Part 2 out of 6
Ian Direach listened to the words of the fox, and he told a tale so
pitiful, that the king and queen, and the princess their daughter, all
came out to hear it. And when they had heard, nought would please them
except to go down to the shore and visit the ship, which by now was
floating, for the tide was up. Torn and battered was she, as if she
had passed through many dangers, yet music of a wondrous sweetness
poured forth from within.
'Bring hither a boat,' cried the princess, 'that I may go and see for
myself the harp that gives forth such music.' And a boat was brought,
and Ian Direach stepped in to row it to the side of the ship.
To the further side he rowed, so that none could see, and when he
helped the princess on board he gave a push to the boat, so that she
could not get back to it again. And the music sounded always sweeter,
though they could never see whence it came, and sought it from one part
of the vessel to another. When at last they reached the deck and
looked around them, nought of land could they see, or anything save the
The princess stood silent, and her face grew grim. At last she said:
'An ill trick have you played me! What is this that you have done, and
whither are we going?'
'It is a queen you will be,' answered Ian Direach, 'for the king of
Erin has sent me for you, and in return he will give me his bay colt,
that I may take him to the Seven Big Women of Dhiurradh, in exchange
for the White Sword of Light. This I must carry to the giant of the
Five Heads and Five Necks and Five Humps, and, in place of it, he will
bestow on me the blue falcon, which I have promised my stepmother, so
that she may free me from the spell which she has laid on me.'
'I would rather be wife to you,' answered the princess.
By-and-by the ship sailed into a harbour on the coast of Erin, and cast
anchor there. And Gille Mairtean the fox bade Ian Direach tell the
princess that she must bide yet a while in a cave amongst the rocks,
for they had business on land, and after a while they would return to
her. Then they took a boat and rowed up to some rocks, and as they
touched the land Gille Mairtean changed himself into a fair woman, who
laughed, and said to Ian Direach, 'I will give the king a fine wife.'
Now the king of Erin had been hunting on the hill, and when he saw a
strange ship sailing towards the harbour, he guessed that it might be
Ian Direach, and left his hunting, and ran down to the hill to the
stable. Hastily he led the bay colt from his stall, and put the golden
saddle on her back, and the silver bridle over his head, and with the
colt's bridle in his hand, he hurried to meet the princess.
'I have brought you the king of France's daughter,' said Ian Direach.
And the king of Erin looked at the maiden, and was well pleased, not
knowing that it was Gille Mairtean the fox. And he bowed low, and
besought her to do him the honour to enter the palace; and Gille
Mairtean, as he went in, turned to look back at Ian Direach, and
In the great hall the king paused and pointed to an iron chest which
stood in a corner.
'In that chest is the crown that has waited for you for many years,' he
said, 'and at last you have come for it.' And he stooped down to
unlock the box.
In an instant Gille Mairtean the fox had sprung on his back, and gave
him such a bite that he fell down unconscious. Quickly the fox took
his own shape again, and galloped away to the sea shore, where Ian
Direach and the princess and the bay colt awaited him.
'I will become a ship,' cried Gille Mairtean, 'and you shall go on
board me.' And so he did, and Ian Direach let the bay colt into the
ship and the princess went after them, and they set sail for Dhiurradh.
The wind was behind them, and very soon they saw the rocks of
Dhiurradh in front. Then spoke Gille Mairtean the fox:
'Let the bay colt and the king's daughter hide in these rocks, and I
will change myself into the colt, and go with you to the house of the
Seven Big Women.'
Joy filed the hearts of the Big Women when they beheld the bay colt led
up to their door by Ian Direach. And the youngest of them fetched the
White Sword of Light, and gave it into the hands of Ian Direach, who
took off the golden saddle and the silver bridle, and went down the
hill with the sword to the place where the princess and the real colt
'Now we shall have the ride that we have longed for!' cried the Seven
Big Women; and they saddled and bridled the colt, and the eldest one
got upon the saddle. Then the second sister sat on the back of the
first, and the third on the back of the second, and so on for the whole
seven. And when they were all seated, the eldest struck her side with
a whip and the colt bounded forward. Over the moors she flew, and
round and round the mountains, and still the Big Women clung to her and
snorted with pleasure. At last she leapt high in the air, and came
down on top of Monadh the high hill, where the crag is. And she rested
her fore feet on the crag, and threw up her hind legs, and the Seven
Big Women fell over the crag, and were dead when they reached the
bottom. And the colt laughed, and became a fox again and galloped away
to the sea shore, where Ian Direach, and the princess and the real colt
and the White Sword of Light were awaiting him.
'I will make myself into a ship,' said Gille Mairtean the fox, 'and
will carry you and the princess, and the bay colt and the White Sword
of Light, back to the land.' And when the shore was reached, Gille
Mairtean the fox took back his own shape, and spoke to Ian Direach in
'Let the princess and the White Sword of Light, and the bay colt,
remain among the rocks, and I will change myself into the likeness of
the White Sword of Light, and you shall bear me to the giant, and,
instead, he will give you the blue falcon.' And Ian Direach did as the
fox bade him, and set out for the giant's castle. From afar the giant
beheld the blaze of the White Sword of Light, and his heart rejoiced;
and he took the blue falcon and put it in a basket, and gave it to Ian
Direach, who bore it swiftly away to the place where the princess, and
the bay colt, and the real Sword of Light were awaiting him.
So well content was the giant to possess the sword he had coveted for
many a year, that he began at once to whirl it through the air, and to
cut and slash with it. For a little while Gille Mairtean let the giant
play with him in this manner; then he turned in the giant's hand, and
cut through the Five Necks, so that the Five Heads rolled on the
ground. Afterwards he went back to Ian Direach and said to him:
'Saddle the colt with the golden saddle, and bridle her with the silver
bridle, and sling the basket with the falcon over your shoulders, and
hold the White Sword of Light with its back against your nose. Then
mount the colt, and let the princess mount behind you, and ride thus to
your father's palace. But see that the back of the sword is ever
against your nose, else when your stepmother beholds you, she will
change you into a dry faggot. If, however, you do as I bid you, she
will become herself a bundle of sticks.'
Ian Direach hearkened to the words of Gille Mairtean, and his
stepmother fell as a bundle of sticks before him; and he set fire to
her, and was free from her spells for ever. After that he married the
princess, who was the best wife in all the islands of the West.
Henceforth he was safe from harm, for had he not the bay colt who could
leave one wind behind her and catch the other wind, and the blue falcon
to bring him game to eat, and the White Sword of Light to pierce
through his foes?
And Ian Direach knew that all this he owed to Gille Mairtean the fox,
and he made a compact with him that he might choose any beast out of
his herds, whenever hunger seized him, and that henceforth no arrow
should be let fly at him or at any of his race. But Gille Mairtean the
fox would take no reward for the help he had given to Ian Direach, only
his friendship. Thus all things prospered with Ian Direach till he
[From Tales of the West Highlands.]
The Ugly Duckling
It was summer in the land of Denmark, and though for most of the year
the country looks flat and ugly, it was beautiful now. The wheat was
yellow, the oats were green, the hay was dry and delicious to roll in,
and from the old ruined house which nobody lived in, down to the edge
of the canal, was a forest of great burdocks, so tall that a whole
family of children might have dwelt in them and never have been found
It was under these burdocks that a duck had built herself a warm nest,
and was not sitting all day on six pretty eggs. Five of them were
white, but the sixth, which was larger than the others, was of an ugly
grey colour. The duck was always puzzled about that egg, and how it
came to be so different from the rest. Other birds might have thought
that when the duck went down in the morning and evening to the water to
stretch her legs in a good swim, some lazy mother might have been on
the watch, and have popped her egg into the nest. But ducks are not
clever at all, and are not quick at counting, so this duck did not
worry herself about the matter, but just took care that the big egg
should be as warm as the rest.
This was the first set of eggs that the duck had ever laid, and, to
begin with, she was very pleased and proud, and laughed at the other
mothers, who were always neglecting their duties to gossip with each
other or to take little extra swims besides the two in the morning and
evening that were necessary for health. But at length she grew tired
of sitting there all day. 'Surely eggs take longer hatching than they
did,' she said to herself; and she pined for a little amusement also.
Still, she knew that if she left her eggs and the ducklings in them to
die none of her friends would ever speak to her again; so there she
stayed, only getting off the eggs several times a day to see if the
shells were cracking--which may have been the very reason why they did
not crack sooner.
She had looked at the eggs at least a hundred and fifty times, when, to
her joy, she saw a tiny crack on two of them, and scrambling back to
the nest she drew the eggs closer the one to the other, and never moved
for the whole of that day. Next morning she was rewarded by noticing
cracks in the whole five eggs, and by midday two little yellow heads
were poking out from the shells. This encouraged her so much that,
after breaking the shells with her bill, so that the little creatures
could get free of them, she sat steadily for a whole night upon the
nest, and before the sun arose the five white eggs were empty, and ten
pairs of eyes were gazing out upon the green world.
Now the duck had been carefully brought up, and did not like dirt, and,
besides, broken shells are not at all comfortable things to sit or walk
upon; so she pushed the rest out over the side, and felt delighted to
have some company to talk to till the big egg hatched. But day after
day went on, and the big egg showed no signs of cracking, and the duck
grew more and more impatient, and began to wish to consult her husband,
who never came.
'I can't think what is the matter with it,' the duck grumbled to her
neighbour who had called in to pay her a visit. 'Why I could have
hatched two broods in the time that this one has taken!'
'Let me look at it,' said the old neighbour. 'Ah, I thought so; it is
a turkey's egg. Once, when I was young, they tricked me to sitting on
a brood of turkey's eggs myself, and when they were hatched the
creatures were so stupid that nothing would make them learn to swim. I
have no patience when I think of it.'
'Well, I will give it another chance,' sighed the duck, 'and if it does
not come out of its shell in another twenty-four hours, I will just
leave it alone and teach the rest of them to swim properly and to find
their own food. I really can't be expected to do two things at once.'
