A certain father had two sons, the elder of whom was smart and sensible, and could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything, and when people saw him they said, "There's a fellow who will give his father some trouble!"
When anything had to be done, it was always the elder who was forced to do it; but if his father bade him fetch anything when it was late, or in the night-time, and the way led through the churchyard, or any other dismal place, he answered "Oh, no, father, I'll not go there, it makes me shudder!" for he was afraid. Or when stories were told by the fire at night which made the flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said "Oh, it makes us shudder!"
The younger sat in a corner and listened with the rest of them, and could not imagine what they could mean.
"They are always saying 'it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder!' It does not make me shudder," thought he. "That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing."
Now it came to pass that his father said to him one day "Listen to me, you fellow in the corner there, you are growing tall and strong, and you too must learn something by which you can earn your living. Look how your brother works, but you do not even earn your salt."
"Well, father," he replied, "I am quite willing to learn something – indeed, if it could but be managed, I should like to learn how to shudder. I don't understand that at all yet."
The elder brother smiled when he heard that, and thought to himself, "Good God, what a blockhead that brother of mine is! He will never be good for anything as long as he lives.
He who wants to be a sickle must bend himself betimes."
The father sighed, and answered him "you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, but you will not earn your bread by that."
Soon after this the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father bewailed his trouble, and told him how his younger son was so backward in every respect that he knew nothing and learnt nothing.
"Just think," he said, "when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually wanted to learn to shudder."
"If that be all," replied the sexton, "he can learn that with me. Send him to me, and I will soon polish him."
The father was glad to do it, for he thought, "It will train the boy a little."
The sexton therefore took him into his house, and he had to ring the bell. After a day or two, the sexton awoke him at midnight, and bade him arise and go up into the church tower and ring the bell.
"You shall soon learn what shuddering is," thought he, and secretly went there before him; and when the boy was at the top of the tower and turned round, and was just going to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the stairs opposite the sounding hole.
"Who is there?" cried he, but the figure made no reply, and did not move or stir.
"Give an answer," cried the boy, "or take your self off, you have no business here at night."
The sexton, however, remained standing motionless that the boy might think he was a ghost. The boy cried a second time, "What do you want here? – speak if you are an honest fellow, or I will throw you down the steps!" The sexton thought, "he can't intend to be as bad as his words," uttered no sound and stood as if he were made of stone. Then the boy called to him for the third time, and as that was also to no purpose, he ran against him and pushed the ghost down the stairs, so that it fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner. Thereupon he rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went to bed, and fell asleep. The sexton's wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not come back. At length she became uneasy, and wakened the boy, and asked, "Do you not know where my husband is? He climbed up the tower before you did."
"No, I don't know," replied the boy, "but some one was standing by the sounding hole on the other side of the steps, and as he would neither give an answer nor go away, I took him for a scoundrel, and threw him downstairs, just go there and you will see if it was he. I should be sorry if it were."
The woman ran away and found her husband, who was lying moaning in the corner, and had broken his leg.
She carried him down, and then with loud screams she hastened to the boy's father.
"Your boy," cried she, "has been the cause of a great misfortune! He has thrown my husband down the steps and made him break his leg. Take the good-for-nothing fellow away from our house."
The father was terrified, and ran there and scolded the boy. "What wicked tricks are these?" he said, "the devil must have put this into your head."
"Father," he replied, "do listen to me. I am quite innocent. He was standing there by night like one who is intending to do some evil. I did not know who it was, and I entreated him three times either to speak or to go away."
"Ah," said the father, "I have nothing but unhappiness with you. Go out of my sight. I will see you no more."
"Yes, father, right willingly, wait only till it is day. Then will I go forth and learn how to shudder, and then I shall, at any rate, understand one art which will support me."
"Learn what you will," spoke the father, "it is all the same to me. Here are fifty thalers for you. Take these and go into the wide world, and tell no one from where you come, and who is your father, for I have reason to be ashamed of you."
