Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen
From the French of Alex. Chodsko
Translated and Illustrated by Emily J. Harding
London: George Allen 156 Charing Cross Road
Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. At the Ballantyne Press
NOTE BY THE PUBLISHER
Very few of the twenty fairy tales included in this volume have been presented before in an English dress; this will doubtless enhance their value in the eyes of the young folk, for whom, principally, they are intended. It is hoped that older readers will find some additional interest in tracing throughout the many evidences of kinship between these stories and those of more pronounced Eastern origin.
The translation has been carefully revised by a well-known writer, who has interfered as little as possible with the original text, except in those instances where slight alterations were necessary.
The illustrations speak for themselves, and are what might have been expected from the artist who designed those for the "Lullabies of Many Lands," issued last Christmas.
THE ABODE OF THE GODS— I. THE TWO BROTHERS II. TIME AND THE KINGS OF THE ELEMENTS III. THE TWELVE MONTHS
THE SUN; OR, THE THREE GOLDEN HAIRS OF THE OLD MAN VSEVEDE
KOVLAD— I. THE SOVEREIGN OF THE MINERAL KINGDOM II. THE LOST CHILD
THE MAID WITH HAIR OF GOLD
THE JOURNEY TO THE SUN AND THE MOON
THE DWARF WITH THE LONG BEARD
THE FLYING CARPET, THE INVISIBLE CAP, THE GOLD-GIVING RING, AND THE SMITING CLUB
THE BROAD MAN, THE TALL MAN, AND THE MAN WITH EYES OF FLAME
THE HISTORY OF PRINCE SLUGOBYL; OR, THE INVISIBLE KNIGHT
THE SPIRIT OF THE STEPPES
THE PRINCE WITH THE GOLDEN HAND
TEARS OF PEARLS
THE STORY OF THE PLENTIFUL TABLECLOTH, THE AVENGING WAND, THE SASH THAT BECOMES A LAKE, AND THE TERRIBLE HELMET
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE ABODE OF THE GODS— I. THE TWO BROTHERS. Heading Full-page design II. TIME AND THE KINGS OF THE ELEMENTS. Heading Full-page design III. THE TWELVE MONTHS. Heading Full-page design
THE SUN; OR, THE THREE GOLDEN HAIRS OF THE OLD MAN VSEVEDE. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
KOVLAD— I. THE SOVEREIGN OF THE MINERAL KINGDOM. Heading Full-page design II. THE LOST CHILD. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE MAID WITH HAIR OF GOLD. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE JOURNEY TO THE SUN AND THE MOON. Heading Full-page design
THE DWARF WITH THE LONG BEARD. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE FLYING CARPET, THE INVISIBLE CAP, THE GOLD-GIVING RING, AND THE SMITING CLUB. Heading Full-page design Full-page design Full-page design
THE BROAD MAN, THE TALL MAN, AND THE MAN WITH EYES OF FLAME. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE HISTORY OF PRINCE SLUGOBYL; OR, THE INVISIBLE KNIGHT. Heading Full-page design
THE SPIRIT OF THE STEPPES. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE PRINCE WITH THE GOLDEN HAND. Heading Full-page design Full-page design IMPERISHABLE. Heading Full-page design Full-page design Half-page design Full-page design
OHNIVAK. Heading Full-page design Full-page design Full-page design
TEARS OF PEARLS. Heading Full-page design Full-page design
THE SLUGGARD. Heading Full-page design
KINKACH MARTINKO. Heading Full-page design
THE STORY OF THE PLENTIFUL TABLECLOTH, THE AVENGING WAND, THE SASH THAT BECOMES A LAKE, AND THE TERRIBLE HELMET. Heading Half-page design
THE ABODE OF THE GODS
I. THE TWO BROTHERS II. TIME AND THE KINGS OF THE ELEMENTS III. THE TWELVE MONTHS
Once upon a time there were two brothers whose father had left them but a small fortune. The eldest grew very rich, but at the same time cruel and wicked, whereas there was nowhere a more honest or kinder man than the younger. But he remained poor, and had many children, so that at times they could scarcely get bread to eat. At last, one day there was not even this in the house, so he went to his rich brother and asked him for a loaf of bread. Waste of time! His rich brother only called him beggar and vagabond, and slammed the door in his face.
The poor fellow, after this brutal reception, did not know which way to turn. Hungry, scantily clad, shivering with cold, his legs could scarcely carry him along. He had not the heart to go home, with nothing for the children, so he went towards the mountain forest. But all he found there were some wild pears that had fallen to the ground. He had to content himself with eating these, though they set his teeth on edge. But what was he to do to warm himself, for the east wind with its chill blast pierced him through and through. "Where shall I go?" he said; "what will become of us in the cottage? There is neither food nor fire, and my brother has driven me from his door." It was just then he remembered having heard that the top of the mountain in front of him was made of crystal, and had a fire for ever burning upon it. "I will try and find it," he said, "and then I may be able to warm myself a little." So he went on climbing higher and higher till he reached the top, when he was startled to see twelve strange beings sitting round a huge fire. He stopped for a moment, but then said to himself, "What have I to lose? Why should I fear? God is with me. Courage!"
So he advanced towards the fire, and bowing respectfully, said: "Good people, take pity on my distress. I am very poor, no one cares for me, I have not even a fire in my cottage; will you let me warm myself at yours?" They all looked kindly at him, and one of them said: "My son, come sit down with us and warm yourself."
So he sat down, and felt warm directly he was near them. But he dared not speak while they were silent. What astonished him most was that they changed seats one after another, and in such a way that each one passed round the fire and came back to his own place. When he drew near the fire an old man with long white beard and bald head arose from the flames and spoke to him thus:
"Man, waste not thy life here; return to thy cottage, work, and live honestly. Take as many embers as thou wilt, we have more than we need."
And having said this he disappeared. Then the twelve filled a large sack with embers, and, putting it on the poor man's shoulders, advised him to hasten home.
Humbly thanking them, he set off. As he went he wondered why the embers did not feel hot, and why they should weigh no more than a sack of paper. He was thankful that he should be able to have a fire, but imagine his astonishment when on arriving home he found the sack to contain as many gold pieces as there had been embers; he almost went out of his mind with joy at the possession of so much money. With all his heart he thanked those who had been so ready to help him in his need.
He was now rich, and rejoiced to be able to provide for his family. Being curious to find out how many gold pieces there were, and not knowing how to count, he sent his wife to his rich brother for the loan of a quart measure.
This time the brother was in a better temper, so he lent what was asked of him, but said mockingly, "What can such beggars as you have to measure?"
The wife replied, "Our neighbour owes us some wheat; we want to be sure he returns us the right quantity."
The rich brother was puzzled, and suspecting something he, unknown to his sister-in-law, put some grease inside the measure. The trick succeeded, for on getting it back he found a piece of gold sticking to it. Filled with astonishment, he could only suppose his brother had joined a band of robbers: so he hurried to his brother's cottage, and threatened to bring him before the Justice of the Peace if he did not confess where the gold came from. The poor man was troubled, and, dreading to offend his brother, told the story of his journey to the Crystal Mountain.
Now the elder brother had plenty of money for himself, yet he was envious of the brother's good fortune, and became greatly displeased when he found that his brother won every one's esteem by the good use he made of his wealth. At last he determined to visit the Crystal Mountain himself.
"I may meet with as good luck as my brother," said he to himself.
Upon reaching the Crystal Mountain he found the twelve seated round the fire as before, and thus addressed them:
"I beg of you, good people, to let me warm myself, for it is bitterly cold, and I am poor and homeless."
But one of them replied, "My son, the hour of thy birth was favourable; thou art rich, but a miser; thou art wicked, for thou hast dared to lie to us. Well dost thou deserve thy punishment."
Amazed and terrified he stood silent, not daring to speak. Meanwhile the twelve changed places one after another, each at last returning to his own seat. Then from the midst of the flames arose the white-bearded old man and spoke thus sternly to the rich man:
"Woe unto the wilful! Thy brother is virtuous, therefore have I blessed him. As for thee, thou art wicked, and so shalt not escape our vengeance."
At these words the twelve arose. The first seized the unfortunate man, struck him, and passed him on to the second; the second also struck him and passed him on to the third; and so did they all in their turn, until he was given up to the old man, who disappeared with him into the fire.
Days, weeks, months went by, but the rich man never returned, and none knew what had become of him. I think, between you and me, the younger brother had his suspicions but he very wisely kept them to himself.
TIME AND THE KINGS OF THE ELEMENTS
There was once a married pair who loved each other tenderly. The husband would not have given up his wife for all the riches in the world, while her first thought was how best to please him. So they were very happy, and lived like two grains in one ear of corn.
One day while working in the fields, a great longing came over him to see her: so without waiting for the hour of sunset he ran home. Alas! she was not there. He looked high and low, he ran here, there, and everywhere, he wept, he called to her; in vain! his dear wife was not to be found.
