THERE was a father who had two sons; the elder, named Joseph, became a soldier, and went abroad for many years. When he returned home, his father was dead and his brother had gained the property and grown very rich. He went to his brothers house and met him coming down stairs.
“Do you know me?” inquired Joseph.
And the brother replied, with a very bad manner, that he did not. Then Joseph made himself known, and his brother told him to go to the granary, and there find a boat, which was all the inheritance his father had left him: so saying, he went on his way without taking any further notice of him.
Then the elder brother went up into the granary and found a very old boat, and said to himself: “What ever use will this broken old boat be to me? God’s will be done!” he added, “it will do to make a fire of to warm me, for it is very cold.”
He lifted it up and carried it to his inn, where he borrowed a hatchet, and began to hack it to pieces. Suddenly, a paper fell out of a secret place. He snatched it up and found that it was the acknowledgment of a very large amount due to his father. He recovered this money and became very rich.
One day Joseph met a woman in the street weeping bitterly. He asked her what was the matter with her, and she replied that her husband was very ill, and that she had nothing to give him, and that a creditor wanted to put him in prison, because he could not pay what he owed him.
“Do not worry yourself,” said the good Joseph, “they shall not put your husband in prison, nor sell your goods, let it cost me what it may.” Then he paid their debts, and provided for the illness and funeral of her husband,—for he died. But it came to pass that, when he had done all this, Joseph had not a penny left, having- expended the whole of his inheritance in this good work. “And now, what is to be done?” he asked himself; “now that I have nothing left even for food! I will go to the palace and ask for some employment.” He did so, and became a servitor in the king’s palace. And he behaved himself so well that the king took a fancy to him, and promoted him frequently, until at last he made him his chief servitor.
Meanwhile the unnatural brother had become poor, whereupon he wrote to Joseph, begging to be taken under his protection; and Joseph was so good-hearted that he aided him, and asked the king to give his brother employment in the palace; and the king consented. He was employed, but instead of feeling gratitude towards his good brother, he envied him his power with the king, and conspired to ruin him. To effect this bad purpose he set to work to discover some State secret, and learnt that the king was enamoured of Princess Fair-Flower; but as he was old and ugly she did not like him, and had hidden herself away, no one knew where. Then the false brother went to the king and told him that Joseph knew where Fair-Flower was, and corresponded with her. The king was very angry, and had Joseph brought before him, and then commanded him to go instantly and find the Princess Fair-Flower, saying that if he returned without her he should be hanged.
The poor fellow, quite disconsolate, went to seek for a horse for his journey, but did not know what direction to go in search of Fair-Flower. He saw a great white horse, very old and lanky, which said to him:—
“Take me with you, and have no heed of aught”
Joseph was astounded at hearing a horse speak, but mounted upon it and began his journey, taking with him three rolls of bread which the horse told him to take.
After they had journeyed a long while they met an ant, and the horse said to him:—
“Throw those three rolls, for the little ants to eat.”
“But,” said Joseph, “what shall we do, if we want bread?”
“Throw them,” replied the horse, “and never weary of doing good.”
They proceeded on their journey, and encountered an eagle entangled in the nets of a hunter.
“Halt,” said the horse to him; “get down and cut the threads of the net, and free the poor creature.”
“But we shall lose time in doing that,” responded Joseph.
“Do what I tell you, and never weary of doing good.”
When they had journeyed for some time longer they arrived at the banks of a river, and saw a little fish that had been left high and dry on the bank, and, notwithstanding all its efforts and struggles, was unable to regain the stream.
“Get down,” said the white horse to Joseph, “catch that poor little fish and put it back into the water.”
“But we have no time for these delays,” contested Joseph.
“There is always time for a good action,” responded the horse; “never weary of doing good.”
In a little while they arrived at a castle situated in the midst of a dense forest, and beheld the Princess Fair-Flower, feeding her chickens.
“Now attend to me,” said the white steed to Joseph. “I shall amble and pirouette in order to amuse Fair-Flower. You ask her if she would like to mount a little while, and permit her to do so; then I will jump and neigh, and that will frighten her. Then you must tell her that that is because I am not accustomed to be ridden by females, but that you will mount and tame me; then you will mount and gallop off until you arrive at the king’s palace.”
