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The World's Beautiful Woman






Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

In the most beautiful land of Asia, where Adam and Eve may have lived,
where all animals, including cows, live wild, where the corn grows wild,
and even bread grows on trees, there lived a pretty girl, whose palace
was built on a low hill, which looked over a pretty, a very pretty
valley, from which one could see the whole world. In the same country
there lived a young king who decided not to get married till he
succeeded in finding the prettiest woman or girl in the world. The
pretty maid lived with her old father, and with only two servant girls.
The young king lived and enjoyed himself amongst the finest young
aristocrats. One day it struck the young king that it would be a good
thing to get married; so he instructed his aristocratic friends to go
all over his vast realm, and to search about till they found the
prettiest girl in the land: they had not to trouble whether she was poor
or rich; but she must be the prettiest. Each of them was to remain in
the town where he found the girl that he deemed was the prettiest and to
write and let the king know, so that he might go and have a look at all
of them and choose for himself the prettiest amongst all the beauties,
the one he liked best. After a year he received letters from every one
of his seventy-seven friends, and extraordinarily all the seventy-seven
letters arrived from the same town, where, on a low hill above a pretty
little valley, there stood a golden palace, in which there lived a young
lady with a nice old man and two maids, and from the four windows of
which palace the whole world could be seen. The young king started with
a large retinue of wedding guests to the place where the prettiest girl
in the world lived: he found there all his seventy-seven friends, who
were all fever-stricken with love, and were lying about on the pavement
of the palace, on hay which was of a very fine silk-like grass; there
they lay every one of them. The moment the young king saw the beautiful
girl he cried: "The Lord has created you expressly for me; you are mine
and I am yours! and it is my wish to find my rest in the same grave with
you."

The young lady also fell very much in love with the handsome king; in
her fond passion she could not utter a word, but only took him round his
slender waist[1] and led him to her father. Her old father wept tears of
joy, that at last a man was found whom his daughter could love, as she
had thought every man ugly hitherto. The ceremony of betrothal and
wedding was very short; at his pretty wife's wish, the king came to
live on the beautiful spot, than which there was not a prettier one in
the whole world! By the side of the palace there was an earth-hut, in
which lived an old witch who knew all the young lady's secrets, and who
helped her with advice whenever she needed it. The old witch praised the
young lady's beauty to all she met, and it was she who had gathered the
seventy-seven young aristocrats into the palace. On the evening of the
wedding she called upon "the world's beautiful lady" and praised the
young king to her, his handsomeness and riches, and after she had
praised him for an hour or two she sighed heavily: the pretty young lady
asked her what troubled her, as she had this very moment spoken of her
husband as being a handsome, rich, and worthy man? "Because, my pretty
lady, my beautiful queen, if you two live sometime here, you will not
long be the prettiest woman in the world; you are very pretty now, and
your husband is the handsomest of all men; but should a daughter be born
to you, she will be more beautiful than you; she will be more beautiful
than the morning star--this is the reason of my sadness, my beautiful
lady." "You are quite right, good old woman, I will follow any advice;
if you tell me what to do, I will obey you. I will do anything to remain
the most beautiful woman in the world." This was what the old witch said
to the beautiful lady: "I will give you a handful of cotton wool; when
your husband sleeps with you, put this wool on your lips, but be careful
not to make it wet, because there will be poison on it. When your
husband arrives at home all in perspiration from the dance, he will come
to you and kiss you, and die a sudden death." The young lady did as the
witch told her, and the young king was found dead next morning; but the
poison was of such a nature that the physicians were not able to find
out what the king had died of.

The bride was left a widow, and again went to live with her maid and
her old father, and made a solemn vow that she would never marry again.
And she kept her word. As it happened, however, by some inexplicable
circumstance, or by some miracle, after a few months she discovered that
she was with child; so she ran to the old witch and asked her what to
do. The witch gave her a looking-glass and the following advice: "Every
morning you have to ask this mirror whether there is a more beautiful
woman than yourself in existence, and if it says that there is not,
there really won't be one for a long time, and your mind may be at ease;
but should it say that there is one, there will be one, and I will see
to that myself." The beautiful lady snatched the mirror from the witch
in great joy, and as soon as she reached her dressing-room she placed
the little mirror on the window ledge and questioned it thus: "Well, my
dear little mirror, is there a more beautiful woman in the world than
I?" The mirror replied: "Not yet, but there will be one soon, who will
be twice as handsome as you." The beautiful woman nearly lost her wits
in her sorrow, and informed the witch what the mirror had replied. "No
matter," said the old hag, "let her be born, and we shall soon put her
out of the way."

