The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IV
Editor-in-Chief: Kuno Francke
Part 6 out of 11
Whoever wants to hear something wonderful, listen to me now! How I
have been running!--first from the royal palace to Gottlieb, second
with Gottlieb to the palace of the Bugbear where I left him, third
from there back again to the king, fourth I am now racing ahead of the
king's coach like a courier and showing him the way. Hey! good friend!
Who's that? Countryman, you must probably be a stranger, for the
people in this neighborhood know that I do not sell any beer about
this time; I need it for myself; when one does work like mine, one
must also fortify one's self. I am sorry, but I cannot help you.
I do not want any beer, I never drink beer; I only want to say
a few words to you.
You must certainly be a regular idler, to attempt to disturb
industrious people in their occupation.
I do not wish to disturb you. Just listen: the neighboring king
will drive by here, he will probably step out of his carriage and
inquire to whom these villages belong. If your life is dear to you, if
you do not wish to be hanged or burned, then be sure to answer: to the
Count of Carabas.
But, Sir, we are subject to the law.
I know that well enough, but, as I said, if you do not wish to
die, this region here belongs to the Count of Carabas.
Many thanks! Now this would be the finest kind of opportunity
for me to get out of ever having to work again. All I need do is to
say to the king--the country belongs to the Bugbear. But no, idleness
breeds vice: _Ora et labora_ is my motto.
[_A fine carriage with eight horses, many servants behind; it stops;
the_ KING _and_ PRINCESS _step out._]
I am somewhat curious to see the Count.
So am I, my daughter. Good day, my friend. To whom do these
villages here belong?
He asks as though he were ready to have me hanged at
once.--To the Count of Carabas, your majesty.
A beautiful country. But I always thought the country must look
altogether different if I should cross the border, judging from the
maps. Do help me a bit. (_He climbs up a tree quickly._)
What are you doing, my royal father?
I like open views on beautiful landscapes.
Can you see far?
Oh, yes, and if it were not for those annoying mountains, you
would see even further. Oh, my, the tree is full of caterpillars! (_He
climbs down again._)
That is because it is a scene in nature which has not yet
been idealized; imagination must first ennoble it.
I wish you could take the caterpillars off me by means of
imagination. But get in, we must drive ahead.
Farewell, good, innocent peasant. (_They get into the
carriage; it drives on._)
How the world has changed! If you read in old books or listen to
old people's stories, they always got louis d'ors or something like
that if they spoke to a king or a prince. Such a king would formerly
never dare to open his mouth if he did not press gold pieces into your
hand at once. But now! How, pray, is one to make one's fortune
unexpectedly, if the chance is over even with kings? Innocent peasant!
I wish to God I didn't owe anything--that comes of the new sentimental
descriptions of country life. Such a king is powerful and envies
people of our station. I must only thank God that he did not hang me.
The strange hunter was our Bugbear himself after all. At least it will
now appear in the paper, I suppose, that the king has spoken to me
KUNZ (_reaping corn_).
Bitter work! And if at least I were doing it
for myself--but this compulsory villainage! Here one must do nothing
but sweat for the Bugbear and he does not even thank one. Of course
they always say in this world that laws are necessary to keep the
people in order, but what need there is here of _our Law_ who devours
all of us, I cannot understand.
[HINZE _comes running_.]
Now I have blisters-on my soles already--well, it doesn't
matter, Gottlieb, Gottlieb must get the throne for it. Hey, good
Who's _this_ fellow?
The king will drive by here directly. If he asks you to whom
all this belongs, you must answer--to the Count of Carabas; otherwise
you will be chopped into a thousand million pieces. For the welfare of
the public, the law desires it thus.
For the welfare of the public?
Naturally, for otherwise the play would never end.
Your life is probably dear to you.
That's just how the edicts always sound. Well, I don't mind
saying that, if only no new taxes result from it. One must trust no
[_The coach drives up and stops; the_ KING _and the_ PRINCESS _step
A fine landscape, too. We have already seen a great deal of
very fine country. To whom does this land belong?
To the Count of Carabas.
He has splendid estates, that must be true--and so near mine;
daughter, that seems to be a good match for you. What is your opinion?
You embarrass me, my father. What new things one sees while
traveling, though. Do tell me, pray, good peasant, why do you cut down
the straw like that?
Why, this is the harvest, Mam'selle Queen--the
Corn? What do you use that for, pray?
Bread is baked from that.
Pray, daughter, for heaven's sake, bread is baked of it! Who would
ever think of such tricks! Nature is something marvelous, after all.
Here, good friend, get a drink, it is warm today. (_He steps in again
with the_ PRINCESS; _the carriage drives away._)
If he wasn't a king, you'd almost think he was stupid. Doesn't know
what corn is! Well, you learn new things every day, of course. Here he
has given me a shining piece of gold and I'll fetch myself a can of
good beer at once. [_Exit._]
_Another part of the country, beside a river_
Now here I've been standing two hours already, waiting for my friend,
Hinze. And he's not coming yet. There he is! But how he's running--he
seems all out of breath.
[HINZE _comes running._]
Well, friend Gottlieb, take off your clothes quickly?
And then jump into the water here--
Into the water?
And then I will throw the clothing into the bush--
Into the bush?
And then you are provided for!
I agree with you; if I am drowned and my clothes gone, I am well
enough provided for.
There is no time for joking--
I am not joking at all. Is that what I had to wait here for?
Well, I'll do anything to please you.
Come, you are only to take a little bath. (_Exit with_ GOTTLIEB. _Then
he comes back with the clothing which he throws into a bush._) Help!
[_The carriage. The_ KING _looks out of the coach door._]
What is it, Hunter? Why do you shout so?
Help, your majesty, the Count of Carabas is drowned!
PRINCESS (_in the carriage_).
My daughter in a faint! The Count drowned!
Perhaps he can still be saved; he is lying there in the water.
Servants! Try everything, anything to preserve the noble man.
We have rescued him, your majesty.
Misfortune upon misfortune, my king! The Count was bathing here in the
clear water and a rogue stole his clothing.
Unstrap my trunk at once--give him some of my clothes. Cheer up,
daughter, the Count is rescued.
I must hurry.
GOTTLIEB (_in the king's clothing_).
Here is the Count! I recognize him by my clothing! Step in, my best
friend--how are you? Where do you get all the rabbits? I cannot
compose myself for joy! Drive on, coachman!
[_The carriage drives off quickly._]
None but the hangman could come up so quickly--now I have the pleasure
of running behind on foot, and besides I'm just as wet as a cat.
How many more times, pray, will the carriage appear?
Neighbor! Why, you are asleep!
Not at all--a fine play.
_Palace of the Bugbear_
_The_ BUGBEAR _appears as a rhinoceros; a poor peasant stands before
May it please your honor--
There must be justice, my friend.
I cannot pay just now.
Be still, you have lost the case; the law demands money and your
punishment; consequently your land must be sold. There is nothing else
to be done and this is for the sake of justice.
BUGBEAR (_who is re-transformed into an ordinary bugbear_).
These people would lose all respect if they were not compelled to fear
in this way.
[_An officer enters, bowing profusely._]
May it please you, honored sir--I--
What's your trouble, my friend?
With your kindest permission, I tremble and quiver in your
honor's formidable presence.
Oh, this is far from my most terrible form.
I really came--in matters--to beg you to take my part against
my neighbor. I had also brought this purse with me--but the presence
of Lord Law is too frightful for me.
BUGBEAR (_suddenly changes into a mouse and sits in a corner_).
Why, where has the Bugbear gone?
BUGBEAR (_in a delicate voice_).
Just put the money down there on the
table; I will sit here to avoid frightening you.
Here. (_He lays the money down_.) Oh, this justice is a
splendid thing--how can one be afraid of such a mouse!
BUGBEAR (_assumes his natural form_).
A pretty good purse--of course
one must sympathize with human weakness.
With your permission--(_aside_) Hinze, you must pluck up
courage--(_aloud_) Your Excellency!
What do you wish?
I am a scholar traveling through this region and wished to take the
liberty of making your excellency's acquaintance.
Very well, then, make my acquaintance.
You are a mighty prince; your love of justice is known all over the
Yes, I don't doubt it. Do sit down!
They tell many wonderful things about Your Highness--
Yes, people always want something to talk about and so the reigning
monarchs must be the first to be discussed.
But still, there is one thing I cannot believe, that Your Excellency
can transform yourself into an elephant and a tiger.
I will give you an example of it at once. (_He changes into a lion_.)
HINZE (_draws out a portfolio, trembling_).
Permit me to make note of this marvel--but now would you also please
resume your natural charming form? Otherwise I shall die of fear.
BUGBEAR (_in his own form_).
Those are tricks, friend! Don't you
Marvelous! But another thing--they also say you can transform yourself
into very small animals--with your permission, that is even far more
incomprehensible to me; for, do tell me, what becomes of your large
I will do that too.
[_He changes into a mouse_. HINZE _leaps after him, the Bugbear flees
into another room_, HINZE _after him_.]
HINZE (_coming back_).
