In old times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face. Close by the king's castle lay a great dark forest, and under an old lime-tree in the forest was a well, and when the day was very warm, the king's child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when she was dull she took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was her favorite plaything.
Now it so happened that on one occasion the princess's golden ball did not fall into the little hand which she was holding up for it, but on to the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water. The king's daughter followed it with her eyes, but it vanished, and the well was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. On this she began to cry, and cried louder and louder, and could not be comforted. And as she thus lamented some one said to her, "What ails you, King's daughter? You weep so that even a stone would show pity."
She looked round to the side from where the voice came, and saw a frog stretching forth its thick, ugly head from the water.
"Ah! old water-splasher, is it you?" she said; "I am weeping for my golden ball, which has fallen into the well."
"Be quiet, and do not weep," answered the frog, "I can help you, but what will you give me if I bring your plaything up again?"
"Whatever you will have, dear frog," she said – "My clothes, my pearls and jewels, and even the golden crown which I am wearing."
The frog answered, "I do not care for your clothes, your pearls and jewels, or your golden crown, but if you will love me and let me be your companion and
play-fellow, and sit by you at your little table, and eat off your little golden plate, and drink out of your little cup, and sleep in your little bed – if you will promise me this I will go down below, and bring you your golden ball up again."
"Oh yes," she said, "I promise you all you wishest, if you will but bring me my ball back again."
She, however, thought, "How the silly frog does talk! He lives in the water with the other frogs, and croaks, and can be no companion to any human being!"
But the frog when he had received this promise, put his head into the water and sank down, and in a short while came swimmming up again with the ball in his mouth, and threw it on the grass. The king's daughter was delighted to see her pretty plaything once more, and picked it up, and ran away with it.
"Wait, wait," said the frog. "Take me with you. I can't run as you can."
But what did it avail him to scream his croak, croak, after her, as loudly as he could? She did not listen to it, but ran home and soon forgot the poor frog, who was forced to go back into his well again.
The next day when she had seated herself at table with the king and all the courtiers, and was eating from her little golden plate, something came creeping splish splash, splish splash, up the marble staircase, and when it had got to the top, it knocked at the door and cried, "Princess, youngest princess, open the door for me."
She ran to see who was outside, but when she opened the door, there sat the frog in front of it. Then she slammed the door to, in great haste, sat down to dinner again, and was quite frightened. The king saw plainly that her heart was beating violently, and said, "My child, what are you so afraid of? Is there perchance a giant outside who wants to carry you away?"
"Ah, no," replied she. "It is no giant but a disgusting frog."
"What does a frog want with you?"
"Ah, dear father, yesterday as I was in the forest sitting by the well, playing, my golden ball fell into the water. And because I cried so, the frog brought it out again for me, and because he so insisted, I promised him he should be my companion, but I never thought he would be able to come out of his water! And now he is outside there, and wants to come in to me."
In the meantime it knocked a second time, and cried,
"Princess! youngest princess!
Then said the king, "That which you have promised must you perform. Go and let him in."
She went and opened the door, and the frog hopped in and followed her, step by step, to her chair. There he sat and cried, "Lift me up beside you."
She delayed, till at last the king commanded her to do it. When the frog was once on the chair he wanted to be on the table, and when he was on the table he said, "Now, push your little golden plate nearer to me that we may eat together."
She did this, but it was easy to see that she did not do it willingly. The frog enjoyed what he ate, but almost every mouthful she took choked her. At length he said, "I have eaten and am satisfied; now I am tired, carry me into your little room and make your little silken bed ready, and we will both lie down and go to sleep."
The king's daughter began to cry, for she was afraid of the cold frog which she did not like to touch, and which was now to sleep in her pretty, clean little bed. But the king grew angry and said, "He who helped you when you were in trouble ought not afterwards to be despised by you."
So she took hold of the frog with two fingers, carried him upstairs, and put him in a corner. But when she was in bed he crept to her and said, "I am tired, I want to sleep as well as you, lift me up or I will tell your father."
Then she was terribly angry, and took him up and threw him with all her might against the wall.
"Now, you will be quiet, odious frog," she said. But when he fell down he was no frog but a king's son with beautiful kind eyes. He by her father's will was now her dear companion and husband. Then he told her how he had been bewitched by a wicked witch, and how no one could have delivered him from the well but herself, and that tomorrow they would go together into his kingdom. Then they went to sleep, and next morning when the sun awoke them, a carriage came driving up with eight white horses, which had white ostrich feathers on their heads, and were harnessed with golden chains, and behind stood the young king's servant Faithful Henry. Faithful Henry had been so unhappy when his master was changed into a frog, that he had caused three iron bands to be laid round his heart, lest it should burst with grief and sadness. The carriage was to conduct the young king into his Kingdom. Faithful Henry helped them both in, and placed himself behind again, and was full of joy because of this deliverance. And when they had driven a part of the way the king's son heard a cracking behind him as if something had broken. So he turned round and cried, "Henry, the carriage is breaking."
