A LONG time ago there lived a poor woman who possessed nothing in the world except one son and four lambs. The boy took the lambs out to graze every morning, and brought them home every night. One day it happened that the lambs were grazing in a field not far from the summer palace of the king, and the king's daughter came out to the young shepherd and asked him to give her one of them. The boy refused, saying, 'I cannot give you one, for my mother will scold me if I do, as we have nothing in the world except these four lambs.' The princess, however, had taken so great a fancy for a lamb that she would not be refused, and at last said, 'Only let me have this one and I will give you any price you like to ask.'
The boy, seeing that the princess would not go away without a lamb, considered a little how he could get rid of her, and then he told her that he would give her one if she would show him one of her shoulders. To his great surprise the princess, without any hesitation, pushed her mantle aside and showed him her bare white arm, and he noticed that on the shoulder there was a mark like a star. He was obliged now to give her one of his lambs, and when he went home in the evening he told his mother that he had fallen asleep at noon, and that when he awoke, one of the lambs had vanished, and he could not find it anywhere.
Then his mother scolded him very much, saying, 'I see you will bring me to the beggar's staff with your carelessness! To-morrow you must take these three lambs out to graze very early, and look well about for the lost one. And if you don't find it you had better never let me set eyes on you again.'
At dawn the next day the boy took the three lambs to graze in the same field, and sat down to consider how he could get back the lamb he had lost. At noon, when no one was about, the king's daughter came out of the palace and said to him, 'Young shepherd, give me another lamb, and ask what you please in return.' But the boy answered, 'No! I dare not give you another; I have suffered enough for the one I gave you yesterday! So please go and bring me my lamb back.'
This the princess refused to do, and said, 'It is quite useless to speak of such a thing. But tell me, did you notice anything particular on my shoulder?'
The youth answered, 'Yes, I saw a star!'
'Ah!' exclaimed the princess; 'for that you can never pay me enough, and yet you want your lamb back!' So they almost quarrelled, for the king's daughter persisted in begging him to give her another lamb, and the young shepherd insisted that she should bring him the first one back again.
At last, seeing there was no end to her begging, the boy said, 'Well! I will give you one if you uncover before me your other shoulder.' This the princess did instantly, and he remarked that she had the mark of a star on that arm also. In this way he lost a second lamb; and when the evening came he went home very sadly, feeling sure his mother would scold him. And so she did, far more than at the first time, calling him ill names and threatening to beat him. The boy was really sorry that he had given way to the princess's prayers, but he could not help it now. Next day, again, the princess came to him and begged so hard and so long for a third lamb that he became impatient, and, thinking to shame her, said he would give her one if she showed him her neck. To his great surprise, however, the king's daughter at once let her mantle fall, and he saw that she had the mark of a crescent on her throat. So the poor boy lost a third lamb, and hardly dared go home to his mother at night with the one lamb left them. Indeed the poor old woman was so angry at her son's carelessness in losing one lamb after another whilst he slept--for he did not dare to tell her the truth about the princess--that she cursed him as 'a good-for-nothing who would bring her to beggary.'
Notwithstanding all his mother's reproaches and threats the boy could not refuse the princess the next day when she came out to ask for the fourth lamb. However, he tried to get her to go away a long time, and not until quite tired out with her begging, did he exclaim, 'Well, I will give you the lamb if you will show me your breast!' Then the princess pushed her robe aside, and the boy noticed that she had the mark of a sun on her bosom.
In this way the young shepherd lost all the four lambs, and he lived a long time with his mother in great poverty.
A long, long time afterwards the king sent out a proclamation that he intended to let his daughter marry, and would give her to that man who could tell him what particular birth-marks she had about her. The young shepherd heard this proclamation, and when he went home in the evening he said to his mother, 'Mother, I intend to go to the king's palace to-morrow, so get me my best linen ready.'
'And what do you want in the king's palace?' asked the poor old woman wondering.
'I intend, God helping me, to marry the king's daughter,' replied the young man boldly.
'Oh! you had better give up that fancy,' cried the mother. 'It will be better for you to go and work and gain a piaster than to go, like a fly without a head, dreaming about things that are as high as the sky above you.'
