The Inheritance

[Collected in the 19th century from a Swedish-speaking informant
at Lappträsk, Österbotten, in Finland.]

Once upon a time there was a Lapp who had three sons. One day he said to them:

“I am not able to keep you in food and clothing any more. Now you must go out into the world and try to make your own fortune.”

He then gave the eldest boy an old fiddle, the second a millstone, and the youngest only a bundle of flax.

The eldest son took his fiddle and went off wandering. At night he took shelter in a kiln. He climbed up on the tie-beams of the roof and began to play on the fiddle. When the wolves heard him fiddling, they came jumping over the threshold of the kiln. The boy shifted down from the beams and shut up the wolves. Again he began to play on his fiddle, and the wolves began to howl.

   Then a traveller came by, and when he heard the howling and fiddling, he got off his sleigh to see what kind of fun they were having in the kiln. But when he opened the door, the wolves came dashing out. Then the boy came forward, seized the traveller by the collar, and said:

“What the devil have you been doing? Now you will be taken straight to Siberia! These animals were the wolves of the Russian Emperor, and I had undertaken the task of teaching them to play the fiddle.”

The traveller was very frightened, and gave the boy many thousands of marks, hoping only to satisfy him.

The second son started off with the millstone round his neck. He walked and walked, and at length he came to a big forest. He could hear that there were already many people in the wood, so he climbed up a tall spruce, taking the millstone with him. Presently a crowd of robbers came by, and they sat down under the fir-tree, spreading out their things—gold and silver and all that they had of treasure.

They began to divide up the treasure amongst themselves. One said to another: “You didn’t show us everything you have got.”

“If I didn’t,” said the other, “may God let fall a big millstone upon me!”

Then the boy quickly let go of his millstone. It fell right down among the robbers, who all of them plunged into the forest, and the boy wasted no time in gathering all their treasures.

The youngest brother had no choice but to take the main road. On his way, he thought: “I will make snares out of my bundle of flax, and go in for catching animals.” And so he did.

At first he caught a squirrel, and put it in his bag. Next he caught a hare, and put that in his bag too.

At last he came to a marsh. While he was sitting there, on the fringe of the marsh, rippling his bundle of flax, the Water-Sprite sent his son to ask him what he was up to.

“Hullo, I am going to twine a stay-lace,” answered the boy, “and then I shall pucker up the whole marsh like a tobacco-pouch.”

“Don’t do it,” said the young Water-Sprite. “I shall go first and speak to the old man.”

He did so. “There he sits scheming for the marsh to become dry,” he said to his father.

“You used to be able to climb,” said the Water-Sprite. “Can’t you vie with him in climbing? Then you would get to see what he is worth.”

The son did as he was told.

“Shall we have a climbing competition?” he asked the boy.

“Why should I bother to climb in competition with you?” said the boy. “But I have a little brother; you may try first with him. If he doesn’t get the better of you, I can come next.”

So saying, he opened the bag and let loose the squirrel, who flashed up into the top of a fir with a rattling noise. The young Water-Sprite scratched his head and went home.

“It wasn’t worth trying,” he told his father. “He had a little brother who flashed up to the top of the fir and set it rattling.”

“You must tempt him to run a race with you," said the Water-Sprite. “Then we shall see.”

The Water-Sprite’s son went away again.

“Shall we run a race?” he asked.

“I don’t want to bother myself with racing you,” said the boy, “but I have a younger brother. If he cannot hold his own, I will come.”

So saying, he opened the bag and let loose the hare. Off they ran. The hare ran like one possessed by the devil, and the young Water-Sprite could not keep up with him.

"It was rather so-so," he said when he was back home again.

“Well, then, you must wrestle with him,” said his father. “You used to be a wrestler.”

The young Water-Sprite did as he was told.

“Shall we try to wrestle?” he asked.

“I don’t care to wrestle with you,” said the boy. “But on the wooded hill up there you can see my old grandfather flaying a horse. Go and wrestle with him; if he cannot get the better of you, I will come. But he is a little deaf, so you must shout into his ear, `Orr, orr, orr,’ if he shouldn’t be ready to hear you.”

The young Water-Sprite did as he was told. When he got up the wooded hill, a bear was standing there, flaying a horse.

“Orr, orr, orr,” said the young Water-Sprite.

“Orr, orr, orr,” said the bear, but he didn’t look up at all because he was busy eating.

“Orr, orr, orr,” shouted the young Water-Sprite, somewhat louder.

“Orr, orr, orr,” said the bear, and now he reared. He squeezed the young Water-Sprite till all his joints and muscles creaked and groaned.

“He is so terribly strong,” said the young Water-Sprite when he was home again. “He didn’t care to try himself either; but his old grandfather squeezed me so that I don’t understand how I ever escaped.”

“Now you must go and offer him money,” said his father, “that he may not cord up the marsh.”

The young Water-Sprite took a heavy load of treasure and gave it to the boy.

“That won’t go a long way,” said the boy.

Then the young Water-Sprite had to fetch another load.

“My father,” he said, “sends you his respects, and asked me to let you know that he has to cut it pretty fine. If he must still pay more, we shall be utterly destitute.”

“Well, if it must be,” said the boy, who now had enough riches for his lifetime, “it’ll do.”

Thus the inheritance of the three sons was blessed.


Return to Main Index of Tales