The beautiful lady was confined, and a pretty little daughter was born,
and it would have been a sin to look at her with an evil eye. The bad
woman did not even look at the pretty little creature, but fetched her
mirror and said: "Well, my dear little mirror, is there a more beautiful
creature than I?" and the looking-glass replied: "You are very
beautiful, but your little daughter is seven times prettier than you."
So as soon as she left her bed she sent for the old witch to ask her
advice, who, when she took the babe in her arms, exclaimed that she had
never seen such a beautiful creature in all her life. While she gazed at
the beautiful child she spat in her eyes and covered her face, telling
the beautiful woman to look at the child again in three hours, and when
she uncovered it she would be surprised to find what a monster it had
become. The beautiful lady felt very uneasy, and asked the witch whether
she was allowed to question the mirror again? "Certainly," replied the
witch, "for I know that at this moment you are the most beautiful woman
in existence." But the mirror replied, "You are beautiful, but your
daughter is seventy-seven times more beautiful than you." The beautiful
woman nearly died of rage, but the old witch only smiled, being
confident of her magic power.

The three hours passed, the little girl's face was uncovered, and the
old witch fainted away in her rage; for the little girl had become not
only seven times, but seventy-seven times more beautiful than ever from
the very same thing that usually disfigured other babies: when she
recovered she advised the beautiful lady to kill her baby, as not even
the devil himself had any power over it. The old father of the beautiful
woman had died suddenly, broken hearted by his daughter's shame! The
beautiful woman was nearly killed by sorrow over the loss of her father,
and in order to forget her troubles, she spared her daughter till she
was thirteen: the little girl grew more beautiful every day, so that the
woman could not bear her daughter's beauty any longer, and handed her to
the old witch to be killed. The witch was only too glad to avail herself
of the opportunity, and took her into a vast forest, where she tied the
girl's hands together with a wisp of straw, placed a wreath of straw on
her head, and a girdle of straw round her waist, so that by lighting
them she would burn to death the most beautiful masterpiece of the Lord.
But all of a sudden a loud shouting was heard in the forest, and twelve
robbers came running as swift as birds towards the place where the old
witch and the pretty girl were standing. One of the robbers seized the
girl, another knocked the old witch on the head, and gave her a sound
beating. The witch shammed death, and the robbers left the wicked old
wretch behind, carrying off the pretty girl (who had fainted in her
fright) with them. After half an hour the old witch got up, and rushed
to the castle where the beautiful woman lived, and said, "Well, my
queen, don't question your mirror any more, for you are now the most
beautiful creature in the world, your beautiful daughter lies under
ground." The beautiful lady jumped for joy, and kissed the ugly old
witch.

The pretty girl upon her recovery found herself in a nice little house,
in a clean bed, and guarded by twelve men, who praised her beauty in
whispers, which was such as no human eye had seen before. The innocent
little thing, not thinking of any harm, looked at the men with their
great beards, who stared at her with wide open eyes. She got up from her
soft bed, and thanked the good men for having delivered her from the
clutches of the awful old witch, and then inquired where she was, and
what they intended to do with her; if they meant to kill her, she begged
them do it at once, as she would die with pleasure, and was only afraid
of being killed by that horrible old witch, who was going to burn her to
death. None of the robbers could utter a word, their hearts were so
softened by her sweet words: such words as they had never before heard
from human lips, and her innocent look which would have tamed even a
wild bull. At last one of the robbers, who was splendidly dressed, said:
"You pretty creature of the Lord, you are in the midst of twelve
robbers, who are men of good hearts, but bad morals; we saved you from
the hands of the ugly old witch whom I knocked down, and killed I
believe; we would not kill you, for the whole world; but, on the
contrary, would fight the whole world for you! Be the ornament of our
house and the feast of our eyes! Whatsoever your eyes or your mouth may
desire, be it wherever man exists, we will bring it to you! be our
daughter, and we will be everything to you! your fathers! brothers!
guardians! and, if you need it, your soldiers!" The little girl smiled,
and was very pleased: she found more happiness among the robbers than
she ever did in her mother's palace; she shook hands with all, commended
herself to their protection, and at once looked after the cooking. The
chief of the robbers called three strong maidens, dressed in white,
from a cave, and ordered them to carry out without delay the orders of
their queen, and if he heard one word of complaint against any of them,
they should die the death of a pig. The young girl spoke kindly to the
three maids, and called them her companions.

