"Master," said Fido, "I can go no farther. Accursed be the fairy that drew me from nothingness to place me in your service." Saying this, he lay down on the ground and would not stir. Graceful vainly tried to restore his courage, and called him his companion and friend. All that the poor dog could do was to answer his master's caresses for the last time by wagging his tail and licking his hands; then his limbs stiffened and he expired.
Graceful took Fido on his back in order to carry him to the Castle of Life, and boldly climbed one of the icebergs, still followed by Pensive. With his staff he pushed this frail bark into the middle of the current, which bore it away with frightful rapidity.
"Master," said Pensive, "do you hear the roaring of the waters? We are floating toward a whirlpool which will swallow us up! Give me a last caress and farewell!"
"No," said Graceful. "Why should the fairies have deceived us? The shore may be close by; perhaps the sun is shining behind the clouds. Mount, mount, my good Pensive; perchance above the fog you will find light and will see the Castle of Life!"
Pensive spread her half-frozen wings, and courageously soared amid the cold and mist. Graceful listened for a moment to the sound of her flight; then all was silent, while the iceberg pursued its furious course through the darkness. Graceful waited a long time; at last, when he felt himself alone, hope abandoned him, and he lay down to await death on the tottering iceberg. Livid flashes of lightning shot through the clouds, horrible bursts of thunder were heard, and the end of the world and of time seemed approaching. All at once, in the midst of his despair, Graceful heard the cry of the swallow, and Pensive fell at his feet. "Master, master," cried she, "you were right. I have seen the shore; the dawn is close at hand. Courage!" Saying this, she convulsively spread her tired wings and lay motionless and lifeless.
Graceful started up, placed the poor bird that had sacrificed itself for him next his heart, and, with superhuman ardor, urged the iceberg on to safety or destruction. Suddenly he heard the roaring of the breakers. He fell on his knees and closed his eyes, awaiting death.
A wave like a mountain broke over his head and cast him fainting on the shore, which no living person had touched before him.
When Graceful recovered his senses, the ice, clouds, and darkness had disappeared. He was lying on the ground in the midst of a charming country, covered with trees bathed in a soft light. In front of him was a beautiful castle, from which bubbled a brook that flowed into a sea as blue, calm, and transparent as the sky. Graceful looked about him; he was alone—alone with the remains of his two companions, which the waves had washed on the shore. Exhausted with suffering and excitement, he dragged himself to the brook and bent over the water to refresh his parched lips, when he shrank back with affright. It was not his face that he saw in the water, but that of an old man with silvery locks who strongly resembled him. He turned round; there was no one behind him. He again drew near the fountain; he saw the old man, or rather, doubtless, the old man was himself. "Great fairies," he cried. "I understand you. If it is my life that you wish in exchange for that of my grandmother, I joyfully accept the sacrifice." And without troubling himself further about his old age and wrinkles, he plunged his head into the water and drank eagerly.
On rising, he was astonished to see himself again as he was when he left home, only more beautiful, with blacker hair and brighter eyes than ever. He picked up his hat, which had fallen near the spring, and which a drop of water had touched by chance, when what was his surprise to see the butterfly that he had pinned to it fluttering its wings and seeking to fly. He gave it its liberty, and ran to the beach for Fido and Pensive, then plunged them both into the blessed fountain. Pensive flew upward with a joyful cry and disappeared amid the turrets of the castle. Fido, shaking the water from both ears, ran to the kennels of the palace, where he was met by magnificent watch-dogs, which, instead of barking and growling at the new-comer, welcomed him joyfully like an old friend. Graceful had at last found the Fountain of Immortality, or rather the brook that flowed from it—a brook already greatly weakened, and which only gave two or three hundred years of life to those that drank of it; but nothing prevented them from drinking anew.
Graceful filled his vial with this life-giving water and approached the palace. His heart beat, for a last trial remained. So near success, he feared the more to fail. He mounted the steps of the castle. All was closed and silent; no one was there to receive the traveler. When he had reached the last step and was about to knock at the door, a voice, rather gentle than harsh, stopped him.
"Have you loved?" said the invisible voice.
"Yes," answered Graceful; "I have loved my grandmother better than any one in the world."
The door opened a little way.
"Have you suffered for her whom you have loved?" resumed the voice.
"I have suffered," replied Graceful; "much through my own fault, doubtless, but a little for her whom I wished to save."
The door opened half-way and the child caught a glimpse of woods, waters, and a sky more beautiful than anything of which he had ever dreamed.
"Have you always done your duty?" said the voice, in a harsher tone.
"Alas! no," replied Graceful, falling on his knees; "but when I have failed I have been punished by my remorse even more than by the hard trials through which I have passed. Forgive me, and punish me as I deserve, if I have not yet expiated all my faults; but save her whom I love—save my grandmother."
The door instantly opened wide, though Graceful saw no one. Intoxicated with joy, he entered a courtyard surrounded with arbors embowered in foliage, with a fountain in the midst, spouting from a tuft of flowers larger, more beautiful, and more fragrant than any he had seen on earth. By the side of the spring stood a woman dressed in white, of noble bearing, and seemingly not more than forty years old. She advanced to meet Graceful, and smiled on him so sweetly that the child felt himself touched to the heart, and his eyes filled with tears.
"Don't you know me?" said the woman.
"Oh, grandmother! is it you?" he exclaimed. "How came you in the Castle of Life?"
"My child," said she, pressing him to her heart, "He who brought me here is an enchanter more powerful than the fairies of the woods and the waters. I shall never more return to Salerno. I shall receive my reward here for the little good I have done by tasting a happiness which time will not destroy."
"And me, grandmother!" cried Graceful, "what shall become of me? After seeing you here, how can I return to suffer alone?"
"My dear child," she replied, "no one can live on earth after he has caught a glimpse of the celestial delights of this abode. You have lived, my dear Graceful; life has nothing more to teach you. You have passed in four days through the desert where I languished eighty years, and henceforth nothing can separate us."
The door closed, and from that time nothing was heard of Graceful or his grandmother. It was in vain that search was made for the palace and enchanted fountain; they were never more discovered on earth. But if we understood the language of the stars, if we felt what their gentle rays tell us every evening, we should long ago have learned from them where to look for the Castle of Life and the Fountain of Immortality.
A Dalmatian Tale
Once upon a time there were two brothers, who lived together in one family. One did everything, while the other was an idle fellow who troubled himself about nothing but eating and drinking. The harvests were always magnificent; they had cows, horses, sheep, pigs, bees, and everything else in plenty.
The elder brother, who did everything, said to himself, one day, "Why should I work for this idler? It is better for us to separate; I will work for myself alone, and he can do as he likes." He said to his brother, therefore:
"Brother, it is not just for me to do everything, while you trouble yourself about nothing but eating and drinking; we must separate."
His brother tried to dissuade him from his plan, saying:
"Brother, don't do this, we are so well off as we are. You have everything in your own hands; what is mine is yours; and you know that I am always satisfied with what you do or order done."
The elder, however, persisted in his resolution till the younger was forced to yield. "Since it must be so," said he, "I am not angry. Divide the property as you like."
The division made, each took his share. The idler hired a drover for his cattle, a groom for his horses, a shepherd for his sheep, a goatherd for his goats, a swineherd for his hogs, and a keeper for his bees, and said to them all, "I intrust my property to you. May God have you in His keeping." And he continued to stay at home, with no more care than before.
The elder, on the contrary, labored for himself as he had done for the common good: he kept his own flocks and had an eye to everything; yet, in spite of all this, he found bad luck and misfortune everywhere; everything went wrong with him, until at last he was so poor that he had not even a pair of shoes, but was forced to go barefoot. He said to himself, "I will go to my brother's house and see how affairs are prospering with him."
His road lay through a pasture in which a flock of sheep was feeding. On approaching them he saw that they had no shepherd. A beautiful young girl was seated near them, with her distaff, spinning gold thread.
He saluted the young girl and asked her to whom the flock belonged.
"To him to whom I belong belong also these sheep," answered she.
"And who are you?" said he.
"I am your brother's fortune?" she replied.
"And where is my fortune?" he exclaimed, seized with anger and envy.
"Ah! she is far from you," said the young girl.
"Can I find her?" asked he.
"You can," she replied, "if you only look yonder."
On hearing these words, and seeing that the sheep were the finest that could be imagined, he had no wish to see the other flocks, but went straight to his brother, who, as soon as he saw him, burst into tears, moved with pity.
"Where have you been so long?" asked he. And, seeing him clothed in rags and barefooted, he gave him a pair of shoes and some money.
After staying three days in his brother's house, the poor man set out for home. No sooner had he reached his house than he threw a bag across his shoulder, with a piece of bread in it, took a staff in his hand, and set out to seek his fortune.
After walking for some time he found himself in a great forest, where he saw a wretched old hag asleep under a tree. He gave her a blow on the back with his staff to awaken her. She moved with difficulty, and, half opening her bleared eyes, said to him, "Thank God that I was asleep, for if I had been awake you would not have had those shoes."
"Who are you, then," asked he, "that would have prevented my having these shoes?"
"I am your fortune," answered the old woman.
"What! are you my fortune?" cried he, striking his breast. "May God exterminate you! Who gave you to me?"
"It was Destiny," replied the old woman.
"Where is Destiny?" he asked.
"Go and find him," said the old woman, lying down to sleep again.
He set out in search of Destiny. After a long, long journey, at length he reached a wood, where he found a hermit, of whom he asked the way to the abode of Destiny.
"Go straight up yonder mountain and you will find his castle," answered the hermit; "but when you find him take care not to speak to him, but only do all that you see him do."
The traveler thanked the hermit and took his way to the mountain. When he reached the abode of Destiny he saw a magnificent palace full of servants constantly bustling about and doing nothing. As to Destiny, he was supping at a table bountifully served. When the stranger saw this he also sat down at the table and supped with the master of the house. After supper Destiny went to bed, and his guest did the same.
At midnight a terrible noise was heard in the castle, and a voice cried, "Destiny, Destiny, such a number of souls have come into the world this night; give them something according to thy good pleasure."
