There was once a girl who was wiser than the King and all his councilors; there never was anything like it. Her father was so proud of her that he boasted about her cleverness at home and abroad. He could not keep his tongue still about it.
One day he was boasting to one of his neighbors, and he said, “The girl is so clever that not even the King himself could ask her a question she couldn’t answer, or read her a riddle she couldn’t unravel.”
Now it so chanced the King was sitting at a window near by, and he overheard what the girl’s father was saying. The next day he sent for the man to come before him. “I hear you have a daughter who is so clever that no one in the kingdom can equal her; and is that so?” asked the King.
Yes, it was no more than the truth. Too much could not be said of her wit and cleverness.
That was well, and the King was glad to hear it. He had thirty eggs; they were fresh and good, but it would take a clever person to hatch chickens out of them. He then bade his chancellor get the eggs and give them to the man.
“Take these home to your daughter,” said the King, “and bid her hatch them out for me. If she succeeds she shall have a bag of money for her pains, but if she fails you shall be beaten as a vain boaster.”
The man was troubled when he heard this. Still his daughter was so clever he was almost sure she could hatch out the eggs. He carried them home to her and told her exactly what the King had said, and it did not take the girl long to find out that the eggs had been boiled.
When she told her father that, he made a great to-do. That was a pretty trick for the King to have played upon him. Now he would have to take a beating and all the neighbors would hear about it. Would to Heaven he had never had a daughter at all if that was what came of it.
The girl, however, bade him be of good cheer. “Go to bed and sleep quietly,” said she. “I will think of some way out of the trouble. No harm shall come to you, even though I have to go to the palace myself and take the beating in your place.”
The next day the girl gave her father a bag of boiled beans and bade him take them out to a certain place where the King rode by every day. “Wait until you see him coming,” said she, “and then begin to sow the beans.” At the same time he was to call out this, that, and the other so loudly that the King could not help but hear him.
The man took the bag of beans and went out to the field his daughter had spoken of. He waited until he saw the King coming, and then he began to sow the beans, and at the same time to cry aloud, “Come sun, come rain! Heaven grant that these boiled beans may yield me a good crop.”
The King was surprised that any one should be so stupid as to think boiled beans would grow and yield a crop. He did not recognize the man, for he had only seen him once, and he stopped his horse to speak to him. “My poor man,” said he, “how can you expect boiled beans to grow? Do you not know that that is impossible?”
“Whatever the King commands should be possible,” answered the man, “and if chickens can hatch from boiled eggs why should not boiled beans yield a crop?”
When the King heard this he looked at the man more closely, and then he recognized him as the father of the clever daughter.
“You have indeed a clever daughter,” said he. “Take your beans home and bring me back the eggs I gave you.”
The man was very glad when he heard that, and made haste to obey. He carried the beans home and then took the eggs and brought them back to the palace of the King.
After the King had received the eggs he gave the man a handful of flax. “Take this to your clever daughter,” he said, “and bid her make for me within the week a full set of sails for a large ship. If she does this she shall receive the half of my kingdom as a reward, but if she fails you shall have a drubbing that you will not soon forget.”
The man returned to his home, loudly lamenting his hard lot.
“What is the matter?” asked his daughter. “Has the King set another task that I must do?”
Yes, that he had; and her father showed her the flax the King had sent her and gave her the message.
“Do not be troubled,” said the girl. “No harm shall come to you. Go to bed and sleep quietly, and to-morrow I will send the King an answer that will satisfy him.”
The man believed what his daughter said. He went to bed and slept quietly.
The next day the girl gave her father a small piece of wood. “Carry this to the King,” said she. “Tell him I am ready to make the sails, but first let him make me of this wood a large ship that I may fit the sails to it.”
The father did as the girl bade him, and the King was surprised at the cleverness of the girl in returning him such an answer.
“That is all very well,” said he, “and I will excuse her from this task. But here! Here is a glass mug. Take it home to your clever daughter. Tell her it is my command that she dip out the waters from the ocean bed so that I can ride over the bottom dry shod. If she does this, I will take her for my wife, but if she fails you shall be beaten within an inch of your life.”
