Part 2 out of 5
"What is it you want?" said the wise man, looking at Gebhart over
the rim of his spectacles.
"Master," said Gebhart, "I have studied day after day at the
university, and from early in the morning until late at night, so
that my head has hummed and my eyes were sore, yet I have not
learned those things that I wish most of all to know--the arts
that no one but you can teach. Will you take me as your pupil?"
The wise man shook his head.
"Many would like to be as wise as that," said he, "and few there
be who can become so. Now tell me. Suppose all the riches of the
world were offered to you, would you rather be wise?"
"Suppose you might have all the rank and power of a king or of an
emperor, would you rather be wise?"
"Suppose I undertook to teach you, would you give up everything
of joy and of pleasure to follow me?"
"Perhaps you are hungry," said the master.
"Yes," said the student, "I am."
"Then, Babette, you may bring some bread and cheese."
It seemed to Gebhart that he had learned all that Nicholas Flamel
had to teach him.
It was in the gray of the dawning, and the master took the pupil
by the hand and led him up the rickety stairs to the roof of the
house, where nothing was to be seen but gray sky, high roofs, and
chimney stacks from which the smoke rose straight into the still
"Now," said the master, "I have taught you nearly all of the
science that I know, and the time has come to show you the
wonderful thing that has been waiting for us from the beginning
when time was. You have given up wealth and the world and
pleasure and joy and love for the sake of wisdom. Now, then,
comes the last test--whether you can remain faithful to me to
the end; if you fail in it, all is lost that you have gained."
After he said that he stripped his cloak away from his shoulders
and laid bare the skin. Then he took a bottle of red liquor and
began bathing his shoulder-blades with it; and as Gebhart,
squatting upon the ridge-pole, looked, he saw two little lumps
bud out upon the smooth skin, and then grow and grow and grow
until they became two great wings as white as snow.
"Now then," said the master, "take me by the belt and grip fast,
for there is a long, long journey before us, and if you should
lose your head and let go your hold you will fall and be dashed
Then he spread the two great wings, and away he flew as fast as
the wind, with Gebhart hanging to his belt.
Over hills, over dales, over mountains, over moors he flew, with
the brown earth lying so far below that horses and cows looked
like pismires and men like fleas.
Then, by-and-by, it was over the ocean they were crossing, with
the great ships that pitched and tossed below looking like chips
in a puddle in rainy weather.
At last they came to a strange land, far, far away, and there the
master lit upon a sea-shore where the sand was as white as
silver. As soon as his feet touched the hard ground the great
wings were gone like a puff of smoke, and the wise man walked
like any other body.
At the edge of the sandy beach was a great, high, naked cliff;
and the only way of reaching the top was by a flight of stone
steps, as slippery as glass, cut in the solid rock.
The wise man led the way, and the student followed close at his
heels, every now and then slipping and stumbling so that, had it
not been for the help that the master gave him, he would have
fallen more than once and have been dashed to pieces upon the
At last they reached the top, and there found themselves in a
desert, without stick of wood or blade of grass, but only gray
stones and skulls and bones bleaching in the sun.
In the middle of the plain was a castle such as the eyes of man
never saw before, for it was built all of crystal from roof to
cellar. Around it was a high wall of steel, and in the wall were
seven gates of polished brass.
The wise man led the way straight to the middle gate of the
seven, where there hung a horn of pure silver, which he set to
his lips. He blew a blast so loud and shrill that it made
Gebhart's ears tingle. In an instant there sounded a great rumble
and grumble like the noise of loud thunder, and the gates of
brass swung slowly back, as though of themselves.
But when Gebhart saw what he saw within the gates his heart
crumbled away for fear, and his knees knocked together; for
there, in the very middle of the way, stood a monstrous, hideous
dragon, that blew out flames and clouds of smoke from his gaping
mouth like a chimney a-fire.
But the wise master was as cool as smooth water; he thrust his
hand into the bosom of his jacket and drew forth a little black
box, which he flung straight into the gaping mouth.
Snap!--the dragon swallowed the box.
The next moment it gave a great, loud, terrible cry, and,
clapping and rattling its wings, leaped into the air and flew
away, bellowing like a bull.
If Gebhart had been wonder-struck at seeing the outside of the
castle, he was ten thousand times more amazed to see the inside
thereof. For, as the master led the way and he followed, he
passed through four-and-twenty rooms, each one more wonderful
than the other. Everywhere was gold and silver and dazzling
jewels that glistened so brightly that one had to shut one's eyes
to their sparkle. Beside all this, there were silks and satins
and velvets and laces and crystal and ebony and sandal-wood that
smelled sweeter than musk and rose leaves. All the wealth of the
world brought together into one place could not make such riches
as Gebhart saw with his two eyes in these four-and-twenty rooms.
His heart beat fast within him.
At last they reached a little door of solid iron, beside which
hung a sword with a blade that shone like lightning. The master
took the sword in one hand and laid the other upon the latch of
the door. Then he turned to Gebhart and spoke for the first time
since they had started upon their long journey.
"In this room," said he, "you will see a strange thing happen,
and in a little while I shall be as one dead. As soon as that
comes to pass, go you straightway through to the room beyond,
where you will find upon a marble table a goblet of water and a
silver dagger. Touch nothing else, and look at nothing else, for
if you do all will be lost to both of us. Bring the water
straightway, and sprinkle my face with it, and when that is done
you and I will be the wisest and greatest men that ever lived,
for I will make you equal to myself in all that I know. So now
swear to do what I have just bid you, and not turn aside a hair's
breadth in the going and the coming.
"I swear," said Gebhart, and crossed his heart.
Then the master opened the door and entered, with Gebhart close
at his heels.
In the centre of the room was a great red cock, with eyes that
shone like sparks of fire. So soon as he saw the master he flew
at him, screaming fearfully, and spitting out darts of fire that
blazed and sparkled like lightning.
It was a dreadful battle between the master and the cock. Up and
down they fought, and here and there. Sometimes the student could
see the wise man whirling and striking with his sword; and then
again he would be hidden in a sheet of flame. But after a while
he made a lucky stroke, and off flew the cock's head. Then, lo
and behold! instead of a cock it was a great, hairy, black demon
that lay dead on the floor.
But, though the master had conquered, he looked like one sorely
sick. He was just able to stagger to a couch that stood by the
wall, and there he fell and lay, without breath or motion, like
one dead, and as white as wax.
As soon as Gebhart had gathered his wits together he remembered
what the master had said about the other room.
The door of it was also of iron. He opened it and passed within,
and there saw two great tables or blocks of polished marble. Upon
one was the dagger and a goblet of gold brimming with water. Upon
the other lay the figure of a woman, and as Gebhart looked at her
he thought her more beautiful than any thought or dream could
picture. But her eyes were closed, and she lay like a lifeless
figure of wax.
After Gebhart had gazed at her a long, long time, he took up the
goblet and the dagger from the table and turned towards the door.
Then, before he left that place, he thought that he would have
just one more look at the beautiful figure. So he did, and gazed
and gazed until his heart melted away within him like a lump of
butter; and, hardly knowing what he did, he stooped and kissed
Instantly he did so a great humming sound filled the whole
castle, so sweet and musical that it made him tremble to listen.
Then suddenly the figure opened its eyes and looked straight at
"At last!" she said; "have you come at last?"
"Yes," said Gebhart, "I have come."
Then the beautiful woman arose and stepped down from the table to
the floor; and if Gebhart thought her beautiful before, he
thought her a thousand times more beautiful now that her eyes
looked into his.
"Listen," said she. "I have been asleep for hundreds upon
hundreds of years, for so it was fated to be until he should come
who was to bring me back to life again. You are he, and now you
shall live with me forever. In this castle is the wealth gathered
by the king of the genii, and it is greater than all the riches
of the world. It and the castle likewise shall be yours. I can
transport everything into any part of the world you choose, and
can by my arts make you prince or king or emperor. Come."
"Stop," said Gebhart. "I must first do as my master bade me."
He led the way into the other room, the lady following him, and
so they both stood together by the couch where the wise man lay.
When the lady saw his face she cried out in a loud voice: "It is
the great master! What are you going to do?"
"I am going to sprinkle his face with this water," said Gebhart.
"Stop!" said she. "Listen to what I have to say. In your hand you
hold the water of life and the dagger of death. The master is not
dead, but sleeping; if you sprinkle that water upon him he will
awaken, young, handsome and more powerful than the greatest
magician that ever lived. I myself, this castle, and everything
that is in it will be his, and, instead of your becoming a prince
or a king or an emperor, he will be so in your place. That, I
say, will happen if he wakens. Now the dagger of death is the
only thing in the world that has power to kill him. You have it
in your hand. You have but to give him one stroke with it while
he sleeps, and he will never waken again, and then all will be
yours--your very own."
Gebhart neither spoke nor moved, but stood looking down upon his
master. Then he set down the goblet very softly on the floor,
and, shutting his eyes that he might not see the blow, raised the
dagger to strike.
"That is all your promises amount to," said Nicholas Flamel the
wise man. "After all, Babette, you need not bring the bread and
cheese, for he shall be no pupil of mine."
Then Gebhart opened his eyes.
