Once there was a man who had many children to feed. He had to work very hard all day to get them enough to eat. Because he had to work too much he was often tired and cross and grumbling, so people started to call him Father Grumbler.
By-and-by he grew weary of always working, and on Sundays he lay a long while in bed instead of going to church. Then, as the tavern across the road looked bright and cheerful, he walked in one day and sat down with his friends.
"It was just to chase away care," he said; but when he came out hours later, care had not left him at all: Father Grumbler entered his house feeling more dismal than when he left it, for he knew that he had wasted both his time and his money.
"I'll go and see the holy man in the cave near the well," he said to himself. "Maybe he can tell me why I'm not as happy as could be."
He set out at once for the cave. It was a long way off, over mountains and through valleys; but at last he reached the cave where the holy man lived, and knocked at the door.
"Who is there?" asked a voice from within.
"It's I, or is it me? I'm called Father Grumbler, you know, the one who has many children."
"Well, what do you want?"
"I want to know why misfortunes happen to me, but no luck at all!"
The holy man didn't answer, but went into an inner cave, and then came out of it, bearing something in his hand.
"You only need to say to this basket, 'Little basket, little basket, do your duty,' and you'll eat the best dinner you ever had in your life. And when you have had enough, be sure you don't forget to cry out: 'That will do for today.' Oh! – and one thing more – you need not show it to everybody and declare that I have given it to you."
Father Grumbler was not sure whether the holy man was playing a trick on him or not; but he took the basket without being polite enough to say either 'Thank you,' or 'Good morning,' and went away. But he only waited till he was out of sight of the cave before he stooped down and whispered:
"Little basket, little basket, do your duty."
Now the basket had a lid, so he could not see what was inside. But he heard quite clearly strange noises, as if by hurried moves. Then the lid burst open, and delicious little white rolls came tumbling out one after the other, followed by a lot of small fishes, all ready cooked. The road where he stood started to get covered with them. Father Grumbler felt quite frightened until he remembered what the holy man had told him, and cried at the top of his voice:
"Enough! That will do for today!"
The lid of the basket closed with a snap, and Father Grumbler sighed with relief. Sitting down on a heap of stones, he ate till he could eat no more. Trout, salmon, turbot, soles, and other fishes whose names he didn't know, lay boiled, fried, and grilled in front of him. As the holy man had said, he had never eaten such a dinner. Still, when he had done, he grumbled;
"Yes, there is plenty to eat, of course, but it only makes me thirsty, and there is not a drop to drink anywhere."
Yet, somehow, he could never tell why, he looked up and saw the tavern in front of him, which he thought was miles and miles away.
"Bring the best wine you have got, and two glasses, good mother," he said as he entered, "and if you're fond of fish there is enough here to feed the house. Only there is no need to chatter about it all over the place. You understand?"
And without waiting for an answer he whispered to the basket:
"Little basket, little basket, do your duty."
The innkeeper and his wife thought that their customer had gone mad and watched him closely, ready to spring on him if he became violent. But both jumped backwards, nearly into the fire, as rolls and fishes of every kind came tumbling out of the basket, covering the tables and chairs.
"Be quick and pick them up," cried the man. "And if these are not enough, there are plenty more to be had for the asking."
The innkeeper and his wife didn't need to be told twice. They gathered up everything they could lay hands on. But busy though they seemed, they found time to whisper to each other:
"If we can only get hold of that basket it will make our fortune!"
They invited Father Grumbler to sit down to the table and brought out the best wine in the cellar, hoping it might loosen his tongue. Father Grumbler kept his secret to himself. However, after he drank wine he fell fast asleep. Then the woman fetched from her kitchen a basket that was so like the magic one that no one could tell the difference without looking very closely. She placed it in Father Grumbler's hand and hid the other carefully away.
It was dinner time when the man woke up. Jumping up hastily, he set out for home. There he found all the children gathered round a basin of thin soup, pushing their wooden bowls forward, hoping to have the first spoonful. He burst into the middle of them, bearing his basket, crying:
"Don't spoil your appetites with that stuff, children. Do you see this basket? I have only got to say, "Little basket, little basket, do your duty," and you'll see what will happen. Now you shall say it instead of me, for a treat."
