Did you ever hear the story of the three poor soldiers, who, after having fought hard in the wars, set out on their road home, begging their way as they went?
They had journeyed on a long way, sick at heart with their bad luck at thus being turned loose on the world in their old days; when one evening they reached a deep gloomy wood, through which lay their road. Night came fast upon them, and they found that they must, however unwillingly, sleep in this wood; so, to make all as safe as they could, it was agreed that two should lie down and sleep, while a third sat up and watched, lest wild beasts should break in and tear them to pieces. When he was tired he was to wake one of the others, and sleep in his turn; and so on with the third, so as to share the work fairly among them.
The two who were to rest first soon lay down and fell fast asleep; and the other made himself a good fire under the trees, and sat down by its side to keep watch. He had not sat long before, all on a sudden, up came a little dwarf in a red jacket. "Who is there?" said he. "A friend," said the soldier. "What sort of a friend?" "An old broken soldier," said the other, "with his two comrades, who have nothing left to live on; come, sit down and warm yourself." "Well, my worthy fellow," said the little man, "I will do what I can for you; take this and show it to your comrades in the morning." So he took out an old cloak and gave it to the soldier; telling him, that whenever he put it over his shoulders anything that he wished for would be done for him. Then the little man made him a bow and walked away.
The second soldier′s turn to watch soon came, and the first laid him down to sleep; but the second man had not sat by himself long before up came the dwarf in the red jacket again. The soldier treated him in as friendly a way as his comrade had done, and the little man gave him a purse, which he told him would be always full of gold, let him draw as much as he would out of it.
Then the third soldier′s turn to watch came; and he also had little Red-jacket for his guest, who gave him a wonderful horn, that drew crowds around it whenever it was played, and made every one forget his business to come and dance to its beautiful music.
In the morning each told his story, and showed the gift he had got from the elf: and as they all liked each other very much, and were old friends, they agreed to travel together to see the world, and, for a while, only to make use of the wonderful purse. And thus they spent their time very joyously; till at last they began to be tired of this roving life, and thought they should like to have a home of their own. So the first soldier put his old cloak on, and wished for a fine castle. In a moment it stood before their eyes: fine gardens and green lawns spread round it, and flocks of sheep, and goats, and herds of oxen were grazing about; and out of the gate came a grand coach with three dapple-grey horses, to meet them and bring them home.
All this was very well for a time, but they found it would not do to stay at home always; so they got together all their rich clothes, and jewels, and money, and ordered their coach with three dapple-grey horses, and set out on a journey to see a neighbouring king. Now this king had an only daughter, and as he saw the three soldiers travelling in such grand style, he took them for kings′ sons, and so gave them a kind welcome. One day, as the second soldier was walking with the princess, she saw that he had the wonderful purse in his hand. Then she asked him what it was, and he was foolish enough to tell her, - though, indeed, it did not much signify what he said, for she was a fairy, and knew all the wonderful things that the three soldiers brought. Now this princess was very cunning and artful; so she set to work and made a purse, so like the soldier′s that no one would know one from the other; and then she asked him to come and see her, and made him drink some wine that she had got ready for him, and which soon made him fall fast asleep. Then she felt in his pocket, and took away the wonderful purse, and left the one she had made in its place.
The next morning the soldiers set out home; and soon after they reached their castle, happening to want some money, they went to their purse for it, and found something indeed in it; but to their great sorrow, when they had emptied it, none came in the place of what they took. Then the cheat was soon found out; for the second soldier knew where he had been, and how he had told the story to the princess, and he guessed that she had played him a trick. "Alas!" cried he, "poor wretches that we are, what shall we do?" "Oh!" said the first soldier, "let no grey hairs grow for this mishap: I will soon get the purse back." So he threw his cloak across his shoulders, and wished himself in the princess′s chamber.
There he found her sitting alone, telling up her gold, that fell around her in a shower from the wonderful purse.
But the soldier stood looking at her too long; for she turned round, and the moment she saw him she started up and cried out with all her force, "Thieves! thieves!" so that the whole court came running in, and tried to seize on him. The poor soldier now began to be dreadfully frightened in his turn, and thought it was high time to make the best of his way off; so, without thinking of the ready way of travelling that his cloak gave him, he ran to the window, opened it, and jumped out; and unluckily, in his haste, his cloak caught and was left hanging, to the great joy of the princess, who knew its worth.The poor soldier made the best of his way home to his comrades on foot, and in a very downcast mood; but the third soldier told him to keep up his heart, and took his horn and blew a merry tune. At the first blast a countless troop of foot and horse come rushing to their aid, and they set out to make war against their enemy. Then the king′s palace was besieged, and he was told that he must give up the purse and cloak, or that not one stone should be left upon another. And the king went into his daughter′s chamber and talked with her; but she said, "Let me try first if I cannot beat them some way or another." So she thought of a cunning scheme to overreach them; and dressing herself out as a poor girl, with a basket on her arm, she set out by night with her maid, and went into the enemy′s camp, as if she wanted to sell trinkets.
