A MILKMAID was walking along with a pail of milk on her head, and singing merrily as she went. She was thinking of the money which the milk would bring, for she was carrying it to town to sell.
"Let me see," she said to herself. "Here are eight quarts of milk, and with the money which I get for it I can buy fifty eggs. From fifty eggs I can safely say that forty chickens will be hatched. The chickens will be big enough to take to market at Christmas, and they will bring a good price then. They will come to five dollars, at least, and with that I will buy a handsome new dress. I think, I will buy a green oneyes, that's what I'll do. Then I will wear it to church, and all the young fellows will want to walk home with me. But I won't look at any of themno, not I!"
She tossed her head proudly, and the pail, which she had altogether forgotten, tipped over and fell, and all the milk was spilled on the ground.
THERE was once a man and his wife fagot-makers by trade, who had several children, all boys. The eldest was but ten years old, and the youngest only seven.
They were very poor, and their seven children incommoded them greatly, because not one of them was able to earn his bread. That which gave them yet more uneasiness was that the youngest was of a very puny constitution, and scarce ever spoke a word, which made them take that for stupidity which was a sign of good sense. He was very little, and when born no bigger than one's thumb, which made him be called Little Thumb.
The poor child bore the blame of whatsoever was done amiss in the house, and, guilty or not, was always in the wrong; he was, notwithstanding, more cunning and had a far greater share of wisdom than all his brothers put together; and, if he spoke little, he heard and thought the more.
There happened now to come a very bad year, and the famine was so great that these poor people resolved to rid themselves of their children. One evening, when they were all in bed and the fagot-maker was sitting with his wife at the fire, he said to her, with his heart ready to burst with grief:
"You see plainly that we're not able to keep our children, and I can't see them starve to death before my face; I'm resolved to lose them in the wood tomorrow, which may very easily be done; for, while they are busy in tying up fagots, we may run away, and leave them, without their taking any notice."
"Ah!" cried his wife; "and can you yourself have the heart to take your children out along with you on purpose to lose them?"
In vain did her husband represent to her their extreme poverty: she wouldn't consent to it; she was indeed poor, but she was their mother. However, having considered what a grief it would be to her to see them perish with hunger, she at last consented, and went to bed all in tears.
Little Thumb heard every word that had been spoken; for observing, as he lay in his bed, that they were talking very busily, he got up softly, and hid himself under his father's stool, that he might hear what they said without being seen. He went to bed again, but didn't sleep a wink all the rest of the night, thinking on what he had to do. He got up early in the morning, and went to the river-side, where he filled his pockets full of small white pebbles, and then returned home.
They all went abroad, but Little Thumb never told his brothers one syllable of what he knew. They went into a very thick forest, where they couldn't another at ten paces distance. The fagot-maker began to cut wood, and the children to gather up the sticks to make fagots. Their father and mother, seeing them busy at their work, got away from them insensibly, and ran away from them all at once, along a by-way through the winding bushes.
When the children saw they were left alone, they began to cry as loud as they could. Little Thumb let them cry on, knowing very well how to get home again, for, as he came, he took care to drop all along the way the little white pebbles he had in his pockets. Then he said to them:
"Don't be afraid, brothers; father and mother have left us here, but I'll lead you home again, only follow me."
They did so, and he brought them home by the very same way they came into the forest. They dared not go in, but sat themselves down at the door, listening to what their father and mother were saying.
The very moment the fagot-maker and his wife reached home the lord of the manor sent them ten crowns, which he had owed them a long while, and which they never expected. This gave them new life, for the poor people were almost famished. The fagot-maker sent his wife immediately to the butcher's. As it was a long while since they had eaten a bit, she bought thrice as much meat as would sup two people. When they had eaten, the woman said:
"Alas! where are now our poor children? they would make a good feast of what we have left here; but it was you, William, who had a mind to lose them: I told you we should repent of it. What are they now doing in the forest? Alas! dear God, the wolves have perhaps already eaten them up; you art very inhuman thus to have lost your children."
The fagot-maker grew at last quite out of patience, for she repeated it above twenty times, that they should repent of it, and that she was in the right of it for so saying. He threatened to beat her if she didn't hold her tongue. It was not that the fagot-maker was not, perhaps, more vexed than his wife, but that she teased him, and that he was of the humor of a great many others, who love wives to speak well, but think those very importunate who are continually doing so. She was half-drowned in tears, crying out:
"Alas! where are now my children, my poor children?"
