ONCE upon a time, long, long years ago, there lived a well-to-do old couple on a homestead up in Hadeland. They had a son, who was a dragoon, a big, handsome fellow. They had a pasture in the hills, and the hut was not like most of the herdsmen's huts; but was well and solidly built, and even had a chimney, a roof and a window. And there they spent the summer; but when they came back home in the fall, the wood-cutters and huntsmen and fishermen, and whoever else had business in the woods at that time, noticed that the mountain folk had carried on its tricks with their herd. And among the mountain folk was a maiden who was so beautiful that her like had never been seen.
The son had often heard tell of her, and one fall, when his parents had already come home from the mountain pasture, he put on his full uniform, saddled his service horse, thrust his pistols in the holsters, and thus rode up into the hills. When he rode toward the pasture, such a fire burned in the herdsman's hut that it lit up every road, and then he knew that the mountain folk were inside. So he tied his horse to a pine-tree, took a pistol from its holster, crept up to the hut, and peeped through the window. And there sat an old man and a woman who were quite crooked and shriveled up with age, and so unspeakably ugly that he had never seen anything like it in his life; but with them was a maiden, and she was so surpassingly beautiful that he fell in love with her at once, and felt that he could not live without her. All had cow's tails, and the lovely maiden, too. And he could see that they had only just arrived, for everything was in disorder. The maiden was busy washing the ugly old man, and the woman was building a fire under the great cheese-kettle on the hearth.
At that moment the dragoon flung open the door, and shot off his pistol right above the maiden's head, so that she tottered and fell to the ground. And then she grew every bit as ugly as she had been beautiful before, and she had a nose as long as a pistol-case.
"Now you may take her, for now she belongs to you!" said the old man. But the dragoon stood as though rooted to the spot; stood where he stood, and could not take a single step, either forward or backward. Then the old man began to wash the girl; and she looked a little better; her nose was only half its original size, and her ugly cow's tail was tied back; but she was not as handsome, and any one who said so would not have been telling the truth.
"Now she is yours, my proud dragoon! Take her up before you on your horse, and ride into town and marry her. And you need only set the table for us in the little room in the bake-house; for we do not want to be with the other wedding-guests," said the old monster, her father, "but when the dishes make the round, you can stop in where we are."
He did not dare do anything else, and took her up before him on his horse, and made ready to marry her. But before she went to church, the bride begged one of the bridesmaids to stand close behind her, so that no one could see her tail fall off when the priest joined their hands.
So the wedding was celebrated, and when the dishes made the round, the bridegroom went out into the room where the table had been set for the old folk from the mountain. And at that time there was nothing to be seen there; but after the wedding-guests had gone, there was so much gold and silver, and such a pile of money lying there, as he had never seen together before.
For a long time all went well. Whenever guests came, his wife laid the table for the old folk in the bake-house, and on each occasion so much money was left lying there, that before long they did not know what to do with it all. But ugly she was, and ugly she remained, and he was heartily weary of her. So it was bound to happen that he sometimes flew into a rage, and threatened her with cuffs and blows. Once he wanted to go to town, and since it was fall, and the ground already frozen, the horse had first to be shod. So he went into the smithy--for he himself was a notable farrier--but, no matter what lie did, the horse-shoe was either too large or too small, and would not fit at all. He had no other horse at home, and he toiled away until noon and on into the afternoon. "Will you never make an end of your shoeing?" asked his wife. "You are not a very good husband; but you are a far worse farrier. I see there is nothing left for me but to go into the smithy myself and shoe the horse. This shoe is too large, you should have made it smaller, and that one is too small, you should have made it larger."
She went into the smithy, and the first thing she did was to take the horse-shoe in both hands and bend it straight.
"There, look at it," said she, "that is how you must do it." And with that she bent it together again as though it were made of lead. "Now hold up the horse's leg," said she, and the horse-shoe fitted to a hair, so that the best farrier could not have bettered it.
"You have a great deal of strength in your fingers," said her husband, and he looked at her.
"Do you think so?" was her reply. "What would have happened to me had you been as strong? But I love you far too dearly ever to use my strength against you," said she.
And from that day on he was the best of husbands.