Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

King and the Devil, The

IN THE country where lions and bearded wolves live there was a king whose favourite sport was hunting and shooting; he had some hundred hounds or more, quite a house full of guns, and a great many huntsmen. The king had a steady hand, a sharp eye, and the quarry he aimed at never escaped, for the king never missed what he aimed at; his only peculiarity was that he did not care to go out shooting with his own people only, but he would have liked the whole world to witness his skill in killing game, and that every good man in the world should partake of it. Well then, whenever he made a good bag the cook and the cellarer had so much work to do that they were not done till dawn. Such was the king who reigned in the land where lions and bearded wolves live.

               Once upon a time this king, according to custom, invited the sovereigns of the neighbouring lands to a great shooting party, and also their chief men. It was in the height of summer, just at the beginning of the dog-days. In the early morning, when they were driving out on to the pasture the sheep with the silken fleece, the dogs could already be heard yelping, huntsmen blowing with all their might into the thin end of their horns, and all was noise and bustle, so that the royal courtyard rang out with the noise. Then the king swallowed his breakfast in a soldierlike fashion, and all put on their hunting hats adorned with eagle's feathers, buckled the shining straps under their chins, mounted their horses, and in a short time were off over hedges and ditches, plunging into the vast forest, as the heat was too great for them to hunt in the open country. Each king accompanied by his own men went in his own direction, and game was killed with lightning speed; but the king who owned the forest went by himself in order to show his friends how much game he could kill single handed. But by some strange chance--who can tell how?--no game crossed the king's track. He went hither and thither but found nothing; looking round he discovered that he had got into a part of the wood where not even his grandfather had ever been; he went forward but still was lost; sideways, but still did not know the way; to the right, and found that he was in the same predicament as the man in Telek, namely, that unless he was taken home he would never find it. He called upon God for help, but as he never did that before--for the king didn't like to go to church and never invited the priest, except upon All Souls' Day, to dinner--the Lord would not help him; so he called upon the Devil, who appeared at once, as he will appear anywhere, even where he is not wanted. "You need not tell me what you are doing here, good king," said the evil spirit, "I know that you have been out shooting and have found no game and that you have lost your way. Promise me that you will give me what you have not got in your house and you shall find plenty of game and I will take you home." "You ask very little, poor soul," said the king, "Your request shall be granted; moreover, I will give you something of what I have, whatever you may wish, if you will but take me home."

               Shortly afterwards the king arrived at home, and had so much game with him that his horse could scarcely stand beneath the weight; the other kings were quite impatient with waiting for him, and were highly delighted when he arrived. At last they sat down to supper and ate and drank heartily, but the devil ate nothing but the scrapings from the pots and pans, and drank no wine but the dregs that were left in the bottles. At midnight an old woman appeared before the company of jolly kings and shouted as loud as she could in delight because a beautiful little daughter had been born to the king. The devil jumped up and capered about in his joy; standing on his toes and clapping his bony heels together, he spun the king round like a whirlwind and shouted in his ear, "That girl, king, was not in your house to-day and I will come for her in ten years." The devil hereupon saddled midnight and darted off like lightning, while the guests stared at each other in amazement, and the king's face turned ghastly pale.

               Next morning they counted the heads of game and found that the king had twice as much as all the rest put together: yet he was very sad; he made presents to all his guests, and gave them an escort of soldiers as far as the boundary of his realm.

