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Our next story is a very odd one about a hat.
ONCE upon a time a young countryman was busy raking up his hay in the meadow, when a threatening thundercloud which arose on the horizon caused him to hasten with his work. He was lucky enough to complete it before the rain began, and he then turned his steps homewards. On his way he perceived a stranger asleep under a tree. “He’ll get his hide pretty well soaked if I leave him asleep here,” thought the countryman, so he went to the stranger, and shook him till he roused him from a sound sleep. The stranger stood up, and turned pale when he saw the advancing thundercloud. He felt in his pocket, intending to give something to the man who had roused him, but unfortunately he found it empty. So he said hurriedly, “For the present I must remain your debtor, but a day will come when I shall be able to show you my gratitude for your kindness. Do not forget what I tell you. You will become a soldier. After you have been parted from your friends for years, a day will come when you will be seized with homesickness p. 129 in a foreign country. When you look up, you will see a crooked birch-tree a few steps before you. Go to this tree, knock on the trunk three times, and say, ‘Is the Humpback at home?’ Then the rest will follow.” As soon as he had finished speaking, the stranger hurried away and disappeared in an instant. The countryman went home too, and soon forgot his meeting with the sleeper on the road.
Some time afterwards the first part of the prophecy was fulfilled, for the countryman became a soldier, without his remembering anything of his adventure in the wood. He had already worn the uniform of a cavalry regiment for four years, when he was stationed with his regiment in North Finland. It fell to the turn of our friend to bring home the horses on a Whitsunday, while his jolly comrades off duty went singing to enjoy themselves at the inns. Suddenly the solitary groom was seized with such a fit of home-sickness as he had never known before. Tears filled his eyes, and charming pictures of home floated before his vision. Now, too, he remembered his sleeping friend in the wood, and his speech. Everything came before him as plainly and distinctly as if it had happened only yesterday. p. 130 He looked up, and saw before him, oddly enough, an old crooked birch-tree. More in jest than expecting any result, he went up to the tree, and did what he had been instructed. But the question, “Is the Humpback at home?” had scarcely passed his lips, when the stranger stood before him, and said, “My friend, it is good that you have come, for I was afraid that you had quite forgotten me. Isn’t it true that you would be glad to be at home?” The cavalry soldier sobbed out, “Yes.” Then the Humpback called into the tree, “Boys, which of you can run fastest?” A voice answered from the birch, “Father, I can run as fast as a grouse can fly.”—“Very well, I want a quicker messenger to-day.” A second voice answered, “I can run like the wind.”—“I want a quicker messenger still,” replied the father. Then a third voice answered, “I can run as fast as the thoughts of men.”—“You are just to my mind. I want you now. Fill a four-hundredweight sack with money, and carry it home with my friend and benefactor.” Then he seized hold of the soldier’s hat and cried out, “Let the hat become a man, and let the man and the sack go home!” The soldier felt his hat fly off his head. He turned round to look for it, and found himself in his own father’s room, p. 131 dressed like a countryman as before, and the great sack of money by his side.1
At first he thought it was a dream, till he found that his good luck was real. As nobody made any inquiries after the deserter, he began to think at last that his lost hat had remained behind to do soldier’s service in his stead. He related the wonderful story to his children before his death, and as the money had brought him happiness and prosperity, he could not suppose that it had been the gift of an evil spirit.
1 The hat reminds us of the doll in the story of the Tontla Wood. In the original the stranger is simply called “Köwer.” Jannsen interprets the name to mean “Köwer-silm” (Crooked-eye), and thinks the stranger might have been Tapio himself. But it appears to me from the whole context that he was simply the indwelling spirit of one particular crooked birch-tree, whom we find at the beginning of the story wandering at a distance from home.