D ID you ever hear the story of the three poor soldiers, who, after having fought hard in the wars, set out on their road home, begging their way as they went?
They had journeyed on a long way, sick at heart with their bad luck at thus being turned loose on the world in their old age, when one evening they reached a deep gloomy wood through which they must pass; night came fast upon them, and they found that they must, however unwillingly, sleep in the woods; so to make all as safe as they could, it was agreed that two should lie down and sleep, while a third sat up and watched lest wild beasts should break in and tear them to pieces; when he was tired, he was to wake one of the others and sleep in his turn, and so on with the third, so as to share the work fairly among them.
The two who were to rest first soon lay down and fell fast asleep, and the other made himself a good fire under the trees and sat down by the side to keep watch. He had not sat long before suddenly up came a little man in a red jacket. "Who's there?" said he. "A friend," said the soldier. "What sort of a friend?"
"An old broken soldier," said the other, "with his two comrades who have nothing left to live on; come, sit down and warm yourself." "Well, my worthy fellow," said the little man, "I will do what I can for you; take this and show it to your comrades in the morning." So he took out an old cloak and gave it to the soldier, telling him that whenever he put it over his shoulders anything that he wished would be fulfilled; then the little man made him a bow and walked away.
The second soldier's turn to watch came, and the first laid himself down to sleep; but the second man had not sat by himself long before up came the little man in the red jacket again. The soldier treated him in a friendly way as his comrade had done, and the little man gave him a purse, which he told him was always full of gold, let him draw as much as he would.
Then the third soldier's turn to watch came, and he also had the little man for his guest, who gave him a wonderful horn that drew crowds around it whenever it was played; and made everyone forget his business to come and dance to its beautiful music.
In the morning each told his story and showed his treasure; and as they all liked each other very much and were old friends, they agreed to travel together to see the world, and for a while only to make use of the purse. And thus they spent their time very joyously, till at last they began to be tired of this roving life, and thought they should like to have a home of their own. So the first soldier put his cloak on, and wished for a fine castle. In a moment it stood before their eyes; fine gardens and green lawns spread around it, and flocks of sheep and goats and herds of oxen were grazing about, and out of the gate came a fine coach with three dapple-gray horses to meet them and bring them home.
All this was very well for a time; but it would not do to stay at home always, so they got together all their rich clothes and servants, and ordered their coach with three horses, and set out on a journey to see a neighbouring king.
Now this king had an only daughter, and as he took the three soldiers for princes, he give them a kind welcome. One day as the second soldier was walking with the princess, she saw him with the wonderful purse in his hand. When she asked him what it was, he was foolish enough to tell her;—though indeed it did not much signify, for she was a witch and knew all the wonderful things that the three soldiers brought. Now this princess was very cunning and artful; so she set to work and made a purse so like the soldier's that no one would know one from the other, and then asked him to come and see her, and made him drink some wine that she had got ready for him, till he fell fast asleep. Then she felt in his pocket, and took away the wonderful purse and left the one she had made in its place.
The next morning, the soldiers set out home, and soon after they reached their castle, happening to want some money, they went to their purse for it, and found something indeed in it, but to their great sorrow when they had emptied it, none came in place of what they took. Then the cheat was soon found out; for the second soldier knew where he had been, and how he had told the story to the princess, and he guessed that she had betrayed him. "Alas!" cried he, "poor wretches that we are, what shall we do?" "Oh!" said the first soldier, "let no gray hairs grow for this mishap; I will soon get the purse back."
So he threw his cloak across his shoulders and wished himself in the princess's chamber. There he found her sitting alone, counting the gold that fell around her in a shower from the purse. But the soldier stood looking at her too long, for the moment she saw him she started up and cried out with all her voice: "Thieves! Thieves!" so that the whole court came running in, and tried to seize him. The poor soldier now began to be dreadfully frightened in his turn, and thought it was high time to make the best of his way off; so without thinking of the ready way of traveling that his cloak gave him, he ran to the window, opened it, and jumped out; and unluckily in his haste his cloak caught and was left hanging, to the great joy of the princess, who knew its worth.
The poor soldier made the best of his way home to his comrades on foot and in a very downcast mood; but the third soldier told him keep up his heart, and took his horn and blew a merry tune. At the first blast, a countless troop of foot and horse came rushing to their aid, and they set out to make war against their enemy. Then the king's palace was besieged, and he was told that he must give up the purse and cloak, or not one stone would be left upon another. And the king went into his daughter's chamber and talked with her; but she said: "Let me try first if I cannot beat them some other way." So she thought of a cunning scheme to overreach them, and dressed herself as a poor girl with a basket on her arm; and set out by night with her maid, and went into the enemy's camp to sell trinkets.
