Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Ladder Book by E. Hershey Sneath
The Golden Ladder Book by  E. Hershey Sneath

The Queen Bee

A king once had two sons who were thought to be very clever; but they wasted their time and money and never did very much good in the world. They had a younger brother, whom they called "simpleton" because he was quiet and simple.

They were rather cruel to him, making fun of him and telling him that he would never get along in the world because he was not as clever as they were.

One evening they all went out for a walk together, and in their path they found an ant hill. The two elder brothers wanted to upset the ant hill, so that they could see the little ants running about in their fright and carrying away their eggs to a safe place. But the simpleton said:—

"No, no; let the poor little things alone. Don't spoil their nice house."

Then they went on until they came to a lake where a great many ducks were swimming.

The brothers wished to catch one to roast, but the simpleton said:—

"Please leave the poor birds in peace. I cannot bear to have you kill any of them."

So the ducks were left to live, and the three brothers walked on again until they came to a bees' nest in a tree, with honey running all over the trunk.

The two brothers wanted to light a fire under the tree to smother the bees, so that they could take away the honey, but the younger brother begged them not to.

"Leave the poor things in peace," said he, "I cannot bear to t1iink of their being burnt."

Again they listened to him, even though they thought him stupid; and they all walked on until they came to a castle.

Inside the castle they found an old man who seemed to be very deaf. When he saw them he did not say a word, but led them to a table covered with good things to eat. After they had eaten and drunk as much as they wished, he showed them beds where they could sleep.

The next inorning the gray old man came to the eldest brother, made signs to him to follow, and led him to a stone table, on which were written three sentences. The first sentence said:—

"In the wood under the moss are hidden a thousand pearls of the king's daughter. Whoever can find them all in one day before the sun goes down will free the castle from its spell. But if he should search and not succeed before sunset, he will be turned to stone."

The eldest brother read these words and decided to try. He looked all day, but at sunset he had found only a hundred pearls, and was therefore turned into stone.

In spite of this, the second brother made an attempt and began his task in the evening, so that he looked all night. By sunset next day he had found only two hundred pearls and was turned to stone like his brother.

At last the simpleton had to look for the pearls, but he was very unhappy at having to do it, for he thought that he was so much stupider than his brothers that if they had failed, of course there could be no chance for him.

As he sat thinking about it, he saw coming toward him the ant king, whose life and house he had saved. He had brought with him five thousand of his ants, and it was not long before they had found all the pearls, and piled them up in a large heap. Then they went home, hardly waiting for his thanks. They had been glad to help him and thus show their gratitude.

When the simpleton went back to the castle with the pearls, he was given another task to do. It was to find the key of the princess's sleeping room, which had been thrown into the bottoin of the lake.

Of course, he could not possibly hope to do this by himself, but when he went down to the lake he found there the very ducks that he had saved from being killed. They knew him at once, and when they heard what he wanted, they quickly dived to the bottom of the lake and got the key for him.

Now the third thing he had to do was the hardest of all. He had to go into the room where the king's three daughters were sleeping, find out which was the youngest, and wake her. They all looked so much alike that he could not tell them apart. The only difference was that before going to sleep the eldest had eaten barley sugar, the second a little syrup, and the youngest a spoonful of honey. But how could he tell which had eaten the honey? Just as he was wondering what he should do about it, in came the queen bee he had seen the day before. She quickly flew to each of the sisters, and lit on their lips as if they were flowers. And, of course, she knew all about honey because she made it herself, so she could tell which one had eaten the honey.

She remained sitting on the mouth of the youngest. Then the boy knew which sister to waken. The castle was freed from its spell in a moment, and every one who had been turned to stone was changed back again.

You may be sure the older brothers no longer thought their younger brother was a simpleton.


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