The Enchanted Horse
A Malecite Legend
There was once an old man that had a son named Louis who used to go hunting to support his parents, for they were very poor. One day while he was hunting, a gentleman came to visit his parents.
This gentleman offered the old man a beaver hat full of gold for his son, and promised to take good care of the boy, whose only duties should be to tend the gentleman's horses.
"In about twenty years you will get your son back," said he.
The old man communicated the offer of the gentleman to his wife. She, however, was not anxious to accept it. Then the old man, goaded by the thoughts of their poverty, tried to persuade her, and he finally accepted the offer against his wife's inclinations. The gentleman waited for Louis to arrive, and then he took him away.
When he arrived at his home, he showed the boy over his house, and gave him permission to eat and drink whatever he cared to. He also showed him two pots,--one full of gold and the other full of silver,--which he told Louis not to touch. Later he took him to the stable where he kept the horses, and showed him a black horse in the farthest stall, telling him to be very particular about caring for that horse. Among other things, he gave him orders to wash him three times, and to take him to water three times every day.
Then he pointed out to him a gray horse, and ordered him to beat him three times a day, to give him very little to eat, and to water him only once in twenty-four hours. Further, he told him never to take the bridle off that gray horse. After this, he told Louis that he was going on a journey, and would not return for a few weeks.
Louis carried out the gentleman's instructions, and, when two weeks had passed, the gentleman returned. The first thing he did was to go into the stable and examine his horses. He was well pleased with the looks of his black horse, and was also pleased to note that the gray one was looking very poorly. While they were returning to the house together, the gentleman began to play with Louis, who noted that he had a knife in his hand, and was not surprised when his finger was soon cut by it. The gentleman, however, apologized, and, taking a bottle out of his pocket, rubbed a little of the liquid on Louis' finger.
Louis was greatly surprised to find that his finger was at once entirely healed.
Later in the day, he told Louis that he was going away again (for a week, this time), and told him to be careful to treat the horses as he had done before. When he had gone, Louis' curiosity got the better of him. He took the cover off the pots, and dipped his finger into the golden liquid. When he pulled it out, lo, and behold! his finger was changed to gold. At once he saw that his master would know what he had done, and, to hide his finger, he wrapped it up in a piece of rag. In addition, Louis' pity overcame him, and he did not beat the gray horse.
At the end of the week, the gentleman returned and asked Louis how the horses were. He was well satisfied after his inspection of the stable. Again he began to play with Louis, his knife in his hand. While he was playing with him, he noticed that Louis' finger was wrapped up, and he inquired of Louis what was the matter with his finger. Louis replied that he had cut it.
The gentleman pulled the rag off, and seeing that Louis' finger had turned to gold, he knew that Louis had been meddling with the pots. He became very angry, and grasped Louis' finger, twisted it, pulled it off, and threw it back into the pot, warning Louis not to touch the pots again. He played with him as before, and again cut him on the hand. A second time he applied the liquid, and again the boy's hand was healed immediately.
He again told Louis that he was going away, and would be gone for three weeks, and ordered him to beat the gray horse on this occasion five times each day.
That day Louis watered the horses, and, noticing that the gray horse could hardly drink any water with the bit in his mouth, he took pity on him, removed the bridle, and gave the horse a good drink.
When the horse lifted his head from the brook and looked at Louis, he had a man's face on him and he spoke to Louis as follows: "You have saved me. If you do as I tell you, we both shall be saved. The master is not a man, but the Devil. He came to my parents as he did to yours, and bought me with a beaver hat full of money. Every time he comes and cuts you, he is trying you to see if you are fat enough to be killed. When he returns this time, he will again try you, and, if he finds that you are not fat enough, he will turn you into a horse. If you are fat enough, he will kill you. If you do as I tell you, Louis, we both shall be saved. Now feed me as well as you can for two weeks; put my bridle on the black horse, and beat him five times a day. In short, give him the treatment which was destined for me."