And behold! Destiny rose, and opened a golden chest filled with shining guineas, which he scattered by handfuls about the room, saying, "Such as I am to-day, such shalt thou be all thy life!"
At daybreak the beautiful castle had vanished, and in its place stood an ordinary house, in which, however, nothing was wanting. When evening came Destiny sat down to supper. His guest did the same, but no one spoke a word. Supper over, they went to bed. At midnight a terrible noise was heard, and a voice cried, "Destiny, Destiny, such a number of souls have come into the world this night; give them something according to thy good pleasure."
And behold! Destiny rose, and opened a silver chest, but this time there were no guineas in it, but only silver coin, with a few small pieces of gold, which Destiny scattered on the floor, saying, "Such as I am to-day, such shalt thou be all thy life!"
At daybreak this house had also disappeared, and a smaller one stood in its place. The same thing happened every night, and every morning the house was smaller, until finally there was nothing but a wretched hut. Destiny now took a spade and began to dig the ground. His guest did the same, and both worked all day. When night came, Destiny took a crust of bread and, breaking it in two, gave half to his companion. This was all his supper. When they had eaten it they went to bed.
At midnight a terrible noise was heard, and a voice cried out, "Destiny, Destiny, such a number of souls have come into the world this night; give them something according to thy good pleasure."
And behold! Destiny rose, and opened a wooden chest filled with pebbles mixed with a few copper coins, which he scattered on the ground, saying, "Such as I am to-day, such shalt thou be all thy life!"
When morning dawned the cabin was changed into a splendid palace, as on the first day. Then, for the first time, Destiny spoke to his guest. "Why did you come here?" asked he.
The poor man told him the whole story of his wretchedness, and how he had come to ask Destiny himself why he had given him such a bad fortune.
"You saw what I was the first night, when I scattered guineas, and what followed," replied Destiny. "Such as I am on the night that a man is born, such will that man be all his life. You were born on a night of poverty; you will always be poor. Your brother, on the contrary, came into the world on a lucky night; he will always be fortunate. But, since you have taken so much trouble to find me, I will tell you how to help yourself. Your brother has a daughter by the name of Miliza, who is as fortunate as her father. Take her for your wife when you return home, but be careful always to say that all that you have belongs to her."
The poor man thanked Destiny again and again, and set out for home. As soon as he arrived he went straight to his brother's house and said,
"Brother, give me Miliza for a wife; you see that I am all alone in the world."
"I am willing," answered his brother; "Miliza is yours."
The bridegroom carried Miliza to his house. He soon became very rich, but he always took good care to say, "All that I have belongs to Miliza."
One day, however, as he was admiring his wheat, which was the most beautiful that ever was seen, a stranger passed by and asked, "Whose wheat is this?"
"It is mine," answered he, without thinking. But scarcely had he spoken when, behold! the wheat took fire, and the flames spread all over the field. Without stopping to put it out, he ran after the traveler, crying, "Stop, sir, I was mistaken; it belongs to Miliza, my brother's daughter."
The fire went out at once of its own accord. He had learned a good lesson which he never forgot, and from that time thenceforth he was fortunate, thanks to Miliza.
The Twelve Months
A Bohemian Tale
There was once a woman who was left a widow with two children. The elder, who was only her stepdaughter, was named Dobrunka; the younger, who was as wicked as her mother, was called Katinka. The mother worshiped her daughter, but she hated Dobrunka, simply because she was as beautiful as her sister was ugly. Dobrunka did not even know that she was pretty, and she could not understand why her stepmother flew into a rage at the mere sight of her. The poor child was obliged to do all the work of the house; she had to sweep, cook, wash, sew, spin, weave, cut the grass, and take care of the cow, while Katinka lived like a princess—that is to say, did nothing.
Dobrunka worked with a good will, and took reproaches and blows with the gentleness of a lamb; but nothing soothed her stepmother, for every day added to the beauty of the elder sister and the ugliness of the younger. "They are growing up," thought the mother, "and suitors will soon appear, who will refuse my daughter when they see this hateful Dobrunka, who grows beautiful on purpose to spite me. I must get rid of her, cost what it may."
One day in the middle of January, Katinka took a fancy for some violets. She called Dobrunka and said, "Go to the forest and bring me a bunch of violets, that I may put them in my bosom and enjoy their fragrance."
"Oh, sister, what an idea!" answered Dobrunka; "as if there were any violets under the snow!"
"Hold your tongue, stupid fool," returned her sister, "and do as I bid you. If you do not go to the forest and bring me back a bunch of violets I will beat you to a jelly." Upon this the mother took Dobrunka by the arm, put her out of the door, and drew the bolt on her.
The poor girl went to the forest weeping bitterly. Everything was covered with snow; there was not even a footpath. She lost her way and wandered about till, famishing with hunger and perishing with cold, she entreated God to take her from this wretched life.
All at once she saw a light in the distance. She went on, climbing higher and higher, until at last she reached the top of a huge rock, upon which a great fire was built. Around the fire were twelve stones, and on each stone sat a motionless figure, wrapped in a large mantle, his head covered with a hood which fell over his eyes. Three of these mantles were white like the snow, three were green like the grass of the meadows, three were golden like the sheaves of ripe wheat, and three were purple like the grapes of the vine. These twelve figures, gazing at the fire in silence, were the Twelve Months of the year.
Dobrunka knew January by his long white beard. He was the only one that had a staff in his hand. The poor girl was terribly frightened. She drew near, saying, in a timid voice, "My good sirs, please to let me warm myself by your fire; I am freezing with cold."
January nodded his head. "Why have you come here, my child?" he asked. "What are you looking for?"
"I am looking for violets," replied Dobrunka.
"This is not the season for them; there are no violets in the time of snow," said January, in his gruff voice.
"I know it," replied Dobrunka, sadly; "but my sister and mother will beat me to a jelly if I do not bring them some. My good sirs, please to tell me where I can find them."
Old January rose, and, turning to a young man in a green mantle, put his staff in his hand, and said to him, "Brother March, this is your business."
March rose in turn, and stirred the fire with the staff, when, behold! the flames rose, the snow melted, the buds put forth on the trees, the grass turned green under the bushes, the flowers peeped through the verdure, and the violets opened—it was spring.
"Make haste, my child, and gather your violets," said March.
Dobrunka gathered a large bouquet, thanked the Twelve Months, and joyfully ran home. You can imagine the astonishment of Katinka and the stepmother. The fragrance of the violets filled the whole house.
"Where did you find these fine things?" asked Katinka, in a disdainful voice.
"Up yonder, on the mountain," answered her sister. "It looked like a great blue carpet under the bushes."
Katinka put the bouquet in her bosom and did not even thank the poor child.
The next morning the wicked sister, as she sat idling by the stove, took a fancy for some strawberries.
"Go to the forest and bring me some strawberries," said she to Dobrunka.
"Oh, sister, what an idea! as if there were any strawberries under the snow!"
"Hold your tongue, stupid fool, and do as I bid you. If you don't go to the forest and bring me back a basket of strawberries, I will beat you to a jelly."
The mother took Dobrunka by the arm, put her out of the door, and drew the bolt on her.
The poor girl returned to the forest, looking with all her eyes for the light that she had seen the day before. She was fortunate enough to spy it, and she reached the fire trembling and almost frozen.
The Twelve Months were in their places, motionless and silent.
"My good sirs," said Dobrunka, "please to let me warm myself by your fire; I am almost frozen with cold."
"Why have you returned?" asked January. "What are you looking for?"
"I am looking for strawberries," answered she.
"This is not the season for them," returned January, in his gruff voice; "there are no strawberries under the snow."
"I know it," replied Dobrunka, sadly; "but my mother and sister will beat me to a jelly if I do not bring them some. My good sirs, please to tell me where I can find them."
Old January rose and, turning to a man in a golden mantle, he put his staff in his hand, saying, "Brother June, this is your business."
June rose in turn, and stirred the fire with the staff, when, behold! the flames rose, the snow melted, the earth grew green, the trees were covered with leaves, the birds sang and the flowers opened—it was summer. Thousands of little white stars enameled the turf, then turned to red strawberries, looking, in their green cups, like rubies set in emeralds.
"Make haste, my child, and gather your strawberries," said June.
Dobrunka filled her apron, thanked the Twelve Months, and joyfully ran home. You may imagine the astonishment of Katinka and the stepmother. The fragrance of the strawberries filled the whole house.
"Where did you find these things?" asked Katinka, in a disdainful voice.
"Up yonder on the mountain," answered her sister; "there were so many of them that they looked like blood poured on the ground."
Katinka and her mother devoured the strawberries without even thanking the poor child.
The third day the wicked sister took a fancy for some red apples. The same threats, the same insults, and the same violence followed. Dobrunka ran to the mountain, and was fortunate enough to find the Twelve Months warming themselves, motionless and silent.
"You here again, my child?" said old January, making room for her by the fire. Dobrunka told him, with tears, how, if she did not bring home some red apples, her mother and sister would beat her to death.
Old January repeated the ceremonies of the day before. "Brother September," said he to a gray-bearded man in a purple mantle, "this is your business."
September rose and stirred the fire with the staff, when, behold! the flames ascended, the snow melted, and the trees put forth a few yellow leaves, which fell one by one before the wind—it was autumn. The only flowers were a few late pinks, daisies, and immortelles. Dobrunka saw but one thing, an apple-tree with its rosy fruit.
"Make haste, my child; shake the tree," said September.
She shook it, and an apple fell; she shook it again, and a second apple followed.
"Make haste, Dobrunka, make haste home!" cried September, in an imperious voice.
The good child thanked the Twelve Months, and joyfully ran home. You may imagine the astonishment of Katinka and the stepmother.
"Red apples in January! Where did you get these apples?" asked Katinka.
"Up yonder on the mountain; there is a tree there that is as red with them as a cherry-tree in July."
"Why did you bring only two? You ate the rest on the way."
"Oh, sister, I did not touch them; I was only permitted to shake the tree twice, and but two apples fell."
"Begone, you fool!" cried Katinka, striking her sister, who ran away crying.
The wicked girl tasted one of the apples; she had never eaten anything so delicious in her life, neither had her mother. How they regretted not having any more!
