Once on a time there dwelt in a hollow of one of the great mountains a solitary Hermit, who had not seen the face of a human creature since he was a Child.
His only neighbours were the beasts of the forest, with whom he lived on very good terms.
One day when he had gone to fetch water from a neighbouring stream, he saw floating on its surface a tarred basket containing what seemed to be a bundle of clothes. To his astonishment the cries of a baby issued from this basket! Muttering a prayer, he plunged into the water, and with the aid of his staff drew the basket to the edge of the stream. In this basket was a boy of only a few weeks old. The Hermit took the little one in his arms, and its wailing ceased. On examining further he found attached to it a letter, saying that the infant was the unhappy son of a king's daughter, who for fear of her shame being brought to light, had sent her little one clown the stream to the care of the good God. The Hermit received the gift with joy, but when he thought of his own incompetence, and
his inability to procure milk, or any suitable food for his little charge, he was in despair. Suddenly there began to grow near the entrance of his Cave, a Vine whose branches spread and climbed quickly up to the top of the Cave. It already bore grapes, of which some were ripe, others still green, others hardly formed, others in flower; taking of the ripe grapes, and squeezing the juice into the mouth of the little one, he saw that he sucked it in with relish.
So the child was fed on the juice of the grape until he had teeth to share the roots and other hard fare of his protector.
As he grow bigger, the Hermit taught him to read and write, to gather roots for their daily food, and to shoot birds with a bow and arrow.
The boy had now grown into a youth, when the Hermit called him, and thus said: My son, Dimitri (for thus had he baptized him), I find myself getting weaker every day, as you see I am very old, and I warn you that in three days from this, I shall go to another world. I am not your real father, for I rescued you from the stream when you had been abandoned in a basket by your mother, so as to hide the shame, and the punishment of her fault. When I sleep the last long sleep, which you will recognize
by the coldness of my body, there will come a Lion; have no fear of him, he will make my grave, and you will cover me over with earth. I have no legacy for you except a horse's bridle. When I have left you for ever, then reach down from the top of the cave, the bridle, shake it, and a horse will appear at this summons, who will from henceforth be your guide."
On the third day after this, the Hermit was no more. On his hard couch he slept his long sleep. The Lion with his claws dug the grave, and Dimitri placed him gently therein and covered him over with earth, and wept three days and three nights for his benefactor.
On the third day, hunger reminded him that he had not eaten, so going to his vine for support, his astonishment was extreme on finding it withered, and with no grapes on it. Calling to mind the last instructions of the Hermit, he entered the cave, and found the bridle, on shaking which, appeared a Winged Horse, who enquired, "Master, what are your commands?" The youth recounted to him his past life, and how the Hermit had stood him in the stead of a parent.
"Let us go to some other country," said he, "for here with that grave before my eyes, I am always
disposed to cry." Said the horse, "Just so, my Master, we will go and live where there are other men like you." "How," said Dimitri, "are there other men like me and my father? and shall we live amongst them?" "Certainly," answered the horse. Said the youth, "How is it that none of them have ever come here?"
"There is nothing to lead them to this mountain, we must go to them."
"Let us set off," said he, gleefully. "Yes," said the horse, "but you must be clothed; where we are going, they don't wear Lion and Tiger skins; put your hand in my right ear, and draw out what you will find." To Dimitri's surprise, there he found a suit of clothes, and aided by the instructions of the horse, he succeeded in putting them on. He mounted the horse, and submitted himself to its guidance.
On arriving at a City where men and women were moving about, as numerous as ants, our hero was dumb with astonishment and admiration at the houses, and at all which met his view.
Said the horse, "Master, here everyone has some trade, some occupation; you also must find something to do;" but the youth was unwilling, so after a few days sojourn, they set off again on their journey.
[paragraph continues] Soon they arrived at a Kingdom ruled over by three Fairies, and the horse advised Dimitri to try and enter their service.
With some difficulty he succeeded, and commenced his new duties. The horse visited him daily, and gave him instructions; he informed him that there was a room in the Fairies' Palace which contained a bath, and that once in a hundred years, the water in this bath had the power of changing into gold, the hair of the one who bathed first in it. Also that in a chest in the same room was a bundle of three suits of clothes, which they preserved with a jealous care. The Fairies had given the youth orders to clean all parts of the Palace, excepting the bath room, which he was strictly forbidden to enter. The Fairies being called away to a fairy festival, the youth all alone entered the forbidden chamber, and saw all as described by the horse, but the bath was without water. On the next absence of the fairies, before leaving, knowing that the time of the filling of the fountain was approaching, they instructed Demitri that if he heard the slightest noise in the bath room, to take a horn and sound it three times, so that they might return quickly.
Shortly after their departure, came the sound of rushing water from the bath room, the youth called
at once for the horse who bade him enter the bath and bathe, then steal the bundle of clothes from the chest, then mount the winged horse and fly away.
