Once on a time there lived a queen. Her heart was sore because she had no children. She was sad enough when her husband was at home with her, but when he was away she would see nobody, but sat and wept all day long.
Now it happened that a war broke out with the king of a neighbouring country, and the queen was left in the castle alone. She was so unhappy that she felt as if the walls would stifle her, so she wandered out into the garden, and threw herself down on a grassy bank, under the shade of a lime tree. She had been there for some time, when a rustle among the leaves caused her to look up, and she saw an old woman limping on her crutches towards the stream that flowed through the grounds.
When she had quenched her thirst, she came straight up to the queen, and said to her: "Don't take it evil, noble lady, that I dare to speak to you, and don't be afraid of me, for it may be that I shall bring you good luck."
The queen looked at her doubtfully, and answered: "You don't seem as if you had been very lucky yourself, or to have much good fortune to spare for anyone else."
"Under rough bark lies smooth wood and sweet kernel," replied the old woman. "Let me see your hand, that I may read the future."
The queen held out her hand, and the old woman examined its lines closely. Then she said, "Your heart is heavy with two sorrows, one old and one new. The new sorrow is for your husband, who is fighting far away from you; but, believe me, he is well, and will soon bring you joyful news. But your other sorrow is much older than this. Your happiness is spoilt because you have no children." At these words the queen became scarlet, and tried to draw away her hand, but the old woman said:
"Have a little patience, for there are some things I want to see more clearly."
"But who are you?" asked the queen, "for you seem to be able to read my heart."
"Never mind my name," answered she, "but rejoice that it's permitted to me to show you a way to lessen your grief. You must, however, promise to do exactly what I tell you, if any good is to come of it."
"Oh, I'll obey you exactly," cried the queen, "and if you can help me you shall have in return anything you ask for."
The old woman stood thinking for a little: then she drew something from the folds of her dress, and, undoing a number of wrappings, brought out a tiny basket made of birch-bark. She held it out to the queen, saying, "In the basket you'll find a bird's egg. This you must be careful to keep in a warm place for three months, when it will turn into a doll. Lay the doll in a basket lined with soft wool, and leave it alone, for it won't need any food, and by-and-by you'll find it has grown to be the size of a baby. Then you'll have a baby of your own, and you must put it by the side of the other child, and bring your husband to see his son and daughter. The boy you'll bring up yourself, but you must entrust the little girl to a nurse. When the time comes to have them christened you'll invite me to be godmother to the princess, and this is how you must send the invitation. Hidden in the cradle, you'll find a goose's wing: throw this out of the window, and I'll be with you directly; but be sure you tell no one of all the things that have befallen you."
The queen was about to reply, but the old woman was already limping away, and before she had gone two steps she had turned into a young girl, who moved so quickly that she seemed rather to fly than to walk. The queen, watching this transformation, could hardly believe her eyes, and would have taken it all for a dream, had it not been for the basket which she held in her hand. Feeling a different being from the poor sad woman who had wandered into the garden so short a time before, she hastened to her room, and felt carefully in the basket for the egg. There it was, a tiny thing of soft blue with little green spots, and she took it out and kept it in her bosom, which was the warmest place she could think of.
A fortnight after the old woman had paid her visit, the king came home, having conquered his enemies. At this proof that the old woman had spoken truth, the queen's heart bounded, for she now had fresh hopes that the rest of the prophecy might be fulfilled. She cherished the basket and the egg as her chiefest treasures, and had a golden case made for the basket, so that when the time came to lay the egg in it, it might not risk any harm.
Three months passed, and, as the old woman had bidden her, the queen took the egg from her bosom, and laid it snugly amidst the warm woollen folds. The next morning she went to look at it, and the first thing she saw was the broken eggshell, and a little doll lying among the pieces. Then she felt happy at last, and leaving the doll in peace to grow, waited, as she had been told, for a baby of her own to lay beside it.
