Gateway to the Classics: The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith
The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith

The Valiant Chatteemaker

O NCE upon a time, in a violent storm of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain, a tiger crept for shelter close to the wall of an old woman's hut. This old woman was very poor, and her hut was but a tumble-down place, through the roof of which the rain came drip, drip, drip, on more sides than one. This troubled her much, and she went running about from side to side, dragging first one thing and then another out of the way of the leaky places in the roof, and as she did so she kept saying to herself: "Oh, dear! oh, dear! how tiresome this is! I'm sure the roof will come down! If an elephant, or a lion, or a tiger were to walk in, he wouldn't frighten me half so much as this perpetual dripping." And then she would begin dragging the bed and all the other things in the room about again, to get them out of the way of the wet. The tiger, who was crouching down just outside, heard all that she said, and thought to himself: "This old woman says she would not be afraid of an elephant, or a lion, or a tiger, but that this perpetual dripping frightens her more than all. What can this 'perpetual dripping' be?—it must be something very dreadful." And hearing her immediately afterwards dragging all the things about the room again, he said to himself: "What a terrible noise! Surely that must be the 'perpetual dripping.' "

At this moment a Chatteemaker, who was in search of his donkey, which had strayed away, came down the road. The night being very cold, he had, truth to say, taken a little more toddy than was good for him, and seeing, by the glare of a flash of lightning, a large animal lying down close to the old woman's hut, he mistook it for the donkey he was looking for.

So, running up to the tiger, he seized hold of it by one ear, and commenced beating, kicking, and abusing it with all his might and main. "You wretched creature!" he cried, "is this the way you serve me, obliging me to come out and look for you in such pouring rain and on such a dark night as this? Get up instantly or I'll break every bone in your body"; so he went on scolding and thumping the tiger with his utmost power, for he had worked himself up into a terrible rage. The tiger did not know what to make of it all, but he began to feel quite frightened, and said to himself: "Why, this must be the 'perpetual dripping'; no wonder the old woman said she was more afraid of it than of an elephant, a lion, or a tiger, for it gives most dreadfully hard blows."

The Chatteemaker, having made the tiger get up, got on his back and forced him to carry him home, kicking and beating him the whole way, for all this time he fancied he was on his donkey; and then he tied his forefeet and his head firmly together, and fastened him to a post in front of his house, and when he had done this he went to bed.

Next morning, when the Chatteemaker's wife got up and looked out of the window, what did she see but a great big tiger tied up, in front of their house, to the post to which they usually fastened the donkey. She was very much surprised, and running to her husband, awoke him, saying: "Do you know what animal you fetched home last night?" "Yes, the donkey, to be sure," he answered. "Come and see," said she, and she showed him the great tiger tied to the post. The Chatteemaker at this was no less astonished than his wife, and felt himself all over to find if the tiger had not wounded him. But, no, he was safe and sound, and there was the tiger tied to the post, just as he had fastened it up the night before.

News of the Chatteemaker's exploit soon spread through the village, and all the people came to see him and hear him tell how he had caught the tiger and tied it to the post; and this they thought so wonderful that they sent a deputation to the Rajah, with a letter to tell him how a man of their village had, alone and unarmed, caught a great tiger and tied it to a post.

When the Rajah read the letter he also was much surprised, and determined to go in person to see this astonishing sight. So he sent for his horses and carriages, his lords and attendants, and they all set off together to look at the Chatteemaker and the tiger he had caught.

Now the tiger was a very large one, and had long been the terror of the whole country around, which made the whole matter still more extraordinary; and all this being represented to the Rajah, he determined to confer all possible honor on the valiant Chatteemaker. So he gave him houses and lands, and as much money as would fill a well, made him a lord of his court, and conferred on him the command of ten thousand horse.

It came to pass, shortly after this, that a neighboring rajah, who had long had a quarrel with this one, sent to announce his intention of going instantly to war with him; and tidings were brought at the same time that the Rajah who sent the challenge had gathered a great army together on the borders, and was prepared at a moment's notice to invade the country.

In this dilemma no one knew what to do. The Rajah sent for all his generals, and inquired of them which would be willing to take command of his forces and oppose the enemy. They all replied that the country was so ill prepared for the emergency, and the case was apparently so hopeless, that they would rather not take the responsibility of the chief command. The Rajah knew not whom to appoint in their stead. Then some of his people said to him: "You have lately given the command of ten thousand horse to the valiant Chatteemaker who caught the tiger. Why not make him commander-in-chief? A man who could catch a tiger and tie him to a post, must surely be more courageous and clever than most." "Very well," said the Rajah, "I will make him commander-in-chief." So he sent for the Chatteemaker and said to him: "In your hands I place all the power of the kingdom; you must put our enemies to flight for us." "So be it," answered the Chatteemaker; "but, before I lead the whole army against the enemy, suffer me to go by myself and examine their position, and, if possible, find out their numbers and strength."

The Rajah consented, and the Chatteemaker returned home to his wife and said: "They have made me commander-in-chief, which is a very difficult post for me to fill, because I shall have to ride at the head of all the army, and you know I never was on a horse in my life. But I have succeeded in gaining a little delay, as the Rajah has given me permission to go first alone and reconnoiter the enemy's camp. Do you therefore provide a very quiet pony, for you know I cannot ride, and I will start to-morrow morning."

