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dust remaining.'

'I must go all the same,' said he.

'Well, do not be in a hurry,' continued the queen, understanding that
he would not be prevented. 'Wait till I make some preparations for your
journey.' So she unlocked her great treasure chest, and took out two
beautiful flasks, one of gold and one of silver, which she hung round
his neck. Then she showed him a little trap-door in one corner of the
room, and said: 'Fill the silver flask with this water, which is below
the trap-door. It is enchanted, and whoever you sprinkle with the water
will become a dead man at once, even if he had lived a thousand years.
The golden flask you must fill with the water here,' she added, pointing
to a well in another corner. 'It springs from the rock of eternity; you
have only to sprinkle a few drops on a body and it will come to life
again, if it had been a thousand years dead.'

The prince thanked the queen for her gifts, and, bidding her farewell,
went on his journey.

He soon arrived in the town where the mist-veiled queen reigned in her
palace, but the whole city had changed, and he could scarcely find his
way through the streets. In the palace itself all was still, and he
wandered through the rooms without meeting anyone to stop him. At
last he entered the queen's own chamber, and there she lay, with her
embroidery still in her hands, fast asleep. He pulled at her dress, but
she did not waken. Then a dreadful idea came over him, and he ran to
the chamber where the needles had been kept, but it was quite empty. The
queen had broken the last over the work she held in her hand, and with
it the spell was broken too, and she lay dead.

Quick as thought the prince pulled out the golden flask, and sprinkled
some drops of the water over the queen. In a moment she moved gently,
and raising her head, opened her eyes.

'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad you wakened me; I must have slept a
long while!'

'You would have slept till eternity,' answered the prince, 'if I had not
been here to waken you.'

At these words the queen remembered about the needles. She knew now that
she had been dead, and that the prince had restored her to life. She
gave him thanks from her heart for what he had done, and vowed she would
repay him if she ever got a chance.

The prince took his leave, and set out for the country of the
bald-headed king. As he drew near the place he saw that the whole
mountain had been dug away, and that the king was lying dead on the
ground, his spade and bucket beside him. But as soon as the water from
the golden flask touched him he yawned and stretched himself, and slowly
rose to his feet. 'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad to see you,' cried
he, 'I must have slept a long while!'

'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken
you,' answered the prince. And the king remembered the mountain, and the
spell, and vowed to repay the service if he ever had a chance.

Further along the road which led to his old home the prince found the
great tree torn up by its roots, and the king of the eagles sitting dead
on the ground, with his wings outspread as if for flight. A flutter ran
through the feathers as the drops of water fell on them, and the eagle
lifted his beak from the ground and said: 'Oh, how long I must have
slept! How can I thank you for having awakened me, my dear, good
friend!'

'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken
you'; answered the prince. Then the king remembered about the tree, and
knew that he had been dead, and promised, if ever he had the chance, to
repay what the prince had done for him.

At last he reached the capital of his father's kingdom, but on reaching
the place where the royal palace had stood, instead of the marble
galleries where he used to play, there lay a great sulphur lake, its
blue flames darting into the air. How was he to find his father and
mother, and bring them back to life, if they were lying at the bottom
of that horrible water? He turned away sadly and wandered back into
the streets, hardly knowing where he was going; when a voice behind him
cried: 'Stop, prince, I have caught you at last! It is a thousand years
since I first began to seek you.' And there beside him stood the old,
white-bearded, figure of Death. Swiftly he drew the ring from his
finger, and the king of the eagles, the bald-headed king, and the
mist-veiled queen, hastened to his rescue. In an instant they had seized
upon Death and held him tight, till the prince should have time to reach
the Land of Immortality. But they did not know how quickly Death could
fly, and the prince had only one foot across the border, when he felt
the other grasped from behind, and the voice of Death calling: 'Halt!
now you are mine.'

The Queen of the Immortals was watching from her window, and cried to
Death that he had no power in her kingdom, and that he must seek his
prey elsewhere.

'Quite true,' answered Death; 'but his foot is in my kingdom, and that
belongs to me!'

'At any rate half of him is mine,' replied the Queen, 'and what good can
the other half do you? Half a man is no use, either to you or to me! But
this once I will allow you to cross into my kingdom, and we will decide
by a wager whose he is.'

And so it was settled. Death stepped across the narrow line that
surrounds the Land of Immortality, and the queen proposed the wager
which was to decide the prince's fate. 'I will throw him up into the
sky,' she said, 'right to the back of the morning star, and if he falls
down into this city, then he is mine. But if he should fall outside the
walls, he shall belong to you.'

