Tutte le traduzioni delle fiabe tratte dai libri di Lang postate nel Blog sono mie.
Quando è possibile, traduco le fiabe dalle raccolte a cui ha attinto lo stesso Lang.
Andrew Lang non era uno scrittore (fortunatamente) né un inventore di "nuove" fiabe (che avversava), ma un semplice compilatore di raccolte. Il criterio di scelta non è chiarissimo, ma, molto onestamente e/o candidamemte, dichiara di censurare i testi. Del resto, le sue raccolte non hanno alcuna pretesa di scientificità e si rivolgono esplicitamente ad un pubblico infantile.
Ciò detto, ecco i suoi meriti.
Ripeto: è onesto. I suoi collaboratori-traduttori (la moglie in primis) sicuramente sottraggono, ma non aggiungono.
I suoi popolarissimi libri "colorati" offrono una varietà di fiabe che, per la prima volta, supera decisamente la ricercata e ridondante produzione dei noiosissimi (tranne poche felici eccezioni come Charles Perrault) fiabisti francesi, e la fascinosa ma schizofrenica raccolta dei Grimm, altalenante fra una secchezza che rasenta la sciatteria. ed una prosa con pretese letterarie.
Le sue raccolte, di piacevole lettura, escono dall'Europa, senza limitarsi agli esotismi sospetti delle disoneste traduzioni ottocentesche de "Le Mille e una Notte" e si aprono al mondo.
The One-Handed Girl
The Lilac Fairy Book
An old couple once lived in a hut under a grove of palm trees, and they had one son and one daughter. They were all very happy together for many years, and then the father became very ill, and felt he was going to die. He called his children to the place where he lay on the floor- for no one had any beds in that country - and said to his son, 'I have no herds of cattle to leave you - only the few things there are in the house - for I am a poor man, as you know. But choose: will you have my blessing or my property?'
'Your property, certainly,' answered the son, and his father nodded.
'And you?' asked the old man of the girl, who stood by her brother.
'I will have blessing,' she answered, and her father gave her much blessing.
That night he died, and his wife and son and daughter mourned for him seven days, and gave him a burial according to the custom of his people. But hardly was the time of mourning over, than the mother was attacked by a disease which was common in that country.
'I am going away from you,' she said to her children, in a faint voice; 'but first, my son, choose which you will have: blessing or property.'
'Property, certainly,' answered the son.
'And you, my daughter?'
'I will have blessing,' said the girl; and her mother gave her much blessing, and that night she died. When the days of mourning were ended, the brother bade his sister put outside the hut all that belonged to his father and his mother. So the girl put them out, and he took them away, save only a small pot and a vessel in which she could clean her corn. But she had no corn to clean.
She sat at home, sad and hungry, when a neighbour knocked at the door.
'My pot has cracked in the fire, lend me yours to cook my supper in, and I will give you a handful of corn in return.'
And the girl was glad, and that night she was able to have supper herself, and next day another woman borrowed her pot, and then another and another, for never were known so many accidents as befell the village pots at that time. She soon grew quite fat with all the corn she earned with the help of her pot, and then one evening she picked up a pumpkin seed in a corner, and planted it near her well, and it sprang up, and gave her many pumpkins.
At last it happened that a youth from her village passed through the place where the girl's brother was, and the two met and talked.
'What news is there of my sister?' asked the young man, with whom things had gone badly, for he was idle.
'She is fat and well-liking,' replied the youth, 'for the women borrow her mortar to clean their corn, and borrow her pot to cook it in, and for al this they give her more food than she can eat.'
And he went his way.
Now the brother was filled with envy at the words of the man, and he set out at once, and before dawn he had reached the hut, and saw the pot and the mortar were standing outside. He slung them over his shoulders and departed, pleased with his own cleverness; but when his sister awoke and sought for the pot to cook her corn for breakfast, she could find it nowhere. At length she said to herself,
'Well, some thief must have stolen them while I slept. I will go and see if any of my pumpkins are ripe.'
And indeed they were, and so many that the tree was almost broken by the weight of them. So she ate what she wanted and took the others to the village, and gave them in exchange for corn, and the women said that no pumpkins were as sweet as these, and that she was to bring every day all that she had. In this way she earned more than she needed for herself, and soon was able to get another mortar and cooking pot in exchange for her corn.
Then she thought she was quite rich.
Unluckily someone else thought so too, and this was her brother's wife, who had heard all about the pumpkin tree, and sent her slave with a handful of grain to buy her a pumpkin. At first the girl told him that so few were left that she could not spare any; but when she found that he belonged to her brother, she changed her mind, and went out to the tree and gathered the largest and the ripest that was there.
'Take this one,' she said to the slave, 'and carry it back to your mistress, but tell her to keep the corn, as the pumpkin is a gift.'
The brother's wife was overjoyed at the sight of the fruit, and when she tasted it, she declared it was the nicest she had ever eaten. Indeed, all night she thought of nothing else, and early in the morning she called another slave (for she was a rich woman) and bade him go and ask for another pumpkin. But the girl, who had just been out to look at her tree, told him that they were all eaten, so he went back empty-handed to his mistress.
In the evening her husband returned from hunting a long way off, and found his wife in tears.
'What is the matter?' asked he.
'I sent a slave with some grain to your sister to buy some pumpkins, but she would not sell me any, and told me there were none, though I know she lets other people buy them.'
'Well, never mind now - go to sleep,' said he, 'and tomorrow I will go and pull up the pumpkin tree, and that will punish her for treating you so badly.'
So before sunrise he got up and set out for his sister's house, and found her cleaning some corn.
'Why did you refuse to sell my wife a pumpkin yesterday when she wanted one?' he asked.
'The old ones are finished, and the new ones are not yet come,' answered the girl. 'When her slave arrived two days ago, there were only four left; but I gave him one, and would take no corn for it.'
'I do not believe you; you have sold them all to other people. I shall go and cut down the pumpkin,' cried her brother in a rage.
'If you cut down the pumpkin you shall cut off my hand with it,' exclaimed the girl, running up to her tree and catching hold of it. But her brother followed, and with one blow cut off the pumpkin and her hand too.
Then he went into the house and took away everything he could find, and sold the house to a friend of his who had long wished to have it, and his sister had no home to go to.
Meanwhile she had bathed her arm carefully, and bound on it some healing leaves that grew near by, and wrapped a cloth round the leaves, and went to hide in the forest, that her brother might not find her again.
For seven days she wandered about, eating only the fruit that hung from the trees above her, and every night she climbed up and tucked herself safely among the creepers which bound together the big branches, so that neither lions nor tigers nor panthers might get at her.
When she woke up on the seventh morning she saw from her perch smoke coming up from a little town on the edge of the forest. The sight of the huts made her feel more lonely and helpless than before. She longed desperately for a draught of milk from a gourd, for there were no streams in that part, and she was very thirsty, but how was she to earn anything with only one hand? And at this thought her courage failed, and she began to cry bitterly.
It happened that the king's son had come out from the town very early to shoot birds, and when the sun grew hot he left tired.
'I will lie here and rest under this tree,' he said to his attendants. 'You can go and shoot instead, and I will just have this slave to stay with me!'
Away they went, and the young man fell asleep, and slept long. Suddenly he was awakened by something wet and salt falling on his face.
'What is that? Is it raining?' he said to his slave. 'Go and look.'
'No, master, it is not raining,' answered the slave.
'Then climb up the tree and see what it is,' and the slave climbed up, and came back and told his master that a beautiful girl was sitting up there, and that it must have been her tears which had fallen on the face of the king's son.
'Why was she crying?' inquired the prince.
'I cannot tell - I did not dare to ask her; but perhaps she would tell you.'
And the master, greatly wondering, climbed up the tree.
'What is the matter with you?' said he gently, and, as she only sobbed louder, he continued: 'Are you a woman, or a spirit of the woods?'
'I am a woman,' she answered slowly, wiping her eyes with a leaf of the creeper that hung about her. 'Then why do you cry?' he persisted.
'I have many things to cry for,' she replied, 'more than you could ever guess.'
'Come home with me,' said the prince; 'it is not very far. Come home to my father and mother. I am a king's son.'
'Then why are you here?' she said, opening her eyes and staring at him.
'Once every month I and my friends shoot birds in the forest,' he answered, 'but I was tired and bade them leave me to rest. And you - what are you doing up in this tree?'
At that she began to cry again, and told the king's son all that had befallen her since the death of her mother.
'I cannot come down with you, for I do not like anyone to see me,' she ended with a sob.
'Oh! I will manage all that,' said the king's son, and swinging himself to a lower branch, he bade his slave go quickly into the town, and bring back with him four strong men and a curtained litter. When the man was gone, the girl climbed down, and hid herself on the ground in some bushes. Very soon the slave returned with the litter, which was placed on the ground close to the bushes where the girl lay.
'Now go, all of you, and call my attendants, for I do not wish to say here any longer,' he said to the men, and as soon as they were out of sight he bade the girl get into the litter, and fasten the curtains tightly. Then he got in on the other side, and waited till his attendants came up.
'What is the matter, O son of a king?' asked they, breathless with running.
'I think I am ill; I am cold,' he said, and signing to the bearers, he drew the curtains, and was carried through the forest right inside his own house.
'Tell my father and mother that I have a fever, and want some gruel,' said he, 'and bid them send it quickly.'
So the slave hastened to the king's palace and gave his message, which troubled both the king and the queen greatly. A pot of hot gruel was instantly prepared, and carried over to the sick man, and as soon as the council which was sitting was over, the king and his ministers went to pay him a visit, bearing a message from the queen that she would follow a little later.
Now the prince had pretended to be ill in order to soften his parent's hearts, and the next day he declared he felt better, and, getting into his litter, was carried to the palace in state, drums being beaten all along the road.
He dismounted at the foot of the steps and walked up, a great parasol being held over his head by a slave. Then he entered the cool, dark room where his father and mother were sitting, and said to them:
'I saw a girl yesterday in the forest whom I wish to marry, and, unknown to my attendants, I brought her back to my house in a litter. Give me your consent, I beg, for no other woman pleases me as well, even though she has but one hand!'
Of course the king and queen would have preferred a daughter-in-law with two hands, and one who could have brought riches with her, but they could not bear to say 'No' to their son, so they told him it should be as he chose, and that the wedding feast should be prepared immediately.
The girl could scarcely believe her good fortune, and, in gratitude for all the kindness shown her, was so useful and pleasant to her husband's parents that they soon loved her.
By and bye a baby was born to her, and soon after that the prince was sent on a journey by his father to visit some of the distant towns of the kingdom, and to set right things that had gone wrong.
No sooner had he started than the girl's brother, who had wasted all the riches his wife had brought him in recklessness and folly, and was now very poor, chanced to come into the town, and as he passed he heard a man say, 'Do you know that the king's son has married a woman who has lost one of her hands?' On hearing these words the brother stopped and asked, 'Where did he find such a woman?'
'In the forest,' answered the man, and the cruel brother guessed at once it must be his sister.
A great rage took possession of his soul as he thought of the girl whom he had tried to ruin being after all so much better off than himself, and he vowed that he would work her ill. Therefore that very afternoon he made his way to the palace and asked to see the king.
When he was admitted to his presence, he knelt down and touched the ground with his forehead, and the king bade him stand up and tell wherefore he had come.
'By the kindness of your heart have you been deceived, O king,' said he. 'Your son has married a girl who has lost a hand. Do you know why she had lost it? She was a witch, and has wedded three husbands, and each husband she has put to death with her arts. Then the people of the town cut off her hand, and turned her into the forest. And what I say is true, for her town is my town also.'
The king listened, and his face grew dark. Unluckily he had a hasty temper, and did not stop to reason, and, instead of sending to the town, and discovering people who knew his daughter-in-law and could have told him how hard she had worked and how poor she had been, he believed all the brother's lying words, and made the queen believe them too. Together they took counsel what they should do, and in the end they decided that they also would put her out of the town. But this did not content the brother.
'Kill her,' he said. 'It is no more than she deserves for daring to marry the king's son. Then she can do no more hurt to anyone.'
'We cannot kill her,' answered they; 'if we did, our son would assuredly kill us. Let us do as the others did, and put her out of the town.' And with this the envious brother was forced to be content.
The poor girl loved her husband very much, but just then the baby was more to her than all else in the world, and as long as she had him with her, she did not very much mind anything. So, taking her son on her arm, and hanging a little earthen pot for cooking round her neck, she left her house with its great peacock fans and slaves and seats of ivory, and plunged into the forest.
For a while she walked, not knowing whither she went, then by and bye she grew tired, and sat under a tree to rest and to hush her baby to sleep. Suddenly she raised her eyes, and saw a snake wriggling from under the bushes towards her.
'I am a dead woman,' she said to herself, and stayed quite still, for indeed she was too frightened to move. In another minute the snake had reached her side, and to her surprise he spoke.
'Open your earthen pot, and let me go in. Save me from sun, and I will save you from rain,' and she opened the pot, and when the snake had slipped in, she put on the cover.
Soon she beheld another snake coming after the other one, and when it had reached her it stopped and said,
'Did you see a small grey snake pass this way just now?'
'Yes,' she answered, 'it was going very quickly.'
'Ah, I must hurry and catch it up,' replied the second snake, and it hastened on.
When it was out of sight, a voice from the pot said:
'Uncover me,' and she lifted the lid, and the little grey snake slid rapidly to the ground.
'I am safe now,' he said. 'But tell me, where are you going?'
'I cannot tell you, for I do not know,' she answered. 'I am just wandering in the wood.'
'Follow me, and let us go home together,' said the snake, and the girl followed his through the forest and along the green paths, till they came to a great lake, where they stopped to rest.
'The sun is hot,' said the snake, 'and you have walked far. Take your baby and bathe in that cool place where the boughs of the tree stretch far over the water.'
'Yes, I will,' answered she, and they went in.
The baby splashed and crowed with delight, and then he gave a spring and fell right in, down, down, down, and his mother could not find him, though she searched all among the reeds. Full of terror, she made her way back to the bank, and called to the snake,
'My baby is gone! - he is drowned, and never shall I see him again.'
'Go in once more,' said the snake, 'and feel everywhere, even among the trees that have their roots in the water, lest perhaps he may be held fast there.'
Swiftly she went back and felt everywhere with her whole hand, even putting her fingers into the tiniest crannies, where a crab could hardly have taken shelter.
'No, he is not here,' she cried. 'How am I to live without him?'
But the snake took no notice, and only answered,
'Put in your other arm too.'
'What is the use of that?' she asked, 'when it has no hand to feel with?' but all the same she did as she was bid, and in an instant the wounded arm touched something round and soft, lying between two stones in a clump of reeds.
'My baby, my baby!' she shouted, and lifted him up, merry and laughing, and not a bit hurt or frightened.
'Have you found him this time?' asked the snake.
'Yes, oh, yes!' she answered, 'and, why - why - I have got my hand back again!' and from sheer joy she burst into tears.
The snake let her weep for a little while, and then he said - 'Now we will journey on to my family, and we will all repay you for the kindness you showed to me.'
'You have done more than enough in giving me back my hand,' replied the girl; but the snake only smiled.
'Be quick, lest the sun should set,' he answered, and began to wriggle along so fast that the girl could hardly follow him.
By and bye they arrived at the house in a tree where the snake lived, when he was not travelling with his father and mother. And he told them all his adventures, and how he had escaped from his enemy. The father and mother snake could not do enough to show their gratitude. They made their guest lie down on a hammock woven of the strong creepers which hung from bough to bough, till she was quite rested after her wanderings, while they watched the baby and gave him milk to drink from the cocoa-nuts which they persuaded their friends the monkeys to crack for them. They even managed to carry small fruit tied up in their tails for the baby's mother, who felt at last that she was safe and at peace. Not that she forgot her husband, for she often thought of him and longed to show him her son, and in the night she would sometimes lie awake and wonder where he was. In this manner many weeks passed by.
And what was the prince doing?
Well, he had fallen very ill when he was on the furthest border of the kingdom, and he was nursed by some kind people who did not know who he was, so that the king and queen heard nothing about him. When he was better he made his way home again, and into his father's palace, where he found a strange man standing behind the throne with the peacock's feathers. This was his wife's brother, whom the king had taken into high favour, though, of course, the prince was quite ignorant of what had happened.
For a moment the king and queen stared at their son, as if he had been unknown to them; he had grown so thin and weak during his illness that his shoulders were bowed like those of an old man. 'Have you forgotten me so soon?' he asked.
At the sound of his voice they gave a cry and ran towards him, and poured out questions as to what had happened, and why he looked like that. But the prince did not answer any of them.
'How is my wife?' he said.
There was a pause. Then the queen replied:
'She is dead.'
'Dead!' he repeated, stepping a little backwards. 'And my child?'
'He is dead too.'
The young man stood silent. Then he said,
'Show me their graves.'
At these words the king, who had been feeling rather uncomfortable, took heart again, for had he not prepared two beautiful tombs for his son to see, so that he might never, never guess what had been done to his wife? All these months the king and queen had been telling each other how good and merciful they had been not to take her brother's advice and to put her to death. But now, this somehow did not seem so certain. Then the king led the way to the courtyard just behind the palace, and through the gate into a beautiful garden where stood two splendid tombs in a green space under the trees. The prince advanced alone, and, resting his head against the stone, he burst into tears. His father and mother stood silently behind with a curious pang in their souls which they did not quite understand. Could it be that they were ashamed of themselves? But after a while the prince turned round, and walking past them in to the palace he bade the slaves bring him mourning. For seven days no one saw him, but at the end of them he went out hunting, and helped his father rule his people. Only no one dared to speak to him of his wife and son.
At last one morning, after the girl had been lying awake all night thinking of her husband, she said to her friend the snake:
'You have all shown me much kindness, but now I am well again, and want to go home and hear some news of my husband, and if he still mourns for me!'
Now the heart of the snake was sad at her words, but he only said:
'Yes, thus it must be; go and bid farewell to my father and mother, but if they offer you a present, see that you take nothing but my father's ring and my mother's casket.'
So she went to the parent snakes, who wept bitterly at the thought of losing her, and offered her gold and jewels as much as she could carry in remembrance of them. But the girl shook her head and pushed the shining heap away from her.
'I shall never forget you, never,' she said in a broken voice, 'but the only tokens I will accept from you are that little ring and this old casket.'
The two snakes looked at each other in dismay. The ring and the casket were the only things they did not want her to have. Then after a short pause they spoke.
'Why do you want the ring and casket so much? Who has told you of them?'
'Oh, nobody; it is just my fancy,' answered she.
But the old snakes shook their heads and replied:
'Not so; it is our son who told you, and, as he said, so it must be. If you need food, or clothes, or a house, tell the ring and it will find them for you. And if you are unhappy or in danger, tell the casket and it will set things right.'
Then they both gave her their blessing, and she picked up her baby and went her way. She walked for a long time, till at length she came near the town where her husband and his father dwelt. Here she stopped under a grove of palm trees, and told the ring that she wanted a house.
'It is ready, mistress,' whispered a queer little voice which made her jump, and, looking behind her, she saw a lovely palace made of the finest woods, and a row of slaves with tall fans bowing before the door. Glad indeed was she to enter, for she was very tired, and, after eating a good supper of fruit and milk which she found in one of the rooms, she flung herself down on a pile of cushions and went to sleep with her baby beside her. Here she stayed quietly, and every day the baby grew taller and stronger, and very soon he could run about and even talk.
