The Three Chests
There was once an honest old farmer who had three daughters. His farm
ran down to the shores of a deep lake. One day as he leaned over the
water to take a drink, wicked old Wetehinen reached up from the bottom
of the lake and clutched him by the beard.
"Ouch! Ouch!" the farmer cried. "Let me go!" Wetehinen only held on
more tightly. "Yes, I'll let you go," he said, "but only on this
condition: that you give me one of your daughters for wife!"
"Give you one of my daughters? Never!"
"Very well, then I'll never let go!" wicked old Wetehinen declared and
with that he began jerking at the beard as if it were a bellrope.
"Wait! Wait!" the farmer spluttered. Now he didn't want to give one of
his daughters to wicked old Wetehinen of course not! But at the same
time he was in Wetehinen' s power and he realized that if he didn't do
what the old reprobate demanded he might lose his life and so leave all
three of his daughters orphans. Perhaps for the good of all he had
better sacrifice one of them.
"All right," he said, "let me go and I'll send you my oldest daughter. I promise."
So Wetehinen let go his beard and the farmer scrambled to his feet and hurried home.
"My dear," he said to his oldest daughter, "I left a bit of the harness
down at the lake. Like a good girl will you run down and get it for me."
The eldest daughter went at once and when she reached the water's edge,
old Wetehinen reached up and caught her about the waist and carried her
down to the bottom of the lake where he lived in a big house.
At first he was kind to her. He made her mistress of the house and gave
her the keys to all the rooms and closets. He went very carefully over
the keys and pointing to one he said, "That key you must never use for
it opens the door to a room which I forbid you to enter."
The eldest daughter began keeping house for old Wetehinen and spent her
time cooking and cleaning and spinning much as she used to at home with
her father. The days went by and she grew familiar with the house and
began to know what was in every room and every closet.
At first she felt no temptation to open the forbidden door. If old
Wetehinen wanted to have a secret room, well and good. But why in the
world had he given her the key if he really didn't want her to open the
door? The more she thought about it the more she wondered. Every time
she passed the room she stopped a moment and stared at the door. It
looked just exactly like the doors that led into all the other rooms.
"I wonder why he doesn't want me to open just that door?" she kept asking herself.
Finally one day when old Wetehinen was away she thought, "I don't
believe it would matter if I opened that door just a little crack and
peeped in once! No one would know the difference!"
For a few moments she hesitated, then mustered up courage enough to turn the key in the forbidden lock and throw open the door.
The room was a storeroom with boxes and chests and old jars piled up
around the wall. That was unexciting enough, but in the middle of the
floor was something that made her start when she saw what it was*
It was blood, that's what it was, a pool of dark red blood! She was
about to slam the door shut when she saw something else that made her
pause. This was a lovely shining ring that lay in the midst of the pool.
"Oh!" she thought to herself, "what a beautiful ring! If I had it I'd wear it on my finger!"
The longer she looked at it, the more she wanted it.
"If I'm very careful," she said, "I know I could reach over and pick it up without touching the blood."
She tiptoed cautiously into the room, wrapped her skirts tightly about
her legs, knelt down on the floor, and stretched her arm over the pool.
She picked up the ring very carefully but even so she got a few drops
of blood on her fingers.
"No matter!" she thought, "I can wash that offl And see the lovely ring!"
But later, after she had the door again locked, when she tried to wash
the blood off, she found she couldn't. She tried soap, she tried sand,
she tried everything she could think of, but without success.
"I don't care!" she thought to herself. "If Wetehinen sees the blood, I'll just tell him I cut my finger by accident."
So when Wetehinen came home, she hid the ring and pretended nothing was the matter.
After supper Wetehinen put his head in her lap and said, "Now, my dear, scratch my head and make me drowsy for bed."
She began scratching his head as she had many nights before but, at the
first touch of her fingers, he cried out, "Stop! You're burning my ear!
There must be some blood on your fingers! Let me see!"
He reached up and caught her hand and, when he saw the blood stains, he flew into a towering rage.
"I thought so! You've been in the forbidden room!"
He jumped up and without allowing her time to say a word he just cut
off her head then and there with no more concern than if she had been a
mosquito! After that he took the body and the severed head and threw
them into the forbidden room and locked the door.
"Now then," he growled, "she won't disobey me again!"
