Before the Bull went into the wood, he said to the King's daughter: 'When we enter into this wood you must, for Heaven's sake, be very careful not to touch anything at all, and not to pluck off even so much as one leaf, or else all will be over both with you and with me. A Troll with six heads lives here, who is the owner of the wood, and I do not think I should be able to overcome him.'
'Yes,' said the King's daughter, 'I will take good care not to touch what you do not wish me to touch.'
But when they got into the wood it was so crowded, and the trees so close together, that they could scarcely get forward. She was as careful as she could be, and bent aside to get out of the way of the branches, and thrust them away from before her with her hands; but every instant a branch struck against her eyes, and in spite of all her care, she happened to pull off one leaf.
'Oh! oh! What have you done now?' said the Bull. It will now cost us a battle for life or death, for this Troll has six heads and is twice as strong as the other, but do be careful to keep the leaf.'
Just as he said this came the Troll. 'Who is that who is touching my wood?' he said.
'It is just as much mine as yours!'
'We shall have a tussle for that!' screamed the Troll.
'That may be,' said the Bull, and rushed at the Troll, and gored out his eyes, and drove his horns right through him so that his entrails gushed out, but the Troll fought just as well as he did, and it was three whole days before the Bull got the life out of him. But the Bull was then so weak and worn out that it was only with pain and effort that he could move, and so covered with wounds that the blood streamed from him. So he told the King's daughter to take the horn of ointment that was hanging at the Troll's belt, and anoint him with it. She did this, and then he came to himself again, but they had to stay there and rest for a week before the Bull was able to go any farther.
At last they set forth on their way again, but the Bull was still weak, and at first could not go quickly. The King's daughter wished to spare him, and said that she was so young and light of foot that she would willingly walk, but he would not give her leave to do that, and she was forced to seat herself on his back again. So they travelled for a long time, and through many lands, and the King's daughter did not at all know where he was taking her, but after a long, long time they came to a gold wood. It was so golden that the gold dripped off it, and the trees, and the branches, and the flowers, and the leaves were all of pure gold. Here all happened just as it had happened in the copper wood and silver wood. The Bull told the King's daughter that on no account was she to touch it, for there was a Troll with nine heads who was the owner, and that he was much larger and stronger than both the others put together, and that he did not believe that he could overcome him. So she said that she would take great care not to touch anything, and he should see that she did. But when they got into the wood it was still thicker than the silver wood, and the farther they got into it the worse it grew. The wood became thicker and thicker, and closer and closer, and at last she thought there was no way whatsoever by which they could get forward; she was so terrified lest she should break anything off, that she sat and twisted, and turned herself on this side and on that, to get out of the way of the branches, and pushed them away from her with her hands, but every moment they struck against her eyes, so that she could not see what she was clutching at, and before she knew what she was doing she had a golden apple in her hands. She was now in such terror that she began to cry, and wanted to throw it away, but the Bull said that she was to keep it, and take the greatest care of it, and comforted her as well as he could, but he believed that it would be a hard struggle, and he doubted whether it would go well with him.
Just then the Troll with nine heads came, and he was so frightful that the King's daughter scarcely dared to look at him
'Who is this who is breaking my wood?' he screamed
'It is as much mine as yours!' said the Bull.
'We shall have a tussle for that!' screamed the Troll.
'That may be,' said the Bull; so they rushed at each other, and fought, and it was such a dreadful sight that the King's daughter very nearly swooned. The Bull gored the Troll's eyes out and ran his horns right through him, but the Troll fought as well as he did, and when the Bull had gored one head to death the other heads breathed life into it again, so it was a whole week before the Bull was able to kill him. But then he himself was so worn out and weak that he could not move at all. His body was all one wound, and he could not even so much as tell the King's daughter to take the horn of ointment out of the Troll's belt and rub him with it. She did this without being told; so he came to himself again, but he had to lie there for three weeks and rest before he was in a state to move.
Then they journeyed onwards by degrees, for the Bull said that they had still a little farther to go, and in this way they crossed many high hills and thick woods. This lasted for a while, and then they came upon the fells.
'Do you see anything?' asked the Bull.
'No, I see nothing but the sky above and the wild fell side,' said the King's daughter.
Then they climbed up higher, and the fell grew more level, so that they could see farther around them.
'Do you see anything now?' said the Bull.
'Yes, I see a small castle, far, far away,' said the Princess.
'It is not so very little after all,' said the Bull.
After a long, long time they came to a high hill, where there was a precipitous wall of rock.
'Do you see nothing now?' said the Bull.
'Yes, now I see the castle quite near, and now it is much, much larger,' said the King's daughter.
'Thither shall you go,' said the Bull; 'immediately below the castle there is a pig-sty, where you shall dwell. When you get there, you will find a wooden gown which you are to put on, and then go to the castle and say that you are called Kari Woodengown, and that you are seeking a place. But now you must take out your little knife and cut off my head with it, and then you must flay me and roll up my hide and put it there under the rock, and beneath the hide you must lay the copper leaf, and the silver leaf, and the golden apple. Close beside the rock a stick is standing, and when you want me for anything you have only to knock at the wall of rock with that.'
At first she would not do it, but when the Bull said that this was the only reward that he would have for what he had done for her, she could do no otherwise. So though she thought it very cruel, she slaved on and cut at the great animal with the knife till she had cut off his head and hide, and then she folded up the hide and laid it beneath the mountain wall, and put the copper leaf, and the silver leaf, and the golden apple inside it.
When she had done that she went away to the pig-sty, but all the way as she went she wept, and was very sorrowful. Then she put on the wooden gown, and walked to the King's palace. When she got there she went into the kitchen and begged for a place, saying that her name was Kari Woodengown.
The cook told her that she might have a place and leave to stay there at once and wash up, for the girl who had done that before had just gone away. 'And as soon as you get tired of being here you will take yourself off too,' said he.
'No,' said she, 'that I shall certainly not.'
And then she washed up, and did it very tidily.
On Sunday some strangers were coming to the King's palace, so Kari begged to have leave to carry up the water for the Prince's bath, but the others laughed at her and said, 'What do you want there? Do you think the Prince will ever look at such a fright as you?'
She would not give it up, however, but went on begging until at last she got leave. When she was going upstairs her wooden gown made such a clatter that the Prince came out and said, 'What sort of a creature may you be?'
'I was to take this water to you,' said Kari.
'Do you suppose that I will have any water that you bring?' said the Prince, and emptied it over her.
She had to bear that, but then she asked permission to go to church. She got that, for the church was very near. But first she went to the rock and knocked at it with the stick which was standing there, as the Bull had told her to do. Instantly a man came forth and asked what she wanted. The King's daughter said that she had got leave to go to church and listen to the priest, but that she had no clothes to go in. So he brought her a gown that was as bright as the copper wood, and she got a horse and saddle too from him. When she reached the church she was so pretty and so splendidly dressed that every one wondered who she could be, and hardly anyone listened to what the priest was saying, for they were all looking far too much at her, and the Prince himself liked her so well that he could not take his eyes off her for an instant. As she was walking out of church the Prince followed her and shut the church door after her, and thus he kept one of her gloves in his hand. Then she went away and mounted her horse again; the Prince again followed her, and asked her whence she came.
'Oh! I am from Bathland,' said Kari. And when the Prince took out the glove and wanted to give it back to her, she said:
'Darkness behind me, but light on my way, That the Prince may not see where I'm going to-day!'
The Prince had never seen the equal of that glove, and he went far and wide, asking after the country which the proud lady, who rode away without her glove, had said that she came from, but there was no one who could tell him where it lay.
Next Sunday some one had to take up a towel to the Prince.
'Ah! may I have leave to go up with that?' said Kari.
'What would be the use of that?' said the others who were in the kitchen; 'you saw what happened last time.'
Kari would not give in, but went on begging for leave till she got it, and then she ran up the stairs so that her wooden gown clattered again. Out came the Prince, and when he saw that it was Kari, he snatched the towel from her and flung it right in her eyes.
'Be off at once, you ugly Troll,' said he; 'do you think that I will have a towel that has been touched by your dirty fingers?'
After that the Prince went to church, and Kari also asked leave to go. They all asked how she could want to go to church when she had nothing to wear but that wooden gown, which was so black and hideous. But Kari said she thought the priest was such a good man at preaching that she got so much benefit from what he said, and at last she got leave.
