When man's strength fails, woman's wit prevails.
I N the days when the great and wise King Solomon lived and ruled, evil spirits and demons were as plentiful in the world as wasps in summer.
So King Solomon, who was so wise and knew so many potent spells that he had power over evil such as no man has had before or since, set himself to work to put those enemies of mankind out of the way. Some he conjured into bottles, and sank into the depths of the sea; some he buried in the earth; some he destroyed altogether, as one burns hair in a candle-flame.
Now, one pleasant day when King Solomon was walking in his garden with his hands behind his back, and his thoughts busy as bees with this or that, he came face to face with a Demon, who was a prince of his kind. "Ho, little man!" cried the evil spirit, in a loud voice, "art not thou the wise King Solomon who conjures my brethren into brass chests and glass bottles? Come, try a fall at wrestling with me, and whoever conquers shall be master over the other for all time. What do you say to such an offer as that?"
"I say aye!" said King Solomon, and, without another word, he stripped off his royal robes and stood bare breasted, man to man with the other.
The world never saw the like of that wrestling match betwixt the king and the Demon, for they struggled and strove together from the seventh hour in the morning to the sunset in the evening, and during that time the sky was clouded over as black as night, and the lightning forked and shot, and the thunder roared and bellowed, and the earth shook and quaked.
But at last the king gave the enemy an under twist, and flung him down on the earth so hard that the apples fell from the trees; and then, panting and straining, he held the evil one down, knee on neck. Thereupon the sky presently cleared again, and all was as pleasant as a spring day.
King Solomon bound the Demon with spells, and made him serve him for seven years. First, he had him build a splendid palace, the like of which was not to be seen within the bounds of the seven rivers; then he made him set around the palace a garden, such as I for one wish I may see some time or other. Then, when the Demon had done all that the king wished, the king conjured him into a bottle, corked it tightly, and set the royal seal on the stopper. Then he took the bottle a thousand miles away into the wilderness, and, when no man was looking, buried it in the ground, and this is the way the story begins.
Well, the years came and the years went, and the world grew older and older, and kept changing (as all things do but two), so that by-and-by the wilderness where King Solomon had hid the bottle became a great town, with people coming and going, and all as busy as bees about their own business and other folks' affairs.
Among these towns-people was a little Tailor, who made clothes for many a worse man to wear, and who lived all alone in a little house with no one to darn his stockings for him, and no one to meddle with his coming and going, for he was a bachelor.
The little Tailor was a thrifty soul, and by hook and crook had laid by enough money to fill a small pot, and then he had to bethink himself of some safe place to hide it. So one night he took a spade and a lamp and went out in the garden to bury his money. He drove his spade into the ground—and click! He struck something hard that rang under his foot with a sound as of iron. "Hello!" said he, "what have we here?" and if he had known as much as you and I do, he would have filled in the earth, and tramped it down, and have left that plate of broth for somebody else to burn his mouth with.
As it was, he scraped away the soil, and then he found a box of adamant, with a ring in the lid to lift it by.
The Tailor clutched the ring and bent his back, and up came the box with the damp earth sticking to it. He cleaned the mould away, and there he saw, written in red letters, these words:
You may be sure that after he had read these words he was not long in breaking open the lid of the box with his spade.
Inside the first box he found a second, and upon it the same words:
Within the second box was another, and within that still another, until there were seven in all, and on each was written the same words:
Inside the seventh box was a roll of linen, and inside that a bottle filled with nothing but blue smoke; and I wish that bottle had burned the Tailor's fingers when he touched it.
"And is this all?" said the little Tailor, turning the bottle upside down and shaking it, and peeping at it by the light of the lamp. "Well, since I have gone so far I might as well open it, as I have already opened the seven boxes." Thereupon he broke the seal that stoppered it.
Pop! out flew the cork, and—Puff! Out came the smoke; not all at once, but in a long thread that rose up as high as the stars, and then spread until it hid their light.
The Tailor stared and goggled and gaped to see so much smoke come out of such a little bottle, and, as he goggled and stared, the smoke began to gather together again, thicker and thicker, and darker and darker, until it was as black as ink. Then out from it there stepped one with eyes that shone like sparks of fire, and who had a countenance so terrible that the Tailor's skin quivered and shrivelled, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth at the sight of it.
