BEFORE times long past, there lived in a little cottage an old father, with his three sons. The eldest son was called Martin; the second, Mihal; and the third, Yanek.
"Martin," the father used to say often, as they were sitting in the evening at a bowl of skimmed milk, "I shall not be long alive; I feel it in my body. When I die, the cottage will come to thee; but do not cheat thy old mother and thy brothers."
Martin always promised; but while the others were listening to their father, he looked sharply at the food, and picked out every piece of bread from the milk. Mihal saw this with astonishment; but Yanek was always grieved from his father's talk, and did not even think of eating.
The father spoke the truth. In no long time he groaned his last; but when he saw his death-hour, he had all summoned for the parting. He reminded Martin again that he was never to let the cottage go out of his possession; and then turning to Yanek, whom he loved most, he said: "Yanichek, thou art simple, 'tis true; but what the Lord has kept from thee in wit, he has added in heart. Only be ever as kind as thou hast been, and obey thy brothers;" with that he coughed, and was no more.
Martin and Mihal gave themselves up to lamentation, but Yanek was silent; he stood by his father's bedside as if without sense. Only after a long time did he go out, sit in the garden under a tree, and cry like a little child.
After the funeral, Martin and Mihal decided to go out in the world, and leave Yanek with his mother. "The world is wide," said they; "there fortune may meet us quickly, while in this little cottage we should never come to anything as long as we lived."
It was all one to Yanek; but his mother who was still in good strength, did not like to have Yanek lose his fortune, and talked with his brothers so long that they took him with them. This was not agreeable to Martin and Mihal, but they reverenced their mother, and obeyed her.
All three made ready; Martin and Mihal put food in bags for themselves, and went out into the world. On the road Yanek said to his brothers, "I shall be glad to see if that fortune meets us soon."
"Thou mayest run to meet it," snapped the brothers, "since thou hast nothing to carry." They were angry that Yanek had taken nothing, while they must carry heavy bags on their backs.
They walked on a whole half-day; the sun was burning, and the brothers were tired and hungry. They sat down at the roadside under a tree, in the shade, took out provisions, and began to eat,--that is, Martin and Mihal; but Yanek sat by himself and began to cry, either because he remembered his father's death or was hungry. His brothers ridiculed him and said: "See now, thou wilt not be so lazy another time, and then thou wilt not be hungry."
Yanek brushed away his tears with his sleeve, and said: "Ye might have a little shame. Ye are going out into the world so as to be able to support your mother when ye go home; but now ye have taken from her everything!"
Such an answer the brothers did not expect from simple Yanek. They were silent; and after a while, as if moved from kindness, they asked Yanek to eat with them; but they did not do it from compassion or brotherly love, but to lessen their fault. When they had eaten, they rose and went on their way. In the evening they came to a cottage and asked for lodgings. The cottager took them under his roof, and asked them to sup. Martin thanked him with a certain boastfulness, saying that he had provisions enough of his own.
The man sat down to supper with his wife. Yanek sat with downcast face alone in a corner. The woman went to the kitchen, and when returning, saw that Yanek had nothing to eat. "Oh, little boy, come and eat with us!" said she kindly. Turning to Martin she asked if that was their servant.
"What servant!" said Martin. "He is our brother, but such a lazy fellow, he would not bring anything for himself."
Yanek did not wish to go to the table, but consented at last. Martin squinted at the dish; and when he saw soup, he hated Yanek. Soup was his favorite dish, and now he must look on and see how Yanek enjoyed it, and must be satisfied with dry bread and a bit of cheese. Full of hatred he went to bed in the place which the cottager showed him, with his brothers. For a long time he lay awake, and when he fell asleep he saw in a dream, Yanek eating soup. In the morning the brothers rose before breakfast, because they wanted Yanek to have nothing to eat. Martin went through the nearest forest, hoping that they would find no house all day, and so Yanek would have no food.
The whole forenoon they walked through the thick forest, and Martin wished to eat his dinner; but the forest began to grow thin and soon they came to an open country. They looked for a road, went on a small hill, and then saw in the valley a great castle as high as ten houses placed one on the other. Yanek laughed, but Martin was not pleased: "We have lost the road," said he; "we must go back."
"But, foolish fellow," said Mihal, who was tired, "we are going out in the world, what difference does it make; it is all the same whether we go one way or another."
Without saying a word or looking at his brothers, Yanek went straight toward the castle. That started off Martin, and soon he caught up with Yanek. "Walk behind," said he, "I'm the eldest; I must go ahead."
