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whose castle I was brought up. Not long ago my master went on a journey,
and brought back with him, amongst other treasures, the portrait of a
fair maiden so sweet and lovely that I lost my heart at first sight of
it, and could think of nothing but how I might seek her out and marry
her. The count had told me her name, and where she lived, but laughed at
my love, and absolutely refused to give me leave to go in search of her,
so I was forced to run away from the castle by night. I soon reached the
little town where the maiden dwelt; but there fresh difficulties awaited
me. She lived under the care of her mother, who was so severe that she
was never allowed to look out of the window, or set her foot outside the
door alone, and how to make friends with her I did not know. But at last
I dressed myself as an old woman, and knocked boldly at her door. The
lovely maiden herself opened it, and so charmed me that I came near
forgetting my disguise; but I soon recovered my wits, and begged her
to work a fine table-cloth for me, for she is reported to be the best
needlewoman in all the country round. Now I was free to go and see her
often under the presence of seeing how the work was going oil, and one
day, when her mother had gone to the town, I ventured to throw off my
disguise, and tell her of my love. She was startled at first; but I
persuaded her to listen to me, and I soon saw that I was not displeasing
to her, though she scolded me gently for my disobedience to my master,
and my deceit in disguising myself. But when I begged her to marry me,
she told me sadly that her mother would scorn a penniless wooer, and
implored me to go away at once, lest trouble should fall upon her.

'Bitter as it was to me, I was forced to go when she bade me, and I have
wandered about ever since, with grief gnawing at my heart; for how can
a masterless man, without money or goods, ever hope to win the lovely
Lucia?'

Master Peter, who had been listening attentively, pricked up his ears
at the sound of his daughter's name, and very soon found out that it was
indeed with her that this young man was so deeply in love.

'Your story is strange indeed,' said he. 'But where is the father of
this maiden - why do you not ask him for her hand? He might well take
your part, and be glad to have you for his son-in-law.'

'Alas!' said the young man, 'her father is a wandering good-for-naught,
who has forsaken wife and child, and gone off - who knows where? The wife
complains of him bitterly enough, and scolds my dear maiden when she
takes her father's part.'

Father Peter was somewhat amused by this speech; but he liked the young
man well, and saw that he was the very person he needed to enable him
to enjoy his wealth in peace, without being separated from his dear
daughter.

'If you will take my advice,' said he, 'I promise you that you shall
marry this maiden whom you love so much, and that before you are many
days older.'

'Comrade,' cried Friedlin indignantly, for he thought Peter did but jest
with him, 'it is ill done to mock at an unhappy man; you had better find
someone else who will let himself be taken in with your fine promises.'
And up he sprang, and was going off hastily, when Master Peter caught
him by the arm.

'Stay, hothead!' he cried; 'it is no jest, and I am prepared to make
good my words.'

Thereupon he showed him the treasure hidden under the nails, and
unfolded to him his plan, which was that Friedlin should play the part
of the rich son-in-law, and keep a still tongue, that they might enjoy
their wealth together in peace.

The young man was overjoyed at this sudden change in his fortunes, and
did not know how to thank father Peter for his generosity. They took
the road again at dawn the next morning, and soon reached a town, where
Friedlin equipped himself as a gallant wooer should. Father Peter filled
his pockets with gold for the wedding dowry, and agreed with him that
when all was settled he should secretly send him word that Peter might
send off the waggon load of house plenishings with which the rich
bridegroom was to make such a stir in the little town where the bride
lived. As they parted, father Peter's last commands to Friedlin were to
guard well their secret, and not even to tell it to Lucia till she was
his wife.

Master Peter long enjoyed the profits of his journey to the mountain,
and no rumour of it ever got abroad. In his old age his prosperity was
so great that he himself did not know how rich he was; but it was always
supposed that the money was Friedlin's. He and his beloved wife lived in
the greatest happiness and peace, and rose to great honour in the town.
And to this day, when the citizens wish to describe a wealthy man, they
say: 'As rich as Peter Bloch's son-in-law!'




