When birds were men, and men were birds, Pivi and Kabo lived in an island far away, called New Claledonia. Pivi was a cheery little bird that chirps at sunset; Kabo was an ugly black fowl that croaks in the darkness. One day Pivi and Kabo thought that they would make slings, and practice slinging, as the people of the island still do. So they went to a banyan tree, and stripped the bark to make strings for their slings, and next they repaired to the river bank to find stones. Kabo stood on the bank of the river, and Pivi went into the water. The game was for Kabo to sling at Pivi, and for Pivi to dodge the stones, if he could. For some time he dodged them cleverly, but at last a stone from Kabo's sling hit poor Pivi on the leg and broke it. Down went Pivi into the stream, and floated along it, till he floated into a big hollow bamboo, which a woman used for washing her sweet potatoes.'What is that in my bamboo?' said the woman. And she blew in at one end, and blew little Pivi out at the other, like a pea from a pea-shooter. 'Oh!' cried the woman, 'what a state you are in! What have you been doing?' 'It was Kabo who broke my leg at the slinging game,' said Pivi. 'Well, I am sorry for you,' said the woman; 'will you come with me, and do what I tell you?'
'I will!' said Pivi, for the woman was very kind and pretty. She took Pivi into a shed where she kept her fruit laid him on a bed of mats, and made him as comfortable as she could, and attended to his broken leg without cutting off the flesh round the bone, as these people usually do.
'You will be still, won't you, Pivi?' she said. 'If you hear a little noise you will pretend to be dead. It is the Black Ant who will come and creep from your feet up to your head. Say nothing, and keep quiet, won't you, Pivi?''Certainly, kind lady,' said Pivi, 'I will lie as still as can be.' 'Next will come the big Red Ant--you know him?' 'Yes, I know him, with his feet like a grasshopper's.' 'He will walk over your body up to your head. Then you must shake all your body. Do you understand, Pivi?' 'Yes, dear lady, I shall do just as you say.'
'Very good,' said the woman, going out and shutting the door. Pivi lay still under his coverings, then a tiny noise was heard, and the Black Ant began to march over Pivi, who lay quite still. Then came the big Red Ant skipping along his body, and then Pivi shook himself all over. He jumped up quite well again, he ran to the river, he looked into the water and saw that he was changed from a bird into a fine young man!'Oh, lady,' he cried, 'look at me now! I am changed into a man, and so handsome!' 'Will you obey me again?' said the woman. 'Always; whatever you command I will do it,' said Pivi, politely. 'Then climb up that cocoa-nut tree, with your legs only, not using your hands,' said the woman. Now the natives can run up cocoa-nut trees like squirrels, some using only one hand; the girls can do that. But few can climb without using their hands at all. 'At the top of the tree you will find two cocoa-nuts. You must not throw them down, but carry them in your hands; and you must descend as you went up, using your legs only.' 'I shall try, at least,' said Pivi. And up he went, but it was very difficult, and down he came. 'Here are your cocoa-nuts,' he said, presenting them to the woman. 'Now, Pivi, put them in the shed where you lay, and when the sun sets to cool himself in the sea and rise again not so hot in the dawn you must go and take the nuts.'
All day Pivi played about in the river, as the natives do, throwing fruit and silvery showers of water at each other. When the sun set he went into the hut. But as he drew near he heard sweet voices talking and laughing within.'What is that? People chattering in the hut! Perhaps they have taken my cocoa-nuts,' said Pivi to himself. In he went, and there he found two pretty, laughing, teasing girls. He hunted for his cocoanuts, but none were there. Down he ran to the river. 'Oh, lady, my nuts have been stolen! ' he cried. 'Come with me, Pivi, and there will be nuts for you,' said the woman. They went back to the hut, where the girls were laughing and playing. 'Nuts for you?' said the woman, 'there are two wives for you, Pivi, take them to your house.' 'Oh, good lady,' cried Pivi, 'how kind you are!' So they were married and very happy, when in came cross old Kabo. 'Is this Pivi?' said he. 'Yes, it is--no, it isn't. It is not the same Pivi--but there is a kind of likeness. Tell me, are you Pivi?' 'Oh, yes!' said Pivi. 'But I am much better looking, and there are my two wives, are they not beautiful?' 'You are mocking me, Pivi! Your wives? How? Where did you get them? You, with wives! ' Then Pivi told Kabo about the kind woman, and all the wonderful things that had happened to him. 'Well, well!' said Kabo, 'but I want to be handsome too, and to have pretty young wives.' 'But how can we manage that?' asked Pivi. 'Oh, we shall do all the same things over again--play at slinging, and, this time, you shall break my leg, Pivi!' 'With all the pleasure in life,' said Pivi, who was always ready to oblige.
So they went slinging, and Pivi broke Kabo's leg, and Kabo fell into the river, and floated into the bamboo, and the woman blew him out, just as before. Then she picked up Kabo, and put him in the shed, and told him what to do when the Black Ant came, and what to do when the Red Ant came. But he didn't!When the Black Ant came, he shook himself, and behold, he had a twisted leg, and a hump back, and was as black as the ant. Then he ran to the woman. 'Look, what a figure I am!' he said; but she only told him to climb the tree, as she had told Pivi.
But Kabo climbed with both hands and feet, and he threw down the nuts, instead of carrying them down, and he put them in the hut. And when he went back for them there he found two horrid old black hags, wrangling, and scolding, and scratching! So back he went to Pivi with his two beautiful wives, and Pivi was very sorry, but what could he do? Nothing, but sit and cry.
So, one day, Kabo came and asked Pivi to sail in his canoe to a place where he knew of a great big shell-fish, enough to feed on for a week. Pivi went, and deep in the clear water they saw a monstrous shell-fish, like an oyster, as big as a rock, with the shell wide open.
Pivi said not one word. He waved his hand, and five and twenty of his friends came trooping down the hill. They cut up Kabo into little pieces. Pivi turned round, and there was the good woman of the river.
'Pivi,' she said, 'how did you get out of the living tomb into which Kabo sent you?' 'I had my spear with me,' said Pivi. 'It was quite dry inside the shell, and I worked away at the fish with my spear, till he saw reason to open his shell, and out I came.' Then the good woman laughed; and Pivi and his two wives lived happy ever afterwards.[Moncelon. Bulletin de la Societe d'Anthropologie. Series iii. vol. ix., pp. 613-365.]
Once upon a time two young men living in a small village fell in love with the same girl. During the winter, it was all night except for an hour or so about noon, when the darkness seemed a little less dark, and then they used to see which of them could tempt her out for a sleigh ride with the Northern Lights flashing above them, or which could persuade her to come to a dance in some neighbouring barn. But when the spring began, and the light grew longer, the hearts of the villagers leapt at the sight of the sun, and a day was fixed for the boats to be brought out, and the great nets to be spread in the bays of some islands that lay a few miles to the north. Everybody went on this expedition, and the two young men and the girl went with them.
They all sailed merrily across the sea chattering like a flock of magpies, or singing their favourite songs. And when they reached the shore, what an unpacking there was! For this was a noted fishing ground, and here they would live, in little wooden huts, till autumn and bad weather came round again.
The maiden and the two young men happened to share the same hut with some friends, and fished daily from the same boat. And as time went on, one of the youths remarked that the girl took less notice of him than she did of his companion. At first he tried to think that he was dreaming, and for a long while he kept his eyes shut very tight to what he did not want to see, but in spite of his efforts, the truth managed to wriggle through, and then the young man gave up trying to deceive himself, and set about finding some way to get the better of his rival.
The plan that he hit upon could not be carried out for some months; but the longer the young man thought of it, the more pleased he was with it, so he made no sign of his feelings, and waited patiently till the moment came. This was the very day that they were all going to leave the islands, and sail back to the mainland for the winter. In the bustle and hurry of departure, the cunning fisherman contrived that their boat should be the last to put off, and when everything was ready, and the sails about to be set, he suddenly called out:'Oh, dear, what shall I do! I have left my best knife behind in the hut. Run, like a good fellow, and get it for me, while I raise the anchor and loosen the tiller.'
Not thinking any harm, the youth jumped back on shore and made his way up the steep hank. At the door of the hut he stopped and looked back, then started and gazed in horror. The head of the boat stood out to sea, and he was left alone on the island.
Yes, there was no doubt of it--he was quite alone; and he had nothing to help him except the knife which his comrade had purposely dropped on the ledge of the window. For some minutes he was too stunned by the treachery of his friend to think about anything at all, but after a while he shook himself awake, and determined that he would manage to keep alive somehow, if it were only to revenge himself.
So he put the knife in his pocket and went off to a part of the island which was not so bare as the rest, and had a small grove of trees. :From one of these he cut himself a bow, which he strung with a piece of cord that had been left lying about the huts.When this was ready the young man ran down to the shore and shot one or two sea-birds, which he plucked and cooked for supper.
In this way the months slipped by, and Christmas came round again. The evening before, the youth went down to the rocks and into the copse, collecting all the drift wood the sea had washed up or the gale had blown down, and he piled it up in a great stack outside the door, so that he might not have to fetch any all the next day. As soon as his task was done, he paused and looked out towards the mainland, thinking of Christmas Eve last year, and the merry dance they had had. The night was still and cold, and by the help of the Northern Lights he could almost sea across to the opposite coast, when, suddenly, he noticed a boat, which seemed steering straight for the island. At first he could hardly stand for joy, the chance of speaking to another man was so delightful; but as the boat drew near there was something, he could not tell what, that was different from the boats which he had been used to all his life, and when it touched the shore he saw that the people that filled it were beings of another world than ours. Then he hastily stepped behind the wood stack, and waited for what might happen next.
The strange folk one by one jumped on to the rocks, each bearing a load of something that they wanted. Among the women he remarked two young girls, more beautiful and better dressed than any of the rest, carrying between them two great baskets full of provisions. The young man peeped out cautiously to see what all this crowd could be doing inside the tiny hut, but in a moment he drew back again, as the girls returned, and looked about as if they wanted to find out what sort of a place the island was.
Their sharp eyes soon discovered the form of a man crouching behind the bundles of sticks, and at first they felt a little frightened, and started as if they would run away. But the youth remained so still, that they took courage and laughed gaily to each other. 'What a strange creature, let us try what he is made of,' said one, and she stooped down and gave him a pinch.
Now the young man had a pin sticking in the sleeve of his jacket, and the moment the girl's hand touched him she pricked it so sharply that the blood came. The girl screamed so loudly that the people all ran out of their huts to see what was the matter. But directly they caught sight of the man they turned and fled in the other direction, and picking up the goods they had brought with them scampered as fast as they could down to the shore. In an instant, boat, people, and goods had vanished completely.
In their hurry they had, however, forgotten two things: a bundle of keys which lay on the table, and the girl whom the pin had pricked, and who now stood pale and helpless beside the wood stack.
Then the young man gave her his promise to make her his wife, and the girl fulfilled her part of the bargain, and food was plentiful on the island all through the long winter months, though he never knew how it got there. And by-and-by it was spring once more, and time for the fisher-folk to sail from the mainland.'Where are we to go now?' asked the girl, one day, when the sun seemed brighter and the wind softer than usual. 'I do not care where I go,' answered the young man; 'what do you think?'
The girl replied that she would like to go somewhere right at the other end of the island, and build a house, far away from the huts of the fishing-folk. And he consented, and that very day they set off in search of a sheltered spot on the banks of a stream, so that it would be easy to get water.