They soon came to the castle, but did not see a living thing; they were greatly afraid. Martin wished to run away; but when he saw Yanek open the door, he followed him. They entered a splendid hall. How astonished were they! On the floor was a pile of copper money five ells high. Martin and Mihal, blinded by the glitter of the money, threw out their remaining provisions, filled their bags, and wanted to run away; but Yanek opened the next door, through which the brothers saw in another hall a still greater pile of money, but silver. They emptied their bags of the copper money with all speed, and filled them with silver. They had barely done this when Yanek opened a third door, and cried out with wonder,--a thing which he seldom did,--"Ai!" The brothers threw their bags on the floor, rushed to the door, but had to cover their eyes with their hands, for it was as bright as the sun in the next chamber. They saw this was gold. Still more quickly than before, they threw the silver out of their bags, and panting for breath, filled them with gold pieces.
"Now let us go," cried Martin; "some one may come, and then we shall suffer." They started from the castle as fast as they could. Yanek went too, and took as he was going only one piece of money from each heap, and in the third room the remnants of food which his brothers had thrown out. The brothers escaped with the money successfully, meeting no one. Yanek followed at his leisure, eating the provisions which his brothers had thrown away. When they came to the forest, the two brothers crawled into the thicket, threw their bags on the ground, and began to rest. Yanek also lay down after he had put the last bit of bread in his mouth. Here Martin remembered the provisions, but he had only ducats in his bag.
"Yanek," said he, "run back to the castle and bring us from the first chamber the provisions which we forgot there."
But Yanek answered bluntly, "I will not go."
"Why not?" asked Martin in anger.
"Because they might catch me, and I should have to suffer instead of you; besides, there is no food there, for when you threw it away I picked it up and ate it."
"Monster!" screamed Martin in rage, "I'll teach thee to obey thy eldest brother. Mihal, give him here to me."
Mihal did not wait to be spoken to twice. They took poor Yanek between them and put so many blows on him that he was soon lying as if dead on the ground; then they took their bags on their backs and hurried home through the woods.
"That lazy-bones!" growled Martin, "let him go wherever he likes; he will not dare to teach us again." They got out of the forest quickly, and in the evening came to an inn where they refreshed themselves. Next morning they set out for home. In the neighboring town, where the king dwelt, they bought a house, brought their mother to it, and began to live like great lords.
Yanek, poor fellow, lay for a long time unconscious in the forest. At last he woke from his trance, rested his head against a tree, and fell to thinking of his condition. "Oh, cruel brothers, ye have left the forest! Who knows whether I shall find the way home? I am weak; I cannot walk far; I will go back to the castle, no matter what meets me; I will take money, too, and live like a lord."
Many a one will wonder that Yanek changed all at once; but a beating has brought many a man to new ways. So Yanek made ready and went to the castle. In the castle there was not a living soul. Yanek took off his coat, tied the sleeves at the wrist, and began to rake gold into them. He had almost finished when he heard noises at a distance like bursts of thunder. These noises grew louder and louder till at last they were so loud that the castle trembled. All at once a voice as if a fifteen-year-old bull were bellowing, called, "Hu! hu! I smell the flesh of a man!" and before Yanek could gather his wits after the fright, he saw two giants standing at the door.
"Oh, worm of the earth, thou art the one who is stealing our treasures!" howled one of the giants. "Ha, thou wilt be a nice roast for supper," added he, smacking his lips so that Yanek lost his senses. But the second giant whispered something in the ear of the first, who nodded, and said to Yanek: "Listen, worm of the earth, I grant thee life, but henceforth thou wilt watch our treasures when we are from home."
Yanek wanted to kiss the giant's hand, but he could barely reach to his knee. "Only watch well, worm of the earth," said the giant, graciously; "but so that thou shouldst not be hungry, strike on this little table three times with thy fist and call, 'Food for a king!' and thou wilt have food to thy liking."
Yanek promised everything, and from that time forth he led a very pleasant life,--he did nothing, no living soul ever came to the castle, the table was always obedient. But at last he grew tired of all this. "Watch your own treasures, lord giants," said he one day when the giants had gone out; "and thou, my good little table, come!--we will go home."
Yanek put the table on his back, stole away from the castle, and soon found himself in the forest. He strolled leisurely through the forest, and after no long time was in the open field. Here an old grandfather met him, and asked if he had not something to eat. "'Tis long since I have had a bit in my mouth," lamented the grandfather.