There sat the wise man in the midst of his books and bottles and
diagrams and dust and chemicals and cobwebs, making strange
figures upon the table with jackstraws and a piece of chalk.
And Babette, who had just opened the cupboard door for the loaf
of bread and the cheese, shut it again with a bang, and went back
to her spinning.
So Gebhart had to go back again to his Greek and Latin and
algebra and geometry; for, after all, one cannot pour a gallon of
beer into a quart pot, or the wisdom of a Nicholas Flamel into
such an one as Gebhart.
As for the name of this story, why, if some promises are not
bottles full of nothing but wind, there is little need to have a
name for anything.
"Since we are in the way of talking of fools," said the Fisherman
who drew the Genie out of the sea--"since we are in the way of
talking of fools, I can tell you a story of the fool of all
fools, and how, one after the other, he wasted as good gifts as a
man's ears ever heard tell of."
"What was his name?" said the Lad who fiddled for the Jew in the
"That," said the Fisherman, "I do not know."
"And what is this story about?" asked St. George.
" Tis," said the Fisherman, "about a hole in the ground."
"And is that all?" said the Soldier who cheated the Devil.
"Nay," said the Fisherman, blowing a whiff from his pipe; "there
were some things in the hole--a bowl of treasure, an earthen-ware
jar, and a pair of candlesticks."
"And what do you call your story," said St. George.
"Why," said the Fisherman, "for lack of a better name I will call
Good Gifts and a Fool's Folly.
Give a fool heaven and earth, and all the stars, and he will make
ducks and drakes of them.
Once upon a time there was an old man, who, by thrifty living and
long saving, had laid by a fortune great enough to buy ease and
comfort and pleasure for a lifetime.
By-and-by he died, and the money came to his son, who was of a
different sort from the father; for, what that one had gained by
the labor of a whole year, the other spent in riotous living in
So it came about in a little while that the young man found
himself without so much as a single penny to bless himself
withal. Then his fair-weather friends left him, and the creditors
came and seized upon his house and his household goods, and
turned him out into the cold wide world to get along as best he
might with the other fools who lived there.
Now the young spendthrift was a strong, stout fellow, and, seeing
nothing better to do, he sold his fine clothes and bought him a
porter's basket, and went and sat in the corner of the
market-place to hire himself out to carry this or that for folk
who were better off in the world, and less foolish than he.
There he sat, all day long, from morning until evening, but
nobody came to hire him. But at last, as dusk was settling, there
came along an old man with beard as white as snow hanging down
below his waist. He stopped in front of the foolish spendthrift,
and stood looking at him for a while; then, at last, seeming to
be satisfied, he beckoned with his finger to the young man.
"Come," said he, "I have a task for you to do, and if you are
wise, and keep a still tongue in your head, I will pay you as
never a porter was paid before."
You may depend upon it the young man needed no second bidding to
such a matter. Up he rose, and took his basket, and followed the
old man, who led the way up one street and down another, until at
last they came to a rickety, ramshackle house in a part of the
town the young man had never been before. Here the old man
stopped and knocked at the door, which was instantly opened, as
though of itself, and then he entered with the young spendthrift
at his heels. The two passed through a dark passage-way, and
another door, and then, lo and behold! all was changed; for they
had come suddenly into such a place as the young man would not
have believed could be in such a house, had he not seen it with
his own eyes. Thousands of waxen tapers lit the place as bright
as day--a great oval room, floored with mosaic of a thousand
bright colors and strange figures, and hung with tapestries of
silks and satins and gold and silver. The ceiling was painted to
represent the sky, through which flew beautiful birds and winged
figures so life-like that no one could tell that they were only
painted, and not real. At the farther side of the room were two
richly cushioned couches, and thither the old man led the way
with the young spendthrift following, wonder-struck, and there
the two sat themselves down. Then the old man smote his hands
together, and, in answer, ten young men and ten beautiful girls
entered bearing a feast of rare fruits and wines which they
spread before them, and the young man, who had been fasting since
morning, fell to and ate as he had not eaten for many a day.
The old man, who himself ate but little, waited patiently for the
other to end. "Now," said he, as soon as the young man could eat
no more, "you have feasted and you have drunk; it is time for us
Thereupon he rose from the couch and led the way, the young man
following, through an arch door-way into a garden, in the centre
of which was an open space paved with white marble, and in the
centre of that again a carpet, ragged and worn, spread out upon
the smooth stones. Without saying a word, the old man seated
himself upon one end of this carpet, and motioned to the
spendthrift to seat himself with his basket at the other end;
"Are you ready?" said the old man.
"Yes," said the young man, "I am."
"Then, by the horn of Jacob," said the old man, "I command thee,
O Carpet! to bear us over hill and valley, over lake and river,
to that spot whither I wish to go." Hardly had the words left his
mouth when away flew the carpet, swifter than the swiftest wind,
carrying the old man and the young spendthrift, until at last it
brought them to a rocky desert without leaf or blade of grass to
be seen far or near. Then it descended to where there was a
circle of sand as smooth as a floor.
The old man rolled up the carpet, and then drew from a pouch that
hung at his side a box, and from the box some sticks of sandal
and spice woods, with which he built a little fire. Next he drew
from the same pouch a brazen jar, from which he poured a gray
powder upon the blaze. Instantly there leaped up a great flame of
white light and a cloud of smoke, which rose high in the air, and
there spread out until it hid everything from sight. Then the old
man began to mutter spells, and in answer the earth shook and
quaked, and a rumbling as of thunder filled the air. At last he
gave a loud cry, and instantly the earth split open, and there
the young spendthrift saw a trap-door of iron, in which was an
iron ring to lift it by.
"Look!" said the old man. "Yonder is the task for which I have
brought you; lift for me that trap-door of iron, for it is too
heavy for me to raise, and I will pay you well."
And it was no small task, either, for, stout and strong as the
young man was, it was all he could do to lift up the iron plate.
But at last up it swung, and down below he saw a flight of stone
steps leading into the earth.
The old man drew from his bosom a copper lamp, which he lit at
the fire of the sandal and spice wood sticks, which had now
nearly died away. Then, leading the way, with the young man
following close at his heels, he descended the stairway that led
down below. At the bottom the two entered a great vaulted room,
carved out of the solid stone, upon the walls of which were
painted strange pictures in bright colors of kings and queens,
genii and dragons. Excepting for these painted figures, the
vaulted room was perfectly bare, only that in the centre of the
floor there stood three stone tables. Upon the first table stood
an iron candlestick with three branches; upon the second stood an
earthen jar, empty of everything but dust; upon the third stood a
brass bowl, a yard wide and a yard deep, and filled to the brim
with shining, gleaming, dazzling jewels of all sorts.
"Now," said the old man to the spendthrift, "I will do to you as
I promised: I will pay you as never man was paid before for such
a task. Yonder upon those three stone tables are three great
treasures: choose whichever one you will, and it is yours."
"I shall not be long in choosing," cried the young spendthrift.
"I shall choose the brass bowl of jewels."
The old man laughed. "So be it," said he. "Fill your basket from
the bowl with all you can carry, and that will be enough,
provided you live wisely, to make you rich for as long as you
The young man needed no second bidding, but began filling his
basket with both hands, until he had in it as much as he could
Then the old man, taking the iron candlestick and the earthen
jar, led the way up the stairway again. There the young man
lowered the iron trap-door to its place, and so soon as he had
done so the other stamped his heel upon the ground, and the earth
closed of itself as smooth and level as it had been before.
The two sat themselves upon the carpet, the one upon the one end,
and the other upon the other. "By the horn of Jacob," said the
old man, "I command thee, O Carpet! to fly over hill and valley,
over lake and river, until thou hast brought us back whence we
Away flew the carpet, and in a little time they were back in the
garden from which they had started upon their journey; and there
they parted company. "Go thy way, young man," said the old
graybeard, "and henceforth try to live more wisely than thou hast
done heretofore. I know well who thou art, and how thou hast
lived. Shun thy evil companions, live soberly, and thou hast
enough to make thee rich for as long as thou livest."
"Have no fear," cried the young man, joyfully. "I have learned a
bitter lesson, and henceforth I will live wisely and well."
So, filled with good resolves, the young man went the next day to
his creditors and paid his debts; he bought back the house which
his father had left him, and there began to lead a new life as he
But a gray goose does not become white, nor a foolish man a wise
At first he led a life sober enough; but by little and little he
began to take up with his old-time friends again, and by-and-by
the money went flying as merrily as ever, only this time he was
twenty times richer than he had been before, and he spent his
money twenty times as fast. Every day there was feasting and
drinking going on in his house, and roaring and rioting and
dancing and singing. The wealth of a king could not keep up such
a life forever, so by the end of a year and a half the last of
the treasure was gone, and the young spendthrift was just as poor
as ever. Then once again his friends left him as they had done
before, and all that he could do was to rap his head and curse
At last, one morning, he plucked up courage to go to the old man
who had helped him once before, to see whether he would not help
him again. Rap! tap! tap! he knocked at the door, and who should
open it but the old man himself. "Well," said the graybeard,
"what do you want?"
"I want some help," said the spendthrift; and then he told him
all, and the old man listened and stroked his beard.
