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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. The Three Presents
  2. The Hare-Keeper
  3. The Kitten and the Knitting-Needles
  4. Casting Spells

The Three Presents

Once there was a poor weaver, and there are many of them even now. But this one was born under a lucky star, for one day three rich students came by his house, saw the great poverty he lived in, and gave him a hundred dollars to help him in his business.

The poor man looked for a long time at the coins before he touched them. He could not make up his mind what to do with them, so he hid the money in a bindle of rags, where nobody would look for it. His wife was not at home at the time.

Some time later a rag-dealer came to his house while the weaver was away, and bought from his wife the bundle of rags that the weaver had hid the money in. The weaver lamented a lot when he came home and his wife showed him the good bargain she thought she had made of the rags.

A year later the three students came again. They hoped to find the weaver well off, but he was poorer than ever and told them how he had lost the money. A second time they gave him a hundred dollars, telling him to be more careful.

This time he put the money into the ash-pit without letting his wife into the secret. But while he was away one day, his wife sold the ashes to a man who came round for them, and in return got two pieces of soap. She flattered herself she had this time acted wisely, for her husband who had cautioned her never to sell any more linen to pedlars, had said nothing about anything else.

But when the husband came home and heard of the bargain, he flew into a violent rage.

When a year had passed the students came again. When they found the weaver still in rags, they said to him while they threw a piece of lead at his feet, "What use is nutmeg to a cow! We will never come back here again!"

They went away in a rage. The weaver picked up the lead they had left and laid it on the window-sill. Soon afterwards his neighbour, a fisherman, came in and asked if he had by him a piece of lead or something else that was as heavy, so that he could sink his nets with it.

The weaver gave him the piece of lead from the windowsill. The fisherman thanked him and went away, promising to bring him the first fish he could catch in exchange for the lead.

Soon afterwards the fisherman brought in a fine fish and forced the weaver to accept it. It weighed four or five pounds. But when the weaver cut up the fish, he found a great stone in it. He placed the stone on the spot where the lead had been. Then, when it grew dark, he was surprised to see that the stone glittered and shone like a lamp. "

This is a valuable stone," said he to his wife. "See to it that you do not throw it away as you did my two hundred dollars."

The next evening a nobleman rode past the cottage and saw the glittering stone on the window-sill. He went into the house and offered ten dollars for it.

"The stone is not for sale," said the weaver.

"Not for twenty dollars even?" asked the nobleman.

"Even so," said the weaver.

But the nobleman kept on bidding for it till he had offered a thousand dollars, for the stone was a costly diamond and really worth two times as much.

The weaver accepted the offer and thereby became as rich as any in the village. But his wife would have her last word and said, "All this wealth comes from my giving away the two hundred dollars, so you should thank me a lot, after all!"

[AT 736, 946 D*]


The Hare-Keeper

A certain rich king had a very pretty daughter. When she got old enough to be married, she was promised to be the bride of him who could first catch a golden apple that the princess threw up in the air, and then perform three tasks that the king set.

Many a youth had caught the apple but failed to perform the tasks. At last a shepherd-boy came to try. His first task was this:

The king had a hundred hares in his stables. Whoever led them out to pasture in the morning and brought them all safely home at night, had performed the first task.

The shepherd took a day to consider whether he could do what was required. During that time he walked about the hills around. There he met and old man who asked him why he looked so thoughtful.

"Mmph, nobody can help me," the shepherd groaned.

"Tell me what is on your mind, and then maybe I can help you," said the man.

The shepherd told him all. The man gave him a small reed pipe, saying, "Keep this with care. It will be of great use to you." And without waiting to be thanked he disappeared.

The shepherd then went back to the king and said, "I will tend your hares!"

The hares were led out of the stable, but before the last came out, the first ones had disappeared over the mountains. The shepherd went into the fields and sat down on a little hillock, wondering what to do. Then he remembered his pipe and took it from his pocket. When he played a few notes on it, all the hares came to him and began to feed around him..

But the princess and her father did not like the idea that a low-born shepherd boy should win her, so they had plan to hinder him from bringing all the hares home. The princess went to him in common clothing with her face dyed so that he might not recognise her, but he did anyway. When she saw that all the hares were grazing around him, she asked if she could buy one from him

"No," answered the shepherd, "but you can earn one."

"How?" she asked.

"If you give me a kiss and keep company with me for half an hour," he answered.

At first she would not, but when she found that she could not get a hare in any other way, she let him have his way.

After a while he caught a hare for her and placed it in her basket. But about fifteen minutes after she went away with it the shepherd blew on his pipe. The hare jumped out of her basket at once and ran back to him.