Freedom and Equality! The Law is devoured! Now indeed the
Tiers--_Etat_! Gottlieb will surely secure the government.
Why, a revolutionary play after all? Then for heaven's sake, you
surely shouldn't stamp!
[_The stamping continues_, WIESENER _and several others applaud_,
HINZE _creeps into a corner and finally even leaves the stage. The
playwright is heard quarreling behind the scenes and then enters_.]
What am I to do? The play will be over directly--everything would
perhaps have run smoothly--now just in this moral scene I had expected
so much applause. If this were only not so far away from the king's
palace, I would fetch the peacemaker; he explained to me at the end of
the second act all the fables of Orpheus--but am I not a fool? I
became quite confused--why, this is the theatre here, and the
peacemaker must be somewhere behind the scenes--I will look for him--I
must find him--he shall save me! (_Exit, returns again quickly_.) He
is not _there_, Sir Peacemaker! An empty echo mocks me--he has
deserted me, his playwright. Ha! there I see him--he must come
[_The pauses are always filled by stamping in the pit and the
playwright delivers this monologue in recitative, so that the effect
is rather melodramatic_.]
PEACEMAKER (_behind the scenes_).
No, I will not appear.
But why not, pray?
Why, I have already undressed.
That doesn't matter. (_He pushes him forward by force_.)
PEACEMAKER (_appearing in his ordinary dress, with, the set of
Well, you may take the responsibility. (_He plays on the bells and
These sacred halls of beauty
Revenge have never known.
For love guides back to duty
The man who vice has sown.
Then he is led by friendly hand,
Glad and content, to a better land.
[_The pit begins to applaud; meanwhile the scene is changed, the fire
and water taken from the_ MAGIC FLUTE _begin to play, above appears
the open temple of the sun, the sky is clear and Jupiter sits within
it, beneath Hell with Terkaleon, cobalds and witches on the stage,
many lights, etc. The audience applauds excessively, everything is
Now the cat has only to go through fire and water and then the play is
[_Enter the_ KING, _the_ PRINCESS, GOTTLIEB, HINZE _and servants_.]
This is the palace of the Count of Carabas. Why, the dickens, how this
A beautiful palace!
As long as matters _have_ gone thus far (_taking Gottlieb by
the hand_) you must first walk through the fire here and then through
the water there.
GOTTLIEB (_walks through fire and water to the sound of flute and
You have stood the test; now, my prince, you are altogether worthy of
Governing, Hinze, is a curious matter.
Accept, now, the hand of my daughter.
How happy I am!
I, likewise. But, my king, I would desire to reward my servant.
By all means; I herewith raise him to the nobility. (_He hangs an
order about the cat's neck_.) What is his actual name?
Hinze. By birth he is of but a lowly family--but his merits exalt him.
LEANDER (_quickly stepping forward_).
After the King I rode with due submission,
And now implore his Majesty's permission
To close with laudatory lines poetic
This play so very wondrous and prophetic.
In praise of cats my grateful anthem soars--
The noblest of those creatures on all fours
Who daily bring contentment to our doors.
In Egypt cats were gods, and very nice is
The Tom-cat who was cousin to Great Isis.
They still protect our cellar, attic, kitchen,
And serve the man who this world's goods is rich in.
Our homes had household gods of yore to grace them.
If cats be gods, then with the Lares place them!
[_Drumming. The curtain falls_.]
FAIR ECKBERT (1796)
BY LUDWIG TIECK
TRANSLATED BY PAUL B. THOMAS
In a region of the Hartz Mountains there lived a knight whom people
generally called simply Fair Eckbert. He was about forty years old,
scarcely of medium height, and short, very fair hair fell thick and
straight over his pale, sunken face. He lived very quietly unto
himself, and was never implicated in the feuds of his neighbors;
people saw him but rarely outside the encircling wall of his little
castle. His wife loved solitude quite as much as he, and both seemed
to love each other from the heart; only they were wont to complain
because Heaven seemed unwilling to bless their marriage with children.
Very seldom was Eckbert visited by guests, and even when he was,
almost no change on their account was made in the ordinary routine of
his life. Frugality dwelt there, and Economy herself seemed to
regulate everything. Eckbert was then cheerful and gay--only when he
was alone one noticed in him a certain reserve, a quiet distant
Nobody came so often to the castle as did Philip Walther, a man to
whom Eckbert had become greatly attached, because he found in him very
much his own way of thinking. His home was really in Franconia, but he
often spent more than half a year at a time in the vicinity of
Eckbert's castle, where he busied himself gathering herbs and stones
and arranging them in order. He had a small income, and was therefore
dependent upon no one. Eckbert often accompanied him on his lonely
rambles, and thus a closer friendship developed between the two men
with each succeeding year.
There are hours in which it worries a man to keep from a friend a
secret, which hitherto he has often taken great pains to conceal. The
soul then feels an irresistible impulse to impart itself completely,
and reveal its innermost self to the friend, in order to make him so
much the more a friend. At these moments delicate souls disclose
themselves to each other, and it doubtless sometimes happens that the
one shrinks back in fright from its acquaintance with the other.
One foggy evening in early autumn Eckbert was sitting with his friend
and his wife, Bertha, around the hearth-fire. The flames threw a
bright glow out into the room and played on the ceiling above. The
night looked in darkly through the windows, and the trees outside were
shivering in the damp cold. Walther was lamenting that he had so far
to go to get back home, and Eckbert proposed that he remain there and
spend half the night in familiar talk, and then sleep until morning in
one of the rooms of the castle. Walther accepted the proposal,
whereupon wine and supper were brought in, the fire was replenished
with wood, and the conversation of the two friends became more cheery
After the dishes had been cleared off, and the servants had gone out,
Eckbert took Walther's hand and said:
"Friend, you ought once to let my wife tell you the story of her
youth, which is indeed strange enough."
"Gladly," replied Walther, and they all sat down again around the
hearth. It was now exactly midnight, and the moon shone intermittently
through the passing clouds.
"You must forgive me," began Bertha, "but my husband says your
thoughts are so noble that it is not right to conceal anything from
you. Only you must not regard my story as a fairy-tale, no matter how
strange it may sound.
"I was born in a village, my father was a poor shepherd. The household
economy of my parents was on a humble plane--often they did not know
where they were going to get their bread. But what grieved me far more
than that was the fact that my father and mother often quarreled over
their poverty, and cast bitter reproaches at each other. Furthermore I
was constantly hearing about myself, that I was a simple, stupid
child, who could not perform even the most trifling task. And I was
indeed extremely awkward and clumsy; I let everything drop from my
hands, I learned neither to sew nor to spin, I could do nothing to
help about the house. The misery of my parents, however, I understood
extremely well. I often used to sit in the corner and fill my head
with notions--how I would help them if I should suddenly become rich,
how I would shower them with gold and silver and take delight in their
astonishment. Then I would see spirits come floating up, who would
reveal subterranean treasures to me or give me pebbles which afterward
turned into gems. In short, the most wonderful fantasies would occupy
my mind, and when I had to get up to help or carry something, I would
show myself far more awkward than ever, for the reason that my head
would be giddy with all these strange notions.
"My father was always very cross with me, because I was such an
absolutely useless burden on the household; so he often treated me
with great cruelty, and I seldom heard him say a kind word to me. Thus
it went along until I was about eight years old, when serious steps
were taken to get me to do and to learn something. My father believed
that it was sheer obstinacy and indolence on my part, so that I might
spend my days in idleness. Enough--he threatened me unspeakably, and
when this turned out to be of no avail, he chastised me most
barbarously, adding that this punishment was to be repeated every day
because I was an absolutely useless creature.
"All night long I cried bitterly--I felt so entirely forsaken, and I
pitied myself so that I wanted to die. I dreaded the break of day, and
did not know what to do. I longed for any possible kind of ability,
and could not understand at all why I was more stupid than the other
children of my acquaintance. I was on the verge of despair.
"When the day dawned, I got up, and, scarcely realizing what I was
doing, opened the door of our little cabin. I found myself in the open
field, soon afterward in a forest, into which the daylight had hardly
yet shone. I ran on without looking back; I did not get tired, for I
thought all the time that my father would surely overtake me and treat
me even more cruelly on account of my running away.
"When I emerged from the forest again the sun was already fairly high,
and I saw, lying ahead of me, something dark, over which a thick mist
was resting. One moment I was obliged to scramble over hills, the next
to follow a winding path between rocks. I now guessed that I must be
in the neighboring mountains, and I began to feel afraid of the
solitude. For, living in the plain, I had never seen any mountains,
and the mere word mountains, whenever I heard them talked about, had
an exceedingly terrible sound to my childish ear. I hadn't the heart
to turn back--it was indeed precisely my fear which drove me onwards.
I often looked around me in terror when the wind rustled through the
leaves above me, or when a distant sound of chopping rang out through
the quiet morning. Finally, when I began to meet colliers and miners
and heard a strange pronunciation, I nearly fainted with fright.