In a tiny bay, on the opposite side of the island they found the very thing, which seemed to have been made on purpose for them; and as they were tired with their long walk, they laid themselves down on a bank of moss among some birches and prepared to have a good night's rest, so as to be fresh for work next day. But before she went to sleep the girl turned to her husband, and said: 'If in your dreams you fancy that you hear strange noises, be sure you do not stir, or get up to see what it is.''Oh, it is not likely we shall hear any noises in such a quiet place,' answered he, and fell sound asleep.
Suddenly he was awakened by a great clatter about his ears, as if all the workmen in the world were sawing and hammering and building close to him. He was just going to spring up and go to see what it meant, when he luckily remembered his wife's words and lay still. But the time till morning seemed very long, and with the first ray of sun they both rose, and pushed aside the branches of the birch trees. There, in the very place they had chosen, stood a beautiful house--doors and windows, and everything all complete! 'Now you must fix on a spot for your cow-stalls,' said the girl, when they had breakfasted off wild cherries; 'and take care it is the proper size, neither too large nor too small.' And the husband did as he was bid, though he wondered what use a cow-house could be, as they had no cows to put in it. But as he was a little afraid of his wife, who knew so much more than he, he asked no questions.
This night also he was awakened by the same sounds as before, and in the morning they found, near the stream, the most beautiful cow-house that ever was seen, with stalls and milk-pails and stools all complete, indeed, everything that a cow-house could possibly want, except the cows. Then the girl bade him measure out the ground for a storehouse, and this, she said, might be as large as he pleased; and when the storehouse was ready she proposed that they should set off to pay her parents a visit.
The old people welcomed them heartily, and summoned their neighbours, for many miles round, to a great feast in their honour. In fact, for several weeks there was no work done on the farm at all; and at length the young man and his wife grew tired of so much play, and declared that they must return to their own home. But, before they started on the journey, the wife whispered to her husband: 'Take care to jump over the threshold as quick as you can, or it will be the worse for you.'
The young man listened to her words, and sprang over the threshold like an arrow from a bow; and it was well he did, for, no sooner was he on the other side, than his father-inlaw threw a great hammer at him, which would have broken both his legs, if it had only touched them.
When they had gone some distance on the road home, the girl turned to her husband and said: 'Till you step inside the house, be sure you do not look back, whatever you may hear or see.'
And the husband promised, and for a while all was still; and he thought no more about the matter till he noticed at last that the nearer he drew to the house the louder grew the noise of the trampling of feet behind him. As he laid his hand upon the door he thought he was safe, and turned to look. There, sure enough, was a vast herd of cattle, which had been sent after him by his father-in-law when he found that his daughter had been cleverer than he. Half of the herd were already through the fence and cropping the grass on the banks of the stream, but half still remained outside and faded into nothing, even as he watched them.
However, enough cattle were left to make the young man rich, and he and his wife lived happily together, except that every now and then the girl vanished from his sight, and never told him where she had been. For a long time he kept silence about it; but one day, when he had been complaining of her absence, she said to him: 'Dear husband, I am bound to go, even against my will, and there is only one way to stop me. Drive a nail into the threshold, and then I can never pass in or out.'And so he did. [Lapplandische Mahrchen.]
Once upon a time there lived a miller who was so rich that, when he was going to be married, he asked to the feast not only his own friends but also the wild animals who dwelt in the hills and woods round about. The chief of the bears, the wolves, the foxes, the horses, the cows, the goats, the sheep, and the reindeer, all received invitations; and as they were not accustomed to weddings they were greatly pleased and flattered, and sent back messages in the politest language that they would certainly be there.
The first to start on the morning of the wedding-day was the bear, who always liked to be punctual; and, besides, he had a long way to go, and his hair, being so thick and rough, needed a good brushing before it was fit to be seen at a party. However, he took care to awaken very early, and set off down the road with a light heart. Before he had walked very far he met a boy who came whistling along, hitting at the tops of the flowers with a stick.'Where are you going?' said he, looking at the bear in surprise, for he was an old acquaintance, and not generally so smart.
'Oh, just to the miller's marriage,' answered the bear carelessly. 'Of course, I would much rather stay at home, but the miller was so anxious I should be there that I really could not refuse.'
'Don't go, don't go!' cried the boy. 'If you do you will never come back! You have got the most beautiful skin in the world-- just the kind that everyone is wanting, and they will be sure to kill you and strip you of it.'
'I had not thought of that,' said the bear, whose face turned white, only nobody could see it. 'If you are certain that they would be so wicked--but perhaps you are jealous because nobody has invited you?''Oh, nonsense!' replied the boy angrily, 'do as you see. It is your skin, and not mine; I don't care what becomes of it!' And he walked quickly on with his head in the air. The bear waited until he was out of sight, and then followed him slowly, for he felt in his heart that the boy's advice was good, though he was too proud to say so.
The boy soon grew tired of walking along the road, and turned off into the woods, where there were bushes he could jump and streams he could wade; but he had not gone far before he met the wolf.
'Where are you going?' asked he, for it was not the first time he had seen him. 'Oh, just to the miller's marriage,' answered the wolf, as the bear had done before him. 'It is rather tiresome, of course-- weddings are always so stupid; but still one must be goodnatured!''Don't go!' said the boy again. 'Your skin is so thick and warm, and winter is not far off now. They will kill you, and strip it from you.' The wolf's jaw dropped in astonishment and terror. 'Do you really think that would happen?' he gasped.
'Yes, to be sure, I do,' answered the boy. 'But it is your affair, not mine. So goodmorning,' and on he went. The wolf stood still for a few minutes, for he was trembling all over, and then crept quietly back to his cave.Next the boy met the fox, whose lovely coat of silvery grey was shining in the sun. 'You look very fine!' said the boy, stopping to admire him, 'are you going to the miller's wedding too?'
'Yes,' answered the fox; 'it is a long journey to take for such a thing as that, but you know what the miller's friends are like-- so dull and heavy! It is only kind to go and amuse them a little.''You poor fellow,' said the boy pityingly. 'Take my advice and stay at home. If you once enter the miller's gate his dogs will tear you in pieces.' 'Ah, well, such things have occurred, I know,' replied the fox gravely. And without saying any more he trotted off the way he had come. His tail had scarcely disappeared, when a great noise of crashing branches was heard, and up bounded the horse, his black skin glistening like satin.
'Good-morning,' he called to the boy as he galloped past, 'I can't wait to talk to you now. I have promised the miller to be present at his wedding-feast, and they won't sit down till I come.''Stop! stop!' cried the boy after him, and there was something in his voice that made the horse pull up. 'What is the matter?' asked he.
'You don't know what you are doing,' said the boy. 'If once you go there you will never gallop through these woods any more. You are stronger than many men, but they will catch you and put ropes round you, and you will have to work and to serve them all the days of your life.'
The horse threw back his head at these words, and laughed scornfully. 'Yes, I am stronger than many men,' answered he, 'and all the ropes in the world would not hold me. Let them bind me as fast as they will, I can always break loose, and return to the forest and freedom.'And with this proud speech he gave a whisk of his long tail, and galloped away faster than before.
But when he reached the miller's house everything happened as the boy had said. While he was looking at the guests and thinking how much handsomer and stronger he was than any of them, a rope was suddenly flung over his head, and he was thrown down and a bit thrust between his teeth. Then, in spite of his struggles, he was dragged to a stable, and shut up for several days without any food, till his spirit was broken and his coat had lost its gloss. After that he was harnessed to a plough, and had plenty of time to remember all he had lost through not listening to the counsel of the boy.
When the horse had turned a deaf ear to his words the boy wandered idly along, sometimes gathering wild strawberries from a bank, and sometimes plucking wild cherries from a tree, till he reached a clearing in the middle of the forest. Crossing this open space was a beautiful milk-white cow with a wreath of flowers round her neck.'Good-morning,' she said pleasantly, as she came up to the place where the boy was standing. 'Good-morning,' he returned. 'Where are you going in such a hurry?' 'To the miller's wedding; I am rather late already, for the wreath took such a long time to make, so I can't stop.' 'Don't go,' said the boy earnestly;' when once they have tasted your milk they will never let you leave them, and you will have to serve them all the days of your life.'
'Oh, nonsense; what do yon know about it?' answered the cow, who always thought she was wiser than other people. 'Why, I can run twice as fast as any of them! I should like to see anybody try to keep me against my will.' And, without even a polite bow, she went on her way, feeling very much offended.
But everything turned out just as the boy had said. The company had all heard of the fame of the cow's milk, and persuaded her to give them some, and then her doom was sealed. A crowd gathered round her, and held her horns so that she could not use them, and, like the horse, she was shut in the stable, and only let out in the mornings, when a long rope was tied round her head, and she was fastened to a stake in a grassy meadow.And so it happened to the goat and to the sheep.
Last of all came the reindeer, looking as he always did, as if some serious business was on hand.
'Where are you going?' asked the boy, who by this time was tired of wild cherries, and was thinking of his dinner.
'That is exactly why I am quite safe,' replied the reindeer. 'I am so strong that no one can bind me, and so swift that not even an arrow can catch me. So, goodbye for the present, you will soon see me back.'
But none of the animals that went to the miller's wedding ever came back. And because they were self-willed and conceited, and would not listen to good advice, they and their children have been the servants of men to this very day.[Lapplandische Mahrchen.]
Several hundreds of years ago there lived in a forest a wood- cutter and his wife and children. He was very poor, having only his axe to depend upon, and two mules to carry the wood he cut to the neighbouring town; but he worked hard, and was always out of bed by five o'clock, summer and winter.
This went on for twenty years, and though his sons were now grown up, and went with their father to the forest, everything seemed to go against them, and they remained as poor as ever. In the end the wood-cutter lost heart, and said to himself:
'What is the good of working like this if I never am a penny the richer at the end? I shall go to the forest no more! And perhaps, if I take to my bed, and do not run after Fortune, one day she may come to me.'So the next morning he did not get up, and when six o'clock struck, his wife, who had been cleaning the house, went to see what was the matter. 'Are you ill?' she asked wonderingly, surprised at not finding him dressed. 'The cock has crowed ever so often. It is high time for you to get up.' 'Why should I get up?' asked the man, without moving. 'Why? to go to the forest, of course.' 'Yes; and when I have toiled all day I hardly earn enough to give us one meal.' 'But what can we do, my poor husband?' said she. 'It is just a trick of Fortune's, who would never smile upon us.' 'Well, I have had my fill of Fortune's tricks,' cried he. 'If she wants me she can find me here. But I have done with the wood for ever.'
'My dear husband, grief has driven you mad! Do you think Fortune will come to anybody who does not go after her? Dress yourself, and saddle the mules, and begin your work. Do you know that there is not a morsel of bread in the house?''I don't care if there isn't, and I am not going to the forest. It is no use your talking; nothing will make me change my mind.'
The distracted wife begged and implored in vain; her husband persisted in staying in bed, and at last, in despair, she left him and went back to her work.
An hour or two later a man from the nearest village knocked at her door, and when she opened it, he said to her: 'Good-morning, mother. I have got a job to do, and I want to know if your husband will lend me your mules, as I see he is not using them, and can lend me a hand himself?'
So the man left the house, and leading the mules from the stable, placed two sacks on their back, and drove them to a field where he had found a hidden treasure. He filled the sacks with the money, though he knew perfectly well that it belonged to the sultan, and was driving them quietly home again, when he saw two soldiers coming along the road. Now the man was aware that if he was caught he would be condemned to death, so he fled back into the forest. The mules, left to themselves, took the path that led to their master's stable.
