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The Laughing Prince

from The Laughing Prince Jugoslav Folk And Fairy Tales





There was once a farmer who had three sons and one little daughter. The
eldest son was a studious boy who learned so much out of books that the
farmer said:

We must send Mihailo to school and make a priest of him.

The second boy was a trader. Whatever you had he would get it from you
by offering you something else for it. And always what he gave you was
worth less than what you gave him.

Jakov will make a fine peddler, the farmer said. He's industrious and
sharp and some day he will probably be a rich man.

But Stefan, the farmer's youngest son, had no special talent and because
he didn't spend all his time with his nose in a book and because he
never made the best of a bargain his brothers scorned him. Militza, his
little sister, loved him dearly for he was kind and jolly and in the
evening he was always ready to tell her stories and play with her. But
the farmer, of course, listened to the older brothers.

I don't know about poor Stefan, he used to say. He's a good boy but
he talks nonsense. I suppose he'll have to stay on the farm and work.

Now the truth is the farm was a fine place for Stefan for he was strong
and lusty and he liked to plow and harvest and he had a wonderful way
with the animals. He talked to them as if they were human beings and the
horses all whinnied when he came near, and the cows rubbed their soft
noses against his shoulder, and as for the pigs--they loved him so much
that whenever they saw him they used to run squealing between his legs.

Stefan is nothing but a farmer! Mihailo used to say as though being a
farmer was something to be ashamed of.

And Jakov said:

If the village people could see the pigs following him about, how
they'd laugh at him! I hope when I go to the village to live he won't be
visiting me all the time!

Another thing the older brothers couldn't understand about Stefan was
why he was always laughing and joking. He did the work of two men but
whether he was working or resting you could always hear him cracking his
merry jokes and laughing his jolly laugh.

I think he's foolish! Mihailo said.

Jakov hoped that the village people wouldn't hear about his carryings
on.

They'd laugh at him, he said, and they'd laugh at us, too, because
we're his brothers.

But Stefan didn't care. The more they frowned at him, the louder he
laughed, and in spite of their dark looks he kept on cracking his merry
jokes and talking nonsense. And every evening after supper his little
sister, Militza, clapped her hands and cried:

Now, Stefan, tell me a story! Tell me a story!

Father, Mihailo would say, you ought to make him keep quiet! He's
foolish and all he does is fill Militza's head with nonsense!

This always made Militza very indignant and she would stamp her little
foot and say:

He isn't foolish! He knows more than any one! And he can do more things
than any one else and he's the handsomest brother in the world!

You see Militza loved Stefan dearly and when you love a person of course
you think that person is wonderful. But the father supposed that Mihailo
must be right for Mihailo studied in books. So he shook his head and
sighed every time he thought of Stefan.

Now the kingdom in which the three brothers lived was ruled over by a
great Tsar who had an only daughter. In disappointment that he had no
son, the Tsar was having his daughter brought up as though she were a
boy. He sent all over the world for tutors and teachers and had the poor
girl taught statecraft and law and philosophy and all the other things
that the heir to the throne ought to know.

The Princess because she was an obedient girl and because she loved her
father tried to spend all her time in study. But the dry old scholars
whom the Tsar employed as teachers were not amusing companions for a
young girl and the first lady-in-waiting who was in constant attendance
was scarcely any better for she, too, was old and thin and very prim.

If the poor little Princess between her geography lesson and her
arithmetic lesson would peep for a moment into a mirror, the first
lady-in-waiting would tap her arm reprovingly and say:

My dear, vanity is not becoming in a princess!

One day the little Princess lost her temper and answered sharply:

But I'm a girl even if I am a princess and I love to look in mirrors
and I love to make myself pretty and I'd love to go to a ball every
night of my life and dance with handsome young men!

You talk like the daughter of a farmer! the first lady-in-waiting
said.

Then the Princess, because she lost her temper still further, said
something she should not have said.

I wish I were the daughter of a farmer! she declared. Then I could
wear pretty ribbons and go dancing and the boys would come courting me!
As it is I have to spend all my time with funny old men and silly old
women!

Now even if her tutors and teachers were funny looking old men, even if
the first lady-in-waiting was a silly old woman, the Princess should not
have said so. It hurt the feelings of the first lady-in-waiting and made
her angry and she ran off to the Tsar at once and complained most
bitterly.

