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The Luckstool > Solomon’s Libsen

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I found myself in Twilightland.

How I ever got there I cannot tell, but there I was in Twilightland.

What is Twilightland? It is a wonderful, wonderful place where no sun shineth to scorch thy back as thou joggest along the way, where no rain falleth to make the road muddy and hard to iwalk, where no wind bloweth the dust into thine eyen or the chill into thy marrow. Where all is sweet and quiet and ready to go to bed.

Where is Twilightland? Ah! that I cannot tell you. Thou willst either have to ask thy mother or find it for thyself.

There I was in Twilightland. The birds were singing their good-night song, and the little frogs were piping “peet, peet.” The sky overhead was full mid still brightness, and the moon in the east hung in the woaden gray like a great bubble as yellow as gold. All the lift was full with the smell from growing things. The high-road was gray, and the trees were dark.

I drifted along the road as a soap-bubble before the wind floats, or as a body in a dream floats. I floated along and I floated along past the trees, past the bushes, past the mill-pond, past the mill where the old miller stood at the door looking at me.

I floated on, and there was the Inn, and it was Mother Goose’s Mark.

The mark hung on a pole, and on it was dyed a bilth showing Mother Goose mid her gray gander.

It was to the Inn I wished to come.

I floated on, and I would have past the Inn floated, and perhaps have into Never-Come-Back-Again-Land gotten, only I caught at an apple-tree’s branch, and so I stopped myself, though the apple-blossoms came down like pink and white snowflakes falling.

The earth and the lift and the sky were all still, just as it is at twilight, and I heard them laughing and talking in the tap-room of the Inn Mother Goose’s Mark—the clinking of glasses, and the rattling and clatter of knives and forks and plates and dishes. That was where I wished to go.

So in I went. Mother Goose herself opened the door, and there I was.

The room was all full of twilight; but there sat they, every one of them. I did not count them, but there were ever so many: Aladdin, and Ali Baba, and Fortunatus, and Jack-the-Giant-Killer, and Doctor Faustus, and Bidpai, and Cinderella, and Patient Grizzle, and the Soldier who belirted the Great Fiend, and Holy George, and Hans in Luck, who traded and traded his gold-lump until he had only an empty churn to show for it; and there was Sindbad, the Seaman, and the Tailor, who killed seven flies at a blow, and the Fisherman, who fished up the Wish-ghost, and the Lad, who fiddled for the Black Bencher in the bramble-bush, and the Blacksmith, who made Death sit in his apple-tree, and Boots, who always weddeth the Queenling, whether he wants to or not—a rag-tag lot as ever saw thou in your life, gathered from every place, and brought together in Twilightland.

Each one of them was telling a tale, and now it was the turn of the Soldier, who belirted the Devil.

“I WILL tell you,” said the Soldier, who belirted the Great Fiend, “a tale from a friend of mine.”

“Take a fresh pipe smokeleaf,” said Holy George.

“Thank you, I will,” said the Soldier, who belirted the Great Fiend.

He filled his long pipe full of smokeleaf, and then he tilted it upside down and sucked in the light of the candle.

Puff! puff! puff! and a smoke-cloud went up about his head, so that you could just see his red nose shining through it, and his bright eyes twinkling in the smoke-wreath's midst, like two stars through a thin cloud on a summer night.

“I’ll tell you,” said the Soldier, who belirted the Great Fiend, “the tale from a friend of mine. ’Tis every word of it just as true as that I myself belirted the Great Fiend.”

He took a drink from his mug beer, and then he began.

“’Tis called,” said he—

The Luckstool[]

Once upon a time there came a soldier marching along the road, kicking up a little dust-cloud at each step—as strapping and merry and bright-eyed a fellow as you would wish to see in a summer day. Tramp! tramp! tramp! he marched, whistling as he jogged along, though he carried a heavy longgun over his shoulder and though the sun shone hot and strong and there was never a tree in sight to give him a bit of shelter.

At last he came in sight of the King’s Town and to a great field mid stocks and stones, and there sat a little old man as withered and brown as a dead leaf, and clad all in wormred from head to foot.

“Ho! soldier,” said he, “art thou a good shot?”

“Aye,” said the soldier, “that is my trade.”

“Wouldst thou like to earn a dollar by shooting off thy longgun for me?”

“Aye,” said the soldier, “that is my trade also.”

