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The Girl In The Chest

from The Laughing Prince Jugoslav Folk And Fairy Tales





There was once a horrible Vampire who took the form of a handsome young
man and went to the house of an old woman who had three daughters and
pretended he wanted to marry the oldest.

I live far from here, the Vampire said. I own my own farm and am
well-to-do and in marrying me your daughter would get a desirable
husband. Indeed, I am so well off that I don't have to ask any dowry.

Now the old woman was so poor that she couldn't have given a penny of
dowry. That was the only reason why all three of her daughters hadn't
long ago been married to youths of their own village. So when the
stranger said he would require no dowry, the old woman whispered to her
oldest daughter:

He seems to be all right. Perhaps you had better take him.

The poor girl accepted her mother's advice and that afternoon started
off with the Vampire who said he would lead her home and marry her.

They walked a great distance and as evening came on they reached a wild
ghostly spot which frightened the girl half to death.

This way, my dear, the Vampire said, pushing her into an opening in
the earth. We take this underground passage and soon we'll be home.

The passage led to a sort of cave which really was the Vampire's home.

What an awful place! the poor girl cried in terror. Let me out!

Let you out, indeed! the Vampire sneered, taking his own horrible
shape and laughing cruelly. Here you are and here you stay and if you
don't do everything I tell you, I'll soon finish you! Here now, drink
this.

He offered the poor girl a pitcher and when she saw what was in it she
nearly fainted with horror.

No! she cried. I won't! I won't!

If you don't drink this, the Vampire said, darkly, then I'll drink
you!

And with that he killed her with no more feeling than if she were a fly.

Then in a short time he went back to the old woman and said:

Dear mother, my poor wife is ill and she begs that you send her your
second daughter to nurse her. She asks for her sister night and day and
I fear she will die unless she sees her.

When the poor old mother heard this, she begged the second daughter to
go at once with the young man and nurse her sick sister.

Well, the same thing happened to the second sister and in no time at all
the Vampire had killed her, too, to satisfy his awful thirst.

Then he returned again to the old mother and this time he pretended that
both sisters were sick and were trying for the third sister to come and
nurse them. So the poor old woman sent her Youngest Daughter away with
the Vampire.

The Youngest Sister when she found out the truth about the horrid
Vampire didn't sit down and weep helplessly as the others had done and
wait for the Vampire to kill her, but she prayed God's help and then
tried to find some way of escape.

There were doors in the cave which the Vampire told her were doors to
closets she must not enter. When the Vampire was out she opened these
doors and found that they all led into long underground passages.

This is my one chance to get back to earth! the girl thought and
commending her undertaking to God she fled down one of the passages.

You may be sure the Vampire when he came back and found her gone fell
into a great rage. He went running wildly up and down the various
passages and lost so much time searching the wrong passages that the
girl was able to make good her escape and reach the upper world in
safety.

She came out in a wood with no sign of human habitation anywhere in
sight.

What shall I do now? she thought. If I stay here alone and
unprotected some wild beast or evil creature may get me.

So she knelt down and prayed God to give her a chest that she could lock
from the inside with one of her own golden hairs so securely that no one
could force it open. God heard her prayer and presently behind some
bushes she found just such a chest. When it grew dark and she was ready
to go to bed, she crept into the chest, locked it with a hair, and slept
peacefully knowing that nothing could harm her.

So she lived in the wood some time, eating berries and fruits, and
sleeping safely in the chest.

Now it so happened that the King's son one morning went hunting in this
very wood and caught a glimpse of the girl as she was gathering berries.
He thought he had never seen such a beautiful creature and instantly he
fell in love with her. But when he reached the clump of bushes where he
had seen her, she was gone. He called his huntsmen together and told
them to search everywhere. They hunted for hours and all they could find
was a chest. They tried to open the chest to see what was in it but
couldn't.

Waste no more time over it, the Prince said at last. Carry it home to
the palace as it is and have it placed in my chamber.

