Author of The Visitors from Oz, The Wogglebug Book, The Flying Girl, etc.
Originally published in Baum's American Fairy Tales, 1908.
Mary-Marie wanted something to do. Her mother had died years before, and the cruel king had commanded her father to join the royal army and march into far-off countries to do battle. She could not even guess when he would return; indeed, few of the soldiers of the king's army ever did return from the fierce wars. So the girl lived through many tedious days in her lonely little hut, and gathered nuts and berries from the forest to satisfy her hunger. But her one gown was getting faded and shabby, and Mary-Marie could not think how she might manage to get another.
The hut stood beside a path that wound up the mountain side and away into the kingdom of Aurissau that lay in the valley beyond, and one day as Mary-Marie sat before her door an aged traveler came up the path and paused before her. The girl brought him a cup of water and in answer to his questions told how lonely and poor she was.
"But what can I do?" cried she, spreading out her arms helplessly. "I can not hew down trees, as my father used; and in all this end of the king's domain there is nothing else to be done. For there are so many shepherds that no more are needed, and so many tillers of the soil that no more can find employment. Ah, I have tried; hut no one wants a weak girl like me."
"Why don't you become a witch?" asked the man.
"Me!" gasped Mary-Marie, amazed. "A witch!"
"Why not?" he inquired, as if surprised.
"Well," said the girl, laughing. "I'm not old enough. Witches, you know, are withered dried-up old hags."
"Oh, not at all!" returned the stranger.
"And they sell their souls to Satan, in return for a knowledge of witchcraft," continued Mary-Marie more seriously.
"Stuff and nonsense!" cried the stranger angrily.
"And all the enjoyment they get in life is riding broomsticks through the air on dark nights," declared the girl.
"Well, well, well!" said the old man in an astonished tone. "One might think you knew all about witches, to hear you chatter. But your words prove you to be very ignorant of the subject. You may find good people and bad people in the world; and so, I suppose, you may find good witches and bad witches. But I must confess most of the witches I have known were very respectable, indeed, and famous for their kind actions."
"Oh. I'd like to be that kind of witch!" said Mary-Marie, clasping her hands earnestly.
"It's easy enough," answered the stranger. "I passed a witch's cottage about five miles down this path, and there was a sign on the door which read:
TAUGHT BY THE MOST APPROVED MODERN METHODS
"Were I you, my dear child, I would seek this cottage and learn to be a witch, for then you would have a busy and a happy life."
Saying these words the traveler rose and resumed his journey up the mountain, and Mary-Marie looked after him thoughtfully until he was out of sight. Then she jumped up and walked down the path, saying to herself:
"I'll go to the witch's cottage, anyway; and if I can coax her to give me lessons without cost I will learn her craft and become a witch myself."
So, singing and dancing along the steep pathway, she covered the five miles in a space of two hours, and so came to the very cottage the stranger had mentioned.
Until now she had almost doubted the truth of the old man's words; but, sure enough, there was the sign Â— and it read exactly as be had stated.
Mary-Marie knocked once upon the door and it flew open. Inside she saw a big room, the walls and ceiling and floor all painted a pure white color. The only furniture was a pretty white chair by the window, and seated on the chair was a woman with a fresh sweet face, snow-white hair and clothing so pure and speckless that the girl was sure that it had just come from the laundry. Noting the kindly expression upon the woman's face, Mary-Marie bobbed a courtesy, as was proper, and stood in a modest attitude of waiting.
"Come in, Mary-Marie," said the woman pleasantly.
"Oh, of course she knows my name!" thought the girl.
"Yes, and I know why you have come to me," continued the witch, just as if Mary-Marie had spoken her thought aloud.
"Then you also know I have no money to pay you for teaching me," said the girl.
"There are always ways of making payment without money," said the witch, smiling, "so I will take you as my pupil, and teach you to become a witch. I think you have considerable talent for the profession, and you are young and beautiful. These qualifications are somewhat rare, for witchcraft is a fine art that is much neglected these days."
Here the white-haired lady stopped to sigh, and Mary-Marie, thinking over her speech, asked timidly:
"To make payment without money, must I sell my soul to Satan?"
"Surely not!" returned the witch, "nor to me. nor to any one else. For you shall not become a wicked witch, but rather a good and faithful one, using your arts for the benefit of all mankind."
"Then I'll take my first lesson now!" exclaimed the girl eagerly.