So heartbroken was he that he no longer cared to live. He could think of nothing but the loss of his dear wife and how to find her again. At last he determined to travel all over the world in search of her. So he began to walk straight on, trusting God to direct his steps. Sad and thoughtful, he wandered for many days, until he reached a cottage close by the shores of a large lake. Here he stopped, hoping to find out news. On entering the cottage he was met by a woman, who tried to prevent him entering.
"What do you want here, unlucky wretch?" said she. "If my husband sees you, he will kill you instantly."
"Who is your husband then?" asked the traveller.
"What! you do not know him? My husband is the Water-King; everything under water obeys him. Depart quickly, for if he finds you here he will certainly devour you."
"Perhaps after all he would take pity on me. But hide me somewhere, for I am worn and weary, and without shelter for the night."
So the Water-Queen was persuaded, and hid him behind the stove. Almost immediately after the Water-King entered. He had barely crossed the threshold when he called out, "Wife, I smell human flesh; give it me quickly, for I am hungry." She dared not disobey him, and so she had to tell him of the traveller's hiding-place. The poor man became terribly frightened, and trembled in every limb, and began to stammer out excuses.
"I assure you I have done no harm. I came here in search of news of my poor wife. Oh, do help me to find her; I cannot live without her."
"Well," replied the Water-King, "as you love your wife so tenderly I will forgive you for coming here, but I cannot help you to find her, for I do not know where she is. Yet I remember seeing two ducks on the lake yesterday, perchance she is one of them. But I should advise you to ask my brother the Fire-King; he may be able to tell you more."
Happy to have escaped so easily, he thanked the Water-King and set out to find the Fire-King. But the latter was unable to help him, and could only advise him to consult his other brother, the Air-King. But the Air-King, though he had travelled all over the earth, could only say he thought he had seen a woman at the foot of the Crystal Mountain.
But the traveller was cheered at the news, and went to seek his wife at the foot of the Crystal Mountain, which was close to their cottage. On reaching it he began at once to climb the mountain by making his way up the bed of the torrent that came rushing down there. Several ducks that were in the pools near the waterfall called out, "My good man, don't go up there; you'll be killed."
But he walked fearlessly on till he came to some thatched cottages, at the largest of which he stopped. Here a crowd of wizards and witches surrounded him, screaming at the top of their voices, "What are you looking for?"
"My wife," said he.
"She is here," they cried, "but you cannot take her away unless you recognise her among two hundred women all exactly like her."
"What! Not know my own wife? Why, here she is," said he, as he clasped her in his arms. And she, delighted to be with him again, kissed him fondly. Then she whispered:
"Dearest, though you knew me to-day I doubt whether you will to-morrow, for there will be so many of us all alike. Now I will tell you what to do. At nightfall go to the top of the Crystal Mountain, where live the King of Time and his court. Ask him how you may know me. If you are good and honest he will help you; if not, he will devour you whole at one mouthful."
"I will do what you advise, dear one," he replied, "but tell me, why did you leave me so suddenly? If you only knew what I have suffered! I have sought you all over the world."
"I did not leave you willingly," said she. "A countryman asked me to come and look at the mountain torrent. When we got there he sprinkled some water over himself, and at once I saw wings growing out of his shoulders, and he soon changed his shape entirely into that of a drake; and I too became a duck at the same time, and whether I would or no I was obliged to follow him. Here I was allowed to resume my own form; and now there is but the one difficulty of being recognised by you."
So they parted, she to join the other women, he to continue his way to the Crystal Mountain. At the top he found twelve strange beings sitting round a large fire: they were the attendants of the King of Time. He saluted them respectfully.
"What dost thou want?" said they.
"I have lost my dear wife. Can you tell me how to recognise her among two hundred other women all exactly alike?"
"No," said they, "but perhaps our King can."
Then arose from the midst of the flames an old man with bald head and long white beard, who, on hearing his request, replied: "Though all these women be exactly alike, thy wife will have a black thread in the shoe of her right foot."
So saying he vanished, and the traveller, thanking the twelve, descended the mountain.
Sure it is that without the black thread he would never have recognised her. And though the Magician tried to hide her, the spell was broken; and the two returned rejoicing to their home, where they lived happily ever after.
THE TWELVE MONTHS
There was once a widow who had two daughters, Helen, her own child by her dead husband, and Marouckla, his daughter by his first wife. She loved Helen, but hated the poor orphan, because she was far prettier than her own daughter. Marouckla did not think about her good looks, and could not understand why her stepmother should be angry at the sight of her. The hardest work fell to her share; she cleaned out the rooms, cooked, washed, sewed, spun, wove, brought in the hay, milked the cow, and all this without any help. Helen, meanwhile, did nothing but dress herself in her best clothes and go to one amusement after another. But Marouckla never complained; she bore the scoldings and bad temper of mother and sister with a smile on her lips, and the patience of a lamb. But this angelic behaviour did not soften them. They became even more tyrannical and grumpy, for Marouckla grew daily more beautiful, while Helen's ugliness increased. So the stepmother determined to get rid of Marouckla, for she knew that while she remained her own daughter would have no suitors. Hunger, every kind of privation, abuse, every means was used to make the girl's life miserable. The most wicked of men could not have been more mercilessly cruel than these two vixens. But in spite of it all Marouckla grew ever sweeter and more charming.
One day in the middle of winter Helen wanted some wood-violets.
"Listen," cried she to Marouckla; "you must go up the mountain and find me some violets, I want some to put in my gown; they must be fresh and sweet-scented—do you hear?"
"But, my dear sister, who ever heard of violets blooming in the snow?" said the poor orphan.
"You wretched creature! Do you dare to disobey me?" said Helen. "Not another word; off with you. If you do not bring me some violets from the mountain forest, I will kill you."
The stepmother also added her threats to those of Helen, and with vigorous blows they pushed Marouckla outside and shut the door upon her. The weeping girl made her way to the mountain. The snow lay deep, and there was no trace of any human being. Long she wandered hither and thither, and lost herself in the wood. She was hungry, and shivered with cold, and prayed to die. Suddenly she saw a light in the distance, and climbed towards it, till she reached the top of the mountain. Upon the highest peak burnt a large fire, surrounded by twelve blocks of stone, on which sat twelve strange beings. Of these the first three had white hair, three were not quite so old, three were young and handsome, and the rest still younger.
There they all sate silently looking at the fire. They were the twelve months of the year. The great Setchene (January) was placed higher than the others; his hair and moustache were white as snow, and in his hand he held a wand. At first Marouckla was afraid, but after a while her courage returned, and drawing near she said:
"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? I am chilled by the winter cold."
The great Setchene raised his head and answered:
"What brings thee here, my daughter? What dost thou seek?"
"I am looking for violets," replied the maiden.
"This is not the season for violets; dost thou not see the snow everywhere?" said Setchene.
"I know well, but my sister Helen and my stepmother have ordered me to bring them violets from your mountain: if I return without them they will kill me. I pray you, good shepherds, tell me where they may be found?"
Here the great Setchene arose and went over to the youngest of the months, and placing his wand in his hand, said:
"Brother Brezene (March), do thou take the highest place."
Brezene obeyed, at the same time waving his wand over the fire. Immediately the flames rose towards the sky, the snow began to melt and the trees and shrubs to bud; the grass became green, and from between its blades peeped the pale primrose. It was Spring, and the meadows were blue with violets.
"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said Brezene.
Joyfully she hastened to pick the flowers, and having soon a large bunch she thanked them and ran home. Helen and the stepmother were amazed at the sight of the flowers, the scent of which filled the house.
"Where did you find them?" asked Helen.
"Under the trees on the mountain slope," said Marouckla.
Helen kept the flowers for herself and her mother; she did not even thank her step-sister for the trouble she had taken. The next day she desired Marouckla to fetch her strawberries.
"Run," said she, "and fetch me strawberries from the mountain: they must be very sweet and ripe."
"But who ever heard of strawberries ripening in the snow?" exclaimed Marouckla.
"Hold your tongue, worm; don't answer me; if I don't have my strawberries I will kill you."
Then the stepmother pushed her into the yard and bolted the door. The unhappy girl made her way towards the mountain and to the large fire round which sat the twelve months. The great Setchene occupied the highest place.
"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me," said she, drawing near.
The great Setchene raised his head and asked:
"Why comest thou here? What dost thou seek?"
"I am looking for strawberries," said she.
"We are in the midst of winter," replied Setchene; "strawberries do not grow in the snow."
"I know," said the girl sadly, "but my sister and stepmother have ordered me to bring them strawberries; if I do not they will kill me. Pray, good shepherds, tell me where to find them."
The great Setchene arose, crossed over to the month opposite him, and putting the wand into his hand, said:
"Brother Tchervene (June), do thou take the highest place."
