A prince soon presented himself. He was well received, and escorted to the anteroom to the twelve daughters' bedroom. He was given a bed there, and told to watch where they went and danced. So they would not be able to do anything in secret, or go out to some other place, the door to their room was left open. But the prince fell asleep, and when he awoke the next morning, the twelve had been dancing, for their shoes all had holes in their soles. The same thing happened the second and the third evening, and his head was chopped off. Many others came to try this risky venture, but they too all lost their lives.
Now it happened that a poor soldier, who because of his wounds could no longer serve in the army, was making his way to the city where the king lived. He met an old woman who asked him where he was going. "I'm not sure myself," he said. "But I would like to become king and discover where the princesses are dancing their shoes to pieces."
"Oh," said the old woman, "that isn't so difficult. Just do not drink the wine that one of them will bring you in the evening." Then she gave him a cloak and said, "Put this on, and you will be invisible, and you can follow the twelve."
Having receiving this good advice, the soldier became serious, took heart, went to the king, and announced himself as a suitor. He, like the others, was well received, and was given royal clothes to wear. That evening at bedtime he was escorted to the anteroom. Just as he was going to bed, the oldest princess brought him a goblet of wine, but he secretly poured it out. He lay down, and after a little while began to snore as if he were in the deepest sleep. The twelve princesses heard him and laughed. The oldest one said, "He could have spared his life as well!"
Then they got up, opened their wardrobes, chests, and closets, took out their best clothes, and made themselves beautiful in front of their mirrors, all the time jumping about in anticipation of the dance. However, the youngest one said, "I'm not sure. You are all very happy, but I'm afraid that something bad is going to happen!"
"You snow goose," said the oldest one. "You are always afraid! Have you forgotten how many princes have been here for nothing. I wouldn't even have had to give this soldier a sleeping potion. He would never have woken up."
When they were ready, they first approached the soldier, but he did not move at all, and as soon as they thought it was safe, the oldest one went to her bed and knocked on it. It immediately sank beneath the floor, revealing a trapdoor. The soldier saw how they all climbed down, one after the other, the oldest one leading the way. He jumped up, put on the cloak, and followed immediately after the youngest one. Halfway down the stairs he stepped on her dress. Frightened, she called out, "It's not right! Something is holding my dress."
"Don't be so simple," said the oldest one. "You just caught yourself on a hook."
They continued until they came to a magnificent walkway between rows of trees. Their leaves were all made of silver, and they shone and glistened. The soldier broke off a twig in order to prove where he had been, and a loud cracking sound came from the tree. The youngest one called out again, "It's not right. Didn't you hear that sound? That has never happened before."
The oldest one said, "That is just a joyful salute that they are firing because soon we will have disenchanted our princes." Then they came to a walkway where the tress were all made of gold, and finally to a third one, where they were made of clear diamonds. He broke a twig from each of these. The cracking sound frightened the youngest one each time, but the oldest one insisted that it was only the sounds of joyful salutes. They continued on until they came to a large body of water. Twelve boats were there, and in each boat there was a handsome prince waiting for them. Each prince took a princess into his boat. The soldier sat next to the youngest princess, and her prince said, "I am as strong as ever, but the boat seems to be much heavier. I am rowing as hard as I can."
"It must be the warm weather," said the youngest princess. "It's too hot for me as well."
On the other side of the water there was a beautiful, brightly illuminated castle. Joyful music, kettle drums, and trumpets sounded forth. They rowed over and went inside. Each prince danced with his princess. The invisible soldier danced along as well, and when a princess held up a goblet of wine, he drank it empty as she lifted it to her mouth. This always frightened the youngest one, but the oldest one silenced her every time. They danced there until three o'clock the next morning when their shoes were danced to pieces and they had to stop. The princes rowed them back across the water. This time the soldier took a seat next to the oldest princess in the lead boat. They took leave from their princes on the bank and promised to come back the next night.
When they were on the steps the soldier ran ahead and got into bed. When the twelve tired princesses came in slowly, he was again snoring loudly. "He will be no risk to us," they said. Then they took off their beautiful clothes and put them away, placed their worn out shoes under their beds, and went to bed.
The next morning the soldier said nothing, for he wanted to see the amazing thing once again. He went along the second and third nights, and everything happened as before. Each time they danced until their shoes were in pieces. The third time he also took along a goblet as a piece of evidence.
The hour came when he was to give his answer, and he brought the three twigs and the goblet before the king. The twelve princesses stood behind the door and listened to what he had to say. The king asked, "Where did my daughters dance their shoes to pieces?"
He answered, "in an underground castle with twelve princes." Then he told the whole story and brought forth the pieces of evidence. When they saw that they had been betrayed, and that their denials did no good, they admitted everything. Then the king asked him which one he wanted for a wife.
He answered, "I myself am no longer young, so give me the oldest one."
Their wedding was held the same day, and the kingdom was promised to him following the king's death. But the princes had as many days added to their curse as they had spent nights dancing with the twelve princesses.
A peasant got news of this and became so engrossed with the thoughts of how he himself might thus win a princess that with time he fell into deep despair. One day while sadly walking along he met a dwarf who asked him why he was so gloomy. At first the peasant did not want to answer, saying that the dwarf would not be able to help him.
The dwarf replied, "You cannot know that. Just tell me."
So the peasant told him what the king had proclaimed, and how had become discouraged, not knowing how he could discover the secret.
To this the dwarf told the peasant to go to a certain meadow just outside the city, describing exactly where it was. There he would find a washhouse, inside of which there was a bed. The peasant should lie down on this bed and pretend to be sound asleep. He should also place a brandy bottle next to him, to make it appear that he was drunk. However, on no account was he to drink anything, but instead was to pay close attention to whatever the princesses did and to follow their every move.
The peasant went to the house and did exactly what he had been told to do. That night at eleven o'clock the princesses arrived. They shook him soundly to find out if he was asleep. When he neither stirred nor moved they opened a trapdoor that he had not seen before and climbed down through it. The peasant quickly jumped up and followed after them.
As soon as he went through the trapdoor he became invisible, so the princesses, who were walking ahead of him, could not see him. They soon entered a beautiful tree-lined walkway. Then they came to a pear tree loaded with pears of pure gold. The peasant plucked one of them, immediately causing a loud cracking sound. The princesses heard this and were afraid that the peasant in the bed was following them. But seeing no one, they continued on their way.
They came to a broad river. A rowboat was on the bank, which the six princesses climbed into, and the peasant as well. On the other side of the river there stood a magnificent castle. They went inside, then entered a large hall with a floor made of golden flax-comb teeth.
In the hall six enchanted princes were awaiting the princesses, and they immediately began to dance with them. While they were dancing the peasant broke loose one of the golden flax-comb teeth, again causing a loud cracking sound. The princesses were once again afraid, but seeing no one, they put themselves at ease.
After dancing away the hour between eleven and twelve, they hurriedly departed, climbed into the rowboat, and crossed the river. The peasant was with them in the boat, and then he rushed on ahead, lay down on the bed, and pretended to be asleep. Arriving at their castle, the princesses too went to bed and fell asleep.
The next day the peasant went to the king, saying that he wanted to reveal where his daughters were going every night, and he told him everything.
The king had his daughters come before him one at a time and asked each one, beginning with the oldest, if what the peasant said was true. The five oldest stubbornly denied everything, whereupon the king had each of their heads cut off, one after the other.
Only the youngest daughter said that she would confess everything. For five years now they had been dancing with the enchanted princes every night. If they had finished dancing the sixth year with them, they would have been redeemed. They could also be redeemed by allowing their heads to be cut off, like the five sisters.
The peasant received the youngest princess for his wife.
"Why are you sighing so, my son?" he asked, "and what is your wish?"
"My only wish," he answered respectfully, "is a bag that can never be filled and a pelt that would make me invisible when I wrap myself in it."
Peter granted these wishes, and then disappeared.
The boy left his shepherd's things lying there and made his way to the capital city. Here he hoped to find his luck, for a king lived here who had twelve daughters, eleven of whom wore out at least six pairs of shoes every night. This angered their father because it was costing him a good part of his income, and furthermore some people were thinking ill of his daughters. But in spite of all his cunning he could not discover how they were doing this. Finally the king promised his youngest daughter to the man who could bring the mystery to the light of day.
This promise lured a great many suitors to the capital city, but they were all ridiculed by the girls, and they had to withdraw in shame. The shepherd boy, trusting in his pelt, presented himself as well, and the girls, as usual, measured him with spiteful looks.
Night came, and the boy, wrapped in his pelt, lay down before their bedroom door, then quickly slipped inside when they went to bed. At midnight a spirit entered and awoke each girl. There was a flurry of activity: they got dressed, made themselves beautiful, then stuffed a travel bag full of shoes. However, the youngest one did not see what was happening. Therefore the invisible shepherd boy, without being noticed, awoke her as well, which frightened the other sisters. However, because it had already happened, they thought it would be best to tempt her to join them. After some hesitation the girl agreed to do so.
When everyone was ready the spirit placed a basin on the table. Each sister rubbed some of its contents onto her shoulders, and wings immediately grew from them. The shepherd boy did the same thing, and when they all flew out the window, he flew after them.
