208 JESPER WHO HERDED THE HARES
' Very well, cinders be it,' the old woman shouted after him, but Paul neither looked back nor answered her. He thought more of what she said, however, after his pearls also turned to cinders before the eyes of king and court: then he lost no time in getting home again, and was very sulky when asked how he had succeeded.
The third day came, and with it came Jesper's turn to try his fortune. He got up and had his breakfast, while Peter and Paul lay in bed and made rude remarks, telling him that he would come back quicker than he went, for if they had failed it could not be supposed that he would succeed. Jesper made no reply, but put his pearls in the little basket and walked off.
The King of the Ants and the King of the Beetles were again marshalling their hosts, but the ants were greatly reduced in numbers, and had little hope of holding out that day.
' Come and help us,' said their king to Jesper, ' or we shall be completely defeated. I may help you some day in return.'
Now Jesper had always heard the ants spoken of as clever and industrious little creatures, while he never heard anyone say a good word for the beetles, so he agreed to give the wished-for help. At the first charge he made, the ranks of the beetles broke and fled in dismay, and those escaped best that were nearest a hole, and could get into it before Jesper's boots came down upon them. In a few minutes the ants had the field all to themselves; and their king made quite an eloquent speech to Jesper, thanking him for the service he had done them, and promising to assist him in any difficulty.
' Just call on me when you want me,' he said, ' where-ever you are. I'm never far away from anywhere, and if I can possibly help you, I shall not fail to do it.'
Jesper was inclined to laugh at this, but he kept a grave face, said he would remember the offer, and