The wood-cutter's wife was looking out of the window when the mules drew up before the door, so heavily laden that they almost sank under their burdens. She lost no time in calling her husband, who was still lying in bed.'Quick! quick! get up as fast as you can. Our two mules have returned with sacks on their backs, so heavily laden with something or other that the poor beasts can hardly stand up.' 'Wife, I have told you a dozen times already that I am not going to get up. Why can't you leave me in peace?'
As she found she could get no help from her husband the woman took a large knife and cut the cords which bound the sacks on to the animals' backs. They fell at once to the ground, and out poured a rain of gold pieces, till the little court-yard shone like the sun.'A treasure!' gasped the woman, as soon as she could speak from surprise. 'A treasure!' And she ran off to tell her husband.
'Get up! get up!' she cried. 'You were quite right not to go to the forest, and to await Fortune in your bed; she has come at last! Our mules have returned home laden with all the gold in the world, and it is now lying in the court. No one in the whole country can be as rich as we are!'
In an instant the wood-cutter was on his feet, and running to the court, where he paused dazzled by the glitter of the coins which lay around him.
'You see, my dear wife, that I was right,' he said at last. 'Fortune is so capricious, you can never count on her. Run after her, and she is sure to fly from you; stay still, and she is sure to come.'[Traditions Populaires de l'Asie Mineure.]
Once upon a time an old woman lived in a small cottage near the sea with her two daughters. They were very poor, and the girls seldom left the house, as they worked all day long making veils for the ladies to wear over their faces, and every morning, when the veils were finished, the other took them over the bridge and sold them in the city. Then she bought the food that they needed for the day, and returned home to do her share of veil-making.
One morning the old woman rose even earlier than usual, and set off for the city with her wares. She was just crossing the bridge when, suddenly, she knocked up against a human head, which she had never seen there before. The woman started back in horror; but what was her surprise when the head spoke, exactly as if it had a body joined on to it.'Take me with you, good mother!' it said imploringly; 'take me with you back to your house.'
At the sound of these words the poor woman nearly went mad with terror. Have that horrible thing always at home? Never! never! And she turned and ran back as fast as she could, not knowing that the head was jumping, dancing, and rolling after her. But when she reached her own door it bounded in before her, and stopped in front of the fire, begging and praying to be allowed to stay.
All that day there was no food in the house, for the veils had not been sold, and they had no money to buy anything with. So they all sat silent at their work, inwardly cursing the head which was the cause of their misfortunes.When evening came, and there was no sign of supper, the head spoke, for the first time that day: 'Good mother, does no one ever eat here? During all the hours I have spent in your house not a creature has touched anything.' 'No,' answered the old woman, 'we are not eating anything.' 'And why not, good mother?' 'Because we have no money to buy any food.' 'Is it your custom never to eat?'
'No, for every morning I go into the city to sell my veils, and with the few shillings I get for them I buy all we want. To-day I did not cross the bridge, so of course I had nothing for food.'
'Then I am the cause of your having gone hungry all day?' asked the head.
'Well, then, I will give you money and plenty of it, if you will only do as I tell you. In an hour, as the clock strikes twelve, you must be on the bridge at the place where you met me. When you get there call out "Ahmed," three times, as loud as you can. Then a negro will appear, and you must say to him: "The head, your master, desires you to open the trunk, and to give me the green purse which you will find in it."''Very well, my lord,' said the old woman, 'I will set off at once for the bridge.' And wrapping her veil round her she went out. Midnight was striking as she reached the spot where she had met the head so many hours before. 'Ahmed! Ahmed! Ahmed!' cried she, and immediately a huge negro, as tall as a giant, stood on the bridge before her. 'What do you want?' asked he. 'The head, your master, desires you to open the trunk, and to give me the green purse which you will find in it.' 'I will be back in a moment, good mother,' said he. And three minutes later he placed a purse full of sequins in the old woman's hand.
No one can imagine the joy of the whole family at the sight of all this wealth. The tiny, tumble-down cottage was rebuilt, the girls had new dresses, and their mother ceased selling veils. It was such a new thing to them to have money to spend, that they were not as careful as they might have been, and by-and-by there was not a single coin left in the purse. When this happened their hearts sank within them, and their faces fell.
'Have you spent your fortune?' asked the head from its corner, when it saw how sad they looked. 'Well, then, go at midnight, good mother, to the bridge, and call out "Mahomet!" three times, as loud as you can. A negro will appear in answer, and you must tell him to open the trunk, and to give you the red purse which he will find there.'The old woman did not need twice telling, but set off at once for the bridge. 'Mahomet! Mahomet! Mahomet!' cried she, with all her might; and in an instant a negro, still larger than the last, stood before her.
'What do you want?' asked he. 'The head, your master, bids you open the trunk, and to give me the red purse which you will find in it.''Very well, good mother, I will do so,' answered the negro, and, the moment after he had vanished, he reappeared with the purse in his hand.
This time the money seemed so endless that the old woman built herself a new house, and filled it with the most beautiful things that were to be found in the shops. Her daughters were always wrapped in veils that looked as if they were woven out of sunbeams, and their dresses shone with precious stones. The neighbours wondered where all this sudden wealth had sprung from, but nobody knew about the head.'Good mother,' said the head, one day, 'this morning you are to go to the city and ask the sultan to give me his daughter for my bride.'
'Do what?' asked the old woman in amazement. 'How can I tell the sultan that a head without a body wishes to become his son-in- law? They will think that I am mad, and I shall be hooted from the palace and stoned by the children.''Do as I bid you,' replied the head; 'it is my will.'
The old woman was afraid to say anything more, and, putting on her richest clothes, started for the palace. The sultan granted her an audience at once, and, in a trembling voice, she made her request.'Are you mad, old woman?' said the sultan, staring at her. 'The wooer is powerful, O Sultan, and nothing is impossible to him.' 'Is that true?' 'It is, O Sultan; I swear it,' answered she. 'Then let him show his power by doing three things, and I will give him my daughter.' 'Command, O gracious prince,' said she. 'Do you see that hill in front of the palace?' asked the sultan. 'I see it,' answered she. 'Well, in forty days the man who has sent you must make that hill vanish, and plant a beautiful garden in its place. That is the first thing. Now go, and tell him what I say.' So the old woman returned and told the head the sultan's first condition. 'It is well,' he replied; and said no more about it.
For thirty-nine days the head remained in its favourite corner. The old woman thought that the task set before was beyond his powers, and that no more would be heard about the sultan's daughter. But on the thirty-ninth evening after her visit to the palace, the head suddenly spoke.
'Good mother,' he said, 'you must go to-night to the bridge, and when you are there cry "Ali! Ali! Ali!" as loud as you can. A negro will appear before you, and you will tell him that he is to level the hill, and to make, in its place, the most beautiful garden that ever was seen.''I will go at once,' answered she.
It did not take her long to reach the bridge which led to the city, and she took up her position on the spot where she had first seen the head, and called loudly 'Ali! Ali! Ali.' In an instant a negro appeared before her, of such a huge size that the old woman was half frightened; but his voice was mild and gentle as he said: 'What is it that you want?''Your master bids you level the hill that stands in front of the sultan's palace and in its place to make the most beautiful garden in the world.' 'Tell my master he shall be obeyed,' replied Ali; 'it shall be done this moment.' And the old woman went home and gave Ali's message to the head. Meanwhile the sultan was in his palace waiting till the fortieth day should dawn, and wondering that not one spadeful of earth should have been dug out of the hill. 'If that old woman has been playing me a trick,' thought he, 'I will hang her! And I will put up a gallows to-morrow on the hill itself.'
But when to-morrow came there was no hill, and when the sultan opened his eyes he could not imagine why the room was so much lighter than usual, and what was the reason of the sweet smell of flowers that filled the air.
'Can there be a fire?' he said to himself; 'the sun never came in at this window before. I must get up and see.' So he rose and looked out, and underneath him flowers from every part of the world were blooming, and creepers of every colour hung in chains from tree to tree.
Then he remembered. 'Certainly that old woman's son is a clever magician!' cried he; 'I never met anyone as clever as that. What shall I give him to do next? Let me think. Ah! I know.' And he sent for the old woman, who by the orders of the head, was waiting below.
'Your son has carried out my wishes very nicely,' he said. 'The garden is larger and better than that of any other king. But when I walk across it I shall need some place to rest on the other side. In forty days he must build me a palace, in which every room shall be filled with different furniture from a different country, and each more magnificent than any room that ever was seen.' And having said this he turned round and went away.'Oh! he will never be able to do that,' thought she; 'it is much more difficult than the hill.' And she walked home slowly, with her head bent. 'Well, what am I to do next?' asked the head cheerfully. And the old woman told her story.
'Dear me! is that all? why it is child's play,' answered the head; and troubled no more about the palace for thirty-nine days. Then he told the old woman to go to the bridge and call for Hassan.'What do you want, old woman?' asked Hassan, when he appeared, for he was not as polite as the others had been. 'Your master commands you to build the most magnificent palace that ever was seen,' replied she; 'and you are to place it on the borders of the new garden.' 'He shall be obeyed,' answered Hassan. And when the sultan woke he saw, in the distance, a palace built of soft blue marble, resting on slender pillars of pure gold.
'That old woman's son is certainly all-powerful,' cried he; 'what shall I bid him do now?' And after thinking some time he sent for the old woman, who was expecting the summons.
'The garden is wonderful, and the palace the finest in the world,' said he, 'so fine, that my servants would cut but a sorry figure in it. Let your son fill it with forty slaves whose beauty shall be unequalled, all exactly like each other, and of the same height.'This time the king thought he had invented something totally impossible, and was quite pleased with himself for his cleverness. Thirty-nine days passed, and at midnight on the night of the last the old woman was standing on the bridge. 'Bekir! Bekir! Bekir!' cried she. And a negro appeared, and inquired what she wanted. 'The head, your master, bids you find forty slaves of unequalled beauty, and of the same height, and place them in the sultan's palace on the other side of the garden.'
And when, on the morning of the fortieth day, the sultan went to the blue palace, and was received by the forty slaves, he nearly lost his wits from surprise.
'I will assuredly give my daughter to the old woman's son,' thought he. 'If I were to search all the world through I could never find a more powerful son-in-law.'
So the marriage was celebrated, and great feasts were held in the palace, though the people wept tears to think of the sad fate of their beloved princess. But when the merrymaking was done, and the young couple were alone, the head suddenly disappeared, or, rather, a body was added to it, and one of the handsomest young men that ever was seen stood before the princess.'A wicked fairy enchanted me at my birth,' he said, 'and for the rest of the world I must always be a head only. But for you, and you only, I am a man like other men.' 'And that is all I care about,' said the princess. [Traditions populaires de toutes les nations (Asie Mineure)].
A long time ago there lived a young prince whose favourite playfellow was the son of the gardener who lived in the grounds of the palace. The king would have preferred his choosing a friend from the pages who were brought up at court; but the prince would have nothing to say to them, and as he was a spoilt child, and allowed his way in all things, and the gardener's boy was quiet and well-behaved, he was suffered to be in the palace, morning, noon, and night.
The game the children loved the best was a match at archery, for the king had given them two bows exactly alike, and they would spend whole days in trying to see which could shoot the highest. This is always very dangerous, and it was a great wonder they did not put their eyes out; but somehow or other they managed to escape.