"By rights," said he, when the young man had ended, "I should
leave you alone in your folly; for it is plain to see that
nothing can cure you of it. Nevertheless, as you helped me once,
and as I have more than I shall need, I will share what I have
with you. Come in and shut the door."
He led the way, the spendthrift following, to a little room all
of bare stone, and in which were only three things--the magic
carpet, the iron candlestick, and the earthen jar. This last the
old man gave to the foolish spendthrift. "My friend," said he,
"when you chose the money and jewels that day in the cavern, you
chose the less for the greater. Here is a treasure that an
emperor might well envy you. Whatever you wish for you will find
by dipping your hand into the jar. Now go your way, and let what
was happened cure you of your folly."
"It shall," cried the young man; "never again will I be so
foolish as I have been!" And thereupon he went his way with
another pocketful of good resolves.
The first thing he did when he reached home was to try the virtue
of his jar. "I should like," said he, "to have a handful of just
such treasure as I brought from the cavern over yonder." He
dipped his hand into the jar, and when he brought it out again it
was brimful of shining, gleaming, sparkling jewels. You can guess
how he felt when he saw them.
Well, this time a whole year went by, during which the young man
lived as soberly as a judge. But at the end of the twelvemonth he
was so sick of wisdom that he loathed it as one loathes bitter
drink. Then by little and little he began to take up with his old
ways again, and to call his old cronies around, until at the end
of another twelvemonth things were a hundred times worse and
wilder than ever; for now what he had he had without end.
One day, when he and a great party of roisterers were shouting
and making merry, he brought out his earthen-ware pot to show
them the wonders of it; and to prove its virtue he gave to each
guest whatever he wanted. "What will you have?"--"A handful of
gold."--"Put your hand in and get it!"--"What will you have?"--"A
fistful of pearls."--"Put your fist in and get them!"--"What will
you have?"--"A necklace of diamonds."--"Dip into the jar and get
it." And so he went from one to another, and each and every one
got what he asked for, and such a shouting and hubbub those walls
had never heard before.
Then the young man, holding the jar in his hands, began to dance
and to sing: "O wonderful jar! O beautiful jar! O beloved jar!"
and so on, his friends clapping their hands, and laughing and
cheering him. At last, in the height of his folly, he balanced
the earthen jar on his head, and began dancing around and around
with it to show his dexterity.
Smash! crash! The precious jar lay in fifty pieces of the stone
floor, and the young man stood staring at the result of his folly
with bulging eyes, while his friends roared and laughed and
shouted louder than ever over his mishap. And again his treasure
and his gay life were gone.
But what had been hard for him to do before was easier now. At
the end of a week he was back at the old man's house, rapping on
the door. This time the old man asked him never a word, but
frowned as black as thunder.
"I know," said he, "what has happened to you. If I were wise I
should let you alone in your folly; but once more I will have
pity on you and will help you, only this time it shall be the
last." Once more he led the way to the stone room, where were the
iron candlestick and the magic carpet, and with him he took a
good stout cudgel. He stood the candlestick in the middle of the
room, and taking three candles from his pouch, thrust one into
each branch. Then he struck a light, and lit the first candle.
Instantly there appeared a little old man, clad in a long white
robe, who began dancing and spinning around and around like a
top. He lit the second candle, and a second old man appeared, and
round and round he went, spinning like his brother. He lit the
third candle, and a third old man appeared. Around and around and
around they spun and whirled, until the head spun and whirled to
look at them. Then the old graybeard gripped the cudgel in his
hand. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"We are ready, and waiting," answered the three. Thereupon,
without another word, the graybeard fetched each of the dancers a
blow upon the head with might and main--One! two! three! crack!
Lo and behold! Instead of the three dancing men, there lay three
great heaps of gold upon the floor, and the spendthrift stood
staring like an owl. "There," said the old man, "take what you
want, and then go your way, and trouble me no more."
"Well," said the spendthrift, "of all the wonders that ever I
saw, this is the most wonderful! But how am I to carry my gold
away with me, seeing I did not fetch my basket?"
"You shall have a basket," said the old man, "if only you will
trouble me no more. Just wait here a moment until I bring it to
The spendthrift was left all alone in the room; not a soul was
there but himself. He looked up, and he looked down, and
scratched his head. "Why," he cried aloud, "should I be content
to take a part when I can have the whole?"
To do was as easy as to say. He snatched up the iron candlestick,
caught up the staff that the old man had left leaning against the
wall, and seated himself upon the magic carpet. "By the horn of
Jacob," he cried, "I command thee, O Carpet! to carry me over
hill and valley, over lake and river, to a place where the old
man can never find me."
Hardly had the words left his mouth than away flew the carpet
through the air, carrying him along with it; away and away,
higher than the clouds and swifter than the wind. Then at last it
descended to the earth again, and when the young spendthrift
looked about him, he found himself in just such a desert place as
he and the old man had come to when they had found the treasure.
But he gave no thought to that, and hardly looked around him to
see where he was. All that he thought of was to try his hand at
the three dancers that belonged to the candlestick. He struck a
light, and lit the three candles, and instantly the three little
old men appeared for him just as they had for the old graybeard.
And around and around they spun and whirled, until the sand and
dust spun and whirled along with them. Then the young man grasped
his cudgel tightly.
Now, he had not noticed that when the old man struck the three
dancers he had held the cudgel in his left hand, for he was not
wise enough to know that great differences come from little
matters. He griped the cudgel in his right hand, and struck the
dancers with might and main, just as the old man had done. Crack!
crack! crack! one; two; three.
Did they change into piles of gold? Not a bit of it! Each of the
dancers drew from under his robe a cudgel as stout and stouter
than the one the young man himself held, and, without a word,
fell upon him and began to beat and drub him until the dust flew.
In vain he hopped and howled and begged for mercy, in vain he
tried to defend himself; the three never stopped until he fell to
the ground, and laid there panting and sighing and groaning; and
then they left and flew back with the iron candlestick and the
magic carpet to the old man again. At last, after a great while,
the young spendthrift sat up, rubbing the sore places; but when
he looked around not a sign was to be seen of anything but the
stony desert, without a house or a man in sight.
Perhaps, after a long time, he found his way home again, and
perhaps the drubbing he had had taught him wisdom; the first is a
likely enough thing to happen, but as for the second, it would
need three strong men to tell it to me a great many times before
I would believe it.
You may smile at this story if you like, but, all the same, as
certainly as there is meat in an egg-shell, so is there truth in
this nonsense. For, "Give a fool heaven and earth," say I, "and
all the stars, and he will make ducks and drakes of them."
Fortunatus lifted his canican to his lips and took a long, hearty
draught of ale. "Methinks," said he, "that all your stories have
a twang of the same sort about them. You all of you, except my
friend the Soldier here, play the same tune upon a different
fiddle. Nobody comes to any good."
St. George drew a long whiff of his pipe, and then puffed out a
cloud of smoke as big as his head. "Perhaps," said he to
Fortunatus, "you know of a story which turns out differently. If
you do, let us have it, for it is your turn now."
"Very well," said Fortunatus, "I will tell you a story that turns
out as it should, where the lad marries a beautiful princess and
becomes a king into the bargain."
"And what is your story about?" said the Lad who fiddled for Jew
in the bramble-bush."
"It is," said Fortunatus, "about--
The Good of a Few Words
There was one Beppo the Wise and another Beppo the Foolish.
The wise one was the father of the foolish one.
Beppo the Wise was called Beppo the Wise because he had laid up a
great treasure after a long life of hard work.
Beppo the Foolish was called Beppo the Foolish because he spent
in five years after his father was gone from this world of sorrow
all that the old man had laid together in his long life of toil.
But during that time Beppo lived as a prince, and the life was
never seen in that town before or since--feasting and drinking
and junketing and merrymaking. He had friends by the dozen and by
the scores, and the fame of his doings went throughout all the
While his money lasted he was called Beppo the Generous. It was
only after it was all gone that they called him Beppo the
So by-and-by the money was spent, and there was an end of it.
Yes; there was an end of it; and where were all of Beppo's
fair-weather friends? Gone like the wild-geese in frosty weather.
"Don't you remember how I gave you a bagful of gold?" says Beppo
the Foolish. "Won't you remember me now in my time of need?"
But the fair-weather friend only laughed in his face.
"Don't you remember how I gave you a fine gold chain with a
diamond pendant?" says Beppo to another. "And won't you lend me a
little money to help me over to-day?"
But the summer-goose friend only grinned.
"But what shall I do to keep body and soul together?" says Beppo
to a third.
The man was a wit. "Go to a shoemaker," said he, "and let him
stitch the soul fast"; and that was all the good Beppo had of
Then poor Beppo saw that there was not place for him in that
town, and so off he went to seek his fortune else whither, for he
saw that there was nothing to be gained in that place.
So he journeyed on for a week and a day, and then towards evening
he came to the king's town.
There it stood on the hill beside the river--the grandest city
in the kingdom. There were orchards and plantations of trees
along the banks of the stream, and gardens and summer-houses and
pavilions. There were white houses and red roofs and blue skies.
Up above on the hill were olive orchards and fields, and then
blue sky again.
Beppo went into the town, gazing about him with admiration.
