“Your Royal Highness,” he said, “I am only a wood-chopper; but, if you please, I am a strong wood-chopper and perhaps I can be of use to you.”
“But why should you take the trouble to help me?” inquired the prince. “What good will it do you?”
“Oh, well!” said Casperl, ‘it’s helping the princess, too, don’t you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” said the prince. “However, you may try what you can do. Here, put your shoulder to this end of the gate, and I will stand right behind you.”
Now, Casperl did not know that it was forbidden to any suitor to have help in his attempt the climb the hill. The prince knew it, though, but he said to himself, “When I am through with this wood-chopper I will dismiss him and no one will know anything about it. I can never lift this gate by myself. I will let him do it for me and thus I shall get the princess and he will be just as well satisfied for he is only a wood-chopper.”
So Casperl put his broad shoulder to the gate and pushed with all his might. It was very heavy but after awhile it began to move a little.
“Courage, your Royal Highness!” said Casperl. “We’ll move it after all.” But if he had looked over his shoulder, he would have seen that the little prince was not pushing at all but that he had put on his cloak and was standing idly by, laughing to himself at the way he was making a wood-chopper do his work for him.
After a long struggle, the gate gave way, and swung open just wide enough to let them through. It was a close squeeze for the prince; but Casperl held the gate open until he slipped through.
“Dear me,” said the prince, “you’re quite a strong fellow. You really were of some assistance to me. Let me see, I think the stories say something about a tree, or some such thing, farther up the road. As you are a wood-chopper and as you have your ax with you, perhaps you might walk up a bit and see if you can’t make yourself useful.”
Casperl was quite willing, for he began to feel that he was doing something for the princess and it pleased him to think that even a wood-chopper could do her a service.
So they walked up until they came to the tree. And then the prince drew out his silver ax and sharpened it carefully on the sole of his shoe, while Casperl picked up a stone and whetted his old iron ax, which was all he had.
“Now,” said the prince, “let’s see what we can do.”
But he really didn’t do anything. It was Casperl who swung his ax and chopped hard at the magic tree. Every blow made the chips fly; but the wood grew instantly over every cut, just as though he had been cutting into water.
For a little while the prince amused himself by trying first to climb over the tree, and then to crawl under it. But he soon found that whichever way he went, the tree grew up or down so fast that he was shut off. Finally he gave it up and went and lay down on his back on the grass, and watch Casperl working.
And Casperl worked hard. The tree grew fast; but he chopped it faster. His forehead was wet and his arms were tired, but he worked away and made the chips fly in a cloud. He was too busy to take the time to look over his shoulder, so he did not see the prince lying on the grass. But every now and then he spoke cheerily, saying. “We’ll do it, your Royal Highness!”
And he did it, in the end. After a long, long while, he got the better of the magic tree, for he chopped quicker than it could grow and at last he had cut a gap right across the trunk.
The prince jumped up from the grass and leaped nimbly through and Casperl followed him slowly and sadly, for he was tired and it began to occur to him that the prince hadn’t said anything about the princess, which made him wonder if he were the true prince, after all. “I’m afraid,” he thought, “the princess won’t thank me if I bring her a prince who doesn’t love her. And it really is very strange that this prince hasn’t said a word about her.”
So he ventured to remark, very meekly:
“Your Royal Highness will be glad to see the princess.”
“Oh, no doubt,” said the prince.
“And the princess will be very glad to see your Royal Highness,” went on Casperl.
“Oh, of course!” said the prince.
“And your Royal Highness will be very good to the princess,” said Casperl further, by way of a hint.
“I think,” said the prince, “that you are talking altogether too much about the princess. I don’t believe I need you any more. Perhaps you would better go home. I’m much obliged to you for your assistance. I can’t reward you just now, but if you will come to see me after I have married the princess, I may be able to do something for you.”
Casperl turned away, somewhat disappointed and was going down the hill, when the prince called him back.
“Oh, by the way!” he said; “there’s a dragon, I understand, a little farther on. Perhaps you’d like to come along and see me kill him?”
Casperl thought he would like to see the prince do something for the princess, so he followed meekly on. Very soon they came to the top of the mountain and saw the green lawns and beautiful gardens of the enchanted castle,- and there was the dragon waiting for them.
The dragon reared itself on its dreadful tail and flapped its black wings; and its great green, shining scaly body swelled and twisted and it roared in a terrible way.
The little prince drew his jeweled sword and walked slowly up to the monster. And then the great beast opened its red mouth and blew out one awful breath, that caught the prince up as if he were a feather and whisked him clear off the mountain and over the tops of the trees in the valley and that was the last any one ever saw of him.
Then Casperl grasped his old ax and leaped forward to meet the dragon, never stopping to think how poor his weapon was. But all of a sudden the dragon vanished and disappeared and was gone, and there was no trace of it anywhere; but the beautiful princess stood in its place and smiled and held out her white hand to Casperl.
“My Prince!” she said, “so you have come at last!”
“I beg your gracious Highness’s pardon,” said Casperl; “but I am no prince.”
“Oh, yes, you are!” said the princess; “how did you come here, if you are not my true prince? Didn’t you come through the gate and across the tree, and haven’t you driven the dragon away?”
“I only helped-” began Casperl.
“You did it all,” said the princess, “for I saw you. Please don’t contradict a lady.”
“But I don’t see how I could-” Casperl began again.
“People who are helping others,” said the princess, “often have a strength beyond their own. But perhaps you didn’t come here to help me, after all?”
“Oh, your gracious Highness,” cried Casperl, “there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help you. But I’m sure I’m not a prince.”
“And I am sure you are,” said the princess, and she led him to a fountain near by, and when he looked at his reflection in the water, he saw that he was dressed more magnificently than any prince who ever yet had come to the enchanted mountain.
And just then the wedding-bells began to ring, and that is all I know of the fairy story, for Casperl and the princess lived so happily ever after in the castle on top of the mountain, that they never came down to tell the rest of it.
The End ?