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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. The Golden Hen
  2. The Monk and the Bird
  3. The Seven Swans
  4. Alys and Her Dog

The Golden Hen

In a little forest-hut there once lived an old man. Besides several children he also had a golden hen that was so small that it was scarcely bigger than a wren. The old man was fond of this bird and his children loved it too.

When the old man was about to die, he charged them not to sell the hen because it was a luck-bird. But after the old man died, poverty and distress came into the house, although every week the golden hen laid a yellow egg about the size of a pea.

While the father was alive, he had used to carry away these eggs and return with money and food. Now when they were too short of food, the eldest son gathered the eggs that had been laid and took them to market to sell them. But people only laughed at him for offering such things. At last a man, out of compassion, gave him two pennies for the eggs.

When these pennies were spent, hunger stared the poor family in the face again and the lad went a second time to market, this time with only one egg. He met the man that his father had sold the first eggs to, and that man was well aware that they were of pure gold and of great value. But when the man understood that the youth did not know that secret, he said to him, "What shall I do with one egg? Sell the hen to me and I will pay you much for her."

The youth accepted the offer, but his brothers were very against it. Even the bird cried, "Do not sell me! Do not!"

As soon as the hen was sold and gone, misfortune fell on the family and the brothers and sisters were forced to split and beg their own bread.

About the same time the king of the country died. When her weeks of mourning were over, the young and pretty widow got it announced that one day the crown would be hanging in a string, and whoever who let himself be blindfolded and yet pierced the hanging crown with a lance, should be her new husband.

As soon as this was announced, the golden hen cried, "Whoever eats me shall be king! Whoever eats me shall be king!"

Then the man who had bought the hen killed her, although he knew that by doing it there would be no more golden eggs coming. He gave the slaughtered hen to his cook and asked her to prepare and dress the hen for dinner. She was to pay particular attention to the roasting while he himself went and invited some friends.

In the meantime the youth that the hen had first belonged to, came to the door of the kitchen where the hen was roasting and begged the cook for something to eat. "You must do some work for it then," said the cook, and set him to draw water, fetch wood and many other little jobs. Then she left him to watch the bird. When she was out of the kitchen he happened to give the spit an unlucky knock that sent the bird from the spit and into the hearth.

This accident unsettled they youth so that he thoughtlessly and hurriedly snatched up the half-roasted, sooty bird and ate it. When the cook returned, she saw what had happened. First she drove away the beggar for his carelessness, and then she bought another fowl of about the same size and dressed it in the place of the lost one. Soon afterwards, the man came back with his friends and ate up the newly bought bird. He expected to become king shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile the youth who without knowing it had eaten his former lucky hen, travelled on till he came to a miller's house and begged at the door for some food. The miller needed a lad to drive his donkeys at the mill, and therefore hired the youth. He could sleep in the hay in the stable.

The next morning, on going into the stable to strew some fresh straw, the miller found a little golden egg where the lad had slept. The miller then wanted to keep the lad in his service as long as he possibly could.

Soon the day came when the queen should get a new king. The young donkey-driver saw no reason why he should not try his luck with the rest. He begged the miller to lend him a horse and a spear for the occasion, and got a one-eyed, broken-winded mare and a lance.

Everybody laughed when this figure stalked into the place where the trials were held, and the queen felt vexed at the sight of him. Then, after repeated failures on the part of the nobles and knights that had gathered to try, the donkey-driver pierced his lance in the exact spot required.

The reeling queen could not renege, however much she wanted; she had to marry the winner of the competition. But as soon as the wedding ceremony was over, she hastened to a witch for some potion to get rid of her husband. The enchantress gave her one which had the power of turning him who drank it into the form of an animal.

When the new king drank this magic drink, he was gradually changed into a donkey. In that shape he was shooed from the palace and had to experience how a donkey's life was like, while his hooves almost by themselves took him to the mill where he had been used to drive donkeys. The miller could not see any great difference between him and the other donkeys he used, so the donkey man was driven to the mill with the other donkeys and fared with them as they did, now well and now ill.

Now, after they parted, one of his sisters had become a doorkeeper at a convent. The convent got its flour from this miller. One day it fell to the donkey-man's share to carry the sacks to the convent. There he recognised his sister, for although his form was changed, he still kept his human powers and faculties. She got a feeling she knew this donkey - a playmate of her childhood.

