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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. The Man without a Heart
  2. The Nut-Bough
  3. The Old Wizard and the Children
  4. Gold-Maria and Pitch-Maria

The Man without a Heart

Once on a time there were seven brothers. As they were orphans and had no sister, they had to do all the house-work themselves. One day, however, they all took it into their heads to get married. Because there were no marriageable young ladies in the village where they lived, they decided to travel in search of wives, and agreed to leave their youngest brother, to whom they promised to bring a fair bride, to keep house at home. The youth was quite satisfied with this arrangement, and the six brothers set out in a high state of delight. After a while they came to a small cottage standing by itself in a wood. In front of its door sat an old man. He shouted to the brothers, "Holloa there, you young geese! Where are you going so merry and quick?"

"We are seeking for wives," answered one of them, "one for each of us, and another for our youngest brother at home."

"Oh, you dear young men," said the old fellow, "bring me a young and pretty bride too; for I live here motherless and alone."

The brothers walked off after that, wondering what such a grey old man as he could possibly want with a young and pretty bride.

In the first city they arrived at they found seven sisters, all as young and good-looking as one could desire. The brothers persuaded the young ladies to go with them and told the youngest that they had a brother at home for her.

On their way home they again passed by the cottage in the wood, and there sat the old man at his door, apparently waiting for them. "Ah, you brave youths," he cried out, "I am indebted to you, for I see you have brought a pretty young wife for me."

"No, no," answered the eldest, "she is not for you, but for our youngest brother at home, as we promised him."


"Oh, oh! promised?" said the old man; "then I will promise you something too." So saying he took a white rod and murmuring a few words, touched the brothers and their brides with it, all except the youngest girl, and changed them into grey stones. But the youngest girl he led into his cottage and told her she must always keep it in proper order. She submitted to this with a very good grace, but she got much troubled when she started to reflect that perhaps the old man soon would die. Then she would be left motherless and alone in the wild forest, just as the old man had done before she came.

When she told him of this, he answered, "Do not trouble yourself; fear not, and do not hope that I shall die, for I have no heart in my breast. But if I should die, you will find my white rod over the door, and then if you touch the grey stones with it, your sisters will regain their right forms and the brothers will too, and then you will have company enough."


"But where is your heart, if it is not in your breast?" asked the young bride.

"Must you know everything?" asked the old man. "Well then, if you must know, my heart is in my bed-covering."

So, the next time the old man went out on business, his young wife gathered the most beautiful flowers she could find while he was gone, and placed them on his bed, so that his heart might be pleased with them.

When the old man returned, he laughed at her and said, "It was only a joke when I said my heart was there; my heart is is in the oven."

When the old man went out again, his wife busied herself in covering the oven-door with beautiful feathers, and fresh flowers hanging in wreaths and festoons. On his return he asked her what this all meant; and she told him that she had done it to please his heart.

He laughed at her as before, and said," My heart is another place than in the oven."

Hearing this made her sad. In a reproachful tone she exclaimed, "Alas, you still must have a heart, and some day you will die, and then I shall be all alone."

The old man repeated what he had said before, while she pressed him to tell her where his heart really was.

At last he told her: "Far, far away from here, in deep solitude stands an old, old church, shut with iron doors. Round it runs a broad moat, and there is no bridge over it. In the church flies a bird to and fro. It neither eats nor drinks, nor will it die, and nobody can catch it. As long as the bird lives, so long shall I live, for in that bird is my heart."

The bride got very sad now that she found it was out of her power to show her love for the old man's heart. Time passed too slowly for her afterwards, for she used to be alone all day long, until one day there came past the house a young fellow who greeted her. Then, as he came nearer, she asked him where he was going and where he came from.

"Alas!" he sighed, "I am mourning, for once I had six brothers who left me to seek for brides and promised to bring me a wife too, but they never returned. Now I have come out into the world to look for them."

"Ah," she exclaimed, "you do not have to go any farther. Sit down and eat and drink, and I will tell you something."

Then she told him how his six brothers had come to the town close by and how they, together with her sisters, had been stopped by the old man. She went on to tell how the old man had claimed her, although she was to be the bride of the youngest brother; and how the old man had changed all the others into grey stones. All this she told him with many tears. She also told that the old man had no heart in his breast and how it was hidden far away in the bosom of a bird in an old church.

The young man said, "I will look for the bird and catch it with Heaven's help."

"That would be good," she said. "Then your brothers and my sisters will become humans again." So saying, she hid the youth, for it was evening and the old man would soon be back.