"Wait a moment." said the woman; "we will not begin until we have made our bargain. You must promise, in return for my instruction, to perform three tasks for me."
"Very well," said Mary-Marie, "if I am able."
"You will be able when you are a witch," answered the woman. "But you must also agree to attend to my business before you begin to practice witchcraft on your own account."
"Very well," said Mary-Marie again.
"When you have faithfully executed my commands you shall be your own mistress, and work your witchcraft where you will for ever after."
"Thank you," said Mary-Marie; "let us begin at once."
The witch waved her hand and a pretty white chair appeared beside her own. Mary-Marie sat down and took her first lesson, and thereafter, for many days, she applied herself to learning the art of witchcraft, and found her companion a very interesting teacher.
There was no work to be done about the cottage. When they became hungry a table appeared in the center of the room loaded with wholesome food that proved most grateful to the girl after her accustomed meals of nuts and berries. And for drink they had delicious nectar, cold as spring water, which welled up in a magic flagon whenever they grew thirsty. At night two pretty white beds appeared, upon which it was impossible not to sleep soundly; and Mary-Marie noticed that the dreams which came to her while slumbering in her magic bed were far more pleasing than the stories she read in a story book.
The girl was an apt scholar, and being interested in her work learned its mysteries with exceeding rapidity. At length came a day when all magical arts that the witch knew were also known by Mary-Marie, and then the old woman said:
"Your education is finished. Tomorrow you shall start on your journey."
"What journey?" asked the girl.
"One that is necessary for you to undertake in order to accomplish the tasks you promised to perform in my behalf," was the answer.
"I am ready," declared Mary-Marie.
"Then listen carefully to my instructions," began the witch, drawing her chair nearer the girl, and speaking in an eager voice. "You must first go to the king's palace."
Mary-Marie looked at her frock and sighed.
"You will go as Princess Pritikin of Aurissau, as if on a visit of royal state. King Gruph has never seen this princess, so he will receive you courteously, and before he can discover the imposition you will have accomplished your errand."
"And what is my errand to the king?" asked the girl.
"I am coming to that," answered the witch. "But first tell me: what do you know of the king?"
"Very little," said Mary-Marie. "Men call him cruel and heartless, and I believe it is true, for he sent my dear father to the foreign wars. And they say the king is terrible in anger, often slaying his servants with his own hand when they anger him."
"They say truly in all this," declared the witch gravely; "and it is harder to bear because he is not our rightful king."
"Indeed, everyone knows Prince Melra should sit in his father's throne, instead of his Uncle Gruph. But the prince has disappeared, and they say his uncle had him killed, in order that he might himself be king," said Mary-Marie, dropping her voice to an awed whisper.
"Well, your first task will be to get near enough to King Gruph to enchant him," continued the old witch; "and it is my desire that you change him into the form of a nanny-goat."
Mary-Marie laughed and clapped her hands.
"How funny it will be," she cried, "to see the stern king trotting around as a goat!"
But the witch did not laugh. She looked thoughtful instead.
"My first task is easy enough," resumed the girl; "what next?"
"Next you must escape with the goat and lead it over the mountains to the city of Ribdil."
"Will that be difficult?" asked Mary-Marie.
"Not for a witch," was the answer, "although common mortals might fail to find a path over those wild mountains. Your third task will be to sell the goat at the city gate to a butcher named Gurd. As soon as Gurd has killed the goat you must hurry back to me. Afterward you will be at liberty to act as you please, for you will have repaid the debt you owe me for your instruction in witchcraft."
Well, Mary-Marie did not much like the tasks the witch had set her to do, for she was a gentle-hearted girl and had resolved to practice witchcraft only for the good of her fellow-creatures; but she was obliged to fulfill her promises, so she only said:
"Very well; I shall start tomorrow."
Next day a beautiful carriage, with many gaily dressed guards and servants attending it, drove up to the king's palace. In the carriage sat Mary-Marie, robed in exquisite garments and appearing every bit as dignified and sweet as the royal princess she represented.
"Make way for the Princess Pritikin of Aurissau!" shouted one of the guards; and so imposing was the escort that every one bowed down to the ground, and even King Gruph, in person, came down the marble steps of his palace to open the door of the carriage and assist the princess to alight.
Two pages carried the train of her silken mantle and the king led her at once to the great banquet hall and set her on his right hand, while the royal musicians played their best music to entertain the beautiful visitor.