               Ten years passed as swiftly as the bird flies and the devil appeared punctually to the minute. The king tried to put him off, and walked up and down his room greatly agitated; he thought first of one thing and then of another. At last he had the swineherd's daughter dressed up like a princess, and placed her on his wife's arm, and then took her to the devil, both parents weeping most bitterly, and then handed the child over to the black soul. The devil carried her away in high glee, but when the pretty little creature was passing a herd of swine she said, "Well, little sucking pigs, my father won't beat me any more on your account, for I'm leaving you and going to the 77th country, where the angels live." The devil listened to the little girl's words and at last discovered that he had been deceived; in a rage he flew back to the royal fortress, and dashed the poor child with such force against the gate-post that her smallest bone was smashed into a thousand atoms. He roared at the king in such a voice that all the window fittings dropped out and the plaster fell off the walls in great lumps. "Give me your own daughter," he screamed, "for whatever you promise to the devil you must give to him or else he will carry off what you have not promised." The king again tried to collect his wits and had the shepherd's daughter who tended the sheep with the golden fleece, and who was ten years old, dressed in the royal fashion and handed her to the devil amidst great lamentation. He even placed at the devil's disposal a closed carriage, "so that the sun might not tan his daughter's face or the wind blow upon her," as he said, but it was really to prevent the little girl seeing what was passing and so betraying herself. As the carriage passed by the silken meadow and the little girl heard the baaing of the lambs she opened the door and called to the little animals, saying, "Well, little baa-lambs, my father won't beat me any more on your account, and I won't run after you in the heat now, because the king is sending me to the 77th country, where the angels live." The devil was now in a towering passion, and the flame shot out of his nostrils as thick as my arm; he threw the little girl up into the clouds and returned to the royal palace.

               The king saw the carriage returning and trembled like an aspen leaf. He dressed up his daughter, weeping bitterly as he did so, and when the devil stepped across the threshold of the palace he went to meet him with the beautiful child, the like of which no other mother ever bore. The devil, in a great rage, pushed the pretty lily into a slit of his shirt, and ran with her over hill and dale. Like a thunderstorm he carried off the little trembling Maria into his dark home, which was lighted up with burning sulphur, and placed her on a pillow stuffed with owl's feathers. He then set a black table before her, and on it mixed two bushels of millet seed with three bushels of ashes, saying, "Now, you little wretch, if you don't clean this millet in two hours, I will kill you with the most horrible tortures." With this he left her, and slammed the door that it shock the whole house. Little innocent Maria wept bitterly, for she knew she could not possibly finish the work in the stated time. While she wept in her loneliness, the devil's son very quietly entered the room. He was a fine handsome lad, and they called him Johnnie. Johnnie's heart was full of pity at seeing the little girl's sorrow, and cheered her up, telling her that if she ceased crying he would do the work for her at once. He felt in his pocket, and took out a whistle; and, going into a side-room, he blew it, and in a moment the whole place was filled with devils, whom Johnnie commanded to clean the millet in the twinkling of an eye. By the time little Maria winked three times, the millet was not only cleansed, but every seed was polished and glittered like diamonds. Until the father's return Maria and Johnnie amused themselves in childish games. The old devil upon his return, seeing all the work done, shook his head so vehemently that burning cinders dropped from his hair. He gave the little girl some manna to eat and lay down to sleep.

               Next day the ugly old devil mixed twice as much millet and ashes, as he was very anxious to avenge himself on the child whose father had taken him in twice; but, by the help of Johnnie's servants, the millet was again cleaned. The devil in his rage gnawed off the end of his beard and spat it out on the ground, where every hair became a venomous serpent. The little girl screamed, and at the sound of her voice all the serpents stretched themselves on the ground, and wriggled about before the little girl like young eels, for they were charmed, never having heard so sweet a voice before. The devil was very much enraged that all the animals and the devils themselves, with the exception of himself, were so fond of this pretty little girl. "Well, soul of a dog, you little imp," said the devil, gnashing his teeth, "if by to-morrow morning you do not build from nothing, under my window, a church, the ceiling of which will be the sky, and the priest in it the Lord Himself, whom your father does not fear, I will slay you with tortures the like of which are not known even in nethermost hell."

