Once on a time there lived a rich man who had three sons. When they grew up, he sent the eldest to travel and see the world, and three years passed before his family saw him again. Then he returned, well dressed, and his father was so delighted with his behaviour that he gave a great feast in his honour. and all their relations and friends were invited.
When the rejoicings were ended, the second son begged leave of his father to go in his turn to travel and mix with the world. The father was delighted, gave him plenty of money for his expenses, and said, "If you behave as well as your brother, I will do honour to you as I did to him."
The young man promised to do his best, and his conduct during three years was all that it should be. Then he went home, and his father was so pleased with him that his welcome feast was even more splendid than the one before.
The third brother, whose name was Jenik, or Johnnie, was considered the most foolish of the three. He never did anything at home except sit over the stove and dirty himself with the ashes. But he too begged his father's leave to travel for three years. "Go if you like, but what good will it do you?" said his father curtly.
The father saw him depart with joy, glad to get rid of him, and gave him a handsome sum of money for his needs.
Once, as he was making one of his journeys, Jenik chanced to cross a meadow where some shepherds were just about to kill a dog. He entreated them to spare it, and to give it to him instead. They willingly did, and he went on his way, followed by the dog. A little further on he came on a cat, which someone was going to put to death. He asked the other to spare its life, and the cat followed him. Finally, in another place, he saved a serpent, which was also handed over to him. Now they made a party of four - the dog behind Jenik, the cat behind the dog, and the serpent behind the cat.
Then the serpent said to Jenik, "Go wherever you see me go," for in the autumn, when all the serpents hide themselves in their holes. This serpent was going in search of his king, who was king of all the snakes.
Then he added, "My king will scold me for being away so long, for by now everyone else is housed for the winter. I am very late. I shall have to tell him what danger I have been in, and how I should have lost my life if you had not helped me. The king will ask what you would like in return. Then be sure you ask for the watch which hangs on the wall. You only need to rub it to get whatever you like."
No sooner said than done. Jenik became the master of the watch, and the moment he got out, he wished to put it to the test right there in a meadow. He was hungry, and thought it would be delightful to eat a loaf of new bread and a steak of good beef washed down by a flask of wine, so he scratched the watch, and at once it was all before him. Imagine his joy!
Evening soon came, and Jenik rubbed his watch, and thought it would be very pleasant to have a room with a comfortable bed and a good supper. At once they were all before him. After supper he went to bed and slept till morning, as honest men do.
Then he set forth for his father's house and the feast that would be awaiting him. But as he returned in the same old clothes in which he went away, his father flew into a great rage, and refused to do anything for him. Jenik went to his old place near the stove, and dirtied himself in the ashes without anybody minding.
The third day, feeling rather dull, he thought it would be nice to see a three-story house filled with beautiful furniture, and with vessels of silver and gold. So he rubbed the watch, and there it all was. Jenik went to look for his father, and said to him, "You offered me no feast of welcome, but permit me to give one to you, and come and let me show you my place."
The father was much astonished, and longed to know where his son had got all this wealth. Jenik did not reply, but asked him to invite all their relations and friends to a grand banquet.
So the father invited them all, and everyone was amazed to see such splendid things, so much place, and so many fine dishes on the table. After the first course, Jenik asked his father to invite the king and his daughter the princess. He rubbed his watch and wished for a carriage ornamented with gold and silver, and drawn by six horses, with harness glittering with precious stones. The father did not dare to sit in this gorgeous coach, but went to the palace on foot beside the carriage.
The king and his daughter were greatly surprised with the beauty of the carriage, and mounted the steps at once to go to Jenik's banquet. Then Jenik rubbed his watch afresh, and wished that for six miles the way to the house should be paved with marble. The king had never travelled over such a fine road.
When Jenik heard the wheels of the carriage, he rubbed his watch and wished for a still more beautiful house, four stories high, and hung with gold, silver, and damask; filled with wonderful tables, covered with dishes such as no king had ever eaten before.
The king, the queen, and the princess were speechless with surprise. Never had they seen such a splendid palace, nor such a high feast! At dessert, the king asked Jenik's father to give him the young man for a son-in-law. The marriage took place at once, and the king returned to his own palace, and left Jenik with his wife in the enchanted house.
At the end of a very short time Jenik began to bore his wife. She asked how he managed to build palaces and to get so many precious things. He told her all about the watch. Afterwards she did not rest till she had stolen the precious talisman. One night she took the watch, rubbed it, and wished for a carriage drawn by four horses; and in this carriage she at once set out for her father's palace. There she called to her own attendants, bade them follow her into the carriage, and drove straight to the seaside. Then she rubbed her watch, and wished that the sea might be crossed by a bridge, and that a magnificent palace might arise in the middle of the sea. No sooner said than done. The princess entered the house, rubbed her watch, and in an instant the bridge was gone.
