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Ball-carrier And The Bad One

from The Brown Fairy Book





Far, far in the forest there were two little huts, and in each of
them lived a man who was a famous hunter, his wife, and three or four
children. Now the children were forbidden to play more than a short
distance from the door, as it was known that, away on the other side of
the wood near the great river, there dwelt a witch who had a magic ball
that she used as a means of stealing children.

Her plan was a very simple one, and had never yet failed. When she
wanted a child she just flung her ball in the direction of the child's
home, and however far off it might be, the ball was sure to reach it.
Then, as soon as the child saw it, the ball would begin rolling slowly
back to the witch, just keeping a little ahead of the child, so that he
always thought that he could catch it the next minute. But he never did,
and, what was more, his parents never saw him again.

Of course you must not suppose that all the fathers and mothers who
had lost children made no attempts to find them, but the forest was so
large, and the witch was so cunning in knowing exactly where they were
going to search, that it was very easy for her to keep out of the way.
Besides, there was always the chance that the children might have been
eaten by wolves, of which large herds roamed about in winter.

One day the old witch happened to want a little boy, so she threw
her ball in the direction of the hunters' huts. A child was standing
outside, shooting at a mark with his bow and arrows, but the moment he
saw the ball, which was made of glass whose blues and greens and whites,
all frosted over, kept changing one into the other, he flung down his
bow, and stooped to pick the ball up. But as he did so it began to roll
very gently downhill. The boy could not let it roll away, when it was so
close to him, so he gave chase. The ball seemed always within his grasp,
yet he could never catch it; it went quicker and quicker, and the boy
grew more and more excited. That time he almost touched it--no, he
missed it by a hair's breadth! Now, surely, if he gave a spring he
could get in front of it! He sprang forward, tripped and fell, and found
himself in the witch's house!

'Welcome! welcome! grandson!' said she; 'get up and rest yourself, for
you have had a long walk, and I am sure you must be tired!' So the boy
sat down, and ate some food which she gave him in a bowl. It was quite
different from anything he had tasted before, and he thought it was
delicious. When he had eaten up every bit, the witch asked him if he had
ever fasted.

'No,' replied the boy, 'at least I have been obliged to sometimes, but
never if there was any food to be had.'

'You will have to fast if you want the spirits to make you strong and
wise, and the sooner you begin the better.'

'Very well,' said the boy, 'what do I do first?'

'Lie down on those buffalo skins by the door of the hut,' answered she;
and the boy lay down, and the squirrels and little bears and the birds
came and talked to him.

At the end of ten days the old woman came to him with a bowl of the same
food that he had eaten before.

'Get up, my grandson, you have fasted long enough. Have the good spirits
visited you, and granted you the strength and wisdom that you desire?'

'Some of them have come, and have given me a portion of both,' answered
the boy, 'but many have stayed away from me.'

'Then,' said she, 'you must fast ten days more.'

So the boy lay down again on the buffalo skins, and fasted for ten days,
and at the end of that time he turned his face to the wall, and fasted
for twenty days longer. At length the witch called to him, and said:

'Come and eat something, my grandson.' At the sound of her voice the boy
got up and ate the food she gave him. When he had finished every scrap
she spoke as before: 'Tell me, my grandson, have not the good spirits
visited you all these many days that you have fasted?'

'Not all, grandmother,' answered he; 'there are still some who keep away
from me and say that I have not fasted long enough.'

'Then you must fast again,' replied the old woman, 'and go on fasting
till you receive the gifts of all the good spirits. Not one must be
missing.'

The boy said nothing, but lay down for the third time on the buffalo
skins, and fasted for twenty days more. And at the end of that time the
witch thought he was dead, his face was so white and his body so still.
But when she had fed him out of the bowl he grew stronger, and soon was
able to sit up.

'You have fasted a long time,' said she, 'longer than anyone ever fasted
before. Surely the good spirits must be satisfied now?'

'Yes, grandmother,' answered the boy, 'they have all come, and have
given me their gifts.'

