There came a soldier marching down the high road-one, two! one, two! He had his knapsack on his back and his sword at his side as he came home from the wars. On the road he met a witch, an ugly old witch, a witch whose lower lip dangled right down on her chest.
“Good evening, soldier,” she said. “What a fine sword you’ve got there, and what a big knapsack. Aren’t you every inch a soldier! And now you shall have money, as much as you please.”
“That’s very kind, you old witch,” said the soldier.
“See that big tree.” The witch pointed to one near by them. “It’s hollow to the roots. Climb to the top of the trunk and you’ll find a hole through which you can let yourself down deep under the tree. I’ll tie a rope around your middle, so that when you call me I can pull you up again.”
“What would I do deep down under that tree?” the soldier wanted to know.
“Fetch money,” the witch said. “Listen. When you touch bottom you’ll find yourself in a great hall. It is very bright there, because more than a hundred lamps are burning. By their light you will see three doors. Each door has a key in it, so you can open them all.
“If you walk into the first room, you’ll see a large chest in the middle of the floor. On it sits a dog, and his eyes are as big as saucers. But don’t worry about that. I’ll give you my blue checked apron to spread out on the floor. Snatch up that dog and set him on my apron. Then you can open the chest and take out as many pieces of money as you please. They are all copper.
“But if silver suits you better, then go into the next room. There sits a dog and his eyes are as big as mill wheels. But don’t you care about that. Set the dog on my apron while you line your pockets with silver.
“Maybe you’d rather have gold. You can, you know. You can have all the gold you can carry if you go into the third room. The only hitch is that there on the money-chest sits a dog, and each of his eyes is as big as the Round Tower of Copenhagen. That’s the sort of dog he is. But never you mind how fierce he looks. Just set him on my apron and he’ll do you no harm as you help yourself from the chest to all the gold you want.”
“That suits me,” said the soldier. “But what do you get out of all this, you old witch? I suppose that you want your share.”
“No indeed,” said the witch. “I don’t want a penny of it. All I ask is for you to fetch me an old tinder box that my grandmother forgot the last time she was down there.”
“Good,” said the soldier. “Tie the rope around me.”
“Here it is,” said the witch, “and here’s my blue checked apron.”
The soldier climbed up to the hole in the tree and let himself slide through it, feet foremost down into the great hall where the hundreds of lamps were burning, just as the witch had said. Now he threw open the first door he came to. Ugh! There sat a dog glaring at him with eyes as big as saucers.
“You’re a nice fellow,” the soldier said, as he shifted him to the witch’s apron and took all the coppers that his pockets would hold. He shut up the chest, set the dog back on it, and made for the second room. Alas and alack! There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill wheels.
“Don’t you look at me like that.” The soldier set him on the witch’s apron. “You’re apt to strain your eyesight.” When he saw the chest brimful of silver, he threw away all his coppers and filled both his pockets and knapsack with silver alone. Then he went into the third room. Oh, what a horrible sight to see! The dog in there really did have eyes as big as the Round Tower, and when he rolled them they spun like wheels.
“Good evening,” the soldier said, and saluted, for such a dog he had never seen before. But on second glance he thought to himself, “This won’t do.” So he lifted the dog down to the floor, and threw open the chest. What a sight! Here was gold and to spare. He could buy out all Copenhagen with it. He could buy all the cake-woman’s sugar pigs, and all the tin soldiers, whips, and rocking horses there are in the world. Yes, there was really money!
In short order the soldier got rid of all the silver coins he had stuffed in his pockets and knapsack, to put gold in their place. Yes sir, he crammed all his pockets, his knapsack, his cap, and his boots so full that he scarcely could walk. Now he was made of money. Putting the dog back on the chest he banged out the door and called up through the hollow tree:
“Pull me up now, you old witch.”
“Have you got the tinder box?” asked the witch.
“Confound the tinder box,” the soldier shouted. “I clean forgot it.”
When he fetched it, the witch hauled him up. There he stood on the highroad again, with his pockets, boots, knapsack and cap full of gold.
“What do you want with the tinder box?” he asked the old witch.
“None of your business,” she told him. “You’ve had your money, so hand over my tinder box.”
“Nonsense,” said the soldier. “I’ll take out my sword and I’ll cut your head off if you don’t tell me at once what you want with it.”
“I won’t,” the witch screamed at him.
So he cut her head off. There she lay! But he tied all his money in her apron, slung it over his shoulder, stuck the tinder box in his pocket, and struck out for town.
It was a splendid town. He took the best rooms at the best inn, and ordered all the good things he liked to eat, for he was a rich man now because he had so much money. The servant who cleaned his boots may have thought them remarkably well worn for a man of such means, but that was before he went shopping. Next morning he bought boots worthy of him, and the best clothes. Now that he had turned out to be such a fashionable gentleman, people told him all about the splendors of their town-all about their King, and what a pretty Princess he had for a daughter.
“Where can I see her?” the soldier inquired.
“You can’t see her at all,” everyone said. “She lives in a great copper castle inside all sorts of walls and towers. Only the King can come in or go out of it, for it’s been foretold that the Princess will marry a common soldier. The King would much rather she didn’t.”
“I’d like to see her just the same,” the soldier thought. But there was no way to manage it,
Now he lived a merry life. He went to the theatre, drove about in the
King’s garden, and gave away money to poor people. This was to his credit, for he remembered from the old days what it feels like to go without a penny in your pocket. Now that he was wealthy and well dressed, he had all too many who called him their friend and a genuine gentleman. That pleased him
But he spent money every day without making any, and wound up with only two coppers to his name. He had to quit his fine quarters to live in a garret, clean his own boots, and mend them himself with a darning needle. None of his friends came to see him, because there were too many stairs to climb.
