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The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich
In olden times, when wishing still helped, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which had seen so many things, was always filled with amazement each time it cast its rays upon her face. Now, there was a great dark forest near the king's castle, and in this forest, beneath an old linden tree, was a well. Whenever the days were very hot, the king's daughter would go into this forest and sit down by the edge of the cool well. If she became bored, she would take her golden ball, throw it into the air, and catch it. More than anything else she loved playing with this ball.
One day it so happened that the ball did not fall back into the princess's little hand as she reached out to catch it. Instead, it bounced right by her and rolled straight into the water. The princess followed it with her eyes, but the ball disappeared, and the well was deep, so very deep that she could not see the bottom. She began to cry, and she cried louder and louder, for there was nothing that could comfort her. As she sat there grieving over her loss a voice called out to her, "What's the matter, Princess? Your tears could move even a stone to pity."
She looked around to see where the voice was coming from and saw a frog sticking his thick, ugly head out of the water. "Oh, it's you, you old water-splasher!" she said. "I'm crying because my golden ball has fallen into the well."
"Be quiet and stop crying," the frog responded. "I'm sure I can help you. But what will you give me if I fetch your plaything?"
"Whatever you like, dear frog," she said. "My clothes, my pearls and jewels, even the golden crown I'm wearing on my head."
"I don't want your clothes, your pearls and jewels, or your golden crown," the frog replied. "But if you will love me and let me be your companion and playmate, and let me sit beside you at the table, eat from your little golden plate, drink out of your little cup, and sleep in your little bed--if you promise me all that, I'll dive down and retrieve your golden ball."
"Oh, yes," she said. "I'll promise you anything you want if only you'll bring back the ball!" However, she thought, What nonsense that stupid frog talks! He just sits in the water croaking with the rest of the frogs. How can he expect a human being to accept him as a companion?
Once the frog had her promise, he dipped his head under the water, dived downward, and soon came paddling back to the surface with the ball in his mouth. When he threw it onto the grass, the princess was so delighted to see her beautiful plaything again that she picked it up and ran off with it.
"Wait, wait!" cried the frog. "Take me with you. I can't run like you."
He croaked as loudly as he could, but what good did it do? She paid no attention to him. Instead, she rushed home and soon forgot about the poor frog, who had to climb back down into his well.
The next day, as she sat at the table with the king and his courtiers and ate from her little golden plate, something came crawling splish, splash, splish, splash up the marble steps. When it reached the top, it knocked at the door and cried out, "Princess, youngest daughter, open up!"
She ran to see who was outside. But when she opened the door and saw the frog, she quickly slammed the door shut and went back to the table in a state of fright. The king could clearly see her heart was thumping and said, "My child, what are you afraid of? Has a giant come to get you?"
"Oh, no," she answered. "It's not a giant, but a nasty frog."
"What does a frog want from you?"
"Oh, dear Father, yesterday when I was sitting and playing near the well in the forest, my golden ball fell into the water, and because I cried so much, the frog fetched it for me, and because he insisted, I had to promise he could be my companion. But I never thought he'd get out of the water. Now he's outside and wants to come in and be with me."
Just then there was a second knock at the door, and a voice cried out:
"Princess, Princess, youngest daughter, open up and let me in. Have you forgotten what you promised down by the well's cool water?
Princess, Princess, youngest daughter, open up and let me in."
Then the king said, "If you've made a promise, you must keep it. Go and let him in."
After she went and opened the door, the frog hopped into the room and followed her right to her chair, where he plopped himself down and cried out, "Lift me up beside you!"
She refused until the king finally ordered her to do so. Once the frog was on the chair, he wanted to climb onto the table, and when he made it to the table, he said, "Now push your little golden plate nearer to me so we can eat together."
To be sure, she did this, but it was quite clear that she did not like it. The frog enjoyed his meal, while each bite the princess took got stuck in her throat. Finally he said, "I've had enough, and now I'm tired. Carry me upstairs to your room and get your silken bed ready so we can go to sleep."
The princess began to cry because the cold frog frightened her. She did not even have enough courage to touch him, and yet, now she was supposed to let him sleep in her beautiful, clean bed. But the king gave her an angry look and said, "It's not proper to scorn someone who helped you when you were in trouble!"
So she picked up the frog with her two fingers, carried him upstairs, and set him down in a corner. Soon after she had got into bed, he came crawling over to her and said, "I'm tired and want to sleep as much as you do. Lift me up, or I'll tell your father!"
This made the princess extremely angry, and after she picked him up, she threw him against the wall with all her might.
"Now you can have your rest, you nasty frog!"
However, when he fell to the ground, he was no longer a frog but a prince with kind and beautiful eyes. So, in keeping with her father's wishes, she accepted him as her dear companion and husband, whereupon the prince told her that a wicked witch had cast a spell over him and no one could have got him out of the well except her, and now he intended to take her to his kingdom the next day. Then they fell asleep, and in the morning, when the sun woke them, a coach drawn by eight white horses came driving up. The horses had ostrich plumes on their heads and harnesses with golden chains. At the back of the coach stood Faithful Heinrich, the young king's servant. He had been so distressed when he had learned his master had been turned into a frog that he had ordered three iron bands be wrapped around his heart to keep it from bursting from grief and sadness. But now the coach had come to bring the young king back to his kingdom, and Faithful Heinrich helped the prince and princess into it and then took his place at the back again. He was overcome by joy because his master had been saved.
