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THE CASTLE OF FORTUNE

from Stories To Tell Children





One lovely summer morning, just as the sun rose, two travellers started
on a journey. They were both strong young men, but one was a lazy fellow
and the other was a worker.

As the first sunbeams came over the hills, they shone on a great castle
standing on the heights, as far away as the eye could see. It was a
wonderful and beautiful castle, all glistening towers that gleamed like
marble, and glancing windows that shone like crystal. The two young men
looked at it eagerly, and longed to go nearer.

Suddenly, out of the distance, something like a great butterfly, of
white and gold, swept toward them. And when it came nearer, they saw
that it was a most beautiful lady, robed in floating garments as fine as
cobwebs and wearing on her head a crown so bright that no one could tell
whether it was of diamonds or of dew. She stood, light as air, on a
great, shining, golden ball, which rolled along with her, swifter than
the wind. As she passed the travellers, she turned her face to them and
smiled.

"Follow me!" she said.

The lazy man sat down in the grass with a discontented sigh. "She has
an easy time of it!" he said.

But the industrious man ran after the lovely lady and caught the hem of
her floating robe in his grasp. "Who are you, and whither are you
going?" he asked.

"I am the Fairy of Fortune," the beautiful lady said, "and that is my
castle. You may reach it to-day, if you will; there is time, if you
waste none. If you reach it before the last stroke of midnight, I will
receive you there, and will be your friend. But if you come one second
after midnight, it will be too late."

When she had said this, her robe slipped from the traveller's hand and
she was gone.

The industrious man hurried back to his friend, and told him what the
fairy had said.

"The idea!" said the lazy, man, and he laughed; "of course, if we had a
horse there would be some chance, but _walk_ all that way? No, thank
you!"

"Then good-bye," said his friend, "I am off." And he set out, down the
road toward the shining castle, with a good steady stride, his eyes
straight ahead.

The lazy man lay down in the soft grass, and looked rather wistfully at
the far-away towers. "If only I had a good horse!" he sighed.

Just at that moment he felt something warm nosing about at his shoulder,
and heard a little whinny. He turned round, and there stood a little
horse! It was a dainty creature, gentle-looking, and finely built, and
it was saddled and bridled.

"Hello!" said the lazy man. "Luck often comes when one isn't looking for
it!" And in an instant he had leaped on the horse, and headed him for
the castle of fortune. The little horse started at a fine pace, and in a
very few minutes they overtook the other traveller, plodding along on
foot.

"How do you like shank's pony?" laughed the lazy man, as he passed his
friend.

The industrious man only nodded, and kept on with his steady stride,
eyes straight ahead.

The horse kept his good pace, and by noon the towers of the castle stood
out against the sky, much nearer and more beautiful. Exactly at noon,
the horse turned aside from the road, into a shady grove on a hill, and
stopped.

"Wise beast," said his rider: "'haste makes waste,' and all things are
better in moderation. I'll follow your example, and eat and rest a bit."
He dismounted and sat down in the cool moss, with his back against a
tree. He had a lunch in his traveller's pouch, and he ate it
comfortably. Then he felt drowsy from the heat and the early ride, so he
pulled his hat over his eyes, and settled himself for a nap. "It will go
all the better for a little rest," he said.

That _was_ a sleep! He slept like the seven sleepers, and he dreamed the
most beautiful things you could imagine. At last, he dreamed that he had
entered the castle of fortune and was being received with great
festivities. Everything he wanted was brought to him, and music played
while fireworks were set off in his honour. The music was so loud that
he awoke. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and behold, the fireworks were
the very last rays of the setting sun, and the music was the voice of
the other traveller, passing the grove on foot!

"Time to be off," said the lazy man, and looked about him for the pretty
horse. No horse was to be found. The only living thing near was an old,
bony, grey donkey. The man called, and whistled, and looked, but no
little horse appeared. After a long while he gave it up, and, since
there was nothing better to do, he mounted the old grey donkey and set
out again.