One evening when he sat in the dark without even enough money to buy a candle, he suddenly remembered there was a candle end in the tinder box that he had picked up when the witch sent him down the hollow tree. He got out the tinder box, and the moment he struck sparks from the flint of it his door burst open and there stood a dog from down under the tree. It was the one with eyes as big as saucers.
“What,” said the dog, “is my lord’s command?”
“What’s this?” said the soldier. “Have I got the sort of tinder box that will get me whatever I want? Go get me some money,” he ordered the dog. Zip! The dog was gone. Zip! He was back again, with a bag full of copper in his mouth.
Now the soldier knew what a remarkable tinder box he had. Strike it once and there was the dog from the chest of copper coins. Strike it twice and here came the dog who had the silver. Three times brought the dog who guarded gold.
Back went the soldier to his comfortable quarters. Out strode the soldier in fashionable clothes. Immediately his friends knew him again, because they liked him so much.
Then the thought occurred to him, “Isn’t it odd that no one ever gets to see the Princess? They say she’s very pretty, but what’s the good of it as long as she stays locked up in that large copper castle with so many towers? Why can’t I see her? Where’s my tinder box?” He struck a light and, zip! came the dog with eyes as big as saucers.
“It certainly is late,” said the soldier. “Practically midnight. But I do want a glimpse of the Princess, if only for a moment.”
Out the door went the dog, and before the soldier could believe it, here came the dog with the Princess on his back. She was sound asleep, and so pretty that everyone could see she was a Princess. The soldier couldn’t keep from kissing her, because he was every inch a soldier. Then the dog took the Princess home.
Next morning when the King and Queen were drinking their tea, the Princess told them about the strange dream she’d had-all about a dog and a soldier. She’d ridden on the dog’s back, and the soldier had kissed her.
“Now that was a fine story,” said the Queen. The next night one of the old ladies of the court was under orders to sit by the Princess’s bed, and see whether this was a dream or something else altogether. The soldier was longing to see the pretty Princess again, so the dog came by night to take her up and away as fast as he could run. But the old lady pulled on her storm boots and ran right after them. When she saw them disappear into a large house she thought, “Now I know where it is,” and drew a big cross on the door with a piece of chalk. Then she went home to bed, and before long the dog brought the Princess home too. But when the dog saw that cross marked on the soldier’s front door, he got himself a piece of chalk and cross-marked every door in the town. This was a clever thing to do, because now the old lady couldn’t tell the right door from all the wrong doors he had marked.
Early in the morning along came the King and the Queen, the old lady, and all the officers, to see where the Princess had been.
“Here it is,” said the King when he saw the first cross mark.
“No, my dear. There it is,” said the Queen who was looking next door.
“Here’s one, there’s one, and yonder’s another one!” said they all. Wherever they looked they saw chalk marks, so they gave up searching.
The Queen, though, was an uncommonly clever woman, who could do more than ride in a coach. She took her big gold scissors, cut out a piece of silk, and made a neat little bag. She filled it with fine buckwheat flour and tied it on to the Princess’s back. Then she pricked a little hole in it so that the flour would sift out along the way, wherever the Princess might go.
Again the dog came in the night, took the Princess on his back, and ran with her to the soldier, who loved her so much that he would have been glad to be a Prince just so he could make his wife.
The dog didn’t notice how the flour made a trail from the castle right up to the soldier’s window, where he ran up the wall with the Princess. So in the morning it was all too plain to the King and Queen just where their daughter had been.
They took the soldier and they put him in prison. There he sat. It was dark, and it was dismal, and they told him, “Tomorrow is the day for you to hang.” That didn’t cheer him up any, and as for his tinder box he’d left it behind at the inn. In the morning he could see through his narrow little window how the people all hurried out of town to see him hanged. He heard the drums beat and he saw the soldiers march. In the crowd of running people he saw a shoemaker’s boy in a leather apron and slippers. The boy galloped so fast that off flew one slipper, which hit the wall right where the soldier pressed his face to the iron bars.
“Hey there, you shoemaker’s boy, there’s no hurry,” the soldier shouted. “Nothing can happen till I get there. But if you run to where I live and bring me my tinder box, I’ll give you four coppers. Put your best foot foremost.”
The shoemaker’s boy could use four coppers, so he rushed the tinder box to the soldier, and-well, now we shall hear what happened!
Outside the town a high gallows had been built. Around it stood soldiers and many hundred thousand people. The King and Queen sat on a splendid throne, opposite the judge and the whole council. The soldier already stood upon the ladder, but just as they were about to put the rope around his neck he said the custom was to grant a poor criminal one last small favor. He wanted to smoke a pipe of tobacco-the last he’d be smoking in this world.
The King couldn’t refuse him, so the soldier struck fire from his tinder box, once-twice-and a third time. Zip! There stood all the dogs, one with eyes as big as saucers, one with eyes as big as mill wheels, one with eyes as big as the Round Tower of Copenhagen.
“Help me. Save me from hanging!” said the soldier. Those dogs took the judges and all the council, some by the leg and some by the nose, and tossed them so high that they came down broken to bits.
“Don’t!” cried the King, but the biggest dog took him and the Queen too, and tossed them up after the others. Then the soldiers trembled and the people shouted, “Soldier, be our King and marry the pretty Princess.”
So they put the soldier in the King’s carriage. All three of his dogs danced in front of it, and shouted “Hurrah!” The boys whistled through their fingers, and the soldiers saluted. The Princess came out of the copper castle to be Queen, and that suited her exactly. The wedding lasted all of a week, and the three dogs sat at the table, with their eyes opened wider than ever before.