               Little Maria was terribly frightened. The old devil, having given his orders, disappeared amidst thunder. The kind-hearted Johnnie here appeared, blew his whistle, and the devils came. They listened to the orders, but replied, that no devil could build a church out of nothing, and that, moreover, they dare not go up to heaven and had no power over the Lord to make him become a priest; that the only advice they could give was, for Johnnie and the little girl to set off at once, before it was too late, and so escape the tortures threatened by the old devil. They listened to the advice of the devils, and Johnnie buried his whistle in a place where his father would not be able to find it, and send the devils after them. They hurried off towards Maria's father's land; when, all of a sudden, Maria felt her left cheek burning very much, and complained of it to Johnnie, who, looking back, found that his mother was galloping after them on the stick of a whitewashing brush. Johnnie at once saw their position, and told Maria to turn herself into a millet field, and he would be the man whose duty it was to scare away the birds. Maria did so at once, and Johnnie kept the sparrows off with a rattle. The old woman soon came up, and asked whether he had not seen a boy and girl running past, a few minutes before. "Well, yes," replied he, "there are a great many sparrows about, my good lady, and I can't guard my millet crop from them. Hush! Hush!" "I didn't ask you," replied she, "whether you had any sparrows on your millet field or not; but whether you saw a boy and girl running past." "I've already broken the wings of two cock sparrows, and hanged them to frighten away the rest," replied the artful boy.

               "The fellow's deaf, and crazy too," said the devil's wife, and hurried back to the infernal regions. The boy and girl at once retransformed themselves, and hurried on, when Maria's left cheek began to burn again, more painfully this time than before; and not without reason, for when Johnnie looked back this time, he saw his father, who had saddled the south wind, tearing after them, and great, awe-inspiring, rain-bearing clouds following in his track. Maria at once turned into a tumble-down church, and Johnnie into an aged monk, holding an old clasp-bible in his hand.

               "I say, old fool, have you not seen a young fellow and a little wench run past? If you have, say so; if you have not, may you be struck dumb!" yelled the old devil to the monk with the Bible. "Come in," said the pious monk, "come in, into the house of the Lord. If you are a good soul pray to Him and He will help you on your journey, and you will find what you are so anxiously looking for. Put your alms into this bag, for our Lord is pleased with the offerings of the pure in heart." "Perish you, your church, and your book, you old fool. I'm not going to waste any money in such tomfoolery. Answer my question! Have you seen a boy and girl go past?" again inquired the devil, in a fearful rage. "Come back to your Lord, you old cursed soul," replied the holy father, "it's never too late to mend, but it's a sin to put off amending your ways. Offer your alms, and you will find what you seek!" The devil grew purple with rage; and, lifting up his huge mace, he struck like lightning at the monk's head, but the weapon slipped aside and hit the devil on the shin such a blow that made him and all his family limp; they would limp to this very day, if they had not perished since! Jumping on the wind with his lame leg, the devil rode back home. The young couple by this time had nearly reached the land where Maria's father reigned; when, all of a sudden, both the girl's cheeks began to burn as they had never burnt before. Johnnie looked back and saw that both his father and his mother were riding after them on two dragons, who flew faster than even the whirlwind. Maria at once became a silver lake and Johnnie a silver duck. As soon as the two devils arrived they at once scented out that the lake was the girl and the duck the boy; because wherever there are two devils together nothing can be concealed. The woman began to scoop up the water of the lake, and the male devil to throw stones at the duck; but each scoop of water taken out of the lake only caused the water to rise higher and higher; and every stone missed the duck, as he dived to the bottom of the lake and so dodged them. The devil became quite exhausted with throwing stones, and beckoned to his wife to wade with him into the lake, and so catch the duck, as it would be a great pity for their son to be restored to earth. The devils swam in, but the water of the lake rose over their heads so quickly that they were both drowned before they could swim out, and that's the reason why there are no devils now left. The boy and the girl, after all their trials, at last reached the palace of Maria's parents. The girl told them what had happened to her since the devil carried her off, and praised Johnnie very highly, telling them how he had guarded her. She also warned her father, that he who does not love God must perish, and is not worthy of happiness. The king listened to his daughter's advice, and sent for a priest to the next village, and first of all married Maria to the son of the devil, and the young couple lived very happily ever after. The king gave up hunting, and sent messages to the neighbouring kings, that he was a happy father; and the poor found protection and justice in his land. The king and his wife both died at the same time, and, after that, Johnnie and his wife became rulers of the land inhabited by lions and bearded wolves.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King and the Devil, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary

Back to Top