The Flying Ship





From the Russian.



Once upon a time there lived an old couple who had three sons;

the two elder were clever, but the third was a regular dunce.

The clever sons were very fond of their mother, gave her good

clothes, and always spoke pleasantly to her; but the youngest was

always getting in her way, and she had no patience with him.

Now, one day it was announced in the village that the King had

issued a decree, offering his daughter, the Princess, in marriage

to whoever should build a ship that could fly. Immediately the

two elder brothers determined to try their luck, and asked their

parents' blessing. So the old mother smartened up their clothes,

and gave them a store of provisions for their journey, not

forgetting to add a bottle of brandy. When they had gone the

poor Simpleton began to tease his mother to smarten him up and

let him start off.



'What would become of a dolt like you?' she answered. 'Why, you

would be eaten up by wolves.'



But the foolish youth kept repeating, 'I will go, I will go, I

will go!'



Seeing that she could do nothing with him, the mother gave him a

crust of bread and a bottle of water, and took no further heed of

him.



So the Simpleton set off on his way. When he had gone a short

distance he met a little old manikin. They greeted one another,

and the manikin asked him where he was going.



'I am off to the King's Court,' he answered. 'He has promised to

give his daughter to whoever can make a flying ship.'



'And can you make such a ship?'



'Not I.'



'Then why in the world are you going?'



'Can't tell,' replied the Simpleton.



'Well, if that is the case,' said the manikin, 'sit down beside

me; we can rest for a little and have something to eat. Give me

what you have got in your satchel.'



Now, the poor Simpleton was ashamed to show what was in it.

However, he thought it best not to make a fuss, so he opened the

satchel, and could scarcely believe his own eyes, for, instead of

the hard crust, he saw two beautiful fresh rolls and some cold

meat. He shared them with the manikin, who licked his lips and

said:



'Now, go into that wood, and stop in front of the first tree, bow

three times, and then strike the tree with your axe, fall on your

knees on the ground, with your face on the earth, and remain

there till you are raised up. You will then find a ship at your

side, step into it and fly to the King's Palace. If you meet

anyone on the way, take him with you.'



The Simpleton thanked the manikin very kindly, bade him farewell,

and went into the road. When he got to the first tree he stopped

in front of it, did everything just as he had been told, and,

kneeling on the ground with his face to the earth, fell asleep.

After a little time he was aroused; he awoke and, rubbing his

eyes, saw a ready-made ship at his side, and at once got into it.



And the ship rose and rose, and in another minute was flying

through the air, when the Simpleton, who was on the look out,

cast his eyes down to the earth and saw a man beneath him on the

road, who was kneeling with his ear upon the damp ground.



'Hallo!' he called out, 'what are you doing down there?'



'I am listening to what is going on in the world,' replied the

man.



'Come with me in my ship,' said the Simpleton.



So the man was only too glad, and got in beside him; and the ship

flew, and flew, and flew through the air, till again from his

outlook the Simpleton saw a man on the road below, who was

hopping on one leg, while his other leg was tied up behind his

ear. So he hailed him, calling out:



'Hallo! what are you doing, hopping on one leg?'



'I can't help it,' replied the man. 'I walk so fast that unless

I tied up one leg I should be at the end of the earth in a

bound.'



'Come with us on my ship,' he answered; and the man made no

objections, but joined them; and the ship flew on, and on, and

on, till suddenly the Simpleton, looking down on the road below,

beheld a man aiming with a gun into the distance.



'Hallo!' he shouted to him, 'what are you aiming at? As far as

eye can see, there is no bird in sight.'



'What would be the good of my taking a near shot?' replied the

man; 'I can hit beast or bird at a hundred miles' distance. That

is the kind of shot I enjoy.'



'Come into the ship with us,' answered the Simpleton; and the man

was only too glad to join them, and he got in; and the ship flew

on, farther and farther, till again the Simpleton from his

outlook saw a man on the road below, carrying on his back a

basket full of bread. And he waved to him, calling out:



'Hallo! where are you going?'



'To fetch bread for my breakfast.'



'Bread? Why, you have got a whole basket-load of it on your

back.'