In the morning she began to ramble about, singing ballads so beautifully that all the tents were left empty, and the soldiers ran round in crowds, and thought of nothing but hearing her sing. Amongst the rest came the soldier to whom the horn belonged, and as soon as she saw him she winked to her maid, who slipped slily through the crowd, and went into his tent where it hung, and stole it away. This done, they both got safely back to the palace, the besieging army went away, the three wonderful gifts were all left in the hands of the princess, and the three soldiers were as penniless and forlorn as when little Red-jacket found them in the wood.
Poor fellows! they began to think what was now to be done. "Comrades," at last said the second soldier, who had had the purse, "we had better part; we cannot live together, let each seek his bread as well as he can." So he turned to the right, and the other two went to the left, for they said they would rather travel together. Then on the second soldier strayed till he came to a wood (now this was the same wood where they had met with so much good luck before), and he walked on a long time till evening began to fall, when he sat down tired beneath a tree, and soon fell asleep.
Morning dawned, and he was greatly delighted, at opening his eyes, to see that the tree was laden with the most beautiful apples. He was hungry enough, so he soon plucked and ate first one, then a second, then a third apple. A strange feeling came over his nose: when he put the apple to his mouth something was in the way. He felt it - it was his nose, that grew and grew till it hung down to his breast. It did not stop there - still it grew and grew. "Heavens!" thought he, "When will it have done growing?" And well might he ask, for by this time it reached the ground as he sat on the grass, - and thus it kept creeping on, till he could not bear its weight or raise himself up; and it seemed as if it would never end, for already it stretched its enormous length all through the wood, over hill and dale.
Meantime his comrades were journeying on, till on a sudden one of them stumbled against something. "What can that be?" said the other. They looked, and could think of nothing that it was like but a nose. "We will follow it and find its owner, however," said they. So they traced it up, till at last they found their poor comrade, lying stretched along under the apple-tree.
What was to be done? They tried to carry him, but in vain. They caught an ass that was passing, and raised him upon its back; but it was soon tired of carrying such a load. So they sat down in despair, when before long up came their old friend the dwarf with the red jacket. "Why, how now, friend?" said he, laughing: "well, I must find a cure for you, I see." So he told them to gather a pear from another tree that grew close by, and the nose would come right again. No time was lost; and the nose was soon brought to its proper size, to the poor soldier′s Joy.
"I will do something more for you yet," said the dwarf; "take some of those pears and apples with you; whoever eats one of the apples will have his nose grow like yours just now; but if you give him a pear, all will come right again. Go to the princess, and get her to eat some of your apples; her nose will grow twenty times as long as yours did: then look sharp, and you will get what you want from her."
Then they thanked their old friend very heartily for all his kindness; and it was agreed that the poor soldier, who had already tried the power of the apple, should undertake the task. So he dressed himself up as a gardener′s boy, and went to the king′s palace, and said he had apples to sell, so fine and so beautiful as were never seen there before. Every one that saw them was delighted, and wanted to taste; but he said they were only for the princess; and she soon sent her maid to buy his stock. They were so ripe and rosy that she soon began eating; and had not eaten above a dozen before she too began to wonder what ailed her nose, for it grew and grew down to the ground, out at the window, and over the garden, and away, nobody knows where.
Then the king made known to all his kingdom, that whoever would heal her of this dreadful disease should be richly rewarded. Many tried, but the princess got no relief. And now the old soldier dressed himself up very sprucely as a doctor, and said he could cure her. So he chopped up some of the apple, and, to punish her a little more, gave her a doze, saying he would call to-morrow and see her again. The morrow came, and, of course, instead of being better, the nose had been growing on all night as before; and the poor princess was in a dreadful fright. So the doctor then chopped up a very little of the pear and gave her, and said he was sure that would do good, and he would call again the next day. Next day came, and the nose was to be sure a little smaller, but yet it was bigger than when the doctor first began to meddle with it.
Then he thought to himself, "I must frighten this cunning princess a little more before I shall get what I want from her"; so he gave her another doze of the apple, and said he would call on the morrow. The morrow came, and the nose was ten times as bad as before. "My good lady," said the doctor, "something works against my medicine, and is too strong for it; but I know by the force of my art what it is: you have stolen goods about you, I am sure; and if you do not give them back, I can do nothing for you." But the princess denied very stoutly that she had anything of the kind. "Very well," said the doctor, "you may do as you please, but I am sure I am right, and you will die if you do not own it." Then he went to the king, and told him how the matter stood. "Daughter," said he, "send back the cloak, the purse, and the horn, that you stole from the right owners."
Then she ordered her maid to fetch all three, and gave them to the doctor, and begged him to give them back to the soldiers; and the moment he had them safe he gave her a whole pear to eat, and the nose came right. And as for the doctor, he put on the cloak, wished the king and all his court a good day, and was soon with his two brothers; who lived from that time happily at home in their palace, except when they took an airing to see the world, in their coach with the three dapple-grey horses.