A week passed by, and found him still undecided, for he had neither courage nor confidence sufficient to undertake such an enterprise. At length a crow said to him, "Why do you neglect to follow the old man's advice? The old sorcerer has never given false information, and the language of birds never deceives. Hasten to the river, and let the maiden dry your tears of longing." This gave the young man courage, for he reflected, "Nothing worse can befall me but death, and death is easier than constant weeping." He mounted his horse and took the well-known path to the banks of the river. When he came to the bridge, he could distinguish the song:
"By my mother's curse o'ertaken, Here I lie in slumber sunken; Here the youthful maid must languish On the bosom of the waters, And the bed is cold and oozy Where the tender maid is resting."
The prince dismounted, and hobbled his horse to prevent him from straying too far from the bridge. Then he took off his clothes, and smeared himself over and over with mud, so that no spot remained white. After this, he caught hold of the end of his nose, and jumped into the water, exclaiming, "Let the man become a crayfish." There was a splash in the water, and then everything became as still as before.
The prince, now transformed into a crayfish, immediately began to disentangle the roots of the water-lily from the bed of the river, but it took him a long time. The roots were firmly fixed in the sand and mud, so that the crayfish had to work for seven whole days before he could complete his task. Then he seized one of the rootlets with his pincers, and the water buoyed him up to the surface with the flower. They drifted along slowly with the current, but although there were plenty of trees and bushes on the banks, it was some time before the prince caught sight of the rowan-tree and the rock. At last, however, he spied the tree with its leaves and clusters of red berries on the left bank, and a little farther on stood the rock, which was as high as a small bath-house. Upon this he cried out, "Let the water-lily become a maiden and the crayfish a man." Then the youth and the maiden swam with their heads above the water. The water bore them to the bank, but they were both mother-naked, as God had created them.
Then said the shame-faced maiden, "Dear youth, I have no clothes to put on, and cannot come out of the water." But the prince answered, "Go ashore near the rowan-tree, and I will shut my eyes while you climb up and hide yourself under the tree. Then I will hurry to the bridge where I left my horse and my clothes when I plunged into the river." So the maiden hid herself under the tree, while the prince hurried to the spot where he had left his horse and his clothes, but he could find neither one nor the other. He did not know that he had passed so many days in the form of a crayfish, and supposed that he had only spent a few hours in the water. Presently he saw a magnificent chariot with six horses coming slowly along the bank to meet him. In the chariot he found everything needful both for himself and for the maiden whom he had released from her watery prison, as well as an attendant and a lady's maid. The prince kept the attendant with him, but sent the chariot and the maid with the clothes to the spot where his naked darling was waiting under the rowan-tree. Rather more than an hour elapsed before the coach returned, bringing the maiden attired as a royal bride to the spot where the prince was waiting. He also was richly dressed in wedding robes, and seated himself by her side in the chariot. They drove straight to the city, and stopped before the door of the church. In the church sat the king and queen in black garments, mourning for the loss of their beloved son, who was supposed to have been drowned in the river, for his horse and his clothes had been found on the bank. Great was their joy when their lost son appeared before them, accompanied by a beautiful girl, both in wedding attire. The king himself led them to the altar, and they were married. Then a wedding-feast was prepared, which lasted for six whole weeks.
But there is no peace nor rest in the course of time, for days of happiness appear to pass more quickly than hours of trouble. Soon after the wedding, autumn set in, followed by frost and snow, and the young couple did not feel much inclination to leave the house. But when spring returned, the prince and his young consort went to walk in the garden. There they heard a magpie crying out from the summit of a tree, "O what an ungrateful creature to neglect the friends who have helped him so much, in his days of happiness! Must the two poor girls sit spinning gold thread all their lives? The lame old woman is not the mother of the maidens, but a wicked witch who stole them away from a far country when they were children. The old woman has committed many crimes, and deserves no mercy. Let her be punished with boiled hemlock, or she will perhaps direct another witch's coil against the child who has been rescued."
This reminded the prince of all that had happened, and he told his consort how he had gone to the cottage in the wood to ask the advice of her sisters, and how the maidens had taught him the language of birds, and he had promised to release them from their servitude. His wife begged him with tears in her eyes to go to the aid of her sisters. When they awoke next morning, she said, "I had an important dream last night. I dreamed that the old mother had left the house, and that the girls were alone. No doubt this would be a good opportunity to go to their aid."
The prince immediately equipped a troop of soldiers, and led them to the cottage in the wood, where they arrived on the following day. The maidens were alone, as the dream had fore-shadowed, and ran out with joyful cries to meet their deliverers. A soldier was ordered to gather hemlock-roots, and to boil them for the punishment of the old woman, so that she should need no more food if she came home, and ate a sufficiency of them. They passed the night in the cottage, and on the following morning set out early on the road with the maidens, so that they reached the town in the evening. Great was the joy of the sisters, who had not seen each other for two years.
The old woman returned home the same night, and greedily devoured the food which she found on the table. Then she crept into bed to rest, but she never awoke again, for the hemlock put an end to her wicked life. A week later the prince sent a trusty captain to see how things were going on, when he found the old woman dead. Fifty loads of golden thread were found in the secret chamber, and were divided among the sisters. As soon as the treasure was carried away, the captain sent the red cock on the roof. But while the cock was already stretching his red comb out of the smoke-hole, a great cat with fiery eyes clambered down the wall from the roof. The soldiers chased the cat, and soon caught her, when a bird sang from the summit of a tree, "Fix the cat in a trap by her tail, and all will come to light." The men obeyed.
"Don't torture me, good people," said the cat. "I am a human being like yourselves, and have been changed into the shape of a cat by witchcraft, though it was a just return for my wickedness. I was the housekeeper in the palace of a great king a long way from here, and the old woman was the queen's first chambermaid. We were led by avarice to plot together secretly to steal the king's three daughters and a great treasure, and then to make our escape. After we had contrived to make away with all the golden vessels, which the old woman changed into golden flax, we took the children, when the eldest was three years old, and the youngest six months. The old woman was afraid that I might repent and change my intentions, so she transformed me into a cat. Her death loosed my tongue, but I did not recover my former shape." When the captain heard this, he answered, "You deserve no better fate than the old woman," and ordered her to be thrown into the fire.
It was not long before the two elder princesses married kings' sons, like their youngest sister, and the golden thread which they had spun in the cottage in the wood provided them with rich dowries. But they never discovered their parents, nor the place of their birth. It was reported that the old woman had buried many more loads of golden thread in the ground, but no one could find the spot.
[Footnote 129: "These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow their fortunes."—George MacDonald, "The Light Princess."]
[Footnote 130: Compare the scene with the four Grey Women in the second part of Faust.]
[Footnote 131: Nine is a mystical number as well as seven.]
[Footnote 132: Ahti, the God of the Waters.]
[Footnote 133: A sacred tree in Eastern Europe, as it is in the British Isles.]
[Footnote 134: See page 108.]
ORPHAN AND FOUNDLING STORIES
The Esthonians appear to be very compassionate towards orphans, for many of their tales relate to the adventures of neglected or ill-used orphan children, and the wonderful events by which their welfare was finally secured. Nevertheless, wicked stepmothers and farmers' wives are just as common as in other folk-tales.
The first story of this class which we have selected, "The Wood of Tontla," is specially interesting from its resemblance to Tieck's well-known German story of "The Elves," which must originally have been derived from the same source as the present narrative.
With the Orphan Stories proper I have placed others relating to stolen or friendless children.
[Footnote 135: Tont is a common name for a house-spirit.]
THE WOOD OF TONTLA.