The children, wondering and delighted, repeated the words, but nothing happened.
"What's the matter with the thing?" cried the father at last, snatching the basket from them, and turning it all over, grumbling a lot while he did so while his astonished wife and children watched and didn't know whether to cry or to laugh.
"It certainly smells of fish," he said, and then: "Suppose it is not mine at all – Ah, the scoundrels!"
Without listening to his wife and children, who were frightened at his strange conduct and begged him to stay at home, he ran across to the tavern and burst open the door.
"Can I do anything for you, Father Grumbler?" asked the innkeeper's wife.
"I have taken the wrong basket," he said. "Here is yours, will you give me back my own?"
"What are you talking about?" she answered. "There is no basket here."
And though Father Grumbler did look for it in the house, he could not find any basket there. In a hurry he left the house and hastened to the holy man's cave.
"Who is there?" someone said when he knocked on the door.
"Father Grumbler. Something has happened to the present you gave me. It won't work any more."
"Well, put it down. I'll go and see if I can find anything for you."
In a few minutes the holy man returned with a cock under his arm.
"Listen," he said, "whenever you want money, say: 'Show me what you can do, cock.' Then you'll see some wonderful things. But, remember not to tell each and sundry the secret."
"Oh no," said Father Grumbler.
"And it is not needed to tell everybody that I gave it to you," the holy man went on. "I don't have these treasures by the dozen." And without waiting for an answer he shut the door.
As before, on his way back, the distance to the tavern seemed to have shrinked. Without stopping to think, Father Grumbler went straight in and found the innkeeper's wife in the kitchen making a cake.
"Where have you come from with that fine red cock in your basket?" she asked, for the bird was so big that the lid would not shut down properly.
"Oh, it's a place where they don't keep these things by the dozen," he replied, sitting down in front of the table.
The woman said no more, but set before him a bottle of his favourite wine. Soon he wished to display his gift.
"Show me what you can do, cock," cried he. And the cock stood up and flapped his wings three times, crowing "coquerico" with a voice like a trumpet, and at each crow there fell from his beak drops of gold, and diamonds as large as peas.
This time Father Grumbler didn't invite the innkeeper's wife to pick up his treasures, but put his own hat under the cock's beak so as to catch everything he let fall. He didn't see the husband and wife exchanging glances with each other which said, "That would be a splendid cock to put with our basket."
"Have another glass of wine?" suggested the innkeeper when they had finished admiring the beauty of the cock. Father Grumbler drank one glass after another, till his head fell forward on the table, and once more he was sound asleep. Then the woman gently carried off the cock from the basket and into her own poultry yard. There was one who looked just like it there. She popped that one in the basked of Father Grumbler.
Night was falling when he awoke, paid for the wine, and and set out for home with his cock in a basket. His wife and all the children were waiting for him at the door. As soon as she caught sight of him she broke out:
"You've been drinking in that tavern, leaving us to starve! Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"I have gold and diamonds now, as much as I want. Do you see that cock? Well, you have only to say to him, 'Show me what you can do, cock,' and something splendid will happen."
Neither wife nor children put much faith in him after their last experience; but they thought it was worth trying, and did as he told them. The cock flew round the room like a mad thing, but no gold or diamonds dropped on the brick floor.
Father Grumbler stared in silence for an instant, and then he began to swear. When he grew a little quieter, he remained as puzzled as ever.
"I know that was what should be said! I saw the diamonds with my own eyes!" He seized the cock, shut it into the basket, and rushed out of the house and made haste until he reached the cave of the holy man.
"Who is that knocking, coming here at such an hour?" asked a voice from within.
"I know it's very late, but there's something wrong with the cock you gave me. It's in the basket. Look!"
"That my cock? That my basket? Somebody has played you a trick!"
"A trick?" repeated Father Grumbler, and began to grasp what had happened. "Then it must have been someone at the inn."
"I warned you not to show the treasures to anybody," said the holy man. "But no matter what you deserve, I'll give you one more gift."