After flying a few hours they came to a great copper forest and to a well with a copper railing on which were twelve copper cups. Here they refreshed themselves and drank. The youngest one, who was taking this journey for the first time, looked about fearfully. The boy drank as well, and as they were setting forth again, he put into his bag a cup and some leaves that he pulled from a tree,. The tree rustled noisily, sounding through the entire forest. The littlest girl noticed this and warned her sisters that someone was following them, but thinking they were safe, they only laughed at her.
They flew onward, and before long they came to a silver forest and to a well with a silver railing. They drank here as before, and the boy again put a cup and a silver twig into his bag. At the sound of the twig being broken from the tree the smallest sister again warned her sisters, but to no avail.
Leaving this forest they arrived at a golden forest, and a well with a golden railing and golden cups. They also stopped here, and the boy put a golden cup and a golden twig into his bag. Hearing the cracking sound, the smallest sister alerted the others, but again they did nothing.
After leaving this forest they came to a huge mountain cliff, whose moss-covered summit reached steeply toward heaven. They stopped here, and the spirit struck the cliff with a golden wand, upon which it opened up, and they all went through the opening, the boy as well.
They entered a marvelous room which opened into a hall that was decorated with fairy-like splendor. Twelve handsome fairy-youths approached them. Ever more servants appeared and busied themselves making all necessary preparations for a magnificent ball. Magical music sounded forth. The doors opened onto a huge dance hall, and everything was happy and gay.
As morning approached they returned home just as they had come (and the shepherd boy was with them). They lay down on their beds as though nothing had happened, which their worn-out shoes disproved, then got up at the normal time.
The king was waiting impatiently for any news that the shepherd boy might bring, and in only a few minutes he told him everything that had happened. The girls were summoned, and they denied everything. However, the cups and the twigs testified against them, and the littlest sister spoke against them as well, which was why the shepherd boy had awakened her.
The king now fulfilled his promise, but the eleven girls were burned to death as sorceresses.
No one was able to find out where the princesses went at night. Only one poor nobleman cried out, "Your kingly majesty, I will find out!"
"Very well; go and find out."
So then the poor nobleman began pondering and saying to himself, "What have I done? I have undertaken to find out, and I don't know myself. If I don't find out now, possibly the king will put me under arrest."
So he went out of the palace beyond the city, and went on and on, and at last he met an old woman on the road who asked him, "What are you thinking of, doughty youth?"
And he answered, "How should I, Babushka, not become thoughtful? I have undertaken to discover for the king where his daughters go by night."
"Oh, this is a difficult task, but it can be done. Here, I will give you the cap of invisibility; with that you cannot be seen. Now, remember, when you go to sleep the princesses will pour a sleeping draught out for you. You turn to the wall and pour it into the bed and do not drink it."
So the poor nobleman thanked the old woman and returned to the palace. Nighttime approached and they gave him a room next to that in which the princesses slept. So he lay on the bed and began to keep watch. Then one of the princesses brought sleeping drugs in wine and asked him to drink her health. He could not refuse, and so he took the goblet, turned to the wall, and poured it into the bed. At midnight the princesses went to look whether he was asleep or not. Then the poor nobleman pretended to be as sound asleep as a log, and himself kept a keen look out for every noise.
"Now, sisters, our watchman has gone to sleep. It is time we set out on our promenade. It is time."
So they all put on their best clothes, and the elder sister went to her bedside, moved the bed, and an entrance into the subterranean realm instantly opened up beneath, leading to the home of the Accursèd Tsar. They all went down a flight of stairs, and the poor nobleman quietly got off his bed, put on the cap of invisibility, and followed them. He, without noticing, touched the youngest princess's dress.
She was frightened and said to her sisters, "O my sisters, somebody has stepped on my dress. This is a foretokening of woe."
"Nonsense; it does not mean anything of the sort!"
So they all went down the flight of steps into a grove, and in that grove there were golden flowers. Then the poor nobleman broke off and plucked a single sprig, and the entire grove rustled.
"Oh, sisters," said the youngest sister, "some unfortunate thing is injuring us. Did you hear how the grove rustled?"
"Do not fear; this is the music in the Accursèd Tsar's realm."
So they went into the tsar's palace. He, with his lackeys, met them; music sounded; and they began dancing. And they danced until their shoes were worn thin. Then the Tsar bade wine to be served to his guests. The poor nobleman took a single goblet from under his nose, poured out the wine, and put the cup into his pocket.
At last the rout was over, and the princesses bade farewell to their cavaliers, promised to come another night, turned back home, undressed and lay down to sleep.
Then the king summoned the poor nobleman, and asked him, "Did you keep watch on my daughters?"
"Yes, I did, your majesty."
"Where did they go?"
"Into the subterranean realm, to the Accursèd Tsar, where they danced all night long."
So the king summoned his daughters, and began cross examining them. "Where do you go at night?"
So the princesses tried a feint: "We have not been anywhere."
"Were you not with the Accursèd Tsar? There is this poor nobleman who can turn evidence on you. He is able to convict you."
"What do you mean, bátyushka? He can convict us when all night he slept the sleep of the dead?"
Then the poor nobleman brought the golden flower out of his pocket, and the goblet, and said, "There is the testimony."
What could they do? The princesses had to acknowledge their guilt, and the king bade the entrance to the subterranean realm be slated up. And he married the poor nobleman to the youngest daughter, and they lived happily ever after.
The king asks Jankos, "Don't you know where my daughters go? Not one single night are they at home, and they are always wearing out new shoes."
Then Jankos lay down in front of the door, and kept watch to see where they went to. But Halenka told him everything; she aided him. "They will, when they come, fling fire on you, and prick you with needles." Halenka told him he must not stir, but be like a corpse.
They came, those devils, for the girls, and straightway the girls set out with them to hell. On, on, they walked, but he stuck close to them. As the girls went to hell he followed close behind, but so that they knew it not. He went through the diamond forest; when he came there he cut himself a diamond twig from the forest. He follows; straightway they, those girls, cried, "Jankos is coming behind us." For when he broke it, he made a great noise. The girls heard it. "Jankos is coming behind us."
But the devils said, "What does it matter if he is?"
Next they went through the forest of glass, and once more he cut off a twig; now he had two tokens. Then they went through the golden forest, and once more he cut off a twig; so now he had three.
Then Halenka tells him, "I shall change you into a fly, and when you come into hell, creep under the bed, hide yourself there, and see what will happen."
Then the devils danced with the girls, who tore their shoes all to pieces, for they danced upon blades of knives, and so they must tear them. Then they flung the shoes under the bed, where Jankos took them, so that he might show them at home. When the devils had danced with the girls, each of them threw his girl upon the bed and lay with her; thus did they with two of them, but the third would not yield herself.
Then Jankos, having got all he wanted, returned home and lay down again in front of the door, "that the girls may know I am lying here."
The girls returned after midnight, and went to bed in their room as if nothing had happened. But Jankos knew well what had happened, and straightway he went to their father, the king, and showed him the tokens. "I know where your daughters go: to hell. The three girls must own they were there, in the fire. Isn't it true? weren't you there? And if you believe me not, I will show you the tokens. See, here is one token from the diamond forest; then here is one from the forest of glass; a third from the golden forest; and the fourth is the shoes which you tore dancing with the devils. And two of you lay with the devils, but that third one not, she would not yield herself."
Straightway the king seized his rifle, and straightway he shot them dead. Then he seized a knife, and slit up their bellies, and straightway the devils were scattered out from their bellies. Then he buried them in the church, and laid each coffin in front of the altar, and every night a soldier stood guard over them. But every night those two used to rend the soldier in pieces; more than a hundred were rent thus. At last it fell to a new soldier, a recruit, to stand guard; when he went upon guard he was weeping.
But a little old man came to him -- it was my God; and Jankos was there with the soldier. And the old man tells him, "When the twelfth hour strikes and they come out of their coffins, straightway jump in and lie down in the coffin, and don't leave the coffin, for if you do they will rend you. So don't you go out, even if they beg you and fling fire on you, for they will beg you hard to come out."
Thus then till morning he lay in the coffin. In the morning those two were alive again, and both kneeling in front of the altar. They were lovelier than ever. Then the soldier took one to wife, and Jankos took the other. Then when they came home with them their father was very glad. Then Jankos and the soldier got married, and if they are not dead they are still alive.
It happened that a soldier was walking along an open country road carrying on his back a sack of oranges, and he saw two men fighting and giving each other great blows.
The soldier went up to them and asked them, "Oh, men, why are you giving each other such blows?"
"Why indeed should it be!" they replied. "Because our father is dead, and he has left us this cap, and we both wish to possess it."
"Is it possible that for the sake of a cap you should be fighting?" inquired the soldier.
The men then said, "The reason is that this cap has a charm, and if any one puts it on and says, 'Cap, cover me so that no one shall see me!' no one can see us."
The soldier upon hearing this said to them, "I'll tell you what I can do for you; you let me remain here with the cap whilst I throw this orange to a great distance, and you run after it, and the one that shall pick it up first shall be the possessor of the cap."