'That's nothing,' answered the man; 'I should finish that in one

mouthful.'



'Come along with us in my ship, then.'



And so the glutton joined the party, and the ship mounted again

into the air, and flew up and onward, till the Simpleton from his

outlook saw a man walking by the shore of a great lake, and

evidently looking for something.



'Hallo!' he cried to him,' what are you seeking?



'I want water to drink, I'm so thirsty,' replied the man.



'Well, there's a whole lake in front of you; why don't you drink

some of that?'



'Do you call that enough?' answered the other. 'Why, I should

drink it up in one gulp.'



'Well, come with us in the ship.'



And so the mighty drinker was added to the company; and the ship

flew farther, and even farther, till again the Simpleton looked

out, and this time he saw a man dragging a bundle of wood,

walking through the forest beneath them.



'Hallo!' he shouted to him, 'why are you carrying wood through a

forest?'



'This is not common wood,' answered the other.



'What sort of wood is it, then?' said the Simpleton.



'If you throw it upon the ground,' said the man, 'it will be

changed into an army of soldiers.'



'Come into the ship with us, then.'



And so he too joined them; and away the ship flew on, and on, and

on, and once more the Simpleton looked out, and this time he saw

a man carrying straw upon his back.



'Hallo! Where are you carrying that straw to?'



'To the village,' said the man.



'Do you mean to say there is no straw in the village?'



'Ah! but this is quite a peculiar straw. If you strew it about

even in the hottest summer the air at once becomes cold, and snow

falls, and the people freeze.'



Then the Simpleton asked him also to join them.



At last the ship, with its strange crew, arrived at the King's

Court. The King was having his dinner, but he at once despatched

one of his courtiers to find out what the huge, strange new bird

could be that had come flying through the air. The courtier

peeped into the ship, and, seeing what it was, instantly went

back to the King and told him that it was a flying ship, and that

it was manned by a few peasants.



Then the King remembered his royal oath; but he made up his mind

that he would never consent to let the Princess marry a poor

peasant. So he thought and thought, and then said to himself:



'I will give him some impossible tasks to perform; that will be

the best way of getting rid of him.' And he there and then

decided to despatch one of his courtiers to the Simpleton, with

the command that he was to fetch the King the healing water from

the world's end before he had finished his dinner.



But while the King was still instructing the courtier exactly

what he was to say, the first man of the ship's company, the one

with the miraculous power of hearing, had overheard the King's

words, and hastily reported them to the poor Simpleton.



'Alas, alas!' he cried; 'what am I to do now? It would take me

quite a year, possibly my whole life, to find the water.'



'Never fear,' said his fleet-footed comrade, 'I will fetch what

the King wants.'



Just then the courtier arrived, bearing the King's command.



'Tell his Majesty,' said the Simpleton, 'that his orders shall be

obeyed; 'and forthwith the swift runner unbound the foot that was

strung up behind his ear and started off, and in less than no

time had reached the world's end and drawn the healing water from

the well.



'Dear me,' he thought to himself, 'that's rather tiring! I'll

just rest for a few minutes; it will be some little time yet

before the King has got to dessert.' So he threw himself down on

the grass, and, as the sun was very dazzling, he closed his eyes,

and in a few seconds had fallen sound asleep.



In the meantime all the ship's crew were anxiously awaiting him;

the King's dinner would soon be finished, and their comrade had

not yet returned. So the man with the marvellous quick hearing

lay down and, putting his ear to the ground, listened.



'That's a nice sort of fellow!' he suddenly exclaimed. 'He's

lying on the ground, snoring hard!'



At this the marksman seized his gun, took aim, and fired in the

direction of the world's end, in order to awaken the sluggard.

And a moment later the swift runner reappeared, and, stepping on

board the ship, handed the healing water to the Simpleton. So

while the King was still sitting at table finishing his dinner

news was brought to him that his orders had been obeyed to the

letter.



What was to be done now? The King determined to think of a still

more impossible task. So he told another courtier to go to the

Simpleton with the command that he and his comrades were

instantly to eat up twelve oxen and twelve tons of bread. Once

more the sharp-eared comrade overheard the King's words while he

was still talking to the courtier, and reported them to the

Simpleton.