"Mother," said Katinka, "give me my fur cloak. I will go to the forest and find the tree, and whether I am permitted or not I will shake it so hard that all the apples will be ours."
The mother tried to stop her. A spoiled child listens to nothing. Katinka wrapped herself in her fur cloak, drew the hood over her head, and hastened to the forest.
Everything was covered with snow; there was not even a footpath. Katinka lost her way, but she pushed on, spurred by pride and covetousness. She spied a light in the distance. She climbed and climbed till she reached the place, and found the Twelve Months each seated on his stone, motionless and silent. Without asking their permission, she approached the fire.
"Why have you come here? What do you want? Where are you going?" asked old January, gruffly.
"What matters it to you, old fool?" answered Katinka. "It is none of your business where I came from or whither I am going." She plunged into the forest. January frowned and raised his staff above his head. In the twinkling of an eye the sky was overcast, the fire went out, the snow fell, and the wind blew. Katinka could not see the way before her. She lost herself, and vainly tried to retrace her steps. The snow fell and the wind blew. She called her mother, she cursed her sister, she cursed God. The snow fell and the wind blew. Katinka froze, her limbs stiffened, and she fell motionless. The snow still fell and the wind still blew.
The mother went without ceasing from the window to the door, and from the door to the window. The hours passed and Katinka did not return.
"I must go and look for my daughter," said she. "The child has forgotten herself with those hateful apples." She took her fur cloak and hood, and hastened to the mountain. Everything was covered with snow; there was not even a footpath. She plunged into the forest, calling her daughter. The snow fell and the wind blew. She walked on with feverish anxiety, shouting at the top of her voice. The snow still fell and the wind still blew.
Dobrunka waited through the evening and the night, but no one returned. In the morning she took her wheel and spun a whole distaff full; there was still no news. "What can have happened?" said the girl, weeping. The sun was shining through an icy mist and the ground was covered with snow. Dobrunka prayed for her mother and sister. They did not return; and it was not till spring that a shepherd found the two corpses in the forest.
Dobrunka remained the sole mistress of the house, the cow, and the garden, to say nothing of a piece of meadow adjoining the house. But when a good and pretty girl has a field under her window, the next thing that follows is a young farmer who offers her his heart and hand. Dobrunka was soon married. The Twelve Months did not abandon their child. More than once, when the north wind blew fearfully and the windows shook in their frames, old January stopped up all the crevices of the house with snow, so that the cold might not enter this peaceful abode.
Dobrunka lived to a good old age, always virtuous and happy, having, according to the proverb, winter at the door, summer in the barn, autumn in the cellar, and spring in the heart.
Swanda the Piper
A Bohemian Tale
Swanda, the Piper, was a jolly companion. Like every true musician, he was born with an unquenchable thirst; besides, he was madly fond of play, and would have risked his soul at strajak, the favorite game at cards in Bohemia. When he had earned a little money he would throw aside his pipes, and drink and play with the first comer till he returned to his home as light in pocket as when he had left it. But he was always so merry, witty, and good-natured that not a drinker ever left the table while the piper was there, and his name still lives in Bohemia as the prince of good fellows.
One day there was a festival at Mokran, and no merry-making was ever complete without the piper. Swanda, after blowing his pipe till midnight and earning twenty zwanzigers, determined to amuse himself on his own account. Neither prayers nor promises could persuade him to go on with his music; he was determined to drink his fill and to shuffle the cards at his ease; but, for the first time in his life, he found no one to play with him.
Swanda was not the man to quit the inn so long as he had a kreutzer in his pocket, and on that day he had many of them. By dint of talking, laughing, and drinking he took one of those fixed ideas which are not uncommon among those who look too often in the bottom of their glass, and determined to play at any price; but all his neighbors refused his challenge. Furious at finding no partner, he rose with an unsteady step, paid for what he had drank, and left the inn.
"I will go to Drazic," said he; "the schoolmaster and the bailiff there are honest people who are not afraid of play, and I shall find partners. Hurrah!"
The night was clear and the moon shone like a fish's eye. On reaching a cross-road Swanda raised his eyes by chance, and stopped, mute and motionless. A flock of ravens were croaking over his head, and in front of him rose four posts, standing like pillars, and connected at the top by cross-beams, from each of which swung a half-devoured corpse. It was a robbers' gallows, a spectacle by no means amusing to a less stoical spirit than that of Swanda.
He had not recovered from the first shudder when suddenly there appeared before him a man dressed in black, with pale and hollow cheeks, and eyes that glittered like carbuncles.
"Where are you going so late, friend Piper?" asked he, in a soft voice.
"To Drazic, Mr. Black Coat," answered the intrepid Swanda.
"Would you like to earn something by your music?"
"I am tired of blowing," returned Swanda. "I have some silver in my pocket, and wish to amuse myself."
"Who talks to you of silver? It is with gold that we pay."
Saying this, the stranger flashed before his eyes a handful of shining ducats. The piper was the son of a thrifty mother; he knew not how to resist such an invitation, and followed the black man and his gold.
How the time passed he never could remember. It is true that his head was a little heavy. The only thing that he recollected was that the black man warned him to accept whatever was offered him, whether gold or wine, but never to return thanks except by saying "Good luck, brother!"
Without knowing how he had entered, he found himself in a dark room where three men, dressed in black like his guide, were playing at strajak by no other light than their glittering eyes. On the table were piles of gold, and a jug from which each one drank in his turn.
"Brothers," said the black man, "I bring you friend Swanda, whom you have long known by reputation. I thought to please you on this feast-day by giving you a little music."
"A good idea!" said one of the players. Then, taking the jug, he handed it to Swanda, saying, "Here, piper, drink and play."
Swanda had some scruples; but, after all, it is impossible to have charcoal without putting your finger into the ashes. The wine, though rather warm, was not bad. He replaced the jug on the table, and raising his hat, said, "Good luck, brother!" as he had been advised.
He began to play, and never had his music produced such an effect. Each note made the players leap for joy. Their eyes shot forth flames; they moved about uneasily in their chairs; they staked the ducats by handfuls; they shouted and burst into loud fits of laughter without stirring a muscle of their pallid faces. The jug passed from hand to hand, always full, though replenished by no one.
As soon as Swanda finished an air they handed him the jug, from which he never failed to drink deeply, and threw handfuls of gold into his hat. "Good luck, brother!" he repeated, astounded at his fortune—"good luck!"
The feast lasted a long time. At last, the piper having struck up a polka, the black men, in a transport of mirth, quitted the table and danced and waltzed with an ardor and frenzy which ill accorded with their icy faces. One of the dancers gathered up all the gold that was heaped on the table, and, pouring it into Swanda's hat, "Here," said he, "take this for the pleasure that you have given us."
"God bless you, my good lords!" said the dazzled piper. Scarcely had he spoken when men, room, and cards vanished.
In the morning a peasant on his way to the fields heard the sound of a pipe as he approached the cross-road. "It is Swanda," said he. But where was the piper? Seated on a corner of the gallows, he was blowing with all his might, while the corpses of the robbers danced in the wind to his music.
"Halloo, comrade!" cried the peasant. "How long have you been playing the cuckoo up there?"
Swanda started, dropped his pipe, opened his eyes, and glided, bewildered, down the gallows. His first thought, however, was for his ducats. He rummaged his pockets and turned his hat inside out, but all in vain; there was not even a kreutzer!
"My friend," said the peasant, making the sign of the cross, "God has punished you by giving you the devil for a partner; you love cards too well."
"You are right," said Swanda, trembling; "I will never touch them again in my life."
He kept his word; and, to thank Heaven for having preserved him from such peril, he took the fatal pipe to which the devil had danced, and suspended it as a votive offering in the church of Strakonic, his birthplace, where it may be seen to this day. The pipe of Strakonic has become a proverb, and it is even said that its sound is heard every year at the day and hour when Swanda played for Satan and his friends.
The Gold Bread
A Hungarian Tale
Once upon a time there was a widow who had a beautiful daughter. The mother was modest and humble; the daughter, Marienka, was pride itself. She had suitors from all sides, but none satisfied her; the more they tried to please her the more she disdained them.
One night, when the poor mother could not sleep, she took her beads and began to pray for her dear child, who gave her more than one care. Marienka was asleep by her side. As the mother gazed lovingly at her beautiful daughter, Marienka laughed in her sleep.
"What a beautiful dream she must have to laugh in this way!" said the mother. Then she finished her prayer, hung her beads on the wall, laid her head on the same pillow with her daughter, and fell asleep.
"My dear child," said she in the morning, "what did you dream last night that you laughed so?"
"What did I dream, mamma? I dreamed that a nobleman came here for me in a copper coach, and that he put a ring on my finger set with a stone that sparkled like the stars. And when I entered the church the people had eyes for no one but the blessed Virgin and me."
"My daughter, my daughter, that was a proud dream!" said the mother, shaking her head. But Marienka went out singing.
The same day a wagon entered the yard. A handsome young farmer in good circumstances came to ask Marienka to share a peasant's bread with him. The mother was pleased with the suitor, but the proud Marienka refused him, saying, "Though you should come in a copper coach, and put a ring on my finger set with a stone that sparkled like the stars, I would not have you for a husband." And the farmer went away storming at Marienka's pride.
The next night the mother waked, took her beads, and prayed still more earnestly for her daughter, when, behold! Marienka laughed again as she was sleeping.
"I wonder what she is dreaming," said the mother, who prayed, unable to sleep.
"My dear child," she said the next morning, "what did you dream last night that you laughed aloud?"
"What did I dream, mamma? I dreamed that a nobleman came here for me in a silver coach, and that he offered me a golden diadem. And when I entered the church the people looked at me more than they did at the blessed Virgin."
"Hush! you are blaspheming. Pray, my daughter, pray that you may not fall into temptation."
But Marienka ran away to escape her mother's sermon.
The same day a carriage entered the yard. A young lord came to entreat Marienka to share a nobleman's bread with him.
"It is a great honor," said the mother; but vanity is blind.
"Though you should come in a silver coach," said Marienka to the new suitor, "and should offer me a golden diadem, I would not have you for a husband."
"Take care, my child," said the poor mother; "pride is a device of the Evil One."