She went to the rock and knocked, whereupon out came the man and gave her a gown which was much more magnificent than the first. It was embroidered with silver all over it, and it shone like the silver wood, and he gave her also a most beautiful horse, with housings embroidered with silver, and a bridle of silver too.
When the King's daughter got to church all the people were standing outside upon the hillside, and all of them wondered who on earth she could be, and the Prince was on the alert in a moment, and came and wanted to hold her horse while she alighted. But she jumped off and said that there was no need for that, for the horse was so well broken in that it stood still when she bade it and came when she called it. So they all went into the church together, but there was scarcely any one who listened to what the priest was saying, for they were all looking far too much at her, and the Prince fell much more deeply in love with her than he had been before.
When the sermon was over and she went out of the church, and was just going to mount her horse, the Prince again came and asked her where she came from.
'I am from Towelland,' said the King's daughter, and as she spoke she dropped her riding-whip, and while the Prince was stooping to pick it up she said:
'Darkness behind me, but light on my way, That the Prince may not see where I'm going to-day!'
And she was gone again, neither could the Prince see what had become of her. He went far and wide to inquire for that country from whence she had said that she came, but there was no one who could tell him where it lay, so he was forced to have patience once more.
Next Sunday some one had to go to the Prince with a comb. Kari begged for leave to go with it, but the others reminded her of what had happened last time, and scolded her for wanting to let the Prince see her when she was so black and so ugly in her wooden gown, but she would not give up asking until they gave her leave to go up to the Prince with the comb. When she went clattering up the stairs again, out came the Prince and took the comb and flung it at her, and ordered her to be off as fast as she could. After that the Prince went to church, and Kari also begged for leave to go. Again they all asked what she would do there, she who was so black and ugly, and had no clothes that she could be seen in by other people. The Prince or some one else might very easily catch sight of her, they said, and then both she and they would suffer for it; but Kari said that they had something else to do than to look at her, and she never ceased begging until she got leave to go.
And now all happened just as it had happened twice already. She went away to the rock and knocked at it with the stick, and then the man came out and gave her a gown which was very much more magnificent than either of the others. It was almost entirely made of pure gold and diamonds, and she also got a noble horse with housings embroidered with gold, and a golden bridle.
When the King's daughter came to the church the priest and people were all standing on the hillside waiting for her, and the Prince ran up and wanted to hold the horse, but she jumped off, saying:
'No, thank you, there is no need; my horse is so well broken in that it will stand still when I bid it.'
So they all hastened into the church together and the priest got into the pulpit, but no one listened to what he said, for they were looking far too much at her and wondering whence she came; and the Prince was far more in love than he had been on either of the former occasions, and he was mindful of nothing but of looking at her.
When the sermon was over and the King's daughter was about to leave the church, the Prince had caused a firkin of tar to be emptied out in the porch in order that he might go to help her over it; she, however, did not trouble herself in the least about the tar, but set her foot down in the middle of it and jumped over it, and thus one of her gold shoes was left sticking in it. When she had seated herself on the horse the Prince came running out of the church and asked her whence she came.
'From Combland,' said Kari. But when the Prince wanted to reach her her gold shoe, she said:
'Darkness behind me, but light on my way, That the Prince may not see where I'm going to-day!'
The Prince did not know what had become of her, so he travelled for a long and wearisome time all over the world, asking where Combland was; but when no one could tell him where that country was, he caused it to be made known everywhere that he would marry any woman who could put on the gold shoe. So fair maidens and ugly maidens came thither from all regions, but there was none who had a foot so small that she could put on the gold shoe. After a long, long while came Kari Woodengown's wicked stepmother, with her daughter too, and the shoe fitted her. But she was so ugly and looked so loathsome that the Prince was very unwilling to do what he had promised. Nevertheless all was got ready for the wedding, and she was decked out as a bride, but as they were riding to church a little bird sat upon a tree and sang:
'A slice off her heel And a slice off her toes, Kari Woodengown's shoe Fills with blood as she goes!'
And when they looked to it the bird had spoken the truth, for blood was trickling out of the shoe. So all the waiting-maids, and all the womenkind in the castle had to come and try on the shoe, but there was not one whom it would fit.
'But where is Kari Woodengown, then?' asked the Prince, when all the others had tried on the shoe, for he understood the song of birds and it came to his mind what the bird had said.
'Oh! that creature!' said the others; 'it's not the least use for her to come here, for she has feet like a horse!'
'That may be,' said the Prince, 'but as all the others have tried it, Kari may try it too.'
'Kari!' he called out through the door, and Kari came upstairs, and her wooden gown clattered as if a whole regiment of dragoons were coming up.
'Now, you are to try on the gold shoe and be a Princess,' said the other servants, and they laughed at her and mocked her. Kari took up the shoe, put her foot into it as easily as possible, and then threw off her wooden gown, and there she stood in the golden gown which flashed like rays of sunshine, and on her other foot she had the fellow to the gold shoe. The Prince knew her in a moment, and was so glad that he ran and took her in his arms and kissed her, and when he heard that she was a King's daughter he was gladder still, and then they had the wedding.(14)
(14) From P. C. Asbjornsen.
DRAKESTAIL was very little, that is why he was called Drakestail; but tiny as he was he had brains, and he knew what he was about, for having begun with nothing he ended by amassing a hundred crowns. Now the King of the country, who was very extravagant and never kept any money, having heard that Drakestail had some, went one day in his own person to borrow his hoard, and, my word, in those days Drakestail was not a little proud of having lent money to the King. But after the first and second year, seeing that they never even dreamed of paying the interest, he became uneasy, so much so that at last he resolved to go and see His Majesty himself, and get repaid. So one fine morning Drakestail, very spruce and fresh, takes the road, singing: 'Quack, quack, quack, when shall I get my money back?'
He had not gone far when he met friend Fox, on his rounds that way.
'Good-morning, neighbour,' says the friend, 'where are you off to so early?'
'I am going to the King for what he owes me.'
'Oh! take me with thee!'
Drakestail said to himself: 'One can't have too many friends.' ... 'I will,' says he, 'but going on all-fours you will soon be tired. Make yourself quite small, get into my throat—go into my gizzard and I will carry you.'
'Happy thought!' says friend Fox.
He takes bag and baggage, and, presto! is gone like a letter into the post.
And Drakestail is off again, all spruce and fresh, still singing: 'Quack, quack, quack, when shall I have my money back?'
He had not gone far when he met his lady-friend Ladder, leaning on her wall.
'Good morning, my duckling,' says the lady friend, 'whither away so bold?'
'I am going to the King for what he owes me.'
'Oh! take me with thee!'
Drakestail said to himself: 'One can't have too many friends.' ... 'I will,' says he, 'but with your wooden legs you will soon be tired. Make yourself quite small, get into my throat—go into my gizzard and I will carry you.'
'Happy thought!' says my friend Ladder, and nimble, bag and baggage, goes to keep company with friend Fox.
And 'Quack, quack, quack.' Drakestail is off again, singing and spruce as before. A little farther he meets his sweetheart, my friend River, wandering quietly in the sunshine.
'Thou, my cherub,' says she, 'whither so lonesome, with arching tail, on this muddy road?'
'I am going to the King, you know, for what he owes me.'
'Oh! take me with thee!'
Drakestail said to himself: 'We can't be too many friends.'... 'I will,' says he, 'but you who sleep while you walk will soon be tired. Make yourself quite small, get into my throat—go into my gizzard and I will carry you.'
'Ah! happy thought!' says my friend River.
She takes bag and baggage, and glou, glou, glou, she takes her place between friend Fox and my friend Ladder.
And 'Quack, quack, quack.' Drakestail is off again singing.
A little farther on he meets comrade Wasp's-nest, manoeuvring his wasps.
'Well, good-morning, friend Drakestail,' said comrade Wasp's-nest, 'where are we bound for so spruce and fresh?'
'I am going to the King for what he owes me.'
'Oh! take me with thee!'
Drakestail said to himself, 'One can't have too many friends.'... 'I will,' says he, 'but with your battalion to drag along, you will soon be tired. Make yourself quite small, go into my throat—get into my gizzard and I will carry you.'
'By Jove I that's a good idea!' says comrade Wasp's-nest.
And left file! he takes the same road to join the others with all his party. There was not much more room, but by closing up a bit they managed.... And Drakestail is off again singing.
He arrived thus at the capital, and threaded his way straight up the High Street, still running and singing 'Quack, quack, quack, when shall I get my money back?' to the great astonishment of the good folks, till he came to the King's palace.
