Saturday, September 21, 2013

SLAV TALES - Author: Alexander Chodsko - Illustrator: Emily J. Harding - Translator: Emily J. Harding


  An old man blesses a young person.

Once upon a time there lived a very rich widow, with whom lived three children: a handsome stepson; his sister, who was marvellously beautiful; and her own daughter, passably good-looking.

All three children lived under the same roof, but, as is often the case where there are step-parents, they were treated very differently. The lady’s own daughter was bad-tempered, disobedient, vain, and of a tell-tale disposition: yet she was  made much of, praised, and caressed. The step-children were treated very harshly: the boy, kind-hearted and obliging, was made to do all sorts of hard unpleasant work, was constantly scolded, and looked upon as a good-for-nothing. The step-daughter, who was not only exceedingly pretty but was as sweet as an angel, was found fault with on all occasions, and her life made utterly miserable.

It is, after all, but natural to love one’s own children better than those of others, but the feeling of love should be governed by the laws of fairness. Now this wicked woman was blind to the faults of the child she loved, and to the good qualities of her husband’s children, whom she hated.

When in a bad temper she was fond of boasting of the handsome fortune she intended securing for her own daughter, even though the step-children should be unprovided for. But, as the old proverb says, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” We shall therefore see how things turned out.

One Sunday morning, before going to church, the step-daughter went into the garden to pick some flowers for decorating the altar. She had only gathered a few roses when, looking up, she saw quite close to her three young men robed in dazzling white garments. They sat on a bench shaded by shrubs, while near them was an old man who asked her for alms.

She felt rather nervous before the strangers, but when she saw the old man she took her last penny from her purse and gave it him. He thanked her, and raising his hand over the girl’s head, said to the men:

“This orphan girl is pious, patient under misfortune, and kind to the poor, with whom she shares the little she has. Tell me what you wish for her.”

 The first said, “I wish that when she weeps her tears may be changed into so many pearls.”

“And I,” replied the second, “that when she smiles sweet roses may fall from her lips.”

“My wish,” said the third, “is that whenever she dips her hands into water there shall appear in it shining gold-fish.”

“All these gifts shall be hers,” added the old man. And with these words they vanished.

The maiden was filled with awe, and fell on her knees in prayer. Then her heart was filled with joy and peace, and she went back into the house. She had scarcely crossed the threshold when her stepmother came forward, and looking at her sternly, said, “Well, where have you been ?”

The poor child began to cry, when marvel of marvels instead of tears, pearls fell from her eyes.

Notwithstanding her rage, the stepmother picked them up as quickly as possible, while the girl smiled as she watched her. And as she smiled roses fell from her lips, and her stepmother was beside herself with delight.

The girl then went to put the flowers she had gathered in water; and as she dipped her fingers in it while arranging them, pretty little gold-fish appeared in the bowl.

From that day these marvels were constantly occurring; the tears were changed into pearls, the smiles scattered roses, and the water, even if she dipped but the tips of her fingers in, was filled with gold-fish.

The stepmother softened and became more gentle, while little by little she managed to draw from her step-child the secret of these gifts.

So next Sunday morning she sent her own daughter into  the garden to gather flowers, under pretence of their being for the altar. When she had picked a few, she raised her eyes and saw the three young men sitting on a low seat, while near them stood the little old man with white hair, begging for alms. She pretended to be shy before the young men, but at the beggar’s request drew from her pocket a gold piece, and gave it him, evidently much against her will. He put it in his pocket, and turning to his companions, said: “This girl is the spoilt child of her mother; she is bad-tempered and naughty, while her heart is hardened against the poor. It is easy to understand why, for the first time in her life, she has been so generous to-day. Tell me what gifts you would wish me to bestow upon her.”

The first said, “May her tears be changed into lizards.”

“And her smile produce hideous toads,” added the second.

“And when her hands touch the water may it be filled with serpents,” said the third.

“So let it be,” cried the old man. And they all vanished.

The poor girl was terrified, and went back to tell her mother what had happened. And it was even so; for if she smiled hideous toads fell from her mouth, her tears were changed into lizards, and the water in which she dipped but the tips of her fingers was filled with serpents.