In ancient times there was a beautifully wooded region in Alutaga (north of Lake Peipus), which was called the Wood of Tontla. But no one dared to enter it, and those who had chanced to approach it related that they had seen an old tumbledown house through the thick trees, surrounded by creatures of human appearance, with which the grass swarmed like an anthill. These forms were ragged and dusky, and looked like gipsies, and there were many old women and half-naked children among them. A peasant who had wandered rather deeper into the wood than usual, as he was returning home one dark night after a carouse, beheld a strange sight. A number of women and children were gathered round a bright fire, and some were sitting on the ground while others danced. An old woman held a broad iron shovel in her hand, and every now and then scattered the red hot cinders over the grass, when the children flew up into the air, fluttering about like owls in the rising smoke, and then sinking down again. Then a little old man with a long beard came out of the wood, carrying a sack longer than himself. The women and children shouted out, and ran to meet him, dancing round him, and trying to pull the sack off his back; but the old man shook himself free. After this, a black cat as large as a foal, which had been sitting on the doorstep glaring with fiery eyes, leaped upon the old man's sack, and then disappeared in the cottage. But as the spectator's head ached and everything swam before his eyes, his report was not clear, and people could not quite distinguish between the false and the true. It was remarkable that such stories were repeated about the Wood of Tontla from generation to generation, without anybody being able to give a more definite account of it. The King of Sweden more than once ordered the wood to be felled, but the people did not venture to execute his command. One day a rash man struck his axe into a tree, when blood flowed, and a cry was heard as of a man in pain. The terrified woodcutter fled, shaking all over with fear; and after this, no command was so stringent and no reward great enough, to induce a woodcutter to touch the wood of Tontla. It was also very strange that no paths led either into or out of the wood, and that throughout the year no smoke was seen to rise which might indicate the presence of human dwellings. The wood was not large, and it was surrounded by open fields, so that it lay exposed to the view of all. If living creatures had actually dwelt there from olden times, they could only get in and out of the wood by secret subterranean passages; or else they must fly through the air by night, like witches, when all around were asleep. According to tradition, the latter alternative seemed the most probable. Perhaps we shall learn more about these strange birds if we drive on the carriage of the story a little farther, and rest at the next village.
There was a large village a few versts from the Wood of Tontla, where a peasant who had lately been left a widower had married a young wife, and, as often happens, he brought a regular shrew into the house, so that there was no end to the trouble and quarrelling.
The first wife had left a clever and intelligent girl named Elsie, who was now seven years old. The wicked stepmother made the poor child's life more intolerable than hell; she banged and cuffed her from morning to night, and gave her worse food than the dogs. As the woman was mistress in the house, the father could not protect his daughter, and even the smoke of the house was forced to dance to the woman's tune. Elsie had now endured this miserable life for more than two years, and had shed many tears, when she went out one Sunday with the other village children to pluck berries. They strolled about as children do, till they came accidentally to the borders of the Wood of Tontla, where the grass was quite red with the finest strawberries. The children ate the sweet berries, and gathered as many as they could into their baskets, when all at once one of the older boys recognised the dreaded spot and cried out, "Fly, fly, for we are in the Wood of Tontla!" The wood was more dreaded than thunder and lightning, and the children rushed off as if all the monsters of the wood were close upon their heels. But Elsie, who had gone rather farther than the others, and had found some very fine strawberries under the trees, went on plucking them, although she heard the boy shout. She only thought, "The dwellers in the Tontla Wood cannot be worse than my stepmother at home."
Presently a little black dog with a silver bell hung round its neck ran up to her barking. This brought a little girl dressed in fine silken garments to the spot, who quieted the dog, and said to Elsie, "It is a good thing that you did not run away like the other children. Stay with me for company, and we will play very nice games together, and go to pluck berries every day. My mother will not refuse her consent, if I ask her. Come, and we will go to her at once." Then the beautiful strange child seized Elsie by the hand, and led her deeper into the wood. The little black dog barked for pleasure now, and jumped upon Elsie and licked her hand as if she were an old acquaintance.
O what wonders and magnificence made Elsie open her eyes! She thought herself in heaven. A beautiful garden lay before her, filled with trees and bushes laden with fruit; birds were sitting on the branches, more brightly coloured than the most brilliant butterflies, and decked with feathers of gold and silver. And the birds were not shy, but allowed the children to take them in their hands at pleasure. In the midst of the garden stood the dwelling-house, built of glass and precious stones, so that the roof and walls shone like the sun. A lady clad in beautiful robes sat on a bench before the door, and asked her daughter, "Who is this guest you have brought with you?" Her daughter answered, "I found her alone in the wood, and brought her with me for company. Won't you allow her to stay here?" The mother smiled, but did not speak, and scanned Elsie sharply from head to foot. Then she told Elsie to come nearer, patted her cheek, and asked in a friendly way where she lived, whether her parents were still alive, and if she would like to stay here. Elsie kissed the lady's hand and fell down and embraced her knees, and then answered, weeping, "My mother has long been at rest under the turf—
"My mother was borne to the grave, And none left to comfort or save.
"It is true that my father still lives, but this is small comfort to me when my stepmother hates me, and beats me unmercifully every day. I cannot do anything to please her. O my dearest lady, let me stay here! Let me mind the flocks, or set me to any other work and I will do anything, and will be always obedient to you, but don't send me back to my stepmother. She would beat me almost to death, because I did not go back with the other village children." The lady smiled, and answered, "We will see what we can do for you." Then she rose from the bench and went into the house. Meantime the daughter said to Elsie, "Take comfort, for my mother is friendly to you. I can see in her face that she will consent to our wishes as soon as she has had time to think over the matter." She then followed her mother into the house, leaving Elsie waiting outside. Elsie's heart palpitated with hope and fear, and she waited anxiously for the decision which was to be announced to her.
After a time the daughter came out again with a box of toys in her hand, and said, "My mother says we are to play together while she considers what is to be done about you. I hope you will stay here, for I don't want to let you leave me again. Have you been for a row on the lake?" Elsie stared, and asked, "On the lake! What is that? I never heard anything about it." "You'll see presently," said the young lady, taking off the lid of the box. It contained a leaf of lady's-smock, a mussel-shell, and two fish-bones. There were a few drops of water glittering on the leaf, which the girl threw on the grass. Immediately the grass, the garden, and everything else vanished, as if they had sunk in the ground, and water spread around to the horizon in every direction. Only a small patch remained dry under the feet of the children. Then the young lady set the shell in the water, and took the fish-bones in her hand. The shell began to expand, until it became a pretty boat, in which a dozen children or more could easily have found room. The two seated themselves in it, Elsie not without hesitation, but her companion only laughed, and the fish-bones turned to oars in her hands. The children were rocked by the waves as if they were in a cradle, and presently other boats came in sight, and the people in them were laughing and singing. "We should sing back to them," said the young lady; but Elsie did not know how to sing; so she herself began to sing very sweetly. Elsie could not understand much of what the others sang, but she heard the word Kiisike repeated several times, and asked what it meant, and her companion answered, "That is my name." They floated thus together for a long time, till they heard a voice crying, "Come home, children, for it is nearly evening." Kiisike took the box out of her pocket, and dipped the leaf in the water, so that a few drops lay upon it. Instantly they found themselves in the garden near the beautiful house: everything looked as firm and solid as before, and no water was to be seen anywhere. The shell and fish-bones were put back into the box with the leaf, and the children went home.
Here they saw four-and-twenty ladies sitting round a dinner-table, all splendidly dressed as if for a wedding. The lady of the house sat at the head of the table in a golden chair.
Elsie's eyes did not know how to admire sufficiently all the splendour which surrounded her. Thirteen gold and silver dishes stood upon the table, but one of these was taken up and carried away without the cover having been removed. Elsie ate of the dainty dishes, which were nicer than cakes, and again she thought she must be in heaven, for she could not imagine anything like this on earth.
During dinner, conversation was carried on in low tones, but in a foreign language of which Elsie did not understand a word. At length the lady spoke to a maid who stood behind her chair. The latter went out, and soon returned accompanied by a little old man, whose beard was longer than himself. The old man made a bow, and stood waiting at the door. The lady pointed to Elsie, and said, "Look at this little peasant girl; I am going to adopt her as my foster-child. Make me an image of her, which we can send to the village to-morrow in her stead." The old man looked at Elsie sharply, as if to take her measure, bowed to the lady again, and left the room. After dinner the lady said kindly to Elsie, "Kiisike has asked me to keep you here as a companion for her, and you said yourself that you would like to stay with us. Is this really so?" Elsie fell on her knees, and kissed the hands and feet of the lady in gratitude for her deliverance from her cruel stepmother. But the lady raised her from the ground, stroked her head and her tearful cheeks, and said, "If you are always a good and diligent child, it shall fare well with you. I will take care of you, and you shall be carefully instructed in everything useful till you are grown up, and are able to shift for yourself. My governess, who teaches Kiisike, shall teach you all kinds of fine work, and other things besides."
