The Betrothal Gifts: The Story of Kubik and the Frog

Intermediate
16 min read
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    A farmer who had three sons was much troubled in his mind as to how he should leave his property. “My farm is too small to divide,” he kept thinking to himself. “If I divide it into three equal parts and give each of my sons one part, they will all be poor cottagers, and yet, if I give it all to one son, I shall be unjust to the other two. My grandfather always said that it is a father’s duty to treat all his children alike and I’m sure I don’t want to depart from his teachings.”

    At last he called his sons together and said: “I have hit upon a plan whereby fate shall decide which of you shall be my heir. You must all go out into the world and find brides, and he who brings back as a betrothal gift the most beautiful ring shall have the farm.”

    The sons agreed to this plan and the next day they all set out in different directions in quest of brides.

    Now the youngest son, whose name was Kubik, was not considered as bright as his brothers, for he was kind to beggars and he never drove a hard bargain. His brothers often laughed at him and his father pitied him, for he thought that Kubik was too gentle to make his way in the world.

    Kubik’s path took him into a deep forest. He walked on and on until suddenly a little frog hopped up in front of him and said:

    “Where are you going, Kubik?”

    Now Kubik had never in all his life heard of a frog that could talk. At first he was frightened but even so he was too polite not to answer a civil question. So he told the frog about his father and the farm and the quest for betrothal gifts upon which he and his brothers were bound.

    The frog listened and when he was finished she said: “Come with me, Kubik, and my daughter, Kachenka, will give you a more beautiful ring than any your father or brothers have ever seen.”

    Kubik hesitated, but at last not to hurt the frog’s feelings he agreed. “But if your daughter Kachenka looks like you,” he thought to himself, “Heaven help me, for she’ll be a pretty dear price to pay for a farm!”

    The frog led him to a deep valley at one side of which rose a high rocky cliff that was honey-combed with caverns. The frog hopped into one of these and called out:

    “Kachenka, my child, where are you? Here is Kubik come to woo you and to beg a betrothal gift. Bring out your little box of rings.”

    Instantly a second frog appeared dragging a heavy jewel casket. Kachenka, alas, was a hundred times uglier than her mother. Her legs were crooked, her face was all covered with spots, and when she spoke her voice was hoarse and croaking.

    For a moment Kubik shivered and turned away in disgust, but only for a moment until he remembered that it wasn’t Kachenka’s fault that she was a frog.

    The two frogs put the casket before him and opened it and Kubik saw that it was filled with a collection of the rarest and most beautiful rings in the world.

    “Make your own choice, Kubik,” the old frog said.

    Kubik selected as plain a ring as there was, for he was ashamed to take one of the handsomest.

    “Not that one!” the old frog said, “unless you want your brothers to laugh at you.”

    Thereupon she herself picked out the ring that had the biggest diamond of them all, wrapped it up carefully in paper, and handed it to Kubik.

    “Now hurry home,” she said, “for your brothers are already there and your father is waiting for you.”

    As soon as Kubik reached home the farmer called his three sons together and demanded to be shown their betrothal gifts.

    All the eldest son had was a common brass ring.

    “Um,” the farmer said, shaking his head. “Well, put it away for a keepsake.”

    The second son showed a silver ring that was worth a few cents more.

    “A little better,” the old man mumbled, “but not good enough for a farmer. Put it away for a keepsake. And now,” he said, turning to his youngest son, “let us see what Kubik has brought from his promised bride.”

    They all looked at Kubik, and Kubik blushed as he felt in his pocket for the little package.

    “Ho, ho!” his brothers laughed. “Kubik has such a fine ring that he has to keep it wrapped up.”

    But when he opened the paper they stopped laughing, and well they might, for there was a great diamond that sparkled and blazed until it seemed that the sun was shining in the room.

    “Kubik!” the farmer cried when at last he found his voice, “where did you get that ring? You must have stolen it, you wicked boy!” And without waiting to hear what Kubik had to say, he reached for a whip and trounced the poor lad to within an inch of his life. Then he took the ring and hid it carefully away.

    “Now, my boys,” he said to his sons, “you will all have to make another trial. This time ask of your promised brides the gift of an embroidered kerchief and he who brings back the most beautiful kerchief shall be my heir.”