One morning, when the prince had done his lessons, he ran out to call his friend, and they both hurried off to the lawn which was their usual playground. They took their bows out of the little hut where their toys were kept, and began to see which could shoot the highest. At last they happened to let fly their arrows both together, and when they fell to earth again the tail feather of a golden hen was found sticking in one. Now the question began to arise whose was the lucky arrow, for they were both alike, and look as closely as you would you could see no difference between them. The prince declared that the arrow was his, and the gardener's boy was quite sure it was HIS--and on this occasion he was perfectly right; but, as they could not decide the matter, they went straight to the king.
When the king had heard the story, he decided that the feather belonged to his son; but the other boy would not listen to this and claimed the feather for himself. At length the king's patience gave way, and he said angrily:
'Very well; if you are so sure that the feather is yours, yours it shall be; only you will have to seek till you find a golden hen with a feather missing from her tail. And if you fail to find her your head will be the forfeit.'
The boy had need of all his courage to listen silently to the king's words. He had no idea where the golden hen might be, or even, if he discovered that, how he was to get to her. But there was nothing for it but to do the king's bidding, and he felt that the sooner he left the palace the better. So he went home and put some food into a bag, and then set forth, hoping that some accident might show him which path to take.After walking for several hours he met a fox, who seemed inclined to be friendly, and the boy was so glad to have anyone to talk to that he sat down and entered into conversation.
'Where are you going?' asked the fox. 'I have got to find a golden hen who has lost a feather out of her tail,' answered the boy; 'but I don't know where she lives or how I shall catch her!'
'Oh, I can show you the way!' said the fox, who was really very good-natured. 'Far towards the east, in that direction, lives a beautiful maiden who is called "The Sister of the Sun." She has three golden hens in her house. Perhaps the feather belongs to one of them.'
The boy was delighted at this news, and they walked on all day together, the fox in front, and the boy behind. When evening came they lay down to sleep, and put the knapsack under their heads for a pillow.
Suddenly, about midnight, the fox gave a low whine, and drew nearer to his bedfellow. 'Cousin,' he whispered very low, 'there is someone coming who will take the knapsack away from me. Look over there!' And the boy, peeping through the bushes, saw a man.
'Oh, I don't think he will rob us!' said the boy; and when the man drew near, he told them his story, which so much interested the stranger that he asked leave to travel with them, as he might be of some use. So when the sun rose they set out again, the fox in front as before, the man and boy following.
After some hours they reached the castle of the Sister of the Sun, who kept the golden hens among her treasures. They halted before the gate and took counsel as to which of them should go in and see the lady herself.'I think it would be best for me to enter and steal the hens,' said the fox; but this did not please the boy at all. 'No, it is my business, so it is right that I should go,' answered he. 'You will find it a very difficult matter to get hold of the hens,' replied the fox. 'Oh, nothing is likely to happen to me,' returned the boy. 'Well, go then,' said the fox, 'but be careful not to make any mistake. Steal only the hen which has the feather missing from her tail, and leave the others alone.' The man listened, but did not interfere, and the boy entered the court of the palace.
He soon spied the three hens strutting proudly about, though they were really anxiously wondering if there were not some grains lying on the ground that they might be glad to eat. And as the last one passed by him, he saw she had one feather missing from her tail.
At this sight the youth darted forward and seized the hen by the neck so that she could not struggle. Then, tucking her comfortably under his arm, he made straight for the gate. Unluckily, just as he was about to go through it he looked back and caught a glimpse of wonderful splendours from an open door of the palace. 'After all, there is no hurry,' he said to himself; 'I may as well see something now I AM here,' and turned back, forgetting all about the hen, which escaped from under his arm, and ran to join her sisters.
He was so much fascinated by the sight of all the beautiful things which peeped through the door that he scarcely noticed that he had lost the prize he had won; and he did not remember there was such a thing as a hen in the world when he beheld the Sister of the Sun sleeping on a bed before him.
For some time he stood staring; then he came to himself with a start, and feeling that he had no business there, softly stole away, and was fortunate enough to recapture the hen, which he took with him to the gate. On the threshold he stopped again. 'Why should I not look at the Sister of the Sun?' he thought to himself; 'she is asleep, and will never know.' And he turned back for the second time and entered the chamber, while the hen wriggled herself free as before. When he had gazed his fill he went out into the courtyard and picked up his hen who was seeking for corn.
As he drew near the gate he paused. 'Why did I not give her a kiss?' he said to himself; 'I shall never kiss any woman so beautiful.' And he wrung his hands with regret, so that the hen fell to the ground and ran away.
'But I can do it still!' he cried with delight, and he rushed back to the chamber and kissed the sleeping maiden on the forehead. But, alas! when he came out again he found that the hen had grown so shy that she would not let him come near her. And, worse than that, her sisters began to cluck so loud that the Sister of the Sun was awakened by the noise. She jumped up in haste from her bed, and going to the door she said to the boy:'You shall never, never, have my hen till you bring me back my sister who was carried off by a giant to his castle, which is a long way off.'
Slowly and sadly the youth left the palace and told his story to his friends, who were waiting outside the gate, how he had actually held the hen three times in his arms and had lost her.
'I knew that we should not get off so easily,' said the fox, shaking his head; 'but there is no more time to waste. Let us set off at once in search of the sister. Luckily, I know the way.'They walked on for many days, till at length the fox, who, as usual, was going first, stopped suddenly.
'The giant's castle is not far now,' he said, 'but when we reach it you two must remain outside while I go and fetch the princess. Directly I bring her out you must both catch hold of her tight, and get away as fast as you can; while I return to the castle and talk to the giants--for there are many of them--so that they may not notice the escape of the princess.'
A few minutes later they arrived at the castle, and the fox, who had often been there before, slipped in without difficulty. There were several giants, both young and old, in the hall, and they were all dancing round the princess. As soon as they saw the fox they cried out: 'Come and dance too, old fox; it is a long time since we have seen you.'
'I know a charming new dance that I should like to show you; but it can only be done by two people. If the princess will honour me for a few minutes, you will soon see how it is done.'
'Ah, that is delightful; we want something new,' answered they, and placed the princess between the outstretched arms of the fox. In one instant he had knocked over the great stand of lights that lighted the hall, and in the darkness had borne the princess to the gate. His comrades seized hold of her, as they had been bidden, and the fox was back again in the hall before anyone had missed him. He found the giants busy trying to kindle a fire and get some light; but after a bit someone cried out:'Where is the princess?'
'Here, in my arms,' replied the fox. 'Don't be afraid; she is quite safe.' And he waited until he thought that his comrades had gained a good start, and put at least five or six mountains between themselves and the giants. Then he sprang through the door, calling, as he went: 'The maiden is here; take her if you can!'
At these words the giants understood that their prize had escaped, and they ran after the fox as fast as their great legs could carry them, thinking that they should soon come up with the fox, who they supposed had the princess on his back. The fox, on his side, was far too clever to choose the same path that his friends had taken, but would in and out of the forest, till at last even HE was tired out, and fell fast asleep under a tree. Indeed, he was so exhausted with his day's work that he never heard the approach of the giants, and their hands were already stretched out to seize his tail when his eyes opened, and with a tremendous bound he was once more beyond their reach. All the rest of the night the fox ran and ran; but when bright red spread over the east, he stopped and waited till the giants were close upon him. Then he turned, and said quietly: 'Look, there is the Sister of the Sun!'The giants raised their eyes all at once, and were instantly turned into pillars of stone. The fox then made each pillar a low bow, and set off to join his friends.
He knew a great many short cuts across the hills, so it was not long before he came up with them, and all four travelled night and day till they reached the castle of the Sister of the Sun. What joy and feasting there was throughout the palace at the sight of the princess whom they had mourned as dead! and they could not make enough of the boy who had gone through such dangers in order to rescue her. The golden hen was given to him at once, and, more than that, the Sister of the Sun told him that, in a little time, when he was a few years older, she would herself pay a visit to his home and become his wife. The boy could hardly believe his ears when he heard what was in store for him, for his was the most beautiful princess in all the world; and however thick the darkness might be, it fled away at once from the light of a star on her forehead.
So the boy set forth on his journey home, with his friends for company; his heart full of gladness when he thought of the promise of the princess. But, one by one, his comrades dropped off at the places where they had first met him, and he was quite alone when he reached his native town and the gates of the palace. With the golden hen under his arm he presented himself before the king, and told his adventures, and how he was going to have for a wife a princess so wonderful and unlike all other princesses, that the star on her forehead could turn night into day. The king listened silently, and when the boy had done, he said quietly: 'If I find that your story is not true I will have you thrown into a cask of pitch.''It is true--every word of it,' answered the boy; and went on to tell that the day and even the hour were fixed when his bride was to come and seek him.
But as the time drew near, and nothing was heard of the princess, the youth became anxious and uneasy, especially when it came to his ears that the great cask was being filled with pitch, and that sticks were laid underneath to make a fire to boil it with. All day long the boy stood at the window, looking over the sea by which the princess must travel; but there were no signs of her, not even the tiniest white sail. And, as he stood, soldiers came and laid hands on him, and led him up to the cask, where a big fire was blazing, and the horrid black pitch boiling and bubbling over the sides. He looked and shuddered, but there was no escape; so he shut his eyes to avoid seeing.
The word was given for him to mount the steps which led to the top of the cask, when, suddenly, some men were seen running with all their might, crying as they went that a large ship with its sails spread was making straight for the city. No one knew what the ship was, or whence it came; but the king declared that he would not have the boy burned before its arrival, there would always be time enough for that.
At length the vessel was safe in port, and a whisper went through the watching crowd that on board was the Sister of the Sun, who had come to marry the young peasant as she had promised. In a few moments more she had landed, and desired to be shown the way to the cottage which her bridegroom had so often described to her; and whither he had been led back by the king's order at the first sign of the ship.'Don't you know me?' asked the Sister of the Sun, bending over him where he lay, almost driven out of his senses with terror.
'No, no; I don't know you,' answered the youth, without raising his eyes. 'Kiss me,' said the Sister of the Sun; and the youth obeyed her, but still without looking up.'Don't you know me NOW?' asked she. 'No, I don't know you--I don't know you,' he replied, with the manner of a man whom fear had driven mad.
At this the Sister of the Sun grew rather frightened, and beginning at the beginning, she told him the story of his meeting with her, and how she had come a long way in order to marry him. And just as she had finished in walked the king, to see if what the boy had said was really true. But hardly had he opened the door of the cottage when he was almost blinded by the light that filled it; and he remembered what he had been told about the star on the forehead of the princess. He staggered back as if he had been struck, then a curious feeling took hold of him, which he had never felt before, and falling on his knees before the Sister of the Sun, he implored her to give up all thought of the peasant boy, and to share his throne. But she laughed, and said she had a finer throne of her own, if she wanted to sit on it, and that she was free to please herself, and would have no husband but the boy whom she would never have seen except for the king himself.'I shall marry him to-morrow,' ended she; and ordered the preparations to be set on foot at once.
When the next day came, however, the bridegroom's father informed the princess that, by the law of the land, the marriage must take place in the presence of the king; but he hoped his majesty would not long delay his arrival. An hour or two passed, and everyone was waiting and watching, when at last the sound of trumpets was heard and a grand procession was seen marching up the street. A chair covered with velvet had been made ready for the king, and he took his seat upon it, and, looking round upon the assembled company, he said:
'I have no wish to forbid this marriage; but, before I can allow it to be celebrated, the bridegroom must prove himself worthy of such a bride by fulfilling three tasks. And the first is that in a single day he must cut down every tree in an entire forest.