The men agreed to this, and the soldier threw the orange to a great distance, as far as he possibly could, whilst the men both ran to pick it up. Here the soldier without loss of time put on the cap saying, "Cap, make me invisible."
When the men returned with the orange they could see nothing and nobody. The soldier went away with the cap, and further on he met on his road two other men fighting, and he said to them, "Oh, foolish men, why do you give each other such blows?"
The men replied, "Indeed, you may well ask why, if it were not that father died and left us this pair of boots, and we, each of us, wish to be the sole possessor of them."
The soldier replied, "Is it possible that for the matter of a pair of boots you should be fighting thus?"
And they replying said, "It is because these boots are charmed, and when one wishes to go any distance he has only to say, 'Boots take me here or there,' wherever one should wish to go, and instantly they convey one to any place."
The soldier said to them, "I will tell you what to do; I will throw an orange to a great distance, and you give me the boots to keep; you run for the orange, and the first who shall pick it up shall have the pair of boots."
He threw the orange to a great distance and both men ran to catch it. Upon this the soldier said, "Cap, make me invisible, boots take me to the city!" and when the men returned they missed the boots, and the soldier, for he had gone away.
He arrived at the capital and heard the decree read which the king had promulgated, and he began to consider what he had better do in this case. "With this cap, and with these boots I can surely find out what the princess does to wear out seven pairs of slippers made of iron in one night." He went and presented himself at the palace.
When the king saw him he said, "Do you really know a way of finding out how the princess, my daughter, can wear out seven slippers in one night?"
The soldier replied, "I only ask you to let me try."
"But you must remember," said the king, "that if at the end of three days you have not found out the mystery, I shall order you to be put to death."
The soldier to this replied that he was prepared to take the consequences. The king ordered him to remain in the palace. Every attention was paid to all his wants and wishes, he had his meals with the king at the same table, and slept in the princess's room.
But what did the princess do? She took him a beverage to his bedside and gave it to him to drink. This beverage was a sleeping draught which she gave him to make him sleep all night. Next morning the soldier had not seen the princess do anything, for he had slept very soundly the whole night.
When he appeared at breakfast the king asked him, "Well, did you see anything?"
"Your majesty must know that I have seen nothing whatever."
The king said, "Look well what you are at, for now there only remains two days more for you, or else you die!"
The soldier replied, "I have not the least misgivings."
Night came on and the princess acted as before.
Next morning the king asked him again at breakfast, "Well, have you seen anything last night?"
The soldier replied, "Your majesty must know that I have seen nothing whatever."
"Be careful, then, what you do, only one day more and you die!"
The soldier replied, "I have no misgivings."
He then began to think it over. "It is very curious that I should sleep all night -- it cannot be from anything else but from drinking the beverage which the princess gives me. Leave me alone, I know what I shall do; when the princess brings me the cup I shall pretend to drink, but shall throw away the beverage."
The night came and the princess did not fail to bring him the beverage to drink to his bedside. The soldier made a pretence to drink it, but instead threw it away, and feigned sleep though he was awake. In the middle of the night he saw the princess rise up, prepare to go out, and advance towards the door to leave.
What did he do then? He put on the cap, drew on the boots, and said, "Cap make me invisible, boots take me wherever the princess goes."
The princess entered a carriage, and the soldier followed her into the carriage and accompanied her. He saw the carriage stop at the seashore. The princess then embarked on board a vessel decked with flags.
The soldier on seeing this said, "Cap, cover me, that I may be invisible," and embarked with the princess.
She reached the land of giants, and when on passing the first sentinel, he challenged her with "Who's there?"
"The Princess of Harmony," she replied.
The sentinel rejoined, "Pass with your suite."
The princess looked behind her, and not seeing any one following her she said to herself, "The sentinel cannot be in his sound mind; he said 'pass with your suite.' I do not see any one."
She reached the second sentinel, who cried out at the top of his voice, "Who's there?"
"The Princess of Harmony," replied the princess.
"Pass with your suite," said the sentinel.
The princess was each time more and more astonished.
She came to the third sentinel, who challenged her as the others had done, "Who's there?"
"The Princess of Harmony."
"Pass on with your suite," rejoined the sentinel.
The princess as before wondered what the man could mean. After journeying for a long time the soldier who followed her closely saw the princess arrive at a beautiful palace, enter in, and go into a hall for dancing, where he saw many giants. The princess sat upon a seat by the side of her lover who was a giant. The soldier hid himself under their seat. The band struck up, and she rose to dance with the giant, and when she finished the dance she had her iron slippers all in pieces. She took them off and pushed them under her seat. The soldier immediately took possession of them and put them inside his sack.
The princess again sat down to converse with her lover. The band again struck up some dance music and the princess rose to dance. When she finished this dance another of her slippers had worn out. She took them off and left them under her seat. The soldier put these also into his sack. Finally, she danced seven times, and each time she danced she tore a pair of slippers made of iron. The soldier kept them all in his sack.
After the ball the princess sat down to converse with her lover; and what did the soldier do? He turned their chairs over and threw them both on the middle of the floor. They were very much surprised and they searched everywhere and through all the houses and could find no one.
The giants then looked out for a book of fates they had, wherein could be seen the course of the winds and other auguries peculiar to their race. They called in a black servant to read in the book and find out what was the matter.
The soldier rose up from where he was and said, "Cap, make me invisible." He then gave the negro a slap on the face, the negro fell to the ground, while he took possession of the book and kept it.
The time was approaching when the princess must depart and return home, and not being able to stay longer she went away. The soldier followed her and she returned by the same way she came. She went on board and when she reached the city the carriage was already waiting for her.
The soldier then said, "Boots take me to the palace," and he arrived there, took off his clothes, and went to bed.
When the princess arrived she found everything in her chamber just as she left it, and even found the soldier fast asleep.
In the morning the king said, "Well, soldier, did you see anything remarkable last night?"
"Be it known to your majesty that I saw nothing whatever last night," replied the soldier.
The king then said, "According to what you say, I do not know if you are aware that you must die today."
The soldier replied, "If it is so I must have patience, what else can I do?"
When the princess heard this she rejoiced much. The king then ordered that everything for the execution should be prepared before the palace windows. When the soldier was proceeding to execution he asked the king to grant him a favor for the last time and to send for the princess so that she should be present.
The king gave the desired permission, and the princess was present, when he said to her, "Is it true to say that the princess went out at midnight?"
"It is not true," replied the princess.
"Is it true to say," again asked the soldier, "that the princess entered a carriage, and afterwards went on board a vessel and proceeded to a ball given in the kingdom of the giants?"
The princess replied, "It is not true."
The soldier yet asked her another question, "Is it true that the princess tore seven pair of slippers during the seven times she danced?" and then he showed her the slippers.
"There is no truth in all this," replied the princess.
The soldier at last said to her, "Is it true to say that the princess at the end of the ball fell on the floor from her seat, and the giants had a book brought to them to see what bewitchery and magic pervaded and had taken possession of the house, and which book is here?"
The princess now said, "It is so."
The king was delighted at the discovery and happy ending of this affair, and the soldier came to live in the palace and married the princess.
As he had a white skin, blue eyes, and hair that curled all over his head, the village girls used to cry after him, "Well, Star Gazer, what are you doing? " and Michael would answer, "Oh, nothing," and go on his way without even turning to look at them.
The fact was he thought them very ugly, with their sun-burnt necks, their great red hands, their coarse petticoats and their wooden shoes. He had heard that somewhere in the world there were girls whose necks were white and whose hands were small, who were always dressed in the finest silks and laces, and were called princesses, and while his companions round the fire saw nothing in the flames but common everyday fancies, he dreamed that he had the happiness to marry a princess.
That evening the little cow-boy, who had been thinking a great deal about the advice of the lady in the golden dress, told his dream to the farm people. But, as was natural, they only laughed at the Star Gazer.
The next day at the same hour he went to sleep again under the same tree. The lady appeared to him a second time, and said, "Go to the castle of Beloeil, and you shall marry a princess."
In the evening Michael told his friends that he had dreamed the same dream again, but they only laughed at him more than before. "Never mind," he thought to himself; "if the lady appears to me a third time, I will do as she tells me."
The following day, to the great astonishment of all the village, about two o'clock in the afternoon a voice was heard singing:
Raleô, raleô,It was the little cow-boy driving his herd back to the byre.
How the cattle go!
The farmer began to scold him furiously, but he answered quietly, "I am going away," made his clothes into a bundle, said good-bye to all his friends, and boldly set out to seek his fortunes.
There was great excitement through all the village, and on the top of the hill the people stood holding their sides with laughing, as they watched the Star Gazer trudging bravely along the valley with his bundle at the end of his stick. It was enough to make anyone laugh, certainly.
It was whispered about that they led exactly the lives that princesses ought to lead, sleeping far into the morning, and never getting up till midday. They had twelve beds all in the same room, but what was very extraordinary was the fact that though they were locked in by triple bolts, every morning their satin shoes were found worn into holes.
When they were asked what they had been doing all night, they always answered that they had been asleep; and, indeed, no noise was ever heard in the room, yet the shoes could not wear themselves out alone!
