"It's Me"
 

They had chatted so long about the lasses down in the valley; and what a fine time they had of it there, that Gygra's[1] daughter grew sick and tired of it all, and began to heave rocks against the mountain side. She was bent upon taking service in the valley below, said she.

"Then go down to the ground gnome first, and grind thy nose down, and tidy thyself up a bit, and stick a comb in thy hair instead of an iron rake," said the dwellers in the mountains.

So Gygra's daughter tramped along in the middle of the river, till the foss steamed and the storm whirled round about her. Down she went to the ground gnome, and was scoured and scrubbed and combed out finely.

       *       *       *       *       *

One evening a large-limbed coarse-grained wench stepped into the general-dealer's kitchen, and asked if she could be taken into service.

"You must be cook, then," said Madame[2]. It seemed to her that the wench was one who would stir the porridge finely, and would make no bones about a little extra wood-chopping and tub-washing. So they took her on.

She was a roughish colt, and her ways were roughish too. The first time she carried in a load of wood, she shoved so violently against the kitchen door that she burst its hinges. And however many times the carpenter might mend the door, it always remained hingeless, for she burst it open with her foot every time she brought in wood.

When she washed up, too, heaps and heaps of pots and pans were piled up higgledy-piggledy from meal to meal, so that the kitchen shelves and tables could hold no more, and bustle about as she might, they never seemed to grow less.

Nor had her mistress a much better opinion of her scouring.

When Toad, for so they called her, set to work with the sand-brush, and scrubbed with all her might, the wooden, tin, and pewter vessels would no doubt have looked downright bonny if they hadn't broken to bits beneath her hands. And when her mistress tried to show her how it ought to be done, she only gasped and gaped.

Such sets of cracked cups, and such rows of chipped and handleless jugs and dishes, had never before been seen in that kitchen.

And then, too, she ate as much as all the other servants put together.

So her mistress complained to her master, and said that the sooner they were well quit of her the better.

Out into the kitchen went the general dealer straightway. He was quite red in the face, and flung open the kitchen-door till it creaked again. He would let her know, he said, that she was not there to only stand with her back to the fire and warm her dirty self.

Now when he saw the lazy sluttish beast lounging over the kitchen bench and doing nothing but gape through the window-panes at his boats, which lay down by the bridge laden with train-oil, he was downright furious. "Pack yourself off this instant!" said he.

But Toad showed her teeth, and grinned and blinked up at him, and said that as master himself had come into the kitchen, he should see that she did not eat his bread for nothing.

Then she slouched down to the boats, and snorted back at him with her arm before her face. Before any one could guess what she was after, she had one of the heavy hogsheads of train-oil on her back.

And back she came through the kitchen door, all smirking and smiling, and begged father to be so good as to tell her where she was to put it.

He simply stood and gaped at her. Such a thing he had never seen before.

And hogshead after hogshead she carried from the boat right up into the shop.

The general dealer laughed till he quite gasped for breath, and slapped his thighs so far as his big belly would let him reach them.

Nor was he sparing of compliments.

And into the dwelling-room he rushed almost as quickly as he had rushed out of it.

"Mother has no idea what a capital wench she has got," said he.

But, ever after that, she put her hand to nothing, nay, not so much as to drive a wooden peg into the wall, and if some one else hadn't warmed up a thing or two now and then, there would have been very little to eat in the house. It was as much as they could do to get her away from the fireside at meal times.

When her mistress complained about it, her master said that she oughtn't to expect too much. The lass surely required a little rest now and again, after carrying such drayman's loads as she did.

But Toad always had an ogle and a grin ready at such times as the general dealer came through the door from the shop. Then she grew quick and lively enough, and went on all sorts of errands, whether it was with the bucket to the spring or to the storehouse for bread. And when she saw that her mistress was out of the way, she took it upon herself to do exactly as she liked, both in this and in that.

No sooner was the pot hung on the pot-hook, than she would slip away with a big saucer and fetch sirup from the shop. And she would flounce down before the porridge dish and gobble to her heart's content. If any of her fellow-servants claimed an equal share, she would simply answer, "It's me!"

They dared not rebel. Since the day she had taken up the hogsheads of train-oil, they knew that she had master on her side.

But her mistress was not slow to mark the diminishing both of the sirup-pot and the powdered sugar, and she perceived also in which direction the gingerbreads and all the butter and bacon went. For out the wench would come, munching rye cakes and licking the sirup from her fingers.