The youth stood aghast as the king's words. He had never cut down a tree in his life, and had not the least idea how to begin. And as for a whole forest--! But the princess saw what was passing in his mind, and whispered to him:
'Don't be afraid. In my ship you will find an axe, which you must carry off to the forest. When you have cut down one tree with it just say: "So let the forest fall," and in an instant all the trees will be on the ground. But pick up three chips of the tree you felled, and put them in your pocket.'
And the young man did exactly as he was bid, and soon returned with the three chips safe in his coat.
The following morning the princess declared that she had been thinking about the matter, and that, as she was not a subject of the king, she saw no reason why she should be bound by his laws; and she meant to be married that very day. But the bridegroom's father told her that it was all very well for her to talk like that, but it was quite different for his son, who would pay with his head for any disobedience to the king's commands. However, in consideration of what the youth had done the day before, he hoped his majesty's heart might be softened, especially as he had sent a message that they might expect him at once. With this the bridal pair had to be content, and be as patient as they could till the king's arrival.
'It is all right,' she whispered encouragingly. 'Take this water and sprinkle it on one of the fallen trees, and say to it: "So let all the trees of the forest stand upright," and in a moment they will be erect again.'And the young man did what he was told, and left the forest looking exactly as it had done before.
Now, surely, thought the princess, there was no longer any need to put off the wedding; and she gave orders that all should be ready for the following day. But again the old man interfered, and declared that without the king's permission no marriage could take place. For the third time his majesty was sent for, and for the third time he proclaimed that he could not give his consent until the bridegroom should have slain a serpent which dwelt in a broad river that flowed at the back of the castle. Everyone knew stories of this terrible serpent, though no one had actually seen it; but from time to time a child strayed from home and never came back, and then mothers would forbid the other children to go near the river, which had juicy fruits and lovely flowers growing along its banks.So no wonder the youth trembled and turned pale when he heard what lay before him.
'You will succeed in this also,' whispered the Sister of the Sun, pressing his hand, 'for in my ship is a magic sword which will cut through everything. Go down to the river and unfasten a boat which lies moored there, and throw the chips into the water. When the serpent rears up its body you will cut off its three heads with one blow of your sword. Then take the tip of each tongue and go with it to-morrow morning into the king's kitchen. If the king himself should enter, just say to him: "Here are three gifts I offer you in return for the services you demanded of me!" and throw the tips of the serpent's tongues at him, and hasten to the ship as fast as your legs will carry you. But be sure you take great care never to look behind you.'
The young man did exactly what the princess had told him. The three chips which he flung into the river became a boat, and, as he steered across the stream, the serpent put up its head and hissed loudly. The youth had his sword ready, and in another second the three heads were bobbing on the water. Guiding his boat till he was beside them, he stooped down and snipped off the ends of the tongues, and then rowed back to the other bank. Next morning he carried them into the royal kitchen, and when the king entered, as was his custom, to see what he was going to have for dinner, the bridegroom flung them in his face, saying: 'Here is a gift for you in return for the services you asked of me.' And, opening the kitchen door, he fled to the ship. Unluckily he missed the way, and in his excitement ran backwards and forwards, without knowing whither he was going. At last, in despair, he looked round, and saw to his amazement that both the city and palace had vanished completely. Then he turned his eyes in the other direction, and, far, far away, he caught sight of the ship with her sails spread, and a fair wind behind her.
This dreadful spectacle seemed to take away his senses, and all day long he wandered about, without knowing where he was going, till, in the evening, he noticed some smoke from a little hut of turf near by. He went straight up to it and cried: 'O mother, let me come in for pity's sake!' The old woman who lived in the hut beckoned to him to enter, and hardly was he inside when he cried again: 'O mother, can you tell me anything of the Sister of the Sun?'But the woman only shook her head. 'No, I know nothing of her,' said she.
The young man turned to leave the hut, but the old woman stopped him, and, giving him a letter, begged him to carry it to her next eldest sister, saying: 'If you should get tired on the way, take out the letter and rustle the paper.'
This advice surprised the young man a good deal, as he did not see how it could help him; but he did not answer, and went down the road without knowing where he was going. At length he grew so tired he could walk no more; then he remembered what the old woman had said. After he had rustled the leaves only once all fatigue disappeared, and he strode over the grass till he came to another little turf hut.
'Let me in, I pray you, dear mother,' cried he. And the door opened in front of him. 'Your sister has sent you this letter,' he said, and added quickly: 'O mother! can you tell me anything of the Sister of the Sun?''No, I know nothing of her,' answered she. But as he turned hopelessly away, she stopped him.
'If you happen to pass my eldest sister's house, will you give her this letter?' said she. 'And if you should get tired on the road, just take it out of your pocket and rustle the paper.'
So the young man put the letter in his pocket, and walked all day over the hills till he reached a little turf hut, exactly like the other two.
'Let me in, I pray you, dear mother,' cried he. And as he entered he added: 'Here is a letter from your sister and--can you tell me anything of the Sister of the Sun?'
'Yes, I can,' answered the old woman. 'She lives in the castle on the Banka. Her father lost a battle only a few days ago because you had stolen his sword from him, and the Sister of the Sun herself is almost dead of grief. But, when you see her, stick a pin into the palm of her hand, and suck the drops of blood that flow. Then she will grow calmer, and will know you again. Only, beware; for before you reach the castle on the Banka fearful things will happen.'
He thanked the old woman with tears of gladness for the good news she had given him, and continued his journey. But he had not gone very far when, at a turn of the road, he met with two brothers, who were quarrelling over a piece of cloth.'My good men, what are you fighting about?' said he. 'That cloth does not look worth much!' 'Oh, it is ragged enough,' answered they, 'but it was left us by our father, and if any man wraps it round him no one can see him; and we each want it for our own.' 'Let me put it round me for a moment,' said the youth, 'and then I will tell you whose it ought to be!'
The brothers were pleased with this idea, and gave him the stuff; but the moment he had thrown it over his shoulder he disappeared as completely as if he had never been there at all.Meanwhile the young man walked briskly along, till he came up with two other men, who were disputing over a table-cloth. 'What is the matter?' asked he, stopping in front of them. 'If this cloth is spread on a table,' answered they, 'the table is instantly covered with the most delicious food; and we each want to have it.' 'Let me try the table-cloth,' said the youth, 'and I will tell you whose it ought to be.'
The two men were quite pleased with this idea, and handed him the cloth. He then hastily threw the first piece of stuff round his shoulders and vanished from sight, leaving the two men grieving over their own folly.
The young man had not walked far before he saw two more men standing by the roadside, both grasping the same stout staff, and sometimes one seemed on the point of getting it, and sometimes the other.
'What are you quarrelling about? You could cut a dozen sticks from the wood each just as good as that!' said the young man. And as he spoke the fighters both stopped and looked at him.
'Ah! you may think so,' said one, 'but a blow from one end of this stick will kill a man, while a touch from the other end will bring him back to life. You won't easily find another stick like that!''No; that is true,' answered the young man. 'Let me just look at it, and I will tell you whose it ought to be.' The men were pleased with the idea, and handed him the staff.
'It is very curious, certainly,' said he; 'but which end is it that restores people to life? After all, anyone can be killed by a blow from a stick if it is only hard enough!' But when he was shown the end he threw the stuff over his shoulders and vanished.At last he saw another set of men, who were struggling for the possession of a pair of shoes. 'Why can't you leave that pair of old shoes alone?' said he. 'Why, you could not walk a yard in them!' 'Yes, they are old enough,' answered they; 'but whoever puts them on and wishes himself at a particular place, gets there without going.' 'That sounds very clever,' said the youth. 'Let me try them, and then I shall be able to tell you whose they ought to be.' The idea pleased the men, and they handed him the shoes; but the moment they were on his feet he cried:
'I wish to be in the castle on the Banka!' And before he knew it, he was there, and found the Sister of the Sun dying of grief. He knelt down by her side, and pulling a pin he stuck it into the palm of her hand, so that a drop of blood gushed out. This he sucked, as he had been told to do by the old woman, and immediately the princess came to herself, and flung her arms round his neck. Then she told him all her story, and what had happened since the ship had sailed away without him. 'But the worst misfortune of all,' she added, 'was a battle which my father lost because you had vanished with his magic sword; and out of his whole army hardly one man was left.'
'Show me the battle-field,' said he. And she took him to a wild heath, where the dead were lying as they fell, waiting for burial. One by one he touched them with the end of his staff, till at length they all stood before him. Throughout the kingdom there was nothing but joy; and THIS time the wedding was REALLY celebrated. And the bridal pair lived happily in the castle on the Banka till they died.
Once upon a time a little boy was born to a king who ruled over a great country through which ran a wide river. The king was nearly beside himself with joy, for he had always longed for a son to inherit his crown, and he sent messages to beg all the most powerful fairies to come and see this wonderful baby. In an hour or two, so many were gathered round the cradle, that the child seemed in danger of being smothered; but the king, who was watching the fairies eagerly, was disturbed to see them looking grave. 'Is there anything the matter?' he asked anxiously.The fairies looked at him, and all shook their heads at once.
'He is a beautiful boy, and it is a great pity; but what IS to happen WILL happen,' said they. 'It is written in the books of fate that he must die, either by a crocodile, or a serpent, or by a dog. If we could save him we would; but that is beyond our power.'And so saying they vanished.
For a time the king stood where he was, horror-stricken at what he had heard; but, being of a hopeful nature, he began at once to invent plans to save the prince from the dreadful doom that awaited him. He instantly sent for his master builder, and bade him construct a strong castle on the top of a mountain, which should be fitted with the most precious things from the king's own palace, and every kind of toy a child could wish to play with. And, besides, he gave the strictest orders that a guard should walk round the castle night and day.
For four or five years the baby lived in the castle alone with his nurses, taking his airings on the broad terraces, which were surrounded by walls, with a moat beneath them, and only a drawbridge to connect them with the outer world.
One day, when the prince was old enough to run quite fast by himself, he looked from the terrace across the moat, and saw a little soft fluffy ball of a dog jumping and playing on the other side. Now, of course, all dogs had been kept from him for fear that the fairies' prophecy should come true, and he had never even beheld one before. So he turned to the page who was walking behind him, and said:'What is that funny little thing which is running so fast over there?' 'That is a dog, prince,' answered the page.
'Well, bring me one like it, and we will see which can run the faster.' And he watched the dog till it had disappeared round the corner.
The page was much puzzled to know what to do. He had strict orders to refuse the prince nothing; yet he remembered the prophecy, and felt that this was a serious matter. At last he thought he had better tell the king the whole story, and let him decide the question.
'Oh, get him a dog if he wants one,' said the king, 'he will only cry his heart out if he does not have it.' So a puppy was found, exactly like the other; they might have been twins, and perhaps they were.Years went by, and the boy and the dog played together till the boy grew tall and strong. The time came at last when he sent a message to his father, saying:
'Why do you keep me shut up here, doing nothing? I know all about the prophecy that was made at my birth, but I would far rather be killed at once than live an idle, useless life here. So give me arms, and let me go, I pray you; me and my dog too.'
And again the king listened to his wishes, and he and his dog were carried in a ship to the other side of the river, which was so broad here it might almost have been the sea. A black horse was waiting for him, tied to a tree, and he mounted and rode away wherever his fancy took him, the dog always at his heels. Never was any prince so happy as he, and he rode and rode till at length he came to a king's palace.
The king who lived in it did not care about looking after his country, and seeing that his people lived cheerful and contented lives. He spent his whole time in making riddles, and inventing plans which he had much better have let alone. At the period when the young prince reached the kingdom he had just completed a wonderful house for his only child, a daughter. It had seventy windows, each seventy feet from the ground, and he had sent the royal herald round the borders of the neighbouring kingdoms to proclaim that whoever could climb up the walls to the window of the princess should win her for his wife.