At last the Duke of Beloeil ordered the trumpet to be sounded, and a proclamation to be made that whoever could discover how his daughters wore out their shoes should choose one of them for his wife.
On hearing the proclamation a number of princes arrived at the castle to try their luck. They watched all night behind the open door of the princesses, but when the morning came they had all disappeared, and no one could tell what had become of them.
The first thing he was told was that when the princesses got up he was to present each one with a bouquet, and Michael thought that if he had nothing more unpleasant to do than that he should get on very well.
Accordingly he placed himself behind the door of the princesses' room, with the twelve bouquets in a basket. He gave one to each of the sisters, and they took them without even deigning to look at the lad, except Lina the youngest, who fixed her large black eyes as soft as velvet on him, and exclaimed, "Oh, how pretty he is -- our new flower boy!" The rest all burst out laughing, and the eldest pointed out that a princess ought never to lower herself by looking at a garden boy.
Now Michael knew quite well what had happened to all the princes, but notwithstanding, the beautiful eyes of the princess Lina inspired him with a violent longing to try his fate. Unhappily he did not dare to come forward, being afraid that he should only be jeered at, or even turned away from the castle on account of his impudence.
She thus addressed him, "Plant these two laurels in two large pots, rake them over with the rake, water them with the bucket, and wipe them with the towel. When they have grown as tall as a girl of fifteen, say to each of them, 'My beautiful laurel, with the golden rake I have raked you, with the golden bucket I have watered you, with the silken towel I have wiped you.' Then after that ask anything you choose, and the laurels will give it to you."
Michael thanked the lady in the golden dress, and when he woke he found the two laurel bushes beside him. So he carefully obeyed the orders he had been given by the lady.
The trees grew very fast, and when they were as tall as a girl of fifteen he said to the cherry laurel, "My lovely cherry laurel, with the golden rake I have raked thee, with the golden bucket I have watered thee, with the silken towel I have wiped thee. Teach me how to become invisible." Then there instantly appeared on the laurel a pretty white flower, which Michael gathered and stuck into his buttonhole.
The princesses began at once to open their wardrobes and boxes. They took out of them the most magnificent dresses, which they put on before their mirrors, and when they had finished, turned themselves all round to admire their appearances. Michael could see nothing from his hiding place, but he could hear everything, and he listened to the princesses laughing and jumping with pleasure.
At last the eldest said, "Be quick, my sisters, our partners will be impatient."
At the end of an hour, when the Star Gazer heard no more noise, he peeped out and saw the twelve sisters in splendid garments, with their satin shoes on their feet, and in their hands the bouquets he had brought them.
"Are you ready?" asked the eldest.
"Yes," replied the other eleven in chorus, and they took their places one by one behind her.
Then the eldest princess clapped her hands three times and a trap door opened. All the princesses disappeared down a secret staircase, and Michael hastily followed them.
As he was following on the steps of the princess Lina, he carelessly trod on her dress.
"There is somebody behind me," cried the princess; "they are holding my dress."
"You foolish thing," said her eldest sister, "you are always afraid of something. It is only a nail which caught you."
They next crossed another wood where the leaves were sprinkled with gold, and after that another still, where the leaves glittered with diamonds.
At last the Star Gazer perceived a large lake, and on the shores of the lake twelve little boats with awnings, in which were seated twelve princes, who, grasping their oars, awaited the princesses.
Each princess entered one of the boats, and Michael slipped into that which held the youngest. The boats glided along rapidly, but Lina's, from being heavier, was always behind the rest.
"We never went so slowly before," said the princess; "what can be the reason?"
"I don't know," answered the prince. "I assure you I am rowing as hard as I can."
On the other side of the lake the garden boy saw a beautiful castle splendidly illuminated, whence came the lively music of fiddles, kettledrums, and trumpets. In a moment they touched land, and the company jumped out of the boats; and the princes, after having securely fastened their barks, gave their arms to the princesses and conducted them to the castle.
The Star Gazer was quite bewildered at the magnificence of the sight. He placed himself out of the way in a corner, admiring the grace and beauty of the princesses. Their loveliness was of every kind. Some were fair and some were dark; some had chestnut hair, or curls darker still, and some had golden locks. Never were so many beautiful princesses seen together at one time, but the one whom the cow-boy thought the most beautiful and the most fascinating was the little princess with the velvet eyes.
With what eagerness she danced! Leaning on her partner's shoulder she swept by like a whirlwind. Her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkled, and it was plain that she loved dancing better than anything else.
The poor boy envied those handsome young men with whom she danced so gracefully, but he did not know how little reason he had to be jealous of them. The young men were really the princes who, to the number of fifty at least, had tried to steal the princesses' secret. The princesses had made them drink something of a philter, which froze the heart and left nothing but the love of dancing.
After supper, the dancers all went back to their boats, and this time the Star Gazer entered that of the eldest princess. They crossed again the wood with the diamond-spangled leaves, the wood with gold-sprinkled leaves, and the wood whose leaves glittered with drops of silver, and as a proof of what he had seen, the boy broke a small branch from a tree in the last wood. Lina turned as she heard the noise made by the breaking of the branch.
"What was that noise?" she said.
"It was nothing," replied her eldest sister; "it was only the screech of the barn owl that roosts in one of the turrets of the castle."
While she was speaking Michael managed to slip in front, and running up the staircase, he reached the princesses' room first. He flung open the window, and sliding down the vine which climbed up the wall, found himself in the garden just as the sun was beginning to rise, and it was time for him to set to his work.
When Lina discovered it she was much surprised. However, she said nothing to her sisters, but as she met the boy by accident while she was walking under the shade of the elms, she suddenly stopped as if to speak to him; then, altering her mind, went on her way.
The same evening the twelve sisters went again to the ball, and the Star Gazer again followed them and crossed the lake in Lina's boat. This time it was the prince who complained that the boat seemed very heavy.
"It is the heat," replied the princess. "I, too, have been feeling very warm."
During the ball she looked everywhere for the gardener's boy, but she never saw him.
As they came back, Michael gathered a branch from the wood with the gold-spangled leaves, and now it was the eldest princess who heard the noise that it made in breaking.
"It is nothing," said Lina; "only the cry of the owl which roosts in the turrets of the castle."
"Your Royal Highness knows well enough," answered Michael.
"So you have followed us?"
"How did you manage it? We never saw you."
"I hid myself," replied the Star Gazer quietly.
The princess was silent a moment, and then said, "You know our secret! Keep it. Here is the reward of your discretion." And she flung the boy a purse of gold.
"I do not sell my silence," answered Michael, and he went away without picking up the purse.
For three nights Lina neither saw nor heard anything extraordinary; on the fourth she heard a rustling among the diamond-spangled leaves of the wood. That day there was a branch of the trees in her bouquet.
She took the Star Gazer aside, and said to him in a harsh voice, "You know what price my father has promised to pay for our secret?"
"I know, princess," answered Michael.
"Don't you mean to tell him?"
"That is not my intention."
"Are you afraid?"
"What makes you so discreet, then?"
But Michael was silent.
"What prevents your marrying him?" asked the eldest. "You would become a gardener too; it is a charming profession. You could live in a cottage at the end of the park, and help your husband to draw up water from the well, and when we get up you could bring us our bouquets."
The princess Lina was very angry, and when the Star Gazer presented her bouquet, she received it in a disdainful manner.
Michael behaved most respectfully. He never raised his eyes to her, but nearly all day she felt him at her side without ever seeing him.
One day she made up her mind to tell everything to her eldest sister.
"What!" said she, "this rogue knows our secret, and you never told me! I must lose no time in getting rid of him."
"Why, by having him taken to the tower with the dungeons, of course."
For this was the way that in old times beautiful princesses got rid of people who knew too much. But the astonishing part of it was that the youngest sister did not seem at all to relish this method of stopping the mouth of the gardener's boy, who, after all, had said nothing to their father.
At last it was decided that Michael should be put to the test; that they would take him to the ball, and at the end of supper would give him the philter which was to enchant him like the rest.
They sent for the Star Gazer, and asked him how he had contrived to learn their secret; but still he remained silent. Then, in commanding tones, the eldest sister gave him the order they had agreed upon.
He only answered, " I will obey."
He had really been present, invisible, at the council of princesses, and had heard all; but he had make up his mind to drink of the philter, and sacrifice himself to the happiness of her he loved. Not wishing, however, to cut a poor figure at the ball by the side of the other dancers, he went at once to the laurels, and said, "My lovely rose laurel, with the golden rake I have raked thee, with the golden bucket I have watered thee, with a silken towel I have dried thee. Dress me like a prince."
A beautiful pink flower appeared. Michael gathered it, and found himself in a moment clothed in velvet, which was as black as the eyes of the little princess, with a cap to match, a diamond aigrette, and a blossom of the rose laurel in his buttonhole. Thus dressed, he presented himself that evening before the Duke of Beloeil, and obtained leave to try and discover his daughters' secret. He looked so distinguished that hardly anyone would have known who he was.
This time he did not cross in Lina's boat. He gave his arm to the eldest sister, danced with each in turn, and was so graceful that everyone was delighted with him. At last the time came for him o dance with the little princess. She found him the best partner in the world, but he did not dare to speak a single word to her.