He strikes with the knocker: 'Toc! toc!'
'Who is there?' asks the porter, putting his head out of the wicket.
''Tis I, Drakestail. I wish to speak to the King.'
'Speak to the King!... That's easily said. The King is dining, and will not be disturbed.'
'Tell him that it is I, and I have come he well knows why.'
The porter shuts his wicket and goes up to say it to the King, who was just sitting down to dinner with a napkin round his neck, and all his ministers.
'Good, good!' said the King laughing. 'I know what it is! Make him come in, and put him with the turkeys and chickens.'
The porter descends.
'Have the goodness to enter.'
'Good!' says Drakestail to himself, 'I shall now see how they eat at court.'
'This way, this way,' says the porter. 'One step further.... There, there you are.'
'How? what? in the poultry yard?'
Fancy how vexed Drakestail was!
'Ah! so that's it,' says he. 'Wait! I will compel you to receive me. Quack, quack, quack, when shall I get my money back?' But turkeys and chickens are creatures who don't like people that are not as themselves. When they saw the new-comer and how he was made, and when they heard him crying too, they began to look black at him.
'What is it? what does he want?'
Finally they rushed at him all together, to overwhelm him with pecks.
'I am lost!' said Drakestail to himself, when by good luck he remembers his comrade friend Fox, and he cries:
'Reynard, Reynard, come out of your earth, Or Drakestail's life is of little worth.'
Then friend Fox, who was only waiting for these words, hastens out, throws himself on the wicked fowls, and quick! quack! he tears them to pieces; so much so that at the end of five minutes there was not one left alive. And Drakestail, quite content, began to sing again, 'Quack, quack, quack, when shall I get my money back?'
When the King who was still at table heard this refrain, and the poultry woman came to tell him what had been going on in the yard, he was terribly annoyed.
He ordered them to throw this tail of a drake into the well, to make an end of him.
And it was done as he commanded. Drakestail was in despair of getting himself out of such a deep hole, when he remembered his lady friend, the Ladder.
'Ladder, Ladder, come out of thy hold, Or Drakestail's days will soon be told.'
My friend Ladder, who was only waiting for these words, hastens out, leans her two arms on the edge of the well, then Drakestail climbs nimbly on her back, and hop! he is in the yard, where he begins to sing louder than ever.
When the King, who was still at table and laughing at the good trick he had played his creditor, heard him again reclaiming his money, he became livid with rage.
He commanded that the furnace should be heated, and this tail of a drake thrown into it, because he must be a sorcerer.
The furnace was soon hot, but this time Drakestail was not so afraid; he counted on his sweetheart, my friend River.
'River, River, outward flow, Or to death Drakestail must go.'
My friend River hastens out, and errouf! throws herself into the furnace, which she floods, with all the people who had lighted it; after which she flowed growling into the hall of the palace to the height of more than four feet.
And Drakestail, quite content, begins to swim, singing deafeningly, 'Quack, quack, quack, when shall I get my money back?'
The King was still at table, and thought himself quite sure of his game; but when he heard Drakestail singing again, and when they told him all that had passed, he became furious and got up from table brandishing his fists.
'Bring him here, and I'll cut his throat! bring him here quick!' cried he.
And quickly two footmen ran to fetch Drakestail.
'At last,' said the poor chap, going up the great stairs, 'they have decided to receive me.'
Imagine his terror when on entering he sees the King as red as a turkey cock, and all his ministers attending him standing sword in hand. He thought this time it was all up with him. Happily, he remembered that there was still one remaining friend, and he cried with dying accents:
'Wasp's-nest, Wasp's-nest, make a sally, Or Drakestail nevermore may rally.'
Hereupon the scene changes.
'Bs, bs, bayonet them! 'The brave Wasp's-nest rushes out with all his wasps. They threw themselves on the infuriated King and his ministers, and stung them so fiercely in the face that they lost their heads, and not knowing where to hide themselves they all jumped pell-mell from the window and broke their necks on the pavement.
Behold Drakestail much astonished, all alone in the big saloon and master of the field. He could not get over it.
Nevertheless, he remembered shortly what he had come for to the palace, and improving the occasion, he set to work to hunt for his dear money. But in vain he rummaged in all the drawers; he found nothing; all had been spent.
And ferreting thus from room to room he came at last to the one with the throne in it, and feeling fatigued, he sat himself down on it to think over his adventure. In the meanwhile the people had found their King and his ministers with their feet in the air on the pavement, and they had gone into the palace to know how it had occurred. On entering the throne-room, when the crowd saw that there was already someone on the royal seat, they broke out in cries of surprise and joy:
'The King is dead, long live the King! Heaven has sent us down this thing.'
Drakestail, who was no longer surprised at anything, received the acclamations of the people as if he had never done anything else all his life.
A few of them certainly murmured that a Drakestail would make a fine King; those who knew him replied that a knowing Drakestail was a more worthy King than a spendthrift like him who was lying on the pavement. In short, they ran and took the crown off the head of the deceased, and placed it on that of Drakestail, whom it fitted like wax.
Thus he became King.
'And now,' said he after the ceremony, 'ladies and gentlemen, let's go to supper. I am so hungry!'(15)
(15) Contes of Ch. Marelles.
A VERY long time ago the town of Hamel in Germany was invaded by bands of rats, the like of which had never been seen before nor will ever be again.
They were great black creatures that ran boldly in broad daylight through the streets, and swarmed so, all over the houses, that people at last could not put their hand or foot down anywhere without touching one. When dressing in the morning they found them in their breeches and petticoats, in their pockets and in their boots; and when they wanted a morsel to eat, the voracious horde had swept away everything from cellar to garret. The night was even worse. As soon as the lights were out, these untiring nibblers set to work. And everywhere, in the ceilings, in the floors, in the cupboards, at the doors, there was a chase and a rummage, and so furious a noise of gimlets, pincers, and saws, that a deaf man could not have rested for one hour together.
Neither cats nor dogs, nor poison nor traps, nor prayers nor candles burnt to all the saints—nothing would do anything. The more they killed the more came. And the inhabitants of Hamel began to go to the dogs (not that THEY were of much use), when one Friday there arrived in the town a man with a queer face, who played the bagpipes and sang this refrain:
'Qui vivra verra: Le voila, Le preneur des rats.'
He was a great gawky fellow, dry and bronzed, with a crooked nose, a long rat-tail moustache, two great yellow piercing and mocking eyes, under a large felt hat set off by a scarlet cock's feather. He was dressed in a green jacket with a leather belt and red breeches, and on his feet were sandals fastened by thongs passed round his legs in the gipsy fashion.
That is how he may be seen to this day, painted on a window of the cathedral of Hamel.
He stopped on the great market-place before the town hall, turned his back on the church and went on with his music, singing:
'Who lives shall see: This is he, The ratcatcher.'
The town council had just assembled to consider once more this plague of Egypt, from which no one could save the town.
The stranger sent word to the counsellors that, if they would make it worth his while, he would rid them of all their rats before night, down to the very last.
'Then he is a sorcerer!' cried the citizens with one voice; 'we must beware of him.'
The Town Counsellor, who was considered clever, reassured them.
He said: 'Sorcerer or no, if this bagpiper speaks the truth, it was he who sent us this horrible vermin that he wants to rid us of to-day for money. Well, we must learn to catch the devil in his own snares. You leave it to me.'
'Leave it to the Town Counsellor,' said the citizens one to another.
And the stranger was brought before them.
'Before night,' said he, 'I shall have despatched all the rats in Hamel if you will but pay me a gros a head.'
'A gros a head!' cried the citizens, 'but that will come to millions of florins!'
The Town Counsellor simply shrugged his shoulders and said to the stranger:
'A bargain! To work; the rats will be paid one gros a head as you ask.'
The bagpiper announced that he would operate that very evening when the moon rose. He added that the inhabitants should at that hour leave the streets free, and content themselves with looking out of their windows at what was passing, and that it would be a pleasant spectacle. When the people of Hamel heard of the bargain, they too exclaimed: 'A gros a head! but this will cost us a deal of money!'
'Leave it to the Town Counsellor,' said the town council with a malicious air. And the good people of Hamel repeated with their counsellors, 'Leave it to the Town Counsellor.'
Towards nine at night the bagpiper re-appeared on the market place. He turned, as at first, his back to the church, and the moment the moon rose on the horizon, 'Trarira, trari!' the bagpipes resounded.