Of course the neighbours had a great deal to say about the house which had been built so quickly - so very quickly - on the outskirts of the town, and invented all kinds of stories about the rich lady who lived in it. And by and bye, when the king returned with his son from the wars, some of these tales reached his ears.
'It is really very odd about that house under the palms,' he said to the queen; 'I must find out something of the lady whom no one ever sees. I daresay it is not a lady at all, but a gang of conspirators who want to get possession of my throne. Tomorrow I shall take my son and my chief ministers and insist on getting inside.'
Soon after sunrise next day the prince's wife was standing on a little hill behind the house, when she saw a cloud of dust coming through the town. A moment afterwards she heard faintly the roll of the drums that announced the king's presence, and saw a crowd of people approaching the grove of palms. Her heart beat fast. Could her husband be among them? In any case they must not discover her there; so just bidding the ring prepare some food for them, she ran inside, and bound a veil of golden gauze round her head and face. Then, taking the child's hand, she went to the door and waited.
In a few minutes the whole procession came up, and she stepped forward and begged them to come in and rest.
'Willingly,' answered the king; 'go first, and we will follow you.'
They followed her into a long dark room, in which was a table covered with gold cups and baskets filled with dates and cocoa-nuts and all kinds of ripe yellow fruits, and the king and the prince sat upon cushions and were served by slaves, while the ministers, among whom she recognised her own brother, stood behind.
'Ah, I owe all my misery to him,' she said to herself. 'From the first he has hated me,' but outwardly she showed nothing.
And when the king asked her what news there was in the town she only answered:
'You have ridden far; eat first, and drink, for you must be hungry and thirsty, and then I will tell you my news.'
'You speak sense,' answered the king, and silence prevailed for some time longer.
Then he said:
'Now, lady, I have finished, and am refreshed, therefore tell me, I pray you, who you are, and whence you come? But, first, be seated.'
She bowed her head and sat down on a big scarlet cushion, drawing her little boy, who was asleep in a corner, on to her knee, and began to tell the story of her life.
As her brother listened, he would fain have left the house and hidden himself in the forest, but it was his duty to wave the fan of peacock's feathers over the king's head to keep off the flies, and he knew he would be seized by the royal guards if he tried to desert his post. He must stay where he was, there was no help for it, and luckily for him the king was too much interested in the tale to notice that the fan had ceased moving, and that flies were dancing right on the top of his thick curly hair.
The story went on, but the story-teller never once looked at the prince, even through her veil, though he on his side never moved his eyes from her. When she reached the part where she had sat weeping in the tree, the king's son could restrain himself no longer.
'It is my wife,' he cried, springing to where she sat with the sleeping child in her lap.
'They have lied to me, and you are not dead after all, nor the boy either! But what has happened? Why did they lie to me? and why did you leave my house where you were safe?'
And he turned and looked fiercely at his father.
'Let me finish my tale first, and then you will know,' answered she, throwing back her veil, and she told how her brother had come to the palace and accused her of being a witch, and had tried to persuade the king to slay her.
'But he would not do that,' she continued softly, 'and after all, if I had stayed on in your house, I should never have met the snake, nor have got my hand back again. So let us forget all about it, and be happy once more, for see! our son is growing quite a big boy.'
'And what shall be done to your brother?' asked the king, who was glad to think that someone had acted in this matter worse than himself.
'Put him out of the town,' answered she.
From 'Swaheli Tales,' by E. Steere.
Uraschimataro and the Turtle
The Pink Fairy Book
There was once a worthy old couple who lived on the coast, and supported themselves by fishing. They had only one child, a son, who was their pride and joy, and for his sake they were ready to work hard all day long, and never felt tired or discontented with their lot. This son's name was Uraschimataro, which means in Japanese, 'Son of the island,' and he was a fine well-grown youth and a good fisherman, minding neither wind nor weather. Not the bravest sailor in the whole village dared venture so far out to sea as Uraschimataro, and many a time the neighbours used to shake their heads and say to his parents, 'If your son goes on being so rash, one day he will try his luck once too often, and the waves will end by swallowing him up.' But Uraschimataro paid no heed to these remarks, and as he was really very clever in managing a boat, the old people were very seldom anxious about him.
One beautiful bright morning, as he was hauling his well-filled nets into the boat, he saw lying among the fishes a tiny little turtle. He was delighted with his prize, and threw it into a wooden vessel to keep till he got home, when suddenly the turtle found its voice, and tremblingly begged for its life. 'After all,' it said, 'what good can I do you? I am so young and small, and I would so gladly live a little longer. Be merciful and set me free, and I shall know how to prove my gratitude.' Now Uraschimataro was very good-natured, and besides, he could never bear to say no, so he picked up the turtle, and put it back into the sea.
Years flew by, and every morning Uraschimataro sailed his boat into the deep sea. But one day as he was making for a little bay between some rocks, there arose a fierce whirlwind, which shattered his boat to pieces, and she was sucked under by the waves. Uraschimataro himself very nearly shared the same fate. But he was a powerful swimmer, and struggled hard to reach the shore. Then he saw a large turtle coming towards him, and above the howling of the storm he heard what it said: 'I am the turtle whose life you once saved. I will now pay my debt and show my gratitude. The land is still far distant, and without my help you would never get there. Climb on my back, and I will take you where you will.' Uraschimataro did not wait to be asked twice, and thankfully accepted his friend's help. But scarcely was he seated firmly on the shell, when the turtle proposed that they should not return to the shore at once, but go under the sea, and look at some of the wonders that lay hidden there.
Uraschimataro agreed willingly, and in another moment they were deep, deep down, with fathoms of blue water above their heads. Oh, how quickly they darted through the still, warm sea! The young man held tight, and marvelled where they were going and how long they were to travel, but for three days they rushed on, till at last the turtle stopped before a splendid palace, shining with gold and silver, crystal and precious stones, and decked here and there with branches of pale pink coral and glittering pearls. But if Uraschimataro was astonished at the beauty of the outside, he was struck dumb at the sight of the hall within, which was lighted by the blaze of fish scales.
'Where have you brought me?' he asked his guide in a low voice.
'To the palace of Ringu, the house of the sea god, whose subjects we all are,' answered the turtle. 'I am the first waiting maid of his daughter, the lovely princess Otohime, whom you will shortly see.'
Uraschimataro was still so puzzled with the adventures that had befallen him, that he waited in a dazed condition for what would happen next. But the turtle, who had talked so much of him to the princess that she had expressed a wish to see him, went at once to make known his arrival. And directly the princess beheld him her heart was set on him, and she begged him to stay with her, and in return promised that he should never grow old, neither should his beauty fade. 'Is not that reward enough?' she asked, smiling, looking all the while as fair as the sun itself. And Uraschimataro said 'Yes,' and so he stayed there. For how long? That he only knew later.
His life passed by, and each hour seemed happier than the last, when one day there rushed over him a terrible longing to see his parents. He fought against it hard, knowing how it would grieve the princess, but it grew on him stronger and stronger, till at length he became so sad that the princess inquired what was wrong. Then he told her of the longing he had to visit his old home, and that he must see his parents once more. The princess was almost frozen with horror, and implored him to stay with her, or something dreadful would be sure to happen. 'You will never come back, and we shall meet again no more,' she moaned bitterly. But Uraschimataro stood firm and repeated, 'Only this once will I leave you, and then will I return to your side for ever.' Sadly the princess shook her head, but she answered slowly, 'One way there is to bring you safely back, but I fear you will never agree to the conditions of the bargain.'
'I will do anything that will bring me back to you,' exclaimed Uraschimataro, looking at her tenderly, but the princess was silent: she knew too well that when he left her she would see his face no more. Then she took from a shelf a tiny golden box, and gave it to Uraschimataro, praying him to keep it carefully, and above all things never to open it. 'If you can do this,' she said as she bade him farewell, 'your friend the turtle will meet you at the shore, and will carry you back to me.'
Uraschimataro thanked her from his heart, and swore solemnly to do her bidding. He hid the box safely in his garments, seated himself on the back of the turtle, and vanished in the ocean path, waving his hand to the princess. Three days and three nights they swam through the sea, and at length Uraschimataro arrived at the beach which lay before his old home. The turtle bade him farewell, and was gone in a moment.
Uraschimataro drew near to the village with quick and joyful steps. He saw the smoke curling through the roof, and the thatch where green plants had thickly sprouted. He heard the children shouting and calling, and from a window that he passed came the twang of the koto, and everything seemed to cry a welcome for his return. Yet suddenly he felt a pang at his heart as he wandered down the street. After all, everything was changed. Neither men nor houses were those he once knew. Quickly he saw his old home; yes, it was still there, but it had a strange look. Anxiously he knocked at the door, and asked the woman who opened it after his parents. But she did not know their names, and could give him no news of them.
Still more disturbed, he rushed to the burying ground, the only place that could tell him what he wished to know. Here at any rate he would find out what it all meant. And he was right. In a moment he stood before the grave of his parents, and the date written on the stone was almost exactly the date when they had lost their son, and he had forsaken them for the Daughter of the Sea. And so he found that since he had deft his home, three hundred years had passed by.
Shuddering with horror at his discovery he turned back into the village street, hoping to meet some one who could tell him of the days of old. But when the man spoke, he knew he was not dreaming, though he felt as if he had lost his senses.
In despair he bethought him of the box which was the gift of the princess. Perhaps after all this dreadful thing was not true. He might be the victim of some enchanter's spell, and in his hand lay the counter-charm. Almost unconsciously he opened it, and a purple vapour came pouring out. He held the empty box in his hand, and as he looked he saw that the fresh hand of youth had grown suddenly shrivelled, like the hand of an old, old man. He ran to the brook, which flowed in a clear stream down from the mountain. and saw himself reflected as in a mirror. It was the face of a mummy which looked back at him.
Wounded to death, he crept back through the village, and no man knew the old, old man to be the strong handsome youth who had run down the street an hour before. So he toiled wearily back, till he reached the shore, and here he sat sadly on a rock, and called loudly on the turtle. But she never came back any more, but instead, death came soon, and set him free. But before that happened, the people who saw him sitting lonely on the shore had heard his story, and when their children were restless they used to tell them of the good son who from love to his parents had given up for their sakes the splendour and wonders of the palace in the sea, and the most beautiful woman in the world besides.
From the Japanische Marchen und Sagen.
La fiaba che ho postato nel Blog è, in realtà, una riflessione sulla "fortuna" di questa leggenda giapponese molto popolare in Europa e si avvale di diverse fonti, fra le quali, questa variante di Lang.
The Olive Fairy Book
Once upon a time there lived in a city of Hindustan a seller of scents and essences, who had a very beautiful daughter named Dorani. This maiden had a friend who was a fairy, and the two were high in favour with Indra, the king of fairyland, because they were able to sing so sweetly and dance so deftly that no one in the kingdom could equal them for grace and beauty. Dorani had the most lovely hair in the world, for it was like spun gold, and the smell of it was like the smell of fresh roses. But her locks were so long and thick that the weight of it was often unbearable, and one day she cut off a shining tress, and wrapping it in a large leaf, threw it in the river which ran just below her window. Now it happened that the king’s son was out hunting, and had gone down to the river to drink, when there floated towards him a folded leaf, from which came a perfume of roses. The prince, with idle curiosity, took a step into the water and caught the leaf as it was sailing by. He opened it, and within he found a lock of hair like spun gold, and from which came a faint, exquisite odour.
When the prince reached home that day he looked so sad and was so quiet that his father wondered if any ill had befallen him, and asked what was the matter. Then the youth took from his breast the tress of hair which he had found in the river, and holding it up to the light, replied:
‘See, my father, was ever hair like this? Unless I may win and marry the maiden that owns that lock I must die!’
So the king immediately sent heralds throughout all his dominions to search for the damsel with hair like spun gold; and at last he learned that she was the daughter of the scent-seller. The object of the herald’s mission was quickly noised abroad, and Dorani heard of it with the rest; and, one day, she said to her father:
‘If the hair is mine, and the king requires me to marry his son, I must do so; but, remember, you must tell him that if, after the wedding, I stay all day at the palace, every night will be spent in my old home.’
The old man listened to her with amazement, but answered nothing, as he knew she was wiser than he. Of course the hair was Dorani’s, and heralds soon returned and informed the king, their master, who summoned the scent-seller, and told him that he wished for his daughter to be given in marriage to the prince. The father bowed his head three times to the ground, and replied:
‘Your highness is our lord, and all that you bid us we will do. The maiden asks this only—that if, after the wedding, she stays all day at the palace, she may go back each night to her father’s house.’
The king thought this a very strange request; but said to himself it was, after all, his son’s affair, and the girl would surely soon get tired of going to and fro. So he made no difficulty, and everything was speedily arranged and the wedding was celebrated with great rejoicings.
At first, the condition attaching to his wedding with the lovely Dorani troubled the prince very little, for he thought that he would at least see his bride all day. But, to his dismay, he found that she would do nothing but sit the whole time upon a stool with her head bowed forward upon her knees, and he could never persuade her to say a single word.
Each evening she was carried in a palanquin to her father’s house, and each morning she was brought back soon after daybreak; and yet never a sound passed her lips, nor did she show by any sign that she saw, or heard, or heeded her husband.
One evening the prince, very unhappy and troubled, was wandering in an old and beautiful garden near the palace. The gardener was a very aged man, who had served the prince’s great grandfather; and when he saw the prince he came and bowed himself to him, and said:
‘Child! child! why do you look so sad—is aught the matter?’
Then the prince replied,
‘I am sad, old friend, because I have married a wife as lovely as the stars, but she will not speak to me, and I know not what to do. Night after night she leaves me for her father’s house, and day after day she sits in mine as though turned to stone, and utters no word, whatever I may do or say.’
The old man stood thinking for a moment, and then he hobbled off to his own cottage. A little later he came back to the prince with five or six small packets, which he placed in his hands and said:
‘Tomorrow, when your bride leaves the palace, sprinkle the powder from one of these packets upon your body, and while seeing clearly, you will become yourself invisible. More I cannot do for you, but may all go well!’
And the prince thanked him, and put the packets carefully away in his turban. The next night, when Dorani left for her father’s house in her palanquin, the prince took out a packet of the magic powder and sprinkled it over himself, and then hurried after her. He soon found that, as the old man had promised, he was invisible to everyone, although he felt as usual, and could see all that passed. He speedily overtook the palanquin and walked beside it to the scent-seller’s dwelling. There it was set down, and, when his bride, closely veiled, left it and entered the house, he, too, entered unperceived.
At the first door Dorani removed one veil; then she entered another doorway at the end of a passage where she removed another veil; next she mounted the stairs, and at the door of the women’s quarters removed a third veil. After this she proceeded to her own room where were set two large basins, one of attar of roses and one of water; in these she washed herself, and afterwards called for food. A servant brought her a bowl of curds, which she ate hastily, and then arrayed herself in a robe of silver, and wound about her strings of pearls, while a wreath of roses crowned her hair. When fully dressed, she seated herself upon a four-legged stool over which was a canopy with silken curtains, these she drew around her, and then called out:
‘Fly, stool, to the palace of rajah Indra.’
Instantly the stool rose in the air, and the invisible prince, who had watched all these proceedings with great wonder, seized it by one leg as it flew away, and found himself being borne through the air at a rapid rate.
In a short while they arrived at the house of the fairy who, as I told you before, was the favourite friend of Dorani. The fairy stood waiting on the threshold, as beautifully dressed as Dorani herself was, and when the stool stopped at her door she cried in astonishment:
‘Why, the stool is flying all crooked to-day! What is the reason of that, I wonder? I suspect that you have been talking to your husband, and so it will not fly straight.’
But Dorani declared that she had not spoken one word to him, and she couldn’t think why the stool flew as if weighed down at one side. The fairy still looked doubtful, but made no answer, and took her seat beside Dorani, the prince again holding tightly one leg. Then the stool flew on through the air until it came to the palace of Indra the rajah.
All through the night the women sang and danced before the rajah Indra, whilst a magic lute played of itself the most bewitching music; till the prince, who sat watching it all, was quite entranced. Just before dawn the rajah gave the signal to cease; and again the two women seated themselves on the stool, and, with the prince clinging to the leg, it flew back to earth, and bore Dorani and her husband safely to the scent-seller’s shop. Here the prince hurried away by himself past Dorani’s palanquin with its sleepy bearers, straight on to the palace; and, as he passed the threshold of his own rooms he became visible again. Then he lay down upon a couch and waited for Dorani’s arrival.
As soon as she arrived she took a seat and remained as silent as usual, with her head bowed on her knees. For a while not a sound was heard, but presently the prince said:
‘I dreamed a curious dream last night, and as it was all about you I am going to tell it you, although you heed nothing.’
The girl, indeed, took no notice of his words, but in spite of that he proceeded to relate every single thing that had happened the evening before, leaving out no detail of all that he had seen or heard. And when he praised her singing—and his voice shook a little—Dorani just looked at him; but she said naught, though, in her own mind, she was filled with wonder. ‘What a dream!’ she thought. ‘Could it have been a dream? How could he have learnt in a dream all she had done or said?’ Still she kept silent; only she looked that once at the prince, and then remained all day as before, with her head bowed upon her knees.
When night came the prince again made himself invisible and followed her. The same things happened again as had happened before, but Dorani sang better than ever. In the morning the prince a second time told Dorani all that she had done, pretending that he had dreamt of it. Directly he had finished Dorani gazed at him, and said:
‘Is it true that you dreamt this, or were you really there?’
‘I was there,’ answered the prince.
‘But why do you follow me?’ asked the girl.
‘Because,’ replied the prince, ‘I love you, and to be with you is happiness.’
This time Dorani’s eyelids quivered; but she said no more, and was silent the rest of the day. However, in the evening, just as she was stepping into her palanquin, she said to the prince:
‘If you love me, prove it by not following me to-night.’
And so the prince did as she wished, and stayed at home. That evening the magic stool flew so unsteadily that they could hardly keep their seats, and at last the fairy exclaimed:
‘There is only one reason that it should jerk like this! You have been talking to your husband!’
And Dorani replied: ‘Yes, I have spoken; oh, yes, I have spoken!’
But no more would she say.
That night Dorani sang so marvellously that at the end the rajah Indra rose up and vowed that she might ask what she would and he would give it to her. At first she was silent; but, when he pressed her, she answered:
‘Give me the magic lute.’
The rajah, when he heard this, was displeased with himself for having made so rash a promise, because this lute he valued above all his possessions. But as he had promised, so he must perform, and with an ill grace he handed it to her.
‘You must never come here again,’ said he, ‘for, once having asked so much, how will you in future be content with smaller gifts?’
Dorani bowed her head silently as she took the lute, and passed with the fairy out of the great gate, where the stool awaited them. More unsteadily than before, it flew back to earth.
When Dorani got to the palace that morning she asked the prince whether he had dreamt again. He laughed with happiness, for this time she had spoken to him of her own free will; and he replied:
‘No; but I begin to dream now—not of what has happened in the past, but of what may happen in the future.’
That day Dorani sat very quietly, but she answered the prince when he spoke to her; and when evening fell, and with it the time for her departure, she still sat on. Then the prince came close to her and said softly:
‘Are you not going to your house, Dorani?’
