The Orange Fairy Book by Andrew Lang - HTML preview
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The Adventures of Covan the Brown-Haired
On the shores of the west, where the great hills stand with their feet in the sea, dwelt a goatherd and his wife, together with their three sons and one daughter. All day long the young men fished and hunted, while their sister took out the kids to pasture on the mountain, or stayed at home helping her mother and mending the nets.
For several years they all lived happily together, when one day, as the girl was out on the hill with the kids, the sun grew dark and an air cold as a thick white mist came creeping, creeping up from the sea. She rose with a shiver, and tried to call to her kids, but the voice died away in her throat, and strong arms seemed to hold her.
Loud were the wails in the hut by the sea when the hours passed on and the maiden came not. Many times the father and brothers jumped up, thinking they heard her steps, but in the thick darkness they could scarcely see their own hands, nor could they tell where the river lay, nor where the mountain. One by one the kids came home, and at every bleat someone hurried to open the door, but no sound broke the stillness. Through the night no one slept, and when morning broke and the mist rolled back, they sought the maiden by sea and by land, but never a trace of her could be found anywhere.
Thus a year and a day slipped by, and at the end of it Gorla of the Flocks and his wife seemed suddenly to have grown old. Their sons too were sadder than before, for they loved their sister well, and had never ceased to mourn for her. At length Ardan the eldest spoke and said:
'It is now a year and a day since our sister was taken from us, and we have waited in grief and patience for her to return. Surely some evil has befallen her, or she would have sent us a token to put our hearts at rest; and I have vowed to myself that my eyes shall not know sleep till, living or dead, I have found her.'
'If you have vowed, then must you keep your vow,' answered Gorla. 'But better had it been if you had first asked your father's leave before you made it. Yet, since it is so, your mother will bake you a cake for you to carry with you on your journey. Who can tell how long it may be?'So the mother arose and baked not one cake but two, a big one and a little one.
'Choose, my son,' said she. 'Will you have the little cake with your mother's blessing, or the big one without it, in that you have set aside your father and taken on yourself to make a vow?'
'I will have the large cake,' answered the youth; 'for what good would my mother's blessing do for me if I was dying of hunger?' And taking the big cake he went his way.
Straight on he strode, letting neither hill nor river hinder him. Swiftly he walked-- swiftly as the wind that blew down the mountain. The eagles and the gulls looked on from their nests as he passed, leaving the deer behind him; but at length he stopped, for hunger had seized on him, and he could walk no more. Trembling with fatigue he sat himself on a rock and broke a piece off his cake.
'Seek food elsewhere, O bearer of ill-news,' answered Ardan son of Gorla; 'it is but little I have for myself.' And he stretched himself out for a few moments, then rose to his feet again. On and on went he till the little birds flew to their nests, and the brightness died out of the sky, and a darkness fell over the earth. On and on, and on, till at last he saw a beam of light streaming from a house and hastened towards it.
The door was opened and he entered, but paused when he beheld an old man lying on a bench by the fire, while seated opposite him was a maiden combing out the locks of her golden hair with a comb of silver.'Welcome, fair youth,' said the old man, turning his head. 'Sit down and warm yourself, and tell me how fares the outer world. It is long since I have seen it.'
'All my news is that I am seeking service,' answered Ardan son of Gorla; 'I have come from far since sunrise, and glad was I to see the rays of your lamp stream into the darkness.'
'I need someone to herd my three dun cows, which are hornless,' said the old man. 'If, for the space of a year, you can bring them back to me each evening before the sun sets, I will make you payment that will satisfy your soul.'But here the girl looked up and answered quickly: 'Ill will come of it if he listens to your offer.'
'Counsel unsought is worth nothing,' replied, rudely, Ardan son of Gorla. 'It would be little indeed that I am fit for if I cannot drive three cows out to pasture and keep them safe from the wolves that may come down from the mountains. Therefore, good father, I will take service with you at daybreak, and ask no payment till the new year dawns.'
Next morning the bell of the deer was not heard amongst the fern before the maiden with the hair of gold had milked the cows, and led them in front of the cottage where the old man and Ardan son of Gorla awaited them.
'Let them wander where they will,' he said to his servant, 'and never seek to turn them from their way, for well they know the fields of good pasture. But take heed to follow always behind them, and suffer nothing that you see, and nought that you hear, to draw you into leaving them. Now go, and may wisdom go with you.' As he ceased speaking he touched one of the cows on her forehead, and she stepped along the path, with the two others one on each side. As he had been bidden, behind them came Ardan son of Gorla, rejoicing in his heart that work so easy had fallen to his lot. At the year's end, thought he, enough money would lie in his pocket to carry him into far countries where his sister might be, and, in the meanwhile, someone might come past who could give him tidings of her.
Thus he spoke to himself, when his eyes fell on a golden cock and a silver hen running swiftly along the grass in front of him. In a moment the words that the old man had uttered vanished from his mind and he gave chase. They were so near that he could almost seize their tails, yet each time he felt sure he could catch them his fingers closed on the empty air. At length he could run no more, and stopped to breathe, while the cock and hen went on as before. Then he remembered the cows, and, somewhat frightened, turned back to seek them. Luckily they had not strayed far, and were quietly feeding on the thick green grass.
Ardan son of Gorla was sitting under a tree, when he beheld a staff of gold and a staff of silver doubling themselves in strange ways on the meadow in front of him, and starting up he hastened towards them. He followed them till he was tired, but he could not catch them, though they seemed ever within his reach. When at last he gave up the quest his knees trembled beneath him for very weariness, and glad was he to see a tree growing close by lade with fruits of different sorts, of which he ate greedily.
The sun was by now low in the heavens, and the cows left off feeding, and turned their faces home again, followed by Ardan son of Gorla. At the door of their stable the maiden stood awaiting them, and saying nought to their herd, she sat down and began to milk. But it was not milk that flowed into her pail; instead it was filled with a thin stream of water, and as she rose up from the last cow the old man appeared outside.
'Faithless one, you have betrayed your trust!' he said to Ardan son of Gorla. 'Not even for one day could you keep true! Well, you shall have your reward at once, that others may take warning from you.' And waving his wand he touched with it the chest of the youth, who became a pillar of stone.
Now Gorla of the Flocks and his wife were full of grief that they had lost a son as well as a daughter, for no tidings had come to them of Ardan their eldest born. At length, when two years and two days had passed since the maiden had led her kids to feed on the mountain and had been seen no more, Ruais, second son of Gorla, rose up one morning, and said:'Time is long without my sister and Ardan my brother. So I have vowed to seek them wherever they may be.' And his father answered:
'Better it had been if you had first asked my consent and that of your mother; but as you have vowed so must you do.' Then he bade his wife make a cake, but instead she made two, and offered Ruais his choice, as she had done to Ardan. Like Ardan, Ruais chose the large, unblessed cake, and set forth on his way, doing always, though he knew it not, that which Ardan had done; so, needless is it to tell what befell him till he too stood, a pillar of stone, on the hill behind the cottage, so that all men might see the fate that awaited those who broke their faith.Another year and a day passed by, when Covan the Brown-haired, youngest son of Gorla of the Flocks, one morning spake to his parents, saying:
'It is more than three years since my sister left us. My brothers have also gone, no one know whither, and of us four none remains but I. No, therefore, I long to seek them, and I pray you and my mother to place no hindrance in my way.'And his father answered: 'Go, then, and take our blessing with you.'
So the wife of Gorla of the Flocks baked two cakes, one large and one small; and Covan took the small one, and started on his quest. In the wood he felt hungry, for he had walked far, and he sat down to eat. Suddenly a voice behind him cried:'A bit for me! a bit for me!' And looking round he beheld the black raven of the wilderness.
'Yes, you shall have a bit,' said Covan the Brown-haired; and breaking off a piece he stretched it upwards to the raven, who ate it greedily. Then Covan arose and went forward, till he saw the light from the cottage streaming before him, and glad was he, for night was at hand.
'Maybe I shall find some work there,' he thought, 'and at least I shall gain money to help me in my search; for who knows how far my sister and my brothers may have wandered?'
The door stood open and he entered, and the old man gave him welcome, and the golden- haired maiden likewise. As happened before, he was offered by the old man to herd his cows; and, as she had done to his brothers, the maiden counselled him to leave such work alone. But, instead of answering rudely, like both Ardan and Ruais, he thanked her, with courtesy, though he had no mind to heed her; and he listened to the warnings and words of his new master.
Next day he set forth at dawn with the dun cows in front of him, and followed patiently wherever they might lead him. On the way he saw the gold cock and silver hen, which ran even closer to him than they had done to his brothers. Sorely tempted, he longed to give them chase; but, remembering in time that he had been bidden to look neither to the right nor to the left, with a mighty effort he turned his eyes away. Then the gold and silver staffs seemed to spring from the earth before him, but this time also he overcame; and though the fruit from the magic tree almost touched his mouth, he brushed it aside and went steadily on. That day the cows wandered father than ever they had done before, and never stopped till they had reached a moor where the heather was burning. The fire was fierce, but the cows took no heed, and walked steadily through it, Covan the Brown-haired following them. Next they plunged into a foaming river, and Covan plunged in after them, though the water came high above his waist. On the other side of the river lay a wide plain, and here the cows lay down, while Covan looked about him. Near him was a house built of yellow stone, and from it came sweet songs, and Covan listened, and his heart grew light within him.While he was thus waiting there ran up to him a youth, scarcely able to speak so swiftly had he sped; and he cried aloud: 'Hasten, hasten, Covan the Brown-haired, for your cows are in the corn, and you must drive them out!' 'Nay,' said Covan smiling, 'it had been easier for you to have driven them out than to come here to tell me.' And he went on listening to the music. Very soon the same youth returned and cried with panting breath: 'Out upon you, Covan son of Gorla, that you stand there agape. For our dogs are chasing your cows, and you must drive them off!'
'Nay, then,' answered Covan as before, 'it had been easier for you to call off your dogs than to come here to tell me.' And he stayed where he was till the music ceased.
Then he turned to look for the cows, and found them all lying in the place where he had left them; but when they saw Covan they rose up and walked homewards, taking a different path to that they had trod in the morning. This time they passed over a plain so bare that a pin could not have lain there unnoticed, yet Covan beheld with surprise a foal and its mother feeding there, both as fat as if they had pastured on the richest grass. Further on they crossed another plain, where the grass was thick and green, but on it were feeding a foal and its mother, so lean that you could have counted their ribs. And further again the path led them by the shores of a lake whereon were floating two boats; one full of gay and happy youths, journeying to the land of the Sun, and another with grim shapes clothed in black, travelling to the land of Night.'What can these things mean?' said Covan to himself, as he followed his cows.
Darkness now fell, the wind howled, and torrents of rain poured upon them. Covan knew not how far they might yet have to go, or indeed if they were on the right road. He could not even see his cows, and his heart sank lest, after all, he should have failed to bring them safely back. What was he to do?
He waited thus, for he could go neither forwards nor backwards, till he felt a great friendly paw laid on his shoulder.
'My cave is just here,' said the Dog of Maol- mor, of whom Covan son of Gorla had heard much. 'Spend the night here, and you shall be fed on the flesh of lamb, and shall lay aside three-thirds of thy weariness.'
'Farewell, Covan,' said the Dog of Maol-mor. 'May success go with you, for you took what I had to give and did not mock me. So, when danger is your companion, wish for me, and I will not fail you.'
At these words the Dog of Maol-mor disappeared into the forest, and Covan went to seek his cows, which were standing in the hollow where the darkness had come upon them.
At the sight of Covan the Brown-haired they walked onwards, Covan following ever behind them, and looking neither to the right nor to the left. All that day they walked, and when night fell they were in a barren plain, with only rocks for shelter.
'We must rest here as best we can,' spoke Covan to the cows. And they bowed their heads and lay down in the place where they stood. Then came the black raven of Corri- nan-creag, whose eyes never closed, and whose wings never tired; and he fluttered before the face of Covan and told him that he knew of a cranny in the rock where there was food in plenty, and soft moss for a bed.
'Go with me thither,' he said to Covan, 'and you shall lay aside three-thirds of your weariness, and depart in the morning refreshed,' and Covan listened thankfully to his words, and at dawn he rose up to seek his cows.
'Farewell!' cried the black raven. 'You trusted me, and took all I had to offer in return for the food you once gave me. So if in time to come you need a friend, wish for me, and I will not fail you.'
As before, the cows were standing in the spot where he had left them, ready to set out. All that day they walked, on and on, and on, Covan son of Gorla walking behind them, till night fell while they were on the banks of a river.
'We can go no further,' spake Covan to the cows. And they began to eat the grass by the side of the stream, while Covan listened to them and longed for some supper also, for they had travelled far, and his limbs were weak under him. Then there was a swish of water at his feet, and out peeped the head of the famous otter Doran-donn of the stream.
'Trust to me and I will find you warmth and shelter,' said Doran-donn; 'and for food fish in plenty.' And Covan went with him thankfully, and ate and rested, and laid aside three-thirds of his weariness. At sunrise he left his bed of dried seaweed, which had floated up with the tide, and with a grateful heart bade farewell to Doran-donn.
