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The Three Soldiers

from Europa's Fairy Book





Once upon a time three soldiers returned from the wars; one was a
sergeant, one was a corporal, and the third was a simple private. One
night they were caught in a forest and made a fire up to sleep by; and
the sergeant had to do sentry-go. While he was walking up and down an
old woman, bent double, came up to him and said:

"Please, sir, may I warm myself by your fire?"

"Why, certainly, mother, you are welcome to all the warmth you can
get."

So the old woman sat by the fire for a time, and when she had got
thoroughly warmed she said to the sergeant:

"Thank you, soldier; here is something for your trouble." And she
handed him a purse, which seemed to have nothing in it.

"Oh, thank you, marm," said the sergeant, "but I wouldn't deprive you
of it, especially as there is nothing in it."

"That may be so now," said the old woman, "but take it in your hand
and turn it upside-down, and while you hold it like that gold
pieces will come pouring out of it."



He took it, and, sure enough, whenever he held it up out came the gold
pieces. So he thanked her very much, and off she went.


Next night the corporal had to play sentry, and the old woman came up
to him and asked to sit by the side of the fire.

"Certainly, marm," said he, "and welcome you are. I have known what it
is to shiver in my bones."

So the old woman sat by the fire for a time, and when she was leaving
gave the corporal a tablecloth.

Said he, "Thank you, marm, kindly, but we soldiers rarely use
tablecloths when we are eating our vittles."

"Yes, but this gives you vittles to eat," said the old woman.
"Whenever you put this over a table or on the ground and call out 'Be
covered!' the finest dinner you could eat at once comes upon it."

"If that is so," said the corporal, "I'll take it and thank you
kindly." And with that the old woman departed, and the corporal woke
up his comrades and called out: "Tablecloth be covered!" And, sure
enough, the finest dinner you could imagine appeared upon the cloth.

Next night the private marched up and down doing sentry-go, when the
old woman appeared again and asked to sit by the fire.

"Surely," said the private, "you're as welcome as my own mother would
be."

And after she had sat some time by the fire she got up and said:

"Thank you kindly, sir; I hope this will pay you for your trouble."
And she gave him a whistle.

"And what's this for?" said the private. "I can't play on the
whistle."

"But you can blow it," said she, "and whenever you blow it out will
come a regiment of armed men that will do whatever you tell them."

And with that the old woman departed, and they never saw her more.

So the three soldiers travelled on till they came to a city where
there was a princess, who was so proud of her card playing that she
had agreed to marry any one who could beat her at cards. Now the
sergeant was also very proud of his card playing, and he thought he
would try his luck with the princess. So when he went up to the palace
he offered to play a game with her, but she said to him:

"What are your stakes? If I lose I have to marry you. But if you lose
what do you lose?"

So the sergeant said: "I'll stake my purse."

"Why, what's a purse with nothing in it!" said the princess.

"There may be nothing in it now," said the sergeant, "but see here,"
and he turned the purse upside-down and put his hand under it, and it
kept on dropping gold pieces into his hand as long as he held it
upside-down.

So the princess agreed to play for the purse. But she had arranged a
mirror at the back of his head in which she could see all his cards.
And so she won easily, and he had to give up the purse.

But this princess was so charming that the sergeant had fallen in love
with her, and when he went back to his comrades he asked the corporal
to lend him his tablecloth. And he went back to the princess and said
to her:

"Will you play me for this tablecloth?"

And she said: "It may be a very beautiful tablecloth but it isn't
quite equal to me."

Then he laid it on a table and said, "Cloth, cover thyself." And there
was a most delicious dinner spread upon it.

But, as the princess knew she would be able to beat him, she agreed to
play him for the tablecloth, and, sure enough, by means of the mirror,
she won the tablecloth from him.

The same thing happened when he borrowed the whistle from the private
and tried his luck with the princess again. But this time he watched
what she was doing, and knew that she had cheated him though he dared
not say so. He lost again and went back to his comrades and asked them
to forgive him, but he could not help it as the princess had cheated
him. So his friends forgave him, and they all went their various
ways.

Now the sergeant wandered along, and wandered along, and wandered
along, till he came to the bank of a stream on which there grew fig
trees, white and black. And he gathered some of these figs from the
different trees, and sat down by the bank to eat them. And he ate a
black fig, and then, feeling thirsty, went down to the stream to drink
some of the water, and as he looked in he found that he had two horns
on the side of his head just like a goat, instead of two ears. He
didn't know what to do; but as he was still hungry he ate one of the
white figs; and when he went to drink again he found the horns had
disappeared. So then he knew that the black figs brought the horns and
the white figs took them away. So he gathered some more of them and
went back to the palace of the princess, and sent her up some of the
black figs as a present from an admirer.

And after a while there was a rumour spread around the city that the
princess had horns in her head, and would give anything to any one who
could remove them.

So the sergeant went up to the palace and presented himself before the
princess and said to her:

"I can remove your horns, but I want my purse, and my tablecloth, and
my whistle back."

Then she ordered them to be brought and promised to give them back to
him as soon as the horns were removed.

So he gave her a white fig, and as soon as she had eaten it the horns
disappeared; and he took up the purse, the tablecloth, and the
whistle. Then he said to her:



"Now, will you marry me?"

"No," she replied, "why should I?"

"Because you didn't win these fairly."

"That may be, or that may not be, but I see no reason why I should
marry you."

Thereupon he blew his whistle, and the palace was filled with a
regiment of soldiers. And the sergeant said:

"If you do not marry me these men shall seize your father and I will
seize his throne."

So the princess married him, and he sent for the corporal and the
private and made them rich and prosperous, and they all lived fairly
happily together.





Next: A Dozen At A Blow

Previous: The Language Of Animals



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