The stepmother was in despair, but she only loved her child the more, and hated the orphans with a yet more bitter hatred. Indeed, she worried them to such an extent that the boy determined to put up with it no longer, but to seek his fortune elsewhere. So he tied up his belongings in a handkerchief, took a loving farewell of his sister, commending her to God’s care, and left his home. The great world lay before  him, but which path to take he knew not. Turning to the cemetery where his parents lay side by side, he wept and prayed, kissed the earth that covered them three times, and set off on his travels.

At that moment he felt something hard in the folds of his tunic, and pressing on his heart. Wondering what it could be, he put in his hand and drew thence a charming portrait of his dearly loved sister, surrounded with pearls, roses, and gold-fish. So great was his astonishment he could hardly believe his eyes. But he was very happy, and kissed the picture over and over again; then, with one more look at the cemetery, he made the sign of the cross and departed.

Now a beautiful story is soon told, but the acts of which it is the sum pass more slowly.

After many adventures of little importance he reached the capital of a kingdom by the sea, and there obtained the post of under-gardener at the royal palace, with good food and wages.

In his prosperity he did not forget his unhappy sister, for he felt very uneasy about her. When he had a few moments to himself he would sit down in some retired spot and gaze upon her portrait with a sad heart and eyes filled with tears. For the picture was a faithful likeness of her, and he looked upon it as a gift from his parents.

Now the king had noticed this habit of his, and one day while he sat by a stream looking at the picture he came quietly behind him, and glanced over his shoulder to see what he was so attentively regarding.

“Give me that portrait,” said the monarch.

The boy handed it him. 

The king examined it closely,  and admiring it greatly, said:
“I have never seen such a beautiful face in all my life, never even dreamed of such loveliness. Come, tell me, is the original of the picture living ?”

The lad burst into tears, and told him it was the living image of his sister, who a short time since had received as a special mark of favour from God, that her tears should be changed into pearls, her smiles into roses, and the touch of her hands in water should produce beautiful gold-fish.

The king commanded him to write to his stepmother at once and bid her send her lovely step-daughter to the chapel of the palace, where the king would be waiting to marry her. The letter also contained promises of special royal favours.

The lad wrote the letter, which the king sent by a special messenger.

Now a good story is soon told, but the deeds of which it is the sum are not performed so quickly.

  An older man looks at a young man looking at a miniature portrait.

When the stepmother received the letter she determined to say nothing about it to her step-child, but she showed it to her own daughter, and talked the matter over with her. Then she went to learn the art of sorcery from a witch, and having found out all it was necessary to know, set off with both of the girls.
On approaching the capital, the wicked woman pushed her step-child out of the carriage and repeated some magic words over her.
After this she became very small and covered with feathers, then in a moment she was changed into a wild-duck. She began to quack, and made for the water, as ducks do, and swam to a far distance. 

The stepmother bade her farewell in the following words:

“By the strength of my hate may my will be fulfilled. Swim about the banks in the form of a duck, and rejoice in thy  liberty. During that time my daughter shall take thy form, shall marry the king, and shall enjoy the good fortune fate destined for thee.”

At the conclusion of these words her own child became endowed with all the graces and beauty of her unfortunate step-sister.
The two then continued their journey, arriving at the royal chapel at the appointed hour. 

The king received them with all honours, while the deceitful woman gave away her own daughter, whom the bridegroom believed to be the original of the beautiful picture. After the ceremony the mother went away loaded with presents. The king, as he looked at his young wife, could not understand why he did not feel for her the sympathy and admiration he had felt for the portrait she so much resembled. But it could not be altered now; what is done is done. So he admired her beauty and looked forward to the pleasure of seeing pearls fall from her eyes, roses from her lips, and gold-fish at the touch of her fingers.

During the wedding feast the newly-made bride forgot herself and smiled at her husband; immediately a number of hideous toads escaped from her lips.

The king, overcome with horror and disgust, rushed away from her, upon which she began to cry, but instead of pearls, lizards fell from her eyes.
The majordomo ordered water to be brought for her to wash her hands, but no sooner had she dipped the tips of her fingers in the bowl than it was filled with serpents that hissed and twisted and threw themselves among the wedding guests.
The panic was general, and a scene of great confusion followed.
The guard was called in, and had the greatest trouble to clear the hall of the disgusting reptiles.