After a time the old man came back with a long trough on his shoulder filled with clay, and a covered basket in his left hand. He set them down on the ground, and took a piece of clay, which he moulded into a doll. The body was hollow, and he put three salt herrings and a bit of bread into it. Then he made a hole in the breast of the doll, took a black snake a yard long from the basket, and made it creep through. The snake hissed and lashed its tail as if it resisted, but he forced it through the hole. After the lady had carefully inspected the doll on all sides, the old man said, "We want nothing more now but a drop of the peasant girl's blood." Elsie turned pale with terror when she heard this, for she thought that her soul was sold to the Evil One. But the lady comforted her and said, "Fear nothing. We don't want your blood for any evil purpose, but for a good end, and for your future happiness." Then she took a small gold needle, and pricked Elsie's arm, after which she gave the needle to the old man, who thrust it into the heart of the doll. Then he put the doll into the basket to grow, and promised to show the lady the result of his work next morning. Then they retired to rest, and a chambermaid showed Elsie to a room where she found a soft bed ready for her. When she opened her eyes next morning in the silken bed with soft pillows, she found herself wearing a shift of fine linen, and she saw rich garments lying on a chair near the bed. Then a girl came into the room, and told Elsie to wash herself and comb her hair, after which she dressed her from head to foot in the fine new clothes, like the proudest Saxon child. Nothing delighted Elsie so much as the shoes, for until now she had always gone barefoot. Elsie thought that no king's daughter could possess the like. She was so delighted with the shoes that she had no time to admire the rest of her outfit, although everything was beautiful. The poor clothes which she had worn had been removed during the night, for a purpose which she was afterwards to discover. They were put on the doll, which was to be sent to the village in her place. The doll had grown in its case during the night, and had now become a perfect image of Elsie, and ran about like a creature which God had made. Elsie was startled when she saw the doll, which looked exactly like what she herself had been yesterday. When the lady saw Elsie's alarm, she said, "Don't be afraid, child. This clay image cannot do you any harm, and we will send it to your stepmother, for her to beat. She may beat it as much as she likes, for the image is as hard as stone, and cannot feel pain. But if the wicked woman does not alter her conduct, your image will some day punish her as she deserves."
After this, Elsie lived as happily as any spoiled Saxon child which is rocked in a golden cradle. She had neither sorrow nor weariness to suffer; her lessons became easier and easier every day, and her hard life in the village seemed now no more than a bad dream. But the more happiness she found in this new life, the more wonderful everything appeared to her. It could not be natural, and some mysterious power must rule over everything here. A rock of granite stood in the enclosure about twenty paces from the house. When meal-time approached, the old man with the long beard went to the rock, drew a silver wand from his bosom, and struck the rock three times, when it gave out a clear sound. Then a large golden cock sprang out, and perched upon the rock; and as often as he clapped his wings and crowed, something came out of the rock. First came a long table with covers ready laid for all the company, and the table moved into the house of itself, as if on the wings of the wind. When the cock crowed a second time, chairs went after the table, followed by one dish after another. Everything leaped out of the rock, and flew like the wind to the table. It was the same with bottles of mead and apples and pears; everything seemed alive, so that no one needed to fetch and carry anything. When everybody had eaten enough, the old man knocked on the rock a second time with his silver wand, and then the golden cock crowed, and the bottles, dishes, plates, chairs, and table went back into the rock. But when the thirteenth dish came, from which nothing was eaten, a great black cat ran after it, and sat on the rock with the cock, till the old man carried them away. He took the dish in his hand, the cat on his arm, and the golden cock on his shoulder, and disappeared with them under the rock. Not only food and drink, but everything else required for the household, and even clothes, came out of the rock upon the crowing of the cock. Although but little conversation was carried on at table, and even that in a foreign language, the lady and the governess talked and sang a great deal in the house and garden. In time Elsie also learned to understand almost everything, but years elapsed before she could attempt to speak the strange language herself. One day Elsie asked Kiisike why the thirteenth dish came to table every day, although nobody ate anything from it; but Kiisike could not tell her. However, she must have asked her mother, who sent for Elsie a few days afterwards, and talked to her very seriously. "Do not vex your soul with useless curiosity. You would like to know why we never eat from the thirteenth dish? Mark well, dear child; this is the dish of hidden blessing. We dare not touch it, or our happy life would come to an end. It would be much better, too, for men in this world if they did not grasp avariciously after all things without returning anything in gratitude to the Heavenly Dispenser. Avarice is the worst fault of mankind."
The years flew by with arrow-like swiftness, and Elsie had now become a blooming maiden, and had learned many things which would never have become known to her during her whole life, if she had lived in the village. But Kiisike remained the same little child as on the day when she first met Elsie in the wood. The governess who lived in the house with the lady instructed Kiisike and Elsie for some hours daily in reading and writing, and in all kinds of fine work. Elsie learned everything easily, but Kiisike had more taste for childish games than for her lessons. When the whim took her, she threw her work away, caught up her little box, and ran out of doors to play on the lake, and nobody scolded her. Sometimes she said to Elsie, "It's a pity you've grown so big: you can't play with me any longer."
Nine years passed in this way, and one evening the lady sent for Elsie to come to her room. This surprised Elsie, for the lady had never sent for her before; and her heart beat almost to bursting. When Elsie entered, she saw that the lady's cheeks were red, and her eyes were filled with tears, which she hastily wiped away as if to hide them. "My dear child," said the lady, "the time has come when we must part." "Part!" exclaimed Elsie, throwing herself at the lady's feet. "No, dear lady, we must never part till death shall separate us. I have always behaved well; don't drive me from you." But the lady said soothingly, "Calm yourself, child. You do not yet know how much it will increase your happiness. You are now grown up, and I must not keep you here any longer in confinement. You must go back among mankind, where happiness awaits you." Elsie still besought her, "Dear lady, don't send me away; I wish for no other happiness than to live and die with you. Let me be your chambermaid, or give me any other work to do that you like, only don't send me out into the wide world again. It would have been better for you to have left me with my stepmother in the village than for me to have spent so many years in heaven only to be thrust out again into hell." "Be still, dear child," said the lady. "You cannot understand what it is my duty to do for your good, hard as it is for me also. But everything must be done as I direct. You are a child of mortal man, and your years must come at length to an end, and therefore you cannot remain here any longer. I myself and those around me possess human forms, but we are not human beings like you, but beings of a higher order, whom you cannot comprehend. You will find a beloved husband far away from here, who is destined for you, and you will live happily with him, until your days draw to a close. It is not easy for me to part with you, but so it must be, and therefore you must also submit quietly." Then she passed her golden comb through Elsie's hair and told her to go to bed. But how should poor Elsie sleep this unhappy night? Her life seemed like a dark starless night-sky.
We will leave Elsie in her trouble, and go to the village to see what is taking place at her father's house, to which the clay image was sent for the stepmother to beat in Elsie's stead. It is well known that a wicked woman does not improve with age. It sometimes happens that a wild youth becomes a quiet lamb in his old age; but if a girl whose heart is bad assumes the matron's cap, she becomes like a raging wolf in her old days. The stepmother tortured the clay image like a firebrand from hell both day and night, but she could not hurt the impassive creature, whose body was impervious to pain. If the husband endeavoured to protect his child, she beat him too, as a reward for his attempts at peace-making. One day the stepmother had again beaten her clay daughter terribly, and threatened to kill her. In her fury she seized the clay image by the throat with both hands, and was going to strangle it, when a black snake glided hissing from the child's mouth and bit the stepmother in the tongue, so that she fell dead without uttering a sound. When the husband returned home in the evening, he found the dead and swollen body of his wife lying on the floor, but his daughter was nowhere to be found. He cried out, and some of the villagers assembled. They had heard a great noise in the house about noon, but as this was an almost daily occurrence, no one had gone in. In the afternoon all was quiet, but no one had seen the daughter. The body of the dead woman was washed and shrouded, and peas were boiled in salt for those who should watch the dead during the night. The weary man went to his room to rest, and sincerely thanked his stars that he was rid of this firebrand from hell. He found three salt herrings and a piece of bread on the table, which he ate, and then went to bed. Next morning he was found dead in bed, with his body swollen up like that of the woman. A few days afterwards they were carried to the grave, where they could do each other no more harm. The peasants troubled themselves no further concerning the vanished daughter.
