What better way to start the New Year than with some old Polish fairy tales that have found their way out of my archives and into your hearts. The first two are musically oriented. The first “The Magic Fiddle” – has no author. Hope you enjoy it!
There was a fellow from around here who went away for a number of years and served in the army under the German King. The time came when he was discharged, with three ducats in his pocket. So he started home, and after a while crossed the Vistula and was almost home.
There was only a piece of woods to go, and the fellow started walking through them when an old man with a long beard came in sight.
“Hello,” the old man said when the two met. “I know what you’ve got there in your pocket: three ducats. What’ll you take for them? I’ll give you a choice: the Kingdom of Heaven, or a fiddle and a beggar’s pouch?
The fellow looked at the old man.
“Hm,” he said, “what about this fiddle? And the beggar’s pouch? There must be something about them if you can match them against the whole Kingdom of Heaven!”
“You’re right,” the old man said, scratching his head. “You see, the fiddle is small, but it plays a magic tune. It draws to you whomever you want. And when you’ve got them, you just open the bag and pop them in. Then you draw the string, and there you are. Anyone you want.”
So the old fellow chose the fiddle and the beggar’s pouch and took his chances on the Kingdom of Heaven. Handing over his three ducats to the old man, he went on his way.
Finally he came to Krakow, and there the old soldier’s eyes popped at the wonder of the place. He found himself a bench in the middle of the Rynek and sat down, just to look around and perhaps pick up some interesting gossip.
There was gossip all right. Everyone was talking about the same thing: the King had a beautiful new castle, but no one could sleep in it because it was haunted.
The soldier began to ask questions.
“What’s this about the castle?” he inquired.
“Terrible things,” an old man standing near answered. “Such a fine castle, but no one can sleep in it. In the night the Devil comes and twists your head off if you try to sleep there. The King has offered a reward to anyone who will get rid of the fellow. He’ll give you his own daughter to wife! That’s a reward for you.”
The soldier scratched his head.
“What about my fiddle?” he pondered. “And my pouch? Guess I’ll try for that reward.”
So the soldier made his way to the castle and sat down in an open place nearby and took out his fiddle. From his pocket he drew out a piece of chalk that he always carried there. It was holy chalk and with it he drew a circle around where he sat, a circle as big as his arms could reach. Then he raised his fiddle and began to play. His beggar’s pouch he placed on the ground nearby.
For hours the soldier played. It grew dark, but still he played on. His arm got tired, but still he played. His chin became stiff, but he played on. He did not stop when people going by jeered at him. He had faith in his small instrument, and in the bag.
Finally midnight struck. All over the city clocks began chiming the hour. And then something happened.
At the first stroke, the very first, a door in the castle opened. At first only a crack, but then, as the sound of the bells continued, wider and wider. The soldier, still playing, hardly dared look.
And who can blame him? For out of the now wide open door marched a procession of twelve devils.
The soldier did not stop playing. In fact he played all the harder, as he saw that the magic in his fiddle worked. For every one of those twelve little fiends, as it tripped forth from the castle, made straight for the place where the soldier was sitting, right in the center of the holy circle.
The devils didn’t know, of course, that the circle was holy, and they had in mind to make sport of the soldier.
“Up with you!” they teased him. On your feet. It’s your turn to dance now, to OUR music!”
The soldier did not lose his nerve.
“I’ll dance for you all right. But first you’ll pay me for it,” he said. Go fetch me a bag of money and I’ll show you a dance.”
The Head Devil, who was Lucifer himself, was agreeable.
“Go fetch the fellow a bag of money,” he commanded one of his band.
Soon the money had been fetched.
“Too small,” the soldier said, eyeing it with scorn. Go fetch me more.”
Lucifer was again willing to meet the soldier’s terms and again dispatched one of his devils for the gold.
This time the bag was a big one, and popping full. The soldier looked at it and decided it would do.
“Then dance!” Lucifer was about to command the soldier, but before he could get the words out of his mouth the fellow began fiddling as if his life depended on it. “March! March!”
“March! March! you devils,” he cried in a voice razor sharp as the music poured out. “March, you devils, right into that pouch there!”
Lucifer and his devils were taken aback. They stiffened like ramrods and in frightened file marched without thinking straight into the soldier’s pouch. Then when the last curling tail was safe inside, the soldier stopped playing. With swift fingers he drew the cord that closed the bag’s mouth and fastened it securely.
“So you wanted me to dance, did you?” he chuckled.
Inside the pouch the devils were howling and screaming and pounding against the sides of the bag. The soldier stood it for a while, then hauled off and gave the bag a resounding punch with his fist. The bag collapsed at the blow and the devils stopped their howling.
The soldier waited for a moment, then opened the bag. What a sight met his eyes! The devils had all melted together in a sticky mass. All but their heads. These were sticking out of the mass, staring up at the soldier. Their eyes were hollow and pleading, but they could not speak. The soldier just laughed.
Later people came to view the bag and some would stop to take a poke at one of the heads. One big fellow even tried to lift one of those devilish heads, but he couldn’t, so he called for help. Four men came forward. They tugged together, all heaving hard. But the head wouldn’t budge, it was that heavy.
From that time on it was safe to sleep in the King’s castle. There were no more devils to worry about. As for the reward, the King’s daughter in marriage. I never heard whether the soldier claimed this or not. It doesn’t really matter, after all, does it?
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .