This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series

 

The Black Toad's Mansion

Once upon a time there was a stingy old peasant man whose wife died, leaving him with three children: two boys and their little sister. One day after Yuletide the boys went to their father and said: "Please give us six gold coins so that we may buy us each a horse."

"You are too young," said the father. "First you must prove yourselves worthy. And besides, I have only three gold coins to my name!"

The boys began to fight over who should have the three coins.

"Stop that!" shouted the father. "Get out of my house! For a year! Whoever can go out in the world and earn the most handsome tablecloth for our next Yule dinner, for him I will buy a horse."

At this the boys were happy, and immediately stopped fighting and packed their bags.

"I want to go too," said the little sister, whose name was Rachel. "I want a horse too."

They all laughed at her. "No doubt every monarch in the land is wanting to hire a silly girl! ... You stay home. ... A little girl's place is in the chimney corner!"

But Rachel kept begging. "Let me go with them. I am little, but size isn't everything."

"Oh very well," said the father, who wanted her out of his hair too. He gave each of the children a copper penny. "Here, you can live on this till you make your fortunes."

So the three children set out, and walked for a whole day. Toward evening they came to an inn which was full of shouting and laughter and smoke. The older brothers went in and ate fried pigs' feet and drank nut-brown ale and played knucklebones. But Rachel did not like the shouting and the smoke, so she stayed outside in the woods, eating nuts and berries.

Soon the brothers had spent all their money. They found Rachel and said, "Give us your copper penny."

"No! I have to live on it for a year." But the brothers were bigger and stronger, and took the penny away from her.

"Now go home where you belong!" they laughed. Then they went back in the inn and called for more knucklebones.

Rachel was so mad that she ran straight into the deepest part of the forest. She climbed mountains and waded rivers till she could go no further. Then she sat down all alone and cried herself to sleep.

Next morning, just as the sun rose and the birds began to sing, Rachel woke up and saw a valley of beautiful meadows below her. "The further away from my brothers, the better," she said to herself, and walked down into the valley, and on and on.

For miles the valley was only peaceful wilderness. Then Rachel came to a green path, on which her feet made no sound, with a tall row of mossy oak trees on either side. It led to a mansion, which was so large and beautiful that she would have thought it a royal palace, aside from its being all alone and solemnly quiet. Seeing no sign of any inhabitants, she tiptoed inside. The place was full of many fine rooms and apartments, all richly furnished in velvets and tapestries; but nowhere did she find any living creature.

The mansion was so large that Rachel soon became lost in its halls. She wandered and wandered, finding nowhere any door or window. But at last she came to a great hall, evidently a throne room, larger and even more splendid than all the other rooms. At first this room too seemed to be uninhabited. All the thrones were empty, except for one that seemed to have a big dirty black bag on it.

Rachel went closer.

The bag moved. It was a giant black Toad, so fat that it sprawled out over both sides of the chair.

Rachel nearly screamed.

"Good day," said the giant Toad, in a deep melodious voice. "On what errand are you come here?"

"Er, excuse me, I was just, er, out, er, seeking my fortune," said Rachel. "And I have to see a man about a horse, so, if you will just be so kind as to direct me to the door...."

"By all means," said the Toad kindly. "But I wonder if you would like to do me a service first?"

The Toad's voice was so beautiful and gentle that Rachel was losing her fear. "Er, well, ah, how long would it take?"

"One year," said the Toad. "But during that time you may live comfortably here with me, and I will reward you generously at the end of the time..."

"Very well," Rachel said. "If it is not too much work."

"Not too much," sang the Toad. It opened a door behind the throne and led Rachel out into a sunny garden. All the flowers and shrubs in the garden were green and flourishing, except for one big bush in the center, which was dry and dead.

"Each day," said the Toad, "you must break one small branch off this dead bush."

"What shall I do with the branches?" Rachel asked.

"Lay them here under the bush."

