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Fairy Stories and Fables by  James Baldwin
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THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE

[168] A FISHERMAN and his wife lived in a hut close by the sea. They were very poor. The man used to go out in his boat all day to catch fish; and he would fish, and fish, and fish. Some days he caught all that he and his wife could eat; some days he caught more, and then they had fish to sell; and some days he caught none at all.

One day as he sat in his boat, with his fishing rod in his hand, and gazed at the sea, he felt his line pulled. He drew it up, and there was a fine large fish fast on the hook.

"Please put me back! please put me back!" said the fish.

"Why so?" said the fisherman.

"I am not a real fish," said the fish. "I may look like one, but I am a prince that has been bewitched. Please put me back and let me go."

"Of course I'll put you back," said the man. "I don't want to eat a fish that can talk. I would rather have no dinner at all."

Then he took the fish off the hook and threw it back into the sea. There was a long streak of blood in the water behind it as it sank out of sight. The fisherman gazed into the sea awhile, and then went home in his boat.

[169] "Did you catch any fish to-day?" said his wife.

"Only one," he said. "I caught a fine large one, but it said that it was a prince, and so I threw it back into the sea."

"Did you ask it for anything?" said the woman.

"No," said the man. "What would I ask of a fish?"

"You might have asked it for a nice little cottage," she said. "It is hard to have to live all our lives in a wretched hut like this."

"Ask a fish for a cottage?" said he. "Do you think it would give us one?"

"Certainly," said she. "Have you never heard the song,

" 'Ask anything of a talking fish,

And he will give you what you wish'?

Now get into your boat and go and call him; say that we want a neat little cottage with three rooms, and a vine climbing over the door."

The man did not like to go back at all; but his wife kept talking and talking till at last he got into his boat and rowed away.

When he came to the place where he had caught the fish, the sea was green and dark, and not bright and clear as it had been before. He stood up in his boat and sang:—

[170]

"Once a prince, but now a fish,

Come and listen to my wish.

Come! for my wife, Nancy Bell,

Wishes what I fear to tell."

All at once the fish stuck his head up out of the water and said, "Well, what is it you want?"

"I don't want anything," said the man. "But my wife wants a neat cottage with three rooms, and a vine climbing up over the door."

"Go home," said the fish. "She shall have it."

The man turned his boat and rowed back home; and there was his wife sitting on a bench in front of a neat little cottage. She took him by the hand and said, "Come in, come in. See how much better this is than the dirty hut which we had." They went in and looked at the pretty sitting room and the cozy bedroom, and the kitchen with everything in it that anybody could want. And outside was a yard with chickens and ducks running about, and a little garden full of good things to eat.

"Isn't this nice?" said the wife.

"Yes," said the man, "and we will live here and be happy all our lives."

"We'll think about it," said his wife.

All went very well for three or four weeks. Then the woman began to find fault with things. The [171] house was too small for her, and so were the yard and the garden.

"How I should like to be a fine lady, and live in a great stone castle," she said.

"This cottage is good enough for me," said the man.

"It may be good enough for you," said she, "but it is not good enough for me. Go back to the fish and tell him to give us a great stone castle with high walls and towers."

"I don't like to go," said he. "The fish gave us the cottage, and he might not like it if we asked him for something else."

"He won't care," said the wife. "Go and ask him at once. I cannot bear to live in this little house another day. Go!"

The man got into his boat and rowed slowly away. When he came to the place where he had caught the fish, he stood up and sang:—

"Once A Prince, But Now A Fish,

Come and listen to wife's wish.

Come! for my dear Nancy Bell

Wishes what I fear to tell."

"Well, what does she want now?" asked the fish.

"I like the cottage best," said the man; "but she wants to live in a great stone castle."

[172] "A great stone castle it is," said the fish. "Go home. She is standing at the door, waiting for you."

So the fisherman turned his boat and rowed back home; and there, close by the sea, was a great stone castle; and a very fine lady who looked like his wife was standing at the door.


[Illustration]

She took him by the hand, and they went in; and there was a broad hall with a marble floor; and up stairs and down, there were fine rooms with tables and chairs all covered with gold; and crowds of servants stood around ready to wait upon them; and the big table in the dining hall was loaded with food and drink such as they had never heard of before. After dinner the man and woman walked out to see their stables, and fine gardens, and the great park [173] where were deer and hares and everything anybody could want.

"Isn't this grand?" said the wife.

"Yes," said the man, "and we will live and be happy all our lives."

"We'll think about it," said his wife.

All went well till the next morning. The wife woke up first and looked out of the window at the fine country which lay around the castle.

"Husband, get up!" she said. "Get up, and look out of the window. I wish I was the king of all this land."

"Why so?" said her husband. "I think we are well enough off as we are. I don't want to be king."

"Well, but I want to be king," said the wife. "Go back to the fish and tell him so."

The fisherman did not like to go. "It is not right! It is not right!" he said.

But his wife said, "Go at once!"

So he got into his boat and rowed away. When he came to the place where he had caught the fish, he stood up and sang:—

"Once a prince, but now a fish,

Come and listen to wife's wish.

Come! for lady Nancy Bell

Wishes what I fear to tell."

"Well, what does she want now?" said the fish.

[174] "I am ashamed to tell you," said the man; "but she wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish; "she has her wish."

The fisherman turned his boat and rowed back home. When he got to the shore he saw that the castle was much larger than before; and there were sentinels at the gates, and crowds of soldiers were marching back and forth, and there was a great noise of drums and trumpets. Inside of the castle everything was of silver and gold; and in the great hall was his wife sitting on a throne of ivory and pearls. She had a crown of gold on her head, and many fine ladies and gentlemen stood around her.

"Isn't this glorious?" said she.

"Yes," said the man. "Now we have nothing else to wish for."

"I don't know about that," said his wife.

"But you will be satisfied now, won't you, wife?" he said.

"No, indeed, I will not," she said.

That night she lay in bed, thinking and thinking, and wishing that there was something else she could have. The fisherman slept well and soundly, for he had done a good deal of work that day, rowing his boat back and forth. But his wife turned from one side to the other the whole night through, [175] and did not sleep a wink. At last the sun began to rise, and when she saw the red light come in at her window, she thought: "Ha! how I should like to be the master of the sun!"

Then she shook her husband and said, "Get up! Get up! Go out to the fish and tell him that I want to be the master of the sun."

The fisherman was so frightened that he fell out of the bed. Then he rubbed his eyes and said: "What did you say, wife?"

"I want to be the master of the sun," she said. "I want to make it rise when I choose, and set when I choose, and stand still when I choose."

"Oh, wife," said the man, all in a tremble, "do you want to be a god?"

"That's just what I want to be," she said. "Go out to the fish and tell him so."

"You'd better let well enough alone," said the man. "You are king now; let us be contented!"

This made the woman very angry. She pushed him with her foot, and screamed: "I will not be contented! I will not be contented! Go, and do as I bid you!"

So the man hurried away to his boat. He tried to row out to his fishing place, but a great storm came up, and the waves were so high that he could not see which way to go. The sky was black as [176] ink, and the thunder rolled, and the lightning flashed, and the winds blew terribly. So he shouted as loud as he could:—

"Once a prince, but now a fish,

Come and listen to wife's wish.

Come! for king Nancy Bell

Wishes what I fear to tell."

"Well, what does she want now?" said the fish.

"She wants—she wants to be the master of the sun," said the man, in a whisper.

"She wants to be a god, does she?" said the fish.

"Ah, yes! That is what she wants to be," said the man.

"Go home, then," said the fish. "You will find her in the poor little dirty hut by the sea."

And there the fisherman and his wife are living to this day.


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