Is this my reward after all my years of loving service to your
daughter? she asked. It is true that I've grown old and thin looking
after her manners and now she calls me a silly old woman! And all the
learned wise men and scholars that you have gathered from the far
corners of the earth--she points her finger at them and calls them funny
old men!

The fact is they were funny looking, most of them, but yet the first
lady-in-waiting was right: the Princess should not have said so.

And think of her ingratitude to yourself, O Tsar! the first
lady-in-waiting continued. You plan to make her the heir to your throne
and yet she says she wishes she were a farmer's daughter so that she
could deck herself out in ribbons and have the boys come courting her! A
nice thing for a princess to say!

The Tsar when he heard this fell into an awful rage. (The truth is
whatever temper the Princess had she inherited direct from her father.)

Wow! Wow! he roared, just that way. Send the Princess to me at once.
I'll soon have her singing another tune!

So the first lady-in-waiting sent the Princess to her father and as soon
as he saw her he began roaring again and saying:

Wow! Wow! What do you mean--funny old men and silly old women?

Now whenever the Tsar began roaring and saying, Wow! Wow! the Princess
always stiffened, and instead of being the sweet and obedient daughter
she usually was she became obstinate. Her pretty eyes would flash and
her soft pretty face would harden and people would whisper: Mercy on
us, how much she looks like her father!

That's just what I mean! the Princess said. They're a lot of funny
old men and silly old women and I'm tired of them! I want to be amused!
I want to laugh!

Wow! Wow! Wow! roared the Tsar. A fine princess you are! Go straight
back to the schoolroom and behave yourself!

So the little Princess marched out of the throne room holding her head
very high and looking so much like the Tsar that the first
lady-in-waiting was positively frightened.

The Princess went back to the schoolroom but she did not behave herself.
She was really very naughty. When the poor man who knew more than
anybody in the world about the influence of the stars upon the destinies
of nations came to give her a lesson, she threw his book out the window.
When the superannuated old general who was teaching her military
manoeuvers offered her a diagram on which the enemy was represented by
a series of black dots and our soldiers by a series of red dots, she
took the paper and tore it in two. And worst of all when the old scholar
who was teaching her Turkish--for a princess must be able to speak all
languages--dropped his horn spectacles on the floor, she deliberately
stepped on them and broke them.

When the Tsar heard all these things he just wow-wowed something
terrible.

Lock that young woman in her chamber! he ordered. Feed her on bread
and water until she's ready to apologize!

But the Princess, far from being frightened by this treatment, calmly
announced:

I won't eat even your old bread and water until you send me some one
who will make me laugh!

Now this frightened the Tsar because he knew how obstinate the Princess
could be on occasions. (He ought to know, too, for the Princess had that
streak of obstinacy direct from himself.)

This will never do! he said.

He hurried to the Princess's chamber. He found her in bed with her
pretty hair spread out on the pillow like a golden fan.

My dear, the Tsar said, I was joking. You don't have to eat only
bread and water. You may have anything you want.

Thank you, the Princess said, but I'll never eat another bite of
anything until you send me some one who will make me laugh. I'm tired of
living in this gloomy old castle with a lot of old men and old women who
do nothing but instruct me and with a father who always loses his
temper and says, 'Wow! Wow!'

But it's a beautiful castle! the poor Tsar said. And I'm sure we're
all doing our very best to educate you!

But I want to be amused as well as educated! the little Princess said.
And then, because she felt she was going to cry, she turned her face to
the wall and wouldn't say another word.

What was the Tsar to do? He called together his councilors and asked
them how was the Princess to be made to laugh. The councilors were wise
about state matters but not one of them could suggest a means of amusing
the Princess. The Master of Ceremonies did indeed begin to say something
about a nice young man but instantly the Tsar roared out such a
wrathful, Wow! Wow! that the Master of Ceremonies coughed and
pretended he hadn't spoken.

Then the Tsar called together the scholars and the teachers and the
first lady-in-waiting. He glared at them savagely and roared:

Wow! Wow! A nice lot you are! I put you in charge of my daughter and
not one of you has sense enough to know that the poor child needs a
little amusement! I have a good mind to have you all thrown into the
dungeon!

But, Your Majesty, quavered one poor old scholar, I was not employed
as a buffoon but as a teacher of astrology!