At that she rose and threw herself weeping into his arms, whispering gently: ‘Never again, my lord, never again would I leave thee!’
So the prince won his beautiful bride; and though they neither of them dealt any further with fairies and their magic, they learnt more daily of the magic of Love, which one may still learn, although fairy magic has fled away.
The Grey Fairy Book
Once there was a woman who had no children, and this made her very unhappy. So she spoke one day to the Sunball, saying:
'Dear Sunball, send me only a little girl now, and when she is twelve years old you may take her back again.'
So soon after this the Sunball sent her a little girl, whom the woman called Letiko, and watched over with great care till she was twelve years old. Soon after that, while Letiko was away one day gathering herbs, the Sunball came to her, and said: 'Letiko, when you go home, tell your mother that she must bethink herself of what she promised me.'
Then Letiko went straight home, and said to her mother: 'While I was gathering herbs a fine tall gentleman came to me and charged me to tell you that you should remember what you promised him.'
When the woman heard that she was sore afraid, and immediately shut all the doors and windows of the house, stopped up all the chinks and holes, and kept Letiko hidden away, that the Sunball should not come and take her away. But she forgot to close up the keyhole, and through it the Sunball sent a ray into the house, which took hold of the little girl and carried her away to him.
One day, the Sunball having sent her to the straw shed to fetch straw, the girl sat down on the piles of straw and bemoaned herself, saving: 'As sighs this straw under my feet so sighs my heart after my mother.'
And this caused her to be so long away that the Sunball asked her, when she came back: 'Eh, Letiko, where have you been so long?'
She answered: 'My slippers are too big, and I could not go faster.'
Then the Sunball made the slippers shorter.
Another time he sent her to fetch water, and when she came to the spring, she sat down and lamented, saying: 'As flows the water even so flows my heart with longing for my mother.'
Thus she again remained so long away that the Sunball asked her: 'Eh, Letiko, why have you remained so long away?'
And she answered: 'My petticoat is too long and hinders me in walking.'
Then the Sunball cut her petticoat to make it shorter.
Another time the Sunball sent her to bring him a pair of sandals, and as the girl carried these in her hand she began to lament, saying: 'As creaks the leather so creaks my heart after my little mother.'
When she came home the Sunball asked her again: 'Eh, Letiko, why do you come home so late?'
'My red hood is too wide, and falls over my eyes, therefore I could not go fast.' Then he made the hood narrower.
At last, however, the Sunball became aware how sad Letiko was. He sent her a second time to bring straw, and, slipping in after her, he heard how she lamented for her mother.
Then he went home, called two foxes to him, and said: 'Will you take Letiko home?'
'Yes, why not?'
'But what will you eat and drink if you should become hungry and thirsty by the way?'
'We will eat her flesh and drink her blood.'
When the Sunball heard that, he said: 'You are not suited for this affair.'
Then he sent them away, and called two hares to him, and said:
'Will you take Letiko home to her mother?'
'Yes, why not?'
'What will you eat and drink if you should become hungry and thirsty by the way?'
'We will eat grass and drink from streamlets.'
'Then take her, and bring her home.'
Then the hares set out, taking Letiko with them, and because it was a long way to her home they became hungry by the way.
Then they said to the little girl: 'Climb this tree, dear Letiko, and remain there till we have finished eating.'
So Letiko climbed the tree, and the hares went grazing. It was not very long, however, before a lamia came under the tree and called out:
'Letiko, Letiko, come down and see what beautiful shoes I have on.'
'Oh! my shoes are much finer than yours.'
'Come down. I am in a hurry, for my house is not yet swept.'
'Go home and sweep it then, and come back when you are ready.'
Then the lamia went away and swept her house, and when she was ready she came back and called out:
'Letiko, Letiko, come down and see what a beautiful apron I have.'
'Oh! my apron is much finer than yours.'
'If you will not come down I will cut down the tree and eat you.'
'Do so, and then eat me.'
Then the lamia hewed with all her strength at the tree, but could not cut it down. And when she saw that, she called out: 'Letiko, Letiko, come down, for I must feed my children.'
'Go home then and feed them, and come back when you are ready.'
When the lamia was gone away, Letiko called out: 'Little hares! little hares!' Then said one hare to the other: 'Listen, Letiko is calling;' and they both ran back to her as fast as they could go.
Then Letiko came down from the tree, and they went on their way. The lamia ran as fast as she could after them, to catch them up, and when she came to a field where people were working she asked them:
'Have you seen any one pass this way?'
They answered: 'We are planting beans.'
'Oh! I did not ask about that; but if any one had passed this way.'
But the people only answered the louder: 'Are you deaf? It is beans, beans, beans we are planting.'
When Letiko had nearly reached her home the dog knew her, and called out, 'Bow wow! see here comes Letiko!'
And the mother said, 'Hush! thou beast of ill-omen! wilt thou make me burst with misery?'
Next the cat on the roof saw her, and called out 'Miaouw! miaouw! see here comes Letiko!'
And the mother said, 'Keep silence! thou beast of ill-omen! wilt thou make me burst with misery?'
Then the cock spied, and called out: 'Cock-a-doodle-do! see here comes Letiko!' And the mother said again: 'Be quiet! thou bird of ill-omen! wilt thou make me burst with misery?'
The nearer Letiko and the two hares came to the house the nearer also came the lamia, and when the hare was about to slip in by the house door she caught it by its little tail and tore it out. When the hare came in the mother stood up and said to it: 'Welcome, dear little hare; because you have brought me back Letiko I will silver your little tail.' And she did so; and lived ever after with her daughter in happiness and content.
The Prince Who Would Seek Immortality
The Crimson Fairy Book
Once upon a time, in the very middle of the middle of a large kingdom, there was a town, and in the town a palace, and in the palace a king. This king had one son whom his father thought was wiser and cleverer than any son ever was before, and indeed his father had spared no pains to make him so. He had been very careful in choosing his tutors and governors when he was a boy, and when he became a youth he sent him to travel, so that he might see the ways of other people, and find that they were often as good as his own. It was now a year since the prince had returned home, for his father felt that it was time that his son should learn how to rule the kingdom which would one day be his. But during his long absence the prince seemed to have changed his character altogether. From being a merry and light-hearted boy, he had grown into a gloomy and thoughtful man. The king knew of nothing that could have produced such an alteration. He vexed himself about it from morning till night, till at length an explanation occurred to him—the young man was in love! Now the prince never talked about his feelings—for the matter of that he scarcely talked at all; and the father knew that if he was to come to the bottom of the prince's dismal face, he would have to begin. So one day, after dinner, he took his son by the arm and led him into another room, hung entirely with the pictures of beautiful maidens, each one more lovely than the other. 'My dear boy,' he said, 'you are very sad; perhaps after all your wanderings it is dull for you here all alone with me. It would be much better if you would marry, and I have collected here the portraits of the most beautiful women in the world of a rank equal to your own. Choose which among them you would like for a wife, and I will send an embassy to her father to ask for her hand.' 'Alas! your Majesty,' answered the prince, 'it is not love or marriage that makes me so gloomy; but the thought, which haunts me day and night, that all men, even kings, must die. Never shall I be happy again till I have found a kingdom where death is unknown. And I have determined to give myself no rest till I have discovered the Land of Immortality. The old king heard him with dismay; things were worse than he thought. He tried to reason with his son, and told him that during all these years he had been looking forward to his return, in order to resign his throne and its cares, which pressed so heavily upon him. But it was in vain that he talked; the prince would listen to nothing, and the following morning buckled on his sword and set forth on his journey. He had been travelling for many days, and had left his fatherland behind him, when close to the road he came upon a huge tree, and on its topmost bough an eagle was sitting shaking the branches with all his might. This seemed so strange and so unlike an eagle, that the prince stood still with surprise, and the bird saw him and flew to the ground. The moment its feet touched the ground he changed into a king. 'Why do you look so astonished?' he asked. 'I was wondering why you shook the boughs so fiercely,' answered the prince. 'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any of my kindred can die till I have rooted up this great tree,' replied the king of the eagles. 'But it is now evening, and I need work no more to-day. Come to my house with me, and be my guest for the night.' The prince accepted gratefully the eagle's invitation, for he was tired and hungry. They were received at the palace by the king's beautiful daughter, who gave orders that dinner should be laid for them at once. While they were eating, the eagle questioned his guest about his travels, and if he was wandering for pleasure's sake, or with any special aim. Then the prince told him everything, and how he could never turn back till he had discovered the Land of Immortality. 'Dear brother,' said the eagle, 'you have discovered it already, and it rejoices my heart to think that you will stay with us. Have you not just heard me say that death has no power either over myself or any of my kindred till that great tree is rooted up? It will take me six hundred years' hard work to do that; so marry my daughter and let us all live happily together here. After all, six hundred years is an eternity!' 'Ah, dear king,' replied the young man, 'your offer is very tempting! But at the end of six hundred years we should have to die, so we should be no better off! No, I must go on till I find the country where there is no death at all.' Then the princess spoke, and tried to persuade the guest to change his mind, but he sorrowfully shook his head. At length, seeing that his resolution was firmly fixed, she took from a cabinet a little box which contained her picture, and gave it to him saying: 'As you will not stay with us, prince, accept this box, which will sometimes recall us to your memory. If you are tired of travelling before you come to the Land of Immortality, open this box and look at my picture, and you will be borne along either on earth or in the air, quick as thought, or swift as the whirlwind.' The prince thanked her for her gift, which he placed in his tunic, and sorrowfully bade the eagle and his daughter farewell. Never was any present in the world as useful as that little box, and many times did he bless the kind thought of the princess. One evening it had carried him to the top of a high mountain, where he saw a man with a bald head, busily engaged in digging up spadefuls of earth and throwing them in a basket. When the basket was full he took it away and returned with an empty one, which he likewise filled. The prince stood and watched him for a little, till the bald-headed man looked up and said to him: 'Dear brother, what surprises you so much?' 'I was wondering why you were filling the basket,' replied the prince. 'Oh!' replied the man, 'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any of my family can die till I have dug away the whole of this mountain and made it level with the plain. But, come, it is almost dark, and I shall work no longer.' And he plucked a leaf from a tree close by, and from a rough digger he was changed into a stately bald-headed king. 'Come home with me,' he added; 'you must be tired and hungry, and my daughter will have supper ready for us.' The prince accepted gladly, and they went back to the palace, where the bald-headed king's daughter, who was still more beautiful than the other princess, welcomed them at the door and led the way into a large hall and to a table covered with silver dishes. While they were eating, the bald-headed king asked the prince how he had happened to wander so far, and the young man told him all about it, and how he was seeking the Land of Immortality. 'You have found it already,' answered the king, 'for, as I said, neither I nor my family can die till I have levelled this great mountain; and that will take full eight hundred years longer. Stay here with us and marry my daughter. Eight hundred years is surely long enough to live.' 'Oh, certainly,' answered the prince; 'but, all the same, I would rather go and seek the land where there is no death at all.' So next morning he bade them farewell, though the princess begged him to stay with all her might; and when she found that she could not persuade him she gave him as a remembrance a gold ring. This ring was still more useful than the box, because when one wished oneself at any place one was there directly, without even the trouble of flying to it through the air. The prince put it on his finger, and thanking her heartily, went his way. He walked on for some distance, and then he recollected the ring and thought he would try if the princess had spoken truly as to its powers. 'I wish I was at the end of the world,' he said, shutting his eyes, and when he opened them he was standing in a street full of marble palaces. The men who passed him were tall and strong, and their clothes were magnificent. He stopped some of them and asked in all the twenty-seven languages he knew what was the name of the city, but no one answered him. Then his heart sank within him; what should he do in this strange place if nobody could understand anything? he said. Suddenly his eyes fell upon a man dressed after the fashion of his native country, and he ran up to him and spoke to him in his own tongue. 'What city is this, my friend?' he inquired. 'It is the capital city of the Blue Kingdom,' replied the man, 'but the king himself is dead, and his daughter is now the ruler.' With this news the prince was satisfied, and begged his countryman to show him the way to the young queen's palace. The man led him through several streets into a large square, one side of which was occupied by a splendid building that seemed borne up on slender pillars of soft green marble. In front was a flight of steps, and on these the queen was sitting wrapped in a veil of shining silver mist, listening to the complaints of her people and dealing out justice. When the prince came up she saw directly that he was no ordinary man, and telling her chamberlain to dismiss the rest of her petitioners for that day, she signed to the prince to follow her into the palace. Luckily she had been taught his language as a child, so they had no difficulty in talking together. The prince told all his story and how he was journeying in search of the Land of Immortality. When he had finished, the princess, who had listened attentively, rose, and taking his arm, led him to the door of another room, the floor of which was made entirely of needles, stuck so close together that there was not room for a single needle more. 'Prince,' she said, turning to him, 'you see these needles? Well, know that neither I nor any of my family can die till I have worn out these needles in sewing. It will take at least a thousand years for that. Stay here, and share my throne; a thousand years is long enough to live!' 'Certainly,' answered he; 'still, at the end of the thousand years I should have to die! No, I must find the land where there is no death.' The queen did all she could to persuade him to stay, but as her words proved useless, at length she gave it up. Then she said to him: 'As you will not stay, take this little golden rod as a remembrance of me. It has the power to become anything you wish it to be, when you are in need.' So the prince thanked her, and putting the rod in his pocket, went his way. Scarcely had he left the town behind him when he came to a broad river which no man might pass, for he was standing at the end of the world, and this was the river which flowed round it. Not knowing what to do next, he walked a little distance up the bank, and there, over his head, a beautiful city was floating in the air. He longed to get to it, but how? neither road nor bridge was anywhere to be seen, yet the city drew him upwards, and he felt that here at last was the country which he sought. Suddenly he remembered the golden rod which the mist-veiled queen had given him. With a beating heart he flung it to the ground, wishing with all his might that it should turn into a bridge, and fearing that, after all, this might prove beyond its power. But no, instead of the rod, there stood a golden ladder, leading straight up to the city of the air. He was about to enter the golden gates, when there sprang at him a wondrous beast, whose like he had never seen. 'Out sword from the sheath,' cried the prince, springing back with a cry. And the sword leapt from the scabbard and cut off some of the monster's heads, but others grew again directly, so that the prince, pale with terror, stood where he was, calling for help, and put his sword back in the sheath again. The queen of the city heard the noise and looked from her window to see what was happening. Summoning one of her servants, she bade him go and rescue the stranger, and bring him to her. The prince thankfully obeyed her orders, and entered her presence. The moment she looked at him, the queen also felt that he was no ordinary man, and she welcomed him graciously, and asked him what had brought him to the city. In answer the prince told all his story, and how he had travelled long and far in search of the Land of Immortality. 'You have found it,' said she, 'for I am queen over life and over death. Here you can dwell among the immortals.' A thousand years had passed since the prince first entered the city, but they had flown so fast that the time seemed no more than six months. There had not been one instant of the thousand years that the prince was not happy till one night when he dreamed of his father and mother. Then the longing for his home came upon him with a rush, and in the morning he told the Queen of the Immortals that he must go and see his father and mother once more. The queen stared at him with amazement, and cried: 'Why, prince, are you out of your senses? It is more than eight hundred years since your father and mother died! There will not even be their dust remaining.' 'I must go all the same,' said he. 'Well, do not be in a hurry,' continued the queen, understanding that he would not be prevented. 'Wait till I make some preparations for your journey.' So she unlocked her great treasure chest, and took out two beautiful flasks, one of gold and one of silver, which she hung round his neck. Then she showed him a little trap-door in one corner of the room, and said: 'Fill the silver flask with this water, which is below the trap-door. It is enchanted, and whoever you sprinkle with the water will become a dead man at once, even if he had lived a thousand years. The golden flask you must fill with the water here,' she added, pointing to a well in another corner. 'It springs from the rock of eternity; you have only to sprinkle a few drops on a body and it will come to life again, if it had been a thousand years dead.' The prince thanked the queen for her gifts, and, bidding her farewell, went on his journey. He soon arrived in the town where the mist-veiled queen reigned in her palace, but the whole city had changed, and he could scarcely find his way through the streets. In the palace itself all was still, and he wandered through the rooms without meeting anyone to stop him. At last he entered the queen's own chamber, and there she lay, with her embroidery still in her hands, fast asleep. He pulled at her dress, but she did not waken. Then a dreadful idea came over him, and he ran to the chamber where the needles had been kept, but it was quite empty. The queen had broken the last over the work she held in her hand, and with it the spell was broken too, and she lay dead. Quick as thought the prince pulled out the golden flask, and sprinkled some drops of the water over the queen. In a moment she moved gently, and raising her head, opened her eyes. 'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad you wakened me; I must have slept a long while!' 'You would have slept till eternity,' answered the prince, 'if I had not been here to waken you.' At these words the queen remembered about the needles. She knew now that she had been dead, and that the prince had restored her to life. She gave him thanks from her heart for what he had done, and vowed she would repay him if she ever got a chance. The prince took his leave, and set out for the country of the bald-headed king. As he drew near the place he saw that the whole mountain had been dug away, and that the king was lying dead on the ground, his spade and bucket beside him. But as soon as the water from the golden flask touched him he yawned and stretched himself, and slowly rose to his feet. 'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad to see you,' cried he, 'I must have slept a long while!' 'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken you,' answered the prince. And the king remembered the mountain, and the spell, and vowed to repay the service if he ever had a chance. Further along the road which led to his old home the prince found the great tree torn up by its roots, and the king of the eagles sitting dead on the ground, with his wings outspread as if for flight. A flutter ran through the feathers as the drops of water fell on them, and the eagle lifted his beak from the ground and said: 'Oh, how long I must have slept! How can I thank you for having awakened me, my dear, good friend!' 'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken you'; answered the prince. Then the king remembered about the tree, and knew that he had been dead, and promised, if ever he had the chance, to repay what the prince had done for him. At last he reached the capital of his father's kingdom, but on reaching the place where the royal palace had stood, instead of the marble galleries where he used to play, there lay a great sulphur lake, its blue flames darting into the air. How was he to find his father and mother, and bring them back to life, if they were lying at the bottom of that horrible water? He turned away sadly and wandered back into the streets, hardly knowing where he was going; when a voice behind him cried: 'Stop, prince, I have caught you at last! It is a thousand years since I first began to seek you.' And there beside him stood the old, white-bearded, figure of Death. Swiftly he drew the ring from his finger, and the king of the eagles, the bald-headed king, and the mist-veiled queen, hastened to his rescue. In an instant they had seized upon Death and held him tight, till the prince should have time to reach the Land of Immortality. But they did not know how quickly Death could fly, and the prince had only one foot across the border, when he felt the other grasped from behind, and the voice of Death calling: 'Halt! now you are mine.' The Queen of the Immortals was watching from her window, and cried to Death that he had no power in her kingdom, and that he must seek his prey elsewhere. 'Quite true,' answered Death; 'but his foot is in my kingdom, and that belongs to me!' 'At any rate half of him is mine,' replied the Queen, 'and what good can the other half do you? Half a man is no use, either to you or to me! But this once I will allow you to cross into my kingdom, and we will decide by a wager whose he is.' And so it was settled. Death stepped across the narrow line that surrounds the Land of Immortality, and the queen proposed the wager which was to decide the prince's fate. 'I will throw him up into the sky,' she said, 'right to the back of the morning star, and if he falls down into this city, then he is mine. But if he should fall outside the walls, he shall belong to you.' In the middle of the city was a great open square, and here the queen wished the wager to take place. When all was ready, she put her foot under the foot of the prince and swung him into the air. Up, up, he went, high amongst the stars, and no man's eyes could follow him. Had she thrown him up straight? the queen wondered anxiously, for, if not, he would fall outside the walls, and she would lose him for ever. The moments seemed long while she and Death stood gazing up into the air, waiting to know whose prize the prince would be. Suddenly they both caught sight of a tiny speck no bigger than a wasp, right up in the blue. Was he coming straight? No! Yes! But as he was nearing the city, a light wind sprang up, and swayed him in the direction of the wall. Another second and he would have fallen half over it, when the queen sprang forward, seized him in her arms, and flung him into the castle. Then she commanded her servants to cast Death out of the city, which they did, with such hard blows that he never dared to show his face again in the Land of Immortality.