Elsie did not close her eyes all night. She wept and lamented the necessity of parting with her happiness so soon and so unexpectedly. In the morning the lady placed a gold seal-ring on Elsie's finger, and hung a small golden casket round her neck. Then she called the old man, pointed to Elsie with her hand, and took leave of her in the same gesture. Elsie was just going to thank her for her kindness, when the old man touched her head gently three times with his silver wand. Elsie felt immediately that she was changed into a bird. Her arms became wings, and her legs became eagle's legs with long claws, and her nose became a curved beak, while feathers covered her whole body. Then she rose up suddenly into the air, and soared away below the clouds like an eagle hatched from the egg. She flew southwards thus for several days, and would gladly have rested sometimes when her wings grew weary, but she felt no hunger. It came to pass one day that she was flying above a low wood where dogs were barking, which could not harm the bird, for they had no wings. All at once she felt her feathers pierced through with a sharp arrow, and she fell to the ground and fainted with terror.
When Elsie awoke from her swoon and opened her eyes wide, she found herself lying under a bush in her human shape. How she came there, and all the other strange events which had happened to her, lay behind her like a dream. Presently a handsome young prince rode up, sprang from his horse, and gave his hand kindly to Elsie, saying, "By good fortune I rode here this morning. I have dreamed, dear lady, every night for the last half-year that I should find you here in the wood. Although I have ridden this way to no purpose more than a hundred times, my longing and my hopes were not extinguished. I shot a great eagle to-day, which must have fallen here, and I went to seek the game, and instead of the eagle I found—you!" Then he helped Elsie to mount the horse, and rode with her to the town, where the old king gave her a friendly reception. A few days afterwards they prepared a splendid wedding; and on the wedding morning fifty loads of treasure arrived, which had been sent by Elsie's dear foster-mother. After the old king's death, Elsie became queen, and in her old age she herself related the adventures of her youth. But since that time no one has ever seen or heard any more of the Wood of Tontla.
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The King of the Misty Hill (Kreutzwald) is a somewhat similar, but very inferior story. A girl who is out in a wood all night sees a fire on a hill, and finds an old man standing by it. He had a long grey beard, and only one eye, and wore an iron helmet. He threw it on the ground, when two girls appeared, and the village child stayed with them till morning, when a young woman gave her a brooch which would enable her to return to the Misty Hill whenever she pleased. On reaching home, she found she had been absent seven years. On the first opportunity she returned to the hill by night, and her friend who had given her the brooch told her that the old man was the King of the Misty Hill, and the consort of the Meadow Queen, and she was their daughter. The girl continued her nightly visits to the Misty Hill; but after her marriage, her husband discovered her disappearance, and taking her for a were-wolf, tried to burn her; but the King of the Misty Hill carried her away to his dwelling uninjured.
* * * * *
In the story of "The Orphan's Handmill" (Kreutzwald), a compassionate magician from Finland in the guise of a beggar enables an ill-used and overworked orphan girl to obtain a wonderful handmill in a chest, which he forbids her to open, but which grinds all the corn poured into it, without any labour on her part. Her mistress sends her to church, intending to discover the secret of the chest, and then to drive her away and keep the chest; but when she raises the lid, a bright flame bursts from the chest which burns her to ashes. Shortly afterwards, the girl's master marries the orphan, when the chest, having done its work, vanishes, leaving no trace, it having been carried away to the underground kingdom from which the girl had brought it in a vision, with the aid of the white horse (or mare), which always figures as an inhabitant of Porgu.
[Footnote 136: Talking trees are common in Esthonian tales; I do not remember another instance of bleeding trees.]
[Footnote 137: Else.]
[Footnote 138: Pussy.]
[Footnote 139: It must be remembered that the dominant race in Esthonia is German, and that the gentry, even if not fairies, would be expected to speak a language unintelligible to the people. It is significant that the very word for lady in Esthonian is proua, a corruption of Frau. Everything particularly fine is called "Saxon."]
[Footnote 140: In some countries the beard is regarded as a symbol of power, as well as of age and wisdom. Compare the account of Schaibar in the story of Prince Ahmed (Thousand and One Nights).]
[Footnote 141: The Germans are generally represented in Esthonian tales as rich, and sometimes as very haughty people.]
[Footnote 142: Compare Goody Two-Shoes; but this is a modern tale, believed to have been written by Goldsmith.]
[Footnote 143: There is a story (French, I think) of a king who overheard a poor man and his wife abusing Adam and Eve for their poverty. The king took them home, and entertained them. They had a grand feast of many covers every day, but there was always one, the largest of all, which they were forbidden to open. The wife soon persuaded her husband to do so, when a mouse ran out, and the king turned them out of doors.]
[Footnote 144: This expression shows the late date of the present story, for no people uninfluenced by the modern Christian notion that all reasoning beings except men must be necessarily angels or devils, and therefore immortal, represent superhuman beings as immortal, with the exception of the gods, and not always even these.]
[Footnote 145: See page 157.]
THE ORPHAN BOY AND THE HELL-HOUNDS.
Once upon a time there lived a poor labourer and his wife, who dragged on a wretched existence from day to day. They had three children, but only the youngest survived. He was a boy of nine years old when he buried first his father and then his mother, and he had no other resource than to beg his bread from door to door. A year afterwards he happened to come to the house of a rich farmer just when they wanted a herdboy. The farmer himself was not such a bad man to deal with, but his wife had control of everything, and she was a regular brute. It may easily be imagined how much the poor orphan boy suffered. The blows that he received daily were three times more than sufficient, but he never got enough bread to eat. But as the orphan had nothing better to look forward to, he was forced to endure his misery.
One day the poor boy had the misfortune to lose a cow from the herd. He ran about the forest till sundown from one place to another, but could not find the lost cow; and although he well knew what awaited him when he reached home, he was at last obliged to gather the herd together without the missing cow. The sun had not set long when he already heard the voice of his mistress shouting, "You lazy dog, where are you dawdling with the herd?" He could not wait longer, but was forced to hurry home to the stick. It was already growing dusk when the herd arrived at the gate, but the sharp eyes of the mistress had already discovered that one cow was missing. Without saying a word, she snatched the first stake from the fence, and began to belabour the boy, as if she would beat him to a jelly. She was in such a rage that she would certainly have beaten him to death, or made him a cripple for life, if the farmer, hearing his cries and sobs, had not compassionately come to his aid. But as he knew the temper of the furious woman, he would not venture to interfere directly, but sought to soften her, and said beseechingly, "Don't beat the boy quite to pieces, or he won't be able to look for the lost cow. We shall get more profit out of him if you don't quite kill him." "True enough," said the woman, "his carrion won't be worth as much as the good beef." Then she gave him a few more good whacks, and packed him off to look for the cow, saying, "If you come back without the cow, I'll beat you to death." The boy ran from the door sobbing and crying, and went back to the forest where he had been with the herd in the daytime, and searched all night, but could not find a trace of the cow anywhere. But when the sun rose next morning, he made up his mind what to do. "Whatever may happen to me," he said, "I won't go back again." Then he made a start, and ran straight forward at one stretch, till he had left the house far behind him. He himself could not tell how far he ran before his strength failed, and he sank down half dead when it was already almost noon. When at length he awoke from a long heavy sleep, he felt something cool in his mouth, and on opening his eyes, he saw a little old man with a long grey beard putting the ladle back into a milk-can. "Please give me a little more to drink," said the boy. "You have had enough for to-day," answered the old man. "If I had not been passing this way by accident, you would have slept your last sleep, for you were already half dead when I found you." Then the old man asked the boy whence he came and whither he was going. The boy related everything that had happened to him, as far back as he could remember, down to last night's beating. The old man listened attentively to the story, but without interrupting, and after a while he remarked, "My dear child, you have fared neither better nor worse than many others whose dear friends and protectors lie beneath the sod. As you have run away, you must seek your fortune elsewhere in the world. But as I have neither house nor farm, nor wife nor child, I cannot do anything to help you but give you good advice gratis. Sleep here quietly through the night, and to-morrow morning note carefully the exact spot where the sun rises. You must proceed in that direction, so that the sun shines in your face every morning, and on your back every evening. Every day you will feel stronger, and after seven years you will see a great mountain before you, so high that its summit reaches to the clouds. There you will find your future fortune. Take my wallet and my flask, and you will find as much food and drink in them as you require each day. But take care always to leave a crumb of bread and a drop of liquid untouched, or else your store of food will fail you. You may give freely to a hungry bird or to a thirsty animal, for God is pleased when one of His creatures is kind to another. You will find a folded plantain-leaf at the bottom of the wallet, which you must take the greatest care of. When you come to a river or lake on your journey, spread the leaf on the water, and it will immediately change into a boat which will carry you over to the other side. Then fold the leaf together again, and put it into your wallet." After thus speaking, he gave the wallet and the flask to the boy, and said, "God bless you!" The next moment he had vanished from the boy's eyes.