Tchervene obeyed, and as he waved his wand over the fire the flames leapt towards the sky. Instantly the snow melted, the earth was covered with verdure, trees were clothed with leaves, birds began to sing, and various flowers blossomed in the forest. It was summer. Under the bushes masses of star-shaped flowers changed into ripening strawberries. Before Marouckla had time to cross herself they covered the glade, making it look like a sea of blood.
"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said Tchervene.
Joyfully she thanked the months, and having filled her apron ran happily home. Helen and her mother wondered at seeing the strawberries, which filled the house with their delicious fragrance.
"Wherever did you find them?" asked Helen crossly.
"Right up among the mountains; those from under the beech trees are not bad."
Helen gave a few to her mother and ate the rest herself; not one did she offer to her step-sister. Being tired of strawberries, on the third day she took a fancy for some fresh red apples.
"Run, Marouckla," said she, "and fetch me fresh red apples from the mountain."
"Apples in winter, sister? why, the trees have neither leaves nor fruit."
"Idle slut, go this minute," said Helen; "unless you bring back apples we will kill you."
As before, the stepmother seized her roughly and turned her out of the house. The poor girl went weeping up the mountain, across the deep snow upon which lay no human footprint, and on towards the fire round which were the twelve months. Motionless sat they, and on the highest stone was the great Setchene.
"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me," said she, drawing near.
The great Setchene raised his head.
"Why com'st thou here? What dost thou seek?" asked he.
"I am come to look for red apples," replied Marouckla.
"But this is winter, and not the season for red apples," observed the great Setchene.
"I know," answered the girl, "but my sister and stepmother sent me to fetch red apples from the mountain; if I return without them they will kill me."
Thereupon the great Setchene arose and went over to one of the elderly months, to whom he handed the wand, saying:
"Brother Zare (September), do thou take the highest place."
Zare moved to the highest stone and waved his wand over the fire. There was a flare of red flames, the snow disappeared, but the fading leaves which trembled on the trees were sent by a cold north-east wind in yellow masses to the glade. Only a few flowers of autumn were visible, such as the fleabane and red gillyflower, autumn colchicums in the ravine, and under the beeches bracken and tufts of northern heather. At first Marouckla looked in vain for red apples. Then she espied a tree which grew at a great height, and from the branches of this hung the bright red fruit. Zare ordered her to gather some quickly. The girl was delighted and shook the tree. First one apple fell, then another.
"That is enough," said Zare, "hurry home."
Thanking the months, she returned joyfully. Helen marvelled and the stepmother wondered at seeing the fruit.
"Where did you gather them?" asked the step-sister.
"There are more on the mountain top," answered Marouckla.
"Then why did you not bring more?" said Helen angrily; "you must have eaten them on your way back, you wicked girl."
"No, dear sister, I have not even tasted them," said Marouckla. "I shook the tree twice; one apple fell each time. I was not allowed to shake it again, but was told to return home."
"May Perum smite you with his thunderbolt," said Helen, striking her.
Marouckla prayed to die rather than suffer such ill-treatment. Weeping bitterly, she took refuge in the kitchen. Helen and her mother found the apples more delicious than any they had ever tasted, and when they had eaten both longed for more.
"Listen, mother," said Helen. "Give me my cloak; I will fetch some more apples myself, or else that good-for-nothing wretch will eat them all on the way. I shall be able to find the mountain and the tree. The shepherds may cry 'Stop,' but I shall not leave go till I have shaken down all the apples."
In spite of her mother's advice she put on her pelisse, covered her head with a warm hood, and took the road to the mountain. The mother stood and watched her till she was lost in the distance.
Snow covered everything, not a human footprint was to be seen on its surface. Helen lost herself and wandered hither and thither. After a while she saw a light above her, and following in its direction reached the mountain top. There was the flaming fire, the twelve blocks of stone, and the twelve months. At first she was frightened and hesitated; then she came nearer and warmed her hands. She did not ask permission, nor did she speak one polite word.
"What has brought thee here? What dost thou seek?" said the great Setchene severely.
"I am not obliged to tell you, old greybeard; what business is it of yours?" she replied disdainfully, turning her back on the fire and going towards the forest.
The great Setchene frowned, and waved his wand over his head. Instantly the sky became covered with clouds, the fire went down, snow fell in large flakes, an icy wind howled round the mountain. Amid the fury of the storm Helen added curses against her step-sister. The pelisse failed to warm her benumbed limbs. The mother kept on waiting for her; she looked from the window, she watched from the doorstep, but her daughter came not. The hours passed slowly, but Helen did not return.
"Can it be that the apples have charmed her from her home?" thought the mother. Then she clad herself in hood and pelisse and went in search of her daughter. Snow fell in huge masses; it covered all things, it lay untouched by human footsteps. For long she wandered hither and thither; the icy north-east wind whistled in the mountain, but no voice answered her cries.
Day after day Marouckla worked and prayed, and waited; but neither stepmother nor sister returned, they had been frozen to death on the mountain. The inheritance of a small house, a field, and a cow fell to Marouckla. In course of time an honest farmer came to share them with her, and their lives were happy and peaceful.
THE SUN OR THE THREE GOLDEN HAIRS OF THE OLD MAN VSEVEDE
THE SUN; OR, THE THREE GOLDEN HAIRS OF THE OLD MAN VSEVEDE
Can this be a true story? It is said that once there was a king who was exceedingly fond of hunting the wild beasts in his forests. One day he followed a stag so far and so long that he lost his way. Alone and overtaken by night, he was glad to find himself near a small thatched cottage in which lived a charcoal-burner.
"Will you kindly show me the way to the high-road? You shall be handsomely rewarded."
"I would willingly," said the charcoal-burner, "but God is going to send my wife a little child, and I cannot leave her alone. Will you pass the night under our roof? There is a truss of sweet hay in the loft where you may rest, and to-morrow morning I will be your guide."
The king accepted the invitation and went to bed in the loft. Shortly after a son was born to the charcoal-burner's wife. But the king could not sleep. At midnight he heard noises in the house, and looking through a crack in the flooring he saw the charcoal-burner asleep, his wife almost in a faint, and by the side of the newly-born babe three old women dressed in white, each holding a lighted taper in her hand, and all talking together. Now these were the three Soudiche or Fates, you must know.
The first said, "On this boy I bestow the gift of confronting great dangers."
The second said, "I bestow the power of happily escaping all these dangers, and of living to a good old age."
The third said, "I bestow upon him for wife the princess born at the selfsame hour as he, and daughter of the very king sleeping above in the loft."
At these words the lights went out and silence reigned around.
Now the king was greatly troubled, and wondered exceedingly; he felt as if he had received a sword-thrust in the chest. He lay awake all night thinking how to prevent the words of the Fates from coming true.
With the first glimmer of morning light the baby began to cry. The charcoal-burner, on going over to it, found that his wife was dead.
"Poor little orphan," he said sadly, "what will become of thee without a mother's care?"
"Confide this child to me," said the king, "I will look after it. He shall be well provided for. You shall be given a sum of money large enough to keep you without having to burn charcoal."
The poor man gladly agreed, and the king went away promising to send some one for the child. The queen and courtiers thought it would be an agreeable surprise for the king to hear that a charming little princess had been born on the night he was away. But instead of being pleased he frowned, and calling one of his servants, said to him, "Go to the charcoal-burner's cottage in the forest, and give the man this purse in exchange for a new-born infant. On your way back drown the child. See well that he is drowned, for if he should in any way escape, you yourself shall suffer in his place."
The servant was given the child in a basket, and on reaching the centre of a narrow bridge that stretched across a wide and deep river, he threw both basket and baby into the water.
"A prosperous journey to you, Mr. Son-in-Law," said the king, on hearing the servant's story: for he fully believed the child was drowned. But it was far from being the case; the little one was floating happily along in its basket cradle, and slumbering as sweetly as if his mother had sung him to sleep. Now it happened that a fisherman, who was mending his nets before his cottage door, saw the basket floating down the river. He jumped at once into his boat, picked it up, and ran to tell his wife the good news.
"Look," said he, "you have always longed for a son; here is a beautiful little boy the river has sent us."
The woman was delighted, and took the infant and loved it as her own child. They named him Plavacek (the floater), because he had come to them floating on the water.
The river flowed on. Years passed away. The little baby grew into a handsome youth; in all the villages round there were none to compare with him. Now it happened that one summer day the king was riding unattended. And the heat being very great he reined in his horse before the fisherman's door to ask for a drink of water. Plavacek brought the water. The king looked at him attentively, then turning to the fisherman, said, "That is a good-looking lad; is he your son?"
"He is and he isn't," replied the fisherman. "I found him, when he was quite a tiny baby, floating down the stream in a basket. So we adopted him and brought him up as our own son."