The Dead Wife
The Yellow Fairy Book
Once upon a time there were a man and his wife who lived in the forest, very far from the rest of the tribe. Very often they spent the day in hunting together, but after a while the wife found that she had so many things to do that she was obliged to stay at home; so he went alone, though he found that when his wife was not with him he never had any luck.
One day, when he was away hunting, the woman fell ill, and in a few days she died. Her husband grieved bitterly, and buried her in the house where she had passed her life; but as the time went on he felt so lonely without her that he made a wooden doll about her height and size for company, and dressed it in her clothes. He seated it in front of the fire, and tried to think he had his wife back again.
The next day he went out to hunt, and when he came home the first thing he did was to go up to the doll and brush off some of the ashes from the fire which had fallen on its face. But he was very busy now, for he had to cook and mend, besides getting food, for there was no one to help him. And so a whole year passed away. At the end of that time he came back from hunting one night and found some wood by the door and a fire within. The next night there was not only wood and fire, but a piece of meat in the kettle, nearly ready for eating. He searched all about to see who could have done this, but could find no one.
The next time he went to hunt he took care not to go far, and came in quite early. And while he was still a long way off he saw a woman going into the house with wood on her shoulders. So he made haste, and opened the door quickly, and instead of the wooden doll, his wife sat in front of the fire.
Then she spoke to him and said, 'The Great Spirit felt sorry for you, because you would not be comforted, so he let me come back to you, but you must not stretch out your hand to touch me till we have seen the rest of our people. If you do, I shall die.'
So the man listened to her words, and the woman dwelt there, and brought the wood and kindled the fire, till one day her husband said to her, 'It is now two years since you died. Let us now go back to our tribe. Then you will be well, and I can touch you.'
And with that he prepared food for the journey, a string of deer's flesh for her to carry, and one for himself; and so they started. Now the camp of the tribe was distant six days' journey, and when they were yet one day's journey off it began to snow, and they felt weary and longed for rest. Therefore they made a fire, cooked some food, and spread out their skins to sleep. Then the heart of the man was greatly stirred, and he stretched out his arms to his wife, but she waved her hands and said, 'We have seen no one yet; it is too soon.'
But he would not listen to her, and caught her to him, and behold! he was clasping the wooden doll. And when he saw it was the doll he pushed it from him in his misery and rushed away to the camp, and told them all his story. And some doubted, and they went back with him to the place where he and his wife had stopped to rest, and there lay the doll, and besides, they saw in the snow the steps of two people, and the foot of one was like the foot of the doll. And the man grieved sore all the days of his life.
The Sacred Milk of Koumongoe
The Brown Fairy Book
Far way, in a very hot country, there once lived a man and woman who had two children, a son named Koane and a daughter called Thakane.
Early in the morning and late in the evenings the parents worked hard in the fields, resting, when the sun was high, under the shade of some tree. While they were absent the little girl kept house alone, for her brother always got up before the dawn, when the air was fresh and cool, and drove out the cattle to the sweetest patches of grass he could find.
One day, when Koane had slept later than usual, his father and mother went to their work before him, and there was only Thakane to be seen busy making the bread for supper.
'Thakane,' he said, 'I am thirsty. Give me a drink from the tree Koumongoe, which has the best milk in the world.'
'Oh, Koane,' cried his sister, 'you know that we are forbidden to touch that tree. What would father say when he came home? For he would be sure to know.' 'Nonsense,' replied Koane, 'there is so much milk in Koumongoe that he will never miss a little. If you won't give it to me, I sha'n't take the cattle out. They will just have to stay all day in the hut, and you know that they will starve.'
And he turned from her in a rage, and sat down in the corner.
After a while Thakane said to him:
'It is getting hot, had you better drive out the cattle now?'
But Koane only answered sulkily:
'I told you I am not going to drive them out at all. If I have to do without milk, they shall do without grass.'
Thakane did not know what to do. She was afraid to disobey her parents, who would most likely beat her, yet the beasts would be sure to suffer if they were kept in, and she would perhaps be beaten for that too. So at last she took an axe and a tiny earthen bowl, she cut a very small hole in the side of Koumongoe, and out gushed enough milk to fill the bowl.
'Here is the milk you wanted,' said she, going up to Koane, who was still sulking in his corner.
'What is the use of that?' grumbled Koane; 'why, there is not enough to drown a fly. Go and get me three times as much!'
Trembling with fright, Thakane returned to the tree, and struck it a sharp blow with the axe. In an instant there poured forth such a stream of milk that it ran like a river into the hut.
'Koane! Koane!' cried she, 'come and help me to plug up the hole. There will be no milk left for our father and mother.'
But Koane could not stop it any more than Thakane, and soon the milk was flowing through the hut downhill towards their parents in the fields below.
The man saw a white stream a long way off, and guessed what had happened. 'Wife, wife,' he called loudly to the woman, who was working at a little distance: 'Do you see Koumongoe running fast down the hill? That is some mischief of the children's, I am sure. I must go home and find out what is the matter.'
And they both threw down their hoes and hurried to the side of Koumongoe. Kneeling on the grass, the man and his wife made a cup of their hands and drank the milk from it. And no sooner had they done this, than Koumongoe flowed back again up the hill, and entered the hut.
'Thakane,' said the parents, severely, when they reached home panting from the heat of the sun, 'what have you been doing? Why did Koumongoe come to us in the fields instead of staying in the garden?'
'It was Koane's fault,' answered Thakane. 'He would not take the cattle to feed until he drank some of the milk from Koumongoe. So, as I did not know what else to do, I gave it to him.'
The father listened to Thakane's words, but made no answer. Instead, he went outside and brought in two sheepskins, which he stained red and sent for a blacksmith to forge some iron rings. The rings were then passed over Thakane's arms and legs and neck, and the skins fastened on her before and behind. When all was ready, the man sent for his servants and said:
'I am going to get rid of Thakane.'
'Get rid of your only daughter?' they answered, in surprise. 'But why?'
'Because she has eaten what she ought not to have eaten. She has touched the sacred tree which belongs to her mother and me alone.'
And, turning his back, he called to Thakane to follow him, and they went down the road which led to the dwelling of an ogre.
They were passing along some fields where the corn was ripening, when a rabbit suddenly sprang out at their feet, and standing on its hind legs, it sang:
Why do you give to the ogre
Your child, so fair, so fair?
'You had better ask her,' replied the man, 'she is old enough to give you an answer.'
Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:
I gave Koumongoe to Koane,
Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts;
For without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows:
Without Koumongoe they would starve in the hut;
That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of my father.
And when the rabbit heard that, he cried:
'Wretched man! it is you whom the ogre should eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'
But the father paid no heed to what the rabbit said, and only walked on the faster, bidding Thakane to keep close behind him. By-and-by they met with a troop of great deer, called elands, and they stopped when they saw Thakane and sang:
Why do you give to the ogre
Your child, so fair, so fair?
'You had better ask her, replied the man, 'she is old enough to give you an answer.' ”
Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:
”I gave Koumongoe to Koane,
Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts;
For without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows:
Without Koumongoe they would starve in the hut;
That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of my father.”
And the elands all cried: 'Wretched man! it is you whom the ogre should eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'
By this time it was nearly dark, and the father said they could travel no further that night, and must go to sleep where they were. Thakane was thankful indeed when she heard this, for she was very tired, and found the two skins fastened round her almost too heavy to carry. So, in spite of her dread of the ogre, she slept till dawn, when her father woke her, and told her roughly that he was ready to continue their journey.
Crossing the plain, the girl and her father passed a herd of gazelles feeding. They lifted their heads, wondering who was out so early, and when they caught sight of Thakane, they sang:
Why do you give to the ogre
Your child, so fair, so fair?
'You had better ask her, replied the man, 'she is old enough to answer for herself.' Then, in her turn, Thakane sang:
I gave Koumongoe to Koane,
Koumongoe to the keeper of beasts;
For without Koumongoe they could not go to the meadows:
Without Koumongoe they would starve in the hut;
That was why I gave him the Koumongoe of my father.
And the gazelles all cried: 'Wretched man! it is you whom the ogre should eat, and not your beautiful daughter.'
At last they arrived at the village where the ogre lived, and they went straight to his hut. He was nowhere to be seen, but in his place was his son Masilo, who was not an ogre at all, but a very polite young man. He ordered his servants to bring a pile of skins for Thakane to sit on, but told her father he must sit on the ground. Then, catching sight of the girl's face, which she had kept down, he was struck by its beauty, and put the same question that the rabbit, and the elands, and the gazelles had done.
Thakane answered him as before, and he instantly commanded that she should be taken to the hut of his mother, and placed under her care, while the man should be led to his father. Directly the ogre saw him he bade the servant throw him into the great pot which always stood ready on the fire, and in five minutes he was done to a turn. After that the servant returned to Masilo and related all that had happened.
Now Masilo had fallen in loved with Thakane the moment he saw her. At first he did not know what to make of this strange feeling, for all his life he had hated women, and had refused several brides whom his parents had chosen for him. However, they were so anxious that he should marry, that they willingly accepted Thakane as their daughter-in-law, though she did bring any marriage portion with her.
After some time a baby was born to her, and Thakane thought it was the most beautiful baby that ever was seen. But when her mother-in-law saw it was a girl, she wrung her hands and wept, saying:
'O miserable mother! Miserable child! Alas for you! why were you not a boy!' Thakane, in great surprise, asked the meaning of her distress; and the old woman told her that it was the custom in that country that all the girls who were born should be given to the ogre to eat.
Then Thakane clasped the baby tightly in her arms, and cried: 'But it is not the customer in MY country! There, when children die, they are buried in the earth. No one shall take my baby from me.'
That night, when everyone in the hut was asleep, Thakane rose, and carrying her baby on her back, went down to a place where the river spread itself out into a large lake, with tall willows all round the bank. Here, hidden from everyone, she sat down on a stone and began to think what she should do to save her child. Suddenly she heard a rustling among the willows, and an old woman appeared before her. 'What are you crying for, my dear?' said she.
And Thakane answered:
'I was crying for my baby—I cannot hide her for ever, and if the ogre sees her, he will eat her; and I would rather she was drowned than that.'
'What you say is true,' replied the old woman. 'Give me your child, and let me take care of it. And if you will fix a day to meet me here I will bring the baby.' Then Thakane dried her eyes, and gladly accepted the old woman's offer. When she got home she told her husband she had thrown it in the river, and as he had watched her go in that direction he never thought of doubting what she said.
On the appointed day, Thakane slipped out when everybody was busy, and ran down the path that led to the lake. As soon as she got there, she crouched down among the willows, and sang softly:
Bring to me Dilah,
Dilah the rejected one,
Dilah, whom her father Masilo cast out!
And in a moment the old woman appeared holding the baby in her arms. Dilah had become so big and strong, that Thakane's heart was filled with joy and gratitude, and she stayed as long as she dared, playing with her baby. At last she felt she must return to the village, lest she should be missed, and the child was handed back to the old woman, who vanished with her into the lake.
Children grow up very quickly when they live under water, and in less time than anyone could suppose, Dilah had changed from a baby to a woman. Her mother came to visit her whenever she was able, and one day, when they were sitting talking together, they were spied out by a man who had come to cut willows to weave into baskets. He was so surprised to see how like the face of the girl was to Masilo, that he left his work and returned to the village.
'Masilo,' he said, as he entered the hut, 'I have just beheld your wife near the river with a girl who must be your daughter, she is so like you. We have been deceived, for we all thought she was dead.'
When he heard this, Masilo tried to look shocked because his wife had broken the law; but in his heart he was very glad.
'But what shall we do now?' asked he.
'Make sure for yourself that I am speaking the truth by hiding among the bushes the first time Thakane says she is going to bathe in the river, and waiting till the girl appears.'
For some days Thakane stayed quietly at home, and her husband began to think that the man had been mistaken; but at last she said to her husband:
'I am going to bathe in the river.'
'Well, you can go,' answered he.
But he ran down quickly by another path, and got there first, and hid himself in the bushes. An instant later, Thakane arrived, and standing on the bank, she sang:
Bring to me Dilah,
Dilah the rejected one,
Dilah, whom her father Masilo cast out!
Then the old woman came out of the water, holding the girl, now tall and slender, by the hand. And as Masilo looked, he saw that she was indeed his daughter, and he wept for joy that she was not lying dead in the bottom of the lake. The old woman, however, seemed uneasy, and said to Thakane:
'I feel as if someone was watching us. I will not leave the girl to-day, but will take her back with me'; and sinking beneath the surface, she drew the girl after her. After they had gone, Thakane returned to the village, which Masilo had managed to reach before her.
All the rest of the day he sat in a corner weeping, and his mother who came in asked: 'Why are you weeping so bitterly, my son?'
'My head aches,' he answered; 'it aches very badly.'
And his mother passed on, and left him alone.
In the evening he said to his wife:
'I have seen my daughter, in the place where you told me you had drowned her. Instead, she lives at the bottom of the lake, and has now grown into a young woman.'
'I don't know what you are talking about,' replied Thakane. 'I buried my child under the sand on the beach.'
Then Masilo implored her to give the child back to him; but she would not listen, and only answered: 'If I were to give her back you would only obey the laws of your country and take her to your father, the ogre, and she would be eaten.'
But Masilo promised that he would never let his father see her, and that now she was a woman no one would try to hurt her; so Thakane's heart melted, and she went down to the lake to consult the old woman.
'What am I to do?' she asked, when, after clapping her hands, the old woman appeared before her.
'Yesterday Masilo beheld Dilah, and ever since he has entreated me to give him back his daughter.'
'If I let her go he must pay me a thousand head of cattle in exchange,' replied the old woman.
And Thakane carried her answer back to Masilo.
'Why, I would gladly give her two thousand!' cried he, 'for she has saved my daughter.'
And he bade messengers hasten to all the neighbouring villages, and tell his people to send him at once all the cattle he possessed. When they were all assembled he chose a thousand of the finest bulls and cows, and drove them down to the river, followed by a great crowd wondering what would happen. Then Thakane stepped forward in front of the cattle and sang:
Bring to me Dilah,
Dilah the rejected one,
Dilah, whom her father Masilo cast out!
And Dilah came from the waters holding out her hands to Masilo and Thakane, and in her place the cattle sank into the lake, and were driven by the old woman to the great city filled with people, which lies at the bottom.
(Contes Populaires des Bassoutos).
The Little Soldier
The Green Fairy Book
Once upon a time there was a little soldier who had just come back from the war. He was a brave little fellow, but he had lost neither arms nor legs in battle. Still, the fighting was ended and the army disbanded, so he had to return to the village where he was born.
Now the soldier's name was really John, but for some reason or other his friends always called him the Kinglet; why, no one ever knew, but so it was.
As he had no father or mother to welcome him home, he did not hurry himself, but went quietly along, his knapsack on his back and his sword by his side, when suddenly one evening he was seized with a wish to light his pipe. He felt for his match-box to strike a light, but to his great disgust he found he had lost it.
He had only gone about a stone's throw after making this discovery when he noticed a light shining through the trees. He went towards it, and perceived before him an old castle, with the door standing open.
The little soldier entered the courtyard, and, peeping through a window, saw a large fire blazing at the end of a low hall. He put his pipe in his pocket and knocked gently, saying politely:
'Would you give me a light?'
But he got no answer. After waiting for a moment John knocked again, this time more loudly. There was still no reply.
He raised the latch and entered; the hall was empty.
The little soldier made straight for the fireplace, seized the tongs, and was stooping down to look for a nice red hot coal with which to light his pipe, when clic! something went, like a spring giving way, and in the very midst of the flames an enormous serpent reared itself up close to his face.
And what was more strange still, this serpent had the head of a woman.
At such an unexpected sight many men would have turned and run for their lives; but the little soldier, though he was so small, had a true soldier's heart. He only made one step backwards, and grasped the hilt of his sword.
'Don't unsheath it,' said the serpent. 'I have been waiting for you, as it is you who must deliver me.'
'Who are you?'
'My name is Ludovine, and I am the daughter of the King of the Low Countries. Deliver me, and I will marry you and make you happy for ever after.'
Now, some people might not have liked the notion of being made happy by a serpent with the head of a woman, but the Kinglet had no such fears. And, besides, he felt the fascination of Ludovine's eyes, which looked at him as a snake looks at a little bird. They were beautiful green eyes, not round like those of a cat, but long and almond-shaped, and they shone with a strange light, and the golden hair which floated round them seemed all the brighter for their lustre. The face had the beauty of an angel, though the body was only that of a serpent. 'What must I do?' asked the Kinglet.
'Open that door. You will find yourself in a gallery with a room at the end just like this. Cross that, and you will see a closet, out of which you must take a tunic, and bring it back to me.'
The little soldier boldly prepared to do as he was told. He crossed the gallery in safety, but when he reached the room he saw by the light of the stars eight hands on a level with his face, which threatened to strike him. And, turn his eyes which way he would, he could discover no bodies belonging to them.
He lowered his head and rushed forward amidst a storm of blows, which he returned with his fists. When he got to the closet, he opened it, took down the tunic, and brought it to the first room.
'Here it is,' he panted, rather out of breath.
'Clic!' once more the flames parted. Ludovine was a woman down to her waist. She took the tunic and put it on.
It was a magnificent tunic of orange velvet, embroidered in pearls, but the pearls were not so white as her own neck.
'That is not all,' she said. 'Go to the gallery, take the staircase which is on the left, and in the second room on the first story you will find another closet with my skirt. Bring this to me.'
The Kinglet did as he was told, but in entering the room he saw, instead of merely hands, eight arms, each holding an enormous stick. He instantly unsheathed his sword and cut his way through with such vigour that he hardly received a scratch.
He brought back the skirt, which was made of silk as blue as the skies of Spain. 'Here it is,' said John, as the serpent appeared.
She was now a woman as far as her knees.
'I only want my shoes and stockings now,' she said. 'Go and get them from the closet which is on the second story.'
The little soldier departed, and found himself in the presence of eight goblins armed with hammers, and flames darting from their eyes. This time he stopped short at the threshold. 'My sword is no use,' he thought to himself; 'these wretches will break it like glass, and if I can't think of anything else, I am a dead man.' At this moment his eyes fell on the door, which was made of oak, thick and heavy. He wrenched it off its hinges and held it over his head, and then went straight at the goblins, whom he crushed beneath it. After that he took the shoes and stockings out of the closet and brought them to Ludovine, who, directly she had put them on, became a woman all over.
