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Done with Care

After the French had carried off the treasure of Bern to meet the expenses of the Egyptian war, the other cities decided it might be well to hide or bury their valuables to avoid that they too should fall into the hands of the enemies. The people of Merligen therefore put all their treasures on board a boat, rowed out to the middle of the lake, and sank them in the deep.

To make sure that they would be able to find again the exact spot where the valuables were lying, they carefully drew a heavy mark on their boat directly above the sunken treasure. But to the dismay of the people accompanied them back to Merligen, the streak did not remain on the spot where the treasure was hidden. It is said no one has ever yet been able to recover these mourned valuables.

[From Guerber, edited]

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The Snake Crown

Long, long ago there lived a king somewhere in the Alps. He had one only daughter, but wanted a son to be king after him, when he died. He had often prayed for a son, but in vain. Then he devoted all his love to his daughter.

One day he was out for a walk with her. They met an old woman who was fondling a viper. "Oh, how disgusting!" cried the princess when the old wornan kissed the viper.

At these words the old woman flared up, looked the princess up and down with a vindicting expression, and then said to her, "Well, since you find this poor animal so detestable, you yourself shall be of the same kind from this moment." Saying this, she touched the girl with the little wand which she carried in her right hand.

The king could not prevent it. He watched his beloved daughter changing into a viper that lay down at his feet and looked up at him.

The witch said to the changed daughter, "You shall cross the water which bounds your father's kingdom, so that you may suffer all the toils and troubles that a poor creature, like this one you despise, has to endure." And once again the witch touched the viper-princess with her wand, and the creature shot away in the right direction.

The king had witnessed how the witch had changed his daughter into a viper as if he had been turned to stone. Now he regained his spirits and fell upon the witch with his sword drawn. But she held out her magic wand towards him and threatened to punish him like his daughter if he did not withdraw at once.

The king saw that he could not achieve anything for his daughter by force, so he took to entreating the witch instead. As the king pleaded with her to give him back his beloved child, and promised her riches, honour and high rank in return, she said to him: 'I can cast spells, but not remove them. The only thing I can do for your daughter is to raise her to the rank of queen of the snakes, and then her fate will be easier to bear. Order a tiny golden crown to be made. Then bring it in three days' time to this place. I will meet you here and give it to your daughter. She will have to wear the crown until the flowing water dissolves it. See to it that the gold is pure, for the purer the gold, the sooner it will dissolve. In that way you can shorten your daughter's sufferings."

The king went sadly home and ordered a crown to be made of the purest gold. Three days later the witch appeared again, true to her word, at the place where the king was waiting for her. He handed her the crown and begged her once more to be merciful to his daughter.

The witch gave the crown to the snake-daughter, and she put it on to get used to wearing it and her new life as a snake queen. She soon found out that when she went into the water on a warm day she could take off the crown from her head and put it on a dry rock, and as soon as she came out of the stream she could press her head into the tiny crown. Then it fixed itself as tightly again as if it had never been taken off.

The witch warned her about leaving the crown on a rock like that, for such a crown was coveted among men. A person who was lucky enough to lay hands on the crown while the snake was in the water, could be sure that his worldly goods would be safe, and even increase. For if he put this newly-found treasure into his money-bag he could take out as much as he liked without ever emptying the bag. And if he put it with his store of corn he could draw on the corn, and still there would be plenty of corn left. If he took the crown away from the corn and put it with some other possession the same happened.

The crown's magic powers did not even come to an end if the owner died. It could be passed on from one person to another. Many who fared along brooks and by lakes, kept a lookout for a little gold crown lying about anyway.

One morning a poor peasant was riding through the forest. Feeling thirsty, he got off his donkey to drink from a stream near at hand. Then he saw a large snake twisting and turning in the clear water. The next moment his eyes fell on a tiny, sparkling golden crown lying on a stone beside the stream. He picked it up quickly, jumped on to his donkey and rode merrily away.

When the snake discovered that her crown had been stolen, she came hissing out of the water, and glided with the greatest speed after the peasant, who could not get away quickly enough on his donkey. He jumped down and fled away as fast as his legs would carry him. The next time he looked round he saw to his horror that more snakes had joined the one he had robbed, and that they were all pursuing him with the same fury.

At last he came to an oak-tree where the image of a saint was fastened. The exhausted man climbed up to the image and clung to it. The snakes had no power over him then, but lay hissing at the foot of the oak. Once he cautiously let go of the image, and at once one of the snakes leapt up at him hissing, but slid down again as soon as he put his hand back on to the saint's image. The unhappy man was in despair because the snakes were besieging him and showed no signs of ever leaving the oak.

Soon an old farmer's widow came up. She wanted to say a prayer at the oak-tree. When she noticed that the peasant was in an agony of fear she asked him what he was doing there. The terrified man told her briefly what had happened, while he at the same time marvelled that the snakes did not attack the old woman.

She then confessed to him that she had the power to cast a spell over snakes, and therefore they were doing her no harm. She also promised to deliver him from his pursuers if he would give her his little crown as a reward. The peasant hesitated for a time, but when he saw that there was nothing else to be done, he agreed. The old woman muttered a spell or two, and the snakes glided off in different directions, hissing.

