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Lisbeth Longfrock

Lisbeth Longfrock

Author:Hans Aanrud


Bearhunter, the big, shaggy old dog at Hoel Farm, sat on the stone step in front of the house, looking soberly around the spacious dooryard. It was a clear, cold winter's day toward the beginning of spring
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  Bearhunter, the big, shaggy old dog at Hoel Farm, sat on the stone stepin front of the house, looking soberly around the spacious dooryard.

  It was a clear, cold winter's day toward the beginning of spring, andthe sun shone brightly over the glittering snow. In spite of the brightsunshine, however, Bearhunter would have liked to be indoors muchbetter than out, if his sense of responsibility had permitted; for hispaws ached with the cold, and he had to keep holding them up one afteranother from the stone slab to keep from getting the "claw ache."Bearhunter did not wish to risk that, because "claw ache" is verypainful, as every northern dog knows.

  But to leave his post as watchman was not to be thought of just now,for the pigs and the goats were out to-day. At this moment they werebusy with their separate affairs and behaving very well,--the pigs overon the sunny side of the dooryard scratching themselves against thecorner of the cow house, and the goats gnawing bark from the big heapof pine branches that had been laid near the sheep barn for theirspecial use. They looked as if they thought of nothing but theirscratching and gnawing; but Bearhunter knew well, from previousexperience, that no sooner would he go into the house than both pigsand goats would come rushing over to the doorway and do all themischief they could. That big goat, Crookhorn,--the new one who hadcome to the farm last autumn and whom Bearhunter had not yet broughtunder discipline,--had already strayed in a roundabout way to the verycorner of the farmhouse, and was looking at Bearhunter in aself-important manner, as if she did not fear him in the least. She wasreally an intolerable creature, that goat Crookhorn! But just let herdare--!

  Bearhunter felt that he must sit on the cold doorstep for some timelonger, at any rate. He glanced up the road occasionally as if to seewhether any one was coming, so that the pigs and goats might not thinkthey had the whole of his attention.

  He had just turned his head leisurely toward the narrow road that camedown crosswise over the slope from the Upper Farms, when--what in theworld was that!

  Something _was_ coming,--a funny little roly-poly something. What apity, thought Bearhunter, that his sight was growing so poor! At anyrate, he had better give the people in the house warning.

  So he gave several deep, echoing barks. The goats sprang together in aclump and raised their ears; the pigs stopped in the very midst oftheir scratching to listen. That Bearhunter was held in great respectcould easily be seen.

  He still remained sitting on the doorstep, staring up the road. Neverin his life had he seen such a thing as that now approaching. Perhaps,after all, it was nothing worth giving warning about. He would take aturn up the road and look at it a little nearer. So, arching his bushytail into a handsome curve and putting on his most good-humoredexpression, he sauntered off.

  Yes, it must be a human being, although you would not think so. Itbegan to look very much like "Katrine the Finn," as they called her,who came to the farm every winter; but it could not be Katrine--it wasaltogether too little. It wore a long, wide skirt, and from under theskirt protruded the tips of two big shoes covered with gray woolenstocking feet from which the legs had been cut off. Above the skirtthere was a round bundle of clothes with a knitted shawl tied aroundit, and from this protruded two stumps with red mittens on. Perched onthe top of all was a smaller shape, muffled up in a smaller knittedshawl,--that, of course, must be the head. Carried at the back was ahuge bundle tied up in a dark cloth, and in front hung a pretty woodenpail, painted red.

  Really, Bearhunter had to stand still and gaze. The strange figure, inthe meantime, had become aware of him, and it also came to astandstill, as if in a dilemma. At that, Bearhunter walked over to thefarther side of the road and took his station there, trying to lookindifferent, for he did not wish to cause any fright. The strangefigure then made its way carefully forward again, drawing graduallycloser and closer to its own side of the road. As it came nearer toBearhunter the figure turned itself around by degrees, until, whendirectly opposite to him, it walked along quite sidewise.