In course of time, this came also, and the queen took the little girl out of the basket, and placed it with her son in a golden cradle which glittered with precious stones. Next she sent for the king, who nearly went mad with joy at the sight of the children.
Soon there came a day when the whole court was ordered to be present at the christening of the royal babies, and when all was ready the queen softly opened the window a little, and let the goose wing fly out. The guests were coming thick and fast, when suddenly there drove up a splendid coach drawn by six cream-coloured horses, and out of it stepped a young lady dressed in garments that shone like the sun. Her face couldn't be seen, for a veil covered her head, but as she came up to the place where the queen was standing with the babies she drew the veil aside, and everyone was dazzled with her beauty. She took the little girl in her arms, and holding it up before the assembled company announced that henceforward it would be known by the name of Cindy – a name which no one understood but the queen, who knew that the baby had come from the yolk of an egg. The boy was called Willem.
After the feast was over and the guests were going away, the godmother laid the baby in the cradle, and said to the queen, "Whenever the baby goes to sleep, be sure you lay the basket beside her, and leave the eggshells in it. As long as you do that, no evil can come to her; so guard this treasure as the apple of your eye, and teach your daughter to do so likewise." Then, kissing the baby three times, she mounted her coach and drove away.
The children throve well, and Cindy's nurse loved her as if she were the baby's real mother. Every day the little girl seemed to grow prettier, and people used to say she would soon be as beautiful as her godmother, but no one knew, except the nurse, that at night, when the child slept, a strange and lovely lady bent over her. At length she told the queen what she had seen, but they determined to keep it as a secret between themselves.
The twins were by this time nearly two years old, when the queen was taken suddenly ill. All the best doctors in the country were sent for, but it was no use, for there is no cure for death. The queen knew she was dying, and sent for Cindy and her nurse, who had now become her lady-in-waiting. To her, as her most faithful servant, she gave the lucky basket in charge, and besought her to treasure it carefully. "When my daughter," said the queen, "is ten years old, you're to hand it over to her, but warn her solemnly that her whole future happiness depends on the way she guards it. About my son, I've no fears. He is the heir of the kingdom, and his father will look after him." The lady-in-waiting promised to carry out the queen's directions, and above all to keep the affair a secret. And that same morning the queen died.
After some years the king married again, but he didn't love his second wife as he had done his first, and had only married her for reasons of ambition. She hated her step-children, and the king, seeing this, kept them out of the way, under the care of Cindy's old nurse. But if they ever strayed across the path of the queen, she would kick them out of her sight like dogs.
On Cindy's tenth birthday her nurse handed her over the cradle, and repeated to her her mother's dying words; but the child was too young to understand the value of such a gift, and at first thought little about it.
Two more years slipped by, when one day during the king's absence the stepmother found Cindy sitting under a lime tree. She fell as usual into a passion, and beat the child so badly that Cindy went staggering to her own room. Her nurse was not there, but suddenly, as she stood weeping, her eyes fell on the golden case in which lay the precious basket. She thought it might contain something to amuse her, and looked eagerly inside, but nothing was there save a handful of wool and two empty eggshells. Very much disappointed, she lifted the wool, and there lay the goose's wing. "What old rubbish," said the child to herself, and, turning, threw the wing out of the open window.
In a moment a beautiful lady stood beside her. "Don't be afraid," said the lady, stroking Cindy's head. "I'm your godmother, and have come to pay you a visit. Your red eyes tell me that you're unhappy. I know that your stepmother is very unkind to you, but be brave and patient, and better days will come. She'll have no power over you when you're grown up, and no one else can hurt you either, if only you're careful never to part from your basket, or to lose the eggshells that are in it. Make a silken case for the little basket, and hide it away in your dress night and day and you'll be safe from your stepmother and anyone that tries to harm you. But if you should happen to find yourself in any difficulty, and can't tell what to do, take the goose's wing from the basket, and throw it out of the window, and in a moment I'll come to help you. Now come into the garden, that I may talk to you under the lime trees, where no one can hear us."