Turning, he unhooked something from the wall.
"When you wish to dust your own jacket or those of your friends," he said, "you have only got to say, 'Flack, flick, switch, be quick,' and you'll see what happens. That's all I have to tell you."
Smiling to himself, the holy man pushed Father Grumbler out of the cave.
"Ah," muttered the good man as he took the road home, and he hurried on to the tavern with his basket under his arm, and the cock and the switch both inside.
"Good evening!" he said, as he entered the inn. "I'm very hungry, and would like a roasted cock. When I have eaten I'll show you something I have in my bag."
After dinner, which he didn't eat without grumbling that the cock was very tough, Father Grumbler struck his hand on the table, and said:
"Now, go and fetch my cock and my basket. If not, I've got something which may help to teach you." And opening the bag, he cried:
"Flack, flick, switch, be quick."
And like lightning a white switch sprang out of the bag, and gave such hearty blows to the innkeeper and his wife and to Father Grumbler too that they all jumped high as the stick dusted the jackets they wore.
"Stop! stop! make it stop," cried the man and his wife. And Father Grumbler, who had no wish to go on, called out between his hops:
"Stop! Enough for today!"
But the switch paid no attention and went on dusting the jackets they wore. The holy man heard their cries a long way off and came to the rescue. "Into the bag, quick!" he said, and the switch obeyed.
"Now go and fetch me the cock and the basket," said the holy man, and the woman went without a word and placed them on the table.
"It seems to me you have all got what you deserved," the holy man went on. "Wise and lucky people know to make the best of good gifts, but you three have failed a lot so far. Good day to you all."
A poor little fellow was one day gathering faggots in the forest when a gay, handsomely dressed gentleman passed him, and, noticing the lad's ragged and forlorn condition, said to him: "What are you doing there, my boy?"
"I am looking for wood, sir," replied the boy. "If I did not do so we should have no fire at home."
"You are very poor at home, then?" asked the gentleman.
"So poor," said the lad, "that sometimes we only eat once a day, and often go supperless to bed."
"That is a sad tale," said the gentleman. "If you will promise to meet me here within a month I will give you some money, which will help your parents and feed and clothe your small brothers and sisters."
Prompt to the day and the hour, the boy kept the tryst in the forest glade, at the very spot where he had met the gentleman. But though he looked anxiously on every side he could see no signs of him. In his anxiety the boy pushed farther into the forest, and came to the borders of a pond where three girls were preparing to bathe. One was dressed in white, another in grey, and the third in blue. The boy pulled off his cap, said 'good-day', and asked politely if they had seen a gentleman in the neighbourhood. The maiden who was dressed in white told him where the gentleman could be found, and pointed out a road that led to his castle.
"He will ask you," she said, "to become his servant, and if you accept he will wish you to eat. The first time that he presents the food to you, say: 'It is I who should serve you.' If he asks you a second time make the same reply; but if he should press you a third time refuse brusquely and thrust away the plate which he offers you."
The boy was not long in finding the castle, and as the maiden dressed in white had foretold, the gentleman asked the youth to become his servant. When his offer was accepted, he placed before the youth a plate of viands. The lad bowed politely, but refused the food. A second time it was offered, but he persisted in his refusal, and when it was offered to him a third time he thrust it away from him so roughly that it fell to the ground and the plate was broken.
"Ah," said the gentleman, "you are the kind of servant I require. You are now my lackey, and if you are able to do three things that I command you I will give you one of my daughters in marriage and you shall be my son-in-law."
The next day he gave the boy a hatchet of lead, a saw of paper, and a wheelbarrow made of oak-leaves, bidding him fell, bind up, and measure all the wood in the forest within a radius of thirty-five kilometres.
The new servant at once began his task, but the hatchet of lead broke at the first blow, the saw of paper buckled at the first stroke, and the wheelbarrow of oak-leaves was broken by the weight of the first little branch he placed on it. The lad sat down in despair and could do nothing but gaze at the useless implements. At midday the girl in white came to bring him something to eat.
"Why do you sit thus idle?" she cried. "If my father should come and find that you have done nothing he would kill you."
