Folk-Lore and Legends: Russian and Polish | Annotated Tale

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Wonderful Cloth, The

THERE was once a shepherd who looked after the king’s flocks. He had three sons, two of whom were considered very clever, but the third was looked upon as a fool. The elder brothers helped their father to herd the flocks, but the youngest, who was thought to be good for nothing, played about or went to sleep.

              He passed his days and nights sleeping on the top of the stove, and never left that place unless he was driven from it. If he bestirred himself, it was rather because he was too hot, or wanted something to eat or drink. His father did not care for him, and called him a lazy fellow, while his brothers often tormented him, pulling him off the stove or refusing to let him eat. If his mother had not looked after him he would have been nearly starved. She, however, would caress him and give him food. Was it his fault that he was a fool? Who could tell what Heaven had in store for him? It sometimes happens that the wisest folk do not get on well, and that fools, especially such as are harmless and inoffensive, succeed in a wonderful fashion.

              One day when the two brothers returned from the fields, finding the simpleton on the top of the stove, they made him dress and put on his hat, and having dragged him into the yard, they gave him a good beating, and turning him out, said to him—

              “Go, simpleton, and lose no time, for you shall have neither lodging nor supper until you have gone to the wood and brought us a basket of mushrooms.”

              The poor fellow, full of astonishment, did not even understand what his brothers wished of him. After having stood for a time scratching his head, he set off to a little forest of oak-trees which was near at hand. All seemed wonderful and strange to him. Right in his way he came across the dry trunk of a tree. He went up to it, took off his hat, and said—

              “I see that other trees in the forest stand up and wear hats of green leaves, but you alone, my poor friend, are bare. The cold will kill you. You are amongst just such brothers as I have. No doubt you are a fool like myself. Will you have my hat, then?”

              Folding his arms, he wept tenderly. All of a sudden one of the trees which grew near moved as if it were alive. The idiot was alarmed, and was about to fly, when the tree, addressing him in a man’s voice, said—

              “Do not fly, but stop and listen. That tree, which was cut down so prematurely, was my son. No one besides myself has until now wept over his so early blighted life. You alone have watered him with your tears. As a reward for it, you shall henceforth obtain whatever you ask of me, saying the following words:—

              “Oak with the golden acorns, I beseech you give me what I want!”

              At the moment that the oak ceased, a shower of golden acorns fell upon the idiot, who filled his pockets with them, saluted the oak, thanked it, and returned home.

              “Ah, you simpleton!” cried his brothers, “where are the mushrooms?”

              “I have in my pocket some oak mushrooms,” said the idiot.

              “Eat them yourself, then, for your supper,” said they, “for you will have nothing else, you sluggard. Where is your hat?”

              “I covered a poor tree I came across on the road with it; it had nothing on it, and I was afraid it would be frozen,” answered he.

              The idiot climbed upon the stove as he said this, and lay down. All of a sudden the golden acorns fell out of his pocket. The brothers rushed forward, and paying no heed to the lad’s remonstrances, gathered up the acorns and took them to their father. He told them to carry them to the king, and tell him that one of his sons, an idiot, had found them in the wood. When the king saw them, he at once sent some soldiers to look through the wood for golden acorns, but all their search was fruitless. They came back and told him that there was not a single golden acorn to be found in the forest. The king fell in a great rage when he heard that. When he was calm again, he ordered the shepherd to come to him, and said—

              “Tell your son, the idiot, that he must bring to the court this evening a cask full to the brim of gold acorns. If he does so he shall receive my royal favour, and you may be assured that you shall not be forgotten.”

              The shepherd went off to his son, and told him what the king had said.

              “The king,” said the idiot, “I see, likes good things. He does not ask, but commands me to do what he wishes, and makes mere promises, and for them he wants a fool to bring him golden acorns. I shall not do it.”

              Neither the prayers nor the threats of his father could make him change his mind. At last his brothers pulled him off the stove, made him dress and put on a hat, took him into the yard and beat him, and then put him out, saying—

              “Lose no time, you simpleton, but be off, for you shall have neither lodging nor supper till you return from the wood with the golden acorns.”

              The fool did not know what to do, so he set off again to the forest. In a short time he came to the stump on which was his hat, just by the old oak. He raised his cap, bowed, and said—

              “Oak with the golden acorns, help me in my distress, I beseech you. Give me what I want.”

              The oak shook itself, rattled its branches, and instead of golden acorns a cloth fell into the lad’s hands.

              “Take care of the cloth,” said the oak, “and keep it. In case of need, say to it—

              “‘Wonderful cloth, let one who is hungry and thirsty find here everything he wants.’”

