ONCE on a time there was a poor tenant-farmer who had to give up his farm to his landlord; but, if he had lost his farm, he had three sons left, and their names were Peter, Paul, and Osborn Boots. They stayed at home and sauntered about, and wouldn’t do a stroke of work; that they thought was the right thing to do. They thought, too, they were too good for everything, and that nothing was good enough for them.
At last Peter had got to hear how the king would have a keeper to watch his hares; so he said to his father that he would be off thither: the place would just suit him, for he would serve no lower man than the king; that was what he said. The old father thought there might be work for which he was better 2 fitted than that; for he that would keep the king’s hares must be light and lissom, and no lazy-bones, and when the hares began to skip and frisk there would be quite another dance than loitering about from house to house. Well, it was all no good: Peter would go, and must go, so he took his scrip on his back, and toddled away down the hill; and when he had gone far, and farther than far, he came to an old wife, who stood there with her nose stuck fast in a log of wood, and pulled and pulled at it; and as soon as he saw how she stood dragging and pulling to get free he burst into a loud fit of laughter.
“Don’t stand there and grin,” said the old wife, “but come and help an old cripple; I was to have split asunder a little firewood, and I got my nose fast down here, and so I have stood and tugged and torn 3 and not tasted a morsel of food for hundreds of years.” That was what she said.
But for all that Peter laughed more and more. He thought it all fine fun. All he said was, as she had stood so for hundreds of years she might hold out for hundreds of years still.
When he got to the king’s grange, they took him for keeper at once. It was not bad serving there, and he was to have good food and good pay, and maybe the princess into the bargain; but if one of the king’s hares got lost, they were to cut three red stripes out of his back and cast him into a pit of snakes.
So long as Peter was in the byre and home-field he kept all the hares in one flock: but as the day wore on, and they got up into the wood, all the hares began to frisk, and skip, and scuttle away up and down the hillocks. Peter ran after them this way and that, and nearly burst himself with running, so long as he could make out that he had one of them left, and when the last was gone he was almost broken-winded. And after that he saw nothing more of them.
When it drew towards evening he sauntered along on his way home, and stood and called and called to them at each fence, but no hares came; and when he got home to the king’s grange, there stood the king all ready with his knife, and he took and cut three red stripes out of Peter’s back, and then rubbed pepper and salt into them, and cast him into a pit of snakes.
After a time, Paul was for going to the king’s grange to keep the king’s hares. The old gaffer said 4 the same thing to him, and even still more; but he must and would set off; there was no help for it, and things went neither better nor worse with him than with Peter. The old wife stood there and tugged and tore at her nose to get it out of the log; he laughed, and thought it fine fun, and left her standing and hacking there. He got the place at once; no one said him nay; but the hares hopped and skipped away from him down all the hillocks, while he rushed about till he blew and panted like a collie-dog in the dog-days; and when he got home at night to the king’s grange without a hare, the king stood ready with his knife in the porch, and took and cut three broad red stripes out of his back, and rubbed pepper and salt into them, and so down he went into the pit of snakes.
Now, when a little while had passed, Osborn Boots was all for setting off to keep the king’s hares, and he told his mind to the gaffer. He thought it would be just the right work for him to go into the woods and fields, and along the wild strawberry brakes, and to drag a flock of hares with him, and between whiles to lie and sleep and warm himself on the sunny hillsides.
The gaffer thought there might be work which suited him better; if it didn’t go worse, it was sure not to go better with him than with his two brothers. The man to keep the king’s hares must not dawdle about like a lazy-bones with leaden soles to his stockings, or like a fly in a tar-pot; for when they fell to frisking and skipping on the sunny slopes, it would be quite another dance to catching fleas with gloves on. No; he that would get rid of that work with a whole back 5 had need to be more than lithe and lissom, and he must fly about faster than a bladder or a bird’s wing.
“Well, well, it was all no good, however bad it might be,” said Osborn Boots. He would go to the king’s grange and serve the king, for no lesser man would he serve, and he would soon keep the hares. They couldn’t well be worse than the goat and calf at home. So Boots threw his scrip on his shoulder, and down the hill he toddled.
So when he had gone far, and farther than far, and had begun to get right down hungry, he too came to the old wife, who stood with her nose fast in the log, who tugged, and tore, and tried to get loose.
