Long ago in a certain city in Spain there lived a youth who had no fondness what-ever for work, but a very great fondness for getting into debt. The foolish lad had used up his entire inheritance. There was nothing left with which to pay the pile of debts which he swiftly accumulated.
One day a stranger appeared at his door, who offered to settle all his debts on condition that the young man should do a day’s work for him. The youth gratefully accepted the offer, for he thought that he could at least manage one day’s work, no matter how hard it was.
“Be ready at five o’clock, tomorrow morning,” said the stranger, as he paid the debts.
The next morning the youth found the stranger at his door promptly at five o’clock in the morning. He was mounted on a fine black horse, and he had with him an extra bay horse upon which the boy was to ride. They rode on rapidly up hill and down, through fertile valley lands, and over narrow wood-land trails, until at last they reached the sea.
Then the stranger, who was riding ahead, turned to the boy and said, ” Far out in the sea there is acastle lined with gold and silver. You are to accompany me there to aid me in filling some sacks to carry home. Come on!”
The youth looked fearfully at the angry waves. “Very well, Senor,” he replied, “you ride ahead, please.”
The stranger spurred the fine black horse into the raging sea, and there was nothing for the frightened youth to do except to follow upon the bay horse. The horses swam rapidly through the waves, and soon a great castle upon high rocks rose before them.
When they had climbed out of the water upon the rocks, the stranger said: “It is your task to enter the castle and fill these two sacks, one with gold and the other with silver. As soon as you fill them throw them down to me.”
The youth looked up at the high castle which frowned down at them from the summit of the steep rocks. “I don’t see any way to get into the castle,” he said.
Then the stranger took a little book out of one of his pockets and opened it. The youth felt himself suddenly rising from the ground. He screamed with fright as he slowly rose to the top of the rock, and then to a little window high up in the castle wall. He crawled into the window and filled the two bags,one with gold, and the other with silver. He was amazed at the enormous piles of silver and gold which the castle contained.
He threw the bags out of the window and prepared to descend; but to his surprise, the stranger loaded the two bags upon the bay horse, seated himself upon the black horse, and rode rapidly out to sea upon its back, leading the bay horse after him. The youth shouted in vain. The man never turned his head to give him even a glance.
The poor boy was in despair. ” What shall I ever do!” he cried. ” Here I am stranded upon this rock in the midst of the sea! There is nothing to eat or drink in this castle, nothing but silver and gold! What shall I do! O foolish boy that I was, ever to allow myself to get into a situation like this!”
He wandered through the castle, but saw nothing anywhere except the great piles of silver and of gold.
“O mother of my soul!” he cried. “It is my fate to die here in this deserted spot, surrounded on all sides by the angry waves! I cannot eat gold and drink silver.”
His hunger grew as time passed and his thirst was even harder to endure than the hunger. At last he noticed a damp spot on one of the castle walls. “Perhaps I may be so fortunate as to find a spring of water,” said he, as he eagerly began digging with his hands.
He dug and dug for a long time until he was weak and faint. He found no water. All he discovered was a rat in the wall. He rested and then went on digging, and at last he came to a heavy door.
He opened the door anxiously, for he did not know what might lie behind it. What he saw was a narrow stone stairway leading down into the depths of the earth.
The boy committed his soul both to the angels and to the devils, and descended the stairway. At the foot
of the stairs he found another door. It opened into a great hall. To his joy there was a fountain of water in the middle of the room. At the side of the fountain there was a table laden with rich foods.
The first thing he did was to drink some of the water of the fountain. Then he began to taste the food.
“I may die, but I will at least die with a full stomach,” he remarked. ” What will happen next the good God alone knows.”
At the end of the meal the youth wandered about the great hall. Then he opened the door into the kitchen. There in the kitchen stood an old negress. She was very old, and very fat, and very black. She dropped the plate in her hands when she saw the boy, she was so amazed at his presence.
“Poor lad! What cruel person wished such evil upon you as to lead you to this place?” she cried.
The boy told her the whole story. She nodded thoughtfully.
“Your punishment is greater than you deserve,” said she. ” But if you are a quiet and obedient lad, you may live on here in the castle. You will see no one except me.”
The youth spent many days in the castle. There was at least plenty to eat and drink, but it was very lonely. Sometimes he would climb up the stairway to the upper tower of the castle and look out of the little window, high up in the tower. He would gaze and gaze at the raging sea as it dashed angrily upon the rocks, and long for his old life back in the land which lay far beyond the waves.
He often questioned the old woman in the kitchen, and at last he found out that there was a secret door in the castle wall which led to the dungeon where a beautiful princess was confined.