  Then it was that Bearhunter got a peep through a little opening in theupper shawl; and there he saw the tip of a tiny, turned-up red nose,then a red mouth that was drawn down a little at the corners as ifready for crying, and then a pair of big blue eyes that were fastenedupon him with a look of terror.

  [Illustration: HOEL FARM]

  Pooh! it was nothing, after all, but a little girl, well bundled upagainst the cold. Bearhunter did not know her--but wait a bit! hethought he had seen that pail before. At any rate it would be absurd totry to frighten this queer little creature.

  His tail began to wag involuntarily as he walked across the road totake a sniff at the pail.

  The little girl did not understand his action at once. Stepping back inalarm, she caught her heels in her long frock and down she tumbled bythe side of the road. Bearhunter darted off instantly; but afterrunning a short distance toward the house he stopped and looked at heragain, making his eyes as gentle as he could and wagging his tailenergetically. With Bearhunter that wagging of the tail meant hearty,good-natured laughter.

  Then the little girl understood. She got up, smiled, and jogged slowlyafter him. Bearhunter trotted leisurely ahead, looking back at her fromtime to time. He knew now that she had an errand at Hoel Farm, and thathe was therefore in duty bound to help her.

  Thus it was that Lisbeth Longfrock of Peerout Castle made her entranceinto Hoel Farm.

  * * * * *

  Peerout Castle was perched high above the Upper Farms, on a crag thatjutted out from a barren ridge just under a mountain peak called "TheBig Hammer." The real name of the little farm was New Ridge,[1] and"Peerout Castle" was only a nickname given to it by a joker becausethere was so fine an outlook from it and because it bore no resemblancewhatever to a castle. The royal lands belonging to this castleconsisted of a little plot of cultivated soil, a bit of meadow landhere and there, and some heather patches where tiny blueberry bushesand small mountain-cranberry plants grew luxuriantly. The castle'soutbuildings were a shabby cow house and a pigsty. The cow house wasbuilt against the steep hillside, with three walls of loosely builtstone, and its two stalls were dug half their length into the hill. Thetiny pigsty was built in the same fashion.

  [1] It is customary in Norway for each farm, however small, tohave a name.

  As for the castle itself, that was a very, very small, turf-roofedcabin lying out on the jutting crag in the middle of the rocky ridge.It had only one small window, with tiny panes of glass, that looked outover the valley. And yet, in whatever part of the surrounding countryone might be, by looking in that direction--and looking highenough--one could always see that little castle, with its single windowpeering out like a watchful eye over the landscape.

  Since the castle from which Lisbeth Longfrock came was no moremagnificent than this, it may easily be understood that she was nodisguised princess, but only a poor little girl. Coming to Hoel Farmfor the first time was for her like visiting an estate that was, invery truth, royal; and besides, she had come on an important "grown-up"errand. She was taking her mother's place and visiting Hoel as aspinning woman.

  Lisbeth's mother, whose name was Randi,[2] had worked hard for the lastfour years to get food for herself and her children up at PeeroutCastle. Before that the family had been in very comfortablecircumstances; but the father had died, leaving the mother with thecastle, one cow, and the care of the two children. The children wereJacob, at that time about six years old, and Lisbeth, a couple of yearsyounger. Life was often a hard struggle for the mother; but they had,at any rate, a house over their heads, and they could get wood withouthaving to go very far for it, since the forest lay almost within astone's throw.


In the original, Roennaug.

This was the mother's firstname. Her full name would be Randi Newridge, or Randi Peerout.

  In the summer Randi managed to dig up her tiny plots of ground after afashion, so that she could harvest a few potatoes and a little grain.By cutting grass and stripping off birch leaves she had thus farmanaged each year to give Bliros, their cow, enough to eat. And wherethere is a cow there is always food.

  In the winter she spun linen and wool for the women on the farms farand near, but as she had lived at Hoel Farm as a servant before she wasmarried, it was natural that most of her spinning should be forKjersti[3] Hoel.

