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

Pelican, The

THERE was once, I don't know where, there was in the world an old king; one of whose eyes always wept, and the other always smiled. He had three sons. The youngest was twelve, the eldest twenty, and the middle one sixteen. These three sons got talking together one spring morning about different things: the eldest of his sweetheart, the middle one of his saddle-horse, and the youngest one of his birds. Their conversation at last turned upon more serious matters, and they wished to know why their father's one eye always wept and why the other always smiled; so they decided to go and ask him the reason at once. The father was at luncheon. The eldest son knocked; and, after greeting his father, kissed his hand, and asked him why the one eye always wept and the other always smiled? The father looked very angrily at his son, and beckoned him to go. The boy became very frightened at seeing his father grow angry so suddenly, and ran away. Just as he ran through the door he heard a noise at his heels, and found that his father had thrown his knife and fork after him. The terrified lad brought the disappointing news to his brothers. "Then I'll ask him, if no one else will," said the middle son, who, for his chivalrous deeds, was his father's favourite. The king still sat at lunch, and the second son, like his elder brother, also asked his father why one eye always wept, whilst the other always smiled. The father then threw knife and fork after him, and the fork stuck fast in the heel of the lad's shoe. The lad was very frightened, and told his brothers what had happened, at which they were much disappointed, as they had every confidence in him. "It is of no use your going," said the second eldest to the youngest, "because our royal father dislikes you on account of your bird-catching habits."

               But still the little boy went in, and in a trembling but confident voice asked his father why one eye always wept, whilst the other always smiled. The king, who had just finished his lunch, no sooner heard the boy's question than he threw his knives and forks at him, and the blade of one knife lodged in the boy's thigh, so that the blood spurted out; but the little boy was not frightened, and, amid his tears, drew the knife out from his thigh, and having wiped it, took it back to his father, and repeated his question. The father lovingly stroked the little fellow's hair and bade him sit on a low chair, and told him the secret, saying: "One eye always laughs because you three boys are very handsome children; and when I die you will make three brave kings for any three countries. My other eye always weeps because once upon a time I had a beautiful pelican, whose song was so charming, that whosoever heard it was at once transformed into a youth seventeen years of age. That bird was stolen from me by two men dressed in black. That is the reason why one eye always weeps, and why my soul is vexed within me." The little fellow kissed his father's hand and hurried off to his brothers, who received him with a mocking smile, but soon felt ashamed of themselves, when the child, with his wounded thigh, brought the reply to their question. "We will try to console our father, and make him young again," said the three brothers all together; "We will endeavour to find that pelican, if it be yet alive, whether it be on land or sea." Having thus spoken, they at once got ready for the journey.

               The eldest and the middle sons went to their father's stables, saddled the finest horses, and put a great deal of treasure in their sabretaches, and set forth: so that the youngest son was left without a horse, as his elder brothers had taken away the horses that would have suited him.

               When they came to the end of the village, an old beggar met them, and asked them for a coin or a bit of bread: the two elder lads took no notice of him, but galloped on, the beggar shouting mocking words after them. The youngest lad arrived half an hour later, and shared half his cake with the beggar. "As you have helped me, prince," said the beggar, "I will help you. I know where you are going, and what you are seeking. You would need the lives of three men if you went on foot, or on the back of an ordinary horse, for the church in which your pelican sings now is beyond the Operencian Sea. The saddle-horse which can go there must have been brought up on dragon's milk, to prevent its hoofs being worn away on the long journey; but for a good deed you may expect a good one in return. You have helped me, and I will help you, with my advice at least, and that is all a poor beggar can offer. Five miles from this bridge where we stand lives an old witch who has two horses. If you serve her for a year (her year has three days) she will give you as much money as you ask for; but if you do not serve your whole year she will chop off your head. The man has not yet been found who can serve her a whole year, for her horses are her two daughters, and so soon as the groom falls asleep, they either disappear into the clouds or the sea; or slip under ground, and do not reappear until the groom's head is impaled. But I trust that you will be able to take care of them. Take this whistle; it has three holes. If you open the first hole the King of the Gnats will appear at your command; if the second, the King of the Fishes; if the third, the King of the Mice. Take great care of this whistle, and when you have done your year, don't ask for money, cattle, clothes, lands, or suchlike things (the old witch will offer you all these), but ask for the half-rotten foal which lies buried seven fathoms deep in the dung-heap. There is a hen-coop, and on the top of it a saddle and a bridle; put these on the foal just after you have dug it out. It will be too weak to walk, therefore you must take it on your back, and carry it to the end of the village. There you will find a bridge. Place it under the bridge, in the water, for one hour, and then wash it. I won't tell you any more."

