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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. As Pretty As Seven
  2. The Dream of Going to Spain
  3. The Miller and the Water Sprite
  4. Four Travelling Companions

As Pretty As Seven

Once on a time, in a certain village, lived a worthy pair in a small cottage. They had but one child, a daughter, and she was a treasure in her way. She worked, sewed, washed and spun as much as seven others, and was as pretty as seven as well.

On account of her pretty face, everybody stared at her. She did not like this, so she put a veil over her face when she went to church on Sundays; for she was pious as well as hard-working.

One day the king's son saw her and admired her graceful form and figure and her good manners; but he could not see her face because of the veil. He asked his servants why she wore this veil, and they told him it was because she was so modest.

"If the girl is so modest about her beauty," said the king's son, "I am sure she would make a good wife. Go, take this gold ring to her and say I wish to speak with her if she will come this evening to the great oak-tree," he said to one of his servants.

The servant did as he was bidden; and the girl, believing that the prince wished to give her some work, went to the great oak at the fixed time. There the prince told her he loved her and would marry her.

But she said, "I am a poor girl and you are a rich prince, so your father would be very angry if I should become your wife."

The prince, however, would not be put off; and she at last promised him an answer in two days. But the prince could not stand waiting so long, so the morning after their meeting he sent her a pair of silver shoes and begged her to meet him once more under the oak. When they met, he asked her if she had decided yet; but she said she had not yet had time, for she had been too busy about household affairs, and besides, she was a poor girl and he a rich prince, and it would only enrage his father if he should marry her.

But the prince begged and entreated her so long to listen to him that at long last she promised to consider the matter and tell her parents of it.

The next day the prince sent her a gold cloak and asked her to meet him under the oak-tree for the third time. But the girl was as unprepared as before to listen to any proposal, and told him again she was too poor and he too rich and his father would be terribly angry if the prince married her.

The prince, however, meant that if she became his wife now, by and by she would be a queen. He seemed so much in earnest in all he said that at last she agreed to meet him every evening under the oak-tree.

Now the king knew nothing about this. But there was at the castle a cunning old courtier who was always spying into the young prince's doings. This courtier discovered these meetings and reported them to the king.

The king at once sent his servants with orders to burn down the cottage where the girl lived, so that she and her parents could perish together. But although the cottage was burnt and the helpless old couple were killed, the maiden luckily escaped and took refuge in an empty barn.

As soon as the coast was clear, the maiden came out of her hiding-place and searching among the ruins of the cottage, She found a few small matters which were yet of use. She sold them and for the money she bought a suit of men's clothing. Then she went to the court dressed as a male servant who needed a place to work.

The king asked the newcomer his name; and the answer he got was "Misfortune."

The king was so pleased with the youth's manners that he hired him at once and grew so fond of him that he preferred him to any other servant.

Meanwhile the prince had heard and seen that the cottage of his betrothed was burnt to the ground, and believed that she had perished in the flames. The king said it too, and he was very anxious that his son should marry the daughter of a neighbouring king.

When the wedding was agreed on, the whole court and the entire royal household accompanied the young prince to the home of the bride. Among the others, but almost last in the procession, went Misfortune, sad at heart and weighed down by grief. As she rode she sang:

"As Pretty as Seven they used to call me,

and Misfortune when I came here."

The prince heard the singing and asked who it was.

"It is my servant Misfortune, I think," answered the king.

Soon they heard the song again:

"As Pretty as Seven they used to call me,

and Misfortune when I came here."

Then the prince asked again if it were really only a servant of the king's who sang so beautifully, and the king said he knew it could be no one else. But as the procession drew closer to the palace of the intended bride, the same clear voice sang louder than before:

"As Pretty as Seven they used to call me,

and Misfortune when I came here."

When the prince heard the same words a third time, he rode as fast as he could back to the end of the procession. There he saw Misfortune and recognised the girl he loved. However, he just nodded kindly to her for the time, and then rode back to his place in the procession and in due course entered the palace where his bride waited him.

