Theological ponderings from William Loewen

The Fish and The Ring

This post is part of a series.  To view the introduction to the series, click here.  The Fish and The Ring is taken from a collection of English Fairy Tales.  The original is available here, via Project Gutenberg.


Once upon a time there lived a rich man named Simon.  One day he met a wizard and paid him a large amount of money to get a little bit of spiritual power. So the wizard gave him a book called “Providence” and told him that if he ever wanted to know what was going to happen, he only needed to open the book.

The wizard was right; every time Simon opened the book, he could look into the future. He used this book and its power to become even more wealthy than he was before. He became a Baron and lived in a large castle on a large piece of land and had many servants working for him.

Simon also married a beautiful woman from a rich family. The day came when they had a son together who would inherit all of Simon’s riches when he died. So, when the little lad was about four years old, the Baron looked in his Book of Providence, wishing to know what his fortune would be.

And, lo and behold, it was written that this much-loved, much-prized heir to all the great lands and castles was to marry a girl from a very poor family. So the Baron was very sad, and he checked with Providence to see if this girl was already born, and if so, where she lived. And he found out that she had just been born in a very poor house, where the poor parents were already having trouble taking care of their other five children. So he called for his horse and rode away, and away, until he came to the poor man’s house.

There he found the poor man sitting at his doorstep shaking his head.

“What is the matter, my friend?” he asked.

The poor man replied, “May it please your honour, a little lass has just been born to our house. We have five children already. Where the bread is to come from to fill the sixth mouth, we do not know.”

“If that your only trouble,” Simon said quickly, “perhaps I can help you. Don’t be so sad and down-hearted. I am just looking for such a little lass to join my family. I will give you ten crowns for her.”

Well, the man almost jumped for joy, since he was to get good money, and his daughter, so he thought, would get a good home. He told his wife to bring the baby outside and he explained everything to her. She cried and cried because she loved her baby very much, but she agreed that this was the best thing for her family. The Baron took the baby in his arms, gave her parents the ten crowns he promised, and rode away on his horse.

But when he got to the river, he stopped. He got off his horse and placed the little lass in a basket and put the basket in the river.

“This river will carry you far away from here,” he said, “and you will have to marry someone else.”

Once again he mounted his horse and galloped back toward his castle.

Looking back at the river, he said, “So much for Providence!”

But, you see, he was sorely mistaken. For the little lass was carried by the stream only a short distance and soon the basket caught a snag just opposite a fisherman, who was mending his nets.

Now the fisherman and his wife had no children, and they were just longing for a baby, so when the good man saw the little lass he was overcome with joy, and took her home to his wife, who received her with open arms. And there she grew up, the apple of their eyes, and became the happiest and most beautiful girl in that whole country.

Now, when she was about sixteen years of age, it so happened that the Baron and his friends went hunting along the banks of the river and stopped to get a drink of water at the same fisherman’s hut. And who should bring the water out but the fisherman’s daughter. Now the young men of the party noticed how pleasant and beautiful she was.

One of them said to the Baron, “She should be able to marry a man with some money. You can tell the future, Simon, tell us her fate.”

Then the Baron, hardly looking at her, said, “I could guess her fate! She will likely only marry some poor yokel. But, to please you, I will see what Providence says about her. So tell me, girl, what day you were born?”

“That I cannot tell, sir,” replied the girl, “for I was picked up in the river about sixteen years ago.”

Then the Baron became very worried, for he guessed at once that she was the little lass he had thrown into the stream, and that Providence had been stronger than he was. But he kept his discovery secret. Afterwards, however, he thought out a plan, so he rode back and gave the girl a letter.

“I wish to help you,” he said. “Take this letter to my brother, who needs a good girl for his household, and you will be settled for life.”

Now the fisherman and his wife were growing old and needed help, so the girl said she would go, and took the letter.

And the Baron rode back to his castle saying to himself once more, “So much for Providence!”