Houses, palaces, gardens. He had never seen the like. Stores and
shops full of cloths of velvet and silk and satin; goldsmiths,
silversmiths, jewellers--as though all the riches of the world
had been emptied into the city. Crowds of people--lords,
noblemen, courtiers, rich merchants, and tradesmen.
Beppo stared about at the fine sights and everybody stared at
Beppo, for his shoes were dusty, his clothes were travel-stained,
and a razor had not touched his face for a week.
The king of that country was walking in the garden under the
shade of the trees, and the sunlight slanted down upon him, and
sparkled upon the jewels around his neck and on his fingers. Two
dogs walked alongside of him, and a whole crowd of lords and
nobles and courtiers came behind him; first of all the
prime-minister with his long staff.
But for all this fine show this king was not really the king.
When the old king died he left a daughter, and she should have
been queen if she had had her own rights. But this king, who was
her uncle, had stepped in before her, and so the poor princess
was pushed aside and was nobody at all but a princess, the king's
She stood on the terrace with her old nurse, while the king
walked in the garden below.
It had been seven years now since the old king had died, and in
that time she had grown up into a beautiful young woman, as wise
as she was beautiful, and as good as she was wise. Few people
ever saw her, but everybody talked about her in whispers and
praised her beauty and goodness, saying that, if the right were
done, she would have her own and be queen.
Sometimes the king heard of this (for a king hears everything),
and he grew to hate the princess as a man hates bitter drink.
The princess looked down from the terrace, and there she saw
Beppo walking along the street, and his shoes were dusty and his
clothes were travel-stained, and a razor had not touched his face
for a week.
"Look at yonder poor man," she said to her nurse; "yet if I were
his wife he would be greater really than my uncle, the king."
The king, walking below in the garden, heard what she said.
"Say you so!" he called out. "Then we shall try if what you say
is true"; and he turned away, shaking with anger.
"Alas!" said the princess, "now, indeed, have I ruined myself for
good and all."
Beppo was walking along the street looking about him hither and
thither, and thinking how fine it all was. He had no more thought
that the king and the princess were talking about him than the
man in the moon.
Suddenly some one clapped him upon the shoulder.
Beppo turned around.
There stood a great tall man dressed all in black.
"You must come with me," said he.
"What do you want with me?" said Beppo.
"That you shall see for yourself," said the man.
"Very well," said Beppo; "I'd as lief go along with you as
So he turned and followed the man whither he led.
They went along first one street and then another, and by-and-by
they came to the river, and there was a long wall with a gate in
it. The tall man in black knocked upon the gate, and some one
opened it from within. The man in black entered, and Beppo
followed at his heels, wondering where he was going.
He was in a garden. There were fruit trees and flowering shrubs
and long marble walks, and away in the distance a great grand
palace of white marble that shone red as fire in the light of the
setting sun, but there was not a soul to be seen anywhere.
The tall man in black led the way up the long marble walk, past
the fountains and fruit trees and beds of roses, until he had
come to the palace.
Beppo wondered whether he were dreaming.
The tall man in black led the way into the palace, but still
there was not a soul to be seen.
Beppo gazed about him in wonder. There were floors of colored
marble, and ceilings of blue and gold, and columns of carved
marble, and hangings of silk and velvet and silver.
Suddenly the tall man opened a little door that led into a dark
passage, and Beppo followed him. They went along the passage, and
then the man opened another door.
Then Beppo found himself in a great vaulted room. There at one
end of the room were three souls. A man sat on the throne, and he
was the king, for he had a crown on his head and a long robe over
his shoulders. Beside him stood a priest, and in front of him
stood a beautiful young woman as white as wax and as still as
Beppo wondered whether he were awake.
"Come hither," said the king, in a harsh voice, and Beppo came
forward and kneeled before him. "Take this young woman by the
hand," said the king.
Beppo did as he was bidden.
Her hand was as cold as ice.
Then, before Beppo knew what was happening, he found that he was
It was the princess.
"Now," said the king to her when the priest had ended, and he
frowned until his brows were as black as thunder--"now you are
married; tell me, is your husband greater than I?"
But the princess said never a word, only the tears ran one after
another down her white face. The king sat staring at her and
Suddenly some one tapped Beppo upon the shoulder. It was the tall
man in black.
Beppo knew that he was to follow him again. This time the
princess was to go along. The tall man in black led the way, and
Beppo and the princess followed along the secret passage and up
and down the stairs until at last they came out into the garden
And now the evening was beginning to fall.
The man led the way down the garden to the river, and still Beppo
and the princess followed him.
By-and-by they came to the river-side and to a flight of steps,
and there was a little frail boat without sail or oars.
The tall man in black beckoned towards the boat, and Beppo knew
that he and princess were to enter it.
As soon as Beppo had helped the princess into the boat the tall
man thrust it out into the stream with his foot, and the boat
drifted away from the shore and out into the river, and then
around and around. Then it floated off down the stream.
It floated on and on, and the sun set and the moon rose.
Beppo looked at the princess, and he thought he had never seen
any one so beautiful in all his life. It was all like a dream,
and he hoped he might never waken. But the princess sat there
weeping and weeping, and said nothing.
The night fell darker and darker, but still Beppo sat looking at
the princess. Her face was as white as silver in the moonlight.
The smell of the flower-gardens came across the river. The boat
floated on and on until by-and-by it drifted to the shore again
and among the river reeds, and there it stopped, and Beppo
carried the princess ashore.
"Listen," said the princess. "Do you know who I am?"
"No," said Beppo, "I do not."
"I am the princess," said she, "the king's niece; and by rights I
should be queen of this land."
Beppo could not believe his ears.
"It is true that I am married to you," said she, "but never shall
you be my husband until you are king."
"King!" said Beppo; "how can I be king?"
"You shall be king," said the princess.
"But the king is everything," said Beppo, "and I am nothing at
"Great things come from small beginnings," said the princess; "a
big tree from a little seed."
Some little distance away from the river was the twinkle of a
light, and thither Beppo led the princess. When the two came to
it, they found it was a little hut, for there were fish-nets
hanging outside in the moonlight.
An old woman opened the door. She stared and stared, as well she
might, to see the fine lady in silks and satins with a gold ring
upon her finger, and nobody with her but one who looked like a
"Who are you and what do you want?" said the old woman.
"Who we are," said the princess, "does not matter, except that we
are honest folk in trouble. What we want is shelter for the night
and food to eat, and that we will pay for."
"Shelter I can give you," said the old woman, "but little else
but a crust of bread and a cup of water. One time there was
enough and plenty in the house; but now, since my husband has
gone and I am left all alone, it is little I have to eat and
drink. But such as I have to give you are welcome to."
Then Beppo and the princess went into the house.
The next morning the princess called Beppo to her. "Here," said
she, "is a ring and a letter. Go you into the town and inquire
for Sebastian the Goldsmith. He will know what to do."
Beppo took the ring and the letter and started off to town, and
it was not hard for him to find the man he sought, for every one
knew of Sebastian the Goldsmith. He was an old man, with a great
white beard and a forehead like the dome of a temple. He looked
at Beppo from head to foot with eyes as bright as those of a
snake; then he took the ring and the letter. As soon as he saw
the ring he raised it to his lips and kissed it; then he kissed
the letter also; then he opened it and read it.
He turned to Beppo and bowed very low. "My lord," said he, "I
will do as I am commanded. Will you be pleased to follow me?"
He led the way into an inner room. There were soft rugs upon the
floor, and around the walls were tapestries. There were couches
and silken cushions. Beppo wondered what it all meant.
Sebastian the Goldsmith clapped his hands together. A door
opened, and there came three black slaves into the room. The
Goldsmith spoke to them in a strange language, and the chief of
the three black slaves bowed in reply. Then he and the others led
Beppo into another room where there was a marble bath of tepid
water. They bathed him and rubbed him with soft linen towels;
then they shaved the beard from his cheeks and chin and trimmed
his hair; then they clothed him in fine linen and a plain suit of
gray and Beppo looked like a new man.
Then when all this was done the chief of the blacks conducted
Beppo back to Sebastian the Goldsmith. There was a fine feast
spread, with fruit and wine. Beppo sat down to it, and Sebastian
the Goldsmith stood and served him with a napkin over his arm.
Then Beppo was to return to the princess again.
A milk-white horse was waiting for him at the Goldsmith's door, a
servant holding the bridle, and Beppo mounted and rode away.
When he returned to the fisherman's hut the princess was waiting
for him. She had prepared a tray spread with a napkin, a cup of
milk, and some sweet cakes.
"Listen," said she; "to-day the king hunts in the forest over
yonder. Go you thither with this. The king will be hot and
thirsty, and weary with the chase. Offer him this refreshment. He
will eat and drink, and in gratitude he will offer you something
in return. Take nothing of him, but ask him this: that he allow
you once every three days to come to the palace, and that he
whisper these words in your ear so that no one else may hear
them--"A word, a word, only a few words; spoken ill, they are
ill; spoken well, they are more precious than gold and jewels.'"
"Why should I do that?" said Beppo.
"You will see," said the princess.
