Twilight Land by Howard Pyle
All Things are as Fate wills.
Once upon a time, in the old, old days, there lived a king who had a head upon his shoulders wiser than other folk, and this was why: though he was richer and wiser and greater than most kings, and had all that he wanted and more into the bargain, he was so afraid of becoming proud of his own prosperity that he had these words written in letters of gold upon the walls of each and every room in his palace:
All Things are as Fate wills.
Now, by-and-by and after a while the king died; for when his time comes, even the rich and the wise man must die, as well as the poor and the simple man. So the king's son came, in turn, to be king of that land; and, though he was not so bad as the world of men goes, he was not the man that his father was, as this story will show you.
One day, as he sat with his chief councillor, his eyes fell upon the words written in letters of gold upon the wall--the words that his father had written there in time gone by:
All Things are as Fate wills;
and the young king did not like the taste of them, for he was very proud of his own greatness. "That is not so," said he, pointing to the words on the wall. "Let them be painted out, and these words written in their place:
All Things are as Man does."
Now, the chief councillor was a grave old man, and had been councillor to the young king's father. "Do not be too hasty, my lord king," said he. "Try first the truth of your own words before you wipe out those that your father has written."
"Very well," said the young king, "so be it. I will approve the truth of my words. Bring me hither some beggar from the town whom Fate has made poor, and I will make him rich. So I will show you that his life shall be as I will, and not as Fate wills."
Now, in that town there was a poor beggar-man who used to sit every day beside the town gate, begging for something for charity's sake. Sometimes people gave him a penny or two, but it was little or nothing that he got, for Fate was against him.
The same day that the king and the chief councillor had had their talk together, as the beggar sat holding up his wooden bowl and asking charity of those who passed by, there suddenly came three men who, without saying a word, clapped hold of him and marched him off.
It was in vain that the beggar talked and questioned--in vain that he begged and besought them to let him go. Not a word did they say to him, either of good or bad. At last they came to a gate that led through a high wall and into a garden, and there the three stopped, and one of them knocked upon the gate. In answer to his knocking it flew open. He thrust the beggar into the garden neck and crop, and then the gate was banged to again.
But what a sight it was the beggar saw before his eyes!--flowers, and fruit-trees, and marble walks, and a great fountain that shot up a jet of water as white as snow. But he had not long to stand gaping and staring around him, for in the garden were a great number of people, who came hurrying to him, and who, without speaking a word to him or answering a single question, or as much as giving him time to think, led him to a marble bath of tepid water. There he was stripped of his tattered clothes and washed as clean as snow. Then, as some of the attendants dried him with fine linen towels, others came carrying clothes fit for a prince to wear, and clad the beggar in them from head to foot. After that, still without saying a word, they let him out from the bath again, and there he found still other attendants waiting for him--two of them holding a milk-white horse, saddled and bridled, and fit for an emperor to ride. These helped him to mount, and then, leaping into their own saddles, rode away with the beggar in their midst.
They rode of the garden and into the streets, and on and on they went until they came to the king's palace, and there they stopped. Courtiers and noblemen and great lords were waiting for their coming, some of whom helped him to dismount from the horse, for by this time the beggar was so overcome with wonder that he stared like one moon-struck, and as though his wits were addled. Then, leading the way up the palace steps, they conducted him from room to room, until at last they came to one more grand and splendid than all the rest, and there sat the king himself waiting for the beggar's coming.
The beggar would have flung himself at the king's feet, but the king would not let him; for he came down from the throne where he sat, and, taking the beggar by the hand, led him up and sat him alongside of him. Then the king gave orders to the attendants who stood about, and a feast was served in plates of solid gold upon a table-cloth of silver--a feast such as the beggar had never dreamed of, and the poor man ate as he had never eaten in his life before.
All the while that the king and the beggar were eating, musicians played sweet music and dancers danced and singers sang.
Then when the feast was over there came ten young men, bringing flasks and flagons of all kinds, full of the best wine in the world; and the beggar drank as he had never drank in his life before, and until his head spun like a top.
So the king and the beggar feasted and made merry, until at last the clock struck twelve and the king arose from his seat. "My friend," said he to the beggar, "all these things have been done to show you that Luck and Fate, which have been against you for all these years, are now for you. Hereafter, instead of being poor you shall be the richest of the rich, for I will give you the greatest thing that I have in my treasury," Then he called the chief treasurer, who came forward with a golden tray in his hand. Upon the tray was a purse of silk. "See," said the king, "here is a purse, and in the purse are one hundred pieces of gold money. But though that much may seem great to you, it is but little of the true value of the purse. Its virtue lies in this: that however much you may take from it, there will always be one hundred pieces of gold money left in it. Now go; and while you are enjoying the riches which I give you, I have only to ask you to remember these are not the gifts of Fate, but of a mortal man."