In the morning, she began to wander about, singing so beautifully that all the tents were emptied, and the soldiers ran round in crowds and thought of nothing but hearing her sing. Amongst the rest, came the soldier to whom the horn belonged, and as soon as she saw him she winked to her maid, who slipped quietly through the crowd and went into his tent, where it hung, and stole it away. This done, they both returned safely to the palace; the besieging army went away, the three wonderful gifts were left in the hands of the princess, and the three soldiers were as penniless and forlorn as when the little man with the red jacket found them in the wood.
Poor fellows! they began to wonder what they could do now. "Comrades," at last said the second soldier, who had had the purse, "we had better part; we cannot live together, let each seek his bread as best he can." So he turned to the right and the other two to the left; for they preferred to travel together. Then on he went till he came to the wood where they had met with such good luck before. He walked on a long time, till evening began to fall, when he sat down beneath a tree and soon fell asleep.
In the morning, when he awoke, he was delighted to see that the tree was laden with beautiful apples. He was hungry enough, so he soon plucked and ate first one, then a second, then a third. A strange feeling came over his nose; when he put the apple to his mouth something was in the way. He felt it, and found that it was his nose, which had grown till it hung down on his breast. It did not stop there, but grew and grew. "Heavens!" thought he, "when will it have done growing?" And well might he ask, for by this time it had reached the ground as he sat on the grass, and it kept on growing till he could not bear its weight, or raise himself up; and it seemed as though it would never end, for already it stretched its great length all through the wood.
Meantime his comrades were journeying on, till suddenly one of them stumbled against something. "What can that be?" asked the other. They looked, and could think of nothing that it looked like but a nose. "We will follow it and find the owner," said they; so they traced it till at last they found their poor comrade lying stretched out beneath the apple tree. What could they do? They tried in vain to carry him. They caught a horse that was passing by, and raised him upon its back; but it soon tired of carrying such a load. They sat down in despair, when up came the little man in the red jacket. "Why, how now, friend?" said he, laughing; "well, I must find a cure for you, I see." So he told them to gather a pear from a tree that grew close by, and the nose would come all right again. No time was lost, and the nose was soon brought to its proper size, to the poor soldier's great joy.
"I will do still more for you," said the little man; "take some of those pears and apples with you; whoever eats one of the apples will have his nose grow just as yours did; but if you give him a pear, it will become natural again. Go to the princess and get her to eat some of your apples; her nose will grow twenty times as long as yours did, and you will get what you want of her."
They thanked their old friend heartily for all his kindness, and it was agreed that the poor soldier who had already tried the power of the apple should undertake the task. So he dressed himself as a gardener, and went to the king's palace, and said he had some remarkable apples to sell. Every one that saw them was delighted and wanted to taste them, but he said they were for the princess only; and she soon sent her maid to buy his stock. They were so fine that she soon began eating them, and had already eaten three when she too began to wonder what ailed her nose, for it grew and grew, down to the ground, out of the window, and over the garden, nobody knows where.
Then the king issued a proclamation that whoever would heal this dreadful disease should be richly rewarded. Many tried, but the princess got no relief. And now the old soldier dressed himself very sprucely as a doctor, and said he could cure her; so he chopped up some of the apple, and to punish her a little more gave her a dose, saying he would call to-morrow and see her again. The morrow came, and as, of course, the nose had been growing fast all night, the poor princess was in a dreadful plight. So the doctor chopped up a very little of the pear and gave her, and said he was sure that would do her good, and that he would call again the next day. Next day came, and although the nose was a little smaller, yet it was still bigger than when the doctor first attended her.
Then he thought to himself, "I must frighten this cunning princess a little more before I shall get what I want of her;" so he gave her a little more of the chopped apple, and said he would call again on the morrow. The next day the nose was much bigger than before, and the doctor said: "Something is working against my medicine, and is too strong for it; but I know through my art what it is; you have stolen goods about you, and if you do not return them, there is no hope for you." But the princess very stoutly denied this, so the doctor said: "Very well, you may please yourself, but I am sure I am right, and if you do not do as I say, you will die." Then he went to the king and told him how it was. "Daughter," said the king, "send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn that you stole."
So she ordered her maid to fetch all three, and gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers. As soon as he had them safe, he gave her a whole pear to eat, and the nose returned to its proper shape. Then the doctor put on the cloak, wished the king and all his court a good day, and was soon with his two brothers, who lived from that time happily at home in their palace, except when they went out in their coach with the three dapple-gray horses.