Once on a time there was a king, and that king had heard talk of a ship that went as fast by land as it did by water; so he set his heart on having such a ship, and he gave his word that the man who could build it should have the princess and half the kingdom. And this promise he had given out in every parish church in the realm, and at every parish meeting. There were many that tried their hands you may fancy, for it was a nice thing to have half the kingdom, and it was brave to get the princess into the bargain, but it went ill with most of them.
So there were three brothers away in the wood; the eldest was called Peter, the second Paul, and the youngest Osborn Boots, because he was for ever sitting and grubbing in the ashes. But it so happened that on the Sunday, when the king's promise was given out, he was at church too. So when he got home and told the story, his eldest brother, Peter, begged his mother for some food, for he was bent on setting off, and trying his luck, if he couldn't build the ship and win the princess and half the realm. So when he had got his wallet full he strode off from the farm, and on the way he met an old, old man, who was so bent and wretched.
'Whither away?' asked the old man.
'Oh!' said Peter, 'I'm off to the wood to make a platter for my father, for he doesn't like to eat out of the same dish with us.'
'A platter it shall be,' said the man; 'but what have you in your knapsack?'
'Muck,' said Peter.
'Muck it shall be,' said the man, and they parted.
So Peter strode on till he came to a grove of oaks, and then he fell to chopping and carpentering, but for all his hewing and all his carpentering he could turn out nothing but platter after platter. So when it got towards mid-day, he was going to take a snack, and opened his wallet. But there was not a morsel of food in it, and as he had nothing to eat, and did not get on any better with the carpentering, he got weary of the work, and took his axe and wallet on his back and strode off home to his mother again.
Next Paul was for setting off to try if he had any luck in shipbuilding, and could win the king's daughter and half the kingdom. He, too, begged his mother for food, and when he had got it he threw his wallet over his shoulder and set off from their farm. On the way he met an old man who was so bent and wretched.
'Whither away?' said the man.
'Oh! I'm just going to the wood to make a pig trough for our little pig,' said Paul.
'A pig trough it shall be,' said the man.
'What have you got in your wallet?' asked the man.
'Muck,' said Paul.
'Muck it shall be,' said the man.
'So Paul trudged off to the wood, and fell to hewing and carpentering as hard as he could; but however he hewed and however he carpentered, he could turn out nothing but pig troughs and pig tubs. Still he wouldn't give in, but worked till far on in the afternoon before he thought of taking a little snack; then he got so hungry all at once that he must take out his knapsack, but when he opened it there was not a morsel of food in it. Then Paul got so cross that he rolled up the knapsack and dashed it against a stump, and then he shouldered his axe and trudged away home from the wood as fast as he could.
So when Paul had come home, Boots was all for setting out in his turn, and begged his mother for food.
'May be I might be man enough to get the ship built and win the princess and half the kingdom.' That was what he said.
'Yes! yes! a likely thing,' said his mother. 'You look like winning the princess and the kingdom, that you do, by my troth; you, who have done naught else than grub and poke about in the ashes! No! no! you don't get any food,' said the goody.
'But Boots would not give in; he begged so long that at last he got leave. As for food he got none, was it likely? But he got by stealth two oat cakes and a drop of stale beer, and with them he trudged off from the farm.
Well! when he had walked a while he met the same old man, who was so bent and vile and wretched.
'Whither away?' asked the man.
Oh! I'm going into the wood to build me a ship which will go as well on land as on sea; for you must know that the king has given out that the man who can build such a ship shall have the princess and half the realm.'
'What have you got in your wallet?' asked the man.
'Not much to brag of,' said Boots, 'though it's called travelling fare.'
'If you'll give me some of your food, I'll help you,' said the man.
'With all my heart,' said Boots; 'but there's nothing but two oat cakes and a drop of stale beer.'
'It was all the same to him what it was,' said the man, so that he got something; and he would be sure to help him.
So when they got up to the old oak in the wood, the man said to the lad,--
'Now you must chop out one chip, and you must put it back where it came from, and when you have done that you may lie down and sleep.
Yes! Boots did as he said, he lay him down to sleep, and in his slumber he thought he heard some one hewing and hammering, and carpentering and sawing, and planing, but he could not wake up till the man called him, and then there stood the ship all ready, alongside the oak.