"Mothers never know what they are saying," thought Marienka, and she went out shrugging her shoulders.
The third night the mother could not sleep for anxiety. As she lay awake, praying for her daughter, behold! Marienka burst into a loud fit of laughter.
"Oh!" said the mother, "what can the unhappy child be dreaming now?" And she continued to pray till daylight.
"My dear child," said she in the morning, "what did you dream last night?"
"You will be angry again if I tell you," answered Marienka.
"No, no," replied the mother. "Tell me."
"I dreamed that a noble lord, with a great train of attendants, came to ask me in marriage. He was in a golden coach, and he brought me a dress of gold lace. And when I entered the church, the people looked at nobody but me."
The mother clasped her hands. Marienka, half dressed, sprang from the bed and ran into the next room, to avoid a lecture that was tiresome to her.
The same day three coaches entered the yard, one of copper, one of silver, and one of gold; the first drawn by two horses, the second by four, and the third by eight, all caparisoned with gold and pearls. From the copper and silver coaches alighted pages dressed in scarlet breeches and green jackets and cloaks, while from the golden coach stepped a handsome nobleman all dressed in gold. He entered the house, and, bending one knee on the ground, asked the mother for her daughter's hand.
"What an honor!" thought the mother.
"My dream has come to pass," said Marienka. "You see, mother, that, as usual, I was right and you were wrong."
She ran to her chamber, tied the betrothal knot, and offered it smilingly as a pledge of her faith to the handsome lord, who, on his side, put a ring on her finger set with a stone that sparkled like the stars, and presented her with a golden diadem and a dress of gold lace.
The proud girl ran to her room to dress for the ceremony, while the mother, still anxious, said to the bridegroom, "My good sir, what bread do you offer my daughter?"
"Among us," said he, "the bread is of copper, silver, and gold. She can take her choice."
"What does this mean?" thought the mother. But Marienka had no anxiety; she returned as beautiful as the sun, took her lover's arm, and set out for the church without asking her mother's blessing. The poor woman was left to pray alone on the threshold; and when Marienka returned and entered the carriage she did not even turn round to look at her mother or to bid her a last farewell.
The eight horses set off at a gallop, and did not stop till they reached a huge rock in which there was a hole as large as the gate of a city. The horses plunged into the darkness, the earth trembled, and the rock cracked and crumbled. Marienka seized her husband's hand.
"Don't be alarmed, my fair one; in a moment it will be light."
All at once a thousand lights waved in the air. The dwarfs of the mountain, each with a torch in his hand, came to salute their lord, the King of the Mines. Marienka learned for the first time her husband's name. Whether he was a spirit of good or of evil, at least he was so rich that she did not regret her choice.
They emerged from the darkness, and advanced through bleached forests and mountains that raised their pale and gloomy summits to the skies. Firs, beeches, birches, oaks, rocks, all were of lead. At the end of the forest stretched a vast meadow the grass of which was of silver; and at the bottom of the meadow was a castle of gold, inlaid with diamonds and rubies. The carriage stopped before the door, and the King of the Mines offered his hand to his bride, saying, "My fair one, all that you see is yours."
Marienka was delighted. But it is impossible to make so long a journey without being hungry; and it was with pleasure, therefore, that she saw the mountain dwarfs bring in a table, everything on which glittered with gold, silver, and precious stones. The dishes were marvelous—side-dishes of emeralds, and roasts of gold on silver salvers. Every one ate heartily except the bride, who begged her husband for a little bread.
"Bring the copper bread," said the King of the Mines.
Marienka could not eat it.
"Bring the silver bread," said he.
Marienka could not eat it.
"Bring the gold bread," said he, at length.
Marienka could not eat it.
"My fair one," said the King of the Mines, "I am very sorry; but what can I offer you? We have no other bread."
The bride burst into tears. Her husband laughed aloud; his heart was of metal, like his kingdom.
"Weep, if you like," he cried; "it will do you no good. What you wished for you possess. Eat the bread that you have chosen."
It was thus that the rich Marienka lived in her castle, dying of hunger, and seeking in vain for a root to allay the torture that was consuming her. God had humbled her by granting her prayer.
Three days in the year, the Rogation Days, when the ground half opens to receive the fruitful rain sent by the Lord, Marienka returns to the earth. Dressed in rags, pale and wrinkled, she begs from door to door, too happy when any one throws her a few crusts, and when she receives as alms from the poor what she lacks in her palace of gold—a little bread and a little pity.
The Story of the Noses
A Bohemian Tale
At Dewitz, in the neighborhood of Prague, there once lived a rich and whimsical old farmer who had a beautiful daughter. The students of Prague, of whom there were at that time twenty-five thousand, often walked in the direction of Dewitz, and more than one of them offered to follow the plow in hopes of becoming the son-in-law of the farmer. The first condition that the cunning peasant set on each new servant was this: "I engage you," he would say, "for a year—that is, till the cuckoo sings the return of spring; but if, from now till then, you say once that you are not satisfied, I will cut off the end of your nose. I give you the same right over me," he added, laughing. And he did as he said. Prague was full of students with the ends of their noses glued on, which did not prevent an ugly scar, and, still less, bad jokes. To return from the farm disfigured and ridiculed was well calculated to cool the warmest passion.
A young man by the name of Coranda, somewhat ungainly in manner, but cool, adroit, and cunning, which are not bad aids in making one's fortune, took it in his head to try the adventure. The farmer received him with his usual good nature, and, the bargain made, sent him to the field to work. At breakfast-time the other servants were called, but good care was taken to forget Coranda. At dinner it was the same. Coranda gave himself no trouble about it. He went to the house, and while the farmer's wife was feeding the chickens unhooked an enormous ham from the kitchen rafters, took a huge loaf from the cupboard, and went back to the fields to dine and take a nap.
"Are you satisfied?" cried the farmer, when he returned at night.
"Perfectly satisfied," said Coranda; "I have dined better than you have."
At that instant the farmer's wife came rushing in, crying that her ham was gone. Coranda laughed, and the farmer turned pale.
"Are you not satisfied?" asked Coranda.
"A ham is only a ham," answered his master. "Such a trifle does not trouble me." But after that time he took good care not to leave the student fasting.
Sunday came. The farmer and his wife seated themselves in the wagon to go to church, saying to Coranda, "It is your business to cook the dinner. Cut up the piece of meat you see yonder, with onions, carrots, leeks, and parsley, and boil them all together in the great pot over the kitchen fire."
"Very well," answered Coranda.
There was a little pet dog at the farm-house by the name of Parsley. Coranda killed him, skinned him, cut him up with the meat and vegetables, and put the whole to boil over the kitchen fire. When the farmer's wife returned she called her favorite; but, alas! she saw nothing but a bloody skin hanging by the window.
"What have you done?" said she to Coranda.
"What you ordered me, mistress. I have boiled the meat, onions, carrots, and leeks, and parsley in the bargain."
"Wicked wretch!" cried the farmer, "had you the heart to kill the innocent creature that was the joy of the house?"
"Are you not satisfied?" said Coranda, taking his knife from his pocket.
"I did not say that," returned the farmer. "A dead dog is nothing but a dead dog." But he sighed.
A few days after, the farmer and his wife went to market. Fearing their terrible servant, they said to him, "Stay at home and do exactly what you see others do."
"Very well," said Coranda.
There was an old shed in the yard the roof of which was falling to pieces. The carpenters came to repair it, and began, as usual, by tearing down the roof. Coranda took a ladder and mounted the roof of the house, which was quite new. Shingles, lath, nails, and tiles, he tore off everything, and scattered them all to the winds. When the farmer returned the house was open to the sky.
"Villain!" said he, "what new trick have you played me?"
"I have obeyed you, master," answered Coranda. "You told me to do exactly what I saw others do. Are you not satisfied?" And he took out his knife.
"Satisfied!" returned the farmer; "why should I not be satisfied? A few shingles more or less will not ruin me." But he sighed.
Night came, the farmer and his wife said to each other that it was high time to get rid of this incarnate demon. As is always the case with sensible people, they never did anything without consulting their daughter, it being the custom in Bohemia to think that children always have more wit than their parents.
"Father," said Helen, "I will hide in the great pear-tree early in the morning, and call like the cuckoo. You can tell Coranda that the year is up, since the cuckoo is singing; pay him and send him away."
Early in the morning the plaintive cry of the cuckoo was heard through the fields. The farmer seemed surprised. "Well, my boy, spring is come," said he. "Do you hear the cuckoo singing yonder? I will pay you and we will part good friends."
"A cuckoo!" said Coranda; "that is a bird which I have always wanted to see."
He ran to the tree and shook it with all his might, when, behold! a young girl fell from the branches, fortunately more frightened than hurt.
"Villain!" cried the farmer.
"Are you not satisfied?" said Coranda, opening his knife.
"Wretch! you kill my daughter and you think that I ought to be satisfied! I am furious. Begone, if you would not die by my hand!"
"I will go when I have cut off your nose," said Coranda. "I have kept my word. Do you keep yours."
"Stop!" cried the farmer, putting his hand before his face. "You will surely let me redeem my nose?"
"It depends on what you offer," said Coranda.
"Will you take ten sheep for it?"
"No; I would rather cut off your nose." And he sharpened his knife on the door-step.
"Father," said Helen, "the fault was mine; it belongs to me to repair it. Coranda, will you take my hand instead of my father's nose?"
"Yes," replied Coranda.
"I make one condition," said the young girl. "We will make the same bargain; the first one of us that is not satisfied after marriage shall have his nose cut off by the other."
"Good," replied Coranda. "I would rather it was the tongue; but that will come next."
Never was a finer wedding seen at Prague, and never was there a happier household. Coranda and the beautiful Helen were a model pair. The husband and wife were never heard to complain of each other; they loved with drawn swords, and, thanks to their ingenious bargain, kept for long years both their love and their noses.
The Three Citrons
A Neapolitan Tale
Once upon a time there lived a king who was called the King of the Vermilion Towers. He had but one son, whom he loved as the apple of his eye, and who was the only hope of a royal line about to become extinct. The old king's whole ambition was to marry this illustrious prince—to find him a princess at once handsome, noble, young, and rich. He could think of nothing but this wished-for marriage.