When they had quitted. the palace, it began to shake and tremble to its foundations. This brought back the fairies, who seeing that the bath had been used and was no good for another hundred years, their bundle of precious clothes gone, and their servant absent, they set off in pursuit of the latter. They had nearly laid hands on him, when he passed the frontier of their power, and came to a sudden stop. At this disappointment the fairies could not restrain their anger but cried, "Son of an elf, how you have cheated us, lot us see at least your hair," he shook loose his hair and they continued, "who ever saw such hair? as bright as gold--only give us back the bundle of clothes and we will pardon you." "No!" said he, "I keep them instead of the wages you owe me," and then with his horse continued his journey.
Arrived in a town, he covered his hair with a close fitting bladder, and went to the gardener of the Governor of the town to seek service as under gardener.
As he was in need of a help, he engaged him to water the grass, weed the garden, and lop the trees.
This Governor was the father of three daughters, who were somewhat neglected and left to themselves, owing to their father's official duties. One day the eldest of the girls Anika, calling her sisters to her, said, "Let us each choose a melon to take to table for our father." This was done, the melons being served on golden plates. The Governor was so astonished that he summoned his council together and asked them to guess the meaning of this act of his daughters. They decided to cut open the melons, and found that one of them was beginning slightly to decay, that another was just ripe enough to eat, and that a third was only ripening. Said the eldest councillor, "May your Excellence live many years! these melons are the ages of your daughters, and show the time is arrived for you to provide them with homes and with husbands." So the Governor decided that his daughters should be married, and even on the next day negotiations were entered into for their hands.
The eldest, Anika, soon made her choice, and after the marriage, the Governor accompanied his son-in-law and daughter to the frontier.
Only the youngest, Didine, remained at home.
Our hero, the under gardener, seeing that the cortège had set off, let down his hair, put on one of
the fairy suits, called his horse and mounting it, danced all over the garden, crushing and destroying the flowers.
He was unaware that Didine was at the window watching all his movements. When he saw the folly he had committed, he changed quickly his dress, and began to repair the damage he had done. On his arrival, the head gardener was so vexed with the state of things, that he was on the point of giving our here a hearty thrashing. Didine, still looking on, tapped at the window and asked the gardener to send her some flowers. He made her up a bouquet, in return for which she sent him gold, and a request not to beat his under gardener.
Happy to have received such a handsome remuneration, the gardener with much trouble and pains made the garden in as good a state as it was before the folly of Dimitri. The marriage of the second daughter took place in a short space of time, and her father and his suite accompanied them also, to the frontier; Didine only remaining at home under the plea of indisposition. Dimitri repeated the same folly as on the marriage of the oldest sister, the only difference being that this time he wore the second suit belonging to the fairies. All was repeated as before, and to prevent his being beaten, Didine sent
two handfuls of gold to the gardener in return for his flowers. Again he worked until the garden had once more got into good condition.
Shortly after this the Governor organised a great chase, and while hunting he narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by a wild boar; to celebrate his good fortune he raised a temporary kiosque in the wood, and bade all his friends come and make merry.
Didine only was not there, still on the plea of indisposition. Dimitri for the third time alone, recommenced his folly, and put on the third dress of the fairies which was embroidered with the sun on the chest, the moon on the back, and the morning and evening star on the sleeves.
This time he committed such havoc that it was impossible to re-arrange the garden.
The gardener's rage knew no bounds and he was on the point of giving Dimitri a beating when Didine tapped at the window and asked for flowers.
With difficulty were two or three flowers found which had escaped the hoofs of the horse, but she gave him three handfuls of gold and begged him not to lay hands on Dimitri. In five weeks the garden was restored and Dimitri made to promise that he would never more commit such mischief.
The Governor began to be anxious about his
daughter Didine for she kept to the house and seemed always sad, he proposed that she should marry the son of a neighbouring Boyard but she would not entertain the idea, so he called his council and asked their advice. "Governor!" said they "you must build a great tower with a gateway, and all the pretenders to the hand of Didine must pass under it, give to her a golden apple which she must throw to the one whom she desires for her husband."
No sooner said than done, the tower was built, and it was soon spread abroad that all who wished to marry Didine must pass under this Archway. Many came, of both high and low degree, but still she did not throw the apple, and they began to believe that she had no wish to marry, until one of the councillors said, "Let all those who are in your court, all those who are employed on your estate, pass under also." So they were called, and last of all came Dimitri who with great difficulty was persuaded to pass under. Didine at once flung the apple at him. The Governor seeing this exclaimed, "it is a mistake, she has hit the wrong man, let all pass through again." This was done, and again Didine threw the apple to Dimitri. All agreed that there was no mistake this time, and so the father unwillingly consented to her choice.
They were married without any rejoicings and suffered to live in the Governor's court, Dimitri earning their living as a water carrier. They were laughed at by all, the servants even throw dust and sweepings in the direction of their room. Inside it was very different, the horse had brought there all the wonders of the world, not even in King's palaces were to be found such lovely things as in their wretched dwelling.