But the young man would not be persuaded, and went the next day to the king's palace. Before going out of the hut, however, he said to his anxious old mother, 'Good-bye, mother.'
He had not walked very far before a gipsy met him, and asked, 'Where are you going, my young man?'
'I am going to the king's palace,' answered the youth, 'and I mean, God helping me, to marry the king's daughter.'
'But, my dear comrade,' said the gipsy, keeping near him, 'how can you really expect that she will marry you, when you are so poor? Only a shepherd!'
'Eh!' returned the young man; 'but I know what birth-marks she has, and the king has sent out a proclamation that whoever guesses these shall have her for his wife.'
'If it is so,' rejoined the cunning gipsy, 'I myself will also go to the palace with you.'
The young man was glad to have company on the road, and so he and the gipsy travelled on together until they came to the residence of the king.
When they came to the palace they found a large number of people who had come to 'try their luck,' and guess what birth-marks the princess had. But it was lost time, for every one of them, after going past the king and guessing 'by good luck' at the marks of the princess, was obliged to go away, having lost his time and gained nothing. At length the turn came for the young shepherd to pass before the king, and the gipsy kept close to him to hear what he would say.
So the youth stepped before the king and said, 'The princess has a star on each shoulder, and a crescent on the throat----'
At this moment the gipsy shouted loudly, 'Look there! that is just what I was going to say!'
'Be quiet!' said the young shepherd; 'or, if you really know what other marks she has, speak out.'
'No, no!' cried the gipsy, 'go on, go on! When you have done, I will speak what I know!'
Then the youth turned again to the king and continued, 'The princess has the mark of a sun on her bosom----'
'That is exactly what I was going to say!' cried the gipsy, coming up quickly; 'she has the mark of a sun on her breast.'
Now the king was exceeding surprised, and confessed to his counsellors that the young shepherd had really guessed the truth. But as neither the king nor the counsellors at all liked the idea of the princess marrying a poor shepherd, they consulted how they could get rid of him without giving the lie to the king's proclamation. At length it was decided that his Majesty should say, 'As both the shepherd and the gipsy have guessed the princess's birth-marks, I cannot justly decide which of them should marry her. But I will give to each of them seventy piasters, and they must both go and trade with this money for a year. At the end of the year, that one which brings back the most money shall have the princess for his wife.'
The young shepherd and the gipsy, having received the money, went off in opposite directions to seek their fortunes.
After having travelled about some time, like a fly without a head, not knowing where--the shepherd stopped one night to rest in the hut of an old woman, who was even poorer than his own mother.
As he sat with the old woman in the hut that evening, the lad thought he might just as well ask her advice as to the best way to invest his capital of seventy piasters, so he said: 'I have seventy piasters to trade with, can you tell me some good way in which I may employ them profitably?'
The old woman considered the matter for some time before she answered, and then said, 'To-morrow is market-day in the next city; go there yourself, and when a man brings a very poor cow for sale, go up and try to buy it. The cow will be of many different colours, but very thin and ill fed, but you must buy her at whatever price the man asks for her. When you have bought her, bring her here at once.'
The young man agreed to follow the old woman's counsel, and so next day he went to the city and really found there a man who had brought a poor, but variously coloured, cow to sell. Many people wished to buy the cow, but the young man outbid them all, and at length offered all his seventy piasters for her. So he got the cow, and drove it to the hut where he had passed the night. When the old woman came out to see who was coming, he called out to her, 'Now, my old mother, I have bought the cow, and what shall we do with her? She has cost me all my capital!'
The old woman answered at once, 'Kill the cow, my son, and cut it in pieces.'
'But how will that bring me back my money with profit?' asked the young shepherd, hesitating whether he should follow her advice or no.
'Don't be afraid, my son, but do as I say,' returned the old woman. Accordingly he did as she advised him, killed the cow and cut her into pieces. This done, he asked again, 'And now, what shall I do?' The old woman said quietly, 'Well, now we will eat the meat, and the suet we will melt down and put into a pot to keep for some other occasion.'
The shepherd did not at all like this proposal, for he could not see what return he could hope to get for such an investment of his capital. However, he thought within himself, 'Well, since I have been foolish enough to follow her counsel on the two former occasions, I may as well follow it also this third time.' So he remained with the old woman many days, until the last piece of meat had been eaten up. When, however, he thought over all that had happened, he grew very sad, and, seeing no sign of anything better, said one morning to the old woman reproachfully, 'Now you see by following your counsel I have spent all the king's money, and am now a ruined man!'