Rachel broke off a small branch and laid it on the ground. "Like this?"

The Toad said, "You have done your day's work." It hopped into the mansion, leading Rachel upstairs to a beautiful little apartment that opened into a private garden on the roof. In the garden was a white iron table with a fine dinner spread on it, and one plate and glass.

"Hot food will always be here, whenever you are hungry," said the Toad. "And the bed will always be ready whenever you wish to rest. You shall be at liberty all day, provided only that you faithfully break one branch every single day, without fail."

Rachel thanked the Toad, and it hopped away, and was not seen again for the whole year. Rachel explored the roof garden, and found a white iron stairway down to the meadow, so that she could come and go into the wilderness whenever she liked.

All year she lived there, resting and eating and exploring the mansion and the woods, never meeting another speaking creature. Sometimes she wondered how the Toad would know whether she did her work every day or not. But she carried it out faithfully, never missing a single day.

On the very last day, as soon as she had broken the last branch and laid it on the ground, the mansion door opened and the Toad came hopping toward her. "I thank you for this faithful service," it said. "Now, what reward may I give you?"

"Er, er, nothing," Rachel stammered. "I mean, it was nothing. I mean, anything you like...."

The Toad led her inside the mansion, to a small wooden chest in the dining room, and said, "Please open it."

Rachel opened the chest. Inside was a tablecloth, of finer and whiter linen than any she had ever seen before. "It is yours," said the Toad. "You may go with my blessing."

Rachel was so happy that she completely forgot all the trouble with her brothers. All she could think of was to take the cloth home to her family. She packed a lunch and set out, walking through the beautiful valley and over the mountains without a care.

When she came to the inn, her brothers were there playing knucklebones. Rachel/ ran into the inn and hugged her brothers. "Did you earn any tablecloths? Wait till you see mine!" The brothers showed her their cloths, which were smaller, worn, and rather dirty.

"Just look!" Rachel spread out her own fine white cloth. All the guests at the inn crowded round and admired its beauty.

"That will do fine," said her oldest brother, and grabbed it and put it in his sack.

"But it's mine!"

"It was." He pushed her down and threw his old cloth at her, and he and the middle brother walked away laughing.

Limping, Rachel made her way home. The brothers were there laughing and drinking, and the white linen cloth was spread on the Yule table. "Look what a good cloth your oldest brother earned," her father said.

"But it was mine--"

"Nonsense. How could you earn such a fine thing?"

"Well, there was this mansion, and this giant Toad--"

"Oh, shut up with your fairy tales," they all laughed.

On the day after Yule, the oldest brother said to their father, "I have brought the finest cloth, so now give me your three gold coins so I may buy me a horse."

But the father did not want to give up his coins. "You are still not worthy," he said. "Whoever can go out in the world and earn the most handsome silver platter for our next Yule dinner, for him I will buy a horse."

The boys went and packed their sacks, and so did Rachel.

The father gave each of the boys a copper penny. "I suppose you want one too," he said to Rachel.

"Yes, please."

He gave them the pennies and they all set out. When they got to the inn, Rachel went inside with her brothers. As soon as they sat down at the table, she went to the landlord and spent the penny on a private room and dinner for herself. Next morning, while her brothers were still asleep, Rachel set off alone. She crossed the mountains and rivers and walked through the beautiful valley again, till she came to the green path that led to the mansion. Inside she wandered around till she found the great hall.

"Good day," said the Toad, in a deep melodious voice. "On what errand do you come here?"

"I'm seeking my fortune again," said Rachel. "Is there any further service I may do you?"

"I am glad," said the Toad, "for I am in great need of a further service."

"Very well," said Rachel. "If it is not too much work."

"Not too much," sang the Toad. It opened the door behind the throne and led Rachel out into the sunny garden, where the pile of dead limbs was still just as she had left it, then brought her a bundle of short threads.

"Each day," said the Toad, "you must tie a thread round one of these branches."

Rachel tied one thread. "Like this?"

