Fifty years ago there lived a king who was very anxious to get married; but, as he was quite determined that his wife should be as beautiful as the sun, the thing was not so easy as it seemed, for no maiden came up to his standard. Then he commanded a trusty servant to search through the length and breadth of the land till he found a girl fair enough to be queen, and if he had the good luck to discover one he was to bring her back with him.
The servant set out at once on his journey, and sought high and low-in castles and cottages; but though pretty maidens were plentiful as blackberries, he felt sure that none of them would please the king.
One day he had wandered far and wide, and was feeling very tired and thirsty. By the roadside stood a tiny little house, and here he knocked and asked for a cup of water. Now in this house dwelt two sisters, and one was eighty and the other ninety years old. They were very poor, and earned their living by spinning. This had kept their hands very soft and white, like the hands of a girl, and when the water was passed through the lattice, and the servant saw the small, delicate fingers, he said to himself: 'A maiden must indeed be lovely if she has a hand like that.' And he made haste back, and told the king.'Go back at once,' said his majesty, 'and try to get a sight of her.'
The faithful servant departed on his errand without losing any time, and again he knocked at the door of the little house and begged for some water. As before, the old woman did not open the door, but passed the water through the lattice.'Do you live here alone?' asked the man.
'No,' replied she, 'my sister lives with me. We are poor girls, and have to work for our bread.'
'How old are you?'
'I am fifteen, and she is twenty.'
Then the servant went back to the king, and told him all he knew. And his majesty answered: 'I will have the fifteen-year-old one. Go and bring her here.'
The servant returned a third time to the little house and knocked at the door. In reply to his knock the lattice window was pushed open, and a voice inquired what it was he wanted.'The king has desired me to bring back the youngest of you to become his queen,' he replied.
'Tell his majesty I am ready to do his bidding, but since my birth no ray of light has fallen upon my face. If it should ever do so I shall instantly grow black. Therefore beg, I pray you, his most gracious majesty to send this evening a shut carriage, and I will return in it to the castle.
When the king heard this he ordered his great golden carriage to be prepared, and in it to be placed some magnificent robes; and the old woman wrapped herself in a thick veil, and was driven to the castle.
But she answered: 'Here the tapers are too bright and the light too strong. Would you have me turn black under your very eyes?'
And the king believed her words, and the marriage took place without the veil being once lifted. Afterwards, when they were alone, he raised the corner, and knew for the first time that he had wedded a wrinkled old woman. And, in a furious burst of anger, he dashed open the window and flung her out. But, luckily for her, her clothes caught on a nail in the wall, and kept her hanging between heaven and earth.While she was thus suspended, expecting every moment to be dashed to the ground, four fairies happened to pass by.
'Look, sisters,' cried one, 'surely that is the old woman that the king sent for. Shall we wish that her clothes may give way, and that she should be dashed to the ground?'
'Oh no! no!' exclaimed another. 'Let us wish her something good. I myself will wish her youth.'
'And I beauty.'
'And I wisdom.'
'And I a tender heart.'
So spake the fairies, and went their way, leaving the most beautiful maiden in the world behind them.
The next morning when the king looked from his window he saw this lovely creature hanging on the nail. 'Ah! what have I done? Surely I must have been blind last night!'
And he ordered long ladders to be brought and the maiden to be rescued. Then he fell on his knees before her, and prayed her to forgive him, and a great feast was made in her honour.Some days after came the ninety-year-old sister to the palace and asked for the queen.
'Who is that hideous old witch?' said the king.
'Oh, an old neighbour of mine, who is half silly,' she replied.
But the old woman looked at her steadily, and knew her again, and said: 'How have you managed to grow so young and beautiful? I should like to be young and beautiful too.' This question she repeated the whole day long, till at length the queen lost patience and said: 'I had my old head cut off, and this new head grew in its place.'Then the old woman went to a barber, and spoke to him, saying, 'I will give you all you ask if you will only cut off my head, so that I may become young and lovely.'
'But, my good woman, if I do that you will die!'
But the old woman would listen to nothing; and at last the barber took out his knife and struck the first blow at her neck.
'Ah!' she shrieked as she felt the pain.
'Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,' said the barber, who had been in France.