The ungrateful man had hardly realized that he was free when he began to think that the crown was far too high a price to pay for so little trouble, and he refused to give it to the old woman. She had no means of avenging herself on him, for although she could lay a spell on snakes, she could not conjure them up.

The peasant took the old woman into his house and saw to it that she lacked nothing. For several years he used the little crown to his own great advantage. His granaries were always full, and his money was never spent. All the time he took great care that the old woman should not see where he kept the crown. But at last one day she found out where it was, and hardly had the farmer left the house, when she took it and made off with it.

The farmer soon discovered the loss and at once suspected the old woman, for only he and she knew about the crown he had promised her, and now she and the crown were both missing.

All his attempts to find the old widow were in vain. She was now living in great prosperity a long way off, and was using the crown as the farmer had done, growing very rich on it.

One day, having put the snake crown into her granary, she began to cart corn to the mill, and it so happened that without knowing it she carted the crown away with the corn. The miller poured the corn into the bin which fed his millstones.

As soon as the snake crown got into the bin, it was impossible to empty it. The miner was astounded; he waited for a few hours, but when all his sacks were full of flour and the bin was as full as when he began grinding, he lifted the bin down and began to search through it. Then he found the tiny golden crown. He thought at once that it must be a snake crown, picked it up and put it with his money. Soon the old woman came to the mill in a fury, demanding her crown back. The miller pretended he knew nothing about it, and let the old woman search through the whole mill. She went away sadly, and not long afterwards she died.

The miller did not take her death to heart; he moved the crown about, from one part of his mill to another. Then the idea came to him: why not put the crown straight into the full bin that fed the millstones, ready for the grinding, instead of keeping it in the granary? This he did. For a few days the mill worked without stopping, and the miller felt pleased with his good idea.

But now the little crown was little by little sinking lower in the bin. It came nearer and nearer to the opening underneath, and suddenly - there it was between the millstones, being ground to powder. The bin was empty the same moment, and the mill-wheel stopped. The miner, greatly alarmed, looked into the bin and searched everywhere for the little crown, but could not find it. As he searched for it high and low in his mill, a fearful thunderstorm broke overhead. The mill was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground.

The same day the princess was released from the snake body and found her way to her father's castle. But from that time onward she often sought the peace of the forest, and was liked and loved by animals also.


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Giant Pears and Giant Cows

In the old times in Switzerland pears grew a thousand times bigger than the pears we eat today. They were called Southerners. When one of there Southerners dropped from a tree it took three strong men to roll it along and down into the cellar, where it was tapped and the juice drawn off. Two other men came with a cross-cut saw, and sawed off its stalk, loaded it on to a heavy ox-cart and drove it to the saw-mill, where panels for wainscoting were cut out of it.

In those days it was very difficult to keep milk. The cows were so big that ponds had to be sunk to take the enormous amount of milk they yielded. Every day the cowherds used to row round the ponds in little boats, taking the cream off the surface for the butter and milk that would later be made out of it.

Most marvellous of all were the great cow-horns. They were so long that if you blew into one at Easter the note didn't come out at the other end till Whitsuntide.


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Happy Times in Switzerland

There was a time in the joyful past that is known as the Golden Age of Switzerland. Back then not even the highest mountains were ever veiled in cold mists, or covered with ice and snow. Neither were there any barren and rocky heights such as we see now. Luxuriant grass grew all the way up the steepest slopes, carpeting even the topmost ridges, and the climate was so genial that cattle dotted the hillside pastures during nine or ten months of the year. The cows were then far larger and fatter than any we see now, and their milk was so abundant that they were milked three times a day into huge ponds, or tanks, where the herdsmen went about in ships to do the skimming.

Such was the prosperity of all the farmers in the Cantons of Vaud and Valais, that their men on Sundays played bowls with huge balls of the sweetest, hardest, yellowest butter that has ever been made. The fruit trees were as productive as the pastures; the grapes, for instance, being so large and juicy that faucets had to be inserted in each grape to draw off the juice, while the pears were so fine and heavy that their stems had to be severed by means of a double hand-saw when time came to pick them.

The Golden Age of the Alps did not last, for all the prosperity the people enjoyed filled their hearts with such inordinate pride that they made heaven angry. Their greed was punished by earthquakes, storms, and landslides, which ruined their finest pastures, and by sudden and unwelcome changes in the temperature. Dense fogs swept over the mountains, and there were long and heavy snow-falls which swathed the mountains in a permanent casing of ice and snow. The summer season became far briefer than in the past, and fields and pastures much less productive. Cattle and fruit therefore soon dwindled down to their present and quite small sizes, and there was no longer unlimited plenty in the land.

[Guerber, retold]

Two different versions are drawing on similar folklore.

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Off-hand Caring

The Alps were peopled by little men of the mountains. They cared for their chamois herds as the farmers care for their cows. They rewarded the good and punished the bad. They had caves that gave them shelter. The fairies were not usually princely fairies in diamond castles, and not above marrying herdsmen and doing the hard work of caring for the cows, and keeping the chalet clean, carrying on the duties of a mountaineer's wife.


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