The king turned as pale as death, for he guessed that he was the same child he had ordered to be drowned. Then recovering himself he got down from his horse and said: "I want a trusty messenger to take a letter to the palace, could you send him with it?"
"With pleasure! Your majesty may be sure of its safe delivery."
Thereupon the king wrote to the queen as follows—
"The man who brings you this letter is the most dangerous of all my enemies. Have his head cut off at once; no delay, no pity, he must be executed before my return. Such is my will and pleasure."
This he carefully folded and sealed with the royal seal.
Plavacek took the letter and set off immediately. But the forest through which he had to pass was so large, and the trees so thick, that he missed the path and was overtaken by the darkness before the journey was nearly over. In the midst of his trouble he met an old woman who said, "Where are you going, Plavacek? Where are you going?"
"I am the bearer of a letter from the king to the queen, but have missed the path to the palace. Could you, good mother, put me on the right road?"
"Impossible to-day, my child; it is getting dark, and you would not have time to get there. Stay with me to-night. You will not be with strangers, for I am your godmother."
Plavacek agreed. Thereupon they entered a pretty little cottage that seemed suddenly to sink into the earth. Now while he slept the old woman changed his letter for another, which ran thus:—
"Immediately upon the receipt of this letter introduce the bearer to the princess our daughter. I have chosen this young man for my son-in-law, and it is my wish they should be married before my return to the palace. Such is my pleasure."
The letter was duly delivered, and when the queen had read it, she ordered everything to be prepared for the wedding. Both she and her daughter greatly enjoyed Plavacek's society, and nothing disturbed the happiness of the newly married pair.
Within a few days the king returned, and on hearing what had taken place was very angry with the queen.
"But you expressly bade me have the wedding before your return. Come, read your letter again, here it is," said she.
He closely examined the letter; the paper, handwriting, seal—all were undoubtedly his. He then called his son-in-law, and questioned him about his journey. Plavacek hid nothing: he told how he had lost his way, and how he had passed the night in a cottage in the forest.
"What was the old woman like?" asked the king.
From Plavacek's description the king knew it was the very same who, twenty years before, had foretold the marriage of the princess with the charcoal-burner's son. After some moments' thought the king said, "What is done is done. But you will not become my son-in-law so easily. No, i' faith! As a wedding present you must bring me three golden hairs from the head of Dede-Vsevede."
In this way he thought to get rid of his son-in-law, whose very presence was distasteful to him. The young fellow took leave of his wife and set off. "I know not which way to go," said he to himself, "but my godmother the witch will surely help me."
But he found the way easily enough. He walked on and on and on for a long time over mountain, valley, and river, until he reached the shores of the Black Sea. There he found a boat and boatman.
"May God bless you, old boatman," said he.
"And you, too, my young traveller. Where are you going?"
"To Dede-Vsevede's castle for three of his golden hairs."
"Ah, then you are very welcome. For a long weary while I have been waiting for such a messenger as you. I have been ferrying passengers across for these twenty years, and not one of them has done anything to help me. If you will promise to ask Dede-Vsevede when I shall be released from my toil I will row you across."
Plavacek promised, and was rowed to the opposite bank. He continued his journey on foot until he came in sight of a large town half in ruins, near which was passing a funeral procession. The king of that country was following his father's coffin, and with the tears running down his cheeks.
"May God comfort you in your distress," said Plavacek.
"Thank you, good traveller. Where are you going?"
"To the house of Dede-Vsevede in quest of three of his golden hairs."
"To the house of Dede-Vsevede? indeed! What a pity you did not come sooner, we have long been expecting such a messenger as you. Come and see me by and bye."
When Plavacek presented himself at court the king said to him:
"We understand you are on your way to the house of Dede-Vsevede? Now we have an apple-tree here that bears the fruit of everlasting youth. One of these apples eaten by a man, even though he be dying, will cure him and make him young again. For the last twenty years neither fruit nor flower has been found on this tree. Will you ask Dede-Vsevede the cause of it?"
"That I will, with pleasure."
Then Plavacek continued his journey, and as he went he came to a large and beautiful city where all was sad and silent. Near the gate was an old man who leant on a stick and walked with difficulty.
"May God bless you, good old man."
"And you, too, my handsome young traveller. Where are you going?"
"To Dede-Vsevede's palace in search of three of his golden hairs."
"Ah, you are the very messenger I have so long waited for. Allow me to take you to my master the king."
On their arrival at the palace, the king said, "I hear you are an ambassador to Dede-Vsevede. We have here a well, the water of which renews itself. So wonderful are its effects that invalids are immediately cured on drinking it, while a few drops sprinkled on a corpse will bring it to life again. For the past twenty years this well has remained dry: if you will ask old Dede-Vsevede how the flow of water may be restored I will reward you royally."
Plavacek promised to do so, and was dismissed with good wishes. He then travelled through deep dark forests, in the midst of which might be seen a large meadow; out of it grew lovely flowers, and in the centre stood a castle built of gold. It was the home of Dede-Vsevede. So brilliant with light was it that it seemed to be built of fire. When he entered there was no one there but an old woman spinning.
"Greeting, Plavacek, I am well pleased to see you."
She was his godmother, who had given him shelter in her cottage when he was the bearer of the king's letter.
"Tell me what brings you here from such a distance," she went on.
"The king would not have me for his son-in-law, unless I first got him three golden hairs from the head of Dede-Vsevede. So he sent me here to fetch them."
The Fate laughed. "Dede-Vsevede indeed! Why, I am his mother, it is the shining sun himself. He is a child at morning time, a grown man at midday, a decrepit old man, looking as if he had lived a hundred years, at eventide. But I will see that you have the three hairs from his head; I am not your godmother for nothing. All the same you must not remain here. My son is a good lad, but when he comes home he is hungry, and would very probably order you to be roasted for his supper. Now I will turn this empty bucket upside down, and you shall hide underneath it."
Plavacek begged the Fate to obtain from Dede-Vsevede the answers to the three questions he had been asked.
"I will do so certainly, but you must listen to what he says."
Suddenly a blast of wind howled round the palace, and the Sun entered by a western window. He was an old man with golden hair.
"I smell human flesh," cried he, "I am sure of it. Mother, you have some one here."
"Star of day," she replied, "whom could I have here that you would not see sooner than I? The fact is that in your daily journeys the scent of human flesh is always with you, so when you come home at evening it clings to you still."
The old man said nothing, and sat down to supper. When he had finished he laid his golden head on the Fate's lap and went to sleep. Then she pulled out a hair and threw it on the ground. It fell with a metallic sound like the vibration of a guitar string.
"What do you want, mother?" asked he.
"Nothing, my son; I was sleeping, and had a strange dream."
"What was it, mother?"
"I thought I was in a place where there was a well, and the well was fed from a spring, the water of which cured all diseases. Even the dying were restored to health on drinking that water, and the dead who were sprinkled with it came to life again. For the last twenty years the well has run dry. What must be done to restore the flow of water?"
"That is very simple. A frog has lodged itself in the opening of the spring, this prevents the flow of water. Kill the frog, and the water will return to the well."
He slept again, and the old woman pulled out another golden hair, and threw it on the ground.
"Mother, what do you want?"
"Nothing, my son, nothing; I was dreaming. In my dream I saw a large town, the name of which I have forgotten. And there grew an apple-tree the fruit of which had the power to make the old young again. A single apple eaten by an old man would restore to him the vigour and freshness of youth. For twenty years this tree has not borne fruit. What can be done to make it fruitful?"
"The means are not difficult. A snake hidden among the roots destroys the sap. Kill the snake, transplant the tree, and the fruit will grow as before."
He again fell asleep, and the old woman pulled out another golden hair.
"Now look here, mother, why will you not let me sleep?" said the old man, really vexed; and he would have got up.
"Lie down, my darling son, do not disturb yourself. I am sorry I awoke you, but I have had a very strange dream. It seemed that I saw a boatman on the shores of the Black Sea, and he complained that he had been toiling at the ferry for twenty years without any one having come to take his place. For how much longer must this poor old man continue to row?"
"He is a silly fellow. He has but to place his oars in the hands of the first comer and jump ashore. Whoever receives the oars will replace him as ferryman. But leave me in peace now, mother, and do not wake me again. I have to rise very early, and must first dry the eyes of a princess. The poor thing spends all night weeping for her husband who has been sent by the king to get three of my golden hairs."
Next morning the wind whistled round Dede-Vsevede's palace, and instead of an old man, a beautiful child with golden hair awoke on the old woman's lap. It was the glorious sun. He bade her good-bye, and flew out of the eastern window. The old woman turned up the bucket and said to Plavacek, "Look, here are the three golden hairs. You now know the answers to your questions. May God direct you and send you a prosperous journey. You will not see me again, for you will have no further need of me."
He thanked her gratefully and left her. On arriving at the town with the dried-up well, he was questioned by the king as to what news he had brought.