“You can never locate the door,” said the old negress.” And even if you found it you could never reach the princess. You would have to pass two fierce lions, and constantly revolving millstones, and a deadly serpent. The lions would tear you into pieces. If you escaped them the millstones would grind you into powder. If you escaped the mill-stones the serpent would coil itself about you and fill your veins with poison. It is quite impossible to reach the princess.”
The youth thought of nothing except the imprisoned princess. “I found the door which led me to food and drink,” said he. “Why may I not find the door which leads to the beautiful captive princess? I should at least like to peep through the door?”
One day a rat ran across the floor and quickly disappeared in a crack in the wall. The youth began to dig farther into the crack, and at length he discovered the door. He rested that night, though he was so excited he could not sleep a wink. The moment it was light he started to dig again, and soon he had freed the door so that it would swing open. He quickly unfastened the bolt and pushed it wide.
The two lions, which crouched ready to spring upon him, were larger and fiercer even than he had expected. He quickly pulled off his jacket and tossed it to them. Both the lions sprang upon the jacket and fought to obtain possession of it. The youth ran past them and through the door they guarded.
The heavy millstones were revolving violently and did not stop their revolutions a single instant. The
boy threw his shirt at them. The mill wheels became clogged and he ran quickly past.
Before him there appeared a huge serpent. It hissed at him angrily. Quickly he tossed his shoe to it, and the serpent’s deadly fangs were embedded in the shoe. The boy escaped past it and through the door it guarded. He had no jacket or shirt and there was a shoe on only one foot, but he was safe.
He found himself in a room lined with gleaming gold. It was adorned with pearls and diamonds and precious stones from every part of the earth. Upon a richly carved couch lay the most beautiful maiden in the world. There was a sweet smile upon her lips, but she was fast asleep. Slowly she opened her beautiful dark eyes. They smiled into the boy’s.
“Thank you for coming to awaken me,” she said.” I should have slept for a thousand years if you had
not come. I am sorry I cannot stay with you. I’ll give you this so that I shall be able to recognize you again.” With these words she gave the youth a dainty handkerchief of sheerest linen. In the corner of the handkerchief there was a coronet embroidered with skilful stitchery.
Suddenly the beautiful princess, the richly carved couch, the room lined with gold, with ornaments of pearls and diamonds and precious stones from every part of the earth, the mysterious castle, the high rocks in the midst of the waves, all disappeared. There was not a trace of them left. The boy found himself standing by the seashore in a certain town in Spain which he well knew. He was holding in his hand a dainty handkerchief with a coronet embroidered in the corner.
The youth could think of nothing except the beautiful dark eyes of the enchanted princess and her sweet smile. He sought for her in every city, in every land. He despaired of ever seeing her again, but he
treasured the handkerchief carefully. At last he returned to his own city. He had been everywhere else in his search for the princess, but he had not yet visited again the familiar scenes of his boyhood. He decided to remain there for a time and then once more renew his search. He knew that he could never rest in peace until he had once more looked into the beautiful dark eyes of the enchanted princess.
As he approached his own city, he saw that it was decked in gala attire. There were banners and flowers everywhere.
“What feast is this?” he asked the first man he met.
“Why, don’t you know? ” asked the man to whom he had spoken. “Where have you been that you do not know that this is the wedding day of our beautiful princess? ”
There was no time to talk more, for at that very moment the wedding procession appeared. The lad looked at the bride and his heart stood still. He gazed once more upon the face of the beautiful enchanted princess whom he had awakened in the castle in the sea.
He ran like the wind through the crowd. He pushed aside all who got in his way. He was like a madman. Nevertheless, he reached the steps of the church long before the bridal party arrived there.
As the bride came up the steps he waved before her eyes the dainty handkerchief of sheerest linen with the royal coronet embroidered in the corner. The face of the beautiful princess turned white and then it turned to deepest rose. Her dark eyes shone with the great joy which filled her heart.
Within the church the clear voice of the princess rang out proudly, “I will wed only the youth who has my handkerchief with my coronet embroidered in the corner.”
The wedding guests looked at each other in amazement. The bridegroom searched anxiously in all his pockets. In none of them could he find a hand-kerchief with the coronet of the princess in the corner.
The princess turned to her father. “Send men to search for him!” she cried. “He was dressed as a beggar and he sat upon the steps of the church! He it is who came to my side in the enchanted palace in the sea. It is he who awoke me out of my enchantment. I gave him my handkerchief with my coronet embroidered in the corner. I will wed him and him alone!”
Search was quickly made. There on the steps of the church still sat a youth with smiling eyes, a youth dressed in shabby, dusty garments like a beggar. In his hand he held a dainty handkerchief of sheerest linen with a royal coronet embroidered in the corner.
The former bridegroom retired in sorrow and disappointment, and the wedding was celebrated with great joy.