THERE was once, I know not where, even beyond the Operencian Land, a village, and at the end of the village a little hovel. Within the tumble-down walls of this hovel a poor old woman was lying on some rotting straw, and two children were crying by her side. The elder was a pretty girl. The younger was her brother, a small boy with auburn hair. The old mother died. Her cold body was buried by the parish; but, as none offered themselves to take charge of the two orphans, they left the place. They went and went, over many a hill and dale, and had already covered a long distance when Jack felt burning thirst. They found in the road some turbid water in a rut, at the sight of which the thirsty little fellow shouted for joy. "My dear sister, I will drink from this rut." "Don't drink from it," said his thoughtful sister, "or you will turn into a cart-wheel if you do." Jack sighed, and they went on their way. They found some bears' tracks in which some stale rain-water was putrifying. "My dear sister, I'm thirsty, allow me to drink of this rain-water." "If you drink, my dear brother, you will become a bear." The little fellow began to cry, but obeyed, and they went on. In the road they found some footprints of a wolf. Jack again implored his sister, with tears, and repeated his former request. "Don't drink, my dear Jack, or else you will become a wolf." Jack, although his tongue was parched with burning thirst, obeyed, and they continued their walk quite exhausted. They found the footmarks of a roebuck in the road. Water clear as crystal shone in them, that invited him to drink. Jack's feet gave way under him when he reached the water, and, in spite of all warning, he drank of it with avidity. His sister, seeing her fear realised, began to cry. The beautiful auburn locks of her brother suddenly turned to a soft grayish hair, and horns grew behind his ears. His legs and arms became the four legs of a roedeer, and the pretty little creature rubbed gently against his sister, who stroked him with her pretty hands. The little girl and her brother, the roebuck, continued their journey till at last they reached the king's palace, where the young monarch received them with smiles, and offered them a tidy little room. The little girl lived with her brother here, and, although she forbade him to speak before others, they would chat when left alone, their conversation turning mainly upon their deceased good mother, their journey, the handsome young king, and his frequent hunts. After several weeks the pretty girl received a royal splendid dress and was married to the young king.
The fame of their wedding travelled over seven countries. The loving couple lived contentedly together; the queen was pretty and good, and her husband was madly in love with her. The little deer kept continually by his sister's side; they ate from the same plate, and drank out of the same glass, and slept in the same room; but this happiness did not last long. There lived in the king's country an old witch, with iron teeth, who had a very ugly daughter, whose face was black, her eyes were yellow, her nose was full of warts, her teeth like hoes, her voice screeching, her waist crooked; and, besides all this, she was lame of one foot. It was the old witch's determination to make this creature the queen of the realm. As she was frustrated in her design she raved. In her fury she tore up bits of rocks, and dried up whole forests. She vowed death upon the poor orphan's head; and, in order to cheer up her ugly daughter's long forlorn hope, she prophecied the queen's death, and thus spoke: "Dear child, beloved Lucinda, would you like to be a queen? if so, go secretly into the king's palace, and when the king is out hunting, steal near the queen in her sleep, and cut off a large lock of her hair, and bring it to me. Mind where you step, and keep an eye on every movement of hers." Lucinda dressed herself in a cloak with grey and red stripes, and at dead of night she reached the king's palace, and without arousing suspicion stole into the queen's bedroom. She spread her cloak on the floor, so that she might not awake the sleeping queen with its rustling as she moved about, and at her mother's sign she approached the queen's bed on tiptoe, and cut off a beautiful lock with a rusty old knife: the little deer did not wake. In the morning, the witch wrapt the beautiful auburn lock in the lungs of a toad, and roasted it over the embers of some yew boughs which were cut on Christmas night. After a while, with the ointment thus made, the old witch rubbed Lucinda from head to foot, who became the next moment an exact likeness of the young queen. Now the old witch began to ponder how to do away with the young queen, and at last she hit upon a plan. There lived at court a miserly gate-keeper, whom she bribed with gold, and with his assistance, in the absence of the king, they broke into the queen's bedroom at night, and dragged away by force the poor innocent woman; the little deer woke at the noise, and followed the murderers at a distance.
In a secluded corner of the courtyard there was an old disused stone-well, and in this well lived a huge whale; they threw the pretty queen to the bottom of this well, and in her now empty bed Lucinda was placed, whose outer appearance was not in the slightest different from that of the queen, so that when the king arrived at home he did not notice the awful fraud. The little deer henceforward spent all his days near the well, which circumstance did not escape the notice of the quick-eyed old witch. So she instructed her daughter to persuade her royal husband to have the deer killed, and in order to carry this out, she planned the following scheme. Lucinda shammed deadly illness, her mother having previously changed her red complexion to yellow; her husband sat every day and night by her bedside, while the little deer still spent all his time by the well. They could not find any medicine which could give the patient relief, when Lucinda, as planned beforehand, expressed a desire to have the deer's heart and liver cooked for her. Her husband was horrified on hearing this unexpected wish, and began to suspect his wife. He could not believe that she could wish to have her dear little animal, which she idolized, killed; but Lucinda would not give in, until at last the king, being very much concerned about his wife's recovery, allowed himself to be persuaded, and gave orders to one of his cooks to have the deer killed. The deer heard quite well what Lucinda wished and what the orders were, but kept silence; and, in order not to arouse suspicion, went back to its favourite place, the well, where, in its deep grief, it thus spoke down into the whale's dwelling:
My little sister, my little sister,
You dear little sister,
Come out of the well,
Out of the whale's stomach,
Because they are whetting the knife
For my gentle breast,
They are washing the basin
For my beautiful red blood.
When the cook, clasping a long knife, stole up to the little animal in order to drag it to the slaughter-house, the deer repeated his mournful song, upon hearing which the cook got frightened and ran away and informed the king of what he had heard and seen. Thereupon the king determined to personally satisfy himself as to whether his tale was true. The little deer thereupon cried twice as mournfully as before, and amid tears sang out the same song as before.
The king now stepped forward from his hiding-place, and the deer, upon being questioned, told him the story how the witch and the gate-keeper dragged his sister out of bed, and how they threw her into the well. As soon as the pretty animal finished its tale, the huge whale was dragged out from the bottom of the well; they slit open its stomach, and the real queen appeared, now seven times prettier than before; her husband himself assisted her and conducted her back to the palace in triumph.
Lucinda, her mother, and the gate-keeper were quartered, and their bodies exhibited at the four corners of the castle as a warning to everybody. The queen anointed her little brother with some ointment she had found in the whale's stomach, and he regained his old form. And so all three of them are alive to this very date, if they have not died since. May they get into an egg shell and be your guests to-morrow.