Once upon a time, in days long ago, there lived a Chimney Sweep and a little Crossing Sweeper. This Chimney Sweep was called "Sweep." He had a very black face, from the soot he swept down tall chimneys, but he had a kind heart and dearly loved this little Crossing Sweeper, whose name was Little Sweep. Little Sweep had a grimy, gray face from the ashes she threw on her muddy crossings, and as for her heart,—I suppose it was kind. Sweep thought it kind, and Little Sweep vowed she loved Sweep tenderly.
Now Sweep was his own master and owned a smart little donkey cart, all filled with brooms and brushes; but Little Sweep had a dreadful master, who beat her often and gave her scarcely enough to eat. Sweep lived in a snug little garret, and Little Sweep lived in a cold bare attic just across the way. The street was so narrow that the two could chat quite easily with one another. On holidays, when Sweep, so black and sooty, and Little Sweep, so gray and grimy, rode forth in the smart little donkey cart, the people all stared and vowed it was seldom one could see a couple so well matched.
Every morning Little Sweep was out with her broom, before the sun was up. Her master would beat her if she dared lie late abed. Now Sweep had no need to rise so early. His trade of sweeping down tall chimneys did not begin until later in the day. Nevertheless this amiable fellow bought himself a clock with a loud ringing bell, and when this clock rang out at five each morning, he would throw bread and buns to Little Sweep just over the way. Little Sweep would eat the bread and buns most eagerly, for she was always very hungry. Sweep bought her red mittens to warm her poor hands, and wept when he learned that her cruel master had taken them from her and sold them.
"Ah, Little Sweep," he would say, "when my golden dollars fill the stocking, we shall be married, and you will sweep crossings no longer. Instead, you will sit at home in a neat little cottage and brew me soups and make strong soaps to wash my black face. Then on holidays we shall both ride forth, all clean and shining."
"Oh, please hurry then, and sweep ever so many chimneys, that the stocking may very soon fill with golden dollars!" Little Sweep would reply. "My master grows crosser every day, and I cannot bear my life."
"But you forget me," answered Sweep. "Is not my garret window just across from yours, and do I not throw you bread and buns each day?"
"Indeed, if it were not for your bread and buns, I know that I would die," declared Little Sweep. "My master does not give me food enough to feed a robin."
"And I would buy you more bread and buns," sighed Sweep, "except that bread and buns cost pennies, and if I spend too many pennies, the stocking will never fill with golden dollars."
Now in those olden days, as no doubt you know, kings and queens and noble folk stored all their gold in great carved chests of oak and walnut; but humble folk like Sweep hid their savings in a stocking.
One day when Sweep swept down the chimneys of a rich baker, the rich baker gave him seven tarts and a plum cake, for a present. You may be sure that Little Sweep enjoyed a feast that night. Her cruel master had gone off for the day and had locked her in her room with only bread and water. When Sweep learned that, his kindly heart was touched; he gave Little Sweep the whole plum cake and kept but one tart for himself. That was the manner of man Sweep was. Everything for Little Sweep and nothing for himself. When he swept tall chimneys in the shops of merchants, Sweep would buy some bits of linen or some ends of lace for Little Sweep. These Little Sweep would fashion into curtains and tidies for the little cottage of their dreams.
Now it is a curious thing to tell, but nevertheless quite true, that though Sweep's stocking filled at last, and there were even two golden dollars more than it could hold, still Little Sweep lived in her cold bare attic. And still her master beat her. The reason of it all was this. Sweep and Little Sweep could not agree upon a cottage. Sweep wished a cottage with many chimneys, in order that he might work at his trade. Little Sweep, on the other hand, who hated ashes and everything to do with chimneys, wished for a house with all glass doors and windows and no chimneys at all! Plainly the cottage to suit these two could not be found. Then Sweep decided on a sage plan.
"Now do you be content with a house of fewer glass doors and windows, Little Sweep," said he, "and likewise I shall content myself with fewer chimneys." So again they set out, and this time soon found a cottage to please them. Little Sweep swept the crossings before it; Sweep swept down the chimneys. Then at the doors and windows Little Sweep hung up the curtains she had made, and pinned the tidies to the backs of the chairs. Sweep bought a ham and a bacon, and likewise a loaf of white bread, and behold, they were ready to be married!
Sweep was very happy because his darling would sweep no crossings, and neither would her cruel master beat her any more. Little Sweep rejoiced because she did not like her trade; she was sure that she would never again be hungry, for Sweep would buy her all the bread and buns she could desire. Sweep took the two extra golden dollars and spent them both on finery for Little Sweep. He bought her a little gray wedding frock (to match her grimy, gray face, you know), some blue cotton stockings, and a red ribbon for her hair. For himself he bought only a gay green feather to wear in his hat and a bottle of oil to polish his holiday shoes. Always, you will notice, he gave everything to Little Sweep.
Then the day before their wedding day, some very strange things came to pass. Little Sweep was standing at her crossing when a tiny little man, dressed out in green and wearing a bright red cap, flew through the air and perched upon her broomstick.
"Hide me, Little Sweep," cried Red Cap. "My brother is after me."
