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  1. Skilful John
  2. The Ship that Sailed on Land

Skilful John

One day a poor man sent. his son, Skilful John, to carry some buttered rolls to his parents, who lived three miles off, telling him not to stop by the way. John sauntered along the road and lost his way. Seeing a light, he followed it and came to a little hut. He knocked at the door and said,

"Tap! Tap! Tap! Open to a poor, lost boy.
Tap! Tap! Tap! It could bring heaven joy.

The door opened; an old woman with a grinning face appeared and asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Skilful John; will you lodge me for the night?"

"If I lodge you, what will you pay me?"

"I will give you a piece of buttered roll."

The old woman made him come in; he seated himself in a corner while the old woman made him some broth.

"I bet," said she to him after a few moments, "that with my old legs I can reach my garden wall before you do. If I win, I will eat your buttered roll; and if I lose, you may keep your roll, and have my broth into the bargain."

"Very well," said the child; and, darting out, he soon reached the garden wall.

But instead of running the old woman shut and bolted her door, and took the buttered roll that John had left on his bench. John knocked in vain.

The door was not opened for him a second time; and, as it was raining very hard, he got into a bee-hive. In the middle of the night some thieves came to steal the hives. John heard a voice say,

"Lift the hives, and take away the heaviest."

As the hive in which John was, was one of the heaviest, it was taken away by the thieves, who put it in a bag.

When the thieves came to a wood, they put down their burdens, John took his knife, made a hole in the bag and escaped.

After wandering for some time, he met a shepherd who gave him a piece of bread, and took him afterwards to sleep in the barn of a farmhouse. During the night the floor fell in, and John woke up in a stable with a leg on each side of an ox.

Just at that moment the thieves were busy unfastening the oxen. Seeing John, they took him and carried him away with them to the forest. They did not wish to kill him, so they shut him up in an old cask and abandoned him to his fate.

A pack of wolves came up to devour the remains of the thieves' meal. One of them passed near the cask. John put his hand out of the bung-hole and seized him by his tail. The frightened wolf fled through the woods, dragging behind him the cask until it was broken into a thousand pieces.

John, once more set free, went wandering around till he came to a hut. It was the same old woman's hut. Its door was only latched. John entered softly, and the old woman, who was asleep, did not hear him. He took his buttered roll and ate all there was left of the broth, then went out singing as loud as he could,

"Old woman! old woman! I have eaten your broth. Old woman! old woman! I am keen enough!"

[Narcisso Dufaux, in Henri Carnoy]

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The Ship that Sailed on Land

There was once a king who ruled over a large kingdom. He had all the pleasant things that money can buy, and a daughter who was the most beautiful maiden in all his land. But in spite of his power and his riches, and in spite of his affection for his daughter, he was surly and discontented. He grumbled night and day because he did not have a ship that could sail on land as well as on water.

At last he got heralds proclaim that he would give his daughter and half his riches to the man who could bring him such a ship. His messengers went all about his kingdom and read the king's offer in every market square and on every village green, but no one of all those who heard it had any idea where such a ship was to be found.

Now, on the edge of a forest there lived three brothers,. Their father was a wood-cutter who just barely earned his living by cutting wood for other people's fires. When the brothers heard what the king offered, they all three said, "It could be a fine thing to marry the princess and have half the riches of the king." The eldest brother took up his axe, a loaf, a goats" milk cheese, and a jug of wine. "I am going to try my hand at making this ship," he said, and went off alone into the forest.

In the forest he chose out a tall oak-tree and set to work to fell it, and worked so hard that before long it lay on the ground before him. Well pleased so far he sat down to rest and eat his bread and cheese and drink his wine in the shade. While he ate, a magpie flew on to a tree nearby, and there it hopped from branch to branch, chattering and clacking, "Save a little for me! Save a little for me!"

The eldest brother looked up. "Go away, you noisy creature. I have no food to waste on you." And he went on eating.