It was first a slow, caressing sound, then more and more lively and urgent, and so sonorous and piercing that it penetrated as far as the farthest alleys and retreats of the town.
Soon from the bottom of the cellars, the top of the garrets, from under all the furniture, from all the nooks and corners of the houses, out come the rats, search for the door, fling themselves into the street, and trip, trip, trip, begin to run in file towards the front of the town hall, so squeezed together that they covered the pavement like the waves of flooded torrent.
When the square was quite full the bagpiper faced about, and, still playing briskly, turned towards the river that runs at the foot of the walls of Hamel.
Arrived there he turned round; the rats were following.
'Hop! hop!' he cried, pointing with his finger to the middle of the stream, where the water whirled and was drawn down as if through a funnel. And hop! hop! without hesitating, the rats took the leap, swam straight to the funnel, plunged in head foremost and disappeared.
The plunging continued thus without ceasing till midnight.
At last, dragging himself with difficulty, came a big rat, white with age, and stopped on the bank.
It was the king of the band.
'Are they all there, friend Blanchet?' asked the bagpiper.
'They are all there,' replied friend Blanchet.
'And how many were they?'
'Nine hundred and ninety thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.'
'Then go and join them, old sire, and au revoir.'
Then the old white rat sprang in his turn into the river, swam to the whirlpool and disappeared.
When the bagpiper had thus concluded his business he went to bed at his inn. And for the first time during three months the people of Hamel slept quietly through the night.
The next morning, at nine o'clock, the bagpiper repaired to the town hall, where the town council awaited him.
'All your rats took a jump into the river yesterday,' said he to the counsellors, 'and I guarantee that not one of them comes back. They were nine hundred and ninety thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine, at one gros a head. Reckon!'
'Let us reckon the heads first. One gros a head is one head the gros. Where are the heads?'
The ratcatcher did not expect this treacherous stroke. He paled with anger and his eyes flashed fire.
'The heads!' cried he, 'if you care about them, go and find them in the river.'
'So,' replied the Town Counsellor, 'you refuse to hold to the terms of your agreement? We ourselves could refuse you all payment. But you have been of use to us, and we will not let you go without a recompense,' and he offered him fifty crowns.
'Keep your recompense for yourself,' replied the ratcatcher proudly. 'If you do not pay me I will be paid by your heirs.'
Thereupon he pulled his hat down over his eyes, went hastily out of the hall, and left the town without speaking to a soul.
When the Hamel people heard how the affair had ended they rubbed their hands, and with no more scruple than their Town Counsellor, they laughed over the ratcatcher, who, they said, was caught in his own trap. But what made them laugh above all was his threat of getting himself paid by their heirs. Ha! they wished that they only had such creditors for the rest of their lives.
Next day, which was a Sunday, they all went gaily to church, thinking that after Mass they would at last be able to eat some good thing that the rats had not tasted before them.
They never suspected the terrible surprise that awaited them on their return home. No children anywhere, they had all disappeared!
'Our children! where are our poor children?' was the cry that was soon heard in all the streets.
Then through the east door of the town came three little boys, who cried and wept, and this is what they told:
While the parents were at church a wonderful music had resounded. Soon all the little boys and all the little girls that had been left at home had gone out, attracted by the magic sounds, and had rushed to the great market-place. There they found the ratcatcher playing his bagpipes at the same spot as the evening before. Then the stranger had begun to walk quickly, and they had followed, running, singing and dancing to the sound of the music, as far as the foot of the mountain which one sees on entering Hamel. At their approach the mountain had opened a little, and the bagpiper had gone in with them, after which it had closed again. Only the three little ones who told the adventure had remained outside, as if by a miracle. One was bandy-legged and could not run fast enough; the other, who had left the house in haste, one foot shod the other bare, had hurt himself against a big stone and could not walk without difficulty; the third had arrived in time, but in harrying to go in with the others had struck so violently against the wall of the mountain that he fell backwards at the moment it closed upon his comrades.
At this story the parents redoubled their lamentations. They ran with pikes and mattocks to the mountain, and searched till evening to find the opening by which their children had disappeared, without being able to find it. At last, the night falling, they returned desolate to Hamel.
But the most unhappy of all was the Town Counsellor, for he lost three little boys and two pretty little girls, and to crown all, the people of Hamel overwhelmed him with reproaches, forgetting that the evening before they had all agreed with him.
What had become of all these unfortunate children?
The parents always hoped they were not dead, and that the rat-catcher, who certainly must have come out of the mountain, would have taken them with him to his country. That is why for several years they sent in search of them to different countries, but no one ever came on the trace of the poor little ones.
It was not till much later that anything was to be heard of them.
About one hundred and fifty years after the event, when there was no longer one left of the fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters of that day, there arrived one evening in Hamel some merchants of Bremen returning from the East, who asked to speak with the citizens. They told that they, in crossing Hungary, had sojourned in a mountainous country called Transylvania, where the inhabitants only spoke German, while all around them nothing was spoken but Hungarian. These people also declared that they came from Germany, but they did not know how they chanced to be in this strange country. 'Now,' said the merchants of Bremen, 'these Germans cannot be other than the descendants of the lost children of Hamel.'
The people of Hamel did not doubt it; and since that day they regard it as certain that the Transylvanians of Hungary are their country folk, whose ancestors, as children, were brought there by the ratcatcher. There are more difficult things to believe than that.(16)
(16) Ch. Marelles.
THE TRUE HISTORY OF LITTLE GOLDEN HOOD
YOU know the tale of poor Little Red Riding-hood, that the Wolf deceived and devoured, with her cake, her little butter can, and her Grandmother; well, the true story happened quite differently, as we know now. And first of all the little girl was called and is still called Little Golden-hood; secondly, it was not she, nor the good grand-dame, but the wicked Wolf who was, in the end, caught and devoured.
The story begins something like the tale.
There was once a little peasant girl, pretty and nice as a star in its season. Her real name was Blanchette, but she was more often called Little Golden-hood, on account of a wonderful little cloak with a hood, gold- and fire-coloured, which she always had on. This little hood was given her by her Grandmother, who was so old that she did not know her age; it ought to bring her good luck, for it was made of a ray of sunshine, she said. And as the good old woman was considered something of a witch, everyone thought the little hood rather bewitched too.
And so it was, as you will see.
One day the mother said to the child: 'Let us see, my little Golden-hood, if you know now how to find your way by yourself. You shall take this good piece of cake to your Grandmother for a Sunday treat to-morrow. You will ask her how she is, and come back at once, without stopping to chatter on the way with people you don't know. Do you quite understand?'
'I quite understand,' replied Blanchette gaily. And off she went with the cake, quite proud of her errand.
But the Grandmother lived in another village, and there was a big wood to cross before getting there. At a turn of the road under the trees, suddenly 'Who goes there?'
He had seen the child start alone, and the villain was waiting to devour her; when at the same moment he perceived some wood-cutters who might observe him, and he changed his mind. Instead of falling upon Blanchette he came frisking up to her like a good dog.
''Tis you! my nice Little Golden-hood,' said he. So the little girl stops to talk with the Wolf, who, for all that, she did not know in the least.
'You know me, then!' said she; 'what is your name?'
'My name is friend Wolf. And where are you going thus, my pretty one, with your little basket on your arm?'
'I am going to my Grandmother, to take her a good piece of cake for her Sunday treat to-morrow.'
'And where does she live, your Grandmother?'
'She lives at the other side of the wood, in the first house in the village, near the windmill, you know.'
'Ah! yes! I know now,' said the Wolf. 'Well, that's just where I'm going; I shall get there before you, no doubt, with your little bits of legs, and I'll tell her you're coming to see her; then she'll wait for you.'
Thereupon the Wolf cuts across the wood, and in five minutes arrives at the Grandmother's house.
He knocks at the door: toc, toc.
He knocks louder.
Then he stands up on end, puts his two fore-paws on the latch and the door opens.
Not a soul in the house.
The old woman had risen early to sell herbs in the town, and she had gone off in such haste that she had left her bed unmade, with her great night-cap on the pillow.
'Good!' said the Wolf to himself, 'I know what I'll do.'
He shuts the door, pulls on the Grandmother's night-cap down to his eyes, then he lies down all his length in the bed and draws the curtains.
In the meantime the good Blanchette went quietly on her way, as little girls do, amusing herself here and there by picking Easter daisies, watching the little birds making their nests, and running after the butterflies which fluttered in the sunshine.
At last she arrives at the door.