The huntsmen did this and a few hours later when the girl peeped out of
her chest she found herself alone in the Prince's chamber. His supper
was standing on a table in readiness for his coming. The girl ate the
supper and was safely back in her chest before he arrived. When he did
come the Prince was amazed to see empty plates and called the servants
to know who had eaten his supper. The servants were as much surprised as
the Prince and declared that no one had entered the chamber.

The same thing happened the next day and the following day the Prince
had one of his servants hide behind the curtains and watch to find out
if possible how the food disappeared.

The story the servant had to tell of what he saw was so thrilling that
the Prince could scarcely wait for the next day when he himself hid
behind the curtains and watched.

The serving people put the food on the table and retired and presently
the lid of the chest opened and the Prince saw the beautiful maiden of
the wood step out. When she sat down at the table the Prince slipped up
behind her and caught her in his arms.

You lovely creature! he said, I'm not going to let you escape me
again!

At first the girl was greatly frightened but the Prince reassured her,
telling her that he loved her dearly and only wanted to make her his
wife.

He led her at once to the King, his father, and the girl was so modest
and lovely that the King soon agreed to the marriage.

[Illustration: The Chest Opened and the Prince Saw the Beautiful
Maiden]

Everybody in court was delighted--everybody, that is, but the
Chamberlain who had had hopes of marrying his own daughter to the
Prince. His daughter was an ugly ill-tempered girl and the Prince had
never even looked at her. The Chamberlain was sure, however, that with a
little more time he could arrange the match to his liking. So the
appearance of this beautiful girl who came from Heaven knows where threw
him into a fearful rage and he decided to do away with her at any cost.
Now he had in his employ a great burly Blackamoor. He called this
fellow to him and he told him that he must kidnap the girl at once and
kill her. The Blackamoor who was accustomed to do such deeds for the
Chamberlain nodded and said he would.

So when the palace was quiet that night he stole to the bedchamber where
the girl was lying asleep, threw a great robe over her head to stifle
her cries, and carried her off. She fainted away from fright and the
Blackamoor thinking her dead tossed her into a field of nettles in the
outskirts of the town.

Now, as you can imagine, in the morning there was a great uproar in the
palace when it was discovered that the Prince's beautiful bride-to-be
had disappeared. The Prince was utterly grief-stricken and refused to
eat. The King and all the ladies of the court tried their best to
comfort him but he turned away from them declaring he would die if his
bride were not restored to him.

The rascally Chamberlain put his handkerchief to his eyes and pretended
to weep he was so affected by the sight of the Prince's grief.

My dear boy, he said, I would that I could find this maiden for you!
It breaks my heart to see you sad and unhappy! But I'm sorry to tell you
that I hear she was a Vila and not a human maiden at all. You know how
mysteriously she came, and now she's gone just as mysteriously. So put
the thought of her out of your mind and I'm sure you'll soon find a
human maiden who is worthy of your love. Come here, my daughter, and
tell the Prince how sorry you are that he is in grief.

But the sight of the Chamberlain's ugly daughter only made the Prince
long the more for the beautiful girl who was gone.

She meantime had found refuge in the hut of an old woman who had heard
her groan in the early dawn when she lay among the nettles and had taken
compassion on her.

You may stay with me until you're well, the old woman said.

The girl was young and healthy and in a day or two had recovered the ill
treatment she had suffered at the hands of the Blackamoor.

Won't you let me live with you awhile, granny? she said to the old
woman. I'll cook and scrub and work and you won't have to regret the
little I eat.

Can you cook? Because if you can perhaps you know a dish that would
tempt the appetite of our poor young Prince, the old woman said. You
know the poor boy has had a terrible disappointment in love and he
refuses to eat. The heralds were out this morning proclaiming that the
King would richly reward any one who could prepare a dish that would
tempt the Prince's appetite.

Granny! the girl said, I know a wonderful way to prepare beans! Let
me cook a dish of beans and do you carry them to the palace.

So the girl cooked the beans and placed them prettily in a dish and on
one side of the dish she put a tiny little ringlet of her own golden
hair.

