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What Came Of Picking Flowers

from The Grey Fairy Book





There was once a woman who had three daughters whom she loved
very much. One day the eldest was walking in a water-meadow, when
she saw a pink growing in the stream. She stooped to pick the
flower, but her hand had scarcely touched it, when she vanished
altogether. The next morning the second sister went out into the
meadow, to see if she could find any traces of the lost girl, and
as a branch of lovely roses lay trailing across her path, she
bent down to move it away, and in so doing, could not resist
plucking one of the roses. In a moment she too had disappeared.
Wondering what could have become of her two sisters, the youngest
followed in their footsteps, and fell a victim to a branch of
delicious white jessamine. So the old woman was left without any
daughters at all.

She wept, and wept, and wept, all day and all night, and went on
weeping so long, that her son, who had been a little boy when his
sisters disappeared, grew up to be a tall youth. Then one night
he asked his mother to tell him what was the matter.

When he had heard the whole story, he said, ‘Give me your
blessing, mother, and I will go and search the world till I find
them.'

So he set forth, and after he had travelled several miles without
any adventures, he came upon three big boys fighting in the road.
He stopped and inquired what they were fighting about, and one of
them answered:

‘My lord! our father left to us, when he died, a pair of boots, a
key, and a cap. Whoever puts on the boots and wishes himself in
any place, will find himself there. The key will open every door
in the world, and with the cap on your head no one can see you.
Now our eldest brother wants to have all three things for
himself, and we wish to draw lots for them.'

‘Oh, that is easily settled,' said the youth. ‘I will throw this
stone as far as I can, and the one who picks it up first, shall
have the three things.' So he took the stone and flung it, and
while the three brothers were running after it, he drew hastily
on the boots, and said, ‘Boots, take me to the place where I
shall find my eldest sister.'

The next moment the young man was standing on a steep mountain
before the gates of a strong castle guarded by bolts and bars and
iron chains. The key, which he had not forgotten to put in his
pocket, opened the doors one by one, and he walked through a
number of halls and corridors, till he met a beautiful and
richly-dressed young lady who started back in surprise at the
sight of him, and exclaimed, ‘Oh, sir, how did you contrive *to*
get in here?' The young man replied that he was her brother, and
told her by what means he had been able to pass through the
doors. In return, she told him how happy she was, except for one
thing, and that was, her husband lay under a spell, and could
never break it till there should be put to death a man who could
not die.

They talked together for a long time, and then the lady said he
had better leave her as she expected her husband back at any
moment, and he might not like him to be there; but the young man
assured her she need not be afraid, as he had with him a cap
which would make him invisible. They were still deep in
conversation when the door suddenly opened, and a bird flew in,
but he saw nothing unusual, for, at the first noise, the youth
had put on his cap. The lady jumped up and brought a large golden
basin, into which the bird flew, reappearing directly after as a
handsome man. Turning to his wife, he cried, ‘I am sure someone
is in the room!' She got frightened, and declared that she was
quite alone, but her husband persisted, and in the end she had to
confess the truth.

‘But if he is really your brother, why did you hide him?' asked
he. ‘I believe you are telling me a lie, and if he comes back I
shall kill him!'

At this the youth took off his cap, and came forward. Then the
husband saw that he was indeed so like his wife that he doubted
her word no longer, and embraced his brother-in-law with delight.
Drawing a feather from his bird's skin, he said, ‘If you are in
danger and cry, "Come and help me, King of the Birds," everything
will go well with you.'

The young man thanked him and went away, and after he had left
the castle he told the boots that they must take him to the place
where his second sister was living. As before, he found himself
at the gates of a huge castle, and within was his second sister,
very happy with her husband, who loved her dearly, but longing
for the moment when he should be set free from the spell that
kept him half his life a fish. When he arrived and had been
introduced by his wife to her brother, he welcomed him warmly,
and gave him a fish-scale, saying, ‘If you are in danger, call to
me, "Come and help me, King of the Fishes," and everything will
go well with you.'

