The Beetle (Danish Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, Danish Folk Tales1965

The emperor”s favourite horse was shod with gold. It had a golden shoe

on each of its feet.

And why was this?

He was a beautiful creature, with delicate legs, bright intelligent eyes, and a mane that hung down over his neck like a veil. He had carried his master through the fire and smoke of battle, and heard the bullets whistling around him, had kicked, bitten, and taken part in the fight when the enemy advanced, and had sprung with his master on his back over the fallen foe, and had saved the crown of red gold, and the life of the emperor, which was more valuable than the red gold; and that is why the emperor”s horse had golden shoes.

And a beetle came crawling forward.

“First the great ones,” said he, “and then the little ones; but

greatness is not the only thing that does it.” And so saying, he

stretched out his thin legs.

“And what do you want?” asked the smith.

“Golden shoes, to be sure,” replied the beetle.

“Why, you must be out of your senses,” cried the smith. “Do you want

to have golden shoes too?”

“Golden shoes? certainly,” replied the beetle. “Am I not as good

as that big creature over there, that is waited on, and brushed, and has

meat and drink put before him? Don”t I belong to the royal stable?”

“But why does the horse have golden shoes? Don”t you understand?” asked the smith.

“Understand? I understand that it is a personal insult to me,” cried the beetle. “It is done to annoy me, and so I am going into the world to seek my fortune.”

“Go along!” said the smith.

“You”re a rude fellow!” cried the beetle; and then he went out of the

stable, flew a little way, and soon afterwards found himself in a

beautiful flower garden, all fragrant with roses and lavender.

“Is it not beautiful here?” asked one of the little lady-birds that

flew about, with their delicate wings and their red-and-black shields

on their backs. “How sweet it is here–how beautiful it is!”

“I'm comfortable with better things,” said the beetle. “Do you call

this beautiful? Why, there isn”t even a dung-heap.”

Then he went on, under the shadow of a great stack, and found a

caterpillar crawling along.

“How beautiful the world is!” said the caterpillar: “the sun is so

warm, and everything so enjoyable! And when I go to sleep, and die, as

they call it, I will wake up as a butterfly, with beautiful wings to

fly with.”

“How conceited you are!” exclaimed the stag-beetle. “Fly about as a

butterfly, indeed! I've come out of the stable of the emperor, and no

one there, not even the emperor”s favourite horse–that by the way

wears my cast-off golden shoes–has any such idea. To have wings to

fly! why, we can fly now;” and he spread his wings and flew away. “I

don”t want to be annoyed, and yet I am annoyed,” he said, as he flew


Soon after he fell down upon a great lawn. For a short time he lay

there and pretended to be asleep; at last he fell asleep for real.

Suddenly a heavy shower of rain came falling from the clouds. The

beetle woke up at the noise, and wanted to escape into the earth, but

could not. He was tumbled over and over; sometimes he was swimming on

his stomach, sometimes on his back, and as for flying, that was out of

the question; he doubted whether he should escape from the place with

his life. He therefore remained lying where he was.

When the weather had decreased a little, and the beetle had rubbed the

water out of his eyes, he saw something shining. It was linen that

had been placed there to bleach. He managed to make his way up to it,

and crept into a fold of the damp linen. Certainly the place was not

as comfortable to lie in as the warm stable; but there was no better

to be had, and therefore he remained lying there for a whole day and a

whole night, and the rain kept on during all the time. Towards morning

he crept forth: he was very much cross about the climate.

Two frogs were sitting on the linen. Their bright eyes shined with pleasure.

“Wonderful weather this!” one of them cried. “How refreshing! And the

linen keeps the water together so beautifully. My hind legs seem to

shake as if I were going to swim.”

“I should like to know,” said the second, “if the swallow, who flies

so far round, in her trips journeys in foreign lands ever sees a

better climate than this. What delicious dampness! It is really as if

one were lying in a wet ditch. Whoever does not rejoice in this,

certainly does not love his fatherland.”

“Have you been in the emperor”s stable?” asked the beetle: “there the

dampness is warm and refreshing. That”s the climate for me; but I

cannot take it with me on my journey. Is there never a dung-heap, here

in the garden, where an important person, like myself, can feel himself

at home, and take up his quarters?”

But the frogs either did not or would not understand him.

“I never ask a question twice!” said the beetle, after he had already

asked this one three times without receiving any answer.