"Who are thou?" said the terrible being, in a voice that made the very marrow of the poor Tailor's bones turn soft from terror.
"If you please, sir," said he, "I am only a little tailor."
The evil being lifted up both hands and eyes. "How wonderful," he cried, "that one little tailor can undo in a moment that which took the wise Solomon a whole day to accomplish, and in the doing of which he wellnigh broke the sinews of his heart!" Then, turning to the Tailor, who stood trembling like a rabbit, "Hark thee!" said he. "For two thousand years I lay there in that bottle, and no one came nigh to aid me. Thou hast liberated me, and thou shalt not go unrewarded. Every morning at the seventh hour I will come to thee, and I will perform for thee whatever task thou mayst command me. But there is one condition attached to the agreement, and woe be to thee if that condition is broken. If any morning I should come to thee, and thou hast no task for me to do, I shall wring thy neck as thou mightest wring the neck of a sparrow." Thereupon he was gone in an instant, leaving the little Tailor half dead with terror.
Now it happened that the prime-minister of that country had left an order with the Tailor for a suit of clothes, so the next morning, when the Demon came, the little man set him to work on the bench, with his legs tucked up like a journey-man tailor. "I want," said he, "such and such a suit of clothes."
"You shall have them," said the Demon; and thereupon he began snipping in the air, and cutting most wonderful patterns of silks and satins out of nothing at all, and the little Tailor sat and gaped and stared.
Then the Demon began to drive the needle like a spark of fire—the like was never seen in all the seven kingdoms, for the clothes seemed to make themselves.
At last, at the end of a little while, the Demon stood up and brushed his hands. "They are done," said he, and thereupon he instantly vanished. But the Tailor cared little for that, for upon the bench there lay such a suit of clothes of silk and satin stuff, sewed with threads of gold and silver and set with jewels, as the eyes of man never saw before; and the Tailor packed them up and marched off with them himself to the prime-minister.
The prime-minister wore the clothes to court that very day, and before evening they were the talk of the town. All the world ran to the Tailor and ordered clothes of him, and his fortune was made. Every day the Demon created new suits of clothes out of nothing at all, so that the Tailor grew as rich as a Jew, and held his head up in the world.
As time went along he laid heavier and heavier tasks upon the Demon's back, and demanded of him more and more; but all the while the Demon kept his own counsel, and said never a word.
One morning, as the Tailor sat in his shop window taking the world easy—for he had little or nothing to do now—he heard a great hubbub in the street below, and when he looked down he saw that it was the king's daughter passing by.
It was the first time that the Tailor had seen her, and when he saw her his heart stood still within him, and then began fluttering like a little bird, for one so beautiful was not to be met with in the four corners of the world. Then she was gone.
All that day the little Tailor could do nothing but sit and think of the princess, and the next morning when the Demon came he was thinking of her still.
"What hast thou for me to do to-day?" said the Demon, as he always said of a morning.
The little Tailor was waiting for the question.
"I would like you," said he, "to send to the king's palace, and to ask him to let me have his daughter for my wife."
"Thou shalt have thy desire," said the Demon. Thereupon he smote his hands together like a clap of thunder, and instantly the walls of the room clove asunder, and there came out four-and-twenty handsome youths, clad in cloth of gold and silver. After these four-and-twenty there came another one who was the chief of them all, and before whom, splendid as they were, the four-and-twenty paled like stars in daylight. "Go to the king's palace," said the Demon to that one, "and deliver this message: The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King asks for his daughter to wife."
"To hear is to obey," said the other, and bowed his forehead to the earth.
Never was there such a hubbub in the town as when those five-and-twenty, in their clothes of silver and gold, rode through the streets to the king's palace. As they came near, the gates of the palace flew open before them, and the king himself came out to meet them. The leader of the five-and-twenty leaped from his horse, and, kissing the ground before the king, delivered his message: "The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King asks for thy daughter to wife."
When the king heard what the messenger said, he thought and pondered a long time. At last he said, "If he who sent you is the Master of Masters, and greater than a king, let him send me an asking gift such as no king could send."
"It shall be as you desire," said the messenger, and thereupon the five-and-twenty rode away as they had come, followed by crowds of people.
The next morning when the Demon came the tailor was ready and waiting for him. "What hast thou for me to do to-day?" said the Evil One.