'Now you must go aboard her, and every one you meet you must take as one of your crew,' he said.
Yes! Boots thanked him for the ship, and sailed off saying he'd be sure to do what he said.
So when he had sailed a while, he came upon a great, long, thin fellow, who lay away by the hillside and ate granite.
'What kind of chap are you?' said Boots, 'that you lie here eating granite?'
Well! he was so sharp set for meat he could never have his fill, and that was why he was forced to eat granite. That was what he said; and then he begged if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
'Oh, yes,' said Boots, 'if you care to come, step on board.'
Yes, he was willing enough, and he took with him a few big granite boulders as his sea stores.
So when they had sailed a bit farther they met a man who lay on a sunny brae and sucked at a tap.
'What sort of a chap are you?' asked Boots, and what good is it that you lie there sucking at that tap?'
'Oh!' said he, 'when one hasn't got the cask, one must be thankful for the tap. I am always so thirsty for ale, that I can never drink enough ale or wine;' and then he asked if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
'If you care to come, step on board,' said Boots.
Yes, he was willing enough, and he stepped on board and took the tap with him lest he should be a-thirst.
So when they had sailed a bit farther they met one who lay with one ear on the ground, listening.
'What sort of a chap are you?' asked Boots 'and what good is it that you lie there on the ground, listening?'
'I am listening to the grass growing,' he said, 'for I am so quick of hearing that I can hear it grow;' and so he begged that he might be one of the ship's company. Well, he too did not get 'Nay.'
'If you care to come, step on board,' said Boots.
Yes, he was willing enough, and so up he too stepped into the ship.
So when they had sailed a bit farther, they came to a man who stood aiming and aiming.
'What sort of a chap are you?' said Boots, 'and why is it that you stand there aiming and aiming?'
'I am so sharp-sighted,' he said, 'that I'm a dead shot up to the world's end;' and so he too asked if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
'If you care to come, step in,' said Boots.
Yes, he was willing enough, and so he stepped up into the ship and joined Boots and his comrades.
So when they had sailed a bit farther, they came on a man who went about hopping on one leg, and on the other he had seven hundred weight.
What sort of a chap are you?' asked Boots; 'and what's the good of your limping and hopping on one leg, with seven hundred weight on the other?'
'Oh?' said he, 'I'm as light as a feather, and if I went on both legs I should be at the world's end in less than five minutes;' and so he too begged if he might have leave to be one of the ship's company.
'If you care to come, step in,' said Boots.
Yes, he was willing enough, and he stepped on board to Boots and his comrades.'
So when they had sailed a bit farther, they met a man who stood holding his throat.
'What sort of a chap are you?' asked Boots, 'and why in the world do you stand here holding your throat?'
'Oh!' said he, 'you must know I have got seven summers and fifteen winters inside me, so I've good need to hold my gullet, for if they all slipped out at once they'd freeze the whole world in a trice.' That was what he said, and so he begged leave to be with them.
'If you care to come, step in,' said Boots. Yes, he was willing enough, and so he too stepped on board the ship to the rest.
So when they had sailed a good bit farther, they came to the king's grange. Then Boots strode straight into the king, and said, that the ship was ready out in the courtyard, and now he was come to claim the princess, as the king had given his word.
But the king wouldn't hear of it, for Boots did not look very nice; he was grimy and sooty, and the king was loath to give his daughter to such a fellow. So he said he must wait a little, he couldn't have the princess until they cleared a barn which the king had with three hundred casks of salt meat in it.
'All the same,' said the king, 'if you can do it by this time to-morrow you shall have her.'
'I can but try,' said Boots; 'I may have leave, perhaps, to take one of my crew with me?'
'Yes, he might have leave to do that, even if he took them all six,' said the king, for he thought it quite beyond his power though he had six hundred to help him.
But Boots only took with him the man who ate granite, and was always so sharp set; and so when they came next morning and unlocked the barn, if he hadn't eaten all the casks, so that there was nothing left but half a dozen spare-ribs, and that was only one for each of his other comrades. So Boots strode into the king, and said, now the barn was empty, and now he might have the princess.