"Yes, father, it shall be as you will. If you desire nothing more than that, I can easily keep it in mind."
When day dawned, therefore, the boy put his fifty thalers into his pocket, and went forth on the great highway, and continually said to himself, "If I could but shudder! If I could but shudder!" Then a man approached who heard this conversation which the youth was holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to where they could see the gallows, the man said to him, "Look, there is the tree where seven men have married the ropemaker's daughter, and are now learning how to fly. Sit down below it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder."
"If that is all that is wanted," answered the youth, "it is easily done; but if I learn how to shudder as fast as that, you shall have my fifty thalers. Just come back to me early in the morning."
Then the youth went to the gallows, sat down below it, and waited till evening came.
And as he was cold, he lighted himself a fire, but at midnight the wind blew so sharply that in spite of his fire, he could not get warm. And as the wind knocked the hanged men against each other, and they moved backwards and forwards, he thought to himself "You shiver below by the fire, but how those up above must freeze and suffer!" And as he felt pity for them, he raised the ladder, and climbed up, unbound one of them after the other, and brought down all seven. Then he stirred the fire, blew it, and set them all round it to warm themselves.
But they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes. So he said, "Take care, or I will hang you up again."
The dead men, however, did not hear, but were quite silent, and let their rags go on burning. On this he grew angry, and said, "If you will not take care, I cannot help you, I will not be burnt with you," and he hung them up again each in his turn. Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep, and the next morning the man came to him and wanted to have the fifty thalers, and said, "Well, do you know how to shudder?"
"No," answered he, "how was I to get to know? Those fellows up there did not open their mouths, and were so stupid that they let the few old rags which they had on their bodies get burnt."
Then the man saw that he would not get the fifty thalers that day, and went away saying, "One of this kind has never come my way before."
The youth likewise went his way, and once more began to mutter to himself, "Ah, if I could but shudder! Ah, if I could but shudder!" A wagoner who was striding behind him heard that and asked, "Who are you?"
"I don't know," answered the youth. Then the wagoner asked, "From where come you?"
"I know not."
"Who is your father?"
"That I may not tell you."
"What is it that you are always muttering between your teeth."
"Ah," replied the youth, "I do so wish I could shudder, but no one can teach me how to do it."
"Give up your foolish chatter," said the wagoner. "Come, go with me, I will see about a place for you."
The youth went with the wagoner, and in the evening they arrived at an inn where they wished to pass the night. Then at the entrance of the room the youth again said quite loudly, "If I could but shudder! If I could but shudder!" The host who heard this, laughed and said, "If that is your desire, there ought to be a good opportunity for you here."
"Ah, be silent," said the hostess, "so many inquisitive persons have already lost their lives, it would be a pity and a shame if such beautiful eyes as these should never see the daylight again."
But the youth said, "However difficult it may be, I will learn it and for this purpose indeed have I journeyed forth."
He let the host have no rest, till the latter told him, that not far from there stood a haunted castle where anyone could very easily learn what shuddering was, if he would but watch in it for three nights. The king had promised that he who would venture should have his daughter to wife, and she was the most beautiful maiden the sun shone on.
Great treasures likewise lay in the castle, which were guarded by evil spirits, and these treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor man rich enough. Already many men had gone into the castle, but as yet none had come out again. Then the youth went next morning to the king and said if he were allowed he would watch three nights in the haunted castle.
The king looked at him, and as the youth pleased him, he said, "You may ask for three things to take into the castle with you, but they must be things without life."
Then he answered, "Then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting-board with the knife."
The king had these things carried into the castle for him during the day. When night was drawing near, the youth went up and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, placed the cutting-board and knife beside it, and seated himself by the turning-lathe.
"Ah, if I could but shudder!" he said, "but I shall not learn it here either."
Towards midnight he was about to poke his fire, and as he was blowing it, something cried suddenly from one corner, "Au, miau! how cold we are!"