'Because you trusted me and took what I had to offer, you have made me your friend, Covan,' said Doran-donn. 'And if you should be in danger, and need help from one who can swim a river or dive beneath a wave, call to me and I will come to you.' Then he plunged into the stream, and was seen no more.
The cows were standing ready in the place where Covan had left them, and they journeyed on all that day, till, when night fell, they reached the cottage. Joyful indeed was the old man as the cows went into their stables, and he beheld the rich milk that flowed into the pail of the golden-haired maiden with the silver comb.'You have done well indeed,' he said to Covan son of Gorla. 'And now, what would you have as a reward?'
'I want nothing for myself,' answered Covan the Brown-haired; 'but I ask you to give me back my brothers and my sister who have been lost to us for three years past. You are wise and know the lore of fairies and of witches; tell me where I can find them, and what I must do to bring them to life again.'The old man looked grave at the words of Covan. 'Yes, truly I know where they are,' answered he, 'and I say not that they may not be brought to life again. But the perils are great--too great for you to overcome.' 'Tell me what they are,' said Covan again, 'and I shall know better if I may overcome them.'
'Listen, then, and judge. In the mountain yonder there dwells a roe, white of foot, with horns that branch like the antlers of a deer. On the lake that leads to the land of the Sun floats a duck whose body is green and whose neck is of gold. In the pool of Corri- Bui swims a salmon with a skin that shines like silver, and whose gills are red--bring them all to me, and then you shall know where dwell your brothers and your sister!''To-morrow at cock-crow I will begone!' answered Covan.
The way to the mountain lay straight before him, and when he had climbed high he caught sight of the roe with the white feet and the spotted sides, on the peak in front.
Full of hope he set out in pursuit of her, but by the time he had reached that peak she had left it and was to be seen on another. And so it always happened, and Covan's courage had well-nigh failed him, when the thought of the Dog of Maolmor darted into his mind.'Oh, that he was here!' he cried. And looking up he saw him.
'Why did you summon me?' asked the Dog of Maol-mor. And when Covan had told him of his trouble, and how the roe always led him further and further, the Dog only answered:
'Fear nothing; I will soon catch her for you.' And in a short while he laid the roe unhurt at Covan's feet.
'The old man bade me bring her, and the duck with the golden neck, and the salmon with the silver sides, to his cottage; if I shall catch them, I know not. But carry you the roe to the back of the cottage, and tether her so that she cannot escape.''It shall be done,' said the Dog of Maol-mor. Then Covan sped to the lake which led to the land of the Sun, where the duck with the green body and the golden neck was swimming among the water-lilies.
'Surely I can catch him, good swimmer as I am,' to himself. But, if he could swim well, the duck could swim better, and at length his strength failed him, and he was forced to seek the land.'Oh that the black raven were here to help me!' he thought to himself. And in a moment the black raven was perched on his shoulder. 'How can I help you?' asked the raven. And Covan answered:
'Catch me the green duck that floats on the water.' And the raven flew with his strong wings and picked him up in his strong beak, and in another moment the bird was laid at the feet of Covan.This time it was easy for the young man to carry his prize, and after giving thanks to the raven for his aid, he went on to the river. In the deep dark pool of which the old man had spoken the silver-sided salmon was lying under a rock.
'Surely I, good fisher as I am, can catch him,' said Covan son of Gorla. And cutting a slender pole from a bush, he fastened a line to the end of it. But cast with what skill he might, it availed nothing, for the salmon would not even look at the bait.
'I am beaten at last, unless the Doran-donn can deliver me,' he cried. And as he spoke there was a swish of the water, and the face of the Doran-donn looked up at him.
'O catch me, I pray you, that salmon under the rock!' said Covan son of Gorla. And the Doran-donn dived, and laying hold of the salmon by his tail, bore it back to the place where Covan was standing.
'The roe, and the duck, and the salmon are here,' said Covan to the old man, when he reached the cottage. And the old man smiled on him and bade him eat and drink, and after he hungered no more, he would speak with him. And this was what the old man said: 'You began well, my son, so things have gone well with you. You set store by your mother's blessing, therefore you have been blest. You gave food to the raven when it hungered, you were true to the promise you had made to me, and did not suffer yourself to be turned aside by vain shows. You were skilled to perceive that the boy who tempted you to leave the temple was a teller of false tales, and took with a grateful heart what the poor had to offer you. Last of all, difficulties gave you courage, instead of lending you despair.
And now, as to your reward, you shall in truth take your sister home with you, and your brothers I will restore to life; but idle and unfaithful as they are their lot is to wander for ever. And so farewell, and may wisdom be with you.''First tell me your name?' asked Covan softly. 'I am the Spirit of Age,' said the old man. [Taken from a Celtic Story. Translated by Doctor Macleod Clarke.]
The Princess Bella-Flor
Once upon a time there lived a man who had two sons. When they grew up the elder went to seek his fortune in a far country, and for many years no one heard anything about him. Meanwhile the younger son stayed at home with his father, who died at last in a good old age, leaving great riches behind him.
For some time the son who stayed at home spent his father's wealth freely, believing that he alone remained to enjoy it. But, one day, as he was coming down stairs, he was surprised to see a stranger enter the hall, looking about as if the house belonged to him.'Have you forgotten me?' asked the man. 'I can't forget a person I have never known,' was the rude answer.
'I am your brother,' replied the stranger, 'and I have returned home without the money I hoped to have made. And, what is worse, they tell me in the village that my father is dead. I would have counted my lost gold as nothing if I could have seen him once more.'
'He died six months ago,' said the rich brother, 'and he left you, as your portion, the old wooden chest that stands in the loft. You had better go there and look for it; I have no more time to waste.' And he went his way.
So the wanderer turned his steps to the loft, which was at the top of the storehouse, and there he found the wooden chest, so old that it looked as if it were dropping to pieces.'What use is this old thing to me?' he said to himself. 'Oh, well, it will serve to light a fire at which I can warm myself; so things might be worse after all.'
Placing the chest on his back, the man, whose name was Jose, set out for his inn, and, borrowing a hatchet, began to chop up the box. In doing so he discovered a secret drawer, and in it lay a paper. He opened the paper, not knowing what it might contain, and was astonished to find that it was the acknowledgment of a large debt that was owing to his father. Putting the precious writing in his pocket, he hastily inquired of the landlord where he could find the man whose name was written inside, and he ran out at once in search of him.
The debtor proved to be an old miser, who lived at the other end of the village. He had hoped for many months that the paper he had written had been lost or destroyed, and, indeed, when he saw it, was very unwilling to pay what he owed. However, the stranger threatened to drag him before the king, and when the miser saw that there was no help for it he counted out the coins one by one. The stranger picked them up and put them in his pocket, and went back to his inn feeling that he was now a rich man.
A few weeks after this he was walking through the streets of the nearest town, when he met a poor woman crying bitterly. He stopped and asked her what was the matter, and she answered between her sobs that her husband was dying, and, to make matters worse, a creditor whom he could not pay was anxious to have him taken to prison.
'Comfort yourself,' said the stranger kindly; 'they shall neither send your husband to prison nor sell your goods. I will not only pay his debts but, if he dies, the cost of his burial also. And now go home, and nurse him as well as you can.'
And so she did; but, in spite of her care, the husband died, and was buried by the stranger. But everything cost more than he expected, and when all was paid he found that only three gold pieces were left.'What am I to do now?' said he to himself. 'I think I had better go to court, and enter into the service of the king.'
At first he was only a servant, who carried the king the water for his bath, and saw that his bed was made in a particular fashion. But he did his duties so well that his master soon took notice of him, and in a short time he rose to be a gentleman of the bedchamber.
Now, when this happened the younger brother had spent all the money he had inherited, and did not know how to make any for himself. He then bethought him of the king's favourite, and went whining to the palace to beg that his brother, whom he had so ill-used, would give him his protection, and find him a place. The elder, who was always ready to help everyone spoke to the king on his behalf, and the next day the young man took up is work at court.
Unfortunately, the new-comer was by nature spiteful and envious, and could not bear anyone to have better luck than himself. By dint of spying through keyholes and listening at doors, he learned that the king, old and ugly though he was, had fallen in love with the Princess Bella-Flor, who would have nothing to say to him, and had hidden herself in some mountain castle, no one knew where.
'That will do nicely,' thought the scoundrel, rubbing his hands. 'It will be quite easy to get the king to send my brother in search of her, and if he returns without finding her, his head will be the forfeit. Either way, he will be out of MY path.'
So he went at once to the Lord High Chamberlain and craved an audience of the king, to whom he declared he wished to tell some news of the highest importance. The king admitted him into the presence chamber without delay, and bade him state what he had to say, and to be quick about it.'Oh, sire! the Princess Bella-Flor--' answered the man, and then stopped as if afraid. 'What of the Princess Bella-Flor?' asked the king impatiently.
'I have heard--it is whispered at court--that your majesty desires to know where she lies in hiding.'
'I would give half my kingdom to the man who will bring her to me,' cried the king, eagerly. 'Speak on, knave; has a bird of the air revealed to you the secret?'
'It is not I, but my brother, who knows,' replied the traitor; 'if your majesty would ask him--' But before the words were out of his mouth the king had struck a blow with his sceptre on a golden plate that hung on the wall.
'Order Jose to appear before me instantly,' he shouted to the servant who ran to obey his orders, so great was the noise his majesty had made; and when Jose entered the hall, wondering what in the world could be the matter, the king was nearly dumb from rage and excitement.
'Bring me the Princess Bella-Flor this moment,' stammered he, 'for if you return without her I will have you drowned!' And without another word he left the hall, leaving Jose staring with surprise and horror.
'How can I find the Princess Bella-Flor when I have never even seen her?' thought he. 'But it is no use staying here, for I shall only be put to death.' And he walked slowly to the stables to choose himself a horse.
There were rows upon rows of fine beasts with their names written in gold above their stalls, and Jose was looking uncertainly from one to the other, wondering which he should choose, when an old white horse turned its head and signed to him to approach.'Take me,' it said in a gentle whisper, 'and all will go well.'
Jose still felt so bewildered with the mission that the king had given him that he forgot to be astonished at hearing a horse talk. Mechanically he laid his hand on the bridle and led the white horse out of the stable. He was about to mount on his back, when the animal spoke again:'Pick up those three loaves of bread which you see there, and put them in your pocket.' Jose did as he was told, and being in a great hurry to get away, asked no questions, but swung himself into the saddle. They rode far without meeting any adventures, but at length they came to an anthill, and the horse stopped. 'Crumble those three loaves for the ants,' he said. But Jose hesitated. 'Why, we may want them ourselves!' answered he.
'Never mind that; give them to the ants all the same. Do not lose a chance of helping others.' And when the loaves lay in crumbs on the road, the horse galloped on.
By-and-by they entered a rocky pass between two mountains, and here they saw an eagle which had been caught in a hunter's net.
'Get down and cut the meshes of the net, and set the poor bird free,' said the horse.
'Now listen,' said the horse. 'I am going to give all sorts of little hops and skips, which will amuse the Princess Bella-Flor. Then she will tell you that she would like to ride a little way, and you must help her to mount. When she is seated I shall begin to neigh and kick, and you must say that I have never carried a woman before, and that you had better get up behind so as to be able to manage me. Once on my back we will go like the wind to the king's palace.'
Jose did exactly as the horse told him, and everything fell out as the animal prophesied; so that it was not until they were galloping breathlessly towards the palace that the princess knew that she was taken captive. She said nothing, however, but quietly opened her apron which contained the bran for the chickens, and in a moment it lay scattered on the ground.'Oh, I have let fall my bran!' cried she; 'please get down and pick it up for me.' But Jose only answered: 'We shall find plenty of bran where we are going.' And the horse galloped on.
They were now passing through a forest, and the princess took out her handkerchief and threw it upwards, so that it stuck in one of the topmost branches of a tree.'Dear me; how stupid! I have let my handkerchief blow away,' said she. 'Will you climb up and get it for me?' But Jose answered:
'We shall find plenty of handkerchiefs where we are going.' And the horse galloped on.
After the wood they reached a river, and the princess slipped a ring off her finger and let it roll into the water.
At last they entered the palace gates, and the king's heart bounded with joy at beholding his beloved Princess Bella-Flor. But the princess brushed him aside as if he had been a fly, and locked herself into the nearest room, which she would not open for all his entreaties.
'Bring me the three things I lost on the way, and perhaps I may think about it,' was all she would say. And, in despair, the king was driven to take counsel of Jose.
'There is no remedy that I can see,' said his majesty, 'but that you, who know where they are, should go and bring them back. And if you return without them I will have you drowned.'
Poor Jose was much troubled at these words. He thought that he had done all that was required of him, and that his life was safe. However, he bowed low, and went out to consult his friend the horse.'Do not vex yourself,' said the horse, when he had heard the story; 'jump up, and we will go and look for the things.' And Jose mounted at once. They rode on till they came to the ant-hill, and then the horse asked: 'Would you like to have the bran?' 'What is the use of liking?' answered Jose.