Left alone, Jenik felt miserable. His father, mother, and brothers, and everybody else he knew, all laughed at him. Nothing remained to him but the cat and dog he had once saved. He took them with him and went far away, for he could no longer live with his family.
He reached at last a great desert, and saw some crows flying towards a mountain. One of them was a long way behind, and when he arrived his brothers inquired what had made him so late. "Winter is here," they said, "and it is time to fly to other countries." He told them that he had seen in the middle of the sea the most wonderful house that ever was built.
On hearing this, Jenik at once thought that this must be the hiding-place of his wife. So he went directly to the shore with his dog and his cat. When came to the beach, he said to the dog, "You are a good swimmer," and to the cat he said, "and you are very light; jump on the dog's back and he will take you to the palace. Once there, he will hide himself near the door, and you must sneak secretly in and try to get hold of my watch."
No sooner said than done. The two animals crossed the sea; the dog hid near the house, and the cat stole into the chamber. The princess recognised him and guessed why he had come; and she took the watch down to the cellar and locked it in a box. But the cat wriggled its way into the cellar, and the moment the princess turned her back, he scratched and scratched till he had made a hole in the box. Then he took the watch between his teeth, and waited quietly till the princess came back. Scarcely had she opened the door when the cat was outside, and the watch with him.
The cat was no sooner beyond the gates than she said to the dog:
"We are going to cross the sea; be very careful not to speak to me."
The dog laid this to heart and said nothing; but when they approached the shore he could not help asking, "Have you got the watch?"
The cat did not answer - he was afraid that he might let the talisman fall. When they touched the shore the dog repeated his question.
"Yes," said the cat.
And the watch fell into the sea. Then our two friends began each to accuse the other, and both looked sorrowfully at the place where their treasure had fallen in. Suddenly a fish appeared near the edge of the sea. The cat seized it, and thought it would make them a good supper.
"I have nine little children," cried the fish. "Spare the father of a family!"
"Granted," replied the cat; "but on condition that you find our watch."
The fish did so at once, and they brought the treasure back to their master. Jenik rubbed the watch and wished that the palace, with the princess and all its inhabitants, should be swallowed up in the sea. No sooner said than done. Jenik returned to his parents, and he and his watch, his cat and his dog, lived together happily to the end of their days.
There once lived a peasant who had seven children, six of them boys and the seventh a girl. They were very poor and all had to work hard for a living, but the drudges of the family were the youngest son, Yvon, and his sister, Yvonne. Because they were gentler and more delicate than the others, they were looked on as poor, witless creatures, and all the hardest work was given them to do. But the children comforted each other, and became but the better favoured as they grew up.
One day when Yvonne was taking the cattle to pasture she encountered a handsome youth, so splendidly garbed that her simple heart was filled with awe and admiration. To her astonishment he addressed her and courteously begged her hand in marriage. "Tomorrow," he said, "I shall meet you here at this hour, and you shall give me an answer."
Troubled, yet secretly happy, Yvonne made her way home, and told her parents all that had happened. At first they laughed her to scorn, and refused to believe her story of the handsome prince, but when at length they were convinced, they told her she was free to marry whoever she would.
On the following day Yvonne got to the trysting-place where her lover awaited her, even more gloriously resplendent than on the occasion of his first coming. The very trappings of his horse were of gleaming gold. At Yvonne's request he accompanied her to her home, and made arrangements with her kindred for the marriage. To all inquiries regarding his name and place of abode he returned that these should be made known on the wedding morning.
Time passed, and on the appointed day the glittering stranger came to claim his wife. The ceremony over, he swept her into a carriage and was about to drive away, when her brothers reminded him of his promise to reveal his identity.
"Where must we go to visit our sister?" they asked.
"Eastward," he replied, "to a palace built of crystal, beyond the Sea of Darkness."
And with that the pair were gone.
A year elapsed, and the brothers neither saw nor heard anything of their sister, so that at length they decided to go in search of her. Yvon would have accompanied them, but they bade him stay at home.
"You are so boorish," they said, "you would be of no use to us."
Eastward they rode, and ever eastward, till at length they found themselves in the heart of a great forest. Then night came on and they lost the path. Twice a great noise, like the riot of a tempest, swept over their heads, leaving them trembling and stricken with panic.
By and by they came on an old woman tending a great fire, and of her they inquired how they might reach the abode of their brother-in-law.
"I cannot tell," said the old woman, "but my son may be able to direct you."
For the third time they heard the noise as of a great wind racing over the treetops.
"Hush!" said the old woman, "it is my son approaching."
He was a huge giant, this son of hers, and when he drew near the fire he said loudly:
"Oh ho! I smell sailors!"