When she was quite dressed in her white silk stockings and little blue slippers dotted over with carbuncles, she said to her deliverer, 'Now you must go away, and never come back here, whatever happens. Here is a purse with two hundred ducats. Sleep to-night at the inn which is at the edge of the wood, and awake early in the morning: for at nine o'clock I shall pass the door, and shall take you up in my carriage.' 'Why shouldn't we go now?' asked the little soldier. 'Because the time has not yet come,' said the Princess. 'But first you may drink my health in this glass of wine,' and as she spoke she filled a crystal goblet with a liquid that looked like melted gold.
John drank, then lit his pipe and went out.
When he arrived at the inn he ordered supper, but no sooner had he sat down to eat it than he felt that he was going sound asleep.
'I must be more tired than I thought,' he said to himself, and, after telling them to be sure to wake him next morning at eight o'clock, he went to bed.
All night long he slept like a dead man. At eight o'clock they came to wake him, and at half-past, and a quarter of an hour later, but it was no use; and at last they decided to leave him in peace.
The clocks were striking twelve when John awoke. He sprang out of bed, and, scarcely waiting to dress himself, hastened to ask if anyone had been to inquire for him.
'There came a lovely princess,' replied the landlady, 'in a coach of gold. She left you this bouquet, and a message to say that she would pass this way to-morrow morning at eight o'clock.'
The little soldier cursed his sleep, but tried to console himself by looking at his bouquet, which was of immortelles.
'It is the flower of remembrance,' thought he, forgetting that it is also the flower of the dead.
When the night came, he slept with one eye open, and jumped up twenty times an hour. When the birds began to sing he could lie still no longer, and climbed out of his window into the branches of one of the great lime-trees that stood before the door. There he sat, dreamily gazing at his bouquet till he ended by going fast asleep.
Once asleep, nothing was able to wake him; neither the brightness of the sun, nor the songs of the birds, nor the noise of Ludovine's golden coach, nor the cries of the landlady who sought him in every place she could think of.
As the clock struck twelve he woke, and his heart sank as he came down out of his tree and saw them laying the table for dinner.
'Did the Princess come?' he asked.
'Yes, indeed, she did. She left this flower-coloured scarf for you; said she would pass by to-morrow at seven o'clock, but it would be the last time.'
'I must have been bewitched,' thought the little soldier. Then he took the scarf, which had a strange kind of scent, and tied it round his left arm, thinking all the while that the best way to keep awake was not to go to bed at all. So he paid his bill, and bought a horse with the money that remained, and when the evening came he mounted his horse and stood in front of the inn door, determined to stay there all night.
Every now and then he stooped to smell the sweet perfume of the scarf round his arm; and gradually he smelt it so often that at last his head sank on to the horse's neck, and he and his horse snored in company.
When the Princess arrived, they shook him, and beat him, and screamed at him, but it was all no good. Neither man nor horse woke till the coach was seen vanishing away in the distance.
Then John put spurs to his horse, calling with all his might 'Stop! stop!' But the coach drove on as before, and though the little soldier rode after it for a day and a night, he never got one step nearer.
Thus they left many villages and towns behind them, till they came to the sea itself. Here John thought that at last the coach must stop, but, wonder of wonders! it went straight on, and rolled over the water as easily as it had done over the land. John's horse, which had carried him so well, sank down from fatigue, and the little soldier sat sadly on the shore, watching the coach which was fast disappearing on the horizon.
However, he soon plucked up his spirits again, and walked along the beach to try and find a boat in which he could sail after the Princess. But no boat was there, and at last, tired and hungry, he sat down to rest on the steps of a fisherman's hut. In the hut was a young girl who was mending a net. She invited John to come in, and set before him some wine and fried fish, and John ate and drank and felt comforted, and he told his adventures to the little fisher-girl. But though she was very pretty, with a skin as white as a gull's breast, for which her neighbours gave her the name of the Seagull, he did not think about her at all, for he was dreaming of the green eyes of the Princess.
When he had finished his tale, she was filled with pity and said:
'Last week, when I was fishing, my net suddenly grew very heavy, and when I drew it in I found a great copper vase, fastened with lead. I brought it home and placed it on the fire. When the lead had melted a little, I opened the vase with my knife and drew out a mantle of red cloth and a purse containing fifty crowns. That is the mantle, covering my bed, and I have kept the money for my marriage-portion. But take it and go to the nearest seaport, where you will find a ship sailing for the Low Countries, and when you become King you will bring me back my fifty crowns.'
And the Kinglet answered:
'When I am King of the Low Countries, I will make you lady-in-waiting to the Queen, for you are as good as you are beautiful. So farewell,' said he, and as the Seagull went back to her fishing he rolled himself in the mantle and threw himself down on a heap of dried grass, thinking of the strange things that had befallen him, till he suddenly exclaimed:
'Oh, how I wish I was in the capital of the Low Countries!'
In one moment the little soldier found himself standing before a splendid palace. He rubbed his eyes and pinched himself, and when he was quite sure he was not dreaming he said to a man who was smoking his pipe before the door, 'Where am I?'
'Where are you? Can't you see? Before the King's palace, of course.'
'The King of the Low Countries!' replied the man, laughing and supposing that he was mad. Was there ever anything so strange? But as John was an honest fellow, he was troubled at the thought that the Seagull would think he had stolen her mantle and purse. And he began to wonder how he could restore them to her the soonest. Then he remembered that the mantle had some hidden charm that enabled the bearer to transport himself at will from place to place, and in order to make sure of this he wished himself in the best inn of the town. In an instant he was there.
Enchanted with this discovery, he ordered supper, and as it was too late to visit the King that night he went to bed.
The next day, when he got up, he saw that all the houses were wreathed with flowers and covered with flags, and all the church bells were ringing. The little soldier inquired the meaning of all this noise, and was told that the Princess Ludovine, the King's beautiful daughter, had been found, and was about to make her triumphal entry. 'That will just suit me,' thought the Kinglet; 'I will stand at the door and see if she knows me.'
He had scarcely time to dress himself when the golden coach of Ludovine went by. She had a crown of gold upon her head, and the King and Queen sat by her side. By accident her eyes fell upon the little soldier, and she grew pale and turned away her head.
'Didn't she know me?' the little soldier asked himself, 'or was she angry because I missed our meetings?' and he followed the crowd till he got to the palace. When the royal party entered he told the guards that it was he who had delivered the Princess, and wished to speak to the King. But the more he talked the more they believed him mad and refused to let him pass.
The little soldier was furious. He felt that he needed his pipe to calm him, and he entered a tavern and ordered a pint of beer. 'It is this miserable soldier's helmet,' said he to himself 'If I had only money enough I could look as splendid as the lords of the Court; but what is the good of thinking of that when I have only the remains of the Seagull's fifty crowns?'
He took out his purse to see what was left, and he found that there were still fifty crowns.
'The Seagull must have miscounted,' thought he, and he paid for his beer. Then he counted his money again, and there were still fifty crowns. He took away five and counted a third time, but there were still fifty. He emptied the purse altogether and then shut it; when he opened it the fifty crowns were still there! Then a plan came into his head, and he determined to go at once to the Court tailor and coachbuilder.
He ordered the tailor to make him a mantle and vest of blue velvet embroidered with pearls, and the coachbuilder to make him a golden coach like the coach of the Princess Ludovine. If the tailor and the coachbuilder were quick he promised to pay them double.
A few days later the little soldier was driven through the city in his coach drawn by six white horses, and with four lacqueys richly dressed standing behind. Inside sat John, clad in blue velvet, with a bouquet of immortelles in his hand and a scarf bound round his arm. He drove twice round the city, throwing money to the right and left, and the third time, as he passed under the palace windows, he saw Ludovine lift a corner of the curtain and peep out.
The next day no one talked of anything but the rich lord who had distributed money as he drove along. The talk even reached the Court, and the Queen, who was very curious, had a great desire to see the wonderful Prince.
'Very well,' said the King; 'let him be asked to come and play cards with me.' This time the Kinglet was not late for his appointment.
The King sent for the cards and they sat down to play. They had six games, and John always lost. The stake was fifty crowns, and each time he emptied his purse, which was full the next instant.
The sixth time the King exclaimed, 'It is amazing!'
The Queen cried, 'It is astonishing!'
The Princess said, 'It is bewildering!'
'Not so bewildering,' replied the little soldier, 'as your change into a serpent.' 'Hush!' interrupted the King, who did not like the subject.
'I only spoke of it,' said John, 'because you see in me the man who delivered the Princess from the goblins and whom she promised to marry.'
'Is that true?' asked the King of the Princess.
'Quite true,' answered Ludovine. 'But I told my deliverer to be ready to go with me when I passed by with my coach. I passed three times, but he slept so soundly that no one could wake him.'
'What is your name?' said the King, 'and who are you?'
'My name is John. I am a soldier, and my father is a boatman.'
'You are not a fit husband for my daughter. Still, if you will give us your purse, you shall have her for your wife.'
'My purse does not belong to me, and I cannot give it away.'
'But you can lend it to me till our wedding-day,' said the Princess with one of those glances the little soldier never could resist.
'And when will that be?'
'At Easter,' said the monarch.
'Or in a blue moon!' murmured the Princess; but the Kinglet did not hear her and let her take his purse.
Next evening he presented himself at the palace to play picquet with the King and to make his court to the Princess. But he was told that the King had gone into the country to receive his rents. He returned the following day, and had the same answer. Then he asked to see the Queen, but she had a headache. When this had happened five or six times, he began to understand that they were making fun of him.
'That is not the way for a King to behave,' thought John. 'Old scoundrel!' and then suddenly he remembered his red cloak.
'Ah, what an idiot I am!' said he. 'Of course I can get in whenever I like with the help of this.'
That evening he was in front of the palace, wrapped in his red cloak.
On the first story one window was lighted, and John saw on the curtains the shadow of the Princess.
'I wish myself in the room of the Princess Ludovine,' said he, and in a second he was there.
The King's daughter was sitting before a table counting the money that she emptied from the inexhaustible purse.
'Eight hundred and fifty, nine hundred, nine hundred and fifty—'
'A thousand,' finished John. 'Good evening everybody!'
The Princess jumped and gave a little cry.
'You here! What business have you to do it? Leave at once, or I shall call—'
'I have come,' said the Kinglet, 'to remind you of your promise. The day after to-morrow is Easter Day, and it is high time to think of our marriage.'
Ludovine burst out into a fit of laughter.
'Our marriage! Have you really been foolish enough to believe that the daughter of the King of the Low Countries would ever marry the son of a boatman?'
'Then give me back the purse,' said John.
'Never,' said the Princess, and put it calmly in her pocket.
'As you like,' said the little soldier. 'He laughs best who laughs the last;' and he took the Princess in his arms.
'I wish,' he cried, 'that we were at the ends of the earth;' and in one second he was there, still clasping the Princess tightly in his arms. 'Ouf,' said John, laying her gently at the foot of a tree. 'I never took such a long journey before. What do you say, madam?' The Princess understood that it was no time for jesting, and did not answer. Besides she was still feeling giddy from her rapid flight, and had not yet collected her senses.
The King of the Low Countries was not a very scrupulous person, and his daughter took after him. This was why she had been changed into a serpent. It had been prophesied that she should be delivered by a little soldier, and that she must marry him, unless he failed to appear at the meeting-place three times running. The cunning Princess then laid her plans accordingly.
The wine that she had given to John in the castle of the goblins, the bouquet of immortelles, and the scarf, all had the power of producing sleep like death. And we know how they had acted on John.
However, even in this critical moment, Ludovine did not lose her head.
'I thought you were simply a street vagabond,' said she, in her most coaxing voice; 'and I find you are more powerful than any king. Here is your purse. Have you got my scarf and my bouquet?'
'Here they are,' said the Kinglet, delighted with this change of tone, and he drew them from his bosom. Ludovine fastened one in his buttonhole and the other round his arm. 'Now,' she said, 'you are my lord and master, and I will marry you at your good pleasure.'
'You are kinder than I thought,' said John; 'and you shall never be unhappy, for I love you.'
'Then, my little husband, tell me how you managed to carry me so quickly to the ends of the world.'
The little soldier scratched his head. 'Does she really mean to marry me,' he thought to himself, 'or is she only trying to deceive me again?'
But Ludovine repeated, 'Won't you tell me?' in such a tender voice he did not know how to resist her.
'After all,' he said to himself, 'what does it matter telling her the secret, as long as I don't give her the cloak.'
And he told her the virtue of the red mantle.
'Oh dear, how tired I am!' sighed Ludovine. 'Don't you think we had better take a nap? And then we can talk over our plans.'
She stretched herself on the grass, and the Kinglet did the same. He laid his head on his left arm, round which the scarf was tied, and was soon fast asleep. Ludovine was watching him out of one eye, and no sooner did she hear him snore than she unfastened the mantle, drew it gently from under him and wrapped it round her, took the purse from his pocket, and put it in hers, and said: 'I wish I was back in my own room.' In another moment she was there.
Who felt foolish but John, when he awoke, twenty-four hours after, and found himself without purse, without mantle, and without Princess? He tore his hair, he beat his breast, he trampled on the bouquet, and tore the scarf of the traitress to atoms.
Besides this he was very hungry, and he had nothing to eat.
He thought of all the wonderful things his grandmother had told him when he was a child, but none of them helped him now. He was in despair, when suddenly he looked up and saw that the tree under which he had been sleeping was a superb plum, covered with fruit as yellow as gold.
'Here goes for the plums,' he said to himself, 'all is fair in war.'
He climbed the tree and began to eat steadily.
But he had hardly swallowed two plums when, to his horror, he felt as if something was growing on his forehead. He put up his hand and found that he had two horns!
He leapt down from the tree and rushed to a stream that flowed close by. Alas! there was no escape: two charming little horns, that would not have disgraced the head of a goat.
Then his courage failed him.
'As if it was not enough,' said he, 'that a woman should trick me, but the devil must mix himself up in it and lend me his horns. What a pretty figure I should cut if I went back into the world!'
But as he was still hungry, and the mischief was done, he climbed boldly up another tree, and plucked two plums of a lovely green colour. No sooner had he swallowed two than the horns disappeared. The little soldier was enchanted, though greatly surprised, and came to the conclusion that it was no good to despair too quickly. When he had done eating an idea suddenly occurred to him. 'Perhaps,' thought he, 'these pretty little plums may help me to recover my purse, my cloak, and my heart from the hands of this wicked Princess. She has the eyes of a deer already; let her have the horns of one. If I can manage to set her up with a pair, I will bet any money that I shall cease to want her for my wife. A horned maiden is by no means lovely to look at.' So he plaited a basket out of the long willows, and placed in it carefully both sorts of plums. Then he walked bravely on for many days, having no food but the berries by the wayside, and was in great danger from wild beasts and savage men. But he feared nothing, except that his plums should decay, and this never happened.
At last he came to a civilised country, and with the sale of some jewels that he had about him on the evening of his flight he took passage on board a vessel for the Low Countries. So, at the end of a year and a day, he arrived at the capital of the kingdom.
The next day he put on a false beard and the dress of a date merchant, and, taking a little table, he placed himself before the door of the church.
He spread carefully out on a fine white cloth his Mirabelle plums, which looked for all the world as if they had been freshly gathered, and when he saw the Princess coming out of church he began to call out in a feigned voice: 'Fine plums! lovely plums!'
'How much are they?' said the Princess.
'Fifty crowns each.'
'Fifty crowns! But what is there so very precious about them? Do they give one wit, or will they increase one's beauty?'
'They could not increase what is perfect already, fair Princess, but still they might add something.'
Rolling stones gather no moss, but they sometimes gain polish; and the months which John had spent in roaming about the world had not been wasted. Such a neatly turned compliment flattered Ludovine.
'What will they add?' she smilingly asked.
'You will see, fair Princess, when you taste them. It will be a surprise for you.' Ludovine's curiosity was roused. She drew out the purse and shook out as many little heaps of fifty crowns as there were plums in the basket. The little soldier was seized with a wild desire to snatch the purse from her and proclaim her a thief, but he managed to control himself.
His plums all sold, he shut up shop, took off his disguise, changed his inn, and kept quiet, waiting to see what would happen.
No sooner had she reached her room than the Princess exclaimed, 'Now let us see what these fine plums can add to my beauty,' and throwing off her hood, she picked up a couple and ate them.
Imagine with what surprise and horror she felt all of a sudden that something was growing out of her forehead. She flew to her mirror and uttered a piercing cry. 'Horns! so that was what he promised me! Let someone find the plum-seller at once and bring him to me! Let his nose and ears be cut off! Let him be flayed alive, or burnt at a slow fire and his ashes scattered to the winds! Oh, I shall die of shame and despair!'
Her women ran at the sound of her screams, and tried to wrench off the horns, but it was of no use, and they only gave her a violent headache.
The King then sent round a herald to proclaim that he would give the hand of the Princess to anyone who would rid her of her strange ornaments. So all the doctors and sorcerers and surgeons in the Low Countries and the neighbouring kingdoms thronged to the palace, each with a remedy of his own. But it was all no good, and the Princess suffered so much from their remedies that the King was obliged to send out a second proclamation that anyone who undertook to cure the Princess, and who failed to do it, should be hanged up to the nearest tree. But the prize was too great for any proclamation to put a stop to the efforts of the crowd of suitors, and that year the orchards of the Low Countries all bore a harvest of dead men.
The King had given orders that they should seek high and low for the plum-seller, but in spite of all their pains, he was nowhere to be found.
When the little soldier discovered that their patience was worn out, he pressed the juice of the green Queen Claude plums into a small phial, bought a doctor's robe, put on a wig and spectacles, and presented himself before the King of the Low Countries. He gave himself out as a famous physician who had come from distant lands, and he promised that he would cure the Princess if only he might be left alone with her.
'Another madman determined to be hanged,' said the King. 'Very well, do as he asks; one should refuse nothing to a man with a rope round his neck.' As soon as the little soldier was in the presence of the Princess he poured some drops of the liquid into a glass. The Princess had scarcely tasted it, when the tip of the horns disappeared.
'They would have disappeared completely,' said the pretended doctor, 'if there did not exist something to counteract the effect. It is only possible to cure people whose souls are as clean as the palm of my hand. Are you sure you have not committed some little sin? Examine yourself well.'
Ludovine had no need to think over it long, but she was torn in pieces between the shame of a humiliating confession, and the desire to be unhorned. At last she made answer with downcast eyes:
'I have stolen a leather purse from a little soldier.'
'Give it to me. The remedy will not act till I hold the purse in my hands.'
It cost Ludovine a great pang to give up the purse, but she remembered that riches would not benefit her if she was still to keep the horns.
With a sigh, she handed the purse to the doctor, who poured more of the liquid into the glass, and when the Princess had drunk it, she found that the horns had diminished by one half.
'You must really have another little sin on your conscience. Did you steal nothing from this soldier but his purse?'
'I also stole from him his cloak.'
'Give it me.'
'Here it is.'
This time Ludovine thought to herself that when once the horns had departed, she would call her attendants and take the things from the doctor by force.