And I, another said, as a teacher of languages!

And I as a teacher of philosophy!

Silence! roared the Tsar. Between you all you have about killed my
poor child! Now I ask you: With all your learning doesn't one of you
know how to make a young girl laugh?

Apparently not one of them did, for no one answered.

Not even you? the Tsar said, looking at the first lady-in-waiting.

When you called me to Court, the first lady-in-waiting answered,
drawing herself up in a most refined manner, you said you wished me to
teach your daughter etiquette. As you said nothing about amusement,
quite naturally I confined myself to the subject of behavior. If I do
say it myself, no one has ever been more devoted to duty than I. I am
constantly saying to her: 'That isn't the way a princess should act!' In
fact for years there has hardly been a moment in the day when I haven't
corrected her for something!

Poor child! groaned the Tsar. No wonder she wants a change! Oh, what
fools you all are in spite of your learning! Don't you know that a young
girl is a young girl even if she is a Princess!

Well, the scholars weren't any more help to the Tsar than the
councilors, and finally in desperation he sent heralds through the land
to announce that to any one who could make the Princess laugh he would
give three bags of gold.

Three bags of gold don't grow on the bushes every day and instantly all
the youths and men and old men who had stories that their sweethearts
and their wives and their daughters laughed at hurried to the castle.

One by one they were admitted to the Princess's chamber. They entered
hopefully but when they saw the Tsar sitting at one side of the door
muttering, Wow! Wow! in his beard, and the old first lady-in-waiting
at the other side of the door watching them scornfully, and the Princess
herself in bed with her lovely hair spread out like a golden fan on the
pillow, they forgot their funny stories and hemmed and hawed and
stammered and had finally, one after another, to be turned out in
disgrace.

One day went by and two and three and still the Princess refused to eat.
In despair the Tsar sent out his heralds again. This time he said that
to any one who would make the Princess laugh he would give the
Princess's hand in marriage and make him joint heir to the kingdom.

I had expected to wed her to the son of some great Tsar, he sighed,
but I'd rather marry her to a farmer than see her die of starvation!

The heralds rode far and wide until every one, even the people on the
most distant farms, had heard of the Tsar's offer.

I won't try again, said Mihailo, the oldest son of the farmer I've
already told you about. When I went there the day before yesterday I
began telling her a funny story out of my Latin book but instead of
laughing she said: 'Oh, send him away!' So now she'll have to starve to
death for all of me!

Me, too! said Jakov, the second son. When I tried to tell her that
funny story of how I traded the moldy oats for the old widow's fat pig,
instead of laughing she looked me straight in the face and said:
'Cheat!'

Stefan ought to go, Mihailo suggested. Maybe she'd laugh at him!
Everybody else does!

He spoke sneeringly but Stefan only smiled.

Who knows? Perhaps I will go. If I do make her laugh then, O my
brothers, the laugh will be on you for I shall become Tsar and you two
will be known as my two poor brothers. Ho! Ho! Ho! What a joke that
would be!

Stefan laughed loud and heartily and his little sister joined him, but
his brothers looked at him sourly.

He grows more foolish all the time! they told each other.

When they were gone to bed, Militza slipped over to Stefan and whispered
in his ear:

Brother, you must go to the Princess. Tell her the story that begins:
In my young days when I was an old, old man.... I think she'll just
have to laugh, and if she laughs then she can eat and she must be very
hungry by this time.

At first Stefan said no, he wouldn't go, but Militza insisted and
finally, to please her, he said he would.

So early the next morning he dressed himself in his fine Sunday shirt
with its blue and red embroidery. He put on his bright red Sunday sash
and his long shiny boots. Then he mounted his horse and before his
brothers were awake rode off to the Tsar's castle.

There he awaited his turn to be admitted to the Princess's chamber. When
he came in he was so young and healthy and vigorous that he seemed to
bring with him a little of the freshness of outdoors. The first
lady-in-waiting looked at him askance for without doubt he was a farmer
lad and his table manners probably were not good. Well, he was a farmer
lad and for that reason he didn't know that she was first
lady-in-waiting. He glanced at her once and thought: What an ugly old
woman! and thereafter he didn't think of her at all. He glanced
likewise at the Tsar and the Tsar reminded him of a bull of his own. He
wasn't afraid of the bull, so why be afraid of the Tsar?

