LITTLE Arthur once went out in his garden, and on sitting down at the foot of an acacia he heard a clover leaf saying:
"I am Antonio."
And one of the points of the leaf changed into the head of a small boy.
"I am Juanita!" exclaimed the second point of the leaf. And a tiny girl appeared.
"And I Perico."
And another head showed itself beside the others.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed little Arthur, "this could be set to music like the rats’ dance." He approached the clover but now saw nothing: nor was he quite sure which was the marvellous leaf where he had seen those three children as small as they were beautiful.
"Well, I shan’t rest until I have seen into this," said the boy.
So the following day, at the same time, he re-seated himself in the same place, and presently a sigh: the clover leaf began to tremble and immediately the little heads appeared in succession, saying, as on the previous day;
"I am Antonio."
"I am Juanita."
"And I Perico."
"And I Arthur!" exclaimed the boy, showing himself suddenly, and seizing the mysterious leaf, "Either you tell me who you are or I will pull you up by the roots."
The stem trembled, and from another near by came forth a very sad voice saying: "Don’t kill them for heaven’s sake, they are quite innocent of doing any wrong: come back to-night at twelve o’clock and you will be amazed at what you see."
Contented, the boy obeyed, and went away resolved to come back again that night. And so about half-past eleven Arthur went out into the garden, and hiding himself amongst a group of magnolias, waited until the stated hour struck. Scarcely had the church clock chimed the last stroke of midnight than a noise was heard in the air, and there appeared on the ground a horse as white as snow and provided with wings which it shook at the moment of touching the earth. From the wings there came millions of drops of water which fell in a fine rain on the plants in the garden. The effect was magical; instantly all the plants took on the most unexpected forms. The clover leaf was changed into a grand stand covered with a splendid canopy of velvet and gold, and on three gilded arm-chairs sat three children of dazzling beauty wearing rich clothing, in which elegance and sumptuousness struggled for supremacy.
The acacias were transformed into towers of shining silver full of soldiers, who presented arms to the children in token of homage. The group of magnolias was a stone castle, with a steel drawbridge hanging by chains of red silk interwoven with gold. A crowd of pages in bright uniforms, soldiers on horseback provided with lances and with glittering helmets adorned with airy plumes, walked about the garden in all directions. Life animated all those beings passing before the astonished eyes of little Arthur, who, hidden behind a tower, could see what happened without being seen himself. Such was his amazement that, thinking he was dreaming, he hit himself in the most fleshy part of the body, and noticing that it hurt, convinced himself that he was not dreaming. Thereupon the horse neighed, and they all stopped still, full of terror.
"Carabi! Carabo! Two minutes are left you of becoming like me," shouted the horse.
On hearing him they all wept, except the three princes who rose, exclaiming:
"Treacherous magician, God wills that you pay for your crimes."
The horse rose on two legs and after a terrific neigh shouted: "Carabi! Carabo!" and immediately they all resumed their original forms. The horse gave a jump in order to rise in the air and commenced his flight, but this time he was not alone; for when waving his tail it caught up good little Arthur, winding itself round his body. The boy clung to it in order not to fall, and when he tried to find out where he was, he discovered himself in the air more than a thousand yards from the ground. Then he yelled with all the strength that fear gives, without paying any attention to the neighing of the horse which, turning its head, said to him: "Leave go, or I will dash your brains out with a kick."
But little Arthur remembered that if he let go he would certainly be killed, while it was by no means sure that the horse could reach him with his feet, because he had climbed up to the top part of the tail, where he hung on with one hand, while with the other he caught hold of the other end, so that he sat on the doubled-up tail as on a trapeze.
The horse landed out half a dozen kicks, which only hurt the clouds; he turned his head in order to see where to bite that customer who had got the better of him; but his wings hindered him, and the only other vengeance he could take was to snort. This he did, making such a noise that it could have been heard for miles around.
"What a storm!" exclaimed little Arthur.
"That is the wind I swallow in my flight," said the horse.
"That is not wind, it must be a hurricane let loose."
Then the horse began to descend towards the earth, passing through clouds and breaking up fogs, until, at dawn, he arrived at a lovely palace whose roof of gold and precious stones opened of its own accord to let that singular horse pass through. He alighted on the floor of an enormous room in the palace, and when on firm ground said:
"Will you please leave go of me."
"That depends," said little Arthur, "because I am just beginning to like this way of travelling."
"Well, my son, I am sorry, but your goose is cooked for ever."
So saying he began to butt round the room with the object of smashing poor little Arthur to pieces; but the latter, firm as firm could be, would not leave go even if he were killed. Then the horse sat down to see if he could crush the boy with his weight, but the latter, by a clever movement, dropped clear of the crupper and sat down on the floor.
