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When he was
four years old, his mother, the queen, made up her mind that it was time
to take him away from his nurses, so she chose out two ladies of the
court who had been friends of her own youth, and to them she entrusted
her little son. He was to be taught to read and write, and to talk
Greek, the language of his mother's country, and Latin, which all
princes ought to know, while the Great Chamberlain would see that he
learned to ride and shoot, and, when he grew bigger, how to wield a
sword.

For a while everything went on as well as the king and queen could wish.
Prince William was quick, and, besides, he could not bear to be beaten
in anything he tried to do, whether it was making out the sense of a
roll of parchment written in strange black letters, which was his
reading-book, or mastering a pony which wanted to kick him off. And the
people of Palermo looked on, and whispered to each other:

'Ah! what a king he will make!'

But soon a terrible end came to all these hopes!

William's father, king Embrons, had a brother who would have been the
heir to the throne but for the little prince. He was a wicked man, and
hated his nephew, but when the boy was born he was away at the wars, and
did not return till five years later. Then he lost no time in making
friends with the two ladies who took care of William, and slowly managed
to gain their confidence. By-and-by he worked upon them with his
promises and gifts, till they became as wicked as he was, and even
agreed to kill not only the child, but the king his father.

Now adjoining the palace at Palermo was a large park, planted with
flowering trees and filled with wild beasts. The royal family loved to
roam about the park, and often held jousts and sports on the green
grass, while William played with his dogs or picked flowers.

One day--it was a festival--the whole court went into the park at noon,
after they had finished dining, and the queen and her ladies busied
themselves with embroidering a quilt for the royal bed, while the king
and his courtiers shot at a mark. Suddenly there leapt from a bush a
huge grey wolf with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out. Before
anyone had time to recover from his surprise, the great beast had caught
up the child, and was bounding with him through the park, and over the
wall into the plain by the sea. When the courtiers had regained their
senses, both the wolf and boy were out of sight.

Oh! what weeping and wailing burst forth from the king and queen when
they understood that their little son was gone from them for ever, only,
as they supposed, to die a cruel death! For of course they did not know
that one far worse had awaited him at home.

After the first shock, William did not very much mind what was happening
to him. The wolf jerked him on to his back, and told him to hold fast by
his ears, and the boy sat comfortably among the thick hair, and did not
even get his feet wet as they swam across the Straits of Messina. On the
other side, not far from Rome, was a forest of tall trees, and as by
this time it was getting dark, the wolf placed William on a bed of soft
fern, and broke off a branch of delicious fruits, which he gave him for
supper. Then he scooped out a deep pit with his paws, and lined it
with moss and feathery grasses, and there they both lay down and slept
till morning; in spite of missing his mother, in all his life William
had never been so happy.

[Illustration: The Wer-Wolf carries Prince William away]

For eight days they stayed in the forest, and it seemed to the boy as if
he had never dwelt anywhere else. There was so much to see and to do,
and when he was tired of playing the wolf told him stories.

But one morning, before he was properly awake, he felt himself gently
shaken by a paw, and he sat up, and looked about him. 'Listen to me,'
said the wolf. 'I have to go right over to the other side of the wood,
on some business of a friend's, and I shall not be back till sunset. Be
careful not to stray out of sight of this pit, for you may easily lose
yourself. You will find plenty of fruit and nuts piled up under that
cherry tree.'

So the wolf went away, and the child curled himself up for another
sleep, and when the sun was high and its beams awakened him, he got up
and had his breakfast. While he was eating, birds with blue and green
feathers came and hopped on his shoulder and pecked at the fruit he was
putting into his mouth, and William made friends with them all, and they
suffered him to stroke their heads.

* * * * *

Now there dwelt in the forest an old cowherd, who happened that morning
to have work to do not far from the pit where William lived with the
wolf. He took with him a big dog, which helped him to collect the cows
when they wandered, and to keep off any strange beasts that threatened
to attack them. On this particular morning there were no cows, so the
dog ran hither and thither as he would, enjoying himself mightily, when
suddenly he set up a loud barking, as if he had found a prey, and the
noise caused the old man to hasten his steps.

When he reached the spot from which the noise came, the dog was standing
at the edge of a pit, out of which came a frightened cry. The old man
looked in, and there he saw a child clad in garments that shone like
gold, shrinking timidly into the farthest corner.

