170 THE WITCH AND HER SERVANTS
"What an unexpected sight met his gaze ! The Prince perceived a small room black with smoke, lit up feebly by a fire from which issued long blue flames. Over the fire hung a huge cauldron full of boiling pitch, and fastened into the cauldron by iron chains stood a wretched man screaming with agony.
Iwanich was much horrified at the sight before him, and asked the man what terrible crime he had committed to be punished in this dreadful fashion.
' I will tell you everything,' said the man in the cauldron; 'but first relieve my torments a little, I implore you.'
' And how can I do that ? ' asked the Prince.
'With a little water,' replied the man; 'only sprinkle a few drops over me and I shall feel better.'
The Prince, moved by pity, without thinking what he was doing, ran to the court}Tard of the castle, and filled a jug with water, which he poured over the man in the cauldron.
In a moment a most fearful crash was heard, as if all the pillars of the palace were giving way, and the palace itself, with towers and doors, windows and the cauldron, whirled round the bewildered Prince's head. This continued for a few minutes, and then everything vanished into thin air, and Iwanich found himself suddenly alone upon a desolate heath covered with rocks and stones.
The Prince, who now realised what his heedlessness had done, cursed too late his spirit of curiosity. In his despair he wandered on over the heath, never looking where he put his feet, and foil of sorrowful thoughts. At last he saw a light in the distance, which came from a miserable-looking little hut.
The owner of it was none other than the kind-hearted gaunt grey beggar who had given the Prince the bag of bread-crumbs and the hare. Without recognising Iwanich, he opened the door when he knocked and gave him shelter for the night.
On the following morning the Prince asked his host if he could get him any work to do, as he was quite unknown in the neighbourhood, and had not enough money to take him home,
' My son,' replied the old man, ' all this country round here is uninhabited ; I myself have to wander to distant villages for my living, and even then I do not very often find enough to satisfy my hunger. But if you would like to take service with the old witch Corva, go straight up the little stream which flows below my hut for about three hours, and you will come to a sand-hill on the left-hand side; that is where she lives.'