When he was taking her back to her place she said to him in a mocking voice, "Here you are at the summit of your wishes. You are being treated like a prince."
"Don't be afraid," replied the Star Gazer gently. "You shall never be a gardener's wife."
The little princess stared at him with a frightened face, and he left her without waiting for an answer. When the satin slippers were worn through the fiddles stopped, and the negro boys set the table. Michael was placed next to the eldest sister, and opposite to the youngest.
They gave him the most exquisite dishes to eat, and the most delicate wines to drink; and in order to turn his head more completely, compliments and flattery were heaped on him from every side. But he took care not to be intoxicated, either by the wine or the compliments.
"The enchanted castle has no more secrets for you," she said to the Star Gazer. "Let us drink to your triumph." He cast a lingering glance at the little princess, and without hesitation lifted the cup.
"Don't drink!" suddenly cried out the little princess; "I would rather marry a gardener." And she burst into tears.
Michael flung the contents .of the cup behind him, sprang over the table, and fell at Lina's feet. The rest of the princes fell likewise at the knees of the princesses, each of whom chose a husband and raised him to her side. The charm was broken.
The twelve couples embarked in the boats, which crossed back many times in order to carry over the other princes. Then they all went through the three woods, and when they had passed the door of the underground passage a great noise was heard, as if the enchanted castle was crumbling to the earth.
They went straight to the room of the Duke of Beloeil, who had just awoke. Michael held in his hand the golden cup, and he revealed the secret of the holes in the shoes.
"Choose, then," said the duke, "whichever you prefer."
"My choice is already made," replied the garden boy, and he offered his hand to the youngest princess, who blushed and lowered her eyes.
And this is why the country girls go about singing:
Nous n'irons plus au bois,and dancing in summer by the light of the moon.
Les lauriers sont coupés,
The young girls of the village teased him sadly. "Hé! Hé! Jonica, where are you going with your open mouth?"
"What does that matter to you?" he would reply tranquilly, and pass on his way.
Though only a cow-herd, he was sufficiently proud of his good looks, and he knew quite well the difference between beauty and ugliness, so the young peasant girls with their faces and throats tanned by the sun, their large hands red and cracked, their feet shod in "opinci" (a rough sort of sandal) or other common leather, were not at all to his mind. He had heard tell, that, down there, a long way off, in the towns, the young girls were quite different; that they had throats as white as alabaster, pink cheeks, delicate and soft hands, their small feet covered by satin slippers, that in short they were clad in robes of silk and gold, and were called princesses. So that, while his comrades only sought to please some rustic villager, he dreamed, neither more nor less, that he should marry a princess
He had a charming dream! A zina, a fairy, appeared to him, beautiful as the day, fresh as a rose, and clad in a robe sparkling with diamonds.
She said to him, "There is a country where precious stones grow; go to the court of the emperor who reigns there, and you will marry a princess."
In the evening, when he took his cows back to the stable, Jonica recounted his dream to several of his friends, who freely laughed at him. But the words of the zina had such an influence on him, that he laughed himself at the ridicule of which he was the object.
The next day, at the same hour, and the same place, our cow-herd came to take his siesta. He had the same dream; and the same fairy, more radiant than ever, appeared again to him, and repeated, "There is a country where precious stones grow; go to the court of the emperor who reigns there and you will marry a princess."
Jonica again repeated his dream, and it was again turned into ridicule.
"What does it matter to me," said Jonica, "if they laugh? I know one thing, that if that fairy appears again to me, I'll follow her advice."
On the following day he had the same dream, he got up joyfully, and in the evening they heard him in the village singing, "I quit the cows and calves, or I am going to marry the daughter of an emperor."
His master, who overheard him, became thoughtful, but Jonica said to him, "You may do, and think as you like, but it is decided! I am going away!"
He began to make his preparations, and in the morning he left. The people of the village held their sides with laughing, when they saw him with his little bundle on a stick, slung across his shoulder, descend the hill, traverse the plain, and then slowly disappear, in the dim distance.
When the princesses retired in the evening, the nine doors of their apartment were locked outside with nine padlocks. It was impossible for them to get out, and yet each night something very extraordinary took place.
The satin slippers of the twelve princesses, were literally worn out each morning. One might have thought that the daughters of the emperor had danced all night. When they were questioned, they declared that they knew nothing, and could understand nothing about it. No one could explain this strange fact, for, notwithstanding the greatest watchfulness, not the least noise had ever been heard in the chamber of the princesses, after they had retired to rest.
The emperor, their father, was most perplexed, and determined, at any price, to penetrate this mystery. He had a trumpet sounded, and it was published throughout all the country, that if any one succeeded in finding out, by what means his daughters, the princesses, wore out their slippers in a single night, he might choose from amongst them, his wife. At this news, a great number of emperors' sons, and kings' sons, presented themselves to explore this adventure. They hid themselves behind a great curtain in the chamber of the princesses. But once there, no one ever heard any more of them, and they never reappeared.
Our Jonica, who arrived just then at the court of the emperor, heard talk of all these matters, and succeeded in being taken into the service of one of the imperial gardeners, who had been obliged to send away one of his best helps. His new master did not find him very intelligent, but he was convinced that his curling light hair and good looks, would make him acceptable to the princesses.
Thus his daily duty, then, was each morning to present a bouquet to the daughters of the emperor. Jonica posted himself at their door, at the hour of their awakening, and as each came forth, he presented her with a bouquet. They found the flowers very beautiful, but disdained to cast a look or smile on poor Jonica, who remained there more than ever, Gura Casca, open-mouthed.
Lina, alone, the youngest, the most graceful, and the prettiest of the princesses, let fall by hazard on him, a look as soft as velvet. Ah! my sisters," cried she, "how good looking our young gardener is!"
They burst into mocking laughter, and the eldest remarked to Lina, that it was unbecoming a princess to lower her eyes to a valet. Nevertheless, Jonica intoxicated by the looks and the beauty of Lina, thought of the promise of the emperor, and it entered into his head to try and discover the mystery of the slippers. He did not mention it to any one though, for he was afraid that the emperor might hear of it, be angry, and have him driven away from court, as a punishment for his audacity.
When Jonica awoke he found the two laurels and the other objects on the table, and fell on his knees to thank the good fairy. He at once began to carry out her instructions.
The shrubs grew rapidly, and when they had attained the necessary height, he went to the cherry laurel, and said, "Beautiful cherry laurel, with a golden spade I have dug you, with a golden can I have watered you, with a silken veil I have wiped you; grant me in exchange, the gift of becoming invisible whenever I desire."
Immediately he saw grow out from the laurel, a beautiful white flower. He gathered it, placed it in his buttonhole, and at once became invisible.
When night arrived, the princesses went up to their bedroom, and Jonica, barefooted, so as to make no noise, glided up behind them, and hid himself underneath one of the twelve beds.
Then, instead of preparing themselves to go to bed, each of the princesses opened a wardrobe, and took out their richest dresses and finest jewels. Each assisting the other, they dressed en grande toilette. Jonica could see nothing from his hiding place, but he heard them laugh, and dance with joy.
The eldest, who seemed to have great authority over them, hurried them, and kept exclaiming, "Be quick, my sisters, our dancers are dying of impatience."
At the end of an hour, the. laughing and talking ceased. Jonica carefully put out his head, and saw that the princesses were dressed like fairies. They wore quite new satin slippers, and held in their hands the bouquets which he had offered to them in the morning.
They placed themselves one behind the other, and the eldest who was at the head, struck three blows in a peculiar manner, on a certain part of the wall. A door quite invisible opened, and the princesses disappeared.
Jonica followed them noiselessly, but by accident he placed his foot on the train of the princess Lina.
"There is someone behind me," she cried. "Someone trod on my dress."
The eldest turned round quickly, but seeing no one, exclaimed, "How foolish you are Lina, you must have caught it against a nail."
The twelve daughters of the emperor, descended, and descended, and descended until they arrived at an underground passage, at the end of which was an iron door with a strong bolt.
The eldest opened this, and then they found themselves in an enchanted bower, where the leaves of the trees were in silver, and sparkled in the moonlight. They walked on until they came to a second bower, and here the trees had golden leaves; still on, and then a third bower, where the leaves were of emeralds and rubies and diamonds, and their rays were so bright that one might have thought it was full daylight. The princesses continued their walk, and (Jonica still following), arrived soon on the borders of a large lake.
On this lake were twelve boats, and in each boat one of the lost sons of an emperor, who, oar in hand, each waited for a princess. Jonica took his place in the boat of the princess Lina. The boat, being more heavily laden, could not float so quickly as the others, and so was always behind.
"I do not know," said Lina to her cavalier, "why we do not go so quickly as at other times, what can be the matter?"
"I do not understand it either," said the emperor's son, "for I row with all my force."
On the other side of the lake the little gardener perceived a beautiful palace, illuminated a giorno, and heard harmonious sounds of violins, trumpets and cymbals. The emperors' sons each having a princess on his arm entered the palace, and after them came Jonica into a saloon lighted by ten lustres.
