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The Story Of The Fisherman And His Wife

from The Green Fairy Book





There was once a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a
little hut close to the sea, and the fisherman used to go down
every day to fish; and he would fish and fish. So he used to sit
with his rod and gaze into the shining water; and he would gaze
and gaze.

Now, once the line was pulled deep under the water, and when he
hauled it up he hauled a large flounder with it. The flounder said
to him, 'Listen, fisherman. I pray you to let me go; I am not a
real flounder, I am an enchanted Prince. What good will it do you
if you kill me--I shall not taste nice? Put me back into the water
and let me swim away.'

'Well,' said the man, 'you need not make so much noise about it; I
am sure I had much better let a flounder that can talk swim away.'
With these words he put him back again into the shining water, and
the flounder sank to the bottom, leaving a long streak of blood
behind. Then the fisherman got up, and went home to his wife in
the hut.

'Husband,' said his wife, 'have you caught nothing to-day?'

'No,' said the man. 'I caught a flounder who said he was an
enchanted prince, so I let him swim away again.'

'Did you wish nothing from him?' said his wife.

'No,' said the man; 'what should I have wished from him?'

'Ah!' said the woman, 'it's dreadful to have to live all one's
life in this hut that is so small and dirty; you ought to have
wished for a cottage. Go now and call him; say to him that we
choose to have a cottage, and he will certainly give it you.'

'Alas!' said the man, 'why should I go down there again?'

'Why,' said his wife, 'you caught him, and then let him go again,
so he is sure to give you what you ask. Go down quickly.'

The man did not like going at all, but as his wife was not to be
persuaded, he went down to the sea.

When he came there the sea was quite green and yellow, and was no
longer shining. So he stood on the shore and said:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

Then the flounder came swimming up and said, 'Well, what does she
want?'

'Alas!' said the man, 'my wife says I ought to have kept you and
wished something from you. She does not want to live any longer in
the hut; she would like a cottage.'

'Go home, then,' said the flounder; 'she has it.'

So the man went home, and there was his wife no longer in the hut,
but in its place was a beautiful cottage, and his wife was sitting
in front of the door on a bench. She took him by the hand and said
to him, 'Come inside, and see if this is not much better.' They
went in, and inside the cottage was a tiny hall, and a beautiful
sitting-room, and a bedroom in which stood a bed, a kitchen and a
dining-room all furnished with the best of everything, and fitted
up with every kind of tin and copper utensil. And outside was a
little yard in which were chickens and ducks, and also a little
garden with vegetables and fruit trees.

'See,' said the wife, 'isn't this nice?'

'Yes,' answered her husband; 'here we shall remain and live very
happily.'

'We will think about that,' said his wife.

With these words they had their supper and went to bed. All went
well for a week or a fortnight, then the wife said:

'Listen, husband; the cottage is much too small, and so is the
yard and the garden; the flounder might just as well have sent us
a larger house. I should like to live in a great stone castle. Go
down to the flounder, and tell him to send us a castle.'

'Ah, wife!' said the fisherman, 'the cottage is quite good enough;
why do we choose to live in a castle?'

'Why?' said the wife. 'You go down; the flounder can quite well do
that.'

'No, wife,' said the man; 'the flounder gave us the cottage. I do
not like to go to him again; he might take it amiss.'

'Go,' said his wife. 'He can certainly give it us, and ought to do
so willingly. Go at once.'

The fisherman's heart was very heavy, and he did not like going.
He said to himself, 'It is not right.' Still, he went down.

When he came to the sea, the water was all violet and dark-blue,
and dull and thick, and no longer green and yellow, but it was
still smooth.

So he stood there and said:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

'What does she want now?' said the flounder.

'Ah!' said the fisherman, half-ashamed, 'she wants to live in a
great stone castle.'

'Go home; she is standing before the door,' said the flounder.

The fisherman went home and thought he would find no house. When
he came near, there stood a great stone palace, and his wife was
standing on the steps, about to enter. She took him by the hand
and said, 'Come inside.'

Then he went with her, and inside the castle was a large hall with
a marble floor, and there were heaps of servants who threw open
the great doors, and the walls were covered with beautiful
tapestry, and in the apartments were gilded chairs and tables, and
crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and all the rooms were
beautifully carpeted. The best of food and drink also was set
before them when they wished to dine. And outside the house was a
large courtyard with horse and cow stables and a coach-house--all
fine buildings; and a splendid garden with most beautiful flowers
and fruit, and in a park quite a league long were deer and roe and
hares, and everything one could wish for.

