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The Magic Book

from The Orange Fairy Book





There was once an old couple named Peder and Kirsten who had an only
son called Hans. From the time he was a little boy he had been told
that on his sixteenth birthday he must go out into the world and serve
his apprenticeship. So, one fine summer morning, he started off to
seek his fortune with nothing but the clothes he wore on his back.

For many hours he trudged on merrily, now and then stopping to drink
from some clear spring or to pick some ripe fruit from a tree. The
little wild creatures peeped at him from beneath the bushes, and he
nodded and smiled, and wished them 'Good-morning.' After he had been
walking for some time he met an old white-bearded man who was coming
along the footpath. The boy would not step aside, and the man was
determined not to do so either, so they ran against one another with a
bump.

'It seems to me,' said the old fellow, 'that a boy should give way to
an old man.'

'The path is for me as well as for you,' answered young Hans saucily,
for he had never been taught politeness.

'Well, that's true enough,' answered the other mildly. 'And where are
you going?'

'I am going into service,' said Hans.

'Then you can come and serve me,' replied the man.

Well, Hans could do that; but what would his wages be?

'Two pounds a year, and nothing to do but keep some rooms clean,' said
the new-comer.

This seemed to Hans to be easy enough; so he agreed to enter the old
man's service, and they set out together. On their way they crossed a
deep valley and came to a mountain, where the man opened a trapdoor,
and bidding Hans follow him, he crept in and began to go down a long
flight of steps. When they got to the bottom Hans saw a large number
of rooms lit by many lamps and full of beautiful things. While he was
looking round the old man said to him:

'Now you know what you have to do. You must keep these rooms clean,
and strew sand on the floor every day. Here is a table where you will
always find food and drink, and there is your bed. You see there are a
great many suits of clothes hanging on the wall, and you may wear any
you please; but remember that you are never to open this locked door.
If you do ill will befall you. Farewell, for I am going away again and
cannot tell when I may return.

No sooner had the old man disappeared than Hans sat down to a good
meal, and after that went to bed and slept until the morning. At first
he could not remember what had happened to him, but by-and-by he jumped
up and went into all the rooms, which he examined carefully.

'How foolish to bid me to put sand on the floors,' he thought, 'when
there is nobody here by myself! I shall do nothing of the sort.' And
so he shut the doors quickly, and only cleaned and set in order his own
room. And after the first few days he felt that that was unnecessary
too, because no one came there to see if the rooms where clean or not.
At last he did no work at all, but just sat and wondered what was
behind the locked door, till he determined to go and look for himself.

The key turned easily in the lock. Hans entered, half frightened at
what he was doing, and the first thing he beheld was a heap of bones.
That was not very cheerful; and he was just going out again when his
eye fell on a shelf of books. Here was a good way of passing the time,
he thought, for he was fond of reading, and he took one of the books
from the shelf. It was all about magic, and told you how you could
change yourself into anything in the world you liked. Could anything
be more exciting or more useful? So he put it in his pocket, and ran
quickly away out of the mountain by a little door which had been left
open.

When he got home his parents asked him what he had been doing and where
he had got the fine clothes he wore.

'Oh, I earned them myself,' answered he.

'You never earned them in this short time,' said his father. 'Be off
with you; I won't keep you here. I will have no thieves in my house!'

'Well I only came to help you,' replied the boy sulkily. 'Now I'll be
off, as you wish; but to-morrow morning when you rise you will see a
great dog at the door. Do not drive it away, but take it to the castle
and sell it to the duke, and they will give you ten dollars for it;
only you must bring the strap you lead it with, back to the house.'

Sure enough the next day the dog was standing at the door waiting to be
let in. The old man was rather afraid of getting into trouble, but his
wife urged him to sell the dog as the boy had bidden him, so he took it
up to the castle and sold it to the duke for ten dollars. But he did
not forget to take off the strap with which he had led the animal, and
to carry it home. When he got there old Kirsten met him at the door.

'Well, Peder, and have you sold the dog?' asked she.

'Yes, Kirsten; and I have brought back ten dollars, as the boy told
us,' answered Peder.

'Ay! but that's fine!' said his wife. 'Now you see what one gets by
doing as one is bid; if it had not been for me you would have driven
the dog away again, and we should have lost the money. After all, I
always know what is best.'

'Nonsense!' said her husband; 'women always think they know best. I
should have sold the dog just the same whatever you had told me. Put
the money away in a safe place, and don't talk so much.'