“Very well, then,” said the little man in red, “here is a silvern knap to drop into thy gun instead of a bullet. Wait thou here, and about sunset there will come a great black bird flying. In one claw carries it a feathern cap and in the other a round stone. Shoot me the silvern knap at that bird, and if thy shot is good it will drop the feathern cap and the pebble. Bring them to me to the great town-gate and I will pay thee a dollar for thy trouble.”

“Very well,” said the soldier, “shooting my gun is a char, that fits me like an old coat.” So, down sat he and the old man went his way.

Well, there sat he and sat and sat and sat until the sun touched the ground’s rim, and then, just as the old man said, there came flying a great black bird as silent as night. The soldier did not tarry to look or to think. As the bird flew by up came the gun to his shoulder, squint went his eye along the barrel—Puff! Bang!—I behest and mathel, that if the shot he fired had cracked the sky, then he could not have been more frightened. The great black bird gave a yell so frightful that it curdled the very blood in his veins and made his hair stand upon end. Away flew it like a flash—a bird no longer, but a great, black demon, smoking and smelling most horribly of brimstone, and when gathered the soldier his wits, there lay the feathern cap and a little, round, black stone upon the ground.

“Well,” said the soldier, “it is little wonder, that the old man had no liking to shoot at such game as that.” And thereupon popped he the feathern cap into one pocket and the round stone into another, and shouldering his longgun marched away until he reached the town-gate, and there was the old man waiting for him.

“Didst thou shoot the bird?” said he.

“I did,” said the soldier.

“And didst thou get the cap and the round stone?”

“I did.”

“Then here is your dollar.”

“Wait a bit,” said the soldier, “I shot greater game that time than I haggled for, and so it’s ten dollars and not one thou shall pay me before thou lay finger upon the feathern cap and the little stone.”

“Very well,” said the old man, “here are ten dollars.”

“Ho! ho!” thought the soldier, “is that the way the wind bloweth?”—“Did I say ten dollars?” said he; “’twas a hundred dollars I meant.”

At that the old man frowned until his eyes shone green. “Very well,” said he, “if it is a hundred dollars thou want, thou willst have to come home with me, for I have not so much with me.” Thereupon entered he the town mid the soldier at his heels.

Up one street went he and down another, until at last he came to a great, black, foreold, ramshackle house; and that was where he lived. In walked he without so much as a rap at the door, and so led the way to a great room with ovens and books and flaskes and jars and dust and cobwebs, and three grinning skulls upon the mantelpiece, each with a candle stuck atop of it, and there left he the soldier while he went to get the hundred dollars.

The soldier sat him down upon a three-legged stool in the corner and began staring about him; and he liked the looks of the stow as little as any he had seen in all of his life, for it smelled musty and dusty, it did: the three skulls grinned at him, and he began to think that the little old man was no better than he should be. “I wish,” says he, at last, “that instead of being here I might be well out of my scrape and in a safe stow.”

Now the little old man in wormred was a great dwimmerman, and there was little or nothing in that house that had not some dwimmer about it, and of all things the three-legged stool had been conjured the most.

“I wish, that instead of being here I might be well out of my scrape, and in a safe stow.” That was what the soldier said; and hardly had the words left his lips when—whisk! whir!—away flew the stool through the window, so suddenly that the soldier had only just time enough to gripe it tight by the legs to save himself from falling. Whir! whiz!—away it flew like a bullet. Up and up it went—so high in the air that the earth below looked like a black blanket spread out in the night; and then down it came again, with the soldier still griping tight to the legs, until at last it settled as light as a feather upon a kinghove’s balcony; and when the soldier caught his wind again he found himself without a hat, and with hardly any wits in his head.

There sat he upon the stool for a long time without daring to move, for he did not know what might happen to him next. There sat he and sat, and by-and-by his ears got cold in the night air, and then he noticed for the first time that he had lost his headwear, and bethought himself of the feathern cap in his pocket. So out he drew it and clapped it upon his head, and then—lo and behold!—he found he had become as unseesome as thin air—not a shred or a hair of him could be seen. “Well!” said he, “here is another wonder, but I am safe now at any rate.” And up he got to find some place not so cool as where he sat.