"Hide in my pocket," replied Little Sweep, and no sooner had the first Red Cap crawled into her pocket than a second little creature, larger than the first, flew through the air and perched upon her broomstick.
"Tell me, Little Sweep," cried the second little creature angrily, "have you seen my brother flying north or east or south or west?"
Now as Little Sweep had heard that Red Caps often did great things for those who befriended them, she stood silent.
"Stupid!" cried the second little creature, when she did not speak. Then off he flew as suddenly as he had appeared, and out from Little Sweep's pocket crawled the first Red Cap.
"Ugh!" exclaimed Red Cap, brushing his tiny beard and dusting his green satin suit. "How comes it that your pocket is so very dusty?"
"I must keep ashes in it for my trade of sweeping crossings," replied Little Sweep. "I hate it."
"Then perhaps I might find you a better trade," said Red Cap, gazing thoughtfully at Little Sweep's gray grimy face and raggedy garments. "We Red Caps, although we be very little folk, be very powerful folk, you know."
"Yes, I have heard that you grant wishes to poor folk sometimes," replied Little Sweep; "is that true?"
"It is," said Red Cap, nodding gravely. "Make three wishes now, and I will grant them for you."
Now fairy lore is filled with tales of folk who had three wishes given them, and, as you have perhaps remarked, these folk have often wished too hastily and consequently wished unwisely. The old woman who wished for black puddings is one, and the man who wished his mill to always grind salt is another. And there are scores and scores of these unwise folk that I could name. But Little Sweep was not like one of these. She leaned upon her broom and paused some time in deepest thought. At last she spoke.
"First," said she, "I wish to be a beautiful princess, dressed in robes of satin sewn with gold, my face all clean and shining, and on my head a coronet of pearls."
"Second, I wish to dwell within a splendid castle by the sea and have a hundred rooms all filled full of gold and treasures, and a thousand slaves to do my bidding.
"Third, I wish my old master to sweep crossings in my place. That is all."
"It is enough!" cried Red Cap in amazement. "To look at you, who would ever think you would even know enough to wish such powerful wishes! My store of magic power will be quite gone when all you wish is done; but even so, I have promised, and we Red Caps always keep our promises. Go home and wait quietly."
So Little Sweep flung down her broom, although it was but two o'clock in the afternoon and she had yet to work until sundown, unless she wished a beating. Her old master was seated in the kitchen, stirring up a bowl of porridge, when she entered.
"Lazy one! Idle one!" he cried out in anger as she entered. "Is it thus you leave your work at midday? But I have something to make you lively." He seized the rope. But for once in her life Little Sweep was not afraid.
"You had better not," said she boldly. The old master heeded her not, however, and raised the rope to strike. Before it fell, he screamed in amazement! Little Sweep's rags fell from her suddenly, and she stood before him, a beautiful princess robed in satin, and on her haughty brow a coronet of pearls.
"Oh! Oh!" cried the old master in dismay. "Had I known you were a beautiful princess in disguise, never, never would I have beaten you; neither would I have starved you, you may be sure."
"That makes no difference now," replied the haughty princess with spirit; "why did you beat me at all?" As she spoke, the old master screamed again, this time in wildest terror. His garments changed suddenly to sweeper's rags, and into his hands flew the very broom that Little Sweep had just flung down! In this poor guise the old master fell upon his knees and humbly begged a penny of the haughty princess. But again she would not heed him.
"Out of my way, simpleton!" she exclaimed. "Now go and sweep crossings in my place, and may your new master beat you even as you beat me!"
With that the new master entered the kitchen, and finding there the old master dressed in sweeper's rags, sent him off with a cuff to go about his work. A coach of pearl with silver trimmings drew up before the door, and away went the haughty princess to her castle by the sea.
There, as she had wished, she found a hundred rooms filled full of gold and treasures, and likewise found a thousand slaves to do her bidding. But in the midst of all her glory and magnificence, the beautiful princess was greatly worried. Can you think what troubled her? It was exactly this. She had not a name suitable for her fine situation. "Little Sweep" would never do for a beautiful princess, dwelling in a splendid castle by the sea; also she was vexed lest her thousand slaves should perchance learn that she had once swept crossings, and so despise her. While she sat thinking thus, and greatly troubled, she heard soft chimes sounding through the castle halls. Presently a servant dressed in crimson plush and golden lace entered and bowed low before her.
"Will the Princess Cendre be pleased to dine?" asked the servant humbly, and so it was that the haughty princess learned her new name. From that time forth she quite forgot that she had ever been called "Little Sweep."
"Lead the way, slave," she commanded haughtily, "and the Princess Cendre will follow."
Then down to a great dining hall she went. Upon the walls were many mirrors, and the table was laid with dishes of beaten gold. The Princess Cendre (for we may never again call her Little Sweep, unless we wish to make her very angry) gazed with delight at her image reflected in the mirrors and ate with greatest satisfaction from the golden dishes. When at last the meal was done, musicians played sweet airs for her pleasure. Princess Cendre enjoyed the music, but oh, much more did she enjoy gazing about the splendid hall wherein she sat! A thousand tapers made all as bright as day; the walls were hung with silken tapestries, and curtains made of lace as fine as cobwebs covered all the windows. It was while she sat gazing thus that Princess Cendre suddenly bethought her of the little cottage Sweep had furnished for her. Then it came also to her mind that to-morrow was her wedding day.