The fame of the princess's beauty had spread far and wide, and there was no lack of princes who wished to try their fortune. Very funny the palace must have looked each morning, with the dabs of different colour on the white marble as the princes were climbing up the walls. But though some managed to get further than others, nobody was anywhere near the top.
They had already been spending several days in this manner when the young prince arrived, and as he was pleasant to look upon, and civil to talk to, they welcomed him to the house, which had been given to them, and saw that his bath was properly perfumed after his long journey. 'Where do you come from?' they said at last. 'And whose son are you?'But the young prince had reasons for keeping his own secret, and he answered:
'My father was master of the horse to the king of my country, and after my mother died he married another wife. At first all went well, but as soon as she had babies of her own she hated me, and I fled, lest she should do me harm.'
The hearts of the other young men were touched as soon as they heard this story, and they did everything they could think of to make him forget his past sorrows.
'We spend our whole time climbing up the walls of the palace, trying to reach the windows of the princess,' answered the young men; 'but, as yet, no one has reached within ten feet of them.''Oh, let me try too,' cried the prince; 'but to-morrow I will wait and see what you do before I begin.
So the next day he stood where he could watch the young men go up, and he noted the places on the wall that seemed most difficult, and made up his mind that when his turn came he would go up some other way.
Day after day he was to be seen watching the wooers, till, one morning, he felt that he knew the plan of the walls by heart, and took his place by the side of the others. Thanks to what he had learned from the failure of the rest, he managed to grasp one little rough projection after another, till at last, to the envy of his friends, he stood on the sill of the princess's window. Looking up from below, they saw a white hand stretched forth to draw him in.Then one of the young men ran straight to the king's palace, and said: 'The wall has been climbed, and the prize is won!' 'By whom?' cried the king, starting up from his throne; 'which of the princes may I claim as my son-in-law?'
'The youth who succeeded in climbing to the princess's window is not a prince at all,' answered the young man. 'He is the son of the master of the horse to the great king who dwells across the river, and he fled from his own country to escape from the hatred of his stepmother.'At this news the king was very angry, for it had never entered his head that anyone BUT a prince would seek to woo his daughter.
'Let him go back to the land whence he came,' he shouted in wrath; 'does he expect me to give my daughter to an exile?' And he began to smash the drinking vessels in his fury; indeed, he quite frightened the young man, who ran hastily home to his friends, and told the youth what the king had said.
Now the princess, who was leaning from her window, heard his words and bade the messenger go back to the king her father and tell him that she had sworn a vow never to eat or drink again if the youth was taken from her. The king was more angry than ever when he received this message, and ordered his guards to go at once to the palace and put the successful wooer to death; but the princess threw herself between him and his murderers.'Lay a finger on him, and I shall be dead before sunset,' said she; and as they saw that she meant it, they left the palace, and carried the tale to her father.
By this time the king's anger was dying away, and he began to consider what his people would think of him if he broke the promise he had publicly given. So he ordered the princess to be brought before him, and the young man also, and when they entered the throne room he was so pleased with the noble air of the victor that his wrath quite melted away, and he ran to him and embraced him.'Tell me who you are?' he asked, when he had recovered himself a little, 'for I will never believe that you have not royal blood in your veins.'
But the prince still had his reasons for being silent, and only told the same story. However, the king had taken such a fancy to the youth that he said no more, and the marriage took place the following day, and great herds of cattle and a large estate were given to the young couple.After a little while the prince said to his wife: 'My life is in the hands of three creatures-a crocodile, a serpent, and a dog.'
'Ah, how rash you are!' cried the princess, throwing her arms round his neck. 'If you know that, how can you have that horrid beast about you? I will give orders to have him killed at once.'But the prince would not listen to her.
'Kill my dear little dog, who had been my playfellow since he was a puppy?' exclaimed he. 'Oh, never would I allow that.' And all that the princess could get from him was that he would always wear a sword, and have somebody with him when he left the palace.
When the prince and princess had been married a few months, the prince heard that his stepmother was dead, and his father was old and ill, and longing to have his eldest son by his side again. The young man could not remain deaf to such a message, and he took a tender farewell of his wife, and set out on his journey home. It was a long way, and he was forced to rest often on the road, and so it happened that, one night, when he was sleeping in a city on the banks of the great river, a huge crocodile came silently up and made its way along a passage to the prince's room. Fortunately one of his guards woke up as it was trying to steal past them, and shut the crocodile up in a large hall, where a giant watched over it, never leaving the spot except during the night, when the crocodile slept. And this went on for more than a month.
Now, when the prince found that he was not likely to leave his father's kingdom again, he sent for his wife, and bade the messenger tell her that he would await her coming in the town on the banks of the great river. This was the reason why he delayed his journey so long, and narrowly escaped being eaten by the crocodile. During the weeks that followed the prince amused himself as best he could, though he counted the minutes to the arrival of the princess, and when she did come, he at once prepared to start for the court. That very night, however, while he was asleep, the princess noticed something strange in one of the corners of the room. It was a dark patch, and seemed, as she looked, to grow longer and longer, and to be moving slowly towards the cushions on which the prince was lying. She shrank in terror, but, slight as was the noise, the thing heard it, and raised its head to listen. Then she saw it was the long flat head of a serpent, and the recollection of the prophecy rushed into her mind. Without waking her husband, she glided out of bed, and taking up a heavy bowl of milk which stood on a table, laid it on the floor in the path of the serpent--for she knew that no serpent in the world can resist milk. She held her breath as the snake drew near, and watched it throw up its head again as if it was smelling something nice, while its forky tongue darted out greedily. At length its eyes fell upon the milk, and in an instant it was lapping it so fast that it was a wonder the creature did not choke, for it never took its head from the bowl as long as a drop was left in it. After that it dropped on the ground and slept heavily. This was what the princess had been waiting for, and catching up her husband's sword, she severed the snake's head from its body.
The morning after this adventure the prince and princess set out for the king's palace, but found when they reached it, that he was already dead. They gave him a magnificent burial, and then the prince had to examine the new laws which had been made in his absence, and do a great deal of business besides, till he grew quite ill from fatigue, and was obliged to go away to one of his palaces on the banks of the river, in order to rest. Here he soon got better, and began to hunt, and to shoot wild duck with his bow; and wherever he went, his dog, now grown very old, went with him.
One morning the prince and his dog were out as usual, and in chasing their game they drew near the bank of the river. The prince was running at full speed after his dog when he almost fell over something that looked like a log of wood, which was lying in his path. To his surprise a voice spoke to him, and he saw that the thing which he had taken for a branch was really a crocodile.
'You cannot escape from me,' it was saying, when he had gathered his senses again. 'I am your fate, and wherever you go, and whatever you do, you will always find me before you. There is only one means of shaking off my power. If you can dig a pit in the dry sand which will remain full of water, my spell will be broken. If not death will come to you speedily. I give you this one chance. Now go.'
The young man walked sadly away, and when he reached the palace he shut himself into his room, and for the rest of the day refused to see anyone, not even his wife. At sunset, however, as no sound could be heard through the door, the princess grew quite frightened, and made such a noise that the prince was forced to draw back the bolt and let her come in. 'How pale you look,' she cried, 'has anything hurt you? Tell me, I pray you, what is the matter, for perhaps I can help!'
So the prince told her the whole story, and of the impossible task given him by the crocodile.
'How can a sand hole remain full of water?' asked he. 'Of course, it will all run through. The crocodile called it a "chance"; but he might as well have dragged me into the river at once. He said truly that I cannot escape him.'
'Oh, if that is all,' cried the princess, 'I can set you free myself, for my fairy godmother taught me to know the use of plants and in the desert not far from here there grows a little four-leaved herb which will keep the water in the pit for a whole year. I will go in search of it at dawn, and you can begin to dig the hole as soon as you like.
To comfort her husband, the princess had spoken lightly and gaily; but she knew very well she had no light task before her. Still, she was full of courage and energy, and determined that, one way or another, her husband should be saved.
It was still starlight when she left the palace on a snow-white donkey, and rode away from the river straight to the west. For some time she could see nothing before her but a flat waste of sand, which became hotter and hotter as the sun rose higher and higher. Then a dreadful thirst seized her and the donkey, but there was no stream to quench it, and if there had been she would hardly have had time to stop, for she still had far to go, and must be back before evening, or else the crocodile might declare that the prince had not fulfilled his conditions. So she spoke cheering words to her donkey, who brayed in reply, and the two pushed steadily on.
Oh! how glad they both were when they caught sight of a tall rock in the distance. They forgot that they were thirsty, and that the sun was hot; and the ground seemed to fly under their feet, till the donkey stopped of its own accord in the cool shadow. But though the donkey might rest the princess could not, for the plant, as she knew, grew on the very top of the rock, and a wide chasm ran round the foot of it. Luckily she had brought a rope with her, and making a noose at one end, she flung it across with all her might. The first time it slid back slowly into the ditch, and she had to draw it up, and throw it again, but at length the noose caught on something, the princess could not see what, and had to trust her whole weight to this little bridge, which might snap and let her fall deep down among the rocks. And in that case her death was as certain as that of the prince.
But nothing so dreadful happened. The princess got safely to the other side, and then became the worst part of her task. As fast as she put her foot on a ledge of the rock the stone broke away from under her, and left her in the same place as before. Meanwhile the hours were passing, and it was nearly noon.
The heart of the poor princess was filled with despair, but she would not give up the struggle. She looked round till she saw a small stone above her which seemed rather stronger than the rest, and by only poising her foot lightly on those that lay between, she managed by a great effort to reach it. In this way, with torn and bleeding hands, she gained the top; but here such a violent wind was blowing that she was almost blinded with dust, and was obliged to throw herself on the ground, and feel about after the precious herb.
For a few terrible moments she thought that the rock was bare, and that her journey had been to no purpose. Feel where she would, there was nothing but grit and stones, when, suddenly, her fingers touched something soft in a crevice. It was a plant, that was clear; but was it the right one? See she could not, for the wind was blowing more fiercely than ever, so she lay where she was and counted the leaves. One, two, three--yes! yes! there were four! And plucking a leaf she held it safe in her hand while she turned, almost stunned by the wind, to go down the rock.
When once she was safely over the side all became still in a moment, and she slid down the rock so fast that it was only a wonder that she did not land in the chasm. However, by good luck, she stopped quite close to her rope bridge and was soon across it. The donkey brayed joyfully at the sight of her, and set off home at his best speed, never seeming to know that the earth under his feet was nearly as hot as the sun above him.
On the bank of the great river he halted, and the princess rushed up to where the prince was standing by the pit he had digged in the dry sand, with a huge water pot beside it. A little way off the crocodile lay blinking in the sun, with his sharp teeth and whity-yellow jaws wide open.
At a signal from the princess the prince poured the water in the hole, and the moment it reached the brim the princess flung in the four-leaved plant. Would the charm work, or would the water trickle away slowly through the sand, and the prince fall a victim to that horrible monster? For half an hour they stood with their eyes rooted to the spot, but the hole remained as full as at the beginning, with the little green leaf floating on the top. Then the prince turned with a shout of triumph, and the crocodile sulkily plunged into the river.The prince had escape for ever the second of his three fates!