The other pretenders to the hand of Didine were so indignant at their rejection, that they united together to make war on the Governor. This caused him much pain, but he had no other alternative than to prepare for the struggle.
His two sons-in-law brought their retainers and Dimitri asked his wife to beg of the Governor to let him go to the battle. "Go from out of my sight," said the father, "you have broken my peace for ever." After much entreaty he was prevailed on to allow Dimitri to be there, if only as a water carrier for the soldiers.
So in a shabby working dress, astride a wretched horse, blind and lame, he set off in front. When the army caught him up, they found that his horse had sunk into a bog, and he was trying with all his might to extricate it. With laughs and jeers they
passed on, leaving him alone to do the best he could. When they were out of sight, Dimitri swiftly donned the clothes of the fairies, and mounting his winged horse, sped to a commanding height, where he had a good view of the troops. Seeing that the enemy was eight times greater in number, he dashed into their midst, and slashing right and left, put them to rout in the greatest disorder. In the effort Dimitri cut his wrist, and the Governor gave him his handkerchief with which to bind it up.
When the Governor's army returned victorious, they again came upon Dimitri, still trying to extricate the miserable mare from the bog; and being in good humour with their success, the Governor ordered his soldiers to come to his aid.
Shortly after this, the Governor fell ill and became totally blind. All the doctors, all the wise men, all the astrologers were called, but none could think of any remedy.
On awaking one morning, the Governor related that he had dreamt that if he washed his eyes with the milk of a wild red goat, he would regain his sight. Hearing this, his two sons-in-law set off in search of such a goat, without taking notice of Dimitri, or asking him to accompany them. He, on his side, went out alone, on his faithful steed, to the mountains where the red goats browsed.
Finding quickly both sheep and goats, Dimitri milked the sheep, disguised himself as a goat-herd, and was on the look out for his brothers-in-law. When they came up they asked him if he had milk to sell? He answered, yes, but that having heard of the Governor's dream, he was going to take this reel goat's milk to him. Enquiring if he would sell the milk to them, he said he would take no money for it, but that if they wished for the milk he would give them some, if they would allow him to mark them with his brand on their backs.
The sons-in-law taking council together, thought it would not do them much harm, so they consented to being branded, and taking the milk, set off quickly to the Governor. He took of the milk and drank it, he bathed his eyes with it, but it had no effect.
Some time after came Didine with a wooden pail, saying, "Father, take this milk and use it, it is brought by my husband-drink it, and bathe your eyes with it, I entreat you." The Governor answered, "What good has your stupid husband ever done to me? Is it likely he can be of any use now? Even your brothers-in-law who aided me in battle, are no good to me. Have I not forbade you my presence? How dare you intrude?" "I will submit to any punishment you may think fit, father, if you will but
wash your eyes with this milk, which your loving daughter brings you." The Governor seeing that she was so importunate, bathed his eyes with the milk again and again, until he began to see dimly; continuing this, in a few days his sight was quite restored to him.
On the Governor's recovery he gave a great banquet, and Didine with her husband, Dimitri, were allowed to sit at the lower end of the table. While the festivity was at its height, Dimitri arose, and demanding pardon for the interruption, enquired of the Governor if it were right for slaves to sit at the same table as their masters. "Certainly not," said the Governor. "If that be the case, and as all the world knows you to be a just man, give me justice, and bid your right hand and your left hand guest, arise, for they are my slaves, for proof of which you will find them both branded with my mark."
When the sons-in-law heard this, they began to tremble, and were forced to confess the truth. They were bade to rise, and place themselves behind Dimitri's chair.
Later on Dimitri drew from his pocket, the handkerchief which the Governor gave him to bind his wrist after the battle. "How did you come by this handkerchief?" said the Governor, "for I gave it to the powerful man. sent from God to aid me in the
battle." "Not at all," said Dimitri, "for you gave it to me." "Is it so? Could it have been you who stood us in such good stead."
"I alone," said Dimitri.
"It is impossible that I can believe this," said the Governor, "unless you stand before me precisely as you were when I gave you the handkerchief." Dimitri rose from the table, and going out quickly, returned clad in a suit of the fairies' clothes, and with his golden hair let down, to the astonishment of the Governor and his guests. All rose and saluted him on his entrance, the Governor complimented Didine on her choice, and feeling that he was growing old, said he wished to relinquish the Governorship in favour of Dimitri. This done, Dimitri's power and renown became world-wide talk. He pardoned his brothers-in-law, and gave them good posts in the country.
His winged horse returned to fairyland, bearing the three suits of charmed clothing, which he no longer needed. All that remained to him was his hair which was like threads of gold, from his having bathed in the magic bath.
His sons and daughters inherited his beautiful hair, and the old women to this day, believe that all true Dimitris ought to have hair as bright and golden as the ripe maize in their cornfields.