"Here!" he exclaimed, "don’t do any more such silly things; if you want to throw me off, you will have to tear your tail off first."
"Not if I know it," shouted the magician, "rather let us make an agreement. What do you want in order to let me go?"
"First, you must tell me the story of the enchanted children in my garden."
"I will not."
"Well, now I shall pull out a hair of your tail by way of punishment," and dragging out one of them he made the horse neigh with pain.
"So, I shall pull them out one by one until you are as hairless as a hired horse."
"No, you have persuaded me. Listen to the story you ask me for. You must know that these youngsters are the children of the great King of Samarcanda, Ali-Tebelin, who is a great enemy of mine. I was then condemned to be ridden by any cavalier who wished to do so, thanks to the enchantment of a relative on my mother’s side, who knew how to do these things better than I. Not finding any better way of passing the three years as saddle-horse which had been imposed upon me, I entered the stables of Ali-Tebelin, who several times had me thrashed on the frivolous pretext that I bit whoever wanted to ride on me, kicked anybody who came near, and one day gave the king himself a terrible bite. Angry on account of this injustice I promised myself to have my revenge, and when the period of my enchantment was finished, I became, in my turn, an enchanter, and taking a bottle of water gathered by me from the clouds, I caused the king’s court to be transformed into a garden which I transported to your house. Every night I go to it, and as my wings are wet with the water from the clouds, which is the thing that has the property of changing them into their original shapes, I shake my wings, and after enjoying myself for a while I enchant them again with my word. Now you know all, will you leave me in peace?"
"Now less than ever," said the boy: "because if I let you go, you will be revenged on me as on them, so that I shan’t leave you until you take me back to my home. At this very moment you will give me something to eat. Go somewhere slowly where there is something to put inside one; if you don’t I will skin you."
The horse stamped on the floor, and at once several tables covered with eatables appeared. With one hand, while with the other he held on, Arthur ate of what seemed best to him, and when he was satisfied, said: "At this very instant you will take me home." The horse, resigned, took to flight again, rose up in the air, and flew towards Arthur’s garden. Passing through the clouds, Arthur got all his clothing wet, being drenched with that precious liquid. When they arrived, and before the horse had time to turn round, little Arthur ran away and took refuge in his home. His precaution was very wise, because the magician followed him with the object of biting him, but when he was ready to do so the boy was already in the house. The horse had only stretched his wings and disappeared on the horizon when Arthur went into the garden again, and shaking his clothes, let the cloud-water with which he was soaked fall upon the plants. At once all the enchanted beings recovered their original shape, and saw with surprise that it was not the magician who disenchanted them. On seeing such surprise, little Arthur advanced towards the grand stand and said to the princes:
"Children of Ali-Tebelin, I have the pleasure of informing you that you are free; but vanish from here quickly, because at twelve o’clock to-night the magician will return."
"Thanks, kind boy," said one of the princes, "but we will not go away from here without giving the magician a surprise and bestowing on him something that will make him stare."
So they fastened some strong ropes to the towers, and that night, when the horse arrived, before he knew what had happened, he found himself tied by the neck, wings, and feet, and all the warriors and pages, provided with strong cords, rained such a shower of blows on him that he did not know where he was.
"Take that, Carabi!"
"Take that, Carabo!" they shouted. And the hail of lashes was such that the magician begged them for pardon.
"No pardon!" shouted little Arthur, "you can stay there till your feet drop off."
Such were his groans that at last little Arthur, full of compassion, went up to him and said:
"How can we set you free when we should only be exposing ourselves to your vengeance?"
"To avoid that the only thing you have to do is to pull out the longest feather in each wing, and then I shall be deprived of power."
This Arthur did, and immediately the magician took human shape, it being seen that he was a horrid dwarf who could hardly move. They touched him again with the feathers and he was changed into a caged parrot which began to shout, "Carabi! Carabo! It’s all over with me now!"
Arthur informed his parents, telling them all about his extraordinary adventure, and begged them for permission to accompany the princes. Little Arthur’s parents were astonished to see their garden changed into a fortress; and on becoming acquainted with the series of events which, without their knowledge, had occurred, granted their permission and at once the expedition was organised. Little Arthur mounted one of the magic feathers, bearing the princess behind him. The princes bestrode the other feather, and all the rest clung to each other. At a given signal they all flew away, and in a twinkling found themselves in their own country.
There little Arthur was splendidly presented with a pair of socks and several boxes of toys, his efforts being rewarded by a long and happy life in the bosom of his family.