'Well, call the ants, and tell them to fetch it for you; and, if some of it has been scattered by the wind, to bring in its stead the grains that were in the cakes you gave them.' Jose listened in surprise. He did not much believe in the horse's plan; but he could not think of anything better, so he called to the ants, and bade them collect the bran as fast as they could.Then he saw under a tree and waited, while his horse cropped the green turf.
'Look there!' said the animal, suddenly raising its head; and Jose looked behind him and saw a little mountain of bran, which he put into a bag that was hung over his saddle.'Good deeds bear fruit sooner or later,' observed the horse; 'but mount again, as we have far to go.'
When they arrived at the tree, they saw the handkerchief fluttering like a flag from the topmost branch, and Jose's spirits sank again.
'How am I to get that handkerchief?' cried he; 'why I should need Jacob's ladder!' But the horse answered:
So Jose called to the eagle, and the eagle flew to the top of the tree and brought back the handkerchief in its beak. Jose thanked him, and vaulting on his horse they rode on to the river.A great deal of rain had fallen in the night, and the river, instead of being clear as it was before, was dark and troubled.
'How am I to fetch the ring from the bottom of this river when I do not know exactly where it was dropped, and cannot even see it?' asked Jose. But the horse answered: 'Do not be frightened; call the little fish whose life you saved, and she will bring it to you.'
So he called to the fish, and the fish dived to the bottom and slipped behind big stones, and moved little ones with its tail till it found the ring, and brought it to Jose in its mouth.
Well pleased with all he had done, Jose returned to the palace; but when the king took the precious objects to Bella-Flor, she declared that she would never open her door till the bandit who had carried her off had been fried in oil.'I am very sorry,' said the king to Jose, 'I really would rather not; but you see I have no choice.' While the oil was being heated in the great caldron, Jose went to the stables to inquire of his friend the horse if there was no way for him to escape.
'Do not be frightened,' said the horse. 'Get on my back, and I will gallop till my whole body is wet with perspiration, then rub it all over your skin, and no matter how hot the oil may be you will never feel it.'
Jose did not ask any more questions, but did as the horse bade him; and men wondered at his cheerful face as they lowered him into the caldron of boiling oil. He was left there till Bella-Flor cried that he must be cooked enough. Then out came a youth so young and handsome, that everyone fell in love with him, and Bella-Flor most of all.
As for the old king, he saw that he had lost the game; and in despair he flung himself into the caldron, and was fried instead of Jose. Then Jose was proclaimed king, on condition that he married Bella-Flor which he promised to do the next day. But first he went to the stables and sought out the horse, and said to him: 'It is to you that I owe my life and my crown. Why have you done all this for me?'
And the horse answered: 'I am the soul of that unhappy man for whom you spent all your fortune. And when I saw you in danger of death I begged that I might help you, as you had helped me. For, as I told you, Good deeds bear their own fruit!'[From Cuentos, Oraciones, y Adivinas, por Fernan Caballero.]
The Bird of Truth
Once upon a time there lived a poor fisher who built a hut on the banks of a stream which, shunning the glare of the sun and the noise of the towns, flowed quietly past trees and under bushes, listening to the songs of the birds overhead.
One day, when the fisherman had gone out as usual to cast his nets, he saw borne towards him on the current a cradle of crystal. Slipping his net quickly beneath it he drew it out and lifted the silk coverlet. Inside, lying on a soft bed of cotton, were two babies, a boy and a girl, who opened their eyes and smiled at him. The man was filled with pity at the sight, and throwing down his lines he took the cradle and the babies home to his wife.The good woman flung up her hands in despair when she beheld the contents of the cradle. 'Are not eight children enough,' she cried, 'without bringing us two more? How do you think we can feed them?'
'You would not have had me leave them to die of hunger,' answered he, 'or be swallowed up by the waves of the sea? What is enough for eight is also enough for ten.'
The wife said no more; and in truth her heart yearned over the little creatures. Somehow or other food was never lacking in the hut, and the children grew up and were so good and gentle that, in time, their foster-parents loved them as well or better than their own, who were quarrelsome and envious. It did not take the orphans long to notice that the boys did not like them, and were always playing tricks on them, so they used to go away by themselves and spend whole hours by the banks of the river. Here they would take out the bits of bread they had saved from their breakfasts and crumble them for the birds. In return, the birds taught them many things: how to get up early in the morning, how to sing, and how to talk their language, which very few people know.
But though the little orphans did their best to avoid quarrelling with their foster- brothers, it was very difficult always to keep the peace. Matters got worse and worse till, one morning, the eldest boy said to the twins:
'It is all very well for you to pretend that you have such good manners, and are so much better than we, but we have at least a father and mother, while you have only got the river, like the toads and the frogs.'
The poor children did not answer the insult; but it made them very unhappy. And they told each other in whispers that they could not stay there any longer, but must go into the world and seek their fortunes.
So next day they arose as early as the birds and stole downstairs without anybody hearing them. One window was open, and they crept softly out and ran to the side of the river. Then, feeling as if they had found a friend, they walked along its banks, hoping that by- and-by they should meet some one to take care of them.
The whole of that day they went steadily on without seeing a living creature, till, in the evening, weary and footsore, they saw before them a small hut. This raised their spirits for a moment; but the door was shut, and the hut seemed empty, and so great was their disappointment that they almost cried. However, the boy fought down his tears, and said cheerfully:'Well, at any rate here is a bench where we can sit down, and when we are rested we will think what is best to do next.'
Then they sat down, and for some time they were too tired even to notice anything; but by-and-by they saw that under the tiles of the roof a number of swallows were sitting, chattering merrily to each other. Of course the swallows had no idea that the children understood their language, or they would not have talked so freely; but, as it was, they said whatever came into their heads.
'Good evening, my fine city madam,' remarked a swallow, whose manners were rather rough and countryfied to another who looked particularly distinguished. 'Happy, indeed, are the eyes that behold you! Only think of your having returned to your long-forgotten country friends, after you have lived for years in a palace!'
'I have inherited this nest from my parents,' replied the other, 'and as they left it to me I certainly shall make it my home. But,' she added politely, 'I hope that you and all your family are well?'
'Very well indeed, I am glad to say. But my poor daughter had, a short time ago, such bad inflammation in her eyes that she would have gone blind had I not been able to find the magic herb, which cured her at once.'
'And how is the nightingale singing? Does the lark soar as high as ever? And does the linnet dress herself as smartly?' But here the country swallow drew herself up.
'I never talk gossip,' she said severely. 'Our people, who were once so innocent and well-behaved, have been corrupted by the bad examples of men. It is a thousand pities.''What! innocence and good behaviour are not to be met with among birds, nor in the country! My dear friend, what are you saying?'
'The truth and nothing more. Imagine, when we returned here, we met some linnets who, just as the spring and the flowers and the long days had come, were setting out for the north and the cold? Out of pure compassion we tried to persuade them to give up this folly; but they only replied with the utmost insolence.'
'How shocking!' exclaimed the city swallow. 'Yes, it was. And worse than that, the crested lark, that was formerly so timid and shy, is now no better than a thief, and steals maize and corn whenever she can find them.''I am astonished at what you say.'
'You will be more astonished when I tell you that on my arrival here for the summer I found my nest occupied by a shameless sparrow! "This is my nest," I said. "Yours?" he answered, with a rude laugh. "Yes, mine; my ancestors were born here, and my sons will be born here also." And at that my husband set upon him and threw him out of the nest. I am sure nothing of this sort ever happens in a town.''Not exactly, perhaps. But I have seen a great deal--if you only knew!' 'Oh! do tell us! do tell us!' cried they all. And when they had settled themselves comfortably, the city swallow began:
'You must know, then that our king fell in love with the youngest daughter of a tailor, who was as good and gentle as she was beautiful. His nobles hoped that he would have chosen a queen from one of their daughters, and tried to prevent the marriage; but the king would not listen to them, and it took place. Not many months later a war broke out, and the king rode away at the head of his army, while the queen remained behind, very unhappy at the separation. When peace was made, and the king returned, he was told that his wife had had two babies in his absence, but that both were dead; that she herself had gone out of her mind and was obliged to be shut up in a tower in the mountains, where, in time, the fresh air might cure her.''And was this not true?' asked the swallows eagerly.
'Of course not,' answered the city lady, with some contempt for their stupidity. 'The children were alive at that very moment in the gardener's cottage; but at night the chamberlain came down and put them in a cradle of crystal, which he carried to the river.
'For a whole day they floated safely, for though the stream was deep it was very still, and the children took no harm. In the morning--so I am told by my friend the kingfisher--they were rescued by a fisherman who lived near the river bank.'
The children had been lying on the bench, listening lazily to the chatter up to this point; but when they heard the story of the crystal cradle which their fostermother had always been fond of telling them, they sat upright and looked at each other.'Oh, how glad I am I learnt the birds' language!' said the eyes of one to the eyes of the other. Meanwhile the swallows had spoken again.
'That was indeed good fortune!' cried they. 'And when the children are grown up they can return to their father and set their mother free.'
'It will not be so easy as you think,' answered the city swallow, shaking her head; 'for they will have to prove that they are the king's children, and also that their mother never went mad at all. In fact, it is so difficult that there is only one way of proving it to the king.''And what is that?' cried all the swallows at once. 'And how do you know it?'
'I know it,' answered the city swallow, 'because, one day, when I was passing through the palace garden, I met a cuckoo, who, as I need not tell you, always pretends to be able to see into the future. We began to talk about certain things which were happening in the palace, and of the events of past years. "Ah," said he, "the only person who can expose the wickedness of the ministers and show the king how wrong he has been, is the Bird of Truth, who can speak the language of men."'"And where can this bird be found?" I asked. '"It is shut up in a castle guarded by a fierce giant, who only sleeps one quarter of an hour out of the whole twenty-four," replied the cuckoo. 'And where is this castle?' inquired the country swallow, who, like all the rest, and the children most of all, had been listening with deep attention.
'That is just what I don't know,' answered her friend. 'All I can tell you is that not far from here is a tower, where dwells an old witch, and it is she who knows the way, and she will only teach it to the person who promises to bring her the water from the fountain of many colours, which she uses for her enchantments. But never will she betray the place where the Bird of Truth is hidden, for she hates him, and would kill him if she could; knowing well, however, that this bird cannot die, as he is immortal, she keeps him closely shut up, and guarded night and day by the Birds of Bad Faith, who seek to gag him so that his voice should not be heard.''And is there no one else who can tell the poor boy where to find the bird, if he should ever manage to reach the tower?' asked the country swallow.
'No one,' replied the city swallow, 'except an owl, who lives a hermit's life in that desert, and he knows only one word of man's speech, and that is "cross." So that even if the prince did succeed in getting there, he could never understand what the owl said. But, look, the sun is sinking to his nest in the depths of the sea, and I must go to mine. Good-night, friends, good-night!'
Then the swallow flew away, and the children, who had forgotten both hunger and weariness in the joy of this strange news, rose up and followed in the direction of her flight. After two hours' walking, they arrived at a large city, which they felt sure must be the capital of their father's kingdom. Seeing a goodnatured looking woman standing at the door of a house, they asked her if she would give them a night's lodging, and she was so pleased with their pretty faces and nice manners that she welcomed them warmly.
It was scarcely light the next morning before the girl was sweeping out the rooms, and the boy watering the garden, so that by the time the good woman came downstairs there was nothing left for her to do. This so delighted her that she begged the children to stay with her altogether, and the boy answered that he would leave his sisters with her gladly, but that he himself had serious business on hand and must not linger in pursuit of it. So he bade them farewell and set out.
For three days he wandered by the most out- of-the-way paths, but no signs of a tower were to be seen anywhere. On the fourth morning it was just the same, and, filled with despair, he flung himself on the ground under a tree and hid his face in his hands. In a little while he heard a rustling over his head, and looking up, he saw a turtle dove watching him with her bright eyes.'Oh dove!' cried the boy, addressing the bird in her own language, 'Oh dove! tell me, I pray you, where is the castle of Come-and- never-go?' 'Poor child,' answered the dove, 'who has sent you on such a useless quest?' 'My good or evil fortune,' replied the boy, 'I know not which.' 'To get there,' said the dove, 'you must follow the wind, which to-day is blowing towards the castle.'
The boy thanked her, and followed the wind, fearing all the time that it might change its direction and lead him astray. But the wind seemed to feel pity for him and blew steadily on.
With each step the country became more and more dreary, but at nightfall the child could see behind the dark and bare rocks something darker still. This was the tower in which dwelt the witch; and seizing the knocker he gave three loud knocks, which were echoed in the hollows of the rocks around.
The door opened slowly, and there appeared on the threshold an old woman holding up a candle to her face, which was so hideous that the boy involuntarily stepped backwards, almost as frightened by the troop of lizards, beetles and such creatures that surrounded her, as by the woman herself.'Who are you who dare to knock at my door and wake me?' cried she. 'Be quick and tell me what you want, or it will be the worse for you.' 'Madam,' answered the child, 'I believe that you alone know the way to the castle of Come- and-never-go, and I pray you to show it to me.'