               The same evening, just after the cows had been driven home, the lad was to be seen sitting on the threshold of the witch's door. The old witch was at the same hour driving her horses home from the field. Sometimes they jumped about on the ground; sometimes they flew in the air; but the old witch was after them everywhere, riding a-straddle on a saddled mopstick. "Good evening, my dear old mother," said the lad, in a confidential voice. "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son," commenced the witch, "it's lucky that you called me your mother, for see! there are ninety-nine human heads impaled, and yours would have been the hundredth. What's your errand, my dear son?" "I'm looking for a situation, my dear old mother!" "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son; the year lasts three days with me, and during that time you will have to take care of my two horses. Your wages will be whatever you ask, and as much as you desire. But if you don't take care of those two horses, you must die!" "The Lord will help me." "Come in to supper, for you will have to take the horses out into the Silken Meadow for the night." The prince went in, and after supper the witch poured a sleeping draught into the new groom's drinking-cup. Supper over the prince went into the stables and stroked the horses. He then prepared two halters from a piece of rope that the beggar had given him, threw them over their heads, and jumped on the back of the finer horse. The horse, which had become quite tame with the unusual halter, walked along peaceably with the prince on its back, to the great surprise of the witch. "Well, that fellow must know a thing or two!" sighed the old witch as she looked after him, and slammed the door behind her. As soon as the prince arrived in the Silken Meadow with the horses a heavy sleep seized him, and he slept soundly all night. The sun was high in the heavens when he woke, rubbing his sleepy eyes, and began to call for his horses, which would not come. He was in great despair until, fumbling in his pockets, he found the little whistle, which he immediately blew, leaving the first hole open. The King of the Gnats appeared! "We wait your orders," said a huge gnat: "speak and tell us what you require. If it be anything in the air we will find it for you." "I had to take care of two horses, and I cannot find them. If I do not take them home, death will be my doom." Gnats went flying forth in all directions at their king's singing, and in less than half an hour two griffins alighted in front of the lad. He struck them on the heads with a halter, and they became horses, and the little groom went home in great joy. "So you have brought them home safely, my son; your breakfast is ready; eat it and then go to sleep. By-and-by your dinner will be ready. You have nothing else to do to-day." So saying, the old witch gave her horses a sound thrashing with a peel, and then, giving them some burning cinders to eat, went back to the house, and, sitting in a corner, threaded beads until noon.