'Alas, alas!' he sighed; 'what in the world shall I do? Why, it

would take us a year, possibly our whole lives, to eat up twelve

oxen and twelve tons of bread.'



'Never fear,' said the glutton. 'It will scarcely be enough for

me, I'm so hungry.'



So when the courtier arrived with the royal message he was told

to take back word to the King that his orders should be obeyed.

Then twelve roasted oxen and twelve tons of bread were brought

alongside of the ship, and at one sitting the glutton had

devoured it all.



'I call that a small meal,' he said. 'I wish they'd brought me

some more.'



Next, the King ordered that forty casks of wine, containing forty

gallons each, were to be drunk up on the spot by the Simpleton

and his party. When these words were overheard by the

sharp-eared comrade and repeated to the Simpleton, he was in

despair.



'Alas, alas!' he exclaimed; 'what is to be done? It would take

us a year, possibly our whole lives, to drink so much,'



'Never fear,' said his thirsty comrade. 'I'll drink it all up at

a gulp, see if I don't.' And sure enough, when the forty casks

of wine containing forty gallons each were brought alongside of

the ship, they disappeared down the thirsty comrade's throat in

no time; and when they were empty he remarked:



'Why, I'm still thirsty. I should have been glad of two more

casks.'



Then the King took counsel with himself and sent an order to the

Simpleton that he was to have a bath, in a bath-room at the royal

palace, and after that the betrothal should take place. Now the

bath-room was built of iron, and the King gave orders that it was

to be heated to such a pitch that it would suffocate the

Simpleton. And so when the poor silly youth entered the room, he

discovered that the iron walls were red hot. But, fortunately,

his comrade with the straw on his back had entered behind him,

and when the door was shut upon them he scattered the straw

about, and suddenly the red-hot walls cooled down, and it became

so very cold that the Simpleton could scarcely bear to take a

bath, and all the water in the room froze. So the Simpleton

climbed up upon the stove, and, wrapping himself up in the bath

blankets, lay there the whole night. And in the morning when

they opened the door there he lay sound and safe, singing

cheerfully to himself.



Now when this strange tale was told to the King he became quite

sad, not knowing what he should do to get rid of so undesirable a

son-in-law, when suddenly a brilliant idea occurred to him.



'Tell the rascal to raise me an army, now at this instant!' he

exclaimed to one of his courtiers. 'Inform him at once of this,

my royal will.' And to himself he added, 'I think I shall do for

him this time.'



As on former occasions, the quick-eared comrade had overheard the

King's command and repeated it to the Simpleton.



'Alas, alas!' he groaned; 'now I am quite done for.'



'Not at all,' replied one of his comrades (the one who had

dragged the bundle of wood through the forest). 'Have you quite

forgotten me?'



In the meantime the courtier, who had run all the way from the

palace, reached the ship panting and breathless, and delivered

the King's message.



'Good!' remarked the Simpleton. 'I will raise an army for the

King,' and he drew himself up. 'But if, after that, the King

refuses to accept me as his son-in-law, I will wage war against

him, and carry the Princess off by force.'



During the night the Simpleton and his comrade went, together

into a big field, not forgetting to take the bundle of wood with

them, which the man spread out in all directions--and in a moment

a mighty army stood upon the spot, regiment on regiment of foot

and horse soldiers; the bugles sounded and the drums beat, the

chargers neighed, and their riders put their lances in rest, and

the soldiers presented arms.



In the morning when the King awoke he was startled by these

warlike sounds, the bugles and the drums, and the clatter of the

horses, and the shouts of the soldiers. And, stepping to the

window, he saw the lances gleam in the sunlight and the armour

and weapons glitter. And the proud monarch said to himself, 'I

am powerless in comparison with this man.' So he sent him royal

robes and costly jewels, and commanded him to come to the palace

to be married to the Princess. And his son-in-law put on the

royal robes, and he looked so grand and stately that it was

impossible to recognise the poor Simpleton, so changed was he;

and the Princess fell in love with him as soon as ever she saw

him.



Never before had so grand a wedding been seen, and there was so

much food and wine that even the glutton and the thirsty comrade

had enough to eat and drink.





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