ONCE on a time there were two young fellows who were the closest of friends, and who had promised one another that, no matter where each of them might be, or how far removed from one another, the one would attend the other's wedding. But one of them died, and years passed before the other married. And as he was sitting at the wedding dinner with his bride, and the meal was well-nigh over, the bridegroom saw his friend who had died enter the room. But none of the others could see him. The bridegroom rose, went to meet him and led him aside.
His friend said, "Here I have come to your wedding, as I promised you I would."
The bridegroom asked him, "Are you happy where you now are?"
And his friend answered, "I am so happy that words cannot describe my happiness. Can you not come with me for a moment, and see for yourself."
"Yes," said the bridegroom, "but now I must dance with my bride."
"You can put it off for a little while," said his friend, "just come along with me."
So they went off together to heaven. And there all was lovely, beyond the power of tongue to tell. The friend went to the bridegroom and said, "Hurry, your bride is waiting for you with sorrow."
The bridegroom replied, "Why, I have only been here a moment!"
And his friend came to him again and said, "Hurry, they are all waiting for you, and grieving for you."
But again he answered, "Why, I have only been here a moment!"
Then his friend came to the bridegroom for the third time and said, "Now you must go."
And he came back to earth in the house where the wedding was held; but it seemed altogether changed to him. He saw no signs of festivity, and heard no music. A feeling of strangeness came over him, and he asked a woman, "Are they not celebrating a wedding in this house today?"
"Wedding!" said the woman, "no, there has been no wedding in this house for many, many years. My great grandmother told me, when I was a little girl, that there had been a wedding here once, a hundred years ago; but that the bridegroom had suddenly disappeared just as he was about to dance with the bride, and had never returned."
Then he realized that he had spent a hundred years in heaven, and that all his earthly friends were dead and gone, and he prayed God to take him back again where he had been. And God granted his prayer.
THERE was once a very poor girl who had the good fortune to marry well, for she married a pastor who had a fat living. He was a good man and fond of her, and she was fond of him, and quite contented. But one anxiety haunted her day and night, and that was a great dread lest she have children. There are other women who worry about not having children; but this woman was always afraid that children might be her portion. So one day she went to a wise woman, that is to say a witch in the village, and asked her whether she could not advise her how she might avoid having any children. Yes, that she could do, said the wise woman, and she gave the pastor's wife seven stones; for that was the number of the children she should have had, said the woman and all the pastor's wife need do was to throw these stones in the well. Then she would be spared having any children.
The pastor's wife took the stones, paid the wise woman well for her trouble, thanked her, and threw the stones in the well. Then she felt quite light-hearted to think that she need fear no more.
Not long after, the pastor was taking a walk with his wife one clear, moonlit evening, and their way led them past the churchyard. As they walked, the pastor suddenly noticed that his wife cast no shadow. His own shadow he could see, it followed him everywhere; but she had none. A great fear came over the pastor, and he asked her how it was that she had no shadow, something every human being had. She must have been guilty of some great sin, said he, since her shadow had left her, and this sin she must confess to him. In the meantime they had reached the parsonage, and the parson kept pressing his wife to confess the grievous sin that had left her shadowless; while she insisted, and finally took an oath that she had knowingly committed no grievous sin. Then the parson grew angry, and striking the stone table with his fist in his rage, he said to her, "It will be as vain for you to hope to find grace as it would be for a red rose to grow from this table." And he cast her out, and told her to leave his house at once, and never more set foot over its threshold.
The parson's wife put on the old clothes that she and been wearing when she came him, and wandered out into the world to regain the grace she had forfeited.
And the parson strictly forbade his people to take any one in at the parsonage, for he feared his wife might return.
For a long time the parson's wife wandered about, seeking advice as to how she might atone for her grievous sin, and none could help her. But at last she did find a pastor who, when he had listened to all she had to say, and had carefully reflected on it, thought that perhaps he might be able to help her; but that she would have much to bear, and she would be able to endure it. Yes, she would dare anything in order to gain peace and forgiveness for the grievous sin that weighed on her. So he took her to church with him, and bade her sit beside the altar. There she must sit the whole night through, he told her. Then he put a book in her hand, and forbade her to give it to any one until he himself came in the morning and asked for it. And she must watch it carefully, for all sorts of people, closely resembling him, would come and demand it of her.
So the pastor went away and she remained in the church by herself. Night fell and she sat alone at the altar with the book. First, a curious fellow came up to her, who said nothing but spat thrice in her direction. Then came seven children, one after another, first five boys, then two girls. These were the unborn children she should have had. They made clear to her what honest, God-fearing men and women they would have become, and how happy they would have been, had she allowed them to come into the world, and they spat at her, one after the other. Then came a man who greatly resembled the pastor. He demanded the book, and came so close to her that he almost touched her; but she did not give it to him. And then other people came, until the woman grew quite dizzy; but she sat quiet, never moved, and clutched the book tightly, and thus she sat when the real pastor came in the morning and asked her for it. She was still so confused that it was with difficulty that he got the book from her. Then he took her by the hand, led her from the church, and said that now she was delivered. But he also told her that she had but this one day to live, and that now she should return to her husband.
The pastor's wife at once set forth: she walked all day long and toward evening, at twilight, she reached her old home. There she asked to be taken in. The people no longer recognized her, but still they refused her request, since they had been strictly forbidden to take in anyone, no matter who it might be. But she pleaded so long and so earnestly that they finally allowed her to lie down behind the stove until daybreak; but then she was to make herself scarce as soon as possible.
In the morning, when the pastor got up, he saw that a beautiful red rose had blossomed forth from the stone table he had once struck with his fist. A great fear seized him, and he knew that his wife must have returned. He went out at once to his people, and asked them whether they had taken in any one overnight. They all said no; but he went about, searching everywhere, and at length came to the stove, and there he saw his wife lying cold and dead. Thereupon a strange feeling came over him, he went in at once, took off his gown, gave it to his people and ordered them to burn it at once. But they thought it would be a wicked shame to burn so good a gown, and burned an old one instead. The following morning they found the pastor in bed; he was quite out of his mind, and died not long afterward.