"You must forgive my prolixity. As often as I tell this story I
involuntarily become garrulous, and Eckbert, the only person to whom I
have told it, has spoiled me by his attention.
"I passed through several villages and begged, for I now felt hungry
and thirsty. I helped myself along very well with the answers I gave
to questions asked me. I had wandered along in this way for about four
days, when I came to a small foot-path which led me farther from the
highway. The rocks around me now assumed a different, far stranger
shape. They were cliffs, and were piled up on one another in such a
way that they looked as if the first gust of wind would hurl them all
together into a heap. I did not know whether to go on or not. I had
always slept over night either in out-of-the-way shepherds' huts, or
else in the open woods, for it was just then the most beautiful season
of the year. Here I came across no human habitations whatever, nor
could I expect to meet with any in this wilderness. The rocks became
more and more terrible--I often had to pass close by dizzy precipices,
and finally even the path under my feet came to an end. I was
absolutely wretched; I wept and screamed, and my voice echoed horribly
in the rocky glens. And now night set in; I sought out a mossy spot to
lie down on, but I could not sleep. All night long I heard the most
peculiar noises; first I thought it was wild beasts, then the wind
moaning through the rocks, then again strange birds. I prayed, and not
until toward morning did I fall asleep.
"I woke up when the daylight shone in my face. In front of me there
was a rock. I climbed up on it, hoping to find a way out of the
wilderness, and perhaps to see some houses or people. But when I
reached the top, everything, as far as my eye could see, was like
night about me--all overcast with a gloomy mist. The day was dark and
dismal, and not a tree, not a meadow, not even a thicket could my eye
discern, with the exception of a few bushes which, in solitary
sadness, had shot up through the crevices in the rocks. It is
impossible to describe the longing I felt merely to see a human being,
even had it been the most strange-looking person before whom I should
inevitably have taken fright. At the same time I was ravenously
hungry. I sat down and resolved to die. But after a while the desire
to live came off victorious; I got up quickly and walked on all day
long, occasionally crying out. At last I was scarcely conscious of
what I was doing; I was tired and exhausted, had hardly any desire to
live, and yet was afraid to die.
"Toward evening the region around me began to assume a somewhat more
friendly aspect. My thoughts and wishes took new life, and the desire
to live awakened in all my veins. I now thought I heard the swishing
of a mill in the distance; I redoubled my steps, and how relieved, how
joyous I felt when at last I actually reached the end of the dreary
rocks! Woods and meadows and, far ahead, pleasant mountains lay before
me again. I felt as if I had stepped out of hell into paradise; the
solitude and my helplessness did not seem to me at all terrible now.
"Instead of the hoped-for mill, I came upon a water-fall, which, to be
sure, considerably diminished my joy. I dished up some water from the
river with my hand and drank. Suddenly I thought I heard a low cough a
short distance away. Never have I experienced so pleasant a surprise
as at that moment; I went nearer and saw, on the edge of the forest,
an old woman, apparently resting. She was dressed almost entirely in
black; a black hood covered her head and a large part of her face. In
her hand she held a walking-stick.
"I approached her and asked for help; she had me sit down beside her
and gave me bread and some wine. While I was eating she sang a hymn in
a shrill voice, and when she had finished she said that I might follow
"I was delighted with this proposal, strange as the voice and the
personality of the old woman seemed to me. She walked rather fast with
her cane, and at every step she distorted her face, which at first
made me laugh. The wild rocks steadily receded behind us--we crossed a
pleasant meadow, and then passed through a fairly long forest. When we
emerged from this, the sun was just setting, and I shall never forget
the view and the feelings of that evening. Everything was fused in the
most delicate red and gold; the tree-tops stood forth in the red glow
of evening, the charming light was spread out over the fields, the
forest and the leaves of the trees were motionless, the clear sky
looked like an open paradise, and the evening bells of the villages
rang out with a strange mournfulness across the lea. My young soul now
got its first presentment of the world and its events. I forgot myself
and my guide; my spirit and my eyes were wandering among golden
"We now climbed a hill, which was planted with birchtrees, and from
its summit looked down into a little valley, likewise full of birches.
In the midst of the trees stood a little hut. A lively barking came to
our ears, and presently a spry little dog was dancing around the old
woman and wagging his tail. Presently he came to me, examined me from
all sides, and then returned with friendly actions to the old woman.
"When we were descending the hill I heard some wonderful singing,
which seemed to come from the hut. It sounded like a bird, and ran
Of lonely wood,
Where none intrude,
Thou bringest good
For every mood,
"These few words were repeated over and over; if I were to attempt to
describe the effect, it was somewhat like the blended notes of a bugle
and a shawm.
"My curiosity was strained to the utmost. Without waiting for the old
woman's invitation, I walked into the hut with her. Dusk had already
set in. Everything was in proper order; a few goblets stood in a
cupboard, some strange-looking vessels lay on a table, and a bird was
hanging in a small, shiny cage by the window. And he, indeed, it was
that I had heard singing. The old woman gasped and coughed, seemingly
as if she would never get over it. Now she stroked the little dog, now
talked to the bird, which answered her only with its usual words.
Furthermore, she acted in no way as if I were present. While I was
thus watching her, a series of shudders passed through my body; for
her face was constantly twitching and her head shaking, as if with
age, and in such a way that it was impossible for one to tell how she
"When she finally ceased coughing she lighted a candle, set a very
small table, and laid the supper on it. Then she looked around at me
and told me to take one of the woven cane chairs. I sat down directly
opposite her, and the candle stood between us. She folded her bony
hands and prayed aloud, all the time twitching her face in such a way
that it almost made me laugh. I was very careful, however, not to do
anything to make her angry.
"After supper she prayed again, and then showed me to a bed in a tiny
little side-room--she herself slept in the main room. I did not stay
awake long, for I was half dazed. I woke up several times during the
night, however, and heard the old woman coughing and talking to the
dog, and occasionally I heard the bird, which seemed to be dreaming
and sang only a few isolated words of its song. These stray notes,
united with the rustling of the birches directly in front of my
window, and also with the song of the far-off nightingale, made such a
strange combination that I felt all the time, not as if I were awake,
but as if I were lapsing into another, still stranger, dream.
"In the morning the old woman woke me up and soon afterward gave me
some work to do; I had, namely, to spin, and I soon learned how to do
it; in addition I had to take care of the dog and the bird. I was not
long in getting acquainted with the housekeeping, and came to know all
the objects around. I now began to feel that everything was as it
should be; I no longer thought that there was anything strange about
the old woman, or romantic about the location of her home, or that the
bird was in any way extraordinary. To be sure, I was all the time
struck by his beauty; for his feathers displayed every possible color,
varying from a most beautiful light blue to a glowing red, and when he
sang he puffed himself out proudly, so that his feathers shone even
"The old woman often went out and did not return until evening. Then I
would go with the dog to meet her and she would call me child and
daughter. Finally I came to like her heartily; for our minds,
especially in childhood, quickly accustom themselves to everything. In
the evening hours she taught me to read; I soon learned the art, and
afterward it was a source of endless pleasure to me in my solitude,
for she had a few old, hand-written books which contained wonderful
"The memory of the life I led at that time still gives me a strange
feeling even now. I was never visited by any human being, and felt at
home only in that little family circle; for the dog and the bird made
the same impression on me which ordinarily only old and intimate
friends create. Often as I used it at that time, I have never been
able to recall the dog's strange name.
"In this way I had lived with the old woman for four years, and I must
have been at any rate about twelve years old when she finally began to
grow more confidential and revealed a secret to me. It was this: every
day the bird laid one egg, and in this egg there was always a pearl or
a gem. I had already noticed that she often did something in the cage
secretly, but had never particularly concerned myself about it. She
now charged me with the task of taking out these eggs during her
absence, and of carefully preserving them in the vessels. She would
leave food for me and stay away quite a long time--weeks and months.
My little spinning-wheel hummed, the dog barked, the wonderful bird
sang, and meanwhile everything was so quiet in the region round about
that I cannot recall a single high wind or a thunder-storm during the
entire time. Not a human being strayed thither, not a wild animal came
near our habitation. I was happy, and sang and worked away from one
day to the next. Man would perhaps be right happy if he could thus
spend his entire life, unseen by others.
"From the little reading that I did I formed quite wonderful
impressions of the world and of mankind. They were all drawn from
myself and the company I lived in; thus, if whimsical people were
spoken of I could not imagine them other than the little dog,
beautiful women always looked like the bird, and all old women were as
my wonderful old friend. I had also read a little about love, and in
my imagination I figured in strange tales. I formed a mental picture
of the most beautiful knight in the world and adorned him with all
sorts of excellences, without really knowing, after all my trouble,
what he looked like. But I could feel genuine pity for myself if he
did not return my love, and then I would make long, emotional speeches
to him, sometimes aloud, in order to win him. You smile--we are all
now past this period of youth.
"I now liked it rather better when I was alone, for I was then myself
mistress of the house. The dog was very fond of me and did everything
I wanted him to do, the bird answered all my questions with his song,
my wheel was always spinning merrily, and so in the bottom of my heart
I never felt any desire for a change. When the old woman returned from
her wanderings she would praise my diligence, and say that her
household was conducted in a much more orderly manner since I belonged
to it. She was delighted with my development and my healthy look. In
short, she treated me in every way as if I were a daughter.
