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Once upon a time in a certain country there lived a king whose palace
was surrounded by a spacious garden. But, though the gardeners were many
and the soil was good, this garden yielded neither flowers nor fruits,
not even grass or shady trees.
The King was in despair about it, when a wise old man said to him:
"Your gardeners do not understand their business: but what can you
expect of men whose fathers were cobblers and carpenters? How should
they have learned to cultivate your garden?"
"You are quite right," cried the King.
"Therefore," continued the old man, "you should send for a gardener
whose father and grandfather have been gardeners before him, and very
soon your garden will be full of green grass and gay flowers, and you
will enjoy its delicious fruit."
So the King sent messengers to every town, village, and hamlet in his
dominions, to look for a gardener whose forefathers had been gardeners
also, and after forty days one was found.
"Come with us and be gardener to the King," they said to him.
"How can I go to the King," said the gardener, "a poor wretch like me?"
"That is of no consequence," they answered. "Here are new clothes for
you and your family."
"But I owe money to several people."
"We will pay your debts," they said.
So the gardener allowed himself to be persuaded, and went away with
the messengers, taking his wife and his son with him; and the King,
delighted to have found a real gardener, entrusted him with the care
of his garden. The man found no difficulty in making the royal garden
produce flowers and fruit, and at the end of a year the park was not
like the same place, and the King showered gifts upon his new servant.
The gardener, as you have heard already, had a son, who was a very
handsome young man, with most agreeable manners, and every day he
carried the best fruit of the garden to the King, and all the prettiest
flowers to his daughter. Now this princess was wonderfully pretty and
was just sixteen years old, and the King was beginning to think it was
time that she should be married.
"My dear child," said he, "you are of an age to take a husband,
therefore I am thinking of marrying you to the son of my prime minister.
"Father," replied the Princess, "I will never marry the son of the
"Why not?" asked the King.
"Because I love the gardener's son," answered the Princess.
On hearing this the King was at first very angry, and then he wept and
sighed, and declared that such a husband was not worthy of his daughter;
but the young Princess was not to be turned from her resolution to marry
the gardener's son.
Then the King consulted his ministers. "This is what you must do," they
said. "To get rid of the gardener you must send both suitors to a
very distant country, and the one who returns first shall marry your
The King followed this advice, and the minister's son was presented with
a splendid horse and a purse full of gold pieces, while the gardener's
son had only an old lame horse and a purse full of copper money, and
every one thought he would never come back from his journey.
The day before they started the Princess met her lover and said to him:
"Be brave, and remember always that I love you. Take this purse full of
jewels and make the best use you can of them for love of me, and come
back quickly and demand my hand."
The two suitors left the town together, but the minister's son went off
at a gallop on his good horse, and very soon was lost to sight behind
the most distant hills. He traveled on for some days, and presently
reached a fountain beside which an old woman all in rags sat upon a
"Good-day to you, young traveler," said she.
But the minister's son made no reply.
"Have pity upon me, traveler," she said again. "I am dying of hunger,
as you see, and three days have I been here and no one has given me
"Let me alone, old witch," cried the young man; "I can do nothing for
you," and so saying he went on his way.
That same evening the gardener's son rode up to the fountain upon his
lame gray horse.
"Good-day to you, young traveler," said the beggar-woman.
"Good-day, good woman," answered he.
"Young traveler, have pity upon me."
"Take my purse, good woman," said he, "and mount behind me, for your
legs can't be very strong."
The old woman didn't wait to be asked twice, but mounted behind him,
and in this style they reached the chief city of a powerful kingdom. The
minister's son was lodged in a grand inn, the gardener's son and the old
woman dismounted at the inn for beggars.
The next day the gardener's son heard a great noise in the street, and
the King's heralds passed, blowing all kinds of instruments, and crying:
"The King, our master, is old and infirm. He will give a great reward to
whoever will cure him and give him back the strength of his youth."
Then the old beggar-woman said to her benefactor:
"This is what you must do to obtain the reward which the King promises.
Go out of the town by the south gate, and there you will find three
little dogs of different colors; the first will be white, the second
black, the third red. You must kill them and then burn them separately,
and gather up the ashes. Put the ashes of each dog into a bag of its own
color, then go before the door of the palace and cry out, 'A celebrated
physician has come from Janina in Albania. He alone can cure the King
and give him back the strength of his youth.
' The King's physicians will
say, This is an impostor, and not a learned man,' and they will make all
sorts of difficulties, but you will overcome them all at last, and will
present yourself before the sick King. You must then demand as much wood
as three mules can carry, and a great cauldron, and must shut yourself
up in a room with the Sultan, and when the cauldron boils you must throw
him into it, and there leave him until his flesh is completely separated
from his bones. Then arrange the bones in their proper places, and throw
over them the ashes out of the three bags. The King will come back to
life, and will be just as he was when he was twenty years old. For your
reward you must demand the bronze ring which has the power to grant
you everything you desire. Go, my son, and do not forget any of my
The young man followed the old beggar-woman's directions. On going out
of the town he found the white, red, and black dogs, and killed and
burnt them, gathering the ashes in three bags. Then he ran to the palace
"A celebrated physician has just come from Janina in Albania. He alone
can cure the King and give him back the strength of his youth."
The King's physicians at first laughed at the unknown wayfarer, but the
Sultan ordered that the stranger should be admitted. They brought the
cauldron and the loads of wood, and very soon the King was boiling away.
Toward mid-day the gardener's son arranged the bones in their places,
and he had hardly scattered the ashes over them before the old King
revived, to find himself once more young and hearty.
"How can I reward you, my benefactor?" he cried. "Will you take half my
"No," said the gardener's son.
"My daughter's hand?"
"Take half my kingdom."
"No. Give me only the bronze ring which can instantly grant me anything
I wish for."
"Alas!" said the King, "I set great store by that marvelous ring;
nevertheless, you shall have it." And he gave it to him.
The gardener's son went back to say good-by to the old beggar-woman;
then he said to the bronze ring:
"Prepare a splendid ship in which I may continue my journey. Let the
hull be of fine gold, the masts of silver, the sails of brocade; let
the crew consist of twelve young men of noble appearance, dressed like
kings. St. Nicholas will be at the helm. As to the cargo, let it be
diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and carbuncles."
And immediately a ship appeared upon the sea which resembled in every
particular the description given by the gardener's son, and, stepping
on board, he continued his journey. Presently he arrived at a great town
and established himself in a wonderful palace. After several days he
met his rival, the minister's son, who had spent all his money and was
reduced to the disagreeable employment of a carrier of dust and rubbish.
The gardener's son said to him:
"What is your name, what is your family, and from what country do you
"I am the son of the prime minister of a great nation, and yet see what
a degrading occupation I am reduced to."
"Listen to me; though I don't know anything more about you, I am willing
to help you. I will give you a ship to take you back to your own country
upon one condition."
"Whatever it may be, I accept it willingly."
"Follow me to my palace."
The minister's son followed the rich stranger, whom he had not
recognized. When they reached the palace the gardener's son made a sign
to his slaves, who completely undressed the new-comer.
"Make this ring red-hot," commanded the master, "and mark the man with
it upon his back."
The slaves obeyed him.
"Now, young man," said the rich stranger, "I am going to give you a
vessel which will take you back to your own country."
And, going out, he took the bronze ring and said:
"Bronze ring, obey thy master. Prepare me a ship of which the
half-rotten timbers shall be painted black, let the sails be in rags,
and the sailors infirm and sickly. One shall have lost a leg, another
an arm, the third shall be a hunchback, another lame or club-footed or
blind, and most of them shall be ugly and covered with scars. Go, and
let my orders be executed."
The minister's son embarked in this old vessel, and thanks to favorable
winds, at length reached his own country. In spite of the pitiable
condition in which he returned they received him joyfully.
"I am the first to come back," said he to the King; now fulfil your
promise, and give me the princess in marriage.
So they at once began to prepare for the wedding festivities. As to the
poor princess, she was sorrowful and angry enough about it.