'Who is there?' says the Wolf, softening his rough voice as best he can.
'It's me, Granny, your little Golden-hood. I'm bringing you a big piece of cake for your Sunday treat to-morrow.'
'Press your finger on the latch, then push and the door opens.'
'Why, you've got a cold, Granny,' said she, coming in.
'Ahem! a little, a little...' replies the Wolf, pretending to cough. 'Shut the door well, my little lamb. Put your basket on the table, and then take off your frock and come and lie down by me: you shall rest a little.'
The good child undresses, but observe this! She kept her little hood upon her head. When she saw what a figure her Granny cut in bed, the poor little thing was much surprised.
'Oh!' cries she, 'how like you are to friend Wolf, Grandmother!'
'That's on account of my night-cap, child,' replies the Wolf.
'Oh! what hairy arms you've got, Grandmother!'
'All the better to hug you, my child.'
'Oh! what a big tongue you've got, Grandmother!'
'All the better for answering, child.'
'Oh! what a mouthful of great white teeth you have, Grandmother!'
'That's for crunching little children with! 'And the Wolf opened his jaws wide to swallow Blanchette.
But she put down her head crying:
'Mamma! Mamma!' and the Wolf only caught her little hood.
Thereupon, oh dear! oh dear! he draws back, crying and shaking his jaw as if he had swallowed red-hot coals.
It was the little fire-coloured hood that had burnt his tongue right down his throat.
The little hood, you see, was one of those magic caps that they used to have in former times, in the stories, for making oneself invisible or invulnerable.
So there was the Wolf with his throat burnt, jumping off the bed and trying to find the door, howling and howling as if all the dogs in the country were at his heels.
Just at this moment the Grandmother arrives, returning from the town with her long sack empty on her shoulder.
'Ah, brigand!' she cries, 'wait a bit!' Quickly she opens her sack wide across the door, and the maddened Wolf springs in head downwards.
It is he now that is caught, swallowed like a letter in the post.
For the brave old dame shuts her sack, so; and she runs and empties it in the well, where the vagabond, still howling, tumbles in and is drowned.
'Ah, scoundrel! you thought you would crunch my little grandchild! Well, to-morrow we will make her a muff of your skin, and you yourself shall be crunched, for we will give your carcass to the dogs.'
Thereupon the Grandmother hastened to dress poor Blanchette, who was still trembling with fear in the bed.
'Well,' she said to her, 'without my little hood where would you be now, darling?' And, to restore heart and legs to the child, she made her eat a good piece of her cake, and drink a good draught of wine, after which she took her by the hand and led her back to the house.
And then, who was it who scolded her when she knew all that had happened?
It was the mother.
But Blanchette promised over and over again that she would never more stop to listen to a Wolf, so that at last the mother forgave her.
And Blanchette, the Little Golden-hood, kept her word. And in fine weather she may still be seen in the fields with her pretty little hood, the colour of the sun.
But to see her you must rise early.(17)
(17) Ch. Marelles
THE GOLDEN BRANCH
ONCE upon a time there was a King who was so morose and disagreeable that he was feared by all his subjects, and with good reason, as for the most trifling offences he would have their heads cut off. This King Grumpy, as he was called, had one son, who was as different from his father as he could possibly be. No prince equalled him in cleverness and kindness of heart, but unfortunately he was most terribly ugly. He had crooked legs and squinting eyes, a large mouth all on one side, and a hunchback. Never was there a beautiful soul in such a frightful little body, but in spite of his appearance everybody loved him. The Queen, his mother, called him Curlicue, because it was a name she rather liked, and it seemed to suit him.
King Grumpy, who cared a great deal more for his own grandeur than for his son's happiness, wished to betroth the Prince to the daughter of a neighbouring King, whose great estates joined his own, for he thought that this alliance would make him more powerful than ever, and as for the Princess she would do very well for Prince Curlicue, for she was as ugly as himself. Indeed, though she was the most amiable creature in the world, there was no concealing the fact that she was frightful, and so lame that she always went about with a crutch, and people called her Princess Cabbage-Stalk.
The King, having asked for and received a portrait of this Princess, had it placed in his great hall under a canopy, and sent for Prince Curlicue, to whom he said that as this was the portrait of his future bride, he hoped the Prince found it charming.
The Prince after one glance at it turned away with a disdainful air, which greatly offended his father.
'Am I to understand that you are not pleased?' he said very sharply.
'No, sire,' replied the Prince. 'How could I be pleased to marry an ugly, lame Princess?'
'Certainly it is becoming in YOU to object to that,' said King Grumpy, 'since you are ugly enough to frighten anyone yourself.'
'That is the very reason,' said the Prince, 'that I wish to marry someone who is not ugly. I am quite tired enough of seeing myself.'
'I tell you that you shall marry her,' cried King Grumpy angrily.
And the Prince, seeing that it was of no use to remonstrate, bowed and retired.
As King Grumpy was not used to being contradicted in anything, he was very much displeased with his son, and ordered that he should be imprisoned in the tower that was kept on purpose for rebellious Princes, but had not been used for about two hundred years, because there had not been any. The Prince thought all the rooms looked strangely old-fashioned, with their antique furniture, but as there was a good library he was pleased, for he was very fond of reading, and he soon got permission to have as many books as he liked. But when he looked at them he found that they were written in a forgotten language, and he could not understand a single word, though he amused himself with trying.
King Grumpy was so convinced that Prince Curlicue would soon get tired of being in prison, and so consent to marry the Princess Cabbage-Stalk, that he sent ambassadors to her father proposing that she should come and be married to his son, who would make her perfectly happy.
The King was delighted to receive so good an offer for his unlucky daughter, though, to tell the truth, he found it impossible to admire the Prince's portrait which had been sent to him. However, he had it placed in as favourable a light as possible, and sent for the Princess, but the moment she caught sight of it she looked the other way and began to cry. The King, who was very much annoyed to see how greatly she disliked it, took a mirror, and holding it up before the unhappy Princess, said:
'I see you do not think the Prince handsome, but look at yourself, and see if you have any right to complain about that.'
'Sire,' she answered, 'I do not wish to complain, only I beg of you do not make me marry at all. I had rather be the unhappy Princess Cabbage-Stalk all my life than inflict the sight of my ugliness on anyone else.'
But the King would not listen to her, and sent her away with the ambassadors.
In the meantime the Prince was kept safely locked up in his tower, and, that he might be as dull as possible, King Grumpy ordered that no one should speak to him, and that they should give him next to nothing to eat. But all the Princess guards were so fond of him that they did everything they dared, in spite of the King, to make the time pass pleasantly.
One day, as the Prince was walking up and down the great gallery, thinking how miserable it was to be so ugly, and to be forced to marry an equally frightful Princess, he looked up suddenly and noticed that the painted windows were particularly bright and beautiful, and for the sake of doing something that would change his sad thoughts he began to examine them attentively. He found that the pictures seemed to be scenes from the life of a man who appeared in every window, and the Prince, fancying that he saw in this man some resemblance to himself, began to be deeply interested. In the first window there was a picture of him in one of the turrets of the tower, farther on he was seeking something in a chink in the wall, in the next picture he was opening an old cabinet with a golden key, and so it went on through numbers of scenes, and presently the Prince noticed that another figure occupied the most important place in each scene, and this time it was a tall handsome young man: poor Prince Curlicue found it a pleasure to look at him, he was so straight and strong. By this time it had grown dark, and the Prince had to go back to his own room, and to amuse himself he took up a quaint old book and began to look at the pictures. But his surprise was great to find that they represented the same scenes as the windows of the gallery, and what was more, that they seemed to be alive. In looking at pictures of musicians he saw their hands move and heard sweet sounds; there was a picture of a ball, and the Prince could watch the little dancing people come and go. He turned a page, and there was an excellent smell of a savoury dinner, and one of the figures who sat at the feast looked at him and said:
'We drink your health, Curlicue. Try to give us our Queen again, for if you do you will be rewarded; if not, it will be the worse for you.'
At these words the Prince, who had been growing more and more astonished, was fairly terrified, and dropping the book with a crash he sank back insensible. The noise he made brought his guards to his aid, and as soon as he revived they asked him what was the matter. He answered that he was so faint and giddy with hunger that he had imagined he saw and heard all sorts of strange things. Thereupon, in spite of the King's orders, the guards gave him an excellent supper, and when he had eaten it he again opened his book, but could see none of the wonderful pictures, which convinced him that he must have been dreaming before.