  [3] Kyare'-stee.

  In such ways had Randi been able to care for her family. MeanwhileJacob, now ten years old, had grown big enough to earn his own living.In the spring before the last a message had come from Nordrum Farm thata boy was needed to look after the flocks, and Jacob had at onceapplied and been accepted. He and Lisbeth had often knelt on the longwooden bench under the little window at Peerout Castle, and gazed uponthe different farms, choosing which they would work on when they werebig enough. Jacob had always chosen Nordrum Farm,--probably because hehad heard Farmer Nordrum spoken of as the big man of the community;while Lisbeth had always thought that it would be pleasanter at HoelFarm because it was owned by a woman.

  When autumn came Farmer Nordrum had concluded that he would have usefor such a boy as Jacob during the winter also, and so Jacob had stayedon. This last Christmas, however, he had gone home for the whole dayand had taken with him a Christmas present for his sister from a littlegirl at Nordrum. The present was a gray woolen frock,--a very nice one.

  Jacob had grown extremely pleasant and full of fun while at Nordrum,Lisbeth thought. When she tried the frock on and it reached way down tothe ground before and behind, he called her "Lisbeth Longfrock" andLisbeth Longfrock she had remained from that day.

  After Christmas, times had been somewhat harder at Peerout Castle.Bliros, who generally gave milk the whole year round, had become dry,and would not give milk for several months. She was to have a calf inthe early summer. During the last few weeks there had not been milkenough even for Randi's and Lisbeth's coffee.

  To go to Svehaugen,[4] the nearest farm, for milk was no short trip;and milk was scarce there too, as Randi well knew. Besides, she couldnot spare the time to go. She had to finish spinning Kjersti Hoel'swool. When she once got that off her hands, they could have plenty ofmilk for their coffee, and other good things besides. What a relief itwould be when that time came!

  [4] Sva-howg-en.

  So Randi worked steadily at her spinning, Lisbeth being now big enoughto help in carding the wool. For a week she spun almost withoutceasing, scarcely taking time for meals, but drinking a good deal ofstrong black coffee. Not until very late one evening was Kjersti Hoel'swool all spun and ready. By that time Randi was far from well. Whetheror not her illness was caused, as she thought, by drinking so muchblack coffee, certain it is that when Kjersti Hoel's wool was all spunRandi felt a tightness in her chest, and when she got up the nextmorning and tried to get ready to go to Hoel with the spinning, she wasseized with such a sudden dizziness that she had to go back to bedagain. She was too weak for anything else.

  Now it was the custom in Norway for the spinning woman to take back tothe different farms the wool she had spun, and for the farmers' wivesto praise her work, treat her to something good to eat and drink, payher, and then give her directions about the way the next spinning wasto be done. All this Randi would have to give up for the present--therewas no help for it; but she wondered how it would do to send Lisbeth toHoel Farm in her stead. The little girl would find her way safely,Randi was sure, although Randi had never as yet taken her to that farmbecause it was so far off. The payment for the spinning was to be ineatables as well as money, and Lisbeth could bring home part of whatwas due. Then, though they still might lack many things, their drop ofcoffee could have cream in it, as coffee ought to have. The remainderof the payment and the directions for the next spinning Randi herselfcould get when she was better.

  If she could only be sure that Lisbeth would behave properly and notact like a changeling, a troll child!

  Lisbeth eagerly promised that if her mother would allow her to go shewould behave exactly as a spinning woman should,--she would, really!And she remembered perfectly well just how everything was done thattime she had gone with her mother to one of the nearer farms.

  So Lisbeth put on her long frock, which was used only for very best,and her mother wrapped her up snugly in the two shawls. Then the bundleof yarn was slung over her back, the pail was hung in front, manydirections were given to her about the road, and off she started.

  And that is the way Lisbeth Longfrock happened to come toddling afterBearhunter to Hoel Farm on that clear, cold winter's day toward thebeginning of spring.