The Cottager And His Cat

Once upon a time there lived an old man and his wife in a dirty,
tumble-down cottage, not very far from the splendid palace where the
king and queen dwelt. In spite of the wretched state of the hut, which
many people declared was too bad even for a pig to live in, the old man
was very rich, for he was a great miser, and lucky besides, and would
often go without food all day sooner than change one of his beloved gold
pieces.

But after a while he found that he had starved himself once too often.
He fell ill, and had no strength to get well again, and in a few days he
died, leaving his wife and one son behind him.

The night following his death, the son dreamed that an unknown man
appeared to him and said: 'Listen to me; your father is dead and your
mother will soon die, and all their riches will belong to you. Half of
his wealth is ill-gotten, and this you must give back to the poor from
whom he squeezed it. The other half you must throw into the sea. Watch,
however, as the money sinks into the water, and if anything should swim,
catch it and keep it, even if it is nothing more than a bit of paper.'

Then the man vanished, and the youth awoke.

The remembrance of his dream troubled him greatly. He did not want to
part with the riches that his father had left him, for he had known all
his life what it was to be cold and hungry, and now he had hoped for a
little comfort and pleasure. Still, he was honest and good-hearted, and
if his father had come wrongfully by his wealth he felt he could never
enjoy it, and at last he made up his mind to do as he had been bidden.
He found out who were the people who were poorest in the village, and
spent half of his money in helping them, and the other half he put in
his pocket. From a rock that jutted right out into the sea he flung it
in. In a moment it was out of sight, and no man could have told the
spot where it had sunk, except for a tiny scrap of paper floating on
the water. He stretched down carefully and managed to reach it, and
on opening it found six shillings wrapped inside. This was now all the
money he had in the world.

The young man stood and looked at it thoughtfully. 'Well, I can't do
much with this,' he said to himself; but, after all, six shillings were
better than nothing, and he wrapped them up again and slipped them into
his coat.

He worked in his garden for the next few weeks, and he and his mother
contrived to live on the fruit and vegetables he got out of it, and then
she too died suddenly. The poor fellow felt very sad when he had laid
her in her grave, and with a heavy heart he wandered into the forest,
not knowing where he was going. By-and-by he began to get hungry, and
seeing a small hut in front of him, he knocked at the door and asked if
they could give him some milk. The old woman who opened it begged him
to come in, adding kindly, that if he wanted a night's lodging he might
have it without its costing him anything.

Two women and three men were at supper when he entered, and silently
made room for him to sit down by them. When he had eaten he began to
look about him, and was surprised to see an animal sitting by the fire
different from anything he had ever noticed before. It was grey in
colour, and not very big; but its eyes were large and very bright, and
it seemed to be singing in an odd way, quite unlike any animal in the
forest. 'What is the name of that strange little creature?' asked he.
And they answered, 'We call it a cat.'

'I should like to buy it - if it is not too dear,' said the young man;
'it would be company for me.' And they told him that he might have it
for six shillings, if he cared to give so much. The young man took out
his precious bit of paper, handed them the six shillings, and the next
morning bade them farewell, with the cat lying snugly in his cloak.

For the whole day they wandered through meadows and forests, till in the
evening they reached a house. The young fellow knocked at the door
and asked the old man who opened it if he could rest there that night,
adding that he had no money to pay for it. 'Then I must give it to you,'
answered the man, and led him into a room where two women and two men
were sitting at supper. One of the women was the old man's wife, the
other his daughter. He placed the cat on the mantel shelf, and they all
crowded round to examine this strange beast, and the cat rubbed itself
against them, and held out its paw, and sang to them; and the women were
delighted, and gave it everything that a cat could eat, and a great deal
more besides.

After hearing the youth's story, and how he had nothing in the world
left him except his cat, the old man advised him to go to the palace,
which was only a few miles distant, and take counsel of the king, who
was kind to everyone, and would certainly be his friend. The young man
thanked him, and said he would gladly take his advice; and early next
morning he set out for the royal palace.

He sent a message to the king to beg for an audience, and received a
reply that he was to go into the great hall, where he would find his
Majesty.

The king was at dinner with his court when the young man entered, and
he signed to him to come near. The youth bowed low, and then gazed in
surprise at the crowd of little black creatures who were running about
the floor, and even on the table itself. Indeed, they were so bold that
they snatched pieces of food from the King's own plate, and if he drove
them away, tried to bite his hands, so that he could not eat his food,
and his courtiers fared no better.

'What sort of animals are these?' asked the youth of one of the ladies
sitting near him.

'They are called rats,' answered the king, who had overheard the
question, 'and for years we have tried some way of putting an end to
them, but it is impossible. They come into our very beds.'

At this moment something was seen flying through the air. The cat was on
the table, and with two or three shakes a number of rats were lying
dead round him. Then a great scuffling of feet was heard, and in a few
minutes the hall was clear.

For some minutes the King and his courtiers only looked at each other in
astonishment. 'What kind of animal is that which can work magic of this
sort?' asked he. And the young man told him that it was called a cat,
and that he had bought it for six shillings.

And the King answered: 'Because of the luck you have brought me, in
freeing my palace from the plague which has tormented me for many years,
I will give you the choice of two things. Either you shall be my Prime
Minister, or else you shall marry my daughter and reign after me. Say,
which shall it be?'

'The princess and the kingdom,' said the young man.

And so it was.

[From Islandische Marchen.]




The Prince Who Would Seek Immortality

Once upon a time, in the very middle of the middle of a large kingdom,
there was a town, and in the town a palace, and in the palace a king.
This king had one son whom his father thought was wiser and cleverer
than any son ever was before, and indeed his father had spared no pains
to make him so. He had been very careful in choosing his tutors and
governors when he was a boy, and when he became a youth he sent him to
travel, so that he might see the ways of other people, and find that
they were often as good as his own.

It was now a year since the prince had returned home, for his father
felt that it was time that his son should learn how to rule the kingdom
which would one day be his. But during his long absence the prince
seemed to have changed his character altogether. From being a merry and
light-hearted boy, he had grown into a gloomy and thoughtful man. The
king knew of nothing that could have produced such an alteration.
He vexed himself about it from morning till night, till at length an
explanation occurred to him - the young man was in love!

Now the prince never talked about his feelings - for the matter of that
he scarcely talked at all; and the father knew that if he was to come to
the bottom of the prince's dismal face, he would have to begin. So one
day, after dinner, he took his son by the arm and led him into another
room, hung entirely with the pictures of beautiful maidens, each one
more lovely than the other.

'My dear boy,' he said, 'you are very sad; perhaps after all your
wanderings it is dull for you here all alone with me. It would be much
better if you would marry, and I have collected here the portraits
of the most beautiful women in the world of a rank equal to your own.
Choose which among them you would like for a wife, and I will send an
embassy to her father to ask for her hand.'

'Alas! your Majesty,' answered the prince, 'it is not love or marriage
that makes me so gloomy; but the thought, which haunts me day and night,
that all men, even kings, must die. Never shall I be happy again till
I have found a kingdom where death is unknown. And I have determined to
give myself no rest till I have discovered the Land of Immortality.

The old king heard him with dismay; things were worse than he thought.
He tried to reason with his son, and told him that during all these
years he had been looking forward to his return, in order to resign his
throne and its cares, which pressed so heavily upon him. But it was
in vain that he talked; the prince would listen to nothing, and the
following morning buckled on his sword and set forth on his journey.

He had been travelling for many days, and had left his fatherland behind
him, when close to the road he came upon a huge tree, and on its topmost
bough an eagle was sitting shaking the branches with all his might. This
seemed so strange and so unlike an eagle, that the prince stood still
with surprise, and the bird saw him and flew to the ground. The moment
its feet touched the ground he changed into a king.

'Why do you look so astonished?' he asked.

'I was wondering why you shook the boughs so fiercely,' answered the
prince.

'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any of my kindred can die
till I have rooted up this great tree,' replied the king of the eagles.
'But it is now evening, and I need work no more to-day. Come to my house
with me, and be my guest for the night.'

The prince accepted gratefully the eagle's invitation, for he was tired
and hungry. They were received at the palace by the king's beautiful
daughter, who gave orders that dinner should be laid for them at
once. While they were eating, the eagle questioned his guest about
his travels, and if he was wandering for pleasure's sake, or with any
special aim. Then the prince told him everything, and how he could never
turn back till he had discovered the Land of Immortality.

'Dear brother,' said the eagle, 'you have discovered it already, and it
rejoices my heart to think that you will stay with us. Have you not just
heard me say that death has no power either over myself or any of my
kindred till that great tree is rooted up? It will take me six hundred
years' hard work to do that; so marry my daughter and let us all live
happily together here. After all, six hundred years is an eternity!'

'Ah, dear king,' replied the young man, 'your offer is very tempting!
But at the end of six hundred years we should have to die, so we should
be no better off! No, I must go on till I find the country where there
is no death at all.'

Then the princess spoke, and tried to persuade the guest to change his
mind, but he sorrowfully shook his head. At length, seeing that his
resolution was firmly fixed, she took from a cabinet a little box which
contained her picture, and gave it to him saying:

'As you will not stay with us, prince, accept this box, which will
sometimes recall us to your memory. If you are tired of travelling
before you come to the Land of Immortality, open this box and look at
my picture, and you will be borne along either on earth or in the air,
quick as thought, or swift as the whirlwind.'

The prince thanked her for her gift, which he placed in his tunic, and
sorrowfully bade the eagle and his daughter farewell.

Never was any present in the world as useful as that little box, and
many times did he bless the kind thought of the princess. One evening it
had carried him to the top of a high mountain, where he saw a man with a
bald head, busily engaged in digging up spadefuls of earth and throwing
them in a basket. When the basket was full he took it away and returned
with an empty one, which he likewise filled. The prince stood and
watched him for a little, till the bald-headed man looked up and said to
him: 'Dear brother, what surprises you so much?'

'I was wondering why you were filling the basket,' replied the prince.

'Oh!' replied the man, 'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any
of my family can die till I have dug away the whole of this mountain and
made it level with the plain. But, come, it is almost dark, and I shall
work no longer.' And he plucked a leaf from a tree close by, and from a
rough digger he was changed into a stately bald-headed king. 'Come home
with me,' he added; 'you must be tired and hungry, and my daughter will
have supper ready for us.' The prince accepted gladly, and they went
back to the palace, where the bald-headed king's daughter, who was still
more beautiful than the other princess, welcomed them at the door and
led the way into a large hall and to a table covered with silver dishes.
While they were eating, the bald-headed king asked the prince how he had
happened to wander so far, and the young man told him all about it, and
how he was seeking the Land of Immortality. 'You have found it already,'
answered the king, 'for, as I said, neither I nor my family can die
till I have levelled this great mountain; and that will take full eight
hundred years longer. Stay here with us and marry my daughter. Eight
hundred years is surely long enough to live.'

'Oh, certainly,' answered the prince; 'but, all the same, I would rather
go and seek the land where there is no death at all.'

So next morning he bade them farewell, though the princess begged him to
stay with all her might; and when she found that she could not persuade
him she gave him as a remembrance a gold ring. This ring was still more
useful than the box, because when one wished oneself at any place one
was there directly, without even the trouble of flying to it through the
air. The prince put it on his finger, and thanking her heartily, went
his way.

He walked on for some distance, and then he recollected the ring and
thought he would try if the princess had spoken truly as to its powers.
'I wish I was at the end of the world,' he said, shutting his eyes, and
when he opened them he was standing in a street full of marble palaces.
The men who passed him were tall and strong, and their clothes were
magnificent. He stopped some of them and asked in all the twenty-seven
languages he knew what was the name of the city, but no one answered
him. Then his heart sank within him; what should he do in this strange
place if nobody could understand anything? he said. Suddenly his eyes
fell upon a man dressed after the fashion of his native country, and he
ran up to him and spoke to him in his own tongue. 'What city is this, my
friend?' he inquired.

