LIKE many others in the world, there was a master mariner. Having had many losses and misfortunes in his life he no longer made any voyages, but every day went down to the seaside for amusement, and every day he met a large serpent, and every day he said to it:
"God has given thy life to thee; live then."
This master mariner lived upon what his wife and daughter earned by sewing. One day the serpent said to him:
"Go to such a shipbuilder's, and order a ship of so many tons burden. Ask the price of it, and then double the price they tell you." 2
He does as the serpent told him, and the next day he goes down to the shore, and he tells the serpent that he has done as he had told him. The serpent then bids him go and fetch twelve sailors, very strong men, and to double whatever they shall ask. He goes and does what he was told to do. He returns to the serpent and tells him that he has twelve men. The serpent gives him all the money which he needed to pay for the ship. The shipbuilder is astonished to find that he is paid so large a sum of money in advance by this miserable man, but he hastens to finish his work as quickly as possible. The serpent again bids him have made
in the hold of the ship a large empty space and a huge chest, and tells him to bring this down himself. He brings it, and the serpent gets into it. The ship was quickly ready, he embarks the chest in the ship, and they set out.
This captain used to go every day to the serpent, but the sailors did not know what he went (into the hold) to do, nor what there was in the chest. The ship had already gone some distance, and nobody knew its destination. One day the serpent told the captain that there was going to be a frightful storm, that the earth and sky would mingle together, and that at midnight a large black bird would pass over the ship, and that it must be killed, and (he tells him) to go and see if there is any sportsman among his sailors. He goes and asks the sailors if there is any sportsman among them. 1
One of them answers, "Yes; I can kill a swallow in its flight."
"All the better, all the better; that will be of use to you."
He goes down to tell the serpent that there is a sportsman who can kill a swallow in its flight. And at the same moment the weather becomes black as night, and earth and sky are mingled together, and all are trembling with fright. The serpent gives the captain a good drink for the sportsman, and they bind him to the mast. At midnight a piercing cry was heard. It was the bird which was passing over, and our sportsman has the good luck to kill him. At the very instant the sea becomes calm. The captain goes to the serpent, and tells him that the bird is killed.
The serpent answers him, "I know it."
When they had gone a little further without anything happening, the serpent said one day:
"Are we not near such a port?"
The captain says to him, "It is in sight."
"Very well, then, we are going there."
He tells him to go again, and ask his sailors if there is a fast runner among them. The captain goes and asks his sailors if there is, any fast runner among them.
One of them says to him, "As for me, I can catch a hare running."
"So much the better, so much the better; that will be of use to you."
The captain goes to tell the serpent that there is one who can catch a hare running. The serpent says to him:
"You will land the runner at this port, and you will tell him that he must go to the top of a little mountain; that there is a little house there, and an old, old woman in it; and that there is there a steel, a flint, and a tinder-box; and that he must bring these three things on board one by one, making a separate journey each time."
Our runner goes off, and comes to this house. He sees the old woman, with red eyes, spinning at the threshold of her door. He asks her for a drop of water, that he has walked a long way without finding any water, and will she give him a little drop? The old woman says to him, "No." He begs her again, telling her that he does not know the roads in the country, nor where he is going to. This old woman kept constantly looking at the chimney-piece, and she said to him:
"I am going to give you some, then."
While she went to the pitcher, our runner takes the steel off the chimney-piece, and goes off at full speed, like the lightning; but the old woman is after him. At the very instant that he is about to leap into the ship the old woman catches him, and snatches off a bit of his coat, and a piece of the skin of his back with it. 1 The captain goes to the serpent, and says to him:
"We have got the steel, but our man has got the skin of his back torn off."
He gives him a remedy, and a good drink, and tells him that the man will be cured by to-morrow, but that he must go again next day.
He says, "No, no; the devil may carry off this old woman, if he likes, but I will not go there any more."
But, as he was cured next day by giving him that good drink again, he sets off. He dresses himself in a shirt without arms, and in an old torn pair of trousers, and goes to the old woman's, saying that his ship is wrecked on the shore, that he has been wandering about for forty-eight hours, and he begs her to let him go to the fire to light his pipe.
She says, "No."
"Do have pity--I am so wretched; it is only a little favour I ask of you."
"No, no, I was deceived yesterday."
But the man answered, "All the world are not deceivers. Don't be afraid."
