The Squire’s Bride (A Tale From Norway)
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy squire who owned a magnificent home, full of beautiful things made of silver and gold. He seemed to have everything, but he did not have a companion, for many years before his wife had died.
One day as the squire was walking through one of his many lovely meadows, a neighboring farmer’s daughter happened past. The squire thought she looked delightful, and that because she was the daughter of a poor farmer, she would agree to marry him at once.
After greeting her with a bow, he quickly came to the point. “I’ve thought of marrying again,” he said.
“People do think many things,” said the girl. “That’s nice for you.”
“Well, now,” the squire coughed, “I’ve thought you might become my wife.”
“Thank you, no,” the young woman answered at once.
Truth be known, the squire was a squat and strange-looking man and wasn’t a bit friendly or generous. The farmer’s daughter did not care for him at all.
But when she answered no, the squire could not believe his ears. He was accustomed to people saying yes to him, and because she did not want to marry him, he was quite determined to marry her.
The next day he sent for the girl’s father. “Arrange for your daughter to marry me,” he said abruptly, “and I will cancel all your debts.” You see, the farmer owed the squire a great deal of money.
“And more than that!” the squire proposed. “I will give you a portion of the land.”
Now the father felt certain his daughter would agree to such a generous offer. “I am sure my daughter will see the reasonableness of your proposal,” he said and went home to discuss the arrangement with her.
The farmer talked, and argued, and explained. But no matter what he said, and no matter how he said it, the girl refused to marry the squire. “I wouldn’t marry him if he were made of gold,” she announced.
The squire waited for the farmer to return, but after a day had passed, he called the farmer to his home once more. “If you want my offer, you must tell me right away,” he said.
“Ah, yes,” said the farmer. “Here’s the plan. You prepare for the wedding, and when the minister and all the guests are assembled, I will send for my daughter, pretending there is work for her. When she arrives, we will hold the wedding before she has a chance to run away.”
This seemed sensible, and so the squire instructed his servants to prepare for the grandest of weddings.
The day of the wedding dawned bright and sunny. The guests began to assemble. “Now,” said the squire to his stable boy, “run to the farmer’s home and tell him to send the thing he has promised.”
The boy galloped to the farmer’s house as he was asked.
The farmer pointed to a meadow. “You will find her in that field. Take her with you.”
The boy galloped to the field, where he found the farmer’s daughter raking hay. “Hello, there,” he called. “I am to fetch what your father promised my master, the squire.”
The girl smiled to herself, for she understood that she was to be tricked. “Ah,” she said, “that would be the little gray mare on the far side of this field. Fetch her and take her.”
The boy found the mare, tethered her to his own horse and hurried to the squire’s manor. “Did you bring her with you?” asked the squire when he saw his stable boy.
“She is outside by the door,” the boy announced proudly.
“Take her upstairs to the room that belonged to my dear departed wife,” the squire said.
“But sir, how can I manage that?” the boy asked.
“Do as I tell you,” the squire demanded. “If you cannot manage on your own, I’ll call someone to help.” He suspected the girl might raise a fuss.
The boy shrugged, went outside and took along all the farmhands. Some of the lads pulled in front and some pushed from behind, and at last, they managed to move the mare upstairs. In the mistress’s room, on the big canopy bed, lay a dress made of the finest lace.
“Well,” said the boy, returning to his master’s room. “I have done as you asked.”
“Ay,” said the squire. “Now tell the dress maids to attend to her.”
“But sire,” the boy began.
“Do as I tell you!” the squire commanded. “Make sure they dress her and do not let them forget the garland of flowers for her lovely head.”
The boy ran to the dress maids. “Girls,” he announced, “you are to go upstairs and dress the little gray mare as a bride. Master must be planning to amuse his guests.”
The girls dressed the mare in the beautiful gown, and they did not forget to place the lovely garland over her ears.
“Bring her down!” the master cried from below. “I’ll receive her in the drawing-room.”
You can imagine the noise as the mare clambered down the stairs. Even wearing satin slippers, she made a racket. When the door opened and the squire’s bride entered the room, the guests burst into laughter so loud and long you may be sure they’re laughing still.
After that day, people say, the squire never again tried to woo any woman. But he did keep his little gray mare.