O NCE upon a time there lived a king who had three sons, two of whom were bright youths, but the youngest never had anything to say for himself, so he was set down by everyone as a simpleton.
Years went on, and the King felt himself growing old, and he thought it was time to decide which of his sons was to succeed him.
This was not so easy, so he told the youths that whoever should bring him the most beautiful carpet should be his heir, and, lest they should all want to go in the same direction and quarrel, he went up to the roof of the palace and blew three feathers up into the air, saying:
"As they fly, thither shall you follow."
One feather flew east, another west, and the third went in a straight line between the two for a little way, and then fell suddenly to the ground. So one brother went east, and another west, and poor Dummling was left to follow the third feather, which had gone no distance at all, whereat his brothers were much amused.
Dummling sat down beside his feather, feeling very sad and doleful, and he was just thinking that all chance of the kingdom was at an end for him, when he discovered that all the time he was staring at a trapdoor in the ground. He lifted it, and found steps leading down into the earth, so he went down the stairs till he came to a door, and then he knocked.
Immediately he heard a voice singing:
"Little frog, so green and cold,
I prithee open and behold
Who it is that knocks so bold,"
and the door opened, and he saw a large frog squatting in the middle of a circle of little ones. The big one bowed to him as he entered, and asked him what he sought.
"Please," said Dummling, taking off his cap and returning the bow, "I want to know if you can help me to get the most beautiful carpet in the world."
The Frog rolled her eyes for a minute, and then, turning to one of the little ones at her side, said:
"Go bring me hither the big casket," and the little frog hopped away, and came back dragging a large box.
Then the mother Frog took a key that hung around her neck on a chain, and opened the box and drew forth the most beautiful carpet that was ever seen.
Dummling was delighted with it, and thanking her very heartily, he hurried up the steps, eager to take it to the palace.
Meanwhile, the two brothers, never thinking that Dummling was clever enough to find any sort of carpet at all, said to each other:
"Let us buy the shawl of the first peasant woman we meet. That should be good enough to win us the kingdom."
So they bought a common old shawl at the first opportunity, and took it home to the palace, arriving just at the same moment as Dummling.
The King was astonished when the carpets were spread out before him and he saw the lovely thing Dummling had brought.
"The prize," said he, "should by rights belong to my youngest son."
But the others were so angry at this, and worried their father so much, that for very peace he had to consent to a new test.
So the King gave out that whoever should bring him the most beautiful ring should be King when he died, and he blew up the feathers as before, and bade the youths follow them.
The two eldest went east and west, but Dummling's feather did as it did the first time, and fell to earth just by the trapdoor. So he pulled it up once again and went down the steps.
When the door was opened, he told the big Frog that he wanted the most beautiful ring in the world. So she sent one of her little attendants hopping for her jewel casket, and, when it was come, she took out of it a ring that fairly blazed with diamonds and other jewels, and finer than the finest workmanship that could be obtained. You may imagine Dummling thanked her very warmly for the ring, and hurried off back to the palace as fast as his legs could carry him. He found his brothers had just arrived with rings they had taken no more pains to make than to beat two rusty nails into circlets. As soon as the King saw Dummling's lovely jewel, he cried out:
"The kingdom belongs to him."
But the brothers again flew into a passion at this, and said that a youth who had as little wit as Dummling could not possibly reign over the land. So they worried the father at last to make just one more condition; and this time he said that whoever should bring home the most beautiful woman in the world should succeed to the throne. A third time he blew the feathers into the air, and the youths set out after them.
Dummling's feather floated and fell just as before, and again he pulled up his trapdoor and went down into the presence of the old Frog, and told her that this time he wanted the most beautiful maiden in all the world.
"Hum!" said the Frog, "it is not everyone who gets that; still I will do my best for you, nevertheless. But first take this," and she gave Dummling a little toy cart made of a hollow carrot, to which were harnessed six beautiful white mice.
The youth looked at this rather doubtfully, and asked the mother Frog what he was to do with it.
"I will tell you," she said. "Take one of my little frog attendants and set her on the carrot."
So Dummling picked up the one that happened to be nearest him and put her on the carrot, and lo and behold! no sooner was she seated than she changed into a beautiful maiden, and the carrot and the mice into a grand chariot drawn by six prancing horses. As soon as he could stop rubbing his eyes from wonder, Dummling kissed the maiden, and drove off in triumph to the palace.
Meanwhile, the brothers, as usual, had taken no trouble whatever, and at the moment Dummling drove up in his glory they appeared with two peasant girls, who were not even pretty.
Of course the King had nothing for it but to award the kingdom to his youngest son, and, of course, the elder brothers still grumbled, and made such a fuss that at last the poor King had to consent to yet another trial.
To prove which was the best wife of the three, he decided that they should all jump through a hoop in the hall, and the one who did it most prettily was to be the winner.
And now all the court was gathered together in the hall to see the contest. The country girls jumped, but were so plump that they fell heavily and broke their arms and legs. Then Dummling's lovely maiden sprang lightly and gracefully through the ring, and landed safely on the other side.
So at last the brothers had to be content, and in time Dummling came to the throne and ruled wisely and well for many, many years.