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Kate Douglas Wiggin

The Queen Bee

O NCE upon a time two princes started off in search of adventure, and, falling into a wild, free mode of life, did not come home again.

The third brother, who was called the Blockhead, set out to look for the other two. But when at last he found them, they mocked him for thinking of making his way in the world with his simplicity, while they, who were so much cleverer, could not get on.

They all three went on together till they came to an ant heap. The two elder princes wanted to disturb it, to see how the little ants crept away, carrying their eggs.

But the Blockhead said: "Leave the little creatures alone; I will not allow you to disturb them."

Then they went on farther till they came to a lake in which a great many ducks were swimming about. The two wanted to catch and roast a pair.

But the Blockhead would not allow it, and said: "Leave the creatures alone. You shall not kill them."

At last they came to a bee's nest, containing such a quantity of honey that it flowed around the trunk of the tree.

The two princes wanted to set fire to the tree and suf- focate the bees, so as to remove the honey.

But the Blockhead stopped them again, and said: "Leave the creatures alone. I will not let you burn them."

At last the three brothers came to a castle, where the stables were full of stone horses, but not a soul was to be seen. They went through all the rooms till they came to a door quite at the end, fastened with three bolts. In the middle of the door was a lattice, through which one could see into the room.

There they saw a little gray man sitting at a table. They called to him once, twice; but he did not hear them. Finally, when they had called him the third time, he stood up and opened the door and came out. He said not a word, but led them to a richly spread table, and when they had eaten and drunk, he took them each to a bedroom.

The next morning the little Gray Man came to the eldest Prince, beckoned, and led him to a stone tablet whereon were inscribed three tasks by means of which the castle should be freed from enchantment.

This was the first task: in the wood, under the moss, lay the Princess's pearls, a thousand in number. These had all to be found, and if at sunset a single one were missing, the seeker would be turned to stone.

The eldest went away, and searched all day, but when evening came, he had only found the first hundred, and it happened as the inscription foretold—he was turned to stone.

The next day the second brother undertook the quest; but he fared no better than the first, for he found only two hundred pearls, and he too was turned to stone.

At last came the Blockhead's turn; he searched in the moss, but the pearls were hard to find, and he got on but slowly.

Then he sat down on a rock and cried, and as he was sitting there, the Ant King, whose life he had saved, came up with five thousand ants, and it was not long before the little creatures had found all the pearls and laid them in a heap.

Now the second task was to get the key of the Princess's room out of the lake.

When the Blockhead came to the lake, the ducks, which he had once saved, swam up, dived, and brought up the key from the depths.

But the third task was the hardest. The Prince had to find out which was the youngest and prettiest of the princesses while they were asleep.

They were exactly alike, and could not be distinguished in any way, except that before going to sleep each had eaten a different kind of sweet. The eldest a piece of sugar, the second a little syrup, and the third a spoonful of honey.

Then the Queen of the Bees, whom the Blockhead had saved from burning, came and tried the lips of all three. Finally, she settled on the mouth of the one who had eaten the honey, and so the Prince recognized the right one.

Then the charm was broken and everything in the castle was set free, and those who had been turned to stone took human form again.

And the Blockhead married the youngest and sweetest Princess, and became King after her father's death, while his two brothers married the other sisters.