He stood there looking after the crocodile, and rejoicing that he was free, when he was startled by a wild duck which flew past them, seeking shelter among the rushes that bordered the edge of the stream. In another instant his dog dashed by in hot pursuit, and knocked heavily against his master's legs. The prince staggered, lost his balance and fell backwards into the river, where the mud and the rushes caught him and held him fast. He shrieked for help to his wife, who came running; and luckily brought her rope with her. The poor old dog was drowned, but the prince was pulled to shore. 'My wife,' he said, 'has been stronger than my fate.'[Adapted from Les Contes Populaires de l'Egypte Ancienne.]
Once upon a time a fox lay peeping out of his hole, watching the road that ran by at a little distance, and hoping to see something that might amuse him, for he was feeling very dull and rather cross. For a long while he watched in vain; everything seemed asleep, and not even a bird stirred overhead. The fox grew crosser than ever, and he was just turning away in disgust from his place when he heard the sound of feet coming over the snow. He crouched eagerly down at the edge of the road and said to himself: 'I wonder what would happen if I were to pretend to be dead! This is a man driving a reindeer sledge, I know the tinkling of the harness. And at any rate I shall have an adventure, and that is always something!'
So he stretched himself out by the side of the road, carefully choosing a spot where the driver could not help seeing him, yet where the reindeer would not tread on him; and all fell out just as he had expected. The sledge-driver pulled up sharply, as his eyes lighted on the beautiful animal lying stiffly beside him, and jumping out he threw the fox into the bottom of the sledge, where the goods he was carrying were bound tightly together by ropes. The fox did not move a muscle though his bones were sore from the fall, and the driver got back to his seat again and drove on merrily.
But before they had gone very far, the fox, who was near the edge, contrived to slip over, and when the Laplander saw him stretched out on the snow he pulled up his reindeer and put the fox into one of the other sledges that was fastened behind, for it was market-day at the nearest town, and the man had much to sell.
They drove on a little further, when some noise in the forest made the man turn his head, just in time to see the fox fall with a heavy thump on to the frozen snow. 'That beast is bewitched!' he said to himself, and then he threw the fox into the last sledge of all, which had a cargo of fishes. This was exactly what the cunning creature wanted, and he wriggled gently to the front and bit the cord which tied the sledge to the one before it so that it remained standing in the middle of the road.
Now there were so many sledges that the Lapp did not notice for a long while that one was missing; indeed, he would have entered the town without knowing if snow had not suddenly begun to fall. Then he got down to secure more firmly the cloths that kept his goods dry, and going to the end of the long row, discovered that the sledge containing the fish and the fox was missing. He quickly unharnessed one of his reindeer and rode back along the way he had come, to find the sledge standing safe in the middle of the road; but as the fox had bitten off the cord close to the noose there was no means of moving it away.
The fox meanwhile was enjoying himself mightily. As soon as he had loosened the sledge, he had taken his favourite fish from among the piles neatly arranged for sale, and had trotted off to the forest with it in his mouth. By-and-by he met a bear, who stopped and said: 'Where did you find that fish, Mr. Fox?''Oh, not far off,' answered he; 'I just stuck my tail in the stream close by the place where the elves dwell, and the fish hung on to it of itself.' 'Dear me,' snarled the bear, who was hungry and not in a good temper, 'if the fish hung on to your tail, I suppose he will hang on to mine.' 'Yes, certainly, grandfather,' replied the fox, 'if you have patience to suffer what I suffered.' 'Of course I can,' replied the bear, 'what nonsense you talk! Show me the way.' So the fox led him to the bank of a stream, which, being in a warm place, had only lightly frozen in places, and was at this moment glittering in the spring sunshine. 'The elves bathe here,' he said, 'and if you put in your tail the fish will catch hold of it. But it is no use being in a hurry, or you will spoil everything.'
Then he trotted off, but only went out of sight of the bear, who stood still on the bank with his tail deep in the water. Soon the sun set and it grew very cold and the ice formed rapidly, and the bear's tail was fixed as tight as if a vice had held it; and when the fox saw that everything had happened just as he had planned it, he called out loudly:'Be quick, good people, and come with your bows and spears. A bear has been fishing in your brook!'
And in a moment the whole place was full of little creatures each one with a tiny bow and a spear hardly big enough for a baby; but both arrows and spears could sting, as the bear knew very well, and in his fright he gave such a tug to his tail that it broke short off, and he rolled away into the forest as fast as his legs could carry him. At this sight the fox held his sides for laughing, and then scampered away in another direction. By-and- by he came to a fir tree, and crept into a hole under the root. After that he did something very strange.Taking one of his hind feet between his two front paws, he said softly: 'What would you do, my foot, if someone was to betray me?' 'I would run so quickly that he should not catch you.' 'What would you do, mine ear, if someone was to betray me?' 'I would listen so hard that I should hear all his plans.' 'What would you do, my nose, if someone was to betray me?' 'I would smell so sharply that I should know from afar that he was coming.' 'What would you do, my tail, if someone was to betray me?' 'I would steer you so straight a course that you would soon be beyond his reach. Let us be off; I feel as if danger was near.'
But the fox was comfortable where he was, and did not hurry himself to take his tail's advice. And before very long he found he was too late, for the bear had come round by another path, and guessing where his enemy was began to scratch at the roots of the tree. The fox made himself as small as he could, but a scrap of his tail peeped out, and the bear seized it and held it tight. Then the fox dug his claws into the ground, but he was not strong enough to pull against the bear, and slowly he was dragged forth and his body flung over the bear's neck. In this manner they set out down the road, the fox's tail being always in the bear's mouth.After they had gone some way, they passed a tree-stump, on which a bright coloured woodpecker was tapping. 'Ah! those were better times when I used to paint all the birds such gay colours,' sighed the fox. 'What are you saying, old fellow?' asked the bear. 'I? Oh, I was saying nothing,' answered the fox drearily. 'Just carry me to your cave and eat me up as quick as you can.' The bear was silent, and thought of his supper; and the two continued their journey till they reached another tree with a woodpecker tapping on it. 'Ah! those were better times when I used to paint all the birds such gay colours,' said the fox again to himself. 'Couldn't you paint me too?' asked the bear suddenly. But the fox shook his head; for he was always acting, even if no one was there to see him do it.
'You bear pain so badly,' he replied, in a thoughtful voice, 'and you are impatient besides, and could never put up with all that is necessary. Why, you would first have to dig a pit, and then twist ropes of willow, and drive in posts and fill the hole with pitch, and, last of all, set it on fire. Oh, no; you would never be able to do all that.'
'It does not matter a straw how hard the work is,' answered the bear eagerly, 'I will do it every bit.' And as he spoke he began tearing up the earth so fast that soon a deep pit was ready, deep enough to hold him.
'That is all right,' said the fox at last, 'I see I was mistaken in you. Now sit here, and I will bind you.' So the bear sat down on the edge of the pit, and the fox sprang on his back, which he crossed with the willow ropes, and then set fire to the pitch. It burnt up in an instant, and caught the bands of willow and the bear's rough hair; but he did not stir, for he thought that the fox was rubbing the bright colours into his skin, and that he would soon be as beautiful as a whole meadow of flowers. But when the fire grew hotter still he moved uneasily from one foot to the other, saying, imploringly: 'It is getting rather warm, old man.' But all the answer he got was: 'I thought you would never be able to suffer pain like those little birds.'
The bear did not like being told that he was not as brave as a bird, so he set his teeth and resolved to endure anything sooner than speak again; but by this time the last willow band had burned through, and with a push the fox sent his victim tumbling into the grass, and ran off to hide himself in the forest. After a while he stole cautiously and found, as he expected, nothing left but a few charred bones. These he picked up and put in a bag, which he slung over his back.By-and-by he met a Lapp driving his team of reindeer along the road, and as he drew near, the fox rattled the bones gaily. 'That sounds like silver or gold,' thought the man to himself. And he said politely to the fox: 'Good-day, friend! What have you got in your bag that makes such a strange sound?' 'All the wealth my father left me,' answered the fox. 'Do you feel inclined to bargain?' 'Well, I don't mind,' replied the Lapp, who was a prudent man, and did not wish the fox to think him too eager; 'but show me first what money you have got.' 'Ah, but I can't do that,' answered the fox, 'my bag is sealed up. But if you will give me those three reindeer, you shall take it as it is, with all its contents.'
The Lapp did not quite like it, but the fox spoke with such an air that his doubts melted away. He nodded, and stretched out his hand; the fox put the bag into it, and unharnassed the reindeer he had chosen.
'Oh, I forgot!' he exclaimed, turning round, as he was about to drive them in the opposite direction, 'you must be sure not to open the bag until you have gone at least five miles, right on the other side of those hills out there. If you do, you will find that all the gold and silver has changed into a parcel of charred bones.' Then he whipped up his reindeer, and was soon out of sight.
For some time the Lapp was satisfied with hearing the bones rattle, and thinking to himself what a good bargain he had made, and of all the things he would buy with the money. But, after a bit, this amusement ceased to content him, and besides, what was the use of planning when you did not know for certain how rich you were? Perhaps there might be a great deal of silver and only a little gold in the bag; or a great deal of gold, and only a little silver. Who could tell? He would not, of course, take the money out to count it, for that might bring him bad luck. But there could be no harm in just one peep! So he slowly broke the seal, and untied the strings, and, behold, a heap of burnt bones lay before him! In a minute he knew he had been tricked, and flinging the bag to the ground in a rage, he ran after the fox as fast as his snow-shoes would carry him.
Now the fox had guessed exactly what would happen, and was on the look out. Directly he saw the little speck coming towards him, he wished that the man's snow-shoes might break, and that very instant the Lapp's shoes snapped in two. The Lapp did now know that this was the fox's work, but he had to stop and fetch one of his other reindeer, which he mounted, and set off again in pursuit of his enemy. The fox soon heard him coming, and this time he wished that the reindeer might fall and break its leg. And so it did; and the man felt it was a hopeless chase, and that he was no match for the fox.
So the fox drove on in peace till he reached the cave where all his stores were kept, and then he began to wonder whom he could get to help him kill his reindeer, for though he could steal reindeer he was too small to kill them. 'After all, it will be quite easy,' thought he, and he bade a squirrel, who was watching him on a tree close by, take a message to all the robber beasts of the forest, and in less than half an hour a great crashing of branches was heard, and bears, wolves, snakes, mice, frogs, and other creatures came pressing up to the cave.
When they heard why they had been summoned, they declared themselves ready each one to do his part. The bear took his crossbow from his neck and shot the reindeer in the chin; and, from that day to this, every reindeer has a mark in that same spot, which is always known as the bear's arrow. The wolf shot him in the thigh, and the sign of his arrow still remains; and so with the mouse and the viper and all the rest, even the frog; and at the last the reindeer all died. And the fox did nothing, but looked on.
'I really must go down to the brook and wash myself,' said he (though he was perfectly clean), and he went under the bank and hid himself behind a stone. From there he set up the most frightful shrieks, so that the animals fled away in all directions. Only the mouse and the ermine remained where they were, for they thought that they were much too small to be noticed.
The fox continued his shrieks till he felt sure that the animals must have got to a safe distance; then he crawled out of his hiding-place and went to the bodies of the reindeer, which he now had all to himself. He gathered a bundle of sticks for a fire, and was just preparing to cook a steak, when his enemy, the Lapp, came up, panting with haste and excitement.
'What are you doing there?' cried he; 'why did you palm off those bones on me? And why, when you had got the reindeer, did you kill them?'