And at the second blow her head rolled off, and the old woman was dead for good and all.
Long ago there lived a rich merchant who, besides possessing more treasures than any king in the world, had in his great hall three chairs, one of silver, one of gold, and one of diamonds. But his greatest treasure of all was his only daughter, who was called Catherine.One day Catherine was sitting in her own room when suddenly the door flew open, and in came a tall and beautiful woman holding in her hands a little wheel.
'Catherine,' she said, going up to the girl, 'which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?'
Catherine was so taken by surprise that she did not know what to answer, and the lady repeated again, 'Which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?'
Then Catherine thought to herself, 'If I say a happy youth, then I shall have to suffer all the rest of my life. No, I would bear trouble now, and have something better to look forward to.' So she looked up and replied, 'Give me a happy old age.''So be it,' said the lady, and turned her wheel as she spoke, vanishing the next moment as suddenly as she had come.
Now this beautiful lady was the Destiny of poor Catherine.
Only a few days after this the merchant heard the news that all his finest ships, laden with the richest merchandise, had been sunk in a storm, and he was left a beggar. The shock was too much for him. He took to his bed, and in a short time he was dead of his disappointment.
So poor Catherine was left alone in the world without a penny or a creature to help her. But she was a brave girl and full of spirit, and soon made up her mind that the best thing she could do was to go to the nearest town and become a servant. She lost no time in getting herself ready, and did not take long over her journey; and as she was passing down the chief street of the town a noble lady saw her out of the window, and, struck by her sad face, said to her: 'Where are you going all alone, my pretty girl?''Ah, my lady, I am very poor, and must go to service to earn my bread.'
'I will take you into my service,' said she; and Catherine served her well.
Some time after her mistress said to Catherine, 'I am obliged to go out for a long while, and must lock the house door, so that no thieves shall get in.'
So she went away, and Catherine took her work and sat down at the window. Suddenly the door burst open, and in came her Destiny.
'Oh! so here you are, Catherine! Did you really think I was going to leave you in peace?'
And as she spoke she walked to the linen press where Catherine's mistress kept all her finest sheets and underclothes, tore everything in pieces, and flung them on the floor. Poor Catherine wrung her hands and wept, for she thought to herself, 'When my lady comes back and sees all this ruin she will think it is my fault,' and starting up, she fled through the open door. Then Destiny took all the pieces and made them whole again, and put them back in the press, and when everything was tidy she too left the house.
When the mistress reached home she called Catherine, but no Catherine was there. 'Can she have robbed me?' thought the old lady, and looked hastily round the house; but nothing was missing. She wondered why Catherine should have disappeared like this, but she heard no more of her, and in a few days she filled her place.
Meanwhile Catherine wandered on and on, without knowing very well where she was going, till at last she came to another town. Just as before, a noble lady happened to see her passing her window, and called out to her, 'Where are you going all alone, my pretty girl?'And Catherine answered, 'Ah, my lady, I am very poor, and must go to service to earn my bread.'
'I will take you into my service,' said the lady; and Catherine served her well, and hoped she might now be left in peace. But, exactly as before, one day that Catherine was left in the house alone her Destiny came again and spoke to her with hard words: 'What! are you here now?' And in a passion she tore up everything she saw, till in sheer misery poor Catherine rushed out of the house. And so it befell for seven years, and directly Catherine found a fresh place her Destiny came and forced her to leave it.
After seven years, however, Destiny seemed to get tired of persecuting her, and a time of peace set in for Catherine. When she had been chased away from her last house by Destiny's wicked pranks she had taken service with another lady, who told her that it would be part of her daily work to walk to a mountain that overshadowed the town, and, climbing up to the top, she was to lay on the ground some loaves of freshly baked bread, and cry with a loud voice, 'O Destiny, my mistress,' three times. Then her lady's Destiny would come and take away the offering. 'That will I gladly do,' said Catherine.
So the years went by, and Catherine was still there, and every day she climbed the mountain with her basket of bread on her arm. She was happier than she had been, but sometimes, when no one saw her, she would weep as she thought over her old life, and how different it was to the one she was now leading. One day her lady saw her, and said, 'Catherine, what is it? Why are you always weeping?' And then Catherine told her story.