Soon the old king came. He was riding on a donkey with a basked hanging on each side of his saddle, and had dressed up to disguise himself. The boy saw who he was anyway.

"Do you have any hares to sell?" asked the king.

"No, but you may earn one, if you please," answered the shepherd.

"How?" asked the king.

"If you kiss your donkey's backside," the shepherd answered, "you will get one."

Unwilling to do such a thing, the king offered the shepherd a heavy purse of gold for the hare instead. But the shepherd said there was no other way to get a hare from him, so at last the king the king gave his donkey a big kiss on its backside.

At once the shepherd caught a hare and placed it in one of the king's baskets. The king then rode away; but he had not gone very far when the shepherd took out his pipe and whistled a few notes. The hare made way at once and came back to the others at the sound of the music.

Before long the king reached home. "He is a cunning fellow that shepherd," he said; "I could not get any hare from him!" He did not say anything about what he had done to get one.

"Yes," said the princess, "I too found him cunning!" She said nothing of what she had done to get a hare either.

And as soon as evening came, the shepherd returned and counted the hares into the stables while the king stood beside him and counted. Yes, there were exactly one hundred hares.

"Your first task is done," said the king. "Now comes the second one. In my granary lie a hundred measures of turnip-seed and a hundred measures of lentil-seed. These are all mixed together. If you separate the one from the other and make two heaps of them during the night and without a candle, you will have accomplished the second task."

The shepherd was locked up in the granary where the seed was. When everything was quiet in the castle, he blew on his pipe. At once several thousand came crawling and carried the seeds here and there till the turnip and lentil-seeds were divided into two heaps. The ants left as soon as they had finished the task.

Early in the morning the king came down and found the task was done, He wondered how the shepherd could have done it, but set him the third task without making any remarks about the heaps.

The third task was in one night to eat up all the bread that was placed in a certain room. When the shepherd had done it, he would get the princess, promised the king.

As soon as night came the shepherd was placed in the bread-chamber. It was packed full of bread. First he ate out a space to stand upright in. Then, when everyone else had gone to bed, he played on his pipe. At once came a vast flock of mice and started to eat bread. At daybreak they had every loaf and crumb that the shepherd had left and had disappeared from the room.

When the shepherd saw this, he began to kick merrily at the door, crying out, "Open the door, hurry, open the door! I am hungry!"

Now the third task was carried out But the king still wanted to put aside the agreement, and said to the peasant, "You will have my daughter, if you tell us a sack full of silly stories first."

The shepherd began and went on half the day with a long string of silly stories; but the sack was still declared to be only half full. At length he said, "I have been lying in the grass at the side of my princess."

At these words the princess blushed and got crimson all over her face and neck, so much so that the king suspected that it was true and wondered when and where it had happened. "But the sack is not full yet," cried the king.

So the shepherd went on, "The king has also kissed his . . . "

"The sack is full, it is full!" screamed the king; for he would not let his courtiers and other people know what this was about.

So the shepherd married the princess after all. The wedding festivities lasted for fourteen days and were so splendid that I wish we too could have been there.

[AT 570 + 554]


The Kitten and the Knitting-Needles

Once a poor woman earned her livelihood by picking up sticks in the forest to sell for firewood. One day as she was returning home with a bundle, she saw a kitten lying against the trunk of a tree, mewing piteously. She felt sorry for it, put it in her apron and carried it home. Her two children came to meet her and asked what she had in her apron. They wanted her to give them the kitten, but she would not let them have it, for she feared they might tease and distress it. She took the kitten carefully home and put it on some soft rags and gave it milk to drink.

The kitten stayed in the house till it was quite recovered. Then suddenly it disappeared.

Some time afterwards, when the woman was again in the forest and was returning home with her bundle of firewood at her back, just as she passed the place where she had found the kitten, an old dame was standing there. The dame beckoned to her and gave her five knitting-needles. The poor woman did not know what to make of this gift and thought the needles were not of much value to her. However, she carried them home and laid them on the table at night.

The next morning she found a pair of newly made stockings on the table beside the needles. The woman was much astonished, and after thinking things over, left the needles the following evening in the same place. A second pair of stockings was the result the next day. Every night a fresh pair of stockings was made.

She now supposed that she had got the wonderful needles as a reward for being kind to the kitten. Many were eager to buy such stockings, and paid so well that she had enough for herself and her children to live on.

[Mot. B 422, B 505, D 810]


Casting Spells

Once there was a young bookbinder who was tramping about the country in search of pleasure more than a job. By soon all his money was spent and he thought it was high time to seek for work and fill his purse again. He was lucky enough to meet with a master bookbinder at once.