"What!" cried his mother sharply. "No, these are not sailors; they only smell after a long journey. Besides they are our cousins. Would you eat such pretty cousins of ours, when they have come so far to visit us?"
At that the giant became quite friendly, and when he learned of their mission even offered to lead them part of the way.
Despite his amiability, however, the brothers spent an anxious night, and were up betimes on the following morning.
The giant made ready to leave. First of all he bade the old woman pile fresh fuel on the fire. Then he spread a great black cloth and made the brothers stand on it. Finally he strode into the fire, and when his clothes were consumed the black cloth rose into the air, bearing the brothers with it. Its going was marked by the sound of rushing wind that had terrified them the day before.
At length they landed on a vast plain. Half of it was rich and fertile, while the other half was bleak and arid as a desert. The plain was dotted with horses, and, curiously enough, those on the arid side were in splendid condition, whereas those on the fertile part were thin and miserable.
The brothers had not the faintest idea of which direction they ought to take, and after a vain attempt to mount the horses on the plain, they decided to return home. After many wanderings they arrived at their native place once more.
When Yvon learned of his brothers had fared, he decided to go himself in search of his sister, and though his brothers laughed at him they gave him an old horse and bade him go.
Eastward and eastward he rode, till at length he reached the forest where the old woman still tended the fire. Seeing that he was strong and fearless, she directed him by a difficult and dangerous road that he was to take if he wished to see his sister. It turned out to be ugly. Poisonous serpents lay across his track; thorns and briers sprang underfoot, and at one point a lake barred his way.
Finally a subterranean passage led him into his sister's country. There everything was of crystal, shining with the splendour of the sun itself. At the end of a gleaming pathway rose a castle built entirely of crystal, its innumerable domes and turrets reflecting the light in a thousand prismatic hues.
Having gained access to the castle through a cave, Yvon wandered through its many beautiful chambers, till in one of these he came on his sister asleep on a silken couch.
He did not dare to wake her, but slipped behind a curtain and watched her in silence. However, as time went on he marvelled that she did not wake.
At evening a handsome youth - Yvon's brother-in-law - entered the chamber, struck Yvonne sharply three times, then flung himself down by her side and went to sleep. All night Yvon waited in his place of concealment. In the morning the young man rose from his couch, gave his wife three resounding blows, and went away. Only then did Yvon emerge and wake his sister.
Brother and sister exchanged a tender greeting, and found much to talk of after their long separation. Yvon learned that the country that he had come to, was a peculiar place, where meat and drink could be entirely dispensed with, while even sleep was not a necessity.
"Tell me, Yvonne," he said, remembering what he had seen of his brother-in-law, "does your husband treat you well?"
Yvonne assured him that her husband was all she could wish-that she was perfectly happy.
"Is he always absent during the day?" he asked anxiously.
"Do you know where he goes?"
"I do not, my brother."
"I have a mind," said Yvon, "to ask him to let me accompany him on his journey. What do you say, sister?"
"It sounds like a good plan to me," said Yvonne.
At sundown her husband returned home. He and Yvon became very good friends, and the latter begged to be allowed to accompany him on his journey the following day.
"You may do so," was the response, "but only on one condition: if you touch or address anyone save me you must return home."
Yvon readily agreed to accept the condition, and early next morning the two set off. Before long they came to a wide plain, one half of which was green and fruitful, while the other half was barren and dry. On this plain cattle were feeding, and those on the arid part were fat and well-conditioned, while the others were mean and shrivelled to a degree. Yvon learned from his companion that the fat cattle represented those who were contented with their meagre lot, while the lean animals were those who, with a plentiful supply of worldly goods, were yet miserable and discontented.
Many other strange things they saw as they went, but that which seemed strangest of all to Yvon was the sight of two trees lashing each other angrily with their branches, as though each would beat the other to the ground.
Laying his hands on them, he forbade them to fight, and lo! in a moment they became two human beings, a man and wife, who thanked Yvon for releasing them from an enchantment under which they had been laid as a punishment for their perpetual bickering.
Soon they reached a great cavern. Weird noises came from it, and Yvon would fain have advanced farther; but his companion forbade him, reminding him that in disenchanting the trees he had failed to observe the one essential condition, and must return to the palace where his sister dwelt.
There Yvon remained for a few days longer, after which his brother-in-law directed him by a speedy route to his home.
"Go," said the prince, "but before long you will return, and then it will be to remain with us forever."
On reaching his native village Yvon found all trace of his dwelling gone. Greatly bewildered, he inquired for his father by name. An old greybeard replied.
"I have heard of him," he said. "He lived in the days when my grandfather's grandfather was but a boy, and now he sleeps in the churchyard over there."
Only then did Yvon understand that his visit to his sister had been one, not of days, but of generations!