In the middle of the city was a great open square, and here the queen
wished the wager to take place. When all was ready, she put her foot
under the foot of the prince and swung him into the air. Up, up, he
went, high amongst the stars, and no man's eyes could follow him. Had
she thrown him up straight? the queen wondered anxiously, for, if not,
he would fall outside the walls, and she would lose him for ever. The
moments seemed long while she and Death stood gazing up into the air,
waiting to know whose prize the prince would be. Suddenly they both
caught sight of a tiny speck no bigger than a wasp, right up in the
blue. Was he coming straight? No! Yes! But as he was nearing the city,
a light wind sprang up, and swayed him in the direction of the wall.
Another second and he would have fallen half over it, when the queen
sprang forward, seized him in her arms, and flung him into the castle.
Then she commanded her servants to cast Death out of the city, which
they did, with such hard blows that he never dared to show his face
again in the Land of Immortality.

[From Ungarischen Volksmurchen.]





The Stone-Cutter

Once upon a time there lived a stone-cutter, who went every day to
a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for
gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones
wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman
he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and
contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to
men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The
stone-cutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his
head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was
coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stone-cutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich
man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never
even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier,
and he said to himself: 'Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep
in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should
be!'

And a voice answered him: 'Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!'

At the sound of the voice the stone-cutter looked round, but could see
nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and
went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day.
But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with
amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled
with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every
respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with
joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed more
fiercely. One morning the heat was so great that the stone-cutter could
scarcely breathe, and he determined he would stay at home till the
evening. He was rather dull, for he had never learned how to amuse
himself, and was peeping through the closed blinds to see what was going
on in the street, when a little carriage passed by, drawn by servants
dressed in blue and silver. In the carriage sat a prince, and over his
head a golden umbrella was held, to protect him from the sun's rays.

'Oh, if I were only a prince!' said the stone-cutter to himself, as the
carriage vanished round the corner. 'Oh, if I were only a prince, and
could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held over me, how
happy I should be!'

And the voice of the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; a
prince you shall be.'

And a prince he was. Before his carriage rode one company of men and
another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him along,
the coveted umbrella was held over his head, everything heart could
desire was his. But yet it was not enough. He looked round still for
something to wish for, and when he saw that in spite of the water he
poured on his grass the rays of the sun scorched it, and that in spite
of the umbrella held over his head each day his face grew browner and
browner, he cried in his anger: 'The sun is mightier than I; oh, if I
were only the sun!'

And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; the sun you shall
be.'

And the sun he was, and felt himself proud in his power. He shot his
beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burnt up the grass in
the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of poorer folk.
But in a short time he began to grow tired of his might, for there
seemed nothing left for him to do. Discontent once more filled his soul,
and when a cloud covered his face, and hid the earth from him, he cried
in his anger: 'Does the cloud hold captive my rays, and is it mightier
than I? Oh, that I were a cloud, and mightier than any!'

And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; a cloud you shall
be!'

And a cloud he was, and lay between the sun and the earth. He caught the
sun's beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew green again
and flowers blossomed. But that was not enough for him, and for days and
weeks he poured forth rain till the rivers overflowed their banks, and
the crops of rice stood in water. Towns and villages were destroyed by
the power of the rain, only the great rock on the mountain side remained
unmoved. The cloud was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: 'Is the
rock, then, mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!'

And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; the rock you
shall be!

And the rock he was, and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood, and
neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move him.
'This is better than all!' he said to himself. But one day he heard a
strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see what it could
be, he saw a stone-cutter driving tools into his surface. Even while he
looked a trembling feeling ran all through him, and a great block broke
off and fell upon the ground. Then he cried in his wrath: 'Is a mere
child of earth mightier than a rock? Oh, if I were only a man!'

And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard. A man once more
you shall be!'

And a man he was, and in the sweat of his brow he toiled again at his
trade of stone-cutting. His bed was hard and his food scanty, but he
had learned to be satisfied with it, and did not long to be something
or somebody else. And as he never asked for things he had not got, or
desired to be greater and mightier than other people, he was happy at
last, and heard the voice of the mountain spirit no longer.

[From Japanische Mahrchen.]




The Gold-Bearded Man

Once upon a time there lived a great king who had a wife and one son
whom he loved very much. The boy was still young when, one day, the king
said to his wife: 'I feel that the hour of my death draws near, and I
want you to promise that you will never take another husband but will
give up your life to the care of our son.'

The queen burst into tears at these words, and sobbed out that she would
never, never marry again, and that her son's welfare should be her first
thought as long as she lived. Her promise comforted the troubled heart
of the king, and a few days after he died, at peace with himself and
with the world.

