The Brown Fairy Book
Ball-carrier and the Bad One
Far, far in the forest there were two little huts, and in each of them lived a man who was a
famous hunter, his wife, and three or four children. Now the children were forbidden to
play more than a short distance from the door, as it was known that, away on the other
side of the wood near the great river, there dwelt a witch who had a magic ball that she
used as a means of stealing children.
Her plan was a very simple one, and had never yet failed. When she wanted a child she
just flung her ball in the direction of the child's home, and however far off it might be, the
ball was sure to reach it. Then, as soon as the child saw it, the ball would begin rolling
slowly back to the witch, just keeping a little ahead of the child, so that he always thought
that he could catch it the next minute. But he never did, and, what was more, his parents
never saw him again.
Of course you must not suppose that all the fathers and mothers who had lost children
made no attempts to find them, but the forest was so large, and the witch was so cunning
in knowing exactly where they were going to search, that it was very easy for her to keep
out of the way. Besides, there was always the chance that the children might have been
eaten by wolves, of which large herds roamed about in winter.
One day the old witch happened to want a little boy, so she threw her ball in the direction
of the hunters' huts. A child was standing outside, shooting at a mark with his bow and
arrows, but the moment he saw the ball, which was made of glass whose blues and greens
and whites, all frosted over, kept changing one into the other, he flung down his bow, and
stooped to pick the ball up. But as he did so it began to roll very gently downhill. The boy
could not let it roll away, when it was so close to him, so he gave chase. The ball seemed
always within his grasp, yet he could never catch it; it went quicker and quicker, and the
boy grew more and more excited. That time he almost touched it--no, he missed it by a
hair's breadth! Now, surely, if he gave a spring he could get in front of it! He sprang
forward, tripped and fell, and found himself in the witch's house!
'Welcome! welcome! grandson!' said she; 'get up and rest yourself, for you have had a
long walk, and I am sure you must be tired!' So the boy sat down, and ate some food
which she gave him in a bowl. It was quite different from anything he had tasted before,
and he thought it was delicious. When he had eaten up every bit, the witch asked him if
he had ever fasted.
'No,' replied the boy, 'at least I have been obliged to sometimes, but never if there was
any food to be had.'
'You will have to fast if you want the spirits to make you strong and wise, and the sooner
you begin the better.'