And with a fluff of her feathers she pushed the egg into the middle of
All through the next day she sat on, giving up even her morning bath
for fear that a blast of cold might strike the big egg. In the
evening, when she ventured to peep, she thought she saw a tiny crack in
the upper part of the shell. Filled with hope, she went back to her
duties, though she could hardly sleep all night for excitement. When
she woke with the first steaks of light she felt something stirring
under her. Yes, there it was at last; and as she moved, a big awkward
bird tumbled head foremost on the ground.
There was no denying it was ugly, even the mother was forced to admit
that to herself, though she only said it was 'large' and 'strong.'
'You won't need any teaching when you are once in the water,' she told
him, with a glance of surprise at the dull brown which covered his
back, and at his long naked neck. And indeed he did not, though he was
not half so pretty to look at as the little yellow balls that followed
When they returned they found the old neighbour on the bank waiting for
them to take them into the duckyard. 'No, it is not a young turkey,
certainly,' whispered she in confidence to the mother, 'for though it
is lean and skinny, and has no colour to speak of, yet there is
something rather distinguished about it, and it holds its head up well.'
'It is very kind of you to say so,' answered the mother, who by this
time had some secret doubts of its loveliness. 'Of course, when you
see it by itself it is all right, though it is different, somehow, from
the others. But one cannot expect all one's children to be beautiful!'
By this time they had reached the centre of the yard, where a very old
duck was sitting, who was treated with great respect by all the fowls
'You must go up and bow low before her,' whispered the mother to her
children, nodding her head in the direction of the old lady, 'and keep
your legs well apart, as you see me do. No well-bred duckling turns in
its toes. It is a sign of common parents.'
The little ducks tried hard to make their small fat bodies copy the
movements of their mother, and the old lady was quite pleased with
them; but the rest of the ducks looked on discontentedly, and said to
'Oh, dear me, here are ever so many more! The yard is full already;
and did you ever see anything quite as ugly as that great tall
creature? He is a disgrace to any brood. I shall go and chase him
out!' So saying she put up her feathers, and running to the big
duckling bit his neck.
The duckling gave a loud quack; it was the first time he had felt any
pain, and at the sound his mother turned quickly.
'Leave him alone,' she said fiercely, 'or I will send for his father.
He was not troubling you.'
'No; but he is so ugly and awkward no one can put up with him,'
answered the stranger. And though the duckling did not understand the
meaning of the words, he felt he was being blamed, and became more
uncomfortable still when the old Spanish duck who ruled the fowlyard
'It certainly is a great pity he is so different from these beautiful
darlings. If he could only be hatched over again!'
The poor little fellow drooped his head, and did not know where to
look, but was comforted when his mother answered:
'He may not be quite as handsome as the others, but he swims better,
and is very strong; I am sure he will make his way in the world as well
'Well, you must feel quite at home here,' said the old duck waddling
off. And so they did, all except the duckling, who was snapped at by
everyone when they thought his mother was not looking. Even the
turkey-cock, who was so big, never passed him without mocking words,
and his brothers and sisters, who would not have noticed any difference
unless it had been put into their heads, soon became as rude and unkind
as the rest.
At last he could bear it no longer, and one day he fancied he saw signs
of his mother turning against him too; so that night, when the ducks
and hens were still asleep, he stole away through an open door, and
under cover of the burdock leaves scrambled on by the bank of the
canal, till he reached a wide grassy moor, full of soft marshy places
where the reeds grew. Here he lay down, but he was too tired and too
frightened to fall asleep, and with the earliest peep of the sun the
reeds began to rustle, and he saw that he had blundered into a colony
of wild ducks. But as he could not run away again he stood up and
'You are ugly,' said the wild ducks, when they had looked him well
over; 'but, however, it is no business of ours, unless you wish to
marry one of our daughters, and that we should not allow.' And the
duckling answered that he had no idea of marrying anybody, and wanted
nothing but to be left alone after his long journey.
So for two whole days he lay quietly among the reeds, eating such food
as he could find, and drinking the water of the moorland pool, till he
felt himself quite strong again. He wished he might stay were he was
for ever, he was so comfortable and happy, away from everyone, with
nobody to bite him and tell him how ugly he was.
He was thinking these thoughts, when two young ganders caught sight of
him as they were having their evening splash among the reeds, looking
for their supper.
'We are getting tired of this moor,' they said, 'and to-morrow we think
of trying another, where the lakes are larger and the feeding better.
Will you come with us?'
'Is it nicer than this?' asked the duckling doubtfully. And the words
were hardly out of his mouth, when 'Pif! pah!' and the two new- comers
were stretched dead beside him.
At the sound of the gun the wild ducks in the rushes flew into the air,
and for a few minutes the firing continued.
Luckily for himself the duckling could not fly, and he floundered along
through the water till he could hide himself amidst some tall ferns
which grew in a hollow. But before he got there he met a huge creature
on four legs, which he afterwards knew to be a dog, who stood and gazed
at him with a long red tongue hanging out of his mouth. The duckling
grew cold with terror, and tried to hide his head beneath his little
wings; but the dog snuffed at him and passed on, and he was able to
reach his place of shelter.
'I am too ugly even for a dog to eat,' said he to himself. 'Well, that
is a great mercy.' And he curled himself up in the soft grass till the
shots died away in the distance.
When all had been quiet for a long time, and there were only stars to
see him, he crept out and looked about him.
He would never go near a pool again, never, thought he; and seeing that
the moor stretched far away in the opposite direction from which he had
come, he marched bravely on till he got to a small cottage, which
seemed too tumbledown for the stones to hold together many hours
longer. Even the door only hung upon one hinge, and as the only light
in the room sprang from a tiny fire, the duckling edged himself
cautiously in, and lay down under a chair close to the broken door,
from which he could get out if necessary. But no one seemed to see him
or smell him; so he spend the rest of the night in peace.
Now in the cottage dwelt an old woman, her cat, and a hen; and it was
really they, and not she, who were masters of the house. The old
woman, who passed all her days in spinning yarn, which she sold at the
nearest town, loved both the cat and the hen as her own children, and
never contradicted them in any way; so it was their grace, and not
hers, that the duckling would have to gain.
It was only next morning, when it grew light, that they noticed their
visitor, who stood trembling before them, with his eye on the door
ready to escape at any moment. They did not, however, appear very
fierce, and the duckling became less afraid as they approached him.
'Can you lay eggs?' asked the hen. And the duckling answered meekly:
'No; I don't know how.' Upon which the hen turned her back, and the
cat came forward.
'Can you ruffle your fur when you are angry, or purr when you are
pleased?' said she. And again the duckling had to admit that he could
do nothing but swim, which did not seem of much use to anybody.
So the cat and the hen went straight off to the old woman, who was
still in bed.
'Such a useless creature has taken refuge here,' they said. 'It calls
itself a duckling; but it can neither lay eggs nor purr! What had we
better do with it?'
'Keep it, to be sure!' replied the old woman briskly. 'It is all
nonsense about it not laying eggs. Anyway, we will let it stay here
for a bit, and see what happens.'
So the duckling remained for three weeks, and shared the food of the
cat and the hen; but nothing in the way of eggs happened at all. Then
the sun came out, and the air grew soft, and the duckling grew tired of
being in a hut, and wanted with all his might to have a swim. And one
morning he got so restless that even his friends noticed it.
'What is the matter?' asked the hen; and the duckling told her.
'I am so longing for the water again. You can't think how delicious it
is to put your head under the water and dive straight to the bottom.'
'I don't think I should enjoy it,' replied the hen doubtfully. 'And I
don't think the cat would like it either.' And the cat, when asked,
agreed there was nothing she would hate so much.
'I can't stay here any longer, I Must get to the water,' repeated the
duck. And the cat and the hen, who felt hurt and offended, answered
'Very well then, go.'
The duckling would have liked to say good- bye, and thank them for
their kindness, as he was polite by nature; but they had both turned
their backs on him, so he went out of the rickety door feeling rather
sad. But, in spite of himself, he could not help a thrill of joy when
he was out in the air and water once more, and cared little for the
rude glances of the creatures he met. For a while he was quite happy
and content; but soon the winter came on, and snow began to fall, and
everything to grow very wet and uncomfortable. And the duckling soon
found that it is one thing to enjoy being in the water, and quite
another to like being damp on land.
The sun was setting one day, like a great scarlet globe, and the river,
to the duckling's vast bewilderment, was getting hard and slippery,
when he heard a sound of whirring wings, and high up in the air a flock
of swans were flying. They were as white as snow which had fallen
during the night, and their long necks with yellow bills were stretched
southwards, for they were going--they did not quite know whither--but
to a land where the sun shone all day. Oh, if he only could have gone
with them! But that was not possible, of course; and besides, what
sort of companion could an ugly thing like him be to those beautiful
beings? So he walked sadly down to a sheltered pool and dived to the
very bottom, and tried to think it was the greatest happiness he could
dream of. But, all the same, he knew it wasn't!
And every morning it grew colder and colder, and the duckling had hard
work to keep himself warm. Indeed, it would be truer to say that he
never was warm at all; and at last, after one bitter night, his legs
moved so slowly that the ice crept closer and closer, and when the
morning light broke he was caught fast, as in a trap; and soon his
senses went from him.
A few hours more and the poor duckling's life had been ended. But, by
good fortune, a man was crossing the river on his way to his work, and
saw in a moment what had happened. He had on thick wooden shoes, and
he went and stamped so hard on the ice that it broke, and then he
picked up the duckling and tucked him under his sheepskin coat, where
his frozen bones began to thaw a little.
Instead of going on his work, the man turned back and took the bird to
his children, who gave him a warm mess to eat and put him in a box by
the fire, and when they came back from school he was much more
comfortable than he had been since he had left the old woman's cottage.
They were kind little children, and wanted to play with him; but,
alas! the poor fellow had never played in his life, and thought they
wanted to tease him, and flew straight into the milk-pan, and then into
the butter-dish, and from that into the meal- barrel, and at last,
terrified at the noise and confusion, right out of the door, and hid
himself in the snow amongst the bushes at the back of the house.