The next day Hans came again; but though everything had turned out as
he had foretold, he found that his father was still not quite satisfied.

'Be off with you!' said he, 'you'll get us into trouble.'

'I haven't helped you enough yet,' replied the boy. 'To-morrow there
will come a great fat cow, as big as the house. Take it to the king's
palace and you'll get as much as a thousand dollars for it. Only you
must unfasten the halter you lead it with and bring it back, and don't
return by the high road, but through the forest.'

The next day, when the couple rose, they saw an enormous head looking
in at their bedroom window, and behind it was a cow which was nearly as
big as their hut. Kirsten was wild with joy to think of the money the
cow would bring them.

'But how are you going to put the rope over her head?' asked she.

'Wait and you'll see, mother,' answered her husband. Then Peder took
the ladder that led up to the hayloft and set it against the cow's
neck, and he climbed up and slipped the rope over her head. When he
had made sure that the noose was fast they started for the palace, and
met the king himself walking in his grounds.

'I heard that the princess was going to be married,' said Peder, 'so
I've brought your majesty a cow which is bigger than any cow that was
ever seen. Will your majesty deign to buy it?'

The king had, in truth, never seen so large a beast, and he willingly
paid the thousand dollars, which was the price demanded; but Peder
remembered to take off the halter before he left. After he was gone
the king sent for the butcher and told him to kill the animal for the
wedding feast. The butcher got ready his pole-axe; but just as he was
going to strike, the cow changed itself into a dove and flew away, and
the butcher stood staring after it as if he were turned to stone.
However, as the dove could not be found, he was obliged to tell the
king what had happened, and the king in his turn despatched messengers
to capture the old man and bring him back. But Peder was safe in the
woods, and could not be found. When at last he felt the danger was
over, and he might go home, Kirsten nearly fainted with joy at the
sight of all the money he brought with him.

'Now that we are rich people we must build a bigger house,' cried she;
and was vexed to find that Peder only shook his head and said: 'No; if
they did that people would talk, and say they had got their wealth by
ill-doing.'

A few mornings later Hans came again.

'Be off before you get us into trouble,' said his father. 'So far the
money has come right enough, but I don't trust it.'

'Don't worry over that, father,' said Hans. 'To-morrow you will find a
horse outside by the gate. Ride it to market and you will get a
thousand dollars for it. Only don't forget to loosen the bridle when
you sell it.'

Well, in the morning there was the horse; Kirsten had never seen so
find an animal. 'Take care it doesn't hurt you, Peder,' said she.

'Nonsense, wife,' answered he crossly. 'When I was a lad I lived with
horses, and could ride anything for twenty miles round.' But that was
not quite the truth, for he had never mounted a horse in his life.

Still, the animal was quiet enough, so Peder got safely to market on
its back. There he met a man who offered nine hundred and ninety-nine
dollars for it, but Peder would take nothing less than a thousand. At
last there came an old, grey-bearded man who looked at the horse and
agreed to buy it; but the moment he touched it the horse began to kick
and plunge. 'I must take the bridle off,' said Peder. 'It is not to
be sold with the animal as is usually the case.'

'I'll give you a hundred dollars for the bridle,' said the old man,
taking out his purse.

'No, I can't sell it,' replied Hans's father.

'Five hundred dollars!'

'No.'

'A thousand!'

At this splendid offer Peder's prudence gave way; it was a shame to let
so much money go. So he agreed to accept it. But he could hardly hold
the horse, it became so unmanageable. So he gave the animal in charge
to the old man, and went home with his two thousand dollars.

Kirsten, of course, was delighted at this new piece of good fortune,
and insisted that the new house should be built and land bought. This
time Peder consented, and soon they had quite a fine farm.

Meanwhile the old man rode off on his new purchase, and when he came to
a smithy he asked the smith to forge shoes for the horse. The smith
proposed that they should first have a drink together, and the horse
was tied up by the spring whilst they went indoors. The day was hot,
and both men were thirsty, and, besides, they had much to say; and so
the hours slipped by and found them still talking. Then the servant
girl came out to fetch a pail of water, and, being a kind- hearted
lass, she gave some to the horse to drink. What was her surprise when
the animal said to her: 'Take off my bridle and you will save my life.'

'I dare not,' said she; 'your master will be so angry.'

'He cannot hurt you,' answered the horse, 'and you will save my life.'

