh. We are for laying it on harder and harder for every one that fails.”

Then the schoolmaster strode off to the courtyard, and put himself before the Princess’s window, and read and preached like seven parsons, and sang and chanted like seven clerks, as loud as all the parsons and clerks in the country round.

The King laughed loud at him, and the Princess almost smiled a little, but then became as sad and serious as ever, and so it fared no better with Paul, the schoolmaster, than with Peter the soldier—for you must know one was called Peter and the other Paul. So they took him and flogged him well, and then they sent him home again.

Then the youngest, whose name was Taper Tom, was all for setting out. But his brothers laughed and jeered at him, and showed him their sore backs, and his father said it was no use for him to go for he had no sense. Was it not true that he neither knew anything nor could do anything? There he sat in the hearth, like a cat, and grubbed in the ashes and split tapers. That was why they called him “Taper Tom.” But Taper Tom would not give in, and so they got tired of his growling; and at last he, too, got leave to go to the king’s palace to try his luck.

When he got there he did not say that he wished to try to make the Princess laugh, but asked if he could get work there. No, they had no place for him, but for all that Taper Tom would not give up. In such a big palace they must want someone to carry wood and water for the kitchen maid,—that was what he said. And the king thought it might very well be, for he, too, got tired of his teasing. In the end Taper Tom stayed there to carry wood and water for the kitchen maid.

So one day, when he was going to fetch water from the brook, he set eyes upon a big fish which lay under an old fir stump, where the water had eaten into the bank, and he put his bucket softly under the fish and caught it. But as he was gong home to the grange he met an old woman who led a golden goose by a string.

“Good-day, godmother,” said Taper Tom, “that’s a pretty bird you have, and what fine feathers! If one only had such feathers one might leave off splitting fir tapers.”

The goody was just as pleased with the fish Tom had in his bucket and said, if he would give her the fish, he might have the golden goose. And it was such a curious goose. When any one touched it he stuck fast to it, if Tom only said, “If you want to come along, hang on.” Of course, Taper Tom was willing enough to make the exchange. “A bird is as good as a fish any day,” he said to himself, “and, if it’s such a bird as you say, I can use it as a fish hook.” That was what he said to the goody, and he was much pleased with the goose.

Now, he had not gone far before he met another old woman. As soon as she saw the lovely golden goose she spoke prettily, and coaxed and begged Tom to give her leave to stroke his lovely golden goose.

“With all my heart,” said Taper Tom, and just as she stroked the goose he said, “If you want to come along, hang on.”

The goody pulled and tore, but she was forced to hang on whether she would or not, and Taper Tom went on as though he alone were with the golden goose.

When he had gone a bit farther, he met a man who had had a quarrel with the old woman for a trick she had played him. So, when he saw how hard she struggled and strove to get free, and how fast she stuck, he thought he would just pay her off the old grudge, and so he gave her a kick with his foot.

“If you want to come along, hang on!” called out Tom, and then the old man had to hop along on one leg, whether he would or not. When he tore and tugged and tried to get loose—it was still worse for him, for he all but fell flat on his back every step he took.

In this way they went on a good bit till they had nearly reached the King’s palace.

There they met the King’s smith, who was going to the smithy, and had a great pair of tongs in his hand. Now you must know this smith was a merry fellow, full of both tricks and pranks, and when he saw this string come hobbling and limping along, he laughed so that he was almost bent double. Then he bawled out, “Surely this is a new flock of geese the Princess is going to have—Ah, here is the gander that toddles in front. Goosey! goosey! goosey!” he called, and with that he threw his hands about as though he were scattering corn for the geese.

But the flock never stopped—on it went and all that the goody and the man did was to look daggers at the smith for making fun of them. Then the smith went on:

“It would be fine fun to see if I could hold the whole flock, so many as they are,” for he was a stout strong fellow. So he took hold with his big tongs by the old man’s coat tail, and the man all the while screeched and wriggled. But Taper Tom only said:

“If you want to come along, hang on!” So the smith had to go along too. He bent his back and stuck his heels into the ground and tried to get loose, but it was all no good. He stuck fast, as though he had been screwed tight with his own vise, and whether he would or not, he had to dance along with the rest.

So, when they came near to the King’s palace, the dog ran out and began to bark as though they were wolves and beggars. And when the Princess, looking out of the window to see what was the matter, set eyes on this strange pack, she laughed softly to herself. But Taper Tom was not content with that:

“Bide a bit,” he said, “she will soon have to make a noise.” And as he said that he turned off with his band to the back of the palace.

When they passed by the kitchen the door stood open, and the cook was just stirring the porridge. But when she saw Taper Tom and his pack she came running out at the door, with her broom in one hand and a ladle full of smoking porridge in the other, and she laughed as though her sides would split. And when she saw the smith there too, she bent double and went off again in a loud peal of laughter. But when she had had her laugh out, she too thought the golden goose so lovely she must just stroke it.

“Taper Tom! Taper Tom!” she called out, and came running out with the ladle of porridge in her fist, “Give me leave to pet that pretty bird of yours’?”

“Better come and pet me,” said the smith. But when the cook heard that she got angry.

“What is that you say?” she cried and gave the smith a box on his ears with the ladle.

“If you want to come along, hang on,” said Taper Tom. So she stuck fast too, and for all her kicks and plunges, and all her scolding and screaming, and all her riving and striving, she too had to limp along with them.

She opened her mouth wide and laughed.

Soon the whole company came under the Princess’s window. There she stood waiting for them. And when she saw they had taken the cook too, with her ladle and broom, she opened her mouth wide, and laughed so loud that the King had to hold her upright.

So Taper Tom got the Princess and half the kingdom, and they say he kept her in high spirits with his tricks and pranks till the end of her days.

19th-century friends, Asbjørnsen & Moe, teachers collecting Norwegian folk tales. Beloved worldwide for poetic storytelling.