As soon as the old man was gone the next morning, she gave the youth a good supply of food and wine for his journey. Wishing him Heaven's blessing and good fortune, sent him off.

On he travelled, till it occurred to him that it was time for breakfast. He sat down and said to himself at the sight of the many good things in his package, "This is a treat. Come who will, he shall be my guest!"

Scarcely had he spoken, when "Mo, mo-o-o!" sounded close to his ears, Turning his head, he saw a great brown ox who said, "You have invited all who will, so I may as well be your guest."

"You are welcome to the best I have," answered the youth.

The ox sat down as carefully as he could; and when he had finished his meal, he said, "Many thanks. If at any time you want assistance, summon me and I will come." With these words the ox disappeared.

The youth packed up. After he had travelled some distance his short shadow showed it was dinner-time, and his appetite told him the same. Sitting down on the ground, he spread out his food as before and invited any guest who chose to come.

Presently he heard a great rustling in the brushwood, and a huge wild boar rushed out, grunting, "I was called to a feast, I should say."

"You are welcome," said the youth; and sitting down together, the youth and the boar had a good meal. When they had done, the boar said, "Thank you! If you ever need me, call the wild boar;" and trotted off.

The youth travelled on again, and by evening-time he had gone a very long distance. Feeling hungry again, he thought to himself that it was time to have supper. So he spread his cloth with meat and drink, and said out loud, "I invite anyone who wants to eat with me. It is worthwhile to come."

As he spoke, he heard a great flapping of wings over his head, and a shadow was cast on the ground before him. In a minute or two down came a large vulture. It called out, "I heard anyone was invited to a feast. All food suits me."

The youth said, "Come, sit down and take what you like of what is left."

The vulture did. When he had finished he flew off, saying to the youth, "If you need me, call, and I will come."

"Oh, he is off in a hurry," thought the youth to himself, "he might have been able to show me the way to the church, for I may never find it." He walked on another few miles, and then, to his surprise, came in sight of the church. Hurrying on, he soon reached the edge of the broad moat which ran around the building. There was no bridge across the moat. He found a nice resting-place, for he was tired and weary from his long walk, and soon fell asleep.

The next morning he wished he to get to the other side of the moat, and thought to himself, "Now if the great brown ox were here, he could perhaps have drunk this ditch dry for me so that I could get over without trouble."

At once the ox came to him and began to drink, and soon they youth was able to cross over and stand on the church-wall. But the walls were very thick, and the towers were made of stones as hard as iron, and the youth wished he had a pick-axe with him. "Ah, if the wild boar were here, he could break through for me," he thought to himself.

No sooner had he said so, than he heard a great noise. Up rushed the fierce boar. Soon it knocked out with its tusks one stone and then another till it had made a great hole that he could easily get through.

The youth entered and saw the bird flying about, but to catch it was more than he was able to. "If the vulture were here now," said he, "he would soon lay hold of that bird for me."

At once the vulture flew in and seized the bird that had the old man's heart in its breast. The youth thanked the vulture as best he could, before it flew away.

Now the youth hastened home to his bride-to-be, reached the house before evening, and told her all that had happened. She gave him a good supper, and then hid him under the bed together with the bird, so that the old man might not see him.

Soon the old man came home. He complained that he felt very ill, like dying, for his bird was caught. The youth under the bed heard this and thought to himself that even though the old man had never done him any harm, he had turned his brothers and their brides into stone, and also had robbed him of his bride. So he began to squeeze the neck of the bird, and the old man called out, "Oh, I am dying; someone is strangling me! Oh, I die!" With these words he fell off his chair dead, for the youth had wrung the bird's neck.

Then the youth crept out from under the bed. The maiden took the old man's white staff and struck the twelve grey stones with it, as he had taught her. In a moment the six brothers and six sisters stood up as humans again. What joy there was among them! They hugged and embraced one another, and the old man was as dead as could be.

The seven brothers married the seven sisters, and for many, many years they all lived together in health and happiness.

[AT 303 + 302]


The Nut-Bough

Once on a time there was a wealthy merchant. His business took him into foreign countries. One day, when he was going away, he said to his three daughters, "Dear children, I should like to bring to each of you a nice present when I come back. Tell me what you would like."

The eldest said, "Dear father, bring me the most beautiful pearl necklace that you can find."

The second said, "I wish for a bright diamond-ring."

But the youngest, throwing herself on her father's neck, said, "For me, dear father, bring a beautiful little green nut-bough."

"Well, dear daughters," said the merchant, "I will take care for you all. Farewell!"