Then by and by, when all the guests were come and were collected in the great council-chamber to hear the betrothal before the ceremony commenced, the young prince said to his future father-in-law, "Sire, before I am betrothed to your daughter, please give me your answer to this riddle. I have a beautiful casket, and lost the key to it some time ago. But now, just as I have got a new key, the old key has been found. Tell me, then, which key should I use?"

"Oh, that would be the old one," answered the king. "The old key should be had in honour and the new one laid aside."

"Very well, sire," said the prince. "Then do not be angry with me if I put aside your daughter, for she is the new key, and there stands the old one!"

As he spoke he took the hand of the servant Misfortune and led her to his father, saying, "My lord, here is my bride."

But the old king was quite frightened and said, "Oh, no, dear son, that is my servant Misfortune!"

Many of the people exclaimed too, "Yes, that is Misfortune!"

"No, no," said the young prince, "this is not the servant Misfortune, but the woman I love."

And then taking a courteous leave of the assembly, he took his sweetheart to the most charming of the castles that he owned and installed her there as his wife and the mistress of all his wealth.

[AT 884, Siebenschön.]


The Dream of Going to Spain

Years and years ago there lived in a certain village a poor herdsman. He had a wife and a son. He trained his son from his earliest years to follow in his steps, so at an age when most boys are still at home, the lad would manage the flocks in the fields by himself while his father went home to weave baskets. The little herdsman drove his sheep up and down many a hill and valley, whistling merrily as he went, and now and then blowing a tune on his horn to pass away the time. At noonday he would rest a while and refresh himself with a draught from a clear spring he knew of. By the side of it he would sometimes lie down when he was tired.


One day, when he lay sleeping by the spring, he had a dream. He thought he had travelled a long way and then heard and saw a troop of soldiers with glittering arms, all of them encircled him, dancing. In his dream he then sat down on a throne. Beside it was another throne for a beautiful lady - his queen.

Just then the little herdsman woke up. Jumping up he exclaimed, "I am king of Spain!" Wondering over the dream, he drove his herds home and told it to his parents, who were sitting at the door. When he finished telling them, he said, "If I should dream the same dream two times more, I have to travel and see if I become the king of Spain."

His father said. "Nobody will make you king, you may rely on that!"

But his mother, chuckling to herself, clapped her hands together and repeated many times, "King of Spain! King of Spain!"

The next day the herdboy lay down to sleep again under the same tree by the spring, and had the same dream. When he woke up he was eager to set out at once on his journey to Spain. But he went home and told his parents that he had had the same dream, winding up by saying, "Well, if I have the same dream a third time, I shall set out at once, come what may!"

The third time he lay down as before and went to sleep and the same dream scenes appeared to him. "I am king of Spain!" he cried in his sleep, and then he woke up of the sounds he made. He gathered up his pipe and his horn and hat at once, gathered his sheep and drove them all home. As he went along people began to scold him for bringing back his sheep so long before the fit time; but he was so excited that he turned a deaf ear to them, and what his parents said to divert him from going to Spain.

Hastily he went into their house and tied his best clothes in a bundle and slung it over his back on the end of a stick. Away he marched, minding very little of all around him.

As soon as he was clear of the village he ran on, as if expecting to reach Spain before the close of the day. When night fell on he was in a huge forest. There was not a house to be seen, so he thought of climbing a tree and sleep on its branches. But he had scarcely decided on which tree to climb when the noise of a troop of soldiers coming past that tree made him pause. He joined them and marched on with them, thinking he could sleep in their company. And so it happened.

In a short time they came to a house in the middle of the thick wood. The soldiers knocked at the door and were at once let in. The herdboy slipped in along with them. Through another door they came into a large, very dimly lighted apartment. On the floor of it were laid several bundles of straw, mattresses and blankets, all prepared for the soldiers. The little herdboy crept under a bundle of straw that lay close against the door. Thus hidden he listened to all that passed. He soon heard enough to know that the supposed soldiers were a band of robbers, and their captain was master of the house they were in. This captain, as soon as his followers had settled down, took a seat somewhat raised and apart from the others and said in a deep bass voice, "My brave comrades, give me some news of your day's work; tell where you have been and what plunder you have gained."