Beppo did not understand it at all, but the princess is a
princess and must be obeyed, and so he rode away on his horse at
It was as the princess had said: the king was hunting in the
forest, and when Beppo came there he could hear the shouts of the
men and the winding of horns and the baying of dogs. He waited
there for maybe an hour or more, and sometimes the sounds were
nearer and sometimes the sounds were farther away. Presently they
came nearer and nearer, and then all of a sudden the king came
riding out of the forest, the hounds hunting hither and thither,
and the lords and nobles and courtiers following him.
The king's face was flushed and heated with the chase, and his
forehead was bedewed with sweat. Beppo came forward and offered
the tray. The king wiped his face with the napkin, and then drank
the milk and ate three of the cakes.
"Who was it ordered you to bring this to me?" said he to Beppo.
"No one," said Beppo; "I brought it myself."
The king looked at Beppo and was grateful to him.
"Thou hast given me pleasure and comfort," said he; "ask what
thou wilt in return and if it is in reason thou shalt have it."
"I will have only this," said Beppo: "that your majesty will
allow me once every three days to come to the palace, and that
then you will take me aside and will whisper these words into my
ear so that no one else may hear them--A word, a word, only a
few words; spoken ill, they are ill; spoken well, they are more
precious than gold and jewels.'"
The king burst out laughing. "Why," said he, "what is this
foolish thing you ask of me? If you had asked for a hundred
pieces of gold you should have had them. Think better, friend,
and ask something of more worth than this foolish thing."
"Please your majesty," said Beppo, "I ask nothing else."
The king laughed again. "Then you shall have what you ask," said
he, and he rode away.
The next morning the princess said to Beppo: "This day you shall
go and claim the king's promise of him. Take this ring and this
letter again to Sebastian the Goldsmith. He will fit you with
clothes in which to appear before the king. Then go to the king's
palace that he may whisper those words he has to say into your
Once more Beppo went to Sebastian the Goldsmith, and the
Goldsmith kissed the princess's ring and letter, and read what
she had written.
Again the black slaves took Beppo to the bath, only this time
they clad him in a fine suit of velvet and hung a gold chain
around his neck. After that Sebastian the Goldsmith again served
a feast to Beppo, and waited upon him while he ate and drank.
In front of the house a noble horse, as black as jet, was waiting
to carry Beppo to the palace, and two servants dressed in velvet
livery were waiting to attend him.
So Beppo rode away, and many people stopped to look at him.
He came to the palace, and the king was giving audience. Beppo
went into the great audience-chamber. It was full of
people--lords and nobles and rich merchants and lawyers.
Beppo did not know how to come to the king, so he stood there and
waited and waited. The people looked at him and whispered to one
another: "Who is that young man?" "Whence comes he?" Then one
said: "Is not he the young man who served the king with cakes and
milk in the forest yesterday?"
Beppo stood there gazing at the king. By-and-by the king suddenly
looked up and caught sight of him. He gazed at Beppo for a moment
or two and then he knew him. Then he smiled and beckoned to him.
"Aye, my foolish benefactor," said he, aloud, "is it thou, and
art thou come so soon to redeem thy promise? Very well; come
hither, I have something to say to thee."
Beppo came forward, and everybody stared. He came close to the
king, and the king laid his hand upon his shoulder. Then he
leaned over to Beppo and whispered in his ear: "A word, a word,
only a few words; if they be spoken ill, they are ill; if they be
spoken well, they are more precious than gold and jewels." Then
he laughed. "Is that what you would have me say?" said he.
"Yes, majesty," said Beppo, and he bowed low and withdrew.
But, lo and behold, what a change!
Suddenly he was transformed in the eyes of the whole world. The
crowd drew back to allow him to pass, and everybody bowed low as
he went along.
"Did you not see the king whisper to him," said one. "What could
it be that the king said?" said another. "This must be a new
favorite," said a third.
He had come into the palace Beppo the Foolish; he went forth
Beppo the Great Man, and all because of a few words the king had
whispered in his ear.
Three days passed, and then Beppo went again to the Goldsmith's
with the ring and a letter from the princess. This time Sebastian
the Goldsmith fitted him with a suit of splendid plum-colored
silk and gave him a dappled horse, and again Beppo and his two
attendants rode away to the palace. And this time every one knew
him, and as he went up the steps into the palace all present
bowed to him. The king saw him as soon as he appeared, and when
he caught sight of him he burst out laughing.
"Aye," said he, "I was looking for thee today, and wondering how
soon thou wouldst come. Come hither till I whisper something in
Then all the lords and nobles and courtiers and ministers drew
back, and Beppo went up to the king.
The king laughed and laughed. He laid his arm over Beppo's
shoulder, and again he whispered in his ear: "A word, a word,
only a few words; if they be spoken ill, they are ill; if they be
spoken well, they are more precious than gold and jewels."
Then he released Beppo, and Beppo withdrew.
So it continued for three months. Every three days Beppo went to
the palace, and the king whispered the words in his ear. Beppo
said nothing to any one, and always went away as soon as the king
had whispered to him.
Then at last the princess said to him: "Now the time is ripe for
doing. Listen! To-day when you go to the palace fix your eyes,
when the king speaks to you, upon the prime-minister, and shake
your head. The prime-minister will ask you what the king said.
Say nothing to him but this: Alas, my poor friend!'"
It was all just as the princess had said.
The king was walking in the garden, with his courtiers and
ministers about him. Beppo came to him, and the king, as he
always did, laid his hand upon Beppo's shoulder and whispered in
his ear: "A word, a word, only a few words; if they be spoken
ill, they are ill; if they be spoken well, they are more precious
than gold and jewels."
While the king was saying these words to Beppo, Beppo was looking
fixedly at the prime-minister. While he did so he shook his head
three times. Then he bowed low and walked away.
He had not gone twenty paces before some one tapped him upon the
arm; it was the prime-minister. Beppo gazed fixedly at him.
"Alas, my poor friend!" said he.
The prime-minister turned pale. "It was, then, as I thought,"
said he. "The king spoke about me. Will you not tell me what he
Beppo shook his head. "Alas, my poor friend!" said he, and then
he walked on.
The prime-minister still followed him.
"My lord," said he, "I have been aware that his majesty has not
been the same to me for more than a week past. If it was about
the princess, pray tell his majesty that I meant nothing ill when
I spoke of her to him."
Beppo shook his head. "Alas, my poor friend!" he said.
The prime-minister's lips trembled. "My lord," said he, "I have
always had the kindest regard for you, and if there is anything
in my power that I can do for you I hope you will command me. I
know how much you are in his majesty's confidence. Will you not
speak a few words to set the matter straight?"
Beppo again shook his head. "Alas, my poor friend!" said he, and
then he got upon his horse and rode away.
Three days passed.
"This morning," said the princess, "when you go to the king, look
at the prime-minister when the king speaks to you, and smile. The
prime-minister will again speak to you, and this time say, It is
well, and I wish you joy.' Take what he gives you, for it will be
Again all happened just as the princess said.
Beppo came to the palace, and again the king whispered in his
ear. As he did so Beppo looked at the prime-minister and smiled,
and then he withdrew.
The prime-minister followed him. He trembled. "It is well," said
Beppo, "and I wish you joy."
The prime-minister grasped his hand and wrung it. "My lord," said
he, "how can I express my gratitude! The palace of my son that
stands by the river--I would that you would use it for your
own, if I may be so bold as to offer it to you."
"I will," said Beppo, "use it as my own."
The prime-minister wrung his hand again, and then Beppo rode
The next time that Beppo spoke to the king, at the princess's
bidding, he looked at the lord-treasurer, and said, as he had
said to the prime-minister, "Alas, my poor friend!"
When he rode away he left the lord-treasurer as white as ashes to
the very lips.
Three days passed, and then, while the king talked to Beppo,
Beppo looked at the lord-treasurer and smiled.
The lord-treasurer followed him to the door of the palace.
"It is well, and I wish you joy," said Beppo.
The treasurer offered him a fortune.
The next time it was the same with the captain of the guards.
First Beppo pitied him, and then he wished him joy.
"My lord," said the captain of the guards, "my services are yours
at any time."
Then the same thing happened to the governor of the city, then to
this lord, and then to that lord.
Beppo grew rich and powerful beyond measure.
Then one day the princess said: "Now we will go into the town,
and to the palace of the prime-minister's son, which the
prime-minister gave you, for the time is ripe for the end."
In a few days all the court knew that Beppo was living like a
prince in the prime-minister's palace. The king began to wonder
what it all meant, and how all such good-fortune had come to
Beppo. He had grown very tired of always speaking to Beppo the
But Beppo was now great among the great; all the world paid court
to him, and bowed down to him, almost as they did before the
"Now," said the princess, "the time has come to strike. Bid all
the councillors, and all the lords, and all the nobles to meet
here three days hence, for it is now or never that you shall win
all and become king."
Beppo did as she bade. He asked all of the great people of the
kingdom to come to him, and they came. When they were all
gathered together at Beppo's house, they found two thrones set as
though for a king and a queen, but there was no sign of Beppo,
and everybody wondered what it all meant.
Suddenly the door opened and Beppo came into the room, leading by
the hand a lady covered with a veil from head to foot.