This was all very well but now he had no one to keep house for him and
cook and scratch his head in the evening and soon he decided he'd have
to get another wife. He remembered that the farmer had two more
daughters, so he thought to himself that now he'd marry the second
He waited his chance and one day when the farmer was out in his boat
fishing, old Wetehinen came up from the hottom of the lake and clutched
the boat. When the poor old farmer tried to row back to shore he
couldn't make the boat move an inch. He worked and worked at the oars
and wicked old Wetehinen let him struggle till he was exhausted. Then
he put his head up out of the water and over the side of the boat and
as though nothing were the matter he said, "Hullo!"
"Oh!" the farmer cried, wishing he were safe on shore, "it's you, is it? I wondered what was holding my boat."
"Yes," wicked old Wetehinen said, "it's me and I'm going to hold your
boat right here on this spot till you promise to give me another of
What could the farmer do? He pleaded with Wetehinen but Wetehinen was
firm and the upshot was that before the farmer again walked dry land he
had promised Wetehinen his second daughter.
Well, when he got home, he pretended he had forgotten his ax in the
boat and sent his second daughter down to the lake to get it. Wicked
old Wetehinen caught her as he had caught her sister and carried her
home with him to his house at the bottom of the lake.
Wetehinen treated the second sister just exactly as he had the first,
making her mistress of the house and telling her she might use every
key but one. Like her sister she, too, after a time gave way to the
temptation of looking into the forbidden room and when she saw the
shining ring lying in the pool of blood of course she wanted it and of
course when she reached to get it she dabbled her fingers in the blood.
So that was the end of her, too, for wicked old Wetehinen when he saw
the blood stains just cut her head right off and threw her body and the
severed head into the forbidden room beside the body and head of her
sister and locked the door.
Time went by and the farmer was living happily with his youngest
daughter when one day while he was out chopping wood he found a pair of
fine birch bark brogues. He put them on and at once found himself
walking away from the woods and down to the lake. He tried to stop but
he couldn't. He tried to walk in another direction but the brogues
carried him straight down to the water's edge and out into the lake
till he was in waist deep. Then he heard a gruff voice saying, "Hullo,
there! What are you doing with my brogues?"
It was that wicked old Wetehinen who had played that trick to get the farmer into his power again.
"What do you want this time?" the poor farmer cried.
"I want your youngest daughter," Wetehinen said.
"What! My youngest daughter!"
"I won't give her up!" the farmer declared. "I don't care what you do to me, I won't give her up!"
"Oh, very well!" Wetehinen said, and at once the brogues which had been
standing still while they talked started walking again. They carried
the farmer out into the lake farther and farther until the water was up
to his chin,
"Wait wait a minute!" he cried.
The brogues stopped walking and Wetehinen said, "Well, do you promise to give her to me?"
"No!" the farmer began. "She's my last daughter and"
Before he could say more, the brogues walked on and the water rose to
his nose. In desperation he threw up his hands and shouted, "I promise!
So when he got home that day he said to his youngest daughter whose
name was Lisa, "Lisa, my dear, I forgot my brogues at the lake. Like a
good girl won't you run and get them for me?"
So Lisa went to the lake and Wetehinen caught her and carried her down to his house as he had her two sisters.
Then the same old story was repeated. Wetehinen made Lisa mistress of
the house and gave her keys to all the doors and closets with the same
prohibition against opening the door of the forbidden room.
"If I am mistress of the house," Lisa said to herself, "why should I not unlock every door?"
She waited till one day when Wetehinen was away from home, then went
boldly to the forbidden room, fitted the key in the lock, and flung
open the door.
There lay her two poor sisters with their heads cut off. There in the
pool of blood sparkled the lovely ring, but Lisa paid no heed to it.
"Wicked old Wetehinen!" Lisa cried. "I suppose he thinks that ring will
tempt me but nothing will tempt me to touch that awful blood!"
Then she rummaged about, opening boxes and chests, and turning things over. In a dark corner she found
two pitchers, one marked Water of Life, the other Water of Death.
"Ha! This is what I want!" she cried, taking the pitcher of the Water of Life.
She set the severed heads of her sisters in place and then with the
magic water brought them back to life. She used up all the Water of
Life,, so she filled the pitcher marked Water of Life with the water
from the other pitcher, the Water of Death. She hid her sisters, each
in a big wooden chest, she shut and locked the door of the forbidden
room, and when Wetehinen came home he found her working at her spinning
wheel as though nothing unusual had happened.
After supper Wetehinen said, "Now scratch my head and make me drowsy for bed."