If he sees the hair, she thought to herself, he'll know the beans are
from me.

And that's exactly what happened. To please his father the Prince had
consented to look at every dish as it came. He had already looked at
hundreds of them before the old woman arrived and turned away from them
all. Then the old woman came. As she passed before the Prince, she
lifted the cover of the dish, held it towards him, and curtsied. The
Prince was just about to turn away when he saw the tiny ringlet of hair.

Oh! he said. Wait a minute! Those beans look good!

To the King's delight he took the dish out of the old woman's hand,
examined it carefully, and when no one was looking slipped the ringlet
into his pocket. Then he ate the beans--every last one of them!

The King gave the old woman some golden ducats and begged her to prepare
another dish for the Prince on the morrow.

So the next day the girl again sent a tiny ringlet of her hair on the
side of the plate and again the Prince after scorning all the other food
offered him took the old woman's dish and ate it clean.

On the third day the Prince engaged the old woman in conversation.

Where do you live, granny?

In a little tumble-down house beside the nettles, she told him.

Do you live alone?

Just now, the old woman said, I have a dear girl living with me. I
found her one morning lying in the nettles where some ruffians had left
her for dead. She's a good girl and she scrubs and bakes and cooks for
me and lets me rest my poor old bones.

Now the Prince knew what he wanted to know.

Granny, he said, to-morrow's Sunday. Now I want you to stay home in
the afternoon because I'm coming to see you.

In great excitement the old woman hurried home and told the girl that
the Prince was coming to see them on Sunday afternoon.

He mustn't see me! the girl said. I'll hide in the bread trough under
a cloth and if he goes looking for me you tell him that I've gone out.

Foolish child! the old woman said. Why should you hide from a
handsome young man like the Prince?

But the girl insisted and at last when Sunday afternoon came the old
woman was forced to let her lie down in the bread trough and cover her
with a cloth.

The Prince arrived and when he found the old woman there alone he was
mightily disappointed.

Where's that girl who lives with you? he asked.

She's gone out, the old woman said.

Then I think I'll wait till she comes back.

This made the old woman feel nervous.

But, my Prince, I don't know when she's coming back.

Just then the Prince thought he saw something move in the bread trough.

What's that lumpy thing in the bread trough, granny?

That? Oh, that's just dough that's rising, my Prince. I'm baking
to-day.

Then make me a loaf, granny. I'll wait for it until it rises and until
you bake it. Then I'll eat it hot out of the oven.

What was the old woman to say to that? She fussed and fidgeted and
thought again what a foolish young girl that was to be hiding in the
bread trough when there was a handsome young Prince in the room.

I don't know why that dough doesn't rise, she remarked at last.

Perhaps there's something the matter with it, the Prince said.

Before the old woman could stop him, he jumped up, tossed the cloth
aside, and there was his lovely bride!

Why are you hiding from me? he asked as he lifted her up and kissed
her tenderly.

Because I knew if you really loved me you would find me, she said.

Now that I have found you, the Prince declared, I shall never let you
leave me again.

Then the girl told the Prince about the wicked Chamberlain and the
Blackamoor and it was all she and the old woman could do to keep the
Prince from drawing his sword and rushing out instantly to kill both of
them.

The old woman begged the Prince to take the girl secretly to the King
and have the King hear her story, and then let him pass judgment on the
Chamberlain according to the laws of the land. At last the Prince agreed
to this.

So they covered the girl's head with a veil and took her to the King.
When the King heard her story he called the court together at once and
told them the outrage that had been committed against his son's promised
bride. He commanded that the murderous Blackamoor be executed the next
day and he decreed that the Chamberlain and his wicked daughter be
stripped of their lands and riches and sent into exile.

Let us hope that exile taught them the evil of their ways and made them
repent.

As for the girl, she married the Prince and they lived together in great
happiness. And she deserved to be happy, too, for she was a brave girl
and a good girl and God loves people who are brave and good and blesses
them.





Next: The Wonderful Hair

Previous: The Nightingale In The Mosque



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