Then the king went out to the barn, and empty it was, that was plain enough; but still Boots was so sooty and smutty, that the king thought it a shame that such a fellow should have his daughter. So he said he had a cellar full of ale and old wine, three hundred casks of each kind, which he must have drunk out first, and said the king,--
'All the same, if you are man enough to drink them out by this time to-morrow, you shall have her.'
'I can but try,' said Boots; 'but I may have leave perhaps, to take one of my comrades with me.'
'With all my heart,' said the king, who thought he had so much ale and wine that the whole seven of them would soon get more than their skins could hold.
But Boots only took with him the man who sucked the tap, and who had such a swallow for ale, and then the king locked them both up in the cellar.
So he drank cask after cask as long as there were any left, but at last he spared a drop or two, about as much as a quart or two, for each of his comrades. Next morning they unlocked the cellar, and Boots strode off at once to the king, and said he was done with the ale and wine, and now he must have his daughter as he had given his word.
'Ay, ay, but I must first go down into the cellar and see,' said the king, for he didn't believe it. But when he got to the cellar, there was nothing in it but empty casks. But Boots was still black and smutty, and the king thought he never could bear to have such a fellow for his son-in-law. So he said, 'No,' but all the same if he could fetch him water from the world's end, in ten minutes, for the princess's tea, he should have both her and half the realm, for he thought that quite out of his power.
'I can but try,' said Boots; so he laid hand on him who limped on one leg, with seven hundred weight on the other, and said he must unbuckle the weights and use both his legs as fast as ever he could, for he must have water from the world's end for the princess's tea in ten minutes.
So he took off the weights, and got a pail, and set off and was out of sight in a trice. But time went on and on, for seven lengths and seven breadths, and yet he did not come back. At last there were no more than three minutes left till the time was up, and the king was as pleased as though some one had given him a horse. But just then Boots bawled out to him who heard the grass grow, and bade him listen and hear what had become of him.
'He has fallen asleep at the well,' he said. 'I can hear him snoring, and the trolls are combing his hair.'
So Boots called him, who could shoot to the world's end, and bade him put a bullet into the troll. Yes! he did that, and shot him right in the eye, and the troll set up such a howl that he woke up at once, he that was to fetch the water for tea; and when he got back to the king's grange, there was still one minute left of the ten.
Then Boots strode into the king, and said there was the water, and now he must have the princess, there must be no more words about it. But the king thought him just as sooty and smutty as before, and did not at all like to have him for a son-in-law. So the king said he had three hundred fathoms of wood, with which he was about to dry corn in the malt-house, and 'all the same, if you are man enough to get inside it while I burn up all that fuel, you shall have her, and I will make no more bones about it.'
'I can but try,' said Boots; 'but I must have leave to take one of my crew with me.'
'Yes, yes!' said the king, 'all six of them if you like;' for he thought it would be warm enough in there for all of them.
But Boots took with him the man who had fifteen winters and seven summers inside him, and they trudged off to the malt-house at night. But the king had laid the fuel on thick, and there was such a pile burning, it almost melted the stove. Out again they could not come, for they had scarce set foot inside than the king shot the bolt behind them, and hung two padlocks on the door besides. Then Boots said,--
'You'd better slip out six or seven winters at once, so that it may be a nice summer heat.'
Then the heat fell, and they could bear it, but on in the night it began to grow chilly; so Boots said he must make it milder, with two summers, and then they slept till far on next day.
But when they heard the king rattling at the door outside, Boots said,--
'Now you must let slip two more winters, but lay them so that the last may go full on his face.'
Yes, he did so, and when the king unlocked the malt-house door, and thought to find them lying there burnt to cinders, there they sat shivering and shaking till their teeth chattered, and the man with the fifteen winters let slip the last right into the king's face, so that it swelled up at once into a big frost-bite.
'MAY I HAVE YOUR DAUGHTER NOW?' said Boots.
'Yes, yes! Pray take her and keep her, and half the realm besides,' said the king, for he couldn't say 'No' any longer.
So they held the bridal feast, and kept it up and rejoiced and fired off witch shots, and meanwhile they went looking about for charges, and then they took me and gave me porridge in a flask, and milk in a basket, and then they shot me off here to you, that I might tell you all how the wedding went off."