THE GRATEFUL PRINCE 79
innocent girl who had suffered in his stead, for his foster father had told him in secret, that he was the king's son. And the prince determined that when he grew old enough he would travel all over the world, and never rest till he had set her free. To become king at the cost of a maiden's life was too heavy a price to pay. So one day he put on the dress of a farm servant, threw a sack of peas on his back, and marched straight into the forest where eighteen years before his father had lost himself. After he had walked some way he began to cry loudly: ' Oh, how unlucky I am ! Where can I be? Is there no one to show me the way out of the wood ? '
Then appeared a strange man with a long grey beard, with a leather bag hanging from his girdle. He nodded cheerfully to the prince, and said : ' I know this place well, and can lead you out of it, if you will promise me a good reward.'
' What can a beggar such as I promise you ?' answered the prince. 'I have nothing to give you save my life; even the coat on my back belongs to my master, whom I serve for my keep and my clothes.'
The stranger looked at the sack of peas, and said, ' But you must possess something ; you are carrying this sack, which seems to be very heavy.'
' It is full of peas,' was the reply. ' My old aunt died last night, without leaving money enough to buy peas to give the watchers, as is the custom throughout the country. I have borrowed these peas from my master, and thought to take a short cut across the forest; but I have lost myself, as you see.'
' Then you are an orphan ?' asked the stranger. ' Why should you not enter my service ? I want a sharp fellow in the house, and you please me.'
' Why not, indeed, if we can strike a bargain?' said the other. 'I was born a peasant, and strange bread is always bitter, so it is the same to me whom I serve ! What wages will you give me ?'