The man made no reply, for the white fur of the ermine, who was crouching with the mouse behind some stones, had just caught his eye. He hastily seized the iron hook which hung over the fire and flung it at the little creature; but the ermine was too quick for him, and the hook only touched the top of its tail, and that has remained black to this day. As for the mouse, the Lapp threw a half-burnt stick after him, and though it was not enough to hurt him, his beautiful white skin was smeared all over with it, and all the washing in the world would not make him clean again. And the man would have been wiser if he had let the ermine and the mouse alone, for when he turned round again he found he was alone.
Directly the fox noticed that his enemy's attention had wandered from himself he watched his chance, and stole softly away till he had reached a clump of thick bushes, when he ran as fast as he could, till he reached a river, where a man was mending his boat.'Oh, I wish, I wish, I had a boat to mend too!' he cried, sitting up on his hind-legs and looking into the man's face. 'Stop your silly chatter!' answered the man crossly, 'or I will give you a bath in the river.'
'Oh, I wish, I do wish, I had a boat to mend,' cried the fox again, as if he had not heard. And the man grew angry and seized him by the tail, and threw him far out in the stream close to the edge of an island; which was just what the fox wanted. He easily scrambled up, and sitting on the top, he called: 'Hasten, hasten, O fishes, and carry me to the other side!' And the fishes left the stones where they had been sleeping, and the pools where they had been feeding, and hurried to see who could get to the island first.'I have won,' shouted the pike. 'Jump on my back, dear fox, and you will find yourself in a trice on the opposite shore.' 'No, thank you,' answered the fox, 'your back is much too weak for me. I should break it.' 'Try mine,' said the eel, who had wriggled to the front. 'No, thank you,' replied the fox again, 'I should slip over your head and be drowned.' 'You won't slip on MY back,' said the perch, coming forward. 'No; but you are really TOO rough,' returned the fox.
'Well, you can have no fault to find with ME,' put in the trout. 'Good gracious! are YOU here?' exclaimed the fox. 'But I'm afraid to trust myself to you either.'At this moment a fine salmon swam slowly up. 'Ah, yes, you are the person I want,' said the fox; 'but come near, so that I may get on your back, without wetting my feet.'
So the salmon swam close under the island, and when he was touching it the fox seized him in his claws and drew him out of the water, and put him on a spit, while he kindled a fire to cook him by. When everything was ready, and the water in the pot was getting hot, he popped him in, and waited till he thought the salmon was nearly boiled. But as he stooped down the water gave a sudden fizzle, and splashed into the fox's eyes, blinding him. He started backwards with a cry of pain, and sat still for some minutes, rocking himself to and fro. When he was a little better he rose and walked down a road till he met a grouse, who stopped and asked what was the matter.'Have you a pair of eyes anywhere about you?' asked the fox politely. 'No, I am afraid I haven't,' answered the grouse, and passed on. A little while after the fox heard the buzzing of an early bee, whom a gleam of sun had tempted out. 'Do you happen to have an extra pair of eyes anywhere?' asked the fox. 'I am sorry to say I have only those I am using,' replied the bee. And the fox went on till he nearly fell over an asp who was gliding across the road. 'I should be SO glad if you would tell me where I could get a pair of eyes,' said the fox. 'I suppose you don't happen to have any you could lend me?' 'Well, if you only want them for a short time, perhaps I could manage,' answered the asp; 'but I can't do without them for long.'
'Oh, it is only for a very short time that I need them,' said the fox; 'I have a pair of my own just behind that hill, and when I find them I will bring yours back to you. Perhaps you will keep these till them.' So he took the eyes out of his own head and popped them into the head of the asp, and put the asp's eyes in their place. As he was running off he cried over his shoulder: 'As long as the world lasts the asps' eyes will go down in the heads of foxes from generation to generation.'
And so it has been; and if you look at the eyes of an asp you will see that they are all burnt; and though thousands and thousands of years have gone by since the fox was going about playing tricks upon everybody he met, the asp still bears the traces of the day when the sly creature cooked the salmon.
Once upon a time there lived a queen who had a beautiful cat, the colour of smoke, with china-blue eyes, which she was very fond of. The cat was constantly with her, and ran after her wherever she went, and even sat up proudly by her side when she drove out in her fine glass coach.'Oh, pussy,' said the queen one day, 'you are happier than I am! For you have a dear kitten just like yourself, and I have nobody to play with but you.' 'Don't cry,' answered the cat, laying her paw on her mistress's arm. 'Crying never does any good. I will see what can be done.'
The cat was as good as her word. As soon as she returned from her drive she trotted off to the forest to consult a fairy who dwelt there, and very soon after the queen had a little girl, who seemed made out of snow and sunbeams. The queen was delighted, and soon the baby began to take notice of the kitten as she jumped about the room, and would not go to sleep at all unless the kitten lay curled up beside her.
Two or three months went by, and though the baby was still a baby, the kitten was fast becoming a cat, and one evening when, as usual, the nurse came to look for her, to put her in the baby's cot, she was nowhere to be found. What a hunt there was for that kitten, to be sure! The servants, each anxious to find her, as the queen was certain to reward the lucky man, searched in the most impossible places. Boxes were opened that would hardly have held the kitten's paw; books were taken from bookshelves, lest the kitten should have got behind them, drawers were pulled out, for perhaps the kitten might have got shut in. But it was all no use. The kitten had plainly run away, and nobody could tell if it would ever choose to come back.
Years passed away, and one day, when the princess was playing ball in the garden, she happened to throw her ball farther than usual, and it fell into a clump of rose-bushes. The princess of course ran after it at once, and she was stooping down to feel if it was hidden in the long grass, when she heard a voice calling her: 'Ingibjorg! Ingibjorg!' it said, 'have you forgotten me? I am Kisa, your sister!''But I never HAD a sister,' answered Ingibjorg, very much puzzled; for she knew nothing of what had taken place so long ago.
'Don't you remember how I always slept in your cot beside you, and how you cried till I came? But girls have no memories at all! Why, I could find my way straight up to that cot this moment, if I was once inside the palace.'
'Why did you go away then?' asked the princess. But before Kisa could answer, Ingibjorg's attendants arrived breathless on the scene, and were so horrified at the sight of a strange cat, that Kisa plunged into the bushes and went back to the forest.
The princess was very much vexed with her ladies-in-waiting for frightening away her old playfellow, and told the queen who came to her room every evening to bid her goodnight.'Yes, it is quite true what Kisa said,' answered the queen; 'I should have liked to see her again. Perhaps, some day, she will return, and then you must bring her to me.'
Next morning it was very hot, and the princess declared that she must go and play in the forest, where it was always cool, under the big shady trees. As usual, her attendants let her do anything she pleased, and sitting down on a mossy bank where a little stream tinkled by, soon fell sound asleep. The princess saw with delight that they would pay no heed to her, and wandered on and on, expecting every moment to see some fairies dancing round a ring, or some little brown elves peeping at her from behind a tree. But, alas! she met none of these; instead, a horrible giant came out of his cave and ordered her to follow him. The princess felt much afraid, as he was so big and ugly, and began to be sorry that she had not stayed within reach of help; but as there was no use in disobeying the giant, she walked meekly behind.They went a long way, and Ingibjorg grew very tired, and at length began to cry.
'I don't like girls who make horrid noises,' said the giant, turning round. 'But if you WANT to cry, I will give you something to cry for.' And drawing an axe from his belt, he cut off both her feet, which he picked up and put in his pocket. Then he went away.
Poor Ingibjorg lay on the grass in terrible pain, and wondering if she should stay there till she died, as no one would know where to look for her. How long it was since she had set out in the morning she could not tell--it seemed years to her, of course; but the sun was still high in the heavens when she heard the sound of wheels, and then, with a great effort, for her throat was parched with fright and pain, she gave a shout.
'I am coming!' was the answer; and in another moment a cart made its way through the trees, driven by Kisa, who used her tail as a whip to urge the horse to go faster. Directly Kisa saw Ingibjorg lying there, she jumped quickly down, and lifting the girl carefully in her two front paws, laid her upon some soft hay, and drove back to her own little hut.
In the corner of the room was a pile of cushions, and these Kisa arranged as a bed. Ingibjorg, who by this time was nearly fainting from all she had gone through, drank greedily some milk, and then sank back on the cushions while Kisa fetched some dried herbs from a cupboard, soaked them in warm water and tied them on the bleeding legs. The pain vanished at once, and Ingibjorg looked up and smiled at Kisa.
'You will go to sleep now,' said the cat, 'and you will not mind if I leave you for a little while. I will lock the door, and no one can hurt you.' But before she had finished the princess was asleep. Then Kisa got into the cart, which was standing at the door, and catching up the reins, drove straight to the giant's cave.
'The first day that I can spare I shall just go back and kill her,' he said; 'it would never do for people in the forest to know that a mere girl can defy me!' And he and his wife were so busy calling Ingibjorg all sorts of names for her bad behaviour, that they never noticed Kisa stealing into a dark corner, and upsetting a whole bag of salt into the great pot before the fire.'Dear me, how thirsty I am!' cried the giant by-and-by. 'So am I,' answered the wife. 'I do wish I had not taken that last spoonful of broth; I am sure something was wrong with it.' 'If I don't get some water I shall die,' went on the giant. And rushing out of the cave, followed by his wife, he ran down the path which led to the river.
Then Kisa entered the hut, and lost no time in searching every hole till she came upon some grass, under which Ingibjorg's feet were hidden, and putting them in her cart, drove back again to her own hut.Ingibjorg was thankful to see her, for she had lain, too frightened to sleep, trembling at every noise. 'Oh, is it you?' she cried joyfully, as Kisa turned the key. And the cat came in, holding up the two neat little feet in their silver slippers.
'In two minutes they shall be as tight as they ever were!' said Kisa. And taking some strings of the magic grass which the giant had carelessly heaped on them, she bound the feet on to the legs above.
'Of course you won't be able to walk for some time; you must not expect THAT,' she continued. 'But if you are very good, perhaps, in about a week, I may carry you home again.'
And so she did; and when the cat drove the cart up to the palace gate, lashing the horse furiously with her tail, and the king and queen saw their lost daughter sitting beside her, they declared that no reward could be too great for the person who had brought her out of the giant's hands.
'We will talk about that by-and-by,' said the cat, as she made her best bow, and turned her horse's head.
The princess was very unhappy when Kisa left her without even bidding her farewell. She would neither eat nor drink, nor take any notice of all the beautiful dresses her parents bought for her.'She will die, unless we can make her laugh,' one whispered to the other. 'Is there anything in the world that we have left untried?'
'Nothing except marriage,' answered the king. And he invited all the handsomest young men he could think of to the palace, and bade the princess choose a husband from among them.
It took her some time to decide which she admired the most, but at last she fixed upon a young prince, whose eyes were like the pools in the forest, and his hair of bright gold. The king and the queen were greatly pleased, as the young man was the son of a neighbouring king, and they gave orders that a splendid feast should be got ready.When the marriage was over, Kisa suddenly stood before them, and Ingibjorg rushed forward and clasped her in her arms. 'I have come to claim my reward,' said the cat. 'Let me sleep for this night at the foot of your bed.' 'Is that ALL?' asked Ingibjorg, much disappointed. 'It is enough,' answered the cat. And when the morning dawned, it was no cat that lay upon the bed, but a beautiful princess.
'My mother and I were both enchanted by a spiteful fairy,' said she, 'we could not free ourselves till we had done some kindly deed that had never been wrought before. My mother died without ever finding a chance of doing anything new, but I took advantage of the evil act of the giant to make you as whole as ever.'Then they were all more delighted than before, and the princess lived in the court until she, too, married, and went away to govern one of her own. [Adapted from Neuislandischen Volksmarchen.]