And she grew as round and thick and fat as if she would burst.

When her mistress took away and kept the key, Toad would poke her head into the parlour door, and ogle and writhe at the general dealer, and ask if there was anything to carry up to the store-room. And then he would go to the window and watch her as she lifted and carried kegs of fish and casks of sugar and sacks of meal.

He laughed till he coughed again, and, wiping the sweat from his forehead, would bellow all over the place--"Can any one of my labouring men carry loads like Toad can?"

And when her master came home, dripping wet and benumbed with cold, from his first autumn voyage, it was Toad who was first and foremost to meet him and unbutton his oil-skin jacket for him, and undo his sou'wester, and help him off with his long sea-boots.

He shivered and shook; but she was not slow to wring out his wet stockings for him, and fetch no end of birch bark and huge logs. Then she made up a regular bonfire in the fireplace, and placed him cosily in the chimney corner.

Madame came to give her husband some warm ale posset; but she was so annoyed to see the wench whisking and bustling about him, that she went up into the parlour and howled with rage.

Early in the morning, the general dealer bawled and shouted downstairs for his long worsted stockings. They could hear that he was peevish and cross because he had to put on his sea-jacket and cramped water-boots, and go out again into the foul weather.

He tore open the kitchen door, and asked them furiously how much longer they were going to keep him waiting.

But now his mouth grew as wide open as the door-way he stood in, and his face quite lit up with satisfaction.

Round about the walls, and in the warmth of the chimney corner, hung his sou'wester, and his oil-skin jacket, and his trousers, and every blessed bit of clothes he was to put on, as dry as tinder. And in the middle of the kitchen bench he saw his large sea-boots standing there, so snug, and so nicely greased, that the grease ran right down the shafts and over the straps.

Such a servant for looking after him and taking care of him he had not believed it possible to get for love or money, cried the general dealer.

But now his wife could contain herself no longer. She showed him that the clothes were both scorched and burned, and that the whole of one side of the oilskin jacket was crumpled up with heat, and cracked if one pulled it never so lightly.

And in she dragged the big butter-keg, that he might see for himself how the wench had stuck both his boots in it and used it to grease them with.

But the general dealer stood there quite dumfoundered, and glanced now at the boots and now at the butter-tub.

He snapped his fingers, and his face twitched, and then he began to wipe away his tears.

He hastened to go in that they might not see that he was weeping.

"Mother does not know how kindly the wench has meant it all," he sobbed. Good heavens! what if she had used butter for his boots, if she had only meant well. Never would he turn such a lass out of the house.

Then the wife gave it up altogether, and let the big kitchen wench rule as best she might. And it was not very long either before Toad let the key of the store-room remain in the door from morn till eve. When any one bawled out to her, "Who's inside there?" she would simply answer, "It's me!"

And she didn't budge from the gingerbread-box, as she sat there and ate, even for Madame herself. But she always had an eye upon her master the general dealer.

But he only jested with her, and asked her if she got food enough, and said that he was afraid he would, one day, find her starved to death.

Towards Christmas time, when folks were making ready to go a-fishing, Madame was busy betimes and bustled about as usual, and got the great caldron taken down into the working-room for washing and wool-stamping.

The cooks hired for the occasion rolled out the lefser,[3] and baked and frizzled on the flat oven-pans. And they brought in herring kegs from the shop, and meal and meat, both cured and fresh, and weighed and measured, and laid in stores of provisions.

But then it seemed to Toad as if she hadn't a moment's peace for prying into pots and pans. Her mistress was going backwards and forwards continually, between store-room and pantry, after meal, or sugar, or butter, or sirup for the lefser. The store-room door was ajar for her all day long.

So at last Toad grew downright wild. She was determined to put an end to all this racket. So she took it upon her to well smear the threshold of the store-room with green soap.

Next morning her mistress came bustling along first thing with butter and a wooden ladle in a bowl, and she slipped and fell in the opening between the stairs and the store-house door.

There she lay till Toad dragged her up.

She carried her in to her husband with such a crying and yelling that it was heard all over the depot. Madame had been regularly worrying herself to death with all this bustle, said she, and now the poor soul had fallen and broken her leg.

But the one who cried the most, and didn't know what to do with himself when he heard such weeping and wailing over his wife, was the general dealer.

None knew the real worth of that kitchen wench, said he.

And so it was Toad who now superintended everything, and both dispensed the stores and made provision for the household.

She drove all the hired cooks and pancake rollers out of the house--they were only eating her master out of house and home, she said.