              The oak ceased, and the lad, saluting and thanking it, commenced to go home. As he went he wondered what his brothers would say to him, and he thought how pleased his mother would be when he told her that he had got the wonderful cloth. When he was half-way home he met a beggar, who said to him—

              “See, I am old, ill, and ragged, for the love of God give me something, either money or a piece of bread.”

              The idiot laid his cloth on the grass, and said—

              “Wonderful cloth, let those who are hungry and thirsty find here all they want.”

              Immediately there was a whistling in the air; something shone over them, and they found before them a table set as if for a king’s feast. There were numberless dishes, goblets full of hydromel, and glasses full of the best wines. The things on the table were all of gold or of silver.

              The idiot and his guest admired the table and commenced to eat and drink. When they had finished eating and drinking the table vanished, and the idiot wrapped up his cloth and began to go homewards, when the old man said to him—

              “Give me your cloth, and take this stick in its stead. When you speak to it such-and-such words it belabours people so that they will give all the world to escape from it.”

              The idiot, thinking of his brothers, took the cudgel and gave the man the cloth. So they parted.

              Now afterwards he considered that the oak had told him to keep the cloth himself, and that, having given it away, he would not be able to surprise his mother as he had intended. So he said to the stick—

              “Stick which beats by itself, go quickly and look for my cloth. Go, I want it back.”

              The stick went off at once in pursuit of the man and soon overtook him. It set upon him, and commenced to beat him, crying—

              “So you seek the wealth of others, do you? Take that, you knave, and that.”

              The man tried to escape, but it was no use, for the stick followed him, thrashing on, and repeating the same words. However much he would have liked to keep the cloth, he was obliged to throw it aside to save himself. The stick brought the cloth to its master, and the idiot continued his journey, thinking how he would surprise his mother and brothers. A little further on he met a man who carried in his hand an empty bag.

              “Stop,” cried the man. “For the love of Heaven give me some pence or a piece of bread! My bag is empty, and I am hungry and have a long way to go.”

              The fool spread his cloth once more, and said—

              “Wonderful cloth, let him who is hungry and thirsty find here everything he wants.”

              They heard a whistling noise, saw something shine in the air above them, and, immediately, in front of them, was a table set as if for a royal banquet. There were numberless dishes, and hydromel and wine in plenty. The idiot and his guest sat down, and when they had finished eating and drinking the table disappeared. The fool wrapped up his cloth, and was commencing his journey, when the man said to him—

              “Will you give me your cloth for my girdle? When you say, ‘Girdle, which swims so wonderfully, for my safety and not for my pleasure, let me find myself in a boat on the water,’ the girdle will change itself into a deep lake, upon which you can sail at your will.”

              The simpleton thought how much his father would like to always have water for his flocks. So he gave the man the cloth for the girdle, which he tied around him. Then he took his stick in his hand, and the two parted. In a short time, when the beggar was afar off, the fool began again to remember how the oak had told him to keep the cloth for himself, and he saw that unless he had it he would not be able to give his mother the pleasant surprise he had intended. So he said to his stick—

              “Stick, which beats of itself, go quickly and look for my cloth. Go, I want it back.”

              The stick set off again, and coming up to the beggar commenced to beat him, saying—

              “So you seek the wealth of others, do you? Take that, knave, and that.”

              The beggar tried to fly, but the stick pursued him, and however much he would have liked to keep the cloth, he preferred rather to save himself from the stick. The cudgel brought the cloth to its master, and he, having hidden it under his coat, put on the girdle and, with the stick in his hand, again went on his way. As he walked he thought with pleasure of how he would be able to exercise the stick on his brothers, and how pleased his father would be to always have water for the king’s flocks, even though he should be in the midst of dry fields and woods. Then he thought of his mother’s surprise at finding he had got the wonderful cloth. All of a sudden he met a soldier clothed in rags, lame, and covered with scars. He had once been a fine warrior, and, addressing the young man, he said—

              “Evil luck follows me, a man who has been a good soldier, and who has fought well in his youth. What has been the good of it all? I am lamed for life, and upon this lonely road I cannot even get anything to eat. Take pity on me, and give me at least a piece of bread.”

              The fool sat down, spread his cloth, and said—

              “Wonderful cloth, let him who is hungry and thirsty find here everything he wants.”

              Immediately they heard a hissing noise in the air, something shone above them, and they found a fine table, spread as for a royal feast in front of them. They ate and drank, and then the table disappeared. As the simpleton was about to continue his journey, the soldier said—

              “Will you give me your cloth in exchange for this hat with six corners. It shoots of itself, and hits, in an instant, whatever you wish. You have only to turn it round on your head, and say—‘Hat which fires, to please me, strike what I tell you.’ Then it shoots with such a sure aim that if your enemy were a mile away he would bite the dust.”

