Gateway to the Classics: A Child's Book of Stories by Penrhyn W. Coussens
A Child's Book of Stories by  Penrhyn W. Coussens

The Six Comrades

T HERE was once a man who had served bravely in the wars, and when they were ended he received his discharge and three florins, which was all he had to face the world with.

"This is mean treatment!" said he. "But wait a bit; if only I can get hold of the right people, the king shall be made to give me the treasures of the whole kingdom."

So, full of wrath, he went into the forest, where he came across a man who had just uprooted six trees as if they had been corn-stalks.

"Wilt thou be my servant and travel with me?" said our hero.

"Yes," replied the man; "but first I must take home these few fagots to my mother," and lifting the bundle on his shoulder, he carried it away.

Then he returned to his master, who said: "We two shall be a match for all the world."

Now, when they had journeyed for a little space they met a huntsman, who was on his knees taking aim with his gun.

And the master said: "Tell me, huntsman, what is it you are going to shoot."

And the man answered: "Two miles off there is a fly sitting on the branch of an oak tree, whose left eye I intend to shoot out."

"Come with me!" said the master; "we three shall be a match for all the world."

The huntsman was quite willing, and he came with him, and they soon arrived at seven windmills whose sails were whirling round at a tremendous speed, although there was not a breath of wind to stir a leaf on the trees.

Then said the master: "I cannot think what it is that drives the windmills, for there is not the slightest breeze." But going on farther with his servants for about two miles, they saw a man sitting on a tree, puffing out his cheeks and blowing. So the master said:

"My good fellow, what are you doing up there?"

"Oh," replied the man, "there are seven windmills two miles from here; just look how I am sending them around."

"Come with me!" cried the master; "we four shall be a match for all the world."

So the blower climbed down and accompanied him, and presently they came upon a man who was standing on one leg, for he had unbuckled the other and it was lying on the ground by his side. Then the master said:

"I suppose you want to make yourself more comfortable while resting?"

"No," said the man; "I am a runner, and in order not to race over the ground too quickly, I have unbuckled my leg, for, if I were to run with both, I should go faster than any bird flies."

"Come with me!" said the master; "we five shall be a match for the whole world."

The five comrades all started off together, and soon they met a man who had on a hat, which he wore tilted on one side of his head.

Then said the master: "Manners, my friend, manners. Don't wear your hat like that, but put it on properly; you look like a simpleton."

"I dare not do it," returned the man, "for if I did, there would come such a fearful frost that every bird in the sky would freeze and fall dead upon the ground."

"Come with me!" said the master; "we six shall be a match for all the world."

Then the six companions came to a city where the king had proclaimed that whoever should run in a race with his daughter and be victorious might become her husband, but if he lost the race he would also lose his head.

This was told to our hero, who said: "I will make my servant run for me."

Then the king answered, "Then thou must also forfeit thine own life as well as thy servant's, for both heads must be sacrificed if the race be lost."

When the conditions were agreed upon, and everything was arranged, the master buckled on the runner's other leg, saying: "Now, be as nimble as you can, and don't fail to win."

Now, the wager was that whoever was the first to bring water from a distant spring should be the winner.

The runner received the pitcher, as did also the king's daughter, and they both began to run at the same moment; but when the Princess had run a little way the runner was quite out of sight, and it seemed as if there had only been a rushing of the wind. In a very short time he reached the well, so he drew up the water to fill his pitcher and turned back.

But when he was half way home, he was overcome with fatigue, so he put the pitcher down, stretched himself on the ground, and fell asleep. He made a pillow of a horse's skull, which was lying close by, thinking that, as it was so hard, he would very soon wake up again.

In the meantime, the king's daughter, who was a splendid runner and ran better than many a man, reached the spring and hurried back with her pitcher of water. Suddenly, she saw the runner lying asleep on the wayside; she was overjoyed at this, and exclaimed: "The enemy is given into my hands!" Then, emptying his pitcher, she ran on as fast as she could.

Now, all would have been lost if by great good fortune the huntsman had not been standing on one side of the castle towers and had seen everything with his sharp eyes.