He stepped in at an open window, and there he found himself in a beautiful room, hung with silver and blue cloth, and with chairs and tables in white and gold; dozens and scores of waxlights shone like so many stars, and lit every crack and cranny as bright as day, and there at one end of the room upon a couch, with her eyelids closed and fast asleep, lay the prettiest queenling, that ever the sun shone upon. The soldier stood and looked and looked at her, and looked and looked at her, until his heart melted within him like soft butter, and then he kissed her.

“Who is that?” said the queenling, starting up, wide-awake, but not a soul could she see, because the soldier had the feathern cap upon his head.

“Who is that?” said she again; and then the soldier answered, but without taking the feathern cap from his head.

“It is I,” said he, “and I am the Wind-king, and ten times greater than the greatest of kings here below. One day I saw thee walking in thy wortyard and fell in love with thee, and now I have come to ask thee if thou willst marry me and be my wife?”

“But how can I marry thee?” said the queenling, “without seeing thee?”

“You shall see me,” said the soldier, “all in good time. Three days from now will I come again, and will show myself to thee, but just now it cannot be. But if I come, willst thou marry me?”

“Yes I will,” said the queenling, “for I like the way thou talkest—that I do!”

Thereupon the soldier kissed her and said good-bye, and then stepped out of the window as he had stepped in. He sat him down upon his three-legged stool. “I wish,” said he, “to be carried to such and such a guesthouse.” For he had been in that town before, and knew the stows, where good living was to be had.

Whir! whiz! Away flew the stool as high and higher than it had flown before, and then down it came again, and down and down until it lit as light as a feather in the street before the guesthouse door. The soldier tucked his feathern cap in his pocket, and the three-legged stool under his arm, and in he went and ordered a pot beer and some white bread and cheese.

Meantime, at the kinghove was such a gossiping and such a hubbub as had not been heard there for many a day; for the pretty queenling was not slow in telling how the unseesome Wind-king had come and asked her to marry him; and some said it was true and some said it was not true, and everybody wondered and talked, and told their own notions of the inthing. But all agreed that three days would show whether what had been told was true or no.

As for the soldier, he knew no more how to do what he had promised to do than my grandmother’s cat; for where was he to get clothes fine enough for the Wind-king to wear? So there he sat on his three-legged stool thinking and thinking, and if he had known all that I know, then he would not have given two turns of his wit upon it. “I wish,” said he, at last—“I wish that this stool could help me now as well as it can carry me through the sky. I wish,” said he, “that I had a suit of clothes such as the Wind-king might really wear.”

The wonders of the three-legged stool were wonders indeed!

Hardly had the words left the soldier’s lips when down came something tumbling about his ears from up in the air; and what should it be but just such a suit of clothes as he had in his mind—all crusted over with gold and silver and hurstes.

“Well,” said the soldier, as soon as he had got over his wonder again, “I would rather sit upon this stool than any I ever saw.” And so would I, if I had been in his stead, and had a few minutes to think of all that I wanted.

So he found out the trick of the stool, and after that wishing and having were easy enough, and by the time the three days were ended the real Wind-king himself could not have cut a sharper beaconing. Then down sat the soldier upon his stool, and wished himself at the kinghove. Away flew he through the lift, and by-and-by there he was, just where he had been before. He put his feathern cap upon his head, and stepped in through the window, and there found he the queenling with her father, the king, and her mother, the queen, and all the great lords and atheldom waiting for his coming; but never a stitch nor a hair did they see of him until he stood in the very midst of them all. Then whipped he the feathern cap off of his head, and there he was, shining with silver and gold and glistening with hurstes—such a sight as man’s eyes never before saw.

“Take her,” said the king, “she is thine.” And the soldier looked so handsome in his fine clothes that the queenling was as glad to hear those words as any she had ever listened to in all of her life.

“Thou shallst,” said the king, “be wedded to-morrow.”

“Very well,” said the soldier. “Only give me a plot of ground to build a kinghove upon that shall be fit for the Wind-king's wife to live in.”

“Thou shallst have it,” said the king, “and it shall be the great parade ground back of the kinghove, which is so wide and long that all my landferd can march round and round in it without getting into its own way; and that ought to be big enough.”

“Yes,” said the soldier, “it is.” Thereupon put he his feathern cap on and disappeared from the sight of all as quickly as one might snuff out a candle.