The donkey let her know his strange fate by means of signs, and she at once set to work to set him free. She had become learned in many kinds of herbs. Now, going into the convent garden, she plucked one she knew had spell-dispelling powers. She gave it to her brother to eat. No sooner had he tasted it than his false figure fell from him and he became a man again.

With tears of gratitude and joy he embraced his sister and decided to spend the rest of his days in her neighbourhood. He had become wearied with the world and its cares. Close by the convent of his sister he built himself a hut of stones, roots and branches of trees. There he lived the life of a hermit.

[AT 567 - Edited]

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The Monk and the Bird

Many years ago the young monk Urban lived in a cloister. He stood out as more earnest and devout than his fellows and was therefore entrusted with the key of the convent library. He took very good care of the books and scrolls and other things there, besides reading in the books himself. One day he read, "A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." The thought seemed impossible to him.

One morning the monk went out of the library into the cloister-garden and saw a little bird perched on the bough of a tree there, singing sweetly. The bird was a nightingale, and did not move when the monk came nearer until he was quite close. Then she flew to another bough and again another as the monk followed her. Still singing the same sweet song, the nightingale flew on. The monk, eager to hear her song, followed her on out of the garden into the world outside for three minutes. Then he stopped and turned back to the cloister.

But everything about it seemed changed to him. Everything had become larger, more beautiful and older - both the buildings and the garden. And in the place of the low, humble cloister-church there was a large cathedral with three towers toward the sky. This seemed very strange to the monk, but he walked on to the cloister-gate and timidly rang the bell.

A porter that was wholly unknown to him answered his summons and drew back in amazement when he saw the monk.

The monk went in and wandered through the church, gazing with astonishment on memorial-stones that he never remembered to have seen before. Then the brethren of the cloister entered the church, but all stepped back when they saw the monk.

The abbot only - but not his abbot - stooped and stretched a crucifix before him, exclaiming, "Who are you? And what do you seek here among the living?"

The monk suddenly trembled and tottered like an old man. When he looked down, he noticed for the first time a long silvery beard was flowing from his chin and down over his girdle, where the key of the library was still hanging.

The monks now led him to the chair of the abbot with a mixture of awe and admiration. There the long-bearded monk gave the key of the library to a young man, who opened it and read a chronicle about the monk Urban who had disappeared three hundred years ago. No one knew what had become of him.

"Forest bird, is this due to your song?" said the monk Urban with a heavy sigh. "I followed you for three minutes it seemed, listening to your notes, and yet three hundred years passed away! You must be an awfully old bird! Now I know."

With these words he sank to the ground while his spirit swooshed into heaven.

[AT 471 A - Retold]

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The Seven Swans

Once on a time a young and wealthy king who lived in a noble castle, went hunting in his forest. There he found a hind that was whiter than snow. She fled away from him and tried to hide among the thickets. The king followed her till he came to a dark, gloomy valley. There he lost sight of her and at last had to call his dogs together and get back.

On his way he passed a pool of water. Beside it a young woman stood washing herself while she was holding a golden chain in one of her hands. The sight of her charmed the king so much that he got down from his horse and, gliding up behind the woman, took the chain from her hand.

The girl was so pretty that the king forgot all about the white hind and his dogs and led the young woman home to his castle and married her.

Now the young king had a mother, and she disliked his son's wife very much: She feared that now that he was married she should lose much of her influence, she who until now had managed about everything. So the mother-in-law began to hate her daughter and tried hard to make the new queen and her husband quarrel.

But the old queen's son would not hear what she had to say and even got angry with her for talking down on his wife. So the queen-mother now began to be very willing to help and did all she was told to do by her son and his wife. But she was only hiding lots of evil schemes and plans.

In time six sons and a daughter were born to the young queen. Each had a golden ring round the neck. The old queen was in the room when this happened. As soon as the mother fell asleep she put seven kittens in the bed instead of the new-born babies. Then she carried the babies away to a faithful servant she had, and made him swear that he would throw them into a pond in the forest. He took the children with him to drown them, but when he got to the pond he found that he could not do such a heinous thing, and left them lying on the ground. But he told the queen-mother that he had done as she had told him to.

An old hermit lived in the forest. He happened to find the abandoned children and took them home to his hut. For seven long years he fed them as well as he could on the milk of his goats and other good food he could get.