The donkey was slow, and he was hard to ride, but he was better than
nothing; and gradually the lazy man saw the towers of the castle draw
nearer.

Now it began to grow dark; in the castle windows the lights began to
show. Then came trouble! Slower, and slower, went the grey donkey;
slower, and slower, till, in the very middle of a pitch-black wood, he
stopped and stood still. Not a step would he budge for all the coaxing
and scolding and beating his rider could give. At last the rider kicked
him, as well as beat him, and at that the donkey felt that he had had
enough. Up went his hind heels, and down went his head, and over it went
the lazy man on to the stony ground.

There he lay groaning for many minutes, for it was not a soft place, I
can assure you. How he wished he were in a soft, warm bed, with his
aching bones comfortable in blankets! The very thought of it made him
remember the Castle of Fortune, for he knew there must be fine beds
there. To get to those beds he was even willing to bestir his poor
limbs, so he sat up and felt about him for the donkey.

No donkey was to be found.

The lazy man crept round and round the spot where he had fallen,
scratched his hands on the stumps, tore his face in the briers, and
bumped his knees on the stones. But no donkey was there. He would have
laid down to sleep again, but he could hear now the howls of hungry
wolves in the woods; that it did not sound pleasant. Finally, his hand
struck against something that felt like a saddle. He grasped it,
thankfully, and started to mount his donkey.

The beast he took hold of seemed very small, and, as he mounted, he felt
that its sides were moist and slimy. It gave him a shudder, and he
hesitated; but at that moment he heard a distant clock strike. It was
striking eleven! There was still time to reach the castle of fortune,
but no more than enough; so he mounted his new steed and rode on once
more. The animal was easier to sit on than the donkey, and the saddle
seemed remarkably high behind; it was good to lean against. But even the
donkey was not so slow as this; the new steed was slower than he. After
a while, however, he pushed his way out of the woods into the open, and
there stood the castle, only a little way ahead! All its windows were
ablaze with lights. A ray from them fell on the lazy man's beast, and he
saw what he was riding: it was a gigantic snail! a snail as large as a
calf!

A cold shudder ran over the lazy man's body, and he would have got off
his horrid animal then and there, but just then the clock struck once
more. It was the first of the long, slow strokes that mark midnight! The
man grew frantic when he heard it. He drove his heels into the snail's
sides, to make him hurry. Instantly, the snail drew in his head, curled
up in his shell, and left the lazy man sitting in a heap on the ground!

The clock struck twice. If the man had run for it, he could still have
reached the castle, but, instead, he sat still and shouted for a horse.

"A beast, a beast!" he wailed, "any kind of a beast that will take me to
the castle!"

The clock struck three times. And as it struck the third note, something
came rustling and rattling out of the darkness, something that sounded
like a horse with harness. The lazy man jumped on its back, a very
queer, low back. As he mounted, he saw the doors of the castle open, and
saw his friend standing on the threshold, waving his cap and beckoning
to him.

The clock struck four times, and the new steed began to stir; as it
struck five, he moved a pace forward; as it struck six, he stopped; as
it struck seven, he turned himself about; as it struck eight, he began
to move backward, away from the castle!

The lazy man shouted, and beat him, but the beast went slowly backward.
And the clock struck nine. The man tried to slide off, then, but from
all sides of his strange animal great arms came reaching up and held him
fast. And in the next ray of moonlight that broke the dark clouds, he
saw that he was mounted on a monster crab!

One by one, the lights went out, in the castle windows. The clock struck
ten. Backward went the crab. Eleven! Still the crab went backward. The
clock struck twelve! Then the great doors shut with a clang, and the
castle of fortune was closed for ever to the lazy man.

What became of him and his crab no one knows to this day, and no one
cares. But the industrious man was received by the Fairy of Fortune, and
made happy in the castle as long as he wanted to stay. And ever
afterward she was his friend, helping him not only to happiness for
himself, but also showing him how to help others, wherever he went.





Next: DAVID AND GOLIATH

Previous: HOW THE SEA BECAME SALT



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