    So the next day the three sons again started out, each in a different direction.

    Kubik thought to himself: “I won’t go the way I went yesterday or I may meet that old frog again and then, when I get home, the only prize I’ll get will be another beating.”

    So he took a different path but he hadn’t gone far before the old frog hopped up in front of him.

    “What’s the matter, Kubik?” she asked.

    At first Kubik didn’t want to tell her but she questioned him and finally, not to seem rude, he told her about the beating his father had given him on account of Kachenka’s ring and about the new quest for embroidered kerchiefs upon which his father was now sending him and his brothers.

    “Now don’t think any more about that whipping,” the old frog advised him. “And as for an embroidered kerchief, why, Kachenka is the very girl for that! She will give you one that will make your brothers open their eyes!”

    Kubik wasn’t sure that he wanted to accept another of Kachenka’s gifts, but the old frog urged him and at last he agreed. So again they took the path to the rocky cliff. The old frog called her daughter out as before and presently Kachenka appeared dragging a chest that was filled with the most wonderful of kerchiefs, all of fine silk and all richly embroidered and so large that they were more like shawls than kerchiefs.

    Kubik reached in and took the first that came to hand.

    “Tut, tut!” the old frog said. “That’s no way to select a kerchief.”

    Then she herself picked out the biggest and the most richly embroidered of them all and wrapped it up in paper. She gave it to Kubik and said:

    “Now hurry home, for your brothers are already there and your father is waiting for you.”

    As soon as Kubik reached home the farmer called his three sons together and demanded to be shown their betrothal gifts.

    All the eldest one had was a small cheap kerchief of no value whatever.

    “Um,” the farmer said, shaking his head. “Well, put it away for a keepsake.”

    The kerchief of the second had cost a few cents more.

    “A little better,” the old man mumbled. “Perhaps it’s good enough for a farmer. And now,” he said, turning to his youngest son, “let us see what Kubik has brought from his promised bride.”

    They all looked at Kubik, and Kubik blushed as he pulled out a parcel from under his shirt.

    “Ho, ho!” his brothers laughed. “Kubik has such a fine kerchief that he has to keep it wrapped up in paper!”

    But when Kubik opened the paper they stopped laughing, and well they might, for there was a silken kerchief so big that it could have covered the whole room and so richly embroidered that any princess in the world would have been proud to own it.

    “Kubik!” the farmer cried when at last he was able to speak, “where did you get that kerchief? You must have stolen it, you wicked boy!” And without waiting to hear what Kubik had to say, he reached down the whip again and trounced the poor boy to within an inch of his life. Then he took the kerchief and hid it carefully away.

    “Now, my sons,” he said, “you will all have to make another trial. But this time it will not be for a ring or a kerchief. This time bring home your brides and he whose bride is the most beautiful shall be my heir.”

    So the next day the three sons again started out, each in a different direction.

    “I don’t want to see Kachenka again,” poor Kubik said to himself. “Twice I’ve brought back the best betrothal gift and each time I’ve got a beating for it. I wonder what they would say if I brought home a frog for a bride! Then they would have something to laugh at!”

    So he took a different path through the forest but again he hadn’t gone far before the old frog hopped up in front of him. This time Kubik turned and ran. The old frog called after him but the louder she called the faster he ran.

    He ran on and on until suddenly a great snake stopped him. The snake reared high its head, then dropped into a coil. Again it reared up and swayed from side to side threatening to strike if Kubik went on. So Kubik saw that fate was determined that he should marry a frog and reluctantly he turned back.

    The snake led him to the cliff, where the old frog greeted him kindly and thanked the snake for his faithful service.

    Poor Kubik! He was very tired and very unhappy. When you come to think of it, who wouldn’t be unhappy at the prospect of being united for life to a frog?

    Kubik was so tired that presently he fell asleep and it was just as well he did, for at least in dreams he could forget his troubles.

