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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE WITCH IN THE STONE BOAT

Retold by Andrew Lang

THERE was once a king and queen, and they had a son called Sigurd, who
was very strong and active and good-looking. When the king came to be
bowed down with the weight of years he spoke to his son, and said that
now it was time for him to look out for a fitting match for himself,
for he did not know how long he might last now, and he would like to
see him married before he died.

Sigurd was not averse to this and asked his father where he thought it
best to look for a wife. The king answered that in a certain country
there was a king who had a beautiful daughter, and he thought it would
be most desirable if Sigurd could get her. So the two parted, and
Sigurd prepared for the journey and went to where his father had
directed him.

He came to the king and asked his daughters hand, which was readily
granted him, but only on the condition that he should remain there as
long as he could, for the king himself was not strong and not very able
to govern his kingdom. Sigurd accepted this condition, but added that
he would have to get leave to go home again to his own country when he
heard news of his father's death. After that Sigurd married the
princess and helped his father-in-law to govern the kingdom. He and
the princess loved each other dearly, and after a year a son came to
them, who was two years old when word came to Sigurd that his father
was dead. Sigurd now prepared to return home with his wife and child
and went on board ship to go by sea.

They had sailed for several days, when the breeze suddenly fell and
there came a dead calm at a time when they needed only one day's voyage
to reach home. Sigurd and his queen were one day on deck when most of
the others on the ship had fallen asleep. There they sat and talked
for a while, and had their little son along with them. After a time
Sigurd became so heavy with sleep that he could no longer keep awake,
so he went below and lay down, leaving the queen alone on the deck
playing with her son.

A good while after Sigurd had gone below the queen saw something black
on the sea which seemed to be coming nearer. As it approached she
could make out that it was a boat and could see the figure of some one
sitting in it and rowing it. At last the boat came alongside the ship,
and now the queen saw that it was a stone boat, out of which there came
on board the ship a fearfully ugly witch. The queen was more
frightened than words can describe, and could neither speak a word nor
move from the place so as to awaken the king or the sailors. The witch
came right up to the queen, took the child from her, and laid it on the
deck; then she took the queen and stripped her of all her fine clothes,
which she proceeded to put on herself and looked then like a human
being. Last of all she took the queen, put her into the boat and said:

"This spell I lay upon you, that you slacken not your course until you
come to my brother in the under world."

The queen sat stunned and motionless, but the boat at once shot away
from the ship with her, and before long she was out of sight.

When the boat could no longer be seen the child began to cry, and
though the witch tried to quiet it she could not manage it; so, with
the child on her arm, she went below to where the king was sleeping,
and awakened him, scolding him for leaving them alone on deck while he
and all the crew were asleep. It was great carelessness of him, she
said, to leave no one to watch the ship with her.

Sigurd was greatly surprised to hear his queen scold him so much, for
she had never said an angry word to him before; but he thought it was
quite excusable in this case, and tried to quiet the child along with
her but it was no use. Then he went and wakened the sailors and bade
them hoist the sails, for a breeze had sprung up and was blowing
straight toward the harbor.

They soon reached the land which Sigurd was to rule over, and found all
the people sorrowful for the old king's death, but they became glad
when they got Sigurd back to the court, and made him king over them.

The king's son, however, hardly ever stopped crying from the time he
had been taken from his mother on the deck of the ship, although he had
always been such a good child before, so that at last the king had to
get a nurse for him-one of the maids of the court. As soon as the
child got into her charge he stopped crying and behaved as well as
before.

After the sea voyage it seemed to the king that the queen had altered
very much in many ways, and not for the better. He thought her much
more haughty and stubborn and difficult to deal with than she used to
be. Before long others began to notice this as well as the king. In
the court there were two young fellows, one of eighteen years old, the
other of nineteen, who were very fond of playing chess and often sat
long inside playing at it. Their room was next the queen's, and often
during the day they heard the queen talking.

One day they paid more attention than usual when they heard her talk,
and put their ears close to a crack in the wall between the rooms, and
heard the queen say quite plainly: 'When I yawn a little, then I am a
nice little maiden: when I yawn halfway, then I am half a troll; and
when I yawn fully then I am a troll altogether."

As she said this she yawned tremendously, and in a moment had put on
the appearance of a fearfully ugly troll. Then there came up through
the floor of the room a three-headed giant with a trough full of meat,
who saluted her as his sister and set down the trough before her. She
began to eat out of it and never stopped till she had finished it. The
young fellows saw all this going on, but did not hear the two of them
say anything to each other. They were astonished, though, at how
greedily the queen devoured the meat and how much she ate of it, and
were no longer surprised that she took so little when she sat at table
with the king. As soon as she had finished it the giant disappeared
with the trough by the same way as he had come, and the queen returned
to her human shape.

Now we must go back to the king's son after he had been put in charge
of the nurse. One evening. after she had lit a candle and was holding
the child, several planks sprang up in the floor of the room, and out
at the opening came a beautiful woman dressed in white, with an iron
belt round her waist, to which was fastened an iron chain that went
down into the ground. The woman came up to the nurse, took the child
from her, and pressed it to her breast; then she gave it back to the
nurse and returned by the same way as she had come, and the floor
closed over her again. Although the woman had not spoken a single word
to her, the nurse was very much frightened, but told no one about it.

Next evening the same thing happened again, just as before, but as the
woman was going away she said in a sad tone, "Two are gone and one only
is left," and then disappeared as before. The nurse was still more
frightened when she heard the woman say this, and thought that perhaps
some danger was hanging over the child, though she had no ill opinion
of the unknown woman, who, indeed, had behaved toward the child as if
it were her own. The most mysterious thing was the woman saying "and
only one is left"; but the nurse guessed that this must mean that only
one day was left, since she had come for two days already.

At last the nurse made up her mind to go to the king. She told him the
whole story and asked him to be present in person the next day about
the time when the woman usually came. The king promised to do so, and
came to the nurse's room a little before the time and sat down on a
chair with his drawn sword in his hand. Soon after the planks in the
floor sprang up as before, and the woman came up, dressed in white,
with the iron belt and chain. The king saw at once that it was his own
queen, and immediately hewed asunder the iron chain that was fastened
to the belt. This was followed by such noises and crashings down in
the earth that all the king's palace shook, so that no one expected
anything else than to see every bit of it shaken to pieces. At last
the noises and shaking stopped, and they began to come to themselves
again.

The king and queen embraced each other, and she told him the whole
story-how the witch came to the ship when they were all asleep and sent
her off in the boat. After she had gone so far that she could not see
the ship, she sailed on through darkness until she landed beside a
three-headed giant. The giant wished her to marry him, but she
refused; whereupon he shut her up by herself and told her she would
never get free until she consented. After a time she began to plan how
to get her freedom, and at last told him that she would consent if he
would allow her to visit her son on earth three days on end. This he
agreed to, but put on her this iron belt and chain, the other end of
which he fastened around his, own waist, and the great noises that were
heard when the king cut the chain must have been caused by the giant's
falling down the underground passage when the chain gave way so
suddenly. The giant's dwelling, indeed, was right under the palace,
and the terrible shakings must have been caused by him in his death
throes.

The king now understood how the queen he had had for some time past had
been so ill-tempered. He at once had a sack drawn over her head and
made her be stoned to death, and after that torn in pieces by untamed
horses. The two young fellows also told now what they had heard and
seen in the queen's room, for before this they had been afraid to say
anything about it, on account of the Queen's power.

The real queen was now restored to all her dignity and was beloved by
all. The nurse was married to a nobleman and the king and queen gave
her splendid presents.



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