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common property, let him find it who can. So I thought to give it into
your hand, having a kindness for you because you feed your flock upon my
mountain."

'Thereupon the spectre told me exactly where the treasure lay, and how
to find it. It might be only yesterday so well do I remember every word
he spoke.

'"Go towards the little mountains," said he, "and ask there for the
Black King's Valley, and when you come to a tiny brook follow the stream
till you reach the stone bridge beside the saw-mill. Do not cross the
bridge, but keep to your right along the bank till a high rock stands
before you. A bow-shot from that you will discover a little hollow like
a grave. When you find this hollow dig it out; but it will be hard work,
for the earth has been pressed down into it with care. Still, work away
till you find solid rock on all sides of you, and soon you will come to
a square slab of stone; force it out of the wall, and you will stand at
the entrance of the treasure house. Into this opening you must crawl,
holding a lamp in your mouth. Keep your hands free lest you knock your
nose against a stone, for the way is steep and the stones sharp. If it
bruises your knees never mind; you are on the road to fortune. Do not
rest till you reach a wide stairway, down which you will go till you
come out into a spacious hall, in which there are three doors; two of
them stand open, the third is fastened with locks and bolts of iron. Do
not go through the door to the right lest you disturb the bones of the
lords of the treasure. Neither must you go through the door to the left,
it leads to the snake's chamber, where adders and serpents lodge; but
open the fast-closed door by means of the well-known spring-root, which
you must on no account forget to take with you, or all your trouble will
be for naught, for no crowbar or mortal tools will help you. If you want
to procure the root ask a wood-seller; it is a common thing for hunters
to need, and it is not hard to find. If the door bursts open suddenly
with great crackings and groanings do not be afraid, the noise is caused
by the power of the magic root, and you will not be hurt. Now trim your
lamp that it may not fail you, for you will be nearly blinded by the
flash and glitter of the gold and precious stones on the walls and
pillars of the vault; but beware how you stretch out a hand towards the
jewels! In the midst of the cavern stands a copper chest, in that
you will find gold and silver, enough and to spare, and you may help
yourself to your heart's content. If you take as much as you can carry
you will have sufficient to last your lifetime, and you may return three
times; but woe betide you if you venture to come a fourth time. You
would have your trouble for your pains, and would be punished for your
greediness by falling down the stone steps and breaking your leg. Do
not neglect each time to heap back the loose earth which concealed the
entrance of the king's treasure chamber."

'As the apparition left off speaking my dog pricked up his ears and
began to bark. I heard the crack of a carter's whip and the noise
of wheels in the distance, and when I looked again the spectre had
disappeared.'

So ended the shepherd's tale; and the landlord who was listening with
the rest, said shrewdly:

'Tell us now, Father Martin, did you go to the mountain and find what
the spirit promised you; or is it a fable?'

'Nay, nay,' answered the graybeard. 'I cannot tell if the spectre
lied, for never a step did I go towards finding the hollow, for two
reasons: - one was that my neck was too precious for me to risk it in
such a snare as that; the other, that no one could ever tell me where
the spring-root was to be found.'

Then Blaize, another aged shepherd, lifted up his voice.

"Tis a pity, Father Martin, that your secret has grown old with you.
If you had told it forty years ago truly you would not long have been
lacking the spring-root. Even though you will never climb the mountain
now, I will tell you, for a joke, how it is to be found. The easiest
way to get it is by the help of a black woodpecker. Look, in the spring,
where she builds her nest in a hole in a tree, and when the time comes
for her brood to fly off block up the entrance to the nest with a hard
sod, and lurk in ambush behind the tree till the bird returns to feed
her nestlings. When she perceives that she cannot get into her nest she
will fly round the tree uttering cries of distress, and then dart off
towards the sun-setting. When you see her do this, take a scarlet cloak,
or if that be lacking to you, buy a few yards of scarlet cloth,
and hurry back to the tree before the woodpecker returns with the
spring-root in her beak. So soon as she touches with the root the sod
that blocks the nest, it will fly violently out of the hole. Then spread
the red cloth quickly under the tree, so that the woodpecker may think
it is a fire, and in her terror drop the root. Some people really light
a fire and strew spikenard blossoms in it; but that is a clumsy method,
for if the flames do not shoot up at the right moment away will fly the
woodpecker, carrying the root with her."