At that she took off the bridle; but nearly fainted with astonishment
when the horse turned into a dove and flew away just as the old man
came out of the house. Directly he saw what had happened he changed
himself into a hawk and flew after the dove. Over the woods and fields
they went, and at length they reached a king's palace surrounded by
beautiful gardens. The princess was walking with her attendants in the
rose garden when the dove turned itself into a gold ring and fell at
her feet.

'Why, here is a ring!' she cried, 'where could it have come from?' And
picking it up she put it on her finger. As she did so the hill-man
lost his power over Hans--for of course you understand that it was he
who had been the dog, the cow, the horse and the dove.

'Well, that is really strange,' said the princess. 'It fits me as
though it had been made for me!'

Just at that moment up came the king.

'Look at what I have found!' cried his daughter.

'Well, that is not worth much, my dear,' said he. 'Besides, you have
rings enough, I should think.'

'Never mind, I like it,' replied the princess.

But as soon as she was alone, to her amazement, the ring suddenly left
her finger and became a man. You can imagine how frightened she was,
as, indeed, anybody would have been; but in an instant the man became a
ring again, and then turned back to a man, and so it went on for some
time until she began to get used to these sudden changes.

'I am sorry I frightened you,' said Hans, when he thought he could
safely speak to the princess without making her scream. 'I took refuge
with you because the old hill-man, whom I have offended, was trying to
kill me, and here I am safe.'

'You had better stay here then,' said the princess. So Hans stayed,
and he and she became good friends; though, of course, he only became a
man when no one else was present.

This was all very well; but, one day, as they were talking together,
the king happened to enter the room, and although Hans quickly changed
himself into a ring again it was too late.

The king was terribly angry.

'So this is why you have refused to marry all the kings and princes who
have sought your hand?' he cried.

And, without waiting for her to speak, he commanded that his daughter
should be walled up in the summer-house and starved to death with her
lover.

That evening the poor princess, still wearing her ring, was put into
the summer-house with enough food to last for three days, and the door
was bricked up. But at the end of a week or two the king thought it
was time to give her a grand funeral, in spite of her bad behaviour,
and he had the summer-house opened. He could hardly believe his eyes
when he found that the princess was not there, nor Hans either.
Instead, there lay at his feet a large hole, big enough for two people
to pass through.

Now what had happened was this.

When the princess and Hans had given up hope, and cast themselves down
on the ground to die, they fell down this hole, and right through the
earth as well, and at last they tumbled into a castle built of pure
gold at the other side of the world, and there they lived happily. But
of this, of course, the king knew nothing.

'Will anyone go down and see where the passage leads to?' he asked,
turning to his guards and courtiers. 'I will reward splendidly the man
who is brave enough to explore it.'

For a long time nobody answered. The hole was dark and deep, and if it
had a bottom no one could see it. At length a soldier, who was a
careless sort of fellow, offered himself for the service, and
cautiously lowered himself into the darkness. But in a moment he, too,
fell down, down, down. Was he going to fall for ever, he wondered!
Oh, how thankful he was in the end to reach the castle, and to meet the
princess and Hans, looking quite well and not at all as if they had
been starved. They began to talk, and the soldier told them that the
king was very sorry for the way he had treated his daughter, and wished
day and night that he could have her back again.

Then they all took ship and sailed home, and when they came to the
princess's country, Hans disguised himself as the sovereign of a
neighbouring kingdom, and went up to the palace alone. He was given a
hearty welcome by the king, who prided himself on his hospitality, and
a banquet was commanded in his honour. That evening, whilst they sat
drinking their wine, Hans said to the king:

'I have heard the fame of your majesty's wisdom, and I have travelled
from far to ask your counsel. A man in my country has buried his
daughter alive because she loved a youth who was born a peasant. How
shall I punish this unnatural father, for it is left to me to give
judgment?'

The king, who was still truly grieved for his daughter's loss, answered
quickly:

'Burn him alive, and strew his ashes all over the kingdom.'

Hans looked at him steadily for a moment, and then threw off his
disguise.

'You are the man,' said he; 'and I am he who loved your daughter, and
became a gold ring on her finger. She is safe, and waiting not far
from here; but you have pronounced judgment on yourself.'

Then the king fell on his knees and begged for mercy; and as he had in
other respects been a good father, they forgave him. The wedding of
Hans and the princess was celebrated with great festivities which
lasted a month. As for the hill-man he intended to be present; but
whilst he was walking along a street which led to the palace a loose
stone fell on his head and killed him. So Hans and the princess lived
in peace and happiness all their days, and when the old king died they
reigned instead of him.





Next: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Previous: The White Slipper



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