The robbers then went out on to the highway in great joy--to continue
their plundering--singing and whistling with delight, because their home
and their band had the most beautiful queen in the world. The beautiful
woman, the girl's mother, one day felt weary, and listless, because she
had not heard any one praise her beauty for a very long time. So in her
ennui she took her mirror and said to it: "My dear, sweet little mirror,
is there a more beautiful creature in all the world, than I?" The little
mirror replied, "You are very beautiful, but your daughter is a thousand
times handsomer!" The woman nearly had a fit, in her rage, for she had
not even suspected that her hateful daughter was yet alive: she ran to
the old witch like one out of her mind, to tell what the mirror had
said. The witch at once disguised herself as a gipsy, and started on her
journey, and arrived at the fence of the place where the pretty girl
lived; the garden was planted with flowers and large rose bushes; among
the flower beds she could see the pretty girl sauntering in a dress fit
for a queen. The old witch's heart nearly broke when she saw the young
girl, for never, not even in her imagination, had she ever seen any one
so beautiful. She stole into the garden among the flower beds, and on
approaching saw that the young girl's fingers were covered with the most
precious diamond rings: she kissed the girl's beautiful hand, and begged
to be allowed to put on a ring more precious than any she had; the girl
consented, and even thanked her for it. When she entered the house, she
all at once dropped down as if dead; the witch rushed home, and brought
the good news to the beautiful queen, who at once questioned the mirror,
whether there was yet any one who was prettier than she, and the mirror
replied, that there was not.

The pretty woman was delighted, and nearly went mad with joy on hearing
that she was once more the most beautiful creature in existence, and
gave the witch a handful of gold.

At noon the robbers dropped in one after another from their plundering,
and were thunderstruck when they saw that the glory of their house and
the jewel of their band lay dead. They bewailed her with loud cries of
grief, and commanded the maidens with threats to tell them who had done
it, but they were even more stunned with grief, and bewailed the good
lady, and could not utter a single word, till one of them said that she
saw the pretty girl talking with a gipsy woman for a while, and that the
moment the woman left she suddenly dropped down dead. After much weeping
and wailing the robbers made preparations for the laying out of their
adored queen; they took off her shoes in order to put more beautiful
ones upon her pretty feet: they then took the rings off her fingers in
order to clean them, and as at the very last one of the robbers pulled
off the most precious ring from her little finger, the young girl sat up
and smiled, and informed them that she had slept very well, and had had
most beautiful dreams; and also that if they had not taken off that very
ring (which the gipsy woman had put on that day) from her little finger
she would never have waked again. The robbers smashed the murderous ring
to atoms with their hatchet-sticks, and begged their dear queen not to
speak to anyone, except themselves, as all others were wicked, and
envious of her on account of her beauty, while they adored her. Having
partaken of a good supper, the robbers again went out to their plunder
singing, and quite at rest in their minds, and for a couple of weeks
nothing happened to the young lady; but after a fortnight her mother
again felt ennui and questioned her mirror: "Is there any one living
being on this earth more beautiful than I?" The mirror replied: "You
are very beautiful, but your daughter is one thousand times more
beautiful." The beautiful lady began to tear her hair in rage, and went
to complain to the witch that her daughter was alive still, so the witch
again went off and found the young lady, as before, among the
flower-beds. The witch disguised herself as a Jewess this time, and
began to praise the gold and diamond pins with which the young lady's
shawl was fastened, which she admired very much, and begged the young
lady's leave to allow her to stick another pin amongst those which she
had already in her bosom, as a keepsake. Among all the pins the
prettiest one was the one which the witch disguised as a Jewess stuck in
the young lady's bosom. The young lady thanked her for it, and went
indoors to look after the cooking, but as soon as she arrived in the
house she gave a fearful scream and dropped down dead.