The man took the mug and hastened home, weeping aloud and bemoaning his fate.
“Well, and what is it?” asked his daughter. “What does the King demand of me now?”
The man gave her the glass mug and told her what the King had said.
“Do not be troubled,” said the girl. “Go to bed and sleep in peace. You shall not be beaten, and soon I shall be reigning as Queen over all this land.”
The man had trust in her. He went to bed and slept and dreamed he saw her sitting by the King with a crown on her head.
The next day the girl gave her father a bunch of tow. “Take this to the King,” she said. “Tell him you have given me the mug, and I am willing to dip the sea dry, but first let him take this tow and stop up all the rivers that flow into the ocean.”
The man did as his daughter bade him. He took the tow to the King and told him exactly what the girl had said.
Then the King saw that the girl was indeed a clever one, and he sent for her to come before him.
She came just as she was, in her homespun dress and her rough shoes and with a cap on her head, but for all her mean clothing she was as pretty and fine as a flower, and the King was not slow to see it. Still he wanted to make sure for himself that she was as clever as her messages had been.
“Tell me,” said he, “what sound can be heard the farthest throughout the world?”
“The thunder that echoes through heaven and earth,” answered the girl, “and your own royal commands that go from lip to lip.”
This reply pleased the King greatly. “And now tell me,” said he, “exactly what is my royal sceptre worth?”
“It is worth exactly as much as the power for which it stands,” the girl replied.
The King was so well satisfied with the way the girl answered that he no longer hesitated; he determined that she should be his Queen, and that they should be married at once.
The girl had something to say to this, however. “I am but a poor girl,” said she, “and my ways are not your ways. It may well be that you will tire of me, or that you may be angry with me sometime, and send me back to my father’s house to live. Promise that if this should happen you will allow me to carry back with me from the castle the thing that has grown most precious to me.”
The King was willing to agree to this, but the girl was not satisfied until he had written down his promise and signed it with his own royal hand. Then she and the King were married with the greatest magnificence, and she came to live in the palace and reign over the land.
Now while the girl was still only a peasant she had been well content to dress in homespun and live as a peasant should, but after she became Queen she would wear nothing but the most magnificent robes and jewels and ornaments, for that seemed to her only right and proper for a Queen. But the King, who was of a very jealous nature, thought his wife did not care at all for him, but only for the fine things he could give her.
One time the King and Queen were to ride abroad together, and the Queen spent so much time in dressing herself that the King was kept waiting, and he became very angry. When she appeared before him, he would not even look at her. “You care nothing for me, but only for the jewels and fine clothes you wear,” he cried. “Take with you those that are the most precious to you, as I promised you, and return to your father’s house. I will no longer have a wife who cares only for my
possessions and not at all for me.”
Very well; the girl was willing to go. “And I will be happier in my father’s house than I was when I first met you,” said she. Nevertheless she begged that she might spend one more night in the palace, and that she and the King might sup together once again before she returned home.
To this the King agreed, for he still loved her, even though he was so angry with her.
So he and his wife supped together that evening, and just at the last the Queen took a golden cup and filled it with wine. Then, when the King was not looking, she put a sleeping potion in the wine and gave it to him to drink.
He took it and drank to the very last drop, suspecting nothing, but soon after he sank down among the cushions in a deep sleep. Then the Queen caused him to be carried to her father’s house and laid in the bed there.
When the King awoke the next morning he was very much surprised to find himself in the peasant’s cottage. He raised himself upon his elbow to look about him, and at once the girl came to the bedside, and she was again dressed in the coarse and common clothes she had worn before she was married.
“What means this?” asked the King, “and how came I here?”
“My dear husband,” said the girl, “your promise was that if you ever sent me back to my father’s house I might carry with me the thing that had become most precious to me in the castle. You are that most precious thing, and I care for nothing else except as it makes me pleasing in your sight.”
Then the King could no longer feel jealous or angry with her. He clasped her in his arms, and they kissed each other tenderly. That same day they returned to the palace, and from that time on the King and his peasant Queen lived together in the greatest love and happiness.