The walls were immense mirrors, in gold frames set with precious stones. On a centre table a massive golden vase contained an enormous bouquet of flowers which gave forth an exquisite perfume. Poor Jonica was literally dazed and petrified by the sight of so much splendor. When able to look at, and admire the princesses in the midst of this dazzling light, he lost his wits completely, and looked so ardently with his eyes, that one would have thought that he wished to taste them also with his mouth. Some were fair, some were brown, and nearly all of them had let fall their beautiful hair down their pretty white shoulders. Never, even in his dreams, had the poor boy seen such enchantresses.
But amongst them all, and above all, it was Lina, who seemed to him the most graceful, the most beautiful, the most intoxicating, with her dark eyes and long hair -- the shade of a raven's wing. And with what fire she danced! Leaning on the shoulder of her cavalier, Lina turned as light as a spindle. Her face was flushed, her eyes shone like two stars, and it was evident that dancing was her great delight.
Poor Jonica let fall envious looks on the emperors' sons, and heartily regretted not to be on the same footing, so that he also might have had the right to be cavalier to such beautiful young creatures. All these dancers, to the number of fifty, were emperors' sons who had tried to discover the secret of the princesses. These latter had enticed them to a midnight expedition, and had given them to drink at table, an enchanted beverage, which had frozen their blood, killed in them every sentiment of love, every remembrance, or worldly desire, leaving them only the ardent pleasure of the dance, in the bosom of this splendid palace, become henceforth their eternal habitation.
There, to prove to himself, and to prove also to others, that what he had seen was no dream, Jonica broke off a branch of the tree with the beautiful leaves. The noise which he made, caused Lina to turn round.
"What can that be?" said she to her sisters.
"Probably," said the eldest, "it is the rustling amongst the branches of some bird, that has its nest in one of the towers of the palace."
Jonica then got in advance of the princesses, and mounted rapidly to their chamber, opened the window, and glided silently along the trellis which covered the wall, and began his daily work.
While preparing the flowers for the princesses, he hid the branch of silver leaves in the bouquet destined for Lina.
Great was the astonishment of the young girl, who asked herself, in vain, how it was possible that the branch could have come there. Without saying anything to her sisters, she went down into the garden, and there, under the shade of a large chestnut tree, she found the gardener. She had for the moment, a great mind to speak to him, but on reflection, thought it better to wait a little, and so passed on her way.
When evening arrived, the princesses again returned to the ball, Jonica followed them, and a second time entered Lina's boat. Again the emperor's son complained of the labor required in rowing.
"No doubt it is the heat which you feel," replied Lina.
All passed as on the previous evening, but this time, on returning, Jonica broke off a branch of the golden leaves. When the daily bouquets were distributed, the princess Lina found, concealed in hers, the golden branch.
Remaining a little behind her sisters, and showing the golden branch to Jonica, she asked, "From whence, hadst thou these leaves?"
"Your highness knows quite well."
"So thou hast followed us?"
"And how didst thou manage that?"
"It is a secret."
"We did not see thee."
"I was invisible."
"At any rate, I see that thou hast penetrated the mystery. Speak of it to no one, and take this purse as the price of thy silence," and she threw to the poor boy, a purse of gold.
"I do not sell my silence," said Jonica, with a haughtiness which astonished the princess.
"I know how to hold my tongue, without being paid for it." And he walked away, leaving the purse on the ground.
The three succeeding days, Lina neither saw nor heard anything particular, during their nocturnal excursions; but the fourth night, there was a distinct rustling in the wood of diamond leaves, and the next morning she found a diamond branch, hidden in her bouquet.
Then she was fully convinced that the young gardener knew all their escapades, and calling him to her, she asked "Dost thou know the price, which the emperor, our father, offers for the discovery of our secret?"
"I know it, highness."
"Then why dost thou not go to him, and betray it?"
"I do not wish."
"Art thou afraid?"
"Then, why wilt thou not speak?"
Jonica looked up at her, his eyes full of expression, but did not reply.
"Thou canst marry him," said her sisters, "there is nothing to prevent; thou wilt be the gardener's wife, and thou wilt live in the cottage at the bottom of the garden. Thou canst help thy husband to draw the water from the fountain, and thou canst offer us our daily nosegays."
Lina became still more angry, and the weight of her anger fell on poor Jonica. When he again presented her with flowers, she took them with supreme indifference, and treated him with the greatest disdain. The poor fellow could not understand it, for he was always most respectful. He never dared to look her full in the face, and yet she felt he was present with her all day long. At length, she came to the resolution to confide to her sisters all that she knew.
"What!" cried they, "this stupid boy has learned our secret, and thou hast kept it from us! We must, at once, absolutely get rid of him."
"By what means?"
"Have him stabbed, and thrown into a cave."
This was the usual way by which troublesome people were disposed of. But Lina would not hear of this, saying that the poor boy had committed no fault.
"If you touch a hair of his head," she said, "I will go and confess all to our father the emperor."
To tranquilize Lina, it was decided to get Jonica to go again to the ball, and to make him drink the enchanted beverage, which would put him in the same state as the other cavaliers.
So they called the young gardener to them, and the eldest sister asked him by what means he had discovered their secret? but he would give them no answer. Then they informed him of the decision which they had come to respecting him. He replied, that he accepted it, and that he would drink willingly the enchanted beverage, so as to become the cavalier of her whom he loved.
On the day fixed, wishing to have as fine clothes, and to be able to make as handsome presents as the emperors' sons, Jonica went to the rose laurel, and said "my beautiful laurel, I have dug you with a golden spade, I have watered you with a golden watering can, I have wiped you with a silken veil, grant that, in one moment, I may be as richly dressed as an emperor's son."
Immediately he saw a beautiful flower expand, and gathering it, he was at once clad in velvet as dark and soft as Lina's eyes, a toque to match, with an agraffe of diamonds, and a flower in his buttonhole. From being tanned and brown, his complexion became fair and fresh as an infant's and his beauty was marvelous. Even his common, vulgar manner changed completely, and any one might have thought him really an emperor's son.
Thus metamorphosed, he presented himself before the emperor, to ask his authority to try in his turn, to unravel the secret of the princesses. He was so changed that the emperor did not recognize him.
When the princesses went back to their bedroom, Jonica was waiting for them behind the door After their usual excursion, Jonica gave his arm to the eldest princess, and afterwards danced with each of the sisters successively, and with so much dignity and grace, that they were all enchanted. When it was Lina's turn, he was in raptures; but he did not address a single word to her.
While conducting her to her place, the princess said to him, jokingly, "Being treated like an emperor's son, thou must be in blissful happiness."
"Never fear, princess," replied he, "you shall not be a gardener's wife."
Lina looked at him, half frightened, but he walked away, without waiting for her answer.
When the princesses had once more danced until their slippers were in holes, the music ceased, the black slaves prepared the table as usual, and Jonica was placed at the right hand of the eldest princess, and facing Lina. He was served with the most delicate meats, the choicest wines; compliments and praises were showered on him, but he was neither intoxicated by their wines, nor by their flatteries. Presently the eldest princess made a sign, and one of the slaves came forward bearing a massive golden cup.
"This enchanted palace has no longer any secrets for thee," cried the princess to Jonica. "Let us drink to your triumph!"
The young man casting a tender glance at Lina, raised the cup to his lips.
"Do not drink it," she cried impetuously. "Do not drink it, I would rather be a gardener's wife," and she began to weep. Jonica threw the enchanted beverage over his shoulder, cleared the table, and fell on his knees at the feet of the princess Lina. All the other emperors' sons fell each at the feet of their respective princesses, who choosing them for their husbands, held out their hands and raised them from the ground.
The charm was broken! The twelve couples crossed the lake in boats, traversed the forests, passed through the cellar, and arrived at the emperor's chamber. Jonica, with the golden cup in his hand, explained to him the mystery of the worn-out slippers.
"God give thee life, young man," said the emperor. "Take thy choice from amongst my daughters."
"My choice has been made for a long time," said he, taking by the hand the princess Lina, who blushed and could not look up.
A short time afterwards, the marriage took place with imperial splendor. It was followed by festivities which lasted three days and three nights, and the young people lived very happily together, to a good old age.
Now it happened that the king's son was out hunting, and had gone down to the river to drink, when there floated towards him a folded leaf, from which came a perfume of roses. The prince, with idle curiosity, took a step into the water and caught the leaf as it was sailing by. He opened it, and within he found a lock of hair like spun gold, and from which came a faint, exquisite odor.
When the prince reached home that day he looked so sad and was so quiet that his father wondered if any ill had befallen him, and asked what was the matter. Then the youth took from his breast the tress of hair which he had found in the river, and holding it up to the light, replied, "See, my father, was ever hair like this? Unless I may win and marry the maiden that owns that lock I must die!"
So the king immediately sent heralds throughout all his dominions to search for the damsel with hair like spun gold; and at last he learned that she was the daughter of the scent-seller.
The object of the herald's mission was quickly noised abroad, and Dorani heard of it with the rest; and, one day, she said to her father, "If the hair is mine, and the king requires me to marry his son, I must do so; but, remember, you must tell him that if, after the wedding, I stay all day at the palace, every night will be spent in my old home."