'Fear nothing, my boy,' said the cowherd; 'he will never hurt you, and
even if he wished I would not let him;' and as he spoke he held out his
hand. At this William took courage. He was not really a coward, but he
felt lonely and it seemed a long time since the wolf had gone away.
Would he _really_ ever come back? This old man looked kind, and there
could be no harm in speaking to him. So he took the outstretched hand
and scrambled out of the pit, and the cowherd gathered apples for him,
and other fruits that grew on the tops of trees too high for the wolf to
reach. And all the day they wandered on and on, till they came to the
cowherd's cottage, before which an old woman was standing.

'I have brought you a little boy,' he said, 'whom I found in the
forest.'

'Ah, a lucky star was shining when you got up to-day,' answered she.
'And what is your name, my little man? And will you stay and live with
me?'

'My name is William, and you look kind like my grandmother, and I will
stay with you,' said the boy; and the old people were very glad, and
they milked a cow, and gave him warm milk for his supper.

When the wolf returned--he was not a wolf at all, but the son of the
king of Spain, who had been enchanted by his stepmother--he was very
unhappy at finding the pit empty. Indeed, his first thought was that a
lion must have carried off the boy and eaten him, or that an eagle must
have pounced on him from the sky, and borne him away to his young ones
for supper. But after he had cried till he could cry no more, it
occurred to him that before he gave up the boy for dead it would be well
to make a search, as perchance there might be some sign of his
whereabouts. So he dried his eyes with his tail and jumped up quite
cheerfully.

[Illustration: The Emperor carries William away]

He began by looking to see if the bushes round about were broken and
torn as if some great beast had crashed through them. But they were all
just as he had left them in the morning, with the creepers still
knotting tree to tree. No, it was clear that no lion had been near the
spot. Then he examined the ground carefully for a bird's feather or a
shred of a child's dress; he did not find these either, but the marks
of a man's foot were quite plain, and these he followed.

The track turned and twisted for about two miles, and then stopped at a
little cottage with roses climbing up the walls. The wolf did not want
to show himself, so he crept quietly round to the back, where there was
a hole in the door just big enough for the cats to come in and out of.
The wolf peeped through this hole and saw William eating his supper, and
chattering away to the old woman as if he had known her all his life,
for he was a friendly little boy, and purred like a pussy-cat when he
was pleased. And when the wolf saw that all was well with the child, he
was glad and went his way.

'William will be safer with them than with me,' he said to himself.

Many years went by, and William had grown a big boy, and was very useful
to the cowherd and his wife. He could shoot now with his bow and arrow
in a manner which would have pleased his first teacher, and he and his
playfellows--the sons of charcoal-burners and woodmen--were wont to keep
the pots supplied at home with the game they found in the forest.
Besides this, he filled the pails full of water from the stream, and
chopped wood for the fire, and, sometimes, was even trusted to cook the
dinner. And when _this_ happened William was a very proud boy indeed.

One day the emperor planned a great hunt to take place in the forest,
and, while following a wild boar, he outstripped all his courtiers and
lost his way. Turning first down one path and then the other, he came
upon a boy gathering fruit, and so beautiful was he that the emperor
thought that he must be of a fairy race.

'What is your name, my child?' asked the emperor; 'and where do you
live?'

The boy looked round at the sound of his voice, and, taking off his cap,
bowed low.

'I am called William, noble sir,' he answered, 'and I live with a
cowherd, my father, in a cottage near by. Other kindred have I none that
ever I heard of;' for the gardens of Palermo and the life of the palace
had now faded into dreams in the memory of the child.

'Bid your father come hither and speak to me,' said the emperor, but
William did not move.

'I fear lest harm should befall him through me,' he answered, 'and that
shall never be.' But the emperor smiled as he heard him.

'Not harm, but good,' he said; and William took courage and hastened
down the path to the cottage.

'I am the emperor,' said the stranger, when the boy and the cowherd
returned together. 'Tell me truly, is this your son?'

Then the cowherd, trembling all over, told the whole story, and when he
had finished the emperor said quietly:

'You have done well, but from to-day the boy shall be mine, and shall
grow up with my daughter.'

The heart of the cowherd sank as he thought how sorely he and his wife
would miss William, but he kept silence.



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