'I have got an idea,' exclaimed the lady. 'To-morrow, when you take the bread to the mountain, you shall pray my Destiny to speak to yours, and entreat her to leave you in peace. Perhaps something may come of it!'
At these words Catherine dried her eyes, and next morning, when she climbed the mountain, she told all she had suffered, and cried, 'O Destiny, my mistress, pray, I entreat you, of my Destiny that she may leave me in peace.'
And Destiny answered, 'Oh, my poor girl, know you not your Destiny lies buried under seven coverlids, and can hear nothing? But if you will come to-morrow I will bring her with me.'
And after Catherine had gone her way her lady's Destiny went to find her sister, and said to her, 'Dear sister, has not Catherine suffered enough? It is surely time for her good days to begin?'And the sister answered, 'To-morrow you shall bring her to me, and I will give her something that may help her out of her need.'
The next morning Catherine set out earlier than usual for the mountain, and her lady's Destiny took the girl by the hand and led her to her sister, who lay under the seven coverlids. And her Destiny held out to Catherine a ball of silk, saying, 'Keep this--it may be useful some day;' then pulled the coverings over her head again.But Catherine walked sadly down the hill, and went straight to her lady and showed her the silken ball, which was the end of all her high hopes.
'What shall I do with it?' she asked. 'It is not worth sixpence, and it is no good to me!'
'Take care of it,' replied her mistress. 'Who can tell how useful it may be?'
A little while after this grand preparations were made for the king's marriage, and all the tailors in the town were busy embroidering fine clothes. The wedding garment was so beautiful nothing like it had ever been seen before, but when it was almost finished the tailor found that he had no more silk. The colour was very rare, and none could be found like it, and the king made a proclamation that if anyone happened to possess any they should bring it to the court, and he would give them a large sum.
'Catherine!' exclaimed the lady, who had been to the tailors and seen the wedding garment, 'your ball of silk is exactly the right colour. Bring it to the king, and you can ask what you like for it.'Then Catherine put on her best clothes and went to the court, and looked more beautiful than any woman there.
'May it please your majesty,' she said, 'I have brought you a ball of silk of the colour you asked for, as no one else has any in the town.'
'Your majesty,' asked one of the courtiers, 'shall I give the maiden its weight in gold?'
The king agreed, and a pair of scales were brought; and a handful of gold was placed in one scale and the silken ball in the other. But lo! let the king lay in the scales as many gold pieces as he would, the silk was always heavier still. Then the king took some larger scales, and heaped up all his treasures on one side, but the silk on the other outweighed them all. At last there was only one thing left that had not been put in, and that was his golden crown. And he took it from his head and set it on top of all, and at last the scale moved and the ball had founds its balance.
'Where got you this silk?' asked the king.
'That is not true,' said the king, 'and if you do not tell me the truth I will have your head cut off this instant.'
So Catherine told him the whole story, and how she had once been as rich as he.
Now there lived at the court a wise woman, and she said to Catherine, 'You have suffered much, my poor girl, but at length your luck has turned, and I know by the weighing of the scales through the crown that you will die a queen.''So she shall,' cried the king, who overheard these words; 'she shall die my queen, for she is more beautiful than all the ladies of the court, and I will marry no one else.'
And so it fell out. The king sent back the bride he had promised to wed to her own country, and the same Catherine was queen at the marriage feast instead, and lived happy and contented to the end of her life.Sicilianische Mahrchen von Laura Gonzenbach. Leipzig, Engelmann, 1870.
Long ago there lived a very rich man who had three sons. When he felt himself to be dying he divided his property between them, making them share alike, both in money and lands. Soon after he died the king set forth a proclamation through the whole country that whoever could build a ship that should float both on land and sea should have his daughter to wife.
The eldest brother, when he heard it, said to the other, 'I think I will spend some of my money in trying to build that ship, as I should like to have the king for my father-in-law.' So he called toether all the shipbuilders in the land, and gave them orders to begin the ship without delay. And trees were cut down, and great preparations made, and in a few days everybody knew what it was all for; and there was a crowd of old people pressing round the gates of the yard, where the young man spent the most of his day.'Ah, master, give us work,' they said, 'so that we may earn our bread.'