Meanwhile the queen-mother showed her son the seven young kittens and told him he was their father. The king believed his mother in this, and stopped loving his wife. He would not listen to one word she said, but had her buried up to her waist in the earth somewhere outside the castle, with some stone slabs to keep her in place. The poor queen endured this mistreatment for seven years, while her hair grew so long that it covered her naked body rather soon. Many passers-by gave her food and drink and sheltering things so that she survived. They understood the king's treatment of her was over the top.

The seven children in the forest meanwhile learnt to hunt and fish for their living. Once their father caught sight of them when he himself was hunting. He noticed the golden chains around the neck of each as they sported about in the sun. When he came home he mentioned what he had seen to his mother and his friends. The old mother-queen was frightened when she heard it and and hastened away to ask her servant if he had killed the children well or not. He said that had left them lying under a tree, where they must have died.

She said, "No, they are not dead," and ordered him ride to the forest at once, search for the children and take from them their gold chains. If the servant did not, both he and she would be put to shame, she told him.

The frightened servant obeyed at once. After three searching for the children for three days he found them at a time when had laid aside their chains and were swimming about a lake in the shape of swans. Only the little girl was keeping her human form and watched the antics of her brothers.

The slave crept nearer and seized the six chains; but the little girl saw him in time to escape. The servant then returned to the queen and gave her the chains. She took them to a goldsmith and asked him to make a cup of them.

But the goldsmith found that the gold was finer and purer than any gold he had had before. It could neither be formed with the hammer nor melted in the fire. So he was satisfied with beating one chain into a ring. The other chains he weighed and put way, while he made a cup of gold from a gold bar he had in his smithy. When he had made the cup, he handed the chain and cup over to the queen-mother - and she locked them up in her cabinet.

But the swans could not become humans again when they did not have their gold chain. They swam sadly to and fro, singing notes which reminded of the cries of children. At last they flew up and away to see if they could find a good place to live. When they saw a large clear lake they settled down on it.

This lake nearly surrounded a tall rock. On the top of the rock stood a castle. It belonged to the young king. From the window of his dining-room there he often looked out over the lake. The day after the six swans came to the lake, he saw they swimming beneath his castle and threw down pieces of bread to them. He also bade his servants never hunt or in any way annoy them, but feed them regularly. This went on for so long that the swans at last became quite tame and came daily at stated times to be fed.

The little sister meanwhile also happened to come the castle of her father. She saw the young queen sitting neglected and forlorn in the earth. Together the girl and the queen started to share what each received from charitable people. The girl did not know that the half-buried woman was her mother, although she slept by her side every night. Every morning she went down to the lake and fed the swans. When she came to feed them, they used to fly to her and eat out of her hand and made her fondle and caress them.

The people at the castle wondered about all this and also noticed that the young girl wept when she stood by the queen, and looked like her too.

The king too was strangely moved, for he too noticed that the girl looked much like his wife and that the girl wore a gold chain around the neck. One day he asked her, "Child, where are you from, and who do you belong to? Who are your parents? And how did you tame these swans so that they eat out of your hands?"

The poor child sighed heavily and answered, "I never knew my parents. But he swans are my brothers, brought up in the forest by a dear old man. One day my brothers laid aside their golden chains when they bathed in a lake. Without their chains they had to take the form of swans. When they were bathing as swans, their gold chains were stolen. and since then my brothers could not become humans again, and remained swans."

The girl finished her tale while the cruel queen-mother and servant looked at each other in dismay.

The girl's tale made a mighty impression on the young king. Shortly afterwards he went out think of it while he walked. At the same time his hard-hearted mother sent her servant to kill the girl when she went as usual to feed her brothers. The servant hastened along with a drawn sword in his hand. However, the young king caught sight of the servant before he reached the girl, stepped in and beat the sword out of the servant's hand. Then the servant fell on his knees and confessed all the evil things he had done against the children, and how he had done everything at the bidding of the queen-mother.

The king at once sent for his mother and made her open her chest and give him the cup which she supposed was made of the chains. The king next sent for goldsmith and asked him about the cup. The goldsmith then said he had five of the golden chains. They were too hard to work with for him, so he had used other gold to make the cup instead. But the sixth chain he had made into a ring.

The king soon got the six chains and gave them to the girl. She placed them around the necks of her brothers and they became humans again, all except one. His chain was lost, so he was compelled to remain in the form of a swan until they found a way to liberate him.