"You simpletons!" cried he, "what are you crying about? If you are cold, come and take a seat by the fire and warm yourselves."
And when he had said that, two great black cats came with one tremendous leap and sat down on each side of him, and looked savagely at him with their fiery eyes. After a short time, when they had warmed themselves, they said, "Comrade, shall we have a game at cards?"
"Why not?" he replied, "but just show me your paws."
Then they stretched out their claws.
"Oh," he said, "what long nails you have! Wait, I must first cut them for you."
Thereupon he seized them by the throats, put them on the cutting-board and screwed their feet fast.
"I have looked at your fingers," he said, "and my fancy for card-playing has gone," and he struck them dead and threw them out into the water. But when he had made away with these two, and was about to sit down again by his fire, out from every hole and corner came black cats and black dogs with red-hot chains, and more and more of them came till he could no longer stir, and they yelled horribly, and got on his fire, pulled it to pieces, and tried to put it out. He watched them for a while quietly, but at last when they were going too far, he seized his cutting-knife, and cried, "Away with you, vermin," and began to cut them down. Part of them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the fish-pond.
When he came back he fanned the embers of his fire again and warmed himself. And as he thus sat, his eyes would keep open no longer, and he felt a desire to sleep. Then he looked round and saw a great bed in the corner.
"That is the very thing for me," he said, and got into it. When he was just going to shut his eyes, however, the bed began to move of its own accord, and went over the whole of the castle.
"That"s right," he said, "but go faster."
Then the bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, up and down, over thresholds and steps, but suddenly hop, hop, it turned over upside down, and lay on him like a mountain. But he threw quilts and pillows up in the air, got out and said, "Now anyone who likes, may drive," and lay down by his fire, and slept till it was day. In the morning the king came, and when he saw him lying there on the ground, he thought the evil spirits had killed him and he was dead. Then he said, "After all it is a pity, – he is a handsome man."
The youth heard it, got up, and said, "It has not come to that yet."
Then the king was astonished, but very glad, and asked how he had fared.
"Very well indeed," answered he; "one night is past, the two others will get over likewise."
Then he went to the innkeeper, who opened his eyes very wide, and said, "I never expected to see you alive again! Have you learnt how to shudder yet?"
"No," he said, "it is all in vain. If some one would but tell me."
The second night he again went up into the old castle, sat down by the fire, and once more began his old song, "If I could but shudder."
When midnight came, an uproar and noise of tumbling about was heard; at first it was low, but it grew louder and louder. Then it was quiet for awhile, and at length with a loud scream, half a man came down the chimney and fell before him.
"Hollo!" cried he, "another half belongs to this. This is too little!" Then the uproar began again, there was a roaring and howling, and the other half fell down likewise.
"Wait," he said, "I will just blow up the fire a little for you."
When he had done that and looked round again, the two pieces were joined together, and a frightful man was sitting in his place.
"That is no part of our bargain," said the youth, "the bench is mine."
The man wanted to push him away; the youth, however, would not allow that, but thrust him off with all his strength, and seated himself again in his own place. Then still more men fell down, one after the other; they brought nine dead men's legs and two skulls, and set them up and played at nine-pins with them. The youth also wanted to play and said
"Hark you, can I join you?"
"Yes, if you have any money."
"Money enough," replied he, "but your balls are not quite round."
Then he took the skulls and put them in the lathe and turned them till they were round.
"There, now, they will roll better!" he said.
"Hurrah! Now it goes merrily!" He played with them and lost some of his money, but when it struck twelve, everything vanished from his sight. He lay down and quietly fell asleep. Next morning the king came to inquire after him.
"How has it fared with you this time?" asked he.
"I have been playing at nine-pins," he answered, "and have lost a couple of farthings."
"Have you not shuddered then?"
"Eh, what?" he said, "I have made merry. If I did but know what it was to shudder!"
The third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly, "If I could but shudder."