The party had listened with interest to this speech, but by the time it
was ended the hour was late, and they went their ways homeward, leaving
only one man who had sat unheeded in a corner the whole evening through.

Master Peter Bloch had once been a prosperous innkeeper, and a
master-cook; but he had gone steadily down in the world for some time,
and was now quite poor.

Formerly he had been a merry fellow, fond of a joke, and in the art of
cooking had no equal in the town. He could make fish-jelly, and quince
fritters, and even wafer-cakes; and he gilded the ears of all his
boars' heads. Peter had looked about him for a wife early in life, but
unluckily his choice fell upon a woman whose evil tongue was well known
in the town. Ilse was hated by everybody, and the young folks would go
miles out of their way rather than meet her, for she had some ill-word
for everyone. Therefore, when Master Peter came along, and let himself
be taken in by her boasted skill as a housewife, she jumped at his
offer, and they were married the next day. But they had not got home
before they began to quarrel. In the joy of his heart Peter had tasted
freely of his own good wine, and as the bride hung upon his arm he
stumbled and fell, dragging her down with him; whereupon she beat him
soundly, and the neighbours said truly that things did not promise
well for Master Peter's comfort. Even when the ill-matched couple were
presently blessed with children, his happiness was but short lived, the
savage temper of his quarrelsome wife seemed to blight them from the
first, and they died like little kids in a cold winter.

Though Master Peter had no great wealth to leave behind him, still
it was sad to him to be childless; and he would bemoan himself to his
friends, when he laid one baby after another in the grave, saying: 'The
lightning has been among the cherry-blossoms again, so there will be no
fruit to grow ripe.'

But, by-and-by, he had a little daughter so strong and healthy that
neither her mother's temper nor her father's spoiling could keep her
from growing up tall and beautiful. Meanwhile the fortunes of the family
had changed. From his youth up, Master Peter had hated trouble; when he
had money he spent it freely, and fed all the hungry folk who asked him
for bread. If his pockets were empty he borrowed of his neighbours, but
he always took good care to prevent his scolding wife from finding out
that he had done so. His motto was: 'It will all come right in the end';
but what it did come to was ruin for Master Peter. He was at his wits'
end to know how to earn an honest living, for try as he might ill-luck
seemed to pursue him, and he lost one post after another, till at last
all he could do was to carry sacks of corn to the mill for his wife, who
scolded him well if he was slow about it, and grudged him his portion of
food.

This grieved the tender heart of his pretty daughter, who loved him
dearly, and was the comfort of his life.

Peter was thinking of her as he sat in the inn kitchen and heard
the shepherds talking about the buried treasure, and for her sake he
resolved to go and seek for it. Before he rose from the landlord's
arm-chair his plan was made, and Master Peter went home more joyful and
full of hope than he had been for many a long day; but on the way
he suddenly remembered that he was not yet possessed of the magic
spring-root, and he stole into the house with a heavy heart, and threw
himself down upon his hard straw bed. He could neither sleep nor rest;
but as soon as it was light he got up and wrote down exactly all that
was to be done to find the treasure, that he might not forget anything,
and when it lay clear and plain before his eyes he comforted himself
with the thought that, though he must do the rough work for his wife
during one more winter at least, he would not have to tread the path to
the mill for the rest of his life. Soon he heard his wife's harsh
voice singing its morning song as she went about her household affairs,
scolding her daughter the while. She burst open his door while he was
still dressing: 'Well, Toper!' was her greeting, 'have you been drinking
all night, wasting money that you steal from my housekeeping? For shame,
drunkard!'

Master Peter, who was well used to this sort of talk, did not disturb
himself, but waited till the storm blew over, then he said calmly:

'Do not be annoyed, dear wife. I have a good piece of business in hand
which may turn out well for us.'

'You with a good business?' cried she, 'you are good for nothing but
talk!'

'I am making my will,' said he, 'that when my hour comes my house may be
in order.'