"Well, to be sure," thought she, "if all these wondrous things had never happened, I would have married Sweep. But now that would never do. Sweep could not expect it. His black face would ill become my splendid castle by the sea."
The musicians then sang good-night songs, and Princess Cendre sought her room once more. There on a table she found several books with her title, "Princess Cendre," stamped in golden letters on the covers. She was more than pleased to see how it was written; she had been wondering how she would even manage to spell this fine new name of hers. Before she slept that night, she took pen and paper and practiced writing "Princess Cendre" a hundred times, that she might do it gracefully forever after. (While she had been a wretched little Crossing Sweeper, she had not learned much in books, you know. So it was that she did not know that "Princess Cendre" meant naught but "Princess Sweep" in a foreign language.)
Now we must leave this selfish Princess Cendre sweetly sleeping in her castle by the sea and make our way back to Sweep's snug little garret once again. On the night of this eventful day Sweep returned home from his labors very late. There was no light in the attic just across the way, but he was quite content. He thought, of course, his Little Sweep was safely tucked up there. Before he ate his bread and cheese, he tossed three sugar cookies in at her window, and then set about polishing his shoes and making himself extra smart for the morrow. Sweep's candle burned very late; but even so, when he lay down to sleep at last, he dreamed such dreadful dreams that he was glad when morning came. He dreamed that he had lost his Little Sweep, and that he married in her stead her broomstick dressed up in the little gray wedding frock. The clock with the loud ringing bell wakened him at last, and Sweep dressed himself in all his holiday attire. Then he called softly to the attic just across the way.
"Wake up, my Little Sweep," said he; "this is your wedding day." He tossed in a bright red apple, and presently a head was thrust forth from the attic window opposite. Not Little Sweep's, as of course he had expected, but the shocking, tousled head of the old master.
"Ah, kind Sweep!" exclaimed the old master, "I do most greatly thank thee for the sugar cookies and the red apple."
"But those sugar cookies and red apple were not for you, old villain!" cried Sweep. "They were for my darling Little Sweep. Give them to her at once, I say."
"Oh, pray, good Sweep! I cannot give the sugar cookies or the red apple to Little Sweep, because I have already eaten them myself; besides, she is no longer here, you know," replied the old master, and then began to tell the tale of wonders he had seen the day before.
Sweep listened in amazement. "Now if I find you have not told me true," cried he, "I will surely do you a mischief!" Then down the stairs he sped, and over across the way. There, as the old master had declared, Sweep found the new master in the kitchen. The new master was a pleasant youth, and of amiable manners. He invited Sweep to stay and eat breakfast with him, but Sweep, as you may suppose, was of no mind to eat. Instead, he begged for news of Little Sweep.
"Indeed, I have seen no such person here," replied Master Jasper, "but this I did see, which did most greatly astonish me. Yesterday, as I came into this kitchen, a beautiful princess robed in shining satin swept past me, and stepping into a coach of pearl was whirled from sight. That old villain yonder began to mumble that this lovely princess had once been his slave. Of course, I heeded him not, but fetched him a sharp cuff on the ear and bade him go about his work."
Sweep now begged leave to look up in the attic, if the new master would permit. Master Jasper gave him leave and led the way himself. Sweep followed him with lagging tread. He now began to fear that this strange tale might be true after all. Sadly he gazed about the cold, bare little room. There in one corner he saw the bright-colored pasteboard box that he had made for Little Sweep's poor treasures, and close by, on a peg, hung the little gray wedding frock and the red ribbon he had bought her.
"Alas!" mourned Sweep, "it is all my fault! If my heart had not been thus so stubbornly set upon a cottage with many chimneys, Little Sweep and I would have been married long since, and then, of course, all this magic would never have happened." The honest fellow wept bitter tears that left great tracks all down his sooty face and made him look the very picture of woe. Young Master Jasper felt sorry for him. He too had lost his love, it seemed, and so he sought to comfort Sweep as best he could.
"Come, Sweep!" cried Master Jasper when he had heard. "All is not yet lost. If Little Sweep loved you as dearly as you say, then she will only love you ten times more, now that she is a princess! The thing for you to do is this. Go seek until you find the castle or the palace wherein she dwells. Who knows—why, even at this very moment she may be crying her eyes out, because it is her wedding day, and yet Sweep has not come!"
These words cheered Sweep. His spirits rose, and so he dried his tears at once and then set out to seek the castle where his Little Sweep in the guise of some fair princess might be dwelling. But though he sought the whole day through, he sought in vain. When it was growing late, he left the crowded city streets and ways and found himself among the open fields and lanes. Then by and by, at twilight time, Sweep walked beside the borders of the sea. There he sat down to rest, for he was very weary. He tossed aside his cap and sighed to think how happy he had been but last night, when he thrust the gay green feather in it. Then he became aware of a voice speaking to him.
"I know where Little Sweep is dwelling," said the voice, and peering down, Sweep saw a tiny Red Cap perched upon his knee. (It was the very Red Cap that had hidden in Little Sweep's pocket the day before.) "If you wish, I can take you there," continued Red Cap in a friendly fashion.