"Have the well carefully cleaned out," said he, "kill the frog that obstructs the spring, and the wonderful water will flow again."
The king did as he was advised, and rejoiced to see the water return. He gave Plavacek twelve swan-white horses, and as much gold and silver as they could carry.
On reaching the second town and being asked by the king what news he had brought, he replied, "Excellent; one could not wish for better. Dig up your apple-tree, kill the snake that lies among the roots, transplant the tree, and it will produce apples like those of former times."
And all turned out as he had said, for no sooner was the tree replanted than it was covered with blossoms that gave it the appearance of a sea of roses. The delighted king gave him twelve raven-black horses, laden with as much wealth as they could carry. He then journeyed to the shores of the Black Sea. There the boatman questioned him as to what news he had brought respecting his release. Plavacek first crossed with his twenty-four horses to the opposite bank, and then replied that the boatman might gain his freedom by placing the oars in the hands of the first traveller who wished to be ferried over.
Plavacek's royal father-in-law could not believe his eyes when he saw Dede-Vsevede's three golden hairs. As for the princess, his young wife, she wept tears, but of joy, not sadness, to see her dear one again, and she said to him, "How did you get such splendid horses and so much wealth, dear husband?"
And he answered her, "All this represents the price paid for the weariness of spirit I have felt; it is the ready money for hardships endured and services given. Thus, I showed one king how to regain possession of the Apples of Youth: to another I told the secret of reopening the spring of water that gives health and life."
"Apples of Youth! Water of Life!" interrupted the king. "I will certainly go and find these treasures for myself. Ah, what joy! having eaten of these apples I shall become young again; having drunk of the Water of Immortality, I shall live for ever."
And he started off in search of these treasures. But he has not yet returned from his search.
I. THE SOVEREIGN OF THE MINERAL KINGDOM II. THE LOST CHILD
THE SOVEREIGN OF THE MINERAL KINGDOM
Once upon a time, and a long long time ago it was, there lived a widow who had a very pretty daughter. The mother, good honest woman, was quite content with her station in life. But with the daughter it was otherwise; she, like a spoilt beauty, looked contemptuously upon her many admirers, her mind was full of proud and ambitious thoughts, and the more lovers she had, the prouder she became.
One beautiful moonlight night the mother awoke, and being unable to sleep, began to pray God for the happiness of her only child, though she often made her mother's life miserable. The fond woman looked lovingly at the beautiful daughter sleeping by her side, and she wondered, as she saw her smile, what happy dream had visited her. Then she finished her prayer, and laying her head on the girl's pillow, fell asleep. Next day she said, "Come, darling child, tell me what you were dreaming about last night, you looked so happy smiling in your sleep."
"Oh yes, mother, I remember. I had a very beautiful dream. I thought a rich nobleman came to our house, in a splendid carriage of brass, and gave me a ring set with stones, that sparkled like the stars of heaven. When I entered the church with him, it was full of people, and they all thought me divine and adorable, like the Blessed Virgin."
"Ah! my child, what sin! May God keep you from such dreams."
But the daughter ran away singing, and busied herself about the house. The same day a handsome young farmer drove into the village in his cart and begged them to come and share his country bread. He was a kind fellow, and the mother liked him much. But the daughter refused his invitation, and insulted him into the bargain.
"Even if you had driven in a carriage of brass," she said, "and had offered me a ring set with stones shining as the stars in heaven, I would never have married you—you, a mere peasant!"
The young farmer was terribly upset at her words, and with a prayer for her soul, returned home a saddened man. But her mother scolded and reproached her.
The next night the woman again awoke, and taking her rosary prayed with still greater fervour, that God would bless her child. This time the girl laughed as she slept.
"What can the poor child be dreaming about?" she said to herself: and sighing she prayed for her again. Then she laid her head upon her pillow and tried in vain to sleep. In the morning, when her daughter was dressing, she said: "Well, my dear, you were dreaming again last night, and laughing like a maniac."
"Was I? Listen, I dreamt a nobleman came for me in a silver carriage, and gave me a golden diadem. When I entered the church with him, the people admired and worshipped me more than the Blessed Virgin."
"Ay me, what a terrible dream! what a wicked dream! Pray God not to lead you into temptation."
Then she scolded her daughter severely and went out, slamming the door after her. That same day a carriage drove into the village, and some gentlemen invited mother and daughter to share the bread of the lord of the manor. The mother considered such an offer a great honour, but the daughter refused it and replied to the gentlemen scornfully: "Even if you had come to fetch me in a carriage of solid silver and had presented me with a golden diadem, I would never have consented to be the wife of your lord."
The gentlemen turned away in disgust and returned home; the mother rebuked her severely for so much pride.
"Miserable, foolish girl!" she cried, "pride is a breath from hell. It is your duty to be humble, honest, and sweet-tempered."
The daughter replied by a laugh.
The third night she slept soundly, but the poor woman at her side could not close her eyes. Tormented with dark forebodings, she feared some misfortune was about to happen, and counted her beads, praying fervently. All at once the young sleeper began to sneer and laugh.
"Merciful God! ah me!" cried the poor woman, "what are these dreams that worry her poor brain!"
In the morning she said, "What made you sneer so frightfully last night? You must have had bad dreams again, my poor child."
"Now, mother, you look as if you were going to preach again."
"No, no; but I want to know what you were dreaming about."
"Well, I dreamt some one drove up in a golden carriage and asked me to marry him, and he brought me a mantle of cloth of pure gold. When we came into church, the crowd pressed forward to kneel before me."
The mother wrung her hands piteously, and the girl left the room to avoid hearing her lamentations. That same day three carriages entered the yard, one of brass, one of silver, and one of gold. The first was drawn by two, the second by three, the third by four magnificent horses. Gentlemen wearing scarlet gloves and green mantles got out of the brass and silver carriages, while from the golden carriage alighted a prince who, as the sun shone on him, looked as if he were dressed in gold. They all made their way to the widow and asked for her daughter's hand.
"I fear we are not worthy of so much honour," replied the widow meekly, but when the daughter's eyes fell upon her suitor she recognised in him the lover of her dreams, and withdrew to weave an aigrette of many-coloured feathers. In exchange for this aigrette which she offered her bridegroom, he placed upon her finger a ring set with stones that shone like the stars in heaven, and over her shoulders a mantle of cloth of gold. The young bride, beside herself with joy, retired to complete her toilette. Meanwhile the anxious mother, a prey to the blackest forebodings, said to her son-in-law, "My daughter has consented to share your bread, tell me of what sort of flour it is made?"
"In our house we have bread of brass, of silver, and of gold; my wife will be free to choose."
Such a reply astonished her more than ever, and made her still more unhappy. The daughter asked no questions, was in fact content to know nothing, not even what her mother suffered. She looked magnificent in her bridal attire and golden mantle, but she left her home with the prince without saying good-bye either to her mother or to her youthful companions. Neither did she ask her mother's blessing, though the latter wept and prayed for her safety.
After the marriage ceremony they mounted the golden carriage and set off, followed by the attendants of silver and brass. The procession moved slowly along the road without stopping until it reached the foot of a high rock. Here, instead of a carriage entrance, was a large cavern which led out into a steep slope down which the horses went lower and lower. The giant Zemo-tras (he who makes the earthquakes) closed the opening with a huge stone. They made their way in darkness for some time, the terrified bride being reassured by her husband.
"Fear nothing," said he, "in a little while it will be clear and beautiful."
Grotesque dwarfs, carrying lighted torches, appeared on all sides, saluted and welcomed their King Kovlad as they illumined the road for him and his attendants. Then for the first time the girl knew she had married Kovlad, but this mattered little to her. On coming out from these gloomy passages into the open they found themselves surrounded by large forests and mountains, mountains that seemed to touch the sky. And, strange to relate, all the trees of whatsoever kind, and even the mountains that seemed to touch the sky, were of solid lead. When they had crossed these marvellous mountains the giant Zemo-tras closed all the openings in the road they had passed. They then drove out upon vast and beautiful plains, in the centre of which was a golden palace covered with precious stones. The bride was weary with looking at so many wonders, and gladly sat down to the feast prepared by the dwarfs. Meats of many kinds were served, roast and boiled, but lo! they were of metal—brass, silver, and gold. Every one ate heartily and enjoyed the food, but the young wife, with tears in her eyes, begged for a piece of bread.
"Certainly, madam, with pleasure," answered Kovlad. But she could not eat the bread which was brought, for it was of brass. Then the king sent for a piece of silver bread, still she could not eat it; and again for a slice of golden bread, that too she was unable to bite. The servants did all they could to get something to their mistress's taste, but she found it impossible to eat anything.
"I should be most happy to gratify you," said Kovlad "but we have no other kind of food."
Then she realised for the first time in whose power she had placed herself, and she began to weep bitterly and wish she had taken her mother's advice.
