ESBEN AND THE WITCH
away, telling them that if they did not get it very soon it would cost them their heads.
Things looked very black again for the brothers, for they were sure there was no escape for them. The youngest of them, indeed, asked where Esben was, but the others said that that little fool could scarcely keep himself in clothes, and it was not to be expected that he could help them. Not one of them thought it worth while to look for Esben, but he soon came along of himself.
' Well, what's the matter now? ' said he.
' Oh, what's the use of telling you? ' said the brothers. 1 You can't help us, at any rate.'
'Ah! who knows that?' said Esben. 'I have helped you before.'
In the end the brothers told him about the coverlet which, when one touched it, sounded so that it could be heard over eight kingdoms. Esben thought that this was
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the worst errand that he had had yet, but he could not do worse than fail, and so he would make the attempt.
He again took his little white stick, set himself on it, and said,
Fly quick, my little stick, Carry me across the stream.
Next moment he was across the river and beside the witch's house. It was evening, and the door was locked, but he knew the way down the chimney. When he had got into the house, however, the worst yet remained to do, for the coverlet was on the bed in which the witch lay and slept. He slipped into the room without either she or her daughter wakening ; but as soon as he touched the coverlet to take it it sounded so that it could be heard over eight kingdoms. The witch awoke, sprang out of bed, and caught hold of Esben. He struggled with her, but could not free himself, and the witch called to her daughter, ' Come and help me ; we shall put him into the