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The Wonder Clock by  Howard Pyle
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THE STAFF AND THE FIDDLE

[255]

T HE wind of heaven blows the chips and the straws together.

There was a fiddler, a tinker, and a shoemaker jogging along the road, but whatever brought them in company is more than I am able to tell you. All the same, there they were, and, after all, that is the kernel of the nut.

The fiddler was as merry a little toad as ever a body could wish to see; as for the tinker and the shoemaker, why, they were as sour as bad beer.

Well, they plodded along, all the three of them, until by and by they came to a cross-road, and there sat an old body begging; "Dear, good, kind gentlemen, give a poor old woman a penny or two. Do now."

"Pooh!" says the tinker and the shoemaker, and off they walked with their noses in the air as though they were hunting for flies up yonder.

As for the fiddler, he had another kind of heart under his jacket; "Come," says he, "we are all chicks in the same puddle." So he gave the old woman all that he had, which was only two pennies.


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"A cake for a pie," said the old woman; "and what would you like to [256] have in the way of a wish? For all that you have to do is to ask, and it shall be granted."

This old woman was a famous wise one, I can tell you, though the fiddler knew nothing of that.

The fiddler thought and thought, but there was little that he had to wish for; nevertheless, since they were in the way of asking and giving, and seeing that his body was none of the largest, he would like to have it for a wish that whenever he should say, "Rub-a-dub-dub," the staff in his hand would up and fight for him.

So! And was that all that he wanted? Then it was granted and welcome, for it was little enough.

After that they said, "Good-morning," and the fiddler went one way and the old woman the other.

So the three companions plodded along together until, by and by, night came, and there they were, in a deep forest, with branches over their heads and not a peep out from under the trees, no matter where they might look; and that was not the pleasantest thing for them, I can tell you. But by and by they saw a light, and then the world looked up with them again. So they hurried along more rapidly, and presently came to the house where the light was shining; and after all, it was not much to look at.

Rap! tap, tap! they knocked at the door, but nobody came; so they opened it for themselves and walked in.

No; there was no one at home, but there was a table spread with a smoking hot supper, and places for three. Down they sat without waiting for the bidding, for their hunger was as sharp as vinegar.

Well, they ate and they ate and they ate until they could eat no more, and then they turned around and roasted their toes at the warm fire.

That was all very well and good, but by and by all the wood was burned, and then who was to go out into the dark forest and fetch another armful?

"Not I," says the tinker.

"Not I," says the shoemaker.

And so it fell to the lot of the fiddler, and off he went.

But many a one spills the milk-mug to save the water-jug, and so it was with the tinker and the shoemaker; for, while they sat warming their shins at the fire and rubbing their hands over their knees, in walked an ugly little troll no taller than a yard-stick, but with a head as big as a [258] cabbage, and a good stout cudgel twice as long as himself in his hand: as for his eyes, why, they were as big as your mother's teacups.

"I want something to eat," says he.

"You'll get nothing here," says the tinker and the shoemaker.

"Yes, but I will," says the little manikin.

"No, but you will not," says the tinker and the shoemaker.

"That we'll see," says the manikin; whereupon he spat upon his hands, snatched up his club, and without more ado, fell upon the tinker and the shoemaker, and began beating them will all his might and main. My goodness, you should have seen how they hopped about like two peas on a drum-head, and you should have heard how they bellowed and bawled for mercy! But the little ugly troll never stopped until he was too tired to drub them any more; then he went away whither he had come, and all that the two fellows could do was to rub the places that smarted the most.

By and by in came the fiddler with his armful of wood, but never a word did the tinker and the shoemaker say, for they had no notion of telling how such a little manikin had dusted the coats of two great hulking fellows like themselves; only the next day they thought that it would be well to rest where they were, for their bones were too sore to be jogging. So they lolled around the house all day, and found everything that they wanted to eat in the cupboards.

After supper there was more wood to be brought in from the forest, and this time it was the tinker and the shoemaker who went to fetch it, for they had settled it between them that the fiddler was to have a taste of the same broth that they had supped.

Sure enough, by and by in came the ugly little troll with the great long cudgel.

"I want something to eat," says he.

"There it is, brother," says the fiddler, "help yourself."

"It is you who shall wait on me," says the ugly little troll.

"Tut!" says the fiddler, "how you talk, neighbor; have you no hands of your own?"

"You shall wait on me," says the manikin.

"I shall not," says the fiddler.

"That we will see," says the manikin, and he spat upon his hands and gripped his cudgel.

"Hi!" says the fiddler, "and is that the game you are playing? Then, rub-a-dub-dub!" says he.

