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What Four Giants Knew

Once there was a boy that had to work hard for his parents and was given very little to eat. That annoyed him so much that one day when he was in the woods gathering wood, he decided to go away from there.

He went into the dense, dark forest. In the evening he came to a tree. Four giants used to camp in the shade of it. They had been cruel all their lives, but the boy knew nothing about that. He climbed up and lay down on a wide branch. After some time the giants came and lay down beside each other in their camp. The boy did not move, and listened to what they said.

The first said: "I know a mill not far from here. There is a girl in bed there, and I feel an appetite for her."

The second said: "And I know a tree where there is a woodcutter. Under the root lies a great treasure that I want to get."

"And I know a house," said the third. "The people there have to carry water from afar, but there is a stone close by the house. A frog likes to sit beside it. There is a spring under the stone, and I would like to dig it up and make a lot of money on it."

"I," cried the fourth, "know a castle where the daughter of the king is ill. No doctor can help her, but with an apple from the tree right next to this one, I can heal her. Then she will become my wife. "

The giants fell asleep. The boy, however, crept out quietly, climbed down quickly and took an apple from the apple tree. Spurred on, he hurried to the mill, woke the miller, and said to him, "Watch tonight and have rifles ready, for a giant is coming, and he wants to get your child."

Then he went to the woodcutter, who was working to fell the tree the giant had talked about. The boy said there was a treasure under the tree roots and told the woodcutter to dig up the treasure. The woodcutter did so, and uncovered a great treasure. He wanted to share it with the boy, but the boy took only as much as he needed for travelling on for a while.

After some time he came to the house where people did not have water. He showed them the stone the frog was sitting next to, dug up the spring, but wanted nothing for his good deed.

Finally he came to the king's castle. Everyone there mourned heavily for the ill princess. The king had just sent out a message that whoever could heal her, would get her for his wife. The boy said he might make her well with the apple he carried. It worked also. Then there was great joy in the castle and in the whole country. The king and queen prepared a great wedding feast and invited all their friends and acquaintances to it. The wedding celebrations were glorious and joyful, and the boy at last got so much to eat that he felt satisfied.



Magdalen and the Little Hill-Man

A certain mountain area was the home of countless little gnomes. They were about eighteen inches tall, wore long green mantles, and bright red caps on top of their snow-white hair. Long, white beards flowed down over their breasts. The gnomes watched over the chamois who bounded from rock to rock, and also tended the fish in the mountain streams, and protected game from the greed of wanton sportsmen.

These gnomes were so kind that they also helped herdsmen watch and tend their cattle, milk the cows, make butter or cheese, and in return for their many services only asked for a small bowlful of milk or cream. Gentle and helpful as long as they were treated kindly, the gnomes would revenge themselves on any mortals who ill-treated them or all those they watched over.

A rich farmer once pastured his cattle high up on the beautiful Kastelnalp in this mountain area. Up there the grass was so rich that the cows had to be milked three times a day. Magdalen, the only daughter of a widowed cousin, once painfully made her way up to this alp to beg for a little help for her ill mother, for they had neither food nor medicine in the house.

The rich relative had provisions in plenty and stored away cheese after cheese in his cellars, did not want to help his poor relatives, and sent Magdalen home empty-handed and in tears.

Overtaken on her way down the mountain by a sudden thunder-storm, the girl sought shelter in the hut of her lover, the herdsman Alois, She used to confide all her sorrows to him. He was a generous, noble-hearted soul. When she told him about their troubles at home, Alois ran to get a small cheese, the only food he had in the house, and forced her to accept it for her starving mother.

When the storm was over, Magdalen set out again with lightened heart, but suddenly her foot slipped on the wet grass. To avoid falling, she just had to let go the precious cheese. It bounded from rock to rock, rolled over the edge of a precipice, and disappeared into its depths.

