60 NINE PEA-HENS AND GOLDEN APPLES
'What can there be in that twelfth cellar,' he thought to himself, ' which I must not see? ' And he went downstairs and unlocked the doors, one after the other. When he got to the twelfth he paused, but his curiosity was too much for him, and in another instant the key was turned and the cellar lay open before him. It was empty, save for a large cask, bound with iron hoops, and out of the cask a voice was saying entreatingly, ' For goodness' sake, brother, fetch me some water; I am dying of thirst! '
The prince, who was very tender-hearted, brought some water at once, and pushed it through a hole in the barrel; and as he did so one of the iron hoops burst.
He was turning away, when a voice cried the second time, ' Brother, for pity's sake fetch me some water; I'm dying of thirst!'
So the prince went back, and brought some more water, and again a hoop sprang.
And for the third time the voice still called for water; and when water was given it the last hoop was rent, the cask fell in pieces, and out flew a dragon, who snatched up the empress just as she was returning from her walk, and carried her off. Some servants who saw what had happened came rushing to the prince, and the poor young man went nearly mad when he heard the result of his own folly, and could only cry out that he would follow the dragon to the ends of the earth, until he got his wife again.
For months and months he wandered about, first in this direction and then in that, without finding any traces of the dragon or his captive. At last he came to a stream, and as he stopped for a moment to look at it he noticed a little fish lying on the bank, beating its tail convulsively, in a vain effort to get back into the water.
'Oh, for pity's sake, my brother,' shrieked the little creature, ' help me, and put me back into the river, and I will repay you some dav. Take one of my scales, and