But he only gave them hard words, and spoke roughly to them. 'You are old, and have lost your strength; of what use are you?' And he drove them away. Then came some boys and prayed him, "master, give us work,' but he answered them, 'Of what use can you be, weaklings as you are! Get you gone!' And if any presented themselves that were not skilled workmen he would have none of them.
At last there knocked at the gate a little old man with a long white beard, and said, 'Will you give me work, so that I may earn my bread?' But he was only driven away like the rest.
The ship took a long while to build, and cost a great deal of money, and when it was launched a sudden squall rose, and it fell to pieces, and with it all the young man's hopes of winning the princess. By this time he had not a penny left, so he went back to his two brothers and told his tale. And the second brother said to himself as he listened, 'Certainly he has managed very badly, but I should like to see if I can't do better, and win the princess for my own self.' So he called together all the shipbuilders throughout the country, and gave them orders to build a ship which should float on the land as well as on the sea. But his heart was no softer than his brother's, and every man that was not a skilled workman was chased away with hard words. Last came the white-bearded man, but he fared no better than the rest.
When the ship was finished the launch took place, and everything seemed going smoothly when a gale sprang up, and the vessel was dashed to pieces on the rocks. The young man had spent his whole fortune on it, and now it was all swallowed up, was forced to beg shelter from his youngest brother. When he told his story the youngest said to himself, 'I am not rich enough to support us all three. I had better take my turn, and if I manage to win the princess there will be her fortune as well as my own for us to live on.' So he called together all the shipbuilders in the kingdom, and gave orders that a new ship should be built. Then all the old people came and asked for work, and he answered cheerfully, 'Oh, yes, there is plenty for everybody;' and when the boys begged to be allowed to help he found something that they could do. And when the old man with the long white beard stood before him, praying that he might earn his bread, he replied, 'Oh, father, I could not suffer you to work, but you shall be overseer, and look after the rest.'Now the old man was a holy hermit, and when he saw how kind-hearted the youth was he determined to do all he could for him to gain the wish of his heart.
By-and-bye, when the ship was finished, the hermit said to his young friend, 'Now you can go and claim the king's daughter, for hte ship will float both by land and sea.'
'Oh, good father,' cried the young man, 'you will not forsake me? Stay with me, I pray you, and lead me to the king!'
'If you wish it, I will,' said the hermit, 'on condition that you will give me half of anything you get.'
'Oh, if that is all,' answered he, 'it is easily promised!' And they set out together on the ship.
After they had gone some distance they saw a man standing in a thick fog, which he was trying to put into a sack.
'Oh, good father,' exclaimed the youth, 'what can he be doing?'
'Ask him,' said the old man.
'What are you doing, my fine fellow?'
'I am putting the fog into my sack. That is my business.'
'Ask him if he will come with us,' whispered the hermit.
And the man answered: 'If you will give me enough to eat and drink I will gladly stay with you.'
So they took him on their ship, and the youth said, as they started off again, 'Good father, before we were two, and now we are three!'
After they had travelled a little further they met a man who had torn up half the forest, and was carrying all the trees on his shoulders.
'Good father,' exclaimed the youth, 'only look! What can he have done that for?'
'Ask him why he has torn up all those trees.'
And the man replied, 'Why, I've merely been gathering a handful of brushwood.'
'Beg him to come with us,' whispered the hermit.
And the strong man answered: 'Willingly, as long as you give me enough to eat and drink.' And he came on the ship.
And the youth said to the hermit, 'Good father, before we were three, and now we are four.'
'Good father,' said the youth, 'just look at that man! Did you ever see anybody drink like that?'
'Ask him why he does it,' answered the hermit.
'Why, there is nothing very odd in taking a mouthful of water!' replied the man, standing up.
'Beg him to come with us.' And the youth did so.
'With pleasure, as long as you give me enough to eat and drink.'
And the youth whispered to the hermit, 'Good father, before we were four, and now we are five.'
A little way along they noticed another man in the middle of a stream, who was shooting into the water.
'Good father,' said the youth, 'what can he be shooting at?'
'Ask him,' answered the hermit.
'Hush, hush!' cried the man; 'now you have frightened it away. In the Underworld sits a quail on a tree, and I wanted to shoot it. That is my business. I hit everything I aim at.'