"I want," said the tailor, "a gift to send to the king such as no other king could send him."
"Thou shalt have thy desire," said the Demon. Thereupon he smote his hands together, and summoned, not five-and-twenty young men, but fifty youths, all clad in clothes more splendid than the others.
All of the fifty sat upon coal-black horses, with saddles of silver and housings of silk and velvet embroidered with gold. In the midst of all the five-and-seventy there rode a youth in cloth of silver embroidered in pearls. In his hand he bore something wrapped in a white napkin, and that was the present for the king such as no other king could give. So said the Demon: "Take it to the royal palace, and tell his majesty that it is from the Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King."
"To hear is to obey," said the young man, and then they all rode away.
When they came to the palace the gates flew open before them, and the king came out to meet them. The young man who bore the present dismounted and prostrated himself in the dust, and, when the king bade him arise, he unwrapped the napkin, and gave to the king a goblet made of one single ruby, and filled to the brim with pieces of gold. Moreover, the cup was of such a kind that whenever it was emptied of its money it instantly became full again. "The Tailor of Tailors, the Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King sends your majesty this goblet, and bids me, his ambassador, to ask for your daughter," said the young man.
When the king saw what had been sent him he was filled with amazement. "Surely," said he to himself, "there can be no end to the power of one who can give such a gift as this." Then to the messenger, "Tell your master that he shall have my daughter for his wife if he will build over yonder a palace such as no man ever saw or no king ever lived in before."
"It shall be done," said the young man, and then they all went away, as the others had done the day before.
The next morning when the Demon appeared the Tailor was ready for him. "Build me," said he, "such and such a palace in such and such a place."
And the Demon said, "It shall be done." He smote his hands together, and instantly there came a cloud of mist that covered and hid the spot where the palace was to be built. Out from the cloud there came such a banging and hammering and clapping and clattering as the people of that town never heard before. Then when evening had come the cloud arose, and there, where the king had pointed out, stood a splendid palace as white as snow, with roofs and domes of gold and silver. As the king stood looking and wondering at this sight, there came five hundred young men riding, and one in the midst of all who wore a golden crown on his head, and upon his body a long robe stiff with diamonds and pearls. "We come," said he, "from the Tailor of Tailors, and Master of Masters, and One Greater than a King, to ask you to let him have your daughter for his wife."
"Tell him to come!" cried the king, in admiration, "for the princess is his."
The next morning when the Demon came he found the Tailor dancing and shouting for joy. "The princess is mine!" he cried, "so make me ready for her."
"It shall be done," said the Demon, and thereupon he began to make the Tailor ready for his wedding. He brought him to a marble bath of water, in which he washed away all that was coarse and ugly, and from which the little man came forth as beautiful as the sun. Then the Demon clad him in the finest linen, and covered him with clothes such as even the emperor of India never wore. Then he smote his hands together, and the wall of the tailor-shop opened as it had done twice before, and there came forth forty slaves clad in crimson, and bearing bowls full of money in their hands. After them came two leading a horse as white as snow, with a saddle of gold studded with diamonds and rubies and emeralds and sapphires. After came a body-guard of twenty warriors clad in gold armor. Then the Tailor mounted his horse and rode away to the king's palace, and as he rode the slaves scattered the money amongst the crowd, who scrambled for it and cheered the Tailor to the skies.
That night the princess and the Tailor were married, and all the town was lit with bonfires and fireworks. The two rode away in the midst of a great crowd of nobles and courtiers to the palace which the Demon had built for the Tailor; and, as the princess gazed upon him, she thought that she had never beheld so noble and handsome a man as her husband. So she and the Tailor were the happiest couple in the world.
But the next morning the Demon appeared as he had appeared ever since the Tailor had let him out of the bottle, only now he grinned till his teeth shone and his face turned black. "What hast thou for me to do?" said he, and at the words the Tailor's heart began to quake, for he remembered what was to happen to him when he could find the Demon no more work to do—that his neck was to be wrung—and now he began to see that he had all that he could ask for in the world. Yes; what was there to ask for now?
"I have nothing more for you to do," said he to the Demon; "you have done all that man could ask—you may go now."
"Go!" cried the Demon, "I shall not go until I have done all that I have to do. Give me work, or I shall wring your neck." And his fingers began to twitch.
