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Clifton Johnson

The Beggar and the Princess

O NCE there was a boy who had a wonderful horse. When he wanted to ride, all he had to do was to say, "Saddle and bridle my little horse," and no matter where the boy was the horse came immediately, all ready to be mounted.

Then the boy would go for a ride, and when he had ridden as much as he pleased, he would dismount and say, "Off saddle, off bridle," and at once in place of the horse there was a little cloud of mist that in a moment afterward had melted into nothing.

The boy lived with his mother, but at length he grew up, and was tired of staying at home. So he set out to seek adventures. He told no one where he was going, but mounted his horse and travelled for a long time until he arrived in the country of a great king. As he was riding through this country he came to a large city, and in the midst of the city lived the king in a handsome palace. The young man stopped his horse before the palace and sat admiring the fine building when a coach came forth from the gates and passed him. In the coach sat the king's daughter, and she was very beautiful.

"Ah!" said the young man, "I wish I might marry that beautiful princess. I must contrive some way to speak with her."

So he dismounted and said, "Off saddle, off bridle," and his horse was instantly gone from sight.

Now he went to a second-hand clothing shop in the city and bought the most ragged suit of clothes he could get, and after that he sought out a lodging-place for the night.

The next morning he dressed himself in the ragged clothes and put his other clothes in a bundle and returned to the king's palace. He went in at a side gate and around to the rear to the kitchen, and made signs that he wanted work. He would say no words, but only mumbled, and the king's servants thought he was an idiot. However, they were kind to him, and he helped them at their work and they let him sleep on the kitchen hearth. As they did not know his name they called him "The Beggar."

He remained in the kitchen for a whole week, and when Sunday came everybody in the palace went to church except the beggar and the princess. As to the beggar, no one thought of his going, for his clothes were not good enough; and the princess stayed at home because she was not feeling well that day.

The rest of the household were no sooner out of the way than the beggar put on his fine garments, which he had kept tied up in a bundle, and said, "Saddle and bridle my little horse."

The horse appeared at once, and the young man began to ride back and forth on the paths of the palace gardens. Pretty soon the princess saw him and she stepped out on a little balcony and called to him to know who he was. So he came close up under the window, and they talked together until they heard the people coming from church. Then the young man dashed away to get out of sight, and in his haste ran his horse across a flower-bed and broke some of the pots and tender plants. But he got safely to the kitchen and made his horse disappear and put on his shabby clothes again.


The damage in the garden was reported to the king, and he tried to discover who had done it, and was very angry. He summoned his servants, but they said that the beggar was the only one who had remained at home. So the king questioned the beggar, but he would only mumble in reply, and the king could do nothing with him.

The next Sunday every one went to church except the princess and the beggar. She stayed at home because she wanted to see him again, and no one expected him to go because his clothes were not good enough. But when the other servants were gone it did not take him long to get into his fine garments and call for his horse. Then he rode in the garden, and presently he saw the princess at her window waiting to speak with him.

They talked together just as they had the week before, until they heard the people coming from church, and then the young man had to hurry to get out of sight. There was no time to lose, and he galloped across a flower-bed and broke some more pots and tender plants.

The king was furious when he saw this new damage, and he declared that the rascal who was spoiling his garden must be caught.

So the third Sunday the king stayed at home from church, and hid in the palace cellar where there was a narrow window that looked out on the garden. Thence he watched, and presently he saw the young man riding on the paths, and he ran out and caught the horse by the bridle.

"What do you mean, you villain, by riding around in my garden this way?" shouted the king. "I'll have your head taken off as soon as my servants get back from church."

The young man leaped down from his horse and said, "Off saddle, off bridle," and the king saw a little puff of fog disappearing, and the horse was gone, and his hand that had gripped the horse's bridle was empty.

He rubbed his eyes. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "can you do such things as that?"

"Yes," said the young man, "and I beg you will hear my story."

So he told the king all about himself and his wonderful horse, and the king was very much interested. Last of all the young man told the king how he loved his daughter, and that he wanted to marry her; and the king said he was willing. So the young man sent for his mother, and he married the princess, and they lived a long time and were very happy.