    The next morning when he woke and rubbed his eyes, he found himself lying on a soft feather bed, white as snow, in a splendid room with decorations that were fit for a king. A fine silken shirt lay spread out on a chair beside the bed and beyond the chair was a stand with a silver basin. When he got up attendants came running in carrying clothes of richly woven cloth of gold. They dressed Kubik and they combed his hair until they had him looking like a young prince. Then they brought him breakfast and there was cream with the coffee and I would have you know that this was only the second time in his life that Kubik had ever had cream with his coffee!

    Kubik did not know what to think of it all. His head went round and round. When he looked out the window he saw no trace of cliff or caverns or forest. Instead he saw a big town with streets and houses and people going to and fro.

    Presently music began to play under the window, a great crowd gathered and soon attendants came in to escort Lord Kubik out. As he reached the castle gate, the people cheered and a coach and six drove up. Two ladies were in it, a mother and daughter, both dressed in beautiful silks. They alighted from the coach and when they saw Kubik they smiled and came toward him with outstretched hands.

    “You don’t know us, do you, Kubik?” the older lady said. “I was that old frog who coaxed you to the cliff and this, my beautiful daughter, was the other little frog, the very ugly one, that you feared you would have to take home to your father’s house as your bride. You see, Kubik, we were all under an evil enchantment. Many years ago a wicked magician brought ruin on us and our kingdom. He changed our subjects into snakes and us into frogs and turned our fine city into a rocky cliff. Nothing could break the enchantment until some one should come and ask a betrothal gift from my daughter. We lived in the forest for years and years and all those years I begged all the people who wandered by to help us but they only trod on us or turned away from us in disgust. You, Kubik, were the first not to scorn us for our ugly looks. By this you broke the evil spell that held us and now we are all free. As a reward you shall marry my daughter, the Princess Kachenka, and be made king!”

    Then the old queen took Kubik by the hand and led him to the royal coach, where she made him sit between her and the princess. Music played and the people cheered, and in this style they drove to Kubik’s native village and to his father’s house.

    The old man was in the yard chopping firewood and his older sons were helping him. They, too, had brought home their brides, plain country girls from poor farms, and at that moment they were all awaiting Kubik’s arrival.

    “Look, father,” the oldest son cried, “some fine folk are turning in here!”

    “We’re not behind in our taxes, are we?” the second son asked.

    “Hush!” the old man whispered. “I have nothing to fear. My affairs are all in good order.”

    He put his cap respectfully under his arm and stood bareheaded and both his sons followed his example.

    The coach drove straight into the yard and a handsome young lord and two beautiful ladies alighted. The handsome young lord greeted the old man and his sons and they bowed and scraped and pressed their hats under their arms tighter and tighter.

    Then they all stepped into the old kitchen that was black with the smoke of many years and the handsome young lord sat down on the bench behind the table as though that was where he always sat. The two brothers and their brides shrank back against the oven and held their breath.

    Then the handsome young lord said to the old man: “Don’t you know me?”

    “Where could I ever have seen your lordship?” the farmer asked, humbly. He kept bobbing so low it was a wonder he didn’t bump his head against the floor.

    “And do neither of your sons know me? I think these are your sons, aren’t they?”

    The farmer kept on bowing and the two sons looked down, too embarrassed to speak.

    At length the handsome young lord said: “What, don’t you know your own son, Kubik, whom you used to beat for stealing when he showed you his betrothal gifts?”

    At that the old man looked at him closely and cried out: “Bless my soul, I believe it is our Kubik! But who could recognize the boy!… And is this his bride? That settles it! Kubik shall have the farm! Kubik has brought home the most beautiful bride!”

    “Kubik doesn’t need the farm,” the old queen said, “nor will you need it any longer nor your other sons. You will all come home with us to our kingdom over which Kubik is now king. And may God grant you many years to live on in peace and quiet.”

    The farmer was overjoyed at this arrangement. He embraced his son, and his son’s bride, and his son’s royal mother-in-law.

    He gave his farm to the poorest man in the village and then he and his sons accompanied Kubik back to his kingdom. There he lived long in peace and comfort enjoying the thought that good fortune had come to them all on account of his determination not to divide the farm.

    The poor man who inherited the farm prayed for him and his sons every night and never tired of telling the story of how Kubik became a king and his brothers courtiers.

    So for many years the memory of Kubik was kept green. Now people are beginning to forget him, so I thought it was time that I tell his story again.

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