He never could tell afterwards exactly how he had spent the rest of the
winter. He only knew that he was very miserable and that he never had
enough to eat. But by-and-by things grew better. The earth became
softer, the sun hotter, the birds sang, and the flowers once more
appeared in the grass. When he stood up, he felt different, somehow,
from what he had done before he fell asleep among the reeds to which he
had wandered after he had escaped from the peasant's hut. His body
seemed larger, and his wings stronger. Something pink looked at him
from the side of a hill. He thought he would fly towards it and see
what it was.
Oh, how glorious it felt to be rushing through the air, wheeling first
one way and then the other! He had never thought that flying could be
like that! The duckling was almost sorry when he drew near the pink
cloud and found it was made up of apple blossoms growing beside a
cottage whose garden ran down to the banks of the canal. He fluttered
slowly to the ground and paused for a few minutes under a thicket of
syringas, and while he was gazing about him, there walked slowly past a
flock of the same beautiful birds he had seen so many months ago.
Fascinated, he watched them one by one step into the canal, and float
quietly upon the waters as if they were part of them.
'I will follow them,' said the duckling to himself; 'ugly though I am,
I would rather be killed by them than suffer all I have suffered from
cold and hunger, and from the ducks and fowls who should have treated
me kindly.' And flying quickly down to the water, he swam after them
as fast as he could.
It did not take him long to reach them, for they had stopped to rest in
a green pool shaded by a tree whose branches swept the water. And
directly they saw him coming some of the younger ones swam out to meet
him with cries of welcome, which again the duckling hardly understood.
He approached them glad, yet trembling, and turning to one of the older
birds, who by this time had left the shade of the tree, he said:
'If I am to die, I would rather you should kill me. I don't know why I
was ever hatched, for I am too ugly to live.' And as he spoke, he
bowed his head and looked down into the water.
Reflected in the still pool he saw many white shapes, with long necks
and golden bills, and, without thinking, he looked for the dull grey
body and the awkward skinny neck. But no such thing was there.
Instead, he beheld beneath him a beautiful white swan!
'The new one is the best of all,' said the children when they came down
to feed the swans with biscuit and cake before going to bed. 'His
feathers are whiter and his beak more golden than the rest.' And when
he heard that, the duckling thought that it was worth while having
undergone all the persecution and loneliness that he had passed
through, as otherwise he would never have known what it was to be
The Two Caskets
Far, far away, in the midst of a pine forest, there lived a woman who
had both a daughter and a stepdaughter. Ever since her own daughter
was born the mother had given her all that she cried for, so she grew
up to be as cross and disagreeable as she was ugly. Her stepsister, on
the other hand, had spent her childhood in working hard to keep house
for her father, who died soon after his second marriage; and she was as
much beloved by the neighbours for her goodness and industry as she was
for her beauty.
As the years went on, the difference between the two girls grew more
marked, and the old woman treated her stepdaughter worse than ever, and
was always on the watch for some pretext for beating her, or depriving
her of her food. Anything, however foolish, was good enough for this,
and one day, when she could think of nothing better, she set both the
girls to spin while sitting on the low wall of the well.
'And you had better mind what you do,' said she, 'for the one whose
thread breaks first shall be thrown to the bottom.'
But of course she took good care that her own daughter's flax was fine
and strong, while the stepsister had only some coarse stuff, which no
one would have thought of using. As might be expected, in a very
little while the poor girl's thread snapped, and the old woman, who had
been watching from behind a door, seized her stepdaughter by her
shoulders, and threw her into the well.
'That is an end of you!' she said. But she was wrong, for it was only
Down, down, down went the girl--it seemed as if the well must reach to
the very middle of the earth; but at last her feet touched the ground,
and she found herself in a field more beautiful than even the summer
pastures of her native mountains. Trees waved in the soft breeze, and
flowers of the brightest colours danced in the grass. And though she
was quite alone, the girl's heart danced too, for she felt happier than
she had since her father died. So she walked on through the meadow
till she came to an old tumbledown fence--so old that it was a wonder
it managed to stand up at all, and it looked as if it depended for
support on the old man's beard that climbed all over it.
The girl paused for a moment as she came up, and gazed about for a
place where she might safely cross. But before she could move a voice
cried from the fence:
'Do not hurt me, little maiden; I am so old, so old, I have not much
longer to live.'
And the maiden answered:
'No, I will not hurt you; fear nothing.' And then seeing a spot where
the clematis grew less thickly than in other places, she jumped lightly
'May all go well with thee,' said the fence, as the girl walked on.
She soon left the meadow and turned into a path which ran between two
flowery hedges. Right in front of her stood an oven, and through its
open door she could see a pile of white loaves.
'Eat as many loaves as you like, but do me no harm, little maiden,'
cried the oven. And the maiden told her to fear nothing, for she never
hurt anything, and was very grateful for the oven's kindness in giving
her such a beautiful white loaf. When she had finished it, down to the
last crumb, she shut the oven door and said: 'Good-morning.'
'May all go well with thee,' said the oven, as the girl walked on.
By-and-by she became very thirsty, and seeing a cow with a milk-pail
hanging on her horn, turned towards her.
'Milk me and drink as much as you will, little maiden,' cried the cow,
'but be sure you spill none on the ground; and do me no harm, for I
have never harmed anyone.'
'Nor I,' answered the girl; 'fear nothing.' So she sat down and milked
till the pail was nearly full. Then she drank it all up except a
little drop at the bottom.
'Now throw any that is left over my hoofs, and hang the pail on my
horns again,' said the cow. And the girl did as she was bid, and
kissed the cow on her forehead and went her way.
Many hours had now passed since the girl had fallen down the well, and
the sun was setting.
'Where shall I spend the night?' thought she. And suddenly she saw
before her a gate which she had not noticed before, and a very old
woman leaning against it.
'Good evening,' said the girl politely; and the old woman answered:
'Good evening, my child. Would that everyone was as polite as you.
Are you in search of anything?'
'I am in search of a place,' replied the girl; and the woman smiled and
'Then stop a little while and comb my hair, and you shall tell me all
the things you can do.'
'Willingly, mother,' answered the girl. And she began combing out the
old woman's hair, which was long and white.
Half an hour passed in this way, and then the old woman said:
'As you did not think yourself too good to comb me, I will show you
where you may take service. Be prudent and patient and all will go
So the girl thanked her, and set out for a farm at a little distance,
where she was engaged to milk the cows and sift the corn.
As soon as it was light next morning the girl got up and went into the
cow-house. 'I'm sure you must be hungry,' said she, patting each in
turn. And then she fetched hay from the barn, and while they were
eating it, she swept out the cow-house, and strewed clean straw upon
the floor. The cows were so pleased with the care she took of them
that they stood quite still while she milked them, and did not play any
of the tricks on her that they had played on other dairymaids who were
rough and rude. And when she had done, and was going to get up from
her stool, she found sitting round her a whole circle of cats, black
and white, tabby and tortoise- shell, who all cried with one voice:
'We are very thirsty, please give us some milk!'
'My poor little pussies,' said she, 'of course you shall have some.'
And she went into the dairy, followed by all the cats, and gave each
one a little red saucerful. But before they drank they all rubbed
themselves against her knees and purred by way of thanks.
The next thing the girl had to do was to go to the storehouse, and to
sift the corn through a sieve. While she was busy rubbing the corn she
heard a whirr of wings, and a flock of sparrows flew in at the window.
'We are hungry; give us some corn! give us some corn!' cried they; and
the girl answered:
'You poor little birds, of course you shall have some!' and scattered a
fine handful over the floor. When they had finished they flew on her
shoulders and flapped their wings by way of thanks.
Time went by, and no cows in the whole country-side were so fat and
well tended as hers, and no dairy had so much milk to show. The
farmer's wife was so well satisfied that she gave her higher wages, and
treated her like her own daughter. At length, one day, the girl was
bidden by her mistress to come into the kitchen, and when there, the
old woman said to her: 'I know you can tend cows and keep a diary; now
let me see what you can do besides. Take this sieve to the well, and
fill it with water, and bring it home to me without spilling one drop
by the way.'
The girl's heart sank at this order; for how was it possible for her to
do her mistress's bidding? However, she was silent, and taking the
sieve went down to the well with it. Stopping over the side, she
filled it to the brim, but as soon as she lifted it the water all ran
out of the holes. Again and again she tried, but not a drop would
remaining in the sieve, and she was just turning away in despair when a
flock of sparrows flew down from the sky.
'Ashes! ashes!' they twittered; and the girl looked at them and said:
'Well, I can't be in a worse plight than I am already, so I will take
your advice.' And she ran back to the kitchen and filled her sieve
with ashes. Then once more she dipped the sieve into the well, and,
behold, this time not a drop of water disappeared!
'Here is the sieve, mistress,' cried the girl, going to the room where
the old woman was sitting.
'You are cleverer than I expected,' answered she; 'or else someone
helped you who is skilled in magic.' But the girl kept silence, and
the old woman asked her no more questions.
Many days passed during which the girl went about her work as usual,
but at length one day the old woman called her and said:
'I have something more for you to do. There are here two yarns, the
one white, the other black. What you must do is to wash them in the
river till the black one becomes white and the white black.' And the
girl took them to the river and washed hard for several hours, but wash
as she would they never changed one whit.
'This is worse than the sieve,' thought she, and was about to give up
in despair when there came a rush of wings through the air, and on
every twig of the birch trees which grew by the bank was perched a
'The black to the east, the white to the west!' they sang, all at once;
and the girl dried her tears and felt brave again. Picking up the
black yarn, she stood facing the east and dipped it in the river, and
in an instant it grew white as snow, then turning to the west, she held
the white yarn in the water, and it became as black as a crow's wing.
She looked back at the sparrows and smiled and nodded to them, and
flapping their wings in reply they flew swiftly away.
