THERE was once upon a time a rich gentleman who lived in a fine house on the banks of the Vistula. All the windows in the house looked towards the river, none looked towards the wide sweep of country around. The path under the poplars which led up to the house was overgrown with grass and weeds, and showed plainly enough that none of the neighbours visited there, and that very little of the old hospitality was to be experienced there.
The gentleman who owned the house had lived there for seven years, and had come from some far-off place. The peasants knew little about him, and they avoided him with fear and trembling, for there were terrible tales about him.
The gentleman was born on the banks of the river Sau, and his parents had been rich. Misfortune, however, had pursued him from the cradle upwards. He had an evil eye, which scattered disease and death wherever its glances fell. If he by ill chance glanced over his herd, the cattle on which his eye fell died. Whatever he loved would surely die. His own parents, to complete the son’s sorrow, perished, and the man with the evil eye, as he came to be called in his birthplace, where the evil eye had caused so much mischief, sold everything he had, and set off to the banks of the Vistula, where he bought the fine house. He kept no folk about him save one old manservant, who had nursed him in his arms when he was a boy, and on whom the evil eye of his master had no effect.
The unlucky man seldom went out of his house, for he knew that his glance brought misfortune, disease, and death on what it lighted on. When he did go out in his carriage his old servant sat beside him, and told him when they were coming to a man, a village, or a town. Then the miserable man would either cover his eyes with his hands, or cast down his glances on the floor of his carriage, where he always had a bundle of pea-stalks at his feet. 
So it was that he had all the windows of his fine house made to look over the Vistula. Twice had he by ill chance looked upon his farm-buildings, and they had been set on fire by his glance.
In spite of all his care the sailors cursed him, and pointed with fear to the wide windows of his beautiful house, out of which he scattered destruction amongst them, the stream rushing on fast in the channel, and bringing many a ship to ground opposite the White House, as the place was called.
One boatman determined to see the man. He jumped into his boat and set off to the house. When he arrived there he asked to see the master. The old servant, fearful of the consequences, led him into the room. His master was dining, and being put out that he should be interrupted at his meal, he frowned upon the stranger. Immediately a fever took the sailor, and he sank down on the floor at the door.
The old servant, at the command of his master, took the man to his boat, gave him some money, and rowed him back to the other side of the river. The poor sailor was ill for a long time, and when he regained his strength he gave such a terrible account of the White House, and of its master, as greatly increased the fear of his comrades. From that time, when they went down the river in their boats and came opposite to the White House, they would turn their eyes away, and pray heartily that they might be protected from the evil glance of the terrible man who lived there.
Three years had passed, and the White House was still the dread of the neighbours and the terror of the sailors. No one came to see the much-feared man, and he lived solitary and miserable.
The next winter was very severe. The wolves, coming together, howled with hunger around the house, and the master sat by the hearth, on which burned a large fire, and sorrowfully turned over the leaves of a large book. The old servant had secured all the doors, and sat at the other side of the room warming himself, and busied in mending a fishing-net.
“Stanislas,” said his master, “have you caught any fish?”
“Not many, master, but as many as we two shall want.”
“That is true,” said his master. “Although so many years have passed, we are but two. O unlucky hour in which I was born! Here am I alone, and all men fly from me as if I were a monster,” and the tears fell in a torrent from his unfortunate eyes.
All of a sudden they heard a voice crying for help. The master started. It was a long time since he had heard a strange voice. The old servant rushed out, and his master followed him with the light in his hand.
Before the door stood a covered sledge, and by it was an old man who called for help.
As soon as the stranger saw the two men coming to him, he lifted his wife, who had fainted, out of the sledge, and the old servant helped the terrified daughter, a beautiful girl, to alight.
They put on more wood, and brought the fainted lady round, and the master of the house, pleased to be able to show hospitality, went and fetched some old wine in order to drink the strangers’ healths. The old servant laughed to himself as he marked his master’s joyful face. The strange guest, cheered by the wine, told how they had lost their way, how they had fallen in with a pack of hungry wolves, and how their fleet horse had carried them to the White House.
Towards night the luggage was taken out of the sledge, and the wearied travellers retired to rest in warm, comfortable chambers. All was still in the White House, save that the fire now and then sent forth a glimmering flame.
It was within an hour of midnight, and the old servant was asleep by the fireside, when the door of his master’s bedchamber opened and the unhappy man trod lightly into the hall. The old servant, wondering whether he was dreaming, rubbed his eyes, and said—
“What, cannot my master sleep?”
“Be quiet, old friend!” said his master in a joyful voice. “I cannot sleep, and do not wish to sleep when I am so happy as I now am.”
And he sat down in a big arm-chair by the fireside, smiled, and commenced to weep.
“Weep, poor master, weep,” said Stanislas to himself. “Maybe you may weep your evil eyes away.”