'Don't be afraid, my son,' said the old woman; 'you can now take that pot of suet with you and go to the black world, where all the people are black as chimney-pots, and there you can sell for a good deal of money your suet, for it has the power to make the black skin white.'
The poor shepherd was very glad at hearing this, and next morning took the pot of suet on his shoulder and started on his journey. After he had travelled many, many days, he came to a strange-looking country, and, going a little farther, he saw a man who was quite black, just as the old woman had said--as black as a chimney-pot. He was immediately going to offer to sell some of his fat to the black man, when the latter, frightened at the sight of a white man, ran away. Many other black men who saw him did the same, but after a while, when they saw that he went on quietly carrying his pot on his shoulder, they took courage, and came to him one by one, until at last quite a large crowd had gathered about him. At length, one of them ventured to say to him, 'You strange-looking man, tell us who you are, and where you come from, and why did you come here?' The shepherd answered, 'I am a white man from a white world, and I come to bring you some fat which will make you also white--that is, of course, if you choose to buy it from me and pay me for it well.'
Now the black men, though they had been quite shocked at first to see the white man, began to think they also would like to be white; so they said they were willing to pay him as much as he liked to ask for his wonderful fat, because they were very rich.
However, they doubted a little if the fat would really make them white as he said, and wished to see it tried before they bought it. Thereupon he set the pot on the ground, and walked round and round it, saying some queer words as if he were charming it. Then he took out of the pot a little of the fat, and with it smeared one of the black men. In a moment the black skin became quite white, and the other blacks, seeing that he had told them the truth, crowded eagerly round him, begging that he would make them white also, and outbidding each other in offers of money, provided only that he made them white in a short time. The young shepherd worked hard, smearing one black skin after the other, until he got quite weary and had become very rich, for they gave him a good deal of money, and there were a great many of them who wished to be made white.
Just as he had thus whitened the last of the black men about him, one of them said to him, 'Wonder-working man! We have a king who, being our chief, is the blackest of us all; therefore, if you think you can make him white also, we are sure he will be very glad to get rid of his blackness, and will pay you more money than you ever dreamt of.'
'I will do it very gladly,' answered the shepherd; 'for you must know I am doing this not so much for the sake of money as for charity; only, show me at once the way to your king.'
So they all ran off before him to show him the way, and he followed them carrying his pot on his shoulder.
When they arrived at the door of the king's palace, one of the men said to him, 'Wait a moment here, whilst I go and tell his Majesty all about your wonderful fat, and ask him to receive you.' The shepherd waited quietly, though crowds gathered round him to stare at him and his great pot, until the man came back and said the king was waiting impatiently to see him. So he lifted his pot again on his shoulder--for he had set it down that he might rest the better--and followed the messenger to the king's presence.
Now the king of the black men was far blacker than anything the shepherd had ever seen in his life; he had no doubt, however, after all he had seen, but that his fat would whiten him also. So he said cheerfully, 'Good morning, your Majesty!' 'Good morning, my dear fellow,' returned the black king; 'I have heard that you can do wonders, and I have seen that you have already whitened many of my subjects, so, for Heaven's sake, deliver me also from this my blackness, and ask in return whatever you like, even the half of my kingdom!'
'What your Majesty has heard is quite true,' said the shepherd; 'and I will very gladly try to make you also white!' and he took a great lump of fat and rubbed it well all over the king's face and neck. In a moment the king became as white as snow, to the great rejoicings of all his people. But no one was so pleased as the king himself, so he said again, 'Only ask! I will give you whatever you wish, even if it be my throne!'
'I thank your Majesty very humbly for offering me your throne, but I don't want it,' replied the shepherd; 'but if you will give me three ships full of gold and silver, and some good sailors to manage the ships, and some good soldiers and cannons to defend them against the pirates, I shall think myself more than repaid, and I will send you back the ships and cannons when the gold and silver are landed safely in my country.'
