THE BRONZE RING
Once upon a time in a certain country there lived a king whose palace was surrounded by a spacious garden. But, though the gardeners were many and the soil was good, this garden yielded neither flowers nor fruits, not even grass or shady trees.
The King was in despair about it, when a wise old man said to him:
“Your gardeners do not understand their business: but what can you expect of men whose fathers were cobblers and carpenters? How should they have learned to cultivate your garden?”
“You are quite right,” cried the King.
“Therefore,” continued the old man, “you should send for a gardener whose father and grandfather have been gardeners before him, and very soon your garden will be full of green grass and gay flowers, and you will enjoy its delicious fruit.”
So the King sent messengers to every town, village, and hamlet in his dominions, to look for a gardener whose forefathers had been gardeners also, and after forty days one was found.
“Come with us and be gardener to the King,” they said to him.
“How can I go to the King,” said the gardener, “a poor wretch like me?”
“That is of no consequence,” they answered. “Here are new clothes for you and your family.”
“But I owe money to several people.”
“We will pay your debts,” they said.
So the gardener allowed himself to be persuaded, and went away with the messengers, taking his wife and his son with him; and the King, delighted to have found a real gardener, entrusted him with the care of his garden. The man found no difficulty in making the royal garden produce flowers and fruit, and at the end of a year the park was not like the same place, and the King showered gifts upon his new servant.
The gardener, as you have heard already, had a son, who was a very handsome young man, with most agreeable manners, and every day he carried the best fruit of the garden to the King, and all the prettiest flowers to his daughter. Now this princess was wonderfully pretty and was just sixteen years old, and the King was beginning to think it was time that she should be married.
“My dear child,” said he, “you are of an age to take a husband, therefore I am thinking of marrying you to the son of my prime minister.
“Father,” replied the Princess, “I will never marry the son of the minister.”
“Why not?” asked the King.
“Because I love the gardener’s son,” answered the Princess.
On hearing this the King was at first very angry, and then he wept and sighed, and declared that such a husband was not worthy of his daughter; but the young Princess was not to be turned from her resolution to marry the gardener’s son.
Then the King consulted his ministers. “This is what you must do,” they said. “To get rid of the gardener you must send both suitors to a very distant country, and the one who returns first shall marry your daughter.”
The King followed this advice, and the minister’s son was presented with a splendid horse and a purse full of gold pieces, while the gardener’s son had only an old lame horse and a purse full of copper money, and every one thought he would never come back from his journey.
The day before they started the Princess met her lover and said to him:
“Be brave, and remember always that I love you. Take this purse full of jewels and make the best use you can of them for love of me, and come back quickly and demand my hand.”
The two suitors left the town together, but the minister’s son went off at a gallop on his good horse, and very soon was lost to sight behind the most distant hills.