The lefser were laid together without any sirup between them, and she gave out fat instead of butter. She distributed it herself, and packed it up in their Nistebommers[4].

Never had the general dealer known the heavy household business disposed of so quickly as it was that year. He was quite astonished.

And he was really dumfoundered when Toad took him up into the store-room, and showed him how little had been consumed, and how the cured shoulders of mutton and the hams hung down from the rafters in rows and rows.

"So long as things went on as they were going now," said he, "she should have the control of the household like mother herself," for his wife was now bedridden in her room upstairs.

And at Yule-tide Toad baked and roasted, and cut things down so finely that her fellow-servants were almost driven to chew their wooden spoons and gnaw bones.

But such fat calves, and such ribs of pork, and such lefser filled with both sirup and butter, and such moelje[5] and splendid fare for the guests that came to his house at Christmas-time the general dealer had never seen before.

Then the general dealer took her by the arm, and right down into the shop they both went together.

She might take what she would, said he, both of kirtles and neckerchiefs and other finery, so that she might dress and go in and out as if she were mother herself; and she might provide herself with beads and silk as much as she liked. There was nothing that she might not have.

But when the bailiff and the sexton sat at cards, and Toad came in to lay the table-cloth, they were like to have rolled off their chairs. Such a sight they had never seen before. Toad had rigged herself up with all manner of parti-coloured 'kerchiefs, and trimmed her hairy poll with blue and yellow and green ribbons till it looked like a cart-horse's tail. But they said nothing, for the sake of the general dealer, who thought she looked so smart, and was calling her in continually.

And they were forced to confess that the wench spared neither meat nor ale nor brandy. And on the third evening, when they got so drunk that they lay there like logs, she carried them off to bed as if they were sucking babes.

And so it went on, with feasting and entertaining, right up to the twentieth day after Christmas Day, and beyond it.

And that wench Toad used to smirk and stare about the room; and whenever they didn't laugh or jest enough with her, she would plant herself right in the middle of the floor, and turn herself about in all her finery to attract notice, and say, "It's me!"

And when the guests left the house they must needs admit that the general dealer was right when he said that such serving-maids were not to be picked up every day.

But those folks who went a-fishing for the general dealer, and had their provisions put up for them beforehand, were not slow to mark that Toad had the control of the shop and stores likewise.

So it happened as might only have been expected. Their provisions ran short, and they had to return home just as the cod was biting best, while all the other fishermen sailed further out and made first-rate hauls.

The general dealer was like to have had apoplexy on the day that he saw his boats lying empty by the bridge in the height of the fishing season. His men came up in a body to the shop, headed by their eldest foreman, and laid a complaint before him.

The food that had been packed into their boxes and baskets, they said, couldn't be called human food at all. The lefser were so hard, they said, that it was munch munch all day; there was only rancid fat on them, with scarcely a glimpse of bacon; and as for the cured shoulders of mutton, one had scarcely shaved off a thin slice when one scraped against the bare bone.

Up into the store-room went the general dealer like a shot.

But as for Toad, she smote her hands above her head, and said that it was as much as he, the general dealer, could manage, to meet the heavy expenses for fish-hooks and fish-baskets, and nets and lines, without having to provide his fishermen with salt herring and bacon, and fresh butter and lefser and ground coffee into the bargain. They had no need to starve when they had all the fish of the sea right under their noses, said she.

And then she handed him, as a specimen, one of his own lefser, which she had filled with butter and sirup herself, and let him taste it. And he tasted it, and ate and ate till the sirup ran down both corners of his mouth. Such good greasy lefser he had never tasted before.

Then the general dealer gave them a bit of his mind.

He was as red as a turkey-cock; and out of the shop-door they went head first--some three yards and some four, according as he got a good grip of them; and old Thore, who had steered the big femboering, both for him and his father, was discharged.

But Kjel, the herdsman, had hid himself out of the way up on the threshing-floor whilst the row was going on, and the general dealer was shrieking and bellowing his worst in the yard below. And he stood there and peeped through the little window. Then he saw his mistress, who hadn't been out of bed for nine weeks, hobble forward and stare out of her bedroom window.

She took on terribly, and cried and wrung her thin hands when she saw their old foreman told to go to the devil, and shamble off with his cap in his hand as if he were deranged.

But she dared not so much as shout a word of comfort after him, for there stood Toad, big and broad, in the store-house door, with a platter of moelje in her hand, and shook her fist after him.