Magdalen wept for the loss. While she sat there wringing her hands in despair, she suddenly felt a twitch at her dress, and there was a tiny mountain man in a red cap. He carried what looked like a small, plump cheese on his shoulder and held a bundle of medical herbs in his hand.

"Don't weep any more," said little man gently said. "The hard-hearted owner of the Kastelnalp will be punished for refusing to help your mother. In the meantime, take these herbs. They will bring your mother back to health, and I am sure both you and she will enjoy this plump stuff I give you."

The little man then disappeared, leaving his gifts behind him. Magdalen hastened joyfully home. Her first care was to prepare herb tea for her mother, and she got healed as soon as she had tasted it. But when Magdalen tried to cut the cheese that the kind-hearted gnome had given her, she was amazed to find it was a solid lump of pure gold.

She and her mother were so rich that they soon bought the Brundlisalp. There Magdalen and Alois, a happy wife and husband, tended their flocks together.

Later they got the news about how a sudden rain-storm had loosened the rocks above the pasture of Magdalen's the hard-hearted relative and started a landslide that covered his pasture with such a mass of loose stones that grass would not grow there any more.



The Horse-Egg

There was a simple mountain man who toiled and saved to get a horse. At last he had saved enough to buy a colt. How delightful it would be to watch the colt grow into a a steed! At last he tied up his savings in a corner of his huge handkerchief. He then took his sharpest-pointed staff and set out long before daybreak for Aigle, where there was a large fair for buyers and sellers of horses and cattle.

After a long, wearisome walk down the steep Ormond mountains, the sturdy mountain man reached the valley and entered the town of Aigle. There he started to examine every horse and foal on the market, seeking to secure the best animal he could for his money. But he found that his savings would not do to pay for the smallest colt offered for sale there, and that he would have to return home without having bought the colt he had come the long way for.

A swindler had slyly watched him for some time, and now stepped up to him. Before long he had made the mountain man tell what had happened to him and how bitterly disappointed he was.

After listening with feigned sympathy to the whole story, the swindler suggested that if the peasant could not afford buying a foal, he could rather buy a mare's egg. A cow could hatch it and suckle the foal until until it was old enough to eat grass, he said.

The peasant was delighted to hear that, so he wanted to buy a mare's egg if such a treasure could be had.

There would be no difficulty about that, said the charlatan, and led the peasant to another part of the town. There he stopped before a cart where there lay a huge yellow gourd.

"There is a fine mare's egg," cried the charlatan to the peasant while he made a sign to his accomplice, the owner of the gourd and the cart. The mountaineer, who had never seen a gourd in his life, stared at it in awe and wonder, and after asking many questions and bargaining a lot, he wanted to buy it.

After a little while he did. To carry it home safely, he tied it up in his huge handkerchief, and hung it on the end of his stick over his shoulder.

He was elated when he set out for home and kept trolling a merry song. Climbing higher and higher, he joyfully looked forward to how surprised his wife would would be, and to the time his valuable egg would be safely hatched and a pretty foal would come out of it.

While he was walking near the edge of a precipice, he glanced from time to time down its steep sides. They were covered with jagged rocks and stunted bushes. Suddenly the knots in the handkerchief loosened by the weight of the gourd and came undone. The startled peasant saw his precious gourd bound from rock to rock down the precipitous slope! As he stood motionless in utter despair, the gourd dashed with such force against a sharp stone that it flew into pieces that scattered far and wide.

Right then a brown hare who had been hiding in a bush nearby, sprang in terror from its cover and darted down the mountain. The peasant imagined this was the desired colt and that it had been released from the shattered egg by accident, so he loudly called: "Coltie, Coltie, come here!" and wrung his hands in helpless grief when he saw the fleet brown hare disappear.

He watched for hours for it to come back, but it was in vain. At last the peasant sorrowfully went home, and spent the evening telling of his adventures to his wife. As long as he lived, he talked of the remarkable horse that he would have had if the fleet-footed colt had not run away as soon as it was hatched from the mare's egg he had bought on the market-place at Aigle.



