| The First Wife's Wedding-Ring |
ANY YEARS AGO, there lived a certain worthy man who was twice married. By his first wife he had a son, who soon after his mother's death resolved to become a soldier, and go to foreign lands. "When one has seen the world, one values home the more," said he; "and if I live I shall return."
So the father gave him a blessing, and his mother's wedding-ring, saying, "Keep this ring, and then, however long you stay away, and however changed you may become, by this token I shall know you to be my true son and heir."
In a short time the father married again, and by this marriage also he had one son.
Years passed by, and the elder brother did not return, and at last every one believed him to be dead. But in reality he was alive, and after a long time he turned his steps homewards. He was so much changed by age and travelling that only his mother would have known him again, but he had the ring tied safe and fast round his neck. One night, however, he was too far from shelter to get a bed, so he slept under a hedge, and when he woke in the morning the string was untied and the ring was gone. He spent a whole day in searching for it, but in vain; and at last he resolved to proceed and explain the matter to his father.
The old man was overjoyed to see him, and fully believed his tale, but with the second wife it was otherwise. She was greatly displeased to think that her child was not now to be the sole heir of his father's goods; and she so pestered and worked upon the old man by artful and malicious speeches, that he consented to send away the new-comer till he should have found the first wife's wedding-ring.
"Is the homestead I have taken such care of," she cried, "to go to the first vagrant who comes in with a brown face and a ragged coat, pretending that he is your son?"
So the soldier was sent about his business; but his father followed him to the gate, and slipped some money into his hand, saying, "God speed you back again with the ring!"
It was Sunday morning, and the bells were ringing for service as he turned sadly away.
"Ding, dong!" rang the bells, "ding, dong! Why do you not come to church like others? Why are you not dressed in your Sunday clothes, and wherefore do you heave such doleful sighs, whilst we ring merrily? Ding, dong! ding, dong!"
"Is there not a cause?" replied the soldier. "This day I am turned out of home and heritage, though indeed I am the true heir."
"Nevertheless we shall ring for your return," said the bells.
As he went, the sun shone on the green fields, and in the soldier's eyes, and said, "See how brightly I shine! But you, comrade, why is your face so cloudy?"
"Is there not good reason?" replied he. "This day I am turned out of home and heritage, and yet I am the true heir."
"Nevertheless I shall shine on your return," said the sun.
Along the road the hawthorn hedges were white with blossom. "Heyday!" they cried, "who is this that comes trimp tramp, with a face as long as a poplar-tree? Cheer up, friend! It is spring! sweet spring! All is now full of hope and joy, and why should you look so sour?"
"May I not be excused?" said the soldier. "This day I am turned out, of home and heritage, and yet I am the true heir."
"Nevertheless we shall blossom when you return," said the hedges.
When he had wandered for three days and three nights, all he had was spent, and there was no shelter to be seen but a dark gloomy forest, which stretched before him. Just then he saw a small, weazened old woman, who was trying to lift a bundle of sticks on to her back.
"That is too heavy for you, good mother," said the soldier; and he raised and adjusted it for her.
"Have you just come here?" muttered the old crone; "then the best thanks I can give you is to bid you get away as fast as you can."
"I never retreated yet, dame," said the soldier, and on he went.