These unexpected words cut his daughter to the heart; she remembered
that all night long she had dreamed of a newly dug grave, and at this
thought she broke out into loud lamentations. But her mother only cried:
'Wretch! have you not wasted goods and possessions, and now do you talk
of making a will?'

And she seized him like a fury, and tried to scratch out his eyes. But
by-and-by the quarrel was patched up, and everything went on as before.
From that day Peter saved up every penny that his daughter Lucia gave
him on the sly, and bribed the boys of his acquaintance to spy out a
black woodpecker's nest for him. He sent them into the woods and fields,
but instead of looking for a nest they only played pranks on him. They
led him miles over hill and vale, stock and stone, to find a raven's
brood, or a nest of squirrels in a hollow tree, and when he was angry
with them they laughed in his face and ran away. This went on for
some time, but at last one of the boys spied out a woodpecker in the
meadow-lands among the wood-pigeons, and when he had found her nest in
a half-dead alder tree, came running to Peter with the news of his
discovery. Peter could hardly believe his good fortune, and went quickly
to see for himself if it was really true; and when he reached the tree
there certainly was a bird flying in and out as if she had a nest in
it. Peter was overjoyed at this fortunate discovery, and instantly set
himself to obtain a red cloak. Now in the whole town there was only
one red cloak, and that belonged to a man of whom nobody ever willingly
asked a favour - Master Hammerling the hangman. It cost Master Peter
many struggles before he could bring himself to visit such a person, but
there was no help for it, and, little as he liked it, he ended by making
his request to the hangman, who was flattered that so respectable a man
as Peter should borrow his robe of office, and willingly lent it to him.

Peter now had all that was necessary to secure the magic root; he
stopped up the entrance to the nest, and everything fell out exactly as
Blaize had foretold. As soon as the woodpecker came back with the root
in her beak out rushed Master Peter from behind the tree and displayed
the fiery red cloak so adroitly that the terrified bird dropped the root
just where it could be easily seen. All Peter's plans had succeeded, and
he actually held in his hand the magic root - that master-key which would
unlock all doors, and bring its possessor unheard-of luck. His thoughts
now turned to the mountain, and he secretly made preparations for his
journey. He took with him only a staff, a strong sack, and a little box
which his daughter Lucia had given him.

It happened that on the very day Peter had chosen for setting out, Lucia
and her mother went off early to the town, leaving him to guard the
house; but in spite of that he was on the point of taking his departure
when it occurred to him that it might be as well first to test the
much-vaunted powers of the magic root for himself. Dame Ilse had a
strong cupboard with seven locks built into the wall of her room, in
which she kept all the money she had saved, and she wore the key of it
always hung about her neck. Master Peter had no control at all of the
money affairs of the household, so the contents of this secret hoard
were quite unknown to him, and this seemed to be a good opportunity for
finding out what they were. He held the magic root to the keyhole, and
to his astonishment heard all the seven locks creaking and turning, the
door flew suddenly wide open, and his greedy wife's store of gold pieces
lay before his eyes. He stood still in sheer amazement, not knowing
which to rejoice over most - this unexpected find, or the proof of the
magic root's real power; but at last he remembered that it was quite
time to be starting on his journey. So, filling his pockets with the
gold, he carefully locked the empty cupboard again and left the house
without further delay. When Dame Ilse and her daughter returned they
wondered to find the house door shut, and Master Peter nowhere to be
seen. They knocked and called, but nothing stirred within but the house
cat, and at last the blacksmith had to be fetched to open the door. Then
the house was searched from garret to cellar, but no Master Peter was to
be found.

'Who knows?' cried Dame Ilse at last, 'the wretch may have been idling
in some tavern since early morning.'

Then a sudden thought startled her, and she felt for her keys. Suppose
they had fallen into her good-for-nothing husband's hands and he had
helped himself to her treasure! But no, the keys were safe in their
usual place, and the cupboard looked quite untouched. Mid-day came,
then evening, then midnight, and still no Master Peter appeared, and the
matter became really serious. Dame Ilse knew right well what a torment
she had been to her husband, and remorse caused her the gloomiest
forebodings.

'Ah! Lucia,' she cried, 'I greatly fear that your father has done
himself a mischief.' And they sat till morning weeping over their own
fancies.