She spoke this so very loud that the children, who were at the gate, began to cry out all together:
"Here we are! Here we are!"
She ran immediately to open the door, and said, hugging them:
"I'm glad to see you, my dear children; you're very hungry and weary; and my poor Peter, you art horribly bemired; come in and let me clean you."
Now, you must know that Peter was her eldest son, whom she loved above all the rest, because he was somewhat carroty, as she herself was. They sat down to supper, and ate with such a good appetite as pleased both father and mother, whom they acquainted how frightened they were in the forest, speaking almost always all together. The good folks were extremely glad to see their children once more at home, and this joy continued while the ten crowns lasted; but, when the money was all gone, they fell again into their former uneasiness, and resolved to lose them again; and, that they might be the surer of doing it, to carry them to a much greater distance than before.
They couldn't talk of this so secretly but they were overheard by Little Thumb, who made account to get out of this difficulty as well as the former; but, though he got up very early in the morning to go and pick up some little pebbles, he was disappointed, for he found the house- door double-locked, and was at a stand what to do. When their father had given each of them a piece of bread for their breakfast, Little Thumb fancied he might make use of this instead of the pebbles by throwing it in little bits all along the way they should pass; and so he put the bread in his pocket.
Their father and mother brought them into the thickest and most obscure part of the forest, when, stealing away into a by-path, they there left them. Little Thumb was not very uneasy at it, for he thought he could easily find the way again by means of his bread, which he had scattered all along as he came; but he was very much surprised when he couldn't find so much as one crumb; the birds had come and had eaten it up, every bit. They were now in great affliction, for the farther they went the more they were out of their way, and were more and more bewildered in the forest.
Night now came on, and there arose a terribly high wind, which made them dreadfully afraid. They fancied they heard on every side of them the howling of wolves coming to eat them up. They scarce dared to speak or turn their heads. After this, it rained very hard, which wetted them to the skin; their feet slipped at every step they took, and they fell into the mire, whence they got up in a very dirty pickle; their hands were quite benumbed.
Little Thumb climbed up to the top of a tree, to see if he could discover anything; and having turned his head about on every side, he saw at last a glimmering light, like that of a candle, but a long way from the forest. He came down, and, when on the ground, he could see it no more, which grieved him sadly. However, having walked for some time with his brothers toward that side on which he had seen the light, he perceived it again as he came out of the wood.
They came at last to the house where this candle was, not without an abundance of fear: for very often they lost sight of it, which happened every time they came into a bottom. They knocked at the door, and a good woman came and opened it; she asked them what they would have.
Little Thumb told her they were poor children who had been lost in the forest, and desired to lodge there for God's sake.
The woman, seeing them so very pretty, began to weep, and said to them:
"Alas! poor babies; whither are ye come? Do ye know that this house belongs to a cruel ogre who eats up little children?"
"Ah! dear madam," answered Little Thumb (who trembled every joint of him, as well as his brothers), "what shall we do? To be sure the wolves of the forest will devour us tonight if you refuse us to lie here; and so we would rather the gentleman should eat us; and perhaps he may take pity on us, especially if you please to beg it of him."
The ogre's wife, who believed she could conceal them from her husband till morning, let them come in, and brought them to warm themselves at a very good fire; for there was a whole sheep on the spit, roasting for the ogre's supper.
As they began to be a little warm they heard three or four great raps at the door; this was the ogre, who had come home. On this she hid them under the bed and went to open the door. The ogre presently asked if supper was ready and the wine drawn, and then sat himself down to table. The sheep was as yet all raw and bloody; but he liked it the better for that. He sniffed about to the right and left, saying:
"I smell fresh meat."
"What you smell so," said his wife, "must be the calf which I've just now killed and flayed."
"I smell fresh meat, I tell you once more," replied the ogre, looking crossly at his wife; "and there is something here which I don't understand."
As he spoke these words he got up from the table and went directly to the bed.
"Ah, ah!" said he; "I see then how you would cheat me, you cursed woman; I know not why I don't eat you up too, but it's well for you that you art a tough old carrion. Here is good game, which comes very quickly to entertain three ogres of my acquaintance who are to pay me a visit in a day or two."
With that he dragged them out from under the bed one by one. The poor children fell on their knees, and begged his pardon; but they had to do with one of the most cruel ogres in the world, who, far from having any pity on them, had already devoured them with his eyes, and told his wife they would be delicate eating when tossed up with good savoury sauce. He then took a great knife, and, coming up to these poor children, whetted it on a great whet-stone which he held in his left hand. He had already taken hold of one of them when his wife said to him:
"Why need you do it now? Isn't it time enough tomorrow?"