"Then I will help thee," said Yanek; "come with me to that tree over there." They sat under the tree; Yanek put his table on the ground, and striking on it three times with his fist, said: "Food for a king!" The table was covered with the daintiest dishes.
The grandfather ate his fill, and said: "Indeed this is a very beautiful thing! But, my lad, if thou wouldst give me this little table, I would give thee something better in place of it. This pack has the virtue that at command an army will spring out of it as numerous as ever thou carest to wish."
Yanek was greedy, but only from the time that he got a beating from his brothers; he took the pack, gave the grandfather the table, and they parted. But Yanek soon felt hungry; he was in the open field, and nowhere a house to be seen. Now he was angry at himself for having given away the table so frivolously; and besides he wished to know if what the grandfather said of the pack was true. He opened the pack and commanded "two hundred hussars to the field." He had barely spoken when horses were neighing, arms rattling, and sooner than he could think, two hundred hussars stood in line before him. The officers saluted Yanek, and asked with respect what he wanted.
"About five thousand yards from here, under that tree, an old man took a table from me; ride after him, take the table, and bring it to me."
He had barely finished speaking when the hussars rode off at a wild gallop, in no long time they returned, and their leader gave Yanek the table. Yanek opened his pack and said: "Two hundred hussars in here." In a twinkle the hussars were in the pack, from the first man and horse to the last. "That is not a bad thing," said Yanek to himself as he sat at the table, struck three times with his fist, and commanded, "Food for a king."
When he had eaten to his content he took his table and his pack and went on. It was inclining toward evening, and Yanek had to look for a night's lodging. But this made him small trouble; it was warm enough, he laid himself under a tree, put the pack under his head, held the table in his hand, and so fell asleep. Next morning he ate like a king and went on. This time he met a grandfather as he had the day before, and he too asked for food. Yanek commanded the table, and the grandfather ate his fill. "My lad," said he, "here is a bag; give me thy table for it."
"Oh, grandfather," said Yanek, with a laugh, "nothing can come of that."
"This is no laughing matter, my lad; the bag is worth getting, for it has this virtue,--that wherever and whenever thou hast the wish, thou canst call out of it as many castles as may please thee."
Yanek fell to thinking, and then said with a smile, "Let it be so."
The grandfather took the table, Yanek the bag; then they parted. But barely had the grandfather vanished from sight when Yanek opened the pack and commanded: "Three hundred Uhlans to the field!" Scarce had he spoken when three hundred Uhlans were standing in line before him. "Go now to the right on the road; at the ditch a man took my table: take that table and bring it to me."
The Uhlans flashed away, and a man could scarcely have counted ten before Yanek had the table. Then he opened the pack and commanded: "Three hundred Uhlans this way!" and the Uhlans vanished in the pack. Yanek was beside himself with gladness when he took the table, the pack, and the bag, and continued his way.
In the evening he came to the capital town, and there he learned that his brothers had become great lords. He went before the town, tore his clothes purposely, then lay in the dust and rolled several times. He did this so that he might seem out and out ragged and poor. Then he went to his brothers and implored them to take pity on him. They would not even recognize him; but his mother fell on his neck and begged for him. The brothers gave way, and granted him lodging, but in the stable. Yanek was satisfied; he lay on the bed which was given him,--that is, a bundle of straw,--and waited till all were asleep. Then he sprang over the fence to the garden, opened the bag, and commanded: "One castle out of the bag!" and that moment there stood in the garden the most beautiful castle. Then he opened the pack and commanded: "Fifty infantry come out!" and fifty foot-soldiers stood before him.
"Ye," said he to them, "will be all night on guard here in my castle; but when in the morning the cock crows the second time, rouse me."
The warriors saluted and took their places on guard. Yanek took the table which he had secreted, as well as the pack and bag, and went into the castle. There he selected the most beautiful chamber, commanded the table, and supped. After supper he lay down and slept till the guards roused him. He rose, ate, and before any one was awake in the house of his brothers he commanded the warriors into the pack, the castle into the bag, then crawled over the fence, and lay on his straw in the stable. This he did night after night. But it was a wonder to his brothers how he was alive; for though they had two bags of ducats, they never gave him a morsel to eat. Therefore they pressed Yanek to tell them if he had gathered much coin in the castle; they thought he had money, but did not wish to show it before them.
"Simpleton! I was glad to get out of there alive; for that castle belongs to giants," answered Yanek. "But I have something else, and it is better than your gold pieces."
Then he brought the table, struck it three times with his fist, and said: "Food for a king!"