As soon as it was light they searched every corner of the house again,
and examined every nail in the wall and every beam; but, luckily, Master
Peter was not hanging from any of them. After that the neighbours went
out with long poles to fish in every ditch and pond, but they found
nothing, and then Dame Ilse gave up the idea of ever seeing her husband
again and very soon consoled herself, only wondering how the sacks of
corn were to be carried to the mill in future. She decided to buy
a strong ass to do the work, and having chosen one, and after some
bargaining with the owner as to its price, she went to the cupboard
in the wall to fetch the money. But what were her feelings when she
perceived that every shelf lay empty and bare before her! For a moment
she stood bewildered, then broke into such frightful ravings that Lucia
ran to her in alarm; but as soon as she heard of the disappearance of
the money she was heartily glad, and no longer feared that her father
had come to any harm, but understood that he must have gone out into the
world to seek his fortune in some new way.

About a month after this, someone knocked at Dame Ilse's door one day,
and she went to see if it was a customer for meal; but in stepped
a handsome young man, dressed like a duke's son, who greeted her
respectfully, and asked after her pretty daughter as if he were an old
friend, though she could not remember having ever set eyes upon him
before.

However, she invited him to step into the house and be seated while he
unfolded his business. With a great air of mystery he begged permission
to speak to the fair Lucia, of whose skill in needlework he had heard so
much, as he had a commission to give her. Dame Ilse had her own opinion
as to what kind of commission it was likely to be - brought by a young
stranger to a pretty maiden; however, as the meeting would be under her
own eye, she made no objection, but called to her industrious daughter,
who left off working and came obediently; but when she saw the stranger
she stopped short, blushing, and casting down her eyes. He looked at her
fondly, and took her hand, which she tried to draw away, crying:

'Ah! Friedlin, why are you here? I thought you were a hundred miles
away. Are you come to grieve me again?'

'No, dearest girl,' answered he; 'I am come to complete your happiness
and my own. Since we last met my fortune has utterly changed; I am
no longer the poor vagabond that I was then. My rich uncle has died,
leaving me money and goods in plenty, so that I dare to present myself
to your mother as a suitor for your hand. That I love you I know well;
if you can love me I am indeed a happy man.'

Lucia's pretty blue eyes had looked up shyly as he spoke, and now a
smile parted her rosy lips; and she stole a glance at her mother to see
what she thought about it all; but the dame stood lost in amazement to
find that her daughter, whom she could have declared had never been out
of her sight, was already well acquainted with the handsome stranger,
and quite willing to be his bride. Before she had done staring, this
hasty wooer had smoothed his way by covering the shining table with gold
pieces as a wedding gift to the bride's mother, and had filled Lucia's
apron into the bargain; after which the dame made no difficulties, and
the matter was speedily settled.

While Ilse gathered up the gold and hid it away safely, the lovers
whispered together, and what Friedlin told her seemed to make Lucia
every moment more happy and contented.

Now a great hurry-burly began in the house, and preparations for the
wedding went on apace. A few days later a heavily laden waggon drove up,
and out of it came so many boxes and bales that Dame Ilse was lost in
wonder at the wealth of her future son-in-law. The day for the wedding
was chosen, and all their friends and neighbours were bidden to the
feast. As Lucia was trying on her bridal wreath she said to her mother:
'This wedding-garland would please me indeed if father Peter could lead
me to the church. If only he could come back again! Here we are rolling
in riches while he may be nibbling at hunger's table.' And the very idea
of such a thing made her weep, while even Dame Ilse said:

'I should not be sorry myself to see him come back - there is always
something lacking in a house when the good man is away.'

But the fact was that she was growing quite tired of having no one to
scold. And what do you think happened?

On the very eve of the wedding a man pushing a wheelbarrow arrived at
the city gate, and paid toll upon a barrel of nails which it contained,
and then made the best of his way to the bride's dwelling and knocked at
the door.