Said he: "The king's daughter shall be no match for us if I can help it." So, loading his gun, he aimed so true that he shot away the horse's skull from under the runner's head without harming him in the least.

This awakened the runner, who, springing up, saw in a flash that his pitcher had been emptied, and that the king's daughter was already far ahead of him.

However, he did not lose courage, but ran back swiftly to the well, drew up fresh water, filled his pitcher, and was back again full ten minutes before the kings' daughter.

"See what I can do," cried he, "when I really use my legs; what I did before could scarcely be called running."

The king was displeased, and so was his daughter, that a common discharged soldier should have won the race; so they consulted with each other how they could rid themselves of him, together with his five comrades.

Then the king said to his daughter, "Do not be afraid, my child, for I have found a way to prevent their coming back."

So he said to the six companions, "You must now eat, drink, and be merry." Saying which, he led them to a room that had an iron floor and iron doors, and even the windows were secured with iron bars.

In this apartment there was a table covered with the most delicious appetizing dishes; and the king said: "Now come in and sit down and enjoy yourselves."

Directly they were all inside he had the doors locked and bolted. This done, the king sent for the cook, and commanded him to light a fire underneath the room, until the iron should become red-hot.

The heat soon became so great that the six comrades guessed that the king wished to suffocate them.

But the man with the hat set it straight on his head, and immediately a frost fell on everything, and all the heat vanished, while the meats on the dishes began to freeze.

When the king believed they had all perished in the heat he ordered the doors opened, and there stood all the six men safe and sound.

They said they would like very much to come out and warm themselves, for the cold had been so intense that the meat had frozen on their plates.

Then the king commanded why the cook had not obeyed his commands.

But the cook pointed to the tremendous fire that was still burning, and the king saw that he could not harm the six companions in this way.

In despair the king began to cast about in his mind for some other way to rid himself of his unwelcome guests; so he commanded the master to be sent before him.

"If you will give up all claim to my daughter," said he, "you shall have as much gold as you can wish for."

"Indeed, your Majesty, if you will only give me as much as my servant can carry, I will no more demand your daughter."

This pleased the king very much, and the master said that he would return in fourteen days to take away the gold.

Thereupon the master ordered all the tailors in the kingdom to sew him a sack of such a size that it would take fourteen days to make it. When it was finished he sent the strong man, who uprooted the trees, with the sack on his shoulder to the king.

So the king ordered a ton of gold to be fetched, which required sixteen men to carry; but the strong man took it up in one hand and said, "Why don't you bring more at a time? This scarcely covers the bottom of the sack."

So the king sent again and again for all his treasures to be brought, and the strong man threw it all into the sack, which was not yet half full.

"Bring me more!" he cried, "these few crumbs won't fill it."

Therefore they were obliged to bring seven thousand wagons laden with gold to the palace; these the strong man pushed into his sack, together with the oxen which were yoked to the wagons.

At last when everything that could possibly be found had been put in, he said: "Well, I must finish this; even if the sack isn't quite full, it's all the easier to tie it up."

Saying which, he lifted it on his back and went off with his companions.

When the king saw how this one man was carrying off all the wealth of his kingdom, he flew into a great passion and ordered all his cavalry to pursue the six comrades, commanding them to take away the sack from the strong man.

The two regiments soon overtook the six men and shouted to them: "Halt! You are our prisoners. Put down that sack of gold, or we will cut you to pieces."

"What is this you are saying?" asked the blower coolly. "We are your prisoners? Aha! First you must have a little dance together up in the air."

Then he puffed out his cheeks and blew the two regiments up into the air.

Some were blown away on the one side of the mountains, and some disappeared in the blue distance on the other.

A sergeant cried for mercy: he had nine wounds, and was a brave fellow and did not deserve such a disgrace. So the blower blew gently after him, which brought him back to the ground without hurting him.

"Now go home," said the blower, "and tell the king that he may send any number of horsemen after us, but I will blow them all into the air."

When the king received this message he said: "Let the fellows go! They will meet with their deserts."

So the six comrades brought home the wealth of the kingdom which they divided, and lived happily to the end of their days.

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