The old woman rises to go to the fire, and as she stoops to take it, 1 the man seizes the flint and escapes, running as if he would break his feet. But the old woman runs as fast as our runner; but she only catches him as he is jumping into the ship; she tears off the shirt, and the skin of his neck and back with it, and he falls into the ship.
The captain goes directly to the serpent: "We have got the flint."
He says to him, "I know it."
He gives him the medicine and the good drink, in order that the man may be cured by the morrow, and that he may go again. But the man says, "No," that he does not want to see that red-eyed old woman any more. They tell him that they still want the tinder-box. The next day they give him the good drink. That gives him courage, and the desire to return again.
He dresses himself up as if he had been shipwrecked, and goes off half naked. He comes to the old woman's, and asks for a little bread, as he has not eaten for a long time, (and begs her) to have pity on him--that he does not know where to go to.
The old woman says to him: "Be off, where you will; you shall get nothing at my house, and nobody shall come in here. Every day I have enemies."
"But what have you to fear from a poor man who only wants a little bread, and who will be off immediately afterwards?"
At last the old woman rises to go to her cupboard, and our man takes her little tinder-box. The old woman runs after him, wishing to catch him, but our man is ahead. She overtakes him just as he is leaping into the ship. The old woman takes hold of the skin of his neck, and tears it all right down to the soles of his feet. Our runner falls down, and they do not know whether he is alive or dead; and the old woman says:
"I renounce him, and all those who are in this ship."
The captain goes to the serpent, and says to him:
"We have the tinder-box, but our runner is in great danger. I do not know whether. he will live; he has no skin left from his neck to the soles of his feet,"
"Console yourselves, console yourselves, he will be cured by to-morrow. Here is the medicine and the good drink. Now, you are saved. Go on deck, and fire seven rounds of cannon."
He mounts on deck and fires the seven rounds of cannon, and returns to the serpent, and says to him
"We have fired the seven rounds."
He says to him, "Fire twelve rounds more; but do not be afraid. The police will come here; they will handcuff you. You will be put in prison, and you will ask, as a favour, not to be executed before that they have visited the ship, in order to prove that there is nothing in it to merit such a chastisement."
The captain goes on deck, and fires the twelve rounds of cannon. As soon as he has fired them, the magistrates and the police arrive; they handcuff the men, the sailors, and the captain, and they put them in prison. The sailors were not pleased; but the captain said to them:
"You will soon be delivered."
The next day the captain asks to go and speak to the king. He is brought before the king, and the king says
"You are condemned to be hanged."
The captain says to him, "What! because we have fired some cannon-shots you are going to hang us!!"
"Yes, yes, because for seven years we have not heard the cannon in this city. 1 I am in mourning--I and my people. I had an only son, and I have lost him. I cannot forget him."
The captain says to him: "I did not know either this news or this order, and I beg you not to kill us before going and seeing if there is anything in the ship which condemns us justly."
The king goes with his courtiers, his soldiers, and his judges-in a word, with everybody. When he has mounted on deck, what a surprise! The king finds his dearly-loved son, who relates to him how he has been enchanted by an old woman, and that he remained a serpent seven years. 2 How the captain every day went to walk by the seaside, and every day left him his life, saying to him, "The good God has made you too;" and having seen the captain's good heart, "I thought he would spare me, and it is to him that I owe my life."
He goes to the court. The men are let out of prison, and they give the captain a large sum of money for a dowry for
his two daughters, and the ship for himself. To the sailors they give as much as they like to eat and drink for all the time they wish to stop there, and afterwards enough to live upon for the rest of their lives. The king and his son lived happily, and as they had lived well, they died happily also.
100:2 This doubling of a price is to get a thing more quickly done--in half the usual time. At least, that was the narrator's explanation.
101:1 These three clever men are found in Gascon (Bladé's "Armagnac Tales," p. 10), in Spanish, in Campbell's "The King of Lochlin's Three Daughters," Vol. I.) p. 238, and in many others. Cf. Brucyre, pp. 113-120, and notes.
102:1 Cf. The tale from the Servian, in Naaké's "Slavonic Fairy Tales," p. 7.
103:1 i.e., the piece of "braise," or glowing ember from the wood fire, which is always nearly on a level with the floor in a Basque house.
105:1 Through the whole of the South of Europe, in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc., the firing of guns, pistols, crackers, is universal at all kinds of "fêtes," especially religious ones; the half-deafened foreigner often longs for some such law as that infringed by "Mahistruba;" but cf. "Juan de Kalais," p. 151.
105:2 Cf. supra, p. 38, "The Serpent in the Wood."