ONCE upon a time there was a poor woman who went about
begging with her son; for at home she had neither
a morsel to eat nor a stick to burn. First she tried the
country, and went from parish to parish; but it was
poor work, and so she came into the town. There she
went about from house to house for a while, and at
last she came to the Lord Mayor. He was both open-hearted
and open-handed, and he was married to the
daughter of the richest merchant in the town, and they
had one little daughter. As they had no more children,
you may fancy she was sugar and spice and all that's
nice, and in a word there was nothing too good for
her. This little girl soon came to know the beggar boy
as he went about with his mother; and as the Lord
 was a wise man, as soon as he saw what friends
the two were, he took the boy into his house that he
might be his daughter's playmate. Yes, they played and
read and went to school together, and never had so
much as one quarrel.
One day the Lady Mayoress stood at the window, and
watched the children as they were trudging off to
school. There had been a shower of rain, and the
street was flooded, and she saw how the boy first
carried the basket with their dinner over the stream,
and then he went back and lifted the little girl over,
and when he set her down he gave her a kiss.
When the Lady Mayoress saw this, she got very angry.
"To think of such a ragamuffin kissing our daughter—;we
who are the best people in the place!" That was
what she said. Her husband did his best to stop her
tongue. "No one knew," he said, "how children would
turn out in life, or what might befall his own. The
boy was a clever, handy lad, and often and often a
great tree sprang from a slender plant."
But no! it was all the same, whatever he said and
whichever way he put it. The Lady Mayoress held her
own, and said beggars on horseback always rode their
cattle to death, and that no one had ever heard of a
silk purse being made out of a sow's ear; adding, that
a penny would never turn into a shilling, even though
it glittered like a guinea. The end of it all was that
the poor lad was turned out of the house, and had to
pack up his rags and be off.
When the Lord Mayor saw there was no help for it, he
sent him away with a trader who had come thither with
a ship, and he was to be a cabin boy on board her. He
told his wife he had sold the boy for a roll of
But before he went the Lord Mayor's daughter broke her
ring into two bits and gave the boy one bit, that it
might be a token to know him by if they ever met
again; and so the ship sailed away, and the lad came
to a town far, far off in the world, and to that town
a priest had just come who was so good a preacher that
everyone went to church to hear him, and the crew of
the ship went with the rest the Sunday after
 to hear
the sermon. As for the lad, he was left behind to mind
the ship and to cook the dinner. So while he was hard
at work he heard some one calling out across the water
on an island. So he took the boat and rowed across,
and there he saw an old hag, who called and roared.
"Aye," she said, "you have come at last! Here have I
stood a hundred years calling and bawling, and
thinking how I should ever get over this water; but no
one has ever heard or heeded but you, and you shall be
well paid if you will put me over to the other side."
So the lad had to row her to her sister's house, who
lived on a hill on the other side close by; and when
they got there, she told him to beg for the old
tablecloth which lay on the dresser. Yes! He would beg
for it; and when the old witch who lived there knew
that he had helped her sister over the water, she said
he might have whatever he chose to ask.
"Oh, said the boy, "then I won't have anything else
than that old tablecloth on the dresser yonder."
"Oh," said the old witch, "that you never asked out of
your own wits."
"Now I must be off," said the lad, "to cook the Sunday
dinner for the church-goers."
"Never mind that," said the first old hag; "it will
cook itself while you are away. Stop with me, and I
will pay you better still. Here have I stood and
called and bawled for a hundred years, but no one has
ever heeded me but you."
The end was he had to go with her to another sister,
and when he got there the old hag said he was to be
sure and ask for the old sword, which was such that he
could put it into his pocket and it became a knife,
and when he drew it out it was a long sword again. One
edge was black and the other white, and if he smote
with the black edge everything fell dead, and if with
the white everything came to life again. So when they
came over, and the second old witch heard how he had
helped her sister across, she said he might have
anything he chose to ask for her fare.
 "Oh," said the lad, "then I will have nothing else
but that old sword which hangs up over the cupboard."
"That you never asked out of your own wits," said
the old witch; but for all that he got the sword.
Then the old hag said again: "Come on with me to my
third sister. Here have I stood and called and bawled
for a hundred years, and no one has heeded me but you.
Come on to my third sister, and you shall have better
So he went with her, and on the way she told him he
was to ask for the old hymn book; and that was such a
book that when anyone was sick and the nurse sang one
of the hymns, the sickness passed away, and they were
well again. Well! when they got across, and the third
old witch heard he had helped her sister across, she
said he was to have whatever he chose to ask for his
"Oh," said the lad, "then I won't have anything else
but granny's old hymn book."