The young man thanked him and took his leave, and when he was
outside the gates he told the boots to take him to the place
where his youngest sister lived. The boots carried him to a dark
cavern, with steps of iron leading up to it. Inside she sat,
weeping and sobbing, and as she had done nothing else the whole
time she had been there, the poor girl had grown very thin. When
she saw a man standing before her, she sprang to her feet and
exclaimed, ‘Oh, whoever you are, save me and take me from this
horrible place!' Then he told her who he was, and how he had seen
her sisters, whose happiness was spoilt by the spell under which
both their husbands lay, and she, in turn, related her story. She
had been carried off in the water-meadow by a horrible monster,
who wanted to make her marry him by force, and had kept her a
prisoner all these years because she would not submit to his
will. Every day he came to beg her to consent to his wishes, and
to remind her that there was no hope of her being set free, as he
was the most constant man in the world, and besides that he could
never die. At these words the youth remembered his two enchanted
brothers-in-law, and he advised his sister to promise to marry
the old man, if he would tell her why he could never die.
Suddenly everything began to tremble, as if it was shaken by a
whirlwind, and the old man entered, and flinging himself at the
feet of the girl, he said: ‘Are you still determined never to
marry me? If so you will have to sit there weeping till the end
of the world, for I shall always be faithful to my wish to marry
you!' ‘Well, I will marry you,' she said, ‘if you will tell me
why it is that you can never die.'

Then the old man burst into peals of laughter. ‘Ah, ah, ah! You
are thinking how you would be able to kill me? Well, to do that,
you would have to find an iron casket which lies at the bottom of
the sea, and has a white dove inside, and then you would have to
find the egg which the dove laid, and bring it here, and dash it
against my head.' And he laughed again in his certainty that no
one had ever got down to the bottom of the sea, and that if they
did, they would never find the casket, or be able to open it.
When he could speak once more, he said, ‘Now you will be obliged
to marry me, as you know my secret.' But she begged so hard that
the wedding might be put off for three days, that he consented,
and went away rejoicing at his victory. When he had disappeared,
the brother took off the cap which had kept him invisible all
this time, and told his sister not to lose heart as he hoped in
three days she would be free. Then he drew on his boots, and
wished himself at the seashore, and there he was directly.
Drawing out the fish-scale, he cried, ‘Come and help me, King of
the Fishes!' and his brother-in-law swam up, and asked what he
could do. The young man related the story, and when he had
finished his listener summoned all the fishes to his presence.
The last to arrive was a little sardine, who apologised for being
so late, but said she had hurt herself by knocking her head
against an iron casket that lay in the bottom of the sea. The
king ordered several of the largest and strongest of his subjects
to take the little sardine as a guide, and bring him the iron
casket. They soon returned with the box placed across their backs
and laid it down before him. Then the youth produced the key and
said ‘Key, open that box!' and the key opened it, and though they
were all crowding round, ready to catch it, the white dove within
flew away.

It was useless to go after it, and for a moment the young man's
heart sank. The next minute, however, he remembered that he had
still his feather, and drew it out crying, ‘Come to me, King of
the Birds!' and a rushing noise was heard, and the King of the
Birds perched on his shoulder, and asked what he could do to help
him. His brother-in-law told him the whole story, and when he had
finished the King of the Birds commanded all his subjects to
hasten to his presence. In an instant the air was dark with birds
of all sizes, and at the very last came the white dove,
apologising for being so late by saying that an old friend had
arrived at his nest, and he had been obliged to give him some
dinner. The King of the Birds ordered some of them to show the
young man the white dove's nest, and when they reached it, there
lay the egg which was to break the spell and set them all free.
When it was safely in his pocket, he told the boots to carry him
straight to the cavern where his youngest sister sat awaiting
him.

Now it was already far on into the third day, which the old man
had fixed for the wedding, and when the youth reached the cavern
with his cap on his head, he found the monster there, urging the
girl to keep her word and let the marriage take place at once. At
a sign from her brother she sat down and invited the old monster
to lay his head on her lap. He did so with delight, and her
brother standing behind her back passed her the egg unseen. She
took it, and dashed it straight at the horrible head, and the
monster started, and with a groan that people took for the
rumblings of an earthquake, he turned over and died.

As the breath went out of his body the husbands of the two eldest
daughters resumed their proper shapes, and, sending for their
mother-in-law, whose sorrow was so unexpectedly turned into joy,
they had a great feast, and the youngest sister was rich to the
end of her days with the treasures she found in the cave,
collected by the monster.





Next: The Story Of Bensurdatu

Previous: The Goat-faced Girl



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