Suddenly he saw the Princess lying in bed with her lovely hair spread
out on the pillow like a golden fan and for a moment he couldn't speak.
Then he knelt beside the bed and kissed her hand.

Princess, he said, I'm not learned and I'm not clever and I don't
suppose I can succeed where so many wise men have failed. And even if I
do make you laugh you won't have to marry me unless you want to because
the reason I really came was to please Militza.

Militza?

Yes, Princess, my little sister, Militza. She loves me very much and so
she thinks the stories I tell are funny and she laughs at them. Last
night she said to me: 'Stefan, you must go to the Princess and tell her
the story that begins: In my young days when I was an old, old
man.... I think she'll just have to laugh and if she laughs then she
can eat and she must be very hungry by this time.'

I am, the Princess said, with a catch in her voice. Then she added: I
think I like that little sister of yours and I think I like you, too. I
wish you would tell me the story that begins: In my young days when I
was an old, old man....

But, Princess, it's a very foolish story.

The foolisher, the better!

Just here the first lady-in-waiting tried to correct the Princess for of
course she should have said: The more foolish, the better! but the
Tsar shut her up with a black frown and one fierce, Wow!

Well, then, Stefan began:

In my young days when I was an old, old man I used to count my bees
every morning. It was easy enough to count the bees but not the beehives
because I had too many hives. One day when I finished counting I found
that my best bee was missing. At once I saddled a rooster and set out to
find him.

Father! cried the Princess. Did you hear what Stefan said? He said he
saddled his rooster!

Umph! muttered the Tsar, and the first lady-in-waiting said severely:

Princess, do not interrupt! Young man, continue.

His track led to the sea which I rode across on a bridge. The first
thing I saw on the other side of the sea was my bee. There he was in a
field of millet harnessed to a plow. That's my bee! I shouted to the
man who was driving him. Is that so? the man said, and without any
words he gave me back my bee and handed me a bag of millet to pay for
the plowing. I took the bag and tied it securely on the bee. Then I
unsaddled the rooster and mounted the bee. The rooster, poor thing, was
so tired that I had to take him by the hand and lead him along beside
us.

Father! the Princess cried, did you hear that? He took the rooster by
the hand! Isn't that funny!

Umph! grunted the Tsar, and the first lady-in-waiting whispered:

Hush! Let the young man finish!

Whilst we were crossing the bridge, the string of the bag broke and all
my millet spilled out. When night came I tied the rooster to the bee and
lay down on the seashore to sleep. During the night some wolves came
and killed my bee and when I woke up I found that all the honey had run
out of his body. There was so much honey that it rose up and up until it
reached the ankles of the valleys and the knees of the mountains. I took
a hatchet and swam down to a forest where I found two deer leaping about
on one leg. I shot at the deer with my hatchet, killed them, and skinned
them. With the skins I made two leather bottles. I filled these with the
honey and strapped them over the rooster's back. Then I rode home. I no
sooner arrived home than my father was born. We must have holy water
for the christening, I said. I suppose I must go to heaven to fetch
some. But how was I to get there? I thought of my millet. Sure enough
the dampness had made it grow so well that its tops now reached the sky.
So all I had to do was to climb a millet stalk and there I was in
heaven. Up there they had mown down some of my millet which they baked
into a loaf and were eating with boiled milk. That's my millet! I
said. What do you want for it? they asked me. I want some holy water
to christen my father who has just been born. So they gave me some holy
water and I prepared to descend again to earth. But on earth there was a
violent storm going on and the wind carried away my millet. So there I
was with no way of getting down. I thought of my hair. It was so long
that when I stood up it covered my ears and when I lay down it reached
all the way to earth. So I pulled out a hair, tied it to a tree of
heaven, and began descending by it. When it grew dark I made a knot in
the hair and just sat where I was. It was cold, so I took a needle which
I happened to have in my coat, split it up, and lighted a fire with the
chips.

Oh, father! the Princess cried, Stefan says he split a needle into
kindling wood! Isn't he funny!

If you ask me-- the first lady-in-waiting began, but before she could
say more the Tsar reached over and stepped on her toe so hard that she
was forced to end her sentence with a little squeally, Ouch! The
Princess, you see, was smiling and the Tsar was hoping that presently
she would burst into a laugh. So he motioned Stefan to continue.



