302 THE UNLOOKED-FOR PRINCE
time he let the baby out of his sight he thought that he had seen it for the last time.
However, years passed on and the prince grew first into a big boy, and then into a fine young man. Kostiei made no sign, and gradually even the anxious king thought less and less about him, and in the end forgot him altogether.
There was no family in the whole kingdom happier than the king and queen and prince, until one day when the youth met a little old man as he was hunting in a lonely part of the woods.
'How are you, my unlooked-for Prince?' he said. ' You kept them waiting a good long time!'
' And who are you? ' asked the prince.
' You will know soon enough. When you go home give my compliments to your father and tell him that I wish he would square accounts with me. If he neglects to pay his debts he will bitterly repent it.'
So saying the old man disappeared, and the prince returned to the palace and told his father what had happened.
The king turned pale and explained to his son the terrible story.
' Do not grieve over it, father,' answered the prince. 'It is nothing so dreadful after all! I will find some way to force Kostiei to give up his rights over me. But if I do not come back in a year's time, you must give up all hopes of ever seeing me.'
Then the prince began to prepare for his journey. His father gave him a complete suit of steel armour, a sword, and a horse, while his mother hung round his neck a cross of gold. So, kissing him tenderly, with many tears they let him go.
He rode steadily on for three days, and at sunset on the fourth day he found himself on the seashore. On the sand before him lay twelve white dresses, dazzling as the snow, yet as far as his eyes could reach there was no one in sight to whom they could belong. Curious to see