However, when he went into he gallery next day and looked at the painted windows again, he found that they moved, and the figures came and went as if they had been alive, and after watching the one who was like himself find the key in the crack of the turret wall and open the old cabinet, he determined to go and examine the place himself, and try to find out what the mystery was. So he went up into the turret and began to search about and tap upon the walls, and all at once he came upon a place that sounded hollow. Taking a hammer he broke away a bit of the stone, and found behind it a little golden key. The next thing to do was to find the cabinet, and the Prince soon came to it, hidden away in a dark corner, though indeed it was so old and battered-looking that he would never have noticed it of his own accord. At first he could not see any keyhole, but after a careful search he found one hidden in the carving, and the golden key just fitted it; so the Prince gave it a vigorous turn and the doors flew open.
Ugly and old as the cabinet was outside, nothing could have been more rich and beautiful than what met the Prince's astonished eyes. Every drawer was made of crystal, of amber, or of some precious stone, and was quite full of every kind of treasure. Prince Curlicue was delighted; he opened one after another, until at last he came to one tiny drawer which contained only an emerald key.
'I believe that this must open that little golden door in the middle,' said the Prince to himself. And he fitted in the little key and turned it. The tiny door swung back, and a soft crimson light gleamed over the whole cabinet. The Prince found that it proceeded from an immense glowing carbuncle, made into a box, which lay before him. He lost no time in opening it, but what was his horror when he found that it contained a man's hand, which was holding a portrait. His first thought was to put back the terrible box and fly from the turret; but a voice in his ear said, 'This hand belonged to one whom you can help and restore. Look at this beautiful portrait, the original of which was the cause of all my misfortunes, and if you wish to help me, go without a moment's delay to the great gallery, notice where the sun's rays fall most brightly, and if you seek there you will find my treasure.'
The voice ceased, and though the Prince in his bewilderment asked various questions, he received no answer. So he put back the box and locked the cabinet up again, and, having replaced the key in the crack in the wall, hastened down to the gallery.
When he entered it all the windows shook and clattered in the strangest way, but the Prince did not heed them; he was looking so carefully for the place where the sun shone most brightly, and it seemed to him that it was upon the portrait of a most splendidly handsome young man.
He went up and examined it, and found that it rested against the ebony and gold panelling, just like any of the other pictures in the gallery. He was puzzled, not knowing what to do next, until it occurred to him to see if the windows would help him, and, looking at the nearest, he saw a picture of himself lifting the picture from the wall.
The Prince took the hint, and lifting aside the picture without difficulty, found himself in a marble hall adorned with statues; from this he passed on through numbers of splendid rooms, until at last he reached one all hung with blue gauze. The walls were of turquoises, and upon a low couch lay a lovely lady, who seemed to be asleep. Her hair, black as ebony, was spread across the pillows, making her face look ivory white, and the Prince noticed that she was unquiet; and when he softly advanced, fearing to wake her, he could hear her sigh, and murmur to herself:
'Ah! how dared you think to win my love by separating me from my beloved Florimond, and in my presence cutting off that dear hand that even you should have feared and honoured?'
And then the tears rolled slowly down the lovely lady's cheeks, and Prince Curlicue began to comprehend that she was under an enchantment, and that it was the hand of her lover that he had found.
At this moment a huge Eagle flew into the room, holding in its talons a Golden Branch, upon which were growing what looked like clusters of cherries, only every cherry was a single glowing ruby.
This he presented to the Prince, who guessed by this time that he was in some way to break the enchantment that surrounded the sleeping lady. Taking the branch he touched her lightly with it, saying:
'Fair one, I know not by what enchantment thou art bound, but in the name of thy beloved Florimond I conjure thee to come back to the life which thou hast lost, but not forgotten.'
Instantly the lady opened her lustrous eyes, and saw the Eagle hovering near.
'Ah! stay, dear love, stay,' she cried. But the Eagle, uttering a dolorous cry, fluttered his broad wings and disappeared. Then the lady turned to Prince Curlicue, and said:
'I know that it is to you I owe my deliverance from an enchantment which has held me for two hundred years. If there is anything that I can do for you in return, you have only to tell me, and all my fairy power shall be used to make you happy.'
'Madam,' said Prince Curlicue, 'I wish to be allowed to restore your beloved Florimond to his natural form, since I cannot forget the tears you shed for him.'
'That is very amiable of you, dear Prince,' said the Fairy, 'but it is reserved for another person to do that. I cannot explain more at present. But is there nothing you wish for yourself?'
'Madam,' cried the Prince, flinging himself down at her feet, 'only look at my ugliness. I am called Curlicue, and am an object of derision; I entreat you to make me less ridiculous.'
'Rise, Prince,' said the Fairy, touching him with the Golden Branch. 'Be as accomplished as you are handsome, and take the name of Prince Peerless, since that is the only title which will suit you now.'
Silent from joy, the Prince kissed her hand to express his thanks, and when he rose and saw his new reflection in the mirrors which surrounded him, he understood that Curlicue was indeed gone for ever.
'How I wish,' said the Fairy, 'that I dared to tell you what is in store for you, and warn you of the traps which lie in your path, but I must not. Fly from the tower, Prince, and remember that the Fairy Douceline will be your friend always.'
When she had finished speaking, the Prince, to his great astonishment, found himself no longer in the tower, but set down in a thick forest at least a hundred leagues away from it. And there we must leave him for the present, and see what was happening elsewhere.
When the guards found that the Prince did not ask for his supper as usual, they went into his room, and not finding him there, were very much alarmed, and searched the tower from turret to dungeon, but without success. Knowing that the King would certainly have their heads cut off for allowing the Prince to escape, they then agreed to say that he was ill, and after making the smallest among them look as much like Prince Curlicue as possible, they put him into his bed and sent to inform the King.
King Grumpy was quite delighted to hear that his son was ill, for he thought that he would all the sooner be brought to do as he wished, and marry the Princess. So he sent back to the guards to say that the Prince was to be treated as severely as before, which was just what they had hoped he would say. In the meantime the Princess Cabbage-Stalk had reached the palace, travelling in a litter.
King Grumpy went out to meet her, but when he saw her, with a skin like a tortoise's, her thick eyebrows meeting above her large nose, and her mouth from ear to ear, he could not help crying out:
'Well, I must say Curlicue is ugly enough, but I don't think YOU need have thought twice before consenting to marry him.'
'Sire,' she replied, 'I know too well what I am like to be hurt by what you say, but I assure you that I have no wish to marry your son I had rather be called Princess Cabbage-Stalk than Queen Curlicue.'
This made King Grumpy very angry.
'Your father has sent you here to marry my son,' he said, 'and you may be sure that I am not going to offend him by altering his arrangements.' So the poor Princess was sent away in disgrace to her own apartments, and the ladies who attended upon her were charged to bring her to a better mind.
At this juncture the guards, who were in great fear that they would be found out, sent to tell the King that his son was dead, which annoyed him very much. He at once made up his mind that it was entirely the Princess's fault, and gave orders that she should be imprisoned in the tower in Prince Curlicue's place. The Princess Cabbage-Stalk was immensely astonished at this unjust proceeding, and sent many messages of remonstrance to King Grumpy, but he was in such a temper that no one dared to deliver them, or to send the letters which the Princess wrote to her father. However, as she did not know this, she lived in hope of soon going back to her own country, and tried to amuse herself as well as she could until the time should come. Every day she walked up and down the long gallery, until she too was attracted and fascinated by the ever-changing pictures in the windows, and recognised herself in one of the figures. 'They seem to have taken a great delight in painting me since I came to this country,' she said to herself. 'One would think that I and my crutch were put in on purpose to make that slim, charming young shepherdess in the next picture look prettier by contrast. Ah! how nice it would be to be as pretty as that.' And then she looked at herself in a mirror, and turned away quickly with tears in her eyes from the doleful sight. All at once she became aware that she was not alone, for behind her stood a tiny old woman in a cap, who was as ugly again as herself and quite as lame.
'Princess,' she said, 'your regrets are so piteous that I have come to offer you the choice of goodness or beauty. If you wish to be pretty you shall have your way, but you will also be vain, capricious, and frivolous. If you remain as you are now, you shall be wise and amiable and modest.'
'Alas I madam,' cried the Princess, 'is it impossible to be at once wise and beautiful?'