The boy would have supposed it to be all a dream, if he had not held the wallet and flask in his hand to convince him that it was a reality. He then looked into the wallet, where he found half a loaf, a small case of salt herrings, another of butter, and a nice piece of bacon. When the boy had eaten enough, he lay down to sleep, with the wallet and flask under his head, so that no thief should be able to take them from him. Next morning at sunrise he awoke, refreshed himself with food and drink, and then set out on his journey. It was strange that he felt no weariness, and only hunger made him aware that it was nearly noon. He ate the good fare with relish, took a nap, and travelled on. He found that he had taken the right course when the sun set behind his back. He travelled for many days in the same direction, when he arrived on the bank of a small lake. Now he had an opportunity of testing the properties of the leaf. All befell as the old man had foretold, for a small boat with oars lay before him on the water. He stepped in, and a few good strokes of the oars landed him on the other side. Then the boat changed back into a leaf, and he put it into his wallet.
Thus the boy travelled for several years, without the provisions in his flask and wallet failing. Seven years may well have passed, for he had now become a strong youth, when one day he beheld afar off a lofty mountain which seemed to reach the clouds. But a whole week more passed before he could reach its foot. Then he sat down to rest, and to see whether the predictions of the old man would be accomplished. He had not sat there very long when a strange hissing fell upon his ear, and immediately afterwards an enormous serpent appeared, at least twelve fathoms long, which came quite close to the young man. Horror seized him, and he was unable to move, but the serpent passed by him in a moment. Then all was still awhile, but afterwards it seemed to him as if something heavy was moving along in sudden leaps. This proved to be a great toad, as large as a foal of two years old. This ugly creature also passed by without taking any notice of the youth. Then he heard a rushing noise above him, as if a great storm had arisen, and when he looked up, he saw a great eagle flying over his head in the direction which the serpent and the toad had taken. "These are queer things to bring me good fortune," thought the youth. Suddenly he beheld a man on a black horse riding towards him. The horse seemed to have wings to his feet, for he flew like the wind. When the man saw the youth sitting at the foot of the mountain, he reined in his horse and asked, "Who has passed by here?" The youth answered, "First of all a great serpent, perhaps twelve fathoms long, then a toad as large as a two-year-old foal, and lastly a great eagle high above my head. I could not guess at his size, but the sound of his wings was like that of a tempest." "You have seen well," answered the stranger. "These are my worst enemies, and I am now in pursuit of them. I might take you into my service, if you have nothing better in view. Climb over the mountain, and you will come straight to my house. I shall be there as soon as you, if not sooner." The young man promised to come, and the stranger rode away like the wind.
The youth did not find it easy to climb the mountain. It was three days before he could reach the summit, and three days more before he reached the foot of the mountain on the opposite side. His new acquaintance was standing in front of his house, and he informed him that he had succeeded in killing the serpent and the toad, but that he had not been able to reach the eagle. Then he asked the young man if he was willing to engage himself as his servant. "You can have as much good food as you want every day, and I will give you liberal wages too, if you will do your duty faithfully." The bargain was struck, and the master took his new servant into the house, and showed him what he had to do. A cellar was hewn in the rock, and closed with threefold doors of iron. "My savage dogs are chained in this cellar," said the master, "and you must take care that they do not dig their way out under the door with their paws. For know that if one of these savage dogs got loose, it would no longer be possible to restrain the others, for each would follow the other and destroy everything which lives upon the earth. If the last dog should break out, the end of the world would come, and the sun would have shone for the last time." Then he led his servant to a hill which was not created by God, but heaped together by human hands from immense blocks of stone.
"These stones," said the master, "have been heaped together so that a fresh stone can always be rolled up as often as the dogs dig out a hole. I will show you the oxen which drag the stones, in the stall, and instruct you about everything else which you have to attend to."
In the stall were a hundred black oxen, each of which had seven horns, and they were fully as large as the largest oxen of the Ukraine. "Six yoke of oxen harnessed before the waggon will drag a stone easily away. I will give you a crowbar, and when you touch the stone with it, it will roll into the waggon of itself. You see that your work is not very laborious, but your vigilance must be great in proportion. You must look to the door three times during the day, and once at night, lest any misfortune should happen, for the mischief might be much greater than you would be able to answer for to me."
Our friend soon comprehended his duties, and his new occupation was just to his taste. Each day he had the best of everything to eat and drink that a man could wish for. After two or three months the dogs had scratched a hole under the door large enough to put their tails out; but a stone was immediately rolled against the breach, and the dogs were forced to begin their work afresh.
Many years passed by, and the young man had accumulated a good store of money. Then the desire awoke in him to mingle with other men again, for it was so long since he had seen any human face except his master's. Although his master was kind, the young man found the time terribly long, especially when his master took the fancy to have a long sleep. At such times he slept for seven weeks at a stretch, without interruption, and without showing himself.
It chanced that the master had fallen into one of his deep slumbers, when one day a great eagle descended on the hill of stones and began to speak. "Are you not a great fool to sacrifice your pleasant life to good living? The money which you have saved is quite useless to you, for there are no men here who require it. Take your master's swift horse from the stable, bind your bag of money to his neck, leap on his back, and ride away in the direction in which the sun sets, and after some weeks you will again find yourself among men. But you must bind the horse fast with an iron chain, so that he cannot run away, or he would return to his usual haunts, and your master would come to fight with you; but if he is without the horse, he cannot leave the place." "But who will watch the dogs here, if I go away while my master sleeps?" asked the young man. "A fool you are, and a fool you will remain," replied the eagle. "Are you not yet aware that God has created him for the express purpose of guarding the hell-hounds? It is from sheer laziness that he sleeps for seven weeks at a stretch. When he has no stranger as a servant, he will be obliged to rouse himself and do his own work himself."
This advice delighted the young man. He followed the counsel of the eagle, took the horse, bound the bag of gold on his neck, leaped on his back, and rode away. He had not ridden very far from the mountain when he heard his master calling after him, "Stop, stop! Take your money and begone in God's name, but leave me my horse!" The youth paid no heed, but rode away, and after some weeks he found himself once more among mortal men. Then he built himself a nice house, married a young wife, and lived happily as a rich man. If he is not dead, he must be still living, but the wind-swift horse died long ago.
* * * * *
Of the next story we give only an abstract. It will be remembered that Linda was hatched from an egg, while the later adventures of the princess in the following tale resemble those of Cinderella.
[Footnote 146: The original title of this story is, "How an orphan made his fortune unexpectedly." Some commentators identify the keeper of the hounds with Othin. In the Scandinavian mythology the breaking loose of the monsters, the most terrible of whom is Garm, the watch-dog of Helheim, precedes the cataclysms of Ragnaroek.]
[Footnote 147: This is the usual condition attached to such gifts, as in the Swiss story of a chamois-hunter who received an inexhaustible cheese from a mountain-spirit. But in the case of the magic saddlebags of the Moor in the story of Joodar (Thousand and One Nights), it was a condition that all the dishes should be put back empty. The Jews, too, were forbidden to leave anything over from the Passover Feast.]
[Footnote 148: Or frog: the word is the same.]
[Footnote 149: Either the extinct urus or the nearly extinct aurochs must be here intended.]
THE EGG-BORN PRINCESS.
Like many others, this story begins with a childless queen whose husband is absent at the wars. She is visited by an old woman on crutches, who gives her a little box of birch-bark containing a bird's egg, and tells her to foster it in her bosom for three months, till a live doll like a human infant is hatched from it. This was to be kept in a woollen basket till it had grown to the size of a new-born child. It would not require food or drink, but the basket must be kept in a warm place. Nine months after the doll's birth, the queen herself would give birth to a son, and the king was to proclaim that God had sent the royal parents a son and daughter. The queen was to suckle the prince herself, but to procure a nurse for the princess; and when the children were christened, the old woman wished to be their godmother, and gave the queen a bird's feather with which to summon her. The matter was to be kept secret. Then the old woman departed, but as she went, she grew suddenly young, and seemed to fly rather than to walk.