'Now,' said the wife, 'isn't this beautiful?'

'Yes, indeed,' said the fisherman. 'Now we will stay here and live
in this beautiful castle, and be very happy.'

'We will consider the matter,' said his wife, and they went to
bed.

The next morning the wife woke up first at daybreak, and looked
out of the bed at the beautiful country stretched before her. Her
husband was still sleeping, so she dug her elbows into his side
and said:

'Husband, get up and look out of the window. Could we not become
the king of all this land? Go down to the flounder and tell him we
choose to be king.'

'Ah, wife!' replied her husband, 'why should we be king? I don't
want to be king.'

'Well,' said his wife, 'if you don't want to be king, I will be
king. Go down to the flounder; I will be king.'

'Alas! wife,' said the fisherman, 'why do you want to be king? I
can't ask him that.'

'And why not?' said his wife. 'Go down at once. I must be king.'

So the fisherman went, though much vexed that his wife wanted to
be king. 'It is not right! It is not right,' he thought. He did
not wish to go, yet he went.

When he came to the sea, the water was a dark-grey colour, and it
was heaving against the shore. So he stood and said:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

'What does she want now?' asked the flounder.

'Alas!' said the fisherman, 'she wants to be king.'

'Go home; she is that already,' said the flounder.

The fisherman went home, and when he came near the palace he saw
that it had become much larger, and that it had great towers and
splendid ornamental carving on it. A sentinel was standing before
the gate, and there were numbers of soldiers with kettledrums and
trumpets. And when he went into the palace, he found everything
was of pure marble and gold, and the curtains of damask with
tassels of gold. Then the doors of the hall flew open, and there
stood the whole Court round his wife, who was sitting on a high
throne of gold and diamonds; she wore a great golden crown, and
had a sceptre of gold and precious stones in her hand, and by her
on either side stood six pages in a row, each one a head taller
than the other. Then he went before her and said:

'Ah, wife! are you king now?'

'Yes,' said his wife; 'now I am king.'

He stood looking at her, and when he had looked for some time, he
said:

'Let that be enough, wife, now that you are king! Now we have
nothing more to wish for.'

'Nay, husband,' said his wife restlessly, 'my wishing powers are
boundless; I cannot restrain them any longer. Go down to the
flounder; king I am, now I must be emperor.'

'Alas! wife,' said the fisherman, 'why do you want to be emperor?'

'Husband,' said she, 'go to the flounder; I will be emperor.'

'Ah, wife,' he said, 'he cannot make you emperor; I don't like to
ask him that. There is only one emperor in the kingdom. Indeed and
indeed he cannot make you emperor.'

'What!' said his wife. 'I am king, and you are my husband. Will
you go at once? Go! If he can make king he can make emperor, and
emperor I must and will be. Go!'

So he had to go. But as he went, he felt quite frightened, and he
thought to himself, 'This can't be right; to be emperor is too
ambitious; the flounder will be tired out at last.'

Thinking this he came to the shore. The sea was quite black and
thick, and it was breaking high on the beach; the foam was flying
about, and the wind was blowing; everything looked bleak. The
fisherman was chilled with fear. He stood and said:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

'What does she want now?' asked flounder.

'Alas! flounder,' he said, 'my wife wants to be emperor.'

'Go home,' said the flounder; 'she is that already.'

So the fisherman went home, and when he came there he saw the
whole castle was made of polished marble, ornamented with
alabaster statues and gold. Before the gate soldiers were
marching, blowing trumpets and beating drums. Inside the palace
were walking barons, counts, and dukes, acting as servants; they
opened the door, which was of beaten gold. And when he entered, he
saw his wife upon a throne which was made out of a single block of
gold, and which was quite six cubits high. She had on a great
golden crown which was three yards high and set with brilliants
and sparkling gems. In one hand she held a sceptre, and in the
other the imperial globe, and on either side of her stood two rows
of halberdiers, each smaller than the other, from a seven-foot
giant to the tiniest little dwarf no higher than my little finger.
Many princes and dukes were standing before her. The fisherman
went up to her quietly and said:

'Wife, are you emperor now?'

'Yes,' she said, 'I am emperor.'

He stood looking at her magnificence, and when he had watched her
for some time, said:

'Ah, wife, let that be enough, now that you are emperor.'