Unhappily, among all the virtues in which the heir to a crown is never lacking, Carlino, for that was the young prince's name, had the trifling fault of being shyer than a deer. He shook his head and fled to the woods at the mere sound of a woman's name, to the great grief of his father, who was in despair at seeing his family about to die out. But his grief was in vain; nothing touched the heart of Carlino. The tears of a father, the prayers of a whole people, the interest of the state, nothing could melt this stony heart. Twenty preachers had wasted their eloquence and thirty senators their Latin in reasoning with him. To be stubborn is one of the privileges of royalty, as Carlino had known from his birth, and he would have thought himself dishonored by being second to a mule in obstinacy.
But more things often happen in an hour than in a hundred years, and no one can say with safety, "This is a road that I shall never travel." One morning at breakfast, as Carlino, instead of listening to his father's sermon, was amusing himself by watching the flies buzzing in the air, he forgot that he had a knife in his hand, and pricked his finger in a gesture of impatience. The blood gushed forth and fell into a plate of cream that had just been handed to him, where it made a curious mixture of white and red. Either by chance or by the punishment of Heaven, the prince was instantly seized with the maddest caprice that could be imagined.
"Sir," said he to his father, "if I do not soon find a woman as white and red as this cream dyed with my blood, I am lost. This wonder must exist somewhere. I love her; I am dying for her; I must have her; I will have her. To a resolute heart nothing is impossible. If you would have me live, let me go in search of her, or before to-morrow I shall be dead of loneliness."
The poor King of the Vermilion Towers was thunderstruck at this folly. It seemed to him that his palace was crumbling over his head; he turned red and pale by turns, stammered, wept, and finally cried, in a voice broken with sobs:
"Oh, my child, the staff of my old age, my heart's blood, the life of my soul, what an idea have you taken into your head! Have you lost your reason? Yesterday you almost made me die of sorrow by refusing to marry; to-day you are about to drive me from the world by another piece of folly. Whither would you go, unhappy boy? Why leave your home, where you have been born and bred? Do you know to what danger and suffering the traveler exposes himself? Drive away these perilous fancies, and stay with me, my child, if you would not deprive me of life and destroy your kingdom and house at one blow."
All these words, and others equally wise, had no more effect than an official harangue. Carlino, his eye fixed and his brow bent, listened to nothing but his passion. All that was said to him went in at one ear and out at the other; it was eloquence cast to the winds.
When the old king, worn out with prayers and tears, perceived that it was easier to melt a leaden weathercock on its steeple than a spoiled child in pursuit of his whim, he heaved a deep sigh and determined to let Carlino go; and giving him counsels to which he scarcely listened, several bags filled with guineas, which were rather better received than the counsels, and two trusty servants, the good king clasped his rebellious son to his heart and bade him adieu, then mounted to the top of the great tower to follow the ungrateful boy with his eyes as far as he could see. When Carlino at last disappeared in the distance, the poor monarch thought that his heart was breaking. He buried his face in his hands and wept, not like a child, but like a father. The tears of a child are like the summer rain, large drops that are soon dried up; the tears of a father are like the autumnal rain, which falls slowly and soaks into the ground.
While the king wept, Carlino, mounted on a fine horse, rode on gaily, his plume waving in the wind, like a hero about to conquer the world. To find what he sought was not an easy task, however, and his journey lasted more than one day. He crossed mountains and valleys, traversed kingdoms, duchies, earldoms, and baronies, and visited cities, villages, castles, and cottages, gazing at all the women, and gazed at by them in turn; but all in vain: the treasure that he sought was not to be found in old Europe.
At the end of four months he reached Marseilles, resolved to embark for the Indies. At the sight of the raging sea, however, his brave and faithful servants were seized with an epidemic, called by the physicians stay-at-homeativeness in Hebrew, and the headache in the feet in Latin. To the great regret of these honest people, they were forced to quit their good master and remain quietly on shore, wrapped in their warm blankets, while Carlino, embarked on a frail bark, braved the winds and waves.
Nothing can stop a heart hurried away by passion. The prince roamed over Egypt, India, and China, going from province to province, from city to city, from house to house, and from cabin to cabin, everywhere seeking the original of the fair image that was engraved on his heart, but in vain. He saw women of all colors and shades, brown, blond, olive, sandy, white, yellow, red, and black, but he did not see her whom he loved.
Always seeking and never finding, Carlino at last reached the end of the world. There was nothing more before him but the ocean and the sky. His hopes were at an end; his dream had vanished. As he was walking despairingly up and down the seashore, he spied an old man warming himself in the sun. The prince asked him if there was nothing beyond these waves that stretched as far as the eye could reach.
"No," said the old man; "no one has ever discovered anything in this shoreless ocean, or, at least, those who have ventured on it have never returned to tell the story. I remember, however, having heard the old men among us say, when I was a child," he added, "that their fathers had told them that yonder, a long, long way off, far beyond the horizon, was the Island of the Fates; but woe to the imprudent man who approaches these merciless fairies: he is struck with death at their sight."
"What does that matter?" cried Carlino. "I would face death itself to gain my wishes."
A bark lay by the strand. The prince sprang on board and unfurled the sail. The wind, which blew off the shore, hurried forward the frail craft, the land disappeared, and Carlino found himself in the midst of the ocean. In vain he gazed about him; there was nothing but the sea—the sea everywhere; in vain the bark bounded over the foaming waves with the speed of lightning, like a steed with mane floating on the wind; there was nothing but the sea—the sea everywhere. Billows followed billows, the hours passed one after another, the day declined, and the solitude and silence seemed to deepen around Carlino, when all at once he uttered a cry; he saw a black speck in the distance. At the same instant the bark, shooting ahead like an arrow, struck upon the sand at the foot of huge rocks, which raised their dark summits, notched and worn by time, to the skies. Fate had thrown Carlino upon that strand from which none had ever returned.
To climb this wall was not an easy matter; there was neither road nor path; and when Carlino, after long efforts, with torn hands and wearied limbs, at last succeeded in reaching a level spot, what he found was not calculated to reassure him. He saw nothing but glaciers piled upon one another—black, damp rocks rising from the midst of the snows—not a tree, not a blade of grass, not a bit of moss; it was the picture of winter and death. The only sign of life in this desert was a wretched hovel, the roof of which was loaded with great stones in order to resist the fury of the winds. The prince approached the hut, and was about to enter it, when he stopped short, struck with surprise and terror at the spectacle which presented itself.
At the end of the room was a great web of cloth, on which were pictured all the conditions of life. There were kings, soldiers, farmers, and shepherds, with ladies richly dressed, and peasant women spinning by their side. At the bottom boys and girls were dancing gaily, holding each other by the hand. Before the web walked the mistress of the house—an old woman, if the name woman can be given to a skeleton with bones scarcely hidden by a skin yellower and more transparent than wax. Like a spider ready to pounce upon its prey, the old woman, armed with a great pair of shears, peered at all the figures with a jealous eye, then suddenly fell upon the web and cut it at random, when, lo! a piercing wail rose from it that would have moved a heart of stone. The tears of children, the sobs of mothers, the despair of lovers, the last murmurs of old age, all human sorrow seemed mingled in this wail. At the sound the old woman burst into a loud laugh, and her hideous face lighted up with ferocious delight, while an invisible hand mended the web, eternally destroyed and eternally repaired.
The hag, again opening her shears, was already approaching the web anew, when she saw the shadow of Carlino.
"Fly, unhappy man," cried she, without turning round; "I know what brings you here, but I can do nothing for you. Go to my sister; perhaps she will give you what you desire. She is Life—I am Death."
Carlino did not wait for a second bidding. He rushed onward, too happy to escape this scene of horror.
The landscape soon changed. Carlino found himself in a fertile valley. On every side were harvests, blossoming fields, vines loaded with grapes, and olive-trees full of fruit. In the thick shade of a fig-tree, by a running spring, sat a blind woman unrolling the last gold and silver thread from a spindle. Around her lay several distaffs, full of different kinds of materials ready for spinning—flax, hemp, wool, silk, and others.
When she had finished her task the fairy stretched out her trembling hand at random, took the first distaff that came, and began to spin.
Carlino bowed respectfully to the lady, and began with emotion to tell her the story of his pilgrimage, when the fairy stopped him at the first word.
"My child," said she, "I can do nothing for you. I am only a poor blind woman that does not even know herself what she is doing. This distaff, which I have taken at random, decides the fate of all who are born while I am spinning it. Riches or poverty, happiness or misfortune, are attached to this thread that I cannot see. The slave of destiny, I can create nothing. Go to my other sister; perhaps she will give you what you desire. She is Birth; I am Life."
"Thanks, madam," answered Carlino; and with a light heart he ran to find the youngest of the Fates. He soon discovered her, fresh and smiling as the spring. Everything about her was taking root and germinating; the corn was bursting through the earth and putting forth its green blades from the brown furrows; the orange-blossoms were opening; the buds on the trees were unfolding their pink scales; the chickens, scarcely feathered, were running round the anxious hen, and the lambs were clinging to their mother. It was the first smile of life.
The fairy received the prince with kindness. After listening to him without laughing at his folly, she asked him to sup with her, and at dessert gave him three citrons, and a beautiful knife with a mother-of-pearl handle.
"Carlino," said she, "you can now return to your father's house. The prize is gained; you have found what you have been seeking. Go, then, and when you have reached your kingdom, stop at the first fountain that you see and cut one of these citrons. A fairy will come forth, who will ask you for a drink. Give her the water quickly, or she will slip through your fingers like quicksilver. If the second escapes you in the same way, have an eye to the last; give her a drink instantly, and you will have a wife according to your heart."
Intoxicated with joy, the prince kissed again and again the charming hand that crowned his wishes. He was more happy than wise, and little deserved to succeed; but fairies have their caprices, and Fortune is always a fairy.
It was a long distance from the end of the world to the kingdom of the Vermilion Towers. Carlino experienced more than one storm and braved more than one danger on his way across land and sea, but at last, after a long voyage and a thousand trials, he reached his father's country with his three citrons, which he had treasured like the apple of his eye.