'No, child,' answered the old woman, 'only to you it is decreed that you must choose between the two. See, I have brought with me my white and yellow muff. Breathe upon the yellow side and you will become like the pretty shepherdess you so much admire, and you will have won the love of the handsome shepherd whose picture I have already seen you studying with interest. Breathe upon the white side and your looks will not alter, but you will grow better and happier day by day. Now you may choose.'
'Ah well,' said the Princess, 'I suppose one can't have everything, and it's certainly better to be good than pretty.'
And so she breathed upon the white side of the muff and thanked the old fairy, who immediately disappeared. The Princess Cabbage-Stalk felt very forlorn when she was gone, and began to think that it was quite time her father sent an army to rescue her.
'If I could but get up into the turret,' she thought, 'to see if any one is coming.' But to climb up there seemed impossible. Nevertheless she presently hit upon a plan. The great clock was in the turret, as she knew, though the weights hung down into the gallery. Taking one of them off the rope, she tied herself on in its place, and when the clock was wound, up she went triumphantly into the turret. She looked out over the country the first thing, but seeing nothing she sat down to rest a little, and accidentally leant back against the wall which Curlicue, or rather Prince Peerless, had so hastily mended. Out fell the broken stone, and with it the golden key. The clatter it made upon the floor attracted the Princess Cabbage-Stalk's attention.
She picked it up, and after a moment's consideration decided that it must belong to the curious old cabinet in the corner, which had no visible keyhole. And then it was not long before she had it open, and was admiring the treasures it contained as much as Prince Peerless had done before her, and at last she came to the carbuncle box. No sooner had she opened it than with a shudder of horror she tried to throw it down, but found that some mysterious power compelled her to hold it against her will. And at this moment a voice in her ear said softly:
'Take courage, Princess; upon this adventure your future happiness depends.'
'What am I to do?' said the Princess trembling.
'Take the box,' replied the voice, 'and hide it under your pillow, and when you see an Eagle, give it to him without losing a moment.'
Terrified as the Princess was, she did not hesitate to obey, and hastened to put back all the other precious things precisely as she had found them. By this time her guards were seeking her everywhere, and they were amazed to find her up in the turret, for they said she could only have got there by magic. For three days nothing happened, but at last in the night the Princess heard something flutter against her window, and drawing back her curtains she saw in the moonlight that it was an Eagle.
Limping across at her utmost speed she threw the window open, and the great Eagle sailed in beating with his wings for joy. The Princess lost no time in offering it the carbuncle box, which it grasped in its talons, and instantly disappeared, leaving in its place the most beautiful Prince she had ever seen, who was splendidly dressed, and wore a diamond crown.
'Princess,' said he, 'for two hundred years has a wicked enchanter kept me here. We both loved the same Fairy, but she preferred me. However, he was more powerful than I, and succeeded, when for a moment I was off my guard, in changing me into an Eagle, while my Queen was left in an enchanted sleep. I knew that after two hundred years a Prince would recall her to the light of day, and a Princess, in restoring to me the hand which my enemy had cut off, would give me back my natural form. The Fairy who watches over your destiny told me this, and it was she who guided you to the cabinet in the turret, where she had placed my hand. It is she also who permits me to show my gratitude to you by granting whatever favour you may ask of me. Tell me, Princess, what is it that you wish for most? Shall I make you as beautiful as you deserve to be?'
'Ah, if you only would!' cried the Princess, and at the same moment she heard a crick-cracking in all her bones. She grew tall and straight and pretty, with eyes like shining stars, and a skin as white as milk.
'Oh, wonderful! can this really be my poor little self?' she exclaimed, looking down in amazement at her tiny worn-out crutch as it lay upon the floor.
'Indeed, Princess,' replied Florimond, 'it is yourself, but you must have a new name, since the old one does not suit you now. Be called Princess Sunbeam, for you are bright and charming enough to deserve the name.'
And so saying he disappeared, and the Princess, without knowing how she got there, found herself walking under shady trees by a clear river. Of course, the first thing she did was to look at her own reflection in the water, and she was extremely surprised to find that she was exactly like the shepherdess she had so much admired, and wore the same white dress and flowery wreath that she had seen in the painted windows. To complete the resemblance, her flock of sheep appeared, grazing round her, and she found a gay crook adorned with flowers upon the bank of the river. Quite tired out by so many new and wonderful experiences, the Princess sat down to rest at the foot of a tree, and there she fell fast asleep. Now it happened that it was in this very country that Prince Peerless had been set down, and while the Princess Sunbeam was still sleeping peacefully, he came strolling along in search of a shady pasture for his sheep.
The moment he caught sight of the Princess he recognised her as the charming shepherdess whose picture he had seen so often in the tower, and as she was far prettier than he had remembered her, he was delighted that chance had led him that way.
He was still watching her admiringly when the Princess opened her eyes, and as she also recognised him they were soon great friends. The Princess asked Prince Peerless, as he knew the country better than she did, to tell her of some peasant who would give her a lodging, and he said he knew of an old woman whose cottage would be the very place for her, it was so nice and so pretty. So they went there together, and the Princess was charmed with the old woman and everything belonging to her. Supper was soon spread for her under a shady tree, and she invited the Prince to share the cream and brown bread which the old woman provided. This he was delighted to do, and having first fetched from his own garden all the strawberries, cherries, nuts and flowers he could find. they sat down together and were very merry. After this they met every day as they guarded their flocks, and were so happy that Prince Peerless begged the Princess to marry him, so that they might never be parted again. Now though the Princess Sunbeam appeared to be only a poor shepherdess, she never forgot that she was a real Princess, and she was not at all sure that she ought to marry a humble shepherd, though she knew she would like to do so very much.
So she resolved to consult an Enchanter of whom she had heard a great deal since she had been a shepherdess, and without saying a word to anybody she set out to find the castle in which he lived with his sister, who was a powerful Fairy. The way was long, and lay through a thick wood, where the Princess heard strange voices calling to her from every side, but she was in such a hurry that she stopped for nothing, and at last she came to the courtyard of the Enchanter's castle.
The grass and briers were growing as high as if it were a hundred years since anyone had set foot there, but the Princess got through at last, though she gave herself a good many scratches by the way, and then she went into a dark, gloomy hall, where there was but one tiny hole in the wall through which the daylight could enter. The hangings were all of bats' wings, and from the ceiling hung twelve cats, who filled the hall with their ear piercing yells. Upon the long table twelve mice were fastened by the tail, and just in front of each one's nose, but quite beyond its reach, lay a tempting morsel of fat bacon. So the cats could always see the mice, but could not touch them, and the hungry mice were tormented by the sight and smell of the delicious morsels which they could never seize.
The Princess was looking at the poor creatures in dismay, when the Enchanter suddenly entered, wearing a long black robe and with a crocodile upon his head. In his hand he carried a whip made of twenty long snakes, all alive and writhing, and the Princess was so terrified at the sight that she heartily wished she had never come. Without saying a word she ran to the door, but it was covered with a thick spider's web, and when she broke it she found another, and another, and another. In fact, there was no end to them; the Princess's arms ached with tearing them down, and yet she was no nearer to getting out, and the wicked Enchanter behind her laughed maliciously. At last he said:
'You might spend the rest of your life over that without doing any good, but as you are young, and quite the prettiest creature I have seen for a long time, I will marry you if you like, and I will give you those cats and mice that you see there for your own. They are princes and princesses who have happened to offend me. They used to love one another as much as they now hate one another. Aha! It's a pretty little revenge to keep them like that.'
'Oh! If you would only change me into a mouse too,' cried the Princess.
'Oh! so you won't marry me?' said he. 'Little simpleton, you should have everything heart can desire.'
'No, indeed; nothing should make me marry you; in fact, I don't think I shall ever love anyone,' cried the Princess.
'In that case,' said the Enchanter, touching her, 'you had better become a particular kind of creature that is neither fish nor fowl; you shall be light and airy, and as green as the grass you live in. Off with you, Madam Grasshopper.' And the Princess, rejoicing to find herself free once more, skipped out into the garden, the prettiest little green Grasshopper in the world. But as soon as she was safely out she began to be rather sorry for herself.
'Ah! Florimond,' she sighed, 'is this the end of your gift? Certainly beauty is short-lived, and this funny little face and a green crape dress are a comical end to it. I had better have married my amiable shepherd. It must be for my pride that I am condemned to be a Grasshopper, and sing day and night in the grass by this brook, when I feel far more inclined to cry.'
