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  1. Rags-and-Tatters
  2. The Peasant Astrologer
  3. A Bear Hunt (Fable)


A king was lying on his deathbed. He called his only son to his side and said, "Dear son, you shall be king after me. Your three sisters have no one but you to protect them. Be kind to them; but when it is time for them to marry, do not go about asking all the great princes of the earth to be their husbands. You know the rose-tree that grows in the palace garden and flowers all the year round. Pluck a rose from it, throw it into the street, and whoever shall pick it up shall have your eldest sister for his wife. So for the second. So for the third."

It was the last wish of the dying king, and his son could not disobey. Therefore when the eldest sister had grown up into a beautiful princess, her brother told her what their father had commanded.

"If that is so, I'd rather not marry at all!" she said.

Yet one day the young king plucked the rose, threw it into the street, and told the sentry at the palace door to watch who should pick it up. "Bring him to me at once," he said.

Soon there came walking along a fine young count, splendidly dressed, with a jewelled sword by his side. He looked brave and jolly. When he saw the rose, he picked it up and stuck it in his velvet cap.

The sentry stepped forward and told him: "The king wants to speak with you."

The count entered the palace, and the king said to him, "You have been chosen to be the husband of my eldest sister."

The count was delighted, but the princess grumbled, "I should have married a king, or a king's son at the least!"

Her brother, however, had given his word; and she started to think to herself, "Well, at least he is young and handsome and brave and merry. I might have fared much worse." And so she married the count.

A little later it was time for the second princess to marry. She was just as unwilling as her elder sister to take the first-comer; but her brother said, "It was our father's last command!"

So he plucked a rose, threw it out in the street, and bade the sentry watch who should pick it up. By and by a rich merchant came along, a grave, serious, solid and dignified person. He saw the rose, looked at it as if it were a pity it should be wasted, picked it up, and stopped to place it neatly in the button-hole of his fine cloth doublet.

"The king wants to speak with you," said the sentry, stepping forward.

The merchant entered the palace and heard what the king had to say to him. "It was her father's wish to marry her off like this," said the king, and the matter was settled.

The princess grumbled at first. "A mere merchant! But at least he is rich and honest and not at all ill-looking. I might have fared worse." So she married the merchant and went to her new home.

At last came the turn of the youngest of the sisters. The king plucked a rose, threw it into the street and told the sentry to watch who should pick it up, and send him in.

Up came a poor, lame water-carrier. He was an ugly, dirty little man. He saw the rose, picked it up, and put it to his lips.

"Now things are getting into a mess!" thought the sentry. But he did as he had been instructed to do; he stepped forward and said to the water-carrier: "The king wants to speak with you."

The poor man shrank back, looked at his tattered clothes and ragged sandals. But the king's command was clear, so he slunk up the marble steps and entered the palace.

"You picked up the rose?" said the king, looking over him with much dismay.

"Yes - I meant no harm."

"Then you must marry my youngest sister, Julietta."

"Your Majesty is pleased to make a mock of me."

"Not at all! Not at all!" And he told the dead father's command.

"But I am miserably poor, as you see - lame of a leg and not good-looking!"

The king said only: "I have given my word."

"Then let her know she's going to marry a poor man who can scarcely feed her. And don't send any dowry with her, for I want no fine wife."

The young princess grieved much, her brother wept too; it was a miserable wedding. But it couldn't be helped. So the princess went away with her water-carrier to his mean hut on a hill. On the way all the people who saw them cried, "Look! there goes the princess with old Rags-and-Tatters!"

Home she went to the miserable place to live there with Ragsand-Tatters and his old crone of a mother.

"This is no place for fine clothes," said the old woman. She gave her a rough dress to wear, and wooden shoes, and made her scour and wash and bake and darn, and tend her husband's lame leg. There was only the coarsest food to eat and little enough of that either.

The princess wept and wept and would not be comforted. Now, Rags-and-Tatters, though he did not want so fine a wife, was a kind-hearted man, and pitied her. But what could he do?

The only time she had any joy was when she was asleep, for then she dreamt beautiful dreams. One night she dreamt she was in a grand palace, warm and light and spacious. There were people all round to serve her, or to sing and play to her. She wore lovely clothes and jewels in her hair, and the tables were spread with things good to eat. She sat down to table with friends, and everyone was merry.

When she woke up she told her husband all about it. But Rags-and-Tatters only said, "Dreams! Dreams! Think no more about it. It's time to get up and kindle the fire."

But next night she dreamt she was in the beautiful palace again and feasted with friends for a long time. But one of them looked up to the gold ceiling. There was a hole in the ceiling, and in the hole sat Rags-and-Tatters. He looked down on them all with a grin on his face.

"Why, there is Rags-and-Tatters!" said the guest.

Then, in the wink of an eye, guests, feast, lights, music, palace, all disappeared, and the princess was sitting by her hearth in the miserable hut on the hillside.

That evening when her husband came home she told him what had befallen her. He only laughed and said, "Dreams! Dreams! Think no more about it." And she had to take his old coat and mend it, for it was nearly falling to pieces.

Some weeks later she dreamt the same dream again, and again told her husband about it in the morning. "Oh, you with your dreams!" he said. "This is washing-day. Over the washing-tub you'll forget them." But the water in the tub became salt with her tears.

And that very night back she was in the beautiful palace, with servants to wait on her. Her kinsfolk and friends were gathered to another rich and splendid banquet. The flowers were rare and fragrant, and the music merry and soft, just as before. But as they were rising from table someone looked up at the golden ceiling, and there in the hole her husband was sitting, grinning down at them all.