'Very good,' replied the witch, with something that she meant for a smile, 'but today it is late. To-morrow you shall go. Now enter, and you shall sleep with my lizards.'
'I cannot stay,' said he. 'I must go back at once, so as to reach the road from which I started before day dawns.'
'If I tell you, will you promise me that you will bring me this jar full of the many- coloured water from the spring in the court- yard of the castle?' asked she. 'If you fail to keep your word I will change you into a lizard for ever.''I promise,' answered the boy. Then the old woman called to a very thin dog, and said to him:
'Conduct this pig of a child to the castle of Come-and-never-go, and take care that you warn my friend of his arrival.' And the dog arose and shook itself, and set out.
At the end of two hours they stopped in front of a large castle, big and black and gloomy, whose doors stood wide open, although neither sound nor light gave sign of any presence within. The dog, however, seemed to know what to expect, and, after a wild howl, went on; but the boy, who was uncertain whether this was the quarter of an hour when the giant was asleep, hesitated to follow him, and paused for a moment under a wild olive that grew near by, the only tree which he had beheld since he had parted from the dove. 'Oh, heaven, help me!' cried he.'Cross! cross!' answered a voice. The boy leapt for joy as he recognised the note of the owl of which the swallow had spoken, and he said softly in the bird's language:
'Oh, wise owl, I pray you to protect and guide me, for I have come in search of the Bird of Truth. And first I must fill this far with the many-coloured water in the courtyard of the castle.'
'Do not do that,' answered the owl, 'but fill the jar from the spring which bubbles close by the fountain with the many-coloured water. Afterwards, go into the aviary opposite the great door, but be careful not to touch any of the brightplumaged birds contained in it, which will cry to you, each one, that he is the Bird of Truth. Choose only a small white bird that is hidden in a corner, which the others try incessantly to kill, not knowing that it cannot die. And, be quick!--for at this very moment the giant has fallen asleep, and you have only a quarter of an hour to do everything.'
The boy ran as fast as he could and entered the courtyard, where he saw the two spring close together. He passed by the many- coloured water without casting a glance at it, and filled the jar from the fountain whose water was clear and pure. He next hastened to the aviary, and was almost deafened by the clamour that rose as he shut the door behind him. Voices of peacocks, voices of ravens, voices of magpies, each claiming to be the Bird of Truth. With steadfast face the boy walked by them all, to the corner, where, hemmed in by a hand of fierce crows, was the small white bird he sought. Putting her safely in his breast, he passed out, followed by the screams of the birds of Bad Faith which he left behind him.
Once outside, he ran without stopping to the witch's tower, and handed to the old woman the jar she had given him.
'Become a parrot!' cried she, flinging the water over him. But instead of losing his shape, as so many had done before, he only grew ten times handsomer; for the water was enchanted for good and not ill. Then the creeping multitude around the witch hastened to roll themselves in the water, and stood up, human beings again.When the witch saw what was happening, she took a broomstick and flew away.
Who can guess the delight of the sister at the sight of her brother, bearing the Bird of Truth? But although the boy had accomplished much, something very difficult yet remained, and that was how to carry the Bird of Truth to the king without her being seized by the wicked courtiers, who would be ruined by the discovery of their plot.
Soon--no one knew how--the news spread abroad that the Bird of Truth was hovering round the palace, and the courtiers made all sorts of preparations to hinder her reaching the king.
They got ready weapons that were sharpened, and weapons that were poisoned; they sent for eagles and falcons to hunt her down, and constructed cages and boxes in which to shut her up if they were not able to kill her. They declared that her white plumage was really put on to hide her black feathers--in fact there was nothing they did not do in order to prevent the king from seeing the bird or from paying attention to her words if he did.
As often happens in these cases, the courtiers brought about that which they feared. They talked so much about the Bird of Truth that at last the king heard of it, and expressed a wish to see her. The more difficulties that were put in his way the stronger grew his desire, and in the end the king published a proclamation that whoever found the Bird of Truth should bring her to him without delay.
As soon as he saw this proclamation the boy called his sister, and they hastened to the palace. The bird was buttoned inside his tunic, but, as might have been expected, the courtiers barred the way, and told the child that he could not enter. It was in vain that the boy declared that he was only obeying the king's commands; the courtiers only replied that his majesty was not yet out of bed, and it was forbidden to wake him.
They were still talking, when, suddenly, the bird settled the question by flying upwards through an open window into the king's own room. Alighting on the pillow, close to the king's head, she bowed respectfully, and said:
'My lord, I am the Bird of Truth whom you wished to see, and I have been obliged to approach you in the manner because the boy who brought me is kept out of the palace by your courtiers.'
'They shall pay for their insolence,' said the king. And he instantly ordered one of his attendants to conduct the boy at once to his apartments; and in a moment more the prince entered, holding his sister by the hand.
And the bird did explain; and the king heard for the first time of the wicked plot that had been successful for so many years. He took his children in his arms, with tears in his eyes, and hurried off with them to the tower in the mountains where the queen was shut up. The poor woman was as white as marble, for she had been living almost in darkness; but when she saw her husband and children, the colour came back to her face, and she was as beautiful as ever.
They all returned in state to the city, where great rejoicings were held. The wicked courtiers had their heads cut off, and all their property was taken away. As for the good old couple, they were given riches and honour, and were loved and cherished to the end of their lives.[From Cuentos, Oraciones y Adivinas, por Fernan Caballero.]
The Mink and the Wolf
In a big forest in the north of America lived a quantity of wild animals of all sorts. They were always very polite when they met; but, in spite of that, they kept a close watch one upon the other, as each was afraid of being killed and eaten by somebody else. But their manners were so good that no one would ever had guessed that.
One day a smart young wolf went out to hunt, promising his grandfather and grandmother that he would be sure to be back before bedtime. He trotted along quite happily through the forest till he came to a favourite place of his, just where the river runs into the sea. There, just as he had hoped, he saw the chief mink fishing in a canoe.'I want to fish too,' cried the wolf. But the mink said nothing and pretended not to hear.
'I wish you would take me into your boat!' shouted the wolf, louder than before, and he continued to beseech the mink so long that at last he grew tired of it, and paddled to the shore close enough for the wolf to jump in.
'Sit down quietly at that end or we shall be upset,' said the mink; 'and if you care about sea-urchins' eggs, you will find plenty in that basket. But be sure you eat only the white ones, for the red ones would kill you.'So the wolf, who was always hungry, began to eat the eggs greedily; and when he had finished he told the mink he thought he would have a nap.
'Well, then, stretch yourself out, and rest your head on that piece of wood,' said the mink. And the wolf did as he was bid, and was soon fast asleep. Then the mink crept up to him and stabbed him to the heart with his knife, and he died without moving. After that he landed on the beach, skinned the wolf, and taking the skin to his cottage, he hung it up before the fire to dry.
Not many days later the wolf's grandmother, who, with the help of her relations, had been searching for him everywhere, entered the cottage to buy some seaurchins' eggs, and saw the skin, which she at once guessed to be that of her grandson.
'I knew he was dead--I knew it! I knew it!' she cried, weeping bitterly, till the mink told her rudely that if she wanted to make so much noise she had better do it outside as he liked to be quiet. So, half-blinded by her tears, the old woman went home the way she had come, and running in at the door, she flung herself down in front of the fire.
'What are you crying for?' asked the old wolf and some friends who had been spending the afternoon with him.
'I shall never see my grandson any more!' answered she. 'Mink has killed him, oh! oh!' And putting her head down, she began to weep as loudly as ever.
'There! there!' said her husband, laying his paw on her shoulder. 'Be comforted; if he IS dead, we will avenge him.' And calling to the others they proceeded to talk over the best plan. It took them a long time to make up their minds, as one wolf proposed one thing and one another; but at last it was agreed that the old wolf should give a great feast in his house, and that the mink should be invited to the party. And in order that no time should be lost it was further agreed that each wolf should bear the invitations to the guests that lived nearest to him.
Now the wolves thought they were very cunning, but the mink was more cunning still; and though he sent a message by a white hare, that was going that way, saying he should be delighted to be present, he determined that he would take his precautions. So he went to a mouse who had often done him a good turn, and greeted her with his best bow.
'I have a favour to ask of you, friend mouse,' said he, 'and if you will grant it I will carry you on my back every night for a week to the patch of maize right up the hill.''The favour is mine,' answered the mouse. 'Tell me what it is that I can have the honour of doing for you.'
'Oh, something quite easy,' replied the mink. 'I only want you--between to-day and the next full moon--to gnaw through the bows and paddles of the wolf people, so that directly they use them they will break. But of course you must manage it so that they notice nothing.'
'Of course,' answered the mouse, 'nothing is easier; but as the full moon is tomorrow night, and there is not much time, I had better begin at once.' Then the mink thanked her, and went his way; but before he had gone far he came back again.
'Perhaps, while you are about the wolf's house seeing after the bows, it would do no harm if you were to make that knot-hole in the wall a little bigger,' said he. 'Not large enough to draw attention, of course; but it might come in handy.' And with another nod he left her.
The next evening the mink washed and brushed himself carefully and set out for the feast. He smiled to himself as he looked at the dusty track, and perceived that though the marks of wolves' feet were many, not a single guest was to be seen anywhere. He knew very well what that meant; but he had taken his precautions and was not afraid.
The house door stood open, but through a crack the mink could see the wolves crowding in the corner behind it. However, he entered boldly, and as soon as he was fairly inside the door was shut with a bang, and the whole herd sprang at him, with their red tongues hanging out of their mouths. Quick as they were they were too late, for the mink was already through the knot-hole and racing for his canoe.
The knot-hole was too small for the wolves, and there were so many of them in the hut that it was some time before they could get the door open. Then they seized the bows and arrows which were hanging on the walls and, once outside, aimed at the flying mink; but as they pulled the bows broke in their paws, so they threw them away, and bounded to the shore, with all their speed, to the place where their canoes were drawn up on the beach.
Now, although the mink could not run as fast as the wolves, he had a good start, and was already afloat when the swiftest among them threw themselves into the nearest canoe. They pushed off, but as they dipped the paddles into the water, they snapped as the bows had done, and were quite useless.
'I know where there are some new ones,' cried a young fellow, leaping on shore and rushing to a little cave at the back of the beach. And the mink's heart smote him when he heard, for he had not known of this secret store.
After a long chase the wolves managed to surround their prey, and the mink, seeing it was no good resisting any more, gave himself up. Some of the elder wolves brought out some cedar bands, which they always carried wound round their bodies, but the mink laughed scornfully at the sight of them.'Why I could snap those in a moment,' said he; 'if you want to make sure that I cannot escape, better take a line of kelp and bind me with that.'
'You are right,' answered the grandfather; 'your wisdom is greater than ours.' And he bade his servants gather enough kelp from the rocks to make a line, as they had brought none with them.
'While the line is being made you might as well let me have one last dance,' remarked the mink. And the wolves replied: 'Very good, you may have your dance; perhaps it may amuse us as well as you.' So they brought two canoes and placed them one beside the other. The mink stood up on his hind legs and began to dance, first in one canoe and then in the other; and so graceful was he, that the wolves forgot they were going to put him to death, and howled with pleasure.
'Pull the canoes a little apart; they are too close for this new dance,' he said, pausing for a moment. And the wolves separated them while he gave a series of little springs, sometime pirouetting while he stood with one foot on the prow of both. 'Now nearer, now further apart,' he would cry as the dance went on. 'No! further still.' And springing into the air, amidst howls of applause, he came down head-foremost, and dived to the bottom. And through the wolves, whose howls had now changed into those of rage, sought him everywhere, they never found him, for he hid behind a rock till they were out of sight, and then made his home in another forest.[From the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.]
Adventures of an Indian Brave
A long, long way off, right away in the west of America, there once lived an old man who had one son. The country round was covered with forests, in which dwelt all kinds of wild beasts, and the young man and his companions used to spend whole days in hunting them, and he was the finest hunter of all the tribe.
One morning, when winter was coming on, the youth and his companions set off as usual to bring back some of the mountain goats and deer to be salted down, as he was afraid of a snow-storm; and if the wind blew and the snow drifted the forest might be impassable for some weeks. The old man and the wife, however, would not go out, but remained in the wigwam making bows and arrows.It soon grew so cold in the forest that at last one of the men declared they could walk no more, unless they could manage to warm themselves.
'That is easily done,' said the leader, giving a kick to a large tree. Flames broke out in the trunk, and before it had burnt up they were as hot as if it had been summer. Then they started off to the place where the goats and deer were to be found in the greatest numbers, and soon had killed as many as they wanted. But the leader killed most, as he was the best shot.
'Now we must cut up the game and divide it,' said he; and so they did, each one taking his own share; and, walking one behind the other, set out for the village. But when they reached a great river the young man did not want the trouble of carrying his pack any further, and left it on the bank.'I am going home another way,' he told his companions. And taking another road he reached the village long before they did. 'Have you returned with empty hands?' asked the old man, as his son opened the door.
'Have I ever done that, that you put me such a question?' asked the youth. 'No; I have slain enough to feast us for many moons, but it was heavy, and I left the pack on the bank of the great river. Give me the arrows, I will finish making them, and you can go to the river and bring home the pack!'
