Once upon a time a little girl named Elsa lived on a farm. She was pretty, sweet-tempered, and generous, but she did not like to work. Her father was very proud of her, and sent her to school in the city. She learned to read, write, sing, and dance, but still she did not know how to cook, sew, or care for a house.
When she grew older, she was so good and beautiful that many young men wished her for a wife, but she said “No” to all except to her neighbour, Gunner, a handsome, industrious young farmer. Soon they were married, and went to live on his farm.
At first all was happiness, but as the days passed, and Elsa did not direct the servants or look after the house, everything went wrong. The storerooms were in disorder, the food was stolen, and the house dirty. Poor Gunner was at his wits’ end; he loved Elsa too much to scold her.
The day before Christmas came, the sun had been up for a long time, and still Elsa lay in bed. A servant ran into her room, saying:—
“Dear mistress, shall we get ready the men’s luncheon so that they may go to the woods?”
“Leave the room,” said Elsa sleepily, “and do not waken me again!”
Another servant came running in. “Dear mistress,” she cried, “the leaven is working, and if you come quickly the bread will be better than usual.”
“I want candlewicks, dear mistress,” called a third.
“And what meat shall we roast for to-morrow’s feast?” shouted a fourth.
And so it was; servant after servant came running into the room asking for orders, but Elsa would neither answer nor get up.
Last of all came Gunner, impatient because his men had not yet started for the woods.
“Dear Elsa,” he said gently, “my mother used to prepare things the night before, so that the servants might begin work early. We are now going to the woods, and shall not be back until night. Remember there are a few yards of cloth on the loom waiting to be woven.” Then Gunner went away.
As soon as he was gone, Elsa got up in a rage, and, dressing herself, ran through the kitchen to the little house where the loom was kept. She slammed the door behind her, and threw herself down on a couch.
“No!” she screamed. “I won’t!—I won’t endure this drudgery any more! Who would have thought that Gunner would make a servant of me, and wear my life out with work? Oh, me! Oh, me! Is there no one from far or near to help me?”
“I can,” said a deep voice.
And Elsa, raising her head with fright, saw standing close to her an old man wrapped in a gray cloak and wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
“I am Old Man Hoberg,” he said, “and have served your family for many generations. You, my child, are unhappy because you are idle. To love work is a joy. I will now give you ten obedient servants who shall do all your tasks for you.”
He shook his cloak, and out of its folds tumbled ten funny little men. They capered and pranced about, making faces. Then they swiftly put the room in order and finished weaving the cloth on the loom. After all was done they ran and stood in an obedient row before Elsa.
“Dear child, reach hither your hands,” said the old man.
And Elsa, trembling, gave him the tips of her fingers.
Then he said:—
Away all of you to your places!”
And in the twinkling of an eye the little men vanished into Elsa’s fingers, and the old man disappeared.
Elsa could hardly believe what had happened, and sat staring at her hands. Suddenly a wonderful desire to work came over her. She could sit still no longer.
“Why am I idling here?” cried she cheerfully. “It is late in the morning and the house is not in order! The servants are waiting.” And up she jumped and hastened into the kitchen, and was soon giving orders and singing while she prepared the dinner.
And when Gunner came home that night all was clean and bright to welcome him, and the smell of good things to eat filled the house.
And after that day Elsa rose early each morning, and went about her work sweet-tempered and happy. No one was more pleased and proud than she to see how the work of the farmhouse prospered under her hands. And health, wealth, and happiness came and stayed with Elsa and Gunner.