"Hold your prating," said the ogre; "they will eat the tenderer."
"But you have so much meat already," replied his wife, you have no occasion; here are a calf, two sheep, and half a hog."
"That's true," said the ogre; "give them their belly full that they may not fall away, and put them to bed."
The good woman was overjoyed at this, and gave them a good supper; but they were so much afraid they couldn't eat a bit. As for the ogre, he sat down again to drink, being highly pleased that he had got wherewithal to treat his friends. He drank a dozen glasses more than ordinary, which got up into his head and obliged him to go to bed.
The ogre had seven daughters, all little children, and these young ogresses had all of them very fine complexions, because they used to eat fresh meat like their father; but they had little grey eyes, quite round, hooked noses, and very long sharp teeth, standing at a good distance from each other. They were not as yet over and above mischievous, but they promised very fair for it, for they had already bitten little children, that they might suck their blood.
They had been put to bed early, with every one a crown of gold on her head. There was in the same chamber a bed of the like bigness, and it was into this bed the ogre's wife put the seven little boys, after which she went to bed to her husband.
Little Thumb, who had observed that the ogre's daughters had crowns of gold on their heads, and was afraid lest the ogre should repent his not killing them, got up about midnight, and, taking his brothers' bonnets and his own, went very softly and put them on the heads of the seven little ogresses, after having taken off their crowns of gold, which he put on his own head and his brothers', that the ogre might take them for his daughters, and his daughters for the little boys whom he wanted to kill.
All this succeeded according to his desire; for, the ogre waking about midnight, and sorry that he deferred to do that till morning which he might have done over-night, threw himself hastily out of bed, and, taking his great knife,
"Let's see," said he, "how our little rogues do, and not make two jobs of the matter."
He then went up, groping all the way, into his daughters' chamber, and, coming to the bed where the little boys lay, and who were every soul of them fast asleep, except Little Thumb, who was terribly afraid when he found the ogre fumbling about his head, as he had done about his brothers', the ogre, feeling the golden crowns, said:
"I should have made a fine piece of work of it, truly; I find I drank too much last night."
Then he went to the bed where the girls lay; and, having found the boys' little bonnets,
"Ah!" said he, "my merry lads, are you there? Let's work as we ought."
And saying these words, without more ado, he cut the throats of all his seven daughters.
Well pleased with what he had done, he went to bed again to his wife. So soon as Little Thumb heard the ogre snore, he waked his brothers, and bade them all put on their clothes presently and follow him. They stole down softly into the garden, and got over the wall. They kept running about all night, and trembled all the while, without knowing which way they went.
The ogre, when he awoke, said to his wife: "Go upstairs and dress those young rascals who came here last night."
The wife was very much surprised at this goodness of her husband, not dreaming after what manner she should dress them; but, thinking that he had ordered her to go and put on their clothes, she went up, and was strangely astonished when she perceived her seven daughters killed, and weltering in their blood.
She fainted away, for this is the first expedient almost all women find in such cases. The ogre, fearing his wife would be too long in doing what he had ordered, went up himself to help her. He was no less amazed than his wife at this frightful spectacle.
"Ah! what have I done?" cried he. "The wretches shall pay for it, and that instantly."
He threw a pitcher of water on his wife's face, and, having brought her to herself, said:
"Give me quickly my boots of seven leagues, that I may go and catch them."
He went out, and, having run over a vast deal of ground, both on this side and that, he came at last into the very road where the poor children were, and not above a hundred paces from their father's house. They espied the ogre, who went at one step from mountain to mountain, and over rivers as easily as the narrowest kennels. Little Thumb, seeing a hollow rock near the place where they were, made his brothers hide themselves in it, and crowded into it himself, minding always what would become of the ogre.
The ogre, who found himself much tired with his long and fruitless journey (for these boots of seven leagues greatly fatigued the wearer), had a great mind to rest himself, and, by chance, went to sit down on the rock where the little boys had hid themselves. As it was impossible he could be more weary than he was, he fell asleep, and, after reposing himself some time, began to snore so frightfully that the poor children were no less afraid of him than when he held up his great knife and was going to cut their throats. Little Thumb was not so much frightened as his brothers, and told them that they should run away immediately toward home while the ogre was asleep so soundly, and that they shouldn't be in any pain about him. They took his advice, and got home presently. Little Thumb came up to the ogre, pulled off his boots gently and put them on his own legs. The boots were very long and large, but, as they were fairies, they had the gift of becoming big and little, according to the legs of those who wore them; so that they fitted his feet and legs as well as if they had been made on purpose for him. He went immediately to the ogre's house, where he saw his wife crying bitterly for the loss of the ogre's murdered daughters.
