One fine morning two young men were strolling together through the fields, when they perceived, at a great distance, a very high hill, on the top of which stood a beautiful castle, which sparkled so brightly in the sunshine that the youths were quite delighted, and could not help gazing at it.
"Let us go to it," said one of the lads.
"It is easy to say, 'Let us go,' but how can we walk so far?" retorted the other, who was a lazy fellow.
"You may do it easily," replied a clear voice behind them.
On looking around to see whence these words came, they perceived a beautiful fairy standing on a large ball, which rolled along with her upon it in the direction of the castle.
"It is no very difficult task for her, at all events. Look, she can get forward without moving a limb," said the lazy one, throwing himself down on the grass.
The other, however, was not so easily satisfied; for, without stopping to reflect, he started off after the fairy as fast as he could run, and catching hold of the skirts of her robe cried, "Who art thou?"
"I am Fortune," answered the fairy, "and yonder is my castle—;follow me there! If thou reachest it before midnight, I will receive thee as a friend; but remember, shouldst thou arrive one moment later, my door will be closed against thee."
With these words the fairy drew her robe from the hand of the young man, and went off so quickly upon her ball that she was soon out of sight.
The youth immediately ran back to his companion and told him all that had happened, adding: "I intend taking the fairy's advice. Will you accompany me?"
"Are you mad?" inquired the other; "for my part, if I had a good horse I should not mind the journey, but as for walking all that way, I certainly shall not attempt it."
"Farewell then," answered his comrade, who started off at a brisk pace in the direction of the castle.
The lazy one, however, reasoned thus to himself: "Exert yourself as much as you please, my worthy friend. Good fortune often comes while we are dozing; perhaps it may be my case to-day." And without more ado he stretched himself on the grass and fell fast asleep; not, however, before he had cast a longing glance at the beautiful castle on the hill. After sleeping some time he felt as though there were a warm wind blowing on his ear, and when he had stretched his slothful limbs and rubbed his sleepy eyes, he perceived a beautiful milk-white horse, ready saddled, standing beside him, shaking his mane and neighing lustily in the clear morning air.
"Ah, did I not say as much?" cried the youth. "Oh, if people would but trust to Fate! Come here, you fine creature! We must be good friends." So saying, he threw himself into the saddle, and the steed galloped off with him as swift as the wind. Thus mounted, our lazy friend very soon overtook his industrious companion, and hailing him as he passed cried: "Show respect to my horse's heels!" The other, however, continued on at a steady pace, without paying much heed to his satire.
About midday, on arriving at the summit of a beautiful hill, the horse suddenly stopped. "Quite right," cried his rider; "I find you are a very sagacious creature—;'soft and fairly' is a good proverb; the castle is now not very far off, but my appetite is a great deal nearer." So dismounting, he sought out a shady slope, and having laid down in the moss with his feet against the stump of a tree, he began to take some refreshment—;for happily he had a good supply of bread and sausage in his pocket, and a pleasant drink in his flask. As soon as the youth had satisfied his appetite, he began to feel rather drowsy, and, as is usual with indolent people, he gave full vent to the inclination, stretched himself on the moss, and fell into a sound sleep. Never had man a more pleasant sleep, nor accompanied with more delightful dreams. He imagined that he was already in the castle, reposing on silken cushions; and that all that he desired came to him immediately upon his beckoning with his little finger. After thus enjoying himself for some time, it seemed as though a firework went off with a great explosion; this was followed by strains of soft music, which went to the tune of a song he had often heard, every verse of which terminated with these words:
"Healthful limbs and spirits gay,
Bear the traveler on his way."
This continued some time, when he awoke with the song still ringing in his ears; then rubbing his eyes, he perceived that the setting sun was fast sinking behind the castle, and heard the voice of his companion singing from the valley before him the very words he had heard in his dream.
"What a time I have slept!" cried the lazy fellow. "It is high time that I was getting on my way. Come here, my steed! where are you?" But no steed was to be found; the only creature that he could see, after looking all around, was an old gray donkey, grazing on the top of a hill at some distance. He shouted and whistled with all his might, but the horse was gone quite out of hearing, and the old donkey did not seem to pay the least attention. So, after exerting his lungs to no purpose, the lazy fellow was obliged to go and try to make friends with the gray old beast, which allowed itself to be quietly mounted, and then trudged slowly on with him.