At the sight of the yarn the old woman was struck dumb; but when at
length she found her voice she asked the girl what magician had helped
her to do what no one had done before. But she got no answer, for the
maiden was afraid of bringing trouble on her little friends.
For many weeks the mistress shut herself up in her room, and the girl
went about her work as usual. She hoped that there was an end to the
difficult tasks which had been set her; but in this she was mistaken,
for one day the old woman appeared suddenly in the kitchen, and said to
'There is one more trial to which I must put you, and if you do not
fail in that you will be left in peace for evermore. Here are the
yarns which you washed. Take them and weave them into a web that is as
smooth as a king's robe, and see that it is spun by the time that the
'This is the easiest thing I have been set to do,' thought the girl,
who was a good spinner. But when she began she found that the skein
tangled and broke every moment.
'Oh, I can never do it!' she cried at last, and leaned her head against
the loom and wept; but at that instant the door opened, and there
entered, one behind another, a procession of cats.
'What is the matter, fair maiden?' asked they. And the girl answered:
'My mistress has given me this yarn to weave into a piece of cloth,
which must be finished by sunset, and I have not even begun yet, for
the yarn breaks whenever I touch it.'
'If that is all, dry your eyes,' said the cats; 'we will manage it for
you.' And they jumped on the loom, and wove so fast and so skilfully
that in a very short time the cloth was ready and was as fine as any
king ever wore. The girl was so delighted at the sight of it that she
gave each cat a kiss on his forehead as they left the room behind one
the other as they had come.
'Who has taught you this wisdom?' asked the old woman, after she had
passed her hands twice or thrice over the cloth and could find no
roughness anywhere. But the girl only smiled and did not answer. She
had learned early the value of silence.
After a few weeks the old woman sent for her maid and told her that as
her year of service was now up, she was free to return home, but that,
for her part, the girl had served her so well that she hoped she might
stay with her. But at these words the maid shook her head, and
'I have been happy here, Madam, and I thank you for your goodness to
me; but I have left behind me a stepsister and a stepmother, and I am
fain to be with them once more.' The old woman looked at her for a
moment, and then she said:
'Well, that must be as you like; but as you have worked faithfully for
me I will give you a reward. Go now into the loft above the store
house and there you will find many caskets. Choose the one which
pleases you best, but be careful not to open it till you have set it in
the place where you wish it to remain.'
The girl left the room to go to the loft, and as soon as she got
outside, she found all the cats waiting for her. Walking in
procession, as was their custom, they followed her into the loft, which
was filled with caskets big and little, plain and splendid. She lifted
up one and looked at it, and then put it down to examine another yet
more beautiful. Which should she choose, the yellow or the blue, the
red or the green, the gold or the silver? She hesitated long, and went
first to one and then to another, when she heard the cats' voices
calling: 'Take the black! take the black!'
The words make her look round--she had seen no black casket, but as the
cats continued their cry she peered into several corners that had
remained unnoticed, and at length discovered a little black box, so
small and so black, that it might easily have been passed over.
'This is the casket that pleases me best, mistress,' said the girl,
carrying it into the house. And the old woman smiled and nodded, and
bade her go her way. So the girl set forth, after bidding farewell to
the cows and the cats and the sparrows, who all wept as they said
She walked on and on and on, till she reached the flowery meadow, and
there, suddenly, something happened, she never knew what, but she was
sitting on the wall of the well in her stepmother's yard. Then she got
up and entered the house.
The woman and her daughter stared as if they had been turned into
stone; but at length the stepmother gasped out:
'So you are alive after all! Well, luck was ever against me! And
where have you been this year past?' Then the girl told how she had
taken service in the under-world, and, beside her wages, had brought
home with her a little casket, which she would like to set up in her
'Give me the money, and take the ugly little box off to the outhouse,'
cried the woman, beside herself with rage, and the girl, quite
frightened at her violence, hastened away, with her precious box
clasped to her bosom.
The outhouse was in a very dirty state, as no one had been near it
since the girl had fallen down the well; but she scrubbed and swept
till everything was clean again, and then she placed the little casket
on a small shelf in the corner.
'Now I may open it,' she said to herself; and unlocking it with the key
which hung to its handle, she raised the lid, but started back as she
did so, almost blinded by the light that burst upon her. No one would
ever have guessed that that little black box could have held such a
quantity of beautiful things! Rings, crowns, girdles, necklaces--all
made of wonderful stones; and they shone with such brilliance that not
only the stepmother and her daughter but all the people round came
running to see if the house was on fire. Of course the woman felt
quite ill with greed and envy, and she would have certainly taken all
the jewels for herself had she not feared the wrath of the neighbours,
who loved her stepdaughter as much as they hated her.
But if she could not steal the casket and its contents for herself, at
least she could get another like it, and perhaps a still richer one.
So she bade her own daughter sit on the edge of the well, and threw her
into the water, exactly as she had done to the other girl; and, exactly
as before, the flowery meadow lay at the bottom.
Every inch of the way she trod the path which her stepsister had
trodden, and saw the things which she had seen; but there the likeness
ended. When the fence prayed her to do it no harm, she laughed rudely,
and tore up some of the stakes so that she might get over the more
easily; when the oven offered her bread, she scattered the loaves onto
the ground and stamped on them; and after she had milked the cow, and
drunk as much as she wanted, she threw the rest on the grass, and
kicked the pail to bits, and never heard them say, as they looked after
her: 'You shall not have done this to me for nothing!'
Towards evening she reached the spot where the old woman was leaning
against the gate- post, but she passed her by without a word.
'Have you no manners in your country?' asked the crone.
'I can't stop and talk; I am in a hurry,' answered the girl. 'It is
getting late, and I have to find a place.'
'Stop and comb my hair for a little,' said the old woman, 'and I will
help you to get a place.'
'Comb your hair, indeed! I have something better to do than that!' And
slamming the gate in the crone's face she went her way. And she never
heard the words that followed her: 'You shall not have done this to me
By-and-by the girl arrived at the farm, and she was engaged to look
after the cows and sift the corn as her stepsister had been. But it
was only when someone was watching her that she did her work; at other
times the cow-house was dirty, and the cows ill-fed and beaten, so that
they kicked over the pail, and tried to butt her; and everyone said
they had never seen such thin cows or such poor milk. As for the cats,
she chased them away, and ill-treated them, so that they had not even
the spirit to chase the rats and mice, which nowadays ran about
everywhere. And when the sparrows came to beg for some corn, they
fared no better than the cows and the cats, for the girl threw her
shoes at them, till they flew in a fright to the woods, and took
shelter amongst the trees.
Months passed in this manner, when, one day, the mistress called the
girl to her.
'All that I have given you to do you have done ill,' said she, 'yet
will I give you another chance. For though you cannot tend cows, or
divide the grain from the chaff, there may be other things that you can
do better. Therefore take this sieve to the well, and fill it with
water, and see that you bring it back without spilling a drop.'
The girl took the sieve and carried it to the well as her sister had
done; but no little birds came to help her, and after dipping it in the
well two or three times she brought it back empty.
'I thought as much,' said the old woman angrily; 'she that is useless
in one thing is useless in another.'
Perhaps the mistress may have thought that the girl had learnt a
lesson, but, if she did, she was quite mistaken, as the work was no
better done than before. By-and-by she sent for her again, and gave
her maid the black and white yarn to wash in the river; but there was
no one to tell her the secret by which the black would turn white, and
the white black; so she brought them back as they were. This time the
old woman only looked at her grimly but the girl was too well pleased
with herself to care what anyone thought about her.
After some weeks her third trial came, and the yarn was given her to
spin, as it had been given to her stepsister before her.
But no procession of cats entered the room to weave a web of fine
cloth, and at sunset she only brought back to her mistress an armful of
dirty, tangled wool.
'There seems nothing in the world you can do,' said the old woman, and
left her to herself.
Soon after this the year was up, and the girl went to her mistress to
tell her that she wished to go home.
'Little desire have I to keep you,' answered the old woman, 'for no one
thing have you done as you ought. Still, I will give you some payment,
therefore go up into the loft, and choose for yourself one of the
caskets that lies there. But see that you do not open it till you
place it where you wish it to stay.'
This was what the girl had been hoping for, and so rejoiced was she,
that, without even stopping to thank the old woman, she ran as fast as
she could to the loft. There were the caskets, blue and red, green and
yellow, silver and gold; and there in the corner stood a little black
casket just like the one her stepsister had brought home.
'If there are so many jewels in that little black thing, this big red
one will hold twice the number,' she said to herself; and snatching it
up she set off on her road home without even going to bid farewell to
'See, mother, see what I have brought!' cried she, as she entered the
cottage holding the casket in both hands.
'Ah! you have got something very different from that little black box,'
answered the old woman with delight. But the girl was so busy finding
a place for it to stand that she took little notice of her mother.
'It will look best here--no, here,' she said, setting it first on one
piece of furniture and then on another. 'No, after all it is to fine
to live in a kitchen, let us place it in the guest chamber.'
So mother and daughter carried it proudly upstairs and put it on a
shelf over the fireplace; then, untying the key from the handle, they
opened the box. As before, a bright light leapt out directly the lid
was raised, but it did not spring from the lustre of jewels, but from
hot flames, which darted along the walls and burnt up the cottage and
all that was in it and the mother and daughter as well.
As they had done when the stepdaughter came home, the neighbours all
hurried to see what was the matter; but they were too late. Only the
hen-house was left standing; and, in spite of her riches, there the
stepdaughter lived happily to the end of her days.
[From Thorpe's Yule-Tide Stories.]
The Goldsmith's Fortune
Once upon a time there was a goldsmith who lived in a certain village
where the people were as bad and greedy, and covetous, as they could
possibly be; however, in spite of his surroundings, he was fat and
prosperous. He had only one friend whom he liked, and that was a
cowherd, who looked after cattle for one of the farmers in the village.
Every evening the goldsmith would walk across to the cowherd's house
and say: 'Come, let's go out for a walk!'