"Your husband," said Little Thumb, "is in very great danger, being taken by a gang of thieves, who have sworn to kill him if he does not give them all his gold and silver. The very moment they held their daggers at his throat he perceived me, and desired me to come and tell you the condition he is in, and that you should give me whatsoever he has of value, without retaining anyone thing; for otherwise they will kill him without mercy; and, as his case is very pressing, he desired me to make use (you see I've them on) of his boots, that I might make the more haste and to show you that I don't impose on you.
The good woman, being sadly frightened, gave him all she had: for this ogre was a very good husband, though he used to eat up little children. Little Thumb, having thus got all the ogre's money, came home to his father's house, where he was received with abundance of joy.
There are many people who don't agree in this circumstance, and pretend that Little Thumb never robbed the ogre at all, and that he only thought he might very justly, and with a safe conscience, take off his boots of seven leagues, because he made no other use of them but to run after little children. These folks affirm that they are very well assured of this, and the more as having drunk and eaten often at the fagot-maker's house. They aver that when Little Thumb had taken off the ogre's boots he went to Court, where he was informed that they were very much in pain about a certain army, which was two hundred leagues off, and the success of a battle. He went, say they, to the king, and told him that, if he desired it, he would bring him news from the army before night.
The king promised him a great sum of money on that condition. Little Thumb was as good as his word, and returned that very same night with the news; and, this first expedition causing him to be known, he got whatever he pleased, for the king paid him very well for carrying his orders to the army. After having for some time carried on the business of a messenger, and gained thereby great wealth, he went home to his father, where it was impossible to express the joy they were all in at his return. He made the whole family very easy, bought places for his father and brothers, and, by that means, settled them very handsomely in the world, and, in the meantime, made his court to perfection.
[Charles Perrault - #5.1]
ONCE on a time there lived an king who had half a world all to himself to rule over, and in this world dwelt an old herd and his wife and their three daughters, Anna, Lisa, and Margot.
Anna, the eldest, was so beautiful that when she took the sheep to pasture they forgot to eat as long as she was walking with them. Lisa, the second, was so beautiful that when she was driving the flock the wolves protected the sheep. But Margot, the youngest, with a skin as white as the foam on the milk, and with hair as soft as the finest lamb's wool, was as beautiful as both her sisters put together as beautiful as she alone could be.
One summer day, when the rays of the sun were pouring down on the earth, the three sisters went to the wood on the outskirts of the mountain to pick strawberries. As they were looking about to find where the largest berries grew they heard the tramp of horses approaching, so loud that you would have thought a whole army was riding by. But it was only the king going to hunt with his friends and attendants.
They were all fine handsome young men, who sat their horses as if they were part of them, but the finest and handsomest of all was the young king himself.
As they drew near the three sisters, and marked their beauty, they checked their horses and rode slowly by.
"Listen, sisters!" said Anna, as they passed on. "If one of those young men should make me his wife, I would bake him a loaf of bread which should keep him young and brave for ever."
"And if I," said Lisa, "should be the one chosen, I would weave my husband a shirt which will keep him unscathed when he fights with dragons; when he goes through water he will never even be wet; or if through fire, it will not scorch him."
"And I," said Margot, "will give the man who chooses me two boys, twins, each with a golden star on his forehead, as bright as those in the sky."
And though they spoke low the young men heard, and turned their horses' heads.
"I take you at your word, and mine shall you be, most lovely of queenes!" cried the king, and swung Margot and her strawberries on the horse before him.
"And I will have you." "And I you," exclaimed two of his friends, and they all rode back to the palace together.
Next morning the marriage ceremony took place, and for three days and three nights there was nothing but feasting over the whole kingdom. And when the rejoicings were over the news was in everybody's mouth that Anna had sent for corn, and had made the loaf of which she had spoken at the strawberry beds. And then more days and nights passed, and this rumour was succeeded by another one that Lisa had procured some flax, and had dried it, and combed it, and spun it into linen, and sewed it herself into the shirt of which she had spoken over the strawberry beds.
Now the king had a stepmother, and she had a daughter by her first husband, who lived with her in the palace. The girl's mother had always believed that her daughter would be queen, and not the "Milkwhite Maiden," the child of a mere shepherd. So she hated the girl with all her heart, and only bided her time to do her ill.