But our youth found this kind of traveling very different from the previous stage, for then he not only proceeded at a much quicker pace, but had a more comfortable seat, which was by no means an unimportant consideration with him. In the course of a short time it began to grow dark, and heavy clouds overspread the sky; already he could perceive that the castle was being lighted up, and now he began to be very frightened and anxious to get forward. The donkey, however, did not seem in any way to partake of his feelings, but continued on at even a slower pace than before. At length it became quite dark, and the donkey, after going slower and slower, came to a dead stand in the midst of a thick wood. All his entreaties were of no use, nor were threats and kicks of more avail—;the donkey would not move. At last the rider became so exasperated that he struck it with his fist; but this did not much improve our lazy friend's condition, for the obstinate brute instantly flung up its hind legs, and by that process released itself of its burden, which fell heavily on the ground. It required much less violence than our youth experienced in his fall to prove to him that he was not lying on a satin couch, for his legs and arms were dreadfully bruised. He remained some time in this miserable plight, but the bright and inviting appearance of the lights in the castle at length attracted his attention.
"Ah!" thought he, "what beautiful beds must there be in that fine building!"
This thought alone aroused for a moment his sluggish energies, and he managed to get on his feet. "Perhaps," thought he, "the gray old donkey may by this time have got into a better temper." So he searched about for him in every direction; but after knocking his head against the trees here, tearing his face with the thorns there, and stumbling over roots and stones for a full quarter of an hour without finding it, he gave up the search as hopeless. It was high time, however, that he made some effort to get out of this dismal wood, which every now and then resounded with dreary howls, sounding very much as though they proceeded from the throats of hungry wolves. At last, when quite bewildered with fear, he suddenly stumbled against something soft and slimy; he knew by the touch that it was not the donkey, but fancying it to be in the form of a saddle, he was about to bestride it at once; yet shuddered at the thought. He was still hesitating when the castle clock struck, and he counted eleven. Recollecting that it was drawing near to the eventful time and that he had no other hope, he threw himself on what appeared to be the saddle. He found his seat tolerably easy, as it was very soft, and at his back was something to lean against; another great advantage was that the creature on which he was mounted seemed to be very surefooted; there was, however, one great objection to it, and that was the creeping pace at which it moved, for it went along much slower than even the obstinate donkey.
Proceeding thus for some time, he got so near to the castle that he could count the windows, and in this occupation he was engaged when suddenly the moon shone out from between the clouds, and, oh, horror! what did he behold. The creature on which he sat was neither a horse nor a donkey, but an enormous snail, quite as large as a calf, and its house which it carried upon its back had served him to lean against! Now he could well understand why he had come at such a creeping pace. He turned as cold as death, and his hair stood on end with fright! But there was now no time for fear, for the castle clock had already made the woods resound with the first stroke of the midnight hour, just as his steed crawled out from the wood. Then how great was the young man's astonishment when he beheld the castle of Fortune in all its grandeur! Hitherto he had sat quietly on the snail, without hastening it, or in any way interfering with its pace; at the sight of the castle, however, he dashed both his heels into its sides, and attempted to urge it on. To this treatment the snail was quite unaccustomed, and instantly it drew its head into its shell and left the youth sprawling on the ground. The castle clock rang out the second stroke. Had the lazy fellow but mustered up resolution and trusted to his feet even then, he might have reached the castle in time. But no, there he stood crying bitterly and screaming out: "A beast! a beast! of whatever kind it may be, to carry me to yon castle."
The inmates of the building had already begun to extinguish the lights, and the moon being hidden by the clouds, he was again in total darkness. As the clock struck the third time he heard something moving near him, and, as well as he could make out in the dark, it seemed like a saddled horse: "Ah, that is my long-lost steed," cried he, "that Heaven has kindly sent to me at the needful moment!" As quickly as his lazy limbs would enable him, he leaped on the back of the creature. There was now only a little elevation to be surmounted, and he could easily see his companion standing at the open door of the castle waving his cap and beckoning him on. The clock chimed out the fourth stroke when the creature whereon he sat began to move slowly; then went the fifth and sixth strokes, and it began to advance a little at a very awkward pace; at the seventh, the creature began to move, first sideways and then went backward! To his great horror and surprise the rider found that he could not throw himself off, though he struggled with all his might. By a passing ray of the moon, he discovered that the new steed on which he was riding was a horrid monster with ten legs, and from either side there extended a large claw with which it held him fast by the arms. The youth screamed loudly for help, but all to no purpose; the animal still kept receding farther and farther from the castle, while the eventful moment approached nearer and nearer, until the twelfth stroke proclaimed the midnight hour. A flitting ray of the moon displayed the castle once more to his view in all its splendor. But in the same moment the youth heard the door shut, and the rattling noise of chains and bolts. The entrance to the castle of Fortune was closed against him forever! The moon now shone again in full luster and discovered the horrid monster, that still kept carrying him away, to be nothing more nor less than an enormous crab. Where he went to on this uncommon steed I cannot tell; for the fact is, nobody ever troubled themselves further about the lazy fellow.