Louis did as the Gray Horse requested, and the animal began to recover his lost weight. The black horse lost weight rapidly. After the two weeks were up, the gray horse was in good condition; the black horse was very poorly.
"Now," said the Gray Horse," the Devil suspects that things have not gone properly, and he is returning. Now we must prepare speedily to leave. Since his black horse is very swift, you must go and cut his legs off: cut the left foreleg off below the knee; cut the right fore-leg off away above the knee; cut the right hind-leg off below the knee; and the left hind-leg, away above the knee. He will not then be able to travel so fast, for his legs will be short and of different lengths."
When Louis had completed his task, the Gray Horse told him to go to the house and get the pots of silver and gold; and, on Louis' return with them, the Horse told Louis to dip his tail in the silver pot, and to dip his mane and ears in the gold one.
"And you dip your hair into the gold pot," said the Horse, "and stick your little fingers into the metal. Take the saddle and put it on me, but, before we start, go into the house and get three grains of black corn which he has upon his shelf, and take his flint, steel, and punk. Take, also, an awl, that round pebble which comes from the seashore, and then take that wisp of hay which is pointed."
Louis did as the Horse bade him, and then mounted on his back and rode away.
The Devil returned two days after they had started, and, when he saw that the gray horse had gone and the black horse was mutilated, he knew what had taken place. This enraged him very much, and he at once began to think how he could outwit the fugitives. Finally he set out in pursuit.
After Louis and the Gray Horse had been gone several days, the Gray Horse spoke to the boy, and said, "The Devil and the black horse are pretty close. You did not cut his legs short enough. Give me one of those grains of black corn, and I'll go a little faster."
Louis gave him one of the grains of black corn, and the Gray Horse traveled much faster. After a few days had passed, the Horse again said, "Louis, he is getting very close. You will have to give me another grain."
So Louis gave him a second grain, and the Gray Horse increased his speed. Three days later, the Gray Horse said to Louis, "Give me the last grain. He is getting very close."
After three more days, the Gray Horse again spoke, and said, "Louis, he is very close. Throw the awl behind you."
Louis did as he was told, and the Horse said, "Now, that awl has made a great field of thorn-bushes grow, many miles in extent."
When the Devil rode up, he was going so fast that he rode right in among the thorns, and got his horse out only after a great deal of trouble. By the time he had extricated his. horse and had ridden around the field, Louis had gained a great distance over him.
"Louis, he is getting very close," said the Horse some days later. "Throw back the flint."
Louis obeyed him, with the result that, when the Devil came up, he was confronted by a high wall of bare rock, which extended for miles. He was forced to go around this, and, when he once more took up the trail, Louis had gained many more miles on him. After a couple of days, the Gray Horse said, "Louis, we have only two things left, and I am afraid that we are going to have a hard time."
"I think," said Louis, "we had better throw the punk behind." With that he threw the punk behind him. When it struck the ground, it immediately burst into flame, starting a forest fire which extended many miles.
When the Devil arrived, he was going too fast to avoid riding into the fire, and this caused him great trouble. He had to go many miles out of his way to avoid the fire, and this delay enabled the fugitives to make a material gain in distance. In two or three days the Devil had regained the distance that he had lost.
The Gray Horse now said to Louis, "I am afraid that he is going to overtake us before we can reach the sea. He is gaining rapidly upon us, and is now very close. You had better throw the pebble behind you; it is the only chance left us."
Louis threw the pebble behind them; and the result was that a great lake appeared, which extended over many square miles. The Devil rode up to the lake, and, knowing whither they had gone, he traveled around it. This maneuver cost the Devil the loss of many valuable miles, for Louis and the Gray Horse were by this time quite close to the sea.
"He is still gaining on us." said the Gray Horse. "I'm getting very tired."
Looking ahead, Louis could see the ocean, and turning around, he could see the Devil coming, gaining on them all the time.