Now the cowherd didn't like walking in the evening, because, he said,
he had been out grazing the cattle all day, and was glad to sit down
when night came; but the goldsmith always worried him so that the poor
man had to go against his will. This at last so annoyed him that he
tried to think how he could pick a quarrel with the goldsmith, so that
he should not beg him to walk with him any more. He asked another
cowherd for advice, and he said the best thing he could do was to go
across and kill the goldsmith's wife, for then the goldsmith would be
sure to regard him as an enemy; so, being a foolish person, and there
being no laws in that country by which a man would be certainly
punished for such a crime, the cowherd one evening took a big stick and
went across to the goldsmith's house when only Mrs. Goldsmith was at
home, and banged her on the head so hard that she died then and there.
When the goldsmith came back and found his wife dead he said nothing,
but just took her outside into the dark lane and propped her up against
the wall of his house, and then went into the courtyard and waited.
Presently a rich stranger came along the lane, and seeing someone
there, as he supposed, he said:
'Good-evening, friend! a fine night to- night!' But the goldsmith's
wife said nothing. The man then repeated his words louder; but still
there was no reply. A third time he shouted:
'Good-evening, friend! are you deaf?' but the figure never replied.
Then the stranger, being angry at what he thought very rude behaviour,
picked up a big stone and threw it at Mrs. Goldsmith, crying:
'Let that teach you manners!'
Instantly poor Mrs. Goldsmith tumbled over; and the stranger,
horrified at seeing what he had done, was immediately seized by the
goldsmith, who ran out screaming:
'Wretch! you have killed my wife! Oh, miserable one; we will have
justice done to thee!'
With many protestations and reproaches they wrangled together, the
stranger entreating the goldsmith to say nothing and he would pay him
handsomely to atone for the sad accident. At last the goldsmith
quieted down, and agreed to accept one thousand gold pieces from the
stranger, who immediately helped him to bury his poor wife, and then
rushed off to the guest house, packed up his things and was off by
daylight, lest the goldsmith should repent and accuse him as the
murderer of his wife. Now it very soon appeared that the goldsmith had
a lot of extra money, so that people began to ask questions, and
finally demanded of him the reason for his sudden wealth.
'Oh,' said he, 'my wife died, and I sold her.'
'You sold your dead wife?' cried the people.
'Yes,' said the goldsmith.
'For how much?'
'A thousand gold pieces,' replied the goldsmith.
Instantly the villagers went away and each caught hold of his own wife
and throttled her, and the next day they all went off to sell their
dead wives. Many a weary mile did they tramp, but got nothing but hard
words or laughter, or directions to the nearest cemetery, from people
to whom they offered dead wives for sale. At last they perceived that
they had been cheated somehow by that goldsmith. So off they rushed
home, seized the unhappy man, and, without listening to his cries and
entreaties, hurried him down to the river bank and flung
him--plop!--into the deepest, weediest, and nastiest place they could
'That will teach him to play tricks on us,' said they. 'For as he
can't swim he'll drown, and we sha'n't have any more trouble with him!'
Now the goldsmith really could not swim, and as soon as he was thrown
into the deep river he sank below the surface; so his enemies went away
believing that they had seen the last of him. But, in reality, he was
carried down, half drowned, below the next bend in the river, where he
fortunately came across a 'snag' floating in the water (a snag is, you
know, a part of a tree or bush which floats very nearly under the
surface of the water); and he held on to this snag, and by great good
luck eventually came ashore some two or three miles down the river. At
the place where he landed he came across a fine fat cow buffalo, and
immediately he jumped on her back and rode home. When the village
people saw him, they ran out in surprise, and said:
'Where on earth do you come from, and where did you get that buffalo?'
'Ah!' said the goldsmith, 'you little know what delightful adventures I
have had! Why, down in that place in the river where you threw me in I
found meadows, and trees, and fine pastures, and buffaloes, and all
kinds of cattle. In fact, I could hardly tear myself away; but I
thought that I must really let you all know about it.'
'Oh, oh!' thought the greedy village people; 'if there are buffaloes to
be had for the taking we'll go after some too.' Encouraged by the
goldsmith they nearly all ran off the very next morning to the river;
and, in order that they might get down quickly to the beautiful place
the goldsmith told them of, they tied great stones on to their feet and
their necks, and one after another they jumped into the water as fast
as the could, and were drowned. And whenever any one of them waved his
hands about and struggled the goldsmith would cry out:
'Look! he's beckoning the rest of you to come; he's got a fine
buffalo!' And others who were doubtful would jump in, until not one was
left. Then the cunning goldsmith went back and took all the village
for himself, and became very rich indeed. But do you think he was
happy? Not a bit. Lies never made a man happy yet. Truly, he got the
better of a set of wicked and greedy people, but only by being wicked
and greedy himself; and, as it turned out, when he got so rich he got
very fat; and at last was so fat that he couldn't move, and one day he
got the apoplexy and died, and no one in the world cared the least bit.
[Told by a Pathan to Major Campbell.]
The Enchanted Wreath
Once upon a time there lived near a forest a man and his wife and two
girls; one girl was the daughter of the man, and the other the daughter
of his wife; and the man's daughter was good and beautiful, but the
woman's daughter was cross and ugly. However, her mother did not know
that, but thought her the most bewitching maiden that ever was seen.
One day the man called to his daughter and bade her come with him into
the forest to cut wood. They worked hard all day, but in spite of the
chopping they were very cold, for it rained heavily, and when they
returned home, they were wet through. Then, to his vexation, the man
found that he had left his axe behind him, and he knew that if it lay
all night in the mud it would become rusty and useless. So he said to
'I have dropped my axe in the forest, bid your daughter go and fetch
it, for mine has worked hard all day and is both wet and weary.'
But the wife answered:
'If your daughter is wet already, it is all the more reason that she
should go and get the axe. Besides, she is a great strong girl, and a
little rain will not hurt her, while my daughter would be sure to catch
a bad cold.'
By long experience the man knew there was no good saying any more, and
with a sigh he told the poor girl she must return to the forest for the
The walk took some time, for it was very dark, and her shoes often
stuck in the mud, but she was brave as well as beautiful and never
thought of turning back merely because the path was both difficult and
unpleasant. At last, with her dress torn by brambles that she could
not see, and her fact scratched by the twigs on the trees, she reached
the spot where she and her father had been cutting in the morning, and
found the axe in the place he had left it. To her surprise, three
little doves were sitting on the handle, all of them looking very sad.
'You poor little things,' said the girl, stroking them. 'Why do you
sit there and get wet? Go and fly home to your nest, it will be much
warmer than this; but first eat this bread, which I saved from my
dinner, and perhaps you will feel happier. It is my father's axe you
are sitting on, and I must take it back as fast as I can, or I shall
get a terrible scolding from my stepmother.' She then crumbled the
bread on the ground, and was pleased to see the doves flutter quite
cheerfully towards it.
'Good-bye,' she said, picking up the axe, and went her way homewards.
By the time they had finished all the crumbs the doves felt must
better, and were able to fly back to their nest in the top of a tree.
'That is a good girl,' said one; 'I really was too weak to stretch out
a wing before she came. I should like to do something to show how
grateful I am.'
'Well, let us give her a wreath of flowers that will never fade as long
as she wears it,' cried another.
'And let the tiniest singing birds in the world sit amongst the
flowers,' rejoined the third.
'Yes, that will do beautifully,' said the first. And when the girl
stepped into her cottage a wreath of rosebuds was on her head, and a
crowd of little birds were singing unseen.
The father, who was sitting by the fire, thought that, in spite of her
muddy clothes, he had never seen his daughter looking so lovely; but
the stepmother and the other girl grew wild with envy.
'How absurd to walk about on such a pouring night, dressed up like
that,' she remarked crossly, and roughly pulled off the wreath as she
spoke, to place it on her own daughter. As she did so the roses became
withered and brown, and the birds flew out of the window.
'See what a trumpery thing it is!' cried the stepmother; 'and now take
your supper and go to bed, for it is near upon midnight.'
But though she pretended to despise the wreath, she longed none the
less for her daughter to have one like it.
Now it happened that the next evening the father, who had been alone in
the forest, came back a second time without his axe. The stepmother's
heart was glad when she saw this, and she said quite mildly:
'Why, you have forgotten your axe again, you careless man! But now
your daughter shall stay at home, and mine shall go and bring it back';
and throwing a cloak over the girl's shoulders, she bade her hasten to
With a very ill grace the damsel set forth, grumbling to herself as she
went; for though she wished for the wreath, she did not at all want the
trouble of getting it.
By the time she reached the spot where her stepfather had been cutting
the wood the girl was in a very bad temper indeed, and when she caught
sight of the axe, there were the three little doves, with drooping
heads and soiled, bedraggled feathers, sitting on the handle.
'You dirty creatures,' cried she, 'get away at once, or I will throw
stones at you! And the doves spread their wings in a fright and flew
up to the very top of a tree, their bodies shaking with anger.
'What shall we do to revenge ourselves on her?' asked the smallest of
the doves, 'we were never treated like that before.'
'Never,' said the biggest dove. 'We must find some way of paying her
back in her own coin!'
'I know,' answered the middle dove; 'she shall never be able to say
anything but "dirty creatures" to the end of her life.'
'Oh, how clever of you! That will do beautifully,' exclaimed the other
two. And they flapped their wings and clucked so loud with delight,
and made such a noise, that they woke up all the birds in the trees
'What in the world is the matter?' asked the birds sleepily.
'That is our secret,' said the doves.
Meanwhile the girl had reached home crosser than ever; but as soon as
her mother heard her lift the latch of the door she ran out to hear her
adventures. 'Well, did you get the wreath?' cried she.
'Dirty creatures!' answered her daughter.
'Don't speak to me like that! What do you mean?' asked the mother
'Dirty creatures!' repeated the daughter, and nothing else could she
Then the woman saw that something evil had befallen her, and turned in
her rage to her stepdaughter.
'You are at the bottom of this, I know,' she cried; and as the father
was out of the way she took a stick and beat the girl till she screamed
with pain and went to bed sobbing.