A tall man with a coal-black beard was the first to answer: "Captain," said he, "Today I robbed a nobleman of a pair of leather breeches. They have two pockets, and handfuls of ducats fall out of these pockets as often us they are shaken."

"That sounds to be much worth," answered the captain.

Then another of the band rose and said: "Today I stole a general's cocked hat. When the hat is pressed on its wearer's head, it fires guns from each of its three corners!"

"We will see about that that one day," said the captain.

Then a third robber got up and said: "I robbed a knight of a sword that will summon a regiment of soldiers when its point is put in the ground!"

"I like that," said the captain, approvingly.

A fourth robber now spoke: "I drew off the boots of a sleeping traveller. The boots can carry the one who has them on, about seven miles at a stride."

"I will reward it all," said the captain. "Hang your plunder on the wall, each of you. Then eat and drink as much as you will."

With these words he left the apartment, and the robbers began to drink and party till long after midnight. One by one they dropped off to sleep. When at last all was still and quiet, the herdboy crept from his hiding-place and put on the leather breeches, placed the hat on his head, fastened the sword in its hilt around his waist, and drew on the boots. Then he stepped out at the door and at once the miracle-boots brought him to the walls of a city that was actually Madrid, the capital of Spain.

The first person he met he asked where was the best hotel, answered insultingly, "What can you want there? Do not come where only the rich eat and drink!"

However, when he got a piece of gold, he led the herdboy to the best hotel. There, the herdboy asked the host, "What is the news just now?"

The landlord answered, "We are surrounded by enemies, so the times are very bad. The king is just preparing an army of twenty thousand men. Perhaps you think of joining the army?"

"Certainly," said the herdboy.

As soon then as the landlord had retired, the herdboy drew off his leather breeches and shook out a small heap of money for himself. Then he bought a good suit and armour and walked out for an audience with the king. When he came to the palace he was ushered into a fine waiting-room, and while he waited there among others, a lovely young lady passed through the room. It was the king's daughter.

Soon he was shown in to the king and he said what he wished, "I have come to offer you my services. My army shall put to flight your enemies, and do other things that you command too. The reward for me will be to get your daughter as my wife. Will you agree to this?"

The king was taken quite aback by this talk, but he said, "I agree. If you come back here as a victor, you may get my daughter in marriage and succeed me as king in time too."

The herdboy now marched off to where the other army was. A little distance away from the soldier camp he thrust his sword many times into the earth. With each thrust appeared a thousand well-armed, grim soldiers. He now mounted on a horse and challenged the enemy to battle, shooting left and right and forward through his three-cornered hat. The enemy were thoroughly beaten and driven out of Spain, and had to yield up a large part of their land.

Then the herdboy returned to Spain. When he came back, the king kept his word and gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him his successor to the throne.

The wedding was glorious, and not long afterwards the old king made him the new king. But the new king of Spain did not forget his old parents. One day as he sat on his throne with his wife by his side he said to her, "Dearest, my parents are still alive, but very poor. My father is only a herdsman and was one too, until I dreamt three times on three days that I should be king of Spain. And now I am. But I would also take care of my poor parents. If you agree I will go and bring them here."

The queen readily agreed, and the king soon reached the village where he once lived, for he wore such wonderful boots. On his way he handed over to the rightful owners the wonderful things he had taken from the robbers. The one who owned the boots also got a dukedom in return.

Then, accompanied by his parents, the king of Spain returned back to Madrid and his loving wife.

[AT 725 + 569]


The Miller and the Water Sprite

Once there was a miller. He owned much money and property and lived a pleasant life with his wife. But misfortune came overnight, and the miller became poor. After mortgaging his dear mill, he could hardly call the mill his own any more. During days he walked about in grief, and at night he found no peace either, but remained awake the whole night in gloomy thought.

One morning he got up before daybreak and went out of doors, hoping to get relief in the open air. As he was walking up and down beside the millpond, he suddenly heard splashing. Turning toward the sound he saw a white woman coming up from the pond water. He thought it was the sprite of the millpond and was so scared that he could not decide whether to stay or run away.