Martin and Mihal stood like apparitions, they could not believe their eyes; but when they began to eat they believed their tongues.
The story of the wonderful table was spread through the town, and soon came to the king. He was eager for the food of the table, and sent his chamberlain to Yanek to borrow the table for three days.
"Agreed," said Yanek; "here it is. But if it is not returned to me at the end of three days I will declare war against the king."
The chamberlain bowed, took the table, and told the king, with a smile, that Yanek would declare war against him unless the table was returned. The table pleased the king beyond measure, but still more the food; therefore he meditated how to deceive Yanek. He summoned all the joiners, carvers, and turners in the town, and ordered them to make exactly such a table as Yanek's. They went to work, and before the third day had passed there were two tables, and the king himself could not tell which was the right one. Soon he made sure of it, and then he sent the counterfeit table by the chamberlain to Yanek.
Yanek struck the table three times with his fist and ordered: "Food for a king!" The table trembled, but nothing more. "Food for a king!" shouted Yanek, full of anger; but he soon discovered that the king had deceived him, and he pounded the table till he pounded it to pieces.
"Take this and carry it to the king," said he to the chamberlain, "and tell him that I'll smash down his castle to-morrow as I have broken this table!"
The chamberlain collected the fragments, took them to the king, and told him what Yanek had said. The king only smiled haughtily, and thought that he had finished with Yanek. In the night, however, he had wonderful dreams, and early next morning he ordered his army to be placed before the castle and be ready for battle.
Now Yanek came with his pack, counted the royal troops, and still once more asked the king to return his table; but the king only laughed. Then Yanek opened the pack and commanded: "A thousand times a thousand infantry out; a thousand times a thousand cavalry out." From the pack there was the rush of an avalanche. Soon the whole country in front of the castle was filled with the finest of armies. The king and his troops were as if before a vision; but when Yanek raised his hand as a signal for attack, the king raised a white flag and went to Yanek.
"Thou seest," said the king, almost imploringly, "I was mistaken; but I wish to correct my mistake. I will return the table, and besides I will give thee my daughter in marriage."
"Then peace," said Yanek. "But first bring thy princess; let me see her."
The princess soon came with her ladies, raised her veil, and stood before Yanek.
"The wedding will be to-day!" ordered Yanek, and kissed the princess on the forehead. She was not angry; nay, it may be said she was glad. Then Yanek commanded: "A thousand times a thousand infantry in; a thousand times a thousand cavalry in," and closed the pack.
The royal army withdrew to the fortress, and now quick preparations were made for the marriage. At midday Yanek and the princess belonged to each other. Then they feasted, and the table gave meat and drink till the evening.
When all were in bed Yanek went out to the king's garden with his bag, opened it, and commanded: "Let the most beautiful castle that can be in the world come out of this bag!" And that was such a castle that Yanek himself was astonished.
Then he went to the old castle to the king, who had already prepared chambers to which he wished to conduct him and the princess; but Yanek answered that he had his own household, and the king had such faith in him that he believed. Yanek conducted his bride to the new castle, and she could not admire its splendor sufficiently.
In the morning people hurried to the king and told him that there was a new castle in the garden. The sun was just rising, and casting its rays on the castle, the castle was blazing with gold, silver, and precious stones. The king now respected Yanek still more, and gave him all that he could, even his kingdom.
So Yanek became king, and a great king who could give battle to the whole world. On the boundaries he put castles everywhere out of the bag, and from the pack he garrisoned them with troops. The table gave him the best of food; what more could he want?
He reigned long, and was a real father to his subjects. As a punishment to his brothers he did not let them come near him; but his mother he cared for so well that she reached a great age. In the most beautiful chamber of the castle, on a golden throne, were the pack and the bag, and near them the table.
When King Yanek died he was mourned by all; he left his children the mightiest kingdom on earth. His eldest son succeeded him; but accustomed to splendor and luxury, he did not govern the kingdom so well as his father. After his death it was still worse. The succeeding kings were ashamed of their peasant stock; and so that no man might discover the real foundation of their power and turn them into ridicule, they took the table, the pack, and the bag, and cast them into a dark, damp cellar.
And will ye ask what became of such a mighty kingdom? The table rotted, the bag rotted, the mice gnawed the pack; and then it was all over with that kingdom.
In after times, when he was in straits, the king ran to the cellar, struck on the table, looked for the pack and the bag. But the table fell to pieces at the first blow, of the pack there remained but a few little straps, and of the bag a few threads.