A fortnight afterwards the king returned victorious, and the queen was encouraged to hope for the best. In three months' time, a doll, half a finger long, was hatched from the egg, and all came to pass as the old woman had foretold. On the christening day, the queen opened one of the windows and cast out the feather.
When all the guests were assembled, a grand carriage drove up, drawn by six yolk-coloured horses, and a young lady stepped out in rose-coloured gold-embroidered silken robes, which shone with sunlike radiance, though the face of the lady was concealed by a fine veil. She removed it on entering, when all agreed that she was the fairest maiden they had ever seen in their lives. She took the princess in her arms, and named her Rebuliina, which puzzled everybody. A noble lord stood sponsor for the prince, who was named Villem. The godmother then gave the queen many instructions concerning the rearing of the children, and told her to keep the box with the eggshells always beside them in the cradle, to ward off evil from them. Then she took her leave, and the queen gave out that she was a great princess from a foreign country.
The children throve, and the nurse observed that a strange lady sometimes came to gaze on the princess by night. Two years afterwards the queen fell sick, and gave over the princess to the charge of the nurse, directing her, under oath of secrecy, to fasten the talisman round the neck of the child when she was ten years old. She then sent for the king, and begged him to let the nurse remain with the princess as long as the princess herself wished it, and after this she expired.
The king then brought home the inevitable cruel stepmother, who could not endure the sight of the children. When the princess was ten years old, her nurse put the talisman round her neck, but the thoughtless girl stowed it away with some other relics of her mother, and forgot it till a year or two afterwards, when the king was absent, and her stepmother cruelly beat her. She ran crying into the house, and looked in the box, but rinding only a handful of wool and two empty eggshells in the box, threw them out of the window, along with a small feather which was under the wool. Immediately her godmother stood before her, and soothed and comforted her. She charged her to submit to her stepmother's tyranny, but always to carry the talisman in her bosom, for then no one could injure her, and when she was grown up, her stepmother would have no further power over her. The feather, too, would summon her godmother whenever she needed her. The lady then took the girl into the garden, pronounced a spell over the little box, and fetched out supper from it, teaching the princess the spell by which she could obtain what she needed from it. But after this time her stepmother grew much more friendly to her.
The princess grew up a peerless maiden; but at length war broke out, and the royal city, and even the palace, were in such straits that Rebuliina summoned her godmother to her aid; but she told her that though she could rescue her, the rest must abide their fate. She then led her invisibly out of the city through the besieging army, and next day the city was taken. The prince escaped, but the king and his household were made prisoners, and the queen was slain by a hostile spear. The princess was changed by her godmother into a peasant maiden, and instructed to wait for better times, when she could resume her former appearance with the aid of the casket. After wandering alone for some days, the princess reached a district unravaged by war, and engaged herself as maid at a farm-house. She did her work admirably with the aid of the casket, and after a time attracted the notice of a noble lady who was passing through the village, who asked her to enter her service. Six months afterwards came news that the prince had driven out the enemy with the aid of an army from abroad, and had been proclaimed king, the old king having died in prison in the meantime.
The prince was greatly grieved at his father's death, but after a year of mourning he resolved to take a bride, and all the maidens were bidden to a feast. The three daughters of Rebuliina's mistress were invited, and the godmother directed her in a dream to attire them first, and then to set out after them. She grew very restless, and when her mistress and the young ladies were gone, she sat down and wept bitter tears; but a voice told her to make use of the casket, and immediately magnificent gold-embroidered robes appeared on the bed; and as soon as she had washed her face, she resumed her former appearance, and was amazed at her own beauty when she looked in the glass. When she went down-stairs, she found a magnificent coach with four yolk-coloured horses at the door. Just as she reached the palace, she found to her horror that she had forgotten the casket, and was about to turn back, when a swallow brought it to her. Everything in the palace was joy and splendour; but as the princess entered, the other ladies paled like stars before the sun, and the king never left her side. At midnight the hall was suddenly darkened, and then grew light again, when the godmother of the princess appeared, and presented her to the king as the adopted child of his father's first queen. Then there was a loud noise, and she disappeared. The king married the princess, and they lived happily together, but the casket was seen no more, and it was supposed that the god-mother had taken it with her.
[Footnote 150: Yolk-Carrie.]
THE ROYAL HERD-BOY.
Once upon a time there lived a king who was so mild and good to his subjects that there was no one who did not bless him, and pray to the Heavenly Father to grant him a long life.
The king had lived happily with his wife for many years, but as yet no child had blessed his marriage. Great was the rejoicing of the king and all his subjects when at length the queen brought a fair child into the world. But their happiness was short-lived, for three days after the birth of the prince, the mother closed her eyes for ever, leaving her child an orphan and her husband a widower. The king mourned grievously for the loss of his dear consort, and his subjects mourned with him, and there was not a cheerful face to be seen anywhere. Three years afterwards the king married again, in deference to the wishes of his subjects, but he was unfortunate in his second choice. He had buried a dove and married a hawk in her place, and unfortunately it goes thus with many widowers. The new consort was a wicked, hard-hearted woman, who never showed any good-will towards the king and his subjects. She could not bear the sight of the former queen's son, as she feared that the succession would fall to him, for the people loved him greatly for his mother's sake. The crafty queen conceived the wicked design of sending the boy to some place where the king would be unable to discover him, for she had not courage to murder him. She paid a wicked old woman a large sum to help her to carry out her infamous design. The child was handed over to the old woman at night, and she carried it far away along unfrequented paths, and delivered it to some poor people to adopt as their child. On the way, the old woman stripped off the child's good clothes, and wrapped it in rags, so that no one should discover the deceit. The queen had bound her by a solemn oath never to reveal to any one the place to which she had carried the prince. The child-stealer did not venture to travel by day, because she feared pursuit, so that it was a long time before she found a sufficiently retired spot. At last she reached a lonely house in a wood, where the feet of strangers rarely penetrated, and she thought this a suitable abode for the prince, and paid the peasant a hundred roubles for the expense of bringing up the child. It was lucky for the prince that he had fallen among good people, who cared for him as if he had been their own dear child. The lively boy often made them laugh, especially when he called himself a prince. They saw from the liberal payment that they had received that the boy could be from no common stock, and that he must be of noble birth on either the father's or the mother's side, but their ideas never soared high enough to fancy the boy's sallies to be actual truth.
It can easily be imagined how great was the consternation at the palace when it was discovered in the morning that the prince had been stolen during the night, and in so strange a manner that no one had heard anything, and that not the slightest trace of the thief was left behind. The king wept bitterly for days for his son, whom he loved so tenderly in remembrance of his mother, and all the more because he was so unhappy with his new consort. Every place was searched thoroughly for a long time for some trace of the vanished child, and a great reward was offered to any one who could give any information; but every effort was vain, and it seemed as if the boy had been blown away. None of the searchers found his way to the lonely cottage in the wood where the prince lived, and no one brought the news to the inhabitants. No one could discover the secret, and many people thought that the prince had been carried away by an evil spirit or by witchcraft. But while the prince was wept for at home as if he was dead, he grew up in the lonely forest, and prospered wonderfully, till he grew to such an age that he was fit for work. Meantime he developed such wonderful intelligence, that his foster-parents were often obliged to admit that the egg was much cleverer than the hen.
The prince had lived thus for more than ten years, when he became anxious to associate with other people. He begged his foster-parents to allow him to earn his bread with his own hands, and said, "I have strength and understanding enough to keep myself without your help. I find the time very long during this lonely life here." His foster-parents opposed the plan at first, but were at length obliged to consent and to gratify the young fellow's wish. The peasant himself accompanied him in search of suitable employment. He found a rich farmer in a village who wanted a herd-boy, and as his foster-son wanted just such a post, they soon came to an agreement. The arrangement was made for a year, but it was settled that the boy might leave his employment at any time and return to his foster-parents. It was also settled that if the farmer was dissatisfied with the boy, he might send him away during the course of the year, but not without informing his foster-parents.
