The Wonderful Ring by Flora Annie Steel
Once upon a time there lived a King who had two sons, and when
he died he left them all his treasures; but the younger brother began
to squander it all so lavishly that the elder said, 'Let us divide
what there is, and do you take your own share, and do what you please
So the younger took his poition, and spent every farthing of it in no
When he had literally nothing left, he asked his wife to give him what
she had. Then she wept, saying, 'I have nothing left but one small
piece of jewellery; however, take that also if you want it.'
So he took the jewel, sold it for four pounds, and taking the money
with him, set off to make his fortune in the world.
As he went on his way he met a man with a cat
'How much for your cat?' asked the spendthrift
'Nothing less than a golden pound/ replied the man.
'A bargain indeed!' cried the spendthrift, and immediately bought the
cat for a golden sovereign.
By and by he met a man with a dog, and called out as before, 'How much
for your dog?' And when the man said not less than a golden pound,
the Prince again declared it was a bargain indeed, and bought it
Then he met a man carrying a parrot, and called out as before, 'How
much for the parrot?' And when he heard it was only a golden
sovereign he was delighted, saying once more that was a bargain
He had only one pound left. Yet even then, when he met a Jôgi
carrying a serpent, he cried out at once, 'O Jôgi, how much for the
'Not a farthing less than a golden sovereign,' quoth the Jôgi.
'And very little, too!' cried the spendthrift, handing over his last
So there he was, possessed of a cat, a dog, a parrot, and a snake, but
not a single penny in his pocket. However, he set to work bravely to
earn his living; but the hard labour wearied him dreadfully, for being
a Prince he was not used to it. Now when his serpent saw this, it
pitied its kind master, and said, 'Prince, if you are not afraid to
come to my father's house, he will perhaps give you something for
saving me from the Jôgi.' The spendthrift Prince was not a bit afraid
of anything, so he and the serpent set off together, but when they
arrived at the house, the snake bade the Prince wait outside, while it
went in alone and prepared the snake-father for a visitor. When the
snake-father heard what the serpent had to say, he was much pleased,
declaring he would reward the Prince by giving him anything he
desired. So the serpent went out to fetch the Prince into the
snake-father's presence, and when doing so, it whispered in his ear,
'My father will give you anything you desire. Remember only to ask
for his little ring as a keepsake.'
This rather astonished the Prince, who naturally thought a ring would
be of little use to a man who was half starving; however, he did as he
was bid, and when the snake-father asked him what he desired, he
replied, 'Thank you; I have everything, and want for nothing.'
Then the snake-father asked him once more what he would take as a
reward, but again he answered that he wanted nothing, having all that
heart could desire.
Nevertheless, when the snake-father asked him the third time, he
replied, 'Since you wish me to take something, let it be the ring you
wear on your finger, as a keepsake.'
Then the snake-father frowned, and looked displeased, saying, 'Were it
not for my promise, I would have turned you into ashes on the spot,
for daring to ask for my greatest treasure. But as I have said, it
must be. Take the ring, and go!'
So the Prince, taking the ring, set off homewards with his servant the
serpent, to whom he said regretfully, 'This old ring is a mistake; I
have only made the snake-father angry by asking for it, and much good
it will do me! It would have been wiser to say a sack of gold.'
'Not so, my Prince!' replied the serpent; 'that ring is a wonderful
ring! You have only to make a clean square place on the ground,
plaster it over according to the custom of holy places, put the ring
in the centre, sprinkle it with buttermilk, and then whatever you wish
for will be granted immediately.'
Vastly delighted at possessing so great a treasure as this magic ring,
the Prince went on his way rejoicing, but by and by, as he trudged
along the road, he began to feel hungry, and thought he would put his
ring to the test. So, making a holy place, he put the ring in the
centre, sprinkled it with buttermilk, and cried, 'O ring, I want some
sweetmeats for dinner!'
No sooner had he uttered the words, than a dishful of most delicious
sweets appeared on the holy place. These he ate, and then set off to
a city he saw in the distance.
