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The Spirit in the Bottle

There was once upon a time a poor Woodcutter who worked from morning till quite late at night, and after doing so for a very long time he managed to save some money, and said to his Son, “You are my only child, and so this money, which I have earned by the hard sweat of my brow, shall be spent on your education. Do you learn something useful whereby you may support me in my old age, when my limbs become so stiff that I am obliged to sit still at home.”

Thereupon the Son went to a great school, and was very industrious, so that he became much noticed for it; and there he remained a long time. After he had gone through a long course of study, but still had not learnt all that was to be learnt, the store of money which his Father had earned was exhausted, and he was obliged to return home again.

“Ah, I can give you no more,” said the Father, sadly, “for in these dear times I can scarce earn enough for my daily bread.”

“Make yourself easy on that point, my dear Father,” replied the Son; “if it is God’s will, be sure it is all for the best; I will suit myself to the times.”

Afterwards, when the Father was about to go to the forest to earn something by chopping and clearing, his Son said, “I will accompany you and help you.” “ Ah, but my son,” said the Father, “that will be a hard matter for you, who have never been used to such hard work; you must not attempt it; besides, I have only one ax, and no money either to buy another.”

“Go then and ask your neighbor to lend you one, till I shall have earned enough to buy one for myself,” replied the Son.

So the Father borrowed an ax of his neighbor, and the next morning, at break of day, they went together to the forest. The son assisted his Father, and was very lively and merry over his work, and about noon, when the sun stood right over their heads, the Father proposed to rest for a while, and eat their dinner, and then, after that, they would be able to work all the better. The Son, however, taking his share of bread, said, “Do you rest here, Father, I am not tired; and I will go a little way into the forest, and look for birds’ nests.”

“Oh, you silly fellow!” said the Father, “what do you want to run about for? You will make yourself so tired, you will not be able to raise your arm : keep quiet a bit and sit down here with me.”

But the young man would not do so, but went off among the trees, eating his bread, and peeping about among the bushes for any nest he could find. To and fro he walked a long way, and presently came to an immense oak-tree, which was certainly many hundred years old, and could not have been spanned round by any five men. He stopped still to look at this tree, thinking that many a bird’s nest must be built within it, and while he did so he suddenly heard, as he thought, a voice. He listened, and soon heard again a half smothered cry of “Let me out! Let me out!” He looked around, but could see nothing; still the voice appeared to come, as it were, from the ground. So he called “Where are you?” and the Voice replied;

“Here I stick, among the roots of the oak-tree : let me out! let me out!” The Scholar, therefore, began to search at the foot of the tree, where the roots spread, and at last, in a little hollow, he found a glass bottle. He picked it up, and, holding it to the light, he perceived a thing in shape like a frog, which kept jumping up and down. “Let me out! let me out!” cried the thing again; and the Scholar, thinking no evil, drew out the stopper of the bottle. Immediately a Spirit sprang out, and began to grow and grow so fast, that in a very few moments he stood before the Scholar like a frightful giant, half the size of the tree. “Do you know,” he cried with a voice like thunder, “do you know what your reward is for letting me out of the glass bottle?”

“No,” replied the Scholar, without fear; “how should I?”

“Then I will tell you,” cried the Spirit; “I must break your neck!”

“You should have told me that before,” returned the Scholar, “and then you should have stuck where you were; but my head will stick on my shoulders in spite of you, for there are several people’s opinions to be asked yet about that matter.”

“Keep your people out of my way,” rejoined the Spirit; “but your deserved reward you must receive. Do you suppose I have been shut up so long out of mercy? no; it was for my punishment; I am the mighty Mercury, and whoever lets me out, his neck must I break.”

“Softly, softly!” said the Scholar, “that is quicker said than done; I must first know really that you were in the bottle, and that you are truly a spirit; if I see you return into the bottle, I will believe, and then you may do with me what you please.”

