O NCE there was a farmer who had an only son. The lad had had very poor health so he could not go out to work in the field.
His name was Freddy, but, since he remained such a wee bit of a fellow, they called him Little Freddy. At home there was but little to eat and nothing at all to burn, so his father went about the country trying to get the boy a place as cowherd or errand boy; but there was no one who would take the weakly little lad till they came to the sheriff. He was ready to take him, for he had just sent off his errand boy, and there was no one who would fill his place, for everybody knew the sheriff was a great miser.
But the farmer thought it was better there than nowhere; he would get his food, for all the pay he was to get was his board—there was nothing said about wages or clothes. When the lad had served three years he wanted to leave, and the sheriff gave him all his wages at one time. He was to have a penny a year. "It couldn't well be less," said the sheriff. And so he got three pence in all.
As for Little Freddy, he thought it was a great sum, for he had never owned so much; but, for all that, he asked if he wasn't to have anything for clothes, for those he had on were worn to rags. He had not had any new ones since he came to the sheriff's three years ago.
"You have what we agreed on," said the sheriff, "and three whole pennies besides. I have nothing more to do with you. Be off!"
So Little Freddy went into the kitchen and got a little food in his knapsack, and after that he set off on the road to buy himself more clothes. He was both merry and glad, for he had never seen a penny before, and every now and then he felt in his pockets as he went along to see if he had them all three. So, when he had gone far and farther than far, he got up on top of the mountains. He was not strong on his legs, and had to rest every now and then, and then he counted and counted how many pennies he had. And now he came to a great plain overgrown with moss. There he sat down and began to see if his money was all right. Suddenly a beggarman appeared before him, so tall and big that when he got a good look at him and saw his height and length, the lad began to scream and screech.
"Don't you be afraid," said the beggarman, "I'll do you no harm, I came only to beg you for a penny."
"Dear me!" said the lad, "I have only three pennies, and with them I was going to town to buy clothes."
"It is worse for me than for you," said the beggarman, "I have not one penny, and I am still more ragged than you."
"Well, that is so; you shall have it," said the lad.
When he had walked on a while, he grew weary again, and sat down to rest. Suddenly another beggarman stood before him, and this one was still taller and uglier than the first. When the lad saw how very tall and ugly and long he was, he began to scream again.
"Now, don't you be afraid of me," said the beggar, "I'll do you no harm. I came only to beg for a penny."
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said the lad. "I have only two pennies, and with them I was
going to the town to buy clothes. If I had only met you sooner,
"It's worse for me than for you," said the beggarman. "I have no penny, and a bigger body and less clothing."
"Well, you may have it," said the lad. So he went away farther, till he got weary, and then he sat down to rest; but he had scarcely sat down when a third beggarman came to him. This one was so tall and ugly and long that the lad had to look up and up, right up to the sky. And when he took him all in with his eyes, and saw how very, very tall and ugly and ragged he was, he fell a‑screeching and screaming again.
The lad had to look up right up into the sky.
"Now, don't you be afraid of me, my lad," said the beggarman, "I'll do you no harm, for I am only a beggarman, who begs you for a penny."
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said the lad. "I have only one penny left, and with it I was
going to the town to buy clothes. If I had only met you sooner,
"As for that," said the beggarman, "I have no penny at all, that I haven't, and a bigger body and less clothes, so it is worse for me than for you."
"Yes," said Little Freddy, "he must have the penny then—there was no help for it; for so each beggarman would have one penny, and he would have nothing."
"Well," said the beggarman, "since you have such a good heart that you gave away all that you had in the world, I will give you a wish for each penny." For you must know it was the same beggarman who had got them all three; he had only changed his shape each time, that the lad might not know him again.
"I have always had such a longing to hear a fiddle go, and see folk so merry and glad that they couldn't help dancing," said the lad; "and so if I may wish what I choose, I will wish myself such a fiddle, that everything that has life must dance to its tune."
"That you may have," said the beggarman, "but it is a sorry wish. You must wish something better for the other two pennies."
"I have always had such a love for hunting and shooting," said Little Freddy; "so if I may wish what I choose, I will wish myself such a gun that I shall hit everything I aim at, were it ever so far off."
"That you may have," said the beggarman, "but it is a sorry wish too. You must wish better for the last penny."
"I have always had a longing to be in company with folks who were kind and good," said Little Freddy; "and so, if I could get what I wish, I would wish it to be so that no one can say 'Nay' to the first thing I ask."