The joy of her mother was great when the witch arrived home in great
delight and the mirror again proved that the girl was dead. The robbers
were full of joy, in anticipation of the pleasure of seeing again their
pretty young girl, whose beauty was apparently increasing daily; but
when they heard the cries of sorrow of the three servant maids and saw
the beautiful corpse stretched out on the bier, they lost all their
cheerfulness and began to weep also. Three of the robbers carried in all
the necessaries for the funeral, while the others undressed and washed
the corpse, and as they were drawing out from her shawl the numerous
pins, they found one amongst them which sparkled most brilliantly,
whereupon two of them snatched it away, each being anxious to replace it
in the girl's bosom when redressing her for burial, when suddenly the
virgin queen sat up and informed them that her death was caused by a
Jewess this time. The robbers buried the pin five fathoms deep in the
ground, so that no evil spirit might get it. There is no more restless
being in the world than a woman; it is a misfortune if she is pretty,
and the same if she is not: if she be pretty she likes to be continually
told of it, if she be not she would like to be. The evil one again
tempted the beautiful lady, and she again questioned her mirror whether
any living being was prettier than she: the mirror replied that her
daughter was prettier.

Upon this she called the old witch all kinds of bad names in her rage,
and threatened her that if she did not kill her daughter outright she
would betray her to the world, and accuse her of having led her to all
her evil deeds; that it was she who induced her to kill her handsome
husband, and that she had given her the mysterious mirror, which was the
cause of her not being able to die in peace. The old hag made no reply,
but went off in a boisterous manner: she transformed herself into a
pretty girl and went straight into the house in which the young lady was
dressing herself and falsely told her that she had been engaged by the
robbers to wait always upon her while she dressed, because she had
already been killed twice, once by a gipsy woman, and another time by a
Jewess; and also that the robbers had ordered her not to do anything
else but to help her in her toilet. The innocent girl believed all that
the she-devil said. She allowed her to undo her hair and to comb it. The
witch did her hair in accordance with the latest fashion, and plaited it
and fastened it with all sorts of hair pins; while doing so she hid a
hair-pin which she had brought with her among the girl's hair, so that
it could not be noticed by anyone; having finished, the new lady's maid
asked permission to leave her mistress for a moment, but never returned,
and her young lady died, while all wept and sobbed most bitterly. The
men and the maids had again to attend with tears to their painful duty
of laying her out for her funeral; they took away all her rings,
breast-pins, and hair-pins; they even opened every one of the folds of
her dress, but still they did not succeed in bringing the young girl to
life again. Her mother was really delighted this time, because she kept
on questioning the mirror for three or four days, and it always replied
to her heart's content. The robbers wailed and cried, and did not even
enjoy their food; one of them proposed that they should not bury the
girl, but that they should come to pray by the side of their dear dead;
others again thought that it would be a pity to confide the pretty body
to the earth, where it would be destroyed; others spoke of the terrible
pang, and said that their hearts would break if they had to look at her
dead beauty for any length of time. So they ordered a splendid coffin
to be made of wrought gold. They wrapped her in purple and fine linen;
they caught an elk and placed the coffin between its antlers, so that
the precious body might not decompose underground: the elk quietly
carried the precious coffin about, and took the utmost care to prevent
it falling from its antlers or its back. This elk happened to graze in
Persia just as the son of the Persian king was out hunting all alone.
The prince was twenty-three years old; he noticed the elk and also the
splendid coffin between its antlers, whereupon he took a pound of sugar
from his bag and gave it to the elk to eat. Taking the coffin from
its back the Persian king's son opened the gold coffin with fear and
trembling, when, unfolding the fine linen, he discovered a corpse, the
like of which he had never seen before, not even in his dreams.

He began to shake it to wake her: to kiss her, and at last went down
upon his knees by her side to pray to God fervently to restore her to
life, but still she didn't move. "I will take her with me into my room,"
he said, sobbing. "Although it is a corpse that must have been dead for
some time, there is no smell. The girl is prettier in her death than all
the girls of Persia alive." It was late at night when the prince got
home, carrying the golden coffin under his cloak. He bewailed the dead
girl for a long time and then went to supper. The king looked anxiously
into his son's eyes, but did not dare to question him as to the cause of
his grief. Every night the prince locked himself up, and did not go to
sleep until he had, for a long time, bemoaned his dead sweetheart; and
whenever he awoke in the night he wept again.