Then he went a little farther, and stumbled against a fragment of

pottery, that certainly ought not to have been lying there; but as it

was there, it gave a good shelter against wind and weather. Here

dwelt several families of earwigs; and these did not require much,

only socialization. The female members of the community were all full of pure maternal affection, and each one considered her own

child the most beautiful and cleverest of all.

“Our son has engaged himself,” said one mother. “Dear, innocent boy!

His greatest hope is that he may creep one day into a priest”s ear.

It”s very plain that; and being engaged will keep him

steady. What joy for a mother!”

“Our son,” said another mother, “had scarcely crept out of the egg,

when he was already off on his travels. He”s all life and spirits;

he”ll run his horns off! What joy that is for a mother! Is it not so,

Mr. Beetle?” for she recognized the stranger by his horny coat.

“You are both quite right,” said he; so they begged him to walk in;

that is to say, to come as far as he could under the bit of pottery.

“Now, you also see my little earwig,” observed a third mother and a

fourth; “they are lovely little things, and highly amusing. They are

never ill-behaved, except when they are uncomfortable in their inside;

but, unfortunately, one is very subject to that at their age.”

Then each mother spoke of her baby; and the babies talked among

themselves, and made use of the little nippers they have in their

tails to nip the beard of the beetle.

“Yes, they are always busy about something, the little rogues!” said

the mothers; and they quite beamed with maternal pride; but the beetle

felt bored by that, and therefore he inquired how far it was to the

nearest muck-heap.

“That is quite out in the big world, on the other side of the ditch,”

answered an earwig. “I hope none of my children will go so far, for it

would be the death of me.”

“But I will try to get as far,” said the beetle; and he went off

without taking formal leave; for that is considered the polite thing

to do. And by the ditch he met several friends; beetles, all of them.

“Here we live,” they said. “We are very comfortable here. Might we ask

you to step down into this rich mud? You must be tired after your


“Certainly,” replied the beetle. “I have been exposed to the rain, and

have had to lie upon linen, and being clean is a thing that greatly

exhausts me. I have also pains in one of my wings, from standing in a

draught under a fragment of pottery. It is really quite refreshing to

be among one”s companions once more.”

“Perhaps you come from some muck-heap?” said the oldest of them.

“Indeed, I come from a much higher place,” replied the beetle. “I came

from the emperor”s stable, where I was born with golden shoes on my

feet. I am travelling on a secret mission. You must not ask me any

questions as or I can”t betray my secret.”

With this the beetle stepped down into the rich mud. There sat three

young maiden beetles; and they giggled, because they did not know

what to say.

“Not one of them is engaged yet,” said their mother; and the beetle

maidens giggled again, this time from embarrassment.

“I have never seen greater beauties in the royal stables,” exclaimed

the beetle, who was now resting himself.

“Don”t spoil my girls,” said the mother; “and don”t talk to them,

please, unless you have serious intentions. But of course your

intentions are serious, and therefore I give you my blessing.”

“Hurrah!” cried all the other beetles together; and our friend was

engaged. Immediately after the engagement came the marriage, for there

was no reason for delay.

The next day passed very pleasantly, and the next in tolerable

comfort; but on the third it was time to think of food for the wife,

and perhaps also for children.

“I have allowed myself to be taken in,” said our beetle to himself.

“And now there”s nothing for it but to take them in, in turn.”

So said, so done. Away he went, and he stayed away all day, and stayed

away all night; and his wife sat there, a forsaken widow.

“Oh,” said the other beetles, “this fellow we received into our

family is nothing more than a thorough wander. He has gone away, and

has left his wife as our burden.”

“Well, then, she shall be unmarried again, and sit here among my

daughters,” said the mother. “Fie on the villain who forsook her!”

In the meantime the beetle had been journeying on, and had sailed

across the ditch on a cabbage leaf. In the morning two persons came to

the ditch. When they saw him, they took him up, and turned him over

and over, and looked very learned, especially one of them–a boy.

“Allah sees the black beetle in the black stone and in the black rock.

Is not that written in the Koran?” Then he translated the beetle”s

name into Latin, and spoke about the creature”s nature and history.

The second person, an older scholar, voted for carrying him home. He

said they wanted just such good specimens; and this seemed an uncivil

speech to our beetle, and as a result he flew suddenly out of the

speaker”s hand. As he had now dry wings, he flew a manageable distance,

and reached a hot-bed, where a sash of the glass roof was partly open,

so he quietly slipped in and buried himself in the warm earth.

“Very comfortable it is here,” said he.

Soon after he went to sleep, and dreamed that the emperor”s favourite

horse had fallen, and had given him his golden shoes, with the promise

that he should have two more.

