Sandro and the Invisible Fingers

A merchant and his servant were travelling in a distant land when they came upon the most amazing sight, a tree covered in glistening jewels, emeralds, diamonds, topazes, deep red rubies and shining blue sapphires.

The merchant got down from his donkey and gazed at the tree, astonished. He ordered his servant, Sandro, to gather as many jewels from the tree as he could fit in his saddle-bags. “They will fetch a fine price at the market,” he said happily.

When Sandro reached up to pick the jewels, sharp thorns stabbed his hands and he cried out with pain. But the merchant said, “Don’t fuss, you fool! Fill the bags quickly, before I beat you black and blue!”

Sandro filled the bags to overflowing, crying out with pain every time his hands touched the tree. When he was finished, his hands were torn and bleeding. The wounds began to turn from red to black, creeping from his fingers and hands up his arms. “Quick!” Sandro shouted to the merchant. “You must cut off my hands, before the poison spreads through the rest of me!”

“Cut off your hands?” the merchant said, horrified.

“Better no hands and living than two hands and dead,” Sandro said.

The merchant took his sword and cut off both Sandro’s hands with one stroke. Then he climbed onto his donkey, taking the saddle-bags. “A servant with no hands is no use to me,” he said. He rode off, leaving Sandro alone by the roadside.

Sandro struggled out of his shirt and managed to wrap the ends of his arms in it. For days he was sick with pain and fever until his wounds began to heal. One morning, the bandage around his hands came loose. “With no hands, how can I help myself?” Sandro said.

All at once, the cloth wound itself around his arms again, as if invisible fingers were moving it. Sandro stared, astonished. Then his nose began to itch. “With no hands, I can no longer even scratch myself!” he said, sadly. Straight away he felt a gentle scratching on his nose, as if invisible fingers were scratching him.

The sun was burning down on his back. “Ah,” Sandro said to himself, “I don’t even have a shirt to cover myself.” Then he saw the grass around him quiver as if plucked by invisible fingers. The grass wove itself into fine cloth, and in no time Sandro was wearing a soft shirt of grass.

He said to himself, “I must go and seek my fortune.” He set out on the road which the merchant had taken. Whenever he felt hungry, invisible fingers plucked fruit from the trees. When he felt thirsty, he drank from a cup of invisible hands.

After some time, he came to a great castle, which belonged to Lord Cave. Lord Cave had a beautiful daughter named Hildy, whom the merchant hoped to marry. He had dressed in his finest clothes, and he had the bags of jewels with him. A crowd of people gathered to watch, and Sandro went in and stood among them.

The merchant bowed low before Lord Cave and said, “I have brought a magnificent bride-price for your daughter.” He opened his saddle-bags, only to find that they were full of black dust.

His face darkened with anger. Then he caught sight of Sandro in the crowd. “He has done this!” he shouted, pointing at Sandro. A dozen guards rushed into the crowd and seized Sandro. They marched him to the dungeons and locked him in. But clever invisible fingers lifted the keys from the jailer’s belt and unlocked the door. Sandro walked straight out, and returned to the audience chamber, walking lightly and happily.

“I also seek to marry the lady, Hildy,” he said boldly, for he had loved her as soon as he saw her. Hildy saw that the merchant was very wealthy, but his face was marked by greed and selfishness. She turned her eyes to Sandro’s handsome, laughing face, but when she saw his arms, she turned away and covered her face.

The merchant said, “Let us have a contest, to see who is worthy of your daughter. Let the fastest rider have her.”

Lord Cave sent for two horses, but the merchant hid a sharp nail under Sandro’s saddle, so that when he got onto his horse, the nail dug into the horse’s flesh. The horse reared up and would have thrown Sandro off, but invisible fingers plucked out the nail and soothed the horse. Sandro held on with his knees and drove the horse forward with his heels while invisible hands held the reins and guided the horse. The horse sped like an arrow, leaving the merchant far behind.

From then on, Hildy only had eyes for Sandro’s joyful, loving face, and she no longer noticed that his hands were missing. But her father, Lord Cave, was not pleased. “Whoever marries my daughter will have great wealth and a place here in my castle, but above all, he must make my daughter happy,” he said “I propose a second contest. Whoever can make my daughter laugh will win her hand in marriage.”

The merchant stepped up, eager to win Hildy for his own. He told her amusing stories, and performed tricks with coins and coloured scarves, but Hildy looked at him coldly. He pulled faces and stood on his head, but Hildy turned away in disgust. Finally her father said, “Enough! Let the other young man try his best.”

Sandro stepped forward, and Hildy smiled just to see him. Then invisible fingers began to tickle her all over, until she was laughing with delight.

The merchant howled with anger and drew his sword to cut Sandro down, but invisible fingers snatched the sword away and smacked it flat against the merchant’s backside. The merchant jumped onto his donkey and rode away as fast as it would carry him, and he was never seen in that country again.

As for Sandro and Hildy, they were married and spent every day of their lives together in happiness.

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