The Toad said, "You have done your days' work." It hopped into the mansion, leading Rachel upstairs to the same beautiful little apartment. The garden was full of Rachel's favorite flowers, and the white iron table was spread with her favorite foods.

"Welcome back," sang the Toad. Rachel thanked the Toad, and it hopped away, and was not seen again for the whole year. All year Rachel lived there, resting and eating and exploring the mansion and the woods, never meeting another speaking creature. She carried it out her work faithfully, never missing a single day.

On the very last day, as soon as she had /cut/tied the last thread, the mansion door opened and the Toad came hopping toward her. "I thank you for this faithful service," it sang. "Now what reward may I give you?"

"Whatever you like," said Rachel.

The Toad led her inside the mansion, to a small chest in the dining room, and said, "Please open it." Rachel opened the chest. Inside was a silver platter, the finest ever seen. "It is yours," said the Toad. "You may go with my blessing."

Rachel was so happy that she wanted to take the platter straight home. She packed a lunch and set out, walking through the beautiful valley and over the mountains.

When she came to the inn, her brothers were there playing knucklebones. Rachel went by without stopping. She walked nearly all the way home, then sat down to rest and fell asleep.

Just then her brothers came by. When they saw the silver platter sticking out of her sack, they took the platter for themselves, tied her up, and walked away laughing.

After a long struggle, Rachel untied herself and limped home. Her brothers were laughing and drinking, and the silver platter was sitting on the center of the Yule table on top of the white linen cloth. "Look what a beautiful platter your oldest brother earned," her father said.

"But it was mine--"

"Nonsense. How could you earn such a fine thing?"

Rachel sighed. "Never mind."

On the day after Yule, the oldest brother said to their father, "I have brought the finest silver platter, so now give me your three gold coins so I may buy me a horse." But the father still was in no hurry to give up his coins. "You are still not quite worthy," he said. "Whoever can go out and bring back the finest horse, for him I will buy that horse."

The boys went and packed their sacks, and so did Rachel. The father gave each of the boys a copper penny. "I suppose you want one too," he said to Rachel.

"Yes, please."

He gave them the pennies and they all set out. When they got to the inn, Rachel went inside with her brothers. As soon as they sat down at the table, she went to the landlord and spent the penny on a private room and dinner for herself.

"This time," her brothers whispered together, "we'll see where she's getting these treasures." So they took turns staying awake. Next morning when she set off, they followed her tracks across the mountains and through the beautiful vallley. But when they came to the green path, their own feet made so much noise that they panicked and fled back to the inn.

Inside the mansion, Rachel went straight to the great hall.

"Good day," said the Toad, in a deep melodious voice. "On what errand do you come here?"

"I'm seeking my fortune again," said Rachel. "Is there any further service I may do you?"

"I am glad," said the Toad, "for I am in great need of a further service."

"Very well," said Rachel. "If it is not too much work."

"Not too much," sang the Toad. It opened the door behind the throne and led Rachel out into the sunny garden, to the pile of dead limbs with threads tied round each of them, and pointed across the garden to a great stone slab.

"Each day," said the Toad, "you must carry one of these branches over there. Stack them neatly on that stone."

Rachel carried one branch over. "Like this?"

The Toad said, "You have done your days' work." It hopped into the mansion, leading Rachel upstairs to the same beautiful little apartment. The garden was full of Rachel's favorite flowers, and the white iron table was spread with her favorite foods.

"Welcome home," sang the Toad. Rachel thanked the Toad, and it hopped away, and was not seen again for the whole year. All this time Rachel carried out her work faithfully, never missing a single day.

On the very last day, as soon as she had stacked the last branch, the mansion door opened and the great black Toad came hopping toward her. "Now," it said, "you must set that stack afire, then go to your room for one hour. Then come back and sweep up all around the fire so that every twig will be burnt to ashes. If then you see anything in the fire, take it out and save it. Will you promise to do this?"