Everybody stopped speaking and stood staring while Beppo led the
veiled lady up to one of the thrones. He seated himself upon the
The lady stood up and dropped her veil, and then every one knew
It was the princess. "Do you not know me?" said she; "I am the
queen, and this is my husband. He is your king."
All stood silent for a moment, and then a great shout went up.
"Long live the queen! Long live the king!"
The princess turned to the captain of the guards. "You have
offered your services to my husband," said she; "his commands and
my commands are that you march to the palace and cast out him who
hath no right there."
"It shall be done," said the captain of the guards.
All the troops were up in arms, and the town was full of tumult
and confusion. About midnight they brought the false king before
King Beppo and the queen. The false king stood there trembling
like a leaf. The queen stood gazing at him steadily. "Behold,
this is the husband that thou gavest me," said she. "It is as I
said; he is greater than thou. For, lo, he is king! What art
The false king was banished out of the country, and the poor
fisherman's wife, who had entertained the princess for all this
time, came to live at the palace, where all was joy and
"Friend," said St. George, "I like your story. Ne'th'less, tis
like a strolling pedler, in that it carries a great deal of ills
to begin with, to get rid of them all before it gets to the end
its journey. However, tis as you say--it ends with everybody
merry and feasting, and so I like it. But now methinks our little
friend yonder is big with a story of his own"; and he pointed, as
he spoke, with the stem of his pipe to a little man whom I knew
was the brave Tailor who had killed seven flies at a blow, for he
still had around his waist the belt with the legend that he
himself had worked upon it.
"Aye," piped the Tailor in a keen, high voice, "tis true I have
a story inside of me. Tis about another tailor who had a great,
big, black, ugly demon to wait upon him and to sew his clothes
"And the name of that story, my friend," said the Soldier who had
cheated the Devil, "is what?"
"It hath no name," piped the little Tailor, "but I will give it
one, and it shall be--
When man's strength fails, woman's wit prevails.
In the days when the great and wise King Solomon lived and ruled,
evil spirits and demons were as plentiful in the world as wasps
So King Solomon, who was so wise and knew so many potent spells
that he had power over evil such as no man has had before or
since, set himself to work to put those enemies of mankind out of
the way. Some he conjured into bottles, and sank into the depths
of the sea; some he buried in the earth; some he destroyed
altogether, as one burns hair in a candle-flame.
Now, one pleasant day when King Solomon was walking in his garden
with his hands behind his back, and his thoughts busy as bees
with this or that, he came face to face with a Demon, who was a
prince of his kind. "Ho, little man!" cried the evil spirit, in a
loud voice, "art not thou the wise King Solomon who conjures my
brethren into brass chests and glass bottles? Come, try a fall at
wrestling with me, and whoever conquers shall be master over the
other for all time. What do you say to such an offer as that?"
"I say aye!" said King Solomon, and, without another word, he
stripped off his royal robes and stood bare breasted, man to man
with the other.
The world never saw the like of that wrestling match betwixt the
king and the Demon, for they struggled and strove together from
the seventh hour in the morning to the sunset in the evening, and
during that time the sky was clouded over as black as night, and
the lightning forked and shot, and the thunder roared and
bellowed, and the earth shook and quaked.
But at last the king gave the enemy an under twist, and flung him
down on the earth so hard that the apples fell from the trees;
and then, panting and straining, he held the evil one down, knee
on neck. Thereupon the sky presently cleared again, and all was
as pleasant as a spring day.
King Solomon bound the Demon with spells, and made him serve him
for seven years. First, he had him build a splendid palace, the
like of which was not to be seen within the bounds of the seven
rivers; then he made him set around the palace a garden, such as
I for one wish I may see some time or other. Then, when the Demon
had done all that the king wished, the king conjured him into a
bottle, corked it tightly, and set the royal seal on the stopper.
Then he took the bottle a thousand miles away into the
wilderness, and, when no man was looking, buried it in the
ground, and this is the way the story begins.
Well, the years came and the years went, and the world grew older
and older, and kept changing (as all things do but two), so that
by-and-by the wilderness where King Solomon had hid the bottle
became a great town, with people coming and going, and all as
busy as bees about their own business and other folks' affairs.
Among these towns-people was a little Tailor, who made clothes
for many a worse man to wear, and who lived all alone in a little
house with no one to darn his stockings for him, and no one to
meddle with his coming and going, for he was a bachelor.
The little Tailor was a thrifty soul, and by hook and crook had
laid by enough money to fill a small pot, and then he had to
bethink himself of some safe place to hide it. So one night he
took a spade and a lamp and went out in the garden to bury his
money. He drove his spade into the ground--and click! He struck
something hard that rang under his foot with a sound as of iron.
"Hello!" said he, "what have we here?" and if he had known as
much as you and I do, he would have filled in the earth, and
tramped it down, and have left that plate of broth for somebody
else to burn his mouth with.
As it was, he scraped away the soil, and then he found a box of
adamant, with a ring in the lid to lift it by. The Tailor
clutched the ring and bent his back, and up came the box with the
damp earth sticking to it. He cleaned the mould away, and there
he saw, written in red letters, these words:
You may be sure that after he had read these words he was not
long in breaking open the lid of the box with his spade.
Inside the first box he found a second, and upon it the same
Within the second box was another, and within that still another,
until there were seven in all, and on each was written the same
Inside the seventh box was a roll of linen, and inside that a
bottle filled with nothing but blue smoke; and I wish that bottle
had burned the Tailor's fingers when he touched it.
"And is this all?" said the little Tailor, turning the bottle
upside down and shaking it, and peeping at it by the light of the
lamp. "Well, since I have gone so far I might as well open it, as
I have already opened the seven boxes." Thereupon he broke the
seal that stoppered it.
Pop! out flew the cork, and--puff! out came the smoke; not all
at once, but in a long thread that rose up as high as the stars,
and then spread until it hid their light.
The Tailor stared and goggled and gaped to see so much smoke come
out of such a little bottle, and, as he goggled and stared, the
smoke began to gather together again, thicker and thicker, and
darker and darker, until it was as black as ink. Then out from it
there stepped one with eyes that shone like sparks of fire, and
who had a countenance so terrible that the Tailor's skin quivered
and shrivelled, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth at
the sight of it.
"Who are thou?" said the terrible being, in a voice that made the
very marrow of the poor Tailor's bones turn soft from terror.
"If you please, sir," said he, "I am only a little tailor."
The evil being lifted up both hands and eyes. "How wonderful," he
cried, "that one little tailor can undo in a moment that which
took the wise Solomon a whole day to accomplish, and in the doing
of which he wellnigh broke the sinews of his heart!" Then,
turning to the Tailor, who stood trembling like a rabbit, "Hark
thee!" said he. "For two thousand years I lay there in that
bottle, and no one came nigh to aid me. Thou hast liberated me,
and thou shalt not go unrewarded. Every morning at the seventh
hour I will come to thee, and I will perform for thee whatever
task thou mayst command me. But there is one condition attached
to the agreement, and woe be to thee if that condition is broken.
If any morning I should come to thee, and thou hast no task for
me to do, I shall wring thy neck as thou mightest wring the neck
of a sparrow." Thereupon he was gone in an instant, leaving the
little Tailor half dead with terror.
Now it happened that the prime-minister of that country had left
an order with the Tailor for a suit of clothes, so the next
morning, when the Demon came, the little man set him to work on
the bench, with his legs tucked up like a journey-man tailor. "I
want," said he, "such and such a suit of clothes."
"You shall have them," said the Demon; and thereupon he began
snipping in the air, and cutting most wonderful patterns of silks
and satins out of nothing at all, and the little Tailor sat and
gaped and stared. Then the Demon began to drive the needle like a
spark of fire--the like was never seen in all the seven kingdoms,
for the clothes seemed to make themselves.
At last, at the end of a little while, the Demon stood up and
brushed his hands. "They are done," said he, and thereupon he
instantly vanished. But the Tailor cared little for that, for
upon the bench there lay such a suit of clothes of silk and satin
stuff, sewed with threads of gold and silver and set with jewels,
as the eyes of man never saw before; and the Tailor packed them
up and marched off with them himself to the prime-minister.
The prime-minister wore the clothes to court that very day, and
before evening they were the talk of the town. All the world ran
to the Tailor and ordered clothes of him, and his fortune was
made. Every day the Demon created new suits of clothes out of
nothing at all, so that the Tailor grew as rich as a Jew, and
held his head up in the world.
As time went along he laid heavier and heavier tasks upon the
Demon's back, and demanded of him more and more; but all the
while the Demon kept his own counsel, and said never a word.
One morning, as the Tailor sat in his shop window taking the
world easy--for he had little or nothing to do now--he heard
a great hubbub in the street below, and when he looked down he
saw that it was the king's daughter passing by. It was the first
time that the Tailor had seen her, and when he saw her his heart
stood still within him, and then began fluttering like a little
bird, for one so beautiful was not to be met with in the four
corners of the world. Then she was gone.
All that day the little Tailor could do nothing but sit and think
of the princess, and the next morning when the Demon came he was
thinking of her still.
"What hast thou for me to do to-day?" said the Demon, as he
always said of a morning.
The little Tailor was waiting for the question.
"I would like you," said he, "to send to the king's palace, and
to ask him to let me have his daughter for my wife."