[260] Pop!—up jumps his staff from the corner where he had stood it, and then you should have seen the dust fly! This time it was the manikin who hopped over the chairs and begged and bawled for mercy. As for the fiddler, he stood by with his hands in his pockets and whistled. By and by the manikin found the door, and out he jumped with the fiddler at his heels. But the fiddler was not quick enough, for, before he could catch him, the little troll popped into a great hole in the ground like a frog into a well; and there was an end to that business.


[Illustration]

After a while the tinker and the shoemaker came back from the forest with their load of wood, and then how the fiddler did laugh at them, for he saw very well how the wind had been blowing with them. As for him, he was all for following the little manikin into the hole in the ground; so they hunted here and they hunted there, until they found a great basket and a rope, and then the tinker and the shoemaker lowered the fiddler and his staff down into the pit.

Down he went ever so deep until he reached the bottom, and there he found a great room. The first body whom he saw was a princes as pretty as a ripe apple, but looking, oh, so sad! at being in such a place. The next he saw was the ugly little troll, who sat in the corner and growled like our cat when the dog comes into the kitchen.

"So!" says the fiddler, "there you are, are you? Then it is rub-dub-dub again." And this time before the drubbing was stopped it was all over with the troll.

And then who was glad but the pretty princess. She flung her arms around the merry little fiddler's neck, and gave him a right good smacking kiss or two, and that paid a part of the score, I can tell you. Then they sat down and the pretty princess told him all about how the troll had carried her off a year and more ago, and had kept her in this place ever since. After that she took a pure gold ring off of her finger and broke it in two; half of it was for the fiddler and half of it was for her; for they were sweethearts now, and the ring was to be a love-token.


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Then the fiddler put the princess into the basket, and the two fellows above hauled her up. By and by down came the basket again, and now it was the fiddler's turn. "Suppose," says he, "that they are up to some of their tricks!" So he tumbled a great stone into the basket in the place of himself. Sure enough, when the basket was about half-way up, down it came tumbling, for the rogues above had cut the rope, and if the fiddler had been there in the place of the stone, it would have been all over for him.

[262] Then if anybody was ever down in the dumps the fiddler was the fellow. For there he was down in the pit, and he could no more get out of his pickle than a toad out of the cellar window. After he had been there for ever so long a time, he saw a pretty little fiddle that hung back of the cupboard. "Aha!" says he, "there is some butter to the crust after all; and now we will just have a bit of a jig to cheer us up a little." So down he sat and began to play.

And then what do you think happened? Why up popped a little fellow no higher than your knee and as black as your hat!

"What do you want, master?" said he.

"So," said the fiddler, "and is that the tune we play? Well, I should like to get out of this pit, that I should."

No sooner said than done, for he had hardly time to pick up his staff and tuck the fiddle under his arm, when—whisk!—he was up above as quick as a wink.

"Hi!" said he, "but this is a pretty fiddle to own and no mistake!" and off he went, right foot foremost.

After a while he came to the town where the king lived, and there was a great buzzing and gossip, and this was why: all the folks were talking about how the tinker and the shoemaker had brought back the princess from the ugly little troll, and of how the king had promised that whoever did that was to have her for his wife and half of the kingdom to boot; but here were two lads, and the question was who was to have her. For before they had left the pit over yonder, the tinker and the shoemaker had made the princess vow and promise that she would say nothing about how they had treated the fiddler, and now each fellow was saying that he had brought her up out of the troll's den.

And the princess did nothing but sit and cry and cry; but, as for marrying, she vowed and declared that she would not do that till she had a pair of slippers of pure gold and a real diamond buckle on each slipper; and nobody in all of the town was able to make the kind that she wanted.

When the fiddler heard all this he went straight to a shoemaker's shop. "Will you take a journeyman shoemaker?" says he.

"What can you do?" says the master shoemaker.

"I can make a pair of slippers such as the princess wants, only I must have a room all to myself to make them in," says the fiddler.

When the master shoemaker heard this, he was not long in making up his mind, so the bargain was closed and that settled the business.

[263] As soon as the fiddler was alone he drew out his fiddle and began to play a bit of a jig, and there stood the little black fellow, just as he had done before.


[Illustration]

"What do you want?" says he.

"I should like," said the fiddler, "to have a pair of slippers such as the princess asks for, but I only want one buckle to the pair, and that must be made of real diamonds."

[264] Oh! that was an easy thing to have, and there were the slippers just as the fiddler had ordered.

"But there is only one buckle," says the master shoemaker.

"Tut!" says the fiddler, "turn no hairs grey for that, brother. Just tell the princess that the fiddler has the other, and matters will be as smooth as cream."

