The Last Wish
Once there was a man who was driving in his car at dusk on a Spring evening through part of the forest of Savernake. His name was Mr. Peters. The primroses were just beginning but the trees were still bare, and it was cold; the birds had stopped singing an hour ago. As Mr. Peters entered a straight, empty stretch of road he seemed to hear a faint crying, and a struggling and thrashing, as if somebody was in trouble far away in the trees. He left his car and climbed the mossy bank beside the road. Beyond the bank was an open slope of beech trees leading down to thorn bushes through which he saw the gleam of water. He stood a moment waiting to try and discover where the noise was coming from, and presently heard a rustling and some strange cries in a voice which was almost human-and yet there was something too hoarse about it at one time and too clear and sweet at another. Mr. Peters ran down the hill and as he neared the bushes he saw something white among them which was trying to extricate itself; coming closer he found that it was a swan that had become entangled in the thorns growing on the bank of the canal.
The bird struggled all the more frantically as he approached, looking at him with hate in its yellow eyes, and when he took hold of it to free it, hissed at him, pecked him, and thrashed dangerously with its wings which were powerful enough to break his arm. Nevertheless he managed to release it from the thorns, and carrying it tightly with one arm, holding the snaky head well away with the other hand (for he did not wish his eyes pecked out), he took it to the verge of the canal and dropped it in.
The swan instantly assumed great dignity and sailed out to the middle of the water, where it put itself to rights with much dabbling and preening, smoothing its feathers with little showers of drops. Mr. Peters waited to make sure that it was all right and had suffered no damage in its struggles. Presently the swan, when it was satisfied with its appearance, floated in to the bank once more. and in a moment, instead of the great white bird, there was a little man all in green with ~ golden crown and long beard, standing by the water. He had fierce glittering eyes and looked by no means friendly.
"Well, Sir," he said threateningly, "I see you are presumptuous enough to know some of the laws of magic. You think that because you have rescued-by pure good fortune-the King of the Forest from a difficulty, you should have some fabulous reward."
"I expect three wishes, no more and no less," answered Mr. Peters, looking at him steadily and with composure.
"Three wishes, he wants, the clever man~ Well, I have yet to hear of the human being who made any good use of his three wish they mostly end up worse off than they started. Take your three wishes then-" he flung three dead leaves in the air "-don't blame me if you spend the last wish in undoing the work of the other two."
Mr. Peters caught the leaves and put two of them carefully in...