Then the Tailor began to see into what a net he had fallen. He began to tremble like one in an ague. He turned his eyes up and down, for he did not know where to look for aid. Suddenly, as he looked out of the window, a thought struck him. "Maybe," thought he, "I can give the Demon such a task that even he cannot do it. "Yes, yes!" he cried, "I have thought of something for you to do. Make me out yonder in front of my palace a lake of water a mile long and a mile wide, and let it be lined throughout with white marble, and filled with water as clear as crystal."
"It shall be done," said the Demon. As he spoke he spat in the air, and instantly a thick fog arose from the earth and hid everything from sight. Then presently from the midst of the fog there came a great noise of chipping and hammering, of digging and delving, of rushing and gurgling. All day the noise and the fog continued, and then at sunset the one ceased and the other cleared away. The poor Tailor looked out the window, and when he saw what he saw his teeth chattered in his head, for there was a lake a mile long and a mile broad, lined within with white marble, and filled with water as clear as crystal, and he knew that the Demon would come the next morning for another task to do.
That night he slept little or none, and when the seventh hour of the morning came the castle began to rock and tremble, and there stood the Demon, and his hair bristled and his eyes shone like sparks of fire. "What hast thou for me to do?" said he, and the poor Tailor could do nothing but look at him with a face as white as dough.
"What hast thou for me to do?" said the Demon again, and then at last the Tailor found his wits and his tongue from sheer terror. "Look!" said he, "at the great mountain over yonder; remove it, and make in its place a level plain with fields and orchards and gardens." And he thought to himself when he had spoken, "Surely, even the Demon cannot do that."
"It shall be done," said the Demon, and, so saying, he stamped his heel upon the ground. Instantly the earth began to tremble and quake, and there came a great rumbling like the sound of thunder. A cloud of darkness gathered in the sky, until at last all was as black as the blackest midnight. Then came a roaring and a cracking and a crashing, such as man never heard before. All day it continued, until the time of the setting of the sun, when suddenly the uproar ceased, and the darkness cleared away; and when the Tailor looked out of the window the mountain was gone, and in its place were fields and orchards and gardens.
It was very beautiful to see, but when the Tailor beheld it his knees began to smite together, and the sweat ran down his face in streams. All that night he walked up and down and up and down, but he could not think of one other task for the Demon to do.
When the next morning came the Demon appeared like a whirlwind. His face was as black as ink and smoke, and sparks of fire flew from his nostrils.
"What have you for me to do?" cried he.
"I have nothing for you to do!" piped the poor Tailor.
"Nothing?" cried the Demon.
"Then prepare to die."
"Stop!" cried the Tailor, falling on his knees, "let me first see my wife."
"So be it," said the Demon, and if he had been wiser he would have said "No."
When the Tailor came to the princess, he flung himself on his face, and began to weep and wail. The princess asked him what was the matter, and at last, by dint of question, got the story from him, piece by piece. When she had it all she began laughing. "Why did you not come to me before?" said she, "instead of making all this trouble and uproar for nothing at all? I will give the Monster a task to do." She plucked a single curling hair from her head. "Here," said she, "let him take this hair and make it straight."
The Tailor was full of doubt; nevertheless, as there was nothing better to do, he took it to the Demon.
"Hast thou found me a task to do?" cried the Demon.
"Yes," said the Tailor. "It is only a little thing. Here is a hair from my wife's head; take it and make it straight."
When the Demon heard what was the task that the Tailor had set him to do he laughed aloud; but that was because he did not know. He took the hair and stroked it between his thumb and finger, and, when he done, it curled more than ever. Then he looked serious, and slapped it between his palms, and that did not better matters, for it curled as much as ever. Then he frowned, and, began beating the hair with his palm upon his knees, and that only made it worse. All that day he labored and strove at his task trying to make that one little hair straight, and, when the sun set, there was the hair just as crooked as ever. Then, as the great round sun sank red behind the trees, the Demon knew that he was beaten. "I am conquered! I am conquered!" he howled, and flew away, bellowing so dreadfully that all the world trembled.
So ends the story, with only this to say:
Where man's strength fails, woman's wit prevails.
For, to my mind, the princess—not to speak of her husband the little Tailor—did more with a single little hair and her mother wit than King Solomon with all his wisdom.