But all the while he was talking the beggar's head was spinning and spinning, and buzzing and buzzing, so that he hardly heard a word of what the king said.
Then when the king had ended his speech, the lords and gentlemen who had brought the beggar in led him forth again. Out they went through room after room--out through the courtyard, out through the gate.
Bang!--it was shut to behind him, and he found himself standing in the darkness of midnight, with the splendid clothes upon his back, and the magic purse with its hundred pieces of gold money in his pocket.
He stood looking about himself for a while, and then off he started homeward, staggering and stumbling and shuffling, for the wine that he had drank made him so light-headed that all the world spun topsy-turvy around him.
His way led along by the river, and on he went stumbling and staggering. All of a sudden--plump! splash!--he was in the water over head and ears. Up he came, spitting out the water and shouting for help, splashing and sputtering, and kicking and swimming, knowing no more where he was than the man in the moon. Sometimes his head was under water and sometimes it was up again.
At last, just as his strength was failing him, his feet struck the bottom, and he crawled up on the shore more dead than alive. Then, through fear and cold and wet, he swooned away, and lay for a long time for all the world as though he were dead.
Now, it chanced that two fisherman were out with their nets that night, and Luck or Fate led them by the way where the beggar lay on the shore. "Halloa!" said one of the fishermen, "here is a poor body drowned!" They turned him over, and then they saw what rich clothes he wore, and felt that he had a purse in his pocket.
"Come," said the second fisherman, "he is dead, whoever he is. His fine clothes and his purse of money can do him no good now, and we might as well have them as anybody else." So between them both they stripped the beggar of all that the king had given him, and left him lying on the beach.
At daybreak the beggar awoke from the swoon, and there he found himself lying without a stitch to his back, and half dead with the cold and the water he had swallowed. Then, fearing lest somebody might see him, he crawled away into the rushes that grew beside the river, there to hide himself until night should come again.
But as he went, crawling upon hands and knees, he suddenly came upon a bundle that had been washed up by the water, and when he laid eyes upon it his heart leaped within him, for what should that bundle be but the patches and tatters which he had worn the day before, and which the attendants had thrown over the garden wall and into the river when they had dressed him in the fine clothes the king gave him.
He spread his clothes out in the sun until they were dry, and then he put them on and went back into the town again.
"Well," said the king, that morning, to his chief councillor, "what do you think now? Am I not greater than Fate? Did I not make the beggar rich? And shall I not paint my father's words out from the wall, and put my own there instead?"
"I do not know," said the councillor, shaking his head. "Let us first see what has become of the beggar."
"So be it," said the king; and he and the councillor set off to see whether the beggar had done as he ought to do with the good things that the king had given him. So they came to the towngate, and there, lo and behold! the first thing that they saw was the beggar with his wooden bowl in his hand asking those who passed by for a stray penny or two.
When the king saw him he turned without a word, and rode back home again. "Very well," said he to the chief councillor, "I have tried to make the beggar rich and have failed; nevertheless, if I cannot make him I can ruin him in spite of Fate, and that I will show you."
So all that while the beggar sat at the towngate and begged until came noontide, when who should he see coming but the same three men who had come for him the day before. "Ah, ha!" said he to himself, "now the king is going to give me some more good things." And so when the three reached him he was willing enough to go with them, rough as they were.
Off they marched; but this time they did not come to any garden with fruits and flowers and fountains and marble baths. Off they marched, and when they stopped it was in front of the king's palace. This time no nobles and great lords and courtiers were waiting for his coming; but instead of that the town hangman--a great ugly fellow, clad in black from head to foot. Up he came to the beggar, and, catching him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him up the palace steps and from room to room until at last he flung him down at the king's feet.
When the poor beggar gathered wits enough to look about him he saw there a great chest standing wide open, and with holes in the lid. He wondered what it was for, but the king gave him no chance to ask; for, beckoning with his hand, the hangman and the others caught the beggar by arms and legs, thrust him into the chest, and banged down the lid upon him.
The king locked it and double-locked it, and set his seal upon it; and there was the beggar as tight as a fly in a bottle.
They carried the chest out and thrust it into a cart and hauled it away, until at last they came to the sea-shore. There they flung chest and all into the water, and it floated away like a cork. And that is how the king set about to ruin the poor beggar-man.
Well, the chest floated on and on for three days, and then at last it came to the shore of a country far away. There the waves caught it up, and flung it so hard upon the rocks of the sea-beach that the chest was burst open by the blow, and the beggar crawled out with eyes as big as saucers and face as white as dough. After he had sat for a while, and when his wits came back to him and he had gathered strength enough, he stood up and looked around to see where Fate had cast him; and far away on the hill-sides he saw the walls and the roofs and the towers of the great town, shining in the sunlight as white as snow.
"Well," said he, "here is something to be thankful for, at least," and so saying and shaking the stiffness out of his knees and elbows, he started off for the white walls and the red roofs in the distance.