"'You are a good child,' she once said to me in a squeaky voice. 'If
you continue thus, it will always go well with you. It never pays to
swerve from the right course--the penalty is sure to follow, though it
may be a long time coming.' While she was saying this I did not give a
great deal of heed to it, for I was very lively in all my movements.
But in the night it occurred to me again, and I could not understand
what she had meant by it. I thought her words over carefully--I had
read about riches, and it finally dawned on me that her pearls and
gems might perhaps be something valuable. This idea presently became
still clearer to me--but what could she have meant by the right
course? I was still unable to understand fully the meaning of her
"I was now fourteen years old. It is indeed a misfortune that human
beings acquire reason, only to lose, in so doing, the innocence of
their souls. In other words I now began to realize the fact that it
depended only upon me to take the bird and the gems in the old
woman's absence, and go out into the world of which I had read. At the
same time it was perhaps possible that I might meet my wonderfully
beautiful knight, who still held a place in my imagination.
"At first this thought went no further than any other, but when I
would sit there spinning so constantly, it always came back against my
will and I became so deeply absorbed in it that I already saw myself
dressed up and surrounded by knights and princes. And whenever I would
thus lose myself, I easily grew very sad when I glanced up and found
myself in my little, narrow home. When I was about my business, the
old woman paid no further attention to me.
"One day my hostess went away again and told me that she would be gone
longer this time than usual--I should pay strict attention to
everything, and not let the time drag on my hands. I took leave of her
with a certain uneasiness, for I somehow felt that I should never see
her again. I looked after her for a long time, and did not myself know
why I was so uneasy; it seemed almost as if my intention were already
standing before me, without my being distinctly conscious of it.
"I had never taken such diligent care of the dog and the bird
before--they lay closer to my heart than ever now. The old woman had
been away several days when I arose with the firm purpose of
abandoning the hut with the bird and going out into the so-called
world. My mind was narrow and limited; I wanted again to remain there,
and yet the thought was repugnant to me. A strange conflict took place
in my soul--it was as if two contentious spirits were struggling
within me. One moment the quiet solitude would seem so beautiful to
me, and then again I would be charmed by the vision of a new world
with its manifold wonders.
"I did not know what to do with myself. The dog was continually
dancing around me with friendly advances, the sunlight was spread out
cheerfully over the fields, and the green birch-trees shone brightly.
I had a feeling as if I had something to do requiring haste.
Accordingly, I caught the little dog, tied him fast in the room, and
took the cage, with the bird in it, under my arm. The dog cringed and
whined over this unusual treatment; he looked at me with imploring
eyes but I was afraid to take him with me. I also took one of the
vessels, which was filled with gems, and concealed it about me. The
others I left there. The bird twisted its head around in a singular
manner when I walked out of the door with him; the dog strained hard
to follow me, but was obliged to remain behind.
"I avoided the road leading toward the wild rocks, and walked in the
opposite direction. The dog continued to bark and whine, and I was
deeply touched by it. Several times the bird started to sing, but, as
he was being carried, it was necessarily rather difficult for him. As
I walked along the barking grew fainter and fainter, and, finally,
ceased altogether. I cried and was on the point of turning back, but
the longing to see something new drove me on.
"I had already traversed mountains and several forests when evening
came, and I was obliged to pass the night in a village. I was very
timid when I entered the public-house; they showed me to a room and a
bed, and I slept fairly well, except that I dreamt of the old woman,
who was threatening me.
"My journey was rather monotonous; but the further I went the more the
picture of the old woman and the little dog worried me. I thought how
he would probably starve to death without my help, and in the forest I
often thought I would suddenly meet the old woman. Thus, crying and
sighing, I wandered along, and as often as I rested and put the cage
on the ground, the bird sang its wonderful song, and reminded me
vividly of the beautiful home I had deserted. As human nature is prone
to forget, I now thought that the journey I had made as a child was
not as dismal as the one I was now making, and I wished that I were
back in the same situation.
"I had sold a few gems, and now, after wandering many days, I arrived
in a village. Even as I was entering it, a strange feeling came over
me--I was frightened and did not know why. But I soon discovered
why--it was the very same village in which I was born. How astonished
I was! How the tears of joy ran down my cheeks as a thousand strange
memories came back to me! There were a great many changes; new houses
had been built, others, which had then only recently been erected,
were now in a state of dilapidation. I came across places where there
had been a fire. Everything was a great deal smaller and more crowded
than I had expected. I took infinite delight in the thought of seeing
my parents again after so many years. I found the little house and the
well-known threshold--the handle on the door was just as it used to
be. I felt as if I had only yesterday left it ajar. My heart throbbed
vehemently. I quickly opened the door--but faces entirely strange to
me stared at me from around the room. I inquired after the shepherd,
Martin, and was told that both he and his wife had died three years
before. I hurried out and, crying aloud, left the village.
"I had looked forward with such pleasure to surprising them with my
riches, and as a result of a remarkable accident the dream of my
childhood had really come true. And now it was all in vain--they could
no longer rejoice with me--the fondest hope of my life was lost to me
"I rented a small house with a garden in a pleasant city, and engaged
a waiting-maid. The world did not appear to be such a wonderful place
as I had expected, but the old woman and my former home dropped more
and more out of my memory, so that, upon the whole, I lived quite
"The bird had not sung for a long time, so that I was not a little
frightened one night when he suddenly began again. The song he sang,
however, was different--it was:
Of lonely wood,
A vanished good
In dreams pursued,
In absence rued,
"I could not sleep through the night; everything came back to my mind,
and I felt more than ever that I had done wrong. When I got up the
sight of the bird was positively repugnant to me; he was constantly
staring at me, and his presence worried me. He never ceased singing
now, and sang more loudly and shrilly than he used to. The more I
looked at him the more uneasiness I felt. Finally, I opened the cage,
stuck my hand in, seized him by the neck and squeezed my fingers
together forcibly. He looked at me imploringly, and I relaxed my
grip--but he was already dead. I buried him in the garden.
"And now I was often seized with fear of my waiting-maid. My own past
came back to me, and I thought that she too might rob me some day, or
perhaps even murder me. For a long time I had known a young knight
whom I liked very much--I gave him my hand, and with that, Mr.
Walther, my story ends."
"You should have seen her then," broke in Eckbert quickly. "Her youth,
her innocence, her beauty--and what an incomprehensible charm her
solitary breeding had given her! To me she seemed like a wonder, and I
loved her inexpressibly. I had no property, but with the help of her
love I attained my present condition of comfortable prosperity. We
moved to this place, and our union thus far has never brought us a
single moment of remorse."
"But while I have been chattering," began Bertha again, "the night has
grown late. Let us go to bed."
She rose to go to her room. Walther kissed her hand and wished her a
"Noble woman, I thank you. I can readily imagine you with the strange
bird, and how you fed the little Strohmi."
Without answering she left the room. Walther also lay down to sleep,
but Eckbert continued to walk up and down the room.
"Aren't human beings fools?" he finally asked himself. "I myself
induced my wife to tell her story, and now I regret this confidence!
Will he not perhaps misuse it? Will he not impart it to others? Will
he not perhaps--for it is human nature--come to feel a miserable
longing for our gems and devise plans to get them and dissemble his
It occurred to him that Walther had not taken leave of him as
cordially as would perhaps have been natural after so confidential a
talk. When the soul is once led to suspect, it finds confirmations of
its suspicions in every little thing. Then again Eckbert reproached
himself for his ignoble distrust of his loyal friend, but he was
unable to get the notion entirely out of his mind. All night long he
tossed about with these thoughts and slept but little.
Bertha was sick and could not appear for breakfast. Walther seemed
little concerned about it, and furthermore he left the knight in a
rather indifferent manner. Eckbert could not understand his conduct.
He went in to see his wife--she lay in a severe fever and said that
her story the night before must have excited her in this manner.
After that evening Walther visited his friend's castle but rarely, and
even when he did come he went away again after a few trivial words.
Eckbert was exceedingly troubled by this behavior; to be sure, he
tried not to let either Bertha or Walther notice it, but both of them
must surely have been aware of his inward uneasiness.
Bertha's sickness grew worse and worse. The doctor shook his head--the
color in her cheeks had disappeared, and her eyes became more and more
One morning she summoned her husband to her bedside and told the maids
"Dear husband," she began, "I must disclose to you something which has
almost deprived me of my reason and has ruined my health, however
trivial it may seem to be. Often as I have told my story to you, you
will remember that I have never been able, despite all the efforts I
have made, to recall the name of the little dog with which I lived so
long. That evening when I told the story to Walther he suddenly said
to me when we separated: 'I can readily imagine how you fed the little
Strohmi.' Was that an accident? Did he guess the name, or did he
mention it designedly? And what, then, is this man's connection with
my lot? The idea has occurred to me now and then that I merely imagine
this accident--but it is certain, only too certain. It sent a feeling
of horror through me to have a strange person like that assist my
memory. What do you say, Eckbert?"
