IN THE days of King Bambita, his two noble daughters oppressed the people, laying heavy taxes on them without the king's knowledge. The people cursed them, and the curses did their work. The princesses vanished. The king sent some of his servants to look for the princesses. But the servants came back empty-handed. None of them had been able to find the princesses.
Now, a captain and a lieutenant heard of the king's trouble. So the lieutenant went to the king, and "I see," says he, "that you are in trouble. I will go and look for the princesses."
"How much do you want for it?" asked the king.
The king agreed, and gave him the money. "If you find them," said he, "half of my kingdom is yours."
The lieutenant and the captain had plenty of money now, so they went to an inn and passed the time drinking. On the third day the captain said: "To-day I will go to the king. If he gave you twenty pounds, he is certain to give me more."
So he went to the king and said: "I see that your majesty is in trouble. I should like to go and look for the princesses."
"How much do you want for it?" said the king.
Well, the king gave him the money without any more ado, adding that, if he found the princesses, he would get half of his kingdom.
They fell to drinking again and had a splendid time.
There was a drummer near them, and he heard them saying that they were to look for the princesses. So he went to the king and said: "I hear that your majesty is prostrated by sore trouble. I, too, would like to look for the princesses."
"How much do you want for it?"
"Forty pounds, at least."
The king gave him the money without more ado. The two officers and the drummer left that inn for another, and so they went on spending their money recklessly in one drinking-house after another. The drummer went with the other two, but he was more careful than they were. He was not such a spendthrift as the two officers.
They asked him where he meant to go.
"Wherever you go, I will go too," he replied.
"Then why don't you join us and lead a gay life?"
"That I can't do until I know where to find the princesses."
They invited him to join them, but he refused to do it.
At last they bought some bread and other food, and they all set out together on their journey. They came to a dark forest, and for a fortnight they searched it through and through, but they could find nothing. They couldn't find their way out of the forest either, so they agreed that one of them should climb to the top of the highest tree to see which way they ought to go. The drummer, being the youngest, climbed up a pine-tree. He called out:
"I can see a cottage. Look, I will throw my hat towards it, and do you follow the hat."
Well, they went on until they reached the cottage.
"Go into the room," says the drummer.
"After you," said both the officers at once.
So the drummer stepped inside, and an old crone welcomed him.
"Welcome, Drummer Anthony," said she. "How did you get here?"
"I have come to deliver the princesses, and only for that."
"Well, you will find them, but those other two fellows will get them from you by a trick."
She gave him a rope three hundred fathoms long and told him to bind it round his body. She also gave him some wine and a sponge. Then she said: "Not far from here there is a well. When you come to it, you must say that you will let yourself down into the well, if the other fellows will drink the fountain dry."
When they got to the well, the captain and the lieutenant began to drink the fountain, but it was just as full as before.
"If we kept on drinking this fountain till doomsday," they said, "we could not drink it dry."
So the drummer took the sponge, and at once the water began to disappear, and soon the well was dry. They began to quarrel as to who should go down the well. The one on the right side said the other ought to go, but at last they agreed that the drummer, who was the lightest, should go.
So he went down, and, when he reached the bottom of the well, he found a stone there. He drew it aside, and then he saw the light of the other world. He lowered himself on the rope into the other world. There he saw a beautiful palace. He went towards it. When he reached it, he saw that the table was laid for two persons. He ate his meal and then went into the second room. There he laid himself down to sleep, and when he awoke in the morning, he found the Princess Anne in the third room.
"Welcome," she said; "what has brought you here?"
He told her that he had come to deliver her.
She said: "I don't know whether you will succeed in that. Here is a sword; see if you can brandish it."
The drummer took hold of the sword, but he could not even lift it, it was so heavy.
Then the princess gave him a ring. "Take this," she said, "and whenever you think of me, you will become strong. I have to hold the dragon in my lap for a whole hour. As soon as he comes, he will smell a man. But you must cut him in two, for then I shall be delivered. Just at nine o'clock he comes."
Just at nine o'clock the palace began to tremble and the dragon came in. But the drummer encountered him and struck him in two with the sword.
After that the princess took him into another room. "Now you have delivered me," she said. "But my sister is in worse trouble still. She has to hold a dragon in her lap for two hours, and that dragon is even stronger than this one."
Then they went into the fourth room, where was the Princess Antonia. She, too, greeted him, and told him that he would be able to deliver her if he could brandish the sword beside her. He tried, but he could not even move it. Then she gave him a ring and told him that, whenever he thought of her, he would have the strength of two hundred men. She said, too, that if he succeeded in setting her free she would marry him.
Soon eleven o'clock came. The hall began to tremble and the dragon appeared. But, as he was coming in, Anthony was ready for him near the door, and he managed to cut the dragon in two.