The prince had three sisters, and they were very good girls, and very
fond of their brother. They watched him every night through the keyhole,
but could see nothing. They heard, however, their brother's sobbing and
were very much grieved by it. The Persian king had war declared against
him by the king of the neighbouring country. The king, being very
advanced in age, asked his son to go in his place to fight the enemy.
The good son promised this willingly, although he was tortured by the
thought of being obliged to leave his beautiful dead girl behind. As,
however, he was aware that he would again be able to see and weep over
his dear one when once the war was over, he locked himself in his room
for two hours, weeping all the time, and kissing his sweetheart. Having
finished, he locked his room and put the key in his sabretache. The
good-hearted princesses impatiently waited till their brother crossed
the border with his army, and so soon as they knew that he had left the
country they went to the locksmith of the castle and took away every key
he had, and with these tried to unlock their brother's room, till at
last one of the keys did fit. They ordered every servant away from the
floor on which the room was situated and all three entered. They looked
all round, and in all the cupboards, and even took the bed to pieces,
and as they were taking out the planks of the bed they suddenly
discovered the glittering gold coffin, and in all haste placed it on the
table, and having opened it found the sleeping angel. All three kissed
her; but when they saw that they were unable to restore life, they wept
most bitterly. They rubbed her and held balsam under her nose, but
without avail. Then they examined her dress, which was very far superior
to their own. They moved her rings and breast-pins, and dressed her up
like a pretty doll. The youngest princess brought combs and perfumed
hair-oils in order to do the hair of the dear dead. They pulled out the
hair-pins and arranged them in nice order, so as to be able to replace
them as before. They parted her golden hair, and began to comb it,
adorning each lock with a hair-pin. As they were combing the hair at the
nape of the neck the comb stuck fast, so they looked at once for the
cause of it, when they saw that a golden hair-pin was entangled in the
hair, which the eldest princess moved with the greatest care. Whereupon
the beautiful girl opened her eyes and her lips formed themselves into a
smile; and, as if awakening from a long, long dream, she slightly
stretched herself, and stepped from the coffin. The girls were not
afraid at all, as she, who was so beautiful in her death, was still more
beautiful in life. The youngest girl ran to the old king and told him
what they had done, and that they had found out the cause of their
brother's grief, and how happy they were now. The old king wept for joy
and hastened after his daughter, and on seeing the beautiful child
exclaimed: "You shall be my son's wife, the mother of my grandchildren!"
And thereupon he embraced and kissed her, and took her into his room
with his daughters. He sent for singing birds so that they might amuse
his dear little new daughter. The old king inquired how she made his
son's acquaintance and where she first met him. But the pretty princess
knew nothing about it, but simply told him what she knew, namely, that
she had two enemies who sooner or later would kill and destroy her; and
she also told him that she had been living among robbers, to whom she
had been handed over by an old witch who would always persecute her till
the last moment of her life. The old king encouraged her, and bade her
not to fear anyone, but to rest in peace, as neither her mother nor the
old witch could get at her, the Persian wise men being quite able to
distinguish evil souls from good ones. The girl settled down and partook
of meat and drink with the king's daughters, and also inquired after the
young prince, asking whether he was handsome or ugly; although, she
said, it did not matter to her whether he was handsome or ugly; if he
was willing to have her, she would marry him. The princesses brought
down the painted portrait of the prince and the young girl fell so
deeply in love with it that she continually carried it with her kissing
it. One morning the news spread over all the country that the young king
had conquered his enemy and was hurrying home to his residential city.
The news turned out to be true, and clouds of dust could be seen in the
distance as the horsemen approached. The princesses requested their
pretty new sister to go with them into the room which adjoined their
brother's, where her coffin was kept under the bed.