And everything happened just as the horse had foreseen; and only when they were galloping away did Fair-Flower divine the scheme which the horse had concocted of running away with her. Then she let the bran she was carrying fall to the ground; and as it was scattered about, she told her companion that her bran was spilt, and that she wished to gather it up.
“Where we are going,” responded Joseph, “there is plenty of bran.”
After that, as they were passing under a tree, the princess cast her handkerchief up as far as she could, where it was left, hanging upon one of the highest branches. She asked Joseph to stop and climb the tree for it; but he replied, “Where we are going there are plenty of handkerchiefs.”
They had to pass by a river, and the princess contrived to drop a ring into it, and then begged Joseph to get down and get it for her; but he only answered, “Where we are going there are plenty of rings.”
Finally, they arrived at the king’s palace, where the king was highly delighted at seeing his beloved Fair-Flower once more; but the princess went to a room, and locked herself in, and would not open the door to anybody. The king begged her to open the door; but she replied that she would never open it until they found for her the three things she had lost on the way to the palace.
“There is no help for it, Joseph,” said the king, “but that you, who know the way, should go and find these things; and if you do not bring them back with you, I will have you hanged.”
Poor Joseph was sorely troubled by this, and went to tell the great white horse of his new misfortune. The horse, however, said to him:—
“Do not afflict yourself; mount upon me, and we will go and seek the lost articles.”
Then they started off and journeyed until they met the ant.
“Do you want to have the bran?” said the horse.
“Would I not like to have it!” exclaimed Joseph.
“Then call the little ants, and tell them to bring you as much as has been spilt, and they will bring you what they have extracted from the three rolls, which will be as much as you need.”
And so it came to pass. Out of gratitude the little ants worked with a good will, and soon put before Joseph a pile of bran.
“You will see,” said the horse, “whether, early or late, a good deed does not bring its reward.”
They now speedily arrived at the tree into which Fair-Flower had flung her handkerchief, which was streaming like a pennon from one of the highest branches.
“How am I to get that handkerchief down?” exclaimed Joseph. “I should want Jacob’s ladder to reach it!”
“Don’t perplex yourself about that,” responded the horse; “call the eagle which you freed from the hunter’s net, and it will get it for you.”
And thus it happened. The eagle came, seized the handkerchief in its beak, and brought it to Joseph.
They next arrived at the river, which was very turbid.
“How ever am I to get the ring from the bottom of that deep river,” said Joseph, “where I can neither see it nor know in what spot Fair-Flower dropped it?”
“Don’t worry yourself on that score,” said the white horse, “but call the little fish which you saved, and it will bring it to you.”
And so it happened, and the little fish dived down and came up again, waving its tail with pleasure, and bringing the ring in its mouth.
Then Joseph returned, very well satisfied with his success, to the palace; but when they carried the things to Fair-Flower, she said she would not open the door nor some out of the room, unless they fried in oil the robber who had carried her off from her palace.
The king was so cruel that he promised to have this done, and told Joseph that there was no help for it, but that he must be fried in oil.
Full of dismay, Joseph went to tell the white horse what had taken place.
“Do not be frightened,” said the horse to him; “mount upon me, I will gallop about and perspire; anoint your body with my sweat, and rest contented that no harm will happen to you in the caldron.”
And it came to pass as the horse said; and when Joseph emerged from the caldron, he had become such a handsome and gallant youth, that everybody admired him; no one more than Fair-Flower, however, who fell in love with him instantly.
Then the king, who was old and ugly, on seeing what had happened to Joseph, thought that a similar thing would happen to himself; and being so deeply in love with Fair-Flower, he jumped into the caldron, and was turned into a bladder of lard.
Then by universal acclamation Joseph was proclaimed king, and married Fair-Flower.
When our hero went to give thanks to the great white horse for all the good services it had rendered to him, the horse said:—
“I am the spirit of that unfortunate man whose debts, illness, and interment cost you so much; and who, beholding you poor and in danger, prayed to God to be allowed power to help you and repay your benefits. This was permitted, and I have again to say to you, Never weary of doing good.”