 The bridegroom had taken refuge in the garden, and when he saw the young man coming towards him, whom he thought had deceived him, his anger overcame him, and he struck the poor lad with so much force that he fell down dead.

The queen ran forward sobbing, and taking the king by the hand, said:

“What have you done ? You have killed my innocent brother. It is neither my fault, nor was it his, that since the wedding I have by some enchantment lost the marvellous power I possessed before. This evil will pass away in time, but time can never restore to me my dear brother, my own mother’s son.”

“Forgive me, dear wife; in a moment of irritation I thought he had deceived me, and I wanted to punish him, but did not mean to kill. I regret it deeply, but it cannot be helped now. Forgive me my fault as I forgive yours, with all my heart.”

“You have my forgiveness, but I beg you to see that your wife’s brother has an honourable burial.”

Her wishes were carried out, and the orphan lad, who had passed as her brother, was laid in a handsome coffin.
The chapel was hung with black, and at night a guard was placed both inside and out.

Towards midnight the church doors silently opened, and while the guards were overcome by sleep a pretty little duck entered unnoticed. She stopped in the middle of the aisle, shook herself, and pulled out her feathers one by one. Then it took the form of the beautiful step-daughter, for it was she. She went up to her brother’s coffin and stood gazing at him, and as she looked she wept sorrowfully.
Then she put on her feathers again and went out a duck. When the guards awoke  they were astonished to find a quantity of fine pearls in the coffin. Next day they told the king that the doors had opened of themselves towards midnight, that they had been overcome by sleep, and that on awakening they had found a large number of pearls in the coffin, but knew not how they got there.
The king was very much surprised, especially at the appearance of the pearls, that ought to have been produced by his wife’s tears.
On the second night he doubled the guard, and impressed upon them the necessity for watchfulness.

At midnight the doors again opened silently as before, the soldiers went to sleep, and the same little duck entered, and, taking out her feathers, appeared as a lovely maiden. She could not help smiling as she looked upon the sleeping soldiers, the number of which had been doubled on her account; and as she smiled a number of roses fell from her lips.
As she drew near her brother her tears fell in torrents, leaving a profusion of fine pearls. After some time she put on her feathers and went out a duck.
When the guards awoke they took the roses and the pearls to the king. He was still more surprised to see roses with the pearls, for these roses should have fallen from his wife’s lips.
He again increased the number of the guard, and threatened them with the most severe punishment if they failed to watch all night.
They did their best to obey, but in vain; they could only sleep.
When they awoke they found, not only roses and pearls, but little gold-fish swimming in the holy water.

The amazed king could only conclude that their sleep was caused by magic.

On the fourth night he not only increased the number of soldiers, but, unknown to every one, hid  himself behind the altar, where he hung a mirror, through which he could see everything that passed without being seen.

At midnight the doors opened.
The soldiers, under the influence of sleep, had let fall their arms and lay on the ground.
The king kept his eyes fixed on the mirror, through which he saw a little wild-duck enter. It looked timidly round on all sides, then, reassured at the sight of the sleeping guards, advanced to the centre of the nave and took off its feathers, thus appearing as a young maiden of exquisite beauty.

The king, overwhelmed with joy and admiration, had a presentiment that this was his true bride.
So when she drew near the coffin he crept noiselessly out of his hiding-place, and with a lighted taper set fire to the feathers.
They flared up immediately, and with such a bright light that the soldiers were aroused.
The girl ran towards the monarch, wringing her hands and weeping tears of pearl.

“What have you done ?” cried she. “How can I now escape my stepmother’s vengeance ? For it is by her magic that I have been changed into a wild-duck.”

When the king had heard all, he ordered some of his soldiers to seize the wife he had married and to take her right out of the country.
He sent others to take the wicked stepmother prisoner, and to burn her as a witch.
Both commands were instantly carried out.
Meanwhile the girl drew from the folds of her gown three small bottles, filled with three different kinds of water, which she had brought from the sea.

  A young man sets a fire in a chapel.

The first possessed the virtue of restoring life.
This she sprinkled over her brother, whereupon the chill and rigidity of death disappeared, the colour came to his face, and warm  red blood flowed from his wound.
Upon the wound she poured water from the second bottle, and it was immediately healed.
When she had made use of the third kind of water he opened his eyes, looked at her with astonishment, and threw himself joyfully into her arms.

