Kids, when I first read today’s fairy tale, there were parts that actually shocked me. SHOCKED. Which is not all that easy to do at my cynical age. It’s a Magyar tale (according to Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book), and one of its core plot devices is the ongoing hostilities between the Turks and the Hungarians. That all by itself is fascinating. But the other one of its core devices is even more fascinating: punching ladies in the nose when they ask you to tell them the secret you’ve been smugly lording over them.
Seriously. A lot of ladies get punched in the nose in this story. It’s no model for women’s rights, and I edited those parts heavily when I read this tale to my favorite 6-year-old girl. But despite that, or maybe because of it, I love this story.
Bonus features: a sword and scabbard that grow along with the hero, clever trickery galore, and an apology from the hero to his mother for leaving her after she beat the snot out of him.
Magyars. They don’t play.
The Boy Who Could Keep a Secret
Once upon a time there lived a poor widow who had one little boy. At first sight you would not have thought that he was different from a thousand other little boys; but then you noticed that by his side hung the scabbard of a sword, and as the boy grew bigger the scabbard grew bigger too. The sword which belonged to the scabbard was found by the little boy sticking out of the ground in the garden, and every day he pulled it up to see if it would go into the scabbard. But though it was plainly becoming longer and longer, it was some time before the two would fit.
However, there came a day at last when it slipped in quite easily. The child was so delighted that he could hardly believe his eyes, so he tried it seven times, and each time it slipped in more easily than before. But pleased though the boy was, he determined not to tell anyone about it, particularly not his mother, who never could keep anything from her neighbours.
Still, in spite of his resolutions, he could not hide altogether that something had happened, and when he went in to breakfast his mother asked him what was the matter.
‘Oh, mother, I had such a nice dream last night,’ said he; ‘but I can’t tell it to anybody.’
‘You can tell it to me,’ she answered. ‘It must have been a nice dream, or you wouldn’t look so happy.’
‘No, mother; I can’t tell it to anybody,’ returned the boy, ’till it comes true.’
‘I want to know what it was, and know it I will,’ cried she, ‘and I will beat you till you tell me.’
But it was no use, neither words nor blows would get the secret out of the boy; and when her arm was quite tired and she had to leave off, the child, sore and aching, ran into the garden and knelt weeping beside his little sword. It was working round and round in its hole all by itself, and if anyone except the boy had tried to catch hold of it, he would have been badly cut. But the moment he stretched out his hand it stopped and slid quietly into the scabbard.
For a long time the child sat sobbing, and the noise was heard by the king as he was driving by. ‘Go and see who it is that is crying so,’ said he to one of his servants, and the man went. In a few minutes he returned saying: ‘Your Majesty, it is a little boy who is kneeling there sobbing because his mother has beaten him.’
‘Bring him to me at once,’ commanded the monarch, ‘and tell him that it is the king who sends for him, and that he has never cried in all his life and cannot bear anyone else to do so.’ On receiving this message the boy dried his tears and went with the servant to the royal carriage. ‘Will you be my son?’ asked the king.
‘Yes, if my mother will let me,’ answered the boy. And the king bade the servant go back to the mother and say that if she would give her boy to him, he should live in the palace and marry his prettiest daughter as soon as he was a man.
The widow’s anger now turned into joy, and she came running to the splendid coach and kissed the king’s hand. ‘I hope you will be more obedient to his Majesty than you were to me,’ she said; and the boy shrank away half-frightened. But when she had gone back to her cottage, he asked the king if he might fetch something that he had left in the garden, and when he was given permission, he pulled up his little sword, which he slid into the scabbard.
Then he climbed into the coach and was driven away.
After they had gone some distance the king said: ‘Why were you crying so bitterly in the garden just now?’
‘Because my mother had been beating me,’ replied the boy.
‘And what did she do that for?’ asked the king again.
‘Because I would not tell her my dream.’
‘And why wouldn’t you tell it to her?’
‘Because I will never tell it to anyone till it comes true,’ answered the boy.
‘And won’t you tell it to me either?’ asked the king in surprise.
‘No, not even to you, your Majesty,’ replied he.
‘Oh, I am sure you will when we get home,’ said the king smiling, and he talked to him about other things till they came to the palace.