"It is of no use to weep and regret," said Kovlad, "you must have known the kind of bread you would have to break here; your wish has been fulfilled."
And so it was, for nothing can recall the past. The wretched girl was obliged henceforth to live underground with her husband Kovlad, the God of Metals, in his golden palace. And this because she had set her heart upon nothing but the possession of gold, and had never wished for anything better.
THE LOST CHILD
Long long ago there lived a very rich nobleman. But though he was so rich he was not happy, for he had no children to whom he could leave his wealth. He was, besides, no longer young. Every day he and his wife went to church to pray for a son. At last, after long waiting, God sent them what they desired. Now the evening before its arrival the father dreamed that its chance of living would depend upon one condition, namely, that its feet never touched the earth until it was twelve years old. Great care was taken that this should be avoided, and when the little stranger came, only trustworthy nurses were employed to look after him. As the years passed on the child was diligently guarded, sometimes he was carried in his nurses' arms, sometimes rocked in his golden cradle, but his feet never touched the ground.
Now when the end of the time drew near the father began preparations for a magnificent feast which should be given to celebrate his son's release. One day while these were in progress a frightful noise, followed by most unearthly yells, shook the castle. The nurse dropped the child in her terror and ran to the window: that instant the noises ceased. On turning to take up the boy, imagine her dismay when she found him no longer there, and remembered that she had disobeyed her master's orders.
Hearing her screams and lamentations, all the servants of the castle ran to her. The father soon followed, asking, "What is the matter? What has happened? Where is my child?" The nurse, trembling and weeping, told of the disappearance of his son, his only child. No words can tell the anguish of the father's heart. He sent servants in every direction to hunt for his boy, he gave orders, he begged and prayed, he threw away money right and left, he promised everything if only his son might be restored to him. Search was made without loss of time, but no trace of him could be discovered; he had vanished as completely as if he had never existed.
Many years later the unhappy nobleman learnt that in one of the most beautiful rooms of the castle, footsteps, as of some one walking up and down, and dismal groans, were heard every midnight. Anxious to follow the matter up, for he thought it might in some way concern his lost son, he made known that a reward of three hundred gold pieces would be given to any one who would watch for one whole night in the haunted room. Many were willing, but had not the courage to stay till the end; for at midnight, when the dismal groans were heard, they would run away rather than risk their lives for three hundred gold pieces. The poor father was in despair, and knew not how to discover the truth of this dark mystery.
Now close to the castle dwelt a widow, a miller by trade, who had three daughters. They were very poor, and hardly earned enough for their daily needs. When they heard of the midnight noises in the castle and the promised reward, the eldest daughter said, "As we are so very poor we have nothing to lose; surely we might try to earn these three hundred gold pieces by remaining in the room one night. I should like to try, mother, if you will let me."
The mother shrugged her shoulders, she hardly knew what to say; but when she thought of their poverty and the difficulty they had to earn a living she gave permission for her eldest daughter to remain one night in the haunted room. Then the daughter went to ask the nobleman's consent.
"Have you really the courage to watch for a whole night in a room haunted by ghosts? Are you sure you are not afraid, my good girl?"
"I am willing to try this very night," she replied. "I would only ask you to give me some food to cook for my supper, for I am very hungry."
Orders were given that she should be supplied with everything she wanted, and indeed enough food was given her, not for one supper only, but for three. With the food, some dry firewood and a candle, she entered the room. Like a good housewife, she first lit the fire and put on her saucepans, then she laid the table and made the bed. This filled up the early part of the evening. The time passed so quickly that she was surprised to hear the clock strike twelve, while at the last stroke, footsteps, as of some one walking, shook the room, and dismal groans filled the air. The frightened girl ran from one corner to the other, but could not see any one. But the footsteps and the groans did not cease. Suddenly a young man approached her and asked, "For whom is this food cooked?"
"For myself," she said.
The gentle face of the stranger saddened, and after a short silence he asked again, "And this table, for whom is it laid?"
"For myself," she replied.
The brow of the young man clouded over, and the beautiful blue eyes filled with tears as he asked once more, "And this bed, for whom have you made it?"
"For myself," replied she in the same selfish and indifferent tone.
Tears fell from his eyes as he waved his arms and vanished.
Next morning she told the nobleman all that had happened, but without mentioning the painful impression her answers had made upon the stranger. The three hundred golden crowns were paid, and the father was thankful to have at last heard something that might possibly lead to the discovery of his son.
On the following day the second daughter, having been told by her sister what to do and how to answer the stranger, went to the castle to offer her services. The nobleman willingly agreed, and orders were given that she should be provided with everything she might want. Without loss of time she entered the room, lit the fire, put on the saucepans, spread a white cloth upon the table, made the bed, and awaited the hour of midnight. When the young stranger appeared and asked, "For whom is this food prepared? for whom is the table laid? for whom is the bed made?" she answered as her sister had bidden her, "For me, for myself only."
As on the night before, he burst into tears, waved his arms, and suddenly disappeared.
Next morning she told the nobleman all that had happened except the sad impression her answers had made upon the stranger. The three hundred gold pieces were given her, and she went home.
On the third day the youngest daughter wanted to try her fortune.
"Sisters," said she, "as you have succeeded in earning three hundred gold crowns each, and so helping our dear mother, I too should like to do my part and remain a night in the haunted room."
Now the widow loved her youngest daughter more dearly than the others, and dreaded to expose her to any danger; but as the elder ones had been successful, she allowed her to take her chance. So with the instructions from her sisters as to what she should do and say, and with the nobleman's consent and abundant provisions, she entered the haunted room. Having lit the fire, put on the saucepans, laid the table and made the bed, she awaited with hope and fear the hour of midnight.
As twelve o'clock struck, the room was shaken by the footsteps of some one who walked up and down, and the air was filled with cries and groans. The girl looked everywhere, but no living being could she see. Suddenly there stood before her a young man who asked in a sweet voice, "For whom have you prepared this food?"
Now her sisters had told her how to answer and how to act, but when she looked into the sad eyes of the stranger she resolved to treat him more kindly.
"Well, you do not answer me; for whom is the food prepared?" he asked again impatiently, as she made no reply. Somewhat confused, she said, "I prepared it for myself, but you too are welcome to it."
At these words his brow grew more serene.
"And this table, for whom is it spread?"
"For myself, unless you will honour me by being my guest."
A bright smile illumined his face.
"And this bed, for whom have you made it?"
"For myself, but if you have need of rest it is for you."
He clapped his hands for joy and replied, "Ah, that's right; I accept the invitation with pleasure, and all that you have been so kind as to offer me. But wait, I pray you wait for me; I must first thank my kind friends for the care they have taken of me."
A fresh warm breath of spring filled the air, while at the same moment a deep precipice opened in the middle of the floor. He descended lightly, and she, anxious to see what would happen, followed him, holding on to his mantle. Thus they both reached the bottom of the precipice. Down there a new world opened itself before her eyes. To the right flowed a river of liquid gold, to the left rose high mountains of solid gold, in the centre lay a large meadow covered with millions of flowers. The stranger went on, the girl followed unnoticed. And as he went he saluted the field flowers as old friends, caressing them and leaving them with regret. Then they came to a forest where the trees were of gold. Many birds of different kinds began to sing, and flying round the young stranger perched familiarly on his head and shoulders. He spoke to and petted each one. While thus engaged, the girl broke off a branch from one of the golden trees and hid it in remembrance of this strange land.
Leaving the forest of gold, they reached a wood where all the trees were of silver. Their arrival was greeted by an immense number of animals of various kinds. These crowded together and pushed one against another to get close to their friend. He spoke to each one and stroked and petted them. Meanwhile the girl broke off a branch of silver from one of the trees, saying to herself, "These will serve me as tokens of this wonderful land, for my sisters would not believe me if I only told them of it."
When the young stranger had taken leave of all his friends he returned by the paths he had come, and the girl followed without being seen. Arrived at the foot of the precipice, he began to ascend, she coming silently after, holding on to his mantle. Up they went higher and higher, until they reached the room in the castle. The floor closed up without trace of the opening. The girl returned to her place by the fire, where she was standing when the young man approached.
"All my farewells have been spoken," said he, "now we can have supper."
She hastened to place upon the table the food so hurriedly prepared, and sitting side by side they supped together. When they had made a good meal he said, "Now it is time to rest."
He lay down on the carefully-made bed, and the girl placed by his side the gold and silver branches she had picked in the Mineral Land. In a few moments he was sleeping peacefully.
Next day the sun was already high in the sky, and yet the girl had not come to give an account of herself. The nobleman became impatient; he waited and waited, becoming more and more uneasy. At last he determined to go and see for himself what had happened. Picture to yourself his surprise and joy, when on entering the haunted chamber he saw his long-lost son sleeping on the bed, while beside him sat the widow's beautiful daughter. At that moment the son awoke. The father, overwhelmed with joy, summoned the attendants of the castle to rejoice with him in his new-found happiness.
