THE GRATEFUL BEASTS
healed, and replied, ' Alas! how can you help me in a matter that is beyond any human power ! Before to-morrow night all the grain in the kingdom has to be gathered into one big heap, and if as much as a stalk of corn is wanting I must pay for it with my life.'
'Is that all? ' answered the mouse ; 'that needn't distress you much. Just trust in me, and before the sun sets again you shall hear that your task is done.' And with these words the little creature scampered away into the fields.
Ferko, who never doubted that the mouse would be as good as its word, lay down comforted on the soft grass and slept soundly till next morning. The day passed slowly, and with the evening came the little mouse and said, ' Now there is not a single stalk of corn left in any field; they are all collected in one "big "heap on the hill out there.'
Then Ferko went joyfully to the King and told him that all he demanded had been done. And the whole Court went out to see the wonder, and were no less astonished than they had been the first time. For in a heap higher than the King's palace lay all the grain of the country, and not a single stalk of corn had been left behind in any of the fields. And how had all this been done ? The little mouse had summoned every other mouse in the land to its help, and together they had collected all the grain in the kingdom.
The King could not hide his amazement, but at the same time his wrath increased, and he was more ready than ever to believe the two brothers, who kept on repeating that Ferko was nothing more nor less than a wicked magician. Only the beautiful Princess rejoiced over Ferko's success, and looked on him with friendly glances, which the youth returned.
The more the cruel King gazed on the wonder before him, the more angry he became, for he could not, in the face of his promise, put the stranger to death. He turned once more to the two brothers and said, ' His diabolical magic has helped him again, but now what third task shall we set him to do ? No matter how impossible it is, he must do it or die.'
The eldest answered quickly, ' Let him drive all the wolves of the kingdom on to this hill before to-morrow night. If he does this he may go free ; if not he shall be hung as you have said.'
At these words the Princess burst into tears, and when the King saw this he ordered her to be shut up in a high tower and carefully guarded till the dangerous magician should either have left the kingdom or been hung on (he nearest tree.