The village where the prince had thus taken service was not far from a great highway, along which many people passed daily, both high and low. The royal herd-boy often sat close to the road, and talked to the passers-by, from whom he learned many things which would otherwise have remained unknown to him. So it happened one day that an old man with grey hair and a long white beard passed that way when the prince was sitting on a stone and playing the flute while the animals were grazing, and if one of them strayed too far from the others, the boy's dog drove it back. The old man gazed awhile at the boy and his flock, and then he went a few paces nearer and said, "You don't seem to have been born a herd-boy." The boy answered, "It may be so; I only know that I was born to be a ruler, and first learned the business of a ruler. If it goes well with the quadrupeds, I will perhaps try my fortune later on with the bipeds." The old man shook his head in wonder and went his way. Another time a handsome coach passed by, in which sat a lady and two children. There was a coachman on the box and a footman behind. The prince happened to have a basket of freshly-plucked strawberries in his hand, which attracted the notice of the proud Saxon lady. She ordered the coachman to stop, and called out from the coach-window, "Come here, you lout, and bring me the strawberries. I will give you a few copecks for them, to buy wheaten bread." The royal herd-boy did as if he had heard nothing, and did not imagine that the order was addressed to him, while the lady called out a second and a third time; but it was as if she had spoken to the wind. Then she called to the footman behind, "Go and give that vagabond a box on the ear, to teach him to listen." The footman jumped down to execute the order. But before he reached him, the herd-boy jumped up, seized a thick stick, and called out to the footman, "If you don't want a broken head, don't come a step nearer, or I'll smash your face." The footman went back and reported the occurrence. Then the lady cried out angrily, "What, you rascal, are you afraid of this lout of a boy? Go and take away his basket by force. I'll show him who I am, and I'll punish his parents too, for not bringing him up better."
"Oho!" cried the herd-boy, who heard the order. "As long as there is any life in my limbs, nobody shall deprive me of my rightful property by force. I'll stamp anybody to broth who tries to rob me of my strawberries." As he spoke, he spat on his hands, and whirled his cudgel round his head till it whistled. When the footman saw it, he had not the least desire to attempt it, but the lady drove away with violent threats, declaring that she would not permit this insult to remain unpunished. Other herd-boys who had seen and heard the affair from a distance related it to their companions in the evening. The people were all frightened, for they thought it would fare ill with them also if the great lady complained to the authorities about the boy's stupid obstinacy and an inquiry was ordered. The prince's master scolded him, and said, "I can't say anything in your favour, and what you've cooked you must eat yourself." The boy replied, "I shall come off scatheless; that's my affair. God has put a mouth in my head and a tongue in my mouth, and I can speak for myself if necessary, and I won't ask you to be my advocate. If the lady had asked for the strawberries in a proper way, I would have given them to her; but how dared she call me a lout? My nose is just as clean as hers."
Meantime the lady drove to the royal city, where she had nothing more pressing to do than to complain to the authorities of the insolent behaviour of the herd-boy. An investigation was ordered at once, and the youth and his master were ordered to appear before the authorities. When the messenger entered the village to enforce the order, the prince said, "My master has nothing to do with this affair, and I myself must answer for what I did yesterday." They wanted to bind his hands behind his back, and to lead him before the court as a prisoner, but he drew a sharp knife from his pocket, stepped some paces back, turned the point against his breast, and cried out, "No one shall bind me while I live! Rather than let you bind me, I will thrust the knife into my heart. You may then bind my corpse, or do whatever you please with it, but no man shall lay a cord or fetter on me while I live. I am quite ready to appear before the court and give evidence, but I will never go there as a prisoner." His boldness frightened the messengers, and they were afraid to approach him, for they feared that the blame would fall on them if the boy carried out his threat; and as he was ready to go with them of his own accord, they were obliged to be content. On the way, the messengers wondered more and more at the understanding and cleverness of their prisoner, for he knew everything better than they did themselves. But much greater was the astonishment of the judges when they heard the account of the affair from the boy's own mouth. He spoke so clearly and reasonably that they gave judgment in his favour, and acquitted him of all blame. The great lady then applied to the king, who promised to investigate the whole affair himself; but he also was forced to agree with the judges and to pronounce the youth innocent. The lady was now ready to burst with rage at the thought that a peasant boy should have gained a verdict in her despite. She complained to the queen, knowing that she was very much harsher than the king. "My consort," said the queen, "is an old idiot, and his judges are all fools. It is a pity that you brought the matter before the court, instead of coming to me, for I would have managed the affair differently, and would have done you justice. Now that the matter has passed through the court, and the judgment is confirmed by the king, I am no longer in a position to put a better face on it openly, but we must see how we can arrange to punish the youth without attracting attention." It occurred to the lady that there lived a very ill-tempered peasant woman on her estate, with whom no servant would stay, while her husband said that his life with her was more uncomfortable than if he was in hell. If the impudent boy could be induced to go to her as herd-boy, she thought the woman would give him a severer punishment than any judge could inflict upon him. "I'll arrange the matter just as you wish," said the queen. So she summoned a trustworthy messenger, and instructed him what to do. If she had had the least idea that the herd-boy was the exiled prince, she would have had him put to death at once, without troubling herself about the king or the judges' decision.
As soon as the prince's master heard the queen's desire, he at once released the herd-boy from his service. He thanked his stars that he had got out of the scrape so easily. The queen's messenger now took the lad to the farm to which she had consigned him without his consent. The wicked old woman shouted for joy when she heard that the queen had found her a herd-boy, and sent word that she might treat him as she pleased, because the youth was very perverse, and nothing good was to be got out of him. She did not know how hard the new millstone was, and hoped to treat him in her usual fashion; but she was soon to discover that this fence was too high to jump over, and that the youth would not sacrifice a hair's-breadth of his rights. If she gave him a single bad word without cause, he gave her a dozen back; and if she lifted her hand against him, he caught up a stone or a log of wood, or anything else which happened to come to hand, and cried out, "Don't dare to come a step nearer, or I'll split your skull and mash you to soup." The woman had never heard such language from anybody, least of all from her servants; but her husband rejoiced in secret when he heard her quarrelling, and he did not stand by his wife, for the boy did not neglect his duty. The woman tried to break the boy's spirit with hunger, and refused him food, but the boy helped himself by force to whatever he could find, and helped himself to milk from the cow besides, so that he was never hungry. The more difficult she found it to manage the boy, the more she vented her rage on her husband and others about her. When the prince had led this vexatious life for some weeks, and found that each day was like the other, he determined to pay the old woman out for her wickedness in such a fashion that the world should be quite rid of such a monster. In order to carry out his design, he caught a dozen wolves and shut them up in a cave, and he threw them a beast from his flock every day, so that they should not starve. Who can describe the woman's rage when she saw her property gradually dwindling, for every day the boy brought home an animal less than he had taken to pasture in the morning, and his only answer when questioned was, "The wolves have devoured it." She screamed like a maniac, and threatened to throw the boy to the wild beasts to devour, but he answered, laughing, "Wouldn't your own savage meat be better for them?" Then he left the wolves for three days without food in the cave, and at night, when every one was asleep, he drove the herd from their stall, and put the twelve wolves in instead, fastening the door securely, so that the wild beasts should not escape. When he had thus arranged everything, he turned his back on the farm, for he had long been tired of playing herd-boy, and now felt strong enough for greater undertakings.
But what horrors happened next morning, when the woman went into the stall to let out the animals and to milk the cows! The wolves, maddened with hunger, rushed upon her, pulled her down, and devoured the whole of her, clothes and skin, and hair and all, so that nothing remained but her tongue and heart, which were too poisonous for even the wild beasts to touch. Neither her husband nor her servants lamented the misfortune, for every one was delighted to be rid of such an infernal woman.
The prince wandered about the world for some years, trying his hand first at one trade and then at another, but he never stayed long in one place, for the recollections of his childhood, which hovered about him like vivid dreams, always warned him that he was born to a higher condition. From time to time he encountered the old man again, who had read this in his eyes while he was still a herd-boy. When the prince was eighteen years old, he engaged himself to a gardener to learn gardening. Just at this time an event happened which changed the course of his life. The wicked old woman who had taken him away by the queen's orders, and had given him into the charge of the people at the forest-farm, confessed her crime to the priest on her death-bed, for her soul was burdened with the weight of her sins, and could not find rest till she had revealed it. She indicated the farmhouse to which she had brought the child, but could not tell whether the prince was now living or dead. The priest hastened to the king with the joyful tidings that a trace of his lost son was found at last. The king informed no one of what he had heard, but immediately ordered his horse to be saddled, and set out on his way with three faithful attendants. In a few days they reached the farm in the wood. Both the farmer and his wife confirmed the fact that at such and such a time a male child had been given into their charge to rear, and that they had received one hundred roubles at the same time for their expenses. They had concluded from this circumstance that the child was probably of high birth, but they had never supposed that he was of royal descent, and had thought that the boy was only jesting when he had called himself a prince. Then the farmer himself attended the king to the village where he had taken the youth as herd-boy, not, indeed, by his own wish, but at the request of the boy, who could not live longer in that lonely place. But how shocked was the farmer, and still more the king, when they did not find the boy, who must now be grown to a young man, in the village, and could learn no further tidings of him! All that the people could tell them was that the boy was summoned before the court at the suit of a noble lady, and that he had been acquitted and set at liberty; but after this one of the queen's servants had taken the boy away and put him to service at another farm. The king hastened thither, and found that his son had indeed been there for a few weeks, but he had fled, and nothing more had been heard of him. Where should they now seek for advice, and who was able to direct their search aright?
