212 JESPER WHO HEEDED THE HARES
the palace again. It was therefore with great surprise and annoyance that he now learned of the mysterious return of the hares and the likelihood of Jesper carrying out his task with success.
' One of them must be got out of his hands by hook or crook,' said he. ' I'll go and see the queen about it; she's good at devising plans.'
A little later, a girl in a shabby dress came into the field and walked up to Jesper.
' Do give me one of those hares,' she said ; ' we have just got visitors who are going to stay to dinner, and there's nothing we can give them to eat.'
' I can't,' said Jesper. ' For one thing, they're not mine ; for another, a great deal depends on my having them all here in the evening.'
But the girl (and she was a very pretty girl, though so shabbily dressed) begged so hard for one of them that at last he said:
' Very well; give me a kiss and you shall have one of them.'
He could see that she didn't quite care for this, but she consented to the bargain, and gave him the kiss, and went away with a hare in her apron. Scarcely had she got outside the field, however, when Jesper blew his whistle, and immediately the hare wriggled out of its prison like an eel, and went back to its master at the top of its speed.
Not long after this the hare-herd had another visit. This time it was a stout old woman in the dress of a peasant, who also was after a hare to provide a dinner for unexpected visitors. Jesper again refused, but the old lady was so pressing, and would take no refusal, that at last he said :
' Very well, you shall have a hare, and pay nothing for it either, if you will only walk round me on tiptoe, look up to the sky, and cackle like a hen.'
' Fie,' said she ; ' what a ridiculous thing to ask anyone