"I can do nothing with such wretched tools," grumbled the lad.
"Do you see this wand?" said the girl, producing a little rod. "Take it in your hand and walk round the forest, and the work will take care of itself. At the same time say these words: 'Let the wood fall, tie itself into bundles, and be measured.'"
The boy did as the girl told him, and things went so well that by a little after midday the work was done. In the evening the gentleman said to him:
"Have you accomplished your task?"
"Yes. The wood is cut and tied into bundles of the proper weight and measurement."
"It is well," said the gentleman. "Tomorrow I will set you the second task."
On the next morning he took the lad to a knoll some distance from the castle, and said to him:
"You see this rising ground? By this evening you must have made it a garden well planted with fruit-trees and having a fish-pond in the middle, where ducks and other water-fowl may swim. Here are your tools."
The tools were a pick of glass and a spade of earthenware.
The boy began the work, but at the first stroke his fragile pick and spade broke into a thousand fragments. For the second time he sat down helplessly. Time passed slowly, and as before at midday the girl in white brought him his dinner.
"So I find you once more with your arms folded," she said.
"I cannot work with a pick of glass and an earthenware spade," said the youth.
"Here is another wand," said the girl. "Take it and walk round this knoll, saying: 'Let the place be planted and become a beautiful garden with fruit-trees and in the middle of it a fish-pond where ducks are swimming."
The boy took the wand, did as he was told, and the work was soon done. A beautiful garden arose. It was well furnished with fruit-trees of many sorts. A little pond with ducks swimming in it, was in the middle.
Once more his master was quite satisfied with the result. On the third morning he set the boy his third task. He took him beneath one of the towers of the castle.
"Look at this tower," he said. "It is of polished marble. You must climb it, and at the top you will find a turtle-dove that you must bring to me."
The gentleman thought the girl in white had helped his servant in the first two tasks, so he sent her to the town to buy provisions. When she got this order the girl went to her room to prepare for the trip to town, and then to the lad who was sitting at the foot of the tower, He could not climb the smooth and glassy sides of it.
"Put glue on your hands, arms, legs and feet and stomack, and then climb almost naked. Be quick, for I must to town in a hurry," said the girl.
They looked around, got some glue, and the girl helped to put in on him. The youth started to climb. At the top of the tower he caught the turtle-dove and came down again. The girl saw it, and hurried away on her errand.
When the young fellow carried the dove to his master the gentleman said:
"It is well. Now I will give you one of my daughters for your wife, but all three shall be veiled and you must pick the one you desire without seeing her face. Tonight you may choose the one to marry."
That night the three girls were brought in front of the lad. He easily recognised the one who had helped him out three times, for there was a tiny spot of glue on the back of her left hand. He chose her without hesitation, and they were married.
But the gentleman was not content with the marriage. On the wedding night, when the newly weds had just gone to bed, he came to the door of the chamber and said: "Son-in-law, are you asleep?"
"No, not yet," replied the youth.
"The next time he comes," said the bride, "pretend that you are sleeping."
Shortly after that his father-in-law asked once more if he were asleep. When he got no answer, he retired.
When he had gone the bride made her husband rise at once. "Go this very moment to the stables," she said, "and take there the horse which is called Little Wind, mount him, and fly."
The young fellow hastened to do as she said. He had scarcely left the chamber when the master of the castle returned and asked if his daughter were asleep. When she said "No," he said "Fine", and dragged her out of bed. He had arranged it so that a just moment later the bed would fall asunder and crush the one on the groom's side of the bed. When the bed had fallen asunder, he left her almost paralysed with the shock. But soon she heard hoofs trampling in the garden outside, and rushed out to find her husband in the act of mounting.
"Stay!" she cried. "You have another horse than Little Wind, as I advised you. But there is no help for it now," and she mounted behind him. The horse dashed into the night like a storm.
"Do you see anything?" asked the girl. "No, nothing," he saidr husband.
"Look again," she said. "Do you see anything now?"
"Yes," he replied, "I see a great flame."
The bride took her wand, struck it three times, and said: "I change you, horse, into a garden, myself into a pear-tree, and my husband into a gardener."