As he stood by the pond like that, the sprite called him by name and asked him why he was so sad. When the miller heard such friendly words he took heart and told why he felt downcast. He used to be rich and happy, he said, but now he was so poor and sad that he did not know what to do.

The sprite comforted him, saying that she would make him rich again if he would give her in return a creature that had just been born in his house. The miller thought it was a puppy or kitten she meant, so he agreed to the bargain and hurried cheerfully back to the mill. Just then his servant girl came out of the door of the house and called him in great joy. When she came closer she said his wife had just given birth to a boy.

The miller halted and was unable to rejoice at the news. His child had been born sooner than expected. He walked into the house and sadlytold his wife and family what he had promised the water sprite. "And may all good fortune she promised me, disappear if only I can save my child," he added.

But nobody knew a better advice than keep the child from coming near the millpond.

The boy grew and thrived. Little by little the miller got rich again, and before long he was richer than ever. But he could never enjoy his good fortune, for he kept thinking of his promise and feared that sometime the water sprite would ask him for his son and keep him with her. But year after year passed, and the boy grew big and strong and learnt to hunt. He was such a good hunter that the lord of the village took him into his service. The young hunter dated a young woman, and when they had married, he lived in peace and happiness with her.

One day he was out hunting, he was following a hare. After a little the hare turned away from the open fields. The hunter chased him eagerly and killed him with one shot. He began to skin him at once, without noticing that he was close to the millpond that he had been told to stay away from when he was a child. When he had skinned the hare, he went down to the water's edge to wash the blood from his hands. He had hardly dipped them in when the water sprite rose up, flung her wet arms around him and pulled him down till the water closed over his head.

When the hunter did not return home, his wife became very anxious, and when people searched for him, they found his game bag by the millpond, she did not doubt what had happened to him. Without rest and peace she walked around the millpond day and night, weeping and wailing and calling his name. At last she was so tired that she fell asleep there. Then she dreamed she walked through a flowery field and came to a hut where a witch lived. The witch promised to bring her husband back.

When the young wife woke in the morning, she wanted to act on her dream. Soon she came to the flower meadow and hut where the witch lived. There the hunter's wife told the witch about her grief and anguish, and that in her dream the witch had promised her helping advice.

And the old witch told her what to do. The wife was to go to the millpond when the moon was full, comb her black hair with a golden comb and lay the comb down on the bank.

The young hunter woman paid the witch much money for her advice and went home.

Time passed slowly for her until the moon was full at last and she could go to the millpond and comb her hair with a golden comb. When she had finished, she put the comb on the bank and stared anxiously into the water and waited. The water rushed and a wave from the depths swept the comb from the bank and into the agitated water. Soon her husband raised his head out of the water and looked sadly at her. But another wave came and her husband sank beneath the water, without having said a word. The surface of the millpond became calm once more, glittering in the moonlight, and the hunter's wife was no better off than before.

She waited and watched by the pond for days and nights, until she fell asleep again, fatigued. Then she dreamt she was led to the witch again. And the next morning she walked across the flowery meadow to the hut of the witch and told her sobbingly what had happened. The old witch advised her to go to the millpond at full moon again, and this time blown on a gold pipe and then lay the flute on the brink of the pond.

When the moon was full once again, the hunter's wife went to the millpond and blew on a gold pipe and then lay the pipe down on bank. Again she heard a rushing sound from the water, and a wave swept the pipe into the water. Soon the hunter's head came up from the water, and then his chest. He held his arms out for his wife. Then another rushing wave came and swept him back into the deep water. The hunter woman had been standing full joy and hope at the bank, but when she saw him disappear in the water again, she despaired.

But the same dream came to her again and brought her hope. She went through the flower meadow to the witch again. This time the old witch said: "Go to the pond at full moon, spin on a gold spindle, and then set the gold spindle down on the bank."