If the poor girl's life had been miserable before, it was ten times
worse now, for the moment her father's back was turned the others
teased and tormented her from morning till night; and their fury was
increased by the sight of her wreath, which the doves had placed again
on her head.
Things went on like this for some weeks, when, one day, as the king's
son was riding through the forest, he heard some strange birds singing
more sweetly than birds had ever sung before. He tied his horse to a
tree, and followed where the sound led him, and, to his surprise, he
saw before him a beautiful girl chopping wood, with a wreath of pink
rose-buds, out of which the singing came. Standing in the shelter of a
tree, he watched her a long while, and then, hat in hand, he went up
and spoke to her.
'Fair maiden, who are you, and who gave you that wreath of singing
roses?' asked he, for the birds were so tiny that till you looked
closely you never saw them.
'I live in a hut on the edge of the forest,' she answered, blushing,
for she had never spoken to a prince before. 'As to the wreath, I know
not how it came there, unless it may be the gift of some doves whom I
fed when they were starving! The prince was delighted with this
answer, which showed the goodness of the girl's heart, and besides he
had fallen in love with her beauty, and would not be content till she
promised to return with him to the palace, and become his bride. The
old king was naturally disappointed at his son's choice of a wife, as
he wished him to marry a neighbouring princess; but as from his birth
the prince had always done exactly as he like, nothing was said and a
splendid wedding feast was got ready.
The day after her marriage the bride sent a messenger, bearing handsome
presents to her father, and telling him of the good fortune which had
befallen her. As may be imagined, the stepmother and her daughter were
so filled with envy that they grew quite ill, and had to take to their
beds, and nobody would have been sorry it they had never got up again;
but that did not happen. At length, however, they began to feel
better, for the mother invented a plan by which she could be revenged
on the girl who had never done her any harm.
Her plan was this. In the town where she had lived before she was
married there was an old witch, who had more skill in magic that any
other witch she knew. To this witch she would go and beg her to make
her a mask with the face of her stepdaughter, and when she had the mask
the rest would be easy. She told her daughter what she meant to do,
and although the daughter could only say 'dirty creatures,' in answer,
she nodded and smiled and looked well pleased.
Everything fell out exactly as the woman had hoped. By the aid of her
magic mirror the witch beheld the new princess walking in her gardens
in a dress of green silk, and in a few minutes had produced a mask so
like her, that very few people could have told the difference.
However, she counselled the woman that when her daughter first wore
it-- for that, of course, was what she intended her to do--she had
better pretend that she had a toothache, and cover her head with a lace
veil. The woman thanked her and paid her well, and returned to her
hut, carrying the mask under her cloak.
In a few days she heard that a great hunt was planned, and the prince
would leave the palace very early in the morning, so that his wife
would be alone all day. This was a chance not to be missed, and taking
her daughter with her she went up to the palace, where she had never
been before. The princess was too happy in her new home to remember
all that she had suffered in the old one, and she welcomed them both
gladly, and gave them quantities of beautiful things to take back with
them. At last she took them down to the shore to see a pleasure boat
which her husband had had made for her; and here, the woman seizing her
opportunity, stole softly behind the girl and pushed her off the rock
on which she was standing, into the deep water, where she instantly
sank to the bottom. Then she fastened the mask on her daughter, flung
over her shoulders a velvet cloak, which the princess had let fall, and
finally arranged a lace veil over her head.
'Rest your cheek on your hand, as if you were in pain, when the prince
returns,' said the mother; 'and be careful not to speak, whatever you
do. I will go back to the witch and see if she cannot take off the
spell laid on you by those horrible birds. Ah! why did I not think of
No sooner had the prince entered the palace than he hastened to the
princess's apartments, where he found her lying on the sofa apparently
in great pain.
'My dearest wife, what is the matter with you?' he cried, kneeling down
beside her, and trying to take her hand; but she snatched it away, and
pointing to her cheek murmured something he could not catch.
'What is it? tell me! Is the pain bad? When did it begin? Shall I
send for your ladies to bath the place?' asked the prince, pouring out
these and a dozen other questions, to which the girl only shook her
'But I can't leave you like this,' he continued, starting up, 'I must
summon all the court physicians to apply soothing balsams to the sore
place! And as he spoke he sprang to his feet to go in search of them.
This so frightened the pretended wife, who knew that if the physicians
once came near her the trick would at once be discovered, that she
forgot her mother's counsel not to speak, and forgot even the spell
that had been laid upon her, and catching hold of the prince's tunic,
she cried in tones of entreaty: 'Dirty creatures!'
The young man stopped, not able to believe his ears, but supposed that
pain had made the princess cross, as it sometimes does. However, he
guessed somehow that she wised to be left alone, so he only said:
'Well, I dare say a little sleep will do you good, if you can manage to
get it, and that you will wake up better to-morrow.'
Now, that night happened to be very hot and airless, and the prince,
after vainly trying to rest, at length got up and went to the window.
Suddenly he beheld in the moonlight a form with a wreath of roses on
her head rise out of the sea below him and step on to the sands,
holding out her arms as she did so towards the palace.
'That maiden is strangely like my wife,' thought he; 'I must see her
closer! And he hastened down to the water. But when he got there,
the princess, for she indeed it was, had disappeared completely, and he
began to wonder if his eyes had deceived him.
The next morning he went to the false bride's room, but her ladies told
him she would neither speak nor get up, though she ate everything they
set before her. The prince was sorely perplexed as to what could be
the matter with her, for naturally he could not guess that she was
expecting her mother to return every moment, and to remove the spell
the doves had laid upon her, and meanwhile was afraid to speak lest she
should betray herself. At length he made up his mind to summon all the
court physicians; he did not tell her what he was going to do, lest it
should make her worse, but he went himself and begged the four learned
leeches attached to the king's person to follow him to the princess's
apartments. Unfortunately, as they entered, the princess was so
enraged at the sight of them that she forgot all about the doves, and
shrieked out: 'Dirty creatures! dirty creatures!' which so offended the
physicians that they left the room at once, and nothing that the prince
could say would prevail on them to remain. He then tried to persuade
his wife to send them a message that she was sorry for her rudeness,
but not a word would she say.
Late that evening, when he had performed all the tiresome duties which
fall to the lot of every prince, the young man was leaning out of his
window, refreshing himself with the cool breezes that blew off the sea.
His thoughts went back to the scene of the morning, and he wondered
if, after all, he had not made a great mistake in marrying a low-born
wife, however beautiful she might be. How could he have imagined that
the quiet, gentle girl who had been so charming a companion to him
during the first days of their marriage, could have become in a day the
rude, sulky woman, who could not control her temper even to benefit
herself. One thing was clear, if she did not change her conduct very
shortly he would have to send her away from court.
He was thinking these thoughts, when his eyes fell on the sea beneath
him, and there, as before, was the figure that so closely resembled his
wife, standing with her feet in the water, holding out her arms to him.
'Wait for me! Wait for me! Wait for me!' he cried; not even knowing
he was speaking. But when he reached the shore there was nothing to be
seen but the shadows cast by the moonlight.
A state ceremonial in a city some distance off caused the prince to
ride away at daybreak, and he left without seeing his wife again.
'Perhaps she may have come to her senses by to-morrow,' said he to
himself; 'and, anyhow, if I am going to send her back to her father, it
might be better if we did not meet in the meantime! Then he put the
matter from his mind, and kept his thoughts on the duty that lay before
It was nearly midnight before he returned to the palace, but, instead
of entering, he went down to the shore and hid behind a rock. He had
scarcely done so when the girl came out of the sea, and stretched out
her arms towards his window. In an instant the prince had seized her
hand, and though she made a frightened struggle to reach the water--for
she in her turn had had a spell laid upon her--he held her fast.
'You are my own wife, and I shall never let you go,' he said. But the
words were hardly out of his mouth when he found that it was a hare
that he was holding by the paw. Then the hare changed into a fish, and
the fish into a bird, and the bird into a slimy wriggling snake. This
time the prince's hand nearly opened of itself, but with a strong
effort he kept his fingers shut, and drawing his sword cut off its
head, when the spell was broken, and the girl stood before him as he
had seen her first, the wreath upon her head and the birds singing for
The very next morning the stepmother arrived at the palace with an
ointment that the old witch had given her to place upon her daughter's
tongue, which would break the dove's spell, if the rightful bride had
really been drowned in the sea; if not, then it would be useless. The
mother assured her that she had seen her stepdaughter sink, and that
there was no fear that she would ever come up again; but, to make all
quite safe, the old woman might bewitch the girl; and so she did.
After that the wicked stepmother travelled all through the night to get
to the palace as soon as possible, and made her way straight into her
'I have got it! I have got it!' she cried triumphantly, and laid the
ointment on her daughter's tongue.
'Now what do you say?' she asked proudly.
'Dirty creatures! dirty creatures!' answered the daughter; and the
mother wrung her hands and wept, as she knew that all her plans had
At this moment the prince entered with his real wife. 'You both
deserved death,' he said, 'and if it were left to me, you should have
it. But the princess has begged me to spare your lives, so you will be
put into a ship and carried off to a desert island, where you will stay
till you die.'
Then the ship was made ready and the wicked woman and her daughter were
placed in it, and it sailed away, and no more was heard of them. But
the prince and his wife lived together long and happily, and ruled
their people well.
[Adapted from Thorpe's Yule-Tide Stories.]
The Foolish Weaver
Once a weaver, who was in want of work, took service with a certain
farmer as a shepherd.
The farmer, knowing that the man was very slow-witted, gave him most
careful instructions as to everything that he was to do.
Finally he said: 'If a wolf or any wild animal attempts to hurt the
flock you should pick up a big stone like this' (suiting the action to
the word) 'and throw a few such at him, and he will be afraid and go
away.' The weaver said that he understood, and started with the flocks
to the hillsides where they grazed all day.