As he entered the gate a proclamation was being made that any one who
would build a palace of gold, with golden stairs, in the middle of the
sea, in the course of one night, should have half the kingdom, and the
King's daughter in marriage; but if he failed, instant death should be
Hearing this, the spendthrift Prince went at once to the Court and
declared his readiness to fulfil the conditions.
The King was much surprised at his temerity, and bade him consider
well what he was doing, telling him that many princes had tried to
perform the task before, and showing him a necklace of their heads, in
hopes that the dreadful sight might deter him from his purpose.
But the Prince merely replied that he was not afraid, and that he was
certain he should succeed.
Whereupon the King ordered him to build the palace that very night,
and setting a guard over him, bade the sentries be careful the young
boaster did not run away. Now when evening came, the Prince lay down
calmly to sleep, whereat the guard whispered amongst themselves that
he must be a madman to fling away his life so uselessly.
Nevertheless, with the first streak of dawn the Prince arose, and
making a holy place, laid the ring in the centre, sprinkled it with
buttermilk, and cried, 'O ring, I want a palace of gold, with golden
stairs, in the midst of the sea!'
And lo! there in the sea it stood, all glittering in the sunshine.
Seeing this, the guard ran to tell the King, who could scarcely
believe his eyes when he and all his Court came to the spot and beheld
the golden palace.
Nevertheless, as the Prince had fulfilled his promise, the King
performed his, and gave his daughter in marriage, and half his
kingdom, to the spendthrift.
'I don't want your kingdom, or your daughter either!' said the
Prince. 'I will take the palace I have built in the sea as my
So he went to dwell there, but when they sent the Princess to him, he
relented, seeing her beauty; and so they were married and lived very
Now, when the Prince went out a-hunting he took his dog with him, but
he left the cat and the parrot in the palace, to amuse the Princess;
nevertheless, one day, when he returned, he found her very sad and
sorrowful, and when he begged her to tell him what was the matter, she
said, 'O dear Prince, I wish to be turned into gold by the power of
the magic ring by which you built this glittering golden palace.'
So, to please her, he made a holy place, put the ring in the centre,
sprinkled it with buttermilk, and cried, 'O ring, turn my wife into
No sooner had he said the words than his wish was accomplished, and
his wife became a golden Princess.
Now, when the golden Princess was washing her beautiful golden hair
one day, two long glittering hairs came out in the comb. She looked
at them, regretting that there were no poor people near to whom she
might have given the golden strands; then, determining they should not
be lost, she made a cup of green leaves, and curling the hairs inside
it, set it afloat upon the sea.
As luck would have it, after drifting hither and thither, it reached a
distant shore where a washerman was at work. The poor man, seeing the
wonderful gold hairs, took them to the King, hoping for a reward; and
the King in his turn showed them to his son, who was so much struck by
the sight that he lay down on a dirty old bed, to mark his extreme
grief and despair, and, refusing to eat or drink anything, swore he
must marry the owner of the beautiful golden hair, or die.
The King, greatly distressed at his son's state, cast about how he
should find the golden-haired Princess, and after calling his
ministers and nobles to help him, came to the conclusion that it would
be best to employ a wise woman. So he called the wisest woman in the
land to him, and she promised to find the Princess, on condition of
the King, in his turn, promising to give her anything she desired as a
Then the wise woman caused a golden barge to be made, and in the barge
a silken cradle swinging from silken ropes. When all was ready, she
set off in the direction whence the leafy cup had come, taking with
her four boatmen, whom she trained carefully always to stop rowing
when she put up her finger, and go on as long as she kept it down.
After a long while they came in sight of the golden palace, which the
wise woman guessed at once must belong to the golden Princess; so,
putting up her finger, the boatmen ceased rowing, and the wise woman,
stepping out of the boat, went swiftly into the palace. There she saw
the golden Princess, sitting on a golden throne; and going up to her,
she laid her hands upon the Princess's head, as is the custom when
relatives visit each other; afterwards she kissed her and petted her,
saying, 'Dearest niece! do you not know me? I am your aunt.'