The king, enraptured at this sight, conducted the two back to the palace.

So instead of a funeral there was a wedding, to which a large number of guests were immediately invited.
Thus the orphan maid was married to the king, while her brother became one of his majesty’s nobles.
And the magnificence of the wedding feast was greater than anything seen or heard of.


A man walks alongside a pair of buckets attached with a pole.

On the banks of a certain river, where there was always good fishing, lived an old man and his three sons.
The two eldest were sharp-witted, active young men, already married; the youngest was stupid and idle, and a bachelor.
When the father was dying, he called his children to him and told them how he had left his property.
The house was for his two married sons, with a sum of three hundred florins each.
After his death he was buried with great pomp, and after the funeral there was a splendid feast.
All these honours were supposed to be for the benefit of the man’s soul.

When the elder brothers took possession of their inheritance, they said to the youngest:

“Listen, brother; let us take  charge of your share of the money, for we intend going out into the world as merchants, and when we have made a great deal of money we will buy you a hat, a sash, and a pair of red boots. You will be better at home; and mind you do as your sisters-in-law tell you.”

For a long time this silly fellow had been wanting a cap, a sash, and a pair of red boots, so he was easily persuaded to give up all his money.

The brothers set out on their travels, and crossed the sea in search of fortune.

The “fool” of the family remained at home; and, as he was an out-and-out sluggard, he would lie whole days at a time on the warm stove without doing a stroke of work, and only obeying his sisters-in-law with the greatest reluctance.
He liked fried onions, potato soup, and cider, better than anything else in the world.

One day his sisters-in-law asked him to fetch them some water.

It was winter, and a hard frost; moreover, the sluggard did not feel at all inclined to go out.
So he said, “Go yourselves, I prefer to stay here by the fire.”

“Stupid boy, go at once. We will have some onions, potato soup, and cider ready for you when you come back. If you refuse to do what we ask you we shall tell our husbands, and then there will be neither cap, sash, nor red boots for you.”

At these words the sluggard thought he had better go.
So he rolled off the stove, took a hatchet and a couple of pails, and went down to the river.
On the surface of the water, where the ice had been broken, was a large pike.
The sluggard seized him by the fins and pulled him out.

 “If you will let me go,” said the pike, “I promise to give you everything you wish for.”

“Well then, I should like all my desires to be fulfilled the moment I utter them.”

“You shall have everything you want the moment you pronounce these words:

‘At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
May such and such things happen, as I like.’

“Just wait one moment while I try the effect,” said the sluggard, and began at once to say:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
Bring onions, cider, soup, just as I like.”

That very moment his favourite dishes were before him.
Having eaten a large quantity, he said,
“Very good, very good indeed; but will it always be the same ?”

“Always,” replied the pike.

The sluggard put the pike back into the river, and turning towards his buckets, said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
Walk home yourselves, my pails, that I should like.”

The pails, and the strong rod to which they were fastened, immediately set off and walked solemnly along, the sluggard following them with his hands in his pockets. When they reached the house he put them in their places, and again stretched himself out to enjoy the warmth of the stove. 

Presently the sisters-in-law said, 

“Come and chop some wood for us.”

 “Bother ! do it yourselves.”

“It is not fit work for women. Besides, if you don’t do it the stove will be cold, and then you will be the chief sufferer. Moreover, pay attention to what we say, for if you do not obey us, there will be no red boots, nor any other pretty things.”

The sluggard then just sat up and said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
Let what my sisters want be done, that’s what I like.”

Instantly the hatchet came out from behind a stool and chopped up a large heap of wood, put a part of it on the stove, and retired to its corner. All this time the sluggard was eating and drinking at his ease.

Another day some wood had to be brought from the forest.
Our sluggard now thought he would like to show off before the villagers, so he pulled a sledge out of the shed, loaded it with onions and soup, after which he pronounced the magic words.

The sledge started off, and passing through the village at a rattling pace, ran over several people, and frightened the women and children.