              The lad thought it would be well to have the hat, for how useful would it be in time of danger, and when he wished to serve his king and country. So he gave the cloth to the soldier, tied the girdle again round his waist, put the hat upon his head, took his stick in his hand, and went on once more.

              He had not gone far when he thought of what the oak had told him about the cloth, and of how he wanted to surprise his mother with it. So he said to his stick—

              “Stick, that beats of itself, go quickly and look for my cloth. Go, I want it back.”

              The cudgel went off after the soldier, overtook him, and commenced to beat him, crying—

              “So you seek the wealth of others, do you? Take that, knave, and that.”

              The soldier, who was lusty in spite of his wounds, set himself on his guard, and would have given blow for blow, but the stick laid on so rapidly that he at last gave in. Overcome by the pain, he threw down the cloth and fled. The stick took the cloth to its master, who continued his journey.

              At length he came out of the wood. He crossed over the fields, and already saw his father’s house before him, when he met his brothers, who, running to him, said impatiently—

              “Well, simpleton, where are the golden acorns?”

              The lad looked at them, laughed, and said to his stick—

              “Stick, which beats of itself, punish those who have offended me.”

              The stick at once left the hands of the lad and commenced to lay itself on the brothers, crying—

              “You have done your brother enough wrong. Now, then, suffer yourselves in your turn.”

              The brothers were as much astounded as if a kettle of hot water had fallen about their ears. They cried out and ran off, disappearing in a cloud of dust. The stick at length came back to its master, who entered the house, climbed up on the stove, and, calling his mother, told her all that had happened. Then he said—

              “Wonderful cloth, let him who is hungry and thirsty find here all he wants.”

              A whistling was heard, something came sparkling in the air, and they found before them a table spread as if for a king’s banquet. There were dishes, glasses, and goblets of hydromel and wine, and all the things were of gold or silver. The simpleton and his mother for a time admired the feast, and then, just as they were sitting down to it, the door opened and his father came in. He was thunderstruck when he saw the table, but, being invited to share the good things with them, quickly sat down and fell to. When they had finished the whistling noise was again heard, and all the things disappeared.

              The shepherd went off to the Court to tell the king all about these wonderful things, and the king despatched an officer to the fool. When he came into the house he found the simpleton lying on the stove, and said to him—

              “If you love your life, listen and obey the orders of the king. You are to send him by myself the wonderful cloth which provides feasts of itself, and for this you shall be honoured by the royal favour. If you do not comply, you shall remain in your present wretched condition, and shall, moreover, receive the punishment of a disobedient fellow. Do you understand me?”

              “Oh yes,” said the lad, “I understand you;” and then he quietly said—

              “Stick, which beats of itself, give those who deserve them some good blows.”

              With the speed of lightning the stick left the fool’s hands. Three times it alighted on the officer’s body, and then he fled. The stick, however, was not content to let him off so easily, and it followed him, beating him all the time, and crying—

              “Promises befool children. Don’t make them too rashly. To teach you better, take that, knave, and that.”

              Beaten and bewildered, the officer returned to the king and told him all, and when his majesty heard that the lad had a stick which beat of its own accord, he longed so much for it that he quite forgot the cloth. So he sent off some of his soldiers to the lad with orders to bring the stick. The soldiers came to the hut and found the fool on the stove.

              “Give us the cudgel,” said they. “The king will give you what you ask for it. If you will not give it to us we shall take it.”

              Instead of making a reply, the lad put on his girdle, and said—

              “Wonderful girdle, for my safety, and not for my pleasure, let me find myself on the water.”

              There was a murmuring in the air, and a great change took place. A magnificent lake—long, wide, and deep—appeared in the middle of the plain, and in it swam fish with golden scales and eyes of pearls. In the middle of the lake, in a silver skiff, was a man whom the soldiers recognised as the fool. For a time they looked on in wonder, and then they set off to tell the king all about it. When the king heard of such a girdle he longed to have it. He took counsel with his officer, and then sent off a whole battalion of soldiers to take the fool prisoner.

              This time they tried to catch him while he was asleep. Just as they were about to lay hands on him, however, the fool turned his hat, and said—

              “Hat that shoots, to please me, strike those who trouble me.”

              At that instant a hundred bullets whistled in the air. The place rang with the noise of guns, and the air was filled with smoke. Some of the soldiers fell dead on the ground, others ran off to hide themselves in the woods, and some went to tell the king.

              The king was dreadfully angry to think that he could not get the better of the fool. He had desired to have the cloth, to have the stick, to have the girdle, but what were any of these things to the wonderful six-cornered hat which, of its own accord, fired and shot down its opponents as well as if it had been a battery of cannon!

