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The Betrothal Gifts

from Czechoslovak Fairy Tales





THE STORY OF KUBIK AND THE FROG


A farmer who had three sons was much troubled in his mind as to how he
should leave his property. "My farm is too small to divide," he kept
thinking to himself. "If I divide it into three equal parts and give
each of my sons one part, they will all be poor cottagers, and yet, if
I give it all to one son, I shall be unjust to the other two. My
grandfather always said that it is a father's duty to treat all his
children alike and I'm sure I don't want to depart from his
teachings."

At last he called his sons together and said: "I have hit upon a plan
whereby fate shall decide which of you shall be my heir. You must all
go out into the world and find brides, and he who brings back as a
betrothal gift the most beautiful ring shall have the farm."

The sons agreed to this plan and the next day they all set out in
different directions in quest of brides.

Now the youngest son, whose name was Kubik, was not considered as
bright as his brothers, for he was kind to beggars and he never drove
a hard bargain. His brothers often laughed at him and his father
pitied him, for he thought that Kubik was too gentle to make his way
in the world.

Kubik's path took him into a deep forest. He walked on and on until
suddenly a little frog hopped up in front of him and said:

"Where are you going, Kubik?"

Now Kubik had never in all his life heard of a frog that could talk.
At first he was frightened but even so he was too polite not to answer
a civil question. So he told the frog about his father and the farm
and the quest for betrothal gifts upon which he and his brothers were
bound.

The frog listened and when he was finished she said: "Come with me,
Kubik, and my daughter, Kachenka, will give you a more beautiful ring
than any your father or brothers have ever seen."

Kubik hesitated, but at last not to hurt the frog's feelings he
agreed. "But if your daughter Kachenka looks like you," he thought to
himself, "Heaven help me, for she'll be a pretty dear price to pay for
a farm!"

The frog led him to a deep valley at one side of which rose a high
rocky cliff that was honey-combed with caverns. The frog hopped into
one of these and called out:

"Kachenka, my child, where are you? Here is Kubik come to woo you and
to beg a betrothal gift. Bring out your little box of rings."

Instantly a second frog appeared dragging a heavy jewel casket.
Kachenka, alas, was a hundred times uglier than her mother. Her legs
were crooked, her face was all covered with spots, and when she spoke
her voice was hoarse and croaking.

For a moment Kubik shivered and turned away in disgust, but only for a
moment until he remembered that it wasn't Kachenka's fault that she
was a frog.

The two frogs put the casket before him and opened it and Kubik saw
that it was filled with a collection of the rarest and most beautiful
rings in the world.

"Make your own choice, Kubik," the old frog said.

Kubik selected as plain a ring as there was, for he was ashamed to
take one of the handsomest.

"Not that one!" the old frog said, "unless you want your brothers to
laugh at you."

Thereupon she herself picked out the ring that had the biggest diamond
of them all, wrapped it up carefully in paper, and handed it to Kubik.

"Now hurry home," she said, "for your brothers are already there and
your father is waiting for you."

As soon as Kubik reached home the farmer called his three sons
together and demanded to be shown their betrothal gifts.

All the eldest son had was a common brass ring.

"Um," the farmer said, shaking his head. "Well, put it away for a
keepsake."

The second son showed a silver ring that was worth a few cents more.

"A little better," the old man mumbled, "but not good enough for a
farmer. Put it away for a keepsake. And now," he said, turning to his
youngest son, "let us see what Kubik has brought from his promised
bride."

They all looked at Kubik, and Kubik blushed as he felt in his pocket
for the little package.

"Ho, ho!" his brothers laughed. "Kubik has such a fine ring that he
has to keep it wrapped up."

But when he opened the paper they stopped laughing, and well they
might, for there was a great diamond that sparkled and blazed until it
seemed that the sun was shining in the room.

"Kubik!" the farmer cried when at last he found his voice, "where did
you get that ring? You must have stolen it, you wicked boy!" And
without waiting to hear what Kubik had to say, he reached for a whip
and trounced the poor lad to within an inch of his life. Then he took
the ring and hid it carefully away.

"Now, my boys," he said to his sons, "you will all have to make
another trial. This time ask of your promised brides the gift of an
embroidered kerchief and he who brings back the most beautiful
kerchief shall be my heir."