"Ah, Red Cap, if you only would!" cried Sweep. "My heart is broken because I cannot find my darling."
"Then close your eyes and do not open them until I say," commanded Red Cap.
Sweep closed his eyes and felt himself a-sailing through the air. He sailed so fast that he had scarcely time to draw a breath before he felt himself set down upon the earth once more.
"Now look about you," commanded Red Cap.
Sweep obeyed. He found himself within a stately hall of marble; the walls were carved with gold and coral, all in intricate designs, and there, upon a throne of ivory set with gleaming sapphires, was seated Princess Cendre. Her flowing robes of shimmering white seemed made of moonbeams sewn together, so soft and luminous were they. Her hair, black as a raven's wing, was bound with ropes of pearls and diamonds. The Princess Cendre sat so still that Sweep at first believed she was some lovely carven image he beheld. There was little to make one think of Little Sweep, save that when the Princess Cendre spoke, her voice was Little Sweep's.
"What brings you hither, Sweep?" cried Princess Cendre angrily, when she became aware of him.
Sweep was astonished, but answered mildly, even so.
"Ah, Little Sweep," said he, "now who would think that fine new raiment and a face all clean and shining would make this wondrous change in you? But perchance, if you had ever worn the new gray frock I bought you for our wedding, I would have known about your beauty."
"My name is Little Sweep no longer, but Princess Cendre, I would have you know," she answered coldly. "And what have I to do with gray wedding frocks, I should like to know?"
"Why, Little Sweep," began Sweep in great surprise, but she interrupted him.
"Princess Cendre, if you please!" cried she.
"Well, Princess Cendre, then," said Sweep. "Have you forgot that this is our wedding day? I thought perhaps you would be grieved as I that we were parted, and so I came hither to marry thee."
"To marry me!" exclaimed the Princess Cendre in astonishment. "With your black face, do you suppose that I would marry you? I am the Princess Cendre, you must not forget. And Sweep, if this be your wedding day, as you say it is, my advice to you is this: Marry the Crossing Sweeper of your choice, and if you cannot find her, choose another. The city is full of such poor wretches; there are two or three at every corner."
Sweep could scarcely believe that he had heard aright. He had not dreamed his Little Sweep would treat him thus. He was surprised and pained to hear her use so many harsh words all at once. He had not thought she knew any. In the old days when she had swept crossings for a penny she had always been a gentle little creature.
"Surely you are joking, just to try me," cried poor Sweep. "If you had loved truly, as you did often say, then though you did become empress of all the world, you would love me still. My face is no blacker to-day than it was yesterday or the day before that. Do not treat me thus coldly, Little Sweep, or you will break my heart."
"And if you call me by that name again, I will have my servants cast you from my topmost turret and break your head," replied the Princess Cendre in a towering rage.
"When I was naught but a Crossing Sweeper, beaten always and half starved, you gave me bread and buns and bade me love you. To be sure, I ate the bread and buns because I was hungry. But now that I am become a princess and no longer need your gifts, my heart bids me to marry none but a prince. Moreover, the prince whom I shall wed must be handsome and charming, and his lands and wealth must be greater than my lands and wealth, which are very great indeed. So get you gone, now, Sweep. You see how foolish was your errand."
Poor Sweep stood gazing silently at the haughty princess, so fair to see and yet so hard of heart. Presently Red Cap bade him close his eyes again. Sweep closed his eyes and found himself a-sailing through the air, and once again he found himself upon the borders of the sea.
"Ah, Sweep, I am the cause of all thy misfortune," said Red Cap sadly.
"How so, my little friend?" asked Sweep.
"It is this way," said Red Cap. "If I had not vexed my brother yesterday, he would not have chased me so fiercely, and I would never have sought shelter in Little Sweep's pocket. Now, if I had not sought shelter in Little Sweep's pocket, I would never have given her three wishes, and she would never have become the Princess Cendre, but would have married you upon her wedding day."
"But even so, Red Cap," sighed Sweep sadly, "you are not at fault. Had Little Sweep desired, she might have wished me to be something high along with her. But though she has been ungrateful and selfish, too, I love her dearly and cannot bear to say a harsh word of her."
Red Cap was surprised at Sweep's gentle speech. He had expected him to abuse Little Sweep and say unkind things of the haughty Princess Cendre. In all his dealings with mortals (and he had many, for Red Cap was nearly, if not quite, a thousand years of age), he had noticed that mortals were prone to speak ill of those who had injured them. "Without doubt this black-faced Sweep is of noble heart," thought Red Cap, "but I shall try him even further."
Aloud he spoke: "Now, Sweep," said Red Cap, "I have no more magic of the sort that can raise folk to wealth or high rank and noble station; but I have still great power to destroy. Say but a word, and in an instant I will destroy the castle by the sea. The Princess Cendre in a flash will turn to Little Sweep; the old master will be back in the kitchen, and young Master Jasper will be in his uncle's house once more. What do you say to this plan?"
"To that I must say no," said Sweep. "I think it most unworthy."