"Thou shalt have thy desire," said the Demon. Thereupon he smote
his hands together like a clap of thunder, and instantly the
walls of the room clove asunder, and there came out
four-and-twenty handsome youths, clad in cloth of gold and
silver. After these four-and-twenty there came another one who
was the chief of them all, and before whom, splendid as they
were, the four-and-twenty paled like stars in daylight. "Go to
the king's palace," said the Demon to that one, "and deliver this
message: The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One
Greater than a King asks for his daughter to wife."
"To hear is to obey," said the other, and bowed his forehead to
Never was there such a hubbub in the town as when those
five-and-twenty, in their clothes of silver and gold, rode
through the streets to the king's palace. As they came near, the
gates of the palace flew open before them, and the king himself
came out to meet them. The leader of the five-and-twenty leaped
from his horse, and, kissing the ground before the king,
delivered his message: "The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of
Masters, and One Greater than a King asks for thy daughter to
When the king heard what the messenger said, he thought and
pondered a long time. At last he said, "If he who sent you is the
Master of Masters, and greater than a king, let him send me an
asking gift such as no king could send."
"It shall be as you desire," said the messenger, and thereupon
the five-and-twenty rode away as they had come, followed by
crowds of people.
The next morning when the Demon came the tailor was ready and
waiting for him. "What hast thou for me to do to-day?" said the
"I want," said the tailor, "a gift to send to the king such as no
other king could send him."
"Thou shalt have thy desire," said the Demon. Thereupon he smote
his hands together, and summoned, not five-and-twenty young men,
but fifty youths, all clad in clothes more splendid than the
All of the fifty sat upon coal-black horses, with saddles of
silver and housings of silk and velvet embroidered with gold. In
the midst of all the five-and-seventy there rode a youth in cloth
of silver embroidered in pearls. In his hand he bore something
wrapped in a white napkin, and that was the present for the king
such as no other king could give. So said the Demon: "Take it to
the royal palace, and tell his majesty that it is from the Tailor
of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King."
"To hear is to obey," said the young man, and then they all rode
When they came to the palace the gates flew open before them, and
the king came out to meet them. The young man who bore the
present dismounted and prostrated himself in the dust, and, when
the king bade him arise, he unwrapped the napkin, and gave to the
king a goblet made of one single ruby, and filled to the brim
with pieces of gold. Moreover, the cup was of such a kind that
whenever it was emptied of its money it instantly became full
again. "The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One
Greater than a King sends your majesty this goblet, and bids me,
his ambassador, to ask for your daughter," said the young man.
When the king saw what had been sent him he was filled with
amazement. "Surely," said he to himself, "there can be no end to
the power of one who can give such a gift as this." Then to the
messenger, "Tell your master that he shall have my daughter for
his wife if he will build over yonder a palace such as no man
ever saw or no king ever lived in before."
"It shall be done," said the young man, and then they all went
away, as the others had done the day before.
The next morning when the Demon appeared the Tailor was ready for
him. "Build me," said he, "such and such a palace in such and
such a place."
And the Demon said, "It shall be done." He smote his hands
together, and instantly there came a cloud of mist that covered
and hid the spot where the palace was to be built. Out from the
cloud there came such a banging and hammering and clapping and
clattering as the people of that town never heard before. Then
when evening had come the cloud arose, and there, where the king
had pointed out, stood a splendid palace as white as snow, with
roofs and domes of gold and silver. As the king stood looking and
wondering at this sight, there came five hundred young men
riding, and one in the midst of all who wore a golden crown on
his head, and upon his body a long robe stiff with diamonds and
pearls. "We come," said he, "from the Tailor of Tailors, and
Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King, to ask you to let
him have your daughter for his wife."
"Tell him to come!" cried the king, in admiration, "for the
princess is his."
The next morning when the Demon came he found the Tailor dancing
and shouting for joy. "The princess is mine!" he cried, "so make
me ready for her."
"It shall be done," said the Demon, and thereupon he began to
make the Tailor ready for his wedding. He brought him to a marble
bath of water, in which he washed away all that was coarse and
ugly, and from which the little man came forth as beautiful as
the sun. Then the Demon clad him in the finest linen, and covered
him with clothes such as even the emperor of India never wore.
Then he smote his hands together, and the wall of the tailor-shop
opened as it had done twice before, and there came forth forty
slaves clad in crimson, and bearing bowls full of money in their
hands. After them came two leading a horse as white as snow, with
a saddle of gold studded with diamonds and rubies and emeralds
and sapphires. After came a body-guard of twenty warriors clad in
gold armor. Then the Tailor mounted his horse and rode away to
the king's palace, and as he rode the slaves scattered the money
amongst the crowd, who scrambled for it and cheered the Tailor to
That night the princess and the Tailor were married, and all the
town was lit with bonfires and fireworks. The two rode away in
the midst of a great crowd of nobles and courtiers to the palace
which the Demon had built for the Tailor; and, as the princess
gazed upon him, she thought that she had never beheld so noble
and handsome a man as her husband. So she and the Tailor were the
happiest couple in the world.
But the next morning the Demon appeared as he had appeared ever
since the Tailor had let him out of the bottle, only now he
grinned till his teeth shone and his face turned black. "What
hast thou for me to do?" said he, and at the words the Tailor's
heart began to quake, for he remembered what was to happen to him
when he could find the Demon no more work to do--that his neck
was to be wrung--and now he began to see that he had all that
he could ask for in the world. Yes; what was there to ask for
"I have nothing more for you to do," said he to the Demon; "you
have done all that man could ask--you may go now."
"Go!" cried the Demon, "I shall not go until I have done all that
I have to do. Give me work, or I shall wring your neck." And his
fingers began to twitch.
Then the Tailor began to see into what a net he had fallen. He
began to tremble like one in an ague. He turned his eyes up and
down, for he did not know where to look for aid. Suddenly, as he
looked out of the window, a thought struck him. "Maybe," thought
he, "I can give the Demon such a task that even he cannot do it.
"Yes, yes!" he cried, "I have thought of something for you to do.
Make me out yonder in front of my palace a lake of water a mile
long and a mile wide, and let it be lined throughout with white
marble, and filled with water as clear as crystal."
"It shall be done," said the Demon. As he spoke he spat in the
air, and instantly a thick fog arose from the earth and hid
everything from sight. Then presently from the midst of the fog
there came a great noise of chipping and hammering, of digging
and delving, of rushing and gurgling. All day the noise and the
fog continued, and then at sunset the one ceased and the other
cleared away. The poor Tailor looked out the window, and when he
saw what he saw his teeth chattered in his head, for there was a
lake a mile long and a mile broad, lined within with white
marble, and filled with water as clear as crystal, and he knew
that the Demon would come the next morning for another task to
That night he slept little or none, and when the seventh hour of
the morning came the castle began to rock and tremble, and there
stood the Demon, and his hair bristled and his eyes shone like
sparks of fire. "What hast thou for me to do?" said he, and the
poor Tailor could do nothing but look at him with a face as white
"What hast thou for me to do?" said the Demon again, and then at
last the Tailor found his wits and his tongue from sheer terror.
"Look!" said he, "at the great mountain over yonder; remove it,
and make in its place a level plain with fields and orchards and
gardens." And he thought to himself when he had spoken, "Surely,
even the Demon cannot do that."
"It shall be done," said the Demon, and, so saying, he stamped
his heel upon the ground. Instantly the earth began to tremble
and quake, and there came a great rumbling like the sound of
thunder. A cloud of darkness gathered in the sky, until at last
all was as black as the blackest midnight. Then came a roaring
and a cracking and a crashing, such as man never heard before.
All day it continued, until the time of the setting of the sun,
when suddenly the uproar ceased, and the darkness cleared away;
and when the Tailor looked out of the window the mountain was
gone, and in its place were fields and orchards and gardens.
It was very beautiful to see, but when the Tailor beheld it his
knees began to smite together, and the sweat ran down his face in
streams. All that night he walked up and down and up and down,
but he could not think of one other task for the Demon to do.
When the next morning came the Demon appeared like a whirlwind.
His face was as black as ink and smoke, and sparks of fire flew
from his nostrils.
"What have you for me to do?" cried he.
"I have nothing for you to do!" piped the poor Tailor.
"Nothing?" cried the Demon.
"Then prepare to die."
"Stop!" cried the Tailor, falling on his knees, "let me first see
"So be it," said the Demon, and if he had been wiser he would
have said "No."
When the Tailor came to the princess, he flung himself on his
face, and began to weep and wail. The princess asked him what was
the matter, and at last, by dint of question, got the story from
him, piece by piece. When she had it all she began laughing. "Why
did you not come to me before?" said she, "instead of making all
this trouble and uproar for nothing at all? I will give the
Monster a task to do." She plucked a single curling hair from her
head. "Here," said she, "let him take this hair and make it
The Tailor was full of doubt; nevertheless, as there was nothing
better to do, he took it to the Demon.
"Hast thou found me a task to do?" cried the Demon.
"Yes," said the Tailor. "It is only a little thing. Here is a
hair from my wife's head; take it and make it straight."
When the Demon heard what was the task that the Tailor had set
him to do he laughed aloud; but that was because he did not know.
