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And the old woman who had been the prince's nurse became nurse to the prince's children--at least she was called so; though she was far too old to do anything for them but love them. Yet she still thought that she was useful, and knew that she was happy. And happy, indeed, were the prince and princess, who in due time became king and queen, and lived and ruled long and prosperously.
(Major Campbell, Feroshepore.)
_THE PRINCE AND PRINCESS IN THE FOREST_
There were, once upon a time, a king and queen of Denmark who had an only son, a handsome and clever lad. When he was eighteen, his father, the old king, fell very ill, and there was no hope that he would ever get well again. The queen and the prince were very unhappy, for they loved him dearly; but though they did all they could, he only grew worse and worse, and, one day, when the summer had come and the birds were singing, he raised his head and, taking a long look out of the window, fell back dead.
During many weeks the queen could hardly eat or sleep, so sorely did she grieve for him, and the prince feared that she would die also if she went on weeping; so he begged her to go with him to a beautiful place that he knew of on the other side of the forest, and after some time she consented. The prince was overjoyed, and arranged that they should set off early next morning.
They travelled all day, only stopping now and then to rest, and already the queen began to be better and to take a little interest in the things she saw. Just as the evening was coming on they entered the forest. Here it was quite dark, for the trees grew so close together that the sun could not shine through them, and very soon they lost the path, and wandered helplessly about wondering what they should do.
'If we sleep in this dreadful place,' said the queen, who was tired and frightened, 'the wild beasts will eat us.' And she began to cry.
'Cheer up, mother,' answered her son, 'I have a feeling that luck is coming to us.' And at the next turning they came to a little house, in the window of which a light was burning.
'Didn't I tell you so?' cried the prince. 'Stay here a moment and I will go and see if I can get food and shelter for the night.' And away he ran as fast as he could go, for by this time they were very hungry, as they had brought very little food with them and had eaten up every sc.r.a.p! When one takes a long journey on foot one does not like to have too much to carry.
The prince entered the house and looked about him, going from one room to the other, but seeing n.o.body and finding nothing to eat. At last, as he was going sorrowfully away, he caught sight of a sword and shirt of mail hanging on the wall in an inner room, with a piece of paper fastened under them. On the paper was some writing, which said that whoever wore the coat and carried the sword would be safe from all danger.
The prince was so delighted at the sight that he forgot how hungry he was, and instantly slipped on the coat of chain armour under his tunic, and hid the sword under his cloak, for he did not mean to say anything about what he had found. Then he went back to his mother, who was waiting impatiently for him.
'What have you been doing all this time?' she asked angrily. 'I thought you had been killed by robbers!'
'Oh, just looking round,' he answered; 'but though I searched everywhere I could find nothing to eat.'
'I am very much afraid that it is a robbers' den,' said the queen. 'We had better go on, hungry though we are.'
'No, it isn't; but still, we had better not stay here,' replied the prince, 'especially as there is nothing to eat. Perhaps we shall find another house.'
They went on for some time, until, sure enough, they came to another house, which also had a light in the window.
'We'll go in here,' said the prince.
'No, no; I am afraid!' cried the queen. 'We shall be attacked and killed! It is a robbers' den: I am sure it is!'
'Yes, it looks like it; but we can't help that,' said her son. 'We have had nothing to eat for hours, and I'm nearly as tired as you.'
The poor queen was, indeed, quite worn out; she could hardly stand for fatigue, and in spite of her terror was half anxious to be persuaded.
'And there's going to be a storm,' added the prince; who feared nothing now that he had the sword.
So they went into the house, where they found n.o.body. In the first room stood a table laid for a meal, with all sorts of good things to eat and drink, though some of the dishes were empty.
'Well, this looks nice,' said the prince, sitting down and helping himself to some delicious strawberries piled on a golden dish, and some iced lemonade. Never had anything tasted so nice; but, all the same, it _was_ a robbers' den they had come to, and the robbers, who had only just dined, had gone out into the forest to see whom they could rob.
When the queen and the prince could eat no more they remembered that they were very tired, and the prince looked about till he discovered a comfortable bed, with silken sheets, standing in the next room.
'You get into bed, mother,' he said, 'and I'll lie down by the side.
Don't be alarmed; you can sleep quite safely till the morning.' And he lay down with his sword in his hand, and kept watch until the day began to break; then the queen woke up and said she was quite rested and ready to start again.
'First I'll go out into the forest and see if I can find our road,'
said the prince. 'And while I'm gone you light the fire and make some coffee. We must eat a good breakfast before we start.'
[Ill.u.s.tration: THE ROBBER-CHIEF CATCHES THE QUEEN]
And he ran off into the wood.
After he had gone the queen lit the fire, and then thought she would like to see what was in the other rooms; so she went from one to another, and presently came to one that was very prettily furnished, with lovely pictures on the walls, and pale blue curtains and soft yellow cushions and comfortable easy chairs. As she was looking at all these things, suddenly a trap-door opened in the floor, and the robber-chief came out of the hole and seized her ankles. The queen almost died of fright, and shrieked loudly, then fell on her knees and begged him to spare her life.
'Yes, if you will promise me two things,' he replied; 'first that you will take me home to your country and let me be crowned king instead of your son; and secondly, that you will kill him in case he should try to take the throne from me--if you will not agree to this I shall kill you.'
'Kill my own son!' gasped the queen, staring at him in horror.
'You need not do that exactly,' said the robber. 'When he returns, just lie on the bed and say that you have been taken ill, and add that you have dreamed that in a forest, a mile away, there are some beautiful apples. If you could only get some of these you would be well again, but if not you will die.'
The queen shuddered as she listened. She was fond of her son, but she was a terrible coward; and so in the end she agreed, hoping that something would occur to save the prince. She had hardly given her promise when a step was heard, and the robber hastily hid himself.
'Well, mother,' cried the prince as he entered, 'I have been through the forest and found the road, so we will start directly we have had some breakfast.'
'Oh, I feel so ill!' said the queen. 'I could not walk a single step; and there is only one thing that will cure me.'
'What is that?' asked the prince.
'I dreamed,' answered the queen, in a faint voice, 'that, a mile away, there is a forest where the most beautiful apples grow, and if I could have some of them I should soon be well again.'
'Oh! but dreams don't mean anything,' said the prince. 'There is a magician who lives near here. I'll go to him and ask for a spell to cure you.'
'My dreams always mean something,' said the queen, shaking her head.
'If I don't get any apples I shall die.' She did not know why the robber wanted to send the prince to this particular forest, but as a matter of fact it was full of wild animals who would tear to pieces any traveller who entered it.
'Well, I'll go,' answered the prince. 'But I really must have some breakfast first; I shall walk all the faster.'
'If you do not hurry you will find me dead when you come back,'
murmured the queen fretfully. She thought her son was not nearly anxious enough about her, and by this time she had begun to believe that she really was as ill as she had said.
When the prince had eaten and drunk, he set off, and soon came to a forest, and sure enough it was full of lions and tigers, and bears and wolves, who came rushing towards him; but instead of springing on him and tearing him to pieces, they lay down on the ground and licked his hands. He speedily found the tree with the apples which his mother wanted, but the branches were so high he could not reach them, and there was no way of climbing up the smooth trunk.
'It is no use after all, I can't get up there,' he said to himself.
'What am I to do now?'
But, as he turned away, his sword chanced to touch the tree, and immediately two apples fell down. He picked them up joyfully, and was going away when a little dog came out of a hill close by, and running up to him, began tugging at his clothes and whining.