But she could don'thing as long as the king remained with his wife night and day, and she began to wonder what she could do to get him away from her.
At last, when everything else had failed, she managed to make her brother, who was king of the neighbouring country, declare war against the king, and besiege some of the frontier towns with a large army. This time her scheme was successful. The young king sprang up in wrath the moment he heard the news, and vowed that nothing, not even his wife, should hinder his giving them battle. And hastily assembling whatever soldiers happened to be at hand he set off at once to meet the enemy. The other king had not reckoned on the swiftness of his movements, and was not ready to receive him. The king fell on him when he was off his guard, and routed his army completely. Then when victory was won, and the terms of peace hastily drawn up, he rode home as fast as his horse would carry him, and reached the palace on the third day.
But early that morning, when the stars were growing pale in the sky, two little boys with golden hair and stars on their foreheads were born to Margot. And the stepmother, who was watching, took them away, and dug a hole in the corner of the palace, under the windows of the king, and put them in it, while in their stead she placed two little puppies.
The king came into the palace, and when they told him the news he went straight to Margot's room. No words were needed; he saw with his own eyes that Margot had not kept the promise she had made at the strawberry beds, and, though it nearly broke his heart, he must give orders for her punishment.
So he went out sadly and told his guards that the queen was to be buried in the earth up to her neck, so that everyone might know what would happen to those who dared to deceive the king.
Not many days after, the stepmother's wish was fulfilled. The king took her daughter to wife, and again the rejoicings lasted for three days and three nights.
Let us now see what happened to the two little boys.
The poor little babies had found no rest even in their graves. In the place where they had been buried there sprang up two beautiful young aspens, and the stepmother, who hated the sight of the trees, which reminded her of her crime, gave orders that they should be uprooted. But the king heard of it, and forbade the trees to be touched, saying, "Let them alone; I like to see them there! They are the finest aspens I have ever beheld!"
And the aspens grew as no aspens had ever grown before. In each day they added a year's growth, and each night they added a year's growth, and at dawn, when the stars faded out of the sky, they grew three years' growth in the twinkling of an eye, and their boughs swept across the palace windows. And when the wind moved them softly, the king would sit and listen to them all the day long.
The stepmother knew what it all meant, and her mind never ceased from trying to invent some way of destroying the trees. It was not an easy thing, but a woman's will can press milk out of a stone, and her cunning will overcome heroes. What craft will not do soft words may attain, and if these don't succeed there still remains the resource of tears.
One morning the queen sat on the edge of her husband's bed, and began to coax him with all sorts of pretty ways.
It was some time before the bait took, but at length some kings are only men -
"Well, well," he said at last, "have your way and cut down the trees; but out of one they shall make a bed for me, and out of the other, one for you!"
And with this the queen was forced to be content. The aspens were cut down next morning, and before night the new bed had been placed in the king's room.
Now when the king lay down in it he seemed as if he had grown a hundred times heavier than usual, yet he felt a kind of calm that was quite new to him. But the queen felt as if she was lying on thorns and nettles, and could not close her eyes.
When the king was fast asleep, the bed began to crack loudly, and to the queen each crack had a meaning. She felt as if she were listening to a language which no one but herself could understand.
"Is it too heavy for you, little brother?" asked one of the beds.
"Oh, no, it is not heavy at all," answered the bed in which the king was sleeping. "I feel nothing but joy now that my beloved father rests over me."
"It is very heavy for me!" said the other bed, "for on me lies an evil soul."
And so they talked on till the morning, the queen listening all the while.
By daybreak the queen had determined how to get rid of the beds. She would have two others made exactly like them, and when the king had gone hunting they should be placed in his room. This was done and the aspen beds were burnt in a large fire, till only a little heap of ashes was left.
Yet while they were burning the queen seemed to hear the same words, which she alone could understand.
Then she stooped and gathered up the ashes, and scattered them to the four winds, so that they might blow over fresh lands and fresh seas, and nothing remain of them.
But she had not seen that where the fire burnt brightest two sparks flew up, and, after floating in the air for a few moments, fell down into the great river that flows through the heart of the country. Here the sparks had turned into two little fishes with golden scales, and one was so exactly like the other that everyone could tell at the first glance that they must be twins. Early one morning the king's fishermen went down to the river to get some fish for their master's breakfast, and cast their nets into the stream. As the last star twinkled out of the sky they drew them in, and among the multitude of fishes lay two with scales of gold, such as no man had ever looked on.