When the moon was full again, the hunter's wife followed the advise. She walked to the millpond, sat down, spun on a golden spindle, and then placed the spindle on the bank. The water rushed and swirled, and a wave swept the gold spindle off the bank. Soon the hunter rose higher and higher, first his head, then his chest, and finally the rest of his body. Finally he climbed on to the bank and took his wife in his arms. At that moment the water came rushing and surging and carried them both into the water as they were clasped in each other's arms.

The hunter's wife called on the witch for help, and suddenly she found herself changed into a toad and her husband into a frog, so they were not drowned in the water. When the waves had calmed down, the hunter and his wife became humans again after some hours, but by then the waves in the pond had driven them away from each other and down the river to a part of the country they did not know.

The hunter decided to live as shepherd, and so did his wife. Thus, for some time they herded two flocks of sheep in two fields that were not far from each other until the shepherd one day came to the tract where his wife herded. He liked it there, and saw the pastures in area could very well feed his flock, so he brought his sheep there. He and the shepherdess became good friends, but they did not recognise each other until one evening when they sat sitting together and their sheep were grazing in the light of the full moon. The shepherd played on his pipe. It was a gold pipe. All at once the shepherdess remembered the evening she had played that pipe by the millpond when the moon was full, and could not help bursting into tears.

The shepherd asked her, "Why cry so bitterly?"

She told him what had happened. At that moment he remembered too, and recognised his wife. They went happily home together and there they lived undisturbed and in peace.

[AT 316]


Four Travelling Companions

Once on a time four travellers joined on the road. One of them was a king's son, the second a nobleman, the third a merchant and the fourth a hand-labourer. Each of the four had spent every coin he had, and they had nothing left but the clothes they wore on their backs.

One day they all felt hungry. How were they were to find money or food?

The prince said, "A fair trust in the Lord's protection is not to be forsaken."

The merchant then said, "Being prudent enough and with good judgement when it comes to calculated risks is my motto as long as luck is on my side."

"Being well-behaved, with an active, handsome and youthful figure is worth a lot," said the nobleman. He spoke for good manners as he had been taught them.

And the working-man said, "I for my part think a careful and industrious man may get on well in the world of work."

While they talked about it, the four travellers came to a city and sat down outside the city gate. It was evening. Three of them said to the other, "You speak for industry and carefulness, so go and see how you can get us a night's lodging and food by it. We will wait for you here, outside that inn."

"I will, and readily," answered the labourer, "if each of you in turn will put your mottos to work too."

They agreed to this. The working man went into the city, puzzling himself how he should contrive to lodge and feed himself and his comrades, and then asked people who lived in the city too. One of them advised him to fetch a load of wood and offer it for sale, for the city was wide, many lived in it, and wood was dear. The labourer set about it at once, and as soon as he had cut a sizable bundle of faggots, he brought it to the city and found a ready buyer for it for two silver pennies. This was enough to feed and lodge his comrades. Merry at heart he returned to the inn where he had left them and wrote with chalk over the door, "An honest man gained two silver pennies in one day by being industrious and strong."

The next day the nobleman was sent out to see how far, "Being well-behaved, with an active, youthful and handsome figure" would get him. He went into the city rather sadly, for he could not tell at all what he should best do to fulfil his task. Sad at heart he seated himself on the steps of a house, determined to part qfrom his companions since he could not bring back anything to them. But while he sat thus, a pretty, well-dowered widow went by. When she saw the nobleman's fine features, she stopped to ask who he was and where he came from. She sent her servants to invite him to have dinner at her house. When he came, she was so charmed with his manners and conversation that she gave him a hundred gold pennies when he left. Delighted with his good luck he returned to his companions and wrote over the door, "With his fresh young face a man got a hundred gold pennies in one day."

The third morning it was the merchant's turn to try. He passed through the town, which was close by the sea, to the harbour. Just at that time a ship lay at anchor there. On the shore stood the owner of the cargo and around him were many merchants who wanted to buy. But they said the sum he asked was too high, and went away. They felt assured that no one but themselves could buy the goods and that thei cargo owner would have to lower his terms.

The poor travelling merchant was the son of a rich merchant. While the other merchants were away, he walked up to the owner of the cargo and spoke with him. After he had told the cargo owner his name, he bought the goods for fifty thousand dollars, to be paid within a few weeks.