'Husband,' said she, 'why are you standing there? I am emperor
now, and I want to be pope too; go down to the flounder.'

'Alas! wife,' said the fisherman, 'what more do you want? You
cannot be pope; there is only one pope in Christendom, and he
cannot make you that.'

'Husband,' she said, 'I will be pope. Go down quickly; I must be
pope to-day.'

'No, wife,' said the fisherman; 'I can't ask him that. It is not
right; it is too much. The flounder cannot make you pope.'

'Husband, what nonsense!' said his wife. 'If he can make emperor,
he can make, pope too. Go down this instant; I am emperor and you
are my husband. Will you be off at once?'

So he was frightened and went out; but he felt quite faint, and
trembled and shook, and his knees and legs began to give way under
him. The wind was blowing fiercely across the land, and the clouds
flying across the sky looked as gloomy as if it were night; the
leaves were being blown from the trees; the water was foaming and
seething and dashing upon the shore, and in the distance he saw
the ships in great distress, dancing and tossing on the waves.
Still the sky was very blue in the middle, although at the sides
it was an angry red as in a great storm. So he stood shuddering in
anxiety, and said:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

'Well, what does she want now?' asked the flounder.

'Alas!' said the fisherman, 'she wants to be pope.'

'Go home, then; she is that already,' said the flounder.

Then he went home, and when he came there he saw, as it were, a
large church surrounded by palaces. He pushed his way through the
people. The interior was lit up with thousands and thousands of
candles, and his wife was dressed in cloth of gold and was sitting
on a much higher throne, and she wore three great golden crowns.
Round her were numbers of Church dignitaries, and on either side
were standing two rows of tapers, the largest of them as tall as a
steeple, and the smallest as tiny as a Christmas-tree candle. All
the emperors and kings were on their knees before her, and were
kissing her foot.

'Wife,' said the fisherman looking at her, 'are you pope now?'

'Yes,' said she; 'I am pope.'

So he stood staring at her, and it was as if he were looking at
the bright sun. When he had watched her for some time he said:

'Ah, wife, let it be enough now that you are pope.'

But she sat as straight as a tree, and did not move or bend the
least bit. He said again:

'Wife, be content now that you are pope. You cannot become
anything more.'

'We will think about that,' said his wife.

With these words they went to bed. But the woman was not content;
her greed would not allow her to sleep, and she kept on thinking
and thinking what she could still become. The fisherman slept well
and soundly, for he had done a great deal that day, but his wife
could not sleep at all, and turned from one side to another the
whole night long, and thought, till she could think no longer,
what more she could become. Then the sun began to rise, and when
she saw the red dawn she went to the end of the bed and looked at
it, and as she was watching the sun rise, out of the window, she
thought, 'Ha! could I not make the sun and man rise?'

'Husband,' said she, poking him in the ribs with her elbows, 'wake
up. Go down to the flounder; I will be a god.'

The fisherman was still half asleep, yet he was so frightened that
he fell out of bed. He thought he had not heard aright, and opened
his eyes wide and said:

'What did you say, wife?'

'Husband,' she said, 'if I cannot make the sun and man rise when I
appear I cannot rest. I shall never have a quiet moment till I can
make the sun and man rise.'

He looked at her in horror, and a shudder ran over him.

'Go down at once; I will be a god.'

'Alas! wife,' said the fisherman, falling on his knees before her,
'the flounder cannot do that. Emperor and pope he can make you. I
implore you, be content and remain pope.'

Then she flew into a passion, her hair hung wildly about her face,
she pushed him with her foot and screamed:

'I am not contented, and I shall not be contented! Will you go?'

So he hurried on his clothes as fast as possible, and ran away as
if he were mad.

But the storm was raging so fiercely that he could scarcely stand.
Houses and trees were being blown down, the mountains were being
shaken, and pieces of rock were rolling in the sea. The sky was as
black as ink, it was thundering and lightening, and the sea was
tossing in great waves as high as church towers and mountains, and
each had a white crest of foam.

So he shouted, not able to hear his own voice:

'Once a prince, but changed you be Into a flounder in the sea.
Come! for my wife, Ilsebel, Wishes what I dare not tell.'

'Well, what does she want now?' asked the flounder.

'Alas!' said he, 'she wants to be a god.'

'Go home, then; she is sitting again in the hut.'

And there they are sitting to this day.





Next: The Three Musicians

Previous: The War Of The Wolf And The Fox



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