So the old man rose and went, and strapped the meat on his shoulder; but as he was crossing the ford the strap broke and the pack fell into the river. He stooped to catch it, but it swirled past him. He clutched again; but in doing so he over- balanced himself and was hurried into some rapids, where he was knocked against some rocks, and he sank and was drowned, and his body was carried down the stream into smoother water when it rose to the surface again. But by this time it had lost all likeness to a man, and was changed into a piece of wood.
The wood floated on, and the river got bigger and bigger and entered a new country. There it was borne by the current close to the shore, and a woman who was down there washing her clothes caught it as it passed, and drew it out, saying to herself: 'What a nice smooth plank! I will use it as a table to put my food upon.' And gathering up her clothes she took the plank with her into her hut. When her supper time came she stretched the board across two strings which hung from the roof, and set upon it the pot containing a stew that smelt very good. The woman had been working hard all day and was very hungry, so she took her biggest spoon and plunged it into the pot. But what was her astonishment and disgust when both pot and food vanished instantly before her!'Oh, you horrid plank, you have brought me ill-luck!' she cried. And taking it up she flung it away from her.
The woman had been surprised before at the disappearance of her food, but she was more astonished still when, instead of the plank, she beheld a baby. However, she was fond of children and had none of her own, so she made up her mind that she would keep it and take care of it. The baby grew and throve as no baby in that country had ever done, and in four days he was a man, and as tall and strong as any brave of the tribe.'You have treated me well,' he said, 'and meat shall never fail to your house. But now I must go, for I have much work to do.' Then he set out for his home.
It took him many days to get there, and when he saw his son sitting in his place his anger was kindled, and his heart was stirred to take vengeance upon him. So he went out quickly into the forest and shed tears, and each tear became a bird. 'Stay there till I want you,' said he; and he returned to the hut.'I saw some pretty new birds, high up in a tree yonder,' he remarked. And the son answered: 'Show me the way and I will get them for dinner.' The two went out together, and after walking for about half an hour they old man stopped. 'That is the tree,' he said. And the son began to climb it.
Now a strange thing happened. The higher the young man climbed the higher the birds seemed to be, and when he looked down the earth below appeared no bigger than a star. Sill he tried to go back, but he could not, and though he could not see the birds any longer he felt as if something were dragging him up and up.
He thought that he had been climbing that tree for days, and perhaps he had, for suddenly a beautiful country, yellow with fields of maize, stretched before him, and he gladly left the top of the tree and entered it. He walked through the maize without knowing where he was going, when he heard a sound of knocking, and saw two old blind women crushing their food between two stones. He crept up to them on tiptoe, and when one old woman passed her dinner to the other he held out his hand and took it and ate if for himself.'How slow you are kneading that cake,' cried the other old woman at last. 'Why, I have given you your dinner, and what more do you want?' replied the second.
'You didn't; at least I never got it,' said the other. 'I certainly thought you took it from me; but here is some more.' And again the young man stretched out his hand; and the two old women fell to quarrelling afresh. But when it happened for the third time the old women suspected some trick, and one of them exclaimed:'I am sure there is a man here; tell me, are you not my grandson?'
'Yes,' answered the young man, who wished to please her, 'and in return for your good dinner I will see if I cannot restore your sight; for I was taught in the art of healing by the best medicine man in the tribe.' And with that he left them, and wandered about till he found the herb which he wanted. Then he hastened back to the old women, and begging them to boil him some water, he threw the herb in. As soon as the pot began to sing he took off the lid, and sprinkled the eyes of the women, and sight came back to them once more.
There was no night in that country, so, instead of going to bed very early, as he would have done in his own hut, the young man took another walk. A splashing noise near by drew him down to a valley through which ran a large river, and up a waterfall some salmon were leaping. How their silver sides glistened in the light, and how he longed to catch some of the great fellows! But how could he do it? He had beheld no one except the old women, and it was not very likely that they would be able to help him. So with a sigh he turned away and went back to them, but, as he walked, a thought struck him. He pulled out one of his hairs which hung nearly to his waist, and it instantly became a strong line, nearly a mile in length.
'Weave me a net that I may catch some salmon,' said he. And they wove him the net he asked for, and for many weeks he watched by the river, only going back to the old women when he wanted a fish cooked.At last, one day, when he was eating his dinner, the old woman who always spoke first, said to him:
'We have been very glad to see you, grandson, but now it is time that you went home.' And pushing aside a rock, he saw a deep hole, so deep that he could not see to the bottom. Then they dragged a basket out of the house, and tied a rope to it. 'Get in, and wrap this blanket round your head,' said they; 'and, whatever happens, don't uncover it till you get to the bottom.' Then they bade him farewell, and he curled himself up in the basket.
Down, down, down he went; would he ever stop going? But when the basket did stop, the young man forgot what he had been told, and put his head out to see what was the matter. In an instant the basket moved, but, to his horror, instead of going down, he felt himself being drawn upwards, and shortly after he beheld the faces of the old women.'You will never see your wife and son if you will not do as you are bid,' said they. 'Now get in, and do not stir till you hear a crow calling.'
This time the young man was wiser, and though the basket often stopped, and strange creatures seemed to rest on him and to pluck at his blanket, he held it tight till he heard the crow calling. Then he flung off the blanket and sprang out, while the basket vanished in the sky.He walked on quickly down the track that led to the hut, when, before him, he saw his wife with his little son on her back. 'Oh! there is father at last,' cried the boy; but the mother bade him cease from idle talking. 'But, mother, it is true; father is coming!' repeated the child. And, to satisfy him, the woman turned round and perceived her husband.
Oh, how glad they all were to be together again! And when the wind whistled through the forest, and the snow stood in great banks round the door, the father used to take the little boy on his knee and tell him how he caught salmon in the Land of the Sun.[From the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.]
How the Stalos Were Tricked
'Mother, I have seen such a wonderful man,' said a little boy one day, as he entered a hut in Lapland, bearing in his arms the bundle of sticks he had been sent out to gather.'Have you, my son; and what was he like?' asked the mother, as she took off the child's sheepskin coat and shook it on the doorstep.
'Well, I was tired of stooping for the sticks, and was leaning against a tree to rest, when I heard a noise of 'sh-'sh, among the dead leaves. I thought perhaps it was a wolf, so I stood very still. But soon there came past a tall man--oh! twice as tall as father--with a long red beard and a red tunic fastened with a silver girdle, from which hung a silver-handled knife. Behind him followed a great dog, which looked stronger than any wolf, or even a bear. But why are you so pale, mother?'
'It was the Stalo,' replied she, her voice trembling; 'Stalo the man-eater! You did well to hide, or you might never had come back. But, remember that, though he is so tall and strong, he is very stupid, and many a Lapp has escaped from his clutches by playing him some clever trick.'
Not long after the mother and son had held this talk, it began to be whispered in the forest that the children of an old man called Patto had vanished one by one, no one knew whither. The unhappy father searched the country for miles round without being able to find as much as a shoe or a handkerchief, to show him where they had passed, but at length a little boy came with news that he had seen the Stalo hiding behind a well, near which the children used to play. The boy had waited behind a clump of bushes to see what would happen, and byand-by he noticed that the Stalo had laid a cunning trap in the path to the well, and that anybody who fell over it would roll into the water and drown there.
And, as he watched, Patto's youngest daughter ran gaily down the path, till her foot caught in the strings that were stretched across the steepest place. She slipped and fell, and in another instant had rolled into the water within reach of the Stalo.
As soon as Patto heard this tale his heart was filled with rage, and he vowed to have his revenge. So he straightway took an old fur coat from the hook where it hung, and putting it on went out into the forest. When he reached the path that led to the well he looked hastily round to be sure that no one was watching him, then laid himself down as if he had been caught in the snare and had rolled into the well, though he took care to keep his head out of the water.
Very soon he heard a 'sh-'sh of the leaves, and there was the Stalo pushing his way through the undergrowth to see what chance he had of a dinner. At the first glimpse of Patto's head in the well he laughed loudly, crying:
'Ha! ha! This time it is the old ass! I wonder how he will taste?' And drawing Patto out of the well, he flung him across his shoulders and carried him home. Then he tied a cord round him and hung him over the fire to roast, while he finished a box that he was making before the door of the hut, which he meant to hold Patto's flesh when it was cooked. In a very short time the box was so nearly done that it only wanted a little more chipping out with an axe; but this part of the work was easier accomplished indoors, and he called to one of his sons who were lounging inside to bring him the tool.
'Stupid fellow! what is the use of you?' grumbled his father angrily; and he bade first one and then another of his sons to fetch him the tool, but they had no better success than their brother.
'I must come myself, I suppose!' said Stalo, putting aside the box. But, meanwhile, Patto had slipped from the hook and concealed himself behind the door, so that, as Stalo stepped in, his prisoner raised the axe, and with one blow the ogre's head was rolling on the ground. His sons were so frightened at the sight that they all ran away.And in this manner Patto avenged his dead children.
But though Stalo was dead, his three sons were still living, and not very far off either. They had gone to their mother, who was tending some reindeer on the pastures, and told her that by some magic, they knew not what, their father's head had rolled from his body, and they had been so afraid that something dreadful would happen to them that they had come to take refuge with her. The ogress said nothing. Long ago she had found out how stupid her sons were, so she just sent them out to milk the reindeer, while she returned to the other house to bury her husband's body.
Now, three days' journey from the hut on the pastures two brothers Sodno dwelt in a small cottage with their sister Lyma, who tended a large herd of reindeer while they were out hunting. Of late it had been whispered from one to another that the three young Stalos were to be seen on the pastures, but the Sodno brothers did not disturb themselves, the danger seemed too far away.
Unluckily, however, one day, when Lyma was left by herself in the hut, the three Stalos came down and carried her and the reindeer off to their own cottage. The country was very lonely, and perhaps no one would have known in which direction she had gone had not the girl managed to tie a ball of thread to the handle of a door at the back of the cottage and let it trail behind her. Of course the ball was not long enough to go all the way, but it lay on the edge of a snowy track which led straight to the Stalos' house.
When the brothers returned from their hunting they found both the hut and the sheds empty. Loudly they cried: 'Lyma! Lyma!' But no voice answered them; and they fell to searching all about, lest perchance their sister might have dropped some clue to guide them. At length their eyes dropped on the thread which lay on the snow, and they set out to follow it.
On and on they went, and when at length the thread stopped the brothers knew that another day's journey would bring them to the Stalos' dwelling. Of course they did not dare to approach it openly, for the Stalos had the strength of giants, and besides, there were three of them; so the two Sodnos climbed into a big bushy tree which overhung a well.'Perhaps our sister may be sent to draw water here,' they said to each other. But it was not till the moon had risen that the sister came, and as she let down her bucket into the well, the leaves seemed to whisper 'Lyma! Lyma!' The girl started and looked up, but could see nothing, and in a moment the voice came again.
'Be careful--take no notice, fill your buckets, but listen carefully all the while, and we will tell you what to do so that you may escape yourself and set free the reindeer also.'So Lyman bent over the well lower than before, and seemed busier than ever.
'You know,' said her brother, 'that when a Stalo finds that anything has been dropped into his food he will not eat a morsel, but throws it to his dogs. Now, after the pot has been hanging some time over the fire, and the broth is nearly cooked, just rake up the log of wood so that some of the ashes fly into the pot. The Stalo will soon notice this, and will call you to give all the food to the dogs; but, instead, you must bring it straight to us, as it is three days since we have eaten or drunk. That is all you need do for the present.'
Then Lyma took up her buckets and carried them into the house, and did as her brothers had told her. They were so hungry that they ate the food up greedily without speaking, but when there was nothing left in the pot, the eldest one said:
'Listen carefully to what I have to tell you. After the eldest Stalo has cooked and eaten a fresh supper, he will go to bed and sleep so soundly that not even a witch could wake him. You can hear him snoring a mile off, and then you must go into his room and pull off the iron mantle that covers him, and put it on the fire till it is almost red hot. When that is done, come to us and we will give you further directions.''I will obey you in everything, dear brothers,' answered Lyman; and so she did.
It had happened that on this very evening the Stalos had driven in some of the reindeer from the pasture, and had tied them up to the wall of the house so that they might be handy to kill for next day's dinner. The two Sodnos had seen what they were doing, and where the beasts were secured; so, at midnight, when all was still, they crept down from their tree and seized the reindeer by the horns which were locked together. The animals were frightened, and began to neigh and kick, as if they were fighting together, and the noise became so great that even the eldest Stalo was awakened by it, and that was a thing which had never occurred before. Raising himself in his bed, he called to his youngest brother to go out and separate the reindeer or they would certainly kill themselves.
The young Stalo did as he was bid, and left the house; but no sooner was he out of the door than he was stabbed to the heart by one of the Sodnos, and fell without a groan. Then they went back to worry the reindeer, and the noise became as great as ever, and a second time the Stalo awoke.