But no sooner was the breath out of his body, than the queen said to
herself, 'To promise is one thing, and to keep is quite another.' And
hardly was the last spadeful of earth flung over the coffin than she
married a noble from a neighbouring country, and got him made king
instead of the young prince. Her new husband was a cruel, wicked man,
who treated his stepson very badly, and gave him scarcely anything to
eat, and only rags to wear; and he would certainly have killed the boy
but for fear of the people.

Now by the palace grounds there ran a brook, but instead of being a
water-brook it was a milk-brook, and both rich and poor flocked to it
daily and drew as much milk as they chose. The first thing the new king
did when he was seated on the throne, was to forbid anyone to go near
the brook, on pain of being seized by the watchmen. And this was purely
spite, for there was plenty of milk for everybody.

For some days no one dared venture near the banks of the stream, but at
length some of the watchmen noticed that early in the mornings, just at
dawn, a man with a gold beard came down to the brook with a pail, which
he filled up to the brim with milk, and then vanished like smoke before
they could get near enough to see who he was. So they went and told the
king what they had seen.

At first the king would not believe their story, but as they persisted
it was quite true, he said that he would go and watch the stream that
night himself. With the earliest streaks of dawn the gold-bearded man
appeared, and filled his pail as before. Then in an instant he had
vanished, as if the earth had swallowed him up.

The king stood staring with eyes and mouth open at the place where the
man had disappeared. He had never seen him before, that was certain; but
what mattered much more was how to catch him, and what should be done
with him when he was caught? He would have a cage built as a prison for
him, and everyone would talk of it, for in other countries thieves were
put in prison, and it was long indeed since any king had used a cage. It
was all very well to plan, and even to station a watchman behind every
bush, but it was of no use, for the man was never caught. They would
creep up to him softly on the grass, as he was stooping to fill his
pail, and just as they stretched out their hands to seize him, he
vanished before their eyes. Time after time this happened, till the king
grew mad with rage, and offered a large reward to anyone who could tell
him how to capture his enemy.

The first person that came with a scheme was an old soldier who promised
the king that if he would only put some bread and bacon and a flask of
wine on the bank of the stream, the gold-bearded man would be sure to
eat and drink, and they could shake some powder into the wine, which
would send him to sleep at once. After that there was nothing to do but
to shut him in the cage.

This idea pleased the king, and he ordered bread and bacon and a flask
of drugged wine to be placed on the bank of the stream, and the watchers
to be redoubled. Then, full of hope, he awaited the result.

Everything turned out just as the soldier had said. Early next morning
the gold-bearded man came down to the brook, ate, drank, and fell sound
asleep, so that the watchers easily bound him, and carried him off to
the palace. In a moment the king had him fast in the golden cage, and
showed him, with ferocious joy, to the strangers who were visiting his
court. The poor captive, when he awoke from his drunken sleep, tried
to talk to them, but no one would listen to him, so he shut himself up
altogether, and the people who came to stare took him for a dumb man of
the woods. He wept and moaned to himself all day, and would hardly touch
food, though, in dread that he should die and escape his tormentors, the
king ordered his head cook to send him dishes from the royal table.

The gold-bearded man had been in captivity about a month, when the king
was forced to make war upon a neighbouring country, and left the palace,
to take command of his army. But before he went he called his stepson to
him and said:

'Listen, boy, to what I tell you. While I am away I trust the care of my
prisoner to you. See that he has plenty to eat and drink, but be careful
that he does not escape, or even walk about the room. If I return and
find him gone, you will pay for it by a terrible death.'

The young prince was thankful that his stepfather was going to the war,
and secretly hoped he might never come back. Directly he had ridden
off the boy went to the room where the cage was kept, and never left it
night and day. He even played his games beside it.

One day he was shooting at a mark with a silver bow; one of his arrows
fell into the golden cage.

'Please give me my arrow,' said the prince, running up to him; but the
gold-bearded man answered:

'No, I shall not give it to you unless you let me out of my cage.'

'I may not let you out,' replied the boy, 'for if I do my stepfather
says that I shall have to die a horrible death when he returns from the
war. My arrow can be of no use to you, so give it to me.'

The man handed the arrow through the bars, but when he had done so he
begged harder than ever that the prince would open the door and set
him free. Indeed, he prayed so earnestly that the prince's heart was
touched, for he was a tender-hearted boy who pitied the sorrows of other
people. So he shot back the bolt, and the gold-bearded man stepped out
into the world.

'I will repay you a thousand fold for that good deed.' said the man, and
then he vanished. The prince began to think what he should say to the
king when he came back; then he wondered whether it would be wise to
wait for his stepfather's return and run the risk of the dreadful death
which had been promised him. 'No,' he said to himself, 'I am afraid to
stay. Perhaps the world will be kinder to me than he has been.'