               In the evening the old woman again mixed some sleeping draught into the little groom's drink, making it stronger than before. He took out his horses, and when he had gone a little way on the road he fell off the saddle, and slept till noon the next day. When he awoke his horses were gone, and so he blew his whistle, leaving the second hole open, and the King of the Fishes appeared. "We wait your orders," said a mighty whale; "speak and tell us. If it is to be found in or above the ocean we will find it." "I had to guard two horses, and I can't find them anywhere, and if I don't take them back I must die." Fishes swam forth in every river and sea at the command of their king, and in an hour they drove a big pike to shore, which had two little gold fish in its inside. The whale ordered a sword-fish to rip open the pike's belly. The little lad struck the gold fishes on the head with his halter, and they became horses once more. Late in the afternoon the little groom arrived in the courtyard with the horses. "Go inside, my son, and have something to eat, you have nothing more to do until the evening," said the witch, who then thrashed her horses with a huge poker, and, having given them some burning cinders to eat, hobbled back into the house and began to count her gold coins. The prince had to spend another night with the horses; and in the evening the old witch went to the horses, and, having scolded them well, declared that if they would not hide themselves properly this time she would punish them horribly. She gave her little groom drink until he was half drunk, and also three pillows which were stuffed with owl's feathers, which would make him sleep sounder. And he did go to sleep until the midday sun awoke him next day in the Silken Meadow. But the little whistle again came to his aid; he opened the lowest hole and blew the whistle, and the King of all the Mice appeared. "We wait your orders," said a rat with a big moustache. "Whatever is to be found on earth or under its crust we will bring to you, if you order us to do so." "I had to guard two horses and can't find any trace of them; if I don't take them home I must die." The mice came forth from every wall and every hole in the ground at the squeak of their king. After an hour and a half they drove two rats from a granary to the lad, who struck them on the head with his halter, and changed them back into his horses.

               On his arrival at home the witch said to the prince, "So you have guarded them well, my dear son. Your year of service is over. Ask what you like. Here are three keys, one of which opens a cellar where there are vats full of gold and silver, take as much as you like. The second key opens a wardrobe, from which you may choose either royal dresses, or if you like magic garments, which will change into anything you like. The third key opens the stables, where you will find horses with golden or silver hair; take which you like best, and as many as you like, it is all the same to me." The prince looked at the treasures, clothes, and horses, but chose none of them, and returned the keys, looking very downcast.

               "My father the king has horses, costly garments, and gold; I have no need for any of these things."

               "Ask, then, whatever you like; ask my life, because whosoever has served a year with me well deserves his wages."

               "I don't want your life or your death, my dear old mother; but under your dung-heap there lies buried seven fathoms deep a wretched foal, and on the top of your hen-coop there's a worn-out old saddle very much soiled. These are the things I want; give them to me."

               "You're in league with the devil, my dear son, take care that you don't get into hell."

               The witch tried to put him off, and made all manner of excuses, but at last she brought a golden spade and traced a triangle on the dung-heap which pointed to where, without fail, the wretched foal was to be found. The prince dug without ceasing for seven days and seven nights, and on the dawn which followed the eighth night the ground began to move under his spade and the Tátos foal showed its hoofs. The prince dug it out, scraped the dirt from it, and, having fetched the saddle from the hen-coop, put it on the foal; and having taken leave of his witch mistress he took the foal on his back and carried it as far as the bridge. While the foal was soaking in the water the old beggar appeared on the bridge and received a piece of bread from the prince.

               "Prince, when you sit on your horse's back," said the beggar, "take care of yourself. It will carry you through clouds and over waters; it knows well the way to the country where the pelican lives, so let it go wherever it pleases. When you arrive at the shore of the Operencian Sea leave your horse there, for you will have to walk three hundred miles further. On your way go into every house and make inquiries. A man who knows how to use his tongue can get far, and one question is worth more than a hundred bad guesses. On the shore of the Operencian Sea there are two trees, one on this side and one on the opposite shore; you cannot get over the sea unless you climb the trees when they kiss each other, and this only happens twice a year, at the end of the summer and at the beginning of spring. More I will not tell you. Good-bye."

               Their conversation had lasted a whole hour, and behold! the wretched foal had become such a beautiful horse with golden hair and three legs, that one could not find another to match it.

               The little prince got into the saddle, which had also become gold, and rode leisurely over the bridge. At the other end his steed spoke thus: "I shall now be able to see, my little master, whether we can start at once;" and thereupon darted into the clouds; from thence to the moon; from thence to the sun; and from the sun to the "hen and chickens" (the Pleiades); and from thence back to the bridge.

