Once there was a prince, and his name was John. One day his father said to him, “See, John; I am growing old, and after a while the time will come when I must go the way of everybody else. Now I would like to see you married before I leave you.”
“Very well,” said the Prince, for he always answered the King in seemly fashion; “and who shall it be?”
“Why not the Princess of the White Mountain?” said the old King.
“Why not, indeed?” said the young Prince, “only she is too short.”
“Why not the Princess of the Blue Mountain?” said the old King.
“Why not, indeed?” said the young Prince, “only she is too tall.”
“Why not the Princess of the Red Mountain?” said the old King.
“Why not, indeed?” said the young Prince, “only she is too dark.”
“Then whom will you have?” said the old King.
“That I do not know,” said the young Prince, “only this: that her brow shall be as white as milk, and her cheeks shall be as red as blood, and her eyes shall be as blue as the skies, and her hair shall be like spun gold.”
“Then go and find her!” said the old King, in a huff, for his temper was as short as chopped flax. “And don’t come back again till you’ve found her!” he bawled after the Prince as he went out to the door.
So the Prince went out into the wide world to find such a maiden as he spoke of–whose brow was as white as milk, whose cheeks were as red as blood, whose eyes were as blue as the skies, and whose hair was like spun gold–and he would have to travel a long distance to find such a one nowadays, would he not?
So off he went, tramp! tramp! tramp! till his shoes were dusty and his clothes were gray. Nothing was in his wallet but a lump of brown bread and a cold sausage, for he had gone out into the world in haste, as many a one has done before and since his day.
So he went along, tramp! tramp! tramp! and by-and-by he came to a place where three roads met, and there sat an old woman.
“Hui! hui! but I am hungry!” said the old woman.
Now the Prince was a good-hearted fellow, so he said to the old woman, “It is little I have, but such as it is you are welcome to it.” Thereupon he gave the old woman the lump of brown bread and the cold sausage that was in his wallet, and the old woman ate it up at a bite.
“Hui! hui! but I am cold!” said she.
“It is little that I have, but such as it is you are welcome to it,” said the Prince, and he gave the old woman the dusty coat off his back. After that he had nothing more to give her.
To this the false Princess answered, as bold as brass, “Such a one should be thrown into a pit full of toads and snakes.”
“You have spoken for yourself,” said the King; and he would have done just so to her had not the true Princess begged for her so that she was sent back again to tend the geese, for that was what she was fit for.
Then they had the grandest wedding that ever was seen in all of the world. Everybody was asked, and there was enough for all to eat as much as they chose, and to take a little something home to the children beside. If I had been there I would have brought you something.
What is the meaning of all this?
Listen, I will tell you something.
Once there was a man, and he winnowed a whole
peck of chaff, and got only three good solid grains from
it, and yet he was glad to have so much.
Would you winnow a whole peck of chaff for only
three good grains? No? Then you will never know
all that is meant by this story.