Rachel promised, and the Toad sat down to wait. Rachel set the stack afire and went to her room for an hour, then came back and swept all around the fire, till every twig was in the fire and burning. Immediately there rose up in the midst of the fire a beautiful white Stallion, rearing and prancing and tossing his mane.

Rachel darted into the fire, seized the Stallion's mane, and led him out to safety.

"Thank you," sang the Toad's voice.

Rachel looked around but could not see the Toad anywhere. "Where are you?"

The Toad's voice spoke from the Stallion's mouth: "I am the Stallion. I was under an evil spell for many years, and you have helped me break it." Then he sang again, "Awake. Return."

Immediately there was great cheering and singing in an unknown but beautiful language, /and all at once the garden was filled with noble persons, great ladies and lords and knights, who had been enspelled as worms and bugs. They all gathered round Rachel thanking her and hugging her, saying "Please live here with us forever!"

"First," said the Stallion, "we must all take a journey." He sang in the new language, and the people ran to get their own mounts, and the cooks ran to pack picnic baskets, and three ladies took Rachel into a splendid apartment where they bathed her and dressed her in a magnificent riding outfit of scarlet satin. Soon the whole procession was gathered in front of the mansion.

"We are must visit Rachel's family," the Stallion said. "It is only mete and proper. Besides, I want my platter and tablecloth back."

Rachel looked up at all of them. "But I have no mount."

"Yes, you do," said the Stallion. Two grooms lifted her onto his back. So all together, with Rachel in the middle on the Stallion, they rode down the green path, across the beatiful valley, over the rivers and the mountains, straight back to her father's cottage.

They arrived there just at dark, on Yuletide night. Rachel's father peered out but did not recognize her. The Stallion's head chamberlin said: "We wish to celebrate Yuletide with you."

"But I do not have food for so many--"

"Just prepare the table, and invite everyone in the counrtyside to be our guests," said the head chamberlin. "We have brought the food." Calling the cooks and under-chamberlins, he had them unpack magic picnic boxes full of all kinds of hot dishes and pies.

People flocked to the feast from all over the countryisde, both high and low, and Rachel's father had to bring all the tables outside in the yard and set them up, and even made some more out of planks and sawhorses from the barn; and on the head table he put Rachel's white linen tablecloth and silver platter.

Finally all was ready, and the whole crowd sat down to the feast. Just then the two brothers returned with the two horses they had found this year, which were both swaybacked and mangy and lame.

The head chamberlin said to Rachel's father: "I must compliment you on this beautiful tablecloth and silver platter. Where did you get them."

"My sons earned them," said the father.

"That is not true," said the head chamberlin. "In truth, the one who earned them is your daughter. Didn't you, Rachel?" Now everyone looked at Rachel, who was sitting in the midst of them in her grand clothes.

"Yes," she said, standing up. "My brothers stole them from me."

Now her father and brothers looked closely and recognized her. The father was amazed and could scarcely believe his eyes; but then he embraced her and begged her pardon for all his wrongs. The two brothers hid their heads in shame, and became the laughing-stocks of the neighborhood, and slunk away in disgrace.

Then all the company sat back down to dinner (which had been magically kept warm), and had the greatest feast known in that land before or since, and afterwards slept in satin tents that the chamberlins had brought along.

The next day the Stallion said to Rachel, "Let's go home." So she climbed on his back, and the procession rode back over the mountain and the rivers, through the beautiful valley, and along the green path, to the mansion, taking the cloth, the platter, and the old peasant father with them. Rachel gave him a job as gardener, and he was always very nice to her from then on. They also took the two mangy horses and quickly brought them back to health in the valley.

Rachel lived with the Stallion's people from then on, riding out on his back every day to oversee their realm, and all the great lords and ladies treated her like their own child, and they all lived together in the mansion in love and happiness ever after.

The End

Source material from a Northern European story. --RL

 

This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince,
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure

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