188 THE MAGIC RING
At that moment Schurka made a rush between his legs—the baker stumbled, the tray was upset, the rolls fell to the ground, and, while the man angrily pursued Schurka, Waska managed to drag the rolls out of sight behind a bush. And when a moment later Schurka joined her, they set off at full tilt to the stone tower where Martin was a prisoner, taking the rolls with them. "Waska, being very agile, climbed up by the outside to the grated window, and called in an anxious voice :
' Are you alive, master ? '
' Scarcely alive—almost starved to death,' answered Martin in a weak voice. ' I little thought it would come to this, that I should die of hunger.'
i Never fear, dear master. Schurka and I will look after you,' said Waska. And in another moment she had climbed down and brought him back a roll, and then another, and another, till she had brought him the whole tray-load. Upon which she said : ' Dear master, Schurka and I are going off to a distant kingdom at the utmost ends of the earth to fetch you back your magic ring You must be careful that the rolls last till our return.'
And Waska took leave of her beloved master, and set off with Schurka on their journey. On and on they travelled, looking always to right and left for traces of the Princess, following up every track, making inquiries of every cat and dog they met, listening to the talk of every wayfarer they passed; and at last they heard that the kingdom at the utmost ends of the earth where the twelve youths had borne the Princess was not very far off. And at last one day they reached that distant kingdom, and, going at once to the palace, they began to make friends with all the dogs and cats in the place, and to question them about the Princess and the magic ring; but no one could tell them much about either. Now one day it chanced that Waska had gone down to the palace cellar to hunt for mice and rats, and seeing an especially fat, well-fed mouse, she pounced upon it, buried her claws in its soft for, and was just going to gobble it up, when she was stopped by the pleading tones of the little creature, saying, ' If you will only spare my life I may be of great service to you. I will do everything in my power for you; for I am the King of the Mice, and if I perish the whole race will die out.'
' So be it,' said Waska. ' I will spare your life ; but in return you must do something for me. In this castle there lives a Princess, the wicked wife of my dear master. She has stolen