He was not more than two hours' journey from the royal castle when he entered a dense forest where he had hunted many a time. A transparent fountain, bordered with wild flowers and shaded by the trembling leaves of the aspen, invited the traveler to repose. Carlino seated himself on a carpet of verdure enameled with daisies, and, taking his knife, cut one of the citrons.
All at once a young girl as white as milk and as red as a strawberry darted past him like lightning. "Give me a drink!" said she, pausing an instant.
"How beautiful she is!" cried the prince, so ravished by her charms that he forgot the advice of the Fate. He paid dearly for it; in a second the fairy had disappeared. Carlino smote his breast in despair, and stood as astonished as a child that sees the running water slip through his fingers.
He tried to calm himself, and cut the next citron with a trembling hand, but the second fairy was even more beautiful and more fleeting than her sister. While Carlino admired her, wonder-struck, in the twinkling of an eye she took flight.
This time the prince burst into tears and wept so bitterly that he seemed a part of the fountain. He sobbed, tore his hair, and called down all the maledictions of Heaven on his head.
"Fool that I am!" he cried; "twice I have let her escape as though my hands were tied. Fool that I am, I deserve my fate. When I should have run like a greyhound I stood still like a post. A fine piece of business! But all is not lost; the third time conquers. I will try the magic knife once more, and if it deceives me this time I will use it on myself."
He cut the last citron. The third fairy darted forth and said, like her companions, "Give me a drink!" But the prince had learned a lesson. He instantly gave her the water, when, lo! a beautiful, slender young girl, as white as milk, with cheeks like roses, stood before him, looking like a freshly opened rosebud. She was a marvel of beauty such as the world had never seen, as fresh as a lily and as graceful as a swan; her hair was of brighter gold than the sun, her clear blue eyes revealed the depths of her heart, her rosy lips seemed made only to comfort and charm; in a word, from head to foot she was the most enchanting creature that had ever descended from heaven to earth. It is a great pity that we have no likeness of her.
At the sight of his bride the prince almost lost his reason from joy and surprise. He could not understand how this miracle of freshness and beauty had sprung from the bitter rind of a citron.
"Am I asleep?" he cried. "Am I dreaming? If I am the sport of a delusion, for pity's sake do not awaken me."
The fairy's smile soon reassured him. She accepted his hand, and was the first to ask to repair to the good king of the Vermilion Towers, who would be so happy to bless his children.
"My love," answered Carlino, "I am as impatient as you to see my father and to prove to him that I was right; but we cannot enter the castle arm in arm like two peasants. You must go like a princess; you must be received like a queen. Wait for me by this fountain; I will run to the palace, and return in two hours with a dress and equipage worthy of you." Saying this, he tenderly kissed her hand and left her.
The young girl was afraid, on finding herself alone; the cry of a raven, the rustling of the trees, a dead branch broken by the wind, everything frightened her. She looked tremblingly about her, and saw an old oak by the side of the fountain whose huge trunk offered her a shelter. She climbed the tree and hid herself in it, all but her lovely face, which, encircled by the foliage, was reflected in the transparent fountain as in a clear mirror.
Now there was a negress, by the name of Lucy, who lived in the neighborhood, and who was sent every day by her mistress to the fountain for water. Lucy came, as usual, with her pitcher on her shoulder, and just as she was about to fill it, she spied the image of the fairy in the spring. The fool, who had never seen herself, thought that the face was her own. "Poor Lucy!" she cried. "What! you, so fresh and beautiful, are forced by your mistress to carry water like a beast of burden! No, never!" And in her vanity she dashed the pitcher to the ground and returned home.
When her mistress asked her why she had broken the pitcher, the slave shrugged her shoulders and said, "The pitcher that goes often to the well is soon broken." Upon this her mistress gave her a little wooden cask and ordered her to go back immediately and fill it at the fountain.
The negress ran to the spring, and, gazing lovingly at the beautiful image in the water, sighed and said, "No, I am not an ape, as I am so often told; I am more beautiful than my mistress. Mules may carry casks—not I!" She dashed the cask on the ground, broke it in a thousand pieces, and returned to her mistress, grumbling.
"Where is the cask?" asked her mistress, who was waiting impatiently for the water.
"A mule ran against me and knocked it down, and it is all broken to pieces."
At these words her mistress lost patience. Seizing a broom, she gave the negress one of those lessons that are not soon forgotten; then, taking down a leathern bottle that was hanging on the wall, "Run, wretched ape," she said; "and if you do not instantly bring this back to me full of water, I will beat you within an inch of your life."
The negress took to her heels in terror, and filled the bottle obediently; but when it was filled she stopped to look once more in the fountain; and seeing the lovely face reflected there, "No!" she cried, in a burst of anger—"no, I will not be a water-carrier; no, I was not made to serve my mistress like a dog."
Saying this, she took from her hair the great pin that held it, and pierced the bottle through and through. The water spouted out in every direction. At the sight the fairy in the tree burst into a fit of laughter. The negress looked up, saw the beautiful stranger, and understood the whole.
"Oh!" said she to herself, "so you are the cause of my beating; no matter, you shall pay me well for it." Then, raising her voice, she called, in her sweetest tones, "What are you doing up there, lovely lady?"
The fairy, who was as good as she was beautiful, tried to comfort the slave by talking with her. The acquaintance was soon made; an innocent soul is unsuspicious in friendship. The fairy, without distrust, told the negress all that had happened to her and the prince, why she was alone in the forest, and how she was every instant expecting Carlino with a grand equipage to conduct his bride to the king of the Vermilion Towers, and to marry her there in the presence of all the court.
On hearing this story, the wicked and envious negress conceived an abominable idea. "Madame," said she, "if the prince is coming with all his suite, you must be ready to meet him. Your hair is all in disorder; let me come to you, and I will comb it."
"With pleasure," answered the fairy, with a gracious smile, as she stretched out a little white hand, which looked, in Lucy's great black paw, like a crystal mirror in an ebony frame.
No sooner had she climbed the tree than the wicked slave untied the fairy's hair and began to comb it; then, all at once, taking her great hair-pin, she pierced her to the brain. Feeling herself wounded, the fairy cried, "Palomba! Palomba!" when she instantly turned to a wood-pigeon and flew away. The horrible negress took her victim's place, and stretched out her neck among the foliage, looking like a statue of jet in a niche of emerald.
Meanwhile the prince, mounted on a magnificent horse, was riding thither at full speed, followed by a long cavalcade. Poor Carlino was astonished to find a crow where he had left a swan. He almost lost his reason, his voice was choked with tears, and he gazed in all directions, hoping to see his bride among the foliage. But the negress, putting on a suffering air, said to him, casting down her eyes, "Look no farther, my prince; a wicked fairy has made me her victim, and a wretched fate has changed your lily to charcoal."
Though he cursed the fairies who had played on his credulity, Carlino, like a true prince, would not break his word. He gallantly gave his hand to Lucy and helped her to descend from the tree, all the while heaving sighs that would have melted a heart of stone. When the negress was dressed like a princess, and covered with lace and diamonds that adorned her as the stars adorn the night, by rendering the darkness still more visible, Carlino seated her at his right hand, in a magnificent carriage lined with plate-glass and drawn by six white horses, and took his way to the palace, as happy as a criminal with the rope about his neck.
The old king came to meet them a league from the castle. The wonderful stories of his son had turned his brain. In spite of etiquette and against the remonstrances of his courtiers, he hastened to admire the incomparable beauty of his daughter-in-law. "Upon my word," he exclaimed, at the sight of a crow instead of the dove that had been promised him—"upon my word, this is too much. I knew that my son was mad, but I did not know that he was blind. Is this the spotless lily that he has been to the end of the world to seek? Is this the rose fresher than the morning dew, the miracle of beauty that has come from the rind of a citron? Does he think that I will bear this new insult to my gray hairs? Does he think that I will leave to mulatto children the empire of the Vermilion Towers, the glorious inheritance of my ancestors? This baboon shall never enter my palace."
The prince fell at his father's feet and tried to move him. The prime minister, a man of great experience, remonstrated with his master that, at court, black often becomes white and white black in the space of twenty-four hours; and that there was no reason to be astonished at such a very natural metamorphosis. What was the king of the Vermilion Towers to do? He was a king and a father, and by this double title always accustomed to do the will of others. He yielded and consented with a bad grace to this strange union. The court gazette announced to the whole kingdom the happy choice that the prince had made, and ordered the people to rejoice. The wedding was postponed for a week; it was impossible to make the preparations for the ceremony in less time than this.
The negress was lodged in a magnificent suite of apartments; countesses disputed with one another the honor of putting on her slippers; and duchesses obtained, not without difficulty, the glorious privilege of handing her her nightgown. The town and castle were adorned with flags of all colors; walls were thrown down, yews were planted, walks were graveled, old speeches were furbished up, stale compliments were newly framed, and poems and sonnets that had done duty everywhere were patched up anew. There was but one idea in the kingdom—that of thankfulness to the prince for having chosen a wife so worthy of him.
The kitchen was not forgotten. Three hundred scullions, a hundred cooks, and fifty stewards set to work, under the superintendence of the famous Bouchibus, the chief of the royal kitchens. Pigs were killed, sheep cut up, capons larded, pigeons plucked, and turkeys spitted; it was a universal massacre. It is impossible to have a feast worthy of the name without the help of the poultry-yard.
In the midst of this bustle a beautiful wood-pigeon, with blue wings, perched on one of the kitchen windows, and cooed, in a plaintive voice,
"Bouchibus, tell me, for you must know, sure, What has Carlino to do with the Moor?"
The great Bouchibus was at first too busy with public affairs to attend to the cooing of a pigeon; but after a while he began to be astonished at understanding the language of birds, and thought it his duty to inform his new mistress of the wonder. The negress did not disdain to go to the kitchen. As soon as she heard the song, with a cry of affright, she ordered Bouchibus to catch the pigeon and make a stew of it.
No sooner said than done. The poor bird suffered itself to be caught without resistance. In an instant Bouchibus, armed with his great knife, cut off its head and threw it into the garden. Three drops of blood fell on the ground; and three days after there sprang from the earth a beautiful citron-tree, which grew so fast that before night it was in blossom.