The magpie came nearer. "What will you be making out of that fine tree, young wood-cutter?"

"What is that to you?" replied the eldest brother, annoyed. He laughed mockingly. "If you must have an answer, I shall be making spoons."

"Spoons!" said the magpie. "Spoons! Spoons!" And it flew away clacking, "Spoons! Spoons! Spoons!"

When he had rested, the eldest brother took up his axe and set to work again, but each piece of wood he cut from the tree he had felled became at once a spoon. He hacked away with all his might, but the harder he worked, the faster came the spoons, until he was standing in a heap of wooden spoons right up to his knees. Large ladles to stir a pot of soup, little spoons for salt, spoons for cooking, spoons for eating with, everywhere were spoons; until at last he flung down his axe in despair and went home.

"How did you get on?" asked his brothers.

"I think, after all, that I would not care to marry the princess," said the eldest brother, and he would not say anything more about it that day.

"Getting her would please me well enough," said the second brother. And the next day he took his axe and a loaf and a goats' milk cheese and a jug of wine and went into the forest. It happened to him as to his brother; when he had chosen and felled his tree and was sitting down to eat his bread and cheese and drink his wine, the magpie came with a great chattering, "Save a little for me! Save a little for me!"

"Away with you, you feathered thief. I have no food to spare for you."

"What will you be making out of that fine tree, young wood-cutter?"

"What is that to you?" replied the second brother, annoyed. "If you must have an answer, I shall be making spindles."

"Spindles! Spindles!" said the magpie. And it flew away clacking, "Spindles! Spindles!"

When the second brother set to work again, every piece of wood he cut turned into a spindle, until he stood knee deep in spindles, large, small, and middling sized. Then he flung down his axe in despair and went home. "I think, after all," he said to his brothers, "I would not care to marry the princess." He would not say anything more about it.

The next day the youngest brother took his axe and a loaf and a goat's milk cheese and a jug of wine and went out to the forest. It happened to him as to his brothers: when he had chosen and felled his tree and was sitting eating his bread and cheese and drinking his wine, the magpie came chattering, "Save a little for me! Save a little for me!"

The youngest brother looked up and smiled. "You are welcome to share with me," he said. And he scattered crumbs and bits of cheese on the ground for the magpie, who quickly pecked them up. "What will you be making out of that fine tree, young wood-cutter?"

"I should like, if I have skill enough, to make a ship that will sail on land as well as on water, so that I may take it to the king and win his daughter and half his riches."

"A ship that will sail on land! A ship that will sail on land!" said the magpie. And it flew away clacking, "A ship that will sail on land! A ship that will sail on land"

When the youngest brother set to work again, every piece of wood he cut became part of a ship: keel, ribs, stem, and stern. As they fell to the ground they sprang into place of themselves; so that in a very short while the tree had become a ship, complete with mast and sail, decorated with carving all about her sides and with a figure-head at her prow.

The young wood-cutter jumped into the ship, gave a word of command, and away the ship went, sailing merrily over meadow and moorland, hill and dale, towards the palace of the king.

On the way the young wood-cutter saw a man sitting by the wayside. He had a great mouth as wide as an oven-door, full of huge teeth, and he was gnawing at a dry bone as hungrily as any stray dog. "Why do you do that, my friend?" asked the wood-cutter.

"I am hungry," replied the man. "But I have spent all my money on food, and can buy no more."

"I am going to the palace of the king," said the woodcutter. "There should be food enough in a king's palace. Come along with me; perhaps I can help you to something to eat."

The man threw away his bone and jumped into the ship, and off they went together, the hungry man and the young wood-cutter.

A little way on they came to a stream. A man knelt beside it drinking the water as fast as he could. While they watched him the water grew lower and lower until the stream was dry, and all in a matter of moments. "Why do you do that, my friend?" asked the wood-cutter.

"I am thirsty," replied the man, "and I cannot afford milk, for times have been bad with me."

"In the palace of the king there should be milk enough. Come with me, and I may be able to help you."