"Then, Sweep, since you will have none of my plan, I must be off," said Red Cap. "But hark you; although I have not magic power in great store, if you desire aid at any time, make but a simple wish, and I will instantly appear to help you. Now farewell!" he cried, and darted off.
Poor Sweep! Now that his Little Sweep had treated him so cruelly, he became the saddest man that one could ever know. For days and days he did nothing, but would sit with his head in his hands, staring at the wall, thinking only of his Little Sweep. Nothing could arouse him, until at last Master Jasper stepped across the way and scolded him roundly.
"Now, Sweep, this will not do!" cried Master Jasper. "The bread and cakes and pies will burn in the ovens all over the land, if the chimneys be not neatly swept down. Then how the housewives will scold, to be sure! Likewise will the merchants say that Sweep is become a lazy fellow, who sits idling all day long." Master Jasper, it will be seen, was a sensible youth, as well as amiable and agreeable.
So once again Sweep set out with his smart little donkey cart all filled with brooms and brushes. He found many a housewife angry because he had delayed her spring house-cleaning; but when these angry housewives looked at Sweep's black face, so sad and sorrowful, they had not the heart to upbraid him. Now, strange to say, though Sweep was thus so dull and disconsolate, his trade of sweeping down tall chimneys thrived as it never had thrived before. He swept tall chimneys in the north of the kingdom, and in the south also. Likewise he could often be seen driving his smart little donkey cart to the east or to the west to sweep tall chimneys there. The fame of Sweep's skill began to grow; he swept the chimneys in the halls of dukes and earls. Indeed, the king and queen commanded Sweep to bring his brooms and brushes and set to work about the palace. Their majesties, it seemed, had been greatly troubled because the royal kitchen chimney sent the smoke down instead of up and made the royal cooks and maidens sneeze and sputter all day long. So skillfully did Sweep deal with this stubborn chimney that ever afterward it sent the smoke sky-high, as proper chimneys should. The royal cooks and maidens sneezed and sputtered no more, and their royal majesties were grateful as could be. The king with his own hands pinned a royal decoration on Sweep's sooty sleeve. (But if I am to tell the truth, I must tell too that from much soot and grime and dust this royal decoration soon became as black as Sweep's own sooty sleeve and could not be seen unless one looked quite closely.)
Now that his trade was thriving thus excellently and he had no longer need to buy bread and buns for Little Sweep, Sweep's pennies grew to golden dollars very rapidly. The golden dollars in their turn soon filled the second stocking full, and even filled a third before Sweep was well aware of it. But even so, he took no pleasure in his wealth; he sighed instead because he had no longer Little Sweep to share it with him. Then, lest he become a miser hoarding gold and spending it not, Sweep at last bethought him of a kindly plan. Throughout the kingdom there were thousands and thousands of other little Crossing Sweepers, two or three at every corner waiting for a penny. These wretches, Sweep knew well, were just as poor and miserable as his own Little Sweep had been in days gone by. According to his kindly plan, Sweep now began to change his store of golden dollars back to pennies once again. Then when he met a little Crossing Sweeper standing broom in hand, Sweep would fling a handful of pennies to the little creature. Sometimes he filled his donkey cart with bread and buns and bright red apples to feed these little Crossing Sweepers, in memory of his own lost Little Sweep. Until at last from these good practices Sweep became known as the friend of all Crossing Sweepers, and was greatly loved throughout the land.
So seven years passed by. Meanwhile Sweep and Master Jasper continued friends. Sometimes Sweep stayed to supper in Master Jasper's comfortable kitchen; other times Sweep would bid Master Jasper step across and smoke a pipe or two with him. Then, one evening just at dusk, Sweep returned from his labors and found young Master Jasper packed and ready for a journey.
"Where are you off?" asked Sweep, and pointed to a musket flung beside a knapsack.
"Have you not heard the news?" cried Master Jasper eagerly. "A whole year since, a savage tribe invaded Yelvaland and carried off as prisoner the young and lovely Empress Yelva. Now as this lovely empress has neither father nor husband nor brothers to protect her, and her people cry for aid, all youths who long for noble adventure are urged to fight beneath her banners. Come join me, Sweep."
But Sweep shook his head. "It is not suitable that I should fight for Empress Yelva," he replied. "My black face fits me for naught but my trade of sweeping down tall chimneys."
"But you are wrong, Sweep," argued Master Jasper; "a black face in battle is no great matter. Stout hearts and strong arms are sorely needed. Come, and we shall march and fight together as brothers."
Again Sweep shook his head. "Indeed, good Master Jasper," answered he, "I wish with all my heart that I might fight with thee against this savage tribe and aid the lovely Empress Yelva; but alas! Who, save thee, would care to march and fight beside a black-faced sweep?"
"A thousand would! Two thousand would—Nay! ten thousand would be glad to march with thee, Sweep!" exclaimed a shrill small voice beside them. On peering down, Sweep beheld a tiny Red Cap perched upon the poker; it was the same that had befriended him so long ago.
"Ah, Sweep!" continued Red Cap briskly, "I took a fancy to you when we first met, seven years ago, and had a notion then that I would like to know you better. However, since in all these years you have not wished a wish of me, I could not have the joy of your acquaintance. We Red Caps," he explained, "although we be such powerful folk, cannot appear to mortals without they wish for us, you know."