Full of pride, the Spirit answered, “That is an easy matter,” and, drawing himself together, he became as thin as he had been at first, and soon crept through the same opening back again into the bottle. Scarcely was he completely in when the Scholar put the stopper back into the neck, and threw the bottle down among the oak-tree roots at the old place; so the Spirit was deceived.

After this the Scholar would have gone back to his Father, but the Spirit cried lamentably, “Oh, let me out! Do let me out!”

“No,” replied the Scholar, “not a second time; he who tried to take away my life once I shall not let out in a hurry, when I have got him safe again.”

“If you will free me,” pleaded the Spirit, “I will give you as much as will serve you for your lifetime.”

“No, no!” rejoined the Scholar, “you will deceive me as you did at first.”

“You are fighting against your own fortune,” replied the Spirit; “I will do you no harm, but reward you richly.”

“Well, I will hazard it,” thought the Scholar to himself; “perhaps he will keep his word, and do me no injury;” and, so thinking, he took the stopper out of the bottle again, and the Spirit sprang out as before, stretched himself up, and became as big as a giant.

“Now you shall have your reward,” said the Spirit, reaching the Scholar a little piece of rag in shape like a plaster. “If you apply one end of this to a wound it shall heal directly, and, if you touch with the other steel or iron, either will be changed into silver.”

“That I must try first,” said the Scholar; and, going to a tree, he tore off a piece of the bark with his axe, and. then touched it with the one end of the rag, and immediately the wound closed up as if nothing had been done. “Now it is all right,” said the Scholar, “now we can separate.” Then the Spirit thanked him for releasing him, and the Scholar thanked the Spirit for his present, and went back to his father.

“Where have you been roaming to?” asked the Father; “why, you have quite forgotten your work. I said rightly that you would do nothing of this kind well.”

“Be contented, father; I will make up the time,” said the Son.

“Yes, you will make it up, truly,” broke in the Father angrily, “without an ax!”

“Now, see, father, I will cut down that tree at one blow!” and, so saying, the son took his rag, rubbed the ax with it, and gave a powerful blow, but because the ax was changed into silver the edge turned up. “Ah, father, do you see what an ax you have given me! it has no edge at all!” said the Son.

The Father was frightened and said, “Ah! what have you done? now I must pay for the ax, and I know not how; for it is the one which I borrowed for your work.”

“Don’t be angry; I will soon pay for the ax,” said the Son; but the Father exclaimed, “Why, you simpleton, how will you do that? you have nothing but what I give you; this is some student’s trick which is stuck in your head, but of wood-cutting you know nothing at all!”

After a pause the Scholar said, “Father, I can work no more; let us make holiday now.”

“Eh? what?” was the answer, “Do you think I can keep my hands in my pockets as you do? I must get on, but you can go home.” The Son replied he did not know the way, as it was his first time of being in the forest, and at last he persuaded his Father to accompany him home, his wrath being past away. When they arrived at their house, the Father told his son to go and sell the ax which was damaged, and the rest he must earn in order to pay his neighbor for it. So the Son took the ax, and carried it to a Goldsmith in the city, who, after proving it, laid it in his scales, and said, “It is worth four hundred dollars, and so much I have not by me in the house.”

“Give me what you have,” said the Scholar, “and I will trust you the remainder.” The Goldsmith gave him three hundred dollars and left the other as a debt, and thereupon the Scholar went home, and said to his Father “Go, ask the neighbor what he will have for his ax; for I have got some money.”

“I know already,” answered his Father; “one dollar six groschen is the price.”

“Then give him two dollars and twelve groschen; that is double, and enough; see, here, I have money in abundance!” and he gave his Father one hundred dollars, saying, “You shall never want now; live at your ease.”

“My goodness!” said the man, “where have you procured this money?”

The Son told his Father all that had happened, and how he had made such a capital catch by trusting to his luck. With the rest of the money, however, he returned to the university, and learnt all that he could; and afterwards, because he could heal all wounds with his plaster, he became the most celebrated doctor in the whole world.

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