'It is the capital city of the Blue Kingdom,' replied the man, 'but the
king himself is dead, and his daughter is now the ruler.'

With this news the prince was satisfied, and begged his countryman to
show him the way to the young queen's palace. The man led him through
several streets into a large square, one side of which was occupied by a
splendid building that seemed borne up on slender pillars of soft green
marble. In front was a flight of steps, and on these the queen was
sitting wrapped in a veil of shining silver mist, listening to the
complaints of her people and dealing out justice. When the prince
came up she saw directly that he was no ordinary man, and telling her
chamberlain to dismiss the rest of her petitioners for that day, she
signed to the prince to follow her into the palace. Luckily she had been
taught his language as a child, so they had no difficulty in talking
together.

The prince told all his story and how he was journeying in search of
the Land of Immortality. When he had finished, the princess, who had
listened attentively, rose, and taking his arm, led him to the door of
another room, the floor of which was made entirely of needles, stuck so
close together that there was not room for a single needle more.

'Prince,' she said, turning to him, 'you see these needles? Well, know
that neither I nor any of my family can die till I have worn out these
needles in sewing. It will take at least a thousand years for that. Stay
here, and share my throne; a thousand years is long enough to live!'

'Certainly,' answered he; 'still, at the end of the thousand years I
should have to die! No, I must find the land where there is no death.'

The queen did all she could to persuade him to stay, but as her words
proved useless, at length she gave it up. Then she said to him: 'As you
will not stay, take this little golden rod as a remembrance of me. It
has the power to become anything you wish it to be, when you are in
need.'

So the prince thanked her, and putting the rod in his pocket, went his
way.

Scarcely had he left the town behind him when he came to a broad river
which no man might pass, for he was standing at the end of the world,
and this was the river which flowed round it. Not knowing what to do
next, he walked a little distance up the bank, and there, over his head,
a beautiful city was floating in the air. He longed to get to it, but
how? neither road nor bridge was anywhere to be seen, yet the city drew
him upwards, and he felt that here at last was the country which he
sought. Suddenly he remembered the golden rod which the mist-veiled
queen had given him. With a beating heart he flung it to the ground,
wishing with all his might that it should turn into a bridge, and
fearing that, after all, this might prove beyond its power. But no,
instead of the rod, there stood a golden ladder, leading straight up to
the city of the air. He was about to enter the golden gates, when there
sprang at him a wondrous beast, whose like he had never seen. 'Out sword
from the sheath,' cried the prince, springing back with a cry. And the
sword leapt from the scabbard and cut off some of the monster's heads,
but others grew again directly, so that the prince, pale with terror,
stood where he was, calling for help, and put his sword back in the
sheath again.

The queen of the city heard the noise and looked from her window to see
what was happening. Summoning one of her servants, she bade him go and
rescue the stranger, and bring him to her. The prince thankfully obeyed
her orders, and entered her presence.

The moment she looked at him, the queen also felt that he was no
ordinary man, and she welcomed him graciously, and asked him what had
brought him to the city. In answer the prince told all his story, and
how he had travelled long and far in search of the Land of Immortality.

'You have found it,' said she, 'for I am queen over life and over death.
Here you can dwell among the immortals.'

A thousand years had passed since the prince first entered the city,
but they had flown so fast that the time seemed no more than six months.
There had not been one instant of the thousand years that the prince was
not happy till one night when he dreamed of his father and mother. Then
the longing for his home came upon him with a rush, and in the morning
he told the Queen of the Immortals that he must go and see his father
and mother once more. The queen stared at him with amazement, and cried:
'Why, prince, are you out of your senses? It is more than eight hundred
years since your father and mother died! There will not even be their


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Crimson Fairy Book → online text (page 10 of 21)