That was all very charming. When the beetle woke up, he crept forth

and looked around him. What splendour was in the hothouse! In the

background great palm trees growing up on high; the sun made them look

transparent; and beneath them what a luxuriance of green, and of

beaming flowers, red as fire, yellow as amber, or white as

fresh-fallen snow.

“This is an incomparable amount of plants” cried the beetle. “How

good they will taste when they are rotted! A capital store-room this!

There must certainly be relations of mine living here. I will just see

if I can find anyone with whom I may connect. I'm proud, certainly,

and I'm proud of being so.” And so he prowled about in the earth, and

thought what a pleasant dream that was about the dying horse, and the

golden shoes he had received.

Suddenly a hand seized the beetle, and pressed him, and turned him

round and round.

The gardener”s little son and a companion had come to the hot-bed, had

spotted the beetle, and wanted to have their fun with him. First he was

wrapped in a vine leaf, and then put into a warm trouser pocket. He

scrambled and scraped about there with all his might; but he got a

good pressing from the boy”s hand for this, which served as a hint to

him to stay quiet. Then the boy went quickly towards the great lake

at the end of the garden. Here the beetle was put in an old

broken wooden shoe, on which a little stick was placed upright for a

mast, and to this mast the beetle was bound with a wool thread. Now

he was a sailor, and had to sail away.

The lake was not very large, but to the beetle it seemed an ocean; and

he was so astonished at its extent, that he fell over on his back and

kicked out with his legs.

The little ship sailed away. The current of the water seized it; but

whenever it went too far from the shore, one of the boys turned up

his trousers and went in after it, and brought it back to the land.

But at length, just as it went merrily out again, the two boys were

called away very harshly, so that they hurried to obey, ran away from the lake, and left the little ship to its fate. It drove away from the shore, farther and farther into the open sea: it was terrible work for the beetle, for he could not get away away as he was bound to the mast.

Then a fly came and paid him a visit.

“What beautiful weather!” said the fly. “I'll rest here, and sun

myself. You have an agreeable time of it.”

“You speak without knowing the facts,” replied the beetle. “Don”t you

see that I'm a prisoner?”

“Ah! but I'm not a prisoner,” observed the fly; and he flew away.

“Well, now I know the world,” said the beetle to himself. “It is an

terrible world. I'm the only honest person in it. First, they refuse

me my golden shoes; then I have to lie on wet linen, and to stand in

the draught; and, to top all, they fasten a wife upon me. Then, when

I've taken a quick step out into the world, and found out how one can

have it there, and how I wished to have it, one of those human boys

comes and ties me up, and leaves me to the mercy of the wild waves,

while the emperor”s favourite horse prances about proudly in golden

shoes. That is what annoys me more than all. But one must not look for

sympathy in this world! My career has been very interesting; but

what”s the use of that, if nobody knows it? The world does not deserve

to be made acquainted with my history, for it ought to have given me

golden shoes, when the emperor”s horse was shod, and I stretched out

my feet to be shod too. If I had received golden shoes, I should have

become an ornament to the stable. Now the stable has lost me, and the

world has lost me. It is all over!”

But all was not over yet. A boat, in which there were a few young

girls, came rowing up.

“Look, yonder is an old wooden shoe sailing along,” said one of the


“There”s a little creature bound fast to it,” said another.

The boat came quite close to our beetle”s ship, and the young girls

fished him out of the water. One of them drew a small pair of scissors

from her pocket, and cut the thread, without hurting the

beetle; and when she stepped on shore, she put him down on the grass.

“Creep, creep–fly, fly–if you can,” she said. “Liberty is a

splendid thing.”

And the beetle flew up, and straight through the open window of a

great building; there he sank down, tired and exhausted, exactly on

the mane of the emperor”s favourite horse, who stood in the stable

when he was at home, and the beetle also. The beetle clung fast to the

mane, and sat there a short time to recover himself.

“Here I'm sitting on the emperor”s favourite horse–sitting on him

just like the emperor himself!” he cried. “But what was I saying? Yes,

now I remember. That”s a good thought, and quite correct. The smith

asked me why the golden shoes were given to the horse. Now I'm quite

clear about the answer. They were given to the horse on my account.”

And now the beetle was in a good temper again.

“Travelling expands the mind rarely,” said he.

The sun”s rays came streaming into the stable, and shone upon him, and

made the place lively and bright.

“The world is not so bad, upon the whole,” said the beetle; “but one

must know how to take things as they come.”

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