For a time Mary-Marie quite enjoyed herself.
"This is better than eating nuts in my lonely hut on the hillside," she thought, as she feasted on the many dainties that covered the king's table. "I am very glad I learned how to be a witch."
She listened to the music and watched the dancers and the jugglers until it grew late and nearly all the courtiers and attendants had fallen sound asleep in their chairs. Only the king appeared fully awake, and he sat staring gloomily at the supposed princess as if for some reason he began to mistrust her errand at his palace.
Mary-Marie noticed that the king's mood had changed, so she dared delay no longer, but slyly drawing a silver bodkin from her bosom she leaned forward, as if to address the king, and gave him a tiny prick with the bodkin on his left shoulder.
Instantly the king's great form shrank away, and with a clatter of hoofs and a terrified bleat a nanny-goat fell upon the steps of the throne and then stood up trembling and turned its frightened eyes upon Mary-Marie.
The noise aroused all the slumbering courtiers, but when they rubbed their eyes and looked about them they found that both the king and the princess had disappeared, and only noticed that a barefooted, ragged girl was leading a goat from the hall by means of a hempen cord attached to its leg.
The young witch's own carriage and servants had long since disappeared, so she had but to find a path leading toward the mountains and begin the second part of her journey, leading the goat beside her and picking her way carefully by the light of the moon.
The goat gave many pitiful bleatings, and Mary-Marie's heart reproached her for what she was doing until she remembered the many cruel deeds of which the king had been guilty. Then she shook her finger at him and said:
"It serves you right!" and walked on swiftly.
At length the path, which constantly led upward, came to a stop at the edge of a deep gulf So Mary-Marie tied the goat to a rock and then lay down and slept until daylight.
In the morning she plucked four long hairs from the goat's back, and, having knotted them together, threw one end toward the gulf, muttering a few mystical words as she did so. Instantly a splendid bridge appeared, stretching from one edge of the gulf to the other, and on this the girl crossed in safety, driving the goat before her.
Having reached the other side of the gulf, she journeyed on until, nearing the highest peak of the mountain, she came upon a huge giant guarding the path.
"Stop!" he roared in a terrible voice. "None can pass here."
The little witch merely waved her hand and a cloud of thick dust swept into the giant's eyes and quickly blinded him. He dropped his club and began rubbing his eyes furiously, roaring the while with anger and pain. But Mary-Marie only laughed and said to the goat:
"How easy this witchcraft is when one knows how!"
And then she led the goat past the giant and down the mountain side, paying no further attention to his ravings.
Still other difficulties the little witch encountered, but she always overcame them by means of her magical arts, and finally she approached the city of Ribdil. Entering the gate she found near-by a big, brutal looking butcher, who stood before his shop and frowned at the passers-by.
"Is your name Gurd?" asked Mary-Marie.
"My name is Gurd!" answered the butcher with a fierce scowl. "What do you want?"
"Money for my goat," said Mary-Marie.
At this the butcher seized the goat and dragged it into his shop. Then he returned to the girl and cried:
"Be gone! Why are you loitering here?"
"I await the money for my goat," said Mary-Marie, looking at him bravely, although she was a bit frightened. For her witchcraft had enabled her to discover that this Gurd, who pretended to be a butcher, was in reality a powerful magician, whose arts might easily overcome her own unless she was clever enough to deceive him. It was Gurd's love of bloodshed that made him keep the butcher's shop, where he might satisfy his horrid longing to kill by slaughtering animals of all kinds.
The citizens of Ribdil all feared this evil man and avoided him whenever possible, and Gurd had no doubt the little girl whose goat he had stolen would be easily frightened.
He drew a sharp knife from his girdle and said:
"I will give you two minutes to escape. If you are not gone by that time I will kill you as well as your goat."
Mary-Marie was really tempted to run away when she heard that, for she knew her life was in great danger. But she resolved not to leave the place until she had accomplished her mission, so she answered boldly:
"If you do not pay me for the goat I will complain to the king."
"The king, eh?" said Gurd with a rough laugh. "Do you think I fear any mortal king? Escape while you have the time!"
But the girl did not move, so Gurd suddenly grasped her in his strong arms and carried her inside the shop, closing the door behind them that she might not escape.
"When I have killed the goat it will be your turn!" he cried, and with a flourish of his knife he sprang upon the bleating animal and with one blow stabbed it to the heart.