The man jumped into the ship. Now they were three. Away they went together, the hungry man, the thirsty man, and the young wood-cutter.

A little way farther on, they saw something strange: a young man with shoulders as broad as you have ever seen, walking along carrying half a forest on his back. "Why are you doing that, my friend?" the wood-cutter called out.

The young man grinned. "I am tired of my stepmother's nagging. She always complains that I never bring home enough wood for the fire. So today I thought that I would take her half the forest."

"That should make her content," said the wood-cutter.

The young man laughed. "You do not know my stepmother," he said.

"If you would be quit of your stepmother," said the wood-cutter, "come with me. For I am going to the palace of the king, and I doubt if she would think to look for you there."

The young man threw down the trees he carried, all save one oak, and jumped into the ship. Now they were four. Away they went together, the hungry man, the thirsty man, the strong man and the young wood-cutter.

A little way along they saw an even stranger sight. A man with a pair of bellows as large as a house was standing in the middle of a hayfield blowing away hard with his bellows up into the sky. "Why are you doing that, my friend?" asked the wood-cutter.

"I am blowing away the rain clouds, so that my master's hay harvest may not be spoilt. It is a tedious task, to be sure, and he gives me only small thanks for it."

"Come with me to the palace of the king, and maybe I can find other work for you," said the wood-cutter.

The man jumped into the ship with his bellows. Now they were five. Away they went together, the hungry man, the thirsty man, the strong man, the man with the bellows and the young wood-cutter.

At last they came to the palace, and there the woodcutter offered the ship to the king. When the king saw that the ship really could sail on land as well as on water, he was very pleased. But after he had looked a while at the wood-cutter, he thought to himself, "A wood-cutter is hardly a fitting bridegroom for my only daughter," and searched in his mind for some way of evading his promise.

"No doubt you are thinking that now you have brought me the ship you have won the princess for your wife," he said to the wood-cutter. "And so you have. But there is still a little matter to be settled. In my larders are ten roasted oxen, ready for eating. We want no cold meats for the wedding-feast, but until they are cleared from the spits, we can roast no more. If you and your men can eat them, all ten, by tonight, then we can talk of the marriage."

"That is easily done, your majesty." And the wood-cutter nodded to the hungry man, who had been waiting for just such a chance, and he was away to the kitchen in a moment. He was back again long before sundown, licking his lips. "That was the first good meal I have had in my life," he said. "Many thanks, your majesty."

The king frowned. "After eating comes drinking," he said to the wood-cutter. "In my cellar are ten barrels of milk. It is a little sour, and therefore unfit for a wedding, but until the barrels are emptied, fresh milk cannot be poured in."

"They will be easily emptied, your majesty," interrupted the young wood-cutter, and he nodded to the thirsty man, who had been listening to the king's words eagerly. Away he ran to the cellar. In an hour or two he was with them again, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "At last my thirst is almost quenched - for the time being, at any rate."

By now the king was really angry, and he called out his soldiers. First the foot soldiers came running, swords in hand, a truly fearsome sight. But the strong man stepped forward. "Just leave them to me," he said to the woodcutter. And holding his oak-tree by the trunk, he swept the soldiers away with the leafy branches as easily as a housewife sweeps dust off a floor with a broom.

Then the cavalry came charging, horses neighing and swords flashing, enough to terrify the bravest heart. "This is my task," said the man with the bellows to the young wood-cutter. He puffed with his bellows and away the cavalry was blown, men, horses, swords, and all.

"Stop, stop!" called the king. "I give you my daughter, and you shall marry her tomorrow."

So the young wood-cutter married the princess and had half the king's riches beside. He did not forget his four companions: the hungry man was never hungry again; the thirsty man was never thirsty again; the strong man never needed to go home to live with his stepmother; and the man with the bellows found better ways of spending his time than by blowing away the rain clouds from any master's fields.

[Retold tale from Barbara L. Picard.]

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