But the Princess at first drew back, and said she had never seen or
heard of such an aunt. Then the wise woman explained how she had left
home years before, and made up such a cunning, plausible story that
the Princess, who was only too glad to get a companion, really
believed what she said, and invited her to stop a few days in the
Now, as they sat talking together, the wise woman asked the Princess
if she did not find it dull alone in the palace in the midst of the
sea, and inquired how they managed to live there without servants, and
how the Prince her husband came and went. Then the Princess told her
about the wonderful ring the Prince wore day and night, and how by its
help they had everything heart could desire.
On this, the pretended aunt looked very grave, and suggested the
terrible plight in which the Princess would be left should the Prince
come to harm while away from her. She spoke so earnestly that the
Princess became quite alarmed, and the same evening, when her husband
returned, she said to him, 'Husband, I wish you would give me the ring
to keep while you are away a-hunting, for if you were to come to harm,
what would become of me alone in this sea-girt palace?'
So, next morning, when the Prince went a-hunting, he left the magical
ring in his wife's keeping.
As soon as the wicked wise woman knew that the ring was really in the
possession of the Princess, she persuaded her to go down the golden
stairs to the sea, and look at the golden boat with the silken cradle;
so, by coaxing words and cunning arts the golden Princess was
inveigled into the boat, in order to have a tiny sail on the sea; but
no sooner was her prize safe in the silken cradle, than the pretended
aunt turned down her finger, and the boatmen immediately began to row
Soon the Princess begged to be taken back, but the wise woman only
laughed, and answered all the poor girl's tears and prayers with slaps
and harsh words. At last they arrived at the royal city, where great
rejoicings arose when the news was noised abroad that the wise woman
had returned with the golden bride for the love-sick Prince.
Nevertheless, despite all entreaties, the Princess refused even to
look at the Prince for six months; if in that time, she said, her
husband did not claim her, she might think of marriage, but until then
she would not hear of it.
To this the Prince agreed, seeing that six months was not a very long
time to wait; besides, he knew that even should her husband or any
other guardian turn up, nothing was easier than to kill them, and so
get rid both of them and their claims.
Meanwhile, the spendthrift Prince having returned from hunting, called
out as usual to his wife on reaching the golden stairs, but received
no answer; then, entering the palace, he found no one there save the
parrot, which flew towards him and said, 'O master, the Princess's
aunt came here, and has carried her off in a golden boat.'
Hearing this, the poor Prince fell to the ground in a fit, and would
not be consoled. At last, however, he recovered a little, when the
parrot, to comfort him, bade him wait there while it flew away over
the sea to gather news of the lost bride.
So the faithful parrot flew from land to land, from city to city, from
house to house, until it saw the glitter of the Princess's golden
hair. Then it fluttered down beside her and bidding her be of good
courage, for it had come to help her, asked for the magic ring.
Whereupon the golden Princess wept more than ever, for she knew the
wise woman kept the ring in her mouth day and night, and that none
could take it from her.
However, when the parrot consulted the cat, which had accompanied the
faithful bird, the crafty creature declared nothing could be easier.
'All the Princess has to do,' said the cat, 'is to ask the wise woman
to give her rice for supper tonight, and instead of eating it all, she
must scatter some in front of the rat-hole in her room. The rest is
my business, and yours.'
So that night the Princess had rice for supper, and instead of eating
it all, she scattered some before the rat-hole. Then she went to bed,
and slept soundly, and the wise woman snored beside her. By and by,
when all was quiet, the rats came out to eat up the rice, when the
cat, with one bound, pounced on the one which had the longest tail,
and carrying it to where the wise woman lay snoring with her mouth
open, thrust the tail up her nose. She woke with a most terrific
sneeze, and the ring flew out of her mouth on to the floor. Before
she could turn, the parrot seized it in his beak, and, without pausing
a moment, flew back with it to his master the spendthrift Prince, who
had nothing to do but make a holy place, lay the ring in the centre,
sprinkle it with buttermilk, and say, 'O ring, I want my wife!' and
there she was, as beautiful as ever, and overjoyed at seeing the
golden palace and her dear husband once more.