He mounted his three-legged stool and away flew he through the air until he had come again to the guesthouse where he was lodging. There he sat him down and began to churn his thoughts, and the butter he made was worth the having, I can tell you. He wished for a great kinghove of white shinestone, and then wished he for all sorts of things to fill it—the finest that could be had. Then wished he for helpers in clothes of gold and silver, and then wished he for fine horses and gilded coaches. Then wished he for wortyards and orchards and meads and flower-plats and springwells, and all kinds and sorts of things, until the sweat ran down his face from hard thinking and wishing. And as he thought and wished, all the things he thought and wished for grew up like soap-bubbles from nothing at all.

Then, when day began to break, he wished himself with his fine clothes to be in the palace that his own wits had made, and away flew he through the lift until he had come there safe and sound.

But when the sun rose and shone down upon the beautiful kinghove and all the wortyards and orchards around it, the king and queen and all the court stood dumb with wonder at the sight. Then, as they stood staring, the gates opened and out came the soldier riding in his gilded coach with his helpers in silver and gold marching beside him, and such a sight the daylight never looked upon before that day.

Well, the queenling and the soldier were married, and if no couple had ever been happy in the world before, they were then. Nothing was heard but feasting and merrymaking, and at night all the sky was lit with fireworks. Such a wedding had never been before, and all the world was glad that it had happened.

That is, all the world but one; that one was the old man dressed in wormred that the soldier had met when he first came to town. While all the rest were in the evenblissful stirness, he put on his thinking-cap, and by-and-by began to see pretty well how things lay, and that, as they say in our town, there was a fly in the milk-jug. “Ho, ho!” thought he, “so the soldier has found out all about the three-legged stool, has he? Well, I will just put a spoke into his wheel for him.” And so he began to watch for his chance to do the soldier an ill turn.

Now, a week or two after the wedding, and after all the gay doings had ended, a grand hunt was declared, and the king and his new son-in-law and all the court went to it. That was just such a chance as the old dwimmerman had been waiting for; so the night before the hunting-party returned he climbed the walls of the garden, and so came to the wonderful kinghove, that the soldier had built out of nothing at all, and there stood three men keeping guard, so that no one might enter.

But little troubled that the dwimmerman. He began to mutter spells and strange words, and all of a sudden he was gone, and in his stead was a great black ant, for he had changed himself into an ant. In ran he through a crack of the door (and mischief has got into many a man’s house through a smaller hole for the inthing of that). In and out ran the ant through one room and another, and up and down and here and there, until at last in a far-away part of the magic kinghove he found the three-legged stool, and if I had been in the soldier’s stead I would have chopped it up into kindling-wood after I had gotten all that I wanted. But there it was, and in an instant the dwimmerman resumed his own shape. Down he sat him upon the stool. “I wish,” said he, “that this kinghove and the queenling and all who are within it, together with its orchards and its meads and its wortyards and everything, may be removed to such and such a land, upon the earth’s other side.”

And as the stool had obeyed the soldier, so everything was done now just as the dwimmerman said.

The next morning came the hunting-party back, and as they rode over the hill—lo and behold hold!—there lay stretched out the great parade ground in which the king’s landferds used to march around and around, and the land was as bare as the palm of my hand. Not a stick nor a stone from the kinghove was left; not a leaf nor a blade from the orchards or wortyards was to be seen.

The soldier sat as dumb as a fish, and the king stared mid eyes and mouth wide open. “Where is the kinghove, and where is my daughter?” said he, at last, finding words and wit.

“I do not know,” said the soldier.

The king’s face grew as black as thunder. “You do not know?” said he, “then you must find out. Fang the trustreaver!” cried he.

But that was easier said than done, for, quick as a wink, as they came to lay hold of him, the soldier whisked the feathern cap from his pocket and clapped it upon his head, and then they might as well have hoped to find the south wind in winter as to find him.

But though he got safe away from that trouble he was deep enough in the dumps, you may be sure of that. Away went he, out into the wide world, leaving that town behind him. Away went he, until by-and-by came he to a great weald, and for three days he wayfore on and on—he knew not whither. On the third night, as he sat beside a fire which he had built to keep him warm, suddenly bethought he himself of the little round stone which had dropped from the bird’s claw, and which he still had in his pocket. “Why should it not also help me,” said he, “for there must be some wonder about it.” So he brought it out, and sat looking at it and looking at it, but he could make nothing of it for the life of him. Nevertheless, it might have some wishing thrith about it, like the dwimmerstool. “I wish,” said the soldier, “that I might get out of this scrape.” That is what we have all wished many and many a time in a like case; but just now did it the soldier no more good to wish than does it good for the rest of us. “Bah!” said he, “it is nothing but a black stone after all.” And then he threw it into the fire.

