A Story From: Russia
Read Time: ["6 to 10mins"]
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs., 8 to 10yrs.
The Boy Who Disappeared ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids
Words to Know:
Nobleman- a rich man of high class
Widow- a woman whose husband is no longer alive
Long ago in Russia there lived a very rich nobleman. The night before his first child was born, the nobleman had a dream. He dreamed the baby would be a boy, and that the birth of the child came with an awful warning. The only way his son would grow up in safety is if the child’s feet never touched the ground until he was 12 years old.
After the baby was born, the nobleman made sure that his son was always held up high, or he was placed in a spot high off the ground. As the years passed and the boy grew bigger, he was still watched carefully all the time by the castle servants to be sure his feet never touched the ground. No matter if the boy was carried around, or if he sat in a chair on a rug that could be pulled from room to room, one way or another, the boy's feet never touched the floor.
Finally, the boy’s 12th birthday drew near. The day before the big day, the castle servants were busy preparing for the celebration. As usual, the boy was held by the window where he could watch all the excitement. Deliveries of delicious fruits and meats were arriving, along with people from far and wide who were coming to join in the celebration.
All of a sudden, a very loud crash!
Without thinking, the nurse who was holding the boy dropped him on the floor. The minute she realized what she had done, she swept down to pick the boy back up. But the child was nowhere to be seen! The boy’s feet had touched the floor, and now he was gone!
The nurse screamed. At once, all the servants in the castle ran over. The father ran up too, asking, "What is the matter? What has happened? Where is my son?" The nurse explained that she had been frightened by the crash and by mistake, had let go of the boy. She cried and wept in sadness for what she had done.
No words can describe the sadness of the father's heart! He sent servants in every direction to hunt for the boy; he gave orders; he begged; he threw away money left and right; he promised everything - anything! If only his son might be brought back to him.
The servants searched and searched, but no sign of the boy could be found. He had disappeared without a trace, as if he had never been there at all!
Years passed. Still, no trace of the boy. Yet the father learned of something new. At the stroke of midnight, in one of the most beautiful rooms of the castle, the sound of footsteps could be heard coming closer and closer. He wished he could stay in the room to see if it was indeed his son. But he could not bear the pain, his heart still so weak after his son’s disappearance.
The nobleman sent word out throughout the land that a reward of 300 gold coins would be given to anyone who would stay for the whole night in the haunted room. Many were willing, but had not the courage to stay till the end. When the clock struck midnight and the sound of footsteps was heard, each person staying in the room would turn around in fear, and run out of the castle as fast as they could.
Now close to the castle there lived a widow who had three daughters. The family was very poor. It was not easy to keep enough food on the table. When the family heard of the haunted room in the nobleman’s castle and the promised reward of 300 gold pieces, the oldest daughter said, "We have so little, surely we have nothing to lose. We might as well try to earn those 300 gold coins by staying in the castle room for one night. I would like to try, Mother, if you'll let me."
The mother hardly knew what to say. She was worried, of course, because she had heard of the haunted room that had scared so many others away. But when she thought of how poor they were with hardly enough food to go around, she gave permission for her oldest daughter to try and stay one night in the haunted room.
“But if you feel scared, my daughter,” said the mother, “please leave right away so that no harm should come to you.”
The girl promised her mother she would be careful. Then she left to go to the castle and talk to the nobleman.
“Sir,” said the oldest daughter to him, “I have come to stay an entire night in the haunted room.”
Said the father, "Many others have tried before you. Are you sure that you have more courage than they? Are you not afraid of ghosts, my child?"
"I can only try to stay the whole night," said the oldest daughter. "I just ask that you please give me some food to cook for my dinner, I am so very hungry."
The nobleman gave her plenty of food. She quickly prepared the room for her stay, lit the fire, and began to cook, as she was so very hungry. The time passed so quickly that she was surprised to hear the clock strike twelve. She began to hear the sound of footsteps coming towards her as the clock struck one gong after another. The frightened girl looked all over the room, but could see no one there. Still, the footsteps got louder and louder. She froze in fear.
Suddenly, a young boy appeared. He came up and asked, "For whom is this food cooked?"
Almost too scared to speak, the oldest daughter said, "F...F….for myself, and me alone."
The gentle face of the boy saddened. Then he asked, "And this table, for whom is it laid?"
After a moment, she said, "F...F….for myself, and me alone."
The young man’s beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. He asked once more, "And this fire, for whom have you built it?"
She replied once more: "For myself, and me alone."
Tears fell from the boy’s eyes. He waved his arms, and disappeared.
The next morning, the oldest daughter told the nobleman all that had happened in the room, but she did not have the heart to tell the man the great sadness the boy’s face showed. The father was glad to hear at least something that might help lead to his son. Since the girl had stayed in the haunted room the whole night as promised, she was given the 300 gold coins.
The next day the second daughter, having been told by her sister what to expect in the haunted room, went to the castle to offer her services and to earn another 300 gold coins. The father agreed, and she was provided with everything she might want to be comfortable for the night.
She quickly prepared the room, started the fire, and began cooking. She waited for the hour of midnight. When the young stranger appeared and asked, "For whom is this food prepared? for whom is the table laid? for whom is the fire built?" the second daughter answered just as her sister had: "For me, for myself alone."