The Grains

In the old days there lived dwarfs deep in forests, mountains and rocky caves. They were little folks, hardly two feet tall, dressed in loose, bright-coloured cloaks that reached the ground, hiding their feet. They wore little red pointed caps on their long snow-white hair, and had silvery beards that hung down toward the ground in waves. Their kindly faces were wrinkled.

One summer a farmer was pasturing his cattle on the mountainside when he was asked by a dwarf to hire him a cow. The farmer thought, "If I don't give him a cow he can easily entice my whole herd over the precipice so that in the end I should be worse off than if I give him a cow, even if I never see the cow again." So he lent the dwarf a little cow for a year, one that did not seem worth much. He left it to the dwarf to name a price for the hire, he said.

At once the dwarf took hold of the cow, and the farmer looked on as he led her up a steep wall of rock that no human could have climbed, and especially not while leading a cow.

A year later the dwarf brought the cow back by the same path. There was a calf with the cow, and both were in fine condition. Their coats were smooth and silky, they were glistening with fat, and they had been so cleaned up and brushed that there was not a speck of dust to be seen on them. The farmer was delighted, and offered to let the dwarf have the cow for another year. But the little man answered that he had enough cheese now to last him for as long as he lived.

Before he said good-bye, the dwarf told the farmer he would find his fee in between the cow's toes. The farmer soon took a look and found a grain of barley tucked in beside each toe. He kept the grains in a safe place, so that he could sow them in spring and see what came out of it, wondering whether it would be anything remarkable. But when he was about to do this he found that the seeds had turned into gold pieces. For one year's hire the dwarf had paid more than the cow was worth.



The Golden Coal

The master miller of the little town of Zofingen had heard that his old aunt had died. She had been miserly, suspicious and always unkind to her relations, so the miller did not grieve very much when he was told she had died. "What matters for the future will be all I inherit from her," he said. He wanted to set out early the next morning for his dead aunt's house to get the riches he was due. He told his servant to prepare the cart and harness for the morning, and asked his maid Kathrin to have breakfast ready on the stroke of five.

Kathrin was a diligent, conscientious girl. She took her master's order so much to heart that she woke up in the middle of the night, mistook the bright moonlight for the sunrise and hurried down to the kitchen in a fright to make a fire. But the wood for lighting a fire was damp and she could not strike a light.

Full of dismay at the thought that she would not be able to serve breakfast at the appointed time, she peeped through the kitchen-window to see if light was about to come in the east. As she looked out, she saw a little fire blazing cheerfully in the meadow, about twenty yards from the house. She ran out quickly with the coal-pan to get some fire to cook her master's breakfast.

When she got to the fire she saw three men crouching round it. They were dressed in white, silent and motionless. Shivering with fright she asked in a timid voice if she might be allowed to take a coal or two.

The three men neither moved nor spoke. The maid thought that they must be relations of the miller, waiting to travel with him to the house of the dead aunt. As they still kept silent, Kathrin took a few burning coals, thanked them in a modest way with a curtsey in three directions, and went back to the house. But as she poured the coals on to the hearth the fire went out. She ran back to the men by the fire, greeted them shyly, took a few more coals, thanked them and carried the second coal-pan full home again. This time again it was fruitless labour, for as soon as she reached the kitchen the fire went out again.

Now Kathrin began to feel nervous. She heard some beams creaking in the ceiling, and thought the miner upstairs had got up to get his breakfast. She therefore plucked up her courage, seized the shovel and coal-pan, and ran out a third time to the fire and the three men. And as they did not answer her timid good morning or her anxious question whether she could help herself a third time to some coal, she hastily shovelled the largest and most brightly burning coals into her pan. As she picked it up and was about to carry it back, one of the men said, "That will do."