Then the young man saw the two branches of metal, and said with astonishment, "What do I see? Did you then follow me down there? Know that by this act you have broken the spell and released me from the enchantment. These two branches will make two palaces for our future dwelling."
Thereupon he took the branches and threw them out of the window. Immediately there were seen two magnificent palaces, one of gold, the other of silver. And there they lived happily as man and wife, the nobleman's son and the miller's daughter. And if not dead they live there still.
THE MAID WITH HAIR OF GOLD
THE MAID WITH HAIR OF GOLD
There was once a king so wise and clever that he understood the language of all animals. You shall hear how he gained this power.
One day an old woman came to the palace and said, "I wish to speak to his majesty, for I have something of great importance to tell him." When admitted to his presence she presented him with a curious fish, saying, "Have it cooked for yourself, and when you have eaten it you will understand all that is said by the birds of the air, the animals that walk the earth, and the fishes that live under the waters."
The king was delighted to know that which every one else was ignorant of, so he rewarded the old woman generously, and told a servant to cook the fish very carefully.
"But take care," said the monarch, "that you do not taste it yourself, for if you do you will be killed."
George, the servant, was astonished at such a threat, and wondered why his master was so anxious that no one else should eat any of the fish. Then examining it curiously he said, "Never in all my life have I seen such an odd-looking fish; it seems more like a reptile. Now where would be the harm if I did take some? Every cook tastes of the dishes he prepares."
When it was fried he tasted a small piece, and while taking some of the sauce heard a buzzing in the air and a voice speaking in his ear.
"Let us taste a crumb: let us taste a little," it said.
He looked round to see where the words came from, but there were only a few flies buzzing about in the kitchen. At the same moment some one out in the yard said in a harsh jerky voice, "Where are we going to settle? Where?"
And another answered, "In the miller's barley-field; ho! for the miller's field of barley."
When George looked towards where this strange talk came he saw a gander flying at the head of a flock of geese.
"How lucky," thought he; "now I know why my master set so much value on this fish and wished to eat it all himself."
George had now no doubt that by tasting the fish he had learnt the language of animals, so after having taken a little more he served the king with the remainder as if nothing had happened.
When his majesty had dined he ordered George to saddle two horses and accompany him for a ride. They were soon off, the master in front, the servant behind.
While crossing a meadow George's horse began to prance and caper, neighing out these words, "I say, brother, I feel so light and in such good spirits to-day that in one single bound I could leap over those mountains yonder."
"I could do the same," answered the king's horse, "but I carry a feeble old man on my back; he would fall like a log and break his skull."
"What does that matter to you? So much the better if he should break his head, for then, instead of being ridden by an old man you would probably be mounted by a young one."
The servant laughed a good deal upon hearing this conversation between the horses, but he took care to do so on the quiet, lest the king should hear him. At that moment his majesty turned round, and, seeing a smile on the man's face, asked the cause of it.
"Oh nothing, your majesty, only some nonsense that came into my head."
The king said nothing, and asked no more questions, but he was suspicious, and distrusted both servant and horses; so he hastened back to the palace.
When there he said to George, "Give me some wine, but mind you only pour out enough to fill the glass, for if you put in one drop too much, so that it overflows, I shall certainly order my executioner to cut off your head."
While he was speaking two birds flew near the window, one chasing the other, who carried three golden hairs in his beak.
"Give them me," said one, "you know they are mine."
"Not at all, I picked them up myself."
"No matter, I saw them fall while the Maid with Locks of Gold was combing out her hair. At least, give me two, then you can keep the third for yourself."
"No, not a single one."
Thereupon one of the birds succeeded in seizing the hairs from the other bird's beak, but in the struggle he let one fall, and it made a sound as if a piece of metal had struck the ground. As for George, he was completely taken off his guard, and the wine overflowed the glass.
The king was furious, and feeling convinced that his servant had disobeyed him and had learnt the language of animals, he said, "You scoundrel, you deserve death for having failed to do my bidding, nevertheless, I will show you mercy upon one condition, that you bring me the Maid with the Golden Locks, for I intend to marry her."
Alas, what was to be done? Poor fellow, he was willing to do anything to save his life, even run the risk of losing it on a long journey. He therefore promised to search for the Maid with the Golden Locks: but he knew not where or how to find her.
When he had saddled and mounted his horse he allowed it to go its own way, and it carried him to the outskirts of a dark forest, where some shepherds had left a bush burning. The sparks of fire from the bush endangered the lives of a large number of ants which had built their nest close by, and the poor little things were hurrying away in all directions, carrying their small white eggs with them.
"Help us in our distress, good George," they cried in a plaintive voice; "do not leave us to perish, together with our children whom we carry in these eggs."
George immediately dismounted, cut down the bush, and put out the fire.
"Thank you, brave man: and remember, when you are in trouble you have only to call upon us, and we will help you in our turn." The young fellow went on his way far into the forest until he came to a very tall fir tree. At the top of the tree was a raven's nest, while at the foot, on the ground, lay two young ones who were calling out to their parents and saying, "Alas, father and mother, where have you gone? You have flown away, and we have to seek our food, weak and helpless as we are. Our wings are as yet without feathers, how then shall we be able to get anything to eat? Good George," said they, turning to the young man, "do not leave us to starve."
Without stopping to think, the young man dismounted, and with his sword slew his horse to provide food for the young birds. They thanked him heartily, and said, "If ever you should be in distress, call to us and we will help you at once."
After this George was obliged to travel on foot, and he walked on for a long time, ever getting further and further into the forest. On reaching the end of it, he saw stretching before him an immense sea that seemed to mingle with the horizon. Close by stood two men disputing the possession of a large fish with golden scales that had fallen into their net.
"The net belongs to me," said one, "therefore the fish must be mine."
"Your net would not have been of the slightest use, for it would have been lost in the sea, had I not come with my boat just in the nick of time."
"Well, you shall have the next haul I make."
"And suppose you should catch nothing? No; give me this one and keep the next haul for yourself."
"I am going to put an end to your quarrel," said George, addressing them. "Sell me the fish: I will pay you well, and you can divide the money between you."
Thereupon he put into their hands all the money the king had given him for the journey, without keeping a single coin for himself. The fishermen rejoiced at the good fortune which had befallen them, but George put the fish back into the water. The fish, thankful for this unexpected freedom, dived and disappeared, but returning to the surface, said, "Whenever you may need my help you have but to call me, I shall not fail to show my gratitude."
"Where are you going?" asked the fisherman.
"I am in search of a wife for my old master; she is known as the Maid with the Golden Locks: but I am at a loss where to find her."
"If that be all, we can easily give you information," answered they. "She is Princess Zlato Vlaska, and daughter of the king whose crystal palace is built on that island yonder. The golden light from the princess's hair is reflected on sea and sky every morning when she combs it. If you would like to go to the island we will take you there for nothing, in return for the clever and generous way by which you made us stop quarrelling. But beware of one thing: when in the palace do not make a mistake as to which is the princess, for there are twelve of them, but only Zlato Vlaska has hair of gold."
When George reached the island he lost no time in making his way to the palace, and demanded from the king the hand of his daughter, Princess Zlato Vlaska, in marriage to the king his master.
"I will grant the request with pleasure," said his majesty, "but only on one condition, namely, that you perform certain tasks which I will set you. These will be three in number, and must be done in three days, just as I order you. For the present you had better rest and refresh yourself after your journey."
On the next day the king said, "My daughter, the Maid with the Golden Hair, had a string of fine pearls, and the thread having broken, the pearls were scattered far and wide among the long grass of this field. Go and pick up every one of the pearls, for they must all be found."
George went into the meadow, which was of great length and stretched away far out of sight. He went down on his knees and hunted between the tufts of grass and bramble from morning until noon, but not a single pearl could he find.
"Ah, if I only had my good little ants here," he cried, "they would be able to help me."
"Here we are, young man, at your service," answered the ants, suddenly appearing. Then they all ran round him, crying out, "What is the matter? What do you want?"
"I have to find all the pearls lost in this field, and cannot see a single one: can you help me?"
"Wait a little, we will soon get them for you."
He had not to wait very long, for they brought him a heap of pearls, and all he had to do was to thread them on the string. Just as he was about to make a knot he saw a lame ant coming slowly towards him, for one of her feet had been burned in the bush fire.
"Wait a moment, George," she called out; "do not tie the knot before threading this last pearl I am bringing you."
When George took his pearls to the king, his majesty first counted them to make sure they were all there, and then said, "You have done very well in this test, to-morrow I will give you another."
Early next morning the king summoned George to him and said, "My daughter, the Princess with the Golden Hair, dropped her gold ring into the sea while bathing. You must find the jewel and bring it me to-day."