They all gathered round and wondered, and after some talk they decided that they would take the little fishes alive as they were, and give them as a present to the king.
"Don't take us there, for that is whence we came, and yonder lies our destruction," said one of the fishes.
"But what are we to do with you?" asked the fisherman.
"Go and collect all the dew that lies on the leaves, and let us swim in it. Then lay us in the sun, and don't come near us till the sun's rays shall have dried off the dew," answered the other fish.
The fisherman did as they told him gathered the dew from the leaves and let them swim in it, then put them to lie in the sun till the dew should be all dried up.
And when he came back, what do you think he saw? Why, two boys, two beautiful young princes, with hair as golden as the stars on their foreheads, and each so like the other, that at the first glance every one would have known them for twins.
The boys grew fast. In every day they grew a year's growth, and in every night another year's growth, but at dawn, when the stars were fading, they grew three years' growth in the twinkling of an eye. And they grew in other things besides height, too. Thrice in age, and thrice in wisdom, and thrice in knowledge. And when three days and three nights had passed they were twelve years in age, twenty-four in strength, and thirty-six in wisdom.
"Now take us to our father," said they. So the fisherman gave them each a lambskin cap which half covered their faces, and completely hid their golden hair and the stars on their foreheads, and led them to the court.
By the time they arrived there it was midday, and the fisherman and his charges went up to an official who was standing about. "We wish to speak with the king," said one of the boys.
"You must wait until he has finished his dinner," replied the porter.
"No, while he is eating it," said the second boy, stepping across the threshold.
The attendants all ran forward to thrust such impudent youngsters outside the palace, but the boys slipped through their fingers like quicksilver, and entered a large hall, where the king was dining, surrounded by his whole court.
"We desire to enter," said one of the princes sharply to a servant who stood near the door.
"That is quite impossible," replied the servant.
"Is it? let us see!" said the second prince, pushing the servants to right and left.
But the servants were many, and the princes only two. There was the noise of a struggle, which reached the king's ears.
"What is the matter?" asked he angrily.
The princes stopped at the sound of their father's voice.
"Two boys who want to force their way in," replied one of the servants, approaching the king.
"To force their way in? Who dares to use force in my palace? What boys are they?" said the king all in one breath.
"We know not, mighty king," answered the servant, "but they must surely be akin to you, for they have the strength of lions, and have scattered the guards at the gate. And they are as proud as they are strong, for they will not take their caps from their heads."
The king, as he listened, grew red with anger.
"Thrust them out," cried he. "Set the dogs after them."
"Leave us alone, and we will go quietly," said the princes, and stepped backwards, weeping silently at the harsh words. They had almost reached the gates when a servant ran up to them.
"The king commands you to return," panted he: "the queen wishes to see you."
The princes thought a moment: then they went back the way they had come, and walked straight up to the king, their caps still on their heads.
He sat at the top of a long table covered with flowers and filled with guests. And beside him sat the queen, supported by twelve cushions. When the princes entered one of the cushions fell down, and there remained only eleven.
"Take off your caps," said one of the courtiers.
"A covered head is among men a sign of honour. We wish to seem what we are."
"Never mind," said the king, whose anger had dropped before the silvery tones of the boy's voice. "Stay as you are, but tell me who you are! Where do you come from, and what do you want?"
"We are twins, two shoots from one stem, which has been broken, and half lies in the ground and half sits at the head of this table. We have travelled a long way, we have spoken in the rustle of the wind, have whispered in the wood, we have sung in the waters, but now we wish to tell you a story which you know without knowing it, in the speech of men."
And a second cushion fell down.
"Let them take their silliness home," said the queen.
"Oh, no, let them go on," said the king. "You wished to see them, but I wish to hear them. Go on, boys, sing me the story."
The queen was silent, but the princes began to sing the story of their lives.
"There was once an king," began they, and the third cushion fell down.
When they reached the warlike expedition of the king three of the cushions fell down at once.
And when the tale was finished there were no more cushions under the queen, but the moment that they lifted their caps, and showed their golden hair and the golden stars, the eyes of the king and of all his guests were bent on them, and they could hardly bear the power of so many glances.
And there happened in the end what should have happened in the beginning. Margot sat next her husband at the top of the table. The stepmother's daughter became the meanest sewing maid in the palace, the stepmother was tied to a wild horse, and every one knew and has never forgotten that whoever has a mind turned to wickedness is sure to end badly.