JESPER WHO HERDED THE HARES 207
A little further on the way he met an old woman.
' Good morning, young man,' said she; ' you are early astir. What have you got in your basket? '
'Cinders,'said Peter promptly, and walked on, adding to himself, ' Take that for being so inquisitive.'
' Very well, cinders be it,' the old woman called after him, but he pretended not to hear her.
Very soon he reached the palace, and was at once brought before the king. When he took the cover off the basket, the king and all his courtiers said with one voice that these were the finest pearls they had ever seen, and they could not take their eyes off them. But then a strange thing happened : the pearls began to lose their whiteness and grew quite dim in colour; then they grew blacker and blacker till at last they were just like so many cinders. Peter was so amazed that he could say nothing for himself, but the king said quite enough for both, and Peter was glad to get away home again as fast as his legs would carry him. To his father and brothers, however, he gave no account of his attempt, except that it had been a failure.
Next day Paul set out to try his luck. He soon came upon the King of the Ants and the King of the Beetles, who with their armies had encamped on the field of battle all night, and were ready to begin the fight again.
' Come and help me,' said the King of the Ants; ' we got the worst of it yesterday. I may help you some day in return.'
' I don't care though you get the worst of it to-day too,' said Paul. ' I have more important business on hand than mixing myself up in your quarrels.'
So he walked on, and presently the same old woman met him. 'Good morning,' said she; 'what have you got in your basket ? '
' Cinders,' said Paul, who was quite as insolent as his brother, and quite as anxious to teach other people good manners.