Far away rode the merchant and made great purchases. He did not forget what his daughters had asked for either. He had already packed in his trunk a costly pearl necklace for the eldest daughter, and had found a splendid diamond-ring for his second daughter; but he did not find agreen nut-twig anywhere, even though he took a great deal of trouble to find one.

At last he set off homewards. As he made his way through all the woods along the road, he hoped to find to find a green nut-twig. But soon he got so near his home that he began to fear that, after all, he should not be able to give his youngest daughter the simple gift she wished for.

The last part of his journey was through a gloomy forest. As he was sorrowfully picking his way through the thick brushwood, he knocked his hat against a bough; it rattled like a bunch of beads. He looked up and saw it was a beautiful green branch and that a string of golden nuts was hanging on it - just what his youngest daughter had asked for! He was so delighted that he reached his hand up at once and broke off the bough. At the same minute a wild bear rushed out of the thicket and stood up on his bind legs, growling and menacing as if he would tear the merchant into pieces.

"Why have you broken off my nut-branch?" he roared. "You miserable wretch, I will eat you up!"

Shaking and trembling with terror, the merchant answered, "Dear bear, do not eat me; let me go my way with the nut-bough and I will give you plenty of bacon and honey."

"Keep your bacon and honey for yourself," said the bear. "Promise me whatever or whoever meets you first as you enter your gate and then I will not eat you."

The merchant readily agreed to this; for he thought it would only be his poodle-dog that he would have to sacrifice to save his own life. So after a hearty shake of the paw, the bear walked back into the thicket while the merchant, still breathless from fright, hurried gladly away from the spot.

The golden nut-bough shone brightly on the hat of the merchant as he drew nearer and nearer to his home. With springy steps his youngest daughter bounded towards him. Behind her, at a respectful distance, followed the poodle-dog, and in the doorway stood his two eldest daughters and his wife, waiting to greet him.

The merchant was terrified when he saw his youngest daughter coming first to welcome him. Sadly and sorrowfully he received the embraces and kisses of all and then he told them of his adventure with the nut-bough. All began to weep, but the youngest daughter said in front of them all that she would do as her father had promised.

"Do not despair, my dear daughters," interrupted the mother, "do not trouble yourselves. If the bear should come, dear husband, let us then give him the herdsman's daughter in the place of our youngest child, and then the bear will be content."

The ruse sounded so good to them that it raised the spirits of the sisters, who began now to adorn themselves with their presents.

The youngest always carried her nut-bough with her and soon thought no more of the bear and her father's promise.

But one day a gloomy-looking carriage rattled through the street up to the merchant's door; and the bear stepped out. He walked straight into the house and demanded that the merchant kept his promise. With all possible haste and secrecy the herdsman's daughter was fetched and placed inside the bear's carriage.

They went off directly; and when they had gone a short distance, the bear laid his rough shaggy head in the lap of the girl and grumbled out,

"Tickle me, scratch me
Softly and tenderly,
Or else will I eat you,
Skin, bone and all."

The girl began scratching; but she did not do it right and the bear perceived at once that he was deceived. In his rage he would have devoured the girl on the spot, had she not made a spring and escaped from him among the bushes.

The bear went back at once to the merchant's house and demanded with great threats his promised bride. So after a bitter leave-taking, the fair maiden was had to accompany her ugly bridegroom and sit beside him in the carriage.

When they had gone a short distance, he began to grumble,

"Tickle me, scratch me
Softly and tenderly,
Or else will I eat you,
Skin, bone and all."

So the maiden tickled him as he desired about his ears; and soon she had the pleasure of seeing his grim looks vanish. By degrees the girl then won his confidence.

Their journey did not last long, for the carriage went on as if a mighty wind blew it. They soon entered a very dark wood; and in the middle of it the carriage stopped before a deep cave - the bear's dwelling.

Oh, how the maiden trembled! But the bear embracing her as gently as he could with his frightful, shaggy paws and said to her, "Stay here, my bride, and be happy, But take care that you behave bravely, or else my wild companions might tear you."

While he was speaking, he led the way through a narrow passage; and presently unlocking an iron door, entered a chamber full of poisonous reptiles, which kept darting about here and there.

"Look neither to the left or right,
Or you will be lose your calm,"

growled the bear in her ear. So she walked straight on through the chamber and not a reptile moved - and so on through ten other chambers. The last of them was swarming with the most frightful creatures of all dragons, snakes, toads, basilisks and winged serpents. In each room the bear growled out,

"Look neither to the left or right,
Or you will be lose your calm."