“Good-day, grandmother,” said Boots. “Are you standing there whetting your nose, poor old cripple that you are?”
“Now, not a soul has called me ‘mother’ for hundreds of years,” said the old wife. “Do come and help me to get free, and give me something to live on; for I haven’t had meat in my mouth all that time. See if I don’t’ do you a motherly turn afterwards.”
Yes; he thought she might well ask for a bit of food and a drop of drink.
So he cleft the log for her, that she might get her nose out of the split, and sat down to eat and drink with her; and as the old wife had a good appetite, you may fancy she got the lion’s share of the meal.
When they were done, she gave Boots a pipe, which was in this wise: when he blew into one end of it, anything that he wished away was scattered to the four winds, and when he blew into the other, all things gathered themselves together again; and if the 6 pipe were lost or taken from him, he had only to wish for it, and it came back to him.
“Something like a pipe, this,” said Osborn Boots.
When he got to the king’s grange, they chose him for keeper on the spot. It was no bad service there, and food and wages he should have, and, if he were man enough to keep the king’s hares, he might, perhaps, get the princess too; but if one of them got away, if it were only a leveret, they were to cut three red stripes out of his back. And the king was so sure of this that he went off at once and ground his knife.
It would be a small thing to keep these hares, thought Osborn Boots; for when they set out they were almost as tame as a flock of sheep, and so long as he was in the lane and in the home-field, he had them all easily in a flock and following; but when they got upon the hill by the wood, and it looked towards midday, and the sun began to burn and shine on the slopes and hillsides, all the hares fell to frisking and skipping about, and away over the hills.
“Ho, ho! stop! will you all go? Go, then!” said Boots; and he blew into one end of the pipe, so that they ran off on all sides, and there was not one of them left. But as he went on, and came to an old charcoal pit, he blew into the other end of the pipe; and before he knew where he was, the hares were all there, and stood in lines and rows, so that he could take them all in at a glance, just like a troop of soldiers on parade. “Something like a pipe, this,” said Osborn Boots; and with that he laid him down to sleep away under a sunny slope, and the hares frisked and frolicked about till eventide. Then he piped them all together again, and 7 came down to the king’s grange with them, like a flock of sheep.
The king and the queen, and the princess, too, all stood in the porch, and wondered what sort of fellow this was who so kept the hares that he brought them home again; and the king told and reckoned them on his fingers, and counted them over and over again; but there was not one of them missing — no! not so much as a leveret.
“Something like a lad, this,” said the princess.
Next day he went off to the wood, and was to keep the hares again; but as he lay and rested himself on a strawberry brake, they sent the maid after him from the grange that she might find out how it 8 was that he was man enough to keep the king’s hares so well.
So he took out the pipe and showed it her, and then he blew into one end and made them fly like the wind over all the hills and dales; and then he blew into the other end, and they all came scampering back to the brake, and all stood in row and rank again.
“What a pretty pipe,” said the maid. She would willingly give a hundred dollars for it, if he would sell it, she said.
“Yes! it is something like a pipe,” said Osborn Boots; “and it was not to be had for money alone; but I she would give him the hundred dollars, and a kiss for each dollar, she should have it,” he said.
Well! why not? of course she would; she would willingly give him two for each dollar, and thanks besides.
So she got the pipe; but when she had got as far as the king’s grange, the pipe was gone, for Osborn Boots had wished for it back, and so, when it drew towards eventide, home he came with his hares just like any other flock of sheep; and for all the king’s counting or telling, there was no help, — not a hair of the hares was missing.
The third day that he kept the hares, they sent the princess on her way to try and get the pipe from him. She made herself as blithe as a lark, and she bade him two hundred dollars if he would sell her the pipe and tell her how she was to behave to bring it safe home with her.
“Yes! yes! it is something like a pipe,” said Osborn Boots; “and it was not for sale,” he said, “but all the same, he would do it for her sake, if she would 9 give him two hundred dollars, and a kiss into the bargain for each dollar; then she might have the pipe. If she wished to keep it, she must look sharp after it. That was her look-out.”
“This is a very high price for a hare-pipe,” thought the princess; and she made mouths at giving him the kisses; “but, after all,” she said, “it’s far away in the wood, Black and white illustration, by Moyr Smith, of a princess with a hat with three points. no one can see it or hear it — it can’t be helped; for I must and will have the pipe.”