But, before the Chatteemaker had started, the Rajah sent over to him a most magnificent charger richly caparisoned, which he begged he would ride when going to see the enemy's camp. The Chatteemaker was frightened almost out of his life, for the charger that the Rajah had sent him was very powerful and spirited, and he felt sure that even if he ever got on it, he should very soon tumble off; however, he did not dare to refuse it, for fear of offending the Rajah by not accepting his present. So he sent back to him a message of thanks, and said to his wife: "I cannot go on the pony, now that the Rajah has sent me this fine horse; but how am I ever to ride it?" "Oh, don't be frightened," she answered; "you've only to get upon it, and I will tie you firmly on so that you cannot tumble off, and if you start at night no one will see that you are tied on." "Very well," he said.

So that night his wife brought the horse that the Rajah had sent him to the door. "Indeed," said the Chatteemaker, "I can never get into that saddle, it is so high up." "You must jump," said his wife. So he tried to jump several times, but each time he jumped he tumbled down again. "I always forget when I am jumping," said he, "which way I ought to turn." "Your face must be toward the horse's head," she answered. "To be sure, of course," he cried, and giving one great jump he jumped into the saddle, but with his face toward the horse's tail. "This won't do at all," said his wife as she helped him down again; "try getting on without jumping." "I never can remember," he continued, "when I have got my left foot in the stirrup, what to do with my right foot or where to put it." "That must go in the other stirrup," she answered; "let me help you." So after many trials in which he tumbled down very often, for the horse was fresh and did not like standing still, the Chatteemaker got into the saddle; but no sooner had he got there than he cried: "Oh, wife, wife! tie my very firmly as quickly as possible, for I know I shall jump down if I can." Then she fetched some strong rope and tied his feet firmly into the stirrups, fastened one stirrup to the other, and put another rope around his waist and another around his neck, and fastened them to the horse's body and neck and tail.

When the horse felt all these ropes about him he could not imagine what queer creature had got upon his back, and he began rearing and kicking and prancing, and at last set off full gallop, as fast as he could tear, right across country. "Wife, wife!" cried the Chatteemaker, "you forgot to tie my hands." "Never mind," said she, "hold on by the mane." So he caught hold of the horse's mane as firmly as he could. Then away went horse, away went Chatteemaker—away, away, away over hedges, over ditches, over rivers, over plains—away, away like a flash of lightning—now this way, now that—on, on, on, gallop, gallop, gallop—until they came in sight of the enemy's camp.

The Chatteemaker did not like his ride at all, and when he saw where it was leading him he liked it still less, for he thought the enemy would catch him and very likely kill him. So he determined to make one desperate effort to be free, and stretching out his hand as the horse shot past a young banyan tree, seized hold of it with all his might, hoping that the resistance it offered might cause the ropes that tied him to break. But the horse was going at his utmost speed, and the soil in which the banyan tree grew was loose, so that when the Chatteemaker caught hold of it and gave it such a violent pull it came up by the roots, and on he rode as fast as before, with the tree in his hand.

All the soldiers in the camp saw him coming, and, having heard that an army was to be sent against them, made sure that the Chatteemaker was one of the vanguard. "See," cried they, "here comes a man of gigantic stature on a mighty horse! He rides at full speed across the country, tearing up the very trees in his rage! He is one of the opposing force; the whole army must be close at hand. If they are such as he, we are all dead men." Then, running to their Rajah, some of them cried again: "Here comes the whole force of the enemy" (for the story had by this time become exaggerated); "they are men of gigantic stature, mounted on mighty horses; as they come they tear up the very trees in their rage; we can oppose men, but not monsters such as these." These were followed by others, who said: "It is all true," for by this time the Chatteemaker had got pretty near the camp; they're coming! they're coming! let us fly! let us fly—fly, fly for your lives!" And the whole panic-stricken multitude fled from the camp, those who had seen no cause for alarm going because the others did, or because they did not care to stay by themselves, after having obliged their Rajah to write a letter to the one whose country he was about to invade, to say that he would not do so, and to propose terms of peace, and to sign it and seal it with his seal. Scarcely had all the people fled from the camp when the horse on which the Chatteemaker was came galloping into it, and on his back rode the Chatteemaker, almost dead from fatigue, with the banyan tree in his hand. Just as he reached the camp the ropes by which he was tied broke, and he fell to the ground. The horse stood still, too tired with his long run to go farther. On recovering his senses, the Chatteemaker found, to his surprise, that the whole camp, full of rich arms, clothes, and trappings, was entirely deserted. In the principal tent, moreover, he found a letter addressed to his Rajah, announcing the retreat of the invading army and proposing terms of peace.

So he took the letter and returned home with it as fast as he could, leading his horse all the way, for he was afraid to mount him again. It did not take him long to reach his house by the direct road, for while riding he had gone a more circuitous journey than was necessary, and he reached there just at nightfall. His wife ran out to meet him, overjoyed at his speedy return. As soon as he saw her, he said: "Ah, wife, since I saw you last I've been all around the world, and had many wonderful and terrible adventures. But never mind that now: send this letter quickly to the Rajah by a messenger, and send the horse also that he sent for me to ride. He will then see, by the horse looking so tired, what a long ride I've had; and if he is sent on beforehand, I shall not be obliged to ride him up to the palace door to-morrow morning, as I otherwise should, and that would be very tiresome, for most likely I should tumble off." So his wife sent the horse and the letter to the Rajah, and a message that her husband would be at the palace early next morning, as it was then late at night. And next day he went down there, as he had said he would; and when the people saw him coming, they said: "This man is as modest as he is brave; after having put our enemies to flight, he walks quite simply to the door, instead of riding here in state, as another man would." For they did not know that the Chatteemaker walked because he was afraid to ride.

The Rajah came to the palace door to meet him, and paid him all possible honor. Terms of peace were agreed upon between the two countries, and the Chatteemaker was rewarded for all he had done, by being given twice as much rank and wealth as he had before, and he lived very happily all the rest of his life.

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