When the master of the castle and his wife came up with them, they were changed as she had wanted.
"Ha, my good man," cried the master to the seeming gardener, "has anyone on horseback passed this way?"
"Three pears for a sou," said the gardener.
"That is not an answer to my question," fumed the old wizard, for that is what he was. "I asked if you had seen anyone on horseback in this direction."
"Four for a sou, then, if you will," said the gardener.
"Fool!" foamed the wizard and dashed on. The young wife then changed herself, her horse, and her husband into their natural forms. Mounting once more, they rode onward.
"Do you see anything now?" asked she.
"Yes, I see a great flame," he replied.
Once more she took her wand. "I change this horse into a church," she said, "myself into an altar, and my husband into a priest."
Very soon the wizard and his wife came to the doors of the church and asked the priest if a youth and a lady had passed that way on horseback.
"Dominus vobiscum, quia fuistis cum eo. The Lord is with you when you are with him," said the priest. The wizard could get nothing more from him.
Pursued once more, the young wife changed the horse into a river, herself into a boat, and her husband into a boatman. When the wizard came to them he asked to be ferried across the river. The boatman at once made room for them, but in the middle of the stream the boat capsized and the wizard and his wife were drowned.
"A wizard and his wife drowned in horse-water! Can such water cleanse?" wondered the newly married youth. "Can it really be?"
The young lady and her husband returned to the castle and lived happily afterward. The two other sisters soon got fine suitors to choose among.
Once a vere old man lived with his son in a small hut on the edge of the plain. The old man had worked very hard, and when at last he was struck down by illness he felt that he should never rise from his bed again. So, one day he bade his wife summon their son when he came back from his journey to the nearest town, where he had been to buy bread.
"Come here, my son," he said; "I know myself well to be dying, and I have nothing to leave you but my falcon, my cat and my dog. But if you make good use of them you'll never lack food. Be good to your mother, as you have been to me. And now farewell!"
Then he turned his face to the wall and died.
There was great mourning in the hut for many days, but at length the son rose up, and calling to his dog, his cat and his falcon, he left the house saying that he would bring back something for dinner. Wandering over the plain, he noticed a troop of deer, and pointed to his dog to give chase. The dog soon brought down a fine fat beast, and slinging it over his shoulders, the young man turned homewards. On the way, however, he passed a pond, and as he approached a cloud of birds flew into the air. Shaking his wrist, the falcon seated on it darted into the air, and swooped down on the grouse he had marked, which fell dead to the ground. The young man picked it up, and put it in his pouch and then went towards home again.
Near the hut was a small barn where he kept the produce of the little patch of corn that grew close to the garden. Here a rat ran out almost under his feet, followed by another and another; but quick as thought the cat was on them and not one escaped her.
When all the rats were killed, the young man left the barn. He took the path leading to the door of the hut, but stopped when he felt a hand laid on his shoulder, and a stranger said:
"Young man, come with me to that shining lake over there."
The youth did as the stranger asked him. When they reached the shore of the lake, the stranger turned and said to him:
"Step into the water and shut your eyes! You'll find yourself sinking slowly to the bottom. Bring up as much silver from it as you can carry, and we will divide it between us."
The young man stepped into the lake, and felt himself sinking until he reached the bottom. In front of him lay four heaps of silver, and in the middle of them was a curious white shining stone. It was marked over with strange characters he had never seen before. He picked it up to examine it more closely. As he held it the stone spoke.
"While you hold me, all your wishes will come true," it said. "But hide me in your cap, and then call to the ogre that you are ready to come up."
In a few minutes the young man stood again by the shores of the lake.
"Well, where is the silver?" asked the stranger, who was waiting for silver.
"Ah, I forgot!"
"You're no better than the rest," cried the stranger, and turned away in a rage.
When he was out of sight the young man took the stone from his cap and looked at it. "I want a good horse, and good garments," he said.
"Shut your eyes then," replied the stone.
The young man shut them, and when he opened them again the horse that he had wished for was standing before him, and good the robes hung from his shoulders. He mounted the horse, whistled the falcon to his wrist and started homewards, followed by his dog and his cat.
