THE QUEEN FAIRY BOOK.
equally. At the same time, I would like the best and cleverest of you to rule over my people. I have, therefore, determined to set you three tasks to do, and the one that performs them best shall be my heir. The first thing I shall ask you to do is to bring me a piece of linen a hundred yards long, so ^fine that it will go through a gold ring."
The sons bowed low, and promising to do their best they started on their journey without further delay.
The two elder brothers took many servants and carriages with them, but the youngest set out quite alone. In a short time they came to three cross-roads; two of them were gay and crowded, but the third was dark and lonely.
The two elder brothers chose the more frequented ways, but the youngest, bidding them farewell, set out on the dreary road.
Wherever fine linen was to be bought, there the two elder brothers hastened. They loaded their carriages with bales of the finest linen they could find and then returned home.
The youngest brother, on the other hand, went on his weary way for many days, and nowhere did he come across any linen that would have done. So he journeyed on, and his spirits sank with every step. At last he came to a bridge which stretched over a deep river flowing through a flat and marshy land. Before crossing the bridge he sat down on the banks of the stream and sighed dismally over his sad fate. Suddenly a misshapen toad crawled out of the swamp and, sitting down opposite him, asked: "What's the matter with you, my dear prince?"
The prince answered impatiently: "There's not much good my telling you, Puddocky, for you couldn't help me if I did."
"Don't be too sure of that," replied the toad. "Tell me your trouble and we'll see."
Then the prince became most confidential and told the little creature why he had been sent out of his father's kingdom.
"Prince, I will certainly help you," said the toad, and crawling back into her swamp, she returned dragging after her a piece of linen not bigger than a finger, which sne ay before the prince, saying: "Take this home, and you'll see it will help you."