              Having considered for some time, he thought it would, perhaps, be best to try persuasion. So he sent to the lad’s mother, and said to her—

              “Tell your son, the fool, that I and my lovely daughter salute him, and we beg of him to come to the palace and show us all the wonderful things we are told he possesses. If he is willing to make me a present of them I will give him half my kingdom, and will name him as my successor in the throne. My daughter also will take him for her husband.”

              The mother ran off to her son, and persuaded him to accept the king’s invitation, and go to the palace with his wonderful treasures. The lad fastened on his girdle, put on his hat, hid the cloth in his bosom, took his stick in his hand, and set off to the Court. When he came there the king was engaged, but the lad was received very politely by his attendants. Music struck up as he came to the palace, the soldiers presented arms, and altogether the lad was received very much better than he could have expected. At length, when he was introduced into the hall in which was the king, the lad took off his hat and bowed.

              “What,” said he, “O king, do you desire? I have come to lay at the foot of your throne the cloth, the girdle, the stick, and the hat. In return for these presents I only ask that your royal favour may light on the humblest of your subjects.”

              “Tell me then, fool,” said the king, “how much money do you want for those things?”

              “Money,” replied the lad, “a fool like me does not want money. The king promised my mother to give me half his kingdom, and his daughter in marriage. I only ask so much!”

              The king’s officer signed to the soldiers to come in. They laid hands on the lad suddenly, dragged him out into the courtyard, and there, while the drums beat and the trumpets sounded, they killed him and buried him.

              As the soldiers pierced him to the heart, some drops of blood sprang forth, and fell under the windows of the princess, who wept at the sight and shed tears on the reddened earth. Wonderful to tell! from these drops of blood there sprang up an apple-tree which grew till it reached the windows of the princess’s apartments. When the princess laid her hand on the boughs of the tree, an apple fell off into her bosom. The princess took it up and played with it.

              The next day, when night came on, all were asleep in the palace save the guards, the king’s officer, and the princess. The guards were watching, as usual, with their arms in their hands. The princess was playing with the apple, and could not sleep. As for the king’s officer, soon after he lay down he was roused by a terrible noise. The cudgel appeared before him, and though he ran round and round his chamber, it pursued and beat him, crying—

              “You good-for-nothing fellow! Don’t be so envious and unjust. Don’t return evil for good, and steal what belongs to others. Take that, and that, and that!”

              The officer called aloud and cried for mercy, but the stick still laid on.

              The princess, hearing some one groaning, began to weep, and then a wonderful thing happened. Some of her tears fell on the apple. It grew, changed its form, and, all of a sudden, there stood before her a fine young man, the very same as had been slain under her window.

              “Fair princess,” said he, “I salute you. The treachery of the king’s officer caused my death, and your tears have recalled me to life again. Your father promised to give you to me for my wife: what do you say?”

              “If it is my father’s wish,” replied the princess, “I consent,” and she gave him her hand.

              The lad spoke some words and the doors opened of themselves. The six-cornered hat came and placed itself on his head, the girdle came and wound itself around his waist, the cloth hid itself in one of his pockets, and the avenging cudgel placed itself in his hands.

              When this had taken place the king came running in. How astonished was he to see the fool alive, and there! The lad did not await for the king to give vent to his rage, but said—

              “Wonderful girdle, for my safety, and not for my pleasure, let me find myself on the water.”

              There was a murmuring in the air. A wonderful change took place. A large, wide, and deep lake appeared in the middle of the palace grounds. In the crystal waters played fish with golden scales and eyes of pearl. Afar off on the water were the fool and the princess. The king came to the side of the lake and beckoned the lad to him. He came, and with the princess knelt at the king’s feet, and told him how they two were in love with one another. The king gave them his blessing. The lake disappeared, and the three returned to the palace, when the king, calling his counsellors, told them all that had occurred. Then he named the fool as his successor on the throne, gave him his daughter, and threw his officer into prison.

              In return, the lad gave the king the cloth, the stick, the girdle, and the hat, telling him how to use them, and teaching him the magic words. The next day the marriage took place, and, with his daughter, the king gave the lad half of his dominions, and in the evening there was a royal feast, so grand that the like was never before seen or heard of.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Wonderful Cloth, The
Tale Author/Editor: Tibbitts, Charles John
Book Title: Folk-Lore and Legends: Russian and Polish
Book Author/Editor: Tibbitts, Charles John
Publisher: W. W. Gibbings
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1890
Country of Origin: Poland
Classification: ATU 563: The Table, the Donkey and the Stick

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