At last he reached the great gate, and through it he could see the stony streets and multitudes of people coming and going.
But it was not for him to enter that gate. Out popped two soldiers with great battle-axes in their hands and looking as fierce as dragons. "Are you a stranger in this town?" said one in a great, gruff voice.
"Yes," said the beggar, "I am."
"And where are you going?"
"I am going into the town."
"No, you are not."
"Because no stranger enters here. Yonder is the pathway. You must take that if you would enter the town."
"Very well," said the beggar, "I would just as lief go into the town that way as another."
So off he marched without another word. On and on he went along the narrow pathway until at last he came to a little gate of polished brass. Over the gate were written these words, in great letters as red as blood:
"Who Enters here Shall Surely Die."
Many and many a man besides the beggar had travelled that path and looked up at those letters, and when he had read them had turned and gone away again. But the beggar neither turned nor went away; because why, he could neither read nor write a word, and so the blood-red letters had no fear for him. Up he marched to the brazen gate, as boldly as though it had been a kitchen door, and rap! tap! tap! he knocked upon it. He waited awhile, but nobody came. Rap! tap! tap! he knocked again; and then, after a little while, for the third time--Rap! tap! tap! Then instantly the gate swung open and he entered. So soon as he had crossed the threshold it was banged to behind him again, just as the garden gate had been when the king had first sent for him. He found himself in a long, dark entry, and at the end of it another door, and over it the same words, written in blood-red letters:
"Beware! Beware! Who Enters here Shall Surely Die!"
"Well," said the beggar, "this is the hardest town for a body to come into that I ever saw." And then he opened the second door and passed through.
It was fit to deafen a body! Such a shout the beggar's ears had never heard before; such a sight the beggar's eyes had never beheld, for there, before him, was a great splendid hall of marble as white as snow. All along the hall stood scores of lords and ladies in silks and satins, and with jewels on their necks and arms fit to dazzle a body's eyes. Right up the middle of the hall stretched a carpet of blue velvet, and at the farther end, on a throne of gold, sat a lady as beautiful as the sun and moon and all the stars.
"Welcome! welcome!" they all shouted, until the beggar was nearly deafened by the noise they all made, and the lady herself stood up and smiled upon him.
Then there came three young men, and led the beggar up the carpet of velvet to the throne of gold.
"Welcome, my hero!" said the beautiful lady; "and have you, then, come at last?"
"Yes," said the beggar, "I have."
"Long have I waited for you," said the lady; "long have I waited for the hero who would dare without fear to come through the two gates of death to marry me and to rule as king over this country, and now at last you are here."
"Yes," said the beggar, "I am."
Meanwhile, while all these things were happening, the king of that other country had painted out the words his father had written on the walls, and had had these words painted in in their stead:
"All Things are as Man does."
For a while he was very well satisfied with them, until, a week after, he was bidden to the wedding of the Queen of the Golden Mountains; for when he came there who should the bridegroom be but the beggar whom he had set adrift in the wooden box a week or so before.
The bridegroom winked at him, but said never a word, good or ill, for he was willing to let all that had happened be past and gone. But the king saw how matters stood as clear as daylight, and when he got back home again he had the new words that stood on the walls of the room painted out, and had the old ones painted in in bigger letters than ever:
"All Things are as Fate wills."
All the good people who were gathered around the table of the Sign of Mother Goose sat thinking for a while over the story. As for Boots, he buried his face in the quart pot and took a long, long pull at the ale.
"Methinks," said the Soldier who cheated the Devil, presently breaking silence--"methinks there be very few of the women folk who do their share of this story-telling. So far we have had but one, and that is Lady Cinderella. I see another one present, and I drink to her health."
He winked his eye at Patient Grizzle, beckoning towards her with his quart pot, and took a long and hearty pull. Then he banged his mug down upon the table. "Fetch me another glass, lass," said he to little Brown Betty. "Meantime, fair lady"--this he said to Patient Grizzle--"will you not entertain us with some story of your own?"
"I know not," said Patient Grizzle, "that I can tell you any story worth your hearing."
"Aye, aye, but you can," said the Soldier who cheated the Devil; "and, moreover, anything coming from betwixt such red lips and such white teeth will be worth the listening to."
Patient Grizzle smiled, and the brave little Tailor, and the Lad who fiddled for the Jew, and Hans and Bidpai and Boots nodded approval.
"Aye," said Ali Baba, "it is true enough that there have been but few of the women folk who have had their say, and methinks that it is very strange and unaccountable, for nearly always they have plenty to speak in their own behalf."
All who sat there in Twilight Land laughed, and even Patient Grizzle smiled.
"Very well," said Patient Grizzle, "if you will have it, I will tell you a story. It is about a fisherman who was married and had a wife of his own, and who made her carry all the load of everything that happened to him. For he, like most men I wot of, had found out--