She was greatly pleased with this idea, when suddenly the pretended physician wrapped himself in the cloak, flung away the wig and spectacles, and showed to the traitress the face of the Little Soldier.
She stood before him dumb with fright.
'I might,' said John, 'have left you horned to the end of your days, but I am a good fellow and I once loved you, and besides - you are too like the devil to have any need of his horns.'
John had wished himself in the house of the Seagull. Now the Seagull was seated at the window, mending her net, and from time to time her eyes wandered to the sea as if she was expecting someone. At the noise made by the little soldier, she looked up and blushed.
'So it is you!' she said. 'How did you get here?' And then she added in a low voice, 'And have you married your Princess?'
Then John told her all his adventures, and when he had finished, he restored to her the purse and the mantle.
'What can I do with them?' said she. 'You have proved to me that happiness does not lie in the possession of treasures.'
'It lies in work and in the love of an honest woman,' replied the little soldier, who noticed for the first time what pretty eyes she had.
'Dear Seagull, will you have me for a husband?' and he held out his hand.
'Yes, I will,' answered the fisher maiden, blushing very red, 'but only on condition that we seal up the purse and the mantle in the copper vessel and throw them into the sea.'
And this they did.
The Story of the Yara
The Brown Fairy Book
Down in the south, where the sun shines so hotly that everything and everybody sleeps all day, and even the great forests seem silent, except early in the morning and late in the evening — down in this country there once lived a young man and a maiden. The girl had been born in the town, and had scarcely ever left it; but the young man was a native of another country, and had only come to the city near the great river because he could find no work to do where he was.
A few months after his arrival, when the days were cooler, and the people did not sleep so much as usual, a great feast was held a little way out of the town, and to this feast everyone flocked from thirty miles and more. Some walked and some rode, some came in beautiful golden coaches; but all had on splendid dresses of red or blue, while wreaths of flowers rested on their hair.
It was the first time that the youth had been present on such an occasion, and he stood silently aside watching the graceful dances and the pretty games played by the young people. And as he watched, he noticed one girl, dressed in white with scarlet pomegranates in her hair, who seemed to him lovelier than all the rest. When the feast was over, and the young man returned home, his manner was so strange that it drew the attention of all his friends.
Through his work next day the youth continued to see the girl's face, throwing the ball to her companions, or threading her way between them as she danced. At night sleep fled from him, and after tossing for hours on his bed, he would get up and plunge into a deep pool that lay a little way in the forest.
This state of things went on for some weeks, then at last chance favoured him. One evening, as he was passing near the house where she lived, he saw her standing with her back to the wall, trying to beat off with her fan the attacks of a savage dog that was leaping at her throat. Alonzo, for such was his name, sprang forward, and with one blow of his fist stretched the creature dead upon the road. He then helped the frightened and half-fainting girl into the large cool verandah where her parents were sitting, and from that hour he was a welcome guest in the house, and it was not long before he was the promised husband of Julia.
Every day, when his work was done, he used to go up to the house, half hidden among flowering plants and brilliant creepers, where hummingbirds darted from bush to bush, and parrots of all colours, red and green and grey, shrieked in chorus. There he would find the maiden waiting for him, and they would spend an hour or two under the stars, which looked so large and bright that you felt as if you could almost touch them.
"What did you do last night after you went home?" suddenly asked the girl one evening.
"Just the same as I always do", answered he "It was too hot to sleep, so it was no use going to bed, and I walked straight off to the forest and bathed in one of those deep dark pools at the edge of the river. I have been there constantly for several months, but last night a strange thing happened. I was taking my last plunge, when I heard — sometimes from one side, and sometimes from another — the sound of a voice singing more sweetly than any nightingale, though I could not catch any words. I left the pool, and, dressing myself as fast as I could, I searched every bush and tree round the water, as I fancied that perhaps it was my friend who was playing a trick on me, but there was not a creature to be seen; and when I reached home I found my friend fast asleep".
As Julia listened her face grew deadly white, and her whole body shivered as if with cold. From her childhood she had heard stories of the terrible beings that lived in the forests and were hidden under the banks of the rivers, and could only be kept off by powerful charms. Could the voice which had bewitched Alonzo have come from one of these? Perhaps, who knows, it might be the voice of the dreaded Yara herself, who sought young men on the eve of their marriage as her prey.
For a moment the girl sat choked with fear, as these thoughts rushed through her; then she said:
"Alonzo, will you promise me something?"
"What is that?" asked he.
"It is something that has to do with our future happiness."
"Oh! it is serious, then? Well, of course, I promise. Now tell me!"
"I want you to promise" she answered, lowering her voice to a whisper, "never to bathe in those pools again."
"But why not, queen of my soul; have I not gone there always, and nothing has harmed me, flower of my heart?"
"No; but perhaps something will. If you will not promise I shall go mad with fright. Promise me."
"Why, what is the matter? You look so pale! Tell me, why you are so frightened?"
"Did you not hear the song?" she asked, trembling.
"Suppose I did, how could that hurt me? It was the loveliest song I ever heard!"
"Yes, and after the song will come the apparition; and after that... after that..."
"I don't understand. Well... after that? ''
"After that... death."
Alonzo stared at her. Had she really gone mad? Such talk was very unlike Julia, but before lie could collect his senses the girl spoke again:
'That is the reason why I implore you never to go there again; at any rate till after we are married"
"And what difference will our marriage make?"
"Oh, there will be no danger then; you can go to bathe as often as you like!"
"But tell me why you are so afraid?"
"Because the voice you heard — I know you will laugh, but it is quite true — it was the voice of the Yara".
At these words Alonzo burst into a shout of laughter; but it sounded so harsh and loud that Julia shrank away shuddering. It seemed as if he could not stop himself, and the more he laughed the paler the poor girl became, murmuring to herself as she watched him:
"Oh, heaven! you have seen her! you have seen her! what shall I do?"
Faint as was her whisper, it reached the ears of Alonzo, who, though he still could not speak for laughing, shook his head.
"You may not know it, but it is true. Nobody who has not seen the Yara laughs like that".
And Julia flung herself on the ground weeping bitterly. At this sight Alonzo became suddenly grave, and kneeling by her side, gently raised her up.
"Do not cry so, my angel" he said, "1 will promise anything you please. Only let me see you smile again".
With a great effort Julia checked her sobs, and rose to her feet.
"Thank you" she answered. "My heart grows lighter as you say that! I know you will try to keep your word and to stay away from the forest. But — the power of the Yara is very strong, and the sound of her voice is apt to make men forget everything else in the world. Oh, I have seen it, and more than one betrothed maiden lives alone, broken-hearted. If ever you should return to the pool where you first heard the voice, promise me that you will at least take this with you.' And opening a curiously carved box, she took out a sea-shell shot with many colours, and sang a song softly into it.
"The moment you hear the Yara's voice" said she, "put this to your ear, and you will hear my song instead. Perhaps — I do not know for certain — but perhaps, I may be stronger than the Yara."
It was late that night when Alonzo returned home. The moon was shining on the distant river, which looked cool and inviting, and the trees of the forest seemed to stretch out their arms and beckon him near. But the young man steadily turned his face in the other direction, and went home to bed.
The struggle had been hard, but Alonzo had his reward next day in the joy and relief with which Julia greeted him. He assured her that having overcome the temptation once the danger was now over; but she, knowing better than he did the magic of the Yara's face and voice, did not fail to make him repeat his promise when he went away.
For three nights Alonzo kept his word, not because he believed in the Yara, for he thought that the tales about her were all nonsense, but because he could not bear the tears with which he knew that Julia would greet him, if he confessed that he had returned to the forest. But, in spite of this, the song rang in his ears, and daily grew louder.
On the fourth night the attraction of the forest grew so strong that neither the thought of Julia nor the promises he had made her could hold him back. At eleven o'clock he plunged into the cool darkness of the trees, and took the path that led straight to the river. Yet, for the first time, he found that Julia's warnings, though he had laughed at her at the moment, had remained in his memory, and he glanced at the bushes with a certain sense of fear which was quite new to him. When he reached the river he paused and looked round for a moment to make sure that the strange feeling of someone watching him was fancy, and he was really alone. But the moon shone brightly on every tree, and nothing was to be seen but his own shadow; nothing was to be heard but the sound of the rippling stream.
He threw off his clothes, and was just about to dive in headlong, when something — he did not know what — suddenly caused him to look round. At the same instant the moon passed from behind a cloud, and its rays fell on a beautiful golden-haired woman standing half hidden by the ferns.
With one bound he caught up his mantle, and rushed headlong down the path he had come, fearing at each step to feel a hand laid on his shoulder. It was not till he had left the last trees behind him, and was standing in the open plain, that he dared to look round, and then he thought a figure in white was still standing there waving her arms to and fro. This was enough; he ran along the road harder than ever, and never paused till he was safe in his own room.
With the earliest rays of dawn he went back to the forest to see whether he could find any traces of the Yara, but though he searched every clump of bushes, and looked up every tree, everything was empty, and the only voices he heard were those of parrots, which are so ugly that they only drive people away.
"I think I must be mad" he said to himself, "and have dreamt all that folly", and going back to the city he began his daily work. But either that was harder than usual, or he must be ill, for he could not fix his mind upon it, and everybody he came across during the day inquired if anything had happened to give him that white, frightened look.
"I must be feverish" he said to himself; "after all, it is rather dangerous to take a cold bath when one is feeling so hot".
Yet he knew, while he said it, that he was counting the hours for night to come, that he might return to the forest.
In the evening he went as usual to the creepercovered house. But he had better have stayed away, as his face was so pale and his manner so strange, that the poor girl saw that something terrible had occurred. Alonzo, however, refused to answer any of her questions, and all she could get was a promise to hear everything next day.
On pretence of a violent headache, he left Julia much earlier than usual and hurried quickly home. Taking down a pistol he loaded it and put it in his belt, and a little before midnight he stole out on the tips of his toes, so as to disturb nobody. Once outside he hastened down the road which led to the forest.
He did not stop till he had reached the river pool, when, holding the pistol in his hand, he looked about him. At every little noise — the falling of a leaf, the rustle of an animal in the bushes, the cry of a night-bird — he sprang up and cocked his pistol in the direction of the sound. But though the moon still shone he saw nothing, and by-and-by a kind of dreamy state seemed to steal over him as he leant against a tree.
How long he remained in this condition he could not have told, but suddenly he awoke with a start, on hearing his name uttered softly.
"Who is that?" he cried, standing upright instantly; but only an echo answered him. Then his eyes grew fascinated with the dark waters of the pool close to his feet, and he looked at it as if he could never look away.
He gazed steadily into the depths for some minutes, when he became aware that down in the darkness was a bright spark, which got rapidly bigger and brighter. Again that feeling of awful fear took possession of him, and he tried to turn his eyes from the pool. But it was no use; something stronger than himself compelled him to keep them there.
At last the waters parted softly, and floating on the surface he saw the beautiful woman whom he had fled from only a few nights before. He turned to run, but his feet were glued to the spot. She smiled at him and held out her arms, but as she did so there came over him the remembrance of Julia, as he had seen her a few hours earlier, and her warnings and fears for the very danger in which he now found himself.
Meanwhile the figure was always drawing nearer, nearer; but, with a violent effort, Alonzo shook off his stupor, and taking aim at her shoulder he pulled the trigger. The report awoke the sleeping echoes, and was repeated all through the forest, but the figure smiled still, and went on advancing. Again Alonzo fired, and a second time the bullet whistled through the air, and the figure advanced nearer. A moment more, and she would be at his side.
Then, his pistol being empty, he grasped the barrel with both hands, and stood ready to use it as a club should the Yara approach any closer. But now it seemed her turn to feel afraid, for she paused for an instant while he pressed forward, still holding the pistol above his head, prepared to strike.
In his excitement he had forgotten the river, and it was not till the cold water touched his feet that he stood still by instinct. The Yara saw that he was wavering, and suffering herself to sway gently backwards and forwards on the surface of the river, she began to sing. The song floated through the trees, now far and now near; no one could tell whence it came, the whole air seemed full of it. Alonzo felt his senses going and his will failing. His arms dropped heavily to his side, but in falling struck against the sea shell, which, as he had promised Julia, he had always carried in his coat.
His dimmed mind was just clear enough to remember what she had said, and with trembling fingers, that were almost powerless to grasp, he drew it out. As he did so the song grew sweeter and more tender than before, but he shut his ears to it and bent his head over the shell. Out of its depths arose the voice of Julia singing to him as she had sung when she gave him the shell, and though the notes sounded faint at first, they swelled louder and louder till the mist which had gathered about him was blown away.
Then he raised his head, feeling that he had been through strange places, where he could never wander any more; and he held himself erect and strong, and looked about him. Nothing was to be seen but the shining of the river, and the dark shadows of the trees; nothing was to be heard but the hum of the insects, as they darted through the night.
Adapted from Folklore Bresilien.
The Water-Lily. the Gold-Spinners (Estonia)
The Blue Fairy Book
Once upon a time, in a large forest, there lived an old woman and three maidens. They were all three beautiful, but the youngest was the fairest. Their hut was quite hidden by trees, and none saw their beauty but the sun by day, and the moon by night, and the eyes of the stars. The old woman kept the girls hard at work, from morning till night, spinning gold flax into yarn, and when one distaff was empty another was given them, so they had no rest. The thread had to be fine and even, and when done was locked up in a secret chamber by the old woman, who twice or thrice every summer went a journey. Before she went she gave out work for each day of her absence, and always returned in the night, so that the girls never saw what she brought back with her, neither would she tell them whence the gold flax came, nor what it was to be used for.
Now, when the time came round for the old woman to set out on one of these journeys, she gave each maiden work for six days, with the usual warning:
"Children, don't let your eyes wander, and on no account speak to a man, for, if you do, your thread will lose its brightness, and misfortunes of all kinds will follow."
They laughed at this oftrepeated caution, saying to each other:
"How can our gold thread lose its brightness, and have we any chance of speaking to a man?"
On the third day after the old woman's departure a young prince, hunting in the forest, got separated from his companions, and completely lost. Weary of seeking his way, he flung himself down under a tree, leaving his horse to browse at will, and fell asleep.
The sun had set when he awoke and began once more to try and find his way out of the forest.
At last he perceived a narrow foot-path, which he eagerly followed and found that it led him to a small hut.
The maidens, who were sitting at the door of their hut for coolness, saw him approaching, and the two elder were much alarmed, for they remembered the old woman's warning; but the youngest said:
"Never before have I seen anyone like him; let me have one look."
They entreated her to come in, but, seeing that she would not, left her, and the Prince, coming up, courteously greeted the maiden, and told her he had lost his way in the forest and was both hungry and weary.
She set food before him, and was so delighted with his conversation that she forgot the old woman's caution, and lingered for hours. In the meantime the Prince's companions sought him far and wide, but to no purpose, so they sent two messengers to tell the sad news to the King, who immediately ordered a regiment of cavalry and one of infantry to go and look for him.
After three days' search, they found the hut.
The Prince was still sitting by the door and had been so happy in the maiden's company that the time had seemed like a single hour. Before leaving he promised to return and fetch her to his father's court, where he would make her his bride. When he had gone, she sat down to her wheel to make up for lost time, but was dismayed to find that her thread had lost all its brightness. Her heart beat fast and she wept bitterly, for she remembered the old woman's warning and knew not what misfortune might now befall her.
The old woman returned in the night and knew by the tarnished thread what had happened in her absence. She was furiously angry and told the maiden that she
had brought down misery both on herself and on the Prince. The maiden could
not rest for thinking of this. At last she could bear it no longer, and resolved to
seek help from the Prince.
As a child she had learned to understand the speech of birds, and this was now of great use to her, for, seeing a raven pluming itself on a pine bough, she cried
softly to it:
"Dear bird, cleverest of all birds, as well as swiftest on wing, wilt thou help me?" "How can I help thee?" asked the raven.
"Fly away, until thou comest to a splendid town, where stands a king's palace; seek out the king's son and tell him that a great misfortune has befallen me." Then she told the raven how her thread had lost its brightness, how terribly angry the old woman was, and how she feared some great disaster. The raven promised
faithfully to-do her bidding, and, spreading its wings, flew away. The maiden now went home and worked hard all day at winding up the yarn her elder sisters had spun, for the old woman would let her spin no longer. Toward evening she heard the raven's "craa, craa" from the pine tree and eagerly hastened thither to hear the answer.
By great good fortune the raven had found a wind wizard's son in the palace
garden, who understood the speech of birds, and to him he had entrusted the
message. When the Prince heard it, he was very sorrowful, and took counsel with his friends how to free the maiden. Then he said to the wind wizard's son:
"Beg the raven to fly quickly back to the maiden and tell her to be ready on the ninth night, for then will I come and fetch heraway."
The wind wizard's son did this, and the raven flew so swiftly that it reached the hut that same evening. The maiden thanked the bird heartily and went home,
telling no one what she had heard.
As the ninth night drew near she became very unhappy, for she feared lest some terrible mischance should arise and ruin all. On this night she crept quietly out of the house and waited trembling at some little distance from the hut.
Presently she heard the muffled tramp of horses, and soon the armed troop
appeared, led by the Prince, who had prudently marked all the trees beforehand,
in order to know the way. When he saw the maiden he sprang from Ins horse,
lifted her into the saddle, and then, mounting behind, rode homeward. The moon shone so brightly that they had no difficulty in seeing the marked trees.
By and by the coming of dawn loosened the tongues of all the birds, and, had the Prince only known what they were saying, or the maiden been listening, they
might have been spared much sorrow, but they were thinking only of each other,
and when they came out of the forest the sun was high in the heavens.
Next morning, when the youngest girl did not come to her work, the old woman asked where she was.
The sisters pretended not to know, but the old woman easily guessed what had happened, and, as she was in reality a wicked witch, determined to punish the fugitives. Accordingly, she collected nine different kinds of enchanters'
nightshade, added some salt, which she first bewitched, and, doing all up in a cloth into the shape of a fluffy ball, sent it after them on the wings of the wind,
"Whirlwind!—mother of the wind! Lend thy aid 'gainst her who sinned! Carry with thee this magic ball. Cast her from his arms for ever, Bury her in the rippling river."
At midday the Prince and his men came to a deep river, spanned by so narrow a bridge that only one rider could cross at a time. The horse on which the Prince
and the maiden were riding had just reached the middle when the magic ball flew by.
The horse in its fright suddenly reared, and before anyone could stop it flung the maiden into the swift current below. The Prince tried to jump in after her, but his men held him back, and in spite of his struggles led him home, where for six
weeks he shut himself up in a secret chamber, and would neither eat nor drink, so great was his grief. At last he became so ill his fife was despaired of, and in
great alarm the King caused all the wizards of his country to be summoned.
But. none could cure him. At last the wind wizard's son said to the King:
"Send for the old wizard from Finland, he knows more than all the wizards of
your kingdom put together."
A messenger was at once sent to Finland, and a week later the old wizard himself arrived on the wings of the wind.
"Honored King," said the wizard, "the wind has blown this illness upon your son, and a magic ball has snatched away his beloved. This it is which makes him
grieve so constantly. Let the wind blow upon him that it may blow away his sorrow."
Then the King made his son go out into the wind, and he gradually recovered and told his father all.
"Forget the maiden," said the King, "and take another bride;" but the Prince said
he could never love another.