When it grew late, six tall men came in and brought a coffin. Then he said, "Ha, ha, that is certainly my little cousin, who died only a few days ago," and he beckoned with his finger, and cried "Come, little cousin, come."
They placed the coffin on the ground, but he went to it and took the lid off, and a dead man lay therein. He felt his face, but it was cold as ice.
"Stop," he said, "I will warm you a little," and went to the fire and warmed his hand and laid it on the dead man's face, but he remained cold. Then he took him out, and sat down by the fire and laid him on his breast and rubbed his arms that the blood might circulate again. As this also did no good, he thought to himself "When two people lie in bed together, they warm each other," and carried him to the bed, covered him over and lay down by him. After a short time the dead man became warm too, and began to move. Then said the youth, "See, little cousin, have I not warmed you?" The dead man, however, got up and cried,
"Now will I strangle you."
"What!" he said, "is that the way you thank me? You shall at once go into your coffin again," and he took him up, threw him into it, and shut the lid. Then came the six men and carried him away again.
"I cannot manage to shudder," he said. "I shall never learn it here as long as I live."
Then a man entered who was taller than all others, and looked terrible. He was old, however, and had a long white beard.
"You wretch," cried he, "you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, for you shall die."
"Not so fast," replied the youth. "If I am to die, I shall have to have a say in it."
"I will soon seize you," said the fiend.
"Softly, softly, do not talk so big. I am as strong as you are, and perhaps even stronger."
"We shall see," said the old man.
"If you are stronger, I will let you go – come, we will try."
Then he led him by dark passages to a smith's forge, took an axe, and with one blow struck an anvil into the ground.
"I can do better than that," said the youth, and went to the other anvil. The old man placed himself near and wanted to look on, and his white beard hung down. Then the youth seized the axe, split the anvil with one blow, and struck the old man's beard in with it.
"Now I have you," said the youth. "Now it is you who will have to die."
Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man till he moaned and entreated him to stop, and he would give him great riches. The youth drew out the axe and let him go. The old man led him back into the castle, and in a cellar showed him three chests full of gold.
"Of these," he said, "one part is for the poor, the other for the king, the third is yours."
In the meantime it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared; the youth, therefore, was left in darkness.
"I shall still be able to find my way out," he said, and felt about, found the way into the room, and slept there by his fire. Next morning the king came and said "Now you must have learnt what shuddering is?"
"No," he answered; "what can it be? My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a great deal of money down below, but no one told me what it was to shudder."
"Then," said the king, "you have delivered the castle, and shall marry my daughter."
"That is all very well," he said, "but still I do not know what it is to shudder."
Then the gold was brought up and the wedding celebrated; but however much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still said always "If I could but shudder
– if I could but shudder."
And at last she was angry at this. Her waiting-maid said, "I will find a cure for him; he shall soon learn what it is to shudder." She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her. At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him. When this was done, he woke up and cried "Oh, what makes me shudder so? – what makes me shudder so, dear wife? Ah! now I know what it is to shudder!"
There was once a king's son who was seized with a desire to travel about the world, and took no one with him but a faithful servant. One day he came to a great forest, and when darkness overtook him he could find no shelter, and knew not where to pass the night. Then he saw a girl who was going towards a small house, and when he came nearer, he saw that the maiden was young and beautiful. He spoke to her, and said, "Dear child, can I and my servant find shelter for the night in the little house?"
"Oh, yes," said the girl in a sad voice, "that you certainly can, but I do not advise you to venture it. Do not go in."
"Why not?" asked the king's son. The maiden sighed and said, "My step-mother practises wicked arts; she is ill-disposed toward strangers."
Then he saw very well that he had come to the house of a witch, but as it was dark, and he could not go farther, and also was not afraid, he entered. The old woman was sitting in an armchair by the fire, and looked at the stranger with her red eyes.
"Good evening," growled she, and pretended to be quite friendly. "Take a seat and rest yourselves."