Then Kjel was like to have wept too.... That stout Toad should not grease herself shiny with moelje fat much longer in their house, or he'd know the reason why, thought Kjel.

And from thenceforth Kjel kept a strict watch upon her. There were lots of things going on that he couldn't make out at all.

Towards spring-time, when they put the mast into the large new yacht which was to take the first trading voyage to Bergen, the general dealer was so glad that he was running up and down from the bridge to the house the whole day. He had never imagined that the yacht would have turned out so fine and stately.

And when they had the tackle and the shrouds all ready, and were hoisting away at the yards, he spun round on his heel and snapped his fingers--"That lass Toad should go with him to Bergen," said he.... "She had never seen the town, poor thing! while as for mother, she had been there three times already."

But it seemed to Kjel that he saw more in this than other people saw.

As for Toad, when she heard she was to go to Bergen, she regularly turned the house upside down. There was nothing good enough for her in the whole shop; there was not a shelf that she didn't ransack to find the finery and frippery that glittered most.

And in the evening, when the others had lain them down to rest, she strolled over to the storehouse with a light.

But Kjel, who was a very light sleeper, was up and after her in an instant, and peeped at her through the crack in the door.

There he saw her cutting up the victuals and putting one tit-bit aside after the other, lefser and sweet-cakes and bacon and collared-beef, into the large chest which she had hidden behind the herring barrels. And on this, the last evening before their departure for Bergen, she had filled her provision-chest so full that she had to sit upon it, with all her huge heavy weight, to press it down.

But the lock wouldn't catch; she had filled the chest too full, so she had to get up and stamp backwards on the lid till it regularly thundered; and sure enough she forced it down at last.

But the heel she stamped down upon it with was much more like the hoof of a horse than the foot of a human being, thought Kjel.

Then she carried the chest to the waggon that it might be smuggled on board without any one seeing it. After that she went into the stable and unloosed the horse. But then there was a pretty to do in the stable!

The horse knew that there was witchcraft afoot, and would not allow itself to be inspanned. Toad dragged and dragged, and the horse shied and kicked. At last the wench used her back-legs, just as a mare does.

Such sport as that no human eye should have ever seen.

And straight off to the general dealer rushed Kjel, and got him to come out with him.

There in the moonshine that wench, Toad, and the dun horse were flinging out at each other as if for a wager, so that their hoofs dashed against the framework of the stable-door. Their long legs flew in turn over the stable walls, and the sparks scattered about in showers.

Then the general dealer grew all of a shiver and staggered about. Blood flew from his nose, and Kjel had to help him into the kitchen and duck his head in the sink. That night the general dealer didn't go to bed at all; but he walked up and down and stamped till the floor regularly thundered. And it was scarcely light next morning when he sent off Kjel with a dollar in his fist to old Thore the foreman. And he sent in the same way to all the boat people down by the shore.

Thore was told to put on his holiday clothes and get out the femboering, and row Madame herself to the yacht with the last lading. She should go with him to Bergen. There she should get both a silk dress and a shawl, and a gold watch and chain into the bargain, and engage a Bergen serving-wench.

It was still early in the day when the yacht lay in the bay with her flag flying, all ready to start.

When they had hoisted the sail, that wench Toad, heavy and stout, came, puffing and blowing, across the bridge, in full parade, with rings on all her sprawling fingers, and her body covered with all the yellow and green and red ribbons she could possibly find room for on her ample person.

There she stood waiting for them to come back in the stately femboering and take her on board.

And when they began to raise the anchor, and the general dealer appeared on deck with his large meerschaum pipe and his telescope, she smirked and minced and wriggled and twisted, and cried aloud, "It's me!"

She thought he wanted to peep at her splendour through his spyglass.

All at once she saw Madame standing by his side in full travelling costume, and understood that they were going away without her.

Then she kicked out so that the planks of the bridge groaned and creaked beneath her. Eight into the sea she plunged, and caught hold of the anchor, and tugged and held the ship back till the cable broke.

Then head over heels she went with both her hoofs in the air.

But the yacht glided away under full sail, and the general dealer stood there and laughed till he nearly fell overboard.

[1] A giantess, the wife of the mountain gnome, who rules in the Dovrefeld.

[2] I.e., the general dealer's wife.

[3] Thin cakes that can be doubled in two and eaten with sirup.

[4] Boxes containing provisions for voyages or journeys.

[5] Flat cakes broken up with butter.