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The Little Soldier

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But the prize was too great for any proclamation to put a stop to the efforts of the crowd of suitors, and that year the orchards of the Low Countries all bore a harvest of dead men. The King had given orders that they should seek high and low for the plum-seller, but in spite of all their pains, he was nowhere to be found. When the little soldier discovered that their patience was worn out, he pressed the juice of the green Queen Claude plums into a small phial, bought a doctor's robe, put on a wig and spectacles, and presented himself before the King of the Low Countries. He gave himself out as a famous physician who had come from distant lands, and he promised that he would cure the Princess if only he might be left alone with her. 'Another madman determined to be hanged,' said the King. 'Very well, do as he asks; one should refuse nothing to a man with a rope round his neck.'



As soon as the little soldier was in the presence of the Princess he poured some drops of the liquid into a glass. The Princess had scarcely tasted it, when the tip of the horns disappeared. 'They would have disappeared completely,' said the pretended doctor, 'if there did not exist something to counteract the effect. It is only possible to cure people whose souls are as clean as the palm of my hand. Are you sure you have not committed some little sin? Examine yourself well.' Ludovine had no need to think over it long, but she was torn in pieces between the shame of a humiliating confession, and the desire to be unhorned. At last she made answer with downcast eyes, 'I have stolen a leather purse from a little soldier.' 'Give it to me. The remedy will not act till I hold the purse in my hands.' It cost Ludovine a great pang to give up the purse, but she remembered that riches would not benefit her if she was still to keep the horns. With a sigh, she handed the purse to the doctor, who poured more of the liquid into the glass, and

       



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