"I had not known that," answered Sweep politely, "or I would have wished some simple thing just for the pleasure of a chat with thee. But tell me, how is it that you thus appear before me now?"
"Have you so soon forgot your wish?" asked Red Cap. "Did I not hear you wish a moment since to fight beneath the banners of the Empress Yelva? It is to grant that wish that I now come. And mark, since in seven years you have wished no wish of me, my magic now has grown to power tremendous. Behold thine army!"
Sweep heard the measured tramp of many feet, and looking through the gathering gloom, beheld a line of forms that marched by, four and four, and all were singing gayly as they went. At first Sweep could not tell what manner of soldiers these might be, but presently his eyes became accustomed to the dusk, and he perceived that this vast army was composed of Crossing Sweepers armed with brooms instead of muskets. Perched atop of every broomstick he could see a tiny creature similar in looks and dress to the Red Cap perched upon the poker.
"My brothers and my cousins and likewise all my friends and uncles have come to help thee too, Sweep," said Red Cap. "And thou, good Master Jasper, throw aside thy musket, for in Sweep's army, muskets and such like will be useless things."
Good Master Jasper quickly did as Red Cap had commanded and followed after Sweep. Sweep shouldered his long brush and marched proudly at the head of his strange army. And thus began the journey into Yelvaland.
Now of that journey there is not much to tell. To be sure, whenever it was time for breakfast, dinner, or supper, the Red Caps clapped their hands and there appeared a thousand tables spread with all good fare. When night fell, or when storms arose, the Red Caps likewise caused a city of ten thousand tents to spring up on the plains. The Crossing Sweepers enjoyed the whole march as a holiday. In all their wretched lives before they had not had such good things to eat. Their hollow cheeks grew plump and rosy with the winds and sun, and Sweep's heart rejoiced to see the happy changes that came upon his friends. At night when they sat grouped about their campfires, the Crossing Sweepers sang songs loud in praise of Sweep, whom they declared had always been their friend and who now was the cause of their pleasant holiday.
Now while Sweep and his strange army were marching thus toward Yelvaland, the people there were plunged in deep despair. The savage troops had given their soldiers so many drubbings and such bitter punishments in battle that they had quite lost heart. Judge then of their great joy when they beheld a friendly force marching to their aid. But as this horde drew near, and they perceived what manner of army it really was, their hearts sank again.
"Alas!" sighed these discouraged folk of Yelvaland, "of what avail against the savage troops will be this ragged rabble that approaches?"
But when Sweep's army entered into Yelvaland and began to lay about them with their broomsticks, that was another story. Aided by the magic power of the Red Caps, each broomstick fell with the force of fifty giant fists and resounded loud as thunder on the mountain tops. The savage troops stood their ground but a short time and then fled in terror before these strange and powerful weapons which they had never seen before. (Savages do not sweep their houses, you know, and so they knew nothing of the useful broomstick.) Sweep, gallantly leading his vast army, pursued the flying savages and gave them battle all the while. So dextrously and well did the little Crossing Sweepers wield their brooms that on the third night, when both armies had agreed to rest, these savage troops rose up and stole off. Over the hills and far away they fled and never again were heard or seen from that day to this. The glorious part of Sweep's great victory was that he had not lost a single follower in battle!
"And now to free the young and lovely Empress Yelva," said Sweep to Red Cap, "and then our work is done."
"In all good time that too will be accomplished," answered Red Cap. "The Empress Yelva lies hidden deep down in a well of her own tears. This well lies close beside the gates of Yelvaland, and so you had best face your army right about and march there."
Then once again the Crossing Sweepers shouldered their brooms and marched gayly off to Yelvaland. They reached the gates of the kingdom just as the moon was sinking slowly in the sky, and Sweep gave orders that they wait until the dawn to enter.
"Come with me, Sweep," whispered Red Cap; "the time has come to seek the Empress Yelva," and led him to a well within a grove of trees.
"Now, Sweep, attend me closely," warned Red Cap, "for if you do not as I say, all will be lost. When the moon's last ray will light the waters of this well, plunge down into its depths and bring the Empress Yelva up with you. Lose not a second's time, for if the moonbeam leave the well before you, the lovely Empress Yelva must forever remain prisoner and yourself likewise. Do you think that you are nimble enough to try?"
"I know not of my nimbleness, but I will try," said Sweep, and plunged down headlong, as a pale moonbeam shone down and silvered the dark waters. Before the winking of an eye, it seemed, he rose again, clasping the Empress Yelva by the hand. The moonbeam tarried long enough for Sweep to see the lovely maiden he had rescued. Her eyes like two blue violets shone with kindliness, her golden hair fell rippling like a cloak about her, and when she spoke her voice was like the chime of silver bells.
"Ah, sir!" exclaimed the lovely Empress Yelva. "Although from your poor dress I know that you are naught but a humble Sweep, I honor you for your brave deed, and I shall wed you."