Then I lay down beside the fire and fell asleep. While I slept a spark
from the fire fell on the hair and burned it through. I fell to earth
with such force that I sank into the ground up to my chest. I couldn't
budge, so I was forced to go home and get a spade and dig myself out. On
the way home I crossed a field where the reapers were cutting corn.
The heat was so great that they had to stop work. I'll get our mare, I
said, and then you'll feel cooler. You know our mare is two days long
and as broad as midnight and she has willow trees growing on her back.
So I ran and got her and she cast such a cool shadow that the reapers
were at once able to go back to work. Now they wanted some fresh
drinking water, but when they went to the river they found it had frozen
over. They came back to me and asked me would I get them some water.
Certainly, I said. I went to the river myself, then I took off my head
and with it I broke a hole in the ice. After that it was easy enough to
fetch them some water. But where is your head? they asked. Oh! I
said, I must have forgotten it!

Oh, father! the Princess cried with a loud laugh, he says he forgot
his head! Then, Stefan, what did you do? What did you do?

I ran back to the river and got there just as a fox was sniffing at my
skull. Hi, there! I said, pulling the fox's tail. The fox turned
around and gave me a paper on which was written these words: =NOW THE
PRINCESS CAN EAT FOR SHE HAS LAUGHED AND STEFAN AND HIS LITTLE SISTER
ARE VERY HAPPY.=

What nonsense! the first lady-in-waiting murmured with a toss of her
head.

Yes, beautiful nonsense! the Princess cried, clapping her hands and
going off into peal after peal of merry laughter. Isn't it beautiful
nonsense, father? And isn't Stefan a dear lad? And, father, I'm awfully
hungry! Please have some food sent in at once and Stefan must stay and
eat with me.

So the Tsar had great trays of food brought in: roast birds and
vegetables and wheaten bread and many kinds of little cakes and honey
and milk and fruit. And Stefan and the Princess ate and made merry and
the Tsar joined them and even the first lady-in-waiting took one little
cake which she crumbled in her handkerchief in a most refined manner.

Then Stefan rose to go and the Tsar said to him:

Stefan, I will reward you richly. You have made the Princess laugh and
besides you have not insisted on her marrying you. You are a fine lad
and I shall never forget you.

But, father, the Princess said, I don't want Stefan to go. He amuses
me and I like him. He said I needn't marry him unless I wanted to but,
father, I think I want to.

Wow! Wow! the Tsar roared. What! My daughter marry the son of a
farmer!

Now, father, the Princess said, it's no use your wow-wowing at me
and you know it isn't. If I can't marry Stefan I won't marry any one.
And if I don't marry any one I'm going to stop eating again. So that's
that! And still holding Stefan's hand, the Princess turned her face to
the wall.

What could the poor Tsar do? At first he fumed and raged but as usual
after a day or two he came around to the Princess's way of thinking. In
fact it soon seemed to him that Stefan had been his choice from the
first and when one of his councilors remarked: Then, Your Majesty,
there's no use sending word to the neighboring kings that the Princess
has reached a marriageable age and would like to look over their sons,
the Tsar flew into an awful temper and roared:

Wow! Wow! You blockhead! Neighboring kings, indeed, and their
good-for-nothing sons! No, siree! The husband I want for my daughter is
an honest farmer lad who knows how to work and how to play! That's the
kind of son-in-law we need in this kingdom!

So Stefan and the little Princess were married and from that day the
castle was no longer gloomy but rang with laughter and merriment.
Presently the people of the kingdom, following the example of their
rulers, were laughing, too, and cracking jokes and, strange to say, they
soon found they were working all the better for their jollity.

Laughter grew so fashionable that even Mihailo and Jakov were forced to
take it up. They didn't do it very well but they practised at it
conscientiously. Whenever people talked about Stefan, they always pushed
forward importantly and said:

Ho! Ho! Ho! Do you mean Stefan, the Laughing Prince? Ha! Ha! Ha! Why,
do you know, he's our own brother!

As for Militza, the Princess had her come to the castle and said to her:

I owe all my happiness to you, my dear, for you it was who knew that of
course I would laugh at Stefan's nonsense! What sensible girl
wouldn't?





Next: Beauty And The Horns




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