"Look! look! There is Rags-and-Tatters!" the guest cried. And in the twinkling of an eye everything disappeared, and the princess was back by her hearth in the hut on the hill, clad in her old frock, and darning her mother-in-law's rough stockings.

When her husband came home she moaned to him over all she had lost. In his heart he was really very sorry for her, but he only laughed. "Dreams! dreams!" he said. "You dream sleeping. You dream waking. Now, is my supper ready? I am hungry as a hawk."

For weeks and weeks she wept every day, and then one night she dreamt once more of the beautiful palace, and told her husband about it in the morning. But he only laughed. Next night, however, she was back in the lovely palace again with all her relatives, her old friends and neighbours. The banquet was as fine as those before, if not better.

One of the company chanced to look up at the hole in the middle of the golden roof. There he saw her husband grinning down on them all, but he did not say a word! The princess herself looked up and saw her husband in the hole in the roof. A sudden ray of pity lit up her heart, and she said to herself. "He is a good man. How I sadden him with my complaints! I wish he were down here with us in the middle of it all, and enjoying it too!"

This time the palace did not disappear at all! The guests and their hostess rose from table, and entered another great hall. At the end of it stood two thrones. On one of them sat a fair young prince, and his smile was gladdening them all.

While they stood in amazement, he rose and said, "Welcome, guests!" He drew the princess forward and placed her on the throne by the side of his own. Then the guests and their hosts danced and sang and were joyous, for Rags-and-Tatters was the son of the king of Portugal, and he had a story to tell:

"A wicked enchantress once cast a spell on me because my father had banished her from his lands. The spell was to last till a princess I had made poor, should feel for me. My princess wife has broken the spell."

Now he told that the old woman on the hill was not his real mother after all, but the wicked enchantress. She had made him believe he was her son and doomed to hunger and rags.

Prince Florio and his wife went home to Portugal together. There they lived happily and long together. (Retold from Macdonell)


The Peasant Astrologer

A king had lost a precious ring. He looked all over for it, but nowhere was it to be found. He issued a proclamation stating that the astrologer who could tell him where it was would be rich for the rest of his life.

Now there was a peasant by the name of Gambara. He was penniless and could neither read nor write. "Would it be so hard to play the astrologer?" he wondered. "I think I'll try." So he went to the king.

The king took him at his word, and shut him up in a room to study. There was nothing in the room but a bed and a table with a great big astrology book on it, and paper, pen, and ink. Gambara sat down at the table and began leafing through the book without understanding a word. Every now and then he made marks on the paper with the pen. As he didn't know how to write, he produced some very strange marks there, and the servants bringing him his lunch and his dinner got the idea he was an extremely wise astrologer.

Those servants had been the ones who stole the ring. With their guilty conscience, they imagined from the knowing looks Gambara gave them whenever they went in that he suspected them, although the astrologer was only trying to look like an authority in his field. Fearful of being found out, they couldn't bow and scrape enough. "Yes, honorable astrologer! Your least wishes are orders, honorable astrologer!" and so on.

Gambara, who was no astrologer but a peasant and therefore cunning, suspected right away the servants knew something about the ring. So he set a trap for them.

One day, at the hour they brought in his lunch, he hid under the bed. The head servant came in and found no one in the room. Under the bed Gambara said in a loud voice, "That's one of them!" The servant put the dish down and withdrew in fright.

The second servant came in and heard a voice that seemed to come from underground. "That's two of them!" He too ran off.

Then the third came in. "That's three of them!"

The servants talked things over. "We have been found out, and if the astrologer accuses us to the king, we are done for."

So they decided to go to the astrologer and confess their theft. "We are poor men," they began. "If you tell the king what you have learned, we are lost. Please take this purse of gold pieces in it and don't betray us."

Gambara took the purse and replied, "I won't betray you if you do as I say. Take the ring and make that turkey out in the farmyard swallow it. Then leave the rest to me."

Next day Gambara went to the king and said that he thought he knew where the ring was.

"Where is it?"

"In a turkey - that one." He pointed at it.

They cut the turkey open and discovered the ring. The king heaped riches on the astrologer and honoured him with a banquet attended by all the counts, marquis, barons, and grandees in the kingdom.

Among the many dishes served was a platter of gamberi, crayfish. Crayfish were unknown to that country. Those served at the banquet were a present from the king of another country. It was the first time people here had seen them.

"Since you are so wise," said the king to the peasant, "you must know what is on the platter here under the lid."

The poor soul mumbled to himself, "Ah, Gambara, Gambara, you're done for at last."

"Bravo!" said the king, who didn't know the peasant's real name. "You guessed it, the name is gamberi! You're the greatest astrologer in the world."



A Bear Hunt (Fable)

A tanner went to a hunter and payed him in advance for the skin of a bear. The hunter intended to go hunting the next day, kill a bear and give the tanner the bear's skin.

The tanner thought it to be good to go with the hunter into the woods and watch how the bear was got. He climbed a tall tree to watch as the hunter proceeded.

The hunter went to a cave where the bear was hiding, let loose his dogs to drive the bear out, and waitet at the mouth of the cave with a club in his hands. But the bear avoided the hunter's blow and knocked the hunter down on the ground. The hunter had been told that bears would not attack a dead man, so he held his breath and pretended to be dead. The bear pressed his snout against the man and sniffed, and then he went away.

The tanner, when he saw that the bear was gone, went up to the hunter, who still did not dare to get up from the ground. The tanner told the hunter to get up and then he asked him what the bear had whispered in his ear.

The hunter said: "The bear warned me that in the future I should not plan on selling a bear skin until after I have caught the bear."

(Abstemius, retold)



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