'Ask him if he will come with us.'
And the man replied, 'With all my heart, as long as I get enough to eat and drink.'
So they took him into the ship, and the young man whispered, 'Good father, before we were five, and now we are six.'
Off they went again, and before they had gone far they met a man striding towards them whose steps were so long that while one foot was on the north of the island the other was right down in the south.'Good father, look at him! What long steps he takes!'
'Ask him why he does it,' replied the hermit.
'Oh, I am only going out for a little walk,' answered he.
'Ask him if he will come with us.' 'Gladly, if you will give me as much as I want to eat and drink,' said he, climbing up into the ship.
And the young man whispered, 'Good father, before we were six, and now we are seven.' But the hermit knew what he was about, and why he gathered these strange people into the ship.
After many days, at last they reached the town where lived the king and his daughter. They stopped the vessel right in front of the palace, and the young man went in and bowed low before the king.'O Majesty, I have done your bidding, and now is the ship built that can travel over land and sea. Give me my reward, and let me have your daughter to wife.'
But the king said to himself, 'What! am I to wed my daughter to a man of whom I know nothing. Not even whether he be rich or poor--a knight or a beggar.'
And aloud he spake: It is not enough that you have managed to build the ship. You must find a runner who shall take this letter to the ruler of the Underworld, and bring me the answer back in an hour.''That is not in the bond,' answered the young man.
'Well, do as you like,' replied the king, 'only you will not get my daughter.'
The young man went out, sorely troubled, to tell his old friend what had happened.
'Silly boy!' cried the hermit, 'Accept his terms at once. And send off the long-legged man with the letter. He will take it in no time at all.'
So the youth's heard leapt for joy, and he returned to the king. 'Majesty, I accept your terms. HEre is the messenger who will do what you wish.'
The king had no choice but to give the man the letter, and he strode off, making short work of the distance that lay between the palace and the Underworld. He soon found the ruler, who looked at the letter, and said to him, 'Wait a little while i write the answer;' but the man was soo tired with his quick walk that he went sound asleep and forgot all about his errand.All this time the youth was anxiously counting the minutes till he could get back, and stood with his eyes fixed on the road down which his messenger must come.
'What can be keeping him,' he said to the hermit when the hour was nearly up. Then the hermit sent for the man who could hit everything he aimed at, and said to him, 'Just see why the messenger stays so long.''Oh, he is sound asleep in the palace of the Underworld. However, I can wake him.'
Then he drew his bow, and shot an arrow straight into the man's knee. The messenger awoke with such a start, and when he saw that the hour had almost run out he snatched up the answer and rushed back with such speed that the clock had not yet struck when he entered the palace.
Now the young man thought he was sure of his bride, but the king said, "Still you have not done enough. Before I give you my daughter you must find a man who can drink half the contents of my cellar in one day.''That is not in the bond,' complained the poor youth.
'Well, do as you like, only you will not get my daughter.'
The young man went sadly out, and asked the hermit what he was to do.
'Silly boy!' said he. 'Why, tell the man to do it who drinks up everything.'
So they sent for the man and said, 'Do you think you are able to drink half the royal cellar in one day?'
'Dear me, yes, and as much more as you want,' answered he. 'I am never satisfied.'
The king was not pleased at the young man agreeing so readily, but he had no choice, and ordered the servant to be taken downstairs. Oh, how he enjoyed himself! All day long he drank, and drank, and drank, till instead of half the cellar, he had drunk the whole, and there was not a cask but what stood empty. And when the king saw this he said to the youth, 'You ahve conquered, and I can no longer withhold my daughter. But, as her dowry, I shall only give so much as one man can carry away.''But,' answered he, 'let a man be ever so strong, he cannot carry more than a hundredweight, and what is that for a king's daughter?'
'Well, do as you like; I have said my say. It is your affair--not mine.'
The young man was puzzled, and did not know what to reply, for, though he would gladly have married the princess without a sixpence, he had spent all his money in building the ship, and knew he could not give her all she wanted. So he went to the hermit and said to him, 'The king will only give for her dowry as much as a man can carry. I have no money of my own left, and my brothers have none either.''Silly boy! Why, you have only got to fetch the man who carried half the forest on his shoulders.'