Just as the night before, tears ran down his face. He waved his arms and disappeared.
The next morning, the second daughter told the nobleman all that had happened in the room but she, too, did not have the heart to tell the man the great sadness the boy showed. The 300 gold coins were given to her, and she went home.
It was now the youngest daughter’s turn to visit the haunted room as her sisters had done. With instructions from her two older sisters as to what to expect and what she should say, the youngest daughter asked the nobleman if she may have a try as well. He still didn’t know any more about his son, and so he agreed.
She entered the haunted room as her sisters had told her, made herself comfortable, prepared the room for her stay and began cooking. She waited with hope and fear for the clock to strike midnight.
As twelve o'clock struck, the room was shaken by the footsteps as she was told to expect. Suddenly there stood before her a young man. He pointed to the table and asked, "For whom have you prepared this food?"
Now her sisters had told her exactly what to say, but when she looked into the sad eyes of the boy, she felt confused and quiet.
He asked again, “For whom is the food prepared?" She stuttered, "I-I prepared it for myself, but you are welcome to join me."
His face softened.
"And this table, for whom is it spread?"
"For myself," said the girl. Then she added, "unless you will honor me by being my guest."
A smile brightened his face.
"And this fire, for whom have you built it?"
"For myself. But you are welcome to sit here with me and be warmed."
He clapped his hands for joy. "Ah, yes!” he replied. “That's right. I accept the invitation with pleasure. But please, wait for me. I must go and thank my kind friends for the care they have taken of me these last few years."
At that moment, a small door appeared. The boy walked right through the door, as if he were just walking into another room. The girl, curious to see where he was going, quickly followed him through the doorway. She stepped most quietly so the boy would not see her.
Through the door, a new world opened up before her eyes. To the right, flowed a river of liquid gold. To the left, rose high mountains of solid gold. And in the center lay a large meadow covered with millions of flowers. The stranger went on and the girl behind him followed, unnoticed. As he went, he saluted the field flowers as old friends.
Then, they came to a forest where the trees were all of gold. Many birds flew around the young man, landing on his head and shoulders. While he spoke a thank you to each one, the girl quietly broke off a branch from one of the golden trees and hid it as a reminder of this strange golden land.
Leaving the forest of gold, they reached a wood where all the trees were of silver. Animals of various kinds circled around the youth. He spoke to each one, thanking them for their kindness. Meanwhile, the girl broke off a branch from one of the silver trees.
When the young boy had said good-bye to all his friends, he turned and started to return by the paths he had come. Careful not to be seen, the girl stepped behind him. Arriving at the door back to the castle room, the boy stepped through, with the girl quietly behind him. As he turned to close the door, the door disappeared. And the girl quickly returned to her spot by the fire.
"All my goodbye's have been said,” said the boy. "Now we can have our supper."
The girl placed the food she had cooked onto the table. Sitting side by side in front of the fire, they enjoyed a meal together. When they had finished he said, "Now it is time to rest."
He lay down on the bed. The girl placed by his side the gold and silver branches she had picked in the sparkling world. She sat on a rocking chair by the fire. In a few moments they were both sound asleep.
The next day the sun was already high in the sky, and yet the girl had not come out of the room as her two sisters had done. The nobleman became worried. What may have happened to the girl? He paced the floor until he could do so no more. At last, he decided to go into the haunted room and see for himself what had happened.
Imagine his surprise and joy when on entering the room, he saw his long-lost son sleeping on the bed, while beside him sat the beautiful youngest daughter in a rocking chair. At that moment the son awoke. Now it was the father who wept. Tears of joy fell down his cheeks at the sight of his long-lost son!
The young man saw the two branches of gold and silver. “Say, did you follow me?” he asked the young girl.
“I did,” said she. “I wanted to learn more about who you were and where you came from.”
“It’s good that you did,” said the boy. “Now these branches will have a special magic.” He threw both branches out the window.
All at once, where they landed appeared a beautiful palace made of gold and silver. The boy, overwhelmed with happiness and love for the kind and curious girl who had saved him, asked if she would be his bride and live with him. The girl knew the kindness he had shown to the animals in the magic land, and the friendship they had shown to him. It seemed to her that the two of them already knew each other very well. And so the nobleman’s son and the widow’s youngest daughter were married and lived together in the gold and silver palace, happily forever after.
Question 1: What was different about how the youngest daughter spoke to the nobleman's son?
Question 2: Did you ever change what someone did or thought by speaking politely to them?
"The Boy Who Disappeared" is based on the story "The Lost Child" from Folk Lore from Foreign Lands by Catherine T. Bryce (Newson & Company Publishers: New York, 1913) pp. 25-39.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©2019. All rights reserved.
This story is also found in a collection of stories from Bohemia ("The Child that Vanished" from Fairy Tales from Bohemia, Pollett Publishing Company, Chicago, 1966). Bohemia is a former kingdom of central Europe, and occupied the westernmost two-thirds of what is now the Czech Republic. In both the Russian and the Bohemian versions, the ghost-like nobleman's son inquires about the food, the table, and the bed.