Eckbert looked at his suffering wife with deep tenderness. He kept
silent, but was meditating. Then he said a few comforting words to her
and left the room. In an isolated room he walked back and forth with
indescribable restlessness--Walther for many years had been his sole
male comrade, and yet this man was now the only person in the world
whose existence oppressed and harassed him. It seemed to him that his
heart would be light and happy if only this one person might be put
out of the way. He took down his cross-bow with a view to distracting
his thoughts by going hunting.
It was a raw and stormy day in the winter; deep snow lay on the
mountains and bent down the branches of the trees. He wandered about,
with the sweat oozing from his forehead. He came across no game, and
that increased his ill-humor. Suddenly he saw something move in the
distance--it was Walther gathering moss from the trees. Without
knowing what he was doing he took aim--Walther looked around and
motioned to him with a threatening gesture. But as he did so the arrow
sped, and Walther fell headlong.
Eckbert felt relieved and calm, and yet a feeling of horror drove him
back to his castle. He had a long distance to go, for he had wandered
far into the forest. When he arrived home, Bertha had already
died--before her death she had spoken a great deal about Walther and
the old woman.
For a long time Eckbert lived in greatest seclusion. He had always
been somewhat melancholy because the strange story of his wife rather
worried him; he had always lived in fear of an unfortunate event that
might take place, but now he was completely at variance with himself.
The murder of his friend stood constantly before his eyes--he spent
his life reproaching himself.
In order to divert his thoughts, he occasionally betook himself to the
nearest large city, where he attended parties and banquets. He wished
to have a friend to fill the vacancy in his soul, and then again, when
he thought of Walther, the very word friend made him shudder. He was
convinced that he would necessarily be unhappy with all his friends.
He had lived so long in beautiful harmony with Bertha, and Walther's
friendship had made him happy for so many years, and now both of them
had been so suddenly taken from him that his life seemed at times more
like a strange fairy-tale than an actual mortal existence.
A knight, Hugo von Wolfsberg, became attached to the quiet, melancholy
Eckbert, and seemed to cherish a genuine fondness for him. Eckbert was
strangely surprised; he met the knight's friendly advances more
quickly than the other expected. They were now frequently together,
the stranger did Eckbert all sorts of favors, scarcely ever did either
of them ride out without the other, they met each other at all the
parties--in short, they seemed to be inseparable.
Eckbert was, nevertheless, happy only for short moments at a time, for
he felt quite sure that Hugo loved him only by mistake--he did not
know him, nor his history, and he felt the same impulse again to
unfold his soul to him in order to ascertain for sure how staunch a
friend Hugo was. Then again doubts and the fear of being detested
restrained him. There were many hours in which he felt so convinced
of his own unworthiness as to believe that no person, who knew him at
all intimately, could hold him worthy of esteem. But he could not
resist the impulse; in the course of a long walk he revealed his
entire history to his friend, and asked him if he could possibly love
a murderer. Hugo was touched and tried to comfort him. Eckbert
followed him back to the city with a lighter heart.
However, it seemed to be his damnation that his suspicions should
awaken just at the time when he grew confidential; for they had no
more than entered the hall when the glow of the many lights revealed
an expression in his friend's features which he did not like. He
thought he detected a malicious smile, and it seemed to him that he,
Hugo, said very little to him, that he talked a great deal with the
other people present, and seemed to pay absolutely no attention to
him. There was an old knight in the company who had always shown
himself as Eckbert's rival, and had often inquired in a peculiar way
about his riches and his wife. Hugo now approached this man, and they
talked together a long time secretly, while every now and then they
glanced toward Eckbert. He, Eckbert, saw in this a confirmation of his
suspicions; he believed that he had been betrayed, and a terrible rage
overcame him. As he continued to stare in that direction, he suddenly
saw Walther's head, all his features, and his entire figure, so
familiar to him. Still looking, he became convinced that it was nobody
but Walther himself who was talking with the old man. His terror was
indescribable; completely beside himself, he rushed out, left the city
that night, and, after losing his way many times, returned to his
Like a restless spirit he hurried from room to room. No thought could
he hold fast; the pictures in his mind grew more and more terrible,
and he did not sleep a wink. The idea often occurred to him that he
was crazy and that all these notions were merely the product of his
own imagination. Then again he remembered Walther's features, and it
was all more puzzling to him than ever. He resolved to go on a journey
in order to compose his thoughts; he had long since given up the idea
of a friend and the wish for a companion.
Without any definite destination in view, he set out, nor did he pay
much attention to the country that lay before him. After he had
trotted along several days on his horse, he suddenly lost his way in a
maze of rocks, from which he was unable to discover any egress.
Finally he met an old peasant who showed him a way out, leading past a
water-fall. He started to give him a few coins by way of thanks, but
the peasant refused them.
"What can it mean?" he said to himself. "I could easily imagine that
that man was no other than Walther." He looked back once more--it was
indeed no one else but Walther!
Eckbert spurred on his horse as fast as it could run--through meadows
and forests, until, completely exhausted, it collapsed beneath him.
Unconcerned, he continued his journey on foot.
Dreamily he ascended a hill. There he seemed to hear a dog barking
cheerily close by--birch trees rustled about him--he heard the notes
of a wonderful song:
Of lonely wood,
Thou chiefest good,
Where thou dost brood
Is joy renewed,
Now it was all up with Eckbert's consciousness and his senses; he
could not solve the mystery whether he was now dreaming or had
formerly dreamt of a woman Bertha. The most marvelous was confused
with the most ordinary--the world around him was bewitched--no
thought, no memory was under his control.
An old crook-backed woman with a cane came creeping up the hill,
"Are you bringing my bird, my pearls, my dog?" she cried out to him.
"Look--wrong punishes itself. I and no other was your friend Walther,
"God in Heaven!" said Eckbert softly to himself. "In what terrible
solitude I have spent my life."
"And Bertha was your sister."
Eckbert fell to the ground.
"Why did she desert me so deceitfully? Otherwise everything would have
ended beautifully--her probation-time was already over. She was the
daughter of a knight, who had a shepherd bring her up--the daughter of
"Why have I always had a presentiment of these facts?" cried Eckbert.
"Because in your early youth you heard your father tell of them. On
his wife's account he could not bring up this daughter himself, for
she was the child of another woman."
Eckbert was delirious as he breathed his last; dazed and confused he
heard the old woman talking, the dog barking, and the bird repeating
THE ELVES (1811)
By LUDWIG TIECK
TRANSLATED BY FREDERIC H. HEDGE
"Where is our little Mary?" asked the father.
"She is playing out upon the green there, with our neighbor's boy,"
replied the mother.
"I wish they may not run away and lose themselves," said he; "they are
The mother looked for the little ones, and brought them their evening
luncheon. "It is warm," said the boy; and Mary eagerly reached out for
the red cherries.
"Have a care, children," said the mother, "and do not run too far from
home, or into the wood; father and I are going to the fields."
Little Andrew answered: "Never fear, the wood frightens us; we shall
sit here by the house, where there are people near us."
The mother went in, and soon came out again with her husband. They
locked the door, and turned toward the fields to look after their
laborers and see their hay-harvest in the meadow. Their house lay upon
a little green height, encircled by a pretty ring of paling, which
likewise inclosed their fruit and flower-garden. The hamlet stretched
somewhat deeper down, and on the other side lay the castle of the
Count. Martin rented the large farm from this nobleman, and was living
in contentment with his wife and only child; for he yearly saved some
money, and had the prospect of becoming a man of substance by his
industry, for the ground was productive, and the Count not illiberal.
As he walked with his wife to the fields, he gazed cheerfully round,
and said: "What a different look this quarter has, Brigitta, from the
place we lived in formerly! Here it is all so green; the whole village
is bedecked with thick-spreading fruit-trees; the ground is full of
beautiful herbs and flowers; all the houses are cheerful and cleanly,
the inhabitants are at their ease: nay, I could almost fancy that the
woods are greener here than elsewhere, and the sky bluer; and, so far
as the eye can reach, you have pleasure and delight in beholding the
"And whenever you cross the stream," said Brigitta, "you are, as it
were, in another world, all is so dreary and withered; but every
traveler declares that our village is the fairest in the country, far
"All but that fir-ground," said her husband; "do but look back to it,
how dark and dismal that solitary spot is lying in the gay scene--the
dingy fir-trees, with the smoky huts behind them, the ruined stalls,
the brook flowing past with a sluggish melancholy."
"It is true," replied Brigitta; "if you but approach that spot, you
grow disconsolate and sad, you know not why. What sort of people can
they be that live there, and keep themselves so separate from the rest
of us, as if they had an evil conscience?"
"A miserable crew," replied the young farmer; "gipsies, seemingly,
that steal and cheat in other quarters, and have their hoard and
hiding-place here. I wonder only that his lordship suffers them."