The old man listened to her with amazement, but answered nothing, as he knew she was wiser than he. Of course the hair was Dorani's, and heralds soon returned and informed the king, their master, who summoned the scent-seller, and told him that he wished for his daughter to be given in marriage to the prince.
The father bowed his head three times to the ground, and replied, "Your highness is our lord, and all that you bid us we will do. The maiden asks this only -- that if, after the wedding, she stays all day at the palace, she may go back each night to her father's house."
The king thought this a very strange request; but said to himself it was, after all, his son's affair, and the girl would surely soon get tired of going to and fro. So he made no difficulty, and everything was speedily arranged and the wedding was celebrated with great rejoicings.
At first, the condition attaching to his wedding with the lovely Dorani troubled the prince very little, for he thought that he would at least see his bride all day. But, to his dismay, he found that she would do nothing but sit the whole time upon a stool with her head bowed forward upon her knees, and he could never persuade her to say a single word.
Each evening she was carried in a palanquin to her father's house, and each morning she vas brought back soon after daybreak; and yet never a sound passed her lips, nor did she show by any sign that she saw, or heard, or heeded her husband. One evening the prince, very unhappy and troubled, was wandering in an old and beautiful garden near the palace.
The gardener was a very aged man, who had served the prince's great grandfather; and when he saw the prince he came and bowed himself to him, and said, "Child! child! why do you look so sad? Is aught the matter?"
Then the prince replied, "I am sad, old friend, because I have married a wife as lovely as the stars, but she will not speak to me, and I know not what to do. Night after night she leaves me for her father's house, and day after day she sits in mine as though turned to stone, and utters no word, whatever I may do or say."
The old man stood thinking for a moment, and then he hobbled off to his own cottage. A little later he came back to the prince with five or six small packets, which he placed in his hands and said, "Tomorrow, when your bride leaves the palace, sprinkle the powder from one of these packets upon your body, and while seeing clearly, you will become yourself invisible. More I cannot do for you, but may all go well!"
And the prince thanked him, and put the packets carefully away in his turban.
The next night, when Dorani left for her father's house in her palanquin, the prince took out a packet of the magic powder and sprinkled it over himself, and then hurried after her. He soon found that, as the old man had promised, he was invisible to everyone, although he felt as usual, and could see all that passed. He speedily overtook the palanquin and walked beside it to the scent-seller's dwelling. There it was set down, and, when his bride, closely veiled, left it and entered the house, he, too, entered unperceived.
At the first door Dorani removed one veil; then she entered another doorway at the end of a passage where she removed another veil; next she mounted the stairs, and at the door of the women's quarters removed a third veil. After this she proceeded to her own room where were set two large basins, one of attar of roses and one of water; in these she washed herself, and afterwards called for food. A servant brought her a bowl of curds, which she ate hastily, and then arrayed herself in a robe of silver, and wound about her strings of pearls, while a wreath of roses crowned her hair.
When fully dressed, she seated herself upon a four-legged stool over which was a canopy with silken curtains, these she drew around her, and then called out, "Fly, stool, to the palace of rajah Indra."
Instantly the stool rose in the air, and the invisible prince, who had watched all these proceedings with great wonder, seized it by one leg as it flew away, and found himself being borne through the air at a rapid rate. In a short while they arrived at the house of the fairy who, as I told you before, was the favorite friend of Dorani.
The fairy stood waiting on the threshold, as beautifully dressed as Dorani herself was, and when the stool stopped at her door she cried in astonishment, "Why, the stool is flying all crooked today! What is the reason of that, I wonder? I suspect that you have been talking to your husband, and so it will not fly straight."
But Dorani declared that she had not spoken one word to him, and she couldn't think why the stool flew as if weighed down at one side. The fairy still looked doubtful, but made no answer, and took her seat beside Dorani, the prince again holding tightly one leg. Then the stool flew on through the air until it came to the palace of Indra the rajah.
All through the night the women sang and danced before the rajah Indra, whilst a magic lute played of itself the most bewitching music; till the prince, who sat watching it all, was quite entranced.
Just before dawn the rajah gave the signal to cease; and again the two women seated themselves on the stool, and, with the prince clinging to the leg, it flew back to earth, and bore Dorani and her husband safely to the scent-seller's shop. Here the prince hurried away by himself past Dorani's palanquin with its sleepy bearers, straight on to the palace; and, as he passed the threshold of his own rooms he became visible again. Then he lay down upon a couch and waited for Dorani's arrival.
As soon as she arrived she took a seat and As soon as she arrived she took a seat and remained as silent as usual, with her head bowed on her knees.
For a while not a sound was heard, but presently the prince said, "I dreamed a curious dream last night, and as it was all about you I am going to tell it you, although you heed nothing."
The girl, indeed, took no notice of his words, but in spite of that he proceeded to relate every single thing that had happened the evening before, leaving out no detail of all that he had seen or heard. And when he praised her singing -- and his voice shook a little -- Dorani just looked at him; but she said naught, though, in her own mind, she was filled with wonder.
"What a dream!" she thought. "Could it have been a dream? How could he have learnt in a dream all she had done or said?" Still she kept silent; only she looked that once at the prince, and then remained all day as before, with her head bowed upon her knees.
When night came the prince again made himself invisible and followed her. The same things happened again as had happened before, but Dorani sang better than ever. In the morning the prince a second time told Dorani all that she had done, pretending that he had dreamt of it.
Directly he had finished Dorani gazed at him, and said, "Is it true that you dreamt this, or were you really there?"
"I was there," answered the prince.
"But why do you follow me?" asked the girl.
"Because," replied the prince, "I love you, and to be with you is happiness."
This time Dorani's eyelids quivered; but she said no more, and was silent the rest of the day. However, in the evening, just as she was stepping into her palanquin, she said to the prince, "If you love me, prove it by not following me tonight."
And so the prince did as she wished, and stayed at home.
That evening the magic stool flew so unsteadily that they could hardly keep their seats, and at last the fairy exclaimed, "There is only one reason that it should jerk like this! You have been talking to your husband!"
And Dorani replied, "Yes, I have spoken; oh, yes, I have spoken!" But no more would she say.
That night Dorani sang so marvelously that at the end the rajah Indra rose up and vowed that she might ask what she would and he would give it to her.
At first she was silent; but, when he pressed her, she answered, "Give me the magic lute."
The rajah, when he heard this, was displeased with himself for having made so rash a promise, because this lute he valued above all his possessions. But as he had promised, so he must perform, and with an ill grace he handed it to her.
"You must never come here again," said he, "for, once having asked so much, how will you in future be content with smaller gifts?"
Dorani bowed her head silently as she took the lute, and passed with the fairy out of the great gate, where the stool awaited them. More unsteadily than before, it flew back to earth.
When Dorani got to the palace that morning she asked the prince whether he had dreamt again.
He laughed with happiness, for this time she had spoken to him of her own free will; and he replied, "No; but I begin to dream now -- not of what has happened in the past, but of what may happen in the future."
That day Dorani sat very quietly, but she answered the prince when he spoke to her; and when evening fell, and with it the time for her departure, she still sat on.
Then the prince came close to her and said softly, "Are you not going to your house, Dorani?"
At that she rose and threw herself weeping into his arms, whispering gently, "Never again, my lord, never again would I leave thee!"
So the prince won his beautiful bride; and though they neither of them dealt any further with fairies and their magic, they learnt more daily of the magic of Love, which one may still learn, although fairy magic has fled away.
Everything about the place flourished exceedingly, but the farmer always found the greatest difficulty in hiring a herdsman; a very important matter, as the well-being of the farm depended not a little on the care taken of the sheep. This difficulty did not arise from any fault of the farmer's own, or from neglect on the part of the housekeeper to the comforts of the servants, but from the fact, that no herdsman who entered his service lived more than a year, each one being without fail found dead in his bed, on the morning of Christmas Day. No wonder, therefore, the farmer found herdsmen scarce.
In those times it was the custom of the country to spend the night of Christmas Eve at church, and this occasion for service was looked upon as a very solemn one. But so far was this farm from the church, that the herdsmen, who did not return from their flocks till late in the evening, were unable to go to it on that night until long after the usual time; and as for Hildur, she always remained behind to take care of the house, and always had so much to do in the way of cleaning the rooms and dealing out the rations for the servants, that the family used to come home from church and go to bed long before she had finished her work, and was able to go to bed herself.
The more the reports of the death of herdsman after herdsman, on the night of Christmas Eve, were spread abroad, the greater became the difficulty the farmer found in hiring one, although it was never supposed for an instant that violence was used towards the men, as no mark had ever been found on their bodies; and as, moreover, there was no one to suspect. At length the farmer declared that his conscience would no longer let him thus hire men only in order that they might die, so he determined in future to let luck take care of his sheep, or the sheep take care of themselves.
Not long after he had made this determination, a bold and hardy-looking man came to him and made him a proffer of his services.
The farmer said, "My good friend, I am not in so great need of your services as to hire you."
Then the man asked him, "Have you, then, taken a herdsman for this winter?"
The farmer said, "No; for I suppose you know what a terrible fate has hitherto befallen every one I have hired."