A year afterward he came suddenly upon the bridge where his beloved met her death. As he recalled the misfortune he wept bitterly, and would have given all he possessed to have her once more alive. In the midst of his grief he thought he
heard a voice singing, and looked round, but could see no one. Then he heard the voice again, and it said:
"Alas! bewitched and all forsaken, Tis I must lie for ever here I My beloved no thought has taken To free his bride, that was so dear."
He was greatly astonished, sprang from his horse, and looked everywhere to see if no one were hidden under the bridge; but no one was there.
Then he noticed a yellow water-lily floating on the surface of the water, half hidden by its broad leaves; but flowers do not sing, and in great surprise he waited, hoping to hear more. Then again the voice sang:
"Alas I bewitched and all forsaken, 'Tis I must lie for ever here! My beloved no thought has taken To free his bride, that was so dear."
The Prince suddenly remembered the goldspinners, and said to himself:
"If I ride thither, who knows but that they could explain this to me?"
He at once rode to the hut, and found the two maidens at the fountain. He told them what had befallen their sister the year before, and how he had twice heard a strange song, but yet could see no singer.
They said that the yellow water-lily could be none other than their sister, who was not dead, but transformed by the magic ball. Before he went to bed, the eldest made a cake of magic herbs, which she gave him to eat. In the night he
dreamed that he was living in the forest and could understand all that the birds
said to each other.
Next morning he told this to the maidens, and they said that the charmed cake had caused it, and advised him to listen well to the birds, and see what they could tell him, and when he had recovered his bride they begged him to return and
deliver them from their wretched bondage.
Having promised this, he joyfully returned home, and as he was riding through
the forest he could perfectly understand all that the birds said. He heard a thrush say to a magpie:
"How stupid menare! they cannot understand the simplest thing. It is now quite a year since the maiden was transformed into a water-lily, and, though she sings so sadly that anyone going over the bridge must hear her, yet no one comes to her
aid. Her former bridegroom rode over it a few days ago and heard her singing, but was no wiser than the rest."
"And he is to blame for all her misfortunes," added the magpie. "If he heeds only the words of men she will remain a flower for ever. She were soon delivered were the matter only laid before the old wizard of Finland."
After hearing this, the Prince wondered how he could get a message conveyed to Finland. He heard one swallow say to another:
"Come, let us fly to Finland; we can build better nests there."
"Stop, kind friends!" cried the Prince. "Will you do something for me?"
The birds consented, and he said:
"Take a thousand greetings from me to the wizard of Finland, and ask him how I may restore a maiden transformed into a flower to her own form."
The swallows flew away, and the Prince rode on to the bridge. There he waited, hoping to hear the song. But he heard nothing but the rushing of the water and the moaning of the wind, and, disappointed, rode home.
Shortly after, he was sitting in the garden, thinking that the swallows must have forgotten his message, when he saw an eagle flying above him. The bird
gradually descended until it perched on a tree close to the Prince and said:
"The wizard of Finland greets thee and bids me say that thou may est free the maiden thus: Go to the river and smear thyself all over with mud; then say: 'From a man into a crab,' and thou wilt become a crab. Plunge boldly into the water,
swim as close as thou canst to the water-lily's roots, and loosen them from the
mud and reeds. This done, fasten thy claws into the roots and rise with them to the surface. Let the water flow all over the flower, and drift with the current until thou comest to a mountain ash tree on the left bank. There is near it a large stone. Stop there and say: 'From a crab into a man, from a water-lily into a maiden,' and ye both will be restored to your own forms."
Full of doubt and fear, the Prince let some time pass before he was bold enough to attempt to rescue the maiden. Then a crow said to him:
"Why dost thou hesitate? The old wizard has not told thee wrong, neither have the birds deceived thee; hasten and dry the maiden's tears."
"Nothing worse than death can befall me," thought the Prince, "and death is better than endless sorrow."
So he mounted his horse and went to the bridge. Again he heard the water-lily's lament, and, hesitating no longer, smeared himself all over with mud, and, saying: "From a man into a crab," plunged into the river. For one moment the water hissed in his ears, and then all was silent. He swam up to the plant and began to loosen its roots, but so firmly were they fixed in the mud and reeds that this took him a long time. He then grasped them and rose to the surface, letting
the water flow over the flower. The current carried them down the stream, but nowhere could he see the mountain ash.
At last he saw it, and close by the large stone.
Here he stopped and said: "From a crab into a man, from a water-lily into a maiden," and to his delight found himself once more a prince, and the maiden was by his side. She was ten times more beautiful than before, and wore a magnificent pale yellow robe, sparkling with jewels. She thanked him for having freed her from the cruel witch's power, and willingly consented to marry him.
But when they came to the bridge where he had left his horse it was nowhere to be seen, for, though the Prince thought he had been a crab only a few hours, he
had in reality been under the water for more than ten days. While they were wondering how they should reach his father's court, they saw a splendid coach driven by six gaily caparisoned horses coming along the bank. In this they drove to the palace. The King and Queen were at church, weeping for their son, whom they had long mourned for dead. Great was their delight and astonishment when the Prince entered, leading the beautiful maiden by the hand. The wedding was at
once celebrated, and there was feasting and merrymaking throughout the
kingdom for six weeks.
Some time afterward the Prince and his bride were sitting in the garden, when a crow said to them:
"Ungrateful creatures! Have you forgotten the two poor maidens who helped you in your distress? Must they spin gold flax for ever? Have no pity on the old witch. The three maidens are princesses, whom she stole away when they were children together, with all the silver utensils, which she turned into gold flax. Poison were her fittest punishment."
The Prince was ashamed of having forgotten his promise and set out at once, and by great good fortune reached the hut when the old woman was away. The maidens had dreamed that he was coming, and were ready to go with him, but first they made a cake in which they put poison, and left it on a table where the old woman was likely to see it when she returned. She did see it, and thought it looked so tempting that she greedily ate it up and at once died.
In the secret chamber were found fifty wagonloads of gold flax, and as much more was discovered buried. The hut was razed to the ground, and the Prince and his bride and her two sisters lived happily ever after.
The Brownie of the Lake
The Lilac Fairy Book
Once upon a time there lived in France a man whose name was Jalm Riou. You might have walked a whole day without meeting anyone happier or more contented, for he had a large farm, plenty of money, and above all, a daughter called Barbaik, the most graceful dancer and the best-dressed girl in the whole country side. When she appeared on holidays in her embroidered cap, five petticoats, each one a little shorter than the other, and shoes with silver buckles, the women were all filled with envy, but little cared Barbaik what they might whisper behind her back as long as she knew that her clothes were finer than anyone else's and that she had more partners than any other girl.
Now amongst all the young men who wanted to marry Barbaik, the one whose heart was most set on her was her father's head man, but as his manners were rough and he was exceedingly ugly she would have nothing to say to him, and, what was worse, often made fun of him with the rest.
Jegu, for that was his name, of course heard of this, and it made him very unhappy. Still he would not leave the farm, and look for work elsewhere, as he might have done, for then he would never see Barbaik at all, and what was life worth to him without that?
One evening he was bringing back his horses from the fields, and stopped at a little lake on the way home to let them drink. He was tired with a long day's work, and stood with his hand on the mane of one of the animals, waiting till they had done, and thinking all the while of Barbaik, when a voice came out of the gorse close by.
'What is the matter, Jegu? You mustn't despair yet.'
The young man glanced up in surprise, and asked who was there.
'It is I, the brownie of the lake,' replied the voice.
'But where are you?' inquired Jegu.
'Look close, and you will see me among the reeds in the form of a little green frog. I can take,' he added proudly, 'any shape I choose, and even, which is much harder, be invisible if I want to.'
'Then show yourself to me in the shape in which your family generally appear,' replied Jegu.
'Certainly, if you wish,' and the frog jumped on the back of one of the horses, and changed into a little dwarf, all dressed in green.
This transformation rather frightened Jegu, but the brownie bade him have no fears, for he would not do him any harm; indeed, he hoped that Jegu might find him of some use.
'But why should you take all this interest in me?' asked the peasant suspiciously. 'Because of a service you did me last winter, which I have never forgotten,' answered the little fellow. 'You know, I am sure, that the korigans who dwell in the White Corn country have declared war on my people, because they say that they are the friends of man. We were therefore obliged to take refuge in distant lands, and to hide ourselves at first under different animal shapes. Since that time, partly from habit and partly to amuse ourselves, we have continued to transform ourselves, and it was in this way that I got to know you.'
'How?' exclaimed Jegu, filled with astonishment.
'Do you remember when you were digging in the field near the river, three months ago, you found a robin redbreast caught in a net?'
'Yes,' answered Jegu, 'I remember it very well, and I opened the net and let him go.'
'Well, I was that robin redbreast, and ever since I have vowed to be your friend, and as you want to marry Barbaik, I will prove the truth of what I say by helping you to do so.'
'Ah! my little brownie, if you can do that, there is nothing I won't give you, except my soul.'
'Then let me alone,' rejoined the dwarf, 'and I promise you that in a very few months you shall be master of the farm and of Barbaik.'
'But how are you going to do it?' exclaimed Jegu wonderingly.
'That is my affair. Perhaps I may tell you later. Meanwhile you just eat and sleep, and don't worry yourself about anything.'
Jegu declared that nothing could be easier, and then taking off his hat, he thanked the dwarf heartily, and led his horses back to the farm.
Next morning was a holiday, and Barbaik was awake earlier than usual, as she wished to get through her work as soon as possible, and be ready to start for a dance which was to be held some distance off. She went first to the cow-house, which it was her duty to keep clean, but to her amazement she found fresh straw put down, the racks filled with hay, the cows milked, and the pails standing neatly in a row.
'Of course, Jegu must have done this in the hope of my giving him a dance,' she thought to herself, and when she met him outside the door she stopped and thanked him for his help. To be sure, Jegu only replied roughly that he didn't know what she was talking about, but this answer made her feel all the more certain that it was he and nobody else.
The same thing took place every day, and never had the cow-house been so clean nor the cows so fat. Morning and evening Barbaik found her earthen pots full of milk and a pound of butter freshly churned, ornamented with leaves. At the end of a few weeks she grew so used to this state of affairs that she only got up just in time to prepare breakfast.
Soon even this grew to be unnecessary, for a day arrived when, coming downstairs, she discovered that the house was swept, the furniture polished, the fire lit, and the food ready, so that she had nothing to do except to ring the great bell which summoned the labourers from the fields to come and eat it. This, also, she thought was the work of Jegu, and she could not help feeling that a husband of this sort would be very useful to a girl who liked to lie in bed and to amuse herself.
Indeed, Barbaik had only to express a wish for it to be satisfied. If the wind was cold or the sun was hot and she was afraid to go out lest her complexion should be spoilt, she need only to run down to the spring close by and say softly, 'I should like my churns to be full, and my wet linen to be stretched on the hedge to dry,' and she need never give another thought to the matter.
If she found the rye bread too hard to bake, or the oven taking too long to heat, she just murmured, 'I should like to see my six loaves on the shelf above the bread box,' and two hours after there they were.
If she was too lazy to walk all the way to market along a dirty road, she would say out loud the night before, 'Why am I not already back from Morlaix with my milk pot empty, my butter bowl inside it, a pound of wild cherries on my wooden plate, and the money I have gained in my apron pocket?' and in the morning when she got up, lo and behold! there were standing at the foot of her bed the empty milk pot with the butter bowl inside, the black cherries on the wooden plate, and six new pieces of silver in the pocket of her apron. And she believed that all this was owing to Jegu, and she could no longer do without him, even in her thoughts.
When things had reached this pass, the brownie told the young man that he had better ask Barbaik to marry him, and this time the girl did not turn rudely away, but listened patiently to the end. In her eyes he was as ugly and awkward as ever, but he would certainly make a most useful husband, and she could sleep every morning till breakfast time, just like a young lady, and as for the rest of the day, it would not be half long enough for all she meant to do. She would wear the beautiful dresses that came when she wished for them, and visit her neighbours, who would be dying of envy all the while, and she would be able to dance as much as she wished. Jegu would always be there to work for her and save for her, and watch over her. So, like a well-brought-up girl, Barbaik answered that it should be as her father pleased, knowing quite well that old Riou had often said that after he was dead there was no one so capable of carrying on the farm.
The marriage took place the following month, and a few days later the old man died quite suddenly. Now Jegu had everything to see to himself, and somehow it did not seem so easy as when the farmer was alive. But once more the brownie stepped in, and was better than ten labourers. It was he who ploughed and sowed and reaped, and if, as happened, occasionally, it was needful to get the work done quickly, the brownie called in some of his friends, and as soon as it was light a host of little dwarfs might have been seen in the fields, busy with hoe, fork or sickle. But by the time the people were about all was finished, and the little fellows had disappeared.
And all the payment the brownie ever asked for was a bowl of broth. From the very day of her marriage Barbaik had noted with surprise and rage that things ceased to be done for her as they had been done all the weeks and months before. She complained to Jegu of his laziness, and he only stared at her, not understanding what she was talking about. But the brownie, who was standing by, burst out laughing, and confessed that all the good offices she spoke of had been performed by him, for the sake of Jegu, but that now he had other business to do, and it was high time that she looked after her house herself.
Barbaik was furious. Each morning when she was obliged to get up before dawn to milk the cows and go to market, and each evening when she had to sit up till midnight in order to churn the butter, her heart was filled with rage against the brownie who had caused her to expect a life of ease and pleasure. But when she looked at Jegu and beheld his red face, squinting eyes, and untidy hair, her anger was doubled.
'If it had not been for you, you miserable dwarf!' she would say between her teeth, 'if it had not been for you I should never have married that man, and I should still have been going to dances, where the young men would have brought me present of nuts and cherries, and told me that I was the prettiest girl in the parish. While now I can receive no presents except from my husband. I can never dance, except with my husband. Oh, you wretched dwarf, I will never, never forgive you!'
In spite of her fierce words, no one knew better than Barbaik how to put her pride in her pocket when it suited her, and after receiving an invitation to a wedding, she begged the brownie to get her a horse to ride there. To her great joy he consented, bidding her set out for the city of the dwarfs and to tell them exactly what she wanted. Full of excitement, Barbaik started on her journey. It was not long, and when she reached the town she went straight to the dwarfs, who were holding counsel in a wide green place, and said to them, 'Listen, my friends! I have come to beg you to lend me a black horse, with eyes, a mouth, ears, bridle and saddle.'
She had hardly spoken when the horse appeared, and mounting on his back she started for the village where the wedding was to be held.
At first she was so delighted with the chance of a holiday from the work which she hated, that she noticed nothing, but very soon it struck her as odd that as she passed along the roads full of people they all laughed as they looked at her horse. At length she caught some words uttered by one man to another. 'Why, the farmer's wife has sold her horse's tail!' and turned in her saddle. Yes; it was true. Her horse had no tail! She had forgotten to ask for one, and the wicked dwarfs had carried out her orders to the letter!
'Well, at any rate, I shall soon be there,' she thought, and shaking the reins, tried to urge the horse to a gallop. But it was of no use; he declined to move out of a walk; and she was forced to hear all the jokes that were made upon her.
In the evening she returned to the farm more angry than ever, and quite determined to revenge herself on the brownie whenever she had the chance, which happened to be very soon.
It was the spring, and just the time of year when the dwarfs held their fete, so one day the brownie asked Jegu if he might bring his friends to have supper in the great barn, and whether he would allow them to dance there.
When all was ready, the dwarfs, in new green suits, came bustling in, very happy and merry, and took their seats at the table. But in a moment they all sprang up with a cry, and ran away screaming, for Barbaik had placed pans of hot coals under their feet, and all their poor little toes were burnt.
'You won't forget that in a hurry,' she said, smiling grimly to herself, but in a moment they were back again with large pots of water, which they poured on the fire. Then they joined hands and danced round it, singing:
Wicked traitress, Barne Riou,
Our poor toes are burned by you;
Now we hurry from your hall -
Bad luck light upon you all.
That evening they left the country for ever, and Jegu, without their help, grew poorer and poorer, and at last died of misery, while Barbaik was glad to find work in the market of Morlaix.
From "Le Foyer Breton", E. Souvestre.
The Brown Bear of Norway
The Lilac Fairy Book
There was once a king in Ireland, and he had three daughters, and very nice princesses they were. And one day, when they and their father were walking on the lawn, the king began to joke with them, and to ask them whom they would like to be married to. 'I’ll have the king of Ulster for a husband,' says one; 'and I’ll have the king of Munster,' says another; 'and,' says the youngest, 'I’ll have no husband but the Brown Bear of Norway.' For a nurse of hers used to be telling her of an enchanted prince that she called by that name, and she fell in love with him, and his name was the first name on her tongue, for the very night before she was dreaming of him. Well, one laughed, and another laughed, and they joked with the princess all the rest of the evening. But that very night she woke up out of her sleep in a great hall that was lighted up with a thousand lamps; the richest carpets were on the floor, and the walls were covered with cloth of gold and silver, and the place was full of grand company, and the very beautiful prince she saw in her dreams was there, and it wasn’t a moment till he was on one knee before her, and telling her how much he loved her, and asking her wouldn’t she be his queen. Well, she hadn’t the heart to refuse him, and married they were in the same evening.
'Now, my darling,' says he, when they were left by themselves, 'you must know that I am under enchantment. A sorceress, that had a beautiful daughter, wished me for her son–in–law; but the mother got power over me, and when I refused to wed her daughter she made me take the form of a bear by day, and I was to continue so till a lady would marry me of her own free will, and endure five years of great trials after.'
Well, when the princess woke in the morning, she missed her husband from her side, and spent the day very sadly. But as soon as the lamps were lighted in the grand hall, where she was sitting on a sofa covered with silk, the folding doors flew open, and he was sitting by her side the next minute. So they spent another happy evening, but he warned her that whenever she began to tire of him, or ceased to have faith in him, they would be parted for ever, and he’d be obliged to marry the witch’s daughter.
She got used to find him absent by day, and they spent a happy twelvemonth together, and at last a beautiful little boy was born; and happy as she was before, she was twice as happy now, for she had her child to keep her company in the day when she couldn’t see her husband. At last, one evening, when herself, and himself, and her child were sitting with a window open because it was a sultry night, in flew an eagle, took the infant’s sash in his beak, and flew up in the air with him. She screamed, and was going to throw herself out through the window after him, but the prince caught her, and looked at her very seriously. She bethought of what he said soon after their marriage, and she stopped the cries and complaints that were on her tongue. She spent her days very lonely for another twelvemonth, when a beautiful little girl was sent to her. Then she thought to herself she’d have a sharp eye about her this time; so she never would allow a window to be more than a few inches open.
But all her care was in vain. Another evening, when they were all so happy, and the prince dandling the baby, a beautiful greyhound stood before them, took the child out of the father’s hand, and was out of the door before you could wink. This time she shouted and ran out of the room, but there were some of the servants in the next room, and all declared that neither child nor dog passed out. She felt, somehow, as if it was her husband’s fault, but still she kept command over herself, and didn’t once reproach him.
When the third child was born she would hardly allow a window or a door to be left open for a moment; but she wasn’t the nearer to keep the child to herself. They were sitting one evening by the fire, when a lady appeared standing by them. The princess opened her eyes in a great fright and stared at her, and while she was doing so, the lady wrapped a shawl round the baby that was sitting in its father’s lap, and either sank through the ground with it or went up through the wide chimney. This time the mother kept her bed for a month.
