(a tale from Denmark)
One day a handsome soldier, sword at his side, marched home from war. He happened to pass by a hideous witch who called, “Good evening. How would you like all the money in the world?”
She told the soldier the tree beside her was a money tree, and at the bottom of the hollow tree he would find three dogs with big, wild eyes guarding three doors. “Behind those doors is all the money you could ever desire!”
“But how could I get past the dogs?” the soldier asked.
“Easy, you take my apron and spread it on the floor, grab the dog and put him on the apron. Open the chest and take the money.”
The soldier did not trust this witch and asked, “What do you want in return?”
“Only an old tinderbox my grandmother left me down there.”
The soldier agreed. He climbed the tree and dropped down the hole to the bottom where he found the doors. Behind the first door stood a dog with eyes like saucers, so the soldier lay the witch’s apron down, grabbed the dog, put him on the apron and opened the chest where he saw a mountain of copper coins.
He filled his pockets.
Then he opened the second door and found a dog with eyes as round as mill wheels. “Don’t stare, you’ll strain your eyes,” he said as he grabbed the dog and set it on the apron. When he opened the chest and found silver, he tossed away the copper and filled every pocket in his vest with silver coins.
Behind the third door stood a dog whose eyes whirled like wheels and were as big as the Round Tower. “Evening,” the soldier said as he placed the dog on the apron.
Inside this chest there was enough gold to buy all of Denmark, so he tossed away the silver and filled his pack, his pockets, his boots and his cap with gold.
Then he called to the witch to haul him up.
“Have you got the tinderbox?” she called. He had forgotten but now he returned to fetch it, and she hoisted him up.
Back on the road she said, “Give me the box.” But the soldier knew she would do evil with it, so he cut off her head and pocketed the tinderbox.
That night he stayed in the finest inn where he ate the most scrumptious foods and drank the best wine. The next day he bought fine boots and clothes, and soon everyone thought him a most important gentleman. They told him of the pretty princess locked in a copper castle with walls and towers.
“I’d like to meet this princess,” he said. But the townspeople replied, “Only the king and queen are permitted to see her.”
Now that the soldier was rich, he had heaps of friends who flattered him and urged him to spend. But he spent so much that soon he became poor again. He moved into a squalid room, and all his new friends suddenly disappeared.
One dark night he wished he had a candle and he remembered the tinderbox; it had a candle end inside. The moment he struck a light, his door sprang open and the dog with eyes as big as saucers stood before him and asked, “What is your wish, sir?”
“I’d like some money,” the soldier said, and poof! The dog vanished and returned a moment later carrying a bag of copper coins between his teeth.
Now the soldier understood the power of the tinderbox. Striking once brought the dog with copper coins; twice brought the dog with silver; three times came the dog with gold. So he was rich again. Suddenly his friends liked him again.
And then one night he decided he wanted to meet the princess after all. He struck a match once, and poof! There was the dog with eyes as big as saucers. “I want to see the princess,” the soldier said.
Soon the dog arrived, carrying the sleeping princess on his back.
The soldier loved her right away and kissed her.
The next morning the princess said to the king and queen, “I had a strange dream last night. I was riding a dog, and a soldier kissed me.”
The queen immediately ordered one of the ladies in waiting to keep watch on the princess that night. Sure enough, while the princess slept, the dog came and picked her up and ran off with her.
The lady in waiting ran after her. When the dog and the princess disappeared inside the soldier’s house, the lady took a piece of chalk and drew a cross on the door and went back home.
When the dog departed with the princess, he saw the cross. He took a piece of chalk and drew crosses on everyone’s door. He was a clever dog.
The next morning when the king and queen went to see where the princess had been, every house had a cross.
They gave up.
But the queen was clever too, so she made a silk bag and filled it with flour, with a tiny hole at the bottom. This she tied to the princess’s waist after she fell asleep.
The next night when the dog took the princess, they left behind a trail of flour, and in the morning the queen’s servants followed the trail.
When they found the soldier, they took him to court, and he was found guilty. “You’ll hang tomorrow!” said the judge.
The next day as everyone awaited the hanging, the soldier saw a cobbler’s apprentice running past the jail. “Hey, you!” he called from his cell. “I’ll pay you well if you run to my house and get my tinderbox.”
The apprentice loved easy money, so he did as the soldier had asked.
The jailors led the soldier to the gallows, placed the noose around his neck, but just then the soldier said, “One last request, please. I’d like a pipe of tobacco.”
The king did not have the heart to refuse, so the guards brought the soldier a pipe. The soldier struck the tinderbox once, twice, three times.
All three dogs appeared.
“Save me!” cried the soldier.
The dogs leaped from the gallows and grabbed the judge and the jailors and the king and the queen and tossed them in the air.
The people had never seen such magic. They began to cheer, “Let the soldier be our king and marry the princess!”
They carried him to the king’s coach. The coachman snapped his whip and off went the horses, pulling the carriage. The three dogs danced beside them.
When the coach reached the palace, the princess came outside. When she saw the soldier she had dreamed of, she loved him right away.
Their wedding lasted one whole week.
And the three dogs stared in round-eyed wonder at the ways of the world.