Czech Folk Tales/The man who met Misery
THE MAN WHO MET MISERY
Once upon a time there lived a rich man, so rich that you might almost say he oozed gold. He had a son, and from his boyhood the lad was a real spendthrift, for he knew nothing about hard times. Yet he had often been told that there was Misery in the world. So when he was grown up, he thought: "Well, I'm sick of staying at home, so I'll go out into the world to see if I can meet Misery."
He told this to his father, and his father said at once: "Yes, you can go. If you stay at home, you'll soon turn into a lazy old woman. You'll get experience in the world, and that can't do you any harm."
So our Francis—that was his name, though really it doesn't matter very much what his name was—took everything he wanted and started off on his travels. So long as he had enough money, he was all right, he couldn't meet with Misery. But when his money was all spent—that's when everybody feels the pinch—he began to hang his head and his travels lost a good deal of their charm. But he told people his name and his father's name, and for a time they helped him. But at last he came into a country that was quite strange to him. There was a vast desert, through which he walked for a long time, and he began to feel hungry and thirsty, but there was no water—no, not so much as would moisten his tongue.
Now, as he went on his way, he saw a flight of stairs going down into a hole, and, without hesitating, down he went.
He came into a cellar, and there he saw a man lying on a table. It was an awfully big man, of the kind that used to be called ogres, and he was snoring like a circular saw.
Francis looked about him, and he saw all sorts of human bones lying about. He thought: "That's a nice mess. I expect the fellow's a man-eater, and he'll swallow me down like a currant. I'm done for now."
He would have liked to go away, but he was afraid to move. But he had a dagger, so he drew it from its sheath without making any noise, and tried to steal up to the ogre quietly. The ogre's head was lying on the table, so he pierced both his eyes with the dagger. The ogre sprang up, cursing horribly. He groped about him and found that he was totally blind.
Francis cleared the stairs in two jumps and off he ran, trying to get as far from the ogre as he could. But the ogre knew the place well and kept close on his heels.
"To think that a shrimp like that could make me suffer so!" he thought; and yet he found that, run as he would, he couldn't catch the lad. So he cried out: "Wait a bit, you worm! Since you're such a champion and have managed to tackle me, I'll give you something to remember me by."
As he said this, he flung a ring at the lad, and the jewel in it shone like flame. The lad heard the ring tinkle as he ran by, so he picked it up and put it on his finger. But as soon as the ring was on his finger, the giant called out: "Where are you, ring?" And the ring answered: "Here I am," and the ogre ran after the sound. Francis jumped on one side, but the ogre called out again, ”Where are you?" and the ring answered: "Here!"
So it went on for some time, until Francis was so tired that his only thought was: "Well, if he kills me, he kills me." He tried to pull the ring off, but it clung tight, really cutting into the flesh, and the ogre was still following close on his heels. At last—there was no other choice, for the ring kept on calling out "Here I am"—Francis stretched out that finger, and the ogre broke it off with one grip. Off ran Francis, glad enough to get off with his life.
When he reached home, they asked him: "Did you meet Misery?"
"Indeed I did. I know what it is now. It gave me a nice run for it. It's an awful thing, and there's no joking with it."