"That," said the old hag, "you never asked out of your
When he got back to the ship the crew were still at
church, so he tried his tablecloth, and spread just a
little bit of it out, for he wanted to see what good
it was before he laid it on the table. Yes! In a trice
it was covered with good food and strong drink, enough
and to spare. So he just took a little snack, and then
he gave the ship's dog as much as it could eat.
When the church-goers came on board, the captain said:
"Wherever did you get all that food for the dog? Why,
he's as round as a sausage, and as lazy as a snail."
"Oh, if you must know," said the lad, "I gave him the
"Good boy," said the captain, "to think of the dog."
So he spread out the cloth, and at once the whole
table was covered all over with such brave meat and
drink as they had never before seen in all their born
Now when the boy was again alone with the dog, he
wanted to try the sword, so he smote at the dog with
the black edge, and it fell dead on the deck; but when
he turned the blade and
 smote with the white edge the
dog came to life again and wagged his tail and fawned
on his playmate. But the book—;that he could not get
tried just then.
Then they sailed well and far till a storm overtook
them which lasted many days, so they lay to and drove
till they were quite out of their course, and could
not tell where they were. At last the wind fell, and
then they came to a country far, far off that none of
them knew; but they could easily see there was great
grief there, as well there might be, for the King's
daughter was a leper. The King came down to the shore,
and asked was there anyone on board who could cure her
and make her well again.
"No, there was not." That was what they all said who
were on deck.
"Is there no one else on board the ship than those I
see?" asked the King.
"Yes; there's a little beggar boy."
"Well," said the King, "let him come on deck."
So when he came and heard what the King wanted, he
said he thought he might cure her; and then the
captain got so wroth and mad with rage that he ran
round and round like a squirrel in a cage, for he
thought the boy was only putting himself forward to do
something in which he was sure to fail, and he told
the King not to listen to such childish chatter.
But the King only said that wit came as children grew,
and that there was the making of a man in every bairn.
The boy had said that he could do it, and he might as
well try. After all, there were many who had tried and
failed before him. So he took him home to his
daughter, and the lad sang a hymn once. Then the
Princess could lift her arm. Once again he sang it,
and she could sit up in bed. And when he had sung it
thrice, the King's daughter was as well as you and I
The King was so glad he wanted to give him half his
kingdom and the princess to wife.
"Yes," said the lad, "land and power are fine things
to have half of," and was very grateful; "but as for
 he was betrothed to another," he said,
"and he could not take her to wife."
So he stayed there awhile and got half the kingdom;
and when he had not been very long there, war broke
out, and the lad went out to battle with the rest, and
you may fancy he did not spare the black edge of his
sword. The enemy's soldiers fell before him like
flies, and the King won the day. But when they had
conquered, he turned the white edge, and they all rose
up alive and became the King's soldiers, who had
granted them their lives. But then there were so many
of them that they were badly off for food, though the
King wished to send them away full, both of meat and
drink. So the lad had to bring out his tablecloth, and
then there was not a man that lacked anything.
Now when he had lived a little longer with the King,
he began to long to see the Lord Mayor's daughter. So
he fitted out four ships of war and set sail; and when
he came off the town where the Lord Mayor lived, he
fired off his cannon like thunder, till half the panes
of glass in the town were shivered. On board those
ships everything was as grand as in a King's palace;
and as for himself, he had gold on every seam of his
coat, so fine he was. It was not long before the Lord
Mayor came down to the shore and asked if the foreign
lord would not be so good as to come up and dine with
him. "Yes, he would go," he said; and so he went up to
the Mansion House where the Lord Mayor lived, and
there he took his seat between the Lady Mayoress and
So as they sat there in the greatest state, and ate
and drank and were merry, he threw the half of the
ring into the daughter's glass, and no one saw it; but
she was not slow to find out what he meant, and
excused herself from the feast and went out and fitted
his half to her half. Her mother saw there was
something in the wind and hurried after her as fast as
"Do you know who that is in there, mother?" said the
"No!" said the Lady Mayoress.
 "He whom papa sold for a roll of tobacco," said the
At these words the Lady Mayoress fainted and fell down
flat on the floor.
In a little while the Lord Mayor came out to see what
was the matter, and when he heard how things stood he
was almost as uneasy as his wife.
"There is nothing to make a fuss about," said Master
Tobacco. "I have only come to claim the little girl I
kissed as we were going to school."
But to the Lady Mayoress he said:
"You should never despise the children of the poor and
needy, for none can tell how they may turn out; since
there is the making of a man in every child of man,
and wit and wisdom come with growth and strength."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics