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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.




A young shepherd wanted to marry. He knew three sisters who were all very beautiful. But he liked them all equally well, so he could not make up his mind which of them to choose as his bride.

His mother noticed his difficulty, and said to him: "Dear son, I'll give you a good piece of advice: Invite all three sisters to our place, serve them cheese, and watch how they handle it."

The son took his mother's advice and invited the sisters home and presented them to his mother, and afterwards served them cheese.

The oldest sister greedily ate her piece together with the cheese rind, so that there was no trace of the rind left. The second sister cut off the cheese rind so thickly that much good food was wasted. The third, however, peeled the rind cleanly, just as should be.

When the shepherd told his mother how it was with the cheese, the mother said: "Choose the third. She will be good for you."

He did, and never regretted it.



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.



The Three Languages

An aged count once lived in Switzerland. He had an only son, but he seemed to learn nothing. Then said the father, "Listen son, since I cannot get anything into your head, I will give you into the care of a celebrated master. He shall see what he can do for you."

The youth was sent into a strange town and stayed a whole year with the master. At the end of this time he came home again, and his father asked, "Now, son, what have you learnt?"

"I have learnt what the dogs say when they bark."

"Lord have mercy on us!" cried the father. "Have you learnt to bark? I will send you into another town, to another master."

The youth was taken there, and stayed a year with this master too. When he came back the father again asked, "Son, what have you learnt?"

He answered, "Father, I have learnt what the birds say."

Then the father fell into a rage and said, "Have you spent precious time to say chirp, chirp and things like that? Oh, I will send you to a third master, but if you don't learn a lot this time, I will no longer be your father."

The youth stayed a whole year with the third master too. When he came home again, his father asked, "Well, son, what have you learnt?"

He answered, "Dear father, this year I learnt what the frogs croak."

The father fell into a rage, sprang up, called his people there, showed his son to them and said, "He is no longer my son. Take him out into the forest and get rid of him."

They took him out into the forest. They pitied the young man, and so one of them got an idea: "The count said we should get rid of him. He probably meant we should kill him, but since he did not say so clearly, we will let him go."

Then they cut the eyes and the tongue out of a deer that they might carry them to the old man as tokens in case it really was slaughter of his son he wanted.

The youth wandered on, and after some time came to a fortress where he asked for a night's lodging.

"Yes," said the lord of the castle, "if you will pass the night down there in the old tower, go there. But I warn you - it is full of wild dogs. They bark and howl without stopping, and at certain hours a man has to be given to them, and they eat him at once."

The whole district was in sorrow and dismay because of the dogs. Yet no one could do anything to stop this. The youth, however, was without fear, and said, "Just let me go down to the barking dogs and give me something that I can throw to them. They will do nothing to harm me."

As he himself would have it so, they gave him some food for the wild animals and led him down to the tower. When he went inside, the dogs did not bark at him, but wagged their tails quite amicably around him, ate what he set before them, and did not hurt one hair of his head.

Next morning, to the astonishment of everyone, he came out again safe and unharmed, and said to the lord of the castle, "The dogs have told me why they live there and bring evil on the land. They are bewitched and have to watch over a great treasure below in the tower. They can have no rest until it is taken away. I have likewise learnt, from what they said, how to do it."

All who heard this rejoiced, and the lord of the castle said he would adopt him as a son if he succeeded. He went down again, and as he knew what he had to do, he did it thoroughly and brought a chest full of gold out with him.

Afterwards the howling, wild dogs disappeared, and the country was freed from the trouble.

After some time he took it into his head that he would travel to Rome. On the way he passed by a marsh. A number of frogs were sitting in it, croaking. He listened to them. When he became aware of what they were saying, he grew thoughtful. At last he arrived in Rome, where the Pope just had died. There was great difficulty as to whom the cardinals should appoint as his successor. At long last they agreed that the next pope should be chosen by some divine and miraculous token.

Just as that was decided on, the young man came into the church. All at once two snow-white doves flew on his shoulders and remained sitting there. The cardinals took it as the token they were waiting for, and asked him on the spot if he would be pope. He was undecided, and did not know if he was worthy of this. However, the doves counselled him to do it, until at last he he said yes. Then was he anointed and consecrated.

In this way what had heard from the frogs on his way came to pass - he was to be the next pope. In time he had to sing a mass. As he did not know one word of what to say in Latin, the two doves sat continuously on his shoulders and said it all in his ear.



Huge Pears and Cows and Happy Times

The Golden Age of Switzerland was in the joyful past when not even the highest mountains were veiled in cold mists or covered with ice and snow. The heights were not barren and rocky either. Fine brooks flowed through rich pastures. The brooks supplied the cattle with all the water they needed, and also enabled the herdsmen to keep all their pails and pans dazzlingly white and pure.

A wealth of grass grew all the way up the steepest slopes, carpeting even the topmost ridges, and the climate was so fine that cattle dotted the hillside pastures during nine or ten months of the year. The cows were far larger and fatter than any we see now, and gave such large amounts of milk that they were milked three times a day. The milk was poured into huge ponds, or tanks, where the herdsmen went about in boats to do the skimming. 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.

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 - they grew a thousand times bigger than the pears we eat today. When one of them 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. The stalks of the pears who did not fall by themselves when time came to pick them, were sawed down from the tree by means of a double hand-saw. It took three men to load such a pear on to a heavy ox-cart and drive it to the saw-mill. There fine wood panels were cut out of the stalk.

However, the people got awfully tired of milking cows in the Golden Age. Besides, Golden Age of Alps did not last. One day a girl came to Gidi, the chief herdsman, and breathlessly told him that something strange had happened: The brook was all covered with something that looked a thin sheet of glass! When Gidi heard this, he cried, "It is high time we should change our pasture!"

At once he drove his herd down into the valley. There he and his men cleared away the forest and built the little village Gidisdorf. From there they watched how storms and landslides ruined the fine pastures, as did sudden and unwelcome changes in the temperature too. Dense fogs swept over the mountains, and there came long and heavy snow-falls which bathed the mountains in carpes of hard ice and snow. The summer season became much briefer than in the past, and fields and pastures were less productive. Cattle and fruit dwindled down to their present and quite small sizes, and there was no longer unlimited plenty in the land.

Swiss Folk Tales and Legends, tales of Switzerland



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