The King of the Crocodiles by Flora Annie Steel
[Illustration: Farmer begging the crocodiles not to hurt him]
Once upon a time a farmer went out to look at his fields by the side
of the river, and found to his dismay that all his young green wheat
had been trodden down, and nearly destroyed, by a number of
crocodiles, which were lying lazily amid the crops like great logs of
wood. He flew into a great rage, bidding them go back to the water,
but they only laughed at him.
Every day the same thing occurred,—every day the farmer found the
crocodiles lying in his young wheat, until one morning he completely
lost his temper, and, when they refused to budge, began throwing
stones at them. At this they rushed on him fiercely, and he, quaking
with fear, fell on his knees, begging them not to hurt him.
'We will hurt neither you nor your young wheat,' said the biggest
crocodile, 'if you will give us your daughter in marriage; but if not,
we will eat you for throwing stones at us.'
The farmer, thinking of nothing but saving his own life, promised what
the crocodiles required of him; but when, on his return home, he told
his wife what he had done, she was very much vexed, for their daughter
was as beautiful as the moon, and her betrothal into a very rich
family had already taken place. So his wife persuaded the farmer to
disregard the promise made to the crocodiles, and proceed with his
daughter's marriage as if nothing had happened; but when the
wedding-day drew near the bridegroom died, and there was an end to
that business. The farmer's daughter, however, was so beautiful that
she was very soon asked in marriage again, but this time her suitor
fell sick of a lingering illness; in short, so many misfortunes
occurred to all concerned, that at last even the farmer's wife
acknowledged the crocodiles must have something to do with the bad
luck. By her advice the farmer went down to the river bank to try to
induce the crocodiles to release him from his promise, but they would
hear of no excuse, threatening fearful punishments if the agreement
were not fulfilled at once.
So the farmer returned home to his wife very sorrowful; she, however,
was determined to resist to the uttermost, and refused to give up her
The very next day the poor girl fell down and broke her leg. Then the
mother said, 'These demons of crocodiles will certainly kill us
all!—better to marry our daughter to a strange house than see her
Accordingly, the farmer went down to the river and informed the
crocodiles they might send the bridal procession to fetch the bride as
soon as they chose.
The next day a number of female crocodiles came to the bride's house
with trays full of beautiful clothes, and henna for staining
the bride's hands. They behaved with the utmost politeness, and
carried out all the proper ceremonies with the greatest precision.
Nevertheless the beautiful bride wept, saying, 'Oh, mother! are you
marrying me into the river? I shall be drowned!'
In due course the bridal procession arrived, and all the village was
wonderstruck at the magnificence of the arrangements. Never was there
such a retinue of crocodiles, some playing instruments of music,
others bearing trays upon trays full of sweetmeats, garments, and
jewels, and all dressed in the richest of stuffs. In the middle, a
perfect blaze of gold and gems, sat the King of the Crocodiles.
The sight of so much magnificence somewhat comforted the beautiful
bride, nevertheless she wept bitterly when she was put into the
gorgeous bride's palanquin and borne off to the river bank. Arrived
at the edge of the stream, the crocodiles dragged the poor girl out,
and forced her into the water, despite her struggles, for, thinking
she was going to be drowned, she screamed with terror; but lo and
behold! no sooner had her feet touched the water than it divided
before her, and, rising up on either side, showed a path leading to
the bottom of the river, down which the bridal party disappeared,
leaving the bride's father, who had accompanied her so far, upon the
bank, very much astonished at the marvellous sight.
Some months passed by without further news of the crocodiles. The
farmer's wife wept because she had lost her daughter, declaring that
the girl was really drowned, and her husband's fine story about the
stream dividing was a mere invention.
Now when the King of the Crocodiles was on the point of leaving with
his bride, he had given a piece of brick to her father, with these
words: 'If ever you want to see your daughter, go down to the river,
throw this brick as far as you can into the stream, and you will see
what you will see!'
Remembering this, the farmer said to his wife, 'Since you are so
distressed, I will go myself and see if my daughter be alive or dead.'
Then he went to the river bank, taking the brick, and threw it ever so
far into the stream. Immediately the waters rolled back from before
his feet, leaving a dry path to the bottom of the river. It looked so
inviting, spread with clean sand, and bordered by flowers, that the
farmer hastened along it without the least hesitation, until he came
to a magnificent palace, with a golden roof, and shining, glittering
diamond walls. Lofty trees and gay gardens surrounded it, and a
sentry paced up and down before the gateway.
'Whose palace is this?' asked the farmer of the sentry, who replied
that it belonged to the King of the Crocodiles.
'My daughter has at least a splendid house to live in!' thought the
farmer; 'I only wish her husband were half as handsome!'
Then, turning to the sentry, he asked if his daughter were within.
'Your daughter!' returned the sentry, 'what should she do here?'
'She married the King of the Crocodiles, and I want to see her.'
At this the sentry burst out laughing. 'A likely story, indeed!' he
cried; 'what! my master married to your daughter! Ha!
Now the farmer's daughter was sitting beside an open window in the
palace, waiting for her husband to return from hunting. She was as
happy as the day was long, for you must know that in his own
river-kingdom the King of the Crocodiles was the handsomest young
Prince anybody ever set eyes upon; it was only when he went on shore
that he assumed the form of a crocodile. So what with her magnificent
palace and splendid young Prince, the farmer's daughter had been too
happy even to think of her old home; but now, hearing a strange voice
speaking to the sentry, her memory awakened, and she recognised her
father's tones. Looking out, she saw him there, standing in his poor
clothes, in the glittering court; she longed to run and fling her arms
round his neck, but dared not disobey her husband, who had forbidden
her to go out of, or to let any one into the palace without his
permission. So all she could do was to lean out of the window, and
call to him, saying, 'Oh, dearest father! I am here! Only wait till
my husband, the King of the Crocodiles, returns, and I will ask him to
let you in. I dare not without his leave.'
The father, though overjoyed to find his daughter alive, did not
wonder she was afraid of her terrible husband, so he waited patiently.
In a short time a troop of horsemen entered the court. Every man was
dressed from head to foot in armour made of glittering silver plates,
but in the centre of all rode a Prince clad in gold—bright burnished
gold, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet,—the
handsomest, most gallant young Prince that ever was seen.
Then the poor farmer fell at the gold-clad horseman's feet, and cried,
'O King! cherish me! for I am a poor man whose daughter was carried
off by the dreadful King of the Crocodiles!'
Then the gold-clad horseman smiled, saying, 'I am the King of
the Crocodiles! Your daughter is a good, obedient wife, and will be
very glad to see you.'
After this there were great rejoicings and merrymakings, but when a
few days had passed away in feasting, the farmer became restless, and
begged to be allowed to take his daughter home with him for a short
visit, in order to convince his wife the girl was well and happy. But
the Crocodile King refused, saying, 'Not so! but if you like I will
give you a house and land here; then you can dwell with us.'
The farmer said he must first ask his wife, and returned home, taking
several bricks with him, to throw into the river and make the stream
His wife would not at first agree to live in the Crocodile Kingdom,
but she consented to go there on a visit, and afterwards became so
fond of the beautiful river country that she was constantly going to
see her daughter the Queen; till at length the old couple never
returned to shore, but lived altogether in Crocodile Kingdom with
their son-in-law, the King of the Crocodiles.