"Who knows," said the wife, with an accent of pity, "but perhaps they
may be poor people, wishing, out of shame, to conceal their poverty;
for, after all, no one can say aught ill of them; the only thing is,
that they do not go to church, and none knows how they live; for the
little garden, which indeed seems altogether waste, cannot possibly
support them; and fields they have none."
"God knows," said Martin, as they went along, "what trade they follow;
no mortal comes to them; for the place they live in is as if
bewitched and excommunicated, so that even our wildest fellows will
not venture into it."
Such conversation they pursued while walking to the fields. That
gloomy spot they spoke of lay apart from the hamlet. In a dell, begirt
with firs, you might behold a hut and various dilapidated farm-houses;
rarely was smoke seen to mount from it, still more rarely did men
appear there; though at times curious people, venturing somewhat
nearer, had perceived upon the bench before the hut some hideous
women, in ragged clothes, dandling in their arms some children equally
dirty and ill-favored; black dogs were running up and down upon the
boundary; and, at eventide, a man of monstrous size was seen to cross
the foot-bridge of the brook, and disappear in the hut; then, in the
darkness, various shapes were observed, moving like shadows round an
open fire. This piece of ground, the firs, and the ruined hut, formed
in truth a strange contrast with the bright green landscape, the white
houses of the hamlet, and the stately new-built castle.
The two little ones had now eaten their fruit; it came into their
heads to run races; and the little nimble Mary always got the start of
the less active Andrew. "It is not fair," cried Andrew at last; "let
us try it for some length, then we shall see who wins."
"As thou wilt," said Mary; "only to the brook we must not run."
"No," said Andrew; "but there, on the hill, stands the large
pear-tree, a quarter of a mile from this. I shall run by the left,
round past the fir-ground; thou canst try it by the right, over the
fields; so we do not meet till we get up, and then we shall see which
of us is the swifter."
"Done," cried Mary, and began to run; "for we shall not interfere with
each other by the way, and my father says it is as far to the hill by
that side of the gipsies' house as by this."
Andrew had already started, and Mary, turning to the right, could no
longer see him. "It is very silly," said she to herself; "I have only
to take heart, and run along the bridge, past the hut, and through the
yard, and I shall certainly be first." She was already standing by the
brook and the clump of firs. "Shall I? No; it is too frightful," said
she. A little white dog was standing on the farther side, and barking
with might and main. In her terror, Mary thought the dog some monster,
and sprang back. "Fie! fie!" said she, "the dolt is gone half way by
this time, while I stand here considering." The little dog kept
barking, and, as she looked at it more narrowly, it seemed no longer
frightful, but, on the contrary, quite pretty; it had a red collar
round its neck, with a glittering bell; and as it raised its head, and
shook itself in barking, the little bell sounded with the finest
tinkle. "Well, I must risk it!" cried she: "I will run for life;
quick, quick, I am through; certainly to Heaven, they cannot eat me up
alive in half a minute!" And with this, the gay, courageous little
Mary sprang along the foot-bridge; passed the dog, which ceased its
barking, and began to fawn on her; and in a moment she was standing on
the other bank, and the black firs all round concealed from view her
father's house and the rest of the landscape.
But what was her astonishment when here! The loveliest, most
variegated flower-garden lay round her; tulips, roses, and lilies,
were glittering in the fairest colors; blue and gold-red butterflies
were wavering in the blossoms; cages of shining wire were hung on the
espaliers, with many-colored birds in them, singing beautiful songs;
and children in short white frocks, with flowing yellow hair and
brilliant eyes, were frolicking about; some playing with lambkins,
some feeding the birds, or gathering flowers and giving them to one
another; some, again, were eating cherries, grapes, and ruddy
apricots. No but was to be seen; but instead of it, a large fair
house, with a brazen door and lofty statues, stood glancing in the
middle of the space. Mary was confounded with surprise, and knew not
what to think; but, not being bashful, she went right up to the first
of the children, held out her hand, and wished the little creature
"Art thou come to visit us, then?" asked the glittering child; "I saw
thee running, playing on the other side, but thou wert frightened for
our little dog."
"So you are not gipsies and rogues," exclaimed Mary, "as Andrew always
told me! He is a stupid thing, and talks of much he does not
"Stay with us," said the strange little girl; "thou wilt like it
"But we are running a race."
"Thou wilt find thy comrade soon enough. There, take and eat."
Mary ate, and found the fruit more sweet than any she had ever tasted
in her life before; and Andrew, and the race, and the prohibition of
her parents, were entirely forgotten.
A stately woman, in a shining robe, came toward them, and asked about
the stranger child. "Fairest lady," said Mary, "I came running hither
by chance, and now they wish to keep me."
"Thou art aware, Zerina," said the lady, "that she can be here for but
a little while; besides, thou shouldst have asked my leave."
"I thought," said Zerina, "when I saw her admitted across the bridge,
that I might do it; we have often seen her running in the fields, and
thou thyself hast taken pleasure in her lively temper. She will have
to leave us soon enough."
"No, I will stay here," said the little stranger; "for here it is so
beautiful, and here I shall find the prettiest playthings, and store
of berries and cherries to boot. On the other side it is not half so
The gold-robed lady went away with a smile; and many of the children
now came bounding round the happy Mary in their mirth, and twitched
her, and incited her to dance; others brought her lambs, or curious
playthings; others made music on instruments, and sang to it.
She kept, however, by the playmate who had first met her; for Zerina
was the kindest and loveliest of them all. Little Mary cried and cried
again: "I will stay with you forever; I will stay with you, and you
shall be my sisters;" at which the children all laughed, and embraced
her. "Now, we shall have a royal sport," said Zerina. She ran into the
palace, and returned with a little golden box, in which lay a quantity
of seeds, like glittering dust. She lifted a few with her little hand,
and scattered some grains on the green earth. Instantly the grass
began to move, as in waves; and, after a few moments, bright
rose-bushes started from the ground, shot rapidly up, and budded all
at once, while the sweetest perfume filled the place. Mary also took a
little of the dust, and, having scattered it, she saw white lilies,
and the most variegated pinks, pushing up. At a signal from Zerina,
the flowers disappeared, and others rose in their room. "Now," said
Zerina, "look for something greater." She laid two pine-seeds in the
ground, and stamped them in sharply with her foot. Two green bushes
stood before them. "Grasp me fast," said she; and Mary threw her arms
about the slender form. She felt herself borne upward; for the trees
were springing under them with the greatest speed; the tall pines
waved to and fro, and the two children held each other fast embraced,
swinging this way and that in the red clouds of the twilight, and
kissed each other, while the rest were climbing up and down the trunks
with quick dexterity, pushing and teasing one another with loud
laughter when they met; if any fell down in the press, they flew
through the air, and sank slowly and surely to the ground. At length
Mary was beginning to be frightened; and the other little child sang a
few loud tones, and the trees again sank down and set them on the
ground as gently as they had lifted them before to the clouds.
They next went through the brazen door of the palace. Here many fair
women, elderly and young, were sitting in the round hall, partaking of
the fairest fruits and listening to glorious invisible music. In the
vaulting of the ceiling, palms, flowers, and groves stood painted,
among which little figures of children were sporting and winding in
every graceful posture; and with the tones of the music, the images
altered and glowed with the most burning colors; now the blue and
green were sparkling like radiant light, now these tints faded back in
paleness, the purple flamed up, and the gold took fire; and then the
naked children seemed to be alive among the flower-garlands, and to
draw breath and emit it through their ruby-colored lips; so that by
turns you could see the glance of their little white teeth, and the
lighting up of their azure eyes.
From the hall, a stair of brass led down to a subterranean chamber.
Here lay much gold and silver, and precious stones of every hue shone
out between them. Strange vessels stood along the walls, and all
seemed filled with costly things. The gold was worked into many forms,
and glittered with the friendliest red. Many little dwarfs were busied
in sorting the pieces from the heap, and putting them in the vessels;
others, hunch-backed and bandy-legged, with long red noses, were
tottering slowly along, half-bent to the ground, under full sacks,
which they bore as millers do their grain, and, with much panting,
shaking out the gold-dust on the ground. Then they darted awkwardly to
the right and left, and caught the rolling balls that were likely to
run away; and it happened now and then that one in his eagerness upset
another, so that both fell heavily and clumsily to the ground. They
made angry faces, and looked askance, as Mary laughed at their
gestures and their ugliness. Behind them sat an old crumpled little
man, whom Zerina reverently greeted; he thanked her with a grave
inclination of his head. He held a sceptre in his hand, and wore a
crown upon his brow, and all the other dwarfs appeared to regard him
as their master and obey his nod.
"What more wanted?" asked he, with a surly voice, as the children
came a little nearer. Mary was afraid, and did not speak; but her
companion answered, they were only come to look about them in the
chamber. "Still your old child-tricks!" replied the dwarf; "will there
never be an end to idleness?" With this, he turned again to his
employment, kept his people weighing and sorting the ingots; some he
sent away on errands, some he chid with angry tones.
"Who is the gentleman?" asked Mary.
"Our Metal-Prince," replied Zerina, as they walked along.
