THE BRONZE RING
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 yon 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. He travelled on for some days, and presently reached a fountain beside which an old woman all in rags sat upon a stone.
' Good-day to you, young traveller,' said she.
But the minister's son made no reply.
' Have pity upon me, traveller,' she said again. ' I am dying of hunger, as you see, and three days have I been here and no one has given me anything.'