"No, master, it is not the carriage. It is a band from my heart, which was put there in my great pain when you were a frog and imprisoned in the well."
Again and once again while they were on their way something cracked, and each time the king's son thought the carriage was breaking; but it was only the bands which were springing from the heart of faithful Henry because his master was set free and was happy.
There was once a wonderful musician, who went quite alone through a forest and thought of all manner of things, and when nothing was left for him to think about, he said to himself, "Time is beginning to pass heavily with me here in the forest, I will fetch here a good companion for myself."
Then he took his fiddle from his back, and played so that it echoed through the trees. It was not long before a wolf came trotting through the thicket towards him.
"Ah, here is a wolf coming! I have no desire for him!" said the musician; but the wolf came nearer and said to him, "Ah, dear musician, how beautifully you do play. I should like to learn that, too."
"It is soon learnt," the musician replied, "you have only to do all that I bid you."
"Oh, musician," said the wolf, "I will obey you as a scholar obeys his master."
The musician bade him follow, and when they had gone part of the way together, they came to an old oak-tree which was hollow inside, and cleft in the middle.
"Look," said the musician, "if you will learn to fiddle, put your fore paws into this crevice."
The wolf obeyed, but the musician quickly picked up a stone and with one blow wedged his two paws so fast that he was forced to stay there like a prisoner.
"Stay there till I come back again," said the musician, and went his way.
After a while he again said to himself, "Time is beginning to pass heavily with me here in the forest, I will fetch here another companion," and took his fiddle and again played in the forest. It was not long before a fox came creeping through the trees towards him.
"Ah, there's a fox coming!" said the musician. "I have no desire for him."
The fox came up to him and said, "Oh, dear musician, how beautifully you do play! I should like to learn that too."
"That is soon learnt," said the musician. "You have only to do everything that I bid you."
"Oh, musician," then said the fox, "I will obey you as a scholar obeys his master."
"Follow me," said the musician; and when they had walked a part of the way, they came to a footpath, with high bushes on both sides of it. There the musician stood still, and from one side bent a young hazel-bush down to the ground, and put his foot on the top of it, then he bent down a young tree from the other side as well, and said, "Now little fox, if you will learn something, give me your left front paw."
The fox obeyed, and the musician fastened his paw to the left bough.
"Little fox," he said, "now reach me your right paw" and he tied it to the right bough. When he had examined whether they were firm enough, he let go, and the bushes sprang up again, and jerked up the little fox, so that it hung struggling in the air.
"Wait there till I come back again," said the musician, and went his way.
Again he said to himself, "Time is beginning to pass heavily with me here in the forest, I will fetch here another companion," so he took his fiddle, and the sound echoed through the forest. Then a little hare came springing towards him.
"Why, a hare is coming," said the musician, "I do not want him."
"Ah, dear musician," said the hare, "how beautifully you do fiddle; I too, should like to learn that."
"That is soon learnt," said the musician, "you have only to do everything that I bid you."
"Oh, musician," replied the little hare, "I will obey you as a scholar obeys his master."
They went a part of the way together till they came to an open space in the forest, where stood an aspen tree. The musician tied a long string round the little hare's neck, the other end of which he fastened to the tree.
"Now briskly, little hare, run twenty times round the tree!" cried the musician, and the little hare obeyed, and when it had run round twenty times, it had twisted the string twenty times round the trunk of the tree, and the little hare was caught, and let it pull and tug as it liked, it only made the string cut into its tender neck. "Wait there till I come back," said the musician, and went onwards.
The wolf, in the meantime, had pushed and pulled and bitten at the stone, and had worked so long that he had set his feet at liberty and had drawn them once more out of the cleft. Full of anger and rage he hurried after the musician and wanted to tear him to pieces. When the fox saw him running, he began to lament, and cried with all his might, "Brother wolf, come to my help, the musician has betrayed me!" The wolf drew down the little tree, bit the cord in two, and freed the fox, who went with him to take revenge on the musician. They found the tied-up hare, whom likewise they delivered, and then they all sought the enemy together.
The musician had once more played his fiddle as he went on his way, and this time he had been more fortunate. The sound reached the ears of a poor wood-cutter, who at once, whether he would or no, gave up his work and came with his hatchet under his arm to listen to the music.
"At last comes the right companion," said the musician, "for I was seeking a human being, and no wild beast."
And he began and played so beautifully and delightfully that the poor man stood there as if bewitched, and his heart leaped with gladness. And as he thus stood, the wolf, the fox, and the hare came up, and he saw well that they had some evil design. So he raised his glittering axe and placed himself before the musician, as if to say, "Whoever wishes to touch him let him beware, for he will have to do with me!" Then the beasts were terrified and ran back into the forest. The musician, however, played once more to the man out of gratitude, and then went onwards.