Friday, April 27, 2012

Casperl and The Princess

This Fairy Tale you may recognize from my book. It isn't a very well known Fairy Tale, and I couldn't find it online except for in books that you can buy. I discovered it in The Bookshelf For Boys And Girls Volume 3 and from there I am copying. It sometimes goes merely by the title Casperl, but I prefer adding and the Princess to it. It was written by Henry C. Bunner.

Casperl was a wood-chopper, and the son of a wood-chopper, and although he was only eighteen when his father died, he was so strong and that he went on chopping and hauling wood for the whole neighborhood, and people said he did it just as well as his father, while he was certainly a great deal more pleasant in his manner and much more willing to oblige others.

It was a poor country, however, for it was right in the heart of the Black Forest, and there were more witches and fairies and goblins than there were healthy human beings. So Casperl scarcely made a living though he worked hard and rose early in the morning summer and winter. His friends often advised him to go to some better place where he could earn more money. But he only shook his head and said that the place was good enough for him.

He never told anyone, though, why he loved his poor hut in the depths of the dark forest, because it was a secret which he did not wish to share with strangers. For he had discovered, a mile or two from his home, in the very blackest part of our woods, an enchanted mountain. It was a high mountain, covered with trees, and rocks and thick, tangled undergrowth, except at the very top, where there stood a castle surrounded by smooth green lawns and beautiful gardens. They were always kept in the neatest possible order, although no gardener was ever seen.

This enchanted mountain had been under a spell for nearly two hundred years. (a/n In Sew, It's a Quest, I said it was only a hundred years. Yes, I did take a few liberties, but I took liberties with the other Fairy Tales I put in there, as well. That's one of the beauties of rewriting Fairy Tales: you can take liberties.) The lovely Princess who lived there had once ruled the whole country. But a powerful and wicked magician disguised as a prince, and played court to her. At first the princess loved her false princess; but one day she found out that he was not what he pretended to be, and she told him to leave her and never come near her again.

"For you are not a prince," she said. "You are an impostor, and I will never wed any but a true prince."

"Very well," said the magician, in a rage. "You shall wait for your true prince, if such a thing exists as a true prince; and you shall marry no one until he comes."

And then the magician cast a spell upon the beautiful castle on the top of the mountain, and then the terrible forest sprang up about it. Rocks rose up from the earth and piled themselves in great heaps among the tree-trunks. Saplings and brush and twisted poisonous vines came to fill up every crack and crevice so that no mortal man could possibly go to the summit, except for one path that was purposefully left clear. And in that path there was a gate that the strongest man could not open, it was so heavy. Farther up the mountain-slope, the trunk of a tree lay right across the way, that no man could climb over, or crawl over, or cut through. And beyond the gate was a dragon with green eyes that frightened away every man that looked at it.

And there the beautiful Princess was doomed to live until the true prince should arrive and overcome these three obstacles.

Now, although none of the people in the forest, except Casperl, knew of the mountain or the Princess, the story had been told in many distant countries, and year after year young princes came from all parts of earth to try and rescue the lovely captive and win her for a bride. But, one after the other, they all tried and failed. Te best of them could not so much as open the gate.

And so there the Princess remained, as the years went on. But she did not grow any older or any less beautiful, for she was still waiting for the True Prince and she believed that some day he would come.

This was what kept Casperl from leaving the Black Forest. He was sorry for the Princess, and he hoped some day to see her rescued and wedded to the True Princess.

Every evening, when his work was done, he would walk to the foot of the great mountain, and sit down on a great stone and look up to the top where the Princess was walking in her garden. And as it was an enchanted mountain, he could see her clearly, although he were so very far away. Yes, he could see her face as well as though she were close by him, and he thought it was truly the loveliest face in the world.

There he would sit and sadly watch the princes who tried to climb the hill. There was scarcely a day that some prince from a far country did not come to make the attempt. One after another, the would arrive with gorgeous trains of followers, mounted on fine horses so magnificent that a plain cloth of gold suit looked shabby among them. They would look up to the mountain-top and see the Princess walking there, and they would praise her beauty so warmly that Casperl, when he heard them, felt sure that he was quite right in thinking her the loveliest woman in the world.

But every prince had to make the trial by himself. That was one of the conditions which the magician made when he laid the spell on the castle, although Casperl did not know it.

And each prince would throw off his cloak, and shoulder a silver or a gold-handled ax, and fasten his sword by his side, and set out to climb the hill, and open the gate, and cut through the fallen tree, and slay the dragon, and wed the Princess.

Up he would go, bright and hopeful, and tug away at the gate until he found that he could do nothing with it, and then he would plunge into the tangled thickets of underbrush, and try his best to fight his way through to the summit.

But every one of them came back, after a while, with his fine clothes torn and his soft skin scratched, all tired  and worn out. And then he would look spitefully up at the mountain and say he didn't care so much about wedding the Princess, after all; that she was only a common enchanted princess, just like any other enchanted princess, and really not worth so much trouble.

This would grieve Casperl, for he couldn't help thinking that it was impossible that any other woman could be as lovely as his Princess. You see, he called her his Princess because he took such and interest in her, and he didn't think there could be any harm in speaking of her in that way, just to himself. For he never supposed she could even know there was such a humble creature as poor young Casperl, the wood-chopper, who sat at the foot of the hill and looked up at her.

And so the days went on, and the unlucky princes came and went, and Casperl watched them all. Sometimes he say his Princess look down from over the castle parapets, and eagerly follow with her lovely eyes the struggles of some brave suitor through the thickets, until the poor Prince gave up the job in despair. Then she would look sad and turn away. But generally she paid no attention to the attempts that were being made to reach her. That kind of thing had been going on so long that she was quite used to it.

By and by, one summer evening, as Casperl sat watching, there came a Prince with a small train of attendants. The Prince was rather undersized; he didn't look strong, and he did look as though he slept too much in the morning and too little at night. He slipped off his coat, however, and climbed up the road, and began to push and pull at the gate.

Casperl watched him carelessly for a while, then, happening to look up, he saw that the Princess was gazing sadly down on the poor little Prince as he tugged and toiled.

A bold idea came to Casperl. Why shouldn't he help the Prince? He was young and strong; he had often thought that, if he were a prince, a gate like that should not keep him away from the Princess. Why, indeed, should he not give his strength to help to free the Princess? And he felt a great pity for the poor little Prince, too.

So he walked modestly up the hill and offered his services to the Prince.

"Your Royal Highness," he said, "I am only a wood-chopper; but, if you please, I am a strong wood-chopper, and perhaps I can be of use to you."

"But why should you take the trouble to help me?" inquired the Prince. "What good will it do you?"

"Oh, well!" said Casperl, "it's helping the Princess, too, don't you know?"

"No, I don't know," said the Prince. "However, you may try what you can do. Here, put your shoulder to this end of the gate, and I will stand right behind you."

Now, Casperl did not know that that it was forbidden to any suitor to have help in his attempt to climb the hill. The Prince knew it, though, but he said to himself, "When I am through with this wood-chopper, I will dismiss him, and no one will know anything about it. I can never lift this gate by myself. I will let him do it for me, and thus I shall get the Princess, and he will be just as well satisfied, for he is only a wood-chopper."

So Casperl put his broad shoulder to the gate and pushed with all his might. It was very heavy, but after a while it began to move a little.

"Courage your Royal Highness," said Casperl. "We'll move it, after all." But if he had looked over his shoulder, he would have seen that the little Prince was not pushing at all, but that he had put on his cloak, and was standing idly by, laughing to himself at the way he was making a wood-chopper do his work for him.

After a long struggle, the gate gave way, and swung open just wide enough to let them through. It was a close squeeze for the Prince; but Casperl held the gate open until he slipped through.

"Dear me," said the Prince, "you're quite a strong fellow. You really were of some assistance to me. Let me see, I think the stories say something about a tree, or some such tree farther up the road. As you are a wood-chopper, and as you have your ax with you, perhaps you might walk up a bit and see if you can't make yourself useful."

Casperl was quite willing, for he began to feel that he was doing something for the Princess, and it pleased him to think that even a wood-chopper could do her service.

So they walked up until they came to the tree. And then the Prince drew out his silver ax and sharpened it carefully on the sole of his shoe, while Casperl picked up a stone and whetted his old iron ax, which was all he had.

"Now," said the Prince, "let's see what we can do."

But he didn't really do anything. It was Casperl who swung his ax and chopped hard at the magic tree. Every blow made the chips fly; but the wood grew instantly over each cut, just as though he had been cutting into water.

For a while, the Prince amused himself by trying first to climb over the tree, then to crawl under it. But he soon found that whichever way he went, the tree grew up or down so fast that he was shut off. Finally he gave it up, and went and lay down on his back on the grass, and watched Casperl work.

And Casperl worked hard. The tree grew fast; but he chopped faster. His forehead was wet, and his arms were tired, but he worked away and made the chips fly in a cloud. He was too busy to take the time to look over his shoulder, so he did not see the Prince lying on the grass. But every now and then he spoke cheerily, saying, "We'll do it, your Royal Highness!"

And he did it, in the end. After a long, long while, he got the better of the magic tree, for he chopped quicker than it could grow, and at last he had cut a gap right across the trunk.

The Prince jumped up from the grass and leaped nimbly though, and Casperl followed him slowly and sadly, for he was tired, and it began to occur to him that the Prince had not said anything about the Princess. That made him wonder if the little man who called himself Prince were the True Prince after all. "I'm afraid," thought Casperl, "that the Princess won't thank me if I bring her a prince who doesn't love her. And it is really strange that this Prince hasn't said a word about her."

So he ventured to remark, very meekly, "Your Royal Highness will be glad to see the Princess?"

"Oh, no doubt," replied the Prince.

"And the Princess will be very glad to see you," went on Casperl.

"Oh, of course!" said the Prince.

"And your Royal Highness will be very good to the Princess," said Casperl further, by way of a hint.

"I think," said the Prince, "that you are talking altogether too much about the Princess. I don't believe I need you any more. Perhaps you had better go home. I'm much obliged to you for your assistance. I can't reward you just now, but if you will come back to see me after I have married the Princess, I may be able to do something for you.

Casperl turned away, somewhat disappointed, and was going down the hill, when the Prince called him back.

"Oh, by the way!" he said, "there's a dragon, I understand, a little farther on. Perhaps you'd like to come along and see me kill him?" Casperl though he would like to see the Prince do something for the Princess, so he followed him. Very soon they came to the top of the mountain, and saw the green lawns and beautiful gardesn of the enchanted castle - and there was the dragon waiting for them.

The dragon reared itself on its dreadful tail, and flapped its black wings, and its great green, shining, scaly body swelled and twisted, and it roared in a terrible way.

The little Prince drew his jeweled sword and walked slowly up to the monster. And then the great beast opened its read mouth and blew out one awful breath, that caught the Prince up as if he were a feather, and whisked him clear off the mountain and over the tops of the trees in the valley. And that was the last anyone ever saw of him!

Then Casperl drew his old ax and leaped forward to meet the dragon, never stopping to think how poor his weapon was. But all of a sudden the dragon vanished and disappeared and was gone, and there was no trace of it anywhere; but the beautiful Princess stood in its place and smiled, and held out her white hand to Casperl.

"My Prince!" she said. "So you have come at last!"

"I beg your gracious Highness's pardon," said Casperl, "but I am no Prince."

"Oh, yes, you are!" said the Princess; "how did you come here, if you are not my True Prince? Didn't you come through the gate and across the tree and haven't you driven away the dragon?"

"I only helped -" began Casperl.

"You did it all," said the Princess, "for I saw you. Pleas don't contradict a lady."

"But I don't see how I could -" Casperl began again.

"People who help others," said the Princess, "often have a strength beyond their own. But, perhaps you didn't come here to help me after all?"

"Oh, your gracious Highness," cried Casperl, "there's nothing I wouldn't do to help you. But I'm sure I'm not a Prince."

"And I am sure you are," said the Princess. She led him to a fountain near by, and when he looked at his reflection in the water, he saw that he was dressed more magnificently than any prince who ever yet had come to the enchanted mountain.

At that moment the wedding-bells began to ring, and that is all I know of the fairy story, for Casperl and the Princess lived so happily ever after, in the castle on top of the mountain, that they never came down to tell the end of it.

I may or may not do this up with commentary next week.

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