The tomte’s new suit (a Swedish tale)
People said the milk from their cows produced more cream than anyone else’s milk; their milk tasted fresher than any other milk. No matter the weather, no matter the light, no matter the time of year, Dag and Carolina’s barn was filled with fresh hay. Their cows and chickens were fat and happy. In every way their farm flourished, and Dag and Carolina, grateful for their good fortune, were kind and generous to all.
Naturally, people talked of this good fortune. The farm had been in Dag’s family for many generations and was always the most prosperous in the land. And so people said they had a tomte at work, a tomte who had been working on the farm ever since Dag’s great-great-great-grandfather’s time. No one had ever seen him, of course. People seldom do, for tomtes like to work in solitude. But Dag and Carolina were careful to leave gifts for the tomte — a bowl of porridge at Christmas, coins and cakes at other times of the year. This is what tradition demanded.
“Never offend a tomte,” Dag’s grandfather had always said. “If you do, he’ll leave the house, or he will begin to make mischief. He’ll tie the cows’ tails together; he’ll spill the milk; he’ll break all the hens’ eggs.”
As time passed, Dag became more and more curious about their tomte. He was grateful for their prosperity, but he could not stop thinking how much he would like to see the fellow, at least once. One morning as he sat down to breakfast, he said to Carolina, “Our tomte must be ancient, don’t you think?”
She was just taking a loaf of fresh bread out of the oven, and as she carried it to the table, she said, “We’ll never know. We mustn’t disturb him. Remember: They’re easily offended.”
“Ah, yes,” Dag sighed, “but surely just one glimpse wouldn’t hurt.”
Carolina smiled. She knew her husband well, and she understood that once he had a notion in his head, he would not let it go. As the days passed, they spoke again and again of the tomte. Finally one morning Carolina said, “Perhaps you could sneak into the barn at night and wait to see if he comes. Only promise me that you will be quiet.”
“I promise!” Dag said.
So that very evening, he dressed in warm clothes — it was early spring, and the nights still were cold — and hurried out to the barn. There, he climbed into the loft and hid.
For a long, long time the barn was very quiet, and Dag snuggled into the hay to keep warm. He struggled to keep his eyes open and was beginning to fall asleep when suddenly he heard a whoosh of wind. The barn door opened a crack. Dag peered out of the loft and saw a tiny man with wild gray hair and a long gray beard walk into the barn and set to work. Dag noticed the poor fellow’s clothes were tattered and the cap upon his head might once have been a bright red, but was now faded to a pale pink. As Dag watched, the tomte set to work cleaning out the stable, brushing the horse, stacking the hay. He worked so fast; Dag could barely see what he did.
And then, just before dawn, he was gone.
Dag hurried to the house to tell Carolina of the little man. “It’s true!” he cried. “He works like a whirlwind, but it’s very sad: He looks like a beggar. His clothes are so old, they must be from great grandfather’s day.”
“We’ll make him a new suit!” Carolina said. “That is one way we can thank him.”
She set to work, using the finest fabric and thread she could find. Two days later the suit was done — a nice blue suit with a fine red cap to go with it. Carolina wrapped it and Dag carried it out to the barn. He left it inside the stable door and climbed into the loft to hide.
Once again at midnight Dag heard a whoosh of wind. The barn door opened and in walked the tomte. When he saw the package, his eyes lit up with delight and he quickly opened it.
“A new suit!” he cried, and Dag’s heart filled with joy, for the tomte sounded so happy.
But he set it down and went to work, cleaning the stables until they were cleaner than they had ever been, brushing the horse until he gleamed. He milked the cows, fed the chickens and hens, stacked the hay, and when he was finished, he took off his tattered clothes and dressed up in his brand-new suit.
And then, to Dag’s amazement, the tomte walked to each of the animals one by one and whispered something in each animal’s ear.
When he was finished, he ran to the door and turned once more. “Farewell, my friends!” he said. “Now that I’m a gentleman, I’ll have no need to work!”
From that night on, the tomte did not return, but Dag and Carolina did not despair. They were grateful for the memory of the tomte. So they continued being generous, while their farm continued to prosper.
“TELL ME A STORY 3: Women of Wonder,” the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, visit www.mythsandtales.com.