'My dear,' said she to her husband, when she was beginning to recover, 'I think I’d feel better if I was to see my father and mother and sisters once more. If you give me leave to go home for a few days, I’d be glad.' 'Very well,' said he, 'I will do that, and whenever you feel inclined to return, only mention your wish when you lie down at night.' The next morning when she awoke she found herself in her own old chamber in her father’s palace. She rang the bell, and in a short time she had her mother and father and married sisters about her, and they laughed till they cried for joy at finding her safe back again.
In time she told them all that happened to her, and they didn’t know what to advise her to do. She was as fond of her husband as ever, and said she was sure that he couldn’t help letting the children go; but still she was afraid beyond the world to have another child torn from her. Well, the mother and sisters consulted a wise woman that used to bring eggs to the castle, for they had great faith in her wisdom. She said the only plan was to secure the bear’s skin that the prince was obliged to put on every morning, and get it burned, and then he couldn’t help being a man night and day, and the enchantment would be at an end.
So they all persuaded her to do that, and she promised she would; and after eight days she felt so great a longing to see her husband again that she made the wish the same night, and when she woke three hours after, she was in her husband’s palace, and he himself was watching over her. There was great joy on both sides, and they were happy for many days.
Now she began to think how she never minded her husband leaving her in the morning, and how she never found him neglecting to give her a sweet drink out of a gold cup just as she was going to bed.
One night she contrived not to drink any of it, though she pretended to do so; and she was wakeful enough in the morning, and saw her husband passing out through a panel in the wainscot, though she kept her eyelids nearly closed. The next night she got a few drops of the sleepy posset that she saved the evening before put into her husband’s night drink, and that made him sleep sound enough. She got up after midnight, passed through the panel, and found a beautiful brown bear’s hide hanging in the corner. Then she stole back, and went down to the parlour fire, and put the hide into the middle of it till it was all fine ashes. She then lay down by her husband, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and fell asleep.
If she was to live a hundred years she’d never forget how she wakened next morning, and found her husband looking down on her with misery and anger in his face. 'Unhappy woman,' said he, 'you have separated us for ever! Why hadn’t you patience for five years? I am now obliged, whether I like or no, to go a three days' journey to the witch’s castle, and marry her daughter. The skin that was my guard you have burned it, and the egg– wife that gave you the counsel was the witch herself. I won’t reproach you: your punishment will be severe enough without it. Farewell for ever!'
He kissed her for the last time, and was off the next minute, walking as fast as he could. She shouted after him, and then seeing there was no use, she dressed herself and pursued him. He never stopped, nor stayed, nor looked back, and still she kept him in sight; and when he was on the hill she was in the hollow, and when he was in the hollow she was on the hill. Her life was almost leaving her, when, just as the sun was setting, he turned up a lane, and went into a little house. She crawled up after him, and when she got inside there was a beautiful little boy on his knees, and he kissing and hugging him. 'Here, my poor darling,' says he, 'is your eldest child, and there,' says he, pointing to a woman that was looking on with a smile on her face, 'is the eagle that carried him away.' She forgot all her sorrows in a moment, hugging her child, and laughing and crying over him. The woman washed their feet, and rubbed them with an ointment that took all the soreness out of their bones, and made them as fresh as a daisy. Next morning, just before sunrise, he was up, and prepared to be off. 'Here,' said he to her, 'is a thing which may be of use to you. It’s a scissors, and whatever stuff you cut with it will be turned into silk. The moment the sun rises, I’ll lose all memory of yourself and the children, but I’ll get it at sunset again. Farewell!' But he wasn’t far gone till she was in sight of him again, leaving her boy behind. It was the same to–day as yesterday: their shadows went before them in the morning and followed them in the evening. He never stopped, and she never stopped, and as the sun was setting he turned up another lane, and there they found their little daughter. It was all joy and comfort again till morning, and then the third day’s journey commenced.
But before he started he gave her a comb, and told her that whenever she used it, pearls and diamonds would fall from her hair. Still he had his memory from
sunset to sunrise; but from sunrise to sunset he travelled on under the charm, and never threw his eye behind. This night they came to where the youngest baby was, and the next morning, just before sunrise, the prince spoke to her for the last time. 'Here, my poor wife,' said he,'is a little hand–reel, with gold thread that has no end, and the half of our marriage ring. If you ever get to my house, and put your half–ring to mine, I shall recollect you. There is a wood yonder, and
the moment I enter it I will forget everything that ever happened between us, just as if I was born yesterday. Farewell, dear wife and child, for ever!' Just then the sun rose, and away he walked towards the wood. She saw it open before him, and close after him, and when she came up, she could no more get in than she could break through a stone wall. She wrung her hands and shed tears, but then she recollected herself, and cried out, 'Wood, I charge you by my three magic gifts, the scissors, the comb, and the reel—to let me through'; and it opened, and she went along a walk till she came in sight of a palace, and a lawn, and a woodman’s cottage on the edge of the wood where it came nearest the palace. She went into this lodge, and asked the woodman and his wife to take her into their service. They were not willing at first; but she told them she would ask no wages, and would give them diamonds, and pearls, and silk stuffs, and gold thread whenever they wished for them, and then they agreed to let her stay.
It wasn’t long till she heard how a young prince, that was just arrived, was living in the palace of the young mistress. He seldom stirred abroad, and every one that saw him remarked how silent and sorrowful he went about, like a person that was searching for some lost thing.
The servants and conceited folk at the big house began to take notice of the beautiful young woman at the lodge, and to annoy her with their impudence. The head footman was the most troublesome, and at last she invited him to come and take tea with her. Oh, how rejoiced he was, and how he bragged of it in the servants' hall! Well, the evening came, and the footman walked into the lodge, and was shown to her sitting–room; for the lodge–keeper and his wife stood in great awe of her, and gave her two nice rooms for herself. Well, he sat down as stiff as a ramrod, and was talking in a grand style about the great doings at the castle, while she was getting the tea and toast ready. 'Oh,' says she to him, 'would you put your hand out at the window and cut me off a sprig or two of honeysuckle? He got up in great glee, and put out his hand and head; and said she, 'By the virtue of my magic gifts, let a pair of horns spring out of your head, and sing to the lodge.' Just as she wished, so it was. They sprung from the front of each ear, and met at the back. Oh, the poor wretch! And how he bawled and roared! and the servants that he used to be boasting to were soon flocking from the castle, and grinning and huzzaing, and beating tunes on tongs and shovels and pans; and he cursing and swearing, and the eyes ready to start out of his head, and he so black in the face, and kicking out his legs behind like mad.
At last she pitied him, and removed the charm, and the horns dropped down on the ground, and he would have killed her on the spot, only he was as weak as water, and his fellow–servants came in and carried him up to the big house.
Well, some way or other the story came to the ears of the prince, and he strolled down that way. She had only the dress of a countrywoman on her as she sat sewing at the window, but that did not hide her beauty, and he was greatly puzzled after he had a good look, just as a body is puzzled to know whether something happened to him when he was young or if he only dreamed it. Well, the witch’s daughter heard about it too, and she came to see the strange girl; and what did she find her doing but cutting out the pattern of a gown from brown paper; and as she cut away, the paper became the richest silk she ever saw. The witch’s daughter looked on with greedy eyes, and, says she, 'What would you be satisfied to take for that scissors?' 'I’ll take nothing,' says she, 'but leave to spend one night outside the prince’s chamber.' Well, the proud lady fired up, and was going to say something dreadful; but the scissors kept on cutting, and the silk growing richer and richer every inch. So she promised what the girl had asked her.
When the night came on she was let into the palace and lay down till the prince was in such a dead sleep that all she did couldn’t awake him. She sung this verse to him, sighing and sobbing, and kept singing it the night long, and it was all in vain:
Four long years
I was married to thee;
Three sweet babes
I bore to thee;
Brown Bear of Norway, won’t you turn to me?
At the first dawn the proud lady was in the chamber, and led her away, and the footman of the horns put out his tongue at her as she was quitting the palace.
So there was no luck so far; but the next day the prince passed by again and looked at her, and saluted her kindly, as a prince might a farmer’s daughter, and passed on; and soon the witch’s daughter passed by, and found her combing her hair, and pearls and diamonds dropping from it.
Well, another bargain was made, and the princess spent another night of sorrow, and she left the castle at daybreak, and the footman was at his post and enjoyed his revenge.
The third day the prince went by, and stopped to talk with the strange woman. He asked her could he do anything to serve her, and she said he might. She asked him did he ever wake at night. He said that he often did, but that during the last two nights he was listening to a sweet song in his dreams, and could not wake, and that the voice was one that he must have known and loved in some other world long ago. Says she, 'Did you drink any sleepy posset either of these evenings before you went to bed?' 'I did,' said he. 'The two evenings my wife gave me something to drink, but I don’t know whether it was a sleepy posset or not.' 'Well, prince,' said she, 'as you say you would wish to oblige me, you can do it by not tasting any drink to–night.' 'I will not,' says he, and then he went on his walk.
Well, the great lady came soon after the prince, and found the stranger using her hand–reel and winding thread of gold off it, and the third bargain was made.
That evening the prince was lying on his bed at twilight, and his mind much disturbed; and the door opened, and in his princess walked, and down she sat by his bedside and sung:
Four long years
I was married to thee;
Three sweet babes
I bore to thee;
Brown Bear of Norway, won’t you turn to me?
'Brown Bear of Norway!' said he. 'I don’t understand you.' 'Don’t you remember, prince, that I was your wedded wife for four years?' 'I do not,' said he, 'but I’m sure I wish it was so.' 'Don’t you remember our three babes, that are still alive?' 'Show me them. My mind is all a heap of confusion.' 'Look for the half of our marriage ring, that hangs at your neck, and fit it to this.' He did so, and the same moment the charm was broken. His full memory came back on him, and he flung his arms round his wife’s neck, and both burst into tears.
Well, there was a great cry outside, and the castle walls were heard splitting and cracking. Everyone in the castle was alarmed, and made their way out. The prince and princess went with the rest, and by the time all were safe on the lawn, down came the building, and made the ground tremble for miles round. No one ever saw the witch and her daughter afterwards. It was not long till the prince and princess had their children with them, and then they set out for their own palace. The kings of Ireland, and of Munster, and Ulster, and their wives, soon came to visit them, and may everyone that deserves it be as happy as the Brown Bear of Norway and his family.
From 'West Highland Tales.
The Pink Fairy Book
Once upon a time there lived a peasant called Ivan, and he had a wife whose name was Marie. They would have been quite happy except for one thing: they had no children to play with, and as they were now old people they did not find that watching the children of their neighbours at all made up to them for having one of their own.
One winter, which nobody living will ever forget, the snow lay so deep that it came up to the knees of even the tallest man. When it had all fallen, and the sun was shining again, the children ran out into the street to play, and the old man and his wife sat at their window and gazed at them. The children first made a sort of little terrace, and stamped it hard and firm, and then they began to make a snow woman. Ivan and Marie watched them, the while thinking about many things.
Suddenly Ivan's face brightened, and, looking at his wife, he said;
"Wife, why shouldn't we make a snow woman too?"
"Why not? - replied Marie, who happened to be in a very good temper - it might amuse us a little. But there is no use making a woman. Let us make a little snow child, and pretend it is a living one."
"Yes, let us do that", said Ivan, and he took down his cap and went into the garden with his old wife.
Then the two set to work with all their might to make a doll out of the snow. They shaped a little body and two little hands and two little feet. On top of all they placed a ball of snow, out of which the head was to be.
"What in the world are you doing?", asked a passer-by.
"Can't you guess?", returned Ivan.
"Making a snow-child", replied Marie.
They had finished the nose and the chin. Two holes were left for the eyes, and Ivan carefully shaped out the mouth. No sooner had he done so than he felt a warm breath upon his cheek. He started back in surprise and looked-and behold! the eyes of the child met his, and its lips, which were as red as raspberries, smiled at him!
"What is it?- cried Ivan, crossing himself - Am I mad, or is the thing bewitched?" The snow-child bent its head as if it had been really alive. It moved its little arms and its little legs in the snow that lay about it just as the living children did theirs. "Ah! Ivan, Ivan,- exclaimed Marie, trembling with joy- heaven has sent us a child at last!"
And she threw herself upon Snowflake (for that was the snow-child's name) and covered her with kisses. And the loose snow fell away from Snowflake as an egg shell does from an egg, and it was a little girl whom Marie held in her arms.
"Oh! my darling Snowflake!" cried the old woman, and led her into the cottage. And Snowflake grew fast; each hour as well as each day made a difference, and every day she became more and more beautiful.The old couple hardly knew how to contain themselves for joy, and thought of nothing else.The cottage was always full of village children, for they amused Snowflake, and there was nothing in the world they would not have done to amuse her. She was their doll, and they were continually inventing new dresses for her, and teaching her songs or playing with her. Nobody knew how clever she was! She noticed everything, and could learn a lesson in a moment. Anyone would have taken her for thirteen at least! And, besides all that, she was so good and obedient; and so pretty, too! Her skin was as white as snow, her eyes as blue as forget-me-nots, and her hair was long and golden. Only her cheeks had no colour in them, but were as fair as her forehead.
So the winter went on, till at last the spring sun mounted higher in the heavens and began to warm the earth. The grass grew green in the fields, and high in the air the larks were heard singing. The village girls met and danced in a ring, singing, 'Beautiful spring, how came you here? How came you here? Did you come on a plough, or was it a harrow?' Only Snowflake sat quite still by the window of the cottage.
"What is the matter, dear child? - asked Marie - Why are you so sad?Are you ill? or have they treated you unkindly?"
"No,- replied Snowflake, - it is nothing, mother; no one has hurt me; I am well." The spring sun had chased away the last snow from its hiding place under the hedges; the fields were full of flowers; nightingales sang in the trees, and all the world was gay. But the gayer grew the birds and the flowers the sadder became Snowflake. She hid herself from her playmates, and curled herself up where the shadows were deepest, like a lily amongst its leaves. Her only pleasure was to lie amid the green willows near some sparkling stream. At the dawn and at twilight only she seemed happy.When a great storm broke, and the earth was white with hail, she became bright and joyous as the Snowflake of old; but when the clouds passed, and the hail melted beneath the sun, Snowflake would burst into tears and weep as a sister would weep over her brother.
The spring passed, and it was the eve of St. John, or Midsummer Day. This was the greatest holiday of the year, when the young girls met in the woods to dance and play. They went to fetch Snowflake, and said to Marie: "Let her come and dance with us."
But Marie was afraid; she could not tell why, only she could not bear the child to go. Snowflake did not wish to go either, but they had no excuse ready. So Marie kissed the girl and said:
"Go, my Snowflake, and be happy with your friends, and you, dear children, be careful of her. You know she is the light of my eyes to me."
"Oh, we will take care of her", cried the girls gaily, and they ran off to the woods. There they wore wreaths, gathered nosegays, and sang songs some sad, some merry. And whatever they did Snowflake did too.
When the sun set they lit a fire of dry grass, and placed themselves in a row, Snowflake being the last of all. "Now, watch us,- they said, - and run just as we do."
And they all began to sing and to jump one after another across the fire. Suddenly, close behind them, they heard a sigh, then a groan. 'Ah!'
They turned hastily and looked at each other.There was nothing.They looked again. Where was Snowflake? She has hidden herself for fun, they thought, and searched for her everywhere. 'Snowflake! Snowflake!' But there was no answer. 'Where can she be? Oh, she must have gone home.' They returned to the village, but there was no Snowflake.
For days after that they sought her high and low.They examined every bush and every hedge, but there was no Snowflake. And long after everyone else had given up hope Ivan and Marie would wander through the woods crying 'Snowflake, my dove, come back, come back!' And sometimes they thought they heard a call, but it was never the voice of Snowflake.
And what had become of her? Had a fierce wild beast seized her and dragged her into his lair in the forest? Had some bird carried her off across the wide blue sea? No, no beast had touched her, no bird had borne her away.
With the first breath of flame that swept over her when she ran with her friends Snowflake had melted away, and a little soft haze floating upwards was all that remained of her.
(Snowflake - da "Contes Populaires Slaves").
The Goblin Pony
The Grey Fairy Book
"Don't stir from the fireplace to-night,' said old Peggy, 'for the wind is blowing so violently that the house shakes; besides, this is Hallow-e'en, when the witches are abroad, and the goblins, who are their servants, are wandering about in all sorts of disguises, doing harm to the children of men."
"Why should I stay here?' said the eldest of the young people. "No, I must go and see what the daughter of old Jacob, the rope-maker, is doing. She wouldn't close her blue eyes all night if I didn't visit her father before the moon had gone down."
"I must go and catch lobsters and crabs" said the second, "and not all the witches and goblins in the world shall hinder me."
So they all determined to go on their business or pleasure, and scorned the wise advice of old Peggy. Only the youngest child hesitated a minute, when she said to him, "You stay here, my little Richard, and I will tell you beautiful stories."
But he wanted to pick a bunch of wild thyme and some blackberries by moonlight, and ran out after the others. When they got outside the house they said: 'The old woman talks of wind and storm, but never was the weather finer or the sky more clear; see how majestically the moon stalks through the transparent clouds!"
Then all of a sudden they noticed a little black pony close beside them.
"Oh, ho!" they said, "that is old Valentine's pony; it must have escaped from its stable, and is going down to drink at the horse-pond.'"
"My pretty little pony," said the eldest, patting the creature with his hand, "you mustn't run too far; I'll take you to the pond myself."
With these words he jumped on the pony's back and was quickly followed by his second brother, then by the third, and so on, till at last they were all astride the little beast, down to the small Richard, who didn't like to be left behind.
On the way to the pond they met several of their companions, and they invited them all to mount the pony, which they did, and the little creature did not seem to mind the extra weight, but trotted merrily along.
The quicker it trotted the more the young people enjoyed the fun; they dug their heels into the pony's sides and called out, "Gallop, little horse, you have never had such brave riders on your back before!"
In the meantime the wind had risen again, and the waves began to howl; but the pony did not seem to mind the noise, and instead of going to the pond, cantered gaily towards the sea-shore.
Richard began to regret his thyme and blackberries, and the eldest brother seized the pony by the mane and tried to make it turn round, for he remembered the blue eyes of Jacob the rope-maker's daughter. But he tugged and pulled in vain, for the pony galloped straight on into the sea, till the waves met its forefeet. As soon as it felt the water it neighed lustily and capered about with glee, advancing quickly into the foaming billows. When the waves had covered the children's legs they repented their careless behaviour, and cried out: 'The cursed little black pony is bewitched. If we had only listened to old Peggy's advice we shouldn't have been lost.'
The further the pony advanced, the higher rose the sea; at last the waves covered the children's heads and they were all drowned. Towards morning old Peggy went out, for she was anxious about the fate of her grandchildren. She sought them high and low, but could not find them anywhere. She asked all the neighbours if they had seen the children, but no one knew anything about them, except that the eldest had not been with the blue-eyed daughter of Jacob the rope-maker.
As she was going home, bowed with grief, she saw a little black pony coming towards her, springing and curveting in every direction. When it got quite near her it neighed loudly, and galloped past her so quickly that in a moment it was out of her sight.