Gateway to the Classics: The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by Clifton Johnson
The Oak-Tree Fairy Book by  Clifton Johnson

The Ogre's Wife

O NCE upon a time there was a pretty young girl who was very proud, and she never failed to find some pretext or other for sending promptly away every young man who came to court her. One was too fat, another was too thin, this one had red hair, that one had big feet. In short she refused all her suitors.

Finally her mother picked a pumpkin and had it put on the top of a very tall pole. "Do you see that pumpkin?" said she to her daughter. "The young man who climbs up and gets that pumpkin will be your husband."

The daughter said she did not object; but her reason for not objecting was that she did not think any young man could climb so slender and lofty a pole. They sent notices far and wide and appointed a day for the climbers to show their agility. When the day came a crowd of young men presented themselves, and the last to arrive was handsomer and more beautifully dressed than any of the others. He was an ogre in disguise, but nobody knew him, and the young girl admired his appearance so much that she said to her mother, "I hope he will get the pumpkin."

One after another the young men tried to climb the pole, and one after another they failed to climb high enough to seize the pumpkin and had to return to the ground without it. However, when the turn of the ogre came he climbed with ease right up to the top of the pole and brought the pumpkin down with him. Then he said to the young girl,

"Come now, we will go home to my house."

The girl put on her best dress and got into the ogre's carriage and went away with him. On the road they met a man who said to the ogre, "Give me my hat and gloves which I lent to you."

The ogre took off his hat and gloves and gave them to the man. "Here, take your old hat and gloves!" said he, and drove on.

Pretty soon another man met them and said to the ogre, "Give me my coat which I lent to you."

The ogre took off his coat and gave it to the man. "Here, take your old coat!" he said, and drove on.

After a while another man stopped them and said to the ogre, "Give me my collar and cravat which I lent to you."

The ogre took off his collar and cravat and gave them to the man. "Here, take your old collar and cravat!" he said, and drove on.

He was not at all well dressed now, and the young girl did not think he looked nearly so handsome as when she first saw him, and she was beginning to be very much frightened. At last, when they were almost to the ogre's house, another man met them and said, "Give me my horses which I lent to you."

The ogre gave him the two horses that drew the carriage. "Here, take your old horses!" he said.

When the man was gone with the horses, the ogre ordered his wife to get out and draw the carriage the rest of the way. This she did, and she was more scared than she had ever been before in her life. Pretty soon they came to where the ogre lived, and he said to his wife, "I shall be away until evening. Go in and stay with my housekeeper until I return."

She went indoors, and the housekeeper said, "Ah, my dear, you have taken a bad husband. You have married an ogre."

The poor girl was very much distressed when she heard what he really was, and she said to the old woman, "Could you not tell me how I can run away?"

"Yes, I will tell you," replied the old woman. "Go and hide in the chicken-house, and spend the night there. It is time now to give the chickens their evening feed. You will find a sack of corn just inside the door. Let them have all of the corn they will eat, especially the rooster. It is the rooster's business to awake his master in the morning, and if he has a full crop he will oversleep and give you a better chance to get away. Start as soon as you can see, and carry with you four eggs from the chicken-house nests. If you find the ogre chasing you, throw an egg on the ground behind you."

The young lady did all that the ogre's housekeeper told her to do, and in the earliest gray of the morning she left the chicken-house, carrying four eggs tied up in her handkerchief.

The ogre's rooster had eaten so much corn that he overslept and gave the girl a long start, but when he awoke he at once began to crow and make a great racket, shouting, "Master, master! get up quickly! Some one has run away! Cock-a-doodle-do!"

The ogre got up without delay and started at a tremendous pace after his wife. She presently saw him coming and dashed an egg on the ground behind her. Immediately there rose between her and her pursuer a high, strong wooden fence, and the ogre could neither get through it nor over it, and had to go home to get an ax to cut the fence down. But after a time he returned and chopped a passage for himself, and then went on faster than ever.

As soon as the girl saw him coming she threw back another egg, and there rose a brick wall so lofty the ogre could not climb over it, and he had to go home for a heavy hammer with which to break the wall down. But after a time he returned and smashed his way through, and then went on faster than ever.

The girl heard him coming and threw back another egg, and behind her burned a long line of fire, and the ogre had to go home for a jar of water to put out the fire. After a time he returned and with the water, quenched the fire, and then went on faster than ever.

When the girl heard him coming she threw her last egg; but in her haste she made a misthrow, and the egg, instead of falling behind her, fell in front of her, and immediately she found herself on the bank of a broad river that shut off farther flight. However, close by the shore she saw a big crocodile warming itself in the sun, and the girl said, "Grandmother, I pray you, cross me over. Grandmother, I pray you, save my life."

The crocodile replied, "Sit down on my back and I will cross you over."

So the girl sat down on the broad back of the crocodile and it swam swiftly out into the stream away from the ogre, and she escaped to the other side. Then the crocodile swam back, and the ogre said, "Cross me over, crocodile; cross me over, too."

The crocodile replied, "Very well, sit down on my back."

The ogre sat down on the crocodile's back, and the crocodile swam toward the other shore, but when it reached the middle of the river it dived under the water and the ogre was drowned.

The girl had been carried safely over, and she climbed the bank and found an old black horse feeding in a pasture, and she said to it, "I pray you, horse, save my life."

"Well," said the horse, "get up on my back and I will carry you to your mother."

So the girl mounted the old black horse, and the horse carried her safely to her mother's house, and there she is still.

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