Once upon a time there lived in a small hut at the edge of a forest a father and son. The poverty of that family gave the son his name,—Juan the Poor. As the father was old and feeble, Juan had to take care of the household affairs; but there were times when he did not want to work.
One day, while Juan was lying behind their fireplace, his father called him, and told him to go to the forest and get some fire-wood.
“Very well,” said Juan, but he did not move from his place.
After a while the father came to see if his son had gone, but he found him still lying on the floor. “When will you go get that fire-wood, Juan?”
“Right now, father,” answered the boy. The old man returned to his room. As he wanted to make sure, however, whether his son had gone or not, he again went to see. When he found Juan in the same position as before, he became very angry, and said,—
“Juan, if I come out again and find you still here, I shall surely give you a whipping.” Juan knew well that his father would punish him if he did not go; so he rose up suddenly, took his axe, and went to the forest.
When he came to the forest, he marked every tree that he thought would be good for fuel, and then he began cutting. While he was chopping at one of the trees, he saw that it had a hole in the trunk, and in the hole he saw something glistening. Thinking that there might be gold inside the hole, he hastened to cut the tree down; but a monster came out of the hole as soon as the tree fell.
When Juan saw the unexpected being, he raised his axe to kill the monster. Before giving the blow, he exclaimed, “Aha! Now is the time for you to die.”
The monster moved backward when it saw the blow ready to fall, and said,—
“Good sir, forbear,
And my life spare,
If you wish a happy life
And, besides, a pretty wife.”
Juan lowered his axe, and said, “Oho! is that so?”
“Yes, I swear,” answered the monster.
“But what is it, and where is it?” said Juan, raising his axe, and feigning to be angry, for he was anxious to get what the monster promised him. The monster told Juan to take from the middle of his tongue a white oval stone. From it he could ask for and get whatever he wanted to have. Juan opened the monster’s mouth and took the valuable stone. Immediately the monster disappeared.
The young man then tested the virtues of his charm by asking it for some men to help him work. As soon as he had spoken the last word of his command, there appeared many persons, some of whom cut down trees, while others carried the wood to his house. When Juan was sure that his house was surrounded by piles of fire-wood, he dismissed the men, hurried home, and lay down again behind the fireplace. He had not been there long, when his father came to see if he had done his work. When the old man saw his son stretched out on the floor, he said, “Juan have we fire-wood now?”
“Just look out of the window and see, father!” said Juan. Great was the surprise of the old man when he saw the large piles of wood about his house.
The next day Juan, remembering the pretty wife of which the monster had spoken, went to the king’s palace, and told the king that he wanted to marry his daughter. The king smiled scornfully when he saw the rustic appearance of the suitor, and said, “If you will do what I shall ask you to do, I will let you marry my daughter.”
“What are your Majesty’s commands for me?” said Juan. “Build me a castle in the middle of the bay; but know, that, if it is not finished in three days’ time, you lose your head,” said the king sternly. Juan promised to do the work.
Two days had gone by, yet Juan had not yet commenced his work. For that reason the king believed that Juan did not object to losing his life; but at midnight of the third day, Juan bade his stone build a fort in the middle of the bay.
The next morning, while the king was taking his bath, cannon-shots were heard. After a while Juan appeared before the palace, dressed like a prince. When he saw the king, he said, “The fort is ready for your inspection.”
“If that is true, you shall be my son-in-law,” said the king. After breakfast the king, with his daughter, visited the fort, which pleased them very much. The following day the ceremonies of Juan’s marriage with the princess Maria were held with much pomp and solemnity.
Shortly after Juan’s wedding a war broke out. Juan led the army of the king his father-in-law to the battlefield, and with the help of his magical stone he conquered his mighty enemy. The defeated general went home full of sorrow. As he had never been defeated before, he thought that Juan must possess some supernatural power. When he reached home, therefore, he issued a proclamation which stated that any one who could get Juan’s power for him should have one-half of his property as a reward.
A certain witch, who knew of Juan’s secret, heard of the proclamation. She flew to the general, and told him that she could do what he wanted done. On his agreeing, she flew to Juan’s house one hot afternoon, where she found Maria alone, for Juan had gone out hunting. The old woman smiled when she saw Maria, and said, “Do you not recognize me, pretty Maria? I am the one who nursed you when you were a baby.”
The princess was surprised at what the witch said, for she thought that the old woman was a beggar. Nevertheless she believed what the witch told her, treated the repulsive woman kindly, and offered her cake and wine; but the witch told Maria not to go to any trouble, and ordered her to rest. So Maria lay down to take a siesta. With great show of kindness, the witch fanned the princess till she fell asleep. While Maria was sleeping, the old woman took from underneath the pillow the magical stone, which Juan had forgotten to take along with him. Then she flew to the general, and gave the charm to him. He, in turn, rewarded the old woman with one-half his riches.
Meanwhile, as Juan was enjoying his hunt in the forest, a huge bird swooped down on him and seized his horse and clothes. When the bird flew away, his inner garments were changed back again into his old wood-cutter’s clothes. Full of anxiety at this ill omen, and fearing that some misfortune had befallen his wife, he hastened home on foot as best he could. When he reached his house, he found it vacant. Then he went to the king’s palace, but that too he found deserted. For his stone he did not know where to look. After a few minutes of reflection, he came to the conclusion that all his troubles were caused by the general whom he had defeated in battle. He also suspected that the officer had somehow or other got possession of his magical stone.
Poor Juan then began walking toward the country where the general lived. Before he could reach that country, he had to cross three mountains. While he was crossing the first mountain, a cat came running after him, and knocked him down. He was so angry at the animal, that he ran after it, seized it, and dashed its life out against a rock. When he was crossing the second mountain, the same cat appeared and knocked him down a second time. Again Juan seized the animal and killed it, as before; but the same cat that he had killed twice before tumbled him down a third time while he was crossing the third mountain. Filled with curiosity, Juan caught the animal again: but, instead of killing it this time, he put it inside the bag he was carrying, and took it along with him.
After many hours of tiresome walking, Juan arrived at the castle of the general, and knocked at the door. The general asked him what he wanted. Juan answered, “I am a poor beggar, who will be thankful if I can have only a mouthful of rice.” The general, however, recognized Juan. He called his servants, and said, “Take this wretched fellow to the cell of rats.”
The cell in which Juan was imprisoned was very dark; and as soon as the door was closed, the rats began to bite him. But Juan did not suffer much from them; for, remembering his cat, he let it loose. The cat killed all the rats except their king, which came out of the hole last of all. When the cat saw the king of the rats, it spoke thus: “Now you shall die if you do not promise to get for Juan his magical stone, which your master has stolen.”
“Spare my life, and you shall have the stone!” said the king of the rats.
“Go and get it, then!” said the cat. The king of the rats ran quickly to the room of the general, and took Juan’s magical stone from the table.
As soon as Juan had obtained his stone, and after he had thanked the king of the rats, he said to his stone, “Pretty stone, destroy this house with the general and his subjects, and release my father-in-law and wife from their prison.”
Suddenly the earth trembled and a big noise was heard. Not long afterwards Juan saw the castle destroyed, the general and his subjects dead, and his wife and his father-in-law free.
Taking with him the cat and the king of the rats, Juan went home happily with Maria his wife and the king his father-in-law. After the death of the king, Juan ascended to the throne, and ruled wisely. He lived long happily with his lovely wife.