While the king was thus greatly troubled at losing all traces of his son, the old man who had several times encountered the prince presented himself and said that he knew such a young man as they sought for, who had first served as a herdsman and had afterwards worked at several other occupations, and that he hoped to be able to discover him. The king promised the old man a rich reward if he could help him to find his son, and he ordered one of his attendants to dismount from his horse, and pressed the old man to mount, so that they could travel quicker; but he said, smiling, "No matter how fast a horse can run, my legs can run as fast, for they have traversed larger districts of the world than any horse." In fact, in a week's time they came upon the traces of the prince, and found him in the grounds of a magnificent mansion, where he was engaged as gardener. The king's joy was unbounded when he recovered his son, whom he had mourned for so many years as dead. Tears of joy streamed down his cheeks as he strained his son to his breast and kissed him. But he heard tidings from his son's mouth which damped the joy of their meeting, and caused him fresh trouble. The gardener had a young and beautiful daughter, fairer than all the flowers in this splendid garden, and as pure and good as an angel. The prince had lost his heart to this maiden, and he told his father plainly that he would never marry a lady of higher rank, but would take the gardener's daughter as his consort, even if he should be forced to abandon his kingdom for her. "Come home first," said the king, "and afterwards we will talk the matter over." Then the prince asked his father for a costly gold ring, and put it on the maiden's finger before the eyes of all, saying, "With this ring I betroth thee, and I will return, whether the time be long or short, to claim thee as my bride." But the king answered, "No, not so; the affair shall be arranged otherwise." He took the ring from the maiden's finger and clove it in twain with his sword. One half he gave to his son, and the other to the gardener's daughter, and said, "If God has created you for one another, the two halves of the ring will grow together of themselves at the proper time, so that the point at which the ring was divided cannot be detected. Let each keep their half till the time shall be fulfilled."
The queen was ready to burst with rage when she saw her stepson, whom she thought had disappeared for ever, suddenly return as the undisputed heir to the throne, for the king had only two daughters by his second marriage. A few years afterwards the king closed his eyes in death, and his son became king. Notwithstanding the great wrongs which he had received from his stepmother, he would not return evil for evil, but left her to the justice of God. Although she no longer hoped to set one of her daughters on the throne in his place, she hoped at least to wed him to a noble lady of her own family; but he answered, "I will not consent, for I have chosen my bride long since." When the queen-dowager learned that the young king was resolved to marry a maiden of low birth, she incited the highest councillors of the kingdom to attempt unanimously to prevent it. But the king remained firm, and would not yield. After the matter had been discussed for a long time, the king announced his final decision. "We will give a great feast, and invite all the princesses and all the other unmarried ladies of high birth; and if I find one among them who surpasses my chosen bride in grace and beauty, I will marry her. But if this is not the case, my betrothed shall become my consort."
Thereupon a magnificent feast was prepared in the royal palace, which was to last a fortnight, that the king might have full opportunity of considering whether any of the ladies surpassed the gardener's daughter. All the great ladies in the neighbourhood were invited to bring their daughters to the feast, and as the object of the gathering was generally known, every maiden hoped that the great prize would fall to her. The feast drew to a close, and yet the king had not met with one who pleased his fancy. On the last day of the feast the highest councillors of the kingdom again presented themselves before the king, and said, as the queen had instructed them, that if the king did not make his choice before evening, an insurrection might break out, for all his subjects wished the king to marry. The king replied, "I will accede to the wish of my subjects, and will announce my choice this evening." Then, unknown to the others, he sent a trustworthy messenger to bring the gardener's daughter away secretly, and to keep her in concealment till evening. In the evening the royal palace was ablaze with light, and all the great ladies were robed in their most elegant attire, expecting the moment which should bring them good fortune or the reverse. But the king advanced to a young lady in the hall who was so muffled up that you could hardly see the tip of her nose. All were struck with the simple dress of the stranger. She was clothed in fine white linen, and wore neither silk, satin, nor gold, while all the other ladies were robed from head to foot in silks and satins. Some curled their lips, and others turned up their noses, but the king took no notice, but loosed the maiden's head-gear, and led her to the queen-dowager, saying, "Here is my chosen bride, whom I will take as my consort, and I invite all who are here assembled to my wedding." The queen-dowager cried out angrily, "What better could be expected of a man who was reared as a herd-boy? If you want to go back to your business, take the maid with you, who may perhaps understand tending swine, but is quite unfit for a king's consort. Such a peasant girl can only disgrace the throne of a king." These words moved the king to anger, and he answered sternly, "I am king, and can do what I will, but woe to you who have brought my former condition to my remembrance; and you have also reminded me who reduced me to this. However, as no sensible man buys a cat in a sack, I will show you all before we separate that I could nowhere have found a more suitable bride than this very maiden, who is as pure and good as an angel from heaven." As he spoke, he left the room, but soon returned with the old man whom he had known ever since he was a herd-boy, and who had afterwards put the king on the track of his son. The old man was a famous sorcerer from Finland, who knew many secret arts. The king said, "Mighty sorcerer, show us by your art the inmost character of the maidens here present, that we may know which of them is most worthy to become my bride." The sorcerer took a bottle filled with a liquid that looked like wine, muttered a spell over it, and directed the maidens to gather in the midst of the hall. He then sprinkled a few drops on the head of each, and they all fell asleep as they stood. But what a wonderful thing now happened! In a short time they were all so transformed that none retained her human shape, but some were changed into snakes, wolves, bears, toads, swine, or cats, and others became hawks or other birds of prey. But among all these bestial forms was a beautiful rose-bush, covered with flowers, and with two doves nestling on its branches. And this was the gardener's daughter whom the king had chosen as his consort. Then said the king, "We have now seen the inmost kernel of each, and I am not going to let myself be dazzled by the outer shell." The queen-dowager could not contain herself for rage, but the matter was so clear that she was unable to help herself. Then the sorcerer fumigated all the maidens with magic herbs, which roused them from their sleep and restored them to their human shapes. The king received his beloved from the rose-bush, and asked for her half-ring, and when the maiden drew it from her bosom, he took his own half-ring, and laid them together on the palm of his hand, when the two halves immediately united, and no eye could perceive a crack or any indication of the spot where the sword-stroke had cleft the ring. "Now my honoured father's wish has come to pass," said the young king, and celebrated his union with the gardener's daughter on the same evening. He invited all those present to a wedding-feast, but the noble ladies had learned what wonders had taken place during their sleep, and they returned home full of shame. But so much the greater was the joy of the king's subjects that their queen was a perfect woman both in form and character.
When the wedding festivities were ended, the king assembled all the leading judges of the kingdom and asked them what punishment was fitting for a criminal who had secretly stolen away the king's son, and had him brought up in a peasant's cot as a herd-boy, and had afterwards treated the youth with insolent contempt after he had recovered his former position. All the judges answered with one accord, "Such a criminal is worthy to die on the gallows." Then said the king, "Good! let the queen-dowager be brought to trial." The queen-dowager was summoned, and the sentence was announced to her. When she heard it, she turned as white as the wall, and fell on her knees before the young king pleading for mercy. The king said, "I give you your life, and I should never have brought you before the court if it had not happened that you lately insulted me respecting the misfortunes which I endured through your crime; but you cannot remain in my kingdom any longer. You must pack up your goods this very day, and quit my city before sundown. An escort will accompany you to the frontier. But beware lest you ever set foot again in my territories, for any man, even the meanest, has leave to kill you like a mad dog. Your daughters, who are also the daughters of my honoured father, may remain here, for they are innocent of the crimes which rest upon your soul."