Then the king at once gave the necessary orders, and in a very few days his servants came to report to him, that the ships were then filled with gold and silver, and that the cannons were ready loaded and posted for action, and all the sailors and soldiers prepared to fight if any sea-robber came in their way.
Then the young shepherd took a courteous leave of the king, and of all those other people who were so thankful to him for having changed them from black men into white ones. He now went on board one of the ships, very glad to go back to his own country, and the two other ships full of gold and silver followed the first one across the seas.
After having sailed a long time the three ships reached at last the coast of the kingdom where the king was waiting, daily expecting the return of the gipsy and shepherd to claim his daughter. The shepherd let his ships lay quietly in the harbour one day, and then, noticing much tumult and disturbance in the city, went ashore to see what had happened. There he found a great crowd, and on asking some of the people what they were going to do, they told him that they were going to hang a gipsy who had come to the city with seventy piasters capital, and who had not only spent all his money in drinking and revellings, but had even got into debt for seventy other piasters, which he was quite unable to pay, and that this was the reason they were about to hang him. In a few moments the hangman appeared, leading the gipsy, who was no other than the very man who had tried to cheat the shepherd out of the princess.
The young shepherd recognised his rival at once, and, going near him, said, 'What is this, my old friend? Have you really come to this?' The instant the gipsy saw the shepherd he stopped and began to whine and wail, begging him to save him from the gibbet, and he would be his faithful servant all his life. 'As for the princess,' he added cunningly, 'I have given her up a long time ago, and don't care for anything if only my life is spared.'
Then the young shepherd was sorry for the poor trembling, whining wretch, and offered to pay the debt for the gipsy if the people would let him off. So they agreed to this, and the young man not only paid the seventy piasters the gipsy owed, but bought him besides a suit of good clothes as well as a carriage and a pair of fine horses. Then he left him and went back to his ships, and they sailed on slowly along the coast towards the king's residence.
Now when the gipsy had dressed himself out smartly in his fine new clothes, he got into his carriage and drove off quickly to the king's palace. Arrived there, he left his carriage and horses in the courtyard, and went at once to the presence of the king, whom he addressed thus: 'Your Majesty knows it is not yet quite a year since you gave me seventy piasters to trade with, and see! I come back already handsomely dressed, and have a fine carriage with a pair of beautiful horses below in the yard. As for the young shepherd, I have heard that he has not only spent all your Majesty's money in rioting, but that he had also got in debt, for which he has been hung. So it is no use waiting for him! Let us keep my wedding at once!'
The king did not fancy the gipsy for his son-in-law, and was thinking what he could say to put him off a little time, when, looking by chance through his window, he saw three strange-looking ships sailing slowly towards the shore. At this he exclaimed, 'I see some foreign visitors are coming to visit me, and I shall have enough to do to receive them with due honours, so we must put off the marriage for some days, at least!'
But the gipsy pressed the king more and more to let him marry the princess at once; he was even bold enough to tell his Majesty that he could not wait any longer, and that the wedding would be all over in an hour. The king, however, refused to hear anything of this; so the gipsy, seeing that his plan had failed, went out from the presence of the king in great anger.
A few hours later the three strange-looking ships dropped their anchors just opposite the palace, and the young shepherd, landing, came into the presence of the king, who was greatly astonished to see him alive, and still more astonished to hear that in return for his seventy piasters he had brought three vessels full of gold and silver.
The king was now very well content to accept him as his son-in-law, and told him, in the course of conversation, what the gipsy had said about his having gone in debt and been hung. Then the young shepherd told his Majesty how he had found the gipsy, and had saved his life by paying his debt for him. The king was exceedingly angry, and ordered his servants to go after the gipsy and bring him at once into his presence.
The servants looked about and around the palace on all sides, but nowhere could they find any trace of the gipsy. Then the king commanded that some of them should go in search of him without delay, and armed men were speedily scattered over the whole country, so that at last he was caught, and brought before the king, who condemned him to be hung for having so shamefully tried to injure the man who had saved his life and treated him so generously, and for having, at the same time, attempted to cheat the king.
The young shepherd spent a few days in the palace, telling the king all the things he had seen in the black world, and then, all preparations having been made, he was married to the princess, with great pomp and rejoicings.
Then the king with his daughter and son-in-law lived for a great many years very happily.