So the next day the three sons again started out, each in a different
direction.

Kubik thought to himself: "I won't go the way I went yesterday or I
may meet that old frog again and then, when I get home, the only prize
I'll get will be another beating."

So he took a different path but he hadn't gone far before the old frog
hopped up in front of him.

"What's the matter, Kubik?" she asked.

At first Kubik didn't want to tell her but she questioned him and
finally, not to seem rude, he told her about the beating his father
had given him on account of Kachenka's ring and about the new quest
for embroidered kerchiefs upon which his father was now sending him
and his brothers.

"Now don't think any more about that whipping," the old frog advised
him. "And as for an embroidered kerchief, why, Kachenka is the very
girl for that! She will give you one that will make your brothers open
their eyes!"

Kubik wasn't sure that he wanted to accept another of Kachenka's
gifts, but the old frog urged him and at last he agreed. So again they
took the path to the rocky cliff. The old frog called her daughter out
as before and presently Kachenka appeared dragging a chest that was
filled with the most wonderful of kerchiefs, all of fine silk and all
richly embroidered and so large that they were more like shawls than
kerchiefs.

Kubik reached in and took the first that came to hand.

"Tut, tut!" the old frog said. "That's no way to select a kerchief."

Then she herself picked out the biggest and the most richly
embroidered of them all and wrapped it up in paper. She gave it to
Kubik and said:

"Now hurry home, for your brothers are already there and your father
is waiting for you."

As soon as Kubik reached home the farmer called his three sons
together and demanded to be shown their betrothal gifts.

All the eldest one had was a small cheap kerchief of no value
whatever.

"Um," the farmer said, shaking his head. "Well, put it away for a
keepsake."

The kerchief of the second had cost a few cents more.

"A little better," the old man mumbled. "Perhaps it's good enough for
a farmer. And now," he said, turning to his youngest son, "let us see
what Kubik has brought from his promised bride."

They all looked at Kubik, and Kubik blushed as he pulled out a parcel
from under his shirt.

"Ho, ho!" his brothers laughed. "Kubik has such a fine kerchief that
he has to keep it wrapped up in paper!"

But when Kubik opened the paper they stopped laughing, and well they
might, for there was a silken kerchief so big that it could have
covered the whole room and so richly embroidered that any princess in
the world would have been proud to own it.

"Kubik!" the farmer cried when at last he was able to speak, "where
did you get that kerchief? You must have stolen it, you wicked boy!"
And without waiting to hear what Kubik had to say, he reached down the
whip again and trounced the poor boy to within an inch of his life.
Then he took the kerchief and hid it carefully away.

"Now, my sons," he said, "you will all have to make another trial.
But this time it will not be for a ring or a kerchief. This time bring
home your brides and he whose bride is the most beautiful shall be my
heir."

So the next day the three sons again started out, each in a different
direction.

"I don't want to see Kachenka again," poor Kubik said to himself.
"Twice I've brought back the best betrothal gift and each time I've
got a beating for it. I wonder what they would say if I brought home a
frog for a bride! Then they would have something to laugh at!"

So he took a different path through the forest but again he hadn't
gone far before the old frog hopped up in front of him. This time
Kubik turned and ran. The old frog called after him but the louder she
called the faster he ran.

He ran on and on until suddenly a great snake stopped him. The snake
reared high its head, then dropped into a coil. Again it reared up and
swayed from side to side threatening to strike if Kubik went on. So
Kubik saw that fate was determined that he should marry a frog and
reluctantly he turned back.

The snake led him to the cliff, where the old frog greeted him kindly
and thanked the snake for his faithful service.

Poor Kubik! He was very tired and very unhappy. When you come to think
of it, who wouldn't be unhappy at the prospect of being united for
life to a frog?

Kubik was so tired that presently he fell asleep and it was just as
well he did, for at least in dreams he could forget his troubles.

The next morning when he woke and rubbed his eyes, he found himself
lying on a soft feather bed, white as snow, in a splendid room with
decorations that were fit for a king. A fine silken shirt lay spread
out on a chair beside the bed and beyond the chair was a stand with a
silver basin. When he got up attendants came running in carrying
clothes of richly woven cloth of gold. They dressed Kubik and they
combed his hair until they had him looking like a young prince. Then
they brought him breakfast and there was cream with the coffee and I
would have you know that this was only the second time in his life
that Kubik had ever had cream with his coffee!