The moment the prince arrived, he jumped off his horse, and, not even
taking time to greet his father, he unlocked his room and began to sob
most violently, dragging out the coffin gently from under the bed,
placing it on the bed with great care, and then opening the lid with
tears; but he could only find a hair-pin. He rushed out of the room like
a madman, leaving the coffin and the door open, crying aloud, and
demanding what sacrilegious hand had robbed his angel from him. But his
angel, over whom he had shed so many tears, stood smiling before him.
The youth seized her and covered her with as many kisses as there was
room for. He took his betrothed, whom Providence had given to him, to
his father and told him how he had found the pretty corpse on the back
of an elk; and the girl also told the whole story of her life; and the
princesses confessed how they had broken into their brother's room, and
how they restored his sweetheart to life again. The old king was
intoxicated with joy, and the same day sent for a priest, and a great
wedding feast was celebrated. The young folks whom Providence had
brought together lived very happily, when one day the young queen, who
was as beautiful as a fairy, informed her husband that she was being
persecuted, and that while her mother lived she could never have any
peace. "Don't fear, angel of my heart," said the young king, "as no
human or diabolic power can harm you while you are here. Providence is
very kind to us. You seem to be a favourite and will be protected from
all evil." The young queen was of a pious turn of mind and believed the
true words of her husband, as he had only spoken out her own thoughts.
About half a year had passed by and the beautiful woman of the world was
still happy. Her mirror was covered with dust, as she never dreamt for a
moment that her daughter was yet alive; but being one day desirous to
repeat her former amusement she dusted her mirror, and, pressing it to
her bosom, said: "Is there a prettier living creature in the world than
myself?" The mirror replied: "You are very pretty, but your daughter is
seventy-seven thousand times more beautiful than you." The beautiful
woman, on hearing the mirror's reply, fainted away, and they had to
sprinkle cold water over her for two hours before she came round. Off
she set, very ill, to the old witch and begged her, by everything that
was holy, to save her from that hateful girl, else she would have to go
and commit suicide. The old witch cheered her, and promised that she
would do all that lay in her power.

After eight months had elapsed the young prince had to go to war again;
and, with a heavy heart, took leave of his dear pretty wife, as--if one
is obliged to tell it--she was enceinte. But the prince had to go, and
he went, consoling his wife, who wept bitterly, that he would return
soon. The young king left orders that as soon as his wife was confined a
confidential messenger was to be sent without delay to inform him of the
event. Soon after his departure two beautiful boys with golden hair were
born and there was great joy in the royal household. The old king danced
about, like a young child, with delight. The princesses wrapped the
babies in purple and silk, and showed them to everybody as miracles of
beauty.

The old king wrote down the joyful news and sent the letter by a
faithful soldier, instructing him that he was not to put up anywhere
under any pretence whatever. The old soldier staked his moustache not to
call anywhere till he reached the young king.

While angels were rejoicing, devils were racking their brains and
planning mischief!

The old witch hid a flask full of spirits under her apron and hurried
off on the same road as the soldier, in order to meet him with his
letter. She pitched a small tent on the road-side using some dirty
sheets she had brought with her, and, placing her flask of spirits in
front of her, waited for the passers-by. She waited long, but no one
came; when all of a sudden a huge cloud gathered in the sky, and the old
witch was delighted. A fearful storm set in. As the rain poured down,
the old witch saw the soldier running to escape the rain. As he ran past
her tent, the wicked old soul shouted to him to come in and sit down in
her tent till the rain was over. The soldier, being afraid of the
thunder, accepted her invitation, and sat musingly in the tent, when the
old woman placed a good dose of spirits in front of him, which the
soldier drank; she gave him another drop, and he drank that too. Now
there was a sleeping-draft in it, and so the soldier fell fast asleep,
and slept like a fur cloak. The old woman then looked in his bag for
the letter, and, imitating the old king's hand-writing to great
perfection, informed the young prince that a great sorrow had fallen
upon his house, inasmuch as his wife had been delivered of two puppies.
She sealed the letter and woke the soldier, who began to run again and
did not stop until he reached the camp. The young prince was very much
upset by his father's letter, but wrote in reply that no matter what
sort of children his wife had borne they were not to touch but to treat
them as his own children until he returned. He ordered the messenger to
hurry back with his reply, and not to stop anywhere; but the old soldier
could not forget the good glass of spirits he had, and so went into the
tent again and had some more. The witch again mixed it with a
sleeping-draught and searched the bag while the soldier slept. She stole
the letter, and, imitating the young prince's hand-writing, wrote back
to the old king that he was to have his wife and the young babes killed,
because he held a woman who had puppies must be a bad person. The old
king was very much surprised at his son's reply but said nothing to
anyone. At night he secretly called the old soldier to him and had his
daughter-in-law placed in a black carriage. The old soldier sat on the
box and had orders to take the woman and her two children into the
middle of the forest and brain them there. The carriage stopped in the
middle of the forest, the old soldier got down and opened the door,
weeping bitterly. He pulled out a big stick from under his seat and
requested the young queen to alight. She obeyed his orders and descended
holding her babes in her arms.

The old soldier tried three times to raise the stick, but could not do
so; he was too much overcome by grief. The young queen implored him not
to kill her, and told him she was willing to go away and never see
anyone again. The old soldier let her go, and she took her two babes and
sheltered in a hollow tree in the forest: there she passed her time
living on roots and wild fruit.