The prince, while taking the air in his balcony, chanced to spy a citron-tree which he had never seen before. He called the cook and asked him who had planted this beautiful tree. The story of Bouchibus perplexed him greatly. He at once commanded, under penalty of death, that no one should touch the citron-tree, and that the greatest care should be taken of it.
The next morning, as soon as he awoke, the prince hastened to the garden. There were already three citrons on the tree—three citrons exactly like those which the Fate had given him. Carlino gathered them, hastened to his apartments, and shut himself up under lock and key. With a trembling hand he filled a golden cup, set with rubies, which had belonged to his mother, with water, and opened the magic knife, which had never left him.
He cut a citron, and the first fairy came forth. Carlino scarcely glanced at her, and suffered her to take flight. It was the same with the second; but as soon as the third appeared he gave her the cup, from which she drank with a smile, and stood before him more graceful than ever.
The fairy then told Carlino all that she had suffered from the wicked negress. The prince, beside himself with mingled joy and anger, laughed and wept, sang and raved. The king, hearing the noise, ran to see what was the matter, and you may judge of his surprise. He danced about like a madman, with his crown on his head and his scepter in his hand. All at once he stopped short, bent his brow, which was a sign that a thought had struck him, threw a large veil over the princess which covered her from head to foot, and taking her by the hand, led her to the dining-room.
It was the hour for breakfast. The ministers and courtiers were ranged round a long table, magnificently served, waiting for the entrance of the royal family to be seated. The king called the guests one after another, and, raising the veil as each approached the fairy, asked:
"What shall be done to the person who sought to destroy this marvel of beauty?"
And each one, wonder-struck, answered in his own way. Some said that the author of such a crime deserved a hempen cravat; others thought that the wretch should be thrown into the water with a stone to his neck. Beheading seemed to the old minister too mild a punishment for such a villain; he was in favor of flaying him alive, and all present applauded his humanity.
When the negress's turn came she approached without suspicion, and did not recognize the fairy. "Sire," said she, "a monster capable of injuring this charming creature deserves to be roasted alive in an oven, and to have his ashes thrown to the winds."
"You have pronounced your own sentence," cried the king of the Vermilion Towers. "Wretch, behold your victim and prepare to die. Let a funeral pile be built in the square in front of the castle. I will give my good people the pleasure of seeing a witch burn; it will occupy them for an hour or two."
"Sire," said the young fairy, taking the king's hand, "Your Majesty surely will not refuse me a wedding gift?"
"No, indeed, my child," replied the old king. "Ask what you will; should it be my crown, I will gladly give it to you."
"Sire," continued the fairy, "grant me this wretched creature's pardon. An ignorant and miserable slave, life has taught her nothing but hatred and malice; let me render her happy and teach her that the only happiness on earth consists in loving others."
"My daughter," said the king, "it is very evident that you are a fairy; you know nothing of human justice. Among us, we do not reform the wicked, we kill them; it is sooner done. But I have given my word. Tame this serpent at your own risk and peril; I am willing."
The fairy raised the negress, who kissed her hands, weeping; then they all sat down to the table. The king was so happy that he ate enough for four. As for Carlino, who kept his eyes fixed on his bride, he cut his thumb five or six times in a fit of absent-mindedness, which each time put him in the best humor imaginable. Everything gives us pleasure when the heart is happy.
When the old king died, full of years and honor, Carlino and his lovely wife ascended the throne in turn. For half a century, if history is to be believed, they neither raised the taxes, shed a drop of blood, nor caused a tear to fall; and although more than a thousand years have passed since then, the good people of the Vermilion Towers still sigh at the mention of this distant age, and little children are not the only ones to ask when the fairies will reign again.
A Spanish Tale
Once upon a time there was a handsome hen who lived like a great lady in the poultry-yard of a rich farmer, surrounded by a numerous family which clucked about her, and none of which clamored more loudly or picked up the corn faster with his beak than a poor little deformed and crippled chicken. This was precisely the one that the mother loved best. It is the way with all mothers; the weakest and most unsightly are always their favorites. This misshapen creature had but one eye, one wing, and one leg in good condition; it might have been thought that Solomon had executed his memorable sentence on Coquerico, for that was the name of the wretched chicken, and cut him in two with his famous sword. When a person is one-eyed, lame, and one-armed, he may reasonably be expected to be modest; but our Castilian ragamuffin was prouder than his father, the best spurred, most elegant, bravest, and most gallant cock to be seen from Burgos to Madrid. He thought himself a phoenix of grace and beauty, and passed the best part of the day in admiring himself in the brook. If one of his brothers ran against him by accident, he abused him, called him envious and jealous, and risked his only remaining eye in battle; if the hens clucked on seeing him, he said it was to hide their spite because he did not condescend to look at them.
One day, when he was more puffed up with vanity than usual, he resolved no longer to remain in such a narrow sphere, but to go out into the world, where he would be better appreciated.
"My lady mother," said he, "I am tired of Spain; I am going to Rome to see the pope and cardinals."
"What are you thinking of, my poor child!" cried his mother. "Who has put such a folly into your head? Never has one of our family been known to quit his country, and for this reason we are the honor of our race, and are proud of our genealogy. Where will you find a poultry-yard like this—mulberry-trees to shade you, a whitewashed henroost, a magnificent dunghill, worms and corn everywhere, brothers that love you, and three great dogs to guard you from the foxes? Do you not think that at Rome itself you will regret the ease and plenty of such a life?"
Coquerico shrugged his crippled wing in token of disdain. "You are a simple woman, my good mother," said he; "everything is accounted worthy of admiration by him who has never quitted his dunghill. But I have wit enough to see that my brothers have no ideas and that my cousins are nothing but rustics. My genius is stifling in this hole; I wish to roam the world and seek my fortune."
"But, my son, have you never looked in the brook?" resumed the poor hen. "Don't you know that you lack an eye, a leg, and a wing? To make your fortune, you need the eyes of a fox, the legs of a spider, and the wings of a vulture. Once outside of these walls, you are lost."
"My good mother," replied Coquerico, "when a hen hatches a duck she is always frightened on seeing it run to the water. You know me no better. It is my nature to succeed by my wit and talent. I must have a public capable of appreciating the charms of my person; my place is not among inferior people."
"My son," said the hen, seeing all her counsels useless—"my son, listen at least to your mother's last words. If you go to Rome, take care to avoid St. Peter's Church; the saint, it is said, dislikes cocks, especially when they crow. Shun, moreover, certain personages called cooks and scullions; you will know them by their paper caps, their tucked-up sleeves, and the great knives which they wear at their sides. They are licensed assassins, who track our steps without pity and cut our throats without giving us time to cry mercy. And now, my child," she added, raising her claw, "receive my blessing. May St. James, the patron saint of pilgrims, protect thee!"
Coquerico pretended not to see the tear that trembled in his mother's eye, nor did he trouble himself any more about his father, who bristled his plumage and seemed about to call him back. Without caring for those whom he left behind, he glided through the half-open door and, once outside, flapped his only wing and crowed three times, to celebrate his freedom—"Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
As he half flew, half hopped over the fields, he came to the bed of a brook which had been dried up by the sun. In the middle of the sands, however, still trickled a tiny thread of water, so small that it was choked by a couple of dead leaves that had fallen into it.
"My friend," exclaimed the streamlet at the sight of our traveler—"my friend, you see my weakness; I have not even the strength to carry away these leaves which obstruct my passage, much less to make a circuit, so completely am I exhausted. With a stroke of your beak you can restore me to life. I am not an ingrate; if you oblige me, you may count on my gratitude the first rainy day, when the water from heaven shall have restored my strength."
"You are jesting," said Coquerico. "Do I look like one whose business it is to sweep the brooks? Apply to those of your own sort." And with his sound leg, he leaped across the streamlet.
"You will remember me when you least expect it," murmured the brook, but with so feeble a voice that it was lost on the proud cock.
A little farther on, Coquerico saw the wind lying breathless on the ground.
"Dear Coquerico, come to my aid," it cried; "here on earth we should help one another. You see to what I am reduced by the heat of the day; I, who in former times uprooted the olive-trees and lashed the waves to frenzy, lie here well-nigh slain by the dog-star. I suffered myself to be lulled to sleep by the perfume of the roses with which I was playing; and, lo! here I am, stretched almost lifeless upon the ground. If you will raise me a couple of inches with your beak and fan me a little with your wing, I shall have the strength to mount to yonder white clouds which I see in the distance, where I shall receive aid enough from my family to keep me alive till I gain fresh strength from the next whirlwind."
"My lord," answered the spiteful Coquerico, "Your Excellency has more than once amused himself by playing tricks at my expense. It is not a week since your lordship glided like a traitor behind me and diverted himself by opening my tail like a fan and covering me with confusion in the face of nations. Have patience, therefore, my worthy friend; mockers always have their turn; it does them good to repent and to learn to respect those whose birth, wit, and beauty should screen them from the jests of a fool." And Coquerico, bristling his plumage, crowed three times in his shrillest voice and proudly strutted onward.
A little farther on he came to a newly mown field where the farmers had piled up the weeds in order to burn them. Coquerico approached a smoking heap, hoping to find some stray kernels of corn, and saw a little flame which was charring the green stalks without being able to set them on fire.
"My good friend," cried the flame to the new-comer, "you are just in time to save my life; I am dying for want of air. I cannot imagine what has become of my cousin, the wind, who cares for nothing but his own amusement. Bring me a few dry straws to rekindle my strength, and you will not have obliged an ingrate."
"Wait a moment," said Coquerico, "and I will serve you as you deserve, insolent fellow that dares ask my help!" And behold! he leaped on the heap of dried weeds, and trampled it down till he smothered both flame and smoke; after which he exultingly shouted three times, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" and flapped his wings, as if he had done a great deed.
Proudly strutting onward and crowing, Coquerico at last arrived at Rome, the place to which all roads lead. Scarcely had he reached the city when he hastened to the great Church of St. Peter. Grand and beautiful as it was, he did not stop to admire it, but, planting himself in front of the main entrance, where he looked like a fly among the great columns, he raised himself on tiptoe and began to shout, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" only to enrage the saint and disobey his mother.