At this poor Sweep was covered with confusion. He had not dreamed the lovely Empress Yelva would so much as deign to thank him; had not the haughty Princess Cendre scorned him? But even so his heart still longed for his first love, and knowing nothing better to do, the honest fellow told his sad tale to the empress, as they stood beside the well. She listened closely all the while.
"You have a noble heart, good Sweep," said she when he had done, "and though you do not choose to wed me, I bear you no malice, but instead shall help you win your Little Sweep, who has become the Princess Cendre."
"Alas, your worship!" said Sweep sadly, "that can never be. The Princess Cendre would scorn my black face, no matter what my fame or fortune."
"Why as to that, Sweep," cried Red Cap, "have no more concern. The Empress Yelva's tears, it would seem, are magic, for since you have plunged down the well, your face is become clean and white as though 'twere scrubbed a dozen times. You are now a handsome fellow."
"And when I have rewarded you suitably, the Princess Cendre will be more than glad to wed you, rest assured, good Sweep," said Empress Yelva. "But now the dawn is here, so let us hasten that I may see my people and my own dear Yelvaland once more."
You may imagine that there was wild rejoicing when Sweep and his vast strange army knocked upon the gates of the kingdom and demanded that they open wide for Empress Yelva. A holiday that lasted seven days was set, and there were games and sports and pleasures. The people sang and danced upon the highways, and oxen were roasted whole upon great bonfires. Sweep and all the Crossing Sweepers were praised and honored throughout the length and breadth of Yelvaland, and all was merry as could be.
When this great holiday was passed, as holidays all do, the business of the court began again. The Empress Yelva ordered that a cottage and a piece of ground, as well as two bags filled with gold, be given to each Crossing Sweeper in reward for their brave deeds. The Crossing Sweepers were so delighted with their gifts that they never again returned to their own land but dwelled in Yelvaland for all their days. The Red Caps likewise were so pleased with lovely Empress Yelva and so admired her kind heart and sense of gratitude that they decided from that day to make their home among the forests of her realm.
"And now, Sweep," said the Empress Yelva, when all this was done, "I have not forgot the promise that I made thee." Accordingly she made him prince. His title was Prince Sweepmore and his domain of Sweepmost was twice as great and twice as rich as was the domain of haughty Princess Cendre. Sweep now was dressed in crimson velvet. The Empress Yelva from her treasure store gave him a golden sword all set with rubies that flashed forth flame and fire in the sun. A hundred horses laden all with bags of gold and pearls were also given him, as well as a like number of servants to attend him. Then once again Sweep set forth to marry Princess Cendre.
"I grieve to see thee go, good Sweep," sighed Empress Yelva as they parted, "but even so I do admire thy faithful heart that bids thee go."
"And I likewise do grieve to go; and I thank thee for thy gifts," Sweep answered. He bade young Master Jasper farewell too. Young Master Jasper had fallen deep in love with a noble maiden of the Empress Yelva's court and was about to marry her.
A royal messenger had been sent before to tell these tidings to the Princess Cendre. Now, strange to say, though the haughty Princess was thus beautiful and wealthy, she was still unwed. To be sure, many princes of small fortunes had sought her hand, but of these the haughty creature would have none. However, her selfish ways had not pleased princes whom she had desired to please, and so it was she sat alone within her splendid castle by the sea. You may be sure that she rejoiced when she learned that Sweep was now a prince with land and riches in good store.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, "his face is clean and shining too, I hear, which is excellent. I could not tolerate him otherwise; but as it is, I shall delight to wed him." And so the haughty princess sent for milliners and jewelers and for bootmakers and dressmakers too. She bought such silken hose and high-heeled shoes as must have cost a fortune, and had her wedding dress sewn thick with diamonds. When word was brought that the new prince was come, she donned this sparkling robe and received him with great courtesy.
"Ah, Sweep!" cried she, "although I know full well that Empress Yelva hath given thee a fine new title, I love to call thee by the dear old name I used to know. Tell me of thy life since last we parted. I have heard the Empress Yelva desired to marry thee herself. The forward creature! I blush for her that she should be so bold. She must be very plain of face indeed if she must go a-seeking for a husband."
To these sharp words Sweep made reply: "Indeed, the Empress Yelva is so fair of face that neither tongue nor pen can well describe her beauty. Moreover, she is so kind of heart and gentle of manner that though she were as plain as plain, I still would think her lovely!"
"Indeed!" returned the haughty Princess Cendre and gazed with satisfaction in her mirror. "However, it is not to chat about this forward creature that you have come hither; it is to wed me. Come, my bishops are in readiness; my guests are waiting."
Now, when Sweep at last beheld this haughty Princess after seven years of longing, he found a curious change had come upon him. He became aware that he no longer loved her, and that her haughty manner and her spiteful speech distressed him. At last he saw her as she really was, an ungrateful, cold-hearted creature who thought of no one but herself. (Although Sweep knew it not, the waters of the well had wrought this change in him. You may be sure that Red Cap was aware of it!) So though his heart was grieved to give another pain, Sweep determined to speak his mind quite plainly.
"Ah, Princess Cendre," said he, "I fear me you must tell your guests that you have changed your mind and bid your bishops go. For since my black face has been changed as though by magic, it would seem my heart and mind by magic were changed too. I know now that thou art too cold and proud to be my princess; a princess should delight to make folk happy, and that I fear me you would never do."