This pleased the old woman so much that she brought him another basin of
food, and while he was eating it she talked to him, and this is what she
said: 'Far away, on the other side of the great river, is the home of
the Bad One. In his house is much gold, and what is more precious even
than the gold, a little bridge, which lengthens out when the Bad One
waves his hand, so that there is no river or sea that he cannot cross.
Now I want that bridge and some of the gold for myself, and that is the
reason that I have stolen so many boys by means of my ball. I have tried
to teach them how to gain the gifts of the good spirits, but none of
them would fast long enough, and at last I had to send them away
to perform simple, easy little tasks. But you have been strong and
faithful, and you can do this thing if you listen to what I tell you!
When you reach the river tie this ball to your foot, and it will take
you across--you cannot manage it in any other way. But do not be afraid;
trust to the ball, and you will be quite safe!'

The boy took the ball and put it in a bag. Then he made himself a club
and a bow, and some arrows which would fly further than anyone else's
arrows, because of the strength the good spirits had given him. They had
also bestowed on him the power of changing his shape, and had increased
the quickness of his eyes and ears so that nothing escaped him. And in
some way or other they made him understand that if he needed more help
they would give it to him.

When all these things were ready the boy bade farewell to the witch and
set out. He walked through the forest for several days without seeing
anyone but his friends the squirrels and the bears and the birds, but
though he stopped and spoke to them all, he was careful not to let them
know where he was going.

At last, after many days, he came to the river, and beyond it he noticed
a small hut standing on a hill which he guessed to be the home of the
Bad One. But the stream flowed so quickly that he could not see how he
was ever to cross it, and in order to test how swift the current really
was, he broke a branch from a tree and threw it in. It seemed hardly
to touch the water before it was carried away, and even his magic sight
could not follow it. He could not help feeling frightened, but he hated
giving up anything that he had once undertaken, and, fastening the ball
on his right foot, he ventured on the river. To his surprise he was
able to stand up; then a panic seized him, and he scrambled up the bank
again. In a minute or two he plucked up courage to go a little further
into the river, but again its width frightened him, and a second time he
turned back. However, he felt rather ashamed of his cowardice, as it was
quite clear that his ball could support him, and on his third trial he
got safely to the other side.

Once there he replaced the ball in the bag, and looked carefully round
him. The door of the Bad One's hut was open, and he saw that the ceiling
was supported by great wooden beams, from which hung the bags of gold
and the little bridge. He saw, too, the Bad One sitting in the midst of
his treasures eating his dinner, and drinking something out of a horn.
It was plain to the boy that he must invent some plan of getting the Bad
One out of the way, or else he would never be able to steal the gold or
the bridge.

What should he do? Give horrible shrieks as if he were in pain? But the
Bad One would not care whether he were murdered or not! Call him by his
name? But the Bad One was very cunning, and would suspect some trick. He
must try something better than that! Then suddenly an idea came to him,
and he gave a little jump of joy. 'Oh, how stupid of me not to think of
that before!' said he, and he wished with all his might that the Bad One
should become very hungry--so hungry that he could not wait a moment for
fresh food to be brought to him. And sure enough at that instant the
Bad One called out to his servant, 'You did not bring food that would
satisfy a sparrow Fetch some more at once, for I am perfectly starving.'
Then, without giving the woman time to go to the larder, he got up from
his chair, and rolled, staggering from hunger, towards the kitchen.

Directly the door had closed on the Bad One the boy ran in, pulled down
a bag of gold from the beam, and tucked it under his left arm. Next he
unhooked the little bridge and put it under his right. He did not try to
escape, as most boys of his age would have done, for the wisdom put into
his mind by the good spirits taught him that before he could reach the
river and make use of the bridge the Bad One would have tracked him by
his footsteps and been upon him. So, making himself very small and
thin, he hid himself behind a pile of buffalo skins in the corner, first
tearing a slit through one of them, so that he could see what was going
on.

He had hardly settled himself when the servant entered the room, and,
as she did so, the last bag of gold on the beam fell to the ground--for
they had begun to fall directly the boy had taken the first one. She
cried to her master that someone had stolen both the bag and the bridge,
and the Bad One rushed in, mad with anger, and bade her go and seek for
footsteps outside, that they might find out where the thief had gone. In
a few minutes she returned, saying that he must be in the house, as she
could not see any footsteps leading to the river, and began to move all
the furniture in the room, without discovering Ball Carrier.