The next morning, at daybreak, a wonderful ship with every sail set came
to anchor before the town. The King happened at that moment to be at the
"What strange ship is this," he cried, "that has a golden hull, silver
masts, and silken sails, and who are the young men like princes who man
it? And do I not see St. Nicholas at the helm? Go at once and invite the
captain of the ship to come to the palace."
His servants obeyed him, and very soon in came an enchantingly handsome
young prince, dressed in rich silk, ornamented with pearls and diamonds.
"Young man," said the King, "you are welcome, whoever you may be. Do me
the favor to be my guest as long as you remain in my capital."
"Many thanks, sire," replied the captain, "I accept your offer."
"My daughter is about to be married," said the King; "will you give her
"I shall be charmed, sire."
Soon after came the Princess and her betrothed.
"Why, how is this?" cried the young captain; "would you marry this
charming princess to such a man as that?"
"But he is my prime minister's son!"
"What does that matter? I cannot give your daughter away. The man she is
betrothed to is one of my servants."
"Without doubt. I met him in a distant town reduced to carrying away
dust and rubbish from the houses. I had pity on him and engaged him as
one of my servants."
"It is impossible!" cried the King.
"Do you wish me to prove what I say? This young man returned in a vessel
which I fitted out for him, an unseaworthy ship with a black battered
hull, and the sailors were infirm and crippled."
"It is quite true," said the King.
"It is false," cried the minister's son. "I do not know this man!"
"Sire," said the young captain, "order your daughter's betrothed to be
stripped, and see if the mark of my ring is not branded upon his back."
The King was about to give this order, when the minister's son, to save
himself from such an indignity, admitted that the story was true.
"And now, sire," said the young captain, "do you not recognize me?"
"I recognize you," said the Princess; "you are the gardener's son whom I
have always loved, and it is you I wish to marry."
"Young man, you shall be my son-in-law," cried the King. "The marriage
festivities are already begun, so you shall marry my daughter this very
And so that very day the gardener's son married the beautiful Princess.
Several months passed. The young couple were as happy as the day was
long, and the King was more and more pleased with himself for having
secured such a son-in-law.
But, presently, the captain of the golden ship found it necessary to
take a long voyage, and after embracing his wife tenderly he embarked.
Now in the outskirts of the capital there lived an old man, who had
spent his life in studying black arts--alchemy, astrology, magic,
and enchantment. This man found out that the gardener's son had only
succeeded in marrying the Princess by the help of the genii who obeyed
the bronze ring.
"I will have that ring," said he to himself. So he went down to the
sea-shore and caught some little red fishes. Really, they were
quite wonderfully pretty. Then he came back, and, passing before the
Princess's window, he began to cry out:
"Who wants some pretty little red fishes?"
The Princess heard him, and sent out one of her slaves, who said to the
"What will you take for your fish?"
"A bronze ring."
"A bronze ring, old simpleton! And where shall I find one?"
"Under the cushion in the Princess's room."
The slave went back to her mistress.
"The old madman will take neither gold nor silver," said she.
"What does he want then?"
"A bronze ring that is hidden under a cushion."
"Find the ring and give it to him," said the Princess.
And at last the slave found the bronze ring, which the captain of the
golden ship had accidentally left behind and carried it to the man, who
made off with it instantly.
Hardly had he reached his own house when, taking the ring, he said,
"Bronze ring, obey thy master. I desire that the golden ship shall turn
to black wood, and the crew to hideous negroes; that St. Nicholas shall
leave the helm and that the only cargo shall be black cats."
And the genii of the bronze ring obeyed him.
Finding himself upon the sea in this miserable condition, the young
captain understood that some one must have stolen the bronze ring from
him, and he lamented his misfortune loudly; but that did him no good.
"Alas!" he said to himself, "whoever has taken my ring has probably
taken my dear wife also. What good will it do me to go back to my own
country?" And he sailed about from island to island, and from shore to
shore, believing that wherever he went everybody was laughing at him,
and very soon his poverty was so great that he and his crew and the poor
black cats had nothing to eat but herbs and roots. After wandering about
a long time he reached an island inhabited by mice.