The bride herself peeped out of the window to see who it could be, and
there stood father Peter! Then there was great rejoicing in the house;
Lucia ran to embrace him, and even Dame Ilse held out her hand in
welcome, and only said: 'Rogue, mend your ways,' when she remembered the
empty treasure cupboard. Father Peter greeted the bridegroom, looking
at him shrewdly, while the mother and daughter hastened to say all
they knew in his favour, and appeared to be satisfied with him as a
son-in-law. When Dame Ilse had set something to eat before her husband,
she was curious to hear his adventures, and questioned him eagerly as to
why he had gone away.

'God bless my native place,' said he. 'I have been marching through the
country, and have tried every kind of work, but now I have found a job
in the iron trade; only, so far, I have put more into it than I have
earned by it. This barrel of nails is my whole fortune, which I wish to
give as my contribution towards the bride's house furnishing.'

This speech roused Dame Ilse to anger, and she broke out into such
shrill reproaches that the bystanders were fairly deafened, and Friedlin
hastily offered Master Peter a home with Lucia and himself, promising
that he should live in comfort, and be always welcome. So Lucia had her
heart's desire, and father Peter led her to the church next day, and
the marriage took place very happily. Soon afterwards the young people
settled in a fine house which Friedlin had bought, and had a garden and
meadows, a fishpond, and a hill covered with vines, and were as happy as
the day was long. Father Peter also stayed quietly with them, living, as
everybody believed, upon the generosity of his rich son-in law. No one
suspected that his barrel of nails was the real 'Horn of Plenty,' from
which all this prosperity overflowed.

Peter had made the journey to the treasure mountain successfully,
without being found out by anybody. He had enjoyed himself by the way,
and taken his own time, until he actually reached the little brook in
the valley which it had cost him some trouble to find. Then he pressed
on eagerly, and soon came to the little hollow in the wood; down he
went, burrowing like a mole into the earth; the magic root did its work,
and at last the treasure lay before his eyes. You may imagine how gaily
Peter filled his sack with as much gold as he could carry, and how
he staggered up the seventy-seven steps with a heart full of hope and
delight. He did not quite trust the gnome's promises of safety, and
was in such haste to find himself once more in the light of day that
he looked neither to the right nor the left, and could not afterwards
remember whether the walls and pillars had sparkled with jewels or not.

However, all went well - he neither saw nor heard anything alarming; the
only thing that happened was that the great iron-barred door shut with
a crash as soon as he was fairly outside it, and then he remembered
that he had left the magic root behind him, so he could not go back for
another load of treasure. But even that did not trouble Peter much; he
was quite satisfied with what he had already. After he had faithfully
done everything according to Father Martin's instructions, and pressed
the earth well back into the hollow, he sat down to consider how he
could bring his treasure back to his native place, and enjoy it there,
without being forced to share it with his scolding wife, who would
give him no peace if she once found out about it. At last, after
much thinking, he hit upon a plan. He carried his sack to the nearest
village, and there bought a wheelbarrow, a strong barrel, and a quantity
of nails. Then he packed his gold into the barrel, covered it well with
a layer of nails, hoisted it on to the wheelbarrow with some difficulty,
and set off with it upon his homeward way. At one place upon the road
he met a handsome young man who seemed by his downcast air to be in some
great trouble. Father Peter, who wished everybody to be as happy as he
was himself, greeted him cheerfully, and asked where he was going, to
which he answered sadly:

'Into the wide world, good father, or out of it, where ever my feet may
chance to carry me.'

'Why out of it?' said Peter. 'What has the world been doing to you?'

'It has done nothing to me, nor I to it,' he replied. 'Nevertheless
there is not anything left in it for me.'

Father Peter did his best to cheer the young man up, and invited him to
sup with him at the first inn they came to, thinking that perhaps hunger
and poverty were causing the stranger's trouble. But when good food was
set before him he seemed to forget to eat. So Peter perceived that what
ailed his guest was sorrow of heart, and asked him kindly to tell him
his story.

'Where is the good, father?' said he. 'You can give me neither help nor
comfort.'

'Who knows?' answered Master Peter. 'I might be able to do something
for you. Often enough in life help comes to us from the most unexpected
quarter.'

The young man, thus encouraged, began his tale.

'I am,' said he, 'a crossbow-man in the service of a noble count, in


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Crimson Fairy Book → online text (page 9 of 21)