'The boy does not seem to be able to part the beasts,' he cried to his second brother; 'go and help him, or I shall never get to sleep.' So the brother went, and in an instant was struck dead as he left the house by the sword of the eldest Sodno. The Stalo waited in bed a little longer for things to get quiet, but as the clatter of the reindeer's horns was as bad as ever, he rose angrily from his bed muttering to himself:'It is extraordinary that they cannot unlock themselves; but as no one else seems able to help them I suppose I must go and do it.'
Rubbing his eyes, he stood up on the floor and stretched his great arms and gave a yawn which shook the walls. The Sodnos heard it below, and posted themselves, one at the big door and one at the little door at the back, for they did not know what their enemy would come out at.
The Stalo put out his hand to take his iron mantle from the bed, where it always lay, but the mantle was no there. He wondered where it could be, and who could have moved it, and after searching through all the rooms, he found it hanging over the kitchen fire. But the first touch burnt him so badly that he let it alone, and went with nothing, except a stick in his hand, through the back door.
The young Sodno was standing ready for him, and as the Stalo passed the threshold struck him such a blow on the head that he rolled over with a crash and never stirred again. The two Sodnos did not trouble about him, but quickly stripped the younger Stalos of their clothes, in which they dressed themselves. Then they sat still till the dawn should break and they could find out from the Stalos' mother where the treasure was hidden.
With the first rays of the sun the young Sodno went upstairs and entered the old woman's room. She was already up and dressed, and sitting by the window knitting, and the young man crept in softly and crouched down on the floor, laying his head on her lap. For a while he kept silence, then he whispered gently:'Tell me, dear mother, where did my eldest brother conceal his riches?' 'What a strange question! Surely you must know,' answered she. 'No, I have forgotten; my memory is so bad.' 'He dug a hole under the doorstep and placed it there,' said she. And there was another pause. By-and-by the Sodno asked again: 'And where may my second brother's money be?' 'Don't you know that either?' cried the mother in surprise. 'Oh, yes; I did once. But since I fell upon my head I can remember nothing.' 'It is behind the oven,' answered she. And again was silence. 'Mother, dear mother,' said the young man at last, 'I am almost afraid to ask you; but I really have grown so stupid of late. Where did I hide my own money?'
But at this question the old woman flew into a passion, and vowed that if she could find a rod she would bring his memory back to him. Luckily, no rod was within her reach, and the Sodno managed, after a little, to coax her back into good humour, and at length she told him that the youngest Stalo had buried his treasure under the very place where she was sitting.'Dear mother,' said Lyman, who had come in unseen, and was kneeling in front of the fire. 'Dear mother, do you know who it is you have been talking with?' The old woman started, but answered quietly: 'It is a Sodno, I suppose?' 'You have guessed right,' replied Lyma. The mother of the Stalos looked round for her iron cane, which she always used to kill her victims, but it was not there, for Lyma had put it in the fire. 'Where is my iron cane?' asked the old woman. 'There!' answered Lyma, pointing to the flames. The old woman sprang forwards and seized it, but her clothes caught fire, and in a few minutes she was burned to ashes. So the Sodno brothers found the treasure, and they carried it, and their sister and the reindeer, to their own home, and were the richest men in all Lapland. [From Lapplandische Marchen, J. C. Poestion.]
Once upon a time there lived in Lapland a man who was so very strong and swift of foot that nobody in his native town of Vadso could come near him if they were running races in the summer evenings. The people of Vadso were very proud of their champion, and thought that there was no one like him in the world, till, byand-by, it came to their ears that there dwelt among the mountains a Lapp, Andras Baive by name, who was said by his friends to be even stronger and swifter than the bailiff. Of course not a creature in Vadso believed that, and declared that if it made the mountaineers happier to talk such nonsense, why, let them!
The winter was long and cold, and the thoughts of the villagers were much busier with wolves than with Andras Baive, when suddenly, on a frosty day, he made his appearance in the little town of Vadso. The bailiff was delighted at this chance of trying his strength, and at once went out to seek Andras and to coax him into giving proof of his vigour. As he walked along his eyes fell upon a big eight-oared boat that lay upon the shore, and his face shone with pleasure. 'That is the very thing,' laughed he, 'I will make him jump over that boat.' Andras was quite ready to accept the challenge, and they soon settled the terms of the wager. He who could jump over the boat without so much as touching it with his heel was to be the winner, and would get a large sum of money as the prize. So, followed by many of the villagers, the two men walked down to the sea.
An old fisherman was chosen to stand near the boat to watch fair play, and to hold the stakes, and Andras, as the stranger was told to jump first. Going back to the flag which had been stuck into the sand to mark the starting place, he ran forward, with his head well thrown back, and cleared the boat with a mighty bound. The lookers- on cheered him, and indeed he well deserve it; but they waited anxiously all the same to see what the bailiff would do. On he came, taller than Andras by several inches, but heavier of build. He too sprang high and well, but as he came down his heel just grazed the edge of the boat. Dead silence reigned amidst the townsfolk, but Andras only laughed and said carelessly:'Just a little too short, bailiff; next time you must do better than that.'
The bailiff turned red with anger at his rival's scornful words, and answered quickly: 'Next time you will have something harder to do.' And turning his back on his friends, he went sulkily home. Andras, putting the money he had earned in his pocket, went home also.
The following spring Andras happened to be driving his reindeer along a great fiord to the west of Vadso. A boy who had met him hastened to tell the bailiff that his enemy was only a few miles off; and the bailiff, disguising himself as a Stalo, or ogre, called his son and his dog and rowed away across the fiord to the place where the boy had met Andras.
Now the mountaineer was lazily walking along the sands, thinking of the new hut that he was building with the money that he had won on the day of his lucky jump. He wandered on, his eyes fixed on the sands, so that he did not see the bailiff drive his boat behind a rock, while he changed himself into a heap of wreckage which floated in on the waves. A stumble over a stone recalled Andras to himself, and looking up he beheld the mass of wreckage. 'Dear me! I may find some use for that,' he said; and hastened down to the sea, waiting till he could lay hold of some stray rope which might float towards him. Suddenly--he could not have told why--a nameless fear seized upon him, and he fled away from the shore as if for his life. As he ran he heard the sound of a pipe, such as only ogres of the Stalo kind were wont to use; and there flashed into his mind what the bailiff had said when they jumped the boat: 'Next time you will have something harder to do.' So it was no wreckage after all that he had seen, but the bailiff himself.
It happened that in the long summer nights up in the mountain, where the sun never set, and it was very difficult to get to sleep, Andras had spent many hours in the study of magic, and this stood him in good stead now. The instant he heard the Stalo music he wished himself to become the feet of a reindeer, and in this guise he galloped like the wind for several miles. Then he stopped to take breath and find out what his enemy was doing. Nothing he could see, but to his ears the notes of a pipe floated over the plain, and ever, as he listened, it drew nearer.
A cold shiver shook Andras, and this time he wished himself the feet of a reindeer calf. For when a reindeer calf has reached the age at which he begins first to lose his hair he is so swift that neither beast nor bird can come near him. A reindeer calf is the swiftest of all things living. Yes; but not so swift as a Stalo, as Andras found out when he stopped to rest, and heard the pipe playing!
For a moment his heart sank, and he gave himself up for dead, till he remembered that, not far off, were two little lakes joined together by a short though very broad river. In the middle of the river lay a stone that was always covered by water, except in dry seasons, and as the winter rains had been very heavy, he felt quite sure that not even the top of it could be seen. The next minute, if anyone had been looking that way, he would have beheld a small reindeer calf speeding northwards, and by-and-by giving a great spring, which landed him in the midst of the stream. But, instead of sinking to the bottom, he paused a second to steady himself, then gave a second spring which landed him on the further shore. He next ran on to a little hill where he saw down and began to neigh loudly, so that the Stalo might know exactly where he was.'Ah! There you are,' cried the Stalo, appearing on the opposite bank; 'for a moment I really thought I had lost you.' 'No such luck,' answered Andras, shaking his head sorrowfully. By this time he had taken his own shape again. 'Well, but I don't see how I am to get to you1' said the Stalo, looking up and down. 'Jump over, as I did,' answered Andras; 'it is quite easy.'
'But I could not jump this river; and I don't know how you did,' replied the Stalo. 'I should be ashamed to say such things,' exclaimed Andras. 'Do you mean to tell me that a jump, which the weakest Lapp boy would make nothing of, is beyond your strength?'
The Stalo grew red and angry when he heard these words, just as Andras meant him to do. He bounded into the air and fell straight into the river. Not that that would have mattered, for he was a good swimmer; but Andras drew out the bow and arrows which every Lapp carries, and took aim at him. His aim was good, but the Stalo sprang so high into the air that the arrow flew between his feet. A second shot, directed at his forehead, fared no better, for this time the Stalo jumped so high to the other side that the arrow passed between his finger and thumb. Then Andras aimed his third arrow a little over the Stalo's head, and when he sprang up, just an instant too soon, it hit him between the ribs.Mortally wounded as he was, the Stalo was not yet dead, and managed to swim to the shore. Stretching himself on the sand, he said slowly to Andras:
'Promise that you will give me an honourable burial, and when my body is laid in the grave go in my boat across the fiord, and take whatever you find in my house which belongs to me. My dog you must kill, but spare my son, Andras.'
Then he died; and Andras sailed in his boat away across the fiord and found the dog and boy. The dog, a fierce, wicked-looking creature, he slew with one blow from his fist, for it is well known that if a Stalo's dog licks the blood that flows from his dead master's wounds the Stalo comes to life again. That is why no REAL Stalo is ever seen without his dog; but the bailiff, being only half a Stalo, had forgotten him, when he went to the little lakes in search of Andras. Next, Andras put all the gold and jewels which he found in the boat into his pockets, and bidding the boy get in, pushed it off from the shore, leaving the little craft to drift as it would, while he himself ran home. With the treasure he possessed he was able to buy a great herd of reindeer; and he soon married a rich wife, whose parents would not have him as a son-in-law when he was poor, and the two lived happy for ever after.[From Lapplandische Mahrchen, J. C. Poestion.]
The White SlipperOnce upon a time there lived a king who had a daughter just fifteen years old. And what a daughter!
Even the mothers who had daughters of their own could not help allowing that the princess was much more beautiful and graceful than any of them; and, as for the fathers, if one of them ever beheld her by accident he could talk of nothing else for a whole day afterwards.
Of course the king, whose name was Balancin, was the complete slave of his little girl from the moment he lifted her from the arms of her dead mother; indeed, he did not seem to know that there was anyone else in the world to love.
Now Diamantina, for that was her name, did not reach her fifteenth birthday without proposals for marriage from every country under heaven; but be the suitor who he might, the king always said him nay.
Behind the palace a large garden stretched away to the foot of some hills, and more than one river flowed through. Hither the princess would come each evening towards sunset, attended by her ladies, and gather herself the flowers that were to adorn her rooms. She also brought with her a pair of scissors to cut off the dead blooms, and a basket to put them in, so that when the sun rose next morning he might see nothing unsightly. When she had finished this task she would take a walk through the town, so that the poor people might have a chance of speaking with her, and telling her of their troubles; and then she would seek out her father, and together they would consult over the best means of giving help to those who needed it.But what has all this to do with the White Slipper? my readers will ask. Have patience, and you will see.
Next to his daughter, Balancin loved hunting, and it was his custom to spend several mornings every week chasing the boars which abounded in the mountains a few miles from the city. One day, rushing downhill as fast as he could go, he put his foot into a hole and fell, rolling into a rocky pit of brambles. The king's wounds were not very severe, but his face and hands were cut and torn, while his feet were in a worse plight still, for, instead of proper hunting boots, he only wore sandals, to enable him to run more swiftly.
In a few days the king was as well as ever, and the signs of the scratches were almost gone; but one foot still remained very sore, where a thorn had pierced deeply and had festered. The best doctors in the kingdom treated it with all their skill; they bathed, and poulticed, and bandaged, but it was in vain. The foot only grew worse and worse, and became daily more swollen and painful.
After everyone had tried his own particular cure, and found it fail, there came news of a wonderful doctor in some distant land who had healed the most astonishing diseases. On inquiring, it was found that he never left the walls of his own city, and expected his patients to come to see him; but, by dint of offering a large sum of money, the king persuaded the famous physician to undertake the journey to his own court.On his arrival the doctor was led at once into the king's presence, and made a careful examination of his foot.
'Alas! your majesty,' he said, when he had finished, 'the wound is beyond the power of man to heal; but though I cannot cure it, I can at least deaden the pain, and enable you to walk without so much suffering.''Oh, if you can only do that,' cried the king, 'I shall be grateful to you for life! Give your own orders; they shall be obeyed.'
'Then let your majesty bid the royal shoemaker make you a shoe of goat-skin very loose and comfortable, while I prepare a varnish to paint over it of which I alone have the secret!' So saying, the doctor bowed himself out, leaving the king more cheerful and hopeful than he had been for long.
The days passed very slowly with him during the making of the shoe and the preparation of the varnish, but on the eighth morning the physician appeared, bringing with him the shoe in a case. He drew it out to slip on the king's foot, and over the goat-skin he had rubbed a polish so white that the snow itself was not more dazzling.