Kubik did not know what to think of it all. His head went round and
round. When he looked out the window he saw no trace of cliff or
caverns or forest. Instead he saw a big town with streets and houses
and people going to and fro.

Presently music began to play under the window, a great crowd gathered
and soon attendants came in to escort Lord Kubik out. As he reached
the castle gate, the people cheered and a coach and six drove up. Two
ladies were in it, a mother and daughter, both dressed in beautiful
silks. They alighted from the coach and when they saw Kubik they
smiled and came toward him with outstretched hands.

"You don't know us, do you, Kubik?" the older lady said. "I was that
old frog who coaxed you to the cliff and this, my beautiful daughter,
was the other little frog, the very ugly one, that you feared you
would have to take home to your father's house as your bride. You see,
Kubik, we were all under an evil enchantment. Many years ago a wicked
magician brought ruin on us and our kingdom. He changed our subjects
into snakes and us into frogs and turned our fine city into a rocky
cliff. Nothing could break the enchantment until some one should come
and ask a betrothal gift from my daughter. We lived in the forest for
years and years and all those years I begged all the people who
wandered by to help us but they only trod on us or turned away from us
in disgust. You, Kubik, were the first not to scorn us for our ugly
looks. By this you broke the evil spell that held us and now we are
all free. As a reward you shall marry my daughter, the Princess
Kachenka, and be made king!"

Then the old queen took Kubik by the hand and led him to the royal
coach, where she made him sit between her and the princess. Music
played and the people cheered, and in this style they drove to Kubik's
native village and to his father's house.

The old man was in the yard chopping firewood and his older sons were
helping him. They, too, had brought home their brides, plain country
girls from poor farms, and at that moment they were all awaiting
Kubik's arrival.

"Look, father," the oldest son cried, "some fine folk are turning in
here!"

"We're not behind in our taxes, are we?" the second son asked.

"Hush!" the old man whispered. "I have nothing to fear. My affairs are
all in good order."

He put his cap respectfully under his arm and stood bareheaded and
both his sons followed his example.

The coach drove straight into the yard and a handsome young lord and
two beautiful ladies alighted. The handsome young lord greeted the
old man and his sons and they bowed and scraped and pressed their hats
under their arms tighter and tighter.

Then they all stepped into the old kitchen that was black with the
smoke of many years and the handsome young lord sat down on the bench
behind the table as though that was where he always sat. The two
brothers and their brides shrank back against the oven and held their
breath.

Then the handsome young lord said to the old man: "Don't you know me?"

"Where could I ever have seen your lordship?" the farmer asked,
humbly. He kept bobbing so low it was a wonder he didn't bump his head
against the floor.

"And do neither of your sons know me? I think these are your sons,
aren't they?"

The farmer kept on bowing and the two sons looked down, too
embarrassed to speak.

At length the handsome young lord said: "What, don't you know your own
son, Kubik, whom you used to beat for stealing when he showed you his
betrothal gifts?"

At that the old man looked at him closely and cried out: "Bless my
soul, I believe it is our Kubik! But who could recognize the
boy!... And is this his bride? That settles it! Kubik shall have the
farm! Kubik has brought home the most beautiful bride!"



"Kubik doesn't need the farm," the old queen said, "nor will you need
it any longer nor your other sons. You will all come home with us to
our kingdom over which Kubik is now king. And may God grant you many
years to live on in peace and quiet."

The farmer was overjoyed at this arrangement. He embraced his son, and
his son's bride, and his son's royal mother-in-law.

He gave his farm to the poorest man in the village and then he and his
sons accompanied Kubik back to his kingdom. There he lived long in
peace and comfort enjoying the thought that good fortune had come to
them all on account of his determination not to divide the farm.

The poor man who inherited the farm prayed for him and his sons every
night and never tired of telling the story of how Kubik became a king
and his brothers courtiers.

So for many years the memory of Kubik was kept green. Now people are
beginning to forget him, so I thought it was time that I tell his
story again.





Next: Grandfather's Eyes

Previous: Katcha And The Devil



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