By chance in the afternoon a leopard appeared, and the weaver instantly
ran home as fast as he could to get the stones which the farmer had
shown him, to throw at the creature. When he came back all the flock
were scattered or killed, and when the farmer heard the tale he beat
him soundly. 'Were there no stones on the hillside that you should run
back to get them, you senseless one?' he cried; 'you are not fit to
herd sheep. To-day you shall stay at home and mind my old mother who
is sick, perhaps you will be able to drive flies off her face, if you
can't drive beasts away from sheep!'
So, the next day, the weaver was left at home to take care of the
farmer's old sick mother. Now as she lay outside on a bed, it turned
out that the flies became very troublesome, and the weaver looked round
for something to drive them away with; and as he had been told to pick
up the nearest stone to drive the beasts away from the flock, he
thought he would this time show how cleverly he could obey orders.
Accordingly he seized the nearest stone, which was a big, heavy one,
and dashed it at the flies; but, unhappily, he slew the poor old woman
also; and then, being afraid of the wrath of the farmer, he fled and
was not seen again in that neighbourhood.
All that day and all the next night he walked, and at length he came to
a village where a great many weavers lived together.
'You are welcome,' said they. 'Eat and sleep, for to-morrow six of us
start in search of fresh wool to weave, and we pray you to give us your
'Willingly,' answered the weaver. So the next morning the seven
weavers set out to go to the village where they could buy what they
wanted. On the way they had to cross a ravine which lately had been
full of water, but now was quite dry. The weavers, however, were
accustomed to swim over this ravine; therefore, regardless of the fact
that this time it was dry, they stripped, and, tying their clothes on
their heads, they proceeded to swim across the dry sand and rocks that
formed the bed of the ravine. Thus they got to the other side without
further damage than bruised knees and elbows, and as soon as they were
over, one of them began to count the party to make sure that all were
safe there. He counted all except himself, and then cried out that
somebody was missing! This set each of them counting; but each made
the same mistake of counting all except himself, so that they became
certain that one of their party was missing! They ran up and down the
bank of the ravine wringing their hands in great distress and looking
for signs of their lost comrade. There a farmer found them and asked
what was the matter. 'Alas!' said one, 'seven of us started from the
other bank and one must have been drowned on the crossing, as we can
only find six remaining!' The farmer eyed them a minute, and then,
picking up his stick, he dealt each a sounding blow, counting, as he
did so, 'One! two! three!' and so on up to the seven. When the weavers
found that there were seven of them they were overcome with gratitude
to one whom they took for a magician as he could thus make seven out of
an obvious six.
[From the Pushto.]
The Clever Cat
Once upon a time there lived an old man who dwelt with his son in a
small hut on the edge of the plain. He was very old, and had worked
very hard, and when at last he was struck down by illness he felt that
he should never rise from his bed again.
So, one day, he bade his wife summon their son, when he came back from
his journey to the nearest town, where he had been to buy bread.
'Come hither, my son,' said he; 'I know myself well to be dying, and I
have nothing to leave you but my falcon, my cat and my greyhound; but
if you make good use of them you will never lack food. Be good to your
mother, as you have been to me. And now farewell!'
Then he turned his face to the wall and died.
There was great mourning in the hut for many days, but at length the
son rose up, and calling to his greyhound, his cat and his falcon, he
left the house saying that he would bring back something for dinner.
Wandering over the plain, he noticed a troop of gazelles, and pointed
to his greyhound to give chase. The dog soon brought down a fine fat
beast, and slinging it over his shoulders, the young man turned
homewards. On the way, however, he passed a pond, and as he approached
a cloud of birds flew into the air. Shaking his wrist, the falcon
seated on it darted into the air, and swooped down upon the quarry he
had marked, which fell dead to the ground. The young man picked it up,
and put it in his pouch and then went towards home again.
Near the hut was a small barn in which he kept the produce of the
little patch of corn, which grew close to the garden. Here a rat ran
out almost under his feet, followed by another and another; but quick
as thought the cat was upon them and not one escaped her.
When all the rats were killed, the young man left the barn. He took
the path leading to the door of the hut, but stopped on feeling a hand
laid on his shoulder.
'Young man,' said the ogre (for such was the stranger), 'you have been
a good son, and you deserve the piece of luck which has befallen you
this day. Come with me to that shining lake yonder, and fear nothing.'
Wondering a little at what might be going to happen to him, the youth
did as the ogre bade him, and when they reached the shore of the lake,
the ogre turned and said to him:
'Step into the water and shut your eyes! You will find yourself
sinking slowly to the bottom; but take courage, all will go well. Only
bring up as much silver as you can carry, and we will divide it between
So the young man stepped bravely into the lake, and felt himself
sinking, sinking, till he reached firm ground at last. In front of him
lay four heaps of silver, and in the midst of them a curious white
shining stone, marked over with strange characters, such as he had
never seen before. He picked it up in order to examine it more
closely, and as he held it the stone spoke.
'As long as you hold me, all your wishes will come true,' it said.
'But hide me in your turban, and then call to the ogre that you are
ready to come up.'
In a few minutes the young man stood again by the shores of the lake.
'Well, where is the silver?' asked the ogre, who was awaiting him.
'Ah, my father, how can I tell you! So bewildered was I, and so
dazzled with the splendours of everything I saw, that I stood like a
statue, unable to move. Then hearing steps approaching I got
frightened, and called to you, as you know.'
'You are no better than the rest,' cried the ogre, and turned away in a
When he was out of sight the young man took the stone from his turban
and looked at it. 'I want the finest camel that can be found, and the
most splendid garments,' said he.
'Shut your eyes then,' replied the stone. And he shut them; and when
he opened them again the camel that he had wished for was standing
before him, while the festal robes of a desert prince hung from his
shoulders. Mounting the camel, he whistled the falcon to his wrist,
and, followed by his greyhound and his cat, he started homewards.
His mother was sewing at her door when this magnificent stranger rode
up, and, filled with surprise, she bowed low before him.
'Don't you know me, mother?' he said with a laugh. And on hearing his
voice the good woman nearly fell to the ground with astonishment.
'How have you got that camel and those clothes?' asked she. 'Can a son
of mine have committed murder in order to possess them?'
'Do not be afraid; they are quite honestly come by,' answered the
youth. 'I will explain all by-and-by; but now you must go to the
palace and tell the king I wish to marry his daughter.'
At these words the mother thought her son had certainly gone mad, and
stared blankly at him. The young man guessed what was in her heart,
and replied with a smile:
'Fear nothing. Promise all that he asks; it will be fulfilled somehow.'
So she went to the palace, where she found the king sitting in the Hall
of Justice listening to the petitions of his people. The woman waited
until all had been heard and the hall was empty, and then went up and
knelt before the throne.
'My son has sent me to ask for the hand of the princess,' said she.
The king looked at her and thought that she was mad; but, instead of
ordering his guards to turn her out, he answered gravely:
'Before he can marry the princess he must build me a palace of ice,
which can be warmed with fires, and wherein the rarest singing- birds
'It shall be done, your Majesty,' said she, and got up and left the
Her son was anxiously awaiting her outside the palace gates, dressed in
the clothes that he wore every day.
'Well, what have I got to do?' he asked impatiently, drawing his mother
aside so that no one could overhear them.
'Oh, something quite impossible; and I hope you will put the princess
out of your head,' she replied.
'Well, but what is it?' persisted he.
'Nothing but to build a palace of ice wherein fires can burn that shall
keep it so warm that the most delicate singing-birds can live in it!'
'I thought it would be something much harder than that,' exclaimed the
young man. 'I will see about it at once.' And leaving his mother, he
went into the country and took the stone from his turban.
'I want a palace of ice that can be warmed with fires and filled with
the rarest singing-birds!'
'Shut your eyes, then,' said the stone; and he shut them, and when he
opened them again there was the palace, more beautiful than anything he
could have imagined, the fires throwing a soft pink glow over the ice.
'It is fit even for the princess,' thought he to himself.
As soon as the king awoke next morning he ran to the window, and there
across the plain he beheld the palace.
'That young man must be a great wizard; he may be useful to me.' And
when the mother came again to tell him that his orders had been
fulfilled he received her with great honour, and bade her tell her son
that the wedding was fixed for the following day.
The princess was delighted with her new home, and with her husband
also; and several days slipped happily by, spent in turning over all
the beautiful things that the palace contained. But at length the
young man grew tired of always staying inside walls, and he told his
wife that the next day he must leave her for a few hours, and go out
hunting. 'You will not mind?' he asked. And she answered as became a
'Yes, of course I shall mind; but I will spend the day in planning out
some new dresses; and then it will be so delightful when you come back,
So the husband went off to hunt, with the falcon on his wrist, and the
greyhound and the cat behind him--for the palace was so warm that even
the cat did not mind living in it.
No sooner had he gone, than the ogre who had been watching his chance
for many days, knocked at the door of the palace.
'I have just returned from a far country,' he said, 'and I have some of
the largest and most brilliant stones in the world with me. The
princess is known to love beautiful things, perhaps she might like to
Now the princess had been wondering for many days what trimming she
should put on her dresses, so that they should outshine the dresses of
the other ladies at the court balls. Nothing that she thought of
seemed good enough, so, when the message was brought that the ogre and
his wares were below, she at once ordered that he should be brought to
Oh! what beautiful stones he laid before her; what lovely rubies, and
what rare pearls! No other lady would have jewels like those--of that
the princess was quite sure; but she cast down her eyes so that the
ogre might not see how much she longed for them.
'I fear they are too costly for me,' she said carelessly; 'and besides,
I have hardly need of any more jewels just now.'
'I have no particular wish to sell them myself,' answered the ogre,
with equal indifference. 'But I have a necklace of shining stones
which was left me by father, and one, the largest engraven with weird
characters, is missing. I have heard that it is in your husband's
possession, and if you can get me that stone you shall have any of
these jewels that you choose. But you will have to pretend that you
want it for yourself; and, above all, do not mention me, for he sets
great store by it, and would never part with it to a stranger!
