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IN a huge chamber sat four-and-twenty Ladies around a banquet table, all in splendid robes as though for a wedding. At the head of the table sat the Lady, Kiisiki's Mother, on a golden chair.

Elsa did not know what to look at first, everything around her was so magnificent and glittering. Upon the table stood thirteen dishes on gold and silver salvers. One dish alone remained untouched, and was carried away without its cover being lifted. Elsa ate all kinds of costly foods, which tasted better than sweet cakes. The four-and-twenty Ladies talked in low tones, and Elsa could not understand what they said.

Then the Lady, Kiisiki's Mother, spoke a few words to the maid who stood behind her chair. The maid hurried out and returned with a Little Old Man whose beard was longer than himself. He made a bow, and stood by the door. The Lady pointed a finger at Elsa, saying:

"Look carefully at this peasant child. I am going to adopt her. Make me an image of her, which tomorrow may be sent instead of her to her village."

The Old Man looked sharply at Elsa. Then he bowed and left the room.

After dinner, the kindly Lady said to Elsa, "Kiisiki has begged me to let her have you for a playmate. Is it really true that you wish to stay?"

Elsa fell on her knees, and kissed the Lady's feet and hands. But the Lady lifted her up, stroked her head and tear-stained cheeks, and said:

"If you will remain a good and diligent child, I shall care for you till you grow up. No misfortune shall touch you, and you shall learn with Kiisiki the finest handwork and other things."

Just then the Little Old Man came back carrying a trough of clay on his shoulder, and a little covered basket in his left hand. He set the clay and the basket on the floor, took a bit of the clay and shaped it into a doll. The Lady examined the doll on all sides, then said:

"Now we need one drop of the Maiden's own blood."

Elsa, when she heard these words, turned pale from fright. She was sure that she was about to sell her soul to the Evil One. But the Lady comforted her by saying:

"Fear nothing! We do not want your drop of blood for anything bad, only for your own future happiness."

Then she took a gold needle, stuck it into Elsa's arm, and gave it to the Little Old Man. He thrust the needle into the doll's heart. After that he laid the doll in the little basket to grow, and promised to show it to the Lady the next day.

Then they all went to rest. Elsa found herself on a soft bed in a sleeping-chamber.

The next morning, when she woke in the silk-covered bed with soft pillows, she opened her eyes and saw rich clothes lying on a chair nearby. At the same moment a maid stepped into the room, and bade her bathe herself and comb her hair. Then the maid clad her in the beautiful clothes. Her peasant clothes had been taken away during the night. What for? Now you shall hear!

Her own clothes had been put on the clay doll, which was to be sent to the village in her stead. During the night, the doll had grown bigger and bigger, till it was the very image of Elsa. It ran about like a human being. Elsa was frightened when she saw the doll so like herself, but the Lady noticing her terror, said:

"Fear nothing! This clay doll cannot hurt you. We are going to send it to your parents. The wicked woman may beat it all she wishes, for the clay doll can feel no pain."

So the clay image was sent to her parents.

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