They had so much to say to each other, that the sun was already setting when the godmother had ended all the good advice she wished to give the child, and saw it was time for her to be going. "Hand me the basket," said she, "for you must have some supper. I can't let you go hungry to bed."
Then, bending over the basket, she whispered some magic words, and instantly a table covered with fruits and cakes stood on the ground before them. When they had finished eating, the godmother led the child back, and on the way taught her the words she must say to the basket when she wanted it to give her something.
In a few years more, Cindy was a grown-up young lady, and those who saw her thought that the world didn't contain so lovely a girl.
About this time a terrible war broke out, and the king and his army were beaten back and back, till at length they had to retire into the town, and make ready for a siege. It lasted so long that food began to fail, and even in the castle there was not enough to eat.
So one morning Cindy, who had had neither supper nor breakfast, and was feeling very hungry, let her wing fly away. She was so weak and miserable, that directly her godmother appeared she burst into tears, and couldn't speak for some time.
"Don't cry so, dear child," said the godmother. "I'll carry you away from all this, but the others I must leave to take their chance." Then, bidding Cindy follow her, she passed through the gates of the town, and through the army outside, and nobody stopped them, or seemed to see them.
The next day the town surrendered, and the king and all his courtiers were taken prisoners, but in the confusion his son managed to make his escape. The queen had already met her death from a spear carelessly thrown.
As soon as Cindy and her godmother were clear of the enemy, Cindy took off her own clothes, and put on those of a peasant, and in order to disguise her better her godmother changed her face completely. "When better times come," her protectress said cheerfully, "and you want to look like yourself again, you have only to whisper the words I've taught you into the basket, and say you would like to have your own face once more, and it will be all right in a moment. But you'll have to endure a little longer yet." Then, warning her once more to take care of the basket, the lady bade the girl farewell.
For many days Cindy wandered from one place to another without finding shelter, and though the food which she got from the basket prevented her from starving, she was glad enough to take service in a peasant's house till brighter days dawned. At first the work she had to do seemed very difficult, but either she was wonderfully quick in learning, or else the basket may have secretly helped her. Anyhow at the end of three days she could do everything as well as if she had cleaned pots and swept rooms all her life.
One morning Cindy was busy scouring a wooden tub, when a noble lady happened to pass through the village. The girl's bright face as she stood in the front of the door with her tub attracted the lady, and she stopped and called the girl to come and speak to her.
"Would you not like to come and enter my service?" she asked.
"Very much," replied Cindy, "if my present mistress will allow me."
"Oh, I'll settle that," answered the lady; and so she did, and the same day they set out for the lady's house, Cindy sitting beside the coachman.
Six months went by, and then came the joyful news that the king's son had collected an army and had defeated the usurper who had taken his father's place, but at the same moment Cindy learned that the old king had died in captivity. The girl wept bitterly for his loss, but in secrecy, as she had told her mistress nothing about her past life.
At the end of a year of mourning, the young king let it be known that he intended to marry, and commanded all the maidens in the kingdom to come to a feast, so that he might choose a wife from among them. For weeks all the mothers and all the daughters in the land were busy preparing beautiful dresses and trying new ways of putting up their hair, and the three lovely daughters of Cindy's mistress were as much excited as the rest. The girl was clever with her fingers, and was occupied all day with getting ready their smart clothes, but at night when she went to bed she always dreamed that her godmother bent over her and said, "Dress your young ladies for the feast, and when they have started follow them yourself. Nobody will be so fine as you."
When the great day came, Cindy could hardly contain herself, and when she had dressed her young mistresses and seen them depart with their mother she flung herself on her bed, and burst into tears. Then she seemed to hear a voice whisper to her, "Look in your basket, and you'll find in it everything that you need."