'While you wear this shoe you will not feel the slightest pain,' said the doctor. 'For the balsam with which I have rubbed it inside and out has, besides its healing balm, the quality of strengthening the material it touches, so that, even were your majesty to live a thousand years, you would find the slipper just as fresh at the end of that time as it is now.'
The king was so eager to put it on that he hardly gave the physician time to finish. He snatched it from the case and thrust his foot into it, nearly weeping for joy when he found he could walk and run as easily as any beggar boy.
'What can I give you?' he cried, holding out both hands to the man who had worked this wonder. 'Stay with me, and I will heap on you riches greater than ever you dreamed of.' But the doctor said he would accept nothing more than had been agreed on, and must return at once to his own country, where many sick people were awaiting him. So king Balancin had to content himself with ordering the physician to be treated with royal honours, and desiring that an escort should attend him on his journey home.
For two years everything went smoothly at court, and to king Balancin and his daughter the sun no sooner rose than it seemed time for it to set. Now, the king's birthday fell in the month of June, and as the weather happened to be unusually fine, he told the princess to celebrate it in any way that pleased her. Diamantina was very fond of being on the river, and she was delighted at this chance of delighting her tastes. She would have a merry-making such as never had been seen before, and in the evening, when they were tired of sailing and rowing, there should be music and dancing, plays and fireworks. At the very end, before the people went home, every poor person should be given a loaf of bread and every girl who was to be married within the year a new dress.
The great day appeared to Diamantina to be long in coming, but, like other days, it came at last. Before the sun was fairly up in the heavens the princess, too full of excitement to stay in the palace, was walking about the streets so covered with precious stones that you had to shade your eyes before you could look at her. By-and-by a trumpet sounded, and she hurried home, only to appear again in a few moments walking by the side of her father down to the river. Here a splendid barge was waiting for them, and from it they watched all sorts of races and feats of swimming and diving. When these were over the barge proceeded up the river to the field where the dancing and concerts were to take place, and after the prizes had been given away to the winners, and the loaves and the dresses had been distributed by the princess, they bade farewell to their guests, and turned to step into the barge which was to carry them back to the palace.
Then a dreadful thing happened. As the king stepped on board the boat one of the sandals of the white slipper, which had got loose, caught in a nail that was sticking out, and caused the king to stumble. The pain was great, and unconsciously he turned and shook his foot, so that the sandals gave way, and in a moment the precious shoe was in the river.It had all occurred so quickly that nobody had noticed the loss of the slipper, not even the princess, whom the king's cries speedily brought to his side.
'What is the matter, dear father?' asked she. But the king could not tell her; and only managed to gasp out: 'My shoe! my shoe!' While the sailors stood round staring, thinking that his majesty had suddenly gone mad.
Seeing her father's eyes fixed on the stream, Diamantina looked hastily in that direction. There, dancing on the current, was the point of something white, which became more and more distant the longer they watched it. The king could bear the sight no more, and, besides, now that the healing ointment in the shoe had been removed the pain in his foot was as bad as ever; he gave a sudden cry, staggered, and fell over the bulwarks into the water.
In an instant the river was covered with bobbing heads all swimming their fastest towards the king, who had been carried far down by the swift current. At length one swimmer, stronger than the rest, seized hold of his tunic, and drew him to the bank, where a thousand eager hands were ready to haul him out. He was carried, unconscious, to the side of his daughter, who had fainted with terror on seeing her father disappear below the surface, and together they were place in a coach and driven to the palace, where the best doctors in the city were awaiting their arrival.
In a few hours the princess was as well as ever; but the pain, the wetting, and the shock of the accident, all told severely on the king, and for three days he lay in a high fever. Meanwhile, his daughter, herself nearly mad with grief, gave orders that the white slipper should be sought for far and wide; and so it was, but even the cleverest divers could find no trace of it at the bottom of the river. When it became clear that the slipper must have been carried out to sea by the current, Diamantina turned her thoughts elsewhere, and sent messengers in search of the doctor who had brought relief to her father, begging him to make another slipper as fast as possible, to supply the place of the one which was lost. But the messengers returned with the sad news that the doctor had died some weeks before, and, what was worse, his secret had died with him.
In his weakness this intelligence had such an effect on the king that the physicians feared he would become as ill as before. He could hardly be persuaded to touch food, and all night long he lay moaning, partly with pain, and partly over his own folly in not having begged the doctor to make him several dozens of white slippers, so that in case of accidents he might always have one to put on. However, by-and-by he saw that it was no use weeping and wailing, and commanded that they should search for his lost treasure more diligently than ever.
What a sight the river banks presented in those days! It seemed as if all the people in the country were gathered on them. But this second search was no more fortunate than the first, and at last the king issued a proclamation that whoever found the missing slipper should be made heir to the crown, and should marry the princess.
Now many daughters would have rebelled at being disposed of in the manner; and it must be admitted that Diamantina's heart sank when she heard what the king had done. Still, she loved her father so much that she desired his comfort more than anything else in the world, so she said nothing, and only bowed her head.
Of course the result of the proclamation was that the river banks became more crowded than before; for all the princess's suitors from distant lands flocked to the spot, each hoping that he might be the lucky finder. Many times a shining stone at the bottom of the stream was taken for the slipper itself, and every evening saw a band of dripping downcast men returning homewards. But one youth always lingered longer than the rest, and night would still see him engaged in the search, though his clothes stuck to his skin and his teeth chattered.
One day, when the king was lying on his bed racked with pain, he heard the noise of a scuffle going on in his antechamber, and rang a golden bell that stood by his side to summon one of his servants.
'Sire,' answered the attendant, when the king inquired what was the matter, 'the noise you heard was caused by a young man from the town, who has had the impudence to come here to ask if he may measure your majesty's foot, so as to make you another slipper in place of the lost one.''And what have you done to the youth?' said the king.
'The servants pushed him out of the palace, and, added a few blows to teach him not to be insolent,' replied the man.
'Then they did very ill,' answered the king, with a frown. 'He came here from kindness, and there was no reason to maltreat him.'
'Oh, my lord, he had the audacity to wish to touch your majesty's sacred person-he, a good-for-nothing boy, a mere shoemaker's apprentice, perhaps! And even if he could make shoes to perfection they would be no use without the soothing balsam.'The king remained silent for a few moments, then he said: 'Never mind. Go and fetch the youth and bring him to me. I would gladly try any remedy that may relieve my pain.' So, soon afterwards, the youth, who had not gone far from the palace, was caught and ushered into the king's presence.
He was tall and handsome and, though he professed to make shoes, his manners were good and modest, and he bowed low as he begged the king not only to allow him to take the measure of his foot, but also to suffer him to place a healing plaster over the wound.
Balancin was pleased with the young man's voice and appearance, and thought that he looked as if he knew what he was doing. So he stretched out his bad foot which the youth examined with great attention, and then gently laid on the plaster.
Very shortly the ointment began to soothe the sharp pain, and the king, whose confidence increased every moment, begged the young man to tell him his name.
'I have no parents; they died when I was six, sire,' replied the youth, modestly. 'Everyone in the town calls me Gilguerillo[FN#1], because, when I was little, I went singing through the world in spite of my misfortunes. Luckily for me I was born to be happy.''And you really think you can cure me?' asked the king. 'Completely, my lord,' answered Gilguerillo. 'And how long do you think it will take?' 'It is not an easy task; but I will try to finish it in a fortnight,' replied the youth. A fortnight seemed to the king a long time to make one slipper. But he only said: 'Do you need anything to help you?'
'Only a good horse, if your majesty will be kind enough to give me one,' answered Gilguerillo. And the reply was so unexpected that the courtiers could hardly restrain their smiles, while the king stared silently.
'You shall have the horse,' he said at last, 'and I shall expect you back in a fortnight. If you fulfil your promise you know your reward; if not, I will have you flogged for your impudence.'
He waited in front of the gates till a magnificent horse was led up to him, and vaulting into the saddle with an ease which rather surprised the attendant, rode quickly out of the town amidst the jests of the assembled crowd, who had heard of his audacious proposal. And while he is on his way let us pause for a moment and tell who he is.
Both father and mother had died before the boy was six years old; and he had lived for many years with his uncle, whose life had been passed in the study of chemistry. He could leave no money to his nephew, as he had a son of his own; but he taught him all he knew, and at his dead Gilguerillo entered an office, where he worked for many hours daily. In his spare time, instead of playing with the other boys, he passed hours poring over books, and because he was timid and liked to be alone he was held by everyone to be a little mad. Therefore, when it became known that he had promised to cure the king's foot, and had ridden away--no one knew where--a roar of laughter and mockery rang through the town, and jeers and scoffing words were sent after him.But if they had only known what were Gilguerillo's thoughts they would have thought him madder than ever.
The real truth was that, on the morning when the princess had walked through the streets before making holiday on the river Gilguerillo had seen her from his window, and had straightway fallen in love with her. Of course he felt quite hopeless. It was absurd to imagine that the apothecary's nephew could ever marry the king's daughter; so he did his best to forget her, and study harder than before, till the royal proclamation suddenly filled him with hope. When he was free he no longer spent the precious moments poring over books, but, like the rest, he might have been seen wandering along the banks of the river, or diving into the stream after something that lay glistening in the clear water, but which turned out to be a white pebble or a bit of glass.And at the end he understood that it was not by the river that he would win the princess; and, turning to his books for comfort, he studied harder than ever.
There is an old proverb which says: 'Everything comes to him who knows how to wait.' It is not all men who know hot to wait, any more than it is all men who can learn by experience; but Gilguerillo was one of the few and instead of thinking his life wasted because he could not have the thing he wanted most, he tried to busy himself in other directions. So, one day, when he expected it least, his reward came to him.
He happened to be reading a book many hundreds of years old, which told of remedies for all kinds of diseases. Most of them, he knew, were merely invented by old women, who sought to prove themselves wiser than other people; but at length he came to something which caused him to sit up straight in his chair, and made his eyes brighten. This was the description of a balsam-- which would cure every kind of sore or wound--distilled from a plant only to be found in a country so distant that it would take a man on foot two months to go and come back again.
When I say that the book declared that the balsam could heal every sort of sore or wound, there were a few against which it was powerless, and it gave certain signs by which these might be known. This was the reason why Gilguerillo demanded to see the king's foot before he would undertake to cure it; and to obtain admittance he gave out that he was a shoemaker. However, the dreaded signs were absent, and his heart bounded at the thought that the princess was within his reach.Perhaps she was; but a great deal had to be accomplished yet, and he had allowed himself a very short time in which to do it.
He spared his horse only so much as was needful, yet it took him six days to reach the spot where the plant grew. A thick wood lay in front of him, and, fastening the bridle tightly to a tree, he flung himself on his hands and knees and began to hunt for the treasure. Many time he fancied it was close to him, and many times it turned out to be something else; but, at last, when light was fading, and he had almost given up hope, he came upon a large bed of the plant, right under his feet! Trembling with joy, he picked every scrap he could see, and placed it in his wallet. Then, mounting his horse, he galloped quickly back towards the city.
It was night when he entered the gates, and the fifteen days allotted were not up till the next day. His eyes were heavy with sleep, and his body ached with the long strain, but, without pausing to rest, he kindled a fire on is hearth, and quickly filling a pot with water, threw in the herbs and left them to boil. After that he lay down and slept soundly.
The sun was shining when he awoke, and he jumped up and ran to the pot. The plant had disappeared and in its stead was a thick syrup, just as the book had said there would be. He lifted the syrup out with a spoon, and after spreading it in the sun till it was partly dry, poured it into a small flask of crystal. He next washed himself thoroughly, and dressed himself, in his best clothes, and putting the flask in his pocket, set out for the palace, and begged to see the king without delay.
Now Balancin, whose foot had been much less painful since Gilguerillo had wrapped it in the plaster, was counting the days to the young man's return; and when he was told Gilguerillo was there, ordered him to be admitted at once. As he entered, the king raised himself eagerly on his pillows, but his face fell when he saw no signs of a slipper.'You have failed, then?' he said, throwing up his hands in despair.
'I hope not, your majesty; I think not,' answered the youth. And drawing the flask from his pocket, he poured two or three drops on the wound.
'Repeat this for three nights, and you will find yourself cured,' said he. And before the king had time to thank him he had bowed himself out.
Of course the news soon spread through the city, and men and women never tired of calling Gilguerillo an impostor, and prophesying that the end of the three days would see him in prison, if not on the scaffold. But Gilguerillo paid no heed to their hard words, and no more did the king, who took care that no hand but his own should put on the healing balsam.
On the fourth morning the king awoke and instantly stretched out his wounded foot that he might prove the truth or falsehood of Gilguerillo's remedy. The wound was certainly cured on that side, but how about the other? Yes, that was cured also; and not even a scar was left to show where it had been!Was ever any king so happy as Balancin when he satisfied himself of this?
Lightly as a deer he jumped from his bed, and began to turn head over heels and to perform all sorts of antics, so as to make sure that his foot was in truth as well as it looked. And when he was quite tired he sent for his daughter, and bade the courtiers bring the lucky young man to his room.