So when Osborn Boots had got all he was to have, she got the pipe, and off she went, and held it fast with her fingers the whole way; but when she came to the grange, and was going to take it out, it slipped through her fingers and was gone!
Next day the queen would go herself and fetch the pipe from him. She made sure she would bring it back with her.
Now she was more stingy about the money, and bade no more than fifty dollars; but she had to raise her price till it came to three hundred. Boots said it was something like a pipe, and it ws no price at all; still for her sake it might go, if she would give him three hundred dollars, and a smacking kiss for each dollar into the bargain; then she might have it. And he got the kisses well paid, for on that part of the bargain she was not so squeamish.
So when she had got the pipe, she both bound it 10 fast, and looked after it well; but she was not a hair better off than the others, for when she was going to pull it out at home, the pipe was gone; and at even down came Osborn Boots, driving the king’s hares home for all the world like a flock of tame sheep.
“It is all stuff,” said the king; “I see I must set off myself, if we are to get this wretched pipe from him; there’s no other help for it, I can see.” And when Osborn Boots had got well into the woods next day with the hares, the king stole after him, and found him lying on the same sunny hillside, where the women had tried their hands on him.
Well! they were good friends and very happy; and Osborn Boots showed him the pipe, and blew first on one end and then on the other, and the king thought it a pretty pipe, and wanted at last to buy it, even though he gave a thousand dollars for it.
“Yes! it is something like a pipe,” said Boots, “and it’s not to be had for money; but do you see that white horse yonder down there?” and he pointed away into the wood.
“See it! of course I see it; it’s my own horse Whitey,” said the king. No one had need to tell him that.
“Well! if you will give me a thousand dollars, and then go and kiss yon white horse down in the marsh there, behind the big fir-tree, you shall have my pipe.”
“Isn’t it to be had for any other price?” asked the king.
“No, it is not,” said Osborn.
“Well! but I may put my silken pocket-handkerchief between us?” said the king.
Black and white pencil sketch, by Moyr Smith, of a lady, in a long dress, with pointed hat and veil, walking in a forest toward a man sitting with a pipe in his hand.
“Very good; he might have leave to do that.” And so he got the pipe, and put it into his purse. And the purse he put into his pocket, and buttoned it up tight; and so off he strode to his home. But when he reached Black and white illustration, by Moyr Smith, of the head of a king, with a mustache and crown. the grange, and was going to pull out his pipe, he fared no better than the women folk; he hadn’t the pipe any more than they, and there came Osborn Boots driving home the flock of hares, and not a hare was missing.
The king was both spiteful and wroth, to think that he had fooled them all round, and cheated him out of the pipe as well; and now he said Boots must lose his life, there was no question of it, and he queen said the same: it was best to put such a rogue out of the way red-handed.
Osborn thought it neither fair nor right, for he had done nothing but what they told him to do; and so he had guarded his back and life as best he might.
So the king said there was no help for it; but if he could lie the great brewing-vat so full of lies that it ran over, then he might keep his life.
That was neither a long nor perilous piece of work; he was quite game to do that, said Osborn Boots. So he began to tell how it had all happened from the very first. He told about the old wife and her nose in the log, and then he went on to say, “Well, but I must lie faster if the vat is to be full.” So he went on to tell of the pipe and how he got it; and of the maid, how she came to him and wanted to buy if for a hundred dollars, and of all the kisses she had to give besides, away there in the wood. Then he told of the princess, how she came and kissed him so sweetly for the pipe when no one could see or hear it all away there in the wood. Then he stopped and said, “I must lie faster if the vat is ever to be full.” So he told of the queen, how close she was about the money and how overflowing she was with her smacks. “You know I must lie hard to get the vat full,” said Osborn.
“For my part,” said the queen, “I think it’s pretty full already.”
“No! no! it isn’t,” said the king.
So he fell to telling how the king came to him, and about the white horse down on the marsh, and how, if the king was to have the pipe he must — “Yes, your majesty, if the vat is ever to be full I must go on and lie hard,” said Osborn Boots.
“Hold! hold, lad! It’s full to the brim,” roared out the king; “don’t you see how it is foaming over?”
So both the king and the queen thought it best he should have the princess to wife and half the kingdom. There was no help for it.
“That was something like a pipe,” said Osborn Boots.