"That wish is not so sorry," said the beggarman; and off he strode between the hills, and Freddy saw him no more.
So the lad lay down to sleep, and the next day he came down from the mountain with his fiddle and his gun. First he went to the storekeeper and asked for clothes. Next at a farm he asked for a horse, and at a second for a sleigh; and at another place he asked for a fur coat. No one said him "Nay"—even the stingiest folk were all forced to give him what he asked for. At last he went through the country as a fine gentleman, and had his horse and his sleigh. When he had gone a bit he met the sheriff whose servant he had been.
"Good day, master," said Little Freddy, as he pulled up and took off his hat.
"Good day," said the sheriff, "but when was I ever your master?"
"Oh yes," said Little Freddy, "don't you remember how I served you three years for three pence?"
"My goodness, now!" said the sheriff, "you have grown rich in a hurry, and pray, how was it that you got to be such a fine gentleman?"
"Oh, that is a long story," said Little Freddy.
"And are you so full of fun that you carry a fiddle about with you?" asked the sheriff.
"Yes, yes," said Freddy. "I have always had such a longing to get folk to dance. But the funniest thing of all is this gun, for it brings down almost anything that I aim at, however far it may be off. Do you see that magpie yonder, sitting in the spruce fir? What will you give me if I hit it as we stand here?"
"Well," said the sheriff, and he laughed when he said it, "I'll give you all the money I have in my pocket, and I'll go and fetch it when it falls," for he never thought it possible for any gun to carry so far.
But as the gun went off down fell the magpie, and into a great bramble thicket; and away went the sheriff up into the bramble after it, and he picked it up and held it up high for the lad to see. But just then Little Freddy began to play his fiddle, and the sheriff began to dance, and the thorns to tear him; but still the lad played on, and the sheriff danced, and cried, and begged, till his clothes flew to tatters, and he scarce had a thread to his back.
"Yes," said Little Freddy, "now I think you're about as ragged as I was when I left your service; so now you may get off with what you have."
But first the sheriff had to pay him all the money that he had in his pocket.
So when the lad came to town he turned into an inn, and there he began to play, and all who came danced and laughed and were merry, and so the lad lived without any care, for all the folks liked him and no one would say "Nay" to anything he asked.
But one evening just as they were all in the midst of their fun, up came the watchmen to drag the lad off to the town hall; for the sheriff had laid a charge against him, and said he had waylaid him and robbed him and nearly taken his life. And now he was to be hanged. The people would hear of nothing else. But Little Freddy had a cure for all trouble, and that was his fiddle. He began to play on it, and the watchmen fell a‑dancing and they danced and they laughed till they gasped for breath.
So soldiers and the guard were sent to take him, but it was no better with them than with the watchmen. When Little Freddy played his fiddle, they were all bound to dance; and dance as long as he could lift a finger to play a tune; but they were half dead long before he was tired.
At last they stole a march on him, and took him while he lay asleep by night. Now that they had caught him they could condemn him to be hanged on the spot, and away they hurried him to the gallows tree.
There a great crowd of people flocked together to see this wonder, and the sheriff too was there. He was glad to get even at last for the money and the clothes he had lost, and to see the lad hanged with his own eyes.
And here came Little Freddy, carrying his fiddle and his gun. Slowly he mounted the steps of the gallows,—and when he got to the top he sat down, and asked if they could deny him a wish, and if he might have leave to do one thing? He had such a longing, he said, to scrape a tune and play a bar on his fiddle before they hanged him.
"No, no," they said; "it were sin and shame to deny him that." For you know, no one could say "Nay" to what he asked.
But the sheriff begged them not to let him have leave to touch a string, else it would be all over with them altogether. If the lad got leave, he begged them to bind him to the birch that stood there.
Little Freddy was not slow in getting his fiddle to speak, and all that were there fell a‑dancing at once, those who went on two legs, and those who went on four. Both the dean and the parson, the lawyer and the sheriff, masters and men, dogs and pigs—they all danced and laughed and barked and squealed at one another. Some danced till they lay down and gasped, some danced till they fell in a swoon. It went badly with all of them, but worst of all with the sheriff; for there he stood bound to the birch, and he danced till he scraped the clothes off his back. I dare say it was a sorry looking sight and a sore back.
But there was not one of them who thought of doing anything to Little Freddy, and away he went with his fiddle and his gun, whither he chose, and he lived merrily and happily all his days, for there was no one who could say "Nay" to the first thing he asked for.