Kathrin took fright at the sight of his pale and grave face, and ran back to the kitchen as fast as her legs would carry her. Now it must be really late, she thought, the miller must be up by now. She emptied the coal-pan on to the hearth, but this time also the fire had gone out of the coals.

Suddenly the church clock struck midnight, and there was a sound like thunder rumbling around the house. Outside, the fire and the men seemed to have been blown away. Kathrin rushed up into her attic and buried herself under the blanket. She lay awake for a long time, and then fell asleep. When morning came she overslept.

It was already six o'clock when the miller came downstairs into the living-room and found no breakfast ready for him, and no Kathrin. When he looked into the kitchen to see whether the milk had perhaps already been put over the fire, he found the whole hearth sprinkled with glittering gold. The coins were in three layers. The coins in the second layer were larger and more beautiful than the ones below, and the coins in the top layer were the largest and most beautiful of all. The value of the gold coins was much larger than what the miller expected from the legacy he was to get that day.

The miller was an honest man. When Kathrin told him word for word what had happened, he was content with what he already had, and left the gold for Kathrin. The faithful maidservant was now a rich young woman.



A Thirsty Tree

There once stood a nut tree close by the lake at Merligen. It bent so far over the water that the people fancied the topmost branches wanted a drink. So they determined to help it reach the water by pulling a sizable branch into the water. The chief magistrate climbed the tree, and seizing the highest bough, bade another citizen catch hold of his legs. This done, a third clung to the second, and continuing thus the people formed a living chain which reached down to the brink of the lake.

The last man now cried, "Are you all ready? Shall we pull?"

"No!" cried the chief magistrate, "wait a minute; I want to spit in my hands to get a better grip!"

In so doing he suddenly let go, and the whole chain of men splashed into the water.



Examining Baggage

A Swiss naturalist often crossed the frontier at Pontarlier, where he was greatly annoyed by a cross and overzealous French custom-house officer who for some reason or other had come to dislike the Swiss savant intensely. The savant's luggage was always examined with exaggerated care, although the naturalist was well known as a man of integrity.

Exasperated by this rude treatment, the naturalist finally determined to give this disagreeable official a lesson which he would not be likely to forget in a hurry. The next time he stopped at Pontarlier, therefore, besides his usual baggage, he had a tightly closed box, which he handled with special care.

In answer to the customary question, he truthfully swore he had no dutiable goods with him, but the custom-house officer, who had singled him out as his victim, gruffly demanded his keys and went on to turn his trunk topsy turvy as usual. To his evident chagrin there was not the tiniest object to tax. He then left it to the owner to rearrange his tumbled garments as best he might, while he himself took up the box, shook it hard and asked what was in it.

"Natural history specimens," answered the naturalist quietly.

The officer only snorted with contempt and declared such a statement must be verified. The naturalist protested vehemently, swore that it contained nothing illegal to import or export, and when he finally saw that he could not prevent the officer from opening the box, angrily cried, "Very well! Open the box if you choose, but don't blame me for the consequences!" and marched out of the office where the discussion had taken place, slamming the door behind him.

Left alone, the officer tore off the cover of the box with chisel and hammer. Out of it squirmed and tumbled a number of small snakes. With a wild cry of terror the custom-house officer rushed out of the office, crying, " Snakes, snakes!" But as he was often drunk, his companions would not believe him, and fancied he was the victim of a delusion natural to persons with his drinking habits.

One of his comrades ventured boldly into the office to convince him of his mistake, only to come out again, crying that snakes were really crawling all over the floor! The naturalist now stepped forward and calmly offered to put the snakes back in their box - they were really harmless - and added that he had warned the officer not to tamper with natural history specimens.

After that, the custom-house officers at Pontarlier were particularly careful how they handled the savant's luggage, and never again ventured to raise the cover of any box when he told them that it contained materials for his collections.