'But he must be here somewhere,' she said to herself, examining for the
second time the pile of buffalo skins; and Ball-Carrier, knowing that he
could not possibly escape now, hastily wished that the Bad One should be
unable to eat any more food at present.

'Ah, there is a slit in this one,' cried the servant, shaking the skin;
'and here he is.' And she pulled out Ball-Carrier, looking so lean and
small that he would hardly have made a mouthful for a sparrow.

'Was it you who took my gold and bridge?' asked the Bad One.

'Yes,' answered Ball-Carrier, 'it was I who took them.'

The Bad One made a sign to the woman, who inquired where he had hidden
them. He lifted his left arm where the gold was, and she picked up a
knife and scraped his skin so that no gold should be left sticking to
it.

'What have you done with the bridge?' said she. And he lifted his right
arm, from which she took the bridge, while the Bad One looked on, well
pleased. 'Be sure that he does not run away,' chuckled he. 'Boil some
water, and get him ready for cooking, while I go and invite my friends
the water-demons to the feast.'

The woman seized Ball-Carrier between her finger and thumb, and was
going to carry him to the kitchen, when the boy spoke:

'I am very lean and small now,' he said, 'hardly worth the trouble of
cooking; but if you were to keep me two days, and gave me plenty of
food, I should get big and fat. As it is, your friends the water-demons
would think you meant to laugh at them, when they found that I was the
feast.'

'Well, perhaps you are right,' answered the Bad One; 'I will keep you
for two days.' And he went out to visit the water-demons.

Meanwhile the servant, whose name was Lung Woman, led him into a little
shed, and chained him up to a ring in the wall. But food was given
him every hour, and at the end of two days he was as fat and big as a
Christmas turkey, and could hardly move his head from one side to the
other.

'He will do now,' said the Bad One, who came constantly to see how he
was getting on. 'I shall go and tell the water-demons that we expect
them to dinner to-night. Put the kettle on the fire, but be sure on no
account to taste the broth.'

Lung-Woman lost no time in obeying her orders. She built up the fire,
which had got very low, filled the kettle with water, and passing a
rope which hung from the ceiling through the handle, swung it over
the flames. Then she brought in Ball-Carrier, who, seeing all these
preparations, wished that as long as he was in the kettle the water
might not really boil, though it would hiss and bubble, and also, that
the spirits would turn the water into fat.

The kettle soon began to sing and bubble, and Ball Carrier was lifted
in. Very soon the fat which was to make the sauce rose to the surface,
and Ball-Carrier, who was bobbing about from one side to the other,
called out that Lung-Woman had better taste the broth, as he though that
some salt should be added to it. The servant knew quite well that her
master had forbidden her to do any thing of the kind, but when once
the idea was put into her head, she found the smell from the kettle so
delicious that she unhooked a long ladle from the wall and plunged it
into the kettle.

'You will spill it all, if you stand so far off,' said the boy; 'why
don't you come a little nearer?' And as she did so he cried to the
spirits to give him back his usual size and strength and to make the
water scalding hot Then he gave the kettle a kick, which upset all the
boiling water upon her, and jumping over her body he seized once more
the gold and the bridge, picked up his club and bow and arrows, and
after setting fire to the Bad One's hut, ran down to the river, which he
crossed safely by the help of the bridge.

The hut, which was made of wood, was burned to the ground before the Bad
One came back with a large crowd of water-demons. There was not a sign
of anyone or anything, so he started for the river, where he saw Ball
Carrier sitting quietly on the other side. Then the Bad One knew what
had happened, and after telling the water demons that there would be no
feast after all, he called to Ball-Carrier, who was eating an apple.

'I know your name now,' he said, 'and as you have ruined me, and I am
not rich any more, will you take me as your servant?'

'Yes, I will, though you have tried to kill me,' answered Ball-Carrier,
throwing the bridge across the water as he spoke. But when the Bad One
was in the midst of the stream, the boy wished it to become small; and
the Bad One fell into the water and was drowned, and the world was rid
of him.





Next: How Ball-carrier Finished His Task

Previous: What The Rose Did To The Cypress



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