The girl trembled and shook with fear like an aspen-leaf, at every step she took, but she did not look round or behind her; she kept her eyes steadily fixed on the ground.

As soon as they opened the door to the twelfth chamber, a shining ray of light burst forth on them and from within came a sound of sweet harmony and songs of triumph and rejoicing. Then, before the maiden could recover her scattered senses, overcome as she was at first with terror and dread of the noisome reptiles and then dazzled with the brilliancy of the last chamber, there came a fearful clap of thunder as if heaven and earth had clashed together. Then followed a dread silence. But with the thunder the forest, the cave, the poisonous creatures and the bear had all disappeared. In their place stood a great castle, and all around it was ranged a company of well-dressed servants, and the bear had turned into a handsome young man. He was the princely owner of the castle. He pressed the merchant's daughter to his heart and thanked her again and again for having saved him and his servants from their spell.

They married at once. The princess did not forget her nut-bough, though, as it was the key to all her good fortune. It was always in bloom afterwards.

As soon as she was able, she sent word to her parents and sisters of the great good that had come her way, and invited them to come to her. They did, and all lived to a happy, old age, enjoying life in the castle of the bear-prince.

[AT 425]


The Old Wizard and the Children

Once on a time there lived a wicked wizard. He had stolen two children of tender age, a boy and a girl. He lived with them in a hollow cave, away from people and hermit-like. There he followed his black art, learnt from a secret book that he guarded as his best treasure.

From time to time the wizard went out and left the children by themselves. At such times the boy would read in the book, for he had spied out where it was hidden. In such a way he learnt many rules and managed to work charms himself.

The old wizard had in mind to keep the children shut up all their lives, so they repeatedly tried to find some means of escape.

One day the wizard went out on a long journey, and soon after he had started, the boy said to his sister, "Now is the time, sister. The wicked man who has kept us prisoners for so long is away. Let us be off at once and travel as far as our feet will carry us." The children set out and walked along the whole day.

By and by, when evening came, the wizard returned home and at once missed them. So he opened his book of enchantments and quickly found out which way they had taken and set off in pursuit.

Long before he was in sight, the children knew he was coming by his heavy breathing and loud shouting. "Dear brother," cried the sister, full of terror and anguish, "We are lost; that wicked man is near us!"

But the boy remembered what he had learned and uttered a charm that transformed him into a large pond and his sister into a fish swimming about in it.

As soon as the old wizard came to the pond, he perceived at once that he was deceived and exclaimed, "Wait, wait, I will have you!" Then he ran back in a rage to his cave to fetch some nets to catch the fish. But as soon as he was gone, the pond and fish became again brother and sister. They congratulated each other on their escape, and then rested for the night.

The next morning they set off again, so when the wizard by and by came to the place with his nets, there was no pond there, but a green meadow with plenty of frogs in it, but no fishes. In a dreadful passion the old man threw his nets away and pursued the children again, for by means of a divining-rod that he carried with him, he knew the route they had taken,.

When evening came he had nearly overtaken them. They heard him in the distance roaring and raging like a wild bull.

"Dear brother!" exclaimed the little girl, "We are lost! The wicked wretch is close behind us!"

The boy repeated another charm he had learnt from the book and changed himself into a chapel and his sister into a beautiful altar-piece within the chapel.

When the wizard came to the chapel, he was forced to run howling away, for he dared not enter any church or chapel. But at some distance he cried, "Though I may not enter you, I can set you on fire and burn you to ashes!" So saying, he ran off to his cave to fetch a light.

As soon as he was gone, the brother and sister became humans again, and after resting for the night, they journeyed on fast.

They got a long way in advance of the wizard, since he had to go back so far. Thus, when he came back to the spot where the chapel had stood, he found nothing there but a great rock. Furious with rage, he ran on in the track of the children.

By the evening he was almost up to them, and for the third time the sister thought all was lost when she heard him close by. But her brother repeated another charm and became a hard threshing-floor, and his sister became a little grain of corn lying among other grains of corn on it.

A little later the wizard came. When he saw the threshing-floor and the grains of corn and no tracks leading away from there, he muttered, "I will not run the long way home and fetch something this time." Then he turned himself into a black cock that ran about the floor to peck at and eat up the grains of corn.

At once the boy repeated another charm and changed himself into a fox. The fox caught the cock before he could eat one grain of corn, and that was the end of the cock.