The Fairy Grotto

In the steep mountains of the Jura, in that part of Switzerland where they speak French, there is a big cave. For many years no one dared to go into this underground vault. People said it was the home of fairies, and that fairies do not like mortals to see their dwelling-places.

Once a year, on Palm Sunday, a fairy could be seen. If she was leading a white sheep it meant that there would be a good harvest, but if she was dragging a shaggy coal-black goat behind her, then there would be a bad harvest and a famine.

Another fairy sometimes bathed by moonlight in the lovely pool at the spring of the River Orbe. She was dressed in a long white gown that covered her feet. Her long thick hair hung down in waves over this gown, and served her as a cloak. Her voice was soft and tuneful.

Among the workers in the iron-foundry of Vallorbes was a youth of eighteen years called Donat. He was strong and daring. He was also known to be unable to keep a secret. From what he had heard about the fairies Donat made up his mind to make his way through the thick shrubs that hid the entry to the cave, and then to visit the grotto.

Without telling anyone what he had in mind, he climbed up to the cave one Sunday morning, broke through a thicket of bramble and entered the cave. It was dark and empty. He walked on, feeling his way along the wall, until he came to a room at a higher level. There, in a corner, he found a bed made of moss and fem, and lay down on it to rest for a while. It was not long before he fell asleep.

When he woke up it was light in the cave, and a beautiful woman was standing beside him. She was cloaked in her long golden hair. The fairy had watched him in his sleep. Now she offered him her hand graciously, and said in a winning voice: "Donat, I like you. Will you stay here with me? I will give you a hundred years of happiness. I will teach you how to find precious metais and healing herbs. I will also share all kinds of other secrets with you. You will be admitted into the society of my sisters here, in the grottoes of Montcherand."

The young smith accepted gladly.

"But," said the fairy, 'I make one strict condition. You may only see me when it pleases me. If I withdraw into another part of the grotto you must not try to follow me. If you do, I shall dismiss you."

Donat stayed, and the fairy started to serve him much and delicious every day: trout from the Orbe, venison caught in the Jura mountains, game from Peira-Felix, cream from the Dent de Vaulion, honey from the valley of Joux, wine of Arbois, fruits from the mountains and the plain. The lovely fairy also entertained him by telling him tales of magic, and once she sang ballads to him in the Vallorbes dialect.

After the meals the fairy withdrew through a hidden door in the corner of their dining-room, but he was not allowed to follow her.

Gradually Donat began to feel lonely when the fairy was not with him. as soon as the fairy left him. On the sixteenth day, after the midday meal, she went out and into the other room as she used to, but did not quite shut the door. When Donat thought she was already asleep he crept on tiptoe up to the door and pushed it gently open. He saw the sleeping fairy lying on a couch of velvet. Her long dress had fallen a little apart, and now he noticed that her foot had no heel, like the foot of a goose.

He was withdrawing softly when a guard dog under his mistress's bed began to bark. The fairy voke up, saw Donat and called to him, "Wait, unhappy boy! Oh, I wanted to share my power, my secrets and my riches with you. But now fly without delay! Go back and earn your bread. Forget everything that you have seen and heard in my grotto. If you speak so much as a word to another human being about it you will be punished."

The fairy disappeared and all the lights went out. Donat, left alone in the darkness, felt his way with difficulty back to the opening which led down to the lower level. As he walked through the outer, pillared hall which had been cut out of the rock, he heard an echoing cry: "Donat! Silence or doom!"

When he entered the smithy, everyone asked him where he had been the last fortnight. He told them all that had happened, how the fairy came to promise to marry him, and did not leave out to tell of her goose-feet.

The others laughed loudly at him. Some thought he was insane, others meant he was a liar, and most of them demanded proofs of what he had told. He had nothing to show them. With shame and despair in his heart Donat decided to leave the country. From that day to this no more has been heard of him in the iron-foundry of Vallorbes.

Swiss Folk Tales and Legends, tales of Switzerland



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