The Princess Cendre was enraged at this talk. We well know that she had a dreadful temper when it was aroused, and she chose to rouse it now. She stormed and she scolded; she threatened Sweep and she denounced him; but she could not move his resolution.
"You have come hither to wed me. This is my wedding day, and you shall not ride away!" cried she.
"Nay, but I will," returned Sweep. "Once before I came hither to wed thee on thy wedding day, and once before I rode away. And so farewell!"
Away rode Sweep with all his train, and stopped nor stayed until he reached the gates of Yelvaland. A herald told the news of his approach, and Empress Yelva with her noble lords and ladies went forth to welcome him. Sweep fell upon his knee and humbly begged the lovely maiden's hand in marriage, and Empress Yelva smilingly consented.
"Indeed, dear Sweep!" declared the Empress Yelva, "I had a notion all the while that you would soon return, and had our wedding feast prepared!" (Now could it have been that the Red Caps whispered of the magic change the well of her own tears had caused?)
Then straightway Sweep and Empress Yelva were married. Young Master Jasper and the noble maiden were married too; it was a double wedding. Another feast was held, so bounteous and so magnificent that all previous feasts seemed poor and mean by comparison. Sports and games were set, and prizes of great value were awarded. Each nobleman received a bag of diamonds as a gift, each noble lady a rope of pearls. The common people, one and all, were given each a bag of golden coins that they too might make merry. The lords and dukes danced on the highways with the dairymaids; the Empress Yelva and her ladies trod minuets with shepherd lads and farmer boys, and all was merry as a marriage feast should be.
Sweep now was Emperor. He wore a robe of purple bordered deep with ermine, and held a sceptre clustered thick with diamonds when he sat at court. With Empress Yelva by his side, he now rode forth in a splendid chariot of gold and royal enamels. But though he was thus raised to high rank and great wealth, Sweep was as amiable and as kind of heart as he had been when he swept down tall chimneys for his living and drove his donkey cart all filled with brooms and brushes. To tell the truth, however, Sweep had little opportunity to do kind deeds. There were no poor folk to be found in Yelvaland. The Empress Yelva governed her realm too well and wisely for that. Now it happened on one winter's day, when all the ground was white, Sweep noticed that the frost hung thick and glistened on the branches of the firs and cedars.
"It seems to me, my dear," said Sweep to Empress Yelva, "that it would be most suitable if we should build some houses for our little friends, the Red Caps, who are dwelling in our forest. I fear me that they suffer greatly from the cold."
The Empress Yelva thought this plan most excellent, and soon the royal carpenters and joiners were set to making tiny little houses. When these were made, the royal painters colored them bright green with bright red roofs, which was quite like the costume of the Red Caps, if you will remark. The Empress Yelva and her noble lords and ladies then hung these tiny houses in the branches of the firs and cedars, and they looked like so many brightly colored bird-houses. When the Red Caps flew home that night, they were delighted; they guessed at once for whom these tiny houses were meant. They praised Sweep and complimented him on his kind heart and his thoughtful ways.
"We Red Caps do many kind things for mortals," they remarked most sagely to each other, "but it is seldom mortals ever think to do kind things for us. It is quite fitting that Sweep should be Emperor; he hath a noble heart, as sovereigns all should have."
It happened then upon another day, while still the snow lay thick upon the ground, that Princess Cendre and her servants went a-riding through this forest. The haughty princess marked the tiny brightly colored houses, and asked what they might be. A forester near by made answer thus:
"Now if your royal highness please," said he, "Sweep, our good Emperor, hath caused these to be made for our little friends, the Red Caps. They suffered greatly with the cold, he thought."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the Princess Cendre. "Then your little friends, the Red Caps, must suffer from the cold again, I fear. I have taken a great fancy to these pretty toys and mean to hang them in my own forests, that my goldfinches and nightingales may dwell therein in winter, instead of flying to the southland." She then desired her servants to cut down the tiny, brightly colored houses and rode off, little thinking of the mischief she had done.
That night, when the Red Caps flew home, they were agitated and buzzed about like so many angry little bees. They missed their tiny comfortable houses and shivered with the cold. They knew, of course, who had done this. They knew all things—these Red Caps of the olden days.
"Now this haughty Princess Cendre is impossible!" they declared most wrathfully. "She cares not though we freeze to death; although we have done noble things for her, she has quite forgot them. She has been princess long enough!" they cried. "Let her be Little Sweep again," and they clapped their hands in anger.
Then in that instant vanished the splendid castle by the sea, and Princess Cendre's robes of satin fell from her. She found herself dressed out in sweeper's rags, and once more, broom in hand, standing on her corner. The old master, back within his comfortable kitchen again, was disposed to treat her no better than he had before; and so, for all her days, Little Sweep was forced to dwell within her cold, bare attic. But there was no kind Sweep to toss her bread and buns each day nor buy her bright red apples or plum cake.
Sweep, on the other hand, lived long and happily as Emperor. He and the lovely Empress Yelva, it is said, were blessed with twenty children, all of whom inherited Sweep's noble nature and his kindly heart.