So Lisa scratched his wicked old head and she did it so well that he grunted with satisfaction.
"Uh! Uh!" he said. "That's good! Now just behind my right ear! That's
it! That's it! You're a good girl, you are! You're not like some of
them who do what they're told not to do! Now behind the other ear! Oh,
that's fine! Yes, you're a, good girl and if there's anything you want
me to do just tell me what it is."
"I want to send a chest of things to my poor old father," Lisa said.
"Just a lot of little nothings, odds and ends that I've picked up about
the house. I'd be ashamed to have you open the chest and see them. I do
wish you'd carry the chest ashore tomorrow and leave it where my father
will find it."
"All right," Wetehinen promised.
He was true to his word. The next morning he hoisted one of the chests
on his shoulder, the one that had in it the eldest sister, he trudged
off with it, and tossed it up on shore at a place where he was sure the
farmer would find it.
Lisa then wheedled him into carrying up the second chest that had in it
the second sister. This time Wetehinen wasn't so good-natured. "I don't
know what she can always be sending her father!" he grumbled. "If she
sends another chest I'll have to look inside and see."
Now Lisa, when the second sister was safely delivered, began to plan
her own escape. She pulled out another empty chest and then one evening
after she had succeeded in making old Wetehinen comfortable and drowsy
she begged him to carry this also to her father. He grumbled and
protested but finally promised.
"And you won't look inside, will you? Promise me you won't!" Lisa begged.
Wetehinen said he wouldn't, but he intended to just the same.
Well, the next morning as soon as Wetehinen went out, Lisa took the
churn and dressed it up in some of her own clothes. She carried it to
the top of the house and perched it on the ridge of the roof before a
spinning wheel. Then she herself crept inside the third chest and
When Wetehinen came home he looked up and saw what he thought was Lisa spinning on the roof.
"Hullo!" he shouted. "What are you doing up there?"
Lisa, in the chest, answered in a voice that sounded as if it came from
the roof, "I'm spinning. And you, Wetehinen, my dear, don't forget the
chest that you promised to carry to my poor old father. It's standing
in the kitchen."
Wetehinen grumbled but because of his promise he hoisted the chest on
his shoulder and started off. When he had gone a little way he thought
to put it down and take a peep inside. At once Lisa's voice, sounding
as if it came from the roof, cried out, "No! You promised not to look
"I'm not looking inside!" Wetehinen called back. "I'm only resting a minute!"
Then he thought to himself, "I suppose she's sitting up there so she can watch me!"
When he had gone some distance farther, he thought again to set down
the chest and open the lid but at once Lisa's voice, as from a long way
off, called out, "No! No! You promised not to look inside!"
"Who's looking inside?" he called back, pretending again he was only resting.
Every time he thought it would be safe to put down the chest and open
the lid, Lisa's voice cried out, "No! No! You promised not to!"
"Mercy on us!" old Wetehinen fumed to himself, "who would have thought she could see so far!"
On the shore of the lake when he threw down the chest in disgust he
tried one last time to raise the lid. At once Lisa's voice cried out,
"No! No! You promised not to!"
"I'm not looking inside!" Wetehinen roared, and in a fury he left the chest and started back into the water.
All the way home he grumbled and growled, "A nice way to treat a man,
always making him carry chests! I won't carry another one no matter how
much she begs me!"
When he came near home he saw the spinning wheel still on the roof and the figure still seated before it.
"Why haven't you got my dinner ready?" he called out angrily.
The figure at the spinning wheel made no answer.
"What's the matter with you?" Wetehinen cried. "Why are you sitting there like a wooden image instead of cooking my dinner?"
Still the figure made no answer and in a rage Wetehinen began climbing
up the roof. He reached out blindly and clutched at Lisa's skirt and
jerked it so hard that the churn came clattering down on his head. It
knocked him off the roof and he fell all the way to the ground and
cracked his wicked old head wide open.
"Ouch! Ouch!" he roared in pain. "Just wait till I get hold of that Lisa!"
He crawled to the forbidden room and poured over himself the water that
was in the pitcher marked Water of Life. But it wasn't the Water of
Life at all, it was the Water of Death, and so it didn't help his
wicked old cracked head at all. In fact it just made it worse and worse
Lisa and her sisters were never again troubled by him nor was any one else that lived on the shores of that lake.
"Wonder what's become of wicked old Wetehinen?" people began saying.
Lisa thought she knew but she didn't tell.