               "I have lived for many a thousand years, but such a rider as you has not sat on my back before." And again it darted off over seven times seven countries, and in half an hour the prince reached his brothers, who had been galloping for the last three days and three nights. They rode together for a little while when the eldest thus spoke: "My younger brothers, if we all three keep together we shall never be able to find the pelican. The road divides into three branches here. Let each of us go into a different country, and let us mark this finger-post, and in one year's time meet here again. Should blood ooze out of the post it will be a sign that the brother who is absent is in misery or captivity; but if milk flow out of it, then he is well." This proposal was accepted. The two eldest took the roads on the right and the youngest the one on the left. But the two eldest were wicked. They did not look for the pelican but got into bad habits and spent their time in making love to young ladies. They did not trouble themselves very much about their father's rejuvenescence. The youngest prince went on steadily and covered a thousand miles a day; till at last he reached the Operencian Sea. The two trees which stood on its shores were just then kissing each other. The prince slackened the girth of his horse, jumped on the tree, ran along its upper branches, which touched the tree on the other side of the sea, and in an hour gained the opposite shore. He had left his horse in a silken meadow, the grass standing as high as the horse's knees. His horse neighed after him and urged him to make haste.

               On the opposite shore of the sea there was a golden forest. He had a small hand-adze with him and with it he notched the stems of the trees so that he might not miss his road upon his return. Beyond the golden forest there stood a small cottage where an aged woman a hundred years old lived.

               "Good day, my dear old mother."

               "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What are you doing here, whither not even a bird ever comes? What do you want here, my dear son?"

               "I am trying to find the pelican, my dear old mother."

               "Well, my son, I do not know where it is, but I have heard of it. Go a hundred miles beyond yonder silver forest, and ask my grandmother. If she does not know anything about it, nobody does. On your way back with your bird come and see me, my dear son, and I will give you a present. Life is worth living."

               The old woman sent her cat with the prince, which accompanied him as far as the right road, mewed once, and turned back. The wandering prince, after a journey which lasted for weeks, got through the silver forest and found a cottage where the old woman lived, who was so much bent from age that her nose touched the ground.

               "Good evening, my grandmother."

               "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What are you doing here, whither not even a bird ever comes? What do you want, my dear son?"

               "I seek the pelican, my dear mother, whose song makes old people young again. The Jesuits have stolen it from my father."

               "Well, my son, I know nothing of it. But fifty miles beyond yonder copper-forest lives my mother, and if she knows nothing about your bird, then nobody does. On your way back with the bird call upon me, my dear son, and I will give you a good present for your trouble. Life is still very pleasant, even to me."

               The prince again continued his journey in company with a red cock, which took him as far as the right road. There it crowed once, and flew back. After a journey of days and weeks the prince discovered on the borders of the copper-forest a little cottage, in which the old woman sat, whose eyelids were quite covered with moss. "Good day, my dear old mother!" "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What do you want?"

               "I am looking for the pelican." "You are on the right spot, my dear son. Though I have never seen it; because when it was brought hither I could use my legs no longer. Step across the threshold, and within a gun-shot you will see an old tumble-down church; the pelican is kept in there. By the side of the church there is a beautiful mansion, in it live the two old Jesuits who brought the bird from some foreign land; but the bird will not sing to them. Go and tell them that you think you will be able to make the bird sing, as perhaps it will sing to you as you come from a foreign land."

               The prince, however, didn't dare to go to see the friars, but waited for the evening or the morning bell to be rung, and then stole into the church. He had to wait for seven days, and still he did not succeed in hearing the pelican sing, as on each occasion a deep sleep overcame him. The two friars had become youths of seventeen years of age during the last two days.