His mother was sewing at her door when he rode up. She looked astonished.
"Don't you know me, mother?" he said with a laugh.
"How have you got the horse and the clothes?" she asked.
"Do not worry. They are quite honestly come by," answered the youth. "But now you must go to the castle and tell the king I wish to marry his daughter."
At these words the mother stared blankly at her son. He added with a smile:
"What he asks may be fulfilled somehow."
So she went to the castle. There she found the king sitting in a hall while listening to petitions of his people. The woman waited till all of the others had been heard and the hall was empty, and then went up to the king, saying:
"My son has sent me to ask for permission to marry your daughter," she said.
The king looked at her and answered politely:
"Before he can marry her he must build her a castle where the rarest singing-birds can live!"
"I'll pass it on," she said, got up and left the hall.
Her son was anxiously awaiting her outside the castle.
"What did he demand?" he asked.
"You are to build a castle for where the most delicate singing-birds can live!"
"I thought it would be much harder than that," said the young man, went into the country and took the stone from his cap.
"I want a castle filled with the rarest singing-birds!"
"Shut your eyes, then," said the stone. He shut them, and when he opened them again there was the castle.
"It seems fit,"the youth thought to himself.
When the king woke up next morning and went to the window, he saw the castle at a distance across the wide plain. When the mother came again to tell him that the castle had been built, he received her with the encouraging words: "The wedding will take place tomorrow."
The princess was delighted with her new home, and with her husband too. Several days slipped happily by. But at length the young man wanted to go out hunting with the falcon on his wrist, and the dog and the cat behind him. No sooner had he gone, than the stranger who had asked her husband to dive for silver, knocked at the door of the castle. He had been waiting for this opportunity for days. He said:
"I have gemstones for sale. Would you like to buy some?" So saying, he laid before her some fine stones. She saw lovely rubies and rare pearls, but said:
"I fear they are too costly for me."
"I have no particular wish to sell them myself," answered the ogre. "But I have a necklace of shining stones. It was left me by father. The largest stone there was engraved with weird characters, but now it is missing. I have heard that your husband has come by it. If you can get me that stone you shall have many jewels for it. Farewell!"
Left alone, the princess began to think about how she could persuade her husband to give her his stone. That evening, when the young man had supped off his favourite dishes which the princess took care to have specially prepared for him, she sat down close beside him, and began stroking his head. For some time she did not speak, but listened to what had happened to him that day.
Then she said, "There's one thing that I wish for."
"You may have it at once!" he said.
"It's that bright stone which fell out of the folds of your cap a few days ago," she answered, "the little stone with all those marks on it."
The young man said, slowly:
"I almost promised it, and will also do so. But take heed to keep it safely about you always."
The princess kissed and thanked her husband for the stone.
The next morning the young man went hunting again, and the stranger showed up again. At the moment that he knocked at the castle door the princess was bored. "Bring him here at once!" cried she, springing up from her cushions. A few moments later she was bending over glittering gems.
"Have you got the stone I asked for?" whispered the ogre to her, for the princess's ladies were standing as near as they dared to catch a glimpse of the beautiful jewels.
"Yes," she answered, slipping the stone from her sash and placing it among the rest. Then she said she liked one string of pearls better than all the rest, and that the ogre might take away the other things.
"As you please, madam," he said, and and left the castle.
Soon after he had gone a curious thing happened. The castle is disappeared under the eyes of those in it!"
"My husband will tell us what to do," said the alarmed princess.
So they waited while the poor birds flew with numbed wings here and there until they vanished and were seen no more.
At last, when the walls and floors had melted away and the princess and her ladies had taken refuge on what was left of the ground floor, the young man came home. He had come back along a winding road and did not see the castle till he was close on it. He understood at once that his wife must have betrayed his trust, and sprang over all that was left of the castle walls. The princess gave a cry of relief at the sight of him.
"Come quickly," he said, and a dreary little procession set out for the king's castle, the dog and the cat bringing up the rear.