Now, when the two princesses had been set free, they gathered all the precious stones they could to take with them, and went to the opening that led into the world. But the drummer had quite forgotten the old crone's warning about the other two fellows, and he sent the princesses up before him. Each of the officers took a princess for himself, and the drummer was left behind at the bottom of the well. When his turn came, he was careful enough to tie a stone to the rope. His companions on the top pulled it up a little way and then suddenly let it drop, throwing down other stones into the well to kill the drummer. But he had remembered the crone's warning that his friends would try to trick him. So he jumped aside and remained there in the other world.
He went back to the palace and entered the seventh room. On the table were three boxes. He opened the first and found a whistle inside it. He blew the whistle, and in came some generals and asked what was his majesty's will. He said he had only whistled to find out if they were attending to their duty. Then he looked into the second box, and there he saw a bugle. He blew the bugle, and in came some officers, who said just what the generals had said. In the third box he found a drum. He beat the drum, and immediately he was surrounded by infantry and cavalry, a great multitude of soldiers. He asked whether any of them had ever been in Europe. Two men were found among them who had been shipwrecked.
"Where is the ship?" said the drummer.
"Here on the seacoast," they replied.
At that, Anthony decked himself out in a royal robe and started on his travels for Europe.
Meanwhile the two princesses had reached home. One was engaged to be married to the lieutenant, the other to the captain. But when the time for the wedding came, both the princesses, still thinking of Anthony, asked for a delay of one year, and their royal father granted their request.
Anthony arrived safely in that land. He met a traveller and said to him, "Look here, why should you not change clothes with me?"
He was glad to do so, and Anthony went on to the town in which the princesses lived and sought out a goldsmith. He asked the goldsmith for work.
"I haven't work enough for myself," said the goldsmith.
"Well," said the drummer, "I have had an order for two rings, although I was only walking the street."
"You are a lucky fellow," said the goldsmith, and his wife, when she heard of it, spoke in the drummer's favour, so he was taken on as assistant.
"Now," said he, "give me what I want and I will make the rings. But nobody must enter my room: I will take my meals in at the door."
On the third day one ring was finished, and this one was meant for the Princess Anne.
"You must take this ring to the Princess Anne, master," said he.
"So I will," said the goldsmith; "but what is your price for it?"
"A thousand pounds," said he.
"If that's so, I won't go. They would put me in jail."
"Be easy," said Anthony, "nothing will happen to you."
So the goldsmith went to the palace, and sent in a message that his assistant had made a ring for the Princess Anne. She sent a message that she had not ordered a ring, but she would look at it. As soon as she saw it, she asked: "How much do you want for this?" He replied that he was almost afraid to say that it was worth a thousand pounds.
"Oh! it is worth much more than that," she said, and she paid the sum at once.
The goldsmith returned home and told his wife what he had got for the ring. She wondered what sort of person their new assistant was. The master brought the money to him, but the assistant would not accept it.
"You can keep the money for yourself," he said, "and I have just finished the ring for the Princess Antonia. You will have to go to the palace again with this."
This time the master-goldsmith was ready enough to go. "How much am I to ask for this ring?" he said.
"Ask two thousand pounds."
So he was brought to the princess, and he told her that his apprentice had made a ring for her. She answered that she had not ordered a ring. "However, show it to me."
As soon as she glanced at it, she said: "How much do you want for this?"
"Two thousand pounds."
"Oh! it's worth much more than that," she said.
So she paid down the money and told the master-goldsmith to fetch his assistant to her. As soon as the master came home, he told his wife everything. She was still more astonished.
"O Lord!" she said, "I cannot understand it at all."
The master told Anthony that the princess bade him come and see her.
"She can come to me," was his reply.
When the princess heard that, she lost no time, but took some royal garments for him, and drove to Anthony's house in the royal coach. She went straight to him and said, "I am come to bring you home with me, Anthony."
She bade him put on the royal robe she had brought with her for him, and they drove together to the palace, and their marriage was celebrated not long after.
The two officers thought the king would banish them or inflict some punishment upon them, but he pardoned them and gave them sufficient money to live at the court. Anthony himself did not care for royalty. He and his wife arranged that they would return to the place where he had first found the princesses. So they departed for that land, but a storm drove them on shore near to the place where he had met the old crone. She gave him welcome.
"So you are back again," she said.
They explained to her that what they wished was to go back to that palace beneath the fountain.
"Well," she said, "I will show you the way to the other world, and I will let you down the well."
They came to the opening, and Anthony was about to enter the well, but the old hag begged him to wait with her and let the princess go on before.
So the princess was let down to the bottom of the well, and then the crone said: "I won't let you follow her unless you first cut off my head."
"This is a strange way to repay the good you have done me," said Anthony.
"Well, unless you promise this you will never see your princess again."
So he had to promise, and with that she waved her wand and a road appeared, which led them straight to the princess. Then Anthony struck off the crone's head, and they found themselves amid crowds of farmers who were ploughing and soldiers standing at attention, and one and all welcoming their new lords. For this land was an enchanted land, and the old crone was a witch.