When they had traveled some distance, the prince heard a cracking noise behind him, as if something had broken. He turned around and cried out:
"Heinrich, the coach is breaking!"
"No, my lord, it's really nothing but the band around my heart, for it nearly fell apart when the witch did cast her spell and made you live as a frog in a well."
The cracking noise was heard two more times along the way, and the prince thought each time that the coach was breaking, but the noise was only the sound of the bands snapping from Faithful Heinrich's heart, for he knew his master was safe and happy.
The Companionship of the Cat and the Mouse
A cat had made the acquaintanceship of a mouse and had talked so much about his great love and friendship for her that he eventually convinced her to live with him in the same house and set up a common household.
"But we must get supplies for the winter," said the cat, "or else we'll starve. A little mouse like you can't venture just anywhere, for one of these days you might get caught in a trap."
They acted on his good advice and bought a little jar of fat, but they did not know where to put it. Finally, after long deliberation, the cat said, "I can't think of a safer place than the church. No one would dare take anything away from there. Let's put it under the altar, and we won't touch it unless we really need it."
The little jar was safely stored away, but it was not long before the cat felt a craving for it and said to the mouse, "I've been meaning to tell you, little mouse. My cousin gave birth to a baby boy, white with brown spots, and I've been asked to be godfather. I'm to hold him at the christening. Would you mind letting me go out today and looking after the house by yourself?"
"No, of course not," answered the mouse. "Go, for God's sake. If you get something good to eat, think of me. I sure would like to have a drink of that sweet, red christening wine."
Naturally, none of what the cat had said was true. He did not have a cousin, nor had he been asked to be godfather. He went straight to the church, crept to the little jar of fat, and began licking and licking until he had licked the skin off the top. Then he strolled over the roofs of the city and contemplated his opportunities. After a while he stretched himself out in the sun and wiped his whiskers whenever he thought about the little jar of fat. It was not until evening that he returned home.
"Well, you're back," the mouse said. "I'm sure you had a wonderful day."
"It wasn't bad," the cat responded.
"What name did they give the child?" the mouse asked.
"Skin-Off," the cat said dryly.
"Skin-Off?" exclaimed the mouse. "That's a strange and unusual name. Is it common in your family?"
"What's there to it?" the cat said. "It's no worse than Crumb-Thief, as your godchildren are called."
Shortly after that the cat felt another great craving and said to the mouse, "You've got to do me a favor again and look after the house by yourself. I've been asked to be godfather once more, and since the child has a white ring around his neck, I can't refuse."
The good mouse consented, and the cat went slinking behind the city wall to the church, where he ate up half the jar of fat.
"Nothing tastes better," he said, "than what you eat yourself," and he was very satisfied with his day's work. When he returned, the mouse asked, "What was this child christened?"
"Half-Gone," answered the cat.
"Half-Gone! You don't say! I've never heard of such a name in all my life. I'll bet it's not on the list of proper names."
Soon the cat's mouth began watering once more for the delicacy.
"All good things come in threes," he said to the mouse. "I've been asked to be godfather again. This child's all black and has white paws. Aside from that there's not a white hair on his body. That only happens once every few years. You'll let me go, won't you?"
"Skin-Off! Half-Gone!" the mouse responded. "Those are really curious names. I'm beginning to wonder about them."
"Look, you sit at home in your dark gray fur coat and your long pigtail," the cat said, "and you begin imagining things. That's because you don't go out during the day."
While the cat was gone, the mouse cleaned the house and put it in order. Meanwhile the greedy cat ate up the rest of the jar.
"It's only after everything's all gone," the cat said to himself, "that you can really begin to rest."
It was very late at night by the time the cat returned home, and he was fat and stuffed. The mouse asked right away what name had been given to the third child.
"You won't like this one either," the cat said. "It's All-Gone."
"All-Gone!" exclaimed the mouse. "That's the most suspicious of all the names. I've never seen it in print. All-Gone! What's it supposed to mean?" She shook her head, rolled herself up into a ball, and fell asleep.
From then on, no one asked the cat to be a godfather. But, when winter came and there was nothing more to be found outside, the mouse thought about their supply of fat and said, "Come, cat, let's go to our jar that we've been saving. It'll taste good."
"Yes," said the cat. "You'll enjoy the taste just as much as if you stuck your dainty tongue out the window."
They set out on their way, and when they got there, the jar of fat was still in its place, but it was empty.
"Oh," said the mouse. "Now I know what's happened! It's as clear as day. Some nice friend you are! You ate it all up when you went to be a godfather. First the skin, then half, then . . ."
"You better be quiet!" yelled the cat. "One more word, and I'll eat you up!"
"All gone" was already on the tip of the mouse's tongue. No sooner did she say it than the cat jumped on her, grabbed her, and devoured her.
You see, that's the way of the world.
From the Trade Paperback edition.