At the gates he left them, saying to his wife:
"You have betrayed my trust and ruined me," he said sternly. "I go to seek my fortune alone." And without another word he turned and left her.
With his falcon on his wrist and his dog and cat behind him, the young man walked a long way, describing and asking for the stranger. No one had seen him. Then he bade his falcon fly up into the sky and try to see the stranger. It took some time. When the bird returned, he told that the stranger was lying asleep in a splendid castle on the shores of the sea. This was delightful news to the young man, who at once bought some meat for the falcon, bidding him make a good meal.
"Tomorrow," he said, "you'll fly to the castle where the ogre lies. While he is asleep you'll search all about him for a special stone. Strange signs are engraved on it. Bring that stone to me. I'll expect you back in three days or so. Is that fit?"
"Well, I must take the cat with me," answered the bird.
The sun had not yet risen before the falcon soared high into the air with the cat seated on his back, his paws tightly clasping the bird's neck.
"You had better shut your eyes or you may get giddy," said the bird; and the cat did.
All day and night they flew. In the morning they saw the ogre's castle lying beneath them.
The cat opened her eyes and said,"I see many rats down there. Let us go down to them."
They alighted in some bushes in the middle of where the rats lived. The falcon stayed in the bushes, while the cat lay down and kept still. The sight of her scared the rats a lot, but as she did not move, one bolder than the rest asked in a trembling voice:
"Why come here?"
"I come in peace if you will help me with something," answered the cat.
"What is it?" asked the rat, much relieved.
"Well, tonight four of you are to burrow under the walls of the castle and go up to the room were an man lies asleep. Somewhere about him he has hidden a stone, and on the stone are engraved strange signs. When they have found it they must take it from him without waking him up and bring it to me."
"We may be able to do that," answered the rat, and about midnight the cat, who was awakened where she lay by some water flung at her by the rat.
"Here is the stone you wanted," he said and gave it to her. "And now farewell. You will do well to start long before daybreak."
The cat put the stone in her mouth and went off to seek the falcon. All his time neither the cat nor the falcon had had any food, and as they flew away from the castle the falcon got tired of carrying the cat after he had flewn a night and a day. "Let us spend some time on the banks of a river and rest," he said. "And it's my turn to take care of the stone," he said."
"No," said the cat, tired and cross. As she did, the stone fell into the mouth of a big fish that chanced to swim by. Though both the cat and the falcon hurled into the water after it, they were too late.
Half drowned, the two faithful servants scrambled back to land again. The falcon flew to a tree and spread his wings in the sun to dry. But the cat began to scratch up the sandy banks and to throw the bits into the stream.
"What are you doing that for?" asked a little fish. "Do you know that you're making the water quite muddy?"
The cat answered: "I am going to fill up all the river, so that the fishes may die."
"We have never done you any harm," said the fish. "Why are you so angry with us?"
"Because one of you has got a stone of mine – a stone with strange signs on it. It dropped into the water. If you'll promise to get it back for me, I may leave your river alone."
"I will try," answered the fish in a great hurry; "but you must have a little patience, as it may not be an easy task." And in an instant his scales might be seen flashing quickly along.
The fish swam as fast as he could to the sea, which was not far away. There he called together all his relations who lived there and told them of the terrible danger that threatened the dwellers in the river.
"None of us has got it," said the fishes, shaking their heads; "but in the bay over there there's an old fish who may be able to tell you where the stone is, if anybody can." So the little fish swam off to that fish, and again related his story.
"Why I was up that river only a few hours ago!" cried the old fish. "As I was coming back something fell into my mouth. I swallowed it, got home and forgot all about it. Perhaps it may be what you want." And with some efforts he got rid of a stone.
"I think that must be it," said the fish. Taking the stone in his mouth he carried it to the place where the cat was waiting for him.
"Thank you so much," said the cat as the fish laid the stone on the sand. "I will not destroy your river!" She mounted the falcon's back, and they flew to their master.
He was glad to see them and what they had got back for him. In a moment he had wished for a castle of extra solid stone. Then he wished for the princess and her ladies to live in it. There they lived for many years. When the old king died the princess's husband reigned in his stead.