BOOK REVIEW


  Once Upon a Time in Poland

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The Legend of the Golden Duck
A long time ago in a town called Warsaw there lived a young man  - Jacob. He was always the first one there when something unusual was going on. Friends often invited him to taverns so that he could entertain them with tales of his daring deeds. One thing you should know however, although Jacob was greatly liked by the Warsaw tavern-goers, a sense of humour was this young’s man only possession, for he was  as poor as a church mouse.
One  night in a tavern he heard an old man spin a tale. Apparently, beneath one of the palaces of Warsaw there was a labyrinth, at the end of which there was a cave, full of water of an enchanted lake on whose surface swam a  Duck. This mysterious bird guarded the entrance to a treasure-trove, but before you could help yourself you had to fulfill the duck’s wishes. Hearing this story the young man pondered for a moment and  then made a decision: ‘I have nothing to lose – he said – and so I shall go and find this Golden Duck’. And with that he was on his way.
He soon found the palace in the valley. Once in the courtyard, Jacob soon realized that the dwelling was uninhabited. He looked in all the windows but he could not see even the faintest flickering of candlelight. Then he came across an opening that led to an underground fortress. Step by step he made his way into the depths of the castle’s dark cellars.
Suddenly,  the cave, gleaming with gold, appeared before his eyes. Its interior was filled with crystal-clear water on which the Golden Duck was gracefully gliding. Its plumage was of the finest ore and a precious crown adorned its head. ‘Come here, intrepid one - the Duck proclaimed in a human voice. – You have found what you were looking for. All you see is yours to keep, but first a test you  have to pass – said the Duck – These hundred ducats you shall take and in a day spend them all, but on yourself and no one else, not even those you hold most dear.’
Jacob departed the underground fortress, bearing in his hand a pouch containing a hundred ducats. He made his way to the most renowned tailor where he treated himself to a new shirt, a magnificent pair of trousers, a coat and a roguish hat with a feather. Then he headed to a shoemaker who fashioned him a beautiful pair of boots with spurs. Next he took himself to  the finest tavern in Warsaw, to eat and drink his fill. Jacob was overjoyed at having acquired such a great fortune and he did not breathe a word to anyone.
The young man continued to astound everyone by acquiring more and more new things, including a horse and carriage and a golden signet ring. In the evening he went to the theatre. He spent a small fortune  in order to occupy the seat next to the king himself and watch the play in magnificent company. ‘As soon as I get hold of the Golden Duck’ treasure – Jacob mused – I shall ask for the princess’s   hand in marriage  and then build a palace where I will live healthily and wealthily ever after’. Overcome by his dreams, the lad fell asleep with a sweet smile on his face…
When he awoke, the play had long finished. He peered into his purse in order to count his ducats, but all that remained was one solitary golden coin. ‘I’ll buy a jug of the finest wine and some cake and without a penny to my name I shall return to the Golden Duck and claim my reward’ – Jacob reasoned. Shortly afterwards, he spotted a beggar, a poorly dressed war-worn  soldier, dying of hunger. The beggar reached out to him and in exhausted voice pleaded: ‘Kind sir, help my poor soul and give me a crust of bread for it is  a week since a morsel of food last passed my lips’. Without a second thought, Jacob  reached into his purse, pulled out the only remaining enchanted coin and tucked it into the beggar’s hand.
Then suddenly, with a crash and a flash the Golden Duck  appeared,  its voice reverberating all around: ‘You did not keep your word, nor our deal, when you gave the poor beggar a meal. And today, though you are in great need, a poor life once again you shall lead. Now  the goods that my gold for you bought in  the blink of an eye will now come to nought’.Jacob could not believe his eyes. Where a carriage had stood, he saw a pile of ashes. His beautiful clothes were no more and his signet had simply vanished. Jacob wept for his lost fortune. He then looked at the beggar. The old man smiled and said: ‘Your good heartedness has triumphed over greed and true treasure is   not enchanted gold but a generous spirit and a pair of hands eager to work. That is the way to gain a fortune and the goodwill of others’.
Jacob took heed of the beggar’s advice and, having recovered  from the loss of the magic treasure, found himself a job as a shoemaker. Jacob was greatly talented and learned his trade so well that in no time he was making the finest shoes in all of Warsaw. He was known far and wide for his wares and even the king’s daughter placed an order for slippers with him. To commemorate the young man’s encounter with the Golden Duck, the inhabitants of Warsaw built a fountain in the image of the Golden Duck and positioned it in the castle courtyard, beneath which the enchanted lake was to be found.