Unseen he stole out when twilight fell, and for many days he wandered
over mountains and through forests and valleys without knowing where he
was going or what he should do. He had only the berries for food, when,
one morning, he saw a wood-pigeon sitting on a bough. In an instant he
had fitted an arrow to his bow, and was taking aim at the bird, thinking
what a good meal he would make off him, when his weapon fell to the
ground at the sound of the pigeon's voice:

'Do not shoot, I implore you, noble prince! I have two little sons at
home, and they will die of hunger if I am not there to bring them food.'

And the young prince had pity, and unstrung his bow.

'Oh, prince, I will repay your deed of mercy, said the grateful
wood-pigeon.

'Poor thing! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.

'You have forgotten,' answered the wood-pigeon, 'the proverb that runs,
"mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living creature can
always come across another."' The boy laughed at this speech and went
his way.

By-and-by he reached the edge of a lake, and flying towards some rushes
which grew near the shore he beheld a wild duck. Now, in the days that
the king, his father, was alive, and he had everything to eat he could
possibly wish for, the prince always had wild duck for his birthday
dinner, so he quickly fitted an arrow to his bow and took a careful aim.

'Do not shoot, I pray you, noble prince!' cried the wild duck; 'I have
two little sons at home; they will die of hunger if I am not there to
bring them food.'

And the prince had pity, and let fall his arrow and unstrung his bow.

'Oh, prince! I will repay your deed of mercy,' exclaimed the grateful
wild duck.

'You poor thing! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.

'You have forgotten,' answered the wild duck, 'the proverb that runs,
"mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living creature can
always come across another."' The boy laughed at this speech and went
his way.

He had not wandered far from the shores of the lake, when he noticed a
stork standing on one leg, and again he raised his bow and prepared to
take aim.

'Do not shoot, I pray you, noble prince,' cried the stork; 'I have two
little sons at home; they will die of hunger if I am not there to bring
them food.'

Again the prince was filled with pity, and this time also he did not
shoot.

'Oh, prince, I will repay your deed of mercy,' cried the stork.

'You poor stork! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.

'You have forgotten,' answered the stork, 'the proverb that runs,
"mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living creature can
always come across another."'

The boy laughed at hearing these words again, and walked slowly on. He
had not gone far, when he fell in with two discharged soldiers.

'Where are you going, little brother?' asked one.

'I am seeking work,' answered the prince.

'So are we,' replied the soldier. 'We can all go together.'

The boy was glad of company and they went on, and on, and on, through
seven kingdoms, without finding anything they were able to do. At length
they reached a palace, and there was the king standing on the steps.

'You seem to be looking for something,' said he.

'It is work we want,' they all answered.

So the king told the soldiers that they might become his coachmen; but
he made the boy his companion, and gave him rooms near his own. The
soldiers were dreadfully angry when they heard this, for of course they
did not know that the boy was really a prince; and they soon began to
lay their heads together to plot his ruin.

Then they went to the king.

'Your Majesty,' they said, 'we think it our duty to tell you that your
new companion has boasted to us that if he were only your steward he
would not lose a single grain of corn out of the storehouses. Now, if
your Majesty would give orders that a sack of wheat should be mixed with
one of barley, and would send for the youth, and command him to separate
the grains one from another, in two hours' time, you would soon see what
his talk was worth.'

The king, who was weak, listened to what these wicked men had told him,
and desired the prince to have the contents of the sack piled into two
heaps by the time that he returned from his council. 'If you succeed,'
he added, 'you shall be my steward, but if you fail, I will put you to
death on the spot.'

The unfortunate prince declared that he had never made any such boast as
was reported; but it was all in vain. The king did not believe him, and
turning him into an empty room, bade his servants carry in the huge sack
filled with wheat and barley, and scatter them in a heap on the floor.

The prince hardly knew where to begin, and indeed if he had had a
thousand people to help him, and a week to do it in, he could never have
finished his task. So he flung himself on the ground in despair, and
covered his face with his hands.

While he lay thus, a wood-pigeon flew in through the window.

'Why are you weeping, noble prince?' asked the wood-pigeon.

'How can I help weeping at the task set me by the king. For he says, if
I fail to do it, I shall die a horrible death.'

'Oh, there is really nothing to cry about,' answered the wood-pigeon
soothingly. 'I am the king of the wood-pigeons, whose life you spared
when you were hungry. And now I will repay my debt, as I promised.' So
saying he flew out of the window, leaving the prince with some hope in
his heart.

In a few minutes he returned, followed by a cloud of wood-pigeons, so
dense that it seemed to fill the room. Their king showed them what they
had to do, and they set to work so hard that the grain was sorted into


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Crimson Fairy Book → online text (page 11 of 21)