The captain landed
upon the shore and began to explore the country. There were mice
everywhere, and nothing but mice. Some of the black cats had followed
him, and, not having been fed for several days, they were fearfully
hungry, and made terrible havoc among the mice.
Then the queen of the mice held a council.
"These cats will eat every one of us," she said, "if the captain of the
ship does not shut the ferocious animals up. Let us send a deputation to
him of the bravest among us."
Several mice offered themselves for this mission and set out to find the
"Captain," said they, "go away quickly from our island, or we shall
perish, every mouse of us."
"Willingly," replied the young captain, "upon one condition. That is
that you shall first bring me back a bronze ring which some clever
magician has stolen from me. If you do not do this I will land all my
cats upon your island, and you shall be exterminated."
The mice withdrew in great dismay. "What is to be done?" said the Queen.
"How can we find this bronze ring?" She held a new council, calling in
mice from every quarter of the globe, but nobody knew where the bronze
ring was. Suddenly three mice arrived from a very distant country. One
was blind, the second lame, and the third had her ears cropped.
"Ho, ho, ho!" said the new-comers. "We come from a far distant country."
"Do you know where the bronze ring is which the genii obey?"
"Ho, ho, ho! we know; an old sorcerer has taken possession of it, and
now he keeps it in his pocket by day and in his mouth by night."
"Go and take it from him, and come back as soon as possible."
So the three mice made themselves a boat and set sail for the magician's
country. When they reached the capital they landed and ran to the
palace, leaving only the blind mouse on the shore to take care of the
boat. Then they waited till it was night. The wicked old man lay down in
bed and put the bronze ring into his mouth, and very soon he was asleep.
"Now, what shall we do?" said the two little animals to each other.
The mouse with the cropped ears found a lamp full of oil and a bottle
full of pepper. So she dipped her tail first in the oil and then in the
pepper, and held it to the sorcerer's nose.
"Atisha! atisha!" sneezed the old man, but he did not wake, and the
shock made the bronze ring jump out of his mouth. Quick as thought the
lame mouse snatched up the precious talisman and carried it off to the
Imagine the despair of the magician when he awoke and the bronze ring
was nowhere to be found!
But by that time our three mice had set sail with their prize. A
favoring breeze was carrying them toward the island where the queen
of the mice was awaiting them. Naturally they began to talk about the
"Which of us deserves the most credit?" they cried all at once.
"I do," said the blind mouse, "for without my watchfulness our boat
would have drifted away to the open sea."
"No, indeed," cried the mouse with the cropped ears; "the credit is
mine. Did I not cause the ring to jump out of the man's mouth?"
"No, it is mine," cried the lame one, "for I ran off with the ring."
And from high words they soon came to blows, and, alas! when the quarrel
was fiercest the bronze ring fell into the sea.
"How are we to face our queen," said the three mice "when by our
folly we have lost the talisman and condemned our people to be utterly
exterminated? We cannot go back to our country; let us land on this
desert island and there end our miserable lives." No sooner said than
done. The boat reached the island, and the mice landed.
The blind mouse was speedily deserted by her two sisters, who went off
to hunt flies, but as she wandered sadly along the shore she found a
dead fish, and was eating it, when she felt something very hard. At her
cries the other two mice ran up.
"It is the bronze ring! It is the talisman!" they cried joyfully, and,
getting into their boat again, they soon reached the mouse island. It
was time they did, for the captain was just going to land his cargo of
cats, when a deputation of mice brought him the precious bronze ring.
"Bronze ring," commanded the young man, "obey thy master. Let my ship
appear as it was before."
Immediately the genii of the ring set to work, and the old black vessel
became once more the wonderful golden ship with sails of brocade; the
handsome sailors ran to the silver masts and the silken ropes, and very
soon they set sail for the capital.
Ah! how merrily the sailors sang as they flew over the glassy sea!
At last the port was reached.
The captain landed and ran to the palace, where he found the wicked
old man asleep. The Princess clasped her husband in a long embrace. The
magician tried to escape, but he was seized and bound with strong cords.
The next day the sorcerer, tied to the tail of a savage mule loaded with
nuts, was broken into as many pieces as there were nuts upon the mule's