The Grateful Beasts (Благодарные звери)
A CERTAIN man, who had lost almost all his money, resolved to set off with the little that was left him, and travel into the wide world.
Then the first place he came to was a village, where the young people were running about crying and shouting.
‘What is the matter?’
‘See here,’ answered they, ‘we have got a mouse that we make dance to please us.
Do look at him:
what a droll sight it is !
how he jumps about!’
But the man pitied the poor little thing, and said, ‘Let the mouse go, and I will give you money.’
So he gave them some, and took the mouse and let him run;
and he soon jumped into a hole that was close by, and was out of their reach.
Then he travelled on and came to another village, and there the children had got an ass that they made stand on its hind legs and tumble, at which they laughed and shouted, and gave the poor beast no rest.
So the good man gave them also some money to let the poor ass alone.
At the next village he came to, the young people had got a bear that had been taught to dance, and they were plaguing the poor thing sadly.
Then he gave them too some money to let the beast go, and the bear was very glad to get on his four feet, and seemed quite happy.
But the man had now given away all the money he had in the world, and had not a shilling in his pocket.
Then said he to himself, ‘The king has heaps of gold in his treasury that he never uses;
I cannot die of hunger, I hope I shall be forgiven if I borrow a little, and when I get rich again I will repay it all.’
Then he managed to get into the treasury, and took a very little money;
but as became out the king’s guards saw him;
so they said he was a thief, and took him to the Judge, and he was sentenced to be thrown into the water in a box.
The lid of the box was full of holes to let in air, and a jug of water and a loaf of bread were given him.
Whilst he was swimming along in the water very sorrowfully, he heard something nibbling and biting at the lock;
and all of a sudden it fell off, the lid flew open, and there stood his old friend the little mouse, who had done him this service.
And then came the ass and the bear, and pulled the box ashore;
and all helped him because he had been kind to them.
But now they did not know what to do next, and began to consult together;
when on a sudden a wave threw on the shore a beautiful white stone that looked like an egg.
Then the bear said, ‘That’s a lucky thing:
this is the wonderful stone, and whoever has it may have every thing else that he wishes.’
So the man went and picked up the stone, and wished for a palace and a garden, and a stud of horses;
and his wish was fulfilled as soon as he had made it.
And there he lived in his castle and garden, with fine stables and horses;
and all was so grand and beautiful, that he never could wonder and gaze at it enough.
After some time, some merchants passed by that way.
‘See,’ said they, ‘what a princely palace !
The last time we were here, it was nothing but a desert waste.’
They were very curious to know how all this had happened;
so they went in and asked the master of the palace how it had been so quickly raised.
‘I have done nothing myself,’ answered he, ‘it is the wonderful stone that did all.’
— ‘What a strange stone that must bet’ said they:
then he invited them in and showed it to them.
They asked him whether he would sell it, and offered him all their goods for it;
and the goods seemed so fine and costly, that he quite forgot that the stone would bring him in a moment a thousand better and richer things, and he agreed to make the bargain.
Scarcely was the stone, however, out of his hands before all his riches were gone, and he found himself sitting in his box in the water, with his jug of water and loaf of bread by his side.
The grateful beasts, the mouse, the ass, and the bear, came directly to help him;
but the mouse found she could not nibble off the lock this time, for it was a great deal stronger than before.
Then the bear said, ‘We must find the wonderful stone again, or all our endeavours will be fruitless.’
The merchants, meantime, had taken up their abode in the palace;
so away went the three friends, and when they came near, the bear said, ‘Mouse, go in and look through the key-hole and see where the stone is kept:
you are small, nobody will see you.’
The mouse did as she was told, but soon came back and said, ‘Bad news!
I have looked in, and the stone hangs under the looking-glass by a red silk string, and on each side of it sits a great cat with fiery eyes to watch it.’
Then the others took council together and said, ‘Go back again, and wait till the master of the palace is in bed asleep, then nip his nose and pull his hair.’
Away went the mouse, and did as they directed her;
and the master jumped up very angry, and rubbed his nose, and cried, ‘Those rascally cats are good for nothing at all, they let the mice eat my very nose and pull the hair off my head.’
Then he hunted them out of the room;
and so the mouse had the best of the game.
Next night as soon as the master was asleep, the mouse crept in again, and nibbled at the red silken string to which the stone hung, till down it dropped, and she rolled it along to the door;
but when it got there, the poor little mouse was quite tired;
so she said to the ass, ‘Put in your foot, and lift it over the threshold.’
This was soon done:
and they took up the stone, and set off for the water side.
Then the ass said, ‘How shall we reach the box?’
But the bear answered, ‘That is easily managed;
I can swim very well, and do you, donkey, put your fore feet over my shoulders;
— mind and hold fast, and take the stone in your mouth:
as for you, mouse, you can sit in my ear.’
It was all settled thus, and away they swam.
After a time, the bear began to brag and boast:
‘We are brave fellows, are not we, ass?’
‘what do you think?’
But the ass held his tongue, and said not a word.
‘Why don’t you answer me?’
said the bear, ‘you must be an ill-mannered brute not to speak when you’re spoken to.’
When the ass heard this, be could hold no longer;
so he opened his mouth, and dropped the wonderful stone.
‘I could not speak,’said he;
‘did not you know l had the stone in my mouth?
now ‘tis lost, and that’s your fault.’
‘Do but hold your tongue and be quiet,’ said the bear;
‘and let us think what’s to be done.’
Then a council was held:
and at last they called together all the frogs, their wives and families, relations and friends, and said ‘A great enemy is coming to eat you all up;
but never mind, bring us up plenty of stones, and we’ll build a strong wall to guard you.’
The frogs hearing this were dreadfully frightened, and set to work, bringing up all the stones they could find.
At last came a large fat frog pulling along the wonderful stone by the silken string:
and when the bear saw it, he jumped for joy, and said, ‘Now we have found what we wanted.’
So he released the old frog from his load, and told him to tell his friends they might go about their business as soon as they pleased.
Then the three friends swam off again for the box;
and the lid flew open, and they found that they were but just in time, for the bread was all eaten, and the jug almost empty.
But as soon as the good man had the stone in his hand, he wished himself safe and sound in his palace again;
and in a moment there he was, with his garden and his stables and his horses;
and his three faithful friends dwelt with him, and they all spent their time happily and merrily as long as they lived.