The Courteous Prince
A Prince meets a strange ghost in an inn, who asks him to do her a favour.
Once upon a time a bonnie Prince fell in love with a lassie who was nobly born, but was not his equal in rank. The king was sorely vexed, because his son looked with favour on this maiden, and his majesty determined to part the lovers. He sent the high chancellor of the court to an old witch for advice. After thinking the matter over for nine days, the old woman muttered the following answer:
“The lassie will I charm away
’Till courtesy doth win the day.”
“I’m not quite sure what the old hag means,” said the king. “But if she’ll get this maiden out of the Prince’s sight, I can arrange for his marriage with some one of his own rank.”
In a few days the lassie disappeared, and the Prince could find no trace of her. He was very sad, indeed, and declared if he could not marry his own true love he would remain single all his life.
It happened one fine day near the end of October that the young Prince and a party of nobles went hunting. The hounds were soon on the track of a fine deer, which was so wily and fleet of foot that the nobles, one by one, lost track of the quarry, and dropped out of the chase. The young Prince, who was a famous rider, continued the hunt alone. Miles and miles over the low hills he galloped until at last in the depths of a wooded glen the exhausted deer was brought to bay by the hounds, and dispatched by the Prince.
Not until after the prize was won did the royal hunter realize how dusky it was in the glen, and how threatening the evening sky looked. He felt sure he was too far from the palace to retrace his journey; besides, he had lost all trace of direction. He threw the quarry over his steed’s back, whistled to his hounds, and rode slowly down the wooded valley, wondering where he could lodge for the night.
“Little sign of hospitality in this lonely place,” he mused. “Perhaps I’d better make the best of it, and find shelter in one of the rocky hollows.”
On he rode in the gathering darkness. A turn in the valley brought him to a stretch of moorland, and a little distance away he saw the dark outline of an old, deserted hunting hall.
“A cheerless looking inn,” thought the Prince. “No doubt one will have to play host as well as guest here. However, I have my trusty hounds and noble steed for company, and the quarry will furnish a good meal for all of us.”
He leaped from his horse and walked up to the old ruin. With very little effort he broke open the door. The creaking of its rusty hinges made strange echoings throughout the hall. The Prince led his horse into one of the small rooms, then with his hounds he went into the large dining hall, where he lit a fire on the great hearth, and proceeded to cook some venison for supper.
While he was waiting for the meat on the spit to roast, he listened to the rising wind, which moaned about the gloomy old ruin, and rattled the doors and windows unceasingly. The good steed, in the adjoining room, pawed the floor restlessly, and every few moments the hounds stretched their heads straight up into the air, and whined in a most uncanny way.
As he mused before the fire, the Prince thought, “This is All Hallowe’en, the night when ghosts and witches hold their revels. Nevertheless, I’d rather be in this deserted hall than on the storm-swept moorland.”
He took the roasted meat from the fire, and prepared to eat his supper. Suddenly a fierce blast of wind burst open a large door at the far end of the hall, and into the room stalked a tall, ghostly woman. Her lank figure was clothed in grey garments, which trailed for yards on the floor. Her long, grey hair hung loose down her back. By the light of the flickering fire the Prince could see her hollow eyes and wan features. He was a brave man, but this ghostly creature filled him with dread and horror. The hounds dropped their bones of venison, and crept close to their master, who was unable to utter a word.
Slowly down the hall the grey ghost glided to the Prince, and pointing a long, bony finger at him, she asked in a hollow voice, “Art thou a courteous knight?”
In a trembling voice the Prince answered, “I will serve thee. What dost thou wish?”
“Go ye to the moorland, and pluck enough heather to make a bed in the turret-room for me,” said the phantom-like figure.
It was a strange request to make, but the Prince was relieved to have any excuse to get out of her sight. He sprang quickly to his feet, and hurried out to face the stormy night in search of heather. He plucked as much as he could carry in his plaid, and returned to the hall where the ghostly visitor was waiting for him. She led the way down the room, and up a half-ruined staircase to the turret-room. Here the Prince spread a heather bed for her, and covered it with his plaid. When it was finished she pointed to the door, and dismissed him.
“May you sleep well,” said the Prince courteously. Then, cold and weary, he descended to the hall, and lay down to sleep in front of the dying embers of the fire.
When he awakened the bright sun was shining in the windows.
The Prince lost no time in making ready to depart, for he remembered quite well the ghostly visitor of the past night.
“No doubt she departed before the crowing of the cock,” he said. “I wonder if she left my bonnie plaid in the turret room. The autumn air is keen and biting. I’ll go and see.”
He ran quickly up the ruined staircase. To his surprise when he reached the top, the door of the chamber opened, and there before him stood his lost sweetheart.
“How camest thou here?” gasped the Prince. “And where is the grey ghost.”
“Last night I was the grey ghost,” she said.
“And thou wilt change thy form again to-night?” he asked in horror.
“Never again,” said the maiden. “In order to part us a wicked witch threw a spell over me—a spell which changed me into the awful shape thou sawest last night. But thou hast broken her wicked charm.”
“Tell me how,” said the Prince, whose face was beaming with happiness.
“The witch’s charm could not be broken until some knight should serve me, even though my form was horrible. By thy courtesy thou hast broken the spell,” said the maiden.
So the Prince and his true love rode away, and were happily married, and when the king heard of his son’s adventure in the hunting hall he said, “Now I know what that old witch meant by her prophecy.”
Kindness, Good Manners
1. The word courteous means a cross between kindness and good manners. How do you think the Prince was courteous in this story?
2. Why do you think it might be important to show courtesy towards others?