They seemed once more to reach the open air, for they were standing by
a lake, yet no sun appeared, and they saw no sky above their heads. A
little boat received them, and Zerina steered it diligently forward.
It shot rapidly along. On gaining the middle of the lake, little Mary
saw that multitudes of pipes, channels, and brooks were spreading from
the little sea in every direction. "These waters to the right," said
Zerina, "flow beneath your garden, and this is why it blooms so
freshly; by the other side we get down into the great stream." On a
sudden, out of all the channels, and from every quarter of the lake,
came a crowd of little children swimming up; some wore garlands of
sedge and water-lily; some had red stems of coral, others were blowing
on crooked shells; a tumultuous noise echoed merrily from the dark
shores; among the children might be seen the fairest women sporting in
the waters, and often several of the children sprang about some one of
them, and with kisses hung upon her neck and shoulders. All saluted
the stranger; and these steered onward through the revelry out of the
lake, into a little river, which grew narrower and narrower. At last
the boat came aground. The strangers took their leave, and Zerina
knocked against the cliff. This opened like a door, and a female form,
all red, assisted them to mount. "Are you all brisk here?" inquired
Zerina. "They are just at work," replied the other, "and happy as
they could wish; indeed, the heat is very pleasant."
They went up a winding stair, and on a sudden Mary found herself in a
most resplendent hall, so that, as she entered, her eyes were dazzled
by the radiance. Flame-colored tapestry covered the walls with a
purple glow; and when her eye had grown a little used to it, the
stranger saw, to her astonishment, that, in the tapestry, there were
figures moving up and down in dancing joyfulness, in form so
beautiful, and of so fair proportions, that nothing could be seen more
graceful; their bodies were as of red crystal, so that it appeared as
if the blood were visible within them, flowing and playing in its
courses. They smiled on the stranger, and saluted her with various
bows; but as Mary was about approaching nearer them, Zerina plucked
her sharply back, crying: "Thou wilt burn thyself, my little Mary, for
the whole of it is fire."
Mary felt the heat. "Why do the pretty creatures not come out," asked
she, "and play with us?"
"As thou livest in the Air," replied the other, "so are they obliged
to stay continually in Fire, and would faint and languish if they left
it. Look now, how glad they are, how they laugh and shout; those down
below spread out the fire-floods everywhere beneath the earth, and
thereby the flowers, and fruits, and wine, are made to flourish; these
red streams again are to run beside the brooks of water; and thus the
fiery creatures are kept ever busy and glad. But for thee it is too
hot here; let us return to the garden."
In the garden, the scene had changed since they left it. The moonshine
was lying on every flower; the birds were silent, and the children
were asleep in complicated groups, among the green groves. Mary and
her friend, however, did not feel fatigue, but walked about in the
warm summer night, in abundant talk, till morning.
When the day dawned, they refreshed themselves on fruit and milk, and
Mary said: "Suppose we go, by way of change, to the firs, and see how
things look there?"
"With all my heart," replied Zerina; "thou wilt see our watchmen,
too, and they will surely please thee; they are standing up among the
trees on the mound." The two proceeded through the flower-gardens by
pleasant groves, full of nightingales; then they ascended vine-hills;
and at last, after long following the windings of a clear brook,
arrived at the firs and the height which bounded the domain. "How does
it come," asked Mary, "that we have to walk so far here, when,
without, the circuit is so narrow?"
"I know not," said her friend; "but so it is."
They mounted to the dark firs, and a chill wind blew from without in
their faces; a haze seemed lying far and wide over the landscape. On
the top were many strange forms standing, with mealy, dusty faces,
their misshapen heads not unlike those of white owls; they were clad
in folded cloaks of shaggy wool; they held umbrellas of curious skins
stretched out above them; and they waved and fanned themselves
incessantly with large bat's wings, which flared out curiously beside
the woolen roquelaures. "I could laugh, yet I am frightened," cried
"These are our good trusty watchmen," said her playmate; "they stand
here and wave their fans, that cold anxiety and inexplicable fear may
fall on every one that attempts to approach us. They are covered so,
because without it is now cold and rainy, which they cannot bear. But
snow, or wind, or cold air, never reaches down to us; here is an
everlasting spring and summer: yet if these poor people on the top
were not frequently relieved, they would certainly perish."
"But who are you, then?" inquired Mary, while again descending to the
flowery fragrance; "or have you no name at all?"
"We are called the Elves," replied the friendly child; "people talk
about us on the Earth, as I have heard."
They now perceived a mighty bustle on the green. "The fair Bird is
come!" cried the children to them: all hastened to the hall. Here, as
they approached, young and old were crowding over the threshold, all
shouting for joy; and from within resounded a triumphant peal of
music. Having entered, they perceived the vast circuit filled with the
most varied forms, and all were looking upward to a large Bird with
gleaming plumage, that was sweeping slowly round in the dome, and in
its stately flight describing many a circle. The music sounded more
gaily than before; the colors and lights alternated more rapidly. At
last the music ceased; and the Bird, with a rustling noise, floated
down upon a glittering crown that hung hovering in air under the high
window by which the hall was lighted from above. His plumage was
purple and green, and shining golden streaks played through it; on his
head there waved a diadem of feathers, so resplendent that they
sparkled like jewels. His bill was red, and his legs of a flashing
blue. As he moved, the tints gleamed through each other, and the eye
was charmed with their radiance. His size was as that of an eagle. But
now he opened his glittering beak; and sweetest melodies came pouring
from his moved breast, in finer tones than the lovesick nightingale
gives forth; still stronger rose the song, and streamed like floods of
Light, so that all, the very children themselves, were moved by it to
tears of joy and rapture. When he ceased, all bowed before him; he
again flew round the dome in circles, then darted through the door,
and soared into the light heaven, where he shone far up like a red
point, and then soon vanished from their eyes.
"Why are ye all so glad?" inquired Mary, bending to her fair playmate,
who seemed smaller than yesterday.
"The King is coming!" said the little one; "many of us have never seen
him, and whithersoever he turns his face, there are happiness and
mirth; we have long looked for him, more anxiously than you look for
spring when winter lingers with you; and now he has announced, by his
fair herald, that he is at hand. This wise and glorious Bird, that has
been sent to us by the King, is called Phoenix; he dwells far off in
Arabia, on a tree--there is no other that resembles it on Earth, as
in like manner there is no second Phoenix.
[Illustration: #DANCE OF THE ELVES# MORITZ VON SCHWIND]
When he feels himself grown old, he builds a pile of balm and incense,
kindles it, and dies singing; and then from the fragrant ashes soars
up the renewed Phoenix with unlessened beauty. It is seldom he so
wings his course that men behold him; and when once in centuries this
does occur, they note it in their annals, and expect remarkable
events. But now, my friend, thou and I must part; for the sight of the
King is not permitted thee."
Then the lady with the golden robe came through the throng, and
beckoning Mary to her, led her into a sequestered walk. "Thou must
leave us, my dear child," said she; "the King is to hold his court
here for twenty years, perhaps longer; and fruitfulness and blessings
will spread far over the land, but chiefly here beside us; all the
brooks and rivulets will become more bountiful, all the fields and
gardens richer, the wine more generous, the meadows more fertile, and
the woods more fresh and green; a milder air will blow, no hail shall
hurt, no flood shall threaten. Take this ring, and think of us; but
beware of telling any one of our existence or we must fly this land,
and thou and all around will lose the happiness and blessing of our
neighborhood. Once more, kiss thy playmate, and farewell." They issued
from the walk; Zerina wept, Mary stooped to embrace her, and they
parted. Already she was on the narrow bridge; the cold air was blowing
on her back from the firs; the little dog barked with all its might,
and rang its little bell; she looked round, then hastened over, for
the darkness of the firs, the bleakness of the ruined huts, the
shadows of the twilight, were filling her with terror.
"What a night my parents must have had on my account!" said she within
herself, as she stepped on the green; "and I dare not tell them where
I have been, or what wonders I have witnessed, nor indeed would they
believe me." Two men passing by saluted her, and as they went along,
she heard them say: "What a pretty girl! Where can she have come
from?" With quickened steps she approached the house; but the trees
which were hanging last night loaded with fruit were now standing dry
and leafless; the house was differently painted, and a new barn had
been built beside it. Mary was amazed, and thought she must be
dreaming. In this perplexity she opened the door; and behind the table
sat her father, between an unknown woman and a stranger youth. "Good
God! Father," cried she, "where is my mother?"
"Thy mother!" said the woman, with a forecasting tone, and sprang
toward her: "Ha, thou surely canst not--yes, indeed, indeed thou art
my lost, long-lost, dear, only Mary!" She had recognized her by a
little brown mole beneath the chin, as well as by her eyes and shape.
All embraced her, all were moved with joy, and the parents wept. Mary
was astonished that she almost reached to her father's stature; and
she could not understand how her mother had become so changed and
faded; she asked the name of the stranger youth. "It is our neighbor's
Andrew," said Martin. "How comest thou to us again, so unexpectedly,
after seven long years? Where hast thou been? Why didst thou never
send us tidings of thee?"
