17.THE BLUE LIGHT
There was once upon a time a soldier who for many years had served the king faithfully, but when the war came to an end could not serve any longer because of the many wounds which he had received. The king said to him, ‘You may return to your home, I no longer need you, and you will not receive any more money, for he only receives wages who does me service.’ Then the soldier, who did not know how to earn a living, went away greatly troubled, and walked the whole day, until in the evening he entered a forest. When darkness came on, he saw a light, which he went up to, and came to a house where a witch lived. ‘Please give me one night’s lodging, and a little to eat and drink,’ he said to her, ‘or I shall starve.’ ‘Oh!’ she answered, ‘who gives anything to a run-away soldier? Yet I will be compassionate, and take you in, if you will do what I wish.’ ‘What do you wish?’ said the soldier. ‘That you should dig all round my garden for me, tomorrow.’ The soldier agreed, and next day worked with all his strength, but could not finish it by the evening. ‘I see well enough,’ said the witch, ‘that you can do no more today, but I will let you stay another night, in payment for which you must tomorrow chop me a load of wood, and chop it small.’ The soldier spent the whole day in doing it, and in the evening the witch proposed that he should stay one night more. ‘Tomorrow, you shall only do me a very small piece of work. Behind my house, there is an old dry well, into which my light has fallen, it burns blue, and never goes out, and you must bring it up again.’ Next day the old woman took him to the well, and let him down in a basket. He found the blue light, and made her a signal to draw him up again. She did draw him up, but when he came near the edge, she stretched down her hand and wanted to take the blue light away from him. ‘No,’ he said, realizing her evil intention, ‘I will not give you the light until I am standing with both feet upon the ground.’ The witch fell into a rage, let him fall again into the well, and went away.
The poor soldier fell without injury on the soft ground, and the blue light went on burning, but of what use was that to him? He saw very well that he could not escape death. He sat for a while very sadly, and then suddenly he felt in his pocket and found his tobacco pipe, which was still half full. ‘This shall be my last pleasure,’ he thought, pulled it out, lit it with the blue light and began to smoke. When the smoke had circled about the well, suddenly a little black dwarf stood before him, and said, ‘Lord, what are your commands?’ ‘What my commands are?’ replied the soldier, quite astonished. ‘I must do everything you tell me,’ said the little man. ‘Good,’ said the soldier; ‘then in the first place help me out of this well.’ The little man took him by the hand, and led him through an underground passage, but he did not forget to take the blue light with him. On the way the dwarf showed him the treasures which the witch had collected and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold as he could carry. When he was above, he said to the little man, ‘Now go and bind the old witch, and carry her before the judge.’ In a short time she came by like the wind, riding on a wild tom-cat and screaming frightfully. Nor was it long before the little man reappeared. ‘It is all done,’ he said, ‘and the witch is already hanging on the gallows. What further commands does my lord have?’ inquired the dwarf. ‘At this moment, none,’ answered the soldier; ‘you can return home, only be at hand immediately, if I summon you.’ ‘Nothing more is needed than that you should light your pipe with the blue light, and I will appear before you at once.’ Then he vanished from his sight.
The soldier returned to the town from which he had come. He went to the best inn, ordered himself beautiful clothes, and then told the landlord to give him the best room possible. When it was ready and the soldier had taken possession of it, he summoned the little black man and said, ‘I served the king faithfully, but he dismissed me, and left me with nothing, and now I want to take my revenge.’ ‘What am I to do?’ asked the little man. ‘Late at night, when the king’s daughter is in bed, bring her here in her sleep. She shall do the work of a servant for me.’ The dwarf said: ‘That is an easy thing for me to do, but a very dangerous thing for you, for if it is discovered, you will be in trouble.’ When twelve o’clock had struck, the door sprang open, and the dwarf carried in the princess. ‘Aha! Are you there?’ cried the soldier, ‘get to your work at once! Fetch the broom and sweep the room.’ When she had done this, he ordered her to come to his chair, and then he stretched out his feet and said, ‘Pull off my boots,’ and then he threw them in her face, and made her pick them up again, and clean and brighten them. She, however, did everything he told her, without argument, silently and with half-shut eyes. When the first cock crowed, the dwarf carried her back to the royal palace, and laid her in her bed.
Next morning when the princess arose she went to her father, and told him that she had had a very strange dream. ‘I was carried through the streets with the speed of lightning,’ she said, ‘and taken into a soldier’s room, and I had to wait upon him like a servant, sweep his room, clean his boots, and do all kinds of menial work. It was only a dream, and yet I am just as tired as if I really had done everything.’ ‘The dream may have been true,’ said the king. ‘I will give you a piece of advice. Fill your pocket full of peas, and make a small hole in the pocket, and then if you are carried away again, they will fall out and leave a trail in the streets.’ But unseen by the king, the dwarf was standing beside him when he said that, and heard everything. At night when the sleeping princess was again carried through the streets, some peas certainly did fall out of her pocket, but they made no trail, for the crafty dwarf had just before scattered peas in every street there was. And again the princess was forced to do servant’s work until dawn.
The next morning the king sent his people out to seek the trail, but it was all in vain, for in every street poor children were sitting, picking up peas, and saying, ‘It must have rained peas, last night.’ ‘We must think of something else,’ said the king, ‘keep your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you come back from the place where you are taken, hide one of them there. I will soon figure out a way to find it.’ The black dwarf heard this plot, and at night when the soldier again ordered him to bring the princess, revealed it to him, and told him that he knew of no way to counteract this plan, and that if the shoe were found in the soldier’s house it would go badly for him. ‘Do what I tell you,’ replied the soldier, and again this third night the princess was obliged to work like a servant, but before she went away, she hid her shoe under the bed.
The next morning the king had the entire town searched for his daughter’s shoe. It was found at the soldier’s, and the soldier himself, who at the advice of the dwarf had gone outside the gate, was soon brought back, and thrown into prison. In his excitement he had forgotten the most valuable things he had, the blue light and the gold, and had only one ducat in his pocket. And now loaded with chains, he was standing at the window of his dungeon, when he chanced to see one of his comrades passing by. The soldier tapped at the pane of glass, and when this man came up, said to him, ‘Be so kind as to fetch me the small bundle I have left lying in the inn, and I will give you a ducat for doing it.’ His comrade ran there and brought him what he wanted. As soon as the soldier was alone again, he lighted his pipe and summoned the black dwarf. ‘Have no fear,’ said the latter to his master. ‘Go wherever they take you, and let them do what they will, only take the blue light with you.’ The next day the soldier was tried, and though he had done nothing wicked, the judge condemned him to death. When he was led away to die, he begged a last favour of the king. ‘What is it?’ asked the king. ‘That I may smoke one more pipe on my way.’ ‘You may smoke three,’ answered the king, ‘but do not imagine that I will spare your life.’ Then the soldier pulled out his pipe and lighted it with the blue light, and as soon as a few puffs of smoke had risen, the dwarf was there with a small club in his hand, and said, ‘What does my lord command?’ ‘Strike down that false judge there, and his constable, and do not spare the king who has treated me so badly.’ Then the dwarf fell on them like lightning, darting this way and that way, and whoever was so much as touched by his cudgel fell down, and did not move again. The king was terrified. He threw himself on the soldier’s mercy, and merely to be allowed to live at all, gave him his kingdom for his own, and his daughter for his wife.