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Alfathers Present

Many years ago there lived in Gullbjers a family of peasants, who had a daughter, Elsa. As she was the only child she was much adored, and her parents sought in every way to anticipate her slightest wish. As soon as she had celebrated her coming-of-age she was sent to the city to learn how to sew, and also city manners and customs. But in the city she aquired little other knowledge than how to adorn herself, and to scorn housework and manual labor.

When she was twenty years young she won the love of an industrious and honourable young farmer, named Gunnar, and before many months had gone by they were husband and wife.

In the beginning all was pleasure, but she soon began to weary with her many household duties. Early one morn, shortly before Yule-Tide, as always there was life and activity in Gunnar's yard. Elsa had hardly risen from bed when the servant, Olle, sprang in and said:

"Dear mistress, get ready our haversacks, for we are going to the woods, and we must be off if we are to get back before even-tide."

"Dear mother, the leaven is working," called one of the servant girls, "and if you will come out now we will have more than usually good bread."

The butcher, Zarkis, who had already stuck a large hog and several small pigs, had just stepped in to get the accustomed dram, when old Brita came rushing after material for candle wicks. Lastly came Gunnar, out of patience because the servant had not yet started for the woods.

"My departed mother," said he, with kindly earnestness, "always prepared everything the night before when folk were expected to go to work early in the morn, and I have requested you to do likewise, Elsa. But do not forget the loom, my dear; there are now only a few yards of cloth remaining to be woven, and it will not do to allow it to lie in the way over the Holy Days."

Now, wholly out of patience, Elsa rushed in a rage out of the kitchen to the house in which the loom stood, slammed the door furiously behind her and cast herself weeping upon a sofa.

"No!" shrieked she. "I will no longer endure this drudgery. Who could have thought that Gunnar would make a common housewife of me, to wear my life out thus? Oh, unhappy me! Is there no one who can help and comfort a poor creature?"

"I can," replied a solemn voice, and before her stood a white-haired man with a broad-brimmed hat upon his head, sloped over one eye. "Do not be alarmed," continued he, "I came to proffer you the help for which you have just wished. I am called Old Man Hoberg. I know your family to the tenth and eleventh generations. Your first ancestor bade me stand godfather to his first born. I could not be present at the naming, but I gave a suitable godfather's present, for I would by no means be the meanest. The silver I then gave was unfortunately a blessing for no one, for it begot only pride and laziness. Your family long ago lost the riches, but the pride and laziness remain yet; nevertheless I will help you, for you are at heart good and honest."

"You complain at the life of drudgery you are compelled to lead," continued he, after a short silence; "this comes from your being accustomed to work, but I shall gift unto you ten obedient servants, who shall be at your bidding and faithfully serve you in all your undertakings." Whereupon he shook his blue cloak, and ten comical little creatures hopped out and began to put the room in order.

"Reach here your fingers," commanded the old man.

Tremblingly, Elsa extended her hands; whereupon the old man said:

"Hop O'My Thumb,
"Lick the Pot,
"Long Pole,
"Heart in Hand,
"Little Peter Funny Man–

"Away, all of you, to your places."

In an instant the little servants had vanished into Elsa's fingers, and even the old man had disappeared.

The young wife sat a long time staring at her hands, but soon she experienced a wonderful desire to work.

"Here I sit and dream," she burst forth with unusual cheerfulness and courage, "and it is already mid-morn while outside all are waiting for me." Elsa then hastened out to superintend the occupations of her servants.

Not for that day alone, but for all time thereafter Elsa entered into her duties with as much pleasure as she would formerly have found in a dance. No one knew what had happened, but all marveled at the sudden change. None was, however, more pleased and satisfied than the young wife herself, for whom work was now a necessity, and under whose hands everything thereafter flourished, bringing wealth and happiness to the young couple.

Source: Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales: 1936

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