"Seven years!" said Mary, and could not order her ideas and
recollections. "Seven whole years?"
"Yes, yes," said Andrew, laughing, and shaking her trustfully by the
hand; "I have won the race, good Mary; I was at the pear-tree and back
again seven years ago, and thou, sluggish creature, art but just
They again asked, they pressed her; but remembering her instruction,
she could answer nothing. It was they themselves chiefly that, by
degrees, shaped a story for her: How, having lost her way, she had
been taken up by a coach, and carried to a strange remote part, where
she could not give the people any notion of her parents' residence;
how she was conducted to a distant town, where certain worthy persons
brought her up, and loved her; how they had lately died, and at length
she had recollected her birthplace, and so returned. "No matter how it
is!" exclaimed her mother; "enough that we have thee again, my little
daughter, my own, my all!"
Andrew waited supper, and Mary could not be at home in anything she
saw. The house seemed small and dark; she felt astonished at her
dress, which was clean and simple, but appeared quite foreign; she
looked at the ring on her finger, and the gold of it glittered
strangely, inclosing a stone of burning red. To her father's question,
she replied that the ring also was a present from her benefactors.
She was glad when the hour of sleep arrived, and she hastened to her
bed. Next morning she felt much more collected; she had now arranged
her thoughts a little, and could better stand the questions of the
people in the village, all of whom came in to bid her welcome. Andrew
was there too with the earliest, active, glad, and serviceable beyond
all others. The blooming maiden of fifteen had made a deep impression
on him; he had passed a sleepless night. The people of the castle
likewise sent for Mary, and she had once more to tell her story to
them, which was now grown quite familiar to her. The old Count and his
Lady were surprised at her good breeding; she was modest, but not
embarrassed; she made answer courteously in good phrases to all their
questions; all fear of noble persons and their equipage had passed
away from her; for when she measured these halls and forms by the
wonders and the high beauty she had seen with the Elves in their
hidden abode, this earthly splendor seemed but dim to her, the
presence of men was almost mean. The young lords were charmed with her
It was now February. The trees were budding earlier than usual; the
nightingale had never come so soon; the spring rose fairer in the land
than the oldest men could recollect it. In every quarter, little
brooks gushed out to irrigate the pastures and meadows; the hills
seemed heaving, the vines rose higher and higher, the fruit-trees
blossomed as they had never done; and a swelling fragrant blessedness
hung suspended heavily in rosy clouds over the scene. All prospered
beyond expectation: no rude day, no tempest injured the fruits; the
wine flowed blushing in immense grapes; and the inhabitants of the
place felt astonished, and were captivated as in a sweet dream. The
next year was like its forerunner; but men had now become accustomed
to the marvelous. In autumn, Mary yielded to the pressing entreaties
of Andrew and her parents; she was betrothed to him, and in winter
they were married.
She often thought with inward longing of her residence behind the
fir-trees; she continued serious and still. Beautiful as all that lay
around her was, she knew of something yet more beautiful; and from the
remembrance of this a faint regret attuned her nature to soft
melancholy. It smote her painfully when her father and mother talked
about the gipsies and vagabonds that dwelt in the dark spot of ground.
Often she was on the point of speaking out in defense of those good
beings, whom she knew to be the benefactors of the land; especially to
Andrew, who appeared to take delight in zealously abusing them; yet
still she repressed the word that was struggling to escape her bosom.
So passed this year; in the next, she was solaced by a little
daughter, whom she named Elfrida, thinking of the designation of her
The young people lived with Martin and Brigitta, the house being large
enough for all, and helped their parents in conducting their now
extended husbandry. The little Elfrida soon displayed peculiar
faculties and gifts; for she could walk at a very early age, and could
speak perfectly before she was a twelvemonth old; and after some few
years she had become so wise and clever, and of such wondrous beauty,
that all people regarded her with astonishment, and her mother could
not banish the thought that her child resembled one of those shining
little ones in the space behind the Firs. Elfrida cared not to be with
other children, but seemed to avoid, with a sort of horror, their
tumultuous amusements, and liked best to be alone. She would then
retire into a corner of the garden, and read, or work diligently with
her needle; often also you might see her sitting, as if deep in
thought, or impetuously walking up and down the alleys, speaking to
herself. Her parents readily allowed her to have her will in these
things, for she was healthy, and waxed apace; only her strange
sagacious answers and observations often made them anxious. "Such wise
children do not grow to age," her grandmother, Brigitta, many times
observed; "they are too good for this world; the child, besides, is
beautiful beyond nature, and will never find her proper place on
The little girl had this peculiarity, that she was very loath to let
herself be served by any one, but endeavored to do everything herself.
She was almost the earliest riser in the house; she washed herself
carefully, and dressed without assistance; at night she was equally
careful; she took special heed to pack up her clothes and belongings
with her own hands, allowing no one, not even her mother, to meddle
with her articles. The mother humored her in this caprice, not
thinking it of any consequence. But what was her astonishment, when,
happening one holiday to insist, regardless of Elfrida's tears and
screams, on dressing her out for a visit to the castle, she found upon
her breast, suspended by a string, a piece of gold of a strange form,
which she directly recognized as one of the sort she had seen in such
abundance in the subterranean vaults! The little thing was greatly
frightened, and at last confessed that she had found it in the garden,
and, as she liked it much, had kept it carefully; she at the same time
prayed so earnestly and pressingly to have it back that Mary fastened
it again in its former place, and, full of thoughts, went out with her
in silence to the castle.
Sideward from the farm-house lay some offices for the storing of
produce and implements; and behind these there was a little green,
with an old arbor, now visited by no one, as, from the new arrangement
of the buildings, it lay too far from the garden. In this solitude
Elfrida delighted most; and it occurred to nobody to interrupt her
here, so that frequently her parents did not see her for half a day.
One afternoon her mother chanced to be in these buildings, seeking for
some lost article among the lumber; and she noticed that a beam of
light was coming in, through a chink in the wall. She took a thought
of looking through this aperture, and seeing what her child was busied
with; and it happened that a stone was lying loose, and could be
pushed aside, so that she obtained a view right into the arbor.
Elfrida was sitting there on a little bench, and beside her the
well-known Zerina; and the children were playing and amusing each
other, in the kindliest unity. The Elf embraced her beautiful
companion, and said mournfully: "Ah! dear little creature, as I sport
with thee, so have I sported with thy mother, when she was a child;
but you mortals so soon grow tall and thoughtful! It is very hard;
wert thou but to be a child as long as I!"
"Willingly would I do it," said Elfrida; "but they all say I shall
come to sense and give over playing altogether; for I have great
gifts, as they think, for growing wise. Ah! and then I shall see thee
no more, thou dear Zerina! Yet it is with us as with the fruit-tree
flowers--how glorious the blossoming apple-tree, with its red bursting
buds! It looks so stately and broad; and every one that passes under
it thinks surely something great will come of it; then the sun grows
hot, and the buds come joyfully forth; but the wicked kernel is
already there, which pushes off and casts away the fair flower's
dress; and now, in pain and waxing, it can do nothing more, but must
grow to fruit in harvest. An apple, to be sure, is pretty and
refreshing; yet nothing to the blossom of spring. So is it also with
us mortals; I am not glad in the least at growing to be a tall girl.
Ah! could I but once visit you!"
"Since the King is with us," said Zerina, "it is quite impossible; but
I will come to thee, my darling, often, often, and none shall see me
either here or there. I will pass invisible through the air, or fly
over to thee like a bird. Oh, we will be much, much together, while
thou art so little! What can I do to please thee?"
"Thou must like me very dearly," said Elfrida, "as I like thee in my
heart; but come, let us make another rose." Zerina took a well-known
box from her bosom, threw two grains from it on the ground, and
instantly a green bush stood before them, with two deep-red roses,
bending their heads as if to kiss each other. The children plucked
them smiling, and the bush disappeared. "O that it would not die so
soon!" said Elfrida; "this red child, this wonder of the Earth!"
"Give it me here," said the little Elf; then breathed thrice upon the
budding rose, and kissed it thrice. "Now," said she, giving back the
rose, "it will continue fresh and blooming till winter."
"I will keep it," said Elfrida, "as an image of thee; I will guard it
in my little room, and kiss it night and morning as if it were
"The sun is setting," said the other; "I must home." They embraced
again, and Zerina vanished.
In the evening, Mary clasped her child to her breast, with a feeling
of alarm and veneration. She henceforth allowed the good little girl
more liberty than formerly; and often calmed her husband, when he came
to search for the child; which for some time he was wont to do, as her
retiredness did not please him, and he feared that, in the end, it
might make her silly, or even pervert her understanding. The mother
often glided to the chink; and almost always found the bright Elf
beside her child, employed in sport, or in earnest conversation.
"Wouldst thou like to fly?" inquired Zerina once.
"Oh, well! How well!" replied Elfrida; and the fairy clasped her
mortal playmate in her arms, and mounted with her from the ground,
till they hovered above the arbor. The mother, in alarm, forgot
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