Soon afterwards the other merchants came back, for they could not really do without the goods. Now they had to buy them of the travelling merchant and pay him so that he got a profit of five thousand dollars.

The young merchant returned speedily to his companions and wrote beneath the other incriptions, "A merchant ventured a lot, gambling with money he did not have at hand he gained in one day five thousand dollars." It was not prudence that did it, after all, he considered, willing to revise his motto.

The next morning the king's son went into the city, thinking to himself what he should do to earn as much as his comrades. He had learnt no trade or profession, had no handsome face to recommend him, no rich merchant for a father and was neither gifted with foresight nor carefulness. However, he had faith in Providence. For all that he sat down on a stone by the wayside and buried his face deeply in his hands, reflecting.

A week earler the king of the city had died. That morning his corpse was being carried to a nearby cloister, followed by all the people. But the young prince sat so buried in thought that he heard and saw nothing of what was passing around him, and so he neglected to rise to show respect when the funeral procession approached. A soldier stepped aside out of the train and gave the prince a blow across his back, saying, "You bewildered rascal! Have you no sadness in your face for our dead, bewailed king? Away with you!"

The prince let the procession pass by him without a word, and when it came back, he had reseated himself on the same stone and in the same posture as before. Again the soldier struck him and said, "Didn't I tell you that you should not remain here?" He beckoned to some guards and ordered them to take the prince to prison. He was thrown into a gloomy cell, but he still believed in a mild Providence and looked forward to being released in due time. It came very soon, for a day or two after the old king's burial, the people met to elect a new king; and while they were debating about it, the soldier who had put the prince in prison presented him to them as fit. "A good king must be able to withstand imprisonments in rough times," he said, "and I have got a fit candidate here."

The prince said that he was a king's son and named his father. He further told them that when his father died, the kingdom should have come to him, but his younger brother had robbed him of it and forced him to leave his dominions or die.

Now, among the people who heard this were many who had known the father of the speaker and had also travelled through his territories. They shouted out that the father was a good man and this son was hopefully like him and unlike his brother; and some even cried, "Long live the king! Viva! Viva!"

So the young prince was chosen king. He was carried in triumph round the city according to the custom on such occasions. When he came to the place where his three comrades had inscribed their mottoes, he commanded a fourth to be added to them. The words were, "Careful industry, youth, a nose for good deals in business, are all great gifts if things go well." The people marvelled and exulted that they had made such a good choice of king and thanked Heaven.

When the king was led to his new throne, he called for his three old companions. As soon as they arrived he told them in front of a large assembley:

"I came here after I had been banished from my own place. First I entered the service of a nobleman who did not know me. Then, after a year's time I desired to move from there. I got my wages, but my traveller's clothes cost much and left me with only two pennies. I wanted to give a penny in charity. At that moment I met a fowler who was carrying two doves to market. I could use my money on nothing better than setting free one of these creatures, I considered. However, the fowler would sell me both of his birds or none, so I had to spend the money for the two doves. As soon as I got them, I walked to a neighbouring meadow and let them both fly. They alighted on a fir-tree; and I heard the one say to the other, 'This man has saved our lives by spending all he had. We owe him a grateful return' Then they flew up to me and said, 'You have been very kind to us. Beneath the roots of the tree over there lies a great treasure. Dig there and you will find it.'

"I thanked the birds for letting med know of the treasure, and asked them how they had fallen into a trap laid by man when they knew so much.

"They answered, 'The flight of a bird is in part ordained to happen, and that is the case with humans too.'"

The king ended his speech and settled his old fellow-travellers in various offices. The nobleman got a seat at his council-board; the daring merchant was to manage the finances of his kingdom; and the labourer was made overseer in general of the public works. The king also went with a retinue to see if he could find the buried treasure that the doves had told him about, now that he had men and tools to help him dig for it, and they found it some meters down in the hard soil under the tree.

"A little kindness goes a long way," he said to himself, thinking of how well the doves had repaid him.

[1/73. Retold]



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