While this was being done, the king rescued his wife from the pit and let great physicians care for her. She recovered well, and was soon as pretty and healthy as before her seven long years of undeserved misery.

The false and evil mother-queen was put in jail.

[AT 707 + 451 - Retold]

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Alys and Her Dog

A poor labourer had two children, a son named Lutz and a daughter named Alys. Both children were very young when the father died, and left in stark poverty. They would have died if it had not been for the help of good neighbours.

The little girl grew up and became so pretty that there was no one as beautiful for many miles around. Her brother Lutz became servant to a rich young count. Before the brother parted from his sister he had her portrait painted by a friend; he wanted it to remember her by.

The count was well pleased with Lutz's manners, but he could not but wonder at his habit of taking a portrait from his bosom and gaze lovingly at it time and again. When Lutz was questioned about it, he became silent and reserved, but at last he showed the portrait to the count and told him it was of his sister.

"Is your sister as beautiful as this?" asked the count in surprise. "If so, she is well fit to be a nobleman's wife!"

"She is even better," answered Lutz.

The count was charmed and secretly sent his nurse to the spot where Alys lived, to bring her to his castle. The nurse went in a carriage drawn by four horses to the house of the girl's master and told her that her brother Lutz sent his love and wanted her to come to the castle of the count.

Alys was much pleased at this chance of seeing her brother and was soon ready for the journey, taking with her a little dog named "Shaker". She had once saved the dog from drowning and was very fond of it.

But the nurse had got a wicked plan. While they were driving by the steep bank of a deep river, she drew Alys's attention to the silvery fishes that swam in the water. Then, when Alys leant out of the carriage to watch the the fishes, the nurse gave her a push so that she fell down the slope and into the river. The singing coachman did not hear a thing, but drove on without known had happened.

At a certain spot the nurse had bidden her old daughter to get into the carriage while the coachman gave his horses some water. She did, and her mother then gave her a thick veil that completely hid her features, and instructed her to tell the count that she had made a vow not to take off the veil for half a year.

The veiled woman was received politely at the castle by the count himself. He urged her to uncover her face, but she refused so long that he gave way. He also had so much trust in what his servant Lutz had said that he offered to marry the veiled lady. A priest was summoned at once, and then they were married.

After the wedding the newly made countess no longer refused to raise her veil, and the count was astonished to see a face that was long past its bloom. All in a rage he had Lutz thrown into jail, even though Lutz cried the woman was not his sister at all, while he clutched the portrait of his sister so as not to lose it.

One night soon afterwards, a servant of the count, who slept in the count's waiting room, had a strange dream. He saw a white figure standing at the foot of his bed and rattling a chain on its arm and said, in soft tones, "Shaker, Shaker!"

The dog had survived the carriage ride. Now he came from under the servant's bed and said to the figure, "Alas, my dearest!"

"Where is my brother?" asked the figure.

"He is chained in prison," answered the dog.

"Where is my picture?" was the second question.

"In the prison with him," said the dog.

The figure said; "Two more times I will come; and if I am not saved then, I will not come back."

At once the figure disappeared like a cloud.

The servant imagined that it was all a dream, and said nothing about it to anyone. But the next night the same thing happened at his bedside again. The figure, rattling its chain, said it would come once more, but not again.

Now the servant told it all to the count. The count could not find out what it meant. Therefore he placed himself behind the chamber-door around midnight. Soon the figure appeared and talked with the dog as before. But when the figure said "Prison", the count suddenly opened the door and snatched at the figure. His hand drew away the chain from the figure's arms.

The ghostly figure then turned into a beautiful young woman, and looked like the picture that Lutz was so fond of. The count entreated her to explain if she could. Alys then told how the old nurse had thrown her into the river. There she had fallen among nixes who had taken her to their underground palace. They strove to make her a nix there, but she had been permitted to visit the count's chamber three times, and if in that time her chains were broken, she would not have to return and get nixed.

The count rejoiced and marvelled at this tale. He lost no time in restoring Lutz to his former position, and the old nurse and her daughter were cast into jail instead.

Alys married the count, and her portrait was hung up on the wall.

At the wedding, Alys' dog Shaker suddenly turned into a beautiful young lady. She was set free from a spell through Alys' love. Lutz married the lady, for he liked what he saw. In the end the lady and Lutz and his countess sister and her count, lived happily close by each other.

[AT 403]

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