Once upon a time there lived a huntsman. He would go every day in search of game, but it often happened that he killed nothing, and so was obliged to return home with his bag empty. On that account he was nicknamed “Huntsman the Unlucky.” At last he was reduced by his ill fortune to such extremities that he had not a piece of bread nor a copeck left. The wretched man wandered about the forest, cold and hungry; he had eaten nothing for three days, and was nearly dying of starvation. He lay down on the grass determined to put an end to his existence; happily better thoughts came into his mind; he crossed himself, and threw away the gun. Suddenly he heard a rustling noise near him. It seemed to issue from some thick grass close at hand. The hunter got up and approached the spot. He then observed that the, grass partly hid a gloomy abyss, from the bottom of which there rose a stone, and on it lay a small jar. As he looked and listened the hunter heard a small voice crying,—
“Dear, kind traveller, release me!”
The voice seemed to proceed from the little jar. The courageous hunter, walking carefully from one stone to another, approached the spot where the jar lay, took it up gently, and heard a voice crying from within like the chirping of a grasshopper,—
“Release me, and I will be of service to you.”
“Who are you, my little friend?” asked Huntsman the Unlucky.
“I have no name, and cannot be seen by human eyes,” answered a soft voice. “If you want me, call ‘Murza!’ A wicked magician put me in this jar, sealed it with the seal of King Solomon, and then threw me into this fearful place, where I have lain for seventy years.”
“Very good,” said Huntsman the Unlucky; “I will give you your liberty, and then we shall see how you will keep your word.” He broke the seal and opened the little jar—there was nothing in it!
“Halloa! where are you, my friend?” cried the hunter.
“By your side,” a voice answered.
The hunter looked about him, but could see no one.
“Ready! I await your orders. I am your servant for the next three days, and will do whatever you desire. You have only to say, ‘Go there, I know not where; bring something, I know not what.'”
“Very well,” said the hunter. “You will doubtless know best what is wanted: Go there, I know not where; bring something, I know not what.”
As soon as the hunter had uttered these words there appeared before him a table covered with dishes, each filled with the most delicious viands, as if they had come direct from a banquet of the czar. The hunter sat down at the table, and ate and drank till he was satisfied. He then rose, crossed himself, and, bowing on all sides, exclaimed,—
“Thank you! thank you!”
Instantly the table, and everything else with it, disappeared, and the hunter continued his journey.
After walking some distance he sat down by the roadside to rest. It so happened that while the hunter was resting himself, there passed through the forest a gipsy-thief, leading a horse which he wanted to sell.
“I wish I had the money to buy the horse with,” thought the hunter; “what a pity my pockets are empty! However, I will ask my invisible friend. Murza!”
“Go there, I know not where; bring something, I know not what.”
In less than a minute the hunter heard the money chinking in his pocket; gold poured into them, he knew not how nor whence.
“Thanks! you have kept your word,” said the hunter.
He then began to bargain with the gipsy for the horse. Having agreed upon the price, he paid the man in gold, who, staring at the hunter with his mouth wide open, wondered where Huntsman the Unlucky had got so much money from. Parting from the hunter, the gipsy-thief ran with all his speed to the farther end of the forest, and whistled. There was no answer. “They are asleep,” thought the gipsy, and entered a cavern where some robbers, lying on the skins of animals, were resting themselves.
“Halloa, comrades! Are you asleep?” cried the gipsy. “Get up, quick! or you will lose a fine bird. He is alone in the forest, and his pockets are full of gold. Make haste!”
The robbers sprang up, mounted their horses, and galloped after the hunter.
The hunter heard the clatter, and seeing himself suddenly surrounded by robbers, cried out,—
“Ready!” answered a voice near him.
“Go there, I know not where; bring something, I know not what.”
There was a rustling noise heard in the forest, and then something from behind the trees fell upon the robbers. They were knocked from their horses, and scattered on all sides; yet no hand was seen to touch them. The robbers, thrown upon the ground, could not raise themselves, and the hunter, thankful and rejoicing at his deliverance, rode on, and soon found his way out of the dark forest, and came upon a town.
Near this town there were pitched tents full of soldiers. Huntsman the Unlucky was told that an enormous army of Tartars had come, under the command of their khan, who, angry at being refused the hand of the beautiful Princess Milovzora, the daughter of the czar, had declared war against him. The hunter had seen the Princess Milovzora when she was out hunting in the forest. She used to ride a beautiful horse, and carry a golden lance in her hand; a magnificent quiver of arrows hung from her shoulder. When her veil was lifted up she appeared like the spring sunlight, to give light to the eyes and warmth to the heart.
The hunter reflected for a little while, and then cried, “Murza!”
In an instant he found himself dressed in splendid attire: his jacket was embroidered with gold, he wore a beautiful mantle on his shoulders, and ostrich feathers hung gracefully down from the top of his helmet, fastened by a brooch of a ruby surrounded by pearls. The hunter went into the castle, presented himself before the czar, and offered to drive away the forces of the enemy on condition that the czar gave him the beautiful Princess Milovzora for his wife.
The czar was greatly surprised, but did not like to refuse such an offer at once; he first asked the hunter his name, his birth, and his possessions.
“I am called Huntsman the Unlucky, Master of Murza the Invisible.”
The czar thought the young stranger was mad; the courtiers, however, who had seen him before, assured the czar that the stranger exactly resembled Huntsman the Unlucky, whom they knew; but how he had got that splendid dress they could not tell.
Then the czar demanded:
“Do you hear what they say? If you are telling lies, you will lose your head. Let us see, then, how you will overcome the enemy with the forces of your invisible Murza?”
“Be of good hope, czar,” answered the hunter; “as soon as I say the word, everything will be completed.”
“Good,” said the czar. “If you have spoken the truth you shall have my daughter for your wife; if not, your head will be the forfeit.”
The hunter said to himself, “I shall either become a prince, or I am a lost man.”
He then whispered, “Murza, go there, I know not where; do this, I know not what.”
A few minutes passed, and there was nothing to be heard or seen. Huntsman the Unlucky turned pale; the czar, enraged, ordered him to be seized and put in irons, when suddenly the firing of guns was heard in the distance. The czar and his courtiers ran out on the steps leading to the castle, and saw bodies of men approaching from both right and left, their standards waving gracefully in the air; the soldiers were splendidly equipped. The czar could hardly believe his eyes, for he himself had no troops so fine as these.
“This is no delusion!” cried Huntsman the Unlucky. “These are the forces of my invisible friend.”
“Let them drive away the enemy then, if they can,” said the czar.
The hunter waved his handkerchief. The army wheeled into position; music burst forth in a martial strain, and then a great cloud of dust arose. When the dust had cleared away, the army was gone.
The czar invited Huntsman the Unlucky to dinner, and asked him numerous questions about Murza the Invisible. At the second course the news came that the enemy was flying in every direction, completely routed. The terrified Tartars had left all their tents and baggage behind them. The czar thanked the hunter for his assistance, and informed his daughter that he had found a husband for her. Princess Milovzora blushed upon receiving this intelligence, then turned pale, and began to shed tears. The hunter whispered something to Murza, and the princess’s tears changed into precious stones as they fell. The courtiers hastened to pick them up—they were pearls and diamonds. The princess smiled at this, and overcome with pleasure gave her hand to Huntsman the Unlucky—unlucky no longer. Then began the feast.—But here the story must end.