To-morrow I will return with some jewels yet finer than those I have
with me to-day. So, madam, farewell!'
Left alone, the princess began to think of many things, but chiefly as
to whether she would persuade her husband to give her the stone or not.
At one moment she felt he had already bestowed so much upon her that
it was a shame to ask for the only object he had kept back. No, it
would be mean; she could not do it! But then, those diamonds, and
those string of pearls! After all, they had only been married a week,
and the pleasure of giving it to her ought to be far greater than the
pleasure of keeping it for himself. And she was sure it would be!
Well, that evening, when the young man had supped off his favourite
dishes which the princess took care to have specially prepared for him,
she sat down close beside him, and began stroking his head. For some
time she did not speak, but listened attentively to all the adventures
that had befallen him that day.
'But I was thinking of you all the time,' said he at the end, 'and
wishing that I could bring you back something you would like. But,
alas! what is there that you do not possess already?'
'How good of you not to forget me when you are in the midst of such
dangers and hardships,' answered she. 'Yes, it is true I have many
beautiful things; but if you want to give me a present--and to-morrow
is my birthday--there IS one thing that I wish for very much.'
'And what is that? Of course you shall have it directly!' he asked
'It is that bright stone which fell out of the folds of your turban a
few days ago,' she answered, playing with his finger; 'the little stone
with all those funny marks upon it. I never saw any stone like it
The young man did not answer at first; then he said, slowly:
'I have promised, and therefore I must perform. But will you swear
never to part from it, and to keep it safely about you always? More I
cannot tell you, but I beg you earnestly to take heed to this.'
The princess was a little startled by his manner, and began to be sorry
that she had every listened to the ogre. But she did not like to draw
back, and pretended to be immensely delighted at her new toy, and
kissed and thanked her husband for it.
'After all I needn't give it to the ogre,' thought she as she dropped
off to sleep.
Unluckily the next morning the young man went hunting again, and the
ogre, who was watching, knew this, and did not come till much later
than before. At the moment that he knocked at the door of the palace
the princess had tired of all her employments, and her attendants were
at their wits' end how to amuse her, when a tall negro dressed in
scarlet came to announce that the ogre was below, and desired to know
if the princess would speak to him.
'Bring him hither at once!' cried she, springing up from her cushions,
and forgetting all her resolves of the previous night. In another
moment she was bending with rapture over the glittering gems.
'Have you got it?' asked the ogre in a whisper, for the princess's
ladies were standing as near as they dared to catch a glimpse of the
'Yes, here,' she answered, slipping the stone from her sash and placing
it among the rest. Then she raised her voice, and began to talk
quickly of the prices of the chains and necklaces, and after some
bargaining, to deceive the attendants, she declared that she liked one
string of pearls better than all the rest, and that the ogre might take
away the other things, which were not half as valuable as he supposed.
'As you please, madam,' said he, bowing himself out of the palace.
Soon after he had gone a curious thing happened. The princess
carelessly touched the wall of her room, which was wont to reflect the
warm red light of the fire on the hearth, and found her hand quite wet.
She turned round, and--was it her fancy? or did the fire burn more
dimly than before? Hurriedly she passed into the picture gallery,
where pools of water showed here and there on the floor, and a cold
chill ran through her whole body. At that instant her frightened
ladies came running down the stairs, crying:
'Madam! madam! what has happened? The palace is disappearing under our
'My husband will be home very soon,' answered the princess--who, though
nearly as much frightened as her ladies, felt that she must set them a
good example. 'Wait till then, and he will tell us what to do.'
So they waited, seated on the highest chairs they could find, wrapped
in their warmest garments, and with piles of cushions under their feet,
while the poor birds flew with numbed wings hither and thither, till
they were so lucky as to discover an open window in some forgotten
corner. Through this they vanished, and were seen no more.
At last, when the princess and her ladies had been forced to leave the
upper rooms, where the walls and floors had melted away, and to take
refuge in the hall, the young man came home. He had ridden back along
a winding road from which he did not see the palace till he was close
upon it, and stood horrified at the spectacle before him. He knew in
an instant that his wife must have betrayed his trust, but he would not
reproach her, as she must be suffering enough already. Hurrying on he
sprang over all that was left of the palace walls, and the princess
gave a cry of relief at the sight of him.
'Come quickly,' he said, 'or you will be frozen to death!' And a
dreary little procession set out for the king's palace, the greyhound
and the cat bringing up the rear.
At the gates he left them, though his wife besought him to allow her to
'You have betrayed me and ruined me,' he said sternly; 'I go to seek my
fortune alone.' And without another word he turned and left her.
With his falcon on his wrist, and his greyhound and cat behind him, the
young man walked a long way, inquiring of everyone he met whether they
had seen his enemy the ogre. But nobody had. Then he bade his falcon
fly up into the sky--up, up, and up--and try if his sharp eyes could
discover the old thief. The bird had to go so high that he did not
return for some hours; but he told his master that the ogre was lying
asleep in a splendid palace in a far country on the shores of the sea.
This was delightful news to the young man, who instantly bought some
meat for the falcon, bidding him make a good meal.
'To-morrow,' said he, 'you will fly to the palace where the ogre lies,
and while he is asleep you will search all about him for a stone on
which is engraved strange signs; this you will bring to me. In three
days I shall expect you back here.'
'Well, I must take the cat with me,' answered the bird.
The sun had not yet risen before the falcon soared high into the air,
the cat seated on his back, with his paws tightly clasping the bird's
'You had better shut your eyes or you may get giddy,' said the bird;
and the cat, you had never before been off the ground except to climb a
tree, did as she was bid.
All that day and all that night they flew, and in the morning they saw
the ogre's palace lying beneath them.
'Dear me,' said the cat, opening her eyes for the first time, 'that
looks to me very like a rat city down there, let us go down to it; they
may be able to help us.' So they alighted in some bushes in the heart
of the rat city. The falcon remained where he was, but the cat lay
down outside the principal gate, causing terrible excitement among the
At length, seeing she did not move, one bolder than the rest put its
head out of an upper window of the castle, and said, in a trembling
'Why have you come here? What do you want? If it is anything in our
power, tell us, and we will do it.'
'If you would have let me speak to you before, I would have told you
that I come as a friend,' replied the cat; 'and I shall be greatly
obliged if you would send four of the strongest and cunningest among
you, to do me a service.'
'Oh, we shall be delighted,' answered the rat, much relieved. 'But if
you will inform me what it is you wish them to do I shall be better
able to judge who is most fitted for the post.'
'I thank you,' said the cat. 'Well, what they have to do is this:
To-night they must burrow under the walls of the castle and go up to
the room were an ogre lies asleep. Somewhere about him he has hidden a
stone, on which are engraved strange signs. When they have found it
they must take it from him without his waking, and bring it to me.'
'Your orders shall be obeyed,' replied the rat. And he went out to
give his instructions.
About midnight the cat, who was still sleeping before the gate, was
awakened by some water flung at her by the head rat, who could not make
up his mind to open the doors.
'Here is the stone you wanted,' said he, when the cat started up with a
loud mew; 'if you will hold up your paws I will drop it down.' And so
he did. 'And now farewell,' continued the rat; 'you have a long way to
go, and will do well to start before daybreak.'
'Your counsel is good,' replied the cat, smiling to itself; and putting
the stone in her mouth she went off to seek the falcon.
Now all this time neither the cat nor the falcon had had any food, and
the falcon soon got tired carrying such a heavy burden. When night
arrived he declared he could go no further, but would spend it on the
banks of a river.
'And it is my turn to take care of the stone,' said he, 'or it will
seem as if you had done everything and I nothing.'
'No, I got it, and I will keep it,' answered the cat, who was tired and
cross; and they began a fine quarrel. But, unluckily, in the midst of
it, the cat raised her voice, and the stone fell into the ear of a big
fish which happened to be swimming by, and though both the cat and the
falcon sprang into the water after it, they were too late.
Half drowned, and more than half choked, the two faithful servants
scrambled back to land again. The falcon flew to a tree and spread his
wings in the sun to dry, but the cat, after giving herself a good
shake, began to scratch up the sandy banks and to throw the bits into
'What are you doing that for?' asked a little fish. 'Do you know that
you are making the water quite muddy?'
'That doesn't matter at all to me,' answered the cat. 'I am going to
fill up all the river, so that the fishes may die.'
'That is very unkind, as we have never done you any harm,' replied the
fish. 'Why are you so angry with us?'
'Because one of you has got a stone of mine-- a stone with strange
signs upon it--which dropped into the water. If you will promise to
get it back for me, why, perhaps I will leave your river alone.'
'I will certainly try,' answered the fish in a great hurry; 'but you
must have a little patience, as it may not be an easy task.' And in an
instant his scales might be seen flashing quickly along.
The fish swam as fast as he could to the sea, which was not far
distant, and calling together all his relations who lived in the
neighbourhood, he told them of the terrible danger which threatened the
dwellers in the river.
'None of us has got it,' said the fishes, shaking their heads; 'but in
the bay yonder there is a tunny who, although he is so old, always goes
everywhere. He will be able to tell you about it, if anyone can.' So
the little fish swam off to the tunny, and again related his story.
'Why I was up that river only a few hours ago!' cried the tunny; 'and
as I was coming back something fell into my ear, and there it is still,
for I went to sleep, when I got home and forgot all about it. Perhaps
it may be what you want.' And stretching up his tail he whisked out
'Yes, I think that must be it,' said the fish with joy. And taking the
stone in his mouth he carried it to the place where the cat was waiting
'I am much obliged to you,' said the cat, as the fish laid the stone on
the sand, 'and to reward you, I will let your river alone.' And she
mounted the falcon's back, and they flew to their master.
Ah, how glad he was to see them again with the magic stone in their
possession. In a moment he had wished for a palace, but this time it
was of green marble; and then he wished for the princess and her ladies
to occupy it. And there they lived for many years, and when the old
king died the princess's husband reigned in his stead.
[Adapted from Contes Berberes.]
The Story of Manus