Cindy didn't want to be told twice! Up she jumped, seized her basket, and repeated the magic words, and behold! there lay a dress on the bed, shining as a star. She put it on with fingers that trembled with joy, and, looking in the glass, was struck dumb at her own beauty. She went downstairs, and in front of the door stood a fine carriage, into which she stepped and was driven away like the wind.
The king's castle was a long way off, yet it seemed only a few minutes before Cindy drew up at the great gates. She was just going to alight, when she suddenly remembered she had left her basket behind her. What was she to do? Go back and fetch it, lest some ill-fortune should befall her, or enter the castle and trust to chance that nothing evil would happen? But before she could decide, a little swallow flew up with the basket in its beak, and the girl was happy again.
The feast was already at its height, and the hall was brilliant with youth and beauty, when the door was flung wide and Cindy entered, making all the other maidens look pale and dim beside her. Their hopes faded as they gazed, but their mothers whispered together, saying, "Surely this is our lost princess!"
The young king didn't know her again, but he never left her side nor took his eyes from her. And at midnight a strange thing happened. A thick cloud suddenly filled the hall, so that for a moment all was dark. Then the mist suddenly grew bright, and Cindy's godmother was seen standing there.
"This," she said, turning to the king, "is the girl whom you have always believed to be your sister, and who vanished during the siege. She isn't your sister at all, but the daughter of the king of a neighbouring country, who was given to your mother to bring up, to save her from the hands of a wizard."
Then she vanished, and was never seen again, nor the wonder-working basket either; but now that Cindy's troubles were over she could get on without them, and she and the young king lived happily together till the end of their days.
There was once a farmer who suffered much at the hands of a moneylender. Good harvests or bad, the farmer was always poor, the moneylender rich. At the last, when he hadn't a farthing left, the farmer went to the moneylender's house, and said, "You can't squeeze water from a stone, and as you have nothing to get by me now, you might tell me the secret of becoming rich."
"My friend," returned the moneylender, piously, "riches come from God - ask him."
"Thank you, I will!" replied the simple farmer; so he prepared three griddle cakes to last him on the journey, and set out to find God.
First he met a monk, and to him he gave a cake asking him to point out the road to God; but the monk only took the cake and went on his way without a word. Next the farmer met a hunter, and to him he gave a cake, without receiving any help in return. At last, he came on a poor man sitting under a tree, and finding out he was hungry, the kindly farmer gave him his last cake, and sitting down to rest beside him, entered into conversation.
"And where are you going?" asked the poor man at length.
"Oh, I have a long journey before me, for I am going to find God!" replied the farmer. "I don't suppose you could tell me which way to go?"
"Perhaps I can," said the poor man, smiling, "for I am God! What do you want of me?"
Then the farmer told the whole story, and God, taking pity on him, gave him a conch shell, and showed him how to blow it in a particular way, saying, "Remember, whatever you wish for, you have only to blow the conch that way, and your wish will be fulfilled. Only have a care of that moneylender, for even magic is not proof against moneylender wiles!"
The farmer went back to his village rejoicing. The moneylender noticed his high spirits at once, and said to himself, "Some good fortune must have befallen the stupid fellow, to make him hold his head so jauntily." Therefore he went over to the simple farmer's house and congratulated him on his good fortune in such cunning words, pretending to have heard all about it, that before long the farmer found himself telling the whole story - all except the secret of blowing the conch, for, with all his simplicity, the farmer was not quite such a fool as to tell that.
Nevertheless, the moneylender decided to have the conch by hook or by crook, and as he was villain enough not to stick at trifles, he waited for a favorable opportunity and stole the conch.
But, after nearly bursting himself with blowing the conch in every conceivable way, he had to give up the secret as a bad job. However, being determined to succeed, he went back to the farmer and said coolly:
"Look here; I've got your conch, but I can't use it. You haven't got it, so it's clear you can't use it either. Business is at a standstill unless we make a bargain. Now, I promise to give you back your conch, and never to interfere with your using it, on one condition, which is this: Whatever you get from it, I am to get double."