When the forest was reached, our friend looked on while the blocks of wood and faggots cut, tied, and laid themselves on the sledge, after which they set off home again.
But when they got to the middle of the village the men, who had been hurt and frightened in the morning, seized hold of the sluggard and pulled him off the sledge, dragging him along by the hair to give him a sound thrashing.

 At first he thought it was only a joke, but when the blows hurt his shoulders, he said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
Come, faggots, haste, and my assailants strike.”

In a moment all the blocks of wood and faggots jumped off the sledge and began to hit right and left, and they hit so well that the men were glad to get out of the way as best they could.

The sluggard laughed at them till his sides ached; then he remounted his sledge, and was soon lying on the stove again.

From that day he became famous, and his doings were talked about all through the country.

At last even the king heard of him, and, his curiosity being aroused, he sent some of his soldiers to fetch him.

“Now then, booby,” said the soldier, “come down off that stove and follow me to the king’s palace.”

“Why should I ? There is as much cider, onions, and soup as I want at home.”

The man, indignant at his want of respect, struck him.

Upon which the sluggard said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
May this man get a taste of what a broom is like.”

A large broom, and not particularly clean, immediately hopped up, and first dipping itself in a pail of water, beat the soldier so mercilessly that he was obliged to escape through the window, whence he returned to the king. His majesty, amazed at the sluggard’s refusal, sent another  messenger.
This man was ’cuter than his comrade, and first made inquiries as to the sluggard’s tastes. 

Then he went up to him and said,
“Good-day, my friend; will you come with me to see the king ? He wishes to present you with a cap, a waistband, and a pair of red boots.”

“With the greatest pleasure; you go on, I will soon overtake you.”

Then he ate as much as he could of his favourite dishes and went to sleep on the stove.
He slept so long that at last his sisters-in-law woke him up and told him he would be late if he did not at once go to see the king.
The lazy fellow said nothing but these words:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
This stove to carry me before the king I’d like.”

At the very same instant the stove moved from its place and carried him right up to the palace door.
The king was filled with amazement, and running out, followed by the whole court, asked the sluggard what he would like to have.

“I have merely come to fetch the hat, waistband, and red boots you promised me.”

Just then the charming princess Gapiomila came to find out what was going on.
Directly the sluggard saw her, he thought her so enchanting that he whispered to himself:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
That this princess so fair may love me, I should like.”

Then he ordered his stove to take him back home, and when there he continued to eat onions and soup and to drink cider.

  A king and courtiers confront a man lying on a divan.

 Meanwhile the princess had fallen in love with him, and begged her father to send for him again.
As the sluggard would not consent, the king had him bound when asleep, and thus brought to the palace.
Then he summoned a celebrated magician, who at his orders shut the princess and sluggard up in a crystal cask, to which was fastened a balloon well filled with gas, and sent it up in the air among the clouds.
The princess wept bitterly, but the fool sat still and said he felt very comfortable. At last she persuaded him to exert his powers, so he said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
This cask of crystal earth at once must strike
Upon the friendly island I should like.”

The crystal cask immediately descended, and opened upon a hospitable island where travellers could have all they wanted by simply wishing for it.
The princess and her companion walked about, eating when hungry, and drinking when athirst.
The sluggard was very happy and contented, but the lady begged him to wish for a palace.
Instantly the palace made its appearance. It was built of white marble, with crystal windows, roof of yellow amber, and golden furniture.
She was delighted with it. Next day she wanted a good road made, along which she could go to see her father. Immediately there stretched before them a fairy-like bridge made of crystal, having golden balustrades set with diamonds, and leading right up to the king’s palace. The sluggard was just about to accompany the princess when he began to think of his own appearance, and to feel ashamed that such an awkward, stupid fellow as he should  walk by the side of such a lovely and graceful creature. 

So he said:

“At my behest, and by the orders of the pike,
To be both handsome, wise, and clever I should like.”

Suddenly he became as handsome, wise, and clever as it was possible to be. Then he got into a gorgeous carriage with Gapiomila, and they drove across the bridge that led to the king’s palace.

There they were received with every mark of joy and affection. The king gave them his blessing, and they were married the same evening.
An immense number of guests were invited to the wedding feast; I, too, was there, and drank freely of wine and hydromel.

And this is the story I have done my best to tell you as faithfully as possible.

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