He took the hair and stroked it between his thumb and finger,
and, when he done, it curled more than ever. Then he looked
serious, and slapped it between his palms, and that did not
better matters, for it curled as much as ever. Then he frowned,
and, began beating the hair with his palm upon his knees, and
that only made it worse. All that day he labored and strove at
his task trying to make that one little hair straight, and, when
the sun set, there was the hair just as crooked as ever. Then, as
the great round sun sank red behind the trees, the Demon knew
that he was beaten. "I am conquered! I am conquered!" he howled,
and flew away, bellowing so dreadfully that all the world
So ends the story, with only this to say:
Where man's strength fails, woman's wit prevails.
For, to my mind, the princess--not to speak of her husband the
little Tailor--did more with a single little hair and her
mother wit than King Solomon with all his wisdom.
"Whose turn is it next to tell us a story?" said Sindbad the
" Twas my turn," said St. George; "but here be two ladies
present, and neither hath so much as spoken a word of a story for
all this time. If you, madam," said he to Cinderella, "will tell
us a tale, I will gladly give up my turn to you."
The Soldier who cheated the Devil took the pipe out of his mouth
and puffed away a cloud of smoke. "Aye," said he, "always
remember the ladies, say I. That is a soldier's trade."
"Very well, then; if it is your pleasure," said Cinderella. "I
will tell you a story, and it shall be of a friend of mine and of
how she looked after her husband's luck. She was," said
Cinderella, "a princess, and her father was a king."
"And what is your story about?" said Sindbad the Sailor.
"It is," said Cinderella, "about--
A Piece of Good Luck
There were three students who were learning all that they could.
The first was named Joseph, the second was named John, and the
third was named Jacob Stuck. They studied seven long years under
a wise master, and in that time they learned all that their
master had to teach them of the wonderful things he knew. They
learned all about geometry, they learned all about algebra, they
learned all about astronomy, they learned all about the hidden
arts, they learned all about everything, except how to mend their
own hose and where to get cabbage to boil in the pot.
And now they were to go out into the world to practice what they
knew. The master called the three students to him--the one named
Joseph, the second named John, and the third named Jacob Stuck--and said he to them, said he: "You
have studied faithfully and
have learned all that I have been able to teach you, and now you
shall not go out into the world with nothing at all. See; here
are three glass balls, and that is one for each of you. Their
like is not to be found in the four corners of the world. Carry
the balls wherever you go, and when one of them drops to the
ground, dig, and there you will certainly find a treasure."
So the three students went out into the wide world.
Well, they travelled on and on for day after day, each carrying
his glass ball with him wherever he went. They travelled on and
on for I cannot tell how long, until one day the ball that Joseph
carried slipped out of his fingers and fell to the ground. "I've
found a treasure!" cried Joseph, "I've found a treasure!"
The three students fell to work scratching and digging where the
ball had fallen, and by-and-by they found something. It was a
chest with an iron ring in the lid. It took all three of them to
haul it up out of the ground, and when they did so they found it
was full to the brim of silver money.
Were they happy? Well, they were happy! They danced around and
around the chest, for they had never seen so much money in all
their lives before. "Brothers," said Joseph, in exultation, "here
is enough for all hands, and it shall be share and share alike
with us, for haven't we studied seven long years together?" And
so for a while they were as happy as happy could be.
But by-and-by a flock of second thoughts began to buzz in the
heads of John and Jacob Stuck. "Why," said they, "as for that, to
be sure, a chest of silver money is a great thing for three
students to find who had nothing better than book-learning to
help them along; but who knows but that there is something better
even than silver money out in the wide world?" So, after all, and
in spite of the chest of silver money they had found, the two of
them were for going on to try their fortunes a little farther.
And as for Joseph, why, after all, when he came to think of it,
he was not sorry to have his chest of silver money all to
So the two travelled on and on for a while, here and there and
everywhere, until at last it was John's ball that slipped out of
his fingers and fell to the ground. They digged where it fell,
and this time it was a chest of gold money they found.
Yes, a chest of gold money! A chest of real gold money! They just
stood and stared and stared, for if they had not seen it they
would not have believed that such a thing could have been in the
world. "Well, Jacob Stuck," said John, "it was well to travel a
bit farther than poor Joseph did, was it not? What is a chest of
silver money to such a treasure as this? Come, brother, here is
enough to make us both rich for all the rest of our lives. We
need look for nothing better than this."
But no; by-and-by Jacob Stuck began to cool down again, and now
that second thoughts were coming to him he would not even be
satisfied with a half-share of a chest of gold money. No; maybe
there might be something better than even a chest full of gold
money to be found in the world. As for John, why, after all, he
was just as well satisfied to keep his treasure for himself. So
the two shook hands, and then Jacob Stuck jogged away alone,
leaving John stuffing his pockets and his hat full of gold money,
and I should have liked to have been there, to have had my share.
Well, Jacob Stuck jogged on and on by himself, until after a
while he came to a great, wide desert, where there was not a
blade or a stick to be seen far or near. He jogged on and on, and
he wished he had not come there. He jogged on and on when all of
a sudden the glass ball he carried slipped out of his fingers and
fell to the ground.
"Aha!" said he to himself, "now maybe I shall find some great
treasure compared to which even silver and gold are as nothing at
He digged down into the barren earth of the desert; and he digged
and he digged, but neither silver nor gold did he find. He digged
and digged; and by-and-by, at last, he did find something. And
what was it? Why, nothing but something that looked like a piece
of blue glass not a big bigger than my thumb. "Is that all?" said
Jacob Stuck. "And have I travelled all this weary way and into
the blinding desert only for this? Have I passed by silver and
gold enough to make me rich for all my life, only to find a
little piece of blue glass?"
Jacob Stuck did not know what he had found. I shall tell you what
it was. It was a solid piece of good luck without flaw or
blemish, and it was almost the only piece I ever heard tell of.
Yes; that was what it was--a solid piece of good luck; and as for
Jacob Stuck, why, he was not the first in the world by many and
one over who has failed to know a piece of good luck when they
have found it. Yes; it looked just like a piece of blue glass no
bigger than my thumb, and nothing else.
"Is that all?" said Jacob Stuck. "And have I travelled all this
weary way and into the blinding desert only for this? Have I
passed by silver and gold enough to make me rich for all my life,
only to find a little piece of blue glass?"
He looked at the bit of glass, and he turned it over and over in
his hand. It was covered with dirt. Jacob Stuck blew his breath
upon it, and rubbed it with his thumb.
Crack! dong! bang! smash!
Upon my word, had a bolt of lightning burst at Jacob Stuck's feet
he could not have been more struck of a heap. For no sooner had
he rubbed the glass with his thumb than with a noise like a clap
of thunder there instantly stood before him a great, big man,
dressed in clothes as red as a flame, and with eyes that shone
sparks of fire. It was the Genie of Good Luck. It nearly knocked
Jacob Stuck off his feet to see him there so suddenly.
"What will you have?" said the Genie. "I am the slave of good
luck. Whosoever holds that piece of crystal in his hand him must
I obey in whatsoever he may command."
"Do you mean that you are my servant and that I am your master?"
said Jacob Stuck.
"Yes; command and I obey."
"Why, then," said Jacob Stuck, "I would like you to help me out
of this desert place, if you can do so, for it is a poor spot for
any Christian soul to be."
"To hear is to obey," said the Genie, and, before Jacob Stuck
knew what had happened to him, the Genie had seized him and was
flying with him through the air swifter than the wind. On and on
he flew, and the earth seemed to slide away beneath. On and on
flew the flame-colored Genie until at last he set Jacob down in a
great meadow where there was a river. Beyond the river were the
white walls and grand houses of the king's town.
"Hast thou any further commands?" said the Genie.
"Tell me what you can do for me?" said Jacob Stuck.
"I can do whatsoever thou mayest order me to do," said the Genie.
"Well, then," said Jacob Stuck, "I think first of all I would
like to have plenty of money to spend."
"To hear is to obey," said the Genie, and, as he spoke, he
reached up into the air and picked out a purse from nothing at
all. "Here," said he, "is the purse of fortune; take from it all
that thou needest and yet it will always be full. As long as thou
hast it thou shalt never be lacking riches."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Jacob Stuck. "I've learned
geometry and algebra and astronomy and the hidden arts, but I
never heard tell of anything like this before."
So Jacob Stuck went into the town with all the money he could
spend, and such a one is welcome anywhere. He lacked nothing that
money could buy. He bought himself a fine house; he made all the
friends he wanted, and more; he lived without a care, and with
nothing to do but to enjoy himself. That was what a bit of good
luck did for him.
Now the princess, the daughter of the king of that town, was the
most beautiful in all the world, but so proud and haughty that
her like was not to be found within the bounds of all the seven
rivers. So proud was she and so haughty that she would neither
look upon a young man nor allow any young man to look upon her.
She was so particular that whenever she went out to take a ride a
herald was sent through the town with a trumpet ordering that
every house should be closed and that everybody should stay
within doors, so that the princess should run no risk of seeing a
young man, or that no young man by chance should see her.
One day the herald went through the town blowing his trumpet and
calling in a great, loud voice: "Close your doors! Close your
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