Well, the master shoemaker did as the fiddler said, and you may guess how the princess opened her pretty eyes when she heard that her sweetheart was thereabouts. Nothing would suit her but that she must see that journeyman shoemaker. But when they sent to fetch him, he was gone.

And now the shoemaker and the tinker began to talk again; the princess had been promised to the man who saved her from the troll, and so she must and should choose one of them. But no; the princess was not ready yet; she would never marry till she had a pair of gloves of the finest silk, all embroidered with silver and pearls and with a ruby clasp at the wrist of each.

And now came the same dance with a different tune, for nobody was to be found in all of the town who could make such a pair of gloves as she wanted. By and by the matter came to the fiddler's ears, and off he set to the glover's shop. And did the glover want an apprentice?

Yes, the glover wanted an apprentice, but he must know first what the other could do.

"Well," said the fiddler, "if I have a room all to myself, I can make a pair of gloves such as the princess asks for." And after that he was not left to kick his toes in the cold.

As soon as he was alone, he drew out his fiddle and struck up an air, and there stood the little black man again.

"I would like," said the fiddler, "to have a pair of gloves such as the princess asks for. But there must be only one clasp to the wrist, and that made all of pure rubies." That is what he said, and there were the gloves without his having to ask twice for them.

"But there is only one clasp," said the glover.

"Never mind that," said the wonderful apprentice; "just tell the princess that the fiddler had the other, and she will be satisfied."

As for the princess, she sent off post-haste for the lad who had made her gloves. But she was behindhand this time too, for, when those whom she sent came to the glover's house, they found nobody there but the cat and the kettle, and the master glover, for the fiddler was gone.

[265] And now the tinker and the shoemaker began again; the princess had her gloves, and she must and should choose one or the other of them.

But no. First of all the princess must have a fine dress all of white silk with both sleeves looped up with pearls as big as marbles.

But there was nobody to make such a dress as that in all of the town, till the fiddler went to the master tailor and offered himself as a journeyman workman. Then the dress came quickly enough, and with only the tune of a fiddle. But the loop of pearls on one sleeve was missing.

"And that will never do in the wide world," says the tailor.

"Oh," says the fiddler, "that is nothing; just tell the princess that the fiddler has the other, and she will be satisfied."

Well, the tailor did as he said, and when the princess heard who had the pearl loop, she was satisfied, just as the fiddler had said she would be.

By and by the tinker and the shoemaker began again; the princess must choose one or the other of them. And now there was nothing left for her to do but to say "Yes." She felt sure that the fiddler would be on hand at the right time, and so a day was fixed for choosing whom she would marry.

It was not long before the fiddler heard of that, for news flies fast. Off he went by himself and played a turn or two on his fiddle.

"And what do you want now?" says the little manikin.

"This time," said the fiddler, "I want a splendid suit of clothes for myself, all of silver and gold; besides that, I want a hat with a great feather in it and a fine milk-white horse."

So; good! Well, he could have those things easily enough, and there they were.

So the fiddler dressed himself in his fine clothes, and then, when it was about time for the princess to make her choice, he mounted upon his great milk-white horse and set off for the king's house with his staff across the saddle in front of him.

But you should have seen how the people looked as he rode along the street, for they had never laid eyes upon such a fine sight in all of their lives before. Up he rode to the castle, and when he knocked at the door they did not keep him waiting long out in the cold, I can tell you.

There they all sat at dinner, the tinker on one side of the princess and the shoemaker on the other. But when they saw the fiddler in his grand clothes, they thought that he was some great nobleman for sure and certain, for neither the princess nor the two rogues knew who he was. The folks squeezed among the bench and made room for him; so he leaned [266] his staff in the corner and down he sat, just across the table from the princess.

By and by he asked the princess if she would drink a glass of red wine with him.

Yes, the princess would do that.

So the fiddler drank, and then what did he do but drop his half of the ring that the princess had given him into the cup, before he passed it across to her.

Then the princess drank, but something bobbed against her lips; and when she came to look—lo and behold!—there was the half of her ring.

And if anybody in all the world was glad, it was the princess at that very moment. Up she stood before them all; "There is my sweetheart," says she, "and I will marry him and no one else."

As for the fiddler, he just said," Rub-a-dub-dub," and up jumped the staff and began to thump and bang the tinker and the shoemaker until they scampered away for dear life, and there was an end of them so far as I know, for if you would like to know what happened to them afterwards, you will have to ask some one else.

The king was ever so glad to have the fiddler for a son-in-law in the place either of the tinker or the shoemaker, for he was a much better-looking lad. Besides, the other had done nothing but brew trouble and worriment ever since they had come into the house.

After that there was a grand wedding. I too was there at the feasting but I got nothing but empty sausage and wind pudding, and so I came away again.

And that is the end of this story.


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