[AT 325]


Gold-Maria and Pitch-Maria

Once there was a widow with two daughters. One was her own child and the other her step-child, and both were named Maria. The first was neither affectionate nor honest, but the step-daughter was a good and hard-working girl. She had many vexations and slights to suffer at the hands of her mother and sister, but through all she kept her temper; she did all the kitchen-work without murmuring, and when she was particularly aggrieved by her mother or sister, she had a quiet cry in her own room. After that she was quite happy again and would say to herself, "Never mind, Heaven will help you soon." And then she would work away vigorously and make everything neat and clean.

Her mother, however, was never satisfied; and one day said to her, "Maria, I cannot any longer keep you at home, you work little and eat much. Your father left you no property, and your mother did not either. What there is, is all mine and I will not maintain you any longer. So you must leave this place and look out for another mistress."

So saying, she made a cake of milk and ashes, filled a small bottle with water and giving them to Maria, sent her away from the house.

Maria was very much grieved with this harsh treatment, but still she walked bravely off over the fields and meadows, for she thought to herself as she went along, "Someone will soon hire me as servant, and perhaps I shall find another mistress that is kinder than my step-mother."

When she began to feel hungry she sat down on the grass and took out her cake and drank some of the water, while round her several birds fluttered, now picking up the crumbs that she scattered and now dipping their bills in the water she held out to them in the hollow of her hand. Just then her ashy cake changed into a delicious cake and the water into milk.


Strengthened and refreshed by her meal, Maria got up and walked on. When it was getting dark, she came to a solitary house. The walls around it seemed to have two doors, one black as pitch and the other shining like gold.

Maria went through the least attractive door of the two into the courtyard and then knocked at the house-door. A man that looked terribly wild, opened it and asked her what she wanted. "Only to know if you could shelter me for the night," answered Maria, trembling,

"Come in," murmured the man hoarsely.

Maria followed him, shaking more and more with fear as she heard on every side a confused howling of dogs and mewing of cats, for there was nothing else in the house except the rough owner.

"Will you sleep with me or with the cats and dogs?" growled the man.

"With the cats and dogs," answered Maria, but he gave her a nice white bed, and there she could sleep peacefully enough.

In the morning the man asked, "Will you have breakfast with me or with the dogs and cats?"

"With the dogs and cats," she answered, but he gave her coffee, sweet milk, eggs, cheese, and buttered slices of good bread.

Soon after, Maria prepared to start off. Then the man asked again, "Will you go out of the golden door or the pitch door?"

She answered, "The pitch door," but he told her to go out at the golden door. As she walked through it, the man showered gold down on her from the wall above the door, so that she went her way covered with a golden garment.

She went home again. As soon as she opened the garden-gate, the hens she had used to feed came flying towards her and the cock cried out, "Cock-a-doodle-doo - here comes our Gold-Maria - cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Her stepmother came down the steps to meet her and made her a low bow as if she was a princess who had come to honour her with a visit.

Maria said, "Do you not know me? I am Maria."

Soon her sister came, wondering at the sight as much as her mother. Maria had to tell all that had happened to her and how she had become covered with gold. Her mother now took her in again and treated her better than before, so that Maria was honoured and loved by everybody. In a little while a worthy young farmer took a fancy to her and married her, and they lived together very happily.

By and by the other Maria wanted to leave home and see if she could come back covered with gold, she too. Her mother gave her sweet cakes and wine to refresh her on her journey. The birds came and pecked at the crumbs when she rested and had a meal, but she drove them away. Then her cake changed into ashes and her wine into muddy water.

At evening-time she came to the same house that her sister had come to. She went brashly in at the golden gate and knocked at the door.

When the man opened it and asked what she wanted, she answered, "I have come to pass the night here."

"Come in," he growled. "Where will you sleep? With dogs and cats or in the best chamber?"

"In the best chamber," she answered, but he led her into the room where the dogs and cats were, and locked her in. In the morning when she arose, her face was all scratched and bitten. When she came out, the man asked her if she would have breakfast with him or with the dogs and cats.

"Oh, with you," she answered, hastily, but she had to sit down with his dogs and cats.

After the meal she wished to leave. The man asked again, "Do you want to go out of the golden door or the pitch door?"

"The golden door," she answered, but that door was closed and she had to go out by the other. As she passed through, the man was standing above it showered down on her a cloud of pitch.

Full of rage she hurried home. As she approached, the cock began to crow, "Cock-a-doodle-doo! Here comes our Pitch-Maria Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

When she entered the house, her mother was horrified and never dared allow anybody to see her daughter for a long time, although the scratches and bite marks healed soon enough.

[AT 431 + 480. Retold]



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