He had not yet ended his song when one of the pope's guard, who chanced to hear him, laid hands on the insolent wretch who dared thus to insult the saint, and carried him home in order to roast him for supper.
"Quick!" said he to his wife on entering the house, "give me some boiling water; here is a sinner to be punished."
"Pardon, pardon, Madame Water!" cried Coquerico. "Oh, good and gentle water, the best and purest thing in the world, do not scald me, I pray you!"
"Did you have pity on me when I implored your aid, ungrateful wretch?" answered the water, boiling with indignation. And with a single gush it inundated him from head to foot, and left not a bit of down on his body.
The unhappy Coquerico stripped of all his feathers, the soldier took him and laid him on the gridiron.
"Oh, fire, do not burn me!" cried he, in an agony of terror. "Oh, beautiful and brilliant fire, the brother of the sun and the cousin of the diamond, spare an unhappy creature; restrain thy ardor, and soften thy flame; do not roast me!"
"Did you have pity on me when I implored your aid, ungrateful wretch?" answered the fire, and, fiercely blazing with anger, in an instant it burnt Coquerico to a coal.
The soldier, seeing his roast chicken in this deplorable condition, took him by the leg and threw him out of the window. The wind bore the unhappy fowl to a dunghill, where it left him for a moment.
"Oh, wind," murmured Coquerico, who still breathed, "oh, kindly zephyr, protecting breeze, behold me cured of my vain follies. Let me rest on the paternal dunghill."
"Let you rest!" roared the wind. "Wait, and I will teach you how I treat ingrates." And with one blast it sent him so high in the air that, as he fell back, he was transfixed by a steeple.
There St. Peter was awaiting him. With his own hand he nailed him to the highest steeple in Rome, where he is still shown to travelers. However high placed he may be, all despise him because he turns with the slightest wind; black, dried up, stripped of his feathers, and beaten by the rain, he is no longer called Coquerico, but Weathercock, and thus expiates, and must expiate eternally, his disobedience, vanity, and wickedness.
KING BIZARRE and PRINCE CHARMING
OR, THE ART OF GOVERNING MEN
A TALE OF ALL NATIONS
KING BIZARRE AND PRINCE CHARMING
In the kingdom of Wild Oats, a happy country, a land blessed of Heaven, where the men are always right and the women never wrong, there lived long ago a king who thought of nothing but the happiness of his kingdom, and who, it is said, never was dull for lack of amusement. Whether he was beloved by his people is doubtful; it is certain that the courtiers had little esteem and less love for their prince. For this reason, they had given him the surname of King Bizarre, the only title by which he is known in history, as is seen in the Great Chronicles of the Kingdoms and Principalities of the World Which Have Never Existed, a learned masterpiece which has immortalized the erudition and criticism of the reverend father, Dr. Melchisedec de Mentiras y Necedad.
Left a widower after a year's marriage, Bizarre had fixed his whole affections on his son and heir, who was the most beautiful child imaginable. His complexion was as fresh as a rose; his beautiful hair fell in golden curls on his shoulders; add to his clear blue eyes a straight nose, a small mouth, and a dimpled chin, and you have the portrait of a cherub. At twelve years of age this young marvel danced enchantingly, rode like a riding-master, and fenced to perfection. No one could have helped being won by his smile and the truly royal manner in which he saluted the crowd in passing when he was in good humor. For this reason, the voice of the people, which is never mistaken, had christened him Prince Charming, and his name always clung to him.
Charming was as beautiful as the day; but the sun itself, it is said, has spots, and the princes do not disdain to resemble the sun. The child dazzled the court with his fine mien; but there were shadows here and there which did not escape the piercing eye of love or envy. Supple, agile, and adroit in all kinds of bodily exercises, Charming had an indolent mind. He lacked application, and had taken a fancy that he ought to know everything without studying. It is true that governesses, courtiers, and servants had continually repeated to him that work was not made for kings, and that a prince always knows enough when he lavishes on poets, writers, and artists, with a prodigal and disdainful hand, a little of the money which the people are too happy to offer him.
These maxims tickled Charming's pride; and at twelve years of age the beautiful child, with precocious firmness, had steadily refused to learn the alphabet. Three teachers, chosen from the most able and patient instructors, a priest, a philosopher, and a colonel, had attempted in turn to bend his youthful obstinacy; but the priest had wasted his philosophy, the philosopher his tactics, and the colonel his Latin. Left master of the field of battle, Charming listened to nothing but his caprice, and lived lawless and unconstrained. As stubborn as a mule, as irascible as a turkey-cock, as dainty as a cat, and as idle as an adder, but an accomplished prince withal, he was the pride of the beautiful country of Wild Oats, and the hope and love of a people that esteemed nothing in their kings but grace and beauty.
Notwithstanding he had been brought up at court, King Bizarre was a man of sense. Charming's ignorance was far from pleasing to him, and he often asked himself with anxiety what would become of his kingdom in the hands of a prince whom the basest of flatterers might easily deceive. But what was he to do, what means could he employ with a child that a worshiped wife had bequeathed to him in dying? Rather than see his son weep, Bizarre would have given him his crown; his affection rendered him powerless. Love is not blind, whatever the poets may say; alas! it would be too happy not to see a jot. It is the torment of him who loves to become, despite himself, the slave and accomplice of the ingrate who feels himself beloved.
Every day, after the council, the king went to spend the evening with the Countess of Castro, an old lady who had dandled him on her knees when an infant, and who alone could recall to him the sweet memories of his childhood and youth. She was very ugly, and something of a witch, it is said; but the world is so wicked that we must never believe more than half its scandal. The countess had large features and luxuriant gray hair, and it was easy to see that she had been beautiful in former times.
One day, when Charming had been more unreasonable than usual, the king entered the countess's house with an anxious air, and seating himself before the card-table, began to play a game of Patience. It was his way of diverting his thoughts and forgetting for a few hours the cares of royalty. Scarcely had he ranged sixteen cards in a square when he heaved a deep sigh.
"Countess," he cried, "you see before you the most wretched of fathers and kings. Despite his natural grace, Charming is every day becoming more wilful and vicious. Must I leave such an heir after me, and intrust the happiness of my people to a crowned fool?"
"That is the way with Nature," replied the countess; "she always distributes her gifts with an impartial hand. Stupidity and beauty go hand in hand, and wit and ugliness are seldom separated. I have an example of this in my own family. A few days ago a great-grandniece was sent to me, a child under ten years old, that has no other relative. She is as tawny as a frog, as scraggy as a spider, yet, withal, as cunning as an ape, and as learned as a book. Judge for yourself, sire; here is my little monster coming to salute you."
Bizarre turned his head and saw a child that answered in every respect to the countess's description. With a high, round forehead, black, wild-looking eyes, rough hair turned back in the Chinese fashion, dull, brown skin, great white teeth, red hands, and long arms, she was anything but a beauty. But the chrysalis gives birth to the butterfly. Wait a few years, and you will see what pretty women come from these frightful little girls of ten.
The little monster approached the king, and courtesied to him with so serious an air that Bizarre could not help laughing, though he felt little like it.
"Who are you?" asked he, chucking the child under the chin.
"Sire," she answered, gravely, "I am Donna Dolores Rosario Coral Concha Balthazara Melchiora Gaspara y Todos Santos, the daughter of the noble knight Don Pasquale Bartolomeo Francesco de Asiz y—"
"Enough," said the king. "I did not ask for your genealogy; we are witnessing neither your baptism nor your marriage. What are you commonly called?"
"Sire," replied she, "I am called Pazza."
[Footnote 1: That is to say, Madcap, in Italian. It appears that a very mixed language is spoken in the kingdom of Wild Oats.]
"And why are you called Pazza?"
"Because it is not my name."
"That is strange," said the king.
"No, it is natural," replied the child. "My aunt pretends that I am too giddy for any saint to wish to own me for her goddaughter, and that is why she has given me a name that can offend no one in Paradise."
"Well answered, my child. I see that you are not an ordinary girl. The saints in Paradise are not always treated with such consideration. Since you know so much, tell me what is a wise man?"
"A wise man, sire, is one who knows what he says when he speaks, and what he does when he acts."
"Upon my word," exclaimed the king, "if my wise men were what you fancied them, I would make the Academy of Sciences my council of state, and would give it my kingdom to govern. What is an ignorant man?"
"Sire," returned Pazza, "there are three kinds of ignorant men: he who knows nothing, he who talks of what he does not know, and he who will learn nothing; all three are fit for nothing but to be burned or hung."
"That is a proverb. Do you know what proverbs are called?"
"Yes, sire; they are called the wisdom of nations."
"And why are they called so?"
"Because they are mad; they say whatever you please; they are of all colors, to suit all tastes. Proverbs are like bells, which answer yes or no according to the humor of their listener."
Upon which, springing with both feet from the ground, Pazza caught a fly that was buzzing about the king's nose; then, leaving Bizarre astonished, she took her doll and, seating herself on the ground, began to rock it in her arms.
"Well, sire," the countess said, "what do you think of this child?"
"She has too much wit," answered the king; "she will not live long."
"Ah, sire," exclaimed Pazza, "you are not complimentary to my aunt; she is considerably older than I am."
"Hush, gipsy!" said the old lady, smiling; "don't you know that nobody lectures kings?"
"Countess," said Bizarre, "an idea has just struck me, which is so strange that I hardly dare tell it to you; yet I have a violent wish to carry it out. I can do nothing with my son; reason has no power with the stubborn child. Who knows whether folly would not be more successful? If I thought so, I would make Pazza Charming's teacher. The intractable boy, who rejects all masters, might be defenseless before a child. The only objection is that no one will be of my opinion; I shall have everybody against me."
"Bah!" said the countess; "everybody is so stupid that it is a proof that you are right that you think differently."
THE FIRST LESSON
In this manner Pazza was intrusted with the instruction of the young prince. There was no official appointment; it was not announced in the court gazette that the king, with his usual wisdom, had found an unparalleled genius at the first attempt, to whom he had confided the heart and mind of his child; but the very next morning Charming was sent to the countess's house, and was permitted to play with Pazza.