The soldier returned home, and was questioned by the old king as to
whether he had killed the young queen, as he didn't like to disappoint
his son, who was to return from the camp next day. The old soldier
declared on his oath that he had killed her and her babes too, and that
he had thrown their bodies into the water. The young king arrived at
home in great sorrow, and was afraid to catch sight of his unfortunate
wife and her ugly babes.

The old king had left his son's letter upon his desk by mistake; the
prince picked it up, and was enraged at its contents: "This looks very
like my writing," he said, "but I did not write it; it must be the work
of some devil." He then produced his father's letter from his pocket,
and handed it to him. The old king was horrified at the awful lie which
some devil had written in his hand. "No, my dear son," said the old
father, weeping, "this is not what I wrote to you; what I really did
write was, that two sons with golden hair had been born to you." "And
I," replied the young king, "said that whatsoever my wife's offspring
was, no harm was to happen to them till I returned. Where is my wife?
where are my golden-haired children?" "My son," said the old king, "I
have carried out your orders; I sent them to the wood and had them
killed, and the corporal belonging to the royal household had their
bodies cast into the water." The old soldier listened, through a crack
in the door, to the conversation of the two kings, who both wept
bitterly. He entered the room without being summoned, and said: "I could
not carry out your orders, my lord and king; I had not the heart to
destroy the most beautiful creature in the world; so I let her go free
in the forest, and she left, weeping. If they have not been devoured by
wild beasts, they are alive still." The young king never touched a bit
of supper, but had his horse saddled at once, and ordered his whole
body-guard out. For three days and three nights they searched the wood
in every direction, without intermission: on the fourth night, at
midnight, the young king thought he heard, issuing from a hollow tree, a
baby's cry, which seemed as harmonious to him as the song of a
nightingale. He sprang off his horse, and found his beautiful wife, who
was more beautiful than ever, and his children, who were joyfully
prattling in their mother's arms. He took his recovered family home,
amidst the joyous strains of the band, and, indeed, a high festival was
celebrated throughout the whole realm.

The young woman again expressed her fears with trembling, that, while
her mother and that she-devil were alive, she could not live in peace.

The young king issued a warrant for the capture of the old witch; and
the old soldier came, leading behind him, tied to a long rope, an awful
creature, whose body was covered all over with frightful prickles, and
who had an immense horn in the middle of her forehead. The young queen
at once recognised her as the old witch, who had been captured in the
act of searching the wood in order to find her, and slay her and her two
babes. The young queen had the old witch led into a secret room, where
she questioned her as to why she had persecuted her all her life.
"Because," said the old witch, "I am the daughter of your grandfather,
and the sister of your mother! When I was yet but a suckling babe, your
grandmother gave orders that I was to be thrown into the water; a devil
coming along the road took me and educated me. I humoured your mother's
folly because I thought she would go mad in her sorrow that a prettier
creature than herself existed; but the Lord has preserved you, and your
mother did not go mad till I covered her with small-pox, and her face
became all pitted and scarred. Her mirror was always mocking her, and
she became a wandering lunatic, roaming about over the face of the land,
and the children pelting her with stones. She continually bewails you."

The young queen informed her husband of all this, and he had the old
witch strangled, strung up in a tree, and a fire made of brimstone
lighted under her. When her soul (para-animal soul) left her wicked
body, a horse was tied to each of her hands and feet, and her body torn
into four, one quarter of her body being sent to each of the points of
the compass, so that the other witches might receive a warning as to
their fate.

The "most beautiful woman in the world" was now very ugly, and happened
by chance to reach the palace where the pretty queen lived. Her daughter
wept over her, and had her kept in a beautiful room, every day showing
her through a glass door her beautiful children. The poor lunatic wept
and tortured herself till one day she jumped out of the window and broke
her neck. The young king loved his beautiful wife as a dove does its
mate; he obeyed her slightest wish, and guarded her from every danger.

The two little sons with the golden hair became powerful and valiant
heroes, and when the old king died he was carried to his vault by his
two golden-haired grandchildren.

The young couple, who had gone through so many sad trials, are alive
still, if they have not died since.

[1] The great pride of the Hungarian youth is to have a slender waist.





Next: The Girl Without Hands

Previous: The Beggar's Presents



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