The poor goat fell down in a pool of its own blood, and behold! its form gradually changed to that of King Gruph, who with one deep groan expired at the butcher's feet.
Gurd gave one look at his victim and then uttered a terrible shriek of anguish. His burly form began to shrink and dwindle away, and in less than a minute he stood before Mary-Marie a feeble palsied old man, with scarcely enough strength to stagger to a bench.
"I am ruined - ruined!" he wailed, beginning to sob like a child. "For I have slain the king, and it was fated that if I ever drew but one drop of his royal blood my magic powers would depart from me for ever! I am ruined - and by a girl!"
Then he raised his head and asked feebly: "Who are you?"
"My name is Mary-Marie, and I am a good witch," she answered.
"Who sent you on this errand?" he inquired, moaning.
"An old woman with a fair, fresh face and white hair, whose name I do not know, but who taught me my witchcraft," replied Mary-Marie.
The wretched man paused to pass his withered hand over his forehead.
"I know who you mean," he said with another sob; "but you will find her an old woman no longer. Go back, and say you have avenged the wrong I have done. In an hour I shall be dead, and men will fear me no longer!"
He sank to the floor in a heap, and Mary-Marie walked out of the butcher's shop and passed through the gate of the city. Then, finding herself alone upon the mountain path, she drew a purple handkerchief from her bosom and spread it upon the ground. It was just large enough for her to stand upon, and when her feet rested upon the cloth she spoke a magic word she had learned from her teacher.
A sudden breeze ruffled her hair an instant, and then she found herself standing in the road before the white cottage of the witch.
Mary-Marie sprang forward and knocked on the door. As it flew open she cried:
"Your tasks are done, mistress!"
But then she paused in astonishment, for instead of the old witch a handsome young man stood within the room, clothed in princely raiment and smiling happily at the surprised look on the maiden's face.
"Come in, little witch!" he called in a gay voice; "come in and receive thanks for setting me free and restoring me to my kingdom!"
"Who are you?" gasped Mary-Marie.
"I am Prince Melra, who was supposed to be dead, bound by a powerful enchantment of the wicked magician Gurd, and I have been kept in the form of an old woman at the command of my uncle, King Gruph, that he might occupy the throne belonging by right to me. For five years I have suffered this enchantment; but I discovered that if ever the magician drew a drop of the king's blood he would lose all his powers, and I would regain my freedom. So I studied the arts of witchcraft, only to find that my every movement was watched by the magician, and that I must find some one else to accomplish my purpose."
"But how came you to select me?" asked the girl.
"I saw you one day gathering nuts in the forest, and loved you for your beauty and sweetness. So I took upon myself the form of an old man and passed your hut, stopping long enough to advise you to come to the old witch for lessons. Then I returned here by another path, and was in time to greet you. And while I taught you witchcraft I learned to love you more than before; so that now, being free and restored to my proper form and to my kingdom, I long to make you my queen."
"I think I'm too young to marry," said Mary-Marie, blushing. "Then I must find another mate," said the handsome prince, pretending to turn away.
"But girls often marry when they are too young," exclaimed Mary-Marie quickly; "so, if you don't object to my age - "
"Oh, not at all!" cried the prince; "the younger we are the more years we shall have to be happy in."
"That is true," said the girl thoughtfully. "But if I'm to be married so young it's a pity you ever taught me witchcraft."
"Nonsense!" said the prince, kissing her sweet lips fondly; "you were bewitching, Mary-Marie, long before I became your teacher!"
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 2, 1917.
Some Ridiculous Riddles
That's what the Forgetful Poet called them, but I did not find them ridiculously easy. Before I tell you them, I must set down the answers to the Thanksgiving riddles--Mayflower, Pilgrim, Miles Standish, and the last contained three well-known poems--the first, "When the frost is on the pumpkin," by James Whitcomb Riley; the second, "We ourselves must pilgrims be," by James Russel Lowell, and third, "The Landing of the Pilgrims," by Mrs. Hemans.
And now for the ridiculous riddles:
Why is a public official like a cow?
With part of my eye
I could cover a box,
While part of a yardstick
I wear in my socks,
I have in my body
A part of a knife,
Does not interfere
With my life.
Why is a windmill like an army?
It ends with a measure for weight,
And begins with a word short and queer,
Whose meaning, I'm sad to relate,
Is to, well, I might say, domineer.
And this city (Sh-h! it's out of hearing),
Is weighty, also--domineering!
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.