Puff! Bang! Away flew the embers upon every side, and back tumbled the soldier, and there in the middle of the flame stood just such a grim, black being as he had one time shot at with the silvern knap.

As for the poor soldier, just lay he flat on his back and stared with eyes like saucers, for he thought that his end had come for sure.

“What are my lord’s biddings?” said the being, in a voice that shook the soldier’s bonemarrow.

“Who art thou?” said the soldier.

“I am the stone-ghost,” said the being. “Thou hadst heated it in the flame, and I am here. Whatever thou biddest, I must fulfill.”

“Say thou so?” cried the soldier, scrambling to his feet. “Very well, then, just carry me to where I may find my wife and my kinghove again.”

Without a word, the stone-ghost snatched the soldier up, and flew away with him swifter than the wind. Over weald, over field, over berg and over dale flew he, until at last, just at the crack of day, he set him down in front of his own kinghove gate in the far country where the dwimmerman had transported it.

After that knew the soldier his way quickly enough. He clapped his feathern cap upon his head and into the kinghove he went, and from one room to another, until at last came he to where the queenling sat weeping and wailing, with her pretty eyes red from long crying.

Then the soldier took off his cap again, and thou may guess what evenblissful reards followed. They sat down beside one another, and after the soldier had eaten, the queenling told him all that had happened to her; how the dwimmerman had found the stool, and how he had ferried the kinghove to this far-away land; how he came every day and begged her to wed him—which she would rather die than do.

To all this the soldier listened, and when she had ended her story he bade her to dry her tears, for, after all, the jug was only cracked, and not past mending. Then he told her that when the dwimmerman came again that day she should say so and so and so and so, and that he would be by to help her with his feathern cap upon his head.

After that they sat talking together as happy as two turtledoves, until the dwimmerman’s foot was on the stairs heard. And then clapped the soldier his feathern cap upon his head just as the door opened.

“Snuff, snuff!” said the dwimmerman, sniffing the air, “here is a smell from Christen blood.”

“Yes,” said the queenling, “that is so; there came a peddler to-day, but after all he did not stay long.”

“He’d better not come again,” said the dwimmerman, “or it will be the worse for him. But tell me, willst thou marry me?”

“No,” said the queenling, “I shall not marry thee until you can prove thyself to be a greater man than my husband.”

“Pooh!” said the dwimmerman, “that will be easy enough to prove; tell me how you would have me do so and I will do it.”

“Very well,” said the queenling, “then let me see you change yourself into a lewcat. If you can do that, then I may perhaps believe thee to be as great as my husband.”

“It shall,” said the dwimmerman, “be as thou sayest.” He began to mutter spells and strange words, and then all of a sudden was he gone, and in his stead stood there a lewcat with bristling mane and flaming eyes—a sight fit of itself to kill a body with terror.

“That will do!” cried the queenling, quaking and trembling at the sight, and thereupon the dwimmerman took his own shape again.

“Now,” said he, “do thou believest, that I am as great as the arm soldier?”

“Not yet,” said the queenling; “I have seen how big you can make thyself, now I wish to see how little thou can become. Let me see thee change thyself into a mouse.”

“So be it,” said the dwimmerman, and began again to mutter his spells. Then all of a sudden he was gone just as he was before gone, and in his stead was a little mouse sitting up and looking at the queenling with a pair of eyes like glassen beads.

But he did not sit there long. This was what the soldier had planned for, and all the while he had been standing by with his feathern hat upon his head. Up raised he his foot, and down he set it upon the mouse.

Crunch!—that was an end for the dwimmerman.

After that was all clear sailing; the soldier hunted up the three-legged stool and down he sat upon it, and by dint of no more than just a little wishing, back flew kinghove and wortyard and all through the lift again to the stead whence it came.

I know not whether the old king ever believed again, that his son-in-law was the Wind-king; anyhow, all was frith and friendliness thereafter, for when can a body sit upon a three-legged stool and wish to such good purpose as the soldier wished, a body is just as good as a king, and a good deal better, to my mind.

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The Luckstool > Solomon’s Libsen

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