She blew up the fire on which she was cooking something in a small pot. The daughter warned the two to be prudent, to eat nothing, and drink nothing, for the old woman brewed evil drinks. They slept quietly till early morning. When they were making ready for their departure, and the king's son was already seated on his horse, the old woman said, "Stop a moment, I will first hand you a parting draught."
While she fetched it, the king's son rode away, and the servant who had to buckle his saddle tight, was the only one present when the wicked witch came with the drink.
"Take that to your master," she said. But at that instant the glass broke and the poison spirted on the horse, and it was so strong that the animal at once fell down dead.
qThe servant ran after his master and told him what had happened, but would not leave his saddle behind him, and ran back to fetch it. When, however, he came to the dead horse a raven was already sitting on it devouring it.
"Who knows whether we shall find anything better today?" said the servant; so he killed the raven, and took it with him. And now they journeyed onwards into the forest the whole day, but could not get out of it. By nightfall they found an inn and entered it. The servant gave the raven to the innkeeper to make ready for supper.
They had, however, stumbled on a den of murderers, and during the darkness twelve of these came, intending to kill the strangers and rob them. Before they set about this work, they sat down to supper, and the innkeeper and the witch sat down with them, and together they ate a dish of soup in which was cut up the flesh of the raven. Hardly, however, had they swallowed a couple of mouthfuls, before they all fell down dead, for the raven had containted poison from the horse-flesh. There was no no one else left in the house but the innkeeper's daughter, who was honest, and had taken no part in their godless deeds. She opened all doors to the stranger and showed him the heaped-up treasures. But the king's son she said might keep everything, he would have none of it, and rode onwards with his servant.
After they had travelled about for a long time, they came to a town in which was a beautiful but proud princess, who had caused it to be proclaimed that whoever should set her a riddle which she could not guess, that man should be her husband; but if she guessed it, his head must be cut off. She had three days to guess it in, but was so clever that she always found the answer to the riddle given her, before the appointed time. Nine suitors had already perished in this manner, when the king's son arrived, and blinded by her great beauty, was willing to stake his life for it. Then he went to her and laid his riddle before her. "What is this?" he said, "One slew none, and yet slew twelve."
She did not know what that was, she thought and thought, but she could not find out, she opened her riddle-books, but it was not in them – in short, her wisdom was at an end. As she did not know how to help herself, she ordered her maid to creep into the lord's sleeping-chamber, and listen to his dreams, and thought that he would perhaps speak in his sleep and discover the riddle. But the clever servant had placed himself in the bed instead of his master, and when the maid came there, he tore off from her the mantle in which she had wrapped herself, and chased her out with rods. The second night the king's daughter sent her maid-in-waiting, who was to see if she could succeed better in listening, but the servant took her mantle also away from her, and hunted her out with rods. Now the master believed himself safe for the third night, and lay down in his own bed. Then came the princess herself, and she had put on a misty-grey mantle, and she seated herself near him.
And when she thought that he was asleep and dreaming, she spoke to him, and hoped that he would answer in his sleep, as many do, but he was awake, and understood and heard everything quite well. Then she asked, "One slew none, what is that?" He replied, "A raven, which ate of a dead and poisoned horse, and died of it."
She inquired further, "And yet slew twelve, what is that?" He answered, "That means twelve murderers, who ate the raven and died of it."
When she knew the answer to the riddle she wanted to steal away, but he held her mantle so fast that she was forced to leave it behind her. Next morning, the king's daughter announced that she had guessed the riddle, and sent for the twelve judges and expounded it before them. But the youth begged for a hearing, and said, "She stole into my room in the night and questioned me, otherwise she could not have discovered it."
The judges said, "Bring us a proof of this."
Then were the three mantles brought there by the servant, and when the judges saw the misty-grey one which the king's daughter usually wore, they said, "Let the mantle be embroidered with gold and silver, and then it will be your wedding-mantle.