               No one knew why the bird did sing on the third day. On this day, the prince, as soon as he had stepped into the church, made his nose bleed, and this kept him awake, and he heard the bird's song, and saw the friars caper round the cage and throw sugar into it. The prince hid himself under a chair, and when every one had retired to rest after evening prayers he let the bird out of its cage, hid it under his cloak, and went back to the first old woman and made her young again. The old woman jumped with delight, and gave him as much gold and silver as he liked. In a few weeks he got back to the other old women who lived in the gold and silver forests, and they regaled him in a royal manner.

               When he reached the sea-shore the two trees were kissing again, so he ran across them with the bird and appeared by the side of his horse, which had eaten so much of the fine grass that it had become so fat that the girth had quite cut into its belly. He made the horse young too, and sat on its back, and in a short time returned to the post where he had left his brothers. Lo! blood was flowing on that side on which his brothers had gone. His sensitive heart was quite overcome with sorrow, because his brothers were either in danger or misery. So he went on the same road on which the poor fellows had departed. He had not gone more than a couple of miles before he came to an inn. Adjoining the inn was a garden, where his two brothers were working in irons, because they had squandered their all, including their horses, and had got into debt for drink. After scolding the innkeeper the little prince bought his brothers off and repurchased their horses.

               They then started home all together, and he related all his adventures, and how he had got possession of the favorite pelican. At last they came to the outskirts of a forest about three miles from home, and at this place the two elder brothers attacked him from behind, cut off his hands and feet, took his little bird from him, and hurried home in order to lengthen their father's life by means of the song of the dear bird that had been brought back from so far off. The poor little prince began to cry bitterly with pain and fear. His cries were heard by a swine-herd who was tending his herd in the same forest in which the wicked brothers had maimed the little prince.

               The swine-herd picked up the poor boy without hands and feet and carried him to his hut. "He will do to take care of the hut," said the swine-herd, "poor wretch!" In the evening, the little crippled boy related all about his brothers' cruelty, and the poor swine-herd's heart was filled with pity for the boy's misfortune. Next morning just as he was going to look after his hogs the little prince called him back with fearful screams, and to his surprise he saw something that looked like a human skull wriggle out of the ground. He quickly knocked off the top of the skull with his hatchet, and the remainder slipped back into the ground. From the part cut off, blood flowed on to the ground. Somehow or other his maimed finger came in contact with the mud formed out of the blood and the dust and to his astonishment it was healed. Great was the simple swine-herd's joy! He rubbed the boy's stumps with the mud, and lo! his hands and feet grew again!

               As soon as the news had spread in the royal town that the pelican had come back all the old men gathered together and many brought presents to the princes, and took out their horses and dragged their carriage along the streets. At ten o'clock the next morning the church was crowded, and the pelican was reinstalled in its old place. The organ began to play but the bird would not sing. The king had it proclaimed through the length and breadth of his kingdom that any one who could make the pelican sing should have half his realm. The swine-herd heard the news and told it to his helpmate. "Take me, my brother, under your cloak," said the little prince, "as I do not wish my brothers to see me, lest they kill me. Let us then go into the town, and, as you are very old, I will induce the pelican to sing and make you young." So they set off together and the swine-herd sent word into the crowded meeting that he had confidence in the Lord, and thought he would be able to make the bird sing. The people crowded round the swine-herd, who had a handsome, well-built boy hidden under his cloak. They conducted him into the church, where he at once took off his great cloak, and no sooner did the pelican see its liberator than it at once began to sing most beautifully, and all the old men who were there assembled in great numbers became seventeen years old. The king recognised his son and made him tell all about his journey. When he came to the incident of the savage attack by his brothers the people began to hiss and groan, and resolved to draw and quarter the two villains, to tie them to horses' tails, drag them over the town, and hang them on the four corners of the fortress. The resolution was at once carried into effect. In vain did the kind-hearted lad beg for their lives. They had to die. The old king gave half of the realm to the young prince. The swine-herd was dressed up in velvet and purple, and they all are alive to this day, if they have not died since.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Pelican, 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

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