The man said as soon as he had introduced the young bookbinder to his new workshop, "You will suit me very well if you will always do the work I give you and nothing else. All you have to do is to sew these books together in the order I place them; but this book, lying apart here, you must not touch, much less look into, or it will be your ruin. Remember, you may read every other in the shop if you do stay away from that one."

The young fellow minded what his master said and for two long years everything went well. His hard work and careful work soon won the heart of his master, and he was often left whole days to himself - now and then for a week at a time.

One day, however, when his master was away, he was seized with an uncontrollable urge to look into the book that he had been forbidden ever to move from its place. He had already read through every other book in the shop and although his conscience told him that he had no right to look into this one, he got so curious that he lifted the book from the shelf and turned its pages. There were secret, elaborate spells on every page. As the young bookbinder read the spells, he found that everything happened as they said. When he said one of the rhymes in the book, at once the thing wished for lay before his eyes.

The book taught him beside how to change himself into whatever form he wished; and as a last experiment he changed himself into a swallow and the book into a little grain in his beak, and flew to his father's house. His father was much astonished when a bird flew in at his window and then turned into his son. He had not seen him for two years, but welcomed him heartily.

"Now, dear father," said the son, "now we can be happy and contented, for I have with me a book that makes wise men of both of us."

The old man was well pleased at this, for lately he had become poor. The young fellow changed himself into a fine fat ox and bade his father take him to market and sell him at a high price. "But before you let my buyer have me," he added, "take care to untie the cord round my left back foot, or you will lose me altogether."

A great crowd gathered around the old man as soon as he came to the market. All would like to buy the fine fat ox. After a long bargaining, a jolly butcher paid a heavy sum for the fat ox and led him off in triumph. But his triumph lasted only briefly, for when he went to look after his prize in the morning, he found just a bundle of straw instead of a fine fat ox. The bookbinder had made himself a human again, and slipped back to his father's house to the gold they had got by deceit.

After a while the old man and his son had used up the money they had got by cheating the butcher, and wanted to try another trick. The son took the shape of a gallant black horse, and his father led him to a horse-fair to be sold. Many people were gathered round this time too, but one of them was the master-bookbinder. When he came home and the bookbinder and his book of spells were gone, and had found it out too.

The wizard now wanted to have the horse, and his first offer was much more than anybody else cared to give. The father did not know the wizard and sold the horse to him. The animal began to shiver and tremble violently to make his father understand he had done a mistake, but he found no ways of doing in when he was in the garb of a horse.

The wizard led the horse off to the stable. There the old man would have loosened the string about the horse's neck, but the wizard suspected some trick and would not let him do it. The father then went home. He took comfort in the belief that his son could easily deliver himself from his buyer too, as he could change his form.

In every stall a crowd of people was waiting to see the wonderful horse, for there had been much talk of him throughout the fair. In the crowd was a little fellow who ventured to stroke and pat the animal. The horse allowed him to do as he liked, and when the boy, taking courage, patted him on the neck, he bent his head down and softly whispered in the lad's ear, "Have you got a knife with you, my boy?"

"Yes," was the astonished reply, "a sharp one!"

"Then cut the string round my left hindfoot," the horse whispered softly again.

The boy did so, and at the same moment the horse disappeared and there was only a bundle of straw left in the stable. But out of the window a swallow flew up high into the clear blue sky.

The wizard had left the stable for a moment. As soon as he saw what had happened, he changed himself into a hawk and pursued the swallow as fast as he could. Right before he had the swallow in his claws the swallow swirled downwards and towards a castle. In the garden a princess was walking. Then the bookbinder made himself into a ring and dropped into the lap of the princess as she sat on a bank. She wondered where the ring could come from and put it on her finger.

But the hawk had seen it all with his keen eyes and he quickly changed into a handsome youth, and then bowed gracefully to the princess and asked her to return to him the ring he had used for some trick.

The fair princess laughed and blushed and drew the ring from her finger, but then it fell to the ground and rolled into a hole in the shape of a grain of millet. In the twinkling of an eye the wizard changed into a turkey-cock and pecked about for the grain, but the seed at the same time had became a fox and bit off the head of the cock.

Now the fox changed into a man and thanked the princess for her protection and begged that he might always have it - he wanted to marry her.

The princess was scared with all that had happened, for she was young and inexperienced in the ways of wizards. However, she told the youth that she would have him if he forsook witchcraft and remained unchangeably true to her. This he readily promised, and to show his good faith he threw his book of old spells into the fire.

[AT 325]



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