“Would that God would give me what I now wish,” said his master, “and I would ask for nothing more in the world. Here have I lived thirty years like a hermit or a criminal, and yet I have never willingly hurt any one, and my soul is free from sin, but my eyes, my eyes!”
His countenance, which was so happy till now, became gloomy as usual; but soon a smile appeared on his face, as hope once more chased away sorrow.
“Dear friend!” said he, and Stanislas looked at him, “maybe I shall marry.”
“Heaven help us!” cried the old servant. “But where then is your future bride?”
The master rose from his chair, walked on tiptoe to the side-door, which led to the chambers where slept the travellers, and, pointing to the door, said—
Stanislas nodded his head, as if he approved of his master’s choice, and cheerfully put some wood upon the fire. His master went back to his room in deep thought, and the old servant mumbled to himself—
“Heaven grant it! But pears don’t grow on willow-trees.”
And he was soon asleep.
On the following morning the traveller rose rested and refreshed, but he was not able to continue his journey in consequence of the illness of his wife.
The master of the house was pleased when he heard that the strangers must pass some more days in his house, and old Stanislas began almost to think that the pears might grow on the willows after all.
The stranger was not exactly a rich man, but he had enough, was deemed an honest man, and lived honourably. He was much pleased with his friendly host, and as he was one day talking to his wife, who had much improved in her health, he said—
“Margaret, it strikes me that our host is in love with our daughter Mary, and, from what I can see, I think she does not dislike him. I cannot but be pleased with it.”
“Oh,” said his wife, “you only imagine it.” But she was secretly pleased that her husband had no objection to what she had herself very much wished.
“The man is not poor, he has lived here a long time, he has proved himself a gentleman,” went on the husband, walking up and down the room, “and our daughter is old enough to be married and take on her the cares of a household.”
In the evening the husband, having partaken of the host’s good wine, stroked his grey moustache with satisfaction, and listened with joy when the master of the house asked for his daughter’s hand.
“My brother,” said he after a short pause, “I am pleased with you, and since you ask no dowry with my daughter, and you have enough to live upon, she shall be your wife.”
Three months later the terrible man took his wife home. The grass and weeds were cleared from the avenue of poplars, and many horses and carriages passed along it to and fro, as relations and friends of the beautiful bride came in troops to the wedding at the White House. In a few days, however, all was still again, and fresh grass and weeds began to grow in the avenue under the poplars.
The winter was at hand, and the inmates of the White House only numbered one more—the mistress of the house.
Most of the servants whom the master had engaged ran away at once as soon as they heard he had an evil eye, and those who stayed a while, having been taken ill, soon left the house also.
The young, beautiful wife lay ill upon her rich bed. Near her was her husband, who, with averted eyes, pressed her cold hand.
The poor wife knew well how terrible was her husband’s glance. She knew that through it her suffering and sorrow were increased; but still, in her love for the sorrowing man, she asked him to look upon her once more.
“My Mary,” said the wretched man, with a deep sigh. “I shall never be happy with you so long as I have my eyes. Cut them out, then. Here is a sharp knife, and at your hand it will cause me no pain.”
The poor wife shuddered at this terrible proposal, and the wretched man sank from his chair to the floor, and commenced to weep bitterly.
“Of what use is this gift of Heaven to me?” cried he. “Of what use is it to me to possess the pleasures men have in sight, when my eyes scatter destruction and ruin around? You are ill, my Mary. Why, a tree itself would wither when I cast my glance upon it in an evil hour. Take courage, though. Upon our child these eyes shall never look. Him they shall never harm, and he shall not have reason to curse his father.”
A groan was the only answer of the sick wife.
The master called in a servant and left the room. All at once two different cries were heard from the two opposite sides of the White House.
From one side came the cry of a new-born child, from the other side, in the hall where the fire burned, came the cry of a man in pain. The one was the cry of an infant as it looked upon the light for the first time, the other was the cry of a man who had bid farewell to sight for ever.
Six years later there were windows in the White House from which one could obtain a fine view of the village and the surrounding country. The sailors had begun to make the House a resting-place on their way down the stream. The mistress was well and merry, and her great joy was a beautiful little daughter who led her blind father about.
The country-folk, who had fled in terror from the miserable man, now came up to him in friendship, when they saw him blind and taking a walk led by his little daughter. The former stillness departed. The servants filled the once empty halls of the White House.
Old Stanislas had on that terrible day buried his master’s eyes in the garden. One day he wondered what had become of them, and whether he could find them. So he dug for them. All of a sudden the eyes glared on him with a bright light. Hardly had the glance fallen on his face when he stumbled and, falling to the ground, died.
That was the first time the evil eyes had done him hurt, and it was the last time their power was exerted. They had done him no hurt while his master kept them, because, as he loved his servant, his heart had destroyed their power. Now they were in the earth they had acquired power for fresh evil, and killed the honest old man!
His blind master sorrowed long for him, and over his grave he placed a fine cross, near which the sailors often offered up a prayer when they landed at the White House.