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When they reached the wood where each of them had first met the fox, it was so cool and pleasant, and so sheltered from the burning sun, that the elder brothers said, "Let us stay here and rest for a time, while we take something to eat and drink." The younger brother was quite willing; he alighted from his horse, and when one of them asked him to sit on the brink of the well with him he readily consented, quite forgetting the warning and his promise to the fox. He had scarcely seated himself, when his two brothers suddenly turned upon him and pushed him backward into the well.
Then they started up, took possession of the young princess, the golden horse, and the golden bird, and traveled quickly home to their father.
"We have brought home not only the golden bird," they said, "but the golden horse and the young princess from the golden castle, as booty."
There was great rejoicing over their arrival at first; but it caused much anxiety when it was found that the horse would not eat, the bird would not sing, and the young maiden only sat and wept.
The younger brother, however, was not dead. Fortunately the well was dry, and he fell on the soft moss without receiving the least injury. He could not, however, get out without help, and help was at hand, for in his trouble the faithful fox did not forsake him. -He came to the well, and, after looking over, he jumped down to him and began to scold him well for having forgotten his advice.
"I cannot, however, leave you here," he said; "I will help you again into the daylight."
So he told the young man to lay hold tightly by his tail, and then the fox climbed up and dragged the young man after him. "You are still in danger," he said; "for your brothers, not being sure of your death, have placed watchers about the wood to kill you if they see you."
Presently the king's son saw a poor man sitting under a tree, begging. "Change clothes with him," whispered the fox, and then ran away.
The man was very ready to make the exchange, and then the younger brother took his way as a poor beggar across the fields, till he came to the courtyard of his father's castle. No one recognized him, so he went on still closer to the windows, and asked for alms. In a moment the bird in the cage began to sing, the horse in the stable ate his corn, and the beautiful young maiden ceased to weep.
"What is the meaning of this?" asked the king, in wonder.
Then said the maiden, "I cannot tell why, but I have been so sad, and now I feel quite happy. It is as if my real bridegroom had returned."
At length she determined to tell the king all that had occurred, although the other brothers had threatened to kill her if she betrayed them.
The king upon this ordered every one in the castle to appear before him, and among them came the poor man in ragged clothes. The princess recognized him immediately, and fell on his neck and wept for joy to find him alive. The king also recognized his youngest son after he had thrown off his disguise. Then the brothers were brought to justice and punished, while the youngest married the beautiful princess, and was named as the king's successor.
We must now hear what became of the poor fox.
THE KING WELCOMED HIS YOUNGEST SON
Not long after, the king's son met him and the fox said, "You have everything that you can wish for in the world, but to my misfortunes there appears no end, although you have the power of setting me free;" and once more he begged so earnestly to be shot dead, and to have his head and feet cut off, that the king's son at last, with sorrow, consented. What was his surprise as soon as he had finished the painful task to see a fine, tall young man stand up in the place of the fox, who was no other than the brother of the beautiful princess, whom the king's son had at last set free from the enchantment that lay upon him.
After this nothing ever happened to interfere with their happiness and good fortune.
By Eugene Field
WHEN the busy day is done
Through the murk and mist and gloam
Cometh like a fleeting ghost
•From "Love-Songs of Childhood." Copyright. 1894, by Eugene Field; published by Charles Scribner's Sons.
From that shadow-queen is heard.
Layeth she her hands upon
My dear weary little one,
And those white hands overspread
Like a veil the curly head,
Seem to fondle and caress
Every little silken tress;
Then she smooths the eyelids down
Over those two eyes of brown—
In such soothing, tender wise
Cometh Lady Button-Eyes.
Dearest, feel upon your brow