"Louis, I am afraid he is going to overtake us," said the Horse.
Now, Louis did not understand what advantage it would be for them to arrive at the sea; but this was soon apparent. They did manage to reach the seashore ahead of the Devil, however, when the Gray Horse said, "Louis, throw out that wisp of hay."
Louis pushed it out, and, behold! as he thrust it, the wisp of hay was converted into a bridge. They immediately rode out upon this, and as they passed over it, the bridge folded up behind them! The Devil did not reach the sea until they were a safe distance from the shore.
"It was very lucky," the Devil said, "that you took my bridge with you, or I would have eaten you two for my dinner!"
Now, Louis and his horse continued to cross the bridge until they came to the land on the other side. While traveling along through this new country, they discovered a cave.
"Now," the Gray Horse said to Louis, "you stable me in here, and go up to the king's house and see if you cannot get work. Wrap up your head in order that your hair may not be seen, and do the same to your little fingers. When you arrive there, go and lie with your face down behind the kitchen, and wait until they throw out the dish-water. They will ask you what you want. Tell them that you desire work, and that you are a good gardener. Do not forget to comb your hair once a day in the garden, where they cannot see you."
The young man did all the Gray Horse suggested, and, when one of the maids threw out some dish-water behind the kitchen, she noticed him, and straightway notified the king. His Majesty ordered the youth to be brought before him, and, when Louis had come, the king inquired into his identity and his desires. Louis told the king that he wanted work, and the king employed him as a gardener, because Louis claimed greater ability than the other gardeners. Every noon he would seclude himself to comb his hair, and then he would tie up his head again in the cloth. Although he was quite handsome, he did not look well with his head tied up in this manner. His work, moreover, was so excellent that the king soon noticed an improvement in the garden.
One day, while he was combing his hair, the princess looked out of her window, and saw Louis' hair. She noticed that the hair was all of gold; and the light from it shone into her room as it would if reflected from a mirror. Louis did not notice her, and, when he had completed his toilet, he wrapped up his head again and went away, leaving the princess enchanted by his looks.
During the same afternoon, while he was working near the palace, the princess dropped a note down to him. Louis did not see it, and therefore did not pay any attention to it. She then dropped several more, one after another; but he paid no attention to them.
The next day, he thought he would go down and see his horse. When he arrived at the cave, the Gray Horse inquired what had happened. Louis related the few events to him; but the Gray Horse told him that was not all, for he had not noticed the princess looking at him when he was combing his hair.
"Tomorrow," said the Horse, "the king will ask you if you are descended of royal blood. You tell him that you are the child of poor parents. There is a prince who wants to marry the princess; but she does not love him. When you go back to work in the garden, the princess will drop notes to you again, but don't touch them. Louis, in time you shall marry her, but don't forget me."
Louis returned, and the princess again dropped him notes; but he ignored them.
In the meantime the prince had come to see the princess, and he made arrangements with the king to marry his daughter. The princess, however, would not look at the prince. The king demanded of his daughter why she did not want to see the prince, and she told him that she desired to marry the gardener.
The king became very angry; he declared that she could not marry the poor beggar.
"Did you not always say that you would give me anything I wanted?" she asked of the king.
"Yes," answered he; "but you must marry a prince."
She again refused to marry the prince. At this, the king became very angry, and went out to tell his wife what the princess had said.
"I think the gardener is a prince in disguise," the queen said to the king.
The king summoned Louis into his presence; and the young man, obeying, came into the midst of the royalty and nobility of the palace, with his head still covered. The king asked him if he was of royal blood.
"No," he replied. "I am the son of poor parents."
The king then dismissed him.
The princess, however, contrived a means to marry Louis, and, when the ceremony was over, they went back to the king. She told her father what she had done, and asked for her dowry. He told her that her dowry should be the pig-pen in which he fattened his hogs; and he drove them from the palace with nothing more. The queen was in tears at the way the king treated their daughter; but he was obdurate.
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