In the meantime Prince Peerless had discovered the Princess's absence, and was lamenting over it by the river's brim, when he suddenly became aware of the presence of a little old woman. She was quaintly dressed in a ruff and farthingale, and a velvet hood covered her snow-white hair.
'You seem sorrowful, my son,' she said. 'What is the matter?'
'Alas! mother,' answered the Prince, 'I have lost my sweet shepherdess, but I am determined to find her again, though I should have to traverse the whole world in search of her.'
'Go that way, my son,' said the old woman, pointing towards the path that led to the castle. 'I have an idea that you will soon overtake her.'
The Prince thanked her heartily and set out. As he met with no hindrance, he soon reached the enchanted wood which surrounded the castle, and there he thought he saw the Princess Sunbeam gliding before him among the trees. Prince Peerless hastened after her at the top of his speed, but could not get any nearer; then he called to her:
'Sunbeam, my darling—only wait for me a moment.'
But the phantom did but fly the faster, and the Prince spent the whole day in this vain pursuit. When night came he saw the castle before him all lighted up, and as he imagined that the Princess must be in it, he made haste to get there too. He entered without difficulty, and in the hall the terrible old Fairy met him. She was so thin that the light shone through her, and her eyes glowed like lamps; her skin was like a shark's, her arms were thin as laths, and her fingers like spindles. Nevertheless she wore rouge and patches, a mantle of silver brocade and a crown of diamonds, and her dress was covered with jewels, and green and pink ribbons.
'At last you have come to see me, Prince,' said she. 'Don't waste another thought upon that little shepherdess, who is unworthy of your notice. I am the Queen of the Comets, and can bring you to great honour if you will marry me.'
'Marry you, Madam,' cried the Prince, in horror. 'No, I will never consent to that.'
Thereupon the Fairy, in a rage, gave two strokes of her wand and filled the gallery with horrible goblins, against whom the Prince had to fight for his life. Though he had only his dagger, he defended himself so well that he escaped without any harm, and presently the old Fairy stopped the fray and asked the Prince if he was still of the same mind. When he answered firmly that he was, she called up the appearance of the Princess Sunbeam to the other end of the gallery, and said:
'You see your beloved there? Take care what you are about, for if you again refuse to marry me she shall be torn in pieces by two tigers.'
The Prince was distracted, for he fancied he heard his dear shepherdess weeping and begging him to save her. In despair he cried:
'Oh, Fairy Douceline, have you abandoned me after so many promises of friendship? Help, help us now!'
Immediately a soft voice said in his ear:
'Be firm, happen what may, and seek the Golden Branch.'
Thus encouraged, the Prince persevered in his refusal, and at length the old Fairy in a fury cried:
'Get out of my sight, obstinate Prince. Become a Cricket!'
And instantly the handsome Prince Peerless became a poor little black Cricket, whose only idea would have been to find himself a cosy cranny behind some blazing hearth, if he had not luckily remembered the Fairy Douceline's injunction to seek the Golden Branch.
So he hastened to depart from the fatal castle, and sought shelter in a hollow tree, where he found a forlorn looking little Grasshopper crouching in a corner, too miserable to sing.
Without in the least expecting an answer, the Prince asked it:
'And where may you be going, Gammer Grasshopper?'
'Where are you going yourself, Gaffer Cricket?' replied the Grasshopper.
'What! can you speak?' said he.
'Why should I not speak as well as you? Isn't a Grasshopper as good as a Cricket?' said she.
'I can talk because I was a Prince,' said the Cricket.
'And for that very same reason I ought to be able to talk more than you, for I was a Princess,' replied the Grasshopper.
'Then you have met with the same fate as I have,' said he. 'But where are you going now? Cannot we journey together?'
'I seemed to hear a voice in the air which said: "Be firm, happen what may, and seek the Golden Branch,"' answered the Grasshopper, 'and I thought the command must be for me, so I started at once, though I don't know the way.'
At this moment their conversation was interrupted by two mice, who, breathless from running, flung themselves headlong through the hole into the tree, nearly crushing the Grasshopper and the Cricket, though they got out of the way as fast as they could and stood up in a dark corner.
'Ah, Madam,' said the fatter of the two, 'I have such a pain in my side from running so fast. How does your Highness find yourself?'
'I have pulled my tail off,' replied the younger Mouse, 'but as I should still be on the sorcerer's table unless I had, I do not regret it. Are we pursued, think you? How lucky we were to escape!'
'I only trust that we may escape cats and traps, and reach the Golden Branch soon,' said the fat Mouse.
'You know the way then?' said the other.
'Oh dear, yes! as well as the way to my own house, Madam. This Golden Branch is indeed a marvel, a single leaf from it makes one rich for ever. It breaks enchantments, and makes all who approach it young and beautiful. We must set out for it at the break of day.'
'May we have the honour of travelling with you—this respectable Cricket and myself?' said the Grasshopper, stepping forward. 'We also are on a pilgrimage to the Golden Branch.'
The Mice courteously assented, and after many polite speeches the whole party fell asleep. With the earliest dawn they were on their way, and though the Mice were in constant fear of being overtaken or trapped, they reached the Golden Branch in safety.
It grew in the midst of a wonderful garden, all the paths of which were strewn with pearls as big as peas. The roses were crimson diamonds, with emerald leaves. The pomegranates were garnets, the marigolds topazes, the daffodils yellow diamonds, the violets sapphires, the corn-flowers turquoises, the tulips amethysts, opals and diamonds, so that the garden borders blazed like the sun. The Golden Branch itself had become as tall as a forest tree, and sparkled with ruby cherries to its topmost twig. No sooner had the Grasshopper and the Cricket touched it than they were restored to their natural forms, and their surprise and joy were great when they recognised each other. At this moment Florimond and the Fairy Douceline appeared in great splendour, and the Fairy, as she descended from her chariot, said with a smile:
'So you two have found one another again, I see, but I have still a surprise left for you. Don't hesitate, Princess, to tell your devoted shepherd how dearly you love him, as he is the very Prince your father sent you to marry. So come here both of you and let me crown you, and we will have the wedding at once.'
The Prince and Princess thanked her with all their hearts, and declared that to her they owed all their happiness, and then the two Princesses, who had so lately been Mice, came and begged that the Fairy would use her power to release their unhappy friends who were still under the Enchanter's spell.
'Really,' said the Fairy Douceline, 'on this happy occasion I cannot find it in my heart to refuse you anything.' And she gave three strokes of her wand upon the Golden Branch, and immediately all the prisoners in the Enchanter's castle found themselves free, and came with all speed to the wonderful garden, where one touch of the Golden Branch restored each one to his natural form, and they greeted one another with many rejoicings. To complete her generous work the Fairy presented them with the wonderful cabinet and all the treasures it contained, which were worth at least ten kingdoms. But to Prince Peerless and the Princess Sunbeam she gave the palace and garden of the Golden Branch, where, immensely rich and greatly beloved by all their subjects, they lived happily ever after.(18)
(18) Le Rameau d'Or. Par Madame d'Aulnoy.
THE THREE DWARFS
THERE was once upon a time a man who lost his wife, and a woman who lost her husband; and the man had a daughter and so had the woman. The two girls were great friends and used often to play together. One day the woman turned to the man's daughter and said:
'Go and tell your father that I will marry him, and then you shall wash in milk and drink wine, but my own daughter shall wash in water and drink it too.'
The girl went straight home and told her father what the woman had said.
'What am I to do?' he answered. 'Marriage is either a success or it is a failure.'
At last, being of an undecided character and not being able to make up his mind, he took off his boot, and handing it to his daughter, said:
'Take this boot which has a hole in the sole, hang it up on a nail in the hayloft, and pour water into it. If it holds water I will marry again, but if it doesn't I won't.' The girl did as she was bid, but the water drew the hole together and the boot filled up to the very top. So she went and told her father the result. He got up and went to see for himself, and when he saw that it was true and no mistake, he accepted his fate, proposed to the widow, and they were married at once.
On the morning after the wedding, when the two girls awoke, milk was standing for the man's daughter to wash in and wine for her to drink; but for the woman's daughter, only water to wash in and only water to drink. On the second morning, water to wash in and water to drink was standing for the man's daughter as well. And on the third morning, water to wash in and water to drink was standing for the man's daughter, and milk to wash in and wine to drink for the woman's daughter; and so it continued ever after. The woman hated her stepdaughter from the bottom of her heart, and did all she could to make her life miserable. She was as jealous as she could possibly be, because the girl was so beautiful and charming, while her own daughter was both ugly and repulsive.