The young fellow walked thoughtfully up and down the beach. The water was pure and transparent, but he could not see beyond a certain distance into its depths, and therefore could not tell where the ring was lying beneath the water.
"Ah, my golden fishling, why are you not here now? You would surely be able to help me," he said to himself, speaking aloud.
"Here I am," answered the fish's voice from the sea, "what can I do for you?"
"I have to find a gold ring which has been dropped in the sea, but as I cannot see to the bottom there is no use looking."
The fish said, "Fortunately I have just met a pike, wearing a gold ring on his fin. Just wait a moment, will you?"
In a very short time he reappeared with the pike and the ring. The pike willingly gave up the jewel.
The king thanked George for his cleverness, and then told him the third task. "If you really wish me to give the hand of my daughter with the golden hair to the monarch who has sent you here, you must bring me two things that I want above everything: the Water of Death and the Water of Life."
George had not the least idea where to find these waters, so he determined to trust to chance and "follow his nose," as the saying is. He went first in one direction and then in another, until he reached a dark forest.
"Ah, if my little ravens were but here, perhaps they would help me," he said aloud.
Suddenly there was heard a rushing noise, as of wings overhead, and then down came the ravens calling "Krak, krak, here we are, ready and willing to help you. What are you looking for?"
"I want some of the Water of Death and the Water of Life: it is impossible for me to find them, for I don't know where to look."
"Krak, krak, we know very well where to find some. Wait a moment."
Off they went immediately, but soon returned, each with a small gourd in his beak. One gourd contained the Water of Life, the other the Water of Death.
George was delighted with his success, and went back on his way to the palace. When nearly out of the forest, he saw a spider's web hanging between two fir trees, while in the centre was a large spider devouring a fly he had just killed. George sprinkled a few drops of the Water of Death on the spider; it immediately left the fly, which rolled to the ground like a ripe cherry, but on being touched with the Water of Life she began to move, and stretching out first one limb and then another, gradually freed herself from the spider's web. Then she spread her wings and took flight, having first buzzed these words in the ears of her deliverer: "George, you have assured your own happiness by restoring mine, for without my help you would never have succeeded in recognising the Princess with the Golden Hair when you choose her to-morrow from among her twelve sisters."
And the fly was right, for though the king, on finding that George had accomplished the third task, agreed to give him his daughter Zlato Vlaska, he yet added that he would have to find her himself.
He then led him to a large room and bade him choose from among the twelve charming girls who sat at a round table. Each wore a kind of linen head-dress that completely hid the upper part of the head, and in such a way that the keenest eye could not discover the colour of the hair.
"Here are my daughters," said the king, "but only one among them has golden hair. If you find her you may take her with you; but if you make a mistake she will remain with us, and you will have to return empty-handed."
George felt much embarrassed, not knowing what course to take.
"Buzz, Buzz, come walk round these young girls, and I will tell you which is yours."
Thus spoke the fly whose life George had saved.
Thus reassured he walked boldly round, pointing at them one after the other and saying, "This one has not the golden hair, nor this one either, nor this...."
Suddenly, having been told by the fly, he cried, "Here we are: this is Zlato Vlaska, even she herself. I take her for my own, she whom I have won, and for whom I have paid the price with many cares. You will not refuse her me this time."
"Indeed, you have guessed aright," replied the king.
The princess rose from her seat, and letting fall her head-dress, exposed to full view all the splendour of her wonderful hair, which seemed like a waterfall of golden rays, and covered her from head to foot. The glorious light that shone from it dazzled the young man's eyes, and he immediately fell in love with her.
The king provided his daughter with gifts worthy of a queen, and she left her father's palace in a manner befitting a royal bride. The journey back was accomplished without any mishaps.
On their arrival the old king was delighted at the sight of Zlato Vlaska, and danced with joy. Splendid and costly preparations were made for the wedding. His majesty then said to George, "You robbed me of the secret of animal language. For this I intended to have your head cut off and your body thrown to birds of prey. But as you have served me so faithfully and won the princess for my bride I will lessen the punishment—that is, although you will be executed, yet you shall be buried with all the honours worthy of a superior officer."
So the sentence was carried out, cruelly and unjustly. After the execution the Princess with the Golden Hair begged the king to make her a present of George's body, and the monarch was so much in love that he could not refuse his intended bride anything.
Zlato Vlaska with her own hands replaced the head on the body, and sprinkled it with the Water of Death. Immediately the separated parts became one again. Upon this she poured the Water of Life, and George returned to life, fresh as a young roebuck, his face radiant with health and youth.
"Ah me! How well I have slept," said he, rubbing his eyes.
"Yes; no one could have slept better," answered the princess, smiling, "but without me you would have slept through eternity."
When the old king saw George restored to life, and looking younger, handsomer, and more vigorous than ever, he too wanted to be made young again. He therefore ordered his servants to cut off his head and sprinkle it with the Life-Giving Water. They cut it off, but he did not come to life again, although they sprinkled his body with all the water that was left. Perhaps they made some mistake in using the wrong water, for the head and body were joined, but life itself never returned, there being no Water of Life left for that purpose. No one knew where to get any, and none understood the language of animals.
So, to make a long story short, George was proclaimed king, and the Princess with Hair of Gold, who really loved him, became his queen.
THE JOURNEY TO THE SUN AND THE MOON
THE JOURNEY TO THE SUN AND THE MOON
There were once two young people who loved each other dearly. The young man was called Jean, the girl, Annette. In her sweetness she was like unto a dove, in her strength and bravery she resembled an eagle.
Her father was a rich farmer, and owned a large estate, but Jean's father was only a poor mountain shepherd. Annette did not in the least mind her lover being poor, for he was rich in goodness: nor did she think her father would object to their marrying.
One day Jean put on his best clothes, and went to ask the farmer for his daughter's hand. The farmer listened without interrupting him, and then replied, "If you would marry Annette, go and ask of the Sun why he does not warm the night as well as the day. Then inquire of the Moon why she does not shine by day as well as by night. When you return with these answers you shall not only have my daughter but all my wealth."
These conditions in no way daunted Jean, who placed his hat on the side of his head, and taking a loving farewell of Annette, set out in search of the Sun. On reaching a small town at the close of day, he looked about for a place wherein to pass the night. Some kind people offered him shelter and invited him to sup with them, inquiring as to the object of his journey. When they heard that he was on his way to visit the Sun and Moon, the master of the house begged him to ask the Sun why the finest pear-tree they had in the town had, for several years, ceased to bear fruit, for it used to produce the most delicious pears in the world.
Jean willingly promised to make this inquiry, and the next day continued his journey.
He walked on and on, over mountain and moor, through valley and dense forest, until he came to a land where there was no drinking water. The inhabitants, when they heard the object of Jean's journey, begged him to ask the Sun and Moon why a well, that was the chief water supply of the district, no longer gave good water. Jean promised to do so, and resumed his journey.
After long and weary wanderings he reached the Sun's abode, and found him about to start on his travels.
"O Sun," said he, "stop one moment, do not depart without first answering a few questions."
"Be quick then and speak, for I have to go all round the world to-day."
"Pray tell me why you do not warm or light the earth by night as well as day?"
"For this simple reason, that if I did, the world and everything upon it would be very soon burnt up."
Jean then put his questions concerning the pear-tree and the well. But the Sun replied that his sister, the Moon, would be able to answer him on those points.
Hardly had the Sun finished speaking before he was obliged to hurry off, and Jean travelled far and fast to meet the Moon. On coming up to her he said, "Would you kindly stop one moment? there are a few questions I should like to ask you."
"Very well, be quick, for the earth is waiting for me," answered she, and stood still at once.
"Tell me, dear Moon, why you do not light the world by day as well as by night? And why you never warm it?"
"Because if I lit up the world by day as well as by night the plants would produce neither fruit nor flower. And though I do not warm the earth, I supply it with dew, which makes it fertile and fruitful."
She was then about to continue her course, but Jean, begging her to stop one moment longer, questioned her about the pear-tree which had ceased to bear fruit.
And she answered him thus: "While the king's eldest daughter remained unmarried the tree bore fruit every year. After her wedding she had a little child who died and was buried under this tree. Since then there has been neither fruit nor flower on its branches: if the child be given Christian burial the tree will produce blossom and fruit as in the past."
The Moon was just moving off when Jean begged her to stop and answer one more question, which was, why the inhabitants of a certain land were unable to obtain from their well the clear and wholesome water it had formerly poured forth.
She replied: "Under the mouth of the well, just where the water should flow, lies an enormous toad which poisons it continually: the brim of the well must be broken and the toad killed, then the water will be as pure and wholesome as formerly."
The Moon then resumed her journey, for Jean had no more questions to ask her.
He joyfully went back to claim his Annette, but forgot not to stop on coming to the land where they were short of water. The inhabitants ran out to meet him, anxious to know what he had found out.