"Never!" cried the farmer; "that would be the old business all over again!"
"Not at all!" replied time wily moneylender; "you will have your share! What can it matter to you if I am rich or poor?"
At last, though it went sorely against the grain to be of any benefit to a moneylender, the farmer was forced to yield, and from that time, no matter what he gained by the power of the couch, the moneylender gained double. And the knowledge that this was so preyed on the farmer's mind day and night, so that he was not pleased with anything any longer.
At last there came a very dry season - so dry that the farmer's crops withered for want of rain. Then he blew his conch and wished for a well to water them, and lo! there was the well, but the moneylender got two! - two beautiful new wells!
This was too much for the farmer to stand. He brooded over it, and brooded over it, till at last a bright idea came into his head. He seized the conch, blew it loudly, and cried out, "I wish to fall into the well and get almost drowned!"
In a twinkling it was so. But the moneylender got twice as much and was completely drowned.
Among the peaks of the mountains somewhere in western France lies a vast and dismal peat bog known as the Yeun. It is a remarkable territory. A part of the bog is a treacherous quagmire that has brought forth many legends. This part of the bog, whose victims have been many, is known as the Youdic. As one leans over it, its waters may sometimes be seen to simmer and boil.
There are many, many stories about this weird maelstrom of mud and bubbling water. Malevolent fiends, it was thought, were wont to materialize in the form of great black dogs. Therefore unfortunate black dogs under suspicion were taken to the Youdic by a member of the priesthood and were cast into its seething depths.
Job Ann Drez was a sexton and assisted the parish priest in his dealings with the black dogs and such stuff. One evening Job was walking along with the priest after sunset to the gloomy waters of the Youdic, dragging behind him a large black dog that was much distrusted.
The priest was much afraid the animal should break loose. "If he should get away," he said nervously, "both of us are lost."
"I bet he does not," replied Job, tying the cord by which the brute was led securely to his wrist.
"Forward, then," said the priest, and he walked boldly in front, until they came to the foot of the mountain top where the Youdic lies.
The priest turned warningly to Job. "You must be circumspect in this place," he said very gravely. "Whatever you may hear, be sure not to turn your head. Your life in this world and your salvation in the next depend absolutely on this. You understand me?"
"Yes, sir, "not turn my head", and be circumspect. I understand."
A vast desolation surrounded them. So dark was the night that it seemed to envelop them like a velvet curtain. Beneath their feet they heard the hissing and moaning of the bog, almost like a restless and hungry and thirsty wild beast. Through the dense blackness they could see the iridescent waters writhing and gleaming below.
"Ohoi," said Job half to himself, "this could be the gateway to hell!"
At that word the dog uttered a frightful howl - it froze Job's blood in his veins. It tugged and strained at the cord which held it with the strength of a man, striving to turn on Job and rend him.
"Hold on!" cried the priest in mortal terror, keeping at a safe distance, however. "Hold on, I beg you, or else we are both undone!"
Job held on to the black dog with all his strength. Indeed, it was necessary to exert every thew and sinew if the animal were to be prevented from tearing him to pieces. The howls were quite enough to strike terror to the stoutest heart. "Iou! Iou!" it yelled again and again. But Job held on desperately, although the cord cut his hands and blood ran from the scarred palms. Inch by inch he dragged the brute toward the Youdic. The creature in a last desperate effort turned and was about to spring on him open-mouthed, when all at once the priest, darting forward, threw his cloak over its head. It uttered a shriek which sounded through the night like the cry of a lost soul.
"Quick!" cried the priest. "Lie flat on the earth and put your face on the ground!"
Scarcely had the two men done so than a frightful tumult ensued. First there was the sound of a body leaping into the morass, then a terrible uproar. Shrieks, cries, hissings, explosions followed in quick succession for upward of half an hour; then gradually they died away and a horrible stillness took their place. The two men rose trembling and unnerved, and slowly took their way through the darkness, groping and stumbling till they had left the bog behind them.