'He is really young and handsome,' said the princess to herself, heaving a sigh of relief that it was not some dreadful old man who had healed her father; and while the king was announcing to his courtiers the wonderful cure that had been made, Diamantina was thinking that if Gilguerillo looked so well in his common dress, how much improved by the splendid garments of a king' son. However, she held her peace, and only watched with amusement when the courtiers, knowing there was no help for it, did homage and obeisance to the chemist's boy.
Then they brought to Gilguerillo a magnificent tunic of green velvet bordered with gold, and a cap with three white plumes stuck in it; and at the sight of him so arrayed, the princess fell in love with him in a moment. The wedding was fixed to take place in eight days, and at the ball afterwards nobody danced so long or so lightly as king Balancin.[From Capullos de Rosa, por D. Enrique Ceballos Quintana.] [FN#1] Linnet.
The Magic Book
There was once an old couple named Peder and Kirsten who had an only son called Hans. From the time he was a little boy he had been told that on his sixteenth birthday he must go out into the world and serve his apprenticeship. So, one fine summer morning, he started off to seek his fortune with nothing but the clothes he wore on his back.
For many hours he trudged on merrily, now and then stopping to drink from some clear spring or to pick some ripe fruit from a tree. The little wild creatures peeped at him from beneath the bushes, and he nodded and smiled, and wished them 'Good-morning.' After he had been walking for some time he met an old whitebearded man who was coming along the footpath. The boy would not step aside, and the man was determined not to do so either, so they ran against one another with a bump.'It seems to me,' said the old fellow, 'that a boy should give way to an old man.' 'The path is for me as well as for you,' answered young Hans saucily, for he had never been taught politeness. 'Well, that's true enough,' answered the other mildly. 'And where are you going?' 'I am going into service,' said Hans. 'Then you can come and serve me,' replied the man. Well, Hans could do that; but what would his wages be? 'Two pounds a year, and nothing to do but keep some rooms clean,' said the new-comer.
This seemed to Hans to be easy enough; so he agreed to enter the old man's service, and they set out together. On their way they crossed a deep valley and came to a mountain, where the man opened a trapdoor, and bidding Hans follow him, he crept in and began to go down a long flight of steps. When they got to the bottom Hans saw a large number of rooms lit by many lamps and full of beautiful things. While he was looking round the old man said to him:
'Now you know what you have to do. You must keep these rooms clean, and strew sand on the floor every day. Here is a table where you will always find food and drink, and there is your bed. You see there are a great many suits of clothes hanging on the wall, and you may wear any you please; but remember that you are never to open this locked door. If you do ill will befall you. Farewell, for I am going away again and cannot tell when I may return.
No sooner had the old man disappeared than Hans sat down to a good meal, and after that went to bed and slept until the morning. At first he could not remember what had happened to him, but by-and-by he jumped up and went into all the rooms, which he examined carefully.
'How foolish to bid me to put sand on the floors,' he thought, 'when there is nobody here by myself! I shall do nothing of the sort.' And so he shut the doors quickly, and only cleaned and set in order his own room. And after the first few days he felt that that was unnecessary too, because no one came there to see if the rooms where clean or not. At last he did no work at all, but just sat and wondered what was behind the locked door, till he determined to go and look for himself.
The key turned easily in the lock. Hans entered, half frightened at what he was doing, and the first thing he beheld was a heap of bones. That was not very cheerful; and he was just going out again when his eye fell on a shelf of books. Here was a good way of passing the time, he thought, for he was fond of reading, and he took one of the books from the shelf. It was all about magic, and told you how you could change yourself into anything in the world you liked. Could anything be more exciting or more useful? So he put it in his pocket, and ran quickly away out of the mountain by a little door which had been left open.When he got home his parents asked him what he had been doing and where he had got the fine clothes he wore. 'Oh, I earned them myself,' answered he. 'You never earned them in this short time,' said his father. 'Be off with you; I won't keep you here. I will have no thieves in my house!'
'Well I only came to help you,' replied the boy sulkily. 'Now I'll be off, as you wish; but to-morrow morning when you rise you will see a great dog at the door. Do not drive it away, but take it to the castle and sell it to the duke, and they will give you ten dollars for it; only you must bring the strap you lead it with, back to the house.'
Sure enough the next day the dog was standing at the door waiting to be let in. The old man was rather afraid of getting into trouble, but his wife urged him to sell the dog as the boy had bidden him, so he took it up to the castle and sold it to the duke for ten dollars. But he did not forget to take off the strap with which he had led the animal, and to carry it home. When he got there old Kirsten met him at the door.'Well, Peder, and have you sold the dog?' asked she. 'Yes, Kirsten; and I have brought back ten dollars, as the boy told us,' answered Peder.
'Ay! but that's fine!' said his wife. 'Now you see what one gets by doing as one is bid; if it had not been for me you would have driven the dog away again, and we should have lost the money. After all, I always know what is best.' 'Nonsense!' said her husband; 'women always think they know best. I should have sold the dog just the same whatever you had told me. Put the money away in a safe place, and don't talk so much.'The next day Hans came again; but though everything had turned out as he had foretold, he found that his father was still not quite satisfied. 'Be off with you!' said he, 'you'll get us into trouble.'
'I haven't helped you enough yet,' replied the boy. 'To-morrow there will come a great fat cow, as big as the house. Take it to the king's palace and you'll get as much as a thousand dollars for it. Only you must unfasten the halter you lead it with and bring it back, and don't return by the high road, but through the forest.'
The next day, when the couple rose, they saw an enormous head looking in at their bedroom window, and behind it was a cow which was nearly as big as their hut. Kirsten was wild with joy to think of the money the cow would bring them.'But how are you going to put the rope over her head?' asked she.
'Wait and you'll see, mother,' answered her husband. Then Peder took the ladder that led up to the hayloft and set it against the cow's neck, and he climbed up and slipped the rope over her head. When he had made sure that the noose was fast they started for the palace, and met the king himself walking in his grounds.
'I heard that the princess was going to be married,' said Peder, 'so I've brought your majesty a cow which is bigger than any cow that was ever seen. Will your majesty deign to buy it?'
The king had, in truth, never seen so large a beast, and he willingly paid the thousand dollars, which was the price demanded; but Peder remembered to take off the halter before he left. After he was gone the king sent for the butcher and told him to kill the animal for the wedding feast. The butcher got ready his poleaxe; but just as he was going to strike, the cow changed itself into a dove and flew away, and the butcher stood staring after it as if he were turned to stone. However, as the dove could not be found, he was obliged to tell the king what had happened, and the king in his turn despatched messengers to capture the old man and bring him back. But Peder was safe in the woods, and could not be found. When at last he felt the danger was over, and he might go home, Kirsten nearly fainted with joy at the sight of all the money he brought with him.
'Now that we are rich people we must build a bigger house,' cried she; and was vexed to find that Peder only shook his head and said: 'No; if they did that people would talk, and say they had got their wealth by ill-doing.'A few mornings later Hans came again.
'Be off before you get us into trouble,' said his father. 'So far the money has come right enough, but I don't trust it.'
'Don't worry over that, father,' said Hans. 'To-morrow you will find a horse outside by the gate. Ride it to market and you will get a thousand dollars for it. Only don't forget to loosen the bridle when you sell it.'
'Nonsense, wife,' answered he crossly. 'When I was a lad I lived with horses, and could ride anything for twenty miles round.' But that was not quite the truth, for he had never mounted a horse in his life.
Still, the animal was quiet enough, so Peder got safely to market on its back. There he met a man who offered nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars for it, but Peder would take nothing less than a thousand. At last there came an old, greybearded man who looked at the horse and agreed to buy it; but the moment he touched it the horse began to kick and plunge. 'I must take the bridle off,' said Peder. 'It is not to be sold with the animal as is usually the case.''I'll give you a hundred dollars for the bridle,' said the old man, taking out his purse. 'No, I can't sell it,' replied Hans's father. 'Five hundred dollars!' 'No.' 'A thousand!'
At this splendid offer Peder's prudence gave way; it was a shame to let so much money go. So he agreed to accept it. But he could hardly hold the horse, it became so unmanageable. So he gave the animal in charge to the old man, and went home with his two thousand dollars.
Kirsten, of course, was delighted at this new piece of good fortune, and insisted that the new house should be built and land bought. This time Peder consented, and soon they had quite a fine farm.
Meanwhile the old man rode off on his new purchase, and when he came to a smithy he asked the smith to forge shoes for the horse. The smith proposed that they should first have a drink together, and the horse was tied up by the spring whilst they went indoors. The day was hot, and both men were thirsty, and, besides, they had much to say; and so the hours slipped by and found them still talking. Then the servant girl came out to fetch a pail of water, and, being a kind- hearted lass, she gave some to the horse to drink. What was her surprise when the animal said to her: 'Take off my bridle and you will save my life.''I dare not,' said she; 'your master will be so angry.'
'He cannot hurt you,' answered the horse, 'and you will save my life.' At that she took off the bridle; but nearly fainted with astonishment when the horse turned into a dove and flew away just as the old man came out of the house. Directly he saw what had happened he changed himself into a hawk and flew after the dove. Over the woods and fields they went, and at length they reached a king's palace surrounded by beautiful gardens. The princess was walking with her attendants in the rose garden when the dove turned itself into a gold ring and fell at her feet.
'Why, here is a ring!' she cried, 'where could it have come from?' And picking it up she put it on her finger. As she did so the hill-man lost his power over Hans-for of course you understand that it was he who had been the dog, the cow, the horse and the dove.'Well, that is really strange,' said the princess. 'It fits me as though it had been made for me!' Just at that moment up came the king. 'Look at what I have found!' cried his daughter. 'Well, that is not worth much, my dear,' said he. 'Besides, you have rings enough, I should think.' 'Never mind, I like it,' replied the princess.
But as soon as she was alone, to her amazement, the ring suddenly left her finger and became a man. You can imagine how frightened she was, as, indeed, anybody would have been; but in an instant the man became a ring again, and then turned back to a man, and so it went on for some time until she began to get used to these sudden changes.
'I am sorry I frightened you,' said Hans, when he thought he could safely speak to the princess without making her scream. 'I took refuge with you because the old hill-man, whom I have offended, was trying to kill me, and here I am safe.'
'You had better stay here then,' said the princess. So Hans stayed, and he and she became good friends; though, of course, he only became a man when no one else was present.
This was all very well; but, one day, as they were talking together, the king happened to enter the room, and although Hans quickly changed himself into a ring again it was too late.The king was terribly angry. 'So this is why you have refused to marry all the kings and princes who have sought your hand?' he cried.
And, without waiting for her to speak, he commanded that his daughter should be walled up in the summer-house and starved to death with her lover. That evening the poor princess, still wearing her ring, was put into the summerhouse with enough food to last for three days, and the door was bricked up. But at the end of a week or two the king thought it was time to give her a grand funeral, in spite of her bad behaviour, and he had the summer-house opened. He could hardly believe his eyes when he found that the princess was not there, nor Hans either. Instead, there lay at his feet a large hole, big enough for two people to pass through.Now what had happened was this.
When the princess and Hans had given up hope, and cast themselves down on the ground to die, they fell down this hole, and right through the earth as well, and at last they tumbled into a castle built of pure gold at the other side of the world, and there they lived happily. But of this, of course, the king knew nothing.
'Will anyone go down and see where the passage leads to?' he asked, turning to his guards and courtiers. 'I will reward splendidly the man who is brave enough to explore it.'
For a long time nobody answered. The hole was dark and deep, and if it had a bottom no one could see it. At length a soldier, who was a careless sort of fellow, offered himself for the service, and cautiously lowered himself into the darkness. But in a moment he, too, fell down, down, down. Was he going to fall for ever, he wondered! Oh, how thankful he was in the end to reach the castle, and to meet the princess and Hans, looking quite well and not at all as if they had been starved. They began to talk, and the soldier told them that the king was very sorry for the way he had treated his daughter, and wished day and night that he could have her back again.
Then they all took ship and sailed home, and when they came to the princess's country, Hans disguised himself as the sovereign of a neighbouring kingdom, and went up to the palace alone. He was given a hearty welcome by the king, who prided himself on his hospitality, and a banquet was commanded in his honour. That evening, whilst they sat drinking their wine, Hans said to the king:
'I have heard the fame of your majesty's wisdom, and I have travelled from far to ask your counsel. A man in my country has buried his daughter alive because she loved a youth who was born a peasant. How shall I punish this unnatural father, for it is left to me to give judgment?'The king, who was still truly grieved for his daughter's loss, answered quickly: 'Burn him alive, and strew his ashes all over the kingdom.' Hans looked at him steadily for a moment, and then threw off his disguise.
'You are the man,' said he; 'and I am he who loved your daughter, and became a gold ring on her finger. She is safe, and waiting not far from here; but you have pronounced judgment on yourself.'
Then the king fell on his knees and begged for mercy; and as he had in other respects been a good father, they forgave him. The wedding of Hans and the princess was celebrated with great festivities which lasted a month. As for the hill-man he intended to be present; but whilst he was walking along a street which led to the palace a loose stone fell on his head and killed him. So Hans and the princess lived in peace and happiness all their days, and when the old king died they reigned instead of him.