For what he had written in the letter was this:

“Dear Brother,
Take the one carrying this letter and throw her immediately into your dungeon.”

But once again he was sorely mistaken. On the way to the town where his brother lived, the girl had to stop the night in a little inn. And it so happened that that very night a gang of thieves broke into the inn. They were not content with carrying off all that the innkeeper possessed, so they searched the pockets of the guests too. When they asked the girl for her gold, she explained that the only thing of value she was carrying was the letter. When they read it, they agreed that it was a mean trick the Baron was playing and a shame that such a kind girl faced such a cruel end.

So their captain sat down and, taking pen and paper, wrote instead:

“Dear Brother,
Take the one carrying this letter and treat her like the princess she is.”

Then, after putting the note into an envelope and sealing it up, they gave it to the girl and told her to be on her way. So when she arrived at the brother’s castle, though rather surprised, he gave orders for a feast to be prepared to celebrate her arrival.

The Baron’s son was also staying with his uncle. He had started to distrust his father and he had become more and more suspicious of the dishonest ways that he had earned his wealth.  Over time, as he grew to appreciate the girl’s great beauty and marvel at her many talents, he quickly started to fall in love with her. She too, was quickly falling in love with him. Well, when the news was brought to the Baron, that the girl was being hosted as a princess rather than being locked in a dungeon, he was beside himself. Still, he was determined not to be outdone by Providence. So he rode right away to his brother’s castle and pretended to be quite pleased.

Then one day, when no one was nearby, he asked the young woman to come for a walk with him.  As they walked, they came to a bridge over a large and fast-moving river.  There, he took hold of her arms, and was trying to throw her over into the water. But she begged for him to stop.

“It is not my fault,” she said. “I have done nothing. Please, if you don’t hurt me, I promise that I will never see you or your son again until you desire it.”

Well, the Baron let go of her arms agreed to her idea. So he took off his gold ring from his finger and flung it far down the river, where the water was deep and dark and the water swirled around from the rapids.

“Never dare to show me your face again,” Simon said, “until you can show me that very same ring.”

And with that he let her go.

The girl wandered on, and she wandered on, until she came to a different nobleman’s castle. She inquired if they needed a servant girl, and she was hired to work in the kitchen. Since she was used to such work in the fisherman’s hut, she was soon recognized for her ability to cook.

Now one day, as she was cleaning a big fish, she looked out of the kitchen window, and who should she see driving up to dinner but the Baron and his young son. At first she thought that, to keep her promise, she must run away, but she remembered they would not see her in the kitchen, so she went on with her cleaning of the big fish.

Lo and behold! she saw something shine in its inside, and there, sure enough, was the Baron’s ring! She was glad to see it, I can tell you, so she slipped it on to her thumb. But she went on with her work, and dressed the fish as nicely as ever she could, and served it up as pretty as may be, with parsley sauce and butter.

Well, when the fish came to table the guests liked it so well that they asked the host who cooked it. And he called to his servants, “Send up the cook who cooked that fine fish, that she may get her reward.”

Well, when the girl heard she was wanted she made herself ready, and with the gold ring on her thumb, went boldly into the dining-hall. When all the guests saw her were struck dumb by her wonderful beauty. The Baron’s young son stood up, happy to once again see his true love. Simon recognized her too, and jumped up angrily and looked as if he would hit her.

Without one word, the girl held up her hand before his face, and the gold ring shone and glittered on it. She went straight up to Simon, and laid her hand with the ring on it before him on the table. Then the Baron understood that Providence had been too strong for him, so he took her by the hand, and, placing her beside him, turned to the guests and said: “This woman is more noble than I. Let us drink a toast in her honour.”

And after dinner he took her and his son home to his castle, and they were married soon after.  On the day of the wedding feast, he threw his book Providence into the fire and promised to make an honest living from that day forward.  The Baron also invited the fisherman and his wife and the girls poor parents to come live with them at the castle.  Together they all lived as happy as could be forever afterwards.


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