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THE KING’S RABBIT KEEPER
Once upon a time a king wanted a good rabbit keeper. He made it known throughout the country that he would give not only good pay, but also the hand of the princess, to any youth who could take good care of his wonderful rabbits.

Now it happened that an old farmer had three very lazy sons, Jan, Hans, and Olaf. They disliked the work on the farm and spent most of their time amusing themselves, or doing as they pleased. When Jan heard that the king wanted a rabbit keeper, he told his father he would go to the palace and try to get the place.

“What!” cried the old man. “The king 63does not want an idler. The rabbits are brisk and lively and need care every moment. A lazybones like you could never be His Majesty’s rabbit keeper.”

“Well, I am determined to go. I should like the work better than the farm drudgery,” replied Jan. He filled a bag with things to eat, and a few clothes, and started to the palace of the king. After he had traveled a few miles he heard a voice calling him: “Help! Help!” Jan hurried toward the sound and came to a deep pit. He looked down into it, and there was a shriveled old woman. She spoke very sharply to him. “Pull me up! Pull me up!” she cried. “I have been here for one year, and have had no food in all that time. Pull me up!”

“Not I,” replied Jan. “Only a witch could live a year in such a place without food. I’ll have nothing to do with you,” and on he went.

At length he came to the palace of the king and asked to serve as rabbit keeper. The delighted king said, “He who guards 64the rabbits well and lets none escape shall have fine food, good pay, and perhaps the hand of a beautiful princess.”

The next day Jan took the rabbits into a large field to browse. During the daytime they nibbled the tender grass and stayed together, but when the sun began to set, they darted toward a wood which bordered a meadow and they soon became lost in the shadows of the trees. Jan called to them and ran after them until he was out of breath, but he could not bring them together. He rested awhile and tried again. It was of no use; they had scattered in every direction. Surely they were playing hide and seek, and Jan was not in the game. When he reached the palace, he told his story to the king, who burst into a rage and banished Jan from the country.

In a short time the king got another warren of rabbits and again made it known that he wanted a keeper. Jan’s brother, Hans, now determined that he would try to serve the king and perhaps gain the rich reward. Off he walked. He passed the pit and heard the old 65woman calling for help, but he hurried on without even stopping to see what was the matter with her.

The king made him keeper of the rabbits, but the first time he took them out to browse he failed in his work. All was well during the day, but when the sun sank, the rabbits scurried away to the woods, and no matter what he did, Hans could not gather them together again. When he returned to the palace without a single rabbit, the furious king banished him, too, from the country.

A third time the king got beautiful rabbits and made it known that he wanted a keeper. “Father,” said Olaf, the youngest of the three brothers, “it is my turn to try. I am sure I could guard the king’s rabbits.”

“It will be the same old story,” said the farmer. “If you take no better care of the rabbits than you do of the calves, you will share your brothers’ fate.”

“At any rate I mean to try,” replied Olaf. Throwing his bag over his shoulder, he set out for the palace of the king.

66“Help! Help!” called a voice from the field near the road. Olaf ran in the direction of the sound and saw the old woman in the pit.

“What can I do for you, my good woman?” he asked.

“Please reach me your hand and help me out. I’ve had nothing to eat for a year and I can’t get out without help.”

Olaf willingly reached down and pulled the old woman up. Then he gave her food from his bag and brought her water from a spring. She ate a large share of Olaf’s store while he good-naturedly looked on. When she had finished, she drew from her pocket a magic horn.

“Take this for your pains,” said she. “It is a wonderful horn and will help you in many ways. If you blow into the small end of it, you will scatter to the four winds whatever you wish away from you. If you blow into the large end of it, you will bring near you whatever you wish. If you should lose it, or if by chance it should be stolen from you, a wish will bring it back again.”

67“A wonderful help it will be to me,” said Olaf, as he took it eagerly from the old woman’s hand.

He sauntered on again, and after some time he came to the palace of the king. The rabbits were put into his charge, and Olaf’s heart beat high when he thought of the princess he might win.

The next morning he took the rabbits out into the meadow. They danced about in high glee for several hours. But about noon, Olaf noticed two of them scamper away to the woods. These two were soon followed by others. “Very well,” said Olaf, “go away from me if you like.” He blew into the small end of the magic horn, and then cried out, “Be off, every one of you!” and away they scattered in every direction.

Olaf then ate his noonday lunch and stretched himself out for a nap on the soft green bank. When he awoke, the sun was low in the west. He took up the magic horn and blew into the large end of it. From every direction came the frisky rabbits dancing 68and hopping about him. Olaf counted them and was well pleased to find exactly the right number. When he reached the palace with the rabbits, he saw that the king, the queen, and the princess were on the lookout for him. Also he noticed that each one counted the rabbits and then glanced at the others in wonder.

“Alas!” sighed the princess, “how I wish he were of noble birth! But a farmer’s lad! Dear me!”

Day after day Olaf took the rabbits out to browse in the meadow. At noon he scattered them in the deep wood, and when the sun began to sink behind a distant hill, he gathered them together and led them back to the palace.

The king was very much puzzled and determined to send a servant to spy upon Olaf. With greatest care the servant slipped into the field and noticed Olaf asleep on the soft green bank near the edge of the wood. The servant hid himself in the low underbrush of the wood and waited until 69evening. At sunset, Olaf awoke, drew out his magic horn, gathered together the rabbits, and led them back to the palace. The servant explained to the king what he had seen, and the king told his queen and the princess. “I shall steal his horn while he is asleep in the meadow,” said the princess, “for I am determined not to marry a common farmer’s son.”

The next day she stole carefully to Olaf’s side while he lay asleep and took the magic horn from his pocket. She had not reached the palace before Olaf awoke and thought of his rabbits. But where was his horn? He searched about the banks in vain. “Oh, how I wish I had my magic horn!” he cried. No sooner had he made his wish than he found the horn in his hands. He blew into the larger end of it and again the rabbits danced and frisked about him ready to return.

Now the queen thought she would try her skill in getting Olaf’s horn. She had no trouble in getting it from his pocket, but 70as she neared the palace, the horn slipped away from her. In the evening, Olaf returned with his flock as usual.

“I see that I must do the thing myself,” muttered the king. “That farmer’s lad shall not outwit me. I’ll tie the horn in one of my hunting bags to make sure of it.”

Anxiously the queen and princess awaited the king’s return. At last he came, untied the bag, and reached in for the horn. Alas! it had disappeared. And there in the distance came Olaf and the rabbits. The king sent word for Olaf to appear before the royal family. “Tell me about that horn of yours. Where did you get it? Hasn’t it magic power?” said the king, impatiently.

“Sire, it is a magic horn,” began Olaf.

“Prove it,” said the king.

“I would rather not,” said Olaf.

“Do as I bid you, without a word!” roared the king, becoming red with anger.

Olaf raised the little end of his horn to his lips and blew a strong blast, while secretly 71he made a wish. In a moment the royal family scattered in all directions.

“Bring us back! Bring us back! How dare you? I’ll have you punished for this!” roared the king, as he tumbled into the distance.

Olaf blew into the big end of his horn and instantly the royal family were back at the palace. The king, in a rage, tried to seize Olaf, but just then the rabbit keeper raised the small end of the horn to his lips.

“Hold, hold!” cried the king. “I will do you no harm if you will keep that wicked horn from your lips. I would rather give up half my kingdom than take another flighty trip. You are a wonderful lad and the best of rabbit keepers. The reward is yours.”

In a short time there was a beautiful wedding at the palace. Olaf had won the princess.


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