"I have heard of it," said the other, "but the fear of it shall neither trouble me nor prevent my keeping your sheep this winter for you, if you will but make up your mind to take me."
But the farmer would not hear of it at first. "For," said he, "it is a pity, indeed, that so fine a fellow as you should lose your chance of life. Begone, if you are wise, and get work elsewhere."
Yet still the man declared, again and again, that he cared not a whit for the terrors of Christmas Eve, and still urged the farmer to hire him.
At length the farmer consented, in answer to the man's urgent prayer, to take him as herdsman; and very well they agreed together. For everyone, both high and low, liked the man, as he was honest and open, zealous in everything he laid his hands to, and willing to do anyone a good turn, if need were.
On Christmas Eve, towards nightfall, the farmer and all his family went (as has been before declared to be the custom) to church, except Hildur, who remained behind to look after household matters, and the herdsman, who could not leave his sheep in time. Late in the evening, the latter as usual returned home, and after having eaten his supper, went to bed.
As soon as he was well between the sheets, the remembrance struck him of what had befallen fallen all the former herdsmen in his position on the same evening, and he thought it would be the best plan for him to he awake and thus to be ready for any accident, though he was mighty little troubled with fear. Quite late at night, he heard the farmer and his family return from church, enter the house, and having taken supper, go to bed. Still, nothing happened, except that whenever he closed his eyes for a moment, a strange and deadly faintness stole over him, which only acted as one reason the more for his doing his best to keep awake.
Shortly after he had become aware of these feelings, he heard someone creep stealthily up to the side of his bed, and looking through the gloom at the figure, fancied he recognized Hildur the housekeeper. So he feigned to be fast asleep, and felt her place something in his mouth, which he knew instantly to be the bit of a magic bridle, but yet allowed her to fix it on him, without moving. When she had fastened the bridle, she dragged him from his bed with it, and out of the farmhouse, without his being either able or willing to make the least resistance. Then mounting on his back, she made him rise from the ground as if on wings, and rode him through the air, till they arrived at a huge and awful precipice, which yawned, like a great well, down into the earth.
She dismounted at a large stone, and fastening the reins to it, leaped into the precipice. But the herdsman, objecting strongly to being tied to this stone all night, and thinking to himself that it would be no bad thing to know what became of the woman, tried to escape, bridle and all, from the stone. This he found, however, to be impossible, for as long as the bit was in his mouth, he was quite powerless to get away. So he managed, after a short struggle, to get the bridle off his head, and having so done, leapt into the precipice, down which he had seen Hildur disappear. After sinking for a long, long time, he caught a glimpse of Hildur beneath him, and at last they came to some beautiful green meadows.
From all this, the man guessed that Hildur was by no means a common mortal, as she had before made believe to be, and feared if he were to follow her along these green fields, and she turn round and catch sight of him, he might, not unlikely, pay for his curiosity with his life. So he took a magic stone which he always carried about him, the nature of which was to make him invisible when he held it in his palm, and placing it in the hollow of his hand, ran after her with all his strength.
When they had gone some way along the meadows, a splendid palace rose before them, with the way to which Hildur seemed perfectly well acquainted. At her approach a great crowd of people came forth from the doors, and saluted Hildur with respect and joy.
Foremost of these walked a man of kingly and noble aspect, whose salutation seemed to be that of a lover or a husband. All the rest bowed to her as if she were their queen. This man was accompanied by two children, who ran up to Hildur, calling her mother, and embraced her. After the people had welcomed their queen, they all returned to the palace, where they dressed her in royal robes, and loaded her hands with costly rings and bracelets.
The herdsman followed the crowd, and posted himself where he would be least in the way of the company, but where he could catch sight easily of all that passed, and lose nothing. So gorgeous and dazzling were the hangings of the hall, and the silver and golden vessels on the table, that he thought he had never, in all his life before, seen the like; not to mention the wonderful dishes and wines which seemed plentiful there, and which, only by the look of them, filled his mouth with water, while he would much rather have filled it with something else.
After he had waited a little time, Hildur appeared in the hall, and all the assembled guests were begged to take their seats, while Hildur sat on her throne beside the king; after which all the people of the court ranged themselves on each side of the royal couple, and the feast commenced.
When it was concluded, the various guests amused themselves, some by dancing, some by singing, others by drinking and revel; but the king and queen talked together, and seemed to the herdsman to be very sad.
While they were thus conversing, three children, younger than those the man had seen before, ran in, and clung round the neck of their mother. Hildur received them with all a mother's love, and, as the youngest was restless, put it on the ground and gave it one of her rings to play with.
After the little one had played a while with the ring he lost it, and it rolled along the floor towards the herdsman, who, being invisible, picked it up without being perceived, and put it carefully into his pocket. Of course all search for it by the guests was in vain.
When the night was far advanced, Hildur made preparations for departure, at which all the people assembled showed great sorrow, and begged her to remain longer. The herdsman had observed, that in one corner of the hall sat an old and ugly woman, who had neither received the queen with joy nor pressed her to stay longer.
As soon as the king perceived that Hildur addressed herself to her journey, and that neither his entreaties nor those of the assembly could induce her to stay, he went up to the old woman, and said to her. "Mother, rid us now of thy curse; cause no longer my queen to live apart and afar from me. Surely her short and rare visits are more pain to me than joy."
The old woman answered him with a wrathful face. "Never will I depart from what I have said. My words shall hold true in all their force, and on no condition will I abolish my curse."
On this the king turned from her, and going up to his wife, entreated her in the fondest and most loving terms not to depart from him.
The queen answered, "The infernal power of thy mother's curse forces me to go, and perchance this may be the last time that I shall see thee. For lying, as I do, under this horrible ban, it is not possible that my constant murders can remain much longer secret, and then I must suffer the full penalty of crimes which I have committed against my will."
While she was thus speaking the herdsman sped from the palace and across the fields to the precipice, up which he mounted as rapidly as he had come down, thanks to the magic stone.
When he arrived at the rock he put the stone into his pocket, and the bridle over his head again, and awaited the coming of the elf queen. He had not long to wait, for very soon afterwards Hildur came up through the abyss, and mounted on his back, and off they flew again to the farmhouse, where Hildur, taking the bridle from his head, placed him again in his bed, and retired to her own. The herdsman, who by this time was well tired out, now considered it safe to go to sleep, which he did, so soundly as not to wake till quite late on Christmas morning. Early that same day the farmer rose, agitated and filled with the fear that, instead of passing Christmas in joy, he should assuredly, as he so often had before, find his herdsman dead, and pass it in sorrow and mourning. So he and all the rest of the family went to the bedside of the herdsman.
When the farmer had looked at him and found him breathing, he praised God aloud for his mercy in preserving the man from death.
Not long afterwards the man himself awoke and got up.
Wondering at his strange preservation the farmer asked him how he had passed the night, and whether he had seen or heard anything.
The man replied, "No; but I have had a very curious dream."
"What was it?" asked the farmer.
Upon which the man related everything that had passed in the night, circumstance for circumstance, and word for word, as well as he could remember.
When he had finished his story everyone was silent for wonder, except Hildur, who went up to him and said, "I declare you to be a liar in all that you have said, unless you can prove it by sure evidence."
Not in the least abashed, the herdsman took from his pocket the ring which he had picked up on the floor of the hall in Elf-Land, and showing it to her said, "Though my dream needs no proof, yet here is one you will not doubtless deem other than a sure one; for is not this your gold ring, Queen Hildur?"
Hildur answered, "It is, no doubt, my ring. Happy man! may you prosper in all you undertake, for you have released me from the awful yoke which my mother-in-law laid, in her wrath, upon me, and from the curse of a yearly murder."
And then Hildur told them the story of her life as follows:
I was born of an obscure family among the elves. Our king fell in love with me and married me, in spite of the strong disapproval of his mother.With these words Hildur vanished from the sight of the astonished people, and was never seen again. But our friend the herdsman, leaving the service of the farmer, built a farm for himself, and prospered, and became one of the chief men in the country, and always ascribed, with grateful thanks, his prosperity to Hildur, Queen of the Elves.
She swore eternal hatred to me in her anger against her son, and said to him, "Short shall be your joy with this fair wife of yours, for you shall see her but once a year, and that only at the expense of a murder. This is my curse upon her, and it shall be carried out to the letter. She shall go and serve in the upper world, this queen, and every Christmas Eve shall ride a man, one of her fellow servants, with this magic bridle, to the confines of Elf-Land, where she shall pass a few hours with you, and then ride him back again till his very heart breaks with toil, and his very life leaves him. Let her thus enjoy her queenship."
And this horrible fate was to cling to me. until I should either have these murders brought home to me, and be condemned to death, or should meet with a gallant man, like this herdsman, who should have nerve and courage to follow me down into Elf-Land, and be able to prove afterwards that he had been there with me, and seen the customs of my people.
And now I must confess that all the former herdsmen were slain by me, but no penalty shall touch me for their murders, as I committed them against my will.
And as for you, O courageous man, who have dared, the first of human beings, to explore the realms of Elf-Land, and have freed me from the yoke of this awful curse, I will reward you in times to come, but not now.
A deep longing for my home and my loved ones impels me hence. Farewell!
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised December 1, 2008.